The Mystery of Tel Rekhesh

Questions surround archaeological remains at this remote site

Tel Rekhesh

Tel Rekhesh. Taken during the first excavation season (in spring 2006), this aerial photo of Tel Rekhesh shows the two parts of the site—an acropolis (the higher mound) and a lower part surrounding it. Photo: Courtesy of Tel Rekhesh.

We all know the story of the Assyrian destruction of the northern Kingdom of Israel in 720 B.C.E. Due to their wicked ways, God allowed the Kingdom to be destroyed and the ten northern tribes of Israel to be scattered to the wind, forever gone as a political entity (2 Kings 17). After this destruction, the Bible is mostly silent about the land of Israel. Although the people were gone, the land remained. As we know from both the Bible and Assyrian sources, other groups were force settled in the area.

The Hebrew Bible doesn’t say much about Judah’s new neighbors, only that while new inhabitants worshipped Israel’s God, they did not fear Israel’s God as they should and continued to worship their own gods as well (2 Kings 17:24-41). Who then were Judah’s new neighbors, and why were some of them settled at Tel Rekhesh?

In “Who Built Tel Rekhesh?” in the Fall 2020 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, Shuichi Hasegawa, Hisao Kuwabara, and Yitzhak Paz share discoveries from the site that both answer and confuse this complicated issue.

Tel Rekhesh is located at the confluence of two rivers—Nahal Tavor and Nahal Rekhesh—far from any paved roads in the Mt. Tabor Nature Reserve and National Park. This secluded location has ensured that the mound was not excavated until BAR’s authors undertook the task beginning in 2006. While that first season was challenging due to rains and flooding, the results of the season, and subsequent seasons, have helped shed light on the history of the region after the demise of the northern Kingdom of Israel.

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Its location was no less remote during ancient times, leading one to wonder why such a large site was built in an out of the way location. To add to the mystery, a monumental structure has been discovered at the site with a puzzling three-stepped plaster installation north of its perimeter wall. While our authors date the monumental structure to the time of the site’s new inhabitants, even they all don’t agree on the purpose or date of the stepped installation!

Learn more about Tel Rekesh in “Who Built Tel Rekhesh?” by Shuichi Hasegawa, Hisao Kuwabara, and Yitzhak Paz, published in the Fall 2020 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review. Decide for yourself why such a monumental complex was built at a remote site and how the stepped installation should be dated.

Subscribers: Read the full piece “Who Built Tel Rekhesh?” by Shuichi Hasegawa, Hisao Kuwabara, and Yitzhak Paz, published in the Fall 2020 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review

A version of this story first appeared in Daily Science Fiction in August, 2020

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Who Were the Assyrians? by Christopher B. Hays. “Ah, Assyria, the rod of my anger” (Isaiah 10:5). This is how generations of readers of the Bible have come to know Assyria, as the terrifying military power that (as the poet Byron put it) “came down like the wolf on the fold” and overthrew Israel and shattered Judah. Despite this reputation—or perhaps because of it—the Assyrians have been the subject of intense fascination in the modern world. Ever since their imposing reliefs and statues were plundered and brought to Europe and America in the 19th century, they have drawn crowds and sold copies of newspapers and magazines.

Israelites in Exile: Their Names Appear at All Levels of Assyrian Society by K. Lawson Younger Jr. The popularly told story of the Israelites’ exile under Assyrian rule is a simple one: The Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 B.C.E. and deported the population. These Israelites—the “Ten Lost Tribes”—were never heard from again. Actually, the situation was more complicated—and more interesting.

Mad to See the Monuments: How ancient Assyria saved Victorian Bible scholarship by Steven W. Holloway. In August of 1847, the British Museum mounted the first major display of Assyrian antiquities in England. For a year, the public had pored over sketches from Austen Henry Layard’s Mesopotamian excavations in the Illustrated London News. Now, it was possible to inspect the impassive, chiseled faces of the Assyrian kings during a comfortable excursion to the London museum. Victorian visitors could sate their curiosity at the knees—literally—of colossal human-headed bulls torn from the great palaces of Nimrud and Nineveh.

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