Dr. Hanan Eshel of Bar-Ilan University in Israel gave a presentation Thursday evening titled "Recent Archaeological Discoveries in Ancient Israel: Digging Caves in the Judean Desert."
About 80 students and faculty attended the first of three lectures hosted this fall by the NT Jewish Studies Program.
A published scholar and active field researcher, Eshel gave an informative lecture about his work and the history of archaeology in Israel.
"I'm just starting out, and this lecture was very helpful," Diana Rodriguez, Eagle Pass graduate student, said.
Biblical archaeology in Israel got its start in 1947, when Bedouins discovered the Dead Sea Scrolls. Included in the first find were early copies of the Old-Testament books Genesis and Isaiah. Their discovery sparked interest in the region, and through 1965, several important artifacts were uncovered. Among these were documents about Alexander the Great.
Eshel said that the abundance of important discoveries at that time eventually led to disinterest in the field.
"There aren't a lot of people doing this because so much was found early on," he said.
Eshel began his work in 1986, the same time that the Israeli Cave Research Center was founded. A small comb was found in a cave north of Jericho, spurring further research into the caves. To date, Eshel's discoveries include 19 Greek and Aramaic economical documents, several coins and skeletal remains.
Eshel primarily studies areas of Israel associated with the Bar Kokhba Revolt in A.D. 135. Jewish rebels fled from Roman armies and into desert caves, only to die of starvation or at Roman hands.
"Although I'm dealing with a catastrophe that happened more than 1,900 years ago, the struggles of the 20th century make me feel connected to struggles in the past," Eshel said.
Past excavations focused on religious artifacts, and Eshel said he believes what he found sheds even more light on the lives of the people that lived at that time. "We will never know exactly what happened from [A.D.] 132 to 135, but you can still learn history from economical documents," Eshel said.
The most recent excavation took place late 2002 in Ein Gedi, Israel. Eshel and his team found several coins, arrows, pots and two Greek documents.
Eshel said he has no immediate plans for another excavation, but there is still more work to be done. "There are still illegal excavations, and I'm always afraid of looters." He has a license to survey Ein Gedi and keeps a close eye on possible discoveries.
Many students found Eshel's lecture enlightening.
"I thought it was great," Brad Reynolds, Dallas junior, said. "It's neat that there are still places to excavate and things to find despite the early discoveries."
Dr. Daniel Paz of the history department was only one of several faculty members who attended.
"I liked his lecture," Paz said. "It's interesting to hear how archaeologists work and do their thing, like the physical aspect, which is something we historians don't do."
Eshel said he still does the physical part, even though he sometimes feels he should pass the torch. "I can't plan too much, but right now, I'm still climbing." His presentation included photos of excavation teams rappelling into caves at varying heights.
Eshel is in Dallas for an exhibit at the Dallas Biblical Arts Center.
From Sept. 5 to Nov. 16, several of the original documents, including the Dead Sea Scrolls, copies of Genesis and Isaiah, and a copy of the first English translation of the Bible will be on display