Today we will go on the Jezreel Valley Bible Tour. Where biblical stories come to life. Now, these days the Jezreel Valley is the breadbasket of Israel. In the same fashion as Egypt was for the ancient world. Because the valley is abundant with biblical accounts; it’s quite appropriate that this is where we will get acquainted with these famous biblical heroic stories. In fact, this is why the Zionist movement was so keen on purchasing the entire area in the 19th century. They should give thanks to a man named Yehoshua Hankin that was a true Zionist.
He is responsible for most of the major land acquisitions of the Zionist Organization in Palestine during the Ottoman period and the British Mandate. In 1909 or 1910, Hankin completed his first major purchase in the Jezreel Valley. He bought some 10,000 dunams of land in Al-Fuleh; which became the home of Merhavia. But it’s important to remember the valley was not always like this; meaning so fertile and spotted with farms and kibbutzim all over the valley.
Golda Meir’s Experience in Kibbutz Merhavia
Golda Meir, the 4th Prime Minister of the State of Israel moved to Palestine with her husband, Morris in 1921. Settling in Palestine was her precondition for the marriage. Almost since the day they married, Golda began to plan their move to a kibbutz. She had not come all the way to Palestine to live a drab, dull life in Tel Aviv. Morris, her husband disliked the idea from the very beginning but apparently, he did not put up a major fight, hoping that she would outgrow this fad. The tragedy that followed was all of Golda’s making. She chose Merhavia, a place she knew little about. Had she checked more carefully, she would have discovered that Merhavia, like most communal settlements that survived World War I, was in poor shape, economically and socially.
In various interviews, Golda Meir mentions the hardships the pioneers had to deal with. The diseases like Malaria, no indoor plumbing. If you needed to go to the restroom it was half a mile away. These tough conditions broke the spirit of her husband and sent him into a deep depression. The episode at Merhavia was the first wedge that eventually destroyed their marriage although they never officially got divorced and had two kids together. Our next stop would be the first spot where the very first pioneers settled in the Jezreel Valley.
Jezreel Valley Bible Tour: Ein Harod National Park
Here next to the tomb of Yehoshua Hankin, we can talk some more about how great of a guy he was. And profoundly he influenced the history of the young state. Like most of the first Jewish immigrants, he came from eastern Europe; under the rule of the Russian Czar. In 1882 he immigrated with his family to Palestine. And lived in the beginning in Rishon LeZion which was in those days a little Jewish colony.
He learned Arabic and was a frequent guest of Palestinian farmers and landowners. Also, he studied their customs and got to know them from up close. In fact, his wife, Olga Hankin; was the midwife of many of the wives of those Palestinian landowners. Sheikhs, Effendis, and heads of Bedouin tribes that lived in Jaffa. She used to go around riding on a white donkey in the streets of Jaffa and the Bedouins’ tents in the area.
Jezreel Valley Bible Tour: The Acquisition in 1920
So some years after working as a midwife; her sister Sonia Belkind, joined her and became officially the first women’s Gynecologist in the Jewish Yishuv. In fact, Sonia was encouraged by Olga and was actually aiding her financially that she could finish medical school in Geneva. But back to Yehoshua, in 1920 he was able to acquire with the aid of the Jewish National Fund; 50,000 dunams of land in the Jezreel valley.
On these lands, Nahalal was established, Ein Harod, and more. In fact, the area where the tomb is located today is the very first spot where the valley was first settled by Jews in the modern period. While there we will discuss why the Map of Partition of November 1947 looks the way it looks. Why was the Jewish National Fund able to acquire land here and not let’s say in the West Bank?
I will try to answer all these questions and more next to Hankin’s mausoleum. Since both of them played a major role in redeeming the Lands of Israel back to Jewish hands. By the way, Olga was 12 years older than her husband that was twenty four when they got married. Sadly Olga, the midwife that delivered so many babies to this world never could never bear children of her own. But still, their love endured it and they stayed married despite the sad fact.
Gideon Comes to the Rescue of the Israelites And Ein Harod Spring
Right here a very famous biblical account took place. In the Book of Judges, we are getting to know Gideon the Son of Joash. As is the pattern throughout the Book of Judges, the Israelites again turned away from Yahweh after 40 years of peace brought by Deborah’s victory over Canaan; Midianites, Amalekites, and other Nomadic tribes that harried Israel for seven years. God chose Gideon, a young man from the tribe of Manasseh; to free the people of Israel and to condemn their idolatry.
The Angel of the Lord came in the character of a traveler who sat down in the shade of a terebinth tree to enjoy a little refreshment and repose and entered into conversation with Gideon. These narratives remind me of the meeting between Abraham and visitors who came to him in the terebinth trees of Mamre and promised Abraham and Sarah; in their old age; that they would have a son (Genesis 18:1-15).
Later Gideon went on to send out messengers to gather some men together from the tribes of Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali, as well as his own tribe Manasseh. In order to meet an armed force of the people of Midian and the Amalek that had crossed the Jordan River and they encamped at the Spring of Harod in the Jezreel Valley. Here you can read more in detail about the rest of the biblical account. Or book my private tour of the Jezreel Valley.
Jezreel Valley Bible Tour: Battle of Gilboa and the Death of King Saul
Saul’s life and reign are described in the Hebrew Bible. He was anointed by the prophet Samuel. Those were the days that the Philistines were dwelling the land, based in five city-states of 40 km south to modern Tel Aviv. The Philistines cities are Gaza; Ashkelon; Ashdod; Ekron and Gath. Stretched out from Wadi Gaza in the south to the Yarkon River in the north. The Bible portrays them at one period of time as among the Kingdom of Israel’s most bitter enemies.
This time the Bible tells us that the Philistine army was camped at Shunem at the Jezreel Valley. Moreover, Shunam was the hometown of Abishag. He was King David’s companion in his old age (1 Kings 1,1) Also it’s where Elisha the prophet brought back to life a wealthy woman’s deceased son.
But Let’s Go Back to the Philistines Right?
So the Philistines wage war again, assembling at Shunem. And Saul leads his army to face them at Mount Gilboa. Before the battle, he goes to consult a medium or witch at Endor. The medium; unaware of his identity; reminds him that the king has made witchcraft a capital offense. But he assures her that Saul will not harm her.
She conjures the spirit of the prophet Samuel, who before his death had prophesied that he would lose the kingdom. Samuel tells him that God has fully rejected him. And will no longer hear his prayers; has given the kingdom to David. And that the next day he will lose both the battle and his life. Saul collapses in fear, and the medium restores him with food in anticipation of the next day’s battle.
Conflicting Accounts in the Bible Concerning King Saul’s Death
1 Samuel and 2 Samuel give conflicting accounts of Saul’s death. In 1 Samuel, and in a parallel account in 1 Chronicle 10, as the defeated Israelites flee, Saul asks his armor-bearer to kill him. But he refuses, and so Saul falls upon his own sword. On the other hand, In 2 Samuel, an Amalekite tells David he found Saul leaning on his spear after the battle and delivered the coup de grâce. So David has the Amalekite put to death for accusing himself of killing the anointed king. On our private tour of the Jezreel Valley, I will read you right there the famous lamentation poem David writes after hearing about the death of King Saul and his son Jonathan.
The victorious Philistines recover Saul’s body as well as those of his three sons who also died in the battle. Then they decapitated them and displayed them on the wall of Beth-shan. From where we stand we can actually see the ancient biblical Tel Beit Shean. Also, They display Saul’s armor in the temple of Ashtaroth (an Ascalonian temple of the Canaanites). Now we shall keep on driving on the scenic route and pay a visit to Kibbutz Beit Alfa where an ancient synagogue there dated to the Byzantine Period was found in the 1920s after Hankin bought the lands here.
Jezreel Valley Bible Tour: The Byzantine Synagogue at Beit Alfa
Synagogues in the sense of purpose-built spaces for worship existed long before the 2nd Temple. The earliest archaeological evidence for the existence of very early synagogues comes from Egypt. Where stone synagogue dedications inscriptions dating from the 3rd century BCE prove that synagogues existed by that date. The earliest synagogue inscription uncovered to date in Israel is the Theodotus inscription. Which is in Greek and dates to the first century BCE; or the first century CE. It was discovered in the City of David, just south of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. On our tour, we will discuss the function of synagogues along the centuries and how they evolved.
Jezreel Valley Bible Tour: Ancient Synagogues in the Land of Israel
About 130 ancient synagogues in Israel were found by archaeologists. Some of them are dating to the 2nd Temple period like the one at Masada or Jerusalem. Most of the Synagogues were located in the North like in the Galilee and the Golan Heights, including the Jezreel Valley. The reason for that is that after the destruction of the 2nd Temple in Jerusalem, the Jewish population was banished from the area. And since then they were forced to immigrate to other areas like the North. This is especially true in the Byzantine period when Jerusalem under Christian rule issued out severe restrictions against Jews living in the area of Jerusalem. So this is why great numbers of Jewish communities are mentioned in post-biblical texts like the Talmud in the northern parts of the country.
When we will tour the Synagogue at Beit Alfa we will discuss its design and architecture. Also, I will elaborate on the interesting mosaic floor that was found there; including a zodiac, with Helios the Sun God in the very center! We will compare this design to other similar designs that were found in different synagogues in the Land of Israel. Because it seems the zodiac is not unique only to Beit Alfa. It seems it was found all over the country and was quite in fashion in the Byzantine period. But how does that go together with Judaism which is a monotheistic faith?
Tel Jezreel and the End of House of Ahab
The city of Jezreel which means in Hebrew “God will sow” was an ancient Israelite city and fortress. According to the Hebrew Bible, the city is located within the boundaries of the Tribe of Issachar and later on within the northern Kingdom of Israel. The best-known biblical story connected to Jezreel places here the death of the much-maligned Queen Jezebel. The Bible tells us that Jehu, an Israelite army general, revolted against his king, Jehoram of Israel, and eventually exterminated in Jezreel the House of Ahab.
Jehu, with a chosen band, plans his conspiracy against King Jehoram and secretly enters Jezreel. King Jehoram tries to flee, but Jehu fires an arrow that pierces his heart. Jehu later throws his body on Naboth’s vineyard, to avenge Naboth’s death, with Jezebel conniving his execution. As punishment, God decreed Ahab’s death and the annihilation of his royal line. Jezebel’s death was also decreed, with her corpse to be devoured by dogs.
Jehu Throws Queen Jezebel Off the Palace Balcony
So Jehu proceeds to enter the premises of the palace at Jezreel. Jezebel watches him from contempt from the palace window and mockingly compares him to King Zimri. Knowing that Jehu was coming; Jezebel put on makeup and a formal wig with adornments and looked out of a window, taunting him. Or maybe she was dressing up in all her finery; make-up; and jewelry; as deliberately symbolic. In other words, indicating her dignity; royal status; and determination to go out of this life as a queen.
Jehu later commands Jezebel’s eunuchs to throw her out of the palace window. They obey his commands and Jezebel was instantly killed. Jehu tramples over her body but after he decides to arrange a proper burial due to her royal descent, only her skull, hands, and feet remain. The rest of her body was eaten by dogs. Ahaziah the nephew of Jehoram King of Israel, nonetheless, managed to flee to Megiddo, where he died. And this is exactly where the next stop is on our private tour of the Jezreel Valley.
Jezreel Valley Bible Tour: Ahaziah Dies At Megiddo
Ahaziah was the youngest son of Jehoram of Judah. According to 2 Chronicles 21:16-17, his older brothers had been carried off in a Philistine and Arab raid. Under the influence of his mother, Athaliah which was the daughter of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel; Ahaziah introduced forms of worship that offended the Yahwistic party.
Members of her family became his advisors and encouraged him to join his uncle Jehoram, king of Israel, in an expedition against Hazael, king of the Aram. Jehoram was wounded in the battle and went to recuperate at Jezreel. Ahaziah also left the field of conflict in Gilead, and, after a visit to Jerusalem, came to Jezreel for a conference with Jehoram, and was caught up in the revolt by Jehu.
According to the account given in the Second Book of Kings, Ahaziah and Jehoram both went out to meet the rebellious general, with Jehoram learning too late of Jehu’s murderous intentions. Ahaziah watched as his uncle was shot by Jehu, who was armed with a bow. Ahaziah fled for his life, but was wounded at the pass of Gur in Ibleam and had strength only to reach Megiddo, where he died (2 Kings 9:22–28). 2 Chronicles, however, gives a somewhat different account of Ahaziah’s death, which has him hiding in Samaria after Jehu’s coup, only to be found and killed by Jehu’s henchmen on their king’s orders.
Jezreel Valley Bible Tour: Megiddo National Park
During the Bronze Age, Megiddo was an important Canaanite city-state. During the Iron Age, a royal city in the Kingdom of Israel. As we learned priorly, Megiddo is where Ahaziah found his death. Because Megiddo was strategically located on a crucial junction of a major trade route – the Via Maris. This road connected Egypt and the Levant with Anatolia and Mesopotamia. Also because next to the city the vast Jezreel Valley is spread out; so it served as a convenient battlefield for the Kingdoms of those times.
Jezreel Valley Bible Tour: The Battle of Megiddo
This Battle of Megiddo is recorded as having taken place in 609 BCE when Pharaoh Necho II of Egypt led his army to Carchemish (northern Syria) to join with his allies, the fading Neo-Assyrian Empire, against the surging Neo-Babylonian Empire. This required passing through territory controlled by the Kingdom of Judah. The Judaean king Josiah refused to let the Egyptians pass. The Judaean forces battled the Egyptians at Megiddo, resulting in Josiah’s death and his kingdom becoming a vassal state of Egypt. The battle is recorded in the Hebrew Bible, the Greek 1 Esdras, and the writings of Josephus.
In the Aftermath, Judah fell under Egyptian control and influence. On his return from Syria and Mesopotamia, Necho II captured and deposed Jehoahaz, the son of Josiah who had just succeeded his father on the throne. The pharaoh enforced a tribute of 100 talents of silver (about 33⁄4 tons or about 3.4 metric tons) and a talent of gold (about 34 kilograms (75 lb)) upon the kingdom and appointed Jehoahaz’ older brother Eliakim as king. Necho also changed the name of this new king into Jehoiakim. Jehoahaz was taken captive to Egypt, where he became the first king of Judah to die in exile.
Jezreel Valley Bible Tour: Interesting Archaeological Finds
While still a young man, King Solomon made Jeroboam superintendent over his tribesmen in the building of the fortress Millo in Jerusalem and of other public works. And he naturally became conversant with the widespread discontent caused by the extravagances which marked the reign of Solomon.
Influenced by the words of the prophet Ahijah (1 Kings 11:29–39), that foretold to Jeroboam that he became king. He began to form conspiracies with the view of becoming king of the ten northern tribes. But these were discovered, and he fled to Egypt, where he remained under the protection of Pharaoh Shishak until the death of Solomon. Both Shishak and Solomon were interested in developing the trade with Byblos in Phoenicia.
So, quickly they were competing for influence over Phenicia in general and Byblos in particular. Since Shikshak could not launch a military campaign early in his reign he preferred giving political asylum to King Solomon’s opposition, Jeroboam the son of Nebat. And the agreement between Shishak and Jeroboam was that at the opportune moment they will wage war against Judah; Jeroboam from the north after he will become king over the ten tribes of Israel and Shishak from the south.
The Stele of Shishak Found in Megiddo
After the death of Solomon, Jeroboam returned and participated in a delegation sent to ask the new king Rehoboam to reduce taxes. After Rehoboam rejected their petition, ten of the tribes withdrew their allegiance to the house of David and proclaimed Jeroboam their king, forming the northern Kingdom of Israel. When Jeroboam realized that Rehoboam is not interested in a war he broke the pact with Shishak. As a result, Shishak deducted it was the right time for a military campaign and invaded the kingdoms and destroyed many cities (925 BCE). In his military campaign, he erected victory steles, including Megiddo. The Stele was not found intact but just a fragment of it; But the fragment contained a Cartouche that had the name of Shishak engraved.
Jezreel Valley Bible Tour: Historical Evidence for Jeroboam
In 1903, in the ruins of the biblical city of Megiddo, an archaeologist found a seal made of jasper, engraved with the following inscription that says “Shema Servant of Jeroboam”. The seal belonged to a servant of one of the early kings of Israel. Either Jeroboam I who ruled shortly after the reign of King Solomon, or Jeroboam II who ruled at the time of Jonah the prophet.
Archaeological evidence confirms the biblical account of his reign as the most prosperous that Israel had yet known. By the late 8th century BC, the territory of Israel was the most densely settled in the entire Levant, with a population of about 350,000. This prosperity was built on trade in olive oil; wine; and possibly horses with Egypt. And especially Assyria providing the markets.
According to the prophet Amos, the triumphs of the king had engendered a haughty spirit of boastful overconfidence at home (Amos 6:13). Oppression and exploitation of the poor by the mighty, luxury in palaces of unheard-of splendor, and a craving for amusement were some of the internal fruits of these external triumphs
Jeroboam II the Idol Worshiper
Under Jeroboam II, the God of Israel was worshiped at Dan and Beth-el and at other old Israelite shrines, through actual images, such as the golden calf. These services at Dan and Beth-el, at Gilgal and Beersheba, were of a nature to arouse the indignation of the prophets, and the foreign cults (Amos 5). Both numerous and degrading contributed still further to arousing of the prophetic spirit.
Jeroboam’s reign was the period of the prophets Hosea, Joel, Amos, and Jonah, all of whom condemned the materialism and selfishness of the Israelite elite of their day: “Woe unto those who lie upon beds of ivory … eat lambs from the flock and calves … [and] sing idle songs …” (Amos 6:4-5). The book of Kings, written a century later, condemns Jeroboam for doing “evil in the eyes of the Lord”, meaning both the oppression of the poor and his continuing support of the cult centers of Dan and Bethel, in opposition to the temple in Jerusalem. This is a good place to stop. because tomorrow we will visit Tel Dan. And actually, see the remains of that ritual platform the Bible talks about.