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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 2 of this diary.

Day 4 - DIG

So much fun to hear from all of you! I do feel like you are here in my heart with me, dear friends...looks like glorious weather is gone for awhile. Today was COLD (40F). WET. WINDY(40 mph). So we knocked off early after lunch, returned to Jerusalem to wash pottery, and headed off west to Yad HaShmona (a moshav, community of messianic believers vs. kibbutz, community which operates a business). ABR stores some of its tools here at Yad, since this is the place where their summer dig team stays. And we needed to pick up a few extra tools, papers here.

While here we visited their biblical gardens. Since we've been studying Ezekiel, I thought you might like to see some pics of a reconstructed watchtower. Yad is a beautiful, peaceful setting for both Christian & Jewish weddings. But recently the courts declared that they must also conduct weddings for homosexuals there.

On the way home, we stopped at Kireath Jearim, where the Ark of the Covenant rested for ~100 yrs before David brought it to Jerusalem. Also, the possible route of the Road to Emmaus, where Jesus appeared after His Resurrection.

Back at the hotel, we 'read' yesterday's pottery. To the left is the pic of the 'rare' Roman glass vessel neck I found yesterday. Now drinking a glass of Bethlehem Merlot in the lobby of the Mt. Scopus Hotel and wishing you were here…THAT would be sweet!

Day 5 - TOUR

No alarm clock! It's cold, raining in Israel (winter rains, blessing to the land AND me). No digging, so today Tika & I volunteer to wash our team's dirt encrusted dig clothes at the local laundromat, while the pros process the pottery. And after a restorative bowl of hot, delicious French onion soup, the team explores the Old City.

We enter at Jaffa Gate, hustle thru the narrow marketplace before we can be 'hustled' and take in our first view of the Kotel (Western Wall). It's still raining, but a few faithful Jews are standing there crying out to God. Tika & I join the women's side to pray for special needs.

More wandering thru the Old City leads us to the Arab Quarter and a very small, black, non-descript sign guides us to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre! (Right). I've never been here before, but it's the place where historians and archaeologists believe Jesus was actually crucified, buried, and resurrected! We arrive at 3:15 pm...about the same time Jesus' friends removed him from the cross. Usually the place is packed with tourists. But because of the rain, the crowds are light and we walk right in!

One of the things that strikes me is how could a man, beaten so severely, drag himself up this oh-so-steep hill???? For the JOY set before Him, He endured the cross. After AD 70, the Romans built a temple to Venus on this site, then Helena, mother of Constantine, built the small church here to mark the correct tomb location, then many different denominations contributed to the expansion of this place which really is 'Ground Zero' for our Christian faith. Our dig leader, Scott, has been invited by Shimon Gibson, prominent Israeli archaeologist here in Jerusalem, to join the dig operation in 2013-14 to excavate the apse of the Greek Orthodox church!

More walking UP-hill (Scott's sister Roni rightly wonders how EVERYwhere in Israel can be UP-hill:)) until we reach the Pool of Bethesda (left). It's been excavated fully since John and I were last here in the early '90s and is quite a sight. While there, a smartly dressed Russian woman asks us if we know what this place is… Tika tells her the biblical story in Russian and I add that it is also an offer of Eternal Life, healing only thru Him. But she doesn't want to know more, 'because I am an atheist', she nervously admits. Then a young man from Chile approaches our little team as the tiny sun begins to set behind dreary skies. Scott converses with him in fluent Spanish! What an international hospitality team we are.

It's Friday. The Old City is shutting down, lighted marketplaces close. Shabbat is beginning. Hasidic men in their long black coats, side curls, and wide brimmed beaver hats (now covered with clear plastic bonnets because of the rain) hurriedly rush past us on slippery stone steps in the opposite direction to make it to synagogue in time.

Scott kindly offers for us to wait at the Damascus Gate while he runs to get our car. While waiting, I spot two tough-looking masked IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) hombres/ hombrettes dressed in full army gear, big guns. I am thinking of John's sign off phrase to 'stay safe', and so to prove that I AM safe, I cheerfully, innocently ask if I might take their picture. They look shocked that I would ask such a thing and sharply say 'NO.....because it is Shabbat!'…Then kindly add, 'But if you come back tomorrow, we would be happy to oblige.'.. So young, polite, and respectful. Ahhhh, I have so much to learn.

As we wait outside in the rain, our young man Jacob reveals that he hasn't been feeling well all day. Fever, pain in back of neck, shoulders. Hmmmm, doesn't sound good…. we pray.

Shabbat shalom and sweet rest in The Lord.

Day 6 - TOUR

It's Saturday. Good News: Jacob is all better! You just NEVER know what surprises the Lord has in store for you....especially when you are on a 'Back Roads Tour of Israel' with Dr. Scott Stripling!

Today we set off for the Judean wilderness, about an hour east of Jerusalem. Passing Bedouin settlements, as we headed down, down, down in elevation until we got to the lowest place on the face of the earth, the Dead Sea region...warm weather, blue sky, total opposite of yesterday.

First stop is Beth-Abara, REAL site of John the Baptist' s preaching, Jesus' baptism, where Joshua addressed the Hebrew children before they experienced the miraculous crossing of the Jordan, AND where Elijah was taken up to heaven in the fiery chariot!

Next, just up the road, we check out the site of Archalaus' palace (one of Herod's 3 surviving sons). It's never been professionally excavated...only robbed by local clandestine 'businessmen'. But Scott did find a piece of a serving platter just lying on the ground and I found a piece of bi-chrome pottery and tesserae.

Turning south, we pass the Essene community of Qumran and spot Cave #4 where many of the famous scrolls were found, and reach Ein Gedi where David and his 37 mighty men were hunted relentlessly by King Saul. After a refreshing lunch of chocolate ice cream, we begin hiking up the scenic trail (yes, I actually hiked ALL the way to the top...with a 'little'/ lotta help from my kind, young friends). It's one thing to read these Psalms of David; it's another to LIVE them, even if only for a couple of hours. The VERY challenging heights, incredible reddish stoney walls contrasted with the Caribbean blue of the Dead Sea. Ah, the fresh breezes of freedom away from the confining danger of Saul's palace. Of course, there's the refreshing sound of cool water running down into this rare green oasis (sounds a bit like the babbling mountain roadside streams of North Carolina) and the happy surprise of a rock badger/coney running across your path. But at the very top of the mountain, remains of a pagan temple from the Chalcolithic period (PRE-conquest, PRE-Canaanite) can be found, as well as an incredible panoramic view of the Dead Sea and the high mountains of Moab.

Last stop in this area is, of course, to dip our toes in the Dead Sea. Back to Jerusalem's Old City for a bite of pizza. Catching my breath, I am overwhelmed by the incongruous sensory stimulation. Italian aromas fill the tiny 3 table establishment, Tom & Jerry cartoons showing on a flat screen TV. I look upwards to a ceiling built in AD 600 by the Mamluks, light operatic music piped in, followed by an unfamiliar Christmas song, an artificial twinkling tree outside the window, and the pizza chef wishing everyone a Merry Christmas in his Israeli accent. Oh yes, it's Christmas! Merry Christmas to ALL!

Gotta run, it's been a full day and will have an early dig start tomorrow. We've been warned- So much rain yesterday, that we may look like mud-wrestlers by the end of our dig day tomorrow.

What??? no hot water for a shower! And what's that sound outside my hotel window? (Several platoons of IDF soldiers singing with a rigorous, joyful cadence)....just another 'regular' nite in Jerusalem...zzzzzzz

Day 7 - DIG

I know it's Sunday. But since it rained on Friday & Saturday, we MUST dig today. Weather is gorgeous, warm enough to get down to short sleeves. I must confess, I wasn't looking forward to digging in the muck that the heavy rains created for us.

But the mud actually wasn't that bad...just went slow and easy AND found some pretty cool stuff, thereby earning the title 'Digger of the Day' :). Although, I did get some stiff completion from one of our Palestinian workers: Samir found the very first piece, of the whole 'city', with an inscription on it. It's white marble with something written in Greek. (Not sure which is side of the writing is 'up' though)

I found a tiny coin (1cm) the first one of this season so far, in the 'room' (locus) where I've been digging. And my weird find today was a piece of glazed pottery, bright turquoise, that stands out like a sore thumb because it's from the totally wrong time period. It's probably from the Mamluk period (AD 1400) vs. the rest of the church we are excavating which is Byzantine (AD 300). Later squatters?

Today we were joined by an expert named Frankie from VA, who now lives here. Her specialty is opus sectile (triangular shaped floor tiles). The ones we've found so far are not particularly finely crafted, so were probably used outside for paving roads, pathways.

At lunch, Jacob tried his hand with 'David's slingshot' that I bought at Lazarus' tomb. When It looked like he was having a little trouble, Hani, another Palestinian worker came alongside showed him how they do it 'West Bank style'. While Hani could hurl stones with force, he was not accurate; Jacob hurls less powerfully, but more accurate. I can't upload video to this blog, but its verrrrry impressive.

Even though I've got some great leather gloves, my hands feel as dry as 2,000 year old pottery. Very much looking forward to a firm massage & delicate manicure when I get home.

Also, wanted to include some pics of the Israeli checkpoint when we leave West Bank, returning to our hotel in East Jerusalem. Notice the 'fake mountain' with lookout holes and a big gun. We are very safe. Guns are in the right hands and Scott has made good, protective friends in the WB.

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve....our thoughts turn toward home and you...

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