Monday, October 10, 2011

Summer Israel Trip

As many of you know I spent about a month in Israel in excavations at Khirbet Qeiyafa and doing some limited but widespread touring of the country.  I thought I would wait until my traveling buds and I exchanged photos before I presented anything, since they might have that killer shot of this or that but no more! I have been heckled enough and hope to dole out some of the gems of my experience here.  I don't know how long it will take but I will begin.

If you have any questions please just ask and if you just get bored with my text just look at the pictures or better yet head over there yourself.  It would be well worth your time.  I always felt safe and there are plenty of companies that can give you a first rate tour.

Let's begin with DAN (aka - Tell Qadi).

Dan is an old site along a major trade route.  Along with Abel Beth-Maacah to the west, it guarded the northern segment of the Jordan river and the entrance into Israel proper.  The river meanders in the lush Hula Valley where Israel now grows a good bit of its banana crop.  North of Dan there are two parallel mountain ranges that run north-south slopping off near Mount Hermon.  Dan sits in the shadow of this snow peaked giant, and marked one of the main east-west crossings in the region.  As a border town, it saw many wars (yay! Archaeologically speaking, destruction is your best friend because it leaves plenty of material for our greedy trowels to uncover and a clear distinction between earlier and later occupation level.  Consider distinguishing what remains of ten homes built directly one top of one another, don't forget foundations and robbing for building material.) 

It is poetic that this "gateway" city boasts a world famous gate.  The dates are somewhat debated but the excavated Middle Bronze gate (c. 2000 BC) has a "triple arch," the oldest arch on the planet (the arched gate at Ashkelon is the other main contender).  It is mud brick and was found almost complete, still bearing its own weight!

For some reason it was only used for a short period of time.  Coincidentally, the story of Abraham coming into the promised land is also set within the Middle Bronze Age.

In the days of the Israelites the tribe of Dan settled this city, formerly Laish, and made a go of it, trading with the nations to the north who were mostly Aramean.  Hence, the popular phrase "from Dan to Beer-Sheba" refers to the capital cities of the northernmost (Dan) and southernmost (Simeon) tribes.  The city was likely pretty prosperous and pretty pagan, being so far from the center of the country; although it became especially wayward, according to the OT, after the division of the Israelite monarchy.  Jeroboam, the dissenting king, had no choice but to sponsor new temples of worship at Dan and Bethel.  Only kings built temples.  They were intimately connected with your dynastic authority.  Besides, without Jerusalem, Jeroboam had to delineate the spiritual geography of his land and gain the support of the religious leaders that would recognize his "divine" right to rule.

This is the temple he built.  The metal frame reconstructs the likely height of the altar, whose sacrifices would attract Baal (Yahweh?) to enter and reside in the temple.  You may recall that Jeroboam made golden calves, not golden Baals.  There is good reason for this.  In the ancient Near East (ANE), deities had specific animals that functioned as their thrones.  Some took several. God chose cherubim (divine beings) for his throne atop the ark of the covenant, as did Solomon and many Phoenician kings.  Weather deities liked calves, Asherah liked lions, etc.  The job of the cult was to make the place attractive to invite the deity to sit down and rule.  At this temple, the stonework is especially fine in places and the level of preservation was very good.

The Iron Age II gate (inside of 1000-780 BC) was particularly impressive.  Actually it follows a pattern in Israel for having a inner and outer gate, perpendicular to each other, with a courtyard in between.  Much of the life of a city would be spent in and around this area.  Therefore the king/governor couldn't afford not to have a presence in the middle of it all (check out my friend Dan on the throne below).  In fact, strangers were probably prohibited from entering unless they were received by the ruler or elders (eg - visiting relatives, religious and royal ambassadors).  Merchants and other travelers would have conducted their business somewhere outside the inner gate, at the city but not in the city.  The top plan of the inner gate would have looked like two "E"s facing each other, looking from above.  The side chambers this created gave room for the guards and elders to convene.  They are barely visible in the last picture.

The cool springs at the site are an attraction in and of the themselves and I look forward to dipping my tired feet in them again.  Well, that should keep ya'll off my back for a while while I prepare another post about another sweet site I was privileged to visit.  Just for fun, I'll leave you with a picture of myself sparring with a soldier from Hazor, which is at the southern end of the same valley as Dan.

[nb- if you click on the photos I think it will zoom in]

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