From trekking through ancient cities to digging up artifacts over 2000 years old, this trip has been a beautiful adventure I will never forget. It is one thing to read about ancient Israel, but to actually go to the sites and dig through the destruction left by King Sennacherib’s war campaign against Hezekiah really brings history to life right before your eyes.
Excavating at Tel Halif, knowing the history, and actually finding ballistas that bounced off the casemate wall has been an exhilarating. There are a lot more interesting aspects of the material culture we’ve found here that paint an amazing picture of the daily life of the Judahites that used to live on the Tel besides military evidence. There is everything from cultic figurines, all different sorts of pottery, bowls, and plates, and even jewelry. Seeing evidence of their spiritual beliefs and how that may have fit into their day to day lives, the places they would store grain, water, and oil, and the ways people would care about their appearance and even craft make-up makes this ancient culture seem so much closer to the modern world than biblical literature makes it seem. Part of what makes the process of excavating so amazing is also the great attention to detail that goes with recording the dimensions and locations of your finds so that in the lab you can create reconstructions of how things may have gotten the way they were in the ground. What may just seem like a pile of rocks could have been a wall that collapsed from an attack. A pile of pottery shards, when analyzed in a grid, can be studied to show how the pottery fell and broke before it got covered up in layers of dirt over the years. This data can be used to show us how a room may have looked before it was destroyed. With the aid of technology, 3D models of entire buildings complete with oil lamps, figurines, shelves and every other recorded vessel can be rendered to give the viewer a virtual tour of the ancient world.
This trip offers a lot more than an archaeological perspective on biblical history, but an awe-inspiring trek through the the lands of Israel. We’ve walked through Herod’s palace at Caesarea, where Pontus Pilate served as the Roman prefect. We’ve seen the northern most city in the ancient kingdom of Israel, Tel Dan, and walked along the River Jordan where a baptismal site visited by John the Baptist existed. Every part of this trip has given me a new appreciation and outlook on biblical history and my own faith.
Tel dan was astounding, the size of the outer city wall and the cultic area inside was breathtaking. Caesarea was beautiful, seeing King Herod’s luxurious private pool connected to the Mediterranean Sea and the various Roman style bathhouses showed that there was real luxury in the ancient world. Tel Beit She’an really was amazing though. The size of this site was incredible, and the history rich. This was where King Saul was defeated by the Philistines, but King David took it back. Rome’s influence on the site is incredible. The site is filled with huge columns and beautiful mosaics, but what is really interesting is that the Roman city was built below the Tel so the ruins of the earlier Israelite and Egyptian influences are separate from the massive construction catalyzed by Roman expansion.
I’ll never forget this trip and all it has done for me. The people I have met, the sights I have seen, the feeling of walking through the old city in Jerusalem and haggling for everything I wanted to buy, priceless.
Israel is a beautiful country, one that I definitely will be visiting again. There is so much to see, so much to do, and so many connections to an amazingly rich culture.
The Sea of Galilee, The Dead Sea, and the Mediterranean, are all amazing. Hostels built into churches from the crusades, delicious and incredibly healthy food, and people who will change your life. This has been an amazing summer program, one I highly recommend. A unique wealth of knowledge and connections I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else.