Archaeologists propose new identification for biblical Tel Rosh

First documented in the mid-19th century, Tel Rosh presents remains dating back to periods spanning over the millennia.

Tel Rosh archaeological site in the Galilee (photo credit: ALEX VEGMAN)
Tel Rosh archaeological site in the Galilee
(photo credit: ALEX VEGMAN)
“Joshua cast lots for them at Shiloh before the LORD, and there Joshua apportioned the land among the Israelites according to their divisions,” reads the 18th chapter of the book of Joshua. Over the next few chapters, the biblical text clearly describes the boundaries of the territories assigned to each tribe, including their borders and their cities and villages.
Over the decades, archaeologists and researchers of biblical historical geography have used these passages in their work, often as useful elements to identify sites but also to cast doubts on their accuracy when they felt that they did not reflect the reality they uncovered on the ground.
In a paper recently published in the journal Palestine Exploration Quarterly, two Israeli researchers have looked at the border between Naphtali and Asher suggesting that Tel Rosh, a site that had previously been identified with the city of Beit Shemesh included in the territory of the former, is in fact the forgotten Rehob listed in the region of the latter. Another city called Beit Shemesh also stood in Judah.
“The fifth lot fell to the tribe of the Asherites, by their clans. Their boundary ran along Helkath, Hali, Beten, Achshaph, Allammelech, Amad, and Mishal; and it touched Carmel on the west, and Shihor-libnath… Ebron, Rehob, Hammon, and Kanah, up to Great Sidon. The boundary turned to Ramah and on to the fortified city of Tyre; then the boundary turned to Hosah and it ran on westward to Mehebel, Achzib, Ummah, Aphek, and Rehob: 22 towns, with their villages. That was the portion of the tribe of the Asherites, by their clans—those towns, with their villages. The sixth lot fell to the Naphtalites, the Naphtalites by their clans. Their boundary ran from Heleph, Elon-bezaanannim, Adaminekeb, and Jabneel to Lakkum, and it ended at the Jordan… Iron, Migdal-el, Horem, Beth-anath, and Beth-shemesh: 19 towns, with their villages. That was the portion of the tribe of the Naphtalites, by their clans—the towns, with their villages,” (Joshua 19: 24-39).
Dr. Hayah Katz, a senior lecturer at Kinneret Academic College’s Department of Land of Israel Studies, and a co-author of the paper with Bar Ilan University Prof. Yigal Levin, explained to The Jerusalem Post that part of the enigma originates from the fact that the mountainous region of the Upper Galilee, where the two tribes settled, has been relatively neglected by researchers.
“Tel Rosh was not properly studied or identified for a long time,” she said. “There were some suggestions that it could be identified with the city of Beit Shemesh located in the territory of the tribe of Naphtali, as mentioned in the Bible. However, if we look at the geography of the region, we believe that it was not the case.”
First documented in the mid-19th century, Tel Rosh presents remains dating back to periods spanning over the millennia, from the Early Bronze Age to the Ottoman times. In recent years it has been excavated in a project conducted by the Kinneret Academic College in collaboration with the Open University.
As explained in their paper, the fact that the boundaries described in the Bible often appear to match those of the districts designed by the different powers that ruled the region over the centuries – from the Canaanites to the Romans and later even the Ottomans – has been traditionally considered by scholars a proof of their reliability, even if starting from the 1990s doubts about it have been cast by some.
Moreover, topographical studies have increased the understanding of the area, which is the essential element considered by Levin and Katz, as the archaeologist explained.
“The mountainous upper Galilee consists of three sub-areas, the western highlands, the Meron ridges and the eastern highlands. We believe that the former was part of the territory of Asher, while the other two parts belonged to Naphtali,” she said.
If in the past the area where Tel Rosh was located was considered part of the ridges and could therefore be identified as Beit Shemesh, one of the locations listed for Naphtali, the researchers believe that is more correct to include it in the western highlands.
“Once we determined that, we started to look for another possible location that could match it,” Katz pointed out.
By considering the biblical text itself, several extra biblical sources from other ancient civilizations, and the position of other sites that have been identified as the towns and villages listed in Asher’s domain, the two scholars were able to propose an alternative.
“Our analysis of the list in Joshua 19 shows that Tel Rosh should be identified with one of the towns in the north-eastern part of this territory, and we believe that the most likely candidate is the northern Rehob, which Joshua 19:28 locates between Ebron, Hammon and Kanah,” they concluded in the paper.