Every dig site is different, and the way volunteers feel about the experience of digging is a very individual matter Here, Sara Aurant from Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, shares her impressions with BAR readers—many of whom may be trying to answer that tantalizing question, “Is a dig for me?” Sara is an experienced volunteer who advanced to staff member at the City of David excavation. Now she is working with Gershon Edelstein of the Israel Department of Antiquities to develop the “open air museum” to be built around the Roman-Byzantine agricultural site at Ein Yael (Ein Yalu) near Jerusalem.—Ed.
“On the Jericho Road, There’s room for just two, No more or no less, Just Jesus and you.”
The words of this song floated through my mind. In the distance, I caught a glimpse of water. The Dead Sea! Behind us were Mount Scopus and Jerusalem. Just above, the Arab village of Isawiya sprawled among the barren hills of Judea.
“This must be dug in the next couple weeks,” Gershon Edelstein, the director of the excavation, told us. “A new road will be built here going to that settlement, Ma’ale Adummim.” He pointed to a group of highrise apartments that seemed to be growing out of the stark hillside.
So here I was digging up an old Roman road to make room for a new one.
In Matthew 20:29, we are told that Jesus came up the road from Jericho to Jerusalem. Could this be the road he traveled? Jericho is near the northern end of the Dead Sea. The Sea was barely visible on this hazy morning.
There were three of us on this road crew. Paul was from Denmark, a theology student who never seemed to get excited. He worked steadily, swinging the big pick with a will, determined to find the road Gershon promised us was hidden between these stone fences under thousands of years of dirt.
The second crewman was from Iceland.
“It should actually be called Greenland, for Iceland is green while Greenland is ice,” Bjarni informed us.
Bjarni was stocky and blond. In his mid-20s, he spoke a lovely Icelandic-English—when he wasn’t trying to teach us to speak Esperanto, which he felt should be the international language.
I was the third crewman—or crewperson. We soon encountered some huge stones, not at all the smooth roadbed we had expected to locate, but there were so many stones at the same level, we decided to clear away all the dirt to this level while we waited for Gershon to return from the main excavation site a kilometer down the “road” toward Jericho.
“Aha!” he said when he saw our day’s effort. “You see, it is a road you have found.”
“You could have fooled me,” I said.
“It looks so rocky, like someone dumped rocks from a truck,” Bjarni said. “There are holes between them and … ”
“Of course. It’s as you build a road today. Large rocks then smaller ones to make it smoother. As carts and people go over it, it becomes—how you say?” He stomped with his feet.
“Packed down?” I ventured.
“Yes, packed down and made solid. It was not necessary to be smooth as today. What you think? They had cars? No, only horses and carts.” Gershon stooped to examine the rocky surface.
“But what is the date?” I inquired, thinking again of Jesus on the road to Jericho. Jesus lived in the Roman period; this road was Roman.
Gershon rose, shrugged, glanced at both sides of the road. Then he pointed at the way ahead yet to be uncovered.
“Keep digging,” he said seriously. “Maybe you will find a sign telling us what date it was built.’
“A sign,” Bjarni asked?
Gershon turned and I caught a glimpse of a twinkle in his eye.
Seriously, I asked, “Oh, do you think the sign will be on the right side or the left side of the road?”
For a second he seemed surprised at my question. Then he laughed.
I added, “No sense digging on the wrong side of the road.”