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This week’s field study focused on approaches to the Benjamin Plateau.  This is the region that became a sort of buffer area between the Northern and Southern Kingdoms of Judah and Israel.  Its eastern and western accesses made it an easy entrance point into the hill country for invading empires like Egypt and Assyria as well.

Ascent of Adummim

On the road from Jericho to Jerusalem

On the road from Jericho to Jerusalem

Our day began along the Ascent of Adummim. This is the pass from Jerusalem to Jericho. Today, there is a four lane divided highway between the two cities, which is very nice, but it certainly separates you from the land’s environment, history, and culture. So, we left the beaten path and drove a little way into the Judean Hills. Leaving the bus, we walked along the top of the primary branch of the Wadi Qilt. Avoiding men wanting to sell us kaffiyehs and camel rides. Looking around the area it was amazing that this could be a promised land for anyone other than lizards. No one in the Bible ever lived here very long. Shepherds are the primary inhabitants of the Hill Country, and they mostly only come in the winter and spring, when there is still water. At this time of year, all that you can see on the hills are dirt and what look like really sickly and spiny plants called salt bushes.

Elijah, Wadi Cherreth and Wadi Qilt

Many biblical stories tell of people coming out here in the wilderness to hide. It is possible that the prophet Elijah hid from Ahab within the very wadi we were looking into. According to Dr. Wright, the Wadi Cherreth that Elijah flees to in 1 Kings 17 is what today is known as the Wadi Qilt. I certainly would not want to be living here, much less eating anything a raven coughed up! Maybe the ravens brought him whole, and undigested food. It is possible. But that is not how a raven normally transports a meal.

The Apple of His Eye

Something interesting I learned at this site was from Deuteronomy 8. In verse 10 of the NIV, it says:

“In a desert land he found him, in a barren and howling waste. He shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye.” What does that mean, “the apple of his eye”?

What the Hebrew literally says is “the little man of his eye”. That’s nice, but that still does not clear things up. What is “the little man of his eye”? The little man of your eye is what you see when you get up close to someone and look into their eyes. What do you see? You see a reflection of yourself! When God looks into my eyes what does he see? He sees himself! I am the “little man of his eye”.

Remains of Jericho

Remains of Jericho

Jericho

We left the Wadi Qilt and joined up once again with the four lane highway. Soon we reached Jericho. At Jericho, the Hill Country suddenly drops off in hundred foot cliffs into the Jordan Valley. On one of these cliffs above Jericho Herod built a fortress which is still there today. On another, there is a Byzantine church commemorating the site at which tradition says Jesus was tempted. Elisha’s Spring is also here. It was named after him because it is the spring that was poisonous, but was made clean when he scattered salt in it. Read the story in 2 Kings 2:19-22.

Jericho is both the lowest and oldest city on earth. It is so old that pottery was not even invented when it was first settled! This has caused some problems with dating, but the accepted date for the founding of Jericho is between 8300 and 8000 BC, which is in the neolithic age. In part of the excavations done by Kathleen Kenyon, there is a tower from this earliest city of Jericho. In the past, I had been told it was some kind of high place for cultic Canaanite sacrifices. If you see it in its physical setting that does not make much sense. There were a lot of higher places around on which to build an altar. So, it makes a bit more sense that this tower would have been built for defensive purposes.

Why start the conquest at Jericho?

There are many reasons why this was the first place Joshua came. Jericho is an oasis, and would provide an excellent resource base for further military conquests into the Land. It is also one of the few and most direct routes from Trans-Jordan into the heart of the Hill Country. His goal in conquest was the Watershed Ridge. If he could take this ridge, the next stop would be the Plateau in the land allotted to the tribe of Benjamin. Taking this central region would break the backbone of the Canaanites. Not only would it split them in the classic divide and conquer scheme, but the Benjamin Plateau would provide Joshua with enormous natural resources in the form of agriculture and location. If Joshua could take and hold this region, the Canaanites had no chance of preventing further conquests by the Israelites into their lands. By taking Jericho, Joshua secured the back door of the Plateau and avoided being flanked by his enemies. How did Joshua know where to begin the conquest of the Land? He was one of the original spies, and he knew the Land and its geography.

Classmates exploring Jericho

Classmates exploring Jericho

Jericho’s Archaeological Issues

There are some issues concerning whether or not there actually was a city of Jericho in Joshua’s day. Kathleen Kenyon excavated the city and claimed that there was evidence for a city being in existence before and after the time of Joshua, but not at the time when Scripture records the Israelites as marching around Jericho’s walls. What do we do with this? We could reexamine the evidence. Maybe we have misread the biblical account. Perhaps Jericho was not the Veggie Tale’s version with giant walls. Perhaps it was just a small mud-brick village.

How do we know whether the Joshua story really happened or if it was just made up to give the Jews an admirable ancestry as Kenyon claims? For starters, Kenyon was an anti-Semite with absolutely no interest in utilizing the biblical text as an historical document. So, her findings and conclusions must be considered along with her underlying motivations for excavating. Since she excavated Jericho, it has come to light that she actually did find some tombs and pottery from Joshua’s time, but she brushed it aside since it did not fit into her ideology.

Whether Kenyon found tombs and pottery from the time of the Conquest or not, does that mean “Joshua and the Battle of Jericho” never happened? There is city near Beirut which ancient sources refer usually refer to as Byblos. It appears in the Al-Amarna Letters in a list of powerful Canaanite cities from the 13th century BC. However, excavation at Byblos has found absolutely no archaeological evidence of the city’s existence during that time. Yet academia accepts that Byblos existed during that time despite the lack of archaeological evidence. Why would we not do the same for events and places that appear in the Bible?

View to the East of Mitzpeh Danny

View to the East of Mitzpeh Danny

Mitzpe Danny

We left Jericho and because the original routes from Jericho to the Benjamin Plateau are only able to be traveled by 4-wheeler, foot, or camel, we had to backtrack most of the way we had come. Before reaching Jerusalem, we turned north and crossed the Wadi Qilt. After climbing the far side of the wadi we got out and walked to the top of Mitzpe Danny, which is along the ancient Zeboim route to Jericho. This Zeboim route was the most direct route from Jericho to the Benjamin Plateau. It is usually called the “Way to the Wilderness” in the biblical text. It was very near here that Jonathan climbed the cliff of the Suweinit Canyon and routed the Philistines. From where we stood, we could see Geba, Michmash, and Ai, the last of which Joshua conquered after Jericho.

Gibeon and the Benjamin Plateau

Gibeon and the Benjamin Plateau, viewed from Nebi Samwil

Nebi Samwil

The next site we visited was Nebi Samwil, which was incorrectly identified by tradition as Ramah and the burial site of the prophet Samuel. In reality, it is quite possibly the High Place of Gibeon, but in any case, you have an excellent view of the Benjamin Plateau from from the roof of the church over Samuel’s fake grave. You could see the four cities of the Plateau: Mizpeh, Ramah, Gibeah, and Gibeon. You could also see Upper Beth-horon and the start of the Beth-horon Ridge Route, which was Jerusalem’s easiest road to the Coastal Plain. It was awesome to be there looking down on such a small area that has been fought over by so many different kings and nations.

Solomonic Gate of Gezer

Solomonic Gate of Gezer

Gezer

Our day was completed by a visit to Gezer, which sits on the Coastal Plain at the mouth of the Aijalon Valley. This city was the front door to the Benjamin Plateau and the backbone of the Land. When the empires were not in the area trying to defeat one another, the local nations constantly fought over this city and its surrounding plains. Eventually, Israel acquired it through the Pharaoh of Egypt. He conquered Gezer and gave it as the dowry of his daughter whom Solomon married. At this point in history, Israel had complete control over the Benjamin Plateau, its resources, trade, and communication routes.
Standing Stones at Gezer

Standing Stones at Gezer

From Gezer I could see the cities of Tel Aviv, which was ancient Jaffa, Gaza, Azekah, and Ashkelon. On the way to Gezer, Dr. Wright pointed out the pre-1967 border between Israel and Jordan. Israel was inky-dinky!! You could have walked across it in a few hours! I already knew this, but actually seeing it really helped me understand why Israel doesn’t want to risk giving the West Bank back to the Arabs.