The Abandoned Hill of Kings

Photo Credit:, Samaria and the Center

Genesis 35 records the birth of Jacob’s last son, Benjamin. “Then they moved on from Bethel. While they were still some distance from Ephrath, Rachel began to give birth and had great difficulty. And as she was having great difficulty in childbirth, the midwife said to her, “Don’t despair, for you have another son.” As she breathed her last,for she was dying, she named her son Ben-Oni. But his father named him Benjamin.”

In Joshua 18, it delineates the tribe of Benjamin’s borders. “On the north side their boundary began at the Jordan, passed the northern slope of Jericho and headed west into the hill country, coming out at the wilderness of Beth Aven. From there it crossed to the south slope of Luz (that is, Bethel) and went down to Ataroth Addar on the hill south of Lower Beth Horon. From the hill facing Beth Horon on the south the boundary turned south along the western side and came out at Kiriath Baal (that is, Kiriath Jearim), a town of the people of Judah. This was the western side. The southern side began at the outskirts of Kiriath Jearim on the west, and the boundary came out at the spring of the waters of Nephtoah. The boundary went down to the foot of the hill facing the Valley of Ben Hinnom, north of the Valley of Rephaim. It continued down the Hinnom Valley along the southern slope of the Jebusite city and so to En Rogel. It then curved north, went to En Shemesh, continued to Geliloth, which faces the Pass of Adummim, and ran down to the Stone of Bohan son of Reuben. It continued to the northern slope of Beth Arabah and on down into the Arabah. It then went to the northern slope of Beth Hoglah and came out at the northern bay of the Dead Sea, at the mouth of the Jordan in the south. This was the southern boundary. The Jordan formed the boundary on the eastern side.”

This region was sandwiched between the tribal areas of Ephraim to the north, and Judah to its south. There appears to be come confusion in the text about which tribe was given Jerusalem. In Joshua 18, the list of Benjamin’s towns includes “Zelah, Haeleph, the Jebusite city (that is, Jerusalem), Gibeah and Kiriath.” In Joshua 15, which discusses the tribal allotment of Judah, “Judah could not dislodge the Jebusites, who were living in Jerusalem,” suggesting that Jerusalem was in Judah’s territory.

Regardless of whose territory Jerusalem was in, in the biblical account, during Saul’s kingship, Jerusalem was occupied by Jebusites, and not available for use as a capital. In the biblical story of the Levite’s concubine who was killed at Gibeah, the other tribes nearly eliminated the entire tribe of Benjamin. Saul was from the tribe of Benjamin, and when he was anointed king he chose to rule from Gibeah, which he did for a period of 38 years.

One of the challenges for archaeology is to correctly locate ancient places in the Bible. One view is that ancient Gibeah is at the modern site of Jaba’, 5.5 miles north of ancient Jerusalem. The more generally accepted view is that ancient Gibeah is on the site of modern day Tall al-Fūl, which translates to “mound of fava beans,” 3 miles north of ancient Jerusalem’s walls, near today’s Pisgat Ze’ev and Shuafat neighborhoods.

Excavations on the site revealed an Iron I fortress dating to the late 13th-12th century BCE. This earlier fortress was destroyed and then rebuilt at the end of the Iron I period between 1050 and the 10th century BCE. The second fortress was more impressive and contained high quality pottery, suggesting that it may have housed an important houseguest, possibly King Saul.

In the biblical account, Gibeah was a one king capital, and did not amount to a “hill of beans” relative to the capital at Jerusalem. If this is indeed the correct site, then it would not be the only time in history that Tall al-Fūl did not amount to a “hill of beans.”

In 1965, King Hussein of Jordan began construction on a summer palace at  Tall al-Fūl. In 1967, Israel captured the site during the Six Day War. The shell of King Hussein’s uncompleted palace remains standing today, abandoned, just as Saul’s capital was said to have been abandoned.

The photo above is of King Hussein’s abandoned palace, possibly the second abandoned palace in the site’s history. In honor of these kings ruling from this hill, the theme song of King of the Hill.