Beer Sheva

Beer Sheva is the town most highly identified with the Patriarchs, being the residence of Isaac and Jacob. Abraham, in fact, named the city by calling it “the Well of the Oath,” being the place where his covenant with Abimelech (the Philistine king of Gerar) was made. According to Genesis (Gen 21:27 and 31): "Wherefore he called that place Beersheba; because there they both of them swore an oath."

The well and the tamarisk tree outside the gates of the city of Beer Sheva are important to both the Jewish and Christian religious pilgrim. The tamarisk tree near the well that is visited today is considered similar to one under which Abraham may have sat when making his pact with Abimelech, being suitable to the climate of the Negev with its deep roots for sustainability.

Beer Sheva is thought to have been populated in the Chalcolithic period, 1500 years before Abraham turned up, around the same time as Beit Shean. It became known as a location where Abraham and many descendants stopped on their north-south treks along what has fondly been called “the Patriarchs’ Highway.” Jewelry, pottery and other ornamented basket work were excavated there, attesting to a culture with skilled craftsman.

The Biblical expression “from Dan to Beersheba” indicates that the town was the southernmost tip of the ancient land of Israel when the Jews returned after the Exodus from Egypt; the Tribe of Simeon was allotted Beer Sheva. Returning after another exile, this time escaping Babylonian captivity in the 6th century BCE, Beer Sheva was again one of the towns that the Jews settled. Naturally, the Roman and Byzantine periods saw action in Beer Sheva and other nearby locations, as they did in nearly every square mile of the Holy Land. At Tel Sheva, excavations reveal remains of a mosaic floor from a Byzantine church.

Beer Sheva didn’t really transform into a modern town until 1900 when the Turks built a small town to serve the needs of governing the Negev Bedouin tribes who lived there. Until then Beer Sheva had really been just a collection of wells where Bedouin watered their flocks. Awarded to the Egyptians as part of the Partition Plan by the UN, they fortified it strongly but were overcome in Israel’s “Operation Ten Plagues” campaign which ended on October 21, 1948. A few weeks later, the late Maestro Leonard Bernstein conducted the newly named Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in a concert for the soldiers in Beer Sheva. The town grew over the next 60 years to nearly 175,000 residents, including many immigrants from the former Soviet Union. Beer Sheva has had an orchestra of its own for more than 30 years, though in the early days of the State, it seemed like a “wild west” frontier town. Once a considerable trek from the center of Israel, today Beer Sheva is a mere hour away from Jerusalem.

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