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Tel Azekah

Biblical tels in israel

Tel Azekah, also known as Tell Zakariya, was a town in the Judaean Hills, guarding the upper reaches of the Valley of Elah, not so far from Hebron. The current tell (ruin) by that name has been identified with the biblical Azekah, dating back to the Canaanite period. Today, the site lies on the purlieu of Britannia Park. According to Epiphanius of Salamis, the name meant “white” in the Canaanite tongue. The tell is pear-shaped with the tip pointing northward. Due to its location in the Elah Valley, it functioned as one of the main Judahite border cities; sitting on the boundary between the lower and higher lowlands of Judea. Although listed in Joshua 15:35 as a city in the plain, it is partly in the hill country, partly in the plain.

Tel Azekah Biblical History

The Bible narrates Tel Azekah is one of the places where the Amorite kings were defeated by Joshua and one of the places their army was destroyed by a hailstorm (Joshua 10:10–11). It was given to the tribe of Judah (Joshua 15:20). In the time of Saul, the Philistines massed their forces between Sokho and Azekah, putting forth Goliath as their champion (1 Samuel 17). Rehoboam fortified the town in his reign and Lachish and other strategic sites (2 Chronicles 11:5–10).

In a clay tablet inscribed in Assyrian script, Azekah (Tell Zakariya) is mentioned as being a fortified town, during the time of Sennacherib’s military excursion in the country. Lachish and Azekah were the last two towns to fall to the Babylonians before the overthrow of Jerusalem itself (Jeremiah 34:6–7). It was one of the places re-occupied by the people on the return from the Captivity (Nehemiah 11:30).

Non-Biblical Mention

Azekah is mentioned in two sources outside of the Bible. A text from the Assyrian king Sennacherib describes Azekah and its destruction during his military campaign.

(3) […Ashur, my lord, encourage]ed me and against the land of Ju[dah I marched. In] the course of my campaign, the tribute of the kings of Philistia? I received…
(4) […with the mig]ht of Ashur, my lord, the province of [Hezek]iah of Judah like […
(5) […] the city of Azekah, his stronghold, which is between my [bo]rder and the land of Judah […
(6) [like the nest of the eagle? ] located on a mountain ridge, like pointed iron daggers without number reaching high to heaven […
(7) [Its walls] were strong and rivaled the highest mountains, to the (mere) sight, as if from the sky [appears its head? …
(8) [by means of beaten (earth) ra]mps, mighty? battering rams brought near, the work of […], with the attack by foot soldiers, [my] wa[rriors…
(9) […] they had seen [the approach of my cav]alry and they had heard the roar of the mighty troops of the god Ashur and [their] he[arts] became afraid […
(10) [The city Azekah I besieged,] I captured, I carried off its spoil, I destroyed, I devastated, [I burned] with fire…

Azekah is also mentioned in one of the Lachish letters. Lachish Letter 4 suggests that Azekah was destroyed, as they were no longer visible to the exporter of the letter. Part of the ostracon reads:

“And inasmuch as my lord sent to me concerning the matter of Bet Harapid, there is no one there. And as for Semakyahu, Semayahu took him and brought him up to the city. And your servant is not sending him there any[more -], but when morning comes round [-]. And may (my lord) be apprised that we are watching for the fire signals of Lachish according to all the signs which my lord has given, because we cannot see Azeqah.”

Tel Azekah Archaeological Findings

Furthermore, PEF researcher, C.W. Wilson, concluded in 1899 that Tell Zakariya was occupied at an early pre-Israelite period, and that it was probably deserted soon after the Roman occupation. The wall which encircles the old ruin shows signs of having been several times rebuilt. In cut and design, the stones appear to have been of Maccabean construction.

Then PEF surveyors, Conder and Kitchener, described the ruin in their magnum opus, the Survey of Western Palestine, saying that they noted on the south-side of the summit an ancient olive-press, among other ruins.

Excavations by the English archaeologists Frederick J. Bliss and R. A. Stewart Macalister in the period 1897-1900 at Tel Azekah (Tell Zakariya) revealed a fortress, water systems, hideout caves used during the Bar Kokhba revolt, and other antiquities, such as LMLK seals. The principal areas of excavation were on the summit’s southwestern extremity, where were found the foundations of three towers; the southeastern corner of the tell, where the fortress was located and built primarily of hewn stones; and at an experimental pit located in the center of the summit.

Did you know that Azekah was one of the first sites excavated in the Holy Land and was excavated under the Palestine Exploration Fund for a period of 17 weeks over the course of three seasons. At the close of their excavation Bliss and Macalister refilled all of their excavation trenches in order to preserve the site. Today the site is located on the grounds of a Jewish National Fund park, Britannia Park.

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Hi! My name is Arik Haglili, an Israeli native who decided to dedicate his life to share my knowledge about the Holy Land to those that are interested to know more about this amazing piece of land. My career as a private tour guide started at the International School For the Studying of the Holocaust and the rest is history. 

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