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Nazareth Village

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Tuesday, 19 November, 2002: Groundbreaking

Thirteen students from Eastern Mennonite University woke early this morning to start work on the new house at Nazareth Village. They took a pickup truck from their hotel to the Village, ready to move some rocks at 7:30.

They found the site prepared for the house on a hillside overlooking the terrace farm that covers much of Nazareth Village's property, with a pile of stones ready for construction. The site is right against another house; in fact, the new building is really an addition to an older home. In the first century, parents often built such an extension for the family of each of their sons, and the current project might be built for a younger son who is about to marry.

Mark Goodman, the architectural conservator in charge of the project, led the group through the opening stages of first-century construction: sorting stones for the walls, clearing off the bedrock upon which the house will be built, and gathering straw for mortar. Mark selected a large, solid rock for the cornerstone, and everyone gathered around to watch as several of them heaved it into place.

Mortar mixing began, too: some of the group sifted the chalky soil that had been cleared off the building site and mixed it with straw and lots of water. The resulting mud could then sit overnight to be used the next day. As the mortar came messily together others in the group rolled more of the largest rocks into place in critical points to begin the house's foundation. By the end of the day four big boulders were firmly in place to eventually support the stone walls that would begin to rise the next day.

Wednesday and Thursday, 20 and 21 November, 2002:

The house began to take shape over these two days. Tuesday morning the crew adjusted the seating of the foundation stones into their final positions, and began to ‘chink' and ‘mud' them into place, filling open spaces between the rocks with smaller stones and mortar. They started a second course on the eastern wall, began to build up the wall that would divide the house into a living space and a bedroom, and picked away some of the bedrock to prepare for the western wall.

Wednesday was mostly wall building, finishing the second course on the east wall and starting on a third; the wall then stood about 1.5 meters high. The dividing wall rose higher, and the bedroom began to take shape between the two constructions.

Eric Kennel described progress as "Slow but steady. Given the circumstances, I think we're doing really well. This kind of work just doesn't go fast."

"I feel really good about what we've done," he added.

"If you look at it, it doesn't look like we've done much yet," said Dan Umbel, who has spent the week mixing and applying mortar, "but when you consider how big the stones are and how difficult it is to select the right stone and just make sure everything's just right and perfect, we've made pretty good progress."

Friday and Saturday, 22 and 23 November 2002:

Friday the crew finished the third course of stones on the eastern wall, and hoisted up the cornerstone for the start of a fourth. The dividing wall continued to rise as well, and some of the group dragged stones into place to start work on the first course of the southern wall.

Saturday the fourth course of the eastern wall came together nicely, and the mortar crew applied finishing mortar to part of the southeast corner. Others started the pick work necessary in the bedrock on the west side to seat the first stones in the doorframe.

"It takes a lot of hard work and labor to do just a little bit," said Daniel Umbel of the first-century construction techniques. "Building just this little two-room house would have taken many weeks. It's no wonder that people didn't build a house until they were married, and then they just added on a few walls to their dad's house."

"So much of what they did was just for survival," reflected Eric Kennel. "They were building these houses and everything because they had to; it wasn't just a job. Life was tough."

- Jeremy Yoder