biblical world

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.

Shawarma on the spit

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What does one do after visiting Jacob’s well in Nablus? Find shawarma sandwiches and kanafeh of course! It is always a feast (and a cultural experience).


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If you are a foodie and finding genuine local flavor sounds interesting, consider joining us on a future trip to the lands of the Bible. 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.

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.

It’s snout about the Romans

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The sun sets on the Sea of Galilee.

In the distance, purple hills rise. Stories are found in their folds.

The large canyon in the center is the Wadi Yarmuk, the largest contributor to the Jordan River. Today the Yarmuk marks the political boundary between occupied Syria or the Golan Heights (on the left side of the image) and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan (on the right side of the image).

In the time of Christ, these purple hills were both associated with Gentile domains. The remains of the Decapolis city of Gadara rest in the Jordanian city of Umm Qays. Umm Qays is marked on the far left by towers on the hillside.

Gadara figures into the story of the demoniac told in Mark 5. See the story here. Let me warn you ahead of time: it’s snout about the Roman legions.


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Have a look at our future trips 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.

Olives’ shoulder

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The summer sun has done its work. Jerusalem’s landscape is now brittle brown.

I left my room early in the morning to walk the hills east of the city. Mount Scopus and the Mount of Olives are less like mountains and more like long ridges with a saddle between. Both are home to many olive trees, some at least a thousand years old.

For part of my walk I followed the Jerusalem Trail, a two-day loop that circles the city.


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I am between groups today, but look forward to meeting a new crew tomorrow. If you or someone you know is interested in experiencing Jerusalem 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 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.

A pretty lowdown sleeping arrangement

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Sleeping tonight in a hotel in Jericho, Palestine. The view out my window reveals a mosque, part of a waterpark, and the rising hills of the Wilderness of Judea.

Two men on horseback just rode by.

The prayer call is palpable.

All of Jericho is a pretty lowdown place, like a thousand feet below sea level lowdown.

Tomorrow we walk around the old city walls. Hope they’re still standing when we’re done.


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If you are interested in experiencing Jericho and 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.