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.