Excavation has uncovered no evidence of Christian settlement, but
caretakers of Biblical Tamar Park point to the ancient city that they
are bringing out of the desert as fundamental to their faith. A
monotheistic bond with the Holy Land brought volunteers from Blossoming
Rose to the Arava two decades ago. What they since have unearthed
inspires them to keep working with the Israeli Antiquities Authority to
reveal the history of the area known as En Hazeva.
Founded in Michigan and made up largely of evangelical Christians,
Blossoming Rose includes restoration of the Holy Land as part of its
mission. Its supporters are motivated by what they see as a biblical
mandate to bless Israel. They say their findings in the desert shed
light not only on the roots of the Jewish religion, but also lay a
foundation for their own Christian beliefs.
The organization now seeks to share its discoveries by bringing the
biblical city of Tamar back to prominence as a tourist destination.
“The foundational history of Christianity can only be found in its
Hebraic roots,” says DeWayne Coxon, a pastor and former college
administrator who founded Blossoming Rose in 1983. “Without Israel, we
don’t have a historical basis for our Christianity. Without Israel, we
haven’t got an intelligent understanding of what God is going to use
Christians for in the world. Our role (at Blossoming Rose) is to be in
the desert to prepare a place for the wayfaring stranger.”
What Blossoming Rose is exposing about the past illumines that which
Coxon foresees in the future. The dig, which sits south of the Dead Sea
on Highway 90, has yielded an assortment of distinctly Jewish artifacts
that are indispensable to the Christian faith.
Perhaps the most telling find to date is a pit of Edomite cultic
figures, apparently smashed and discarded in a single heap outside a
city wall from the Late First Temple Period. Layers of large silex
blocks from an earlier era form the corner of a rectangular fortress
that features a gate complex similar to contemporary Israelite
settlements during the reign of King Solomon.
Excavation also has located a four-room house typical of Israelite
settlements in the first millennia BCE. The 2004 archaeology season,
which begins in March, will include digging and restoration of the
3,000-year old house. (The next season for digging will begin January 5,
While the most recent remains at Tamar suggest that the area was a
military and economic center under the Romans, earlier habitation yields
evidence of pre-Christian monotheism central to the faith of Blossoming
Rose volunteers and their Jewish kin.
“There is enough biblical evidence that the God of the Jews became the
God of the Gentiles,” Coxon says. “We are to be a part of the glory of
the people of Israel. I see enlightenment of the world coming through
all monotheistic believers.”
Coxon was president of the former Jordan College in the late 1970s, when
the Michigan school received government funding to explore renewable
energy sources amid the oil crisis of the time. Seeking the hottest
places he could find to test solar-powered greenhouses, Coxon traveled
to Israel in 1979 and 1981 and came across the site of what is now
Biblical Tamar Park.
Energy prices soon plummeted and interest in alternative energy waned,
but Coxon remained drawn to the Holy Land. He saw in Israel an
opportunity to obey the Old Testament scriptures that he believes
command Gentile followers of God to bless the Jewish people.
Sponsors who had given money to support energy research started paying
the way for displaced Jews to make aliyah back to Israel. The effort
“just became a project in itself,” Coxon said, and Blossoming Rose was
The Michigan ministry has headed a variety of humanitarian projects in
Israel, such as setting up a dental clinic for Jews and Arab Christians
at the Sisters of the Rosary Catholic Guest House in Jerusalem. But
efforts have focused mostly on the twin mandate to return and restore.
Blossoming Rose has sponsored the aliyah of Jews exposed to nuclear
radiation at Chernobyl, and also paid for the return of Jews dispersed
to Ethiopia and India. Restoration of the land has included plantings of
trees in Eilat and grapevines in Ariel on the West Bank, planting roses
and weeding in Wohl Rose Park near the Israeli political headquarters
and revitalization of a neglected kibbutz.
Volunteers assisted the residents of Kibbutz Ir Ovot in planting crops
and irrigating fields. In 1986, Coxon learned that the kibbutz was built
atop the ancient biblical city of Tamar, constructed west of the En
Hazeva spring that is one of the most abundant water sources in the
central Arava. He saw excavation of the site as an opportunity to
instill new life into the desert, per scripture.
Now, Biblical Tamar Park is the top priority for Blossoming Rose, which
counts more than 5,000 members worldwide and carries an annual budget of
almost $500,000. It hosts symposiums that promote awareness stateside of
sacred scriptures shared by both Christians and Jews. The organization
also leads sightseeing tours of Israel and expeditions to the 53-acre
Biblical Tamar Park.
The first salvage excavation at Tamar took place in 1972 under the
direction of Rudolph Cohen. Subsequent digs have been conducted under
the sponsorship of Blossoming Rose, in partnership with the Antiquities
Authority, Jewish National Fund and the Tamar-Sapir Regional Council.
The work has unearthed six strata:
| Early Arab Period
|| 7th-8th cents CE
| Roman Period Square Fortress
|| 2nd-4th cents CE
| Nabataean Period
|| 1tht cent CE
| Late First Temple Period
|| 7th-6th cents BCE
| First Temple Period
|| 9th-8th cents BCE
| First Temple Period
|| 10th cent BCE
Archaeologists found a stratum of building fragments from the Early Arab
Period immediately beneath the ground surface, as well as evidence of a
farm above the remains of a Roman bathhouse. The remnants were located
underneath existing modern structures, on top of Roman ruins.
Prior to Muslim habitation, Tamar appears to have been an active outpost
on the frontier of the Roman world. Evidence of Roman administrative and
military presence abounds, and the site likely served as an economic way
station at the crossroads of busy trade routes – one that linked the Far
East to the Mediterranean Sea and another that ran south through Tamar
to the Red Sea.
The floor plan of the Roman Fortress at what was known as Tamara
resembles that of other imperial outposts along the route from the Dead
Sea to Eilat. A large limestone slab found at nearby Yotvata bears an
official Latin inscription that dates that fort – and others like it,
including the one at Tamar – to the time of the emperor Diocletian in
the third century CE.
Measuring 46 meters square, the Tamara fortress was the largest of its
kind in the Arava. Four projecting towers built on the corners of the
stronghold date to the end of the third century CE. Artifacts from
pottery to coins reveal that the fort was destroyed in the middle of the
fourth century CE, perhaps by an earthquake in 344. It immediately was
rebuilt – this time with stone floors instead of beaten earth – only to
encounter destruction again two decades later, likely from an earthquake
About 50 meters southeast of the Roman Fortress, excavation uncovered
the remains of a bathhouse and a palaestra, or inn. The 45- by 40-meter
complex dates to the third- and fourth-centuries CE, and appears to have
the same floor plan as contemporary bathhouses at the Ashkelon and other
nearby locales. An under-floor furnace heated pools and tubs via steam
seeping up through clay tiles. The complex also featured a dressing
room, cold-water pool and a sauna.
A row of rooms that formed part of an earlier fortress produced finds
that date from the first century BCE to the first century CE, likely
during a Nabataean Period of occupation prior to Roman annexation.
Alongside storage jars and other vessels, archaeologists found coins –
some bearing the likenesses of Nabataean kings.
Evidence suggests that Tamar at this time probably was an important
trade link in the “Spice Route” that ran from the Far East through the
Arabian peninsula to Gaza on the Mediterranean coast.
Several centuries before Tamar became a military base and hub of trade
for imperial inhabitants, the city was distinctly Jewish. Excavations
have uncovered ruins of three separate fortresses, from the tenth
century BCE to the fall of the First Temple in 587 BCE.
“This place is more important for Jews than Masada, but there are many
Jews that don’t know about this place because no one takes the
information out of the desert,” says Asher Sofer, manager of Biblical
Tamar Park. “Our vision here is to put Tamar city in the right…to make
it what it deserves to be.”
The earliest remains date to the First Temple Period, during the reign
of King Solomon over a united monarchy in the mid-tenth century BCE.
They were found about 3.5 meters below the ground surface, with the
southwestern corner of a rectangular structure measuring 13- by
11.5-meters preserved to a height of more than one meter.
The fortress resembles contemporary strongholds in the Negev highlands,
and offered up a clay cooking pot known as “Negbite” ware. The style,
which dates from the tenth to sixth centuries BCE, also has been found
at Tel Qadesh Barnea and Tel el-Kheleifeh. It is likely that the first
fortress at Tamar met the same fate as many of its peers – destruction
at the hands of Pharaoh Shishak at the end of the tenth century BCE.
Above the earliest structure, archaeologists uncovered a much larger
Iron Age fortress surrounded by a casemate wall. Covering about 10,000
square-meters, this bastion from the Judean Kingdom of the First Temple
Period is four times the size of other Negev fortresses and nearly as
large as contemporary cities such as Tel Beersheba. Its sheer size and
north-facing gate suggest that Tamar at this time was a fortified city,
rather than solely a military outpost.
The four-chambered gate complex located near the northeastern corner was
preserved to about three meters, and features four 2.5-meter wide gate
piers. Excavation also has revealed three storerooms measuring 17 meters
long and 2 meters wide, a pair of granaries and a rampart and moat.
It is uncertain who built this city or how it was destroyed. Likely
candidates for construction include eighth-century BCE King Amaziah –
who fortified the Judean kingdom and went to war with neighboring Edom
in the northern Arava – and his son, Uzziah – whom II Chronicles
mentions for building towers in the desert. Destruction may have come by
an earthquake foretold by the prophet Amos, or through conflict with
More than a century after fortified Tamar city met its fate, a third
fortress appeared during the Late First Temple Period in the seventh-
and sixth-centuries BCE. Only the foundations of the walls remain in
most places, making it difficult to reconstruct the floor plan. But
excavations have restored the eastern wall with two towers set 14 meters
apart. Southeastern and northeastern towers also have been uncovered.
Most intriguing about this third temple, however, is a pit full of
smashed clay and stone pieces that have been reassembled into 74 cultic
vessels that likely made up an Edomite shrine. The incense burners,
chalices, altars and human figurines were found in 1993 on the northern
edge of the site outside the fortress wall near the foundations of a
small building that seems to have been a shrine.
Some of the shards, especially three anthropomorphic stands, are similar
to vessels found in an Edomite shrine at Horvat Qitmit, about 45
kilometers to the northwest. A circular stone seal discovered inside the
fortress provides another indicator of Edomite origin. The seal – on
which is engraved two bearded male figures dressed in long robes and
standing on either side of an altar – measures 15 millimeters thick and
22 millimeters wide. It has been identified as Edomite and may have
belonged to a priest that served in the shrine.
The artifacts from the pit date to the end of the seventh century and
may have been destroyed by King Josiah as part of religious reforms
mentioned in II Kings. Because the pieces were found in situ, it is
probable that they were deliberately smashed and discarded.
As excavation continues, future plans for Biblical Tamar Park include
building an educational center for Christians and Jews with a museum, a
welcome center gift shop and a restaurant. Blossoming Rose volunteers
already have installed display lighting and drip irrigation for
landscaping. They now are helping to install a security fence around the
Existing buildings on site include a 24- by 60-foot air-conditioned
dining hall, bomb shelter, utility building, office and seven house
trailers where volunteers stay. With a welcome center, the park could
sell memorabilia and refreshments to fund a self-paced walking tour with
a multi-language sound system for tourists. The current office atop the
Tel would be transformed into a display space for artifacts.
“There are many valuable items that we have found here, but there is no
place that we can show them,” Sofer said. “The vision is to let people
see what happened here 3,000 years ago. What’s important is the fact
that Jewish people were here.”
Sofer directs volunteers as they assist archaeologists in preparing the
area surrounding the dig for the arrival of visitors. Tasks include
landscaping, placing sandbags around the dig to stop erosion and
maintenance of facilities.
“It’s neat to see things come to fruition,” said Tristan Macauley, a
22-year old University of Pittsburgh student who arrived at Biblical
Tamar Park for the fourth time in October and plans to stay through
April. “This dig is incredibly important because of the historical
things that happened here.
“It’s a place of light compared to all the darkness that’s going on in
the country right now.”
The next archaeology season at Biblical Tamar Park is scheduled for
January 3-21, 2005. The cost of the 3-week season is $1800, and the
Jordan (Petra) add-on is $400. Blossoming Rose leads several tours each
year to Israel and the dig, where tourists spend a week working on site.
Visit Blossoming Rose online or email at:
email@example.com for more information.
“They will renew the
ruined cities that have been devastated for generations. Strangers will shepherd
your flock; foreigners will work your fields and vineyards.” -Isaiah 61:4-5.
“I will lift up mine
hand to the Gentiles, and set up a standard to the people; and they shall bring
thy sons in their arms and thy daughters shall be carried upon their shoulders.”
“The Arava shall
rejoice and blossom as the rose.” -Isaiah 35:1.
Descriptions of the
dig at Biblical Tamar Park rely heavily on the reports of archaeologists Rudolph
Cohen and Yigal Yisrael as published in “On the Road to Edom: Discoveries from
En Hazeva.” The Israel Museum, Jerusalem. 1995.
Look for academic tools and books for biblical studies at Dove Books.
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