Bethsaida from 3,000 years ago and the alliance between David and King Geshur

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Absalom, the son of King David, returned to Jerusalem after three years of exile, which most likely he spent them here in Bethsaida, the capital of the kingdom of Geshur. This was after he killed Amnon, who was his brother from another mother, and let’s not forget that Absalom killed Amnon with the help of his soldiers after Amnon raped his sister, Tamar. King David did not want to see Absalom for four years since he returned from the kingdom of Geshur to Jerusalem. After four years, Absalom finally turned to Joab son of Tzruya, head of the army for king David, with a complaint as described in the 2nd book of Samuel chapter 14: he asked Joab – Why did I returned from Geshur? It was good for me there. He demanded to meet the king, while stating, that if he done something wrong than he should be executed.  In light of the amazing landscape, the sources of water and the discoveries in Bethsaida, one can understand Absalom’s statement. Not only Bethsaida is located near the Sea of ​​Galilee, it was also larger and more magnificent than Jerusalem of David’s time.

We are in Bethsaida, 1.5Km from the northern shore of the Sea of ​​Galilee which can be seen from here, and 300 meters east of the Jordan River. The mound is located on top of a basalt spur coming down from the Golan Heights and it has an area of ​​about 80 dunams, equivalent to 20 acres, larger than Jerusalem in the time of King David.

Bethsaida was founded in the 10th century BC., it was probably called “Zer (Tzer) or Tsed. In the book of Joshua chapter 19, it is written as follows: “And the fortified cities were Ziddim-zer (Tzer), and Hammath, and Rakkath, and Chinnereth (Kinneret); Looking at the map and the location of these places, it looks as they are all fishing towns around the Sea of ​​Galilee going clockwise.

During the biblical period and until Assyria conquered the area, the northeast of the Sea of ​​Galilee was part of the Aramaic kingdom of Geshur. From the excavations conducted here over the years, it can be concluded that Bethsaida was the capital of this kingdom. In this video I will focus on the history of Bethsaida, its location, the impressive city wall and gate, and the kingdom of Geshur with an emphasis on its relationship with the kingdoms of Judah and Israel until the Assyrian conquest of the area. In another video named ‘Bethsaida, the capital of Geshur kingdom from 3,000 years ago’, I will focus on describing the local residents, their sources of income, why the place is holy to Christians, and all of this from the Hellenistic period until the destruction of the city during the Great Revolt in the first century.

Geshur is first mentioned in the Al-Amarna letters from the 14th century BC, which were written by various rulers, most of them Canaanites and sent to the king of Egypt.

In these letters, 7 city-states are mentioned whose union created the Kingdom of Geshur. The kingdom of Geshur is mentioned in the book of Deuteronomy chapter 3, as the border of half the tribe of Manasseh located in the east side of the Jordan river. In the story of the conquests of Joshua and the settlement of the tribes in the land of Canaan, you can find further confirmation that Geshur was not conquered by the tribes that remained in the eastern part of the Jordan River as written in the book of Joshua chapter 13.

Many political marriages took place during the biblical period. It’s interesting that in most of them, the stronger party in the peace treaty offers his daughter to the weaker party, and this is probably to plant in the married royal dynasty, a loyal branch that will not seek to dissolve the alliance. If this was indeed the case, then in the marriage of King David and Maacah, daughter of Talmai, or Ptolemy in Aramic,

the king of Geshur as described in the 2nd book of Samuel chapter 3, then the kingdom of Geshur had the stronger status. The marriage of David and Maacah led to Geshur’s involvement in the kingdoms of Israel and Judah for at least five generations. In total, David and his dynasty enjoyed the alliance with the kingdom of Geshur. I will mention one case described in the book of Samuel 2, chapter 10 – according to which, unlike the four kingdoms of Aram, which are: Aram Beit-Rahob, Aram Tzoba, Maacah and Ish Tob (Tov). The kingdom of Geshur refused to join the Aramaic alliance that tried to rescue Hanon, king of the Ammon, from the hands of King David.

Absalom was the son of David and Maacah. After the killing of Amnon, who was also the heir to the throne, Absalom fled to Geshur and stayed here for three years. Here he planned his revolt against King David, and how he would take over the throne.

I will not elaborate further on this fascinating story, yet we all know the end, Absalom was killed during the revolt. He left after his death a daughter named Maacah as his mother’s name. A generation later, King Rehoboam, the son of King Solomon, married Maacah, Absalom’ daughter and he loved her the most “out of all his wives and concubines” as written in the 2nd book of Chronicles chapter 11. Probably, also due to the connections she created for him with the Aramaic kingdoms of Geshur, Maacah and Damascus.

Rehoboam needed these ties to put pressure on Jeroboam because “there was war between Rehoboam and Jeroboam all the days of his life” as it is written in the 1st book of Kings chapter 15.

Let’s move forward to the next generation – Maacah, daughter of Absalom, was the mother of King Abijah, Avia in Hebrew, son of Rehoboam, and she was the grandmother of King Asa. According to the Bible, she introduced other gods to the residents of Jerusalem. Asa, her grandson, removed the “monster” as stated in the Bible that his grandmother made, burned it in Kidron brook and removed his grandmother from her position as it is written in the 1st book of Kings chapter 5. Still, King Asa did use the ancient connections with the Aramaic kingdoms while giving part of the Temple’s treasures as a bribe, in order to divert the kingdom of Aram Damascus against Baasha, king of Israel, who threatened to conquer Jerusalem. This is the last known case of Geshur’s involvement in the affairs of the Kingdoms of Judah and Israel.

The kingdom of Geshur was destroyed in the 8th century BC after the conquest of Aram Damascus in 732-734 BC by Tiglath Pileser III, king of Assyria.

Bethsaida was built on two levels: the upper city and the lower city. The upper city extended over the northeastern part of the mound and contained, according to the findings of the excavations, only public buildings, walls and fortifications, also, a complex of gates that are among the most impressive in the country, and a palace in the style known as “Bit Hilani”.

The fortification system was built in a massive way and was intended to respond to the main penetrating weapons of that period, which were the siege tower and battering ram. It is easy to be impressed by the massive structure of the inner wall. You can see a tower in the wall that is near the exposed section and the outer wall, which is lower.

The city gate, is located in the eastern section. The gate was a complex fortified structure that was excavated and exposed. It includes an outer gate and an inner gate, four guard towers and between them a spacious paved courtyard.

This is to my knowledge the largest and most well-preserved gate discovered in Israel at a site from the biblical period. In those days the public life of a biblical city – that is, worship, trade, trials and also the punishment of criminals – was conducted in the courtyard of the city gate. Benches were discovered at the gate and close to it for the elders of the city. It is assumed that ritual ceremonies also took place in the courtyard.

The inner gate has four cells, two on each side. Three cells were used as silos and the first cell on the right kept the offerings that were brought to the stage of worship. A large quantity of charred barley and wheat grains weighing approximately one ton was found in the gate cells. It seems that the grains were charred when the gate was destroyed and burned by Tiglath Pileser III, king of Assyria, in 732-734 BC.

The inner gate was preserved to a height of three meters. The prophet Ezekiel uses the term cells as described in chapter 40 of his book. The gate was built with basalt stones, mostly very large field stones. The gate was between 2 and 3 stories high. The upper stories were plastered with white plaster and therefore when the gate stood in all its glory the stones and bricks that made it up were not visible.

The gate was built in the middle of the ninth century BC and was destroyed by a fierce fire. It existed for 120 years.

At the ninth century BC, two sturdy towers were built on either side of the gate, each ten meters long and six meters wide.

The gate’ threshold is at a height of 30 centimeters above the floor of the corridor that led between the entrance and the gate’ exit, it is the biblical “hall of the gate” as described in the book of Ezekiel chapter 40.

In the center of the threshold is a stop stone, it is a semi-round and well-cut stone. The traces of the gate. The hinges of the doors were in a recess 30 centimeters deep to prevent access to them. Nothing was preserved of the door hinges. This section of the gate was found completely burnt.

A large warehouse structure is integrated in the southwest corner of the gate. This structure was built as one unit with the gate. This is a typical structure of warehouses known from other places. The warehouse was densely filled with jars of various sizes, but not one of them survived the heavy destruction caused to the building.

In 732-734 BC, Tiglath Pileser III, king of Assyria, conquered the Kingdom of Aram-Damascus, the Golan, the Galilee, and the Gilead. The occupation sowed destruction and devastation in all the large and fortified cities in the area. It didn’t destroy Bethsaida to a level that it stopped to exist, but it depleted it to such an extent that it never returned to its former glory days.

And to conclude, as usual I have a question for you. Who is responsible for the killing of Absalom? The answer will appear at the end of the video.

How to get there?

Information Sources

  1. Book: Sea of Kinneret, A Monograph, Author: Mendel Nun, Publisher: Ariel
  2. Book: The new Israel Guide, book 4 – The Lower Galilee and its shores and the Kinarot Valley, Publisher: Keter
  3. Podcast: tanakhpodcast.com by Dr. Liora Ravid: Absalom revolt
  4. Qadmoniot: Magazine for the Antiquities of Eretz-Israel and Bible Lands No. 118, Publisher: Israel Exploration Society Jerusalem

Mention in the Bible

  1. Deuteronomy chapter 3 verse 14
  2. Joshua chapter 19 verse 35
  3. 2Samuel chapter 3 verse 3
  4. 2Samuel chapter 10 verse 6
  5. 2Samuel chapter 14 verse 32
  6. 1Kings chapter 15 verses:11-20
  7. Ezekiel chapter 40 verse 7
  8. 2Chronicles chapter 11 verse 21

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