Most of M&D’s LMLK Handles Were Found In Shiloh’s Area G

Looking at the list of lmlk handles found in the excavations of Macalister and Duncan, I noticed the letters “NB” in four of the designations of five lmlk handles. As I found in this article, “NB” was Macalister and Duncan’s acronym for North Bastion, that is, the Stepped Stone Structure. Thus, M&D’s “NBS” are the steps of the SSS, the lmlk handles found there originating either from the area of the House of Ahiel and Burnt Room or from a collapse from the area of E. Mazar’s excavation area. “NBF”, meanwhile, likely means the front (even more likely, face) of the Stepped Stone Structure, precisely the area of the House of Ahiel and Burnt Room probably in the excavation area mentioned on pages 50-51, which cut into the debris made by the cutting of the trench for the construction of the North Hasmonean tower, which was dumped on the northern face of the SSS. If I remember correctly (I am sure GM Grena can refute or support the products my memory), lmlk handles have also been found in Shiloh’s excavations in his Area G (the whole SSS-House of Ahiel area). The find spots of M&D’s lmlk handles explain the fact that M&D found lmlk handles even though E. Mazar found no Iron IIb remains in her excavation area upslope of Area G except in two loci (and, of course, the fill underneath the Northern Hasmonean tower).

The Big lmlk Questions

Why are there so few lmlks in the Negev? Is it a matter of economics or politics?

Why did the chief lmlk center shift from Lachish to Jerusalem in 701 BC?

Why are there so few ‘Early’ lmlk impressions at Jerusalem, the largest city and most important cult center in Judah?

What, exactly, is the role of the geographical names on the lmlk handles? Are they production cities? Districts? Royal estates?

Or is it the case that [gasp!] the words on the lmlk handles are not GN’s at all?

Where is MMST?

Why are Hebron impressions dominant at Lachish and Beth-Shemesh?

Why are there comparatively so few Undivided lmlk impressions at Lachish?

What happened to Socoh in the Lapidarist phase?

What happened to Ziph in the Undivided phase?

Why are the words on the lmlk impressions distributed so randomly across Judah?

Why did the quantity of MMST impressions rise so greatly in the ‘Undivided’ phase?

Why was Shephelah clay consistently used in the production of lmlk-type jars?

Where is the lmlk pottery?!!

Is there a continuous (or near-continuous) chain of jar-marks from the 8th to 2nd centuries BC?

Which Socoh is the lmlk Socoh?

Which king initiated the lmlk system?

When was the lmlk system initiated?

How long did the lmlk system last?

Bonus: How did the northern handles end up there?

Speculations on the fingerprint and lmlk potteries

Over 500 fingerprint-impressed jar handles have been found at Qeiyafa. The second most fingerprint impression-bearing site is Jokneam, with about 15 impressions (overtones of the northern lmlk handles, esp. at Nahal Tut). Overall, fingerprint-impressed jars appear to be found in the Coastal Plain and North (and Tel Beersheba and Beth-Zur). This provides some rather interesting parallels with the much later (~300 years later) lmlk impressions. Like in the case of the fingerprint impressions, most early lmlk impressions were concentrated at a single location in the Shephelah, and were made out of Shephelah clay. The Iron I fingerprint pottery and the Iron IIb lmlk pottery may have been at the same location. However, unlike in the case of the lmlk impressions, very few fingerprint impressions were found in the highlands (none seem to have been found at Gibeon and Jerusalem). So, who controlled the Qeiyafa polity? I suggest the likely candidates are:

1. The Kingdom of Beth-Zur

Beth-Zur was fortified in the Iron I and yielded one or more fingerprint-impressed jar handles. The kingdom ruled from it may be an illusion (i.e., an establishment of the Gibeonites or Jerusalemites) or an actual kingdom ruling over most of the Hebron hills destroyed by Judah or Gibeon (the Philistines are right out).

2. The Kingdom of Socoh or Adullam

-My gut reaction is to look to local explanations for Qeiyafa’s rise. They may be incorrect, but they haven’t been disproven.

3. The Kingdom of Gibeon

This is Finkelstein (and some maximalists)’s choice. He appears to believe believe Gibeon was a large, powerful kingdom ruled by the Saulide dynasty. I buy this. However, unless someone finds a fingerprint impression at Gibeon, I ain’t buying that Gibeon built Qeiyafa. It’s still a possibility.

4. The Kingdom of Jerusalem

-Almost every maximalist’s choice. As Jerusalem isn’t mentioned in Shoshenq I’s list, I ain’t buying it. I have not done thorough research on the Stepped Stone structure (evidence of the succession of the Late Bronze Kingdom of Jerusalem into Saulide times?), but Gibeon and Mahanaim appear far more prominent in Shoshenq’s list than Jerusalem.

In short, someone really needs to analyze the settlement system between the Hebron hills and southern Shephelah in Late Iron I.

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.

Part of the Mystery Regarding Royal Shephelah Pottery Solved!

By looking at 1 Chronicles 4:23. The fact the royal potteries mentioned in the text are located just on the edges of the Elah valley (as the Tel Socoh website states regarding the petrographic origin of the lmlk jars!) makes it ever more likely Gederoth (Khirbet Judraya, 31°41’19″N, 34°59’46″E) and Netaim (Khirbet Nuweitih, 31°40’43″N, 34°56’26″E) were the true lmlk (or at least rosette) potteries (although I still suspect the actual lmlk pottery is at Achzib/Tell el-Beidah for the reasons mentioned below). The locating of these royal potteries in the Elah Valley also explains why some Persian tax jars were made in the Shephelah-the royal potters may have re-settled Gederah and Netaim during the First Return. However, placing the lmlk potteries in the Elah Valley poses problems for my locations of the lmlk impressions’ MMST in the Gedor/Halhul district (as the first MMST jars were made near Jerusalem) and the lmlk Socoh in the southern Hill Country. We must remember there are good reasons to thinking that the lmlk Socoh was the southern one. There is only one way to solve this conundrum-survey and/or excavate Tell el-Beida, Khirbet Nuweitih, and Khirbet Judraya!!!

Thoughts on the Judahiteness of Tell el-Hesi

According to Sennacherib’s prism, a part of Hezekiah’s kingdom was given to Gaza. Before today, I had no idea what specific ruins were given to Gaza. However, I now have a good candidate for one of those ruins:  Tell el-Hesi. Though before today I thought 8th C BC Tell el-Hesi should be considered Gazite due to the lack of characteristic Judahite artifacts found there, Rollston, Hardin, and Blakely’s analysis of the Hesi material has demonstrated to me that Hesi was a Judahite, rather than Gazite, border post built to prevent Ashdodite expansion. Hardin and Blakely pointed out that Hesi (and, indeed, every fortified site nearer to Judah than Kh. Summeily) lacks 8th C BC Philistine pottery, has some architectural parallels with Lachish (including measurement units), and contains a nearly identical ceramic repertoire to Lachish III. Perhaps, the most convincing pieces of evidence for Hesi’s Judahiteness were the Judahite bulla and paleo-Hebrew ostracon found at the site. Before today, I had strong doubts about Hesi’s Judahiteness, or even whether its City VI survived into the late 8th C BC, due to the surprising lack of lmlk impressions, pillar figurines, or horse and rider figurines found at the site. The situation with the lmlk impressions is paralleled at Tel Burna-the only lmlk handle found there had an H2D impression, the most common of the late types. Indeed, considering the amount of area exposed, it is a surprise to me that not a single early lmlk impression has been discovered at Burna, which is, like Hesi, effectively a fort/watchtower. This suggests to me that the lmlk impressed jars were used for civil government purposes, although we must remember that Tel ‘Erani, also a part of the Judah-Ashdod fortress line, yielded thirteen lmlk impressions (including some early ones), and that Tel Shokef, only a mile NW of Hesi, yielded, like Burna, a single late (S2DW) lmlk impression (note that, unlike Burna, Shokef was Gazite in the 7th C BC). However, while at least one pillar figurine has been discovered at Burna, such pillar figurines are found in not just Judahite, but Israelite and Philistine sites as well.

The surprising lack of early lmlk impressions at Hesi and Burna also makes me suggest Tel Sera VI (see this book, although its stratum numbers and site history description are incorrect, as shown by this book) was also an 8th C BC Judahite fortress. Judahite presence W. of Tel Sera in the reign of Hezekiah is suggested by 1 Chronicles 4 (Gedor=Gerar/Tel Haror; this is confirmed by Tiglath Pileser III’s mention of Meunites at the Brook of Egypt). However, as the Tel Sera VI material has not yet been evaluated by competent scholars and demonstrated Judahite by them, I cannot comment on this matter.

If Hesi City VI was Judahite, it destroys my presupposition that all Assyrian Palace Ware-using sites must have been founded by Sargon II. Perhaps, if not Sargon II, it was Esarhaddon who built up the Assyrian Palace Ware-bearing strata at Hesi and Tel Sera.

Shephelah Clay

Shephelah clay was used in the production of the Early Persian lion stamp-impressed jars (Lipschits, p. 63, see here for distribution map). Shephelah clay only occurs in the three Shephelah districts of Joshua 15. The Early Persian province of Yehud’s border with the provinces of Ashdod and the Idumean wilderness seems to have extended in a rough line from Aijalon to Keilah. Since the Persian administrative center in Yehud was at Ramat Rahel, it makes sense to place the location of the gathering of the lion-impressed jar clay between Adullam and Eshtaol, possibly at Zanoah, Socoh, or, somewhat less likely, Eshtaol. Shephelah clay was also apparently used to make post-701 BC lmlk-stamped jars, even though the Shephelah was devastated by Sennacherib’s campaign. My question is, why is Shephelah clay used for the production of Judahite stamped jars even in periods the Shephelah is not an important part of Judah, such as the early Persian period and the early 7th C BC?

Perhaps Manasseh Only Reigned 45 Years?

An idea sometimes propagated during the late 19th an early 20th centuries was that because only 11 years separate the “early” and “late” dates for Hezekiah’s death (698/7 and 687/6 BC), it makes sense to reduce Manasseh’s reign from 55 to 45 years. If this is so, Hezekiah would have appointed twelve-year-old Manasseh co-regent during the second-to last (or possibly last) year of his reign. This idea is surely more plausible than the idea that Hezekiah appointed a 12-year old co-regent 11 years before his death. If this idea is, in fact, correct, and the lmlk impressions were used from c. 720 to c. 680 BC as a long-term administrative change in Judah’s wage distribution system for government officials in the Shephelah, instead of, as I have originally proposed, a short-term emergency change dating from perhaps c. 705 to c. 697 or c. 704 to c. 700 BC, the Top-Register impressions would belong to the early years of Manasseh, in the late 680s BC. Also, the rate of discovered lmlk handle (not necessarily jar) production under the long-term proposal would be about 35 per year, while that rate would be at least 95 if the ‘short-term change’ view holds.

No One Knows When the Ten lmlk Handles Found at Elah Socoh Will Be Published

A few days ago, I emailed Julia Fridman as thus:

According to the Tel Sochoh website, a survey was conducted at the Tel in 2011, the results of which were, among other finds, ten lmlk handles and six other stamped handles. As an American layperson who is quite interested in the history of the lmlk phenomenon, the complete publication of these finds is of great importance to me. Thus, my first question to you is, when, exactly, will photographs of all these stamped handles be published? My other question to you is why is the emblem of the Tel Sochoh website Lemaire’s type S Ib (Grena’s Type S4L), even though the only lmlk Socoh handle found in the survey is a two-winged handle?

Her response:

Thank you for the interest you have shown in our work, I am unable to tell you when exactly the handles we discovered on the survey will be published as that is up to our surveyor Yoav Tzur. We hope in the near future. As far as the Sochoh image we used on the website, it does not matter which one it is as the project is about the production of all jars with lmlk stamps found on them. We used it because we prefer the design, and because it has the name of Sochoh written on it. That is all, no deeper meaning.

We hope to add more interesting finds after our first season will commence and publish them as promptly as we are able.