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.

Where be Eglon?

Eglon was a city mentioned only in Joshua 10, 12, and 15. It is described as being attacked by Joshua before Hebron, but after Lachish. It is identified as being either Kh. ‘Aitun (31°29’26″N 34°55’41″E) or Tell el-Hesi. Since Joshua often campaigned in an irregular order, only the list of Josh 15:33-47. Since it is mentioned as being in the Shephelah, and Lachish and Bozkath come just before it, and it is not put in the plain, while the identification is still undecisive Aitun seems to win by a head.