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.