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The Death of Saul and the Destruction of the World

May 12, 2009
tags: ,

Day4-2

Tuesday, 2:21 PM local time

Ancient.

Leaving Jericho this morning, we traveled north through the West Bank to get the Nazareth area. A barbed-wire fence ran along the field to the east, between us and Jordan, which kept the citizens of what I assume was a settlement in and the people of the West Bank out. On the one side were green, irrigated fields and the Israeli equivalent of farmhouses; on our side were abandoned stone structures covered in graffiti. One of the repeated inscriptions was something like “Po’ashi Oslo Rackidi.” The first and third words I’ve sure I’ve gotten wrong, but the middle one looks like a reference to the failed Oslo Accords of 1993. Maybe it said, “Return to the Oslo boundaries”; maybe it said, “Oslo was a bad idea, and we want something better.”

The checkpoint between the West Bank and Israel saw an armed soldier come onto our bus for the first time. We watched four other tour buses sail through the checkpoint as we waited in a holding parking lot for the inspection officer, who came after five minutes and asked us whether anyone in the West Bank had given us a package to deliver, as if we’d had any contact with Palestinians outside of the Intercontinental or the small shop we visited. We left with a weary nod from the inspection officer.

Bet She’an is the place where Saul and Jonathan died. I Samuel 31 chronicles their deaths, and how the Philistines took their bodies and nailed them to the wall of the city of Beth Shan – or, in Hebrew, Bet She’an. The remains of the city, of course, bear no witness to these events, but the archeology is impressive for its own sake.

At the base of the tel is a (relatively) huge Roman city, complete with a large central avenue and a march of pillars up either side. Much of the city has only barely been excavated; lots of stone blocks and broken pillars have been uncovered, but little has been rebuilt and restored. The walk up to the top of the tel is excruciating after the marathon walking of yesterday, but the summit reveals not only an impressive view of the city below but also early Egyptian architecture.

That’s right, Egyptian.

There’s a casting of a stone found in the ruins covered in Egyptian hieroglyphics. Chip showed us how some of the hieroglyphs morphed into the letters that became the Hebrew alphabet – the hieroglyph for water, which is “mayim” in Hebrew, became the Hebrew letter M, for example. Like a true tel, these ruins are the only the youngest on the hill, too; were we to dig deeper, we would find even more ancient civilizations underneath.

From there, we traveled to Megiddo, the future site of the Final Battle for the World, which Chip rolls his eyes at. The reference is to Revelation 16:16; the word “Armageddon” is a Greek corruption of the Hebrew “Har Megiddo” or Mount Megiddo. (I figured that out on my own, which Gordon later confirmed. Look, I learned something in seminary!) Megiddo is located on the intersection of two of the most traveled highways in the ancient world – the King’s Highway from northwest Syria to the Arabian Peninsula, and the road connecting Egypt in the south with Lebanon in the north. Megiddo was destroyed and built no less than 25 times before the fourth century CE; the great battle for the world would be fought here for the simple reason that everybody was here.

The tel has been fairly well-excavated, though the only real point of interest is the cave and tunnel dug through the mountain’s bedrock to the water source that was technically outside the city walls. This rather ingenious bit of hydrological engineering allowed the Megiddons to get water even when the city was under siege.

Nazareth next.

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