For the third year, ABR Associate Dr. Scott Stripling led a team of diggers to Israel to excavate the Byzantine monastery at Khirbet el-Maqatir. Joining Scott and his team was Dee Alberty from Baton Rouge, LA. Dee shares her experiences in Part 5 of this diary.
Day 16---TOUR, Happy New Year 2013
Quiet morning, just another work day for most folks here in Jerusalem. Me? I woke up very early, just in time to catch the miserable 4th quarter of the LSU football bowl game via Twitter feed...auugh. Then, just laid around eating Moldovan bonbons for breakfast in bed [totally justified:-)]
This morning, Scott & Abby turn in our treasure finds to the IAA and then we have plans to meet up about noon to explore the City of David...so I've been reading up on David again in 2 Samuel…between bonbons.
Little did I know the amazing ways this day would unfold....after getting my lazy self out of bed and cleaned up, Tika and I headed down to the Old City on the bus again to the now familiar Damascus Gate. But this time we turned left just before entering the gate because I'd heard that outside of the gate was located Zedekiah's cave! You know, the passage way mentioned in Jeremiah 39 where King Zedekiah, the last descendant of Solomon to rule, tried to escape the besieged city with his family...but he was caught by the Babylonian troops and his sons were killed just before they put his eyes out...well, it's much more than a tunnel. It's also the actual quarry where Solomon's builders cut stone for the first temple....so it's now an intricate system of huge caverns, now used by Freemasons in their mystical ceremonies. This place would have been perfect for some of the syncretistic pagan worship we read about in Ezekiel 8.
Then, off to locate the Temple Institute, who are the Jewish people currently preparing for the Third Temple...but they don't have the new book I'm hoping to find, 'The Messianic Temple' (Ezekiel's) that I just heard about while I've been here...but we enjoy seeing the 'furniture' they are preparing for it and the many schoolchildren who have come here to learn about it.
While in the Jewish Quarter, I lament over lunch that the Lord has exceeded ALL my expectations for this trip…except one. The one thing missing, was to actually meet some Jewish people to better understand their mindset, their understanding of scripture. But only moments later, less than a block away...we stumble upon Shorashim Bookstore, HIGHLY recommended by a Precept friend, Stan Latham, because the owners (brothers) are such lovely people and very valuable resources of Orthodox Judaism. I'd registered for Moshe's e-newsletter (one of the owners) a couple of weeks before I left home, so I had a sneak preview of who I might expect...Ah, he was the only one in his shop and everything I'd heard about him is true, and more! After a short, but such sweet encounter about the Proverbs 31 woman, I left with 5 of his books and tears in my eyes...THIS must be the Jew that God sent me here to meet....And the last big item on my travel wish list. But The Lord is not finished yet….
With a full heart, we hustle downhill (rare blessing in this city) to meet Abby and Scott for the City of David tour which opened about 5 years ago because of all the new discoveries. Wished for all of you Precept students...great 3D movie on Jerusalem that you would have appreciated because you would have seen all the things we've studied about together over the last several years!
Amazing to realize that we were STANDING in David's house! (In one of the pictures below, can you figure out the purpose of the square stone with the hole in the middle?) weaving our way thru Hezekiah's tunnel and working our way down thru layers of time, we passed by HUGE stones from the time of… Melchizedek!!!! HUGE stones reflective of master builders....from the time of Abraham. Mind-blowing.
The tour guide wrapped up our tour at the Pool of Siloam where Jesus healed the man born blind. For most of the group, the official tour was over. But when you are with Dr. Scott, the tour just continues...as we picked up a family from Houston who'd been in the earlier tour group (who did not know Jesus). From the pool, we hiked a steeeep upward path where Scott showed us the REAL tombs of David & Solomon....an area where all the kings of Judah where 'gathered to their fathers'.
What an amazing day...need to ponder many things in my heart...and just enough strength to savor one more Moldovan Bon Bon.
Day 17 - TOUR
Ah, today we must say goodbyes to the two precious young women team members who return to their homes in Moldova and America. But before we leave Jerusalem, Scott takes us to experience '24/7 praise' operated in a modest building, its non-descript sign, located almost in the physical shadow of the Upper Room. From outside the front door, you can look up to get a close look at the famous cable cart that saved Jerusalem during 1967 war by secretly sending supplies into the Old City by night. This morning there are only 8 of us in attendance for praise, including the guitarist/ harpist who sings the soulful praises of David and the pastor who leads us in intercessory prayer for the government leaders of Israel. Also, there is a couple here from India who Tika recognizes from our Christmas Eve dinner in Bethlehem. After some sweet time with the Lord, but before we slip out of the gathering, I go over to quietly greet the wife and in return she gives me the sweetest kiss of blessing on my cheek. We believers here are such ONE in spirit, no matter where we are from in God's grand world.
After dropping Tika off at noon in Tel Aviv first, there's still time for a bit o' tour before Abby departs at midnight. Wasting no time, we head southward for Tel Gezer in Israel's grassy shephalah (pronounced 'sha FA la')..and enter thru the ten standing stones of the Canaanite era...Gezer is one of 3 strong fortresses built by Solomon in Israel, easily identifiable by its 6 chambered gate (others in Hazor & Megiddo). Upon this land, given to Solomon by pharaoh, he built this fortress to protect the Via Maris, the major trade route along the Mediterranean coast. I find a pottery sherd from the time of Solomon just lying along our path!
Then off to Khirbet Qeiyafa (Ki AFa), one of King Saul's outposts overlooking the Valley of Elah....are bells starting to go off in your head yet??? Yep, this is the exact site of the famed battlefield of David & Goliath! As we read the scripture passage again, we noticed that it said 'the encirclement of the camp'…and sure enough, it's shaped like a CIRCLE! Over the years it's been well-excavated so there's lots to see, but what takes my breath away is the sight of the sweeping red-brown valley below as the neon orange sun slips quickly behind the dark mountains. Oh, that time could stand still for just a bit to take it all in.
With only a few moments of daylight remaining, Scott drives us down to the brook where David picked up his 5 smooth stones and dramatically recreates the scene for us...Goliath, gloriously dressed like his fish god, Dagon-- facing David, dressed humbly like his God, the good shepherd-- Now I see it...THIS is David's 'Valley of the Shadow of Death'! Until Scott mentioned it, I'd never stopped to consider the consequences of this battle in light of the possibility of David being killed by Goliath...no Solomon, no temple, no Jesus! Ah, but God....!
This whole trip has been so educational AND fun....our leaders are delightful, adventurous, and full of surprises...Scott often refers to this trip as the 'Backroads Tour of Israel'. And like so many unkempt country roads, sometimes everyone has to get out of the vehicle and PUSH the van out of a mud hole, and this trip is no exception....this guy DEFINITELY knows his back roads:). They are the best in the world!
But he's got one more SWEET surprise for Abby, his capable site supervisor, before she leaves the Land...one more round of chocolate milkshakes for our team at the Elvis Inn!
Shalom, dear boss-girl!
Day 18 - TOUR
Racking up 10 straight hours of solid sleep last night made me ready for ANYthing today! All I knew is that we were heading south of Jerusalem to a couple of places that weren't listed at 'Favorites' on our trusty GPS... YET! Our leader called it 'Tomb Day'.
First stop: Tomb of Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas. Annas held de facto power of High Priest and was buried in view of Temple Mount (at the time)...his power base. Too bad Jesus said that not one stone would be left upon another....short lived power, bet on wrong horse. However, it took us a little while to actually locate it...narrow, winding alleys of trash-strewn Palestinian ghettos. And no one of whom to ask directions, because no one in this neighborhood knows or cares who Anna's was.
Second stop: Jerusalem's new (not quite open for business) Ramat Rachel archaeological park, located south of the City of David. Several layers of history....it was a village at the time of David (notice proto-aeolic capitals, which sit atop an ionic column), was the location of one of Jehoiachin's palaces (last legitimate King of Judah) destroyed by Babylonians in 586 BC, and one of the camps of Rome's Tenth Legion (stones marked by 'RF') that destroyed Jerusalem in AD 70.
Ride by: Tekoa, home of the shepherd-prophet Amos and Herodian, one of Herod the Great's fortresses, looks like a volcano at a distance. Probably where he was when the magi came to ask directions to find 'King of the Jews', because the south side of the city of Bethlehem can be seen from here. Interesting note: archaeologist Ehud Netzer spent 35 years of his life here at Herodian, searching for the tomb of Herod. He finally located it halfway down the mountain (you can see new roof of tomb dig site in the photo below). One day while walking the support walkway to admire his discovery, he slipped & fell into Herod's new found tomb, where he too died!
Last tour stop: Hebron. We enter from a back farm-type road (note red sign in photo), but when we stop at the village police quarters to ask direction to Abraham's Tomb (Cave of Machpelah or Ibrahim Mosque), we are told that we are not in Hebron, but a small village just outside...to our great surprise, a beautiful Muslim woman about 40 years old with an orange headscarf and sparkling green eyes suddenly hops into our van and slides onto the bench beside me! She speaks no English, but we understand that she will direct us to Hebron (she also needs a ride to her doctor :)) on the way, she and I communication somehow. She shows me her sewing project, her B vitamins, and describes an awful back ache...if I understand correctly, she has 9 children by 3 husbands! Turns out she's a real chatterbox, for not speaking English.
After dropping her off near her appointment, we notice signs for the Ibrahim Mosque, but they seem to run into a dead end...oh, well...we return to mid-city of Hebron (BIG city, helped by US dollars) to find some lunch, when Scott spots some good-looking rotisserie chicken...we park and look around. Soon, the chef comes out and commands Scott to 'SIT'. Not many folks can get away with giving imperatives to Scott, and neither does this little man....but we later realize that he's just being hospitable and this is one of the few English words he actually knows:) he's also eager for some American busine$$. Without ordering, he just brings out to us some delicious barley soup (with cinnamon) and hummus, best baba ganoush I've ever had, and some Muslim 'salads' (like cole slaw) and olives. 'The boys' order some roasted chicken and veggies, but I am most content with the hordeurves and pita. We notice some old, dusty artwork on the wall that depicts our destination...but before we leave our cafe, I notice a donkey & its owner 'double-parked' by our van, so of course I've gotta get a photo...which causes quite a commotion with our young waiters who have never seen an iPad....I snap their pictures they feel like movie stars and with renewed physical strength, we again attempt to locate the last resting place of the Patriarchs.
After finding the mosque, an energetic 10 yr old, half blind 'tour guide' approaches us to tell us to park and that he will lead us down the winding alleys to the mosque (for a small price). We have to pass thru Palestinian security to make sure we are not Jewish (in 1984, a New York Jew opened gunfire inside this same mosque, killing 38 Muslims). A guide walks us thru, asking us the popular question, 'Where are you from?' When we tell him 'America', He becomes ecstatic with joy, repeating the name of 'Obama!' when inside, he hands me a hooded, long blue robe to put over my head and shoulders and shows us all where to store our shoes during the visit. On this side we see the empty 'coffins' of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and Rebecca. Then we go outside again, thru more checkpoints in order to get to the Jewish side, where we can view similar coffins of Jacob and Leah (thanks to our impeccable command of the Hebrew aleph-bet:))..as we ask around, there's a Jewish couple from Mexico who speak English. From them, we learn that there's one more ancient figure buried here, sorta, that we should know about...it's Esau...or at least his skull...as legend has it, is buried here. Seems he wanted to be buried near his father, but since only the 'good' part of Esau was his head that he bowed to his father, somehow his head was brought here or 'rolled' down here to the cave.
Traveling to Palestinian hotspots has never really been very high on my bucket list, but these guys I'm with know how to do it safely, with a good biblical purpose…high adventure, and only maybe 'slightly edgy'. So now, Hebron means much more to me than a quick Google search. It's now in technicolor...complete with kind hospitality, delicious tastes, and complicated politics.
We're back at the hotel now, resting up a bit for a big night on the town. I've invited Scott & Mike out to dinner tonight at El Goucho, an Argentinian steak house I've been hearing about...these guys have been two of the kindest, most helpful 'brothers' I can imagine on this trip, making my education of this land much more complete. Learning of things DEFINITELY OFF the beaten 'tour bus' path...Can never fully repay these guys for such a trip of a lifetime.
And after dinner? I've been promised a game of American football! Some Christians here are trying to introduce the game to the Middle East. And Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, has donated a stadium here for this very purpose...we've met the coach and 2 of his players: the coach's son, Jacob Guin, operated his metal detector for us on the dig for a couple of days and Myles LaRoux, recent graduate from LSU. Hoping we get to see them play the 'Haifa Underdogs' tonight. It's quite the rivalry, I'm told. And the officiating is hilarious.
Glad I got 10 hours sleep last night.
Day 19 - TOUR...Last Day
Shabbat shalom! Today is Friday, 'Town Day', just wrapping up loose ends around Jerusalem. One last trip to the laundromat makes me smile, because today I see one of the Friday 'regulars' there and she 'shaloms' me...I'd like to think that I'm now 'one of the regulars', too.
After a last quick shopping trip for friends, all three of us head back to the Old City, one last time. We haven't yet thoroughly examined the new excavations at the southwest corner of the Temple, at the Davidson Center. Their video really pulls together the purpose of the Hebrew worship rituals. Notice the mikveh (ritual cleansing bath), where they would walk down (no clothes, so nothing between them and the purifying water) on one side unclean, and walk up and out on the other side, cleansed. In another pic, notice the simple pulley system used to hoist the enormous building stones. The giant heap of stones is a testimony to Jesus' statements in Luke 21:6, which were fulfilled in AD 70. Once again, Scott proves to be a living encyclopedia weaving together the strands of Bible, history, and archaeology into one coherent fabric of truth as we tread on the very same pavement stones that Jesus did. Biblical history really comes to life here!
The last thing on my wish list is a friend's recommendation to visit a man named Zak, owner of Shop #24 in the Christian Quarter, who has an amazing story to tell. Well, turns out that lots of Americans love Zak. After arriving at our destination and introducing ourselves to him, he, in turn, introduces us to two other gentlemen from the states, who just happen to be in his small shop today. Both men are here on sabbatical for research and publication projects, one from Dallas Theological and the other from Trinity Theological. They both have lots of friends in common with Scott & Mike...it's a mini-reunion of like-minds with great stories swapped between them. Always fun to watch the Lord network His people.
The last thing on Scott's list is to visit one of his former Arab students who is now in Christian ministry here in Jerusalem. He's been trying to connect with him for a couple of weeks now. Surprisingly, we learn that his office is in walking distance to our hotel! AND he just happens to mention a Shabbat church service at the Church of the Nazarene that he attends that will begin in just a few hours at the same location. (I'd actually heard about it last week from my young LSU friend because it just happens to be a sweet gathering of young single adults from all over the world.) Again, the Lord networks His people for His future projects: both for archaeology AND for ministry.
Well, we've all checked EVERY thing off our to-do lists for this season and now it's time to prepare ourselves to joyfully return to our patient families tomorrow evening. My heart is overflowing with gratitude for the kindness of the Lord in allowing me to experience His Land, so up close and personal with such great teachers. And now it has come to an end. Or has it?
Tomorrow's departure also marks a new beginning: the responsibility to SHARE the understanding of new things that have been acquired and entrusted to me on this special adventure in God's Promised Land.
Lord, I've come, I've worked, I've made the contacts that You planned for me to make, and literally 'got the T-shirt'. (And am living proof that whatever doesn't kill you, makes you stronger:))...Now, Precious Lord, please make my brain like a well-plastered cistern (that nothing I've learned would leak out:)) and show me where to begin to use these things for Your glory. Lord, prepare and send others here also that they, too, may enjoy the fantastic privilege of experiencing YOU in Your Land!
Shalom, my friends
Day 20...Oops, Stay Tuned...Dr. Scott just knocked on my door...
Up to my eyeballs in packing after breakfast this morning...thinking, 'it's a good thing we don't have to leave until 2:30 this afternoon'...when suddenly, I hear a knock on my hotel door. It's Scott, asking if I'm up for one more adventure…but gotta be ready to roll in 10 minutes...'hmm...What's up?' (delaying responsibly, thinking of the HUGE packing challenge ahead of me)
'Dr. Shimon Gibson just called and wants us to take a ride with him down to the Jordan Valley (Dead Sea area) to visit some Bedouin friends, to drink tea and research their settlement habits a bit.....we'll be back by 1 pm …you'll have plenty of time to wrap up your packing.' Without thinking another moment about 'the responsible thing', I instantly respond, 'Whooa....really? I can go, too? You BET I'm in, brother!' - Never been to a REAL Bedouin home before!
Shimon Gibson, is a young, spirited 54 year old who has been digging in Israel since he was 4 yrs old...named a site supervisor by the age of 18. This knowledgeable, engaging Brit is the head of Holy Land Studies at Hebrew University and is often called upon as the resident Israeli expert on the History Channel. He's also written articles on the 'Church' for Encyclopedia Judaica.
He arrives at our hotel and promptly jumps into our van, but we only get inches down the road when he remembers we need to take a little gift on our excursion…after all, one never goes empty-handed to one's Bedouin friends. So we stop at the friendly neighborhood quick stop (large enough for only 2 customers at a time) to pick up some packaged sweets.
From the way back seat of our van, I can only hear snippets of amicable chatter from three old friends with much in common. The bits and pieces of conversation that I can pick up, I can tell that Scott was right- Shimon is an encyclopedic fount of knowledgeArriving a few minutes early, we pull up outside a humble home alongside the highway and on his cell phone, Shimon calls his young Bedouin friend who will accompany us on our field trip today. Then, a knock on the passenger window lets us know that Oda (rhymes with Yoda) is already waiting for us. Shimon communicates with him in fluent Arabic, but thankfully our outgoing, young Oda speaks a little English so I'm not totally lost when he hops into the way back seat with me.
I ask him how old he is. ' You seem much more mature than your 13 years', I comment aloud. 'Because I drink milk!', he grins widely, proudly showing off his bright white teeth against his perennially-tanned face.
Shimon has already told us that, in Bedouin culture, Oda is already considered a 'man'. In a few days, his father will send him alone to Nablus (a 35 mile uphill journey from here), on foot with his herd of 200 goats! This can be a treacherous trip lasting a couple of weeks...spending the night in open air campsites. Shimon discreetly slips him 100 shekels ($25) which will last him for his whole trip, allowing him to buy bread in the villages along the way.
First stop on our surprise field trip is Archaeleus' palace & city that we had visited a week or so ago. However, we'd overlooked the excavated church on the site because it was quite some distance away from the palace. Wow, it looks just like 'our' church in Khirbet El Maquatir!
Near the church site, he shows us a plastered mikveh from an earlier time which is professionally excavated (unlike other parts of this ancient city) and Mike, 78, wants to get a good photo of it from the top of the mound. Scott steadies his legs from this precarious position and then he carefully walks over to another corner of the ledge to get another good shot. And before anyone can react, the balk (earthen sides of the dig site) suddenly gives way and Mike stumbles head first into the mikveh!!!! All the men rush to his aid, but miraculously he gets up under his own power with only a scratch on his forehead and nose. (PTL!). He says that's the first time in 22 years of photographing archaeological sites that he's ever taken a tumble!
Back on the road again, Shimon points off in the distance to the elusive site of biblical Gilgal. He says it is identifiable by the huge quantities of flint found in the area (that's the place where all the men of Israel were circumcised when they first entered the land 4,000 years ago!)
We are now on our way to meet some of Oda's teenage friends and their flocks. There they are…. descending on a distant mountain and coming to meet us! Flocks of.....camels?!!! Even Shimon has never seen such a thing...30 camels in one group, all trotting toward us on a dusty plain.
We get very close...have you ever seen a male camel foam at the mouth or heard him growl???? (I'm told that in this herd, there are 29 females to one male. Maybe that's why he's growling.)
'Anybody want to ride him?' All eyes turn toward me and my eyes light up and next thing I know they've got him kneeling down low and have thrown a thin, loose brown blanket over his hump for my comfort. I jump on, like riding my uncle's horse, but am told that I got on the wrong side (front) of his hump...so we try again, this time I get it right as I straddle the rear of his one hump. It feels more than a little awkward, as I hear shouts of 'Emski! Emski! Emski!' (Hold on tight!!!!) But to whaaaat????? (The blanket...you mean the one that is attached to… NOTHING???? ). Hurraaaay, to my great surprise I'm UP! Cheers all around...but then...yikes, I realize that I'm slipping off the back side...still gripping strongly to the blanket that is anchored to… nothing! But as they say, it's not the falling, but it's the landing that's scary. It sounds and feels more like a 'crack ' than a 'thud', but I'm OK, realizing that it's just my hair clip that broke in half :)
Next, we follow the camel herds across the highway to their resting place and as we arrive (our van has gone places no van has ever gone before) our herdsman has already built a fire and our tea is almost ready. He spreads the same brown camel blanket on the ground…again, for our comfort.
Scott scours our van for slightly used paper cups from earlier in the week, from which to enjoy our sumptuous tea and our new friendship is sealed. Knowing we are already somewhat behind schedule, I gather up and fold the brown blanket to hand to the boys....'Why? Why? Why? ', they inquire (thinking something had gone wrong in their hospitality). 'It's just because I'm the momma, picking things up!' Shimon translates, they all laugh, and we are on our way home.
It's now raining in the desert, a winter blessing from Above, just as this day has been to me. Well, we never actually made it to Oda's home to meet his family and research Bedouin settlements, but as Scott is known to say, 'and that's just the way we roll!'
Rushing into our hotel, the desk receptionist excitedly announces to anyone listening, 'Hurray, SNOW is forecast for Tuesday! ' I don't even look at Scott, but am thinking, 'Snow? How 'bout we stay just 4 more days?' I don't even wait to give myself an answer- I'm down to my last shekel and it's definitely time to head back home to my precious family and my fellow Ezekiel students.
Stuffing as much as I can into my big suitcase with no time to carefully weigh it, my only concern now is that there's no time left to freshen up before boarding the plane and just hope I don't smell too much like a camel in order to spare my fellow seat mates. Oh well, it was very worth it, I smile mischievously, and will just let them wonder about my musky fragrance.
Dear friends, it's been such a joy to 'take you with me' on 2012 Winter Dig Adventure in Israel, sponsored by ABR. While every trip is just a little bit different, I am reminded that walking with God on a daily basis is the GRANDEST Adventure of all! Who knows what He has planned for you today…just around the corner?