In August of this year, a group of teachers, employees and students of the Evangelical Theological Faculty of Charles University in Prague was selected for three-week archaeological excavations in the Tel Moca area. This happened after a one-year hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It was following excavations in the area from 2019.
Tel Moca is located about 7 km from ancient Jerusalem and is the site of the biblical Moca of Jos. 18:26. Archaeological excavations have been carried out in this area before, but it was not until 1993, during the planned construction of a new road to Jerusalem, that the site was identified as an important archaeological site.
The excavations at this site are managed by Shu Kisilevitz (Tel Aviv University and the Israel Antiquities Authority) and prof. Oded Lipschits (Tel Aviv University). Partner institutions are also involved in the project: Osnabruck University in Germany and Charles University in Prague. In addition, volunteers from around the world can participate in the project.
Excavations will focus on the discovery of a temple complex from the Iron Age II (10th – 6th century BC). Archaeological excavation took place in two parts: eastern and western. In the eastern side, which adjoins the temple courtyard and where various interesting finds and cultural artifacts were found this year as well, and in the western part, where research focused mainly on finding and uncovering the western wall of the temple.
The temple discovered in this area corresponds to the biblical account of the First Temple, which should, however, lie in Jerusalem. That brings several questions. What is its connection to this temple? Can it be Solomon’s Temple? Is it some other important temple, or is it just a kind of prayer house? Who was it consecrated to? And what does this mean for biblical research?
Another fact that makes the project unique is that most of the „diggers“ involved in this project are students of theology or theologians, supplementing and expanding their knowledge of current research in biblical archaeology. Together with volunteers from all over the world and locals from various professions and specialisations, they can get a glimpse of tangible history, experience and participate in archaeological research, physically demanding and very fine work, from digging through individual layers and destroying the foundations of younger buildings to sifting clay, collecting various fragments of pottery or bones and cleaning stones.
It was an interesting experience. To witness what archaeological work looks like, what needs to be measured, drawn, and accurately described, how ceramics are cleaned and determined, how samples are taken for various analyses. It was also important to have everything explained, to have an introduction to what we are digging, why we are uncovering which layer, how to do it, what tools we can work with, why is it happening and what we should probably expect. In the field, regional professional leaders took care of the explaining, and outside the field there were various professional lectures, workshops, discussions, and trips, which concerned archaeology and theology.
It was probably most interesting for me to see how we can get so much information from „picking“ in the clay. As from some „uninteresting“ stones, shards, clay, which seem ordinary to laymen at first glance, we can come with the help of various analyses and 3D modelling to a visually specific form of the place with specific acoustics, the expected impact of daylight on the interior object and other details.
Nevertheless, the work on these archaeological excavations in Tel Moca continues. The next season is scheduled for September 2022. The work should shed more light on the ambiguities presented and reveal the significance of this Jewish temple. I think there is definitely something to look forward to, and that soon enough we will hear about important findings such as the remains of a temple in Tel Moca.