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1000–800 BC – Iron Age II

The memories of the events and persons from the heroic past are the memories that are reactivated. The Davidic monarchy was Judah’s Golden Age. The founders of Israel were not Abraham and Moses; but Saul and David. It was Saul who consolidated the hill farmers under his rule and created fighting units capable of confronting the Philistines. It was David who defeated the Philistines and united the hill farmers with the people of the Canaanite plains, thus establishing the Kingdom of Israel and its capital city. It is generally accepted among scholars today that there is some genuine historical material in the Books of Samuel, which describe the careers of Saul and David; but even these books must be critically examined to distinguish between legend and fact, in as much as it can ever be known.

As recently as the 1980s most scholars viewed the United Monarchy as a fairly secure period of historical reconstruction. Critics debated whether one could speak of the exodus as an actual historical event. Archaeology gives no record of Exodus, of forty years of wandering in the desert, of Joshua's conquest of the land. But virtually all modern histories of ancient Israel included, if not commenced with, the monarchy of David and Solomon. Archaeological surveys showed that there were about 250 settlements in the central hill country of Canaan in Iron Age I (1200-1000 BC), as compared to about 50 settlements in Late Bronze Age II (14th-13th century BC). Such a large increase in settlements would have required the creation of a state apparatus, such as the United Kingdom.

This is no longer the case: even the Davidic Kingdom becomes reduced. "The United Monarchy no longer unites modern scholars". During recent decades the scholarly consensus about the United Kingdom was undone. Many modern scholars question the historicity of the Bible’s stories about Saul, David, and Solomon. Doubts have been raised about the historicity of the biblical account, and consequently about the ascription of archaeological strata to this period.

In the opinion of most modern scholars, the Bible is not an entirely reliable historical document. Corroborating evidence is required, and some indeed exists; but it is not conclusive. There is an endeavor to pierce through the displacements and exaggerations of national pride which influenced the historical form of the statements and to discover actuality as it was and developed. This reveals the nature and value of the texts, but grasps also their connection with the original fact, their original relations, their mutual dependence or independence. In religious literature it is necessary to have regard to the conceptions embodied to see whether these are the original gift of the religion or whether they have entered during the course of the development.

There is a fundamental debate between maximalists, such as W.F. Albright and G.E. Wright, who gave considerable credence to biblical descriptions of the United Monarchy and minimalists, such as G. Garbini, N.P. Lemche, D.B. Hedford, and H.M. Niemann, who were rather hesitant to do so. Both these traditions remain very much alive, and many scholars adhere to one or the other of these broad categories. But a third school has emerged - nihilists who contend that the traditional theories of the United Monarchy are unfounded. Scholars such as P. Davies, M. Gelinas, and T. Thompson came to see Saul, David, and Solomon as the stuff of legend — the King Arthurs of ancient Israel. They view the whole narrative of the United Monarchy as a literary construct of scribes writing during the Persian or Hellenistic period. The whole idea of an historical Israel drawn from northern and southern constituencies and governed by a single monarch is seen as a literary fiction.

Iron Age Chronology and the United Monarchy of David and Solomon is the subject of an ongoing and long-standing controversy in both biblical studies and archaeology. The ‘conventional’ chronology, which places the Iron Age I | II transition (in Dor terminology: the Ir1|2 transition) around 1000 BC, is based on the biblical dating. The 'low chronology', inspired by the ‘minimalist’ or ‘nihilist’ stance, which regards the biblical narrative of this period as myth, dates the Iron Age I | II transition later, c. 900 BC.

The "Copenhagen School" of biblical researchers advocate a more radical revisionism than anything produced by Israel Finkelstein or his peers in the archaeology department at Tel-Aviv University. The Copenhagen School is the modern descendant of the approach taken in the nineteenth century by Julius Wellhausen, who argued that the Bible offered little in the way of actual history — that it was, as he put it, just a “glorified mirage”. Thompson wrote in his 1999 book The Mythic Past, “Today we no longer have a history of Israel…. There never was a ‘United Monarchy’ in history and it is meaningless to speak of pre-exilic prophets and their writings…. We can now say with considerable confidence that the Bible is not a history of anyone’s past.”

To quote Soggin [J. A. Soggin, "The Davidic-Solomonic Kingdom," in Israelite and Judaean History, ed. J. H. Hayes and I. M. Miller, OTL (London: SCM, 1977), and ]. A. Soggin, "Prolegomena on the Approach to Historical Texts in the Hebrew Bible andthe Ancient Near East,” in Aumlmm Malmnat Volume (ed. S. Ahituv and B. A. Levine; Erlsr 24;jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 1993) 215 ] "There are no traces even of the Davidic and Solomon empire outside the Bible and reasonable doubts have been expressed as to the reliability of the pertinent biblical sources."

The change involved more than a re-evaluation of the dating and utility of the biblical evidence. Archaeologists no longer agreed about the material record. The debate about the united monarchy has been propelled by the reinterpretation of earlier excavations, the application of new social-scientific methods, and the discovery of new finds. With respect to excavations in Jerusalem, recent studies have either complicated or simplified matters, depending on one's perspective. Many modern scholars have made serious claims regarding the absence of significant archaeological evidence from tenth-century Jerusalem to argue it was not a serious city in Solomon’s time. From the Late Bronze Age and continuing during the eleventh to ninth century BC, Jerusalem was a regional market center which dominated the Ayalon Valley.

In Jerusalem, a massive 10th century BC retaining structure for a monumental building (capping earlier Jebusite terraces), was assumed to be part of the fortress of Zion, residence of King David. (2 Samuel 5:7-9). This large stepped-stone structure earlier thought by some to be of the Davidic-Solomonic era is now thought to be part of a single architectural complex (along with its terraced foundations) dating to the Late Bronze Age. Redating the stepped-stone structure to the Late Bronze Age leaves few finds from the tenth century. The most likely place where Jerusalem's public buildings and important monuments were located is under the Temple Mount, which for obvious reasons cannot be excavated. Thus, the most irnportant area for investigation, and the one to which the Biblical histories of David and Solomon mainly refer, remains terra incognita.

Some now estimate the population of western Palestine to have been about 150,000 in 1000 BC, and have grown to around 400,000 in 750 BC. This contradicts the archaeological surveys that previously assigned much higher figures given to the United Monarchy period. Revised demographics led to reassessment of tenth-century history. Given the sparse population of the Judean highlands in the tenth and ninth centuries, Thompson, E. A. Knauf, and Gelinas questioned whether Judah could have even supported a politiy worthy of the designation of "state" prior to the eighth or seventh century BC. A monograph by DW Jamieson-Drake is widely cited by the Biblical revisionists for the proposition that Judah did not become a state, and that Jerusalem was not a major administrative center, any earlier than the eighth century BC.

The biblical reference to the importance of Shiloh in pre-monarchic times must preserve genuine memories of its prosperity in the Iron Age I, as Shiloh was not inhabited, or very sparsely settled, in the Iron Age II. Whether references to Bethel in Judges or 1 Samuel (put in writing centuries later) may preserve a similar memory is impossible to say. The story in 1 Kgs 12:29 presents a problem. Jeroboam I ruled in the late 10th century – in the transition period from the late Iron Age I to the Early Iron Age IIA, or the early days of the Iron Age IIA. Thus far excavations at Bethel have produced no clear indication that it was inhabited at that time. Dating the relatively small number of Iron Age IIA vessels/sherds found at the site to a later phase of the period, in the 9th century BC, would leave this biblical tradition with no remains on the ground. Were the site inhabited at the time, it was no more than a small, very meager settlement. The sparse late Iron Age IIA settlement may provide the reality behind the reference to Bethel in the northern prophetic cycle (2 Kgs 2:2–3.23), which seems to include genuine historical memories.

The Iron Age IIB is characterized by a continuous military interaction between the countries of the Levant and the Kingdom of Assyria to the north and the Egyptian kingdom to the south and this is manifested by the abundance of iconographic and written sources and the archaeological finds. Both the royal historiography and the plastic artistic portrayals are characterized by their one-sidedness; since they are first and foremost a product of ideological and political propaganda, they present the warfare in a manner that suits them. The two kinds of sources are also to a great extent stylized and include standard formulas and descriptions: actually even when a literary source or a relief is dedicated to a battle over a specific city, in most instances it does not reflect the reality that is unique to a given campaign.

Megiddo was destroyed in the military campaign of Pharaoh Shishak in 926 BCE, and restored during the reign of Ahab, king of Israel (ca. 874 - 852 BCE) who made it a royal "chariot city." The new city's walls were 3.5 m. thick, constructed with offsets and insets and incorporating the Solomonic city gate. Noteworthy among the structures from the period of Ahab are several large, identical buildings, covering large areas of the city. Some archeologists believe they were storehouses, barracks or market-places, but most researchers regard them as stables. Based on the biblical account, the stables were first dated to the reign of Solomon, but new evidence has established their date as early 9th century BC, in the reign of King Ahab.

The main road that led from the coastal plain and Philistia to the Kingdom of Judah passed through the Ella Valley. It is not surprising that Iron Age biblical tradition ascribes this geographic region as the place where the battle between David and Goliath was fought that was conducted without bloodshed, between Socah and ‘Azeqa. The historical value of this tradition is problematic from the standpoint of the literary data themselves. First, in addition to the description appearing in I Samuel 17, the tradition also appears that attributes the killing of Goliath to Elhanan Ben Ya’ari (II Samuel 21:17). Also at the end of the battle “David took the head of the Philistine and brought it to Jerusalem (I Samuel 17:52), and indeed David conquered Jerusalem but only when he was king, ten or more years later.

Until recently, there was no evidence outside the Bible for the existence of King David. There are no references to him in Egyptian, Syrian or Assyrian documents of the time, and the many archaeological digs in the City of David failed to turn up so much as a mention of his name. Then, on July 21, 1993, a team of archaeologists led by Prof. Avraham Biran, excavating Tel Dan in the northern Galilee, found a triangular piece of basalt rock, measuring 23 x 36 cm. inscribed in Aramaic. It was subsequently identified as part of a victory pillar erected by the king of Syria and later smashed by an Israelite ruler. The inscription, which dates to the ninth century bce, that is to say, about a century after David was thought to have ruled Israel, includes the words Beit David ("House" or "Dynasty" of David") — the same phrase which appears in the Bible in numerous locations. It is the first near-contemporaneous reference to David ever found. It is not conclusive; but it does strongly indicate that a king called David established a dynasty in Israel during the relevant period. Skeptics insist the inscription can be read in other ways, including “Temple of Dwd” or “House of the beloved”.

In 2010 a section of an ancient city wall of Jerusalem from the tenth century BC - possibly built by King Solomon - was revealed in archaeological excavations directed by Dr. Eilat Mazar and conducted under the auspices of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The section of the city wall revealed, 70 meters long and six meters high, is located in the area known as the Ophel, between the City of David and the southern wall of the Temple Mount.

"The city wall that has been uncovered testifies to a ruling presence. Its strength and form of construction indicate a high level of engineering," Mazar said. The city wall is at the eastern end of the Ophel area in a high, strategic location atop the western slop of the Kidron valley. "A comparison of this latest finding with city walls and gates from the period of the First Temple, as well as pottery found at the site, enable us to postulate with a great degree of assurance that the wall that has been revealed is that which was built by King Solomon in Jerusalem in the latter part of the tenth century B.C.E.," said Mazar.

"This is the first time that a structure from that time has been found that may correlate with written descriptions of Solomon's building in Jerusalem," she added. "The Bible tells us that Solomon built - with the assistance of the Phoenicians, who were outstanding builders - the Temple and his new palace and surrounded them with a city, most probably connected to the more ancient wall of the City of David." Mazar specifically cites the third chapter of the First Books of Kings where it refers to "until he (Solomon) had made an end of building his own house, and the house of the Lord, and the wall of Jerusalem round about."

In any event, recent developments in archaeology and epigraphy have raised interesting questions as to the size, clout, and territories of the domains controlled by David and Solomon. At a minimum, revisionist treatments have been more successful in undermining the case for an extensive and powerful Davidic-Solomonic empire than in disproving the existence of Solomon and the United Kingdom.

After a month of excavation on Mount Zion, just outside Jerusalem's Old City wall, the team of the German Protestant Institute of Archaeology (GPIA) made a surprising discovery: The Iron Age city wall in the south of Jerusalem's Old City was not found where it was long believed to have been standing. It's simply not there. Archaeologist Dieter Vieweger and his team have been researching the course and dating of the city walls of Jerusalem during the 8th century B.C. to understand how large Jerusalem was at that time. Researchers had assumed that parts of the city wall from the Old Testament period ran from today's Zion Gate to the Hinnom Valley. In the 1980s, Benedictine monk Bargil Pixner had dated this part of the wall to the Iron Age, which corresponds to the Old Testament period. But the wall cannot be attributed to the Iron Age; the pottery sherds make this clear.

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Page last modified: 03-07-2022 15:25:50 ZULU