Our first day of participation in the Jezreel Expedition involved no digging, but lots of orientation. The 2017 dig began two weeks ago, and has two weeks to go.
The ancient city of Jezreel sits on a high knoll among the foothills of the Gilboa mountain range — we can easily see the area where 1 Samuel 31 and 2 Samuel 1 say King Saul was killed by the Philistines. It overlooks the southeast end of the fertile Jezreel Valley at its narrowest point. The Via Maris (Way of the Sea), the main highway between Egypt and Mesopotamia, ran right by Jezreel, so it has been the site of many significant battles through the years.
We’re staying at Kibbutz Yizre’el, which was founded in 1950 and still operates, like most of the early kibbutzim, as a largely socialist community in which everyone shares in the kibbutz income (largely farming and a factory that makes robotic vacuum cleaners for swimming pools) and have access to a common dining room.
The kibbutz is also home to Berny Fink, an accomplished artist whose sculptures (especially very large ones) are found in prominent places, including the Israel Museum and the Yad VeShem (Israel’s Holocaust museum). Berny, who immigrated from South Africa, kindly gave us a tour of his studio and served us tea while dropping philosophical observations along the way.
The archaeological site consists of a large upper tel, which contained an iron age fortress (excavated in the late eighties and early nineties), and a smaller tel near Ein Jezreel, a spring that was the community’s main water source. We’ll be digging at the lower tel, where the team leaders are trying to determine various levels of occupation there.
Today we walked over the upper tel, which was so robbed out by later settlers that there was little left, and got a feel for the basic layout of the area. Of special interest was a rock-cut winery, where a square treading floor for crushing grapes was cut into bedrock, with a triangular depression where a cloth or basket would catch the pits and skins for further squeezing. A channel from there went into a large square vat cut into the stone, where the grape juice would be covered and undergo primary fermentation for about a week before being moved elsewhere for secondary fermentation.
Interestingly enough, the winery is located just uphill from the most likely spot of Naboth’s vineyard, the subject of 1 Kings 21 — in which King Ahab reportedly wanted the vineyard but Naboth wouldn’t sell. While Ahab sulked, his wife Jezebel connived to have Naboth accused of a capital crime and stoned to death so Ahab could take the vineyard.
The vineyard also figures into the story of Jehu riding into the valley from Ramat Gilead (the hills across the Jordan River, 2 Kings 9). When King Joram of Israel and King Ahaziah of Judah rode out to meet him, Jehu shot Joram in the back with an arrow and ordered his body thrown into Naboth’s vineyard, which would have been right there along the road. He also wounded Ahaziah, who escaped to Megiddo (about six miles to the west), but died there.
It’s pretty rare to have a location that corroborates so well with biblical stories.
Among other things, we’re hoping to find more evidence of Iron Age occupation during those periods, and where it might have been on or about the tel.
Today we got plenty hot, sweat, and dusty. Tomorrow, we’ll add several of dirt.
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.