Seminary 'class' convenes at Israeli archeological dig

Seminary students learn about the biblical world from reading books and attending classes. Last summer, two George Fox Evangelical Seminary students – Sierra Neiman and Sara Vulgan – decided to take a more direct approach, traveling to Israel to participate in the final season of archaeological excavations in Ramat Rahel, a joint project of Tel Aviv University, Heidelberg Universität and the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Ramat Rahel began its settlement history in the eighth century B.C., when King Hezekiah (2 Kings 18-20) set up a royal palace at the site. For the next two millennia, Ramat Rahel served as a crucial site in the Middle Eastern world: a Persian administrative center during the time of Ezra-Nehemiah, a station for the Roman Tenth Legion during late classical times, and a Christian monastery during the Byzantine period.

Based on such a rich occupational history and its strategic location between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, excavations at Ramat Rahel have been foundational in understanding the history of ancient Judah.

For Sierra, the experience deepened her call to ministry. “Through our interactions, what emerged with heightened clarity for me is how much I love people and their stories. I now feel re-invigorated in my pursuit of an MDiv degree, knowing that this degree will better equip me to constructively invest myself in people's lives.”

Sierra and Sara both participated in a myriad of activities related to the archaeological work. They primarily worked among digging teams, excavating to ancient layers, but also took care to identify and tag any artifacts. On afternoons, they washed the pottery to prepare them for typological identifications, the most important step in establishing dates to the discoveries.

Each day carried great adventure. “The last full day of the dig was especially memorable for those of us as a massive boulder came loose from the winch hanging over the deep pit, where we were working," Sierra recalls. "Undaunted, we continued to dig and hoist boulders out of the same area, even after we later aroused an enormous poisonous centipede. But the work that day was fruitful: In addition to finding two completely intact oil lamps, we also reached our pit's plaster floor, which led us to believe that the pit may have once been a water reservoir.”

For Sara, her time on the dig clarifies her goals for doctoral studies in Hebrew Bible/Ancient Near Eastern studies. “The entire experience of working on a dig – tangibly revealing history and changing the current understanding of that particular history, uncovering clues, solutions, and questions – is a bit surreal. This dig confirmed my future hopes of a PhD and a career in the field of biblical studies. As I see it now, archaeology will be incorporated into those studies.”

Roger Nam, assistant professor of biblical studies, comments, “Sierra and Sara are both outstanding students, and I felt that participation in archaeological excavations at Ramat Rahel would serve as a wonderful complement to their studies. No matter what path they pursue, this experience will follow them for their entire lives.”

Professor Nam should know: Not only is he their academic advisor, he also took part in excavations at Ramat Rahel in 2006 as a PhD student at UCLA.

Read more about the dig at this link.