Lachish, Mareshah, and Beit Guvrin

Throughout the ages, from the Early Bronze Age even unto today, there has always been a tendency for an important regional center in the Lachish-Mareshah-Beit Guvrin area to exist. This is due to the need for a transportation route between the Coastal Plain and Hill Country and the rich resources the soil of the Southern Shephelah has to offer (olives in the East and grain in the West). In the Early Bronze Age (and probably earlier; in the Chalcolithic) the town of Lachish existed as a chief center in this area. However, as the only major center in the Hill Country in the Early Bronze Age was et-Tell, This center was shifted to Area 1500, somewhere on the ridge to the north-west of Lachish, in the Intermediate Bronze. In the Middle Bronze (Stratum VIII), Lachish revived again, building a city wall and fosse. The city was destroyed in the 16th C BC, and inside the fosse was built the famous Fosse Temple, which would survive down to the last days of Ramesses II. Lachish was destroyed and rebuilt in the late 13th-early 12th C BC, and, after that, imported some Midianite Ware, and had a temple built on the acropolis. Due to the border/coastal conquest effect described below, it did not recover until the Judahite reconquest of the Shephelah in the late 9th century BC. Lachish remained the second most-important city of Judah until it was destroyed and probably annexed to Gaza in 701 BC. Lachish was reconstructed whenever Judah re-annexed the Shephelah, and was destroyed in 588-6 BC.

After 588-6 BC, the entire area to the south of En Gedi, Nezib, and Beth-Zur was given to the Kingdom of Edom, which apparently later became a province (in 551 BC). Lachish, in the fourth century BC, during a period of Egyptian independence, became an important administrative settlement in the north-western part of this province. During the Early Hellenistic period, only a shrine was apparently left at Lachish, while the chief administrative center in the area moved to Mareshah. It is not clear as, whether Fantalkin suggests, Lachish’s administrative role was removed immediately after the Persian reconquest of Egypt in 343 BC or near the beginning of the Hellenistic period.

Mareshah remained a thriving Early Hellenistic provincial capital mostly focused on oil production until 108 BC, when it was destroyed by John Hyrcanus. Eventually, in the Herodian period, Beit Jibrin, a ruin located just to the SE of modern Beit Guvrin, became the chief city of the southern Shephelah. By the time of Septimius Severus, this had become Eleutheropolis, a district center which sprouted some major Late Roman ruins just to the South of the Tell of Beit Jibrin. Beit Jibrin’s Roman ruins were abandoned sometime after the Islamic conquest, and the town continued until its demolition by the Israelis in 1948.

Today, the regional center I have described above does not exist for largely the same reasons as in the early 7th century BC and in the 11th C BC-after a destructive war, most of the Shephelah was annexed by a polity based primarily on the coastal plain. This state will undoubtedly continue for the next few decades.