Biblical History and Archaeology
Ronald A. Simkins
History in the Biblical Literature
The Bible as a Historical Source
To what extent is history‐a record of actual past events‐embedded in the diverse literature of the Bible? The Bible is composed of many different formal types of literature (genres), and although many of the genres present a past, no literature in the Old Testament claims or presents itself to be a work of history. History, as first practiced by the classical historians Hecataeus, Herodotus, and Thucydides, entails not only the collecting of tales and traditions about the past, but also the inquiry (which is what historia means) into the reliability of the traditions and plausibility of the tales. Although ancient historians used different standards to judge their source materials from those modern historians would use, the important point is that they did make critical judgments about their sources. In the New Testament, only the writer of Luke‐Acts claims to present a work of history (Lk 1, 1–4 ). Whereas the writer of Luke‐Acts claims to have investigated his sources in order to present a reliable account to Theophilus, the Old Testament writers made no such critical judgments. They were not historians in either the modern or classical sense.
Although the Bible is not itself a work of history, the Old Testament authors did write about Israel's past. The narrative genres present the story of the people of Israel from the creation of the world through the days of Ezra and Nehemiah. The biblical writers drew upon tales and traditions of Israel's past in order to communicate an idea to their contemporaries. They were not concerned about whether the tales and traditions were reliable or plausible. Even when some attempt was made to communicate factual information, such as in the books of Kings, the writing of history was secondary to other purposes of the biblical writers. The non‐narrative genres of the Bible‐laws, songs, prophetic oracles, proverbs, and wisdom literature‐attest to the story of Israel only indirectly. These texts too are ideological, though they also served ritual, educational, moral, and other functions in ancient Israelite society. (The various genres of biblical literature are discussed in the relevant sections of the Reading Guide.)
The extent of history embedded in the biblical texts is also questioned because of the chronological gap between the biblical writers and the events that they purport to narrate. In most cases, the biblical writers did not witness the events they describe. They often lived centuries later and were dependent upon oral traditions and perhaps some written sources (the Bible refers to a number of written sources, discussed on RG 44–46 ) for the composition of their narratives of the past. The reliability of these sources and their use by the biblical writers is unknown. When no source material was available‐for private events, for example‐the biblical writers would simply fill in the historical void in their presentation of the past one way or another, ultimately by pure invention.
Many of the biblical stories are shaped according to traditional literary or mythic patterns that make their reliability suspect. For exam‐ ple, the common Near Eastern myth popularly known as the conflict myth‐a tale which describes a young warrior‐god's rise to kingship by defeating an old god or force who poses a threat to the order and stability of the world‐is transformed by the biblical writers into a literary pattern that shapes the stories of the Exodus, Joshua's conquest of Canaan, and Saul's election as king. Many other stories utilize such literary patterns. The traditional motif of the barren mother of an important person, for example, is used in the stories of Sarai and Isaac, Rachel and Joseph, and Hannah and Samuel.
The biblical writers' use of traditional literary and mythic patterns to tell their stories of Israel calls into question not only the narrative of the events but also the historical value of many details of the stories. This writing style of the biblical writers does not necessarily mean that no actual events lie beneath the narrative, but at the very least it indicates that the presentation of such events has been shaped to conform to a traditional interpretive framework. In other words, the meaning of such events as indicated by their presentation in the stories of Israel is more significant to the biblical writers than the historical reality of the events.
The Contribution of Archaeology
Archaeology is the scientific study of the material remains of past human life and activities. The material remains are discovered through excavations and surveys, and include both unwritten and written discoveries. Among the unwritten discoveries are architectural features such as temples, palaces, fortifications, public buildings, and houses; industrial features such as oil presses, wine presses, silos, ovens, and pottery kilns; and artifacts such as pottery, tools, jewelry, weapons, and statues and figurines. The written material, usually discovered during the process of excavation, is ordinarily studied by epigraphists and paleographers and includes literary documents (such as the Dead Sea Scrolls), inscriptions on stone or clay tablets, seals (bullae), and ostraca (broken pieces of pottery with words inscribed on them).
The year 1890 marks the beginning of the scientific study of Syro‐Palestinian archaeology, when W. M. Flinders Petrie conducted the first systematic excavation in Palestine at Tell el‐Hesi in the northern Negev. The Arabic word tell (tel, in Hebrew) is used to designate the artificial mounds in the shape of truncated cones that dominate the landscape of Palestine. They are sites of ancient settlements, built up by successive levels of human occupation and destruction over the centuries. The oldest occupancy, of course, is at the bottom of the mound, and the most recent at the top. At Tell el‐Hesi, Petrie laid the foundations of stratigraphy and ceramic typology, the basic interpretative principles of archaeological field method. Stratigraphy is the technique of excavating a mound (tell) layer by layer, and at the same time isolating the contents of each occupational layer (stratum). Typology is the study and classification of groups of objects (artifacts) on the basis of shared characteristics (shape, material, decoration). By correlating stratigraphy and typology archaeologists can construct a relative chronology. Using distinctive types of pottery as his dating tool, Petrie constructed a chronological framework for Palestine.
Except for a few excavations, like George Reisner's at Samaria (Sebaste) in 1909–10, archaeological excavations in Palestine before World War I resembled treasure hunts. Between World Wars I and II there was a significant advance in field techniques, largely due to William F. Albright, distinguished American archaeologist and biblical scholar. He refined pottery chronology through excavation and survey; he identified several mounds as biblical sites; he related many of the biblical episodes to archaeological contexts. Archaeological field methods advanced rapidly after World War II. Three archaeologists contributed meaningfully to this development: a Briton, Kathleen Kenyon, an Israeli, Yigael Yadin, and an American, G. Ernest Wright. At Jericho Kenyon used precise stratigraphic method to clarify the chronology of the fortification walls that had been dated incorrectly to the Late Bronze Age (1550–1200 BC). Yadin directed the first large‐scale dig in modern Israel at Hazor in Upper Galilee, the largest biblical city in Palestine. In keeping with the Israeli method, Yadin concentrated on broad exposure of the monumental architecture of the site. G. Ernest Wright excavated Shechem in the central hill country, the first capital of the kingdom of Israel. Wright gave special attention to the pottery of the site as one of the most accurate indicators of ancient chronology; also, he trained a new generation of archaeologists at Shechem.
Since 1970 there has been a striking change in field method as archaeologists borrow from both the natural and the social sciences. In the first place, almost all excavation staffs are interdisciplinary: such specialists as paleobotanists, zooarchaeologists, geologists, ecologists, and, especially, physical and cultural anthropologists collaborate with archaeologists in the field. Also, the technologies of modern science, such as carbon–14 (for dating organic substances), thermoluminescence (for dating pottery), magnetometry (for detecting the presence of metal objects), potassium argon (for dating geological samples), and neutron activation analysis (for tracing the origin of clay), are being used to analyze the data with greater precision. The purpose of this comprehensive approach, at least in theory, is to reconstruct the daily life of the people whose remains are being excavated, including their social structure and economic development, as well as their religious practices. Archaeologists' earlier interest in digging isolated tells is now also combined with regional surveys as a way of studying a tell's relationship with the surroundings. Regional study is indispensable in determining town planning, settlement patterns, and population expansion, to mention some of the concerns of modern archaeologists.
Because archaeology provides a different kind of evidence than that from the Bible, archaeology cannot be expected to make definitive contributions to several basic problems in the history of Israel. For example, archaeology cannot determine chronology beyond the broad limits determined by ceramic or radiocarbon dating. Archaeology addresses chronology through typologies of material remains that lack the precision of the chronological framework established by texts. The basis of typology is that human culture changes gradually and within limits. When a broad range of features and artifacts from stratified archaeological contexts are compared, a typological sequence can be established into which new features and artifacts can be placed. This typological sequence then becomes a means for dating the material uncovered in a new excavation. The major artifact used in typological dating is pottery. Pottery sherds are virtually indestructible and are found at every site in Syria‐Palestine for every period since the Neolithic period. Moreover, whole pottery vessels were easily broken, leading to the production of more pottery and to rapid changes in the pottery repertoire. As a result, a large database of pottery has enabled archaeologists to establish a typological sequence by which they are able to date layers of human occupation in an excavation. Although this pottery typology is tied to an absolute chronology by occasional dated inscriptions that are found in sealed archaeological contexts, the changes within the pottery sequence provide a chronological precision of no greater than a few decades.
Other historical issues to which archaeology cannot make a definitive contribution include the problem of ethnicity. Archaeology can provide much of the material content of ethnicity, but it cannot finally define the ethnic groups because such a definition also involves shared cultural values and self‐perceptions. Ethnicity involves both material and ideological components. The identification of the early Israelites in the archaeological record has been a continual problem in this regard, for the early Israelites appear to share the same material culture as the Canaanites. Some interpreters attempt to get around this problem by identifying the inhabitants of the new settlements in the central hill country at the beginning of the Iron I period as early Israelites and those inhabitants who continue to occupy the Late Bronze cities and towns as Canaanites. However, such an interpretation cannot be supported by the archaeological evidence, and in any case is only possible because of the implications of the biblical text (e.g., see Jos 17, 14–18 ).
The interrelation of particular human events in a political history is also beyond the scope to which archaeology can contribute. Archaeology can demonstrate that the city of Hazor in northern Israel was destroyed near the end of the Late Bronze Age, and that the city of Lachish in Judah was destroyed approximately a century later. It cannot answer the questions: Who destroyed the cities? Was the same agent responsible for the destruction of each city? Why were they destroyed? What were the causes of the cities' destruction? What happened to the inhabitants of the cities after they were destroyed? Archaeology does not deal with the evidence necessary to answer these questions. For many of the problems of political history, archaeology can only remain silent.
Finally, archaeology cannot demonstrate the truth or confirm the meaning of the biblical texts. The meaning of the biblical texts is not found in the degree to which the texts correspond to what really happened in the past. Rather, the meaning of the texts is found in the message that the biblical writers were communicating to their ancient readers, and this message is beyond the scope of archaeological research.
The focus of archaeology is on the material world, and in this regard archaeology can contribute to the historical study of ancient Israel. Archaeology provides the material context for understanding this history by presenting the material remains of a broad spectrum of Middle Eastern peoples and places. This material provides the general setting for the history of Israel, and through cross‐cultural comparison is able to shed light on the Israelite material culture. For example, archaeology can provide information about the distinctive cultures of those peoples who lived near and interacted with the Israelites, such as the Philistines, Edomites, Phoenicians, Arameans, and Assyrians. Regional surveys allow us to reconstruct settlement patterns and the demographics of particular regions. The faunal and floral remains gathered from excavations enable us to reconstruct Israel's environmental setting and its changes over time.
Archaeology also provides the specific material context for many of the events narrated in the Bible, much of which the biblical narratives themselves do not address. The biblical description of King Hezekiah's rebellion against the Assyrian empire focuses primarily on the diplomatic maneuvers of the Rabshakeh of Assyria to coerce Hezekiah into submission (2 Kgs 18–19 ). The archaeological evidence, however, presents a picture of Hezekiah's preparations for revolt and its tragic consequences.
Ultimately, archaeological remains illuminate the daily life of the ancient Israelites, which supplements the biblical narratives. Only from archaeology can we learn about the planning and defenses of the Israelite and Judean towns and cities; the architecture of palaces, houses, temples, and public buildings; figurines, altars, and other cult objects; tombs and the Israelites' treatment of their dead; luxury items such as jewelry, carved ivories, metal and stone vessels, and imported items; and common tools and weapons. Archaeology enables us to reconstruct aspects of the society, economy, and religion of the ancient Israelites that are neglected by the biblical tradition. Furthermore, because archaeological evidence is random‐its preservation is by chance, unaffected by human selection‐it provides an alternative perspective from which to view the biblical narratives. This is especially true regarding aspects of the Israelites' religious practices and beliefs. The widespread abundance of terra‐cotta female figures, for example, attests to a dominant concern for female fertility that is given little attention in the biblical texts. Similarly, the graffiti found at Kuntillet «Ajrud refers to “Yahweh and his asherah.” The meaning of this phrase is debated, referring to a consort or a symbol of Yahweh. In either case, the phrase attests to a view of Yahweh that has been excluded from the Bible.
The Bronze Age
Archaeologists divide the Bronze Age into three major periods, tied to the chronology of Egypt, based on changes in material culture. The Early Bronze Age (3300–2000 BC) is the first period of urbanization in Palestine. This period corresponds to the Early Dynastic period and Old Kingdom in Egypt. The Early Bronze Age is further divided into four sub‐periods. Only the beginnings of urbanization are evident in Early Bronze I (3300–3000 BC). By Early Bronze II and III (3000–2200) Palestine is characterized by numerous large fortified cities. Notable excavated sites include Megiddo and Beth Yerak (Khirbet Kerak) in the north, Tell el‐Far»ah (perhaps biblical Tirzah) and Ai in the central hill country, and Tel Yarmuth and Arad in the south. With the weakening of the Old Kingdom at the end of the Sixth Dynasty, Egypt entered the First Intermediate Period. Similarly, most of the urban centers in Palestine were abandoned or destroyed, with much of the population subsisting on pastoralism. This final rural period is known alternatively as Early Bronze IV, Middle Bronze I, or Intermediate Bronze (2200–2000 BC).
The Middle Bronze Age (2000–1550 BC) marks the height of prosperity and power in Palestine with a resurgence of urbanization. The numerous large fortified cities during this period are characterized by massive fortifications consisting of ramparts, mudbrick walls, and large fortress‐style gates. The large temples and palaces constructed inside the city walls attest to the prosperity of the period, and many luxury items of foreign origin give evidence of a vibrant international trade. Excavated sites of note for this period include, from north to south, Dan, Hazor, Megiddo, Aphek, Shechem, Jericho, Gezer, Ashkelon, and Tell el‐«Ajjul. The Middle Bronze Age corresponds to the Middle Kingdom and Second Intermediate Period in Egypt. In contrast to the end of the Early Bronze Age, however, the cities of Palestine continued to flourish with the collapse of the Middle Kingdom and during the rule of the foreign Hyksos kings of the Second Intermediate Period. Only when the native Egyptian kings of the Seventeenth Dynasty succeeded in driving out the Hyksos did the Middle Bronze Age come to an end, with numerous cities in Palestine being destroyed.
The Late Bronze Age (1550–1200/1150 BC) corresponds to the New Kingdom in Egypt. This largely urban period lacks the prosperity of the Middle Kingdom as the cities of Palestine became subject to the Egyptian empire. Nevertheless, the period is also characterized by internationalism, with material culture from Egypt, Greece, Cyprus, Turkey, Lebanon, and Syria found at several of the sites in Palestine. Important excavated sites for this period include, from north to south, Hazor, Megiddo, Beth Shan, Aphek, Shechem, Gezer, Lachish, Tell el‐Far»ah (south), and Timna. The Late Bronze Age comes to an end with the weakening of Egypt in the Twentieth Dynasty and the withdrawal of Egypt from Palestine.
In the chronology supplied by the Bible, the Israelites' ancestors‐the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob‐are placed in the period from the end of the Early Bronze Age through the beginning of Middle Bronze Age. The exodus from Egypt is placed at the beginning of the Late Bronze Age. 1 Kings 6,1 claims that the construction of Solomon's Temple began 480 years after the Israelites came out of Egypt in the Exodus. A conservative date for the beginning of Solomon's reign would be around 960 BC, placing the exodus event around 1440 BC. In Exodus 12, 40 , the text claims that the Israelites lived in Egypt for 430 years. Thus, Joseph would have brought his father, his brothers, and their families into Egypt around 1870 BC. Further references establish a chronology for the ancestors: Abraham was 100 years old when Isaac was born (Gn 21, 5 ); Isaac was 60 years old when Jacob was born (Gn 25, 26 ); and Jacob lived 130 years before Joseph brought him to Egypt (Gn 47, 28 ). According to this chronology, Abraham would have been born around 2160 BC.
Although the biblical chronology is indicated fairly precisely, critical examination indicates a number of problems. First, setting aside historical problems that will be discussed below, the figure of 480 years for the period between the Exodus and the construction of the Temple is a suspiciously round number. It translates into twelve times forty, the latter being the traditional biblical length for a generation. In other words, the biblical writer is stating that the Temple was constructed twelve generations after the Exodus. The number twelve, of course, is suspicious, especially in the context of the Temple‐the single most significant building in Israel‐because the number often represents “all Israel.” Solomon is also the twelfth generation from Judah according to some genealogies (e.g., 2 Chr 2, 1–17; 3, 1–9 ), and this might have served as the basis for the 480 years. The figure of 430 years for the duration of the Israelites' stay in Egypt is also problematic, but for a different reason. In Genesis 15, 13–16 the figure of 400 years is used for the same period, and this is equated with three generations. Indeed, Moses and Aaron belong to the third generation after Levi. Finally, the extremely long lives attributed to the ancestors‐Abraham lived to be 175 years old, Isaac surpassed his father with 180 years, and Jacob died at the age of 147—cannot be accepted. The great ages of the ancestors reflect their proximity to the antediluvian period. Those who lived before the flood had life spans of 900 years or more, but after the flood the life spans of the people gradually diminished (indeed, Joseph only lived to be 110 years old). In the end, the biblical chronology cannot be taken simply as historical in the modern sense of the term.
The Patriarchs in History
The story of the Israelites' ancestors in Genesis is composed of numerous, originally independent, folktales. Scholars usually assume that these tales had an oral prehistory, but their written form dates from 900 BC to 400 BC (the date depends on how they understand the composition of Genesis, and there is wide disagreement on this issue). Unfortunately, there is little conclusive evidence determining the date and nature of the book's composition. Nevertheless, many anachronisms in the story indicate that it was written many centuries after the time it purports to describe. Also, as is typical of folktales, many parts of the story were written, and perhaps originally told, according to fixed patterns of storytelling in the ancient world. For example, all three of the major women in the story‐Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel‐are initially barren. This is a common motif (it may reflect the social and physical reality of young girls who are married soon after their first menstruation, but unable to conceive for a few years) used in the story of the ancestors to demonstrate the providence of God. Other fixed patterns include: the rivalry between a barren, favored wife and a fertile co‐wife or concubine (Sarah and Hagar, Rachel and Leah); encounter of the future betrothed at a well (Rebekah, Rachel); journey in the desert and the discovery of a well (Ishmael); revelations of a deity in a dream (Jacob); and the testament of a dying ancestor (Jacob). One fixed pattern that is found repeated in the story of the ancestors but not elsewhere is the motif of an ancestor telling a king that his wife is his sister. Abraham does this twice and Isaac once, and in each case the common motif is told in a slightly different way to fit a different context regarding whether the wife is barren, promised a child, or already has children.
Does the story of Israel's ancestors preserve any recoverable traces of actual events that took place in the Bronze Age? Some scholars have thought so. W. F. Albright placed Abraham's migration from Haran to Canaan within the context of the Amorite migrations that are attested in texts from Mesopotamia. The Amorites, known as “Amurru” in the Mesopotamian texts, were interpreted as a distinct, semi‐nomadic people who migrated into southern Mesopotamia from eastern Syria and Turkey, and contributed to the collapse of the Akkad Dynasty and the rise of the First Dynasty of Babylon (whose most important king was Hammurapi). The Amorites were also given credit for the collapse of the Early Bronze city‐states in Palestine. Albright further argued that documentary evidence from texts discovered at Mari and Nuzi indicates the historicity of the patriarchal figures. Dating to the Middle Bronze Age, the Mari texts attest to many of the personal and place names mentioned in the ancestor stories; the later Nuzi texts corroborate many of the social and legal practices in the Genesis narratives. Finally, the picture in Genesis of the ancestors living a seminomadic life in the midst of fortified urban centers fits the general situation of the Middle Bronze Age.
Kathleen Kenyon, who excavated at Jericho, thought she could identify the Amorites in the archaeological record. During the Intermediate Bronze Age, Jericho was characterized by a period of occupation (perhaps in tents) prior to the construction of any permanent structures. The buildings that were built on the tell during this period were characterized by thin, rather flimsy walls. Nevertheless, the inhabitants carved hundreds of large shaft tombs out of the bedrock, in which one individual was buried in each tomb with a bronze dagger or with a few small pots. Because she also identified many foreign elements in the material culture, Kenyon argued that the evidence from Jericho attests to the arrival of nomadic invaders, whom she associated with the Amorites.
Although widely influential, Kenyon's interpretation is no longer credible. First, it is worth noting that the biblical stories do not identify the ancestors as Amorites. Abraham begins his journey not from Haran but from Ur of the Chaldeans in southern Mesopotamia; his journey goes “upstream” against the flow of Amorites into Mesopotamia. Outside Genesis, Abraham is called an Aramean (Dt 26, 5 ). The Amorites in the biblical tradition are presented as the native inhabitants of the land of Canaan (“Amorite” is often used synonymously with “Canaanite”), whose land would be given to Abraham's descendants. In Mesopotamian texts, the term Amurru simply denoted the west Semitic population of the Bronze Age. Although some groups of Amurru were nomadic, others were urbanized, occupying a wide range of socio‐economic roles in the society. Second, the correspondences between the names and social and legal customs of the ancestors and those presented in the Mari and Nuzi texts are not unique to the second millennium. Many of these names and customs can be identified in first‐millennium texts during the period in which the ancestor stories themselves were written. Finally, the social situation of the ancestors as seminomads living in the midst of urban centers is also not unique to the Middle Bronze Age. In fact, this social situation is typical of virtually every period in the history of Palestine, from the Early Bronze Age through the Ottoman period. In the end, the ancestor narratives reflect the period of the Iron Age in which they were written.
The Exodus in History
The historical value of the Exodus narrative is much more difficult to assess than the story of the patriarchs. On the one hand, the Exodus narrative presents a spectacular story in which the God of Israel fights and defeats Pharaoh and his army in order to rescue his people from bondage and humiliate the Egyptians who dared to challenge the honor and kingship of God. The story is told in accordance with the widely recognized mythic pattern of the conflict myth, and many aspects of the story have a supernatural rather than a historical character. Indeed, some aspects of the story cannot be historical. The sheer magnitude of the event‐that the firstborn male of every Egyptian household died (Ex 12, 29 ); that the entire Egyptian army pursued the Israelites to the sea and were subsequently drowned (Ex 14, 9, 28 ); that the number of Israelites who escaped from Egypt were for Egyptian Per-Atum, (House of Atum,) and 603,550 men of fighting age, not counting Levites, old men, women, and children (Nm 1, 44–47 ), renders it historically impossible. Other aspects of the story also exceed the bounds of a purely historical description. For example, the story does not record the name of the Egyptian king, the primary adversary of God and the Israelites. This is extremely odd since elsewhere the biblical writers mention the names of most other foreign kings—the two notable exceptions being the Egyptian king who married Sarai in Genesis 12 and the Egyptian king in the Joseph story, both of whom are known simply as Pharaoh. The depiction of the plagues is also not historically plausible. Although many of the individual plagues are natural events that can occur in Egypt, the combination of all the plagues, the scope and severity of the plagues, and the references to the plagues not affecting the Israelites or their animals affirm a theological conviction and challenge a purely literal and historical reading of the story.
Archaeology is the scientific study of the material remains of past human life and activities. The material remains are discovered through excavations and surveys, and include both unwritten and written discoveries. Among the unwritten discoveries are architectural features such as temples, palaces, fortifications, public buildings, and houses; industrial features such as oil presses, wine presses, silos, ovens, and pottery kilns; and artifacts such as pottery, tools, jewelry, weapons, and statues and figurines. The written material, usually discovered during the process of excavation, is ordinarily studied by epigraphists and paleographers and includes literary documents (such as the Dead Sea Scrolls), inscriptions on stone or clay tablets, seals (bullae), and ostraca (broken pieces of pottery with words inscribed on them).
The Exodus story, on the other hand, gives evidence of the writer's familiarity with Egypt. The story is set in the context of the family of Jacob migrating into Egypt during a famine in Palestine and after Joseph had risen to the rank of vizier. Ample evidence indicates that Asiatics migrated to and lived in Egypt during all periods and especially during the Second Intermediate Period. In fact, during this period a group of Asiatics living in the eastern Delta region, known as the Hyksos, succeeded in establishing their rule over all of Lower Egypt and parts of Upper Egypt. Many scholars have noted that Joseph's ascendancy in the court of Pharaoh fits in the Hyksos period, but Asiatics also rose to prominence in later periods as well. Moreover, some parts of the Joseph story have parallels in Egyptian literature, such as the Tale of Two Brothers. Many of the names in the Exodus narrative are Egyptian. Moses is the Egyptian word for birth, and occurs with theophoric elements in the names of Thutmose and Ramesses. The names of Hophni, Phinehas, Shiphrah, and Puah are also Egyptian. The narrative claims that the Israelites were forced to build the store‐cities Pithom and Ramesses. Ramesses can be identified with Pi‐ Ramesses, the capital city of Ramesses II in the eastern Delta at Tell el‐Dab«a. Pithom is Hebrew for Egyptian Per‐Atum, (House of Atum,) and can be identified with either Tell el‐Retabeh or nearby Tell el‐Maskhuta in the eastern Delta. Evidence also indicates that foreigners living in Egypt were conscripted into the corvée labor groups used to work on the state building projects during the New Kingdom.
How do we reconcile these two opposing views of the historicity of the Exodus story? Two characteristics of biblical story telling are important in this regard. First, the biblical writers responsible for this narrative are not attempting to write a history of the event, in either the modern or the classical Greek sense of history. The biblical writers did not investigate or critically examine their sources, nor did they necessarily invent the story. They simply took the traditions about the past that were present in their day (probably in oral form) and constructed from them a dramatic and persuasive written narrative. The traditions might have been generated in response to actual events of the past, but, as is often the case with oral tradition, the actual events no longer resembled the traditions and cannot be reconstructed from them. Second, the biblical writers describe the significance of the event for Israel. The biblical writers present the Exodus as one of the most significant events in the history of Israel, yet no reference to the Israelites or the Exodus can be found in any of the Egyptian records. We would not necessarily expect the Egyptians to record what would have been a disaster for their king and army at the sea‐rarely do royal scribes record the failures of their king‐but we would expect to find some record of the Israelites' presence in the Delta (the “land of Goshen”) or their role in state building projects. The absence of any reference to the Israelites suggests that whatever actual events might lie behind the narrative, they were insignificant from the perspective of the Egyptians. Therefore, although we might acknowledge that the Exodus narrative does preserve some traces of past events, the present form of the narrative does not provide us with any evidence from which to reconstruct those events.
Whatever events might underlie the Exodus narrative must be set in the context of what we do know about Egypt and Palestine in the Late Bronze Age. Palestine in the Late Bronze Age had a material culture that was continuous with the Middle Bronze Age, but the society itself was much poorer and less organized. This is attested in the settlement pattern. Most of the large fortified Middle Bronze cities in Palestine were destroyed at the end of the period. Many of the sites were not immediately reinhabited. Gradually, the old sites were reinhabited and new sites were settled, but the total settled area remained stable due to the abandonment of several large sites. The central hill country, which had been widely settled in the Middle Bronze Age, was now largely devoid of settlement. Most of the sites in the Late Bronze Age were small (less than twelve acres) and unfortified. The massive Middle Bronze ramparts continued to exist, but often no city wall was built on top of the ramparts. Instead, buildings were placed along the edge of the tell in a continuous line so that the outer wall of the structures offered modest protection. Few public buildings have been uncovered. The large fortress‐style temples of the Middle Bronze Age (at Shechem and Megiddo) continued to be used, but on a diminished scale. The large city of Hazor alone continued to flourish during the Late Bronze Age, perhaps due to its orientation toward the large cities in Syria rather than toward Egypt.
The Egyptian kings of Thebes, who had been ruled by the Asiatic Hyksos during the latter part of the Middle Bronze Age, now sought to extend their rule into Palestine. When Ahmose (1550–1525 BC) drove the Hyksos out of Egypt, he campaigned into Palestine to provide a buffer against further Asiatic incursions into Egypt. By the reign of Thutmose III (1492–1425 BC), all of Palestine was incorporated into the Egyptian empire. He set up an administrative system over Palestine that would endure through the remainder of the Late Bronze Age. (It is worth noting that the biblical chronology places the Exodus during the reign of Thutmose III‐an impossi‐ ble scenario.) Although Egypt faced opposition from the kingdoms of Mitanni (Hurrians) and Hatti (Hittites), Egypt maintained control over Palestine through the reign of Ramesses III (1184–1153 BC). Then a series of weak kings and political turmoil across the Mediterranean forced Egypt to withdraw from Palestine after approximately 350 years of control.
Evidence of the Egyptian presence and control of Palestine is found in numerous Egyptian artifacts (scarabs, jewelry, statues, stelae, anthropoid coffins) and buildings (temples and residences), especially from the end of the Late Bronze Age. Egyptian‐style temples differ in distinct ways from the Syrian‐style temples in Palestine that continued the Middle Bronze tradition. The Egyptian temple at Beth Shan (Strata VIII–VII), for example, consisted of a broad‐room entrance hall, with benches along its walls and two pillars to support its roof. The cella in the back of the temple was raised above the floor and reached by seven steps. A platform in the cella probably held a statue of the deity. A similar temple was found at Lachish. This temple had a large central hall supported by two pillars inside an entrance chamber. From the central hall a monumental stone staircase led to a small raised chamber interpreted as the cella. Remnants of cedar beams supporting the roof and colored (Egyptian blue) plaster from the walls have survived. An Egyptian temple of a different plan was found near the copper mines at Timna in the southern Arabah. The shrine consists of a small room abutting a rock scarp. Opposite the entrance is a small niche carved into the rock face. Archaeologists have suggested that in its final phase of use the shrine was probably covered only with a cloth canopy, which is attested by the many textile fragments found on the floor. The deity worshipped at this shrine was undoubtedly Hathor, for her image has been found repeatedly carved into stones and pillars.
A number of new buildings constructed at the end of the Late Bronze Age appear to attest to the strategic concerns of the Egyptians. The buildings are similar to the private dwellings in Egypt, and thus are called “Egyptian residences.” Most of these residences were built at existing sites‐Beth Shan, Tell el‐Far«ah (south), Megiddo, Tel Sera«, Aphek, Jaffa, Tell es‐Sa«idiyeh‐but a few were built at uninhabited sites such as Tel Mor (near Ashdod) and Deir el‐Balah (west of Gaza) and thus served as fortified outposts. The buildings are typically square with corner entrances. A square courtyard is at the center of the structure. Small chambers were built surrounding the center court, and a corner staircase would lead to a second floor. The construction of the buildings also demonstrated Egyptian techniques. The walls were thick and made of mudbrick either on a mudbrick foundation or without a foundation. The T‐shaped stone doorjambs and thresholds found in the buildings are also indicative of Egyptian style.
Two episodes during the Late Bronze Age are often connected to the Bible. During the reigns of Amenhotep III (1390–1352 BC) and Akhenaten (1352–1336 BC) numerous letters sent from the local rulers of the Canaanite cities to the Egyptian court (known as the Amarna letters) refer to groups of people known as «Apiru (or Habiru), who seem to be responsible for some of the regional turmoil. The letters imply that the «Apiru were mercenaries or bandits, and were employed by some local rulers to promote their self‐interests against other rulers. Because the term «Apiru is etymologically similar to Hebrew, some scholars have suggested the Amarna letters give evidence of Hebrews‐i.e., the early Israelites‐in the land of Canaan. It is possible that «Apiru is related to Hebrew, but at the most they probably designate a similar social category rather than an ethnic group. In any case, if the Amarna letters refer to groups of people that can be identified as Hebrews or early Israelites, the information about them does not correspond to the biblical tradition and thus little is known about them.
The second episode occurred during the reign of Merneptah (1213–1203 BC), the son of Ramesses II. In the fifth year of his reign, he defended Egypt against a Libyan assault, and commemorated his victory on a stela where he also refers to his campaign into Palestine against Ashkelon, Gezer, Yanoam, and Israel. Whereas Ashkelon, Gezer, and Yanoam are designated in the Egyptian inscription as cities, Israel is designated as a people or tribe. This is the first reference to Israel in any Middle Eastern text, and the only reference to Israel in an Egyptian text. Unfortunately, we learn nothing about Israel, its geographic location, or its relationship to the Canaanite cities from this text. We can be certain, however, that by the reign of Merneptah a group of people known as Israel is living in the land of Canaan.
The Iron I Age
The Israelites in the Biblical Tradition
The end of the Late Bronze Age and beginning of the Iron I Age (1200/1150–1000 BC) was characterized by political turmoil. Across the Medi‐ terranean prominent civilizations‐the Mycenaeans, Minoans, Hittites‐were brought to ruin, many of the Syrian and Palestinian cities were destroyed, and Egypt was forced to retreat to the Nile valley. The causes of the turmoil are many and not fully understood. One group that emerged from the turmoil was the Philistines. Originating in the Mycenaean world, they settled along the southern coast of Palestine, from Tell Qasile on the Yarkon River to Gaza, after losing a series of land and sea battles against Ramesses III in the eighth year of his reign (as recorded on the walls of his mortuary temple at Medinet Habu and in the Harris Papyrus I). They brought with them a distinct Mycenaean‐style pottery that allows archaeologists to identify their settlements. The Israelites are another group that emerge during this period, but their identification in the archaeological record is not as clear as that of the Philistines.
The biblical presentation of the Israelites' conquest of Canaan and the period of the Israelite judges should presumably be set in the Iron I Age. The political vacuum that resulted from Egypt's withdrawal from Palestine would have enabled the settlement of the Israelite tribes in Canaan and the formation of new political structures, culminating in the Israelite state. The Bible's presentation of this period, however, is riddled with literary, historical, and archaeological problems.
The bulk of the stories of Israel's settlement of the land of Canaan comes from Joshua 1–12 . They describe the military invasion of the land by a unified people under the leadership of Joshua. The conquest was largely successful. All the Canaanite cities were destroyed except for Gibeon, whose inhabitants deceived the Israelites into making peace with them. In its present form, the book of Joshua is part of what has come to be known as the Deuteronomistic History (along with the books of Judges, Samuel, and Kings). In the story of the conquest given in Joshua and Judges, the Deuteronomistic Historian presents an ideological tale that focuses on the Israelites' faithfulness to God as demonstrated by their fidelity to the laws of God, especially the laws of Deuteronomy. According to this ideology, the Israelites would succeed in their conquest and possession of the land of Canaan as long as they were faithful to God's covenant (Jos 1, 3–8 ). If they were unfaithful to the covenant‐if they turned their back on Yahweh and served other gods‐they would fail in taking and keeping the land. Instead, God would leave the Canaanites in the land to oppress the Israelites and to be a test of their covenant fidelity. Thus, in the story of Joshua the Israelites are faithful to the covenant and succeed in conquering the land. However, upon the death of Joshua, the people turned away from Yahweh and worshipped the Baals, and as a result God gave the Israelites over to their enemies and they were unable to stand against them (Jgs 2, 11–15 The book of Judges then describes how the people of Israel struggled in the midst of the Canaanites. The book presents the rule of each judge according to the following cycles of events: the people would suffer under the oppression of their more powerful Canaanite neighbors because they had worshipped other gods; the people would eventually turn to Yahweh and plead for help; God would then raise up a judge who would deliver them by defeating their enemies in battle; peace would endure throughout the life of the judge, when the people would once again reject Yahweh and the whole cycle would repeat.
From a literary perspective, numerous problems result from the Deuteronomistic Historian's presentation of the Israelite settlement. One arises from a glaring inconsistency regarding the fate of King Jabin of Hazor. In Joshua 11 , the Israelites fight and defeat Jabin, put to the sword all the inhabitants of Hazor, and then burn the city. In Judges 4, however, King Jabin of Canaan who reigns in Hazor is oppressing the Israelites until they, under the leadership of Deborah and Barak, defeat his army and eventually destroy him. Although it is possible that multiple kings, especially within a dynasty, would bear the same name, it is unlikely that the king and entire population of Hazor could be killed and the city destroyed, yet emerge as a powerful force in a following generation. A more likely scenario is that the book of Judges refers to King Jabin anachronistically.
More substantial literary problems exist with the presentation of the conquest in Joshua 1–12 , for the Bible preserves alternative accounts of this story. A brief tale in Joshua 17, 14–18 presents a picture in which the Israelites were militarily incapable of driving out the Canaanites because the valley‐dwelling Canaanites had iron chariots. The tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh must therefore resort to clearing the forests in the inhospitable hill country in order to find enough land to subsist on. Exodus 23, 23–33 presents a situation in which the Israelites are too few in number to conquer the land of Canaan. The land can only be conquered little by little until the Israelites have sufficient population to occupy it, presumably after several generations. In Judges 1 the Israelites do not conquer the land as a unified people, but each tribe acts independently. Although the tribe of Judah has a measure of success, all of the tribes fail to drive out the Canaanite inhabitants of the land. The accounts of the allotment of the land also challenge the literary presentation of the conquest in Joshua 1–12 . In Joshua 18, 2–5 Joshua divides the land among seven tribes that had failed to take possession of their land (the hill country was already occupied by the tribes of Judah and Joseph). In this account, the tribe of Benjamin had failed to take possession of its land, but the stories in Joshua 1–12 emphasize clearly that the land of Benjamin is conquered. Finally, the general picture of Israel during the lifetime of Joshua is at odds with the picture of Israel during the period of the judges. In the stories of Joshua, the Israelites are a unified people made up of twelve clearly defined tribes under the leadership of a single individual. In the stories of Judges, the Israelites are not unified. In fact, intertribal conflict is presented on more than one occasion. The judges rule over individual tribes, and the number and composition of the tribes remains fluid.
Do the books of Joshua and Judges preserve traces of events of the past? For the stories of the conquest in Joshua 1–12 , the answer is probably “no,” as we will explain in the following sections. The tribal allotments and boundary lists in Joshua 13–21 probably do preserve historical records of tribal boundaries, but the period to which they attest is uncertain. We should note that none of the boundary lists are given in their entirety, and the descriptions of the allotment of the land are inconsistent. The historical value of the book of Judges is a little more complicated. The overall form of the individual stories has been shaped to correspond to the ideology of the Deuteronomistic Historian, and is thus clearly secondary. Nevertheless, many biblical scholars suggest that the content of the stories preserves at least some social history and perhaps also some political history. The stories do seem to attest to early Israelite customs and social configurations, but many of these customs and social configurations may have endured well into the period of the Israelite and Judean states. Reference to conflicts with other peoples might reflect long‐standing antagonism (such as with the Philistines), though some might be anachronistic for the Iron I period (such as Moab). It is possible that the text preserves the names of early tribal leaders, especially in the lists of so‐called minor judges (Jgs 3, 31; 10, 1–5; 12, 7–15 ). The references to these judges are short, simply naming the judge, the location from where he judged, how long he judged, and often referring to his sons and where he is buried. Perhaps these lists formed part of the writer's source material. The names of the so‐called major judges‐Ehud, Deborah, Gideon, Jephthah, Samson‐probably also would have been included in this source material, but their stories were filled out from other, presumably oral, traditions.
Models of the Israelite Settlement
Over the last century, biblical scholars formulated three competing historical models in order to explain the settlement of the Israelites in Palestine during the Iron I Age. The Nomadic Infiltration model was first developed by Albrecht Alt and his student Martin Noth in the first half of the twentieth century. This model posits that the early Israelites were nomads or seminomads in a process of gradual sedentarization in the sparsely inhabited central hill country. The settlement was a two‐stage process: The early Israelites first entered the land of Canaan in the process of changing pastures; slowly they began to settle permanently in the sparsely populated parts of the country and extended their territory as occasion offered. The whole process began by peaceful means without the use of military force. As the settlers increased in numbers, they gradually moved into the lowlands where they came into conflict with the Canaanite urban centers. This model views Joshua 1–12 as etiologically generated traditions with little historical value. Some cities such as Hazor and Bethel were destroyed by the Israelites as they moved into the lowlands, but the bulk of Joshua 1–12 is fictional. This model emphasizes the uncoordinated movements of Israelites into Canaan from different directions and at different times. If there ever was an exodus event, only a fraction of later Israel was involved.
This model is flawed in several respects. First, the model is unable to demonstrate that the Israelites originated from outside Palestine. As indicated above, all material evidence indicates that the early Israelites resembled their Canaanite neighbors. This would not be the case if the Israelites, like the Philistines, had entered Palestine from elsewhere. Second, the model presents an inadequate understanding of nomadism. Pastoral nomadism cannot be viewed as an evolutionary interval between hunting and gathering and agricultural societies. It is rather a marginal specialization of animal husbandry. The relationship between agriculturalists and pastoralists was symbiotic. Moreover, early Israelites appear to have practiced both pastoralism and agriculture.
The Military Invasion model was created in response to the Nomadic Infiltration model. The main proponents of this model‐W. F. Albright, G. Ernest Wright, and John Bright‐argued that archaeology has vindicated the essential historicity of the narratives in Joshua 1–12 by demonstrating that the numerous cities stated in the text to have been destroyed do in fact provide evidence of massive destruction. They acknowledge that the ancient sites of Jericho, Ai, Gibeon, and Arad pose problems to this model because they provide no evidence of occupation at the end of the Late Bronze Age. Nevertheless, they also note that the overwhelming evidence for the many other sites is decisive. Moreover, the destruction levels of most of these sites are followed by poor unfortified occupations. There is also a large number of sites with new occupation or occupation that followed centuries of abandonment. In other words, this model suggests, building on the integration of the biblical and archaeological records, that a large group of people rapidly moved into Palestine from outside the land, and their conflict with the native Canaanite inhabitants was primarily political.
The Military Invasion model has been challenged in many respects. First, the application of archaeology to Joshua 1–12 is selective. The evidence is absent for much of the text, and it is embarrassing with regard to Jericho, Ai, Gibeon, and Arad. The sites of Kadesh‐Barnea, Hormah, Heshbon, Dibon, and Hebron could also be added to the list of sites in which the archaeological record does not support the biblical tradition. Second, this model has been challenged on its very assumption that archaeology could be used to verify the biblical texts in this regard, for archaeological data are inherently ambiguous. A destroyed city does not indicate the agents of destruction. Although the early Israelites could have been responsible for a site's destruction, more likely scenarios would point to the Egyptians or the Philistines (or other so‐called sea peoples) as the agents of the destructions. Archaeology also raises a chronological problem for the model because not all the Late Bronze cities that give evidence of destruction were destroyed during the same time period. The destructions of Hazor and Lachish, for example, were separated by over a century. Many of the large sites that give evidence of massive destruction were in areas in which the native Canaanite inhabitants remained dominant. In other words, the material culture after the destruction of the site was similar to the material culture beforehand. Finally, the Military Invasion model also implies that the material culture of early Israel would be intrusive into the native Canaanite culture, but this is not the case.
The Peasant Revolt model was first put forward by George Mendenhall and subsequently modified by Norman Gottwald. According to this model, the Amarna letters‐which refer to the internal struggles in Palestine caused by the «Apiru‐and the biblical events (especially as presented in Judges) represent the same political process: the withdrawal of large population groups from an obligation to existing political regimes, and therefore, the renunciation of any protection from these sources. There was no significant invasion of Palestine; no displacement of population; no genocide; no large scale driving out of the population, only of royal administrators. Instead, there was a peasants' revolt against the network of interlocking Canaanite city‐states. The catalyst for this movement might have been the Exodus group: corvée‐labor captives who escaped from Egypt and made a covenant with God at Sinai. This group espoused an ideology attractive to those oppressed in Canaan, who immediately joined them. Many of the biblical texts suggest that the people of Israel were unable to conquer the cities of the plains until David's time. Therefore, the early Israelites had geographically removed themselves from the Canaanite cities by retreating into the wooded hill country. The early Israelite settlements were in fact opening this previously uninhabited frontier; such frontiers often attract the socially disenfranchised. Credit should be given to several technological improvements‐iron tools, rock terraces, lined cisterns‐which made this achievement possible.
Although this model takes into account the similarities between Israelite and Canaanite material culture, it has been criticized for failing to demonstrate the existence of a true peasants' revolt in ancient Palestine and imposing modern, especially Marxist, ideologies on the early Israelites. The Peasant Revolt model overemphasizes the uniqueness of the Israelite settlement. The early highland villages of Israel are identical to other highland villages outside of Palestine; the Israelite settlement does not appear to depend on a unique religious experience or a political ideology.
The Archaeology of the Settlement
A number of new models explaining the Israelite settlement have emerged in recent years, but none has risen to the paradigmatic status of the earlier models. Rooted heavily in the new evidence gleaned from excavations and surveys, especially in the central hill country and the northern Negev, these models share numerous similarities: the Israelites emerged largely from the indigenous population of Canaan, the settlement was primarily peaceful, and the population was engaged in agricultural and pastoral activities. The models differ in their explanation of the causes of the settlement. Some models emphasize the disruption of international trade or the collapse of the Late Bronze cities; others emphasize environmental factors or long‐term social processes. Undoubtedly, multiple causes are responsible for the emergence of the Israelites. The new models simply provide interpretive frameworks for the growing body of archaeological evidence of the Israelite settlement.
An explosion of new settlements in the central hill country characterizes the archaeology of the Iron I period. During the Late Bronze Age the hill country held only twenty‐nine settlements (down from 220 during the preceding Middle Bronze Age). During the Iron I period, the settlements in the hill country increased to 254. The size of the settlements was quite small, averaging 4.25 acres, but most were less than 2.5 acres in size (the Late Bronze settlements on average were twice as large). Most of the settlements were founded on previously unoccupied sites, although many were founded on abandoned sites that had been occupied during the Early or Middle Bronze Ages. Except for a few major sites that show continuous settlement from the Late Bronze Age, such as Shechem and Jerusalem, most of the settlements were poor hamlets with no fortifications or public buildings.
The central hill country has gone through periods of settlement and abandonment from the Early Bronze Age through the Iron Age, and during each period the settlement pattern is fairly similar. The northern hill country (Shechem and north) is more conducive to settlement with its large valleys, moderate topography, and fertile eastern slope. The southern Judean hill country is less hospitable. As a result, more settlements are found in the north. During periods of settlement decline such as the Late Bronze Age, the percentage of settlements shifts to the north. However, during the waves of settlement such as the Iron I period, the percentage of settlements increases in the southern hill country. Similarly, an east to west settlement shift can be detected. Because the eastern side of the hill country is closer to the desert fringe, it is the location of the early wave of settlement. During settlement declines, only the eastern flank is settled. The western side of the hill country is ideal for horticulture, but it is also more mountainous and demands more permanent commitment for settlement. Thus it is not occupied until later during the waves of settlement.
This settlement pattern might be interpreted in terms of the shift from pastoral to sedentary life. The eastern and southern regions are where pastoralism is primarily practiced, and where the people would be able to make the transition from pastoral to a primarily agricultural life. The economy of these small settlements appears to be dependent primarily upon agriculture and supplemented with pastoralism. The building of many terraces throughout the hill country attests to the agricultural economy of the region. Also, pits for holding grain and cisterns for holding water are characteristic features of the Iron I sites. The domestic structures, however, attest to the importance of pastoralism, for they were adapted to serve as shelter also for the flocks. The mixed economy of farming and herding served to minimize the risks inherent in the establishment of new settlements.
Although most of the settlements simply consist of a group of houses, some of the settlements attest to planning. The common plan was the arrangement of the houses along the perimeter so that the external walls of the houses formed a defensive wall, or the ring of houses could also have created a pen for gathering the inhabitants' flocks of sheep and goats. At «Izbet Sartah, for example, twenty‐two broad‐room houses formed an oval enclosure, a half‐acre in area, surrounding a central open area. At Beersheba the first built‐up settlement (Stratum VII, dating to the end of the Iron I period; Strata IX‐VIII contained mostly pit dwellings) consisted of a ring of houses built around the perimeter of the mound, with their external walls forming a defensive barrier.
The material culture of these sites is simple and plain, and is characterized by the pillared house and the collared‐rim storage jar. The pillared house is the most common architectural feature of the Iron I Age. The pillars consisted of large stone monoliths, unworked stone drums, or wooden posts placed on stone socles. Rows of pillars served to divide courtyards into roofed and unroofed areas, as well as define multiple rooms within buildings. The pillared houses followed a variety of plans, but the most common and enduring plan was the four‐room house.
The basic plan of the four‐room house consisted of three long rooms backed by a broad room. Pillars were usually used to separate the three long rooms; solid walls are also employed to separate the long rooms. In modified plans, the long rooms themselves (or the broad room in back) could be further subdivided. The center long room typically served as a courtyard, with ovens and food processing equipment in this room. There is debate over whether it was roofed. The side rooms separated by pillars were used to house animals, with troughs placed between the pillars. The back broad room served as the main living room. Based on the amount of charred debris in the buildings, many of these houses supported a second story. The bedrooms would have been located in the upper story over the side and back rooms. In a number of villages, the pillared houses appear in clusters or compounds in which several houses shared walls and a common courtyard. These compounds probably reflect the kinship structures of the settlers (such as the extended family). They also might attest to the economic and labor needs that the settlers faced. The shared walls of the compounds would have minimized the labor and resource needs of the settlement.
The pottery repertoire of the hill country settlements is characterized by numerous large storage jars (pithoi), including the collared‐rim storage jar. Other utilitarian vessels are also found in lesser quantities. Painted decoration is rare, although applied or impressed decoration can be found. All of the pottery has antecedents in the pottery of the Late Bronze Age. Only a few cultic items have been found‐a bronze bull at an open‐air site near Mount Gilboa, a bronze figurine of a seated deity in a cult room at Hazor, pottery incense stands and small stone four‐horned altars at Megiddo and Lachish‐and in every case they stand firmly within the Canaanite tradition.
Who were these settlers in the central hill country? The biblical tradition, of course, would identify many of these settlers as Israelite, and indeed they became part of the states of Israel and Judah. Many of the settlers, however, might not have identified themselves as Israelites, at least not initially. In any case, the archaeological and historical evidence suggests that the settlers were a mixture of several population groups. One group undoubtedly consisted of those who left the Late Bronze urban centers in the lowlands. The settlers' knowledge of dry farming and other technological skills such as terracing, digging of cisterns, and house construction argues in favor of their origin in the Late Bronze cities. The continuities of the material culture that the settlers share with the earlier Canaanites further support this interpretation. Another group consisted of pastoralists living on the desert fringe. This group lived in a symbiotic relationship with the urban centers throughout the history of Palestine. During periods of settlement decline, the pastoral population increased and their mode of subsistence became more diverse. During periods of settlement as in the Iron I period, many in this group chose a predominantly agricultural lifestyle while others would revert to a strictly pastoral lifestyle. Finally, the settlers could have consisted of groups that are mentioned in historical texts such as the «Apiru and the Shasu (the latter is a nomadic group mentioned in the Egyptian texts), and, perhaps, also a group of refugees who had escaped the corvée in Egypt.
Iron II Age
For the Iron II Age (1000–539 BC) the historian of ancient Israel finally has at hand numerous literary and documentary sources in addition to the biblical literature. The primary and most important sources are the annals of the Assyrian kings. Beginning with Shalmaneser III (858–824 BC), the Assyrian kings began to encounter the kings of Israel in their campaigns toward the Mediterranean, and hence began to include reference to Israel in their annals and inscriptions. The annals of Shalmaneser, for example, record his battles with an Aramean coalition in which the Israelite kingdom participated. Ahab is presented as one of the stronger members, supplying the coalition with 2,000 chariots and 10,000 foot soldiers. In a later inscription on the Black Obelisk, Shalmaneser records the tribute of Jehu, the son of Omri [sic], and includes a relief representation of the king kneeling in submission to him. With the reign of Tiglath‐pileser III (744–727 BC) the Assyrian kings also had encounters with the kings of Judah, who are now mentioned in the Assyrian annals and inscriptions. The Assyrian records are important sources for understanding Israel's relations with Damascus and other Aramean states, the events that culminated in the destruction of Samaria and the end of the Israelite kingdom, and the political events surrounding the reigns of Ahaz and Hezekiah.
The Babylonians also kept annals that shed light on the political events in the Middle East at the end of Assyrian domination. Few texts refer to Judah directly, but one chronicle does record Nebuchadnezzar's battles in Palestine, including his destruction of Jerusalem.
The Egyptian records during this period shed little light on the events involving the Israelites, for they are largely preoccupied with internal matters. During the Late Period, Egypt under the Twenty‐fifth and the Twenty‐sixth Dynasties is once again involved in the political affairs of Palestine, but records that attest to this involvement are few. The most notable Egyptian record of Egypt's interaction with Israel and Judah during the Iron II period is the list of conquered cities in Israel and Judah by Sheshonq I (945–924 BC; identified as the biblical Shishak), which is carved on the walls of the Karnak temple. Unfortunately, Sheshonq did not include a narrative description of his campaign, and thus his inscription offers little historical insight.
Numerous Hebrew and Aramaic inscriptions that provide important first‐hand information on the events of this period have been uncovered in Palestine. The most famous of these inscriptions is the Moabite Stela, erected by King Mesha of Moab in dedication of a temple. The inscription describes how Mesha freed his land from Israelite vassalage during the reign of Omri's “son” (usually interpreted to mean Omri's grandson, Joram). The recently discovered Tel Dan inscription celebrates an unnamed king's defeat of the kings of Israel and the “house of David.” The inscription was presumably erected by Hazael, king of Damascus, but the fragmentary and incomplete condition of the inscription make such an interpretation tentative. The Siloam Tunnel Inscription describes the construction of the tunnel that brought water from the Gihon spring into a pool inside the walls of Jerusalem. The inscription describes the events from the perspective of the workers, but the tunnel probably was dug at the command of Hezekiah in preparation for his rebellion against Assyria. The Lachish Letters describe diplomatic and military maneuvers during the final days of the kingdom of Judah as it was being assaulted by the Babylonians. From the same period, the Arad Letters record the provisioning of the Judean fort at Arad, but also record conflict with the Edomites who live south of Judah.
Other inscriptions attest to economic, social, and religious conditions of the Iron II period. The Gezer Calendar describes the agricultural cycle of the year. Because of the content, some scholars have interpreted this inscription to be a practice text, attesting to scribal activity. The Samaria Ostraca are a series of tax receipts that also attest to kinship structures in Israel. The Yavneh‐yam Letter records the complaint of a farm worker to the commander of a fort who has deprived him of his cloak. The Kuntillet «Ajrud Inscriptions attest to forms of Yahwism that have not been preserved in the Bible.
The primary sources in the Bible for the Iron II Age are the books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles (some of the prophetic books, especially Isaiah and Jeremiah, also provide historical information for this period). The stories of Samuel and Saul in 1 Samuel 1–15 are similar in kind to the stories in the book of Judges. They probably record real historical figures, and perhaps also early conflicts between the Israelites in the central hill country and the Philistines on the coastal plain. No earlier source material other than oral traditions can be recognized behind the narrative. The story of Saul and David's conflict in 1 Samuel 16—2 Samuel 1 has been shaped by an apologist on behalf of the Davidic Dynasty. Saul is presented as one driven mad by an evil spirit, whereas David is a loyal servant who refuses to raise his hand against Saul. Some of this material probably preserves traces of real historical events, such as Saul's death in battle against the Philistines, but whatever historical sources might have lain beneath the narrative are now difficult to ascertain.
The stories of 2 Samuel 2—1 Kings 11 address the period of the “United Monarchy,” the reigns of David and Solomon. The historical value of these stories is currently the subject of intense debate by biblical scholars and archaeologists. This debate is compounded by the fact that this period (often labeled Iron IIA, or in some circles Iron IC) is not addressed in any nonbiblical sources, and the material remains of this period give at best an ambiguous picture. At issue is the nature and scope of the “kingdom” of David and Solomon: Was there a United Monarchy? Did David and Solomon rule over a territorial state? What was the relationship of this “kingdom” to the other “kingdoms”‐Ammon, Aram, Edom, Philistia, Phoenicia‐in the region? Many of the stories of David and Solomon are either legendary tales or creations of the biblical writer, perhaps based on brief historical records. Whereas the death notice of Solomon (1 Kgs 11, 41–43 ) refers to the “book of the chronicles of Solomon,” no such source is listed in the stories of David. Texts that appear to be based on earlier sources might include the lists of David's administrators (2 Sm 8, 16–18; 20, 23–26 ) and his warriors (2 Sm 23, 8–39 ). The references to David's battles (2 Sm 8, 1–15 ) might also be based on an earlier source. A longer list of historical sources might be extracted from the story of Solomon: list of Solomon's officials (1 Kgs 4, 1–6 ); list of officials responsible for supplying food for the court (1 Kgs 4, 7–19 ); Solomon's use of forced labor (1 Kgs 5, 13–18 ); cities that Solomon built and fortified with forced labor (1 Kgs 9, 15–19 ); dealings with King Hiram of Tyre (1 Kgs 9, 26–28; 10, 11–12, 22 ); Solomon's trade in horses and chariots (1 Kgs 10, 28–29 ); and conflicts with Hadad of Edom, Rezon of Damascus, and Jeroboam of Ephraim (1 Kgs 11, 14–40 ). Many other aspects of the stories, such as David's conquering of Jerusalem, Solomon's wisdom and wealth, and his building of the Temple, are legendary and might have been widely known oral traditions.
The stories of the separate kingdoms of Israel and Judah are found in 1 Kings 12–25 . These stories are based on two groups of sources. The first source has been called the “Tales of the Prophets.” This source consists of stories of prophets and especially their dealings with kings, their prophecies and their fulfillments. The source includes, for example, the story of Ahijah's prophecy that Jeroboam will become the king of the northern ten tribes of Israel (1 Kgs 11, 26–40 ) and his subsequent prophecy that the house of Jeroboam will be destroyed (1 Kgs 14, 1–18 ). Other stories are about Shemaiah (1 Kgs 12, 1–24 ), Jehu (1 Kgs 16, 1–4.7 ), Micaiah (1 Kgs 22, 1–38 ), Jonah (2 Kgs 14, 25–27 ), Isaiah (2 Kgs 18, 13–20; 19 ), and a number of unnamed prophets (1 Kgs 12, 25–13, 32; 1 Kgs 20; 2 Kgs 21, 10–15 ). The best known and largest group of stories focus on Elijah and Elisha and their interaction with the house of Ahab (1 Kgs 17–19, 21; 2 Kgs 1–10, 13 ). Although many of these stories are largely legendary and often reflect a later situation, they appear to have preserved some reliable historical information, particularly regarding the political situation of the period. However, it should be noted that the focus of the stories is primarily religious; the political and social context of the stories is often the backdrop for a religious message regarding the king's (and the people's) faithfulness to Yahweh.
The second major source for the book of Kings is the Israelite and Judean chronicles, which provides the framework for the story of each king. The reign of each king is introduced with a reference to his father, the age at which he began to reign and the length of his reign, and his mother's name. The reigns of the kings of Judah are synchronized with the reigns of the kings of Israel. The story of the king's reign ends with a reference to his death and the place of his burial. Mixed in with this framework are references to deeds accomplished by the king and a statement that other deeds are recorded in either the “Books of the Annals of the Kings of Israel” or the “Books of the Annals of the Kings of Judah.” Although the Deuteronomistic Historian adds his own evaluation of each king's reign, the Historian does not appear to have edited or omitted information from the chronicles of the Judean kings. Less information is preserved about the Israelite kings‐the king's father and mother are not listed‐but this might reflect the nature of the Israelite chronicle rather than the Deuteronomistic Historian's bias. The chronicles preserve fairly reliable historical information. This information, however, is not without its problems. The chronology and synchronization of the Israelite and Judean kings, for example, does not fit within the absolute dates that can be fixed from Assyrian, Babylonian, and Egyptian records. Part of the problem might be that we are not certain how regnal years were counted in each case or whether a king's reign included a co–regency with his father. In other cases, the numbers supplied by the chronicles are incorrect. It seems impossible that Pekah could have reigned for twenty years or that Uzziah (Azariah) reigned for fifty‐two years (though the latter's reign could be accounted for with a co–regency).
Other sources that could have been used by the writer of the book of Kings might be dedicatory building inscriptions (similar to the Moabite Stone) or inscriptions associated with votive dedications or biographic stelae that would have been set up in the Temple, the king's palace, or a prominent public location in Jerusalem. The existence of such inscriptions is likely and many texts in the books of Kings could be based on such inscriptions, but in the end their existence must remain speculative.
The book of Chronicles is also a source for the Iron II Age. For the stories of David and Solomon, the book of Chronicles is largely dependent upon the books of Samuel and Kings and offers little independent material. For the stories of the later kings, however, Chronicles offers some material that is not found in Kings. For example, the book of Chronicles records how the Assyrians took Manasseh as a captive to Babylon, where he repented to God who restored him to Jerusalem (2 Chr 33, 10–13 ). This episode is absent from the book of Kings, probably because it does not fit the ideology of the Deuteronomistic Historian, who blames the sins of Manasseh for the eventual destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. In such cases, the book of Chronicles gives us insight into sources that were not accessible to or rejected by the Deuteronomistic Historian. Moreover, this particular example should caution against placing too much confidence in the sources used by the Chronicler or other biblical writers. It is unlikely that Manasseh was ever taken to Babylon, which was a center of repeated revolt against the Assyrian empire. It is possible, however, that Manasseh was taken to Nineveh‐an inscription of Esarhaddon records that Manasseh and twenty‐one other kings were forced to bring building materials to Nineveh. A number of sources are named in Chronicles‐History of the Prophet Nathan, Prophecy of Ahijah the Shilonite, Visions of the Seer Iddo (2 Chr 9, 29 ), Records of the Prophet Shemaiah and Seer Iddo (2 Chr 12, 15 ), Midrash of the Book of Kings (2 Chr 24, 27 ), Acts of Uzziah by Isaiah (2 Chr 26, 22 ), and Acts of Hezekiah by Isaiah (2 Chr 32, 32 )‐but the nature of these sources or whether they are included in the book of Kings is unknown.
The Tenth Century
The beginning of the Iron II Age is imperceptible in the archaeological record. The similarities of the tenth century with the material culture of the Iron I period have led some scholars to label the tenth century as Iron IC. The tenth century is associated with the Iron II Age primarily because the Bible claims that it is the period of statehood‐the formation of the United Monarchy. Unfortunately, the United Monarchy is not clearly evident in the archaeological record. No archaeological remains can be associated with David's kingdom. There is archaeological evidence attributed to the reign of Solomon, but the significance of this evidence for understanding the history of Israel is debated.
The archaeological foundation for the United Monarchy has been the large, fortress‐style, six chamber city gates and massive casemate walls at Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer (1 Kgs 9, 15 claims that Solomon built up the walls of these cities). The gates and walls at Hazor and Gezer do appear to date to the tenth century, but the gate of Megiddo should now be dated to the ninth century (the first phase of Stratum IVA), and there is no evidence of a casemate wall surrounding the city. Instead, tenth century Megiddo (Stratum VA–IVB) consists of two large monumental palaces‐palace 6000 in the north and palace 1723 in the south. No wall surrounds Megiddo at this period, though the exterior walls of the houses and two palaces built along the edge of the mound provide some protection. The palaces have foundations made of ashlars (cut stones), as does the gate of Gezer. The gate and walls of Hazor are constructed of fieldstones. The Gezer gate is also associated with guard quarters (palace 10,000) and perhaps an outer gate and solid wall. Inside the gates of Hazor and Gezer only a few buildings can be dated to the tenth century, and none is monumental or impressive. Moreover, both Hazor and Gezer are small settlements, covering only part of the tell. Elsewhere, the gradual process of urbanization is detectable in the material culture, though no monumental architecture has been found.
The significance of these archaeological remains for understanding the political structures of the tenth century is fiercely debated. For those who follow the biblical tradition and argue for a large United Monarchy, these remains provide significant, yet limited, evidence of the veracity of the tradition. For others, the material culture of the tenth century attests to some centralized building activity, but not a state, let alone a United Monarchy. A key site in this debate would presumably be Jerusalem, where the Bible claims Solomon built a Temple, a palace, and many other administrative public buildings. Unfortunately, virtually nothing from the tenth century has been uncovered in the numerous excavations of the city. Two reasons are generally given to account for this lack of evidence. First, Jerusalem was continuously occupied until Nebuchadnezzar II destroyed it in 586 BC. Evidence of tenth century Jerusalem was destroyed by later rebuilding and occupation of the city. Second, the remains of many of the Solomonic buildings would be beneath the present Temple Mount (Haram esh‐Sharif), which is impossible to excavate due to the religious and political situation in the city.
The Kingdom of Israel
The short‐lived kingdom of Israel (931–722/1 BC) is well attested in the archaeological record. Its capital Samaria was founded in the ninth century on top of several olive‐oil installations. An independently fortified royal acropolis, consisting of a large platform supported by massive retaining walls, was built on the rounded summit of a hill. The platform contained a couple of palaces and a number of administrative buildings. Most of the construction utilized finely cut ashlars. In one of the palaces a large cache of carved ivories, many imported from Phoenicia, attests to the wealth of the kingdom‐the cache is usually attributed to the reign of Ahab (873–852 BC), who the Bible claims built a house of ivory (1 Kgs 22, 39 ). The Samaria Ostraca were found in one of the administrative buildings, and were inscribed during the reign of Jeroboam II (784–744 BC). The city was destroyed in a conflagration by Sargon II (721–705 BC), though the Assyrian assault might have begun during the reign of Shalmaneser V (726–722 BC).
Megiddo was one of the major administrative cities of the kingdom of Israel. The Israelite city (limited to Stratum IVA) was surrounded by a large wall and entered though a six‐chamber gate (later rebuilt as a four‐chamber gate) on its north side. A palace (380) was located on the eastern side of the city, but most of the city was dedicated to two large complexes of tripartite‐pillared buildings. The southern complex consisted of five connected tripartite‐pillared buildings fronted by a large walled yard. The northern complex consisted of three groups of five, two, and five connected buildings surrounding a walled yard. The interpretation of these buildings has been debated. Most commonly they are interpreted as stables for the royal chariot force. Other interpretations argue that the buildings were used for storerooms in a state‐run redistribution center, or functioned as markets and fair grounds. The large water tunnel on the western side of the city, which leads to the spring outside the city wall, was constructed during this period. Tiglath‐pileser III destroyed Megiddo in 732 BC and rebuilt the city (Stratum III) as an Assyrian provincial capital. The city was filled with residential buildings in an orthogonal pattern, with several Assyrian‐style palaces built near the gate.
Unlike Megiddo, both Hazor and Dan in the northern Jordan Valley give evidence of several strata of occupation during this period, attesting to Israel's conflicts with Damascus and Assyria. Israelite Hazor covers the entire acropolis (the lower city was not inhabited after the Late Bronze Age). The tenth‐century casemate wall is filled in to form a solid fortification wall, and another solid wall is constructed to surround the new eastern half of the city. Inside the six‐chamber gate, now in the middle of the city, a single tripartite‐pillared building was uncovered. Two large halls attached to the building could have functioned as a granary or storerooms to support the function of the pillared building (as a stable or market). A large citadel was built on the western end of the acropolis. Administrative buildings resembling those of Samaria were found immediately to the north and south of the citadel. The massive walls of the citadel (over six feet thick) initially served as the western fortification of the city, but at the height of the Assyrian threat at the end of the Israelite period, a new wall was added to the north, west, and south of the citadel, covering over the administrative buildings. New administrative buildings were constructed on the east side of the citadel. On the southern side of the city an enormous shaft and tunnel were dug into the aquifer beneath the city in order to supply the populace with water during a siege.
Dan was Israel's northernmost city and so often at the center of conflict with Israel's northern neighbors. The complex set of gates with multiple building phases on the southern side of the city attests to this conflict. On the north side of the tell, Avraham Biran, the excavator, uncovered a large series of structures that he identified with the high place initially built by Jeroboam I (931–911 BC; see 1 Kgs 12, 26–31 ). In the earliest stratum, the structure consisted of a large podium constructed of ashlars. The excavator assumed that the podium served as an open‐air high place, but traces of foundations on the podium have led others to suggest that it supported a large superstructure, probably a temple. In front of the podium on the south is a large altar platform built of ashlars, with storage rooms on the west and an oil press farther south. A second phase of the temple is not well preserved. The third phase of the temple complex, dating to the eighth century, is the most developed. The podium now supported a temple. A monumental staircase made of ashlars was added to the south side of the podium. A large four‐horned altar that was approached by steps and surrounded by an enclosure was constructed in front of the podium. A row of rooms on the west side of the temple and altar functioned in support of the temple cult. Tiglath‐pileser III, presumably, destroyed the temple at the end of the eighth century with the rest of the city.
The Kingdom of Judah
Judah was Israel's poorer and weaker sibling, and the material culture of Judah generally reflects this distinction. Although there were periods of friendly relations between the two kingdoms‐with Judah often submitting to a more powerful Israel such as during the Omride Dynasty, and perhaps also during parts of the Jehu Dynasty‐the Bible also attests to strained relations and military conflicts. The material evidence of these relations can be seen in the early fortification of some of the towns of Judah. One such site was Tell en‐Nasbeh, which has been identified with biblical Mizpah and is situated at the border between Israel and Judah. At this site a massive solid inset‐offset wall was built outside an earlier (tenth century) casemate wall. The wall was roughly nineteen hundred feet in length, stood forty feet above bedrock, and had an average thickness of more than twelve feet. Eleven towers fortified the wall. The wall was made from uncut fieldstones, but ashlars were used in corners and on the face of the towers. A stone glacis further protected several towers and long sections of the wall. The city was entered through a two‐chamber outer gate and a four‐chamber inner gate. It appears that the inner gate was the original gate, but in the ninth century the fortifications were strengthened with the construction of a new outer gate that was fortified by a massive tower. The heavy fortifications at this site attest to political tensions and perhaps military conflict between Israel and Judah.
Although the kingdom of Judah developed under relatively peaceful conditions‐despite the construction of some new fortifications, few destruction levels are attested‐the Assyrian threat in the eighth century led to the fortification of Judah. Unlike Israel, which had several large urban centers, the kingdom of Judah developed primarily around Jerusalem. By the end of the eighth century, Jerusalem had swelled to a large fortified city of 150 acres, larger than any city in Israel. Lachish, the second largest city in Judah, covered an area of only twenty acres. The other Judean towns averaged only five to eight acres in size. The generally peaceful conditions of Judah also enabled it to rapidly increase in population. In addition to natural population growth, the population of Judah increased due to the migration of refugees from the north, especially during the second half of the eighth century, which culminated in Israel's destruction by the Assyrians. The population increase was felt prominently in Jerusalem but also across the Judean hill country. Numerous small settlements were established during this period, many of which were unfortified and roughly two miles apart.
At the end of the eighth century, archaeology is able to provide a material context for one of the more crucial events recorded in the biblical texts: the archaeological evidence provides a picture of Hezekiah's revolt against Assyria (1 Kgs 18–19 ). Hezekiah fortified an enlarged Jerusalem with a massive, seven‐meter thick city wall (the so‐called broad wall uncovered in the Jewish Quarter). Recent excavations in the Kidron Valley have uncovered a second, outer wall around the eastern side of the city. This wall might also have been constructed by Hezekiah. In order to secure drinking water for the inhabitants of the city in case of siege, he diverted the water from the Gihon spring to a pool inside the city wall through the excavation of the Siloam tunnel. Further evidence of Hezekiah's preparation against an Assyrian assault is attested in the distribution of royal storage jars that are impressed with the inscription lamelech (belonging to the king). The impressions are applied to the loop handles of large ovoid jars that are 60 centimeters high, have four handles, a narrow mouth, and a short upright neck. The jars were apparently used to store liquids rather than dry goods. The seal impressions have either a winged solar disk or a four‐winged scarab. The word lamelech is inscribed above the design. Below the design one of four towns is named: Hebron, Socoh, Ziph, and mmsht (the last name is unknown). These jars and seals have been securely dated to the end of the eighth century. They have been found throughout Judah, but mostly at Jerusalem and Lachish. Some scholars have argued that the jars were used to gather taxes in the form of agricultural produce such as wine and oil. Others argue that the jars represent four centers of royal wine production. Another interpretation is that the four cities inscribed on the seals represent four military divisions and that the jars conveyed provisions to military units posted by Hezekiah throughout his kingdom. In any case, the jars attest to the king's provisioning of his cities in preparation for his revolt.
Although Jerusalem was never sacked, Hezekiah's rebellion was a complete failure. Most of the cities of Judah were destroyed, and part of Judah was placed under the domain of the Philistine king of Ekron. Hezekiah himself was forced to pay a large tribute to Sennacherib. The consequences of Hezekiah's revolt are illustrated in the Lachish reliefs found in Sennacherib's palace at Nineveh and in the excavations at Lachish. The Lachish reliefs depict in graphic detail the Assyrian assault, defeat, and plunder of Lachish. The excavations of Lachish revealed the violent destruction of Stratum III. At the southern corner of the city, the Assyrians built a massive siege ramp. Inside the city wall, the inhabitants of the city built a counterramp over their own houses in order to hold the Assyrians back. The hundreds of arrowheads and spherical slingstones attest to the intensity of the battle. The discovery of a mass grave with more than fifteen hundred bodies is grim evidence of the slaughter of the people of Lachish.
The southern border of Judah was along the Beersheba Valley and was fortified by Arad on the east and Beersheba on the west. Beersheba was a small, fortified town from the tenth century through the eighth century (Strata V–II). It provides the best example of a complete and regular city plan from the Iron II period. Although the city only occupied an area of three acres, it probably served as the major administrative center in the south. The city was fortified by a casemate wall, and entered through a four‐chamber gate. Surrounding the city a stone glacis was constructed against the rampart supporting the wall. Inside the city gate was a large open square that probably served a variety of public functions. The street plan of the city was composed of concentric ovals connected by radial lanes, with the entire system converging on the plaza inside the gate. A water system was uncovered in the northeastern corner of the city. The city contained approximately seventy‐five houses, most of which were designed according to a special four‐room type. The back rooms of those houses that abutted the city wall along the peripheral road were incorporated into the casemates of the wall. Some of the houses have stairs preserved indicating that they had a second story. Three tripartite‐pillared buildings were built east of the city gate and open onto the plaza. Together they cover an area of 600 square meters. A large building located near the city plaza at the juncture of the outer road and a radial road has been called the “governor's house.” It contained three large reception halls whose entrances were built of ashlars. Beersheba was destroyed at the end of the eighth century, presumably by the Assyrians in response to Hezekiah's revolt.
The fortress of Arad was built on top of a small settlement in the ninth century (though the excavator initially dated the first fortress to the tenth century). The fortress was destroyed and rebuilt five times before finally being destroyed early in the sixth century with the destruction of the kingdom of Judah by the Babylonians. A number of letters inscribed on pottery sherds found in the fort suggest that the fort functioned primarily as a Judean bastion against the encroachment of the Edomites. The pressure of the Edomites on Judah's southern border is attested at numerous other sites in this region. At «Ein Hatzeva in the Arabah (southeast of Arad), the large eighth century Judean fortress is replaced by a smaller Edomite fortress in the seventh century. At Horvat Qitmit in the Arad Valley (southwest of Arad) a small Edomite shrine‐complex was built late in the seventh century. The fortress of Horvat «Uza on the eastern end of the Arad Valley (southeast of Arad) was destroyed by the Edomites (as suggested by an Edomite letter found in a gate chamber) at the beginning of the sixth century. Both Aroer and Tel Malhata in the Negev (between Arad and Beersheba) present evidence of Edomite occupation by the beginning of the sixth century.
Jerusalem was destroyed in 586 BC by the Babylonian army in order to crush the rebellion by Zedekiah, Judah's last king. The archaeological remains of the City of David primarily attest to this period. Heavy ash layers in several buildings give evidence of the destruction, and numerous Babylonian iron arrowheads hint at the presumable human slaughter. One of the buildings on the eastern slope of the City of David that was destroyed in the conflagration appears to have been an archive. Dubbed the “House of the Bullae,” this building contained fifty‐one clay bullae that had sealed papyrus or parchment scrolls. Many of the names inscribed on the bullae are mentioned in the Bible, especially in the book of Jeremiah. The most notable bulla, found elsewhere in the city, records the name of “Baruch, son of Neriah, the scribe”‐the companion of Jeremiah.
The Period of the Great Empires
The Persian Period
It is ironic that although most of the biblical books were written or compiled during the Persian period, few books actually attest to the period. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah provide the main narrative source for this period. The numerous prophetic books that attest to this period include Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, and Isaiah 56–66 , but unfortunately, these books attest to little more than the social and religious situation of the period. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah are particularly valuable for understanding this period because they seem to preserve primary sources. Each book preserves a first‐hand report that has been labeled a memoir. The Nehemiah memoir is found in Nehemiah 1, 1–7, 73a ; 12, 31–43; 13, 4–31 ; the Ezra memoir is found in Ezra 7, 27–9, 15 . The book of Ezra also contains several letters from correspondence with the Persian administration. These letters also might be based on primary texts. Because many scholars have argued that Ezra is a fiction, an ideal lawgiver, his memoirs are not usually given the same status as the Nehemiah memoirs. Although Ezra has been idealized in later tradition, the presentation of him in the book of Ezra has a realistic basis and probable historical source. In any case, in their present context the memoirs and letters have been shaped by the ideological concerns of the biblical writer.
Other sources for the Persian period include the Jewish Antiquities of Josephus (a first‐century Jewish historian). Although Josephus largely follows the biblical text, he adds information concerning the relationship between the Judeans and the Samaritans. Many Greek sources contribute to writing the history of Persia, most notably, the History of Herodotus and the works of Diodorus Siculus, but these texts give little attention to the events of Judah. The archaeological evidence for this period has not been investigated well. In terms of material culture, the spread of Phoenician and Greek influence along the coastal plain can be detected. The hill country demonstrates cultural continuities with the Iron Age. Destruction layers at numerous cities attest to military conflicts, but the dating of these destruction layers to specific events is problematic. Inscriptions and papyri, such as the Elephantine Papyri, provide evidence of the administration of the province of Judea, but they attest to little more than names of governors and high priests.
The biblical evidence refers to only two periods during the long Persian rule of Judah, and in both cases its presentation of the events is less than clear. The first period focuses on the rebuilding of the Temple by the exiles who returned to Judah from Babylon. Once Cyrus defeated Babylon (539 BC), he sought to consolidate the empire under his rule by restoring the gods and the peoples that the Babylonians had exiled. Thus Cyrus issued an edict for the Judeans to return to their homeland and rebuild the Temple of Yahweh (Ezr 6, 3–5 ; compare this text to an edict that has survived in the so‐called Cyrus Cylinder). The book of Ezra gives a conflated presentation of who initially returned to Babylon. Sheshbazzar, who is called a prince over Judah, is credited with leading the initial return, bringing the Temple vessels from Babylon (Ezr 1, 8–11 ), and laying the Temple foundation (Ezr 5, 16 ). Yet Zerubbabel is also listed as the leader of the people, under whose direction the foundation of the Temple was laid in the second year of the return (537 BC; Ezr 3, 8–13 ). After a delay of several years, the rebuilding of the Temple resumed under Zerubbabel in the second year of Darius (520 BC). The Temple was completed in Darius's sixth year (515 BC).
Little is known about Sheshbazzar; no genealogy is given about him. He is often identified with Shenazzar, a son of Jehoiachin (1 Chr 3, 18 ), but this identification has little support. As a prince over Judah he could have been a member of the royal family, as Zerubbabel probably was, but he could simply be a leader of the people. He is called a governor just as Zerubbabel is later called. What happened to Sheshbazzar is also unknown. He probably did begin to rebuild the Temple, laying only the foundation. His leadership might have come to an end with his failure to rebuild the Temple, or in the wake of the turmoil associated with Darius's usurpation of the Persian throne. Zerubbabel is the grandson of Jehoiachin, Judah's last king, though some scholars suggest that this is a fiction of the biblical writer. Like Sheshbazzar, he was appointed governor of Judah. When he was appointed governor is never stated in the text, although Haggai first mentions him in reference to Darius's second year (520 BC). Although he was the civil administrator of Judah, only his work in rebuilding the Temple is recorded. Once the Temple is rebuilt, no more is heard about him.
The second period that the biblical evidence addresses is the period of Ezra and Nehemiah. The relationship of these two reformers poses a significant historical problem. The stories of Ezra and Nehemiah have been artificially joined. Part of the story of Ezra has been inserted into the middle of Nehemiah's story (Neh 8–9 ). The biblical text places Ezra first, followed by Nehemiah, but this relationship could be artificial. The text claims that Ezra's mission began in the seventh year of Artaxerxes, whereas Nehemiah's mission began in Artaxerxes' twentieth year, but several kings by this name ruled Persia. The date of Nehemiah's mission is fairly certain. He became governor over Judah in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes I (465–424 BC), thus in 445 BC. This date is independently confirmed by a letter from the Judean community in Elephantine, Egypt, dated 25 November 407 BC, at which time a certain Bagoas was governor over Judah, referring to Delaiah and Shelemiah, the sons of Sanballat, a contemporary of Nehemiah. Nehemiah's term of office lasted until 433 BC, at which time he was recalled to the Persian court. He was appointed for a second term some time before 424 BC, the end of Artaxerxes' reign, and served as governor until some time before 411 BC, at which time Bagoas is governor.
If Ezra's mission is to be dated to the seventh year of Artaxerxes I, then his mission began in 458 BC. This relationship, however, poses several problems. The high priest Jehohanan, the grandson of Eliashib who was a contemporary of Nehemiah, is mentioned in relation to Ezra, but the Elephantine texts place him in Judah around 407 BC. The names of the high priests in the preserved lists have been corrupted because of repetition (several men named Jehohanan son of Eliashib served as high priest), thus this evidence is not conclusive. If Ezra preceded Nehemiah, then his reform does not appear to have been successful, for when Nehemiah comes on to the scene the problems addressed by Ezra continue to exist. Moreover, Nehemiah never mentions Ezra and blames his predecessors for the corrupt situation in Judah (in Neh 8, 9 the two are mentioned together, but this is clearly the result of editorial activity). Scholars have also noted that during Ezra's time Jerusalem is occupied and surrounded by a wall (Ezr 9, 9 hemiah's time Jerusalem is unoccupied and its wall has been torn down. From Nehemiah's perspective, Jerusalem could have recently been destroyed during the revolt of Megbyzus, the satrap of Abar‐nahara (of which Judah was a part) in 449/8 BC, but no evidence clearly attests to this. As a result of these problems, many scholars prefer to date Ezra to the reign of Artaxerxes II (404–358 BC). Ezra's mission would then have begun in 398/7 BC, after Nehemiah. However, the biblical order of placing Ezra's mission during the reign of Artaxerxes I cannot be ruled out.
The Hellenistic and Roman Periods
The sources for understanding the history of Israel during the Hellenistic (332–63 BC) and Roman (63 BC–AD 70) periods are many, though few texts in the Bible provide much information regarding the political history of the periods. The primary biblical source for the Hellenistic period is 1 Maccabees. This book, written in the style of the book of Kings, tells of the struggle of Mattathias and his sons against the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes and his heirs, which has come to be known as the Maccabean revolt after the name of Mattathias's eldest son, Judah Maccabee. The book is clearly biased on behalf of the Hasmoneans (as the descendants of Mattathias are known), and it seeks to legitimate the rule of John Hyrcanus and his sons, but it nevertheless preserves much historical information about the period. The other biblical books that address the period of the Maccabean revolt are Daniel and 2 Maccabees. The visions of Daniel ( 7–12 ) were composed during the revolt and thus provide the most immediate view of the events. The historical contribution of the visions, however, is in places obscured by figurative and cryptic language. 2 Maccabees, an abridgement of a five‐volume history by Jason of Cyrene, covers a more limited period of time than 1 Maccabees (it ends with the death of Judas), but provides a greater depth of coverage and includes material not mentioned in 1 Maccabees. Second Maccabees is particularly valuable for its description of the Hellenistic reform, the events leading up to the revolt, especially the life and murder of Onias III, and the relations between Jerusalem and the Egyptian Diaspora.
All the books of the New Testament were written during the Roman period, but their focus is on the teaching and ministry of Jesus (Gospels) and the early church (Epistles), and they give an uneven picture of the larger Judean and Roman world in which they are set. The Gospels do not present a life of Jesus; the specific framework of the story of Jesus has been shaped by the particular focus of each evangelist. Jesus' cleansing of the Temple, for example, occurs early in his ministry in John, but during the Passion Week in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Nevertheless, the Gospels provide information about the historical geography of Palestine, the local administration, and numerous social customs. The Epistles present an incomplete picture of the local churches to which they were written, but rarely do they address events or issues of the larger Roman world. Only the Acts of the Apostles, which presents a history of the early church, provides substantial information on the Judean and Roman world. The Acts of the Apostles also presents interesting details about a number of persons who are known from other sources: Herod Agrippa I, Herod Agrippa II, the Roman procurators Felix and Festus, and the proconsul Gallio of Achaia.
The classical authors who provide information on Judea during this period include Diodorus Siculus, Polybius, Nicholas of Damascus, Strabo, Pliny the Elder, Tacitus, Suetonius, and Dio Cassius. Two significant Jewish authors are Philo of Alexandria and Flavius Josephus. In In Flaccum and Legatio ad Gaium, Philo describes the persecutions of the Jews during the reign of Gaius Caligula, which he personally witnessed. Josephus' works, The Jewish War and Jewish Antiquities, give detailed information about the Hasmoneans, the Herodians, and the events leading up to and the consequences of the Judean revolt against Rome. Other notable sources for this period are the Zenon papyri, which attest to the administration of Judea when it was under Ptolemaic control, and the Dead Sea Scrolls, which attest to the religious diversity of the Roman period.
The archaeology of this period is dominated by the many monumental building projects sponsored by Herod the Great. In addition to the rebuilding and expansion of the Temple in Jerusalem, for which he is most known, Herod founded the port city of Caesarea Maritima on the coast south of Carmel. He rebuilt Samaria, renaming it Sebaste in honor of Augustus. He rebuilt Jericho. Both Caesarea and Sebaste included Roman‐style temples dedicated to the emperor. Herod built palaces at Caesarea and at Herodian Jericho. Herod also built or rebuilt several fortresses in the Judean wilderness: Machaerus, the Herodium, and Masada. Although Herod's temple in Jerusalem was thoroughly destroyed by the Romans in AD 70 in the wake of the Judean revolt, the present Temple Mount preserves much of the platform on which Herod's temple was built. South and west of the Temple Mount, Herodian construction associated with the Temple has been uncovered: stone‐paved streets with shops and piers supporting staircases to the Temple, a royal stoa, and a monumental staircase leading up to the western Double Gate and the eastern Triple Gate. West of the Temple, in the present Jewish Quarter, excavations have uncovered several large, well‐decorated houses with mosaic floors and luxurious stone objects (tables, bowls, and jars). The houses were destroyed by the Romans when Titus sacked Jerusalem in AD 70. These houses attest to the affluence of Jerusalem during this period and to the violence of the Judean revolt.
Other notable archaeological sites during this period include Capernaum, Chorazin, Bethsaida, Sepphoris, and Qumran. At Capernaum and Chorazin, two towns on the northern side of the Sea of Galilee in which Jesus taught, early examples of Jewish synagogues have survived. The synagogues date to the first or second century AD, but at Capernaum traces of an earlier synagogue that dates to the period of Jesus lie beneath the later well‐preserved synagogue. Also, at Capernaum the excavators have uncovered a house that Byzantine Christians identified as the house of Peter, for they built on the site a large octagon‐shaped church (similar in form to the Byzantine church built at Caesarea on top of the ruins of Herod's temple to Augustus and to the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount). At Bethsaida, the Galilean home of several of Jesus' disciples, the excavators have uncovered several large first‐century homes. In one of the homes numerous fishing implements were discovered. Sepphoris is a large Roman city with a theatre approximately four miles from Nazareth. The city was rebuilt by Antipas during Jesus' youth, and Joseph, perhaps accompanied by Jesus, would probably have been employed in its construction (the Greek term used for Joseph's occupation, tekton, may refer to someone who works with either wood or stone). Although it is never mentioned in the New Testament, the cultural life of Sepphoris would have been well known to Jesus. The use of the word hypocrite by Jesus in the Gospels, which refers to a stage actor who plays a role for an audience's approval, perhaps derives from Jesus' familiarity with the theatre of Sepphoris. The identification of the community that lived at Qumran has been debated by scholars. Although some would identify the buildings as part of a large Roman villa, the site is generally recognized as the remains of the Essene community responsible for authoring and preserving the Dead Sea Scrolls.