Learning to See

Loren Crow writes:

I’ve spent the last two weeks plowing through almost a meter-thick destruction layer that occurred between the Late Bronze Age and the beginning of the Iron Age. Most of what I’ve encountered has been junk: burnt mud bricks, burnt wood beams, a huge fire pit, and lots of burnt pottery (can you sense a theme here?). Almost nothing “fun” appeared. What I had hoped would be a lovely clay tablet with an inscription on it turned out to be merely a flat piece of basalt. The one bronze artifact I came across was so degraded that it was impossible to see what it had been before it broke into about twelve little pieces. I’ve had no fancy finds, nothing that will make the cover of NEA or BAR, not even anything that sounds exciting in a blog.

But that doesn’t tell the whole picture, and part of the problem is that I have to learn to see correctly. When we first begin digging in the morning, the sun is not yet out and a grey half-light barely illuminates the depths of the trench in which I’m digging. For this reason, I usually try not to do any of the kind of archaeology that might require throwing stuff away. I might loosen the soil with a pickaxe, or get the tools in place for work, but I refrain from the careful sorting through dirt until there’s enough light. I’m afraid that, in the pre-dawn murkiness, I’ll miss something really important.

I think this may be a good metaphor for the rest of the day, as well. I need to remind myself that not everything worth noticing is shiny and beautiful. Even some of those burnt mud bricks can be important from the standpoint of making sense of the destruction. The fire that raged throughout the whole of Tel Megiddo was incredibly hot and completely pervasive.

But what was the cause of this? Some scholars think the city was purposely set on fire after it had been defeated in battle, either during the Israelite invasion or at some point after that. Others ascribe the destruction to an earthquake (earthquakes are commonly associated with fires). The question has yet to be answered to the satisfaction of everyone.

At the very least, I think we can try imagine what an ordinary person might feel at the sight of an entire city engulfed in flames, with flames reaching perhaps 30 meters into the sky and a plume of smoke visible for miles. I imagine that some people might have seen the spectacle and realized that their own end was fast approaching. Others, perhaps, thought that they had been delivered from the tyranny of the city that clearly would have exacted taxes from people living throughout the entire area. A few probably went a step further and interpreted the fall of Megiddo as the work of a holy God whose care for the poor and landless led Him to “bring down the mighty from their thrones.”

And I think they may have been right; it’s just that I have to learn to see it.

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