Saturday, August 7, 2010


I swear I deserve the "Father of the Year" award. Blackdaughtero decided she needed to go visit her "not-boyfriend" who is celebrating his birthday in the army this week while confined to base (for fighting, I believe - and not with the enemy). She asked if I could please, please take my usual Saturday morning expedition near him. I stupidly agreed before finding out that he is stationed somewhere near Qatzrin (spitting distance from both Syria and Lebanon). I thought I would scare her off with a 5:30am waking, but young love is a powerful thing and she was up and ready to go and only five minutes late.

So off we drove and drove and drove. I should have known this was not going to be easy when she told me that he was not sure where his camp is and we would call when we got close. Of course as we approached the far north his cell phone was off. He needs to save batteries she told me. So we arrived in Qatzrin at 8am and drove around looking for a cash machine (not at all easy to find) and waited patiently for the fool him to call. It was already starting to get hot. As I was about to leave, we got the call. We then drove up and down for 45 minutes trying to find the so called camp. By this stage my humor was getting a little thin. After realizing we were sent in the completely wrong direction, we turned around and found the camp. Basically a bunch of tanks, nagmashim and pumot on the side of the road. I dropped the girl off with her bag of goodies for the hungry soldiers and went off to Bethsaida. Let the archaeology begin.

Bethsaida was, according to the New Testament, the birthplace of three of Jesus' Apostles Peter, Andrew and Phillip. There was a lot of dispute in the old days about its actual placement, but recent (since 87) excavations have pointed to Et-Tel as being the real Bethsaida. One problem was that according to sources Bethsaida was supposed to be a fishing village on the Sea of Galilee, but the tel is 1.5km north of the shore. It seems that the tel was once on the water but a combination of tectonic rising (it's on the Great African-Syrian Rift), sedimentation of the Jordan River (a few hundred meters to the west) and a thirsty Israel (the disastrous water level in the Kinneret is a national catastrophe) has led to a lack of success as a fishing village. Still the site was occupied for a long time.

Originally it was settled during the 10th century BCE and could possibly have been the capital city of the Kingdom of Geshur (mentioned in Samuel II as birthplace of David's wife Maacha, mother of Absalom). There are impressive structures and fortifications from this period and a very cool city gate with a four roomed inner gate house (see the pictures below). The city was conquered by TPIII on his way south (Tiglath Pileser III, the Assyrian King who conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel in 732BCE).

In the Hellenistic-Roman period Josephus Flavius mentioned it in connection with the King Herod Philip who changed the name of the city to Julias (in the 1st century CE) after Julia Livia the wife of Roman Emperor Augustus. Josephus also states that Philip died and was buried in the city.

There have been excavation seasons each year since 87 which means next year will be their 25 year - not bad.
This is what most of the lower part (northern) of the tel looks like. This was apparently a house with a courtyard. It is hard the see just how hot it was, those black basalt stones sure do warm up.
I don't know what this is. It may be something built recently (experimental archaeology?) to show just how strong mud bricks can be when they dry out. I have another picture of this type of thing later.
This looks like one of the places where they may have dug this season. We used the "proper" sacking sandbags at Megiddo, those white nylon ones don't seem to last as well or maybe they're from last season and last too well.
I'm pretty sure this is where they dug this season. In their 2010 dig web site, they mention using a back hoe to dig out the area east of the gate and finding the base of a tower - this could be it (I am still very reluctant to make grand archaeological statements).
All around the site there are New Testament references along with dedications to the many religious groups that have donated to the digging and restoration of the site. Makes a change from the Hebrew Bible references all over the Ella Valley sites.
This is the view from the southern edge of the site towards the Sea of Galilee (Kinneret). You can see that it has moved quite a bit. The land between the site and the sea is basically flat and you could imagine it being covered with water 2000 years back.
This is the very impressive eastern gate. I love those steles standing guard on each side. There are a matching pair on the other side as well. The restoration is at least clearly marked and you can see the original height wherever there is restoration.
This is a cultic installation on the outside of the east gate. You can see the two steps leading up to it and the basalt basin on top. According to my encyclopedia (which I took with and read in the shade donated by Notre Dame) there was a very nice carved stele found broken on top. I am not sure where it is now, but it's not here.
More of what I believe to be experimental archaeology. I could be wrong. This is just inside the gate must have been made quite recently. The mud drys so hard and strong that those rocks are not going anywhere.

By the time I left my car's thermometer read 41 degrees C (104 degrees F) while driving. I picked up the girl and we drove home, stopping for an expensive and not particularly memorable humus at Nimer. Well done if you got this far.

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