MARESHAH (Heb. מָרֵשָׁה, Marissa), city in Judah connected with the families of Shelah and Caleb (i Chron. 2:42; 4:21). It was in the fourth district of the territory of the tribe of Judah (Josh. 15:44). Mareshah was one of the cities fortified by Rehoboam (ii Chron. 11:8–9). It was the home town of the prophet Eliezer the son of Dodavahu (ii Chron. 20:37) and possibly also of the prophet Micah (Micah 1:1; Jer. 26:18). In Persian or Hellenistic times, a Sidonian colony settled there and it served as an administrative center (Zeno Pap.
59006, 59015, 59537). Its population, however, was mostly Edomite, and as such, Mareshah served as a base for the Seleucid armies at war with Judah Maccabee, who ravaged its territory (i Macc. 5:66; ii Macc. 12:35). John Hyrcanus conquered it with the rest of Idumea and it remained in Hasmonean possession until Pompey. In 40 b.c.e., shortly after its "liberation" by Pompey, the Parthians completely destroyed it (Jos., Ant., 12:353; 14:75, 364; Wars, 1:269). After the destruction of the city, Bet *Guvrin became the center of the region. Robinson identified it with Tell Ṣandaḥanna, south of Bet Guvrin. Bliss and Macalister, excavating there in 1900, uncovered the Hellenistic stratum, which contained a city wall nearly square in plan (measurements, at its widest points: 520 ft. (156 m.) wide from east to west; 500 ft. (150 m.) wide from north to south). Inside, the town was laid out in the so-called Hippodamic plan, with streets intersecting at right angles. This plan was slightly distorted at a later stage of the town's existence. In the eastern part of the town were a marketplace and a temple. Ptolemaic inscriptions, pottery, and execration texts on limestone tablets were the main finds. In 1902, Hellenistic tombs with paintings and inscriptions were found near Mareshah. The principal tomb is decorated with representations of real and mythological animals; the inscriptions are of one Apollophanes, head of the Sidonians at Mareshah, and his family. The tomb was used from the second to the first century b.c.e. and the inscriptions indicate a gradual assimilation of the Sidonians into the Idumean and Jewish populations there. Other tombs of similar character were found in 1925 and 1962.
Excavations undertaken in the 1980s and 1990s by the Israel Antiquities Authority under A. Kloner's direction uncovered many underground installations quarried in the limestone bedrock (oil presses, columbaria, tombs, and a sanctuary) connected to villas of the Lower City surrounding the tel (acropolis). The exploration of the largest (northwestern) tower of the Hellenistic fortification of the acropolis showed that it was inserted inside the glacis of the Persian period fortification, which, itself, modified the Iron Age ii wall (of the eighth century b.c.e.). Its construction is dated to the turn of the third–second century, at the time of the Seleucid conquest of the area over the Ptolemies. An outer wall (proteichisma) surrounded the bottom of the tel, and an insula of the Lower City, attached to its face, consisted of a network of shops, with some craft installations, and dwellings above them. The Lower City was probably built under Antiochus iv (according to the so-called Hippodamic plan), but limited activities took place there already in the Iron Age, Persian, and Early Hellenistic periods. The rich finds comprised local and imported wares, among which the amphoras are evidence for the relation of the Levant with the main production centers of wine, oil, and probably fish products of all the Mediterranean, especially in the second half of the second century b.c.e. (Asia Minor, the Aegean, the Black Sea, Italy, and North Africa). Many ostraca were also found, including the copy of a wedding contract between Idumean families, written in Aramaic. The chronological distribution of the coins and the Rhodian amphora stamps provides a refinement of the historical events. The consequences of the destruction by Judah Maccabee lasted until the second half of the second century b.c.e., when a significant revival of the activities is evidenced by the discovery of an inscribed standard of measures, in situ inside a shop, made under the responsibility of two agoranomes in 143/2 b.c.e. The war of the Seleucid brothers Antiochus viii and Antiochus ix initiated the decline of the city, the wealth of which was based on trade and agricultural production (oil and cereals), and in connection with the nearby port of Ascalon. The entrances of some of the houses were sealed, evidence for abandonment at the time of the conquest by John Hyrcanus, who did not destroy the city. The conquest took place probably in two stages: the first right after 113/2 b.c.e. – as evidenced by a funerary inscription and a hidden hoard of silver coins from Ascalon, both dating to that same year – and then around 108/7 b.c.e. – as evidenced by the last series of many inscribed lead weights, endorsed by the agoranome of that same year. This latter stage was most likely followed by the conversion of the inhabitants who remained in Idumea. The reduced occupation under the Hasmoneans seems evidenced by the two mikva'ot uncovered on the acropolis by Bliss and Macalister. The re-foundation by Gabinius in 57–55 b.c.e. was marked by the mint of coins under his name in Mareshah. However, no material evidence dates to the period of the Parthian destruction, in 40 B.C.E. Maresha appears to have been an Idumean city administered according to the Greek tradition (polis). This is strengthened by the recent discovery of a fragment of a civic inscription on stone, the first of its kind in the whole Southern Levant.
[Gerald Finkielsztejn (2nd ed.)]
F.J. Bliss and R.A.S. Macalister, Excavations in Palestine (1902), 52ff; 204ff.; J.P. Peters and H. Thiersch, Painted Tombs in the Necropolis of Marissa (1905); F.M. Abel, rb, 34 (1925), 267–75; E. Oren, Archaeology, 18 (1965), 218–24. add. bibliography: G. Finkielsztejn, Bulletin of the Anglo Israel Archaeological Society, 16 (1998), 33–63; A. Kloner (ed.), Maresha Excavations Final Report i. Subterranean Complexes 21, 44, 70. iaa Reports, 17 (2003), especially 157–62.