A trip to the land of the Bible is a dream for many Christians. My first visit to Israel was in January 2020 with a tour group. This trip would change my life forever. I was an actor and a filmmaker working for a small video ministry in East Tennessee. I always told people that if I wasn’t an actor, I’d be an archaeologist. It’s funny how sometimes God calls your bluff.
Jumping ahead to May 2022, I found myself in Israel once again. This time, though, I wasn’t a tourist, but an archaeology student who had come to the land to dig at Shiloh with Associates for Biblical Research. The excavation is its own story (or series of stories) for another time. The week prior to digging, we toured the country, visiting sites well off the beaten path and taking a close look at the physical remains of the biblical culture.
This expedition was an exciting blend of discoveries, adventures, and even mishaps. Dr. Gary Byers from Trinity Southwest led our group. We did not have to wear name tags or walk around with devices in our ears. We were not tourists; our business was to be there. Sometimes we would separate and walk into a site two or three at a time to avoid clashes with site staff who were looking for unlicensed tour guides. We were not a tour group, but sometimes it’s best to avoid trouble. We were free to do whatever we wanted at the site, but Dr. Byers was happy to talk about archaeology to whomever wanted to walk with him.
Walking down the path along the Eastern Wall, I learned a new Arabic word. The unkept tattered graves that I had seen before were cleaned up and repaired. A group of Palestinian workers were taking a lunch break from their renovations. Dr. Byers yelled, “Jamil!” and gave them a big thumbs up. They smiled and waved back. Yes, the place was jamil, pretty.
In the Holy City, we visited many often-ignored locations. I saw the treasures of Megiddo at the Rockefeller Archaeological Museum, unlabeled and in a simple glass case. If I had not had a class on them a few weeks prior, I would have walked right by them without realizing their significance. Walking past the Millo, we visited what is quite possibly the actual tomb of David, quarried out by the Romans.
After visiting the pool of Siloam, we decided to take the ancient sewer tunnel back to the top of the city of David. I am by no means a slim man, and this walk, some 600 meters uphill, is enclosed in very tight quarters. Sometimes the ceiling drops below five feet and the side walls are close enough that my shoulders would often scrape them (my sleeves were covered with green algae when I reached the top). I felt a little like toothpaste being squeezed through a tube.
Thankful that I was the last man in line and wouldn’t hold anyone up, my heart sank when I heard youthful voices behind me speaking Hebrew. Praying hard for some sort of reprieve, I could hear a large group of young men behind me as they got closer and closer.
Finally, when I thought that my lungs would give out, there was a small niche to the side of the tunnel. I quickly ducked in to let the locals pass by and catch my breath. They were probably soldiers and there must have been about 30 of them, making jokes and casting mischievous glances in my direction. One of them shouted, “Akrabbim!” That’s a word that I know. “Scorpions?” I yelled back. The laughter stopped and several of the young men paused and asked if I was OK. I told them that I was fine and just letting them pass. That is why you learn to say “scorpion” in every language.
One Sunday after visiting some first-century tombs, I was walking back to the hotel through an Orthodox neighborhood. I saw that four women were walking abreast toward me on the sidewalk. Knowing that it is not polite to look at women, I kept my eyes to the oblique, expecting that they would make some room to share the sidewalk with me. They did not. Trying to be the gentleman, I stepped off the curb to let them by. Not even a foot in the street, I was clipped by a city bus that must have been doing about 30 mph. My elbow bounced off something flexible (the headlight perhaps) and a forceful shock went through my body. The bus kept going and nobody on the sidewalk bothered to see if I was OK. When I was convinced that nothing was broken, I kept walking.
Often in the evenings after digging, we would walk to the Old City and visit our friend Zak, a licensed antiquities dealer, who is everyone’s friend. His shop is a favorite hangout for archaeologists and diggers. While many archaeologists avoid purchasing antiquities for various reasons, some will buy pieces from reputable dealers who go through the correct government channels in acquiring their goods.
Having been given some Christmas money from my siblings, I knew what I wanted to bring home: scarabs. Zak had some nice Hyksos scarabs that he was willing to part with for a very reasonable price. Being close to suppertime, we decided to take a cab back to the hotel. When we arrived, I paid the driver and walked into the hotel, only to realize that I had left my scarabs on the seat. Rushing back outside, I saw the cab turn the corner at the end of the street. The only information that I had on the cab was the driver’s first name. Someone called Zak because he knows everyone. Armed only with the driver’s first name and the location of where we hailed him, Zak was able to locate the cab. A short time later, my scarabs arrived at the hotel. I paid the driver for the trip and gave him a hefty tip. As for Zak, I made sure to spend a little more money in his shop.
There would be many more adventures on this expedition, and who knows, perhaps some of those stories will grace the pages of this publication in the future? I would love to tell the story of the flint blade that I found at Shechem outside of the temple of Ba’al Berith. Such an item in that specific location recalls Genesis 34. I could tell stories of ice cream and pottery at Ashkelon or maybe about the little scorpion in the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle at Shiloh. The Lord has certainly blessed me with the opportunity to experience many things in the land of the Bible, some humorous, some adventurous or inspiring, and some that are only between Him and me.