Sacred Heart School of Theology
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Holy Land Archeology Project

Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology participates in a Holy Land Archeology Project, an archeological excavation at sites widely discussed in the Gospels. Sacred Heart is the only Roman Catholic seminary in the United States sponsoring an archeological dig in the Holy Land.

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In 2014, Sacred Heart School of Theology seminarians and Scripture faculty participated in an innaugural excavation experience. Participants also visited Bethlehem, Nazareth, Capernaum, Jericho, the Mount of Beatitudes, the Dead Sea, Jerusalem, and more.

We invite you to join Sacred Heart School of Theology Scripture faculty on a future academic research excavation. Experience the thrill of seeing new knowledge about the biblical times literally uncovered before your eyes.

Walk where Jesus walked

Bethsaida and Magdala, two sites explored thus far in the program, are key site in Jesus' ministry. Bethsaida was the hometown of the apostles Peter, Andrew, and Philip, according to the Gospel of John, and is the most frequently mentioned city in the Gospels after Jerusalem and Capernaum. Magela is the birthplace of Mary Magdalene, and is mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew.

Dr. Patrick Russell, Sacred Heart's vice president for academic affairs, said, “The opportunity to be at these sites and place our hands on the soil trod 2,000 years ago is as spiritually inspiring as it is academically satisfying. The dirt under our fingernails may be the very dirt that clung to Jesus' sandals.” Russell has participated in the dig each summer since the program's inception.

Among the many striking finds from the time of Jesus are two private houses, a Roman road leading into the city, and numerous small artifacts from daily life such as coins, pottery and fishhooks. Russell himself uncovered an iron nail from the Roman period.

“As I was holding that nail that had been buried for 2000 years, it linked me back into Jesus' life in such a tangible way. Jesus in his profession as a carpenter would have held a nail just like this one. And the Romans would have pierced those same hands of Jesus with a nail that looked similar to this one. I felt such a strong connection to the cross,” he said.

The impact of seeing and experiencing the biblical sites upon a person's faith life can be profound, said Sacred Heart School of Theology Scripture professor Rev. Charles Brown, SCJ, Ph.D., who helped plan the effort. “The Holy Land itself is the Fifth Gospel. This opportunity to ‘read' that Gospel by touching that land will be a blessing and grace for all involved.”

Br. Duane Lemke, SCJ, Director of the Dehon Formation Community said, “Our fellows are so energized about the project. They realize that they get to walk the road and sift through their hands the actual soil walked on by the Savior. Their Dehonian vocation is to seek and announce the presence of Jesus by our lives. Finding Christ on the streets of the world, even an ancient street, is the SCJ Rule of Life.”

Building on 20th Century discoveries

In 1987, a consensus of scholars established that the et-Tell site is the Bethsaida mentioned in the Gospels. It's here that Jesus heals a blind man, and pronounces a challenge to the local citizens for their lack of faith. The site has been excavated since the 1980s with the pioneering work of Fr. Bargil Pixner, OSB, a Benedictine monk from the nearby Tabga Monastery.

The site is also connected to the story of King David. Its 8th Century B.C. gate complex is the largest in the region.

The University of Nebraska at Omaha leads a consortium of educational insitutions working on the project. Sacred Heart School of Theology joined the consortium in 2012.

Call the Bethsaida Archeology Project office today: (414) 425-8300 ext. 6997

TOUR ONE OF THE SITES: Take a virtual tour of Bethsaida and meet some of the archaeologists and volunteer excavators in this 9-minute YouTube video. This video is produced by the University of Nebraska at Omaha, which is responsible for its content.