Bible and archaeology news
In 2014, Archaeologists excavating outside the city of Beth Shemesh in Israel uncovered a large and well-preserved Byzantine-period compound containing an olive oil press, wine press and mosaics. In an Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) press release, excavation codirectors Irene Zilberbod and Tehila Libman said that the compound was likely a monastery.
The 1,500-year-old compound was surrounded by a wall and comprised an industrial area and a residential area. A large olive oil press was excavated in the industrial area of the compound. In the residential area, multi-colored mosaics depicting grapes and flowers, as well as a staircase leading to a second floor, were exposed. A wine press was discovered outside of the compound.
While evidence of a church has not yet been uncovered, the IAA archaeologists believe this compound had clearly been a monastery.
“The impressive construction, the dating to the Byzantine period, the magnificent mosaic floors, window and roof tile artifacts, as well as the agricultural-industrial installations inside the dwelling compound are all known to us from numerous other contemporary monasteries,” the codirectors said in the IAA press release.
“Thus it is possible to reconstruct a scenario in which monks resided in a monastery that they established, made their living from the agricultural installations and dwelled in the rooms and carried out their religious activities.”
As the point where three of the world’s major religions converge, Israel’s history is one of the richest and most complex in the world. Sift through the archaeology and history of this ancient land in the free eBook Israel: An Archaeological Journey, and get a view of these significant Biblical sites through an archaeologist’s lens.
The Bible describes Beth Shemesh as a town within Judah’s northern boundary (Joshua 15:10) and a Levitical city of refuge in Judah (Joshua 21:16). In the January/February 1997 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, Tel Beth Shemesh codirectors Shlomo Bunimovitz and Zvi Lederman explain how archaeology could further our understanding of the cultural identity of Biblical Beth Shemesh:
Beth Shemesh is a border town, located at the meeting point of three of the most important ancient civilizations in Palestine—the Canaanites, the Israelites and the Philistines—whose borders frequently shifted. One of Biblical archaeology’s most challenging tasks is to identify the various regional cultures of the country and to study their interaction. In buffer zones like that around Beth Shemesh, cultural contacts were common, ideas were exchanged and ethnic boundaries were frequently redefined.
Beth Shemesh was destroyed during Assyrian king Sennacherib’s invasion of Judah in 701 B.C.E.
Read the IAA press release describing the recently uncovered Byzantine compound outside of Beth Shemesh.
A version of this story originally appeared in Bible History Daily in September, 2014
Archaeologists Reveal a Desecrated Iron Age Temple at Beth-Shemesh
Lion Seal from Beth Shemesh Sparks Samson Discussion
Byzantine Monastery with Vibrant Mosaics Discovered in the Northern Negev
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(Beth-she′mesh) [House of the Sun].
The name of four cities in the Biblical account.
A city located on the northern boundary of Judah, listed between Chesalon and Timnah. (Jos 15:10) It is evidently called Ir-shemesh (meaning “City of the Sun”) at Joshua 19:41, where it appears as a boundary town of the tribe of Dan, Judah’s neighbor to the north. Judah subsequently bequeathed Beth-shemesh to the Levites as a priestly city.—Jos 21:13, 16; 1Ch 6:59.
Beth-shemesh is identified with Tell er-Rumeileh (Tel Bet Shemesh) just W of the ruins of the Byzantine city near present-day ʽAin Shems, this latter place partly preserving the ancient name. Beth-shemesh thus lay about 26 km (16 mi) W of Jerusalem and was situated on the main road from that city to the Philistine cities of Ashdod and Ashkelon. It was evidently a strategic point militarily as it guarded the upper portion of the torrent valley of Sorek and one of the main approaches from the coastal plains into the Shephelah region and the mountains of Judah. Excavations carried out at the site indicate an ancient history for the city, with considerable evidence of Philistine influence.
When the Philistines, plagued by disease, sent the ark of Jehovah back to Israel, the cows pulling the wagon of their own accord headed for this Levite city of Beth-shemesh. However, the improper action of some of the inhabitants of Beth-shemesh in looking upon the ark of the covenant brought death to 70 of them. (1Sa 6:9-20) The phrase “fifty thousand men” occurring at 1 Samuel 6:19 in the Hebrew is not connected with the “seventy men” by any conjunction, and this is considered by some to indicate an interpolation. Josephus (Jewish Antiquities, VI, 16 [i, 4]) in discussing the Biblical account mentions only 70 men as killed, omitting all reference to the 50,000.—See 1Sa 6:19, ftn.
Beth-shemesh was one of the cities connected with King Solomon’s administrative arrangement to provide food for the royal table. (1Ki 4:7, 9) Long, narrow rooms believed to have been used for grain storage have been found there, as well as a huge stone-lined silo some 7 m (23 ft) in diameter and almost 6 m (20 ft) deep. Numerous winepresses and olive presses unearthed indicate that the area was very productive in oil and wine.
King Amaziah (858-830 B.C.E.) unwisely challenged Jehoash of Israel and suffered defeat and capture at Beth-shemesh. (2Ki 14:9-13; 2Ch 25:18-23) During the reign of Ahaz (761-746 B.C.E.) national degradation and infidelity resulted in the loss of Beth-shemesh to the Philistines. (2Ch 28:18, 19) A stamped jar handle bearing the inscription “belonging to Eliakim, steward of Jaukin [a shortened form of the name Jehoiachin],” was excavated at Beth-shemesh and is suggested to relate to the king of that name, perhaps indicating that the kingdom of Judah in time regained control of the city from the Philistines.