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The Oxford History of the Biblical World An in-depth chaptered work by leading scholars providing a chronological overview of the history of biblical times.

Material Features of the Early State in Israel

A chief characteristic of a monarchic system is a territorial base that transcends traditional, older, and prior territorial segments or regions. The biblical texts' recounting of the military exploits and political actions of the first three kings, however stylized or legendary the accounts, reveals the core area in which Saul rose to power. The nucleus of Saul's territory, whether a chiefdom or an inchoate state, was his own tribe of Benjamin. His son Ishbaal, whose brief reign overlaps with David's, appoints Benjaminites as his servants (see 2 Sam. 2.15, 25, 31 ). It is noteworthy that Ishbaal claims to rule not only over Benjamin but also over other areas: Ephraim, Gilead, the Jezreel, and perhaps Asher (2 Sam. 2.9 ). The biblical assertion that Saul ruled “over all Israel” may be an editorial exaggeration, but Saul's early military success would have gradually rallied an expanding group of followers and created an area of control beyond Benjamin. Saul is portrayed as a charismatic military leader in the tradition of the preceding judges, and his continued feats on the battlefield were of just the sort to lead to an expanded sphere of control.

David's political and military achievements apparently created a still larger territorial entity. Clearly his own tribal base in Judah, indicated by the Judean origins of the folk traditions attached to him, figured prominently in David's rise to power. In the early years of his reign he had sovereignty over Judah alone (see 2 Sam. 5.5 ). David made his capital for over seven years at Hebron, a well-situated site in the Judean hills. From there he expanded his influence over all of the southern hill country and adjacent Shephelah, the northern Negeb, and the eastern Judean wilderness. (This territory, larger than the tribe of Judah itself, ultimately encompassed the ideal or maximum boundaries of the southern kingdom of Judah after the later dissolution of the United Monarchy.) Expanding to the north and east, David incorporated into his realm the Benjaminite, Ephraimite, and other areas of Saul's territory, as well as Galilee and parts of Transjordan.

One other expansion of the Judean core of tenth-century Israel is significant. At the southern periphery of Judah and of the kingdom lay the northern Negeb or Beersheba basin, where settlements had existed prior to early Israel and the United Monarchy and continued afterward. In the early monarchy, however, numerous settlements penetrated into the Negeb highlands to the southwest: most are stone fortresses or towers with domestic structures and animal pens scattered in the vicinity. The pottery at these sites indicates that they were occupied for a limited period, from the end of the eleventh century at the earliest to their destruction or abandonment at about the time of Shishak's march through the Negeb in 925 BCE. These sites, in other words, are chronologically congruent with the reigns of David and especially Solomon.

These Negeb settlements have other interesting features. The dwelling types, and even some of the towers themselves, resemble the domestic structures of tenth-century sites in Israelite territory. Similarly, a large percentage of the pottery forms are the same as those found in villages to the north. Finally, the settlements typically are in areas of limited water sources and without soils suitable for subsistence farming. Taken together, these factors indicate that the western Negeb settlements were outposts of the early kingdom, initiated and supported by the state, and populated by groups sent southward by state authorities to represent state interests. Although agricultural and pastoral activities are evident in the archaeological remains of these sites, their inhabitants could not have survived without external support.

Just what were the interests of the state in populating this barren region? Because about 80 percent of the fortresses and dwellings were built on high ridges commanding panoramic views, they obviously helped protect the southern borders of the monarchy. The Philistines at that time had extended their settlements southward along the farthest western area of the Negeb highlands. Egypt's gradually increasing interest in regaining control of Palestine, culminating in the Shishak invasion, likewise points to the Israelite need for military protection at the southwestern limits of its territory. In addition, by the Solomonic period, Israel had developed an international trade with an important southern component so that the Negeb outposts also served as way stations along a route to the Red Sea and thence to East Africa and South Arabia. These frontier settlements thus supported several geopolitical and economic interests of the early monarchy.

Aside from archaeological data, researchers usually reconstruct the full extent of the Davidic domain with such sources as the census list of 2 Samuel 24 and the list of Levitical cites in Judges 21 . Important as these lists may be, however, they are incomplete and resist exact dating. Nonetheless, the strong tradition of direct Davidic rule over all the tribal groups means that biblical information about tribal boundaries can be used to determine the extent of the Davidic kingdom as well as that of Solomon, the heir to an established and extensive territorial base. Traditional premon-archic tribal regions are generally equated with the territory of the Davidic-Solomonic state.

The supranational boundaries of the early monarchy are less clear. Biblical sources claim conquests of Moab, Edom, and Ammon (including the land of Geshur) across the Jordan; and David is said to have extended Israelite dominion over parts of the Aramean territories as far as Damascus. Parts of Philistia were reportedly captured or reclaimed, and Negeb peoples such as the Amalekites were subdued. Israelite domination over these extra-Israelite lands has often been considered part of the nationalist exaggeration of the biblical sources, which tend to aggrandize David and Solomon. Still, the idea of a quasi-imperial sprawl by the early monarchy cannot easily be rejected. The political weakness of the power centers surrounding Palestine at this time makes such a scenario possible, as do other economic and diplomatic features of the early kingship.

Leaving aside for a moment the matter of imperial control, one can see within the traditional territorial borders of the new state aspects of material culture that reflect political unity. Tenth-century ceramic vessels exhibit considerable homogeneity throughout the land. In contrast to the preceding period, with its distinct local pottery traditions, and also to the succeeding period, in which pottery forms and wares diverge into northern and southern groups, the ceramic assemblages of the early monarchic period show many similar features. Sites of varying sizes—urban centers and more remote villages—seem to share a common ceramic idiom, at least by the mid-tenth century. The variety of new ceramic forms and features is impressive, particularly in comparison to the previous period. Despite the general difficulty of closely dating Bronze and Iron Age archaeological materials, archaeologists have been able to identify the pottery of the early monarchic era because of the ubiquitous appearance of a characteristic ware—red slip with a rough burnish applied by hand—on a variety of vessels. Careful statistical and stratigraphic analysis of these red burnished sherds has given them unusually precise chronological parameters. Emerging about 950 BCE, this pottery can justifiably be called “Solomonic ware.” Furthermore, the unburnished red-slip wares that precede them can perhaps be assigned to the Davidic period.

The relative uniformity of the ceramic repertoires of the Iron IIA period can best be explained by increase of intersite contacts effected by a centralized government. To foster exchanges, to shift labor forces, to monitor revenues, and to establish communication with local clients and leaders, a state system needs to maintain roadways and contacts with all parts of its domain. We can see this by carefully examining the distribution of pottery types in a small region of southern Palestine bordering on Philistia. A group of sites with similar ceramic horizons lies along a reconstructible Israelite trading loop; but the nearby site of Ashdod, which remained a Philistine outpost in this period, clearly lay beyond the borders of an emerging distinctively Israelite material culture.

Secure exchange routes within a territorial state are an important determinative factor in the diffusion of common pottery types within its borders. Ethnographic evidence suggests that under such conditions common wares can easily be transported, usually by itinerant traders using pack animals, to markets 250 kilometers (155 miles) or more from the production site. Such a radius corresponds strikingly with the distance between the traditional northern and southern borders of Israel—245 kilometers (152 miles) from Dan in the north to Beer-sheba in the south (see 1 Sam. 3.20; 2 Sam. 3.10; 24.2 ; etc.). Ceramic similarity clearly requires favorable conditions for interregional travel and trade; it also can be affected by the relocation of village potters. The increases in Iron IIA population already mentioned induced out-migration from existing villages and the establishment of new ones. Village pottery traditions thus migrated to new locations along with the shifting population.

Burial practices reveal another trend toward homogeneity. The preceding Iron I period yields relatively little evidence, partly reflecting low population density and partly because making more permanent burial sites requires expenditures of time and resources perhaps unavailable to the premonarchic highlanders. Those few known examples tend to be the single interment cist graves known from Late Bronze coastal or Canaanite sites, although a few cave tombs also appear. Cave tombs are natural caves, sometimes enlarged or enhanced by hewing out receptacles for bodies. Such tombs tend to be used over long periods of time, the desiccated skeletal remains being heaped in a central repository to make room for fresh burials. The bench tomb, found in the highlands throughout the Iron Age beginning in the tenth century BCE, is an artificially constructed version of the cave tomb. A cavity is hewn out of rock outcroppings or cliffs, benches are carved along its sides to receive corpses, and a pit is dug in the center to receive bones from old burials. The grave goods also show a uniformity that mirrors the pattern of ceramics at that time. In contrast to the limited pottery repertoire of Iron I burials, Iron IIA tombs show a marked increase in the number of pottery forms and also of imported wares. Not surprisingly the latter are Cypro-Phoenician vessels, the major forms of foreign ceramics in habitation sites.

These bench tombs and their cave tomb antecedents were family burial sites, reused over generations by the members of a single family group or of related ones. The tombs contain the remains of males and females of all ages, with no differentiation by gender or age in the treatment of skeletons. The tomb group as a whole, however, represents families that had amassed some wealth. Carving out a bench tomb and depositing grave goods required resources above the subsistence level. In addition, the known tombs, even assuming that many are as yet undiscovered, could not account for the burials of the entire population. Poorer folk were laid to rest in simple pit graves with few or no grave goods, and no traces now survive.

Architectural remains of the early monarchic era show a similar trend toward innovation and uniformity. Important new building techniques and structures can be dated to the Iron IIA period, especially in its latter stages during Solomon's reign. According to 1 Kings 9.15–20 , Solomon amassed labor forces “to build the house of the LORD and his own house, the Millo and the wall of Jerusalem, Hazor, Megiddo, Gezer…, Lower Beth-horon, Baalath, Tamar in the wilderness, within the land, as well as all of Solomon's storage cities, the cities for his chariots, the cities for his cavalry, and whatever Solomon desired to build, in Jerusalem, in Lebanon, and in all the land of his dominion.” Besides the capital, Jerusalem, this text mentions six cities as the focus of Solomonic regional urbanization, of which only the first three have been located with certainty. Excavations at those sites—Gezer, Megiddo, and Hazor—have provided a wealth of information about the public architecture of the early monarchy.

Anthropological assessments of the material features of monarchic rule stress that the erection of structures serving regional and national needs, rather than simply domestic or local ones, are part of emerging state systems. Fortifications and other large public buildings require expenditures of capital and labor beyond the resources of smaller-scale societies. Such projects have important economic and political functions, as well as less tangible symbolic and psychological ones. They contribute to the royal administration of national territory, while also signifying the power of the king. Urban development at Gezer, Megiddo, and Hazor thus constitutes archaeological data reflecting royal administration.

A striking uniformity in public architecture appears at Gezer, Megiddo, and Hazor in the early monarchy. The dating and interpretation of the public structures at these three sites are still debated among archaeologists, but attributing them to the period of Solomon enjoys wide support. Fortification walls in the Iron Age were of two types: the solid wall, usually 2.5 to 4.5 meters (8–15 feet) thick, and the casemate wall. The latter consisted of two parallel walls, the inner usually less substantial than the outer, which averaged 1 to 1.5 meters (3–4.5 feet) wide, and the distance between the two walls varying between 1.5 and 4 meters (4.5–13 feet). The two walls are linked by cross-walls; the rooms thus formed in the wall could be used for storage. Sometimes casemates form part of the adjacent houses, suggesting that this type arose when the outer walls of a series of houses were packed tightly around the perimeter of a site, forming a defensive structure. Whatever their origin, casemate walls became rare after the tenth century. Their nearly simultaneous appearance at Gezer, Hazor, and probably Megiddo can be linked to Solomonic building activity, as can their presence at other urban sites newly emerging or reemerging on the Palestinian landscape in the tenth century.

The similarity in casemate wall construction of the second half of the tenth century is also evident in the gateways associated with those walls. The typical city gate consisted of four to six chambers, two or three on each side of the opening and projecting inward from the line of the wall. Gezer, Megiddo, and Hazor all feature six-chambered gates that are close enough in size and proportion to indicate a common architectural plan, with variations for local conditions. The façades of all three gates included projecting towers, and the width of the central passage was exactly the same—4.20 meters (13 feet 10 inches)—at each site. The gates of the major urban sites of the tenth century were constructed with evenly dressed stone blocks known as ashlars. More costly than the roughly trimmed field stones used for most buildings of the period, these blocks occur in formal buildings—palaces and shrines—at sites that, by virtue of their strategic locations, also served as regional royal cities. The formal architectural style of these buildings often included the earliest use of a particular kind of capital, called proto-Ionic (or proto-Aeolic) because it seems to be the prototype of the double volute Ionic capital of classical Greek architecture. Its curved volutes have their origin in the palm tree motif ubiquitous in ancient Near Eastern art. More than thirty-five such capitals have been discovered in Palestine, all at six or seven urban centers. The earliest two come from tenth-century Megiddo.

The high quality and uniformity of these features of the monumental architecture of the tenth century represent a building style that may have been designed in the United Monarchy by an unknown royal architect. It became popular thereafter in both kingdoms of the divided monarchy, as well as at neighboring Phoenician and Philistine sites. Some architectural historians suggest an Israelite origin for these fine Iron Age construction techniques and embellishments; others point to precursors in eastern Mediterranean culture at the end of the Late Bronze Age. Whatever their origin, their presence in the fortifications and palaces of regional centers is evidence of how the centralized government housed and protected the officials who carried out state policies.

Another kind of large building at several urban centers provides further evidence of state economic and political policies. These large rectangular structures, as big as 11 × 22 meters (35 feet 9 inches × 71 feet 6 inches), are subdivided into three internal longitudinal sections by two rows of internal columns running the length of the building. The prominence of the columns led archaeologists to call them “pillared buildings,” a fortunate designation in light of a controversy over their function: were they barracks, stables, or storehouses? Whatever their function, their origin in tenth-century royal cities can be related to political centralization—to the stationing of cavalry units in strategic cities (see 1 Kings 9.19 ), to the provisioning of officials loyal to the crown, or to the storage of materials being exchanged on the trade routes of the early state.

The urban architecture of Iron IIA was distinctive, as were the cities themselves. The preceding Iron I period saw deurbanization throughout Palestine. The rise of a state system in the tenth century BCE coincided with an urban revival within the boundaries of the Israelite national territory. Most of the new urban centers were built on the sites of the old Bronze Age cities, although a few represent the continuation of Iron I village sites. The Iron II cities in some ways continue the Bronze Age urban traditions in their layout and location. But differences in size and in internal building types are indicative of a nation-state, rather than of the autonomous city-states of the Bronze Age.

As a whole, the Iron IIA cities—even major royal centers such as Gezer, Hazor, and Megiddo—are smaller than their Bronze Age precursors. Other cities were even smaller, with differing layouts and building types, and often they lacked fortifications or other prominent public buildings. With their dwellings crowded together in irregular fashion, many were villages grown large. Thus they differ in character from most Bronze Age urban sites, which were relatively independent political units, each featuring buildings that served the economic, military, royal, religious, and residential functions of a self-governing entity. Iron IIA cities, smaller and less complex, were part of a centralized state, with many governing functions reserved to the capital city or regional centers. The presence of a national state effected a new mode of urban existence.

One other feature of the royal cities mentioned in 1 Kings 9 is salient. The three cities that have been only tentatively identified seem to be located at strategic locations: Beth-horon, commanding the major access to Jerusalem from the north; and Baalath and Tamar, probably situated at the southern and southeastern borders of the kingdom. The three known sites mentioned in 1 Kings 9 are especially well placed. Gezer occupied one of the most important crossroads in ancient Palestine, guarding the place where the ascent to Jerusalem and other highland sites branches off from the major north-south coastal route, the “Way of the Sea.” Thus it protected southern trade routes and was also critical to the defense of Israel's southwestern border, on the edge of lands still controlled by Philistines or sought by Egypt. Megiddo had a similar strategic importance because of its location near the intersection of the “Way of the Sea” with routes through the Jezreel Valley toward the east. Finally, Hazor commanded a strategic position at the junction of the main north-south highland route, connecting northern Palestine with the Phoenician coast and with the east-west highway extending toward Damascus.

It is no coincidence that these three cities occupied the three main intersections of the historic trading routes of the eastern Mediterranean. In addition to serving as regional centers, they were fortified and equipped with the administrative machinery and appropriate large-scale buildings to secure international trade in the Solomonic period. Whether this trade had already begun in Davidic times is difficult to ascertain. Most likely, foreign conquests and tribute provided the luxury items and other materials not available locally for the newly formed state and its bureaucrats from the beginning of the monarchy. Still, the cessation of warfare during Solomonic rule meant an increase in international trade connections during the middle to late tenth century. The brief flowering of central Negeb highland settlements in that period belongs to the same picture of commercial internationalism.

Other material remains also give evidence of a flourishing foreign trade. Imported wares, absent from the limited ceramic assemblages of the Iron I period, begin to appear in large quantities in the tenth century. Most prominent of these is the so-called Cypro-Phoenician ware, a designation for fine or luxury vessels usually covered with a red slip and decorated with black concentric circles. Cypro-Phoenician ceramic vessels from abroad fed into an internal distribution network comprehensive enough to ensure their wide availability. The prosperous trading cities of the Phoenician coast, the source of these wares, also provided materials and technological expertise for building projects associated with Solomonic if not Davidic rule (see 2 Sam. 5.11; 1 Kings 5.1–12; see also 1 Chron. 22.3–4 ).

Iron objects, also indicative of international trade, appear in significant numbers for the first time in the tenth century. Indeed, twice as many iron artifacts have been recovered from Iron IIA contexts as from Iron I sites. Only in the tenth century did iron begin to play a significant role in political, economic, and military aspects of Israelite life. Its greatly increased use in weaponry, in tools for expanded agricultural activity, and in prestige items met various needs of the early monarchy.

The availability of iron, Phoenician pottery, and other imported goods depended for the most part on overland trade routes secured by the regional royal cities and the southern Negeb outposts. But maritime activity played its role in early monarchic international trade. The Philistine coastal city at Tell Qasile, probably destroyed by Davidic forces, became an Israelite port city, as did other contemporary sites on the Mediterranean. One of them, Tel Dor at the foot of Mount Carmel, was a Phoenician colony in the eleventh century. By the late eleventh century and then in the tenth, it became Israel's leading harbor town, facilitating trade with Phoenicia and Cyprus. Other sea trade toward the south is known only from texts, notably the claim that Solomon built a fleet of ships to sail south from Ezion-geber at the Red Sea to acquire precious items, such as the highly valued incense, spices, rare woods, and gemstones of South Arabia and East Africa (see 1 Kings 9.26–28; 10.11–13 ). Archival records of Assyrian trade and its commodities from periods both earlier and later than the tenth century attest to the long history of trade in these items. Monarchic Israel had every reason to participate in that trade by southern sea routes connecting with overland caravans.

A major impetus for seeking secure routes and a lucrative international trade stemmed from the special needs and strategies of the state system's urban nerve center, its capital. Saul is said to have ruled from Gibeah in Benjamin, although the biblical texts associating him with that site (probably Tell el-Ful just north of Jerusalem) are beset with difficulties. David first established his power base at Hebron but ultimately moved it to the city forever associated with his name: Jerusalem, the core of which was known as “the city of David” (2 Sam. 5.7 ). Whether David acquired Jerusalem by conquering its Jebusite inhabitants or through negotiation with them is uncertain. But the strategic brilliance in establishing a capital city outside the traditional areas of any existing tribal groups is clear: Jerusalem and its public buildings were a unifying factor in the early monarchy.

Archaeological evidence for the royal and administrative capital of the new monarchy is disconcertingly poor, especially in comparison with the recovery of so much from the regional centers of Solomon's day. After more than a century and a half of archaeological excavation of the city of David, virtually no structural remains of the tenth century can be identified securely. Even the monumental “stepped stone structure,” for decades thought to be part of Davidic construction activity, has recently been dated to the end of the Late Bronze Age (although it is likely to have been reused during the Iron IIA period as a retaining wall for the royal precincts built then). The same is true for “Warren's Shaft,” a subterranean water channel at first identified with the “water shaft” mentioned in 2 Samuel 5.8 in connection with the Davidic capture of Jerusalem; some archaeologists now date it later than Iron IIA. Only fragmentary walls and scattered artifacts, none of which elicit images of the monumentality and grandeur of what David and Solomon are said to have constructed in Jerusalem (2 Sam. 5.9; 2 Kings 5–7 ), incontrovertibly belong to the period of the early monarchy.

Yet the biblical record of monumental architecture in Jerusalem is not fictitious, and the discrepancy between textual records and material remains should not be used to discredit the former. The very importance of the city and its public buildings led to the obliteration of the earliest Israelite structures. For thousands of years successive rebuildings, many of which sank foundations down to bedrock, have disturbed earlier remains. The sanctity of the temple-palace precinct especially attracted continual construction activity. Indigenous kings as well as the foreign imperial powers that controlled the city often tore down and built anew its most important buildings. That three postbiblical religious traditions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—have vied for position at sacred locales, putting many sites off-limits for excavation, has further contributed to the archaeological nightmare.

Jerusalem's ancient conquerors, moreover, routinely destroyed the public structures of the enemy and carried off as spoils its wealth (see 2 Kings 25.8–17 ). Because public buildings symbolized the state, demolishing or taking possession of them invariably followed a conquest. Even if one could excavate under the present-day shrines and holy places, some right over the sites of ancient ones, few if any coherent traces of the monumental architecture of the tenth century would turn up.

A different kind of archaeological data, however, underscores Jerusalem's pivotal role. Surveys in the eastern Judean hill country, in addition to showing the increased settlement density of the Iron IIA period, also indicate that these settlements belonged to a more extensive territorial unit. The arrangement of sites on the tenth-century landscape points to a center—Jerusalem—outside the region. This recent interpretation of settlement patterns provides some assurance that the biblical texts' depiction of Jerusalem as national center is rooted in reality.

Finally, we can test details recorded in the biblical description of the two major buildings in the capital—the Temple and the adjacent palace—against what we know of construction technology, architectural styles, and artistic motifs of the tenth century BCE. All have parallels in structures and artifacts discovered at ancient Egyptian, Phoenician, Syrian, Assyrian, Canaanite, and Hittite sites. The royal palace described in 1 Kings 7.1–11 had at least five units, the largest of which was called the House of the Forest of Lebanon because of its extensive use of cedar beams and pillars imported from Lebanon. Another unit, the Hall of Pillars, with its colonnaded entryway and its access to other units of the palace complex, may have resembled the Near Eastern bit-hilani structures. Most of the parallels, however, postdate the tenth century, a “dark age” in art and architecture because of the decline of the historic centers of political power in that period. This leaves Israel, with its reported construction of an extraordinary temple-palace complex in Jerusalem, as a trendsetter in the material world of its day. Ancient Israel is best known in postbiblical religious tradition for its spiritual and literary contributions, for its wisdom documents and prophetic calls for justice. But for one brief period in the millennium or so of its history it may have taken the lead in artistic creativity.

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