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 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:
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