UNC Charlotte students go digging at Jerusalem’s Mount Zion

We headed to the Holy Land this summer with more excitement about the work ahead of us than worries about our extended stay at the religious crossroads of the volatile Middle East.

Thirteen participants from UNC Charlotte, along with students from other universities and several community members, came to Jerusalem’s Mount Zion in June to complete the second of three planned summer archaeological digs. UNC Charlotte is the only American university with license to carry out such an excavation in Jerusalem.

Each of us experienced the thrill of unearthing artifacts. Providing intense context for the experience were detailed tours of holy sites led by UNCC religious studies professor James Tabor. For me, Sunday school lessons and university-level comparative religious studies came to life in ways that often made me feel quite small.

The summer program coincided with the killings of three Israeli teenagers and the retaliation killing of Mohamed Abu Khdeir, a Palestinian teenager, whose funeral procession occurred just a few blocks from our hotel.

We felt reasonably safe. Israeli soldiers seemed to be everywhere, even more than they normally are. In Jerusalem, you are hard-pressed to find yourself more than a block or two from a soldier or a police officer. The situation was just heating up as the last of the UNCC student participants left the dig, but the remaining dig team members were present as air raid sirens began to sound and bomb shelters opened up.

We are still processing the experiences we shared as we lived and worked amid some of humankind’s most significant history. It is a valuable experience that will hopefully continue to be available as the conflict in the region persists.