Andrews University Dig Marks 40 Years
in Jordan’s Madaba Plain
Biblical Record, Strengthen Faith
By Mark A. Kellner, news editor, with reporting from Andrews University
On a dusty hill steeped in biblical history, officials of Andrews University (AU), a Seventh-day Adventist educational institution in Michigan, U.S.A., and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan met recently to commemorate 40 years of archaeological research. The Madaba Plains Project, as the “digs” are known, have discovered antiquities that help confirm Scripture’s accounts of life in the area and can help strengthen faith, an Andrews professor involved in the project said.
“The most immediately significant find is the history of occupation at these sites in Jordan that overlap with the biblical period—they thus provide us with a contemporary, extrabiblical record of the [Bible] story,” said Randall Younker, director of the Institute of Archaeology at Andrews, where he is also an assistant professor of Old Testament and Biblical Archaeology.
DIGGING TO THE TOP: Mustafa Al Barrari, president of the kingdom’s Audit Bureau (right) recalls his first job as an 8-year-old wheelbarrow operator at the Tall Hisban dig.“Two recent results that directly impact the biblical story is the possible evidence for settlement in our region [Transjordan] by the tribe of Reuben, which correlates closely with the biblical account of the Settlement [the historicity of the Settlement has been quite controversial],” Younker told Adventist World,“and occupation of our area during the Persian period—the time of Queen Esther—the question as to whether people actually lived in this area during the Persian period has been controversial—we now know they did.”
At the ceremony, Niels-Erik Andreasen, AU president, noted the school’s global character as one reason for its interest in the region.
“Andrews University is one of the most international universities in the country where it is located. We have faculty, staff, and students from around the world, including the Middle East,” Andreasen said. “And we like to think of our international campus as a gateway to giving our students [a] more international education. And our work with you inJordan has widened that gateway toward more international understanding.”
Upwards of 200 attendees gathered on the acropolis of the more than 3 millennia-old hilltop fortress at Tall Hisban. Speeches commemorating events in the history of the site, discussing the importance of Hisban to Jordan and the community, and putting forth a vision for partnerships between the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, foreign embassies, archaeology projects, and local communities were given by the directors of the Madaba Plains Project and Tall Hisban Project and other dignitaries.
Representatives of the Jordanian government, foreign entities, the Jordanian archeological projects, and sponsoring universities sat under a tent erected in the remains of a Byzantine church on the top of the Tall. Sitting and standing on the ruins surrounding the church were residents of the area of New Hisban and Jordan, as well as student researchers of the Tall Hisban Project, the Tall Jalul, and other archaeological projects in Jordan.
Prince Raad Bin Zeid and Senator Michel Hamerneh, representative for Prince El Hassan Bin Talal, represented the royal family. Prince Raad, who engaged in archaeological work with the Tall Hisban Project in the 1970s, spoke about his fond memories of the project, which were also shared in remarks by Lawrence T. Geraty, recently retired president of La Sierra University, an Adventist school in Riverside, California, U.S.A.
CATCHING UP: Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan Prince Raad Bin Zeid and Neils-Erik Andreasen, AU president, speak duringcommemoration ceremonies.
“He would come out early in the morning with his trowel and his little pick, and he would say, ‘Hide me someplace in a cistern, so I can work without anybody bothering me,’” Geraty told the audience at Tall Hisban. “And recently many of us were inWashington, D.C., [U.S.A.] for the tenth international conference of Jordanian history and archaeology, and who should be our host at the embassy ofJordan but the son of our Prince Raad. And on that occasion, he even acknowledged having participated in the dig himself.”
Plans for archaeological work at Tall Hisban began in 1967 by Siegfried H. Horn of Andrews University. The following summer a team of professors and students began digging at the previously unexcavated Tall, hoping to uncover evidence that Hisban was the biblical city of Heshbon, as found in the Old Testament story of the Israelite conquest of Canaan and the land of the Amorites. The Heshbon Expedition continued through the late 1970s, but with developments in the work at the site, the focus shifted more toward anthropological methods of archaeology. As such, Tall Hisban became in many ways a forerunner in Middle Eastern archaeological methodologies. Additions to the field such as Sauer’s Pottery Chronology, LaBianca’s Food Systems Theory, an attention to floral and faunal analysis, and concepts such as “Sedentarization and Nomadization” and “Intensification and Abatement” have become standard fare in Jordanian and Middle Eastern archaeology.
United States ambassador to Jordan David Hale was among the dignitaries who attended the commemoration, and Geraty noted that Hale, “through the Ambassador’s Fund, really helped to put Hisban on the map.”
Geraty also recounted the story of Mustafa Al Barrari, who was a child when his father, a worker at the dig, died. Mustafa had to go to work to help support the family and was assigned to the dig.
CELEBRATION IN TALL HISBAN:More than 200 people gathered to celebrate 40 years of archaeological “digs” in the Madaba Plains of Jordan. The project was started and is managed by Andrews University, a Seventh-day Adventist Churchinstitution.
“He worked harder for us than any three men,” Geraty said. “He later went on to the University of Jordan and got a gold watch from King Hussein for making the best grades that year. He has worked many places in the Middle East, but most recently as the head of the Audit Bureau for the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. I think it’s a wonderful example—it could only happen in a free country like Jordan—where a wheelbarrow boy turns into the head of the Audit Bureau.”
Al Barrari attended the ceremony and rose to acknowledge a greeting from the audience. Ghazi Bisheh, former director of the Department of Antiquities, also spoke at the event, as did Barbara A. Porter, director of the American Center of Oriental Research in Amman, Jordan.
Tall Hisban is a multiperiod, multicivilizational site—in its more than 3 millennia of occupation it has been conquered or controlled by more than 20 empires and civilizations, from the Persians, Greeks, and Romans of the Classical Period to the Ummayad, Mamluk, and Ottoman empires of the Islamic Period. Most notably, Tall Hisban features a possible Ummayad bathhouse and a Mamluk fortress and governor’s palace.
The Tall Hisban Project is currently in the field, working with researchers from Andrews University, Grand Valley State University, Harvard University, Oklahoma State University, andCalvin College, a college of the Christian Reformed Church located in Grand Rapids, Michigan, U.S.A. The 2007 summer dig began June 14, 2007 and ended July 24.
Andrews professor Oystein S. LaBianca, director of the Tall Hisban Project, concluded the program with a call for continued partnership and understanding between the archaeological community, the Jordanian government, and the people of Hisban.