Joseph’s Northern Territories

Credit:, Israel

In Genesis 29-30, Jacob produces eleven of the twelve progenitors of the tribes of Israel. The last of these was Joseph, who later bore Manasseh and Ephraim, who would each become founders of tribes within Israel.

In 1 Kings, King Solomon’s son Rehoboam ignored his senior advisors’ advice to ease the tax burden on the tribes of Israel that constituted his kingdom, and instead followed his junior advisors’ advice to increase the tax burden. This act motivated the tribes to secede from Rehoboam’s kingdom. “When all the Israelites heard that Jeroboam had returned, they sent and called him to the assembly and made him king over all Israel. Only the tribe of Judah remained loyal to the house of David.”

The act of secession created a series of divisions between the two kingdoms. The two sides became military rivals. Jeroboam established rival temples to Jerusalem at Bethel and Dan. He made golden calves, built shrines and high places, appointed non-Levite priests, and added a new festival on the 15th day of the 8th month. The new kingdom struggled with palace intrigue, with acts of murder by Baasha and Zimri and fighting that led to Omri leading Israel.

The lands of Ephraim and Manasseh, as allotted in Joshua 16, served as the heartland for the new northern Kingdom of Israel. The area of Ephraim included the northern central hill country, and Manasseh the northern Samarian hills plus the area from the Jordan to the Mediterranean across the Jezreel Valley and Lower Galilee.

Extensive surveys of the land that approximated the territories of Ephraim and Manasseh have been undertaken. These surveys show that in the 9th-8th centuries, these regions experience a sharp rise in the number and size of sites. The majority of these sites were dedicated to farming, and cities account for about 20% of the observable and estimable population.

This rise in number of sites and observable population is not uniform across the entire territory ascribed to the Kingdom of Israel. The upper Galilee appears to have a seen a reduction in identifiable sites. But the heartland region of the Kingdom of Israel does appear to have risen sharply in the late Iron IIA period.

This area displays features of a kingdom with a royal elite and cultic activity. The sites surveyed feature new fortifications, public architecture, palaces, royal enclosures and high places, all indicative of a stratified society and an established kingdom.

The image above is of fields near Shechem, modern day Nablus, in the heartland of the 9th century Kingdom of Israel.