Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Beit El in History: The Tanachic Period

Walking back up to Mount Artis, overlooking Beit El, I find two massive tanks. The first, larger one serves the settlement below. The second tank is mounted to a tower at a higher elevation to provide sufficient water pressure to the trailers, which will some day become a new neighborhood, which is actually on the hilltop.

A view of some newly constructed housing on Mount Artis. You can barely see a couple of the new trailers between the trees on the top middle. The water tanks are top right.

The Water Tanks

I took pictures from the water towers on both visits. On the first day, which was sunny, I walked the stairs to the top of the large water tank, which has a promenade and viewing area for panoramic photography.

The Promenade on the larger water tank

On my second visit, which was more cloudy, I climbed to the top of the second water tank. It had no railing around the top, and, though I had seen some crazy teenagers sitting up there the week before, I decided not to risk plummeting to a certain death and remained clinging to the ladder to photograph. From the top of the tower, one can take a 360 degree panorama and travel through 3,597 years of Jewish history.

Gulp... don't look down.

And now, to go back in time...

...four hundred years after the period of the patriarchs, it's the year 2488... 1272 BCE. Moshe (Moses,) after leading the Jewish people out of Egyptian slavery, surviving the ten plagues, receiving the oral Torah and transcribing the written Torah, guiding the people through forty years of wars and wandering, has passed away. Joshua, his chosen successor, now leads the Jewish people across the Jordan river and builds an altar and sets up camp in Gilgal, near the city of Jericho. The land is to be conquered and divided between the twelve tribes of Israel, the descendants of the twelve sons of Ya'akov (Jacob.)

The Twelve Tribes of Israel

Looking southeast from the water tower on a clear day, it is possible to see Gilgal, the Dead Sea, and the mountains opposite the Jordan River, which was once the territorial region of the tribes of Gad and Reuvein (Reuben). Today the area is occupied by the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

However, looking in the same easterly direction, we see the city of Ophrah, home of Gideon the Judge, who Judged the tribes of Israel beginning in the year 2694 (1066 BCE) as described in Shoftim (Judges) 8:27. In Tanachic times, Judges served not only as those who resolved disputes, but also as prophets, military commanders, and inspirational religious figures. They were appointed not by an established system of law or inheritance, but inspired by God and asked to rule by the people themselves.

Looking in the direction of the tribal region of Gad. The red-roofed houses are the modern Jewish settlement built next to the ruins of the ancient Jewish settlement of Ophrah (also spelled Ofra.)

Then, turning our gaze to the southeast, we see the Arab town of Bittin. Because the "N" and "L" are often interchanged in Arabic, there is reason to believe that Bittin is a derivative of the Jewish name "Beit El," and that the recent Arab settlement is built on the ruins of the cancient city. Furthermore, archaeological excavations under the town carried out 50 years ago turned up the ruins of an ancient city, dated to a similar time. The Tanach describes the conquest of Beit El in Shoftim (Judges) 1:23.

Warriors from the two tribes of Joseph (the tribes of Menashe and Ephraim) scouted out the city looking for weak points in the city's defences. After surveying the city, they found gates or entrances. Wondering how the citizens were able to enter their city, they pulled aside one of the Canaanite villagers they found outside the city and offered to spare him and his family if he showed them the entrance. He revealed an underground tunnel which led to a field outside the city, from which people could enter and exit. Having found the opening, the tribes of Menashe and Ephraim penetrated the city's defences and destroyed the place, sparing their informant and his family.

I mention this because,in the records of the archaeological dig is a mention of a long tunnel discovered deep underground, tall enough for a man to walk in, which would seem to provide an even stronger link between Bittin and Beit El.

In the top left, extreme background, along the ridgeline, is the town of Bittin. The Tel (archeological hill) is located under the clump of trees to the right end of the ridge.

Now continuing to turn to the right, we look directly south and see the twin towers on Givat Tzarfatit (French Hill) in the extreme background. These towers overlook the ancient city of Jerusalem, where, in 2883 (877 BCE,) King David was crowned as king over all the tribes, and the nation transformed from a collection of tribes lead by charismatic judges to a united hereditary monarchy.

Looking south, the twin towers on Har Hatzofim, Jerusalem, can be seen faintly in the upper left hand corner.

But the kingdom was not to last. In 2694 (796 CE) King David's grandchildren Rechavam and Yeravam split the kingdom into Judah in the south, and Israel in the north. While the Kingdom of Judah remains true to Torah, the Kingdom of Israel falls into idol worship. Yeravam, in his political drive to split and secure his own northern Kingdom of Israel from the southern Kingdom of Judah, where Jerusalem sits, builds idols in the town of Tzreidah. The idea is to tempt the passing pilgrims, on ther way to give sacrifices at the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, into performing idol worship instead, and not leaving the control of Yeravam in the northern kingdom.

Turning further to the right, we are now facing west, looking at the Arab village of Surda. This is believed, based on name, and it's location on the ancient road to Jerusalem, to be the ancient Jewish city of Tzreida.

Foreground: Jewish settlement on Mount Artis. Midground: Beit El. Background; Arab Surda, believed to be ancient Jewish Tzreida, on the ridgeline.

A close-up of Surda, ancient Tzreida, with Beit El in the foreground.

Well, I WANTED to get through the whole ancient history, but it looks like I'm out of time and will have to continue tomorrow. Stay tuned!


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