Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Beth Shemesh and the Israelite-Philistine Border

Bloomberg runs a story on the excavations at Tell Beth Shemesh, describing the recent discovery of a cultic site as well as the absence of pig bones.

We are standing in the middle of Israel on a quiet hill overlooking a fertile green valley.

Some 3,000 years ago, this peaceful place was right at the center of conflict, says archaeologist Shlomo Bunimovitz.

“The border lies somewhere between here and there,” he says, pointing to the west. He is co-leading excavations which have found the remains of a temple which was later desecrated and used as animal pens.

This is Tel Beth-Shemesh, the ancient meeting point of the Canaanites, Philistines and Israelites. The Bible describes it as the northern border of the Tribe of Judah. The area also features in the story of the return of the Ark of the Covenant, earlier captured by the Philistines. King Solomon ruled the district and it was the site of the battle between Joash and Amaziah, the respective kings of Israel and Judah.

“We are looking for evidence that this was a border, tangible evidence in the material culture that reflects this,” says Bunimovitz, from Tel Aviv University.


He produces plastic-covered charts that show how as excavations moved eastward, there were less remains of decorative Philistine pottery and a complete disappearance of pig bones.

“The Philistines wanted this fertile valley,” Bunimovitz says, “but had this pain in the neck here at Beth Shemesh.”

Before the Philistines settled, the Canaanites did eat a little pork, he says. Then they seemed to want to set themselves apart from newcomers and maintain a distinct culture.

“There is a modern example of this, in the wearing of keffiyehs (headscarf),” he says. “Israelis always wore them until Yasser Arafat adopted it. Now you won’t see any Israelis with it. Suddenly the keffiyeh becomes an ethnic marker.”

The full story includes more illustrations. The most striking contrast on the chart below is between Timnah and Beth Shemesh, located only 5 miles (8 km) apart. In the time of the judges, Beth Shemesh was an Israelite city and Timnah was Philistine (Judg 14:1; 1 Sam 6:9).

HT: Joseph Lauer


Comparison of percentage of pig bones found at sites in ancient Philistia compared with ancient Israel. Source: Beth Shemesh Excavations via Bloomberg.

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  • This comment has been removed by the author.

    By Blogger Dr M, at Tue Feb 05, 07:10:00 PM  

  • Still, the small percentage of pig bones we found at Tel Batash/Timnah, while greater than that of Beth Shemesh, was significantly smaller than those Philistine sites more further from the border. This might suggest a cultural "fuzziness" in the border cities where a mixed population is more likely than in the heartland of a culture.

    By Blogger Dr M, at Tue Feb 05, 07:11:00 PM  

  • My understanding is that the lack of pig bones in the highlands is probably due to the fact that pigs need a lot more water and the highlands were too arid

    By Blogger Paul D., at Sun Feb 10, 05:32:00 AM  

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