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