It turns out that the Biblical “land of milk and honey” may be just that after all… and lots of honey, for that matter. It turns out that the inhabitants of northern Israel developed their own beekeeping industry about 3,000 years ago – and the beehives are still intact today.Thirty beehives found in the city of Rehov date to around 900 BC, and give all indications that a healthy, thriving honey industry was well established during the Biblical timeframe.
Although beekeeping in the ancient world wasn’t an unusual practice in itself – beeswax was often used to create molds for metal casting and to create writing surfaces, while honey made an excellent medicinal substance, was added to food, and could often be used for religious purposes – nothing like the intact hives at Rehov in Israel have ever been found. Next to the hives were also remnants of ancient honeycomb and pieces of beeswax!
The beehives were made of straw and unbaked clay, and each one had a hole at the end where bees could move in and out of the hive. There was also a lid at the opposing end, allowing beekeepers to easily access the honeycombs inside. All 30 hives were discovered sitting in an orderly fashion: they sat in rows of three hives high, inside a room that could have comfortably held 100 hives. Clearly, beekeeping was an organized industry – after all, the population of the city at the time these hives were in use was probably about 2,000 people, and was made up of Israelites, Canaanites, and other individuals from the surrounding tribes.
While it may seem unusual to have a beekeeping industry located right in the center of the city, a consideration must be made of the religious use of honey – next to the hives, archaeologists located an altar that was decorated with fertility figurines, which likely links this hive collection to religious practices. Also, it’s entirely possible that the ruler of this city simply preferred to have such a lucrative industry under his control – namely, in a location where he could keep an eye on things.