Fourth Letter from Nazareth


12 June 2016

Dear Family and Friends,

Today is Shavuot (also Pentecost) for Jews.  This year the holiday falls within the Muslim month of Ramadan.  Western Christians observed their own Pentecost on May 15, which marks the gift of the Holy Spirit.  So now we are in the second period of “Ordinary Time.”  Shavuot has a dual significance: it is a harvest festival and a time to celebrate God’s gift of the Torah.  Ramadan is a month of daytime fasting, also to celebrate God’s first revelation to Muhammad and to engage in almsgiving.  The color for Ordinary Time is green, and even in mid June the lingering green here reminds us of God’s gifts of rain, sun, crops and herds.  That is, of life.  The authors of both Genesis 1 and John know that God’s speech is life giving.

I write this from the top of a Galilean hill.  Monday the heat will come but for now temperatures are in the mid 70s Fahrenheit.  A breeze cools my back, so I must be facing east.  Traffic on Highway 77 whispers over my left shoulder.  Every now and then a tractor’s growl drifts up from the fields below.  Cicadas buzz all around.  One student sits behind me writing, and I hear her shift about as she sips water and consults her notes.

She is one of nine students taking their final field exam on this hilltop.  They are to wander through a ruin, make observations, and then compose an essay describing how they would excavate the area, defending their decisions archaeologically.  I instruct them to have fun but can’t grade that aspect of their work.  They have, however, impressed me with their archaeological acumen, and I like to think that’s a high bar to clear.  All have been trained in our digging method and all have taken a turn at being in charge of keeping records.  Some have explained the week’s work in their squares to the rest of us during what we call “Friday tour.”  They know their stuff.

Their competence, by the way, reflects something discovered long before I started directing a dig: one doesn’t have to be an academic to be a good archaeologist.  A person who will learn and follow the method, and who can train and supervise volunteers, can excavate as well as anyone and record the data better than many.  Some dig directors of the 60s and 70s learned this when they were trained in meticulous excavation methods, not by people with Ph.D.s, but by paid Arab workers from local villages.  I learned it in 1992 when I dug at Sepphoris under the tutelage of Gary “Termite” Lindstrom, an exterminator from Oakland California with a high school diploma.  Other Area Supervisors at Sepphoris included a real estate agent, school teachers, and stay at home moms.  It was these who over the years trained most Sepphoris volunteers.  At Shikhin I too will take on whoever can do it.  We archaeologists are a practical bunch.

Tomorrow begins the final week of the 2016 season and the crew must think about when to stop digging in order to clean for photographs and complete their final drawing tasks.  It’s something of a mixed time: people are tired, ready to go home, and sad to be leaving.  Some tell me that the excitement of the trip to Jerusalem boosts their spirits and energy.

Earlier in the week I contacted Kyle Bailey in Samford’s Global Engagement Office to tell him that none of our group had been in Tel Aviv when a shooting happened.  Some parents had called concerned, which I certainly understand.  I admit that this sort of worry was foreign to me until my own child went on a mission trip to Belize.  Then I knew.  Today I read about a shooting in an Orlando nightclub.

It is probably an artifact of my own disposition that in these letters I emphasize the peace that is happening all around.  I do it, not to negate the fear, violence, and hatred—or simmering resentment—that is as healthy here as it is in my own country, but to make a modest request: for those who have faith in God, do not allow these things to overwhelm our knowledge that God has given us all we need to fix these problems, and that God is quietly at work to help us.  For those of no religious leanings, or who even lean away from faith, know that we choose between hope and despair, and that while hope wanes we can work.

Please continue to pray for peace, and while praying, to work for it.

James

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