The Fall of Samaria Reconsidered

The first thing we should note about the last days of independent Iron Age Samaria is that it was in rebellion against Sargon II (see p. 34) when he campaigned in the West in his second year (in late 720 BC). This would be bizarre had Samaria been devastated by an invasion of Shalmaneser V in 723 BC, but it would be expected had Shalmaneser only imprisoned Hoshea in that year for attempting to ally with Egypt and either left the government to the nobles or peacefully took over Samaria and made it into an Assyrian province. Certainly many towns and most villages of Samaria would be destroyed during a three-year siege of Samaria by Shalmaneser V, thus leaving no room for a revolt of Samaria in late 720 BC. However, if the three year siege is an artificial construct (an idea for which I have argued for before) made up by the author of 2 Kings 17 due to his assumption that the Assyrian deportation of the Samarian villagers to the cities of the Medes and northern Mesopotamia took place in the same year as the last year of the last king of Israel. The second thing we should note about the last days of independent Iron Age Samaria was that Samaria was not destroyed by the Assyrian conquest. This suggests that Samaria was not taken after a three-year long siege, but, rather surrendered peacefully to Sargon II in 720 BC (as Ekron happened to do in the same year, I might add). The third thing we should note about the last days of independent Samaria is that Arpad was involved in the 722-720 BC revolt, even though it had been turned into an Assyrian province after a real three-year long Assyrian conquest only 20 years earlier, thus suggesting the Urartians and Hamathites had a hand in encouraging Arpad to rebel. Samaria and Gaza were likely encouraged by Piankhy and Shabaka of Egypt and Nubia, who fought Sargon II’s army at Raphia after Sargon II’s Samaria campaign. They were defeated. Thus, Sargon II conquered all the Levant in his late 720 BC campaign, and even gained some possible Egyptian territory, that is, the territory between the Besor and the Wadi el-Arish.

Micah’s Times and Shephelah Towns

Micah 1 appears to have been written in the days of Hezekiah’s revolt, as indicated by v. 15, which mentions Mareshah, apparently occupied only after the fall of Samaria, and mentions, in a thoroughly negative context, that “the glory of Israel” will enter Adullam. This would make far more sense after the fall of Samaria than before. A clincher is v. 14, which mentions Achzib becoming a deception to the kings of Israel, an ambiguous statement which would only make sense after the fall of Samaria. A further attestation of this is Micah 3:9-10.

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.

The Bible Unearthed-An Extended Review, Part 5

Chapter 5

It is in here that F&S try to show that Samaria and Judah (Nablus/Shechem and Jerusalem) were always distinct states, and never united under a single “Palestinian state” (my term, not theirs) until the Hasmoneans. As I have admitted in my two non-reviews, F&S are correct (however, this was only shown to be around 2007-8, not before). There is good reason for not supposing a Jerusalem-centered United Monarchy even if one assumes the High Chronology, since the Temple Mount and the City of David were not even connected during the entire Iron IIA (late 10th-9th century BC). However, some evidence F&S use is simply wrong. Shechem was never mentioned in Egypt until the Amarna letters. The MB Hill Country and its city-state system only began after the fall of the Middle Kingdom, not before. The EB hill country situation is a special case, two nameless sites, Tell el-Farah (N) and et-Tell (S) (probably NOT Tirzah and Ai) dominating the N. and S. hill country respectively. This already showed signs of regional divisions, but it cannot be compared to the post-EB situation of a less important Transjordan and and greater focus on political, rather than economic centers in the Hill Country. It is true that the Omride dynasty was always far more powerful than the dynasty of David, however, both had fortifications (Judah had the Temple Mount [assumption], Nasbeh/Mizpah, Lachish IV, Beth-Shemesh, and the Beersheba Valley and Kh. Nahas), Judah’s emerging some decades after the Omrides’, and both had spectacularly little evidence of widespread literacy (something achieved in both regions in the 8th century, Israel, naturally, coming over half a century earlier). F&S’s descriptions of Hazael, the Omrides, and Mesha are accurate.

A Clarification of Samarian Stratigraphy

The Samaria Ostraca, from Pottery Period IV, appear to date from the reign of Jeroboam II (783 BC) on paleographic and logical (Year 14) grounds. The Ostraca, however, seem to have been found in a fill below the floor of the Ostraca House. This makes it certain that the Ostraca were written before Building Period III. For the convenience of not having four building periods ascribed to the the time of Jeroboam II to 723 BC, it seems we can still conclude Building Period III might be contemporary with the Ostraca, but the possibility of four building periods between 790 and 723 BC should not be definitively excluded. The Osorkon II jar, dating by the conventional chronology from the reign of Ahab, found in a fill of the Osorkon house (which dates after the Ostraca House, probably after c. 630 BC), tells us only that Osorkon must have reigned before the construction of the Osorkon house. We can therefore reconstruct the following chronology for Samaria:

Pottery Period I (Building Period 0)-Late Iron I and Early Iron IIA-Shemer Family

Pottery Period II (Building Period 1)-Late Iron IIA-Omri to Jehoahaz

Building Period II (Pottery Periods III and IV)-Joash to Jeroboam II

Pottery Period IV/Building Period III-Jeroboam II to 720 BC. Ostraca House built in this phase.

Pottery Period V/Building Period IV-First Assyrian rebuilding, dating to Sargon II.

Pottery Period V/VI/Building Period V-Second Assyrian rebuilding, dating to Sennacherib and Esarhaddon.

Period VI-Last Assyrian. Destroyed at the end of Assyrian rule.

Period VII-Post-Assyrian, Pre-Chaldean or Chaldean. Osorkon House built here.

Period VIII-Chaldean-Persian or Persian