At Tel Beit Shemesh, An Ancient Biblical Site Transforms Into A Nature Reserve
Paths full of flowers crisscross the area, with Byzantine remains at the higher level, and the walls and buildings of a not-well-enough-fortified Israelite town below.
Part of the territory allotted to the Levites, the biblical town of Beit Shemesh was settled by Israelites in the 11th or 10th century B.C.E. There were already Jews living there when, during a battle with the Israelites, the Philistines captured the Ark of the Covenant. But when they realized that the ark brought them nothing but trouble, the Philistines decided to return it to the Israelites and sent it to Beit Shemesh.
While Beit Shemesh was important enough for mention in the Scriptures nearly two dozen times, in January and early February the ancient biblical site takes on the look of a nature reserve. Indeed, just now it is covered with blood-red anemones, a flower that the early Greeks thought was created out of vengeance, or tears.
Europeans were suspicious of the anemone and thought the lovely flower carried diseases. They believed that even the air around the anemone was poisonous and people customarily held their breath while running through a field of anemones. And the English once believed that the anemone possessed magical properties. They recommended that their countrymen pick the earliest anemone they saw, and keep it as a charm against pestilence. It was carefully wrapped in silk and carried as an amulet or charm about the person.
Walking paths full of flowers crisscross Tel Beit Shemesh (House of the Sun), whose higher portion is full of Byzantine remains that include ruins from a large, fortified monastery. At a much lower level, however, visitors can view walls and buildings that belonged to the well-fortified Israelite town. Not fortified well-enough, however, for Beit Shemesh was apparently destroyed by the Assyrians in 701 BCE.