Dirt under the fingernails: unearthing the history of the Two Brothers Fellowship

By: 
Caleb Bedillion ’15 M.A.R.

Kneeling in an excavation pit watching centuries peel off with every layer of dirt swept away, Andrew Steffan ’15 M.A.R. was able touch a history that had previously only existed for him in books.

Steffan was among the nine Yale Divinity School students to receive a Two Brothers Fellowship this year. With the fellowship, Steffan participated in an archeological dig in northern Israel.

The Two Brothers Fellowship is awarded annually to a student or students for Biblical study in Israel, in Jerusalem if possible. Many of the fellowship recipients use their funding to participate in archeological digs, though some take classes in advanced Hebrew or participate in interfaith work.

A generous legacy

The fellowship was established in 1926 by Caroline Hazard with a gift of $20,000. Hazard was a prolific author and also served as president of Wellesley College from 1899 until 1910. The award was established by Hazard in honor of her two brothers, Frederick Rowland Hazard and Rowland Gibson Hazard.

The Hazard family was involved in the textile industry in Rhode Island and had a history of participation in social reform efforts including the abolition movement in the United States.

One of the earliest recipients of the Two Brothers Fellowship was J.B. Robertson, the managing director of the Yale-British expedition to Gerasa (now Jerash, Jordan) in the late 1920’s that uncovered a number of significant artifacts now on display at the Yale University Art Gallery.

Since then, the Two Brothers Fellowship has provided funding to YDS students pursuing a variety of vocational goals. Previous recipients include:

  • Lester E. Williams ’34 M.Div., a Presbyterian Church (USA) missionary to India and former professor emeritus of philosophy and religion at Buena Vista University
  • B. Davie Napier ’39 B.D. ’44 Ph.D., former Holmes Professor of Old Testament Criticism and Interpretation at YDS and professor of religion at Stanford
  • John Trever ’40 B.D. ’43 Ph.D., one of two scholars to first view the Dead Sea Scrolls
  • John Breck ’65 B.D., an archpriest in the Orthodox Church of America and former professor of New Testament and Ethics at St. Vladmir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary
  • Luke Powell ’72 M.A.R., renowned photographer best known for his images of Afghanistan
  • Jamie Clark-Soles ’93 M.Div. ’00 Ph.D., Associate Professor of New Testament at Perkins School of Theology
  • Danielle Tumminio ’03 B.A. ’06 M.Div. ’08 S.T.M. part-time priest-associate and author of God and Harry Potter at Yale (Unlocking, 2010)
  • Elizabeth Bonney ’12 M.Div. currently a rabbinical student at Hebrew College (Newton, MA)

Of the nine students who received the award this year, three were prevented from traveling to Israel due to the travel warning issued by the U.S. State Department in response to the current conflict between Hamas and Israel. 

Despite these barriers, the 88-year-old fellowship continues to be a profound resource for YDS students.

“A hands-on experience with antiquity”

“The Two Brothers Fellowships are a tremendous opportunity for students to enrich their YDS educations,” said Dean of Academic Affairs Jennifer Herdt. “The funding is exceptionally generous, and the experience can be life-changing.”

And that is certainly how Steffan sees his YDS experience.

An M.A.R. comprehensive student entering his second year, Steffan’s primary academic interests are in the ancient and classical worlds and the development of Christianity. In considering his options for summer study and internships, Steffan was drawn to archeological digs because of the opportunity it afforded him to achieve a “hands-on experience with antiquity.”

This kind of dirt-under-the-fingernails encounter with history cannot be replicated in the classroom and Steffan sees this kind of work as a necessary complement to study of the ancient world that occurs only through textual evidence.

“With texts and most of what survived from the ancient world you get a microscopic view, usually of society’s elite,” he said. “With archaeology you get to unearth something that was part of the common life.”

Shikhin, sherds, and synagogues

The dig Steffan worked with was located in the Galilee region of Israel, a little northwest of Nazareth. The dig’s primary sponsor is Samford University of Birmingham, Ala. and is led by Professor James Riley Strange. Excavation began at the site in 2012.

Currently, the dig site is believed to be the ancient village of Shikhin. The many, many sherds—broken pieces of pottery—as well as other artifacts uncovered indicate the site was a pottery production center.

Steffan was an area supervisor of an excavation square approximately 10 meters by 5 meters. This sort of job quickly impressed upon Steffan the importance of meticulous note-keeping and precision.

“Archeology is a naturally destructive process,” Steffan said. “As you dig down you are disturbing the contents, and they will never be in the same place as they are. Your notes are your guide.”

Steffan’s excavation square was in what may be in or on the edge of a synagogue. If the presence of a synagogue can be confirmed at the site, it would be significant because there are less than ten other first-century synagogues recognized by the scholarly community, Steffan said.

Interfaith coexistence amidst ancient sites

Throughout the dig, Steffan and the other participants stayed at a family run hotel in Nazareth but had the opportunity to visit other sites throughout the country including a final weekend trip to Jerusalem.

Beyond the academic value of the trip, there were also lessons of faith to be learned from the experience.

In preparation for Sabbath on Saturday, Jews recite Kiddish on Friday evening. The dig participants observed this practice, something Steffan found particularly poignant.

 “We were a group of primarily Christians celebrating this Jewish ceremony in a hotel run by a Muslim family,” Steffan said.

To his eyes, this kind of interfaith coexistence seemed a reality throughout Nazareth.

Said Steffan, “We got to see Christians, Jews, and Muslims working together.”


Betsy Shirley ’15 M.Div. also contributed to this story. Special thanks to Senior Administrative Assistant Lynne Lavalette and Special Collections Librarian & Curator of the Day Missions Collection Martha Smalley for their assistance.

Date Posted: 
2014-08-11 02:45
Notes Issue Month: 
August
Notes Issue Year: 
2014