The Road To Israel, Part 2: Why We Dig

My departure for Israel is fast approaching, and given the groundswell of interest in my trip, I decided to create a three-part series to provide more information about what exactly I’ll be doing there. Part one covered basic facts about the history of Hazor, while part two covers the intentions and goals of modern archaeology (especially for biblical sites). Part three, tentatively, will feature some ideas and details about my journey around Israel once my three-week excavation is complete. (See also, my basic itinerary.) So, let’s dig in, shall we?


Leave it to my grandma to ask the most basic, fundamental question imaginable after I announced that I would be traveling thousands of miles to participate in the excavation at Hazor: What on earth are you digging for?

Sometimes I tend to forget that not everyone is a student in biblical studies. The question seemed so preposterous to me, but the more I thought about it, the more sense it made, both in terms of material items we hope to find and the intentionality behind excavations.

In his 2002 autobiography Doors to Life, Dr. Gustav Jeeninga (the late professor for whom my fellowship is named) defines archaeological data as “human thought objectified and then fossilized.” If you ask me, this is a fantastic definition. Archaeology, then, becomes an endeavor not to uncover ancient writing samples, intact pottery or elaborate municipal structures, though the discovery of such items is certainly rewarding and of principal importance to academia. Rather, we seek these material objects only as clues to the ideas of cultures long left dormant and livelihoods of people long silenced. And specifically in regard to the Ancient Near East, our secondary interests include affirming the biblical record (or, at times, weighing the evidence against the biblical record) and attempting to fill its gaps. Such is the case for Hazor, a biblical town for which the gaps are numerous.

With Dr. Jeeninga’s definition in mind, we must note that we can only access this “fossilized human thought” through physical objects. The simple answer to my grandma’s question, in a material sense, is that we’re searching for whatever we might find. But certain items will be more valuable than others. Any objects containing writing will provide the most direct access to the ideas, needs, intentions, and daily life of the ancient people of Hazor, but it will be extremely unlikely to find writing on any intact items. More than likely, we could find writing on broken pieces of pottery or the ruins of old structures.

Pile of Potsherds
Potsherds: think of them like the garbage of the ancients.

At this point, it is necessary to explain a little bit about how cities were built, conquered and rebuilt over in the Ancient Near East. When people first settled a location, much like the North American settlers of the 17th century, location was everything. For the purpose of protecting a settlement from military bombardment, the highest points were often chosen for fortification. In some cases, these high points may not be any more than a hill or a mound (which we call tels), as opposed to a mountain or plateau, but any advantage the people could grab would be vital for security from adversaries. When a town would be overrun and rebuilt with frequency, new settlers–who were accustomed to first destroying or plundering everything of value from a previous settlement–would simply build on top of that previous settlement, either with completely new structures, or by incorporating the previous structures into their (perhaps only slightly) different vision for what civilization should look like.

As a result, there are two significant observations about doing archaeology at biblical sites that I should stress. First, with the exception of physical structures, which, if not destroyed by military edict, are easily preserved over time because of their intentional construction, we are digging through ancient peoples’ trash. Hazor is not Pompeii; the entire town was not flash-fossilized for posterity. It was conquered and plundered violently, and its new occupants would not have consciously built over items they regarded as valuables.

A second observation is that when you dig deeper and deeper at a location, you access more and more ancient strata of livelihood. Because the Hebrew University has sponsored excavations at Hazor for more than 20 seasons (usually six-week periods in the summertime), my dig will be exploring the 13th and 14th centuries BCE, which theoretically should not include any distinctly Israelite settlement. This is appropriately called the Canaanite Period, as it is associated with the time in which scholars believe Joshua wrote that Hazor stood as “the head of all those kingdoms” (Joshua 11:10 NRSV).

What is typically found when rummaging through ancient trash is pottery, pottery, and more pottery. Shattered pottery, mostly. If we’re lucky, we’ll find large pieces of pottery that can be later reconstructed and studied to understand its precise utility to the civilization. Pottery was also the paper of the day, so we will be highly interested in any engraving that we may find on the sherds of pottery. We could find anything from ancient business contracts to royal decrees to scribal alphabet writing practice!

Other items we may find include both municipal and private structures, human and animal remains, oil lamps, weapons, coinage, and deities (idols). In addition to preserved writing, these items would constitute the real gold of the excavation and, if found, will necessitate several pages of ink in the end-of-season report.

So as I’ve come to understand, though we dig for physical objects, we are simultaneously (and primarily) digging to learn more about ancient people who can no longer speak for themselves. We wish to understand their way of life, their beliefs, what they beheld as important, how they met their end, and, ultimately, what we can learn about our humanity from their activity and their temporality. In short, we dig to grant ancient peoples a voice.

The Road To Israel, Part 1: All About Hazor

My departure for Israel is fast approaching, and given the groundswell of interest in my trip, I decided to create a three-part series to provide more information about what exactly I’ll be doing there. Part one covers basic facts about Hazor, while part two will cover the intentions and goals of modern archaeology (especially for biblical sites). Part three, tentatively, will feature some ideas and details about my journey around Israel once my three-week excavation is complete. (See also, my basic itinerary.) So, let’s dig in, shall we?


Archaeological Hazor
Welcome to Hazor, the archaeological site where I’ll be digging. Photo courtesy of the Hebrew University.

Pronunciation of “Hazor”: HOTS-or (not HAY-zore or HA-zore!). Though Hazor is spelled in English with a z, this letter in Hebrew is a “sade,” which is vocalized like a “ts” digraph.

Location of Hazor: Hazor is situated roughly 10 miles north of the Sea of Galilee along what was a significant ancient pass into and out of the northern kingdom of Israel. Its relative distance from the heart of Israel, let alone the land of Judah or Jerusalem, made it somewhat of a forgettable city—at least as far as the biblical record is concerned. Whenever Israel happened to face a powerful enemy from the north, Hazor stood immediately along the firing line. Along with Dan, which is recognized as the northernmost distinctly Israelite settlement, Hazor is often found in lists of cities destroyed when wars would break out between nations.

Hazor Map
This map of Ancient Israel is adapted from the American Bible Society. I’ve added a red arrow pointing to Hazor!

Biblically Speaking, What is Known About Hazor?: Knowing that it could also be a stalwart protecting against attacks from the north, Hazor’s location and relative vulnerability led King Solomon to strengthen and fortify part of the city in the 10th century BCE (1 Kings 9:15). Earlier, the city was said to be entirely destroyed by the conquest of Joshua (Joshua 11:10-15), and it also served as the home base for the Canaanite King Jabin (Judges 4:2). After Solomon’s time, Hazor would be among the numerous cities overrun by Tiglath-pileser of Assyria (2 Kings 15:29). Later, Jeremiah would warn about Hazor’s destruction at Babylonian hands, prophesying, “Hazor shall become a lair of jackals, an everlasting waste; no one shall live there, nor shall anyone settle in it” (Jer 49:33 NRSV). Though Jeremiah’s message rang true—Hazor is thereafter mentioned only as a battle site in the apocryphal book of 1 Maccabees—the site is today much more than an eternal wasteland. In fact, it is one of the largest and best preserved archaeological sites in Israel today.

Archaeologically Speaking, What Else Is Known About Hazor?: Though our biblical knowledge of Hazor is relatively limited to its continued destruction and fortification over the centuries, archaeology helps to fill in the details and, as much as is possible after the passage of time, give its residents a voice. We know that Hazor contained both an “upper city” and “lower city,” though both parts of the city were not always inhabited at the same time. In Solomon’s time, for example, the archaeological record tells us that only one half of the upper city was actively settled. Additionally, while Hazor has the remains of a Yahwistic cultic high-place, archaeologists have also found pagan religious symbols and structures. This raises an important question, specifically, how Israelite was Hazor?

Perhaps most significantly, by the time of Solomon we know that Hazor was well in decline. The city’s best years, during the second millennium BCE when it enjoyed a population of perhaps 20,000, were well behind it. Though Hazor is somewhat of an afterthought in the biblical record, its Canaanite significance is not questioned. Joshua 11:10 alludes to this, saying, “Before that time Hazor was the head of all those kingdoms” (NRSV).

Portions of this section, and this post as a whole, are adapted from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Hazor historical website; clickthrough to read more about how Hazor is mentioned in documents even older than the Bible! The dig in which I will soon participate is led by the Hebrew University, and you can also read recent seasons’ reports from their site.

Reasons for Choosing Hazor: When researching various digs taking place this summer, I decided I wanted to participate in an established dig with a respected university at a location with which I was (at least vaguely) familiar, and could therefore be connected with my studies in Old and New Testament. Hazor fulfills all of those requirements. The intrigue provided by the Canaanite/Israelite question—by which I mean, was there indeed continuous violent destruction or perhaps cohabitation and coexistence, and when?—and the archaeological significance of Hazor sealed the deal. With all I now know, I’m thoroughly looking forward to the dig!

Later this week, I will continue with a post about the reasons for archaeology, how excavations are undertaken, and much more. I hope it will provide more insight about what exactly I’ll be doing at Hazor, now that you know some basics about its history! Got any more questions or thoughts related specifically to Hazor? Feel free to leave them in the comments section, and I’ll answer them to the best of my ability!

Counting Down to Israel: T Minus One Month

Before I begin with the topic of this post, Happy New Year! Yes I know, the calendar year is coming upon one-half gone, but it’s actually my first blog post of 2012. Oops! Now that the spring semester is long gone, perhaps I should try to rectify that by recounting my recent studies and other things I’ve been working on.

But as the title alludes, it is now one month to the day until I depart the familiarity of the United States for the adventure and exploration of Israel. In the past weeks I have finalized a number of plans that have made the trip begin to feel real. For those interested, here is a rough outline of my plans:

Tel Hazor Map
Hazor lies north of Chinnereth and the Sea of Galilee in Israel, as shown in this map from

June 20-21: One-day vacation in Chicago with Lauren.
June 21: Depart from Chicago for Warsaw, Poland.
June 22: Thirteen hour layover (and mini-vacation!) in Warsaw; depart for Tel Aviv in the p.m.
June 23: Arrive in Tel Aviv in the wee hours of the morning, spend night nearby.
June 24: Travel north to Hazor and report to kibbutz (camp) for the dig to begin the following morning.
June 25-July 13: Excavation begins at 5:00 a.m. and lasts until 1:00 p.m. every weekday. On the weekends, I’ll have the opportunity to plan some day trips with my compatriots.
July 14-25: The dig will continue, but I will begin the recreation and sightseeing portion of my trip. I’ve booked accommodations deep within the Old City of Jerusalem, in a convent run by French nuns! So I’ll spend my nights in Jerusalem, but during the daytime I’ll travel around Israel, from Capernaum and other sites in the Galilee to Beersheba in the south, and hopefully everywhere in between.
July 26: Early flight home retracing my earlier route, from Tel Aviv to Warsaw and back to Chicago.

So, my trip will be jam-packed with adventure and new experiences (and I will certainly add more details to those rough plans in the near future, including what I’ll be digging for, who I’ll be working with, etc.!). I plan to chronicle as much of the trip as humanly possible on the blog, using written articles, photos and perhaps even videos, so if the trip sounds interesting to you, it might behoove you to subscribe to the blog for the next few months! You can do so by scrolling down along the right sidebar of this page, submitting your email address, and clicking on the “Sign me up!” button. If you do so, you will receive an email from my blog each time I publish a new post! You can unsubscribe at any time, so what do you have to lose?

One more thing: you might recall that last year I attempted to raise funds from friends and family for this trip (which would have then taken place in summer 2011), before ultimately deciding that I would not have a sufficient amount. This year, since I was awarded a fellowship in archaeology from my school’s Jeeninga Museum for Bible and Near Eastern Studies, I determined that running a dedicated fundraising effort would not be necessary, since the fellowship more than covers the costs of my flight, dig program, etc. However, some family and friends have sent me contributions anyway, and I am very thankful for them!

That’s all for now, thanks for reading!

9/11 + 10: Today, I Heard the Worst Sermon of My Life

Well, to be honest, today’s message wasn’t all that different from numerous others I’ve heard in church. Nothing said was doctrinally wrong or unsound (not that I am especially concerned with those things). The message wasn’t explicitly hateful or exclusionary.

Actually, based on that fact alone, I’ll even concede that the totality of the message wasn’t as rotten or devoid of the gospel as others I’ve sat through recently. Rather, it was more about what wasn’t said.

And an opportunity lost.

Today’s service began with many in the congregation delivering impromptu testimonies in remembrance of 9/11, including one from a Ground Zero responder who helped to pull bodies from the rubble. Then, the message was about being agents of grace. You and I personally, that is.

And I affirm that message, don’t get me wrong.

The problem is, it’s a message I hear frequently in church. Twice a month, perhaps. It’s an “anyday” message.

And today isn’t just any day.

If it was, we wouldn’t have spent over a half-hour listening to people relive and remember the terror we all felt on 9/11 – the tremendous loss of life, the sense of security that disappeared instantaneously, the confusion about what just happened, the fear for our loved ones who might’ve been in danger, the anger at seeing video of people in the Middle East dancing in the streets after our misfortune, and many other emotions that we will not soon forget.

We’re willing to relive the horror of that very day one decade ago, but we apparently aren’t willing to ask what, if anything, we’ve learned in the years that follow. That’s the message that needs to be said to the whole country, but it needs to begin in church.

Could we, the Church, have responded differently?

  • Could we have prayed for our enemies?
  • Could we have “supported our troops” without supporting a foreign policy of quick-triggered military interventionism?
  • Could we have urged forgiveness instead of retaliation?
  • Could we have preached radical and transcendent peace, rather than being complicit in (and sometimes rubber-stamping) the state’s drumbeat for war?

If the answer to any or all of these questions is Yes, we could’ve, will we do so the next time peace and patience and forgiveness are called for?

At any point in the decade after 9/11, could we have awakened and remembered that there was a time when the church, because of those things we proclaim about Jesus and his message, would openly disagree with the destructive policy of the ruling authorities?

Could we begin to do that today?

Becoming agents of grace in our own lives is important. It speaks to an overall orientation toward the macro-level, big picture things that God desires of his kingdom — living individually in a correct manner, loving all persons, being communally oriented, standing up for righteousness, and conspiring for radical peace.

But on some occasions, a slightly different message is called for.

The gospels are all in agreement that John the baptizer served as a forerunner to Jesus. Matthew’s account says it this way:

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Matthew 3:1-2, NRSV

Implied in this simple message is that kingdom-orientation requires, assumes, presupposes, or is otherwise improved by first repenting.

The Greek language thought of “repentance” in a much different way than we do. My esteemed professor Fred Shively explains it this way: he grew up believing that repentance was feeling sorry about all the bad things he’d done. More or less, we were all probably taught something similar to this. But for the Greeks, repentance was a compound word meaning “change of mind.”

μετανοία (metanoia) = “change of mind,” translated as repentance
μετα (meta), meaning “change of/in” + νοία (noia), a form of νόημα (noema), meaning “mind”

“Repentance” is an ambiguous, if not outright poor, translation of the word, if you ask me.

If we’re honestly seeking an orientation toward the kingdom-life, we must collectively change our minds about supporting the state’s war machine, whether explicitly or implicitly, by changing the words that we’ve spoken in the past or the words that we’ve kept to ourselves. The kingdom of God is compatible with neither guns and bombs nor the quick trigger to use them.

Today’s sermon included a reminder about St. Paul’s Chapel, an episcopalian church at the feet of the World Trade Center towers that survived their collapse with nary a scratch. Though this particular church served as an important relief center in the hours, days and weeks after 9/11, the message was that the church still stood after that fateful day.

But I’m wondering if the Church will now stand for something.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

As much as was humanly possible, I attempted to keep politics out of my message, which is church-oriented by nature. I rather think I succeeded in doing so, for the most part. But where matters of policy are involved, it’s hard to keep politics out of it completely. So I’ll let Judge Napolitano of Fox Business’ “Freedom Watch” speak for me. This video is golden, and I am in agreement with virtually everything he says.


On This Summer, Financial Meltdowns, Ron Paul and the Future

The bushes in front of my apartment have been overridden with cobwebs this summer because until just recently, central Indiana hadn’t received much in the way of rain.

As it turns out, the cobwebs are even thicker on my blog. Wow, no posts since March 14? If we’re counting by the accumulation of U.S. government debt since that time, that’s over 400 billion dollars ago!

Also since that time, the spring semester came to a close (complete with 2.5 weeks of absolute frantic chaos), followed promptly by a summer course and thesis proposal that, when combined, felt like a death march. I’ve enjoyed my recent freedom from coursework, though in that time I’ve dedicated several hours a day to learning French. (Oui, je parle le français maintenant! Vive le France!) The language is necessary for my future pursuit of doctoral studies, but it may come in extra handy if Lauren and I decide to pursue the Peace Corps before that time. Now, there’s less than a month until the fall semester commences, so it’s time to savor every remaining day.

But the major benefit to the summer has been the ability to clear required reading off my bookshelf and make some room for “pleasure” reading. My pleasure reading this summer has consisted of three major categories: theology (of course), politics, and the complexity of the human brain (yes, it’s way out in left field, I admit). My summer reading list:

  • Love Wins, Rob Bell
  • Jesus Before Christianity, Albert Nolan
  • The Evolution of Faith, Philip Gulley
  • Christianity Without Absolutes, Reinhold Bernhardt
  • The Revolution: A Manifesto, Ron Paul
  • Liberty Defined: 50 Essential Issues That Affect Our Freedon, Ron Paul
  • Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain, David Eagleman
  • The Believing Brain: From Ghosts to Gods to Politics and Conspiracies–How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them As Truths, Michael Shermer

That last one–by Shermer–has been entirely fascinating, and probably will require a serious discussion on the part of this “believer” whenever I happen to finish it. It’s long, challenging and intellectually stimulating, but in the end will be worthwhile.

But as the title of this post suggests, I’ve kept myself abreast of the financial Armageddon that the United States is quickly approaching next Tuesday. Actually, as we spend much more than we take in–to the tune of 40 percent of every dollar spent being borrowed from some other country like China–we’ve been approaching it for a while. It’s just been quickly accelerated since 2000 or so. And the things that Ron Paul wrote in his 2008 “campaign book” (of sorts), The Revolution: A Manifesto, make him seem like a prophet. I quote Dr. Paul at length:

Right now our government is borrowing $2.2 billion every day, mainly from China and Japan, to pay for our overseas empire. As our dollar continues to decline, thanks to Federal Reserve inflation, the American debt instruments that these countries are holding lose their value. We cannot expect these and other countries to hold on to them forever. And when they decide that they no longer wish to, our fantasy world comes crashing down on us. No more empire, no more pledging ever more trillions in new entitlements. Reality will set in, and it will be severe.

Our present course, in short, is not sustainable. Recall the statistics: in order to meet our long-term entitlement obligations we would need double-digit growth rates for 75 consecutive years. When was the last time we had double-digit growth for even one year? Our spendthrift ways are going to come to an end one way or another. Politicians won’t even mention the issue, much less face up to it, since the collapse is likely to occur sometime beyond their typical two-to-four-year time horizon. They hope and believe that the American people are too foolish, uninformed, and shortsighted to be concerned, and that they can be soothed with pleasant slogans and empty promises of more and more loot.

To the contrary, more and more intelligent Americans are waking up to the reality of our situation every day. Now we can face the problem like adults and transition our way out of a financially impossible situation gradually and with foresight, with due care for those who have been taught to rely on government assistance. In the short run, this approach would continue the major federal programs on which Americans have been taught to be dependent, but in accordance with our Constitution it would eventually leave states, localities, and extended families to devise workable solutions for themselves. Or we can wait for the inevitable collapse and try to sort things out in the midst of unprecedented economic chaos. I know which option I prefer.

Now that’s the truth, truth.

I’ve come to the realization that the only thing really great about our government these days is the size of the growing monstrosity of a deficit. Ron Paul preaches a foreign policy of non-interventionism and a domestic policy of weaning ourselves off entitlement programs, abolishing the Federal Reserve and allowing free market economies to prosper without unnecessary intermingling. I’m convinced that his Constitutionalist ideas, whether they are adopted under a possible administration of his or by a like-minded individual, are the last shot we’ve got at regaining the greatness that once was the United States and curtailing our empire before it crumbles before us.

So really, read his book. Go to the library today and borrow it. Educate yourself and challenge yourself. You don’t have to agree with me, or Dr. Paul, but at least give him a shot. Because if there’s anything we know for certain, it’s that the establishment-fattening ideas of the last two administrations have not produced anything worthwhile. For a quick introduction to him, you may even like to give this recent interview he gave to PBS Newshour a listen:

I know people are fond of saying that he’s crazy (or maybe some other, more explicit manifestation of this idea). He seems crazy because what he’s saying is so different from everyone else in Washington. I’m probably crazy for believing that he can become president of such a mess. I do know that I’m willing to give the man a shot. He’ll get my vote in the primary and, I’m certain, a plethora of other support along the way.

But, I digress. In the days to come, this blog will once again light up with activity, as I have a number of papers long and short from the last 1.5 months of the spring semester that are certainly worth sharing. I’ll try to keep it light on the politics, I promise. The easiest way to receive these is to click the “Sign me up!” button on the right-hand border, just below the recent post list and the category cloud. Or you could subscribe to my RSS feed, or just look for my shares on Facebook and Twitter. Thanks for visiting, and au revoir!