Second Post 2013
Dear Family and Friends,
I missed writing last week because the weekend was completely filled with obligations, some welcome and others just plain tiring. Friday was our first kiddish celebration: a welcoming of the end of the work week and the beginning of Sabbath rest with a little service that entails blessings in Hebrew over candles, “fruit of the vine,” and bread, some readings from the Bible and a book of prayers (the readings are our own idiosyncratic additions), a singing of Psalm 133:1 (“Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers and sisters live together in unity.”), and then a round of hugs accompanied with the blessing, “Shabbat Shalom” or “Sabbath peace.” Dinner follows. Last Saturday we took our first weekend trip to Sepphoris and Capernaum and ending with a dip in the Sea of Galilee. It was blazing hot. This was the first year we’ve gone to a pay beach, which means we had access to a clean area under trees with chairs, a grill, bathrooms, and many annoying electronic songs piped through the sound system. I think we’ll continue the practice: toilets and a clean beach are worth the price of admission. On the way there I saw Dr. Pepper sitting on the shelf of a minimarket for the first time in all my years coming to Israel. Things only get better here. Sunday I had business in Jerusalem and Haifa. I was almost glad to bet back to the relaxing schedule of the dig day.
The week brought another five days of good archaeology. We have opened three squares that we left unfinished last year and that we back-filled to protect the plaster floors, something I don’t want to do again. We have also opened two new squares in order to help us understand better what we started to find last year and in hopes of locating the public building that we know stood nearby because we have some fragments of its columns. I think the building stood to the south of our squares while Motti Aviam, our Associate Director, thinks it lay to the north. We’ll test both hypotheses. That’s how archaeology works: you form and test hypotheses, sometimes hourly as you change your mind based on new data. We continue to find evidence of pottery production at the site. I am convinced one set of kilns lay very near. This means that Shikhin is going to have an important impact on our understanding of the Galilean economy in the Roman period, something that will tell us about the beginning of both Christianity and the Judaism of the Talmuds.
Mid-week three residents of Moshav Tsippori (Sepphoris) came by with their dog Butch and thanked us for uncovering their history. I’ll ask my father if I may include his letter about this event. It was moving and I was not quite sure how to respond, other than to say, “It’s an honor.” Work ground to a halt as everyone in the field had to take a turn petting Butch.
We’ve just returned from our second weekend trip to Megiddo and Caesarea, ending with a swim in the Mediterranean near the impressive arched Roman aqueduct. We saw the Mithraeum discovered by Bob Bull, my father’s professor, and a replica of the famous Pontius Pilate inscription, along with many other wonderful things.
This week we say goodbye to two of our own: Annie Smith, who also came last year (she has been informed that she must return next year, this time for the full four weeks) and Angie Baranes of Nice, France, who found out about the dig on-line. She also has been invited back. We sang “Shalom Haverim” (“Goodbye, Dear Friends”) to them on Friday, as is our tradition of many years. We sang the same to my mother after her few days with us, getting us started on all of the duties that she normally performs as Camp Manager. We miss “Miss Carolyn,” as the Southern volunteers call her (it’s infectious: I notice that our volunteers from other parts take it up as well), but we’re getting along because we have a group that readily volunteers to do the extra things that need to be done. I can’t tell you how grateful I am for that.
Next week we will be joined by 17 Israeli students from Kinneret College, where Motti teaches, then the final week another 15 will replace them. They present a logistical challenge, but I look forward to our students working side by side with them and instructing them in archaeological method. It is always gratifying to hear those who have been in the trenches teaching newcomers what we do and why we do it that way, as they did the first week when a group of Norwegian students joined us for a couple of hours. Even volunteers who had been working for only a few days sounded like seasoned veterans, and the bond they formed with the newcomers seemed nearly instantaneous. I hope the same happens between the Americans and Israelis, and I hope that the Norwegians come back next year for a full season.
I continue to be moved by the landscape just about everywhere we drive. Not only do I see Jesus walking the paths on his way to minister to the rich and poor of Galilee, but the hills and trees also grip my heart. We have been blessed by good weather. Daytime temperatures have rarely climbed above 85. That’s not what I hear from Birmingham and NYC.
Until next week, continue to pray for the peace of Israel.