The List Was Life

Credit:, Jezreel Valley, Israel

Even without direct evidence, lists in the Bible can be shown to reflect reality at a particular point in time.

In Deuteronomy 7 Moses tells the Israelites what they are to do when they enter Canaan. “When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations, the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you, and when the Lord your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally.”

As to whether this happened, the Bible itself is contradictory. In the Book of Joshua, Israel successfully conquers the land, and the land is apportioned to the various conquering tribes. On the other hand, Book of Judges 1 tells us that the Israelite tribes did not succeed in displacing and destroying the nations who occupied Canaan. Instead they settled a land where many of the inhabitants remained. In both of these books, the Bible lists the towns and places that there were either conquered or not conquered.

1 Kings 4 provides another list, this one of King Solomon’s district governors and the areas they governed.

“These are their names: Ben-Hur in the hill country of Ephraim; Ben-Deker in Makaz, Shaalbim, Beth Shemesh and Elon Bethhanan; Ben-Hesed in Arubboth, Sokoh and all the land of Hepher were his; Ben-Abinadab in Naphoth Dor, he was married to Taphath daughter of Solomon; Baana son of Ahilud in Taanach and Megiddo, and in all of Beth Shan next to Zarethan below Jezreel, from Beth Shan to Abel Meholah across to Jokmeam; Ben-Geber in Ramoth Gilead (the settlements of Jair son of Manasseh in Gilead were his, as well as the region of Argob in Bashan and its sixty large walled cities with bronze gate bars); Ahinadab son of Iddo in Mahanaim; Ahimaaz in Naphtali (he had married Basemath daughter of Solomon); Baana son of Hushai in Asher and in Aloth; Jehoshaphat son of Paruah in Issachar; Shimei son of Ela in Benjamin; Geber son of Uri in Gilead.”

Elements of these various lists can be telling.

Ben-Deker is said to rule in Makaz. This town is not referenced elsewhere in the Bible, suggesting that it was only active or important during King Solomon’s reign. Ben-Deker is also said to rule over Shaalbim, but in Joshua 19:42 the same town appears to be called Shaalabbin, suggesting that the place name evolved and was different at various points in time.

Baana son of Ahilud is said to rule over Taanach, but Taanach does not appear to be a significant site after the 10th century BCE and would not be an important site worth mentioning in later lists. Similarly, Baana son of Ahilud was responsible for “all of Beth Shan next to Zarethan below Jezreel.” Jezreel was not heavily occupied after the mid-9th BCE, and would be unlikely to be included in a later list.

Thus the construction of the list, the forms of the names and the archaeology can argue that the list in 1 Kings 4 represents a reality at a specific point in time, and that the time period was one in which a King Solomon ruled over Israelite tribes.

The image above is of the ancient site of Taanach.

When Wisdom Was Honored

Credit:, Israel Museum

Continuing on a theme, scholars debate if events and figures in the Bible are depicted accurately, or if they are later inventions. Stories written later are considered less reliable than stories written closer in time to the events and the characters described. However, when conditions change over time, it makes it more likely that a story that reflects earlier conditions no longer in effect was actually written earlier.

In Deuteronomy 6, Moses tells Israel “Fear the Lord your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name.” Proverbs 1 begins “The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel: for gaining wisdom and instruction…The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.”

The Bible attributes the book of Proverbs to Solomon, and in the Bible, Solomon is the paragon of wisdom. In 1 Kings 3, Solomon asks for and receives wisdom. “So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?” The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be.”

Baruch Halpern of the University of Georgia has pointed out that the focus on wisdom reflects an 11th and 10th century reality. He notes that records of 11th and 10th century Assyrian kings highlight their knowledge of the natural world. In the High Chronology, which argues for an Iron IIA period including the 10th century BCE, King Solomon would have ruled in the 10th century BCE, and thus the focus on Solomon’s wisdom could reflect the trend of the time.

David Carr, Professor of Old Testament, draws a parallel between the Song of Songs, which the Bible calls “Solomon’s Song of Songs,” and 2nd millennium BCE Egyptian and Ugaritic poetry. Additionally, Carr also highlights Kohelet, which in the Bible’s words is the “words of the Teacher, a son of David, king in Jerusalem,” a reference to Solomon, and he points to its motifs being similar to the Old Babylonian form of the Gilgamesh epic found at 2nd millennium Hatti, Emar and Megiddo.

Beyond these contemporary early examples of wisdom literature, there is a source external to the Bible that highlights Solomon’s wisdom. Josephus, in his book Against Apion, quotes Menander the Ephesian, writing about the Tyrian king Hirom, “Under this King there was a younger son of Abdemon, who mastered the problems which Solomon King of Jerusalem had recommended to be solved.”

Thus, while there is as of yet no overt 10th or 9th century reference to a King Solomon, there are elements of biblical account which garner consideration from contemporary trends and late mentions outside of biblical or Jewish sources.

The image above is of a fragment of the Epic of Gilgamesh from Megiddo, on display at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

What Time Hath Not For-Gath

Credit:, Philistine Plain, Israel

Deuteronomy begins with Moses recounting Israel’s travails in the wilderness. He recalls the assignment of leaders to assist Moses, which occurred earlier in Exodus. He tells the story of the spies who scouted Canaan, Israel’s complaints against the idea of conquering Canaan, their punishment to wander in the wilderness for 40 years and their travels in the desert and into the Transjordan, stories which were first told in the book of Numbers.

Scholars who evaluate the Bible from a scientific and historical perspective attempt to determine the historicity of events within the Bible. Scholars may assume that a story written in closer proximity to the time the events occurred is more accurate than a story written at a far later date. A story written at a later date is more likely to see anachronisms, details that do not fit the time period creep into the text. Thus a story that appears to avoid late anachronisms would have better odds of recording a historical event.

One such story is that of David fleeing to Gath. In 1 Samuel 21, David escaped from Saul. “That day David fled from Saul and went to Achish king of Gath. But the servants of Achish said to him, “Isn’t this David, the king of the land? Isn’t he the one they sing about in their dances: Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands? David took these words to heart and was very much afraid of Achish king of Gath. So he pretended to be insane in their presence; and while he was in their hands he acted like a madman, making marks on the doors of the gate and letting saliva run down his beard. Achish said to his servants, Look at the man, he is insane, why bring him to me? Am I so short of madmen that you have to bring this fellow here to carry on like this in front of me? Must this man come into my house?”

The story would seem to be an odd inclusion in the Bible. One of King David’s greatest feats in the Bible was eliminating the threat from the Philistines, and yet in this story he relies on the Philistines to survive. Beyond its unusual theme, the story is significant for estimating when it was recorded.

In the Bible, there were five major Philistine cities: Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron and Gath. Excavations at Tell es-Safi demonstrated that the area is likely the site of the ancient Philistine city of Gath.

In 2 Kings 12, over a century after King David’s rule ended, “Hazael king of Aram went up and attacked Gath and captured it.” Archaeologists working the site of Gath have shown that the city was destroyed in the late 9th century BCE. After its destruction, the city remained reduced in the 8th century BCE, a shadow of its former self.

1 Samuel 21 tells the story of David at Gath. As Gath had been reduced, a late written story of King David would be unlikely to have him visit Gath, which was of no significance at that time. Thus the story in 1 Samuel 21 is likely to have been more ancient, and more likely written closer to the timing of the story it tells.

The photo in the image above is of the remains of an Iron Age building in Gath.

Of the House of David

Numbers 31 recounts Israel’s victories over Midianite kings. Numbers 32 mentions that the Gadites and Reubenites agreed to participate in Israel’s invasion of the Cisjordan. In Numbers 33, God gives Moses instructions for Israel’s coming invasion of Canaan. While these chapters recall and anticipate Israel’s victories in war, a monument to a war that Israel and Judah lost is one of the most important pieces of archaeological evidence for reconstructing a Davidic kingdom.

In 1 Kings 12, Jeroboam led the ten northern tribes of Israel to secede from King Solomon’s son Rehoboam’s kingdom. To rival the southern Kingdom of Judah, Jeroboam established temples at Dan and Beth-El. Where these two kingdoms began as rivals, they eventually settled their differences and worked as allies.

In the 9th century BCE, Israel’s principle rival became its northern neighbor, the Kingdom of Aram. Both 1 Kings and 2 Kings record a series of wars between the two sides.

One of those wars appears to have been recorded in what is known at the Tel Dan Stele. The Tel Dan Stele consists of fragments of a once larger monument. It survived from antiquity with various pieces being placed in the construction of an ancient stone wall. The inscription was written in Aramaic, indicative of Aramean origin. The script appears to be written in a 9th century BCE Phoenician alphabetic text, giving an approximate time frame for its creation.

In 2 Kings 8, Hazael killed the Aramean king Ben-Hadad and became king in his place. Hazael waged war against the king of Judah Ahaziah son of Jehoram and the king of Israel Joram the son of Ahab at Ramoth Gilead. In the Bible’s account, Hazael’s forces wounded Joram, so Joram returned to Jezreel to recover from his wounds. Later, both Ahaziah and Joram were killed by Jehu.

In the Tel Dan Stele, the name of the Aramean king is absent. However, the king says he was made king by Hadadezer, who may be one and the same with Ben Hadad. In the Tel Dan Stele, based on the most obvious reconstructions with the biblical account, this Aramean king claims to have killed [Jeho]ram son [of Ahab] king of Israel, and [Ahaz]iahu son of [Jehoram kin-]g of the House of David. The similarities between the biblical account and the Tel Dan Stele leave Hazael as the most likely author of the Tel Dan Stele.

More important for the recreation of the southern Kingdom of Judah is the Tel Dan Stele’s reference to [Ahaz]iahu son of [Jehoram kin-]g of the House of David. This is the first clear reference to a King David. The term “House of” denotes a kingdom, similar to the “House of Israel” in Ezekiel 28 and Amos 9. Thus the Tel Dan Stele records the existence of a kingdom connected to a David.

This places the figure of David in history as the head of the kingdom. The nature of that kingdom is much debated, but it anchors David in history, a step required to argue for David as a king of an extended tribal alliance.

The image above is of the Tel Dan Stele, on display at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

Invisible Nomads

Credit: Susan Ackerman, July 2015; ASOR

In Numbers 21, Israel continued its travels east, attacking Arad, moving from Mount Hor to avoid Edom, and then onto the banks of the Arnon River. In moving across the rift valley and into the Transjordan, they crossed the Aravah, the arid region stretching from the Dead Sea going south to the Gulf of Aqaba.

Archaeological studies in this region highlight the limitations of the field of archaeology, and have important implications for arguments about the United Monarchy of King David and Solomon.

The Aravah region contains two major copper deposits that were major ancient copper production sites: Faynan in Jordan and Timna in southern Israel.

Faynan is located in southern Jordan, roughly 20 miles southeast of the Dead Sea. At its peak, Faynan was possibly the largest copper production facility in the eastern Mediterranean after Cyprus, the island which gave Latin and later English the term copper. Remains of the activity at Faynan are evidenced in the 200,000 tons of slag residue from smelting activities and thousands of mines.

Timna, situated north of Eilat, Israel, was a large copper production facility in the Late Bronze Age and into the Iron Age. It too contains vast slag remains and ancient mines, evidence of the large scale copper production that occurred on-site.

Notably, the production at these sites in the Iron Age does not appear to be associated with any of the major powers in the region. For example, in the Late Bronze Age at Timnah, Egypt controlled the site, as seen with an Egyptian temple to Hathor, an Egyptian goddess. By contrast, in the 10th and 9th centuries BCE, evidence for Egyptian control is absent. Instead, the copper production sites appear to have been run by a nomadic kingdom. One suggestion is that the site was run by a nomadic Edomite kingdom. Others suggestions are the Midianites or another nomadic group.

The operational activities at both Faynan and Timnah were highly complex. The sites were arid, and required vast quantities of water, food, slaves, wood and mining equipment to be procured and transported to and managed on-site. This required a high degree of organization and cooperation.

Nomads do not easily appear in the archaeological record. Nomads do not leave the developed sites, fixed buildings and monumental architecture that archaeologists use to determine the size and power of typical settled kingdoms.

Faynan and Timnah demonstrate that nomads were capable of highly complex organizational activities despite lacking a permanent capital or home site. Jerusalem in the 10th century BCE does not appear to be a highly developed capital. But the finds at Faynan and Timnah show that it need not have been to be able to lead a complex kingdom of associated tribes. A 10th century BCE Kingdom of Israel led from Judah by a King David or King Solomon may have had a large nomadic component that does not appear in the archaeological record, but that still was able to control and direct resources at a distance from Jerusalem.

The image above is of the remains of an Iron Age fortress at Khirbat en-Nahas, in the Faynan region of Jordan.

Cypriot Pots and David’s Monarchy

In Numbers 24, after failing to curse Israel, Balaam delivered one last message before departing. “Who can live when God does this? Ships will come from the shores of Kittim; they will subdue Ashur and Eber, but they too will come to ruin.” Kittim can be used to refer to the islands in the Mediterranean, but more specifically it refers to Cyprus.

Cyprus is only about 200 miles from the Sharon Plain, the central coastal section in the southern Levant. In the Bronze and Iron Ages, Cyprus was an important node in the eastern Mediterranean trading system, and a link to the Aegean. And pottery from Cyprus can contribute to the debate about King David in the 10th century BCE.

There is a debate about starting point for the Iron Age in the southern Levant, about when this period can be said to begin. The two sides can be broken into the High Chronology and the Low Chronology. According to the High Chronology, the Iron Age I extended from roughly 1200 BCE-1000 BCE, and then the Iron IIA period from roughly 1000 BCE-830 BCE. According to the Low Chronology, the Iron I period extended from around 1130 BCE-920 BCE, and the Iron IIA from 920-830 BCE.

A key impact of this is its implication for the Kingdom of Judah led by David and then Solomon. In the 9th century BCE, the northern Kingdom of Israel was an important entity. The High Chronology allows enough time for David and Solomon to rule without interference from a competing Israelite kingdom, while the Low Chronology compresses the time they could rule into too narrow a window to mirror the biblical account.

A major point of contention and a source for the dispute is a disagreement about the timing of pottery. In the 12th century BCE, a new form of pottery appeared in the southern coastal region of the Levant. This Philistine Monochrome pottery, also known as Mycenaean IIIC:1b, differed from the more prevalent Canaanite pottery in the region. Those who argue for the High Chronology claim this pottery appeared in the early 12th century BCE, while the Low Chronology argues for a late 12th century BCE appearance. The date for this pottery then sets the timetable for the Iron I and Iron IIA periods, with its implications for King David and Solomon.

Cypriot pottery found in the Levant points in favor of the High Chronology, and by extension, for a longer period for a kingdom in Judah to rule in the southern Levant.

As in all places, Cypriot pottery evolved in technology and style over time. The conventional chronology for Cyprus places a type of Cypriot pottery known as White Painted Wheelmade III pottery at the Late Cypriot IIC and the beginning of Late Cypriot IIIA, a period that equates to around 1200 BCE.

Ashdod is the site of one of the early pottery production facilities for the Philistines. Pottery from an early workshop has parallels with White Painted Wheelmade III pottery or even earlier versions of Cypriot pottery.

If this similarity to Cypriot style pottery indeed traces to the early 12th century BCE, it expands the window in which King David and King Solomon might have led an expansive Kingdom of Judah in the 10th century BCE.

The image above was taken along the coast of Cyprus.

Antebellum and Postbellum Arad

Credit:, Arad, Negev, Israel

In Numbers 21, the Israelites encountered the kingdom of Arad. “When the Canaanite king of Arad, who lived in the Negev, heard that Israel was coming along the road to Atharim, he attacked the Israelites and captured some of them. Then Israel made this vow to the Lord: If you will deliver these people into our hands, we will totally destroy their cities. The Lord listened to Israel’s plea and gave the Canaanites over to them. They completely destroyed them and their towns; so the place was named Hormah.”

Tel Arad is an archaeological site in the Negev Desert. It sits roughly 6 miles west of today’s city of Arad, at the edge of the Judean Desert, and between the Dead Sea to the east and Beersheba to the west.

The site appears to have been destroyed in the Early Bronze Age, before experiencing a revival in the Iron Age. Archaeological layers develop over time, as newer settlements are built over older settlements, and at Arad, two archaeological layers are particularly of note. These layers are referred to as Stratum XII and Stratum XI, the earlier layer being the higher number.

The earlier of the two layers, Stratum XII, is a developing town. Stratum XI, the later version of the city, developed into a fortress. Both layers contain a pottery form referred to as red burnished hand slipped pottery, meaning the pottery was formed by hand on not on a wheel, and was finished with a reddish dye. This type of pottery is common in the Iron IIA period.

The discontinuity between Stratum XII and Stratum XI appears to have been the result of Shoshenq I’s invasion of the southern Levant.

In 1 Kings 14, after King Solomon’s reign ended, “In the fifth year of King Rehoboam, Shishak king of Egypt attacked Jerusalem.” 2 Chronicles 12 describes a more far reaching campaign. “With twelve hundred chariots and sixty thousand horsemen and the innumerable troops of Libyans, Sukkites and Cushites that came with him from Egypt, he [Shishak] captured the fortified cities of Judah and came as far as Jerusalem.”

The Karnak Temple north of Luxor was a major temple complex serving Egypt’s southern capital of Thebes. On the Bubasite Portal within the Precinct of Amun-Re, the pharaoh Shoshenq I recorded his campaign into the southern Levant in roughly the 930s-920s BCE. Beneath of an image of him smiting his captives were 156 ovals containing the image of a bound captive and an associated name. Many of these ovals have been damaged or are illegible, but there are enough names there to track his route. One of the cities featured on that list is Arad.

In Iron IIA period southern Levant, there was a shift away from small villages to larger, fortified cities, with a stratified structure, meaning there were buildings that would have been occupied by a ruling class or those associated with the ruling class. Cities and fortresses were built in the Negev to protect the trade routes from the coast and into the Transjordan and Arabia.

Thus the Iron IIA city of Arad may be significant for a number of reasons. This town’s development in the 10th century BCE, before the arrival of Shoshenq I’s army, might represent the establishment of towns by a Kingdom of Judah centered in Jerusalem in the 10th century BCE, raising the possibility that this was the kingdom led by either King David or King Solomon. But if this layer cannot be definitively associated with the Kingdom of Judah, the site still is important for understanding the Kingdom of Judah.

The Iron IIA period is identified by the presence of red burnished hand slipped pottery. The Iron IIA period features a shift from earlier small villages to larger fortified towns that had a stratified social structure, with a ruling elite. The presence of red burnished hand slipped pottery in the 10th century BCE, in Stratum XII, before Shoshenq I’s invasion, followed by the fortress in Stratum XI may demonstrate cultural continuity between the settlers in the earlier Stratum XII and the later Stratum XI. Further, it could show that in the late 10th century BCE, there was a kingdom, centered in Judah, able to build larger fortified cities at strategic locations. If true at Arad, then this also could apply to numerous other sites in the southern Levant, notably in the Shephelah region. Thus it points to a kingdom in the central hill country, likely centered in Jerusalem, possibly led by King David or King Solomon.

The image above is of a section of the Iron Age fortress at Arad.

The High and Low Roads

Credit:, Joppa, Israel

In Numbers 16, Moses was challenged by Korah, Dathan, Abiram and their 250 supporters. In a similar vein, in the 1990s, the traditional view amongst archaeologists, referred to as the High Chronology, was challenged by proponents of a Low Chronology.

The traditional view, the High Chronology, was that King David ruled over a united monarchy in the Iron Age IIA period in the 10th century BCE. Supporters of the Low Chronology claimed that King David only ruled later and was never the ruler of a large confederation of tribes.

One of the premises for the Low Chronology challenge to the traditional view was based on an observation of pottery.

Since the Middle Bronze Age and the rise of Egypt’s New Kingdom in the 16th century BCE, Egypt had dominated the territory of Canaan. However, by the 12th century BCE, as Egypt’s central government began to weaken, its hold on the territory of Canaan began to wane, until it eventually withdrew from the region.

The traditional High Chronology assumption is that Philistines arrived on the southwestern coast of Canaan in the late 13th or early 12th century BCE, while Egypt still held fortresses in Canaan. Thus the two competing forces were settled in Canaan at the same time. This period of the Philistine arrival represented the shift from the Late Bronze Age into the Iron Age I period and so the Iron I period was deemed to begin in the early 12th century BCE. This framing of time allowed for the Iron IIA period to begin in the early 10th century BCE and left room for King David’s kingdom.

However, an observation was made and used to challenge the idea of King David’s kingdom. Egyptian and Philistine pottery did not appear together in the same archaeological layers that were unearthed. This led to the Low Chronology claim that the Philistines only arrived in coastal Canaan in the late 12th century BCE, after the Egyptians had left the region. This in turn led to an Iron Age I period that started later and squeezed the time length available for the Iron I and Iron IIA,  by extension compressing the time available for a Davidic kingdom to rule in the 10th century BCE.

Those who supported the High Chronology idea that King David ruled over united tribes extending into northern Israel countered that Egyptian and Philistine pottery did not appear together because they were rivals and maintained a divide between themselves.

Recent excavations done at Jaffa, along the coast of Israel, north of the Philistine regions along the southern coast, have countered this challenge. The Low Chronology argued that the Egyptians had exited Canaan before the Philistine arrival and that the Philistines arrived in the 1130s. The destruction layers at the fort of Jaffa and radiocarbon dating point to the Egyptians still being in Canaan in the late 12th century BCE, perhaps as late as 1115 BCE, after the Philistines had settled the southwestern coast. The argument that the Philistines appeared after the Egyptians left, which compressed the time periods, does not appear to be a concrete argument, again opening the window for a powerful Davidic kingdom in the 10th century BCE.

The image above is of the ancient Egyptian fort at Jaffa.

Changes in the House of the Sun

Credit:, Shephelah, Judah, Israel

In Numbers 13, Moses sent men to scout the land of Canaan. As part of their report, they referenced the locations of the different inhabitants. “The Amalekites live in the Negev; the Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live near the sea and along the Jordan.”

The ancient town of Beit Shemesh, at the archaeological site of Tel Beit Shemesh, sits in the northern part of the Shephelah, in the Sorek Valley, roughly 20 miles west of Jerusalem. In the Iron Age, the city was a border region, sitting between the Philistines to the west, the Israelites and Judahites of the central hill country to the east, and the Canaanites to the north.

The city appears to have been continuously occupied during the Middle Bronze Age, in the mid 2nd millennium BCE into the Iron Age. For the Iron Age I, archaeologists count four occupation levels for the town, but these levels demonstrat continuity in habitation over time. These four occupation layers were followed by a layer that represents Iron Age IIA.

The Iron Age I cities appear to have maintained cultural continuity with the preceding periods. The pottery assemblage in the Iron I period is similar to the Canaanite pottery of the Late Bronze Age. Similarly, the olive press in use in Iron I Beit Shemesh is similar to that of other Canaanite olive presses. The site lacks any significant amounts of pig bones, a feature of Israelite/Judahite sites but one also occasionally found at Canaanite sites.

The Iron IIA city marks a change from the earlier Iron I levels. This city was built with fortifications, an underground water reservoir, public buildings and a large silo. The site also features red slipped ware, a pottery style common in the central hill country. The excavators of the site have interpreted this city as being part of a nascent Israelite/Judahite state.

There are debates as to whether the Israelites/Judahites resided at Beit Shemesh in the Iron I period. The cultural artifacts appear to be Canaanite, but as the city eventually became Israelite, it is uncertain if Israelites had gradually moved into the city and were already living there by the transition period into the Iron IIA period.

Importantly for the history of the monarchy of King David, carbon dating samples from the Iron IIA layer show a date of ~950 BCE. If this is indeed accurate, then it would show a 10th century BCE city, located within the sphere of the southern hill country and Jerusalem, occupied by Israelites/Judahites. If so, it is possible that the town was ruled by a power centered in Jerusalem, led by a King David or a King Solomon.

The image above is of the entrance to the Iron Age reservoir at Beth Shemesh.

The Big House

Credit:, Shephelah, Judah, Israel

Numbers 9 tells of the cloud cover that rested above the tabernacle, the central structure of the Israelite camp. The nation of Israel took their cues from the patterns of this cloud. When the cloud settled above the tabernacle, the nation was cease traveling. When the cloud lifted, the nation would move with the tabernacle.

At the archaeological site of Tel ‘Eton, a centralized structure may shed light on King David’s kingdom.

Tel ‘Eton is an archaeological site in the Shephelah, the sloping region between the central highlands on the east and the coastal plain in the west. The site sits in the eastern edge of the Shephelah, southwest of the ancient site of Lachish and west of the city of Hebron. In ancient times, the site was strategically important as it sat astride the east-west road leading from the coastal route to Hebron and a north-south road that connected Beersheba with the road north. It is a site identified by some as biblical Eglon.

The area was home to Canaanites in the Late Bronze Age. During the Iron Age I there was little permanent settlement, but of those who resided there, they appear to have avoided pork in their diets, and the pottery in use was similar to that of Israelite sites. The city expanded in the Iron IIA, was fortified with a defensive wall. By size it appears to have been the third largest city in Judah after Jerusalem and Lachish.

A large structure was unearthed at the top of the mound of Tel ‘Eton. The structure appears to have been occupied by an elite dweller. Its site at the highest point indicates its importance. The building was constructed with a ‘four-room’ house plan of three long rooms backed by a perpendicular broad room, but is among the largest buildings of this type. It was built with ashlar masonry, stone that has been shaped into smoothed and even shapes and cemented together. The structure contained a large number of storage vessels, and indication of excess.

Notably, the ‘four-room’ house style is one that was prevalent in the Israelite and Judahite regions, and thus points to the site being connected to the settlers of the central hill country. Radiocarbon studies of olive pits found in the foundation layer of the building indicate that those pits date anywhere from the late 11th to the mid-to-late 10th century BCE. If this fill area where the pits were found was of the period in which the structure was built, than it potentially has implications for the history of the United Monarchy.

If the structure dates to either the 11th or 10th century, and it is associated with Israelite/Judahite dwellers, it would indicate that in this time period, a ruler in the central hill country could command the resources to build a fortified city and elite residence beyond its capital. And this ruler might have been a King David or King Solomon, ruling from Jerusalem.

The image above is of the mound of Tel ‘Eton.