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.