A 2700-year-old watchtower from the time of biblical King Hezekiah was recently discovered at a military base in southern Israel by an excavation that included members of the Israeli Paratroopers Brigade and recruits from commando units working alongside the Israel Antiquities Authority. The actual location of the site cannot be revealed for security purposes.
In the time of King Hezekiah and the biblical prophets, soldiers on watchtowers warned the Israelites of approaching enemies. Today the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) still use similar watchtowers.
“Flee for safety, people of Benjamin! Flee from Jerusalem! Sound the trumpet in Tekoa! Raise the signal over Beth Hakkerem! For disaster looms out of the north, even terrible destruction” (Jeremiah 6:1)
The immense watchtower is 5 x 3.5 meters (16.4 x 11.4 feet) with some of the stones weighing 8 tons. The tower is two floors high.
The soldiers were surprised when they uncovered the structure, built on high ground facing the Hebron Mountains, the Judean Plain and the vicinity of Ashkelon on the Israeli coast.
“The strategic location of the tower served as a lookout and warning point against the Philistine enemy, one of whose cities was Ashkelon, Israeli Antiquities Authority Excavation Directors Sa’ar Ganor and Valdik Lifshitz said in a statement. “In the days of the First Temple, the Kingdom of Judah built a range of towers and fortresses as points of communication, warning and signalling, to transmit messages and field intelligence.”
Hezekiah was the twelfth king of Judah and reigned in the 8th century BCE. His first act as king was to reopen the gates of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem and to have them repaired.
“This tower is one of the observation points connecting the large cities in the area, located in the Beit Mirsim (Mirsham), Tel Eton and Tel Lachish sites,” Ganor and Lifshitz explained. “In ancient times, to transmit messages, beacons of smoke were lit during the day and beacons of fire at night. It is probable that the watchtower now uncovered is one of the towers that bore some of the beacons.”
The excavation was conducted as part of the project called “The Nature Defense Forces Project-Commanders Take Responsibility for their Environment,” led by the IDF’s Technology and Maintenance Corps, and was carried out in cooperation with the IDF, the Ministry of Defense, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and the Israel Antiquities Authority.
“This is the first time I participated in excavations. The connection to the land and the fact that there were Jewish fighters in the past gave me a sense of mission. The fact that there was also a connection to the area where we carried out our own military maneuvers; left us with a feeling that we were giving back,” said Second Lieutenant Roi Ofir, age 21, commander of the recruiting team in the reconnaissance battalion of the Paratroopers Brigade, from Rosh Ha’ayin.
References to the watchmen who would have inhabited the watchtowers are mentioned several times in the Bible.
“On your walls, O Jerusalem I have set watchmen; all the day and all the night they shall never be silent. You who put the Lord in remembrance take no rest.” Isaiah 62:6.