Israel Finkelstein Paper on Late Bronze Collapse Four Times as Good as I Thought

Paper here.

Firstly, Finkelstein, Litt, and Langgut’s findings from the Sea of Galilee show that there was an intense dry period in Canaan between c. 1250 BC (when Hazor fell) and c. 1100 BC or just before (when Canaan experienced a baby boom). Secondly, the authors show that these findings can also be connected with the peak of the so-called “Minoan Warming” in this graph. Thirdly, the authors show that all the textual evidence supports their hypothesis that the 14th century BC was a wet period with no known major droughts while the 13th-12th centuries BC were a dry period with many known major droughts. The authors, however, show no real evidence of “economic and demographic decline” in Canaan in the Late Bronze IIB-III, which they claim occurred. Though Hazor, Bethel, and Shechem did lose their city-state status in the 13th century BC (Bethel later than the other two), I find the claim that either the population or economy of Canaan declined during the 13th century BC to be dubious.

Paradoxically, Finkelstein flip-flops again on the date of the beginning of Israelite settlement, placing it in the midst of the drought instead of, as he did in 2006, after the end of it. If cities like Megiddo, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Lachish, and Azekah could prosper in the Late Bronze IIB, so they could trade imported Egyptian grain with the nomads Finkelstein claims settled down during this era. It is doubtful that Israelite settlements in the Late Bronze IIB-III could survive the coercive power of Egyptian soldiers and taxmen. Like Todd Bolen and Israel Finkelstein in 2006, I see no evidence Israelite settlement predates the collapse of Egyptian rule in Canaan. In any case, it is impossible that “demographic decline” (which probably didn’t happen) could somehow spur a settlement boom in the highlands of Canaan.

A Short Non-Biblical History of Palestine from the 13th C BC to the 11th C BC

Or, the Chronology page of this blog in narrative form, Part 1.

As I have recently stumbled upon the idea (which I think false, for archaeological reasons), that the Pentateuch was composed almost entirely around 270 BC and the pre-Exilic material found in it was preserved at Mizpah (partially due to the seamless blending of Babylonian and Late Iron Age Judahite tradition in the Primary History), I have discovered the need to write a truly extrabiblical history of Iron Age Cisjordan (Israel, Judah, and Philistia). While I do think that it is impossible to write a good and comprehensive history of Iron Age Cisjordan without use of the Bible, a wholly extrabiblical history would certainly be useful to compare with the Biblical one.

Part 1: The Collapse of the Imperial Order and the Return of the Sovereign City-State

I shall start a little earlier, in the Bronze Age, specifically the LB IIB. The context was one of what seemed to be next-to guaranteed perpetual peace. The treaty ending further military conflict between the Egyptian and Hittite empires had been accepted by both parties only a few decades before. Needs for defense were next-to nonexistent. A few hundred Egyptian troops could crush any existent foe of the Empire. Maritime trade in what would later be the Eastern Roman Empire was experiencing its greatest period of prosperity ever seen in the Bronze Age. Ivory carving in Cisjordan was witnessing its greatest use in the whole Late Bronze Age. Canaanite scribes were beginning to use the Alphabet, an invention whose advantages had been unnoticed by Eastern Semitic and Egyptian scribes alike.

Yet, all was not well with this imperial order. The Late Bronze IIB was a golden age, indeed, but only for two major classes: those dependent on taxes and those transporting goods between those dependent on taxes. The Forgotten Man was benefited only by the security of this state of affairs, which, more often than not, was only security for his expropriators and those dependent on them. The Forgotten Man could accept this state of affairs, as he did in Egypt, or, as he did in Palestine, Syria, and the Balkans, become to the established authorities a nameless, faceless enemy of civilization and imperial progress. Thus, the Amarna letters reveal the hills of the West Bank (as well as any hilly area in the Egyptian empire as far as northwest Lebanon) were endemically plagued by wandering bands of ‘apiru. Indeed, these bands might have been responsible for the destruction of some Late Bronze Canaanite cities (such as Megiddo VIII) known to not have been destroyed by Egyptians or by Sea Peoples.** Though some (such as Anson Rainey) have taken pains to distinguish the ‘apiru and the shasu, the former subsisting on stolen property, the latter on herded sheep, it seems to me that both are two faces of the same coin. Much like in the modern West Bank, where unemployment is over 20% and looting is endemic, the ancient West Bank was a place where much surplus labor remained untranslated into surplus productivity.

Thus, when the name ‘Isrr’, very likely to be connected with the later-mentioned land of “Sir. ‘i. la. aa“/”Israel” by historians, Continue reading “A Short Non-Biblical History of Palestine from the 13th C BC to the 11th C BC”

Why ABR Should Give Up On the el-Bireh-Bethel Equation

Since the founding of ABR (Associates for Biblical Research, a Protestant ministry), it has since its founding (in 1969) supported the idea that Bethel should not be identified with Beitin, but, rather, with el-Bireh. This was largely David Livingston’s idea, and was proposed due to his miscounting of Roman milestones, his supposition Bethel should be a ‘living town’ (he did not consider in his first article that Beitin’s situation is paralleled by Lachish, Megiddo, Gezer, Hazor, ect.), and his supposition Bethel should have a mountain E. of it, not just a ridge. Note that I now think the statements of Eusebius that Bethel/Beitin was 12, not, as is in fact, 13, milestones from Jerusalem possibly stemmed from the possible lack of the Roman road leading directly to Beitin in his day (there was an eastern service road from Bireh to Nablus on the PEF map; see below). However, since 1995, there has been a split between Bryant Wood and David Livingston on the location of ‘Ai. While Livingston suggests Khirbet Nisya (excavated under his direction between 1979 and 1994) to be ‘Ai, Bryant Wood suggests Khirbet Maqatir (excavated under his direction since 1995) to be ‘Ai. In order for Nisya to be ‘Ai, Bethel has to be identified as el-Bireh. However, if ‘Ai is to be identified at Maqatir, there is no need for ignoring (or misinterpreting) Late Roman data to fit a location of Bethel at el-Bireh.

Even assuming a location of Bethel at el-Bireh, Khirbet Nisya is a poor location for ‘Ai. It contains no remains of a city gate that would have been visible during the time of original composition of Joshua, obviously the late 7th century BC, and, indeed, contains no architectural remains at all prior to the Iron I period. Indeed, it was hardly a ruin between the Iron IIB and the Persian period; a two-winged lmlk handle and three yhwd impressions were discovered at the site. A location of ‘Ai at Khirbet Nisya also suffers from a lack of a good location for Beth-Aven, which would, if Khirbet Nisya was ‘Ai, be better substituted for Mizpah.

Above: Mizpah is just to the W. of HaGiva. Nisya is just to the SE of Psagot. el-Bireh is just to the SW of the map’s “al Bira”. Baytin is Beitin. The remaining two sites are Maqatir and et-Tell, the latter being closer to Deir Dibwan.  The blue line is the Geba-Beitin road.

Thus, we are left with the conclusion that ‘Ai is either Khirbet Maqatir or et-Tell. For our purposes, it does not matter which is ‘Ai, due to the sites’ proximity. It is clear that a location of Bethel at el-Bireh is as consistent with Genesis 12:8 as a location of Bethel at Beitin; one can see both candidates for ‘Ai from the ridge E. of Beitin, but none from the ridge E. of Bireh. Indeed, ‘Ai would, if Bethel was at Bireh, be scattered in a collection of hills just E. of Bethel, and there would be no point stating “between Bethel and ‘Ai” in Gen 12:8. I should also note the Iron Age settlement in the area SW of Beitin was at Ras-et-Tahuneh, a high spot altered by means of ancient fills two hundred meters NW. of Bireh. It has been suggested this is Zemaraim, although Zemaraim might as well be Nisya. Bryant Wood has also used the Beth-‘Aven argument against Beitin, although it is not known for certain what Beth-Aven was (was it a set of EB/IB ruins just E. of Beitin? Site 205?), and the range of possibilities is certainly consistent with the traditionally-attested location of Bethel at Beitin (it is rather unlikely the location of one of the most important sites in the Tanakh was mysteriously lost during the Persian period). Likewise, Joshua 8:13 may mean that the border turned to the South or to the southern shoulder of Luz/Bethel.

Thus, while there is no conclusive evidence against the location of pre-Persian Bethel at el-Bireh, the weight of the evidence points to Beitin being pre-Persian Bethel. Since Bryant Wood’s reasonable identification of Khirbet el-Maqatir as ‘Ai, there has been no good reason I can think of for ABR to continue to identify Bethel with el-‘Bireh.


The PEF map:

I suspect the western roman road to Nablus was built by the Romans, while the eastern one was built by the Byzantines-I do not see any other reason for the eastern service road to Nablus than pilgrimage reasons.

Beitin: Its Size and History

Beitin is a little village to the NE of the Bira-Ramalla area. It is readily identifiable with ancient Bethel, and has been so since at least 1838 (begin at page 447). It is the only notable site which is consistent with Eusebius’s statements that Bethel was 12 milestones from Jerusalem (apparently, one turned off before reaching the 13th milestone), as confirmed by numerous attempts by me to accurately locate the milestones (a near-impossible thing to do due to the fact the roads were so drastically altered during the modern period and the inaccuracy of the Survey of Western Palestine). Since Beitin is surely the site of Byzantine Bethel, I shall here summarize the archaeological history of Beitin, as recorded in Albright&Kelso’s The Excavations of Bethel.

Above: Map of Beitin. Red line represents the Middle Bronze city wall. Thick blue line represents hypothesized border of Benjamin. Thin blue line represents road.

Beitin was first settled in the Pottery Neolithic period (¶ 218), although, due to the limited mention of this period in the excavation report (only one sherd, to my knowledge, is mentioned), this is uncertain. The Late Chalcolithic is well represented in almost all areas of Beitin. A high place with evidence of blood, animal bones, and fire, was found in the NW gate area. According to ¶ 88, “The only actual installation in connection with this earliest place of sacrifice was a shallow elliptical pit or bin, 55 cm long and 15 cm deep. It was on (in?) a thin layer of debris just above bedrock and 15 cm E. of the ledge. It was made by standing thin slabs of limestone on edge in the ground. They averaged c. 1 cm thick and 15 cm. in height. There were a few stone slabs at the bottom of the bin, the longest being 22 cm. There were also some pieces of charcoal, the largest 2-5 cm.”

Beitin was abandoned by its inhabitants at the beginning of the Early Bronze. Its descendants would go on to found et-Tell, identified by the scholarly community with Biblical Ai. et-Tell was destroyed in the EB IIIB, the same period Beitin was resettled, as four Khirbet Kerak sherds were found at Beitin in the same locus as the Neolithic sherd. Beitin was abandoned again in the Intermediate Bronze Age and resettled again in the Mirsim H phase toward the end of the Intermediate Bronze.

Middle Bronze IIA Beitin was somewhat reduced in size compared to its Late IB predecessor (Dever disagrees with this conclusion of the excavators, arguing the IB settlement was rather limited), although pottery of this phase was found in the pit where the South Wall was discovered. MB IIB-C Beitin was a strong, well-fortified city with the NW gate area being occupied by a gate which led out toward the E. This gate was never rebuilt. There was some evidence of burning at the end of the MB II city. For Beitin’s history c. 1500-c. 300 BC, see this article. According to Bryant Wood, Beitin was re-occupied already in the LB IB. According to the excavators, the town revived c. 1400 BC and its fortifications were rebuilt with the best masonry found at Beitin. The excavators also concluded that the town was destroyed c. 1300 BC, and was quickly re-inhabited and re-fortified as a slightly poorer settlement in the 13th C BC. According to Finkelstein and Singer-Avitz, the town did not survive into the Lachish VI phase, and according to the excavators, it was destroyed in a massive conflagration at the end of the LB IIB. According to Albright&Kelso, Beitin’s first two Iron I phases were destroyed and the Iron I settlement at Beitin certainly extended into the South Wall area. According to Finkelstein and Singer-Avitz, Beitin’s Middle Iron I stratum (the one contemporary with the habitation of Shiloh) did not survive into Late Iron I, when Jerusalem was well-occupied once again.

According to Finkelstein and Singer-Avitz, Beitin did not bear any distinctive Early Iron IIa (Jeroboam I era) ware, revealed a poor settlement from the Late Iron IIa, reached a peak of prosperity in the post-Aramean Kingdom of Israel, and continued to exist after the fall of Israel (e.g., a Lapidarist lmlk stamp impression was found at the site), albeit in a state of decline, until it was destroyed by fire (Excavations, pg. 37), probably during the Babylonian conquest. According to ¶ 47, repairs on the wall were conducted in the 8th C BC in the form of one or two towers, the first being in the E. part of of Area I. No Babylonian-period remains (such as Mesopotamian-inspired wedge or reedimpressed ware or mwsh impressions) were found in any part of the tell, contradicting the theories of Knauf, Amit, and Blenkinsopp. This contradiction with the Biblical text is paralleled at Tel Dan, which contained no significant Iron IIa settlement, and was only resettled during the Aramean period, as evidenced by the Tel Dan Stela. It contained no building remains and almost no pottery remains of the Persian period (a “fragment of a Greek lekythos…which Iliffe dated to the latter half of  the fifth century BC” was identified in ¶ 320 of Excavations among “Late Bronze sherds of imported ware”), and was not reoccupied until the Seleucid period.

Beitin was re-occupied in the Seleucid period (not earlier; p. 77, ftn. 6). According to the excavators, three Hellenistic phases could be distinguished, and plans of the 1st and 2nd-3rd phases are shown. Three (?) Rhodian jar handles were found at the site, all dating to the first half of the 2nd century BC. According to Albright (¶ 6), “On the next ridge to the northeast stands a tumulus, named today Rujm Abu Ammar, which is covered with Hellenistic sherds from about the second century B.C. and has remains of masonry, suggesting it was a watchtower of the Maccabaean age.” According to Kelso (¶ 153), it can be identified with Bacchides’s fortification at Bethel mentioned in I Mac. 9:50. Repairs on the city wall and a building of a new city gate, mentioned in ¶ 47&48, were conducted in the Hellenistic period. This re-fortification may be attributed either to Bacchides or to the Hasmoneans. According to ¶ 161, “The only definite signs of Roman conquest were found in 1957 at the NE gate of the city and the adjacent N wall, ¶ 48 ff. Time permitted only preliminary study at this point. The NE gate was destroyed down to pavement level and the few sherds were colorless and could be dated no closer than sometime between Pompey and Vespasian. Just W of the gate the upper section of the N wall had been removed and a Roman house built over the lower courses, ¶ 173-174.”. The town continued into the Roman period, when it expanded to the west and south as far as the Mosque area, and the Byzantine period, when a church was built at/near the Mosque. The Roman period was the first period during which cisterns ere built at Beitin. A Byzantine street (shown in orange just E. of the MB city) and numerous buildings were recorded by the excavators. The great cistern to the south of the village also dates to the Byzantine period. The town was abandoned toward the beginning of the Islamic period, and was forgotten until the 1830s.

Thus, Beitin’s archaeological history is fully compatible with Bethel’s literary history. However, problems remain: Jeroboam’s altar has, after decades of searching, not been found (it might have been located to the E. or SE. part of the walled city). Also, there are some Bible-based indications, as Knauf and Blenkinsopp have cited, that Bethel was occupied into the Babylonian-Early Persian periods. However, the evidence from Genesis 12 and Joshua does not exactly favor a pre-Hellenistic Bethel at el-Bireh, a suggestion made most notably by many of those at the ministry Associates for Biblical Research, as we’ll see in a later post.

Dr. David Livingston Mismeasured

Below is conclusive evidence Dr. David Livingston was wrong in his milestone measurements:

Please ignore all my placemarks north of Jebel et-Tawil-they are over a year old and are in serious need of updating. Also, Tell el-Ful is not necessarily Gibeah. I have re-arranged Livingston’s map in several different ways, and it is clear that from his 5th milestone (which is placed by him 200 or so yards too far south, judging by the Survey of Western Palestine’s map) to his 11th milestone, a Roman mile of 1400 or so yards is used by Livingston. This is consistent with my observations in October 2011 and March 2011. Needless to say, the Roman mile was some 1614-1618 yards in length, and there is no warrant to shortening it to 1400 or so yards merely to get the result one desires. Besides, even if Livingston was correct regarding his milestone measurements, Bireh would still only be 11, not 12 milestones from Jerusalem.

Geographical Skepticism and Byzantine Bethel

Throughout my studies, I have found that it only makes sense to identify an ancient site if one is either certain (Jerusalem, Gezer, Beth-Shean, Rehov, Ashdod, Hazor, Gibeon, Arad, Joppa, Jezreel, Lachish, Mareshah, Dor, Tyre, Byblos, Hamath) or reasonably certain (Megiddo, Shechem, Ashkelon, Gath, Ekron, Shiloh, Dan, Azekah, Hebron, Bethsaida, Beth-Shemesh, Mizpah) about its identification. I consider the identification of Tel Batash as Timnah, for instance, to be reasonably certain due to the fact it fits all the data we have and no one has suggested a better candidate. I consider the identification of Jericho, meanwhile, to only be considered probable, however, no one has come up with a better candidate, and the identification of Jericho might be considered by some to be reasonably certain. I would not think of naming et-Tell as Ai or Tell el-‘Farah N. as Tirzah when writing about archaeological matters. This is largely due to my wish to be wrong as little as possible. I still find it more acceptable to refer to Tell Deir Alla by its modern name then as Succoth, and might possibly consider naming Khirbet Mediniyah on the Wadi Thamud as Jahaz.

This opinion has been strengthened by my reading of Peter James (no Velikovsky)’s papers, which stress the limits of our knowledge about pottery chronology and ancient sites and question our universally accepted axioms quite frequently. He is, in fact, my inspiration for adding the extra paragraphs to my “Iron Age” page. I still, however, find it reasonably certain Shoshenq is to be identified as Shishak and likely that the Conventional Chronology is predominantly correct.

This brings me to the matter of Byzantine Bethel. So far, no certain proof has been shown regarding the location of Iron Age Bethel. It has only been shown by Judges 21:19 to have been on the Jerusalem-Nablus road and by Joshua‘s boundary description as being north of Michmash and Tell en-Nasbeh (very likely Mizpah). There has been quite some debate regarding whether it is to be identified with el-Bireh or with Beitin.

According to Eusebius and Jerome, Bethel lay on the east side of the road, 12 miles from Jerusalem. Also, according to Jerome, Ophrah lay both at the 21st milestone and 5 miles east of Bethel (i.e., at the 18th or 17th milestone). Since el-Bireh, the only candidate for Bethel besides Beitin, is between the tenth and 11th milestones, while Beitin is located closer to the 13th milestone than the 12th, neither of them fit Eusebius and Jerome’s data well, however, Beitin is clearly closer to the 12th milestone and had many churches before their demolition by the Muslims in the 19th century. Also, if Ophrah is to be identified as et-Tayyibeh, as identified by most, or Dayr Jarir, or even Ramun, there is no debate as to the identification of Byzantine Bethel as Beitin.

The Roman Miles of Bethel

Basing my data entirely from this and this article, I locate the Byzantine milestones from Jerusalem to Gophna (with the enormous help of the Survey). We may assume a mile to be roughly .9193 English Miles (1618 English Yards).

0- 31°46’36″N, 35°13’52″E (calculated back from Milestone 3).

1-31°46’34″N, 35°13’51″E (calculated back from Milestone 3)

2-31°48’5″N, 35°14’2″E (calculated back from Milestone 3)

3-31°48’48″N, 35°13’55″E (fixed by continued existence, number unreadable, location certain)

4-31°49’30″N, 35°13′”E (continued existence, number unreadable, exact location unknown to me and therefore extrapolated)

5-31°50’17″N, 35°13’38″E (fixed by continued existence, number readable, location certain)

6-31°51’2″N, 35°13’35″E (fixed by reference to Ramah in Eusebius)

7-31°52’31″N, 35°13’3″E (fixed by reference to Ramah in Jerome)

8-31°52’31″N, 35°13’3″E (extrapolated)

9-31°53’15″N, 35°12’44″E (extrapolated)

10-31°53’56″N, 35°12’35″E (Khirbet esh-She milestone. fixed by continued existence, unknown whether readable or unreadable)

11-31°54’34″N, 35°12’54″E

12- 31°55’2″N, 35°13’36″E

13-31°55’35″N, 35°14’11″E

Livingston has tried to make a map making the Khirbet esh-She milestone the eleventh. However, looking at the Survey’s map of Roman roads, I cannot come to the same conclusion. A check for this conclusion was Eusebius’s placing Gophna (Pharagx) at the 15th milestone and the Peutinger Tables‘ placing it 16 miles from Jerusalem. Indeed, as Livingston himself states, the 15th milestone had been found in the vicinity of Jifna (not, as he would expect, Jalazun).

Bethel, on the east side of the road, 12 milestones from Jerusalem when traveling to Nablus and somewhere near the 12th milestone from Jerusalem when traveling to Jerusalem (suggestively, between the 12th and 13th milestone), one mile away from Bethar/Beitin must be placed at either el Q’ada, 31°55’21″N, 35°13’45″E, or, the site which fits the Pilgrim’s description EXACTLY, Ein el-Q’asa, a two acre site at 31°55’7″N, 35°13’52″E. Since Beitin is at the 13th milestone, not the 12th, it still cannot be Early Byzantine Bethel.

UPDATE (as of May 6, 2012): I now consider Beitin to be Byzantine Bethel, since it is the only major site between the 12th and 13th milestones. The Bordeaux Pilgrim’s notes only state that the almond tree at which a number of events mentioned in the Bible took place was near Ein el-Q’asa, not that any settlement existed there.

Where is Biblical Bethel, Beth-Aven, and Ai?

UPDATE: A year after the writing of this post, I totally changed my position regarding Beitin and Bethel.

Bethel was located in the hill country of Ephraim (Judges 4:5) and in Benjamin (Josh 18:22). It was said by both Jerome and Eusebius to be at the 12th milestone from Jerusalem, but Beitin (the conventionally accepted Bethel, LB IIB fortress at 31°55’37″N, 35°14’20″E) does not fit, either by size, archaeology, or distance.

Firstly, archeologically, Beitin only had strong activity beginning in the Iron IIB; the 8th century BC. Throughout the entire period of early Iron IIA and late Iron I (from Saul to Omri), there was hardly any sort of settlement at Beitin! Even in the days of Jehu, there is no evidence of any great city at Beitin. After the 8th century, Beitin remained a poor village until the Hellenistic period.

Secondly, Judges 4:5 makes far better sense if a Ramah is placed at Ramalla and Bethel placed at Bireh (there are over five miles between er-Ram, certainly a Ramah, but certainly not the one mentioned in the verse, and Beitin [remember the existence of Mizpah]). Ras et-Tahuneh, 31°54’30″N, 35°12’44″E, the most likely candidate for Bethel’s high place, contains 40% Iron II shreds. We can therefore assume Bethel as el-Bireh, since, if it is not Bethel, it is not mentioned in the Bible (Beeroth is at Biddu according to Eusebius’s distances and the implication of other Bible verses, and at Khirbet al-Burj according to Finkelstein, which, while a fine Iron II site, is too near Jerusalem to fit Eusebius’s distances). Since Bethel was in Benjamin, Beth-Aven must be interpreted in Joshua 18:12 as being north of Bethel. Since Ai was “near” Beth-Aven, Beth-Aven should preferably be to the east of Bethel/Bireh. Beitin is the only site with Iron II pottery Northeast of Bethel that is west of Michmash (1 Sam 13:4). It is therefore the best candidate for Beth-Aven. Since there are only two archeological sites that were ruins during Iron II in the vicinity of Beitin, Kh. Maqatir, 31°54’54″N, 35°14’58″E, and et-Tell, et-Tell being excluded due to its being larger than Gibeon in Joshua 10:2 (Gibeon was 16 acres. et-Tell was 27), Khirbet Maqatir is the only candidate for Ai. This is supported by Genesis 12:8, which says there is a mountain between Bethel and Ai (obviously, the one at 31°54’47″N, 35°13’49″E). Burj Beitin, the conventionally accepted “mountain” is not even a hill, but a modest ridge, and was only inhabited in the Byzantine-Crusader era. The most likely locations of Iron II and Persian Ai are Sites 205 (31°54’45″N, 35°14’51″E) and 204 (31°54’33″N, 35°15’4″E), respectively, on the previously linked Benjamin Survey. Khirbet Nisya, 31°53’48″N, 35°13’45″E, is therefore Zemaraim.