It is a privilege to participate in this symposium marking the thirtieth anniversary of the 1989 dedication of the Jerusalem Center. It is also a privilege to have been a repeating member of the BYU Jerusalem faculty since 1982, two years before the ceremony which broke ground for the Jerusalem Center in the summer of 1984. I vividly remember watching the various phases of the Center’s construction (fig. 1) and being among the first to live and teach in the beautiful new building when it was occupied by students in 1987.
When we first occupied the Center, construction of some of its facilities was not completed. For example, the dining area, which would come to be called the Oasis, was not finished in time for the summer term of 1987, and my students and I had to walk across the street to the Commodore Hotel for our meals. During the first week my student group was lodging at the Center, I was approached by a man who owned the house just across the street from our lower gate and desired to meet some of his strange new neighbors. He invited me to his son’s wedding, to be held in their small patio court that weekend. It was a delightful event for me and several of our students, as we began the process of getting to know the people of our new surroundings.
It was not all easy, however, and not always friendly. I also remember being approached by a belligerent man at a tourist site who recognized the students as the “Mormons” whose new Center he felt was a dangerous missionary presence in the Holy Land. He attempted to bait me and some of my students into a religious discussion, which we avoided. It would take quite some time for the fears that some people had about the Center to abate. But eventually, things settled down, and as time passed, most of the people of Jerusalem, both Israeli Jews and Arab Palestinians, were drawn to their new “Mormon” neighbors.
As I recently walked through the gardens of the Center, I reflected on the beautiful trees that grow there. Our numerous olive and pomegranate trees have now seen thirty harvests, and the Jerusalem pines and cedars of Lebanon that were planted three decades ago have grown from skinny seedlings to mature trees, thick and stately, of soaring heights (fig. 2). It all seemed an appropriate symbol of how regard for the Center has changed in the Jerusalem community. While those trees were growing, we also gradually grew from being regarded as strange and suspect newcomers to established and appreciated neighbors. As Eran Hayet points out in his presentation, the attitude of the people of Jerusalem toward the Center has slowly evolved from suspicion and distrust to acceptance and respect.
The Jerusalem Center and the Local Academy
The influence of the Jerusalem Center on the local university community in Israel would be difficult to determine if viewed only from the perspective of the Center’s student programs, since they are closed to anyone but expatriate BYU students. Within just a few years of the Center’s dedication, however, a number of BYU Jerusalem faculty were participating in research, symposia, archaeological excavations, and academic publications with colleagues from various Israeli institutions. Over time, it has been the efforts of BYU faculty, working within the academic structures of the Israeli academy, that have earned the Jerusalem Center a significant and growing academic reputation.
An early but important event in this process occurred in 1994, just five years after the Center’s dedication. Professor Seymour Gitin, director of the W. F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in Jerusalem, extended an invitation to the Jerusalem Center administration to have our students participate in an excavation at Tel Miqne, the site of biblical Ekron, some twenty miles west of Jerusalem (fig. 3). Ekron was one of the five major cities of the ancient Philistines. Jim Kearl, assistant to the BYU president for the Jerusalem Center, and Kent Brown, then the director of the Jerusalem Center, accepted the invitation to join the Tel Miqne-Ekron consortium for the excavation. The timing of the opportunity was ideal since the scheduled student trip to Egypt that semester had to be cancelled due to security concerns.
Kent assigned me the task of organizing our Center students for the excavation. About 150 students participated, 75 per week for the two weeks of the spring season that April. Professor Gitin requested that I serve in a supervisory role for the actual excavation, working with several other archaeologists who would manage the 75-student teams in their excavation squares at Ekron.Their work was remarkably successful, as our student teams unearthed a ten-by-sixty-meter-long stretch of ancient Ekron’s olive oil factory complex, including stone oil presses and cultic altars, dating to just before Ekron was destroyed by the Babylonians in 604 BC. A report on the Jerusalem Center excavation season was published in 1995.
As a result of the Jerusalem Center’s participation in the spring season in 1994, I was asked by Professor Gitin to join the supervisory staff of the Tel Miqne-Ekron Expedition for the remainder of its excavation schedule, which included summer seasons in 1995 and 1996.I have remained with the expedition, representing the Jerusalem Center as a member of the Tel Miqne-Ekron publication project until the present.
From this auspicious start in 1994, the Jerusalem Center has remained active in scholarly research within the academic community in Israel. However, rather than involving its students in large and expensive archaeology projects each semester, as was the case at Tel Miqne-Ekron, the Center has relied on its BYU faculty members to pursue its efforts of participating with the local academy. From time to time, this has involved sponsoring a symposium or conference session in the Jerusalem Center, highlighting key aspects of research in biblical or Near Eastern studies. Examples of these were the spring 1995 conference on the Dead Sea Scrolls that involved BYU Jerusalem faculty Don Parry, Dana Pike, and David Seely presenting alongside noted Israeli and international scholars. That conference produced a published volume edited by Parry and Stephen Ricks, another Jerusalem faculty member.Another example of academic conferences at the Center was the symposium on Jesus and archaeology organized in summer 2000 by James Charlesworth of Princeton Theological Seminary and held primarily at the Hospice Notre Dame in Jerusalem. I presented a paper and helped arrange for one of its sessions to be held in the Jerusalem Center’s upper auditorium. That symposium also produced an academic publication.
During the period of 2001 to 2006, when student programs at the Jerusalem Center were on hiatus and BYU faculty were not being regularly assigned to live at the Center, there was less academic participation with the Israeli academy. However, in 2001, I was invited to join the supervisory staff of the Tell es-Safi/Gath Archaeological Project, which had begun excavating at Gath, the ancient Philistine capital and hometown of the biblical warrior Goliath (1 Sam. 17). Even though BYU was not sending students to the Center, the Center was interested in seeing that scholarly participation with the local academy continued, and I participated each summer in the excavations at Gath and also became a senior research fellow at the Albright Institute in Jerusalem, where I joined a project to publish results from the 1960s excavations at Tell er-Rumeide, the site of biblical Hebron. During this period, publications, generally with Israeli colleagues, began to appear on both the Hebron projectand the Gath excavations. In every publication of which I have been a part, up to the present, I have ensured that the Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies was prominently mentioned as my participating institution, not only to credit the Jerusalem Center for its support but to promote the Center’s participation in and impact upon the academy there.
Notable Contributions by BYU Faculty Who Have Taught at the Center
Of course, I’m not alone in having connections with Israeli scholars. In this regard, I will highlight several BYU professors, all of whom have taught or have been administrators at the Center, often several times, whose work has added to the Jerusalem Center’s academic reputation.
David Rolph Seely, professor of ancient scripture, has conducted research with both BYU and Israeli colleagues in the fields of the Hebrew Bible and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Examples of his publications with the Israeli academy and international colleagues are chapters in the Brill volume mentioned above, in the Discoveries in the Judaean Desert (DJD) series,The Dead Sea Scrolls Fifty Years after Their Discovery.and in the anniversary volume published in 2000 by the Israel Exploration Society and the Israel Museum’s Shrine of the Book entitled
Dana M. Pike, professor of ancient scripture, has researched and published with BYU and Israeli colleagues in Dead Sea Scrolls and Hebrew Bible topics. His publications with Israeli and international colleagues in such venues include chapters in both the Brill and Shrine of the Book volumes mentioned above, as well as co-authorship of a volume on Dead Sea Scroll fragments from Qumran Cave 4 in the prestigious Discoveries in the Judean Desert series (DJD XXIX).10
Andrew C. Skinner, professor of ancient scripture, has publications with Israeli and international colleagues, including chapters in all three of the above-mentioned works—the Brill and Shrine of the Book volumes, and is co-author with Pike of the DJD XXXIII volume.
Donald W. Parry, professor of Hebrew, has done research and published with Israeli and international colleagues in the field of the Dead Sea Scrolls, including several books that he has authored and edited. Among his titles are Exploring the Isaiah Scrolls and Their Textual Variants, the Dead Sea Scrolls Handbook, and Illuminating the Dead Sea Scrolls. He also authored chapters in the Shrine of the Book volume and in the DJD series.
In addition to my own archaeology work, archaeological excavations and research in Israel, Egypt, and/or Jordan are currently being conducted by four BYU Jerusalem Center faculty:
Aaron Schade, professor of ancient scripture, is an internationally recognized scholar of ancient Moabite society and language and codirector of the Khirbet Ataruz Project in Jordan, an archaeological excavation of an Iron Age site in the ancient region of biblical Moab. Ataruz has yielded an impressive temple that contains numerous cultic vessels and an inscribed altar from the ninth century BC. Aaron is active in the preliminary publication of finds from Ataruz and has also published an important study on the famous Mesha Stele from Moab in the prestigious academic journal Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research (BASOR).
Matthew Grey, associate professor of ancient scripture, is on the senior staff of the Huqoq Excavation Project in Israel’s Galilee region, where he helps direct excavation of the fifth-century AD Talmudic-era synagogue and its remarkable mosaic floors depicting vivid biblical and Jewish historical scenes (fig. 4). Matt has coauthored several important studies with Israeli and American colleagues on Huqoq mosaic discoveries, including recent articles in Biblical Archaeology Review and in the academic journal BASOR. The work at Huqoq has also been supported by National Geographic, giving it a wider, popular audience.
George Pierce, assistant professor of ancient scripture, has excavated at several sites in Israel, including Jaffa, Beersheba, and Ashkelon, and currently serves on the senior staff of the Tel Shimron Excavations project in the Jezreel Valley of Israel’s Galilee region. Among his more recent publications with Israeli and international scholars are chapters in excavation reports such as The History and Archaeology of Jaffa and Final Reports of the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon.
Kerry Muhlestein, professor of ancient scripture and an Egyptologist, is the director of the BYU Egypt Excavation Project and has researched and excavated in Egypt for fifteen years. An example of his publications with international colleagues is his newly released volume, for which he is both chief editor and a contributing author, reporting his work on the Seila pyramid and the Fag el-Gamous cemetery.Egypt is a significant component of the Jerusalem Center’s programs, and Kerry’s work there represents an extended aspect of the Center’s faculty impact upon the greater academy of the ancient Near East.
Other BYU Faculty Connections with the Israeli Academic Community
From the Center’s opening in 1987 until 2002, the position of director at the Jerusalem Center was filled by BYU professors appointed for periods of two to three years. Among those were three senior scholars with well-known reputations in Israel and Egypt. Their influence upon the Jerusalem Center’s acceptance within academic circles in Israel was significant.
Truman G. Madsen, now deceased but formerly a professor of philosophy and religious education, was a well-known scholar of Jewish studies and the interactions between the Jewish and Latter-day Saint communities. Truman had excellent connections with Israeli scholars from the Hebrew University, Tel Aviv University, and the University of Haifa. He published with both Israeli and international colleagues on a variety of religious subjects. One example of those activities is the volume, for which he was co-editor and a contributor, addressing the subject of covenant and chosenness in Judaism and Mormonism.20 Truman passed away in 2010.
S. Kent Brown, emeritus professor of ancient scripture, has published widely with both BYU and international colleagues in the field of New Testament studies. He is an expert in classical languages and Egyptian Coptic and well known among senior Israeli archaeologists from when he was a teaching assistant to legendary Israeli archaeologist Yigael Yadin.
Arnold Green, now deceased but formerly a professor of history, was well known among scholars in both Israel and Egypt for his expertise in Arabic language and Islamic studies. He had taught at the American University in Cairo before coming to BYU. His reputation and connections within Jerusalem’s Arab-Palestinian community helped forge relationships with scholars from Palestinian institutions such as Bir Zeit University and Al-Quds University. Arnie passed away in 2019.
Local Jerusalem Center Faculty Connections
From the outset of the Center’s student programs, local Israeli and Palestinian teachers have served in part-time faculty or lecturing positions, teaching courses on Judaism and Islam, the Israeli and Palestinian narratives in the Holy Land, and introductory Hebrew and Arabic. A few of these have also been active in the local and international academy and even on the diplomatic stage. Their work has also enhanced the Jerusalem Center’s reputation.
Rabbi David Rosen taught courses at the Jerusalem Center during the early 1990s, introducing students to Judaism, Jewish history, and Israeli history and politics. He has been a frequent speaker and columnist in Israeli cultural and journalistic venues and also in international news media. His vocal promotion and support of and association with the Jerusalem Center was widely influential in the increasing acceptance and respect that grew for the Center throughout the 1990s. Upon leaving his teaching role with the Center, he served as liaison to the Vatican for the Anti-Defamation League and worked widely in interreligious affairs, becoming international director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee.
Dr. Raphael Jospe taught at the Jerusalem Center during the mid-to-late 1990s, offering courses on Judaism, Jewish history, and Israel’s history and politics. Rafi is a well-known scholar of Talmud and Rabbinic Judaism and has published widely in both Israeli and international venues, including Latter-day Saint venues. He was co-editor and contributor in the above-noted volume on covenant and chosenness in Judaism and Mormonism as well as in other publications.21 He went on to teach at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Bar-Ilan University in Israel and is editor of the Jewish philosophy division for the Encyclopedia of Judaism.
Dr. Bashir Bashir has taught at the Jerusalem Center since 2011 in courses covering Arab and Islamic history and the Palestinian narrative in the Holy Land. He is also an associate professor in the department of sociology, political science, and communication at the Open University of Israel and a senior research fellow at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute. He has published several studies in these areas, an example of which is his recent co-edited volume on the Jewish Holocaust and the Palestinian Nakba.22
Mr. Ophir Yarden has taught at the Jerusalem Center since 2007 in courses covering Jewish history and religion and the Israeli narrative in the Holy Land. He is also director of education for the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel. He lectures widely at Israeli institutions and is a regular contributor to digital media commentaries on Jewish and Israeli issues. He has published a number of studies with local colleagues, including his article on the sanctity of Mount Herzl and Israel’s Independence Day within local Israeli religious tradition.23
To conclude, I return to some of my efforts to build bridges between the Center and the local academic communities. For more than thirty years, I have been an active participant at Israeli academic conferences on biblical studies. A recent example is the 2015 symposium in Jerusalem on Isaiah organized by James Charlesworth of Princeton Theological Seminary and published early in 2019. My subject and chapter covered insights on what scholars have called “Third Isaiah.”
Primarily, however, my work has been in archaeology and has included excavation work and its publication as well as related academic conferences and publications. In recent years, I participated in several archaeology-based symposia in Israel, one example being the conference on ancient Canaan in the Late Bronze Age held in 2014 at Bar-Ilan University, which featured primarily Israeli colleagues but also a number of international experts. I presented a paper on the Late Bronze Age at biblical Hebron,but I was also a coauthor on a presentation on the Late Bronze Age at biblical Gath. Another example is the symposium held at the University of Haifa in 2015 on the work of the Palestine Exploration Fund over a century’s time, and I was coauthor on a presentation about the Early Bronze Age fortifications of Gath, the published version of which appeared in 2019.
Like some of my other BYU colleagues, I present each autumn at the annual meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR), always on archaeological work I have done at Gath, Ekron, Hebron, or Jerusalem. Some of these have been with student coauthors whom I have mentored, and several have been published.Additionally, I regularly present papers at the Tell es-Safi/Gath annual lecture series and at the W. F. Albright Institute, where I have been a research fellow since 1996 and senior fellow since 2003. Perhaps the most unique experience I have had in this regard was an invitation in 2015 to present a lecture to the Palestinian faculty and students of the archaeology department at Al-Quds University. It was a particularly rewarding opportunity to represent the Jerusalem Center to our local Palestinian colleagues.
One of my primary archaeological activities has been the organization and publication of finds from the 1960s-era American Expedition to Hebron, directed by the late Philip Hammond. Prior to Hammond’s passing, he authorized me to undertake a widescale effort to publish his finds from Hebron. The American Expedition to Hebron Publication Project (which I direct) has published encyclopedia and reference articles as well as lengthy peer-reviewed reports.Encyclopedia of the Bible and Its Reception.Also, because of my work in and familiarity with Jerusalem and its archaeology and history in all ages, I was selected to contribute an extensive entry on Jerusalem for the
Perhaps the most noted of my connections with the local academy has been my involvement since 2001 with the Tell es-Safi/Gath Archaeological Project directed by Professor Aren Maeir of Bar-Ilan University. Gath was a major Canaanite site in the Bronze Age periods and the chief city of the Philistine pentapolis in the Iron Age periods. I serve as senior field archaeologist for the expedition. I have supervised and taught dozens of graduate students and hundreds of other students and volunteers from Israel and countries around the world who have excavated with us. In 2019, we completed excavation on the lower city wall and gateway known as the “water gate” (fig. 5). The finds were widely featured in Israeli and international news media due to their dating from the eleventh to tenth centuries BC, the probable time period of Gath’s most noted native son, Goliath. Recent examples of published preliminary reports include those in two consecutive issues of the journal Near Eastern Archaeology.31
As this overview illustrates, my Jerusalem Center faculty colleagues and I have made concerted efforts to be involved with the Israeli academic community. The combination of the excellent scholarship and productivity of our Jerusalem Center faculty has resulted in a positive and growing reputation for the Center. My hope is that this will continue and expand as more of our younger colleagues participate in teaching at and representing the Jerusalem Center. For me, it has been the privilege of a lifetime.