Mount of Olives panorama

Mount of Olives panorama
A panoramic view of the Mount of Olives

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Shephelah Winter 2012 field trip

On Monday, January 30, we took our students on our Shephelah Field trip, which is a tour of the low rolling hill country between the Judean highlands and the coastal plain.  This is where many of the events of Judges, 1 Samuel, and the books of Kings took place.

Leaving Jerusalem (A), we traveled first to Bet Shemesh (B) in the Sorek Valley, which witnessed the early life of the hero Samson.  We then went to Azekah (C), which controlled the Elah Valley, where the young David confronted the Philistine champion (and "giant") Goliath.  We then went south to the fortress of Lachish (D) before heading back to the site of the fortress of Maresha (E) and then returned home.

This is exactly the same itinerary that we took during the Fall Semester, so you can go to the 2011 "Shephelah Field Trip: Samson, David and Goliath, and Fortresses" post to read more detailed descriptions of each site and its history.  The only real difference this time was that rain and mud kept us from going down to the Elah Valley after Azekah to reenact the David and Goliath slinging experience.   One thing that will look really different in this set of pictures and videos, however, is the landscape.  I have only been to Israel in the months of May, August, or early fall before, so being here now during the "winter" has been an eye-opener.  This is this land's rainy season, and the hillsides and country generally that are usually brown, dry, and rocky is now covered with a carpet of green and wildflowers are beginning to bloom everywhere.  It is truly beautiful!

In October the top of Tel Lakhish was completely brown and dry, with just dirt, rocks, and few dry bushes exposed.  Now is is verdant and beautiful!

After the highlights video, I am posting pictures and a couple of video clips from some readers theater we did on the stories of Samson and David this trip.

Bet Shemesh and the Samson Saga

Once again, go to last semester's post to read more about this site.  After Jared Ludlow described the geography of the site, I took the students through passages in Judges 13-16 and we sang "Choose the Right," which Brother Samson did not always do!

The students climbing on top of Tel Bet Shemesh

Red poppies were beginning to bloom everywhere on the site

Jared Ludlow lecturing on the site
Several of my students participated in a bit of "readers' theater," telling the story of Manoah and his wife, the parents of Samson, and then, of course, the story of Samson and Delilah!

Before we left the site, we explored one of the preserved water cisterns

Azekah, the Elah Valley, and David

Once again, Jared oriented the students on this site and told much of its later history, including sieges later by the Assyrians and Babylonians.  I went to the earlier history, using it as a lookout point to view the Valley of Elah, where Saul and the Israelites confronted the Philistines.  This is, of course, where David slew Goliath.

Students begin to climb the tell in the drizzling rain

A green tell!

Students gather in the center of the tell, which gives views of important places in every direction

An example of the markers that help one identify sites and locations from the top of the tell
Our readers' theater here included the story of Saul and David and then David and Goliath.  Not sure why David is British in one and Scottish in the other!  David's choice to serve the living God led us to sing "Who's on the Lord's Side, Who?"

I promised my students that we would make up the experience of using our slings to cast stones later---on a dry day!---in the Tsurim Valley below the Center.


As I wrote last time, Lakhish (biblical Lachish) was a vital fortress and once the second most important city in Judah.  It was particularly striking in its winter green.

The approach to the gate of Lakhish.  Look at how green the tell is!

Thought to be "a Persian solar temple" by some, one unearthed building on the tell is thought to be a small Israelite sanctuary or temple like the one we saw in Arad
The day's group pic in the Holy of Holies and the Holy Place of the shrine.  Note the two students being cherumbim over an imagined ark in the center of the pic
Despite the strength of the site and the impressiveness of its fortifications, Lakhish was taken by both the Assyrians and the Babylonians in horrible sieges.  This led us to sing "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God," since only relying on the Lord can truly save us and keep us safe.

Exploring a water culvert

Students pointing out the discovery place of the so-called Lakhishh letters, that chronicle the Babylonian seige

The gate of Lakhish

Coming down the side of the tell


The Israelite fortress of Mareshah or Bet Guvrin controlled the Guvrin Valley in the Shephelah.  Later, in the Hellenistic period, a large city was built below the hill and called Marisa.  Later, in the Roman and Byzantine periods, it was the city of Eleutheropolis.  We spent most of our time in Hellenistic Marisa, much of which, surprisingly, consisted of underground caves dug out of the soft limestone.

One of the several columbaria, or dovecotes, in Marisa, which were used to raise pigeons for food, sacrifices, and fertilizer.
Like other sites, Maresha was green!

This is the season when the cisterns we often look at fill up with water
Looking down into the same cistern from the top

The students crowd into the Sidonian tomb

Before we left Marisa, we visited the Bell Caves, which were commercial quarries to extract lime to use in plaster.  They are huge and have great acoustics, so we did a lot of singing in one of them.

Dudes in the bell cave

Last group pic of the day

Friday, January 27, 2012

Jordan pictures and video clips up

Video clips and a full set of pictures from our four days in Jordan are now up and ready to view on my Jordan Winter 2012 page.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Leaving for Jordan

We leave Monday morning for four days in Jordan.  Internet is often unreliable or quite slow in our hotels there, so blogging and certainly uploading of photos and video clips may well need to wait until I return to Jerusalem.  Although I have started a Jordan Winter 2012 page and may be able to post text descriptions, those who are interested can look at the Jordan Fall 2011 page for a general idea of what we will be doing.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Negev Field Trip

On 1/20/12 we took our students to sites in the Negev, the dry desert in the far south of Israel.  A couple of the sites were ones that we visited in our Fall 2011 trip, but we added a couple of sites and did one differently.  First we drove from Jerusalem to Laqiya, a large Bedouin town (B).  We then went to Arad, which features both Canaanite and Israelite ruins (C).  Next we went to a site that was new to me, Advat, which was founded as an important Nabatean City on the Incense Route but later became a Roman and then Byzantine agricultural center (D).  After that we visited the site of Ben Gurion's tomb at Midresehet Ben-Gurion, which we also used as a lookout point to view the biblical Winterness of Zin (E).  Finally, we drove through Be'er Sheva (F), where Abraham and Isaac had both lived.

Here is the trip's highlights video:

One of the reasons we begin our Negev trip with a visit to a Bedouin community is because in this Arab group's traditional nomadic lifestyle one can catch a glimpse of what life must have been for the biblical patriarchs and matriarch.  Today, of course, as many Bedouins live in settled communities as in tents and encampments.  In fact, they are grappling with many of the problems of modernity, including unemployment and challenges in the areas of education and women's rights.  As a result, we like to start with a visit to the Sidreh Foundation, an organization that seeks to increase the literacy and economic status of Bedouin women by helping them develop and market their traditional handicrafts.

A Bedouin woman weaving

Skeins of wool waiting to be dyed

A small shop sells the women's good.  Josh Ludlow falls in love with a snuggly pillow
After we left the Sidreh Foundation in Laqiya, we drove to the site of Tell Arad.  This was a very important, and large, Canaanite city in the Early Bronze Age.  It seems to have been uninhabited in the Late Bronze Age when the Israelites were penetrating the Holy Land, but a regional chieftain still bore the title "King of Arad" (see Numbers 21:1,; Joshua 12:14).   

A deep Canaanite well (or perhaps just a catchment cistern)

Yea, it's deep!

The obligatory group pic.  I wish I had gotten more of these last semester

Here a student models the small size of a Canaanite kitchen.  I meant this to reassure Elaine in regard to the size of our apartment's kitchen
Students in the Canaanite gate
Some latecomers who did not make the last pic!

Canaanite temple complex
In the Iron Age, probably beginning about the time of Solomon, an Israelite fortress was built on the heights above the site of the old Canaanite city.  It is notable for containing the remains of a small Israelite temple, which confirms the existence of such local sanctuaries before the reforms of Hezekiah and later Josiah eliminated them in favor of a central temple in Jerusalem.  We used the setting of that ancient temple to talk about the Tabernacle, the Temple, and temples today, after which we sang, "We Love Thy House, O God" (hymn 247).

In the gate of the Israelite fortress at Arad

My home teacher, Brennan Jernigan, in the small Holy of Holies
Even in the "wet" season, the Negev is pretty barren
Despite the arid looking picture above, we had some light rain off and on today, and it was pretty cold and windy most of the time.  I kept telling the students, however, that they came at the best time, because it was hot when we were here last and is going to be REALLY hot when we come again this summer!

Our next site, Advat, was a new one to me.  It was established by the Nabateans as a fortified way station on the Incense Route, providing a safe way station between the Nabatean capital at Petra and the port of Gaza.  It grew larger and more wealthy with the increasing power and wealth of the Nabateans, and one of the kinds, Oboda II, did much building there and was eventually buried at the site, giving the city his name (Oboda > Avdat).  The Roman Emperor Trajan incorporated Nabatea into the empire as the new province of Arabia, but that did not hurt the prosperity of the region, and Avdat continued to prosper.  The focus of its economy became more agricultural when trade routes shifted, and complex water catchment and cisterns systems were built to support their farming.  

The remains of a Roman villa at Advat

A silhouette camel train recalls the importance of the old Incense Trail
On a Roman tower

Close up of the students on the tower, with Davis Green doing the Titanic move
In the Byzantine period, great churches were built on the platform which was once the Nabatean "temple mount."  This was my first chance to lecture to my students about the wonders of all things Byzantine: Greek-speaking, Christian Romans!  What else could you ask for?

Standing in our first Byzantine church

An orthodox baptistry

It is amazing that such a city could survive, and prosper, in this arid landscape . . .
. . . but it was thanks to a complex water system

Caves below the city served as storerooms, tombs, and even dwellings

Part of the steam piping system of the Byzantine bathhouse
Hypocausts, which held up the floor and allowed hot air and steam to circulate under the calidarium or hot room of the bath

After that we drove quickly to Midresehet Ben-Gurion, which is near the kibbutz where David Ben Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel, retired.  He felt that the Negev was the future of the new state, and he was buried very near the kibbutz where he spent his last years.  After looking at the graves of Ben Gurion and his wife, we turned around, where the park gave a stunning view of the barren desertscape that comprises the ancient Wildnerness of Zin, where the Children of Israel wandered for 40 years.  Moving a respectful distance away from the tombs and any other visitors, we found another lookout point where we could also sing "Redeemer of Israel" (hymn 6), which provided a moving setting to sing the familiar lines, "How long we have wandered as strangers in sin, And cried in the desert for thee!"

The graves of David and Paula Ben Gurion

Usually on this field trip we stop at Tel Be'er Sheva, where we talk about the history of Abraham and Isaac in this area.  Unfortunately the National Parks close an hour earlier in the winter months because of the shorter days, so we could not make it to the tell in time.  We intended to stop at the "Well of Abraham" in the modern city of Be'er Sheva, because some archaeologists maintain that that is as likely a site of Abraham and Isaac's well (everything in at the tell itself is Solomonic or later).  But double misfortune hit: that site is being developed into a new park and was closed off behind a construction fence.  So we read those accounts for Genesis and talked about those patriarchs on the drive home.

I am not succeeding in making my blog entries shorted this semester, am I?