The “Why” Series (by Dr. Kyle Keimer)
This blog series focuses on five biblical sites and considers, why this site? Why was the specific site important? Why was the site important to the biblical author(s) and/or their audience? And, why, or does the site’s significance continue until today? The sites that will be highlighted included: Jerusalem, Shechem, Bethlehem, Capernaum, and Megiddo. Each has a story to tell for us today. As we listen to these stories, it is my hope that we will peek into the mindset, the worldview, and the lived experience of biblical authors and audiences, and that we will better understand our own place in these stories.
In this last installment of the “Why” series we turn to the site of Megiddo. Megiddo is only mentioned twelve times in the Old Testament. We learn that it was a site initially unconquered by the Israelites (Jdg 1:27), eventually it was controlled and (re)built by Solomon (1 Kgs 9:15), and it is where Pharaoh Necho killed the Judahite king Josiah. In the New Testament, Revelation 16:16 is understood to be referencing Megiddo when it mentions Armageddon. This term is a Greek version of the Hebrew har Megiddo, or “mountain of Megiddo.” Compared to the over 600 times that Jerusalem is mentioned in the Old Testament alone, Megiddo does not receive much attention in the biblical texts. But we should not let this dearth of textual attestation fool us into thinking that Megiddo is not one of the most important sites in the entire land of Canaan/Israel. In fact, the Annals of the Egyptian Pharaoh Thutmose III (ca. 1479 BC) say that “the taking of Megiddo is the taking of a thousand cities.” Let’s start by looking at Megiddo’s location to better understand its significance.
Megiddo is mentioned only 12 times in the Bible, but it is one of the most important sites in all of Canaan/Israel
Top: View of Early Bronze Age remains, looking east
Bottom: Aerial view of Megiddo, looking southeast
Megiddo is located along the southern limits of the massive Jezreel Valley in northern Israel. It guards one of the three main passes over the Carmel mountain range just to the south. It also provides a commanding view over much of the valley. Now, the Jezreel Valley was the main north-south and east-west thoroughfare in antiquity. It connected trade coming from Transjordan (modern day Jordan) and Arabia to the Mediterranean Sea, and it connected Egypt with Aram (modern Syria) and Mesopotamia. Anyone who wished to control international trade routes could do so if they held the Jezreel Valley.
But there is a caveat. During the winter, portions of the Jezreel Valley flood and become swampy, hindering travel. Except near Megiddo. There is a low ridge that runs from Megiddo across the Jezreel Valley. It is a higher spot that does not flood, and which allows traffic to traverse the valley all year long. Whoever controls Megiddo controls this ridge and all the traffic that comes across it. So, when Thutmose III said that taking Megiddo was like taking 1000 cities, there is a geographic reality to this statement—even though his comment more directly refers to the fact that the Canaanite and Hurrian coalition that was rebelling against him had gathered at Megiddo and if he could conquer the site, he would defeat the entire coalition. People in antiquity understood the geography. They knew which sites were strategic, which routes to take, which areas to avoid. By defeating the coalition at Megiddo, not only could Thutmose claim control over their territory, but by taking Megiddo itself, he could control the trade and traffic to and through much of that territory.
Megiddo was the setting of several battles in the ancient world, some of which are mentioned in the Bible.
Top: Aerial view of Megiddo with the Jezreel Valley beyond.
Bottom: View of the city gate traditionally dated to the days of Solomon.
It is no wonder that Solomon re(built) Megiddo in the 10th century. First Kgs 9:15-19 mentions construction projects of Solomon. The sites highlighted—Hazor, Gezer, Megiddo, Tamar, Lower Beth Horon, and Baalat—were all strategically-located sites that allowed for control over the main north-south and east-west international trade routes, as well as the main route up to Jerusalem from the west. The biblical authors understood the strategic nature of Megiddo, just as the Canaanites, Hurrians, and Egyptians had understood it before them.
It makes sense that Josiah would later go to Megiddo to try to stop Pharaoh Necho from moving further north to help the ailing Assyrian Empire. Megiddo was a choke point where the Judahites could hopefully stop the Egyptians. Unfortunately, the Egyptian army appears to have been more substantial than Judah’s and the latter was defeated with Josiah being killed.
Elsewhere in the Bible, Megiddo is mentioned in the context of the Deborah and Barak’s famous battle against the Canaanites (Judges 4-5). Coupled with additional non-biblical events, Megiddo was the context for several ancient battles. This is probably the reason why it becomes theologized as the place where the last battle between good and evil will unfold in the book of Revelation. Megiddo was a storied place for turmoil; for the battles between Israel and its neighbors. By understanding its geographical context, along with considering non-biblical ancient events, it becomes clear why Megiddo is one of the most important sites in all of Israel.
2000 The Battles of Armageddon. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan.
2018 Megiddo-Armageddon: The Story of the Canaanite and Israelite City. Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society