One hot spring day in 1986, a bunch of us visited the great archaeological site Megiddo in Israel's Jezreel Valley to see where history would end.
The past and the future come together as one stands atop the huge mound overlooking a peaceful landscape. Megiddo includes the remains of some 30 cities built atop each other. It guarded the most important highway in the ancient world, the Via Maris, which linked Egypt with the Fertile Crescent.
It's also cited in Revelation 16:16 as Armageddon, the site of the final battle between the forces of good, led by Jesus Christ, and the forces of evil, led by Satan operating through the Antichrist.
The 25-square-mile valley is linked to numerous figures in world history, among them King Solomon of Israel and King Josiah of late-monarchic Judah in 609 B.C. Every invader who came through the region fought a battle here, including Pharaohs Thutmose III, Shishak and Necho of Egypt and Kings Tiglath-pileser III and Esarhaddon of Assyria. Napoleon defeated the Ottoman Turks here in 1799. Edmund Allenby also beat the Turks in 1918, using a battle plan similar to that of Pharaoh Thutmose more than 3,300 years before.
Empires rose and fell, depending on what happened on this vast plain. If there is a host city to go with the liturgical season of Advent, it's Armageddon. Advent is the only Christian season devoted to planning for the Second Coming.
Every other year, archaeologist Eric Cline, a professor at George Washington University, takes dozens of volunteers to Megiddo to dig about the Early and Middle Bronze Age ruins and Iron Age relics that are plentiful in the area.
"It's the experience of a lifetime," he told me. "You're hot and dirty and sweaty and finding broken pieces of pottery every other minute."
Eighty percent of the work force is college-age, and GW students make up a third of the team of about 120 diggers per session. Thirty-eight went this past summer. The seven-week digging period is split into two sessions and anyone from teenagers on up can volunteer, assuming they don't mind starting work at 5 a.m. After the digging ends at 1 p.m., everyone heads for the swimming pool at a nearby kibbutz.
The professor is already taking applications for the summer of 2010.
"Every religion known to humanity is at the dig, which makes for some interesting dinner discussions," he said. "Everyone comes because this is Armageddon."
Several years ago, he wrote "Battles of Armageddon: Megiddo and the Jezreel Valley from the Bronze Age to the Nuclear Age," which tells why this piece of real estate is so vital to world events. One of the more interesting reviews on Amazon.com called it a "book for wargamers."
"Think of it," the poster wrote, "35 possible scenarios complete with maps ranging from ancient Egypt vs. ancient Syria to modern Israelis vs. Arabs and even Armageddon itself. This can be considered either a 'future' or a 'fantasy' battle based on your preferences."
There is an eerie sensation of time displacement one gets at Megiddo, or a foreboding of a future disaster that those of us standing on the mount were powerless to prevent. Mr. Cline used to give out T-shirts to his volunteers that said, "I survived Armageddon."
"Napoleon," he pointed out, "supposedly said it was the most perfect battlefield in the whole world."
• Julia Duin's Stairway to Heaven column runs Thursdays and Sundays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.