The 2017 Mt Zion Excavation in Jerusalem will complete its 10th year this summer. We have 119 participants from the US, and a dozen other countries, from as far away as New Zealand. One of our participants, Gene Iglehart, from Bowling Green, KY, has the distinction of being our oldest digger this year–he is 86, soon turning 87. His story is quite fascinating. You can read his profile below as it appeared in his local newspaper.
This story originally appeared in the Bowling Green Daily News and is linked here.
More than 30 years after his last trip to Israel, Gene Iglehart is returning at the age of 86 for an archaeological dig in the heart of Jerusalem.
He has taken four other trips to Israel and participated in three digs in Jerusalem with his wife, Flo, who won’t be joining him this time because of health concerns.
For a while, Iglehart was unsure about going, but encouragement from his wife and son-in-law Dwight Trabue ultimately convinced him to take the trip.
“She’s encouraging me,” he said. “She remembers how great this was.”
During their previous trips, Iglehart said he was most interested in seeing what he could interpret from various artifacts and fragments the group discovered while his wife was more interested in the excavation itself.
“She liked the getting out and getting dirty. I liked the digging it up and looking at it and (the) scientific part,” he said.
The dig Iglehart and Trabue will be participating in is part of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte’s Mount Zion Archaeological Project, which, according to its website, aims to “expose, examine and preserve all levels of habitation over the course of Jerusalem’s 3,000-year history.”
Trabue said he was originally motivated to go on the trip to give Iglehart a chance to go.
“He just wouldn’t go by himself so I’m kind of just going along,” he said. “We’re just trying to make this happen and take away his excuses.”
While Trabue was not greatly excited about going to Jerusalem at first, he has become more enthusiastic as he’s looked at some books about the subject Iglehart recommended to him.
Trabue said his mother-in-law has two daughters in Bowling Green and one in Nashville to take care of her while her husband is away.
Iglehart and Trabue will leave for Israel on Thursday and the dig is set to begin Sunday, Iglehart said, adding that he and Trabue will be in Jerusalem for two weeks.
The dig, co-directed by James Tabor, a professor of Christian origins and ancient Judaism, and Shimon Gibson, Professor of Archaeolgy, both at UNC Charlotte, will take place in “the heart of Jerusalem” and will focus on digging up artifacts from the Herodian period.
According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, Herod the Great was the Roman-appointed king of Judea from 37 to 4 B.C.
“We’re going to be working in the area where Jesus was put on trial, where he was condemned,” Iglehart said.
Which era the found artifacts represent mainly depends on how deep someone digs.
“See, Jerusalem was occupied by different countries. They were occupied by the Babylonians and then the Persians and then the Greeks and then the Romans … and then the Arabs so each one of them had different styles of stuff and you could tell by the shape of their pottery,” he said. “Every time Jerusalem got destroyed, they just built right on top of it.”
Iglehart said he’s looking forward to revisiting some landmarks he hasn’t seen in three decades, like Hezekiah’s Tunnel, an S-shaped tunnel dug during an Assyrian siege of Jerusalem, leading from inside the city to a hidden spring.
“When the Assyrians got there, they didn’t have any water and, according to the Bible, the angel of the Lord killed them. Probably they found out there’s no water… and they packed up and left,” he said.
Iglehart also mentioned that he anticipates revisiting the Burnt House, a well-preserved ruin of a home the Roman army destroyed during the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.
“When this house fell, it buried a kitchen and everything is just as it was in 70 A.D. and here’s the thing that grabs you: There’s the skeleton of an arm reaching out for a sword,” he said. “They killed him just as he reached for that sword.”
Iglehart said his passion for archaeology stems from his Christian faith and his desire for a deeper understanding of the people who lived during biblical times.
“When you get down there and you pick up, you know, a lamp, you kind of identify with them because you know the area they lived in and the food they ate,” he said.