Since 1994, Israel Finkelstein, a professor of archaeology at Tel Aviv University, has made three sizable downdatings to the ‘conventional’ (or ‘high’) chronology of Iron Age Palestine, that is, Palestine from the days of the Philistine invasion to the Babylonian conquest. These downdatings are:
•Firstly, the downdating of the arrival of the Philistines in Canaan from c. 1180 to c. 1130 BC.
•Secondly, the downdating of the beginning of Iron Age IIa from c. 1000 BC to c. 920 BC (since the mid-2000s, c. 940 BC, largely due to the evidence from Shoshenq I’s topographic list)
•And, thirdly, the downdating of the destructions in Israel at the end of the Iron Age IIa from 926 BC (with Shishak of Egypt being the culprit) to 826 BC (with Hazael of Damascus being the culprit).
So, what does this have to do with the Bible?
The archaeological Late Iron IIa period was the first age in which there is evidence of a united state in at least the northern half of Palestine. In Biblical terms, this would correspond to the reign of Solomon. Finkelstein argues that Late Iron IIa is equivalent to the Omride-Jehuite period, leaving Solomon in the Late Iron I/Early Iron IIa period-a period of thriving, but gradually collapsing, Canaanite city-states and no evidence of a centralized monarchy anywhere in Palestine.
Finkelstein’s third downdating is backed by good evidence: there is excellent similarity between both the pottery and architecture of Samaria Building Period I and the Jezreel Enclosure, which were known from the Bible to have been Omride, with the pottery and architecture of such classic ‘Solomonic’ sites as Megiddo Stratum VA, Gezer Stratum VIII, and Hazor Stratum X.
There was also good reason to identify the destroyer of Hazor Stratum IX, Megiddo Stratum VA, and Gezer Stratum VIII with Hazael rather than Shoshenq I. All radiocarbon data, from Rehov to Megiddo to Gath to Hazor, pointed to the conclusion that the destruction wave toward the end of the Iron IIa was done in the late 9th, not late 10th, century BC. Hazael, who was described in 2 Kings 10:32 as taking portions of Israelite territory and defeating Israel in its borders, was, before Israel Finkelstein’s revisions, considered to be a king without attestation in the Jezreel valley’s record of destructions.
The evidence that the Iron Age IIa lasted well into the 9th century BC became, by the early 2000s, unanimously agreed upon by all relevant scholars. However, the question of whether the Late Iron IIa included Solomon’s mid-10th century BC reign became a hotly contested issue. In the late 1990s, samples collected from Dor seemed to support the lowering of the beginning of the Iron IIa, although over a third of the results were clearly too late.
Archaeologist Amihay Mazar and others argued that radiocarbon results from Tel Rehov in 2001 bolstered Solomon’s claim to be partially contemporary with the Late Iron IIa. Thus, Mazar became the leading voice of the proponents of this “Modified High Chronology”. The debate around the results from Tel Rehov was largely centered around the use of Bayesian analysis, which attempts to analyze radiocarbon dates by incorporating them into other chronological information about the site, such as sequences of layers. Since the ratio of Carbon-14 to Carbon-12 in the atmosphere is not a constant rate throughout time, radiocarbon dates require calibration to make them correspond with historical dates. In the case of Tel Rehov, the average RADIOCARBON dates for Stratum VI and the SUCCEEDING Stratum V were nearly the same. There were two solutions to this problem, one shown in the graphs and one stated in the text.
In 2007, however, a large radiocarbon study headed by the excavators of Tel Dor, using 37 good short-lived samples, unambiguously supported the Low Chronology, although the transitions were clearly too low, since, as we know from Shoshenq I’s list, the Early Iron IIa had already begun by the time Shoshenq I campaigned in Canaan. In 2010, a remarkably consistent set of dates came from the Early Iron IIa site of ‘Atar Haroa, in the Wilderness of Zin. The numerous Early Iron IIa sites in the Wilderness of Zin were almost certainly spurred by the growth of the copper industry in the Feinan area. The growth of Palestine’s trade with copper-rich Cyprus in the Late Iron IIa helped spur the demise of this industry, which continued in a diminished state until the late 9th century BC. By the Modified High Chronology, the Early Iron IIa sites in the Wilderness of Zin should have had their main phase in the early 10th century BC. The results for ‘Atar Haroa showed that the site, and very likely all those contemporary with it, with great certainty had their main phase c. 900, not c. 980 or even c. 960 BC.
Thus, the Solomonic Paradigm, one of the foundational pillars of the High Chronology of Iron Age Palestine, is close to dead. Can it be resuscitated? Or is it to be replaced by the Omride paradigm, as advocated by Norma Franklin and Israel Finkelstein? If it is, the accounts of 1 Kings are to be called into serious historical question, and would be unambiguously explained as Assyrian-era fictions recalling the glory of the past under Jeroboam II and of the present under Assyrian rule. Even though Biblical fundamentalism is already disproven, throwing 1 Kings into question would be one of the most serious obstacles to its continued acceptance by the plurality of the American population.
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