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Ashkelon Year 2 -and- Photos from Last Year’s Vagabonding Tour

June 27, 2014

Our blog has been quiet for a few months now.  This quiet time corresponds to grad school, which we started last fall with a semester abroad in Israel, and then continued back in the states this spring.  We have both been enjoying classes and the associated paraphernalia that comes with them, but it has kept us busy.

Item #1 – Ashkelon

We break silence on two accounts.  First, Ashkelon: Year 2.  As we jumped into the study of Ancient Near Eastern History and Archaeology last year, archaeological excavation experience was one of the items that drew us into our current program.  Hands on experience, as with many fields of study, is one of the best ways to get out of the classroom and into the real world of application.  We both benefited from last years’ experience so much we wanted to go another round, so, here we are.  Our “jobs” on the dig this year differ from last year, so we will try to share some of the new experiences, time permitting. But we are already in the third week of excavation, and have not had many moments to spare.

Until then, if you would like a recap of the general history on Ashkelon, here are a few links from last year:

Ashkelon through the Ages, Part I
Ashkelon through the Ages, Part II

The Canaanite-era ramparts at Ashkelon, and one of the oldest archways known to history (partially reconstructed in the second photo below). Above the ramparts, you can see the Philistine tower and the Hellenistic walls.

The Canaanite-era ramparts at Ashkelon, and one of the oldest archways known to history (partially reconstructed in the photo below).  Above the ramparts, you can see the Philistine tower and the Hellenistic walls.

The Canaanite-era ramparts at Ashkelon.  Above the ramparts, you can see the Philistine tower and the Hellenistic walls.

One of the oldest archways known to history (partially reconstructed).

One of the oldest archways known to history (partially reconstructed).

Looking down Tel Ashkelon from the north (photo below). From this vantage point, its citizens could watch ships coming from Egypt or Phoenicia to participate in the lively trade for which it was famous.

View south from Tel Ashkelon, along the beach.

View south from Tel Ashkelon, along the beach.


Item #2 – Photos from Last Year’s Vagabonding Tour

Also, if you were reading the blog last year, you may remember our time in between the Ashkelon dig and our study-abroad semester in Jerusalem, we conducted our own personal “vagabonding” tour of Israel, brought to light in posts like this:

Project #2: Vagabonding in Israel for 40 Days (or So)

Arbel, Tiberus, Hazor, Nazareth, Jezreel Valley, Tel Jezreel, Bet Shean, Qumran, En Gedi (Photo Summary for the past week, last Tuesday – this Wednesday)

Our itinerary for these travels had a specific purpose.  We were attempting to visit the most prominent sites and landscapes mentioned in the Biblical text, which were easily accessible in modern day Israel, and provided good photographic opportunities to illustrate what the Biblical writer was seeing—or envisioning (if not directly viewing a location or landscape).

We have put together a small photo package that includes high-resolution photographs, as well as smaller presentation-sized photographs of 25 Biblical places and 25 Biblical landscapes, all within Israel.  The package is just a few dollars and is instantly downloadable (via email links, which will arrive shortly after purchase).

Here is the link to the product site:

You might ask, “Why would I purchase this when I can Google image search and scrape images from the web for free?”  Good question.  If you want free images, Google image search to your heart’s content—everybody does it.  The benefit with a packaged product like this is one downloaded package (or two, for the combination product), descriptions of the places and their relevant mentions in the Biblical text, and simple maps showing the locations or perspectives of view.  All of this with photos with good light, color, angles, and high-resolution.  All of this in a streamlined package directed toward these sites and cities of the biblical text, for only $5. You can view the locations and landscapes on the product pages. For school projects, sermons, or lectures for those who have not been to Israel, this would be a great starter package for you. Even if you have been to Israel and made your own photos, maybe you could not get good shots as part of a tour group, maybe you did not visit these sites, or maybe your photos are shot out of a bus window. These were all issues we had on or first tour to Israel. It was a great tour, but when we were on our own, we could get all the shots we wanted, and we thought others may want them as well.

That’s all for now.  Hopefully, there will be more about Ashkelon in the days to come as we continue our second season.

Southern Gateways of the Levant, Part 1 — Geography of Philistia

December 2, 2013

So, we have been somewhat quiet because we have been busy.  Grad school has not allowed much time for blogging 🙂  However, this semester (and the vagabonding tour) has provided great opportunities to explore the historical geography related to ancient Israel and the Biblical text.  Over this semester, we have visited several “gateways” to the land.  We hope to have a series of multi part posts, detailing a few of these gateways.  Our first one is the Southern Gateways of the Levant, beginning with Philistia.

The Philistia Gateway is part of the bottleneck of routes into and out of Egypt.  It is arguably the most important of all the routes of the Southern Levant—and mostly because the empires of the ancient world made it so in their desire to conquer the oldest and most prestigious empire of antiquity.

Philistia in Israel’s Coastal Plain region is a veritable variety show of rock and soil types. Much of the coastal plain proper is made up of dunes, both young dunes that create a rather inconvenient barrier along the sea, and ancient dunes that have solidified into kurkar. On the east, along the hotly contested boundary between ancient Philistia and Judah, the region is bounded by the rugged Cenomanian limestone (sometimes referred to as “Jerusalem Stone“), that makes up the hills of Judah and the smoother Eocene limestone lowlands of the Shephelah. Between these formations runs the Senonian chalk trough, which helped block much of Philistia’s intrusions into the Judaean Hills. This chalk addition also creates an erosion paradise in the coastal plain, as the terra rosa and rendinza soils of the Cenomanian and Sinonian rocks mix with the earthy Eocene brown forest soil.

Kurkar Dune

Ancient kurkar dune beneath Tel Ashkelon

Thus, the line of Philistia is made up rich alluvial soil, pure along its eastern border, and then mixed with the sandy dunes, coating the grains of kurkar to create brown-red sands. The result of this unique combination of soil types creates a region highly conducive to agriculture, where roots could grow deep and strong in the loose, fertile ground. Produce such as cereals abound, as well as vineyards—indeed, Philistia and especially Ashkelon were renowned across the world of antiquity for their famous wine. However, food crops were not the only yield of Philistia. The coastal geology also invited flax, and the broad, open plains could also be used for animal husbandry. Such tradable products as dairy, wool, meat, wine, and linen meant the citizens of Philistia were able to enjoy the material wealth of the ancient world.


The Shephelah is still important for agriculture today

None of this luxury would be possible, though, without rain. Regular precipitation is crucial to farmlands, and Philistia’s proximity to the Mediterranean guaranteed a much more dependable rainfall than the territories further east and south. Its temperate climate also contributed to the land’s health, where plants and animals would not be subjected to the same deadly cold the northern and mountainous regions could experience. Once again, the nearby sea would protect gardens in the summer as the humidity maintained crucial moisture in the otherwise dry air.

Further south in Philistia, where it intercepts with the desert, the light loess soil provided her with further opportunity. Loess, a pale and dusty soil made of loam and silt carried by the wind from the Sinai, is good, but only with enough moisture—and both the Philistines and later Nabateans seemed to know how to add just the right amount of the necessary water. Ashkelon’s wine often came from the desert vineyards irrigated using technology long forgotten, and beautiful mosaics show donkeys and camels carrying the curiously shaped pithoi (storage jars) to the city.


Some agriculture carried out in the transition between Negev and Coastal Plain of Philistia

Philistia’s geology also shaped its geography. The broad, coastal plains and low hills, as well as the broad, open valleys (emeks) belonging to Eocene formations were ideal for travel. Sources of fresh water were not difficult to find, further encouraging passage. From earliest known times, the international trunk route wove its twin ways along Philistia’s coastline on the west and through the Shephelah to the east on its way from Egypt to Syria and beyond. Her value was not measured solely for her inland charms, though. Here and there, her coastal dunes gave way and great port cities, such as Gaza and Ashkelon, which rose up to welcome travellers by sea, even despite the Southern Mediterranean’s straight-line coast. Her five greatest cities, the famous Pentapolis (Ashdod, Ashkelon, Ekron, Gath, Gaza), each served as a gateway in its own right. Gaza opened the doors of the Southern Levant to her long-time master, Egypt. Ashkelon opened Palestine to seafarers from all over the Mediterranean—Phoenicia, Egypt, and the Aegean—and exchanged riches with them. Ashdod intercepted caravans journeying from Damascus as they descended on Egypt. Across the plain, Ekron and Gath stood guard over the inland branch of the coastal highway, as well as east-west roads leading across the hill country to the Trans-Jordan and the King’s Highway. It is this combination of sea access and inland routes that brought Philistia together with her southwestern partner, the Negev, and seduced many an empire to vie for control of her riches and her access to Egypt and the world beyond.

Coastal Plain

Coastal Plain of Philistia

A few good general resources on the geology and geography of Philistia, and ancient Israel in general, are James Monson’s “Geobasics in the Land of the Bible” (more geological detail) and “Regions on the Run, Introductory Map Studies in the Land of the Bible,” (more on geography, regions, and trade routes).  Also, visiting the land is quite helpful as well.  And of course, any Biblical text referring to the lands of Philistia, where geographical details can be gleaned.

Project #3 — Back to School

September 15, 2013

About 2 weeks ago now, we ended our nomadic days of vagabonding and began our third and final project—Project #3.

First, a bit of background.

We took our first international trip to explore historical and archaeological Greece and Italy in March of 2011, and we never really came home. We began realizing there was something better just within our reach, and we started considering the logistics of returning to school for our Master’s degrees. Something along the lines of an MA in History was sounding intriguing. Studying artifacts from the Bible Lands was also evolving from a mere hobby into a passion.

The Colosseum on a Cool Night in 2011

The Colosseum on a Cool Night in 2011

And then, we visited Israel for the first time.

We joined Ferrell Jenkins on one of his really excellent tours through Israel in September of 2012. We were dazzled by the amount of archaeological work going on in the land. From Israel, we continued on in our travels, but something began growing. Upon our return home, we attended some of Ferrell’s lectures at a nearby Church and asked him for advice concerning schools and degree programs for Biblical archaeology.

Trent and Rebekah at Jericho being Nerds

Trent and Rebekah at Jericho being Nerds

Within a couple of months, we had applied at our top choice college. Two months later, I called Trent at work and told him to check his email. Waiting in both our inboxes were notes that we would be receiving an acceptance package in the mail. We tried to make a show of deciding whether this was really the right decision or not, but it was sort of a farce. Victory dances ensued.

Within 1½ months, Project #1 was underway, finding us up to our elbows in glorious, glorious old dirt at Ashkelon. For 6 fantastic weeks, we participated in our MA program’s Summer Field Study. Then, Project #2 began as we explored the country of Israel for 5 weeks, until time for Project #3 to begin.

Trent & Rebekah at Ashkelon

Celebrating a Successful Dig

On August 30, we moved onto campus at Mt. Zion to begin our Fall semester abroad. The college has a strong historical geography department, and has been the employer of great names like Rasmussen, Rainey, and Barkay. Sort of the Hollywood of Biblical archaeology. Now, we’re neck deep in ancient languages, history, geography, and archaeology. We couldn’t be happier.

Project #3 will continue even after we return home, when we will move ourselves, our library, and our cat to Chicago to finish the next 2 years of our Master’s program.


Books and cats. One must have their priorities, after all.

We would be remiss in not noting this has been a great blessing, and we are deeply thankful for it. We hope you’ll stay with us as we begin our foray into Biblical archaeology.