STUDENT SPOTLIGHT: Christopher S. Beecher, M.A.

Christopher S. Beecher, M.A.
Second-Year Ph.D. Student

How did you prepare for the Archeological Dig at Tel Dan trip?
I prepared for the trip in many ways. As my colleagues and I worked through our archaeology class a few weeks prior to departure, I logged some of the sites in Israel that I wanted to visit. I met with a friend of mine from church who was born and raised in a village that is less than a mile from the Hermon Field School. We discussed his life in Israel and what things I should expect. In terms of material preparation, I made sure I had an SD card to save photos as my pastor (a graduate of HUC-JIR) encouraged me to take thousands of pictures. In addition to this, I shopped for clothes and hygiene items that could easily be disposed of by the end of the trip. We were told that pretty much anything we wear at the dig would be so stained with dirt that it would be unwearable afterward.

What were some meaningful aspects of the trip for you?
I really enjoyed our time with the professors from HUC-JIR/Jerusalem. While in Jerusalem, we toured the Old City and various archaeological sites as we were guided by Dr. David Ilan (Director of the Nelson Glueck School of Biblical Archaeology) on some days, and Dr. David Levine (Associate Professor of Talmud and Halacha) on others. Prof. Ilan led us through Hezekiah’s tunnel and guided us through much of the old city. Prof. Levine took us through the ruins of the Temple Mount and provided wonderful discussion. I was particularly impressed with the foundational stones of Herod’s Temple where a Jewish Synagogue was recently constructed underground. It was impressive to behold the remains of Robinson’s arch and the street that ran alongside the western section of the Temple. From this viewpoint, one could imagine the size and beauty of the ancient structure before its destruction. It really was breathtaking. Another favorite moment for me was our walk through the Qumran settlement by the Dead Sea. I have always been fascinated by the Dead Sea Scrolls, both their content for the history of biblical interpretation and how they provide a limited glance into the life, beliefs, and religious practices of the ancient Yahad (Community). Prof. Ilan guided us through the Qumran settlement and then up the hills very close to Cave 11, where the Temple Scroll and other texts were recovered. From this position, we had a stunning viewpoint of the Wadi Qumran, the settlement below, and the Dead Sea in the distance! We also had the privilege of visiting Tel Arad with the guidance of Dr. Yifat Thareani (Research Archaeologist at the Nelson Glueck School of Biblical Archaeology). At this site, an ancient temple and altar were uncovered that gives modern researchers a look into ancient Israelite worship practices. It was Prof. Thareani who directed our time at Tel Dan in Area L. She was always delighted to explain something we found at the site or answer an endless amount of questions that may have come up during our time there. Even when it was blazing hot and we were standing in the sun and passing heavy dirt-filled buckets to one another, Prof. Thareani was encouraging and inspiring. She made even the bucket lines seem like a crucial part of the archaeological task, and I am utterly convinced that no one can call themselves an archaeologist who hasn’t suffered through a bucket line during an Israeli summer.

How did the trip connect to your Pines studies and research?
I feel the trip connected to my studies as a Pines student in several ways. First, seeing how archaeology does and does not relate to our interpretation of the biblical text was absolutely crucial to understanding the history of interpretation. Since the launch of archaeological studies, biblical scholarship has been dramatically affected by inscriptional finds, religious sites, and textual discoveries like those found near the Dead Sea. As an example, Jonathan Greer gave a lecture at the Field School looking at the Temple at Tel Dan and what it might offer to our understanding of cultic religion in ancient Israel. The location of animal bones, cultic accoutrements like shovels and forks, as well as access points to the altar all reflect what other researchers have seen at other sites in Israel (e.g. Tel Arad). These religious practices give us some insight into what does and does not align with our understanding of ancient Israelite belief and worship described in the biblical text. Additionally, Prof. Thareani’s proposal that Tel Dan was a multicultural and pluralistic society may explain the polemic against Dan found in the Deuteronomistic history. Dan was at the Northern border of ancient Israel and likely drew visitors from all across the northern Levant, Lebanon, Syria, and elsewhere, thus making it a cultural center for Northern Israel. Dan’s city life and cult most likely posed a threat to the Judean monarchy, its claims on exclusive Yhwh worship, and its commercial trade systems. Therefore, it makes some sense that the Deuteronomist would construct a powerful polemic against Dan in an effort to preserve Yhwh worship exclusively at the Jerusalem Temple. Another way in which the trip connected to my studies is the cross-cultural and interfaith dialogue that occurred between Christians and Jews. Sitting at the fit of Reform Jewish scholars at HUC-JIR and interacting with rabbinical students from other HUC-JIR campuses reminded me of how our diverse traditions share common roots in the interpretive traditions of ancient Israel. Moreover, it reminded me of how much we need each other to better understand and value the unique features of our faith traditions as well as those of others. The traditions and practices of my Jewish friends help me, as a Christian, to better understand how the biblical text can be approached and appropriated in ways that are relevant and spark critical dialogue. Additionally, my Jewish colleagues offer me fresh insights and angles on biblical faith and practice that challenges me to think outside of my limited experience in pursuit of academic excellence and compassionate activism.

What knowledge do you hope to/plan to apply from the trip to your studies this year?
As I approach this coming year of study, I hope to complement my research in biblical Hebrew (HUC-JIR) and Hellenistic Egypt (University of Cincinnati) with insights gleaned from archaeological experience and sources.

Please briefly tell us about your academic/professional journey to the Pines School.
For over a decade, I felt a call to Christian ministry and instruction but did not have the resources or time to pursue the call formally. All that changed in 2013 when a family in Louisiana graciously offered me a scholarship for seminary studies. When I started, I did not really imagine that pursuing a Ph.D. was possible or financially feasible. However, when I found out that my scholarship would support my studies through both an undergraduate (B.A.) and graduate (M.A.) degree, what seemed out of reach became much nearer to me. I graduated with a B.A. in Biblical Studies in 2017 and an M.A. in Hebrew Bible/Old Testament in 2021. I joined HUC-JIR’s Ph.D. program in Judaic and Cognate Studies with a focus on the History of Biblical Interpretation. I could not be happier with my decision to apply and enter the program. I love the school, the faculty, my fellow students, and the great city of Cincinnati! I am eager to continue my studies in biblical interpretation in ancient Judaism and Christianity with a focus on cognitive linguistics in Biblical Hebrew and ideology in the translation of the Greek Bible.