Antebellum and Postbellum Arad

Credit:, Arad, Negev, Israel

In Numbers 21, the Israelites encountered the kingdom of Arad. “When the Canaanite king of Arad, who lived in the Negev, heard that Israel was coming along the road to Atharim, he attacked the Israelites and captured some of them. Then Israel made this vow to the Lord: If you will deliver these people into our hands, we will totally destroy their cities. The Lord listened to Israel’s plea and gave the Canaanites over to them. They completely destroyed them and their towns; so the place was named Hormah.”

Tel Arad is an archaeological site in the Negev Desert. It sits roughly 6 miles west of today’s city of Arad, at the edge of the Judean Desert, and between the Dead Sea to the east and Beersheba to the west.

The site appears to have been destroyed in the Early Bronze Age, before experiencing a revival in the Iron Age. Archaeological layers develop over time, as newer settlements are built over older settlements, and at Arad, two archaeological layers are particularly of note. These layers are referred to as Stratum XII and Stratum XI, the earlier layer being the higher number.

The earlier of the two layers, Stratum XII, is a developing town. Stratum XI, the later version of the city, developed into a fortress. Both layers contain a pottery form referred to as red burnished hand slipped pottery, meaning the pottery was formed by hand on not on a wheel, and was finished with a reddish dye. This type of pottery is common in the Iron IIA period.

The discontinuity between Stratum XII and Stratum XI appears to have been the result of Shoshenq I’s invasion of the southern Levant.

In 1 Kings 14, after King Solomon’s reign ended, “In the fifth year of King Rehoboam, Shishak king of Egypt attacked Jerusalem.” 2 Chronicles 12 describes a more far reaching campaign. “With twelve hundred chariots and sixty thousand horsemen and the innumerable troops of Libyans, Sukkites and Cushites that came with him from Egypt, he [Shishak] captured the fortified cities of Judah and came as far as Jerusalem.”

The Karnak Temple north of Luxor was a major temple complex serving Egypt’s southern capital of Thebes. On the Bubasite Portal within the Precinct of Amun-Re, the pharaoh Shoshenq I recorded his campaign into the southern Levant in roughly the 930s-920s BCE. Beneath of an image of him smiting his captives were 156 ovals containing the image of a bound captive and an associated name. Many of these ovals have been damaged or are illegible, but there are enough names there to track his route. One of the cities featured on that list is Arad.

In Iron IIA period southern Levant, there was a shift away from small villages to larger, fortified cities, with a stratified structure, meaning there were buildings that would have been occupied by a ruling class or those associated with the ruling class. Cities and fortresses were built in the Negev to protect the trade routes from the coast and into the Transjordan and Arabia.

Thus the Iron IIA city of Arad may be significant for a number of reasons. This town’s development in the 10th century BCE, before the arrival of Shoshenq I’s army, might represent the establishment of towns by a Kingdom of Judah centered in Jerusalem in the 10th century BCE, raising the possibility that this was the kingdom led by either King David or King Solomon. But if this layer cannot be definitively associated with the Kingdom of Judah, the site still is important for understanding the Kingdom of Judah.

The Iron IIA period is identified by the presence of red burnished hand slipped pottery. The Iron IIA period features a shift from earlier small villages to larger fortified towns that had a stratified social structure, with a ruling elite. The presence of red burnished hand slipped pottery in the 10th century BCE, in Stratum XII, before Shoshenq I’s invasion, followed by the fortress in Stratum XI may demonstrate cultural continuity between the settlers in the earlier Stratum XII and the later Stratum XI. Further, it could show that in the late 10th century BCE, there was a kingdom, centered in Judah, able to build larger fortified cities at strategic locations. If true at Arad, then this also could apply to numerous other sites in the southern Levant, notably in the Shephelah region. Thus it points to a kingdom in the central hill country, likely centered in Jerusalem, possibly led by King David or King Solomon.

The image above is of a section of the Iron Age fortress at Arad.