A Conqueror of Canaan Attested

Credit: BiblePlaces.com, Louvre Museum

In Numbers 13, Moses sent men to spy the land of Canaan. When they returned, they reported that the land would be too difficult to conquer. “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large…We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are…The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size.”

Where Israel wavered, the Arameans were able to conquer and hold the land of Canaan for some time. In 2 Kings 13, “the Lord’s anger burned against Israel, and for a long time he kept them under the power of Hazael king of Aram and Ben-Hadad his son…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.”

The Aramean king Ben-Hadad the son of Hazael is an attested figure in archaeology. The Stele of Zakkur is an Aramaic inscription that dates to the late 9th – early 8th century BCE. It was recovered at Tell Afis, Syria. In the Stele of Zakkur, King Zakkur of Hamath and Luhuti recalls his holding off of an Aramean siege. “I am Zakkur, king of Hamath and Luash . . . Bar-Hadad, son of Hazael, king of Aram, united against me seventeen kings . . .all these kings laid siege to Hazrach . . . Baalshamayn said to me, “Do not be afraid. . .I will save you from all [these kings who] have besieged you” The Aramean king he mentions here is Bar-Hadad, son of Hazael, the same one recorded in 2 Kings.

The image above is of the Stele of Zakkur, which is housed at the Louvre Museum in Paris, France.

The Dangerous Son of a Nobody

Credit: BiblePlaces.com, Istanbul Museum of the Ancient Orient

In Numbers 11, God punished the people of Israel. First, the people complained about the hardships of the desert wandering and they were struck by fire. Following this incident, people complained of the lack of diversity in their diets and so God rained down quail upon them, and they were struck by plague.

In 2 Kings 6, Israel’s rival Aram becomes the method by which God punishes the Kingdom of Israel. In this account, Ben-Hadad, the king of Aram, besieged the city of Samaria, causing a famine. The king of Israel recognized the source of the disaster. “The king said, This disaster is from the Lord. Why should I wait for the Lord any longer?”

Two Aramean kings named in the Bible are Ben-Hadad son of Tabrimmon, the son of Hezion, and the king who followed, Hazael.

In 1 Kings 15, “There was war between Asa [king of Judah] and Baasha king of Israel throughout their reigns.” To buy his nation protection, “Asa then took all the silver and gold that was left in the treasuries of the Lord’s temple and of his own palace. He entrusted it to his officials and sent them to Ben-Hadad son of Tabrimmon, the son of Hezion, the king of Aram, who was ruling in Damascus.” As above, in 2 Kings 6, Ben-Hadad, the king of Aram, besieged the city of Samaria.

In 2 Kings 8, Elisha tells Hazael that he will become king of Aram, and Hazael “took a thick cloth, soaked it in water and spread it over the king’s face, so that he died. Then Hazael succeeded him as king.” Later Hazael would go to war against Israel and Judah. “Ahaziah went with Joram son of Ahab to war against Hazael king of Aram at Ramoth Gilead. The Arameans wounded Joram; so King Joram returned to Jezreel to recover from the wounds the Arameans had inflicted on him at Ramoth in his battle with Hazael king of Aram.”

In these biblical stories, the king Ben Hadad was usurped by Hazael. This fact appears to be consistent with the archaeological record.

Shalmaneser III ruled the Neo-Assyrian kingdom from 859-824 BCE. During his reign he maintained an expansionary policy, putting him in constant conflict with his neighbors. On the recovered Basalt Statue of Shalmaneser III, he recounted his conflict with the Arameans. “Hazael, son of a nobody, took the throne. He mustered his numerous troops; (and) he moved against me to do war and battle. fought with him. I decisively defeated him. I took away from him his walled camp. In order to save his life he ran away. I pursued (him) as far as Damascus, his royal city, cut down his orchards.”

Shalmaneser III says that Hazael was a “son of a nobody,” meaning he did not descend from the royal line. This is detail that conforms with a detail in the Bible.

The image above is of the Basalt Statue of Shalmaneser III from the Istanbul Museum of the Ancient Orient.

Jezebel in the Window

Credit: BiblePlaces.com, Hecht Museum at Haifa, Israel

Numbers 5 contains rules for a problematic wife. If a man suspects that “wife goes astray and is unfaithful to him” he can take his wife to the priest to undergo the ‘sotah’ ritual. “The priest is to write these curses on a scroll and then wash them off into the bitter water. He shall make the woman drink the bitter water that brings a curse, and this water that brings a curse and causes bitter suffering will enter her…after that, he is to have the woman drink the water. If she has made herself impure and been unfaithful to her husband, this will be the result: When she is made to drink the water that brings a curse and causes bitter suffering, it will enter her, her abdomen will swell and her womb will miscarry, and she will become a curse.”

1 Kings 16 tells of a different problematic wife. After Ahab became king of Israel, he married “Jezebel daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians.” Jezebel killed God’s prophets, ate with 450 prophets of the god Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah, threatened to kill Elijah, and inspired her husband to conspire to kill Naboth to take his vineyard. The Bible blamed her for her turning her Ahab away from God: “There was never anyone like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord, urged on by Jezebel his wife.” For these acts, Elijah warned that Jezebel had been cursed by God. “And also concerning Jezebel the Lord says: Dogs will devour Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel.”

In 2 Kings 9, Jezebel met her end at Jezreel. “Then Jehu went to Jezreel. When Jezebel heard about it, she put on eye makeup, arranged her hair and looked out of a window. As Jehu entered the gate, she asked, “Have you come in peace, you Zimri, you murderer of your master? 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 went in and ate and drank. Take care of that cursed woman, he said, and bury her, for she was a king’s daughter. But when they went out to bury her, they found nothing except her skull, her feet and her hands. They went back and told Jehu, who said, This is the word of the Lord that he spoke through his servant Elijah the Tishbite: On the plot of ground at Jezreel dogs will devour Jezebel’s flesh. Jezebel’s body will be like dung on the ground in the plot at Jezreel, so that no one will be able to say, This is Jezebel.”

In the climactic scene of Jezebel’s death, she appears at a window. In the Iron II period of the ancient Near East, a woman in the window is a common motif in art. Examples have been found in Lebanon (https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/W_1848-0720-13), Samaria (https://www.imj.org.il/en/collections/365182-0), Assyria, which is the region of northern Iraq, and in Syria. This detail of Jezebel in the window perhaps has its echo in a popular theme of its time.

The image above is of an 8th century BCE ‘woman in the window’ ivory plaque that can be found in the Hecht Museum at Haifa.

Kings Ahab’s Usurping In-Laws?

In Numbers 1 and 2, Moses begins a process of consolidation and coordination for managing Israel. In Numbers 1, God orders Moses to take a census of Israel. “These were the men counted by Moses and Aaron and the twelve leaders of Israel, each one representing his family. 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.” In Numbers 2, this collection of humanity was directed where to camp. To the east were the tribes of Judah, Issachar, Zevulun. West, Ephraim, Manasseh and Benjamin. To the north, Dan, Asher, Naphtali; south, Reuben, Simeon, Gad. The Levites were located in the center. This process of counting and organizing is important for a leader to understand his resources and provide direction.

Another important role for a leader is controlling foreign relations. In the Iron IIA period, this might have included marrying with neighboring rulers to establish an alliance. In 1 Kings 16, Omri’s son Ahab became king of Israel. One act that the Bible recounts is that Ahab “married Jezebel daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians,” an act which would be undertaken to manage his foreign affairs. Similarly, in 2 Kings 8, Jehoram the King of Judah, “married a daughter of Ahab,” presumably to ally with his northern neighbor Israel.

Josephus was a Jewish general during the First Jewish Revolt against Rome in 66-70 CE who was captured by the Romans and produced both a record of the conflict and a history of Israel and the Jews. In addition to these books, he wrote a defense of the Jews, ‘Against Apion.’

In ‘Against Apion’ he quotes a Menander the Ephesian, who “wrote the Acts that were done both by the Greeks and Barbarians, under every one of the Tyrian kings.” Menander notes an Ithobalus, the priest of Astarte, who killed the king Pheles and then reigned thirty-two years, and lived sixty-eight years. “Ithobalus” bears a close similarity to the Bible’s Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, who is said to have been the Israelite queen Jezebel’s father.

The Ahiram Sarcophagus is a stone coffin that dates to either the 10th or 9th century BCE. It is one of the more impressive archaeological finds of the Lebanese coastal region. Its inscription states that it was built by the king of Byblos for his father Ahiram. Ahiram himself is not titled a king, just as Ithobalus is described as an usurper and not descended from royalty in Josephus’ writings. The king’s name is partially cut off and the remaining part reads only as “sibaal.” Some have suggested that this coffin’s builder should be read as Itho[baal], possibly the same as the figure in the Bible, while others suggest a reading of [Pil]sibaal, different from the biblical character.

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

The Northern Kingdom’s Southern Temple

Credit: BiblePlaces.com, Israel

In Leviticus 26 God tells Moses to instruct Israel on a series of rules. One of these includes “Do not make idols or set up an image or a sacred stone for yourselves, and do not place a carved stone in your land to bow down before it. I am the Lord your God.” Israel is told that if they follow the rules they will be rewarded, but if they do not, they will suffer a series of misfortunes: “If in spite of this you still do not listen to me but continue to be hostile toward me, then in my anger I will be hostile toward you, and I myself will punish you for your sins seven times over. You will eat the flesh of your sons and the flesh of your daughters. I will destroy your high places, cut down your incense altars and pile your dead bodies on the lifeless forms of your idols, and I will abhor you. I will turn your cities into ruins and lay waste your sanctuaries, and I will take no delight in the pleasing aroma of your offerings. I myself will lay waste the land, so that your enemies who live there will be appalled. I will scatter you among the nations and will draw out my sword and pursue you. Your land will be laid waste, and your cities will lie in ruins.”

In 1 Kings 12, after Jeroboam led the split of the 10 northern tribes from Rehoboam’s kingdom centered in Jerusalem, he established two competing sites for ritual worship, one at Dan at his kingdom’s northern edge and another at Bethel near his southern border. His reasoning was that “If these people go up to offer sacrifices at the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem, they will again give their allegiance to their lord, Rehoboam king of Judah. They will kill me and return to King Rehoboam.” Instead, “he made two golden calves. He said to the people, it is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt. One he set up in Bethel, and the other in Dan. And this thing became a sin; the people came to worship the one at Bethel and went as far as Dan to worship the other… On the fifteenth day of the eighth month, a month of his own choosing, he offered sacrifices on the altar he had built at Bethel. So he instituted the festival for the Israelites and went up to the altar to make offerings.”

To date, no physical signs of the Temple at Bethel have been found. But this is an instance in which the Bible itself can serve as its own evidence. Based on writing style, timing and message, the books of Hosea and Amos are recognized to have been written by distinct authors, unconnected to the author the Book of Kings 1 & 2. These two books corroborate the existence of the Temple at Bethel.

In Hosea 9, the prophet Hosea warns that “The days of punishment are coming, the days of reckoning are at hand. Let Israel know this. Because your sins are so many and your hostility so great.” He warns against the worship of foreign gods: “But when they came to Baal Peor, they consecrated themselves to that shameful idol.” And he foretells of punishments coming: “Even if they bear children, I will slay their cherished offspring. My God will reject them because they have not obeyed him; they will be wanderers among the nations.”

In Hosea 10 descriptions of punishment continue. “The people who live in Samaria fear for the calf-idol of Beth Aven. Its people will mourn over it, and so will its idolatrous priests, those who had rejoiced over its splendor, because it is taken from them into exile.” Beth Aven here is a derogatory term for Bethel, as becomes clear in the immediately following passages. “So will it happen to you, Bethel, because your wickedness is great. When that day dawns, the king of Israel will be completely destroyed.”

Here, the 8th century BCE prophet Hosea attests to a worship site at Bethel.

In Amos 4, the prophet Amos warns Israel of their impending doom due to their iniquities. “Hear this word, you cows of Bashan on Mount Samaria, you women who oppress the poor and crush the needy and say to your husbands, Bring us some drinks! The Sovereign Lord has sworn by his holiness: The time will surely come when you will be taken away with hooks, the last of you with fishhooks. You will each go straight out through breaches in the wall, and you will be cast out toward Harmon.”

The prophet taunts Israel: “Go to Bethel and sin; go to Gilgal and sin yet more. Bring your sacrifices every morning, your tithes every three years. Burn leavened bread as a thank offering and brag about your freewill offerings, boast about them, you Israelites, for this is what you love to do,”

The connection of worship and Bethel, by another prophet in the 8th century BCE, corroborates the idea that there was a functioning temple site at Bethel, despite a current lack of tangible evidence.

The image above is of Beitin, a Palestinian village near Ramallah, which is assumed to have been the site of ancient Bethel.

Israelite Laws for Foreigners, Foreign Pots for Israel

Credit: BiblePlaces.com

Leviticus 17 and 18 discusses rules that apply to foreigners. In Leviticus 17, God holds foreigners to the same standard as Israelites. “Any Israelite or any foreigner residing among them who offers a burnt offering or sacrifice and does not bring it to the entrance to the tent of meeting to sacrifice it to the Lord must be cut off from the people of Israel,” and “I will set my face against any Israelite or any foreigner residing among them who eats blood, and I will cut them off from the people.” In Leviticus 18, God warns Israel not to engage in relations that are permitted amongst non-Israelites: “You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices.” Yet he warns “Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled. Even the land was defiled; so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. But you must keep my decrees and my laws. The native-born and the foreigners residing among you must not do any of these detestable things.”

As these rules demonstrate the presence of foreigners, the pottery record of the Iron IIA period demonstrates the presence of interactions with foreigners. And these interactions factor into opinions about the status of the monarchy of kings David and Solomon.

A debate amongst archaeologists about the length of time of the Iron IIA period divides into an extended High Chronology and a shorter Low Chronology, with implications for the time available for kings David and Solomon to rule. Proponents of the High Chronology find support for kings David and Solomon in foreign imported pottery.

Supporters of a High Chronology argue that the Iron IIA period stretches across the 10th and 9th centuries, and that there are sub-periods with different forms of pottery in each. Under this interpretation, in the early Iron IIA period, Phoenician imports, from the areas of today’s northern Israel and Lebanon, featured ‘Bichrome Ware’ that was popular in the earlier Iron I period, but these are largely not found in the 9th BCE. In the later Iron IIA period, Cypriot imports appear in more significant numbers. Additionally, new Black-on-Red Ware, with black decoration on a red background, appears in more significant numbers.

These examples demonstrate foreign contact in the 9th BCE areas of Israel and Judah, and perhaps do tell us more about David and Solomon.

The image above is of a Black-on-Red Ware vessel.

Pot Periodization and the Davidic Kingdom

Pottery plays an important role in the field of archaeology, through the relative dating of artifacts, synchronizing archaeological layers and demonstrating technological and stylistic changes over time. Pottery too plays a role in the Bible.

Leviticus 15 deals with human discharges and the relevant laws of ritual purity. “The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, Speak to the Israelites and say to them: When any man has an unusual bodily discharge, such a discharge is unclean. Whether it continues flowing from his body or is blocked, it will make him unclean. This is how his discharge will bring about uncleanness.” It then goes on to establish rules, including “ A clay pot that the man touches must be broken, and any wooden article is to be rinsed with water.”

A major debate amongst archaeologists is the length of time of the Iron IIA period, which carries implications for a United Monarchy led by kings David and Solomon. According to the High Chronology, the Iron IIA extended through much of the 10th and 9th centuries BCE, while proponents of the Low Chronology argue for the Iron IIA to have been concentrated mainly in the 9th BCE. The High Chronology allows for a powerful kingdom led by David and Solomon that ruled over the territories of Israel, while the Low Chronology does not.

Proponents of the High Chronology divide the Iron IIA itself by pottery styles. In the High Chronology’s nearly two-century scheme, pottery styles can be divided into early and late phases, with pottery styles evolving over time. A key change in pottery from the Iron I to Iron IIA period is the appearance of red-slipped hand-burnished ware, meaning the pottery was finished with a reddish dye and finished with a polish done by hand on not on a wheel. They note a gradual receding use of hand burnishing on certain vessels in the latter part of the Iron IIA. Similarly, they note changes in the styles of rims on cooking pots between the early Iron IIA and later Iron IIA.

The image above is of a red-burnished hand slipped vessel from Iron IIA Hazor.

God Steps Onto the Archaeological Scene

In Leviticus 9, the priests formally begin their sacrificial service. As the chapter closes, “Then Aaron lifted his hands toward the people and blessed them. And having sacrificed the sin offering, the burnt offering and the fellowship offering, he stepped down. Moses and Aaron then went into the tent of meeting. When they came out, they blessed the people; and the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. Fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fat portions on the altar. And when all the people saw it, they shouted for joy and fell facedown.”

The word Lord is used as a translation for God’s name YHWH.

YHWH is recognized archaeologically as Israel’s God via theophoric names, names that contain God’s personal name. One such example is the name Aviyah on the 10th century BCE Gezer Calendar. But the first known mention of YHWH’s name appears on a non-Israelite monument.

The Mesha Stele is mid-9th BCE monument that was recovered at Dibon, Jordan. On the stele, King Mesha of Moab describes how the Moabite god Chemosh helped him end the rule of the Kingdom of Israel. The stele partially mirrors elements of a biblical story in 2 Kings 3, although in the biblical account King Mesha sacrificed his son and successor and offered him as a sacrifice on the city wall.

In the Mesha Stele, Mesha describes some of the particulars of his battles and his defeat of Israel. “And Chemosh said to me, Go take Nebo against Israel, and I went in the night and I fought against it from the break of day till noon, and I took it: and I killed in all seven thousand men…women and maidens, for I devoted them to Ashtar-Chemosh; and I took from it the vessels of YHWH, and offered them before Chemosh.”

This first mention of YHWH, as Israel’s primary god, demonstrates YHWH being accepted as a significant deity of Israel in the 9th century BCE.

The image above is of a replica of the Mesha Stele.

The Right Stuff

Credit: BiblePlaces.com, Israel

Leviticus 7 awards priests with portions of sacrificial offerings: The Lord said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites: Anyone who brings a fellowship offering to the Lord is to bring part of it as their sacrifice to the Lord. With their own hands they are to present the food offering to the Lord; they are to bring the fat, together with the breast, and wave the breast before the Lord as a wave offering. The priest shall burn the fat on the altar, but the breast belongs to Aaron and his sons. You are to give the right thigh of your fellowship offerings to the priest as a contribution. The son of Aaron who offers the blood and the fat of the fellowship offering shall have the right thigh as his share. From the fellowship offerings of the Israelites, I have taken the breast that is waved and the thigh that is presented and have given them to Aaron the priest and his sons as their perpetual share from the Israelites.”

These rules specify that the breast and the right thigh are given to the priests “as their perpetual share from the Israelites.”

In 1 Kings 12, after Jeroboam led the split of the 10 northern tribes from the Rehoboam’s kingdom centered in Jerusalem, he established two competing sites for ritual worship, one at Dan at his kingdom’s northern edge and another at Bethel near his southern border. At Tel Dan, archaeologists discovered a temple sanctuary that dates to the Iron IIA period. The site contained a large sacrificial altar that was used for animal offerings.

An unearthing of the area around the altar at Tel Dan exposed thousands of bone fragments in concentrated deposits. The bones found in this area contained a higher percentage of sheep and goat bones than in the area as a whole. This is in-line with the types of sacrificial animals that the Bible specifies for sin offerings. The bone deposits contained a high percentage of the bones that extend into the hooves of sheep or goats, bones that might have been left intact in the animal hides that were given to the priests. And the bones also are more skewed to the right-sided portions, the portion that the Bible dictates was left for the priests.

Thus if this temple at Tel Dan was indeed the one established by Jeroboam, and used by the Israelite tribes, the practices appear to be aligned with the biblical prescription for sacrificial service.

The image above is of the high place at Dan, with a reconstructed altar.

Tel Dan Temple Menu

Credit: BiblePlaces.com

The early chapters of the Book of Leviticus list the various types of offerings brought in the Tabernacle. These offerings were limited to a select group of animals. Leviticus 1 begins, “The Lord called to Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting. He said, speak to the Israelites and say to them: When anyone among you brings an offering to the Lord, bring as your offering an animal from either the herd or the flock.” A herd is of cattle, with a male bull and female cow. A flock refers to sheep, with a male ram and female ewe.

Leviticus 1 describes the burnt offering, the ‘Olah’, which could be brought from a bull, ram or if a bird, from a dove or young pigeon. Leviticus 3 describes the peace-offering or fellowship offering, the ‘Shelamim’, which could be brought from a bull or cow, ram or ewe, a lamb, or a goat, a male billy or buck and female doe.

In 1 Kings 12 Jeroboam led the northern tribes to secede from the Davidic kingdom and he built temples at Bethel and Dan, at the southern and northern edges of his kingdom, respectively. Tel Dan is an archaeological site at the northern edge of Israel today, and it is the site of an Iron IIA temple complex that appears connected to the Kingdom of Israel.

At the temple site, archaeologists found thousands of animal bone fragments, consistent with the operation of a temple engaging in animal sacrifice. The bones were predominantly of sheep, goats or cattle, consistent with the biblically prescribed animals allowed for sacrifices. There was a higher percentage of sheep and goats relative to cattle, consistent with these animals being smaller and less costly than cattle. There was also a distinct lack of pig bones amongst the remains, again consistent with the biblical ban on pig and with the findings of animal remains at the Second Temple at Jerusalem, the period for which significant animal remains exists. There were lion and bear remains found on the site, but it is unclear what use these animals might have had within the temple.

Thus, directionally speaking, the temple at Dan appears to have been likely similar in function to a temple at Jerusalem.

The image above is of the temple complex at Tel Dan.