Wednesday, July 26, 2006
Archaeologists in the news, pt. II

It's a surreal experience reading about things that happened to you on the front page of the paper as you stand in the checkout line at Wal-Mart.

My friend Kathy got herself quoted in the Jessamine Journal this week...
Eleven Asbury Theological Seminary students were evacuated from Israel last Friday night after escalating violence spurred military action between that country and Hezbollah militants in neighboring Lebanon.

“Wednesday morning we heard artillery fire, and by Wednesday evening the bus was on its way to take us to Jerusalem where we were removed from the frontlines,” said Kathy Noftsinger, a seminary student who traveled with the group.

You can read the whole thing here, or as you stand in the checkout line at Wal-Mart.

The photo is a group shot of us standing in the Dan gate.

posted by Peter at 8:46 AM
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Saturday, July 22, 2006
Archaeologists in the news
Dr. Richter and Ryan were interviewed today by Lexington channel 36 about our experience in Israel.

If you're local, be sure to check out the ABC affiliate tonight at 6 pm and 11 pm.

posted by Peter at 1:32 PM
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Tuesday, July 18, 2006
Culture shock
Some fun links...

Virtual Dan tour. Coolest website ever. Okay, maybe not EVER, but still, pretty dang neat, I think. Click on the Israelite gate, then "25. Initial View: South." That's where I was digging last week. You can also get 3D views of the Middle Bronze gate and the Israelite high place that got them all into so much trouble.

I've got the first batch of photos on flickr. There are lots more to come so keep coming back.

Ryan has a handful of photos posted.

Gary is an over-achiever and has all of his pictures up.

According to the Jerusalem Post...
A suicide bombing was preempted Monday in downtown Jerusalem, after a 25-year-old Palestinian was caught carrying a bomb in a bag on a main city thoroughfare, police said.

And which main city thoroughfare might that be? Why, Jaffa Gate, the entrance to the Old City that I walked through at least a dozen times last week. What fun. It's just another datapoint for the Hand of Providence surrounding us on our time in Israel and our timely exit of the country.

I sat in Solomon's Porch in Wilmore this morning, catching up on journaling and reliving the minutes of last Wednesday. A trio of guys sat behind talking blithely about Middle East current events. Maybe it was that. Maybe it was the effect of three cups of coffee on an empty stomach. But my hands trembled and my nerves were mangled.

I wasn't expecting culture shock like this. I've had the experience of seeing extreme poverty overseas and then coming home to the mall and thinking this is sick and wrong. This is different. I don't know yet how to articulate it. I think it has something to do with safety and distance and naivity and what I take for granted.

Church yesterday was awkward. On the one hand, I was overwhelmed by the genuine concern and relief that people expressed. On the the other, I don't know how to give a concise response to the question "How was your trip?" in a manner suitable to that social setting. I'm prepared to tell the whole long story, but I haven't yet figured out the cliff-notes two-sentence reply. Please give me a couple more days and I'll get back with you.

One guy in absolute, complete sincerity, I kid you not, asked me, "How did it feel to be there when Armageddon started?" I believe the blank expression on my face probably broadcast something like "404 error: The URL you requested is not available on this server."

Something like that.

posted by Peter at 12:11 AM
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Sunday, July 16, 2006
"If you wake up at a different time, in a different place, could you wake up as a different person?" --from Fight Club

I'm home, and Wilmore never seemed so quiet. Thanks for all of your prayers. Jackie picked me up from the airport. I had lunch at Sonny's barbecue where I had my first non-kosher meal in three weeks and praised the Lord for the New Covenant.

Walking through the terminal in Atlanta earlier in the morning, I felt this nagging sense of "Did all that really happen?" You wake up on a plane and wonder if it was all just a dream. But the images from CNN and the front-page headlines of the Atlanta Journal-Consitution yell out that it wasn't.

Now I'm left with the awkward adjustment physically and emotionally of life as it was three weeks ago. I woke up at 6:30 am this morning, so it may not be so bad. I know it's going to take some time process everything I've seen over the last three weeks and last week especially.

Please keep Norman Community Church in your prayers. They had sent mission to teams to both Israel and Lebanon this summer. The Israel team included by brother, sister and sister-in-law. They were already scheduled to arrive home today. The Lebanon team has not been so lucky as one of the first targets taken out by the Israeli strikes was the Beirut airport.

Please pray for their safety and quick arrival home.

posted by Peter at 9:42 AM
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Friday, July 14, 2006
Coming home
In less than two hours the sherut (a minivan-like taxi) will be picking us up from Jerusalem University College to take us to the airport. Our flight leaves Tel-Aviv at 11:40 pm. After a 13-hour flight across the Atlantic, a 7-hour time change, and a couple hours to run the customs gauntlet, we'll be landing in Cincinnati in at 9:30 Saturday morning.

It's been a serene and restful last couple of days for us, though we know the world around us is in turmoil. We spent the day yesterday sitting in a cafe in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem and wandering the endless labrynth of shops in the old city. Today I've spent mostly on the JUC campus doing laundry, packing and writing postcards. A group of us just finished watching the Count of Monte Cristo. It's been so long since I watched any movies.

We met up for dinner last night with our friends from Hebrew Union College who had been digging with us. They told us that while our field supervisors had gone back to the dig site to continue, the Israeli military had come in, ordered them to leave and closed the Tel Dan park. A section of the park caught fire at some point.

According to the Jerusalem Post, ketyusha rockets have landed as far south as Mount Hermon, Hazor and northern Galilee. Kiryat Schmona was the nearest town to where we had been staying. We have absolutely no second thoughts about leaving early. None at all.

For all the latest on what's going on in the north, I recommend the J-Post.

I should be back in Wilmore by noon Saturday.

posted by Peter at 10:47 AM
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Wednesday, July 12, 2006
We've arrived in Jerusalem, a little after midnight.

You know, this is all Dr. Stone's fault. This morning just inside the Middle Bronze Gate, Dr. Stone discovered an ark-looking box and thought it would be cool to open it.

Go figure.

posted by Peter at 6:05 PM
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When the world explodes
Hezbollah guerrillas killed seven Israeli soldiers and captured two more Wednesday, prompting Israeli airstrikes and military raids inside southern Lebanon, Israeli officials said...

The valleys along the Israeli-Lebanese border thundered with artillery fire and clouds of blue-gray smoke could be seen rising above Lebanese positions.

I had a dream last night.

I'm not big on dreams. I rarely remember them. I remembered this one when I woke up. I may remember it for many more mornings to come. In my dream I saw the hills that we can look down on from the field school here at Dan. A line of explosions peppered them, like those small unimpressive bursts you see in fireworks displays. That's all I remember.

It was all normal this morning on the dig site until about 9:15 am. That's when we heard the first boom. Nothing that unusual, really. We're in Israel after all, and we've heard target practice before. But then a second boom, and a third, and more with increasing frequency, and they seemed to get closer. One was so close I could feel it shake my insides. We later learned there is an Israeli artillery battery not 2 km from the dig site. All we were hearing was Israeli fire into southern Lebanon.

There is a bomb shelter at the field school, and we spent a couple of hours inside this afternoon and have since been given the clear to be outside. But the shelling has continued now only with brief reprieves for the last nine hours. At one point 15 shots were fired within 30 seconds. From a lookout at the field school I can see smoke billowing up into sky from a Lebanese border town.

Rest assured. We are safe. Plans are already in the works to bring us home much sooner than we had anticipated.

Keep us in your prayers, but don't lose your heads. We're in good hands. Psalm 91 makes good reading these days.

UPDATE: We have a flight out of Tel-Aviv at 11:40 pm on Friday morning. A bus is picking us up within the hour to take us to Jerusalem where we will spend the night at JUC.

posted by Peter at 11:43 AM
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Tuesday, July 11, 2006
Weekend in Jerusalem
Gary Webb and Lawson Stone have there laptops with them and are also blogging their experiences here in Israel with pictures.

We spent the weekend in Jerusalem, arriving Friday night just in time for Shabbat. We stayed on the campus of Jerusalem University College" and our guide for the weekend was its president Paul Wright. For the first time I feel like I'm in a foreign country. Here are some highlights.

We saw the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where according to tradition Jesus was crucified and buried. Today the its all one great shrine under one roof, and six different denominations lay claim to various sections of the building. I suppose one could call it Six Flags Over Jesus. I expected to feel something, anything, really. But I didn't. It all seemed so foreign and alien. From there we walked to the Western Wall, where Shabbat was in full swing. Most of our group walked all the way down to the wall, but I couldn't bring myself to be a tourist. It seemed a holy moment was going on that was not for me.

On Saturday, we hiked through the Wadi al Kilt. The dry riverbeds of wadis carve out the canyons of the Judean wilderness. We walked down to the monastery of St. George where the cave of Elijah is memorialized (even though the Biblical text describes Elijah's flight from Ahab on the eastern side of the Jordan River). I still think the Judean desert looks just like Tatooine. Jericho is only 10 miles from Jerusalem, as a crow flies, and we made it there in time for lunch. Afterwards we toured the Old Testament site of Jericho. The remains are under the jurisdiction of Jordan in the West Bank, so the site is quite dilapidated. Why should the Jordanians care about this monument of Israelite conquest? Then Paul drove us way out in the boonies where he should us several Iron Age sites and quizzed us on just why the Israelites would have put outposts in such a godforsaken place. A herd of camels overtook our bus while we stood in the middle of the desert, and I got sunburned in the process.

Sunday we started early and walked to the City of David, the small tract of land in the middle of the city that marks the size of the city at the time of its establishment by David. Its now a national park. There are several archaeological sites to see, including the recent excavations of a 10th century palace as well as remains from Nebuchadnezzer's destruction in 586 BC. Several of us then hiked the length of Hezekiah's tunnel, the water system that Hezekiah carved through the rock during the invasion of the Assyrians in 701.

In the afternoon, I went with Paul, Ryan and Rick to the temple excavations. Paul took us to the temple steps and read to us from Matthew 23 where Jesus rips into the Pharisees. Its very likely that Jesus gave this diatribe from the steps of the temple, and each of the word pictures used in this passage are images that can be seen from the steps. The whitewashed tombs cover the Mt of Olives just on one's left. The Hinnom Valley stretches out before you where you can see individuals hiking up the extreme incline with heavy burdens on their back. This was by far the highlight of the day. On the drive home we had our Israel cultural experience by eating falafel at McDonald's. Only in Israel.

posted by Peter at 2:04 PM
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Wednesday, July 05, 2006
Tel Hazor
Tel Dan is situated at the foot of Mt Hermon overlooking the Hula Valley. It's a protected nature reserve and national park, and what makes it stick out from the rest of Israel is the bright greenery. The melting snow from the peak of the mountain creates a natural spring, which is one of three source of the Jordan River. The rainy season is January, and I'm not likely to see any rain. The air is cool, I daresay chilly, when we get up at 5:30. By noon the sun begins baking the air, though the breezes start to kick up then. Shade is definitely preferably, but thankfully it is plentiful.

Today we began the work I expected when we arrived. Armed with a small pickaxe (patiche, in Arabic), broom and dustpan, I dug a hole, finding all sorts of pottery and bone. Along the floor of my locus I articulated several large, flat rocks all in a line. We think this may be an Iron Age (Bible times) walls.

Right after lunch, we packed up the bus and rode to Tel Hazor. Many, many moons ago, Hazor was the cosmopolitan center of the area, even bigger than Dan, with a population of maybe 40,000. It intersects the Biblical texts a couple of times. Joshua 11 talks about the Israelites burning the urban center to the center. And archaeology has found an extraordinary destruction layer by fire that coincidentally fits the time period. Not only that, but the Canaanite deity figurines were left decapitated and the Egyptian sphinxes defaced. But scholars still like to bicker about who exactly burned the city down.

Another place is 1 Kings 9:14-16. Solomon fortifies the city walls. I've seen pictures of the Solomonic gates (though scholars disagree as to whether it was really Solomon who put it there) dozens of times, but standing in the center of the massive six-chambered gate doesn't compare. It's an impressive entrance to a city.

So there's your history lesson for the day.

posted by Peter at 11:34 AM
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Tuesday, July 04, 2006
Independence Day
For those of you concerned about our safety here in Israel, here's something that was given to us, published in Control Risks Group Limited. If I've heard this once, I'd heard it a dozen times now:

There is a continuing risk of further suicide bomb attacks in Tel Aviv. Israel currently experiences an average of about one successful attack a month. Despite the high media profile that these attacks receive, they do not target foreign interests directly and pose only a limited incidental threat to foreign business personnel. This threat can be mitigated by following basic security procedures. There is no need for extensive security measures for visitors or expatriate staff, and no need for restrictions on travel. However, personnel should avoid locations that are likely to be targets for attacks. In particular, they are strongly advised to avoid public transport. They should also avoid or minimize time in popular shopping centers (malls) and markets, and easily-accessible cafes or fast-food outlets in crowded public areas. Most business-class hotels and restaurants have adequate security procedures and are not considered to be high-risk targets.

Tel Dan is defintely not a high-risk target. If you've been hearing in the news about recent shenanigans in Gaza, you've probably heard more than we have. Tel Dan is about as far from Gaza as you can get in Israel. We can actually see the Lebanese and Syrian borders from the dig site.

Today was definitely the most difficult morning to pry myself out of bed. I'm officially over the jet lag. It was a slow day on the site. Lots of picture-taking as we transition from one phase of the dig to the next. Tomorrow we'll begin the hard labor of moving several dozen huge rocks from the area and removing bucketfuls of dirt. In the evening we heard an informative lecture on epigraphy in the ancient near east from Dr. Nili Fox of Hebrew Union College.

This is the second time in my life I've spent the fourth of July overseas. The first was about 10 years ago in Estonia. This evening after dinner we Americans were given a special treat from some Arab children staying at the field school. They're here for summer camp. I bet you never went on an archaeological dig for summer camp as a kid. Anyway, they put on a party and danced for us. To me there was something slightly surreal about Arab children dancing for Americans on the Fourth of July.

But maybe that's just me.

posted by Peter at 2:46 PM
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Monday, July 03, 2006
There is internet at the field school
So Ein Gedi--very cool. It's an oasis in the Judean wilderness with all these waterfalls. In 1 Samuel 24, it's one of David's hideouts from Saul. We swam in one of the pools. Awesome stuff.

Qumran--not so cool. Pretty boring actually. This unorthodox cult who copied a lot of books left one structure where they all took a bath together. For some reason I was under the impression that the Essenes actually lived in this labrynth of caves, but no. They just hid the Dead Sea Scrolls there. And suddenly they weren't that interesting.

And now we're back at the dig site for our second week of work. We're still pouring through the medieval Islamic remains that stand between us and the good Bible Iron Age stuff underneath. We're hoping to finish that stuff tomorrow.

Here's what a typical day looks like. We get up at 5 am and the bus leaves for the dig site at 5:30. It's about a 10 minute drive. We then work until about 8am when we get some breakfast. The same every day--cucumber, tomato, cheese, bread, boiled eggs, chocolate pudding. Then it's back to work in the big sand box. We get a fruit break around noon and quittin' time is 1. Then we drive back to the Mt Hermon Field School, where we're staying, and eat some lunch. After that's a break. I typically shower, read a little bit (already finished Blue Like Jazz and 12 Marks of New Monasticism) and then nap until 4. Then we do pottery washing, where we scrub the buckets of pottery we found from the day before. There's a lecture about various archaeological and local topics at 6 and then dinner 7. Every night for dinner there is the staple meal of chicken schnitzel with potato cakes and cucumber/tomato salad and hummus.

I'm now addicted to hummus and chocolate pudding. Just not together.

Then its journaling time and bedtime. So I'm going to bed now.

posted by Peter at 1:41 PM
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Saturday, July 01, 2006
Tell Dan what?
Things I did today:

-climbed the Roman siege ramp at Masada
-floated in the Dead Sea
-saw the oldest temple to Yahweh found in Israel at Tel Arad

I'm in Israel all this month. Left last Saturday. Our flight was bumped up 3 hours, and so I wasn't able to leave any post here.

I'm with a group of 14 from the seminary. We're digging at Tel-Dan in the far north. I can see the Syrian and Lebanese border from the tel. This past week we dug up remains from the 16-17th century Mamluke period. We're on our way to looking for residential remains from the Iron Age, which would be the biblical period.

Tel Dan is important for a couple of finds. Excavations have gone on since 1966, and since then they've found a city gate dating to the Bronze Age (roughly the time of Abraham and the patriarchs), the high place of Jeroboam (who established Dan as a cult site in the divided monarchy), and an inscription that gives the first extrabiblical evidence of the "House of David."

Internet access is not as easy as I had hoped. I'll post when I can, but the pictures will have to wait until I get home.

Tomorrow we complete our tour of the Judean wilderness by seeing Ein Gedi and Qumran. I expect to find J, E, D and P all together there.

More later...

posted by Peter at 2:36 PM
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