Do you find my website interesting and helpful?
Then you are sure to love my two new books "In and Around Jerusalem for Everyone - The Best Walks, Hikes and Outdoor Pools" and "The Struggle for Utopia - A History of Jewish, Christian and Islamic Messianism". Both books are available on Amazon and in Jerusalem bookstores. Click on each of the titles for information, reviews and purchase information.
About the Shefelah
The word Shefelah means lowlands in Hebrew. This is an area of gentle hills and fertile valleys in central Israel sandwiched between the Coastal Plain and the Judean Mountains. It extends about 40 to 50 Km north to south and 15 to 20 Km east to west.
But why would hills as high as 450 meters above sea level be termed “lowlands”?
When the Israelites settled in Canaan at the time of Joshua, they settled predominantly in the central mountain range. In comparison to range which reaches elevations of 900 to 1000 meters above sea level, this area to the east looked low. Most of this territory was allocated to the tribe of Judah and is therefore also known as the “Judean Foothills.”
The Shefelah was heavily populated in Second Temple times because of the rich soil of its valleys, and the ruins of many Israelite villages and towns can be seen on its hilltops.
In contrast to the Judean Mountains which are characterized primarily by hard limestone, the hills of the Shefela are formed from soft chalk, covered in most places by a relatively thin layer of harder chalk called nari. This rock is easy to chisel through and this accounts for the many man-made caves that can be found throughout this area. Many of them were dug as hideouts for use during the Bar Kochba Revolt.
Chalk is impermeable to water, which means that rainwater does not seep underground to form shallow aquifers that feed springs as in the central mountain range. The residents solved their water problem by digging cisterns into the chalky rock and these would collect surface water runoff during the rainy season. Because of their impermeability, there was no need to line them with plaster.
A number of streams transect the Shefelah from east to west, and their valleys were useful for providing access to the major cities on the mountain range such as Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Hebron. However, these roads could also be used as routes for invading armies from the Coastal Plain. The Israelites therefore built fortified cities to protect access to these major valleys. These included Gezer, Ayalon and Bet-Horon in Emek (the Valley of) Ayalon; Bet Shemesh, Timna and Zorah in Emek Sorek; Socho and Azeka in Emek HaElah; and Lachish and Maresha along the road to Hebron.
Because they were main roads, the Bible describes important battles being fought in these valleys. These include Joshua’s battle against the kings of southern Canaan in Emek Ayalon (Joshua 10), David’s battle against Goliath in Emek HaElah (I Samuel 17), and the battle between Asa, king of Judah and Zerah the Cushite at Maresha (II Chronicles 14:7-14).
The main roads to Jerusalem run through Emek Ayalon. The steep and narrow ascent near Bet-Horon along today’s Route 433 was an important factor in the defeat of the Hellenistic forces by the Maccabees. More recently, during Israel’s War of Independence, crucial battles took place between the Haganah and local Arab militias along Route 1 in the Shefelah against the armies of Jordan and Egypt.
Click here to watch a very nice, short movie about the importance of the Shefelah as a buffer zone between the Israelites and the Philistines.