According to Herodotus, Psamtik I managed to capture Ashdod (Azotos) after a twenty-nine siege. Ashdod proper was inhabited in the Persian period. However, Finkelstein and Singer-Avitz’s re-analysis made it sure that Ashdod was very lightly inhabited after 711 BC, and was certainly abandoned during the reign of the first Psamtik. There were two main settlements of Ashdod during the 7th C BC: Ashdod-North (31°45’39″N, 34°39’25″E) and Ashdod-Yam. Ashdod North was an Assyrian palace, destroyed sometime during the course of the 7th C BC (when, it is uncertain). It does not seem to have had an Egyptian stratum. It seems, therefore, that it was Ashdod-Yam which Herodotus refers to, which does have an Egyptian stratum. Ashdod-Yam did have its fortifications, but it seems highly improbable it could have been besieged for twenty nine years. Nor is it likely Ashdod-Yam submitted to Egypt in the twenty-ninth year of Psamtik I, which would be 636 BC; Ashurbanipal was still strong during this time. Rather, the twenty-nine years could be a confusion for weeks, months, or even hours.
Horvat Haluqim (30°53’17.88″N, 34°48’7.71″E) is an interesting Early Iron II-Roman-Islamic site with several agricultural terraces dating from the Chalcolithic to Early Islamic periods. For more information, including a map of the site and radiocarbon dates in the strata of the terraces, see here and here.
Gath (called Tell es-Safi today after Crusader “Blanche Garde”) was primarily inhabited during the Early Bronze, especially EB III. The settlement extended into Area E. The Upper Settlement was the only one with the least bit of habitation during the Middle Bronze and Persian period, the MB wall being found at Area F Lower. The city only expanded into Area A during the Ramesside era and continued expansion well into Iron I, reaching Area D at least in the Early Iron IIA (probably c. 940 BC). Gath then continued in its position as a 100-acre Philistine Megapolis, spurred by the fall of Ekron IV, whose cause may be attributed to Gath (it wasn’t Shoshenq I, for all we know). Gath was then destroyed within 15 years of 810 BC by Hazael of Damascus [2 Kings 12:17], who erected the siege trench highlighted in blue, which was later used by the Byzantines. The trench, used in place of a siege wall due to greater ease in construction, was manned by several Aramean towers and succeeded in its purpose. Gath Area A and F was re-inhabited in the mid-8th C BC, re-inhabited again in the Late 8th C BC, and had its summit inhabited by the Persians.
According to Israel Finkelstein, Israelite settlement began over half a century after the writing of the Merenptah Stele (he has never explicitly stated this fact, however), after Philistine destruction of lowland towns (according to him, Israel was originally a nomadic population which relied on farmers’ produce).
According to William Dever, Israel Finkelstein originally (in the 80s) dated Israelite settlement a century earlier than he does today.
William Dever does not seem to provide any explanation for why, if Merenptah’s Israel originated in the lowlands, it would use a form of pottery not commonly used, but clearly descending from, the Late Bronze tradition while the same tradition continued in the lowlands for some half century (remember, Lachish VI did not fall until after some date between years 10-19 of Ramesses III). Also, very few Egyptian artifacts were found in Israelite sites, excepting some clearly out-of context scarabs at Mount Ebal, and some other (so far, unknown to me) sites. According to Kenneth Kitchen’s OROT, pg. 227, Early Iron I Israelite settlement was primarily concentrated in the area east of Shiloh and Shechem, extending toward Izbet Sartah from the Shiloh area, (according to Finkelstein, this phase was characterized by faring-pastoral communities) while Middle (mid-11th C) and Late (late 11th and early to mid 10th Cs) Iron I settlement was primarily concentrated in the West (according to Finkelstein, these phases were more concentrated in Oil and Wine production, beginning Israel’s rise to civilization). This seems to show an East-West movement of settlement. It is, therefore, best to date Izbet Sartah III as being a latecomer in the Early Iron I settlement process. However, Izbet Sartah, on the northeast site of GivatHaSelaim, is still important, largely due to its thorough excavation, its early date, and its easy comparison to nearby Aphek, almost exactly three kilometers directly to the west. Aphek was inhabited in the 12th C BC (stratum x11), but a detailed comparison of it with other sites has not been made. However, to Finkelstein’s eye, Izbet Sartah was obviously later than, say, Lachish VI. Also, if Merenptah’s Israel was the Early Israel of archaeology, why are not far more Late Bronze forms found among the pottery forms of Early Iron I Israel? Even though the earliest settlement phase may be stretched quite a bit (having its beginnings as far as the 1190s-60s, perhaps, if the High Chronology is used), it seems clear that Early Iron I was not contemporary with Merenptah.
So, what was Merenptah’s Israel? As the archaeological evidence shows, and Todd Bolen points out, it is simply unlikely to have been a settled entity during the time of Merenptah. It must have, therefore, been some kind of powerful Bedouin entity, originating in the 13th C BC or earlier, prior to its settlement. An Egyptian origin for some of these Bedouin leaders may be postulated.
This blog post is based on Israel Finkelstein’s discussion about Omride architecture in The Bible Unearthed and this article.
Omride Palestine had two capitals: Jezreel and Samaria.
Samaria was the capital for the descendants of the Iron I Israelite oil-and-wine communities. It was necessarily the primary capital of Israel-located on top of a strategic hill on the Shechem-Tul Karm road, defended well by the terrain, which made it near inaccessible for armies and good for control of the hill country while being close to the agricultural wonderland of the Jezreel. However, Samaria’s terrain is bad for keeping any large amount both foreign and domestic military forces. The royal enclosure of the Hill of Shemer had to be walled up with a casemate wall and filled with dirt to a depth of up to 20 ft. in order for there to be any kind of flat surface on top. A second capital would have to be constructed for military purposes: Jezreel.
Jezreel was a mighty walled rectangular enclosure surrounded by a moat and a casemate wall (not the best sort of fortification, but, then, the Omrides had no real enemies and a state to control), enclosing a total 11 acres. It had a six-chambered gate on its south side. There were several settlements before it (including one from the Early Iron IIA, probably founded by the pre-Omride Israelite monarchy), however, none were as well fortified as that of the Omrides. It was, being located on top of a commanding ridge, and was, therefore, used as a watchtower for traffic in and out of the Beth Shean Valley. A road connected it to Jenin, Ibleam, Dothan, and, through an arduous trek up and down a steep hill, Samaria. It was destroyed by Hazael, but, not too long after that, the site was reinhabited.
Hazor was also rebuilt under the Omrides (for chronology, see here and the two 2004 papers by Herzog and Singer Avitz). The city was extraordinarily small, located entirely on the west side of the old Upper City, but fortified with a casemate wall, with a citadel to the W. A moat was dug to the NE. and E. of the city (F&S, pg. 188). The six-chambered gate was built on top of a large fill to keep it more defensible.
Megiddo-Megiddo was not built by the Omrides, but, as Knauf concluded, was built in by the Omrides. While the city, a descendant of the early Iron IIA Megiddo VB (Shishak’s Megiddo) was unfortified, some kind of gate (whether the six-chambered one or not) was established there. A large Omride palace dominated the southern part of the city, and a mix of houses and palaces were built around the city’s perimeter.
Gezer, too, was rebuilt under the Omrides (it had a tinge of “Ephraimite” influence in the 8th C BC-I would expect it to be in Omride hands). Like in the case of Hazor, the new city was far smaller than the old, and, unlike Hazor, probably not even a city, but a well-stocked military fortress. It had a six-chambered gate on its south end.
As for lesser-excavated sites mentioned by Finkelstein:
Khirbet ‘Atarus, Mesha’s Ataroth, also provides clear indications of Omride architecture, having a moat on at least two of its sides. According to Finkelstein, an Iron IIa cult place was found there by a dig in 2002.
And, now, we come to the most impressive display of probably Omride fortress-making in Moab: Khirbet al-Mudayna on the Wadi et-Thamad! The most likely site for Mesha’s Jahaz (and, consequently, the Biblical Jahaz), the fortress was built on a high, oval hill (not well flattened by fills) and surrounded by a moat. A six-chambered gate (shown by the square) is visible in the NE. corner. It was peacefully captured by Mesha and the fortress continued in use into the early 8th C BC. It was re-founded in the reign of Josiah and was destroyed by the Babylonians.
This architectural pattern, devised by the first centrally organized state paying tribute to no one in all of Palestine’s history, was one which served as a foundation for the State of Israel. It made a separation between regular civilian cities (Shechem, Megiddo, Tell el Fara’ N.) and cities and citadels used by the government (which included moats, fills, casemates, large amounts of space not permanently occupied, and a very small amount of city gates (usually, as at Hazor and probably Gezer, one). The Omride state clearly had an interest in placing fortresses in rebellious areas and on strategic roads.
In the next installment, I shall analyze the Square Temple Mount and compare and contrast it with these Omride architectural parallels.