Tel Beth-Shemesh Report 3, 2017 —
Our third week of excavation and trip took us to Tel Aviv University and the Institute of Archaeology. One of our staff, Omer Zeevi, is a student worker there and invited Frank, Jerry and me to visit and he gave us a very good tour.
We were greeted by an interesting piece of art—a large Trojan Horse made out of various computer components (photo right). It addresses the problem of computer viruses. This is one of the few pieces of Israeli art that I can understand and I found it fascinating.
Tel Aviv University has produced some outstanding archaeologists, among whom are Shlomo Bunimovitz (Ph.D.) and Zvi Lederman (M.A.; his Ph.D. is from Harvard), who are codirectors of our excavation. Omer took us into the classroom where the students study the ceramics of the country. It was a veritable treasure trove of pottery from all periods spanning the Chalcolithic period through the Roman (photo left). The students have access to a premier resource to help them master the ceramic traditions of the land of Canaan and Israel. In addition we walked the halls of the building which highlighted various excavations in which the professors of the university have been involved. Beth- Shemesh was certainly among them with two large posters and an entire case showcasing our work.
Omer had to leave us the last two weeks, but I have worked with him the last two years and he is a gracious, diligent worker. He will be working with an excavation at Kiriath-Jearim beginning in August and I look forward to reports from his work there.
We left Tel Aviv and headed north to the Jezreel Valley where we had reservations at the En Harod Guest House. We have stayed there several times for relaxing weekends at a location that provides easy access to a number of locations. We rushed to get there before the area started closing down at 4:00 p.m. for Sabbath observances.
After checking in, Frank and I went back to an area west of Megiddo where several years ago, roadwork broke into a first century BC/AD tomb with a rolling stone that served as its door (left). This, of course, is reminiscent of the Gospel narrative and the women’s concern of who would remove the stone on that first day of the week (Mk 15:46; 16:3).
As we were returned to our hotel we bought some cherries, which are extraordinarily delicious. At the stand, the vendor was also selling modern versions of baking trays (left). Many Arabs use these to bake a pita kind of bread. It usually looks much like a large tortilla, but is a common bread form used in the Arab communities. Sometimes the Bedouin guard of our site, whose name is Mohammed, brings some of this pita bread from his camp at the base of the hill (below) for us to enjoy with our breakfast. His wife would have freshly baked it for us just before our breakfast. We occasionally find fragments of ceramic baking trays in our excavation dating from the Iron Age I-II (ca. 1100-900 BC). These are interesting in that they have patterns of shallow punctures on the upper surface. These serve to keep the dough from sticking to the ceramic surface; the air in the small depressions expands and helps raise the bread making it easier to lift and turn over (below center; this example is not from our current excavation but from an earlier season). Ingenious!
Another visit was to the spring at the base of the site of Jezreel (above; the scene is from Jezreel toward the east. The hill of Moreh is on the left and Gilboa is just on the right edge. The spring of Harod where Gideon thinned his troops against the Midianites [Jdg 7:1-8] is just at the foot of Gilboa). Jezreel is where Jezebel conspired to get Naboth’s vineyard for Ahab (1 Kgs 21:1-16). A spring is in the clump of trees below the NE edge of the site (arrow points to trees). The spring is essentially an oasis and is a retreat for families to picnic at the site and the children play in it (below left). Eric Matson made a photograph of women drawing water at the spring back around 1900 (below right).
On Saturday—after a GREAT night’s sleep, we went to Nazareth where some suggest the people of Nazareth attempted to throw Jesus off the cliff (Lk 4:28-30). It is about a mile from the main part of Nazareth; while it is impossible to determine if this is the place, it certainly is a cliff (right). The labeling plaque at the site says Jesus “jumped from this mountain when fleeting [sic] his pursuers.” Not sure where this interpretation came from, but perhaps from the Arabic tradition.
The remainder of our afternoon focused on visiting the probable site of Cana where Jesus made the water into wine (John 2:1-11). It is not easy to access (below). We bounced along a less-than-ideal dirt road for about 3 miles and then parked part-way up the slope before disembarking the car and hiking for about 20 minutes to reach the top of the tell. Once we got there (it was quite hot) the ruins welcomed us with a view of what was likely a synagogue (below left and right; 3-13 perhaps a mikveh). Sadly the date of the synagogue has not been determined. The person who excavated it died before the project ended and no one has resumed the work .
Our final visit was the site of Hanaton, a late Bronze Age site (above). One of the Amarna Letters (ca. 1350 BC) is written by a king in Mesopotamia complaining to either Amenhotep III or Ahkenaten about his caravan which was attacked at Hanaton during which the personnel were killed. While this is not a biblical site, the historical background is intriguing and provides insight into the political disarray of Canaan during the 14th century BC.
Our work continues to investigate the temple and its construction. The channel has been clarified a bit more (right) and it is fairly clear that another structure rests immediately beneath the temple of the Iron Age I (you can see what we think is a doorway into the lower temple in the array of stones in the large wall). We have not been able to identify the date of this lower structure yet and we may not be able to for another season or two. The southern walls of the temple are being clarified as we uncover more of their alignment. A good bit of our time the last couple of days, however, were consumed with removing and lowering walls from previous seasons (left; lowering the 9th century wall of a stable to get to the temple material below). This is a classic example of “archaeology is destruction.” In order to reach the lower levels it is necessary to remove—and in some senses to destroy the overriding structures. It is thus essential that we photograph, describe, and draw what we do so the material can be preserved in some fashion.
Among the small finds that were particularly interesting were two javelin points (left) and a piece of scale armor (right) from the 9th century BC levels.
We hope to come to a clearer understanding of the site this week as we end the season. It has been a rewarding (and sometimes frustrating) season, but that is typical.
Professor John Walton of Wheaton (left) brought a group to visit and I showed them the site for about 25 minutes. I have worked with John on a couple of publishing projects and appreciate his work very much. Another, somewhat unusual visit was by a video crew from a TV station called I-24 (below). They were filming excavations in the country and in particular ones that had biblical connections. There should be about a 45 second take in some report. They indicated that they would apprise me of when it airs, but I have not heard from them yet.
All my best from Israel.