This Monday and Tuesday, I went backpacking with two of my sons and some friends along a section of the Israel National Trail, in the Shephelah region. We started at Khirbet Hanot, which is a very nice Byzantine period site, which includes a nicely recreated winepress, and church with an inscription (see here video of the site and the inscription that appears on the web; the inscription was published in: L. De Segni. 2003. A Greek Inscription in the Church at Horvat Hanot, in G.C. Bottini, L. Di Segni and D. Chrupcala, One Land—Many Cultures. Archaeological studies in honour of Fr S. Loffreda, Collectio Maior 42. Jerusalem: Studium Biblicum Franciscanum, pp. 273-276.) and a very large pile of stones.
The pile has been identified as a Byzantine period site which marks of the supposed burial place of Goliath. Supposedly, Byzantine period pilgrims, on the road up to Jerusalem, would pass by this place and throw stones on the spot. A short study on this tradition was published a few years ago by Eli Shenhav (Shenhav, E. 1998. Khirbet Hanot – An Early Byzantine Tradition on the Burial Place of Goliath (In Hebrew). Pp. 181–89 in Judea and Samaria Studies: Proceedings of the 7th Meeting 1997, ed. Y. Eshel. Tel Aviv: Eretz.). Although there is most probably no historical connection with the famous biblical figure (whose very existence, needless to say, has been questioned by many), it does nevertheless present a very interesting early Christian tradition about the geographical context and understanding of a bibilcal story that is described as occuring in the very near vicinity (the battle of David and Goliath in the Elah valley), and how they tried to incorporate these traditions into the pilgrim’s itineraria.
Following this, we walking along the trail, starting with the very nice Roman road that leads down to the Elah Valley. We then continued along the norther side of the Elah valley, passing Sochoh, and finally, reaching the base of Tel Azekah in the evening. The following day, we climbed Azekah and walked along the Azekah-Goded ridge, and from Goded/Judeidah, walked till Beth Guvrin, where we finished the hike.
All in all, it was a really nice hike with great views and great company, even thought it was a little hot!