Ashkelon and the Missed Opportunity to Bless the Nations
In Genesis 12, God promises to make Abraham a great nation and to give the land of Canaan to his descendants. He also promises that in Abraham, the families of the earth would be blessed. By the book of Joshua, God has made good on his promises to make Abraham into a great nation. He has delivered Abraham’s descendants from slavery in Egypt. However, God will not send Israel to the far reaches of the world (yet) in order to bless the nations. Rather he will place Israel in the strategic land of Canaan so that Israel can show forth the goodness of God’s rule to those traveling along its many vital trade routes. As God’s people enter the Promised Land, they are allotted parcels by tribe. Joshua 15:45-47 records that the tribe of Judah received land on the coastal plain spanning from the mountains all the way to the Mediterranean Sea. The book of Judges notes that the tribe of Judah take many of the cities in this region but are never able to fully capture it. Rather it is the Philistines who will occupy the southern coastal plain in the years to come. The Former Prophets will constantly attest to the hostility between Israel and the Philistines. Assuming that God intended to use the land allotted to Judah to fulfill his promise to bless the nations through Israel, I wanted to study a city on the coastal plain in Philistia. Who were these people interacting with? Who could Israel have blessed if they been able to secure the land? An initial survey of Philistine cities led me to Ashkelon, which is a bit off of the major trade routes but on the coast. Ashkelon, with its connections to the sea would likely have some different and some overlapping trade interactions with their Israelite neighbors to the east. I also was fascinated with knowing more about the Philistines and their interactions with the other nations in the Levant. Ashkelon also, is the site of recent and ongoing excavation work, which made it an attractive choice. Thus, I settled on studying Ashkelon to begin to understand what opportunities to bless the nations lay at its port. I chose to focus my study on the Late Bronze Age to Iron II Age in order to use the most relevant data.
Ashkelon: Its Name and Geographic Location The name “Ashkelon” derives its name from the Semitic root t-q-l (or s-q-l) meaning “to weigh” from which the Hebrew word “shekel” comes from.1 In classical times, the city lent its name to a special variety of onion grown there and thus, “scallion” and “shallot” enter the English language as a reminder of Ashkelon’s horticultural past. The ancient city of Ashkelon is situated on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea about 63 kilometers south of Tel Aviv and 16 kilometers north of Gaza in the southern coast of modern day Israel. It is situated on the southern part of the coastal plain. The southern coastal plain is typically dry, receiving only 45 days of rain per year. Ashkelon, like many of the cities on the coastal plain must rely on the water table to supply the much needed water for sustaining life. With no natural harbor on the Mediterranean coast in Palestine, it in uncertain why certain locations were selected as port cities over others. It is likely that the plentiful water wells beneath the site were discovered by the primitive settlers of Ashkelon.2
The site itself is demarcated by a semicircular arc of Middle Bronze earthworks 2 km long and 40 m at places. The settlement enclosed within spans from the Chalcolithic period to the Malmuk era. Ashkelon was quite a large city in comparison with many other cities in the Levant. The inhabited area of the city is over 60 acres which had up to 15,000 inhabitants at various times. Biblical and Extra-biblical References to the City Part of the early intrigue of Ashkelon stemmed from the mentions of the city in association with the Pentapolis of the Philistines.3 The name Ashkelon is mentioned 13 times in 12...
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