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The Horsemen of Israel and the Megiddo Experience

Deborah O. Cantrell, J.D., Ph.D.

When I read the Bible, I hear the hoof beats. I have always heard the hoof beats. As a child when I read in Exodus of the ancient Israelites fleeing the Egyptian chariots, or in Job of the prancing, valiant war horse tossing his mane, eager to run into battle, or of Elisha's visions of the awe-inspiring, fearless 'horsemen of Israel' in 2 Kings, I always wondered, "Where did they keep these horses?" As an adult when I first visited Israel and went to Tel Megiddo, I was amazed to see the stone feeding troughs standing in place and the vast stable remains still clearly defined after more than 2,700 years. When I looked at the indentions on the troughs showing teeth marks made by horses, I did not have to rely on my legal training to know that I was looking at the "best evidence" for the presence of horses in ancient Israel.

Shortly after that visit to Israel in 1997, I decided to take a break from the practice of law and pursue studies in religion at Vanderbilt. When I met Doug Knight, he mentioned that Vanderbilt sponsored an archaeological dig at Megiddo in collaboration with Tel Aviv University. The students who participated in the Megiddo dig were extremely enthusiastic about their experiences living on a kibbutz, working on the dig site from sunrise to noon, and attending lectures by famous archaeologists and biblical scholars in the evenings.

With the encouragement of my adviser, Jack Sasson, I joined the group in the summer of 2000 and had the time of my life. I returned to the Megiddo dig for several seasons to work on the excavation of the northern stables and study the site for signs of equine usage. A friend and colleague, Norma Franklin, archaeologist and chief administrator of the Megiddo dig, took me to other archaeological sites and generously provided her expertise of building techniques during the Iron Age. We studied the six- and four-chambered gates and tri-partite pillared buildings at sites such as Hazor, Dan, and Jezreel, finding further evidence of Israel's strong commitment to chariotry during the monarchy.

As I flash forward to 2008 when I completed my doctorate, the Megiddo excavations stand out as exceptional in an overall amazing experience of graduate studies at Vanderbilt. I am grateful for the opportunity to explore ancient Israel while making friends and colleagues for a lifetime, many of whom now join me in hearing the hoof beats. Recently, the archeologists at the renewed Jezreel excavations invited me to join the staff as an equine expert to explore the cavalry headquarters of the Iron Age kings of Israel. I am hopeful The Horsemen of Israel, (based on my dissertation, Eisenbrauns 2011) sparks more academic interest about the importance of horses in ancient Israel and their role in protecting and defending the nation.