Beer Sheva and Arad

I spent this week working at Tel Esur in northern Israel, but there are still a couple of days left of the excavation, so I will wait until next week to tell you about it.

For now, I will backtrack to another of the weekend adventures that I took during the Shiloh excavation this summer. It was the weekend following the last week of the dig, and a lot of people were flying out that weekend. Some, however, were staying for an additional week, either to join the Shiloh restoration team or to join the post-dig tour.

One of the team members flying out that weekend was Charles, the one who had planned most of our weekend adventures. We were disappointed that he was leaving and couldn’t join us on a final adventure. Rather selfishly, we asked him to plan an adventure for us even though he wouldn’t be coming along. He kindly obliged and suggested that we travel south to Beer Sheva and Arad.

There were four of us on this adventure, Kevin, Tim, Richard, and myself. We set out in the morning heading first to Beer Sheva.

Beer Sheva

Beer Sheva

Beer Sheva (Beersheba) is a biblical site first mentioned in Genesis as a place where Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob spent time. Genesis 21 records Abraham settling a dispute about a well and planting a grove there, and Genesis 26 states that Isaac dug a well and built an altar there. It was from Beer Sheva that Jacob traveled to Egypt during the famine (Genesis 46).

Later, during the times of the judges and the kings of Israel and Judah, Beer Sheva was the southern border of the land of Israel (later Judah), and the saying “From Dan to Beersheba” signified the entire land belonging to the Israelites, Dan being in the far north and Beer Sheva being in the far south.

The remains of ancient Beer Sheva have been excavated and are now part of a national park. Although Beer Sheva was occupied for thousands of years, most of what is visible today dates to the kingdom of Judah, approximately the 9th century BC.

Descending into the water system at Beer Sheva

The city is circular and surrounded by a fortification wall. The houses are laid out in an orderly fashion. There are storerooms, a governor’s palace, a city gate, and a massive water system.

Stone columns at Beer Sheva

Directly outside the city gate is an ancient well, one of the deepest in Israel. Although it is reminiscent of the patriarchal well, this one was probably dug at a later period, perhaps during the Iron Age.

Beer Sheva is also well known for the four-horned altar that archaeologists found there. When they found it, it had been dismantled and the individual stones were used in the construction of later walls. They were able to re-assemble it, and now it is at the Israel Museum. A replica of the altar is visible at Beer Sheva. It seems that the altar was not in accordance with the Mosaic law, and so it was disassembled during religious reforms, perhaps during the time of King Hezekiah of Judah (2 Kings 18:2–5).

We walked leisurely around the site of Beer Sheva, stopping to examine walls and structures and comparing the architecture to what we were excavating at Shiloh. When we had finished exploring the surface of the site, we descended into the water system. The cool air in the underground chambers was a nice change from the heat of southern Israel in the summertime. We emerged from the water system near the site exit and headed back to the car.


After leaving Beer Sheva, we headed eastward to Arad. Arad appears only a few times in the biblical text. Numbers 21 and 33 mention the king of Arad, a Canaanite, and Joshua 12:14 also mentions the king of Arad. Judges 1:16 mentions that the descendant’s of Moses’ father-in-law settled near Arad and lived among the people there.

The fortification wall/tower at Arad

From the archaeology of Arad, we know that it was a large city in the Early Bronze Age, and that it was a fortified Israelite city in the Iron Age. The site was also fortified in the Hellenistic period.

The Arad Temple

One of the interesting features of Tel Arad is a temple from the Israelite period. In some ways, it is similar to the biblical description of the Jerusalem temple. It features an outer court, a holy place, and a holy of holies. There is an altar in the outer court. Since the Mosaic law only allowed for one place of worship, which was later designated as the Jerusalem temple, this temple was outside of the realm of acceptable worship practices in Judah.

Arad is an extensive site, and it took some time for us to complete our tour of it. We traced the Early Bronze Age fortification wall, stopping to examine towers. There was a very narrow break in the city wall at one point. This was a postern gate. It enabled people to enter and leave the town without going all the way to the main gate. However, being so small, it was not easily noticeable by those who didn’t know where it was, and during times of war, it would be easy to block up.

We cut across a large expanse of un-excavated land in the center of the site and wondered what lay beneath our feet. Finally, we arrived at the Iron Age fortifications and found our way into the temple there. We were particularly interested in this, and we had brought along a tape measure for the purpose of determining the measurements of the various portions of the temple. We measured it and sketched the floor plan.

After we finished our tour of Arad, we headed back to Jerusalem. We only visited the two sites that day, but they were both extensive, and the drive was a long one, so they filled up the day nicely.

4 responses to “Beer Sheva and Arad”

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