As Secretary-treasurer for Logos Research Associates, (read here bean-counter/ pencil-pusher/paper shuffler), I don’t experience too many “ahah!” moments like our scientists, or creation evangelism harvests like our ambassadors. Paying bills and taxes and depositing donations doesn’t usually involve much adventure. So, when asked to write a personal update, it’s hard to think of anything interesting.
Happily, this past year has been somewhat different. First, my wife, Sue, was able to take some vacation days and join me in attending the LogosRA conference in Saint George, Utah, last April. We rented a seven passenger van and shared the driving with my two nephews, Phillip and Luke Pamplin. Driving there and back, we also shared the very good company of our now recently departed friend, Dr. Bernard Brandstater. Bernard was always a delight to be around, full of wisdom, knowledge, and stories of fascinating experiences! I only wish I had appreciated the vast breadth of those experiences, which we learned about at his recent memorial service. He had so many more stories I would love to have heard! Ahhh, but Heaven awaits, and it just got a little sweeter still. What wonderful reunions we’ll share with the Lord’s saints once we’ve seen Jesus face-to face, the Person and object of all our love and all our affection!
Sue retired from teaching high school at the end of that term. She was awarded Teacher of the Year, and the school annual was dedicated to her! To celebrate her retirement, and our 50th year wedding anniversary, we went on a tour of Israel with archaeologist, Dr. Randall Price. (Since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947, Qumran has had three Directors of Excavation. Dr. Price was the director of excavations on the Qumran Plateau in Israel from 2002-2012 and is currently co-director of the Qumran Cave Excavation Project (since 2017)). Touring Israel was truly a wonderful experience! We visited so many sites in such a short time, I think the tour brochure aptly described the experience as drinking from a fire hose!
I will describe one site which especially caught my attention. After a long bus ride, we stopped and were led down an earthen ramp into a large oval depression. Then, Dr. Price asked us to turn around and see where we were. We were inside a walled enclosure that contained gates and doorways to animal cages. The wall was topped by tiers of spectator seats. We were standing on the floor of the Roman arena at Beit Shean, where wild animals were loosed on defenseless Christians, our brothers and sisters of centuries past, whose martyred blood once drenched the earth where we stood. We were standing on holy ground.
Back home in the states, we recommended Dr. Price to the LogosRA Board of Directors. I am very pleased to report that Dr. Randall Price is now a Logos Research Associate.
A few short months later, Dr. Steve Austin invited me to be a field assistant on a geology research trip to Wadi Ze’Elim on the Israeli side of the Dead Sea. (I had accompanied him to the Jordanian side five years before.) We arrived on Shabbat, January 25. On a lark, while standing at the car rental counter, I asked Steve when his birthday was. I honestly didn’t know. He said, “Today!” and there it was on his driver’s license. The guy behind the counter gave us a car rental discount because it was Steve’s birthday. Oddly enough, we arrived on Steve’s birthday, and departed nine days later on mine. When we arrived at the apartment Steve had reserved in Arad, the land lady, not knowing anything about anyone’s birthdays, had baked us a cake!
The following day, we met up with Dr. John DeLancey, a friend of Steve’s from his church back home in Pennsylvania, a former pastor with archaeological training who now leads tours to Israel. Dr. Delancey met us in the parking lot at Masada, a short drive from our research ravine at Wadi Ze-‘Elim, which drains into the Dead Sea.
Dr. John Delancey proved to be a human steam shovel, hacking out steps and benches from the slopes of the ravine, seemingly without effort.
The area had received record rains the week before. We were warned to watch out for flash floods, sink-holes, and land mines, which might have washed loose during the flooding! We were spared any flash floods, though Steve and I experienced a moment of mild concern when it began raining our last day in the ravine. We never saw any landmines, but there were plenty of sink holes!
The goal of Steve’s research is, ultimately, to identify all the earthquakes, draughts, and times of plenty mentioned in the Bible, and in secular histories of the region, from the time of Abraham through the Roman era. The Dead Sea is shrinking, so sediments that used to lie on the bottom of the sea now find themselves buried in stacked deposits on dry ground. Where ravines have cut through these ancient deposits, we can now scrape the walls of the ravine and see the history of their deposition.
When an earthquake jolts the ground under the sea, the water, having inertia, wants to stay put. Sediments lying on the bottom of the sea get roiled, often resettling in wiggly lines called “seisemites.” Seisemites get slowly buried by subsequent sedimentation. Sediments can be dated approximately by measuring the C14 of twigs and other organic inclusions stuck in the layers.
Getting to and from the research ravine involved a long hike over loose rocks every morning and afternoon, threading our way around sink-holes. Some were no bigger than a bath tub. Others were large enough to swallow a hotel. Sink-holes form over underground stream channels when the roof of the channel collapses. Sink-holes tend to be in a line, following the path of their underground channel, and are characterized by concentric cracks, like rings around a bull’s eye.
One afternoon, while hiking out, I heard John call out behind me, “Jim! Did you see the hole you stepped in?” I turned back to look. The bottom of my boot print dropped away into blackness. We set up a piece of driftwood next to it, so no one would step in the same spot again.
John DeLancey’s schedule required that he return to the States after a few days at Wadi Ze’Elim. Steve and I continued a while longer. On our last day in the field, we hiked down another ravine, and were surprised when it suddenly ended in a semicircular box canyon. Around the top, concentric blocks of loose conglomerate tilted toward us, buttressed by sloping talus. We were standing in the bottom of a sink-hole that had drained the ravine! It had been a long hike, so we opted to climb out rather than turn around. We scrambled up the talus and onto the blocks. Stepping from one block to another, the ground gave way under me, and I fell into a crack. It wasn’t too deep or difficult to climb back out, but I broke a rib in the fall. This, and a few other aches and pains have made me suspect I may be getting too old for this stuff. But, then, isn’t that what adventure is all about? - Going someplace far from home, experiencing danger and discomfort, so you can go home and relish the memories of it all for the rest of your life!