archaeology

Duck, duck, goosed

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While the Egyptian goose (Alopochen aegyptiacais) is considered an invasive species in many parts of the world, this one is right at home in Lake Manyara, Tanzania. Prized for its colorful plumage, this sub-Saharan waterfowl was introduced to Europe in the 19th century and has been spotted in places as faraway as Florida, Texas, and California.

It is claimed that the bird is a cross between a duck and a goose (see here, accessed 10/13/2019), but I’m suspicious.

The Egyptian goose thrives along the Nile and in sub-Saharan Africa. It is the only surviving member of a family of birds dubbed Alopochen or “fox-goose.” Other species once inhabited the island of Madagascar but are now extinct. The name is likely derived from their mottled color

A painted panel claimed to have been rescued from a third millennium BC tomb in Egypt may depict a couple of these geese. Since the tomb was located near the Meidum pyramid, it has been dubbed the "Meidum Geese.”

Controversy continues to be directed at the panel. An Italian scholar has claimed that the “Meidum Geese” was a clever 19th century forgery. If substantiated, the claim would be a blow, as the fine execution of the piece has earned it the status of an aviary “Mona Lisa.” Egyptian authorities deny the thought that this prized depiction was cooked up.

Detail of the Meidum Geese. Image from    here    (accessed 10?13/2019).

Detail of the Meidum Geese. Image from here (accessed 10?13/2019).


For more on the Egyptian goose, see the links here and here (accessed 10/13/2019).

For more on the Meidum Geese” controversy see here and here (accessed 10/13/2019).


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If you are a church leader who is interested in leading a trip to the Bible Lands, I’d like to hear from you. I partner with faith-based groups to deliver outdoor academic experiences. Leaders receive the same perks that other agencies offer, at competitive prices and without the self-serving interests.

Right now we are building the roster for an Israel excursion for March 17-28, 2020. Seats are still available. For a full list of future trips go to the link here or contact me at markziese@gmail.com.

What’s that wall sitting on?

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The Ottoman fortress at the site of Aphek (Tel Afek) is impressive. It was constructed in the 16th century at a choke point between the foothills of the Heartland’s central spine and the swamp of the Yarkon River.* The fortress had a massive enclosure wall and four corner towers, all quite visible today.

The lowest courses of the fortress are seen in this shot. But look closely. The foundation for this portion of the structure is a (Late?) Roman street! The angular pavers and curbing clearly run under the fortress.

Long before the Turks sought to control this space, Herod the Great claimed it and built a city. He named it after his father Antipater. Antipatris, as the Roman city was known, played an important role in the region and is noted in the writing of Josephus and the Bible.

The Apostle Paul traveled through this place after his arrest as recorded in the book of Acts. To prevent Paul’s assassination, the Romans sneaked him by night from Jerusalem to Antipatris. There, the footsoldiers returned to their base while the horsemen carried the Apostle on to Caesarea. See Acts 23:31-32.

Don’t you wonder if Paul himself came into Antipatris on this street?


*The fort is known by the locals as Binar Bashi, a corruption of the Turkish for “fountainhead.”


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Our current group of Bible Land Explorers is headed for the Tel Aviv airport this evening. We have had a good time!

If you would like to explore the place where faith begins, you should check out our list of future trips. The remainder of 2020 is sold out, but we have seats available for 2021 and are currently working on group reservations for 2022. Find a trip by clicking the link here or contact me directly at markziese@gmail.com.

The crypt of John the Baptist

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Mark the Evangelist describes how John the Baptist was beheaded by the order of Herod Antipas. The site where this happened seems to have been a mountain fortress in modern Jordan (μάχαιρα or Mukawir).*

When John’s disciples heard of this execution, they “came for his body and laid it in a tomb” (Mark 6:29). Several early Christian sources claim that John’s remains were eventually transferred to the site of Sebastiya, some 12 kilometers northwest of Nablus in the heart of Palestine.** John’s crypt is still there (preserved as part of a mosque), not far from the palace of ancient Israelite kings.

We visited Sebastiya and the keeper of the key was kind enough to open the reliquary. Inside was a shrine marking the place where John’s remains were placed.


*See the link to Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 18.5.2 here.

**A helpful article by Carla Benelli may be found here. Benelli describes the sources for this tradition as well as some detail about the structure in Sebastiya.


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This intrepid crew has not only crawled into the crypt of John the Baptist, they have witnessed how history and tradition have played out across the landscape of Israel/Palestine.

If you are interested in experiencing the Land of the Bible in a different kind of way, consider joining one of our trips scheduled for 2020 or 2021! Find a trip by clicking the link here or contact me directly at markziese@gmail.com. We are currently working on group reservations for 2022.

Summit view

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Seth stands on the acropolis of the mound of Samaria/Sebastiya. From this point, the central “spine” of the Heartland is appreciated. Elevations rise two to three thousand feet in the area. This ruin-mound is located about 12 kilometers northwest of Nablus, in the heart of Palestine.

King Omri built a palace here in the mi-9th century BC. It became the capital of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Much later, Herod the great erected a temple on the summit and dedicated it to Caesar Augustus.

The view from here is quite fine!


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We are in the last week of our summer blitz of study-tours in the Heartland. It has been a good run.

If you or someone you know is interested in experiencing the Land of the Bible in a different kind of way, 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 by clicking the link here or contact me directly at markziese@gmail.com. We are currently working on group reservations for 2022.

An interesting footprint

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The Centre International Marie de Nazareth offers visitors a snapshot of the archaeological findings beneath the footprint of their building. Iron Age remains are visible as well as a domestic installations from the NT period.

Today we made a new friend in Jean-Pierre. He helped our group understand these ruins as well as the ministry of the Chemin Neuf community.

The Centre International is located just across the street (and uphill slightly) from the main entrance to the Basilica of the Annuncation. The archaeological presentation as well as a splendid rooftop view to the Basilica may be enjoyed for a donation. Learn more from their website here.

I recommend both if you are in town.


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If you or someone you know is interested in experiencing the Land of the Bible in a new way, 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. We are currently working on group reservations for 2022.

A slice of Jerusalem history

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The Tower of David Museum is a splendid place to consider the deep history of Jerusalem. Exhibits, both permanent and temporary, help tell the story of this iconic city.

The “tower” from which this picture was taken, however, has nothing to do with David, but everything to do with Herod the Great and the Romans. Herod’s Jerusalem palace once stood on this spot, and, according to Josephus, he built three towers here. They were named after significant people in his life: Mariamne, Hippicus, and Phasael. When Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70, they allowed these towers to remain as testimony to the former grandeur of the city (See Jewish War 7.1.1. at the link here). Many scholars believe the present structure is the remains of the Phasael Tower.

The Byzantines likely gave the site the name the “Tower of David” under the mistaken belief that this was the palace of Israel’s famous OT king.

Other periods of history are represented here. The present shape was basically achieved in AD 1310.


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The flavors of Jerusalem are compelling to the senses. If you are interested in experiencing them personally, 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. We are currently working on customized group reservations for 2022.

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.

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.

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.

Rock concert

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Justin Sutherland strikes a pose in the rain.

The striking architecture of Caesarea-by-the-Sea was erected between 22-10 BC by Herod the Great. At the time, structures such as this theater were foreign in the Heartland. Herod accelerated the import of technology and the culture of the West and put his Eastern domain on the map. This opulence in stonework is nowhere as visible as in the Roman theater pictured here, the first of many built in the region.

The featured stone of the Caesarea is kurkar, a local sandstone.

Photo taken by Bible Land Explorer Jess Poettker.


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Jess (left) and Justin (above) are a part of the residency program of Johnson University. This program leads to a Master of Strategic Ministry degree. It involves a collaborative relationship between JU and local churches and is designed to equip students for effective, strategic Christian leadership. It includes a study-tour to Israel/Palestine.

To learn more about JU’s residencies, see the link 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.

Facelift

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Spent a few hours in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem yesterday. The restoration (which is not quite yet complete) is simply stunning. Those who can remember the dark dingy nave of yesteryear will be astounded to see the place today. The new roof is rustic but beautiful. You can see the open rafters of cedar that were hewn and hoisted into positioned in the 14th century. The 44 columns that support that roof were cut from local limestone and polished to a high degree. Now that they’ve been cleaned, you can distinguish them from their white marble crowns decorated in acanthus leaves. Note the scrollwork in the architrave that spans the gaps between the columns.

Keep in mind that this structure has been continually used as a place of Christian worship since the time of Constantine (mid 4th century). That makes it unique in all of Israel-Palestine.

The outline of the present structure was established by Justinian I in the mid-6th century.

The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem was erected over a cave where Jesus was born.

It was the first place in Palestine to be recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.


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The Church of the Nativity is hopping right now as the tourist season is in full bloom.

We have openings right now for a trips scheduled to depart this summer. Write me at markziese@gmail.com for more information or check our full list of study-travel opportunities here.

Arsameia on the Nymphaios

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In the windblown highlands of the Taurus Mountains is the summer capital remembered as Arsameia (Eski Kâhta). It is overshadowed—almost literally—by Mount Nimrut (Nemrut Dağı) and is forever tethered to it. Both are associated with the Kingdom of the Commagenê (see previous post here). Both require effort to reach. Both are monumental mausoleum sites.

The difference is that Arsameia on the Nymphaios (its full name identifies with the nearby stream) was a city of the living. Mount Nimrut, while more spectacular, was a necropolis.

Arsameia was a hub of the Commagenê, founded and named after Arsames.* He, and the Commagenê emerged in the first half of the 3rd century BC as Seleucid control of the region flagged during the Syrian Wars.

Pictured here is the Mithras Relief identified by the excavator as Site II. The standing stone has been partially restored. Carved on the side facing the valley (and the camera) is the god Mithras. He wears the floppy Phrygian cap. Inscriptions are carved on the reverse.

Blocks from the site were hauled downslope in the Roman period and used to build the Cendere Bridge (see post here).


*The Greek Arsámēs is likely drawn from the Aramaic ʾršm (“hero”?). It is an old name with a deep history of use by Persian notables.


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Travel in Eastern Turkey is tough these days, but trips to Israel-Palestine are in full swing. We have openings right now for a trip scheduled May 25 through June 4, 2019. Inclusive price out of Washington Dulles is $3,963. Other departure cities are possible. Write me at markziese@gmail.com for more information or check our full list of study-travel opportunities here.

Far and away

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The rugged region between the Cendere Bridge and Nemrut Dağı conceals the residues of many cultures. One of interest to Bible Land Explorers is Commagenê. In the time of Christ this tiny Hellenized kingdom of the East (Βασίλειον τῆς Kομμαγηνῆς) was positioned between the overlapping orbits of Rome, Parthia, and Armenia. Its strategic value lay in this nexus and in its control of crossing points along the Upper Euphrates.

The geographer Strabo refers to Commagenê as a small but fertile place, naturally fortified, and connected to the great river.* He considers it in the context of greater Syria, and, as some have suggested, its inhabitants may have been as comfortable working in a dialect of Aramaic as they were in Greek.**

At one rest stop, our local guide pointed out the ruins of “Old Kahta” above our heads. I fired my camera. While the Romans and Mamluks built here in later periods, it was originally a fortified site of the Commagenê.

Ancient Commagenê corresponds roughly with the Turkish province of Adıyaman.


*Geography 16.2. See the link here.

**Fergus Millar, The Roman Near East 31 BC – AD 337 (Cambridge: Harvard, 1993): 454.


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Travel in Eastern Turkey is tough these days, but trips to Israel-Palestine are in full swing. We have openings right now for trip scheduled May 25 through June 4, 2019. Inclusive price out of Washington Dulles is $3,963. Other departure cities are possible. Write me at markziese@gmail.com for more information or check our full list of study-travel opportunities here.



Fratricide and other grimness

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I’ve devoted a couple of POTDs to the Cendere Bridge in SE Turkey (see here and here). It is an amazing piece of Roman engineering that has attracted the attention of academics for more than a century. French epigraphers Louis Jalabert and René Mouterde were the first to study and publish its inscriptions in 1929.*

These tell, in part, how four cities of the region honored Emperor Septimius Severus and his family.

In the photo above Keith points to one of two inscriptions cut into vertical blocks that form a part of the bridge’s railing. The Latin (for the curious) is found here.

Three more inscriptions are located on columns positioned on the bridgehead. These columns were once adorned with statues. Emperor Septimus and his wife Julia Domma stood on one end. Their two sons, Caracalla and Publius Geta stood on the other. While their images are long gone, dedicatory inscriptions are still visible.

Three of the four columns are still standing. The fourth, that of Geta, was removed after Caracalla assassinated him (while clinging to his mother, it is said!) and sought to erase his memory.

It’s that old Cain and Abel stuff.


*See Jalabert, Louis, and René Mouterde, Les inscriptions grecques et latines de la Syrie (IGLS) I, Commagene and Cyrrhestique (BAH 12), Paris, 1929.


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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 need to grab your seat quickly. Inclusive price out of Washington Dulles is $3,963. Other departure cities are possible. Write me at markziese@gmail.com for more information or check our full list of study-travel opportunities here.

On the way to the Euphrates

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Yesterday’s post (see here) offered a brief introduction to the Cendere Bridge (also known as the Septimius Severus Bridge) located in SE Turkey. It measures more than a football field in length (120 meters) and is a marvel of engineering from Roman period.

While a modern bridge has replaced it as a primary route over the Cendere Stream, light wheeled traffic still traverses it daily.

A gorge cut into the foot of the Taurus Mountains is visible behind the bridge. This incision is the work of the Cendere (or Bölam Su) which drains the highlands, flows under the bridge and continues south to the Euphrates River.

A Roman dedicatory inscription on the bridge identifies the stream by its ancient name, the Chabina.


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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. Inclusive price out of Washington Dulles is $3,963. Other departure cities are possible. Write me at markziese@gmail.com to request more information or see here for other upcoming travel opportunities.

The red ribbon bridge?

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These intrepid Bible Land Explorers pose on one end of what is possibly the second longest Roman bridge still standing today. The arch in the center spans Chabinas Creek and measures 34.2 meters (112 feet) across. The entire bridge, including build-up, measures 120 meters (390 feet) in length. It is a marvel of Roman engineering.

Nearby signage identifies it as the Cendere Bridge or the Septimius Severus Bridge. It was likely built between AD 198-200 as part of the Roman preparations for another chapter in the Parthian conflict.

The construction was undertaken by Rome’s XVI Legion. Inscriptions dedicate the bridge to Septimius Severus who was emperor at the end of the 2nd century AD. It may have replaced an earlier bridge from the time of Vespasian.

While some may dispute that the Cendere Bridge takes the red ribbon as far as Roman bridges go, there is no dispute about which bridge gets the blue. The Puente Romano on the Guadiana River in Mérida, Spain, is easily the longest with an impressive length of 790 meters (almost 2,600 feet).

The bridge pictured above is located in SE Turkey, not far from the modern town of Adiyaman.


*Note the discussion of construction/reconstruction in the article “Severan (Cendere) Bridge” posted in Turkish Archaeological News (11/18/2017). Here is a link.


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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.

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.

"If not for this site, you wouldn't be here."

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I utter these words every time we settle into this Roman theater. The phrase is awkward by itself. But if you put in context, it makes perfect sense.

The theater is located at a site known as Caesarea-by-the-Sea. It was a wind-swept rubble pile when archaeologists began restoration efforts in the 1950s. Today the place has been wonderfully restored and is visited by millions every year.

One can sit on the sandstone seats of the theater and gaze toward the Mediterranean. It is the perfect spot to imagine how astounding this city must have been in its prime. According to Josephus, this provincial capital was built by Herod the Great (“the baby-killer” of the Christmas story) in the decade between 22 and 12 BC. It has all the accruements of a first-century Italian transplant.

According to Luke the Evangelist it was here that a Roman centurion by the name of Cornelius had a vision (see Acts 10). This revelation prompted “Pentecost II,” the spark that leaped over the fireline and out of the Jewish circle. Christianity moved with speed and force from “Caesar-city” into the non-Jewish world.

That’s why I say it. If not for Caesarea-by-the-sea and the events associated with this place, I doubt that Gentiles like you and me would be sitting here. But because it did, the world as we know it has been profoundly changed.


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Caesarea-by-the-sea is a highlight on nearly all of our study-tours in the Israel-Palestine. We stop at the theater, visit the promontory palace, walk the hippodrome, explore a Crusader fortress, and imagine the harbor at the center of it all.

You really should consider joining us this summer. We have spaces available on three different trips. Find the dates here and email me at markziese@gmail.com for details.