Holy Land Pilgrimage

Tel-me about it!

March 6, 2022

The geographical landscape of the Holy Land is very diverse, from valleys and plains to mountains and hills—something I did not expect when I arrived here. There are many hills, and some of these hills are actually human-made! In this pilgrimage, we have visited not only holy sites, but also archaeological ruins. Many of these ruins have the prefix “tel,” which means hill or mount in Arabic. These mounts are layers of human civilization built upon one another. When one civilization was established and flourished and was subsequently conquered or abandoned, another one came and built on top of it; this cycle was repeated several times. Most of these hills offer beautiful panoramic views of the surrounding landscape and are great places for reflection.

Among the tels we have visited is Tel Arad, located south of Jerusalem in the Arad Valley. This archaeological site finds a sophisticated Canaanite city dating back from the Bronze age and a fortress from the kings of Biblical Judah.

According to the biblical tradition, Joshua defeated an Arad Canaanite king in this site as recorded in the book of Joshua (21:1). There is a fortress that contained a temple, and excavations even indicate a place for the holy of holies. Another important site we visited was Tel Megiddo. Archaeologists have uncovered 26 layers of civilizations in this place. Again, there are remains of Canaanite and Israeli settlements indicated by the type of walls built and the location for worship that included sacrificial altars.


A third example of a tel we have visited is in Jericho. The city of Jericho has been given the title of the oldest city in the world. Near the present day-city of Jericho, there is a Tel that dates back from about 10,000 BC, making it one of the earliest known civilizations in the world. This is also the biblical site where the Israelites defeated the Canaanites and entered the promised land. Archaeological findings have not conferred this event in historical terms. It remains, however, an important site in biblical tradition. 

The artifacts unearthed at a tel us about the people, their worship, their customs, and other important details. For us Christians, we learn about biblical times and the practices and architectural framework of Byzantine Christians and Crusaders in more recent times. Going through these archaeological sites has made me more aware of the diversity in civilizations and their complex systems to maintain cities. Tels are another way to help bring the Bible alive and give it a historical context.

Jesus Raya
Archdiocese of Chicago

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