For years I have been reading books and articles by archaeologists and, on and off, trying to think about what light their findings might shed on the biblical studies I have been doing. But I’ve always felt that I’d have a better understanding if I knew how archaeologists go about their task of digging things up. So I have joined Dig Mount Zion for two weeks of my sabbatical. At this point, I am half way through my fortnight.
To be honest, it feels like some kind of community service sentence. Each day I get up at 4am, cycle into Jerusalem (because it’s too early for the busses), and then spend about six hours pick-axing the ground, shovelling the yielded dirt into buckets, and then moving those buckets of dirt down the hill into large bags which will eventually be taken away by crane-and-lorry and dumped God-knows-where.
It’s hot (35C yesterday), it’s tiring, and it’s filthy (of course). And then, in the most extreme heat of the day, I get to cycle five miles back to Tantur, where I am living.
There are compensations, however. The first is getting to work with people from around the world whom I would not otherwise have met. They are all very interesting and inspiring, and I’m extremely glad to have met them and to have been able to have been part of a team with them. The second is getting to see the sun rise over Jerusalem on the cycle journey in. That is astonishingly beautiful. The third is getting fit and strong. I haven’t felt better physically for the last two decades! And the fourth is that you do sometimes turn up something interesting. Here’s a bit of pottery with a bunch of grapes on it that I spotted. I don’t know when it dates from – it’s probably not very old at all – but at least it feels like a find!