Readers with even a passing interest in the biblical world will be interested to learn that the first archaeological evidence of bee-farming in the “land of milk and honey” has come to light through excavations at Tell Rehov, in the Beit She’an Valley.

The Jerusalem Post, Science Daily, and other sources have reported that Prof. Amihai Mazar of Hebrew University uncovered a collection of beehives there during the summer. The apiary, which was dated to the 10th to early 9th centuries BCE (near the time of Solomon), contained 30 hives arranged in three rows, stacked three high. The hives, made of unbaked clay and dry straw, were shaped like cylinders. One end of each hive was closed, with a small hole for the bees to enter. The other end was covered with a clay lid that could be removed to extract the honey (additional pictures here).

In antiquity, the site may have included as many as 100 hives, Mazar said.

Beekeepers and scholars put their heads together and estimated that an apiary that size could have produced as much as 1,000 pounds of honey each year.

That’s enough to sweeten a lot of goat milk.

The Bible contains a delightful story in which Saul’s son Jonathan, tired after a day of battle, discovered a wild honeycomb and found renewed energy after indulging in a quick snack (1 Sam. 14:25-26). Samson was said to have discovered a beehive in an animal carcass (Judg. 14:8-9), while Mark’s gospel says John the baptizer subsisted on “locusts and wild honey” (Mk. 6:1).

The Bible also refers to Israel no less than 16 times as “the land of milk and honey.” A few scholars, perhaps due to the previous paucity of evidence for domestic honey production, have surmised that the word for “honey” also could have described a type of date with a honey-like flavor.

Mazar’s discovery offers clear evidence that, when the Old Testament writers said “milk and honey,” they meant milk and honey.

As Jackie Gleason would say, “How sweet it is!”

[Photo by Amihai Mazar, Hebrew University]

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