Edgar Hardesty

Edgar Hardesty is pastor of a small nondenominational church near Baltimore and an adjunct professor of the Bible and doctrine at Philadelphia College of Bible. He was educated at Philadelphia College of Bible and Dallas Theological Seminary and is completing his master’s degree in Jewish studies at Baltimore Hebrew University. Hardesty received a BAS dig scholarship to join the excavation at Beth-Shemesh.

What was it like to be in Beth-Shemesh during Sennacherib’s siege? That is what I wondered as I dug down to the layer that dated to the fiery destruction of the city in 701 B.C.

The excavation square to which I and three others were assigned lay next to a square that had reached the Sennacherib destruction layer during the previous season. Between the two squares stood a balk—an unexcavated wall of earth left in place to preserve the strata of occupation—that contained a cluster of storage jars embedded in a layer of ash.

As I began to clear away material, my trowel soon uncovered what appeared to be the curve of a jar rim. I gently probed the area, and I realized that there was more here than I had anticipated. Ash was also beginning to appear that matched the ash around the storage jars in the balk, only 3 feet away. Eventually a complete wine service set emerged, nested together with utensils. Included were a small jug and cooking pot, a cooking ring for the cooking pot, several plates and drinking bowls, a wine strainer and two oil lamps. The cooking pot and one of the oil lamps were intact. All of the other pieces had sustained some damage but were restorable. Their context gave the impression that they had fallen as a nested stack and then had toppled over to one side. Over the course of the next two days, the pottery was drawn and photographed in situ, extracted piece by piece, cleaned by acid bath and sent to Tel Aviv University for restoration.

Many questions filled my mind. Who had owned this 2,700-year-old wine set? How does this small find add to our understanding of the city’s history? How do these finds fit with the surrounding context? What had been an academic matter now became quite personal: To study in the somewhat sterile confines of a classroom is one thing; to rummage through the remains that mark the passing of another human soul is quite another.

Angela Roskop

Angela Roskop is a doctoral student in Biblical and ancient Near Eastern languages and cultures at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, Ohio. Her academic career began far afield: She majored in violin performance and English literature at a small liberal arts college in Wisconsin. Taking a course on the Bible changed everything: Roskop pursued a graduate degree in Hebrew at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is now in her second year at Hebrew Union College.

I went to Sepphoris last summer to learn how to do archaeology and to study Roman and Byzantine history. At times, it was difficult to remember that our 5- by 5-meter square was only a piece of a much larger puzzle—a small section of a basilical building. We spent most of each day occupied with small-scale questions: Is this drain earlier or later than that wall? Do these floors go with this wall or that wall? Slowly we formed a more complete picture as we looked at what the other squares were revealing and began to see the building as a whole.

Finding great artifacts is, of course, part of the fun and excitement of archaeology, and the volunteers at Sepphoris found many last summer. But it was even more exciting to collect data that could help us answer broad questions about how people lived at Sepphoris and illuminate the city’s relation to the rest of Galilee.

We can read about Sepphoris (or other sites), but there is no substitute for actually being there and excavating, say, the cistern that held the city’s water supply or cleaning out an oven used by a family 2,000 years ago. It was great to have the opportunity not only to advance my own knowledge of history, but to share in the camaraderie of a diverse group of people excited about making a contribution to the world’s knowledge. Contact with the remains of Sepphoris drove home to me the fact that everyday people, not unlike ourselves, lived and worked in this very spot. Their lives were lifted off the page.