Seeing the Ella Valley in the Time of David and Goliath

Gil Zohar | | Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Seeing the Ella Valley in the Time of David and Goliath

The Ella Valley is one of those delightful places -- not uncommon in Israel -- where biblical texts come alive, confirming the maxim that once you've visited the Holy Land, you'll never read the Old and New Testaments the same way again. It was here that David the shepherd felled the Philistine giant Goliath with a single stone flung from his sling.

To reach the site where many believe that David slew Goliath, situated 42 km southwest of Jerusalem, head west along Route 1, and turn south onto Route 38. Drive past the modern city of Beit Shemesh and turn west at Azeka Junction onto Route 383. Up to the right above the pine-wood slopes is a distinctively bald flattop hill, called Tel Azeka -- the ancient Israelite fortified town commanding the Ella Valley. The hills are especially delightful in March and April when the blood-red anemones and other wildflowers are in bloom.

Continue along the Ella Valley, and the road crosses a wadi -- a usually dry streambed. Proceed 200 yards, pull off and park. Open your Bible to I Samuel 17 and read about the dramatic duel between Israelite boy from Bethlehem and the Philistine champion. The battle probably took place close to where you're standing.

Skeptical? Review the following passage:

Now the Philistines gathered their armies for battle; and they were gathered at Socoh, which belongs to Judah (identified by a mound 800 yards east of the junction ahead of you), and encamped between Socoh and Azekah (where you're standing). And Saul and the men of Israel were gathered, and encamped in the Ella Valley, and drew up in line of battle against the Philistines. And the Philistines stood on the mountain on the one side, and Israel stood on the mountain on the other side, with a valley between them.

Look east up the valley (across the road) to the mountains of Judah in the distance and the road from Bethlehem -- the same road by which David reached the battlefield. The white northern ridge, a spur of the mountains of Judah, may have been the camp of the Israelite army. The southern ridge (where a gas station is today) -- including Tel Socoh, where the Philistines gathered -- ascends from the Philistine territory to the west. The creek is the only one in the valley:

And David chose five smooth stones from the brook; his sling was in his hand, and he drew near to the Philistine.

The rest, as they say, is history: Goliath was slain, the Philistines were routed, and David went on to become the darling of the nation and eventually its king.

A Glass of Wine En Route

The area around the Ella Valley is home to some of Israel's finest vineyards.

The largest wine producer in the area is Ella Valley Vineyards. Although this young winery produced its first harvest in 2002, ancient winepresses from the Byzantine period attest to the region's historical importance for the production of wine. It offers a number of outstanding, top-quality wines including cabernet, merlot, chardonnay and muscat.

The latter is a richly-flavored digestif that is as close to an ice wine as one will find in these southern climes. Unlike some area wineries, Ella Valley only uses grapes from its vineyard. The manager Udi Kaplan, an ever-affable oenophile, is happy to arrange for a dinner party to make the wine tasting experience complete.

From Route 38 southbound, turn left onto Route 375, and left again at Kibbutz Netiv Ha Lamed Hey. Take the immediate left toward industrial zone, and follow the signs. Tel 02/999-4885,, open Sun.-Thurs. 8:30-4:30, Fri. and Jewish holiday eves. 8:30-12:30; by appointment only.

While Ella Valley Vineyards offers a stylish hall for wine tastings, the nearby Mony Winery in the Sorek Valley is exceptionally picturesque -- including caves hewn by monks -- and illustrates the variety and complexity of Israeli wine. The estate winery, situated at a Roman Catholic monastery and owned by a Christian Arab-Israeli family, produces kosher wines from monastery-owned vineyards, and is run by an immigrant winemaker from Canada.

The Artul family, from the mixed Druze, Christian and Muslim village of Maghar in the Upper Galilee, leased the vineyards from the Deir Rafat Monastery in the 1980s and opened a winery in 2000. The 65 hectares of vines include numerous plots, spread over the hills surrounding the monastery. Apart from its estate wines, Mony also produces a very good quality olive oil.

Named after Dr. Mony Artul, the deceased son of Shakib Artul, the family produced its first vintage in 2002. Seeking to improve the quality and make their venture more profitable, the family switched to producing kosher wines in 2005. In 2009 the winery took another key step by employing Montreal-born Sam Soroka, an internationally trained winemaker who is considered one of the best and most experienced vintners in Israel. He graduated at Roseworthy College in Adelaide, worked for Wynns in Coonawarra, South Australia, and for BRL Hardy in Western Australia and in the Languedoc in the south of France. In California he worked for Charles Krug, and in Canada for the Henry of Pelham Winery in Niagara. Soroka moved to Israel in 2003 and joined Carmel Winery -- where he was instrumental in producing the award-winning Kayoumi Shiraz referred to above. Soroka is now revitalizing Mony as he did at Carmel.

My favorite?

Mony Syrah 2009 has a deep purple colour, with a nose of forest fruits and a hint of black pepper. It is full flavored, and ready to drink now. It's a wine that highlights the potential of Mony's vineyards under the expertise of a really good winemaker.

4 km west of Kibbutz Tzora, near Deir Rafat Monastery, tel 02/991-6629. Daily 9:30--5:30; call ahead to verify.

Who killed Goliath, David or Elhanan?

While every Sunday school student knows that David killed Goliath, the Bible in fact has two contradictory accounts of the legendary exploit -- one attributed to David, and the other to Elhanan.

1 Samuel 17:50 -- "Thus David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone, and he struck the Philistine and killed him; but there was no sword in David's hand."

2 Samuel. 21:19 -- "And there was war with the Philistines again at Gob, and Elhanan the son of Jaare-oregim the Bethlehemite killed Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver's beam."

How can one reconcile this contradiction?

The answer can be found in 1 Chronicles 20:5. "And there was war with the Philistines again, and Elhanan the son of Jair killed Lahmi the brother of Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver's beam."

Here then we read correctly that Elhanan killed Goliath's brother.

Scholars suggest there was a copyist error in 2 Samuel 21:19. According to Gleason Archer's Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties on page 179, it says,

1.    The sign of the direct object, which in Chronicles comes just before "Lahmi," was '-t; the copyist mistook it for b-t or b-y-t ("Beth") and thus got Bet hal-Lahmi ("the Bethlehemite") out of it.

2.    He misread the word for "brother" ('-h) as the sign of the direct object ('-t) right before g-l-y-t ("Goliath"). Thus he made "Goliath" the object of "killed" (wayyak), instead of the "brother" of Goliath (as the Chronicles passage does).

3.    The copyist misplaced the word for "weavers" ('-r-g-ym) so as to put it right after "Elhanan" as his patronymic (ben Y-'-r-y'-r-g-ym, or ben ya 'arey 'ore -gim -- "the son of the forests of weavers" -- a most unlikely name for anyone's father!). In Chronicles the 'ore grim ("weavers") comes right after menor ("a beam of ") -- thus making perfectly good sense.

Thus it seems 2 Samuel 21:19 became corrupted by a copyist error and in fact 1 Chronicles 20:5 is the correct in recording David killed Goliath.

If you go: Travelujah's Top 5 biblical and historic sites near to the Ella Valley:

* The Ayalon Valley where Joshua defeated the Amorites in battle by ordering the sun and the moon to stand still (Joshua 10:1-11).

* Tel Gezer, a Canaanite city-state and biblical town which today contains eight monumental megaliths and other archaeological finds.

* Beit Jimal Monastery, which according to Christian tradition is the burial place of Rabban Gamliel I -- president of the Sanhedrin, and St. Stephen -- the first Christian martyr.

* Latrun Monastery, marking the site of Emmaus where Jesus appeared to his followers after being resurrected (Luke 24:13-27).

* The Israeli Armored Corps Memorial and Museum, a Taggert Fort from the British Mandate era that today houses an extensive collection of tanks.

Gil Zohar writes regularly for Travelujah-Holy Land Tours. Originally from Canada, Gil is a licensed tour guide in Israel focusing on Holy land Christian and Jewish interest heritage tours. He can be reached at [email protected]

Travelujah is the leading Christian social network focused on travel to the Holy Land. People can learn, plan and share their Holy Land tour and travel experiences on Travelujah.

Publication date: February 28, 2012

Seeing the Ella Valley in the Time of David and Goliath