The journey through the sites of the Old Testament will start going southward, crossing
the Judean Desert and arriving at the northern fringes of the Negev, the area where the Bible places God’s revelation to the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac
and Jacob. Here, we will visit the Judean city of Beersheba, the southernmost administrative center of the Kingdom of Judah, where tradition
places the so-called “Abraham’s well”.
In the same region, the Canaanite city of Arad arose in the 3rd millennium BC, and became the seat of an Israelite fortress during
the Iron Age, about 2000 years later. Here, archaeologists discovered an Iron Age sanctuary dedicated to YHWH, with its altar (bamah) and standing stones (massebot): the first Iron Age sanctuary
known outside Jerusalem.
This part of our journey will end crossing the Valley of Elah, the setting of the main battles between the Israelites and the Philistines. We will
visit the biblical city of Gezer, a powerful Canaanite center well-known for its “High Place” with standing stones (massebot) from the 2nd millennium BC. It is one of the cities
mentioned in Bible as fortified by King Solomon. Here, renewed excavations have possibly
unearthed “a palatial building dating to the era of King Solomon.”
We will continue with the capital cities of the Canaanites, from the time of Israel’s
patriarchs (and even earlier!), which later provided the background for the activities
of the Israelite kings: Dan, Hazor, Megiddo, and Beth Shean.
Dan, the northernmost Canaanite center, is renowned for its massive earthen rampart and
the monumental arched mudbrick city-gate from the 2nd millennium BC (the earliest example in the region), still visible in an excellent state of preservation.
In the Iron Age, the Biblical expression “from Dan to Beersheba” indicated the whole
extent of the Israelite territory and, at the site, we can see the remains of the
well-known High Place dedicated to the cult of the “Golden Calf”, repeatedly condemned by the prophets, and the monumental fortifications erected
by King Ahab. At Dan, archeologists discovered the stele set up by the Aramaean King Hazael to remember his victory over Kingdoms of Israel
and Judah. The stele mentions the “House of David”, the first reference to King David outside the Bible.
Hazor, is mentioned with Megiddo, Gezer and Jerusalem among the cities restored and fortified
by King Solomon. With its temples, palaces and massive earthen fortifications it was
the largest Canaanite city of Israel. During the iron age, Hazor was one of the most important administrative centers
of the region. The so-called “Solomonic” (six-chambered) gate, the casemate-wall, and the tripartite storehouses were initially identified as proofs of Solomon’s building activities and the site
became the focus of the Biblical Archaeology debate.
Megiddo and Beth Shean, located at the two ends of the Jezreel Valley, display distinctive features of the
Canaanite culture remembered in the Bible. We have here the renown sacred area of Megiddo, with one of the earliest examples of Biblical bamot (altars or high places) from the 3rd millennium BC, and the Egyptian garrison at Beth Shan from the end of the 2nd millennium BC, when the whole Land of Canaan became an Egyptian
possession. Both cities were later administrative centers of the Northern Kingdom
of Israel, as testified by the palaces, storehouse and “Solomonic” stables of Megiddo.
Traveling down the Jordan Valley up to the shores of the Dead Sea, we enter the flourishing Oasis of Jericho (250 m below sea level), evoked in the Hellenistic and Roman times by the historians
Strabo, Pliny, and Flavius Josephus for its tropical vegetation, cultivations of date
palm, aromatic essences and spices. Here, the New Testament sets the two Gospel episodes
of Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector who climbed the sycamore-fig tree to see Jesus;
and that of the blind Bartimaeus healed by Jesus because of his faith.
At the center of the oasis, we find the archeological site of Tell es-Sultan, Biblical Jericho, at the foot of the Mount of Temptation. The site is known worldwide as the “first
city of the world” for its monumental Neolithic Tower and Town Wall, more than 10,000
years old. It is famous as well for its mighty burnt and collapsed city-walls (still visible today), placed at the heart of the biblical Tale of the Conquest in the Book of Joshua. The tumbled down walls of Jericho were one of the most debated
topics of Biblical Archeology, until the archaeologist K. M. Kenyon would prove that
Jericho city-walls were far older than the supposed dating of Joshua’s conquest.