I have a writing friend in Idaho who recently turned a trip of getting her new eyeglasses into an adventure by visiting Red Butte Gardens in Utah on her outing to pick them up. I commented on her Facebook post recently and admire her ability to seek fun in the ordinary stuff. She inspires me to do the same.
So when we ran out of elderberry on Friday night, I told my husband that it would be our weekend mission to replace the empty bottle -we set it out on the counter so we wouldn’t forget it when we went to town.
When I rose early to do my writing, I saw the empty bottle and thought of my Idaho friend, of turning our day into a more fantastic adventure than a simple errand. This drove my spur-of-the-moment decision to wake my husband, get showered and dressed, and drive an hour west to the Biblical History Center in LaGrange, Georgia. I wasn’t certain, but it appeared that there may be tickets for the 10 a.m. Archaeological Garden Tour and Meal.
A group from Alabama had come that day and every seat had been booked, but four people scheduled to be on the tour were sick and could not make the trip – which left spots for us and one other couple in line hoping to buy tickets. And so began a delightful day of learning, which sparked this three-part series on our Biblical History Center experience.
We met our docent, Greg, a retired teacher who dressed in the clothing of Biblical times and took us into the classroom to talk a little about the schedule of the day before proceeding to the goat hair tent, where the men sat on the man cave side of the tent house and the women sat on the family room side, separated by colorful woven panels. My husband was fascinated by the way that the tent worked – where we get five feet of rain on average where we live in Georgia, the arid area of the tentdwellers in the Middle East received 21 inches per year; as the rain fell on the tent top, the goat hair would swell, keeping the rain out. As it dried, the porous opening allowed sunlight and air to come through to cool the tent like an Old Testament HVAC system.
We learned that young girls would begin weaving long thin sections of panels of goat hair they would eventually weave into a wider covering to become a tent and ultimately become her home once she married. She’d begin the process around the age of 8 or 10, and by the time she finished a few years later, her father would raise a flag to let others know that there was an eligible young woman ready to be married. The actual tent we sat in had been purchased from a family in the Middle East so that its authenticity was evident to visitors.
From there, we moved around the garden and learned about the life of the shepherds and the ways that they would separate the sheep from the goats. We found it delightful that the sheep would follow their master’s voice as the shepherds sang and went into the fields and then back home again. Shepherds dwelt in a cave, taking turns keeping watch over their animals as others slept and ate in the caves. These caves were built to stay at an even temperature of 69-71 degrees – cool in the summer and warm in the winter. They placed Biblical barbed wire (thorny branches) around the walls to dissuade predators from attacking their flocks.
Greg explained the Bosom of Abraham in the tomb section of the garden – – those deceased who would sleep with their fathers in death. He explained that in Old Testament times, the bodies of the Jewish people were not embalmed but were wrapped in cloth and laid in a tomb – sometimes in a sarcophagus, but most often on a shelf. On this shelf, the rodents and bacteria and insects would do the job of turning the body to bones over the course of about a year. The bones could then be placed into an ossuary, a small box that needed to be only as long as the femur and wide as the skull; all the other smaller bones would then be collected and placed into the ossuary and stored in the family tomb.
In New Testament times, the tombs had large rocks over the door, whereas in Old Testament times, the tombs were more open.
We moved to the place of crucifixion, where a tree had become the cross. Greg went into great detail about the suffering of crucifixion and the process of dying – which often took about six hours to suffer to the point of death. We learned that some who were dying on the cross could raise themselves enough to take in more breaths and live longer – both a blessing and a curse, as the suffering was prolonged along with life. Not everyone died in the first day – some held on for several days.
We learned about the process of pressing oil from olives, which went through multiple rock pressing processes – – to get the firstfruits, which were taken to the temple as tithes, to get the oil for foods and medicines, and to get the dregs, which were used as oil to light candles and to make soap.
Where the daughters became women who wove starter home tents and became part of the husband’s family, the sons generally remained with their families and brought their own wives on board, building rooms onto the family home as their own families expanded.
In the artifact room, we were not permitted to take photographs, but there were over 250 authentic artifacts dating back to Biblical times in this section, including ancient tools, weaving loom weights, mortars and pestles, vases and containers of various sizes and shapes, and all sorts of anchors and fishing artifacts. The room housing these items had to be built to be “everything-proof” – fireproof, tornadoproof, floodproof – and remains at a constant temperature.
We peeked into the kids’ archaeological dig area, and what an experience this is for children! Although we did not go in to do any digging and there were no children present at the time to observe, this sensory experience helps children understand how we have come to have artifacts that teach us about history.
Once we finished the 90-minute tour of the gardens, we entered the Biblical meal room. We smelled it long before we saw it. In tomorrow’s post, I will share Part 2 of this 3-part blog series on The Biblical History Center: The Biblical Meal.
Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.