Jesus Trail

Get out of town

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Getting out of Nazareth is one of the first obstacles for the Jesus Trail walker. Several colluding conditions make this challenging: the urban maze, steep stairs, and, at some times of the year, the heat.

The first time I hoofed it out of Nazareth (2013) was in the depth of the summer. I couldn’t do anything about the stairs, but I beat the heat by starting before sunrise. Somewhere along the way I turned around and clicked this picture.

Modern Nazareth is a community built in a geographical “bowl.” At the center of the bowl (like the omphalos of a ceramic vessel) is the Latin Church of the Annunciation. Here, according to tradition, was the boyhood home of Jesus. The hills of Galilee rise on all sides.


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Seats are available on three different trips 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.

A little vista, a little vino

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Standing on the hillside village of Mashhad, you feel the sprawl of Kfar Kanna in the distance.

Kfar Cana had less than 1,000 residents at the end of the 19th century. Today that population has swelled to more than 20,000. A Christian core still exists. They are quick to point to a biblical memory.

Kfar Kanna is famously associated with the first of the recorded miracles of Jesus, the Wedding Miracle of Cana, or the exchange of water to wine (John 2:1-12). To this day, many tourists (and some Jesus Trail walkers) visit the Franciscan Wedding Church in the center of the village and purchase a bottle of wedding wine in one of the nearby stores.

Despite this lingering memory, most archaeologists prefer to locate the Cana of Jesus’s day at the more remote site of Khirbet Kanna. It is several miles from here (on the other side of the valley) and difficult to reach.

Bot Kfar Kanna and Khirbet Kanna rest to the north of Nazareth in the hills of Lower Galilee.


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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.

Near "Olive Town"

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One portion of the Jesus Trail loops around the Jewish village of Kfar Zeitim. It is a lovely stretch of rural landscape that is—unsurprisingly—filled with olive trees. Kfar is an old semitic term for “village”; zeitim is the masculine plural for “olive.” One would expect such a scene when passing through the vicinity of “olive town.”

Olive trees are gnarly and stubby. They are heavily pruned over the course of decades (and even centuries!) in order to maintain the canopy, eliminate dead wood, and maximize the production of fruit.

Their grey-green leaves shimmer in the wind and offer contrast to the yellow-green grassy carpet.

The hills of Lower Galilee rise in the distance.


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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.

Bows and rainbows

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A rainbow appears in the sky after a winter rain in Lower Galilee.

It arcs toward the broken remnants of volcanic activity on the right side of the image. These elevated heights are known as the Horns of Hattin and are famous as the battle site that brought the 1st Crusade to an end in AD 1187. The war-bows of Salah-ed-Din won that day.

The war-bow (Hebrew qeshet) is mentioned on numerous occasions in the Bible. Curiously, it appears in the story of Noah (Gen 9:13-16). There, it is offered as a promise (or covenant), but don’t overlook the ancient imagery. After the flood, God hangs his weapon—the war-bow—on the wall, saying, in essence, “I won’t use that one again.”

For more on bows and rainbows, check out our observations from the slopes of Mt Ararat. You can find it here.

I shot this image while soloing the Jesus Trail a few weeks ago.


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Our next adventure 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. I’m already excited. 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. You may also contact me at markziese@gmail.com for more details.

Through the wood

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Approaching Sepphoris through the wood.

East-West ridges are dominant trends in Lower Galilee. These ridges are formed of soft chalky rocks, that at one point in time, were swathed in trees and topsoil. Today, much of that topsoil has been relocated in valley floors and apart from reforestation efforts (as shown), the trees are gone.

Environmental scientists tell us that the area of central Lower Galilee (as pictured here in the shaded trail between Nazareth and Sepphoris) is home to maquis forest.* Maquis is a technical term used to describe a distinctly Mediterranean biome where summers a long and dry and winters are short and wet. Indigenous trees include the carob, mastic, and a variety of evergreens, with oaks at elevation.

Photo by Bible Land Explorer Susan Ruth.


*See for example, Zvi Gal’s work on Lower Galilee during the Iron Age (ASOR, 1992).


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You are not going to find many bananas between Sepphoris and Nazareth (gotta go down into the Jordan Valley for that kind of heat), but you might find an occasional Jesus Trail hiker.

For a complete list of travel opportunities in 2019, see our schedule here. You may also contact me at markziese@gmail.com for more details.

Coming off the horns

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The descent between the Horns of Hattin and Nabi Shu'ayb has some short, steep, but manageable drops. I suppose some might try it in flip-flops but with lots of boulders, slippery mud, and a pack on your back, I would encourage a more stable trail shoe.

Apart from wind and mud, our January trek experienced good conditions everyday.

Note the (1) bovine welcoming committee below, and (2) the limestone quarry biting into the hills of Galilee (near Turan) on the distant horizon.

I’ve offered tidbits about the history and our experience of the Horns of Hattin elsewhere. See here and here for example.

I believe this photo came from the camera of Bible Land Explorer Gale Cochell (please correct me if I’m wrong!).


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Our most recent group of Bible Land Explorers just completed a walk along the Jesus Trail, a 65 km trek across Galilee. The Trail crosses the traverses the Horns of Hattin as it approaches the Sea of Galilee.

For a list of travel opportunities in 2019, see our schedule here. You may also contact me at markziese@gmail.com for more details.


Winter sunset in Galilee

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It is tough to complain about winter temperatures in the Heartland when much of the US is being blasted by arctic air today.

Winters in Galilee are wet and cool (40s and 50s F). It can drop below freezing and snow does fall, but it doesn’t stick around very long.

I’ve hiked the Jesus Trail four times in January. Twice we experienced clear skies. Twice we were washed regularly by cold rain. We always got muddy. Winter hikes are an iffy proposition. Come prepared if this is your choice.

Of course, you can try it mid-summer. I’ve hiked it a couple of times in July and got baked. Go figure.

I shot this image of a January sunset from the window of my hotel room in Kibbutz Lavi.


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Our most recent group of Bible Land Explorers just completed a walk along the Jesus Trail, a 65 km trek across Galilee. The Trail crosses the Plain of Gennesaret as it approaches Capernaum.

For a list of travel opportunities in 2019, see our schedule here. You may also contact me at markziese@gmail.com for more details.



Like a stag

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Thick vegetation crowds the path of the Jesus Trail as these Bible Land Explorers approach the Sea of Galilee. There is topsoil and water in abundance on the Plain of Gennesaret. Three streams, the Amud, Tzalmon, and the Arbel run through the plain and bequeath it with gifts. Areas dedicated to agriculture today produce bananas and mangos.

In the time of Christ, Josephus suggests a different set of crops were found here. Walnuts, dates, figs and olives occupy his list. His description (War 3.515-518) is one of exuberant fertility. Rabbinic texts echo his lead. Ber. Rab. 99.12 says of the Genesseret, let “her fruit ripen as swiftly as a stag” (cf. Gen. 49:21).*

Jesus was familiar with this area and passed through it repeatedly. See Mark 6:53, Matt 14:34, and Luke 5:1-3.


*See Zangenberg’s article on the Gennesaret in Jesus, Paul, and Early Christianity (2008: 454).


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Our most recent group of Bible Land Explorers just completed a walk along the Jesus Trail, a 65 km trek across Galilee. The Trail crosses the Plain of Gennesaret as it approaches Capernaum.

For a list of travel opportunities in 2019, see our schedule here. You may also contact me at markziese@gmail.com for more details.

Oop-oop-oop!

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The reeds along the edge of the Sea of Galilee provide the perfect habitat for many creatures including the hoopoe. While the rest of us were eating lunch, Susan, our birder, was hunting at water’s edge with her camera. She came back with a triumphant woop of her own; the hoopoe was on her Jesus Trail bucket list.

It was a beautiful specimen from the Upupidae family: cinnamon-colored, striped wings, with gorgeous crest. The name, hoopoe, may derived from its cry: “oop-oop-oop!”

The hoopoe may appear twice in the Hebrew Bible as the dukiypat (Lev 11:19 and Deut 14:18). Both texts lump it together with the bat or the heron as unclean creatures (sheketz). The reason for this is unknown, although it may be related to the fact that the ancient Egyptians considered the hoopoe to have magical and medicinal powers.*


*See article by Timothy Schum, “From Egypt to Mount Qaf: The Symbolism of the Hoopoe in Muslim Literature and Folklore.” Pp. 37-57 in Journal of Islamic and Muslim Studies 3/1 (May 2018).


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Our most recent group of Bible Land Explorers just completed a walk along the Jesus Trail, a 65 km trek across Galilee. We were lunching along the trail behind Kerei Deshe on the Sea of Galilee when Susan spotted the hoopoe.

For a list of travel opportunities in 2019, see our schedule here. You may also contact me at markziese@gmail.com for more details.

Upgrades

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If it has been more than five years since you have visited the Roman Catholic portion of the site of Capernaum, you will be surprised to see it today. The entry area, the plaza, the waterfront have all undergone significant renovation. The primary structures on display—the “White” synagogue and the House of Peter—appear as before, but other upgrades are striking. The entry area, the plaza, the waterfront provide improved accessibility, seating, garden, and devotional areas.

The site has an occupation history stretching from the 2nd century BC to the 13th century AD.

The name of the site originates in the Aramaic, Kefar Nahum, or “Village of Nahum” (but not that Nahum!).

It was a significant center in the Galilean ministry of Jesus. As the Gospel of Mark records (2:1), when he “entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home.”


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Our most recent group of Bible Land Explorers just completed a walk along the Jesus Trail, a 65 km trek across Galilee. In addition to exploring Capernaum, we visited Nazareth, Sepphoris, Magdala, and Tiberias.

For a list of travel opportunities in 2019, see our schedule here. You may also contact me at markziese@gmail.com for more details.

The prettiest ugly fish I’ve ever seen

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You never know what kind of surprise awaits you at the kosher tables of the Royal Plaza, Tiberias. This is the prettiest ugly fish I’ve ever seen. Frankenfish! I don’t know where he came from, but it wasn’t the Sea of Galilee.

The good news is when you walk the Jesus Trail with me in the wintertime, we’re not eating freeze dried food from a foil envelope. Nooope. The question at my table is whether the napkins will be paper or cloth.


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Our most recent group of Bible Land Explorers just completed a walk along the Jesus Trail, a 65 km trek across Galilee. In addition to an overnight in Tiberias, we bivouacked in Netanya, Kibbutz Lavi, and Jerusalem.

For a full list of travel opportunities in the Lands of the Bible, 2019, see our schedule here. You may also contact me at markziese@gmail.com for details.

Doused by sun and rain

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The city of Sepphoris was splendidly restored by Herod Antipas. According to Josephus, Herod “built a wall about Sepphoris, (which is the security of all Galilee) and made it the metropolis of the country” (Ant 18.27). Antipas renamed it Autocratoris, a term that may suggest the title of the emperor or the fact that the city was somehow politically autonomous.

As I hiked by the site I was alternatively doused by sun and rain. Galilee in January can be that way.

In this shot, the acropolis of Sepphoris rises on the left. The summit is marked by a Crusader-era stronghold. Buildings of the modern kibbutz spread in the foreground. Upper Galilee looms in the distance, wet and purple.


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Our most recent group of Bible Land Explorers just completed a walk along the Jesus Trail, a 65 km trek across Galilee. In addition to exploring Sepphoris, we visited Nazareth, Magdala, and Tiberias.

For a list of travel opportunities in 2019, see our schedule here. You may also contact me at markziese@gmail.com for more details.


Between mangoes and bananas

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Jesus Trail hikers pass through tropical orchards on the Plain of Gennesaret. It was a muddy go, but much improved from last week. The heavy rain has subsided and given us three lovely days of sunny skies. It was just enough to reach Capernaum.

Just ahead: a lunch stop in a clearing overlooking the Sea of Galilee.


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Our current group of Bible Land Explorers are walking the Jesus Trail, a 65 km trek across Galilee. In addition to hiking through muddy orchards, we are laughing, talking, and experiencing sites associated with the Gospel story.

For a list of travel opportunities in 2019, see our schedule here. You may also contact me at markziese@gmail.com for more details.

Serious about lunch

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Dedicated Jesus Trail walkers are serious about lunch. Actually, they are pretty serious about breakfast and dinner too. But who counts calories when distance walking in rugged terrain?

Today we walked over the Horns of Hattin, visited the traditional site of the tomb of Jethro (the father-in-law of Moses), and followed the Wadi el-Hamam (Arbel Valley) eastward. It was a challenging hike, but nothing that this intrepid group couldn’t handle.

John, Diane, and Virgil are pictured here.


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Our current group of Bible Land Explorers are walking the Jesus Trail, a 65 km hike across Galilee. In addition to eating good lunches, we are walking, talking, and experiencing sites associated with the Gospel story.

For a list of travel opportunities in 2019, see our schedule here. You may also contact me at markziese@gmail.com for more details.

Drone pilot

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Cody prepares to launch a drone from the top of the Nabi Sa'in ridge in Nazareth, Israel. Can you believe he controls the flight and camera of that little booger from his cell phone? Incredible!

Capturing a bird’s-eye view of our hike along the Jesus Trail is a new experience. You can tell when the drone is around; it zooms overhead on four propellers and sounds like a swarm of bees.

I can’t wait to see what the aerial camera captures!

Cody is not only an ace drone pilot, he is currently a student at the Cincinnati Christian University and staff member of the Crossroads Community Church in Cincinnati, Ohio.


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Cody and 9 other explorers are walking the Jesus Trail, a 65 km hike across Galilee. In addition to droning around, we are walking, talking, and experiencing sites associated with the Gospel story.

For a list of travel opportunities in 2019, see our schedule here. You may also contact me at markziese@gmail.com for more details.

Scouting

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Checked out a portion of the Jesus Trail today. It’s been a couple of years. Hiked from Sepphoris to Nazareth and back again. I’d rather get lost solo. I don’t want to do it with a group behind me.

Saw four bushy-tailed foxes in the woods near Sepphoris.

Saw lots of rain too, but a rainbow in the end.


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Our next group is gearing up and will be arriving in Israel/Palestine in just a couple of days. We plan to investigate the region of Galilee and walk segments of the Jesus Trail. Follow this journey on our website, or better yet, consider joining us on a future trip! A list of planned group excursions may be found here.