DIGGING IN THE DIRT: THE FINE ART OF ARCHEOLOGY

Even though I have been to the Holy Land innumerable times over the past 46 years I have never personally participated in a dig. Sounded like hot, hard work and did not intrigue me all that much. Not my cup of tea.

My wife Judy, on the other hand, is possessed with a kind of curiosity that she always wants to dig when we visit sites like Megiddo .

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I well remember one time we were in Philippi (the New Testament book of Philippians) in Northern Greece and she was only stopped from giving in to this compulsion when one of the guards stopped her.

Archeology sounds so glamorous. Just to consider the thought  that you might uncover the ultimate hidden treasure. Think of the Indiana Jones movies and their appeal.

But archeology is just not as glamorous as all that I have found. Much of it has to do with digging in dirt and finding tiny clues from the past, coupled with the skill to recognize when a fragment of pottery ( a shard as it is called) was made, by its historic characteristics. Pottery is the main way that dating is determined. Sometimes major structures, like a 200’ long section of wall recently discovered outside the walls of Old Jerusalem, are uncovered, but that is the exception not the rule.

A recent publication by the Biblical Archeology Society, (BAS) entitled Jerusalem Archeology: Exposing the Biblical City caught my attention as it focused on the daily grind of the detective work we call field archeology.

Since 1967 when Israel captured the Old City of Jerusalem in the 6 Day war, there has been a lot of digging around the temple area. I have written in earlier postings about the discovery there  of the steps leading up to the temple from the southern valley, up which Jesus most assuredly must have walked.                                             (Go to      Facebook.com/HolyLandGuru  for the many articles I have posted in recent months to keep my friends up to speed on all things Holy land related)

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But there is much more that has been uncovered there  including parts of walls and foundations of buildings that go back 1000 years before Jesus to the time of Solomon the builder of the 1st great temple to stand in that area.

The original City of Jerusalem called the City of David, is located downhill from the walls of the current Old City and is a nondescript muddy mound . It is an active archeological site.

The archeologists have now determined how David’s son Solomon enlarged Jerusalem and enclosed the area from the City of David all the way up to and including the current Temple mount, in his Jerusalem’s environs.

Solomon built his glorious temple on the same general area where the current Golden dome of the Muslim shrine now sits  where also  his great palace probably once stood. The massive current platform we now see was built by Herod the Great at the time of Jesus (later restored by Suleiman the magnificent in the Middle ages,) and is much more extensive than the area used by Solomon 1000 years earlier.

Moved by this account in BAS  I turned to the Biblical account of this event in 1 Kings 6 and, upon re reading it for the umpteenth time, was fascinated by the detail that it contained even tying the date of this construction by King Solomon  to the Exodus from Egypt  480 years earlier. (A side benefit of this is to offer us guidance as to when the Exodus from Egypt actually occurred as well as when the Temple was built)

It took Solomon 7 years to build his temple and 13 years to construct his nearby imposing palace that was 150’ long by 75’ wide and 45’ tall. Among the details incorporated in this grand building was the casting of 2 massive bronze columns 27’ tall and 18’ in circumference.

I find that when I read such Biblical passages against the background of having actually traveled to the place itself, this all takes on a new dimension of reality.

That is why I especially urge pastors to have the experience of travel to the Holy Land such as we offer each year.

This should not be considered a luxury but a source of important knowledge necessary in order to be an accurate teacher of the Word.

Also I might add, reading this Biblical account in a modern language translation like the New Living translation makes this massive project so easy to picture.

So much for background.

This BAS  article on archeology in Jerusalem reports that in 1999 the Muslims who now control the Temple Mount, decided to dig some steps down through the floor of the plateau near the al Aqsa Mosque and connect to an area below mistakenly called Solomon’s Stables.

This is a vaulted area below the South Eastern corner of the temple mount (perhaps the  pinnacle of the Temple as described in the temptation of Jesus by Satan) .

Solomon’s Stables consists of a lower area with a series of columns that support the platform above where the modern mosque is situated.

Dating for Solomon’s Stables is difficult to ascertain as some date this to the Roman Emperor Hadrian (about 130 AD) when he rebuilt Jerusalem (his city was called the Aelia Capitolina ) following its destruction by the 10th Legion 40 years earlier  in 70 AD.

After the rise of Islam in the 600s AD this lower area was made into a Muslim prayer room. Later the Crusaders turned It into a stable and then it reverted back to being a Muslim sacred place.

In order to provide convenient access for visitors to the Al Aqsa Mosque, to this subterranean place now called the Marwani Mosque, the modern Muslim rulers of the Temple mount area decided to create a flight of stairs by opening up a hole in the present  platform and providing step access from above.

In the process of doing this they created stress on the Southern wall and this threatened the collapse of the entire structure. An unsightly emergency repair can now be seen in white on the Southern wall as the result.

Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives

Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives

The BAS article reports how the Muslim diggers just dumped truckloads of artifact laden dirt taken from the excavations, into the Kidron Valley below.

They were oblivious to the damage they were doing and the value of what they just discarded, as their only focus was the building of this set of stairs.

Others had different plans for this pile of dirt: Israeli archeologists viewed this dirt pile as a potential treasure trove and established a nearby  location on Mount Scopus where they began laboriously trucking the dirt and washing down the debris and sifting it for the tiny treasures that subsequently were uncovered and have now added a great deal to our knowledge of the area.

Among the treasures found is a fragment of a 3400 year old clay seal containing the oldest Hebrew writing ever discovered in Jerusalem. It is a part of a clay tablet written in cuneiform (ie with a wedged shaped stick in soft clay that is then fired) that is thought to date back to about 400 years before Solomon when the Canaanites had a city there.

This fragment is thought to be a file copy  of a letter of appeal sent by the Canaanite king who then ruled over this area, (remember this was well before the time of David and Solomon) sent from Jerusalem  to the weird pharaoh Akhnaten, the monotheistic pharaoh from the 1300s BC, asking for help against some of his enemies.

A trove of such correspondence was earlier discovered in Egypt and is called the Amarna letters. Apparently just like us they made file copies of important documents so that they could later refer back to what they had said. How modern does that sound?

And so  truckloads of dirt are brought in and washed and sifted and tiny treasures such as these are retrieved from time to time.

Such is the not so romantic and dirty drudge work that is much of the lot of the modern archeologist.

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If you should be one who travels with us on a Holy Land Tour you will see many such digs and excavations.

We invite you to come along with us on one of our personally escorted journeys to Turkey, Jordan and Israel in 2014 and add this rich experience to your bucket list for sure. Special arrangements available for pastors as well.

By Dr. Robert Grant aka The Holy Land Guru   written  August 18, 2013.

www.holylandguru.com

Facebook.com/HolyLandGuru

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