biblical world

The Roman walls of Astorga

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The town of Astorga, Spain, has quite a history. Early remains go back to the time of Augustus Caesar. The Romans constructed a post here to guard the nearby pass through the mountains of Galicia. The post also protected their interest in the gold mines still found in the region.

I slept last night in the yellow-colored hostel just above the city walls. The walls have been built and rebuilt numerous times. At the lowest levels, thought, it is pure Roman. Coinage, solder armor, baths, etc., goes back to the first century. They have a wonderful museum of Roman remains in the city center.

Locals claim that the Apostle Paul once visited this city. Paul's visit to Spain, however, remains debated.

Buen caminó!


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Join Mark and Vicki for a Mediterranean experience in October, 2018. We'll be cruising aboard the luxurious Celebrity Reflection. See the link here for details. Onboard lectures will provide focus as we visit the ports of Malta, Rhodes, Santorini, and Athens among others. An optional add-on visit to Rome is possible on either end of the trip.

First look into Spain

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The route through the mountain chain of les Pyrénées is known as the way of Napoleón because the great general favored this arduous climb in and out of Spain during the Peninsular War (1807-1814). Pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago favored it as a way to avoid bandits.

It is reported that many pilgrims fell to their knees when they saw Spain (and the land of Saint James) for the very first time. I guessing they were also thankful because after 3,200 feet of steep climbing the road goes downhill from here. 

Buen caminó!


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Join Mark and Vicki for a Mediterranean experience in October, 2018. We'll be cruising aboard the luxurious Celebrity Reflection. See the link here for details. Onboard lectures will provide focus as we visit the ports of Malta, Rhodes, Santorini, and Athens among others. An optional add-on visit to Rome is possible on either end of the trip.

Spewing sphinx

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A sphinx spewing water is not the sort of thing that you see everyday. At the fontaine du Châtelet (or the "Fountain of the Palm") in downtown Paris, you can see four in one place. These jetting sphinxes are part of the base of a fountain designed not just for memory or beauty, but to provide drinking water to the public. Above them is a column topped by a golden Victory offering laurels. 

The structure was built between 1806 and 1808 on the right bank of the Seine. It is a commemorative display honoring Napoléon Bonaparte for his victories here and there, including his not-so-victorious Eastern Campaign (hence the sphinxes). 

Standing before the fountain, I am reminded of the famous statement of Napoléon issued on an Egyptian battlefield on July 21, 1798: "From the heights of these pyramids, forty centuries look down on us."

That's quite the pep talk.

For more on the Battle of the Pyramids, see here.

Buen caminó!


Join Mark and Vicki for a Mediterranean experience in October, 2018. We'll be cruising aboard the luxurious Celebrity Reflection. See the link here for details. Onboard lectures will provide focus as we visit the ports of Malta, Rhodes, Santorini, and Athens among others. An optional add-on visit to Rome is possible on either end of the trip.

He cheated and still lost

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One could stand for a long time and stare at the myriad of details carved into the western façade of the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris. Here, saints and kings, and priests, and prophets and popes and a great cloud of witnesses look down upon a great cloud of tourists with cameras and selfie-sticks.

Judgement Day is presented over the central portal. The dead rise from below. Christ is supreme on high. But between them is the scene pictured above. A pious soul is weighed on a scale by the Archangel Michael. Pitted against the righteousness of God is human sin. A demon from below pulls at it. Even the Satan himself, with grotesque face, has his thumb on the scale! But such cheating does no good. The scale tips in the favor of righteousness. 

Unfortunately other souls (to the right) did not fare so well. They are led away in chains to face the torturers.

It is a sobering presentation of Matthew 25:31-46 (see here).

This scene was likely carved in the decade between AD 1220-1230.

Buen caminó!


Join Mark and Vicki for a Mediterranean experience in October, 2018. We'll be cruising aboard the luxurious Celebrity Reflection. See the link here for details. Onboard lectures will provide focus as we visit the ports of Malta, Rhodes, Santorini, and Athens among others. An optional add-on visit to Rome is possible on either end of the trip.

 

Whacked by the great cane of pharaoh

Pictured here is Area A of Joppa's tell. This area produced one of the largest assemblages of Egyptian pottery found in the Heartland.  The gate structure here has been recreated and marked with the royal symbols of Ramesses II ("the Great").

A smelly old port

The harbor at old Jaffa (Joppa or Yafo) looks and smells like every other maritime waypoint. What makes this place different is its antiquity. The hill behind the waterfront is actually a ruin-mound or tell. It suggests that this Mediterranean hub has been in use since the Middle Bronze Age, nearly 4,000 years ago

Rest house and pest house

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I spent my day off nosing around the port of old Jaffa (Yafo), Israel. I stumbled across the Armenian Convent of Saint Nicholas. This was not surprising. St Nick is often considered a patron saint of sailors; it is appropriate to find him in a port. The structure served as a place of worship, and, at one time, a rest house for Armenian pilgrims arriving in the Heartland by ship.

What was a surprise is learning about how the convent served as a hospital for the pestilent-struck soldiers of Napoléon's Armée d'Orient (1798-1801). In fact, the courtyard of this structure was famously depicted by Antoine-Jean Gros in his 1804 painting Bonaparte visitant les pestiférés de Jaffa or "Bonaparte Visits the Plague Stricken in Jaffa." See more on this famous work of art in the Louvre here. Don't miss the bit about how Gros portrayed Napoléon as a type of Christ, touching the wounds of the sick!

The irony here is that Napoléon was also accused of poisoning those who were unable to join the retreat. Look here. 

See our post on the church of St Peter above the port here or check out our Christmas visit with Saint Nicholas in Palestine here


Dr. Mark Ziese, Dean of the School of Bible and Theology at Johnson University, manages the website Bible Land Explorer and teaches regularly in the Biblical heartland. You are invited to join Mark and Vicki for a Mediterranean Cruise aboard the Celebrity Reflection in October, 2018. See the link here for details.

St Nicholas Street

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The summer sun plays on the limestone buildings in downtown Beit Jala. Palestine. Water and oil plays on those street pavers too. In the rainy season they can be slick. Word to the wise: take the stairs.

Photograph by Bible Land Explorer YongLan Ye.


Bible Land Explorers who desire a more intimate view to the landscape featured in the gospels should consider walking across Galilee on the Jesus Trail, January 8-16, 2019. Vehicle support is provided and will return the group each night to a hotel. Contact me directly at markziese@gmail.com if interested. The trip is priced from New York at $2,588 and will be limited in size. See itinerary here.

Camel kiss

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The famous "kissing camel" from Tell es-Sultan (ancient Jericho) is at it again. This time he got Sonia!

Of course, there are many other reasons to visit Tell es-Sultan. The archaeological remains and biblical connections are fantastic. The fruit is always tasty. The coffee is a knockout. Tax-free shopping is a plus. And the kebab is a memory-maker.

Photograph by Bible Land Explorer Rachel Waldstein.


Dr. Mark Ziese, Dean of the School of Bible and Theology at Johnson University, manages the website Bible Land Explorer and teaches regularly in the Biblical heartland. You are invited to join Mark and Vicki for a Mediterranean Cruise aboard the Celebrity Reflection in October, 2018. See the link here for details.

A Nazarene James

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Inside the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, Israel, one finds a parade of nations. Contributions of mosaic art cast the image of the Madonna and child in personalized and nationalized ways. The Japanese Mary wears a kimono. The Chilean Jesus is portrayed with dark skin with snowy mountains in the background. It is quite interesting.

Yesterday I studied the contribution of Spain. I saw Mary holding a child. Above Mary was a banner with the words, TU ERES EL HONOR DE NUESTRO PUEBLO, "You are the honor of our people." No surprises there.

But below the Madonna were details I previously overlooked. On the column beneath the Madonna was the cross of St James, or the "Santiago Cross." The connection between this Madonna on a pillar and the Spanish church at Zaragoza is huge (read more about it here).

Beside the pillar is a kneeling figure sporting a brown robe. He has a cockle shell pinned to his chest and in his hands is a hooked walking staff. On the hook dangles the familiar water gourd. It is St James the Greater, the patron saint of Spain, depicted as the pilgrim.

With our 500-mile trek across Spain just around the corner, I am excited to learn more about these symbols of identity. Some have been around me regularly; I just wasn't looking for them.

The more you look the more you see.


Intrepid travelers who desire a more intimate view to the landscape featured in the gospels should consider walking across Galilee on the Jesus Trail, January 8-16, 2019. Vehicle support is provided and will return the group each night to a hotel. Contact me directly at markziese@gmail.com. The trip is priced from New York at $2,588. See itinerary here.

Mind the gap

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We're on the move again. 

We've said goodbye to a fine group from Cumberland Community Church in Smyrna, Georgia. 

I had one day to catch my breath.

Now we say hello to Brian Johnson and a new crew from North Danvers Mennonite Church in Danvers, Illinois.

The summer heat has arrived in the Heartland. Remember to bring your hat. Glad you are following. Mind the gap!


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The Books and More Library in Amman, Jordan, is a unique work. The library offers public checkout of materials in English and Arabic, summer and winter camps, playdays, storytimes, and other activities in the heart of this vibrant capital. Founders Harvey and Nancy Bacus are visionaries who are worthy of your support. Read about them here or visit the Books and More website here

Belly bumps

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The Church of the Visitation helps us remember the place where Mary met Elizabeth. That church overlooks the village of Ein Kerem, Israel, and that meeting is recorded in Luke 1:39-56 (see here).

At the sound of Mary's voice the unborn child (who would become John the Baptist) was stirred. As for Mary, she responded to the moment in song. That song is remembered as "the Magnificat" and is named after the first word of the song in the Latin Vulgate. It pulls at threads from the Old Testament such as the Song of Hannah (see here). Mary's words create "belly bumps" both within and across the Testaments, tracing the ongoing work of God amid the People of God.

The sculpture pictured above stands in the courtyard outside the Church of the Visitation. Translations of the Magnificat in many different languages are posted on the wall behind it.

This place has been venerated by pilgrims for more than a thousand years. Modern structures mask earlier Byzantine remains.


Dr. Mark Ziese, Dean of the School of Bible and Theology at Johnson University, manages the website Bible Land Explorer and teaches regularly in the Biblical heartland. You are invited to join Mark and Vicki for a Mediterranean Cruise aboard the Celebrity Reflection in October, 2018. Onboard lectures will focus on Paul's fourth missionary journey. See the link here for details.

 

 

 

Vanitas motif

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This statue of Saint Jerome (Hieronymus in Latin) stands on a pedestal near the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem, Palestine. In life (AD 347-420) Jerome spent many years here, dwelling in the cave where Jesus was born. In that cave he prayed, mentored others, wrote letters, and translated Scripture.

Jerome is often pictured with a human skull nearby. Is this because translation work will kill you? No. It is a vanitas motif: an artistic element suggesting that the things of this world are temporary at best. Death is a inevitable reality that the living must take to heart. It is a common motif in classical presentations of Jerome.

Behind his statue is the façade of the Church of Saint Catherine. This building serves the Catholic parish in Bethlehem.

This photograph was taken by Bible Land Explorer YongLan Ye.


Dr. Mark Ziese, Dean of the School of Bible and Theology at Johnson University, manages the website Bible Land Explorer and teaches regularly in the Biblical heartland. You are invited to join Mark and Vicki for a Mediterranean Cruise aboard the Celebrity Reflection in October, 2018. Onboard lectures will focus on Paul's fourth missionary journey. See the link here for details.

Some call them cute

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All the dromedary camels used for human transport at Kfar HaNokdim (near Arad, Israel) are female. Why don't they use the males? According to one camel handler because they "are just mean and batshit crazy."

Interesting.

Our handler has a remarkable grip on the English language.


Dr. Mark Ziese, Dean of the School of Bible and Theology at Johnson University, manages the website Bible Land Explorer and teaches regularly in the Biblical heartland. You are invited to join Mark and Vicki for a Mediterranean Cruise aboard the Celebrity Reflection in October, 2018. See the link here for details.

 

 

On Nazareth's streets

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Members of Cumberland Community Church (Smyrna, Georgia) have left the building! Our 2018 Israel/Palestine Study-Tour explores the hometown of Jesus. Highlights include the Church of the Annunciation, Mary's Well, and the mill that has served the agricultural needs of the local population for more than a century. 

Nazareth's old market continues to experience revitalization. It is a maze of Ottoman-era buildings saturated by the smell of coffee and the sound of calls to prayer.


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Interested in visiting Israel/Palestine at a deeply discounted price? Pastors, professors, and their spouses are invited to participate in a unique experience for less than $1,500. Join us on January 8-15, 2019 for a rich engagement that introduces leaders to the potential and pitfalls of group travel in this exciting part of the world.

How to say welcome

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Nothing says "welcome" in a Bedouin culture like coffee. Yesterday we experienced a little Arab hospitality by riding camels, sleeping in a desert tent, and drinking coffee prepared over an open fire.

I met a new friend too. Here, Abu Raamses, a real Bedouin sheikh, talks about how life in the southern desert of Israel has changed since he was a boy.


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Interested in visiting Israel/Palestine at a deeply discounted price? Pastors, professors, and their spouses are invited to participate in a unique experience for less than $1,500. Join us on January 8-15, 2019 for a rich engagement that introduces leaders to the potential and pitfalls of group travel in this exciting part of the world.