Travel

Sturdy students

I type this sentence from the departures terminal of the Tel Aviv airport. The folks pictured below are winging it home at this very moment.

Look closely. These are the faces of sturdy students for sure, even if a bit odd.

On the streets of Nazareth.

On the streets of Nazareth.

Seth Bryant (second from left) was their chief. He pastors the New Hope Christian Church in Roanoke, Virginia and brought this team from the other side of the world. They came for a 12-day experience in Israel-Palestine. There’s nothing odd about that.

Fact is, the itinerary for most two-weekers is fairly predictable. One cannot come here and dodge places like Caesarea-by-the-Sea, Tiberias, Jerusalem, and Bethlehem. The paths between these sites is well-worn by the feet of millions.

Seth tempts gravity on the edge of Mt Arbel. Below him is the Plain of Genesaret and the Sea of Galilee.

Seth tempts gravity on the edge of Mt Arbel. Below him is the Plain of Genesaret and the Sea of Galilee.

Sturdy students, however, do other special—or shall we say, odd—things. Here are a few extras that set the New Hope crew apart from the typical tour group.

1. Walking two different portions of the Jesus Trail. New Hope hiked from Nazareth to Sepphoris and again from the heights of Mt Arbel to Magdala. Given the mid-summer temperatures this year, that was a real feat!

2. Spending time visiting with members of the Christian HolyLand Foundation. Learning about the challenges and rewards of contemporary ministry in Galilee proved to be a high point of the journey.

We enjoyed the hospitality of Hani and Shifa Billan who are doing local ministry in Cana, Israel. They are a part of the Christian HolyLand Foundation team. See the link    here    for more on CHLF.

We enjoyed the hospitality of Hani and Shifa Billan who are doing local ministry in Cana, Israel. They are a part of the Christian HolyLand Foundation team. See the link here for more on CHLF.

3. Substituting a drive through Palestine (West Bank) for the usual cruise down the Jordan Valley. As it turned out, the group picked up sites like Jenin, Samaria, Jacob’s Well, and Shilo. These are not sites on the beaten trail. Another extra was doing lunch in Nablus that included world-famous knaffeh and coffee!

Staying hydrated is a challenge on the trail in the summer.

Staying hydrated is a challenge on the trail in the summer.

One other thing that set this group apart was the variety of hotel experiences. One cannot imagine a stronger contrast than the setting of Kibbutz Lavi and the setting of the Angel Hotel. The former is an old Galilean commune frequented by Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox Jews; the latter is a boutique hotel run by a family of Arab Christians inside Palestine.

Sprinkle a few nights on the Mediterranean and the Sea of Galilee between these and it adds up to a full cultural experience.

The platform underneath our seats is a part of the construction effort of Herod the Great who rebuilt the YHWH temple in Jerusalem. It’s a good place to reflect upon this history, as well as the legacy of Islam. Today, this area is known as the  Haram esh-Sharif  or “the noble sanctuary.” It is the third holiest site in all the world for a Muslim.

The platform underneath our seats is a part of the construction effort of Herod the Great who rebuilt the YHWH temple in Jerusalem. It’s a good place to reflect upon this history, as well as the legacy of Islam. Today, this area is known as the Haram esh-Sharif or “the noble sanctuary.” It is the third holiest site in all the world for a Muslim.

Not every group is ready to embrace these kinds of experiences, but this one sure was.

I guess they were a little odd.

But they made memories that will last a lifetime.

Our sturdy driver and dear friend Robert Makhlouf proved to be a difference-maker.

Our sturdy driver and dear friend Robert Makhlouf proved to be a difference-maker.


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Sam, an old camel friend of mine who lives in Jericho, is known to snoggle the unwary tourist from time to time.

If you’ve never experienced a camel snoggle, you’re not living life to the fullest. Why don’t you consider joining one of our future trips? Our 2020 and 2021 tour schedule may be found here.

Canyon Critters

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The sun was directly overhead when we arrived at the trailhead. The asphalt was gummy.

“Bring everything you need to survive for an hour and half,” I chirped. “Maybe two hours. Hat, sunglasses, sunscreen and an extra bottle of water.”

Our crew didn’t need my reminders. On the previous day we had hiked from Nazareth to Sepphoris, an accomplishment in any season. It is a notable one at the end of June with the temperatures scraping three digits.

We entered the canyon below Nabi Shu’ayb.

We entered the canyon below Nabi Shu’ayb.

Even in this season of scarcity I hoped to spot some wildlife on the trail. Today we aimed to follow a stream that trickled through the canyon (Arab. wadi) from the plain near Nabi Shuʿayb (the traditional burial place of Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses) to the moment where the canyon released its travelers on the edge of the Sea of Galilee.

The canyon is called Wadi Hamam or “Valley of the Doves.” It forms one leg of the ancient highway connecting the Sea of Galilee to the Mediterranean Sea. Jesus likely walked this path in Eastern Lower Galilee.

I don’t know what wildlife encounters an ancient traveler would have had, but five kinds of critters surprised us.

The trail runs through the tangle of brush at the edge of the stream.

The trail runs through the tangle of brush at the edge of the stream.

Our first critter appeared out of nowhere. I stepped through the thicket and almost ran into a cow. It was standing in the water, blocking our path. She raised her head. Menacing horns protruded from her brow.

City-boy Mike confessed: “I said ‘Holy _____! Look at those horns. It’s a bull. We’re all gonna die.’ Later I asked for forgiveness.”

“Yah! Git!” I coaxed. The cow moseyed on, yielding the road.

A few minutes later Thunder Bobby hollered, “What’s that?” Our second critter of the day, a pudgy hyrax, looked down from his overhead perch. Like everyone else under this sun, he was slow to move. He watched us carefully with beady black eyes. Finally he barked a warning to his hyraxian homies (see our previous post on these “Wise wee folk” of the Wadi Hamam here) and crawled out of sight.

Back in 2014 I spotted this hyrax in about the same place. He may have been a grandpa to our friend today.

Back in 2014 I spotted this hyrax in about the same place. He may have been a grandpa to our friend today.

Our third critter encounter came as a result of Lightning Seth’s keen eye. High above us, he spotted the movement of a Palestinian mountain gazelle. We all watched in amazement as the gazelle (unlike the cow and hyrax) sprinted and leaped with vigor across the steep slope. By the time I finally got my camera unholstered it was already gone.

This particular species is iconic to the region. For more on its endangered status, see here.

Lightning Seth was quick. He caught the gazelle on his phone. Watch the video below.

Later, we spotted two more on the opposite side of the canyon.

Our fourth critter encounter was also on the slope above us.

I turned back to see if the group had successfully crossed the stream. Movement caught my eye. It was a wild boar. A pumba. A big pig.

And he was not running downslope into the Sea of Galilee (!) but upslope and away from it. I caught the still image. City-boy Mike caught the video that follows.

The celebration of bacon was a part of our conversation for the rest of the day.

The only thing I managed to capture was his twitching tail disappearing into the brush.

The only thing I managed to capture was his twitching tail disappearing into the brush.

Caves appeared in the ancient limestone above our head as we approached the opening of the canyon. Here was our fifth critter sighting.

At first I thought it was school children. City-boy Mike saw the bit of color as well and hollered, “Hello!” “Hello!”

A couple of goats appeared at the mouth of one of the caves.

I’ll bet there was a shepherd dozing inside.

The goats came out to have a look.

The goats came out to have a look.

During our walk in Eastern Lower Galilee, I had hoped for some animal encounters. Cows from the nearby village were a given. Maybe goats. The other critters were a pleasant surprise.

Far from being a“valley of the shadow of death,” the Wadi Hamam with its stream and thicket turned out to be a veritable “valley of life.”


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Our current group of Bible Land Explorers are from Roanoke, Virginia. They are not content to “do” the usual tourist tour, but have specifically requested special engagements like hiking portions of the Jesus Trail.

If you are interested in experiencing the land of the Bible in a fresh way, consider joining one of our future trips. Our 2020 and 2021 tour schedule may be found here.

Baker's Dozen

Actually it was more like a dozen and a half.

As I write this note, Tommy Baker and his coterie from First Church of Christ in Burlington, Kentucky, are winging their way home. They looked tired but happy as they left the motor coach and headed into the departures terminal of the Tel Aviv airport. Their 2019 pilgrimage in the Holy Land was nearly complete.

Janet wings it on a camel in Jericho.

Janet wings it on a camel in Jericho.

Our 10-day experience with First Church took us to many of the best-known biblical sites in Israel-Palestine, including Caesarea-by-the-Sea, Nazareth, Bethlehem, and Jerusalem. At these sites and many more we contemplated the biblical story, archaeological findings, and the contemporary situation. As Denny, one member of the group, put it, “It has been a true trip of a lifetime!”

Rick Lowry, Spiritual Growth Pastor at First Church, contemplates the Sermon on the Mount on “the Mount”!

Rick Lowry, Spiritual Growth Pastor at First Church, contemplates the Sermon on the Mount on “the Mount”!

This kind of success grows out of a team effort. On one end was the Jerusalem Center for Biblical Studies (JCBS), the organization that coordinated all our in-country logistics. On the other end was Robert Makhlouf, driver extraordinaire, Arab Christian, and old friend. Between these ends was Tommy Baker and Rick Lowry, pastors at First Church.

Robert wheeled our big Volvo like like a boss and always wore a smile. Since the last time we worked together he has become a father. His little girl is four months old.

Robert wheeled our big Volvo like like a boss and always wore a smile. Since the last time we worked together he has become a father. His little girl is four months old.

Some challenges came as a result of the heat. Undoubtedly, summer travel in Israel-Palestine brings on serious shvitzing (Yiddish for “sweating”). We shvitzed a bit (to say the least!) in the afternoon sun in Tiberias, Jericho, and Qumran. On the positive side, rain was not a problem! We drank plenty of water, took our time, and onboarded a little extra vitamin D.

Group photo from the summit of Mt Arbel. The Sea of Galilee shimmers in the distance.

Group photo from the summit of Mt Arbel. The Sea of Galilee shimmers in the distance.

One new experience for me was an overnight in Jericho. We slept in the hotel Oaisis, just inside the Palestinian border. This location made it possible to do a late afternoon swim in the Dead Sea and a cool morning walkabout over the remains of ancient Jericho (Tell es-Sultan). Watching the sun slip behind the crusty hills of the Judean Wilderness was special, as was the early morning call to prayer from the minaret near the hotel (!).

Swimming—or bobbing—in the Dead Sea. Photo by Tommy Baker.

Swimming—or bobbing—in the Dead Sea. Photo by Tommy Baker.

First Church has sent multiple teams of Bible Land Explorers to us over the course of a decade. Plans are already in the book for yet another return: May 16-29, 2021. If you are interested in being a part of that experience, it is not too early to contact Executive Pastor Tommy Baker at tbaker@firstchurch.me.

In the meantime we will continue the quest to discover the place where faith begins.


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Our groups cover a lot of ground in order to make the most of our limited time. Travelers should be able to climb stairs unassisted and walk over uneven surfaces. Good shoes are a must!

If you are interested in experiencing the land of the Bible through through the lens of history and faith, consider joining one of our future trips. Our 2020 and 2021 tour schedule may be found here.

A Threepeat

Threepeats are special.

Summer 2019 marked the third year that Whitewater Crossing Christian Church of Cleves, Ohio, sent a crew to the Heartland via JCBS. It was special.

The bathhouse at the palace of King Herod at the Herodium is a perfect place for a group photo.

The bathhouse at the palace of King Herod at the Herodium is a perfect place for a group photo.

Thirteen folk from the midwest packed their bags and came to the mideast for twelve days of personal study, prayer, and fun. It was a small and tidy group. What we lacked in numbers was offset by raw enthusiasm.

The boulders on the trail at Tel Dan were slippery, but teamwork got everyone through.

The heat was cranked up in the Dead Sea basin, but the secrets of Masada and Ein Gedi were revealed.

The darkness of Hezekiah’s Tunnel was intimating, but headlamps (and a little hand holding!) did the trick.

These sturdy souls took up the challenge of wading through the dark tunnel known as Hezekiah’s Tunnel. This conduit provided water for the inhabitants of Jerusalem in the Iron Age.

These sturdy souls took up the challenge of wading through the dark tunnel known as Hezekiah’s Tunnel. This conduit provided water for the inhabitants of Jerusalem in the Iron Age.

Between that tunnel, the swimming pool, the Dead Sea, and and (of course) the Jordan River, everyone ended up in the water at some point.

With two physicians and two nurses in the group, I never felt so confident in my life. Fact is, I was almost embarrassed to be carrying a medical kit. Fortunately, there was no need for my kit or their knowledge.

Part of that success was due to the professionalism of our driver. We borrowed Louis for two weeks from the British Embassy. His knowledge of the roads and skills in navigating them was uncanny. While we did not splash like Tony Blair, I am certain we received the same attention from this wheelman as did the Prime Minister.

We borrowed an excellent driver from the British Embassy. Louis not only knew the roads, but was instrumental in keeping our group safe and well-fed.

We borrowed an excellent driver from the British Embassy. Louis not only knew the roads, but was instrumental in keeping our group safe and well-fed.

The extra cover to the experience, of course, was drawn from deeper sources. We prayed in the morning and evening. We sang in the churches. We climbed to the top of many tells, and despite wobbly knees, stood on the top of these vistas and read from the Bible.

Inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the traditional site where Jesus was crucified and resurrected. Photograph by Kurt Knochel.

Inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the traditional site where Jesus was crucified and resurrected. Photograph by Kurt Knochel.

One of our travelers, Nancy, returned home after these 12 days and wrote a quick note. She described the trip as more than a sightseeing excursion. She believed God communicated to her in these words:

“Child, you have heard my Word in new ways. You have seen with your own eyes places I designed. You have heard with new understanding historical events I orchestrated with purpose. You were led back in time to be taught and inspired by people I created and directed according to my will. You saw places of great importance and remembrance that have been uncovered under my supervision. In all of this . . . remember me, remember me, remember me.”

That kind of experience never gets old, no matter how often one returns to this part of the world.

Plans for a fourth trip with Whitewater Crossing Christian Church are already in the works.

We didn’t suffer too much at our hotel beside the Dead Sea.

We didn’t suffer too much at our hotel beside the Dead Sea.


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If you are thinking about visiting the Heartland yourself, consider joining us next year. We have open seats for several trips in 2020 and 2021. If you represent a church or school group and are interested in exploring this kind of travel ministry, know that we are booking custom experiences for 2022. Chat with me at markziese@gmail.com or see our full list of study-travel opportunities at the link here.

Required reading for explorers (part 3)

One week from now, God willing, I’ll be winging it back across the Big Pond. I’ll have a day to get my business in order before meeting a group of ministry residents at the Tel Aviv airport. We’ll take them on the loop-de-loop in the Heartland, cruising up the Mediterranean coast, across Galilee, down the Jordan Valley, and concluding in the highlands around Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Hopefully I can wear them down before they wear me out.

The only reason I bother you with such details is because it was on this exact trip one year ago that I had my little “animal encounter.” Should you have a strong constitution and care to read about it, you can find the story in a series titled “Rabies is not the way to go” beginning here.

The good news is that while I do gnash my teeth and foam at the mouth from time to time, it seems to be more related to my work as college administrator than something prompted by a stray Lyssavirus (the “fury” virus from the Greek λύσσα).

Nonetheless, to prepare for the journey, I thought it might be useful to study a book that my kids got me for Christmas. Aren’t they stinkin’ hilarious? Here’s the cover.

The book has been hanging around my table since Christmas. I’m reading it now with a chuckle.

The book has been hanging around my table since Christmas. I’m reading it now with a chuckle.

Rachel Levin’s first book, Look Big and Other Tips for Surviving Animal Encounters of All Kinds (New York: Ten Speed Press, 2018), offers an interesting take on our North American friends from the wild side. The author chooses 50 animal species and devotes a page or two to each of them. Some of her choices are expected: bears, jellyfish, rats, and ticks. Others are surprising: cockroaches, bison, whales, and woodpeckers.

In the case of each Levin offers tidbits on where these critters can be found, what size or shape they come in (black bears are “as big as a sofa” and rabbits are “the size of a pineapple, but softer”), sounds they make (the elephant seal “snorts and grunts, like a long and epic burp”), why they are dangerous (owls can “stab your head,” geese squeeze “out two to three pounds of poop every day,” donkeys “will bite your butt with their big-ass donkey teeth”) and what one could possibly do to avoid or survive an encounter.

All illustrations in the book come from the hand of Jeff Östberg. Even in the case of rats (p. 103), his art is mellow and creamy and delightful.

All illustrations in the book come from the hand of Jeff Östberg. Even in the case of rats (p. 103), his art is mellow and creamy and delightful.

It is this last category that sells the book. Levin wryly pitches it as a guide, but the volume is more entertainment and less reference. In the case of a black widow spider bite, don’t try to suck out the wound. Call the poison center. Attacked by a swarm of bees? Run! Tackled by a grizzly? Fight for your life. Confronted by a wild hog? Do what you must but don’t get knocked down.

For reasons already described, I took great interest in the section devoted to dogs. I found it surprising that “man’s best friend” kills more people than sharks, alligators, snakes, and bears put together (p. 55).

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Levin’s advice to “avoid eye contact or smiling” when encountering a stray seems reasonable. The same is true with her “don’t run” command. It is a “total trigger.” I do take issue with her wisdom that if you are bitten, “curl into a ball, wait for it to be over, and admit you might be more of a cat person” (p. 55). This tip is ludicrous for one clear reason: cats are of the devil.

If you haven’t figured it out already, the book is front-loaded with humor. Some of it hinges on the author’s neuroses about all things wild (Levin is a food critic in her other life); other bits of it are suspended from the stupidity of humanity “like the dad who smeared peanut butter on his toddler’s nose, then waited for bear to lick it off (p. 18).

Between the lines is a moralistic edge. Dangerous animal encounters seem to be more frequent today because the human population is increasing, animal habitats are shrinking, and social media rewards asininity.

The Florida turnpike. Looking big is of little help in these parts. You become a yummier target.

The Florida turnpike. Looking big is of little help in these parts. You become a yummier target.

Even if these trends are true, I suspect that the chances of being killed by one of your human neighbors is astronomically higher than the possibility of being killed by some foraging critter. This is especially true if you have lots of wind chimes, cats, or are the president of your HOA.

By the way, can you guess which wild animal is responsible for 200 deaths annually and is hands-down the most deadly in North America?

Big-eyed Bambi. Those dang deers.

Our greyhound, (Turbo High) Dutch, is fawn-colored, has big eyes, and at times resembles a deer. He may even contemplate danger between naps and meals.

Our greyhound, (Turbo High) Dutch, is fawn-colored, has big eyes, and at times resembles a deer. He may even contemplate danger between naps and meals.


Look Big lists for $14.99 in the U.S. You can find your copy on Amazon.com right here. You need to have it on your bookshelf for smile-value reasons.


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I’ll keep you posted on how our upcoming trip pans out. While I offer stories on this website irregularly, I try to post a picture-of-the-day almost daily. See the tab marked POTD at the top of our home page here.

For a complete list of upcoming travel opportunities in the Lands of the Bible in 2019, see our schedule here. Some seats are still available. Contact me at markziese@gmail.com if interested.

Naturally I lost my bearings

Gordon lifted the oversized compass to his face. The transparent plastic flexed in his hands, making his nose appear to wiggle. His voice was less animated. His words came out deliberately.

“Turn the bezel until the arrow is in the box.” He turned the disk on his plastic demonstration model. His nose wiggled again.

We complied. Our group sat at the table with real compasses balanced on our upturned palms. I twisted the bezel on mine. The needle danced briefly, then settled dutifully.

“It doesn’t matter how many bells and whistles a compass has,” Gordon said. “It does just one job...” We recognized the prompt and chimed as chorus, “…it points to magnetic north.”

This was old school at the local REI. We were studying the compass, paper quadrangle maps, and the mystery of declination. Gordon was the perfect teacher. He was articulate and patient.

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He also warned us about ever-present danger of table legs.

“Watch.” Gordon slid a compass across the plastic table. At one point the needle wobbled and forgot its singular purpose.

“Remember, it’s a magnet. The table legs are metal.”

He illustrated his point with a story about hikers he had once observed working off a quadrangle spread across the hood of the car. “That engine block will really mess you up,” he chuckled.

Tools and tricks of the trade.

Tools and tricks of the trade.

He didn’t need to remind me.

I drifted out of the classroom to a dark and rainy night on the streets of Jaffa, Israel. I was driving a tiny rental car. Inside was Tanner, my son, Jody my graduate assistant, and Karl, a good friend. We had just arrived in Tel Aviv a few hours earlier and were quite bleary after an all-night flight. We were attempting to find a hostel where I had made reservations.

This was back in the 1990s before the widespread use of miraculous technologies like the handheld GPS, the cell phone, and the Ninja smoothie blender. We were true pioneers, just a generation away from the discovery of fire. Jody held a paper map and a compass. “Turn right.” “Turn left.” “Try right again.” We wandered for what seemed to be hours. Hopelessly befuddled, we found ourselves at the spot where we started.

Without alternatives (like the mossy side of trees) to guide us, we gave up. We deadheaded our way to Galilee. We pulled onto a dirt road beside the Horns of Hattin at about four in the morning and slept in our seats to sunrise.

Jody, Tanner, and yours truly from a compass-directed Israel experience many years ago.

Jody, Tanner, and yours truly from a compass-directed Israel experience many years ago.

Only later did we discover that something in the vehicle was messing with Jody’s compass.

Thanks to Gordon I now know that it doesn’t take much. The earth’s magnetic field is relatively weak. Science suggests that this force is measured at 5 × 10−5 tesla (or 50 µT).

Did you that before it was a space car, the Tesla was a unit of magnetic field strength? I didn’t. Neither did I know that while the value of the earth’s magnetic field is strong enough to protect the earth from harmful solar wind it is not strong enough to overcome the mysterious powers of some small European rental cars.

The earth’s magnetic field protects us from dangerous stuff flying around in space. I’ll bet Starman has a GPS. He is not going to mess around with distortion or declination. Image from    here   .

The earth’s magnetic field protects us from dangerous stuff flying around in space. I’ll bet Starman has a GPS. He is not going to mess around with distortion or declination. Image from here.


Our local REI store offers a variety of courses regularly. One of them is “Map and Compass Navigation Basics.” For a small fee, you can find yourself in a good introduction to compass navigation or be reminded of things you forgot since your Boy Scout days.

If an REI is not convenient, the book of choice is Bjorn Kjellstrom’s Be Expert with Map and Compass (Wiley, 2010). This is the classic guide to compass use. Its author was a Swedish orienteering champion and cofounder of the Silva compass company. Be Expert has been revised since the original 1955 release and is now in its 3rd edition.


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We have seats available on a couple of trips scheduled for summer of 2019. The good news is that we will be traveling in a wondrous GPS-equipped motor coach. I haven’t gotten lost in a few years now.

Registration will be closing soon on our May 25-June 4 excursion as well as our June 4-15 trip. These are similarly paced and priced. If you are interested in either please contact me immediately at markziese@gmail.com.

For a complete list of travel opportunities in 2019, see our schedule here.


Above the Jesus Trail, 2019

I must confess that it took me a long time to recover from the jump between film and digital photography. Shutter speeds and F-stops made sense. But these new gadgets and all their buttons seem so irregular and complicated.

I was just beginning to feel good about my digital Lumix when this college kid shows up with a drone and a phone.

Cody, his phone, and his drone. Nazareth, Israel.

Cody, his phone, and his drone. Nazareth, Israel.

The drone was not much bigger than a deck of cards (with rotors retracted). The phone, was, well, a phone . . . but it had an app that controlled the drone!

It blew up my world.

Cody was a crazy-good pilot. He could fly that little whirlybird in and out of the palm of his hand. He buzzed the treetops, circled the moon, chased the cows, and we watched the whole thing happen in real-time on his phone.

Cody was one of our Bible Land Explorers who walked the Jesus Trail in January of 2019. He sent me this edited clip of the experience.

It looks like another technological curve is ahead of this old dog.

Enjoy.

And the next time we do the Jesus Trail, you really should join our merry band.

Note: all the clips featured here were taken along the Jesus Trail except the last. The view to Jerusalem was taken from the Haas Promenade just south of the city.


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We have seats available on a couple of trips scheduled for summer of 2019. Registration will be closing soon on our May 25-June 4 excursion as well as our June 4-15 trip. These are similarly paced and priced. If you are interested in either please contact me immediately at markziese@gmail.com.

For a complete list of travel opportunities in 2019, see our schedule here.


Wisemen Wafers

Wisemen Wafers

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

Enter the idea of the eulogia.

He blowd his brains out his ears

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 epic Song of Roland.

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.

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.