Why Did Hezekiah Not Feel a Threat to the South From Sennacherib

Hezekiah concentrated his defense outside Jerusalem on two sides: the passes to Jerusalem, especially those near the border of Samaria (Gibeon+Mizpah), and the three (four?) fortified cities in the Shephelah (Beth-Shemesh, Lachish, and Azekah, and possibly Socoh). He did not concentrate his defense on the Beersheba Valley. Why? Because Sennacherib had a purpose for taking over Gibeon, Mizpah, and the Shephelah. He did not, however have any clear purpose for taking over the Beersheba Valley. Why? Because the Shephelah made Judah far too politically influential in Philistia for Assyria to allow, and, more importantly, it could be administered by Ashdod and Gaza. Mizpah and Gibeon could be used to stop trade coming to Judah from the Assyrian provinces in the North or be used as springboards to take over the southern part of the province of Samaria. Both could also be administered as unfortified cities within Samaria. The Beersheba Valley, meanwhile, was a vital trade artery, offered very little threat of political influence in Edom or Gaza, and could not be competently administered by any polity except Judah. Exiling the population of the Beersheba Valley would, as Hezekiah likely reasoned, be the last part of Judah Sennacherib would want to attack.

Of course, the Assyrians did end up destroying the Beersheba Valley, probably as a make-work project for Judah, to keep it from growing too strong again any time soon.

The Solomonic Districts

The districts of Solomon are twelve administrative (taxation) districts mentioned in 1 Kings 4, clearly reflecting the Iron IIB Israelite administrative districts (see Chronology page).

Here are the districts:

1-Ephraim, including the land of Shechem, probably as far as Gilboa.

2-Area ruled first by Israel, then Judah, then Ekron, stretching roughly from Ajalon to Beth-Shemesh, and perhaps as far as District 4 (though District 3 might have controlled this land). This shows this list must reflect Iron IIB (Joashite/Jeroboamite) Israelite rule, since Beth-Shemesh was not re-founded after Iron I until the early 8th C BC. Since Beth-Shean was given to Ekron soon after the campaign of Sennacherib, this list cannot reflect the days of Assyrian dominance.

3-Roughly from Jenin to Tul-Karm, and, probably, the Sharon. Arruboth is modern Araba. This is the best agricultural land in the land of Samaria.

4-If Dor was a Phoenician city-state, then this province would only include the foothills of Carmel.

5-The Jezreel and Beth-Shean valleys. The probable district capital was Megiddo, which was extremely well-fortified at this time.

6-Transjordan north of the road leading by Pella to Ramoth-Gilead.

7-Transjordan south of the road leading by Pella to Ramoth-Gilead.

8-Galilee, probably as far as Dan.

9-The land bordering Phoenicia.

10-The plateau north of the Beth-Shean valley.

11-Benjamin. This was either ruled from Bethel or Mizpah (if Israel took it during the conquest of Beth-Shemesh).

12-Ashtaroth and its land, which is that around the Yarmuk. This was conquered by Israel either by Joash or, more probably, Jeroboam II.

Samaria was near the border of districts 1 and 3. District 2 was likely captured during the Battle of Beth-Shemesh (2 Kings 14) in which Israel established a decisive victory over Judah and annexed it as a vassal state. Zebulun (Lower Galilee) was annexed to either District 8 or 9, probably the latter (cf. Tiglath-Pileser campaign). Needless to say, Israel was a kingdom, not a coalition of tribes, and had no function for an independent Zebulun, although Benjamin might have, if Judah controlled Mizpah, been put in a separate district for tribal, rather than geographic reasons. The districts’ borders were also clearly established on the basis of ease of control rather than equality in economic output, for Galilee and Issachar were clearly distinct in their economic output.

Is Nasbeh Mizpah?

Throughout the days of modern scholarship, only two sites have been considered serious candidates for Mizpah in Benjamin: Tell en-Nasbeh and Nebi Samwil.

The foremost argument used by proponents of Nasbeh is the 9th century border conflict. Fortifying Nebi Samwil instead of Nasbeh would still lead the main road safe for Baasha to re-fortify Ramah/er-Ram. Nebi Samwil also has no Iron Age remains before the 8th century, while Tell Nasbeh was always an important Iron Age site. The Seal of Jaazaniah (2 Kings 25:23, Jeremiah 40:8) found at Nasbeh also supports its identity as Mizpah. Jeremiah 41:5 also supports placing Mispah on the main road.

The foremost arguments used for Nebi Samwil, identified as Mizpah fifty years before Nasbeh, are the arguments from the Joshua list and the fact Ishmael, planning to cross into Ammon, went through Gibeon on his route (Jeremiah 41:10). These arguments are hardly decisive. Ishmael could simply have taken a less crowded and conspicuous route to Ammon. Joshua 18:25-6 goes from Gibeon to Chapirah East and West in an alternating pattern, if Mizpah is put at Nasbeh (the pattern is broken if Samwil is Mizpah).

In short, Tell en-Nasbeh has clear support of being Mizpah in Benjamin both topographically, geographically, and archeologically.