Biblical Tamar: Forgotten by the historians

Of all the historic sites of ancient Israel, Tamar is the most under-appreciated city in the South.

September 9, 2011 05:40
4 minute read.
Ruins at Biblical Tamar

Tamar 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

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Biblical Tamar seems to have been forgotten by historians, most of whom barely remember where the southern tribal boundaries were set by Moses.

The Roman Empire became officially Christian in 325 CE, but it, too, apparently had little reason to build more than a large fortress at Tamar without so much as a monastery or church. Nearby Mamshit, used by Nabataeans and Romans as a stopover as a water source in the spice route from the East, was fully reconstructed, but the extraordinary Jewish city to the south remained buried under desert sands.

There is little evidence that Christians lived and worshiped at Tamar or drank from the  refreshing artesian well outside Roman walls, but certainly King Solomon and subsequent Jewish kings knew of the city's strategic significance. Moses understood its importance and the Israelites camped at Tamar (Ovot) and drank from the cool oasis waters.

Muslims, too, have few writings in their histories of Tamar, even though both Ishmael and Esau and their descendants made the south of Israel their homeland. The borders of Edom ebbed and flowed through the period of the Jewish kings as battles were waged to preserve the southern boundary of Judah. It is curious that there would be so few references to its abundant spring and the outpost city built there by Amorites during the days of Abraham and later rebuilt by King Solomon.

The overwhelming silence in the writings of Jews, Christians, and Muslims to Biblical Tamar seems uncommonly strange when so many other Jewish border cities were duly recorded in Hebrew Scripture. This place, while much more massive than Kadesh Barnea, its famous sister town to the southwest, received little attention on the maps of the sages. It is worth our time, therefore, to look at some of the reasons that such an historic blunder actually happened.

Biblical Tamar is located 30 miles south of the Dead Sea and less than one kilometer west of Route 90. These days it is accessible by means of busses and cars and is also identified on the map as Hetzeva or Ir Ovot. A paved access road and ample parking provided by the Israel Antiquities Authority allows for even the physically impaired to easily reach out and touch her massive walls. Toilets and water are available at the site.

New signs posted throughout the Park explain the history of the walls, waterways, granaries, and ancient Jujube tree, located near to the center of the city.

Blossoming Rose, a USA partner with the Israel Antiquities Authority for the preservation and restoration of Tamar, maintains and provides year around security for the Park. Relics yet hidden under the desert sands remain protected for another generation of eager archaeologists to discover.

There is an ongoing active dig that continues at Tamar where tour groups spend a day with IAA archaeologists in uncovering the ruins of the well preserved Roman walls in the Eastern quarter of the city. Participants eagerly dig for oil lamps, coins, and pottery identifying those who have lived in the city hundreds and thousands of years ago. Discovered treasures are placed with the other 26,000 historic finds stored in Jerusalem, awaiting their return to Tamar when the new museum is built.

Biblical Tamar Park maintains housing for groups of up to fifty people. Smaller groups and individuals are welcome to stay overnight in the park and use the facilities. A modern air conditioned kitchen and dining room is provided and a smaller kitchen is available for families and individuals. Modest rates are charged to those who wish to stay in the air conditioned and heated overnight rooms, furnished with bedding and towels.

The testimony of a recent visitor to Tamar speaks well of its use today. "I will miss the quietness and simple lifestyle here.  I do not believe that we had one cloudy night here in the desert. I feel very refreshed from my time here and look forward to getting back into my Kansas (USA) routine." Such testimonies are multiplied many times in our file of appreciative notes from visitors.

Tamar welcomes daily and overnight visitors and long term volunteer workers. is a Christian social network focused on travel to the Holy Land. Travelujah is a vibrant online community offering high quality Christian content, user and expert blogs, travel tours and planning services for people interested in connecting with or traveling to the Holy Land.

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