APU Digs the Holy Land: Abel Beth Maacah 2014 Update

by Robert Mullins, Ph.D.

Azusa Pacific University continues to “dig” the Holy Land! We began summer 2014 with a two-week study tour of Israel, June 9-22, 2014, followed by the dig at Abel Beth Maacah, June 23-July 22. A total of 81 participated, including 16 staff and 65 team members, from a variety of schools, colleges, and seminaries. Joining Azusa Pacific University were Indiana Wesleyan University, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, and Hebrew Union College – Cincinnati.

An important goal of this project centers on training APU students in the practice of biblical archaeology, and seven joined the excavation team, including one staff member, Kevin Crow, who graduated from APU in 2013 with his M.A. in Theological Studies.

On a typical weekday, we boarded the bus and headed to the tel by 5 am. Getting an early start not only avoided the heat of the day, it also enabled us to watch the sun rise every morning over the summit of Mt. Hermon, thought by many New Testament scholars to be the location of Jesus’s transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-13). Moreover, when Jesus left Tyre for Sidon and then returned to the Sea of Galilee (Mark 7:31), one likely route would have been by way of Abel Beth Maacah. Who would have guessed that students from APU would be excavating this marvelous site 2,000 years after Jesus passed by?

Our eagerness to begin digging this last summer was two-fold: we planned to explore the summit of the upper mound where important buildings like palaces and temples would have stood in antiquity. We also anticipated unearthing more goodies from the area where we found a hoard of silver earrings and ingots placed inside a jug for safekeeping the previous year. Lead isotope analysis of some silver pieces by Na’ama Yahalom-Mack, Ph.D., of the Weizmann Institute of Science, indicated that the ore might have come from Spain. For this silver to end up at Abel Beth Maacah not only points to Mediterranean trade in this metal, but at a time earlier than scholars had suspected.

"Who would have guessed that students from APU would be excavating this marvelous site 2,000 years after Jesus passed by?"

Our hopes of exploring the summit of the upper mound were dashed when we discovered that the modern military bunkers built on a 16–foot deep artificial fill of stone and earth completely sealed the ancient remains. However, the upper city still holds promise. On the summit’s eastern slope, we exposed part of an ancient wall. Based on some diagnostic pottery fragments, the wall may belong to the time of the Israelite monarchies (Iron Age II period, 10th-8th centuries BC). We plan to expose more of this structure next summer.

"Excavating a biblical city like Abel Beth Maacah is not only fun, it is also a sacred privilege."

Some of the more important remains came from Area A in the lower city, where we found a beautifully decorated donut-shaped flask during the 2012 survey. Team members that dig uncovered the remains of a large administrative building just below topsoil from the late 11th century BC (the time of Samuel and Saul). We exposed more of the structure this season and believe it may be part of an administrative complex that belonged to the Aramean kingdom of Maacah mentioned in Joshua 12:5 and 2 Samuel 10:6, 8. Below this building, we excavated an even earlier structure, also from the 11th century BC, though this building had been destroyed in a severe conflagration measuring more than three-feet thick. We archaeologists like destructions as they present a greater likelihood of containing significant finds. Michael Schwind of Indiana Wesleyan University found a small clay bull figurine, usually a symbol of the god Baal, in the debris. We have no way of knowing the identity of those who destroyed the city of this time, but given the strategic location of Abel Beth Maacah on the border of Israel, Phoenicia, and Syria, any number of enemies seem possible.

Excavating a biblical city like Abel Beth Maacah is not only fun, it is also a sacred privilege. As archaeologists, we are uniquely able to walk in the sandals of the men and women of the biblical past who shared many of our same hopes, dreams, and fears––all the qualities that make us human. It is through a dialogue with the past that we are better able to perceive God’s Word to us in the present.

For more updates on Abel Beth Maacah, visit: Facebook.com/AbelBethMaacah.