I was pleasantly surprised when the most recent issue of Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR) arrived, and a small image of a bronze figurine I’d uncovered at Lachish was at the top of the cover.
The magazine, a popular account of archaeological finds of interest to Bible folks, featured an article titled “Canaanite Worship at Lachish – New Details Emerge” (BAR 47.3 [Fall 2021], pages 48-54).
The “new” details weren’t entirely new: they were uncovered during the Fourth Expedition to Lachish (2013-2017), and published in detailed academic format two years ago (Levant 51.1, pages 76-104). They’ve just now made their way to the popular format.
Susan and I dug with the expedition, located on four areas of the mound, for three weeks in June 2015. By good fortune, we were assigned to an excavation square right in the middle of what has now been identified as the “Northeast Temple,” a Canaanite worship center that functioned during the Late Bronze Age.
The temple, along with the rest of the city, was violently destroyed around 1150 BCE, and the site was abandoned for two centuries before being resettled by Israelites from Judah.
The BAR article offers a nice description of the temple and the finds that accompanied it, but I’m going in a different direction.
A photo of the bronze image of Baal that I found is located on page 51, to the right of a similar image found the year before. Both were missing parts of their arms, but they were clearly in the traditional stance of a “smiting god,” probably Baal Resheph, with the pointed hat a symbol of divinity.
Tiny remnants indicate that the faces were originally covered with silver foil.
Author Itamar Weissbein (apparently part of the leadership team, though I don’t recall meeting him) describes the various finds: “In front of the entrance to the holy of holies, we uncovered two bronze figurines, a cultic scepter head, a variety of gold, carnelian, and faience beads, gold leaves, a scarab, and pieces of a special bronze situla, among other finds” (page 51).
That’s correct, in the collective sense – but the lead archaeologists are rarely the ones who find anything. They plan and oversee the digs. With the help of area supervisors, they decide where to excavate and lay out the squares. They analyze the pottery and artifacts, write the reports, and get credit for any discoveries made. It’s demanding work that requires significant expertise.
But the people who do the actual digging and discovering are nearly always students or volunteers who pay their own travel, lodging, and meal expenses for the privilege of rising at 4 a.m. to labor in the heat, digging carefully, filling buckets with dirt, removing stones (once they’ve been documented), and carefully working their way from one occupation level to the next.
Sometimes the work moves quickly, but more often quite slowly.
The “cultic scepter head” that Weissbein mentioned is pictured on page 52. It’s made of bronze that was coated with silver and embossed with a symbolic design, and was discovered by my wife Susan. She also uncovered several pieces of gold foil, a silver earring, and a nearly intact pyxis (a small pottery jar with two handles and a small mouth), among other things.
I spent much of my time sifting dirt from the square, which turned up many of the beads that Weissbein describes.
Are either of us named in the article, or any of the other folks who provide the grunt labor necessary for carrying out a dig?
No, and we don’t expect it. We’re just happy to have played a small role in bringing the ancient temple to light. We love archaeology and are glad to make some contribution to our understanding of the biblical world from which the Hebrews emerged.
Which brings me to church.
Yes, to church.
Who does the work that makes a church thrive? It’s not just the paid leaders. Pastors and other staff do important work, don’t get me wrong. I spend much of my time trying to help present and future ministers be prepared to lead and to preach with effectiveness and integrity.
But we all know that pastors can’t do it all. I served five different churches as pastor over 26 years, and there’s no question that the healthiest churches doing the most meaningful ministries were the ones with the most committed and cooperative lay people.
Lay volunteers teach Sunday School for all ages, care for little ones during worship, serve on thankless committees or teams, sing in the choir, assist in leading worship, set up tables and chairs when needed, prepare meals, and any number of other tasks.
The most vibrant churches are those in which the lay members of the church also go into their communities and serve others. Their joyful enthusiasm draws friends or neighbors to join them in the congregation.
Preachers can make a difference: the quality of their preaching, leadership, and pastoral care should set the tone for others – but it’s the lay people who do most of the work.
They do it for the glory of God and not for credit, but sometimes we should pause to give a little credit where credit is due.