Second Post 2012

Composed 2 June 2012

We have finished our second week of digging and have taken our second tour of sites and a body of water.  In addition to seeing Magdala and Capernaum, with a break for a dip in the Sea of Galilee, yesterday we toured Khirbet Qana, which lies across the Beit Netofa Valley from our site.  The view of the valley from this hill is simply breathtaking.  The site may well be the town of Cana, known to us only from the Gospel of John.  Its inclusion in that Gospel and the record of its occupation bring up some interesting questions, not the least of which is why does John mention it at all?  In the fourth century Christians and Jews co-existed at Cana as they did at Capernaum and many other towns in the Galilee.  The tour was led by Tom McCollough of Centre College, who is one of the site’s excavators and now the director of that project.  He has been helping us out at our site as well.  I told the students it is a rare privilege to be given a tour of a site by its excavator, especially if it is while the project is still going on.  They get to hear his reasons for digging there, what he has found, and the questions that remain.  And there are always questions.  I also tell the students that any time you return to a site you end up with more questions than you came with. 

I’ll prove it to you.  At Shikhin we now have uncovered part of a public building of some sort.  We have exterior space in which the bedrock was quarried before there ever was a building, and then someone leveled up the quarried parts by adding soil and cut stones to make a platform of some type, perhaps an outdoor courtyard or a wall foundation.  Decades or centuries later, annual plowing scored the top of the bedrock.  East of that we have remnants of a plaster floor, a lower course of a wall, and lots of tumbled stones.  Further east is more tumble and smaller patches of plaster floor, as well as a threshold, but the threshold is busted into two pieces that do not seem to belong together. Furthermore, it seems too narrow when we compare it to the thresholds we usually find.  So we are unsure that it functioned as a threshold in its current location.  To the west of all of these features, five very large column bases and column drums were placed into a terrace wall long after the building they held up came crashing down.  It was these architectural fragments that alerted us that we probably had a substantial public building on this hilltop.  Our biggest challenge is figuring out how all of these features relate to one another.  What in the world did this building look like when it stood?  We have to dig more to find out.  See how the questions multiply?

Here is what we know and what we can guess.  We cannot date the construction of the building until we excavate its foundation, but we can say that it lay in ruins by the Early Arab Period (7th–8th centuries).  In fact, every single soil layer that we have excavated has contained mostly Early Roman (1st century) pottery and some later sherds, but almost no Arab sherds (“Arab” refers to the Arab Period, not necessarily to the people who lived here).  But we keep finding Arab lamps and lamp fragments!  What were these people doing up here that they left virtually no pottery but did leave their lamps behind?  One begins to suspect that whatever they were doing, it was at night!  But I don’t think that’s right.  One possibility is that these were the people who cleared the ruin, built the terrace walls, leveled the hilltop, and planted.  They’re the ones who left their plow marks in many stones.  They didn’t live on the hill, but they did spend the night sometimes.  Here’s the kicker, however: only one of their oil lamps has any soot on the nozzle where the wick is supposed to burn.  So what are all of these unused oil lamps doing up here?  And why aren’t we finding the pots they cooked their dinner in?  Again, the questions multiply.

Today (Sunday) David Bayless and I used the magnetometers I mentioned last time.  We detected a faint magnetic field on a flat terrace of the hill.  The signal is too weak to pick up by ear (the magnetometer produces a tone), but the digital read-out did let us know that there was a field under our feet, over 20 meters long and around 8 to 10 meters wide.  It was on a terrace much higher up than I thought it would be.  If only everything were nicely predictable.  We will have to dig to know for sure, but we may have found a pottery-production site, which would be very important in the archaeology of the Galilee.

So much for archaeology.  The students are doing very well as a group.  The biggest lot is from Samford (six), and there are two students from USF in Tampa, Florida and two from Centre College in Danville, KY.  We have one who will enter UK in the fall and one sophomore in high school.  We have one who just graduated from Samford and another who just graduated from Alabama.  On the whole they are energetic, upbeat, and optimistic.  They also appear to be learning something.  Well, that stands to reason, as they are a bright bunch.  I have learned that some students who are very quiet in a Bible class can be boisterous on an archaeological dig.

Last night we took Richard Knott out to a delicious dinner at a new Nazareth restaurant.  Richard used to run the bed and breakfast at Kibbutz Ha-Solelim where the USF Excavation team lived for around a decade.  He celebrated his birthday last week, but we also wanted to say thank you.  Although he has no official connection to our dig, he has been extremely helpful in our dealings with the Israeli government, renting vehicles, and getting porta-potties up to our site.  Yeah, that’s important.

So the archaeology is being done impeccably and things are getting interesting.  They were already exciting.

I told myself I would take a break from this topic, but the guy said it with no prompting from me, so I’m going to repeat it.  The guard at Magdala, who turned out to be a local Bedouin Arab, informed me and Dad that in this country, Jews, Muslims, Christians, and Bedouin (four separate categories in his mind) live together in harmony.  It is interesting that he wanted to volunteer that information to us as we were leaving.  The political situation is different in the West Bank, but even there on the whole people have figured out how live their lives so that the main challenges are more mundane than we think.

Continue to pray for the peace of Israel, and for peace in all of the Middle East.



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