It is a Sunday evening and my friends and I are exploring Israelite tombs of varying periods. In one first temple period tomb, we find two complete skeletons and a vault with bones from generations unknown. Our connection to the past is something we feel here more than almost anywhere I have been. Whose bones are these? What sort of Israelite families do they represent? Will I find evidence of idolatry in this tomb or Torah-faithfulness?
Perhaps the strangest thing is that this tomb is in LaGrange, Georgia, a small town about an hour and half from Atlanta.
No, I am not crazy. I was not abducted by aliens. The tomb I am exploring is a reproduction.
I am not in a real tomb, but in a fabulous archaeology of Israel experience brought to Georgia by the Callaway family, known around here for the famous Callaway Gardens resort. I am at Explorations in Antiquity (explorationsinantiquity.net).
If you are near Atlanta or ever have travel plans including Atlanta, try and make time to come down to LaGrange and see this museum. The director is Dr. Jim Fleming, a well-known archaeologist who has some great stories and has been in some places and situations in archaeology that many of us armchair archaeologists dream about.
I brought a group from the congregation to experience a biblical period meal. We learned about the triclinium, or reclining couch style meals of the Roman period. For our comfort, we sat on benches modern style, but we had modeled for us the reclining style of eating which is the background of the Passover Seder and which is the true scene for the Last Supper.
Our guide, an Israeli believer in Yeshua, regaled us with midrashic stories and theories about the disciples and the banquets they shared with Yeshua. He also explained to us the many features of the life in Bible times exhibit outdoors.
We saw the desert lifestyle and learned a bit of Bedouin culture. We experienced biblical period farming techniques, especially the olive press and the wine press. We walked through a typical Israelite four-part house and also a city gate from the period. We herded the children into a sheepfold as our guide spoke to us about shepherds and their customs.
The highlight of the evening for many was a midrashic homily on the olive press and its relation to Yeshua in the Garden of Gethsemane (Gethsemane means olive press and it was an olive grove). Our guide demonstrated the technique for pressing olives and showed us the typical four pressings.
The first pressing brings the extra virgin oil, perhaps reserved for holy purposes and anointing oil. The second pressing brings the flavorful oil used in food. The third pressing brings oil for common lamps. The fourth pressing brings bitter, acidic residue, good for making soap.
Our guide had an obvious passion for his topic. He spoke about Yeshua being under pressure in Gethsemane (the olive press) and having blood mingle with his sweat in the trauma of the moment. He related the four pressings to Yeshua’s person and work:
1. The pure oil for anointing brings to mind Yeshua as Messiah (Anointed One).
2. The luscious oil for eating with bread brings to mind the Bread of Life.
3. The useful oil for lighting brings to mind the Light of the World.
4. The bitter residue used for soap brings to mind cleansing in Messiah.
Who knew that in a small town in Georgia we could draw water from a well and discuss the life and times of Yeshua the Messiah?