At the gate of Khirbet Qeiyafa
On Tuesday (May 22nd) we took off for a 3-day excursion through the Shephelah, Coastal Plain (S of Tel Aviv), and the deserts of the Negev. Our first stop took us far and away from our home base of Jerusalem westward, bumping over valleys and over bridges on the modern roads which now scream past the ancient trade routes and fortresses.
We eventually turned off at a small industrial complex, and the large tour bus (freight liner?) began slowly winding on a small gravel road past wheat fields and vineyards. If our tour guide had been any but the fearless and atrociously knowledgable Brian of Fresno Pacific Uni, we probably would have been slightly more suspicious ending up where we did! Our driver's efforts were soon rewarded, however, as we disembarked at the base of Khirbet Qeiyafa, a Judean outpost dated from the 10th c. BC.
I was very happy to see a pristine example of a 4-chambered gate typical of the Middle Bronze era, as this type of construction was very common for the time period. Further, I had not realized that the sewage and used water from the functioning settlement would have traveled down a path of
stones which simply emptied to one side of gate, spilling onto the hillside beneath! Also, an inscription found at this site may provide evidence for the united Monarchy mentioned in the Old Testament. A (somewhat surprised) shepherd happened over the hill during our visit as well.
Our next visit was to Bet-Shemesh ("house of the sun"), which like Khirbet Qeiyafa has strong connections to the Philistine conflicts with the Israeliets mentioned in 1 Samuel. I was fascinated to learn that, though the animosity between the groups was high, interchange between the Philistine and Israelite camps still existed. This is evidenced by a small amount of pig bones at Bet-Shemesh (an Israelite site), while a large number of pig bones were found at Philistine sites in the vicinity such as Timnah. Of course, under the Torah, consuming pig was expressly forbidden.
Next on the agenda for this very packed day was the site of Tel Azekah. We spoke briefly about 1 Sam 17, which as most students in child Bible studies learn, is a portion of the Bible describing the battle between David and Goliath. We discussed the legendary height of Goliath, who may have only been about 6
feet tall! Hardly legendary by today's standards, but at the time likely still would have towered over his fellow countrymen and the Israelites. I was very intrigued by Brian's suggestion that David may have been tall and solidly built as well as King Saul, since when Saul offers David the armour, David rejects it - not because it doesn't fit, but (as the text alludes to) because he was untrained in its use and felt clumsy. David may also have been older than the very boyish stereotype which we have given to him.
We spent some time at Mareshah (Bet Guvrin), where we explored a series of underground caverns including many with blocks hewn out of the walls for raising pigeons! These pigeons would have been used for cultic practices. We also had the privilege to see an olive press from the period of the Ptolemies, and I was surprised to learn that 1 million olive trees would have been needed in the area to provide enough supply for these presses to supply the demand.
Our final site was Lachish, which I will save for another time since this has gotten really long and my chai latte was
drained some time ago. Enough to say, we ended up late at the modern city of Arad at a giant hostel, and maybe the best dinner I've had in a very, very long time. Amazing how exhaustion makes food taste better.
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