The Ayalon Valley Tour will focus on recalling famous Biblical battles. We will start our fourth day on our private tour in Israel here in the Ayalon Valley. So many amazing biblical occurrences come to my mind when I think about this beautiful valley. This time I am planning to take you to the Biblical Tel Ayalon located at Park Canada. Then I will tell you about the famous biblical battle at Gibeon, part of the Conquest of Canaan By the Israelites.
The Ayalon Valley Tour: Some Context
According to the Bible, the Israelites were commanded to destroy all inhabitants of Canaan. After Joshua enters the Promised Land by parting the Jordan River similar to Moses’ parting of the Red Sea; the Israelites bring destruction to Jericho and Ai. Now the people of Gibeon (Hivites) that were also Canaanites sent ambassadors to trick Joshua and the Israelites into making a treaty with them. The Gibeonites presented themselves as ambassadors from a distant, powerful land.
So without consulting God (Joshua 9:14), Israel entered into a covenant or peace treaty with the Gibeonites. The Israelites soon found out that the Gibeonites were actually their neighbors; living within three days’ walk of them (Joshua 9:17). So poor Joshua then realized that he had been deceived; however, he kept the letter of his covenant with the Gibeonites to let them live in exchange for their servitude. Deciding to have them assigned as woodcutters and water carriers and condemning (cursing) them to work forever in these trades.
After the conquest of Jericho and Ai Joshua builds an altar to Yahweh at Mount Ebal in northern Canaan and renews the Covenant in a ceremony with elements of a divine land-grant ceremony, similar to ceremonies known from Mesopotamia. Now the rest of the Canaanites feared that this pact with the Gibeonites would spread defeatism. So, the city was later besieged by a coalition of five other Amorite kings led by Adonizedek, king of Jerusalem; along with Hoham of Hebron; Piram of Jarmuth; Japhia of Lachish, and Debir of Eglon.
“Sun, stand still over Gibeon and you, moon, over the Valley of Ayalon”
The Gibeonites appealed to Joshua, who led the subsequent victory over the Amorites amid miraculous circumstances. At Gibeon, Joshua asked Yahweh to cause the sun and moon to stand still. So that he could finish the battle in daylight. This event is most notable because “There has been no day like it before or since, when the Lord heeded the voice of a man, for the Lord fought for Israel”. Moreover, God further assists Joshua by calling up a powerful storm to bombard the Canaanites with rain and hailstones; which killed more Canaanites than those which the Israelites slaughtered. It is said in Joshua 10:
“Israel pursued them along the road going up to Beth Horon and cut them down all the way to Azekah and Makkedah. As they fled before Israel on the road down from Beth Horon to Azekah, the Lord hurled large hailstones down on them, and more of them died from the hail than were killed by the swords of the Israelites.” (Joshua 10:10-11)
From there on, Joshua was able to lead the Israelites to several victories; securing much of the land of Canaan. The enemy kings were eventually hanged on trees. The Deuteronomist author may have used the then-recent 701 BCE campaign of the Assyrian king Sennacherib in the Kingdom of Judah as his model; the hanging of the captured kings is in accordance with the Assyrian practice of the 8th century BCE.
The Ayalon Valley Tour: King Saul Tries to Exterminate Gibeonites
But the story is yet not over, 2 Samuel chapter 21 narrates that King Saul pursued the Gibeonites and sought to kill them off “in his zeal for the children of Israel and Judah”. Following Saul’s death on Mt. Gilboa; fighting between the soldiers of Joab (David’s men) and those of Abner (King Saul’s men) took place beside the Pool of Gibeon.
When David then became king of the United Monarchy. Much later, after the death of his rebellious son Absalom and his restoration to the throne; Israel was visited by a three-year drought; which led David to ask God what was wrong. The drought was then revealed to be a divine judgment against King Saul’s decision to completely exterminate the Gibeonites.
David asks the surviving Gibeonites what he could offer to make amends. In retribution, they asked for seven of Saul’s male descendants to be given to them to kill; seven is a typological number in the bible; signaling the sign of completion. David handed over Armoni and Mephibosheth; two of the sons of Saul and the five sons of Merav (Saul’s daughter) to the Gibeonites, who hanged them. But he saved Jonathan’s son, also called Mephibosheth, from this peril because of his covenant with Jonathan
The Ayalon Valley Tour: Exploring the Territory Given to the Tribe of Dan
Following the conquest, the city of Ayalon was apportioned to the Tribe of Dan (Joshua 19:42) and was designated as one of the Levitical cities given to the Kohathites (Joshua 21:24 and 1 Chronicles 6:69). In spite of Joshua’s initial victory in the Valley of Ayalon, the Amorites continued to live in the city of Ayalon (Judges 1:34-35).
Another group of people was the Philistines that constantly tried to seize control over the valleys of the Shephelah forcing the tribe of Dan to retreat; reducing the extent of their territory. Eventually, the Danites abandoned their initial inheritance in the Ayalon area and moved to the extreme northern part of Israel, settling in the city of Laish, which they renamed Dan.
But it doesn’t mean that Danites and the Philistines didn’t interact with each other, or there wasn’t any cultural exchange. One example is Samson, the last of the Judges mentioned in the Book of Judges (chapters 13 to 16). In more ways than one, he is considered to be an Israelite version of the popular Near Eastern folk hero like the Sumerian Enkidu and the Greek Hercules.
The Ayalon Valley Tour: The Birth of Samson
According to the account in the Book of Judges, Samson lived during a time of repeated conflict between Israel and Philistia, when God was disciplining the Israelites by giving them “into the hand of the Philistines”. Manoah was an Israelite from Zorah, descended from the Danites, and his wife had been unable to conceive. The Angel of the Lord appeared to Manoah’s wife and proclaimed that the couple would soon have a son who would begin to deliver the Israelites from the Philistines.
This is a typical type scene; an angelic annunciation of the birth of a hero to a barren woman; such as the birth of Isaac to Sarah; or the birth of Samuel to Hannah. When Samson becomes a young adult, Samson leaves the hills of his people to see the cities of Philistia. Then he falls in love with a Philistine woman from Timnah; whom he decided to marry; ignoring the objections of his parents over the fact that she was non-Israelite. In the development of the narrative, the intended marriage was shown to be part of God’s plan to strike at the Philistines.
The Ayalon Valley Tour: Samson As An Israelite Hercules
According to the biblical account, Samson was repeatedly seized by the “Spirit of the Lord,” who blessed him with immense strength. The first instance of this is seen when Samson was on his way to ask for the Philistine woman’s hand in marriage when he was attacked by a lion. He simply grabbed it and ripped it apart, as the spirit of God divinely empowered him. However, Samson kept it a secret, not even mentioning the miracle to his parents.
He arrived at the Philistine’s house and became betrothed to her. He returned home, then came back to Timnah sometime later for the wedding. On his way, Samson saw that bees had nested in the carcass of the lion and made honey. He ate a handful of the honey and gave some to his parents.
The Ayalon Valley Tour: Samson’s Riddle
At the wedding feast, Samson told a riddle to his thirty groomsmen (all Philistines). If they could solve it, he would give them thirty pieces of fine linen and garments, but if they could not solve it, they would give him thirty pieces of fine linen and garments. The riddle was a veiled account of two encounters with the lion, at which only he was present:
“Out of the eater came something to eat.
Out of the strong came something sweet.”(Judges 14:14)
The Philistines were infuriated by the riddle. The thirty groomsmen told Samson’s new wife that they would burn her and her father’s household if she did not discover the answer to the riddle and tell it to them. At the urgent and tearful imploring of his bride, Samson told her the solution, and she told it to the thirty groomsmen.
Before sunset on the seventh day they said to him:
What is sweeter than honey?
and what is stronger than a lion?
So Samson said to them:
“If you had not plowed with my heifer,
you would not have solved my riddle.”
Then Samson travels to Ashkelon (a distance of roughly 30 miles) where he slew thirty Philistines for their garments; he then returned and gave those garments to his thirty groomsmen. In a rage, Samson returned to his father’s house. The family of his would-have-been bride instead gave her to one of the groomsmen as his wife. Sometime later, Samson returned to Timnah to visit his wife, unaware that she was now married to one of his former groomsmen. But her father refused to allow Samson to see her, offering to give Samson a younger sister instead.
The Ayalon Valley Tour: Samson Burns the Grain Fields of the Philistines
Samson went out, gathered 300 foxes, and tied them together in pairs by their tails. He then attached a burning torch to each pair of foxes’ tails and turned them loose in the grain fields and olive groves of the Philistines. The Philistines learned why Samson burned their crops and burned Samson’s wife and father-in-law to death in retribution.
In revenge, Samson slaughtered many more Philistines, saying, “I have done to them what they did to me.” Samson then took refuge in a cave in the rock of Etam. An army of Philistines came to the Tribe of Judah and demanded that 3,000 men of Judah deliver them, Samson. With Samson’s consent, given on the condition that the Judahites would not kill him themselves, they tied him with two new ropes and were about to hand him over to the Philistines when he broke free of the ropes. Using the jawbone of a donkey, he slew 1,000 Philistines.
Later, Samson travels to Gaza, where he stays at a harlot’s house. His enemies wait at the gate of the city to ambush him, but he tears the gate from its very hinges and frame and carries it to “the hill that is in front of Hebron”. When we’ll go on our private Jewish Heritage tour I’ll tell you about the famous Samson and Delilah. How he falls in love with her in the Valley of Sorek. Also, I will elaborate on his dramatic death when he shouts “Let me die with the Philistines!” and tumbles down the Temple of Dagon over 3,000 philistines and himself.
The Valley of Elah: Where David Fought Against Goliath
Now we are continuing to yet another valley but less important. I’m planning to take you to Tel Azekah; yes it is the same Azekah that was mentioned in Joshua 10! From the top of the biblical Tel, we will get to know one of the Bible’s most familiar stories, a hero and a villain take the stage:
Few Against Many
“Now the Philistines gathered their forces for war and assembled at Sokoh in Judah. They pitched camp at Ephes Dammim, between Socoh and Azekah. Saul and the Israelites assembled and camped in the Valley of Elah and drew up their battle line to meet the Philistines. The Philistines occupied one hill and the Israelites another, with the valley between them.” (Samuel 17:1-3)
This is how our story begins, the great battle between the Israelites led by King Saul and the Philistines at the Valley of Elah. Young David against the mighty Goliath. The story signified Saul’s unfitness to rule, as Saul himself should have fought for Israel. Scholars today believe that the originally listed killer of Goliath was Elhanan, son of Jair and that the authors of the Deuteronomic history changed the original text to credit the victory to the more famous character, David. But let’s go and follow the more known narrative.
Young David Contrasting King Saul
King Saul and the Israelites are facing the Philistines in the Valley of Elah. Twice a day for 40 days, morning and evening, Goliath, the champion of the Philistines, comes out between the lines and challenges the Israelites to send out a champion of their own to decide the outcome in single combat; but Saul is afraid. David, bringing food for his elder brothers on the battlefield, hears that Goliath has defied the armies of God and of the reward from Saul to the one that defeats him, and accepts the challenge. Saul reluctantly agrees and offers his armor.
But David, then just a young boy that never fought before, is too small in size to fit Saul’s huge armor. So David declines and declares that when a lion or bear came and attacked his father’s sheep; he battled against it and killed it. But Saul has been cowering in fear instead of rising up and attacking the threat to his sheep (i.e. Israel). So David is taking only his staff, sling, and five stones from a brook. If David will come out triumphal it will be Israel’s first victory at the hands of David. Proving his valor, David will show the Israelites that he is worthy to become Israel’s next king. David approached Goliath. The giant cursed at him, hurling threats and insults.
But David says to the Philistine:
“You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.”(Samuel 45-47)
David reached into his bag and slung one of his stones at Goliath’s head as Goliath moves in for the kill. It found a hole in the armor and sank into the giant’s forehead. He fell face down on the ground. David then took Goliath’s sword, killed him, and cut off his head. The Philistines flee and are pursued by the Israelites “as far as Gath and the gates of Ekron”. David puts the armor of Goliath in his own tent and takes the head to Jerusalem, and Saul sends Abner to bring the boy to him. The king asks whose son he is, and David answers, “I am the son of your servant Jesse the Bethlehemite. And this is the first step David is taking to become the next king over Israel.
The Ayalon Valley Tour: Who Were the Philistines?
The Philistines were most likely the original Sea People who left the coastal areas of Greece, Asia Minor, and the Aegean Islands and permeated the eastern Mediterranean coast. Some of them came from Crete before settling in Canaan, near the Mediterranean coast. The Philistines dominated the region including the five fortified cities of Gaza, Gath, Ekron, Ashkelon, and Ashdod.
From 1200 to 1000 B.C., the Philistines were Israel’s principal enemies. As a people, they were skilled at working with iron tools and forging weapons, which gave them the ability to make impressive chariots. With these chariots of war, they dominated the coastal plains but were ineffective in the mountainous regions of central Israel. This put the Philistines at a disadvantage with their Israelite neighbors.
Composition of the Book of Samuel and the Goliath Narrative
The Books of Samuel, together with the books of Joshua, Judges, and Kings, make up a unified history of Israel which biblical scholars call the Deuteronomistic history. The first edition of the history was probably written at the court of Judah’s King Josiah (late 7th century BCE) and a revised second edition during the exile (6th century BCE), with further revisions in the post-exilic period.
Traces of this can be seen in the contradictions and illogicalities of the Goliath story – to take a few examples, David turns from Saul’s adult shield-bearer into a child herding sheep for his father, Saul finds it necessary to send for him when as the king’s shield-bearer he should already be beside his royal master and then has to ask who David is, which sits strangely with David’s status at his court. The Goliath story is made up of a base narrative with numerous additions made probably after the exile. We will talk all about it during our guided Jewish heritage private tour.
The Ayalon Valley Tour: So What Do We Know About Tel Azekah?
So as I mentioned earlier, it is said in the Bible to be 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). Then it was given to the tribe of Judah (Joshua 15:20). In the time of Saul, the Philistines massed their forces between Socoh and Azekah; putting forth Goliath as their champion (1 Samuel 17).
Rehoboam fortified the town in his reign, along with Lachish and other strategic sites (2 Chronicles 11:5-10). Lachish and Azekah were the last two towns to fall to the Babylonians before the overthrow of Jerusalem itself (Jeremiah 34:6-7). Lastly, it was one of the places re-occupied by the people on the return from the Captivity (Nehemiah 11:30).
The Siege of Azekah By the Assyrians
Several kingdoms in the Levant ceased to pay taxes to the Assyrian King, Sennacherib; as a result, he set out on a campaign to once again subjugate the rebelling kingdoms, among them the Jewish Kingdom of Judah led by King Hezekiah. After defeating the rebels of Ekron in Philistia he set out to subjugate Judah and on his way to Jerusalem he came across Azekah, among the most important Jewish cities.
The Ayalon Valley Tour: The Azekah Inscription
The Azekah Inscription is a tablet inscription of the reign of Sennacherib (reigned 705 to 681 BCE) discovered in the mid-nineteenth century in the Royal Library of Ashurbanipal. It describes an Assyrian campaign by Sennacherib against Hezekiah, king of Judah, including the conquest of Azekah. The library is an archaeological discovery credited to Austen Henry Layard; most tablets were taken to England and can now be found in the British Museum, but a first discovery was made in late 1849 in the so-called South-West Palace, which was the Royal Palace of King Sennacherib (705–681 BCE).
The inscription on the combined tablet has been translated as follows:
(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 ki[ng(s)…
(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…
(11) [ ], a royal ci[ty] of the Philistines (Pi-lis-ta-a-a), which [Hezek]iah had captured and strengthened for himself.