Avi Faust’s Misguided Responses to Finkelstein in His BAR Article On Large Stone Structure

Avi Faust has more or less recently published a BAR article restating his 2010 views on the Large Stone Structure with some responses to some of the points raised by Israel Finkelstein in 2011. Needless to say, I strongly recommend you watch my video on the Large and Stepped Stone structures before attempting to figure the issues out for yourselves. Also, read my post combining Macalister and Duncan’s plans with the modern ones. You could also look in the YouTube comments to see how I deal with criticism.

Now that you’ve watched the video, you may readily anticipate mine (and Israel Finkelstein’s) responses to Faust’s responses. While I am no archaeologist, I think I can anticipate the next volley in the debate from half a mile away.

Firstly, the stratified Iron I layers provide us only a terminus post quem for the dating of the construction of the Large Stone Thing, as no floors were found in those layers. They are certainly not a terminus ante quem, as Faust seems to think, as Late Bronze sherds were also recovered in the Brown Earth Accumulation, and we know Jerusalem did not have a substantial population in the Late Bronze, and Middle Bronze sherds were recovered in the Brown Earth Accumulation in Mazar’s excavation area in the first season of excavations. This is, for some reason, not recognized by Faust. There are also, as Finkelstein pointed out, Early Iron IIa sherds in the Brown Earth Accumulation below (Finkelstein 2011 pg. 7) the Large Stone Thing, demonstrating the LSS was constructed in the mid-tenth C BC or later.

Secondly, contra Faust, Finkelstein does not claim all the Iron Age materials are limited to half a room; he merely described it as being the only architecture that could be associated with the Iron Age remains. Also contra Faust, Finkelstein does note that Iron I metallurgical waste abuts the structure and accepts this as evidence of Iron I architecture below the Hasmonean city wall (Finkelstein 2011 pg. 6).

Thirdly, the connection between the Large and Stepped Stone structures is not as certain as Faust thinks; the upper two or three courses of the SSS were added by Jordanian authorities, as Finkelstein demonstrates. Besides, while the lower part of the SSS certainly dates to between the 11th and 8th centuries BC, the upper part may have been constructed by the Hasmoneans to help prevent slope erosion. The Iron IIa remains found in the so-called ‘floors’ of the buildings above the lower part of the SSS may or may not have been parts of fills. Lastly, the Iron IIa remains found in Locus 47 (in Room C) were very likely parts of a fill, as Iron IIb remains were found below them and Iron IIb-c remains are only found in one other locus of E. Mazar’s excavation (and, of course, in the fill beneath the northern Hasmonean tower).

Faust also seems not to recognize that, as I pointed out when discussing Macalister and Duncan’s book, Duncan and Macalister point out that, compared to the Perso-Hellenistic period, little Iron Age material was found in their excavation areas. While M&D’s excavations may explain the lack of Perso-Hellenistic material in Mazar’s excavation area, they do not explain the lack of Iron II material, which Macalister and Duncan believed was due to Maccabean removal of earlier material “by violence”. If, as Faust speculates, the absence of Iron IIb-c material was due to the abandonment of the Fortress of Zion (as Faust considers the LSS to be part of that fortress), what was an empty field doing in the middle of Josiah’s East Jerusalem? My explanation for the absence of Iron IIb-c remains was that they were removed by the Hasmonean builders of the Large Stone Structure and the Hasmonean pottery was thoroughly cleared out by the domestic Herodian-era occupants of Mazar’s excavation area.

Omride Palestine

This blog post is based on Israel Finkelstein’s discussion about Omride architecture in The Bible Unearthed and this article.

Omride Palestine had two capitals: Jezreel and Samaria.

Samaria was the capital for the descendants of the Iron I Israelite oil-and-wine communities. It was necessarily the primary capital of Israel-located on top of a strategic hill on the Shechem-Tul Karm road, defended well by the terrain, which made it near inaccessible for armies and good for control of the hill country while being close to the agricultural wonderland of the Jezreel. However, Samaria’s terrain is bad for keeping any large amount both foreign and domestic military forces. The royal enclosure of the Hill of Shemer had to be walled up with a casemate wall and filled with dirt to a depth of up to 20 ft. in order for there to be any kind of flat surface on top. A second capital would have to be constructed for military purposes: Jezreel.

Jezreel was a mighty walled rectangular enclosure surrounded by a moat and a casemate wall (not the best sort of fortification, but, then, the Omrides had no real enemies and a state to control), enclosing a total 11 acres. It had a six-chambered gate on its south side. There were several settlements before it (including one from the Early Iron IIA, probably founded by the pre-Omride Israelite monarchy), however, none were as well fortified as that of the Omrides. It was, being located on top of a commanding ridge, and was, therefore, used as a watchtower for traffic in and out of the Beth Shean Valley. A road connected it to Jenin, Ibleam, Dothan, and, through an arduous trek up and down a steep hill, Samaria. It was destroyed by Hazael, but, not too long after that, the site was reinhabited.

Hazor was also rebuilt under the Omrides (for chronology, see here and the two 2004 papers by Herzog and Singer Avitz). The city was extraordinarily small, located entirely on the west side of the old Upper City, but fortified with a casemate wall, with a citadel to the W. A moat was dug to the NE. and E. of the city (F&S, pg. 188). The six-chambered gate was built on top of a large fill to keep it more defensible.

Megiddo-Megiddo was not built by the Omrides, but, as Knauf concluded, was built in by the Omrides. While the city, a descendant of the early Iron IIA Megiddo VB (Shishak’s Megiddo) was unfortified, some kind of gate (whether the six-chambered one or not) was established there. A large Omride palace dominated the southern part of the city, and a mix of houses and palaces were built around the city’s perimeter.

Gezer, too, was rebuilt under the Omrides (it had a tinge of “Ephraimite” influence in the 8th C BC-I would expect it to be in Omride hands). Like in the case of Hazor, the new city was far smaller than the old, and, unlike Hazor, probably not even a city, but a well-stocked military fortress. It had a six-chambered gate on its south end.

As for lesser-excavated sites mentioned by Finkelstein:

En Gev, on the E. shore of the Lake of Kinneret, is not yet well-excavated enough to show any but one sign of Omride architecture, but there is a clear possibility it could have been Omride.

Khirbet ‘Atarus, Mesha’s Ataroth, also provides clear indications of Omride architecture, having a moat on at least two of its sides. According to Finkelstein, an Iron IIa cult place was found there by a dig in 2002.

And, now, we come to the most impressive display of probably Omride fortress-making in Moab: Khirbet al-Mudayna on the Wadi et-Thamad! The most likely site for Mesha’s Jahaz (and, consequently, the Biblical Jahaz), the fortress was built on a high, oval hill (not well flattened by fills) and surrounded by a moat. A six-chambered gate (shown by the square) is visible in the NE. corner. It was peacefully captured by Mesha and the fortress continued in use into the early 8th C BC. It was re-founded in the reign of Josiah and was destroyed by the Babylonians.

This architectural pattern, devised by the first centrally organized state paying tribute to no one in all of Palestine’s history, was one which served as a foundation for the State of Israel. It made a separation between regular civilian cities (Shechem, Megiddo, Tell el Fara’ N.) and cities and citadels used by the government (which included moats, fills, casemates, large amounts of space not permanently occupied, and a very small amount of city gates (usually, as at Hazor and probably Gezer, one). The Omride state clearly had an interest in placing fortresses in rebellious areas and on strategic roads.

In the next installment, I shall analyze the Square Temple Mount and compare and contrast it with these Omride architectural parallels.