Israel, Part III: Weekend Travel, Pictures

Happy 2018!

Despite good intentions, I never wrote that third reflection on this summer. Fall ’17 was a trial by fire. I’ve scarcely had time to reflect on some big life events that happened this semester, let alone the fact that I was in Israel this summer. Now that I’m on the other side of the fire, I’ve been able to reminisce and look through photos from the summer. Here are some pictures from my three weekend excursions.

Weekend One: Jerusalem

After the week-long pre-dig tour and a short excursion to Caesarea’s beach on Thursday, all of the student volunteers were dropped off unceremoniously at a train station and left us to fend for ourselves. Five other OU students and I caught a train to Jerusalem.

(One of my greatest fears about studying abroad before this trip was being in a country where I didn’t speak the language and having to get from one place to another using public transportation. Well, now I’ve been there and done that. It is a bit scary. But we did it.)

On Friday, our adventure began. Being a cheapskate, I starkly refused to take cabs anywhere, and as a result, three of the six of us walked 15 miles that day and got acquainted with the city in a way that wouldn’t have been quite the same otherwise. Brennan, Aaron, and I circled from our hotel around the southern periphery of the Old City and to the Mount of Olives.

The Garden of Gethsemane, gently surrounded by the Church of All Nations and fully enclosed by a wall covered in pink blossoms, was a sanctuary. Morning light shone through leaves of the twisted olive trees, and despite the presence of other visitors, the air was quiet. Through the peace of this garden I felt a sense of melancholy. I imagined Jesus’ sorrow as he prayed, “Not my will, but Yours.” And I felt an enormous sense of gratitude for what he did next.

After some more exploring at the Mount of Olives, the three of us gradually wandered through colorful, modern Jerusalem until we found the Mahane Yehuda marketplace, a culinary highlight of the city. Since sundown and Shabbat we quickly approaching, everyone was making a last-minute run to the store or the market to prepare for the coming day of rest. So, the market was packed. The narrow walkway was full of wheeled shopping bags, tourists like us, and fresh challah bread.

After afternoon naps, we met up with the rest of the OU group for dinner. We signed up for a program that matched us to a family in the neighborhood who would host us for a Shabbat meal. This meal was one of my favorite parts of this trip.

Our host family prepared for us and the other families around the table (from Poland, France, and Michigan) a complete five-course meal. The cuisine was European and Middle Eastern, a blend of influences from immigrants from around the world. Though the food was excellent, the best part about the meal was learning about Shabbat traditions from our host family.

The world really closes down for a day – the next day, we experienced the quiet streets for ourselves. All food is purchased, all meals are made ahead of time so that no work has to be done on the Sabbath. Little technology is allowed – if you need a piece of information, you may consult a book or a friend, but not Google. Most families don’t walk far or drive at all, and all public transportation is closed.

A day of true rest really is a gift. Why, I wondered, does much of the world forgo this gift? Are we really too busy, too important to take a day off? Experiencing Shabbat makes me want to incorporate a day of rest into my own schedule, no matter how much preparation and catching up that entails for the other six days. It would be worth the effort.


Weekend Two: Jerusalem again

On the second weekend, I returned to Jerusalem with a group of friends from the dig. We walked a lot this weekend, too, and got lost quite a few times.

We stayed in a hostel with beds on the rooftops with panoramic views of steeples and stars. (I slept inside, but the idea is romantic, isn’t it?)

This weekend, a fesitval of lights was going on throughout the Old City and the surrounding area.

Last weekend, the other OU students and I had taken a tour of the Old City during Shabbat. I enjoyed seeing the city then, but I felt rushed and a bit shortchanged by this tour. (The first stop on the tour was a “licensed” shop selling olive wood at exorbitant prices – though, just for us, the shopkeeper was offering everything at the store for half price! I felt a bit of Jesus’ anger when he turned the money-changers’ tables. The expensive shops gave the centuries-old streets the feel of a “den of thieves.” But I digress…) On the second weekend, I was able to wander through the Old City at a much more savory pace.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was an experience. I am still blown away by the sheer number of countries represented by the visitors to this church. My friends and I had a chat with a couple from Indonesia while waiting in a line.


Weekend Three: Ein Gedi, Masada, the Dead Sea

A dozen new friends and I rented a bus to take us three hours south to the desert (with the permission and help of our supervisors, of course). We encountered a strange, alien landscape.

Our first stop was the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve. We made a short hike to King David’s Waterfall.

Next stop: Masada. It was more spectacular than I imagined. Pictures do not do this place – or the view – justice.

I learned about the Siege of Masada during a class last spring and since then had been eager to visit. The story as told by Josephus is tragic. Here, the Romans, striving to regain control of Judea, besieged one of the last remaining groups of Zealots who took shelter in this fortress. When the Romans built a ramp up to the fortress and broke down the door, they found that the rebels had chosen death by suicide rather than surrender. After this, the Romans sold many of the Jews into slavery throughout the Mediterranean.

It was eerie walking through the places where these rebels had survived. It is miraculous that they were able to survive for so long in such conditions, in such a remote place.

We ended the day at the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea is half its original size and only shrinking. I’m glad I got to see enjoy the bathlike, stinging, buoyant water this summer, because the Dead Sea might not exist for much longer.

Learning Greek


A mosaic at Sepphoris I saw this summer

A couple years ago, I posted here about my experience learning German, the first foreign language I’ve ever seriously tried to learn. Even though I’m far from my goal of being fluent by the end of my college career, I’m still reviewing and learning, and I’m excited to be in a conversation class in the fall. I got so excited about German that I decided to start on a couple more languages – Latin and Greek – since I want to continue studying classics in grad school.

What is the difference between modern Greek and ancient Greek? Ancient Greek is much different from modern Greek. I’ve done a very small amount of research to learn just how different, and it seems like the difference between ancient and modern Greek, according to some website, is like the difference between English and Latin. Much more of a difference than I had thought. Some words are mutually intelligible – I can guess, for example, that the Latin rosa means “rose” – but other times I might guess incorrectly but have related meanings – I wouldn’t be able to simply guess that domus means “house” though I would recognize the derivative “domestic” or “domicile.” From what I gather, the relationship between ancient and modern Greek is similar. Modern Greek speakers can pick out words with varying degrees of difficulty.

Learning Greek is really interesting. It’s also one of the most difficult undertakings I’ve begun in college. First, there’s an entirely difficult alphabet. It’s not difficult to internalize, but it adds an extra layer of decoding to every exercise. Then, Greek, like Latin, is also an inflected language, and full of participles and dozens of forms of verbs that I still don’t recognize, even just after a single semester.

Even though ancient Greek is not a modern language, I still have taken some things away that remind me that language and culture tightly intertwined. I never that language has a profound effect on the way we think until I started learning different languages. “Shame” and “modesty” in Greek are the same word, and shame seems to have a positive connotation rather than negative. Groups of people are not “they” but rather “hes” or “shes” in a sense, and if a group is made up of a hundred females and a single male, the group is still a group of “hes.” Epicene nouns are nouns that have a masculine gender, but their articles can simply be changed to feminine to indicate that the thing in question is feminine. From these things, what are the implications about gender in Greek culture? I’m fascinated to think about things like this, and I’m learning to apply the same mode of thinking in examining modern American culture and other cultures I encounter.


Germany: Integrating Immigrants

Earlier this semester I saw a photo exhibit, Germany: Integrating Immigrants. This exhibit, part of Germany Week at OU, was designed to help viewers learn about the ways Germany helps immigrants successfully build their lives in a new country.

The exhibit began with a short video in a classroom in Kaufmann hall. The video described the experiences of several immigrants and refugees in Germany and the paths their lives had taken and the careers they were able to pursue successfully. A series of posters began outside the classrooms and continued down the hall of the second floor of Kaufmann and in the lobby of Farzaneh a few buildings away.

Before seeing this exhibit, I had known that Germany has had relative success in helping immigrants integrate into society, but through this series of infographics I learned about the specific ways that the German government helps newcomers. For example, there are plenty of German language courses offered as well as an app designed to help refugees learn German for everyday situations. The US government does not seem to offer similar services. Integrating Immigrants brought that to my consciousness and caused me to consider what life is like for immigrants to the US.

American Culture Club

This is the second year I’ve participated in the BCM’s American Culture Club. ACC is a place where international and exchange students can mingle with Americans and other exchange students and learn about American culture. In the past, I’ve learned much from going to these clubs, since I don’t normally think about the traditions behind my everyday life in Texas and Oklahoma.

The club has been structured slightly differently this year. Last year we met for five weeks and discussed family, holidays, and Oklahoma culture. This year we focused on American holidays, a different holiday each week, and explained the traditions of each one. The discussion naturally wove around to holidays from each student’s home country.

I participated in more outings than club meetings this time around. One of my favorite moments from this semester was trying to explain the food at a barbecue place we went to for dinner one night. As I read through the menu and recommended my favorite things, I realized that explaining coleslaw and fried okra is not an easy task. Fried okra’s deliciousness speaks for itself, but coleslaw is more difficult to justify.

Regardless, I’ve had lots of fun meeting people at ACC this year and look forward to next year.


Israel, Part II: Digging

My team and I found some cool things on this dig. For three weeks, I was assigned to an area near the headquarters of Legio, the home of the Roman VI Ferrata Legion (the “Iron Legion”).

Even though the pieces of pottery (called “sherds,” not “shards”)must remain in the lab or on site, I did find some intangible things that I am allowed to take home with me. Perhaps the most important finding: it’s all about context. There’s no use in finding objects without knowing where they came from. So, here’s a bit of context for what I did for three weeks in Israel.

See the teeny white dot near the trees in the distance? That’s our dig site!

Each day I was woken by a 4 a.m. alarm. In a semi-conscious state I’d get dressed, lace up my boots, apply the first coat of sunscreen, stumble downstairs to the kitchen, flip the switch on the electric kettle, and make a mug of tea with two teabags for extra caffeine. Then outside in the darkness I’d grab a few buckets from pottery washing the previous day to bring back to the dig site and wait with everyone else for the 5 a.m. arrival of the bus. We’d all board the bus and depart for the site, eating granola bars, listening to music, and silently savoring our last few moments of rest before the day began.

When the bus dropped us off in the field south of Megiddo that became so familiar, we’d immediately station ourselves tent posts and work together to raise the tarps that would shield us from the sun later in the day. After waiting a few minutes for adequate light and grabbing pickaxes, hoes, patiches (mini pickaxes), trowels, and a variety of brushes, we’d start to work.

The difficulty of the work varied depending on the contents of our square each day. If we were lucky enough to have some architectural stones in our squares, we’d use light tools to articulate their surfaces to make them nice and clean for the photographs. But most of the work was breaking ground and clearing away as much topsoil, sediment, and rocks as would fit in the buckets and hauling those buckets down to our pile of dirt, either to sift them in search of material culture or to dump them unceremoniously in a growing dirt-mountain.

Breaks came as a relief after hours of work in often-humid air or deceptive breezes that felt refreshing but actually dehydrated us. The first break of the day was breakfast, when we’d sit on grass mats and eat vegetables, eggs, hummus, bread, hazelnut spread, and peanut butter with dirty hands. The next break came closer to the end of the work day at 1 p.m., and often our supervisors would be kind enough to supply us with watermelon and popsicles.

The work, as I have said before, is not easy. I have never experienced such muscle pain before waking up on morning two after learning how to properly pickaxe on day one. Injuries are common. Though I luckily escaped with only one bruised fingernail, two scraped knees from two graceful falls while carrying buckets, and one head wound, I have heard stories about past volunteers losing fingers. And the combination of the heat, humidity, sun, and inhaled dust drained everyone and made early bedtimes a necessity.

Downside to head injury: blood. Upside: free bandana!

I gave up my sole for archaeology.

But despite the challenges, there were things that made the long work days fun. Herds of cows routinely visited before breakfast to keep us company. The more curious of them even hopped the fence to join us. The stunning sunrises, which came slightly after 5 a.m., more than justified our 4 a.m. alarms. And in my area (nicknamed “Lollipop Valley” by the second area, who often complained about how hard their supervisors worked them) we were seldom without good music supplied by one of the students or Dr. Cline.

The cows got too close to our squares, so we had to tell them to moove back.

Sunrises like these were usually accompanied by The Circle of Life from someone’s phone.

We found pottery. Lots of pottery that we’d have to wash back at the kibbutz later in the day. Many of us have experienced haunting dreams about washing pottery sherds. We also found lots of tiles that would have covered the roofs of the buildings in the camp, and bits of glass and shell.

Smiling through the pain

The long days of work made me appreciate things I often take for granted, like air conditioned buses, food, naps, a pool to take a dip into, clean laundry.

I did find some cool material culture on this dig, and I learned about archaeological techniques and skills like taking elevation points, keeping a field notebook, and keeping track of finds.

I would definitely return to Israel for another season to gain more knowledge and archaeological skills, but I’d especially want to come back for the camaraderie. Yes, digging brings people together.  It’s hard to spend a week with someone in a 1.5 meter deep hole brushing dirt off rocks without emerging friends.

Israel, Part I: History, Touring

I’ve just arrived home from four weeks in Israel. My circadian rhythm is in the middle of a 180. Thanks to the regularly early wakeup times combined with a significant difference in time zones between Fort Worth and Tel Aviv, I woke up at 2:30 am and crashed at 5:30 pm yesterday. My brain is fried, my eyes won’t stay open, my stomach is churning, my muscles are sore, my hands are calloused – but my heart is full.

I’ll start by giving an out-of-order run-down of the pre-dig tour, which lasted for a week before the start of the excavations at Legio and familiarized us with Israel’s rich archaeological history. Israel’s “old stuff” makes the United States’ and Europe’s seem young in comparison – it’s not just from one time period but from many. It’s probably impossible to throw a rock and not hit a tel, an artificial hill consisting of layer upon layer of civilization. On our dig, we found not only Roman ruins but also bits of material culture from the British Mandate period, the Ottoman occupation, and the Early Bronze age.

Case in point: Beit She’an is a small mountain of 18 distinct layers of human occupation. Eighteen!

Beit She’an was not the only tel we visited. We also observed the current excavations at Tel Kabri, a site where a large palace and evidence for large quantities of wine have been found. We hiked around the Tel Dan reserve with its massive fortress and arched gate known as Abraham’s Gate. And we were given a tour of Tel Hazor, with Late Bronze temples and administrative buildings that had been destroyed around the time of the Bronze Age collapse.

Tel Dan

Tel Hazor

The cities from the Hellenistic and Roman time periods helped us get an idea of what we would be looking for at Legio. We got a tour of Omrit, a complex of temples built in multiple phases. Hippos-Sussita, a town on top a mountain in the Golan Heights overlooking the blue Sea of Galilee, was a real feat of engineering with its water system and gate carved of basalt. Caesarea Maritima, Herod’s tribute to Augustus on the Mediterranean, is still impressive to this day and must have been especially so before its destruction by tsunamis. Sepphoris, one of my favorite places we visited on the tour, had lots of beautiful mosaics that have survived nicely. One of them the mosaic in the temple which depicts biblical characters and a menorah alongside a zodiac wheel around a sun god, is an interesting example of religious and cultural syncretism between the Romans and the local population.



Caesarea. The above picture is Herod’s swimming pool. I’m a little jealous.

One of Sepphoris’ main roads

One of the many mosaics at Sepphoris. Are they hugging? Wrestling? Waltzing?

A representation of the Nile and all the life that springs from it

Known as the Mona Lisa of the Galilee. Isn’t she lovely?

Zodiac wheel in the synagogue

Games carved into the road. Wish the Romans had left behind the instructions.

To round out the survey of Israel’s history we also saw examples of Crusader-era architecture. The fortress and tunnels at Akko were fun to explore, and so was Nimrod’s Fortress with its narrow spiral staircases, archer’s loops, pathways between mountaintops, and spectacular panoramic views.

Tunnels in Akko

Inside the fortress

Nimrod’s Fortress

Stay tuned for part 2 for pictures of the holes I spent three weeks in and part 3 for stories from my weekend excursions and overall reflections!

A Peace to End All Peace

Image result for a peace to end all peace

This semester Jaci and I co-moderated an honors reading group for the book A Peace to End All Peace by David Fromkin. I was interested in the book since it concerned the region that I visited last summer, and I wanted to gain historical background not only about the region but also about the Middle East as a whole, since my knowledge of Middle Eastern affairs is limited.

The book begins on the eve of the first World War, a time when the Middle East was one of the only regions in the world not shaped by colonial Europe. As war breaks out and victory over Ottoman Empire seems within reach for the Allies, these major powers begin to discuss the fate of the conquered territory. The books tells of the guises the Allies adopted – concern for the people of the Middle East, protection, Zionism – to justify partitioning the Middle East according to arbitrary boundaries.

An aspect of the book that was interesting to me was the lack of preparation the main figures in the British Government had for their executive positions. While they could compose easily in Latin and Greek, they did not know an iota about the Middle East. Thus, they made decisions that were harmful to region and not in the interests of the peoples concerned, as Woodrow Wilson said they would be. A broad education did not adequately prepare these men to make these kind of decisions. I now recognize the importance of experts qualified to make policy decisions that affect people worldwide. The liberal arts still hold a critical place in the world, but so does specialized knowledge. The failure of the Allied leaders to recognize the limitation of their knowledge was prideful and foolish.

A Peace To End All Peace was not an easy read. Since I usually tear through books pretty quickly, I the time this book would demand of me. However, I am glad that I read this book. I feel that the perspective I have gained on the Middle East – and on competence – has been invaluable. More importantly, this book has taught me much about the importance of cultural competence and specialized knowledge and the damage that thoughtless decisions and unbridled foreign intervention can wreak. A Peace To End All Peace is not just a thorough historical look at the decisions made during and after World War I. It also contains deep truths about human nature that anyone, history buff or Middle East expert or not, can understand.

ICDG Fascism Panel Discussion

Image result for populism europe public domain

Is it fair to use the term “fascism” to describe populist movements?

What is fascism? Do we throw the term “fascism” around too lightly? Do the right-wing movements around the world today deserve to be called “fascist?” These are a few of the questions that a panel of three professors, hosted by the Informed Citizens Discussion Groups, discussed last Wednesday, April 19.

Drs. David Chappell, Kathleen Tipler and Mitchell Smith began the discussion by defining fascism, a term that is not simple to pin down. The panel mentioned several recent events and elections and decisions, particularly in Turkey and France. Does Turkish President Erdogan count as a “fascist?” What about right-wing French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen? Though these leaders display some of the characteristics of fascism, Chappell and especially Smith argued that we must be very careful about whom we label “fascist.”

I was surprised to find out that fascism is not a broad term, but a rather narrow one that really only applies to political movements in Germany and Italy in the 1920s and 30s. Smith and Chappell argued that its definition is too specific to encompass much else, and that because we have so few historical examples of fascism, it is unfair to use the term to describe many political movements at all.

I was surprised to find out that fascism is not a broad term, but a rather narrow one that really only applies to political movements in Germany and Italy in the 1920s and 30s. Smith and Chappell argued that its definition is too specific to encompass much else, and that because we have so few historical examples of fascism, it is unfair to use the term to describe many political movements at all. I partially agree with Smith and Chappell that we must be careful to be precise with our language, since fascism is not a simple matter. I also partially agree with Tipler – the term “fascism” is a helpful one to mention to describe some of the characteristics of current political movements around the world.

Woody Guthrie famously put the message “This Machine Kills Fascists” on his guitar. This slogan represents the anti-fascist ferment of the 1960s, as the panel mentioned.

Into the Mainstream: Explaining the Rise of Radical Populist Parties in Europe


Image result for europe right-wing populism

Last week I attended the lecture “Into the Mainstream: Explaining the Rise of Radical Populist Parties in Europe” given by Reinhard Heinisch last Tuesday, a talk addressing the alarming populist trend in Europe that is no longer a fringe phenomenon. The fact that populism is still growing comes as a surprise to me – I assumed that it had leveled out or was tapering off.

Heinisch’s lecture explained what populism is and what populist movements have in common, political patterns in modern Europe, and the success of the current movements. Some of the characteristics of populism that Heinisch named were little respect for human rights, the breaking of taboos through provocative speech, nationalism, and nativism. The populist political parties in European nations share some but not all of these characteristics; though the “isms” often overlap between parties, some parties can lie at completely opposite ends of the political spectrum. I was intrigued by the way that Heinisch classified the similar but distinct populist movements spreading in Europe today, drawing lines between western, southern, and eastern Europe. Each geographic region of Europe, for example, shifts blame onto other parts of Europe and certain groups of people. Western Europe is characterized by using immigrants as scapegoats and blaming the failure of the European Union, eastern Europe uses the Roma (gypsies) and the liberal west, and southern Europe uses capitalism, the EU, and the advanced economies of the north.
I would be interested to hear more from Heinisch about the types of tactics populist political parties use to accomplish their ends and win support through fear. He touched on this by showing anti-Islamic and anti-immigrant posters, so I would be curious to understand more of the psychology and rhetoric behind populists’ use of scapegoats. I am also eager to know more specific reasons why men are more drawn to populist ideology than women. One of my professors asked this question at the end, and Heinisch responded that there is no definitive, proven answer.

Language and Religion: The Case of Arabic

Last Friday, April 21, I went to a talk by Dr. Muhammad S. Eissa on the connection between language and religion by using the case of Arabic. I found the talk fascinating even though I may have been one of the two members of the audience not studying Arabic.

Language and religion, Eissa said, are inextricably intertwined. To help his audience, much of which comes from a Christian frame of reference, he used the example of the connection between Latin and Catholic masses. When many English speakers hear Latin, they often think of church services because they only hear Latin in church services. As a result, the Latin language seems, to many, to have a spiritual quality. This phenomenon, Eissa said, is the same with Arabic. Muslims around the world, especially those from non-Arabic-speaking countries who only hear the language spoken from mosques, associate the Arabic language with the divine.

What do many Americans think of when they hear spoken Arabic? They often automatically associate Arabic with Islam, even though Arabic is not only the language of Islam but also a language of commerce, education, and everyday life. Many Americans’ only exposure to Arabic is through the media, so they assume speakers of Arabic are Muslim, even though Arabic is a language of commerce, education, and everyday life – not just a religious language. According to an anecdote Eissa told, the association of Arabic with Islam is a global phenomenon. He told a story about an American man who went to a conference in China. Many assumed, based upon his physical appearance, that he was American – but when he began speaking in fluent Arabic, everyone’s perception of him immediately changed. They assumed he was Muslim, and they asked him to recite prayers!

I learned that many young men in Arabic-speaking countries memorize large portions of the Qur’an, or even the entire Qur’an, from a young age. Eissa noted the cognitive benefits that come from memorizing large portions of text – it really does rewire and improve your brain. However, he drew a distinction between merely memorizing large portions of scripture and understanding it. There is a disconnect between being able to recite the Qur’an and knowing its meaning, and this difference is exacerbated when Arabic is not one’s original language.

Another aspect of the talk I found interesting was Eissa’s argument about the Qur’an’s essence, which he says lies in spoken words. Eissa believes that many Muslims place too much importance on the physical Qur’an, rather than the spoken words of the Qur’an, because the physical, printed text itself is not the Qur’an. The Quran, he says, was first spoken by the Prophet Muhammad and transmitted to his followers. It was not written down, printed, and distributed until later. The physical book itself is only a means of accessing the true Qur’an, which is spoken.

Eissa asked us to consider the link between language and religion in our own religious life. I realized that I do not closely associate my Christian faith with the English language. I believe that the Bible is God’s word whether in Hebrew, Greek, or English, and for this reason, all people can understand God’s word in their vernacular. Eissa, however, explained that if the Qur’an is translated into a different language, it loses its essence. I think he makes an excellent point. Language is powerful and precise, and a text cannot carry the exact meaning of its original when it is translated into a different language. Dr. Eissa’s talk gave me important things to consider and helped me understand the importance of studying religious texts in their original languages to extract their original meanings.