Digging Into History

Last summer six theology students from Edmond’s Herbert W. Armstrong College stood on the edge of history.

Actually, they stood on the history. Their work in Jerusalem unearthed what may be the most significant archaeological discovery of the decade. They uncovered key pieces of what archaeologists believe to be the palace of King David—the very same palace described in the Bible.

Working with Dr. Eilat Mazar, one of Israel’s top archaeologists, Brent Nagtegaal, Edwin Trebels, John Rambo, Jeremy Cocomise, Brandon Nice and Victor Vejil made significant finds. The first, the Wall of Nehemiah, dates back to the 5th-6th century B.C. The second, a tunnel associated with the palace of David, points even farther back in time to 1,000 B.C., giving the Bible historical credibility in the academic community that it hasn’t enjoyed in years.

Archaeology isn’t clean work. Says Rambo, “It’s dirty, it’s cramped, but the excitement of finding what lies around the corner keeps you going. After we explored the whole thing we wanted to get the debris out of the way so we could see where the tunnel led. The excitement of that keeps you interested the whole day. When we were working underground for eight hours it seemed like four hours and the day would go by and then the sun was going down.”

Their discovery may lead to still bigger, more amazing discoveries. “When we think about the tunnel, we think about all the what-ifs, all the possibilities relating to this tunnel,” says Vejil. “Dr. Mazar thinks it may lead to a pool called the “artificial pool,” mentioned in the book of Nehemiah. That would be a great find and could lead to further excavation. If the tunnel goes north, we know that may lead to the location of the Temple. We always have these big expectations that keep us excited, keep us motivated. But you never know until you excavate it.”

Seals dating to the time of Jeremiah accompanied the discovery of the tunnel, and the wall attributed to Nehemiah—never before proven by archaeology to have existed—stands strong and well-preserved, showing that Jerusalem was more than just a small town in Israel during biblical times.

“The tunnel’s characteristics, date and location testify with high probability that it is the one called ‘tsinnor’ in the story of King David’s conquest of Jerusalem,” notes Mazar.

The third phase of the dig started in September 2007 and lasted until March 2008, a slow and painstaking effort to reveal the archaeological bombshells while preserving them in excellent condition.

Nagtegaal emphasizes that the importance of the dig can’t be underestimated. “The biggest thing is that we have academics throughout the world who are trying very much to discredit the Bible and its historical record. They believe that the Bible has some good principles in it and living by some of its ways is a good way to live,” he says. “But what we’re digging up is proof that the Bible is true down to the smallest details. By finding something so massive such as this building it confirms the Biblical record as being accurate.”

“We’re digging up 3,000 years of history and the truth of the matter is that we keep finding more and more exciting things,” says Trebels. “The seals that we found were both in the same verse of the Bible, not just the same book. When we found the Gedaliah seal everyone just went quiet. The staff all gathered in our field office and everybody was looking at the seal. It’s a very moving experience to find something that accurate and detailed in such a big pile of dirt.”

True archaeology—not the Indiana Jones stuff—is slow and requires a forced attention to detail. Only two people could fit in the tunnel at a time. With artificial lighting the students had to move slowly, document everything and shoot photos at every step of the way. Taking systematic archaeology very seriously, Trebels and company took over 10,000 photos for the records as they moved at a snail’s pace through the tunnel. Bucket lines were formed to move dirt out of the tunnel.

Despite the slow pace and an element of danger, enthusiasm for the project never dimmed.

While enjoying some time off in Oklahoma, the guys are itching to get back to the dig. “We’re expecting to go back soon,” says Nice. “One thing we’re hoping to do is get back into the tunnel. We’ve only dug about fifty meters into the tunnel. As far as we can see it goes further north and further south but right now both ends are blocked with falling debris and stone. We hope to get back there and see where it leads, where it comes from and what’s connected to it.”

“I believe that if we stick around long enough we’ll blow Bible critics out of the water with the finds that are about to be discovered,” says Trebels.

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