We are out the door after a hearty breakfast buffet. We don't recognize everything we eat but some things are famiiar: Halvah (sesame dessert); herring pickled in water and other fish in oil; baked breads; eggs scrambled and hard-boiled; layered dough that Grandma S used to make (with paprika sauce; called Jakobtun or something like that), etc.
Once we're on the bus, we talk about eras covered by the Bible. We've begun our adventure in the southern valley, the Arad Valley. We're in the Negev desert mentioned in Numbers 21 and 33:40. Israel is only about 200 miles from Dan in the north to BeerSheva in the south, and perhaps 50 miles from east to west.
Several important eras: are the Early Bronze Age after which the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) appeared. (2500 BC) The Iron I age of 1100-1000 BC was the time of the Israeli encounters with the Kings of Arad, who may have been Beduin chieftans who controlled land and water rights. Abraham and his descendents depended on God sending rain. As Beduins, they would have traversed the land to feed and water their flocks.
We talk a bit about the Exodus. "Most likely, the 600,000 fighting men were rather 600 loose groups with a commander," says Mark, our main guide. "Today Israel can barely sustain its 7.8 million people with modern irrigation and farming. It is unlikely that 2 million people left Egypt." He explains that the word translated "thousand" is currently used for an army commander. The Egyptians mention a "Hyksos" people, slaves who eventually became kings when Egyptians kicked them out. Population estimates are difficult but the escaping slaves numbered at most one million people -
We explore the southern Negev, where Moses' relatives, the Kennites, settled. Our first stop involves the climb up a tall hill, where an old settlement rests. The walls are broken stone; deep rooms plunge into the hillside. Side by side, two altars (JHWH and a smaller one for Asherah his consort) lead to the Holy of holies. Apparently temples were built throughout Israel, and the worship stones were laid down or decommissioned by Hezekiah in his cleansing of the 'high places.' The sacred space remains.
We are visiting a military outpost with views on every side. Mark points out where priests and officials would have lived and stored their grains and water. Nearby are the ruins of a Canannite town. Lizards run the rock walls.
The soil type is Loess - gravely. Rivulets are cut into hillsides where torrents of water sheet off without being absorbed by the ground.
Our fist stop is Tel Beer Sheva, the North/South and East/West crossroads of the Middle East. It is the staging ground for travel, south toward Egypt, West to Gaza, up to the hill country (Hebron) and Shuela, the lowland buffer zone between the hill country and coastal plains. Think David and Goliath; Samson and Deliliah; and Joshua and the five Cannanite Kings. Samuel used to make his circuit and return to Rama on roads through the hill country. For the same reason, Paul stayed in Ephesus after conversion on the East-West Roman gateway to the emire.
Why did God call Abraham from the economically and culturally advanced Mesopotamia (Iraq) when there were more important sites there? God calls Abraham here due to its strategic crossroads, a platform for God's message to tht e world that was based on Israeli obedience. In the same way, God still calls us to obedience at the crossroads of our times.
Dueteronomy stresses that God did not choose river countries (Egypt: Nile; Mesopotamia - Euphrates) but to a drought-prone place with dependence on rain from heaven. Rain is alwyas touted as God's blessing. In Abraham and Isaac's narrative, Beer Sheva and Ashkalon with the King of Garar. Jacob and Esau lived nearby, at the intersection of agriculture and pastureland. Jacob returns to Shekam (Nablos, West Bank) - Middle Bronze Era.
Our lunch at Aroma Cafe is delicious: W and I split an avocado egg sandwich and he plows through a mixed meat sandwich half, too. I have mint lemonade, chopped leaves and ice. W chooses the Aroma iced special coffee. Apparently Starbucks tried twice to come to Israel. Neither time succeeded: Aroma is the choice of Israelis. We know why now. We polish off the meal by sharing one scoop of Farrero Roche chocolate gelato. Oh my! The dark creamy chocolate and crunchy bits... yum yum.
At Tel Beer Sheva, archaeologiests unearthed an altar with four horned cornerstones. Altars were found at the highest points of cities, along with palaces. Rituals governed every aspect of life, including Jesus' life. Ritual creates intentional memory and lifestyle rhythm, according to our guide. Festivals like Passover are times to remember "This is what GOd did for me," a collective memory that includes not just us but the community of faith. Sacrifices sustained Levites who did not inherit land and the community "barbecue" was a focus for ritual ceremony and eating.
We walk up the hill to the former settlement, where mud brick rests on stone foundations. To prevent the walls from washing out, walls would have been plastered over. In the New Testament, Jesus talks about two foundations: One man built on rock. The other, built on sand or mudbrick. Both Jesus and rabbinic tradition advocated fieldstone as the basis, connecting it as those who hear and do God's will.
The well is at the outskirts of the city. Who lived in cities? Officials and priests. Most people lived outside the walls, but came to the city for justice. There's a 7-shaped bench lining the gatehouse. Our guide reminds us of Absolom, who stole the heart of the people by sitting in the gate, and of Boaz who was found in the city gates to arbitrate land use and marry Ruth.
I find a passageway down the hill. A 17 foot circle is cut to the bottom of the settlement mound. Stone steps circle down and the 33o (95o) heat disappears into cool dark stillness. I am in a water cictern. The stairs wind down in a dizzying fashion. "Slipping hazard," warns a sign. The writing is Hebrew and English. (Some signs have Arabic as well. Down in the hill great plastered rooms stored water that was guided from rooftops and other places during rainfall. This cistern can store 700 cubic feet of water, a lot! Perhaps it would have warded off a seige for its people. I come out at the base of the hill and send W back up to go through the maze of stairs and rooms.
Back on the bus, we get a lecture about the intertestamental period, a busy time politically when there is no prophetic record. It is a story of revolt and resistence: Matthias killed Greek officials and JEwish persons who had agreed to sacrifice to the Emporer. His son Judah and his brothers had to rededicate the temple after the Greek conqueror had slaughtered a pig (common Greek sacrifice) on the temple altar. The eight days of purification became the Faeast of Dedication or Hanekah. Judah was killed in battle, but his brother Simon became strong enough to mint currency and form a government until BC63, whne Rome came to rule.
We stop at the Canannite Gate, the oldest arched gateway in history (midddle Bronze Age, approx BC 1850.) Ashkelon dates back at least to BC 3000. The port probably had 15,000 inhabitants at its peak.
In BC1175, Ramses III and the Seat People fought in this area. The Philistines were part of the SeaPeople, importing various Miceanean Greek connections. The leg gear of Goliath probably came from the Miceans. FOrtifications were built in the East MEditerranean - but the Late Bronze Age contains the collapse of various peoples due to maurading bands, crop failure, etc. The Sea People made their way along the coast and established five cities: Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron, and Gath. Because they controlled the Coastal Highway, Philestines excelled in trade and were more developed than the Israelites. Their city-states flourished in 1000, when Israelites learned to fashion iron. OT: Saul?Jonathan were the only ones with iron swords until David learned technology of iron smelting from Gath (Philistines.) Ashkelone continued its importance through Roman times, with wines famous up to Germany through the Byzantine era. Askelon declined in the Arab era, and Muslims burned it to the ground so the Crusaders couldn't return.
The calf or bull statuets reminded people of the vehicle on which diety rode. The golden calf itself was not as important as the worship of the god who rode the calf. Ashkelon is as far as Israel can go south: it is 10 miles north of Gaza and the Paletinian Gazaa strip. Gaza was caputred in 1967 by Israel from Egypt in the 6 Day War. When Israel made peoce with Sadat, he refused it back. It became truly problematic in the 1980s, when ARabs of the area began to call themselves Palestinians. They held three serious intefads (or wars): 2000, 2006, and 2009. The Gaza strip is one of the most densely populated areas of the world. Though it is about 30X7 miles, Israel could not find a soldier captured from his tank on the border for five years. It is controlled by the religious, suni Muslim ppolitical group Hamas. (The PLO rule in the West Bank and are more secular and moderate.)
The United States supported Israel in building the Iron Dome, a recognition and missile destruction device. It identifies the missile shot from the Gaza strip within 15 seconds and produces an alert: Israelis have only 30 seconds to respond and flee. Elan our Israeli guide tells us that Palestinians targeted times of the day when children were going to and from school. After decades of no response to warnings to stop shooting missiles at its citizens, the Israeli government put a stop to the thousands of missile attacks coming from the Gaza Strip, invades and plowing down down the north end of the Gaza strip where missiles were being fired.
Q&A: Iran's threat: Shiite Muslims believe a Savior will come to help them impose Shiite law on the world. In 1979, Iran began to work for conquest.
Q&A: Settlements - every place JEws build is a settlement. After the 1967 war, Israel gained three times the territory allotted to it by the Biritsh Mandate of 1958 that founded the country. "Israel no longer trusts anyone," Elan says. He was an army soldier who experienced Gaza as a child, full of markets and shops, and as a soldier, plowed down and poor. He says there is no choice: Palestinians continue to attack.
The post-WWII plan allocated seven uneven parts of the region. The land grabs by Jordan and Egypt did not bring a response by the ARabs living in the area. They were used to being ruled by others. They objected as Muslims to being under Jewish rule after 1967.
We are warm. The bus takes us to Ashkorah, where we visit the oldest known domed gateway. Then we head to the Mediterranean Sea. A quick change into bathing suits and we're in the waves near the shore. I come out to persuade W to join me in the refreshing coolness. We're only in for a half hour: the water movement is tiring after several hill climbs and brutal heat. We are constantly told to drink water to remain hydrated. Nearly every stop has water filling stations where we refresh our water bottles. We are also told to wear hats. I'm grateful for the wide-brimmed one I have along.
We pass a shepherd gal on her cellphone, goats milling around. Another herder leans against an electrical pole planted in his field. It is a land of modern and ancient contrasts. We're back at the hotel by 6:30, cleaned up by 7 for supper buffet. I love the saffron rice and lamb meatballs, besides a gooseberry cake and salads I can't identify.
I'm worn out by 8, ready for another good night's rest.