RAMAT RAḤEL (Heb. רָמַת רָחֵל), ancient tell (Khirbat Ṣāliḥ) located on a hilltop (2,683 ft. (818 m.) above sea level) within Israel's international 1947–48 border, in the western part of Kibbutz Ramat Raḥel, about midway between the Old City of Jerusalem and Bethlehem. The site is strategically situated, overlooking the junction of two important roads – the one that in ancient times was the major route from Jerusalem southwards, and the road connecting Jerusalem to the west, via Beth-Shemesh in the Shephelah, through the Rephaim valley, where the old Turkish railway, as well as the modern one, runs to Jerusalem.
The name and the site's biblical identity are still enigmatic. Y. Aharoni identified the site as *Bet-Cherem, and hypothesized that it had been built on a former vineyard of the king, hence its name. He based the assumption on the reference in the lxx supplement to Joshua 15:59a, as a site near Bethlehem. It was also mentioned in Nehemiah 3:14 as a center of one of the districts in the province of Yehud. B. Mazar, however, identified the Ramat Raḥel site with Netofah, a place mentioned in the ot near Bethlehem (ii Sam. 23:28; i Chr. 2:54ff. and cf. Ezra 2:22; Neh. 7:26; 12:28). G. Barkay identified the site with mmŠt – one of the places mentioned on the lmlk stamp impressions. He regarded it as one of the four local centers in Judah (together with Hebron, Sochoh, and Ziph). Lipschits has suggested identifying the site with Geruth Chimham, mentioned in Jeremiah 41:17 as a place "near Bethlehem."
Already in 1930–31, B. Mazar and M. Stekelis, working on behalf of the Israel Exploration Society, excavated a Jewish burial cave some 200 m. south of the hilltop of the site. Y. Aharoni began excavating the site in 1954 and later conducted four successive seasons there, between 1959 and 1962, on behalf of the Israel Department of Antiquities and Museums, the Israel Exploration Society, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and the University of Rome. G. Barkay made a few soundings at the site in 1984 on behalf of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University, the Israel Exploration Society, the Israel Department of Antiquities and Museums, and the American Institute of Holy Land Studies on Mount Zion. In the course of the site's restoration and reconstruction as an Archaeological Park, trial excavations were made by Gideon Suleimanny on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority. Excavations on behalf of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University and the University of Heidelberg were resumed at the site in 2004 under the direction of O. Lipschits, M. Oeming, and Y. Gadot, as part of a major excavation project.
As at other hilly archaeological sites, differentiating between the strata at Ramat Raḥel has been difficult. The generally accepted view, however, is that there were seven periods of occupation:
1. The site was first settled in the time of the kings of Judah at the end of the eighth and early seventh centuries b.c.e. (Stratum vb). Scanty architectural remains have been found, and a large number of storage jar handles, stamped with royal seal impressions of the lmlk type. Aharoni assumed that during this period there was a royal fortress at the site (though only scanty architectural remains were assigned to this stratum, and most of them were found in the fillings of stratum va, out of any clear archaeological context). Some agricultural terraces and private dwellings are the main structural finds from this stratum; in one of the houses Aharoni found seal impressions of "Shebnah [son of] Shaḥar." The same seal impressions have also been discovered at Lachish and Mizpah. Lipschits, Oeming, and Gadot assigned to this same stratum another private seal impression–"Ahaziahu [son of] Tanhum." The same seal impressions are known at Mizpah, Lachish, and Beth-Shemesh.
2. In the next stratum (va), dated to the seventh century b.c.e., an imposing palace stood on top of the mound. This is the first palace from the period of the kingdom of Judah that has so far been found in archaeological excavations. The palace walls were built of ashlar blocks, uniquely in Judean architecture, and it was decorated with proto-Aeolic capitals. Ten of these were found in Ramat Raḥel, and other than one found in Kenyon's excavations in the city of David (dated by her to the 10th–9th centuries), this is the only example found in Judah. Lipschits, Oeming, and Gadot have suggested that the capitals may have been first used in the palace of stratum vb. Among the other main finds were window balustrades of the palace (cf. Jer. 22:14), a painted potsherd depicting a king (?) seated on a throne, and a seal impression of "Eliakim, steward of Yokhan," also known from Beth-Shemesh and Tell Beit Mirsim. Aharoni assumed that the palace was built at the end of the seventh century and assigned it to king *Jehoiakim son of Josiah (608–598 b.c.e.), whose palace is described by Jeremiah (22:13–19). This date is, however, not justified, at least from the archaeological point of view. Aharoni assumed that the palace was surrounded by a wide fortified courtyard extending over an area of about 20 dunams (five acres). However, the 2005 excavation season at the site revealed that this courtyard, if it existed, was much smaller and confined to the western side of the mound. As a result of the recent work it is possible to reconstruct a small citadel that stood west of the palace, next to its western wall, and a system of wide, open pools adjacent to the southwestern corner of the palace. However, the architectural and chronological connections between the palace and the citadel with the pools and water system are still unclear.
3. The next settlement (Stratum ivb), was dated to the long time-span extending between the Persian and Hasmonean periods. Numerous small finds from these periods have been found, with unclear and segmented architectural finds. Hundreds of seal impressions on jar handles were attributed to the Persian and Hellenistic occupation. The site was the main center of the Yehud seal impressions (of all types), as nearly 200 impressions were found. Many jar-handle impressions with the name yršlm (Jerusalem) were found at the site, dated to the Hasmonean occupation. Other seal impressions were stamped with the names of royal officials or governors of the province, two of whom – Jehoezer and Ahiyab (new reading by Lipschits and Vanderhooft) – could have been previously unknown Jewish governors. We may accept Aharoni's assumption that a new citadel was built at the site during the post-Exilic period, and served as one of the main administrative centers in Judah. So far, however, no significant architectural finds from the Persian and Hellenistic periods have been found.
4. A small unfortified village from the Early Roman period (Stratum iva), dated to the first century b.c.e.–first century c.e. After its destruction ca. 70 c.e., the site remained abandoned until the third century. The main find from this period are tomb caves containing ossuaries with Jewish names written in Aramaic and Greek.
5. After a gap of more than a century, a Roman-style house with a well-built bathhouse was erected on the hill, probably for the Tenth Roman Legion, as confirmed by bricks stamped lxfr (Legio X Fretensis). The many small remains from this stratum (Stratum iii) are dated to the third and fourth centuries c.e.
6. Between the middle of the fifth century and the sixth century, a Christian church was built on the tell with an attached monastery complex and a large settlement around it (Stratum ii). There are clear two phases in this period. This church should be connected to the other, larger, church of the "Kathisma" ("the Seat"), that was excavated close by, about 300 m. from the tell and just beside the main road leading from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. This last church was often mentioned in Byzantine sources as the place where Mary, mother of Jesus, rested during her journey to Bethlehem, where she gave birth.
7. Scanty remains were found upon the ruined Byzantine stratum dating from the Umayyad and the early Abbasid periods (7th-8th centuries c.e.). The finds from this period (Stratum i) consisted of poorly built structures. This was the last occupation of the tell.
[Oded Lipschits (2nd ed.)]
The founders of Kibbutz Ramat Raḥel originated from Eastern Europe. They came with the Third Aliyah to the country and belonged to *Gedud ha-Avodah ("Labor Legion"). In 1921 they were sent to Jerusalem as an "urban work group" and set up a temporary camp on the site of Jerusalem's Reḥavyah quarter. The first houses in this quarter were built by the work group, who became construction workers and stone dressers. In 1926 the kibbutz was transferred to its present site on a dominating hill overlooking a wide expanse of the Judean Desert to the east, *Herodium, and the town of *Bethlehem with Rachel's Tomb to the south (from which the settlement took its name). Ramat Raḥel joined Ha-Kibbutz ha-Me'uḥad at the end of the 1920s. In the 1929 Arab riots a large armed mob stormed Ramat Raḥel and completely destroyed it. The kibbutz was rebuilt in 1930. Ramat Raḥel again came under repeated attacks in the 1936–39 Arab riots. As the settlement's cultivable area was then severely limited, its economy was partly based on outside work in which the members performed important pioneering tasks, e.g., in the potash works near the Dead Sea, the railway service, and in enterprises established in the kibbutz, notably a laundry and bakery for Jerusalem customers. In 1946 additional land was allocated and the deciduous fruit orchards and vegetable gardens were enlarged. In the Israel *War of Independence (1948), Ramat Raḥel constituted one of Jewish Jerusalem's forward defense positions and the battles around it were decisive for the city's fate. In May 1948 the kibbutz was attacked by the Arab Legion and irregulars advancing from the east and by an Egyptian tank force simultaneously attacking from the Bethlehem road in the west. In the following battles, the place changed hands several times and was completely destroyed, but finally remained in Israel hands. The armistice border was drawn around it to the east, south, and southwest. The village was rebuilt and received farmland in the nearby demilitarized zone around the former high commissioner's palace and in the Coastal Plain. A seminary was opened at the kibbutz. In the 1951–52 split in Ha-Kibbutz ha-Me'uḥad, Ramat Raḥel joined Iḥud ha-Kevuzot ve-ha-Kibbutzim, while a part of its members went to Ein Karmel. In the autumn of 1956 nearby Jordanian positions opened fire on a party of the Israel Exploration Society congress visiting the local excavations and killed four persons. In the *Six-Day War (1967), the kibbutz again found itself in the front line, when the way to Bethlehem and the Hebron Hills was opened by Israel forces on June 6–7, by the capture in a hard battle of fortifications around the nearby monastery of Mar Elias.
In 2002 the population of the kibbutz was 308. Its economy was based mainly on tourism, including a hotel, archaeological garden, and conferences and sports centers. Its farming branches were field crops, fruit orchards, citrus groves, and poultry.
Y. Aharoni, et al., Excavations at Ramat Rahel 1, seasons1959 and 1960 (1962); Y. Aharoni, et al., Excavations at Ramat Rahel 2, Seasons 1961 and 1962 (1964); Y. Aharoni, "Ramat Rahel," in: iej, 9 (1959), 272–74; "Ramat Rahel," in: ibid., 10, (1960), 261–62; "Ramat Rahel," in: rb, 67 (1960), 398–400; "Ramat Rahel," in: iej, 11 (1961), 193–95; "Excavations at Ramat Rahel," in: ba, 24 (1961), 98–118; "Ramat Rahel," in: rb, 69 (1962), 401–4; "Ramat Rahel," in: Ruth Beloff (2nd ed.), 70 (1963), 572–74; "The Citadel of Ramat Rahel," in: Archaeology, 18 (1965), 15–25; idem, "Beth Hacherem," in: D.W. Thomas (ed.), Archaeology and Old Testament Study (1967), 171–85; S. Geva, in: iej, 31 (1981), 186–89; N. Na'aman, "An Assyrian Residence at Ramat Rahel," in: tau, 28 (2001), 260–81; R. Reich, "On Assyrian Presence at Ramat Rahel," in: tau, 30 (2003), 124–30.