Study Leave—Week Seven

The past week has been dominated by writing, but I guess that is one of the reasons for study leave?

What began as a short section about Nazareth in a chapter of my new book, has drawn me into some extensive research around the archeological evidence for Nazareth at the beginning of the first century CE. I have read just about everything there is to read, and modified my views on some points of detail in the process. There has also been some really helpful feedback from colleagues such as Rami Arav, Richard Freund, and Carl Savage from the Bethsaida project. Along the way the material has  developed into a stand-alone chapter, “The Quest for the Historical Nazareth,” that will now appear in a collection of essays being edited by J. Harold Ellens. The short section in my own book has also been modified as this research continued. Some possibilities for future archaeological research in Nazareth have also emerged, so it will be interesting to see where this all leads.

By Wednesday morning the new chapter had been finished, and mercilessly cut back to the required maximum of 6,000 words. Now it was time to begin the next chapter for my own book: ch. 9, “Son of Mary, son of Joseph.” This material had been marinating in the back of my head for some days now, so it came together pretty quickly (and hopefully pretty well). It was completed by dinner time on Friday. It was challenging to write around topics like “A Palestinian Jesus” and “A Jewish Jesus,” and then to articulate what each Jesus might say to those two communities. It was also an interesting exercise to correlate Jesus with the Millennium Development Goals.

There were not so many events away from Tiberias this week and had there been I would doubtless not achieved so much writing. Even so, a few events stand out for mention.

Last Saturday evening I attended a bell ringing concert in the large Salesian Church on the ridge in Nazareth. The visiting international ringers were excellent, although I find hand bells a tad underwhelming. One sour note was the large number of Jewish pieces in the concert, and the apparent lack of awareness of the Palestinian context in which they were performing.

On Sunday I went to Haifa to worship once again with the local Anglican community there. As I did not get lost as many times as on previous occasions, I arrived about 30 minutes before the service. Before long I found myself robed in a borrowed alb, and assisting the parish priest, Asis Hatim Shehadeh, with the service. After the liturgy I enjoyed coffee and sweets with the congregation, and then an extended lunch with Hatim and his family. Having been there on several occasions now, I am beginning to feel quite at home in this community.

On Monday and Tuesday this week, Israel observed Memorial Day and then Independence Day. In the week leading up to these events the streets and buildings had been festooned with blue and white flags, although Memorial Day is a very solemn observance that begins and ends with the wail of air raid sirens across the country. For the Arab population in Israel and in the occupied Palestinian territories this is a sad occasion as they commemorate the Nakhba, or Catastrophe. It was a powerful experiece to attend a large rally on the site of the destroyed village of Khubbayza, as part of the annual Right of Return marches around the country. The event was well organised, and a handful of Israeli police were in attendance to manage the traffic. Their presence actually gave me some hope for the future resolution of this conflict, as it seemed that the norms of civil society were in operation.

During the week I also had an opportunity for an extended visit to the Beit Shearim necropolis. I have visited this site with groups a number of times, but it was good to have an opportunity to explore some of the less accessible caves.

I will take a break from writing for the next few days, and focus on the coins from Bethsaida once again. On Sunday I am heading to Jerusalem for a few more days in the coin department at Israel Antiquities Authority. Hopefully I shall be there early enough to attend the 9.30am Arabic service at St George’s Cathedral.

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