The Ancient Biblical City of Be'er Sheva in Israel
The Holy Cities of Israel
What are the holy cities of Israel according to Jewish tradition?
The first of these we shall explore is the desert city known as Be'er Sheva.
What does tradition tell us of this city and of it's origins within the world of the bible and the world of faith?
The Crossroads at the Well
Be'er Sheva is the sixth greatest city in Israel, in terms of population and is also one of the very oldest cities in Israel.
Be'er Sheva also has the title of 'capital of the Negev region.'
At the time of the Patriarch Abraham, Be'er Sheva, which is found at a crossroads, was an important caravan oasis for travellers going to or coming from the desert area. It is a nexus point for regions south (the Negev) east (the Mediterranean) west (The Dead Sea) and north (Hebron).
That Be'er Sheva is located at a confluence of two dry river beds (or wadis) that are only filled during the rainy season, and that are natural roads the rest of the year, is what allows for it's unique claim as a desert oasis.
From where exactly does this water come ? The existence of a great clay soil about 20 feet beneath the city provides for a kind of underground water table that has it's source in the city of Hebron, some twenty miles to the north of Be'er Sheva.
Tell Sheva The archeological mound
Tell-Sheva is an archeological site a few kilometers n.e. of the modern city and contains Be'er Sheva's historical center, The Old City. It also includes the Allenby Garden, Abraham's Well,The Turkish Train Station and other historical sites.
The Covenant at the Well
We can read in Genesis ch.21 of an argument between the King of the Philistines, Abimelech and Abraham, over who exactly had the rights to a well, which in fact Abraham had dug in order to provide water for his family and large numbers of sheep.
As we read in the Torah, God provided a simple miracle to solve the question. As Abraham approached the well with his sheep the water miraculously rose to the surface. This provided certain evidence that the well indeed belonged to Abraham.
After this, Abraham and Abimelech took an oath affirming this great event and then Abraham offered seven of his sheep to Abimelech as witness that the water miraculously rose to greet them.
Hence the name 'Be'er Sheva.' because 'Be'er' in Hebrew means 'well' and 'Sheva' has the connotation of both 'oath' and 'seven'.
The Mission at the Well
Abraham had a four-doored tent that opened onto the four directions, inviting weary travellers to food and refreshment, or as it is also called 'The Tent of Hospitality'.
But the food and water, while they were welcomed by the caravanners after trekking through dry, lonely, barren country and suddenly coming upon an oasis of such abundance, it was really the spiritual gifts that Abraham, and his wife Sara bestowed that were of the most value.
Abraham sought to teach idol worshippers of the One God, the monotheistic God of the Jews. The invisible God of love and justice. He had a 'tent of hospitality' with Sara that sat at a crossroads, and provided material and spiritual 'living water' from the well that is the source of all that is good and sustaining to men everywhere.
Hence the origins of the ancient city of Be'er Sheva (The City of Seven Wells, as it is sometimes translated) had it's beginnings as miraculous place of refreshment for man and beast and above all for the soul.
It was perhaps the first 'mission' of any kind in the world, that sought to spread the idea of the One God to all the earth, through God's first servant and founder of the Jewish race, Abraham.
Abraham and Sara
- CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Bersabee
A town on the southern extremity of Palestine
- Beersheba (BiblePlaces.com)
Pictures and text illuminating the biblical site of Beersheba
- Beer Sheva
Beer Sheva, Archeology in Israel