Biblical Tels

Three Israeli tels—Megiddo, Hazor, and Beer Sheba—that get name-checked in the Old Testament
Biblical Tels
Celebrity Status: Megiddo, the tel mentioned 11 times in the Old Testament (courtesy, Israel Ministry of Tourism)
Biblical Tels at a Glance
Name: Biblical Tels: Megiddo, Hazor, and Beer Sheba
Date of Inscription: 2005
Why Go: The tels get the big nod from God: The pre-historic settlement mounds appear in the Old Testament, as well as history books covering the Neolithic Age to the Iron Age.

For astute bible readers, the Trio of Tels might sound a tad familiar: The ancient settlement mounds are mentioned in the Old Testament—and not as lowly footnotes. Israel claims more than 200 tels, but Megiddo, Hazor, and Beer Sheba stand out for their lineage. To be sure, few sites trace back to when Israel back was called Canaan.

These three tels are scattered around the country. Hazor is in the north, near the Sea of Galilee; Megiddo is southeast of Haifa; and Beer Sheba is north of the Negev Desert, in southern Israel. Despite their disparate locations, the mounds have a lot in common, starting with their look. The tels rise like leavened bread beneath an otherwise flat landscape, plumped up with millennia of history.

Tel Megiddo, for example, was shaped by four main periods—the Neolithic Age, the Early Bronze Age, the Middle Bronze Age, and the Iron Age—running from the fourth millennium B.C. to the early fourth century B.C. Each population left behind hallmarks of its culture, turning Megiddo into an open-air Early Civ class. Archeologists unearthed Neolithic pottery in caves and a sacred compound comprised of three rectangular temples and a round altar from the Early Bronze Age. Heading into the 12th century B.C., the town became more city-state—and more paranoid, as fortifications were strengthened to foil such intruders as the Sea People, who invaded anyway. Finally, the Iron Agers arrived on the scene, building fairytale palaces, sophisticated water-routing systems, and horse stables with training space for their pretty ponies.

Archaeology aside, Megiddo is the one name to drop when talking to Biblical scholars. The Old Testament mentions the tel 11 times, often in the same breath as Solomon's construction work and the settlement plan for the tribes of Israel. Megiddo also pops up in the New Testament, but under the pen name of Armageddon (the Greeks played loose with the word "Har-Megiddo," or Mound of Megiddo).

At Tel Hazor, the biblical references aren't so clear-cut—or free of controversy. The largest biblical site in Israel is mentioned in the Old Testament a couple of times, but what really rankles scholars is its description of the battle between the children of Israel and the King of Canaan (who really won?). As for the line about Solomon building the walls of Hazor, excavators still want to know if the structures you see today are the same ones from the king's time.

What's certain, though, are Hazor's lasting monuments from the second millennium B.C. to the Iron Age. Builders from the Middle and Late Bronze Ages, for example, erected palaces with extraordinary Syrian detail. During Solomon's reign, stone pillars transformed the interiors of administration buildings into workplace cubicles. And a six-chambered stone gate kept everyone in, and the riffraff out.

Tel Beer Sheba, meanwhile, has the honor of hosting God himself. According to the bible, God appeared to the Patriarchs during their travels around the Holy Land. But while God did not leave his calling card, the Iron Agers certainly did. Visitors can study the ancient urban layout, which includes a geometric street plan, residential dwellings, food storehouses, the governor's palace, and underground water systems with gutters. Unfortunately, there is no mention, in the Old Testament or otherwise, about who cleaned the gutters.

Published: 8 Feb 2006 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication



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