The site of ancient Megiddo is a mound known in Arabic as Tel-el-Mutesellim (“Hill of the Ruler”) in northern Israel. It has been identified as one of the most important cities of Biblical times. Located on a hill overlooking the fertile Jezreel Valley, Megiddo is of great strategic importance, as it commanded the eastern approaches of Nahal Iron (nahal is a dry river bed). In ancient times an international highway ran through this valley. The highway led from Egypt, along the coastal plain to the JezreelValley, and thence to Damascus and Mesopotamia. The highway became known later as Via Maris, the Way of the Sea. Ancient sources, including the Bible, record numerous battles fought for control of the city. The Bible records that although the city was captured in the initial conquest under Joshua (Josh 12:21) it remained in Canaanite control (Josh 17:11-12). Deborah and Barak led another attack during the period of the Judges, and Sisera, commander of the armies of Jabin king of Hazor was killed near Megiddo by having a tent peg nailed through his head while he slept (Judges 4 & 5). The city was firmly under Israelite control during the time of David and Solomon, and Solomon carried out extensive building work and fortifications at Megiddo (1 Kings 9:15). King Josiah of Jerusalem was killed at Megiddo in a battle against the Egyptian pharaoh Necho (2 Kings 23:29)—an unnecessary death because Necho was actually out to fight the Assyrians to the north.
In the New Testament, the mound of Megiddo is labeled as “Armageddon” (from Hebrew “the hill of Megiddo”), the site of the “Battle of the End of Days” (Revelation 16:16).
Covering an area of about 15 acres, Megiddo is one of the largest mounds in Israel and is rich in archeological finds. With such a long history, it is an extremely important site for the study of the material culture of biblical times. A total of 20 cities were built at Megiddo, one above the other, during the course of its continuous occupation, from the time of the first settlement until it was abandoned in the 5th century BCE.
The first person to excavate Megiddo scientifically was Gottlieb Schumacher, a member of the Templegesellschaft (“The Temple Association”), a Christian community from Germany that settled in a few colonies in Israel in the 19th century. In 1903-1905 Schumacher excavated at Megiddo by cutting a trench 20-25m (65’-82’) wide, running north-south through the centre of the mound.
Schumacher identified eight strata, numbered from bottom to top, most of which may be dated to the Middle Bronze II-Iron II periods. Schumacher’s excavation permit from the Turks, who ruled the land at that time, was very strict. He could only document the finds and make replicas of some items, but the originals were to be kept by Turkish officials and were eventually taken to the Turkish national museum at Istanbul. But the Turks were not as careful as Schumacher in looking after the artifacts recovered in the excavations, and many were lost. This was also the fate of the most famous artifact ever found in Megiddo – a seal engraved with a roaring lion, and inscribed: “of Shema, Servant of Jereboam”, most likely Jereboam II, king of Israel in the eighth century BCE. Only a copy has been preserved, thanks to a replica of the seal made by Schumacher.
With the outbreak of World War I the Temple community returned to Germany, where Schumacher remained until 1924. Then he returned to his home on Mt. Carmel, in Israel where he died the following year.
In 1994 the Institute of Archaeology at Tel-Aviv University renewed the excavations at Tel Megiddo, returning to areas excavated by previous expeditions, and revealing new areas too. In 2003 Professor D. Ussishkin and Professor I. Finkelstein, directors of the excavation, initiated a “Megiddo Centennial” to mark a hundred years since the first excavations at Megiddo.
They managed to contact some of the descendants of Schumacher (he had 9 children, and 22 grandchildren), and invited them to attend the event. One of Schumacher’s grandchildren, Mr. Martin Stoll, responded not only with great enthusiasm, but also announced that he had some gems his grandfather recovered in Megiddo and that he would like to return them to the state of Israel. Due to health problems he could not attend the centennial in 2003, but he came to visit Israel with his family earlier this year. The visit was a moving event for both visitors and hosts, and was reported on national TV.
Personally touched by the story, I also wanted to report on it, and so I contacted Joëlle Finkelstein, wife of Professor Finkelstein and coordinator of the visit of Martin Stoll and his family. She kindly provided me with more information and photos of the visit.
I asked her, “What about the gems themselves?” She replied: “They have
not been studied by anyone yet.”
The next morning I made a special trip to Tel-Aviv to photograph the gems, which were fixed on modern gold rings by Schumacher so his daughters could wear them. The photos on this page are the first ever published of the gems. The iconography on the gems is surprising. One black gem depicts a winged person (Hermes?) facing Chnubis, a Greco-Egyptian syncretic god portrayed with a snake’s tail, a lion’s head and a large erect phallus. Another gem, in red, depicts a bird holding a branch in her beak. A third, a green gem, depicts a face. The subjects and style are clearly from the Roman period.
This was a surprise to me because Megiddo was not occupied in the Roman period. How then did Schumacher recover these objects? The answer, I think, is off the mound. Just to the north of the tel is a Roman period site called “Legio”. As suggested by the name of the site, it may have been inhabited by a Roman military unit. Schumacher’s expedition camp was right over it. It is therefore possible that Schumacher did not find these gems in his excavation at the tel, but in his camp, after work.
Yet there is still another issue that is unclear. Are these gems the original gems recovered, or are they replicas made by Schumacher before handing the originals to the Turkish officials? I will leave this to the Tel-Aviv University expedition to study.
I wish to thank Joëlle Finkelstein, Nora Blockman and Pavel Shrago for their kind help for this report.