Elah Valley is a seemingly ordinary valley located on the western edge of the Judah low hills. Widely known as the battleground for David and Goliath, people are reminded of the truth that with God no enemy is too great or obstacle too large. With an average height of 300 meters above sea level, Elah Valley holds immense history, biblical context, and archaeological significance ready to be disinterred.
Hebrews also recognize this place as “the valley of terebinth.” The Hebrew name comes from the large and shady terebinth (Pistacia paleaestina) trees native to the area. One of the largest terebinths in the area is located on the west side of the valley. Standing 55 feet tall, 17 feet in circumference, and providing shade more than 75 feet across this terebinth tree is a famous shrub marking the upper end of the Elah Valley.
In the past, Elah Valley was an important Roman road from the center of Judah and its cities Bethlehem, Hebron, and Jerusalem to the coastal cities. The road on this section is part of the ancient road from Ashkelon, a popular Roman port city on the coast, to Bethlehem and Jerusalem. Repaired and enlarged during Roman Caesar Hadrian’s campaign, after he crushed the Jews in the Bar Kochba revolt in 132-136AD (The Valley of Elah, 2017). Bar-Kochba and his troops made their last stand against the force of the Roman armies in Betar, an armored village located near the route.
More recently, the Elah Valley has been described as “one of the most fertile districts in Palestine.” A kibbutz or farming community in Israel was established in 1949 in the center of the valley. This kibbutz is named Halamed-Hei, “the path of 35”, after the convoy to Gush-Etzion who was killed during the Independence War. Beside the valley are fields of agriculture and the Elah stream which is dry most of the year. A nature preserve is located near the road between the kibbutz and western edge of the valley, lined with the rare “Shittah Malbina” trees. The Bible refers to the Shittah as a desert tree in Isaiah 41:19. These trees are unique and look like African prairie, lands not often seen in Israel. A group of Shittah Malbina trees can be found east of the Elah junction in the center of the road. The road was constructed as a divided highway in order to protect the trees. On the east side of the valley, a large satellite relay center was constructed in the early 1970s to primarily broadcast television. This station is complete with an antenna farm containing 120 satellite dishes of various sizes (The Valley of Elah, 2017).
Five valleys from the Philistine Plain to the Hill Country of Judea offered convenient passageways running in an east-west direction. These passageways, specifically the Elah Valley, were so accessible they had to be attentively guarded. Connecting the Philistine city of Gath and the Judahite city of Bethlehem, this valley was between the hometowns of Goliath and David and the battleground for one of the most classic biblical stories.
The Bible mentions several sites around the valley where the Israelites and Philistines were located to survey the battle: Azeka, Shaaraim, and Socoh. 1 Samuel 17: 2 sets up the scene when “Saul and the men of Israel were gathered together, and pitched by the valley of Elah, and set the battle array against the Philistines.” During King Saul’s reign, the Philistine army held five towns named Ashdod, Gat, Ashkelon, Gaza, and Ekron. From these towns, they launched attacks against the Israelites. To visualize, the Philistines were located on the south side of the valley, while the Israelites watched the battle on the north side. The Philistines combined in a hill above the Valley of Elah and taunted the Jews with the giant Goliath.
With the Philistines commanding the coastal plain and the Hebrews domineering the Hill Country of Judea, the barrier between these enemies was the Shephelah, meaning foothills or lowlands (Zechariah 7:7, 2 Chronicles 26:10). Judah’s control of the Shephelah aided as an accurate gauge of Israel’s strength.
The Philistines used the Elah Valley to strike Judah even after the futile battle of Goliath. After David was anointed king, they assailed through the same route to confine Bethlehem in 1 Chronicles 14:8-17. During the reign of King Ahaz around 734 BC, they seized Socoh and the towns around it (2 Chronicles 28:18-19). In addition, the Babylonians passed through the Elah Valley in their defeat of Judah in 597-582 BC (Jeremiah 34:1, 7).
The five valleys evacuate rainwater that falls in the Hill Country and deposits it in the Mediterranean Sea. Today, a small bridge spans the brook in the Elah Valley. Stones similar to those David picked up are interspersed in the dry stream bed.
Until recently, archaeological records of Judea have been almost nonexistent. Some scholars even believed the kingdom of Judah to be a myth created centuries later. However, archaeologists concerned with the excavation have come to an agreement that this place was occupied by the earliest urban civilization of Judah. To date, items discovered at the site include ceramics and the earliest Hebrew text dating back to 10th century B.C.
Researchers of the Hebrew University and the Israel Antiquities Authority uncovered two royal public buildings. The archeological site is located 30 kilometers southwest of Jerusalem, near the Kibbutz Halamed Hei. Examiners hope the area will be made a national park in the near future.
Professor Yossi Garfinkel is one researcher from Hebrew University who identified the two buildings as David’s palace and the other as an enormous royal storeroom. According to Professor Garfinkel, “Khirbet Qeiyafa is the best example exposed to date of a fortified city from the time of King David” (King David’s Palace Uncovered in Elah Valley, 2013). The top of the large palace is exposed at the top of the city across from the Elah Valley. Until this excavation, no palaces have as clearly revealed and pointed to the 10th century B.C. as these two buildings.
The archaeological findings are pointing to the Elah Valley’s vast historical and biblical significance. A common economical passageway was also incredibly the site for one of the greatest battle stories in the Bible. Tourists today are amazed by the simple beauties found in the area and almost unchanging nature compared the centuries long ago.