Kings Ahab’s Usurping In-Laws?

In Numbers 1 and 2, Moses begins a process of consolidation and coordination for managing Israel. In Numbers 1, God orders Moses to take a census of Israel. “These were the men counted by Moses and Aaron and the twelve leaders of Israel, each one representing his family. All the Israelites twenty years old or more who were able to serve in Israel’s army were counted according to their families. The total number was 603,550.” In Numbers 2, this collection of humanity was directed where to camp. To the east were the tribes of Judah, Issachar, Zevulun. West, Ephraim, Manasseh and Benjamin. To the north, Dan, Asher, Naphtali; south, Reuben, Simeon, Gad. The Levites were located in the center. This process of counting and organizing is important for a leader to understand his resources and provide direction.

Another important role for a leader is controlling foreign relations. In the Iron IIA period, this might have included marrying with neighboring rulers to establish an alliance. In 1 Kings 16, Omri’s son Ahab became king of Israel. One act that the Bible recounts is that Ahab “married Jezebel daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians,” an act which would be undertaken to manage his foreign affairs. Similarly, in 2 Kings 8, Jehoram the King of Judah, “married a daughter of Ahab,” presumably to ally with his northern neighbor Israel.

Josephus was a Jewish general during the First Jewish Revolt against Rome in 66-70 CE who was captured by the Romans and produced both a record of the conflict and a history of Israel and the Jews. In addition to these books, he wrote a defense of the Jews, ‘Against Apion.’

In ‘Against Apion’ he quotes a Menander the Ephesian, who “wrote the Acts that were done both by the Greeks and Barbarians, under every one of the Tyrian kings.” Menander notes an Ithobalus, the priest of Astarte, who killed the king Pheles and then reigned thirty-two years, and lived sixty-eight years. “Ithobalus” bears a close similarity to the Bible’s Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, who is said to have been the Israelite queen Jezebel’s father.

The Ahiram Sarcophagus is a stone coffin that dates to either the 10th or 9th century BCE. It is one of the more impressive archaeological finds of the Lebanese coastal region. Its inscription states that it was built by the king of Byblos for his father Ahiram. Ahiram himself is not titled a king, just as Ithobalus is described as an usurper and not descended from royalty in Josephus’ writings. The king’s name is partially cut off and the remaining part reads only as “sibaal.” Some have suggested that this coffin’s builder should be read as Itho[baal], possibly the same as the figure in the Bible, while others suggest a reading of [Pil]sibaal, different from the biblical character.

The image above is of the Ahiram Sarcophagus, on display at the National Museum of Beirut.

The Northern Kingdom’s Southern Temple

Credit:, Israel

In Leviticus 26 God tells Moses to instruct Israel on a series of rules. One of these includes “Do not make idols or set up an image or a sacred stone for yourselves, and do not place a carved stone in your land to bow down before it. I am the Lord your God.” Israel is told that if they follow the rules they will be rewarded, but if they do not, they will suffer a series of misfortunes: “If in spite of this you still do not listen to me but continue to be hostile toward me, then in my anger I will be hostile toward you, and I myself will punish you for your sins seven times over. You will eat the flesh of your sons and the flesh of your daughters. I will destroy your high places, cut down your incense altars and pile your dead bodies on the lifeless forms of your idols, and I will abhor you. I will turn your cities into ruins and lay waste your sanctuaries, and I will take no delight in the pleasing aroma of your offerings. I myself will lay waste the land, so that your enemies who live there will be appalled. I will scatter you among the nations and will draw out my sword and pursue you. Your land will be laid waste, and your cities will lie in ruins.”

In 1 Kings 12, after Jeroboam led the split of the 10 northern tribes from Rehoboam’s kingdom centered in Jerusalem, he established two competing sites for ritual worship, one at Dan at his kingdom’s northern edge and another at Bethel near his southern border. His reasoning was that “If these people go up to offer sacrifices at the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem, they will again give their allegiance to their lord, Rehoboam king of Judah. They will kill me and return to King Rehoboam.” Instead, “he made two golden calves. He said to the people, it is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt. One he set up in Bethel, and the other in Dan. And this thing became a sin; the people came to worship the one at Bethel and went as far as Dan to worship the other… On the fifteenth day of the eighth month, a month of his own choosing, he offered sacrifices on the altar he had built at Bethel. So he instituted the festival for the Israelites and went up to the altar to make offerings.”

To date, no physical signs of the Temple at Bethel have been found. But this is an instance in which the Bible itself can serve as its own evidence. Based on writing style, timing and message, the books of Hosea and Amos are recognized to have been written by distinct authors, unconnected to the author the Book of Kings 1 & 2. These two books corroborate the existence of the Temple at Bethel.

In Hosea 9, the prophet Hosea warns that “The days of punishment are coming, the days of reckoning are at hand. Let Israel know this. Because your sins are so many and your hostility so great.” He warns against the worship of foreign gods: “But when they came to Baal Peor, they consecrated themselves to that shameful idol.” And he foretells of punishments coming: “Even if they bear children, I will slay their cherished offspring. My God will reject them because they have not obeyed him; they will be wanderers among the nations.”

In Hosea 10 descriptions of punishment continue. “The people who live in Samaria fear for the calf-idol of Beth Aven. Its people will mourn over it, and so will its idolatrous priests, those who had rejoiced over its splendor, because it is taken from them into exile.” Beth Aven here is a derogatory term for Bethel, as becomes clear in the immediately following passages. “So will it happen to you, Bethel, because your wickedness is great. When that day dawns, the king of Israel will be completely destroyed.”

Here, the 8th century BCE prophet Hosea attests to a worship site at Bethel.

In Amos 4, the prophet Amos warns Israel of their impending doom due to their iniquities. “Hear this word, you cows of Bashan on Mount Samaria, you women who oppress the poor and crush the needy and say to your husbands, Bring us some drinks! The Sovereign Lord has sworn by his holiness: The time will surely come when you will be taken away with hooks, the last of you with fishhooks. You will each go straight out through breaches in the wall, and you will be cast out toward Harmon.”

The prophet taunts Israel: “Go to Bethel and sin; go to Gilgal and sin yet more. Bring your sacrifices every morning, your tithes every three years. Burn leavened bread as a thank offering and brag about your freewill offerings, boast about them, you Israelites, for this is what you love to do,”

The connection of worship and Bethel, by another prophet in the 8th century BCE, corroborates the idea that there was a functioning temple site at Bethel, despite a current lack of tangible evidence.

The image above is of Beitin, a Palestinian village near Ramallah, which is assumed to have been the site of ancient Bethel.

Israelite Laws for Foreigners, Foreign Pots for Israel


Leviticus 17 and 18 discusses rules that apply to foreigners. In Leviticus 17, God holds foreigners to the same standard as Israelites. “Any Israelite or any foreigner residing among them who offers a burnt offering or sacrifice and does not bring it to the entrance to the tent of meeting to sacrifice it to the Lord must be cut off from the people of Israel,” and “I will set my face against any Israelite or any foreigner residing among them who eats blood, and I will cut them off from the people.” In Leviticus 18, God warns Israel not to engage in relations that are permitted amongst non-Israelites: “You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices.” Yet he warns “Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled. Even the land was defiled; so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. But you must keep my decrees and my laws. The native-born and the foreigners residing among you must not do any of these detestable things.”

As these rules demonstrate the presence of foreigners, the pottery record of the Iron IIA period demonstrates the presence of interactions with foreigners. And these interactions factor into opinions about the status of the monarchy of kings David and Solomon.

A debate amongst archaeologists about the length of time of the Iron IIA period divides into an extended High Chronology and a shorter Low Chronology, with implications for the time available for kings David and Solomon to rule. Proponents of the High Chronology find support for kings David and Solomon in foreign imported pottery.

Supporters of a High Chronology argue that the Iron IIA period stretches across the 10th and 9th centuries, and that there are sub-periods with different forms of pottery in each. Under this interpretation, in the early Iron IIA period, Phoenician imports, from the areas of today’s northern Israel and Lebanon, featured ‘Bichrome Ware’ that was popular in the earlier Iron I period, but these are largely not found in the 9th BCE. In the later Iron IIA period, Cypriot imports appear in more significant numbers. Additionally, new Black-on-Red Ware, with black decoration on a red background, appears in more significant numbers.

These examples demonstrate foreign contact in the 9th BCE areas of Israel and Judah, and perhaps do tell us more about David and Solomon.

The image above is of a Black-on-Red Ware vessel.

Pot Periodization and the Davidic Kingdom

Pottery plays an important role in the field of archaeology, through the relative dating of artifacts, synchronizing archaeological layers and demonstrating technological and stylistic changes over time. Pottery too plays a role in the Bible.

Leviticus 15 deals with human discharges and the relevant laws of ritual purity. “The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, Speak to the Israelites and say to them: When any man has an unusual bodily discharge, such a discharge is unclean. Whether it continues flowing from his body or is blocked, it will make him unclean. This is how his discharge will bring about uncleanness.” It then goes on to establish rules, including “ A clay pot that the man touches must be broken, and any wooden article is to be rinsed with water.”

A major debate amongst archaeologists is the length of time of the Iron IIA period, which carries implications for a United Monarchy led by kings David and Solomon. According to the High Chronology, the Iron IIA extended through much of the 10th and 9th centuries BCE, while proponents of the Low Chronology argue for the Iron IIA to have been concentrated mainly in the 9th BCE. The High Chronology allows for a powerful kingdom led by David and Solomon that ruled over the territories of Israel, while the Low Chronology does not.

Proponents of the High Chronology divide the Iron IIA itself by pottery styles. In the High Chronology’s nearly two-century scheme, pottery styles can be divided into early and late phases, with pottery styles evolving over time. A key change in pottery from the Iron I to Iron IIA period is the appearance of red-slipped hand-burnished ware, meaning the pottery was finished with a reddish dye and finished with a polish done by hand on not on a wheel. They note a gradual receding use of hand burnishing on certain vessels in the latter part of the Iron IIA. Similarly, they note changes in the styles of rims on cooking pots between the early Iron IIA and later Iron IIA.

The image above is of a red-burnished hand slipped vessel from Iron IIA Hazor.

God Steps Onto the Archaeological Scene

In Leviticus 9, the priests formally begin their sacrificial service. As the chapter closes, “Then Aaron lifted his hands toward the people and blessed them. And having sacrificed the sin offering, the burnt offering and the fellowship offering, he stepped down. Moses and Aaron then went into the tent of meeting. When they came out, they blessed the people; and the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. Fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fat portions on the altar. And when all the people saw it, they shouted for joy and fell facedown.”

The word Lord is used as a translation for God’s name YHWH.

YHWH is recognized archaeologically as Israel’s God via theophoric names, names that contain God’s personal name. One such example is the name Aviyah on the 10th century BCE Gezer Calendar. But the first known mention of YHWH’s name appears on a non-Israelite monument.

The Mesha Stele is mid-9th BCE monument that was recovered at Dibon, Jordan. On the stele, King Mesha of Moab describes how the Moabite god Chemosh helped him end the rule of the Kingdom of Israel. The stele partially mirrors elements of a biblical story in 2 Kings 3, although in the biblical account King Mesha sacrificed his son and successor and offered him as a sacrifice on the city wall.

In the Mesha Stele, Mesha describes some of the particulars of his battles and his defeat of Israel. “And Chemosh said to me, Go take Nebo against Israel, and I went in the night and I fought against it from the break of day till noon, and I took it: and I killed in all seven thousand men…women and maidens, for I devoted them to Ashtar-Chemosh; and I took from it the vessels of YHWH, and offered them before Chemosh.”

This first mention of YHWH, as Israel’s primary god, demonstrates YHWH being accepted as a significant deity of Israel in the 9th century BCE.

The image above is of a replica of the Mesha Stele.

The Right Stuff

Credit:, Israel

Leviticus 7 awards priests with portions of sacrificial offerings: The Lord said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites: Anyone who brings a fellowship offering to the Lord is to bring part of it as their sacrifice to the Lord. With their own hands they are to present the food offering to the Lord; they are to bring the fat, together with the breast, and wave the breast before the Lord as a wave offering. The priest shall burn the fat on the altar, but the breast belongs to Aaron and his sons. You are to give the right thigh of your fellowship offerings to the priest as a contribution. The son of Aaron who offers the blood and the fat of the fellowship offering shall have the right thigh as his share. From the fellowship offerings of the Israelites, I have taken the breast that is waved and the thigh that is presented and have given them to Aaron the priest and his sons as their perpetual share from the Israelites.”

These rules specify that the breast and the right thigh are given to the priests “as their perpetual share from the Israelites.”

In 1 Kings 12, after Jeroboam led the split of the 10 northern tribes from the Rehoboam’s kingdom centered in Jerusalem, he established two competing sites for ritual worship, one at Dan at his kingdom’s northern edge and another at Bethel near his southern border. At Tel Dan, archaeologists discovered a temple sanctuary that dates to the Iron IIA period. The site contained a large sacrificial altar that was used for animal offerings.

An unearthing of the area around the altar at Tel Dan exposed thousands of bone fragments in concentrated deposits. The bones found in this area contained a higher percentage of sheep and goat bones than in the area as a whole. This is in-line with the types of sacrificial animals that the Bible specifies for sin offerings. The bone deposits contained a high percentage of the bones that extend into the hooves of sheep or goats, bones that might have been left intact in the animal hides that were given to the priests. And the bones also are more skewed to the right-sided portions, the portion that the Bible dictates was left for the priests.

Thus if this temple at Tel Dan was indeed the one established by Jeroboam, and used by the Israelite tribes, the practices appear to be aligned with the biblical prescription for sacrificial service.

The image above is of the high place at Dan, with a reconstructed altar.

Tel Dan Temple Menu


The early chapters of the Book of Leviticus list the various types of offerings brought in the Tabernacle. These offerings were limited to a select group of animals. Leviticus 1 begins, “The Lord called to Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting. He said, speak to the Israelites and say to them: When anyone among you brings an offering to the Lord, bring as your offering an animal from either the herd or the flock.” A herd is of cattle, with a male bull and female cow. A flock refers to sheep, with a male ram and female ewe.

Leviticus 1 describes the burnt offering, the ‘Olah’, which could be brought from a bull, ram or if a bird, from a dove or young pigeon. Leviticus 3 describes the peace-offering or fellowship offering, the ‘Shelamim’, which could be brought from a bull or cow, ram or ewe, a lamb, or a goat, a male billy or buck and female doe.

In 1 Kings 12 Jeroboam led the northern tribes to secede from the Davidic kingdom and he built temples at Bethel and Dan, at the southern and northern edges of his kingdom, respectively. Tel Dan is an archaeological site at the northern edge of Israel today, and it is the site of an Iron IIA temple complex that appears connected to the Kingdom of Israel.

At the temple site, archaeologists found thousands of animal bone fragments, consistent with the operation of a temple engaging in animal sacrifice. The bones were predominantly of sheep, goats or cattle, consistent with the biblically prescribed animals allowed for sacrifices. There was a higher percentage of sheep and goats relative to cattle, consistent with these animals being smaller and less costly than cattle. There was also a distinct lack of pig bones amongst the remains, again consistent with the biblical ban on pig and with the findings of animal remains at the Second Temple at Jerusalem, the period for which significant animal remains exists. There were lion and bear remains found on the site, but it is unclear what use these animals might have had within the temple.

Thus, directionally speaking, the temple at Dan appears to have been likely similar in function to a temple at Jerusalem.

The image above is of the temple complex at Tel Dan.

The Tel Dan Utensil Collection

Credit:, Israel

In Exodus 36, Moses tasked “Bezalel and Oholiab and every skilled person to whom the Lord had given ability and who was willing to come and do the work” with constructing the sanctuary and its furnishings. As mentioned in Exodus 27, this included utensils. “Make all its utensils of bronze, its pots to remove the ashes, and its shovels, sprinkling bowls, meat forks and firepans.”

In 1 Kings 6 Solomon built his Temple. “Against the walls of the main hall and inner sanctuary he built a structure around the building, in which there were side rooms.” Later, when in 1 Kings 12 Jeroboam led the northern tribes to secede from the Davidic kingdom he built temples at Bethel and Dan to compete with the Jerusalem Temple.

Tel Dan is an archaeological site in the northeastern corner of the Hula Valley, north of the Korazim Plateau and the Sea of Galilee. Archaeologists working the site discovered an Iron IIA temple complex in the northwest section of the site. The temple’s earlier Iron IIA iteration shared the rectangular shape of Solomon’s Temple. The temple construction also included side rooms.

One of the side rooms discovered at Dan has been interpreted as being an “altar room,” with three items described as altars within the room. The room also contained a series of utensils.

In the Bible, there were a variety of utensils used in the Tabernacle and Temple. There were shovels for removing ashes from the altar, shovels for scooping incense, a fork for maneuvering a sacrificial animal and bowls for collecting blood and ash. The excavations in the side room at Dan exposed a series of utensils: two iron shovels, an incense pan, a jar containing ash with animal bone remains, a bronze bowl, and a long iron handle, potentially from a large fork. This collection demonstrates the likelihood of the similarity in operation between the temple in Jerusalem and the temple at Dan.

The image above is of the side rooms at the ancient temple at Dan.

God’s Name in Personal Names

In Exodus 30, God tells Moses to anoint Aaron and his sons for service as priests. “Anoint Aaron and his sons and consecrate them so they may serve me as priests. Say to the Israelites, This is to be my sacred anointing oil for the generations to come. Do not pour it on anyone else’s body and do not make any other oil using the same formula. It is sacred, and you are to consider it sacred. Whoever makes perfume like it and puts it on anyone other than a priest must be cut off from their people.”

Earlier in Exodus 28, the Bible listed the names of Aaron’s sons. “Have Aaron your brother brought to you from among the Israelites, along with his sons Nadab and Avihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, so they may serve me as priests.”

A theophoric name is a name that includes the name of a god within the complete name. For example, Israel included God’s name El within it. Similarly, Aaron’s son Avihu has a theophoric name, with the concluding letters taken from God’s name YHWH. Theophoric names are indicators of which god a particular group or culture revered.

In 1 Kings 12, Jeroboam led the northern tribes of Israel to secede from the Davidic kingdom, and he set up competing shrines at Dan and Bethel. At Tel Dan, archaeologists unearthed an Iron IIA temple that appears to have been the one utilized by the northern Kingdom of Israel.

At Tel Dan, two artifacts bearing theophoric names were discovered within the archaeological layer that is attributed to the period of occupation by the northern Kingdom of Israel. A seal impression with the name ‘Immadiyaw’, meaning “YHWH is with me”, was discovered on the western edge of the enclosure of the sacred area. Additionally, a jar handle bearing the name Zakaryaw, another theophoric name, was found on-site.

In Exodus 32, Aaron “took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, This is your god, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” Similarly, in 1 Kings 12, Jeroboam made two golden calves, one for Bethel and the other for Dan, and he said to the people “Here is your god, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” One he set up in Bethel, and the other in Dan.” In both Exodus and 1 Kings, the Golden Calf is associated with God.

These artifacts indicate that it is likely that the god that was worshipped at Dan was YHWH, consistent with the Bible’s account of an Israelite king shifting the worship of YHWH from Jerusalem to a site at Dan in the northern reaches of his kingdom.

The image above is of the finely cut masonry wall of the temple at Dan.

Rectangular Shrines, South and North

Credit:, Galilee and the North, Israel

Exodus 26 & 27 describe the dimensions of the desert Tabernacle and its courtyard. These show rectangular sacred spaces. In Exodus 27, it instructs: Make a courtyard for the tabernacle. The south side shall be a hundred cubits long and…the north side shall also be a hundred cubits long…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.” The Tabernacle building was similarly rectangular, with dimensions of 10 cubits wide by 30 cubits long.

Solomon’s Temple structure was also rectangular shaped. In 1 Kings 6 the construction is described as follows: “In the four hundred and eightieth year after the Israelites came out of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel, in the month of Ziv, the second month, he began to build the temple of the Lord. The temple that King Solomon built for the Lord was sixty cubits long, twenty wide and thirty high.” Again, it was a rectangular shaped structure, its dimensions double that of the Tabernacle.

In 1 Kings 12, after he led the northern tribes to secede from the Davidic kingdom, Jeroboam set up shrines to compete with the shrine in Jerusalem. “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” One he set up in Bethel, and the other in Dan.

At Tel Dan, archaeologists discovered a temple sanctuary that dates to the Iron IIA period. The site contained a large animal sacrificial altar and smaller altars that were likely used for incense.

Archaeological sites can be studied as layers. An earlier site is filled and covered and a new site is built above the older material. At Tel Dan, the observable sanctuary site, referred to as Bamah B, measured at 62×60 feet. This layer was assigned to the mid-9th century BCE. However, this layer appears to have been an expansion of an earlier temple site. And this earlier high sanctuary, referred to as Bamah A, was a rectangular site, measured at 22’x60’, comparable to the dimensions of Solomon’s Temple as described in the Bible.

The image above is of the high place at Tel Dan.