Tuesday, July 29, 2008

TEL BEIT SHEMESH is giving up its secrets to archaeologists:
'The land, my lord, will be lost forever'
By Ran Shapira (Haaretz)
Tags: Canaan, Egypt, excavation

"To the king my lord and my sun: These are the words of your servant, Belit-nesheti [literally, "mistress of lions/lionesses"]. I fall at the king's feet seven times over. I must tell the king that this country is witnessing [acts of] hostility and that the land of the king, my lord, will be lost forever."

A Canaanite queen from one of the cities in Palestine's lowland sent this desperate request in the 14th century B.C.E. to Pharaoh, king of Egypt. The name of the city ruled by Belit-nesheti is not mentioned in this letter or in others that depict violent acts that aroused in her a justified feeling that she was facing a dire threat.

During that period, the city of Gezer, and the Ajalon and Sorek valleys were the scene of events that seriously challenged the rule of Belit-nesheti and other monarchs.

In another letter, she conveys the following information: "The Apiru have written to Ajalon and Zorah and the two sons of Milkilu [king of Gezer] have been almost beaten to death. I must inform the king of this act." In yet another letter, she relates that one of the cities in the area under her rule has fallen to the Apiru, and she calls to the king, "I beg the king to save his land from the hands of the Apiru, before it is too late."

The Apiru, mentioned in various documents from different parts of the ancient Near East, were a people that had been uprooted from society and which had abandoned its native land. They formed bands that engaged in robbery and in the collection of protection money, and they served as mercenaries whom the rulers of the various Canaanite cities under Egyptian rule at the time recruited as a military force when they wanted to attack their enemies. The Apiru were supported by the powerful rulers of neighboring cities who sought to seize control of her city.

Her cries for assistance from Pharaoh, who was during this period the supreme ruler of the region and of a number of Canaanite cities, elicited no response, as indicated by the findings that have recently been discovered in Tel Beit Shemesh, about a half-hour's drive from Jerusalem. Prof. Shlomo Bunimovitz and Dr. Zvi Lederman, both of Tel Aviv University's Sonia and Marco Nadler Institute of Archaeology, have been conducting excavations there since 1990. In their scholarly opinion, the city was devastated in a monstrous wave of violence; the remnants extant from that massive act of destruction have been uncovered in the past few weeks. In Tel Beit Shemesh, site of this ancient Canaanite city, archaeologists have discovered entire walls that collapsed in a huge fire, which apparently occurred in the mid-14th century B.C.E. Inter alia, they have found a structures containing more than 200 toppled bricks, which show the effects of exposure to the extreme heat of the massive blaze. Adjacent to the bricks, the foundations of the plastered walls from which they fell have also been uncovered.


Belit-nesheti's letters are part of a collection of letters written in cuneiform in the Akkadian language (the lingua franca of that era) on clay tablets, that was discovered in the late 19th century in Egypt in Tel Amarna, which is located midway between Cairo and Luxor. ...
This looks like a rare case of ancient inscriptions and archaeology mutually informing one another.

UPDATE: Dead link now fixed. Sorry.