Biblical Negev

Biblical Negev

by Michelle Yi


Arad, Israel
Wednesday, June 25, 2014

And we’re off to see the wonders of the Negev! Leaving our lovely youth hostel in Arad, we traveled from the southern edge of the Judean Wilderness to destination #1: Tel Arad in the Eastern Negev Basin.

A little background:

In Tel Arad, there is loess soil and when the soil becomes wet, it swells. There isn’t much rainfall, but when there is, the soil can retain about 150mL-200mL. Ideally, you’d want 300mL of water to support agriculture. At the site, there was some agriculture that could be seen in a community that wasn’t so far off. What makes agriculture possible in this somewhat barren land, is due to irrigation. If we look more towards the west, we see less agriculture due to the Bedouin communities.

The Bedouin are nomadic muslims who did not practice agriculture, and instead practiced pasteurization. The wilderness is a place where the Bedouin lived and were able to practice pasteurization. But due to modern society, the Bedouin have been restricted on where they can travel by the government and are being forced to become more sedentary, unlike in biblical times where it was normal to travel anywhere for a long distance such as from T. Arad to, today, Syria. There has been resistance, but some are starting to move into homes. This poses as a problem for the Bedouin community because if the government restricts where the Bedouin can travel and the Bedouin community becomes sedentary, the community itself will grow in population and as a result, the depletion of resources will cause the practice of pasteurization to cease. The Negev is also used for military use, which is also another reason why the Bedouin are restricted on where they are able to go.

In the book of Numbers, it mentions three incidents. The first is the King of Arad coming out to war against the Israelites and before that, a reference to Israelites being located at Mt. Hor in southern Jordan. The second incident mentions of the battle against the King of Arad and the third incident takes place back at Mt. Hor. The book of Numbers and the geography of Tel Arad is a good example of the difficulties in being able to relate the Biblical text to physical evidence and chronology.

The Negev Field Study: Israelite Fortress. Coming upon the site, it was still pretty early in the morning so it was nice and cool with a strong breeze.

Before we go in to depth, remember:

Early Bronze Age = the time prior to Abraham
Middle Bronze Age = time of Abraham and Jacob
Late Bronze Age = Joshua and Settlement
Iron Age = Start of the monarchy/kings to the destruction of Jerusalem in 586

At Tel Arad, we see an Israelite fortress that began in the Iron Age with a small resettlement. The walls that encircle the fortress at the bottom date to the early Bronze Age (2400/2600 BC to 2200BC). What’s fascinating about this is that because the city was not resettled, we have evidence of the early Bronze Age preserved at an unusually high height. If the city had been destroyed and rebuilt, it would have been destroyed further down and the buildings would not have been preserved as well. This place is a good representation of what an early Bronze Age city would have been like.

The tel was established in the 12th century during the time of the settlement. It was established due to the road that goes into the hill country to Hebron. The purpose of this tel was to create a first line of defense. During the time of resettlement in the beginning of the Early Bronze Age, there is evidence that due to more rainfall, the city may have been able to last as long as it did because agriculture was able to be practiced more.

It is unknown why this early Bronze Age city had been abandoned towards the end of the early Bronze Age, but it coincides with the time of abandonment with other early Bronze Age cities during that time. Some theorize that this may be due to the climate or due to the unification of Egypt.

What was so surprising about this discovery was not only the fortress itself, but a temple was found that followed the general architecture of the temple in Jerusalem and post dates the first temple. In this temple, the Holy of Holies was found to have 3 standing columns (one removed), which may have been a representation of deities. The big questions that were asked was: if the Holy of Holies had 2 visible standing columns, was it a temple dedicated to God and that the two columns represented the two stones that held the 10 commandments? Or was it a temple dedicated to many gods where each column represented different deities and there were more standing stones that just haven’t been found yet?

After exploring the fort at the top, we migrated towards the bottom where a twin temple was found. A twin temple was a place where two rooms were set side by side with each room being its own temple. At the site of the twin temple, was also a representation of an Arad house. An Arad house was during the time before the Israelites and mostly found in the Early Bronze Age. There is evidence of such a house even through a pottery like reconstruction (like a doll house).

We explored a bit around here as well and we were off to destination #2: Beersheba. Upon arriving to Beersheba, it didn’t seem to have a historical feel to it, and rather a more touristy feel. We walked through a path towards an open space where a replica of the horned alter stood as you entered. Here, we sat under some shade on stage like benches. It was almost mid afternoon so the heat was getting uncomfortable. Anyways, we discussed different topics related to the site of Beersheba such as Abraham and the association of Beersheba to the Northern Kingdom. To keep it short, the story of Abraham and Abimelech in Beersheba, found in Genesis 21, was reviewed. The significance of Abraham planting the tamarisk tree was also discussed, which was implicating that Abraham was going to come back and permanently settle.

Next, we went up to the top of the hill where a well was found to supposedly be connected to the well mentioned in Genesis. We sat on benches in front of the well and went over the significance of gates (gates were mostly associated with the city hall, courthouse, and mall in biblical times) and the story in Genesis 23 of the death and burial of Sarah.

After about 20 minutes, we went inside and after walking a distance, came upon a four room house. The architecture was explained and the story of Jephthah was briefly discussed (Judges 11).

Then we went to what a storehouse would have looked like in biblical times and discussed the architecture, purpose, time period, and significance.

We then moved onto the water system that was built in the city. The descent was very deep and probably the most exciting part of the water system. I was expecting caves and really cool rooms when I got in, but it turned out to be very anticlimactic. After getting out, we then had lunch. After lunch, we stopped by the Ben Gurion Burial. The Ben Gurion Burial was a burial that commemorated the first Prime Minister of the State of Israel and his wife. There wasn’t any lecturing and the time used was to explore, go to the bathroom, or get a little something at the store.

Next, it was off to hiking the Wilderness of Zin. Here, we hiked a bit ways up before stopping near the foot of the great ascent up the mountain. We stopped to discuss The Book of Numbers, Chapter 21. And then up the mountain we went! It was pretty rad. I was petrified but excited because of the height, the view, and the beauty. Imagine being a bird in the sky and looking down upon this beautiful and magnificent canyon. Seeing every tree, every stream, every creature, and the detailed walls of the canyon with its ridges, colors, and texture. But perched on a ledge of course. The ladders we climbed were literally vertical. I grabbed on with my life every step of the way, but at the same time I wanted to let go and be able to fly freely. It was absolutely breathtaking.

After getting to the top, we hopped back onto the bus and headed to our next destination: Avdat. In Avdat, we discussed the Nabateans, Byzantine settlement, and the wonderful winepress. We were then free to explore. On the way back to the bus, I came upon some pretty awesome caves and had to go in! Finally, adventure time! It was so exhilarating being able to crawl, climb, and get filthy dirty. I absolutely loved it!

Unfortunately, we were crunched on time and had to leave. Sad face. Back to our youth hostel in Arad. I was so ready for a shower.

Study Abroad
Brian Schultz

Brian Schultz

Israel 2014