First Sabbatical Post


Nazareth, Israel, 15 October 2014

Dear Family, Friends, and Colleagues,

I’m writing from my desk in room 407 of the Galilee Hotel in Nazareth, the same room they give me every summer.  It’s meant for a couple or even a small family, since it’s outfitted with both a double (here a king size) bed and a twin.  This level of grace and hospitality is typical for the hotel staff.  Earlier I asked for an apple and returned to my room to find a plate with two apples, a banana, and a bunch of grapes, with a liter of water and a stemmed glass besides.  I’ve already made myself a cappuccino in the hotel’s coffee bar, and had a nice chat with Subhe Hamed, our main contact here and a longtime family friend.  I’ve seen lots of old friends and been hugged and kissed on both cheeks by many men.  The women shook my hand, American style.

The flight was notable only for the fact that I slept little, which is unlike me.  The drive north was more eventful, for it rained a good, solid downpour just north of Tel Aviv.  That’s how everyone knows it’s October.  I took the old route: Highway 2 rather than highway 6, because I didn’t want to pay a $12 toll.  I was hoping to see the surviving east-west leg of the old Roman aqueduct that once supplied Caesarea, but I turned off too soon onto Highway 65 to follow the ancient route of the Via Maris.  As it did the ancients, it took me by Tel Megiddo, which in ancient times guarded the mountain pass through which the road led travelers and armies into the Jezreel Plain.  The hill features in both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament—really Revelation.  It’s the place where King Josiah died in battle against Pharaoh Necho.  Christians know it as “Armageddon,” from the Greek pronunciation of the Hebrew “Har Megiddo,” or “Mount Megiddo.”  Other major battles were fought in the 15th century BCE and 1918.

I’m here on a short, 10-day sabbatical trip to do some research: primarily to visit other archeological sites that I never seem to have the time to see during the dig season, but which are critical to walk for myself if I’m to understand Shikhin in its Galilean context.  I also need to do a bit of surveying of the cemetery at our own Shikhin and to examine some of our artifacts and pottery more closely.  I have also planned a day trip to Jerusalem to visit the Nea Church, a site that I am investigating with some Israelis.  If my father arrives (he as been sick), I’ll help him go through some artifacts from Sepphoris.

October is simply a lovely time in Galilee.  The days will be in the 70s and low 80s, much like Birmingham, with cool nights and some rains now and then—what the Bible calls the “early” rains.  Much of the spring’s surviving vegetation will be gone, just in time for the winter growth to replace it.  Streams that dry up in the summer soon will flow again, and even the brown Judean hills will green, laying a grass carpet for Bedouin herdsmen.  In the spring, fields will blush with poppies.

My friend Subhe, an Israeli Muslim, expressed worry about the advance of ISIS and hope about a two-state solution in Israel/Palestine.  I share his concern and optimism.  We both agree that much needs to be done.  In the meantime, staying awake until bedtime presents my most immediate challenge.  That and buying a toothbrush, since I forgot to pack mine.

Pray for the peace of Israel and amity in the Middle East.

James

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