My most recent Places in Your Neighborhood trip took me to Ashdod. Ashdod has a few really nice sites from several periods of history but is not oft visited. People in my groups had been there to the port to pick up their lifts, or to swim at the beach, but had not visited to learn about the place.
Despite it not being on many tourist itineraries, Ashdod is mentioned many times in the Bible. It is one of the cities which is allotted to the tribe of Judah but not captured from the Philistines. (I have included a picture of me hanging out with the Philistines from the Museum in Ashdod.) It is one of the five cities in the Philistine pentopolis. Interestingly, the Philistine conquest of the southern coastal plain had ramifications of the settlement pattern. Philistine influence came along with the emptying out of rural areas and concentration of population in cities. Although researches do not know exactly why this happened, we can look at the changes the Industrial Revolution had on the rural life in America to make a reasonable guess. Could it be that the introduction of technology in the form of metallurgy caused people to flock to the cities for available jobs? We just don’t know.
The famous story of the Philistines stealing the Ark of the Covenant and taking it to the temple of the god Dagon takes place in the town of Ashdod.
The prophet Amos predicts the destruction of Ashdod – this destruction does come in 722 B.C.E. at the hands of Sargon of Assyria as recorded in II Chronicles.
Population leaks back into the city after that only to be exiled and the city destroyed in 586 B.C.E as prophesied by Zephania, Zecharia and Jeremiah.
Nechemia speaks of the Jewish population of Ashdod marrying Ashdodian wives – a sign that Ashdod was again settled during the return from Zion – this time by Jews as well as non-Jews.
The oldest settlements we have in the Ashdod area are actually outside of the municipal boundaries of current Ashdod (which is a totally modern planned city). Tel Ashdod to the south was probably the site where all the stories from the Bible took place. Tel Mor, located near the grain silos on the banks of Nahal Lachish, was the home to industry during ancient time – the industry of making dye – and was active even before the Philistines arrived on the scene. During the Byzantine era, a new settlement, Ashdod-on-the-Sea, was founded and during the Fatimid era a massive sandstone fortress was built with its front gate open to the sea.
My tour of Ashdod included Givat Yonah with its beautiful overlook of the modern port and city of Ashdod, the Fatimid fortress at Ashdod-on-the-Sea, and finally a visit to a very unassuming bridge now called “Ad Halom” = “Until Here”.
The bridge sits on foundations of a Roman bridge which spanned Nachal Lachish and was part of the super-highway which connected Egypt to Mesopotamia. Bridges were very important in ancient times, as they are today. They smooth out the trip and facilitate crossing muddy, lush passages. Not so important for foot travel, once the carriage, the horse, the cart, the train, or the car became the primary means of moving goods and people, bridges were indispensable. Armies, with their heavy loads of supplies and fighters, are totally dependent on crossing such points easily. At the eve of war in 1948, Nahal Lachish was crossed by 3 main bridges: An Ottoman bridge for carts and foot traffic; a railroad bridge; and a modern British bridge for cars. It was protected by a pillbox which was built by the British during the Arab revolt of 1936-39.
During the Independence war, the Egyptian army made its way north, seemingly on their way to Tel Aviv. Intelligence from the Israeli side ordered the blowing up of the bridges over Nahal Lachish in order to slow the anticipated advance. The story goes that 300 kg of explosives set out with Shimon Margolin and 9 Kibbutz Beer Tuvia volunteers on the backs of two donkeys. Almost immediately, the first donkey collapsed and died. Shimon put all 300 kg of explosives on the back of the second donkey. That donkey trudged through the night until, only 2 km from its destination, he, too, fell and died. Then the troop of 10 soldiers each took 30 kg of explosives on their backs and carried it to these bridges. The Jewish fighters (the bridge was blown up on May 12, 1948 before the state was declared) succeeded in their mission and the battle which ensued upon arrival of the Egyptians 2 weeks later was won at least partially because the Egyptians could not cross the nahal easily.
Ad Halom was the site of the Israeli Air Forces first battle. The nascent state had but 4 fighter planes in its possession. After the battle, only 2 remained, one crashing after being hit and killing its pilot – the only son of a South African family – Edward (Shlomo) Cohen. Fifty other soldiers in the Israeli army lost their lives in the battle at Ad Halom.
It is hard to imagine what the State of Israel would look like today if the Egyptians had taken Tel Aviv, or if there would even be a Jewish state here at all. I encourage you the next time you are in the area, to take in a bit of Israeli history with a stop at Ad Halom. “Until Here”, or in modern Amerian parlance “The Buck Stops Here” – stop and see the nahal and the bridge (the Ottoman bridge has been restored as a foot bridge) that represents how thin the thread was by which this country was won.