In the Judean lowlands, rising above the Elah Valley, lies Tel Azeka (also Azekah) – mentioned numerous times in Biblical texts. Perhaps most famously, it is associated with the story of David and Goliath, which is etched into blocks of stone set by the path up to the top of the Tel, its dramatic ending overlooking the Elah Valley below on one side and views as far as the Mediterranean coast on the other.
“Now the Philistines gathered together their armies to battle, and they were gathered together at Socoh, which belongeth to Judah, and pitched between Socoh and Azekah, in Ephes-dammim. And Saul and the men of Israel were gathered together, and pitched in the vale of Elah, and set the battle in array against the Philistines.” (I Samuel 17, 1-2)
Azeka also gets a mention in the Book of Joshua, both as the site of a hailstorm which destroyed the army of the Amorite kings and later as part of the area designated to the tribe of Judah.
“And it came to pass, as they fled from before Israel, while they were at the descent of Beth-horon, that the LORD cast down great stones from heaven upon them unto Azekah, and they died; they were more who died with the hailstones than they whom the children of Israel slew with the sword.”
As described in Jeremiah, Azeka and Lachish were the last two cities to fall to the Babylonians before Jerusalem. The town is mentioned in the Lachish Letters (currently to be found in the British Museum) and also in Nehemiah as one of the places to which the exiled Jews returned.
“Zanoah, Adullam, and their villages, Lachish and the fields thereof, Azekah and the towns thereof. So they encamped from Beer-sheba unto the valley of Hinnom.”
Tel Azeka was first excavated by British archaeologists between the years 1898 – 1900 and a system of interconnecting hideout caves used by Jews during the time of the Bar Kochva revolt against the Romans was discovered. This summer, archaeologists from Tel Aviv University and others began excavating the site using modern technology and some of their findings can be seen on the dig’s blog.