Unique Sites of Israel: Biblical Beit Shemesh | The Jewish Press – JewishPress.com | Nosson Shulman | 2 Nisan 5782 – April 3, 2022


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Aerial photo of today’s Beit Shemesh

I live in Beit Shemesh, which is the fastest growing city in Israel. In 1995 this sleepy town had only 17,000 inhabitants, today the population stands at 130,000. Depending on construction and demand, in 7 years this number is expected to increase to 250,000. From each point from view, you can see new neighborhoods being built on the horizon

The majority of residents of Beit Shemesh are observant Jews. Olim (immigrants) from English countries like the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom make up a significant portion of its population. In some neighborhoods, English, rather than Hebrew, is actually the more dominant language.

Beit Shemesh was founded at the very beginning of the State of Israel. It has become an incredible place to raise a large family, with beautiful parks, great schools, many synagogues and a low crime rate. However, the story of Beit Shemesh did not begin in modern times, but in the Bible.

Beit Shemesh can be translated as “The House of the Sun”. Originally a Canaanite city, the city takes its name from the sun worship of its inhabitants.

Ancient Canaanite mud bricks found at Beit Shemesh. Most of the Canaanite houses in the region were built with this material.

Tel (Hebrew for archaeological mound) Beit Shemesh is literally opposite the outskirts of the modern city.

Tel Beit Shemesh in the foreground with the outskirts of the modern city in the background.
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Beit Shemesh was conquered in the time of Joshua. Located on the border between the tribal territories of Dan and Judah (Joshua 15:10), it was one of the 13 cities given as an inheritance to the Cohanim (that is, the priests who serve in the Temple) ( Joshua 21:15).

Large Biblical-era Olive Oil Industrial Zone Complex Discovered in Beit Shemesh
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Model of a typical Jewish house in ancient Beit Shemesh.
Photo credit: Nick Laarakkers on nl.wikipedia – CC BY-SA 3.0

The best-known story related to Beit Shemesh concerned the holy Ark of the Covenant, which had rested in the Tabernacle of Shiloh for 369 years. It was then stolen by the Philistines and brought to Ashdod. There, the townspeople were stricken with extremely painful stomach aches as the statue of their idol Dagon was found destroyed in his temple. Realizing that Gd might not be happy that their city had the Ark, they sent it to Gath, another Philistine city. When its people were struck with similar results, it was then sent to Ekron, where the same thing happened. At this point, the Philistines understood that perhaps God did not want a Philistine city to house the Ark.

To test whether the previous afflictions were indeed divine retribution or just coincidence, the Philistines put the Ark on a cart pulled by two cows and placed them on the biblical road to Nachal Sorek. If the cows were heading towards Beit Shemesh, a Jewish town, they would take it as a sign that G‑d wanted them to return the Ark to the Israelites. This is, of course, exactly what happened.

Nahal Sorek. The arrow indicates the exact route the cows took to get to Beit Shemesh.
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When the Ark came to Beit Shemesh, its inhabitants “were gathering wheat in the valley (of Sorek), when they … saw the Ark, they rejoiced to see it (1 Samuel 6:13).” But all of a sudden, Gd brought a plague that struck down many of the townspeople because they “looked into the Ark of Gd.” It was something they shouldn’t have done on their spiritual level.

According to Jewish belief, the higher one is spiritually, the more Gd expects of him. Although looking at the ark in this way was overlooked for the most part, the people of Beit Shemesh knew better at their level and were therefore judged harshly. Indeed, one can see the contrast between the Philistines who wanted to get rid of the Ark which was “causing” them to the people of Beit Shemesh, who blamed not the Ark but themselves saying “Who can stand before God .gd?” . Instead of getting rid of the Ark, they sought a different, more suitable host, and sent emissaries to the Jewish city of Kiriath-jearim, which they deemed more worthy to come and take it from them.

In 2007, the most impressive discovery on the phone was discovered. Some bored teenagers took a camera, tied it to a string and put it in a hole in the ground and took pictures. Unknowingly, they had just found the largest water system ever found in biblical Israel (outside of Jerusalem).

Diagram of the old water system of Beit Shemesh.
Photo credit: Lower Library

Since there were no springs in the city, and the nearest springs were too far away for daily use, almost all of their drinking water was provided by precipitation. Because every drop of rain was vital for their survival, all the roofs had a system of pipes that carried the water to the cistern so that nothing was wasted.

Around 1500 years ago, the Byzantines built a large monastery which served Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land. Since then, the city has been largely abandoned until modern times.

Remains of the great Byzantine monastery.
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Beit Shemesh is relatively close to hotels in Tel Aviv and/or Jerusalem. There are also many other incredible sites in the area, which can be visited on the same day. The next time you are in Israel, ask that this wonderful biblical treasure be on your itinerary!

Please visit the author’s website: https://guidedtoursofisrael.com

(All images used by the author are public; Shutterstock images have been leased by the author for commercial purposes)


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