Iron Age Gate and Fortifications Uncovered at Philistine Gath Bible and archaeology news Robin Ngo • 08/10/2015
Remains of the monumental city gate and fortifications of Iron Age Gath—home of the Biblical giant Goliath—were uncovered this summer in excavations at Tell es-Safi in central Israel. Photo: Prof. Aren Maeir, Director, Ackerman Family Bar-Ilan University Expedition to Gath.
In the Bible, Gath was one of the five Philistine cities (“the Pentapolis”) established in Canaan and home to the giant Goliath, who famously fought David (I Samuel 17). The site of Tell es-Safi, located on the border between the southern coastal plain (Philistia) and the Judean foothills (Shephelah) in central Israel, has been identified by most scholars with Biblical Gath. There, archaeologists uncovered evidence of continuous occupation from the Chalcolithic period (fifth millennium B.C.E.) until modern times—including evidence of Philistine occupation in the Iron Age. Recently, the Ackerman Family Bar-Ilan University Expedition to Gath, led by Bar-Ilan University archaeology professor Aren Maeir, announced that the entrance gate as well as fortifications belonging to the Philistine settlement have been found. During the early period of the Iron Age, the Philistines began to extend their rule beyond Philistia and were therefore in constant conflict with the neighboring Israelites. In recent years, some scholars have claimed that Philistine Gath was not a dominant, well-fortified city during the Iron Age IIA (10th–9th centuries), the period immediately after the separation of the neighboring “United Kingdom” of David and Solomon into the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah.
This summer, the archaeological team under the direction of Maeir began to excavate in the lower city at Tell es-Safi to investigate whether or not Gath had been fortified in the Iron Age. What they uncovered were the remains of a monumental city gate and large-scale fortifications of the Iron Age city.
Our free eBook Ten Top Biblical Archaeology Discoveries brings together the exciting worlds of archaeology and the Bible! Learn the fascinating insights gained from artifacts and ruins, like the Pool of Siloam in Jerusalem, where the Gospel of John says Jesus miraculously restored the sight of the blind man, and the Tel Dan inscription—the first historical evidence of King David outside the Bible.
Map of the cities of the Philistine Pentapolis and Jerusalem.
“In the past, we saw evidence of this, but could not find definite proof,” Prof. Aren Maeir told Bible History Daily. “Once the remains were found in the specific trench, we ‘connected the dots’ regarding other features we could see on the surface, and then began excavating them as well.” The archaeological team also uncovered evidence of a metallurgical production area in the Iron IIA city. In previous seasons, the excavation made a number of exciting discoveries that helped paint a picture of life in Philistine Gath, including houses, cultic finds, Philistine burials and a large horned altar whose dimensions are similar to those given in Exodus 30:2.
“We can also see influences from the Israelite and other local cultures on the Philistines, and Philistine influences on these cultures,” explained Maeir. “For example, while the Philistines have typical pottery, we can see local influences on how it develops and changes, and, similarly, ‘Philistine types’ seem to appear among the Israelites/Judahites, as well. This mirrors the intense and multifaceted connections that existed between the Philistines and their neighbors.”
“While we most often see the Philistines as the main enemies of the Israelites and Judahites, as reflected in the Samson stories in the Bible, it was much more complex,” Maeir said. “On the one hand, they were enemies. On the other hand, they were close neighbors.”
Related reading in Bible History Daily: Where Did the Philistines Come From?
Philistine and Israelite Religion at Tell es-Safi/Gath
Video Interview with Tell es-Safi/Gath’s Aren Maeir
Dr. Ibrahim Abrash, a former Palestinian Minister of Culture from the Gaza Strip, recently surprised many Palestinians by publishing an article that included a scathing attack on both the PA and Hamas, holding them responsible for the continued suffering of their people.
In his article, Dr. Abrash also holds the two Palestinian parties responsible for the delay in rebuilding thousands of houses that were destroyed or damaged in the Gaza Strip during last year's military conflict between Israel and Hamas. He points out that Hamas and the PA have been holding each other responsible for the suffering of Palestinians. "Sometimes, they also put all the blame on Israel for all that is happening in the Gaza Strip," he said.
Referring to the ongoing power struggle between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, which reached its peak with the violent takeover by Hamas of the entire Gaza Strip in the summer of 2007, Dr. Abrash accused the two rival parties of exploiting their dispute to cover up corruption in vital sectors of Palestinian society.
"In light of the division [between the PA-controlled West Bank and Hamas-run Gaza], corruption and absence of accountability have become widespread," Dr. Abrash wrote. "This division has led to the collapse of the political system and the system of values, and an increase in corruption. This has also allowed many opportunists and hypocrites to reach important positions, where they do anything they want without being held accountable."
J'Accuse. Dr. Ibrahim Abrash, a former Palestinian Minister of Culture (left), accuses Palestinian Authority and Hamas officials of corruption, extortion, opportunism and hypocrisy. Pictured in the middle is PA President Mahmoud Abbas, and at right Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh.
And while many in the international community and media continue to hold Israel fully responsible for the plight of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, Dr. Abrash offers a completely different perspective.
Noting that the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip have fallen victim to the power struggle between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, he says that no one today knows who is supposed to be helping the people living there.
"The interests of the people have been lost as result of the two parties' rivalry," Dr. Abrash said. "No one knows who is in charge of the people's needs in the Gaza Strip -- Hamas, which is the de facto authority in the Gaza Strip, or the Palestinian Authority and its national consensus government. Or is it UNRWA and the donors who are responsible? Or is it the sole responsibility of Israel as an occupation state? To whom should the people direct their complaints?"
Referring to widespread corruption under the PA in the West Bank, the former Palestinian minister reveals that Palestinian academic institutions, including universities and colleges, have become "commercial projects for granting certificates that have no scientific value or content."
Dr. Abrash points out that no one knows whether universities and colleges in the Gaza Strip are subject to the supervision of the Ministry of Education in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip.
He also blasts the PA's Ministry of Civilian Affairs for exploiting and extorting Palestinians who seek travel permits, especially those wishing to leave the Gaza Strip. He goes on to hold Hamas responsible for "harassing" Palestinians who wish to leave the Gaza Strip through the Erez border crossing (to Israel). Dr. Abrash claims that some Palestinians are forced to pay bribes to Palestinian officials to obtain a travel permit.
"Many people have been subjected to blackmail and procrastination [by Palestinian officials] after Israel eased travel restrictions at the Bet Hanoun [Erez] border crossing," he said. "But the people are afraid to complain, out of fear that they would be denied travel permits in the future. What is happening at the border crossing has created favoritism and bribery."
Dr. Abrash concludes his article with a rhetorical question: "Isn't it shameful and irritating that while Israel has been issuing travel permits for those with special needs, some influential [Palestinian] officials are placing obstacles? Until when will they continue to manipulate and blackmail the people of the Gaza Strip?"
Dr. Abrash's article represents a rare voice of sanity among Palestinians. This is a voice that does not blame all the miseries of Palestinians on Israel alone and holds the Palestinians leadership also responsible for the continued suffering of their people.
However, this is a voice that is rarely given a platform in mainstream media outlets in the West, whose journalists continue to focus almost entirely on stories that reflect negatively on Israel.
Western journalists based in the Middle East tend to ignore Palestinians who are critical of the Palestinian Authority or Hamas. That is because such criticism does not fit the narrative according to which Israel is solely responsible for all the bad things that happen to the Palestinians.
Dr. Abrash's criticism of Hamas and the PA -- whom he openly holds responsible for the suffering of their people -- actually reflects the widespread sentiment among Palestinians. Over the past few years, a growing number of Palestinians have come to realize that their leaders have failed them again and again. Today, many Palestinians are aware of the fact that both Hamas and the PA are responsible for hindering efforts to rebuild the Gaza Strip and that the two parties are as corrupt as ever.
But when will the international community and media wake up and comprehend what many Palestinians came to understand years ago, namely that the real tragedy of the Palestinian people has been -- and remains -- bad and irresponsible leadership? Unfortunately, this is unlikely to happen as long as the world continues to see Israel as the villain.
Readers and friends,
Look for my interview on Women's Radio Network this coming Monday, July 10 at 8.30am Pacific Time, 11.30am Eastern Time.
Would love to hear your reactions.
Proto-Aeolic Capital Associated with Judah’s Longest Spring Tunnel Investigating royal iconography and large-scale construction in Iron Age Judah Noah Wiener • 05/01/2014
A stylized palm tree motif is carved onto this proto-aeolic discovery associated with a remarkable Iron Age spring tunnel system near Jerusalem. Photo courtesy of Binyamin Tropper.
In January 2014, Arutz-7 announced that they would reveal the location of a “covered up” proto-aeolic capital that they labeled “King David’s Castle.” While the relationship to King David was unsubstantiated and sensational, the proto-aeolic capital is part of an undoubtedly important archaeological site just over five miles from Jerusalem’s City of David and four miles from Bethlehem. The find itself—a one-of-a-kind proto-aeolic capital still attached to its base—is a rare-yet-iconic First Temple period type. The iconography is familiar in Israel; proto-aeolic designs are etched on modern Israeli five-shekel coins. The capital is associated with a 525-foot-long tunnel system, the largest and most impressively hewn spring tunnel in the region of Jerusalem. This labor required to carve such a system opens new questions regarding the Judahite administration and agriculture around Jerusalem. Unfortunately, most of last year’s discussion hinged on media reports of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) response to the Kfar Etzion Field School’s attempts to publicize the find. The archaeological significance was all but ignored.
Last summer I had the chance to meet with Binyamin Tropper, the Kfar Etzion training coordinator who recognized the capital in February 2013, and Daniel Ein-Mor, the IAA archaeologist who previously surveyed the area, identified the capital, explored the water system and recently published the site (see notes below). Media articles last spring portrayed the Kfar Etzion and IAA camps in a pitched battle over the discovery’s public presentation. I saw no indication of hostile contention—both Ein-Mor and Tropper were cordial and enthusiastic in sharing information about the site.
Before discussing the ancient evidence, we need to address the elephant in the room: the articles last year suggesting that the IAA “covered up” the discovery. While there are modern political sensitivities surrounding the location of the site, Bible History Daily is not the place for such discussion. It is a place for the presentation of archaeological data, so first and foremost, it is important to rectify the notion that this site remains quietly unpublished. Last year, Daniel Ein-Mor and geologist Zvi Ron published the article “An Iron Age Royal Tunnel Spring in the region of Nahal Rephaim” in Guy Stiebel et. al (eds.), New Studies in the Archaeology of Jerusalem and its Region. Ein-Mor also published a shorter free online report “Walajeh (‘Ain Joweizeh)” on the IAA Hadashot Arkheologiyot website last summer.
The Proto-Aeolic Typology In his article “The Origin and Date of the Volute Capitals from the Levant,” Tel Aviv University Professor Oded Lipschits introduces the type:
The Iron Age volute capitals (the so-called “Proto-Aeolic” or “Proto-Ionian” capitals) are among the most impressive and special finds discovered in archaeological excavations in Israel and Jordan. The size of the capitals, their weight, the quality of their carving, and their impressive design provide an indication of their function in the gates and palaces of the ancient kingdoms of Israel, Judah, Moab, and Ammon.
Proto-aeolic capitals have been uncovered at dozens of Israelite and Judahite sites. The proto-aeolic palmetto iconography is often associated with Israelite kingship, and the motif is minted on the modern Israeli five-shekel coin.
The capitals—an architectural term usually referring to decorative supports on top of columns—are widely associated with monumental sites but are poorly understood, in large part because they have rarely been found in situ. Proto-aeolic capitals are decorated with curving date palm tree motifs, associated with the Near Eastern “Tree of Life,” and the architectural style was influential in shaping later architecture from classical Greece to Mesopotamia. Where have these capitals been found? In the Hadashot Arkheologiyot article “Walajeh (‘Ain Joweizeh),” Daniel Ein-Mor succinctly lists the existing evidence of proto-aeolic capitals, citing a Hebrew article published by Oded Lipschits in 2009:
Twenty-four stone capitals decorated with a Proto-Aeolic design from the First Temple period are known from the main cities of the Kingdom of Israel: Samaria, Megiddo, Hazor and Dan. Eleven others are known from the Kingdom of Judea [Judah]; ten capitals were found at Ramat Rahel where remains of a palace from the late eighth–early seventh centuries BCE were excavated, and one capital comes from the City of David excavations in Jerusalem (Lipschits 2009). Five capitals are known from the site of el-Mudeibi’ – Mudaybi in Moab, and a capital was found in secondary use in the village of ‘Ain-Sara, west of Kerak, next to a spring of the same name. Two fragments of capitals are also known from the citadel in Amman (Lipschits 2009). The capitals from the Kingdom of Israel mainly date to the ninth century BCE and those from Judea and Jordan to the late eighth or early seventh centuries BCE. Although the central motif is identical, the capitals from the various sites differ in some features.
In “The Origin and Date of the Volute Capitals from the Levant,” Lipschits suggests that capitals were first made during Israel’s Omride dynasty in the 9th century B.C.E. He proposes that after the Assyrians invaded Israel, the capitals’ “size, esthetics and quality, attracted the attention of the Assyrian rulers who were known for their adoption of artistic and architectural elements, and for incorporating them in the local Assyrian tradition.” We have artistic depictions of these capitals at numerous palatial Assyrian sites. Lipschits goes on to suggest that the proto-aeolic capitals found in Judah, Moab and Ammon, which were built later than the examples found in Israel, reflect “Assyrian encouragement, approval or sponsorship.”
As the point where three of the world’s major religions converge, Israel’s history is one of the richest and most complex in the world. Sift through the archaeology and history of this ancient land in the free eBook Israel: An Archaeological Journey, and get a view of these significant Biblical sites through an archaeologist’s lens.
However, to understand the type, we also need to look west. Haifa University scholar Norma Franklin draws parallels between the capitals and Cypriote architecture, focusing on the similarity between the proto-aeolic motifs and those found in tombs at Tamassos in Cyprus. In her article “From Megiddo to Tamassos and Back: Putting the ‘Proto-Ionic Capital’ in Its Place,” Franklin suggests that these “capitals” were never, in fact, used structurally as capitals. Instead she notes a variety of functions from site to site: they served as column bases, support for wooden objects or other non-structural roles within monumental architecture. There is little evidence that proto-aeolic capitals were ever used as structural column capitals, and the phrase persists more due to common usage than accuracy. The proto-aeolic “capital” associated with the Judahite water system is actually a design carved into a monolithic rock. A New Proto-Aeolic Capital The recently announced proto-aeolic capital, associated with the ‘Ain Joweizeh water system, is the first ever found still attached to its base. Originally identified as a lintel in a 1982 survey of the water tunnel, the hewn proto-aeolic decoration is part of a massive, partially buried rock that likely weighs several tons, suggesting that it hasn’t moved far from its original location. The decorations—which are undoubtedly carved in the proto-aeolic style—are actually part of a monolithic rock that may have been part of a monumental entranceway.
In terms of style, the proto-aeolic decoration is most similar to examples from nearby Ramat Rahel and the City of David, but parallels can also be drawn between the capital and examples from Moabite el-Mudeibi‘ and Cypriote Tamassos.
Proto-aeolic capitals have rarely been discovered in situ, and despite the name, there is little evidence that the capitals sat atop columns as architectural elements. This new find is carved from a monolithic rock--while still attached to its base, it is not part of a traditional column. Photo courtesy Binyamin Tropper.
The Hadashot Arkheologiyot report by Daniel Ein-Mor featured the following reconstruction of the partially exposed rock featuring the proto-aeolic element. This may have formed a monumental entrance to the water system or reservoir, along with another nearby--but unexcavated--monolith. IAA: http://www.hadashot-esi.org.il/report_detail_eng.aspx?id=2275
The capital sits in a “seam” (to borrow a phrase from Daniel Ein-Mor’s Hadashot Arkheologiyot report) between an earlier and later phase of the water tunnel’s construction. It sits across from another unexcavated massive stone monolith. One likely possibility is that the capital marked an entrance to the water system after the first phase of construction. If this marks an entrance, there is good reason to believe that the nearby-but-unexcavated stone across from the proto-aeolic capital may be another capital, and the two together framed a monumental entrance to the tunnel or the system’s reservoir.
The Walajeh or ‘Ain Joweizeh Water System The ‘Ain Joweizeh tunnels are the largest and most elegantly carved karstic water system in the region. Despite the massive effort required to carve such a tunnel, it did not draw a great deal of water. Photo courtesy Binyamin Tropper.
Daniel Ein-Mor was quick to caution me: “We don’t want to overlook the importance of a site because one aspect is attractive—the capital is attracting attention, but the water system itself is at least as interesting.” I have to agree. We know of over 100 spring tunnels in the area, and none is even half as long as the ‘Ain Joweizeh system. It is a massive effort to cut through hard dolomite rock. The even and measured chisel marks in the Iron Age tunnel reveal that it is a masterpiece of construction, one that would have required a great deal of funding. Unlike Hezekiah’s tunnel, which carries water drawn from Jerusalem’s Gihon Spring, the Joweizeh tunnel drew its water from springs en route. The Joweizeh tunnel is the longest tunnel of its type in the region. Because of the similarity in workmanship, it is worth comparing this tunnel with Hezekiah’s, as Todd Bolen notes on the Bibleplaces blog.
Despite the extensive labor required to carve the tunnel (which includes a side channel used to regulate uneven water flow), the spring itself is relatively low flow, raising questions about its purpose. Who would have cut the hard dolomite rock and haul it hundreds of feet out of the tunnel? The tunnel does not reach Jerusalem. Where was this water going? Why was this elaborate tunnel marked by a proto-aeolic capital, a type often associated with royal construction?
For a look at the most famous water system in the Biblical world, visit the BAS Hezekiah’s Tunnel page.
Interpreting the Finds This site has not escaped the attention of the Israeli archaeological community. Binyamin Tropper mentioned the site’s visitors, and his list included some of the most esteemed names in the field: Nadav Na’aman, Israel Finkelstein, Yuval Gadot, Amihai Mazar, Yosef Garfinkel, Norma Franklin and several others.
This Assyrian relief from the palace of Assurbanipal at Nineveh (now housed at the British Museum) shows a structure with proto-aeolic capitals atop a garden and a stream. Some believe this artistic comparison could help archaeologists understand the relationship between the water tunnel and capital.
Such a water system suggests the presence of a nearby settlement or wealthy estate (Daniel Ein-Mor specifically mentions the possibility of a royal palace or estate similar to Ramat Rahel), but so far there is no archaeological evidence of such a place. A proto-aeolic capital at ‘Ain-Sara in Jordan may be associated with a spring. Assyrian reliefs from Khorsabad and Nineveh show proto-aeolic capitals associated with gardens and springs. Following Oded Lipschits’s proposal that the capitals originated in Israel and were subsequently adopted by Assyrians before being introduced into Judah and other nearby territories, perhaps the usage shown in Assyrian reliefs would have been familiar to anyone considering constructing proto-aeolic capitals in Judah. Of course, archaeologists have not yet uncovered anything resembling a Judahite or Assyrian-style garden estate in the area, and we can’t base assumptions about the nature of the region from a few foreign artworks. What we know now is that the construction of this water system required a great deal of labor, and someone—perhaps the Judahite government—was willing to invest a great deal in an as-yet archaeologically inconspicuous part of the hinterlands of Jerusalem.
Notes Daniel Ein-Mor and Zvi Ron, “An Iron Age Royal Tunnel Spring in the region of Nahal Rephaim” in G. Stiebel et. al (eds.), New Studies in the Archaeology of Jerusalem and its Region (Jerusalem: Israel Antiquities Authority and Institute of Archaeology, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 2013).
Author Batya Casper.