The Red-Haired Archaeologist Series

Archaeology, Books

cover.pngIn February 2019, I was sitting in a Eugene, Oregon-coffee shop with my editor. Mary Mag was moving smoothly through editing and heading toward the printer, so Kathleen and I were reviewing a rough proposal for my next book, The Red-Haired Archaeologist: Digging Israel (as it was titled at that time).

I had spent the previous two days in high-energy, encouraging meetings with almost everyone who worked at Harvest House, so I was ready to start my next project ASAP. Squinting at a complex-looking calendar-matrix of all her acquisitions, she told me, “It looks like my next slot is in Winter 2021.”

I went quiet, thinking about how far away that date seemed to be. Kathleen quickly assured me that the years would fly and the project would benefit from the extra time. Of course she was right. (Kathleen is always right!)

In February 2019, my next book was planned to be your typical 250-page black-and-white nonfiction paperback. I intended to write about archaeological discoveries and how they can impact our readings of Scripture.

In February 2021, I will present to you a still-pretty-typical 250-page black-and-white paperback; but this one has original photographs, history lessons, travel adventures, and cultural encounters…in addition to explaining how archaeology can illuminate Scripture!

The change in the book’s tone from scholarly to conversational and the expansion of its content from artifact-focused to culture-conscious are the direct results of the time I spent digging and traveling in Israel last summer. Fifteen years had passed since the last time I’d been similarly immersed in Israeli(te) history and culture, and I realized quickly that the book I had planned–which was initially based on what I had learned and experienced in my last years at Harvard–would not accurately reflect today’s practice of archaeology or the current inhabitants of the Land.

In Israel, ancient history and modernity coexist in ways they do not in Western nations, largely because the struggle for control of the land has never ceased. Thousands of years of wars and regime changes gave us the ancient tels we excavate, and they continue to define political boundaries and spheres of influence today.

All of this is simply too much to contain in one black-and-white book. Therefore, I’ve been working during our mutual COVID-containment time to develop a website. On February 23, 2021, The Red-Haired Archaeologist Digs Israel will release and https://redhairedarchaeologist.com will launch. There you will find color photographs and “deleted scenes” that didn’t fit into the book and links to Season 2 of The Red-Haired Archaeologist Podcast, all of which will enhance your reading experience. In the future, it will also be the home of all things RHA, including future adult titles, children’s books, and more!

We are still five months away from my long-awaited Launch Day, but I can’t wait to share my love of ancient and modern Israel with you. Visit https://redhairedarchaeologist.com today, and sign-up to receive my monthly “journal entries,” publishing updates, and early access to the book’s online supplements.

The RHA Podcast: Digitally Remastered!

Archaeology, Books

Most of my work time these days is not spent writing my next manuscript. (Don’t tell my editor that!) It’s taken up with multimedia promotion such as book signings, radio interviews, guest blogging,  contact development, meme-making, and social media.

Knowing this would be the case–and that my next book is due January 1 no matter how many interviews I schedule–I attempted to get a jump-start on promoting Mary Mag by recording the first season of my new podcast back in the Spring. It was fine. A fine attempt at do-it-myself audio editing, that is.

Now that people are hearing a bit about Mary Mag and me, I’ve been told it is time to get a professional working on my podcast so my publisher won’t be too embarrassed to share the episodes with potential readers and buyers. Through an old church friend, I found Nicholas Allaire, audio editor-extraordinaire! Check him out here: http://nickallaire.com/. I can’t recommend him highly enough.

Season 1 has 7 episodes, and most are under half an hour. You should be able to find it wherever you usually listen to your podcasts, and I’ve put direct links on the Podcast page of my website. Each will teach you a little bit about archaeological discoveries pertaining to the Old Testament and influencing our understandings of Scripture. (Nick seems to like them, and he’s a pro!)

It is an exciting time here in my home office as I write, edit, and promote books. If you don’t want to miss anything, make sure you’ve signed up to receive email updates HERE. This will take you to the forthcoming Red-Haired Archaeologist website that will launch February 23, 2021. Sign-up to receive a monthly newsletter about all things RHA there!

Now back to my regularly scheduled book deadline…

Exploring Mary’s Magdala

Archaeology, Books

Magdala1This summer I had the opportunity to spend several weeks in Israel digging at Tel Shimron and then touring the rest of the country. My husband and parents joined me for the second less-dusty part of the trip, but I still managed to wear them out traipsing to tel after tel in the blazing sun.

Toward the end of our trip, we stayed 4 days in Tiberias, on the west coast of the Sea of Galilee. About 20 minutes north of our hotel sits Magdala, a city most famous as the hometown of Mary Magdalene.

Standing on the shore of the Sea of Galilee next to a replica of a first-century fishing boat, it is easy to imagine Jesus and His disciples docking at Magdala’s port (Matthew 15:39) before taking a short walk to the synagogue to preach as He had throughout Galilee (Matthew 4:23).

Archaeologists have discovered that Magdala first became a city around 200 B.C.E. By the time Mary was born, it had grown into a prosperous fishing village with a distinctly Jewish culture. It boasts the oldest synagogue discovered in Galilee to date, and the frescoed walls and mosaic floors preserved in several buildings survived flooding, conquest, and a major earthquake. Four high-quality groundwater-fed ritual baths further indicate both the importance of the Jewish religion to daily life and the city’s great wealth.

Magdala2The current excavation of Magdala began in 2009 when contractors preparing the foundation of a new building stumbled on the remains of a 1st-century synagogue. The dig is now jointly sponsored by the Israel Antiquities Authority and Mexican universities, Universidad Anáhuac México Sur and Universidad Autónoma de Mexico. It was seen by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009 and is visited by more and more Jewish and Christian tourists each year.

Once excavation and restoration are complete, Magdala will be a dazzling example of maritime society in the ancient world. Today visitors can enjoy a mostly do-it-yourself tour thanks to helpful diagrams and historic facts presented throughout the site. We spent about 2 hours there–which is probably twice as long as was needed–and only paid about $5 per person. Tour guides are sometimes available at no additional cost, if your timing is just right.

I was pleasantly surprised to see how dedicated Magdala’s scholars are to “rehabilitating” Mary Magdalene’s reputation. Since naming my next book after her, I find myself increasingly aware that too many Christians–myself included–grew up believing Mary was a castanet-playing, blue-eye-shadow-wearing prostitute. The Bible actually describes her as a wealthy woman who was among Jesus’ most devoted followers:

[Jesus] went through every city and village, preaching and bringing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with Him, and certain women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities—Mary called Magdalene, out of whom had come seven demons. . . and many others who provided for Him from their substance (Luke 8:1-3 NKJV).

Alongside Magdala’s dig site is the Magdalena Institute, a nonprofit inspired by the figure of Mary Magdalene that seeks “to highlight issues of human dignity–with an emphasis on the dignity of women–and contributions of the feminine genius in both religious history and facets of life today.” Many scholars would argue that the denigration of Mary by Pope Gregory the Great (and the subsequent fifteen centuries’ teachers and preachers who solidified her identification as a prostitute) is the result of historic misogyny in the church; the Institute works from the same place where Mary walked and Jesus may have preached to make sure no woman is marginalized because of her gender.

Women are smart and capable of studying and understanding Scripture, but too often we are offered emotion-based ministries seeking to make us feel good about our relationships with God and others instead of Scripture-based lessons that can actually help us know God better.

Revealing how history and traditions can (and too often have) incorrectly influenced the reading of the Bible is my goal in Mary Magdalene Never Wore Blue Eye Shadow and future books. I want to strip away the Sunday school stories and dig into Scripture itself, for only in Scripture can we meet the risen Jesus, as did Mary Magdalene before us.

Knights of Acre

Archaeology, Books

Have you ever watched the History Channel’s drama Knightfall (now also on Netflix)? The series opener is inspired by the failure of the European Christians to defend against the Mamluks during the Siege of Acre in 1291. The story itself is quite soapy (thanks to courtly love, palace intrigue, and a corrupt pope) as the show describes the romanticized lives of the Knights Templar in 14th-century France.

The last episode of season 2 aired just before I left for my summer in Israel, and the well-advertised highlight of the season was Mark Hamill’s role as an elder Templar knight. He is the knights’ iron-wielding “Yoda” in this largely fictitious Crusader story.

As I watched the season finale, I had no idea that I’d soon be standing on the shores of Acre, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. One Saturday, all of Tel Shimron‘s volunteers and staff members were invited on a “field trip” to that Mediterranean city. We hopped off the bus at the Old City’s gates, and each went his or her own way. I paired off with one of my square-mates, Avie, and we toured the Crusader City together for a couple of hours.

Much of what we toured has been underground since the 18th century when an Ottoman citadel was built over it. It is strange to walk along streets once busy with commerce but now completely encased in the stone foundations of the citadel. Most places only have artificial light, and ancient graffiti remains on buildings now filled only with curious tourists.

Before our trip, I was familiar with the Knights Templar and their simultaneously historic and fantastic quest for the Holy Grail. The “cup of Christ,” from which Jesus drank at the Last Supper and/or into which His blood flowed at the Cross, was thought to have magical healing powers and could propel armies of God to certain victory. (And, thanks to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, we know it was wooden, not gold!)

CoverBut I learned that the Templars weren’t the only knights at Acre, and any healing in the city was done by their brothers and rivals, the Hospitallers. During the Crusades, both the Templars and Hospitallers were warriors, but their spiritual fathers and daily activities put them in fierce opposition with each other. The Templars were Benedictine knights who were sworn to protect pilgrims (and accumulated great wealth); the Hospitallers were Augustinians who cared for the sick and wounded. The Templars were disbanded and executed by 1312; the Hospitallers remain active healers today.

After a few hours underground, Avie and I decided to walk along the coast (she had never seen the Mediterranean, and I was happy to take her first pictures!) and eat some lunch. We found a wonderful seafood restaurant called Mina and ordered fresh fish, mussels, and assorted salads to eat on a deck built into the sea. It was lovely–until the sunshade collapsed on our table just as we were trying to leave.

Rarely, it seems, am I capable of enjoying an uneventful outing. Fellow travelers beware!

A Simply “Divine” Interview

Books, Infertility

While I’m consumed with unpacking and organizing for the next few days, read this interview I did with Kathy Harris for her blog, Divine Detour. I’ll be back soon with more posts for you. This old house and the new puppy are giving me tons of ideas!

What started you on your writing journey?

David and I were in and out of fertility clinics for seven years. During most of that time we kept our pain a secret, but as we started to tell others about our struggles, I became a lightning rod for women facing infertility themselves. In July 2012, two friends confessed to me the same tragedy within eight hours of each other; both had miscarriages the previous day and both were eight weeks pregnant at the time.

I called David from the quiet of my home office where I was editing part of The Voice Bible translation. I was disturbed. Shaking. Crying. Confused. Overreacting! But my David was patient with me and asked me the strangest question, “If you were to write a book about all this, what would you say?” I spent the next thirty to forty-five minutes writing. I left my office exhausted and crashed on the couch for a four-hour nap.

I was awakened from a very deep sleep by a publisher at Thomas Nelson calling to ask me about a ghostwriting project. During our “small talk,” I told him what had happened to our mutual friends and how upset I was that morning. He asked, “Would you be interested in writing a book about infertility?” Only then did I tell him about my crazy forty-five minutes and the outline sitting on my desk at that moment. His exact words are burned in my memory, “Polish it up, and send it to me by Friday.” I think I sent it to him by the next hour! That conversation led to me becoming part of the InScribed authors’ community.

Just as all good novels include a plot twist, our Author and Creator often writes a twist or two into our lives—some that ultimately bless us more than our original plan. Have you ever experienced such a “Divine Detour”?

Way back in 2002, my best friend dreamed I was an archaeologist in Israel and a mother of four children. She told me about David arriving at my dig site fresh off a plane—gathering our daughter in his arms, kissing me, and corralling our three unruly red-haired boys. It was the life I wanted and almost expected to have.

The many years David and I spent failing to deliver babies changed us not because we didn’t get what we wanted, but because we learned (the hard way!) to trust God’s plan for our lives. This was even when it is contrary to our own plans.

Since we accepted that children are not in our future, David and I have moved across the country twice. David is always flying somewhere for work, and I tag along since all I need to do my work is a laptop. We are constantly meeting new people, and we are thankful that we can send our meager resources outside of our family as He leads us to do. None of that would be possible if we had little ones at home.

Let’s talk about Barren among the Fruitful: Navigating Infertility with Hope, Wisdom, and Patience (Thomas Nelson, October 2014). Please tell us about it.

During my seven-year journey with infertility and miscarriage, I needed three things; information, companionship, and faith. None of these were fully addressed by the publishing world, whose few books on infertility focused on either secular “miracle cures” or religious “faith journeys.” Both types left me feeling physically broken and spiritually disconnected because the so-called miracles didn’t cure anything and the devotionals only highlighted my latent fear that I was an unfaithful daughter of God whom He found lacking.

I wrote Barren among the Fruitful primarily for women in their childbearing years, understanding that most of those readers are as I was, emotionally vulnerable and in need of strength and love. The book strives to surround the reader with a sense of community while providing honest facts. It does not promise that medicine will give her a child or that God will give her a child. It does lead her from confusion about infertility to understanding. From embarrassment over her perceived failure to openness. And most importantly, from the now-broken faith she has in herself to a perfect faith in God’s plan for her future.

But Barren is also for those who interact with infertility patients and that’s everyone. Infertility is on the rise and many doctors are anecdotally suggesting it will reach epidemic levels (over 40%) among young women in the next ten years. I like to think I’ve created a survey of the topic that quickly educates readers about the physical, financial, psychological, and spiritual struggles that accompany fertility treatment. Each chapter is titled with an off-the-cuff, sometimes hurtful, and often ridiculous comment I heard during my fertility journey, so readers can learn what to say (and what not to say!) to their hurting friends. It also includes the unique stories of multiple women, providing readers with a renewed hope for God’s plan for their future—with or without children.

A few fun questions…

When the words aren’t flowing—or when you want to celebrate if they are—what is your favorite comfort food and why?

I try to be really conscious of the foods I put in my mouth and body. I avoid all things artificial and super-processed, including the syrups cafes put in their flavored lattes. I typically take my coffee black. But Starbucks had a new item on their menus this past holiday season that has given me a crisis of conscience. The Chestnut Praline Latte (with an extra shot of espresso and half the syrup, thank you very much) is perfection. At the end of January, I’m still approaching the drive-thru speaker once a week and timidly asking, “Do you have the chestnut-praline syrup?” Bad, Amanda. Bad!

If you knew you couldn’t fail, what dream would you pursue?

While I was in grad school, my cell phone ringtone was the theme from Raiders of the Lost Ark. Yes, it’s a cliché, but every archaeologist wants to be Indiana Jones. I’m no different. My graduate degree is concentrated in biblical archaeology, and few times in my life have I been as happy as I was when sitting in a huge hole in Israel dusting dust off of dust. I would love to make archaeology my career, spending three months of the summer in the field and the rest of the year in a museum analyzing my finds. Real archaeologists never have Indiana Jones moments. We get over-the-moon excited when we find bichrome pottery in what we thought was a monochrome stratus, but we all dream of one day snatching our rimmed hats away from the traps of dangerous Nazi ark hunters!

What Bible passage or story best describes your journey of faith?

The most inspiring woman in the Bible, to me, is granted three verses of Scripture (Luke 2:36-38). Anna was the wife of a temple priest and she did not have children. She went to the temple courtyard every day and she prayed. Because of her faithfulness, God promised she’d see the Christ child before she died. At eighty-six, Anna was doing her habitual morning prayer when Mary and Joseph walked in with eight-day-old Jesus.

Anna’s story is in the gospel because she identified Jesus as the Messiah. The fact that she was childless is ancillary. I wish I knew more about her. I wish I knew how she survived month after month of disappointment. I wonder if she was ever pregnant. Did she have a miscarriage? Did she have a baby and then lose him or her to illness? Anna teaches us something very important. Her three verses of scripture prove that a child is not a reward for a woman’s faithfulness to God. Meeting God face-to-face is the reward.

I’m a dog lover. Please tell us about your pets, if any, or your favorite pet as a child.

When I was six years old, Daddy let me pick out a puppy from a litter of thirteen basset hounds. We named her Sofi, and she was all basset: stubborn, silly, and not-all-that brilliant. She died when I was in college, and I cried an entire day. Since then, I’ve always wanted another dog but my husband of twelve years resisted . . . until about two months ago. We will be picking up our first puppy on January 31st. He’s a basset hound, too, and we’ll call him Copper. Based on the short videos the breeder has been sending each week, we’re bringing home a lazy guy who loves to chew chew chew! . . . on those rare occasions when he’s awake.

Thanks, Amanda! It’s great having you as a guest at DivineDetour.