Holy Land Pilgrimage and Biblical Archeology



"Now the Philistines gathered their armies for battle;
they were gathered at Socoh, which belongs to Judah,
and encamped between Socoh and Azekah, in Ephes-dammim"
First Samuel 17: 1

Holy Sites -- Gila's Highlights

In three full decades of guiding, I have only once led a group up to Tel Azekah and I’m inviting you to be next.  Only 50 minutes (by bus) from Jerusalem, Azekah figures in the stories of four biblical heroes (David and Hezekiah, Joshua and Jeremiah) and one villain (Goliath).

David: When David brought cheeses, baguettes and trail mix from Bethlehem to his brothers serving in Saul’s army, he must have been struck by the sight of Azekah, a tall mound, towering about 1200 feet above sea level as he looked west.  Azekah guarded the northwest pass into the Elah Valley and served as the western-most camp of the Philistines with a bird’s eye view over the valley of Elah.

Shepherd tending his flock in the Elah Valley below Azekah

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Shepherd and goats by the riverbed of the Elah Valley below Azekah

Goliath: Sentries at Azekah would have cheered as they watched Goliath from Gath strut by to challenge the Israelites.  His armor included a bronze helmet, a coat of mail weighing thousands of shekels, bronze greaves and a javelin.  But Goliath was no match for David, the Lord’s anointed, who triumphed with a sling and a stone.  Once the Philistines saw that their champion was dead, they stampeded in panic, past Azekah to their strongholds in Gath and Ekron.

Map of the Shephelah with Azekah overlooking the Elah Valley

Copyright 2012 by Gila Yudkin

Map of the Shephelah with Azekah overlooking the Elah Valley

Hezekiah: Three hundred years after David established his kingdom, Judean King Hezekiah (of “Hezekiah’s Tunnel”) found himself facing a ferocious enemy from the north – the Assyrians.  Hezekiah is mentioned in an inscription on two tablets found in Nineveh (northern Iraq) where the Assyrian king (either Sargon II or Sennacherib) bragged that he had captured the stronghold of Azekah:
“With the power and might of Ashur, my lord, I overwhelmed the district of Hezekiah of Judah...Azekah, his stronghold, which is located between my land and the land of Judah...I besieged by means of beaten earth ramps, by great battering rams brought near its walls, and with the attack of foot soldiers...I captured this stronghold, I carried off its spoil, I destroyed, I devastated, I burned with fire.”
Hezekiah’s stronghold, Azekah, is described as a stronghold in the midst of the mountains, located on a ridge like a pointed dagger.  It was much like an eagle’s nest and was inaccessible, even for siege ramps and battering rams.  Apparently, though, Azekah was ruthlessly destroyed, right before the king of Assyria continued onwards to besiege Jerusalem, Judea’s capital.

View of Tel Azekah from Khirbet Kheiyafa

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

View of Tel Azekah from Khirbet Kheiyafa (Shaarayim?)

Despite its important biblical connections, Tel Azekah hadn’t been touched by the archeologist’s spade for over one hundred years.  During the course of four months,
in 1898 and 1899, American Frederick Jones Bliss and Irish Robert Alexander Stewart Macalister excavated at Azekah.  They discovered remains of an Israelite fortress which had guarded the trade route to Egypt with evidence of numerous small finds like scarabs, beads, and pottery.

This was during a period of Ottoman rule when the Turkish authorities became aware of the ardent archeological appetites of the European countries which stimulated in turn, a thriving market for antiquities in Jerusalem.  Foreign archeologists were looked at as an “economic opportunity” and the Ottoman “commissioner” or supervisor was determined to receive his fair share.  Perhaps the constant official pressure for bribes exacerbated the personality clashes between Bliss and Macalister.

View from Tel Azekah

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

View from Tel Azekah towards the east

The upshot is that Tel Azekah has been “terra incognita” in terms of Iron Age archeology – one of the few biblical mounds left to be explored.  If we take the Azekah inscription concerning the 8th c BC Assyrian assault and devastation at face value, imagine how much ash and destruction (and inscriptions?) there are yet to be discovered.

The team I was associated with for five years at Tel Ramat Rahel in Jerusalem began excavating at Tel Azekah in the summer of 2012.  Before the dig even began,
a number of Tel Aviv University graduate students focused on various aspects of surveying the tel while studying the Macalister reports at the Palestine Exploration Fund headquarters in London.

Professor Oded Lipschits team surveying Tel Azekah

Courtesy of Professor Oded Lipschits

Professor Lipschits' team surveying Azekah in 2009

Tel Aviv University graduate students analyzing pottery at Azekah

Courtesy of Professor Oded Lipschits

Tel Azekah excavators studying pottery collected in a pre-dig survey

Excavation pit at Tel Azekah

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Excavation pit on the summit of Tel Azekah after the 2015 season

It’s at an authentic site like Azekah where the Bible comes to life in vivid color.  Today there’s an access road and stone steps up to the summit of the tel.  Come visit while it’s still terra incognita and let’s allow our imaginations to roam around the stories of David, Goliath, and Hezekiah.  And then, we’ll tackle Joshua and Jeremiah
as well!


Elah Valley scene

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Wildflowers and elah (terebinth) tree in the Elah valley below Azekah


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Gila Yudkin, who calls herself a Connecticut-born Yankee living now in King David's court, has been shepherding pilgrims in the Holy Land for nearly thirty years.  Until August 2009, Gila Yudkin hadn’t visited Azekah since 1988 when she belly-crawled with her good buddy and mentor Steve Langfur through eight chambers of a cave used by Bar Kochba fighters in the second century AD.  This was before she realized that she had claustrophobia!

21 years later, she discovered that Azekah has a paved road, a parking lot, stone steps to the summit and even benches to overlook the Biblical battlefield.  A visit is relatively easy, highly recommended and it includes no crawling!


David, was confident facing Goliath, for as a young boy, he continuously practiced his aim with his sling while protecting his father's sheep.  The “Traditional Slingshot that Killed Goliath” is an ideal gift for someone who wants to slay his giants.



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!

"The Slingshot that Killed Goliath"

Bring the "traditional sling" when you retell the David & Goliath story


Copyright 2010, 2016 Gila Yudkin.  Permission needed for any reuse.

More on David and his sons:
David bought the threshing ground of Arunah

Let's gather by Bethsaida's city gate

Opening to the Cave of Adullam

David / Temple Mount

Absalom / Bethsaida

David / Cave of Adullam


Let's saunter through Solomon's Stables at Megiddo

Megiddo / Solomon's stables

Absalom's Tomb

Jerusalem / Solomon's digs




Copyright © 2005-2023 Gila Yudkin. All rights reserved.
Holy Land Photography by Gila Yudkin