A Short Non-Biblical History of Palestine From the Mid-11th C BC to the Early 10th C BC

Or, the Chronology page of this blog in narrative form, Part 2

Part 2: The Filling of the Power Vaccum

I shall start with the Middle Iron I, where I left off. Canaan had been free of Egyptian taxation for nearly a century. Trade between villages, hamlets, and cities was on the rise. The Philistines had firmly established themselves from the Wadi el-Arish to the Yarkon. Ekron was surpassing Gath in size. Philistine Bichrome ware was traded from Tel Masos even as far as the little Middle Iron I village of Hazor. The sedentary population of the central hill country had risen from roughly twelve thousand in the Late Bronze Age to roughly thirty thousand.

Economic development led to political development. Villages governed by few became cities governed by one. Megiddo rose from a small pit settlement to a decent walled Iron Age I city-state, as did Beth-Shean. Chinnereth became a major city-state of the Galilee, certainly dominating the fish, and probably the copper supplies of the region. It was, however, almost without a settlement base outside its city walls, Galilee’s hamlets being primarily located in the mountains around Har Meron. The overall trend in the eleventh century was a gradual urbanization, though an increasing rural population in the Hill Country prevented any repeat of the conditions of the Early Bronze III. Broadly speaking, Iron Age I city-states could only control a couple hundred square miles, often less.

This state of affairs, however, could not be kept for more than roughly a century and a half. It depended on two conditions that could not be sustained- a state of economic depression in the rest of the Mediterranean, most importantly, in Phoenicia, and a failure of states with territories larger than 600 square miles in area to form. Both of these conditions would be clearly shown unsustainable by the early ninth century.

The first condition to be shown unsustainable was the second. In the central hill country, a few towns of some importance had emerged by the mid-11th century BC. The first was Shiloh, a town some three acres in size in the approximate center of the central group of Iron I settlements in the central hill country. The town was evidently a thriving regional center with public pillared buildings, possibly used for storage. This town was destroyed c. 1030 BC, as shown by C-14 dating. Shechem Stratum IX was probably destroyed at around the same time, although it might have been destroyed earlier. Continue reading “A Short Non-Biblical History of Palestine From the Mid-11th C BC to the Early 10th C BC”

Lachish, Mareshah, and Beit Guvrin

Throughout the ages, from the Early Bronze Age even unto today, there has always been a tendency for an important regional center in the Lachish-Mareshah-Beit Guvrin area to exist. This is due to the need for a transportation route between the Coastal Plain and Hill Country and the rich resources the soil of the Southern Shephelah has to offer (olives in the East and grain in the West). In the Early Bronze Age (and probably earlier; in the Chalcolithic) the town of Lachish existed as a chief center in this area. However, as the only major center in the Hill Country in the Early Bronze Age was et-Tell, This center was shifted to Area 1500, somewhere on the ridge to the north-west of Lachish, in the Intermediate Bronze. In the Middle Bronze (Stratum VIII), Lachish revived again, building a city wall and fosse. The city was destroyed in the 16th C BC, and inside the fosse was built the famous Fosse Temple, which would survive down to the last days of Ramesses II. Lachish was destroyed and rebuilt in the late 13th-early 12th C BC, and, after that, imported some Midianite Ware, and had a temple built on the acropolis. Due to the border/coastal conquest effect described below, it did not recover until the Judahite reconquest of the Shephelah in the late 9th century BC. Lachish remained the second most-important city of Judah until it was destroyed and probably annexed to Gaza in 701 BC. Lachish was reconstructed whenever Judah re-annexed the Shephelah, and was destroyed in 588-6 BC.

After 588-6 BC, the entire area to the south of En Gedi, Nezib, and Beth-Zur was given to the Kingdom of Edom, which apparently later became a province (in 551 BC). Lachish, in the fourth century BC, during a period of Egyptian independence, became an important administrative settlement in the north-western part of this province. During the Early Hellenistic period, only a shrine was apparently left at Lachish, while the chief administrative center in the area moved to Mareshah. It is not clear as, whether Fantalkin suggests, Lachish’s administrative role was removed immediately after the Persian reconquest of Egypt in 343 BC or near the beginning of the Hellenistic period.

Mareshah remained a thriving Early Hellenistic provincial capital mostly focused on oil production until 108 BC, when it was destroyed by John Hyrcanus. Eventually, in the Herodian period, Beit Jibrin, a ruin located just to the SE of modern Beit Guvrin, became the chief city of the southern Shephelah. By the time of Septimius Severus, this had become Eleutheropolis, a district center which sprouted some major Late Roman ruins just to the South of the Tell of Beit Jibrin. Beit Jibrin’s Roman ruins were abandoned sometime after the Islamic conquest, and the town continued until its demolition by the Israelis in 1948.

Today, the regional center I have described above does not exist for largely the same reasons as in the early 7th century BC and in the 11th C BC-after a destructive war, most of the Shephelah was annexed by a polity based primarily on the coastal plain. This state will undoubtedly continue for the next few decades.

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!!!

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.