Digging biblical history at Armageddon in Israel

Some people come to dig at the archeological site at Tel Megiddo because they are enchanted by ancient stories of King Solomon.

Others come to work the site because they believe in a New Testament interpretation that the mound of dirt will be the location of a future judgment day apocalyptic battle.

Reason No. 2 is why the Tel Aviv University-directed site, some 15 miles south of Haifa, has come to be known as “Armageddon.”

Located in what now is commonly known as the Valley of Jezreel, Megiddo was the site of a number of decisive battles in ancient times (among the Egyptian, Hebrew and Assyrian peoples).

“Megiddo is one of the most interesting sites in the world for the excavation of biblical remains,” says professor Israel Finkelstein, co-director of the site. “Now, volunteers and students from around the world can participate in the dig, which lets them uncover 3,000 years worth of history.”

Finkelstein is a world-renowned archeologist at Tel Aviv University. He has been co-directing the site with professor David Ussishkin, also of Tel Aviv University, since 1994.

Finkelstein co-authored a 1991 book on archaeology and biblical history (“The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts”) and recently co-authored “The Quest for Biblical Archaeology,” a commentary on biblical archaeology and history.

Finkelstein is known for his unconventional way of interpreting biblical history: He puts emphasis on the days of the biblical authors in the 7th century B.C.E. and theorizes that ancient rulers such as David and Solomon, who lived centuries earlier, were “tribal chieftains ruling from a small hill town, with a modest palace and royal shrine.”

Yet, he adds, “New archaeological discoveries should not erode one’s sense of tradition and identity.”

Professor Ze’ev Herzog, who heads the archaeology institute at Tel Aviv University, says there has been an important revolution in biblical history the last few decades.

“We are now uncovering the difference between myth and history, and between reality and ideology of the ancient authors,” Herzog says. “This is the role of our generation of archaeologists — to unearth the real historical reality to find out why and how the biblical records were written.”

The archaeologist aren’t the only ones looking for answers.

Every year, more than 100 volunteers come from all corners of the globe to dig at Megiddo alongside Finkelstein.

They are teachers, journalists, actors, construction workers, professors and housewives — as well as archaeology, history and divinity students who dig for credit.

The Megiddo dig is offered as a three-week, four-week or seven-week program. As part of the experience, volunteers live in a nearby kibbutz and are exposed to lectures and debates about their findings.

The dig is partnered with George Washington University, making it an ideal destination for Americans who want a hands-on education in archaeology.

“Team and staff members come from all around the world for many reasons: the adventure of foreign travel in a safe yet educational environment, intellectual stimulation, and — yes — even a love of digging in the dirt,” Finkelstein notes.

And those with no prior knowledge or degrees are welcome, he stresses.

“We cater to all of the volunteers’ backgrounds and teach them field methods, archaeological techniques as well as the history of biblical archeology,” Finkelstein says. “It is truly a wonderful experience.”

For more information or to sign up for the Megiddo Expedition, visit www.megiddo.tau.ac.il or send an email to [email protected].