Tel Tzuba Fortress


Tel Tzuba is an ancient archeological mound identified as where Yigal Ben Natan lived. Yigal Ben Natan, which mean Yigal the son of Natan, is listed as one of David’s heroes, as appears in II Samuel chapter 23. Archaeological excavations, indicate that the place resided continuously from the First Temple period, to the Byzantine period which ended at the 7th century, which means for a total of 1600 years. After a short break, the Crusaders returned here and a settlement continued to exist in Tel Tzuba under different rulers until the middle of the 20th century.

The location here is strategic. We are at a high place – 770m above sea level, overlooking the traffic leading from the lowlands to Jerusalem. Also, the area is fertile, there is a large cluster of springs here, and we have history evidence of the crops here, so in many ways this location has advantages. 

As told in the Book of Samuel, due to King Saul’s mental deterioration he persecuted David. During the escape and the desire to avoid contact with King Saul, David was joined by quite a few outsiders who dropped out of society and saw him as a leader. A group was formed, composed of family members and outsiders whom accompanying him for years. As also described in the book of Samuel, and as part of David desire to avoid contact with Saul, David settled in Ziklag in the Negev, under the sponsorship of the Philistine King Achish ben Ma’auch, and we will not discuss how David came to be sponsored by a Philistine king, an enemy of Israel, who will soon take part in the killing of King Saul. At that time, around 1,000 BCE, and although there is a king, Saul, Israeli society still had a tribal orientation, and this has drawbacks mainly in the security aspect. At the tribe level it is difficult to deal with a strong enemy. The Philistines have leveraged on this situation and steadily expanded their hold from the five provincial towns in the coastal plain to the lowlands inland where there are pastures and fertile habitats.

In addition, in the south of the country, the settlements of the Tribe of Judah were the first to be attacked by the foreign desert tribes, with the objective of steeling agricultural produce, but then, there was David and his group of warriors who protected them, and we will not discuss here their motive and weather they received anything in return or not. I recommend that you read chapter 27 in the 1st book of Samuel. In verse 8, it says: “And David and his men went up, and made a raid upon the Geshurites, and the Gizrites, and the Amalekites”. Now, how does all this relate to Tel Tzuba? – in 2 Samuel, chapter 23 there is a list of David’s heroes who probably included those who accompanied him in the period I have just described, and they are divided into three groups: three names in group1, three names in group2, and in group3, 31 of 37 names, one of which is Yigal Ben-Natan from Tzuba.

During the Crusader period between 1140 and 1160 CE, the Knights of the Hospitaller Order built a Crusader fortress named Belmont (which means beautiful mountain in French), they built it on the remains of the Byzantine settlement. The fortress existed for only a short time, because after the Battle of Karnei Hittin which took place few miles west to the Sea of Galilee in 1187, during which the Crusaders were defeated, the residents of Belmont Fortress surrendered to the forces of Salah a-Din, who ordered the demolition of the fortress. We can actually see here the remains of the Arab village Suba, above the remains of the Crusader fortress Belmont.

The Crusaders took advantage of the mountain rock and built on it where possible the fortress.  The Crusader walls have eight sides, having a total length of 215 meters (doing a rough calculation, the area inside is appropriately 4 dunam which is equivalent to 1 acre). Several remains of the crusader fortress include among others: remains of warehouses, internal wall with several gates, an escape tunnel, a church, and water cisterns.

What happens with the fortress after the Crusader period? During the Mameluke period (1260-1517), an Arab village was built on the remains of the Crusader fortress. This village continued to exist during the Ottoman period starting in 1517, when the Turks concord the country. According to the Ottoman tax records, about 60 Muslim families and about 7 Christian families, who grew wheat, barley, olives and vine, lived in the village.

During the British Mandate after they conquered the country in 1917, and ended 400 years of ottoman rule, there was a small fortress within the village to guard the road to Jerusalem.

An interesting question is How many residents were here in ancient time? So if the area at the top is 4 dunams equivalent to 1 acre, we are looking at a small city in biblical times, so probably many dozens and maybe even 100-200 residents. Just for comparison, the City of David during King David’s time was just over 40 dunams (10 acres), meaning only 10 times larger.

What did they live on in 1000BCE at the time of Igal Ben Natan? A good starting point is most of the seven species mentioned in the Book of Deuteronomy, Chapter 8, which describes the agricultural fertility of the Land of Israel:  ” … land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey.” The honey mentioned in the verse means dates, from which date honey is produced. As I mentioned, we know for sure from an Ottoman tax certificate, that the locals grew wheat, barley, vines and olives here, and no reason to think that same occurred few centuries back. In addition, both Dates and Figs grew 25km east from here in the valleys of Jericho and the dead sea, and we will conclude with a related question – What do the seven species have in common? The answer will appear at the end of the video.

How to get there?

Set your Waze/Google map to Kibbutz Tzuba hotel. 150m east on the road adjacent to the hotel there is car parking area which is between the kibbutz’s tennis courts and the local factory. From there continue on foot on a narrow road going east up the hill, the factory should be on you left. After 350m, you will see the site on the left on the hill.

Information Sources

  1. Episode 38: King David with Achish the Philistine, Author & Presenter: Dr. Liora Ravid

Mention in the Bible

  1. 2Samuel chapter 23 verse 36

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