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Tel Beit Shemesh

The Valley of Soreq (Sorek), Tel Beit Shemesh – תל בית שמש, Samson and Delilah are all one story which took place here. Whenever you visit here, don’t forget your Bible.

Tel Beth-Shemesh (Also known as Tel Bet Shemesh, Tel Beth-Shemesh, Tell er-Rumeileh, Ain esh-Shems, ‘Ain Shems, Beth-shemesh, Bethshemesh, Har-Heres and Ir-Shemesh) is an important biblical site in the northeastern Shephelah (lowland) of Judah. The 7-acre mound is located near the modern town of Beth-Shemesh, some 20 km west of Jerusalem, and overlooks the Sorek Valley. Situated at the geographical, political and cultural border, as well as the meeting point between Canaanites, Philistines and Israelites. The site is open and there is no entrance fee.

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Biblical History

Beit Shemesh is referenced the book of Samuel (6,12).   Beth Shemesh was initially given to the tribe of Dan (Joshua 19 41), However the tribe was not able to overcome the iron age chariots of the Canaanites on the coast (present day Tel Aviv) and most of them moved to the very north of Israel to Tel Dan.  In the In the 13th century Joshua took the town  of Beit Shemesh (Joshua 21,16) and a minority of the Dan tribe moved to these foothills of Judaea. Eventually Samson became the Judge of this tribe. Read about  Shimshon’s adventurous life martyrdom in Judges Chapters 13-14-15-16.

Beit Shemesh is also referenced the book of Samuel (6,12). In the 11th century the Philistines defeated the Israelites in  battle of Even HaEzer (near Rosh HaAyin) and captured the Ark of the Covenant; but its possession brought them bad luck and they were forced to return the Ark to the Israelites. The cart carrying the Ark, drawn by two Oxen, passed through Beth-shemesh (Samuel I 6,12) and then continued to Qiryat Yearim, near Abu Ghosh. About 800 B.C. there was a battle between King Amaziah of Judah and King Jehoash of Israel (2 Kings 14,11).

On the north side of the Sorek Valley across from Beth Shemesh are the ancient villages of Zorah  and Eshtaol. This is the birthplace of Samson. From Tel Beit Shemesh you can view the vineyards of the Soreq Valley. Samson of course as a “Nazir” could not  partake of the wine or grapes. This is the valley where he killed the lion barehanded and returned to eat the honey from it’s carcass. You can see the Philistine city of Timna where young Samson had an unsuccessful marriage ending when the nameless wife of his convinced him to tell her the solution to his riddle.

Tel Eshtaol
Tel Eshtaol
Tel Tzora
Tel Tzora

The name Beth-Shemesh (“House of the Sun”) is suggestive of the deity that was worshipped by the Canaanite inhabitants of the ancient city. Identification of the mound with biblical Beth-Shemesh is based on its geographical description in the Bible, on Byzantine sources and on the name of the nearby Arab village ‘Ain Shems, which preserved the ancient name.

Excavations

Prof. Shlomo Bunimovitz and Dr. Zvi Lederman of Tel Aviv University conducted the archaeological digs in Tel Beit Shemesh. Over 30,000 animal bones were found on the Tel, none of which were from pigs, which the Hebrews were forbiden to eat . Beit Shemesh can be traced back over three thousand years to the times of Yehoshua. Excavations near Beit Shemesh show the existence of a Hyksos and later a Canaanite town dating back to the 18th century B.C.

The archaeological evidence indicate that the city was destroyed at the end of the 12th C, and was shortly reoccupied. Perhaps, this resettlement was due to the change of the population from Canaanite to Israelite.

In excavations conducted at Tel Beth-Shemesh remains of several successive cities from the Bronze and Iron Ages were uncovered. The Iron Age covers the periods of the Judges and the Israelite Monarchy, 12th-7th centuries BCE in which  a large village or town spread all over the mound. The architecture of the houses as well as the pottery used by the inhabitants of Beth-Shemesh during this period is in the Canaanite tradition. But the bones of the animals they consumed attest to a diet typical of the Israelites who occupied the hill country–pigs are entirely absent.

During the days of the United Monarchy or the beginning of the Kingdom of Judah, the village of Beth-Shemesh was transformed into a regional administrative centre of the kingdom on its border with Philistia.

The importance of Beth Shemesh is largely owing to its situation along the route leading south to Lachish.  This route was the major artery through the Shephelah in the historical periods.  Travelers going south from Beth Shemesh will meet most of the major cities of the Shephelah along this route: Azekah, Moresheth Gath, Mareshah/Beth Guvrin and Lachish.

Ancient Iron Age Reservoir

To guaranty the water supply of the governmental town, a large subterranean reservoir was quarried. The rock-cut reservoir is cruciform in shape with four large halls coated with thick hydraulic plaster. Its capacity is about 800 m3 of rainwater collected from the town’s streets by plastered channels. One may descend down into the underground halls via an impressive entrance complex constructed of a stairway partly built and partly cut in the rock. But don’t forget your flashlight. Huge cigar-shaped stones cover the stairway passage

During the 10th to the beginning of the 9th centuries BCE, an iron workshop was active in the place. Dozens of iron implements and slags were found within the workshop,
the earliest of its kind in Israel.

During the 8th century BCE, the inhabitants of Beth-Shemesh engaged in olive oil production. Remains of olive crushing basins, oil presses and stone weights, all used in the process of oil extraction, were found in the buildings by all three expeditions excavating at the site.

Beth-Shemesh was destroyed by the Assyrian king Sennacherib in his campaign against Judah in 701 BCE, and abandoned. To ensure the abandonment of Beth-Shemesh, the entrance to the reservoir was deliberately blocked with 150 tons of earth and debris.

A Roman road from Jerusalem/Bethlehem (on the east) passed at the site, connecting it to the west.

Beit Jimal (or Beit Jamal monastery is located in the Judean hills next to the city of Beit Shemesh.

Beit Jamal Monastery
Beit Jamal Monastery

A small and well-appointed church, called St. Stephen, was built in 1930 on the ruins of a large 5th-century Byzantine church on the south side of Tel Beth Shemesh.

Modern Day

Beit Shemesh was established in 1950 as a “development town primarily for new immigrants. Today Beit Shemesh is a thriving city with many modern conveniences and modes of public transportation (bus, train, taxi). Beit Shemesh is located in the Jerusalem region at the start of the Judean Hills. Beit Shemesh is located 30km/20miles west of Jerusalem.

Near by Parks/Forests: Brittish ParkBeit Guvrin National ParkEin Hemed National ParkCastel National ParkEshtaol Forest, Gilo Forest, Herodium (Herodion) National ParkJerusalem ForestLatrun areaMartyrs ForestPeace Forest, Presidents Forest, SatafStalactite cavesSorek-Salmon Ridge, U.S. Independence Park, Yishi Forest, Park Begin near Mevo Beitar

Near by Modern Day History Sites: Harel/Burma Road, Netiv HaLamed Hei, Har Yaale, Nes Harim

Near by Caves: Stalactite caves, Bat caves, Twin caves, Bar Kochba caves, Beit Guvrin National Park, Ukbah caves, Luzit caves

Near by Biblical Sites/Tels: Tel Bet Shemesh, Emek Haela, Tel Azaka, Tel Yarmut, Tel Shocho, Kever Dan, Kever Shimshon

View Larger Map

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Geological Map of Beit Shemesh

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Beit Shemesh is approximately 10 kilometers from hi-way 1 (Shar Hagay exit).  Travel hiway 38 until you reach Beit Shemesh.

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