Jews celebrate three main feasts that are considered times for pilgrimage to Jerusalem: 1) Passover or Pesach; 2) The Feast of Weeks or Shavout - linked to OT agriculture, 50 days after Passover during the growing season of wheat or barley; 3) The Feast of Tabernacles or Sukkot in the fall. Jesus and his family proved their piety by traveling to Jerusalem annually for the feasts.
Shavout is a dairy-rich day where various cheeses and dairy products are highlights of the feast. Jews link many of their celebrations with food. The origin of this tradition is unclear. Other current traditions include the talit or prayer shawl with its four tassels that comes from the historical tunic with four fringes (which Jesus would have worn) and the yarmulke. (Since Medieval times, it was used to distinguish Orthodox Jews who kept the Sabbath from others).
We're in the shfelah today, the foothill buffer country between the interior Hill Country and the Coastal Plain. Travel was along ridge-routes, including the "Way of the Patriarchs" that passed near Rammoh, Bethel, Geva, Bethlehem, Hebron, etc. The ground is chalky Synonian stone.
To the west of our first stop, Bet Shemesh, lies the coastal plain. To the north is the shfelah of Judah since the Bronze or Iron I. Israelites lived in hill country to the east, while Philistines on the coast were stronger, more technologically advanced, and able to forge iron weapons.
We discuss three valleys that functioned as east-west travel routes: the Talon or northern valley, the Zorik in the middle, and the Ela in the south. Jerusalem was not on any main route and had little through-traffic before Roman roads. Ephraim (Samaria) lay to the north while Judah inherited the south. Benjamin's tribe in the central Benjamin saddle of hills and valley was noted for their prowess in using slings as weapons. Saul was a Benjaminite, as Marc points out.
We have only a biblical record for Bet Shemesh. Bet means house or temple; this was the "house of the Sun," perhaps a cultic site of Cannanite worship. The story of Samson happened here.
Zorath is Sampson's city. Tmnah lies just wet, lower toward the coast, Ashkelon and Gaza, Philistine country. Zoric is noted for its wine country, ironic that God would set apart Samson as a Nazarite here. The three prescriptions for Nazarites? 1. No wine. 2. No cutting of hair. 3. No touching dead things. Samson disregarded all three prohibitions. He was of the tribe of Dan, most of who settled further north later because they were unable to conquer the people of the hills.
We also presume Israel's King Jehoash fought Judah's King Amaziah nearby. Amaziah died at Lachish. In C8BC, the Philistines took the site. Hezekiah ruled here, creating many Lamelich seal impressions for jar handles (taxation stamp).
The oldest iron smelter found in the ancient Near East dates from Samuel's time. Israelites in Saul's time depended on Philistine iron technology and went to the Philistines to sharpen their farm tools; only Saul and Jonathan had iron weapons. It is speculated that David learned the technology during his time as a mercenary of the Philistines. During his kingdom, he had iron weapons at his disposal (Early Iron Age II).
In C19, Robinson identified the site of Bet Shemesh from the ARabic references to a nearby spring. We clamber into a huge cistern cave with three deep water vaults. There are tricky stairs and lots of spiders. Even a dead bird. It's enough to make the girls squeal. We roam the hilltop to find the location of the smelter.
We're off to Tel Azokah. On the bus we note that many Protestants skip over the names during OT readings, ignoring locations or mispronouncing them (even if they are pastors or Bible teachers.) Without knowing the geography and the land's significance as a character of the biblical story, it is easy to ignore locations as irrelevant.
Shimon negotiates our bus over a winding one-lane road with crumbling asphalt on the sides. He stops so cars can go around us; the bigger vehicle always wins.
|Ela tree with berries; the yellow flowers come later.|
At the top of the ridge route is Bethlehem (1 Sam. 17). The Philistines are shooting for Bethlehem as they mass at Sechol and Ephistamin ("lit. no blood). They've probably come from Gath on the coast (Tel Saphe? today). Archaeology ties the Philistine culture to the Mycenaean Greek culture (c. 1900 BC to c. 1100 BC). The battles of the Iliad talk about champion fighting champion as Goliath challenged the Israelites. His bronze leg leggings were also found in Mycenaean armor.
David was already a na'ar or man of valor (late teens, early 20s) when his father sent him to check on his brothers and bring bread and cheese to them and their commanders. He was stuck at home as the youngest in 1 Sam. 16.
The story of David and Goliath story is in 1 Sam. 17. David's older brother Eliab disparaged David. Saul's armor was too tall for David. Interestingly, Judges tells that Benjaminites excelled with slingshots so Saul would have been a natural warrior here. Shepherds learned to wield the weapon with great accuracy to shoot tennis-ball-sized rocks up to 120 meters ... at 100 mph. The sling was an accurate and deadly weapon that crushed Goliath's forehead. David ran up and killed the giant with Goliath's own sword.
David fled from Saul and hid out in the caves of Adulam on the other side of Succoth, in eyesight of his greatest victory with Goliath. Marc encourages students to follow the call of God when they are wondering about life, wallowing in debt or in the middle of crises. "If you are patient and don't get ahead of God, he will lead you. What you think you'll be doing in ten years will likely not be what happens."
In C8 BC, King Hezekiah revolts against the Assyrians. He removes the altars and high places and centralizes worship in Jerusalem, thus elevating the importance of the city throughout Jewish and Christian history every since. He shores up Jerusalem, digging a water tunnel from the eastern side of the city to make water more accessible. He fortified several cities, caught between Egypt and Assyria during the time of the prophecies of Isaiah.
Assyrian records show that Sennacharaib overthrew and devastated Kakish and Azeka, though he did not conquer Jerusalem. Jews became convinced theologically and militarily in the next 100 years that God would not allow enemies to take Jerusalem, so Jeremiah was considered a traitor when he prophesied its demise. Though the cities ruined by the Assyrians were rebuilt, the Babylonians (Nebucadnezar) devastated the area and conquered Jerusalem.
We stop at the bottom of the hill at "David's" creek to gather round stones like David would have used. It's an odd site: two enormous tour busses at the side of the road with 75 people streaming across traffic to gather stones. Once we're on the bus, students begin to question the wisdom of their heavy choices in light of luggage restrictions back home. One gal picks enough stones for each of her youth pastor's kids.
|Post along the Roman road|
Philip heard the eunuch reading aloud, which was normal (no silent reading). We admire a mile marker. About 500,000 to one million people lived in C1 Israel. There may have been as many as one scroll per 20 people during the first century; many copies of ancient scrolls have been found.
At Tel Tsafit, we sit under carob trees, eating fresh rolls, peanut butter, jelly, and Israeli Elite (Nutella), Bamba (p-b cheeto snacks), chocolate wafers, and sesame and salty pretzels. Yum. We drink water.
As we get underway, Ilan mentions that the global press mentions Israel's main nuclear base nearby. "Of course, we don't have nuclear weapons," he laughs.
Our next excursion is up a 150 meter hill. The best thing Marc does is not tell us we're going to the top. We climb steps, slip over gravel and sand, and hike huffing and puffing to the peak. Every time we think we're almost there, we look ahead and others are climbing the next ridge. We're at the top of Tel Tsafit, overlooking the Philistine plains to the east with Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron, and Gaza in view. Gath is partway up the hill, the home of Goliath. The plaques at the top of the hill point to landmark cities from the C12 BC and beyond.
Phallic symbols (worshipped) and pig bones have been found in the area; the last 10-11 years, archaeologists have been using diet to identify ethnic markers. Jews would not have eaten pork.
The area became the border of Crusaders and Muslims in 12 AD because of its strategic point of view and the fortress, Blanch Garde built on the upper plateau.
We descend on a steeper slope, past chalk caves carved with hieroglyphics and holes carved out for dovecotes. At 3:15 we stop for a potty break, my first since avoiding a smelly latrine with a long lineup at Bet Shemesh this morning. Several tour participants have learned to disappear behind shrubs and rocks on this trip. I have not yet mastered (or tried) that.
We pass Tel Mikre near Ekron. Near Gibeon, Joshua prayed for a longer darkness as he was sneaking his troops from the east to assist the Gibeonites (with whom he had made a treaty) - against 5 kings who were trying to dominate their east-west passage route. It was not a long day but a longer night that he needed for his strategy. The sun was rising in the east in Gibeon and the moon was descending over the Valley of Ajalon. After using the cloak of darkness, Joshua pursues the five kings across the Ela Valley and kills them in the caves at Adulam. The sun would have been in enemy eyes as they fled.
Knowing the geography assists in correctly understanding the biblical record. "Biblical writers assumed their readers knew the territory," Marc and Ilan repeat to us.
We pass Modi'in, near where Matthias rebelled against forced idolatry imposed by the Greeks and where his son Judas Maccabee, a military genius, began to revolt against the Greek army. About 75,000 people live in the 15 year-old city of Modi'in, placed between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv to allow commuters with young families a high standard of living and safety. Rooftop terraces dot the apartments, and the quality of schools is excellent.
We pass Bet Roh named in the Book of Maccabees. An important fight between the Macabee troops and the Greeks happened on Road 143 where we drive. We're reminded that Benjamin had a small area, but were located near this important junction. The area is now mostly Arabic with olive trees dotting the hills. Many olive presses have been found here.
Traditional terraces are cut into the mountains or held by stone walls. There are two kinds of agriculture in Israel, says Ilan. The first is irrigated, like these terraces, and called Shelach or "sent water." The other kind is non-irrigated, like grain fields and agriculture in the plains, called Baal irrigation to this day.
Continuing in the story of the Maccabean revolt, Ilan tells us that Greeks opened the oil jars in the temple, and only a one-day jar was found to light the temple lamp for the eight days until new olive oil was supplied. The feast of Hanukkah was thus instituted, with the eight-armed menorah and central shamash light.
It's been overcast today with temperature around 27-29oC (mid 89s F), very pleasant. On either side of the highway, the "big ugly wall" or razor wire surrounds West Bank (former Jordanian) territory, the capitol city of Ramallah rising on the nearby hillside. We pass through a checkpoint and are waved by.
Our final stop is Nabi Samuel, a historical marker for the tomb of Samuel, who is actually buried in the eastern crossroad town of Ramah where he lived. 1 Kings 15:16ff shows how people from Jerusalem had to cross the region. The Syrian king Ben Hadad was paid off to capture Judah's cities of Dan and their northern border.
A mosque is built on the site, with separate reading areas for men and women. I go into the women's area, where several mothers and a slough of children are quarantined from the men in the main area.
It's a short 300 meter walk past the mosque to the overlook of the hills and valleys below. Marc says 2/3 of the Old Testament took place within the 360o view. He points out the direction of the city of Jericho, a significant crossroad north and south as well as east and west. Tackling that city gave Israel control of traffic in the region.
Jewish families walk en masse as we head back to the hotel after 5, either coming or going to synagogue. Pentecost is nearly over. The sidewalks teem with black and white outfits, males in suits, women in dresses. We especially are fascinated by the huge fur "lampshade" hats worn by males of one Jerusalem sect.
After supper, both W and I retire. We're exhausted from poor ventilation in the hotel room the past two nights. They fixed it while we were gone today. I have the sniffles and W kept waking last night so we're anticipating a good night's sleep.
What wakes me is the smell of poorly done laundry: it smells like our bedding was done in a front-loader that wasn't aired. Musty. Not clean. I've learned to go back to sleep but it isn't appealing, nose-wise. (The bedding is beautifully pressed and looks good.) We're up at 5:30 tomorrow morning to be on the bus before our departure at 7am. Whew. Jump into bed already!