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The Land of Milk and (industrial) Honey (2008)

Ongoing excavations by  Professor A. Mazar at Tel Rehov, a Biblical mound in the Jordan Valley, have yielded numerous finds over the years, but last year’s discovery seems to be the greatest find of them all, one which sheds new light on the Bible in a most unexpected way. Excavating in the center of the mound of TelRehov, the team discovered three rows of elliptic-shaped, unbaked clay boxes, some with lead covering them. The team discovered 30 such boxes, and originally perhaps there were 100. Each of these boxes was placed on its side. One end of the box was closed and had a small hole in it. The opposite end was covered with a clay lid that could be removed. Having a hole in them, these boxes were not suitable for storing any sort of grains or liquids.

What on earth could they be used for? Mazar had no ancient parallels to compare these finds with. He had to “think outside the box” to figure out what these boxes could be used for. And indeed his conclusions are surprising. Dr Mazar concluded these boxes were all part of an industrial apiary – a beehive colony. Until now, industrial beehives were known from pictorial depictions in Pharaonic Egypt, but never before were such beehives actually found in Egypt, or anywhere else in the Ancient Near East! Experienced beekeepers and scholars who visited the site verified his conclusions, and estimated that as much as half a ton of honey could be culled each year from these hives. Further verification came by microscopic analysis of residue from the boxes. Both honeycombs and body parts of bees were identified. Isotopic c14 dating analysis of these organic remains provided another interesting result – the beehives date to the 10th-9th centuries BCE, meaning they are from the time of the Kingdom of Israel, or perhaps even from the time of the united monarchy ruled by David and Solomon. Being so, the apiary attests to the wealth and economic power of the Israelites in those days.

The term “honey” appears 55 times in the Bible, 16 of which depicts the image of Israel as “the land of milk and honey”. It was commonly believed that the term refers to honey produced from fruits such as dates and figs. Bees’ honey is mentioned explicitly only twice, both related to wild bees. The first instance is how Samson culled bees’ honey from inside the corpse of the lion in the Soreq Valley (Judges 14: 8-9).

The second case is the story of Jonathan, King Saul’s son, who dipped his hand into a honeycomb during the battle of Mikhmash (Samuel I 14:27). While the Bible tells us nothing about beekeeping in Israel at that time, the discovery of the apiary at Tel Rehov indicates that beekeeping and the extraction of bees’ honey and honeycomb was a highly developed industry as early as the First Temple period. Thus, it is possible that the term “honey” in the Bible indeed pertains to bees’ honey.

The excavations at Tel Rehov are supported by John Camp from Minneapolis-St Paul, Minesota in the United States with the participation of archaeological students from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and numerous volunteers.

A general view of the beehive discovered in Tel-rechov

A general view of the beehive discovered in Tel-rechov Photo © expedition to the Tel-Rehov. Courtesy of A. Mazar.

A closer view of one of the beehives found in Tel Rehov.

A closer view of one of the beehives found in Tel Rehov. Photo © expedition to the Tel-Rehov. Courtesy of A. Mazar.

Ancient Jewish Temple Coin found near Temple Mount

Recently Jews all over the world celebrated the festival of “Purim”, in memory of the triumph of the Jewish community in ancient Persia against anti-Jewish political powers led by Haman and his sons. Among other traditions of this holiday, Jews donate money to charity, as a symbolic act to echo the time of the temple when Jews donated and gave money to the Temple treasuries in Jerusalem. As if by divine intervention, this very same week, archaeologists excavating in the city of David, which is on the southern slope of the Temple Mount, discovered the very type of silver coin that was used for payment at the temple treasuries in the Roman period – the “Tyrian Shekel”. The “Tyrian Shekel” was like the American Dollar in the Eastern Mediterranean in Classical times. It was a tetradrachma denomination minted by the city of Tyre. Although depicting clear pagan images (The god of the City on the obverse, and an eagle on the reverse), it was the only currency accepted in Jerusalemfor payment and donations. And the priests in Jerusalem knew what they were doing. Examining more than a thousand of such coins a few years ago, Professor Notisand I discovered that indeed the silver contents of the “Tyrian Shekel” never went below 95%. Official Roman Dinars in those days were not as pure, and the priests inJerusalem apparently knew it! Although the “Tyrian Shekel” was a very common coin, surprisingly, only seven such coins were found so far in proper archaeological investigation in the vicinity of Jerusalem.

The coin is in bad condition. It had been used for several years before falling in to the sewerage tunnel where it was found. It was minted in 22 CE, and so was circulating in Jerusalem in the time Jesus was in the city. In fact the “Thirty pieces of silver” given to Judas Iscariot for betraying Jesus are believed to be really TyriansShekels. Could this coin have been part of his payment? This cannot be proven, but remains an interesting speculation.

The "Tyrian Shekel" discovered in the City of David

The "Tyrian Shekel" discovered in the City of David

The "Tyrian Shekel" discovered in the City of David

The "Tyrian Shekel" discovered in the City of David. Next to the eagle the date "148" indicates the coin is from 22 CE. © C Clara Amit, Israel Antiquities Authority