So, we begin Part II of our Israeli archaeological adventure—now, we dig! Along with a large contingent of students from Truman State (ironically, my alma mater from 1993, then called Northeast Missouri State University), as well as an experienced collection of various digging enthusiasts, today we were introduced to Bethsaida by its intrepid on-site leader, Rami. As you can see, we are being filmed for a cool new documentary, so we all better do our jobs well! Over the course of a few hours, we were given the “do’s and don’ts” (drink lots, I mean lots, of water, always wear a hat, and no sandals allowed, just to mention a few), and then oriented to the geographical and geological history of the area, including a short lesson on plate tectonics and the various fault lines that helped create this beautiful valley.
As we made our way toward the city gates for the first time, we paused briefly at an area dated to the Iron Age that Dr. Aaron Gale’s team unearthed just two summers ago—this will be my home and my “dig pit” over the next week and a half. Amongst the many stories told today, it was suggested that there wasn’t much to worry about from the likes of local, “non-human,” inhabitants, but as you can see, and much to Rami’s chagrin, the very first thing we found was relatively recent evidence of snakes—oh my!!
On to the main site. Below is the impressive main gate, complete with stele, high altars, and a very famous “moon god” similar to the Assyrian traditions which conquered the inhabitants of this city. In between several rather humorous re-enactments (think History Channel, or National Geographic), we try to imagine what life might have been like so many millennia ago, and maybe even what type of rituals took place. Here you see Dr. Alyssa Beall sprinkling water on the god—let’s all hope that such propitiation brings good results for the days ahead!
We spent the next couple hours touring the entire site, for with as big a team as we have, there will be multiple excavations going on simultaneously in hopes of showing the complexity of Bethsaida’s multiple time periods and various cultures. Near the end of the day, as we slowly make our way back to the air-conditioned bus (and out of the nearly 95 degree heat), we are introduced to the very real possibility that Jesus himself may have walked these streets nearly 2000 years ago. Below you see one such path—some people even suggest that this could be the origin of the Via Dolorosa, a very humbling possibility indeed.
After drinking gallons of water today under the oppressive summer sun (we are also some 600 meters below sea level, which definitely doesn’t help!), we will come back tomorrow morning bright and early (5:30 am), with pick axes in hand, wheel barrows and buckets in tow, and eager to take our first steps into the field of amateur/professional archaeology!
Take care for now,