“Please let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness…” (Exod 5:3)
Masada, Hatzeva, and Ein Boqeq – Week 7
Nothing beats building with mud the week before Passover (see Exodus/Shemot 5). As a biblical scholar myself and one who is particularly fond of the Book of Exodus (שמות), I found the timing of our 3-day trip to Hatzeva brilliant. The work was dirty, tedious, and very hot, but I feel more at home working on Iron Age (1,200-586 BCE) sites than I do at the local shopping mall.
Our week in the desert began with a stop at Masada. Like Old Akko, Masada is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that dates back to the Hellenistic Age (332-167 BCE) and draws visitors from around the globe (http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1040). There, we went to the new museum, toured the archaeological site, and talked about conservation issues.
On Sunday evening, we arrived at Hatzeva which is an Iron Age (Biblical) site in the Aravah, the southern part of the Great Rift Valley that runs along the border of modern Israel and Jordan (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arabah). The site is also referred to as Biblical Tamar, as it has been associated with the place mentioned in Judges 20:33. It is unclear whether this fortified city was Israelite or Edomite because site excavations have produced evidence of both cultures; for example, the “Israelite 4-room house” and an “Edomite” shrine (http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/History/Early%20History%20-%20Archaeology/Ein%20Hatzeva%20-%20an%20Israelite%20Fortress%20on%20the%20Border).
Whoever ran the place in antiquity, it is now maintained by the non-profit organization Blossoming Rose (www.blossomingrose.org) and a sweet young couple, Derek and Kate, who are expecting their first child. They run the facilities at Biblical Tamar Park (http://youtu.be/aw-VJgh9lGg), which is built around the archaeological site and a place where people of all walks of life are welcome to visit, volunteer, relax, retreat, and enjoy the quiet surroundings. Managing this site is truly a labor of love for Kate and Derek who, I might add, really know their way around a barbeque.
The 4-room house was our project for the 3 days we spent at Hatzeva. In the ancient Near East, particularly in desert regions where resources are even more scarce, houses were built with stone foundations and mudbrick walls, all held together by mud mortar. Our job at Hatzeva was to reconstruct the stone foundation of this building on the first day and to conserve sections that did not need reconstruction on the second and third days. Like the ancient builders, we used mortar made of mud, but also lime to make the mortar last longer. Our time at Hatzeva was interspersed with lectures about the site, how to do section drawings, excavations at Sobibor (a concentration camp in Poland), and a tour led by Oren, the site’s excavation director.
We were exhausted by the end of day 2, but one of Saving the Stones own participants convinced us to go on a small hike with the promise of water for swimming. Now, Nani is known for his “short cuts” which take an extra 20 minutes and his “short trips” which last twice as long as planned. Even though the 20 minute ride to the hike was the somewhat expected 40, we were pleasantly surprised to find that he was talking about Ein Boqeq, a beautiful spring that produces fresh, cold water year round. Hiking Ein Boqeq entails wading through water that is perfectly cold and refreshing – something our feet and minds needed after 2 days in the desert sun.
We returned to Akko after a half-day of work on Wednesday. We slept in on Thursday before heading to the ICC, where we prepared a mini Passover seder and celebrated the birthday of Hadar, Shelley’s 7 year old daughter.
Now we are all winding down after a week off. Three of us traveled to Jerusalem, Eilat, and Petra, while others traveled to Wadi Ram (Jordan) or stayed in Akko for a bit of relaxation. The weather has been perfectly warm and sunny – a great opportunity to catch up on laundry and blogging, sip Arabic coffee, and begin that summer reading.
We are all excited for the next segment of the program as we head to Jerusalem in 2 weeks, then Tzefat the week after that – but first we have a week long workshop on stone conservation with Jaques!