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Good morning from Israel! The last two days it has rained! That is a big deal in a land where it often only rains 4 months of the year. Today, the air is cool and crisp. It’s a nice variation from the 100-plus degree days we’ve been having.

The High Holy Days, which I talked about in my last post, have been concluded and the city has begun to empty out its tourist population. Tourists will not come back in force until the beginning of December. First, the Europeans will come to celebrate St. Nicholas’ Day. That is December 6th and is celebrated with parades led by men dressed in the costume of St. Nicholas. Simultaneous with this celebration will be the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah, which commemorates the miracle of the menorah which occurred when the Macabbees reclaimed the Temple from the Hellenists in the 2nd century BC. Also at this time, the Islamic New Year will arrive on December 7. That first week of December will certainly be an exciting one.

Zorah

Advent will have begun the first Sunday of December, and Christians from around the world will begin flocking here for services and festivities leading up to Christmas. It will be a busy month. Right now, life in Jerusalem feels somewhat as though we are in the eye of the storm, and have just enough time to run around seeing things before the masses return and create long lines and chaos once again. If you ever make a visit to Israel, I strongly recommend you check the calendar and come after the High Holy Days of Judaism, and before December. This usually means you come in the month of November. This year is an unusual one in which the High Holy Days finished much earlier than usual.

Samson and Manoah's graves

Last weekend, I went with Dr. Wright and four of my fellow graduate students into the Shephelah region of Israel. This region is just west of Jerusalem and the Hill Country of Judah. It is an intermediary area of low hills between the Hill Country (which this map refers to as the “Western Mountains”) and the Coastal Plain.

There in the Shephelah we visited several different sites which are a bit off the beaten path, and are almost never visited (except by JUC’s Regional Exploration class). First up was the ancient town of Zorah (the picture at the beginning of this post is of Zorah). This is the town where Samson, the judge, grew up (Judges 13). Believe it or not, his grave is still there! His name is on one, but the one next to him is unmarked. I think the second one probably belongs to Manoah, Samson’s father. Though, both graves appear to have been built in the last 40 years.

Jarmuth

The second site we visited was Zanoah. There is no Biblical narrative which mentions this site. It only shows up in city lists and in Nehemiah’s list of workers rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 3:13). This was my site to present on. It was a bit difficult because no archaeological dig has ever been carried out on the site. The site is absolutely massive! It was an intense climb to reach the top, but once there, we saw ruins everywhere. There are open wells and caves all over the place. As I walked up to one of them I scared a fox (he scared me too) who came bounding out of a cave and scurried away, up the hill.

The final site we visited that day was Jarmuth. This site is a treasure trove of archaeological finds from the Bronze Age in this land. Check out Joshua 10 for a Biblical narrative which includes this city.

What is it that all of these cities have in common? Every single one of them lies along the western edge of the Shephelah. From a geographical perspective they seem like they should have been Philistine cities. They are a very long way from Jerusalem and the rest of the cities of Judah. Plus, in order to reach Jerusalem from these cities the route was either short and very difficult or really long and roundabout. Why did the Judahites bother to capture these cities which were so far from their capital in Jerusalem and away from quick access? You cannot easily tell by looking at a map, but each of these cities is one topographical ridge away from falling into the flat coastlands belonging to the Philistines. The Judahites controlled these cities as a way of maintaining an outer defensive wall against Philistine incursions into Judah. If these cities had been placed on the last ridge which descends into the Coastal Plain, the Philistines would have seen them as offensively placed cities from which the Judahites could have descended upon them. However, when placed back one ridge from the Coastal Plain, these cities become a chain of defensive positions and neighborly relations are lessened with that last ridge becoming a fence of sorts. Good fences make good neighbors, or at least, gives some respite in the constant tension and bickering between neighbors. This allows semi-peace allows the Israelites to go down to Philistia in order to have their farming tools sharpened since metallurgy was an undeveloped skill among the Israelites until the Monarchial period.