Philistine Country

Day 7 – Philistine Country

David and Goliath. The shepherd and the giant. An Israelite and a Philistine.

Today we loaded our big orange bus, which by the way, is a first class bus. It even has Wi-Fi! So far, the only free Wi-Fi of the trip.

But I digress. We loaded up our bus and headed southwest out of Jerusalem through the Judean Mountains. After a time, the bus pulled to the side of the road. Nothing of import jumped out at us, but like good sheep, we followed our shepherd.

I studied our surroundings to see that we were in a nice little valley. The Elah Valley to be specific.

Turns out we were standing IN that famous battle scene where the young shepherd boy, David, picked up five rocks from the creek and killed the giant, Goliath the Philistine, in one shot.

It’s a real place! Not that I ever doubted that it was. But to be there, in person. Amazing!

Ariel led us to the little creek, dry as it was and told us we could take rocks as souvenirs. I found a few I liked. One of the pastors in our group told those of us around him that the size of rocks David would have selected to kill a big person like Goliath would probably have been the size of his fist. That’s not exactly what I pictured either, but that seems to happen a lot on this trip. J

Back on the bus, we continued southwest till we got to some excavation sites. Tel Maresha is one of many “tels” in Israel. A quick archaeology lesson, as it will come up again: a tel is a hill that literally contains layers of civilizations.

Ariel explained it this way: a nomadic tribe before Jesus’ day comes along and sees that this site has water, vegetation, and enough wildlife to sustain them, so they set up camp…for about 50-100 years…until something happens to cause them to leave. Maybe a fire, invasion, or some bad natural occurrence. Years and years and years go by, and the wind and water and weather cover up that site.

At some point another group of nomads comes by and notices that this site would be a good place to live, so they set up camp, having no idea what lies beneath them. When this happens a few times, land that was once flat becomes a hill, or a tel.

Tel Maresha.

Wouldn’t be much to see if they hadn’t already done some excavating because it only looks a hill. At Tel Maresha they’ve uncovered things like a big olive press “factory” and a HUGE pigeon columbarium, where they raised pigeons for food and sacrifices. We had to go below ground to see both, and it was all very impressive.

I’ve not been able to load pictures because of the spotty Wi-Fi, but when I am able to I’ll be sure to include pictures of some of this. It’s not anything we have seen before, living in America. Fascinating!

Just down the road were these old quarries called Bell Caves. It was a hot hike down to them, but oh-my was it worth it! I promise to try to upload some pics.

In simple terms, Bell Caves are ancient quarries from the days of the Roman Empire – 2000+ years ago! They would create a hole atop these soft limestone hills to quarry chunks of rock to use as bricks for their roads.

We entered a series of these caves from the side of one where a wall had collapsed. They all inter-connected and had the same shape, that of a bell. Narrow at the top, rounded out wide at the sides, coming in a bit at ground level. The sunlight came in through those top holes like spotlights. We took turns standing in the light, arms raised.

I imagined the Transfiguration of Christ as I watched my friends looking bright as angels in the small circle of light.

Birds made their home in these caves. And it was fun to echo our voices, so we sang a few songs. It was nice and cool in these bell-shaped quarries, too…we loved that break from the heat!

From there we went east toward the Dead Sea. Ariel pointed out on the map where Gaza is, but we didn’t go there. It was west of us along the Mediterranean Sea. In our travels this day we’d entered the Negev Desert, south Israel.

When compared to the Judean Desert, the Negev looked even MORE bleak and dry…if that’s possible.

In the middle of this desolate area arose a city – a city as we would see in America with skyscrapers and such. It didn’t fit. But there it was. Beer-sheba.

I recognized the name from Bible studies, but I couldn’t place what story or person it was associated with. Ariel didn’t disappoint! Genesis 21 and 22 reference Beer-sheba.

The back story – God (in Genesis 12) told a man named Abram to pack up all he owned and move. God didn’t give him a destination, just asked him to go. Directions forthcoming.

Abram did. And in time, he’d earned such favor with God for his faith that his name was changed to Abraham. Father Abraham. The first of the Israelite nation.

On his journey, he came into the land of Gerar (south Israel today) where he and a king, Abimelech, had some disagreements. In time they made a covenant together over a well. (which, now that I’ve spent some time in these deserts, I can see how important a well—the water source—is so important.)

At this well, the place where they swore an oath, Abraham named it Beer-sheba, “well of the covenant.” And from then on Abraham no longer wandered; he made his home there. See Genesis 22:19.

Up to that point, Abraham had been a nomad, and along the way his flock had grown and he’d obtained wealth. To this day nomads live in the area, called Bedouins. They believe they live as their father, Abraham, did.

The excavation site we visited was an old site of the city of Beer-sheba. The current city, with the skyscrapers and such, is a few miles up the road.

At the site we saw a well, 200 feet deep, the remains of the outer wall, city gate, and their cistern water system. It was a lot of rocks on a dry hill (I imagine another tel). But it was fascinating to see the remains of a people who made their home in this arid place.

We ended our day at the Dead Sea.

When in Jerusalem we were at heights of 2000-2400 feet above sea level.

At the Dead Sea, the lowest place in the world, we were at 1300 feet BELOW sea level. An ear-popping good time!

The little highway we entered by had us at the very southern tip of the Dead Sea where it is shallow and somewhat cut off from the much bigger, deeper northern parts of the sea.

It’s really a lake, but it is HEAVY with salt. Salty like nothing I’ve ever experienced. (more on that tomorrow).

We did see factories/refineries that “mine” magnesium and potassium from the Dead Sea along those western shores. Across the Dead Sea to the east is Jordan and the Moab Mountains.

We continued to follow the highway along the shoreline when we hit some mountains – Dead Sea to our right. Mountains to our left.  Ariel tried to convince us that these 1000+ feet tall mountains were made of salt…mostly salt. To prove it, he had our driver pull off the road.

There was a large boulder at the base of the mountains. He told us to go TASTE it. Huh.

I was not one who actually put her tongue on the rock, but many did. Salty it was! A few got creative and dug around the crevices and found tiny salt pillars. It was quite the day of discovery!

Up way high to our left was a single, giant pillar…separate from the rest of the peaks in the mountain range. Ariel told us that tradition has it this pillar is Lot’s wife, the woman who looked back at the destruction God had imparted on the cities Sodom and Gomorrah after He’d told them not to look back.

Were we convinced? Not completely. Was it feasible? It was fun to think so! And the fact that EVERYTHING around us was salty added to the possibility.

Just a bit down the road we found our next hotel. We’ve decided the heat really zaps us because we were DONE, toast, had hit our walls. So we showered, ate dinner, and crashed!

Let’s explore the Dead Sea area tomorrow!


Published by Shelley Linn Johnson

Lover of The Word. And words. Cultivator of curiosity about all things Christ. Lifelong learner who likes inviting others along for the journey. Recovering perfectionist who has only recently realized that rhythms are so much better than stress-inducing must-do's.

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