Arabian Precious Stone Imports

The breastpiece that the high priest was commanded to wear in the desert Tabernacle required a variety of different gemstones. “Fashion a breastpiece for making decisions, the work of skilled hands…It is to be square, a span a long and a span wide, and folded double. Then mount four rows of precious stones on it. The first row shall be carnelian, chrysolite and beryl, the second row shall be turquoise, lapis lazuli and emerald, the third row shall be jacinth, agate and amethyst, the fourth row shall be topaz, onyx and jasper. Mount them in gold filigree settings.” Some of these items would have been imported from Arabia.

Historically, Arabia was a primary source for gemstones, spices and camels. Arabian mines were the source of a wide variety of gemstones, including the agate and amethyst that were required for the breastpiece. Arabia was also a source for frankincense and myrrh, which came from plant residue. Arabia has a hot and arid climate, and in these conditions the camel developed into the primary beast of burden for transportation across the desert. Skill in domesticating camels help make the camels themselves became an important trade good for Arabia.

There is a debate as to whether extensive trade existed during the Iron IIB period, in the 8th century BCE, or if this developed later, in the 7th century BCE.

Arabian goods moved along trade routes that continued on to Egypt, Syria and the Aegean. This became a boon for the kingdoms of Judah and Israel, who sat along these trade routes and could collect taxes on transported goods. One likely route would have passed Beersheba on the way to the port at Gaza. Some have argued that this positioning would have been an important factor in the rise of the Kingdom of Judah during the Iron IIB period, in the 8th century BCE.

Another more southerly trade route would have gone from Arabia, passed just north of the Gulf of Aqaba and then headed north along the eastern edge of the Sinai desert and on to Gaza. Inscriptions found at Kuntillet Ajrud in the Sinai Peninsula suggest that this southern site was controlled by the northern Kingdom of Israel, which means that the Kingdom of Israel would have found a way to exploit trade from Arabia.

The image above is of amethyst, one of the precious stones used in the high priest’s breastplate.

Israel a Leading Oil Producer?

Credit:, Galilee and the North

Olive oil was an important cash crop in the ancient Near East, and its importance is reflected in the Bible. In Exodus 27, one of the centerpieces of the Temple was the lampstand, which burned olive oil. “Command the Israelites to bring you clear oil of pressed olives for the light so that the lamps may be kept burning. In the tent of meeting, outside the curtain that shields the ark of the covenant law, Aaron and his sons are to keep the lamps burning before the Lord from evening till morning. This is to be a lasting ordinance among the Israelites for the generations to come.”

The Bible is replete with references to olives and oil production. In Micah 6, the prophet warns that “ You will plant but not harvest, you will press olives but not use the oil, you will crush grapes but not drink the wine. In Jeremiah 11, “The Lord called you a thriving olive tree with fruit beautiful in form. But with the roar of a mighty storm he will set it on fire, and its branches will be broken.” Later in Nehemiah 9 “They captured fortified cities and fertile land; they took possession of houses filled with all kinds of good things, wells already dug, vineyards, olive groves and fruit trees in abundance.” It also recognizes oil’s importance in trade, as Hosea 12 notes: “Ephraim feeds on the wind, he pursues the east wind all day, and multiplies lies and violence. He makes a treaty with Assyria and sends olive oil to Egypt.”

The hill country of Samaria and the Shephela are well suited for olive cultivation. The Mediterranean climate offers cold not but not too cold temperatures and hot summer temperatures that allow olives to collect oil.

In the Iron IIB period, olive oil production increased substantially in the regions of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. This is in evidence in the rise of a mass production olive oil industry that increased in size and in productive capacity. Oil production became central to town planning and entire industrial villages were founded around olive oil production. The centrality to town planning can be seen in the number of olive presses, in channels for waste drainage and storage buildings adjacent to production areas. Most of the oil was slated for export, likely to markets in Egypt, Mesopotamia and to the Aegean.

The image above is of an olive press at Hazor.

Everything God Had Done for His People Judah

Credit:, Israel

Exodus 18 marks a point from which Israel begins its rise as a nation. “Now Jethro, the priest of Midian and father-in-law of Moses, heard of everything God had done for Moses and for his people Israel, and how the Lord had brought Israel out of Egypt.” God’s bond with Israel would soon continue to grow with giving of the Ten Commandments and God’s laws for Israel.

2 Chronicles 26 marks an apex for the Kingdom of Judah, that in the Bible is one of the kingdoms that emerges from Israel, with the reign of King Uzziah. “He was the one who rebuilt Elath and restored it to Judah…He went to war against the Philistines and broke down the walls of Gath, Jabneh and Ashdod. He then rebuilt towns near Ashdod and elsewhere among the Philistines. God helped him against the Philistines and against the Arabs who lived in Gur Baal and against the Meunites. The Ammonites brought tribute to Uzziah, and his fame spread as far as the border of Egypt, because he had become very powerful. Uzziah built towers in Jerusalem at the Corner Gate, at the Valley Gate and at the angle of the wall, and he fortified them. He also built towers in the wilderness and dug many cisterns, because he had much livestock in the foothills and in the plain. He had people working his fields and vineyards in the hills and in the fertile lands, for he loved the soil.”

Scholars estimate King Uzziah’s reign to have taken place from the early to mid-8th century BCE. And the archaeology comports with the Bible’s description of this period of King Uzziah’s rule as an expansionary period.

The Shephelah is the region between the hill country of Judea, which includes Jerusalem, and the southern coastal plain, which in ancient times was the heartland of the Philistines.

During the Iron I period, roughly 1200 BCE through 1000 BCE according to the ‘High Chronology,’ the Shephelah was undeveloped, with only a small Canaanite presence in its eastern range. In the early Iron II period, new sites developed at places such as Lachish and Tel Zayit that appear to have been connected to a more centralized force in the highlands area.

A key turning point came in the late 8th century BCE with the defeat of the powerful Philistine city of Gath by the Arameans. With the loss of a powerful coastline rival, the polity in the central highlands, presumably Judah, was able to expand further west without interference. Theis expansion can be seen at sites such as Lachish, Tel Beth Shemesh, Tel Batash, Tel Zayit, Tell Beit Mirsim and Tel ‘Eton. A population estimate for the period ranges from 50,000 to 100,000.

The Uzziah Seals

Credit:, Louvre Museum

Historically speaking, the land of the Philistines was concentrated in the southwestern corner of the southern Levant, and encompassed towns with names familiar to modern ears, names such as Gaza, Ashkelon and Ashdod. In Exodus 13, after freeing the Israelites from servitude in Egypt, God steered Israel away from the northeastern route that led to the Philistine country. “When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, if they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt. So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea.”

2 Chronicles 26 tells of a king of Judah that did enter the Philistine region and defeated the Philistines. “Then all the people of Judah took Uzziah

, who was sixteen years old, and made him king in place of his father Amaziah…He went to war against the Philistines and broke down the walls of Gath, Jabneh and Ashdod. He then rebuilt towns near Ashdod and elsewhere among the Philistines. God helped him against the Philistines and against the Arabs who lived in Gur Baal and against the Meunites.”

In the ancient Near East, seals were used for administrative matters, for ensuring communications were authenticated and for record keeping. And two seals appear to be linked to this King Uzziah. King Uzziah is acknowledged on different ancient seals. One seal belonged to a “Shebnayau servant of Uzziyau.” Another seal, this one containing an Egyptian style motif, belonged to Abiyau servant of Uzziyau. These seals appear to be dated to the 8th century BCE, which accords with scholarly estimates of the reign of King Uzziah in the 8th century BCE.

The Shebnayau servant of Uzziyau seal is shown in the image above. It is housed at the Louvre Museum in Paris, France.

Shema, Servant of Jeroboam (II)

Credit:, Israel

In the Bible, God can direct the course of history through human agents. In Exodus 10, God hardens Pharaoh’s heart, so when Moses asked to allow the Israelites to worship in the desert, he refused, and the Egyptians were punished with additional plagues. “Then the Lord said to Moses, Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his officials so that I may perform these signs of mine among them that you may tell your children and grandchildren how I dealt harshly with the Egyptians and how I performed my signs among them, and that you may know that I am the Lord.” Even after begging Moses to remove the plague, he would not change his position. “Moses then left Pharaoh and prayed to the Lord. And the Lord changed the wind to a very strong west wind, which caught up the locusts and carried them into the Red Sea. Not a locust was left anywhere in Egypt. But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let the Israelites go.”

In 2 Kings 14, Jeroboam II King of Israel was not a righteous king. “He did evil in the eyes of the Lord and did not turn away from any of the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit.” Yet God still restored Israel’s fortune through Jeroboam. “The Lord had seen how bitterly everyone in Israel, whether slave or free, was suffering; there was no one to help them. And since the Lord had not said he would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven, he saved them by the hand of Jeroboam son of Jehoash.” Jeroboam is described as having had a successful reign, including capturing Damascus and Hamath.

Working backwards from later events, biblical scholars and archaeologists estimate that the biblical Israelite king Jereboam II reigned from approximately 786 BCE through 746 BCE, a period that the archaeology shows to have been an expansionary one for the kingdom of Israel.

Beyond the estimated time frame, there appears to be archaeological evidence for this King Jeroboam II.

In the ancient Near East, seals were used for administrative matters, for ensuring communications were authenticated and for record keeping. One such seal was unearthed at Megiddo, a location within the ancient Israelite kingdom.

In the Bible, there are two kings of Israel named Jeroboam. The first one, Jeroboam I, is remembered as the king who led the ten northern tribes to seceded from the Davidic United Monarchy of twelve tribes. The second, Jeroboam II, is described as a king who ruled 150 years later.

Archaeologists working at Megiddo discovered a seal that featured a lion and the inscription “Belonging to Shema servant of Jeroboam” – “L’Shema eved Yeravam.” From the seal alone, it is not known if this seal relates to the first or second Jeroboam. Indications are that it refers to the latter. The motif of a lion is more typical of seals from the 8th century BCE. And an epigraphic analysis of the letters suggests a later form of the archaic Hebrew alphabet that dates to the 8th century BCE, the period associated with the second King Jeroboam.

The image above is of a replica of the Seal of Shema.

Israel’s Peak in the Iron IIB

Credit:, Samaria

In Exodus 6, God tells Moses to tell the people of Israel in his name that “I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the Lord.” In the biblical account, this moment stands out as an inflection point, where Israel’s fortunes are reversed to eventually become a powerful state.

In the Bible, the Kingdom of Israel achieves its greatest stretch of relatively peaceful dominion under the reigns of Jehoash son of Jehoahaz and Jereboam ben Jehoash. Egypt had not invaded since the times of Shishak over a century and a quarter earlier. The Aramean threat was reduced due to a “deliverer.” The Assyrians had yet to conquer Israel.

In 2 Kings 13, “Jehoash son of Jehoahaz recaptured from Ben-Hadad son of Hazael the towns he had taken in battle from his father Jehoahaz. Three times Jehoash defeated him, and so he recovered the Israelite towns.” When Amaziah of Judah challenged Jehoash to war, “Jehoash went to Jerusalem and broke down the wall of Jerusalem from the Ephraim Gate to the Corner Gate, a section about four hundred cubits long. He took all the gold and silver and all the articles found in the temple of the Lord and in the treasuries of the royal palace. He also took hostages and returned to Samaria.” Jereboam ben Jehoash later restored the boundaries of Israel from Lebo Hamath to the Dead Sea, and “he recovered for Israel both Damascus and Hamath, which had belonged to Judah.”

These biblical accounts align with the archaeology of the Iron IIB period, a period stretching from the latter part of the 9th century BCE through the mid-to-late 8th century BCE.

In Egypt, after the 21st Dynasty pharaoh Shoshenq I’s foray into the southern Levant, the area encompassing today’s Israel, Egyptian rulers remained tethered to Egypt. The Libyan pharaohs of Egypt’s 22nd and 23rd Dynasties do not appear to have invaded the kingdoms of Judah or Israel, allowing for an extended stretch of peace in the southwest. The Arameans to the north were weakened by the Assyrian expansion out of the region of today’s northern Iraq, and the Assyrians had yet to expand into the Kingdom of Israel as they later would under the rule of Tiglath-Pileser III.

This period of peace and expansion of wealth is reflected in the archaeology.

Judging by the archaeology, the Iron IIB period was a prosperous one for the Kingdom of Israel. The Kingdom of Israel contained dozens of cities, the larger ones of which included fortification systems, administrative buildings and water supply systems. There were hundreds of villages and farms. The area of its control stretched from the port of Dor in the northwest, Hazor in the north, Gezer in the south and into the Jordan Valley at Tel Rehov and Tel Bet She’an. One estimate is of a population of 350,000 at that time. This population appears to have been heterogeneous, including non-Israelites, likely absorbed into the Kingdom of Israel as it expanded.

The image above is of the site of Samaria, from where the Kingdom of Israel was ruled in the Iron IIB period.

The Seal of a Servant of YHWH

Credit:, Harvard Semitic Museum

In Exodus 3, Moses was tending to his father-in-law Jethro’s flock when God appeared to Moses from the flames of a burning bush. God revealed to Moses that he had seen the Israelite suffering and that he was appointing Moses to go to the Pharaoh and to lead the Israelites out of Egypt.

Moses asked God what his name is. “God said to Moses, I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: I am has sent me to you. God also said to Moses, Say to the Israelites, YHWH, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is my name forever, the name you shall call me from generation to generation.”

In the ancient Near East, seals were used to signify ownership or authority. A seal could be used to create an impression on wet clay, affixed directly to a letter, or be tied through a hole in the seal to the threads at the edge of document.

The Seal of Miqneyaw is a red jasper seal that appeared on the antiquities market in Jerusalem. The text on the seal reads “Belonging to Miqneyaw, servant of YHWH.” The letters are written in negative, meaning in reverse, so that when stamped the letters appear correctly. The language on the text is notable for the language “servant of YHWH,” as in the Bible Moses is referred to similarly: “and they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses.” And it is significant for being the oldest seal to feature the name YHWH.

The seal is written in the archaic form of the Hebrew alphabet, not on our modern day Hebrew letters. This alphabet evolved over time, originating as objects whose first letter was used to represent a sound, to more abstract forms. Based on the shapes of the letters, the seal is estimated to have originated in the early half of the 8th century BCE, during the Iron IIB period.

The Seal of Miqneyaw, shown above, is kept at the Harvard Museum of the Ancient Near East.

Israel’s Nameless Savior

Credit:, Istanbul Archaeology Museum

In Deuteronomy 25, Israel is command to “Remember what the Amalekites did to you along the way when you came out of Egypt. When you were weary and worn out, they met you on your journey and attacked all who were lagging behind; they had no fear of God. When the Lord your God gives you rest from all the enemies around you in the land he is giving you to possess as an inheritance, you shall blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!”

Here, Moses is referencing a battle that is mentioned in Exodus 17. “The Amalekites came and attacked the Israelites at Rephidim. Moses said to Joshua, Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amalekites. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hands. So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up, one on one side, one on the other, so that his hands remained steady till sunset. So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.”

That the course of the battle was determined by the position of Moses’ arms, demonstrates God’s direct involvement in wars. This is a concept reiterated in Deuteronomy 20. “When you go to war against your enemies and see horses and chariots and an army greater than yours, do not be afraid of them, because the Lord your God, who brought you up out of Egypt, will be with you. When you are about to go into battle, the priest shall come forward and address the army. He shall say: Hear, Israel: Today you are going into battle against your enemies. Do not be fainthearted or afraid; do not panic or be terrified by them. For the Lord your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory.”

This concept of God as deliverer is reiterated in 2 Kings 13. For nearly a century, the Arameans were Israel’s greatest threat, invading, laying siege to Israel’s cities and holding the land. Then it stopped. “Then Jehoahaz sought the Lord’s favor, and the Lord listened to him, for he saw how severely the king of Aram was oppressing Israel. The Lord provided a deliverer for Israel, and they escaped from the power of Aram.”

The archaeological record can explain just who the deliverer was.

Adad-nirari III was the king of Assyria from 811 BCE until 783 BCE. As did earlier Assyrian kings of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, he regularly undertook military campaigns to dominate neighboring regions, including the area of Syria.

The Saba’a Conquest Stele of Adad-nirari III was recovered in Saba’a in Syria. It was recorded by an Assyrian officer Nergalerish. After the kings in Syria stopped paying tribute, Adad-nirari III ordered his army into the region. “I commanded the troops of Assyria to march to the land Hatti. I crossed the Euphrates in flood. … I commanded [my troops to march to Damascus]. I [confined] Mari in Damascus [… He brought to me] 100 talents of gold (and) 1,000 talents of silver as tribute. The word ‘Mari’ here is the Aramean term for a Lord, in this case, the Ben-Hadad of the Bible.

Thus it is the Assyrian king Adad-nirari III who is deliverer, who defeated the Aramenas and ended the Aramean threat to Israel.

The Saba’a Conquest Stele of Adad-nirari III is kept at the Istanbul Archaeology Museums.

Samarian Tribute

Credit:, Ashmolean Museum

Deuteronomy 17 discusses laws that relate to kings. “When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, Let us set a king over us like all the nations around us, be sure to appoint over you a king the Lord your God chooses. He must be from among your fellow Israelites. Do not place a foreigner over you, one who is not an Israelite.” The king is also not to “take many wives, or his heart will be led astray” and not to “turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel.”

In 2 Kings 9, Jehu the son of Nimshi set about to take the throne from Joram son of Ahab, the Ahab whose wife Jezebel had turned her husband towards other gods and who killed God’s prophets.

On Jehu’s dash to reach Joram son of Ahab, the lookout recognized who was coming. “The lookout reported, “The driving is like that of Jehu son of Nimshi, he drives like a maniac.” Jehu found Joram and “drew his bow and shot Joram between the shoulders. The arrow pierced his heart and he slumped down in his chariot. Jehu said to Bidkar, his chariot officer, Pick him up and throw him on the field that belonged to Naboth the Jezreelite.” Jehu then found the wife who led Joram astray. “He looked up at the window and called out, Who is on my side? Who?” Two or three eunuchs looked down at him. Throw her down! Jehu said. So they threw her down, and some of her blood spattered the wall and the horses as they trampled her underfoot.”

Jehu’s taking of the throne initiated a new dynasty. He would be followed by his descendants Jehoahaz, Jehoash and Jereboam.

In 2 Kings 13, Jehu’s grandson Jehoash, by then king, would retake territory from the Arameans. “Hazael king of Aram died, and Ben-Hadad his son succeeded him as king. Then Jehoash son of Jehoahaz recaptured from Ben-Hadad son of Hazael the towns he had taken in battle from his father Jehoahaz. Three times Jehoash defeated him, and so he recovered the Israelite towns.”

While Jehoash had success against the Arameans, he appears not to have been impervious to danger.

Adad-nirari III was the King of Assyria from 811 to 783 BC, and like many of his forerunners, he had a military policy to extract resources from neighboring states. In the Tell al-Rimah Stela, Adad-nirari III records that “I received 2,000 talents of silver, 1,000 talents of copper, 2,000 talents of iron, 3,000 linen garments with multicolored trim – the tribute of Mari’ – of the land of Damascus. I received the tribute of Jehoash the Samarian, of the Tyrian ruler and of the Sidonian ruler.” The Jehoash the Samarian appears to be the one mentioned in the Bible, identified by the city from which he ruled, Samaria.

It is notable that in the earlier Assyrian ‘Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser’ the Israelite king is identified as coming from the land of Omri, Ahab’s father. The Tell al-Rimah Stela appears to recognize that this king of Israel, Jehoash, is not a descendent of Omri and Ahab, but rather is from a different line and is identified by his capital city at Samaria.

An image of the Tell al-Rimah stela can be seen in the image via this link below:

The image above is of a cylinder seal of Adad-Nirari III, held at University of Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum.

Ancient Trench Warfare on the Landscape

Source:, Louvre Museum

In Deuteronomy 11, Moses tells Israel what they will be required to do once they have entered the land of Canaan to capture it. “When the Lord your God has brought you into the land you are entering to possess, you are to proclaim on Mount Gerizim the blessings, and on Mount Ebal the curses. As you know, these mountains are across the Jordan, westward, toward the setting sun, near the great trees of Moreh, in the territory of those Canaanites living in the Arabah in the vicinity of Gilgal. You are about to cross the Jordan to enter and take possession of the land the Lord your God is giving you. When you have taken it over and are living there, be sure that you obey all the decrees and laws I am setting before you today.”

In the Bible, the Canaanites were just one of the nations that Israel was expected to defeat when they captured the land. Similarly, in 2 Kings, when Aram attacked the land, the Israelites were but one of the entities they were seeking to defeat. Another group was the Philistines.

The Philistines were centered in the southwestern corner of the land of Canaan. The Philistine Pentapolis of five major cities included the cities of Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron and Gath. These cities ran along the trade route to Egypt and to the north, with ports that could transport shipped goods into the interior. As such the area would be attractive to an invader.

In the 9th century BCE, the largest and most powerful of these cities was Gath, which has been determined to have been at the site of today’s Tell es-Safi.

In 2 Kings 12, after defeating the Israelites, the Aramean king turned his attention from the Kingdom of Israel to the Philistines. “About this time Hazael king of Aram went up and attacked Gath and captured it.”

How Aram fought the Philistines is hinted at on an archaeological artifact and on the landscape.

The Stele of Zakkur is a monument that was created by King Zakkur of Hamath and Luhuti in Syria in the early 8th century BCE. In the stele, Zakkur records that “Bar-Hadad, son of Hazael, king of Aram, united against me seventeen kings . . .all these kings laid siege to Hazrach.” But the god “Baalshamayn” told King Zakkur not to be afraid, and he triumphed.

What the stele shows is that the Aramean method of attacking a city would be to lay siege to it.

Gath has a significant destruction layer that appears to have occurred in the latter part of the 9th century BCE. Moreover, after this destruction layer the city never returned to its former size, permanently diminished as a Philistine center after the invasion.

Along with the destruction layer, archaeologists identified a 1.5 mile long trench that extends around three sides of the ancient city. This appears to have been a siege trench dug to encircle the city and prevent an escape or attack by the besieged.

The destruction layer at the end of the 9th BCE is potential evidence of an Aramean invasion, and the siege trench, similar to that which is described in the Stele of Zakkur, may have been the method by which the Arameans defeated the city of Gath.

The Stele of Zakkur is on display at the Louvre Museum in Paris, France.