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Archaeologist finds proof of biblical vineyard

An archaeologist believes she may have found proof of Naboth’s biblical vineyard at an excavation site in Jezreel Valley, Israel.

Naboth and King Ahab in Naboth’s vineyard, from the Biblical story I Kings (Photo: Wiki Commons)

The Jezreel Expedition was founded in 2012 with the aim of surveying, excavating and documenting the site of greater Jezreel over a long period of time.

Dr Norma Franklin, one of the heads of the expedition, and her team have already established that the valley was a major wine producing region during biblical times.

Now the team believes it may have found proof of Naboth’s vineyard, which was said to have been located in the Jezreel Valley according to the biblical text, 1 Kings.

The scripture states that Naboth the Jezreelite owned a vineyard in Jezreel, near the hêḵal of King Ahab of Samaria. King Ahab wanted to turn the vineyard into a vegetable garden, saying to Naboth: “Give me thy vineyard, that I may have it for a garden of herbs. (I Kings 21:2). To which Naboth replied: “The lord forbid that I should give up to you what I have inherited from my fathers!”

Using laser technology, Dr Franklin believes she may have discovered proof that the vineyard was in fact factual and did exist during this time.

Several wine and olive presses were discovered including the largest ancient winepress in Israel found to date, along with more than 100 bottle-shaped pits carved into the bedrock, which Dr Franklin believed were used to store wine.

“Vineyards do not leave archaeological remains, but circumstantial evidence suggests that Jezreel likely had one,” said Franklin in a report on her findings.

“Kibbutz Yizre’el alerted us to the fact that they had independently conducted a soil analysis and found a plot of land with proper quality for growing grapes, whereas the soils in the fields further west were found to be better suited to growing olives. This plot is immediately north of an ancient winery, and during the biblical period wine processing areas were generally located next to vineyards.”

The winepress, which measures at about 12 meters square, was difficult to date as it was carved into the bedrock. However based on the structure of the press, Dr Franklin suggested the site was established before 300 BCE, a timeframe that would certainly allow for Naboth to be producing wine at that site.

It adds weight to the theory that there really was a battle over a vineyard in the Jezreel Valley, between Naboth and King Ahab, and at the very least proves that there was a winery and most likely a vineyard in the region at the time.

Franklin added: “We cannot know if any part of the account of Naboth’s vineyard is historical, but its author knew at least that ancient Jezreel had a vineyard (and a winery), and this area was near the large instillation that probably served to house the king (among others) when he was in Jezreel. Moreover, the editor of Kings is clearly picturing a vineyard located east of Jezreel and close to the main highway, the Via Maris. The location of the winery, east of the Jezreel enclosure and near the junction of the Via Maris with the Ridge Route to Jezreel and on to Samaria, correlates well with the story.”

According to Franklin, the wine in Jezreel was made by traditional grape-stomping, with a roughly triangular depression in the center of the treading floor “probably used to collect the grape skins, pips and stalks that formed a block around which the juice flowed toward the primary fermentation vat (Vat 1).”

Franklin believes the must would then have been left to ferment in the vat for a number of days, before being placed into jars and stored in “bottle-shaped” bits for secondary fermentation.

Naboth’s suspected winery. Credit: Jezreel Expedition

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