BEI SHEMESH (VINnews) — An unusual large stone has been found in the ruins of an old shrine in Tel Beit Shemesh adjacent to the town of Beit Shemesh, which is considered by scholars to be the site of the biblical city of Beit Shemesh. The shrine dates to 3,100 years ago, which corresponds to the period of the Judges after the Jews established themselves in Israel, and the stone may be the one described in the Bible (Shmuel 1: 6) on which the Aron Habris, the Ark of the Covenant, was placed after it was returned by the Philistines.
The biblical account details the miraculous return of the Aron Habris on a wagon pulled by cows which apparently of their own accord came towards the city of Beit Shemesh. The people of Beit Shemesh who were in the fields gathering wheat were delighted to see the Aron, which eventually stopped in the field of Yehoshua of Beit Shemesh. “And they chopped the wood of the wagon and sacrificed the cows as burnt offerings to G-d. And the Levites took the Ark of G-d and the casket with it containing gold utensils and they placed it on the large stone and the people of Beit Shemesh brought burnt offerings and sacrifices to G-d on that day.”
Dr. Zvi Lederman, a Tel Aviv University archaeologist who is one of the leaders of the research excavation, told a Ha’aretz reporter that “this is an unusual case where we can connect the biblical narrative with an archaeological find.”
The shrine which was discovered has a perfect square shape and its size and placement away from the other buildings demonstrates that it was a very significant place. Archaeologists found religious artifacts there including a storage place for wine, a platform for ceremonies, decorative pots and animal bones which may have been used in ceremonies. The shrine was apparently destroyed during this period. All the earthenware pots were smashed to pieces and the shrine was covered in animal dung and then set alight. Lederman sees the Philistines as responsible for this and describes it as “an act of hostility, a premeditated desecration of a holy place.”
The reason for the destruction may lie in the same biblical narrative which describes the suffering of the Philistines from after they captured the Ark of the Covenant until they decided to return it, a period of seven months. After the Aron left Beit Shemesh, the Philistines may have felt that they could attack the city and vent their anger on the stone where the Ark had stood.