Dr. Scott Stripling laid out an aggressive six day schedule of driving and visiting archaeological sites and more. What follows is a travelogue and some pictures of the tour.
Sunday, 12 June 2016 - Elah Valley (David and Goliath). One of the interesting aspects of touring with Scott is that you can always expect the unexpected. On the way to Elah Valley, we made a short detour and visited Tel el Ful (Saul's palace, also known as Gibeah of Saul). This is where Abigail Levitt found a headless fertility figurine last year, so we hoped to find its head. Alas, we failed, but the visit did allow us to see the spectacular view Saul had of the surrounding Benjaminite territory from his palace (1 Sam 10:24-26). Leaving Tel el-Ful, we visited Beth Shemesh which means “the house (or temple) of Shamash,” a Canaanite sun god. This location also has an Egyptian Temple along with Middle Bronze and Iron Age walls. Of significance to the Bible student is that Beth Shemesh is where the two cows pulling a cart took the ark of the covenant when the Philistines decided to send the captured ark back to Israel because plagues were breaking out in their cities (1 Samuel 6:1–20). We also were presented several pieces of mud brick used in the construction of various buildings manufactured in the same way the Israelites did in Egypt.
Arriving in the Elah Valley, we stopped and picked up some stones from the brook that David may have used in selecting his sling stones for his battle with Goliath and then we went to Khirbet Qeiyafa which is thought to be either a fortress from which Saul observed the battle between the Philistines (with Goliath) and the Israelites, or a fortress David built to commemorate his victory over Goliath. Either way, Qeiyafa is set upon a hill that overlooks the Elah Valley and this again brings the Scriptures to life.
Leaving the Elah Valley, we attempted to find where David hid in a cave near Adullam when fleeing from Saul (1 Sam. 22:1). Unfortunately, we found the remains of a Roman settlement or fortress, but not the cave. It is interesting that David left this location, a lush forest, to hide in the wilderness as Saul continued to pursue him. Not finding the cave, we then headed to a new excavation called Tel Burna, located in the Shephelah region, which served as a border between the kingdoms of Judah and Philistia in the Iron Age. Some scholars believe that Tel Burna is the best candidate for Biblical Libnah. Libnah is an important town in the Shephelah, taken by Joshua and assigned to the priests (Joshua 21:13). Leaving Tel Burna, we visited Bet Guvrin, biblical Maresha, with its beautiful tomb caves and settlement periods of 800-100 BC and then 100-1000 AD, reflecting the culture of both the Old and New Testament. Again, the Bible came alive, and we gained new appreciation of how the biblical figures lived. Thus, day one was completed, as we looked to day two with a trip north to the Sea of Galilee.
Monday, 13 June 2016 - The Sea of Galilee and Ministry of Jesus. The first place the group stopped at was Susita, also known as Hippos. This Greek city on the heights overlooking the Sea of Galilee provided a peaceful time to reflect on the land of Israel, especially the land surrounding the Sea of Galilee. As one tour member stated, it was a great time of reflection and soul searching. However, Susita/Hippos also provided a great defensive location overlooking the Sea of Galilee. The Greeks recognized this by building the city there as did the modern Israel army when they built some bunkers on the heights. This was one of the Decapolis cities. Leaving Susita/Hippos, the group moved on to Chorazin, one of the three cities that Jesus condemned for unbelief (Mt 11:21). Chorazin is also the location of a synagogue within which was a basalt throne, decorated with a rosette on the back support. The “Seat of Moses” was used during the reading of the Torah, and can be seen there today. While it is suggested that this synagogue was constructed in the late 3rd–early 4th century AD, it is still possible to picture Jesus sitting on such a seat when he proclaimed the good news of the Kingdom of God. From Chorazin we traveled to Magdala where a first century synagogue is being excavated. This magnificent building is demonstrating the vibrant religious life of the time of Jesus.
Leaving Magdala, the group headed to Mount Arbel near Tiberius. Mount Arbel contains the ruins of an ancient Jewish settlement with a synagogue from the fourth century AD with pews and columns. However, there is evidence that caves in the cliffs were used in the Second Temple period. Since Tiberius was so close, the group decided to visit this ancient city. It is named after Tiberius Caesar, who was the Roman Emperor during the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry. At Maqatir over the years, we have found coinage associated with Tiberius. Here is a picture of one of the coins to the right. Being able to connect the Scriptures to the towns and then to coins is amazing. Here we can match Matthew 20:2 with the land and coin. Thus day two of the tour week was accomplished and all returned to the hotel fairly exhausted.
Tuesday, 14 June 2016 - Masada, Dead Sea Scrolls, Qumran, the Good Samaritan Inn, and the Tomb of Lazarus. Almost everyone knows about Masada - a place where the Jewish people under attack by the Roman Tenth Legion in the 1st century determined they would rather die than be slaves. Masada is further evidence of the magnificence of Herod the Great as a builder. He built many desert fortresses as places to flee to, if he was in danger. The beauty of Masada is still evident today, and the group was filled with wonder as we toured the site. From Masada, the group moved on to Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) were found by a bedouin boy searching for a goat. The time of Christ comes alive even more when the scrolls reveal how a community of Essenes lived a monastic lifestyle in anticipation of the coming Messiah. It has been said that the DSS are the greatest archaeological find of the 20th century. Touring Qumran, the group learned about the Essene community’s ritual life and their need for ritual cleansing on a regular basis. Much of the DSS writings use terms and phrases that Jesus used in his various parables and discussions. Of course, the question was asked if Jesus was an Essene, to which Dr. Stripling said: "We do not know, but there are similarities." As usual, the temperature at Qumran was hot, so off to the Dead Sea we went for a relaxing time without having to worry about sinking. Then, it was off to the Good Samaritan Inn, where some beautiful antiquities from around Judea and Samaria have been rescued and displayed. Several of the mosaics came from the Byzantine church in Shiloh, so we were excited to see them. To close out the day, we traveled to Bethany to see the tomb of Lazarus. This was an exciting adventure as we used Scott's GPS system that led us on a wild goose chase. Finally, we were able to find the tomb location. It was definitely a 1st century AD tomb complex, so we could visualize the biblical scene from John 11:38–45. And so ended the third day of touring with "Lazarus, Come forth!"
Wednesday, 15 June 2016 - Artifacts, a Monastery, City of David. On Wednesday, part of the tour involved taking many of the artifacts to the Israel Antiquities Authority. This was an excursion that most of the volunteers and other tour groups would not normally be provided. After loading up the van with the artifacts to be stored, we were off to deposit them. After some pleasantries, we were allowed to look at the material stored in the storage area that included columns, pottery, various sarcophagi, basalt grinders, mosaics, and much more. Our material was placed in our storage container so that when we need to retrieve items for publication, we will have them available. Dr. Stripling gave several short talks about the items in storage again increasing our overall knowledge of the biblical times. Next door to the storage area is a 5th Century AD monastery founded by the hermit Euthymius "the Great" in 428 AD as a Laura (or Lavra - a monastery of hermits, with small cells). In 482, after the death of the founder, it changed to a larger, communal form (Coenobium - a walled monastery). This site was extremely interesting as it shed light on Judean desert monasticism.
After the tour of the monastery, the group returned to Jerusalem and spent the afternoon touring the City of David. The impact this had on the group was very spiritual as they realized the importance of the city of Jerusalem to the Old and New Testament.
Thursday, 16 June 2016 - Flying over Shiloh, Shechem, Sebaste, and the Israel Museum. On Thursday, the tour group had the opportunity to spend some time at Shiloh. Joel Kramer, ABR Associates and a friend of the dig, was filming the Shiloh site for us using a drone. These photos and videos will be a great help in planning for the coming year as the ABR excavation team moves to Shiloh. Leaving Shiloh, the group went to Shechem, viewed Canaanite ruins, and Joseph's tomb. Shechem has many links to the Scriptures including Genesis, Deuteronomy, Judges, and Joshua. Each hallows Shechem. Its first mention is when Abram "built an altar to the Lord who had appeared to him ... and had given that land to his descendants" (Gen 12:6-7). After touring Shechem, the group toured the city of Sebaste, which is the Greek name for Augustus. This magnificent ancient city contains the palaces of Omri and Ahab. After leaving Sebaste, we headed to the Israel Museum for a special tour by Yoav Farhi, the Numismatist for Khirbet el-Maqatir. He gave us a special tour of the current "Pharaoh in Canaan" and the "Hadrian" exhibits. His informative and detailed discussions with the group filled in some aspects of the land of Israel. After this whirlwind tour day, the group returned to the hotel for a time of relaxation and prep for the next day's events.
Friday, 17 June 2016 - More artifacts, Flints, and Beersheba. On Friday, the group was asked to load more artifacts in the van for transport to the Antiquities Authority and flints for the flint analyst at Ben-Gurion University to research and write his portion of our annual report. The flint expert, Dr. Steve Rosen, spent some time talking to the group concerning flints, so they came to a good understanding of the importance of this important artifact in understanding the biblical times. Again, the tour group was able to see what happens after the excavation is over and most of the workers are gone. Completing this task, the group set off for Beersheba. This site is mentioned frequently in Scripture, starting with Genesis in connection with Abraham the Patriarch and his pact with Abimelech. Isaac built an altar in Beersheba (Genesis 26:23–33), and Jacob had his dream about a stairway to heaven after leaving Beersheba (Genesis 28:10–15 and 46:1–7). The sons of the prophet Samuel were judges in Beersheba (I Samuel 8:2) and Saul, Israel's first king, built a fort there for his campaign against the Amalekites (I Samuel 14:48 and 15:2–9). The prophet Elijah took refuge in Beersheba when Jezebel ordered him killed (I Kings 19:3).
From the above, you can see that a tour after the dig is much more than just visiting archaeological sites. It also, deals with after the excavation events that contribute to the production of a report in about six months. The tour group was able to experience the land, geography, the sites, and much more. Come and join us next year for the excavation and stay around for another exciting tour with Dr. Scott Stripling!