Tel Arad National Park is in the eastern Negev Desert and occupies 126 acres. Within the park, there are remains of an ancient city occupied by the Canaanite people early in the Bronze Age. A fortress on the site was built by the kings of Judah later in the Iron Age.
Arad was ruled by kings and is mentioned in the Old Testament,
"The king of Arad, the Canaanite, who dwelt in the South, heard that Israel was coming on the road to Atharim. Then he fought against Israel and took some of them prisoners" (Numbers 21:1).
"Here is a list of the kings of the land that Joshua and the Israelites conquered on the west side of the Jordan, from Baal Gad in the Valley of Lebanon to Mount Halak, which rises toward Seir. Joshua gave their lands as an inheritance to the tribes of Israel according to their tribal divisions... the king of Arad - one."
The Book of Judges also tells of the Kenite people who settled in Arad,
"Now the children of the Kenite, Moses' father-in-law, went up from the city of Palms with the children of Judah into the Wilderness of Judah, which lies south near Arad; and they went and dwelt among the people" (Judges 1:16).
The area was excavated by Israeli archaeologists Ruth Amiran and Yohanan Aharoni in 1962-1984. The city ruins were built on a low hill (or tel) about 100 feet high located next to the route that connected Egypt and Canaan.
The first settlement was likely in the 4th millennium BC. Initially, the city was a small village which grew into a large frontier city with a wall nearly 4000 ft long, a palace, temples, dwellings and markets by the 3d millennium BC.
The inhabitants of the city sustained themselves through desert agriculture, raising cattle and trade. Copper trading was particularly important because the city was along the route to copper mining centers in the Negev and Egypt. To ensure adequate water, rain was channeled from the roofs of the buildings and collected into a natural pit which served as a large reservoir. The Canaanite city ceased to exist in 2650 BC.
The settlement of the Kingdom of Judah was at the top of the hill and was a military camp of the southern frontier of the Land of Judah. The settlement was established approximately in the 10 th century BC and was built nearly square (180 by 164 ft) around a courtyard.
Within the fortress, a unique temple was discovered which was almost a minuture copy of the temple of God in Jerusalem. Inside the temple's courtyard, a sacrificial altar was found. There was also a room with a ritual holy stone (called Masseba ) in the middle of it with an incense altar on either side. Within the fortress, there is a water system which consists of a large plastered reservoir with a capacity of 105,669 US gallons.
Altogether, seven settlement strata (layers) were discovered on top of the hill (tel) from the period of the Kingdom of Judah. Most of the excavated ruins have been reconstructed and preserved. More than a hundred ostracas (potsherds used for writing) with Hebrew and Aramaic inscriptions were unearthed during the excavation containing the names of the families of the priests from Jerusalem,
"On the fourth day, in the house of our God, we weighed out the silver and gold and the sacred articles into the hands of Meremoth son of Uriah, the priest"
"When the priest Pashhur son of Immer, the official in charge of the temple of the Lord, heard Jeremiah prophesying these things..." (Jeremiah 20:1).
Two other potsherds also have interesting inscriptions on them. One mentions "the house of YHWH" and the other says “the king of Edom who was threatening the residents of Arad”.
(to be continued...)