Israel’s Peak in the Iron IIB

Credit:, Samaria

In Exodus 6, God tells Moses to tell the people of Israel in his name that “I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the Lord.” In the biblical account, this moment stands out as an inflection point, where Israel’s fortunes are reversed to eventually become a powerful state.

In the Bible, the Kingdom of Israel achieves its greatest stretch of relatively peaceful dominion under the reigns of Jehoash son of Jehoahaz and Jereboam ben Jehoash. Egypt had not invaded since the times of Shishak over a century and a quarter earlier. The Aramean threat was reduced due to a “deliverer.” The Assyrians had yet to conquer Israel.

In 2 Kings 13, “Jehoash son of Jehoahaz recaptured from Ben-Hadad son of Hazael the towns he had taken in battle from his father Jehoahaz. Three times Jehoash defeated him, and so he recovered the Israelite towns.” When Amaziah of Judah challenged Jehoash to war, “Jehoash went to Jerusalem and broke down the wall of Jerusalem from the Ephraim Gate to the Corner Gate, a section about four hundred cubits long. He took all the gold and silver and all the articles found in the temple of the Lord and in the treasuries of the royal palace. He also took hostages and returned to Samaria.” Jereboam ben Jehoash later restored the boundaries of Israel from Lebo Hamath to the Dead Sea, and “he recovered for Israel both Damascus and Hamath, which had belonged to Judah.”

These biblical accounts align with the archaeology of the Iron IIB period, a period stretching from the latter part of the 9th century BCE through the mid-to-late 8th century BCE.

In Egypt, after the 21st Dynasty pharaoh Shoshenq I’s foray into the southern Levant, the area encompassing today’s Israel, Egyptian rulers remained tethered to Egypt. The Libyan pharaohs of Egypt’s 22nd and 23rd Dynasties do not appear to have invaded the kingdoms of Judah or Israel, allowing for an extended stretch of peace in the southwest. The Arameans to the north were weakened by the Assyrian expansion out of the region of today’s northern Iraq, and the Assyrians had yet to expand into the Kingdom of Israel as they later would under the rule of Tiglath-Pileser III.

This period of peace and expansion of wealth is reflected in the archaeology.

Judging by the archaeology, the Iron IIB period was a prosperous one for the Kingdom of Israel. The Kingdom of Israel contained dozens of cities, the larger ones of which included fortification systems, administrative buildings and water supply systems. There were hundreds of villages and farms. The area of its control stretched from the port of Dor in the northwest, Hazor in the north, Gezer in the south and into the Jordan Valley at Tel Rehov and Tel Bet She’an. One estimate is of a population of 350,000 at that time. This population appears to have been heterogeneous, including non-Israelites, likely absorbed into the Kingdom of Israel as it expanded.

The image above is of the site of Samaria, from where the Kingdom of Israel was ruled in the Iron IIB period.