Second Letter from Nazareth

Sunday June 4, 2017

Dear Family and Friends,

Today is Pentecost Sunday for Christians, the month of Ramadan for Muslims, and a few days past the feast of Savuoth (Weeks) for Jews, and we are now at the midpoint of the dig.  It seems improbable that time could move so swiftly.  We must start thinking about how to close down excavations, and I am anticipating returning to Laura and sharing the rest of my summer with her.  The work, however, is immune to such longings.  It still demands precision.  For its part, precision requires that we care about what we’re doing.  That is part of the human element I talked about last week.

In the life cycle of the Shikhin Excavation Project, it is also time to start thinking about when to halt, or to interrupt, excavations in order to publish.  Digging not only uncovers buildings and objects, it also reveals more questions, and we have to decide which ones we will try to answer.  In the end, sometimes we conclude that we will publish what we have.  I am learning that lesson as I think about my father’s publication of his work at Sepphoris.  While we have been at Shikhin, Tom McCollough, long time staff member at Sepphoris, directed a survey of a large building that the USF Excavations uncovered.  Using Samford’s Trimble GPS unit, Jeff Posey of Leica Geosystems shot in hundreds of elevations on the structure, correcting decades of elevations measured with an optical surveyor’s transit.  The former surveyor, Ron Levy, did good work, but it’s time to upgrade our technology and hence our data.

In the meantime, during our hiatus from our workaday lives, life is going on.  By my count, seven former students of mine marry this summer (some of them are marrying one another and four of them have dug at Shikhin).  In just a few days, one of my nieces will marry her fiancĂ© but I’ll miss the wedding celebration, as I missed her brother’s a few years back.  In contrast to these life celebrations, the killings in Kabul and London abuse our spirits.  We are a bit sequestered here, but news reaches us, and we rejoice and grieve.

We entered the field this year to sort out some archaeological questions.  The tangle of rooms of what looks like an ever-expanding building required us to sink squares on the northern and eastern edges of the field.  I think we may finally have found the northern extent of one building and the beginning of its neighbor to the north, with chunks of stone and plaster floor thrown between, perhaps to form the foundation of an outdoor courtyard.  That rubble will give us some good dating information about the lifetime of these structures.  One of our squares is recovering more evidence of lamp production at Shikhin.  More on that later, but if you are a member of the Facebook group for the dig, you’ve seen a photo of a complete Roman period lamp that came from that square.  A balk removal team uncovered a low and narrow doorway in what may be the earliest wall in the field.  The wall divided a room that was made by cutting away bedrock to create a square void.  There is an indication that an arch held up a roof, which was probably the floor for a room above.  So the doorway is in a basement storage space.  We’ve also reopened Square 1, first dug in 2012, the first season of diffing.  That team has recovered a large column base and a column drum that we could see in 2011, but they’ve also found an ionic capital sitting upside down in a later wall built for agriculture.  We are looking at architectural elements of the synagogue.  These are good to find, for very little of the synagogue remains where it originally stood. 

Little by little we are getting the life story of Shikhin.

Our crew is a good one.  They work hard and seem to enjoy both the work and one another.  They are eager to learn the method, and the relationships we’re forming lighten the weight of the labor.

As you pray this week, ask for peace.



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