archaeology

What is big, white, ornate and late?

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The “white synagogue” at Capernaum (Kfar Nahum or “house of Nahum”), Israel, is an oddity.

It is constructed of imported limestone blocks that contrast brightly with the dark basalt stone used everywhere else.

Its scale is monumental. It stands apart in a village dominated by small single-story residential homes. Several rooms in the synagogue are noted: a pillared hall, a patio, a balustrade, a small room, and possibly a balcony (?).

The rooms were graced with ornate decorations on cornices, walls, and columns. These include geometric designs, stars, palm trees, and dedicatory inscriptions in Aramaic and Greek (as seen above).

The synagogue was excavated and reconstructed at the beginning of the 20th century. It was dated by the excavators to the Byzantine period (4th or 5th century). At this time the little fishing village, famous from the Gospels, demonstrates social stratification and visible weath.

This demonstration is a new thing; there is nothing like it from the known village of Jesus’s day. The synagogue of the 1st century remains hidden, perhaps beneath this big, white, late and ornate structure.

Photograph by Bible Land Explorer Mark Kitts.


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Interested in seeing Capernaum and the Sea of Galilee with your own eyes?

Seats are available on three different study-tours scheduled for Israel/Palestine in the coming summer. Dates of travel are May 25-June 4, June 4-15, and June 26-July 7. The window for sign-ups is closing, so move with speed.

For more information on pricing, itinerary, or other details of these educational tours, drop me a line at markziese@gmail.com. For a full list of future travel opportunities, see here.

Her name is there

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For Bible readers the site of Magdala is forever linked to its most famous resident: Mary Magdalene.

It is appropriate that the developers of this site on the edge of the Sea of Galilee built a spiritual center that is dedicated to the women who supported Jesus’s ministry. In the center of the building is a dome supported by columns. Inscribed on each column is the name of one of the women mentioned in the NT as a supporter of the ministry, e.g. Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna, etc.

One column in the array was left uninscribed. It provides our ladies with the opportunity to use their fingers to add their names to the list. They are a beautiful legacy, don’t you agree?

The center at Magdala is named Duc In Altum. It draws its name from Luke 5:4 where Jesus instructs his followers to “launch into the deep.” Read the story here.

Photograph by Bible Land Explorer Seth Tinkler.


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The residency program of Johnson University leads to a Master of Strategic Ministry degree. It involves a collaborative relationship between Johnson University and local churches. This accredited program equips students for effective, strategic Christian leadership and includes a study-tour to Israel/Palestine.

To learn more about residencies, see the link here.

Velvet Megiddo

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Tell al-Mutesellim (biblical Megiddo) turns iridescent when struck by the sun. The ruin-mound of approximately 26 cities has experienced many builders, winters, and excavators over the course of thousands of years.

Pictured here is the eastern opening of a deep trench dug by Schumacher and the German Oriental Society at the beginning of the 20th century. Debris piles, also swathed in green, step down to the Jezreel Valley (Merj ibn-Amir) below.

While rain-showers are possible in the Spring, these are lovely days to visit Israel/Palestine.

Image by Bible Land Explorer Jess Poettker.


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Interested in crafting an adventure of your own in the Land of the Bible? We work with church pastors, administrators, and college professors to customize trips to meet specific educational/ministerial needs. Shoot me a note at markziese@gmail.com to discuss the possibility or consider joining one of our planned excursions listed here.

Rock concert

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Justin Sutherland strikes a pose in the rain.

The striking architecture of Caesarea-by-the-Sea was erected between 22-10 BC by Herod the Great. At the time, structures such as this theater were foreign in the Heartland. Herod accelerated the import of technology and the culture of the West and put his Eastern domain on the map. This opulence in stonework is nowhere as visible as in the Roman theater pictured here, the first of many built in the region.

The featured stone of the Caesarea is kurkar, a local sandstone.

Photo taken by Bible Land Explorer Jess Poettker.


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Jess (left) and Justin (above) are a part of the residency program of Johnson University. This program leads to a Master of Strategic Ministry degree. It involves a collaborative relationship between JU and local churches and is designed to equip students for effective, strategic Christian leadership. It includes a study-tour to Israel/Palestine.

To learn more about JU’s residencies, see the link here.

Green Jericho

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I can’t remember ever seeing Tell es-Sultan so green. Winter rain has given new life to dry places, even down in the Lower Jordan Valley.

This image by Bible Land Explorer Seth Tinkler shows our group of Johnson University students ascending the trail to the top of the ruin-mound. From that spot, a great views were enjoyed to the Wilderness of Judea, the gnarled basin of the Great Rift, the distant rim of Transjordan, and the modern city of Jericho.

Jericho prides itself in being the the most low-down city on the planet. Ringing in at 850 feet below sea level, they may have a claim.


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An experience of this land is incomplete without a shawarma. The centerpiece of this Middle Eastern “taco” is thinly-cut meat stacked and roasted on a vertical spit.

If you’d like to join us on an adventure of your own in the Land of the Bible, recognize that there are openings for trips departing this summer. Shoot me a note at markziese@gmail.com or check our full list of opportunities here.

Facelift

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Spent a few hours in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem yesterday. The restoration (which is not quite yet complete) is simply stunning. Those who can remember the dark dingy nave of yesteryear will be astounded to see the place today. The new roof is rustic but beautiful. You can see the open rafters of cedar that were hewn and hoisted into positioned in the 14th century. The 44 columns that support that roof were cut from local limestone and polished to a high degree. Now that they’ve been cleaned, you can distinguish them from their white marble crowns decorated in acanthus leaves. Note the scrollwork in the architrave that spans the gaps between the columns.

Keep in mind that this structure has been continually used as a place of Christian worship since the time of Constantine (mid 4th century). That makes it unique in all of Israel-Palestine.

The outline of the present structure was established by Justinian I in the mid-6th century.

The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem was erected over a cave where Jesus was born.

It was the first place in Palestine to be recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.


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The Church of the Nativity is hopping right now as the tourist season is in full bloom.

We have openings right now for a trips scheduled to depart this summer. Write me at markziese@gmail.com for more information or check our full list of study-travel opportunities here.

Arsameia on the Nymphaios

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In the windblown highlands of the Taurus Mountains is the summer capital remembered as Arsameia (Eski Kâhta). It is overshadowed—almost literally—by Mount Nimrut (Nemrut Dağı) and is forever tethered to it. Both are associated with the Kingdom of the Commagenê (see previous post here). Both require effort to reach. Both are monumental mausoleum sites.

The difference is that Arsameia on the Nymphaios (its full name identifies with the nearby stream) was a city of the living. Mount Nimrut, while more spectacular, was a necropolis.

Arsameia was a hub of the Commagenê, founded and named after Arsames.* He, and the Commagenê emerged in the first half of the 3rd century BC as Seleucid control of the region flagged during the Syrian Wars.

Pictured here is the Mithras Relief identified by the excavator as Site II. The standing stone has been partially restored. Carved on the side facing the valley (and the camera) is the god Mithras. He wears the floppy Phrygian cap. Inscriptions are carved on the reverse.

Blocks from the site were hauled downslope in the Roman period and used to build the Cendere Bridge (see post here).


*The Greek Arsámēs is likely drawn from the Aramaic ʾršm (“hero”?). It is an old name with a deep history of use by Persian notables.


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Travel in Eastern Turkey is tough these days, but trips to Israel-Palestine are in full swing. We have openings right now for a trip scheduled May 25 through June 4, 2019. Inclusive price out of Washington Dulles is $3,963. Other departure cities are possible. Write me at markziese@gmail.com for more information or check our full list of study-travel opportunities here.

Far and away

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The rugged region between the Cendere Bridge and Nemrut Dağı conceals the residues of many cultures. One of interest to Bible Land Explorers is Commagenê. In the time of Christ this tiny Hellenized kingdom of the East (Βασίλειον τῆς Kομμαγηνῆς) was positioned between the overlapping orbits of Rome, Parthia, and Armenia. Its strategic value lay in this nexus and in its control of crossing points along the Upper Euphrates.

The geographer Strabo refers to Commagenê as a small but fertile place, naturally fortified, and connected to the great river.* He considers it in the context of greater Syria, and, as some have suggested, its inhabitants may have been as comfortable working in a dialect of Aramaic as they were in Greek.**

At one rest stop, our local guide pointed out the ruins of “Old Kahta” above our heads. I fired my camera. While the Romans and Mamluks built here in later periods, it was originally a fortified site of the Commagenê.

Ancient Commagenê corresponds roughly with the Turkish province of Adıyaman.


*Geography 16.2. See the link here.

**Fergus Millar, The Roman Near East 31 BC – AD 337 (Cambridge: Harvard, 1993): 454.


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Travel in Eastern Turkey is tough these days, but trips to Israel-Palestine are in full swing. We have openings right now for trip scheduled May 25 through June 4, 2019. Inclusive price out of Washington Dulles is $3,963. Other departure cities are possible. Write me at markziese@gmail.com for more information or check our full list of study-travel opportunities here.



Fratricide and other grimness

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I’ve devoted a couple of POTDs to the Cendere Bridge in SE Turkey (see here and here). It is an amazing piece of Roman engineering that has attracted the attention of academics for more than a century. French epigraphers Louis Jalabert and René Mouterde were the first to study and publish its inscriptions in 1929.*

These tell, in part, how four cities of the region honored Emperor Septimius Severus and his family.

In the photo above Keith points to one of two inscriptions cut into vertical blocks that form a part of the bridge’s railing. The Latin (for the curious) is found here.

Three more inscriptions are located on columns positioned on the bridgehead. These columns were once adorned with statues. Emperor Septimus and his wife Julia Domma stood on one end. Their two sons, Caracalla and Publius Geta stood on the other. While their images are long gone, dedicatory inscriptions are still visible.

Three of the four columns are still standing. The fourth, that of Geta, was removed after Caracalla assassinated him (while clinging to his mother, it is said!) and sought to erase his memory.

It’s that old Cain and Abel stuff.


*See Jalabert, Louis, and René Mouterde, Les inscriptions grecques et latines de la Syrie (IGLS) I, Commagene and Cyrrhestique (BAH 12), Paris, 1929.


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A last minute trip of Bible Land Explorers is coming together. Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Galilee are in the mix. Dates are May 25 through June 4, 2019. Late fees have been waived for a short time, but you need to grab your seat quickly. Inclusive price out of Washington Dulles is $3,963. Other departure cities are possible. Write me at markziese@gmail.com for more information or check our full list of study-travel opportunities here.

On the way to the Euphrates

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Yesterday’s post (see here) offered a brief introduction to the Cendere Bridge (also known as the Septimius Severus Bridge) located in SE Turkey. It measures more than a football field in length (120 meters) and is a marvel of engineering from Roman period.

While a modern bridge has replaced it as a primary route over the Cendere Stream, light wheeled traffic still traverses it daily.

A gorge cut into the foot of the Taurus Mountains is visible behind the bridge. This incision is the work of the Cendere (or Bölam Su) which drains the highlands, flows under the bridge and continues south to the Euphrates River.

A Roman dedicatory inscription on the bridge identifies the stream by its ancient name, the Chabina.


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A last minute trip of Bible Land Explorers is coming together. Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Galilee are in the mix. Dates are May 25 through June 4, 2019. Late fees have been waived for a short time. Inclusive price out of Washington Dulles is $3,963. Other departure cities are possible. Write me at markziese@gmail.com to request more information or see here for other upcoming travel opportunities.

The red ribbon bridge?

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These intrepid Bible Land Explorers pose on one end of what is possibly the second longest Roman bridge still standing today. The arch in the center spans Chabinas Creek and measures 34.2 meters (112 feet) across. The entire bridge, including build-up, measures 120 meters (390 feet) in length. It is a marvel of Roman engineering.

Nearby signage identifies it as the Cendere Bridge or the Septimius Severus Bridge. It was likely built between AD 198-200 as part of the Roman preparations for another chapter in the Parthian conflict.

The construction was undertaken by Rome’s XVI Legion. Inscriptions dedicate the bridge to Septimius Severus who was emperor at the end of the 2nd century AD. It may have replaced an earlier bridge from the time of Vespasian.

While some may dispute that the Cendere Bridge takes the red ribbon as far as Roman bridges go, there is no dispute about which bridge gets the blue. The Puente Romano on the Guadiana River in Mérida, Spain, is easily the longest with an impressive length of 790 meters (almost 2,600 feet).

The bridge pictured above is located in SE Turkey, not far from the modern town of Adiyaman.


*Note the discussion of construction/reconstruction in the article “Severan (Cendere) Bridge” posted in Turkish Archaeological News (11/18/2017). Here is a link.


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A last minute trip of Bible Land Explorers is coming together. Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Galilee are in the mix. Dates are May 25 through June 4, 2019. Late fees have been waived for a short time, but you'll need to grab your seat now if you are going to get it. Inclusive price out of Washington Dulles is $3,963. Other departure cities are possible. Write me at markziese@gmail.com for more information.

No strings attached

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Wheeling, dealing, and fooling around has been a part of life in Çorum, Turkey, for as long as anyone can remember.

Back in the days of Abraham (yes, that Abraham), the Assyrians established a trading colony here. It was part of a network of trading partners (Akkadian: kāru) centered in what is today the Turkish province of Çorum. The route was an economic lifeline between northern Anatolia and Upper Mesopotamia.

Money was not yet invented in those days; precious metals were the currency of choice. Gold was eight times more valuable than silver. Only one metal was more valuable than gold: amutum. This metal was forty times more valuable than silver! Scholars believe amutum may be iron. Keep in mind that this was, in the parlance of archaeologists, still the age of bronze.

The fun-loving friends pictured above demonstrated to me the value of a good laugh and an old mandolin without strings. I bought it. It proudly sits on a shelf in my dining room today.

Çorum is located in the highlands between Ankara and the Black Sea coast.


*See K. R. Veenhof, Aspects of Old Assyrian Trade and Its Terminology (Brill, 1972): 385.


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A last minute trip of Bible Land Explorers is coming together. Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Galilee are in the mix. Dates are May 25 through June 4, 2019. Late fees have been waived for a short time, but you'll need to grab your seat now if you are going to get it. Inclusive price out of Washington Dulles is $3,963. Other departure cities are possible. Write me at markziese@gmail.com for more information.

"If not for this site, you wouldn't be here."

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I utter these words every time we settle into this Roman theater. The phrase is awkward by itself. But if you put in context, it makes perfect sense.

The theater is located at a site known as Caesarea-by-the-Sea. It was a wind-swept rubble pile when archaeologists began restoration efforts in the 1950s. Today the place has been wonderfully restored and is visited by millions every year.

One can sit on the sandstone seats of the theater and gaze toward the Mediterranean. It is the perfect spot to imagine how astounding this city must have been in its prime. According to Josephus, this provincial capital was built by Herod the Great (“the baby-killer” of the Christmas story) in the decade between 22 and 12 BC. It has all the accruements of a first-century Italian transplant.

According to Luke the Evangelist it was here that a Roman centurion by the name of Cornelius had a vision (see Acts 10). This revelation prompted “Pentecost II,” the spark that leaped over the fireline and out of the Jewish circle. Christianity moved with speed and force from “Caesar-city” into the non-Jewish world.

That’s why I say it. If not for Caesarea-by-the-sea and the events associated with this place, I doubt that Gentiles like you and me would be sitting here. But because it did, the world as we know it has been profoundly changed.


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Caesarea-by-the-sea is a highlight on nearly all of our study-tours in the Israel-Palestine. We stop at the theater, visit the promontory palace, walk the hippodrome, explore a Crusader fortress, and imagine the harbor at the center of it all.

You really should consider joining us this summer. We have spaces available on three different trips. Find the dates here and email me at markziese@gmail.com for details.

Lecture hall learners

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Sometimes I wonder how effective the big lecture hall lectures are.

I try to channel my inner undergraduate as I wax eloquently on narrative construction techniques, explore the interplay between history and language, and rise to the challenge of hearing God in the text. Sometimes the feedback suggests “I get it.” Those are moments of celebration! At other times I just get stony stares.

Oh well. We keep at it.

The stony stares pictured above are not coming from lecture hall learners but from third-century (AD) funerary busts recovered at the site of Beth Shean (Scythopolis). This Heartland site was the leading city of the Decapolis and a real treasure trove of Late Roman life in the Lower Jordan Valley.

In this case, we are learning from them.

Funerary busts were erected over tombs across the Greco-Roman world, but they are rare in this part of the world. Carved in soft limestone, they display a mix of traditions, east and west, local and imported. Hair styles, jewelry, and clothing suggest a measure of personalization. Names in Semitic and in Greek languages are engraved on some and give flavor to the cultural blend that marked life in ancient Scythopolis.

You can find this display at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.


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If you are a museum-lover you really can’t miss the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. It contains a treasury of cultural artifacts from thousands of years of history.

We’ll visit the IM several times during our 2019 travel season. If you would like to join us, there are seats available. Find the dates here that fit your schedule and shoot me email me at markziese@gmail.com. I’ll do my best to work you in.


Get out of town

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Getting out of Nazareth is one of the first obstacles for the Jesus Trail walker. Several colluding conditions make this challenging: the urban maze, steep stairs, and, at some times of the year, the heat.

The first time I hoofed it out of Nazareth (2013) was in the depth of the summer. I couldn’t do anything about the stairs, but I beat the heat by starting before sunrise. Somewhere along the way I turned around and clicked this picture.

Modern Nazareth is a community built in a geographical “bowl.” At the center of the bowl (like the omphalos of a ceramic vessel) is the Latin Church of the Annunciation. Here, according to tradition, was the boyhood home of Jesus. The hills of Galilee rise on all sides.


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Seats are available on three different trips scheduled for Israel/Palestine in the coming summer. Dates of travel are May 25-June 4, June 4-15, and June 26-July 7. The window for sign-ups is closing, so move with speed.

For more information on pricing, itinerary, or other details of these educational tours, drop me a line at markziese@gmail.com. For a full list of future travel opportunities, see here.

Study-Tour 2000 (Israel, Egypt, Turkey)

I came across this image yesterday afternoon. It brought back some fond memories. It was shot in early March almost twenty years ago. The place was Giza, Egypt.

The faces are those of students and staff from the Cincinnati Christian University. These brave souls signed on for one of our most ambitious study-tours ever. Three countries in 14 days! Wowzer. But we filled every seat on the bus.

See anyone you recognize?

If you were a part of this trip, I’d love to hear from you. Care to share any photographs of your experience for other Bible Land Explorers? I can post them here. What memories does this image bring back for you?

Do tell. And show.


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These two young fellers were among the leaders of the trip pictured above. Funny, they haven’t changed a bit!

A few years have passed since 2000 but we are still up to old tricks. In March of 2019 we’ll be headed back to Israel/Palestine. This time we’ll have a student group from Johnson University in tow.

For a complete list of travel opportunities in 2019, see our schedule here. You may also contact me at markziese@gmail.com for more details.

Upgrades

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If it has been more than five years since you have visited the Roman Catholic portion of the site of Capernaum, you will be surprised to see it today. The entry area, the plaza, the waterfront have all undergone significant renovation. The primary structures on display—the “White” synagogue and the House of Peter—appear as before, but other upgrades are striking. The entry area, the plaza, the waterfront provide improved accessibility, seating, garden, and devotional areas.

The site has an occupation history stretching from the 2nd century BC to the 13th century AD.

The name of the site originates in the Aramaic, Kefar Nahum, or “Village of Nahum” (but not that Nahum!).

It was a significant center in the Galilean ministry of Jesus. As the Gospel of Mark records (2:1), when he “entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home.”


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Our most recent group of Bible Land Explorers just completed a walk along the Jesus Trail, a 65 km trek across Galilee. In addition to exploring Capernaum, we visited Nazareth, Sepphoris, Magdala, and Tiberias.

For a list of travel opportunities in 2019, see our schedule here. You may also contact me at markziese@gmail.com for more details.

An omnistic bobcat

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Restoration work at the site of Maritime Caesarea, Israel, is ongoing. Fresh aspects of the site are visible with every visit.

There is a newly opened path along the eastern ramparts inside the Crusader fortress and an extension to the pavilion north of the fortress.

If you haven’t been to Caesarea lately, it is time to come back.

I thought you might enjoy a shot to this omnistic bobcat resting from his labor in the harbor area.

Oh, and don’t miss the rainbow in the winter sky!


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Our most recent group of Bible Land Explorers just completed a walk along the Jesus Trail, a 65 km trek across Galilee. In addition to exploring Caesarea, we visited Mediggo, Bethlehem, and Jerusalem.

For a list of travel opportunities in 2019, see our schedule here. You may also contact me at markziese@gmail.com for more details.

Doused by sun and rain

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The city of Sepphoris was splendidly restored by Herod Antipas. According to Josephus, Herod “built a wall about Sepphoris, (which is the security of all Galilee) and made it the metropolis of the country” (Ant 18.27). Antipas renamed it Autocratoris, a term that may suggest the title of the emperor or the fact that the city was somehow politically autonomous.

As I hiked by the site I was alternatively doused by sun and rain. Galilee in January can be that way.

In this shot, the acropolis of Sepphoris rises on the left. The summit is marked by a Crusader-era stronghold. Buildings of the modern kibbutz spread in the foreground. Upper Galilee looms in the distance, wet and purple.


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Our most recent group of Bible Land Explorers just completed a walk along the Jesus Trail, a 65 km trek across Galilee. In addition to exploring Sepphoris, we visited Nazareth, Magdala, and Tiberias.

For a list of travel opportunities in 2019, see our schedule here. You may also contact me at markziese@gmail.com for more details.


Taking a pounding

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There was a break in the heavy weather yesterday. The sun broke through to illuminate waves crashing against the breakwater at Caesarea.

It is hard to imagine that the artificial harbor engineered in the time of King Herod went out another quarter of a mile.

Read about Herod’s magnificent Mediterranean harbor in the Jewish War of Josephus. Find a starting point here.


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Consider this your invitation to participate in a trip of adventure and renewal to the Lands of the Bible in 2019. For a complete list of travel opportunities, see our schedule here. You may also contact me at markziese@gmail.com for more details. We make learning fun, eat good food, sleep in some respectable places, and send you home with memories for a lifetime!