A State from Scratch

The origin of the Israelite (Omride) state is a long-standing question. The fact the first fortifications (Hazor X, Gezer VIII, Jezreel Enclosure) and palaces (Megiddo VA) of this state appear fully formed and with a relatively short period between the origin of the relevant state and the construction of the relevant monuments is, perhaps, the most amazing thing about the Omride state. It should be noted that there was not a single fortified city in all (ancient) Israel known to archaeology between the fall of Iron I Gibeon and the rise of Samaria Building Period I. The question is: how did such a magnificent state manage to arise in only a few decades?

We must first remember that Israel, unlike poorer Judah, had hundreds upon hundreds of oil and wine producing settlements. If it could be conquered, it could, in theory and in practice, provide a sizeable amount of revenue for the conqueror’s forces. Exports most likely went to Egypt. We must also remember that, during the Late Bronze IIa, Labayu, ruling from the possibly unfortified city of Shechem, nearly managed to take Megiddo, and did take over the Dothan Valley. Omri could, with a relatively small force, done the same thing. With a starting territory of the hill country around Tirzah (not securely identified), one of the only Hill Country cities, he could have easily expanded into the Jezreel Valley and foothills of Tulkarm, gaining new territory from which to take conscripts. After this, he likely unified the nation by constructing the elaborate acropolis of Samaria, no doubt being influenced by his Aramean precedents at Gozan. After this unification, he likely had no problem conscripting an army which, without a single large city to oppose it, could go as far as Hazor and Gezer.

14 Points for the Understanding of Jewish History

1. “History” as a genre did not exist in ancient Palestine. “Story” did. That “Story” might have been made up or misleadingly combined to suit the author’s purpose.

2. Judaism is not a gene. It is either nationalistic, as before the exile or, as after the Exile, ideological in nature. While it has a strong component of heredity to its ideology, it should be noted that most Palestinian Muslims are likely descendants of Jews.

3. Scissors and Paste did not exist before the Byzantine era or so (see esp. pages 205-6). It was nearly impossible for a writer to combine two sources written sentence by written sentence.

4. Written “Story” requires a literate society, or at least class.

5. A Jewish state is a truly rare thing, and, until the State of Israel era, could never become a world power.

6. Using late sources to determine the nature of the identity of groups in earlier eras is not a wise idea. Correspondingly, the Omride/Joashite state had no concept of “Israelite” and “Canaanite”.

7. Oral history is ever-changing and unreliable. As a corollary to point 4, no written tradition derived from an oral one is legitimate.

8. Motive should always be examined when studying texts.

9. A large portion of history is unwritten.

10. Interpolations can occur.

11. Mistakes can be made by authors.

12. It is rarely necessary to write the history of the recent past.

13. Golden-age thinking has always existed, and is not necessarily correct.

14. To find out the history of a site mentioned in a text, do not take the text at its word-Excavate! Excavate! Excavate!

Note as of May 4, 2014: I’m surprised how well these points have held up for the last two years! They were only updated twice, both times on February 28, 2012, around 9:51 PM. This was just after I had started reading the Vridar blog in depth. The first thing I remember from when I began reading it in depth was the post “Uncommon Tantrums over a Common Era”. I added the strikethroughs to the second sentences of points 6 and 7 due to my present belief that these sentences, as I had worded them here, were too strong and were not justified.

Excavations at Abel Beth-Maacah to be Done May 27-31

This excavation shall be conducted by a partnership between Hebrew University and Azusa Pacific University. Press release here. Two new excavations on important sites in a year! Both Azekah and Abel Beth-Maacah are important border sites and excavating them will help greatly in figuring out the early history of relations between Israel and the Arameans and Judah and the Philistines.

The Lachish VI Phase’s Lack of Imports: Due to Collapse or Blockade?

For why Philistine settlement in Canaan should be dated to the 1120s BC, see here.

As further evidence of this, it is best to explain the archaeological strata attributed to the phase between the first wave and second wave of Sea Peoples. The first wave of Sea Peoples is characterized by the destruction of Ugarit, which evidenced no Mycenaean IIIC in its destruction layer. According to the statements of Ramesses III, Amurru was laid waste to by the Sea Peoples, so he strengthened his frontier in Djahy. The Sea Peoples were defeated in both the Delta and Phoenicia. However, they may have caused disturbances in Philistia as well. The most notable event after their attempted invasion of the Egyptian Empire was the near-cessation of imports from the lands they conquered to Palestine.

Marine settlement did not end in Late Bronze III (the Lachish IV/ phase). Ashkelon remained inhabited. According to David Ussishkin, there is evidence that Lachish VI had contact with the sea (by means of Ashkelon, no doubt) by the fact marine fish bones were found in the stratum. However, no imported pottery whatsoever was found at Lachish VI, though much was found at Fosse Temple III. This begs the question of whether this lack of imported pottery was due to external or internal factors. It should be noted that, at the Egyptian stronghold of Beth-Shean, and, as Amihay Mazar mentioned, Tell Keisan and Acco, Mycenaean IIIc:1a pottery was found. On Cyprus, settlement patterns changed due to the migrations of the Sea Peoples, but they did not cease. It seems, therefore, that during Late Bronze III, all ports except Acco (to supply Egyptian soldiers at Beth-Shean) stopped importing wares associated with the Sea Peoples. Whether this was a voluntary choice by the Canaanite port cities or an involuntary decision forced upon them by Ramesses III cannot yet be known.

The Patriarchs’ Mesopotamia: Persian, Babylonian, or Earlier?

The Bible describes the Patriarchs as journeying to Mesopotamia and getting their wives from there. In the case of Isaac and Jacob, a command is given from their fathers not to take a wife from the daughters of Canaan. Since the Bible could not have been composed in its written form before c. 722 BC, when the first evidence for mass literacy and a large population appears in Judah, and since First Temple Judah was antagonistic to Assyrian and Chaldean rule, it makes the most sense to place the composition of these narratives either during the Persian or Exilic periods. The Hellenistic Period is unlikely, since the geography expressed in Genesis contains no evidence of Hellenistic influence.

The Babylonian period would make little sense for the composition of the Patriarchal narratives. The command to take a wife from Mesopotamia would be nonsensical to any Jew living in the vicinity of Babylon. The frequent references to northern, instead of southern Mesopotamia in the Patriarchal narratives would also be odd if those narratives were written in the Exilic era. The placing of the completion of the writing of Genesis in the Early Persian period would also make sense of Genesis 11, allowing for a possible Jewish settlement in Northern Mesopotamia. In short, it is most likely that the Northern Mesopotamia of Genesis reflects conditions of the Early Achaeminid period of the First Return, or, possibly, a later return.

Genesis 14 as a Satire on Zedekiah

Genesis 14 describes an alliance of Mesopotamian and Elamite kings who, by using the King’s Highway and turning back to Palestine by way of the Dharb ‘azza, successfully campaign against an alliance of kings of the Dead Sea region which has paid tribute to them for 12 years, but rebelled on the 13th. After a battle in the Valley of Siddim (southern part of Dead Sea, which was disconnected from the main part until the 4th century BC), and a plundering of Sodom and Gomorrah (not total destruction; that would be needed for later) the kings go away, carrying off Lot, Abram’s nephew. Abram then chases the Mesopotamo-Iranian kings to Dan, then splits up his army and routs the Mesopotamo-Iranians at Hobah, north of Damascus, bringing back Lot and his possessions. He is then blessed by the priest-king Melchizedek of Salem. Abram then gives this priest-king a tenth of his riches and accepts nothing but the share that belongs to his helpers from the king of Sodom.

The moment I re-read the chapter, it instantly reminded be of another biblical incident: this one. Since Genesis 14 is obviously of a date later than 733 BC, when Tiglath Pileser conducted the first campaign from Mesopotamia against Palestine, and likely earlier than the campaign of Alexander, when campaigns from Mesopotamia became, except for a Parthian one in the 1st C BC, non-existent, it most likely dates to either the Assyrian, Babylonian, or Persian periods. Since there were no kings in Palestine except on the Coast after the Babylonian period, it seems quite likely the Genesis 14 narrative reflects pre-exilic conditions. Since the narrative mentions a king of Elam as chief of the coalition, it most likely dates after the rise of the Median empire. If this is so, then the narrative is very likely a satire on Zedekiah’s futile attempt to escape from Jerusalem to the Jordan Valley. One might also point out that both “Zedek”iah and Melchi”zedek” of Salem have the same name element “zedek”; “righteousness”. In short, the Genesis 14 narrative very likely dates to between the rise of the Median empire and that of Alexander the Great, likely on the earlier end of that range, and is inspired by the last days of the Kingdom of Judah.

Why the Majority of Radiocarbon Results are Insufficient to Establish any New Historical Conclusions

First, watch this video by C0nc0rdance.

Secondly, read up a little on the debate between the advocates of the Modified High Chronology (Mazar, Bruins, van Der Plicht), independent researchers (Sharon 2001, Boaretto 2005, Sharon 2007), and Israel Finkelstein (here). For some understanding of terms, click the “Chronology” tab at the top of this blog.

Notice how relevant C0nc0rdance’s video is to this debate. Most samples in question in these debates either have a high margin of uncertainty, cross the calibration curve twice (cf. Rehov results), or, as in the case of Dor, obviously wrong in quite a few instances.

This is why I suggest using the following as “gold standards” of establishing chronology by means of radiocarbon dating:

a. A large amount of consistent and unambiguous samples from single-period sites such as ‘Atar Haroa.

b. A large amount of consistent and roughly correct dates from a stratified site (the best example for the Iron I would be Ekron).