By Grant Turgeon
EDMOND :: Philadelphia Church of God—Dr. Eilat Mazar unveiled a secret archaeological discovery from her Ophel dig site in Jerusalem at a press conference this morning, and a documentary produced by Dr. Mazar and Herbert W. Armstrong College senior Jessie Hester has been released at the same time. The approximately 15-minute video, which is entirely produced by Dr. Mazar and the college, is available in both English and Hebrew.
Hester flew to Jerusalem in June specifically to help Dr. Mazar with the documentary. He returned to the AC campus in August, where he has continued to work on the project.
Dr. Mazar hasn’t always treated the AC volunteers to so much access and information. But that began to change with the fall 2012 excavation on the Ophel.
“Ever since we began working with her, we realized that she didn’t have a good method of releasing her discoveries to the public,” said AC graduate Brent Nagtegaal, who has worked on six excavations with Dr. Mazar. “We had been pushing her—in a nice way—to release her artifacts and what she’s discovered to the public in a more easily understandable way.”
Dr. Mazar now supports taping videos and enhancing KeytoDavidsCity.com, a blog created by Herbert W. Armstrong College students and faculty to help Dr. Mazar publicize her excavations. Some of the blog posts have been reported on by Biblical Archaeology and other websites. A video about the earliest alphabetical inscription found in Jerusalem, which Dr. Mazar and Hester posted to the website on July 10, was picked up by Popular Archaeology, the Daily Mail and other news sites. Reports about the find and photos from the video appeared on the Jerusalem Post, NBC News and the front page of FoxNews.com.
Dr. Mazar and Hester were in almost daily communication about the upcoming documentary. “I’m in close contact with Dr. Mazar as I make the final edits—namely, translating English text into Hebrew. Fine adjustments are being made as well, according to her direction, to improve the overall flow of the video,” Hester said.
“I find it amazing that she has given the students incredible information that she doesn’t give to anyone else,” he added. “The way she trusts the students with this kind of work is very unique because we’re not scholars. We’re not formally educated in this field. We have passion and work ethic, and we’re trustworthy people.”
“Early on, she was pretty sensitive about us taking pictures or using any of her photos,” Herbert W. Armstrong College Dean Stephen Flurry recalled. “[Now] she has taken the Church in as one of her greatest publicity arms.”
At the City of David excavations from 2006 to 2008, another group that funded Dr. Mazar’s work was given the responsibility for publicity and video projects.
Mr. Flurry occasionally reminded Dr. Mazar that the Church produced high quality photo/video and digital work. “You can see our websites. You can see our TV program,” he said. “We have a lot of equipment. We have people we can send over that are skilled in things besides just the manual labor of the dig.” His years of persistence and polite pressure appear to be paying off.
The secret documentary project is the latest sign of a dramatically strengthening relationship between Dr. Mazar and Herbert W. Armstrong College. HWAC first sent three student volunteers in 2006 to assist Dr. Mazar as she excavated what appears to be King David’s palace. Over the past seven years, a total of 49 HWAC students, graduates and faculty members have been on seven excursions to Israel, working on structures that may have been David’s palace, Nehemiah’s wall and Solomon’s royal complex.
During that time, Dr. Mazar came to entrust some of the most crucial areas of her excavations to HWAC volunteers.
In addition, the Herbert W. Armstrong College campus currently hosts an archaeological exhibit featuring two seals once owned by Jehucal and Gedaliah, princes who opposed the Prophet Jeremiah. The bullae were discovered by Dr. Mazar in 2005 and 2008. The exhibit also includes about two dozen other artifacts from the First Temple period. Surprisingly, Dr. Mazar—and the Israel Antiquities Authority—gave the college permission to bring the artifacts to Oklahoma and put them on public display for the first time in January 2012 in Armstrong Auditorium.
Mr. Flurry said that Dr. Mazar allows the college and the Armstrong International Cultural Foundation to showcase her exhibit because “[w]e treasure it. She likes that the caretakers of this exhibit really value it. Because we’ve proven to be trustworthy, she trusts that we’ll take care of it as well.”
Such opportunities are rare for a tiny liberal arts college like HWAC. However, there is a very direct precedent. Dr. Mazar’s grandfather was close friends with the college’s namesake, Herbert Armstrong, who sent hundreds of Ambassador College students to assist Prof. Benjamin Mazar on the Ophel dig from 1968 to 1976. Then-Tourism Minister Moshe Kol dubbed the relationship “an iron bridge.”
“If that prior history hadn’t been there, I don’t think she would have welcomed us at all,” Mr. Flurry said.
That bridge is now being rebuilt: Dr. Mazar continues her grandfather’s work; Herbert W. Armstrong College continues Mr. Armstrong’s work.
HWAC volunteers agree that Dr. Mazar always treated the “ambassadors” as a special addition to her workforce. She still refers to them by the name of their predecessors from decades ago, when she was a young woman helping her grandfather on the dig site. “She knows that they are all going to be diligent workers for her, no matter who we send,” Nagtegaal said.
Nagtegaal said Dr. Mazar treats the student diggers just like her own family. “She basically has two concerns in life, and those are her family and archaeology,” he said. “That’s all she does.”
“She’s a well-educated woman. She’s a very strong woman,” remarked Mr. Flurry. “She’s down-to-earth. She’s always been very close. That’s not to say that a person with strong views and a Church with strong beliefs don’t ever have any kind of opportunities to sort things out, but it’s a very close relationship. She loves us. She asks about my dad all the time.”
With a growing history and an exciting new documentary, Dr. Mazar and Armstrong College continue to strengthen the iron bridge that links Edmond, Oklahoma, to Jerusalem, Israel.