Beersheba - Tell es-Seba`

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Although the name of the ancient city (and district) is preserved in the Arabic Bîr es-Seba`which in turn has given its name to the modern Israeli city, it is now commonly accepted that the nearby Tell es-Seba` is the site of the Israelite city that marked the southernmost point of ancient Israel ("from Dan to Beersheba").

This tel at the junction of Wadi el-Khalil and Wadi es-Seba` is a good defensive location, while Bîr es-Seba` (in the modern city) is less promising. Both Roman and Iron Age remains have been uncovered at each site. However, at Tell es-Seba` these represent a major Iron Age city and administrative center, while at Bîr es-Seba` there are less significant traces of Iron Age occupation. Perhaps the royal administrative and military city was at the tell with an undefended civilian town further west on the same wadi. Manor (642) suggests that: "This could explain the doublet in the ledger of Simeon’s towns:Beer-sheba and Sheba/Shema (Josh 19:2; cf. also Josh 15:26 and 1 Chr 4:28)."

These photos describe exclusively the city on the tell.

Aharoni excavated the tell from 1969-1974, with Herzog leading seasons more recently. These have identified nine Iron Age strata as well as more recent remains.

Herzog identified stratum  IX as late 12th or early 11th century during this time pits and caves were used for both grain storage and occupation. Only traces of stratum VIII remain these suggest a later time in the 11th century, at this time there are traces of above-ground buildings.

Stratum VII was composed largely of "four roomed houses" these were constructed in a ring so that their walls could serve to defend the city. There was an open area in the center, suggesting a corral. (See diagram based on Herzog.) In this stratum , there was a building round the well.

Stratum VI - whose pottery indicates the 10th century - seems poorly planned and constructed.

Stratum V (also dated 10th century by Aharoni) involved the construction of major defensive works. A 4m deep ditch round the tell, a 20° glacis of soil held in place with brick and ash was topped by a 4m thick all with a four chambered gate. The solid wall construction and the four chamber gate would be more typical of 9th century Israelite and Judean construction. (Aharoni explains this difference by supposing that the gate at Beersheba dates to the time of David, while the six chamber gates at Megiddo and Hazor are from the reign of Solomon.) stratum V was destroyed by fire.

Beersheba was rebuilt soon after (the closeness of the time is shown by similar pottery types) often using the old foundations. stratum IV seems itself not to have lasted long before being in turn destroyed. Aharoni dates it to the time of Asa.

Strata II and III are distinguishable, though stratum II seems to be local repair and rebuilding since stratum III does not show signs of separate destruction. This city was well planned with a casemate wall (see diagram, based on Herzog) the outer wall was 1.6m and the inner 1.4m thick. The city occupied some 3 acres. A level area 3-3.5m wide separated the wall from the glacis, itself raised and improved. It is this city that primarily features in the photographs that follow, it would have contained some 70 homes - perhaps a population of a few hundred. From its plan, and from the preponderance of official buildings it seems likely that the city was primarily an administrative and military centre for the region. It was destroyed by fire.

There is some sign of rebuilding - stratum I - and later still a small Hellenistic fort.



©Tim Bulkeley, 2002-4, Tim Bulkeley. All rights reserved.
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Unless marked otherwise Bible quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America.