In the June 1978 BAR, we published a seminal article by Norman Gottwald entitled, “Were the Early Israelites Pastoral Nomads?” BAR 04:02. Professor Gottwald there argued that the Patriarchs were not semi-nomads, instead, they lived in small countryside villages and engaged in agriculture. Professor Gottwald called for the systematic excavation of often-ignored “minor” sites and the environment in which they existed to get a better idea of patriarchal life. One of the few such excavations of this kind, to which Professor Gottwald referred, is Givat Sharett. Here, one of the directors of the Givat Sharett excavation reports.—Ed.
Listen to the Bible tell us where Abraham dwelt—never in a town but always in the neighborhood of the town, with the town nearby:
“And Abram passed through the land unto the place of Shechem, to the plain (or terebrinth) of Moreh” (Genesis 12:6).
“Then Abram moved his tent and came to dwell at Hebron in the plain (or at the terebrinth) of Mamre” (Genesis 13:18).
“From there he moved on to the hill country east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east” (Genesis 12:8).
“And Abraham journeyed from there to the Negev (the southern country) and dwelt between Kadesh and Shur” (Genesis 20:1).
Abraham doesn’t dwell simply in Shechem or Hebron or Bethel or Kadesh, but rather in what appears to be a smaller, nearby settlement—as Moreh is to Shechem, or Mamre to Hebron.
Abraham is referred to by his non-Israelite neighbors as “the Hebrew” (Genesis 14). They call him “a mighty prince who lives among us.” He is obviously a man of great importance and wealth, but lives nearby and separately.
In the archaeological search for the kind of settlement in which the patriarchs lived, we should therefore look in the vicinity of a fortified town. Second, the settlement should reflect sufficient wealth to befit a “mighty prince.”
In what archaeological age shall our search concentrate? That is a more difficult question. As readers of the Biblical Archaeology Review know, a major scholarly debate is raging as to when the patriarchal age should be dated. The problem is compounded by the uncertain bearing of the new Ebla tablets on this vexed question. Moreover, some scholars have recently argued that the patriarchs cannot be set within any specific time frame because the patriarchal stories contain elements from so many different time periods (see “When Was the Age of the Patriarchs?—of Amorites, Canaanites, and Archaeology,” BAR 01:02 and “Abraham in History,” BAR 03:04).
Nevertheless, on the basis of presently available evidence, the most widely accepted date for the patriarchal age seems to be the 18th century B.C.—during the period archaeologists label the Middle Bronze Age IIb, or MBIIb for short.
Accepting the MBIIb period as a likely date for the 009patriarchal age, we have recently found a settlement which may exemplify the kind of settlement in which the patriarchs lived.
The settlement was discovered during the archaeological survey which must precede the modern development of land in Israel. When, as in this case, the survey discloses archaeological remains, development is postponed until the area is appropriately excavated.
We—Claire Epstein and I—led the excavation on behalf of the Department of Antiquities and named the site Givat Sharett; it has no ancient name that we have been able to identify.
Givat Sharett is located about one mile from the imposing tell of Beth Shemesh—just across the wadi from this important Biblical site (see Joshua 15:10; Joshua 19:31; 1 Samuel 6:9). The tell of Beth Shemesh was excavated in 1911–1912 by Duncan Mackenzie on behalf of the Palestine Exploration Fund and in the 1930’s by Elihu Grant with the collaboration of G. E. Wright. These archaeologists found in the layered ruins a major fortified city of the MBIIb period. This city was defended by a solid wall over seven feet thick. The excavators also found the imposing city gate and three tombs extremely rich in finds.
The propinquity of Beth Shemesh to Givat Sharett satisfies the requirement that our settlement be in the neighborhood of a major town. Givat Sharett is also an MBIIb settlement. Indeed, it appears to have been built all at once, occupied for a generation, and then abandoned. Evidence of long occupation was completely absent at Givat Sharett; there were no superimposed floors or blocked-up doors or alterations in the plan of buildings.
Givat Sharett is a well-planned village with straight streets and well-laid-out houses. It is small compared to nearby Beth Shemesh. Givat Sharett consists of about ten square blocks with approximately four houses in each square. A north-south lane leads from 010the top of the hill and the houses border the main east-west street on the slope.
The houses of the village are built of local field stones. Some of these stones are almost five feet long. In a line, they create a wall by themselves. Some of these stones are so massive that when only the tops were exposed we thought that they might be mazzeboth or cultic standing stones. When excavated, however, they turned out to be residential walls. Above the stones, layers of mud brick had been laid to support the roof which had long since fallen but was found lying on the floors.
Although small, the village of Givat Sharett was by no means poor. There were two types of houses. The first—or so-called patrician house—consisted of a central courtyard surrounded by rooms between 50 and 100 feet square. Often the courtyard was paved with flagstones and contained silos or bins for food storage. Grinding stones were found all over, reflecting the agricultural character of the settlement.
The second house plan was smaller, and consisted of four or six rooms. The rooms were built in pairs, one pair behind the other. Although this house plan has not been previously identified as a distinctive house plan of the Middle Bronze Age, my research indicates that it has been found at practically every site from this period. Whether one of the rooms was unroofed and served as a courtyard is unclear.
As is customary in ancient times, the houses abut one another and have at least two “party” walls which they share with their neighbors.
Although massive fortifications were the order of the day at all major sites during this period, Givat Sharett was unfortified. There was no town wall. A row of houses are aligned on the slope of the hill and share a common back wall, but this was the village’s only defense. This back wall was no thicker than other walls in the settlement, and the rooms inside the back wall varied in size, so in no sense can this back wall be considered a casemate wall.a Another 011element of security was provided by the settlement’s location on the hillside, isolated from the broad valleys surrounding it. But this was all.
The most exciting discovery of the dig was a temple on top of the hill. It was built, like the houses, of local stone which served as a foundation or sokel. This was surmounted with courses of mudbrick. The temple was divided into two rooms. The larger room probably served as the assembly hall. Stone ledges—perhaps benches—line the wall. Cult objects such as a seven-branched vessel and incense burners were found scattered on the floor. Fragments of bowls with animal figures attached to the rims and miniature vessels probably originally contained offerings left by the villagers.
The smaller room served as the holy of holies. Except on the back wall, the room was completely empty. On the back wall, however, was an altar—consisting of a roughly laid stone pavement, in the center of which was a pillar almost 1-½ feet high. Here we found miniature votive pottery vessels similar to those discovered in other contemporaneous temples in the country. Their exact usage remains unclear. We also uncovered an unusual seven-wicked lamp similar to those which have been found at other cult sites such as Nahariya, Megiddo and Byblos (see illustration in “A Jerusalem Celebration—of Temples and Bamot,” BAR 03:03). These seven-spouted lamps were probably the forerunner of the seven-branched menorah used in the later Israelite temple.
We also discovered three burial caves associated with the village. Here we found bronze tools, toggle pins, and weapons such as swords and daggers; some beautiful pottery including red burnished bowls and so-called Yehudiah juglets and bottles; and even mini-scarabs of the Hyksos type. These grave-goods, as they are called by archaeologists, demonstrate that the villagers enjoyed as high a material culture as their city neighbors. And the villagers of Givat Sharett appear to have been just as wealthy as the urban dwellers at Beth Shemesh.
In the June 1978 BAR, we published a seminal article by Norman Gottwald entitled, “Were the Early Israelites Pastoral Nomads?” BAR 04:02. Professor Gottwald there argued that the Patriarchs were not semi-nomads, instead, they lived in small countryside villages and engaged in agriculture. Professor Gottwald called for the systematic excavation of often-ignored “minor” sites and the environment in which they existed to get a better idea of patriarchal life. One of the few such excavations of this kind, to which Professor Gottwald referred, is Givat Sharett. Here, one of the directors of the Givat Sharett excavation reports.—Ed. Listen to […]