A Short Non-Biblical History of Palestine From the Mid-11th C BC to the Early 10th C BC

Or, the Chronology page of this blog in narrative form, Part 2

Part 2: The Filling of the Power Vaccum

I shall start with the Middle Iron I, where I left off. Canaan had been free of Egyptian taxation for nearly a century. Trade between villages, hamlets, and cities was on the rise. The Philistines had firmly established themselves from the Wadi el-Arish to the Yarkon. Ekron was surpassing Gath in size. Philistine Bichrome ware was traded from Tel Masos even as far as the little Middle Iron I village of Hazor. The sedentary population of the central hill country had risen from roughly twelve thousand in the Late Bronze Age to roughly thirty thousand.

Economic development led to political development. Villages governed by few became cities governed by one. Megiddo rose from a small pit settlement to a decent walled Iron Age I city-state, as did Beth-Shean. Chinnereth became a major city-state of the Galilee, certainly dominating the fish, and probably the copper supplies of the region. It was, however, almost without a settlement base outside its city walls, Galilee’s hamlets being primarily located in the mountains around Har Meron. The overall trend in the eleventh century was a gradual urbanization, though an increasing rural population in the Hill Country prevented any repeat of the conditions of the Early Bronze III. Broadly speaking, Iron Age I city-states could only control a couple hundred square miles, often less.

This state of affairs, however, could not be kept for more than roughly a century and a half. It depended on two conditions that could not be sustained- a state of economic depression in the rest of the Mediterranean, most importantly, in Phoenicia, and a failure of states with territories larger than 600 square miles in area to form. Both of these conditions would be clearly shown unsustainable by the early ninth century.

The first condition to be shown unsustainable was the second. In the central hill country, a few towns of some importance had emerged by the mid-11th century BC. The first was Shiloh, a town some three acres in size in the approximate center of the central group of Iron I settlements in the central hill country. The town was evidently a thriving regional center with public pillared buildings, possibly used for storage. This town was destroyed c. 1030 BC, as shown by C-14 dating. Shechem Stratum IX was probably destroyed at around the same time, although it might have been destroyed earlier. Beitin, a modest village claimed by its excavators to have been destroyed twice in the Early Iron I, was abandoned during the Middle Iron I.

What was the most probable cause of this? Shiloh and Shechem were far too removed from Philistia for the Philistines to have caused this destruction. No strong polity is known to have arisen in Gilead at this time, much less to have raided the central hill country of Cisjordan. The city-states of the Jezreel valley were certainly not powerful enough to expand deep into the central hill country. Thus, the most probable cause of these abandonments lies within the central hill country.

The most notable new polity in Cisjordan during the Iron I was that of Gibeon. Though a city governing Benjamin had been a feature of Canaan during the Early, Middle, and Late Bronze ages, never before the Middle Iron I did this city have a particularly large settlement base at its disposal. et-Tell, the Benjaminite city-state of the Early Bronze, had over a fifth of the population of the southern hill country clustered within its mighty walls. Jerusalem, the Benjaminite city-state of the Middle and Late Bronze Ages, was never powerful enough even to extend its reach even unto Beitin until after Assyrian withdrawal in the late 7th century BC. Gibeon, however, was at the approximate center of the southernmost large cluster of Iron I settlements in the central hill country of Canaan. Thus, Gibeon became fortified with a city wall, developed a water system, and became the regional political center of the area from Beitin to Batir. Sparsely settled and unfortified, Jerusalem likely lost most of its political power after the end of Egyptian rule. The possible destruction of Beitin during the Early Iron I may have been a result of conflicts between chiefdoms, and the destructions of Shiloh and Shechem were probably results of Gibeonite expansion at the end of the middle Iron I. et-Tell, inhabited from the Middle Iron I onward, might have also suffered slightly from Gibeonite expansion at the transition from the Middle to the Late Iron I.

The question arises: to what extent did Gibeon dominate the Shephelah? The South? The North? The East? Conflict between Philistines and Semites tended to keep the Shephelah unattractive to settlement. The southern Shephelah, especially, was very sparsely settled until the ninth century BC. Azekah has not, as of yet, shown any sign of Iron I habitation, though Socoh has. A poor, unfortified settlement existed at Tell Beit Mirsim (B2) and sparse occupation existed at Tell ‘Eton. The only excavated prosperous Semitic settlements discovered in the Shephelah are in its North: Beth-Shemesh, Gezer, and Qeiyafa. This, coincidentally, is the part of the Shephelah most accessible to a power having a base in Benjamin.

Khirbet Qeiyafa was a planned, strongly fortified settlement built by Semites to defend the Elah Valley from the incursions of the Philistine city-state of Gath. It was evidently founded sometime in the late 11th century BC. It imported little Philistine pottery. It can, in a sense, be said to be a single-period site, as it was only occupied for the length of a single stratum in the Iron Age and was not founded on the site of an earlier Iron I village. Against the hypothesis that Qeiyafa was built by a highland entity and in favor of a local origin for Qeiyafa, Nadav Na’aman argued that both the pottery and architecture of the site are more consistent with a lowland than with a highland origin for the site’s population. This is undoubtedly the case, as Qeiyafa’s population was certainly at least partially descended from refugees from the destroyed Late Bronze city of Azekah. However, the political initiative behind Qeiyafa’s construction did not necessarily come from the same place as did most of Qeiyafa’s population. The fact the fingerprint-impressed jars made at Qeiyafa are hardly found in Benjamin and are mainly to be found in the North and West of Palestine does not have any bearing on which political entity built Qeiyafa-the fingerprint-impressed jars may have had had an entirely different function from the later lmlk-impressed jars. Indeed, as Finkelstein and Fantalkin argued in 2012, Qeiyafa is best regarded as being a settlement built and planned under the initiative of Gibeon. Gibeon was the only state in the region with the political strength and the labor force that could have built Qeiyafa. The Philistine Gittites would have almost certainly dispersed any band of locals that would have tried to build a Semitic fortified settlement only ten kilometers from Gath. As Finkelstein and Fantalkin argued, the casemate wall that surrounds Qeiyafa has parallels with later casemate walls in Benjamin and earlier casemate walls in Transjordan. The inhabitants of Qeiyafa also tended, like Benjaminites, to use more metal tools than the Philistines. If Qeiyafa was built under the orders of the city-state of Gibeon, there is no escape from calling Gibeon a truly imperial city-state.

Qeiyafa also revealed the earliest evidences of alphabetic writing in Iron I Cisjordan-the famous Qeiyafa Ostracon, found in a room near the western gate of the site, and the unpublished KQ Inscription II. The Alphabet, we must remember, was already being used at several sites in Palestine in the Late Bronze IIB. The third-oldest Alphabetic inscription in Iron I Cisjordan-the less famous Khirbet Raddana inscription-was found in a small, poor Mid-to-Late Iron I settlement about a kilometer northeast of the center of Ramallah. The existence of some scribal activity in both Benjamin and the northern Shephelah at this early date indicates the rise of a small scribal class in the territory ruled by the likely-imperial city-state of Gibeon.

Gibeon was, thus, very likely the most powerful local state in Palestine by the early tenth century BC. Whether it successfully expanded into the Jezreel and Beersheba valleys is, however, still very much a matter of debate.

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Author: pithom

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

8 thoughts on “A Short Non-Biblical History of Palestine From the Mid-11th C BC to the Early 10th C BC”

  1. I have located the real har grizim and ebal and shechem and bet el. It is in meron. Arizukertorah.wordpress.com

    1. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Hazor is Hazor and Jericho is Jericho. They are two different places. Have you dealt with the Goren, Na’aman, and Finkelstein petrographic study of the Amarna letters? Lebonah is not Lebanon, but Luban-e-Sharkiya in the modern West Bank. How the heck do you get Judah to be Egypt and the Golan area to be Edom!? I strongly suspect you have not seriously studied the archaeology of the West Bank&Israel.

      1. Crossing edoms land was closer to get to the amorites in the golan heights. Since they couldnt cross through they went around to Moab. Edom had hot springs in his land. hamat gader is the only place matching the descriptions

    1. It’s broadly consistent with it, though not in all specifics. For example, there were hardly any Philistines in Benjamin outside of a few at the Mizpah granaries. Certainly nothing like the Philistine garrison in 1 Sam 13.

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