Friday, September 2, 2011

Jezreel Valley

View of the Jezreel Valley from Megiddo

Remember the earlier trading routes post? I went south already, and now it’s time to travel north to the Jezreel Valley. This route linked the region to Damascus and Mesopotamia further east, and it is also the trading route I am more knowledgeable about, since it was the one discussed in my Ancient Israel class.

On the north-south trading route, travelers continue north from Aphek along the central hills away from the Sharon, or swamps lying close to the coast in the north. They would then reach the Carmel Mountain range, and have three choices for travel through the mountains. The most southern valley was Dothan Pass. To the north lay the Yokneam Pass, and in the middle lay the Megiddo Pass.

The middle route is known as the Megiddo pass because of the large ancient town lying at the end of it. Megiddo sat at a very strategic location with views of the surrounding valley and beyond. At a high point it was easy to defend, and it could monitor who was traveling through the pass.

Megiddo has some unique history to it. Megiddo had Egyptian influence. Story tells of Pharaoh Tutmosis III and his military campaigns to regain the north. Story tells how the Canaanites knew Tutmosis was coming up the coast, and they decided to defend the northern and southern passes in anticipation of his attack. Of the three passes, Tutmosis chose the Megiddo pass, even though it was narrow and caused his troops to walk single file at times. Lore says he did this to show how fearless he was; it is also believed his scouts informed him the Canaanites were stationed at the two other passes. Regardless the reason, Tutmosis and his army overwhelmed the Canaanites.

Evidence found at Megiddo shows Egyptian influence at the site.

Megiddo is also important because it is cited in the Bible as one of King Solomon’s building projects. There is evidence of one six-chambered gate there that may date from the 10th Century, and would support the Biblical claim that Solomon built up his country (I will post more about this later).

Three chambers of the six chamber gate at Megiddo.

The most interesting part of Megiddo for me was the view of the surrounding area; you can see everything from there. Away in the distance you can see the Cliffs of Arbel, Nazareth across the valley and every other mountain along the valley. I can only imagine being an ancient soldier posted at the spot watching the movement of the traders below.

Next we traveled west to Bet She’an, another site on the ancient trading route. This site is actually located in the Herod Valley, the area that connected Jezreel to the Jordan River, leading travelers north.

Looking out onto the Roman settlement at Bet She'an from the Tel

The actual Tel of Bet She’an is what was settled by the Israelites and Cannaites, with an ancient Roman town surrounding the Tel. It was at the Tel archeologists discovered remains from the Egyptian army stationed at this location during the 12th Century B.C.E. At this time Egyptian rule of the region reached its peak, and Bet She’an became a key administrative center in the north.

The governors house at Bet She'an

The Egyptian governor was stationed at Bet She’an and lived in a house built in the Egyptian style. The Canaanites were not happy being ruled by the Egyptians, and so rulers of two cities, Hamat and Pehel, rebelled against Egyptian leadership. The rebellion was defeated, and the Egyptians constructed a stele to commemorate their victory.

The stela constructed for the Egyptian victory over the Canaanites

Both of these locations were interesting to see. Their strategic location along the northern trading route is what made them so important. Coupled with unexpected Egyptian influence, I learned a lot more than expected about this region.

Early Canaanite entrance/ gate to Megiddo

Sacrifice altar at Megiddo. Notice these stones are not cut, unlike those seen at Tel Beersheva

view looking over the Roman settlement at Bet She'an and out to the ancient Tel site

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