Mizpah (Judges 20)

Bilderesultat for mizpah bible

Illustration: Tell en-Nasbeh

Approximately 11 km northwest of Jerusalem lies Tell en-Nasbeh, a mound nearly 260 m long by nearly 130 m wide, covering atotal surface area of about 7,7 acres. Most scholars identify this site with the Biblical Mizpah. Little is known about Mizpah during the pre-monarchial period because the city is seldom mentioned  in texts and few archaeological from this area have been discovered. Excavations between 1926 and 1935 unearthed three tombs, two caves and various fragments of pottery from the Late Chalcolithic and Early Bronze I periods, which predate any Biblical reference.

Judges identifies Mizpah as the assembly point for a combined Israelite military force that attacked the Benjamites at Gibeah (Judges 20:1). Mizpah’s central location on the watershed highway between Ramah and Bethel would have made it a natural mustering point, even if no archaeological record of a major settlement exists from that period. The force then moved north to Bethel to inquire of the Lord before launching its attack, and Mizpah played no further role in the account.

By the time of Samuel, Mizpah had become an important regional centre. The prophet summoned all the Israelites there to seek forgiveness for their idolatry. While the assembled Israelites were fasting before the Lord, the Philistines launched an attack, but God intervened with thunder and scattered them (1 Samuel 7:5-11). After this Samuel , who was serving as Israel’s judge, returned to Mizpah each year as part of a circuit that also included Bethel and Gilgal (1 Samuel 7:18). It was also at Mizpah that Samuel revealed Saul as Israel’s first king (1 Samuel 10:17-21). Philistine and other local pottery, along with the remains of rock-cut cisterns and houses, attests to a resurgence of population around the time of Samuel, as the Biblical text suggests.

During the divided monarchy, Mizpah was a border city between Israel and Judah. In approximately 895 B.C. king Baasha of Israel pushed his territory south as far as Ramah and built a fortification there (1 Kings 15:17-22, 2 Chronicles 16:1-6). This cut off Judah’s primary land route to the coastal plain. King Asa of Judah responded by bribing the Arameans to attack Israel from the north. Baasha had to redirect his forces to this northern front, and Asa seized the opportunity to dismantle the Israelite fortification at Ramah. He then used the materials to construct Judahite strongholds farther north in Mizpah and Geba.

Excavations at Tell en-Nasbeh have revealed the remains of a massive defensive construction of the early ninth century B.C. A wall roughly shaped and plastered stones reached a height of nearly 14 m and was reinforced by a series of ten towers. A stone glacis (slope at the base of the fortification wall) ended in a dry moat 5 m wide and 2 m deep, while a double gate complex protected the entrance to the city. It is the only fortification of this type in the region. Houses were built against the inside of the wall. Remains of olive oil presses and storage bins from the period have also been unearthed, along with a cemetery on a ridge just outside the city. These finds confirm that Asa expended considerable resources in the strengthening of this crucial defensive position.

Following the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem and most of Judah in 586 B.C., Mizpah became the residence of Gedaliah, the Babylonian-appointed governor of Judah (2 Kings 25:23, Jeremiah 40:1-41:16). Gedaliah’s tenure was short-lived, for Ishmael, son of Nethaniah, and some other political insurgents assassinated him less than six months after his arrival in Mizpah. The city continued to serve as the regional capital until at least the time of Negemiah. During this era of Babylonian control, larger, more elaborate private dwellings and public buildings replaced the smaller houses of Asa’s time.

Subsequent Biblical references to Mizah are few and brief. Even so, numerous examples of Persian seals and seal impressions, pieces of Greek and Roman pottery and other items suggest virtually continuous habitation on the mound throughout antiquity. The cemetery at Mizpah remained in use until the Byzantine period, when a Christian church was constructed nearby.


 

%d bloggers like this: