While I’ve been in Israel I’ve been writing Sunday School lessons for the Alabama Baptist newspaper. The general theme is giving, and today I turned in a lesson on generosity, for which I composed the following paragraph,

I encountered this idea this very [Sunday] morning at the 6:30 Latin mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. I, two other professors, and some students worshiped with a group made up largely of Catholics, but with a few Baptists and other Protestants like me thrown in. We invoked the Holy Spirit together, the celebrant pronounced Christ’s peace upon us and we responded in kind, we confessed our sins, passed the peace, were offered and received the Lord’s Supper, and were dismissed with a blessing. We then had to vacate the premises for the Greek Orthodox mass. The space in front of the sepulcher that had just welcomed us was now blocked off by metal barriers (which actually said “Police” on them, although I’m confident the police had nothing to do with regulating the mass), and none of us was allowed to partake in the Greek service. Our group felt decidedly unwelcomed by this turn of events, so we left for other, open parts of the church, one of which, paradoxically, was the Greek Orthodox chapel that houses the spur of Calvary.

There is more to say. As we arrived, a Coptic mass was already in progress directly behind the sepulcher, and we could hear chanting that did not cease as the Latin mass began and in fact continued throughout and beyond (the two priests who chanted during the service could not agree on a key; the young man who took up chanting after the end of what I assume was the mass proper was better at carrying a tune in whatever mode he was singing in). During the silences and thin tenor chanting of the Catholic celebrant, the energetic baritone Coptic intruded, especially as the Coptic worshipers processed a picture of the ascending Christ to either side of the sepulcher. For their part, the Coptics had to put up with the Catholics’ loud organ music, played vigorously by a Franciscan brother seated at a console on the second level of the dome of the Anastasis. Whenever the chief celebrants entered the sepulcher itself, the organist had to get his cues from a round window on his side of the sepulcher, since he could hear nothing from within (and we could just barely).

Throughout the mass it struck me how unlike a show it was. At no point was I invited to enjoy a spectacle or to listen to music of my choosing. It was quite clear that I was participating in a service that was not designed with me in mind at all. Rather, I was invited to join others in a liturgy that was directed to God, and that could trace some of its roots to quite ancient practices. Even the music that was accompanied by the organ quite clearly was chant that predated pipe organs by centuries. The Coptic chanting was so foreign to my ears that I automatically assumed it had its beginnings in the second century. I don’t know whether I’m right about that.

In any case, I like to think that the Coptics and Catholics in the Holy Sepulcher do not think of themselves as competitors, but as co-worshipers of the same God, welcoming the Holy Spirit together this Pentecost, intermingling their disparate services in a joint offering to the Creator.

I can dream, can’t I?

This three-day weekend in Jerusalem marks the end of our time in the country. I’m happy to report that we have celebrated some successes this season. The students have braved the heat and the healthy thistles with vigor and enthusiasm, so most of the challenges have come from my lack of skill in using Samford’s surveying equipment, newly donated by Robins and Morton, Inc. and Allen Precision Equipment, Inc. I thought that I would be able to produce a contour map of the site and to locate all of our finds. Those two goals proved to stretch my abilities too far. All is not lost, however, because we already possess a contour map (I don’t remember anymore why I thought I needed to reinvent the wheel), and most of our finds did not require that I use the instrument to locate them. I did, however, locate and shoot in several Israeli survey points, and with the help of my father (James F. “Abuna” Strange) and students, I was able to shoot in several of our more significant finds.

As I said last time, one of our goals for the survey was to establish a place to begin digging in 2012, and we have gotten some clarification on that issue. We now think that the large enclosure wall we found did not enclose the village, for we can find scant traces of human activity within its bounds. Even the pottery, which we find in great abundance everywhere else, is scarce here, and the bare bedrock shows little signs of cutting for any purpose, whereas nearly every other patch of bedrock on the hill has been cut by quarrying or to make a cistern or a cave of some type. Also, we can find no remains of walls of houses. So we now think that we have located a wall that marks the boundaries of an ancient olive orchard, and we suspect that some of those trees still survive there. We will probably sink at least one probe across this wall to establish the date it was laid.

The building made of large blocks, which I mentioned last time, might enclose an olive press. An Israeli archaeologist of the Galilee and a friend came to visit, and when he saw the ruins he remarked that they reminded him of a building that housed an olive press at another site. We will find out when we dig it in 2012. If it is indeed an olive press, it might imply relatively large-scale production of olive oil. By the way, one way to get at the question of how much olive oil Shikhin could have produced in antiquity is to ask the family who tends and harvests the olive trees today how much they produce in a year.

The Associate Director (David Fiensy) and I would dearly love to find the pottery kiln that we know was situated somewhere on the northeast slope of the hill. How do we know it? Well, first of all, the outline of the ancient clay bed is still visible, even though the local kibbutz that farms the land around our site filled it in many years ago because of the trouble it caused their tractors. We infer that the kiln(s) would be located near the source of clay because wet clay is much heavier to transport than fired vessels. And indeed, near the pit we find wasters and burnt stones and possibly even pieces of a kiln. I suspect that over the centuries these have washed down from at least one terrace above where we find them. But we can find no trace of a kiln in situ. One option is to find out who can perform a scan of the site with a magnetometer (and then write a grant to pay for it!).

Another goal of the season was to train students in archaeological method, with the broader aim of teaching them to think like archaeologists, drawing inferences from material culture. I think we have been reasonably successful in this endeavor too. Normally a survey is not nearly so regimented a task as a dig, so I designed a survey method based on our digging method, principally for the task of training students, but also to help us sort through our data in an orderly fashion. That will be my job when I get back.

Until then, we have some time remaining in Jerusalem. Students have been to the Western Wall at the beginning of Shabbat, to Masada and the Dead Sea, to shops and the Holy Sepulcher, and later this afternoon, to Hezekiah’s tunnel. Through a local friend, we have asked for permission to see the Dome of the Rock tomorrow (Monday), and I truly hope we get it. We may also get to some archaeological sites and a museum or two.

I hope that students leave with a sense of accomplishment for what they have learned. I know that they will take with them many memories (and photos!) of the sites and experiences of the Holy Land. I hope they also learn some of the reality of life here that is not tainted by presuppositions fed by media, whose bread and butter seems to be hatred and violence. Of those we have seen not a trace. This does not mean that neither exists, of course, but the banality of peace forms the overriding reality here. May it increase.

Until next year, pray for God’s peace in Israel and all over the globe.

James

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