Weekend Update: Galilee Edition

This weekend I went on an unguided bus tour with the South African group around significant sites in Galilee, including Nazareth, Sepphoris, Cana, Tel Dan, Banias (Caesarea Philippi), the Mt. of Beatitudes, and Capernaum. I ended up taking a ton of pictures, from which I posted 83 to my Flickr Photosteam! Since this post will not do the tour justice, I highly recommend that you also view my photos in their entirety, from both Saturday and Sunday.


The Sea of Galilee and its northern coast.

My fellow diggers for these three weeks at Tel Hazor are quite varied: young and old, male and female, those pursuing or holding degrees in Biblical Studies, Archaeology, etc., and those not doing so, and from a crazy array of countries: the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Italy, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, China, Israel, and probably some others that I’ve forgotten by now. But by far, the largest contingent of excavators is from South Africa! The 19 or so of them planned to hire a bus driver for the weekend to go on an unguided tour of mainly Christian sites around Galilee, and they offered to take others along in order to spread the (relatively inexpensive!) cost among more people. Along with the other three in my North American posse (more on them later), I decided to tag along and see what I could see.

Our first stop was Nazareth, where we visited the Basilica of the Annunciation and a reconstructed first century village, based partially on archaeological finds in the area. Then we went to Sepphoris, a Hellenistic Roman town with which Jesus must have been familiar as a seat of empire close to his Galilean home. There’s even a possibility that Jesus, as a carpenter/stonemason/builder with his father Joseph, may have helped in the reconstruction of the town in 19 CE. Anyway, Sepphoris (Zippori to the Hebrews) is perhaps best known for its majestic preserved mosiac floors, like the one below.

This mosaic of a warrior is among many in Sepphoris.

After spending a good amount of time in Sepphoris proper, we left the heart of the town and visited the excavated water system outside of the city. Here I am squeezing myself through one of its smaller points!

Rob in Sepphoris’ water system.

After Sepphoris, we visited Cana, which was uneventful and unexciting except for a Filipino nun calling Gabriel and Katie prostitutes for the clothing they were wearing. This is about how Saturday ended.

Sunday started off with a bang at Tel Dan, which is referenced in the Bible numerous times as the northernmost site both in the United Monarchy (from Dan to Beersheba) and the divided kingdom Israel (from Dan to Bethel). It’s an important site for several reasons. First, it sits along an international roadway leading from the north down into Samaria and Judah, and is therefore an early warning system if any enemies are planning to attack the cities to the south. Second, Dan is the beginning point for the waters that run into the Jordan and the Sea of Galilee, and therefore, supply all of Israel with its mayim. If you control the water system at Dan (along with the rest of Dan), you basically own Israel.

While at Dan, we visited the nature preserve maintained by Israel’s Parks System, and stepped into the freezing cold waters that originate from the snowmelt of Mt. Hermon, which eventually feeds the Jordan. We also went to the high place constructed at Dan, which was fascinating in its size and scope. Just past this, we (the four of us North Americans, who separated from the main group to take a more vigorous tour) posed for a photo in front of Mt. Hermon!

Meet my group of good friends from the dig team: Gabriel (West Virginia), Katie (Newfoundland, Canada), and Cory (Ohio).

At this point, since my time to blog is now getting short, I will close with a summary of our travels for the rest of Sunday: we walked around Banias (and the region called Caesarea Philippi in Mark and Matthew) and then dropped down to the Sea of Galilee for the Mt. of Beatitudes and Capernaum, where Jesus and Peter spent a lot of time. In fact, here, the home traditionally associated with Peter’s mother-in-law is commemorated with a church that looks rather like an alien spaceship landed atop it. That UFO church is just visible in the doorway of Capernaum’s synagogue, at which I am seated below.

Listening intently in the synagogue at Capernaum.

Contact Me in Israel

I’m getting ready to board the (delayed) plane for Poland now, so this’ll be my last blog post from the states for a while! Since some have asked, I thought I would compile a post about my contact information while in Israel. You have several options, and I’d love to hear from you! Easiest and most efficient will be email, of course: heatonrd (at) gmail (dot) com. (Note: change the (at) to @ and the (dot) to a period, as you would for a normal email address. I’ve typed it this way to, if possible, avoid generating random spam to my inbox.) For those desiring different options, read on.

Except for emergencies, my phone’s regular capabilities (calling and traditional texting) will be switched off. But If you have an Apple device (iPhone, iPad, etc.), you can reach me through iMessage, which is like texting except it’s free. Send a message to rdheaton (at) anderson (dot) edu. If you’re brave enough, you can also try to FaceTime me with this same address.

I may get a calling card or Israeli cell phone, but I expect that the cost might be too silly. I can chat with voice over Skype, though. If you’d like to Skype with me at some point, drop me an email and we can try to figure something out.

Of course, if you’re Facebook or Twitter savvy, I’ll be checking those regularly as well. I keep my Facebook pretty restricted to people I know, but anyone is welcome to tweet me @heatonrob.

Like to write letters with pen and paper? You’re in luck as well. Snail mail to Israel takes 7-12 days, but if you plan ahead, you’ll be able to catch me at the two locations where I will have scheduled extended stays. Make sure to buy the appropriate amount of postage!

Mail to the kibbutz for the Hazor dig, where I’ll stay June 24-July 13 (send by July 1):

Guest Rob Heaton
Hazor Archaeological Expedition
Kibbutz Kefar HaNassi Village Inn
Kibbutz Kefar HaNassi 12305 ISRAEL

Mail to the convent/hostel in Jerusalem, where I’ll stay July 14-25 (send by July 13, but not before July 7):

Guest Rob Heaton
Ecce Homo Convent
Via Dolorosa 41
Jerusalem 91190 ISRAEL

And now, it’s time for some other details that I simply haven’t written elsewhere yet…

Time Zones: Israel is 2 hours ahead of Greenwich time, which means it’ll be 7 hours ahead of the current Eastern time and 8 ahead of Central time. If you’re in another time zone, or just want to know exactly what time it is where I am, check out the Time Zone Converter.

Dig Schedule: In another post I alluded to the dig hours and schedule, but a complete and detailed schedule is available (along with a bunch of other great information) from the Hebrew University’s Hazor Excavations Project website (click on “2012 Season Information” and scroll down).

My Itinerary: I’ve had a slight change of plans from those I posted a month ago. When I scheduled my flights back in early May, I wasn’t smart enough to realize I’d be landing in Tel Aviv on the Sabbath, which means that I generally wouldn’t be allowed to check into a hotel until sundown. (Oops.) So instead of spending Saturday night in Tel Aviv, where I’ve found only Jewish-owned hotels, I’ll spend my first night in Haifa, where I found a Christian-owned establishment. Nothing against Jewish-owned hotels, of course–I’ll stay at them later in my trip–but after 38 hours in planes, trains, and automobiles, I think I’m going to need some quicker sleep! As an added bonus, I’ll get to do some touristy Old Testament-related things around Haifa (Mt. Carmel is located nearby) that day.

I’ll type at you next from Poland or perhaps Israel; thanks for reading!

The Road To Israel, Part 3: Five Centers of Recreation and Exploration

My departure for Israel is fast approaching (i.e., in the next few hours!), 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 covered the intentions and goals of modern archaeology (especially for biblical sites). Part three features 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?


Except for two free weekends during which I may or may not schedule trips with my dig comrades, the next three weeks are pretty well accounted for. Wake up at 4:15 am, begin digging at 5:00 am, finish at 1:00 pm, in bed by 10:00 or 11:00. But soon enough, July 14 will roll around, and I’ll be on my own! Though I’m scheduled to stay in Jerusalem along the Via Dolorosa (i.e., the Way of the Cross, at least by the record of tradition), this will primarily be my nightly anchor spot for various trips around Israel.

To make this subject matter as easy to follow as possible, I have grouped the “attractions” I may or may not see/visit directionally from my post in Jerusalem. And I put “attractions” in quotation marks, because the word doesn’t seem quite right for the Holy Land. But, it’s the best I have for now, so we’ll work with it.

Jerusalem Itself: I reckon that you could spend an entire 12 days in Jerusalem and not exhaust your options, but I will self-limit to about 4 or 5 in order to see the other “centers” of Israel as well. Must-visit highlights include Yad Vashem (the Holocaust Memorial and Museum), the Israel Museum (where the Dead Sea Scrolls are housed–I may try to find the curator of this museum and introduce myself, because he is coming to Anderson University in the fall), the Western Wall (thanks for the yarmulke, Jasmine), King Hezekiah’s Water tunnel system, and of course, the numerous holy sites associated with Jesus’ last week. These include the Mount of Olives, Gethsemane, the Via Dolorosa, the Upper Room, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and many more.

Galilee (North): My dig is taking place in Upper Galilee, so I’ll get many chances to tour around the region of Jesus’ origin. I am excited to kayak or canoe on the Sea of Galilee, as well as touring towns along its banks: Tiberius, Chinnereth, and Capernaum (including the traditional home of Simon Peter), and more. Certainly, I will also visit Sepphoris, Nazareth (including the Church of the Annunciation) and Mt. Tabor, where Jesus was said to have been transfigured before Peter, James and John.

Beersheba, Masada and the Negev (South): Two main cities south of Jerusalem that I plan to visit include Beersheba, which is strongly associated with, and may contain a well used by, Abraham, and Masada, where the last stages of the Jewish-Roman War took place around 70 CE. Since the Negev is basically desert, I think I’ll put this last on my list of priorities.

The Mediterranean Coast (West): There are a number of great locations to visit along the coast of what the Israelites knew as the “Great Sea”: the remains of the ancient Philistine cities Ashkelon and Ashdod, Tel Aviv, Caesarea, where an inscription of Pontius Pilate’s name was found, and Haifa. In Haifa, I may visit the cave where Elijah was said to have hidden, the Baha’i Shrine, and a naval museum dedicated to Jews who sought refuge from Europe during World War II. The entire coast is also full of amazing beaches, judging from the photos I’ve seen.

The River Jordan and Dead Sea (East): I will have to be most careful about travel to this region of Israel, as it includes the West Bank. I would like to visit Jericho and some towns along the west bank of the Dead Sea, but I will have to ask around to see if it’s safe for Westerners. Either way, I will be able to float in the Dead Sea at the very least while I tour Masada. In addition, my mother-in-law found a very interesting restaurant while looking in my Fodor’s travel book: in a town called Abu Ghosh, there is an American-style diner called the Elvis Inn. I may visit in tribute to my aunt, who is an Elvis fanatic.

I haven’t planned out an exact recreation/exploration schedule for myself to allow for flexibility where necessary, either as it is financially prudent or as my interest drives me (or the need to do laundry prevents me). In some cases, I may make reservations for scheduled tours from one of the tour companies in Israel, while in others I will travel mostly solo. So the exact details may be few and far between in this post, but for the time being, these are the ideas I’ve got bouncing around in my head. Rest assured, there will be more to come, and I’ll do my best to capture it with words and pictures right here on the blog.

Got any great ideas I didn’t mention? Want to encourage me to go somewhere I have mentioned, or just want a postcard from my travels? I’d love to hear what you have to say in the comments below.

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!