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Watch 2022 online sermons » John Bradshaw » John Bradshaw - Conversation with Dr. Michael Hasel

John Bradshaw - Conversation with Dr. Michael Hasel


John Bradshaw - Conversation with Dr. Michael Hasel
TOPICS: Conversations

John Bradshaw: He's a minister of the gospel, a teacher, a university professor, somehow manages to find time to run a museum, and he's an archaeologist. His name is Dr. Michael Hasel. I'm John Bradshaw, and this is our conversation. Dr. Michael Hasel, welcome to "Conversations". Thanks for being here.

Dr. Michael Hasel: Thank you, John. It's great to be here.

John Bradshaw: I think a lot of people would like to talk to an archaeologist and just start asking some of those big questions. And I'm one of those people, but we'll get to the big questions about archaeology. That's what you do today, you're a teacher, you're a bonafide archaeologist. Actually, I'll ask one question first. What's an archaeologist? You have a whip and a hat and a horse, and you ride around the desert? You know what I'm saying? People think Indiana Jones. What do archaeologists really do?

Dr. Michael Hasel: Well, archaeology is of course a science, it's a discipline that really delves into the social history and the cultural history of the world in different civilizations. So there is a treasure hunter, I think, in all of us, but it's a very detailed, very meticulous, scientific discipline with methodology theoretical basis and takes years and years of study.

John Bradshaw: Well, I'm gonna ask you some questions such as, what's going on in archaeology today, what are some of the great archaeological discoveries, what are people searching for, what are the big, exciting items that archaeologists are looking to lay their hands on, but we'll get to that. Let's talk about you first, let's go back. Tell me a little bit about you, where you're from, your background.

Dr. Michael Hasel: Yeah, I actually was born here in Tennessee, and then two months later, my parents moved up to Michigan where my dad became a professor at one of our universities there. And so, I grew up in southwestern Michigan, and my dad was an Old Testament scholar. And so I grew up surrounded by books and surrounded by all kinds of neat things, he was a minister as well. And one of the things that he loved to do was he loved to travel, he loved photography, and he would take slides of his travels all over the world. And on Friday evenings for worship, we would often see those slides. And one of my favorite things that we were able to look at and watch were slides of the Middle East. To me, that was fascinating because the Bible would kind of come to life with those images that he would show and he would tell us about his travels to Babylon and travels to Egypt and these different places and it just seemed like a such a far away and such an exciting place. So my earliest childhood memories, I think his first trip to the Middle East was when I was three. So my earliest childhood memories are those pictures and those experiences that he would share with us.

So is it fair to say that's where the archaeologist in you was born?

I think so. He also subscribed to a magazine, a journal called "Biblical Archaeology Review," which I started reading as a teenager. And then in high school, when I was 17 years of age, he had an invitation to speak at the Hebrew university in Jerusalem for a large international conference of Old Testament scholars. And he came to me one day, he says, "Would you like to come along"? So I paid for that ticket, I paid off the ticket for the rest of the summer working construction with my cousin, but that was my introduction to the Middle East, was traveling there with my dad. And I was just fascinated, it was, it blew me away. I had been to Europe many times, both my parents were European immigrants, my grandparents lived in Europe, but being in the Middle East and actually walking through the streets of Jerusalem, you and I have been there, it's just an amazing, amazing experience.

It is.

And I think that kind of awakened in me the idea, I think I could do something like this in the future, maybe.

So at some stage in your academic career, as a university student, you've gotta commit. "I'm studying this". When were those decisions made? I mean, the day you walked on campus, "I'm here to be an archaeologist". Or was it a little bit later?

Well, when I came back from that trip, I was then a senior in high school, in academy, and I went to a lecture with my dad. There was an Institute of Archaeology at the university where he taught, at Andrews University, and so, I went to a lecture and it was by a very famous Italian archaeologist, Giovanni Pettinato, who was from the University of Rome, and he was the decipher of the famous Eblaite language that was these thousands of cuneiform tablets that had been found at Ebla. And he was a very exciting lecturer, he was Italian, you know, very vivacious and very engaging, and at the end of that lecture, I thought, "Man, that is so amazing to be deciphering a whole language that had been lost for thousands of years". I went and got a signature, an autograph in a book that my father owned that he had written, "The Archives of Ebla". And then afterwards, I said to my dad, I said, "Is there, we have a museum on this campus, don't we"? He said, "Yeah". I said, "Do you think they would like a high school student to volunteer there"? He says, "Well, there's one of the curators, go talk to him". So I went over and talked to him and within a week I was volunteering, within two months, I was hired as a student worker. And that was the beginning. Then as I went into the university the next year, I was very much wanting to pursue a combination of religion, biblical studies, theology, and archaeology, and so that's kind of the combination of what I try to put together in my academic curriculum.

Talk about the intersection of theology and archaeology for a moment.

Well, we have to understand that in the field of, archaeology covers the entire globe, of course. So you have Mesoamerican archaeology and you have, you know, the Incas, the Aztecs, the Mayans, you have European archaeology, you have Chinese archaeology, you have, you know, it covers the whole globe, wherever people lived in ancient times. But the real impetus and beginning of archaeology and the entire discipline of archaeology was really biblical archaeology. The Middle East was really the driving beginning force. There were some work by some here in the United States and some in Europe, but really that was the main impetus. And so it has a very long history of being connected to the ancient Near East, and in our church, it's been very well connected also with biblical studies. So the field of biblical archaeology is kind of a subdiscipline within Near Eastern archaeology, we sometimes call it geographically, or Syro-Palestinian archaeology. It's a subdiscipline within that where you look at the connections between the Bible and the Bible's history in these various countries or empires, whether it's Babylon, Syria or whatnot, and how they intersect with what's happening in the Bible.

Might be a very broad question, maybe too broad, but I'll ask it anyway. I wonder if you could comment on... the sort of contribution that archaeology has made to...world thought or a contemporary understanding of this or that. Maybe, the reason I ask this is maybe your average lay person, like myself, spends a lot of time blissfully unaware of how archaeology has impacted us on sort of a day-to-day basis. It may be something as simple, I don't know that one would call this archaeology, but you see the Colosseum standing there in Roman ancient structure and you say, "Oh, wow," and that gives rise to an awful lot of understanding and cultural appreciation. What has archaeology done, big picture, that you can point to in two or three instances to say, "Look at how our understanding really was benefited from these discoveries"?

Well, you know, we can say that history is important, because without understanding history, we don't understand where we come from.

Sure.

And without understanding where we come from, we often don't understand where we're going. And so, archaeology really contributes to that larger, bigger question of history. Before archaeology we had history in terms of writing, and we had sources, Greek sources, classical sources, but archaeology really has helped us uncover tens of thousands of tablets in languages that have been deciphered, like Eblaite, Arcadian, Egyptian, various languages. And that's just opened up a huge world of understanding, worlds of understanding in these different cultures to help us understand the interaction of these various civilizations as they've developed over time and to also see that, you know, we often think we are doing things for the first time or that we've invented things for the first time. And it's true that they didn't have smartphones probably back then. [laughs] But there's nothing new really under the sun. I think Solomon said that, right?

Sure.

There's nothing new under the sun, and so when you go back in history, and you see the incredible innovative accomplishments that were done back then, whether it's architecture, whether it's language, whether the sciences, mathematics, astronomy, it's actually very, very remarkable. And, you know, I look back at something like the pyramids. Some, they're the oldest structures in the world really. I mean, they go back to the very beginning of Egyptian history; would we have anything today that still is standing, you know, 4,000 years later? Just to see the monumental kinds of work that went into those kinds of things. And for what? To really promote an ideology, to promote an idea of eternal life, and to ensure that that eternal life would take place for the ancient king that died. Those are meaningful things that still resonate with us today. And we can see that a lot of those ideas in the ancient world haven't changed today, they're still with us.

Fascinating too, isn't it? You mentioned the pyramids. I'm thinking of Stonehenge. So the pyramids have been standing there in full view just much longer than any of us have been. Same is true for Stonehenge, that's another ancient cluster of monuments. But in spite of that, and in spite of archaeology and history and so forth, there's still a great lack of understanding about some of this. I mean, there are discussions still today, how were the pyramids built? How in the world did they erect those stones at Stonehenge? Where did the stone come from? What was the purpose? It's interesting, isn't it? That there's still a lot of unanswered questions about some of these things that are hidden in plain view.

There are lots of unanswered questions. And so, you know, archaeology really, we can provide some answers, but we have a lot of unanswered questions as well. One of my early professors said an archaeologist needs at least two things, a great attention to detail and a vivid imagination in order to put those things together and try to come up with ideas of what things were like actually in the ancient world.

How difficult is it? You deal with the ancient world all the time, how difficult is it to look at something you uncover in the sand, the dirt, and accurately understand what this was, where it fit in, where it plugged in? I'm certain some things, just like that. But I wonder too if archaeologists have looked at things over the years and said, "This was A," and years later, a revision of that very same study said, "That was B actually". Maybe later it was seen to be A, B or even C. So I think, I'm asking, not stating my thought, archaeology must be one of these sort of ever understanding or ever developing fields of science, is that true?

Of course, yeah. We're building on a building block of knowledge, and so, every site that gets excavated can change the perspective of what's going on many times. But we also deal often with hypotheses and theories that are based on what we have found at a number of sites and putting those together. And it can take, it can take the one ugly fact that destroys the most elegant theory. So things can change very rapidly. An example of this is, you know, the whole debate over King David.

Sure.

And the history of David. We had...

Now, you've been very involved in this?

And I've been very involved in this over the years. So there were a number of scholars in Israel that were arguing that David and his kingdom was very, very small, not very large. It was based on the absence of evidence, we didn't have a lot of evidence for a lot of sites outside of Jerusalem dating to that time period. And then in 2007, one of those cities was uncovered by our team and excavated over a course of several years through 2013. And we suddenly have a... a fortified site with gates, with massive fortifications, with storage rooms, with all the attributes of what one would consider a city during that time period. So when cities were not supposed to exist, suddenly we have one. And that revolutionized the discussion and revolutionized the whole debate over the early history of Judah. And today, that was 2013, now almost 10 years later, we have a number of those same type of sites in the same region that have been excavated by other teams and other archaeologists. So that data is expanding as we go along. So in archaeology it's always good to base your arguments on data, not the lack of data, because those things are always, always being rediscovered and being found.

Fascinating from a biblical point of view.

Right.

You pass me a Bible, I say, "King David existed," but your colleague, your archaeological colleague might be inclined to say, "Slow down there a little bit," because we have a great lack of evidence for David's existence. Well, for me, I have the Bible, but for a scientist, I understand that that scientist may say, "That's just not enough for me". I get that. So how monumental was the discovery of the evidence of David's existence and what, now apparently archaeologically, was a great kingdom? For me, that sounds like it just had to be about the biggest thing ever. What was that like in biblical archaeology?

Well, in 1993, a team was excavating at the site of Tel Dan and accidentally they were working on a wall of a small structure outside the city gate. And in that wall was reused a stone, and as that stone accidentally turned over, they saw an inscription on it. That inscription actually was an inscription that mentioned David for the first time in history.

First time in history?

First time in history, outside of the Bible. Up to that point in time, just in the year prior to that, some biblical Old Testament scholars had argued that David didn't exist because we never found him in the archaeological record. Now, one year later in 1993, that discovery was made. And that made headlines all over the world, that was a huge, huge thing. The House of David referring to the Kingdom of Judah, and it referred to him about 140 years after his time, which means he was remembered for quite some time. Now we know that David's mentioned at least three different times in other monuments like the Moabite Stone or Mesha Stele, and possibly also at the Karnak Temple, on the Karnak reliefs of Shoshenq I. So we have a number of different occurrences now. So at that point, the argument shifted, we now know David existed, but what the Bible says about David and his kingdom being that huge, is that really accurate? And so that's where the archaeological evidence for these various cities came in later on.

So it took thousands of years to uncover archaeological evidence for David. Someone might be thinking, "Well, what's so hard. Why couldn't ya find something about David"? Or, "Why can't ya just go and find..."? But what's the answer to that? Well, the statement might be made, it's all hidden under the ground there somewhere.

Right.

Why is it so hard to find some of this stuff?

Yeah, that's a great question, and the answer to that is that only a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of what can be discovered has been discovered. Number one, you have to understand that there are hundreds of sites in the Middle East, many of which are unknown. Every time a road goes in or a large building gets built in Israel, something gets uncovered, something is discovered.

I wanna ask you about that. I hate to hit to pause button, but I will. As an archaeologist, when you see a road being built or excavation taking place, they're gonna build a skyscraper or an apartment building in Tel Aviv. Is there a little part of you inside that just dies? Because, like, ah!

Yeah.

Or are they so careful over there that they go sifting through the rubble looking for stuff.

They will, they will stop any construction if there's archaeological remains. So we have a road going over Beit Shemesh for example right now. Beit Shemesh was the ancient site that the arc of the covenant came to after it was co captured by the Philistines and then it arrived to Beit Shemesh. It's right on the border between Philistia and Judah; it's a thriving city today. Ace Hardware is there; that's where we buy some of our tools.

There we go.

So at Beit Shemesh, they're expanding the road, it goes right over the ancient site, so they had salvage excavations now for several years and they've discovered a huge part of the city. Beit Shemesh has been excavated for over couple of decades now, but they have discovered a whole nother section of the city of the seventh century that we didn't even know existed. In fact, archaeologists have been saying that Beit Shemesh was not occupied in the seventh century. This is the time period, of course, of the Babylonian conquest by Nebuchadnezzar and other figures before that time. So fascinating stuff that comes from some of these salvage excavations.

Okay, I interrupted you a moment ago, we will un-interrupt in just a moment. I'm loving it and I'm sure you are as well. With Dr. Michael Hasel, I am John Bradshaw. This is our conversation. Back with more in just a moment.

John Bradshaw: Welcome back to "Conversations," brought to you by It Is Written. My guest is archaeologist Dr. Michael Hasel. I asked you a moment ago about why we don't find more stuff and interrupted you. I wanna take you back. You talked about the fraction of the fraction of the fraction of the fraction. So archaeologists are really looking for very small needles in very, very large haystacks. But let me let you proceed with that. Why are we not just stumbling over name plates with David's name on them every day?

Dr. Michael Hasel: So this is what I tell my students. You begin with, you know, all of these sites all over the Middle East, only a fraction of which are known. Sometimes we find it like construction wise or so forth, sometimes a farmer stumbles across something as he's plowing his field, and suddenly there's a site there. Many of these areas are restricted, many of these countries have restrictions.

Sure.

In the Middle East, obviously it's a very sensitive place, so a lot of areas aren't explored. Then those places that have been excavated are only excavated to a very small extent. So even when we put, I think of Ashkelon, the Ashkelon Excavations, Harvard University dug there from the 1980s to this century and probably spent 30 seasons there at the site. Less than 5% of the site is excavated.

Oh, no kidding, 30 seasons?

And a huge amount of funding that went into that as well. Great, great dig, I worked with them one of those seasons, it was a wonderful experience, but great discoveries. We found a part of an arched gateway from the middle Bronze Age. That's the time of Joseph, around the time of Joseph, the time of the patriarchs. We thought the Romans invented the arch, and we now know that the arch goes all the way back to that period, hundreds and hundreds of years before the Romans. So that's where neat discoveries are made. So you have a fraction of the site that actually is excavated, then of that, you have only a fraction of those sites that are actually published because archaeologists love to go from site to site to site to excavate, but the years that it takes to publish all the material, the millions of bits of data from that material is very time consuming. And then, once you get down to that, only a fraction of that which is published actually has a direct impact on an identifying mark of the Bible of some sort. So like the David inscription or something like that. And it can take years to get there. So for instance, at Ekron, the Philistine site, I worked there for many years in the 1990s, it's one of the five Philistine cities. And Ekron, we didn't even know was Ekron, we guessed it was Ekron, but it wasn't until we got into the whole project, and it wasn't until the very last season that we found a large inscription that identified, "Akish, the son of Padi, the son of Yasid, the son of Ya'ir, ruler over Ekron". And for the first time we knew that that was the site. So, those kinds of things. Inscriptions are very difficult to find, when we find them, we're very excited. When we find seals, when we find seal impressions, when we find those kinds of things that actually tie us back to the Bible and people in the Bible, that's a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of fraction of a fraction. So that's why sometimes we need to be cautious to say, "Well, so and so hasn't been found yet". Yet is the question.

Yet, yeah, yeah. I wanna ask you about some of these cool things that have been found, seals and so on. But first, I wanna ask you to describe for me a day in the life, a typical day in the life of an archaeologist digging in a field, Dr. Michael Hasel, archaeologist, working a site, Lachish or some place, Tel Dan. What's an average day like? 'Cause I think it's easy to think of archaeology is, "Ooh, look what I found," but I expect those experiences are kind of few and far between. What's an average day like?

So on our excavations that I conducted over the last decade or so, we had some of the largest projects in Israel and we had about 120 people in the field. So first of all you have...

Is that a lot?

That's a lot.

Yep. You have volunteers, you have square supervisors that are overseeing them, they are all archaeologists or archaeology students that have experience, you have various experts that are either at the site or that you have on retainers, so to speak, just in case you need them in case something is found that needs to be analyzed or needs to be discovered, it needs to be looked at. It's a multidisciplinary field that requires all of these different experts to weigh in because you're reconstructing everything in the past.

Hmm.

So you need to have geologists to deal with the geology of the site, you need to have architects to look at the architecture, and you need to have artists to do all the drawings of the artifacts, photographers and drone pilots that can take aerial photography. I mean, we have a whole survey team that deals with the surveying and the mapping of the site. So there's all of this that goes on. But typically we wake up very early in the morning, we wanna avoid the heat of the day, we work usually in the summertime because that's when university students are off and can work and when we can work as well and are not teaching classes. So we're out usually by 5:00 a.m., we're in the field, we usually have a brief time of orientation of what the goals are for that day for the team, we break up into different fields because we're working in different areas of the site, and then we start excavating and start working very carefully. Now, sometimes we may be in a huge fill of dirt that needs to be moved through rather quickly, and so, we use large tools like picks and we call them, they're kind of a large hoes. And that can move quickly. When we get down to a floor, that becomes very meticulous, that's when you think of the typical archaeology stuff like dental tools...

Right, right.

And small trowels and small tools. That's where those things come out, and brushes and things like that. Because that's where all the goodies are on the floors of these buildings. Everything needs to be photographed before anything is removed on these floors, for example, they sometimes need to be drawn in place. We just had, for instance, this last week, I got an email from Israel that something that we uncovered in 2016, right at the beginning of the season, on the first day, in fact, it was an ivory comb, you know, for your hair, all the teeth were broken off. we uncovered it at that time, but now in post processing, we found out that that comb has a three-line inscription on it, and it's being read right now by one of our experts at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. That inscription, who knows what it says? I mean, to find an inscription on an ivory comb, that must be something that an elite person had.

Sure.

That was a very rare piece. We know exactly where that comb was found because we have notes, we have careful indications of where that comb was found and we can reconstruct, okay, now we've found this important inscription on it, what is the original context of that comb? What period does it come from? Was it found on a floor? Was it found, in our case unfortunately, we think it was found in a pit, which meant it came from, maybe placed there from a later period. But all of these things need to be carefully documented because you need to know the exact fine spot in order to reconstruct what period it belongs to, and this all takes time. So we have a break at seven, we call it first breakfast, we have a break at nine, we call it second breakfast that's a half an hour. We have a break at 11, that's called Watermelon Break where we have a little bit of watermelon.

That's a good break.

That's a good break, yeah. If you like watermelon.

That's popular.

And we often have fresh grapes. At Lachish we're surrounded by vineyards and we have wonderful grapes during certain seasons. And then by one o'clock in the afternoon, we're done digging for the day; it's been an 8-hour day pretty much.

Yeah, already.

And so, we go home, we have lunch at the camp. We have a siesta where people sleep because they got up at 4:30.

Yeah.

And then in the afternoon we get up, and we wash the pottery that we found that day. We wash it, we scrub it down. The volunteers do that while the staff are inside the lab going through the pottery from the previous day, and we're reading the pottery and dating the pottery from all of these different contexts. Thousands and thousands of pieces, broken pieces of pottery, pottery sherds are processed in that as well as the objects that are found like that ivory comb. And then we go into, yeah, that evening. Once that is done, we have a lecture for the field school, the students who are getting credit for this, then we have dinner fairly late, I don't like having dinner that late, but we usually have dinner around eight o'clock or so sometimes, and then pretty much after that, there's some last things that need to be done, but it's bedtime 'cause you're getting up the next morning at 5, 4:30 again.

Someone is hoping I will ask you why the inscription on the comb wasn't noticed right away.

Ah, good question. Because it was dirty and it wasn't cleaned. And it wasn't... some of these inscriptions are so faint. They're scratched into, this was scratched into...

Oh.

...incised into the ivory, that it really wasn't noticed until now. And sometimes this happens. Sometimes we see it right out in the field and we're like, "Wow, this is awesome". And then sometimes it happens in post processing many times.

I said I wanna ask you about some of the cool stuff that may or may not have been found. So what are some of the neat things, whether you've been involved in the archaeological process or not. We've spoken at other times about seals that have been found in the City of David, which is very dramatic.

Yes.

So what for you are some of the real exciting things that have been found that shine a light particularly on the Bible.

There have been so many, and some of those discoveries, like we just said, are made in the field, some of those discoveries are made way after when people are working in museums on tablets, translating tablets that have been found in the 1800s but haven't been read, let alone published.

Oh, wow.

There was a situation in 2007 where a scholar from the University of Vienna was working in the British Museum looking at names, and looked at a tablet and saw a name, Nebo-Sarsekim. And he was like, "Nebo-Sarsekim"? It was a tablet dating the 10th year of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon. It was a Babylonian tablet found in Babylon, and he remembered the name Nebo-Sarsekim from a text in Jeremiah. Goes to Jeremiah, I believe it's Jeremiah 39, sees a whole list of officials that Nebuchadnezzar left behind in Jerusalem to kind of oversee things as he took the captives back to Babylon, and one of those is Nebo-Sarsekim, only he's also given a title in Jeremiah, and that same title is given to the same Nebo-Sarsekim on the tablet.

Oh.

And so, Professor Michael Jursa says, "I believe that's the same person". That was an exciting discovery, that made headlines in 2007.

That's pretty cool.

Now that discovery was made a hundred years, more than a hundred years after it was discovered in the 1800s in Babylon. Other discoveries are made right out on the field. We were at the site of Lachish and we had a small, tiny little dipper-juglet, and in that dipper-juglet we found a tiny little seals about the size of my thumbnail, maybe even smaller, and those seal impressions pressed on mud were on clay in ancient times and placed on a letter. One of those seals, we had two inside the container, and then we sifted around the container 'cause it was turned a little to its side and we found two more in wet sifting and dry sifting. But two of those seals bore the name of Eliakim. And we went back and did the research. We could read it right out on the field, I mean, we could read it, we put it there, we took photographs and you know, it was very exciting, but in the post processing and post research that was done in the publication that finally came out. We believe that this is the same Eliakim, it dates to the right time period as the Eliakim mentioned in Isaiah 37, the head of the household of King Hezekiah. In other words, this was the guy in charge of the whole palace in Jerusalem.

Wow.

And now we found his personal seal. Then in 2009, again, going back in time, a seal was found, two seals were found in Jerusalem. We've talked maybe a little bit about this before in another program, but two seals were found. And on those seals found in the City of David, actually in the Ophel, a little bit further to the north, more along towards the Temple Mount area, there are 10 feet apart from each other, the seal impression of King Hezekiah, and right next to it, the seal impression, less than 10 feet away, less than three meters away, just over three meters away was the seal impression of an Isaiah the "navi," or... I shouldn't say "the", Isaiah navi. "Navi" is the Hebrew word for "prophet". Now, there's a letter missing, which causes a little bit of a question mark, the aleph is missing at the end, but this could, in fact, the excavator Eilat Mazar suggested that it could, in fact, be the prophet Isaiah. And if that's the case, we have here a clear connection between these two contemporaries. And if you go back to Isaiah 37, all three of the people that are mentioned, there's four people mentioned, three of them now have been found on seal impressions, another one, Shebna the scribe, has also been found in one of the inscriptions in Jerusalem. So we have all four of those. That makes it very exciting when you can reconnect with an ancient person that lived, it's almost when you find one of these seal impressions, like you're, like this was the personal signature of an individual, so it's like reaching back and shaking somebody's hand, almost.

Oh wow.

Very exciting.

Doesn't that have to grow your faith in the Bible as a living valid historical document?

Absolutely.

It just does, doesn't it?

Yeah, it does. I mean, I'm writing a book right now where we have documented over the course of 200 years of archaeological research, we've documented over 100 people of the Bible. Some of these are very famous people that one would expect like King Sennacherib, or Nebuchadnezzar or Hezekiah, others are obscure people like Nebo-Sarsekim, an official that's just mentioned in passing in one verse of the Bible.

But isn't that just as interesting really, that you can validate an obscure figure from the Bible?

Absolutely.

That's gotta be very strengthening for a person's faith as well.

It is, it is, because, you know, what's the likelihood? It's like you said, the needle in the proverbial haystack, what's the likelihood of finding that many people? And we have, you know, in the Book of Jeremiah, for example, in the City of David Excavations, we have several of these seal impressions that have been uncovered, and those seal impressions are listed. These officials that Jeremiah actually goes in, when he goes in and reads the scroll to the king, you know, those officials that are standing there with the king, the nobles, we found their seal impressions that are mentioned in Jeremiah, and they were there in the palace.

So why do you think those seal impressions were found? I'll tell you my idea and tell me what you think. It seems to me finding a seal impression is... a bazillion to one, a very small... why they would stand the test, why they would still exist, I don't know. Doesn't it seem to you, you must have had this experience again and again, doesn't it seem to you that this is God saying, "I want you to find this. I want you to be able to say to the world, 'Look, Isaiah, Hezekiah.' I want these things to be seen". You ever feel like in archaeology, God is on the sidelines or out there in the field with you cheering you on, hoping, or maybe orchestrating that certain things will be uncovered at certain times?

I think there's an element of that. I don't always think that it's chance, many times it is. My colleague who I've worked with for many years says it's not chance. We are very strategic in where we go to excavate, where we are likely to find the best things. We are very strategic once we get to a site where to where to go where we think the best kind of discoveries are to be made, and yet there's still that risk involved that you could excavate for a whole season or two seasons and really not find anything significant.

Right.

But yes, I think there definitely is. And you know, when Isaiah's seal was uncovered, my friend in Florida texted me that day and said, "Have you seen the article"? And I immediately renewed my subscription to the journal and saw the article right there on the spot and it sent goosebumps, because this is the largest Old Testament prophetic book that we have, 66 chapters of Isaiah. It's been doubted by skeptics for years that Isaiah actually, you know, the book has been divided into three parts, Deutero-Isaiah, Trito-Isaiah, in order to obscure the prophetic nature of the book. Because if Isaiah's living at the time of Hezekiah and is predicting Cyrus the Great, who is going to be taking over, this is a problem.

Yeah. Look, I wanna ask you about some of the fun things that archaeologists are hoping to find. What's the dream inside the mind of archaeologists if we could uncover this? And couple of other things I'd like to ask you about in a moment as well. With Dr. Michael Hasel, I'm John Bradshaw. This is our conversation, brought you by It Is Written. We'll be right back.

John Bradshaw: Welcome back to "Conversations," brought to you by It Is Written. My guest is archaeologist Dr. Michael Hasel. I'm gonna ask you in a moment about the dreamer inside every archaeologist that must exist, where he or she in the field is hoping that, "Man, if we could only..". But I wanna ask you this question and have you comment on this first. There's a phenomenal story from your own personal experience where you miraculously survived death, certain death, miraculously. I'd love you to tell me that story, if you would.

Dr. Michael Hasel: Well, I was a student in Europe for a year at a small school in Austria. And my father called me one day and said, I was 20 years old, he said, "You would like to join us maybe sometime. We're going to Florida again". We were living in Michigan, so Florida was always a nice place to go during the wintertime.

Oh yeah.

It's where all the snowbirds go, right?

Yeah.

So it was our tradition to go camping on one of the Keys, Key Largo. And we would usually get together with a large group of relatives. And that year, I think 40 of my relatives were gonna be down there. We would spend two weeks playing beach volleyball, going snorkeling, scuba diving. I was heavy into windsurfing back then, my cousins were too, so we always had several winds surfers and a Hobie Cat. Anyway, it was a lot of fun. And on this particular occasion, I was in Europe that year, and so my dad says, "Have you thought, would you like to come over and visit us in Florida"? And I said, "Well, I was kind of thinking about staying here". "Well, we're running out of time, I'm gonna call you back in three hours, I want you to make a decision. You're an adult now. It's your decision to make, but I'm gonna check at the travel agency to see if there's any openings at all for you to come over, and I'll call you back three o'clock your time, I'll call you back, and you need to make a decision by that time". So I went out, I was at lunch at the time, I went to my cousin's room after that, Betina's room, she was a student there in the high school, and I told her about the phone call, and she says, "Well, have you prayed about this decision at all"? I felt a little guilty, honestly, 'cause she was a high school student; I was a theology student. I hadn't really thought about praying about it. So I was like, "Well, it's kind of a simple decision". She says, "Well, let's just kneel down and pray about it here". So her roommate, Katrina, and my cousin Betina and myself, we knelt down and we prayed, got up, and I had arranged already that day to take them into town for some shopping. And the whole time they were shopping I was thinking about what my decision would be. And I have to tell you, John, I didn't have a clear answer, it wasn't like there was handwriting on the wall, there wasn't lightning, there wasn't a voice, there was nothing like that.

And this should have been the easiest decision you ever made. You're in Europe for a year, you're away from your family, Dad calls, 40 of your family are gonna have fun.

That's right, that's right.

I mean, yes.

That's right, that's right.

But it didn't turn out that way.

But the more... I can tell you how the afternoon went, the more I thought about staying, the more I thought about going home to Florida, the more uncomfortable I felt, the lack of peace. The more I thought about staying, as I thought about staying, I felt a sense of peace. That's the best way I can describe it.

Sure.

And finally, 15 minutes before the phone call, we were back at the school, and I had made my decision. I was going to stay. My dad calls right on time, before I could get in words edgewise, he's like, "Michael, I'm so excited. I just got back from Ruth", that's the name of our travel agent, "Got back from Ruth's, she has gotten a seat for you. It was almost the last seat on the plane," he says, "But you're gonna be flying from Frankfurt to London, London to New York, New York to Miami. We'll pick you up in Miami. Everything's been arranged, the flights booked, at least temporarily, I've got a seat for you". And the other issue that I didn't mention was it had been a miserable fall.

Oh yeah.

It was raining constantly. It was kind of this drizzle wet cold that penetrates your bones no matter what you're wearing. And I looked outside, and it was drizzling again. I mean, it was just a miserable. I could count on one hand how many times I'd seen the sun between September and November when this call was taking place. So at that point, I said, "Well, but, Dad, I", my resolve, in other words, was fading fast, but then I said, "Dad, I've been praying about it all afternoon, and I've kind of decided I think I should stay". There's this long silence on the phone. My dad, first thing he said was, "Your mother will be very disappointed".

Oh, oh.

I was like, "Oh, that's not good". And then he says, "But it's your decision. If you change your mind," he said, "The booking's gonna hold for 72 hours".

Wow.

"If you change your mind, call me back, we'll get the ticket. And by the way, your mother and I have decided we're paying for the ticket, you don't have to worry about the ticket".

Oh, come on. Wow.

So I said, "Okay". He says, "But I understand, and it's your decision. That's what we had agreed upon". And we talked about a few other things, that was it. Two weeks went by, didn't call back, two weeks went by, I'm driving now to my uncle's house, who's a pastor in southern Germany, to spend Christmas with Betina and with the family. And while we were opening presents around the tree, my father calls from Florida, and he says, "Michael," he said, "I want you to talk to some of the relatives". And I can imagine exactly where that payphone was 'cause I was there many times. I think all the relatives were lined up, and it was a very expensive call, one after the other. Finally, my dad gets on the, back on the phone, and he says, "I'm really glad you didn't come". And I'm like, "Why? Don't you miss me"? I kind of looked at the phone, you know. He's like, "No," he says, "I had you booked on Pan Am Flight 103 that crashed in Lockerbie, Scotland, last week". And the tree just blurred in front of me. I literally just handed the phone to my uncle as that kind of began to sink in. I had been listening on the drive from the school up to Germany all the newscasts about that crash, never making the connection at all and realizing, you know, 189 people on that flight died, additional people in the city of Lockerbie, and I just couldn't wrap my mind around that. I was like, "What's going on here"?

You were booked on that flight.

Right, right.

It was almost impossible for you to not be on that flight. You're booked, we are paying, your mother wants to see you, 40 family members, fun in the Florida sun, in the winter, you've had a miserable fall, who could say no? And yet you did, and that was God's leading.

I think so, you know, I've wrestled with it, I dealt with all kinds of feelings of survivor guilt.

I wondered about that.

Yeah, you do. I mean, there was a whole group of students my age from Syracuse University...

Lot of students.

...that were on that flight flying back home, and... why did I survive? I mean, and I don't have the answer to that completely.

No.

But I do keep thinking back to the three of us kneeling in that dormitory room and praying about it and the sense of direction that I felt that afternoon as I was thinking and praying about it before that decision. So that was a monumental event in my life that caused me to rethink everything.

Oh yeah.

And you know, I read a little book after that experience, that summer I read "The Great Controversy" for the first time, and I had a new conversion experience in my life that I hadn't had before, and it was partly due to that experience.

I've been to the Lockerbie Memorial, and knowing this story, I looked for your name, and thank God it's not there.

Yeah, yeah.

That's God intervening in your life in a profound way.

Yeah.

Profound way.

And He does that in our lives.

Yeah, He does.

He does that. And we all have stories to tell, sometimes we know about it...

Sometimes we know.

Sometimes we have no idea.

I have a friend whose grandmother raced to South Hampton from Norway, I believe, and she was so disappointed. She didn't quite get there in time to get on the Titanic.

Mm.

Yeah, true story.

Yeah.

Absolutely true story. You hear those stories from time to time.

That's right.

And they're dramatic. Well, it's gotta be very difficult for you to look at your life now and not see that God has a very real purpose after something like that. I mean, God's mercies are new every morning. Every day we need to be able to say, "God has a purpose for me today". But to see that God has a very special purpose for your life. So now, as an archaeologist, you don't sift in the sand merely for the fun of it, for the two breakfasts and the watermelon break.

No.

You are hoping to find the inscriptions that say, "King David". Of course you are. What archaeologist would not? This has gotta vary from discipline to discipline, you know, Neo-Babylonian architecture, sorry, archaeology, or British, Viking, some other thing, North American. What are archaeologists hanging out hoping to find? I mean, I know it's not all treasure hunting, but you did mention earlier there's a little treasure hunter inside everybody. And maybe it varies from place to place. If you are digging in southern Israel, then you're not hoping to find the tomb of some Egyptian pharaoh. But what are those things that you love to find or the certain things that you say, "This would blow things wide open".

I was asked that question one time by one of the leading archaeologists in Israel, Professor Amnon Ben-Tor from the Hebrew University. We were having dinner together at the American Colony Hotel and our university president and a number of our board members were on that trip, and he asked that question. He says, "What do you think would be the most incredible find of the century"?

Mm. Well, when Isaiah's seal was found, I thought that probably was one of the greatest, but... So I'll tell you what Professor Ben-Tor said. "If you had the choice between this or this, one of these was an archive, a huge archive of texts maybe, like the ones that were founded at Ebela or Ugarit or Mari or some of these places or Babylon, would that be it? Or would it be," he says, "a monumental inscription from the time of Solomon mentioning his name"? And I hesitated 'cause I was like, "I don't know". I mean, he's the ranking Israeli archaeologist, was at that time, and so I hesitated. He says, "Why are you hesitating? It's Solomon, of course"! And I said, "Really"? I said, "Why is that"? And he says, "Because it would take decades far beyond our lifetimes to go through all these, the archive of thousands of texts".

Sure.

"It would be Solomon. It would be the ultimate payback for all the work that has gone into something". So that was his answer.

That's interesting.

I thing that's a good answer because Solomon, of course, you know, David's son ruled during the golden age of Israel's history, and we don't have a mention of him in the archaeological record yet.

Nothing, nothing yet.

Just like we didn't have David a few decades ago, so that would be amazing. But really, other than those really exciting finds that happen every few years, every decade or so, it is also the bigger pictures of reconstructing the past, you know, finding a Khirbet Qeiyafa that dates to the time of David, finding a Khirbet er-Ra'i that dates to the same time period. And as you look over a decade of archaeology and you're able to say, "I was involved in this project, in this project, in this project, in this project," and these three or four sites have now redefined, really the discipline in terms of that early history of Judah, that's a lifetime's accomplishment right there. So I look back at it and I say I've done, I've been fortunate, and I'm humbled to say this, but I've been fortunate to be in the right places at the right time when these things happen. I think maybe, you know, that was also divine providence.

Sure.

But God put us in places where we were able to make very significant discoveries. Can't wait to find what this ivory comb says on it. That may be another groundbreaking thing, who knows?

Right. And I know my question belies my ignorance. It would appear that the overall impetus or heft or power of archaeology isn't really built on the one piece here or the one piece here.

Correct.

But it's built on this vast collection of the mundane, which, when put together, creates pictures or reconstructs civilizations or redefines your understanding of certain time periods and shines a bright light on the Bible.

That's exactly right. And when you think about it, you know, we're standing on the shoulders of these giants that have come before us that have built up incrementally this vast database of information. And as a scientist in your short career of 30 or 40 years, I mean, you're just able to add a little tiny bit on top of that. And that gives us a little insight also into some of the deconstruction and some of the critical thinking that goes on today. It's much easier to deconstruct what others have done and to argue against something that has been found or that a conclusion that has been made. That can be done very quickly and make headlines, but to add scientifically to the data and to provide additional information and data that may redefine or may add to that corpus of material, that takes a lifetime of work and takes a long time to do. And so, yeah, you kind of look at those things, and we've been fortunate to be able to work in a fairly secure country. Israel has not had a, there's always some issues going on in the Middle East, but overall it's been a very safe place to work, a very solid place. I have colleagues who invested their careers in Syria and other places, and they just haven't been able to work there.

Right.

Of course, with the pandemic, now nobody is working pretty much. So we'll see how long that lasts.

Yeah, difficult. Hopefully not long.

Right.

Hey, we don't have much time, but I cannot let the conversation go by without asking you about the museum. Tell me about the museum. You've put a lot of work into the museum, the Lynn H. Wood Archaeological Museum on the campus of Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, Tennessee. So what's happening there, and what do we look forward to there?

Well, we have an exhibit currently right now that is going to be up until May. It's a special exhibit. We have, of course, a permanent exhibit that focuses on the whole history of the ancient Near East from the earliest times all the way through to the Roman and even Islamic periods. But then we have special exhibits. And right now we have a special exhibit on the history of the Bible and the development of the Bible, which is fascinating. We have some of the rarest Bibles on exhibit, they're on loan, and they're only gonna be there till the end of this semester, till May. After that, we have just voted as a board to actually focus on Lachish and bring in an exhibit from Israel focusing on our excavations at Lachish...

Nice.

And actually having the artifacts here, like that seal of Eliakim...

Cool.

And some of those other things that we have discovered there and have it, and it's a great, great idea because really we can talk about two major events that happened in biblical history at Lachish. One is the famous Assyrian campaign and what was happening before that, and then one, of course, is the great Nebuchadnezzar Babylonian campaign where the temple was eventually destroyed in Jerusalem. And both of those, we have a great deal of information to talk about at that site.

Is it a good time to be an archaeologist? I mean, the societal challenges notwithstanding, or is it always a good time to be an archaeologist?

It's a challenging field. You know, you have to go through an education equivalent to becoming a neurosurgeon, and then you have to be working overseas and those kinds of things, but the benefits and the outcomes, the excitement of the discovery, and then how to use those to enhance people's understanding of the Bible to see people's lives changed as they hear those encouraging faith-affirming experiences, that is what makes it incredible, to see the students just get excited about these things when they're in the field, to see those "aha" moments when those discoveries, when they're making them for the first time themselves, those are incredible moments. And my hope now in the last years of my career are to focus on popular things, that popular programs that can bring all of these discoveries to the life of people.

Well, I wanna thank you for what you're doing, because whether we realize it or not...

Thank you.

...people like me owe an enormous debt to archaeologists for shining a bright light out onto the Word of God, making our job as ministers of the gospel easier because we have more to validate what we say. It's a wonderful field, tremendously exciting, and thank you, thanks for taking your time with me today.

It's great to be with you. Thank you so much.

Yeah, what a joy, truly a blessing, and I trust it has been for you as well. Thanks so much for being part of this. An archaeologist, a teacher, a minister of the gospel, he is Dr. Michael Hasel. I'm John Bradshaw. This has been our conversation.
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