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Archaeologists to begin excavation of biblical site where Ark of the Covenant once stood

(Wikimedia Commons/pop culture geek)A replica of the Ark of the Covenant at the Debbie Reynolds Auction.

An international team of archaeologists is set to begin the excavation of a biblical site where the Ark of the Covenant was kept for two decades before it was brought to Jerusalem by King David.

The site known as Kiryat Ye'arim has been mentioned in the Bible over a dozen times as a Judahite town located on one of the highest hills in west Jerusalem. The organizers of the dig are hoping to shed light on the significance of the site during the period of the judges and King David, also known as the Iron Age in archaeological terms, Times of Israel reported.

Archaeologists from Tel Aviv University and College de France will be climbing the mound this August to look for new information regarding passages from the Hebrew Bible.

"The place is important for several reasons," said Tel Aviv University's Israel Finkelstein. "It's a large, central site in the Jerusalem hills that hasn't been studied until now. It may be the only key site in Judah that hasn't undergone a systematic archaeological excavation," he added.

The dig will be focused on the area surrounding a 20th-century monastery dedicated to Our Lady of the Ark of the Covenant, which is situated on top of the ruins of an earlier Byzantine edifice at the summit.

The organizers said that their goal is to uncover any other buried mysteries at the largely unexplored site.

"The excavation will also make it possible to determine if there existed in the Judean mountains... a temple dedicated to the god Baal," said a statement fro College de France.

"In addition, the search will provide a better understanding of the historical background of important Biblical passages, including those related to the Ark of the Covenant," it continued.

Kiryat Ye'arim has been referred to variously as Kiryat Ba'al, Ba'alah and Ba'ale Judah in the Book of Joshua, suggesting that at some point, the site became associated with the worship of Ba'al, the storm god of the Canaanite pantheon.

According to the Book of Samuel, the Ark of the Covenant was stored in Kiryat Ye'arim "in the house of Avinadab in the hill" and tended by the priest Elazar before King David brought it to his capital in Jerusalem.

Finkelstein hopes that the dig would reveal vital information about the site's history and expand the scholars' knowledge about life in the Iron Age, including nearby Jerusalem.

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