Tel Be'er Sheva
|תל באר שבע|
|Location||Near Beersheba, Israel|
|Official name||Biblical Tells – Megiddo, Hazor, Beer Sheba|
|Criteria||ii, iii, iv, vi|
|Designated||2005 (29th session)|
Tel Sheva (Hebrew) or Tell es-Seba (Arabic) is an archeological site in southern Israel believed to be the remains of the biblical town of Beersheba. It lies east of the modern city of Beersheba and west of the new Bedouin town of Tel Sheva/Tell as-Sabi. Tel Sheva has been preserved and made accessible to visitors in the Tel Beer Sheva National Park (Hebrew: תל באר שבע).
The name is derived from the Hebrew be'er, meaning a well, and sheva, meaning "to swear an oath".
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In the Hebrew Bible
Beer-sheba is mentioned 33 times in the biblical text. It is often used when describing a border, such as “from Dan to Beer-sheba” (Judges 20:1; 1 Sam. 3:20; 2 Sam. 3:10, 17:11, 24:2, 24:15; 1 Kings 4:25; 2 Kings 23:8), but it is also a significant center in the patriarchal narratives. Abraham dwelt at Beer-sheba (Genesis 22:19), Abraham and Abimelech entered a covenant at Beer-sheba (Genesis 21:32), and Abraham planted a tamarisk tree at Beer-sheba (Genesis 21:33). The Lord spoke to both Isaac and Jacob, Abraham’s son and grandson respectively, at Beer-sheba (Genesis 26:23; Genesis 46:1). Beer-sheba is also the site of two significant wells: Abraham’s well at Beer-sheba was seized by Abimelech’s men (Genesis 21:25), and Isaac’s servants dug a well at Beer-sheba also (Genesis 26:25). Additionally, archaeological evidence of the dismantling of the altar at Tel Beer-sheba strongly supports a correlation with the biblical account of the cultic reform carried out by King Hezekiah (2 Kings 18:22).
Tel Beer-sheba, the site of the ancient city, is located on a hill overlooking the Wadi Beer-sheba about two and a half miles east of the modern city of Beersheba. The site was excavated from 1969 to 1976 by the Tel Aviv University Institute of Archaeology, directed by Prof. Yohanan Aharoni, except for the last season which was led by Prof. Ze'ev Herzog. Most of the dig was devoted to uncovering the great, fortified, Israelite city traditionally dating to the United Monarchy of King David (his reign being dated from 1000 B.C.E.) and, later, to the kingdom of Judah (980–701 B.C.E.). During the last three seasons of excavation (1974–1976), an effort was made to go below Beer-sheba of Iron Age II to find earlier occupation. A considerable part of the site was dug down to bedrock in order to find the earliest settlements at Beer-sheba. This effort revealed four earlier occupational strata (Strata VI through IX). Excavations were renewed by Prof Herzog between 1993 and 1995 in order to complete the uncovering of the town's water system.
Iron Age I
The earliest occupation at Beer-sheba during Iron Age I (Stratum IX) was represented only by seven large pits about 22 to 25 feet in diameter. Archaeologists believe that the entire settlement of this stratum covered about 2,990 sq. yards, approximately the area of half of a football field. It likely contained about 20 dwelling pits and 10 granaries and would have housed from 100 to 140 people. Stratum IX was abandoned then reused, new structures being added to the old. In Stratum VIII, which dates to the 11th century B.C.E., archaeologists found houses for the first time. Like Stratum IX, Stratum VIII was abandoned rather than destroyed. The pottery suggests that the same people who lived in Stratum VIII built Stratum VII at the end of the 11th century B.C.E., which comprised five domestic units in a possibly enclosed settlement.
Iron Age II
The settlement of Beer-sheba was probably first fortified during the Iron IIA. Some archaeologists believe that Beer-sheba, which was on the southern border of the fledgling Israelite kingdom, was fortified by King Saul at the end of the 11th century B.C.E. during wars against the Amalekites. However, on the basis of interregional comparisons and recent radiocarbon evidence, this settlement phase probably belongs in the late – 10th or 9th century B.C.E. The best preserved layout of the Iron II city may be reconstructed from Stratum II, which dates to the late 8th century B.C.E. during the Iron IIB. At this time, the city was destroyed in a conflagration, possibly during the campaign of Sennacherib in 701 B.C.E. Reconstructed plans of the city suggest that Beer-sheba was planned as a coherent entity with areas for administrative structures and for dwellings incorporated into a single system. Fortifications included a casemate wall and a four-room city gate. Drains running under some of the streets conducted rain-water out of the city and a well-preserved water system of cisterns provided the inhabitants with water. The incorporation of the houses into the casemate wall suggests that its occupants were directly responsible for the city’s defense and reflects the military and administrative function of the entire city. Archaeologists estimate around 350 people lived in the city of Beer-sheba during this period.
National park; UNESCO recognition
The site was restored by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority in 1990. In 2003, its water system was opened to the public as well. The excavated town is now open for visitors under the name Tel Be'er Sheva National Park.
In 2007, Tel Sheva was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Of more than 200 tels in Israel, Beersheba was cited as one of the most representative, containing substantial remains of a city with biblical connections.
One of the most significant discoveries at Tel Beer-sheba is that of a horned animal altar, the first ever unearthed in Israel. Altars with horns at each of their four corners are mentioned frequently in the Bible (Lev. 4:7, 18, 25; Ex. 29:12, 30:2; 38:2; 1 Kings 1:50; 2:28). The altar was not found assembled in situ, but was discovered in secondary use—the stones of the altar had later been incorporated into a wall. There was an unresolved debate about the dating of the altar between Professor Aharoni and Professor Yigael Yadin of Hebrew University that remains undecided. Professor Aharoni believed that the Beer-sheba altar was one of the altars which was dismantled as part of Hezekiah’s religious reforms. Its stones were then reused in an 8th-century wall, and the wall itself was destroyed at the end of the 8th century, probably during Sennacherib’s Judean campaign of 701 B.C. However, Professor Yadin of Hebrew University dates this wall more than 100 years later than Professor Aharoni. According to Professor Yadin, the wall was probably destroyed about the time the Babylonians captured and destroyed Jerusalem (587 B.C.).
- Avraham Negev and Shimon Gibson (2001). Beer Sheba. Archaeological Encyclopedia of the Holy Land. New York and London: Continuum. p. 73. ISBN 0-8264-1316-1.
- Professor Ze’ev Herzog. "Tel Beer Sheva National Park" (PDF). Israel Nature and Parks Authority. Retrieved May 1, 2015.
- "Horned Altar for Animal Sacrifice Unearthed at Beer-Sheva." The Biblical Archaeology Review 1, no. 1 (1975): 1.
- Herzog, Ze’ev. "Beer-Sheba of the Patriarchs." Biblical Archaeology Review 6, no. 6 (1980):12-28. Accessed October 14, 2015. http://www.basarchive.org.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/bswbBrowse.asp?PubID=BSBA&Volume=6&Issue=6&ArticleID=3&UserID=2216
- "Tel Beer Sheva National Park". Israel Nature and Parks Authority. Retrieved August 24, 2011.
- Herzog, “Beer-Sheba of the Patriarchs.”
- Boaretto, E. et al. Dating the Iron Age I/II Transition in Israel: first intercomparison results. Radiocarbon 47(1), 2005; Finkelstein, I., and Piasetzky, E. Radiocarbon-dated Destruction Layers: A skeleton for Iron Age chronology in the Levant. Oxford Journal of Archaeology 28(3), 2009; Mazar, A. The Iron Age Chronology Debate; Is the gap narrowing? Another viewpoint. Near Eastern Archaeology 74(1): 105-111, 2011
- Herzog, Ze'ev. Archaeology of the City: Urban Planning in Ancient Israel and Its Social Implications. Tel Aviv: Emery and Claire Yass Archaeology Press, 1997: 246.
- "Israel celebrates 8 new UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Biblical tels constitute 'testimony of universal value,' while Nabataean towns illustrate ancient trade routes - Jerusalem Post | HighBeam Research". highbeam.com. Retrieved March 29, 2016.
- ”Horned Altar for Animal Sacrifice Unearthed at Beer-Sheva." The Biblical Archaeology Review 1, no. 1 (1975): 1.
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