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May 17, 2010May 17, 2010  0 comments  Geography


The name Ben Hinnom most probably means Son of Hinnom, Hinnom being the owner of the land, but the valley's name in Hebrew, Gei Ben Hinnom, resembles the Hebrew word for Hell, Geihenom, and despite its peaceful and innocent appearance, its history makes the name well deserved.

Hinnom Valley


Right below Mt. Zion, outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, lay a deep valley, green and wide, that separates the old city of Jerusalem from the modern neighborhoods of the city. In fact, the valley, known as the Ben Hinnom valley or Gei Ben Hinnom in Hebrew, separates the Old City from the first Jewish neighborhood built outside the Old City walls, Mishkenot Sha'ananim (established 1860).


The name Ben Hinnom most probably means Son of Hinnom, Hinnom being the owner of the land, but the valley's name in Hebrew, Gei Ben Hinnom, resembles the Hebrew word for Hell, Geihenom, and despite its peaceful and innocent appearance, its history makes the name well deserved.

 It was here, in the Ben Hinnom Valley, that people in ancient times used to sacrifice their first born children to the foreign gods, the Molech and the Baal. The Israelites that a few hundred years back had adopted the Mosaic faith upon receiving the Torah, emulated their gentile neighbors and adopted this custom as well.

It is told of King Ahaz of the Kingdom of Judea in relation to the Ben Hinnom Valley: "Ahaz was twenty years old when he began to reign... and he did not that which was right in the eyes of the Lord, like David his father; but he...made also molten images for the Baal. Moreover he offered in the valley of Ben Hinnom, and burnt his children in the fire, according to the abominations of the heathen, whom the Lord cast out before the children of Israel"( II chronicles, 28:1-3).hinnom valley


King Ahaz was not the only Israelite to follow this custom. This custom was quite prevalent on those days. Actually, it was so common, that the prophet Jeremiah preached the Israelites and warned them against it: "(they) have filled this place with the blood of innocents and have built the high places of Baal, to burn their sons in the fire for burnt-offerings unto Baal; which I commanded not, nor spoke it, neither came it into My mind. Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that this place shall no more be called... the valley of Ben Hinnom, but the valley of slaughter; and I will make void the counsel of Judah and Jerusalem in this place; and I will cause them to fall by the sword before their enemies... (Jeremiah 19: 5-7);
Jeremiah's prophecy manifested itself later on in history, when Jerusalem was captured and the Holy Temple destroyed by the Babylonians and once again by the Romans a few hundred years later.

The deepest part of the valley is called the Sultan's Pool, named after Ottoman ruler (Sultan) Suleiman the Magnificent (1494-1566) who made it usable. There is a bridge leading to the pool that used to serve as a dam. Today the place is mostly dry and serves as a scene for festive summer concerts that attract multitudes of people. Visitors can also enjoy the Artists Quarters adjacent to it (Hutzot Ha-yotzer), hosting different art galleries of local artists.

 The Sultan's pool in the Ben Hinnom valley is also known as Batsheba's Pool. This name is an informal name derived from a common mistake. The Tower of David inside the walls of the Old City is towering just above the valley and the pool. The tower was built in the Ottoman Era, but people mistakenly thought that the Tower of David really was a tower from King David's time, and figured that it must have been from there that he saw Batsheba bathing in the near by pool. Hence the mistake that led to the name.

The valley itself is a part of the graveyard surrounding the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. It is a Jewish practice not to build graves and graveyards inside the city walls, therefore the area outside the walls used to be a burial area during all the different eras of history since Jerusalem became a Jewish city (over 3000 years ago). One can see there graves from different times and eras in the city's history dating back to the Second Temple era and before that as well.

All in all, when walking through the Ben Hinnom Valley, one can hardly suspect the bloody history of the place, but once one knows of that history, it's impossible not to feel an eerie feeling around the place. That same feeling crawls into one's heart even when praying in the beautiful synagogue at the Yemin Moshe neighborhood right above the valley.

That said, one can learn a lot of the different historical levels of the city of Jerusalem by taking a stroll through this beautiful valley of hell, Gei Ben-Hinnom.


Written by : Avital Yona, first published in Eastory.


May 12, 2012May 12, 2012  0 comments  Biblical Archaeology


After five seasons of excavating at Khirbet Qeiyafa - a fortified city in the Elah Valley 30 km southwest of Jerusalem near where the shepherd David felled the Philistine giant Goliath, Prof. Yosef Garfinkel of the Hebrew University here has uncovered cultic artifacts from a 3,000-year-old Iron Age community which he claims revolutionize archaeologists' understanding of Solomon's Temple.


And if that weren't enough, the discoveries at Khirbet Qeiyafa also weigh in on a crucial argument between academic maximalists and minimalists concerning whether King David ruled over an empire, a small kingdom or a minor Bedouin fiefdom - or indeed if he was a mythological rather than a historic figure.


At a press conference here last week to mark the publication of the new book In The Footsteps of King David in the Ella Valley: Surprising Discoveries in Biblical Archaeology (Hebrew) co-authored by Garfinkel, Saar Ganor and Michael Hasel, followed by a tour of the site, Garfinkel displayed three unique artifacts discovered at Khirbet Qeiyafa. Two are small containers or shrine models, one of clay and the other chalk stone.


Yossi Garfinkel showing findings

Prof. Yossi Garfinkel displaying finds from Khirbet Qeiyafa; photo Gil Zohar for Travelujah


The third is an even more unique tray-like basalt bowl, perhaps an altar; all three reveal decorative motifs which shed light on the Temple erected by King Solomon c. 960 BCE. No contents were found associated with the models, which were smashed and have been pieced together. Based on holes in the sides of the models, Garfinkel suggested they were closed with a curtain (parochet).


The 20-cm-high clay model is the oldest artifact ever found which displays "slaot" - an obscure Hebrew term used to describe Solomon's palace in 1 Kings 7:1-6. The Koren Bible, translated by Harold Fisch, renders "slaot" as beams. According to Garfinkel, the term can now be understood as "triglyphs" - an ornamental motif of three parallel vertical lines that until this discovery was thought to first appear on the Parthenon in Athens some 400 years later.


The clay container features a decorated opening flanked by lions and two pillars that Garfinkel says recall "Boaz and Yachin" - pillars that flanked Solomon's Temple, according to the Bible.


The 35-cm-tall stone ritual box is decorated with a triple inset motif. Garfinkel claims this is an illustration of the term "shequfim", which was usually understood as referring to nine windows in Solomon's palace. Instead he posits the obscure term can better be translated as a "triple recessed doorway."


"Similar triglyphs and recessed doors can be found in the description of Solomon's Temple (1 Kings 6, Verses 5, 31-33), and in the description of a Temple by the Prophet Ezekiel (41:6). These biblical texts are replete with obscure technical terms that have lost their original meaning over the millennia. Now, with the help of the stone model uncovered at Khirbet Qeiyafa, the biblical text is clarified. For the first time in history we have actual objects from the time of David, which can be related to monuments described in the Bible," says Garfinkel.


The Hebrew University professor's remarks were seemingly directed at Israel Finkelstein, a controversial Tel Aviv University archaeologist and co-author of the 2001 bestseller The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Text. There Finkelstein and co-author Neil Asher Silberman questioned whether King David even existed.


"All the people who say there was no Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem have a problem. David and Solomon didn't invent a new architecture. They took existing forms. And that's what we see here," said Garfinkel.


The professor was careful to distance himself from the often acrimonious disputes in Israel's archaeological community. His background is the Neolithic rather than the Iron Age, he emphasized. Prior to digging at Khirbet Qeiyafa, he had no preconceived opinions about the question of the nature of David and Solomon's kingdom, he said. What tipped his theory, he said was the Carbon-14 dating of five olive pits found at the site. The analysis, done at Oxford University in Britain in 2008, revealed a time frame ranging from 1020 to 980 BCE - corresponding to the biblical account of David.


Garfinkel identifies Khirbet Qeiyafa - which extends over 2.3 hectares - with David's city of Sha'arayim. Taking a middle position between the minimalists who question if David existed and the maximalists who argue his empire stretched from the Nile to the Euphrates rivers, Garfinkel says the much-mythologized kingdom encompassed the Shephala lowlands near the site as well as highlands around Hebron and Jerusalem.

 Simon Garfinkel standing on the ramparts walls in the Elah Valley
Prof. Yossi Garfinkel standing on the ramparts of Khirbet Qeiyafa; photo Gil Zohar for Travelujah


No evidence of pigs was found among the debris of sheep, cattle and goat bones at Khirbet Qeiyafa, he said, suggesting the city did not belong to the Israelites' arch-enemy the Philistines. Similarly the pottery found there was different than the shards found in Philistia. Nor were any figurines or human depictions found there, perhaps reflecting the fourth of the Ten Commandments against making graven images.


More crucial in Garfinkel's identification were the fortifications. The stone ramparts, which still stand to a height of 2-3 meters and have a circumference of 700 meters, consist of a casemate wall - that is an exterior wall, a hollow space and then a second wall. In places, houses abut the casemate - an urban design typical to cities in Judah at the time but not found in the five Philistine cities of Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Gat and Ekron.


What makes Khirbet Qeiyafa unique as an Iron Age site, said Garfinkel, was the discovery of two gates, whence his identification with Sha'arayim - which means two gates in Hebrew.


What of the future of Khirbet Qeiyafa, after Garfinkel finishes excavating there in 2013?


"Our dream is that the site will be accessible to the public. Whether it will be the National Park Authority or the Jewish National Fund, I don't know," he said.


But Saar Ganor was more specific about the Israel Antiquities Authority's plans.


Pointing to several construction cranes on a nearby hill, the IAA archaeologist said that city of Ramat Beit Shemesh is zoned to expand to encompass Khirbet Qeiyafa on three sides. The IAA is hoping to push back those future boundaries so as to allow room to preserve the site.


It's a question of funding, he said. "When you finish (excavating), you have to either cover it or develop it."


Khirbet Qeiyafa's immediate future may be to be filled in by a backhoe pending its ultimate preservation.

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Gil Zohar writes regularly for Travelujah-Holy Land Tours, the leading Christian social network focused on travel to the Holy Land. People can learn, plan and share their Holy Land tour and travel experiences on Travelujah.




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