Susan and I have been digging at Tel Shimron for more than a week, and every day brings 10 hours of hot and dirty and very tiring work – but we asked for it.

I admit there are times, when I’m sweating at the bottom of a deep excavation square or carrying heavy buckets of dirt up the ladder, that I ask myself why I asked for this again.

A pile of rocks in the foreground and people walking toward it in the background.

(Photo: Tony W. Cartledge)

Susan and I have dug before; one summer at Lachish and two others at Jezreel, so we knew what to expect. It did not come as a surprise that a huge pile of rocks accumulated over the last five years had to be moved because now we might need to dig under it. That’s just the way it goes; we don’t know what’s underground until it reveals itself to us.

We knew that the workday would begin around 4:30-4:45 a.m., waiting our turn for the three vans that shuttle us from our lodgings in Nahalal to the dig site, and not end until 3:00 p.m. or so, when we wait for the same vans to take our weary dust-caked bodies back to the dorms for a welcome shower.

People sitting at tables eating under a tent.

(Photo: Tony W. Cartledge)

We knew we’d be trekking uphill to the site, often carrying equipment, then back down for breakfast around 9:00 a.m., then up again for another stretch. We anticipated that breakfast would generally feature tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, and either canned tuna or boiled eggs, sometimes both.

We expected to be bone-tired at the end of every day, with aching backs as testimony to the dirt we’ve moved, the surfaces we’ve brushed, the wheelbarrow-loads we’ve trundled to the dump, and the buckets of pottery we’ve scrubbed.

A person standing near a bucket of dirty water washing a shard of pottery with a brush.

(Photo: Tony W. Cartledge)

There’s a reason why they call it a “dig.” But we asked for it because we believe it’s important. Why?

For one thing, it’s important from an archaeological standpoint to learn more about Tel Shimron, even though most people have never heard of it. The Bible mentions Shimron only in the context of Joshua reportedly conquering a coalition of cities including it (Joshua 11:1-10), and then apportioning Shimron to the tribe of Zebulun as part of their inheritance (Joshua 19:10-16).

But the importance of ancient cities is not measured by how often they appear in Bible stories. Shimron is located in the northwest corner of the Jezreel Valley. It was a major city in ancient times. Located near the junction of two important trade routes, its beginnings go back to at least the Chalcolithic period (roughly 4500-3600 BCE).

The tel itself is huge, with upper, middle, and lower sections, all surrounded by an earthen rampart that was built in the Middle Bronze Age, around 1800-1500 BCE.

The site features massive mudbrick buildings from the Middle Bronze, along with impressive Iron Age remains (c. 1200-586 BCE, Israelite?) that are buried beneath a Jewish village from the Roman/New Testament period as well as later Mamluk and Ottoman buildings.

Fallen stones tell the tale of a fourth century earthquake that devastated the area. In the tumble of the tel, beautiful Mamluk pottery sherds are sometimes mixed with less elegant ware from earlier ages.

Contributing to our knowledge of ancient Middle Eastern life through the lens of Tel Shimron is one reason we do it, but there are others.

A group of people standing together smiling.

(Photo: Tony W. Cartledge)

Digging gives us the opportunity to bring students, alumni, or friends to share the experience, to learn more about archaeology, and to interact with an international group of volunteers and staff (around 80 all told) at the dig.

The five students and graduates we brought this year are oozing with maturity, setting a sterling example with their positive attitude and strong work ethic. As much as they are learning, they are also helping others to learn and grow.

They make me proud enough to cry, and if our backs hurt and our hands are swollen as part of making this experience possible, it’s worth every sore muscle and sweaty bandana.

A man standing in a pit at at archaeological site.Being part of a dig is a reminder that we are part of something bigger in which we all play a part. We have specialists here in fields ranging from stratigraphy to ceramics to osteology and archaeobotany. We have supervisors over the squares and administrators to make everything happen, and it’s all for a purpose.

A dig, despite its distinctive nature, is not unlike a microcosm of the church, or of life itself. We all have parts to play if we want to follow Jesus faithfully and make the world a better place – to fulfill our purpose.

It can take extra effort when we don’t feel like it. It can take early mornings or late nights because someone needs what we can offer. It can involve honest conversations and relationship building that may be uncomfortable. It may even involve getting dirty.

Jesus never claimed that following him would be easy, but if we’re serious about our faith, we buckle down and do it anyway.

Because we asked for it.

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