Armageddon and The Aftermath of Archeology
Text and Photos by Matt Churchill
Sometimes Israel is described as a land bridge connecting three continents: to the west is the vast Mediterranean Sea and to the East is 400 miles of Arabian Desert. Even the birds know this, 500 million of them making their migrations down to Africa every Autumn and then back up the narrow Fertile Crescent to either Europe or Asia in the Spring. Archeology in the holy land has confirmed again and again that the kings of Mesopotamia and the pharaohs of the Nile fought for control of the famous trade route that followed the eastern basin of the Mediterranean, appropriately called "the way of the sea" or Via Maris.
As the ancient highway came up the coast from Egypt, it would eventually come to a mountain range called Carmel, which extends from Samaria turning northwest and ultimately jutting out over the sea at Haifa bay. It creates a perfect barrier between the Plain of Sharon to the south and the Lower Galilee to the north. And so, the Via Maris made its way through a wadi in foothills of Mount Carmel, called the Megiddo Pass.
Thutmose III provided a detailed description of the Battle of Megiddo on the walls of the Temple of Amun in Karnak. Written in hieroglyphs, it is the oldest war recorded in history, dating to 1468 BCE. After outflanking the fortified city-state called Megiddo, the rest of the region in the Jezreel Valley followed. The 18th and 19th Dynasties would set up government in the land of Canaan for the next 300 years. Thutmose III claimed that the conquest of Megiddo was worth "the capture of a thousand cities." And he gives an extensive list of booty taken from the site, including bronze weapons, prisoners, slaves, horses, chariots, and gold.
So we should not be surprised that hundreds if not thousands of battles have been fought in the shadow of Tel Megiddo in the wide and flat terrain of the Jezreel Valley. Crusaders and Ayyubids, Mongols versus Mamluks, Israelites against Canaanites, the British and the Ottomans - people waged war at this spot right up to the Arab/Israeli War of 1948. Moreover, the Book of Revelation (16:16) speaks about a great future battle to end all wars in "the place in Hebrew called Armageddon." It seems that Megiddo's reputation had preceded it, the name Armageddon coming from the two words "Har Megiddo" or "Mound of Megiddo." Indeed, many pilgrims come to the Valley of Armageddon in Israel to parse the riddles and prophecies of the Apocalypse of John.
What's even more interesting is that Megiddo had laid dormant for over 400 years when the words of Saint John had been written down, the Greeks and Romans having established alternative routes on the Via Maris. Archeology had to rediscover the site of Megiddo and it took several decades. In the 1830's the American explorer, Edward Robinson, stood upon Tel Megiddo, which was then called Tel Mutesellim or, "the hill of the governor," and believed it made a perfect candidate although no traces of a fortified town could be made. So the search continued until Scottish theologian George Adam Smith made a convincing case in his landmark study, The Historical Geography of the Holy Land, which was published in 1894. General Edmund Allenby took this book with him on his World War I campaign through Palestine so that he could be more thoroughly acquainted with the historical significance of the terrain. Allenby would later be awarded the title, Viscount of Armageddon, for his decisive battle fought in the Jezreel Valley in 1918.
Tel Megiddo is a microcosm for the history of biblical archeology.
But it wasn't until the interwar period that excavations would really get underway at Megiddo. The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago would dig at the tel between 1925 - 1939, funded by the Standard Oil tycoon and philanthropist, John D. Rockefeller Jr. An amazing history of these excavations was just published by Eric H. Cline, himself one of the more recent archeologists working at the site. The 1965 best-selling, historical fiction work by James Michener titled, The Source, is based in large part on the careful unearthing of civilization, layer by layer, that was continuing to take place at Tel Megiddo and other archaeological mounds when Michener stayed in Israel for the year of 1963 at the Dan Carmel Hotel in Haifa.
Tel Megiddo is a microcosm for the history of biblical archeology. As you ascend the hill you encounter a four-chambered Canaanite gatehouse at one level, and then a Solomonic, six-chambered portal at the next. A tel is like an upside down cake, as you work your way through the stratigraphic layers you get further down in antiquity. Over 20 levels have been exposed at Megiddo and it is rightfully on the list of UNESCO world heritage sites. A succession of altars going back 4,000 years were unearthed in a trench on the sacred precincts. During the divided monarchy period in Israelite history, Megiddo became a chariot facility and administrative center of Omri and his son Ahab who married a notorious Phoenician princess, Jezebel. An enormous grain silo stands next to the palace and stables as a testament to the feeding of thousands of troops and stallions. Jezebel herself was thrown from the walls of her nearby winter palace at Tel Jezreel, where she was trampled to death by horses in a game of dressage.
From the summit of Megiddo you can look across the Jezreel Valley and a virtual theater of Bible events comes to life. Directly to the north is Nazareth ridge where you can discern the hometown of Jesus. Just east of Nazareth is Mount Tabor where Deborah and Barak sallied forth against General Sisera in the period of Judges. Next to Tabor is hill of Moreh where the Philistines camped against King Saul and his sons. And finally, across a bottleneck in the Jezreel Valley at the base of Mount Gilboa there is a special spring, Mayan Harod, where Gideon tested his men before their battle against the Midianites. On a clear day you can look further east and see Mount Gerizim which was the Northern Kingdom's capital at Samaria.
Most travelers leave Tel Megiddo by way of a sophisticated water system that was discovered by the University of Chicago expedition. 183 stairs cut through all the layers of accumulated civilization and bedrock before tunneling through limestone to the source, the spring of Megiddo which supplied the inhabitants with water for thousands of years and still flows with sweet water today.
Churchillisraeltours.com wishes everyone only good things and a most happy 2021.
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