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)

None But Solomon

In Deuteronomy 12 Moses gives Israel extended instructions on the importance of centralized worship. “But you are to seek the place the Lord your God will choose from among all your tribes to put his Name there for his dwelling…Then to the place the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name, there you are to bring everything I command you: your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tithes and special gifts, and all the choice possessions you have vowed to the Lord…Be careful not to sacrifice your burnt offerings anywhere you please. Offer them only at the place the Lord will choose in one of your tribes, and there observe everything I command you.”

After the central shrine first settled elsewhere, this “place the Lord will choose” eventually became Jerusalem.

While there is ample proof for the Second Temple in Jerusalem, there is as of yet no overt archaeological evidence for the existence of the First Temple in Jerusalem. There are a number of reasons for this. The Bible says the First Temple was destroyed. The politically sensitive Temple Mount is not open to archaeological excavation. The earth underneath the Temple Mount was turned during Herod’s construction of the Temple Mount platform, limiting its usefulness for archaeological study.

Despite a lack of evidence, logic would dictate that the city had a Temple during the Iron Age. Archaeology demonstrates that Jerusalem was a major city, certainly by the end of the 7th century BCE. The Assyrians and Babylonians record assaults on the city, which attests to city’s importance. In the region, large cities had centralized temple areas on the high ground and there is no reason to suspect that Jerusalem was any different.

Numerous books of the Bible, written at various times, mention the Temple. It is referenced in the Book of Kings. Isaiah 2 mentions the Temple, as does Jeremiah 17. Centralized worship is an important element of the stories of kings Hezekiah and Josiah.

Along the same lines, there is no overt evidence for King Solomon in archaeology, but logic would dictate that he was a historical figure and the one who build the First Temple in Jerusalem.

There can be any number of reasons for a lack of overt references to King Solomon. Records may not have survived the ravages of time or may simple have not been found.

Despite the lack of evidence, there is little reason to question that the Temple was built by anyone but King Solomon. There is nothing in Deuteronomy to suggest that Jerusalem is the site that God would choose, and a Temple in Jerusalem would be associated with a dynasty connected to Jerusalem. If a later king would have built the First Temple, he would likely want credit for such an accomplishment. In Egyptian records, kings often erased the name of the earlier pharaohs and replaced it with their own, to take credit for building projects. With the First Temple, credit is assigned and held with the earlier king, King Solomon.

Thus even without overt evidence, the signs point to a King Solomon having existed and having built the First Temple.

The List Was Life

Credit:, Jezreel Valley, Israel

Even without direct evidence, lists in the Bible can be shown to reflect reality at a particular point in time.

In Deuteronomy 7 Moses tells the Israelites what they are to do when they enter Canaan. “When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations, the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you, and when the Lord your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally.”

As to whether this happened, the Bible itself is contradictory. In the Book of Joshua, Israel successfully conquers the land, and the land is apportioned to the various conquering tribes. On the other hand, Book of Judges 1 tells us that the Israelite tribes did not succeed in displacing and destroying the nations who occupied Canaan. Instead they settled a land where many of the inhabitants remained. In both of these books, the Bible lists the towns and places that there were either conquered or not conquered.

1 Kings 4 provides another list, this one of King Solomon’s district governors and the areas they governed.

“These are their names: Ben-Hur in the hill country of Ephraim; Ben-Deker in Makaz, Shaalbim, Beth Shemesh and Elon Bethhanan; Ben-Hesed in Arubboth, Sokoh and all the land of Hepher were his; Ben-Abinadab in Naphoth Dor, he was married to Taphath daughter of Solomon; Baana son of Ahilud in Taanach and Megiddo, and in all of Beth Shan next to Zarethan below Jezreel, from Beth Shan to Abel Meholah across to Jokmeam; Ben-Geber in Ramoth Gilead (the settlements of Jair son of Manasseh in Gilead were his, as well as the region of Argob in Bashan and its sixty large walled cities with bronze gate bars); Ahinadab son of Iddo in Mahanaim; Ahimaaz in Naphtali (he had married Basemath daughter of Solomon); Baana son of Hushai in Asher and in Aloth; Jehoshaphat son of Paruah in Issachar; Shimei son of Ela in Benjamin; Geber son of Uri in Gilead.”

Elements of these various lists can be telling.

Ben-Deker is said to rule in Makaz. This town is not referenced elsewhere in the Bible, suggesting that it was only active or important during King Solomon’s reign. Ben-Deker is also said to rule over Shaalbim, but in Joshua 19:42 the same town appears to be called Shaalabbin, suggesting that the place name evolved and was different at various points in time.

Baana son of Ahilud is said to rule over Taanach, but Taanach does not appear to be a significant site after the 10th century BCE and would not be an important site worth mentioning in later lists. Similarly, Baana son of Ahilud was responsible for “all of Beth Shan next to Zarethan below Jezreel.” Jezreel was not heavily occupied after the mid-9th BCE, and would be unlikely to be included in a later list.

Thus the construction of the list, the forms of the names and the archaeology can argue that the list in 1 Kings 4 represents a reality at a specific point in time, and that the time period was one in which a King Solomon ruled over Israelite tribes.

The image above is of the ancient site of Taanach.

When Wisdom Was Honored

Credit:, Israel Museum

Continuing on a theme, scholars debate if events and figures in the Bible are depicted accurately, or if they are later inventions. Stories written later are considered less reliable than stories written closer in time to the events and the characters described. However, when conditions change over time, it makes it more likely that a story that reflects earlier conditions no longer in effect was actually written earlier.

In Deuteronomy 6, Moses tells Israel “Fear the Lord your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name.” Proverbs 1 begins “The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel: for gaining wisdom and instruction…The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.”

The Bible attributes the book of Proverbs to Solomon, and in the Bible, Solomon is the paragon of wisdom. In 1 Kings 3, Solomon asks for and receives wisdom. “So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?” The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be.”

Baruch Halpern of the University of Georgia has pointed out that the focus on wisdom reflects an 11th and 10th century reality. He notes that records of 11th and 10th century Assyrian kings highlight their knowledge of the natural world. In the High Chronology, which argues for an Iron IIA period including the 10th century BCE, King Solomon would have ruled in the 10th century BCE, and thus the focus on Solomon’s wisdom could reflect the trend of the time.

David Carr, Professor of Old Testament, draws a parallel between the Song of Songs, which the Bible calls “Solomon’s Song of Songs,” and 2nd millennium BCE Egyptian and Ugaritic poetry. Additionally, Carr also highlights Kohelet, which in the Bible’s words is the “words of the Teacher, a son of David, king in Jerusalem,” a reference to Solomon, and he points to its motifs being similar to the Old Babylonian form of the Gilgamesh epic found at 2nd millennium Hatti, Emar and Megiddo.

Beyond these contemporary early examples of wisdom literature, there is a source external to the Bible that highlights Solomon’s wisdom. Josephus, in his book Against Apion, quotes Menander the Ephesian, writing about the Tyrian king Hirom, “Under this King there was a younger son of Abdemon, who mastered the problems which Solomon King of Jerusalem had recommended to be solved.”

Thus, while there is as of yet no overt 10th or 9th century reference to a King Solomon, there are elements of biblical account which garner consideration from contemporary trends and late mentions outside of biblical or Jewish sources.

The image above is of a fragment of the Epic of Gilgamesh from Megiddo, on display at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

What Time Hath Not For-Gath

Credit:, Philistine Plain, Israel

Deuteronomy begins with Moses recounting Israel’s travails in the wilderness. He recalls the assignment of leaders to assist Moses, which occurred earlier in Exodus. He tells the story of the spies who scouted Canaan, Israel’s complaints against the idea of conquering Canaan, their punishment to wander in the wilderness for 40 years and their travels in the desert and into the Transjordan, stories which were first told in the book of Numbers.

Scholars who evaluate the Bible from a scientific and historical perspective attempt to determine the historicity of events within the Bible. Scholars may assume that a story written in closer proximity to the time the events occurred is more accurate than a story written at a far later date. A story written at a later date is more likely to see anachronisms, details that do not fit the time period creep into the text. Thus a story that appears to avoid late anachronisms would have better odds of recording a historical event.

One such story is that of David fleeing to Gath. In 1 Samuel 21, David escaped from Saul. “That day David fled from Saul and went to Achish king of Gath. But the servants of Achish said to him, “Isn’t this David, the king of the land? Isn’t he the one they sing about in their dances: Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands? David took these words to heart and was very much afraid of Achish king of Gath. So he pretended to be insane in their presence; and while he was in their hands he acted like a madman, making marks on the doors of the gate and letting saliva run down his beard. Achish said to his servants, Look at the man, he is insane, why bring him to me? Am I so short of madmen that you have to bring this fellow here to carry on like this in front of me? Must this man come into my house?”

The story would seem to be an odd inclusion in the Bible. One of King David’s greatest feats in the Bible was eliminating the threat from the Philistines, and yet in this story he relies on the Philistines to survive. Beyond its unusual theme, the story is significant for estimating when it was recorded.

In the Bible, there were five major Philistine cities: Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron and Gath. Excavations at Tell es-Safi demonstrated that the area is likely the site of the ancient Philistine city of Gath.

In 2 Kings 12, over a century after King David’s rule ended, “Hazael king of Aram went up and attacked Gath and captured it.” Archaeologists working the site of Gath have shown that the city was destroyed in the late 9th century BCE. After its destruction, the city remained reduced in the 8th century BCE, a shadow of its former self.

1 Samuel 21 tells the story of David at Gath. As Gath had been reduced, a late written story of King David would be unlikely to have him visit Gath, which was of no significance at that time. Thus the story in 1 Samuel 21 is likely to have been more ancient, and more likely written closer to the timing of the story it tells.

The photo in the image above is of the remains of an Iron Age building in Gath.

Of the House of David

Numbers 31 recounts Israel’s victories over Midianite kings. Numbers 32 mentions that the Gadites and Reubenites agreed to participate in Israel’s invasion of the Cisjordan. In Numbers 33, God gives Moses instructions for Israel’s coming invasion of Canaan. While these chapters recall and anticipate Israel’s victories in war, a monument to a war that Israel and Judah lost is one of the most important pieces of archaeological evidence for reconstructing a Davidic kingdom.

In 1 Kings 12, Jeroboam led the ten northern tribes of Israel to secede from King Solomon’s son Rehoboam’s kingdom. To rival the southern Kingdom of Judah, Jeroboam established temples at Dan and Beth-El. Where these two kingdoms began as rivals, they eventually settled their differences and worked as allies.

In the 9th century BCE, Israel’s principle rival became its northern neighbor, the Kingdom of Aram. Both 1 Kings and 2 Kings record a series of wars between the two sides.

One of those wars appears to have been recorded in what is known at the Tel Dan Stele. The Tel Dan Stele consists of fragments of a once larger monument. It survived from antiquity with various pieces being placed in the construction of an ancient stone wall. The inscription was written in Aramaic, indicative of Aramean origin. The script appears to be written in a 9th century BCE Phoenician alphabetic text, giving an approximate time frame for its creation.

In 2 Kings 8, Hazael killed the Aramean king Ben-Hadad and became king in his place. Hazael waged war against the king of Judah Ahaziah son of Jehoram and the king of Israel Joram the son of Ahab at Ramoth Gilead. In the Bible’s account, Hazael’s forces wounded Joram, so Joram returned to Jezreel to recover from his wounds. Later, both Ahaziah and Joram were killed by Jehu.

In the Tel Dan Stele, the name of the Aramean king is absent. However, the king says he was made king by Hadadezer, who may be one and the same with Ben Hadad. In the Tel Dan Stele, based on the most obvious reconstructions with the biblical account, this 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 similarities between the biblical account and the Tel Dan Stele leave Hazael as the most likely author of the Tel Dan Stele.

More important for the recreation of the southern Kingdom of Judah is the Tel Dan Stele’s reference to [Ahaz]iahu son of [Jehoram kin-]g of the House of David. This is the first clear reference to a King David. The term “House of” denotes a kingdom, similar to the “House of Israel” in Ezekiel 28 and Amos 9. Thus the Tel Dan Stele records the existence of a kingdom connected to a David.

This places the figure of David in history as the head of the kingdom. The nature of that kingdom is much debated, but it anchors David in history, a step required to argue for David as a king of an extended tribal alliance.

The image above is of the Tel Dan Stele, on display at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

Invisible Nomads

Credit: Susan Ackerman, July 2015; ASOR

In Numbers 21, Israel continued its travels east, attacking Arad, moving from Mount Hor to avoid Edom, and then onto the banks of the Arnon River. In moving across the rift valley and into the Transjordan, they crossed the Aravah, the arid region stretching from the Dead Sea going south to the Gulf of Aqaba.

Archaeological studies in this region highlight the limitations of the field of archaeology, and have important implications for arguments about the United Monarchy of King David and Solomon.

The Aravah region contains two major copper deposits that were major ancient copper production sites: Faynan in Jordan and Timna in southern Israel.

Faynan is located in southern Jordan, roughly 20 miles southeast of the Dead Sea. At its peak, Faynan was possibly the largest copper production facility in the eastern Mediterranean after Cyprus, the island which gave Latin and later English the term copper. Remains of the activity at Faynan are evidenced in the 200,000 tons of slag residue from smelting activities and thousands of mines.

Timna, situated north of Eilat, Israel, was a large copper production facility in the Late Bronze Age and into the Iron Age. It too contains vast slag remains and ancient mines, evidence of the large scale copper production that occurred on-site.

Notably, the production at these sites in the Iron Age does not appear to be associated with any of the major powers in the region. For example, in the Late Bronze Age at Timnah, Egypt controlled the site, as seen with an Egyptian temple to Hathor, an Egyptian goddess. By contrast, in the 10th and 9th centuries BCE, evidence for Egyptian control is absent. Instead, the copper production sites appear to have been run by a nomadic kingdom. One suggestion is that the site was run by a nomadic Edomite kingdom. Others suggestions are the Midianites or another nomadic group.

The operational activities at both Faynan and Timnah were highly complex. The sites were arid, and required vast quantities of water, food, slaves, wood and mining equipment to be procured and transported to and managed on-site. This required a high degree of organization and cooperation.

Nomads do not easily appear in the archaeological record. Nomads do not leave the developed sites, fixed buildings and monumental architecture that archaeologists use to determine the size and power of typical settled kingdoms.

Faynan and Timnah demonstrate that nomads were capable of highly complex organizational activities despite lacking a permanent capital or home site. Jerusalem in the 10th century BCE does not appear to be a highly developed capital. But the finds at Faynan and Timnah show that it need not have been to be able to lead a complex kingdom of associated tribes. A 10th century BCE Kingdom of Israel led from Judah by a King David or King Solomon may have had a large nomadic component that does not appear in the archaeological record, but that still was able to control and direct resources at a distance from Jerusalem.

The image above is of the remains of an Iron Age fortress at Khirbat en-Nahas, in the Faynan region of Jordan.

Cypriot Pots and David’s Monarchy

In Numbers 24, after failing to curse Israel, Balaam delivered one last message before departing. “Who can live when God does this? Ships will come from the shores of Kittim; they will subdue Ashur and Eber, but they too will come to ruin.” Kittim can be used to refer to the islands in the Mediterranean, but more specifically it refers to Cyprus.

Cyprus is only about 200 miles from the Sharon Plain, the central coastal section in the southern Levant. In the Bronze and Iron Ages, Cyprus was an important node in the eastern Mediterranean trading system, and a link to the Aegean. And pottery from Cyprus can contribute to the debate about King David in the 10th century BCE.

There is a debate about starting point for the Iron Age in the southern Levant, about when this period can be said to begin. The two sides can be broken into the High Chronology and the Low Chronology. According to the High Chronology, the Iron Age I extended from roughly 1200 BCE-1000 BCE, and then the Iron IIA period from roughly 1000 BCE-830 BCE. According to the Low Chronology, the Iron I period extended from around 1130 BCE-920 BCE, and the Iron IIA from 920-830 BCE.

A key impact of this is its implication for the Kingdom of Judah led by David and then Solomon. In the 9th century BCE, the northern Kingdom of Israel was an important entity. The High Chronology allows enough time for David and Solomon to rule without interference from a competing Israelite kingdom, while the Low Chronology compresses the time they could rule into too narrow a window to mirror the biblical account.

A major point of contention and a source for the dispute is a disagreement about the timing of pottery. In the 12th century BCE, a new form of pottery appeared in the southern coastal region of the Levant. This Philistine Monochrome pottery, also known as Mycenaean IIIC:1b, differed from the more prevalent Canaanite pottery in the region. Those who argue for the High Chronology claim this pottery appeared in the early 12th century BCE, while the Low Chronology argues for a late 12th century BCE appearance. The date for this pottery then sets the timetable for the Iron I and Iron IIA periods, with its implications for King David and Solomon.

Cypriot pottery found in the Levant points in favor of the High Chronology, and by extension, for a longer period for a kingdom in Judah to rule in the southern Levant.

As in all places, Cypriot pottery evolved in technology and style over time. The conventional chronology for Cyprus places a type of Cypriot pottery known as White Painted Wheelmade III pottery at the Late Cypriot IIC and the beginning of Late Cypriot IIIA, a period that equates to around 1200 BCE.

Ashdod is the site of one of the early pottery production facilities for the Philistines. Pottery from an early workshop has parallels with White Painted Wheelmade III pottery or even earlier versions of Cypriot pottery.

If this similarity to Cypriot style pottery indeed traces to the early 12th century BCE, it expands the window in which King David and King Solomon might have led an expansive Kingdom of Judah in the 10th century BCE.

The image above was taken along the coast of Cyprus.