Sea of Galilee

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.

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.



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.

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.

The shield of Avraham

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Nate enjoys the view from the bow of the Magen Avraham.

The Magen Avraham is one of several boats that ply the Sea of Galilee.

The phrase “shield of Abraham” is drawn from Genesis 15:1, “Fear not, Abram, I am a shield (magen) to you; your reward shall be great.”

In the 17th century an important Polish rabbi was nicknamed “Magen Avraham.” His commentary on the Jewish Law was published posthumously and was given his nickname for a title.

At about the same time Jewish pirates roamed the high seas of the New World in a ship dubbed Magen Avraham.*

I’m not sure if our boat was named after the Genesis text, the rabbi, the book, the pirate ship or something else. It wasn’t flying the skull and crossbones. The next time I talk to Captain Tamer I’ll ask him.

In the meantime, we’ll enjoy the view.

Photograph by Bible Land Explorer Seth Tinkler.


*See the article in the Jerusalem Post by Gil Stern Zohar titled “Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean,” published 4/9/2016. Accessed here on 3/29/2019.


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Nate is a part of is a collaborative program involving between JU and local churches. He will graduate this May with a Master of Strategic Ministry degree.

If you would like to have a “deep sea” adventure of your own, know that there are openings for trips departing this summer. Check the list of opportunities here.

Check the mouth for a coin

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Visiting the Sea of Galilee (Kinneret) can make a fella hungry. So what do you do for lunch?

St Peter’s fish and chips of course!

People have been sharing meals like this on the seashore for millennia, but at no time as intensively as today. Excessive pressure has forced bans and limits on fishing in the Sea of Galilee. No worries though. Fish farms make up the lack and fill the plates.

Of course, this means that the tilapia on your plate may have never splashed in the Sea of Galilee, ate a coin, or multiplied. See an interesting story here.

Still, it is a pilgrim pleasure to be enjoyed. Have you tried it? Grilled or fried? What did you think?

Photo by Bible Land Explorer Jess Pottker.


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These fish-eaters are part of the residency program of Johnson University. The program is a collaborative arrangement between Johnson University and local churches. The program leads to a Master of Strategic Ministry degree.

If you would like to have a fishy adventure of your own in the Land of the Bible, know 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.

The sea is rising

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These Bible Land Explorers enjoy a moment in the sun by the Sea of Galilee. Sunshine has been rare of late. The rain is challenging for us, but good for the land.

The water level of the Sea of Galilee has dropped to dangerous levels in recent years. However, at the moment, it is a meter and a half above “the lower red line.” To discover more about how recent rains have broken a five-year drought, see the links here and here.


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Rafael Rodriguez, Professor of NT at Johnson University, is helping lead our current group of students from the residency program of JU.

If you’d like to join us on an adventure of your own, recognize that there are openings for Israel/Palestine trips departing this summer. Shoot me a note at markziese@gmail.com or check our full list of study-travel opportunities here.

Inside joke

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We visited the Church of the Primacy of Peter on the Sea of Galilee today. The memory of the story of John 21:1-14 (see here) is embedded in the place. Then we went down to the beach.

Nick found this sign and thought it was hilarious.

One must be cautious with graduate students.


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There’s some fish-eaters in this crowd. Today our crew enjoyed St Peter’s fish and visited the sites of Magdala, Tabgha, and Capernaum.

If you’d like to join us on a study-tour of your own, recognize that there are openings right now for trips departing this summer. Shoot me a note at markziese@gmail.com for more information or check our full list of study-travel opportunities here.




Multiple choice quiz

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This picture represents

(a) the consensus view of the NFL.

(b) a bad cruise.

(c) the attempt by Jon Weatherly and Mark Ziese to snag some rubbish from the Sea of Galilee.


The correct answer is c (although a was an excellent guess).

Rubbish snagging is a task requiring Ninja-like skills and should only be performed by trained experts. Do not attempt anything like this at home.

And some of you thought that college administrators were just pretty faces.

Photograph by Bible Land Explorer Mark Kitts. He really should apologize.


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There’s no telling what we are going to get ourselves into in 2019. But if you want to join our exclusive group of Bible Land Explorers you’ll need to contact me at markziese@gmail.com.

To see a list of planned travel opportunities in 2019 and beyond, consult our schedule here.

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.

Fish salsa, anyone?

Every time I visit Magdala (Migdal) Israel, I am stirred in a new way. The presentation of the site continues to improve. Link this to the seminal work of Mendel Nun, contemporary thinking about fishing associations in the Greco-Roman world, and the text of the New Testament, and the way I think about the work of the disciples of Jesus gets flipped. Will someone pass the garum please?