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.

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.

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.

Patron saint and paved street

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Why of course he has his own street! He is the patron saint of Bible Land Explorers of the 20th century.

Sample this prose:

“Surely there is no region of earth where Nature and history have more cruelly conspired, where so tragic a drama has obtained so awful a theatre. The effect of some historical catastrophes has been heightened by their occurrence amid scenes of beauty and peace. It is otherwise here. Nature, when she has not herself been, by some convulsion, the executioner of judgement, has added every aggravation of horror to the cruelty of the human avenger or the exhaustion of the doomed. The history of the Dead Sea opens with Sodom and Gomorrah, and may be said to close with the Massacre of Masada.”

G. A. Smith’s Historical Geography of the Holy Land set the standard for biblical geographers. Read the 7th edition (1901) of his book here.


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We are packing our bags to come home, but Jerusalem is always on the horizon.

If you’d like to join us on an adventure of your own in the Land of the Bible, 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.

The Canaanite Tunnel

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Jess, Seth, and Hunter pick their way through subterranean Jerusalem. The path they are following is often called the “dry” tunnel to distinguish it from Hezekiah’s Tunnel or the “wet” tunnel.

It is likely that this underground passage was cut through the limestone beneath Old Jerusalem in the Middle Bronze Age (ca. 1800 BC). It was used to transport irrigation water from the Gihon spring to fields in the Kidron Valley.


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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.

A long drop

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Not quite sure why I find this sign amusing.

Maybe it’s the little guy in the red triangle doing the swan dive.

Maybe it‘s the words in Hebrew, English, and Arabic.

The Hebrew portion of the sign reads sakkanah tehom.

The first term, sakkanah, is clear enough and is of more recent vintage: “danger!”

The second word, tehom, is a very old term that goes back to creation. Gen 1:2 describes how darkness was over the surface of “the deep” at the start-up. The Hebrew Bible usually uses the word tehom is to describe the deep places in the sea. Occasionally, as in Psalm 71:20, it is used of the deep places in the earth (or sheol).

As I peek over that wall, I can see that it is long drop before you make the first bounce. It is a dangerous abyss, a lovely word drawn from the Greek abyssos, “a bottomless pit.”

Any help out there with the Arabic?

This shot was taken from the site of Nimrod (Arab Qal’at Subayba), overlooking the Hula Basin.


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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 Israel/Palestine trips departing this summer. Shoot me a note at markziese@gmail.com or check our full list of study-travel opportunities here.

Hot coffee in the cold desert

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Slept on the ground last night in a tent in the desert. What fun! We rode camels, had a bonfire, watched the stars come out, and enjoyed some good laughs.

Our overnight was at a site is known as Kfar HaNokdim (“village of the shepherds”) and is located in the Negev, not far from Arad, Israel.

This group of students from the ministry residency program of Johnson University has been great!


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Our residents enjoyed a bedouin-style big-pan feast of various meats, couscous, and hummus. We topped it off with sweets and coffee.

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 Israel/Palestine trips departing this summer. Shoot me a note at markziese@gmail.com or check our full list of study-travel 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.

Resilient

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. . . is the first word that comes to mind when I think about the ministerial students in Johnson University’s residency program. We have had three days of drenching rain in the Heartland (it really poured in Nazareth!), but they have scampered over every rock and puddle and have not flinched.

Other words that describe this group? Excited, compassionate, faithful, dangerous . . .

Tomorrow’s forecast for the Church is bright and sunny.


Rain moves across the Sea of Galilee.

Rain moves across the Sea of Galilee.

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.

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.




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.

News moves here

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News travels fast in Beit Sahour. I received a message yesterday asking if I had arrived in-country. Within an hour this young man was sitting outside my hotel with a car and an evening invite. I know his extended family well. They have been dear friends of ours for more than a decade.

On the way to his place we stopped at this circle. Michael wanted me to see the statuary in the center honoring the Christmas shepherds. He and his team of Palestinian Boy Scouts collected the funds to make the display possible.

Beit Sahour is a Christian village and home to the memory of the nativity shepherds. It is located just east and downslope from Bethlehem.

Michael told me that God chose the shepherds from Beit Sahour to be the heralds of Christ’s birth because news travels quickly here. He laughed and moved his fingers like a talking mouth: “We know how to gossip!”


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Today I meet a group of resident ministry students in the graduate program of Johnson University at the Tel Aviv airport. I am looking forward to spending the next two weeks with them visiting sites and regions of biblical relevance.

You too are welcome to join us on a future trip. Write me at markziese@gmail.com for more information or check our full list of study-travel opportunities here.


An archaeologist's rig (part 14)

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Spotted this Santana on the side of the street in Beit Jala, Palestine. I went inside a bread shop, found the owner, and shook the his hand. He was pleased that I wanted a picture of his rig.

I think this is a 2006 model of the PS-10. The old Land Rover lines are nearly lost. Ironically, the company that originally produced Rovers in Spain eventually became a Rover competitor.

As I understand it, Santana was liquaded about a decade ago, That puts this rig where it belongs: at the end of the road.


A sunny chap

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Gaze upon the god Mithras.

He is dressed in eastern garb, a curved cap on his head. He grips a ceremonial bundle of twigs in one hand (the barsom). With his other, broken and lost, he grasps the hand of a king (?).* He is frozen in stone at the site of Arsameia.

There are hundreds of depictions of Mithras across the Roman world—nude, clothed, bearded, beardless, riding on a horse, driving a chariot, and most famously of all, wrestling a bull—but in the midst of all this action, his story has failed to keep up. Consequently, much of what is known of Mithras or Mithraism is conjectural.**

It was once faddish to seek the origins of Christian theology amid the rubble of this fragmented landscape. Not any more.

It is clear that Mithras was a big deal in the Kingdom of the Commagenê in the Taurus Mountains of southeast Turkey. His image retains elements of his Persian roots, but it also shows elements of the new West. Sun rays emanating from his head are suggestive of the Mithras-Apollo-Helios-Sol blend.


*This presentation of two figures gripping hands is an old one in both Greek and Near Eastern cultures. It bespeaks cooperation, friendship, and fidelity. Academics refer to the pose as a dexiosis (δεξίωσις). The Greek verb behind the noun suggests the act of offering the right hand.

**See Jack Finegan’s helpful survey in Myth & Mystery: An Introduction to Pagan Religions of the Biblical World (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1989): 203-209.


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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.

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.



The elicitor

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Steep hairpin ahead!

The response of an organism to external stimuli varies widely. Some pray. Some curse. Some alternate between the two.

The narrow and unimproved road between the Cendere Bridge and Nemrut Dağ elicits a wide range of responses.

Put differently: the lack of guardrails means that every rocky cliff, yawning chasm, and eroded roadwash may be fully appreciated without obstruction.

Nimrut Dağ is a 7,000 foot mountain in southeastern Turkey. It is one of the highest peaks in the eastern Taurus mountains.


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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.


A place of birth and death

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Let your eyes rise from the Cendere Valley (with its red-ribbon bridge, see previous posts like this one) to the mountains above. These windswept highlands are part of the eastern extension of the Taurus Range located in southern Turkey. Their secret folds are the birthplace of the Tigris and Euphrates, the rivers that define old Mesopotamia.

The highest point on the distant horizon is a 7,000-footer known as Mount Nimrut (Nemrut Dağı). On its summit is a first-century BC funerary mound. Want to see it? Stay tuned!


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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.