Beth Shemesh


Tel Beth Shemesh is an archaeological site that rests upon a gap on either side of Route 38, near the modern city of Beth Shemesh. The Arabic name of the tel is ‘Ain Shams’ and already in 1838 the American scholar Edward Robinson identified the site as the location of the biblical city of Beth Shemesh. The identification was based both on the preservation of the name within the Arabic name as well as its location in the vicinity of Zor’ah, Zanoah and Yarmut, which, according to the Church Fathers Eusebius and Jerome, were similarly distanced from Beth Guvrin as Beth Shemesh was. The location of the tel also makes sense in light of its vicinity to the Philistine area, as well as its placement in the area between the territory of Dan and the territory of Judah. Biblical Beth Shemesh is mostly known as the city that the Philistines sent the Ark of the Covenant to (1 Samuel 6:7-18).


The tel was excavated over the years by four different expeditions: In 1911-1912 the tel was excavated by an expedition headed by Duncan Mackenzie, which was backed by the British Palestine Exploration Fund (PEF). In 1928-1935 the tel was excavated by an expedition headed by Elihu Grant. In 1990-2020 the tel was excavated by an expedition headed by the late Shlomo Bunimovich (who passed in 2020) and Zvi Lederman. These three expeditions conducted excavations by the western side of the tel. Since 2018 a massive salvage excavation led by Boaz Gross of the Israeli Institute of Archaeology is being conducted on the eastern side of the tel. A number of smaller salvage excavations have also been conducted in the area of the tel over the years.

History before biblical period

The site was first settled on the western side during the Middle Bronze IIA period (20th-18th centuries BCE). During that period and over the course of the Late Bronze Age (16th-13th centuries BCE) the city was fortified and during the Late Bronze IIA period (15th-14th centuries BCE) a large palace was built at the site. Findings from the Late Bronze such as Cypriot and Aegean pottery vessels, an Egyptian scarab and an Ugaritic tablet testify to the many international relations held by the city during that period. The city was destroyed during the interval between the Late Bronze Age and the Iron Age, possibly because of the political unrest described in the ‘El-Amarna Letters’.

Important city on the border with the philistines

Over the course of most of the Iron I period (12th-11th centuries BCE) a large village was located at the site. It is likely that this village served as a buffer between the Israelite border and the Philistine border. In the early days of the Judahite Kingdom (according to the higher chronology, the second half of the 10th century), the site became an important administrative center. Various findings demonstrate that the site featured meticulous and expansive city planning, such as a monumental fortification system, as well as evidence for the creation of several forges. During that period a large water reservoir was constructed at the site. This city was destroyed at the end of the Iron IIA period (the beginning of the 8th century BCE), possibly because of Amaziah King of Judah’s military loss to Jehoash King of Israel (2 Kings 14:8-16).

End of the Judah settlement

The city was rebuilt during the Iron IIB period (8th century BCE). Scores of grinding tools, presses, stone weights and ‘LMLK’ handles found at the site bear witness that the site now took part in the Judahite oil industry. Evidently, it did not become an administrative center once more. Researchers disagree on the date of the destruction of the western side of the tel: was it during the Assyrian era (the late 8th century BCE) or during the Babylonian era (the early 6th century BCE)? As of today, Babylonian ceramic findings have only been discovered at the bottom of the water reservoir. Either way, it appears that during the 7th century BCE most of the settlement moved to the eastern side of the site.

The eastern settlement:

The settlement at the eastern side continued over the course of the Babylonian and the Persian periods (end of the 7th century-the second half of the 4th century BCE) and the site continued taking part in the oil industry. Such was the case also during the early Hellenistic period (3rd-2nd centuries BCE). During the Hasmonean period (mid-2nd century-late 1st century BCE) a rural Jewish settlement was built at the site and was likely abandoned during the Bar-Kokhba Revolt (132-136 CE).


B. Gross, ‘Tel Beit Shemesh’ [published online at the website of the Israeli Institute of Archaeology, accessed online: 2/5/2023.] [Hebrew]

A. Fantalkin, ‘The Final Destruction of Beth Shemesh and the Pax Assyriaca in the Judahite Shephelah: An Alternative View’, TA 31 (2004), pp. 245-261

I. Finkelstein & N. Na’aman, ‘The Judahite Shephelah in the Late 8th and Early 7th Centuries BCE’, TA 31 (2004), pp. 60-79

D. Mackenzie et al, The Excavations of Beth Shemesh, November-December 1912 (PEF Annual XIII), London & New York 2016