Bronze and Iron As Boundaries

Leviticus 19 begins by listing a series of laws. “The Lord said to Moses, Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy. Each of you must respect your mother and father, and you must observe my Sabbaths. I am the Lord your God. Do not turn to idols or make metal gods for yourselves. I am the Lord your God.”

One of the ways in which archaeologists define historical periods is by the technology available for making tools. Humans moved from the Stone Age to the Copper Age, Bronze Age and then the Iron Age. The transition between these periods was not immediate, but rather a gradual process in which the new technology displaced the old. The same held true for the transition from bronze to iron, there was a gradual process in which bronze was replaced by iron as the primary metal used to make to tools.

Bronze requires access to copper and tin, but could be smelted at a lower temperature than steel. Steel is made with the more readily available iron and carbon, but requires a higher smelting point. The pace of change from bronze to iron varied by location.

One area in which there was a gradual transition was in the region of Canaan.

Khirbet Qeiyafa sits along the border of the Shephelah, the Judean foothills, and Philistia, the southern coastal region of Canaan. The city was located opposite of the Philistine city of Gath. The site was active for a single period during the transition period from Iron Age I to Iron Age IIA.

Archaeologists working the site discovered an array of metallic daggers, swords and blades. Some of these weapons were made of bronze, while a significant number were made of iron. In the central hill country, in the Iron IIA period, there is a more gradual shift, but iron tools begin to appear for use alongside bronze implements. In the same period, at the southern sites of Arad and Beersheba, iron tools predominate. By contrast, at Philistine sites along the coast and in the Canaanite sites in the north, in the Iron IIA period bronze remained the dominant form of metal in use.

The breakdown of the metal assemblage at Qeiyafa is a possibly cultural marker, and would point to the site being connected to the central hill country and the Judahite sites in south. If this is indeed the case, then it indicates that the site of Qeiyafa is part of a kingdom led from the hill country, and would argue for a 10th century kingdom in the hill country being able to rule at a distance from its home territory. This would potentially be a kingdom led by a King Saul, David or Solomon.