Israel

A walk of faith

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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.


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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.

Na’eeman!

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Getting a haircut in Palestine is always a cultural experience. For starters, there is usually the wait on a crowded bench with those who are your closest friends (or soon will be). Much coffee is consumed (and in the old days, cigarettes too), before, during, and sometimes after a cut. Threading is always a thrill. Waxing happens on occasion and of course, there is always the straight razor to the throat. Good haircuts take time. I promise that your eyebrows, cheeks, and ears will never look better (even if they do tingle a little bit).

In my experience the better barbers also demonstrate a bit of showmanship: scissors are clicked and twirled, brushes are juggled, fingers are snapped to the music. There is rhythm to it all.

Finally (after a little powder and/or cologne) comes the customary salute as the towel is whipped from the neck. “Na’eeman,” the barber pronounces with pride. It’s a kind of blessing about always being so fresh.

“Allah yena’am ‘alek,” I respond freshly.


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Palestinian fellas take pride in their hair. They don’t have sloppy mops like us Americans.

If you are interested in getting a good haircut in the land of the Bible you might want to consider joining one of our trips scheduled for 2020 or 2021. There are open seats on our trips found at the link here.

We can point you to some barbershops where you can get a good haircut.

Wheelman extraordinaire

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The single most important relationship on a study-tour is the one between the guide and driver. That kind of chemistry doesn’t develop in a day. But when it does develop and works well, logistics are resolved and many other things fall into place.

I am fortunate to work again this year with my dear friend Robert Makhlouf. He is extraordinary driver, an Arab Christian, and a new father of a lovely baby girl. He not only knows the roads, he knows how to keep his customers happy. Working with Robert has been one of the high points of my summer. He wears that grin morning, noon, and evening!

We contract exclusively with the George Garabedian Company in Jerusalem. GGC is an Armenian Christian group that uses top-notch drivers and state of the art motor-coaches. Robert is pictured here sitting in a 2018 Volvo. It is new, expansive, comfortable, and our home away from home.


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If you are interested in experiencing the biblical Heartland for yourself, consider joining us next year. We have open seats for several trips in 2020 and 2021. We are booking new groups for 2022. Shoot me a note at markziese@gmail.com or see our full list of study-travel opportunities at the link here.

Put out into the Deep

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The chapel at Magdala sits on the lapping shore of the Sea of Galilee. It carries the Latin name Duc in altum, or “put into the deep.” These words are a reminder of the instruction of our Lord to the disciples as recorded in Luke 5:4. The seasoned fishermen had caught nothing after a night’s work. Joining them in the boat, Jesus gave them these directions, in essence saying “try here.” The protest of Peter is understandable; he was no fishing novice. But he listened and as a result their net caught such a load of fish they they struggled to retrieve it. It was a miraculous moment that prompted an even more miraculous response, “they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything, and followed him.”


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We spent most of yesterday around the Sea of Galilee. Magdala and its chapel dedicated to the women in Jesus’s ministry were one of the high points. Today we go out on water for a sailing voyage of our own!

If you are interested in experiencing the biblical Heartland for yourself, consider joining us next year. We have open seats for several trips in 2020 and 2021. We are booking new groups for 2022. Shoot me a note at markziese@gmail.com or see our full list of study-travel opportunities at the link here.



Not the soul, but the heart

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If Jerusalem is the soul of Israel-Palestine, Tel-Aviv is the beating heart. It beats to a techno rhythm, pulsing, electronic, and fast. There is nothing ancient about this place except the sandstone beneath its feet.

I captured this view from the overlook on the north end of the tell at Yafo (Jaffa, Joppa). The steel and glass highrises of Tel Aviv mount in the distance. One-third of the entire population of Israel-Palestine lives in this congested place.

The abundance of new digital companies give Tel Aviv its nickname: “startup city.”


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This morning we pack our bags and leave the Mediterranean behind. We’ll exchange the view of this salty sea for a freshwater one: the Sea of Galilee.

If you are interested in experiencing the biblical Heartland for yourself, consider joining us next year. We have open seats for several trips in 2020 and 2021. We are booking new groups for 2022. Shoot me a note at markziese@gmail.com or see our full list of study-travel opportunities at the link here.

Soaring

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So I’m on the ninth floor of a hotel that is on a cliff overlooking the Mediterranean Sea and these dudes are jumping, swooping, and flying. Their control of these paragliders is amazing! I am mesmerized. I imagine reaching out and giving one of them a high-five as he whistles by!

Their wings have no rigid structures. They take advantage of lifts and currents where the sea and the land meet and can climb hundreds of meters into the sky. They take off and land gently with little effort. When done, the wing and control lines fold into a tidy package.

There are some nice sandstone cliffs here in Netanya, Israel. There are also a fine collection of 100+ meter skyscrapers. Given the high price of real estate here, the only direction to expand is up.

Time to get a paraglider.

Would you do it?


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If you are interested in experiencing “the Israeli Riviera” and a host of other sites in the biblical Heartland for yourself, consider joining us next year. We have open seats for several trips in 2020 and 2021. We are booking new groups for 2022. Shoot me a note at markziese@gmail.com or see our full list of study-travel opportunities at the link here.

Who's your papa?

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The double-headed eagle is a heraldic symbol of the Greek Orthodox Church. It is an ancient motif, used perhaps for the first time by the Hittites in modern day Turkey. It reemerged in the Byzantine Empire and was widely used by the 11th and 12th centuries AD.

The meaning of the two heads with one body is debated. Some suggest it presents the unity of church and state, a principle that guided the Byzantines. Others suggest it represents the dominion of the empire in the East and in the West.

In countries where Orthodoxy has a powerful presence it continue to be used today.

I found this one perched on a rope-stand in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, Palestine.


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Pilgrims await their turn (sortof) to enter the grotto at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Tradition suggests that this is place where Jesus was born.

If you are interested in experiencing Bethlehem and a host of other sites for yourself, consider joining us next year. We have open seats for several trips in 2020 and 2021. We are booking new groups for 2022. Shoot me a note at markziese@gmail.com or see our full list of study-travel opportunities at the link here.

Somber

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The Barluzzi chapel known as the Church of All Nations (or the Basilica of the Agony) marks the place associated with the Garden of Gethsemane. This urban garden was visited early and often by Christian pilgrims and continues to be a place of prayer today. The present structure was built in the 1920s over older foundations.

Gethsemane is mentioned in the gospels as the place where Jesus was “pressed” on the night of his arrest (See Matt 26 or Mark 14). It was here that he famously said “I want your will to be done, not mine” (Luke 22: 42).


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As our current group of Explorers are nearing the end of their trip another is preparing to arrive. Summer is a busy time in the biblical Heartland.

If you are interested in experiencing the Garden of Gethsemane and a host of other sites for yourself, consider joining us next year. We have open seats for several trips in 2020 and 2021. We are booking new groups for 2022. Shoot me a note at markziese@gmail.com or see our full list of study-travel opportunities at the link here.

Israeli Art

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Confession: Today was the first time I ever visited the Israel Museum and did not enter the archaeology wing. Soon after entering I fell into a group tour focused on Jewish art. While I didn’t alway appreciate every piece, I appreciated the stories and interpretive prompts. Rosalind did a wonderful job of guiding our little group through stylistic developments in paintings from the socialist realism of the early 20th century to our own day.

In case you are wondering, the Israel Museum in Jerusalem was founded in 1965 and is an important repository of cultural artifacts from the prehistoric period to the present. Their collection is enormous and needs to be on the bucket list of every Bible Land Explorer.


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Vincent Van Gogh’s Corn Harvest in Province (1888) is one of a number of works currently on display in the Israel Museum.

We try to include an afternoon visit to the museum on each of our trips. If you are interested in experiencing the culture of the biblical Heartland for yourself, consider joining us in the future. We have open seats for several trips in 2020 and 2021. We are booking new groups for 2022. Shoot me a note at markziese@gmail.com or see our full list of study-travel opportunities at the link here.

Secrets known and unknown

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Capernaum has taught us much about Galilean life in the first millennium of the Christian era. We celebrate these finds but are convinced that what remains hidden beneath rock and sod may be equally astounding. Its secrets have not yet been fully revealed.


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Archaeological efforts were selectively devoted to Capernaum in the 20th c. Tour talks regularly focus on the “White Synagogue” and “St Peter’s house.” But there is much more to this important place than this.

If you are interested in experiencing the biblical Heartland for yourself, consider joining us in the future. We have open seats for several trips in 2020 and 2021. We are booking new groups for 2022. Shoot me a note at markziese@gmail.com or see our full list of study-travel opportunities at the link here.

A wet walk in a dry place

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While our group experienced the wonder of swimming in the Dead Sea, I headed in the opposite direction. The Wadi Boqeq Nature Reserve is hidden in a narrow canyon that drains the east side of the Wilderness of Judea. I waded upstream for maybe a kilometer at sunset. It was a wet hike with lots of small waterfalls, waterholes, boulders, birds, and lush vegetation.

Apart from a group of three that exited the canyon (near the ruins of a Roman/Byzantine fortress) as I entered, it was a solitary experience. The sound of splashing water and cooing doves kept me company. The shadows lengthened in the rose-colored canyon as the sun released its grip on the day.

Ironically, the modern name of the place in Hebrew is boqeq. The term refers to wasted or empty space (see Isaiah 24:1).

Flash flooding make desert wadis a dangerous place in the winter (as Job 6:15 suggests) but in the summertime they are cool havens for life in an otherwise inhospitable desert.


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The view from our hotel window at Ein Boqeq is hardly desolate. The contrast between the swim area in the Dead Sea and the hotel spa and pool could not be stronger.

If you are interested in experiencing the desert stretches of the biblical Heartland for yourself, consider joining us in the future. We have open seats for several trips in 2020 and 2021. We are booking new groups for 2022. Shoot me a note at markziese@gmail.com or see our full list of study-travel opportunities here.

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.

In the mustard

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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?


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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.


Sense of scents

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A visit to Nazareth is incomplete without a stop at the Elbabour Mill. This stop is a delight to the eye, nose, and heart. The eye is excited by the colors. The nose is captured by the aroma of the earth’s natural flavors. The heart is warmed by the hospitality of our dear friends Tony and Jarjura.

The mill is located in the center of Nazareth’s old market, not far from the community well. It has serviced the agricultural needs of the village since the Late Ottoman period. Its name, el babour, is a Arabic corruption of the phrase “the vapor” and refers to the steam engine that originally powered the mill.

Photo by Bible Land Explorer Jessica Poettker.


Tony Kanaza (far right) never fails to delight with stories of the mill, his latest culinary adventure, and his father. Read about this unique place in Nazareth’s history linked here.

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 possibilities or join one of the excursions listed here.

Rain sweeps by Mt Carmel

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Standing on the summit of Mt Carmel I watch the rain sweep through the region. It pushes in from the Mediterranean and moves east, washing the central hills.

I shiver in the wind.

It is the perfect moment to reflect upon the story told in 1 Kings 18. There, we read of the contest between the prophet Elijah and the prophets of Baal. The story has many points of entry but one of significance is the question: who controls the rain? Is is Baʿal, Rider of the Clouds or YHWH Adonai, the Creator of all things?

Find a dry place and consider the story for yourself (find it here).

Don’t miss the big finish. It is initiated by a cloud the size of a man’s hand and spotted from Carmel’s furrowed brow.

“Meanwhile, the sky grew black with clouds, the wind rose, a heavy rain started falling and Ahab rode off to Jezreel. The power of YHWH came on Elijah and, tucking his cloak into his belt, he ran ahead of Ahab all the way to Jezreel (1 Kings 18:45-46).

It was the first mud run.

Photograph by Bible Land Explorer Seth Tinkler.


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St Jerome (AD 347-420) once called the Land of the Bible the “fifth gospel. “Read the fifth,” he wrote, “and the world of the four will open to you.”

If you’d like to “read the fifth,” be aware that there are openings for Israel/Palestine trips departing this summer. Shoot me a note at markziese@gmail.com or see our full list of study-travel opportunities here.

Elisha's Spring (Jericho)

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Rising at the base of Tell es-Sultan (OT Jericho), Palestine, is a spring. It is a source of life in the moon-like landscape of the Lower Jordan Valley. Today, the water is used chiefly for agricultural purposes, but in antiquity it provided drinking water for those living in this parched oasis.

The great prophets Elijah and Elisha passed through here. In the case of the latter, a story is told that involves Jericho’s spring. It is found in 2 Kings 2:19-22 and it goes like this:

“The people of the city (of Jericho) said to Elisha, “Look, our lord, this town is well situated, as you can see, but the water is bad and the land is unproductive.” 

“Bring me a new bowl,” he said, “and put salt in it.” So they brought it to him.

Then he went out to the spring and threw the salt into it, saying, “This is what the Lord says: ‘I have healed this water. Never again will it cause death or make the land unproductive.’” And the water has remained pure to this day, according to the word Elisha had spoken.”

It is another head-scratching example of Elisha’s wonder-working power.

The phrase “Elisha’s Spring” or “The Prophet’s Spring” is still used today to describe this copious flow. You can see the spring house if you look east from the top of the mound. It is a elongated building with a red tiled roof just across the road.


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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 possibilities or consider joining one of our planned excursions listed 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.

The shield of Avraham

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Nate enjoys the view from the bow of the Magen Avraham.

The Magen Avraham is one of several boats that ply the Sea of Galilee.

The phrase “shield of Abraham” is drawn from Genesis 15:1, “Fear not, Abram, I am a shield (magen) to you; your reward shall be great.”

In the 17th century an important Polish rabbi was nicknamed “Magen Avraham.” His commentary on the Jewish Law was published posthumously and was given his nickname for a title.

At about the same time Jewish pirates roamed the high seas of the New World in a ship dubbed Magen Avraham.*

I’m not sure if our boat was named after the Genesis text, the rabbi, the book, the pirate ship or something else. It wasn’t flying the skull and crossbones. The next time I talk to Captain Tamer I’ll ask him.

In the meantime, we’ll enjoy the view.

Photograph by Bible Land Explorer Seth Tinkler.


*See the article in the Jerusalem Post by Gil Stern Zohar titled “Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean,” published 4/9/2016. Accessed here on 3/29/2019.


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Nate is a part of is a collaborative program involving between JU and local churches. He will graduate this May with a Master of Strategic Ministry degree.

If you would like to have a “deep sea” adventure of your own, know that there are openings for trips departing this summer. Check the list of opportunities here.

Check the mouth for a coin

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Visiting the Sea of Galilee (Kinneret) can make a fella hungry. So what do you do for lunch?

St Peter’s fish and chips of course!

People have been sharing meals like this on the seashore for millennia, but at no time as intensively as today. Excessive pressure has forced bans and limits on fishing in the Sea of Galilee. No worries though. Fish farms make up the lack and fill the plates.

Of course, this means that the tilapia on your plate may have never splashed in the Sea of Galilee, ate a coin, or multiplied. See an interesting story here.

Still, it is a pilgrim pleasure to be enjoyed. Have you tried it? Grilled or fried? What did you think?

Photo by Bible Land Explorer Jess Pottker.


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These fish-eaters are part of the residency program of Johnson University. The program is a collaborative arrangement between Johnson University and local churches. The program leads to a Master of Strategic Ministry degree.

If you would like to have a fishy adventure of your own in the Land of the Bible, know 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.