Yeshiva University students spend summer unearthing biblical history
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Yeshiva University students spend summer unearthing biblical history

My encounter with Goliath

It’s 4:45 a.m. I lethargically wake up to the ring of my alarm and pull myself out of bed. I quickly wash up, slip on my clothing (the same dirty ones that I have been wearing for the last week), and make myself a cup of tea. I grab my bag containing my water bottle and trowel and run to catch the bus that leaves the kibbutz at exactly 5:25.

As I climb onto the bus, I am faced with the decision of who to sit with ““ the friendly woman I just met who is studying in Melbourne, Australia, the evangelical Lutheran student that hails from Germany, or the Jewish professor of archaeology at Bar-Ilan University. I decide to sit with option #1 and we continue our conversation from yesterday about our respective studies as the bus slowly climbs the dirt road up to the tel (a mound of ruins).

She tells me that she is a doctoral student in archaeology here to learn about the ancient Philistines. After we pass the Bedouin dwellings and their herds of sheep, we descend from the bus, grab some jerry cans, and trek our way up the little hill to Area A. The sun’s bright orb can now be seen clearly in the east, and we are now ready to begin our day. I approach the two squares designated for Yeshiva University students, called A3.

We observe our two squares as a group, commenting on any new developments we detect. Dr. Katz tells us the plan for the day: “Rachel ““ you’re going to try and define this floor that is slowly becoming more visible; “Dena and Daniella ““ you two will take down the balk today, layer by layer”; “Danny ““ clean up around this collapsed mud brick wall so that we can see the individual bricks more clearly”; “Sarit ““ your job today is to dig 5 centimeters below the floor level starting from this corner and continuing to the other side.” I gather my trowel, brush, dustpan, and dirt bucket and begin to work.

As I dig through to the next stratum of sediment, I wonder about the inhabitants of this place. “You are digging through the destruction layer right now,” my professor tells me, as I dig up conglomerates of broken mud brick material and layers of ash. I hear a cling, and know that I’ve just hit some pottery. Carefully digging around the piece so as not to break it, I remove the base of a jug that had been shattered and burned by flame when the ancient Philistine city of Gath that inhabited this site was destroyed, presumably by the Aramean king Hazael in the early 9th century BCE.

As more and more shards of pottery appear right below the surface, I realize just how developed this city was during the Iron Age. It is amazing, I ponder, that there are layers of history buried on this tel, yet they are completely undetectable to the average visitor. I am humbled by the fact that I am digging up the stories of the Bible, such as the story in I Samuel 5 in which the Philistines bring the Holy Ark to Gath and they are met with a divine plague, or the battle described in I Kings 17 between David and Goliath of Gath that took place in the Elah Valley right below the tel, or the destruction of Gath mentioned in II Kings 18.

After a tiring day of field work that ends at 1:00 PM, we return to the kibbutz for lunch and then continue on to pottery washing. There are over 100 participants on the dig from all different religions, universities, and locations in the world. As I sit there conversing with others, I suddenly spot some paint on the shard that I just began to wash off. The supervisor tells me that it is the bottom of a bowl from the Iron I period, indicated by its design of black and red paint on a white background, called Philistine Bichrome ware. I marvel at it for another moment, and then place it in the bin for it to dry off and be analyzed by the pottery specialists in a few days.

As I lay my head to rest that night, I can’t help but wonder what exciting finds lay in store for me tomorrow. I doze off, humbled by the magnanimity of history, and my present life suddenly becomes placed into perspective as a mere dot on the endless mural of human existence.

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