It's too bad that Twain visited this region in the middle of summer and right after the 1861 war between Christians and Muslims. We had the good sense to go in March when the fields were lush with new growth and there were PLENTY of cacti:
It was also fun to be on the bus with friends:
|Standing behind the wine press with Geneil and Terry|
The olive press had a mikvah, or a pool for ritual cleansing, in a cave located off to the side of the main entrance. The oil-makers needed to be pure so that the oil could be sold to the temple in Jerusalem.
Our guide was Dr. Oren Gutfield, an Israeli field archaeologist and current professor of archaeology at Hebrew University who did post-doctoral work at the University of Michigan and speaks amazing English.
We were the only tourist group at Beit Lehi. It's not on the itinerary of very many tour groups, but our tour company has a unique connection. The Beit Lehi Foundation website notes:
While investigating the cave, Dr. Joseph Ginat of The University of Haifa met a Bedouin who told him about the remains of an ancient oak tree about 1/4 of a mile away where, according to Bedouin legends and tradition, a prophet named Lehi blessed and judged the people of both Ishmael and Judah. The Bedouin told Dr. Ginat that Lehi had lived many years before Muhammad and that Arab people had built a wall of large rocks around the remains of the tree to protect it as a sacred spot, long known by Arab inhabitants as "Beit Lehi," meaning "Home of Lehi." [Note: Lehi is the name of a Book of Mormon prophet who lived in about 600 BC, making this site of special interest to members of the LDS Church.]
Dr. Ginat shared this information with W. Clean Skousen, whom he had met while studying anthropology at the University of Utah and teaching at Brigham Young University from 1970 through 1975.
In 1983 Dr. Skousen and Dr. Glenn Kimber worked with Dr. Ginat and Dr. Yoram Tsafrir of Hebrew University to secure permission and funding to excavate the site. The first excavations began in December 1983. By noon of the first day, archaeologists found an ancient village and well-preserved mosaic floor of a Byzantine era chapel. Since that time, 'hewn subterranean installations, including columbaria, olive presses, water cisterns, quarries, a stable, and hideaways,' have been discovered along with pottery and other items suggesting that the area had been populated from 600 BC until the Mameluke period of 1500 AD. . . .
After 1986 the site was covered to protect it until additional funds could be raised and conditions were right to continue future excavations.
In 1994 Dr. Kimber and about 40 others, including a number of students [in particular, some from Utah Valley University in Orem, Utah], joined Dr. Ginat and Dr. Tsafrir to re-open the site. Since 1994, many groups have visited the site and participated in the excavation.
Dr. Tsafrir has since retired and according to Israeli law, passed responsibility for archaeological exploration to Dr. Oren Gutfeld of Hebrew University, who continues to manage the excavation.
UVU has continued to help with funding and sends students over to work the six weeks/year that the dig is active. The President of UVU, Matthew Holland, visited this site two years ago with his well-known father, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland.
We were able to go into several of the caves:
Chris goes in, and makes it out safely:
cave in Bethlehem.
I couldn't believe we were walking on top of these intricate masterpieces. I wanted to get some posts and ropes and make it off-limits.
True friends, no matter when or where:
At the end of the tour we had the opportunity to purchase a t-shirt from some workers at the dig. The money is used to finance operations. Bob was more than happy to oblige. In fact, I think he bought two shirts. I know I took a picture of Bob with Dr. Gutfeld and the shirt, but I can't find it anywhere.