A Sum Up of My Year in Tel Aviv University’s International Program of Archaeology and History of the Land of the Bible

Posted by on Sep 3, 2015

A Sum Up of My Year in Tel Aviv University’s International Program of Archaeology and History of the Land of the Bible

The school year has just finished, and I’m left reflecting on what a transformative year this has been. Exactly one year ago I was staying with friends (I met on an excavation in Israel!) in an apartment in Amsterdam when I received an email from Tel Aviv University and in an instant my coming year, career and life was changed!

I had been admitted into the university’s International Program of Archaeology and History of the Land of the Bible and, with the excitement I can imagine only to be shared with those admitted to Hogwarts. Twelve months later, I am writing this post sitting upon my bed at Kibbutz Galon where we stay for the Tel Azekah excavation, which all students of the program joined for this year.


Starting the year

Our classes consisted of 17 students who flew into Tel Aviv from different parts of the world; from the USA, China, Puerto Rico, Guatemala, Sweden and, in my own case, Australia. We were welcomed to the university with a meet and greet of all the staff within the department who we all now know so well, some who have become good friends – and with that semester had started!

At the opening ceremony of the international MA program


Courses for the first semester included Egyptology, the ancient Hittite language, an intensive period-by-period program closely examining the end of the Bronze Age through to the end of the Roman Period, and the beginning of two year-long seminars; one specifically designed to teach us how to use the bible as a historical document, and another examining the very origins of the ancient kingdoms of Judah, Israel and their surrounding kingdoms of Aram, Ammon, Moab and Edom (known as a study of state formation).

The highlight of the semester however were the tours we had each month which had us trekking up and down the country, walking the paths of the ancients and visiting their lost cities, including Beth Shean where our entire class was able to ‘sit’ where the ancients ‘sat!’



Second-semester adventures

Following a nice ‘restful’ break (or excavating in either Jordan or Israel for a few ofus!)we were right back into our study. Added to our repertoire of studies for the second semester were classes on pottery, object and small finds recording, one on the archaeology of Transjordan, another on the historical and archaeological background of Tel Azekah and a new seminar on the archaeology of Jerusalem led by guest lecturer, Prof. Ronny Reich. Additionally Prof. Israel Finkelstein joined us this semester in our study of state formation. This is the great advantage of this program – great courses, lecturers, touring and exposure to some of the greats of archaeology and biblical studies from within Israel itself.

Prof. Finkelstein at Tel Aviv University's restoration lab


Summer semester – The Azekah Excavation

With the close of the second semester, our class was once again gathered together on a bus (along with students from Australian, German, American and Czech universities!), this time headed for Tel Azekah for 4 weeks of excavation. This was the ideal culmination for our year of study. Azekah gave us the chance to work in the field and to finally grasp how the delicate and fragmentary nature of archaeological data is gathered. Furthermore, words like ‘stratigraphy,’ ‘locus’ and ‘context’ suddenly had a very visual meaning. Most importantly however, the class that had known each other for an entire year, had studied together, slaved in the library together, were suddenly working together swinging picks and hoes during the early hours of an Israeli summer morning – a bonding experience one must participate in in order to fully understand!

At the Azekah Exacavation: Maya, Josh and Mengmeng


…So what’s next?

Tel Aviv’s program exposes you to the world’s best scholars in the fields of archaeology and biblical studies – and opens doors into this world for any committed student. Opportunities afterwards abound – employment, masters and PhD study and excavation opportunities. Where this degree takes you is really up to you. Prior to this program, I was a mechanical engineer working in Australia. Following this program, I’m returning to Tel Aviv University for another year to complete a masters thesis and I would hope am on track for a new career (and life!) as an Ancient Near Eastern Archaeologist. Where could this program take you?

I would like to summarise this with a lesson in history once presented by the head of the program, OdedLipschits:

“In a very small cuneiform tablet (you can hold it in your hands) discovered in the ancient city of Babylon, we found that the King of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar came to URUYehudu (the city of the Jews) in the second day of the month of Adahu, which is exactly the 16th of March, 597 BCE. He conquered the city, he caught the king, he took with him to Babylon thousands of Jews, and he nominated in Jerusalem a new king.

Now if you open the second book of Kings in the Hebrew Bible, you will see a story that the King of Babylon came to Jerusalem and he captured king Jehoiakim and took him to Babylon. He deported ten thousand Jews and nominated King Zedekiah, the uncle of Jehoiakim.

In many archaeological excavations conducted in Jerusalem, signs of the Babylonian destruction were discovered – and this is the secret of the program conducted here. What we endeavour to do is to take archaeology as a first stand, biblical studies as a second stand and to take the Ancient Near Eastern inscriptions as a third stand and to try and create above it the history of the biblical period.”

So to summarise this program has been developed specifically to give you (anyone willing to embark upon this journey) the tools and knowledge to assess the bible, a variety of other ancient texts, historical accounts and archaeology to reconstruct an accurate history; one which encompasses all of these individual elements to evaluate what really happened in this fascinating, ancient land so many years ago.

Interested in joining the International MA Program in Archaeology and History of the Land of the Bible?

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