Friday, December 21, 2012

Apocalypse Now, Again

A year and a half ago, we somehow survived the appocalypse of May 20 as predicted by Herald Camping; and I believe we will also survive the Mayan apocalypse-that-never-was.  If t-shirts do not yet exist that say, "I survived the [insert apocalyptic date here] apocalypse," I would like to begin making them to cash in on this apparently annual tradition.  Since the world's eye remains transfixed on the end-of-the-world, I would like to take a moment to write a bit in general about ancient apocalyptic prophecy and the groups that produced them.

To begin, "apocalypse" is a cognate of the Greek verb apokalypto, meaning, "to reveal" and "to make known."  We may understand the phrase apocalyptic literature then as literature that makes known that which is unknown.  As a side note, because it has been in the media, the word "Armageddon" is a rendering of the Hebrew phrase har megiddo, meaning Mount Megiddo.  The author of Revelation names the valley below har megiddo as the location of the penultimate battle between the forces of good and the forces of evil.  The Book of Revelation, however, is not the only apocalyptic book in Jewish and Christian Scriptures.

A few examples of other texts with apocalyptic messages are Zechariah, Mark, and 2 Thessalonians.  Each text, though produced by different people in different times, shares a common origin:  production amidst a rapidly shifting cultural landscape.  Below we will examine each of these texts briefly to see the historical contexts out of which they arose.

The prophet Zechariah writes to a group of people who returned to Jerusalem following the Babylonian Exile.  The exiled people of Israel were able to return to their homeland through a bizarrely bloodless shift of power, wherein the Persian Empire told the empire of Babylonian that Persia now ruled.  Whereas Bablyon's policy was to move the aristocracy of conquered peoples to within the confines of the empire proper, Persia's policy was self-autonomy with regional Persian governors.  When Persia took control, many of those who had been in exile were given the option to return home.  Those who chose to return came back to a changed Israel.  Jerusalem's temple remained destroyed and those who had avoided exile had expanded their cultural influence.  Imagine going on an extended vacation (say...50 years)  and coming home to find others squatting in your house.  How would you respond?  Further, those raised in Bablyon were likely told stories of a future time in which Israel would return home, followed by the rest of the nations and peoples of the earth, to bow before their god.  How would this come to be if a foreign leader who served foreign gods ruled your land?  It is from this context in which Zechariah proclaims an age in which the davidic monarchy will be fully restored and all foreign nations and people will draw to Israel--either peacefully or through war.

In Mark, we read about Jesus of Nazareth teaching his followers about the imminent coming of the Kingdom of God.  This Greek word euthus, meaning "soon" or "imminent" occurs 41 times in the Gospel of Mark. (Compare that to the 14 times it appears throughout the other three canonical gospels!)  The reason for Mark's emphasis on the temporal reality of God's coming kingdom becomes clear when examined through a historical lens.  The Gospel of Mark exists as the earliest gospel, likely authored in or shortly after the year 70 CE--the same year Rome destroyed the Second Temple in Jerusalem.  Nearly 2,000 years later modern Judaism continues to mourn the loss of this temple on Yom Kippur.  There was no simple moving on after this calamitous event.  Judaism forever changed and every form of ancient Judaism responded slightly differently.  The Qumran community, who likely authored the Dead Sea Scrolls, responded by further separating themselves from the evil world and maintaining worship through reflecting in their community the manner of worship they believed to occur in the heavenly realm amongst the angelic hosts.  Rabbinic Judaism also began around this time in response to the cessation of worship at the Temple in Jerusalem.  The author of Mark followed a similar path as those at Qumran, believing that the present world was finished and God's kingdom would soon be ushered in through the return of their messiah.

Paul, in 2 Thessalonians, writes to a community in the Greek city of Thessaloniki, concerning the return of Jesus Christ.  According to Paul's letter, another person or group had visited the city telling Paul's audience that their messiah had returned but that they had missed out on the festivities.  Pauls tells his audience not be deceived and gives them an eschatological message similar to one we find in revelations:  
"Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God." (2 Thes. 2:3-4)
That's a bit of weight off of the chest of Paul's audience, right?  Wrong. A few verses later, Paul tells his audience that this man of lawlessness is already at work:  "For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way." (2 Thes. 2:7).  The end-of-times is not a future reality but a present one.

Who could be Paul's man of lawlessness?  This prestigious title goes to Emperor Caligula (r. 37-41) who ordered a statue of himself to be placed in Jerusalem's temple.  This single act would have brought the utmost offense to any Jew who fostered the slightest bit of anti-Roman sentiment (and likely engendered hate where it had not before existed).  In attempting to place this statue in the temple, Caligula was asserting Roman Imperial religion--in other words, the Jewish God was being exchanged for Roman emperor worship.

The purpose of these brief surveys is to show that apocalyptic literature originates from the context of a shifting cultural landscape.  In the case of Zechariah, it was not a violent shift but a societal one.  For the author of Mark and Paul, the cultural shift was one surrounded by violence.  Those who herald apocalyptic predictions today fail to grasp the historical and sociological context through which religious texts developed.  In the above discussed texts, the end of the world is not met in destruction--as often proclaimed--but in restitution.  The author of Revelation says that God "will wipe every tear from their eyes.  Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the firs things have passed away."  And the one who was seated on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things new." (Rev. 21:4-5).  The end-of-times as expressed in biblical text then is not a calamitous end but a new beginning in which violence, pain, and suffering exist only in memory.

To wrap up this post, we must not use apocalyptic literature primarily to understand the past or to predict the future, but we must use apocalyptic literature to understand the present.  For the past is more an ingredient of apocalyptic literature than a foundation; and all future predictions made within such texts are the expectations of how God will draw history to its end.  The present is the only reality in which the authors of apocalyptic literature lived, and it is what drew these authors to reveal God's work in history and in their expectations for the-world-to-come.  If reading apocalyptic literature from the perspective of the authorial present is the hermeneutic key to understanding such texts, how might this lens of interpretation impact how we read apocalyptic literature today?

Monday, July 9, 2012

Day 39: The Final Day

It has been an incredible six weeks.  We could not have asked for a more exciting season of excavations, and I doubt that Jocelyn, Caroline, and I could have had a better week and a half in Jerusalem.  We are sitting in the guesthouse, getting ready to leave to catch a sherut (group taxi usually sits 10 people) to the airport in Tel Aviv.  Our flight leaves at 11:20 p.m. and we get to Newark in the early hours of the morning.  Caroline and I will continue to Nashville, getting in at 8:20 a.m.

The last three days have been incredible.  Two days ago, we spent more time exploring the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Church of St. Anne.  They were two very different experiences.  We all felt rushed and like we were always bothering the religious overseers at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  Any question we asked seemed to be met with a harsh stare and even sometimes a brief roll of the eyes.  St. Anne was different.  The Church of St. Anne is known for its acoustics.  Groups visit the church for the sole purpose of singing.  One of our friends, Josh, has an incredible voice, which he put on display at St. Anne for all to hear.  The priests there loved it and continued to speak with us about all manners of things.  From singing to faith to archaeology, it was a surprisingly enjoyable and lively time.

Yesterday, we attended church again by the Jaffa Gate and then headed to the Davidson / Jerusalem Archaeological park.  It is a park alongside the western and southern retaining walls built to support the Temple Mount by King Herod (a continuation of the Western / Wailing Wall).  After several hours of exploration, we went to a friends apartment in the Old City for dinner.

Today was filled with goodbyes and a few more stops.  We met up with Shua one last time this morning.  She let us in the Rockefeller Center, where the Israel Antiquities Authority runs its administrative unit.  She showed us around and even got us into the back where she gave us each a t-shirt emblazoned with the IAA logo--a depiction of a menorah from a coin dating to the Hasmonean period.  The Rockefeller Center contains a tower that overlooks the city.  Shua had never been to the top (neither had we of course), but a kind man in the building let us up to look out over the city.  It was breathtaking!  I am not able to load the pictures now, but I will when I am home tomorrow.

After we said our farewells to Shua, we came back to the Old City and headed for the Temple Mount.  The site which had formally housed the First and Second Temples of Jerusalem now contains the holy Muslim sites the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque.  Visitors are only allowed atop the mount at certain times and must go through security.  The Dome of the Rock was awe inspiring.  Since we are not Muslim, we are not able to enter.  But we walked around and tried to invasion Herod the Great's renovated temple as it had stood 2,000 years ago.

Our last adventure was to Hezekiah's Tunnel in the City of David.  It was a famous tunnel that is actually mentioned in the Hebrew Bible.  An inscription was found dating the tunnels construction to the 8th c. B.C.E., confirming the biblical account.  It was about a 45 minute walk in the dark, with water ranging to just above my knees to just above our ankles.

I am going to have to bring this to a close because we will be leaving for the airport fairly soon.  Thanks for reading during this season of excavation.  If anyone is interested in participating or becoming a sponsor for the dig next year, do not hesitate to let me know.  I would be more than happy to get you in touch with one of our directors.

Day 37: Shabbat in Ein Karem

Two nights ago, Josh, Jocelyn, and I met up with Shua to visit David and Hannah Amit.  David is an Israeli archaeologist who spent time at our site this season helping both to teach and to excavate.  The Amit's live in the Talpyiot area of Jerusalem, which is a bit out of walking distance for the time of night we left.  We exited the old city and eventually hailed a cab.  We arrived around 8:30 p.m. and enjoyed many lively conversations and delicious deserts.  During one of our conversations, David, Hannah, and Shua were nearly exasperated that we had not yet visited the Mehane Yehuda--the large street market near the center of town.  All three convinced us to spend our next day there (Friday) because it would allows us to view the entire gamut of life in modern Jerusalem.  With our plans for the next day set, we headed back to our guest house and slept until morning.

We got a late start yesterday, but by nine we had set out.  We  exited the Old City and meandered around until we arrived in an area of town hat we recognized.  Once in an area that we recognized, we hopped over the Jaffa St. (one of the main streets) and followed the light rail tracks until we found the market.  The Amit's and Shua were right!  There were people in the market from every walk of life.  From ultra religious to secular, from local to tourist, from frantic individuals to calm individuals all buying fruit, fish, meat, and cheese.  One of the reason our friends had encouraged us to go on Friday is because Shabbat starts at sundown, making Friday the busiest weekday at the market.

We split up for a bit and while Josh and Caroline went to explore a cheese store, Jocelyn and I sat down for coffee.  We sat and watched for nearly an hour as people haggled over prices and made their purchases.  It was both entertaining and even a bit educational.  Our path eventually crossed with that of Josh and Caroline.  Once reunited, we grabbed a relaxing lunch of hummus and rice stuffed vegetables before heading back to the guest house to rest.

A couple of weeks ago, Shua had invited those of us who would be in Jerusalem to visit with her family for Shabbat dinner.  Her family had visited the dig site this year, and we were happy to get another chance to see them.  Shua picked us up in front of the Damascus Gate by the Old City, and we headed to Ein Karem, the area of the city where Shua grew up and where her family still lives.

Ein Karem is beautiful.  I may have a picture of two to load later, but any picture that I post will fail to do it justice.  The hustling and bustling of the city breaks, and rolling hills and small mountains covered in green take over the landscape.  We arrived, made our introductions (or re-introductions since some of us had brielfy crossed paths during the dig), and sat in the den.  Shua's sister and five-year-old niece arrived shortly after us.  While dinner was being finished, we played games with Avigail, Shua's niece.

When we sat down for dinner, the guys at the table were given kippot to put on our heads during the kiddush--the blessing over the wine and bread for Shabbat.  We listened with awe at the melody of the blessing.  I did not understand all of it (not by a long shot), but six years of biblical Hebrew allowed me to understand a decent portion.  First, Shua's dad blessed the challah bread and passed it around, inviting us each to take a portion to eat.  Next, he blessed the wine, which was then passed around in order to age--oldest to youngest.  After the wine had made it's round, Shua's mother--with a large smile on her face--ended the blessing by saying, shabbat shalom to which we all replied in return, "shabbat shalom!"

Dinner was delicious.  To write about it would require at least another page.  Suffice to say that we ate for what seemed like hours, enjoying one another's company and the spread of food before us.

After dinner, we sat, drank tea, and had desserts.  Shua is also a professionally trained pastry chef.  Working for the Israel Antiquities Authority requires a majority of her time, but she still manages to find both reasons to and patrons who enlist her baking skills.  It just so happened that last week, Shua baked for a family's party.  We were the lucky recipients of the extra desserts.

We finished the night with a rousing game of Sorry, until Avigail was about to fall over asleep.  With many goodbyes and promises to visit again next year, we concluded the night.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Day 35: All Over Town

We awoke early, grabbed breakfast, and headed to the Israel Museum yesterday morning.  The Israel Museum houses an expansive collection of exhibits spanning from ancient artifacts to modern art.  We spent all of our time in the archaeological section (about three hours) and just covered half of it.  Some of the more exciting artifacts in the museum are the Tel Dan inscription (an Iron Age citation of "the House of David"), an early cuneiform codex from the Bronze Age at Hazor, and the Shrine of the Book--the permanent exhibit for a large collection of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

 We took a short break around 12:30 p.m. in order to touch base with our friend Shua, who offered us to come by the museum and take us around the city for a bit.  We were on archaeology overload and ready for a bit of a break (and also excited to see our friend of course).


We met up with Shua in the museum who then led us to the Israel Antiquity Authority offices at the back of the complex.  She needed to pass along a few messages to people before leaving, but this side trip turned into the most exciting adventure of the day.  Once inside, Shua was a bit of a celebrity.  Her picture, along with Jodi's and David Amit's (another IAA archaeologist) had appeared the day before in all the major Israel newspapers because of the press release regarding our season at Huqoq.  We went around meeting archaeologists and listening to stories of past and present digs. 


When we arrived at the numismatist (coin) office, we received a special treat.  We were taken into the room that housed over 800,000 coins, spanning from the earliest to latest specimens.  We stood in awe as tray after tray of coins passed before our eyes.  The IAA numismatists gave us a mini-lecture about many of the coins, even allowing us to hold some of them.  It was an incredible and generous gesture, and it is one that we appreciated immensely.


With our adventures in the IAA Israel Museum offices concluded, we headed to a publication store to pick up a few books, and then headed to Ein Karem, the outskirts of Jerusalem where Shua grew up.  It is also the pilgrimage site known as the birthplace of John the Baptist.  We walked around town, ran a few errands, and finally sat down to lunch.


We left Ein Karem to return to the Old City for a quick nap.  We then went out to hear a lecture with Shua a few miles away concerning the politics of excavating Jerusalem in the past and present.  The lectures were in Hebrew, but we wore headsets with a translator doing her best to keep pace with the speakers.  On our way to the lecture, we stopped by the Armenian Hospice in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City to see where Shua had spent time excavating the past couple of years.


It was an adventurous and exciting day.



Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Day 34: The Mount of Olives

We ate breakfast and set off yesterday around 9 a.m.  Our destination was the Mount of Olives, which houses many churches and a massive Jewish burial ground that spans from ancient times to the present. There is a general resurrection prophesied in Zechariah, and it is said to take place in the Kidron Valley at the foot of the Mount of Olives.

We walked through the Old City, following the Via Dolorosa to the Lion's Gate exit.  Once out, we saw the mount stretching before us.  We began our ascent.  After about 10 minutes of walking, we ran into the Church of All Nations, a Franciscan church built by...you guessed it...many different nations.  The church marks the site of Gethsemane, which fences in a grove of olive trees that have been growing at the site for well over 2000 years.  Whether or not this is the true site is beyond knowing, but it was a powerful experience knowing that pilgrims had been coming to this very site for nearly 17000 years (Emperor Constantine dedicated it as such).
We then continued onward and upward with a second stop to walk along the rows of stone markers in the cemetery.  It appears as if people are buried above ground, but the sarcophagus like stones are actually blocks marking the underground burial.

Burial markers through a hole in the wall
Our next stop was a look out over the Old City, followed by our final climb to the top of the Mount of Olives, where we looked with what seemed like a thousand other tourists, over the Old City and the mount stretching before us.  Our climb up had taken about two hours.
The top of the mount, overlooking the Old City
On our way down, a small sign jutting from a building said, "Tombs of the Prophets Haggai and Malachi."  With our curiosity piqued, we stepped through the door to find humble living quarters of some Russian Orthodox monks.  We eventually came upon an old cistern that had been cut away to add stairs long ago.  A light shone in the darkness below, so we descended.  Once down, we met an Orthodox monk from France who explained the history of the cite.  It had been a cistern long ago but during the Byzantine period it was transformed into burial plots for Christians.  When the Byzantine builders were cutting out new tombs, they had accidently broken through to an earlier network of tombs.  We all lit candles and walked around, exploring the mini-catacombs.  We spoke for a while with Pierre (the monk) along the way as he told us a bit about himself and we shared about ourselves.  Once he found out we were interested in archaeology, he quickly showed us several of the ancient inscriptions carved out of the limestone walls.
Julie standing in the dark with her candle
After completing our candlelit escapade, we paid our respects and continued on our journey back down the mount.  On the way, an Orthodox convent had opened its doors that claims to house the bones of Mary Magdalene.  We stopped in the church (the girls had to cover their hair) and spent about 30 minutes looking at the icons.  One of our group even got a special tour of some of the older icons in the orthodox church.

At the bottom of the mount, there was one more site that interested me especially.  Toward the bottom of the cemetery sits three ancient markers:  Absalom, Zechariah, and B'nei Hatzir.  The markers of Absalom and Zechariah were likely attributed to their namesakes during the Middle Ages.  In all likelihood, these markers marked wealthy Jews who wanted to be as close as possible to the resurrection to take place in the Kidron Valley (which sat directly beside us at this point).  The third tomb however is rightly attributed to a wealthy priestly family of the first century C.E.  We were able to climb up into the tomb and explore the individual sepulchres.
The Old City on the right; the Tomb of Absalom on the bottom left
At night, we met up with Chad, our area supervisor, one last time before he leaves for the States tomorrow.  We went into West Jerusalem, the European-esque side of the city, to enjoy food and company before parting ways for the night.

Today, we are taking a taxi (or a bus if we can figure out where to get on) to the Israel Museum, which should be a day long endeavor.  It houses everything from modern art to archaeology (including many of the Dead Sea Scrolls!).

Monday, July 2, 2012

Day 33: Yad Vashem

We began yesterday with a leisurely stroll through the Old City before many of its shops opened their doors.  We meandered to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where we sat outside to enjoy some coffee and lemonade.  The foot traffic began to pick up and we noticed more people opening their doors after about an hour, which spurred us to continue our journey.  We stopped in stores as we explored the city further, even finding the store where one of our friends is volunteering for the next month.  Around lunchtime, we made it back to our guesthouse to prepare to set out across the city to visit Yad Vashem, the holocaust (Shoah in Hebrew) museum.

A new light rail system began operations just under a year ago that stretches from one side of Jerusalem to the other.  One of the stops is by the Damascus Gate, which is close to where we are staying.  Due to delays and stopped trains, our trip took about an extra 30-45 minutes, but we eventually made it to the end of the rail system from where we walked about a half mile to the museum.

The name Yad Vashem comes from Isaiah 56:5, which says, "And I will give to them in my house and within my walls a memorial and a name (yad - a memorial; va'shem - and a name) that shall not be cut off."  If you have been to the Holocaust museum in Washington, D.C., it is a very different experience.  The museum narrates the NAZI rise to power and the groups subsequent persecution and mass murdering of Jewish people (it also includes information about others who died, including Gypsies, those with disabilities, and homosexuals).  Pictures were not allowed within the building, but I would encourage you to look through some online.  The museum provided a plethora of information which was at times emotional.  I felt like a key difference between the two museums was that the Yad Vashem wished to inform over eliciting specific emotional reactions at certain junctures.  


One of the most moving portions of the museum came at the very end.  After we exited the main museum and had walked through the gardens for a bit, we entered into a monument dedicated to the 1.5 million children who were murdered.  The room was completely dark save for a great number of lit candles incased within glass panes and panes of mirrors.  It looked like a million candles sparkled before us, stretching into eternity.  In the background an orchestra played as a voice read off the names and ages of those murdered.  


It was a moving experience, and one that I am happy to have had.  We are exploring more sites around the Old City today so that we can eventually meet up with our friend Shua later this afternoon to hangout and see some of the ongoing excavations in the Old City.  

Day 32: The Mosaic of Huqoq Revealed

A press release went out yesterday concerning a particular discovery from our site.  A gag order had been placed on anyone who has seen it up until the press release hit the news outlets.  Now that it is out, we are able to discuss and share the importance of this discovery.

I have dug the past two seasons in the ancient village area of our site.  The other area being excavated is an ancient synagogue.  A current debate in the archaeological world is whether these types of synagogues (monumental--large, public, specifically Jewish buildings) date to the third, fourth, fifth, or even sixth century.  One of the two co-directors of the dig, Dr. Jodi Magness argues for the later Byzantine date of the 6th century, while a majority of other archaeologists continue to push for earlier dating.  Whichever side of the debate anyone falls, everyone would agree that what we found at Huqoq this season is stunning.


In this picture taken by our dig photographer, Jim Haberman, we see the face of a woman with an inscription either in Aramaic or Hebrew that says something along the lines of, "Those who do good (follow God's laws), God will do good unto them."  On the opposite side of the inscription would have appeared another face but this has unfortunately been lost to time.

The mosaic stretches on a bit more and depicts a specific seen from Samson's life found in the book of Judges.  These images have not yet been released to the public so I am unsure if I am allowed to post them here yet or not.  Once they are, I will definitely add them.

Debate will surely begin to arise on how we should date this synagogue.  The last day of the site, we were told that we should not rely on the artistic design of the synagogue for a date, but it appears as if either the press release or those writing news articles supplied a possible date nonetheless.  Depending on which article you read, the dates range from the 5th to 6th centuries C.E.  It is far too early to suggest a date.  More information, especially any possible coins or pottery sealed below the mosaic floor, will be needed before any talks of dating may ensue.

Here are a couple of the articles about the discovery:
MSNBC
Times of Israel

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Day 31: Latin Mass

This will be a shorter post.  I will post pictures at the end to tell most of the story of the day so far.  We woke up at 5:45 a.m. to leave by 6 a.m.  We accidently locked ourselves into the guesthouse where we are staying and had to spend 20 minutes working on the lock before it released and allowed us to leave.  We booked it to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and made it right at 6:30 a.m. for the start of Latin Mass.  There were only about 25 people in attendence, which was a bit surprising.  We sat through the liturgy and readings, getting excited when we heard words we knew.  I spent most of the time simply sitting and trying to take in the history of what we were experiencing.  After mass, we explored the church for a bit before grabbing breakfast.

Jocelyn and I then left for the Jaffa Gate to attend an English protestant service of communion (Caroline wasn't feeling great so she stayed behind to nap for a bit).  We got there earlier this time and explored the area for a bit.  To get there, we had to talk through the Christian Quarter which was largely emptied of shops and shop keepers for the Christian sabbath.  The service was nice and we met some interesting people.

We are about to head out to the Jewish Quarter of the city (the Old City of Jerusalem is divided up into different sections, including Muslim, Arminian, Jewish, and others) in hopes of finding some lemonade or iced coffee.  We are meeting up with people tonight around 6 p.m. to head into West Jerusalem (we ate in East Jerusalem last night) for dinner.

Here are some pictures from the day:


Off to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
The Sepulchre inside
The dome over the Greek Orthodox section of the church



Caroline saying goodbye from the second floor window


Saturday, June 30, 2012

July 30: Jerusalem


We knew the guest house was close to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, so we stumbled along a path that took us that direction.  When we thought we might be lost, a kind man asked us what we were looking for.  When we told him, he said, "Twenty meters up and on the right!"  From start to finish we had probably only traveled for about 40 minutes before arriving where we will call home for the next nine days.

Once we went inside, we bumped into our friends from Wofford who were on their way out.  We set a time to meet up later and moved out of their way as they left to travel the stations of the cross of the Via Dolorosa.  After they left, we sat down for about three minutes before Chad Spigel, our area supervisor, Jim Bucko, and Brian Cussens, a square supervisor, popped in to visit.  We talked for a bit before deciding to head to lunch at one of the many surrounding restaurants. 

The Old city of Jerusalem is small and very compact.  The streets stretch about four to five people in breadth, with each side covered with small stores ranging from candy shops to the latest shoes.  The streets are cobbled and span on and on and on in every direction.

After lunch, we swung by the Western Wall, a holy site in Judaism that marks the retaining wall built to support the Second Temple (when it was remodeled by Herod the Great).  We then spent the afternoon exploring the sites until we met up with our Wofford friends to venture out of the Old City to meet up with some of the dig crew from Horvat Kur.

It has been a busy and long day.  I did not take any pictures today (we weren't alowed to at the Western Wall because today was Shabbat), but I will take plenty tomorrow and try to add a few.  We are waking up bright and early tomorrow morning to attend Latin Mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre at 6:30 a.m.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Day 29: The Close of Huqoq 2012

The last few days have been a whirlwind.  On Wednesday, we had our last day of actual digging.  Our square had come down on a foundation trench the previous day and had excavated down about 40-45 cm along one of our walls.  

Every building, ancient and modern, requires a foundation.  Sometimes bedrock can be used as a foundation.  Since we are still a sizable distance (presumably) from hitting the bedrock on our site, a different construction method must be used.  Instead of using a natural foundation, the people who inhabited our site from ancient times had to create one themselves.  To do this, a trench would be dug into the ground into which rocks (and usually some form of sealant) are poured.  Once this foundation has solidified, a small trench remains on each side of the beginnings of the wall.  This area is filled with soil to flatten the area.  This is very, very common and easy to spot once you know what to look for.  In our case, the soil changed from a medium brown to a darker brown and was very loose.  We removed this loose layer of soil until we hit a more compact layer on both the side and bottom.  As I have said before, you always want to stay level in archaeology.  Foundation trenches are one of the times when this rule is broken.  Why would we break such a hallowed rule of archaeology?  Because we must stay in the same occupation level with each pass.  If we were to ignore this and continue to excavate down, we would have a majority of a square in an earlier occupation level while the foundation trench would continue to spit up later pottery and coins.

Wednesday was supposed to be a day to clean up dirt and to level out all the squares for final pictures.  We were down 40-45 cm because of our foundation trench along a wall and were told that we needed it level for closing pictures the next day.  A normal day would be about 20 cm.  Needless to say, we set to work immediately.  Several other squares pitched in from our area to help us sift all of the soil we were throwing up to the top.  After the first pass, we had gone too far down to safely exit our square any longer and required a ladder.  We probably dropped about 30 cm before breakfast, which had exhausted us almost beyond our bodies ability to continue excavating.  After breakfast, we continued to work tirelessly to clean up the finally 10-15 cm pass and to level our the area.  We arrived back at the kibbutz having earned our naps for the day.

Yesterday was a day of tearing down the site and taking final pictures of the year's discoveries.  I will post some exciting pictures next week of some of our more interesting finds.

Today began at 6 a.m. for four of us, as we helped load and unload lab equipment into storage.  We finished by 7:30 a.m., just in time for breakfast.  After finishing, we walked the mile to the site and finished cleaning our areas.  We filled in squares with sandbags and a material called geo-textile, to help prevent erosion during the year.  We finished right around noon, just in time for a quick dip in a spring at the base of the hill before returning for lunch.  Four of us continued to work loading and unloading truckloads full of supplies into storage to finish just in time for a last trip to the Sea of Galilee. 

We got back about an hour ago and now are awaiting dinner.  We had our season's end dig party last night, but I am sure we will manage to have some more fun tonight.  We leave for Tel Aviv tomorrow morning at 5:30 a.m., where a majority of people will catch planes back to the states.

A small contingent of us are heading to Jerusalem once we arrive at Tel Aviv.  Jocelyn, Caroline, and I will be spending nine days in the city visiting with friends and exploring local archaeological attractions.  Our first adventure will be hanging out with one of the area supervisors from last year, Byron McCane and a friend who also dug with us last year, James Ballard.  Both are digging this year down the road at Horvat Kur, another ancient village with a synagogue.  Our next adventure will be attending Latin Mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem (which we will be staying a block and a half from for the next nine days), followed by a day of relaxation. 

I am not sure what our internet capabilities will be where we are staying in Jerusalem.  If we have internet, I will try to post something small daily.  If not, maybe a few pictures here and there.

(I thought I had loaded pictures from our last day, but I apparently have not.  I'll add some once we get to Jerusalem)

Monday, June 25, 2012

Day 25: Two Coins and a Bulldozer


Archaeology is a meticulous endeavor.  We must document everything—from soil composition and color changes to the height above sea level of each locus to the exact centimeter.  Everyone in the area gets to help with this documentation, but a vast majority the responsibility falls upon the shoulders of the two area supervisor (Chad, who is our supervisor, and Matt, who is the other areas supervisor).  This necessity to document everything can sometimes—often times—lead to stressful situations.  Today, for example, we had approximately 50 buckets of stuff.  (Stuff being pottery, metal, soil samples, shells, worked stones, and other uncovered artifacts.)  Writing tags and logging each bucket takes a bit of time, time that is a high commodity when so many jobs need to be done.

Today was a day where frustration due to an apparent shortage of time with an increase in tasks met with elation over exciting finds.  I have always wanted to find a coin on a dig and have gone the past two season without as much as seeing one in situ (meaning found as it sits in the ground and not in a sifter or by turning it up with a hoe or pick).  Today, I was privliged to find two.  The first was sitting on top of a plaster floor, which was very eciting because in the same floor sat an entire base of a glass goblet that I had fortunately uncovered yesterday.  These two objects should serve as more than enough to offer a date to this floor.  (The goblet was taken out today by our glass specialist.  We were all excited to see part of the stem still attached to it—a rare and find).

I then moved to another square and not two minutes into hoeing dirt, I bent over to see a coin the size of about a quarter sitting perfectly in the ground.  I yelled for others to confirm that it was a coin and my vision was not playing tricks on me.  Others agreed, so we brushed the area for pictures before carefully removing it with a trowel. 

Coins provide a relatively concrete terminus post qquem (the date after which) for an area because coins have a concrete date of production.  For example, a coin with the picture of a certain emperor often tells us when it was minted (or gives us a span of time in which it could have been minted).  This lets us know that whatever feature, be it a floor or wall, upon, in, or under it sits must be dated to after that date.  This coin could have remained in circulation up to a hundred years (or sometimes even longer), so the terminus ante quem (date before which) must be determined with other methods.

In the wise words of the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland,, there was too much to do and too little time today.  Even with the frustration of  figuring out how to read the layout of the area, peeling back the dirt in .5 cm passes, and accomplishing other random jobs in the sun, I would not trade today or any other day for anything. 

Here are some pictures from the days excavations:

A bulldozer is on the site this week to help move rocks too heavy to lift and break

Jocelyn was working too far down and was made to wear a hard hat.  Not amused.

Jim Haverman and David Amit with a bird's eye view of the site

Saturday, June 23, 2012

23.5: Rafting the Jordan

Today, the Jordan was tamed.  Our raft was the last of our group to enter by about 10 minutes.  Six other rafts entered before us and we waited a bit because of a possibly sick volunteer.  Everyone returned unscathed and we were cleared to enter.  Our crew was comprised of myself (a.k.a "the muscle"), Jocelyn (a.k.a:  "the first mate"), Josh ("the sturdy oak"), Shua ("our captain"), and Cameron (a.k.a. "short round").  Did I make these nick names up on the spot?  Most definitely.  Am I making up the adventurous tale I am about to relay?  Most certainly not.

We entered with a splash and quickly began paddling.  Our task?  To catch the front raft, which had launched about 15 minutes before us.  We had two paddles and rotated who served as steerer and fronts-person.  We dug in, ignoring pain, rapids, and any self doubt that might arise.  We truged ahead as we passed other rafts by the droves.  The rapids were light but fun.  We were able to stop paddling from time to time as the rapids and current took us.  The trip was a total of 2.5 hours (or, might I say, was supposed to take 2.5 hours--it took us 2).  We passed a couple of our fellow rafters around the first hour mark.  The first two we passed were pointed backwards, desperately trying to turn forward or unmoor from the side.

On our journey, we met many interesting people.  Though each raft we passed spoke a slew of different languages (Arabic, Hebrew, and English), it turns out a common greeting was to splash each other in the face.  What first surprised us turned to delight as we entered splashing wars with our competitors as we flew past one another.  A second interesting caveat was all the picnickers along the banks.  Those enjoying the weekend sat in the water about ankle high with makeshift tables as they dined, drank, and partook of the nargilah.

About 15 minutes prior to our journey's end, we met with the second to last raft--one containing three strong men and three paddles (each raft was limited to two paddles but they had found a third one on their way).  Our eyes locked and the challenge was laid without a single word being uttered.  We each set off with reckless abandon as we tore down the river.  After about five minutes, all of us were exhausted an a truce was declared.  We joined rafts and spirits in amicability.  We joked, we splashed, we rejoiced.

Our journey on the Jordan had ended but as it turns out, our day was only beginning.  I had helped carry some lunch supplies to Shua's car (she had driven it to help transport lunch and have a vehicle if need arose).  I rode back with her, Jocelyn and Josh.  We decided to stop for a quick bit to eat when we asked Shua how close we were to the Lebanese border.  Shua said pretty close and asked if we wanted to see it.  We answered with a resounding yes.  After about ten minutes we had reached it.

Based on the news, I had expected to see a vacant demilitarized zone void of life save for the soldiers who patrolled it.  On the contrary, a sprawling pastoral and farming land spread before us.  In fact, unless someone had told me a border existed, I would not have know it were there.  Shua then commented on though the two countries were not on the best of terms, how the people who lived on each side of this border were likely fine (if not amicable) with one another.  It was the governments who disagreed--not those who lived on each side.  This experience, along with others from last year and this year, have given me a very different perspective on the Middle East and politics.

With all joking and hyperbole aside, today was incredible.  Rafting was a blast (as well as visiting the site of Chorazin this morning), but standing on the border between Lebanon and Israel was an almost other worldly experience.  Conflicts between the two nations are something that litter the news but all I saw today was a sprawling countryside abutted by snow capped mountains in a hazed distance.

I have pictures from today, but I am unable at the moment to locate my SD card reader.  I will have to add these tomorrow.  Tomorrow will be our last 4 a.m. Sunday as we continue on our final push on the site for the season.  Four will come early, but I am ready to begin digging again after being sick a majority of last week.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Day 23: Our Last Break

It has been a bit of a roller coaster of a week.  On Tuesday, I started to feel bad on the site and by Wednesday, I was stuck in bed feeling pretty horrible.  I made it to the site on Thursday and Friday, but I spent a majority of both days helping our area supervisor catch up on paperwork.  My health has returned, however, and we are excited to see what turns up in our area.

It is about 6:30 a.m. here and our finally day off before the final push.  After breakfast, we will be loading up and heading out to visit the ancient synagogue at Chorazin.  Following this outing, we will be heading to the Jordan River to test our fates with a white-water rafting adventure.  It has been mercilessly hot this week and and adventure involving water is most welcome.

I am a bad archaeologist for not having the exact measurements, but we are between 5-6 ft. down in our square for the season.  It is becoming somewhat of an endevour to climb down to where we are excavating.  We, of course, take great pride in this.  Until we look to our neighbors who are below us and require a ladder to enter their squares.  This, amongst other things (such as having three diggers in our square verses the veritable metropolis of five to six in each of the other two squares of area 2000), have caused us to affectionately refer to our square as "the square of despair."  Though we joke about this, we are happy and able to do the required work with only three.  The other squares lend help from time to time as well.


One item of interest which we discovered yesterday is that we are beginning to pull out Iron Age pottery.  The square directly next to us who is slightly lower than we are has accumulated a large sum of this pottery.  The problem with this is that we had no idea our site had an Iron Age occupation (there is evidence of Bronze and Iron Age occupation on a nearby hill).  Iron Age is a time period often associated textually with the stories of King David and King Solomon in the biblical books of Kings and Samuel.  This age is broken into sub ages but it begins around 1300 BCE and ends with Assyrians conquest of the Levant in 722 B.C.E.


At first glance, you might think it bizarre that we would have pottery ranging from this early of a time to the Late Roman / Byzantine period (say 5th or 6th c. C.E.).  This is actually easily explained.  Whoever built the level of walls which we are now excavating would have dug a trench along side where the foundation was being laid in order to better maneuver the stones.  To dig these trenches (called foundation trenches), a lot of lower soil would have been turned up and used to fill in the trenches after the foundations had been completed.

I did not take my camera around too much this week and sadly do not have too many new pictures.  I will take plenty today and post them after we return from taming the waters of the Jordan.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Day 18: SCUBA Diving in the Mediterranean

Our mini-vacation this weekend was much needed and gave us all a chance to recuperate a bit before beginning our final two-week push at the dig site yesterday morning.  As I wrote earlier, we left for the Mediterranean coastal city of Haifa on Thursday just after eating lunch.  It was a short drive (maybe 1.5-2 hours).  Most of us slept on the bus.  When we got there, a very different scenery greeted us.  Lush trees and wadis reminiscent of the Galilee but almost a different shade of green.  The city of Haifa spills from the top of a cliff over to the area below, right up against the Mediterranean.

Upon our arrival, we head straight to the beach for a couple of hours of swimming in the cool, crystal clear waters and napping on the warm sand.  A majority of us went to bed at the late hour of 10 p.m.  Though we did not have to wake up the next morning until 8 a.m., many of us were up by 6 a.m.  After spending two weeks of waking at 4 a.m. it is hard to readjust for one night.  We spent the first day of our trip visiting Tel Dor and Meggido (also known in as Har Magedon which transliterates to Armageddon).  The trips were fascinating and I could write ad inifitum about our time at each location. I wish focus, however, on our next days adventure at Caesarea Maritima.


The city of Caesarea Maritima was built by Herod the Great in honor of Octavion (Caesar Augustus) in 31 B.C.E.  Octavion had affirmed Herod as vassal king in the region so Herod responded in the best way one could in antiquity--build yourself a palacial city and dedicate it to the ruling emperor.  As part of the building project, herod built a gigantic marina--the largest human made marina in the ancient world to that point in history.  This project was massive and if you know anything about Herod the Great, played very nicely to his ruling style.  Herod had a gift of playing up his Roman-ness to those who favored Roman culture and his Jewishness to those of his subejcts to favored Jewish culture.  This city was a Roman city through and through with bathouses, theatres, hippodromes, bathouses, and even a temple honoring Octavian.

It was a fascinating site visit, especially since our professor (Dr. Jodi Magness) had excavated there for many years and served as the Late Roman / Early Byzantine pottery expert.

Toward the end of our tour, Jonathan and I decided to go SCUBA diving if it would work with the groups schedule.  The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.  Nothing we tried worked.  Our level of certification required us to have a third person certified higher (just one level!).  This meant that we had to go in a group dive.  Furthermore, Israeli law says that if you do not have a stamped dive in the last six months, you must go on a refresher dive to prove you know what you are doing.  We were at the beachfront office at 12:30 p.m. and they said we had to be back at 1 p.m. 

When we returned to our group (a 10 minute run / walk), nothing was going to work. Shua, the co-director of the dig who works for the Israel Antiquties Authority, told us that if we could be done by 4:30 p.m., she would stay and drive us back to the Galilee.  By this point it was 12:20 p.m., and we booked it back to the dive shop.  We filled out the paperwork, updated our insurance (we each now have international Israeli diving insurance for a year), and got ready to go.  The refresher dive went over aseveral of the basics, which we both breeezed through.  It took less than 30 minutes and we were back on the surface it seemed in a flash.  While we were going through the review, however, we did get to see a small octopus and some ancient (Roman-era boat anchors).

We then took a bit of a break and returned to what we thought would be a group dive.  The dive master leading the group came out and said we had a choice between two dives.  Both had little archaeology, so I asked if it would be possible to see more.  He didn't seem too happy with the suggested change of iternerary until I told him we were archaeolgoy students currently working on a dig in Israel.  We all got really excited at this point and he took us on a bit of a custom tour of ancient remains.

Shortly after descending (it was a relatively shallow dive, we maintained a depth of 8 meters), he took us to a row of about 20 collumns that had collapsed from Herod's famous marina.  It was incredible seeing the size of these collumns (they weren't complete, but by the girth and number of collumns, we began to understand the true size of Herod's architectural achievement).  We then swam along a series of underwatern crevices in the earth, stopping from time to time to examine pottery and other random artifacts that the sea had spit up. 

One artifcat in particular was of great interest.  While we were looking at pottery, a noticed a rock that looks a bit metalic.  It was semi-loose, so I tugged at it a bit and began to examine it.  The metal was severely corroded and there was quite a bit of growth covering the item.  The rust and growth looked comparable to the early Roman anchor that we saw a bit later in our dive and not much like a more recent boat wreck that we swam over.  The item have five cylindrical shapes that ran into each other (not a hand, but the way it was broken made it look almost like a hand).  On the top, a circular shape sat and a place where two other similar shapes might also have sat existed, except for this is part of the piece that had broken.  On the bottom, a large indention appeared, suggesting that this item at one point sat on top of a pole.

When I found this, I got pretty excited.  I immediately showed it to the dive master and his dive mask did little to hid his excitement.  He hurriedly used his finger to scribble a message to me on a nearby moss covered rock:  "not modern."  He then shrugged a looked at me, and based on some of the other rusted objects we had seen in the water by this time, I shook my head yes (even though we could not be for sure).  I left the item on a rock, not wanting to break archaeological standards by removing something without permission and by so doing ruining its contextual location.  We continued on our path and saw a number of other interesting things including another octopus, more pottery, and more ancient anchors.  When we surfaced the first words out of the dive masters mouth was, "what was that metallic object!?  Have you ever come across anything like that before?"  After we both said no, he ran out and began describing it to the other dive masters, but none of us had a clue where it was.  He then described where we had found it, and they might have discussed retuning to get it the next day.  They were afraid the current would take it away and deposit it somewhere further away.  If it is Roman, I have no idea what it could be.  Jonathan and I both drew it upon our return to the Galilee so we wouldn't forget what it was.  We have been showing people our drawings and asking them if they know what it could be or anyone who might know.  I hope to find out someday, even if it turns out to be an old car part (there were no welding marks on it, however).

This past weekend offered quite the adventure.  As far as our square goes we are continuing to go down.  We have found many mill stones and grinding stones in the past three days of digging.  So many in fact that we are running out of places to put them.  This is giving us a possible insight into what sort of room we are excavating.  One of the mill stones that we removed yesterday has a carved pattern on its side along with an indention.  What this could be has so far remained in the realm of speculation.

It has been a long and hot day.  I am off to nap before we wash pottery later this afternoon.  Thanks for reading.

Some beachfront ruins of Caesarea Maritima behind me
(part of the city has sunk into the ocean over time)

Getting ready for our archaeological dive!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Day 12: Exploring the Cistern

Archaeology is the meticulous documentation of controlled destruction.  Once something is removed from the ground, it can never be put back the same way to be experienced as it had laid in the earth.  That being said, I was fortunate today to experience one of the rare occasion when this rule slightly bends:  exploring and documenting underground tunnels.

A cistern sits on the middle of the site of our dig at Huqoq.  I was fortunate to exlpore it last year, and today I had a rare second chance to do the same.  The resident Israeli export on such underground networks visited the site today and enlisted the help of three of us who helped him to explore it last year.  Last year, another student and I dug out tunnels enough to fit through so we might prepare the way for another pair of students (Jocelyn and Josh) to map the network.  Jocelyn, Josh, and I all returned this year, and we were given the privilege of journeying with Enon again far below ground.

Enon could not get to the site today until noon, which is when we usually finish for the day.  Spending an extra three hours at the site proved a privilege once we began our descent underground.   Once Enon arrived, we donned headlamps, packed bags with tools and water, and climbed approximately 30 ft. below ground before reaching the dirt mound piled upon the main chamber of the cistern.  Once there, our headlamps allowed us to survey the same sights as we had the year before.  Three tunnels laid slightly below us, each accessible only by crawling on our stomachs.  We ignored the one on the left and the middle one for the day and focused on the tunnel on the right.  Today's goal was to make this tunnel entrance and the two subsequent tunnel entrances inside the first chamber on the right tunnel more accessible.  Again, not to excavate, but to explore further back in the network.

I went in the right chamber with Enon, both of us dragging our stomachs in the mud with our sides and backs scraping the rock walls of the entrance.  We opened to a familiar chamber with ancient niches built likely to hold oil lamps as people either worked, hid, or possibly lived in the tunnels.  Also familiar were the hundreds of slugs that lined the walls and eventually my back as I crawled on my stomach across the domed room.

The first order of business was to create a larger path so other people who might come in the future could more easily enter this chamber.  I began to pull back a couple centimeters of earth from around the opening and in about 30 minutes time, removed enough earth that we could comfortably crawl (at least without getting too many slugs in our hair).  Jocelyn proved indispensable during this process for I shoved buckets of dirt through the opening back into the main chamber which she then emptied to the side of the dirt pile upon which the ladder rested.

We then switched around and Josh came down into the cistern to explore a tunnel on the right of the chamber in which I helped to create a better path.  My job during this time was to clear an area around a second tunnel that exists on the left of this chamber.  After I removed enough dirt to stick my head further into the chamber, my job for that area was completed for the day.  I then moved closer to the tunnel in which Josh was making a wider path in order to ferry buckets back and forth from the main chamber.



I did not clear a wide enough path to get to Josh as easily as I could move around the forefront of the chamber, so I again spent a great dealt of time (about an hour and a half) sliding around on my stomach in the dirt / mud.  I scuttled the 15 ft between Josh's tunnel and the main channel multiple times as I filled bucket after bucket and removed several rocks (and by remove I mean positioning them in the chamber so they would be out of the way).  We only had 2.5 hours to spend underground today, and once our time was up, Enon told us to pack our gear and begin our ascent.  Once we all climbed out (which was a 15 minutes affair) we got a good laugh at our appearance.  Slugs, mud, and disheveled clothes covered our fatigued bodies.

We wrote down what we had done and what Enon hopes to do in the future, and we headed back to the main camp area to eat lunch.  Some kind people saved some breakfast food and packaged it in dishes for us to eat after we climbed out.  We didn't have utensils, but I didn't hear anyone complain.  We wolfed down the eggs, bread, and salad rather quickly.  The next item on the to-do list was to clean ourselves up a bit.  There is luckily a spring at the base of the dig site (which is why our site was inhabited to begin with in the past), and we stripped down as much as decency would allow in order to wash our bodies and our clothes.

It was an incredible experience, and I am fortunate to have had it a second time.  I may return once more before our season concludes, but we will have to see what happens.


Monday, June 11, 2012

Day 11: Conservation and Preparing to Explore the Cistern Again

It has been a busy couple of days with a Saturday filled with a trip exploring the ancient areas of Tel Dan and Banias in the northern Galilee.  Tel Dan is a site where a 9th c. B.C.E. inscription references a king who claims his legitimacy from beit david - "the house of David."  This find set the archaeological and textual world of biblical studies in a near upheaval in that it called into question many of those who claimed David was merely a fictional character.  This debate still rages with many prominent scholars falling on both sides of the argument.  Banias is a site built during the Hellenistic period (between Alexander the Great and Rome dominance) that Herod Philip set as his capital of the north.  It is refereed to in the New Testament as Caesrea Philipi.

Our dig has continued to progress.  We have been progressing at approximately 20 cm a day and are nearly even with our squares from last year.  We have been digging in two squares but will spread to a third tomorrow.  I will remain in the square where I have been digging and the two other assistant square supervisors will be moving to our square from last year.


We just had an incredible lecture from Oren Cohen, the lead conservationist of the "Jesus Boat" discovered in the Galilee approximately 15 years ago (maybe 12 years ago?).  It is a boat dating to around 30 B.C.E., plus or minus 80 years (based on carbon dating).  The amount of work and dedication by people both paid and unpaid is amazing.  Tomorrow, we will be visiting the actual boat with her.

The other big news is that Enon has returned to the site and wants to again explore the underground network of cisterns on our site.  Josh, Jocelyn, and I will be joining Enon underground at approximately 11 a.m.  Our dig day ends at 11:45 a.m., but we will be staying a couple of hours later.  It is sure to be just as exciting an adventure as last year.  I hope that our explorations yield further evidence of what this network of tunnels was used for.  Water, storage, or hiding places during the First Jewish Revolt?  Hopefully tomorrow will shed a bit of light.  Even if not, it is sure to prove an exciting adventure as we crawl and dig through tunnels 30-50 ft. below ground left unexplored for nearly 2,000 years.