Happy New Year from Jerusalem!
Upon our arrival in Israel, we organized our office and met with our volunteers for orientation. Then, the Lord blessed Israel with much-needed rain. While this was great for the land, it prevented us from working on Monday and Tuesday. So on Monday we toured the Jordan Valley, where it is always warmer and drier. Included in this was a day at Jericho. Dr. Bryant Wood is the world's leading authority on Jericho, so it was a tour par excellence. On Tuesday we toured Herodium with Frankie Snyder, whose work on the flooring in the Second Temple recently made Christianity Today's Top Ten List for 2016. We also toured the Tower of David with Orna Cohen, who is in charge of the conservation there and also works as a member of our dig staff in Israel.
The Winter Dig Team - Visiting the Tower of David with Orna Cohen. Credit: Scott Stripling.
On Wednesday we got to work. Dr. Wood's team began clearing a platform of megaliths that may have protected the ancient water system. Abigail Leavitt's team cleaned up the mess made by off-season looters and vandals, and continued the excavation of an elaborate double mikveh (ritual immersion pool) adjacent to a large public building from the first century.
Abigail Leavitt and Durwin Kicker field sorting pottery at Khirbet el-Maqatir. Credit: Abigail Leavitt
Inside the first century AD tower at Khirbet el-Maqatir. Photo: Abigail Leavitt
Matt Lemke takes a break. Photo: Abigail Leavitt
We worked four days straight, including Saturday (Christmas Eve), as the forecast showed more rain coming on Sunday. Saturday night we spent an amazing hour in worship at historic Christ Church, which sits right on the true Via Dolorosa. Last month, I filmed an episode for Travel Channel's Expedition Unknown on the grounds of Christ Church. It airs in April, so don't miss it.
The weather forecast was correct. In fact, it rained for several days, causing us to miss six straight days of work. After we processed our finds from Week One, we enjoyed several days of exceptional touring. The highlight was Timna in the southern Negev. This is an elaborate copper mining site that many associate with King Solomon's mines. There is also an impressive temple of the Egyptian goddess Hathor and a lot of ancient artwork and fascinating geological formations.
The temple of the Egyptian goddess Hathor at Timna. Credit: Abigail Leavitt
The archaeologist in charge of the Timna dig gave our group a personal tour. She had heard of me, but she was blown away to meet Dr. Wood. On one of the off-days, Dr. Wood and I met with Hillel Geva, Editor at the Israel Exploration Society, regarding our forthcoming volumes of final publication on Khirbet el-Maqatir. Hillel is a good friend and offered much helpful input. We hope to have Volume One on the Bronze and Iron Ages out by the end of 2017. Please pray for the grace and finances to bring this to fruition. If we excavate and do not publish our findings in detail, we have destroyed the evidence and made it inaccessible to others. So, publication is of great importance.
Finally the weather turned in our favor, and we were able to work four more days, including Saturday and Sunday. We worked a little longer each day and successfully completed our targeted projects. Monday was the final day of excavation after 21 years at Khirbet el-Maqatir. Upon arriving at the site, we gathered in the gate of Ai (Joshua 7-8) for a time of prayer and reflection. We thought of each volunteer and donor who has sacrificed to help us defend the credibility of the Bible, and that includes you. Thank you!
Over the course of the dig, a number of dignitaries visited the site. We are no longer the best kept secret in Israel.
It was an honor to have professor Yoel Elitzur visit our site. Standing with him and Bryant Wood is an honor. Walking with the giants of our time. Credit: Abigail Leavitt
During the last week, I reburied the Amorite human remains that we excavated over the years. I turned the Jewish skeletons over to the local Jewish community at nearby Ofra. They insist that we are heroes and have asked us to attend the interment ceremony. Interesting experience!
First thing Tuesday morning, four of us completed a tomb project on the grounds of the famous École Biblique, beside the Garden Tomb. The samples that we provided from five tombs may shed light on the origin of the Shroud of Turin. Then, we headed to Khirbet el-Maqatir to collect all of our tools and move them to Shiloh. It was bittersweet saying goodbye to our longtime friends and to the site where we have spent so many years. At the same time, there was a sense of exhilaration and accomplishment as we unloaded tools into our own storage container at Shiloh. As I walked across our new excavation field, a sense of awe came upon me as I contemplated how God had set before us an open door at Shiloh which will have a direct impact on how people read their Bibles in the future. I saw the stakes that I drove into the ground back in May and envisioned the 100 volunteers and staff who will work with us in Season One. I thought of the first words ever sent via Morse code - "Behold what wonders God has wrought!"
The night before, I met with the Deputy Director for the Israel Antiquities Authority for Judea and Samaria and explained to him that in addition to excavating the northern fortification wall, I would like to excavate a large Byzantine building on the summit which may be covering the evidence of the ancient tabernacle and sacrificial system. He fully endorsed my plan, and agreed to present it to the Director General for approval. Please pray for continued favor and approval of this proposal. I almost fell out of my chair when he asked me what tools I needed him to provide for the coming season. God's favor is clearly upon ABR's work in Israel.
Over the next four days, we will be processing our finds and doing a little touring. Tomorrow morning, after a couple of hours of labeling pottery and photographing objects, we are off to Megiddo. Each day different members of our hard-working team will head home, and finally I will fly out on the evening of January 8th.
I am extremely grateful for your faithful prayers and financial support that make all of this possible. Giving details for the work at Shiloh are below, and the project is described at www.DigShiloh.org. I am saving you a spot at Shiloh this summer!
Digging the Bible!
You can donate to the Shiloh Excavations by visiting our Donation Page. Type "Donation to the Shiloh Excavations" in the Special Instructions field.