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.