Mareshah in the territory of Judah
(alt. Maresha, and later, Marisa, alt. Maresa)
(Bell Caves, Sidonian Tombs, Columbarium Cave and more)

The Tell Sandahannah

Excavation of buildings

Another closer view

 View from opposite side

 Entrance through building down into cavern below

 Further down the stairs

 Looking down into the cave

 Looking back up at stairs

Carved out carvern. Pillars left for support.


One little known place in Israel, more specifically of the area of Judah, is the city of Mareshah. It was listed among the cities given to the tribe of Judah following the conquests of Joshua.

Joshua 15:20, 33, 42-44 This is the inheritance of the tribe of Judah, clan by clan: ... 33 In the western foothills: ... 42 Libnah, Ether, Ashan, 43 Iphtah, Ashnah, Nezib, 44 Keilah, Aczib and Mareshah - nine towns and their villages. (NIV)

A majority of references to Mareshah, in Scriptures, come from the Chronicles. In the first of these, the likely name of the one who rebuilt Mareshah is mentioned, citing records "from ancient times". While Mareshah may be the name of a son of Laadah, it is more probable that this is a reference to the (then) well known city.

1 Chronicles 4:21-22 21 The sons of Shelah son of Judah: Er the father of Lecah, Laadah the father of Mareshah and the clans of the linen workers at Beth Ashbea, 22 Jokim, the men of Cozeba, and Joash and Saraph, who ruled in Moab and Jashubi Lehem. (These records are from ancient times.) (NIV)

Even later, during the troubled times following the death of Solomon, his son Rehoboam fortified the city of Mareshah as one of his key defenses of the territory he still controlled in the south.

2 Chronicles 11:5-12 Rehoboam lived in Jerusalem and built up towns for defense in Judah: 6 Bethlehem, Etam, Tekoa, 7 Beth Zur, Soco, Adullam, 8 Gath, Mareshah, Ziph, 9 Adoraim, Lachish, Azekah, 10 Zorah, Aijalon and Hebron. These were fortified cities in Judah and Benjamin. 11 He strengthened their defenses and put commanders in them, with supplies of food, olive oil and wine. 12 He put shields and spears in all the cities, and made them very strong. So Judah and Benjamin were his. (NIV)

King Asa appears to have still been using Mareshah as one of his fortified cities and a base of operations in a decisive victory over the Cushites (Ethiopians), though the actually battle was fought in the nearby Valley of Zephathah.

2 Chronicles 14:2-12 Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God. 3 He removed the foreign altars and the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. 4 He commanded Judah to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers, and to obey his laws and commands. 5 He removed the high places and incense altars in every town in Judah, and the kingdom was at peace under him. 6 He built up the fortified cities of Judah, since the land was at peace. No one was at war with him during those years, for the Lord gave him rest. 7 "Let us build up these towns," he said to Judah, "and put walls around them, with towers, gates and bars. The land is still ours, because we have sought the Lord our God; we sought him and he has given us rest on every side." So they built and prospered. 8 Asa had an army of three hundred thousand men from Judah, equipped with large shields and with spears, and two hundred and eighty thousand from Benjamin, armed with small shields and with bows. All these were brave fighting men. 9 Zerah the Cushite marched out against them with a vast army and three hundred chariots, and came as far as Mareshah. 10 Asa went out to meet him, and they took up battle positions in the Valley of Zephathah near Mareshah. 11 Then Asa called to the Lord his God and said, "Lord, there is no one like you to help the powerless against the mighty. Help us, O Lord our God, for we rely on you, and in your name we have come against this vast army. O Lord, you are our God; do not let man prevail against you." 12 The Lord struck down the Cushites before Asa and Judah. (NIV)

God raised up a prophet from Mareshah during the time of Jehoshaphat, Eliezer son of Dodavahu:

2 Chronicles 20:35-37 Later, Jehoshaphat king of Judah made an alliance with Ahaziah king of Israel, who was guilty of wickedness. 36 He agreed with him to construct a fleet of trading ships. After these were built at Ezion Geber, 37 Eliezer son of Dodavahu of Mareshah prophesied against Jehoshaphat, saying, "Because you have made an alliance with Ahaziah, the Lord will destroy what you have made." The ships were wrecked and were not able to set sail to trade. (NIV)

Writing prior to the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel (circa 722 B.C.), the prophet Micah specifically warned that even the southern city of Mareshah would subsequently fall and go into exile.

Micah 1:15-16 I will bring a conqueror against you who live in Mareshah. He who is the glory of Israel will come to Adullam. 16 Shave your heads in mourning for the children in whom you delight; make yourselves as bald as the vulture, for they will go from you into exile. (NIV)

Entrance to a burial cave (Caves are circa 3rd and 2nd centuries B.C.)

Looking back up towards the entrance to the cave

Burial niches in cave

Burial niche in cave

Entrance to another burial cave

Looking back towards entrance of burial cave.

Burial niches in cave (notice person for size perspective)

A little of the decoration remains near the interior doorway of the burial cave.

The Babylonian exile of Judah fulfilled this prophecy (circa 587 B.C.), following which the Edomites inhabited Mareshah, now calling it Marisa. By the 4th century B.C. Sidonians and even Greeks had come to Mareshah, bringing Hellenistic culture with them. A few Jews, refugees escaping the exile also lived in Mareshah during this time. During this inter-testament period Mareshah, still using its' new name, plays a noted role in the Maccabean wars as a leading town of the Idumeans (mostly descendants of the Edomites).

1 Maccabees 5:65-66 Then Judas and his brothers went out and fought the descendants of Esau in the land to the south. He struck Hebron and its villages and tore down its strongholds and burned its towers on all sides. 66 Then he marched off to go into the land of the Philistines, and passed through Marisa. (NRSV Apocrypha)

2 Maccabees 12:32-2:35 After the festival called Pentecost, they hurried against Gorgias, the governor of Idumea, 33 who came out with three thousand infantry and four hundred cavalry. 34 When they joined battle, it happened that a few of the Jews fell. 35 But a certain Dositheus, one of Bacenor's men, who was on horseback and was a strong man, caught hold of Gorgias, and grasping his cloak was dragging him off by main strength, wishing to take the accursed man alive, when one of the Thracian cavalry bore down on him and cut off his arm; so Gorgias escaped and reached Marisa. (NRSV Apocrypha)


Entrance to Sidonian burial cave (#8).

Burial niches in cave #8.

Restored paintings in burial cave #8.


Excavations at Tell Sandahannah have uncovered numerous ruins including the Hellenistic city and elaborately painted tombs of the same era. Additionally, numerous soft limestone ("kirton") caves were left from the quarrying of this valuable rock, which was used for building materials. The caves often had secondary uses, including as water reservoirs, storerooms, livestock barns, and burial caves.

 Entrance to the Columbarium Cave

Stairs downward

Built in the shape of a double cross. Notice person for perspective of size.

There are more than 2000 niches for pigeons in this cave

Cave was only used for pigeons until 3rd century B.C.

Niches were later used for storage.
85 installations like this were found with about 10,000 niches total!


History records the destruction of Mareshah, by the Parthians circa 40 BC (Josephus Antiquities 14.13.9) A new community grew-up near by, called Bet-Guvrin, first mentioned in ancient records by the historian Josephus writing in 68 A.D. It remained a thriving Jewish settlement, even following the destruction of the temple, until the Bar-Kochva Revolt (circa 132-135 A.D.) Continued use of this site is recorded through the Roman, Byzantine, Muslim and Crusader periods. Early in this era (circa 200 A.D.) the name of the city was changed once again, by decree of the Roman emperor, to Eleutheropolis ("City of the Free"). Many of the bell caves were dug as late as the early Muslim period.

Bell Cave

Bell Cave (notice opening in ceiling were the cave was first dug)

Bell Cave

Bell Cave (many caves are connected by passageways)