Wednesday night, January 6, was another special time at the Movenpick Hotel. We had actually discussed Epiphany on the bus that morning, heading out to dig. Epiphany (Greek “upon/appearing”) is the term used to describe a divine appearance. The Day of Epiphany is the traditional day for the visit of the Wisemen to baby Jesus in Bethlehem. It is twelve days after Christmas – the basis for the “Twelve Days of Christmas” song.
January 6 was actually Christmas Day under the older Julian calendar, but today has the wisemen focus in the Western Church and commemorates His baptism (remember the Father saying from Heaven “this is My beloved Son” = “appear upon”) in the Eastern Church. Since the site of John baptizing Jesus is placed along the east side of the Jordan River (Bethany beyond Jordan – Jn 1:2; 3:26; 10:40), it is a recognized event in this country (and good for tourism). The actual site is traditionally placed about 8 miles from our hotel and Eastern Christians often come in large numbers to the site on January 6.
Well, anyway, the hotel had another special Christmas dinner that night. Again the restaurant staff wore Santa Claus hats and they had special foods – I actually decided to bypass the main course and go straight for the deserts including the chocolate fondu and the edible dark and white chocolate Christmas trees! Merry Christmas to me all over again.
The next day, Thursday January 7, was my last day of digging. By the end of the day we had discovered a small (5-foot wide) direct-axis gateway through the Early Bronze 3 city wall in our trench and the identification of the mudbrick superstructure of the same city wall 100 yards away in another trench. While I haven’t kept up with the size and scope of excavated Early Bronze Age cities in the Holy Land, I have to say that our finds on the lower city at Tall el-Hammam must make it one of the largest and best preserved city fortifications from that period (the third millennium BC) on either side of the Jordan River.
It was an incredible four weeks of digging for me. When we started this season, we had no real sense of the size and scope of the city’s defenses, which makes our understanding to date all the more remarkable. Since the excavation is a joint project with the Department of Antiquities of Jordan, and we all agree on the data and dates, these findings are going to have significant implications for archaeology in Jordan and the entire region.
The icing on the cake, on Thursday, was the clearing by of our team of the corner of a monumental building from the New Testament era. They found stones over five feet long, over four feet high and two feet wide still sitting in place (in situ) as well as exactly where they fell off the wall. These massive stones made me think of the Herodian masonry in Jerusalem – a real possible connection, since the New Testament capital of Perea was built by Herod Antipas (the guy who cut off John the Baptist’s head [Mt 14:1-11], and before whom Jesus had to appear the night He was betrayed [Lu 23:7-12]), somewhere around Tall el-Hammam.
All this on the day I leave to go home – and they still have three more weeks of digging left! The opportunity to excavate at Tall el-Hammam, stay in the five- star Movenpick Dead Sea Resort and Spa (with my wife) and hang out with such a great group of people is really a privilege. But it is now time to go home to New Market, Maryland and to my job at Helping Up Mission in downtown Baltimore. I really had a great time in Jordan, but I really love my job and am ready to get back to doing what I still consider to be the most meaningful ministry I have ever done.
Pastor Gary Byers
Spiritual Life Director