Last weekend I had the privilege to be with Trent and Rebekah Dutton. The Duttons are a great couple with an interesting story. Both are computer programmers with experience in military applications. Their interest in biblical geography and archaeology grew as they taught Bible classes at church, and piqued after a tour of Israel with Ferrell Jenkins in 2012. In short, they made a career change and are starting the two-year process to earn an M.A. in Biblical Archaeology at Wheaton College. (They were both accepted to Wheaton and are going through the program concurrently.) The first stage of their program is to excavate at Ashkelon with the Leon Levy Expedition for its full six-week season, followed by a semester of coursework in Jerusalem. They will then move to the Chicago area for the remaining 1-1/2 years of the program (with another Bible Lands dig next summer to boot.)
They and I have mutual friends who helped us to connect in Israel and spend part of a weekend together.
Trent and Rebekah Dutton enjoying the waterfalls and pools of Ein Gedi. A few seconds after this photo was taken, Rebekah went over to a waterfall and allowed it to drench her. Trent got some excellent photos of the experience which will no doubt be posted on their joint blog. (Photo by Luke Chandler)
After Ein Gedi we went to the Dead Sea for a long, relaxing float as the sun began to set. I’m afraid I have no photo of that experience since my camera batteries had died, though the Duttons were able to get some nice shots of their first experience in the water. We enjoyed a quiet Friday evening by the Dead Sea as Shabbat (Sabbath) began and rested for our adventures the next day.
Our Sabbath morning began by driving south along the Dead Sea and then moving up into the Negev toward the ancient city of Arad.
The ancient fortress of Arad. During the time of Moses, Arad’s king attacked the Israelites and took captives. Later, the descendants of Jethro (the Kenites) settled in this area. During the Iron Age (kingdom period) the fortress protected the border against Edom and the Amelekites. Arad was destroyed several times in the kingdom period and has produced ostraca (inscriptions on pottery) that reveal something of the development of Iron Age Hebrew. The fortress has been restored to appear as it did during the time of the kingdom of Judah. (Photo by Luke Chandler)
After Arad we drove WNW to Beersheba (Beer Sheva). This city was considered the southern boundary of Israelite settlement. (“From Dan to Beersheba…”) Abraham spent a number of years around Beer Sheva and no doubt would have entered the city from time to time for trade, consultations, negotiations for water/grazing rights, etc.
Trent Dutton at Beer Sheva. He is standing next to a replica of an altar that was destroyed during Hezekiah’s religious reforms. The original altar was part of a high place in the city and is on display at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. (Photo by Luke Chandler)
Iron Age Beer Sheva had casemate walls with private dwellings abutting the inner wall. This architectural style did not exist in Philistea, Canaanite cities, or in northern Israel. In Canaan, this design was unique to Judah and can be found at other southern sites such as Khirbet Qeiyafa and Tel en-Nasbeh (Mizpah).
Rebekah examining Iron Age casemate walls at Beersheba. She is standing in an Israelite house that abutted the city wall. Noticing her hard hat? Visitors at Beer Sheva are required to wear hard hats to enter the underground water system that was carved into the bedrock during the early Iron Age (kingdom period). Photo by Luke Chandler.
After Beersheba we drove north to the Judean foothills (Shephelah). Most restaurants are closed on Saturdays due to Shabbat, so we enjoyed a nice gas station lunch by the Elah Valley consisting of sandwiches, chips, and chocolate. As it happens, Khirbet Qeiyafa was just a few minutes from our lunch spot…
Our gourmet lunch from an Elah Valley gas station. It actually turned out quite nicely. (Photo by Luke Chandler)
After giving the Duttons a tour of Khirbet Qeiyafa, we drove to the coast, to the land of the ancient Philistines, where they gave me a tour of Ashkelon.
The Canaanite rampart and gate (under the roof) at Ashkelon. This rampart circled Ashkelon on three sides (the fourth side was the beach) and protected the city in the Middle Bronze Age – around the time of the Patriarchs. Philistines moved in centuries later and became the new proprietors. This was the city where Samson killed thirty Philistines and took their clothes to satisfy a bet he lost in Judges 15. (Photo by Luke Chandler)
The view from the top of the rampart by the gate. Yes, there are far worse places to excavate than along a picturesque beach with an ocean breeze. (Photo by Luke Chandler)
Trent and your truly standing next to the ruins of Crusader walls at Ashkelon. Ashkelon was a major base and port for the early Crusaders. Richard III (Lionheart) stayed here for a time during his campaigns against Saladin. The Muslims eventually leveled the entire city to prevent it from ever again being used by crusading Europeans. From an archaeological perspective, this protected the site from further development and preserved many nice things for us to find. (Photo by Rebekah Dutton)
We ended our day with a hot meal by the beach in modern Ashkelon. The Duttons went to their excavation hotel to rest up for work the next day while I drove back to Jerusalem that evening. From the Dead Sea to the Negev, to the Shephelah, to the coast, to Jerusalem – with numerous site visits – all in one day. And with great company.
As I write this, the Duttons are in their last week with the Ashkelon excavation. You can follow their blog as they wrap up the dig and prepare for a semester in Jerusalem.