Beth Zur

BETH ZUR (bĕth zûr, Heb. bêth tsûr, house of rock). One of Judea’s strongest natural fortresses in the mountains of Judah, near Halhul and Gedor (Josh.15.58). It was fortified by Rehoboam (2Chr.11.7). Nehemiah, son of Azbuk and ruler of half of Beth Zur, helped to repair the wall of Jerusalem (Neh.3.16). Known as Bethsura in Maccabean times, it was an important military stronghold, where Judas Maccabeus defeated the Greek army under Lysias (1Macc.4.28-1Macc.4.34). It is now Beit Sur, four miles (seven km.) north of Hebron, near the main road from Hebron to Jerusalem.


BETH-ZUR, BETHZUR bĕth zûr’ (בֵּֽית־צֽוּר; Βαιθσούρ, house of rock). Beth-zur was a town in the Judean mountains that was founded by the people of Maon, the descendant of Hebron, one of Caleb’s posterity (1 Chron 2:45). It is now universally identified by all scholars with Khirbet eṭ-Tubeiqah which is about 4 1/2 m. N of Hebron and 1 1/4 m. NW of Ḥalḥul. The transfer of the town to burğ es-sūr which preserves the ancient name, took place in the Byzantine period.

The three Biblical references to this site are: Joshua 15:58 (listed with Ḥalḥul and Gedor), 2 Chronicles 11:7 (one of fifteen cities Rehoboam fortified for the defense of the southern kingdom), and Nehemiah 3:16 (a certain “Nehemiah the son of Azbuk” was “the ruler of half the district of Beth-zur”).

The greatest number of references belong to the Maccabean times when Bethsura (the Gr. form of Heb. Beth-zur) functioned as a strategic fortress. In episode after episode, this town figures as a strategic frontier town which was disputed between Judea and Idumea. Judas Maccabeus with ten thousand men met the Seleucid general Lysias with his sixty thousand men at Bethsura in 165 b.c. (1 Macc 4:28, 29; Josephus, Antiq. XII. vii. 5). The resulting battle was a rousing success for Judas as they slew five thousand men from the army of Lysias. Lysias was forced to return to Antiochia (Antioch) to enlarge his army with “a company of strangers” as “he purposed to come again into Judea” (4:35); meanwhile Judas fortified Beth-sura “that the people might have a stronghold that faced Idumea” (4:61; 6:7, 26).

Antiochus Epiphanes died and Lysias promptly set his son Antiochus V, called Eupator, in his stead (6:17; Jos. Antiq, XII. ix). This Seleucid and Lysias were victorious over Judas and his forces in 162 b.c. and Beth-sura fell into their hands under a murderous attack of thirty elephants used as tanks, one hundred thousand foot soldiers and twenty thousand horsemen (6:31-47) and a siege of the city which came at the time of the sabbatical year when their food supplies were low inside the city of Bethsura (6:48ff.). Having secured the site, Antiochus V stationed one of his garrisons there (Jos. Antiq. XII. ix. 4-7).


The mound of Khirbet eṭ-Ṭubeiqah was excavated by an American expedition in 1931 under the direction of O. R. Sellers and W. F. Albright. The task was again resumed in 1957 under O. R. Sellers’ direction.

Evidence for an Early Bronze Age occupation was very sporadic since the site yielded only a few handfuls of Early Bronze potsherds. It was not until the Middle Bronze Age II (19th-16th cent. b.c.) that there is evidence for any settlements. Surprisingly, it had a large population during the Hyksos period (the latter part of MB II) as is attested by the typical massive fortification walls. A few jar handles with the Hyksos designs are in evidence. In the 15th cent. the city was destroyed and remained unoccupied throughout the Late Bronze period. A 13th or 12th cent. Israelite occupation is ended by a burning level in the mid-11th cent. (Philistine wars?). Another occupation gap exists in the 10th and 9th centuries, which raises the question of Rehoboam’s fortification of this city in the late 10th cent., and a large occupation in the 8th and 7th centuries. The city was destroyed during Nebuchadnezzar’s invasion of the country and a small collection of evidence belongs to the Pers. period of Nehemiah’s day. The Ptolemies are represented esp. by some coins, the Seleucids by 173 coins (124 of which belonged to Antiochus IV Epiphanes), the Maccabees by eighteen coins and John Hyrcanus by sixteen coins.

Sometime around 100 b.c. the town was abandoned.

Bibliography

O. R. Sellers and W. F. Albright, “The First Campaign of Excavation at Beth-zur,” BASOR, 43 (1931), 2-13; O. R. Sellers, “The 1957 Campaign at Beth-zur,” BA, 21 (1958), 71-76; R. W. Funk, BASOR, 150 (1958), 8-20; O. R. Sellers, The Citadel of Beth-zur (1933), for coins see pp. 73, 74, fig. 72.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

(beth-tsur; Baith-sour, "house of rock"; less probably "house of the god Zur"):

(1) Mentioned (Jos 15:58) as near Halhul and Gedor in the hill country of Judah; fortified by Rehoboam (2Ch 11:7). In Ne 3:16 mention is made of "Nehemiah the son of Azbuk, the ruler of half the district of Beth-zur." During the Maccabean wars it (Bethsura) came into great importance (1 Macc 4:29,61; 6:7,26,31,49,50; 9:52; 10:14; 11:65; 14:7,33). Josephus describes it as the strongest place in all Judea (Ant., XIII, v, 6). It was inhabited in the days of Eusebius and Jerome.

(2) It is the ruined site Belt Cur, near the main road from Jerusalem to Hebron, and some 4 miles North of the latter. Its importance lay in its natural strength, on a hilltop dominating the highroad, and also in its guarding the one southerly approach for a hostile army by the Vale of Elah to the Judean plateau. The site today is conspicuous from a distance through the presence of a ruined medieval tower. (See PEF, III, 311, Sh XXI).