A pretty lowdown sleeping arrangement


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.


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 or see our full list of study-travel opportunities at the link here.

Elisha's Spring (Jericho)


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 to discuss possibilities or consider joining one of our planned excursions listed here.

Green Jericho


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.


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 or check our full list of opportunities here.

Herod the snowbird


Snowbird is probably not the first word that comes to mind when describing Herod the Great. But it fits. This Christmas king enjoyed his escape from the cold. Pictured here is his winter palace on the banks of the Wadi Qelt in Jericho, Palestine. Only foundations have survived 2,000 years of history. It is enough to give us a sense of a colonnaded portico and a Roman-style bath: the perfect place to warm old bones.

We stopped at this Lower Jordan Valley site earlier today. The sky was spitting rain in Jericho and Jerusalem. Just in case you are wondering, it was fifteen degrees warmer in Jericho.


I’m in Israel-Palestine right now with a group from Chantilly, Virginia. So far we have enjoyed a few good rains in Galilee. No complaints here. Temperatures are on the cool side as we circle the region. The winter has started; but so has the season of renewal.

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 if interested.

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.

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. 

Stuff in the Bible that no one told you about

Colorful fruit dangle from this date palm tree (Phoenix dactylifera). Dates have been a staple for food and fuel for the imagination in Bible Lands for thousands of years. This tree in this photograph is growing in the Palestinian oasis of Jericho, a place nicknamed "the city of date-palms" (Deut 34:3).

A vocabulary family for this species is found in the Hebrew Bible. It includes tamar, a personal name and the general word for a date-palm tree. 'Eskol or sansinnah suggests fruit or a fruit-cluster. A kippah may refer to a palm frond.

My mind drifts back to a snippet from that romantic poem hidden deep in the Old Testament, The Song of Songs (or as we call it in the classroom, "The Very Best Song"!).

Mah yaphit umah-na'amt 'ahavah bta'anugim; Zot komatek damtah l'tamar, veshadayik l'ashkoloth; 'Amarti e'eleh v'tamar 'ohazah b'sansinnav.

"What beauty and how pleasant, O Love for delights! You tower like a palm tree, your breasts are clusters. I say, 'Let me climb up the palm tree and seize its fruit!'" (Song 7:7-8).


To learn more about the archaeobotany of the date palm, see Margareta Tengberg's article on "Fruit Growing" in Vol. 1 of A Companion to the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East. D.T. Potts, ed. (Wiley-Blackwell, 2012): 181-200.


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.