Digging in the Dirt Has Its Own Rewards…Sometimes…I Think… (Israel, Part 1)

I’m back from three amazing weeks in Israel, three weeks in which I was too busy and having way too much fun to bother with updating this blog.  But, now it’s time to put some thoughts down on paper (or computer screen?), and I’m going to be doing so in a few consecutive posts.  I don’t think I know yet how my time in Israel will impact my future ministry or academic career, and I really don’t have anything too exciting to write about.  After all, I just spent most of the last three weeks either in a dirty hole at Tel Rehov or on a tour bus.

I do have some early thoughts right now that I’d like to share.  Just so you know where I’m headed, this post will have some light-hearted observations about my time digging and touring in Israel.  The next post will be somewhat heavier and will deal with a spiritual insight I’ve been mulling over since my tour of Tel Dan. The third post will be one that I’ve wanted to write for a long time discussing my journey with God to this point in life, a journey on which Israel has been just the latest of many incredible destinations.  Maybe there will be even more posts later, but for now that’s all I’ve got.

And now, in no particular order, here are some random thoughts about Israel that you may or may not find entertaining.  (I really hope you do!)

Digging in the dirt has its own rewards…sometimes…I think.

Now that I’m home, everyone who knows I was on an archaeological dig wants to know if I discovered anything.  What did I find?  I’ve decided to play a little game and let you guess.  I’ve composed two stories, only one of which is a true account of my time at the dig.  You can choose the one you like.

Story 1- Since Biblical treasures basically litter the ground of Israel, it didn’t take long until our group was pulling up artifacts right and left.  Even though Tel Rehov (our site) is not mentioned in the Bible, it would have been an important city in OT times.  Perhaps it was frequented by Elisha or King Ahab.  On my third morning on the dig, I dug up a small pottery juglet which our dig director Ami Mazar immediately broke open to reveal an inscription inside.  When the inscription had been translated, it turned out to be a map left by Elisha himself to some sort of treasure.  I immediately grabbed my whip and went searching for it.  I followed the directions to the south side of the Tel, where I used the final clue to find a secret mudbrick (Rehov is made entirely of mudbrick.  It has very few rocks.) which opened a door to a cave beneath the city.  (I wasted three whole hours digging for that stupid mudbrick.  We all know that real archaeologists don’t do any digging at all.)

I hadn’t made it far into the cave when a hot gust of wind blew out the torch I was using to light my way (because of course a flashlight would have been too convenient and practical.)  Next thing I knew I was bowled over by a huge furry beast with claws and fangs and hot saliva dripping on my nose.  We wrestled for about thirty minutes until I finally pinned him and made him say ‘uncle’ (in ancient Hebrew, of course.)  It turns out he was a bear who at one time had been Elisha’s body guard and lived on a steady diet of mouthy boys who made fun of Elisha’s bald head.  With the bear out of the way, I proceeded to the treasure.  I discovered Elisha’s personal collection of memorabilia from his years as a prophet, including the widow’s jar of oil that never ran dry, the axe head he made float, and a collection of political cartoons poking fun at King Ahab and his family.  Needless to say, it was an amazing discovery, and we all went home happy.  (I smuggled the axe head home in my suitcase.  Please keep that on the down-low.)

Story 2- Tel Rehov actually was a very large site during the Iron Age, and it actually was made almost entirely of mudbrick.  I know that because most of my days at Rehov were spent picking and hoeing and filling buckets with dirt and tossing buckets full of dirt so that we could expose the mudbrick walls which crisscross the site.  I think I can now tell the difference between packed dirt and a mudbrick.  Usually.  Sometimes.

On my third morning on the dig I dug up a small pottery juglet which may have held olive oil or something else.   I got my picture taken with it, and then it was whisked away and packed up in a box.  I will probably never see it again.  Maybe it will end up in a museum someday.  I’d ask you to let me know if you see ever see it, but my name will be in no way attached to it, so we will never know.

Anyways, my discovery got me excited because I still had two and a half weeks left.  What else could I find in that much time!?  The next goal for my hole was to find the floor of the building we were excavating.  Floors are important because they signal the bottom of a stratum and help the archaeologist to put together a chronology of the site.  They’re also exciting, because floors are usually where the fun finds are sitting.  We dug down, and down, and down some more, and we were finding lots of broken pottery, and the hole got deeper and deeper until it got so deep that I wanted to move and start a new hole that didn’t require so much effort in getting the buckets of dirt out..

Finally, on the Monday of our third week, we hit the floor!  It was made of hard packed dirt, reddish and smooth.  We swept it cleaner than it had been in 3,000 years and made it look pretty for pictures.  And we found absolutely nothing exciting.  Our family must have fled with their stuff before Pharaoh Shishak or someone else knocked their roof in on them.

My hole, before we swept it up for the professional photographer.

So, I didn’t find anything amazing.  None of us really did.  However, the walls and the stratigraphy we exposed will hopefully go a long way in helping Professor Mazar sort out what happened in Tel Rehov’s past.  Hopefully our holes will contribute to some sort of better understanding of ancient Israel.

But was it worth it?  Yeah.  I actually loved it.  I love lifting buckets of dirt over my head and consuming probably a few pounds of dirt because there is so much dust in the air.  No wait, I didn’t like that part.  I DID love working alongside some really cool people, catching and tossing buckets in a bucket chain, eating second breakfast every day at 8:30, and coming home every day covered in more dirt than you can imagine because that dirt is a part of history and this trip was quite the history immersion.

Would I do it again?  Without a doubt.

If you can’t afford to go to Israel, maybe you should visit Utah.

I spent the last two summers in Utah, and I would have tried to go back this summer if it hadn’t been for this archaeology trip.  I’ve often chuckled at the names the Mormon pioneers gave to rivers and places in Utah: Moab, the Jordan River, etc.  They really did view Utah as their own promised land when they settled there 150 years ago.

The funny thing is that they weren’t all that far off.  Israel actually reminded me a whole bunch of Utah.  Utah is a little bigger and a little more mountainous, but not too much.  Both places are sort of green in the north and bone dry in the south.  Both have Moab in their SW corner.  Both have a small freshwater lake (Galilee, Utah Lake) connected to a larger saltwater lake (Dead Sea, Great Salt Lake) by a Jordan River.  Both capital cities have a Temple Mount/Square that I can’t enter because I don’t belong to the right religion. The southern halves of both regions are ugly as all get out unless you find their rare spots of incredible beauty.  At one time famous men in both places practiced polygamy.  In one of these places a few still do.

I know that these are silly comparisons, but I had so many déjà vu moments in Israel that I had to share this.  Go to Utah.  Get a picture of yourself swimming in the lesser known Jordan River and fool your friends.  It’s a beautiful and funny place.  And it’s a whole lot cheaper.

Remember when our teachers told us that we would use all that stuff we learned in high school?  Well, they weren’t entirely lying.

At least it’s true for geography.  Every one of our lectures during weekend touring focused on how geography played a part in the stories of the Bible.  I found this information fascinating (except for the times when we had to sit in the sun and I got really hot and hungry and couldn’t pay attention because I was mad at the world).

Now, I’ve always loved geography, so I am thrilled at the prospect of using what I learned about the geography of Israel to someday help communicate the historical context of Scripture.  In fact, I’m going to start right now with a very obscure story from 2 Kings 9:14-37.  Elisha had just anointed Jehu as the next King of Israel, and Jehu was riding to Jezreel to finish off the remnant of King Ahab’s family and take the throne.  The watchman in Jezreel saw him coming from a distance and sent out two messengers to inquire of his business, but they both joined him.  At last the watchman exclaimed, “It must be Jehu son of Nimshi, for he’s driving like a madman!”  Soon King Joram of Israel, King Ahaziah of Judah, and Jezebel were all dead at Jezreel at the hands of Jehu.

Every time I’ve read that story I’ve wondered how they could see him from so far away, how they had time to send so many riders, how they could see him driving like a madman, how he got his reputation as a crazy driver (that one is still unanswered).  We drove by Tel Jezreel on our final day, and I saw why.  Jezreel sits on the edge of a ridge, with the entire Jezreel Valley stretching out below it to the west, north, and south.  You can see anyone coming from miles away from its heights. (Behind the Tel they have built a year-round ski slope that looks super sketchy.  This just shows that this is a big, high hill.  I guess that means you can ski in both Israel and Utah if you want.)

Geography is important.  It is good knowledge to learn and good knowledge to retain.  People who don’t know geography tend to get lost when they read the Bible.

I’m still waiting to find out why calculus was important for me to learn.  Not that it would do me any good anymore…I’ve forgotten all of it.

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4 responses to “Digging in the Dirt Has Its Own Rewards…Sometimes…I Think… (Israel, Part 1)

  1. I would choose story TWO as the “real” story. However, story ONE has development written all over it for Hollywood. In fact the “working title” that I would manage for you would be “Oklahoma Taylor in the Juglet of Destiny”. This could be the next big blockbuster, Micheal Bay is interested (his kinda of a big deal). However I look forward to reading your future postings on your trip.

    • You’ll have to pull some of your South Beach strings for me Corbet…maybe we could at least get a made-for-TV movie out of it

  2. Wow! Your story telling ability really shines through in Story 1 and your ability to make the facts interesting is evident in Story 2. Where will this ability and this great adventure lead you? Only God knows and I can’t wait to see the continuation of the story. In the words of an old chorus –
    One step at a time, only one step at a time.
    This is the way the Lord will lead you, one step at a time.
    Take that one step carefully, walk that one step prayfully.
    This is the way to victory, one step at a time.
    (I know — but it’s my song for the year and I keep seeing reasons God brought it to my mind.)

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