The Assyrian Settlements in the Philistine Negev

One should note that there are five known Western Negevite settlements with copious amounts of Assyrian Palace Ware. They are:

Tell Jemmeh Strata EF (III) and CD (II), over half a mile to the west of Re’im, eight miles south of Gaza.

Khirbet Hoga (not sufficiently excavated/published), eight and a third of a mile to the east of Gaza, one third of a mile to the southeast of Gevim.

Tel Haror/Gerar (not sufficiently excavated/published), one half of a mile to the southeast of Melilot

Tel Sera Strata V and IV, four and a third miles to the east of Shibolim

Tell el-Hesi Stratum as of the 2000s, VII, as of the 1980s, VI, nonexistent in Bliss’s reports, two miles WSW of Ahuzam.

All these sites are on trade routes diverging at Beersheba, Sera, Hesi and Hoga controlling the Ashkelon road, Tel Haror and Tell Jemmeh controlling the way to Ruqeish (a great Assyrian entrepot), and Hesi and Hoga controlling the Lachish-Gaza/Ruqeish road.

Assyrian palace ware is a fine ware dating to the 7th century BC, produced in Assyria both before and after the fall of the Assyrian Empire. The Western Negevite settlements were clearly founded by exiles from Media and Mesopotamia. Since there is no evidence Babylon had any policy of exiling Elamites or any other eastern peoples to western lands, the Assyrian empire must be the culprit. The only known times Assyria when deportees were settled in the West were after the campaigns of 652 (Babylonia), 720 (all lands), 716/15 (Brook of Egypt), and 712 BC (Ashdod, not royal campaign). It was produced locally, but apparently in more than one place. The largest amount of Palace Ware was found at Tell Jemmeh. Tell Jemmeh had rib vaulting, a style characteristic of Media, which was campaigned against by Sargon II in 719 and 716 BC. In 716/15 BC, Sargon II settled deportees at the border of the Brook of Egypt (or, as Lipinski translates, “The Palm-Grove of the borderland”). Therefore, the most likely period for the settlement of these deportees is after or during the campaign of 716/15 BC.

Nadav Na’maan, the pioneer in the area of Assyrian policy towards the Negev,  theorizes that the entire Beersheba Valley was utterly desolated in the 716/15 campaign, to revive with the Judahite settlements of Tels ‘Ira and ‘Aroer sometime in the 7th C BC. But why, if the Assyrians intended control of trade, did they not erect, as of yet, a single known fortress on top of one of those they supposedly destroyed in the 716 BC campaign, as they did with South Philistia (Sera and Hesi were destroyed before being built over)?

But, how large was this Assyrian region? Tell Abu Salima, Laban, and Raphia were part of one Assyrian province known as “the border of Nahal Musur”, stretching, probably, from the Besor to the el-Arish. But Tell el-Hesi and Khirbet Hoga could not have possibly belonged to this region. The network established by Sargon II was, consequently, intended to control the spice trade and the exports of spices to ports, and was related, but partially or fully not a part of, the Assyrian effort to administer the border of Nahal Musur.

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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