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.