Final 2010 entry from Jerusalem

We finished in the field Wednesday morning by shooting final photographs of an area that ended up under Aaron Carr’s supervision (now we know his dirty little secret: he can supervise the excavation of a square!). We shoot final photos either in the evening or in the early morning when the sky is bright but we can still shade the features with a “Joshua cloth” so that the sun casts no shadows (see photos below). Most of the dig crew, including me, will fly out late Saturday night after a few days in Jerusalem, but my father, mother, and sister will drive back up to the site for about one more week to finish drawing final top plans and to excavate one small area to help solve an archaeological riddle.

In past years we spent a weekend in Jerusalem somewhere in the middle of the season, but the past two years we have placed that trip at the end of the dig. I prefer that schedule, for it allows us to wrap up the season with some relaxing days and evenings. We visit our favorite shops run by people we’ve known for years, restaurants, museums, and bookstores. The weather is generally cooler here, even than in the North.

Thursday morning while others shopped, my father and I walked to the Holy Sepulcher. Just recently they have replaced the columns and dome of the Anastasis, the large structure over the tomb venerated as Christ’s. Whatever tomb was originally there has been concealed under structures built by the pious. We walked around, looking at the architecture, discerning modern from Medieval from Byzantine. We went into the Syrian chapel, which includes a first century tomb (traditionally the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea). Later we spotted a priest of another of the Orthodox branches preparing a small chapel for the day’s pilgrims. He was chanting as he worked, and when he finished, he approached us and made the mark of the cross on our foreheads with oil from a small bowl, presumably the same oil he used to fill a lamp. He smiled as he spoke to us, the only part of which I understood was “Jesus Christ.” What an odd thing to happen to a pair of Baptists, and what an extraordinary moment. One of our staffers, Randy O’Neill, caught up with us shortly afterwards, and we went out of the church and around the corner to the Russian Mission, inside which you can see remnants of the stairs leading to the courtyard of the fourth century church (although some argue that they are later).

When people learn that this year marks the last of the USF Excavations at Sepphoris and Jim Strange’s final as a dig director, the comment I hear most often is, “It’s the end of an era.” I’ve heard it from Americans and Israelis alike. The need to stop collecting data in Field V and to publish it has coincided with Dad’s need to take his arthritis seriously as a factor that limits his abilities to climb in and out of our trenches.

So something good is coming to an end, and something new is being born. I plan to apply for a permit to conduct an archaeological survey of a site near Sepphoris next summer, so Samford students will still receive training in an archaeological field school. With that project I will step firmly into the 21st century, for I will rely on GPS technology to locate points and establish elevations, and I might not even need a surveyor’s transit in the field. I will be blessed with tools inherited from the USF dig and help from people who are eager to participate. This is the way it always is. It is not our habit to hire workers, so the archaeology would simply be impossible without uncounted hours of labor from volunteers who spend their own money to come and dig. A few nights ago Dad mentioned that he was keenly aware of this fact, and as I begin thinking about my own project, I am as well.

We are telling the story of Galilee, the region that gave birth to Formative Judaism and to earliest Christianity. In the 1970s, digs concentrated on the Jewish villages of Upper Galilee. Work began at Sepphoris in order to fill out the picture by uncovering a city. Now we need to expose villages whose economies and cultures were closely linked with the cities of Lower Galilee. Current work at sites like Bethsaida, Cana, and Magdala will help, but there is more to do. Archaeology needs to help us understand the settlement of Galilean villages in the Hellenistic period, the changes that the building of Sepphoris and Tiberias brought in the early first century AD, the impact that the destruction of Jerusalem had as people fled North, and other changes brought by the growth of Christianity and later of Islam.

Aaron will continue with some after-dig work during the Summer II term. He will concentrate on drawing up plans in a CAD program and rendering a three dimensional sketch of the Field V building. He is now a seasoned archaeologist and of great value to any expedition that uses excavation and recording techniques similar to ours. I am excited to learn where he ends up. He is certainly welcome on any project I’m associated with.

This is my final blog post of the 2010 season. Until next summer, pray for peace everywhere.

James

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