Old Testament World

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.

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.

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.

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.

It makes the sun stand still

Workers assist the photographer by holding a Joshua cloth over an excavated area. As the summer sun creates harsh contrasts and washes out color, the creation of a little shade makes for better field photographs.

These tactics test group creativity. Holding the cloth at various angles (depending on the size or contour of the area), strategically using head scarves, jackets, or even a contorted row of bodies to block the sun, can make for some good laughs. Windy days convert the Joshua cloth into a sail and require many hands! Published photographs from a dig never reveal such antics, but believe me, they lurk behind many a "scientific presentation."

Note the north arrow and the scale in the center of the square.

Michèle Daviau of Wilfrid Laurier University (Canada) was director of this 1991 effort at Tell Jawa, Jordan. Michèle is behind the camera on the tripod.

The label "Joshua cloth" is drawn from the story of "the longest day" told in Joshua 10. You can read it here. Look for the prayer found in 10:12-13.

A bird's eye view

The cable car ascent to the Monastery of the Temptation (Deir al-Quruntal) passes over the southern end of Tell es-Sultan. Associated with Old Testament Jericho, the western edge of this surprisingly small tell is lined with trees. Kathleen Kenyon's West Trench (just to the left of the "bridge" looking structure in the center of the picture) is visible. The buildings of modern Jericho stretch to the north and east.

A path between the testaments

The wooden stairway cut into the slope of Tel el-Hisn transports the explorer from the base of the site, where the Roman-Byzantine city sprawled, to the top of the mound, where the ancient site was located. The lower city was known as Scythopolis and was a member of the Decapolis league. The settlement on the mound above preserves the Old Testament name Beth Shan. According to the text of 1 Samuel 31, it was here that the bodies of Saul and Jonathan were hung from the city wall.

Teachers and students

Crew from the Madaba Plains Project, Jordan, study a daily haul of potsherds from the site of Tell Jalul. Randy Younker (center table left) and Dave Merling (center table right) directed the fieldwork throughout the 1990s. PhD candidates Paul Gregor (far left) and Chang-Ho Ji (middle, with hat) would go on to direct their own projects in Jordan.

Hold the line!

Robert Hutson attempts to save stretched strings from the hooves of a passing herd. The strings are used to frame excavation areas. These 1991 excavations at Tell Jawa South were part of a timely effort to preserve Jordan's cultural resources ahead of Amman's urban sprawl. Note the development taking place immediately below the site.