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.

The High and Low Roads

Credit:, Joppa, Israel

In Numbers 16, Moses was challenged by Korah, Dathan, Abiram and their 250 supporters. In a similar vein, in the 1990s, the traditional view amongst archaeologists, referred to as the High Chronology, was challenged by proponents of a Low Chronology.

The traditional view, the High Chronology, was that King David ruled over a united monarchy in the Iron Age IIA period in the 10th century BCE. Supporters of the Low Chronology claimed that King David only ruled later and was never the ruler of a large confederation of tribes.

One of the premises for the Low Chronology challenge to the traditional view was based on an observation of pottery.

Since the Middle Bronze Age and the rise of Egypt’s New Kingdom in the 16th century BCE, Egypt had dominated the territory of Canaan. However, by the 12th century BCE, as Egypt’s central government began to weaken, its hold on the territory of Canaan began to wane, until it eventually withdrew from the region.

The traditional High Chronology assumption is that Philistines arrived on the southwestern coast of Canaan in the late 13th or early 12th century BCE, while Egypt still held fortresses in Canaan. Thus the two competing forces were settled in Canaan at the same time. This period of the Philistine arrival represented the shift from the Late Bronze Age into the Iron Age I period and so the Iron I period was deemed to begin in the early 12th century BCE. This framing of time allowed for the Iron IIA period to begin in the early 10th century BCE and left room for King David’s kingdom.

However, an observation was made and used to challenge the idea of King David’s kingdom. Egyptian and Philistine pottery did not appear together in the same archaeological layers that were unearthed. This led to the Low Chronology claim that the Philistines only arrived in coastal Canaan in the late 12th century BCE, after the Egyptians had left the region. This in turn led to an Iron Age I period that started later and squeezed the time length available for the Iron I and Iron IIA,  by extension compressing the time available for a Davidic kingdom to rule in the 10th century BCE.

Those who supported the High Chronology idea that King David ruled over united tribes extending into northern Israel countered that Egyptian and Philistine pottery did not appear together because they were rivals and maintained a divide between themselves.

Recent excavations done at Jaffa, along the coast of Israel, north of the Philistine regions along the southern coast, have countered this challenge. The Low Chronology argued that the Egyptians had exited Canaan before the Philistine arrival and that the Philistines arrived in the 1130s. The destruction layers at the fort of Jaffa and radiocarbon dating point to the Egyptians still being in Canaan in the late 12th century BCE, perhaps as late as 1115 BCE, after the Philistines had settled the southwestern coast. The argument that the Philistines appeared after the Egyptians left, which compressed the time periods, does not appear to be a concrete argument, again opening the window for a powerful Davidic kingdom in the 10th century BCE.

The image above is of the ancient Egyptian fort at Jaffa.

Changes in the House of the Sun

Credit:, Shephelah, Judah, Israel

In Numbers 13, Moses sent men to scout the land of Canaan. As part of their report, they referenced the locations of the different inhabitants. “The Amalekites live in the Negev; the Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live near the sea and along the Jordan.”

The ancient town of Beit Shemesh, at the archaeological site of Tel Beit Shemesh, sits in the northern part of the Shephelah, in the Sorek Valley, roughly 20 miles west of Jerusalem. In the Iron Age, the city was a border region, sitting between the Philistines to the west, the Israelites and Judahites of the central hill country to the east, and the Canaanites to the north.

The city appears to have been continuously occupied during the Middle Bronze Age, in the mid 2nd millennium BCE into the Iron Age. For the Iron Age I, archaeologists count four occupation levels for the town, but these levels demonstrat continuity in habitation over time. These four occupation layers were followed by a layer that represents Iron Age IIA.

The Iron Age I cities appear to have maintained cultural continuity with the preceding periods. The pottery assemblage in the Iron I period is similar to the Canaanite pottery of the Late Bronze Age. Similarly, the olive press in use in Iron I Beit Shemesh is similar to that of other Canaanite olive presses. The site lacks any significant amounts of pig bones, a feature of Israelite/Judahite sites but one also occasionally found at Canaanite sites.

The Iron IIA city marks a change from the earlier Iron I levels. This city was built with fortifications, an underground water reservoir, public buildings and a large silo. The site also features red slipped ware, a pottery style common in the central hill country. The excavators of the site have interpreted this city as being part of a nascent Israelite/Judahite state.

There are debates as to whether the Israelites/Judahites resided at Beit Shemesh in the Iron I period. The cultural artifacts appear to be Canaanite, but as the city eventually became Israelite, it is uncertain if Israelites had gradually moved into the city and were already living there by the transition period into the Iron IIA period.

Importantly for the history of the monarchy of King David, carbon dating samples from the Iron IIA layer show a date of ~950 BCE. If this is indeed accurate, then it would show a 10th century BCE city, located within the sphere of the southern hill country and Jerusalem, occupied by Israelites/Judahites. If so, it is possible that the town was ruled by a power centered in Jerusalem, led by a King David or a King Solomon.

The image above is of the entrance to the Iron Age reservoir at Beth Shemesh.

The Big House

Credit:, Shephelah, Judah, Israel

Numbers 9 tells of the cloud cover that rested above the tabernacle, the central structure of the Israelite camp. The nation of Israel took their cues from the patterns of this cloud. When the cloud settled above the tabernacle, the nation was cease traveling. When the cloud lifted, the nation would move with the tabernacle.

At the archaeological site of Tel ‘Eton, a centralized structure may shed light on King David’s kingdom.

Tel ‘Eton is an archaeological site in the Shephelah, the sloping region between the central highlands on the east and the coastal plain in the west. The site sits in the eastern edge of the Shephelah, southwest of the ancient site of Lachish and west of the city of Hebron. In ancient times, the site was strategically important as it sat astride the east-west road leading from the coastal route to Hebron and a north-south road that connected Beersheba with the road north. It is a site identified by some as biblical Eglon.

The area was home to Canaanites in the Late Bronze Age. During the Iron Age I there was little permanent settlement, but of those who resided there, they appear to have avoided pork in their diets, and the pottery in use was similar to that of Israelite sites. The city expanded in the Iron IIA, was fortified with a defensive wall. By size it appears to have been the third largest city in Judah after Jerusalem and Lachish.

A large structure was unearthed at the top of the mound of Tel ‘Eton. The structure appears to have been occupied by an elite dweller. Its site at the highest point indicates its importance. The building was constructed with a ‘four-room’ house plan of three long rooms backed by a perpendicular broad room, but is among the largest buildings of this type. It was built with ashlar masonry, stone that has been shaped into smoothed and even shapes and cemented together. The structure contained a large number of storage vessels, and indication of excess.

Notably, the ‘four-room’ house style is one that was prevalent in the Israelite and Judahite regions, and thus points to the site being connected to the settlers of the central hill country. Radiocarbon studies of olive pits found in the foundation layer of the building indicate that those pits date anywhere from the late 11th to the mid-to-late 10th century BCE. If this fill area where the pits were found was of the period in which the structure was built, than it potentially has implications for the history of the United Monarchy.

If the structure dates to either the 11th or 10th century, and it is associated with Israelite/Judahite dwellers, it would indicate that in this time period, a ruler in the central hill country could command the resources to build a fortified city and elite residence beyond its capital. And this ruler might have been a King David or King Solomon, ruling from Jerusalem.

The image above is of the mound of Tel ‘Eton.

Pottery Changes and State Changes

Credit:, Judah, Israel

In Numbers 4, God designates the families of Levites. In archaeology, some archaeologists have attempted to designate a particular site as belonging to Judah.

Khirbet al-Ra’i, or alternatively Khirbet ar-Ra’i, is an archaeological site in the Shephelah region of Israel. The site is located northwest of the site of Lachish, southeast of Kiryat-Gath, on the southern bank of the Lachish River. It rests opposite of Ashkelon, which is on the coast. The location is a strategic one, providing access towards the coastal route and into the central hill country to the east.

The site itself was occupied over numerous periods but with varying degrees of activity. It was not a significant site in the Late Bronze Age, then it appears to have peaked in the Iron Age I and early Iron Age IIA, in the 12th-10th centuries BCE, before declining in significance in the Iron IIB period.

In the Iron I period, the site appears to have been under Philistine control. The site produced monumental architecture dating to the 11th century BCE, along with the Philistine Bichrome pottery that was in use during that time. Above this layer, archaeologists found a pottery mix that included the ‘red slipped, hand burnished’ pottery typical of the Iron IIA period, and a pottery assemblage similar to that found at Khirbet Qeiyafa. As it has been argued that Khirbet Qeiyafa was under the control of the Kingdom of Judah led from the central hill country, possibly from Jerusalem, the argument is extended to the site of Khirbet al-Ra’I, that it too was under the control of the Kingdom of Judah.

The argument has been extended that this site is biblical Ziklag. The name Ziklag is not a Semitic name, and thus is assumed to be linguistically connected to the Philistines. In 1 Samuel 27, David escaped King Saul and made his way to the Philistine area along the coastal plain. There David and his followers found refuge with Achish son of Maok king of Gath, who gave David the town of Ziklag in which to settle. In the Bible, this control was not relinquished, as it says that “So on that day Achish gave him Ziklag, and it has belonged to the kings of Judah ever since.” The Philistine name, early Philistine control followed by a layer that is connected to a Judahite site, are used to argue that Khirbet al-Ra’i is the site where the Philistines once held sway before being transferred to David.

The image above is from Lachish, looking west to the region where Khirbet al-Ra’i is situated.

Lachish Level V’s Defenses

Credit:, Judah, Israel

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.

Man of God, Man of Embarrassment

Credit:, Judah, Shephelah

In Leviticus 26, God warns the nation of Israel “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.” One of those gods that God would be warning about is the Canaanite god Baal, whose name features in an inscription at Khirbet Qeiyafa.

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 town was occupied for a brief period in the Iron Age, between the 11th and 10th centuries BCE.

Excavators working the site uncovered a broken jar with an inscription along its neck. The inscription was written in the early Canaanite script, which was determined by the position of the letters in the inscription. The letters appear to be read from right to left, as Hebrew is today. This was not always the case, as the Khirbet Qeiyafa ostracon was written from left to right, and it is unclear when the Canaanite script was exclusively written in a right to left direction.

The first words in the inscription spell Ishba’al son of Beda, or alternatively, Eshba’al son of Beda. The other letters on the inscription are unclear and no firm determination can be made as to their meaning.

The name Ishba’al or Eshba’al is notable as the name of King Saul’s son in the Bible. In 2 Samuel, King Saul’s son Ish-bosheth challenges David for rule over the tribes of Israel before being killed by his servants. However, in 1 Chronicles 8, this son is named Eshba’al.

The name Ishba’al/Eshba’al is also notable for being a theophoric name, a personal name containing the name of a god, in this case Baal. In 1 Chronicles 8, Saul’s son carries the name Ba’al, but in 2 Samuel, he is referred to as Ish-bosheth, meaning ‘a man of embarrassment.’ This moniker may be an attempt to denigrate a name containing the name of a foreign god.

Theophoric names containing Ba’al appear in inscriptions in the areas surrounding the southern Kingdom of Judah, in the regions of Ammon, Israel and Phoenicia (northern Israel and Lebanon), throughout the Iron Age II, lasting from the 10th-6th century BCE. However, in the Bible and in the archaeological record, after the 10th century, those living in Kingdom of Judah cease to give names that contain Ba’al within them. Thus the inhabitants of Judah appear to be deliberately avoiding the use of a name of god about which they were warned in Leviticus 26.

The image above is of standing stones at Qeiyafa, indicative of cultic activity. The following link contains an image of the Ishba’al inscription:


An Obscured Ostracon and its Overlord

Leviticus 25 discusses the laws of the sabbath year, which occurs every seven years, and of the jubilee year, which happens every fifty years. One of the important considerations for the jubilee year in the Bible is the matter of slavery.

“If any of your fellow Israelites become poor and sell themselves to you, do not make them work as slaves. They are to be treated as hired workers or temporary residents among you; they are to work for you until the Year of Jubilee. Then they and their children are to be released, and they will go back to their own clans and to the property of their ancestors…Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. You can bequeath them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life.”

The matter of slaves may appear on an ostracon, an inscription on a piece of pottery, that was discovered at Khirbet Qeiyafa.

The Khirbet Qeiyafa ostracon, also known as the Elah Fortress ostracon, was discovered in an archaeological layer that dates to the late Iron I to early Iron IIA period, which ranged from the 11th-10th century. The ostracon contains approximately 60 letters, written on a series of lines. The actual ostracon is shown in the image above. As the letters are faint, they can be more clearly seen via the following link, in which the letters are shown in bold.

The ostracon appears to be written in a Proto-Canaanite script, the script from which the archaic Hebrew alphabet emerged. The language of the script has not been definitively determined. Based on the letters in the inscription, the language belongs within the Northwest Semitic Canaanite language family, but it could be written in the Hebrew, Canaanite, Phoenician or the Moabite language. By location, it is not likely to be written in Moabite, a language on the eastern banks of the Jordan River, leaving Canaanite or Hebrew as the most likely options.

Scholars have attempted to decipher the inscription, but attempts to do so are complicated by the faint script, lack of breaks between letters to divide the words and the uncertain direction of the writing. Thus the ranges of possibilities vary widely.

Some scholars have offered very specific interpretations.

One attempt claims that it offers a social justice message about oppressing the weak. Another attempt argues that it relates to the appointing of Saul as king of Israel. Others offer much more muted attempts at decipherment, noting that words as mlk, ʿbd, špṭ (melech – king, eved – slave, shophet – judge) appear. Still others claim that the inscription contains a list of names.

Beyond the actual contents of the inscription, the inscription is notable because it demonstrates literacy in Qeiyafa in the late Iron I to early Iron IIA period. One of the possibilities for the inhabitants of Qeiyafa would be Israelites or Judahites, connected to the early Israelite and Judahite settlers in the central hill country, which included the city of Jerusalem. For Jerusalem to direct affairs at distance, including a site such as Qeiyafa, would require a degree of literacy. Evidence of literacy at Qeiyafa would support the possibility that it was ruled from a distance by a greater centralized power, offering the possibility that a King Saul or King David ruled over Qeiyafa in this period.

Who Paid for the Wall?

The Bible contains an extensive list of rules that pertains to priests. The sanctuaries, ritual objects, clothing and offerings that were all used by the priests came from public funds. Items for ritual use by the priests in Leviticus 21-Leviticus 24, including the anointing oil, flour, sanctuary and offerings on the festivals were all procured with public funds.

Khirbet Qeiyafa is an archaeological site along the border of the Shephelah, the Judean foothills, and Philistia, the southern coastal region of Canaan. In the Iron Age I/IIA transition period, the site sat at a strategic point between the Israelite or Judahite tribes in the central hill country to the east and the Philistine cities along the Mediterranean coast to the west.

Taxation in the Iron Age could come in the form of either labor or goods.

Qeiyafa was fortified with a large defensive wall. The size of the wall suggests that it was too large to have been built only locally, but was constructed with the assistance of a larger power able to muster the labor resources to construct a large defensive wall. This wall is thus evidence for taxation in the form of labor.

There is other evidence for taxation at Qeiyafa.

At Qeiyafa, archaeologists discovered hundreds of storage jars with pressed fingertip marks on their handles. This unique feature suggests that the jars served a specific function, possibly as dedicated for the collection of goods to be paid as taxes. The large number of fingerprint pressed jar handles points to a larger power collecting taxes from the town.

The combined evidence for taxation at Qeiyafa points to a larger power maintaining control over the town, a power that ruled from outside the town. One of the possibilities is a kingdom led by a King Saul, King David or King Solomon, ruling from the southern portion of the central hill country.

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.