Beit Shemesh’s Three Millennia of Jewish History

Beit Shemesh is today a flourishing Jerusalem suburb, built near the remains of an ancient city, mentioned multiple times in the Hebrew Bible and first identified by the pioneering American scholar Edward Robinson in 1856. While the town’s western tel (archaeological mound) had been thoroughly explored in the 20th century, Boaz Gross led an excavation that began in 2018 of the previously unstudied eastern tel. Shortly after it began, the current residents of Beit Shemesh successfully lobbied the Israeli government to change its highway-expansion plan in order to preserve Gross’s findings, which have since revealed thousands of years of near-continuous life:

[Previous] excavations concluded that the site was inhabited from the Middle Bronze Age IIB (ca. 1750 BCE) to the end of the Iron Age IIB (8th century BCE), when King Sennacherib of Assyria destroyed the Judahite city in 701 BCE. [However], in no place where we found Iron Age II remains did they superimpose any prior occupational layer.

Further, the material remains [suggest] that the site remained strongly affiliated with Judah even after Sennacherib’s campaign. No destruction or abandonment was identified at the site—neither from the Assyrian campaign nor from the Neo-Babylonian campaigns of the early 6th century BCE. Alterations to the olive oil and wine installations suggest a continuation of an agricultural economy at the site. This, together with the few yhud (Judah) impressions and even a yršlm (Jerusalem) impression, may indicate a continued economic and political affinity to Jerusalem.

Even more astounding are the discoveries concerning the Hasmonean and early Roman periods, i.e. from about 160 BCE to 135 CE:

Late Second Temple-period settlements share a distinct material culturesuch as the presence of ritual baths (or mikva’ot), of which at least seven have been found at Beit Shemesh) and limestone vessels, and an absence of pig bones. Unfortunately, many of the architectural elements of the village did not survive, likely due to the massive construction activities that took place later during the Byzantine and Early Islamic periods.

And yet, one special building did survive. In the northwestern part of the site, we found a monumental rectangular structure (measuring 21 by 33 feet), originally built during the early Roman period (late 1st century BCE–1st century CE). Built of finely dressed ashlar blocks with drafted margins, the structure survived to a height of ten feet on its northern side. Along its interior walls, we identified a plastered bench. Due to the building’s quality of construction, position, and uniqueness within the site, it can be clearly interpreted as a public structure. Further, given its architectural elements, as well as the masonry and bench, it most likely served as a synagogue during the latter part of the Second Temple period.

It appears the building was taken over and converted into a church during the Byzantine period.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at Bible History Daily

More about: Ancient Israel, Archaeology, Hebrew Bible, Second Temple, Synagogues

 

Condemning Terrorism in Jerusalem—and Efforts to Stop It

Jan. 30 2023

On Friday night, a Palestinian opened fire at a group of Israelis standing outside a Jerusalem synagogue, killing seven and wounding several others. The day before, the IDF had been drawn into a gunfight in the West Bank city of Jenin while trying to arrest members of a terrorist cell. Of the nine Palestinians killed in the raid, only one appears to have been a noncombatant. Lahav Harkov compares the responses to the two events, beginning with the more recent:

President Joe Biden called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to denounce the attack, offer his condolences, and express his commitment to Israel’s security. Other leaders released supportive statements as well. Governments across Europe condemned the attack. Turkey’s foreign ministry did the same, as did Israel’s Abraham Accords partners the UAE and Bahrain. Even Saudi Arabia released a statement against the killing of civilians in Jerusalem.

It feels wrong to criticize those statements. . . . But the condemnations should be full-throated, not spoken out of one side of the mouth while the other is wishy-washy about what it takes to stave off terrorism. These very same leaders and ministries were tsk-tsking at Israel for doing just that only a day before the attacks in Jerusalem.

The context didn’t seem to matter to some countries that are friendly to Israel. It didn’t matter that Israel was trying to stop jihadists from attacking civilians; it didn’t matter that IDF soldiers were attacked on the way.

It’s very easy for some to be sad when Jews are murdered. Yet, at the same time, so many of them are uncomfortable with Jews asserting themselves, protecting themselves, arming themselves against the bloodthirsty horde that would hand out bonbons to celebrate their deaths. It’s a reminder of how important it is that we do just that, and how essential the state of Israel is.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at Lahav’s Newsletter

More about: Jerusalem, Palestinian terror