MonthJune 2015

Digging Mount Zion


Digging Mount Zion at sunrise


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!



A Walk to Talpiot

I went for a walk to Talpiot today.

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I was going to go on my bike but unfortunately there is a puncture in the front wheel’s inner tube.

The reason for my visit was a kind invitation from Emanuel Hausman, founder and Chairman of Carta Jerusalem, to meet with him while I am here.

Carta is a publishing house specializing in cartographical resources for the study of the Holy Land. Given my own geeky interest in this area, this was a very exciting invitation for me.

So I walked to Talpiot, a southern suburb of Jerusalem, about 40 minutes on foot from where I’m staying at Tantur, where Emanuel and his son Shay (the CEO) treated me both to lunch and to a couple of hours of their delightfully charming company. We discussed matters cartographical, archaeological, and pedagogical, and I was privileged to see a demo of an online resource they are developing. Some of it is already accessible, but there is more behind the scenes, almost ready for launch, which I could immediately see would be very useful indeed for teachers and preachers.

As I left, Emanuel directed me to a store across the road called “Ace” (which turned out to be much like B&Q) where I was able to purchase this:


(Incidentally, for those who may have a passing interest in this matter, it turns out that this is also where you can purchase trowels in this country.)

On my walk back I hopped over a makeshift fence to have a look at this place.


It may not look like much, but this is what is left of the Kathisma, described by Haaretz newspaper as “the most important ancient church you never heard of”.

Although it is known from Byzantine sources, the location of this church was lost for centuries until the 1990’s when a project to widen the Hebron Road turned it up. The route of the road was altered so as not to disturb the site, but not a great deal has been done with it since. As can be seen, it is overgrown and neglected.

“Kathisma” is the Greek word for “seat”, and legend has it that this is where the pregnant St Mary rested on the journey to Bethlehem. The church was built around the rock in the centre: the rock being Mary’s supposed resting place.

Whether or not this legend has any historical basis [and see Murphy-O’Connor (2008 : 173) for cogent reasons why it probably does not], what we have here is a large octagonal building constructed around a chunk of venerated bedrock. Precisely what we also have in the Dome of the Rock on the Haram ash-Sharif, only this one was built a couple of centuries earlier in the C5th.

There are some very beautiful mosaic floors here. They are covered with sand to afford them a meagre degree of protection, but you can see them if you brush the sand aside. No one seems to notice, let alone care, if you lurk around engaging in such behaviour. I did so engage, and was so excited I forgot to take a photo.

So I’ll leave you tonight with a photo I did think to take.

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The front wheel of my bicycle, easily removed with the wrench I bought from Ace. Now I just need to locate the puncture.






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