First Letter from Nazareth

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Sunday, May 28, 2017

Dear Family and Friends,

It has been a busy 11 or so days in Israel, and I missed my deadline for my first letter.  I have been pleased with the people and the weather: both are suited for our operations.

This year I feel acutely the void left by my parents, Jim (“Abuna”) and Carolyn Strange.  This is not because we cannot operate without them.  After all, expeditions all over Israel get by without either of them setting foot on their sites.  It is because of who they are to me and to the dig.  I feel it most, not at breakfast, which my mother brings to the site, or at pottery reading, for which I rely on my father’s expertise, but as I pass by their room while knocking on doors at 4 a.m.  I hope for their return in 2018.

The early crew arrived on Tuesday May 16 and quickly got to work the next day.  They prepared our store room, oversaw the delivery of tools and toilets to the site, began digging the southern half of a square that we opened last year, shot in corners of new squares, and cleaned out more of a miqveh (a ritual bath) that we’ve been working on for—what?—three seasons now?  Maybe we’ll finish it this year.  We also ate two fabulous meals: one at the home of Toby and Tsvi Klein, and another at a nearly Arab restaurant.

By now we are at nearly full strength, missing only two folks who will arrive late next week.  When they come, we will be 45 strong, our largest group of Americans (plus one New Zealander) ever.  We have seven students from Samford, seven from Colorado College, and one each from Kentucky Christian University and Southeastern University.  Naturally, we had to recruit extra Area Supervisors: eight in all.  We also have a strong legation of non-student volunteers, including an ER nurse as our Camp Nurse. 

So we’ve seen a week and three days of good archaeology.  I am aware of where I fall in the spectrum between organized and discombobulated (inclusive), and I have learned that the secret to running a good dig is to surround yourself with competent people. 

Yesterday we toured Yodfat, Magdala, and Capernaum, and ended with our annual swim in the Sea of Galilee.  It was hot down at the shore: 36 Celsius/96 Fahrenheit.  This is because the Sea of Galilee lies 209 meters/686 feet below sea level.  The level is probably lower now due to the decreased flow of the Jordan and tributaries, but it may come back up as the country relies more and more on desalinization for its water. 

Today is our day of rest.  That means that I devote the day to tasks other than the field, Area Supervisors work on their weekly reports, and students catch up their archaeological logs.  Only the non-student, non-staff volunteers are truly free to wander Nazareth, attend church, or travel to Haifa for the view of the Mediterranean and the food.

On Friday night, following our Kiddish, the hotel kitchen staff prepared for us a special meal just because they wanted to.  We feasted on roasted chicken stuffed with rice, nuts, and ground beef, with side dishes of falafel, hummous, pita, and salad, all prepared by Theresa.  Dessert was Yusef’s knafeh, a splendid concoction of layered warm cheese, kadaif noodles, and pistachios, all covered in syrup.  Some couldn’t resist talking about how we were contaminating the different knafe “loci” as we ate.  Archaeologist humor.

I am struck more and more by how archaeology is a human science.  I want to hold up objectivity as the highest value.  And this certainly is the case when it comes to gathering data and drawing conclusions.  (Well, we are as objective as we can be.)  But we are uncovering what remains of the lives of the dead.  These people worked, loved and hated, devoted themselves to or ignored their God, and died either peacefully or as someone’s victims.  We cannot touch their things—return them to the light of day after 1800 years—without becoming committed to them, or to our imagined construction of them.  At least I cannot.

Would that we all could do the same with the living.

Pray for the peace of Israel.  And pray for the health of Abuna and the peace of mind of Carolyn.

James

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