Beth-Shemesh is a 7 acre (2.8 ha) site located near the northeastern edge of the Shephelah on a rise just east of the junction of the Nahal Soreq to the north of the tell and the Illin Valley merging from its south. A saddle depression separates it from the rapidly rising foothills of the Judean highlands. The tell is on a knoll some 98.4 ft (30 m) above the valley and 820 ft (250 m) above sea level. It stood sentinel over the junction of the Soreq Valley’s access from the coast into the Judean highlands and the Shephelah’s interior north–south route, which ran along the junction of the Shephelah and the Judean highlands. These were not the major routes but significant secondary avenues of trade and communication. The broad Soreq Valley was well suited for grain production (cf. 1 Sam 6:13), raising grapes and olives, as well as grazing.

The site’s identification with biblical Beth-Shemesh is determined by biblical geographic references, Eusebius’s Onomasticon, and linguistic connections inferred in the preservation of the name of an Arabic village, Ain Shems, meaning “spring of the sun.” Duncan Mackenzie, who was the first person to excavate the site (1911–1912), located a well just to the north of the Middle Bronze–Age gate which served as a source of water for the tell; the Arabic workers exultantly identified it as the water source yielding the name. It is almost certain that the well was not the source for the Arabic name since it was probably buried in 701 B.C.E., if not before. Furthermore, one usually does not think of a well as a spring. The identification of a spring to yield the name “spring of the sun” remains elusive.

The Bible indicates that Beth-Shemesh was relatively close to Ekron (1 Sam 5:10—6:16) and to Zorah and Eshtaol (Josh 19:41, where Beth-Shemesh is referred to as Ir-Shemesh, meaning “city of the sun”). Beth-Shemesh means “house of the sun” and likely preserves the memory of a shrine which was dedicated to the sun and which has not been located in excavations. Again, Mackenzie claimed to have located a high place north of the South Gate, but his interpretation is open to question in view of the pervasiveness of the pan-ritualistic mindset that characterized the very early twentieth century. Archaeological investigation has failed to identify the features that prompted either name for the site. However, with the Bible’s geographic description, in conjunction with Eusebius’s Onomasticon (54), which described the location of the site as 10 miles (16 km) from Eleutheropolis (i.e., Beth Guvrin), Edward Robinson identified the ruins of Tell er-Rumeilah, which were just west of Ain Shems, as the site of Beth-Shemesh. The results of the excavations have validated the identification, and nothing has come to light to contradict it.

History of Investigation.

The first excavations were in 1911–1912 under the direction of Duncan Mackenzie and funded by the Palestine Exploration Fund. Mackenzie had been Sir Arthur Evans’s field director at Knossos. The Palestine Exploration Fund had hoped Mackenzie’s skills as an Aegean archaeologist would identify connections of Beth-Shemesh with the Philistines. While his work yielded the general results the Palestine Exploration Fund desired, differences arose between Mackenzie and the Palestine Exploration Fund, prompting the Palestine Exploration Fund to relieve him of his duties. The final notes of Mackenzie’s work remain unpublished but have come to light in part of the Mackenzie estate.

The second project (1928–1931, 1933) was under the direction of Elihu Grant of Haverford College in Pennsylvania. Grant did not possess Mackenzie’s expertise, and his work suffered badly, even for the time. Following earlier practices, he excavated huge areas of the tell to bedrock and failed to identify the nuances of the strata. Even though he published several excavation volumes, they are often unusable. Fortunately, G. Ernest Wright was able to rescue and salvage a good bit of the information by putting it into some semblance of sense on a purely typological basis, but he indicated that additional work would help to clarify the confusion.

In 1990 Shlomo Bunimovitz and Zvi Lederman (associated first with Bar-Ilan University and Ben-Gurion University, respectively, and then with the Institute of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University) accepted Wright’s challenge and commenced the work that continued annually (with the exception of two seasons) into the second decade of the twenty-first century. The research design includes goals to clarify the stratigraphy and chronology of the site and involves tracing the social and cultural significance of the site in the development of the northern Shephelah. Beth-Shemesh has proved to be an excellent site to trace the social dynamics of competing ethnic groups—Canaanites, Egyptians, Sea Peoples, Israelites, and Assyrians.

Literary References to Beth-Shemesh.

The Bible is the only ancient literary source to refer to Beth-Shemesh. Following the sequence of the references in the Bible, Beth-Shemesh first appears in the boundary descriptions of the tribes of Israel and was associated with the border of Judah (Josh 15:10), and it is later noted as one of the levitical towns (Josh 21:16, 1 Chr 6:59). It next appears in the ark narrative when the Philistines return the ark of the covenant to the Israelites; the text notes that Beth-Shemesh was on the border with Philistia (1 Sam 6).

During the monarchical period, Beth-Shemesh became one of the administrative centers for the royal court (1 Kgs 4:9). It later became the scene of a battle between Amaziah of Judah (r. ca. 800–783 B.C.E.) and Jehoash of Israel (r. 801–785 B.C.E.) (2 Kgs 14:11–13, 2 Chr 25:20–23).

The last reference to Beth-Shemesh is in a narrative that describes the Philistine occupation of a number of western Judean towns during the reign of Ahaz (r. 735–715 B.C.E.) (2 Chr 28:16–21). Ahaz paid tribute to Tiglath-pileser III, king of Assyria (r. 745–727 B.C.E.), to help alleviate this political pressure.

Stratification of the Site.

One of the goals of the renewed project under the direction of Bunimovitz and Lederman was to place the stratification of the site onto a more modern scientific base. The following discussion integrates elements of the three major projects, as well as literary evidence that may help to clarify the finds.

Early Bronze Age IV and Middle Bronze Age IIA (ca. 2250–1700 B.C.E.).

Sherds are the only evidence of occupation during the Early Bronze Age IV and Middle Bronze Age IIA, and these have been identified only in scattered places on and immediately above bedrock. Nothing architectural or substantive has been identified with these periods from which one can say anything about the nature of the occupation, much less anything about its social organization.

Middle Bronze Age IIB (ca. 1700–1600 B.C.E.).

The Middle Bronze Age is part of Mackenzie’s “Canaanite period”; the Grant and Wright project identified it as stratum V. The renewed work tentatively labels it level 10+, not having identified the full stratification separating level 9 from the Middle Bronze–IIB materials. Mackenzie excavated a massive stone gate along the southern wall of the town and traced the circumference of the Middle Bronze–Age wall by a combination of trenching and tunneling. Ottoman law, under which Mackenzie worked, required that he restore the site to usable agricultural status; hence, Mackenzie reburied the gate. The renewed operation uncovered the gate to study some anomalies that existed, which were ultimately a result of Mackenzie’s failure to expose fully the foundations of the gate. The reexcavation of the gate demonstrates that Middle Bronze–Age gates were built to conform to the circumstances of the area. The Beth-Shemesh gate and fortifications reveal neither a glacis nor ramparts, which characterize so many Middle Bronze–Age gates in the region. Instead, they were set onto and into the bedrock. Those towns with glacis and ramparts tend to be in more alluvial environments or to surmount lower-level ruins.

The gate reflects a general design conformity of a three-entry gate with shallow piers paired at the outside entrance, the middle, and the exit into the town. The western tower had a small room with a doorway opening into the southwest corner of the passage; this probably served as some kind of control and checkpoint. The western tower also included a long north–south passage, which opened into the interior of the town. This likely was an alley that had a stairway leading to the upper levels of the gate. Fortification walls, approximately 6.6 ft (2 m) thick, were only slightly set back from the outside entrance and extended east and west from the tower. Mackenzie’s identification of these fortification walls as a “strong wall” is well represented on the south part of the tell. Extending east and west of the gate from near the gate’s inner opening, less substantial walls paralleled the fortification walls, yielding a kind of casemate arrangement. A peculiarity in the gate’s passage was the secondary construction of a wall designed to restrict the passage through the gate essentially to foot traffic. Its construction implies some kind of perceived crisis prompting a desire to restrict access into the town.

Mackenzie observed that the South Gate and the passage had been buried under a barrage of burned brick destruction and burned beams. These, of course, were no longer in situ, but because Mackenzie had not fully exposed the gate, the renewed project was able to identify small areas that had escaped his work. The newer excavations identified a thick plaster floor and an array of Late Bronze Age–IIA pottery, which sealed the northwest corner of the Middle Bronze–Age gate; hence, it is inferred that the gate ceased to be used no later than this period. Deteriorated components of the “strong wall” were identified along the northern edge of the tell, but these had been reintegrated into a Late Bronze–Age town plan.

The Middle Bronze–Age fortifications probably reflect the “city-state” status of the towns of Canaan, a sociopolitical organization implied in the Brussels Execration Texts from Egypt. Even though these texts date from an earlier period than the Beth-Shemesh fortifications, there is no compelling reason to infer that the sociopolitical organization had significantly changed in the interim. The cause of the destruction of the Middle Bronze–Age gate cannot be determined since the date cannot be determined with certainty. However, with the multiple campaigns boasted by the Egyptian monarchs into Canaan on the heels of expelling the Hyksos from Egypt, the city gate may have found its demise in the throes of the political turmoil.

Several tombs are identified with the Middle Bronze–Age occupation, and all but one are intramural. These have yielded numerous vessels, and their presence implies some degree of social stratification. Grant and Wright postulate that one of the tombs was used for two to three generations.

Late Bronze Age (ca. 1550–1200 B.C.E.).

Mackenzie did not differentiate the Middle Bronze Age and Late Bronze Age into distinct layers and still referred to the Late Bronze–Age material as the “Canaanite City.” Grant exposed large sections of the Late Bronze Age, and Grant and Wright were able to separate elements of the finds into stratum IVa (fifteenth century) and IVb (fourteenth to thirteenth centuries); these separations are often tentative, resulting from the hazards of Grant’s excavation and recording standards. The combined elements of their Late-Bronze stratum-IV town reflect an impressive degree of wealth with a large patrician house, scarabs of Thutmose III (r. ca. 1479–1425 B.C.E.) and Amenhotep III (r. 1417–1379 B.C.E.), an Ugaritic inscription fragment, and an ostracon with a Proto-Canaanite inscription (one word reads hnn). An impressive hoard of jewelry was discovered in a small pot. Metalworking in copper and bronze was represented by the presence of smelting furnaces and accompanying ash and slag. The Late Bronze–Age site was riddled with bell-shaped cisterns to serve the water needs of the community and with silos for grain storage.

Early projects identified only two tombs dating from the Late Bronze Age. One was intramural, and another, larger one was outside the city. The larger tomb preserved a number of scarabs, including some of Thutmose III and Amenhotep III. It is not clear if the scarabs necessarily imply that the tomb was established as early as either of these monarchs, but it is possible. Scarabs and luxury items often were curated into later periods, and their presence, especially in a tomb, demands caution when trying to use them as chronological indicators.

The renewed excavations have uncovered Late-Bronze materials along the northern fortification wall and around parts of the South Gate. Level 9 of Beth-Shemesh coincides with the latter part of the Eighteenth Dynasty and the Amarna period of Egypt. Late Bronze Age–II remains sealed the northwest corner of the South Gate, and additional, extensive remains have been identified along the northern edge of the tell, where the Middle Bronze–Age fortification was integrated into the construction of what appears to be a palace. Mackenzie’s work with the South Gate and his subsequent recovering the gate rendered it impossible to determine if any of the fortification wall in the south was reused. The remains over the northwest corner of the tower, however, along with the Late Bronze–Age remains in the north, imply that the Late Bronze Age–II town essentially covered the entire area that had been the Middle Bronze–Age town.

The palace in the north was built with thicker walls and yielded a number of luxury items, implying a monumental building. The building was thoroughly destroyed, sealing the items under a cascade of intensely burned mud brick. Several of the rooms along the perimeter of the building have yielded dozens of vessels and an extensive array of charred grains—barley, bitter vetch, wheat, chickpeas, and others. Among the items were chalices, bilbils (elegant, one-handled juglets imported from Cyprus), painted vessels, alabaster vessels, a large scarab of Amenhotep III, and a unique Egyptianized plaque figurine depicting a person displaying both masculine and feminine traits. In addition, two unique and elegant Minoan cups were discovered. Evidence of these has not been located anywhere from the ancient world except at Knossos and there in one location of the palace (and Knossos has yielded no restorable examples).

The plaque’s portrayal of a person in the typical Egyptian stance and exhibiting a combination of masculine and feminine characteristics along with the presence of the palatial character of the building with its luxury items prompt questions of identity. A possible solution comes from the Tell el-Amarna tablets. Two letters (EA 273, 274) refer to a female ruler, fNIN-UR.MAH.MEŠ, who apprised the Egyptian king of the imminent threat of the ʾApiru; but she did not identify the town over which she ruled. The text of the letters, however, put her in the vicinity of Aijalon, Zorah, and Gezer, towns in the northern Shephelah near Beth-Shemesh. Petrographic studies on the tablets reveal that EA 273 originated from Gezer, and it has been suggested that she ruled from Beth-Shemesh. The discovery of the luxury items and the Egyptianized motif on the plaque figurine have prompted Bunimovitz and Lederman to press that she ruled Beth-Shemesh. Such an identification raises the prospect that the ʾApiru destroyed level 9 at Beth-Shemesh in the mid-fourteenth century B.C.E.

The large scarab of Amenhotep further reflects strong Egyptian connections. The inscription reads “Amenhotep, Beloved of Re.” The Grant expedition located a relatively rare scarab as well, known as a “marriage scarab,” which commemorated the marriage of Amenhotep to Tye (Grant, 1934, pp. 38, 66, pl. XX). Grant’s marriage scarab was found as a curated item in an Iron-Age setting, but it also strengthens significantly Beth-Shemesh’s Late Bronze–Age connections to Egypt.

Immediately over the intensely burned remains of the level-9 palace, another large building was constructed dating to the Late Bronze Age IIB (1300–1200 B.C.E.). At least six foundation deposits consisting of either lamps or lamp-and-bowl combinations were found surrounding the fragmentary remains of the building’s walls. Two foundation deposits stood opposite each other on each side of a threshold: an interior lamp-and-bowl foundation deposit and an exterior donkey burial. The inordinate number of foundation deposits in conjunction with the ceremonial deposit of the donkey indicate an attempt by the new occupants to neutralize the curse on the ground created by the intensity of the destruction of the previous level, which had likely occurred at the hands of the ʾApiru.

Most of the Late Bronze–Age remains discovered by the renewed project have been from the palatial area in the north, with only fragmentary Late-Bronze remains found in situ over the South Gate. Essentially, no domestic Late Bronze–Age remains have been uncovered elsewhere on the site to comment on the socioeconomic conditions beyond the inferences drawn from earlier projects. The cause of the demise of the Late Bronze–Age level 8 is unclear, but it occurred around the transition from the Late Bronze to the Iron Age.

Iron Age I (ca. 1200–985 B.C.E.).

Mackenzie labeled this level the “second city” and associated it with the Philistines. Grant and Wright identified at least part of it as stratum IVb. The latest work has identified four Iron Age–I levels (levels 7–4) which occurred in fairly rapid succession.

The material of level 7 reflects the continuation of a Canaanite painted ceramic and metalworking tradition with no intrusion of Cypriot, Mycenaean, or Philistine pottery. Nor is there any evidence of an Israelite presence. The houses are well built, and evidence of olive oil production is clear. A number of the elongated buildings along the northern edge of the town reused the stub walls of the earlier level as their foundation, and in some cases these continued through level 6.

Excavation has uncovered the foundations of a substantially built structure of a public character. It has thick walls and substantial stones that may have served as column bases. A number of luxury items have come from the structure, including goblets, chalices, and a scarab. The reason for the demise of this level has not been determined.

Mackenzie associated this level with the “second city,” and Grant and Wright identified it as their stratum III. Subsequent investigations have uncovered remains of buildings that reused stubs of level-7 walls as their foundations. The site seems to have been unfortified, but the houses probably were built along the perimeter with adjoining walls along the outside, which provided a reasonable exterior defense. One of these houses was the impressive “Patrician’s House.” The house apparently was a two-story structure and had a well-constructed pavement of smooth river pebbles in one of the bottom chambers. Some gold jewelry came to light in the destruction debris. An element of social stratification is implied by the presence of a less well-built house immediately to the east of the Patrician’s House. These houses continued the Canaanite tradition of column bases on which wooden posts rested to support the upper floor or roof. Level 6 was destroyed in an intense fire and is likely the destruction layer that Mackenzie called the “first burnt red stratum.”

The ceramic repertoire is more aligned with that of the Canaanite Shephelah than the assemblages that characterized the central hill country. Philistine pottery, however, begins to appear in level 6; but the material comprises less than 6 percent compared with over 30 percent at Batash/Timnah just 4 miles (6.5 km) northwest of Beth-Shemesh. This small volume of Philistine sherds may easily be accounted for by social contacts, as implied by the Bible’s narrative of Samson (from Zorah) fraternizing with a Philistine wife from Timnah (Judg 14). Furthermore, the Bible clearly reflects that Beth-Shemesh was on the border with the Philistines (1 Sam 6:8–12). The strength of the Beth-Shemesh inhabitants to resist absorption into the Philistine cultural orbit may further be implied by the reduction of the percentage of Philistine sherds in the next two levels, in conjunction with the total absence of otherwise characteristically Philistine-type artifacts (e.g., cylindrical loom weights, figurine designs, ritual artifacts).

Another important archaeological datum is that with the beginning of the Iron Age I there is a total absence of pig bones. The small area of Late Bronze–Age remains has yielded only a 1.6 percent presence of pig bones; however, with the Iron Age I, of the over 12,000 bones that have been evaluated, no pig has been identified. In notable contrast, the presence of pig bones at known Philistine sites essentially skyrockets, implying a propensity for Philistines (and Philistine sympathizers) to consume pork as part of their diets.

These differentiations may be understood as attempts by the Canaanite peoples in the edge of the Shephelah and the central hills to begin to accentuate their differentiation from the intrusive Philistines, dietary and eating habits serving as major points by which to make such declarations. As far as any connections with the Bible are concerned, this would be the period of the “judges,” which even according to the Bible reflects an amalgam of cultural clashes as what will eventually become Israel seeks to carve out its identity.

Level 5 is badly preserved, but what exists implies a relatively large peasant village with olive press installations as important components of its subsistence. Few architectural remains have come to light; the town appears to have had many open areas where the inhabitants may have housed their herds within the town’s confines. These open areas are evident by the presence of many thin alternating lenses of ash and soil.

It is not clear where level 4 fits into Mackenzie’s assessments, but Grant and Wright identify it as strata III–IIa. Like most earlier levels, it appears to have been unfortified, consisting primarily of domestic structures, which typically are only fragmentarily preserved. An architectural innovation, however, is the extensive use of monolithic columns embedded in chalk floors. The ceramic repertoire continues to show more affinity to sites in the lowland than to those in the central hills. Interestingly, the ceramics are almost identical to those found at Khirbet Qeiyafa about 4 miles (6.5 km) to the south. The structures of level 4 were severely disturbed with the construction of level 3, which reflects the first evidence of central government oversight.

Iron Age II (ca. 985–586 B.C.E.).

With the Iron Age II, the remains at Beth-Shemesh provide clear evidence of a central governing authority to oversee and administer the region. Mackenzie identifies level 3 as the “early Israelite city” of his “third level.” Grant and Wright refer to the remains as stratum IIa–b, noting a differentiation of phases. The renewed work identifies it as level 3, and the remains imply a central governing oversight. One is a massive fortification system exposed near the northeast curve of the tell, which was built during the second half of the tenth century B.C.E. The corner of two massive walls is preserved to over 6.6 ft (2 m); this had supported a mud-brick superstructure. To its west was what appears to have been a postern gate, which emptied to the outside of the city along a massive revetment tower, part of which Mackenzie had identified. To the east of this corner, a series of casemate rooms abutted the fortification system, extending the wall along the tell’s contour.

Another monumental feature was the construction of a massive water reservoir carved out of the limestone. It is cruciform-shaped with a central “hall” where the roughly right-angle chambers intersect. The reservoir had an approximate 211,338 gallon (800 m3) capacity. The cistern was plastered to reduce water seepage, and this operation is evident for at least three occasions. Access to the cistern was by means of a standard wellhead above the hall, where the axes intersected, as well as a stepped entrance into the end of the northwest chamber, which also allowed occasional cleaning. Water was directed into the reservoir by a network of plastered channels from around the northeast part of the tell. Some of the channels, still retaining their plaster, can be traced, with one extending in a northeasterly direction toward the fortification system. At least three channels empty into the reservoir.

A large administrative-type building, similar to the “Governor’s Residence” identified by Grant in the western part of the tell, came to light near the northern gate area. It shows two phases of construction and measures some 161.5 ft2 (15 m2). Two long halls were built, each with a row of pillars dividing it longitudinally. The northern hall had a very thick layer of plaster as its floor, while the southern hall was paved with stones. The function of the building remains elusive since it yielded no meaningful finds.

The commercial importance of Beth-Shemesh is further implied in the presence of the large open area in the middle of the site. Among the finds in this area were numerous small hole-mouth jars and scoops along with a unique ceramic scale pan. Just to the north of the open area was a building containing 11 storage jars that are typological precursors to the LMLK jars. With these jars was a wine set consisting of a strainer, bowl, and jug. This evidence implies a formalized commercial area.

This commercial phase had been constructed over an earlier phase in which an ironsmith workshop was identified. The iron workshop revealed numerous concavo-convex smith hearth bottoms. The hearths were used to heat the iron, which was then shaped on anvils. In addition, a number of distinctive square-sectioned tuyères (tube or pipe through which air was blown to increase the oxygenation in a furnace or hearth) came to light, which are essentially identical to those found at the contemporary iron-smelting site of Tell Hammeh in Jordan. Among the artifacts were iron arrowheads, a plowshare, various blades, and numerous corroded and unidentifiable fragments. The presence of a smithy implies a central contact point for the region for its ironworking needs. The Beth-Shemesh smithy continued a tradition of metalworking that had been present in the earlier levels of occupation at the site.

The presence of a large building which preserved a series of floors over the life of level 3 implies political stability. The relative calm is also indicated by the minimal changes in the ceramic tradition during which no major typological disruptions or introductions of significant new forms occurred. Toward the end of level 3, an olive oil industry emerged.

A particularly significant incised inscription from this level was a two-sided game board fragment preserving the word hnn (Hanan) on its edge. The name also appeared on the earlier Proto-Canaanite sherd from Grant and Wright’s stratum IV. Tel Batash/Timnah yielded a tenth-century B.C.E. bowl fragment with an inscription reading [b]n hnn. These data, in conjunction with the statement in 1 Kings 4:9 which identifies a nearby site as “Elon-beth-hanan,” raise tantalizing questions of whether this reflects some long-established family in the region who was appointed to oversee the local agricultural activities for the monarchy.

The combination of these features points to the presence of a central governing body to oversee, fund, and construct the features at the town. While there is nothing explicit at Beth-Shemesh to indicate who that central authority might have been, the weight of evidence points to Jerusalem. The Philistines should not be considered meaningful candidates for such a role since the developments at Beth-Shemesh indicate an identity distinct from them. The anthropological tendency is for hostile border areas to reflect more emphatic ethnic distinctions precisely as points of differentiation. Furthermore, nothing at Beth-Shemesh level 3 indicates anything that would be contrary to its role as at least a regional governmental center, as indicated in the summary statement of Solomon’s administrative designation in 1 Kings 4:9.

The end of level 3 is probably alluded to in a passing statement in 2 Kings 14:11–14, which narrates a battle at Beth-Shemesh between Amaziah of Judah and Jehoash of Israel. The text describes a resounding defeat which permitted Amaziah to proceed to Jerusalem, where he not only destroyed a significant length of Jerusalem’s wall but also exacted a heavy tribute from Jehoash. Such a defeat at Beth-Shemesh would almost certainly find evidence in major destruction, and extensive, intense burned destruction appears in this level in numerous areas.

Level 2 represents the later phase of Mackenzie’s “third city,” which he also described as the “late Israelite city.” He observed that this was the last town to occupy the site prior to its occupation during the Byzantine era. Grant and Wright identified it as stratum IIc. Level 2 is not well preserved since it lies generally near the surface and has suffered significant postoccupational disturbance through the millennia. A respectable amount of eighth-century pottery has come to light but very little as whole forms in situ. The ceramics, however, reflect typical eighth-century forms characteristic of Lachish III, whose end has now firmly been attributed to Sennacherib’s (r. 704–681 B.C.E.) campaign in 701 B.C.E. Among the finds at Beth-Shemesh are over 60 stamped LMLK jar handles, ranking it sixth in the list of sites yielding such handles. Notable was Mackenzie’s prescient attribution of this level’s destruction to Sennacherib’s campaign (contrary to Wright’s interpretations, which were heavily influenced by W. F. Albright).

The character of the site seems to shift from that of a more governmental center to that of a more domestic town, with some commercial emphasis evident in the proliferation of olive oil production. The combined three expeditions have identified at least 18 olive press installations for the last major level of occupation at Beth-Shemesh. This number of press installations implies a production that exceeds the needs of the local community. The presses, however, are integrated into the domestic architecture, reflecting a nascent yet significant cottage industry; similar olive oil industry installations emerge more plentifully at other sites in Judah as well. These, however, do not approach the scale that would eventually develop at nearby Ekron.

One house yielded a small bowl with the Hebrew word qdš (“holy”) very carefully incised into its interior. This bowl may imply the presence of a priestly house. Corroborating such an inference is the fact that the ark narrative notes that with the return of the ark to Israelite territory, the Levites removed it from the cart and apparently oversaw the burnt offerings (1 Sam 6:15). In addition, Joshua 21:16 identifies Beth-Shemesh as a levitical town. The presence of this bowl may reflect the reality of these identifications, at least for Judah’s later history.

Most of the tombs that Mackenzie and Grant report date from the eighth century B.C.E. To carve out bench tombs in the stone is a rather labor-intensive enterprise. The fact that there were so many tombs on the northwest apron of the tell implies a stable yet socially stratified population. Many of the tombs yielded luxury items, such as seals and scarabs, along with the common utilitarian vessels.

Peculiarly, the destroyed level-3 fortification system seems not to have been rebuilt in level 2, but caution should govern this conclusion in view of the surface disruptions. The earlier excavation projects similarly found no evidence of fortification walls for this level. A lack of fortifications is surprising since the numerous LMLK jar handles imply a governmental presence. Perhaps the numerous LMLK vessels were at Beth-Shemesh merely to be filled and forwarded to other locations. The foundations of what may have been a two-entry gate came to light just to the south of the fortification system of level 3, but the structure seems not to have had any fortification walls attached to it. A plastered plaza area was behind the gate-like structure, which may have comprised part of the level-3 entrance complex to the water reservoir. An alternative suggestion is that the project should be attributed to level 2 and was incomplete because of expansionist efforts to the west as perhaps Judah took over Timnah/Tel Batash (stratum III), bringing it into the Judean orbit and, hence, moving the border with Philistia farther west, with no necessity to finish the system at Beth-Shemesh.

The town came to an end with the Sennacherib campaign in 701 B.C.E. While the site is not mentioned in any of the texts as part of that campaign, Sennacherib boasts of capturing 46 of the fortified cities of Judah as well as numerous smaller towns. He, however, notes the destruction of Timnah and that he restored Padi to rule in Ekron (who was an enemy of Hezekiah [r. 715–686 B.C.E.]). Both Beth-Shemesh level 2 and Timnah (stratum III) reflect the reality of this campaign. It is likely that with this destruction and the reinstitution of Padi as king of Ekron, the territory of Timnah and Beth-Shemesh came under the political oversight of Padi, who in turn was an Assyrian vassal.

Mackenzie did not identify any remains for the century immediately following Sennacherib’s campaign. Grant and Wright mistakenly identified elements of their stratum IIc to the seventh century B.C.E., but that has since been corrected with the proper designation of the destruction of Lachish III to the end of the eighth century B.C.E. rather than as a result of the Babylonian campaign of 586 B.C.E. The renewed work, however, identified evidence for a squatters’ occupation, which apparently concentrated around the opening of the reservoir. The only meaningful evidence for this is the presence of ceramic vessels in the reservoir dating from the seventh century B.C.E. These pieces, along with the sherds in the reservoir and in the debris filling the stairwell descending into the reservoir, imply use of the site between approximately 650 and 635 B.C.E. The reservoir itself showed evidence of repair and cleaning before the revival of this period’s use, but the fill in the opening of the reservoir appears to have been deliberate, consisting of mud-brick fragments, sherds, stones, loom weights, figurines, and other similar debris. The stratification of the fill in the stairway opening reflected material of the late eighth century B.C.E. near the surface, with newer seventh-century B.C.E. material as the excavation descended to the opening into the reservoir. This type of fill is not the result of natural environmental accumulation but a deliberate deposit.

It appears that during the seventh century, when Assyria was orchestrating the extensive olive oil industry focused at Ekron, the Shephelah served as a lucrative source of olives as well as territory to raise grain to feed the workers. Surveys reveal that the number of settlements diminished in the transition from the eighth to seventh centuries, likely reflecting the desire to exploit the resources of the area for agriculture rather than residential occupation. Probably, Padi was the initial overseer for this operation.

The Beth-Shemesh squatters apparently settled here to take advantage of the presence of the reservoir, but the local Assyrian administrators eventually expelled them. With that eviction and to curtail a reoccupation, they totally blocked the entrance to the reservoir, and its existence was lost until 1993.

Byzantine occupation (ca. 450 C.E. and later).

The main element of this level is the massive and well-constructed building that Mackenzie called the “Convent.” He failed to locate the church that he supposed had been part of the settlement and eventually concluded that it had not been built, inferring instead that the religious services were conducted in some room that had been transformed into a chapel. Grant uncovered additional Byzantine architecture north of the Convent. Grant and Wright note the presence of what might have been some crusader domestic remains, but the date and determination of these remain elusive.

Assessment of Beth-Shemesh.

Mackenzie’s work was very good for the time—comparable to the quality of George Andrew Reisner’s at Samaria in 1908 to 1910. Mackenzie’s final excavation report was not produced, but Bunimovitz and Lederman’s investigation of Mackenzie’s day notes and comments that came to light from the Mackenzie estate reveals his prescient insight of ceramic typology as a means to control stratification. Grant’s work reflects a severe setback, given the advance that Albright had brought to the discipline with his use of ceramic typology to identify strata at Tel Beit Mirsim. Fortunately, and admirably, Wright’s insights were able to salvage much of Grant’s information and offer tentative conclusions from which to work. The coauthored volume 5 of the excavation series (Grant and Wright, 1939) is remarkably well done given the limitations of the resources with which Wright worked.

Fortunately, Bunimovitz and Lederman’s investigation has integrated the previous work well into the renewed project. They have significantly refined the understanding of the site and advanced the methodology by taking a truly interdisciplinary approach to broaden the social, anthropological, and cultural implications of the site as a scene of ethnic identification and differentiation.



  • Bunimovitz, Shlomo, and Zvi Lederman. “The Archaeology of Border Communities: Renewed Excavations at Tel Beth-Shemesh. Part 1: The Iron Age.” Near Eastern Archaeology 72, no. 3 (2009): 114–142. A comprehensive discussion of the Iron Age through the 2009 season. The article has several sidebars discussing the use of geographic information systems, experimental archaeology, and metallurgical studies as they have contributed to the understanding of the site.
  • Bunimovitz, Shlomo, and Zvi Lederman. “Beth-Shemesh: Culture Conflict on Judah’s Frontier.” Biblical Archaeology Review 23, no. 1 (1997): 42–49, 75–77. An overview of the excavations with particular focus on the Iron-Age levels on the northern slope of the site.
  • Bunimovitz, Shlomo, and Zvi Lederman. “A Border Case: Beth-Shemesh and the Rise of Ancient Israel.” In Israel in Transition: From Late Bronze II to Iron IIa (c. 1250–850 b.c.e.). Vol. 1: The Archaeology, edited by Lester L. Grabbe, pp. 21–31. New York: T & T Clark, 2008. A discussion of anthropology as it clarifies ethnic differentiation at borders and as the theory applies to Beth-Shemesh’s differentiations from the encroaching Philistines.
  • Bunimovitz, Shlomo, and Zvi Lederman. “Canaanite Resistance: The Philistines and Beth-Shemesh—A Case Study from Iron Age I.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 364 (2011): 37–51.
  • Bunimovitz, Shlomo, and Zvi Lederman. “The Early Israelite Monarchy in the Sorek Valley: Tel Beth-Shemesh and Tel Batash (Timnah) in the 10th and 9th Centuries B.C.E.” In “I Will Speak the Riddles of Ancient Times”: Archaeological and Historical Studies in Honor of Amihai Mazar on the Occasion of His Sixtieth Birthday, edited by Aren M. Maeir and Pierre de Miroschedji, vol. 2, pp. 407–427. Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2006.
  • Bunimovitz, Shlomo, and Zvi Lederman. “The Final Destruction of Beth Shemesh and the Pax Asyriaca in the Judean Shephelah.” Tel Aviv 30, no. 1 (2003): 3–26. Focuses on the destruction of the site by Sennacherib with particular attention to the squatter settlement of level 1 as reflected in the finds in the decommissioned water reservoir.
  • Bunimovitz, Shlomo, and Zvi Lederman. “The Iron Age Fortifications of Tel Beth Shemesh: A 1990–2000 Perspective.” Israel Exploration Journal 51, no. 2 (2001): 121–147. A discussion of the fortifications of the Iron Age, level 3.
  • Bunimovitz, Shlomo, and Zvi Lederman. “Solving a Century-Old Puzzle: New Discoveries at the Middle Bronze Gate of Tel Beth-Shemesh.” Palestine Exploration Quarterly, 1987.
  • Bunimovitz, Shlomo, and Zvi Lederman. Tel Beth-Shemesh: A Border Community in Judah. Renewed Excavations 1990–2000: The Iron Age. Institute of Archaeology, Monograph Series. Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv University, 1987. This is the definitive excavation report on the results of the first 10 years of work.
  • Grant, Elihu. Ain Shems Excavations (Palestine) 1928–1931, pt. 1. Biblical and Kindred Studies 3. Haverford, Pa.: Haverford College, 1931.
  • Grant, Elihu. Ain Shems Excavations (Palestine) 1928–1931, pt. 2. Biblical and Kindred Studies 4. Haverford, Pa.: Haverford College, 1932.
  • Grant, Elihu. Beth Shemesh (Palestine): Progress of the Haverford Archaeological Expedition. Biblical and Kindred Studies 2. Haverford, Pa.: Haverford College, 1929.
  • Grant, Elihu. Rumeileh Being Ain Shems Excavations (Palestine), pt. 3. Biblical and Kindred Studies 5. Haverford, Pa.: Haverford College, 1934.
  • Grant, Elihu, and G. Ernest Wright. Ain Shems Excavations (Palestine), pt. 4. Pottery. Biblical and Kindred Studies 7. Haverford, Pa.: Haverford College, 1938.
  • Grant, Elihu, and G. Ernest Wright. Ain Shems Excavations (Palestine), pt. 5. Text. Biblical and Kindred Studies 8. Haverford, Pa.: Haverford College, 1939. The series of excavation reports from Grant culminates in his collaboration with Wright in the 1938 and 1939 publications. These take the material of Grant and place it into a reasonably tentative presentation, which had become the standard reference for Beth-Shemesh prior to the expedition headed by Bunimovitz and Lederman.
  • Mackenzie, Duncan. “Excavations at Ain Shems.” Palestine Exploration Fund Annual 1 (1911): 41–94.
  • Mackenzie, Duncan. “Excavations at Ain Shems (Beth-Shemesh), 1912.” Palestine Exploration Fund Annual 2 (1912–1913): 1–100.
  • Manor, Dale W. “A Priest’s House at Beth-Shemesh? An Incised qdš Bowl and the 701 B.C.E. Destruction.” In Tel Beth-Shemesh: A Border Community in Judah. Renewed Excavations 1990–2000: The Iron Age, edited by Shlomo Bunimovitz and Zvi Lederman. Institute of Archaeology, Monograph Series. Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv University, 1987. The article examines the implication of the presence of the bowl from its artistic background to the likely use of the vessel in the socioreligious scene of the site.
  • Ziffer, Irit, Shlomo Bunimovitz, and Zvi Lederman. “Divine or Human? An Intriguing Late Bronze Age Plaque Figurine from Tel Beth-Shemesh.” Ägypten und Levante 19 (2009): 333–341.

Dale W. Manor