In Numbers 1, a census of Israel was taken. In the final tally, “All the Israelites twenty years old or more who were able to serve in Israel’s army were counted according to their families. The total number was 603,550.” To accommodate these numbers, the tribes were assigned to designated areas, and Judah was placed in the east.
In the southern Levant in the Iron IIA period, Judah was centered in Jerusalem, but then began to expand to the west. One such site it expanded to in the west was the city of Lachish. Lachish was an ancient city in the Shephelah, the region between the central hill country and the coastal plain. The city is mentioned in a variety of ancient sources, including in the Amarna Letters, the Bible and in Assyrian records. While there is no definitive proof of the exact location of the ancient city, it is associated with Tell ed Duweir, today’s Tel Lachish.
In an archaeological tel, or mound, layers stacked on top of other layers each represent a particular period of time. The top layer will typically be referred to as Level I, which rests on top of Level II, Level II above Level III, and so on. Pottery discovered within a layer can be used to establish a relative chronology for a level that can be aligned with other sites, and monuments or carbon dating can be used to establish a fixed chronology for a particular level.
Lachish’s Level III city was destroyed by the Assyrians in Sennacherib’s campaign at the end of the 8th century BCE, providing a fixed end date for Level III. Level IV lies beneath Level III, and was occupied during the 9th century. The Level IV city covered an area of 7.5 hectares and was surrounded by a 20 foot thick wall.
Recent excavations of a layer below Level IV, designated as Level V, exposed a smaller city of only 3 to 4 hectares large, surrounded by a 10 foot thick wall built of medium sized stones. Carbon dating of olive pits associated with this layer place the city in the latter part of the 10th century BCE.
In the Bible, King Solomon was followed as king by his son Rehoboam. In 2 Chronicles 11, Rehoboam took steps to fortify his cities. “Rehoboam lived in Jerusalem and built up towns for defense in Judah: Bethlehem, Etam, Tekoa, Beth Zur, Soko, Adullam, Gath, Mareshah, Ziph, Adoraim, Lachish, Azekah, Zorah, Aijalon and Hebron. These were fortified cities in Judah and Benjamin. He strengthened their defenses and put commanders in them, with supplies of food, olive oil and wine. He put shields and spears in all the cities, and made them very strong. So Judah and Benjamin were his.”
The Davidic kingdom of David and Solomon are typically placed in the Iron IIA period. The wall at Lachish Level V would seem to point to an Iron IIA city in the 10th century BCE. If the wall at Lachish Level V can indeed be associated with Rehoboam, it would point to a Davidic kingdom centered in Jerusalem in the 10th century BCE, able to extend its power beyond the central hill country and into the Shephelah.
The image above is an aerial view of the site that today is assumed to be ancient Lachish.