Holy Land Pilgrimage and Biblical Archeology



SECOND Samuel 1: 23               

Holy Sites -- Gila's Highlights

Let's lament King Saul at Beth Shean

Tall, dark and handsome, Saul, son of Kish (pronounced quiche) looked like a king. While searching for his dad’s lost donkeys, Saul found a kingdom when he was secretly anointed by Samuel the Prophet.

If you remember, throughout the period of the Judges, each person did what was right in his own eyes and there was utter chaos.  When Samuel the Prophet grew old, the elders of Israel assembled at Ramah and begged him to appoint a king to rule over them and establish order.

Samuel solemnly warned them that the king would take the best of their fields, vineyards and olive groves. He would draft their sons to run in front of his chariots. Their daughters would become his perfumers, bakers and perhaps even his concubines.  But the people insisted they needed a king so that they could be like other nations.  And they needed a king to fight their battles.

We know from First Samuel chapter 11 that in the beginning kingship was only a part-time job. Saul remained a farmer.  In the meantime, over across the River Jordan to the east where the tribes of Gad and Reuben had settled, Nahash, (meaning snake!) the king of Amman, besieged the town of Jabesh Gilead.  Desperate, the men of Jabesh offered to surrender and serve Nahash.

View of Beth Shean from the Greek-Roman city, Scythopolis

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

View of Tel Beth Shean from the Greek-Roman Decapolis city, Scythopolis

But the snake of Amman offered to spare their lives on one condition only. That was if each man of fighting age volunteered to have his right eye gouged out. (Ouch!!) This was the ultimate way not only to humiliate them, but to render them defenseless.  The right eye, for most people, is the “shooting” eye, i.e. the eye that aims and hits the target.  The people of Jabesh Gilead pleaded for time to weigh their decision and Nahash agreed to a ceasefire of seven days.

They urgently sent out an SOS to all the tribes of Israel.  Saul had just returned from plowing his fields when he heard the plea of Jabesh-Gilead.  A mighty spirit fell upon a furious Saul.  He slaughtered the pair of oxen he had been driving and divided them up into 12 pieces.  He sent one to each tribe with a twitter, “This is what will happen to your livestock if you do not march with Saul to rescue the people of Jabesh Gilead!”

Saul defeated Nahash and the people of Jabesh Gilead returned to business as usual. Saul then went on to become a full-time king and in the process, managed to lose the support of Samuel and invoked the anger of the Almighty.
If we fast forward forty years, Saul could be found in the eastern end of the Jezreel Valley, facing the Philistines by Mount Gilboa.  Both nations coveted control of the lucrative trade-route passing by Beth Shean which crosses the River Jordan and then heads north towards Damascus.

Mount Gilboa is southwest of Beth Shean

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

From the tel, looking at Mount Gilboa

Filled with fear at the sight of the massive Philistine army, Saul prayed for a sign or a dream or a prophet to forecast the outcome of the battle.  But his channel to the Almighty was blocked.
By cover of darkness, Saul sought out the witch of Ein Dor who brought Samuel the Prophet up from the dead.  At the séance, Samuel waved a long, crooked finger at Saul and protested, “Why are you hassling me?”  Saul pleaded with great distress, “The Lord has departed from me and does not answer me either by dreams or by prophets.  Tell me, what should I do?” (First Samuel 28:15)  “Tomorrow you and your sons will be with me!” retorted Samuel.  At these words Saul fainted.

We’ll leave Saul, king of Israel, lying full-length on the ground for now and keep you
in suspense as to Saul’s dramatic climax until we visit Beth Shean together, hopefully in the not-too-distant future.  I’ve found the best place to analyze Saul’s resume is either in the theater of Beth Shean or from the summit of the tel (that is, if we have a group with young athletic legs) where we can actually see the mud-brick tower of the 11th century BC wall where the bodies of Saul and his sons may have been hanging.

The mud-brick tower dates to the 11th century BC

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

To the left is the mud-brick tower in the wall dated to the 11th century BC

Beth Shean sat over the cross roads of the most important trade routes

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

View of ancient ruins on Tel Beth Shean

Saul’s dramatic end is accompanied by a surprisingly funky cast of characters: a warm-hearted witch, an outraged dead prophet, a contemptuous enemy, an ally with a staunch long-term memory and a distraught anointed successor.
Come with me to Beth Shean and we will lament Saul, first king of Israel, with one of the most moving eulogies ever composed in any language.  “Your glory, O Israel lies slain on your heights, how are the mighty fallen.”

Rainbow over Beth Shean, Scythopolis

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Rainbow over Beth Shean, March 2011

Copyright 2010, 2011 Gila Yudkin.  Permission needed for any reuse.

Gila Yudkin, who calls herself a Connecticut-born Yankee living in King David’s court, is always updating herself and her groups with the latest biblical archeological discoveries.  In the City of David, where there’s controversy galore, ask Gila to show you part of the 120-foot long tenth century BC wall, reputed to be of David’s palace. With Gila’s creative commentary, you will be straining your neck to catch a glimpse of Bathsheba!
For 50 shekels of silver, David bought Mount Moriah, the threshing floor of Araunah. Tour the Temple Mount with Gila, in the company of David and Solomon, Abraham and Isaac, Jesus and the disciples, Gabriel and Mohammed. 

“Saul has his thousands,” rapped the women of Israel. “But David has his ten thousands.”  This was after David killed the giant with a sling and a stone. Bring a "traditional" sling to your Bible class.  It's also an ideal gift for someone who wants to slay his giants.
"The Slingshot that Killed Goliath"


Just kidding.  But this “traditional” slingshot, woven in Bethlehem, David's hometown, makes a singular gift for anyone who wants to emulate David, and have fun doing it!  Use it as a visual for Sunday School Bible classes and as a prop for David and Goliath skits.  The slingshot is accompanied by a three-page commentary on the famous duel: the geographical setting, its historical roots and the “smoking sling.”

The slingshot comes without the stone – but to give you a sense of size, the stone is 2.5 inches in diameter, similar to the real size of the stone David would have picked up from the river bed.  The stone that hit Goliath’s forehead was not a pebble!


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"Let's lament King Saul at Beth Shean" (as text without the photos) is one in the series of free bimonthly e-letters sent on request to tour leaders, pastors, clergy, teachers, Bible students, colleagues and friends.  If you'd like to receive "Holy Sites: Gila's Highlights" every other month, please contact Gila.  The last highlight was "Let's ascend the cliff of the scapegoat."  This month's highlight is "Let's hear the call to Samuel at Shiloh."  The next highlight will be "Let's overlook the site of Jacob's wrestling match."

More Biblical Archeology:

Let's see where the Priestly Benediction was found

Let's talk about Armageddon at Megiddo

Let's find Herod's tomb at Herodion

Priestly Benediction

Armageddon/ Megiddo

Herod's Tomb found!


Let's saunter through Solomon's Stables at Megiddo

Let's visit Gezer, Solomon's wedding gift

Solomon's stables:  Megiddo

Solomon's dowry:  Gezer

Jerusalem:  Solomon's digs

How Kids Lived in Bible Days:  A book for kids and about kids -- with a story located in Beth Shean/Scythopolis.




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Holy Land Photography by Gila Yudkin