Where is Tel Azekah
Tel Azekah is located in the heart of Shephelah, some 45km from Tel Aviv and 30km from Jerusalem. Sitting high above sea level, Tel Azekah has played a central role in the ancient history of the region and was once the control point of a strategic junction of roads. These roads travelled in all directions and led from the Mediterranean coast to the west, through to the Judean Hills in the east, and connected Beth-Shemesh in the north through to Lachish in the south. For millennia Azekah flourished and grew, as its community benefited from Azekah’s rich natural and strategic location.
Azekah in the Past
Azekah has a long history, stretching back some 3500 years to the Early Bronze Age when it was first settled. During the Middle Bronze Age (2000-1550 BCE), Azekah emerged as a strongly fortified, urban city which continued to flourish until it’s destruction at the end of the Late Bronze Age (1500-1000 BCE.). After a period of abandonment, Azekah was once again settled in the Iron II (1000-586 BCE.) and flourished as a Judean town.
Tel Azekah also plays a prominent role in the biblical texts. 1 Samuel 17:1 references the area around Azekah as the arena for the battle between David and Goliath. Beyond its significance as a central Judean town, the site also gains archaeological and historical importance from its destruction by the Assyrian King Sennacherib in 701 BCE. Referenced in Assyrian texts, Sennacherib described the site as an ‘eagle’s nest … with towers that project to the sky like swords.’ Such evocative imagery, combined with the context of the text, constructs the site as a significant Judahite border-stronghold.
According to Jeremiah 34:7, over a 100 years later during the Babylonian siege against Jerusalem, Lachish and Azekah “were the only fortified cities of Judah that remained”. The site is further referenced on ostracon uncovered at the nearby site of Lachish. Composed during Lachish’s period of capture by the Babylonians in 586 BCE, the text details the panic of seeing the lights of neighbouring tells wink out along the horizon as they were progressively captured and destroyed. Chillingly, the last line of the message, composed as a warning to Jerusalem reads, “for we cannot see any more, the fire-signals of Azekah”, signalling the destruction of the site.
Despite multiple destructions, Azekah continued to flourish, and was resettled by Judeans in the Persian Period (539-332 BCE) and continued to grow. During the Hasmonean dynasty (140 BCE-116 BCE), an impressive fortress was constructed by the great Hasmonean King, John Hyrcanus I. The remains of this massive structure can still be seen today, perched atop the mound.
Azekah continued to be populated in the Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine periods, when it was listed in the Madaba map as Beit Zechariah. The title of the Tel was preserved in the name of the nearby Arab village, as well as in today’s Moshav Zekhariah.
Tel Azekah Today
Despite its long occupation, Tel Azekah was eventually abandoned and forgotten. In the late 19th century, the history of the site was rediscovered when it became one of the first sites to be excavated in Israel. A small team of British archaeologists, led by F.J. Bliss and R.A.S. Macalister, briefly excavated the sites between 1898-1899 on behalf of the Palestine Exploration Fund. Due to time restrictions, the team was forced to abandon excavations and backfill their project.
In the century that followed, Tel Azekah remained untouched, with most archaeologists believing that it had been entirely excavated by Bliss and Macalister. This changed in 2012, when a team of archaeologists returned to the site, led by Tel Aviv University professors Oded Lipschits and Yuval Gadot, and Professor Manfred Oeming from Heidelberg University. In the years since, our team has grown to include archaeologists, historians, scientists and students from Germany, Czech Republic, Italy, Malta, United Kingdom, Spain, China, Indonesia, Australia, Canada, and the United States to name a few! As we continue to dig deeper by using modern techniques and expertise, the site continues to evolve and excite!
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