If I could do only one trip to the Middle East to learn about the Bible, I would go to Israel. Second, Turkey and Greece, though for most only western Turkey would be included in the itinerary (and I profited more from eastern Turkey than western). Jordan and Egypt would be next. Near the bottom of the list would be the islands of Cyprus, Crete, Malta, Rhodes, and the city of Rome. If someone can do it all, then they’ll gain from it, but most have to choose one or two trips, and for that, I recommend they skip some things. But this recommendation probably isn’t necessary because there aren’t many trips going to these places as part of a biblical tour anyway. I can’t speak to Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Iran because I haven’t been. Yet. I do think a second trip to Israel is worthwhile, moreso than a first trip to some of the biblical countries.

I would not recommend someone to try to do Israel and Turkey/Greece on the same trip. This is because there is just so much to digest and you don’t have the time necessary to do that if the two are put together on an initial trip. Israel largely introduces one to the Old Testament world; Turkey and Greece are a new window into the NT arena. I do believe understanding these “worlds” is very valuable for understanding the Scriptures, even apart from seeing the biblical sites themselves. You just understand Paul better when you see the gods they were worshipping in his day, see the temples that dominated the cities, and see the way of life of the Greek people.


Anyone can tell you that in traveling to a region you will develop a new interest in that region’s modern history. The area is now “on your map” and you can understand things that were formerly of little personal significance. The observation has been made many times that Israel’s mention in the news of the US is disproportionate to its size. But I wonder if part of the reason for that is that many Americans (both Jews and Christians) have visited Israel. Some people are interested in Israel simply because it’s the biblical land, but I would guess that having visited (or having family) there is an even greater reason.

On Cyprus, the major event in modern history was the invasion of the northern half of the island by Turkey in 1974. This issue was relatively unknown to me before this trip, so it was interesting to watch my thinking on the subject evolve as I was exposed to more information. After one day in the southern half of the country, esp. southern Nicosia, it was very easy to emphatize with the Greeks who had lost so much in the invasion. The signs they had posted there as we crossed over to the North were very bold and graphic. Clearly the Turks were animals who deserved the condemnation of the world. But after spending a day in the North and reading and thinking more about the situation, I became convinced that there was a very real other side to the story.

I still don’t know a lot, but I can also make some conclusions based on my experience with other conflicts in the world and in history. This is also true given what the world and UN have (and have not!) done since the invasion. Yes, it’s true that no other country in the world has recognized the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus (thus the Turks were in the wrong), but it’s also true that much more significant pressure could have been applied if the world/UN had thought it necessary (let alone discuss EU entry). But they saw it too – there were injustices on both sides. Yes, the Turks took away land of the Cypriots, but yes, the Turks were not treated well by some of their Greek neighbors.

Ultimately, I think it’s like a lot of regional conflicts – there are many losers and most of them are not the ones who personally deserve the loss.

White cliffs of Alamanou beach

The museums of Cyprus are loaded. I didn’t take many photos because most of the museums didn’t allow photos. And I didn’t go to all of the museums because I just got tired of them. You see lots of the same stuff. But it’s still quite amazing just how much stuff there is, from such a small island. And it’s also impressive how advanced the cultures were.

The material culture in Israel is quite primitiv e in comparison – in Cyprus they had beautiful pottery, with lots of decorations and fancy designs. The best pottery in the Israel Museum is not as nice as the average material here, from the same periods. The books mention that a lot of the pottery has been removed from the island to other museums around the world (especially the Met in NY). The hotel owner this morning told us that there are no museums in the world that don’t have something from Cyprus. That may be an exaggeration, but it certainly says something about the culture here. It also is telling that very few people could tell you anything about the history of Cyprus.

Idols from Archaic and Hellenistic periods


There are two real benefits to seeing and studying Cyprus for biblical purposes, as far as I know.

1) Knowing the biblical world better – seeing Israel/Canaan in the context of their neighbors. For instance, seeing how Cyprus would supply copper in large quantities.

2) Better understanding the missionary work of Paul and Barnabas. I think this means more than simply seeing the sites where they traveled. For me, it’s also providing the opportunity and context to think more about this portion of their journeys. So I realize things like:

1. Barnabas was really the leader of the team at this point.

2. Cyprus was a natural place for them to start (indeed this was the first place they came after being sent out), given its proximity to Antioch and the fact that Barnabas came from Cyprus.

3. There was a Jewish community here. It is amazing just how scattered Jews had become after the First Temple Period. They seem to be everywhere in a relatively short period of time. The number of Jews was probably large given the “synagogues” (plural) that Paul went to in Salamis, and their trip “through the island.” Their pattern, as evident later, is to go to the synagogues to present the gospel to the Jews and whatever “godfearers” were in their midst. So it seems quite likely there there were Jewish communities that they visited on their travel across the island.

4. I would guess that their route was along the southern shore of the island. This seems more likely given the presence of high (6000+ feet) mountains in the center, and the presence of large cities on the southern coast, including Kition (settled at this time?), Amathus, and Kourion. And others.

5. It is interesting that there is no follow-up on this island tour, outside of Barnabas’ return of which nothing is recorded (except in apocryphal works). Paul apparently never writes a letter to any of the communities here, and though he often returns to places of former ministry (e.g., Lystra, Philippi, Corinth, Ephesus), he apparently never comes here, nor mentions Cyprus in any of his writings.

Perhaps he ceded the area entirely to Barnabas’ ministry and stayed out of his way.

6. The cities that are mentioned in the account of Paul’s travels are very large and important cities.

This is not surprising given Paul’s centers in the rest of his journeys (also major cities), but it is something that a reader in America might never guess. It also “clicks” more when you travel to many sites and see small and medium communities. Then when you come to Salamis and see the huge area that it covers, the large harbor that it had, the theater, forum, bathhouse, gymnasium, you are impressed that this was the “Los Angeles” of ancient Cyprus.

7. Unlike other places of Paul’s ministry, the two cities specifically mentioned in Cyprus continued to be major centers until today. Before Salamis existed, the major city on the east coast was Enkomi; this shifted a few miles to Salamis in later centuries, and after it was destroyed, the major population center shifted a few miles to the south to Famagusta, still a major center.

Gymnasium of Salamis

How long does it take to walk from Jericho to Jerusalem?  It took me 8 hours today to cover the distance of 15 miles (24 km) with an elevation increase of about 3400 feet (1060 m).  Not counting breaks, our group of 15 walked for six and a half hours.  It would have taken longer if it had been hotter or if we had run into Condoleeza Rice.  Fortunately, she went to Jericho today to solve the Middle East conflict.

Jesus traveled this route many times.  In fact, every time that he came to Jerusalem from Galilee, he would have traveled up the same Ascent of Adumim (unless permitted to travel through Samaria; cf. John 4 and Luke 9:52-53).  Scriptures record at least one trip of Jesus through Samaria and two trips by way of Jericho.  My guess is that he went this way dozens of times in his life.  Probably his parents had to climb back up to Jerusalem after realizing that their twelve-year-old boy wasn’t in their caravan (Luke 2:41-50).  I would’ve been upset myself to have to make that return journey.

Parts of the Roman road are still visible in places, and the way today is safe and pleasant.  We didn’t see any thieves, but did make a stop at the traditional “Inn of the Good Samaritan” (Luke 10:25-37).

Roman road from Jerusalem to Jericho

Sidenote: A couple of years ago I put together a photo essay on Jesus’ Final Journey to Jerusalem for Jerusalem Perspective.


A few days ago, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced that they intercepted a large shipment of ancient coins being mailed out of the country by a couple of licensed antiquities dealers.  More than 5,000 coins from the Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, and Islamic periods were recovered.

Photo: Israel Antiquities Authority (via JPost)

I was at a site in the West Bank a couple of weeks ago that was covered with holes from illegal excavations.  Looting is a lucrative business; some coins are worth more than a year’s salary.

Tekoa, hometown of prophet Amos, with evidence of illegal excavation