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Israel Study Trip

Fall 2022 Israel Tour

Sunset over the Sea of Galilee

Our fall tour is planned for October 27 to November 8. Watch this page for updates when we’re in the Land!

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Archaeology

Last Day in Megiddo

Margaret said she planned to take us around the four other active dig areas in Megiddo next week. Some of us were staying for only the first week, so we did a mini-tour during our last break. Above, Area Z is digging next to the Solomonic Gate to find walls in the area. Caleb was working in this area.

Area K found a human skull. They were on the perimeter of the tell.

Area X found some interesting items, including a gold earing from the Assyrian period.

Area S was digging into the Bronze Age.

I took some final photos of “my” dig site in Area R. We had found a lot of interesting pottery pieces and the bathtub piece. Some orangish and blackened areas gave hints of mud bricks. Was it the floor we were looking for, or material from a collapsed wall? I’ll need to leave it to others to find out.

We enjoyed participating in the expedition. It was hard physical work at times. But the opportunity to participate in discoveries, learn from experienced archeologists, and interact with others interested in the past made it a worthwhile experience.

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Archaeology

Another Day On The Dig

Each day we ride the bus to Tel Megiddo, arriving at 5:00 AM. We climb the steep walkway to our dig site. We pass through the Solomonic Gate before the sun is up. In the picture above you can see the empty trailer waiting for our buckets of excavated dirt.

We’re digging up bones, pottery, and even what might be a piece of a bathtub. The sun has risen a million times on Megiddo since this stuff was last used.

The first job upon arrival is to raise the shade cloth.

By the time the sun comes up the dig work is well under way.

By breakfast time at 8:30 we had the first trailer load ready to go. We’re doing faster digging in some of the loci with fewer artifacts.

What interesting things might be just below this surface? We’re still looking for a floor, but so far we haven’t found one in this locus. Finkelstein is pretty sure we found a connecting wall to the original “monumental wall” that brought their interest back to this site. He believes this may be an administrative building for Megiddo.

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Archaeology

Ancient Pottery

It feels as though I’m getting acclimated to the hot weather and 5:00 AM (Jerusalem Time Zone) starting time. I had a quite enjoyable day on the dig. I did some more drone photography over lunch time. We see relatively few tourists, quite a difference from pre-Covid days.

The area we’re working in is from the Assyrian time period. We did some cleanup and photogrammetric documenting of what had already been excavated by the Chicago University people about a hundred years ago. After that we were able to start going deeper. We don’t know yet if we’re in eighth or ninth century BC. The locus I’ve been assigned to has proven quite interesting. We found a bunch of plaster-type material. Is it floor or collapsed walls? There are pottery pieces from some nice-sized vessels. I suppose the pottery experts will be able to figure out their origin. We also find some animal bones. Margaret, our area supervisor, says they learn much more from animal bones than from pottery. The material we’re finding is indicative of being indoors, possibly resting on a floor. I’m still looking for a plaque that says, “Solomon ate here.”

Some exposed pottery pieces within our locus. We remove the dirt in layers of 5 to 10 centimeters. These pieces were exposed, then the area was documented with photography and point surveying. On the next layer we removed most of them. The flat piece may be a grinding stone, according to Dr. Finkelstein.

Caleb is working in Area Z, next to the Solomonic Gate in the lower left of the picture. Israel Finkelstein says the gate is later than Solomon’s time. This drone shot is looking out toward the visitor’s center. The buildings in the trees were built with Rockefeller money during the Chicago expedition.

After pottery washing I might listen in on the field techniques class. After dinner there will likely be another lecture. Last night’s was by co-director Matthew Adams. He told us how a tell such as Megiddo is built over the millennia. Not so much the destruction of marauding armies, but people just bringing lots of stuff into their living area. Sometimes knocking down their house and building bigger and better. Digging pits to bury people or things.

The history of this site is mind-boggling. Read about how Josiah, the righteous king of Judah, met his end in 2 Kings 23.

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Archaeology

Excavating

Last evening we were led through the site by Dr Israel Finkelstein, director of archaeology here for the past 24 years. We saw the “Solomonic Gate,” which Finkelstein believes to be later than the time of Solomon. Caleb is working with the group in area Z, around the gate. There may be another gate below the one identified by Albright as Solomon’s.

We saw the stables, originally identified as Solomon’s. Finkelstein did quite a bit of research, including visiting large stables in the United States, before he concluded these were actually stables.

Mount Tabor is prominent on the horizon, looking across the Jezreel Valley from Tel Megiddo.

While the archaeologists here would like to dig into the earlier periods of the tell, the tourists who visit, and therefore the National Park Service, are more enamored by the Biblical connection to Solomon.

We start the day at Megiddo early, first raising the all-important shade cloth for protection from the merciless sun. The early hours of daylight are the best time to get to digging.

After finishing some cleanup, we got into actual excavations. We marked out six areas to dig. Four of us participants dug the first layer here in locus 5. We found quite a bit of pottery, and some animal bones. We’re hoping to find some structural feature, such as a wall or floor. But we’ll peel back layer after layer for now.

Just before 1:00, after the work in the field is finished for the day, we take down the shade cloth so it doesn’t blow away. Back at the kibbutz we’ll wash the pottery. After dinner we’ll listen to a lecture given by one of the directors.

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Archaeology

Tel Megiddo

Our first day on the dig started before sunrise. The daily schedule will include working at the dig site from 5:00 AM to 1:00 PM. We have breakfast around 8:30 and another break at 11:00.

The group I’m participating with is working in part of what is known as the Assyrian quarter. We’re cleaning the Assyrian structures that were excavated about a century ago. After documenting photographically, including a digital 3D model, they’ll excavate further to see what lies beneath Stratum 4. Maybe an eighth to ninth century (BC) palace?

The stone structure is Assyrian. The recently uncovered wall in the foreground is of unknown origin. That is the exciting discovery just around the corner. The alignment with a prominent city gate means it could be something monumental.

We’re looking forward to an in-depth tour of Tel Megiddo by the archaeologists.

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Galilee Tour

We arrived in Tel Aviv on Friday afternoon, June 24. We took a taxi to our hostel, the Florentin House. The main purpose of our trip is to participate in the archaeological dig at Tel Megiddo. Participants are Andrew, Caleb, and Collin. We had an extra day planned to allow for a Covid test and isolation. Fortunately, that is no longer required in Israel. So we booked a day tour to Galilee for Saturday.

Mount Arbel, across the Galilee

We stopped at a number of Biblical sites, mostly the traditional locations marked by churches built long ago. Tabgha commemorates both the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, and the fourth post-resurrection appearance to the disciples. Here we could go to the shore, touch Galilee, and enjoy the view, including Mount Arbel across the water.

House of Peter

We visited Capernaum. The site known as the House of Peter has a new church building constructed over the old. It is believed that Christians used this house as a place of meeting during times of persecution. Later, an octagonal church was build around the house.

In the fourth century synagogue a worship service was taking place. It was quite different than the worship style of the Franciscans who own this place.

After circumnavigating the entire Sea of Galilee we visited the traditional Yardenit Baptismal Site.

In Nazareth, the Church of the Annunciation is unusual in that it is both a basilica style and octagonal structure.

We had an enjoyable day, met some fellow travelers, and learned a lot from our tour guide. His Jewish perspective on the Christian stories added an intriguing flavor to the tour.

The bus dropped us off at Megiddo Junction, and Matt, a director of the dig, picked us up. We’re looking forward to learning more about Megiddo and archaeology over the next few days.

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Israel Study Trip

Joppa Seaport

We ended our tour last fall with an evening visit to the Joppa Seaport. Modern day Jaffa is named after the Joppa of Bible times. We weren’t able to find a ship bound for Tarshish. But we don’t want to repeat Jonah’s mistakes, anyway.

If you’d like to participate in a tour of the Holy Land, consider our fall 2022 trip. The dates are October 27 to November 8. We plan to fly from Newark. We keep the group size small for a better experience. The price is $4,190 per person double occupancy.

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Israel Study Trip

Reflections on Israel: God, Stones, People, Singing, and Home Again

From James K. Nolt

God: “Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised in the city of our God, in the mountain of his holiness” (Psalm 48:1). Visiting sites in Israel is a good opportunity to worship God, who chose this place to perform unique acts. It is also a time to mourn how His people rejected Him. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, . . . how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” (Matthew 23:37).

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Inside the Eastern Gate of Jerusalem, November 11

Stones: Big stones, little stones, square stones, round stones. We saw stones “from Dan even to Beersheba.” Stones to build walls, to build pavements, and to build idols and temples. Empire builders destroyed the stones that others had arranged, and then they built other structures, which in turn others destroyed. After they had crossed the Jordan River, God told Joshua to build a stone memorial, so their children would ask, “What mean these stones?” (Joshua 4:21). As we viewed many ruins, we likewise pondered this question.

O where are kings and empires now, Of old that went and came?

But Lord, Thy Church is praying yet, A thousand years the same.”

The ruins of Capernaum remind us of Jesus’ lament, “And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day” (Matthew 11:23). Abraham, in contrast, “looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:10).

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Ruins in Capernaum, November 9

People: Stones help us understand the past and how it shaped our lives, but contacts with living people are more memorable. People memories begin with the fine group of thirteen fellow travelers. How many times we counted, “1, 2, 3, . . . 13.” This reminded me of the dozens of times I counted students on school trips to be sure everyone was there.

There were some negative experiences, such as aggressive salesmen shoving their wares into our hands and demanding that we give an offer, but the majority were positive. And some were superlative, such as a supper in Bethlehem with Palestinian Christians (and singing “How Great Thou Art” in four languages; see Nov. 11 report), and evening Sabbath worship and supper with a Jewish family two evenings later. The modest dress of conservative Jewish women was commendable.

Not only were we watching people, but people were watching us. “Are you Amish?” “Are you Mennonite?” We heard these questions various times or overheard people discussing us. We hope we gave a good Christian witness.

Friendly family at the Damascus Gate, Jerusalem, November 14

Singing: “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). We can worship God anywhere, but it was a blessing to sing “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and other songs about Christ’s Birth in Bethlehem; to sing “Tis Midnight” and “Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed,” etc. about His suffering and death in the Garden of Gethsemane; and to sing “Lift Your Glad Voices,” “Up from the Grave,” and “Alive Forevermore,” etc. as we visited a possible site of the Resurrection. What shall we sing in Nazareth? Is there any song that uniquely fits there? Yes. “I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene.” As we looked across the Kidron Valley at the Eastern Gate, we sang, “I will meet you in the morning, just inside the Eastern Gate . . .”

The Jewish family demonstrated that singing is an important part of their Sabbath routine by their songs at the beginning and end of their meal. Later after we visitors had sung the first two stanzas of “How Great Thou Art,” extolling our Creator God, they welcomed us to sing a distinctly Christian stanza. On the last day, Sunday, our guide sang “Our Father” (the Lord’s Prayer) for us in Arabic.

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Jewish song book, used on the evening of the Sabbath

Home Again, November 15

With mixed feelings we boarded the B-787 late Sunday evening for our approximately 11 ½ hour flight from Tel-Aviv. We landed in Newark, New Jersey, shortly after 4:00 AM, grateful for a safe and enjoyable trip.

Later that morning, Sarah and I attended the funeral of her uncle. And so, the routines of life and death continue, at home and abroad. A mountaintop experience should renew us for the challenges before us, encourage us to be good Christian stewards of life’s opportunities, and help prepare us for death. Thank you, God, for the blessing of this trip; may You be honored in all things!

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Weary travelers on the Newark shuttle bus

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Israel Study Trip

Bethlehem Shepherds Hill & Cave, Church of Nativity & Joppa

We ate breakfast & left the Grand Court Hotel & Jerusalem around 10am.

At our last breakfast one table was talking history & Amos exclaimed: “Isn’t it amazing that we are sitting in Jerusalem talking about Anabaptist history?”

We visited an area in Bethlehem with a view of the the hillsides that shepherds have watch their flocks for millenia. We took an hour to read from Luke 2, give time reflect on experiences in the last week, sing & pray.

Hills of Bethlehem.

Afterwards Elias gave a tour of a nearby Shepherd’s cave house. He noted that the NT “inn” is a mistranslation of “upper guest room” and what NT is saying is that Joseph’s relatives all already had their guest rooms full.

Elias telling about the shepherd’s cave dwelling.

We ate lunch of falafel (which included a server getting dramatically cut by glass) and then headed to the Church of the Nativity.

Underground falafel shop.

Perhaps more accurately, the churches of the Nativity as it houses Greek Orthodox, Armenian & Catholic areas. It has some nice mosaics on the floor & of course the grotto (cave) where Jesus was born & the “stable” nearby.

The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
Entering the “humble” front door of the Church of the Nativity.

As we left we noted the wall between the Palestinian & Israeli sections of Bethlehem that was built after the last intifada. It had interesting graffiti by the famous Banksy celebrating a future time when unity & peace can be the norm.

From Bethlehem we traveled north west, through the Coastal Plains (where God made the sun to stand still for Joshua while he fought the Caananites) to Joppa. The temperature was noticeably warmer here—just perfect for an evening stroll. Our guide Sufian noted that Joppa, or Jaffa, was named after Noah’s son Japheth. Joppa is the “port of Jerusalem” since it wasn’t a port city. This is one reason there is a Joppa Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem.

Modern Tel Aviv from Joppa.

Joppa is where Jonah tried to escape God’s call to the pagan Assyrians. Joppa is also the sight where Peter called pagans “unclean” when God was calling them to be part of His Kingdom. (Acts 10) Peter’s vision at Simon the Tanner’s house changed the course of history. Thankfully Peter responded a bit more enthusiastically than Jonah & Peter’s story doesn’t end with him pouting.

Traditional sight of Simon the Tanner’s house in Old City Joppa.

We had turkey & veal shawarma for dinner courtesy of Isa. Shawarma is meat cut off a spit and put in a pita like a sandwich.

Some of the ladies with their shawarma.