Below is the letter my father wrote to his Sunday School class at Bayshore Baptist Church in Tampa, FL that I mention in my post below. His letters are the inspiration for what has become this blog from Israel.
Letter to Bayshore and Friends 20 July 2013
I was sitting in the passenger seat in the van yesterday at Shikhin with my computer in my lap putting in record points. I can hear the sounds of human voices and of tools clanking and clinking twenty yards away. A whole swarm of men on bikes pedal past, speaking to one another in Hebrew, but keeping their eyes on the path and the man ahead. Bike paths are the new thing this year on the park lands. As I sit there I spot three sturdy men about 50-60 years old walking toward me, but not in biking clothes. I was not sure where they were going, but they were walking towards me after all, almost marching in step. I waited, and when they arrived at the van the man in the middle smiled and said, "We are here to express our thanks to you for exposing our history for us." I was taken completely by surprise, but I managed to thank them for saying so. Then he added, with a gesture towards Sepphoris. "You know, for what you have done at Tsippori for so long." I was so touched I could have cried. I did not, but I added this: "Those people who lived at Tsippori and at Shikhin have no voice now. So every time we find anything they left behind we give them a little voice. Whether it is big or small, every time we find something, they have a stronger voice." The leader stood erect and wept silently. The man to the left, whom I met yesterday, grinned hugely. The man to the right seemed lost in thought.
I cannot tell you how much I was moved. No one of the locals had ever thanked me, and I never thought they should. I experienced the power of gratitude personally in a new way. I was changed. I felt better, I gained perspective on what I was doing at that moment, which does not look significant, and I realized all over again why we are doing this. (They had said the same thing to James a few minutes before.) Archaeology is a very human kind of research because we connect with our ancestors in an immediate fashion. I hear us talking about the people we owe our archaeological existence to as though they just left yesterday. “This wall runs off its foundation by nearly 20 centimeters at the south end. What were they doing? Did they run into a problem with bedrock? What was going on?” Or we discover that they dug a huge and deep pit at one point in the house during the fourth century AD. I hear Aaron, the Area Supervisor, or one of his volunteers asking, “Why did they do that” as they stare in wonder at a pit that we have spent two seasons emptying out. “Did the same guys who dug it out fill it with different dirt for a reason? Well, what was it?” All this questioning slowly builds up a story about these people and their activities. If you go over to Rachel’s square (5 x 5 meter plot) they may have their heads down close to the soil at the bottom of their excavation looking for another piece of the lamp fragment one of them is holding in his hand and staring at. “Doug just turned up a lamp frag, but he thinks he saw another one.” Doug and two other volunteers are on hands and knees dragging their fingers through and almost fondling the loose dirt. This small patch of floor has yielded three lamp molds and about two dozen lamp fragments to the volunteers’ investigations. “Why are there so many lamp frags?” We respond, “Well, we think they had to be making lamps.” When a lamp mold turns up we need to give a little lecture on the spot about how they are made and used. “You mean they do all this by hand? Then it’s art” says Angela, a 20 year old from France. “Look”, says another, peering at the fragment in his hand. “I see some kind of a leaf and something else, but it’s a little hard to make out.” And so it goes, this asking, and we slowly build up the story of the people of ancient Shikhin.
I like to think that God is listening and watching, and maybe smiling a little, as we tell this story to visitors, or at least tell the part we think we know. He hasn’t forgotten. Psalm 78 says, “He remembered that they were but flesh, a passing breeze that does not return.” We are the ones who forget. And now we are hard at work remembering—or doing something very close to remembering.
It is peaceful here. We hear Israeli jets arcing overhead, sometimes circling. I like to think they are watching as well, but for different reasons.
Pray for peace.