Israelite fortresses were built in the Negev desert to protect the southern border from the Egyptians. In ‘En Hatzeva, a structure dating to this period—possibly to the time of King Solomon—resembles others from the 10th century B.C.E., such as one at Arad. In a 925 B.C.E. stela at Karnak, in Egypt, Pharaoh Sheshonq I (called Shishak in the Bible) boasts that he has conquered “the fortified cities of Judah.”
Stratum 5—9th–8th centuries B.C.E.
A large fortress, measuring 300 feet on each side, was built at ‘En Hatzeva. Associated with this and the Stratum 4 period are an Edomite shrine and a pit containing smashed cult objects. Who were the Edomites? In the Bible, the descendants of Esau form the kingdom of Edom—a rival of the Israelites, who are descended from Esau’s brother Jacob (also called Israel). Given the Bible’s description of ethnic connections between Israelites and Edomites, and that the Edomite language is closely related to Hebrew, the two groups may have come from the same stock. An Edomite kingdom existed by the 13th century B.C.E., stretching south of Nahal Zered and east of the Arava Valley. This kingdom was controlled by the Israelites during the united monarchy (tenth century B.C.E.), according to the Bible. Later, after a period of independence during the divided monarchy—with Israel in the north and Judah in the south—Edom submitted quietly to the Babylonians in about 604 B.C.E. With the Israelites in exile in Babylonia, Edomites moved into southern Judah, establishing their central city at Hebron; this is probably the Idumea of the post-exilic period (after 539 B.C.E.).
Stratum 4—7th–6th centuries B.C.E.
A small fortress was constructed at ‘En Hatzeva, possibly during the reign of the Judahite king Josiah (639–609 B.C.E.). This fortress was probably destroyed by the Babylonians at the same time as the Jerusalem Temple (586 B.C.E.).
The religious reforms of Josiah, especially regarding idol worship, may have been responsible for the smashed Edomite cultic vessels found in this stratum. Also among the destruction debris was a stone seal engraved in Edomite—a rare example of Edomite script.
Stratum 3—1st century C.E.
Arriving from northwest Arabia, the Nabateans occupied ‘En Hatzeva. By the fourth century B.C.E., they had settled all of Moab, Edom and the southern Negev. In the second and first centuries B.C.E., they fought wars against the Jewish Hasmonean and Herodian dynasties. In 106 C.E., the Roman emperor Trajan annexed all Nabatean territory; henceforth the Nabateans ceased to exist as a distinct people, melting into other groups in the Negev and the Transjordan.
Stratum 2—3rd–4th centuries C.E.
The Romans quashed two Jewish uprisings—the First Jewish Revolt (66–70 C.E.) and the Bar-Kokhba Revolt (132–135 C.E.)—and took firm control of Palestine. At ‘En Hatzeva, called Tamara by the Romans (and identified by some scholars with Biblical Tamar [see Ezekiel 47:19, 48:28]), they built a fortress to protect Palestine’s southern flank from marauding Arabian tribes, called Saracens.
Stratum 1—6th–7th centuries C.E.
After a period of Persian rule, Byzantine Christians (who recaptured Jerusalem in 629 C.E.) and then Islamic Arabs (who captured Jerusalem in 638 C.E.) occupied Palestine, including the site of ‘En Hatzeva—which, situated on roads to Jerusalem, the Transjordan, the Mediterranean and the southern incense routes, remained a stopover for ancient travelers.