Last June, Barbara Del Bianco, a 49-year-old housewife and mother of five, fulfilled a dream—she volunteered at the Mt. Ebal excavation directed by Israeli archaeologist Adam Zertal (see “Has Joshua’s Altar Been Found on Mt. Ebal?” BAR 11:01).
Mrs. Del Bianco, who had never taken part in a dig before, chose Mt. Ebal after reading BAR’s annual dig opportunity issue. As a religion teacher at her church, she had often read in Deuteronomy 27 about Moses’ command to Joshua and the Israelites to erect an altar on Mt. Ebal. When she finally stood on Mt. Ebal, she admits that “It was as if I could see Joshua and his troops marching through the valley below.”
Following are entries from the daily journal she kept while in Israel.
June 22, 1986
I checked out of the Moriah Hotel in Jerusalem and took a cab to meet Gene Sucov, an old Pittsburgh friend who has been living in Jerusalem for the last month. A quick lunch and Gene and I were off on the adventure of THE DIG! We arrived at the bus station at Netanya—a coastal town just north of Tel Aviv—at 5:30 p.m., after a two-hour ride from Jerusalem. We were met by a dig worker named Nevi who drove us by van to our base camp, in a small settlement near the city of Nablus.
We are living in the dormitory of a local school. I have a room with six cots all to myself. Gene and Paul have the room to my right and two Israeli girls are in the room to my left. Each room opens directly outside. There is a concrete walkway in front of our doors and a small grass lawn beyond the walk.
Gene and I were happy to meet another American, Paul Rollet, from Illinois. We three are the only Americans who came this far—after 22 of us had signed on for this week of the dig! The other 19 cancelled, along with lots of other Americans who decided to respond to terrorism this summer by staying home. The rest of the volunteers are young Israeli college girls.
We met the dig director, Adam Zertal of Haifa University, and the area supervisor, Shaked. Shaked, like many young Israelis doing army service, carries a machine gun on his shoulder and the clip in his pocket; it is a commonplace that I have become accustomed to after only a few days in Israel.
We had a cold supper in the dining hall and then a slide presentation by Adam. The slides covered all the work that has been done on Mt. Ebal at the altar site Zertal discovered.
We are going to rise at 3:45 a.m. Good night!
This is nap time and that is exactly what I am going to do in about ten minutes, after I write this entry.
We were awakened this morning by Nevi knocking softly on our doors and saying, “BO-ker tov,” which is “good morning” in Hebrew. We had coffee in the dining room and piled into the vans by 4:30 a.m. for the 40-minute ride up the mountain. Out of the vans and then a 20-minute walk down a steep slope and up an adjoining hill to the site of the dig.
At sunrise the scenery is breathtaking. The mists lifted as we walked past groves of olive trees and rocky fields. I heard the tinkle of a bell before I saw its source: a young goat. A herd appeared a second later, followed by sleepy, young goatherds.
We continued our walk up the hill; here the rocks are larger, the path is all but gone and rocks and thistles are everywhere. At last we slowed our pace and were at the altar. I saw the ramp that Adam described so well in his talk. I wanted to climb on the wall and walk on the altar but held back for fear I might be too forward.
Soon the sun was up and the stones of the altar gleamed back blindingly white. Adam, who walked with us, pointed out the main altar complex, its inner and outer walls, and the entrance to the main enclosure and the step area where we Americans ended up working today.
Our first instructions were to pull the weeds that have grown around the site since last season. We were given heavy gloves, small picks to loosen the dirt and a bucket to put the weeds in. We pulled weeds for about three hours and were so busy that we failed to notice that a tent had been set up about 100 yards from the altar site. When Nevi called us for breakfast in the tent we gladly stopped work. Breakfast consisted of a hard-boiled egg, a cucumber, a tomato, humus (a chick-pea paste laden with garlic), bread, olives, sour cream, chocolate spread, watermelon, coffee or tea.
By breakfast’s end, the sun had cleared the air—a promise of the day’s coming heat. Adam took us up to the altar area from which you can see for miles. He pointed out the Jordan Valley and Tirzah. I felt as though I could see Joshua and his troops walking through the valley up to Mt. Ebal. Soon I was back to pulling thistles.
We worked until 12:30, put our tools away in a shed on-site and started the long, hot walk back to the vans. What was a pleasant walk at dawn was now a hot and exhausting hike across rough country.
A hot lunch was served at the school—our “base camp”—on our return. I took a much-needed shower and now I’ll take a nap.
Yesterday at 5:30, most of the group went for a walk. Gene, Paul and I did not go. The three of us sat on chairs outside our rooms and got acquainted. We also walked to the school office and called the States. Paul talked to his wife and I talked to my daughter. She assured me that my family is well. I think I was a little homesick; I have been in Israel eight days now. The three of us discussed the altar site in reference to the Bible. I got out my Bible and we read about Mt. Ebal in Deuteronomy 27 and Joshua 17:7–18.
When the hikers returned, we had a cold supper, a lecture and a slide presentation on the Mt. Ebal site and the Israelite altar.
I went to sleep as soon as I put my head on my pillow. I was happy to get a good night’s sleep.
We were up again this morning at 3:45. At the dig we were each issued a bucket, a brush, a pick and a trowel used to gently 049remove dirt. When we found pottery sherds, we put them in a separate bucket marked with a number indicating the precise area in which we were working. After an individual’s bucket was full of dirt, it was carried to a screening area and the dirt sifted for sherds, bones and tiny artifacts.
Shaked assigned Gene, Paul and me to a spot near the steps of the altar believed to be an ancient storeroom. We found many pieces of pottery and Paul uncovered a bowl. Gene found some tiny bones.
We are constantly reminded to drink lots of water to prevent dehydration. I brought my sons’ old Boy Scout canteen from home and I make sure I have it slung over my shoulder every morning. I’m drinking lots of water and feeling fine. I also carry my TWA flight bag to the dig site each day with a few necessities: sun hat, shorts, sun screen and camera. I also bring my passport—theft is uncommon but it does occasionally occur.
Yesterday most of the group went on a six-mile hike to Sebaste to see the Roman and Israelite ruins. I stayed at camp and washed pottery sherds with a girl named Michelle who is an archaeology student at Haifa University and who speaks English. All of the young men and women here speak English, though among themselves they naturally converse in Hebrew. According to Michelle, all Israeli youngsters are taught English in school. I also learned that Israelis—both men and women—serve at least two years in the military after high school graduation. Most of the young people in camp have finished army service and are at least 21 years old.
I took 28 photographs today at the site. Adam gave us a walking tour and lecture on the Biblical history of the altar. The rest of the day I worked in the storeroom area and uncovered many small sherds. Adam kept telling me to clean the area with my brush; then he had photographs and measurements taken.
Climbed the horrible hill and rode back to camp for a hot turkey dinner.
Last evening a young man walked into camp and asked if he could join the dig. His name is Hans and he is from Holland and speaks English and Dutch. He told Adam he couldn’t pay for his room and board but said he would work hard. Adam let him stay.
We washed pottery sherds last evening sitting on the grassy area in front of our rooms. Supper at 8 p.m. and early to bed. This morning at the site, Gene, Paul and I were assigned a new section of ground to work on. We uncovered small sherds and carried a lot of dirt to the screening area. We had our hot meal in the tent on-site. Adam and most of the group hiked down Mt. Ebal. Nevi and two girls stayed to clean the dishes from lunch and Paul and I waited for them to finish so we could ride back to camp.
At camp, we showered and jumped back into the vans to pick up the hikers near a spring at the foot of the mountain. We sat on the porch of an Arab roadside stand and had a Coke and a cup of tea. The tea was a gift from the shop owner. I tried to tip him but he gave me my money back. I smiled and thanked him for his hospitality.
I took a nap before supper and didn’t participate in the pottery sherd washing. We are going to have a farewell party.
The farewell party was like a camp-fire gathering, except, instead of a blazing fire, we lit small candles and placed them on a small wooden structure. It was beautiful. We sat on the grass in a circle and the Israelis sang songs. Asked to sing, we Americans pitched in with “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad,” “America the Beautiful” and “God Bless America.” We toasted each other with glasses of wine, and ate cake and watermelon.
Early to bed and early to rise again. We were up on Mt. Ebal and working by 5:30 a.m. We cleaned up our loci (I’m learning the archaeological lingo), took photos and started up the now familiar but still formidable hill. I made it up again! Nevi had sandwiches, pickles and plums waiting for us.
A quick ride back in the vans; then we showered, packed our luggage and hopped into the vans for the final ride to Netanya. Everyone wished each other well and said goodbye. In Netanya, Michelle and the van driver found me a taxi. The 25-kilometer drive to Tel Aviv was delightful.
As I write this, I am in a lovely hotel, the Dan Panorama, looking out my window at a spectacular view of the Mediterranean. All things considered, I’d rather be at Mt. Ebal.