Behind the Scenes: an Inteview with Lecturer Ido Koch of the International MA Program in Archaeology

Posted by on Jun 10, 2015

Behind the Scenes: an Inteview with Lecturer Ido Koch of the International MA Program in Archaeology

Last week I had the wonderful opportunity to interview Ido Koch, a lecturer in the International MA Program, who has been teaching and escorting its students from its very first year.

We chatted about his journey into the archaeological world, his field of study, and his experience teaching our program.

Here is a glimpse into our conversation:

Congratulations Ido for having just submitted your PhD thesis. Your study has been on the archaeology of the Judean lowlands, you work in the field at Tel Azekah, study and teach archaeology at Tel Aviv University. Do you remember the defining moment in your life when you decided you wanted to become an archaeologist?

I actually didn’t want to become an archaeologist. I wanted to be a historian. I saw a television interview with a professor from Tel Aviv University talking about biblical history. I was fascinated! I came here and started biblical studies, before being trapped and caught by archaeology. So I came here by accident!

Ido and Josh - Lecturer and Student, interviewee and interviewer.

I understand. I was fortunate enough to be ‘trapped and caught’ by archaeology accidently too – I was an engineer in a previous life!

Can you explain the background of your PhD study and why the Judean lowlands are so important to understanding the Land of the Bible?

It’s not only the Judean lowlands, it’s all of the south-western part of Israel-Palestine, meaning the coastal plain and the Judean lowlands. The idea is to investigate the inter-cultural connections between the local population and foreign groups that came here; either through the Egyptian empire or in later periods, and trying to discern the implications of these connections in material culture.

No one enters archaeology or biblical studies for the sake of money. What do you see as the great reward of this profession?

It’s fun! I’m doing what I enjoy most.

Since you started, how many people have asked you ‘when are you going to get a real job!!!!???’

I think they stopped doing that after my Bachelor’s degree.

Ido at Tel Azekah

You have been involved in the excavation of Tel Azekah from the beginning and are now presenting weekly lectures on the site for Tel Aviv’s International Program of Archaeology and History of the Land of the Bible. Why is this ancient city such a good test case for the history of this land?

Azekah was excavated only in the late-nineteenth century and then nobody touched it, so the amount of data that is still hidden in Azekah is huge. We can use it to emphasize and illuminate archaeological issues, periods and things that can only be discussed in other sites. At Azekah you can still feel it with your hands!

I’m a self-confessed dig junkie so there’s no need to convince me, but for someone reading this who wants to come and experience the history of the Land of the Bible in the field, why should they come to Tel Azekah specifically this summer?

It’s more than just excavating, it is the atmosphere. The way we teach and explain to the team members what they are doing and why they are doing it. There are activities beyond the excavation they do in the afternoon, mid-week tours, classes, lectures, guest lectures and weekend tours. So you get a whole package. You will have the whole experience of not only working in Israel, but also travelling and experiencing the land.

At work: Ido teaching the international MA students

Archaeology is a means of reconstructing history. Historians must always face the dilemma that some of their questions must go unanswered. If you could have the definitive answer to any question about the history of the land of the bible, what would that question be?

I must say that I’m practising archaeology in order to understand how people lived and acted, not necessarily regarding historical events. I would like to know how things were in the Egyptian empire. How people felt regarding Egypt and whether their feelings in the thirteenth century had any implications on the writing of narratives like the Exodus centuries afterwards. Whether there is a historical memory of the Egyptian empire or something regarding Egypt. I would like to know what it was like in the early Iron Age with the so-called sea peoples and the Philistines. What it was like in the time of King David? But, I have no specific question I would like an answer for.

Tel Aviv is typically a secular city, Europe is in what is commonly called the post-Christian Period – why do you think it’s important to understand the context in which the bible was written today in 2015 and beyond?

Because the world is still attached to the world of the bible and Western civilisation, as well as Israeli society, are all still constructed from the ancient biblical foundations. If you treat the Hebrew Bible as product of scribes, as literature, you can understand far better why it was written, what was their purpose and how we can treat it in our days.

In the canter front: Ido Koch, and to his right, with Prof. Oded Lipschits, the head of the international MA program and head of the Azekah expedition, with the Azekah team at Tel Azekah.

Part of the excitement of archaeology is that you never know what lies beneath the surface and what you may find. You supervise two areas at Tel Azekah, T1 and T2. Area T1 is now closed. Why is that and what did you find?

It is closed because two areas became too much for one supervisor! We decided to focus on T2 because we had more data on it, and in the future someone will inherit T1.

But the most surprising find of T1?

A modern trench that we cleaned and removed before finding a destruction layer from the ninth century BCE.

A modern trench?

A modern trench dug for a latrine block installed in a modern military installation on the site.

Aah yes, a latrine trench. That was what I was hinting at! One of my favourite examples demonstrating that you simply don’t know what lies beneath the surface until you begin excavating.

Well, thank you very much for your time.

You’re welcome.

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