Two Gates Near Gath

Credit:, Judah, Israel

Leviticus begins with God giving Moses instruction for the process of a variety of offerings brought within the gates of the Tabernacle. One significant archaeological site might be notable for its gates.

Khirbet Qeiyafa is a hilltop archaeological site along the border of the Shephelah, the Judean foothills, and Philistia, the southern coastal region of Canaan. Qeiyafa’s location was highly strategic as the ancient city overlooked the Elah Valley, near Socoh and Azekah, the location of David’s fight with Goliath in 1 Samuel 17 and the trade route from the coast into the hill country. The city was located opposite of the Philistine city of Gath.

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 Philistines of Gath.

Qeiyafa covers roughly 2.5 hectares and is surrounded by a defensive wall. The defensive wall around Qeiyafa may have the unusual feature of two gates. This has led to the claim that the site is Sha’araim, meaning “two gates,” where in 1 Samuel 17 the Philistines’ bodies were left strew along the road. The city appears to have had monumental structures and a large storeroom, which would suggest the city served as an administrative center.

There is a debate as to who occupied this site. Suggestions range from the Philistines, Canaanites, an autonomous kingdom, the Israelite kingdom, or a kingdom associated with the Judean hill country.

If the latter, it would provide support for the idea of a kingdom led by a King David, ruling from Jerusalem, or one led by a King Saul, ruling from Gibeah, able to direct monumental construction of a defensive wall and an administrative building, and collect taxes at a distance from Jerusalem or Gibeah. If this kingdom was able to build and manage a defensible border city at a distance from its capital, it raises the possibility that it was also able to direct the activities of disparate tribes at a greater distance from its capital in the central hill country.

The image above is of the western gate of Qeiyafa.

What Did the Jebusite Write?

Credit:, Jerusalem, Israel

Exodus 38 contains a census of materials for the Tabernacle and their uses. “The total amount of the gold from the wave offering used for all the work on the sanctuary was 29 talents and 730 shekels…The silver obtained from those of the community who were counted in the census was 100 talents and 1,775 shekels… The bronze from the wave offering was 70 talents and 2,400 shekels.”

Taking a census requires literacy, in order to record the amounts of goods. An artifact discovered in Jerusalem contains proof of literacy in the 11th-10th century BCE.

The Ophel Pithos Inscription is an inscription containing seven letters written across two pieces of broken pottery. It was discovered at the Ophel in Jerusalem, the area between the City of David and the Temple Mount.

The Ophel Pithos Inscription was written in Proto-Canaanite letters, a less developed form than the Paleo-Hebrew and Phoenician scripts. This earlier form of writing, along with its location, place it at some point within the 11th-10th century BCE.

Archaeologists have not been able to decipher the meaning of the letters, or even determine in which direction the letters were read. The letters are likely to have been part of a longer text, unknown to us without the missing pieces of pottery.

The Ophel Pithos Inscription is the earliest known example of writing in Jerusalem. It demonstrates literacy within the city of Jerusalem, perhaps even before the Israelite presence at the site. In the Bible, Jerusalem was a Jeubusite city before it was captured by King David. In 2 Samuel 5, “The king and his men marched to Jerusalem to attack the Jebusites, who lived there…David captured the fortress of Zion, which is the City of David.” The inscription may be attributable to Jebusite scribes.

Importantly, the Ophel Pithos Inscription demonstrates that perhaps even in the 11th century BCE, the settlers of Jerusalem were capable of writing, an important skill for a king administering rule over distant territories and organizing large construction projects.

The photo above is of the Ophel, below the southern wall of the Temple Mount to the right and the City of David to the left. The link below contains a photo of archaeologist Eilat Mazar holding the Ophel Pithos Inscription:×677.jpg

Whose Wall Is It Anyway?

In Exodus 36, construction was set to begin on the Tabernacle and its accouterments. “So Bezalel, Oholiab and every skilled person to whom the Lord has given skill and ability to know how to carry out all the work of constructing the sanctuary are to do the work just as the Lord has commanded. Then Moses summoned Bezalel and Oholiab and every skilled person to whom the Lord had given ability and who was willing to come and do the work. They received from Moses all the offerings the Israelites had brought to carry out the work of constructing the sanctuary.”

In 2 Chronicles 27, the king of Judah launched a construction project. “Jotham was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem sixteen years…Jotham rebuilt the Upper Gate of the temple of the Lord and did extensive work on the wall at the hill of Ophel.

The Bible does not specify where exactly the Ophel is, but it has come to be understood as referring to the hill between the City of David and the southern wall of Herod’s Temple.

Excavators working on the Ophel uncovered an ancient wall nearly 230’ long by 20’ high. The wall also had a corner tower that overlooked the Kidron Valley to the east.

In 1 Kings 3, “Solomon made an alliance with Pharaoh king of Egypt and married his daughter. He brought her to the City of David until he finished building his palace and the temple of the Lord, and the wall around Jerusalem.”

The archaeologist Eilat Mazar dated this wall in the Ophel to the 10th century BCE based on the pottery in the fill dirt, and connected the wall with King Solomon’s building program in the Bible. This would be the wall later repaired by Jotham.

For Mazar, this wall is evidence of a 10th century entity in Jerusalem capable of organizing large scale construction projects and by extension, managing a kingdom of united tribes. Other archaeologists are less sanguine, less confident about Mazar’s assertion that this wall in the Ophel is indeed that of King Solomon in the 10th century.

The image above is of a portion of the wall at the Ophel.

Signed by Seal

Credit:, Jerusalem, Israel

In Exodus 31, after the sin of the Golden Calf, God gave Moses the two tablets of the covenant. “Chisel out two stone tablets like the first ones, and I will write on them the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke.”

Notably, the instructions were written on stone tablets and not just given orally. Instructions written in stone are available for all, and less subject to misinterpretation or confusion about the instruction.

Just as for Israel in the wilderness in the Bible, so too writing is important for a kingdom. It allows rulers to communicate specific instructions, allowing them to marshal and direct resources at distance.

The Temple Mount is one of the most potentially rich archaeological resources for understanding the history of Jerusalem. While the dirt would have been turned during Herod’s construction and so the site does not offer the archaeological layers that delineate time periods at others sites, it still contains artifacts that can provide clues about their dating.

Despite its importance, the Temple Mount is also a politically volatile site, and thus archaeological work has been restricted. However, when in 1999 large amounts of dirt were illegally removed from the site, it created an opportunity to look at material that had until then been restricted. The Temple Mount Sifting Project was established to sift this dirt to look for artifacts.

Archaeologists analyzing the sifted material discovered a seal containing the images of two animals, with a perforation to pass a string through it, allowing it to be worn. The seal likely would have been used to seal a papyrus letter with wax, or by being pressed into clay. The seal would indicate from whom a message or letter was sent.

While there was no archaeological layer from which to assign this seal, archaeologists were able to determine that the seal dated to the 11th or 10th centuries BCE, based on its similarities with other seals of that time period.

This is an important finding for the history of Jerusalem. The seal would indicate that in the 11th-10th BCE, people within Jerusalem were literate, and able to communicate in writing. This would be an important skill for a nascent centralized state. Additionally, the seal may point to writing in papyrus. Papyrus can only survive the ravages of time under ideal conditions. The lack of written finds from Jerusalem in the 10th century BCE might be the result of writing in papyrus, and not proof that no center of a state existed during that time period.

The image above is of the sifting activity. The following link contains a photo of the seal discovered by the sifting project:


Northern Expansion to the Ophel

Credit:, Jerusalem, Israel

Exodus 27 continues on from earlier chapters to discuss matters related to the construction of the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle would expand beyond its central shrine with a large courtyard. “Make a courtyard for the tabernacle. The south side shall be a hundred cubits long and is to have curtains of finely twisted linen, with twenty posts and twenty bronze bases and with silver hooks and bands on the posts. The north side shall also be a hundred cubits long and is to have curtains, with twenty posts and twenty bronze bases and with silver hooks and bands on the posts. The west end of the courtyard shall be fifty cubits wide and have curtains, with ten posts and ten bases. On the east end, toward the sunrise, the courtyard shall also be fifty cubits wide.”

In 1 Kings 6 and 1 Kings 7, King Solomon built his temple and palace. His temple was “sixty cubits long, twenty wide and thirty high. The portico at the front of the main hall of the temple extended the width of the temple, that is twenty cubits, and projected ten cubits from the front of the temple.” His palace was “a hundred cubits long, fifty wide and thirty high.”

To accommodate these structures, King Solomon would have had to expand the area of Jerusalem. The original town of Jerusalem began in the area known today as the City of David, the hill below the southern wall of the Old City. To grow, the city pushed north beyond the boundaries of today’s Old City, moving further up the hill.

In 2 Chronicles 27, the later King of Judah, Jotham, “rebuilt the Upper Gate of the temple of the Lord and did extensive work on the wall at the hill of Ophel.”

The Ophel is the hill between the City of David and the southern wall of Herod’s Temple Mount. The image above is of the City of David and the southern Temple Mount, facing west. The City of David and the Temple Mount in the photo are separated by the road Derech Ha’ophel /Al Akma. The hill above the City of David, to the right of this road in the photo, and just below the Temple Mount is the area identified as the Ophel.

A City Rises Up the Hill

Credit:, Jerusalem, Israel

Exodus 26 describes the desert Tabernacle structure. Its dimensions can be calculated based upon the description. “Make upright frames of acacia wood for the tabernacle. Each frame is to be ten cubits long and a cubit and a half wide, with two projections set parallel to each other. Make all the frames of the tabernacle in this way. Make twenty frames for the south side of the tabernacle and make forty silver bases to go under them, two bases for each frame, one under each projection. For the other side, the north side of the tabernacle, make twenty frames and forty silver bases, two under each frame. Make six frames for the far end, that is, the west end of the tabernacle, and make two frames for the corners at the far end. At these two corners they must be double from the bottom all the way to the top and fitted into a single ring; both shall be like that. So there will be eight frames and sixteen silver bases, two under each frame.”

The Bible is very exact about the dimensions of the Tabernacle, but archaeologists are less certain about the exact dimensions of the Iron IIA city of Jerusalem.

In the Bible, King David established Jerusalem as his capital. In 2 Samuel 5, “The Jebusites said to David, You will not get in here; even the blind and the lame can ward you off. They thought, David cannot get in here. Nevertheless, David captured the fortress of Zion, which is the City of David.” Later, in 1 Kings 6-7, Solomon expanded the city by building a temple and a palace for himself.

One of the challenges of matching the archaeology to the biblical account is that in the Iron IIA period, Jerusalem appears to be at best a small town. There may be reasons for this. Capitals might start out small and nomadic dwellers in the vicinity may not show up in the archaeology.

In the Iron IIA period, Jerusalem appears to have grown in size. A hectare is the equivalent of 10,000 square meters, and equal to nearly 2.5 acres. The early Iron IIA site of Jerusalem appears to have covered 5 hectares, and an expansion to include a temple up the hill would grow the city to a size of 12 hectares.

A city of 12 hectares could be home to up to 2,000 people. This is sizeable enough to be a center for a tribal confederation, but still considerably smaller than other large centers in Canaan and smaller than other ancient Near Eastern capitals. Canaanite cities such as Hazor and Megiddo were larger than Iron IIA Jerusalem, and Babylon at its peak encompassed over 1000 hectares.

Still, if the Iron IIA can be said to have been in the 10th century BCE, than the development and the expansion of the city could be said to have been the work of Kings David and Solomon.

The image above is of Jerusalem, facing west. The City of David is on the hill to the south of the Jerusalem’s Old City wall. The Iron IIA city would expand from the City of David up the hill towards the Temple Mount.

Relative and Absolute Dating Difficulties

In Exodus 18, Moses’ father-in-law Jethro advised Moses how to do implement a process to settle disputes. “You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him. Teach them his decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave. But select capable men from all the people, men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain, and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you. If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.”

Without access to all the judges of Israel, one method that has been used to settle disputes in archaeology is radiocarbon dating.

One of the key goals for archaeologists is to establish dates and times. Artifacts recovered that trace back to the Iron Age do not reveal the year they existed, and thus archaeologists use other methods to determine when an object was in use. Where they cannot establish an absolute chronology, they can attempt to determine a relative chronology.

By studying the movement of the earth and the moon, the Bur-Sagale solar eclipse that was recorded during the reign of the Assyrian king Ashur-dan III was determined to have occurred on exactly June 15, 763 BCE. By establishing this date, archaeologists can track the dates of the reigns of kings and establish an absolute chronology of fixed years for royal reigns and events that followed.

For events that occurred before this date, where there are no kings’ reigns to establish the dates, archaeologists attempt to establish a relative chronology. This is one of the key goals of pottery research, to determine what pottery was in use at a particular point in time and then compare that across other sites to ascertain that archaeological layers with the same style of pottery represent the same period of time.

For example, by analyzing pottery across sites, it can be established that the archaeological layers Megiddo VB, Lachish V, Arad XII were active in the Early Iron IIA period. Megiddo VA–IVB, Rehov IV, Lachish IV and Beersheba V represent the Late Iron IIA period.

As made obvious in the names, the debate between supporters of the High Chronology and Low Chronology is a debate about establishing a fixed chronology. The High Chronology allows for a King David and King Solomon to rule a united kingdom in the 10th century BCE. The Low Chronology argues that King David was only a relatively insignificant tribal chieftain. Those who support the High Chronology believe that the Iron IIA period lasted from the early 10th century through the late 9th century, while the Low Chronology sees a narrower time period for this relative period that lasts primarily in the 9th century BCE.

To establish a more fixed absolute chronology, archaeologists have attempted to use carbon dating to determine the actual years of these archaeological layers. Carbon dating works by measuring the amount of carbon remaining in a once living object, and estimates a time based on rates of decay. At archaeological sites, this can often come by analyzing burnt wood or olive pits in a city’s destruction layer.

One of the limitations of carbon dating is that it can only provide an estimate of a wide band of time. Additionally, the field is hindered by disputes about the use of statistics. These limitations have hindered attempts to affix dates at sites such as Megiddo and Tel Rehov. The probability bands of the material analyzed from these sites can be as wide as 100 years, and thus cannot be narrowed to state definitively if something happened in the 10th or 9th century, the exact period of the debate about the size of King David’s kingdom.

Shoshenq I’s 10th Century Raid

Credit:, Karnak Temple, Egypt

In Exodus 14, after the pharaoh allowed the Israelites to leave Egypt, he had a change of heart. “What have we done? We have let the Israelites go and have lost their services! So he had his chariot made ready and took his army with him. He took six hundred of the best chariots, along with all the other chariots of Egypt, with officers over all of them. The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, so that he pursued the Israelites, who were marching out boldly. The Egyptians, all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots, horsemen and troops, pursued the Israelites and overtook them as they camped by the sea near Pi Hahiroth, opposite Baal Zephon.” This Egyptian attack was thwarted by God, and the Egyptians were ultimately defeated when the waters which had been split returned.

Where the pharaoh in Exodus failed, in 2 Chronicles 12, the Egyptian pharaoh launched a successful attack against King Solomon’s son Rehoboam’s Kingdom of Judah. “Shishak king of Egypt attacked Jerusalem in the fifth year of King Rehoboam. With twelve hundred chariots and sixty thousand horsemen and the innumerable troops of Libyans, Sukkites and Cushites that came with him from Egypt, he captured the fortified cities of Judah and came as far as Jerusalem.”

Shishak’s attack of the southern Levant in the 10th century BCE is recorded in the archaeological record.

The Karnak Temple is in southern Egypt, on the east bank of the Nile River. It was the major temple site for Egypt’s southern capital at Thebes. At the Bubasite Portal in the Karnak Temple complex, Shoshenq I, as this king is known in the Egyptian language, recorded his incursions into the southern Levant. The record shows that Shoshenq did not limit his attack to the Kingdom of Judah. He also attacked cities in the northern Kingdom of Israel. One place Shoshenq I is said to have attacked is Rehov.

Tel Rehov is an archaeological site 3 miles south of Beth Shean. It has become an important site for the High Chronology vs. Low Chronology debate about the dating of pottery and the status of King David and King Solomon.

In the simplest of terms, Late Bronze Age to Iron Age I Canaanite pottery was unburnished and unslipped, meaning it was not smoothed and not covered in a paint or coloring. After the archaeological layers with Canaanite pottery, a new type of pottery appears, one that is hand burnished and red-slipped, meaning hand smoothed with a reddish coloring. This type of pottery appears in a layer that was destroyed, and then in the next layer that was destroyed, followed by new forms of pottery.

Proponents of the High Chronology argue that the hand burnished and red-slipped pottery was in use in the 10th and 9th centuries BCE, while proponents of the Low Chronology believe this type of pottery to have been confined to the 9th century BCE.

The High Chronology argues that the first layer in which the hand burnished red-slipped pottery was found was destroyed by Shoshenq I in the latter part of the 10th century, continued in use, and then the second layer was destroyed in the 9th century during an Aramean invasion. Proponents of the High Chronology maintain that there are too many archaeological layers containing the hand burnished and red-slipped pottery for it to have only been in use during the 9th century BCE.

The implications of this are as follows. For supporters of the High Chronology, the burnished and red-slipped pottery that is the indicator of the beginning of the Iron IIA period starts in the 10th century. And if the burnished and red-slipped pottery at Tel Rehov is from the 10th century BCE, then it also is from the 10th century all over the rest of the southern Levant. Thus signs of a centralized kingdom in this archaeological layer, including signs of monumental construction and literacy, are from the 10th century BCE, and can be used to argue for King David and King Solomon ruling a confederation of tribes in the 10th century, without interference from the later, powerful, Kingdom of Israel that dominated the northern hill country in the mid-9th century BCE.

The image above is of the representations of the place names of the towns defeated by Shoshenq I in his raid of the southern Levant, from the Bubasite Portal in the Karnak Temple.

A Defenestration Site at Jezreel

Credit:, Samaria and the Center, Israel

After Moses met God at the burning bush, Moses went a number of times to visit the pharaoh, presumably at the pharaoh’s palace. In Exodus 10, the pharaoh told Moses to not come back. “Pharaoh said to Moses, Get out of my sight! Make sure you do not appear before me again! The day you see my face you will die.”

In 1 Kings, Jeroboam ben Nebat led the tribes to secede from Rehoboam’s kingdom to form the northern Kingdom of Israel, while King Rehoboam was left with the much reduced Kingdom of Judah. After a series of coups, Omri took hold of the Kingdom of Israel.

Omri built his palace at Samaria in 9th century BCE, but his dynasty appears to have also established a royal residence further north at Jezreel.

In 1 Kings 21 Omri’s son Ahab sought to take control of Naboth’s vineyard at Jezreel, and the Queen Jezebel devised a plan to allow him to seize the land. In 2 Kings 8, Ahab’s son Joram was wounded in battle against the Arameans and Joram went to Jezreel to recover. When Jehu overthrew Omri’s dynasty, Ahab’s widow Jezebel was thrown from the window at Jezreel.

At Jezreel, archaeologists discovered a large fortified and enclosed area. The area was surrounded by a wall with earthen ramparts, towers in the corners, and further encircled by a moat. The site was short lived, with little in the way of remains after the Iron IIA period that ends in the late 9th century BCE.

The dating of the structure touches on issues in the High Chronology-Low Chronology debate. Proponents of the High Chronology argue that the Iron IIA period began in the early 10th century BCE and lasted throughout the 9th century BCE, while the Low Chronology supports an Iron IIA period lasting mainly through the 9th century BCE. Despite the differences, both schools of thought argue for a 9th century BCE dating of this large structure. Thus both would agree that the large structure at Jezreel is the likely site of the royal residence of the Omride dynasty featured in the biblical story, and thus the site of the biblical story of the defenestration of Jezebel at Jezreel.

The image above is of the Jezreel Valley from the archaeological site of Jezreel.

Megiddo’s Masonry Marks

Credit:, Samaria and the Center, Israel

In Exodus 1, the Egyptian enslaved the Israelites and “made their lives bitter with harsh labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their harsh labor the Egyptians worked them ruthlessly.” In Exodus 5, after Moses told Pharaoh that God said the Israelites should have a festival in the desert, Pharaoh penalized the Israelites through bricks. “Then the slave drivers and the overseers went out and said to the people, This is what Pharaoh says: I will not give you any more straw. Go and get your own straw wherever you can find it, but your work will not be reduced at all. So the people scattered all over Egypt to gather stubble to use for straw. The slave drivers kept pressing them, saying, Complete the work required of you for each day, just as when you had straw. And Pharaoh’s slave drivers beat the Israelite overseers they had appointed, demanding, Why haven’t you met your quota of bricks yesterday or today, as before?”

In 1 Kings 9, King Solomon is said to have engaged in a construction program. “Here is the account of the forced labor King Solomon conscripted to build the Lord’s temple, his own palace, the terraces, the wall of Jerusalem, and Hazor, Megiddo and Gezer.”

The contents of the walls in Hazor, Megiddo and Gezer have become part of a debate as to the status of King David and King Solomon.

In 1 Kings, after King Solomon’s reign, his son Rehoboam increased the tax burden on the tribes within his monarchy. In response, Jeroboam ben Nebat led the other tribes to secede and establish a new kingdom. King David and King Solomon’s descendants led the Kingdom of Judah in the south, while King Jeroboam established the Kingdom of Israel. The Kingdom of Israel struggled with palace intrigue, with a quick succession of kings being overthrown, until King Omri took hold of the throne and built his palace at Samaria.

Similarities between the gate systems and walls at Hazor, Megiddo and Gezer led to the hypothesis that these were all rebuild by King Solomon, per 1 Kings. One of those similarities was the ashlar masonry, the cut stone blocks used in the walls. These were believed to be similar to the stones used in Solomon’s construction projects in Jerusalem in 1 Kings 7. “All these structures, from the outside to the great courtyard and from foundation to eaves, were made of blocks of high-grade stone cut to size and smoothed on their inner and outer faces.”

However, archaeologists noticed that the stones at Megiddo bore distinct mason’s marks, designs carved into various stones. A similar pattern was discovered in the remains of the palace at Samaria. The palace at Samaria is assigned to the 9th century BCE. In the Bible, this palace was built by the Israelite King Omri, a half-century or more after King Solomon’s reign.

This led proponents of the Low Chronology, who maintain that King David lived in the 9th century BCE, to proclaim that this proved that the gates at Hazor, Megiddo and Gezer were all constructed in the 9th century BCE, and were associated with the northern Kingdom of Israel, and not with King Solomon.

Others who maintain the High Chronology, and argue that King David and King Solomon were active in the 10th century BCE, maintain that either these mason’s marks were not particular to a specific mason, or that the stones at Megiddo could have been transported from an earlier construction at Megiddo and repurposed into the palace at Samaria.

The image above is of ashlar stones within a stone wall at Megiddo. An example of a mason’s mark at Megiddo can be seen via the following link: