Jeff Blakely, University of Wisconsin
PEF 150TH ANNIVERSARY LECTURE SERIES
Supported by the Wellcome Trust and Maney Publishing
Jointly with the Anglo Israel Archaeological Society & In Association with the British Museum Department of Middle East
4pm, 12th March 2015, BP Lecture Theatre, Clore Education Centre, British Museum. To book, contact the British Museum Box Office: 020 7323 8181 or www.britishmuseum.org
Image of Tell el-Hesi courtesy of Jeffrey Blakely
Early 19th century explorers of southwestern Palestine saw khirbets of the Roman and Byzantine periods and concluded that the environs of Wadi el-Hesi had been a productive agrarian region for millennia, with towns, villages, and hamlets dotting the landscape. The coming of Islam, however, was seen as the event that ended sedentary life for the region and soon initiated a millennium of a semi-nomadic lifestyle that was still practiced as they explored the region. With this perspective these 19th century scholars sought biblical sites in what they saw as an agricultural region, focusing on the city Lachish, a site first identified as Umm Lakis and later as Tell el-Hesi.
By the mid-20th century Lachish was known to be located east of this region at Tell ed Duweir, and Tell el-Hesi was thought to be a biblical town, Eglon, but soon even that identification was called in to question. By the start of the 21st century not a single site in the Hesi region could be identified as a specific biblical town or village and many scholars questioned whether the region was even within the borders of Judah. This was a significant shift in scholarly interpretation from a century earlier. The agricultural nature of the region, however, remained unquestioned.
A recent reconsideration of the Hesi region’s archaeological record suggests that for all periods post-dating the Early Bronze Age, excepting the Roman and Byzantine periods, the region supported nomads or semi-nomads who generally herded sheep and goats. It was not farmland tilled by sedentary villagers as earlier scholars thought. For the 10th, 9th, and early 8th centuries B.C.E., in particular, the Hesi region was a pasturage controlled by governmental installations at Tell el-Hesi and Khirbet Summeily. The identity of the political entity, or entities, controlling Tell el-Hesi and Khirbet Summeily is far less clear, but one entity certainly could have been Judah.
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