Monday, October 24, 2011


Busy Bees Hard at Work Making Sweet Honey
Hello, My Friend and Welcome.

A search of the Bible reveals that honey is mentioned 62 times and found from Genesis clear through Revelation. This should not be surprising given that honey was a major source of sweetening in ancient times. Below are just a few of more familiar passages relating to honey.  

And I have promised to bring you up out of your misery in Egypt into a land flowing with milk and honey Exodus 3:16-18
They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the honeycomb.  —Psalm 19:10
How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!  —Psalm 119:103
John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. —Matthew 3:3-5

Have you ever wondered how they went about gathering all this honey that they needed? Well, it turns out that they accomplished the task not much differently than we do today…with commercial operations dedicated to keeping beehives and collecting the honey they produced. Yes, there organized business enterprises in the ancient holy land that maintained what we would call commercial apiaries. An extensive group of ancient beehives have been discovered in the northern Israeli site of Tel Rehov, in the Jordan Valley.

An Aerial View of the Dig at Tel Rehov
Tel Rehov is the location of the largest ancient Canaanite and Israelite sites in the Beth-Shean Valley and one of the largest tels in the Holy Land.  Nine seasons of excavations have uncovered large and well-preserved buildings from three occupation layers dating to the 10th - 9th centuries BC. This would have been around the time of the United Monarchy of David and Solomon and the Divided Monarchy under Omri and Ahab. Remains of an 8th century BC city that was violently destroyed by the Assyrians in 732 BC included a 24 foot-wide mud brick wall around the acropolis. Evidence of the Assyrian slaughter was found in many of the houses that were destroyed. 

But the most spectacular discovery was the industrial apiary, the only ancient beehives ever discovered in archaeological excavations.  There were more than 30 hives found at the Tel Rehov site, indicating a significant operation. The presence of these hives shouldn’t surprise anyone. Having no refined sugar, people of that era relied upon honey as the primary source of sweetness in their diet. Experts estimate the hives produced up to a half a ton of honey each year.

Examing the Remains of Ancient Beehives
The architecture of the ancient hives is similar to bee farms found in modern-day Israel. Each ceramic hive was fashioned with two holes. On one side was a small hole that acted as a door for the bees. On the opposite end was a clay lid beekeepers used to access, and remove, the honey and wax comb.

Archaeologists found the 3,000-year-old remains of honeybees, including workers, drones, pupae and larvae, inside the 30 clay cylinders. With the aid of high-resolution microscopes, scientists studied the bodies of the long-deceased insects and concluded that the bees appear to belong to a different subspecies altogether from the Apis mellifera syriaca which currently inhabit Israel.

There are two explanations for this phenomenon. Either the range of Apis mellifera anatoliaca (the subspecies found at Tel Rehov) has decreased over the last 3,000 years, or those ancient beekeepers imported this particular species from what is now Turkey for their special characteristics.

Interestingly enough, modern beekeepers in Israel still prefer the anatoliaca; they’re believed to be calmer and easier to manage, making them more desirable for urban farms such as the one found in Tel Rehov. As the Bible says, “…there is nothing new under the sun.” Sometimes, the more things change the more they stay the same.

Until next time, we wish you Peace and Blessings.

1 comment:

Sheila Deeth said...

Amazing! This is just so fascinating.