Prof. Aren Maeir: Unearthing Our Biblical Past

When Prof. Aren Maeir , Director of the Ackerman Family Bar-Ilan University Expedition to Gath, heads out into the field every summer to continue his 20-year-long dig at the Tell es-Safi archaeological site, he is joined by an international team of trained archaeologists, as well as students and volunteers from the US, Canada, the UK, the Far East, Eastern Europe and Israel.

 

Prof. Aren Maeir, Director of the Ackerman Family Bar-Ilan University Expedition to Gath, heads out into the field every summer to continue his 20-year-long dig at the Tell es-Safi archaeological site, he is joined by an international team of trained archaeologists, as well as students and volunteers from the US, Canada, the UK, the Far East, Eastern Europe and Israel.

The archaeological excavations in Tell es-Safi , located in the Judean Foothills, about halfway between Jerusalem and Ashkelon, is commonly identified by most scholars as the Philistine city of Gath – the home of the biblical Goliath, and where the blinded, captured Samson knocked down the pillars of the city’s temple. One of the biggest digs in the Levant, discoveries at Tell es-Safi have yielded rich finds illustrating the cultural history of the area, as well as one of the earliest Semitic inscriptions ever found in Israel.

“From the biblical text it would appear that Gath was the most important of the early Philistine cities," explains Prof. Maeir. It was from Gath that Goliath came, and it was the king of Gath, Achish, who played an important role in the story of the young King David.”

Born in New York, Prof. Maeir, Full Professor at the BIU’s Martin (Szusz) Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology, says he became fascinated with archaeology at an early age: “I was always interested in ancient things and enjoyed the outdoors- archaeology was the best combination of the two.” Luckily, Maeir’s parents decided to make Aliyah when he was still a kid. He believes that had they stayed in the US, he would probably be an MD today. But growing up in Israel, the setting of so many of the biblical stories, Maeir, who studied in the Hebrew University, became enamored with the cultural and historical aspects of biblical archaeology. “As a child, my family visited archeological sites, including exciting excavations then taking place in the vicinity of Jerusalem’s Western Wall," whetting his appetite for exploring history hidden among the rocks.

 

Maeir’s specialty is the history, culture and environment of Tell es-Safi/Gath in the last 5-6 millennia. “As such,” says Maeir, “I study the remains of various cultures (e.g. Canaanite, Philistine, Judaic, Crusader, Ottoman), and periods (e.g. Bronze Age, Iron Age, Persian, Medieval and Modern), utilizing an inter- and multi-disciplinary approach. I've placed particular emphasis on the Bronze and Iron Age cultures, with specific focus on the Philistines."

Maeir and his team have dug up some remarkable findings. In 2010, they unearthed a Philistine Temple, as well as a number of ritual items dating back to the Iron Age (10th century BCE). Another impressive find is evidence of a cataclysm in the 8th century BCE reminiscent of the earthquake mentioned in the Book of Amos. In 2012, they discovered a 3,000 year-old stone altar, , similar to descriptions of biblical altars.. And just this summer, the team uncovered what may be the dig’s greatest find yet – the fortifications and entrance gate of the biblical city of Gath .

 

The author of more than 140 scholarly publications, Maeir considers his findings as his proudest professional achievement to date. “The ongoing research that we are conducting at Tell es-Safi/Gathhas changed how we understand the Philistine culture – its   origins, development and relationship with contemporary cultures (such as the Judahites). This I see as one of the highlights of my career."
For more on Prof. Maeir click here.