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.

The Northern Kingdom’s Northern Temple?

Credit:, Galilee and the North, Israel

Exodus 25 begins the laws of Israel’s desert Tabernacle, its central shrine during Israel’s wanderings. Moses is ordered to collect the materials needed for construction: The Lord said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites to bring me an offering. You are to receive the offering for me from everyone whose heart prompts them to give. These are the offerings you are to receive from them: gold, silver and bronze; blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen; goat hair; ram skins dyed red and another type of durable leather; acacia wood; olive oil for the light; spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense; and onyx stones and other gems to be mounted on the ephod and breastpiece. Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you.”

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. “After seeking advice, the king 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.”

Tel Dan is an archaeological site in the northeastern corner of the Hula Valley, north of the Korazim Plateau and the Sea of Galilee. It is located where the Dan River feeds into Jordan River.

Archaeologists working the site discovered an Iron IIA temple complex in the northwest section of the site. A pathway from the lower city led up to the temple complex. The temple area was 60 square feet. It included a 16 square foot altar, with steps on both sides of the altar. The steps have led researchers to assume that the altar was elevated and could be reached via the steps. The altar itself likely had horns on its corners

The platform also contained a number of smaller rooms. In these rooms were found two smaller sacrificial altars. These altars likely were used for burning incense.

The findings demonstrate a temple with similarities to the Temple in Jerusalem, and are potentially the site of the temple complex initiated by the first Israelite ruler.

The image above is an aerial view of the archaeological site at Dan.

A Trade Center’s Revival and Israel’s Rise

Credit:, Hazor, Israel

Exodus chapters 21-23 contain a series of laws relating to injuries, property and exchange. In the 9th century BCE, a key site for trade and exchange within the Israelite kingdom was the city of Hazor.

Tel Hazor is the largest archaeological site in northern Israel. It is comprised of an upper city measuring 30 acres that sits 120 feet above the surrounding plain and a lower city of over 175 acres that is sixty feet above the surrounding area.

Tel Hazor lies on the northern “Ramat Korazim,” the Korazim Plateau, in the Upper Galilee. The Korazim Plateau lies directly north of the Sea of Galilee, bordered by the Jordan River to its east, the Hula Valley in the north and the Galilee mountains to the west. The ancient city of Hazor sat along the trade route that extended from the coastal plain into the Syrian interior and along to Mesopotamia, and benefited from this strategic position.

Hazor was long an important Canaanite city. At its peak in the second millennium BCE it may have been home to over 20,000 people, and largest city in Canaan. The Book of Joshua 11 calls it “the head of all these kingdoms” after Joshua was said to have captured the city. In 1 Kings 9 Solomon rebuilds Hazor’s walls. “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.”

From an archaeological perspective, the city Hazor was destroyed in the Late Bronze Age, in the 13th century BCE. In the following Iron I period, the city was still much reduced, an unfortified city with a cultic high place, confined to the upper city.

In the Iron IIA the city recovered. There is debate as to whether this recovery began in the 10th BCE under a King Solomon or in the 9th BCE, but there is agreement that the city’s development continued in the 9th BCE.

In 1 Kings, the Kingdom of Israel begins with Jeroboam leading the 10 northern tribes to secede from King Rehoboam’s United Monarchy. This kingdom struggles with palace intrigue and regicide, but settles with the reign of Omri and his descendants. Archaeologically, this period fits into the 9th BCE, and this is when Hazor develops to once again become a major center. The population doubled in size. Large public buildings, including store houses, were built. New fortifications were added, including a wall on the eastern part of the upper city and a large citadel. A large water system with a stepped passageway that descended 75 feet down into the bedrock below the city. These developments all point to an increasingly strengthening Kingdom of Israel, establishing its place as a trade center and power in the ancient Near East.

The image above of the mound of Tel Hazor in northern Israel.

State Formation in the Kingdom of Judah

Credit:, Hazor, Israel

By Exodus 18, the nation of Israel grew unwieldy for Moses. “The next day Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning till evening.” Moses’ father-in-law Jethro opined on the situation and recommended a solution. “What you are doing is not good…The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone…select capable men from all the people…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.” In doing so, Moses was able to create organization and structure so the nation could be managed more effectively.

A similar process of establishing organization and structure, key elements of state formation, occurs in the Kingdom of Judah in the Iron IIA period.

There is debate about whether the Iron IIA period begins in the 10th century BCE and lasted until the latter part of the 9th BCE or whether it is predominantly contained in the 9th BCE. That King David was a ruler of a southern kingdom is generally accepted by the Tel Dan Stele’s mention of the “House of David.” Whether he did so in the 10th BCE or 9th BCE hinges on that debate. Regardless of when the Iron IIA began, by the 9th century BCE the framework of an organizing state becomes clearer.

The status of Jerusalem in the Iron IIA is disputed. In this period, the main town of Jerusalem was in the area of today’s City of David, on a spur south of the current walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. There is a debate about whether the Stepped Stone Structure and Large Stone Structure were 10th century royal construction or if they represent a later period.

If the status of Jerusalem is not agreed upon, there is more agreement about the development of regions encircling Jerusalem. In the Iron IIA, there is appears to be a shift in Judah, with earlier small villages adding fortifications. These fortifications would protect trade in the region and serve as a forward defense to protect the capital at Jerusalem.

These new fortified cities appear in the Shephelah, the region of rolling hills between the central hill country and lower lying coastal plain, and include towns such as Beth Shemesh and Lachish. In the Negev region, this shift occurs at sites such as Tel Beersheba and Arad. These sites protected the border with the desert lands to the east and south and protected trade that ran from the coast, through the Negev, into the Arabah and on to Transjordanian regions of Moab, Edom and beyond.

The image above is of the excavations and fortifications at the ancient site of Tel Beersheba.

Ahab (and Israel’s) Horse Stalls

Credit:, Megiddo

After the pharaoh expelled the Israelites from Egypt, in Exodus 14 he had ‘seller’s remorse’ and he led his chariot army to recapture the Israelites. “He took six hundred of the best chariots, along with all the other chariots of Egypt, with officers over all of them.”

The Egyptians followed the Israelites into the split sea, but “Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at daybreak the sea went back to its place. The Egyptians were fleeing toward it, and the Lord swept them into the sea. The water flowed back and covered the chariots and horsemen, the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived.”

In the Bible, horses appear as an important element of kingly power. Deuteronomy 17 specifically calls out horses in restricting a king’s behavior: “The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the Lord has told you, You are not to go back that way again.”

1 Kings 5 and 2 Chronicles 9 differ on the number of horses in King Solomon’s arsenal. In the former, “Solomon had 40,000 stalls of horses for his chariotry and 12,000 horsemen,” while in the latter “4,000 stalls for horses and chariots, and 12,000 horsemen” which he stationed in the chariot towns and with the king in Jerusalem. In 1 Kings 10, “Solomon accumulated chariots and horses; he had fourteen hundred chariots and twelve thousand horses…Solomon’s horses were imported from Egypt and from Kue, the royal merchants purchased them from Kue at the current price. They imported a chariot from Egypt for six hundred shekels of silver, and a horse for a hundred and fifty.” Irrespective of which number was correct, a large number of horses can be representative of a king’s power and wealth.

The prized horses of the 9th century BCE in the Near East would have been large chariot horses from Egypt. The northern Kingdom of Israel was along the trade route that connected Egypt to the north and to Mesopotamia, and it would have been an important conduit in getting horses to their final destinations. The Kurkh Monolith Stele of Shalmaneser III shows that Israel was the largest contributor of chariots to the alliance that fought at the Battle of Karkar, an indication of the importance of horses in the Kingdom of Israel.

Megiddo sat along the coastal route between Egypt and the Near East, and became an important equestrian center. On the Megiddo plateau, archaeologists unearthed stables in the northwest and southeast corners. In the northwest corner once stood a number of buildings with multiple stable units, while the southeastern area contained courtyard which could have been used for training the horses. Some dispute this reading of the material as stables, but horse bite marks on troughs and holes in stone, that could have been used to tether the animals, point the buildings indeed housing stables.

The dating of these facilities is disputed. It was once thought that these were 10th century BCE buildings that housed King Solomon’s horses. That view fell out of favor for either 9th BCE stables belonging to Ahab or early 8th BCE stables of Jeroboam II. If these were indeed of the 9th BCE, these stalls, along with the horse stalls at Jezreel, could have been the ones that housed the horses that led the “2,000 chariots…of Ahab, the Israelite” mentioned on the Kurkh Stele of Shalmaneser III.

The image above is an aerial view of the site of the southern stables at Megiddo.

Israel’s King On Bended Knee

Credit:, British Museum

In Exodus 10-12, Moses repeatedly appears before the Egyptian pharaoh. In Exodus 10, Moses warns the pharaoh of an impending plague of locust, and then is brought back and asked to remove the plague. The same process is repeated in the plague of darkness. In Exodus 11 Moses warned the pharaoh of the plague of the firstborn, until in Exodus 12 the pharaoh summoned Moses to free the Israelites from Egypt.

In the 9th century BCE, either an Israelite king or his messenger appeared before an Assyrian king.

In 2 Kings, Joram the king of Israel and Ahazia king of Judah combined forces to fight the Arameans. After Joram was wounded, the two found themselves at Jezreel. Elsewhere, the prophet Elisha sent a messenger to anoint Jehu as the king of Israel. Jehu set out to kill Joram. Joram’s guards recognized Jehu approaching: “The driving is like that of Jehu son of Nimshi, he drives like a maniac.” Jehu met with Joram and Ahazia, and committed an act of treachery and mortally wounded both.

The Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal II began an expansionary military policy, and after his death, his son Shalmaneser III continued his policies. Recognizing the gravity of the threat, rivals such as Aram Damascus and Israel joined forces at the Battle of Karkar to challenge the Assyrian threat. After this battle, Shalmaneser III continued to push into Syria, and in 841 BCE his armies successfully weakened Aram-Damascus to eliminate them as a true threat. In response, to deflect the Assyrian threat, other regional states paid tribute to Shalmaneser III.

The Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser records the tribute that was given to Shalmaneser III.

The second register from the top records that “I received the tribute of Iaua son of (the people of the land of) Omri: silver, gold, a golden bowl, a golden vase with pointed bottom, golden tumblers, golden buckets, tin, a staff for a king [and] spears.” In the Akkadian language of the Assyrians the name reads as “Ia-ú-a mar Hu-um-ri.” Most associate “Iaua” with Jehu. The associated image shows either the Israelite king or his messenger bowing, the first clearly identifiable image of an Israelite, and if Jehu, the first Israelite or Judahite royal for whom a recorded image exists.

The identification of Jehu as the king in the record has been challenged. Jehu was not of the “House of Omri,” as he was an usurper of the throne, Others have suggested it is referring to Jehoram as the king of Israel. However, this is not the consensus view.

The image above is of the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser, with the relevant words in cuneiform translated. It was discovered at Nimrud, Iraq, the ancient Kalhu, and is today on display at the British Museum in London.

Israel, Regional Power on the Ancient Scene

Credit:, British Museum

In Exodus 2, while Moses lived in Midian, “During that long period, the king of Egypt died.” The pharaoh who replaced this deceased pharaoh maintained the same policies regarding the enslavement of the Israelites. Similarly, the Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal II ruled from 883 to 859 BCE with great cruelty. During his reign he initiated an expansionary military policy, campaigning in all directions and even reaching the Mediterranean Sea. His son Shalmaneser III inherited his father’s throne and maintained his father’s expansionary military policy and deliberate use of terror.

The Kurkh Monolith Stele of Shalmaneser III, as shown in the above image, was unearthed at Üçtepe, Turkey, in an area formerly known as Kurkh, and records the campaigns of the Assyrian king Shalmaneser III. The stele is today housed at the British Museum.

The Kurkh Monolith recounts how Shalmaneser III expanded Assyrian territorial control in all directions. Shalmaneser III scored victories in Syria to the west, in Mesopotamia to the south, and won difficult battles against Urartu to the north. After each of his victories he boasts that “pyramids of heads I erected in front of its gate,” and occasionally that “some I fastened alive into these pyramids, others I hung up on stakes around the pyramids.”

Sensing the rising threat, a number of states to the west of Assyria, some often themselves direct rivals, joined together to counter the Assyrian threat. This alliance included the Kingdom of Israel.

In 853 BCE, in the 6th year of Shalmaneser III’s reign, the alliance of states faced off against Shalmaneser III’s army at the Battle of Karkar. The largest contributors to the alliance were Hadadezer of Aram, with 1,200 chariots, 1,200 cavalry, 20,000 soldiers; Irhuleni of Hamath and his 700 chariots, 700 cavalry, and 10,000 soldiers; and Ahab the Israelite with his 2,000 chariots and 10,000 soldiers.

There are notable features of this group listed in the Kurkh Monolith Stele of Shalmaneser III. It is the first mention of the Kingdom of Israel in the archaeological record. Additionally, it is the earliest use of the term “Arab” in the archaeological record, with the listing of Gindibu’ the Arabian, who supplied camels.

In the Kurkh Monolith Stele of Shalmaneser III, Shalmaneser III claims to have achieved a great victory. However, the Assyrians would fight over these lands later, and this story was not mentioned in the Bible, so it appears that the result was more likely to have been a stalemate.

Beyond the outcome of the war, the Kurkh Monolith Stele of Shalmaneser III is important in that it demonstrates that by the 9th century BCE, the Kingdom of Israel was a significant power player in the region.

In the Bible, the northern Kingdom of Israel had split from the southern Kingdom of Judah. This northern kingdom would have had the larger number of tribes, more fertile land for agriculture and better access to trade routes. The difference between the two sides can be seen today in the greener lands of the Galilee region in the north and the browner, more arid land in the south. This agricultural economic advantage allowed the Kingdom of Israel to emerge as the greater military power of the two.

Within the alliance against Assyria, Israel contributed the largest contingent of chariots. A chariotry is expensive to build, maintain and deploy. It requires material to construct the chariots and dedicated professionals to operate the chariots. It would require a large number of horses, some of which could have been kept at Megiddo, in an area identified as possible horse stalls, or at Jezreel, in large open areas that lacked domestic construction. Thus beyond the outcome of a battle and this first mention of the Kingdom of Israel, the Kurkh Monolith Stele of Shalmaneser III is important in demonstrating the Kingdom of Israel’s power and importance within the region.

There Arose a New King

Credit:, British Museum

In Exodus 1, a new pharaoh changed the policies of the preceding pharaoh: Then a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt. “Look,” he said to his people, “the Israelites have become far too numerous for us. Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.” So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites and worked them ruthlessly. They 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 the 9th century BCE, a new king emerged who would change the policies of previous rulers and who would launch a strategy that would bring immeasurable suffering to the ancient Near East.

The Neo-Assyrian Empire began with the kings Ashur-dan II, Adad-nirari II and Tukulti-Ninurta II seeking to reconquer territories that had been lost to the earlier Assyrian kings, in a more localized region that was home to many Assyrians. Under the king Ashurnasirpal II, who reigned from 883-859 BCE, the Assyrians would begin to attack and conquer regions much further afield, on their way to becoming perhaps the world’s first true empire.

The kings prior to Ashurnasirpal II had pushed into northern Mesopotamia, Syria and Babylon, but Ashurnasirpal II pushed further in multiple directions. He launched campaigns into Asia Minor, the region of today’s Turkey, and Syria, against the Neo-Hittites and Arameans, pushing past the western banks of the Euphrates River. He reached the Phoenician cities of Sidon, Tyre and Byblos on the Mediterranean coast.

In what would become an Assyrian hallmark, he engaged in extreme cruelty in fighting battles and suppressing revolts. The reliefs in his palace record his behaviors. In one relief he states that “Their men young and old I took prisoners. Of some I cut off their feet and hands; of others I cut off the ears noses and lips; of the young men’s ears I made a heap; of the old men’s heads I made a minaret. I exposed their heads as a trophy in front of their city. The male children and the female children I burned in flames; the city I destroyed, and consumed with fire.” In another, “I built a pillar over against the city gate and I flayed all the chiefs who had revolted and I covered the pillar with their skins. Some I impaled upon the pillar on stakes and others I bound to stakes round the pillar. I cut the limbs off the officers who had rebelled. Many captives I burned with fire and many I took as living captives. From some I cut off their noses, their ears, and their fingers, of many I put out their eyes. I made one pillar of the living and another of heads and I bound their heads to tree trunks round about the city. Their young men and maidens I consumed with fire. The rest of their warriors I consumed with thirst in the desert of the Euphrates.”

In addition to his expansionary military program, Ashurnasirpal II undertook changes in government. He shifted the capital to Nimrud, away from Assur, which remained the center for cultic activity for the Assyrian kingdom. In celebration of his construction of his new capital, Ashurnasirpal II threw perhaps one of the largest parties in human history. He records entertaining nearly 70,000 guests over 10 days.

The image above is of a stele of Ashurnasirpal II holding his staff and sword, from his capital at Nimrud, on display at the British Museum.