Biblical Archaeology Review 45:4, July/August September/October 2019

Strata: Highway Through History

A Judean settlement was recently uncovered east of Tel Beth Shemesh, about 20 miles west of Jerusalem. Dating from the end of the Iron Age, the findings have upended our understanding of the Kingdom of Judah under Assyrian rule in the seventh century B.C.E. It had been assumed that the ancient city of Beth Shemesh—known from the biblical story of the return of the Ark of the Covenant—was abandoned following its destruction by King Sennacherib, in 701 B.C.E. New discoveries, however, reveal that the city was reestablished and became an important center.

These discoveries received much attention—almost as much as the fact that they were made ahead of the planned expansion of Route 38, which transects the historical site west of the modern city of Beth Shemesh.

As with similar projects, a rescue excavation was conducted to ensure that the new construction would not obliterate unique historical evidence. The ensuing controversy over how to modernize critical infrastructure without endangering the ancient site led to a compromise project, which will reduce damage to the archaeological site in exchange for work delays and a higher cost.

On March 19, an exhibition opened at the Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem that presents artifacts discovered during the rescue excavation. Titled Highway Through History, it engages visitors in the contemporary dilemma of cultural heritage preservation versus urban development and modernization.

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