Tel Gezer – so near, but so far away.

Adventures come in many forms. For an intrepid group of travelers with Campbell University Divinity School and Nurturing Faith Experiences, adventure these next two weeks comes in the form of a trip to Israel, where we’re spending the better part of three days on a “mini-tour” before joining the Jezreel Expedition archaeological dig.

We arrived on Friday in time for a few post-flight sights before heading to the hotel. We had hoped to visit Tel Gezer, which has not been developed for tourists. As it turned out, we couldn’t get there from the approach we were taking, which turned into a tiny farm road. We didn’t have time to go around, so we admired the olive trees, backed out, and headed south to Lachish.

Participants examine an overgrown former dig site: in the background are shade-covered grapevines.

Israel’s National Park Service is supposedly developing Tel Lachish, but little if anything had been done in the past year. Still, we got to walk up the ramp to the city gate (half of which is under wraps), and visit the huge “palace fortress” that may date back as far as the 10-11th century BCE. I had a chance to show participants where Susan and I had dug with Yossi Garfinkel’s Fourth Expedition to Lachish in 2015: it’s all overgrown now, but was a cultic site used by Late Bronze Age Canaanites.

Participants had the fun experience of visiting a tel where pottery shards (or sherds, if you prefer) more than 2500 years old lie scattered on the ground.

From Tel Lachish we drove through the Valley of Elah (site of the famous battle between David and Goliath), and were able to identify the tels of Azekah, Khirbet Qeiyafah, and Socoh before making a rest stop near Beth Shemesh and arriving at Ramath Rachel in time for showers before enjoying a fine Shabbat (Sabbath) meal.

Group members examine a cemetery on the Mount of Olive, overlooking the Kidron Valley and the Temple Mount, where the Dome of the Rock now stands. Photo by Susan Cartledge.

We spent Saturday in Jerusalem, beginning on the Mount of Olives and working our way down past a large Jewish cemetery and the ancient tombs near Dominus Flevvit, the traditional place where Jesus wept over Jerusalem.

We paused for a group picture at Dominus Flevvit, with the Temple Mount in the background. Photo by Doron Heiliger.

We then made our way down to the Garden of Gethsemane and the Church of All Nations before meeting our bus for a quick ride past the Damascus Gate (a main entrance to the Old City) to the little-used Dung Gate, which brought us to the southwest corner of the Temple Mount.

We were able to work our way down to a small section of the Western Wall where both men and women are allowed to pray together, and to peer down a shaft showing that the wall extends at least another thirty or more feet below the current surface — which means that the huge stones used to build the retaining wall in King Herod’s time would have needed some massive machinery to lift them into place. To this day, no one knows for sure how they did it.

A shaft dug by the Western Wall shows that it extends another 30 feet or more beneath the surface.

After visiting the larger, more commonly used section of the Western Wall, we made our way through the Arab Quarter to Ecce Homo, thought to be the place where Pilate tried Jesus.

Participants ponder an ancient roadway that Jesus may have trod on the way to Calvary.

The remains of a Roman road ten feet below the present surface may well be the place that Jesus began his last long walk to the cross. In the 15th century, long after anyone really knew which way Jesus went, a pathway from there to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher came to be known as the “Via Dolorosa,” marked by 14 “Stations of the Cross” where supposedly Jesus fell, met his mother, and several other things not in the Bible, along with stations relative to the crucifixion and burial.

From the church we made our way through the Jewish quarter to visit a section of the “Broad Wall,” thought to have been built by Hezekiah to enclose the western hill of Jerusalem, where many refugees from the Northern Kingdom of Israel fled after their country was conquered by the Assyrians in 722.

Pausing to sit in the shade and enjoy fresh-squeezed orange juice or Turkish coffee, near Ecce Homo.

Afterward, we exited by the Zion Gate for a short bus ride to the Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, which few visitors to Jerusalem get to see. Named for pioneering archaeologist William F. Albright, the center is associated with the American Schools for Oriental Research and provides a place for scholars to work and do research in its 22,000 volume library of archaeological resources. Sarah Fairman, director of communications, was a delightful host as we toured the center and chilled out in its charming courtyard, surprisingly quiet given that it’s just yards from the busy Salah e-Din Street in East Jerusalem.

Participants visit the underground lab at the Albright Institute, where an array of ancient bones have been laid out for careful study.

A quick stop by an ancient tomb closed by an intact rolling stone and a brief tour of the archaeological dig at Ramath Rachel brought us to the end of a busy but informative day in Jerusalem.

Tomorrow we go southeast to Qumran and the Dead Sea, north to the baptism site of Qasr El-Yehud, and then hopefully north west to Shiloh, Mount Gerizim, and Sebastian (the Roman name for the city of Samaria) before arriving at Kibbutz Yizre’el, our home for the next two weeks.

Stay posted for more exciting places — and familiar faces!

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