Conflicts within the great battleground of Armageddon did not end with the death of King Josiah and the destruction of Judah’s army at the the hands of the Egyptians in 609 BC. Two great, decisive battles, and at least as many bloody, small-scale engagements followed over the next two and a half milennia. Before them, however, the great plain of Armageddon becomes the scene of treachery and betrayal during Judah’s struggle for independence.
The armies of Assyria, Babylon, Persia, and Alexander the Great marched at will through the plains of Esdaelon and Jezreel. Then Alexander’s successors in Egypt and Syria fought for control of the former territories of Israel and Judah. The Seleucid kings of Syria won, but their heavy-handed tactics brought on a Jewish rebellion led by the priest Mattathias of Modein.
Antiochus III determined to suppress Jewish resistance by outlawing their religion. His troops occupied Jerusalem in 168 BC, and desecrated the Second Temple by sacrificing pigs on a pagan altar. He ordered the building of pagan altars throughout the land and sent his troops to force the Jews to sacrifice pigs and eat thei flesh.
Mattathias refused to comply. Instead, he killed both another Jew who obeyed and the Sryian officer in charge. He and his five sons fled to the hills, gathered other rellious Jews to their cause, and launched a guerilla campaign against the Syrians. Mattathias died in 166 BC, but not without comissioning his first son, Judas Maccabeus, the Hammer, to carry on the struggle. Judas recaptured Jerusalem the following year and initiated the cleansing of the Temple that is comemorated by the Feast of Lights. War with the Syrians raged on in every direction, prolonged by treachery on both sides. The apocryphal book of 1 Maccabees records much of the campaigns and Judas Maccabeus” treaty with Rome. The Syrians, in turn, embroiled the Egyptians in the war.
Following the death of Jadas Maccabeus in battle, his brother Jonathan succeeded him and carried on the war against the Seleucids. He renewed the treaty with Rome and met the Seleucids near Beth-shan, at the east end of the great plain of Megiddo. Jonathan had intended to prevent another Seleucid invasion, but their general Trypho betrayed and took him captive. Trypho sent troops and cavalry to detroy Jonathan’s army, but they maintained their discipline and turned back Trypho’s troops.
Simon, the last of Mattathias’s five sons, took command, rallied the people of Judah behind him, and lured Trypho and his army into Judah, with Jonathan as hostage. Simon wore out the Syrian forces by leading them around the land as far south as Hebron without engaging them. A heavy snowfall forced Trypho to retreat to Gilead, where he murdered Jonathan. Returning to Syria, he assassinated the king and plunged the country into civil war over succession to the kingship.
Simon took advantage of the anarchy to secure Judah’s independence as a sovreign, priestly state. Simon himself was elected great high priest, commander and leader of the Jews. He honored his father and brothers by having monuments erected in their memory at Modein.
“The land had rest all the days of Simon. He sought the good of his nation; his rule was pleasing to them, as was the honor shown him, all his days” (1 Maccabees 14:4, NRSV).
The Romans recognized Judah’s independence. Their subsequent intervention in the affairs of Seleucid Empire gave Judah nearly a century of independence until the arrival in Jerusalem of Pompey the Great in 63 BC.
The Treasures of Megiddo
The University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute excavated the ancient site of Megiddo between 1925 and 1939. The Institute houses hundreds of treasures unearthed from the Tel Megiddo, the fortress overlooking the Biblical battlefied of Armageddon.
ASOR has published Ancient Israel: Highlights from the Collections of the Oriental Institute, a gallery guide to showcase the excavation’s many unique finds and discoveries, including the beautiful Megiddo ivories, proto-Aeolic capitals that may have adorned Solomonic buildings and a wide assortment of Syro-Palestinian pottery spanning the millennia.
The book, which is available for purchase or as a free pdf download, also includes informative discussions about Megiddo’s complex and controversial stratigraphy, the origins of the Israelites and ongoing debates over the Solomonic date of many of the site’s most famous structures.
View the Oriental Institute’s Megiddo gallery guide online at http://oi.uchicago.edu/research/pubs/catalog/oimp/oimp31/html. For more information, go to
“Solomon’s Stables” at Megiddo
Structures identified as stables were among the ASOR discoveries at Megiddo. In answer to questions about their identification as stables, equestrien Deborah O’Daniel Cantrell has completed a doctoral study of Megiddo and the use of horses and chariots in Israel. Her findings appear in The Horsemen of Israel: Horses and Chariotry in Monarchic Israel (Ninth-Eighth Centuries B.C.E) (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2011, 143 pp). Cantrell concludes that the Megiddo excavations uncovered a major fortified equine complex. It included stables, an exercise area, watering troughs, hitching stalls, and a granary for feed. Her evidence includes signs of crib-biting and pawing by impatient horses.
Reviewed by Ziony Zevit in “Hippology of Ancient Israel”, Biblical Archeological Review, 38-2, 62-63.
As to whether these are Solomon’s stables, that’s another matter.
Egyptian Pharaoh Shishak (Shoshenq I, circa 931-910 BC) invaded Judah and Israel five years after Israel’s northern tribes seceded from the kingdom of Solomon’s successor Rehoboam in 921 BC. The Bible record Shishak’s looting of Solomon’s Temple, but not his further exploits in Israel. Shishak, however, listed Megiddo among the cities that he conquered. A wall of the temple to Amun-Re at Karnak preserves Shishak’s list. At Megiddo, Shishak erected a victory stele. A surviving fragment bears his name.
The kings of Israel rebuilt the fortifications and stables at Megiddo. One of them, possibly Ahab, had a water shaft dug to protect Megiddo’s water supply. About the same vinatge as another water shaft at Hazor, the shaft is about 75 feet deep and 210 feet long. It brought water from a natural spring at the foot of Tel Megiddo.
The Assyrians demolished the Israelite fortress during their campaigns in Israel and Judah in the 8th century BC and replaced it with a spacious city that became their provincial headquarters. Riven by assassinations, the Asyrian empire began to fall apart in the 7th century, and King Josiah of Judah claimed control of parts of the former territory of Israel, including Megiddo. He made Megiido his base when he attempted to prevent an Egyptian expeditionary force from supporting the weakened Assyrians agaist the rising Babylonian empire. Though the Egyptians fatally wounded Josiah during a battle on the plain near Megiddo, the Egyptians were no match for the Assyrians
What the Assyrians did not detroy at Megiddo in 609, the Babylonians did during the succeeding final thirty years of the kingdom of Judah. A small fort fell into disuse after the 4th century BC, and the site went unoccupied until the Romans established the fortress of Legio as a regional defensive center. The Arabic name of the village of al Lujun preserves the Roman name.
Current Excavations at Megiddo
Megiddo continues to yield discoveries. The current Megiddo Expedition has been active since 2010. The team works under the auspices of Tel Aviv University, in conjunction with The George Washington University as Senior Consortium Member and Chapman University, Loyola Marymount University and Vanderbilt University as Consortium Members. The Expedition is directed by Israel Finkelstein and David Ussishkin (Tel Aviv University), with Eric Cline (The George Washington University) serving as Associate Director (USA).
Biblical Archeology staff report the Expedition has recently discovered a hoard of gold, silver and bronze jewelry dating to around 1100 B.C.E. The jewelry was found wrapped in fabric and hidden inside a ceramic vessel that had been excavated in the summer of 2010 from an early Iron Age dwelling at the site. The archeologists that further analysis of both the textiles and jewelry will reveal important clues as to their origins and use.
For photograps and more information, go to http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/news/jewelry-from-the-time-of-the-judges-found-at-megiddo/
Biblical Archaeology Society Staff • 02/29/2012
A Greek bronze helmet, covered with gold leaf and decorated with snakes, lions and a peacock’s tail (or palmette), has been discovered in the waters of Haifa Bay in Israel. But how this helmet ended up at the bottom of the bay is a mystery.
The helmet dates back around 2,600 years and likely belonged to a wealthy Greek mercenary who took part in a series of wars, immortalized in the Bible, which ravaged the region at that time. Archaeologists believe that he likely fought for Pharaoh Necho II, who defeated King Josiah in a battle near Megiddo. Necho led part of his army to the Plain of Esdraelon, and his fleet of mercenaries met him near Haifa. Neecho planned to oust the weakened Assyrians from Syria, but they smashed his army and went on to occupy Judah and Egypt.
The helmet was discovered accidentally in 2007 during commercial dredging operations in the harbor. After it was discovered, conservators with the Israel Antiquities Authority went to work cleaning it and archaeologists began to analyze it.