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[Pacific Lutheran Scene]


On the dig at Cana of Galilee

By Douglas E. Oakman

Square supervisor Douglas E. Oakman in Square 14
Square supervisor Douglas E. Oakman in Square 14. Oakman's crew dug this square completely in 1999. It gives clear stratigraphic evidence for the occupation of the town from the Hellenistic through the Byzantine periods, c. 331 BCE to 640 CE.

4:00 a.m. That alarm clock could wake the dead! Time to pull on dirty clothes and boil the coffee again.

Palestinian archaeology begins very early. The pre-dawn walk across Kibbutz Hasolelim, near Nazareth, gets the blood circulating. The call to Muslim prayer from a local mosque drifts over the fragrant air. A Scopes owl hoots from the trees. The kibbutz peacocks send up their cries. Roosters out in the Beth Netofa Valley greet the sunrise. Draw two quarts of water at the public fountain. A little peanut butter on a slice of bread serves as first breakfast before the bus arrives. Everyone dozes on the jolting trip across the valley.

[image] Field supervisor Rev. Jack Olive explains some of the finer points of the ancient architecture at Omrith, in northern Galilee
Field supervisor Rev. Jack Olive explains some of the finer points of the ancient architecture at Omrith, in northern Galilee.

The ruins of Cana loom through the misty light. The hardest part of the day is just ahead, a 150-meter climb to the top of the hill. Yours truly struggles to keep step with several young men. He is aware of his age when he arrives at the second breakfast area huffing and puffing-just before the final 50 meters to the top. The climb takes us up and over limestone blocks, through sharp nettles, and across a very steep slope on the crown of the hill. Careful of that footing! A slip means a long roll down over rocks and thorn bushes. Just a few minutes after sunrise, and one takes in the gorgeous panorama of the valley. The patchwork of fields and the Nazareth range are inspiring.

[image] Ancient Byzantine stairway and the walls of Square 14
Ancient Byzantine stairway and the walls of Square 14.

The crew slowly gets underway. A typical archaeological day begins with the raising of the tools (stored in a cistern overnight). We begin removing soil in our 4x4 meter digging area. Soil is sifted over the dump, and all artifacts and pottery sherds are recorded and saved. Digging proceeds by locus-any three-dimensional feature, including soil layers, walls, and floors. As square supervisor, I train new volunteers and oversee the daily excavation. The field supervisor comes around several times during the day and inspects our progress. All the volunteers participate in the digging, sifting, recording, measuring, and drawing. We work from 5:15 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., with stops for second breakfast (about 9:00 a.m.) and a fruit break (about 11:00 a.m.). We leave the field by 1:00 p.m., before the heat of the day. Back to camp for lunch, showers, pottery washing, and, if we're lucky, a swim in the pool. Evening lectures round out the day, and then it's bedtime. A minute later it seems the alarm clock goes off again.

[image] Important visitors to Cana in the summer of 1999
Important visitors to Cana in the summer of 1999: Joseph Knee, left, husband of PLU classicist and Chair of the languages department Rochelle Snee, center; with excavation director Douglas Edwards, right. Behind is the 50-meter crown of Cana, looking north from the second breakfast area. Volunteers take a well-deserved rest, far right.

The Cana excavation has been underway since 1998, under the direction of Douglas R. Edwards of the University of Puget Sound. As one interested in the social world of Jesus and the Gospels, I became involved along with our mutual friend Jack Olive, the all-important field supervisor and part-time instructor in the PLU Religion Department.

Cana, occupied from the Israelite through the early Arab periods, is yielding important information about agrarian town life in ancient Galilee. While we do not expect to find direct evidence of Jesus of Nazareth, we have found Greek inscriptions attesting to a Byzantine Christian veneration of the miracle of Cana (John 2). It seems this is the Cana known to the Evangelists and Josephus in the first century.

Douglas Oakman is associate professor of religion at PLU.


Volunteers trudge down from the top of Cana at the end of the day, with the majestic view of the Beth Netofa Valley to the south as a backdrop.

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