An Insignificant Hill
Looking out my front porch, I enjoy oaks and pines, vast olive groves, a beautiful Beit Netofah valley floor checkered with shades of green and brown agricultural fields, two mountain ranges dotted with Bedouin villages and a small, green hill in the middle of it all.
In Israel, however, one can never make assumptions or think that something seemingly benign can’t have deep, historical meaning. Like this green hill. Right outside my window. The insignificant one.
Tel Hannaton may seem like a nothing hill, but the history of this artificial mound (tel) goes back over 3500 years! It happens to be located at an important crossroad; on the Via Maris, the ancient road leading from Mesopotamia to Egypt, and on the road from Damascus to Akko, an important port on the Mediterranean Sea.
We first learn of Tel Hannaton in the El-Amarna letters, 380 clay tablets (written in Akkadian and found in excavations in Egypt), used as correspondence between the Pharaoh Amenhotep IV (who eventually called himself Akhenaten) and Burnaburiash, king of Babylon. Tablet number 8 translates like this:
To Akhenaton, King of Egypt, my brother, to say:
Thus speaks Burnaburiash King of Babylon, your brother. I am well. To your country, your house, your women, your sons, your ministers, your horses, your chariots, many greetings. I and my brother have signed a treaty, and I spoke thus: Like our fathers, who were friends, we will be friends. And now, my merchants who traveled with Ahutabu delayed in Canaan for business. After Ahutabu set out on his way to my brother and in the town of Hanatun which is in Canaan, Shumda Son of Baluma and Shutatna Son of Shartum from Akkosent their men there. They beat my merchants and stole their money. Ahutabu , whom I sent to you, is before you. Ask him and he will tell you. Canaan is your country and its kings are your slaves, in your country I was robbed. Bind them and return the money they robbed. And the men who murdered my slaves, kill them and avenge their blood. Because if you do not kill these men, they will again murdermy caravans and even my ambassadors, and the ambassadors between us will cease. If this should happen the people of the land will leave you.
Don’t know about you, but I find it spectacularly fabulous that a Babylonian king wrote to an Ancient Egyptian Pharaoh about wanting his money back because his merchants were robbed outside my front porch about 3500 years ago. “And if you don’t give me my money back”, he states, “I won’t be your friend no more!”
Tel Hannaton has several more claims to fame:
It is mentioned in the Bible (book of Joshua 19:14) , as being the northern border of the lands of the tribe of Zebulon.
Our dear friend Tiglath Pileser III(732 b.c.e), King of Assyria, carved the stories of his victorious military campaigns on the walls of his grand palace in Nineveh and boasted that he conquered and plundered five Canaanite cities, the fifth one being… you guessed it, Hannaton!
The Greeks, the Jewish priestly families, the Romans, all left their mark in the area
The Crusaders built an agricultural farm at Hannaton in the 13th century, during their 2nd Kingdom of Jerusalem. It is the ruins of this Crusader building that are still visible under the ground.
The Mamelukes first, then the Ottomans turned the Crusader structures into a caravanserai, a roadside inn where travelers and their animals could rest and recover from the day’s journey.
Tel Hannaton is called Tel Badawiyya in Arabic, from the Arabic word for Bedouin, nomad.
Tel Hannaton was partially excavated in the 1980’s but has remained untouched for many
Today, school children on educational seminars at the Hannaton Educational Center visit and learn about the site, and it also gets visits from occasional curious families and hikers.
But for me, its a constant companion, the ancient hill outside my front window.