Join me (and the Hellenistic Egyptian Griffin!) on my upcoming 7,000-mile journey back to the 3rd century BCE, to the cross-roads of Middle Eastern trade and culture in the ancient city of Maresha…
Welcome to the online chronicle of my upcoming summer research project archaeological odyssey through Hellenistic Israel, generously made possible by the Nathan Jacobs Foundation. My goal this summer is to explore the cultural life of an era Israel’s ancient past often overlooked by academics, tourists, biblical scholars, my grandmother, and even classical studies majors. Welcome to Judea in the 3rd century BCE. To provide some historical context, it was during this period that the Great Wall of China was first being constructed; Hannibal was busy transporting elephants and soldiers across the Alps to fight Rome; the Ptolemies of Egypt were proclaiming themselves gods; the Jews of Alexandria began the Septuagint, and the Maya in Mexico were working on their first hieroglyphs. But as initial research for this project has indicated, the obvious place to be during this period was Maresha (also lovingly referred to in history as Betogabris, Eleutheropolis, Marissa, Tel Sandahanna, Beit Jibrin, Bet Giblin, Bet Guvrin, Gibelin, Mareshah).
As a student of history, I usually concern myself with past lives and the written record left behind, but as a student of archaeology this summer, I will be taking this operation underground. One of the best ways to understand ancient life—especially without the benefit of a written history—is to look at the culture of the dead. (And the citizens of Maresha are dying to share…) My goal for this project, “From the Nile to the Negev” is to investigate the function of the Hellenistic-era necropolis at Maresha as a contact zone of Phoenician, Greek, and Egyptian influence. More specifically, I will be looking at some [in the words of my advisor, Professor Molly Swetnam-Burland] “super cool” Hellenistic era funerary paintings, material culture, and graffiti in Tombs I and II of the necropolis. Several of the frescoes depict exotic animals unique to Egypt, such as the rhinoceros, crocodile, elephant, and hippopotamus. (It’s the one place you can find a safari in Israel.) The painter displays unusual awareness of ancient Egyptian (and Ptolemaic) imagery, in addition to Phoenician and Greek culture. The end result of this research will be to further inform our understanding of the complex cultural identity of the tomb’s occupants as Phoenician rulers of a Hellenistic city in 3rd century BCE Judea.
Some Historical Background…
Located in Beit Guvrin National Park, approximately twenty miles southwest of Jerusalem, Maresha traces its history from its Judahite origins in the First Temple Period through Edomite, Hellenistic, Hasmonean, and Roman conquest. During the Babylonian exile, the area was settled by Phoenicians and Ptolemaic Greeks, who gave the city a new Hellenistic identity. In the Hellenistic period (c. 6th-1st century BCE), Israel was a fundamental crossroads for Jewish, Greek, Phoenician, Egyptian, and Nabatean culture, and the extraordinary preservation of many of these desert cities and landmarks also makes Israel a fundamental crossroads for Hellenistic archaeologists. The Hellenistic Period saw the city prosper as the center for business and trade in the region of Idumaea. The goal of my study is to carry out a cultural analysis of the Painted Tombs of Maresha, building upon current historical and archaeological data in order to better understand the relationship between Phoenician, Greek, Egyptian, and Jewish culture during the Hellenistic Period.
Thanks for visiting– please stop by again to track the journey and the course of my research here and abroad this summer. Any and all comments, questions, and feedback from students, faculty, or other visitors are both welcome and appreciated.