Musings on a recent trip to Israel 1

This past January we had a chance to be a resource person on a TutkuTours.com tour to Israel. I thought I would share a few pictures of some items that I found interesting.

Chorazin — The rebuilding of the synagogue continues and an ongoing excavation is taking place in one of the residential sections of the town.

While we were at Chorazin Achia Cohen-Tavor shared with our group some of the results of his recent excavation. Above is a dish from the Byzantine Period that has a Chi-Rho symbol on it.

El-Araj (Bethsaida) We also had a chance to explore the site of el-Araj — Bethsaida of the New Testament. We were particularly interested to see how the excavations of the Byzantine Church that have been described in recent news releases were progressing

View looking east at the recently excavated remains of a Byzantine Church that the excavators believe was part of a monastic complex—possibly “The Church of the Apostles” that was visited by Willibald in A.D. 725.

One of the mosaic inscriptions found at the church says “. . . chief and commander of the heavenly apostles” which the excavators believe is a petition addressed to Saint Peter.

In the center of the image, the semi-circular apse of the church is visible.  The floor of the church is covered with plastic.  The “mounds” that you see in the picture are sandbags covered with dirt that are holding the plastic in place. (picture January 2023)

For links regarding the excavation see the article Digging In: El-Araj in the online article in Bible History Daily.

For brief reports on the seasons of excavations see Here.

Detailed view of the apse of the “Church of the Apostles.”

Although this is somewhat “old news,” it was good to see that the level of the Sea of Galilee is much higher than what it was duriing the drought years.

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The Pool of Siloam to be Excavated

In the summer of 2004 Eli Shukrun, Ronny Reich, and John Seligman, who were checking the area southeast of the traditional “Pool of Siloam” for a public works project, discovered a pool that they date to the first centuries B.C. and A.D.  In all probability it is the “Pool of Siloam” mentioned in John 9:7—to which Jesus sent a blind man to wash a mud mixture from his eyes.This pool is also mentioned in Rabbinic sources in connection with the water rituals associated with the Feast of Tabernacles— in the fall of the year.

The northeast corner of the Pool of Siloam that is currently exposed.

Since its discovery, only the northeast portion of the pool was excavated and available for visitors (see additional images below). In December 2022 it was announced that the (whole?) southern portion of the pool would be excavated and be made available to visitors.

“The Israel Antiquities Authority, the Israel National Parks Authority, and the City of David Foundation are pleased to announce the commencement of the excavation of the historic Pool of Siloam in Jerusalem.”

In light of the above, I thought I would share a few images of the property that will be excavated.

View of the western section of the property to be excavated as of January 2023.
View, looking south, at the eastern portion of the property to be excavated as of January 2023.

The current entrance to the visitors’ center is the white structure on the left edge of the image. Note the fencing around the area to be excavated.

According to estimates, the Pool of Siloam went through multiple stages of development, and at the height of its glory, was approximately the size of 5 dunams (1¼ acres), and inlaid with impressive flagstones. For the first time in modern history, the excavation by the IAA will enable the complete exposure of the Pool of Siloam, within the context of an official archeological excavation. In the first stage, visitors will be able to observe the archaeological excavations, and in the coming months the Pool of Siloam will be opened for tourist access, as part of a route that will begin at the southernmost point of the City of David and culminate at the footsteps of the Western Wall.

The location of the Pool of Siloam in New Testament/Second Temple Jerusalem.
An artist’s illustration of what the Pool may have looked like.

For additional images and commentary see Here.

The Location of One of the Inscriptions Near the Gihon Spring

Recently, it was announced that Eli Shukron and Prof. Gerson Galil had discovered and deciphered “five monumental, new royal inscriptions of King Hezekiah of Judah, which together include dozens of lines and hundreds of letters.”

Siegel-Itzkovich, Judy,  “Proof of biblical kings of Israel, Judah deciphered on Jerusalem rock inscriptions.  The Jerusalem Post.  December 16, 2022.  Online article.

I thought it might be of interest to some of the readers of this blog to share a picture of where I think at least one of the inscriptions is/was located. One of them was located at the bottom of the Round Pool that Reich and Shukron excavated.

View looking down at the bottom of the pool that Reich and Shukron excavated.

The bottom of the pool is about 20 ft. below the point from which this picture was taken.  It is estimated that the pool measures 22 x 10 ft. [6.7 x 3 m.].

In the center of the image is a doorway.  This is Tunnel IV which leads to the famous “Hezekiah’s Tunnel.”  This may have been the original starting point for Hezekiah’s Tunnel!  To the right of the doorway is a carved frame that has a recently deciphered inscription!!

On the right side of the image, is a large “gash.”  This is where Tunnel III entered the pool, bringing water from the Gihon Spring.  Or more precisely, Channel II led to Tunnel III, and that in turn led to the “Round Pool” of the “Rock-cut Pool.”

Probably a wooden platform was built over the pool.  Those who had descended through the “diagonal tunnel” would have stood on the platform, lowering their sacks into the pool, drawing them up, and then walking back through the “diagonal tunnel” to the interior of the city of Jerusalem.

The excavators believe that this pool system was built during the Middle Bronze II Period (ca. 1800 B.C.) and that it continued in use for over 1,000 years.  Indeed it is possible Joab and his men gained access to “Jerusalem/Jebus” via this water system (2 Sam 5:6–10; 1 Chron 11:4–9).

Detail of the doorway that is the entrance to Tunnel IV that leads to the famous “Hezekiah’s Tunnel.” This may have been the original starting point for Hezekiah’s Tunnel!

To the right of the doorway is a carved frame of an inscription that Gershon Galil claims to have read and translated.

For additional pictures of this “system” see Here.

A representation of the Spring/Pool System. From a sign at the site.

In the above note the city wall and the corridor that leads to the spring and pool area. The spring is protected by the tower on the right and the pool is visible to the left of it.


*** See helpful cautionary comments by Todd Bolen and Luke Chandler.

For a popular presentation of the finds see Reich, Ronny, and Shukron, Eli.  “Light at the End of the Tunnel:  Warren’s Shaft Theory of David’s Conquests Shattered.”  Biblical Archaeology Review, vol. 25, no. 1 (January/February, 1999):22–33, 72.

And for recent interpretations see:

Shanks, Hershel. “Will King Hezekiah Be Dislodged from His Tunnel?”  Biblical Archaeology Review vol. 39, no. 3 (September/October, 2013): 52-61.

Siegel-Itzkovich, Judy,  “Proof of biblical kings of Israel, Judah deciphered on Jerusalem rock inscriptions.  The Jerusalem Post.  December 16, 2022.  Online article.

Study the Bible in Israel/Jordan, Turkey, and Greece — April/May 2023

I am pleased to announce, in conjunction with Tutku Tours, that we will be offering a comprehensive 33-day Bible Study Tour to Israel/Jordan, Turkey, and Greece. You are invited to join this “once in a lifetime” trip.  Study the Bible in the lands of the Bible!  From April 11 through May 13, 2023.

Email Dr. Rasmussen for an Itinerary and Details at 2FootstepsTours@gmail.com.


In the Israel/Jordan portion of the trip (April 11–23, 2023 ) we will begin in Jerusalem with a study of the city of Jerusalem.  As we head north along the Sharon Plain we will visit Caesarea-on-the-sea and Mount Carmel and Megiddo.  We will be staying on the shore of the Sea of Galilee and visit sites associated with the ministry of Jesus.  After this, we will cross into Jordan and visit Jerash, Mt. Nebo, and Petra.   Crossing back into Israel by Elat on the Red Sea (swim) we will travel north to the Dead Sea, visiting Tamar Biblical Park on the way.  The next day we will visit Masada, Arad, and Mamshit before returning to our hotel for the night.  Our final day will include floating on the Dead Sea and visits to Ein Gedi, Qumran, and (time permitting) the Jordan River and Jericho. Email me for the complete itinerary.


In the Turkey portion of the trip (April 22-May 6, 2023), we will begin in Istanbul visiting the Hagia Sophia and the world-class Archaeology Museum.   From Istanbul, we will fly to Antioch-on-the-Orontes River, the third-largest city in Paul’s day, where believers were first called “Christians” and where Paul began all three of his missionary journeys.  We will visit Seleucia, the port where the first journey set sail (Acts 13:4), Tarsus (the home of Paul), Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, and Pisidian Antioch—places not usually visited by tours but all of which are of biblical importance.  After stopping for two nights in the Mediterranean city of Antalya, and visiting Perga, we will travel to Colossae, Laodicea, Miletus, Ephesus, and Smyrna—with many stops along the way (email me for the complete itinerary).


In the Greece portion of the trip (May 5–13, 2023), we will begin in Thessaloniki in northern Greece.  We will begin touring with a day trip to Philippi, where the “Good News” was first preached in Europe.  As we motor towards Athens we will be stopping along the way at Berea, Vergina, Meteora, and Delphi—with overnights near Meteora and Delphi.  In Athens, we will visit the Acropolis, the Areopagus (“Mars Hill”), and the new Acropolis Museum.  We will take a day trip to Corinth and Cenchrea. Email Dr. Rasmussen for an Itinerary and Details.

The “Theater” at the Herodium

On a recent trip to Israel, we had a chance to visit the Herodium, the famous “volcanic-shaped” mound that is located about 7.6 miles south of Jerusalem and 3.5 miles southeast of Bethlehem.

The extensive excavations carried out by Ehud Netzer have been continued in recent years. In addition, before and during the pandemic, many restorations have been made and newly excavated areas have been prepared to receive visitors. One such area is the “theater.”

View of the north slope of the Herodium.

In the image above, note the modern building on the slope of the Herodium that has three tall windows. This building protects the “Royal Box” and the theater is located just below it. See the following diagram.

A model looking southeast showing the structures on the northern slope of the Herodium.

There have been a number of interesting developments at the Herodium since I last visited the site. One of them was that the “theater” (I think odeum is a better term—given its small size) has been reconstructed.

View looking down at the partially reconstructed “Royal Theater” at the Herodium.

Herod built his small theater (possibly better called an “odeum?”) on the northern slope of the Herodium.  It had a stage (skene) with semicircular rows of seating (cavea) facing it and entrances at both the top and bottom of the structure.  The upper and lower sections of seating are separated by a wider horizontal aisle (diazoma), and three staircases connected them. A total of thirteen rows of stone seats accommodated an audience of about three hundred.

The theater was discovered in 2008 and a “Royal Box” with secco and stucco decorations featured in it. A modern building was constructed to protect these precious finds and for many years we could peek into the building and take photos of some of the frescos—but the building was not open to the public.

View of the small theater (odeum) at the Herodium—before the more recent restoration.

This picture was taken from the stage (skene) area of the theater.  The semi-circular orchestra area is in the lower portion of the image.

In the center of the image, the semicircular rows of seating (cavea) are visible—before the recent reconstruction. A total of thirteen rows of stone seats accommodated an audience of about three hundred.

Above the cavea is a modern building with three large windows.  This building protects the well-preserved remnants of the Royal Reception Hall.  This was a two-story structure that overlooked the theater.  The Royal Box was decorated with stucco reliefs and colorful wall paintings. The theater and room were probably redecorated in anticipation of the visit of Marcus Agrippa, Augustus’s right-hand man, in 15 or 14 BC.

On this visit, it was great to be able to enter the restored “Royal Box.”

View looking into the central room of the interior of the “Royal Chambers of the “Royal Theater” at the Herodium.

Here in the Royal Box the king could host his guests and offer them refreshments before or during the performances.

This central room was decorated with plaster reliefs and colorful wall paintings.  The theater and room were probably redecorated in anticipation of the visit of Marcus Agrippa, Augustus’s right-hand man, in 15 or 14 BC.  The walls have evidence of at least two layers of frescos.

The walls have three longitudinal registers.  The walls of the Royal Room were decorated with wall paintings in the secco technique [painting on dry plaster] and stuccowork.  

The bottom register was decorated with lively-colored frescos with “margins” that imitate Herodian masonry.

The middle register was divided vertically by stuccowork pilasters and decorated with painted ‘hanging pictures’ that were suspended by imaginary ‘strings’ and ‘nails.’  The pictures imitate windows with open shutters affording views of imaginary landscapes.  These scenes evidently stressed the achievements of Augustus and Marcus Agrippa—for example, the victory at the Battle of Actium, the conquest of Egypt, etc. 

The upper register was composed of stucco reliefs.

A wall fragment/painting from the middle register of the Royal Box of the theater at the Herodium. Now in the Israel Museum.

This fresco, actually a “secco,” depicts a naval battle with two ships with sails billowing the wind.  On the deck are soldiers armed with shields and spears.  “The painting may represent the victory at Actium and possibly the beginning of Augustus’s rule following the conquest of Egypt.  The choice of theme supports the possibility that the royal Room was decorated in anticipation of the visit of Marcus Agrippa, Augustus’s second–­in–­command, in 15 BCE, since he was the general responsible for the victory.”

“The walls of the Royal Room were decorated with wall paintings in the secco technique [painting on dry plaster] and stuccowork.  They were divided vertically by stuccowork pilasters and decorated with painted ‘hanging pictures’ that were suspended by imaginary ‘strings’ and ‘nails.’  The pictures imitate windows with open shutters affording views of imaginary landscapes.” (From the descriptions of the paintings in the Israel Museum.)

A wall fragment/painting from the Royal Box of the theater at the Herodium.

“In this painting the artist depicts a sea view along with a bull, trees, a temple, a palm tree, and a boat, recalling sacred scenes from the time of Augustus while also alluding to the conquest of Egypt.”

Audio/visual presentation in the “Royal Box.”

One of the new features that we were treated to was a 9-minute audio/visual presentation on the construction, usage, and destruction of the “Royal Box.” It was time well spent.

For additional images of the theater and Royal Box see Here.

The REAL Saint Nicholas! December 6

On December 6 the feast of Saint Nicholas is celebrated and so I thought I would bring back this oldie but goodie.

On the outskirts of the Turkish town of Demre is a church that is associated with Saint Nicholas—Father Christmas, a.k.a. in northern Europe as Santa Claus!

Saint Nicholas StatueSt. Nicholas was born in nearby Patara about A.D. 300 and served as the bishop of Myra later in his life.  A number of miracles are attributed to this revered bishop, including his providing a dowry to the three daughters of a local baker.  Thus he is associated with “gift giving!”  He was also the patron saint of sailors and was prayed to for protection at sea—note that Myra is very near the Mediterranean Sea.  He died about A.D. 345.

It is said that he was buried in this church, but that his relics (bones) were taken to Bari, Italy, about A.D. 1088, although other claims are made that the Venetians took them.

TWTQMYCH05

View looking down at the altar area from the top of the synthronon
Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

Every 6 December, the feast day of St. Nicholas, Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant Christians celebrate the Divine Liturgy here.

To view (or download) more images of the Church of Saint Nicholas Click Here.

Israel Mount of Beatitudes

This past November I made my first trip back to Israel since my pre-pandemic trip in January 2020. I thought I would share a few impressions and photos from our recent trip.

One of my favorite places to visit, especially for prayer and meditation, it is the Church of the Beatitudes which overlooks the Sea of Galilee from the north.

View looking west at the Church of the Beatitudes.  The church was designed by Antonio Barluzzi and was completed in 1938. It commemorates Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew 5–7) and more especially the Beatitudes (Matt 5:3–10).  Italian sisters administer the property.

The “garden” west of the church on November 3, 2022.

Upon arrival at the church it was sad to see that another fire had almost reached the church itself—it seems like there is a serious fire almost every 4-5 years.

One of the sisters wrote:

A “miracle” saved the Church from destruction during the afternoon of July 14, 2022, when a devastating fire raged on the grounds of the sanctuary.  Because of strong winds, the fire spread rapidly jumping from one tree to another and eventually to some of the buildings. After long hours of exhaustive work by the heroic crews of the firefighting aircraft and fire trucks, the fire was brought under control.

But the fire, unfortunately, caused extensive damage to the roof of our Church; our places of prayer; the olive trees on our premises; and the workers’ residence at our pilgrimage site. With the help of aircraft, the fire was eventually extinguished.

In the words of Sister Telesphoro, the director of the sanctuary, we ‘witnessed a miracle in the protection of our God.”  Fortunately, there were no casualties.

Church of the Beatitudes Galilee

The “garden” to the west of the church.

Chorazin Update October 2, 2022

In my previous blog post, I noted the video by Sergio and Rhoda that featured Achia Cohen-Tavor and his discovery of first-century A.D. pottery and coins below the floor of the 4th-6th century Synagogue at Chorazin.

My friend and guide, Ofer Drori, visited the site on October 2, 2022, and sent me three pictures he took. It is clear that the floor and other parts of the synagogue are undergoing extensive restoration.

Photo of the ongoing restoration of the Synagogue at Chorazin. Courtesy of Ofer Drori.

Photo of the ongoing restoration of the Synagogue at Chorazin. Courtesy of Ofer Drori.

Photo of the ongoing restoration of the Synagogue at Chorazin—the restored entrance. Courtesy of Ofer Drori.

Ofer and I will be leading a group of travelers from the Biblical Archaeology Society in October/November and will be visiting the synagogue at that time.


PS — Ofer (in Israel) and I will be leading a 13-day Bible Study Tour to Israel and Jordan in April 2023. Shoot me an email and I will send you a brochure—no obligation. (2Foot.Steps.Tours+Chorazin@gmail.com)

A First Century Synagogue at Chorazin?

Many visitors to Israel will visit Chorazin which is located about 2.3 miles north of ancient Capernaum on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. Chorazin is mentioned two times in the New Testament (Matt 11:21; Luke 10:13) and in both cases it, along with Bethsaida are cursed for their lack of belief in Jesus. The text implies that miracles were performed there, and most have assumed that Jesus would have ministered in a synagogue there as well.

The reconstructed 4th-6th century synagogue at Chorazin.

When visiting the 4th-6th century synagogue at Chorazin, typically the question is asked “where is the synagogue that Jesus preached in?” Up until two years ago, the answer was, “we don’t know.”

Recently I came across a YouTube video by “Sergio & Rhoda in Israel” entitled “Lifting the ancient floor of the cursed city of Chorazin.” It was posted on September 27, 2020 (during the “heart” of the pandemic), and features the excavations led by Achia Cohen-Tavor in the synagogue and elsewhere at Chorazin. The whole video is worth watching (23 minutes long) but for those pressed for time, the work on the synagogue begins around 9:15. There are great images, drone shots, and expert commentary by Achia. He believes, based upon excavations below the floor of the late synagogue that he has found first century A.D. remains: pottery sherds and coins.

An important 23-minute video. The portion regarding the excavation of the synagogue begins at 9:30.

There appear to be a few referals to this video on the internet, but I have not seen any official reports of this discovery and would appreciate any references to official reports.

The interior of the synagogue where the excavation took place.

For additional images of the synagogue see Here. For the remainder of the site of Chorazin see Here.

The synagogue before excavation in 1967 on a field trip led by the late Anson Rainey — in the hat above the center of the image.

The Mausoleum of Caesar Augustus in Rome – Part 2

In my previous post, I described the geographical and historical setting of Augustus’ Mausoleum. Here are some pictures of the Mausoleum that I took last spring (2022).

The Mausoleum is a circular structure about 300 feet in diameter and about 140 feet tall. It was composed of a number of concentric circular walls, the outer of which were filled in to provide support for the structure. Only the lower third of the monument is preserved.
The exterior of the lowest and widest of the circular terraces.

View of the eastern exterior drum of the Mausoleum of Augustus.  Notice that some of the original marble and travertine stones are still in place—most of them had been looted in ancient times.  Obviously, the upper portions of this drum are modern reconstructions.

One of the inner drums is visible in the upper left quadrant of the image.  The paved path in the lower left leads down to the entrance of the dromos.

The entrance to the Mausoleum.

View looking north at the southern entrance (dromos) to the mausoleum complex.  This was the only entrance to the family tomb.

The long corridor (dromos) was originally flanked by two obelisks from Egypt—now erected in the Piazza del Quirinale and Piazza dell’Esquilino.  And, a copy of the deeds of Augustus, the Res Gestae, was inscribed on bronze tablets near this entrance.  They have disappeared, but copies of this document are still preserved on the walls of the Augustus Temple in Ankara—In Latin and Greek.  Other partial copies have been found—for example at Pisidian Antioch.

View of one of the interior drums of the Mausoleum of Augustus.

Visible is the exterior wall of the drum, on the left, and the cylindrical core of the mausoleum on the right—where urns of Augustus and other members of the royal family were deposited.

On the upper left, note that some of the arches are partially preserved—the roof has collapsed—and some ancient travertine blocks (white) and ancient brickwork are visible.

Burial chamber from above.

View looking down on the cylindrical core of the mausoleum, where urns of Augustus and other members of the royal family were deposited.

Only the bottom third(!) of the lower portion of the “drum” is preserved—it used to be the highest portion of the mausoleum reading a height of 140 feet.  It supported a large bronze statue of Augustus on the top that was visible from the outside to all.

Outer Ring of Cylindrical Core

A view of the outer ring of the cylindrical core of the mausoleum, where urns of members of the royal family were deposited.  On the left, one of the large, tall, niches of this outer ring is visible.  These were the places where the urns of the family members were placed.  Of course, all of the area was originally faced with marble over the preserved Roman brick.

On the right is the major inner core composed of a thick cylindrical wall, but hollow on the inside.  This is where the urn of Augustus was placed.

Cylindrical Core

A view of the thick, but hollow, cylindrical core—looking up at the truncated remnant of the originally 140-high structure.  The burial urn of Augustus was probably placed within this hollow core. It originally supported a large bronze statue of Augustus on the top that was visible from the outside to all. The “spiral” looking fan at the top, is the modern covering to preserve it.

Burial Chamber Inside the Cylindrical Core

This is a photo of the Burial Chamber inside of the Cylindrical Core—the place where the burial urns of Augustus and other super elites were placed. Many members of the royal families were buried here. As were the Emperors Tiberius, Claudius, and Nerva (the last emperor to be buried here).

Additional images can be found Here.

The following is a very well-done video describing and touring the Mausoleum of Augustus (7 minutes).