EDITOR’S NOTE: This story appeared Sunday in some of the Observer’s regional publications.For two weeks, a group of UNC Charlotte students and faculty worked at a restricted excavation site in Jerusalem in the hope of learning more about the roots of Christianity. UNCC is the only American college licensed to conduct such an excavation in Jerusalem, thanks to a longtime partnership between professor James Tabor, chair of the religious studies department, and Shimon Gibson, a British and Israeli archaeologist.Gibson, a fellow at the Albright Institute and professor at the University of the Holy Land in Jerusalem, is an adjunct professor of religion at UNCC.The excavation site, which Tabor and Gibson first explored in 1978, has artifacts from the modern period through the Ottoman, Islamic, Crusades, Byzantine, Roman and ancient Israelite times. A group of 22 students worked at the excavation, as well as dozens of participants from Russia, South America, Europe and the United States. Eleven of the students came with the Levine Scholars Program, a merit scholarship that provides full tuition for UNCC students. The group returned to Charlotte last week. The Mount Zion Gate is the site of the House of Caiaphas, and the room where the Last Supper took place, according to the Bible, Tabor said in an email. The excavation site is a few hundred yards away from those sites, he said. “I think the most exciting thing for the students, most of whom are interested in Jesus and early Christianity, is to get down to the layers of first-century Jerusalem and to especially find the remains of these mansions where the ‘rich and famous’ lived, which were destroyed in 70 C.E./A.D. by the Romans,” Tabor wrote. Diane Zablotsky, director of the Levine Scholars Program, and Tabor said students learned about Jerusalem’s history and current conflicts in the city.“Every morning we walk to the site, passing through the Muslim, Christian, Armenian and Jewish quarters of the city, with their vastly differing perspectives and culture,” Tabor said.Students “were able to see contemporary challenges tied to historical roots,” Zablotsky said.Sophomore Brandon Nixon, a philosophy major from Fayetteville, said the trip was a chance to learn in a way that would be impossible in a classroom. One of his favorite moments was seeing the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the supposed site where Jesus of Nazareth was crucified, he said.Zablotsky said the Levine Scholars program was interested in the trip because it was an unusual opportunity and a chance to study with Tabor, an expert on early Christianity. She was one of three faculty members who went on the trip with the students, along with Tabor and architecture professor Geoff Love. “It was the first visit to Jerusalem for everybody. (It was exciting) just to watch the richness of Jerusalem and the historical content and multiple cultures. There are so many unique things there,” Zablotsky said. Students “were able to learn about the historical account of Jesus in an archaeological context.”Experiences where students “literally get their hands dirty” are important ways to learn, Zablotsky said. Each student was required to keep a journal, attend lectures, work at the excavation site four days a week and attend tours of the region. “As teachers, you always look for ways to bring topics students are reading about to life,” she said. “They understood they were discovering things that tied, in a physical way, to the history of Jerusalem. It’s something you wouldn’t get just from reading or a website.”Zablotsky said Tabor, who has written several books and articles about Christianity and has studied the region for decades, was central to the trip’s success.His expertise in the region was enriching for the students, she said, and he took them on tours of Masada, Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee on days they were not excavating.Tabor will be working at the excavation until mid-July, he said. He will post updates of findings from the site on his website, Jamestabor.com.
Sunday, Jul. 07, 2013
UNCC Religion professor organizes four-week excavation in Jerusalem
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