Exploring Israel — From Dan to Beersheba

Greetings!    From October 6 to 18, 2023 Mary and I will be leading a 13-day trip to Israel during which time we will Explore Biblical Israel from Dan in the north to Beersheba in the south.

Hiking into el-Araj — Biblical Bethsaida on the northeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee

This trip not only includes Jerusalem and sites associated with the ministry of Jesus around the Sea of Galilee, but also some not-so-frequently visited sites such as Arad, Beersheba, Lachish (second most important Judean city after Jerusalem), Azekah (David and Goliath), Beth Shemesh (Samson), Shiloh (Tabernacle and Ark of Covenant), Mount Gerizim (Samaritan Temple), and Samaria (capital city of Ahab and Jezebel and others).

The excavator of Biblical Chorazin, Achia Cohen-Tavor, speaking to our group at Chorazin.

I will be giving mini-lectures along the way both on the bus and on the sites, drawing from my studies. I have spent 16 years of my adult life living in, and guiding, academic groups in Israel, Jordan, Greece, and Turkey (including living, teaching, and guiding in Jerusalem for 7 years).

Reading scripture at Azekah, high above the Valley of Elah—where David fought Goliath

Tour Dates and Cost:  October 6 — 18, 2023.  Cost: $4,990 per person in Double Occupancy; add $1,365 Single Room supplement; Includes airfare from New York to Tel Aviv and return.  Other departure cities are possible at extra cost.

For an Itinerary and additional information contact us soon (2foot.steps.tours+Blog@gmail.com).

You are invited to join us!  Carl and Mary Rasmussen

We will be led by Master Guide, and my friend, Ofer Drori.  This specially planned itinerary is based upon my experience of leading/guiding/teaching over 100 groups in Israel and is structured to include as many important biblical sites as possible as we study the Bible in the Land of the Bible.


The Best Rolling Stone Tomb in Israel — Khirbet Midras

As Easter approaches, I thought I would share a few related blog posts that contain some images that some of you might find useful for Easter presentations.


View Looking East at the entrance to the First Century A.D. Tomb

View looking east at the entrance to the tomb. The rolling stone was 6 ft. [1.8 m.] in diameter and 1.3 ft [0.4 m.] thick. It was placed between two walls, each built of hewn stone. When discovered, it still rolled in its trough!

The tomb itself was in use during the Roman Period — up until A.D. 135.

In my estimation, it was the best example of a rolling stone tomb in the country of Israel. It seems to illustrate well passages from the Gospels which speak of Jesus’ tomb as being closed by a rolling stone. See especially Matthew 27:57-66; 28:1-2; Mark 15:42–47; 16:1–8; Luke 24:1–2, 10–11; and John 20:1, 11–18.

MidrasMap3Horvat Midras (Hebrew) or Khirbet Durusiya (Arabic) is located 19 mi. [30 km.] southwest of Jerusalem in the Shephelah. The ancient remains are spread over hundreds of dunams in the area. The site dates to the Hellenistic and Roman periods.



View of the Courtyard of the “Rolling Stone Tomb” at Khirbet Midras—prior to its destruction

In 1976 part of the cemetery was excavated. Several tombs were uncovered, including, in my estimation, THE BEST ROLLING STONE TOMB in the country. Unfortunately in the late 1990’s the tomb site was totally destroyed by vandals!#%$@!!

BUT it has been reconstructed and is now visible in the Adullam Park!

To view 3 additional images of the tomb Click Here.

For images of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher see: Calvary and Tomb.

Click to see images of Gordon’s Calvary and the Garden Tomb.

Palm Sunday and “Holy Week”

On Sunday, 2 April, Christians will be remembering Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.

For those of you who might be looking for High-Resolution images related to the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, the Last Supper in the “Upper Room,” and the events clustered around the final week in his earthly life I will be posting some useful links in the days ahead.

To view 10 images (with commentary) of a modern procession commemorating this event Click Here.

Use the following links to find High-Resolution images related to Gethsemane, the Upper Room, a Rolling Stone Tomb, Gordon’s Calvary, the Garden Tomb, and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

Earthquakes in Turkey and the formation of the Jordan Valley

For the past week we have been witnessing the devastation and destruction of the two major earthquakes that hit southeastern Turkey. Like many of you, the people of that region have been much in our prayers. The pictures of collapsed and partially collapsed buildings, and a stream of statistics, tell of the tremendous loss of life due to this event—and now in the aftermath the grief and suffering of the survivors.

In the description of earthquake, geologists say that it was the movements of the Anatolian and Arabian Plates that caused all of this devastation. They have called this event a “slip strike displacement” of the plates. This caught my attention for I remember reading in Denis Baly’ classic, The Geography of the Bible, that some experts believe that, in part, this was how a portion of the Great Rift Valley was formed—that is, Cisjordan and Transjordan have moved past each other (basically north-south) some 67 miles! (Baly, p. 23). That is, if you would shift Transjordan south about 67 miles, some of its faulting and rock formations would match their counterparts in the Judean Hill Country.

Coming back to Turkey, I wondered what a “slip-strike tectonic movement” might look like on the ground. I recently came across the photos of OzdemirAlpay @geodesist_a of a road in the Turkish village of Hasss, which is located about 45 mi. north northeast of Antakya, that caught my attention and I thought I would share them on this blog.

In this seemingly serene setting, notice how the road has been displaced about 6-8 feet in a horizontal direction! A slip-strike fault.

This is the same area, but notice the “crack” in the ground! Is this (near) where the two plates meet? It seems so pastoral, but we know how powerful the forces of this movement were!!

Notice the horizontal displacement of the “center line” of the road! A slip-strike fisure.

We continue to pray for the people of Turkey!

Baly, Denis. The Geography of the Bible. New and revised ed. New York: Harper & Row, 1974.

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.

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.


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.