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.