Worker at archeological dig examines ancient hives. (Credit: Amihai Mazar, Hebrew University)

Gracious words are like honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body. – Proverbs 16:24 (ESV)

The ancient Israelites understood the nutritional, medicinal and religious qualities and uses of honey, according to these words which the Bible attributes to their third and wisest king, Solomon.

Until recently, scientists thought that the mention of honey in the Bible referred most often to a sweet extracted from dates or figs—not from managed hives. However, that view seems to be changing.

Hives uncovered during a dig at the ancient city of Rehov in northern Israel may well be the oldest evidence of honeybee husbandry in the Near East. Dated around 900 BC by archaeologist Amihai Mazar of Hebrew University, the hives could be the oldest in existence–anywhere.

Each of the cylindrical hives measured 2-1/2 feet long and one foot in diameter, and were constructed of unbaked clay and straw.

Each hive had a removable plug at one end, through which the beekeeper could extract the honeycomb, and a small hole for the bees on the other. Stacked in rows three high, the 30 hives discovered could have produced up to one half ton of honey per year, according to the archaeologist’s estimate. And the area in which these hives were discovered may have accommodated another 70 hives.

Beekeepers may have extracted up to one half ton of honey per year from the hives discovered. (Drawing Credit: Amihai Mazar of Hebrew University)

Inside the hives, archeologists discovered old beeswax and bee parts which, when analyzed, told researchers the particular subspecies of bees had originated in the land now known as Turkey.

“The exceptional preservation of these remains provides unequivocal identification of the clay cylinders as the most ancient beehives yet found,” wrote archeologists in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

According to the Hebrew University team, this discovery “suggests beekeeping already was an elaborate agricultural practice 3,000 years ago.”

Worker points to row of beehives discovered during an archeological dig in northern Israel and believed to be the oldest in existence. (Credit: Amihai Mazar of Hebrew University)

Ancient manuscripts and drawings in Egypt at the time of the pharaohs depict beekeeping as an industry, but the Israelite hives appear to be the oldest surviving hives in the region—perhaps in the world.

The Old Testament makes repeated reference to honey. For instance, the children of Israel are told by God that He would rescue them from slavery and give them their own productive land.

. . . and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.- Exodus 3:8 (ESV)

After vanquishing and displacing the peoples of the Promised Land, Israel apparently continued honey production to the point where – later in its history – the golden sweetener was a major national export. In the prophet Ezekiel’s lament for the city of Tyre, honey is listed as one of the goods exchanged by Israelites for the merchandise offered at this ancient sea port.

Judah and the land of Israel traded with you; they exchanged for your merchandise wheat of Minnith, meal, honey, oil, and balm. -Ezekiel 27:17

Each hive had a removable plug at one end, for honeycomb extraction, and a small hole on the other end for bees to enter and exit the hive. (credit: Amihai Mazar of Hebrew University)

If modern archeology is unearthing finds like these ancient beehives, what new breakthroughs will occur in coming months and years that will verify the reliability of the Bible and the wisdom it contains?

Watch for fresh discoveries . . . and above all, keep thinking.