“Most Favored Vassal Status” and the Reconstruction of Lachish

While reading TBU for what must be a fourth or fifth time, I found that, curiously enough, apparently sometime after 701 BC (either in the reigns of Esarhaddon or Ashurbanipal), Judah only paid ten minas of silver, while Ammon had to pay two gold minas and Moab had to pay one gold mina. This suggested to Finkelstein and Silberman, that the Assyrians gave Judah “most favored vassal status” for helping the Assyrians out in their war against Egypt. Due to this and my analysis of the rosette impressions, I am fairly confident that the Shephelah was restored to Judah at least by the time that Psamtik I re-conquered Egypt (656 BC).

The Fall of Samaria Reconsidered

The first thing we should note about the last days of independent Iron Age Samaria is that it was in rebellion against Sargon II (see p. 34) when he campaigned in the West in his second year (in late 720 BC). This would be bizarre had Samaria been devastated by an invasion of Shalmaneser V in 723 BC, but it would be expected had Shalmaneser only imprisoned Hoshea in that year for attempting to ally with Egypt and either left the government to the nobles or peacefully took over Samaria and made it into an Assyrian province. Certainly many towns and most villages of Samaria would be destroyed during a three-year siege of Samaria by Shalmaneser V, thus leaving no room for a revolt of Samaria in late 720 BC. However, if the three year siege is an artificial construct (an idea for which I have argued for before) made up by the author of 2 Kings 17 due to his assumption that the Assyrian deportation of the Samarian villagers to the cities of the Medes and northern Mesopotamia took place in the same year as the last year of the last king of Israel. The second thing we should note about the last days of independent Iron Age Samaria was that Samaria was not destroyed by the Assyrian conquest. This suggests that Samaria was not taken after a three-year long siege, but, rather surrendered peacefully to Sargon II in 720 BC (as Ekron happened to do in the same year, I might add). The third thing we should note about the last days of independent Samaria is that Arpad was involved in the 722-720 BC revolt, even though it had been turned into an Assyrian province after a real three-year long Assyrian conquest only 20 years earlier, thus suggesting the Urartians and Hamathites had a hand in encouraging Arpad to rebel. Samaria and Gaza were likely encouraged by Piankhy and Shabaka of Egypt and Nubia, who fought Sargon II’s army at Raphia after Sargon II’s Samaria campaign. They were defeated. Thus, Sargon II conquered all the Levant in his late 720 BC campaign, and even gained some possible Egyptian territory, that is, the territory between the Besor and the Wadi el-Arish.

Libnah, Moresheth-Gath, and Eglon

The last time I did a post on Libnah, I was insufficiently thorough in my discussion of the options. I shall revise my mistake here. Libnah, revolting from Judah to join Gath in 849 BC, was unlikely to have been at Tel ‘Erani (see map) or to its W., as Biblical tradition in Samuel attests to the power of Gath extending as far as the vicinity of modern Rahat. In order to control the area of Ziklag, Gath had to control tels ‘Erani, Zayit, and el-Hesi, thus making it extremely unlikely Tel ‘Erani would not already be in Gath’s hands by 849 BC. Tel Goded, another possible candidate for Libnah, was certainly an important place in the Iron Age, bearing some 39 lmlk impressions. However, Tel Goded was, like Beth-Shemesh, unfortified in the Iron II, and, indeed, at all before the Hellenistic period. This makes it highly unlikely to be Libnah, as that town was conquered after Lachish by the Assyrians. It also bore no Rosette impressions, and bore only one mid-7th C BC concentric circle incised handle. Tel Goded also fits well as Gath in the 2 Chron 11 cities list (Safi/Philistine Gath was not inhabited in the Hasmonean era, when the list was finalized; Goded was a fortified town in the same period), and, indeed, the Byzantine place of St. Micah happened to be between Eleutheropolis and Tel Goded. Thus, the important Iron IIa-b center of Tel Goded should probably be identified with Micah’s Moresheth-Gath. As Moresheth-Gath means “Possession of Gath”, the fiery conflagration toward the end of Tel Goded’s Iron IIa stratum can easily be explained as a result of Hazael’s Gittite campaign, evidence for which has been abundantly revealed by the Safi/Gath excavations. If Goded was Moresheth-Gath, it is probable it was founded after Libnah’s revolt in 849 BC.

So, what is Libnah? It is likely not ‘Erani (too far W., no habitation in the Iron IIa I know of, somewhat bizarre in the context of Joshua 10) or Tell el-Beida/Tel Lavnin (too far east, best identified with Achzib), and is very likely not Tels Goded or Zayit (unfortified, insufficiently occupied in the 7th C BC). Thus, the only candidate left for Libnah is the presently-excavated Tel Burna. It, while absurdly small (just slightly larger than Iron Age Arad), has all the features one needs for Libnah-fortifications in the 8th C BC, Aramean destruction, 7th C BC occupation-all the features on the Libnah checklist are there.

But, now that the places for Moresheth-Gath and Libnah have been filled, what place is left for Tel Erani? Unlike Tell el-Hesi, which was abandoned after its Assyrian Palace-Ware-bearing stratum until the Early Persian period, Tel Erani was apparently inhabited in the late 7th C BC, the period of the composition of Joshua 15. This feature of non-definitely Assyrian habitation in the 7th C BC is shared by no other candidate for Eglon, including Tel ‘Aitun (a curious E. Shephelah site with a likely governor’s residence but only one lmlk handle found) and Tell Beit Mirsim. Thus, Tel Erani, with its vast Early Bronze ruins (which Jarmuth, another city state created by the author of Joshua, also had) is the best candidate for Eglon.

Part of the Mystery Regarding Royal Shephelah Pottery Solved!

By looking at 1 Chronicles 4:23. The fact the royal potteries mentioned in the text are located just on the edges of the Elah valley (as the Tel Socoh website states regarding the petrographic origin of the lmlk jars!) makes it ever more likely Gederoth (Khirbet Judraya, 31°41’19″N, 34°59’46″E) and Netaim (Khirbet Nuweitih, 31°40’43″N, 34°56’26″E) were the true lmlk (or at least rosette) potteries (although I still suspect the actual lmlk pottery is at Achzib/Tell el-Beidah for the reasons mentioned below). The locating of these royal potteries in the Elah Valley also explains why some Persian tax jars were made in the Shephelah-the royal potters may have re-settled Gederah and Netaim during the First Return. However, placing the lmlk potteries in the Elah Valley poses problems for my locations of the lmlk impressions’ MMST in the Gedor/Halhul district (as the first MMST jars were made near Jerusalem) and the lmlk Socoh in the southern Hill Country. We must remember there are good reasons to thinking that the lmlk Socoh was the southern one. There is only one way to solve this conundrum-survey and/or excavate Tell el-Beida, Khirbet Nuweitih, and Khirbet Judraya!!!

Thoughts on the Judahiteness of Tell el-Hesi

According to Sennacherib’s prism, a part of Hezekiah’s kingdom was given to Gaza. Before today, I had no idea what specific ruins were given to Gaza. However, I now have a good candidate for one of those ruins:  Tell el-Hesi. Though before today I thought 8th C BC Tell el-Hesi should be considered Gazite due to the lack of characteristic Judahite artifacts found there, Rollston, Hardin, and Blakely’s analysis of the Hesi material has demonstrated to me that Hesi was a Judahite, rather than Gazite, border post built to prevent Ashdodite expansion. Hardin and Blakely pointed out that Hesi (and, indeed, every fortified site nearer to Judah than Kh. Summeily) lacks 8th C BC Philistine pottery, has some architectural parallels with Lachish (including measurement units), and contains a nearly identical ceramic repertoire to Lachish III. Perhaps, the most convincing pieces of evidence for Hesi’s Judahiteness were the Judahite bulla and paleo-Hebrew ostracon found at the site. Before today, I had strong doubts about Hesi’s Judahiteness, or even whether its City VI survived into the late 8th C BC, due to the surprising lack of lmlk impressions, pillar figurines, or horse and rider figurines found at the site. The situation with the lmlk impressions is paralleled at Tel Burna-the only lmlk handle found there had an H2D impression, the most common of the late types. Indeed, considering the amount of area exposed, it is a surprise to me that not a single early lmlk impression has been discovered at Burna, which is, like Hesi, effectively a fort/watchtower. This suggests to me that the lmlk impressed jars were used for civil government purposes, although we must remember that Tel ‘Erani, also a part of the Judah-Ashdod fortress line, yielded thirteen lmlk impressions (including some early ones), and that Tel Shokef, only a mile NW of Hesi, yielded, like Burna, a single late (S2DW) lmlk impression (note that, unlike Burna, Shokef was Gazite in the 7th C BC). However, while at least one pillar figurine has been discovered at Burna, such pillar figurines are found in not just Judahite, but Israelite and Philistine sites as well.

The surprising lack of early lmlk impressions at Hesi and Burna also makes me suggest Tel Sera VI (see this book, although its stratum numbers and site history description are incorrect, as shown by this book) was also an 8th C BC Judahite fortress. Judahite presence W. of Tel Sera in the reign of Hezekiah is suggested by 1 Chronicles 4 (Gedor=Gerar/Tel Haror; this is confirmed by Tiglath Pileser III’s mention of Meunites at the Brook of Egypt). However, as the Tel Sera VI material has not yet been evaluated by competent scholars and demonstrated Judahite by them, I cannot comment on this matter.

If Hesi City VI was Judahite, it destroys my presupposition that all Assyrian Palace Ware-using sites must have been founded by Sargon II. Perhaps, if not Sargon II, it was Esarhaddon who built up the Assyrian Palace Ware-bearing strata at Hesi and Tel Sera.