Tourist Tip #90 / Biblical Be'er Sheva

In light of the current situation, it helps to remember that Biblical Isaac and Ishmael both trace their roots to Be'er Sheva, the desert town settled by their father, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Be’er Sheva is not the first place you might think of as coexistence capital of the world, but when you realize that it’s the city the Bible says was founded by Abraham, granddad, through Isaac and Ishmael, of both the Jews and the Arabs, you can see the potential. At the very least, considering Abraham’s enduring commitment to the one God, we can consider his ancient home, which was a crossroads of the region in antiquity,  to be the “cradle of monotheism.” UNESCO concurred, determining that Be'er Sheva has the “outstanding unique universal value” to warrant being named a World Heritage Site.

It’s one of the things to ponder as you stand at the well outside the ancient gate of Tel Be’er Sheba, now a national park east of the eponymous modern city, on the impressive seam between the “desert and the sown” – the arid Negev and the well-watered cultivated  Judean lowlands and mountains. It’s rare to find such a deep well – dug right down to the water table, 70 meters below --  hewn outside a city gate, where it could not be protected. Especially when this city has an entire, incredibly complex water system inside its walls – by the way, an adventure to explore and a high point of your visit. This well, which may go back as far as the 12th century BCE, might have been where ancient travelers, say, in King Solomon’s time, paused to remember the patriarch who founded the city.

Wells were a central motif in that dramatic tale of the city’s founding. Perhaps the ancients believed that this was the very well the Bible says Abraham dug to water his flocks, which Abimelech, a neighboring king, promptly proceeded to expropriate. Now comes the coexistence tie-in: According to Genesis 21:24-31, what could have ended with an all-too-familiar Middle Eastern scrum ended when the two leaders made peace, swearing allegiance to each other. Hence, the Bible explains, the name of the city: Be’er Sheva, the “well of the oath.” For good measure, since sheva also means “seven,” Abraham swore, by a gift to his ex-adversary of seven lambs, that he had dug the well first.  Your tour of the site will take in the gates and walls, dwellings and storehouses and the famed “horned altar” recalling more biblical tales. From the lookout tower rising high above the tell you can feel absolutely patriarchal/matriarchal, as you survey all that was theirs.    

Opening hours: Summer: 8 A.M.–5 P.M; winter until 4 P.M. Tel. 08-646-7286

According to the Bible, Abraham (pictured) and Abimelech struck a deal to share a well, modeling an example of coexistence that we could use today.