Archaeologists working with the Israel Antiquities Authority and Hebrew University have uncovered an Idumean palace or temple in the Lachish region of the Judean Shephelah. I understand the news release to place this discovery south of the Beit Guvrin/Maresha National Park, and east of Lachish, in a military area. This area was allotted to the tribe of Simeon, but by the second century B.C. it had become part of Idumea, the residence of ancient Edomites who were pushed out of the area of Edom (the location of Petra in Jordan) by the Nabateans.
Herod the Great was an Idumean. Some have suggested Maresha as his hometown. He ruled over the Jews from 47 to 4 B.C., and his dynasty continued throughout most of the first century A.D. Herod was known for his fabulous building program that included the temple, the temple platform and the surrounding wall (John 2:20). He was a cruel ruler who sought to destroy the infant Jesus (Matthew 2:16).
The drone photo below shows portions of the large structure recently discovered.
Area of the large structure, possibly a temple or palace, uncovered in the dig – aerial photograph (photo: Dane Christensen)
The scholars working on the project say this is a 2200-year-old structure that was “apparently dismantled intentionally, perhaps during the Hasmonean conquests of the region.”
The release continues,
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An impressive 2200-year-old (Hellenistic period) structure, possibly an Idumean palace or temple, was uncovered during Sukkot in archaeological excavations at the site of Horvat ‘Amuda, situated at the heart of a military training area in the Lachish region.
The excavation directors (from right to left): Dr. Oren Gutfeld, Michal Haber, and Pablo Betzer (photo: Israel Antiquities Authority)
According to the excavation directors, Dr. Oren Gutfeld of the Hebrew University, and Pablo Betzer and Michal Haber of the Israel Antiquities Authority: “If this was indeed an Idumean palace or temple, it is a rare and exciting find – similar structures in this country can be counted on the fingers of one hand. It seems that the building was intentionally dismantled, possibly during the Hasmonean conquest of the region.”
Two cultic incense altars found in one of the rooms of the structure (photo: Michal Haber, Israel Antiquities Authority). These altars are small enough to be held in one’s hand.
Two stone incense altars were discovered in one of the rooms. One of them, bearing the carved image of a bull, is depicted as standing in what is apparently the façade of a temple adorned with magnificent columns. According to the archaeologists, the altar is “a unique and rare find in terms of its decoration.” The bull, they say, “may have symbolized a deity worshipped by the Idumeans.” In addition to the incense altar, delicate pottery vessels were also uncovered, including painted bowls, juglets and oil lamps.
Also found at the site are numerous underground spaces, used as quarries or to house ritual baths (miqvaot), oil presses and dovecotes. Hiding tunnels from the time of the Jewish revolts against the Romans were also discovered; one of these contained an intact cooking pot from the time of the Bar Kokhba Revolt (132–135 CE).
Uncovering the structure (photo: Michal Haber, Israel Antiquities Authority)
The new discovery came to light with the help of camera-equipped drones – technology that has become part of the archaeologists’ tool box in recent years. As part of an extensive archaeological research project of the area between Bet Guvrin and Maresha in the north and Moshav Amatzia in the south, the drone cameras photographed the archaeological remains from high above, subsequently revealing hints of the structure now under excavation. Calling the discovery a research breakthrough, the archaeologists say: “This technology helped us choose where to focus our excavation probes, and, indeed, it very quickly emerged that this was in fact a unique discovery. We hope that our continued excavation of the site in the spring will uncover more of the story told here.”
Remains of the structure indicate that it was intentionally dismantled, possibly by the Hasmoneans (photo: Dane Christensen)
The excavation at Horvat ‘Amuda, which was funded by the Beit Lehi Foundation and the Israel Antiquities Authority, was carried out with the participation of archaeology students from the Hebrew University, Bar-Ilan University, as well as a group of volunteers from the United States.
During the Hellenistic period Horvat ‘Amuda was apparently one of the agricultural satellite settlements of Maresha, which had by now become the Idumean district capital (today it is part of Bet Guvrin-Maresha National Park). Prior to that, in the fifth century BCE (the Persian period), the Idumeans – a Semitic people originating in southern Jordan – settled in the Judean Shephelah (foothills). After the area was conquered by the Hasmoneans in 112 BCE, the Idumeans converted and subsequently blended into the Judean population.
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HT: Joseph Lauer