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.

All Aram

The region of Aram figures prominently in the Isaac and Jacob narratives. In Genesis 25, “Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah daughter of Bethuel the Aramean from Paddan Aram and sister of Laban the Aramean.” Genesis 27, Rebekah warned Jacob, “Your brother Esau is planning to avenge himself by killing you. Now then, my son, do what I say: Flee at once to my brother Laban in Harran,” located in Aram. In Genesis 28, “Then Isaac sent Jacob on his way, and he went to Paddan Aram, to Laban son of Bethuel the Aramean, the brother of Rebekah.”

The region of Aram covers an area that today includes primarily Syria and encroaching into Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq. In the Iron Age it included a number of different Aramean states, such as the larger Aram with its capital at Damascus, Hamath, and the smaller states of Bit Zammani, Nasibina, Bit Bahiani, Bit Adini, Laqe, Bit Agusi, Yu’addi, Hamat, Bit Rehob.

The Arameans spoke Aramaic. The importance of Aramaic in trade would eventually allow it to replace the Mesopotamian language of Akkadian, to become the most widely spoken language in the region. The Aramaic language does find its way into Genesis, when Jacob and his family fled Paddan Aram. “So Jacob took a stone and set it up as a pillar. He said to his relatives, “Gather some stones.” So they took stones and piled them in a heap, and they ate there by the heap. Laban called it Yegar Sahadutha, and Jacob called it Galeed.” For the naming of the location, Laban and Jacob reverted to their native tongues.

The Aramean tribes were separated by political divides, but united by language, culture and gods. As such, they could be grouped into one entity. The Sefire steles are 8th century BCE stelae, written in Aramaic, discovered near Aleppo, Syria. The first Sefire Stele contains a treaty amongst different groups, but refers to the area as “All Aram,” indicating Aram could be thought of as one unified region.

The image above is of Mount Hermon, the highest peak in the lower portion of the Anti-Lebanon Mountain range, which today separates modern Syria from Lebanon and once separated Aram from the Phoenician/Canaanite kingdoms of the Lebanese coast.

Northern Coastal Canaanite

Credit: BiblePlaces.com, Museums

In the patriarchal narratives, Canaan and the Canaanites feature prominently. In Genesis 23, Abraham purchased a plot of land to bury his wife Sarah. Yet while God sent Abraham to Canaan, and he lived in Canaan, when it came time for choosing a wife for his son, Abraham looked elsewhere: He said to the senior servant in his household, the one in charge of all that he had, “Put your hand under my thigh. I want you to swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and the God of earth, that you will not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I am living, but will go to my country and my own relatives and get a wife for my son Isaac.” Abraham’s servant thus set out for Aram Naharaim, in the area of Syria today.

One area Abraham’s servant did not go was to the region of Lebanon. For archaeologists, the inhabitants of Iron Age Lebanon, and the northern coastal plain and the Galilee of today’s Israel were culturally the same people, the Canaanites.

Where Abraham did not choose a Canaanite wife for his son, in 1 & 2 Kings, kings from the northern Kingdom of Israel and the southern Kingdom of Judah did take Canaanite wives, with damaging consequences. King Omri’s son Ahab married Jezebel, the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and she was said to have been behind his decisions to build shrines to Baal and Asherah, and the murder of Nabath and confiscation of his vineyard. Jehoram the King of Judah married Ahab and Jezebel’s daughter Athaliah. When her son King Ahaziah died, Athaliah attempted to wipe out the entire Davidic line.

The Ahiram Sarcophagus is of the more impressive archaeological finds in the Lebanese coastal region. Its inscription states that it was built by the king of Byblos for his father Ahiram, presumably a king himself. The impressive stone coffin indicates the wealth of the region, built on coastal trade that with Egypt, Greece and Mesopotamia. Unlike other older royal coffins which were found nearby and contained Egyptian prestige goods inside, the Ahiram Sarcophagus did not feature any Egyptian influences. The coffin is typically dated to either the 10th or 9th century, a period in which Egyptians did not control the Levant.

One interesting element of the Ahiram Sarcophagus is the similarity between the name Ahiram, and Hiram, the king of Tyre who the Bible says provided materials for Solomon to build his temple. This is a name with a non-biblical source. In Josephus’s book ‘Against Apion’ he refers to Menander of Ephesus’ record of the length of a king Hiram’s reign.

The image above is of the Ahiram Sarcophagus, on display at the National Museum of Beirut.

Cisjordan and Transjordan Rivals

Credit: BiblePlaces.com, Jordan, Museums

The region of biblical Israel can be referred to as the Cisjordan, meaning ‘on this side’ of the Jordan. The region to the east of the Jordan River is referred to as the Transjordan, meaning ‘across’ the Jordan. During the Iron Age, the Transjordan was home to the nations of Ammon, Moab and Edom, running from north to south, respectively.

Genesis 19 tells the origin story of the nations of Ammon and Moab. Lot’s daughters got their father drunk and slept with him, “The older daughter had a son, and she named him Moab, he is the father of the Moabites of today. The younger daughter also had a son, and she named him Ben-Ammi, he is the father of the Ammonites of today.”

The region of Edom is also discussed in this week’s Torah reading. In Genesis 21, “While Ishmael was living in the Desert of Paran, his mother Hagar found him a wife from Egypt.” In Deuteronomy 1, the Desert of Paran is in the vicinity of Edom: “These are the words Moses spoke to all Israel in the wilderness east of the Jordan, that is, in the Arabah, opposite Suph, between Paran and Tophel, Laban, Hazeroth and Dizahab.”

Ammon was led from modern day Amman, Jordan, and it was centered on a series of hills that included the Amman Citadel. The Amman Citadel Inscription, dated to the 9th century BCE, is the oldest recovered inscription that is written in the Ammonite language, a language closely related to ancient Hebrew.

Archaeologically speaking, a normal state would typically have a multi-tiered settlement pattern of a large city flanked by smaller villages and smaller agricultural settlements. In the 9th BCE, these appear to be missing in Moab and Edom, but there is evidence of their existence.

The Mesha Stele is a 9th century BCE monument that records the battles of King Mesha of Moab. The extensive inscription demonstrates the existence of a ruler, of literacy and of conflict with neighboring states, demonstrating Moab was an independent entity in the 9th BCE.

The evidence for Edom is weaker and pushes our understanding of ancient nations. The Wadi Faynan Copper Mine appears to have been managed by a nomadic group. So while Edom appears to have lacked the large cities, monumental structures and records more typically seen in ancient kingdoms, the ability to run a complex mining operation could only have been done by an entity capable of some of the other features of a kingdom, the ability to marshal and direct large manpower resources towards a project.

Evidence for Edom in the 9th century BCE is solidified in the records of the Assyrian king Adad Nirari III who records conquering “the land of Edom” in the Nimrud Slab.

Based on the archaeological evidence, in the 9th BCE, Israel’s Transjordan rivals appear to be in place.

The image above is of the Amman Citadel Inscription, on display at the Jordan Archaeological Museum in Amman.

The Return of Trade with Egypt

Credit: BiblePlaces.com, Walters Art Museum

In Genesis 12, a famine in Canaan drove Abram to travel to Egypt. In this story, Egypt served its role as an important producer of food for the ancient Near East.

In the late 13th through early 12th century BCE, the ancient Near East endured the Late Bronze Age collapse. The largest kingdoms of the time were either reduced or disappeared entirely. By the 11th century BCE, the New Kingdom of Egypt had collapsed, ushering in the Third Intermediate period, a period in which Egypt experienced a decline in centralized authority and various dynasties ruled different parts of its land mass. The loss of the great powers led to a reduction in cross-border trade and record keeping, making the period somewhat of an archaeological dark age.

In the 9th century BCE, Egypt was ruled by primarily by two dynasties, the 22nd Dynasty and the 23rd Dynasty.

The 22nd Dynasty was led by a dynasty of Meshwesh rulers, descendants of a Libyan tribe. Their rule may have originated at Bubastis, but in the main they ruled from Tanis in northern, or Lower Egypt. The first pharaoh of this dynasty was Shoshenq I, who in the 10th century BCE attempted to take control of Canaan, an invasion that is recorded in the Bible. Ultimately the Egyptians could not hold Canaan, freeing it to be led by local rulers.

The 23rd Dynasty was an offshoot and rival of the 22nd Dynasty and it ruled over southern, or Upper Egypt. The reigns of these 22nd and 23rd Dynasty kings were challenged at times and their control of territories waxed and waned, contributing to this period in Egypt’s history being described as an ‘Intermediate’ period.

An interesting artifact from this period is Padiiset’s Statue. Padiiset’s Statue was originally carved in the 18th century BCE. The statue was of a government official. The original inscription was later erased and replaced in the 9th century BCE with an inscription that identified it as being of Padiiset, an envoy for Canaan and Peleset.

The Peleset would refer to the Philistine region in the southwestern corner of the southern Levant. The naming of Canaan is notable as it is the first known mention of the Cisjordan for 300 years, since before the Late Bronze Age collapse, indicating a resumption of trade. It is also the last known mention of Canaan, a land area that would come to be known by its other inhabitants, Israel and Judah.

Padiiset’s Statue is housed at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore it is shown in the image above.

Arresting Disaster at Ararat

Credit: BiblePlaces.com

In Genesis 8, after the flood covered the earth, “God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark… on the seventeenth day of the seventh month the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat” The waters receded, the land dried and Noah, his family, and all the animals left the ark, to begin a regenesis process for human and animal life. God promised he would never destroy the earth again. “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.”

The Late Bronze Age collapse ushered in a calamitous period for the major kingdoms of the ancient Near East. In the late 13th to early 12th centuries BCE, the large powers of the time suffered economic decline, changes in population and settlement patterns and the loss of centralized authority. At the outset of the 12th century BCE, the Mycenaean kingdom of Greece was destroyed. In the middle of the 12th century the Kassite kingdom of Babylon was defeated. Around the same time, the Hittite kingdom of Anatolia, in the region of modern day Turkey, collapsed. Egypt’s New Kingdom saw its power begin to wane and by the mid-11th century BCE, centralized control of the country had unwound, ushering in its Third Intermediate Period. The Assyrian kingdom survived, though reduced to a rump state.

In the late 10th century BCE and into the 9th BCE, a different regenesis occurred. One great power would emerge as the greatest power of its time and ultimately cause many independent nations to cease to be.

The Assyrian kingdom survived the Late Bronze Age collapse, which left it well positioned for a recovery from the collapse. From the Assyrian capital at Assur, the modern day Qalʿat Sharqāṭ on the west bank of the Tigris River in northern Iraq, the late 10th century BCE and early 9th century BCE Assyrian kings Ashur-dan II, Adad-nirari II and Tukulti-Ninurta II began the Assyrian “reconquista,” a process of recapturing areas that had once been under Assyrian control and which were home to Assyrian populations. These kings pushed Assyria’s borders out in all directions, brushing up against the Babylonians to the southeast, fighting the Persians and Medes to the east, and defeating the Neo-Hittites to the north and the Arameans to the west.

This Assyrian kingdom would eventually grow to become perhaps the world’s first true empire, controlling a broad territory containing a wide variety of states and nations under its rule. But just as God in the Bible ended the destruction at Ararat, the Assyrian empire would limit its northward expansion in the Urartu region to the north, the region of Mount Ararat.

A map of the extent of the Assyrian Empire and its greatest extent to the north can be seen via the following link:

https://www.worldhistory.org/uploads/images/15148.png?v=1645445574

The image above is a headless statue of Ashur-Dan II, king of Assyria.

The Next Century

The Book of Genesis ushers in a new epoch. With the act of creation, God introduces a new period of history. In a like vein, this blog post will usher in a new period, the 9th century BCE, a century which incorporates parts of the Iron IIA and Iron IIB periods.

In the biblical account, the people complained to King Solomon’s son Rehoboam about the heavy tax burden. Rehoboam rejected his senior advisors’ advice and he listened to his young advisors, who recommended Rehoboam respond as follows: “My little finger is thicker than my father’s waist. My father laid on you a heavy yoke; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions.” In response, “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.”

In the Bible, almost from the outset, the northern Kingdom of Israel abandoned its fidelity to God and struggled with palace intrigue, with kingly dynasties ending in acts of murder. Jereboam’s son Nadab became king, only for Baasha to kill Nadab and Jereboam’s descendants. Baasha’s son Elah replaced him on the throne, but was then killed by Zimri, who was killed, leaving Tibni and Omri to fight for kingship, with Tibni dying. Omri became king and his dynasty would rule for a century.

In the Bible, the smaller, weaker, southern Kingdom of Judah was able to maintain its dynastic rule, with power passing from Shlomo to Rehoboam to Abijah to Asa to Jehoshaphat and beyond. The Kingdom of Judah was not able to force the Kingdom of Israel to rejoin it in a United Monarchy. Instead the two sides allied with each other, with royal marriages binding the two rival kingdoms.

There is a debate as to the timing of the Iron IIA period. Those who support a ‘High Chronology’ believe that the Iron IIA period began in the early 10th century BCE, while those who support the ‘Low Chronology’ argue for an Iron IIA period that begins the late 10th century BCE. While the differences between the two sides have narrowed, the gap is still significant enough to have major implications for the start and development of the Kingdom of Judah and the role of Kings David and Solomon. For the High Chronology, a centralized kingdom of many tribes led by a King David could have existed in the 10th BCE, while for the Low Chronology, the Kingdom of Judah only arose in the 9th BCE, and was small chiefdom that was no competition for the more powerful Kingdom of Israel.

Irrespective of the exact centuries, in the southern Levant the shift from the Iron I to Iron IIA period featured increasing urbanization, and a reduction in the number of small villages. The Tel Dan Stele demonstrates that in the 9th there was a ‘House of David,’ along with a Kingdom of Israel, who in the Iron IIA would together dominate the central hill country of the Cisjordan. This control would be challenged, as evidenced by destruction layers that will mark that end of Iron IIA period and the beginning of the Iron IIB period in later 9th BCE.

The image above is of a Babylonian tablet that records business transactions, comparable to tax documentation, on display at the Penn Museum in Philadelphia, PA.

Deutero Iron IIA (3/3)

Continuing from the previous two posts, other sites in the Shephelah are of note in attempting to determine if the Iron IIA covered much of the 10th and 9th centuries BCE and might have had a powerful monarchy led by King David, or if the Iron IIA period was mainly in the 9th BCE and King David only ruled a minor kingdom simultaneous with a more powerful northern Kingdom of Israel.

Lachish Level V can be dated to the latter part of the 10th century BCE, and this layer features a small town surrounded by a 10 foot thick wall built of medium sized stones. This would align with 2 Chronicles 11, where Rehoboam, who following kings David and Solomon, is said to have fortified the towns of Judah, including Lachish.

A large structure on the highest point at Tel ‘Eton, the type which would indicate a royal or governmental presence, was dated from the late 11th to the mid-to-late 10th century BCE and was constructed with a ‘four-room’ house plan, a style prevalent in the Israelite and Judahite regions.

In 1 Kings 11, “Solomon tried to kill Jeroboam, but Jeroboam fled to Egypt, to Shishak the king, and stayed there until Solomon’s death.” With this mention, Shishak becomes the first biblical character who can with near certainty be identified in the archaeological record. At the Temple of Amun-Re in the Karnak Temple Complex, on the Bubastite Portal, the late 10th century BCE Egyptian pharaoh Shoshenq I recorded his campaign into the southern Levant, a campaign recorded in the Bible as having occurred after the reigns of David and Solomon. Beneath of an image of Shoshenq I smiting his captives are 156 ovals, each containing the image of a bound captive and an associated town’s name. Megiddo appears as one of the places Shoshenq I conquered, and a small fragment of a monument to Shoshenq I that was unearthed at Megiddo reinforces the idea that the city was taken by the Egyptians.

Destruction layers in a number of towns in the southern Levant may be attributable to Shoshenq I’s invasion. One place listed on the Bubasite Portal that Shoshenq I is said to have attacked is Rehov. At Tel Rehov, a form of pottery prevalent in the Iron IIA period, burnished and red-slipped pottery, appears in a layer that was destroyed, and then in the next layer that was destroyed. Proponents of the High Chronology argue that the first layer was destroyed by Shoshenq I in the latter part of the 10th century, continued in use, and then the second layer was destroyed in the 9th century BCE during an Aramean invasion. Under this model, the Iron IIA had already begun in the 10th century BCE.

One of the key observations that led to the development of the Low Chronology was that Egyptian and early Philistine pottery did not appear in the same archaeological layers. As Egypt controlled the southern Levant at the onset of the 12th century BCE, the Low Chronology argues that the Philistines only appeared in the latter half of the 12th BCE, after the Egyptians left, and thus the Iron I period clock starts later, compressing the time from for the Iron IIA period. However, more recent discoveries at Jaffa appear to demonstrate that the Egyptians maintained a presence in Jaffa as late as 1125-1115 BCE, and were in the Levant concurrent with the Philistines. The reason that the two pottery forms did not appear together may have instead been because the Egyptians and Philistines were rivals, and the Philistines could have been in the southern Levant by the early 12th BCE, opening up room for a 10th BCE King David. Similarities between early Philistine pottery and early 12th century Cypriot pottery suggest that the early Philistine pottery dates to the early 12th century BCE, again, opening the window for a two century Iron IIA period.

Until 1993, there was no direct evidence for a King David. This appears to have changed with the discovery of the Tel Dan Stele, shown in the image above. In the Tel Dan Stele, an Aramean king claims to have killed [Jeho]ram son [of Ahab] king of Israel, and [Ahaz]iahu son of [Jehoram kin-]g of the House of David. The pairing of the “king of Israel” and the leader of the “House of David” indicates that there was a distinct power that had originated with a leader named David.

By the late 11th BCE the Philistines were firmly established in the southwestern corner of the southern Levant, in the “Philistine Pentapolis” of Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron and Gath. The Philistines had successfully penetrated into the Jezreel Valley region and posed a threat to the Israelite tribes of the central hill country. Of these tribes, Judah most directly abutted the Philistine region and would have a reason to lead a confederation of tribes to counter the Philistine threat. Thus in the 10th century BCE, there would have been a clear motive for the tribes of the central hill country to coalesce into a United Monarchy, even if the leaders of that entity did not have a well established and developed capital.

The High Chronology vs. Low Chronology debate forced an adjustment amongst those who saw the Iron IIA as being only in the 10th BCE. Amihai Mazar introduced his Modified Conventional Chronology with the Iron IIA starting a bit later than once thought and extending into the latter half of the 9th century BCE. Differences in how to interpret carbon dating results have hindered any ability to eliminate the differences between the High and Low Chronology. But the range of evidence along with a clear motivation demonstrate the distinct possibility that the 10th century BCE did include the presence of a centralized kingdom, operating from Jerusalem, that had emerged with a King David.

Deutero Iron IIA (2/3)

As Deuteronomy continues its review of biblical laws, this post will continue its review of the Iron IIA period.

The Iron IIA period in the southern Levant, notably in the central hill country, the Negev and Shephelah, shows a transition from small villages to developing towns with fortifications, an increase in urbanization and the establishment of an elite class.

The dating of the Iron IIA period is a major point of contention amongst archaeologists, with implications for understanding the biblical account. There are two main views in this debate, with those who argue for a “High Chronology” and those who support a “Low Chronology.”

In the High Chronology, the transition from the Late Bronze Age to the Iron I period occurred towards the end of the 13th / beginning of the 12th century BCE, and lasted until roughly the year 1000 BCE, with the Iron IIA beginning in the 10th century BCE. For the Low Chronology, the Iron I period begins in the latter part of the 12th BCE and lasts until the late 10th century BCE, with the Iron IIA period mainly in the 9th century BCE.

The implications for each as it relates to the Bible are as follows. In the 9th century BCE, the Kingdom of Israel was well established and a recognized power in the region. This means that if the Kingdom of Judah were to have been a significant power, ruling over a confederation of tribes that extended north and east past the borders of modern day Israel, it would need to have done so in an earlier period, here the 10th century BCE. If the Iron IIA period of urbanization and development includes the 10th century BCE, it leaves room for a Davidic or Solomonic kingdom to have ruled tribes that later became part of the northern Kingdom of Israel. If the Iron IIA only lasted one century, the 9th BCE, it would pose a challenge to the biblical account.

Discoveries made since the introduction of the Low Chronology have been used to push back against it and in support of the High Chronology.

Khirbet Qeiyafa is a hilltop archaeological site along the border of the Shephelah, the Judean foothills, and Philistia, the southern coastal region of Canaan. The site was active for a short period during the Iron Age, at which point the city was destroyed. Carbon dating of olive pits found on site were dated to the 11th-10th century BCE, and the city appears to have met its end by the first half of the 10th century BCE, likely by the rival Philistines of Gath. The defensive wall around Qeiyafa may have had two gates, leading some to conclude that this is the site of the biblical city of Sha’araim, which translates to “two gates.”

Fragments of animal bones recovered at Qeiyafa show that the bones came from sheep, cattle and goats, but not from pigs, which may be a cultural marker for Israel and Judah. Two boxes uncovered at the site feature design elements that the archaeologists who worked the site claim are reminiscent of features of Solomon’s Temple as described in the Bible. The casemate walls of Khirbet Qeiyafa are unusual for the time, but they are seen more regularly later at sites in Judah, notably at Beth-Shemesh, Tell en-Naṣbeh, Tell Beit Mirsim, and Beersheba. Metallic implements at the site contained a large percentage of iron tools, similar to what is found in the central hill country, a contrast to the Philistine sites along the coast and in the Canaanite sites in the north, where bronze remained the dominant form of metal in use. The city appears to have had monumental structures and a large storeroom, which would suggest the city served as an administrative center, and the Khirbet Qeiyafa ostracon demonstrates the existence of literacy within the town. The sum total of the evidence allows for the possibility that this town was inhabited by Judahite settlers, and directed by a Judahite kingdom in the southern central hill country in the 11th or 10th centuries. In clearer terms, it means that in the 10th century BCE, a United Monarchy of Israelite and Judahite tribes, led by a King David, could have ruled over territories extending beyond the southern hill country in Canaan.

The image above is of the Khirbet Qeiyafa Ostracon, on display at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem

Deutero Iron IIA (1/3)

The Book of Deuteronomy is presented as Moses’ last will and testament, where he recounts the events, wanderings, laws and decrees of the previous forty years in preparation for Israel’s crossing into the land of Canaan. Deuteronomy 1 begins with “These are the words Moses spoke to all Israel in the wilderness east of the Jordan…In the fortieth year, on the first day of the eleventh month, Moses proclaimed to the Israelites all that the Lord had commanded him concerning them. In Deuteronomy 4, “This is the law Moses set before the Israelites. These are the stipulations, decrees and laws Moses gave them when they came out of Egypt.”

As this year’s Torah reading cycle nears its end and moves towards next year’s reading cycle, it is an opportune time to review the posts of the last two years about the Iron IIA period and its implications for a Davidic or Solomonic kingdom.

The Iron IIA period in Canaan follows the earlier Iron I period. The transition from the Iron I to the Iron IIA reflects a change in living styles, from smaller villages to increased urbanization and the development of small states. The Iron IIA features an increase in fortified cities, with defensive walls, gate systems at entrances and complex water collection systems. This development likely was the result of continued growth and the pressures of war. City-states developed in the Levant, including the archaeologically visible Aram Damascus and Ammon, and likely the less visible Moab and Edom. Within the territory of Benjamin, the site of Gibeah may have served as Saul’s capital.

At the outset of the Iron IIA period, Jerusalem does not appear to be highly developed. If this is a curiosity in the view of the biblical account, it may highlight the limitations of archaeology. Archaeology can mainly address what is actually found, and over time, earlier layers may have been cleared for new construction, distorting the archaeological picture. In the earlier 14th century BCE Amarna Letters from Egypt, Jerusalem appears to be a significant kingdom, yet no archaeological remains recovered to date indicate the existence of such a kingdom. Absence alone does not mean King David or King Solomon’s kingdom did not exist.

Some point to finds in the area of the ancient city of Jerusalem, the area today referred to as the City of David, south of today’s Old City walls, and the area just above, as evidence for a Davidic kingdom. They argue that the Stepped Stone Structure in the City of David was the foundation for a larger building above and that the Large Stone Building, with its luxury goods, was an Iron IIA royal structure. At the Ophel, on the hill north of the City of David, the Ophel Inscription provides evidence of literacy, an important advantage for a kingdom attempting to manage distant territories. The Temple Mount Seal from the Iron IIA period is another piece of evidence for writing on papyrus from this period. A large wall and tower are also interpreted by some as having been built by King Solomon.

The Temple Mount remains concealed due to political constraints, and Herod’s massive construction project would have disturbed the earth below, limiting its archaeological value. Yet comparisons to other temples in the region demonstrate that the building described in 1 Kings 6-8 fits the style of temples of the Iron IIA period. One temple in particular bore a striking similarity to the Bible’s Solomonic Temple in its design features. The Ain Dara Temple in Syria was constructed with a tripartite design, a rectangular structure with three rooms in a row. Both buildings featured a holy of holies in the room furthest from the entranceway. They both contained storages areas on the sides. Both featured design elements of cherubim, palm leaves and floral patterns, water basins at the front of the building and pillars in the front of the structure.

(To be continued)