Photo Credit: Tidhar Moav, Israel Antiquities Authority
Ofri Eitan of the Kfar Hanasi pre-military academy next to the engraved stone at the fortified complex.

A fortified complex from the time of King David (Iron Age, 11th to 10th centuries BCE) was exposed in archaeological excavations carried out by the Israel Antiquities Authority in Hispin on the Golan Heights. The fort may have been built by the kingdom of Geshur, an ally of King David, to control the region.

The excavation was undertaken ahead of the construction of a new neighborhood in Hispin (Haspin), a religious Israeli moshav located in the southern Golan Heights, and funded by the Ministry of Housing and Construction and the Golan Regional Council. The dig attracted many volunteers, including residents of Hispin and nearby Nov, as well as youth from the pre-military academies at Natur, Kfar Hanasi, Elrom, Metzar, and Qaztrin.

The Israel Antiquities Authority excavation at Hispin. / Yaniv Berman, Israel Antiquities Authority.
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IAA excavation directors Barak Tzin and Enno Bron said, “The complex we exposed was built at a strategic location on the small hilltop, above the El-Al canyon, overlooking the region, at a spot where it was possible to cross the river. The 1.5-meter wide fort walls, built of large basalt boulders, encompassed the hill. In the excavation, we were astonished to discover a rare and exciting find: a large basalt stone with a schematic engraving of two-horned figures with outspread arms. There may also be another object next to them.”

Aerial view of the IAA excavation at Hispin. / Anya Kleiner, Israel Antiquities Authority.

In 2019, a figure carved on a cultic stone stele was found in the Bethsaida Expedition Project, directed by Dr. Rami Arav of Nebraska University, at Bethsaida just north of the Sea of Galilee. The stele, also depicting a horned figure with outspread arms, was erected next to a raised platform (bama) adjacent to the city gate. This scene was identified by Dr. Arav as representing the Moon-God Cult. The Hispin stone was located on a shelf next to the entrance, and not one, but two figures were depicted on it. According to the archaeologists, “it is possible that a person who saw the impressive Bethsaida stele decided to create a local copy of the royal stele.”

Fertility figurine of a woman with a drum. / Yaniv Berman, Israel Antiquities Authority.

The fortified city of Bethsaida is considered by scholars to be the capital of the Aramean Kingdom of Geshur that ruled the central and southern Golan 3,000 years ago. According to the Bible, the kingdom had both diplomatic and family relations with the House of David: one of King David’s wives was Ma’acha, the daughter of Talmi, King of Geshur. Ma’acha’s son, Avshalom, rebelled against his father and was killed by David’s military chief Yoav ben Tzruya. A few years earlier, the same Avshalom murdered his brother Amnon and sought shelter for three years with his grandfather in Geshur.

Cities of the Kingdom of Geshur have been unearthed along the Kinneret shore, including Tel En Gev, Tel Hadar, and Tel Sorag, but few sites have been discovered on the Golan. The Hispin fortified complex raises new research issues regarding the settlement of the Golan in the Iron Age.

Children from Hispin volunteering at the excavation site. / Yaniv Berman, Israel Antiquities Authority.

Following the Hispin discovery, changes in the area’s development plans will be carried out with the Ministry of Housing and Construction, so that the unique fortified complex will not be damaged. The complex will be developed as an open area along the El-Al river bank, where educational archaeological activities will be carried out as part of learning about Israel’s cultural heritage.

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David writes news at JewishPress.com.
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