King David at the Louvre?

In Genesis 37, Joseph’s brothers sold him to Ishmaelite traders. “As they sat down to eat their meal, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were loaded with spices, balm and myrrh, and they were on their way to take them down to Egypt. Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.” His brothers agreed. So when the Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt.”

These traders are described as having coming first from Midian, in the Arabian Peninsula, and then via Gilead, in the Transjordan between the Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee. In taking this path, they would have crossed Moab.

In the Bible, Joseph and King David are the two most developed characters, and their stories contain the most complete narrative arcs. Despite his centrality in the Bible, evidence for King David in the archaeological record has been hard to come by. One of the earliest potential mentions of King David may have come from Moab, in modern Jordan.

In 2 Kings 3, Mesha the king of Moab rebelled against the king of Israel and against Israelite control of Moab. “When the king of Moab saw that the battle had gone against him, he took with him seven hundred swordsmen to break through to the king of Edom, but they failed. Then he took his firstborn son, who was to succeed him as king, and offered him as a sacrifice on the city wall. The fury against Israel was great; they withdrew and returned to their own land.” In the biblical account, Mesha sacrificing his own son was a turning point and the kings of Israel and Judah did not capture Mesha, the king of Moab.

In the 19th century, local Bedouins in Dhiban, biblical Dibon, east of the Dead Sea in Transjordan, produced the longest Iron Age inscription found in the southern Levant. This monument, the Mesha Stele, recorded the triumphs of the Moabite king Mesha, over the Israelite king.

One potential antiquities buyer took a “squeeze” of the monument, an impression of the letters on paper. The stele was later damaged, and the inscription has been reconstructed using a combination of the surviving pieces and readings of the imprint on the squeeze. Despite the reconstruction, some of the letters are still missing, leaving the inscription subject to interpretation.

One scholar has suggested that there is mention of “the house of David.” With this reading, the “house of David is in Horonen” and the Moabite god Kemosh tells the Moabite king Mesha to capture Horonen, which Mesha does.

In 2 Samuel 7:26, King David’s dynasty is referred to as “the house of your servant David.” If the “House of David” is the correct reading, the “House of David” would presumably be referring to rulers from the lineage of King David, giving us a 9th century mention of King David.

The Mesha Stele is shown in the image above. It is on display at the Louvre Museum in Paris, France.

The Abandoned Hill of Kings

Photo Credit:, Samaria and the Center

Genesis 35 records the birth of Jacob’s last son, Benjamin. “Then they moved on from Bethel. While they were still some distance from Ephrath, Rachel began to give birth and had great difficulty. And as she was having great difficulty in childbirth, the midwife said to her, “Don’t despair, for you have another son.” As she breathed her last,for she was dying, she named her son Ben-Oni. But his father named him Benjamin.”

In Joshua 18, it delineates the tribe of Benjamin’s borders. “On the north side their boundary began at the Jordan, passed the northern slope of Jericho and headed west into the hill country, coming out at the wilderness of Beth Aven. From there it crossed to the south slope of Luz (that is, Bethel) and went down to Ataroth Addar on the hill south of Lower Beth Horon. From the hill facing Beth Horon on the south the boundary turned south along the western side and came out at Kiriath Baal (that is, Kiriath Jearim), a town of the people of Judah. This was the western side. The southern side began at the outskirts of Kiriath Jearim on the west, and the boundary came out at the spring of the waters of Nephtoah. The boundary went down to the foot of the hill facing the Valley of Ben Hinnom, north of the Valley of Rephaim. It continued down the Hinnom Valley along the southern slope of the Jebusite city and so to En Rogel. It then curved north, went to En Shemesh, continued to Geliloth, which faces the Pass of Adummim, and ran down to the Stone of Bohan son of Reuben. It continued to the northern slope of Beth Arabah and on down into the Arabah. It then went to the northern slope of Beth Hoglah and came out at the northern bay of the Dead Sea, at the mouth of the Jordan in the south. This was the southern boundary. The Jordan formed the boundary on the eastern side.”

This region was sandwiched between the tribal areas of Ephraim to the north, and Judah to its south. There appears to be come confusion in the text about which tribe was given Jerusalem. In Joshua 18, the list of Benjamin’s towns includes “Zelah, Haeleph, the Jebusite city (that is, Jerusalem), Gibeah and Kiriath.” In Joshua 15, which discusses the tribal allotment of Judah, “Judah could not dislodge the Jebusites, who were living in Jerusalem,” suggesting that Jerusalem was in Judah’s territory.

Regardless of whose territory Jerusalem was in, in the biblical account, during Saul’s kingship, Jerusalem was occupied by Jebusites, and not available for use as a capital. In the biblical story of the Levite’s concubine who was killed at Gibeah, the other tribes nearly eliminated the entire tribe of Benjamin. Saul was from the tribe of Benjamin, and when he was anointed king he chose to rule from Gibeah, which he did for a period of 38 years.

One of the challenges for archaeology is to correctly locate ancient places in the Bible. One view is that ancient Gibeah is at the modern site of Jaba’, 5.5 miles north of ancient Jerusalem. The more generally accepted view is that ancient Gibeah is on the site of modern day Tall al-Fūl, which translates to “mound of fava beans,” 3 miles north of ancient Jerusalem’s walls, near today’s Pisgat Ze’ev and Shuafat neighborhoods.

Excavations on the site revealed an Iron I fortress dating to the late 13th-12th century BCE. This earlier fortress was destroyed and then rebuilt at the end of the Iron I period between 1050 and the 10th century BCE. The second fortress was more impressive and contained high quality pottery, suggesting that it may have housed an important houseguest, possibly King Saul.

In the biblical account, Gibeah was a one king capital, and did not amount to a “hill of beans” relative to the capital at Jerusalem. If this is indeed the correct site, then it would not be the only time in history that Tall al-Fūl did not amount to a “hill of beans.”

In 1965, King Hussein of Jordan began construction on a summer palace at  Tall al-Fūl. In 1967, Israel captured the site during the Six Day War. The shell of King Hussein’s uncompleted palace remains standing today, abandoned, just as Saul’s capital was said to have been abandoned.

The photo above is of King Hussein’s abandoned palace, possibly the second abandoned palace in the site’s history. In honor of these kings ruling from this hill, the theme song of King of the Hill. 

Over the Jordan and Back Again

In Genesis 31-32, Jacob left his father-in-law Laban the Aramean’s home in Padan Aram, in the region of Syria. He crossed the Euphrates and then headed south into the region of Transjordan. He moved further south to Mahanaim, crossed the Yabbok River and there wrestled with a man. At the completion of their battle, Jacob named the place Peniel, “for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.”

In 2 Samuel 2, after King Saul was killed in battle, David settled in Hebron with his wives. There he was anointed king over the tribe of Judah. As this was taking place, at Mahanaim, Abner son of Ner, the commander of Saul’s army, had Saul’s son Ish-Bosheth made king over the Gilead region in the Transjordan, over Jezreel and over the tribal areas of Ephraim and Benjamin to the north of Judah.

The two sides ultimately went to war. In 2 Samuel 3 Abner was killed, and in 2 Samuel 4 Ish-Boshet was killed. This allowed David to consolidate his reign over all the tribes of Israel from his capital at Hebron.

The exact location of Mahanaim is unknown. In the Bible, it is located in the Gilead region on the eastern side of the Jordan River, in the Transjordan. It is presumably near the Yabbok River, between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. In the pharaoh Shoshenq I’s topographical list in the Karnak temple in Luxor, Egypt, it appears to show that Shoshenq I crossed the Jordan and attacked Mahanaim during the Iron IIA period.

A number of suggestions have been offered to the site location based on the name. Mahanaim is translated as ‘two encampments.” Archaeologists have offered sites based on double features, such as sites with two adjacent hills. However, to date, the location of Mahanaim cannot be determined with confidence.

An interesting aspect to this story in the Bible is the flexibility in choosing capitals at this early stage. The tribes who requested to stay on the eastern banks of the Jordan were required to participate in the battles to conquer the lands west of the Jordan River. A highlight of the story in the Book of Joshua is of God stopping the waters of the Jordan to allow the tribes of Israel to cross to the western banks of the Jordan River. The crossing of the Jordan River marked Israel’s arrival in the promised land. Israel was first ruled by Saul at Gibeah north of Jerusalem, yet Ish-Boshet was appointed king back on the eastern side of the Jordan at Mahanaim.

The photo above is of the ruins of Jarash, in the similar region as Mahanaim on the Jordanian Plateau.

In The Door’s song ‘The End,” Jim Morrison sang “The west is the best.” Ish-Boshet’s death east of the Jordan marked the end of Saul’s dynasty and the beginning of the Davidic rule in the west. In this instance, west bested east.

When Every Drop Matters: Iron Age Water Works

A consistent theme in the Book of Genesis is the lack of consistent water in the land of Canaan. In Genesis 12, “Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe.” In Genesis 13 “Lot looked around and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan toward Zoar was well watered, like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt.” In Genesis 16, after Abraham’s wife expelled her maid Hagar, “The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur.” When Hagar was again expelled in Genesis 21, “Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.” Beersheba was called so because of treaty between Abraham and Abimelek following a dispute over a well in that location. In Genesis 24, as Abraham’s servant headed towards Aram Naharaim, he brought his camels to the well where the women would retrieve water. In Genesis 26, Isaac was forced to go to Abimelek due to famine, before he headed back to Beersheba.

The southern Levant is in the subtropical zone, between the tropical zone and the temperate regions to the north. It typically has hot, dry summer conditions followed by rain during the winter months. Unlike Egypt, which had the steady flow of the Nile to sustain agricultural production, Canaan was dependent upon annual rainfalls, which could fluctuate from year to year.

In the Iron Age, as the early Israelites settled the region, they took steps to help mitigate against this problem. One example of this, and the gradual urbanization from the Iron I period in 1200-1000 BCE to the Iron II period, can be see at Tel Beer Sheva, the site of the ancient Beersheba.

The further south one goes in Canaan, the less rainfall and the greater the imperative to ensure sustainable water supplies to support human life. Beersheba developed along an important southern trade route, and had strategic value. Beersheba also sits at edge of the Negev desert, and would have been particularly vulnerable to the lack of rain.

Rainfall in the central hill country produces water runoff that flows from the central hill country to the foothills, the coastal plain and on to the Mediterranean Sea. Rainfall from the southern hill country flowed towards Beersheba. Some of this water settled in aquifers.  In the Iron I period, the inhabitants of Beersheba dug a 225 foot deep well, one of the deepest in Canaan, to access water from an aquifer.

In the Iron II period, Beersheba continued to develop. The residents constructed a fortification system around the city for defensive purposes. This created a need to ensure a water supply within the city walls. To meet the need, they dug a deep shaft, with stairs along the edges. They hollowed out the rock to form a reservoir that was lined with plaster to ensure that it would hold water. Then a channel was dug that diverted waters of the Hebron Stream into the fortified city and into the reservoir.

The image above is of the entrance to the water system at Gezer. The image in the link below is of the modern day steps leading into Beersheba’s ancient reservoir.

Arameans as Lovers and Rivals

In Genesis 24, Abraham wanted to find a spouse for his son Isaac outside of Canaan, so he sent his servant north. “Then the servant left, taking with him ten of his master’s camels loaded with all kinds of good things from his master. He set out for Aram Naharaim and made his way to the town of Nahor.”

In 2 Samuel 8, after King David defeated the Philistines and the Moabites, he faced a challenge from Hadadezer son of Rehob, king of Zobah, who was assisted by the Arameans of Damascus. “David struck down twenty-two thousand of them. He put garrisons in the Aramean kingdom of Damascus, and the Arameans became subject to him and brought tribute.”

In 2 Samuel 10, the Arameans again confronted King David. “Hadadezer had Arameans brought from beyond the Euphrates River; they went to Helam, with Shobak the commander of Hadadezer’s army leading them. When David was told of this, he gathered all Israel, crossed the Jordan and went to Helam. The Arameans formed their battle lines to meet David and fought against him. But they fled before Israel, and David killed seven hundred of their charioteers and forty thousand of their foot soldiers. He also struck down Shobak the commander of their army, and he died there. When all the kings who were vassals of Hadadezer saw that they had been routed by Israel, they made peace with the Israelites and became subject to them.”

Later, in 1 Kings 11, the Arameans posed a threat to King Solomon. “And God raised up against Solomon another adversary, Rezon son of Eliada, who had fled from his master, Hadadezer king of Zobah. When David destroyed Zobah’s army, Rezon gathered a band of men around him and became their leader; they went to Damascus, where they settled and took control. Rezon was Israel’s adversary as long as Solomon lived, adding to the trouble caused by Hadad. So Rezon ruled in Aram and was hostile toward Israel.”

In the archaeological record, the Arameans show up during Iron Age IA, in a prism inscription of the Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser I. The inscription records: “With the help of Assur, my lord, I led forth my chariots and warriors and went into the desert. Into the midst of the Ahlamt, Arameans, enemies of Assur, my lord, I marched.”

The Arameans spoke a Northwestern Semitic language, Aramaic. Aramaic is less closely related to Hebrew than the languages of Israel’s other neighbors, the Moabites and Canaanites. Aramaic appears to finds its way into the Torah in Genesis 31, in the place name Yegar Sahaduta, and possibly in Genesis in the word “bamakhazeh,” meaning “in a vision.”

In 2 Kings 5, the prophet Elisha cured Naaman, the commander of the army of the king of Aram. Afterwards, Naaman said that “When my master enters the temple of Rimmon to bow down and he is leaning on my arm and I have to bow there also, when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the Lord forgive your servant for this.”

The exact site of ancient Aram Damascus is uncertain. Damascus is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, and archaeological investigations there have been limited. The Grand Umayyad Mosque, on high ground in the city’s northwest was the site of a 3rd century CE Roman temple, and is believed to be the site of the temple of the Aramean god Hadad-Ramman. The remains of the Roman temple appear to use stones that were once part of this earlier Aramean temple.

The image above is of the Grand Umayyad Mosque, the proposed site of ancient Aram Damascus temple district. The link here is for the Tiglath-Pileser prism inscription that first records the Aramean presence in Syria:

Ammon on the Hill

In Genesis 19, Lot and his two daughters fled the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and escaped to mountains where they lived in a cave. Fearing that mankind had been destroyed, Lot’s daughters conspired to become pregnant by their father Lot, and they bore the sons Moab and Ben-Ammi, the forefathers of Moab and Ammon.

In 2 Samuel 11, King David sent his forces to attack the Ammonites. His army laid siege to the Ammonite capital, Rabbah. It was there that David sent Uriah the Hittite to be killed in order for David to take Uriah’s wife Bathsheba as his own. Eventually, in 2 Samuel 12, David’s general Joab captured Rabbah’s water supply, and King David arrived to complete the conquering and plundering of the city.

During the Bronze Age and Iron Age, conditions in Transjordan mirrored conditions in the Cisjordan, to the west of the Jordan River. The region flourish during the Middle Bronze Age, declined during the Late Bronze Age, then after the Late Bronze Age Collapse around 1200 BCE, began to see a process of new states emerging. Where the Philistines and Israelites established themselves in the Cisjordan, Ammon established itself in the Transjordan plateau. There it too developed with a ruling and clerical class.

Rabbath Ammon, known today as the Amman Citadel, sat on an elevated hill above today’s Amman, Jordan. It is from this ancient city that the capital of Jordan gets its name, Amman. The hill forms an L-shape, with the bottom portion of the L running east to west on the southern edge. The city was strategically located near the King’s Highway, an important trading route connecting Egypt, the Mediterranean Coast, Arabia, Syria and Mesopotamia. Control over this route would have invited people to appoint a king to control the route and invaders to attack to seize control of the route.

Excavations at the site of Rabbath Ammon revealed that within the walls of ancient Rabbath Ammon, a tunnel was dug through bedrock to a stairway that led to a large underground chamber, portions of which stood outside the city wall. The construction and large chamber point to it having been a reservoir for the city, a reservoir needed to supply defenders attempting to hold off an enemy siege.

While this has revealed no proof on an ancient battle with David, it raises the possibility that this is the water system referred to in the Bible, where David’s general Joab is said to have captured Rabbath Ammon’s water supply.

The image above is of the Amman Citadel, site of ancient Rabbath Ammon in modern day Amman. 



Prime Real Estate in Iron IIA, with Parking

In Genesis 14, kings united to fight wars against other kings. “Then the king of Sodom, the king of Gomorrah, the king of Admah, the king of Zeboyim and the king of Bela, that is, Zoar, marched out and drew up their battle lines in the Valley of Siddim against Kedorlaomer king of Elam, Tidal king of Goyim, Amraphel king of Shinar and Arioch king of Ellasar; four kings against five.” By consolidating forces, the kings gave themselves better odds of victory.

In the Song of Deborah in Judges 5, Deborah points out the tribes that did not assist in the fighting. “Gilead stayed beyond the Jordan. And Dan, why did he linger by the ships? Asher remained on the coast and stayed in his coves.” A king would have been better able to muster resources and lead a unified army of the combined tribes to improve the odds of success in war, and deliverance might not have needed to come from a woman.

In 1 Samuel 8, the tribes of Israel were driven by a similar logic in asking for a king. Despite the prophet Samuel’s warnings, the people insisted. “We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”

The transition to a king is evident in the archaeology at early Israelite sites. In the Iron I period, roughly 1200-1000 BCE, these sites appear to support egalitarian societies. The pottery was of a low quality, with few prestige goods, with similarly sized homes and simple burials. In the Iron IIA period, after 1000 BCE, there begins a shift towards a more uneven society, with evidence of an aristocracy. 

Rulers could command the premier location on a site, including being situated at the highest point, with commanding views. This ground could be deliberately raised by dirt added to ensure the royal home is visibly the highest point on a site. The royal residence would be surrounded by fortifications.

One type of royal palace that was popular in Syria is the “Bit-hilani.” It is noted for its monumental entrance portico supported by columns which opened up into a large hall, surrounded on all sides by narrower rooms. The royal palace would typically be built with the smoothed stones of ashlar masonry. These buildings might have ornate capitals on top of the columns used to support the buildings.

These residences might have dedicated rooms with a large concentration of storage jars, which would have been used to store taxes collected in the form of goods, to control the available resources of the city, or use in trade as payment in exchange for goods and services. This ability to collect goods allowed rulers to command large-scale construction projects and to support and pay their armies. Royal residences could have space for the king’s horses. These are identifiable by the presence of troughs and holes in pillars for tying the horses. Another sign of a royal residence is the presence of rare and expensive items such as carved ivories, jewelry and precious metals and stones.

All these features begin to appear in Iron Age II Israel and Judah. Bit-hilani style palaces made their way into the southern Levant during the Iron IIA period. Proto-Aeolic capitals are featured in Israelite and Judean royal buildings.

In 1 Kings 10 it notes Solomon’s large collection of horses. “Solomon accumulated chariots and horses; he had fourteen hundred chariots and twelve thousand horses, which he kept in the chariot cities and also with him in Jerusalem.” 

In the photo above is the central hall of the Iron II royal residence at Megiddo, at an elevated position on the site. This royal palace appears to follow the Bit-hilani form, with a portico, central hall, and surrounding rooms capable of accommodating a large number of horses, necessary for the king’s army.

A New Epoch

In the Torah portion of Noah, God casts destruction upon the world and then starts anew with Noah and his family. In Genesis 8, a new epoch begins. “So Noah came out, together with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives. All the animals and all the creatures that move along the ground and all the birds, everything that moves on land, came out of the ark, one kind after another.”

In the books of the Prophets, the tribes of the books of Joshua and Judges decide that a tribal confederation is insufficient for meeting the Philistine threat and insist that they need a king. After the failed experiment of Saul, David became king, followed by his son Solomon. In the biblical account, these two kings defeated Israel’s enemies and Solomon began to undertake the large scale building projects typical of kings. This too then marks a new period. 

In the archaeological record of the southern Levant, there becomes a marked transition from the Iron Age I to the Iron Age IIA and beyond. Using the ‘High Chronology’ method to assign the years, the Iron I period would be roughly from 1200-1000 BCE, and the Iron IIA period beginning in 1000 BCE.

In the Iron I period, the Philistines established themselves along the southern coastal plain in the cities of Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron and Gath and in smaller cities further north. At the same time, the early Israelites were settling in villages and small farms in the central hill country, what is today the Judean and Samarian Hills. The Philistines and the early Israelites became rivals in the Shephelah, the foothills between the two regions.

The two rivals had distinct cultural elements. The Philistines are identifiable in the archaeological record by their unique high quality pottery and the concentration of pig in their diet. The early Israelite sites feature lower quality pottery, collared rim jars, four-room houses and a distinct lack of evidence of pig consumption.

In the Iron Age IIA, those early Israelites begin a process of state formation. Villages and farms are either abandoned or develop into larger towns and cities that gradually came to include fortification systems. These towns built waters systems to ensure a steady supply of water for their inhabitants. Absent in the Iron I period, these developing towns included palaces and other large scale buildings, indicative of royals and the bureaucracy of a state.

These developments appear to be consistent with the situation presented in the books of the Prophets, of groups of tribes with royal leadership forming a unified entity, better able to meet the challenges presented by its rivals.

The image above is of the gate system and a water channel of Iron II Gezer, at the edge of the Shephelah in central Israel. The rebuilt gate system is indicative of the changing needs of the time:

The Genesis of a New Middle East

In Genesis 2, God created a garden in Eden. This garden is described as a source for four rivers. “A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters. The name of the first is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold. The gold of that land is good; aromatic resin and onyx are also there. The name of the second river is the Gihon; it winds through the entire land of Cush. The name of the third river is the Tigris; it runs along the east side of Ashur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.”

Cush is traditionally identified with Ethiopia, which happens to be one of the main sources for the Nile River. The Euphrates and Tigris begin in Anatolia and run through the area of modern day Iraq. Between these two regions, in the southwestern corner of Asia, is the Levant, encompassing today’s Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestinian Territories and Israel.

The Late Bronze Age Collapse saw the demise of the large empires and kingdoms in the ancient Near East. Central authority collapsed in Egypt, leading to the Third Intermediate Period. The Hittite Kingdom in Anatolia collapsed, as did the Kassite Babylonian Kingdom in Mesopotamia. Assyria was significantly reduced in size. The collapse of the kingdoms surrounding the Levant allowed for the rise of city states within the Levant.

After a slow start, by the Iron Age IIA, beginning roughly in 1000 BCE, new city states developed across the Levant. In the Cisjordan of the southern Levant, in the central hill country a new kingdom would begin to establish itself. Along the coast, the Philistines established themselves in the Philistine Pentapolis and along the edges of the Shephela, the foothills that led east to the hill country. In the northern coastal plain, in the Galilee and running north to modern day Lebanon, the Canaanites, also referred to as the Phoenicians, played a key role in regional trade. Further inland in the northern Levant, the Arameans, and the kingdom of Aram Damascus held sway.

East of the Jordan River Valley, in the Transjordan, running from south to north were the Edomites, Moabites and Ammonites. The Edomites were situated south of the Dead Sea, extending west into the valley. Moab was in the area east of the Dead Sea, bisected by the Arnon River. Ammon was mainly between the Arnon and Jabbok Rivers. In the Iron IIA, these entities appear to have been at varying stages of development of their kingdoms.

In the Bible, these nations would be the chief rivals to the united kingdom of David and later the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. And they would all play a role in the events of the books of 1 Samuel – 2 Kings 15.

For some excitement in the other Moab, in Utah, a driving adventure.

The New Residents of Iron I and Judges

In the 12th century, a new group settled in the southern Levantine coast. This group featured a culture different from the Canaanites in the northern coastal plain and the Galilee, and different from the early Israelites in the central hill country. Theirs was a culture that mirrored the culture in the Aegean. Their temples were supported by two central pillars, similar to others found in the Aegean, and different from Canaanite and later Israelite temple forms. Their pottery was of a high quality and featured a wide variety of shapes, adorned with impressive designs, more typical of pottery found in Cyprus and the Aegean. Their figurines and gods were similar to Mycenaean Greek figurines. Pig represented a high percentage of their diet. Studies of pig DNA in the Levant shows today’s pigs in Israel descend from European pigs, where prior to these invaders’ arrival local pigs predominated, indicating that these invaders brought the pigs that formed their diet from the Aegean. These new arrivals even differed in clothing production, with loom weight designs that differed from the looms found in Canaanite and Israelite areas, and more similar to loom weights found on Cyprus.

These invaders settled the five major cities in the southwestern Levant: Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron and Gath; the former three cities along the coast and the latter two further inland. They extended their reign further north, reaching the area of modern day Tel Aviv. The foothills between the coastal plain then became the border region between themselves and the early Israelites who controlled the mountainous hill country region.

While the archaeological evidence does not fully support a literal reading of Bible’s account, it contains many parallels with the situation described in the biblical book of Judges.

In the Book of Judges, the Israelite tribes exist as tribal groups, without a king, consistent with the lack of royal monuments and architecture in the archaeological record of the Iron I period. The Egyptians do not figure significantly in Judges, matching the end of Egyptian control of the southern Levant in the 12th century BCE. The Israelites contend with a new adversary, in Hebrew the Pelishtim, in English translation the Philistines, terms with clear linguistic similarity to the Sea Peoples group the Peleset. The Peleset are not mentioned as one of the settled tribes at the time of the exodus account in the Bible, but rather are new to the scene.

Archaeological artifacts from Ashkelon, Ashdod, Tell es-Safi/Gath and Tel Miqne/Ekron show these to have been large Philistine cities, the ones identified as the major Philistine cities in Judges. The clean borders between these cities and the Israelite areas agrees with the biblical description of the two groups as enemies and rivals.

In the Book of Judges story of Samson and Delilah, Samson was tied to the two central pillars of the Philistine temple, and the Philistine temple unearthed in Tel Aviv demonstrates that a Philistine temple was supported by two central pillars. In the 1 Samuel story of David and Goliath, Goliath’s armor matches the armor displayed on the Mycenean Warrior Vase. A name similar to that of Goliath found on an inscription shows the name to belong to a language group different from the native Levantine Semitic language.

In sum, the scenario described in the Book of Judges fits comfortably with the archaeological finds of the Iron Age I period, before conditions change in the Books of Samuel and the Books of Kings, and in the Iron II period. 

In the photo above is the Athens Acropolis, with a large Aegean temple supported by pillars.