Khirbet Beit Lei

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Beit Lei
בית ליי
Mosaic floor of Byzantine church
Mosaic floor of Byzantine church
Khirbet Beit Lei is located in Israel
Khirbet Beit Lei
Shown within Israel
Alternative nameבית לויה
Location Israel
Coordinates31°33′49″N 34°55′41″E / 31.563611°N 34.928056°E / 31.563611; 34.928056
Areac.50 Dunams
PeriodsIron Age II - Mameluke period

Khirbet Beit Lei or Beth Loya is an archaeological tell in the Judean lowlands of Israel. It is located about 5.5 km southeast of Beth Guvrin[citation needed] and ten miles west-northwest of Hebron,[1] on a hill 400 m above sea level.[citation needed]

An Iron Age II burial cave was discovered to contain an inscription with the oldest known appearance in Hebrew of the name "Jerusalem".



Khirbet Beit Lei was first surveyed by R.A.S. Macalister of the Palestine Exploration Fund, who found a rock-cut chapel and burial caves (published 1901).[2]

Between 1972 and 1973, the site was surveyed by Yehuda Dagan.[3] During this survey, no Iron Age remains were found.[4] The survey further revealed that the site had been settled from the Hellenistic period until at least the Mamluk period.[4] A number of hewn subterranean installations, including columbaria, olive presses, water cisterns, quarries, a stable and hideaways are attributed to the Hellenistic and Roman periods.

Two Iron Age II burial caves[edit]

During the construction of a road in 1961, an ancient burial complex was discovered in the eastern part of the site.[1] An archaeological expedition by the Israel Antiquities Authority led by Joseph Naveh (1928-2011) of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem found two Iron Age II multi-chamber burial caves.[1] One cave consisted of three chambers cut into the chalky limestone.[1] Eight skeletons lay on limestone ledges around the sides of the chambers, untouched since being laid to rest.[1] A ring, a bronze earring and a bronze plaque were also found in the cave, which contained carved drawings and inscriptions.[1] Three of the drawings were of human figures: a man holding what might be a lyre, a man raising his arms, possibly in a prayer gesture, and a man wearing a headdress.[1] Two sailing vessels were sketched on another wall.[1] Two other figures may be an encampment and a tent.[1] The ships lead scholars to believe that the chambers were reused by Israelite refugees fleeing the Chaldaean armies in the sixth century BCE, probably Levites.[1] Ships are a common motif in ancient Near Eastern burial chambers. The other cave had been looted at some point, and analysis revealed that the interred individuals belonged to a group of different origin than the first group.[1]

Hebrew inscriptions[edit]

Inscription A, from the Israel Museum

Seven inscriptions in Hebrew remained in various states of preservation, and there is disagreement about how they should be read. It appears that the words YHWH (Yahweh) and YRSHLM (Jerusalem) feature in the inscriptions, which Joseph Naveh dated to the late 6th century BCE.[1][4]

Of particular interest is one inscription which is the oldest known appearance in Hebrew of the name ירשלם (Jerusalem).[1] Naveh read it as

יהוה אלהי כל הארץ הרי יהד לו לאלהי ירשלם
yhwh ʾlhy kl hʾrṣ hry yhd lw lʾlhy yršlm

which he translated as "Yahweh (is) the God of the whole earth; the mountains of Judah belong to him, to the God of Jerusalem".[1]

Close up on the Khirbet Beit Lei inscription

Frank Moore Cross disagreed with many of Naveh's readings of the letters, instead interpreting the inscription as a poetic rubric in the first person: "I am Yahweh thy God: I will accept the cities of Judah, and will redeem Jerusalem".[5] Cross speculated that it was "the citation of a lost prophecy", perhaps written by a refugee fleeing the 587 BCE destruction of Jerusalem.[5] Naveh later dismissed Cross's reading and stuck to his own version.[6]

Other scholars, including Lemaire and Puech, have proposed additional readings. Patrick D. Miller read it almost the same as Cross did: "[I am] Yahweh your God. I will accept the cities of Judah. I will redeem Jerusalem."[7]

1979-1983 caves investigation[edit]

From 1979 to 1983, Yotam Tepper and Y. Shahar the caves at the site.[8]

Byzantine basilica and nearby structures[edit]

In 1983 and 1986 Joseph Patrich and Yoram Tsafrir excavated a basilica church at the site, as well as an olive press, a wine press and a burial cave nearby,[9] on behalf of the Institute of Archaeology of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The church is thought to have been built around the year 500 CE, and to have functioned well into the 8th century. The church complex was thought to be on the outskirts of a village. The mosaic floors of the church reflect iconoclastic activity, and then repair.[10]

2005 excavations[edit]

The excavations at the site were renewed in 2005 under the direction of the Oren Gutfeld, on behalf of the Institute of Archaeology of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, with funding from a Mormon non-profit foundation.[11]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Joseph Naveh (1963). "Old Hebrew Inscriptions in a Burial Cave". Israel Exploration Journal. 13 (2): 74–92.
  2. ^ Macalister, R.A.S. (1901). "On a Rock Cut Chapel at Beit Leyi". Palestine Exploration Fund Quarterly Statement. London: PEF. 33: 226–230. Retrieved 28 March 2011.
  3. ^ Yehuda Dagan (2006). Archaeological survey of Israel: Map of Amazya (109). The Northern Sector. Israel Antiquities Authority. pp. 101–104. ISBN 978-965-406-195-7.
  4. ^ a b c Patrich, Joseph; Tsafrir, Yoram (1992). E. Stern (ed.). האנצקלופדיה החדשה לחפירות ארכיאולוגיות בארץ ישראל [The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land] (in Hebrew). I. pp. 181–186.
  5. ^ a b Frank Moore Cross (1970). "The cave inscriptions from Khirbet Beit Lei". Near Eastern archaeology in the twentieth century : essays in honor of Nelson Glueck. Doubleday. pp. 299–306.
  6. ^ Joseph Naveh (2001). "Hebrew Graffiti from the First Temple Period". Israel Exploration Journal. 51 (2): 194–207.
  7. ^ Patrick D. Miller (2000). Israelite Religion and Biblical Theology: Collected Essays. Continuum. p. 222.
  8. ^ עמוס כלונר; יגאל טפר (1987). מערכות־המסתור בשפלת יהודה [Hiding Refuges in the Judean Shephelah]. Israel Exploration Society. pp. 131–136.
  9. ^ Yoram Tsafrir (1993). Ancient churches revealed. Israel Exploration Society. pp. 265–272. ISBN 978-965-221-016-6. Retrieved 5 April 2011.
  10. ^ Magness, Jodi. The Archaeology of the Early Islamic Settlement in Palestine. Eisenbrauns. p. 109. ISBN 978-1-4575-0070-1. Retrieved 24 March 2011.
  11. ^ Beit Lehi Foundation, Beit Lehi (Horbat Beit Loya)—The 2008 Excavation Seasons Archived 2011-12-02 at the Wayback Machine. This foundation, which sponsored the excavation, believed there was a link between the site and the Book of Mormon character Lehi. The religious driven hypothesis of this foundation is disputed by both Mormon and non-Mormon archaeologists. See Chadwick, Jeffrey R. (2009). "Khirbet Beit Lei and the Book of Mormon: An Archaeologist's Evaluation". The Religious Educator. 10 (3): 17–48.. The archaeological reports of the foundation's web-site, however, are valuable academic reports written by the members of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem expedition. See also Hershel Shanks, Biblical Archaeology Review, November/December 1988, p. 19 (quoting Frank Moore Cross, who said the link was "based on a linguistic blunder").

Further reading[edit]