Wisemen Wafers

“Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him” (Matthew 2:2).

We are busy here at the Bible Land Explorers’ headquarters chewing the magoi. So far we’ve noted how Jesus was born in a Cold War (see here) and how the magoi were savvy politicians with a reputation for king-making and king-breaking (see here). We have yet to address the star stuff, a possible source for their knowledge about the birth of a Jewish king, why Matthew mentions them at all, and, of course, a curious parallel involving another magoi delegation, this one sent to Rome! So much to digest!

As Christmas morning approaches, however, we lean toward something more festive: wisemen wafers!

Enter the idea of the eulogia.

An Orthodox priest pronounces a blessing over the assembled media and a Soyuz rocket ready for a blast off. The Orthodox are not shy in dispensing blessings. This image is from    here   , accessed 12/22/2018.

An Orthodox priest pronounces a blessing over the assembled media and a Soyuz rocket ready for a blast off. The Orthodox are not shy in dispensing blessings. This image is from here, accessed 12/22/2018.

The term arises in the Greek language (εὐλογία) as a general description for a “good word,” “flattery,” or, in a religious setting, a “blessing.” We recognize the idea embedded in the English eulogy, “good words” heard at a funeral.

In the context of Christian historical thought the eulogia could be an blessed object. Such objects are usually connected to the eucharist (bread and wine), but they could also be something collected on a pilgrimage to the Bible lands. These semi-relics were believed to provide a physical link to the Divine, a protection against the hazards of travel, and even a tool for encouragement or healing.*

Interestingly enough, blessed objects are known in the archaeological record.

Examples of terra-cotta ampullae. These flat, small (3-4 inches in diameter) vessels are mold-made with decorated faces. The regular appearance of St Menas with arms outstretched on a central medallion (far left, far right) has given these vessels the nickname “Menas flasks.” For more on St Menas see    here.     These examples are part of the collection of the British Museum (see    here   , accessed 12/23/2018). All three of these examples date to the Byzantine period and were purchased by collectors in Lower Egypt.

Examples of terra-cotta ampullae. These flat, small (3-4 inches in diameter) vessels are mold-made with decorated faces. The regular appearance of St Menas with arms outstretched on a central medallion (far left, far right) has given these vessels the nickname “Menas flasks.” For more on St Menas see here.

These examples are part of the collection of the British Museum (see here, accessed 12/23/2018). All three of these examples date to the Byzantine period and were purchased by collectors in Lower Egypt.

One type of eulogia is the ampulla. Terra-cotta flasks or glass bottles from Byzantine Jerusalem are a reflection of a booming tourist business between the mid-sixth through early seventh centuries AD.** These containers are often decorated with biblical scenes or symbols. They were used by pilgrims to collect and carry holy water or oil acquired from church reservoirs. This is a practice continued right up to the present. More than a few drops of Jordan River water end up in baptisteries worldwide. Similarly, extinguished candles, lit from the flame of holy sites, become precious mementos.

Another type of ancient eulogia is the torta. About the size of a dime, these tiny objects look like coins but are in fact small tokens made of compressed clay, earth, or dust. Like the mold-made ampullae, the tortae carry symbolic decoration. Stamps of biblical scenes or symbols are impressed on one side of the token. The reverse is plain. They tend to be unfired and poorly preserved.

This is a fine examples of the torta from the webpage of Israel Museum. There are others for browsing (see    here   , accessed 12/22/2018).

This is a fine examples of the torta from the webpage of Israel Museum. There are others for browsing (see here, accessed 12/22/2018).

Two scholarly suggestions are of interest.*** First, it is possible that the torta is made of materials from the holy places themselves (sweepings?) and are stamped with a specific biblical motif that corresponds with the local memory. They serve, therefore, like postcards of more recent vintage, reminders of a thrilling visit to a (spiritually) exotic locale. The fact that they are fashioned from the very sediment of the site confers an additional layer of authenticity.

Second, scenes depicted on these torta may very well be rough interpretations of apse mosaics or panel paintings from churches where they were acquired.

These three tortae are presented in the article by L. Y. Rahmani, “The Adoration of the Magi on Two Sixth-Century C.E. Eulogia Tokens,” Israel Exploration Journal 29/1 (1979): 34-36.

These three tortae are presented in the article by L. Y. Rahmani, “The Adoration of the Magi on Two Sixth-Century C.E. Eulogia Tokens,” Israel Exploration Journal 29/1 (1979): 34-36.

As for the magoi (and the reason for this post!): One of the most popular scenes discovered on these blessed objects is the adoration of the wise-men. As the examples posted here show, there is a conventional presentation: three magoi stand as a group, their knees are slightly bent, their heads are adorned with tall and floppy Phrygian hats. They face the Madonna holding a child.

You cannot visit the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem today without hearing stories of how the Parthians devastated many church-structures in their Heartland invasion of AD 614. But here’s the kicker: the reason why they spared the Church of the Nativity is because the would-be destroyers looked down and recognized the depiction of Parthians on a mosaic and turned away. One could almost say that the magoi protected the structure.

That Bethlehem mosaic vanished a long time ago, but could its likeness be preserved on these tokens?

While the small artifact pictured here does not present the magoi, it demonstrates an extremely rare find. This is a token stamp discovered at Khirbet Deir Dusawi. It is connected with the Church of St Sergius in Gaza.Visible on the left is the back of the stamp. The nub functions a handle. Visible in the center is the negative image and visible on the right is an artist’s presentation of the positive. For discussion, see L. Y. Rahmani, “A Eulogia Stamp from the Gaza Region” in Israel Exploration Journal 20 1/2 (1970): 105-108.

While the small artifact pictured here does not present the magoi, it demonstrates an extremely rare find. This is a token stamp discovered at Khirbet Deir Dusawi. It is connected with the Church of St Sergius in Gaza.Visible on the left is the back of the stamp. The nub functions a handle. Visible in the center is the negative image and visible on the right is an artist’s presentation of the positive. For discussion, see L. Y. Rahmani, “A Eulogia Stamp from the Gaza Region” in Israel Exploration Journal 20 1/2 (1970): 105-108.

One last point. Examples of these tokens are limited. This is likely due to their small size and composition. It may also be connected to issues of use. Known examples are heavily damaged, and are often scraped by a sharp object on the outer edge. These marks have been interpreted as confirmation of the church fathers suggestion that the torta was scraped to produce powder. The powder was then dissolved in water and swallowed.****

The practice was viewed as medicinal. The blessing of health would follow.

In this way ancient pilgrim resembled the modern archaeologist. Both ingest the dust of biblical sites and carry it home with them.

Simeon Stylites has the last word:

“The power of God .. . is efficacious everywhere. Therefore, take this eulogia made of my dust, depart, and when you look at the imprint of our image, it is us that you will see.”*****


*To learn more about early Christian pilgrimage, see Mark Cartwright’s article on “Pilgrimage in the Byzantine Period” in the online Ancient History Encyclopedia here (accessed 12/22/2018). For other mentions of tokens and a thorough bibliography of the subject see Luke Lavon’s chapter in Objects in Context, Objects in Use: Material Spatiality in Late Antiquity (Leiden: Brill, 2007).

**See L. Y. Rahmani, “Eulogia Tokens from Byzantine Beth She’an” in ‘Atiqot XXII (1993: 114). Find it here. See also an illustrated article by Jordan Pickett here.

***As noted by L. Y. Rahmani, “The Byzantine Solomon Eulogia Tokens in the British Museum” in Israel Exploration Journal 49/1-2 (1999: 95).

****Rahmani (1993: 116).

*****See the excellent presentation by Gary Vikin in “Art, Medicine, and Magic in Early Byzantium” in Dumbarton Oaks Papers 38 (1984): 65-86. This quote is found on page 73.


47089570_10217106876524594_7044340148963639296_n.jpg

We have several travel experiences to Bible Lands planned for 2019 (see list here). These are often organized on behalf of educational institutions or for church groups. If you are a leader who is interested in crafting a unique travel opportunity for your organization or if you are an individual who would like to join a group, shoot me an email at markziese@gmail.com.

King-Makers and King-Breakers

“When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him” (Matt 2:3).

What reached Herod’s ears was the inquiry of the magoi (translated by some as “wise men”): “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?” (2:2). Matthew is clever. The use of the royal basileus twice in succession, i.e. “King Herod” and “king of the Jews,” alerts the reader to a looming crisis. Monarchs are not so good at sharing, especially this one.

Herod was involved in a complex geopolitical game where lies, manipulation and internecine power struggles were common. Image from    here.

Herod was involved in a complex geopolitical game where lies, manipulation and internecine power struggles were common. Image from here.

Herod the Great ruthlessly pursued rivals, both real and imagined. He ordered the execution of his wife, children, and many others. Reports of the bleeding prompted Augustus to quip “It is better to be Herod's pig than his son!” (See here in Macrobius, Saturnalia, 2.4.11). The wit of the emperor played off a dietary taboo.* People—not porkers—had reason to fear Herod’s butchers.

The tyrant’s paranoia may account for some of the disturbance surrounding the inquiry of the magoi, but the backstory suggests still more. Remember how Jesus was born in the frame of a cold war? (if not, don’t read any further until you have digested our post here). The Wild West (Rome) was deadlocked with the Ancient East (Parthia). Herod was a Western client installed, in part, to maintain the Eastern tripwire. Hence, the news of the arrival of a magoi delegation must have set off every alarm; it was a political balefire. Again, we cannot miss Matthew’s deliberate wording: the magoi come from the East, “the land of the sunrise” (Greek, anatolé).

What would the Roman Senate do when word of this audacious/subversive visit reached their ears? Image from    here.

What would the Roman Senate do when word of this audacious/subversive visit reached their ears? Image from here.

The political implications are not just disturbing, they are knee-buckling. Herod earned his throne the hard way by pushing back the Parthian tide. Was that tide now returning? Were these magoi rogue riders or did they represent the will of an empire? Did they come to Jerusalem innocently to do homage or did they come to install a client king of their own? What would the Roman Senate do when word of this audacious—or subversive—visit reached their ears? Could this cold war escalate into a hot one? Herod had to move and he had to move quickly!

This frame gives a fresh reading is given to an old story (see the text of Matthew 2:1-12 here). The response of Herod and Jerusalem (and potentially Rome itself) is suddenly seen in a wider geopolitical context. This is all the more significant given the reputation of the magoi as royal puppeteers in texts outside the Bible.

Consider these three examples of the magoi as king-makers and king-breakers.

The magoi are regularly portrayed outside the Bible as dreadful, crafty, incestuous, and ancient. In short, they are true politicians. Image from    here.

The magoi are regularly portrayed outside the Bible as dreadful, crafty, incestuous, and ancient. In short, they are true politicians. Image from here.

1. Strabo on the Parthians

This historian from the region of modern Turkey wrote a 17-volume work in Greek titled Geographica. It was likely published during the lifetime of Jesus. In it he summarizes physical and political features of the known world. One chapter is devoted to Parthia, which, to his chagrin, now rivals the power of Rome itself (11.9).

What’s more, at the end of a ramble about barbarians, Strabo suggests that the governing body of the Parthians, the Sunhedrion (a council or congress), is an institution with two parts. The first part consists of the “Fellows” or the “Kinsmen” (Greek: suggenes). The second part consists of wise-men (Greek: sofón) and magoi. The king is appointed from this body. Forbiger suggests that a member from the first group is elected by the members of the second.** If he is right, the magoi are king-makers indeed.

The magoi were king-maker indeed. Image from    here.

The magoi were king-maker indeed. Image from here.

2. Plutarch on Artaxerxes II

Plutarch was a Greek author who wrote at the start of the second century AD, approximately one-hundred years after the birth of Christ. He is best known for his biographies of Greek and Roman figures (and for stretching the truth a little!). However, a biography of a single Persian king has been preserved from his hand, that of Artaxerxes II Memnon (404 - 358 BC).

In Plutarch’s Life of Artaxerxes we meet the magoi again (see 3.1-5 starting here). The occasion is the installation of the king. Artaxerxes went to claim the throne of his dead father and be confirmed by the Persian priests (could this be Strabo’s second house of the Sunhedrion described above?). Part of the ceremony involved donning the ancestral robe, doing secret rites, and eating yummy stuff like figs, soured-milk, turpentine-wood.

The party was charging hard right up to the moment when a distressed magos was hauled forward. He had backed Artaxerxes’s brother (and competitor) as king and had trained his student in the “customary discipline for boys” which included the “wisdom of the magoi.” In the end, the captured magos ratted out the lad who was waiting to kill Artaxerxes at the conclusion of the ceremony. The plot was foiled, but the point is underlined: magoi exercise control of the throne, educate the royals, and at times act as king-breakers.***

Cold War action pitted the Wild West against the Ancient East. A word to the wise: finger pointing is rarely a good tactic. Image from    here   .

Cold War action pitted the Wild West against the Ancient East. A word to the wise: finger pointing is rarely a good tactic. Image from here.

3. Herodotus on Smerdis

Our third example is the most famous king-maker/breaker story of them all. It is told by Herodotus of Halicarnassus (among others). His 5th-century Histories is touted the first of its kind to be written. In it he explores the characters and events of the Greco-Persian Wars. He also describes how Darius the Great became king of Persia. The matter remains a unsolved mystery from the ancient world and you can read it yourself if you start snooping about Book 3 (start reading from here).

Key to the mystery is the identity of a character named Smerdis. Is he who he claims or not? We don’t know. Neither does Herodotus. What is known is that Darius overthrows Smerdis in the coup d'état of 522 BC and claims the Persian throne for himself.

If the Smerdis is the rightful heir to the throne, then the whole yarn is probably a cover-up for Darius’s usurping ways. On the other hand, if the real Smerdis was secretly killed (as claimed) and replaced by an imposter (as claimed), then the coup may be justified. But here’s where it gets interesting. If one follows the imposter theory, the “false Smerdis” resembled the “true Smerdis” in every way but one: he had no ears! As you might have guessed, this earless condition proved to be his undoing. The imposter was discovered to be a sinister magus. If not for the quick action of Darius, these royal puppeteers might have ruled the world!

The king-making and king-breaking magoi could have ruled the world. Image from    here.

The king-making and king-breaking magoi could have ruled the world. Image from here.

If Herod and the residents of Jerusalem knew these three stories (and others like them) it may explain why everyone in town was disturbed when the magoi dismounted from their camels and slapped the dust from their pantaloons. This class of men had a reputation for meddling in royal affairs; oftentimes someone was left bleeding on the floor.

Isn’t it odd how we bring our perceptions to the reading table? How do you read the magoi of Matthew 2?

This much I know: those who obsess over power operate in a crowded room. It is a place of dilated eyes and curled lips. On the other hand, those who pursue a kingdom not of this world may find something unexpected: a prince of peace.


*For the Mosaic taboo, see Deuteronomy 14:8 here. The emperor’s pun is lost in the Latin of Macrobius as well as our English. However, it comes out playfully in Greek. The terms for pig (hus) and son (huios) have similar sounds.

**See footnote 3 at the end of 11.9 the Loeb publication of Strabo (translation by H. L. Jones).

***See also Plato, Alcibiades 1.121e-122c.


City street 4 copy.JPG

We have several travel experiences to Bible Lands planned for 2019 (see list here). These are often organized on behalf of educational institutions or for church groups. If you are a leader who is interested in crafting a unique travel opportunity for your organization or if you are an individual who would like to join a group, shoot me an email at markziese@gmail.com.

Pilgrim reflections

by Bridget Wagner, guest contributor to Bible Lands Explorer

Visiting the Sea of Galilee. That’s Bridget, guest author, on the left.

Visiting the Sea of Galilee. That’s Bridget, guest author, on the left.

I became a believer in high school; making disciples is not a new concept to me. I’ve led small groups for years and the Lord has walked with me through several trials and dark seasons. Going to Israel, the Lord adjusted my vision and gave me a much deeper understanding of His Word.  

The Chantilly group in the area of Mary’s well. Nazareth. Orthodox tradition suggests that in this place Gabriel announced to Mary that she would conceive, give birth to a son, and name him Jesus. See Luke 1:26-38    here   . Image by Melinda.

The Chantilly group in the area of Mary’s well. Nazareth. Orthodox tradition suggests that in this place Gabriel announced to Mary that she would conceive, give birth to a son, and name him Jesus. See Luke 1:26-38 here. Image by Melinda.

To SEE where events happened, to STAND where history was made, and to GRASP the meanings behind parables and stories brings a whole new dynamic to my Bible reading and ultimately my walk with the Lord.

Visiting the Western Wall at night. The wall is not actually part of the ancient YHWH temple in Jerusalem, but rather is one face of an enormous platform built in the Herodian period. The platform supported porches, open courtyards, walls, and, in the center, the Second Temple. The “men’s side” of the Western Wall is pictured here. Image by Tess.

Visiting the Western Wall at night. The wall is not actually part of the ancient YHWH temple in Jerusalem, but rather is one face of an enormous platform built in the Herodian period. The platform supported porches, open courtyards, walls, and, in the center, the Second Temple. The “men’s side” of the Western Wall is pictured here. Image by Tess.

More than once, when standing at a site, hearing His Word and reflecting on what was being said and taught I became overwhelmed as the Holy Spirit removed walls and barriers that I didn’t even know I had.  I am able to love the Lord deeper and I have a stronger passion for His work and His children!

Baptism in the Jordan River. The folk going into the water on left hand side of the photograph are in Israel-Palestine. The folk on the far bank are in the country of Jordan. Here at Qasr Yehud they meet. Image by Amy.

Baptism in the Jordan River. The folk going into the water on left hand side of the photograph are in Israel-Palestine. The folk on the far bank are in the country of Jordan. Here at Qasr Yehud they meet. Image by Amy.

Since I’ve been back, each day at work I have felt a tug at my heart as I realize I need to do things differently. I need to seek out the lost. I need to be more patient. I need to care more genuinely.  Maybe most important, I need to love more deeply. By making these small moves to be more like Jesus my actions will speak louder than my words as I GO!  MAKE DISCIPLES!  

Visiting the Israel Museum with the troop from New Life Christian Church, Chantilly, Virginia.

Visiting the Israel Museum with the troop from New Life Christian Church, Chantilly, Virginia.


47684410_200336904234355_8901574060333334528_n.jpg

Bridget Wagner was a member of the Bible Land Explorer group that traveled to Israel-Palestine in November of 2018. She makes her home in Centreville, Virginia.

He blowd his brains out his ears

The descent into Spain is rugged. The bright pastures of the sommets des pyrénées slip downslope, gradually at first, then furiously, precipitously, until they tumble into dense beech forests. Bob and I do the same. Spattered by mud, decorated with leaves, and swathed in shadow, we appreciate the contrast expressed in The Song of Roland.

“High were the peaks about them, and dark the vale and black,
Sombre the rocks around them, and terrible the track.”*
Legend has it that Roland died somewhere in this landscape.   The view demands more lines from  Roland:  “Over the peak Lord Olivier now hasted him to go. / Out and across the realm of Spain an eager look he threw. / And he beheld the Paynim (Pagan) host that there together drew. / And from their gold-wrought helmets a blazing light did dance / On shield and broidered hauberk, on pennant and on lance” (laisse 82).

Legend has it that Roland died somewhere in this landscape. The view demands more lines from Roland: “Over the peak Lord Olivier now hasted him to go. / Out and across the realm of Spain an eager look he threw. / And he beheld the Paynim (Pagan) host that there together drew. / And from their gold-wrought helmets a blazing light did dance / On shield and broidered hauberk, on pennant and on lance” (laisse 82).

The reader of this famous chanson de geste (“song of heroic deeds”) must be cautious with its presentation of Battle of Roncevaux Pass (AD 778). The bards polished the details of the event for nearly three centuries. It is a high shine. Christian Basques become Muslims. A Frankish raid into Spain becomes a seven-year war. Numbers grow legs: hundreds of men become hundreds-of-thousands of men. Even after Roland was finally committed to paper and ink in the 11th century it continued to be shaped. Seven versions survive to this day. Kyle Glenn Cunningham put it like this: “Roland is an excellent example of how to understand secondary sources effectively; namely, it is a text that better reflects the time period in which it was written rather than the time period in which it is set.”**

I process bits of this medieval epic while walking the Camino de Santiago. That experience prompts three swipes here: first, the basic story that Roland tells; second, the manner of Roland’s death; and third, the relevance of Roland for the Bible Land Explorer. Let me take first two of these immediately and save the third for another day.

Charles the Great or Charlemagne (left) instructs his son Pepin the Hunchback (right). Detail from a 10th century copy of a lost original from about 830. Source is    here.

Charles the Great or Charlemagne (left) instructs his son Pepin the Hunchback (right). Detail from a 10th century copy of a lost original from about 830. Source is here.

For those unfamiliar with this story of heroic good and unspeakable evil, recognize that Roland is a balanced presentation of four scenes.

The first and last scenes mirror each other and focus on the treachery of Ganelon and his punishment. Ganelon (Surprise!—the name is connected to the Italian notion of “despicable fraud”) is a Frankish baron who betrays the army of Charlemagne to the Muslim enemy. Tragically caught in this scheme is Charlemagne’s rearguard under the command of our dear Roland (Italian: Orlando or “noble”). Eventually Ganelon gets what he deserves and is drawn and quartered in a satisfying, if not somewhat messy, finale.

The two middle scenes of Roland mirror each other as well. Two extended battles are presented. In the first, Roland and his men are ambushed in a mountain pass near Roncevaux. The knights fight bravely but cannot overcome the odds and are martyred. In the mirroring scene, Charlemagne exacts vengeance on Roland’s ambushers. The battle action is quite grisly; men are skewered all over the place like Lil’ Smokies on gameday. Despite the carnage, lovely lines emerge in English translations of the Song like “How ill-fated thou wert” or “Here they will find us stark and dead smitten” and “Forthwith let us fly!”

For a child of the 70s I must confess that reading Roland prompts flashbacks to Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Sick, I know (for the sake of old times and good smiles, try this link).

This set of stained glass windows is found in the Real Colegiata de Santa María in Roncesvalles. It depicts Roland and his men in battle. The work was completed in 1909 by Jose Maumejean. See the full display    here.

This set of stained glass windows is found in the Real Colegiata de Santa María in Roncesvalles. It depicts Roland and his men in battle. The work was completed in 1909 by Jose Maumejean. See the full display here.

Roland’s sword Durendal dispatches hordes of the heathen to hell.*** But it is not the daring swordplay that leads to his death. At his side is another prop, the ivory Olifant. This hunting horn is fashioned from either the tusk of an elephant or the horn of a unicorn (depending on the version). When his rearguard troop is ambushed, Roland is implored to sound Olifant and signal Charlemagne’s army to return and save them. Roland refuses, claiming to do so would be ignoble. He chooses instead to fight for God and king. This he does against overwhelming odds until the battle is too far gone. In the end, the Archbishop-warrior Turpin convinces Roland to sound the horn and bring Charlemagne. The appeal this time not for the sake of a rescue, but to avenge and bury the dead. Roland is convinced. It will be his last act.

Olifant is blown with such force and duration that Roland’s brains leak out his ears and blood sprays from his mouth (see laisse 136 and laisse 170). It sounds like a Maynard Ferguson concert to me (for the impoverished souls who don’t know what I’m talking about, try the flashback here). I can only assume that Roland’s legacy as a head-exploding horn-player is akin to the legacy of Pheidippides among marathon-runners (“hey, here’s a brill idea: let’s sprint until we die!”).

Charlemagne hears Olifant from a distance and immediately recognizes the depth of the disaster. He wheels about. But it is too late for Roland and the rearguard. They have all been killed—martyrs glorious—with the blood of infidels on their swords and the praise of God on their lips.

Detail from Simon Marmion’s 15th century work  Grandes Chroniques de France . Roland’s body twists under a tree. Beside him is Durendal and Olifant. Image from    here.

Detail from Simon Marmion’s 15th century work Grandes Chroniques de France. Roland’s body twists under a tree. Beside him is Durendal and Olifant. Image from here.

Bob and I emerge from the forest and encounter a compound of stone buildings. It is Roncevaux. Inside the compound is the 13th century Colegiata de Santa María. Adjacent to it is a hostel for tired pilgrims hiking the Camino de Santiago. We take our place in line and wait for a bunk assignment.

Bob is alive after a hike declared to be “the most difficult of my life.” Welcome, Bob, to Roland’s Roncevaux.

Bob is alive after a hike declared to be “the most difficult of my life.” Welcome, Bob, to Roland’s Roncevaux.



*The Song of Roland (laisse 67). I draw my quotes from Leonard Bacon’s timeless 1914 English translation. An online version is available here. For a full critical introduction to the text, run to your local library and grab Gerard J. Brault’s The Song of Roland: An Analytical Introduction (University Park: Pennsylvania State, 1978).

**See the work here by Kyle Glenn Cunningham, “Historical Perspective and the Song of Roland,” page 1.

***Hidden in the pommel of the indestructible sword Durendal are four relics: a tooth of St Peter, blood from St Basil, hair from St Denis, and a scrap of garment from the Virgin Mary. These apparently made for some powerful chemistry. See laisse 175.


20180804_173614 copy 3.jpg

We have several travel experiences to Bible Lands planned for 2019 (see list here). These are often organized on behalf of educational institutions or for church groups. If you are a leader who is interested in crafting a unique travel opportunity for your organization or if you are an individual who would like to join a group, shoot me an email at markziese@gmail.com.

A chain of whispered stories

A chain of whispered stories

The Pyrénées do not look imposing on a map. But don’t be fooled. This mountain chain between France and Spain is ancient, steep, and full of whispered stories.

A cup

A cup

This is the Spain you never heard about. It is old and earthy and green and has the feeling of something Irish, or maybe something out of a Tolkien universe. On cue, the sound of a bagpipe and penny whistle drifts through the door.

First touch

First touch

The Tower of Saint James in Paris, France, is impressive. Its architecture is pure gothic in style, with all the ribs and nubbins favored by pigeons. It rises 203 feet from the base to the noggin of Saint James who teeters on top. This tower was our first touch with the Camino de Santiago.

The grape farmer's story

The grape farmer's story

The grape farmer asked if we were pilgrims bound for Nájera. We affirmed the obvious.

"Do you know the story of the Camino?" His English was stained but it was clear enough.

Bob and I had notions, but we welcomed his company. We also welcomed the conversation that his question set in motion.

“No. Tell us.”

He found the body

He found the body

The bishop and his men cleared away the dense vegetation and discovered something amazing, something that no eye had seen for centuries: a tomb of stone containing three bodies.

The long ball

The long ball

Cold, rugged, tribal, self-sufficient, full of hardship, and barbaric. Hispania sounds like a long ball for a church plant. It also sounds like a job for a "Thunderboy."

James goes West (part 3)

James goes West (part 3)

I warned you early on. Caution is needed when exploring the legacy of James the Great. From the bunk where I am perched* it is the stuff of national epic. And when it comes to epics, the roar of the anthem can drown the melody of truth.

James goes West (part 2)

James goes West (part 2)

We know that James was beheaded in Jerusalem (See Acts 12:1-2). It makes sense that he would have been buried in the place where he was killed. Who would go the trouble to move a dead body? Especially a messy one.

Ah, but this where it gets interesting.

James goes West (part 1)

James goes West (part 1)

The story of the end of James the Great is described in the New Testament. Outside the New Testament, however, his story lives on. Part of that story is dedicated to a epic journey that the Bible is mum about, and part of that story is dedicated to a post-death appearance. Both of these accounts teeter wildly into the area of myth, but never say that to a Spaniard. It may cost you an eye.

The James Gang

The James Gang

Scholars have gone bald in the effort to identify the James Gang in the pages of the New Testament. Since I am losing hairs for other reasons, I'll let others tease out the details. Our focus is to identify the three "biggies."

Rabies is not the way to go (part 6)

Rabies is not the way to go (part 6)

The treatment for rabies is not what it used to be. 

Not so long ago it consisted of twenty or more painful shots into the abdomen delivered by a needle the size of a fencepost. This treatment is now obsolete, as I have (thankfully) discovered.

Rabies is not the way to go (part 3)

Rabies is not the way to go (part 3)

I rinsed with water from a hose. The clear imprint of teeth on my thigh would have made a dentist proud. But the wounds were also deep so they took a while to stop bleeding. Red streaks mixed with the water and dribbled down my leg and forearms.