Studium Theologicum Salesianum
Salesian Pontifical University : Faculty of Theology - Jerusalem Campus
  Archeological Excursion

4 February 2016 – STS Jerusalem
Bro. Paolo Negrini

Once upon a time there was a young man, handsome and young, who, with only one swoop of a sling, shot down a giant of huge proportions. At this point, everyone will have already figured out of whom I am talking about! The biblical account of the battle between David and Goliath, between the cunning and the strong, between the outsider and the champion, was in fact the highlight of the first archaeological excursion, which Thursday 4th of February saw us engaged as students of the Studium Theologicum Salesianum, under the grace of a bright sun.

From the top of Tel Socho, with a look that encompassed the Valley of Terebinth or Elah, among red anemones and yellow daisies, we listened as an appetizer to an enriched day of hiking. The extraordinary story of the battle between Philistines on one side and Israelites on the other can be found in chapter 17 of the first book of Samuel. The battle then ended precisely with that magnificent shot from David. Staying there, facing a place so rich of simple treasures, imagining the details of a scene that made history, has also made possible for us to geographically revive a chapter of that Old Testament that needs to be narrated and experienced in order to be fully understood.

But then again, that was just the beginning: once down from Tel Socho, also called the Hill of Lupins because of the distinctive flower that blooms in early spring, was a very important site in the Kingdom of Judah as forming a crossroads between the Shfela lowlands in the West and Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Hebron in the mountainous East. We approached Tel Azeca, whose meaning, in the language of the Canaanites who stationed here, apparently means “white”. In the Bible, it is said to be the place where Joshua defeated the Amorite kings, and their army was destroyed by a hailstorm. In the time of Saul, as we have seen, the Philistines massed their forces between Sokho and Azekah, putting forth Goliath as their champion.

With Tel Azeca behind us, we walked east along a path that enabled us to reach Tel Shaarim, the third important fortified city overlooking the Valley of Terebinth. Despite the few but significant remains of this settlement, with the help of a little imagination, we could reconstruct the casemate walls protecting the city and its houses. Walking through the remains of yesterday’s houses, we felt new inhabitants of this land that still, for those who know how to really listen, speaks of life.

Weariness and hunger have brought us back to the present. The young forest offered us a shaded lunch and rest period. The site of lunch also indicated the next destination, Gath, the wine press and birthplace of Goliath. The climb at Tel Es-Safi (White Hill), was the most difficult but perhaps most rewarding, with a magnificent view from the top, from which our gaze could wander at 360°, expanding geographical and spiritual horizons, careful as it was to see some signs that announced the arrival of David fleeing from Saul to take refuge there.

On the way back, we made the final stop at Beit Shemesh, the “house of the sun”. The name comes after the Canaanite deity, and was located in the territorial bounds of the tribe of Judah and mentioned in the 6th chapter of the first book of Samuel as being the first city encountered by the Ark of the Covenant on its way back from Philistia after having been captured by the Philistines in battle.

So, between imagined battles and ruins of ancient cities, we have come to the end of our walk, tired but aware of having traversed an extraordinary page in history, and having finally understood that history itself, even the biblical one, can really be defined as an illustrious war against time, because snatching the imprisoned years from its hand, indeed already corpses, recalls them back to life, browses them, and terraces them again into battle.

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