Israel’s ‘Indiana Jones’ on the trail of Goliath


Gath, one of the five Philistine city-states, is often mentioned in the Torah and its existence is confirmed by ancient Egyptian inscriptions. It is said to be the home of the legendary Goliath and the location where a blinded Sampson knocked down the temple pillars.

Today, the ruins of the city can be found inside Tel Zafit, an Israeli national park, where it has become a major archaeological site. Since 1996, Aren Maeir, professor of archeology at Bar-Ilan University, has been the director of the Tell es-Safi/Gath excavation. He and his team have dug up such remarkable findings as a Philistine temple, the ruins of a Crusader era castle, and countless ritual items dating back to the Iron Age — a period that, Maeir says, would be parallel in biblical terms to the era of the first Temple.”

Prior to the Gath expedition, Maier — who was born in Rochester, NY, and moved to Israel in 1969 at age 11 — has participated in, and directed, numerous archaeological excavations in Israel, including at Jerusalem, Hazor, Yoqneam, Tell Qasile and Beth-Shean. He has unearthed a literal treasure trove of ancient pottery and other artifacts that date back some 3,000 years, many of which are on exhibit in his department of Land Of Israel Studies at Bar-Ilan. Yet what impresses him the most, he said, is the rapidly changing nature of how the work on these archeological sites has evolved over the past two decades.

“Today we have field-labs on our excavation site that allow us to get testing results almost immediately,” he says. “The instant data that we can collect on things such as stones and pottery, or the micro data such as DNA and Carbon-14 is nothing short of miraculous. It allows us to get a rich and immediate reconstruction of daily life from centuries ago, which we upload into the cloud to form an instant digital archive. I would say it is almost as though the profession that I studied some 30 years ago is practically a different vocation from what we are doing now.”

As for an encounter with the Biblical Goliath, Maier hasn’t personally run into him as of yet. However, he and his team has found some artifacts that might hint to King David’s monstrous adversary.  “We uncovered a stone inscription with a pair of names that are very similar to the name Goliath from the Philistine levels of our digging. And there are the inevitable humorous moments when we get asked if a large soaking tub was Goliath’s bathtub, or if the stone archway to a temple might have been Goliath’s temple entrance.

“More important than finding any specific remains on this site is that we get a vivid picture of how people from these ancient cities once lived — where they came from, what their health was; who they were socially and economically involved with.”

Maier, who did his undergraduate and graduate studies at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and did a post-doctorate at the Dibner Institute for the History of Science and Technology and MIT, been been teaching Bar-Ilan since 1992, said this is “a chance to uncover our roots in the land of Israel and deepen our sense of history.”

For information on how to support Aren Maier’s historic excavation in Israel, contact American Friends of Bar-Ilan University, 212-906-3900, AFBIU.org. Source: Bar-Ilan University