Wayne Stiles is an author who has never recovered from his travels in Israel—and loves to write about them from his desk in Texas.
picks in hand, my wife and I entered an Idumean cave near Tel Maresha.
The archaeological dig had only recently begun, so our group was one of
the first to volunteer.
The low ceiling of the cave forced us to
squat while digging, and I could see the original tool markings still
scratched on the walls of the cave. Everybody was thrilled when my wife
unearthed a fully-intact jar handle. I dug up some pottery shards, and
upon a close examination, I saw fingerprints on them. I held my own
fingertips next to the shards and compared my prints to those on the
pottery. Whoever the potter was two thousand years ago seemed more real
to me as I felt the roughness of their fingerprints. Somehow it bridged
an emotional gap between the second-century potter and me.
of us appreciate how the discipline of archaeology often increases our
understanding of Bible lands and its history. But I also love how
archaeology gives immense insight into the way people lived. It provides
an everyday look—even an emotional connection—between then and now. It
connects us to the real people of history.
Maresha, in the
Guvrin Valley, belonged to the tribe of Judah (Joshua 15:44). The valley
is one of five that cuts east-west through the Shephelah, the foothills
between the coastal plain and the Judean Hill Country. To defend his
kingdom, Rehoboam fortified Maresha (2 Chronicles 11:8), and later King
Asa won a great victory there against Zerah the Cushite (2 Chronicles
14:9-12). When the Assyrian Sennacherib plowed through Israel in 701 BC,
Maresha fell along with most of Judah’s major cities.
While Judah was in exile in Babylon, the Edomites settled in the area,
making Maresha the capital of their kingdom of “Idumea.” John Hyrcanus
conquered Maresha in 112 BC and forced the Idumeans to convert to
Judaism or to leave.
After the Parthians destroyed Maresha in 40 BC, the populace moved north
to nearby Beit Guvrin. The area remained under Jewish control until the
Bar Kochba revolt (AD 132-135). During this time the rebels dug tunnels
and caves in which they hid and over which they often built their
homes. The potter’s fingerprints I saw likely were those from this era.
The region is honeycombed with hundreds of caves and serves as one of
the biggest tourist draws of the area. Many of these caves were ancient
mines that date from the 4th through the 9th centuries. Below the hard,
limestone nari crust of the Shephelah lies a soft chalky layer mined for
the lime used in making mortar. A small opening at the surface allowed
miners to dig an ever-widening space below, shaped like a bell for
support. Today’s visitors can also explore a large columbarium that
served as a dovecote in antiquity. A beautifully adorned Sidonian tomb
is also open for viewing. All underground testimonies to the ease of
Around the year 200, Beit Guvrin was renamed Eleutheropolis (meaning
“City of the Free”) and became an important administrative center for
Rome. A Roman amphitheater, unearthed in 1980, allows modern visitors to
see where gladiators competed before five thousand spectators.
There’s much to see in the area of Tel Maresha and Beit Guvrin. Remnants
of pottery, war, industry, entertainment, and tombs—all gifts of
The area offers a wonderful peek at life as it really was. History becomes a story.
What to Do There:
Visit the tell, the Sidonian Tombs, the bell caves (you’ll wear a
hardhat), the amphitheater, and the dovecote. Read of Asa’s great trust
in God at Maresha in 2 Chronicles 14:9-12.
How to Get There:
From Jerusalem, take Route 1 west to Route 38 south. Travel 28 km and
turn right on Route 35. At the Guvrin Junction, go left and follow the
signs. Read Wayne’s blog and subscribe to his weekly Podcast at www.waynestiles.com.