Study identifies Azekah as the mysterious Moresheth-Gath
Where is the biblical town of Moresheth-Gath, the birthplace of the prophet Micah? The exact location of Moresheth-Gath, a site that is mentioned several times in the Hebrew Bible, has continued to elude scholars. Now, a pair of scholars have suggested a fascinating new theory. Publishing in the journal Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft, Oded Lipschits, a professor of archaeology at Tel Aviv University, and Jakob Wöhrle, a professor of Old Testament at the University of Tübingen, propose that Moresheth-Gath be identified with biblical Azekah. But how did one site get two biblical names?
Mentioned only three times in the Bible, the birthplace of the prophet Micah is certainly an enigma, with modern scholars suggesting nearly a dozen archaeological sites as Moresheth-Gath, but none seemed to fit Micah’s description. So could this mysterious town be none other than the biblical site of Azekah, a powerful stronghold of Judah?
One of the earliest references to the city of Moresheth-Gath comes from the Amarna letters, where a letter from the king of Gath describes a city in his territory known as Murashtu, an Akkadian rendering of the name Moresheth. This letter (and other texts where the site is mentioned) help establish the location of Moresheth-Gath firmly in the territory of Gath, likely in the Elah Valley, which was a strategically important corridor through the Judean foothills. Micah 1:13–16 gives more information about Moresheth. Micah’s lament for the cities that would be destroyed by Sennacherib (c. 701 BCE) includes Moresheth-Gath among a list of fortified Judahite cities in the Shephelah, pairing it closely with the site of Lachish just 15 miles to the south.
Meanwhile, texts naming the site of Azekah are lacking, at least before its conquest by Judah at the end of the ninth century BCE. Despite the lack of textual records, archaeology shows that the site was already well established by the Bronze Age (c. 3300–1200 BCE), when it was an on-again, off-again vassal city of nearby Gath. Strong in its own right, Azekah, located in the Elah Valley, appears to have existed in the shadow of the larger Gath. Despite this, the city was certainly an important and prosperous one. But there is an issue. The earliest references to Azekah, which appear only in the late ninth century, describe it as a Judahite city that was closely linked to nearby Lachish rather than Gath. By contrast, during this period, the name Moresheth-Gath no longer appears in textual sources outside of the biblical account.
Even though we lack clear textual references to Azekah’s name prior to the ninth century, the available textual and biblical evidence seems to indicate that Azekah and Moresheth-Gath were actually one and the same. According to Lipschits and Wöhrle, “In all likelihood, Azekah is the new name of Moresheth-Gath given to the city by Judahite rulers after taking control of the western Shephelah, not before the end of the ninth century BCE.” However, despite the official name change during the time of the Judahite kingdom, local residents, including the prophet Micah, continued to call the city by its traditional name, Moresheth-Gath.
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