In Numbers 13, Moses sends spies to check out the Promised Land. The Scriptures do not tell us which cities the scouts visited, but we can guess they took they most common route through Canaan, and visited the biggest cities along that route. The first city the spies are likely to have reached is Arad. Arad was a prosperous and fortified city even during the Early Bronze Age, well over 1500 years before the Exodus.
It is important to realize experts believe that in the past the Negev received twice the amount of rainfall that it receives today. Arad was built on a bowl-shaped hill, and that precious rainfall was collected in a reservoir dug into the soft limestone in the lowest point of the city. This guaranteed a continual water supply during the long hot summers. The reservoir may also have reached the water table.
This rainfall also made serious farming—and large cities—possible. The inhabitants of Arad grew wheat, barley and beans, and had orchards of fruit and olive trees. They constructed earthen dams to increase the amount of water needed, and raised goats, sheep and cattle.
Arad was located at the crossroads of two main trade routes, and maintained trade relations with Egypt and the Sinai. Pottery made in Egypt, and copper from the royal mines in Sinai was traded for local wine, olive oil and grain.
Arad’s nearly 8-foot thick wall enclosed about 25 acres and approximately 2,500 people. The wall was about 4000 feet long, with 11 towers and two gateways. The city was carefully laid out in a circular pattern. A main road ringed the city just inside the wall. Two more main roads crossed the city at right angles, dividing it into quarters, each with a specific function: residential, temple, palace.
Arad contained two temples. The larger temple had two halls. In one of the rooms, a stone stele was found standing upright, probably representing the god’s presence in the temple. A stone altar stood in the courtyard, and next to it was a stone-lined sunken, ceremonial basin.
The palace of the kings was comprised of royal chambers, administration offices, servants’ quarters, and the royal storehouse. In the central room, a stone slab was found, with two human figures carved on it: one lying down, the other standing upright, its hands raised. Their heads were ears of grain. The scene is known from religious art to represent the Mesopotamian god Tammuz life and death.
Tel Arad, the ancient city, is being excavated. Modern Arad, founded in 1962, is about 6 miles east.