June 6, 2009
Wednesday, we hit the road again and made our way down to Jericho, Qumran, and even talked our way into Hisham’s Palace for free. This was an extremely hot day, and I likened it to being shrimp in a wok! Thursday found us at Herodion checking out Herod’s tomb. We went to Shepherd’s Field and had a devotional in the cave on the property. We basically had the place to ourselves. We went from there to join the masses at the Church of the Nativity. I had thoughts of the NYC subway as we funneled down into the grotto. After lunch, we were dropped off at the Jaffa gate and went though the City of David Museum and the Citadel.
- Dr. Alan Hix
Digging Up History
There are pages of history under these rocks. Unopened books that recall the day-to-day lives of an ancient people lie covered with years of dirt and mud. Hidden volumes that chronicle political uprisings and natural disasters are ready and waiting to be opened. Words are not needed to recall these scenes from history; instead they come in the form of broken bits of pottery and shards of dishes -- evidence that life once flourished here.
The excavation site at Bethsaida welcomed a group of Shorter College students, who eagerly accepted the chance to dig in and bring the past back to life. As part of a 32-day trip to Israel, students taking part in the Mideast Study Abroad Program spent 13 days in May at the Bethsaida excavation site, using pickaxes, shovels, trowels and brushes to gently coax history out of hiding. And though the time spent excavating was certainly a highlight, the program offered much more.
Led by Dr. Alan Hix (’82), chair of the Department of Religion and Philosophy at Shorter, the study abroad trip exposed students to the diverse religious history of the Middle East. The experience led them to examine complex issues from religious, political and social viewpoints.
“We wanted students to learn about the Bible and its background in the actual places where these events took place,” said Dr. Hix. “In doing so, the Bible can ‘come alive’ and be more than just words on a page from some long ago time in ancient history.”
That approach especially impacted Spenser Bettis, a junior at Shorter. “To see the towns and landmarks where the prophets and Jesus himself lived and ministered was an experience I will never forget. Not only was this an enlightening experience for me historically, but it was also a spiritual journey,” Spenser said. “While visiting places like the Western Wall and Capernaum, I could feel God’s presence. Seeing everything in a physical manner brought the Bible to life in a way that I could piece it all together. Certain stories came to life – especially the crucifixion. To have all this come together for me personally was something that will be a highlight of my lifetime.”
Dr. Hix said the trip also allowed students to better understand the current crisis in the Mideast. “We wanted students to be able to form their own opinions based on first-hand experience, not on information filtered through national news services. We created opportunities for them to talk with people who were living the crisis – Jews, Muslims and Christian Arabs – and to hear the stories of both Israelis and Palestinians.”
The group spent the first few weeks of their trip at Bethsaida, taking on the role of archeologists. Arriving in Israel just as a heat wave encompassed the city, students worked in the sweltering heat with Dr. Rami Arav, who serves as director of the Bethsaida Excavation Project. “It was a positive experience for our students to work with such a noted archeologist,” said Dr. Hix. “Our task at Bethsaida was to clear an area below the 9th Century B.C. gate to uncover what Dr. Arav thinks would have been a marketplace.”
In the New Testament, Bethsaida, which translates to “House of the Fisherman,” was the home of Peter, Andrew and Phillip, three of Jesus’ apostles. It was Geshur, the home of David’s wife who was the mother of Absalom. “This was a place where both King David and Jesus would have walked,” Dr. Hix said.
While excavating at Bethsaida, Shorter College junior Brayden Huskey unearthed an unusual ancient bowl. Finding items likes bowls and bits of pottery is common at the site, but Brayden’s find was set apart from the others because of the type of stone used to make the bowl. During that time, pottery was typically carved from basalt, a stone native to Bethsaida and Galilee. Basalt from this area also contains iron deposits, evidenced by the streaks of red that mar the surface. It was determined that Brayden’s bowl was indeed carved from basalt, but her specimen was streaked with quartz, not iron. “That told us that this bowl was carved from stone imported from another country,” Dr. Hix explained. “It was quite an unusual find, and its design tells us that it was used by people of means. It was a type of bowl the royal family would have used.”
In addition to the excavation at Bethsaida, the students were able to tour the Holy Land, visiting significant sites in biblical history. At each stop, students were asked to make presentations that would include scripture readings and a time of reflection. Students were able to tour the Mount of Beatitudes and Capernaum and visited the site that served as the headquarters for Jesus’ public ministry. The group enjoyed an early-morning boat ride on the Sea of Galilee and bobbed in the Dead Sea. They also visited the Dominus Flevit Church of Pater Noster, the Garden of Gethsemane and the Church of All Nations of the Agony.
Several days were spent immersed in the Mideast culture. They participated in an Arab/English worship service in Jerusalem, and spent an afternoon visiting with students and faculty of the Mar Elias College in Ibillin. “We met with the vice principal of the school and heard his vision for a peaceful solution to the Palestinian/Jewish crisis,” said Dr. Hix. “Our students then got to engage their students in informal dialogue.”
Dr. Paul McCracken, associate dean for the Jerusalem Institute for Biblical Exploration, traveled with the students and was amazed with what he saw. “By far, the most impressive aspect of traveling with the group from Shorter College was the quality of young people that you have as students. They were a credit to themselves, their families and to Shorter College.”
The group at the excavation site in Bethsaida