Recognize this famous ancient spot in Israel?

If you have traveled to Israel, you’ve likely visited the place in the photograph below. Do you recognize it? Take a few seconds to figure it out before reading further.


Photo by Mark Ziese (visit the Bible Land Explorer blog at

It looks quite different now due to recent work to show more of the ancient ruins.



If you haven’t identified it yet, the solution is below…




This is the Roman theater in Caesarea Maritima with the stage area removed. The stage visitors have seen and stood on for decades was a modern reconstruction. Now we can see the ancient chambers below. For an explanation, see this post by Mark Ziese.


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Does it snow in Israel? As sure as snowflakes, it does.

Israel has recently experienced storms across the country, including one in the north that dropped nearly 14 inches (35 cm) of snow on Mt. Hermon. Canaan is not blessed with consistent winter snow but Mt. Hermon normally receives it every year. The melted runoff feeds sources of the Jordan river, which in turn feeds the Sea of Galilee, the country’s largest freshwater reservoir.

Hermon snow

Photo of snow on Mount Hermon on Dec. 27, 2019. As the image indicates, this particular storm came during Hanukkah. (Photo credit: MT. HERMON MEDIA)

The biblical text mentions snow numerous times. Perhaps the most famous reference is the Lord’s statement in Isaiah 1:18, “though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” We may also recall David’s plea to “wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” (Ps 51:7)

Snow is an image of renewal and refreshment. Whether we see snow in person or in images like the one above, it is a reminder that the Lord purifies corrupt, stained ones who turn away from sinful behaviors and obey Him.


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Three new volumes (on sale!) for BiblePlaces Photo Companion series

Just in time for Black Friday specials, BiblePlaces has released Joshua, Judges, and Romans for its Photo Companion series. This is comes out to 7,500 photos linked with the full text of these three biblical books, already formatted for PowerPoint, with invaluable explanations and commentary. This is a fantastic gift for any student or teacher of the Bible, including yourself.

Each volume is currently on sale (Joshua and Judges for $69 each, Romans for $49) but for this weekend only you can purchase all three together for just $99. This may be one of the best gift-giving values of the holiday season – seriously.


Note these details on the new volumes:

  • 3,100+ images of sites related to the conquest, settlement, and covenant renewal.
  • 2,800+ images related to the time of the Judges.
  • 1,600+ images related to Paul’s epistle to the Romans
  • Each chapter illustrated by 60 to 400 photographs.
  • Free lifetime updates and generous copyright permissions.
  • Download Joshua 2, Judges 4, and Romans 12 as free previews.

On a personal note, I already own nearly all of the other volumes. They are one of my most important resources when studying or teaching the Scriptures. I highly recommend the Photo Companion series to anyone with serious interest in the Bible or the biblical world. Every volume provides useful visualizations for what we read in God’s Word. The commentary is grounded, well researched, and understandable to both public and scholarly audiences.


Looking at the BiblePlaces website, I see that the other photo collections are currently on sale. Take a look, see what you’re lacking, and upgrade both your visual and scholarly libraries while prices are discounted.

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Who Was Flavius Josephus? (Video)

Dr. David McClister explains “Who Was Flavius Josephus?” in this 10-minute video. For one, Josephus shows how the Jews read the Bible in biblical times – but there’s more, and it’s relevant for modern Bible students and believers.

David is chair of the Biblical Studies department at Florida College and has been with several of my tour groups.

Posted in Bible comments, Short videos | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Register for the 1st International Conference on Biblical Archaeology Online (in English, Español y Portuguesa)

If you’ve wanted to attend an overseas biblical archaeology conference but never have the time and/or money, Hebrew University and the Moriah Center are bringing this year’s International Conference on Biblical Archaeology online to you. For a reasonable registration fee you can watch from home, and at times convenient for you. (If you subscribe to BAR, look for a discount code in the current Nov/Dec issue.)

The program includes presentations on a number of prominent biblical sites and figures including the 1st century Jerusalem Pilgrim Road, kings David and Hezekiah, the Temple of Solomon, the Temple Mount Sifting Project, some of the recent work at Magdala, and more. The multinational lineup of scholars includes Yosef Garfinkel, Gabriel Barkay, Eli Shukron, Marcela Zapata-Meza, Igor Kreimerman, Adolfo Roitman, Rodrigo Silva, and David Sedaca.

The conference runs in Jerusalem from October 24 – 27. Those who register may view the videos freely during a 60-day access period that begins October 24. Participants also receive a certificate from Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

You can read all of the details at the Conference’s website.

The videos have optional subtitles in English, Spanish and Portuguese. Register now, then sit back and enjoy the lectures as you have the time over the next two months.

Posted in archaeologists, Biblical Archaeology, Conferences & Meetings, Links to interesting stuff, Tech & Resources | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Archaeologists propose new site as biblical Ziklag. Is it so?

My most recent dig site, Khirbet a-Ra’i, has just been proposed as the location of biblical Ziklag, a town linked with David shortly before he became king over Judah. I worked with this excavation for two weeks of its summer, 2019 season. We were aware of the archaeologists’ identification of the site but naturally waited until they announced before posting anything publicly. (See the IAA’s press announcement.)


The group I led to the 2019 (summer) Khirbet a-Ra’i excavation. From l to r: Ashley, Becky, Jimmy, my son Caleb, Steve, LaDonna, Doug, Madison, and Yours Truly

Is it Ziklag? Some archaeologists have dismissed the proposal while others are waiting for discussion to develop. Archaeology doesn’t provide 100% certainty on these kinds of things, so we go with the weight of (current) evidence. Numerous other sites have been proposed as Ziklag, most of which have been dismissed over time.


View to the east from the summit of Khirbet a-Ra’i, recently proposed as Ziklag. Across the rolling foothills one sees the mountains of Judea in the distance. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

The famous biblical story of Ziklag relates to David. The Philistines inhabited the town but gave it to David and his men in 1 Samuel 27. The town was attacked and burned and the families taken by the Amalekites while David and his men were away (1 Sam. 30). David mounted a rescue mission and retrieved everyone alive, along with a great quantity of spoil that was distributed to numerous allies in Judah.

The stratigraphy lines up well with what we know of Ziklag from the biblical text, but there is at least one big question that lacks resolution. Here are some points to consider:

  • Over seven excavations seasons the team has uncovered two Philistine Iron I strata from the 12th and 11th centuries BC (the time of the biblical Judges) topped in some places by a different material culture from the late-11th/early-10th century (the time of David). This would be consistent with what we know of Ziklag in 1 Samuel 27.
  • This late-11th/early-10th century stratum appears identical to Khirbet Qeiyafa, a site linked with Judah that has been radiometrically (Carbon-14) dated to ca. 1000 BC, the biblical time of David. It’s not just another Iron Age level – it dates specifically to David’s time, which stands out from most other sites.
  • This Qeiyafa-esque stratum was destroyed and burned, which lines up with events in 1 Samuel 30.
  • The site has post-exilic construction that would fit Ziklag’s mention in Nehemiah 11.
  • This specific sequence of habitation and destruction layers is what caught the excavators’ attention and led them to offer a-Ra’i as a candidate for Ziklag.

The big question I mention relates to Joshua 15 which lists Ziklag among cities further south, along the Negev (vs. 21-32). The city of Lachish, just 2 miles from Kh. a-Ra’i, is listed among a separate group of towns further north (vs. 33-44). From this, it seems the Bible places Ziklag several miles further south than Khirbet a-Ra’i.

The archaeologists at Kh. a-Ra’i will be publishing a formal article that likely addresses this geographical question. Without knowing how they approach it, I cannot say this issue is insurmountable. Some scholars have quickly criticized new claims before having to backtrack or modify their criticism as more information comes forth. At this point I am comfortable seeing this as an interesting proposal that is already producing discussion. The excavators anticipate critique and look forward to addressing the kinds of questions that have already arisen.

For a number of years, the leading candidate for Ziklag has been Tel Sera. We don’t have any inscription that says “Ziklag” at either site and probably never will. We must go where the evidence directs us.

The excavators at Khirbet a-Ra’i were not seeking Ziklag when they began digging. They knew from surveys that the site had an Early Iron Age level, which fit their research interest. The Philistine finds were unexpected and have produced new research questions.


A massive Philistine wall foundation near the summit of Khirbet a-Ra’i. Archaeologists at this site recently proposed the site could be biblical Ziklag. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

On that note, one current goal of the a-Ra’i project is to pin down an approximate date for the Philistines’ entry to Canaan. Some scholars have re-thought the traditional timeline, and it holds implications for dating the development of the Israelite kingdoms. Keep your eyes – and screens – open for updates on these issues and discussions.


With Prof. Yosef Garfinkel, co-Director of the Khirbet a-Ra’i excavations.

Posted in Ancient sites, archaeologists, Biblical Archaeology, Khirbet a-Ra'i, Khirbet Qeiyafa, Philistines | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Electronic authorization for travel to Europe for U.S. Citizens and others beginning in 2021

Citizens of many countries, including the United States, have enjoyed visa-free travel to Europe for decades. We simply get on a plane or ship, show up with passport in hand, and receive free entry for up to 90 days. That will change in a little over two years from now.

Starting July 1, 2021, citizens of the U.S. and dozens of other countries that enjoy visa-free travel will need to apply online for permission to enter Europe at least 96 hours before travel. Once approved, each traveler may come and go freely for 3 years before having to apply again.

This new requirement, called ETIAS (EU Travel Information & Authorisation System), is a security check rather than a visa, so citizens of the affected countries will still have visa-free travel to and within Europe as before. The only difference is that travel must be authorized in advance.

Here are the key points according to Forbes magazine:

  • The ETIAS application process will take place online and should take less than 10 minutes to complete.
  • Applicants will be asked to provide three types of information: 1) a valid passport (with an expiration date that is at least three months longer than the intended stay; 2) a credit or debit card, and 3) an email address.
  • Application must take place at least 96 hours before travel.
  • Applications need to be made for infants and children as well as adults.
  • The cost will be 7 Euros per person, waived for those under the age of 18. Payment will need to be made online via credit or debit card.
  • The application will be checked against a number of security databases as well as an ETIAS watchlist, and then will either be approved or denied by email. If an application is denied, an explanation will be provided (which can be appealed).
  • ETIAS travel authorization will be valid for multiple entries over the course of three years.

(Image courtesy of the EU Travel Information & Authorisation System.)

In the end, not a big difference for travelers. The United States already does a version of this for many Europeans and others who visit.

The ETIAS program won’t arrive in time to affect my upcoming “Biblical Greece & the Greek Isles” tour this October. Registration is open! Email me or comment to request details.


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Recommended Resource: “Book of Acts” Photo Companion to the Bible

When BiblePlaces’ social media began posting an image from Acts each day in February (28 chapters in 28 days), I suspected an announcement was coming for the next volume of the Photo Companion series. This proved to be right. BiblePlaces has just announced the new “Book of Acts” volume with more than 4,000 informative, researched images to accompany your study and teaching, and it’s on sale this week (starting February 11th).

Here is a description of this resource from BiblePlaces.

The Photo Companion to the Bible is a unique collection of digital photographs that illustrate the biblical text verse by verse.

  • PowerPoint-based resource
  • Library of images provides broad selection
  • Created by team of professors and scholars
  • Organized by chapter and verse
  • Each chapter is illustrated by 65–250 photographs
  • Photographs of every site mentioned in Acts
  • Detailed markings of major features and routes
  • Annotations explaining the image selection and background
  • Free lifetime updates
  • Generous copyright permissions
  • Satisfaction guaranteed
Highlights from Acts:
  • The apostles’ early ministry in Jerusalem
  • Peter’s journey to Joppa and Caesarea
  • Paul’s three missionary journeys
  • Paul’s shipwreck and final journey to Rome
  • Ancient inscriptions, artifacts, and cultural features

The “Book of Acts” Photo Companion to the Bible (courtesy of

BiblePlaces invites you to download Acts 18 for free and sample what the collection offers. Give it a try. You will be glad you did.

I frequently use the Photo Companion volumes in my teaching. They have transformed many of my classes and lessons. Students and church members can better visualize biblical events and engage the stories with greater clarity and detail.

The Book of Acts collection comes in two volumes that may be purchased separately or together. Learn more about this new collection and purchase it today for a greatly-reduced price.  If you are a teacher or serious student of the Bible, this is a must-have resource to complement your library.


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Dramatic Scene from the British Museum’s Special Assyria Exhibition

The British Museum has a special exhibit titled, “Ashubanipal, King of the World, King of Assyria.” I saw it a couple of weeks ago and it is fantastic. If you’re a Bible teacher or serious student, it’s worth a special visit – but it closes after February 24th.

Here is a short video of a favorite selection from the special exhibit, showing a dramatic and graphic battle scene between Assyria and Elam. The video does a good job but it’s even better to see it in person with technology that highlights the details. I watched this segment of the exhibit 4 times. It’s compelling to absorb it on-site with the exhibition’s crafted ambience and take in the story with your own senses.

I’ll include this official notice from the video description: “WARNING: Includes scenes of drowning, flaying and wearing your deceased leader’s head as a necklace.”

HT: Todd Bolen

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“Journey Through the Testaments” tour to the Bible Lands

There are a few weeks remaining to join my “Journey Through the Testaments” tour from June 10th to 22nd, 2019. Whether it’s your first time or a repeat visit, this trip helps you perceive and understand the Bible on a fuller, deeper level.

Tour bannner 1

The 13-day tour package includes:

  • Round trip flights between New York (JFK) and Israel. (optional flights from CA available)
  • First Class hotels with daily breakfast and dinner buffets
  • All ground transportation in Israel
  • A licensed Israeli guide to accompany our group
  • All entrances and admissions
  • All gratuities, taxes & fees
  • An itinerary that takes you “from Dan to Beersheba” and many biblical sites in between. Visit all of the highlights and some places few tours get to see. Download the brochure for details.
  • Five free presentations on biblical archaeology and related topics with opportunity for Q & A.

This complete 13-day package is $4,245, payable in up to three installments. This is less expensive than many shorter tours. With the greater number of places you will visit, and the experience and archaeological training of your tour leader and guide, this trip is a tremendous value. It deepens and enlivens your Bible study in fresh, new ways.


We will visit the Capernaum synagogue, built on top of the 1st century structure. Be in the same space where Jesus likely taught.


The Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed and was arrested.

If you have the inclination, extend it an additional 13 days and spend time with a real archaeological dig for just $1,000 more. Meet like-minded people from around the world and discover artifacts from biblical times. You also get to enjoy bonus days in Jerusalem.

Jerusalem Model_Israel Museum

The stunning model of 1st-century Jerusalem at the Israel Museum.

If you have already visited Israel, you probably recall how the places and experiences were nearly overwhelming at times. It’s impossible to absorb everything in your first visit, and there are many things you did not get to see. This will be my fourteenth trip to Israel, and I still learn new things with each visit.

Download the full brochure and registration form, then reserve your place today. The trip begins to close in just a few more weeks. Send in your registration before time runs out on this trip of a lifetime.


The Harod Spring, where Gideon’s 300 men were chosen.


Posted in Ancient sites, Bible Lands tour, Biblical Archaeology, Israel, Jerusalem, Jesus, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment