Kedesh – a biblical city


We are in the biblical settlement of Kedesh, which is in the territory allocated to the tribe of Naphtali over 3000 years ago. Since there are several other places in the Bible that are named Kedesh, I will start by reviewing the different places so that we can identify the settlement that actually resides in this place. So this place was identified with the biblical city of Kedesh, a Canaanite city that was one of the fortress cities in the northern territory of the tribe of Naphtali, as stated in the book of Joshua, chapter 19 (verse 17). A fortress city is a fortified city surrounded by a wall.

Kedesh is also listed as a city of refuge as indicated in the book of Joshua, chapter 20 (verse 7). A city of refuge is a city that serves as a hideout for an accidental killer. The escape to the city of refuge in the Bible is mandatory even if there is no danger of revenge for the killer. Staying in the city of refuge has two purposes: saving the killer from the revenge of the redeemer of blood, and punishment for him killing a person because of carelessness.

Six cities of refuge are listed in the Bible, three of which were to the east of the Jordan River: Bezer in the territory of the tribe of Reuben, Ramot, better known as Ramot Gilead in the territory of the tribe of Gad, and Golan in the territory of the tribe of Manasseh. On the west side of the Jordan River, the cities of refuge are Kedesh where we are, Shechem also know in its Arab name Nablus and Hebron.

Kedesh is also listed according to the book of Joshua, chapter 21 (verse 32) as a city of Levites. Forty-eight cities were granted to the Levites and the priests. Each tribe allocated between three and six cities in its territory, and regarding Naphtali tribe in whose territory we are, three cities were allocated to the Levites and priests: Kedesh where we are, Hammath Doar, and Kartan.

Kedesh was conquered in 733 BCE by Tiglath-Pileser III as stated in the 2nd book of Kings, chapter 15 (verse 29).

Kedesh is also mentions in the battle between Jonathan the Hasmonean and Demetrius, king of the Seleucid kingdom in Syria, as described in the 1st book of Hasmoneans chapter 11 (verses 43-53).  Jonathan took advantage of the political situation and the conflict between the kings of Syria and Egypt, to drive to his goal: a Jewish Hasmonean independent state throughout the region.

If we move forward in time, then Kedesh is mentioned in Josephus Flavius’ book, The War of the Jews (4, 2, 3), according to which Titus, a roman military commander who became at a later stage the emperor of Rome, set up his camp here before he left for the battle with John of Gush Halav. In the same chapter, Josephus Flavius adds that in the year 66, the year the Great Revolt began, after Jews were killed in Caesarea, the Jews attacked many Gentile settlements in order to take their revenge, including Kedesh which was part of the region of Tyre. According to Josephus Flavius, a Jewish Roman historian who lived during the 1st century, Kedesh was in constant conflict with the Jewish inhabitants of the Galilee, and I will only mention that Kedesh is 32km as the crow flies from Tyre.

The city is referred to as “Kedesh in Galilee on Mount Naphtali” to distinguish it from Kedesh Naphtali, the hometown of Barak ben Avin’am as told in the Book of Judges Chapter 4 (verse 6).

Kedesh Naphtali is identified with Khirbat-Kaddish to the east of Poriya, in the Yavnal Valley, and we also have Kedesh Issachar Next to the Megiddo junction in the territory of the tribe of Issachar.

We are near road no. 899 on its north side. Tel Kedesh is the largest archaeological mound among the Upper Galilee mounds – 100dunams which is 25acres.

Here can be seen one of the largest sarcophagi found in Israel, single and paired. Also found here are large stone lids. It is possible that the sarcophagi stood inside mausoleums which are impressive tombs. The tombs stones were probably looted for general construction purposes or as I saw on the western hill, a sarcophagus being used as a water trough for sheep. The sarcophagi are made of local limestone, which was quarried from the hill west of Tel Kedesh and according to the decorations and style, they were designed by craftsmen from the city of Tyre. Their weight for general information varies between 4-5 tons. What were the sarcophagi used for? – So at the end of the 2nd Temple period and during the Mishna period, it was customary to place the dead on a surface, usually in a burial cave, or in a sarcophagus for a year until only the bones remained. Then depending on the size of the longest bone, the bones were collected into a ossuary or an urn, and placed in a hut in a burial cave.

The Roman temple as you can see in the video, is one of the most impressive that survived in Israel. This is a temple to the god Baal Shemin, and this is based on several Greek inscriptions found on the site. It is originally a Canaanite god who was the Semitic sky god, one of the main gods in the region of Phoenicia and Syria during the Roman period.

The temple complex consists of an 80 x 55meter complex with the temple in the center. You can see in some parts, the wall of the compound. The wall is not uniform and, in some parts, can’t be identified.

According to the excavators, the temple was built around the year 117, and it seems that it was severely damaged by an earthquake that struck the area in 363.

The front of the temple rises to a height of about 10m and is built of ashlar stones in a dry construction, meaning without cement materials. In the front there are three openings. Along the threshold of the central opening, there are holes where there was a bar that closed the opening and prevented entry. The conclusion is that the central opening was not used for the entrance of people, but was used as a large window through which the believers could see the statue of the deity and perhaps the entrance to the temple in general was only allowed to the priests of the temple. To the north of the northern entrance and to the south of the southern entrance, two small niches are carved.

The southern niche is larger and carved inside is the figure of a barefoot man wearing a long robe holding a long staff in one hand and a weapon in the other. The slot below the niche was used to pour into the temple liquids that were collected from the niches outside and this is a phenomenon that is not known from other Roman temples.

Inscriptions that included dates and the architectural decoration indicate that the temple was used in the second and third centuries.

The dates on the inscriptions are according to the method used by the city of Tyre, which reinforces the writings of Josephus Flavius that ​​Kedesh and its surrounding, was part of Tyre region, a foreign city.

The settlement of Kedesh accompanies our history from ancient times. From the division of the land into tribal estates, its selection as a city of refuge in the estate of the Naphtali tribe, through the renewal of the settlement in the Galilee during the 2nd Temple period, after the Hasmonean conquest, and then the subsequent struggles that we did not discuss today between the Hasmonean dynasty and the House of Herod the great. In the period after that, we see the reduction in Jewish settlements and at the same time, the expansion of the city of Tyre.

And to conclude, as usual, a question for you – I mentioned that Kedesh was one of the forty-eight Levite cities that were given to the Levites and priests. To which families were the cities given? The answer will appear at the end of the video.

How to get there?

Information Sources

  1. Book: Touring with Hebrew Sources in Northern Israel, Editors: Hana Amit & David Amit, Publisher: Yad Yitzhak Ben-Zvi
  2. The new encyclopedia for archeological excavations in Israel

Mention in the Bible

  1. Joshua chapter 19 verse 17
  2. Joshua chapter 20 verse 7
  3. Joshua chapter 11 verse 7
  4. 2Kings chapter 15 verse 29