Wish List For the Azekah Excavations

Since a list of expectations would be utterly inappropriate here, it is best to make a wish list of the results of the Azekah excavations, which are planned to take place in mid-2012.

Byzantine remains are desired to be the first ones found, being of the village Kefr Zechariah, as Byzantine sherds are still to be found on the surface of the tell. Below that, a Roman stratum is desired to be found, then a further uncovering of the rectangular Hasmonean fortress, with further discussion as to its date. I deeply want the excavators to find some Late Persian and Early Hellenistic occupation (perhaps, a governor’s residence)? A destruction layer dating to 588-6 BC is definitely desired to be found. 7th century BC fortifications, after a 701 BC destruction layer mentioned in the Azekah inscription are quite definitely desired to be found. Below that, the 8th Century BC fortress is desired to shed light upon the lmlk jar distribution system to the Valley of Elah (the identification of Socoh being the most desirable). Below that, the excavations are desired to shed light upon the interaction between Judah and Gath in Iron IIA, the Late Iron I Elah polity, and the Elah valley in the LB and Early Iron I.

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Why the Lachish III Assemblage Stays Where It Is

Long ago, when Albright ruled the world of Palestinian archaeology, the Lachish III assemblage was dated to 701-597 BC. It did not bother Albright (or, for that matter, Kenyon) that Lachish IV evidenced no destruction by fire, but only had a collapsed outer wall, gate, and “palace-fort” (see here for site plan, here for gate), since no destruction by fire is mentioned in the texts, neither Assyrian nor Judahite. Also, the Albrightians/Kenyonites saw little difference between the pottery of Lachish III and II, which was destroyed in the Babylonian campaign which destroyed Jerusalem, and, therefore, argued that 10 years’ difference is a sufficient time for the assemblage to have changed the way it did.

Recently, James and Lipinski brought up similar arguments for the Albrightian dating. However, they have not analyzed all the evidence from all sites, and, therefore, their conclusions cannot be substantiated. Firstly, Jerusalem and the Shephelah, the main target of Sennacherib’s campaign, received a major expansion (five-fold) in the early Lachich III phase. If this phase is to be dated in the early 7th century BC, as James and Lipinski want, what would be its catalyst? A few fleeing refugees from Timnah and Ekron cannot cause the area of Jerusalem to expand three-fold, nor could it cause the population of the Shephelah to paradoxically increase, and by such a great amount! Also, the first fortifications on the Western Hill of Jerusalem date to the fully developed part of the Iron IIB. So, who built them under the Lipinski scheme? Josiah? Note, also, that the only occupation at Timnah (Tel Batash) that can be ascribed to Sennacherib (stratum III; IV [Iron IIA]) is too early, II is too late ) dates to the post-Lachish IV phase.

As for the Edomite pottery assemblages, the state of Edom is first mentioned in the very late 9th/very early 8th centuries in the Nimrud Slab of Adad-Nirari III, and certainly could have produced its own pottery by that time. Unpainted Edomite ware is first attested at Tel Beersheba III, with its weak fortifications, and probably was imported before Assyrian intervention. However, it may also have been imported between the 734 BC campaign of Tiglath-Pileser and the 720 BC of Sargon II, making the links with Assyrian chronology and Edomite pottery not the least bit of a problem in any case. It is expected the Lachish III assemblage would still appear at 7th century sites like Tel Aroer and Khirbet ‘Ira; hardly anyone would expect the pottery assemblage of Judah to change in a single year! As for links between the Rosette impressions of the late 7th C BC with the “Top-Register” impressions of the post-Revolt period, 28 Generic lmlks, 6 Hebron, 10 MMST, 7 Socoh (which, themselves somewhat questionably date to the post-revolt period; they might as well belong to mid-701 BC, since they have far more in common with the “Divided” than the other “Top-Register” impressions), and 8 Ziph impressions have so far been recorded by Grena’s lmlk research site, in total, 59, none of them being found in the Shephelah, but only in Greater Benjamin, eastern Judah, Ashdod, or Gezer. The Rosette impressions, meanwhile, number some 161 by Na’aman’s count, and some 250 by Grena’s, the Rosette impressions being found in all regions of the land of Judah, including the Shephelah. While both stem from royal initiative, the relative paucity of Rosettes when compared to the early lmlk assemblage, and their multitude and spread when compared to the Top-Register lmlk assemblage strongly fit the evidence that the preparations for Zedekiah’s revolt were much more poorly planned than Hezekiah’s revolt, but were done in a larger kingdom than that of post-Revolt Hezekiah, but fit the idea the lmlk impressions are to be attributed to the 601-597 BC revolt extremely poorly; would we not expect an even stronger buildup under Zedekiah? It is doubtful, but not disproven, that Timnah/Tel Batash existed after 601 BC, and, if it was destroyed in the 7th century, it is simply impossible to imagine the Rosette phenomenon’s beginning (which may represent Josiah’s efforts to revitalize Judah’s economy or prepare for a presumed invasion of Nabopolassar) dating any later. And, anyway, why wouldn’t Josiah (or some king after him) have used a distribution/production system similar to that of Hezekiah? After all, his choices worked well for him!

Also, while the Lachish relief may not show any destruction by fire, it does represent significant violent conflict, conflict which would be doubtfully resolved by the taking of a few captives and the pulling down of a few structures, the treatment Jerusalem got in 597 BC would hardly be applied to a rebellious non-capital city. In any case, why would Lachish not turn into an Assyrian Palace Ware using provincial capital (Tell el-Hesi, anyone?) if it did get the 597 BC treatment?

In short, the case for not dating the fall of Lachish III to 701 BC is so weak as to not merit any consideration whatsoever. The date of the fall of Lachish III can, like the date of the rise of Arad XII, be a solid chronological anchor, never to be overthrown by those who reject common archaeological wisdom.

A History of the Interpretation of lmlk impressions

1870-78-LMLKs first published; interpreted as names of Phoenician kings. These lmlks date to 701 BC, by my chronology, and were found near the SW corner of the Herodian Temple Mount.

1881-J. Baker Greene suggests “lmlk” means “to Moloch”, and “Ziph” is a personal name, suggesting the jars are temple vessels dating to post-Josianic times.

1891-A suggestion is made the stamps contain personal names of potters with the common element “Moloch”.

1893-A suggestion is made by Archibald Sayce that the “lmlk” is a votive element (“to Moloch”).

1899-A suggestion is made that the impressions date to the Judges period, and is the first suggestion made that the names “Ziph” and “Socoh” are place-names, largely due to the finding of “Hebron” impressions at Azekah. A suggestion is made that “lmlk” means “belonging to the king of Judah”, and that all the names on the impressions are town names. Conder suggests c. 500 BC as the date of the impressions. Archibald Sayce dates the impressions to the 8th C BC.

1900-A suggestion is made that the place-names refer to local standards of measure or quality. An observation is made that pottery is often delivered to Shephelah villages by traveling salesmen. A suggestion by Macalister that all cases of lmlks outside Jerusalem are cases of secondary use is made. A suggestion that the place-names represent royal potteries is made.

Dating the LMLK stamps

The LMLK stamp impressions are royal Iron IIB-C stamp impressions (as evidenced from their inscription, “lmlk”, “[belonging] to the king”), found mainly in the centers of Lachish, Jerusalem, and Gibeon, and numerous other sites, have been distinguished by G.M. Grena, primary author of the LMLK research website, and Andre Lemaire, a famous epigrapher, into twenty-one categories, Hebron, Mamshit, Socoh, and Ziph, “Cursory” (Ia), “Lapidarist” (Ib), “Undivided” (IIa), “Divided” (IIb), and “Top-Register” (IIc), with “Cursory” Ziph coming in two different styles. There is also a “Generic” (X) stamp, which clearly comes later than all of these. It is clear that the “Cursory” come first, “Lapidarist” second, and the two-winged last, the ones labeled “Top” coming later than those better developed, and the last being Generics. As for the names on these stamp impressions, they were most likely trademarks of four royal wine and, possibly, oil, producing centers in the Hebron hill country, Ziph being established first, then Hebron and MMST being converted into facilities briefly after, then, lastly, the Socoh center being established. They are definitely not those of administrative districts the jars were meant to be sent to, since the fact these districts often seem to wildly overlap indicates that, since no other clear purpose is plausible, the names indicate four production centers (definitely not storage centers; few lmlks were found at Hebron, and those which did came only from Hebron, and one from Ziph, but numerous Hebron stamps were found everywhere else, especially Lachish). The jars themselves (except for the Z4CYs) were made in the Mareshah area (Achzib?).

A religious or Assyrian purpose for these stamps is highly unlikely; God hardly deserves the poor quality artwork and script found on the Cursory type of stamp. The fact few stamps have been found in the Beersheba Valley is quite notable, suggesting either a different supply distribution method or abandonment of the area. Also, no secular royal project of such magnitude as the lmlk endeavor ever occurred before or after it. The stratigraphy of sites where lmlks were found strongly suggest a beginning in the late 8th century, and the only thing that would compel the Judahites to begin such a feat would be the events which made the events of 701 BC certain, which Isaiah 22 strongly implies were the surrender of Babylon to Sennacherib and the ousting of Marduk appla-iddina II in late 703/early 702 BC. The idea the lmlk phenomenon did not survive too late into the late 8th century is strongly supported by the statistics from two sites most definitely destroyed in the year 701, and were not built up too shortly afterwards; Lachish and Timnah.

We can, therefore, construct a preliminary chronology of lmlks before doing any analysis of archaeological context whatsoever. It would look as thus:

Phase 1A: Grena’s Z4CY belongs here, largely due to the fact it appears on pithoi produced in the Gibeon-Jerusalem region. It was used extremely briefly, and was only found at Mizpah, Gibeon, and, for some reason, the only lmlk stamp found in all the area of Tel Beersheba.

Phase 1B: Hebron begins producing their first produce.

Phase 2: Socoh production center is established. x4C horizon. Glory days of the lmlk phenomenon.

Phases 3 and 4: Two-winged seal impressions belong here.

Phase 5:”Top-Register” and “S2DR” impressions belong here.

Phase 6: Generic lmlks appear.

However, with the data from Lachish, Timnah, and Greater Benjamin (which was relatively unaffected by Sennacherib’s assault) we can now create a more complete set of data from our period. Assuming Sennacherib’s campaign preparations as the cause, we can even add dates to our chronology. We can either use a one stamp per year chronology or one placing the preparations of the revolt soon after Sennacherib’s conquest of Babylon, which came in early 702/late 703 BC.

Phase 1A: Late 703/Early 702 BC or Late 705 BC. Babylon’s predicament made clear, Hezekiah starts preparing for siege, first seals designed. Some Z4CY impressions, stamped on pithoi produced in the Jerusalem-Gibeon area make it to Gibeon, Mizpah, and, unnecessarily, Tel Beersheba.

Phase 1A2: Early 702 BC or Late 705 BC. Last lmlks stamped on pithoi in the Gibeon-Jerusalem region (first MMST impressions here).

Phase 1B: Early 702 BC or Early 704 BC. The Ramat Rachel provision storage center begins operation. x4C type stamp at its peak. Hebron begins exports to Lachish. Beth-Shemesh now buys only Hebron and some Socoh goods.

Phase 2: Late 702 BC or Late 704/Early 703 BC. Socoh production center begins exports. x4L type stamp at its peak. Exports to Lachish, and other Shephelah sites reach their peak. Ziph stamp exports decline significantly.

Phase 3: Late 702/Early 701 BC or Late 703/Early 702 BC. Two winged undivided stamp introduced, semifinal preparations made in the Shephelah, MMST becomes a developed royal center.

Phase 4: Early-Mid 701 BC or Late 702-Mid 701 BC. Two-winged divided stamp introduced. Last storage jars are exported to Lachish and Timnah. Exports to Beth-Shemesh stop. Campaign of Sennacherib occurs. MMST continues its position as a developed royal center.

Phase 4b?: S2DWR belong here? Since both Socohs are close to sites destroyed by Sennacherib (Azekah, Debir/Rabud) Socoh might have been destroyed as well.

Phase 5: Late 701 BC. Refugees arrive at Jericho. “Top-Register”(including S2DWR) stamps (without lmlk inscription, but with place-name) and Generics (lmlks without a place-name) appear here, showing oil and wine production at the four production centers has ceased to be a completely royal endeavor, instead either one or more centers producing royal wine and oil. Last phase of lmlk phenomenon, MMST stamps becoming most widespread. Trade (probably royal) with Ashdod re-established, no Generics being found at Gezer (not a Judahite site, just an economically active part of Dor/Samaria).

Curiosities About “Hezekiah’s Tunnel”

In a recent paper, summarized by Tom Powers here, Ronny Reich points out that the latest pottery found in fill of the building in the “Round Chamber” in the “Rock-Cut pool” at the beginning of “Tunnel IV” (the beginning of Hezekiah’s tunnel when it was being built, not the present-day beginning, Tunnel VI, which was made during the last stage of the tunnel’s construction) is Iron IIA, not, as should be expected, Iron IIB. As for whether or not the present-day Siloam Pool was built during the Revolt, the key text here is Isaiah 22, which dates the beginning of the preparation for the Assyrian revolt to the fall of what is obviously Babylon (see v. 8), which fell in 703 BC, giving Hezekiah over a year to prepare. Verse 11 clearly implies the Siloam pool was cut during the preparations for the Revolt, since it contrasts the Old Pool (Reich’s “Rock Cut Pool”) with a reservoir built “between the two walls”, clearly the walls of the City of David, or, possibly, Jerusalem itself. One should also note the first fortifications in the City of David had fills below them dating to the Iron IIB, making any early 8th/late 9th century Siloam Pool needless.

In short, biblical testimony is far too great to consider the possibility the fact the last pottery in the building in the rock-cut pool is Iron IIA is anything but a coincidence.

The Date of the Azekah Inscription

Firstly, it is known that Sargon II’s artists made numerous reliefs in his palace at Room V at Dur-Sharrukin. Several of these reliefs are extremely helpful in the precise dating of the rise and falls of certain cities in Philistia. The first slabs show the Raphia and Samaria campaigns of 720 BC, on the lower and upper registers respectively. On the lower register, after Raphia, defended by Nubians, comes Gibbethon, also defended by Nubians. Whether this is Philistine Gibbethon or a place near Raphia is uncertain. After Gibbethon, a large city (some 70-150 acres), with an acropolis, is seen in Slab 6. No city north of Gibbethon is this large, and the only candidates are Gaza, Gath, and Ashdod. Gath’s walls do not, as in the relief, extend to the valley, the only candidates are, therefore, Ashdod and Gaza. By the appearance of the relief, it appears to be Ashdod, but, by the fact Ashdod is not mentioned in the Sargonite annals of 720 BC, around which campaign much of the room seems to revolve around (although they may date to the 711/12 campaign, but Ekron is not mentioned in the accounts of this campaign), but Gaza is, it appears to be the latter. On Slab 11, Ekron, pictured as a small city, and definitely the small, fortified acropolis of Stratum II, is pictured below Sargon’s 720 BC Hamath campaign.

In short, most of the reliefs in Room V relate to the 720 BC campaign of Sargon II.

Secondly, it is known that, in 712/11 BC (14th/15th year of Hezekiah), Sargon’s Tartan captured Ashdod. According to Sargon himself, after Yamani fled, he captured on this campaign Ashdod, Gath, and Ashdod-Yam (Tel Mor, on the N. bank of the Nahal Lachish, some 1400 meters from its mouth). These cities are mentioned entirely in the context of the Ashdodite campaign, and show that Ashdod ruled Gath (stratum F8) before 711/12 BC. Neither Biblical nor Assyrian source mentions any other kingdom in the area of Judah this campaign was fought against.

Thirdly, it is known that, in 701 BC, Sennacherib fought with the Nubians at Eltekeh (Tell esh-Shalaf?= 31°53’35″N, 34°46’6″E) and took over the kingdom of Ekron, re-instating Padi (taken hostage by Hezekiah) as king, and captured forty-five of the fortified cities of Judah, most notably, Lachish Stratum III.

The “Azekah Inscription” is a damaged Assyrian tablet, mentioning a curious form of the god Ashur as “Ashan”, and the conquest of two cities, firstly, Azekah, and “a royal city of the Philistines, which Hezekiah had captured and strengthened for himself”.

There are several reasons why the Azekah Inscription far more likely came from the reign of Sennacherib than that of Sargon II. Firstly, the 720 BC campaign of Sargon nowhere mentions any city of Judah, although it was very varied in its purpose (Hamath, Samaria, Raphia, Gaza, Ekron), it seems that Hezekiah, if anything, supported this campaign (2 Kings 18:8?). Also, since Ekron, portrayed in Sargon’s reliefs as a small city, could not have been an inspiration for the Azekah text, and there is not the least bit of archaeological or inscriptional evidence for Gath being a re-fortified Judahite city in 720 BC, it is extremely implausible the 720 campaign inspired the Azekah text. The 712/11 campaign campaign is definitely not the campaign that inspired the Azekah text, for obvious reasons (Gath an Ashdodite city, Tartan, not Sargon campaigned, no mention of Ekron, in any case). The result of all this negative evidence is that the Azekah Inscription must reflect the 701 BC campaign of Sennacherib.