Spectator – The ‘Truth’ That Lies Beneath


For Josh Bernstein, host of The History Channel’s “Digging for the Truth,” myth-dispelling, artifact-hunting and body-straining adventure are part of his regular routine.

“Digging,” now in its second season, has taken Bernstein from Peru to Greenland to Zimbabwe and Egypt searching for answers to archaeological mysteries, such as locating the lost tribe of Israel and uncovering the Holy Grail.

This Jewish Indiana Jones seems to have the travel bug in his DNA. Bernstein says he traveled from his home in New York to Israel to see family several times prior to age 2.

“My father was born in the Old City of Jerusalem, and I think just by nature the Israeli culture is very pro-travel. They still are today,” he explains. “As far back as I can remember I have always been on airplanes and in other countries.”

Bernstein grew up in a Conservative Jewish household on the Upper East Side, attended Hebrew school, was bar mitzvahed and enjoyed Shabbat dinner Friday nights. After he graduated from Cornell, where he majored in anthropology and psychology, Bernstein spent a year studying Judaic texts for at least 12 hours a day at the Pardes Institute in Jerusalem.

While the majority of his fellow classmates continued their studies in rabbinical school, Bernstein opted to explore a different profession: “I wanted to pursue a career in the outdoors and get my knowledge from the same place.”

Bernstein soon began working at the Boulder Outdoor Survival School (BOSS) a program that teaches a field-based, hands-on curriculum of wilderness survival skills. After moving up the ranks to CEO, and establishing himself as an outdoor survival expert, Bernstein added another occupation to his resume: Television show host.

On “Digging for the Truth,” he is able to integrate his interest in the social sciences and his love of frequenting remote destinations.

“I’m actually physically there with the experts … exploring the actual tombs, temples or pyramids and bringing that to life in a very physical and hopefully accessible way,” he said.

When he’s not filming for the History Channel, Bernstein may be found in New York or Utah, or in Colorado, where four times yearly he continues to run courses for BOSS.

“Digging for the Truth” airs on The History Channel Mondays at 9 p.m., check local listings for additional times. Shows are also available on DVD.

Arts and Entertainment


 

Few academic disputes are fiercer than among biblical archaeologists, and “Ancient Refuge in the Holy Land” is bound to raise the tone of the arguments by a few more octaves.

The hour-long NOVA documentary, airing on PBS station KCET on Nov. 23 at 8 p.m., follows an expedition to a remote cave in Israel’s Judean Desert, initially excavated by famed soldier and archaeologist Yigael Yadin in 1960.

In the so-called Cave of Letters, west of the Dead Sea, Yadin found skulls, artifacts, documents and, most startling, letters from Shimon Bar Kokhba, leader of the revolt against the Romans from 132-135 C.E.

It takes a certain chutzpah to presume that the iconic Yadin may have overlooked and misinterpreted some of the evidence, but historian Richard Freund, director of the Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Hartford (Conn.) is a man not easily intimidated.

Gathering experts from 10 other universities and the latest equipment, Freund set out in 1999 for another dig at the cave.

Freund thought that the Yadin expedition had not penetrated through the thick layers of debris covering the cave floor to a depth of 15 feet, or explored all three chambers of the cave complex, cutting 300 yards into the cliff’s side.

Using technology not available to Yadin, Freund found new artifacts and bones.

He believes they indicated that the cave had been used as a refuge before Bar Kokhba, probably by Jews fleeing after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E.

But his most controversial conclusion centers on the ritual bronze vessels, decorated with a sea goddess and other Roman mythological figures, which Yadin had discovered in 1960.

Yadin believed that the vessels had been stolen from the Romans, but Freund believes that the artifacts were in actual use in the Temple in Jerusalem, and may be its only surviving items.

Freund’s conclusions point to an intermingling of Roman and Jewish cultures, even in Judaism’s holiest site, but the very idea appalls most biblical scholars.

“I cannot believe that the priests allowed Roman mythological figures on Jewish religious objects,” protests Dead Sea Scrolls expert Lawrence Schiffman of New York University, adding that the political, as well as archaeological, implications of the dispute help account for its intensity.

For more information on the program, visit www.pbs.org/nova/holyland.