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).

Author: pithom

An atheist with an interest in the history of the ancient Near East. Author of the Against Jebel al-Lawz Wordpress blog.

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