Jerusalem

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.

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.

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.


Cookie?

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If you try one, you’ll know why you need to buy the box.

Arab hospitality meets shrewd salesmanship in East Jerusalem. There’s a fine line between the two. Bartering, bantering, coffee, and more bartering can be a part of the shopping experience. Bring cash and know your exchange rate if you are going to play the game. Smile regularly.

Welcome to the Middle East.

Photograph by Bible Lands Explorer Mark Kitts.


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Our next experience in the land of the Bible is slated for March 12-23, 2019. We’ll be doing a study-tour with Master’s-level students in Johnson University’s residency program. Student trips are always fast-paced, high-energy, and full of great conversation.

For a complete list of travel opportunities in 2019, see our schedule here.

Right, here

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Most of the time. Except when I’m wrong.

And there is plenty of room for fussing over who is right and who is wrong. Excavations on and around Jerusalem’s Temple Mount have been a lighting rod for controversy and criticism for years. Between Captain Warren’s burrowing in the late 19th century (curious read here) to Elad’s nasty “City of David” land-grab (don’t read this for sure!) there is enough mischief to go around (try not to think about this or this either). Don’t kid yourself; archaeology is a powerful political tool.

It’s almost 20 years old now, but Silberman’s Between Past and Present (1990) is still a valuable read. If you want to learn more about the politicalization of the discipline (find it here).


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A few seats have opened up on our Johnson University Study-Tour to Israel-Palestine slated for March 12-23, 2019. If you are interested in being a part of this high-energy student trip, contact me immediately at markziese@gmail.com. Don’t hesitate. Our roster must be finalized by mid-December. Academic credit is available.

You will never forget it

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How many times have you stood on this scalloped overlook? One? One-hundred? Does it really matter?

The view is pressed into your memory even as the limestone blocks are pressed into the summit of the Mount of Olives. This is special place for the veteran or for the newbie traveler. From here the spectacle of the Old City of Jerusalem unfolds.

You see Jewish, Christian, and Muslim tombs underfoot. Suleiman’s city wall sweeps through the middle of the vista. The platform of Herod’s temple (I call it “Temple 2.5”) rises over previous versions and is, in turn, topped today a golden dome. A new “Mt Zion” looms on the horizon.

Less obvious (for older eyes) is the “Stepped Stone Structure” of the City of David, the Rockefeller Museum, the steeple of the the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, and, of course, the steely grey caps marking the place where Jesus died and rose again: the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

It is a snapshot of no less than three thousand years of history. From this place you can see it. And feel it.

How many times have you stood on this scalloped overlook?

Our thanks to Bible Land Explorer Melinda Lee who stood here and took this picture less than two weeks ago.


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A few seats have opened up on our Johnson University Study-Tour to Israel-Palestine slated for March 12-23, 2019. If you are interested in being a part of this high-energy student trip, contact me immediately at markziese@gmail.com. Don’t hesitate. Our roster must be finalized by mid-December. Academic credit is available.

It means “Sent”

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The village of Silwan perches on the eastern slopes of the Kidron Valley. Below, a water-source known locally as Birket Silwân provides water for the region. The Arab community draws its life—and its name—from this fountain.

The label is an old one. The LXX and Josephus drop several Greek variations including Siloa, Siloas, or Siloam. All of these are rendering of the older Hebrew Shiloah (See, for example, Isaiah 8:6). The root of this verb likely means “to send” or “direct.” Objects of the verb in the Hebrew Bible include arrows, messengers, animals, plagues, light, etc.

Wordplays are a common feature of the biblical text and its exegesis. No doubt the Apostle John was skilled wordsmith. As I look at the scene pictured above, my mind drifts to his account of the healing of a blind man:

“When he (Jesus) had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’ (which means ‘Sent’). Then he went and washed and came back able to see” (John 9:6-7, NRSV).

Get past the muddy goo to the meaningful gloss.

By means of the parenthetical comment on the name of the pool, “which means Sent,” John not only suggests the meaning of the old name but larger movements in the narrative. Just as the springwater is “sent” up from the ground, so too, the blind man to the pool and Jesus from the Father. Think about this as you reread the story found here.

Photograph by Bible Lands Explorer Tess Edmonds.


A few seats have opened up on our Johnson University Study-Tour to Israel-Palestine slated for March 12-23, 2019. If you are interested in being a part of this high-energy student trip, contact me immediately at markziese@gmail.com. Don’t hesitate. Our roster must be finalized by mid-December. Academic credit is available.


Then and now

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Jerusalem’s el-Ghazali Square doesn’t look like much. It doesn’t smell too good either. Today it is used as a car park and as a temporary storage place for local garbage. However, thousands of years ago this area contained a large water reservoir. The reservoir was likely built (or improved) in the second century after the time of Christ. Some would date its original construction still earlier.

The reservoir is often called Birket Israel or “Pool of Israel” although it has been confused with the nearby Pool of Bethesda.

el-Ghazali Square is located immediately to the left as one enter’s the Lion Gate of Jerusalem’s Old City walls.

Bible Land Explorer Patrick Furgerson took the photo above on our recent visit. Compare it to this one taken in the 19th century before the pool was infilled.


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I’m in Israel-Palestine right now with a group from Chantilly, Virginia. Today we visited Bethlehem and Beit Sahour, sites associated with the story of the birth of Jesus.

Consider this your invitation to participate in a trip of adventure and renewal. For a complete list of travel opportunities, see our 2019 schedule here. Contact me at markziese@gmail.com if interested.

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.

 

 

 

Total silence

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Rarely can you can walk down the middle of the street in East Jerusalem and not hear a sound; no wheels screeching, horns honking, kids crying, or people shouting.

The Islamic month of Ramadan has come. The canon-shot announced the end of a day. In that moment fasting turned to feasting. Give it an hour and everyone will be revived and the cacophony will return.

Holiday lights are strung on Salah edh-Din for the occasion.


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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.

Tomb shield

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A modest structure rests in the Kidron Valley just outside of Jerusalem's walls. It shields a crypt that, according to tradition, once held the remains of Mary, mother of Jesus. Signage is absent but if one peers down into an enclosed courtyard just to the north of The Church of All Nations, it will be immediately visible.

The stonework of the façade and around the wide staircase just inside the door hails from the Crusader period. The tomb beneath is believed to be first century, albeit modified later in the Byzantine period. 

The New Testament does not report the end of Mary's life, although several early accounts--sometimes contradictory--speak of her life beyond the resurrection of Jesus.


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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 group travel to this exciting part of the world. See the tab marked "Future Trips" at markziese.com.

Corn fields and poppies and mark

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Voilà!  Selfie taken to demonstrate that I am not uncultured. Just Bohemian.

Vincent Van Gogh, circa 1888. Israel Museum.

Thanks John Ketchen.


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.

Our lines in the sand

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As the paint peels off this artistic display on a street in Beit Jala, a vision dissipates. The writing at the bottom reads sanaoud, roughly, "we will be back again." The notion of reunited families (both Christian and Muslim) is captured in the symbolism. A boat with a Palestinian flag is pushed home by billowing sails.

Just as blustery is the vision of the Israeli right. "Jerusalem Day" is a myth at best; an excuse for a hate parade at worst. Triumphalism brings unity like oppression brings peace. 

Fortunately there is a third option. Some might call it a dream. If so, call me a dreamer. One day, when the time is right, heaven and earth will be folded together (see here). I suspect those grasping for a nation of their own and those who are struggling mightily to grip one will be surprised at His indifference to the lines we draw in the sand.


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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 group travel to this exciting part of the world.

Elijah's view before takeoff

The Jordan River snakes along the floor of the valley. It carries moisture to vegetation that can tolerate sweltering heat and salty soil. 

Journey up the "Jesus Stairs"

Excavations in the archaeological park adjacent to the Haram esh-Sharif in Jerusalem have revealed features from many different periods. Among the most interesting is the monumental stairway pictured here. The use phase of this construction corresponds with the time when the limestone platform above contained the (Second) Temple of YHWH. These stairs were used by worshippers approaching the temple complex from the south.

Memorial Day, Haredi-style

The site of Al-Nabi Samwil rises between Jerusalem and Ramallah and offers splendid views to each. According to tradition, the spot marks the burial place of the prophet Samuel (as my students know, the "king-maker" and "king-breaker" from the biblical book). Archaeology hardly bears this tradition out, however. Ruins date to the Iron II period and beyond. Today, a single stone structure dominates the hilltop. Inside, Muslim worshipper pray at ground level; Jewish worshippers pray in the basement below. I prefer the roof for the view.

We found ourselves at Al-Nabi Samwil yesterday (by accident!) at the time of an annual holiday. The activity closed the road and the adjacent Arab village. Ultra-Orthodox gathered by the hundreds to remember the memory of the prophet. 

A leader in the field

Volkmar Fritz (1938-2007) was the director of the German Protestant Institute of Archaeology in Jerusalem between 1994 and 1999. He was a leader in the field, a generous scholar, and an encourager of prompt publication. Here, he discusses the finer points of a site on a fieldtrip with Albright fellows Justin, Mark, and Ann.

For those interested in biblical archaeology, his The City in Ancient Israel (1995) is a must read.