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Beersheba

Israel

The patriarch Abraham pitched his tent and dug a well at Beersheba, a wilderness location identified in the Scriptures as the southern limit of the Promised Land.

Beersheba

Ancient well outside Tel Beersheba’s city gate (© Israel Ministry of Tourism)

More than 1000 years before Christ, God had called Abraham, originally from Mesopotamia, to leave his family and possessions and journey to a new land — with the promise that his descendants would become a great nation.

At Beersheba Abraham’s well, on which he depended to water his flocks, was seized by servants of the king of the Philistines, Abimelech.

Abraham complained to Abimelech and struck an oath with the Philistine king, giving him seven ewe lambs for affirming that Abraham had dug the well. To symbolise the covenant affirming his ownership of the well, Abraham planted a tamarisk tree and “called there on the name of the Lord, the everlasting God”. (Genesis 21:25-33)

The name Beersheba (also called Beersheva and Be’er Sheva) means “well of the oath” or “well of the seven [lambs]”. (In Hebrew, the word sheva or sheba means both seven and oath.)

Beersheba

Abraham’s Well at Beersheba in mid-1900s, its stones grooved by ropes (© Matson Photo Service)

Whenever the writers of Scripture wanted to speak of all Israel from north to south, they would use the expression “from Dan [the northern-most city] to Beersheba” (for example, 1 Samuel 3:20).

 

Setting for many biblical events

Beersheba, on the northern edge of the barren Negev desert and about 75 kilometres south of Jerusalem, features in several other events of Bible history:

•   Abraham and his wife Sarah evicted her slave-girl Hagar and Hagar’s son Ishmael (fathered by Abraham) to wander in the wilderness. But God promised Hagar he would also make Ishmael’s descendants a great nation. (Genesis 21:8-21)

•   It was from Beersheba that Abraham journeyed with his son Isaac to Mount Moriah at Jerusalem, where God had ordered him to sacrifice the boy as a burnt offering. (Genesis 22:1-19)

Beersheba

Abraham with his family and flocks (József Molnár, Hungarian National Gallery)

•   Isaac, who built an altar to the Lord at Beersheba, also had a dispute with the Philistines over water, and he too resolved it in a covenant with Abimelech. (Genesis 26:18-31)

•   Isaac’s son Jacob stole the birthright from his brother Esau while the family camped at Beersheba (Genesis 27:1-40). Fleeing from Esau, Jacob had a dream about angels on a ladder reaching up to heaven (Genesis 28:1017)

•   When the elderly Israel (formerly Jacob) was on his way to Egypt, he stopped at Beersheba to offer sacrifice to the God of his father Isaac. God spoke to him “in visions of the night” and encouraged him on his journey. (Genesis 46:1-7)

 

Ancient settlement contains a well

Of the several wells in and around Beersheba, one known as Abraham’s Well is on the southern edge of the old town, where Ha’azmaut Street joins Hebron Road. It is 26 metres deep.

Beersheba

Excavated ancient city at Tel Beersheba (© Israel Ministry of Tourism)

Nearby is the site of a colourful Bedouin market that has operated each Thursday since 1905.

But the ancient settlement from biblical times was located at Tel Beersheba, some 4 kilometres east of the city, on highway 60.

This World Heritage Site also contains a well — dated to the 12th century BC, the time of the patriarchs, and an impressive 69 metres deep — just outside the city gate.

Archaeological excavations have uncovered public buildings, private houses, stables, and a large and impressive water system and reservoir. Extensive reconstruction in mudbrick has been done.

Beersheba

Reconstructed altar at Tel Beersheba (David Q. Hall)

Also on display is a replica of a horned altar, whose hewn stones were found reused on the site. It obviously belonging to an unlawful cult, because it does not comply with the law that an altar should be of “stones on which you have not used an iron tool” (Deuteronomy 27:5).

The altar was probably one of those broken up during the religious reforms of King Josiah (2 Kings 23:8).

The burgeoning modern city of Beersheba is peopled largely by Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union, Ethiopia and other countries. But the past is always present: Redevelopment of the bus station in 2012 uncovered remains of a Byzantine city, including two well-preserved churches.

 

In Scripture:

Abraham makes a covenant with the Philistines: Genesis 21:25-33

Hagar and Ishmael are sent into the wilderness: Genesis 21:8-21

Isaac makes a covenant with the Philistines: Genesis 26:18-31

Jacob steals Esau’s birthright: Genesis 27:1-40

Israel receives a vision on his way to Egypt: Genesis 46:1-7

King Josiah destroys Beersheba’s high places: 2 Kings 23:8

References

Bourbon, Fabio, and Lavagno, Enrico: The Holy Land Archaeological Guide to Israel, Sinai and Jordan (White Star, 2009)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Prag, Kay: Israel & the Palestinian Territories: Blue Guide (A. & C. Black, 2002)
Stiles, Wayne: “Sights and Insights: Last stop and a point of departure”, Jerusalem Post, May 26, 2011

 

External links

Beersheba (Near East Tourist Agency)
Beersheba (Wikipedia)
Beersheba — the Southern Border of the Kingdom of Judah (Jewish Virtual Library)
Tel Be’er Sheva (BibleWalks)
Beersheba (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
Excavations at Beersheba Bus Station Expose the Heart of the Byzantine City (Bible History Daily)

Qumran

Israel

Qumran

Qumran display of clay vessels in which scrolls were found (Seetheholyland.net)

Qumran is famous as the hiding place of the Dead Sea Scrolls, a literary treasure trove hidden since shortly after the time of Christ.

The site is north-west of the Dead Sea, about 15km south of Jericho and about 1.5km west of the road that runs along the western shore of the Dead Sea.

A Bedouin goat- or sheep-herder by the name of Mohammed Ahmed el-Hamed found the first scrolls in 1947, when he threw a rock into a cave in an attempt to drive out a missing animal. The sound of breaking pottery drew him into the cave, where he found seven clay jars containing scrolls that had been wrapped in linen for nearly 2000 years.

Eventually, fragments of about 850 scrolls were found in 11 of the hard-to-reach caves that pockmark the cliffs of the Qumran area. A 12th cave, its contents looted, was found in 2017.

The ancient manuscripts were in various states of completeness. Only a handful were intact, the largest more than 8 metres long. Most were written in Hebrew, some in Aramaic and a few in Greek. Most were on parchment, with a few on papyrus. They had been preserved by the hot, dry desert climate.

The scrolls include at least fragments of every book of the Old Testament except the book of Esther. The oldest existing copies of the Old Testament, they generally confirm the accuracy of later manuscripts. Other scrolls also give a new insight into the Jewish society in which Christianity began.

 

Essenes were ‘unique and admirable’

Who hid the scrolls at Qumran? Academics have hotly debated this question. The prevalent view is that the scrolls were written or copied by a devout group of Essenes, a strict Jewish sect formed in reaction to what they saw as religious laxity in Judaism.

The Essenes at Qumran lived an austere lifestyle in their remote desert surroundings.   Study of the Jewish Law went on in shifts around the clock.

The community gained the admiration of the Roman statesman Pliny the Elder, who wrote: “They are unique and admirable beyond all other peoples in that they have no women, no sexual desire, no money, and only palm trees for company. Owing to the influx of newcomers, they are daily reborn in equal numbers.”

The Essenes believed the end of the world was imminent. They never married because they wanted to be ritually pure when the Messiah appeared.

 

No scrolls mention Christ

Qumran

Close-up of cave 4 at Qumran (Seetheholyland.net)

The Qumran community was driven from its wilderness retreat by the Romans in AD 68, leaving its library of scrolls hidden in caves for safe-keeping.

Although the Essenes existed during the time of Christ, none of the scrolls refer to him or to any other New Testament personality.

Ruins of the sect’s communal site remain, including a watchtower, a dining hall, cisterns and cemeteries.

Visitors can watch a short film on the Essenes and view a small exhibition before going to the archaeological site. From there, the caves above can be seen.

Where are the scrolls now? Most are in Jerusalem (eight at the Shrine of the Book, where pages are regularly on display, and the others at the Rockefeller Museum). Some are in Jordan and Europe.

Related site:

Shrine of the Book

 

Administered by: Israel Nature and Parks Authority

Tel.: 0972-2-994-2235

Open: 8am-5pm (4pm Oct-Mar)

 

References

Bowker, John: The Complete Bible Handbook (Dorling Kindersley, 1998)
Charlesworth, James H.: The Millennium Guide for Pilgrims to the Holy Land (BIBAL Press, 2000)
Inman, Nick, and McDonald, Ferdie (eds): Jerusalem & the Holy Land (Eyewitness Travel Guide, Dorling Kindersley, 2007)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Sussman, Ayala, and Peled, Ruth: The Dead Sea Scrolls (Israel Antiquities Authority and Israel Museum Products, 1994)

 

External links

Shrine of the Book (The Israel Museum)
Dead Sea scrolls (Wikipedia)
Qumran (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library (Israel Antiquities Authority)
Qumran (BiblePlaces)
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