Armageddon's Greatest Hits
Standing atop Tel Megiddo, George Washington University archaeologist and military historian Eric Cline, the dig’s former co-director, overlooks a panorama of biblical and violent lore. “Over there, to the left, is Mount Carmel, where Elijah the prophet is said to have pitted the Hebrew God, Yahweh, against the idols of the Canaanites, provoking the fall of a dynasty in the ninth century B.C.,” he says. To the right, he points out Mount Tabor, where Deborah, mentioned in the Old Testament’s book of Judges, calls on her general, Barak, to lead an Israelite army 10,000 strong in about the 12th century B.C. He then traces the strategic route taken by Pharaoh Thutmose III’s army when it marched right up to Megiddo, engaging the Canaanites in the first recorded battle in the history of the world, in the 15th century B.C.
“This area has always been a theater of war,” says Cline. The armies of the Greeks, the Romans and the Crusaders fought here. In 1799, Napoleon fought near here, calling it “the most natural battleground of the whole Earth.”
And the battles didn’t end there. In a recent excavation, Cline stumbled upon more than 200 spent cartridge cases from the most modern Megiddo battle: the Arab-Israeli War of 1948. A student of war at Armageddon, Cline offers up his list of the greatest battles, real and literary, and yet to come.
1479 B.C. Pharaoh Thutmose III successfully marches on Canaanite Megiddo, taking what was considered the most dangerous route: a narrow mountain path easily susceptible to ambush.
12th century B.C. The biblical prophet Deborah asks her general, Barak, to marshal an Israelite army of 10,000 to defeat the Canaanite forces of King Jabin. The battle, which they won, was said to be fought near Megiddo.
12th century B.C. Moses’ general, Joshua, is said to emerge from the Sinai to capture the land of Canaan. The Bible says that among his victories, he defeated the king of Megiddo — the tel would be on anyone’s list of must-haves for controlling the ancient world.
925 B.C. Egyptian Pharaoh Sheshonq attacks Megiddo, an event well-documented in extrabiblical sources, though due to sloppy archaeology, people are still confused about which layer of the tel, precisely, was attacked. A stone slab documenting his presence was found in a trench in the 20th century.
732 B.C. Assyrians attack Megiddo, driving Jewish residents of the northern kingdom south to Jerusalem, causing the city’s population to swell.
609 B.C. Josiah is killed at Megiddo by Pharaoh Neco of Egypt after the pharaoh warns him to stay away — at least according to the Bible. His death is the first step in the downfall of Israel, ending with the destruction of Solomon’s Temple on the Mount in Jerusalem.
A.D. 1099 The first Crusaders arrive in the Holy Land, hoping to recapture it for Christianity. Starting in 1113, Maudud of Mosul and other Muslims launch a series of campaigns to retake their territory. Armies of Crusaders and counter-raiders roam the land, including the area around the Jezreel Valley and Mount Tabor, near Megiddo, until 1260, when Egyptians retake the area for good.
1799 Napoleon faces the Ottomans in the Jezreel Valley, scattering them to the winds and calling the Megiddo valley the most natural battleground on Earth.
1918 The Battle of Megiddo, the final Allied offensive of the Sinai and Palestine campaign at the end of World War I. As part of the strategy there, British Gen. Edmund H.H. Allenby takes a page from history, defying orders and following Pharaoh Thutmose III’s path right down the center of the Jezreel Valley, evading detection until he reached the tel.
Armageddon The penultimate battle to rock us before the end of the world is supposed to take place on the dusty mound, Megiddo. Date unknown.