In Revelation 16:16, the battlefield designated where blasphemers, unclean spirits, and devils join forces for the final great battle of the ages between their evil hordes and Christ and his faithful angelic army is Armageddon, “the mound of Megiddo.” The inspiration for such a choice of battlegrounds was quite likely an obvious one for John the Revelator, for it has been said that more blood has been shed around the hill of Megiddo than any other single spot on Earth. Located 10 miles southwest of Nazareth at the entrance to a pass across the Carmel mountain range, it stands on the main highway between Asia and Africa and in a key position between the Euphrates and the Nile rivers, thus providing a traditional meeting place of armies from the East and from the West. For thousands of years, the Valley of Mageddon, now known as the Jezreel Valley, had been the site where great battles had been waged and the fate of empires decided. Thothmes III, whose military strategies made Egypt a world empire, proclaimed the taking of Megiddo to be worth the conquering of a thousand cities. During World War I in 1918, the British general Allenby broke the power of the Turkish army at Megiddo.
Most scholars agree that the word “Armageddon” is a Greek corruption of the Hebrew Har-Megiddo, “the mound of Megiddo,” but they debate exactly when the designation of Armageddon was first used. The city of Megiddo was abandoned sometime during the Persian period (539 B.C.E.–332 B.C.E.), and the small villages established to the south were known by other names. It could well have been that John the Revelator, writing in the Jewish apocalyptic tradition of a final conflict between the forces of light and darkness, was well aware of the bloody tradition of the hill of Megiddo and was inspired by the ruins of the city on its edge; but by the Middle Ages, theologians appeared to employ Armageddon as a spiritual concept without any conscious association with the Valley of Megiddo. Armageddon simply stood for the promised time when the returning Christ and his legions of angels would gather to defeat the assembled armies of darkness. During that same period, those church scholars who persisted in naming an actual geographical location for the final battle between good and evil theorized that it might occur at places in the Holy Land as widely separated as Mount Tabor, Mount Zion, Mount Carmel, or Mount Hermon.
In the fourteenth century, the Jewish geographer Estori Ha-Farchi suggested that the roadside village of Lejjun might be the location of the biblical Megiddo. Ha-Farchi pointed out that Lejjun was the Arabic form of Legio, the old Roman name for the place. In the early nineteenth century, American biblical scholar Edwin Robinson traveled to the area of Palestine that was held at that time by the Ottoman Empire and became convinced that Ha-Farchi was correct in his designation of the site as the biblical Megiddo. Later explorers and archaeologists determined that the ruins of the ancient city lay about a mile north of Lejjun at what had been renamed by the Ottoman government as the mound of Tell el-Mutasellim, “the hill of the governor.”
Today, tourists visit Tel Megiddo in great numbers, attracted by the site’s apocalyptic mystique and the old battleground’s significance as the place where the fate of ancient empires was decided with the might of sword and spear. The Israel National Parks Authority works in close coordination with the Megiddo Expedition and the Ename Center for Public Archaeology of Belgium in offering visitors a dramatic perspective of the history of Armageddon.
Bloomfield, Arthur E. Before the Last Battle—Armageddon. Minneapolis: Dimension Books, Bethany Fellowship, 1971.
Goetz, William R. Apocalypse Next. Camp Hill, Penn.: Horizon Books, 1996.
Shaw, Eva. Eve of Destruction: Prophecies, Theories and Preparations for the End of the World. Chicago: Contemporary Books, 1995.
Silberman, Neil Asher, Israel Finkelstein, David Ussishkin, and Baruch Halpern. “Digging at Armageddon.” Archaeology, November/December 1999, pp. 32–39.
Unterman, Alan. Dictionary of Jewish Lore and Legend. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1991.