On our way down to Jerusalem from Galilee, our guide proposed a visit to Megiddo, or more specifically, to the mound or “tel” that contains the archaeological remains of at least 26 successive cities. Today, the actual town of Megiddo is a small kibbutz, with just a few hundred inhabitants. Ancient Megiddo, however, was an extremely important place. It was already a fortified city in the third millennium B.C., and in 1468 B.C., it was the scene of the great Battle of Megiddo between the forces of the Egyptian Pharaoh Thutmose III and those of the regional Canaanite tribes, an event significant enough to be recorded in hieroglyphs at the temple complex of Karnak in Upper Egypt.
Having parked the car, we strolled over to the small museum that stands at the foot of the tel. We then climbed the steep, rocky path to the top of the mound and paused to admire the view. Even though it is not much more than 200 feet high, the summit affords a remarkable panorama. To the west lies the Mount Carmel range of hills that divides coastal Israel from Galilee; to the north, we could clearly see the southern outskirts of Nazareth; and the northeastern horizon was dominated by the bizarrely symmetrical cone of Mount Tabor, the place traditionally regarded by Christians as the site of the Transfiguration of Christ. Between the tel and Mount Tabor, a distance of some 20 miles, stretched a vast, fertile plain, the Jezreel Valley, covered with fields of wheat, cotton, sunflowers and corn, as well as hundreds of grazing sheep and cattle. It was an exceptionally peaceful and picturesque scene, one that belied the region’s tumultuous history.
Megiddo’s importance was a result of its strategic location on the main trade route between Egypt and Assyria, which later became the Roman Via Maris, the main artery of the Levant. Cities were built by the Canaanites, Egyptians, Israelites, Philistines and Samarians, and each was destroyed only to be subsequently rebuilt. Indeed, so frequent and so destructive were the battles that Megiddo became almost synonymous with warfare and carnage.
Over the years, Megiddo has been extensively excavated, and, in 2005, the site was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list. Although no significant buildings remain standing, it is possible to make out the foundations of numerous cities, as well as parts of a massive stone gateway from the 10th-century Solomonic period. A vast subterranean grain silo is perfectly preserved, as is a huge water cistern from the time of Ahab, king of Israel in the ninth century B.C. The most remarkable feature of the cistern is a 330-foot tunnel bored through solid rock to a spring outside of the city walls. We descended a steep metal staircase and then made our way along the narrow shaft — which has been illuminated for the benefit of visitors — constantly stooping to avoid the low ceiling. We were quite entirely alone, deep beneath the ground. Toolmarks were still clearly visible in the rock walls, and it was an eerie sensation to proceed in the gloom along a passageway constructed 2,800 years ago.
It was a relief to be back in the sunshine and to gaze once more over the tranquil expanse of the Jezreel. Watching the farmworkers in the fields and the slow progress of a tractor, it was hard to believe that the place had been, or ever could be, a place of cataclysmic violence. In Hebrew, “Har Megiddo” means Mount of Megiddo, but translated into Greek in early versions of the New Testament, it became “Armageddon.” So frequent had been the wars and slaughters at Megiddo that the author of the Book of Revelation decided that there could be only one possible location for the final battle between good and evil, the End of Days, the Apocalypse.