Ahab (and Israel’s) Horse Stalls

Credit: BiblePlaces.com, Megiddo

After the pharaoh expelled the Israelites from Egypt, in Exodus 14 he had ‘seller’s remorse’ and he led his chariot army to recapture the Israelites. “He took six hundred of the best chariots, along with all the other chariots of Egypt, with officers over all of them.”

The Egyptians followed the Israelites into the split sea, but “Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at daybreak the sea went back to its place. The Egyptians were fleeing toward it, and the Lord swept them into the sea. The water flowed back and covered the chariots and horsemen, the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived.”

In the Bible, horses appear as an important element of kingly power. Deuteronomy 17 specifically calls out horses in restricting a king’s behavior: “The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the Lord has told you, You are not to go back that way again.”

1 Kings 5 and 2 Chronicles 9 differ on the number of horses in King Solomon’s arsenal. In the former, “Solomon had 40,000 stalls of horses for his chariotry and 12,000 horsemen,” while in the latter “4,000 stalls for horses and chariots, and 12,000 horsemen” which he stationed in the chariot towns and with the king in Jerusalem. In 1 Kings 10, “Solomon accumulated chariots and horses; he had fourteen hundred chariots and twelve thousand horses…Solomon’s horses were imported from Egypt and from Kue, the royal merchants purchased them from Kue at the current price. They imported a chariot from Egypt for six hundred shekels of silver, and a horse for a hundred and fifty.” Irrespective of which number was correct, a large number of horses can be representative of a king’s power and wealth.

The prized horses of the 9th century BCE in the Near East would have been large chariot horses from Egypt. The northern Kingdom of Israel was along the trade route that connected Egypt to the north and to Mesopotamia, and it would have been an important conduit in getting horses to their final destinations. The Kurkh Monolith Stele of Shalmaneser III shows that Israel was the largest contributor of chariots to the alliance that fought at the Battle of Karkar, an indication of the importance of horses in the Kingdom of Israel.

Megiddo sat along the coastal route between Egypt and the Near East, and became an important equestrian center. On the Megiddo plateau, archaeologists unearthed stables in the northwest and southeast corners. In the northwest corner once stood a number of buildings with multiple stable units, while the southeastern area contained courtyard which could have been used for training the horses. Some dispute this reading of the material as stables, but horse bite marks on troughs and holes in stone, that could have been used to tether the animals, point the buildings indeed housing stables.

The dating of these facilities is disputed. It was once thought that these were 10th century BCE buildings that housed King Solomon’s horses. That view fell out of favor for either 9th BCE stables belonging to Ahab or early 8th BCE stables of Jeroboam II. If these were indeed of the 9th BCE, these stalls, along with the horse stalls at Jezreel, could have been the ones that housed the horses that led the “2,000 chariots…of Ahab, the Israelite” mentioned on the Kurkh Stele of Shalmaneser III.

The image above is an aerial view of the site of the southern stables at Megiddo.

Israel’s King On Bended Knee

Credit: BiblePlaces.com, British Museum

In Exodus 10-12, Moses repeatedly appears before the Egyptian pharaoh. In Exodus 10, Moses warns the pharaoh of an impending plague of locust, and then is brought back and asked to remove the plague. The same process is repeated in the plague of darkness. In Exodus 11 Moses warned the pharaoh of the plague of the firstborn, until in Exodus 12 the pharaoh summoned Moses to free the Israelites from Egypt.

In the 9th century BCE, either an Israelite king or his messenger appeared before an Assyrian king.

In 2 Kings, Joram the king of Israel and Ahazia king of Judah combined forces to fight the Arameans. After Joram was wounded, the two found themselves at Jezreel. Elsewhere, the prophet Elisha sent a messenger to anoint Jehu as the king of Israel. Jehu set out to kill Joram. Joram’s guards recognized Jehu approaching: “The driving is like that of Jehu son of Nimshi, he drives like a maniac.” Jehu met with Joram and Ahazia, and committed an act of treachery and mortally wounded both.

The Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal II began an expansionary military policy, and after his death, his son Shalmaneser III continued his policies. Recognizing the gravity of the threat, rivals such as Aram Damascus and Israel joined forces at the Battle of Karkar to challenge the Assyrian threat. After this battle, Shalmaneser III continued to push into Syria, and in 841 BCE his armies successfully weakened Aram-Damascus to eliminate them as a true threat. In response, to deflect the Assyrian threat, other regional states paid tribute to Shalmaneser III.

The Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser records the tribute that was given to Shalmaneser III.

The second register from the top records that “I received the tribute of Iaua son of (the people of the land of) Omri: silver, gold, a golden bowl, a golden vase with pointed bottom, golden tumblers, golden buckets, tin, a staff for a king [and] spears.” In the Akkadian language of the Assyrians the name reads as “Ia-ú-a mar Hu-um-ri.” Most associate “Iaua” with Jehu. The associated image shows either the Israelite king or his messenger bowing, the first clearly identifiable image of an Israelite, and if Jehu, the first Israelite or Judahite royal for whom a recorded image exists.

The identification of Jehu as the king in the record has been challenged. Jehu was not of the “House of Omri,” as he was an usurper of the throne, Others have suggested it is referring to Jehoram as the king of Israel. However, this is not the consensus view.

The image above is of the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser, with the relevant words in cuneiform translated. It was discovered at Nimrud, Iraq, the ancient Kalhu, and is today on display at the British Museum in London.

Israel, Regional Power on the Ancient Scene

Credit: BiblePlaces.com, British Museum

In Exodus 2, while Moses lived in Midian, “During that long period, the king of Egypt died.” The pharaoh who replaced this deceased pharaoh maintained the same policies regarding the enslavement of the Israelites. Similarly, the Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal II ruled from 883 to 859 BCE with great cruelty. During his reign he initiated an expansionary military policy, campaigning in all directions and even reaching the Mediterranean Sea. His son Shalmaneser III inherited his father’s throne and maintained his father’s expansionary military policy and deliberate use of terror.

The Kurkh Monolith Stele of Shalmaneser III, as shown in the above image, was unearthed at Üçtepe, Turkey, in an area formerly known as Kurkh, and records the campaigns of the Assyrian king Shalmaneser III. The stele is today housed at the British Museum.

The Kurkh Monolith recounts how Shalmaneser III expanded Assyrian territorial control in all directions. Shalmaneser III scored victories in Syria to the west, in Mesopotamia to the south, and won difficult battles against Urartu to the north. After each of his victories he boasts that “pyramids of heads I erected in front of its gate,” and occasionally that “some I fastened alive into these pyramids, others I hung up on stakes around the pyramids.”

Sensing the rising threat, a number of states to the west of Assyria, some often themselves direct rivals, joined together to counter the Assyrian threat. This alliance included the Kingdom of Israel.

In 853 BCE, in the 6th year of Shalmaneser III’s reign, the alliance of states faced off against Shalmaneser III’s army at the Battle of Karkar. The largest contributors to the alliance were Hadadezer of Aram, with 1,200 chariots, 1,200 cavalry, 20,000 soldiers; Irhuleni of Hamath and his 700 chariots, 700 cavalry, and 10,000 soldiers; and Ahab the Israelite with his 2,000 chariots and 10,000 soldiers.

There are notable features of this group listed in the Kurkh Monolith Stele of Shalmaneser III. It is the first mention of the Kingdom of Israel in the archaeological record. Additionally, it is the earliest use of the term “Arab” in the archaeological record, with the listing of Gindibu’ the Arabian, who supplied camels.

In the Kurkh Monolith Stele of Shalmaneser III, Shalmaneser III claims to have achieved a great victory. However, the Assyrians would fight over these lands later, and this story was not mentioned in the Bible, so it appears that the result was more likely to have been a stalemate.

Beyond the outcome of the war, the Kurkh Monolith Stele of Shalmaneser III is important in that it demonstrates that by the 9th century BCE, the Kingdom of Israel was a significant power player in the region.

In the Bible, the northern Kingdom of Israel had split from the southern Kingdom of Judah. This northern kingdom would have had the larger number of tribes, more fertile land for agriculture and better access to trade routes. The difference between the two sides can be seen today in the greener lands of the Galilee region in the north and the browner, more arid land in the south. This agricultural economic advantage allowed the Kingdom of Israel to emerge as the greater military power of the two.

Within the alliance against Assyria, Israel contributed the largest contingent of chariots. A chariotry is expensive to build, maintain and deploy. It requires material to construct the chariots and dedicated professionals to operate the chariots. It would require a large number of horses, some of which could have been kept at Megiddo, in an area identified as possible horse stalls, or at Jezreel, in large open areas that lacked domestic construction. Thus beyond the outcome of a battle and this first mention of the Kingdom of Israel, the Kurkh Monolith Stele of Shalmaneser III is important in demonstrating the Kingdom of Israel’s power and importance within the region.

There Arose a New King

Credit: BiblePlaces.com, British Museum

In Exodus 1, a new pharaoh changed the policies of the preceding pharaoh: Then a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt. “Look,” he said to his people, “the Israelites have become far too numerous for us. Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.” So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites and worked them ruthlessly. They made their lives bitter with harsh labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their harsh labor the Egyptians worked them ruthlessly.

In the 9th century BCE, a new king emerged who would change the policies of previous rulers and who would launch a strategy that would bring immeasurable suffering to the ancient Near East.

The Neo-Assyrian Empire began with the kings Ashur-dan II, Adad-nirari II and Tukulti-Ninurta II seeking to reconquer territories that had been lost to the earlier Assyrian kings, in a more localized region that was home to many Assyrians. Under the king Ashurnasirpal II, who reigned from 883-859 BCE, the Assyrians would begin to attack and conquer regions much further afield, on their way to becoming perhaps the world’s first true empire.

The kings prior to Ashurnasirpal II had pushed into northern Mesopotamia, Syria and Babylon, but Ashurnasirpal II pushed further in multiple directions. He launched campaigns into Asia Minor, the region of today’s Turkey, and Syria, against the Neo-Hittites and Arameans, pushing past the western banks of the Euphrates River. He reached the Phoenician cities of Sidon, Tyre and Byblos on the Mediterranean coast.

In what would become an Assyrian hallmark, he engaged in extreme cruelty in fighting battles and suppressing revolts. The reliefs in his palace record his behaviors. In one relief he states that “Their men young and old I took prisoners. Of some I cut off their feet and hands; of others I cut off the ears noses and lips; of the young men’s ears I made a heap; of the old men’s heads I made a minaret. I exposed their heads as a trophy in front of their city. The male children and the female children I burned in flames; the city I destroyed, and consumed with fire.” In another, “I built a pillar over against the city gate and I flayed all the chiefs who had revolted and I covered the pillar with their skins. Some I impaled upon the pillar on stakes and others I bound to stakes round the pillar. I cut the limbs off the officers who had rebelled. Many captives I burned with fire and many I took as living captives. From some I cut off their noses, their ears, and their fingers, of many I put out their eyes. I made one pillar of the living and another of heads and I bound their heads to tree trunks round about the city. Their young men and maidens I consumed with fire. The rest of their warriors I consumed with thirst in the desert of the Euphrates.”

In addition to his expansionary military program, Ashurnasirpal II undertook changes in government. He shifted the capital to Nimrud, away from Assur, which remained the center for cultic activity for the Assyrian kingdom. In celebration of his construction of his new capital, Ashurnasirpal II threw perhaps one of the largest parties in human history. He records entertaining nearly 70,000 guests over 10 days.

The image above is of a stele of Ashurnasirpal II holding his staff and sword, from his capital at Nimrud, on display at the British Museum.

Where Issachar Bent His Shoulder

In Genesis 48, Jacob told Joseph that God appeared to him and told him that “I will make you a community of peoples, and I will give this land as an everlasting possession to your descendants after you.” Jacob followed this act by saying how Joseph’s sons were as his own children to him and then blessing Joseph’s sons Manasseh and Ephraim.

Manasseh and Ephraim’s importance is reflected in the importance of their territories, which are delineated in Joshua 16 and 17. These territories stretched from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea and encompassed the northern central hill country, the heartland of the northern Kingdom of Israel.

In Genesis 49, Jacob blessed his sons. One of those blessings was for Issachar. “Issachar is a rawboned donkey lying down among the sheep pens. When he sees how good is his resting place and how pleasant is his land, he will bend his shoulder to the burden and submit to forced labor.

Joshua 19 lists Issachar’s territory. “The fourth lot came out for Issachar according to its clans. Their territory included: Jezreel, Kesulloth, Shunem, Hapharaim, Shion, Anaharath, Rabbith, Kishion, Ebez, Remeth, En Gannim, En Haddah and Beth Pazzez. The boundary touched Tabor, Shahazumah and Beth Shemesh, and ended at the Jordan. There were sixteen towns and their villages. These towns and their villages were the inheritance of the tribe of Issachar, according to its clans.”

Leading off this list is Jezreel and the land that encompassed the Jezreel Valley. With its natural springs and drainage it was fertile land, just as in Jacob’s blessing “how pleasant is his land.” But this land was also in service to the more powerful territories of the central hill country, for which this land was in service to in the 9th century BCE.

An indication of this is at a location within Issachar’s biblical territory, at Horvat Tevet.

Horvat Tevet is a ruin outside the city of Afula. At the site archaeologists unearthed a well preserved pillared building, roughly 65’ x 100’ in size. The building had two entrance rooms and a central hall separated by stone pillars, some over 6’.The foundations of the building were made of limestone blocks, which had to have been transported from elsewhere, as the area stone is basalt. The floors to the building were paved, an unusual feature for the time. The building also contained a four-horned stone altar. Storage jars onsite were typical of those of the 9th century BCE.

While the area is mostly a rural one, this structure was surrounded by industrial works. Digging produced pottery kilns, grinding stones which would have been used to produce flour and objects used in textile manufacture.

This site appears to have been an administrative center for the Israelite kingdom that was ruled from Samaria in the north central hill country. At this location, the royal powers could collect agricultural surplus from the fertile planting grounds of the region for redistribution and trade, especially as the ability to collect surpluses becomes the basis for economic power and by extension military power.

This building was eventually caught up in Israel’s conflicts, likely with the Arameans in the latter half of the 9th BCE. The building appears to have been sealed in advance and then burned during an attack. In the subsequent iteration of building at Horvat Tevet, a fortress was built adjacent to this ruin.

The image above is of the fertile plains of the Jezreel Valley.

Jezebel and Jezreel

Credit: BiblePlaces.com, Israel

In Genesis 44, Joseph set up his brother Benjamin, to make it appear that Benjamin had stolen his drinking cup. In 1 Kings 21, the northern Kingdom of Israel’s King Ahab, advised by his wife Jezebel, conspired to take Naboth’s entire vineyard at Jezreel. It was for this act of murder that the prophet Elijah told Ahab that “Dogs will devour Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel.” In 2 Kings 9, Jehu went to Jezreel and Jezebel’s officers threw her out the window. She plunged to her death and her body was devoured, fulfilling the prophecy.

Jezreel is located at the northern edge of the Samarian hill country, on a spur in the foothills of Mount Gilboa. The city faces the hills of Mount Moreh and the mountains of the Lower Galilee beyond it. Between the two ranges lie the fertile plain of the Jezreel Valley.

In ancient times, this area of the Jezreel Valley was important for a number of reasons. A perennial spring provided water for agriculture. The region was also important because of its location along the trade routes. The “Via Maris” coastal route connected the major food producing areas of Egypt and Mesopotamia through the Jezreel Valley. Merchants (and armies) could enter through a pass astride Megiddo and then turn east to pass Jezreel, into the Jordan Valley and then north in the direction of Syria, which following the Euphrates and Tigris into Mesopotamia. Jezreel also sat at the edge of the Ridge Route, the north-south road that cut across the central hill country. Importantly, it could also serve as the vanguard to protect the Israelite capital at Samaria.

At the summit of Tel Jezreel, archaeologists unearthed a large rectangular compound enclosed by a casemate wall. Towers were exposed in two corners and are presumed to have been present in the remaining two corners. The entrance featured either a four- or six-chambered gate. The date of the construction is disputed, but pottery dating can support an Iron IIA 9th century BCE date.

The enclosure was further protected by a glacis, an artificial slope created to hinder attackers, that was over 8 feet thick. Below the glacis was a moat along the eastern, southern and western sides that was over 25 feet wide and 15 feet deep. No moat was needed on the northern edge as this naturally sloped down into the Jezreel Valley.

Within the casemate walls, fill dirt was used to flatten the surface. It has been difficult for archaeologists to ascertain the exact degree of development due to erosion and later settlement that disrupted the soil below, but the site appears to have not been densely settled. The lack of densely packed structures suggests that the site was used for state purposes, including as a royal residence, perhaps a second residence for the Israelite kings or a fortress.

Surveys have shown that the area outside of the compound above also appears to have covered a large area and was well settled. And they also demonstrate that the site may have once been the home to vineyards.

Below the structure above, on the eastern side of Jezreel there appears to have been a winery. There numerous wine and olive presses were found, to go along with vats to store wine carved into the bedrock. Soil analysis showed that the land to the east of Jezreel was better suited for grapes, while the land to the west was preferable for olives.

The confluence of evidence validates the idea of an Israelite king, possibly guided by his wife, seeking to control a strategically significant location, with it is wine production, and establishing a royal enclosure on the site.

The image above is of grapevines at Tel Jezreel. A map showing the Via Maris through the Jezreel Valley, which passed Jezreel, can been seen via the following link: http://www.crivoice.org/phototour/pjezreel.html

Israel’s Capital City

Credit: BiblePlaces.com, Samaria, Israel

In Genesis 41, the “Pharaoh sent for Joseph, and he was quickly brought from the dungeon. When he had shaved and changed his clothes, he came before Pharaoh,” presumably to his palace. Joseph so impressed the pharaoh that “Pharaoh said to Joseph, I hereby put you in charge of the whole land of Egypt. Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his finger and put it on Joseph’s finger. He dressed him in robes of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck. He had him ride in a chariot as his second-in-command, and people shouted before him, Make way! Thus he put him in charge of the whole land of Egypt.”

As Egypt’s viceroy, Joseph would likely have been housed in a royal residence.

In 1 Kings, the northern Kingdom of Israel began with the secession of the Israelite tribes from Rehoboam’s Davidic monarchy, and began a merry-go-round of dynasties and capitals. Jeroboam started his reign from Shechem and moved his capital to Penuel on the eastern side of the Jordan. Baasha killed King Nadav the son of Jeroboam and moved his capital to Tirzah. Zimri killed Elah ben Baasha, then Omri defeated Zimri to become king. “In the thirty-first year of Asa king of Judah, Omri became king of Israel, and he reigned twelve years, six of them in Tirzah. He bought the hill of Samaria from Shemer for two talents of silver and built a city on the hill, calling it Samaria, after Shemer, the name of the former owner of the hill.”

The site that Omri chose, Samaria, which has become a term to describe the northern central hill country, is today known by its Roman name, Sebastia. Samaria/Sebastia is located northwest of Shechem, strategically positioned overlooking the roads to the Sharon Plain and onward to the Jezreel Valley.

Samaria is set on the top of a hill. The site has been a difficult one in which to assign periods due to ancient construction on the site having frequently cleared the dirt layers down to the bedrock. From what archaeologists are able to determine, in the Iron I period Samaria was home to a small settlement, consistent with the Bible’s civilian Shemer preceding the royal Omri.

Atop the hill was the acropolis, a leveled enclosure four acres in size. The acropolis was shaped by a four meter high scarp, a very steep slope, across its northern, western and southern sides. The site revealed a large palace complex along the southwestern edge. This royal building contained ashlar masonry, with the stones dressed into smooth surfaces. The exposed area of the palace alone would suggest that this was one of the largest Iron Age buildings in the entire Levant.

The palace was surrounded by administrative buildings. The area was surrounded by casemate walls, with rooms built up against the defensive wall. The gate was on the eastern side, where proto-Ionic capitals, the crowning parts columns, were found, and there was a protective tower.

At this site archaeologists found a large collection of ivories. These demonstrate the considerable level of wealth of the inhabitants.

There are debates about which kings built what on the acropolis, whether structures could be assigned to Omri or Ahab. There are also debates about how large the city was in the 9th or 8th century BCE, whether it included only the royal compound or if it also included of the lower city below the acropolis. Regardless of the correct allocating of time and size to the site, the idea that this was Omri or Ahab’s palace is considered secure, given the references to the Omride dynasty in Assyrian records and the similarities to other construction at Jezreel, another royal site in the biblical account.

The image above is of the Samaria acropolis, with its visible scarp around the edges of the acropolis.

A Lesser Known Capital

In Genesis 37, Joseph went to see his brothers who were tending their flocks near Shechem. When he arrived he discovered that they had moved on to Dothan.

In 1 Kings, the northern Kingdom of Israel got off to an unstable start. Jeroboam established the kingdom and settled at Shechem, and then moved the capital to Penuel in the Transjordan. Jeroboam was followed as king by his son Nadab. Nadab was killed by Baasha, who ruled from Tirzah. Elah the son of Baasha continued his father’s rule from Tirzah. When Zimri killed Elah, he too continued ruling from Tirzah.

The exact site of Tirzah is disputed. Town names tend to be sticky, continuing from antiquity. Cities such as Damascus, Jerusalem and Gaza carry the same names they have used for millennia. This has led to suggestions that ancient Tirzah is at one of the sites that today have similar sounding names. Talluza is located 6 km northeast of modern day Nablus, ancient Shechem. Tayasir sits 22 km northeast of Nablus. The consensus however is that ancient Tirzah is located at Tell el-Farah, which is 11 km northeast of Nablus.

The site itself appears to be a logical one for a new capital. It sits on a plateau, with an area of 18 hectares. The plateau offers natural defenses. It is located next to two natural springs. And the site sat along the trade route to the east of Shechem.

Excavations at Tirzah show a fluctuating pattern of habitation. The Late Bronze Age – Early Iron I site produced a good amount of artifacts, demonstrating the city’s activity during that period. The bulk of the Iron I layer shows it to be sparsely built, with the site then recovering and becoming more densely settled in the later Iron IIA, the period associated with the rise of the Israelite kingdom.

Tell el-Far’ah still has not offered up signs of monumental construction, such as a palace or temple, typical of royal rule. This may be partly due its serving as a capital of a nascent state. Despite the lack of large-scale buildings, the biblical story is generally considered reliable for this series of episodes because the inclusion of Tirzah in the story would otherwise be a strange addition. Unlike Shechem, which plays a prominent role in stories across the Bible, Tirzah does not. And Tell el-Far’ah is not a site of major importance that would be inserted into a story without reason.

Thus despite a lack of obvious signs of royalty, other signs do point to Tell el-Far’ah serving as a home for kings of Israel.

The image above is of Tell el-Far’ah taken from the south, with natural defenses visible along its side.

Shechem’s Turbulent Past

In the Bible, the city of Shechem has a long and sordid history. In Genesis 34, it was there that Jacob’s daughter Dinah was raped, and then after an agreement was reached with its populace, Dinah’s brothers Shimon and Levi slaughtered the town’s inhabitants. In Judges 9, at Shechem, Abimelekh gained the support to go and murder his 71 brothers. In 1 Kings 12, when Jeroboam led the secession of the northern tribes of Israel from the united monarchy of the Davidic kingdom, he immediately established himself at Shechem.

The city of Shechem is known from ancient Egyptian sources. Ancient Egypt was the dominant political power of the 2nd millennium BCE, and has left us a vast set of records. These show that already in the 19th century BCE, the ‘land of Shikmu’ was perceived as a danger to Egypt. In the 14th century BCE Amarna Letters from Egypt’s short-lived capital of Akhetaten, today’s El Amarna, those in the southern Levant aligned with Egypt ask for assistance against an invader “Labaya, king of Shikmu,” who is attempting to undermine Egyptian rule. It is assumed that Shikmu is one and the same as Shechem.

The exact location of the ancient town of Shechem is unknown, but archaeologists have settled on Tell Balata as the most likely site. Tell Balata is located in the mountain pass between Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal, with the Askar Plains sitting to the east. The site is at a strategic point. From there, it could control access to and from the west, as travelers were funneled into the mountain pass, before they could continue on to the important trade routes.

The site has a fluctuating pattern of habitation, indicating that it too underwent periods of turmoil. The city grew to become a sizeable fortified city in the Middle Bronze Age into the Late Bronze Age, one that per the Egyptian records had designs on expanding its sphere of influence. The city declines significantly in the Iron Age I, but recovers in the Iron Age II, the period that could include Jeroboam’s settlement within the city.

The image above is of the site of Tell Balata, taken from the vantage point of Mount Gerizim.

Joseph’s Northern Territories

Credit: BiblePlaces.com, Israel

In Genesis 29-30, Jacob produces eleven of the twelve progenitors of the tribes of Israel. The last of these was Joseph, who later bore Manasseh and Ephraim, who would each become founders of tribes within Israel.

In 1 Kings, King Solomon’s son Rehoboam ignored his senior advisors’ advice to ease the tax burden on the tribes of Israel that constituted his kingdom, and instead followed his junior advisors’ advice to increase the tax burden. This act motivated the tribes to secede from Rehoboam’s kingdom. “When all the Israelites heard that Jeroboam had returned, they sent and called him to the assembly and made him king over all Israel. Only the tribe of Judah remained loyal to the house of David.”

The act of secession created a series of divisions between the two kingdoms. The two sides became military rivals. Jeroboam established rival temples to Jerusalem at Bethel and Dan. He made golden calves, built shrines and high places, appointed non-Levite priests, and added a new festival on the 15th day of the 8th month. The new kingdom struggled with palace intrigue, with acts of murder by Baasha and Zimri and fighting that led to Omri leading Israel.

The lands of Ephraim and Manasseh, as allotted in Joshua 16, served as the heartland for the new northern Kingdom of Israel. The area of Ephraim included the northern central hill country, and Manasseh the northern Samarian hills plus the area from the Jordan to the Mediterranean across the Jezreel Valley and Lower Galilee.

Extensive surveys of the land that approximated the territories of Ephraim and Manasseh have been undertaken. These surveys show that in the 9th-8th centuries, these regions experience a sharp rise in the number and size of sites. The majority of these sites were dedicated to farming, and cities account for about 20% of the observable and estimable population.

This rise in number of sites and observable population is not uniform across the entire territory ascribed to the Kingdom of Israel. The upper Galilee appears to have a seen a reduction in identifiable sites. But the heartland region of the Kingdom of Israel does appear to have risen sharply in the late Iron IIA period.

This area displays features of a kingdom with a royal elite and cultic activity. The sites surveyed feature new fortifications, public architecture, palaces, royal enclosures and high places, all indicative of a stratified society and an established kingdom.

The image above is of fields near Shechem, modern day Nablus, in the heartland of the 9th century Kingdom of Israel.