We’ve been trying to make it to the Shephelah (the “lowlands” or the Judean foothills) since our third week, but circumstances have kept interfering with this. So on Wednesday, we started bright and early to go see the Valley of Elah (David and Goliath), Tel Lachish, and Beit Guvrin National Park. Eva chose to stay behind at the apartment to rest today–and she did all the dishes, so we came back to a beautiful kitchen! Which was MUCH appreciated by me.
Today’s adventure to the Shephelah started at the grocery store at the mall just outside of our neighborhood. Look at these cuties! We are all exhausted and getting tired of each other at this point…but we are loving it still. Mevareset Zion Victory Grocery Store.
The super healthy food we are buying. The pita bread is possibly the least scary of all the fast food. Oh! LaDonna bought sunflower seeds. Those are sorta healthy. Candy, cookies, chocolates, juice…
Onto our next Tel! Tel Lachish is a super important archeological site. Which is weird that it was so…undone. The Visitor Center was closed, the explanations were brief, and most of the ruins were not uncovered.
I loved it! I felt a little like an explorer (with explanatory placards, that is).
Throne room carvings, Lachish reliefs, original found in the British Museum.
Lachish is awesome because it is not just mentioned in the Bible, but also in Assyrian battle carvings in Nineveh. Sennaccherib (he of threatening Hezekiah-so-he-made-a-secret-tunnel-fame) was coming to conquer the cities of the Levant that were rebelling against him. He took down many of the cities, ending with Lachish (which was incredibly fortified and very important). He was very proud of this accomplishment, and when he returned home he ordered huge carvings of the battle to put in his throne room in his new palace.
However, when he went up against Jerusalem, his armies were struck by an (angelic) plague, and left without destroying Jerusalem. (Isaiah, 2nd Kings, and Chronicles)
The other reason Lachish is so famous is the “Lachish letters” found in 1935 in one of the gate-rooms in the ruins of Lachish at the level of the destruction of Sennacherib. The Lachish letters are “ostraca”, writing on fragments of clay pots. It is believed that they are rough drafts–write it out on scrap “paper” before you write the official letter or proclamation or whatever. The Lachish letters tell of the panic felt by the garrison there at Lachish during the approach of the Assyrian armies–most poignant to me is “And may [my lord] be apprised that we are watching for the fire signals of Lachish according to all the signs which my lord has given, because we cannot see Azekah.” In other words, we are the last signal fires around, because all the other cities have fallen. Heavy stuff! (And very “where was Gondor when the Westfold fell?” vibes)
Although sparsely improved, I loved the little peephole displays in a few places around the tel. You look through a tiny hole to see the view, but superimposed is a thin drawing on clear plastic or glass, allowing you to visualize the original structure. This is the main grand palace at Lachish. And a lot of dead beetle carcasses.
Em wandering the tel of Lachish. The views were amazing, and there was a small group there filming someone talking in German? (presumably about the history of Lachish); we tried to stay out of the way.
Some awesome (sad) iron sculptures of the destruction and sack and enslavement of Lachish by the Assyrians. I loved that they took their artistic direction from the throne room decoration in Ninevah–it added a bit of authenticity and style to the place.
Sieging Assyrian armies (on your right), defending Lachish-ians on your left). Spoiler alert, the Assyrians win.
And excavations are ongoing! Current archeological exploration, Tel Lachish. (They didn’t care for us filming them, which, okay–I’ve been filmed/had pictures taken of me while doing geology things before, and it can feel weird, but when Bradley was shooting video, they were kinda rude about it. Oh, well.)
I have no idea what this plant is, but its dried remains were beautiful.
Representation of the kings of Judah. The height of the back of the chair indicates the length of the reign–such a fun idea! Some of these poor kings only ruled for less than a year, while others were significantly more successful. Uzziah, for example, reigned for 52 years. (2nd Chronicles 26) His is the super tall chair.
My beautiful Yummy girl. Hebs and Gee weren’t super interested in this site, so they stuck to the shade. Zee wanders at will, so I don’t always get pictures of him. 🙂
Valiant defenders of Lachish, at the counter siege wall, fighting the Assyrians. LaDonna, Yummy, and Em, Tel Lachish.
Random really old retaining wall, palace platform, Lachish.
Most of the top of the tel looked like this. Desolate and gorgeous, it is easy to imagine not even knowing that this is a man-made hill of ruins upon ruins upon ruins.
After Lachish–we tried to stay only an hour, because certain children are getting very sick of ruins–we hopped back in the van to find our way over to Beit Guvrin-Maresha National Park. The promise of caves lured all our kids out of their heat-induced stupor, and we began exploring.
Beit Guvrin’s geology is pretty awesome!
Beit Guvrin is definitely on my pretend BYU Geology Field Trip to the Holy Land.
This area of Beit Guvrin, called the Bell Caves, was quarried during the Byzantine and Early Islamic periods. (Younger than the other caves we were in.) The bell-shaped nature of the caves is a result of how they went about the quarrying: they would first cut through the hard “nari” limestone (~1-2 meters thick) to the soft chalk layers beneath. Then the chalk was removed in giant blocks (30 cm high) and lifted from the round hole at the top with ropes.
This picture shows the hard nari layer. This entire area was an ocean at one point in the geologic past, which made the chalk (tiny sea creature skeletons) and the limestone (sometimes creature skeletons, sometimes not).
Zee in a Beit Guvrin columbarium. Pretty smelly, especially since pigeons are still using it, and probably have been using it since Hellenistic time (3rd C BC)!
See? Pigeon, and her unseen baby. AD 2022
Hebs looking at the many, many spiders everywhere in the little cubbies. He downloaded an app that lets him try to ID various bugs, and has been having a great time. Though, let me tell you, the sight of some of those bugs…shiver!!
There are signs everywhere telling people not to carve their names into the chalk, and evidence everywhere that people of all nations just don’t obey signs. We keep teasing Zee about this.
Walking down to the huge columbarium.
Path down through the chalk to another of the columbariums. Beit Guvrin.
The cutest little miss ever. Yummy, Beit Guvrin.
After descending the steps, you turn a corner and are confronted by this view–only darker, because my phone overexposed it. It seriously looks like something out of an Indiana Jones movie, or the Mummy. Main columbarium, Beit Guvrin.
LaDonna, columbarium at Beit Guvrin. It was at least two (maybe three?) levels all, all underground, and held more than 2000 niches for doves. The doves were used for religious sacrifices, as well as for food and dung-fertilizer.
Em and Gee, Beit Guvrin columbarium.
Seriously, this place had ATMOSPHERE.
And bats. And pigeons, still. And humidity. But so awesome.
Tel Maresha, in the Beit Guvrin-Maresha National Park. We “lost” Zee for a moment (not really lost, just didn’t know if he was behind or in front of us, and we were ready to drive to the next location) and I ran up to this high point to see if I could see if he was headed toward the van or away.
Alone, with no civilization or other people or really much of anything…it was like stepping back into the past. I could have been wandering these hills with Abraham and Isaac and their flocks, or David and his armies, or even with Jesus and his disciples. An unexpectedly cool experience.
View from Tel Maresha.
Beit Guvrin is one of those parks where you drive from interesting location to interesting location. They were all very interesting to me, but for the sake of time and my children’s tempers, we had to skip some of them. We didn’t hike out to the St. Anne’s Church ruins (different than the one in Jerusalem), but we did drive past it! The only picture I took from the car window was blurry, oh well. Onto the Sidonian caves, and ice cream at the gift shop.
Entrance into the Hellenistic “Sidonian” tombs, carved into the chalk at Beit Guvrin. These tombs are from the third to first century BC, and are the only decorated and painted tombs in the area. (All of the paintings inside are reconstructions, the originals have been removed for safe keeping.)
Gee, in the Apollophanes tomb, Beit Guvrin. I love that smile.
Some of the awesome tomb paintings. Apollophanes cave, Beit Guvrin. The faces of the figures were destroyed by order of the Muslim Sheik at the time they were discovered in the early 1900s, because they are taboo in Muslim culture.
Gee, in the tomb, still alive, Beit Guvrin.
Gee, in a tomb, apparently dead. (It’s a side tomb, and they’re not at the bottom of a deep hole. But it’s a cool optical illusion!) Photo credit: LaDonna. Beit Guvrin Sidonian Tombs.
“Yo, I don’t want to fight Cerberus” Beit Guvrin, Apollophanes tombs.
Rooster! I love chickens!
Next, on to the Bell Caves. We’d been super impressed with the caves thus far–but were unprepared for just HOW AWESOME it was going to get. The walk to the caves had cool information about the different trees and plants we were seeing.
This plant is apparently part of the pistachio family. So Yummy (allergic) pretended to eat it. Without touching it, I might add. Don’t worry, Yum, I’ve got your Epi-Pens! (Let’s not do this, though.)
Hebs was fascinated by this weird tree, which seemed to be growing down from above.
Carob tree pods!
The carob tree! I love that it is everywhere in Israel, just like I tell my students. And this explanation even talks about the connection between the “carat” and the carob bean.
Carob seeds. When I get home I’m going to weigh these to see if they are 0.2 grams, like I’ve been telling my Diamonds and Gems students.
This really shows the size of the bell caves–Zee, hanging out on the railing, Beit Guvrin.
Diagram showing how the Bell Caves were carved, dug from prehistoric times to the Byzantine (3-4th C AD).
Aren’t they gorgeous?
And so incredibly empty. We were about a half hour behind a school field trip group with about 70 eight-to-ten year old boys, so we were arriving when they were leaving. It was perfect. And we were about 50 minutes ahead of a small tour group, so we were leaving when they were arriving. We took advantage of the lack of crowds to sing. The acoustics are amazing! “All Creatures of Our God and King” and “Let Zion in Her Beauty Rise” And then Zee sang one of his choir Latin songs, and Yummy sang her solo from Peter Pan, Jr. “Tender Shepherd”. It was so amazing.
Listen to those echoes!!!
Zee, Bell Caves, Beit Guvrin.
Remember that curiously life-like statue from Caesarea Maritima? It followed us to Beit Guvrin!
See? Very lifelike, even with the bored and slightly put-upon teenaged expression. 🙂
Bell Caves, Em, Beit Guvrin.
My Hebs, in front of the caves at Beit Guvrin.
LaDonna, caves, Beit Guvrin.
LaDonna and Gee, Beit Guvrin.
That is one good looking kid! Gee, Beit Guvrin.
Em, Beit Guvrin.
This is where we lost Yummy for a few minutes–enough to make her panic and me worry about her panicking. We left this cave in little groups–two, then three, then two more–and each group though Yummy was with another group. When we walked back to the van, and Yum wasn’t there, that was when we realized no one had seen her for almost ten minutes. Zee and Hebs ran ahead to find her, and I hurried behind them. I knew she’d be a little freaked out by this, and I felt so bad! She held it together until she saw Zee and then me.
She didn’t know the right path to take back to the parking lot, and so she returned to the cave where we had last been. Another group of tourists came in, and some of them were speaking English, so she knew she could get help if she needed it. But, still, she was scared! I held her and loved on her and comforted her and apologized, while Zee ran to find Hebs and we all went back to the vans. Sorry, baby girl!
Our final stop this day was the Valley of Elah, where the epic battle between the giant Goliath and little, young David of Bethlehem was fought.
The Valley of Elah, where Saul’s armies gathered against the Philistines and Goliath. Where David came to see his brothers and ended up volunteering to fight the Giant. Somewhere around here.
This is one of those moments that will be funny someday. Maybe. (If you ask my kids, don’t count on it.)
So we didn’t actually know where to go to be at the “site” where David and Goliath fought. There was a Google pin in one place (off the road, just in the valley, but it wasn’t near the stream (dry in late June). There was another pin where the comments claimed this was a GREAT place, full of meaning and so beautiful, such a wonderful location…down this dirt road that skirted a hay field that had been recently mown, with the hay still piled up and drying. We drove and drove and our kids got more and more uncomfortable and begging us to turn around…but I made us park, because Bradley really wanted rocks from the stream of the Valley of Elah and by ginger, I was going to make that happen. So I boldly walked along the dirt road toward the wash, trying to ignore the fact that there were farmers or workers or some group of people in the next field over probably wondering what the heck we were doing. But we got the rocks! And very very very grumpy kiddos. So, not exactly the experience we were looking for, but you win some you lose some.
Our path to the dry river wash in the Valley of Elah.