First Letter from Nazareth

I begin this post on Friday morning because I think Sunday will be a busy day. [Note: Internet was down most of the weekend, and the general business of the dig has occupied my time, so I am posting on Wednesday.]

The advance crew arrived safely, and after I collected a rental van from Avis we headed to Nazareth, where we met my parents and staff of the hotel.  We received many warm greetings in a medley of English, Arabic, and Hebrew.  As we have come to expect, we ate well in the hotel’s  renovated dining room, then most of us showered and were in bed early.

The next day at the site we met Motti Aviam, our Associate Director and a professor at Kinneret Academic College on the Sea of Galilee (doesn’t the name alone make you want to enroll?).  He delivered the surveying equipment that he stores during the year, we discussed logistics for the coming season, and then our team began to survey in the archaeological grid.  Most of the students had received some training in Reid Chapel one day in the spring, so we made short work of shooting in our squares.  It helped that rebar from last year survived in most of the corners.  As I think about it, I’m going to have to check all of them, so I guess our work isn’t done yet.  In the late afternoon we began setting up our stores in a room that the hotel lets us use for free.  It was sweaty work, but the students approached it with energy and high spirits.  That’s a good omen, for we will rarely work in cool weather.

Last night the hotel hosted some 200 guests who comprise what I have come to see as a snapshot of peace in this country.  It doesn’t make the news, but it’s an everyday reality.  Besides our small party of eight, there was a good-sized group of Christian pilgrims from Kenya, together with an impressive company of university students from Beer Sheva and Haifa.  That doesn’t sound remarkable until I tell you that they were a mixture of Jewish and Arab (mostly Muslim) students in town for a conference of some sort.  A hotel run by a Muslim family that makes its bread and butter from Christian pilgrim tours doesn’t seem the natural choice for such a group.  But they were here, so it must have been.  Last night I saw at least one Muslim woman in traditional conservative dress and a few Jewish men wearing kippas (yarmulkes).  Just now, in the coffee lounge, a young man in kippa with tsitsit (fringes) hanging out of his shirt (typical dress for an observant Jewish man in this country) asked the hotel’s cook a question about Nazareth, and they laughed together about the cook’s inability to answer the question.  The cook was an Arab who spoke Hebrew, he just didn’t know the answer.  He apologized.  The young man told him it was okay.  I take that exchange as a good omen as well.

This morning I see a contingent of folks I assume to be pilgrims from Poland coming down for breakfast.  They must have arrived after we went to bed.  It looks and sounds like the UN around here.

Tonight, Erev Shabbat (“Sabbath Evening”), we will celebrate kiddish at the hotel and then head to a favorite restaurant for dinner.  The evenings are lovely, with cool breezes.  Soon enough the heat will come, but it will consistently remain a few degrees cooler than Birmingham.

Sunday the rest of the group arrived: more students from Samford and other schools along with a few non-student volunteers.  Two more people will join us in the coming weeks, and Monday we will begin the work of learning what we can about Shikhin’s residents, who are long gone and can only tell us their stories through the scraps we are able to recover of their workaday lives.  Our job is to give them voices again, even if only whispers. 

That responsibility leads me to wonder about our own legacies.  Sixteen hundred years from now, will anyone hear  murmurs in the surviving oddments of our material lives?  Would we recognize ourselves in tales our descendants tell of us?  Some of Shikhin’s residents practiced a way of life that became the Judaism of the Talmud.  Maybe others became followers of the Torah of Jesus of Nazareth.  Perhaps our bequests will live on in the paths in which we teach our children to walk.

Pray for the peace of Israel, and for peace over all the Earth,
James

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