Ancient Maresha – since Joshua, leader of the Israelites


Maresha is mentioned since the era of the judges approx. 1200 BC to the time of Herod the great. A few historical points on Maresha and its connection to our history:

Maresha is mentioned in the book of Joshua chapter 15 as one of the cities of the tribe of Judah.

During the kingdom’s period, Maresha served as an important fortress in the south-western part of the Judah kingdom, this is shown by the act of King Rehoboam of Judah who fortified Maresha in the tenth century BC, as described in the Book of Chronicles 2, Chapter 11.

During Sennacherib King of Assyria, arrival to Judah, after Hezekiah’s rebellion in 701 BC, Maresha was hit and affected along with many other cities in the Judah lowland such as Lachish and Azekah.

In the 6th century BC, King Zedekiah of Judah rebelled against the Babylonian rule, so the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar, conquered the land again, destroyed the first temple in Jerusalem and exiled many of the country’s inhabitants. At the same time, Maresha was also emptied of its Jewish inhabitants.

After the destruction of the first temple, the Edomites settled in Maresha, as well as in the south of Judah. Some important notes regarding the Kingdom of Edom: This was a rich kingdom located in the southwest of today’s Jordan. The Edomites engaged in agriculture, trade and copper mining. Important international trade routes passed through Edom, such as the roads to Gaza, Ashkelon, and Syria. We know about the wealth of Edom by the tax it paid to Assyria, a higher tax than what the Kingdom of Judah paid.

In the 6th and 5th centuries BC, Edom was conquered by the Nabateans, and the Edomites were pushed out of their land. This is how they arrived to southern Judea and Maresha, area that received the name “Idumea” taking advantage of the vacuum created while the inhabitants of Judah were exiled to Babylon.

After the proclamation of Cyrus and the return of Zion in 538 BC, Maresha was not included in the Jewish autonomy, because as I mentioned, after the Babylonian exile, the Edomites settled here.

During the Persian and Hellenistic period in the 6th to 1st centuries BC. Maresha was the central city in Western Idumea, at the same time as Adoryim controlled the east part of Idumea. After the conquests of Alexander the Great the entire region in 332 BC, Sidonians who adopted the Greek culture also arrived to Maresha. A Greek community developed in the city, consisting of citizens and retired military personnel, and the city was given the status of a polis.

What is the meaning of polis – it is a community related to a geographical location that is political and autonomous. The polis was a kind of a “city-state” which provided the communal needs of its inhabitants – including defense, judgment, legislation, culture and religious worship, and in some cases also welfare and education services, although these services were rare in the ancient world as a service provided by the community or by the government.

In the Hellenistic period the city consisted of two main parts: the high mound and the lower city which surrounds the high mound over an area of 320 dunams, approx. 80 Acres. In the lower city, residences from the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC were found, we will enter one shortly. Maresha was one of the largest cities in the Land of Israel in the early Hellenistic period. In the entire area of ​​the lower city, approx. one hundred and sixty very complex underground systems are carved into the rock, the descent to which was from residences that were in the city. “Underground system” means – you can crawl and move from room to room without going outside and they sometimes include 60 or 70 rooms of various sizes.

Following the excavations here it was possible to get to know the Edomites, who together with the Sidonians and Greeks who imported the Greek culture, created the cultural fusion known as Hellenistic. The Edomites spoke and wrote in Aramaic and the Phoenician population, mainly Sidonian and Greek, used the Greek language, which was the international language at that time.

Jonathan Hyrcanus the Hasmonean saw the territorial continuity between the mountain and the lowland plain as a vital matter for the integrity of his kingdom. In 112 BC he laid a siege to the city of Maresha. The result was known in advance in light of the Jewish force being far superior to the limited forces that were in Maresha.

Johnathan Hyrcanus, still outside the city walls, presented the foreign residents with three choices: die in battle, flee from the city without any possessions, or surrender and remain in the city under one small condition – they are required to convert! Based on what Josephus Flavius ​​wrote in his book Antiquities of the Jews, they can stay in the country if they are circumcised and they will follow the Jewish laws.

Based on his book, the Edomites accepted the request out of will and I quote “out of love for the land of their forefathers, took it upon themselves”. It is important for me to point out that there are different opinions by different historians regarding whether converting was forced on them, and also regarding how many decided to stay. The opinions and reasons are many and interesting, but we will not expand beyond what I have mentioned so far.

The outcome of the Hasmonean taking over the city, is that only the upper city survived, while the lower city was mostly destroyed. One more point – why did he even want to convert them? Well, John Hyrcanus wanted to add strength and power to the Hasmonean kingdom.

We entered a partially restored residential complex. This place was used as residential and for trading in the Hellenistic period. The ground floor covered 150 square meters and the rooms were built around a small central courtyard. Stairs led to the second floor. The walls of the house were preserved to a height of 1.5 m. Under the residence are cisterns that their water was collected in clay pipes and rainwater channels from the alleys, roofs and yards.

In the southwest corner room of the building, a stepped facility was revealed that resembles a purification facility. The use of water facilities for purification among the Sidonian or Edomite population is unusual, it is possible that this population also had purification customs such as baptism even before the conversion by Johnathan Hyrcanus, but it is more likely that the origin of this purification tradition is in the Jewish population that remained in the place and was part of the human mosaic in Maresha in the fourth to second centuries BC.

And to conclude, as usual, I have a question for you, one of the kings of Judah is known for his Edom origin – who was the king? The answer will appear at the end of the video.

How to get there?

Information Sources

  1. Book: Every Place and Site: A Guide to Every Place and Site in the Land of Israel, Publisher: Ministry of Defense
  2. Book: Antiquities of the Jews, Author: Flavius Josephus
  3. Biblical encyclopedia, Publisher: Bialik Institute-Jerusalem
  4. Qadmoniot: Magazine for the Antiquities of Eretz-Israel and Bible Lands No. 23/24 & 95/96, Publisher: Israel Exploration Society Jerusalem

Mention in the Bible

  1. Joshua chapter 15
  2. 2Chronicles Chapter 11

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