Photo by Haskel Greenfield

The gates of Gath unearthed

Manitoba anthropologist helps excavate ancient Philistine city

WINNIPEG, MB—“It is an awesome moment in one’s life when you can connect ancient history to the archaeological record,” says Winnipeg anthropologist Haskel Greenfield.Greenfield is referring to his time at an excavation site in Israel, where the ancient gate of Gath, the city that was home to the giant Goliath, was recently uncovered.

Researchers at Bar-Ilan University discovered the site when they were excavating in the Judean foothills between Jerusalem and Ashkelon.

Greenfield, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at the University of Manitoba, was able to see the site firsthand in July, and confirms it is one of the biggest archeological finds in Israel.

Greenfield is co-director of a dig at the Tel Es-Safi / Gath site focused on an earlier period. He got to see the layers revealed, along with a team that included local university students. As the project has been going on for more than 20 years, the discovery is beyond exciting for Greenfield and the researchers involved.

“It is the most amazing experience to stand at the base of the site and look upwards toward the site through a dip between two low rises,” says Greenfield. “Once your eyes have adjusted, you realize that you are probably looking through an ancient gateway, with the remains of towers on either side.”

Professor Aren Maeir, the director of the excavation, and Amit Dagan, the Area Supervisor for the lower city excavations, made the discovery. Greenfield’s team was working on the upper city, which was occupied beginning in the Early Bronze Age and extending up to modern times, although some of his students were working with Dagan in the Philistine-era lower city.

“As you stand in the gateway at the bottom of the valley, you look up and can just imagine the Philistine city, the Philistine army, with their champion Goliath marching up the valley to do battle with the ancient Israelite army led by King Saul,” says Greenfield. “[The discovery] puts the whole thing in not only archaeological perspective, but historical, biblical perspective.”

Greenfield says archaeological finds like this are important because they connect people to their past in a tangible way.

“The stories we read in church and synagogue have real historical meaning,” he says. “But, they are mostly taught... in a way that does not connect people to the reality of the past. All of our religious texts must be understood in the context of their times. Otherwise, we end up creating illusions and fantasies about their real meaning.”

Though Greenfield tries to look at the past through the dispassionate lens of an archaeologist and anthropologist, he is also a Jew with strong cultural and religious ties to his community, people, and the land of Israel.

“[Discoveries like this] also reinforce the tie that ancient peoples, such as Jews, have to the Land of Israel. They are often treated today as recent interlopers. Whereas, in fact, they have a very ancient tie to the land and prayed for their return incessantly when they were deported or murdered by the Romans, Babylonian and other conquerors.”

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About the author

ChristianWeek Correspondent

Allison is a writer, editor, and graphic designer with a BA in English from Canadian Mennonite University and a Certificate in Publishing from Ryerson University. She currently manages Area of Effect magazine and is a missionary with Geekdom House in Winnipeg, MB.