First – my apologies for an inexcusably long break in blog writing. Coming home from a six-week absence in the middle of the summer…well it’s still not a good excuse but it’s the only one I got. So let me tell you a little about my trip to Israel. Many years (nearly 40) ago, as a young seminarian, I had an opportunity to go on an archaeological dig for college credit. I really wanted to go. The time wasn’t right. Young married, toddler, baby on the way, not on my job as a youth minister nearly long enough to ask for a sabbatical, didn’t have the necessary money, etc. Let me say this about God – His timing is always right. I would have been younger and stronger in my 20’s but I was much better prepared to profit from the experience in my 60’s – and still able to work plenty hard enough – and sharing the experience with four family members (wife, wife’s sister, brother-in-law, and eldest son) added to the blessing. I learned a ton and would recommend the experience to anyone – if not the full six weeks, many volunteers dug for a single week, my wife and sister-in-law came for the first week of touring and then dug for a week. That arrangement; airfare, hotel, bus transportation (week-long original tour and smaller weekend tours) in Israel, meals and all included – cost $3,000 apiece. My six-week gig ran about $8,000. Try to arrange such a thing outside the context of an archaeological dig and you will realize what a bargain it is. You pay for the rest of the experience with sweat. But it’s good sweat.
Imagine a thirteen-acre site with a hill/knob about the size of the one the IRCC building is located on. Now, imagine there have been thirteen distinct periods of occupation of the site over a few thousand years, most periods ending with a destruction – conquest, earthquake, etc. Following a destruction, a new period begins with salvaging a lot of building materials from the ruin, leveling up the rubble, adding soil, broken rock and every imaginable sort of trash – old pottery, worn out flint tools, bones, broken stone, etc. (Archaeologists love trash!) and rebuilding on top of the previous level. This results in current ground level for the site being dozens of feet higher than say – three thousand years ago. The period you want to look at, of course, is from three thousand years ago. No problem! You just have to move the hill.
Not so fast! When you have moved the hill you will have destroyed all the evidences of all those more recent periods of occupation. The record of that evidence must be preserved. So, you move the hill by scraping the soil away an inch at a time with a hand-trowel. When you encounter rocks, you scrape the soil from around them so the trained archaeologists can see the rocks at every level as you go. Rocks may indicate a wall that has been pushed over – or the top of a wall still standing beneath your feet – or a floor – or a second-story floor that fell during a destruction – or or or… You also save the pottery you find while scraping the soil away – and the bones – and the flint – and the seeds – and of course any coins, bits of metal, intact tools (bone sewing needles, stone scrapers, etc.). When the archaeologist has photographed, categorized, taken elevations, and marked on a grid everything of import, bagged all the objects and identified the nature of the rocks at the current level of scraping, everything is removed, toted off for dry and wet sifting – or to a big and growing rock pile, and you start scraping again.
Down you go – the masonry techniques, the types of pottery, dateable bones, material of tools – and weapons (sling stones, ballista, arrowheads), coins and so forth dating the eras. Standing walls are left intact, emerging from the dirt as you dig. And, of course, each change in soil composition must be noted and recorded – trashy fill, decayed clay bricks, etc. Also, once in a while you find what have been work areas – the remnants of a clay over with charred bones, seeds, and so forth – storage areas with lots of jar stoppers and the like – occasional smashed but complete clutches of pottery that can be reassembled. And, periodically, the destructions, extended strata of ashes and breakage. It all tells a story
My own work mainly consisted of de-constructing walls that had been unearthed in a previous year’s digging. You would be amazed what all workmen throw into the clay joints between stones! I finally worked my way down to the bronze age walls we were looking for and, if everything the archaeologists theorize proves to be true, stood in the holy of holies in the tabernacle at Shiloh.
Apart from the experience, which was great, why does it matter. Because skeptics doubt the historical reliability of the Bible. They regard figures such as Joshua as mythological and events like the conquest of the promise land as late propaganda. But what if the Israelites were there in the fourteenth century BC and what if they did build a tabernacle? What if that monumental building can be proven? What if the remains of actual sacrifices (kosher animals – right side bones representing the priest’s portion) can be demonstrated. What if a destruction took place about 1050 BC – right when the Bible would place the Philistine destruction?
Well, work remains to be done at Shiloh but none of the questions from the previous paragraph are what ifs’ anymore. All of that is now demonstrated. It was a privilege and an honor for me to be a small part of the process.
BTW – for anyone interested, we will be making a presentation – with photos – concerning the Shiloh dig at IRCC, September 14. Light refreshments at 6:30, presentation at 7. All welcome!
Pastor and Author Terry Bailey, Senior Minister of Indian Run Christian Church