I’m sure I enjoy my series, Discussions with the Diggers, even more than my readers do. I have have the privilege of interviewing archaeologists to understand how their work in the field impacts biblical studies. This month I’m pleased share an interview with Dr. Dale W. Manor, the Field Director of the excavations at Tel Beth-Shemesh.
Dr. Manor is Professor of Archaeology and Bible at Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas. Previously, he was the Kress Fellow at the Albright Institute for Archaeological Research in Jerusalem from 1988 to 1989. He has served as an Assistant to the Editor of the Anchor Bible Dictionary in which he has several articles and is also published in the Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East, the Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible and the New Interpreters Dictionary of the Bible. Dr. Manor is the author of Digging Deeper into the Word: The Relevance of Archaeology to Christian Apologetics. Since 2000 he has been the Field Director of the Tel Beth-Shemesh Excavation Project in Israel.
BIBLE ARCHAEOLOGY REPORT: Welcome Dr. Manor! How did you become involved in archaeology?
DR. DALE W. MANOR: My migration into archaeology has been a long, convoluted trek. In a sense it began when I was six years old when our cat died. We buried it in the back yard and several months later I dug it up to see what had happened (the exhumation was a bit premature!). My father was a minister heavily into history, so I was raised in a context exposed to the historical settings of the Bible. When I was in junior high school, my parents gave me a copy of The Complete Book of Marvels by Richard Halliburton who reported on his visits to numerous archaeological and historical sites scattered around the world, including such places as Rhodes, Jerusalem, Petra, the Pyramids, Knossos, etc. I devoured the contents of the book. Following in my father’s footsteps, I studied for the ministry as well, attending Freed-Hardeman University and then Pepperdine University. I noticed that when research papers were assigned that left the topic open to my choosing, I gravitated toward biblical historical issues, a pattern that continued into my M.A. Humanities program at California State University—Dominguez Hills. Significantly tipping the scale toward archaeology, as a graduation gift for earning my B.A., my parents gave me a place on their tours to the Middle East, on which we visited Greece, Rhodes, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Jordan, and Israel. Dad said that a trip to the the Bible lands was probably worth more for my understanding of the Bible than most of the courses that I had studied in school (an assessment against which I would not argue!). Eventually I decided to pursue a doctoral degree in Syro-Palestinian archaeology at the University of Arizona, studying with William Dever. There I connected with my first excavation, which was at Tel Miqne/Ekron. Even though I was in a square that found nothing in the course of that six weeks dig, I was permanently hooked.
When I was in full-time local ministry, people would sometimes argue that since we are over the two millennia removed from the events of the New Testament (and even longer from those of the Hebrew Bible), these ancient texts are no longer relevant. The more, however, I have studied archaeology and anthropology, the more I have seen that basic human concerns have not changed; we may have changed the technical ways we do things, but the basic issues of human need and concern remain the same. Is there such a thing as sin, and how should we deal with guilt? How should we interact with one another? Where am I going to get my next meal? How should families behave? What is the meaning of life? Is there a life after death? Contrary to other religions of the world (i.e., Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc.), the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures are embedded in historical contexts of human and divine activity. For me, the texture of the biblical narrative is tremendously enhanced as archaeological finds provide rich, broader contexts of the events and teachings of the Bible.
BIBLE ARCHAEOLOGY REPORT: What excavations have you been involved with?
DR. DALE W. MANOR: I have participated in several excavations, beginning with Tel Miqne/Ekron where I soon became part of the staff under the direction of Trude Dothan and Sy Gitin. I also worked some at Tel Dan with Avraham Biran, on a survey in the Negev with Steve Rosen, and at Ketef Hinnom with Gabriel Barkai. After a hiatus of almost a decade I worked with Ami Mazar at Tel Rehov and then became the field director at Tel Beth-Shemesh where I have been since 2000 working with Shlomo Bunimovitz and Zvi Lederman of Tel Aviv.
BIBLE ARCHAEOLOGY REPORT: Can you give us a brief overview of the importance of Beth Shemesh in biblical history?
DR. DALE MANOR: Beth-Shemesh appears in several settings in the Bible. First is as a reference in the tribal allotments in Joshua (Josh 15:10) which also assigns it to the Levites (Josh 21:16). The town plays into the episode when the Philistines return the ark of the covenant to Israelite custody; Beth-Shemesh is the first Israelite town to which the ark comes (1 Sam 6). The text explicitly notes that Levites officiated in aspects of the ark’s care (1 Sam 6:15), which makes sense given the town’s assignment to the Levites. Regretfully, the folks at Beth-Shemesh failed to observe proper protocols in their treatment of the ark and they suffered a number of deaths as a result, prompting the people of Beth-Shemesh to send the ark to Kiriath-jearim (1 Sam 6:19-21).
The next reference to Beth-Shemesh is as one of the towns in the district realignments during Solomon’s administration (1 Kings 4:9). Beth-Shemesh was later the scene of a confrontation between Jehoash of Israel and Amaziah of Judah in which Jehoash proved the victor, paving the way for his show of force then to destroy a good bit of the fortification wall of Jerusalem (2 Kings 14:11-13).
Chronicles narrates that the town was captured as part of a Philistine raid during the time of Ahaz (2 Chr 28:18) in the late 8th century.
BIBLE ARCHAEOLOGY REPORT: You’ve been the Field Director of the Tel Beth-Shemesh Excavation Project in Israel since 2000. Can you share some of the significant finds that have been unearthed there?
DR. DALE W. MANOR: From the Late Bronze Age, we have uncovered what appears to be a palace probably associated with Nin-Ur-Mah-Mesh, a queen who corresponded with Amenhotep III in the 13th century in the Tell el-Amarna letters. In these letters she warns Amenhotep of the threat that the ‘Apiru pose to her and other surrounding towns. In the palace we uncovered a number of luxury goods from Knossos, Egypt, Cyprus, and Syria.
From roughly the period of the ark episode, we have discovered a temple/shrine which may reflect aspects of a memorial commemorating the presence of the ark at Beth-Shemesh, but this interpretation remains open for further investigation.
Reflections of the early monarchy are evident in the implied administrative oversight and monumental construction of a large cistern and a stable immediately adjacent to it. Contemporary with these is evidence of the earliest known iron smith workshop west of the Jordan River (and roughly contemporary with another just east of the Jordan River in modern Jordan).
Our excavation dealing with the late 8th century B.C. uncovered the ruins of a house which preserved a significant part of a bowl with an elegantly executed incision reading “qodesh” (holy), probably corroborating the presence of a Levitical/priestly element at the site.
While we had thought that Beth-Shemesh came to a screeching end with the Sennacherib campaigns of 701 B.C., the rescue operations anticipating a major highway expansion discovered that the town moved off the tel into the slopes immediately below and to the east where a vibrant olive oil industry developed. The occupation in that area, immediately adjacent to the tel, continued to be occupied off and on until the time of the late Crusades! All of this was totally unknown to the excavation projects of Duncan Mackenzie (1911-1912), of Elihu Grant (1928-1933), and of Bunimovitz and Lederman (1992-) until the discovery of these remains in 2018.
BIBLE ARCHAEOLOGY REPORT: What is the future of the excavations at Tel Beth Shemesh? What do you hope they will reveal?
DR. DALE W. MANOR: Our goal in the next season of excavation (hopefully 2021) is to finish uncovering the temple/shrine which dates to ca. 1100 B.C. We plan to expose the full floor plan of the temple with what accompanying components might be associated with it—any courtyard paraphernalia, etc. We want to identify with whom the temple was associated—Israelite or Canaanite? Another goal is to identify to whom the temple might have been dedicated—was it used as a non-Yahwistic shrine as sometimes characterized Israel during the period of the Judges into the narrative of Samuel, or was it connected in some way with Yahweh?
Of course, as with most excavations, other issues will inevitably rise as we make our way through the remains. This is part of the thrill of archaeology! You never know what you might find!
I want thank Dr. Manor for graciously taking the time to answer my questions and to share with us about the archaeology of Beth Shemesh.
You can learn more about Dr. Dale W. Manor at this website, http://www.dalewmanor.net/index.html
Here is a review of Dr. Manor’s book, Digging Deeper into the Word: The Relevance of Archaeology to Christian Apologetics: https://biblearchaeology.org/research/book-video-reviews/3752-review-of-digging-deeper-into-the-word
It is available for purchase at the ABR Bookstore: https://store.biblearchaeology.org/collections/biblical-archaeology-books/products/abr-bab-346
Disclaimer: I allow each archaeologist to answer in his or her own words and may or may not agree with his or her interpretation of their work.
Title Photo: Courtesy of Dr. Dale W. Manor, Facebook