Archeological Dig Opens Doors For Students

Bible Department to add international component

by Nathana Faddis, Panther Press

Last summer, the Bible Department took the first step toward adding an international component to its program when Dr. Frank Wheeler opened up his annual archeological work trip to Israel for students interested in accompanying him. Joining him this past summer were Amber Soderholm and her sister Crystal Terrell, a recent YC graduate.

While in Israel, they spent most of their time working at an archeological dig site on the outskirts of modern day Beth-Shemesh. Located in the Soreq Valley about 12.5 miles west-southwest of Jerusalem, Beth-Shemesh is where the ark of the covenant first came when the Philistines returned it to the Israelites. The site is on the border between the Philistines and the Israelites and was also the area of some of Samson’s activities during the time of the Judges.

The ongoing archeological project began in 1990. Previous seasons have unearthed fortification systems from the time of the Monarchy and from the time of Abraham. They have also uncovered an elaborate underground water reservoir as well as the largest iron workshop found in the Middle East, both dating from the 10th-9th centuries B.C. In 2007, they began to uncover a level that produced dozens of pieces of pottery and weapons.

Though Amber and Crystal were busy at the dig site during the week, weekends proved the exception, allowing an opportunity for them to travel and see other parts of Israel. They toured the southern region of Israel to visit sites such as Gath, the Valley of Elah, Tel Lachish, Ashkelon, the fortress Masada, the home of the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran, the Old City of Jerusalem, and even the Western Wall. They also took a dip in the Mediterranean Sea, hiked En Gedi to David’s Waterfall, floated in the dense Dead Sea, and walked along an ancient Roman road. Both working on the dig and exploring the country opened up Biblical history to them in a concrete way.

Dr. Wheeler’s goal is to continue taking students with him each summer. He usually stays five weeks and students would be able to stay between two to four weeks. Currently, airfare costs around $1,500, room and board is $620 a week, and tours add up to $200, so the average cost of the trip would be around $3,000 for two weeks.

Amber Soderholm admitted that Israel had never been top of her list to visit, but the experience was so powerful that she already wants to return.

“That small sliver of land is so rich, so vibrant, and so full of history that you can’t possibly begin to experience it all in one two-week trip,” Soderholm says. “Israel is a land of ancient history and that history has influenced my entire existence.”

This trip exposes students to a wide array of valuable learning experiences from history to Biblical studies to archeology. 

“I learned that one man’s interpretation of history will often differ from another man’s, but that doesn’t make one wrong and one right.” Soderholm notes.

Amber Soderholm says she is frequently asked if she found anything exciting at their dig, and she lists examples of all that they unearthed: “We collected pottery shards and filled numerous buckets every day. We found animal bones, olive pits, grinding stones, flint pieces, and pounding stones. Rarely did we find nothing.”

The Bible Department’s goal for international travel and learning does not stop with this first step. Dr. Wheeler mentioned that he is formulating a study-travel option for his Corinthians class in the spring of 2012. He plans on setting up the class where students can sign up for the basic course or for the one that will travel to Greece and Turkey after graduation. Students will follow the travels of Paul to places such as Corinth, Athens, Philippi, Crete, and Ephesus, and take a two-day cruise on the Mediterranean Sea. This is a unique opportunity for students to see the land that Paul traveled and walk where he walked. The trip will be open to all students, but those interested must first apply for approval. Dr. Wheeler expressed a great deal of excitement over this opportunity and hopes that there will be a considerable amount of student interest.

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