Beersheba (1 Kings 19)

Bilderesultat for ancient beersheba

Beersheba was the proverbial southern limit of Israel, as in the expression “from Dan (in the north) to Beersheba” (e.g. Judges 20:1). Elijah, therefore, wanting to separate himself as far as possible from queen Jezebel of the northern kingdom, fled to Beersheba. The name of the site originates from Abraham’s treaty with Abimelech and means “well of the oath” or “well of the seven” (Genesis 21:31). Located 81 km south of Jerusalem in the centre of the Negev region, Beersheba’s general location is not in doubt, although scholars have debated which mound to identify as the city’s location during the time of the monarchy.

Beersheba assumed a prominent role in the administration of the southern region of the kingdom during the united and later the divided monarchy. Archaeological excavations of Tel Beersheba have revealed nine strata, or levels of occupation, dating from the Iron Age. The earliest, strata IX through VI from the Iron Age I (late judges period), reveal a site no larger than a small village. Strata V through II date to the period of the monarchy, with stratum II being the best preserved and most visible today. Stratum V has been equated with the Beersheba of the united monarchy, which was violently destroyed, quite possibly during the campagning of pharaoh Sheshonk (Biblical Shishak, 1 Kings 14:25). Soon afterward the city was rebuilt, but it was again destroyed at the stratum II level. This destruction is generally dated to Sennacherib’s campaign against Judah in 701 B.C., although some suggest that it was levelled by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C. Stratum I (the most recent) – fairly meager and soon abandoned – was built shortly thereafter.

Beersheba occupied a three-acre site and was used largely for governmental purposes. The city was laid out in an oval shape, with a ring of typical Israelite houses abutting its casemate wall. Streets radiated out from the town gate and plaza, with three large government storehouses located near the gate. One large structure from stratum II, dubbed the “Governor’s Palace”, was an impressive administrative building featuring three large reception halls. It was built of ashlars (cut stones), in contrast to the other buildings, which were constructed of field stones. A remarkable find at Beersheba was a dismantled, sacrificial altar. Archaeologists who located the stones of this altar – in secondary use in one of these storehouses – were able to reconstruct it. The altar may have been part of a temple complex destroyed during the reforms of king Hezekiah (2 Kings 18:4). The prophet Amos spoke harshly against the religious practices that took place in this city (Amos 5:5, 8:14).

The location of the Beersheba of the patriarchs is unknown. This earlier settlement was undoubtedly in the Beersheba Valley  but not necessarily at the identical site. The Bible does not suggest a large settlement at Beersheba during patriarchal times, and it is unlikely that archaeologists will be able to pinpoint its location.

Bilderesultat for ancient beersheba

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