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800–587 BC – Iron Age III

According to traditional accounts, the northern kingdom of Israel was invaded and destroyed by the Assyrians in 722 BC. The southern kingdom of Judah was invaded several times - most importantly in 701 - but managed to fight off the Assyrians and survive. Subsequently the Babylonians conquered the Assyrian empire. In 586 BC, they captured Jerusalem, destroyed the Temple and exiled the major part of the population of Judah. The Bible portrays these events as an unmitigated catastrophe (which, for the people of Israel, it was..)

The end of the 8th c. BC saw the great expansion of the Assyrians, and the devastation of the realm of Israel, along with all other kingdoms which tried to resist it. However, the administrative schemes introduced by Tiglath Pileser III to fuse the conquered territories into an empire, endured for many centuries. Later conquerors - Babylonians, Persians, Greeks and even Romans, merely inherited and perpetuated a going concern. Part of the reason for the extraordinary stability of the imperial structure lies in economic benefits it bestowed.

William M. Schniedewind notes that "Archaeological research of the last several decades has made it abundantly clear that dramatic changes in the social life of Judah were ushered in by the Assyrian Empire in the late eighth century. The urbanization of Judah, for example, resulted in a much more complex society where writing was a regular part of burgeoning government bureaucracy. The use of writing by new social classes (military, merchants, craftsmen) is indicated by inscriptional evidence relating to government bureaucracy, economic globalization, and religious ideology (e.g., private seals, royal seal impressions, letters, receipts, graffiti, amulets). Jerusalem would emerge as a large metropolis and a powerful political center in the late eighth century."

The High Place at Dan was established by Jeroboam I, king of Israel at the end of the 10th century BCE, after the division of the kingdom. Jeroboam I built altars bearing a golden calf in two cities: ...he set one in Beth-el and the other he put in Dan...and the people went up to worship...even unto Dan. (1 Kings 12:29-30) The sanctuary occupied an area of about 60 x 45 m. In the broad courtyard, enclosed by a wall with rooms around it, stood an altar. It was restored in the mid-9th century BC by Ahab, king of Israel, who had a large (20 x 18 m.) bamah erected. The outer walls of the bamah were composed of large ashlars with a groove between the courses, which originally contained a wooden beam; this is reminiscent of the construction of the Solomonic Temple in Jerusalem: ...with three courses of hewn stones and one course of cedar beams. (1 Kings 6:36; 7:12)

During the reign of Jeroboam II at the beginning of the 8th century BC, a monumental staircase was added to the southern side of the bamah and a smaller altar was erected. In one of the rooms bordering the cultic enclosure, three iron shovels (54 cm. long) were found, which may be identified as mahta and ya'eh which were used in the Temple in Jerusalem to remove the ashes from the altar. The bamah of Dan was destroyed when the city was captured by Tiglath Pileser, king of Assyria, in 732 BCE. Soon thereafter, it was restored but never regained its former importance.

Bethel is the location of one of the two golden calves established by Jeroboam I, the founder of the Northern Kingdom (1 Kgs 12:29); and a principal target for Josiah’s cult reform (2 Kgs 23:15 –16) which restricted all sacrificial worship of God to Jerusalem. Scholars have suggested that the Bethel temple served as the “repository” and place of composition of northern biblical traditions such as the Exodus story, the Jacob cycle and the Book of Saviors in Judges. In view of the weak activity in the late 7th / early 6th centuries and the lack of evidence for meaningful activity in the 6th century and the Persian period, some are inclined to associate the proposed scribal activity at Bethel with its period of prosperity in the Iron Age IIB. Archaeology cannot help in deciding whether this happened before or after the destruction of the Northern Kingdom. Historical considerations may favor the former possibility.

King Sennacherib, who inherited the throne of his father, Sargon II, turned south at the beginning of his reign toward Babylon. It was only during his third campaign, in 701 BC, that he found time to go west, toward the coast of Sidon from whence he turned south to the cities of Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gaza, Ekron, Lachish, Lavana and ‘Azeqa. Sennacherib’s main purpose in doing so was to reestablish Assyrian rule in the districts that had rebelled against it. Sennacherib’s campaign to Judah in the year 701 BCE was scorched in the consciousness of various historians as one of the harshest and most traumatic occurrences in the sequence of events that befell the Kingdom of Judah. The attempt by King Hezekiah to cast off the yoke of foreign rule and free the kingdom of the burden of the heavy taxes that were sent annually to Assyria was an important and deliberate measure that was not sufficiently successful. The results of the revolt took an extremely hard toll on the Kingdom of Judah.

Perhaps there was no exile from Judah to Assyria. From the last phase of the Iron Age IIC (seventh-sixth centuries BC) the settlement picture is completely different and archeologiests have identified fewer than one hundred settlements of different kinds. Based on the Assyrian text a tremendous amount of booty was taken from the cities of Judah, the king promised to pay heavy taxes to Assyria and many of the residents of the Kingdom of Judah were taken prisoner and sent on the long journey to Assyria. The reconstruction of the events is problematic and does not seem to reflect clearly the steps that preceded the conquest of Lachish and which occurred afterward.

Bethel is mentioned in the list of towns of Benjamin (Josh 18:22), which dates to the late 7th century, and appears prominently in the description of King Josiah’s cult reform (2 Kgs 23:15). Josiah reigned between 639 and 609 and his actions at Bethel could not have been carried out before the Assyrian retreat in the 620s BC. One could argue that the decline of Bethel was the result of Josiah’s actions, but the archaeological evidence makes it difficult to accept this interpretation.

In the 8th century BC Jerusalem expanded; during the reign of King Hezekiah the hill to the west of the city of David was encompassed within its walls. The course of the strengthened eastern wall of the city was traced for approximately 120 m., virtually along the course of its Bronze Age predecessor and in places incorporating remnants of it. Within the walls, buildings were separated by alleyways and drainage channels emptying into the Kidron Valley via a small opening in the wall. Remains of several structures dating to this time were also revealed outside the city walls, evidence that the city was densely populated. It would appear that these quarters were abandoned during the Assyrian siege of 701 BCE described in the biblical narrative. (2 Kings 18-19)

During the 8th and 7th centuries BCE Jerusalem enjoyed a period of prosperity. The classic explanation for Jerusalem’s growth was the immigration of Israelites who came to Judah from the Northern Kingdom after the fall of Samaria in 721 BC, and the influx of dispossessed refugees from the territories that Sennacherib took from Judah in 701 BC and gave to the Philistine cities. But according to Thompson, “There is little basis for affirming the existence of a kingdom of Judah in the south [at the time of the split-up described in the Bible].” There was not “sufficient density of population,” he says.

Parts of prominent structures have been uncovered, attesting the intensity of the Babylonian destruction in 587-6 BC. The Ashlar House, a large structure on the southeastern slope of the city, was built of huge dressed stones and is assumed to have been a public building. Another house, containing the "burnt room," named after the thick layer of charred debris covering its floor, is also from this period. The House of Ahi'el, on the northeastern slope, is a typical four-roomed Israelite dwelling of this time. The name derives from the Hebrew inscription on a pottery fragment found in the house, which includes this personal name. The house had an external stone staircase leading to a second story. In a small storage room over fifty restorable jars were found and in another small room a limestone toilet seat was embedded in the plaster floor, with a cesspit beneath it.

In the year 2008 a 2,600 year old clay seal impression, or bulla, bearing the name Gedaliah ben Pashur was uncovered completely intact during archeological excavations in Jerusalem's ancient City of David, located just below the walls of the Old City near the Dung Gate. The name appears in the Book of Jeremiah (38:1) together with that of Yehuchal ben Shelemayahu, whose name was found on an identical clay bulla in the same area in 2005. The two men were ministers in the court of King Zedekiah, the last king to rule in Jerusalem before the destruction of the First Temple.

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Page last modified: 26-03-2012 18:43:08 ZULU