What Is It With the LMLKs at Beth-Shemesh?

Let us again list the main sites where lmlk stamp impressions are found:

1. Lachish- Largest city of the Shephelah, fortified, rich, administrative center (415 impressions, by G.M. Grena’s count). Destroyed in 701 BC.

2. Jerusalem-Capital and largest city of Judah, fortified, rich, administrative center (294 impressions, by Grena’s count).

3. Ramat Rahel-A future Persian administrative center (with more Yehud stamp impressions than Jerusalem). Most impressions found in fill below Assyrian (probably) palace.

3. Gibeon-Modestly large economic center of Judah. Possibly fortified. Most impressions come from a large fill in the water system.

5. Mizpah-Small fortified city at the northern border of Judah.

6. Beth-Shemesh-Unfortified oil-producing town. Over 70% of the site has been excavated. Destroyed in 701 BC.

In pie chart form:

As anyone can see, Jerusalem, Lachish, and Ramat Rahel are the ‘big three’ sites when it comes to amount of lmlk jar handles.

My original hypothesis was that lmlk jars were used as military supplies to supply fortified cities. Beth-Shemesh seems to disprove my case. Since Beth-Shemesh has little more to offer for itself than any other oil town and nearby Timnah/Tel Batash (an actual fortress) had only a quarter of the impressions Beth-Shemesh had, I can only explain Beth-Shemesh’s sizable amount of lmlk impressions as a result of Joshua 21:16 (that, and the fact over 70% of the site has been excavated). I now conclude that, instead of the lmlk system being used for solely military preparations, it was used as an emergency non-monetary means of providing wages to government officials. This has parallels with the Persian-era Yehud/Yhwd system, where over 88% of the stamp impressions were found at either Jerusalem (the local cultic center) or Ramat Rahel (Yehud’s Persian administrative center). While this idea does explain why lmlk impressions are found scattered over numerous sites throughout Israel (even in the North), it does not explain why only one lmlk impression (and an early one at that) was found at the completely excavated Tel Beesheba, and why there is such a paucity of lmlk finds in the Negev generally, or at the probable site of Libnah (Tel Burna). This would be explained by the ‘military provisions’ option, but not by the ‘non-monetary wages’ explanation. I still hold to my lmlk chronology.


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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