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Shephelah of Judah *

עמק איילון ומעליו גשר הרכבת Ayalon Valley and modern railroad bridge Photo: DMY

The Shephelah of Judah. The Shephelah of Judah plays an important role as a buffer zone on Jerusalem’s western flank. Many biblical incidents, including those in the life of Samson and the battle of David against Goliath, illustrate the Shephelah’s regional character.

The Shfela, or Shephelah, literally “lowlands”, is a transitional region of soft-sloping hills in south-central Israel stretching over 10–15 km between the Judaean Mountains and the Coastal Plain. 

Today the Shfela is largely rural with many farms, but the cities of Gaza, AshdodAshkelonRehovotBeit Shemesh, and Kiryat Gat roughly surround it. The Bible assigned land in the Shfela to the tribes of Judah and Dan.

More on the Shfela

Ayalon (Ajalon) Valley

The Valley of Ayalon was first mentioned in the Book of Joshua as where Joshua defeated five Amorite kings. Following his midnight march to rescue the city of Gibeon from the coalition led by the King of Jebus (Jerusalem), Joshua pursued the coalition eastward, down through the descent of Beth-Horon, and then southward across the Valley of Ayalon. To allow the Israelites to complete the rout before nightfall, Joshua asked the Lord to lengthen the day by uttering the command: “Sun, stand thou still on Gibeon; and thou, Moon, in the valley of Ayalon“. Joshua 10:11-14 records that God cooperated with Joshua’s request.

Ayalon Valley, as seen from Gezer
Photo: Maglanist at English Wikipedia

Nahal Sorek – Sorek Valley

Nahal Sorek is one of the largest, most important drainage basins in the Judean Hills.

The Midrash (Numbers Rabbah 9) states that the sorek is a “fruitless tree” (the word ריק req means “empty” in Hebrew), implying a moral lesson and metaphor suggesting that Samson’s involvement in his affair with Delilah was eventually “fruitless”. However, another etymology suggests that “sorek” means “special vine” and refers to the grapes and wines grown in the area.

Palmachim where the Sorek valley empties into the sea

Elah Valley – Nahal Elah

The Valley of Elah (terebinth) has gained new importance as a point of support for the argument that Israel was more than merely a tribal chiefdom in the time of King David. At Khirbet Qeiyafa,  in the Elah Valley, Professor Yosef Garfinkel has discovered a fortified city from the Iron Age IIa dated sometime between 1050 and 915 BC. The fortifications have been said to support the biblical account of the United Monarchy at the beginning of Iron Age II. Others are skeptical and suggest it might represent either a Judahite or Canaanite fortress.

In the late 19th century, Claude Conder and Herbert Kitchener described the Elah Valley as being: “one of the most fertile districts in Palestine. It is an open flat vale about half a mile across, and covered with corn; a narrow trench runs down the center full of white pebbles worn by the water in winter. Here and there large terebinths (Pistacia atlantica) grow along its course, and solitary oak trees (Ballûtet Kŭssis). On either side rise the stony hills covered with brushwood and wild growth.”

Pistacia atlantica in Elah valley
Photo: Davidbena at en.wikipedia

Nachal Guvrin – Guvrin Valley

Nachal Guvrin is a wadi in Judah. It begins in the western part of the Judean Mountains near Hebron. It deviates to the west and passes the village of Beit Guvrin. The remains of an ancient settlement are preserved to this day and are part of the Beit Guvrin National Park, which contains the remains of the ancient Beit Guvrin and another ancient settlement Maresha, as well as the area of ​​caves. Southwest of the city Kiryat Mal’achi and near the village of Masu’ot Yitzhak , it empties from the right into the Lachish river.

Bell cave at Beit Guvrin National Park
Photo: Chai

Lachish Valley

Lachish Valley is the site of an ancient city, now an archaeological site and an Israeli national park. Lachish is located in the Shephelah between Mount Hebron and the Mediterranean coast. The territory was later assigned to the tribe of Judah and became part of the Kingdom of Israel. Of the cities in ancient Judah, Lachish was second in importance only to Jerusalem.

Gat

Gath or Gat often referred to as Gath of the Philistines, was one of the five Philistine city-states, established in northeastern Philistia. Gath is often mentioned in the Hebrew Bible and its existence is confirmed by Egyptian inscriptions. The site most favored as the location of Gath is the archaeological mound or tell known as Tel es-Safi in Arabic and Tel Tzafit in Hebrew, located inside Tel Tzafit National Park.

Archaeological findings at Gath (Tell es-Safi)
צילום: Ori~
Blanche Garde Fortress, Tel Tzafit
צילום:ד”ר אבישי טייכר

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