Thursday, June 20, 2013

Day Nine: Biblical Negev Field Study

The Gate of Tel Arad in the Negev
Today we began with an interesting breakfast. Quite the variety of foods – most of which were salads and veggies, but a few conventional breakfast foods as well. Our first stop was at the ancient Tel of Arad. The first impression is the massive tower / gate. This dates from roughly 300 BC to the Hellenistic period. However, below the tower are remains from the Solomonic period. Here were the remains of an Israelite Temple. A Temple? Yes. It is constructed with a similar design to the Solomonic Temple in Jerusalem. There is the outer court, the Holy Place, and the Holy of Holies. Archaeologists have uncovered two alters of incense and three stele. Apparently, more than one god was being worship here. This led into a discussion on Israel's bent toward henotheism (the worship of multiple gods, but recognizing one as supreme.) Ever since the Exodus Israel struggled with monotheism. They were constantly "adding" the other gods. They were syncretistic with their culture. As this was the practice of the day – especially among their neighbors, it was what was popular; it was the normal thing to do. What a reminder to us today. Although our syncretism is not Baal and Asherah, we have lots of other syncretistic ideas.  … But back to Solomon's Arad Temple … what in the world is this temple even doing here? As this was a military fort, this sight was endorsed by the monarchy. We know from Scripture that Solomon's heart turned too many gods. Similar to Jeroboam who build alters all the way from Bethel to Dan in order to mark his territory, perhaps this was Solomon's way of marking their territory. Interestingly it appears that the two of the stele were taken down in the 8th century – likely Hezekiah cleaning the place out and made is purely for the worship of Yahweh … but it was still here. It also appears to have been covered up completely in the 6th century BC. This may likely have been Josiah's reforms – finally cleaning up the high places. God was constantly trying to get His people to worship Him alone. Through the judges and kings, we see the invading armies as God's judgment. It was not until the Babylonian exile that they finally got it! There God is God alone. … We took a few minutes to look around and hike the tel. Although remote and in the desert of the Negev, it is built on a small patch of eocene rock. (Which is great for cisterns and planting crops). With only 6.7 inches of rain a year, water is essential. The main cistern is located in the middle of the city, and the streets were designed to funnel the water to the cistern. This city has no "dung gate" … so essentially anything you throughout is going to ago into your drinking water. Lovely! Arad was able to reach down to the south and grasp a bit of the trade coming through. Ultimately, Arad acted as a border patrol; Hebron and the patriarchal highway is just over the hills to the north.

Vern giving a lecture next to a Tamarix tree - one like Abraham planted near
the well of Beer Sheva
Our next stop was in the stomping ground of Abraham: Beer Sheva / Sheba. It was here that Abraham dug a well and made a covenant with Abimelech of Gerar. Here Abraham planted a Tamarix Tree. Abraham traveled between here and Hebron, probably on a seasonal basis. He would have spent the summer up in the hills where it is a bit cooler and better for the sheep, and the winters here in Beer Sheva where two wadi systems meet. Beer Sheva is in a prime location for East/West Travel, as well as on the route to the North on the Patriarchal highway. As a Bedouin man, Abraham was probably a slick talker, making deals, and entertaining strangers and caravans along this route. With 316 fighting men, he could provide protection and security to those passing though the land.

Although Abraham would have settled the area in tents, the town gave us a feel for the period's construction. In the middle of the city is the town square. It was here strangers and guest would come to find a host for their stay. Normally the city elders would take in the stranger and provide for all of their needs. There is some debate around the case of Lot in Sodom and Gomorrah. With the statement from the locals that he was a stranger dwelling among them has given rise to the idea that either Lot stepped outside his bounds by inviting them in (as it would have been the elders job) or that the city didn't care, and by Lot taking them in, he has exposed their shame. Either way the towns of Sodom and Gomorrah were wicked people. In the Middle East, a family's name is of utmost importance. It would be better to kill individual members of one's family than to have the family name shamed, for one is not just shaming themselves but one's immediate family, extended family, and one's ancestors. Hence, the modern "honor" killings in Muslim areas. It is better for a family member to die than shame the family name. This too is the case in Lot's account with the angels. He would rather give up his own daughters than have the family name be shamed by not taking care of his guests. If word got out that Lot had not taken care of them, it would take years to recover from the shame ... if ever. In the case of the Levite and his concubine in Gibeah, the rest of the nation came to the Levite's defense and proceeded to almost wipe Gibeah and the tribe of Benjamin off the map. While on the Tel of Beer Sheva, we looked at the remnants of an Israeli style home, got a lookout over the city and wadi systems, as well as a walk though what I believe were the cisterns for the city.

Up close and personal with the Ibex - talk about hind's feet -
these creatures can jump all over the mountain with only 
inches of ledge. They can easily outmaneuver predators
in the difficult terrain. 
Our next stop was for lunch at the Ben Guerin Park. From here, we had an excellent overlook of the "Grand Canyon" of the Middle East – specifically Ein Avdat. Down a path to the overlook, I was able to get up close and personal with a few ibex. There at the overlook are the graves of Ben Guerin and his wife, the first prime minister of Israel. After retiring, he moved to the desert to encourage others to do likewise in order to "make the desert bloom." He encouraged others to do likewise. After lunch, it was time for the big hike – UP the Canyon! It was not long before we started up a very narrow set of stairs to the top of the canyon. Just do not lose your step!

Once back on the bus we headed out for one last stop. On our way, we passed the ancient Nabatean city of Arad - different than both the tel and modern city. Here there are remnants of adult baptistries - before the whole community moved to infant baptism following the community's conversion to Christianity. Our final destination was on the southern end of Canaan land - only 50 km from Egypt – at the Machtesh of Ramon. Here the limestone had buckled and washed away. Today it is a great crater or bowl. Beyond the amazing views one can just make out the plateau of Edom on the other side of the Dead Sea. Somewhere in this vicinity, Moses and the Israelites would have passed on their way to Promised Land. After the two hour drive back to campus, we ended the day with another great meal at the Youth Hostel in Arad.
Breakfast ... lot's of new foods this morning!

Art on the way to Tel Arad

Entering the Gates

Overlooking the ruins at Tel Arad

An Israelite Temple in Arad?

A "living" Sacrifice on the undressed altar

Having our lecture in "the holy place"

There's me sitting in the Holy of Holies. The large incense altar directly infront
of me would have been for Yahweh. The smaller incense alter to the right for
another god ... perhaps asherah, "his wife" or the popular Baal. I'm covering up
one of the stele, but another one can be found behind me to the right. One of
these was embedded in the wall. The other two seem to have been removed.
It is possible that Hezekiah removed these during his reforms. The entire site was
covered up around the 6th century - perhaps Josiah's reforms in "tearing down
the high places."

Looking toward the southern end of the Judean Hills - Hebron is just over
the hills

And somebody needs to proof read the English Translation before making
the signs ;)

Walking on the later Israelite fortress. 

Hiking down to the older part of Tel Arad ... this dates back to the Canaanite

Looking down the well at Tel Arad ... as this is the lowest point in the city,
anything you through out would make it into your water supply!

Looking back toward the Israelite tower here at Tel Arad

Reconstructed House at Tel Arad

Welcome to the Negev

Surprisingly there is a lot of construction going on in the desert - I assume
water and gas lines. With limited space, the Israelis are determined to make
the desert bloom.

Most signs in Israel are in Hebrew, Arabic, and English

Welcome to Beer Sheva (pronounced with a "v" not "b"
as it is written in English. ... This is the stomping ground of
our father Abraham.

Visitor Center ... we'll start our lecture here. 

Here is the well at Beer Sheve - dropping 80 meters

This well is outside the city so that when watering one's herds and camels,
you don't bring them within the city. 

Standing in the Gates of Beer Sheva

Can you make out the small mud line about three-quarters the way up on the
stone layer? This is the reconstruction line. Everything below this was
found in place. Everything above has been reconstructed from the remains. 

The open square. It would have been in something like this that the angles
would have come when visiting Sodom and Gomorrah.

Looking over Beer Sheba toward the modern lookout tower ;)

This is an OT house. It has four very small rooms. The entry is from the
bottom of the picture to the first faint stone line. The next two are on either
side of the stone pillars - one would have been an open courtyard, the other
for work, storage, animals, etc. The room behind the the pillars would have been
the bedroom - this section may have been two stories. 

Overlooking Beer Sheba, founded by Abraham

Notice the Wadi System in the background - there is another one to the
right just outside the picture. The two wadis meet here and make their way
to the Mediterranean. 

Storehouses at Beer Sheba

Walking down to the large cisterns on the edge of the city. 

Underground cisterns of Beer Sheba

Sunbathing on the alter - this one was uncovered within the wall. At some
point, someone cleaned house and used it as building material. This is an
example of a dressed alter - it has been cut smooth. This was prohibited for
Yahweh worship. God commanded that His alter be build of undressed
stones (field stones).

An Oasis in the Desert!

Ben Gurion's Garden Path ... making the Desert Bloom!

The Ibex is dancing for me!

Tomb of Ben Gurion and his wife, first Prime Minister of Israel

Overlooking the "Grand Canyon" of Israel

Now at the bottom of the Canyon, getting ready to
begin our hike.

Hiking the "Grand Canyon" of Israel

And the winding path of stairs begin!

Sometimes the path gets very thin! Here it's not too bad. 

Looking back from where we came ... 

Here we are passing the Nabataean remains of Arad. 

Overlooking the Machtesh Ramon - a giant crater formed by the main
limestone splitting upward and washing out.

I'll pass on this photo opportunity! ;)

Me overlooking the Machtech Ramon ... The Israelites would have passed
somewhere in this vicinity on their way our of Egypt to the Promised Land

A great place to have one's devotions ... except I would find some shade as
it's nearing 100 degrees

Back at the Youth Hostel in Arad for an excellent dinner!

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