Beth-Eglaim

BETH-EGLAIM bĕth ĕg’ lĭ əm (בֵת־עֶגְלַיִם, house of the two calves; Βηθαγλαίμ).

This ancient name not mentioned in the OT (but see Eusebius’ Onomasticon, 48, 19, 20) is now identified with the mound excavated by Sir Flinders Petrie. Its modern name is Tell el-’Ajjul, “mound of the little calf.” This mound lies four m. SW of Gaza on the N side of the mouth of Wadi Ghuzzeh near the seacoast. It covers about twenty-eight to thirty acres, which is a large site for ancient times; e.g. twice the size of Megiddo and three times or more the size of Jerusalem according to C. C. McCown. The site is no longer an impressive one since sand dunes have drifted in from the seaward side and deep irregular gullies have formed from the erosion of the centuries. What may have once been a natural harbor is now silted in and the marshes and malaria-bearing mosquitoes make the place a forbidden area except in the winter. Some commentators have speculated on the possible connection that may exist between this southernmost spot in Philistia with its name of “the house (or mound) of the two calves” and the “two calves of gold” made by Jeroboam (1 Kings 12:28).

Petrie identified Tell el-’Ajjul with the site of the original ancient Gaza. He believed that this site was abandoned because of the same malaria which almost wiped out one hundred of his workmen the first year they excavated. Then the city moved to the site of modern Gaza at the beginning of the Late Bronze period.

Petrie began to dig in the autumn of 1930, but was stopped by the malaria until the cold weather came. That winter they drained the marshes, so that they were able to work there for four winter campaigns from 1930-1934. Petrie called the earliest level “Copper Age” but this was later corrected by W. F. Albright on the basis of a revised pottery chronology to the 22nd and 21st centuries.

Some of the best examples of Hyksos fortifications come from the “Palace I” period of Petrie. On the S side, the mound was protected by a sandstone bluff which rose fifty ft. above the wadi. The other three sides had the typical fosse or large ditch extending around the mound for about three-quarters of a m. long. On approaching the city one would find a twenty ft. drop into the fosse, and then an upward slope of one hundred and fifty ft. at a thirty-five degree angle (forming the much lauded terre pisée of Hyksos fortifications) with the only entrance in evidence on the NE side where a series of tunnels and siege works of an enemy were found.

Petrie was immensely successful in finding great hordes of movable property like jewelry, bronze weapons, pottery, scarabs, and other objects of gold, silver, ivory and basalt. He also hit upon the best buildings that the site could offer; some preserved up to a height of eight ft. with some doorways even intact. This is due to the experience and the sheer common sense exercised by the excavator, e.g., to find the best place to dig for the finer homes on the site, he is alleged to have wet his finger and tested for the wind direction placing the homes upwind and the stables and related smells down wind. When the security of the excavated gold objects became a problem he noisily sent off many crates allegedly containing the gold, only to have filled the shipped crates with sand!

“Palace II” represented the era after the Hyksos and “Palace III” was apparently just an Egyp. fortress on the caravan route. “Palace IV” fell in the 14th and 13th centuries again according to Albright’s revision and “Palace V” is represented by a series of tombs in the 10th and 9th centuries.

Petrie believed he found evidence for hippophagy, or horse eating, in a foundation sacrifice under “Palace IV.” The shoulders and left thigh were removed from the remains, and this the excavator alleged was used in the feast before the remainder was placed in a five foot deep pit. If this interpretation is true, it would fit the horse culture of the Hyksos of “Palace I” era. In addition, there would be other burials of donkeys and sometimes horses, donkeys and men are all found crushed together in the same tomb. The problem is as puzzling as it is interesting.

Bibliography

F. Petrie, Ancient Gaza I-IV, The Egyptian Research Account and the British School of Archaeology in Egypt, LIII-LVI (1931-34); W. F. Albright, “The Chronology of a South Palestinian city, Tell-el-’Ajjul,” AJSL, LV (1938), 337-359; C. C. McCown, Ladder of Progress in Palestine (1943), 126-130; K. Kenyon, “Tombs of the Intermediate Early Bronze—Middle Bronze Age at Tell Ajjul,” Annual of the Department of Antiquities, Jordan, III (1956), 41-55; G. E. Wright, “The Archaeology of Palestine,” in The Bible and the Near East (ed. G. E. Wright) (1961), 87, 88, 91, 92, 106, 107; Y. Aharoni, The Land of the Bible: A Historical Geography (1967), 73, 90, 91, 135, 136.