The mysterious rock tombs of the pre-Israelites

I will get back to the Jon Levenson book on the love of God, which is my current project.  But I have been distracted by some amazing archeological discoveries that have shown up in the news in recent days.

Yesterday I posted about some finds in Egypt.

Today I want to link to this article about a new finding associated with Gonen Sharon, an Israeli professor.  The Israelis have excavated a big dolmen overlooking the Hula Valley.  This dolmen has rock drawings.

In Bashan–Golan Heights–and north of the Sea of Galilee we find many very old dolmens and standing stones.  These mostly date to a time before the biblical patriarchs.  But they have been there ever since and people knew of them and reused them in biblical times.  The standing stones or masseboth probably continued to have religious meaning.

One interesting idea is that the statement in Deuteronomy 3:11 about King Og’s iron bed derives from these dolmens.  The NET Bible translates:

Only King Og of Bashan was left of the remaining Rephaites. (It is noteworthy that his sarcophagus was made of iron. Does it not, indeed, still remain in Rabbath of the Ammonites? It is thirteen and a half feet long and six feet wide according to standard measure.)

His “bed” was his resting place, that is his bier or sarcophagus.  It may have been decorated with iron. Indeed, all the legends about giants having once lived in that land (the Raphaites) may have come from later people trying to imagine the kind of people who moved big rocks and set up these Stonehenge-like structures.

One possibility about the dolmens as tombs is that they were used for excarnation. That is, bodies were exposed on top of the dolmens until the flesh was gone.  Then the bones were put inside the dolmens.

The question of how people built them is still being asked.  The article linked above raises the possibility that during a period of the early and middle bronze age when we do not find evidence of urban life, there still may have been a  sophisticated society:

“Even though we don’t have any regular archaeological evidence, like cities and towns and tels, it doesn’t mean there’s nothing here,” said Sharon. The Mongol Empire, the largest land empire in history, was forged by tent-dwellers who left little trace, he argued.

“Dolmens suggest we’re looking at a much more complex governmental system. To build this kind of dolmen you have to gather enough people, you have to feed these people, you have to accommodate these people, you have to have the architectural and construction knowledge, and you must have a boss. Somebody needs to tell them what to do.”

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About theoutwardquest

I have many interests, but will blog mostly about what I read in the fields of Bible and religion.
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