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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

TIME IMMEMORIAL IN ISRAEL

What an incredible day! We took an optional trip to Tel Megiddo, an Israeli National Park and UNESCO inscribed World Heritage Site. A tel is an archeological dig, and this one goes back to Biblical times when Megiddo was one of the most important cities in the region. Controlling Megiddo meant controlling the Via Maris (the Way of the Sea) a trade route that linked the ancient world's centers of culture and power—Egypt and Mesoptamia--as well as the Jezreel Valley. Mention of Megiddo's battles can be found in the Bible in Song of Deborah, Judges 5:13. The Christian tradition identifies Megiddo as Armageddon where the great battle of The End of Days will occur. (Revelation 16:16)

Tel Megiddo model

Usually a dig is funded for about five years, but Megiddo has constantly been funded because the site has given us great insights and relics of the past. It is also the setting of James Michener's wonderful epic novel, The Source. Megiddo means “source.” Michener re-named it Makor for his novel, but his description is pretty accurate. I re-read The Source just before coming on this trip. You know how I feel about books. This was an extra layer of excitement for me. While writing the book, Michener lived in the Dan Carmel Hotel in Haifa--our hotel. Cool.

Fantastic as it may seem, shards discovered in Megiddo attest to human habitation as early as the Neolithic period. That's the seventh and sixth millennium BCE!

One theory of its history suggests that King Solomon built a large city at Megiddo with two palaces, and we visited the Solomonic Gates. As a protective measure for the city, these gates improved on the Canaanite civilization's which had cells along the entryway where defenders hid and ambushed attackers. Obviously that didn't work too well because the Canaanite civilization was destroyed. The Solomonic Gates added a series of right angle turns to those cells. That way the attackers could not rush into the city, and in slowing them down, the defenders might be successful.
Solomonic gates at Megiddo

It is a thrill to see these structures. The imagination takes me back in time to see the finished walls and to picture the people living here so long ago. I did understand what I was seeing because of Michener's treatment in his novel. While we did not use them in our climb to the plateau, the stone steps used by the gatekeeper to check the identity of visitors are still there.

gatekeeper's stairs at Megiddo

We saw the way these structures were constructed by slave labor. What we have in Meggido are foundations made of stone—big and heavy blocks of stone. To build with these stones would have taken too much time, so on top of the stone foundations, mud bricks were used. Mud bricks are made of mud and straw. Then the walls were plastered on both sides.

Tel Megiddo

Over the centuries, nay millennium, the plaster wore away and the mud bricks decomposed leaving the marvelous stone foundations, steps, and other stone structures for us to study and to look at with awe. Of the many fascinating structures, I was amazed by the condition of an ancient granary--the storage facility that allowed the inhabitants to withstand sieges.

Grain holder
Notice the pathway leading down into this huge storage facility.

We observed a “slice” into a “cult area” and its altar where Canaanites made sacrifices to their god, Malach. Archeologists made big, deep squares, and they are labeled by their longitude and latitude. As they dig down in the square, every relic found is labeled with a letter and a number so even if it is removed, there is no doubt of its origin.

Megiddo
Notice the view here. You can see why this was a strategic location.

Amazingly, as we look at antiquity at our feet, the sky reveals gliders and ultra-lights. We are truly in a marvelous space.

But most wonderful is our descent into the water system dated by some scholars to the reign of King Solomon in the 10th century BCE, but others date it in the 9th. WHATEVER.... This system, an engineering marvel of its day, enabled the people of Megiddo to divert their water source, originally outside the city's protective walls to inside the walls. They dug (remember that only primitive tools were available) a 36-meter-deep shaft from which a 70-meter-long horizontal tunnel extended to the spring which emerged in a cave at the foot of the mound outside the walls. The tunnel was cut on an incline so water would flow to the bottom of the shaft and the inhabitants could draw water while standing at the top. The outer entrance was sealed with a massive stone wall and concealed with earth so that an enemy could not discover the location.

We descended 187 steps to the tunnel and ascended 80 steps back to the surface after we walked through the 3,000 year old tunnel just as the women of Megiddo did thousands of years ago--only they carried empty and then full water urns with them. While we used new, metal stairs, the original stone steps are still visible.

Stairs to Meggido's Well

Down to Meggido's well

Megiddo water tunnel


This was unquestionably the highlight of the visit. Read Michener's The Source as the novel deals with the building of the system by Jabaal the Hoopoe.

There is a Kibbutz at Megiddo today, but it, as other Kibbutzim has entered the capitalistic world in order to survive. They are building private homes for people. The new owners are not Kibbutz members, but they offer a way for the Kibbutz to make money and survive.

Kibbutz Megiddo

The thing about Israel is that each day I think that this is as good as it gets. I am soooo wrong.


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