Month: August 2016

Archaeology and Education – Tell es-Safi interview compilation

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With Middle School students, examining a Lamassu (winged bull) in the Assyrian Exhibit, Metropolitan Museum of Art

I have had the privilege to visit the Tell es-Safi excavation for two days this summer (July 12&14, 2016). Even better than the visit itself was the opportunity to interview a few archaeologists, each responsible for either this or other sites.

As a Jewish Educator, it really interested me to learn about their perspectives on the importance of archaeology in general, and specifically towards Biblical studies. What we  learn from archaeology? For the teachers among us – not limited to classroom teachers, but a parent, spouse or friend, planning a museum visit – what can we do differently, with this knowledge in hand? Even if we can’t actually be on the site, ourselves?

Before I get on with the interviews, I’d like to share a personal thought. I am developing Jewish Programs in Museums. For the high school level, this includes lessons in class, which culminate in a museum visit, with a focus on archaeological artifacts which relate to a Jewish idea, be it a biblical story (Assyria, Babylon, etc) or a concept (Art, Wisdom, Destruction, etc.). For adults, it means visiting a museum with text in hand.

When I tell people that I’m going to visit, say, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, they often respond in wonder “What is there to see in the Met, which has any Biblical significance?” Most of us just go straight to the overwhelming amount of art galleries, and perhaps walk through the Greek and Roman art, without contemplating the significance they might have to the encounter of Judaism with those cultures. Those statues are decorative, otherwise the hallway to the big pond with the coins would be boring. Perhaps if your kids are reading Percy Jackson (Rick Riordan’s five-part series, 2005-2009), there might be something closer to home about Greek art. It amazes me that people don’t realize the wealth the museum has to offer in terms of archaeology of the ancient world, that that there would be any Biblical significance there. I just found out, for example, that the Ancient Egyptian collection at the Met is the largest in the world, after Cairo (if what their plaque says is accurate). The few hours I’ve spent there were not enough to even scratch the surface, and I can’t wait to go again.

Temple of Dendur (ca. 15 BDC) at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

It is here that I wonder: What can we as parents, teachers and friends, share with those who would hear us? How can we show – not just what has been found – but what has been found out, how it impacts our understanding, and how it connects us to a broader scheme of things? After all, if we are not part of this grand story of unfolding history, then what is the point? Please join me, as we hear from three different archaeologists. I’ve decided against grouping their answers based on the questions, and am giving the stage to each one separately, so you may enjoy the entire interview. These articles will be followed up with the edited video footage, but that will have to be no earlier than October 2016. However, I will be providing some pictures, and if you get to the end of the article – an exciting youtube link awaits you. Let’s begin.

(Disclaimer: Some of the information about the professors is taken from Wikipedia, even if slightly modified)

 

Interview with Dr. Aren Maeir

Professor at Bar Ilan University

Director, The Tell es-Safi/Gath Archaeological Project (gath.wordpress.com)

Director, Minerva Center for the Relations between Israel and Aram in Biblical Times (aramisrael.org)

Co-editor, Israel Exploration Journal

In addition to Tell es-Safi, Professor Maeir has participated in, and directed, numerous archaeological excavations in Israel, including at the following sites: Jerusalem, Hazor, Yoqneam, Tell Qasile, Beth-Shean.

What is the value of archaeological excavations in general, and specifically for Biblical studies?

Archaeology, in general, is a science in which we study the past. It is not just a study of the past, I think, all people are interested in their roots. Old cultures, old people – it is important to understand where you come from, your past, who your grandparents were, etc. And archaeology allows us to extend this generations behind. And it helps us sort of understand the basic roots of who we are, what we meant to do, where we came from, etc.

What is nice about archaeology is that, not only do we know about the past, but we know about the past in a tangible manner.

Taboons, or ancient ovens, in Tell es-Safi

You get a tangible way of seeing the past. You can actually touch the objects from the past. I can see buildings people lived in thousands of years ago. I can pull out a pottery vessel someone used 3,000 years ago. So I think it’s a very, very powerful tool to study the past.

Unearthing a shard

In the context of Jewish heritage and Jewish studies, it provides a way to not only study texts and speak about our heritage in abstract manner, but to be out in the field, or see it on a webcam the actual remains. And it turns something from being theoretical to something dusty – and real. And these things are dusty here, because they are just uncovered, but not because they are old and forgotten. And I think that the power and experiential processes that people go through when they are discovering things from the past – and you can pick up shard – and this shard is from the time of Yeshayahu, and this shard is from the time of David haMelech, this one is from the time of Ezra and Nechemia, or the Maccabees, this gives you an experience that you’ll never forget. And I think that that’s the power to connect between the archaeological remains and the heritage.

 

 

 

 

And I think that the power and experiential processes that people go through when they are discovering things from the past […] gives you an experience that you’ll never   forget.

 

What has Tell es-Safi contributed to our understanding of the Biblical narrative?

First of all, it is a site which is identified as Gath, one of the five cities of the Philistines known from the Bible (Introduced in Joshua 13:3, and then several times throughout Judges and Samuel), and we find here substantial remains of the Philistines and their culture. And more specifically, we can talk about various historical events that are mentioned in the biblical texts, such as the conquest of Gath by Hazael which is mentioned in II Kings 12:18, and we can find the remains of the destruction of the site at the time. We know of the importance of Gath to the Philistines in the stories relating to David, and after David, and we can find the remains of a very, very impressive city at the time.  We hear the story of David who is escaping from Saul, and meeting Achish king of Gath – faking mad – and we excavate the gate of Gath. Even though it is not necessarily the gate in which that happened (David writing on the doors of the city – I Samuel 21:11-16) – nevertheless it gives us a nice idea of what a gate at that time looked like. Again, to a certain extent, it is as if we are taking the biblical story, and putting flesh on the bones. Whereas the biblical story is a brief description covered in many, many meanings. And when you can actually put the physical remains and connect them to it, it makes it much more understandable and much more vivid.

Based on what is found here, what can a teacher do differently in their classroom?

I think, first of all, I think the fact that you can say “Let’s read this chapter in Sefer Shmuel (Samuel), and then I’m going to show you these find about the people that we talk about – the Philistines – what is more vivid than that? And for kids, you can show a picture of a house – that’s a little boring – but if you shore the picture of a jar, or a big collection of pottery found on the destruction level, that fires their imagination.

What is your message to a student or teacher who are thinking about coming to a dig?

First of all, they’ll have the experience of their lifetime. They’ll have an experience that they’ll tell their children and their grandchildren about when they’re older. Second of all, it will allow you to have a direct way of connecting between the text that you read – whether it is the Tanach or the Mishnah – whatever you are dealing with, any ancient Jewish text – and the actual lives of the people who were involved in it. It is turning something – not into a text that we read and feel in our time – but we can see the lives of the people who wrote the text in front of us. And it turns it into something more tangible and more alive.

This is an issue, particularly, I think, for educators; this is the problem today of attention span. With a 3.5 second attention span that most young kids have, if you don’t provide something that catches their imagination, it is not the regular thing that we see – of you can move them out of the regular classroom, the regular pedagogical tools that you have, and suddenly pull out an object, or through the web bring them to an excavation, or actually bring to an excavation, it changes the whole way that they’ll look at the text. It changes their attention. It moves them, it takes them away from screens in many cases. And this is a tool that I think can turn – you can stay within textual studies, but still do something different, you know, do something which is combining textual studies with the physical aspect, whether the actual work, or the feeling that the text has also a physical representation. Because very often the texts are looked at as dusty pages from 2,000 years ago. What is its relevance to me today? So besides trying to explaining the relevance from an ideological point of view, you can show that these texts represent people and things and objects. We can come here and live the context!

 

Interview with Dr. Jill (Citron) Katz

Clinical Assistant Professor of Archaeology, Yeshiva University

Academic Advisor, Stern College for Women, Yeshiva University

Dr. Katz has excavated at several sites in Israel, including Ashkelon, Tel Haror/Gerar, and most recently Tell es-Safi/Gath where she currently serves as Area Supervisor for Area P. Her research interests focus on the nature of Israelite leadership during the time of the Judges (Iron I period) and on emergent urban life during the time of King David (Iron IIa).

What is the value of archaeological excavations in general, and specifically for Biblical studies.

I think that Archaeological studies are a good compliment to historical studies. In the sense that, it comes at you, the general approach is that this is reflecting the elite culture, maybe the male culture, but this is something that is written by the victors. And so, there’s whole swaps of people and of life that are not really reflected in history.

Historical studies […] this is reflecting the elite culture […] something that is written by the victors. And so, there’s whole swaps of people and of life that are not really reflected in history

So, you know, you can find out what the kings and queens were doing, and what the elite were doing, but you don’t necessarily know what the average person was doing.

So I think what the big advantage of archaeology is that, we have the opportunity to really reflect, and find the remains of almost everybody. Certainly we can excavate a palace, we can excavate a temple, but there is a lot of emphasis, particularly today, in excavating a farmstead, investigating just the daily life of regular people.

The number one find that we find in archaeological sites are ceramic remains, pots. Ceramics is something that everybody used, it was ubiquitous.

A king or queen – they would have fancy pots. But the average person still had to use pots for storing food, for preparing food, serving food, eating food. Everybody was using it.

So I think the best thing about archaeology is that it reflects sort of the general population as well as the elite population. And it reminds us that, you know, most of us are not necessarily in the elite. So you get a sense of what the majority of people were like.

And for biblical studies?

For Biblical studies, again, Tanach – it’s about the Jewish people. When you read Shmuel or Melachim (Kings), these are like the annals that were kept, recording the lives of the kings and of the important events in their reigns. I think that archaeology, again, provides a really nice compliment, in the sense that archaeology reminds us that the average people, they were farmers. They lives an agricultural lifestyle. When we excavate, we see that aspect of that. And we are reminded that it is not just wars, battles, palace intrigue and that type of thing. But, that we were able to really reconstruct daily life. We see the foods that they were eating, we see the houses that they were building, and get a great appreciation that for most of this early part of Jewish history, probably up until the middle ages, Jews were basically self-sufficient. The family was a self-sufficient unit. The family provided all of its clothing, all of its food. And this is what we can see on archaeological sites.

What has Tell es-Safi contributed to our understanding of the Biblical narrative?

Ok. So this site, is a wonderful site. I think the first thing that anybody coming to the site would notice, and I’m actually looking at the upper Tell right there, you have the lower tels spread below us, and Emek haElah (Elah valley) right to my left here, is you get the sense of the scale. This is a huge site in the ancient world, something on the order of 500 dunam (around 123 acres), which is probably around ten times the size of Jerusalem in the Iron Age I period (1150-1000 BCE, estimated time of King David and King Solomon). The philistines were formidable. Even though they were just in the southern coastal plain, they were a real power. They came and built large cities, cities that were fortified, cities that were, again, very self-sufficient, and would have dominated the region. So I think that working at Gat, and knowing that we are really at the beginning of the foothills, you get a sense of what the Israelites living in the hillside must have felt when they looks down from the hills to the foothills, and knew there was this huge city there, with a population that was well organized, and quite affluent, on a relative scale. You were dealing with a culture that was different, but in other ways it was similar.

It was different, because we know from here that they ate pork. They actually ate dog. We know from Tanach that they weren’t circumcised. But in other ways their lifestyles were very similar. They diet was very similar. They had a strong emphasis on wine. They were also producing olive oil to use for their light, you know, all the legumes they age, the wheat, the barley. These were things that were common to this whole area.

And the ceramic evidence, which at the beginning when the philistines first arrives was so strikingly different from what is being unearthed in the Israelite sites. Later on we see, one of the most interesting thing is that we are so used to the fact that wherever Jews are, they sort of assimilate to the local cultures. And here at Safi we have evidence that it is the Philistines, actually, who are assimilating into king of the larger Judahite culture, over time.

In what way?

They adopt the Judahite style of pottery. It becomes much less Philistine, much more Judahite. At the site, a number of years ago, we found some philistine writing, and we find that they are writing using the [Hebrew] aleph-bet. And, most likely, we assume that over time they even adopted circumcision. In Tanach, later on, they are not referred to as “the uncircumcised” in the same way that they are in earlier periods.

The horned altars that they use [symbol of Safi excavation] is something they are borrowing from Judah. Language, dress, all kinds of customs, are thing that become more Judahite.

There is mention in Shoftim (Judges) 1:18-19 that Judah gained control over Gaza, Ashkelon and Ekron and their area, but not the dwellers of the valley, for they had iron chariots.

Is there any evidence of that?

Dr. Maeir examining remains of the ancient iron workshops

That is actually a really timely question, because right behind where I am working, they have what they consider what of the earliest iron workshops in the land. And it is Philistine, and I definitely recommend you go and take a look.

 

I don’t know about the chariots, we don’t have any evidence of that. The one thing about iron is that because it rusts it is very rare for you to find ancient iron. Over time it just disintegrates. Even today, you find bullets from ‘48 and they are already mostly rusted. So you can imagine that form 3,000 years ago – it’s not going to be very much.

But what we do find are the remnants, the detritus, the leftovers from the iron forging process. The slags. The crucibles in which it was forged. That is taking place right behind me. That is taking place, they are expanding this. It is the earliest attestation in the Land for iron use. It seems that the philistines did have a little advancement on technology. We don’t know if they are the ones who invented it, or they got knowledge from where they came from. But it does seem that they had this technology before it spread to other parts of the Land of Israel.

 

Based on what is found here, what can a teacher do differently in their classroom?

Close up of a fragment, from the iron making process

I think that what archaeology, sort of the essence of it, is the material remains. We have two types, there are the portable remains, like ceramics and any kinds of small find that we can take away. And then we have the architectural remains. And so, I think that being able, you know, that’s where you can advance the teaching, I think. It is through using the material items, either as replicas, or showing pictures. Give the sense to people that in so many ways, their lives weren’t so different…history is a foreign country. You’re right, they did live different lives than we did today. But in some ways there is essential humanity. They still had to achieve their daily needs, and that is much of what their lives revolved around, just like today. It is about making sure there is enough food to eat, that there is a home, a shelter above them, clothing. And then you get a little sense of the personality when you find some kind of exotic item or something they made that is unique to them. So you see there is also this human need of creative expression, as well as to hold onto something that maybe makes you a little bit different.

 

But I think that what archaeology forces you to confront is that, again, in Tanach, this is an agrarian society. That is, most of the people are living as simple farmers, and in fact, that is the life that is reflected in the Mishnah and in the Talmud, and we kind of tend to forget that. We think of Judaism as always being urban, living in these cities, merchants, traders and involved in commercial activities. And the truth is that it leaves 1,500 hundred years, which, depending on how far back you want to go, is about half of our society. We were farmers. And that is what is reflected at these kinds of sites.

What is your message to a student or teacher who are thinking about coming to a dig?

I would say definitely come. It is something that you know, at this site, we have all ages. Everybody can participate. And the amazing thing about it is that we really do not know what we are going to find. And the only way to find what’s here, is to dig!

It is the only way to find out.

I think that just being able to touch the material, to get a sense of the earth that the people were living in, and to touch the material culture, to touch the vessels that they were using, to find a lamp that you know that somebody used to light their room so they could, maybe read by, or work by; to touch a grinding stone and say “this is what women were spending so many hours of their day doing, grinding their wheat, so that she can make the bread for her family”. I think it really brings you close to the actual life, the daily life, of the characters of Tanach.

 

Interview with Professor Dan Warner

Dan Warner is the Director for The Michael and Sara Moskau Institute of Archaeology and the Center for Archaeological Research, professor of Old Testament and Archaeology at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, and is a co-director of the Tel Gezer Water System excavation and preservation project. He has also served various roles on other excavations at Tel Kabri, Megiddo, Tel El Farah, Gerar, and Ashkelon.

http://www.nobts.edu/ArchaeologyCenter/

http://www.nobtsarchaeology.blogspot.com/

What is the value of archaeological excavations in general, and specifically for Biblical studies?

In general, of course, archaeology is important to me. I’ve been doing it for the past thirty years, all over the State of Israel.

Basically, it is exploring the ancient world. It’s showing you the heritage, it’s giving you the culture, the settings, where you came from. So it offers a lot to the general public in relationship to understanding even where we are today. So it’s a very broad area, but at the same time it can be specific to one culture, one ethnic group. So it offers a lot of ideas of where we came from and even where we’re going. Very significant.

Specifically, since I’m in the area of Biblical studies, archaeology in the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, it explains, illuminates, it helps us understand and comprehend the biblical text. So it puts a picture with the text. It draws an illustration…it fills in the gaps that the Bible sometimes doesn’t tell you. So you’re actually handling the physical remains, the material culture, you see the walls. For examples, like Joshua came into the Land of Israel, and they sent the spies in, and they came back saying there are giants in the land, and the cities were too well fortified. What does that word “fortified” mean?

Well, I’ve excavated two major fortifications: One at Ashkelon and one at Tel Gezer, and they are huge earthen ramparts. The one at Ashkelon was over 105 feet tall, the one in Gezer, over 100 feet tall, sloping, massive earthenworks. And they were all plastered white. So “fortification” – when you read that word you think of maybe a nice little wall–but these were massive structures in the time of Moses and Joshua.

That is just one illustration of what archaeology can do for you.

What has Tell es-Safi contributed to our understanding of the Biblical narrative?

Tel Gath has proven itself to be a gold mine of cultural elements that we’ve read about, and people have talked about. But now you actually get to pick them up and handle them in your hands. You get to see ceramics, you get to see the houses, you get to see the fortifications.

Tel Gath has proven itself to be a gold mine of cultural elements that we’ve read about, and people have talked about.

That just gives you a unique picture of who these Philistines were: What their expertise were, what their ideas were, their ideology. It’s a lot more than just reading the word ‘Philistine’. Now you’ve got a whole set of objects and material remains that you can associate with them.

Based on what is found here, what can a teacher do differently in their classroom?

What I always emphasize is a picture. If a picture is worth a thousand words, why aren’t teachers using more illustrations? So anything that you can illustrate with the biblical text, so they can get a visual image – they’ll never forget the visual image. They’ll forget the words, but the image will stay there. So if you can show them the wall, show them the pottery, show them the temples – wow.

But, the other key thing, something that I’m doing, is reconstructing them. If we can make a visual encyclopedia of the ancient world, we’re doing that with Tel Gezer, I’d like to do it with other sites and with Jerusalem, so that I student can walk inside, see the walls.

My company is called “The Virtual Bible Project”. I’ve already launched several different programs with a program called Logos – Bible Software. I’ve just finished Solomonic Temple, Gezer, and I’ve got a ton of projects coming up. A person can just go the the website and download a program.

 

What is your message to a student or teacher who are thinking about coming to a dig?

Cities are never located because it’s a nice place to live. In the bible, there are over 2,000 cities mentioned. All of them, when the people built the cities, they knew whythey were building them, where they were located, what the significance was. We just read “Gath”. But if you don’t see where it connects… it connects with the international trade route, which is right in front of their door. Same thing with Gezer, where I am. All these cities were located because they were near trade routes, they were obviously near water, but they had to have farming lands for farming, and defenses.

Cities are never located because it’s a nice place to live […] when the people built the cities, they knew  why they were building them,  where they were located,  what the significance was

Once you get the visual pictures – everybody thinks that Israel is nothing but a desert, nothing but a bunch of rocks. But then when you come here, and start looking at the sites, you say “Oh, now that makes sense!” Then you can go back to the Biblical texts and you can read about Gezer, Megiddo, all those places, and make a connection.

So the Land is what we call “The Fifth Gospel”. You can have the text, you can have the artifacts – but it’s the geography – that’s what makes it come alive.

So I’d encourage everybody. Get over here on one kind of trip. Specifically if you’re going to teach biblical studies – it’s a must! You’re losing one third of the context. Very important!

Tell es-Safi – Mightier than you Might have Thought

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Tel es-Safi National Park

Before I take you to the ancient Philistine city of Gath (Tell es-Safi, or תל צפית), I’d like to tell you how I got there. It all started in March 30 in New York, when I went to a symposium in the Center for Jewish History, called “In the Valley of David and Goliath: Digging up the Evidence of the United Monarchy”. If you haven’t yet been to – or heard about – Khirbet Quiayafa (Biblical Sha’arayim. See I Samuel 17:52) – then you should definitely look it up: http://qeiyafa.huji.ac.il/

Qeiyafa.jpg
Aerial photo of Khirbet Qeiyafa. Picture from HUJI link above

And if you will be in Jerusalem anytime from September 22, 2016, you would be in for a special treat if you visit the Bible Lands Museum: http://www.blmj.org/en/

The museum is hosting the exhibition “In the Valley of David and Goliath”, showcasing the latest finds from that site. Some of these sites have changed the pages of history, and they all have exciting stories. Don’t miss it!

While getting to know different people who attended the events, I met Professor Jill Katz of Yeshiva University. It turns out that she was going to be part of an expedition to Tel es-Safi, and she invited me to the dig, if I will be in Israel. At the time I wasn’t sure I was going to make it, but as it turned out – I did!

Getting in touch ahead of time with Dr. Aren Maeir, the director of the expedition, I got permission to film some footage from the site, and to conduct several interviews with archaeologists. That itself would be an important task, but I was there to get down and dirty with uncovering history. Luckily, I was able to do both, and I am now going to share it with you!

But before I do, please make sure to check out Dr. Maeir’s blog, which was updated almost daily during the excavation and surely has lots of exciting footage:

https://gath.wordpress.com/

In this article, I will share some of my personal experiences at the dig, as well as some of the things I learned from the interviews I conducted on site. Hopefully soon, I plan to post the entire transcripts with videos and footage of, and relating to, the interviews.

Interviews I succeeded in recording:

  1. Dr. Aren Maeir – Bar Ilan University
  2. Professor Jill Katz – Yeshiva University
  3. Dr. Daniel Warner – Head of the Tel Gezer Excavations (check out www.telgezer.com and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dan_Warner)

tel es safi altar 2011.jpg

An altar uncovered in previous excavations of es-Safi (ca. 2011). The altar is important because it teaches about Philistine ritual, and their cultural relationship to the neighboring nations at the time. Picture from the article: http://www.haaretz.co.il/news/education/1.1181642

 

Day 1: Monday, July 12, 2016

It is said that the best way to learn a foreign language is through immersion. Well, I learned a lot of archaeological terminology through immersion. With abbreviations such as “EB”, “MB” and “LB” thrown around (Respectively: Early, Middle and Late Bronze Age), I was immersed in conversation about different excavations, comparative analyses of finds, and biblical references. I also met a whole lot of interesting people, who came to learn through the digging into the dust of the land.

I was working in “Area P”, while further up the Tel was “Area E”. I was immediately assigned a square to work in, learning quickly terms such as “banketim” (Hebrew for the ramps which outline the 5×5 Meter square areas into which a site is typically divided), usage of pickaxes and types of shovels, what is “topsoil” and what are “mud bricks”, uttered in a number of accents, from Hebrew and Russian to Korean.

It was a crowded day at the site. Besides myself and many other volunteers of all ages, there was a group of Yeshiva University students who joined for the day, as well as a group of Israeli soldiers. Apparently, their commanders decided it would be a good idea to spice it up a bit and join a dig for a couple days.

Aren Maeir Interview.jpg
Dr. Maeir, during the interview

“But why Tel es-Safi”, you ask? I’ll let Dr. Maeir answer that:

“…it is a site which is identified as Gath, one of the five cities of the Philistines known from the Bible (Introduced in Joshua 13:3, and then several times throughout Judges and Samuel), and we find here substantial remains of the Philistines and their culture. And more specifically, we can talk about various historical events that are mentioned in the biblical texts, such as the conquest of Gath by Hazael which is mentioned in II Kings 12:18, and we can find the remains of the destruction of the site at the time”

We spoke earlier about the battle of David against the giant Philistine, Goliath. Gath was his very own hometown!

“We know of the importance of Gath to the Philistines in the stories relating to David…and we can find the remains of a very, very impressive city at the time.

“We hear the story of David who is escaping from Saul, and meeting Achish king of Gath – faking [to be] mad – and we excavated the gate of Gath. Even though it is not necessarily that gate (which David wrote all over in his apparent madness)…it gives us a nice idea of what a gate at that time looked like.”

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Examining a clay shard I unearthed

I can say, personally, that when I had the historic context of where I was digging, it made the uncovering of pottery shards, jug handles and even a flint blade – a lot more exciting!

When I asked Professor Katz why we should come and dig, she said “…the amazing thing about it is that we really do not know what we are going to find. And the only way to find what’s here, is to dig! It is the only way to find out.”

We found out a lot about the site. I think that the most important lesson I took from this day is how impressive this city was. When we read about it in Tanach, it’s basically yet another nameless city, which had nameless villains who are long gone. But through this experience, I know now more about these people and their lifestyle, as well as the impact that this city might have had on my hillside-dwelling ancestors. In the words of Professor Katz:

“…this site, is a wonderful site. I think the first thing that anybody coming to the site would notice…is you get the sense of the scale. This is a huge site in the ancient world, something on the order of 500 dunam (around 123 acres), which is probably around ten times the size of Jerusalem in the Iron Age I period (1150-1000 BCE, estimated time of King David and King Solomon). The philistines were formidable. Even though they were just in the southern coastal plain, they were a real power. They came and built large cities, cities that were fortified, cities that…would have dominated the region. So I think that working at Gath, and knowing that we are really at the beginning of the foothills, you get a sense of what the Israelites living in the hillside must have felt when they looks down from the hills to the foothills, and knew there was this huge city there, with a population that was well organized, and quite affluent, on a relative scale”.

And I did say that there were surprises. One of those “small world” surprises: Uri Shalmon, my neighbor from Highland Park was digging there for the day, with Yeshiva University. Israel – it’s where these things happen!

 

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With Uri Shalmon

Day 2: Wednesday, July 14

I was infused, energized, motivated. I wanted to share this excitement with my friends. Convincing two of my friends, Josh and Mark, to join me, we made our way to another day at Safi. The way it goes is everyone starts setting up and digging before day break, around 5:45. Then, at 7:00 we have a coffee break. At 9:00 we have breakfast, and at 11:00 there is a “watermelon break” – exciting to us, but to those on the site every day for the past few weeks, the same drill gets rather boring. 12:00 is when we start wrapping up and getting on buses. Once everyone gets to the lodging (Kibbutz Revadim), there is the pottery wash activity, which I did not participate on this site. I did in the next site I visited, but that is for another article.

 

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Enjoying watermelon break with Josh and Mark

On this day I was assigned a different area. Lo and behold, two small world surprises: In the same spot that Josh, Mark and I were working, Josh found a neighbor from his street in his hometown of St. Louis, and I bumped into the older sister of my student, from New Jersey.

 

This day was a particularly intensive say, but not as crowded. This was basically the last day of digging, and everything had to be wrapped up, documented, and prepared for inspection. That is the main reason I was unable to interview Amit Dagan – he was extremely preoccupied with finishing up the dig with as much clarity as possible. It was truly inspiring to watch him hop from spot to spot, feeling the earth, examining, conversing about it.

There is a lot of information that was learned on this site, both about the site itself, and about the contributions of archaeology to our classrooms and text-based lessons. I would like to dedicate a separate article to the three interviews (and corresponding footage) that I recorded here, because there are so many interesting things that expand outward. For example, Dr. Dan Warner directs the dig in Tel Gezer, another biblical site, and is also working on innovative methods for bringing sites to life in the classroom. These things deserve their own spotlight.

To sum up the second day at Tel es-Safi, I think the most important lesson I learned is from the interview with Prof. Katz: Archaeology teaches us about the life of the common people, while history is written by the victor. In her own words:

“I think that Archaeological studies are a good compliment to historical studies. In the sense that…the general approach is that this is reflecting the elite culture, maybe the male culture, but this is something that is written by the victors. And so, there’s whole swaps of people and of life that are not really reflected in history.”

Indeed, when it comes to the Philistines, this is very true. But we know a lot about our interactions with them. What about the “seven nations” who settled the land? We are commanded to inherit the land and send those people away – or fight them. But why? Who are they? What is their story? What remains of them? These are all intriguing questions. Every morning in the prayers we review in brief the history of Abraham through David, talking about the covenant to Abraham who is given inheritance of the “Land of the Canaanites: The Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites and the Girgashites (Geshurites?)” nations forgotten from the annals of history, and if not for our daily mention of them, who would remember them? What do we know about them, indeed?

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Professor Katz, during the interview

“…you can find out what the kings and queens were doing, and what the elite were doing, but you don’t necessarily know what the average person was doing.

So I think what the big advantage of archaeology is that we have the opportunity to…find the remains of almost everybody…there is a lot of emphasis, particularly today, in excavating a farmstead, investigating just the daily life of regular people.

The number one find that we find in archaeological sites are ceramic remains, pots. Ceramics is something that everybody used, it was ubiquitous.

A king or queen – they would have fancy pots. But the average person still had to use pots for storing food, for preparing food, serving food, eating food. Everybody was using it.

 

 

So I think the best thing about archaeology is that it reflects sort of the general population as well as the elite population. And it reminds us that, you know, most of us are not necessarily in the elite. So you get a sense of what the majority of people were like.”

A very humbling thought, indeed. Who would have thought that digging in the dust reminds us that, well, we should also be humble. As Abraham said:

Abraham spoke up, saying, “Here I venture to speak to my Lord, I who am but dust and ashes” (Genesis 18:27)

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Dr. Maeir and Dr. Dagan surveying the site at the end of the day

What are you doing in a place like this?

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Ancient Lachish on the 4th expedition, July 2016

“Where are you from?”

“I’m from Israel”

“Yeah, but before that”

“Like I said, I’m from Israel”

I was Born in Jerusalem, and raised in the Old City. A true “Rovah boy” (Rovah = jargon for the Jewish Quarter). There are many children with English speaking parents who grew up in the Rovah, so it is quite understandable that people suspect I’m not native Israeli. It also helped that I had a classmate in seventh-grade, from Chicago, who inspired me to work on my English. You’ll catch me in my spelling and gaps in cultural knowledge. Little did I know that would set me on a path that would lead me to the United States, almost fifteen years later.
So now, the conversation usually carries on as follows:

“Where do you live?”

“I live in Highland Park, NJ”

“Wait, you’re from the Rovah? What are you doing in a place like this?” 

Good question. A question I have to ask myself daily. On the days  I don’t, I wonder if I’ve been here too long. But you can’t take Jerusalem out of a Rovah boy. What am I doing in a place like this? In this article, I’d like to share with you some practical thoughts about that.

Here’s another point, which I’ll soon connect to the previous one. After three years of teaching in New York and New Jersey (with the annual visit home), I came to Israel for a month (July-August 2016) – probably the most intensive month I’ve spent in Israel in my whole life. But why should you care? Allow me to explain.

While in the US, I’ve taught in several different settings: From classes and activities in schools and summer camps to presentations and learning groups with communities and college students. At the heart of what I share there is always the deep love for where I grew up: The Rovah, Jerusalem the Land of Israel and even beyond (well, Jordan). Much of my instruction was based on the thrust of having come from Israel, but it was circumstance that lead me to relate those things. I’m an educator, and I teach mostly Tanach and Judaic Studies, so naturally I talk about what I know from home.

Middle School students at the Ancient Near East department in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, learning about Assyria.

 

That thought dawned on me as I contemplated a museum tour I guided in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Let me backtrack. Around November 2015, I prepared a tour for my Middle School, focusing on Assyria and Babylon. My own preparation was laborious, and the students also had to prepare via texts, videos and other media. Since the Tenth of Tevet was coming up (marking the day that Nebuchadnezzar lay siege on Jerusalem), I felt the need to give the students a basic understanding of who is Babylon. They are not merely a nameless villain on the pages of history. Babylon was a culture that changed the world, making a powerful impact on us that lasts until today, from the Babylonian Talmud to the names of the month, and of course – the destruction of the First Temple (586 BCE).

The students were also learning the book of Melachim (Kings), and it felt appropriate to include Assyria as well: Who were the Assyrians, what was their impact on us? Where are the Ten Tribes? And what happened to the Assyrians? Many of us have visited King Chizkiyahu’s (Ezekiah) water cistern, and even seen the defense wall he built – right under my parents’ house (see image below) – against Sennacherib. So who was he, and what was the big deal?

At first, the museum tour was meant to be an out-of-school experience and activity, nothing more. But then I realized how much of an impact it had on the students, and how this can me something much more. That is when I decided to go to Israel, and this time, to consciously invest in learning about the broader context in which Tanach took place.

Ancient Lachish. The second most important city in the Kingdom of Judah, after Jerusalem.

On my short visit, I participated in two archaeological expeditions (Tel Lachish, and Tel es-Safi or Ancient Gat), field-trip conventions for educators, I visit other important sites (City of David, Givati parking lot) and museum exhibits (‘Pharaoh in Canaan’, among others in the Israel Museum and Bible Lands Museum), and met with various experts and educators. On two of the sites, I interviewed archaeologists about how the relevance of what they do to our learning and understanding. So yes, this has a lot to do with us.

 

In the upcoming articles, I will hopefully share with you some of the experiences from those places, as well as the transcription and video of the interviews.

Professor Yossi Garfinkel, gaving coffee before an interview about Tel Lachish, at the YMCA, Jerusalem. All other interviews were on site.

Meanwhile, I am taking all of this, and am going back to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. But this time, I am going with a purpose. It is to make the most I can of “a place like this” – a place where we I can find things that will connect us to the text, enhance our understanding of the stories we’ve learned, and hopefully amplify our connection to the Land of Israel, and our Jewish Identity. I am developing a series of tours aimed at enhancing our understanding of things like the Seven Nations, Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome. As an artist, I can’t ignore the “Museum of Art” part of “The Metropolitan”, and in the programs I’m developing I intend to make available an art program, as I did with my own Middle School.

In the Bible Lands Museum, Jerusalem, with Rabbi Yehuda Landy

Meanwhile, I wish you all a great summer, and I hope to see you one day in the Museum, and even better – in Jerusalem!