Biblical world

A walk of faith

DSC_0004.jpg

Workmen make repairs to the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. The dome on the left marks the traditional location of Christ’s burial and resurrection. The dome on the right (with the golden cross) marks the traditional location of Christ’s crucifixion.

Seeing a human up there gives scale to the golden cross. I didn’t know it was that big

Climbing that scaffolding is in itself an act of faith.


Ladies+1.jpg

If you are interested in capturing a bird’s eye view to the land of the Bible you should consider joining one of our trips scheduled for 2020 or 2021. These educational experiences operate as part of the ministry of the Jerusalem Center for Biblical Studies. Find a trip that works with your schedule by clicking the link here or contact me directly at markziese@gmail.com.

In the mustard

IMG_1943 copy.jpg

The mustard is thick these days. I’m not talking about the tasty yellow stuff that goes on your hot dog, but the wild mustard that grows in the Heartland. In the springtime it is everywhere. Here at Tell Dan it is almost as tall as a person.

The wild mustard (Sinapis arvensis)* is prolific this year due to a wet winter in the region. It stands tall now but in short time as the temperatures rise and the rainfall diminishes, it will turn brown and brittle.

Enjoy this day my friends. It is gorgeous.

Photograph by Bible Land Explorer Jessica Poettker.


*Luke 13:18-19 reports the parable of the mustard seed. It suggests that big things come from small packages. The scientific name for the mustard sinapis is pulled into Latin from the Greek σίναπι. However, it should be noted that the Greek family of words also includes the verb, “to sting” or “hurt” causing some to believe that the sinapis of the New Testament may refer to the nettle. That casts a different angle on the text doesn’t it?


Climbing+Jericho.jpg

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.


The tree is up!

P1210408 copy.JPG

The tree is up in Manger Square, Bethlehem!

Actually, its been up for a while. I captured this image a few days after Thanksgiving.

In case you think I’m kidding about the“Manger Square” part, know that it really exists. It is a plaza used for parking and for big events (read Christmas Eve!) in Bethlehem, Palestine. The Square is located directly in front of the Church of the Nativity, the traditional birthplace of Jesus and the oldest continuously-used church in the world. Now do you get it? “Manger”-square, the Nativity? Ha!

Midnight mass in this plaza on Christmas Eve continues to be an iconic experience. It attracts thousands of worshippers to celebrate, remember, sing, and pray. The gathering is supervised by the Palestinian Authority although access to Bethlehem itself is controlled by the Israeli military.

Compare the Mosque of Omar (on the far right) to the picture I posted the other day (see here).


dead sea bobbes.jpeg

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!

Ugly Italian beauties

Lemons 1.JPG

Italy’s Amalfi coast is famous for lemons. One cannot walk down the street in Sorrento without catching the whiff. Fragrant fruits—the size of softballs—are grown in citrus orchards and sold for juices, jams, liqueurs, soaps, dressings, garnishes, gelatos, or as treats by themselves. You can eat them right out of the skin!

The history of these ugly Italian beauties goes back at least to the Roman period. Lemons and lemon trees are pictured in paintings preserved on the walls of Pompeii. They were likely brought to the region from the Middle East. Some claim the Jews were responsible, as the citron (etrog, in Hebrew) had ceremonial use.*

Pliny the Elder, a local Roman historian who died in the eruption of Vesuvius, hints at one source, calling the lemon “a Median Apple” (Natural History 12.7, see text here.). Media is an area of modern Iran.

The limone femminello is the oldest variety. It has celebrity status on the Amalfi coast.

And you thought the only lemon to come out of Italy was the Fiat.


*"Four species” of plants are mentioned in Leviticus 23:40 and associated with the Feast of Booths (sukkot). Rabbinic Judaism connected one of these species with the etrog or citron.


City street 4.JPG

We have several travel experiences planned for 2019 (see list here). These are organized on behalf of educational institutions or church groups. If you are a leader who is interested in crafting a unique travel opportunity for your organization or if you are an individual who would like to join a group, shoot me an email at markziese@gmail.com.

A communicative moment

P1190568.JPG

On the day after an election it is good to remember the difference between power that is temporary and power that is eternal!

I stand before Rome’s Basilica of St. Paul's Outside the Walls (San Paolo Fuori le Mura) and look up. The façade of any building is one of its most important features. Designers know that every one who enters will raise his/her eyes; it is a prime communicative moment that speaks in the language of architecture and symbol.

19th century artists Filippo Agricola and Nicola Consoni decorated the façade of St Paul’s using mosaic in three registers. Their work was based on the original 10th century mural that was destroyed by a fire in 1823.

On the bottom are four figures. These are evenly spaced between three windows. The figures represent the four Major Prophets of the Old Testament: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. Each holds a scroll suggesting that the Messiah was anticipated by the Old Testament.

In the center is a key symbol of the Messiah. A lamb reclines on a mound from which four fountains (four gospels?) flow. The flock gathers at the water. The symbol of the lamb is an old one going back to the Gospel of John (1:29).

The central figure at the top, in the pediment, is the enthroned Christ. On his right is the Apostle Peter holding a key. On his left is the Apostle Paul holding a sword.

The original structure here was situated over the tomb of Paul. Paul was beheaded in Rome in AD 67. The 4th century historian Eusebius states that the place of Paul’s burial was known and marked (Eccl Hist. 2.25, see here).


P1190654.JPG

We have several travel experiences planned for 2019 (see list here). These are organized on behalf of educational institutions or church groups. If you are a leader who is interested in crafting a unique travel opportunity for your organization or if you are an individual who would like to join a group, shoot me an email at markziese@gmail.com.

Intense grace

P1190582.JPG

The Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls in Rome preserves the memory of the burial place of the Apostle. Several depictions of this sword-wielding, parchment-packing giant of the New Testament are found in the yards, facades, ceilings, and floors of this site.

I found the intensity of the gaze captured here to be astounding. How do you do that in marble?

As an aside, I also enjoyed James Faulkner’s dynamic presentation in Paul, An Apostle of Christ on the flight home. Have you seen it yet? What did you think? The film’s interpretation of Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” is moving.

This morning I muse over these artistic presentations and set both beside Paul’s own words found in Galatians 1:13-24. See them here.

Steady Girl

P1200385.JPG

Vicki holds the cruise ship Celebrity Reflection against the pier in Rhodes Harbor (Greece) while other passengers board. This and other amazing adventures will be reported here on Bible Land Explorer in the near future.

In the meantime, it’s back to work.

We returned home safely last night.


Israel-Group.jpg

We are cooling our heels stateside for just a moment. Next group up is New Life Christian Church from Chantilly, Virginia. We will be traveling with these fine folk over the Thanksgiving break (Nov 19-29). Brett Andrews, Sean Cronin and Pat Furgerson will share teaching responsibilities. For more on this upcoming opportunity, see New Life’s website here.

Bubble man

bubble maker.JPG

Ropes and sticks produce millions of bubbles (or even one giant one!) in the hands of an expert. This expert keeps the crowd entertained near the Fountain of Four Rivers in downtown Rome (Piazza Navona).

The area is a public plaza today, but people used to come here for a different spectacle. In the late first century this was the site of the Stadium of Domitian. People came to see the “games” or agones (the source of our word “agony”), hence its ancient name, the Circus Agonalis.

Peaceful Bayonet-ville

20180628_093647.jpg

This town in southern France may have received its modern name from the Basques. They were the first to use the bayonet, a thrusting blade attached to the end of a firearm. It is possible that this musket modification was sharpened in this peaceful place, hence its name, Bayonne.

Archaeologists have poked the ground here a few times retrieving coins, potsherds, and the remains of what was likely a small Roman fort built along the riverbank (for a POTD on the river and its folk in the time of Julius Caesar see here).

Before it was Bayonne, the place was likely known as Lapurdum. Lapurdum is mentioned in the Notitia Dignitatum, a document that describes the Western Roman Empire in the early 5th c AD. At that point in history the region was writhing in the throes of crisis, overrun by Germanic tribes. In case you’re curious, the name of the region at that time was Novempopulania. Take a stab at pronouncing that one.

Buen Camino!


Running from dog.jpg

We have a busy end-of-year scheduled for 2018 and an ambitious travel season planned for 2019. For a sample of what we are cooking, have a look here on our Explorer website. Know that it is often possible to join one of our groups even if your journey originates in a different place. Shoot me an email at markziese@gmail.com if you have questions.

The river of a galling folk

P1170389 copy.JPG

The River Adour is born in the snow of the Pyrénées and flows down to the Bay of Biscay. Here in Bayonne, France, it is broad and powerful. It surges under the bridge where I am standing and in just a few miles will mix with the salty Atlantic.

In the Roman period this was the homeland of a salty people-group known as the Tarbelli. They called the river Aturis. Their land was desired for its gold. Strabo tantalizes us with the observation: you can pick up nuggets here "as big as a fist." They are easily found and require very little refining (check out this link to Strabo's Geography 4.2.1).

According to Julius Caesar, the Tarbelli are one of several groups in Gaul that surrendered to Crassus in 56 BC and sent hostages to Rome (De Bello Gallico 3.27.1). All of these Gallic folk appear fussy and hostile, but much more human than the crazy Germans in the north. Eventually the Tarbelli were "Romanized" as a part of the province of Aquitaine.

Buen caminó!


I posted another picture of Bayonne a while back. See here.


1024px-Celebrity_Reflection_cruise_ship_in_Santorini,_Greece_001.jpg

This is your last call to join us for this year's cruise on the Mediterranean. We will be traveling by sea from Rome to Athens and back again. See the link here for details. Ports of call along the way include Sicily, Malta, and Santorini. If you are interested, you'll need to hustle. The Celebrity Reflection is about to sail!

How far in one day?

It is tough to keep gravel on an 18% grade. Its tough to keep people on it too.

It is tough to keep gravel on an 18% grade. Its tough to keep people on it too.

Distance traveled per day for long-distance walkers in bible lands hinges on many things. Weather, slope, surface, health, and pack weight make a difference.

Consider these estimates offered by experienced biblical scholars.

Beitzel: 17-23 miles.

Ramsay: 16-20 miles.

Casson: 15-20 miles.

Charlesworth: 16-20 miles.

Bob and Mark on their excellent adventure: Yup.

We sweat a lot, don't have much hair, have large butts, short toes, springy ligaments, a windlass mechanism, upright balance, a brain that coordinates it all,  . . . why, tramps like us were made for distance! Twenty miles is just getting started. Curious? Check this out here and here.

Buen caminó!


selfie+2+copy.jpeg

Want to start 2019 in a unique way? Join us for a walk across Galilee! Hike the Jesus Trail and do some additional sightseeing in Israel-Palestine. This trip is facilitated by the Jerusalem Center for Biblical Studies and is priced at $2,588 from New York. Dates are Jan 8-16, 2019. For more details click here or contact me at markziese@gmail.com.

Poppy pods

Poppy field 3.jpg

Bob and I came across a large poppy field while hiking through the La Rioja region of Spain. We saw no cameras.

The poppy belongs to the Papaveraceae family, a group of plants known for the production of a milky latex.

Poppies are most often found in dryer corners of Europe and Asia. Australia is a notable exception. Many genera are prized for their flowers.

However, one species, Papaver somniferum, has been engineered specifically for its production of latex. I don't know if the plants we found in this field belong to this species, but I do know that alkaloids obtained from its latex are opiate; they have deep physiological effects on humans and other animals. Seed pods are scratched, the latex drips out and dries. Collected and processed, we call this residue by names like morphine or codeine or heroin.

Use of opiates in the Mediterranean basin goes back a long way. It is well-documented in the Hellenistic period, centuries before the time of Christ (see the interesting article here).

Spain is the second largest producer of opiates in the world. The government keeps a close eye on the fields. See the article here for more on this Spanish industry.

Buen caminó!


800px-Walking_the_Jesus_Trail.JPG

Want to start 2019 in a unique way? Join us for a walk across Galilee! Hike the Jesus Trail and do some additional sightseeing in Israel-Palestine. This trip is facilitated by the Jerusalem Center for Biblical Studies and is priced at $2,588 from New York. Dates are Jan 8-16, 2019. For more details click here or contact me at markziese@gmail.com.

Running with the big dogs

big dog 3 copy.jpg

Until you come nose to nose with one of these canines, it is difficult to imagine their size. The Spanish Mastiff (mastín español) is GINORMOUS. These fellas have been defending cattle and sheep against wolves and other varmints on the Iberian peninsula for a long time.

The Spanish Mastiff is one of the oldest members of the Molosser family, a heavyweight class of dog.* It is possible that they were brought to the region by Phoenician or Greek traders. They were well established by the time of Christ.

Much later, the mastiff accompanied Spanish explorers to the New World as war dogs. They terrified the native Americans. And for good reason.

Some of the big boys go over 200 pounds and stand 36 inches tall at the shoulder. They are smart, powerful and loyal.

They are also loud. When they bark you should put your fingers in your ears (notice the young man on the left in the photograph above).

I met this amiable fellow while lunching at a café/bar in Alto do Poio. I'm glad he didn't take interest in my sandwich. I'm not sure I could have said no.

Buen caminó!


*The term Molosser hails from the rugged mountains between modern Greece and Albania. It is derived from Molossus, an eponymous ancestor of an ancient tribal group located there. Molossus was the grandchild of Achilles, a famous character from the Trojan War.


Jason and Kim 2.jpg

Want to start 2019 in a unique way? Join us for a walk across Galilee! Hike the Jesus Trail and do some additional sightseeing in Israel-Palestine. This trip is facilitated by the Jerusalem Center for Biblical Studies and is priced at $2,588 from New York. Dates are Jan 8-16, 2019. For more details click here or contact me at markziese@gmail.com.

Light rail

20180514_103617.jpg

I can't think of a site in Israel-Palestine where the effort to excavate/restore/present is more vigorous than the Herodium. There is something new to see with each visit.

In this image, workers move material up and down the slope by means of a small boxcar on rails. Reconstruction of the impressive arched corridor and grand stairway will one day allow visitors to climb to the top of this mound in the same way that the ancient did.  

The Herodium is a fortress-palace built by Herod the Great near Bethlehem.


IMG_0859.jpg

Interested in visiting Israel/Palestine yourself?  Pastors, professors, and their spouses are invited to participate in a unique experience. Join us Jan 8-15, 2019, for a rich engagement with the Land of the Bible. Priced at a deep-discount level, this trip introduces leaders to the potential and pitfalls of organized travel.

Climbing "Mt Everest"

From the edge of Bethlehem the camera captures the lumpy "backbone" of the Judean Hills. It is difficult to say with precision where Bethlehem ends and Beit Jala begins, but climbing the steep hill (nicknamed "Mt Everest") to the towers on the horizon brings the walker through the community of Beit Jala.