I want to finish up my series of posts on Jodi Magness’s The Archeology of the Holy Land. I had to briefly come out of retirement last week. And that, along with other things, jumbled my schedule. At least I was busy and did not have too much time to think about my first Fathers Day since the death of my Dad.
Magness has chapters on what happened in the Holy Land after the Roman Empire became Christian under Constantine and later when the Middle East became Muslim. My main interests are biblical, so I am not going to interact much with this material. I did find it interesting. There are all these layers above the material from the biblical era. A site like Beth Shean has much more archeological remains from the post-biblical period than from before, even though it was an important place in Egyptian and Israelite times.
The pagan Romans thought of Palestine as a remote, difficult, uncivilized backwater. But when the empire became Christian, the Holy Land became the focus of interest and pilgrimage. New churches purported to mark the spot of important Christian events. In Jerusalem, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher marked (probably correctly) the tomb from which Jesus was said to have risen. In Bethlehem the Church of Nativity had a similar purpose and helped Bethlehem grow from the tiny village it had been. The deserts and the Jordan Valley became popular places for monasteries. There were hundreds of these in which thousands of monks lived.
After the death of Mohammad in 632, Islam quickly came to dominate the Middle East, including the Holy Land. Mosques sprang up everywhere. The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem was built around the end of the seventh century. We can be pretty sure it is over the site of the old Jewish temple. That was certainly the intent.
The Dome of the Rock can stand for many of the difficulties of archeology in the Holy Land today. It is the top layer with many layers of remains beneath it. But religious and political reasons make digging beneath it controversial. What layers, sacred to Muslims; Christians; Jews; Samaritans; and Pagans, may have to be disturbed in order to explore the past?
Archeology is important to my spirituality. Spiritual truth and wisdom have been revealed in the past. Today I believe we have walled ourselves off physically and intellectually from spirit. I have written before about how modern people need to experience silence, darkness, and raw nature more. But that will only give us an undefined sense of the numinous. For more definition we need to look at those who lived before us.
There are two ways to learn about the past. One of them is documentary. Some documents have been handed down and some have just been found, sometimes by accident. We have documents, like the Bible; the Amarna letters, and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Today the trend is to question documents because human authors have biases and agendas. But we also have physical remains. Today is an exciting time to live because more and more we can correlate the documents with the physical remains to get a more complete picture of the past. I am grateful to Jodi Magness for helping me to do that.