After two weeks of annual leave—during which time I was travelling in Ireland, France and Germany—I have now been back in Israel for a week, and have resumed my study leave program.
The weather has now turned much warmer, with some days reaching 40 degrees Celsius. The greens of early Spring have vanished from the landscape where brown and gold now dominate. The only patches of green are from crops in various fields.
This first week back in Israel has been a mix of activities.
On Friday last week I was able to visit the Golan Heights which were occupied by Israel in 1967 and annexed in 1981. There was no sign of military activity on either side of the border despite the current tensions, and people seem to be going about their daly lives as best they can in the circumstances.
On Sunday I spent the day in Haifa, where I assisted with the liturgy at the local Anglican Church and then enjoyed an afternoon visiting with Hatem and Liza Shehadeh. It was a special delight to offer the Great Thanksgiving prayer, using the second form of the thanksgiving from A Prayer Book for Australia.
For much of the week I have been juggling the need to complete some writing tasks with my desire to be on the dig at Bethsaida. I was able to spend Wednesday and Thursday on site, working in an area where we seem to be moving from Level Two (Hellenistic & Roman materials) to Level Five (Iron Age IIB). In the first two weeks of the 2013 season we have so far found just a single coin, and no more are expected if we work mostly in Iron Age materials as coins had not yet been invented at that stage.
On the other days this past week I have been able to complete one of the papers I will be presenting at the international meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in St Andrews, Scotland, before returning home in July. That paper explores the complexities of the Herodian succession using the coins issued by Archelaus, Antipas and Philip as data. It will be presented to the Biblical Characters in the Three Traditions seminar.
Work has also continued on the coin project, and I have a fairly complete draft of my report for presentation to the Bethsaida seminar in the St Andrews SBL meeting. I am slowly working my way through the handwritten Hebrew annotations on the index cards from the Israel Antiquities Authority, and will be back in the coin department for a couple of days next week to complete the analysis of the remaining coins.
Part way through this week I became aware of a blog posted by a conservative colleague from Brisbane that attacks progressive Christianity as little more than a pagan/Gnostic hybrid that is deeply incompatible with Anglicanism. At the expense of two very late nights (on days when I needed to be up at before 5.00am to get out to the dig) I prepared a public response to this blog as a contribution—hopefully constructive—to an emerging debate in Brisbane Diocese in the lead up to Synod in mid-June.
Last night (Thursday) I visited the Sabeel office in Nazareth to offer an orientation to the Bethsaida excavations. This was in preparation for a visit to the dig by the Sabeel young adults group during the time that the Australian volunteers are at Bethsaida. It was good to meet up with friends from last year and also to meet some new people.