2022 Summer Israel Trip by David P. Johnson, Vice President, Graduate Student Association

Thursday, November 3, 2022

I am grateful that I was able to participate in the 2022 PSGS Summer in Israel Program along with fellow graduate students Chris Beecher, Thomas Murphy, Robert Ogden, and Evan Vossman. Many thanks to Dr. Jason Kalman, who did a superb job planning and guiding group tours of various archaeological, cultural, and historical sites inand around Jerusalem (June 1–12). The Graduate School allowed my wife ReDana to accompany me during this first portion of the trip, which was especially meaningful since we celebrated our fifteenth anniversary this year. Our group was based at the Mt. Hermon Field School for the remainder of the trip (June 13–July 8) in order to participate in the 2022 dig season at Tel Dan under the co-directorship of Professors David Ilan and Yifat Thareani. I cannot share all my experiences in a short article, so I will be content to share a few highlights.

June 1 – We arrived and settled into our apartment on Keren HaYesod Street. We were able to buy groceries at a nearby shop. Since the apartment owners required us to keep kosher, my wife and I enjoyed learning how to properly store and prepare meat, dairy, and pareve items. At the recommendation of Charlie (Dr. Kalman’s son), we ate dinner at Moshiko’s. The shawarma wraps were absolutely delicious!

June 2 – Dr. David Ilan gave us a tour of the HUC-JIR/Jerusalem campus including the Tel Dan museum and the archaeology lab, and offered insightful lectures on the geography of Israel and the intersection of biblical studies and archeology. HUC-JIR treated us to lunch at Hummus Ben Sira. In the afternoon, Dr. Ilan led an excellent walking tour from the campus to the City of David.

June 3 – Dr. Kalman, Evan, ReDana, and I picked up the rental van (a two-hour process!) and then met the rest of our group at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum. I was not able to spend as much time with the exhibits as I would have liked, because the museum staff had to move us along quickly so they could close early for Shabbat. Additionally, I was quite hungry, since the delays at the car rental agency had prevented us from getting lunch. Upon reflection, it struck me as deeply ironic that I was preoccupied with these trivial annoyances even as I was surrounded by memorials to the courage and resilience of Jews who experienced the most extreme forms of human suffering and degradation.

June 4 – The students toured Ramat Rahel in the morning. At about 10:15 pm, we headed to the HUC-JIR/Jerusalem campus to hear lectures by Dr. Kalman and other HUC-JIR faculty as Shavuot began.

June 5 – Visiting the Shrine of the Book, Jewish Art and Life, and Archaeology exhibits at the Israel Museum was a highlight of the trip. In the afternoon we found some delicious Turkish kunafa near the apartment.

June 6–7 – Professor David Levine gave a lecture to PSGS students and third-year rabbinical students in the garden of the HUC-JIR/Jerusalem campus and then led us on a walking tour of the Old City, including the Kotel Tunnels by the Western Wall and the Jerusalem Archeological Park. The next day, we joined Dr. Levine and the rabbinical students again to tour Herodion, a fortress and palace of Herod the Great. We also visited Itri, an agricultural village from Hasmonean times, which featured a well-preservedancient wine press. At the Khirbet Qeiyafa ruins, Professor Levine read to us from 1 Sam 17 while we looked out over the Valley of Elah, the site of the battle between David and Goliath.

June 8 – Professor Yifat Thareani guided the graduate students through the important Iron Age sites of Tel Arad and Tel Be’er Sheva in the northern Negev. Dr. Thareani’s kindness and willingness to share her considerable knowledge with us was truly remarkable.

June 9 – Drs. David Ilan and Jason Kalman led tours to Qumran, Masada, and the Dead Sea.Qumran settlement tour It was a long-time dream of mine fulfilled to explore the Qumran settlement and see some of the caves where scrolls were discovered.

June 10 – Dr. David Ilan guided the graduate students through Tel Maresha and Tel Lachish. He was a gracious guide as always, demonstrating genuine passion for the subject matter and concern for our learning.

June 11 – On our last full day in Jerusalem, we met up with Dr. Fisher-Livne and his family at a park near our apartment. We also enjoyed some free time to shop and explore the unusually quiet city on Shabbat.

June 12 – We checked out of our apartment and drove to the HUC-JIR/Jerusalem campus where we loaded equipment to be transported to the dig site at Tel Dan. I said goodbye to ReDana and then headed north with the other graduate students. We stopped at Magdala and saw the remains of a first-century synagogue on the way. By mid-afternoon we were settled into the cabin that would be our home during the dig.


June 13 – We awoke at 4:30 am and departed for Day One of the dig at 5:00 am. Due to the pandemic, there had been no excavations at Tel Dan since 2018. We helped David Ilan extract the dig equipment from a bunker on site, doing our best to avoid the giant spiders on the walls, and began setting up for the season. The Cincinnati graduate students were assigned to work under Yifat Thareani in Area L, which has been not-so-affectionately dubbed “Area Hell,” due to the lack of natural shade. We did erect a sunshade over a large portion of the area, which we came to appreciate during the next few weeks. After lunch, we stocked up on groceries and laundry soap (to wash our clothes by hand) at the nearby kibbutz. Later that afternoon, we returned to Tel Dan for a general tour with David Ilan.

June 14 – We were up at 4:30 am to head out for Day Two of the dig. We were introduced to the joys of the so-called “bucket line,” the process of moving buckets of excavated dirt in assembly-line fashion from the edge of the dig area to a dump pile nearby. In the afternoon, we continued the general tour of Tel Dan. I especially enjoyed walking along the Dan spring. We filled our water bottles with the cold, pure water which served as the main source of drinking water throughout the dig. David Ilan offered an evening lecture on various theories about the identity of the Danites.

June 15 – The day followed a pattern that would become typical. Wake at 4:30 am. Work at dig site. Mid-morning fruit break. Dig. Lunch at the dig site on makeshift tables. Return to field school. Shower. Nap. Wash pottery from the previous day. Lecture. Dinner in field school cafeteria. Call family. Bed. 4:30 am comes fast!

June 16 – Dr. Thareani found a cooking pot dating to Iron IIA. She was very excited about this find because it supported her theory that Dan was inhabited in that early period.

June 17 – We stopped work on the dig an hour early due to the extreme heat. David Ilan led us to a public wading pool on the Tel where we could relax and cool off.

June 19 – I and the other Cincinnati graduate students visited Beit She’an and Capernaum.

June 23 – After the dig, we toured the ruins at Omrit, the site of a Roman city about 4 kilometers southwest of Caesarea Philippi. It was accessible only by a dirt road and was basically in the middle of a cow pasture.

June 25 – We found a great burger joint called Simta Hadegel (“Flag Alley”) in Metula.

June 26 – Toured Caesarea Maritima.

June 25 – After working at the dig, we toured the site of Banias/Caesarea Philippi.

June 30 – This was a productive day at Area L. I uncovered an iron adze blade. Yifat Thareani and David Ilan thought it might date to the Iron IIA/B. This was the only adze ever discovered at Tel Dan. I also uncovered a chalice in situ. It had some charred seeds and ashy material in it.

July 1 – I helped finish extracting the chalice from the day before. Yifat suggested it might date to sometime in Iron II, but more analysis is needed to be sure.

July 3 – The graduate students visited Tel Hazor. We ate lunch at an Italian restaurant in Tiberias, then Evan and I went swimming in the Sea of Galilee.

July 4 – This was a hard day at the dig site. We had to dismantle some walls, so there were a lot of large stones to be moved. Thomas Murphy was the champion rock mover! In the evening we celebrated the Fourth of July. Some UCLA students had secured some small charcoal grills, and we enjoyed some excellent kebabs and burgers.

July 7 – This was the last day of work on the dig.11 We swept the stone walls and floors of Area L to prepare for final drone photos. The drone also took an aerial video of the final “bucket line.” In the evening we ate at an Arabic restaurant called Al Sultan in the Druze village of Mas’ade near the Syrian border.

July 8 – We packed up and headed home. It was truly a trip of a lifetime!