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.
A version of this story originally appeared in Bible History Daily in September, 2014
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