The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies
Book 1. The Crisis of Sacred History
The Evidence from Megiddo: David & Solomon
That the kingdom of David and Solomon was not as glorious or as extensive as the Bible indicates is certainly arguable and even probable.
The Bible Unearthed
Israel Finkelstein, director of the Institute of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University and co-director of the university’s excavations at Megiddo, and Neil Asher Silberman, a professional journalist and director of historical interpretation for the Ename Center for Public Archaeology and Heritage Presentation in Belgium, have written an excellent book, The Bible Unearthed. In common with these pages, they set out to distinguish history and myth, and to inform ordinary people about the latest findings in Ancient Near Eastern and biblical scholarship
Finkelstein has carefully studied the archaeology of the emergence of Israelite society, and thereby lets us make better decisions about the feasibility of the united monarchy. In 1996, Finkelstein rejected his earlier traditional convictions and began to challenge the accepted chronology of Iron Age stratigraphy in the Levant, and proposed a sound chronology of Iron Age strata.
Is there, in tenth-century BC strata, anything to support the bible’s authority that Jerusalem was the center of a powerful empire? Monumental structures, putatively Solomon’s, had no sign of the legendary riches of that king in them. If these are not Solomon’s in the tenth century, then whose buildings were they and from what century?
The tenth century empire of David and Solomon did not exist because there was no Israel at all before the ninth century. Omri was the real founder of the state of Israel and the Omride dynasty (884-842 BC), as the Assyrian records and the Mesha stele say. This was Israel’s first kingdom. Strata thought to have been tenth century at Megiddo and other places were really ninth century BC, and city walls, ashlar palaces, and six-chambered gates at sites such as Megiddo, Hazor and Gezer could not have been built by Solomonic as 1 Kings 9:15 describes, but the earliest defences of the new Omride state of Samaria.
Finkelstein is the first well-known archaeologist to admit that the biblical united monarchy is an ideological myth conceivably as late as the Maccabees. Archaeologists depend on the biblical record of the tenth century BC in spite of the lack of direct evidence, and so Iron Age archaeology must be freed from the bible for objective progress to be made. He gives examples of archaeologists just accepting the bible as historical, such as Yadin’s dating of Hazor Stratum X which Yadin saw as answering to 1 Kings 9:15.
Finkelstein and Silberman say the Deuteronomistic historian wrote Deuteronomy, and Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings, but they accept the bible’s own deception that Deuteronomy was discovered in the reign of Josiah, the seventh century BC reforming king. Something must have stimulated this astonishing and self-deprecating explosion of creative activity in the time of Josiah, but nothing seems obviously significant enough to have done so. The activity and the apparent self-abuse of the Jews is better attributed to the Persians two centuries later.
The exodus and the conquest of Canaan never happened. Joshua’s campaign of sudden conquest through Canaan, and the slow tribe by tribe settlement in Judges are contradictory. The authors of The Bible Unearthed find the territorial and ideological aspirations of the biblical account mirrored in the Deuteronomistic historian.
The bible’s witness to the presence of kingdoms in and around tenth century Israel is not confirmed in imperial architecture. Monumental architecture at Hazor, Megiddo, Gezer, and Beth Shan cannot unequivocally be considered alone as confirmation of an imperial state operating in tenth century Israel. Finkelstein argues that, in the ninth century BC, the northern kingdom of Israel “would emerge as the first real, full blown state in Iron Age Palestine.”
Megiddo and the Palestinian Dark Age
For 400 years, during which the two Israelite kingdoms of Israel and Judah were supposedly in their glory days, archaeologists in Palestine have no firm chronological markers. Palestinian archaeology is bracketed by the withdrawal of Twentieth Dynasty Egypt from Canaan in the late-twelfth century BC, well-attested in material remains and extra-biblical literary records, and the Assyrian campaigns of the late eighth century BC, when thick layers of destruction are assumed to be left by Assyrian forces.
For four centuries a Palestinian “Dark Age” extends during which nothing has ever been found that can be identified with any event of known date. The dark age is notionally marked at either end by clear events, a battle fought between the Egyptians and Mediterranean raiders called the Sea Peoples during the reign of Rameses III, recorded in Egyptian inscriptions, and detailed records left by the Assyrians—chronologically anchored to an eclipse in 763 BC—which recount campaigns against the Israelites and other inhabitants of Palestine in the late eighth century BC.
This black hole in time covers most of Iron Age I (the Joshua invasion of Canaan), the days of the United Monarchy and the entire history of the northern kingdom of Israel. In this 400 years, there is no other reliable anchor, although the the conquest of c 925 BC by Shishak is taken by biblicists as the main biblical anchor in the Iron Age history of Israel.
Though some inscriptions have been discovered, such as the Mesha Stele from Dibon, the Shoshenq Stele from Megiddo, or the Aramaic inscription from Tel Dan, they were not found in situ, in clear stratigraphical contexts which would have dated them. These inscriptions were all found on the surface, or in a contaminated or later context and therefore do not have any value for dating.
Lacking dateable finds, archaeologists have dated the strata in this period by sentimental, theological and quasi-historical (biblical) considerations—in short, fancy!—and not on any reliable basis, because there was none. A proposed revision of the dating of remains in Israel challenges the historical reality of the biblical account of Israelite settlement, the major Israelite state in Palestine founded by King David and the immensely rich empire from Sinai to the Euphrates, as described in 1 Kings 4:21, created by Solomon. The controversy has been declared central to religious faith.
For the public interested in biblical archaeology, it affects central matters of faith.
Another archaeologist charged that downgrading David and Solomon was providing a “fig leaf to the anti-Semites.” The origins of this battle is a place famous for battles, an artificial hill (Tel) in the Jezreel valley and a prominent ancient site in northern Israel. It is Megiddo, from which is derived the word, Armageddon—in Hebrew, Har Megiddo, Hill of Megiddo. Findings at Megiddo have set off this battle among archaeologists and biblicists. It is a revealing story for the thesis of these pages and can be verified by logging into the official Megiddo website, the source of much of this information, for those who incline not to believe what we say here.
Archaeologists at Megiddo
Overlooking the highway from Egypt to Asia at the outlet of a pass through the Carmel Range, Megiddo has a 6,000-years history of continuous settlement, was occupied throughout the Bronze and Iron Ages, which in the Levant stretched roughly from 3300 BC to 600 BC, and is repeatedly named in the ancient archives of Egypt and Assyria. Megiddo was a city ruled successively by Egyptians, Canaanites, Israelites, Assyrians and Persians.
Megiddo’s strategic location, abundant water supply, fertile agricultural hinterland, and close contact with neighboring peoples such as the Phoenicians and Egyptians, enabled it to become the seat of a local dynasty of Bronze Age city-state princes. Megiddo was surrounded by high, beaten-earth ramparts—a defensive feature that can still be discerned in the steep tel slopes. Its prosperity is evident in the furnishings of its main palace, a cosmopolitan mix of Egyptian, Aegean, and Canaanite styles.
In the fifteenth century BC, the wealthy and powerful princes of Megiddo joined a rebellion of Canaanite rulers against Egyptian demands for money and soldiers for their campaigns. Pharaoh Thutmosis III (1479-1425 BC) relates, on the walls of the great Temple of Karnak in Upper Egypt, the destruction of the alliance by Egyptian forces at Megiddo. Megiddo was not destroyed, or was quickly rebuilt if it was, because letters sent by Biridiya, the Canaanite prince of Megiddo, to the Pharaohs Amenhotep III (1391-1353 BC) and Amenhotep IV (1353-1335 BC) have been foiund among the El Amarna tablets.
Joshua 12:21 specifically mentions the defeat of the king of Megiddo and the allotment of his territory to the tribe of Manasseh. Judges 5:19 describes a triumph by a coalition of Israelite tribes against the Canaanite kings:
The kings came and fought, then fought the kings of Canaan in Taanach by the waters of Megiddo.
The Israelites supposedly invading Canaan brought a violent end to the great northern city state. Destruction in the palace area, dated 1150 BC, is more likely to be a raid by Sea Peoples, but in either case the city was quickly restored, and artistic and architectural styles remained Canaanite, as they did even long after Israelites were supposed to have settled in the nearby hill country, suggesting cultural continuity.
In the Jewish scriptures, Megiddo was one of the northern strongholds of the Israelite king Solomon. Battles between great empires whose armies crossed the region were fought there. Biblical accounts of the ancient clashes at Megiddo may underlie its apocalyptic mystique, for, according to the the Book of Revelation, it will be the site of the battle between God and his enemies when time comes to an end, the final, apocalyptic battle between the cosmic forces of Good and Evil at the End of Days—a concept that evolved from Zoroastrianism because it implies the Zoroastrian duality of power between Good and Evil, and must be utterly pointless when a loving Almighty God, the creator of the cosmos itself, could prevent it with a word of His mouth.
Archaeologists have been drawn to Megiddo for more than a century by the thought of uncovering a royal city, mentioned eight times in the bible. They have uncovered one of the most important cities in the Ancient Near East.
The first expedition to Megiddo by the German Oriental Society sponsored by Kaiser Wilhelm II was between 1903 and 1905. Directed by Gottlieb Schumacher and deeply influenced by the methods of Heinrich Schliemann at Troy, the excavators drove an enormous trench through the middle of the tel and laid bare a complex of massive buildings. Small finds included a magnificent carved seal bearing the name Jeroboam—the first artifact recovered from an archaeological dig to be associated with an ancient Israelite king.
Between 1925 and 1939, the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago undertook a more systematic examination, with substantial funds provided by John D Rockefeller, Jr. The tel was worked all the year round while the staff lived in some luxury at what is now the site’s visitor center. The present team leaders write that “the institute team peeled away sections of 30 superimposed settlements.” John C H Laughlin, Professor of Religion at Averett College, Virginia, tells us this means that the “American excavators stripped away almost completely the first four strata of the mound.” Since this means everything was shovelled away back to the Iron Age, almost everything relevant to the biblical history of Israel and Judah was destroyed by the excavators!
Not only that but “because of the circumstances surrounding the American expedition—incomplete and inadequate publications and methodology used—there is considerable confusion over both the dates and content of many of the strata.” Laughlin, in a pearl of understatement comments that “this made it very difficult to know with confidence which ruins should be assigned to which levels.” Omitting all this, the leaders of the latest excavation say the Institute team established the basic chronology of the city’s history from the Neolithic (8000-4500 BC) to the Persian Period (539-332 BC).
To try to make something of the mess the Chicago expedition left in respect of the Israelite period (c 1150-734 BC), Yigael Yadin, of Hebrew University, dug at Megiddo in the early 1960s. From the biblical description of King Solomon’s rebuilding of the city (1 Kings 9:15), Yadin decided that a massive city gate, fortification wall, and palace upheld the biblical descriptions of a Solomonic empire extending from its capital Jerusalem far to the north.
Today the massive stone gate is the entrance to the excavated city. A sign placed in front of it by Israeli tourist authorities reads “Solomonic gate, 970-930 BC.” “Solomonic Megiddo” with its elaborate ashlar palaces—built of dressed-stones—and the “Solomonic” four-entry gates at Megiddo, Hazor and Gezer long ago became celebrated case-studies in biblical archaeology. It is a classic case of circular reasoning. The gate is from 200 years later.
The Latest Excavations
In 1992, an expedition from Tel Aviv University in partnership with Pennsylvania State University and other institutions resumed large-scale excavations there to explore more of Megiddo’s ancient urban plan, refine the chronology of its rise and fall, and clarify its role in biblical history. Neil Asher Silberman of Archaeology Journal, Israel Finkelstein and David Ussishkin of Tel Aviv University, and Baruch Halpern of Pennsylvania State University are co-directors of the current Megiddo Expedition, which also includes Loyola Marymount, the University of Southern California, Vanderbilt University, and the University of Rostock. Why has a new expedition returned to Megiddo? Because the archaeological and historical conclusions about the city are now in dispute!
The new methods of excavation and scientific testing now being applied at Megiddo offer a chance to re-evaluate how events were interpreted in biblical accounts. The current expedition is specifically interested in Megiddo’s economic and political prominence. Artefacts, architecture and animal and plant remains, and patterns of agricultural settlements offer a fascinating picture of state-formation and social evolution in the Bronze Age (c 3500-1150 BC) and Iron Age (c 1150-600 BC) that does not unequivocally confirm the biblical descriptions of Megiddo’s history.
The new expedition’s investigations have cast doubt on the supposed rebuilding of the city by Solomon, and on the nature and extent of the united monarchy of David and Solomon. Scholars had agreed that Megiddo’s six-chambered gate and adjoining city wall at the northern entrance to the city was commissioned by King Solomon in the late tenth century BC as a part of the great building project mentioned in 1 Kings 9:15.
The date of Megiddo’s massive constructions and how they fit into the city’s history is so divisive that the directors of the new expedition disagree. Baruch Halpern accepts the biblical description of Solomon’s rebuilding of Megiddo, and that the famous six-chambered gate and several additional palace buildings were indeed constructed during the Solomonic era, traditionally 967-928 BC. From architectural parallels and pottery analyses, Israel Finkelstein and David Ussishkin consider that the first great rebuilding of Megiddo took place after the establishment of the northern Kingdom of Israel and not under any united monarchy of David and Solomon, though they cannot decide which king it was.
At Megiddo, Stratum IV was first dated to the days of Solomon, mainly on the basis of the constructional activities mentioned in 1 Kings 9:15, the mention of Solomonic cities for chariots and horsemen in 1 Kings 9:19, and the set of long pillared buildings, uniformly divided down their lengths by rows of columns and roughly hewn stone troughs, uncovered at the site and identified as stables. Many storage jars were discovered in similar buildings at other contemporary sites in Israel suggesting they were storehouses or covered bazaars.
Despite this, biblical “scholars” think it “seems clear” these buildings at Megiddo were chariot stables under the kings of Israel, because no pottery or other finds were found within them, and the arrangement of the buildings around a large courtyard “suggests an area for exercising horses.” In the 1960s, Yigael Yadin linked the pillared buildings to Stratum IVA, which was dated to the period of Omri. The Solomonic city was identified with the preceding Stratum, VA-IVB, characterized by ashlar palaces, and based on the similarity of the four-entry gates at Megiddo, Hazor and Gezer, and again the building activities of Solomon in these places in 1 Kings 9:15. Yadin argued that the gates represent a master plan designed by Solomon’s architects. But the foundations of Yadin’s dating were built on shaky ground.
Ussishkin showed that the four-entry gate at Megiddo is Stratum IVA, later than Solomon’s days even according to the prevailing chronology. Then similar gates were found in late Iron Age II contexts, at Lachish and Tel Ira, and outside the borders of the supposed Solomonic state, at Philistine Ashdod. Finally, many moderate scholars—not only the minimalists who suspect the historicity of much of the bible—argued that the stories of David and Solomon were romances picturing an idyllic “Golden Age,” that the description of Solomon’s time is filled with later theological and ideological goals, and that the Deuteronomist account of Solomon’s reign is based on little original material.
Ussishkin and Woodhead’s excavations at Tel Jezreel support this chronological construct. Pottery from the compound dated to Omri was similar to that of Stratum VA-IVB at Megiddo. The two sites were apparently destroyed at the same time, probably in the mid-ninth century. This traps Stratum VA-IVB at Megiddo into a relatively narrow chronological slot—in the first half of the ninth century BC.
Finkelstein shows that the conventional dating of some levels at Megiddo is wrong by almost a century. Levels previously dated to the tenth century BC, when many biblical scholars and archaeologists assume that David and Solomon ruled, should be moved later, to the ninth century BC. This “Finkelstein Correction” would imply that massive fortifications and stone palaces at Megiddo previously attributed to Solomon’s reign might really have been the work of a later ruler, such as the ninth century King Omri. David and Solomon may at best have been earlier tribal chiefs whose reputations were greatly magnified by the biblical authors, writing hundreds of years after the events, or they may never have existed at all, as suggested by scholars dubbed the “minimalists.”
The method archaeologists use to date strata in this period is by pottery, an approach Finkelstein thinks needs adjustment. Conventional dating of the monochrome and bichrome pottery puts it too early. Dating of the eleventh to tenth century BC strata had been based on proposals of Alt and Albright using Egyptian chronology. They thought the Egyptians settled the Philistines in the southern coastal plain of Canaan after the clash between Egypt and the Sea Peoples in the eighth year of Rameses III (1175 BC). Since bichrome Philistine pottery had a long lifespan, it was dated to the twelfth to eleventh centuries BC. So strata just above the levels with Philistine pottery were dated to the tenth century BC.
In 1995, Finkelstein studied Philistine monochrome pottery, conventionally dated to c 1175-1150 BC, contesting the traditional view that shortly after their 1175 BC battle with Rameses III, the Philistines, quickly settled on and near the coast of present-day Israel and began manufacturing their characteristic style of pottery called monochrome, marking the first phase of Philistine settlement in southern Canaan. Philistine monochrome and bichrome sherds were missing at Lachish Stratum VI and Tel Sera Stratum IX, both of which were under occupation by the Egyptian Twentieth Dynasty, so the Philistines must have occupied the region only after the Egyptians had withdrawn, not during the waning years of the Egyptian presence.
Monochrome ware has not been found in any of the twentieth Dynasty Egyptian strongholds which were excavated in that region, and which lasted until the later days of Rameses III and probably even later to the days of Rameses VI, c 1135 BC as indicated by the presence of the base of a statue of him at Megiddo. Moreover, Egyptianizing pottery, characteristic of all twentieth Dynasty sites in the south, was not found in the monochrome strata. Geographically close sites can not be utterly segregated in terms of anything as common as pottery. It is inconceivable that these cities—some just a handful of kilometers from known Philistine settlements—would not have traded with them.
At two sites—Ashdod and Tel Miqne—the monochrome stratum seems to be on top of the destroyed twentieth Dynasty city. The key Philistine sites used for dating the monochrome pottery could not have been established until after Egyptian domination in Palestine totally collapsed in the late twelfth century BC, and so the Philistines cannot have been settled by Rameses III in his strongholds in southern Canaan in c 1175 BC. Use of monochrome pottery only followed the collapse of Egyptian rule in southern Canaan, and should be dated to the late twelfth century BC.
The Sea Peoples did not begin settling down until 40 or more years after the 1175 BC battle. The date for Philistine monochrome pottery must be c 1135-1100 BC or later. Bichrome Philistine pottery in southern Canaan must also be lowered from late-twelfth, early-eleventh centuries BC to late-eleventh, early-tenth centuries BC, and the whole of Iron Age stratigraphy, including the tenth century BC has to be pushed on by 50 to 100 years, thus filling a pottery dark age in some southern sites, including Ashdod, and Tel Beit Mirsim.
This redating of the monochrome pottery pushes the long-lived bichrome ware, developed from the monochrome, into the late eleventh and much of the tenth century BC. The first strata to postdate the Philistine bichrome should be dated to the mid-to-late tenth century BC, and archaeological strata and pottery conventionally dated to the tenth century—the supposed era of David and Solomon—down into the ninth century BC. Finkelstein and Ussishkin have concluded from a re-analysis of the stratigraphy of the stone gate at Megiddo, which earlier excavators had identified as Solomonic, that even under the conventional chronology it was built a century later. The Finkelstein correction would make it yet another 100 years later still—a 200 year adjustment!
As for the lower anchor at Megiddo, the key is Stratum VIA—an elaborate city which was destroyed in a terrible conflagration. From the Philistine bichrome pottery, Finkelstein lowers the date of Megiddo Stratum VIA to the tenth century BC, putting Megiddo Strata VA-IVB from being a tenth-century BC, Solomonic city into the ninth century. According to both the Oriental Institute and recent Tel Aviv University excavations, Philistine bichrome and collared-rim jars are absent, but appeared in the previous Stratum, VIB. Stratum VIA contains only a small amount of poor late Philistine pottery. Collared-rim jars were found in Stratum VI in an area with complicated stratigraphy, and the first excavators could not distinguish between the two phases of Stratum VI. The jars might have originated in Stratum VIB, or from an early phase of Stratum VI which has so far been traced only in this area. So, even on the prevailing chronology, Stratum VIA can hardly be dated in the eleventh century BC. The sherds of Stratum VIA are the last at Megiddo to contain Canaanite motifs, whence the desperate attempts to date it before the United Monarchy.
In the next two strata in the Megiddo sequence—the poor Stratum VB and the monumental Stratum VA-IVB, nearly all Canaanite features in pottery disappear, and typical Iron Age II types were introduced. A meaningful time lapse between the ceramic horizons of Strata VIA and VB is needed, hardly allowing one to place the latter before the very late tenth-century. This pushes Stratum VA-IVB into the early ninth century BC.
In the southern part of the country the key site is Tel Arad, the location of Great Arad of the Shoshenq inscription at Karnak. During this period, the Egyptian Pharaoh Shoshenq I invaded Palestine, reckoned from Egyptian records at about 926 BC, 5 years after Solomon’s death, the bible says. Yet no one knows which of the destruction levels at Megiddo, and the other cities Shoshenq attacked, were his doing. The excavators of Tel Arad suggested identification of the stratum destroyed by Shoshenq with the first fortress built there in Stratum XI. But Zimhoni and Mazar, who examined the pottery of Arad in view of later, well-dated sets from Judah, concluded that Stratum XI is later than the tenth century BC. Consequently, the only stratum which can be associated with the Shoshenq campaign is Stratum XII. This means that Stratum XI at Arad and the contemporary Stratum V at Beer-sheba—the first Iron Age fortifications in the Beer-sheba Valley and in the entire territory of Judah—were built in the ninth century BC.
Finally, Finkelstein and Ussishkin cite recent excavations in Jerusalem that have failed to find any evidence of large-scale building in the tenth century BC—despite the bible’s account that David established his capital there and that Solomon built an enormous temple in the city.
There is a very big problem for the traditional dating in Jerusalem. We have very minimal remains from both the tenth and ninth centuries BC.
Power and Resources
The poorer, more isolated southern capital of Jerusalem could not have marshalled the resources and troops to extend its rule over the rich Jezreel valley. Judah was in the impoverished hill country. Its agricultural resources were limited and the herding of sheep and goats played a much larger economic role there. The first true Israelite monarch, with a fully developed state apparatus of administration and centralized planning, emerged probably not in Jerusalem but in the rich valleys and cities of the north, like Megiddo. The redating of the first monumental structures to a period after the reign of Solomon may also suggest that the development of the first full-fledged Israelite kingdom occurred under the rule of Samaritan kings like Omri or Ahab, who are pictured as sinful, idol-worshipping villains in the biblical sources, because they were native Canaanites in fact and not the colonists from Persia who wrote the scriptures.
The contemporary records of the Assyrian Empire recognize Sirla, identified with Israel, while Yauda (Judah?) is mentioned only in passing. The Monolith Inscription of the Assyrian king Shalmaneser III from the ninth century BC reports that Akha-abbu, taken to mean Ahab, contributed 2000 chariots to an anti-Assyrian coalition at the battle of Qarqar in Syria in 843 BC. This chariot force would certainly rank Israel as a formidable military power, but the victor, who built the monument, was likely to exaggerate the strength of his enemies rather than admit their weakness. Common sense dictates that Israel could not have been a serious rival to Assyria.
Nevertheless, current excavations and intensive study of the area surrounding Megiddo highlight the considerable resources and economic capability of the area from 930 to 722 BC. The city stood in rich valleys, on an active trade route, and in cultural communication with neighboring Phœnicians, Arameans and Philistines. By the eighth century BC, Megiddo seems to have become a heavily defended royal citadel devoted almost entirely to military and administrative functions. The city’s impressive underground water tunnel allowed its residents access to a nearby spring even under siege conditions. A massive, stone-lined silo may have served for the centralized distribution of grain or other provisions. The supposed stables would have provided facilities for as many as 150 chariot teams—if stables is what they were.
The impressive constructions in the cities of Gezer, Megiddo and Hazor were all attributed to Solomon supposedly because they were all in the united kingdom of David and Solomon, but really they happened later under the kings of the northern Kingdom of Israel. Or were these always independent city states, or dependent on Phœnicia, not Israel?
As for Judah, in the spring of 609 BC, the bible tale is that the Judean king Josiah rode northward to confront Pharaoh Necho II and a large Egyptian force. At Megiddo, the supposed last heir of the House of David was killed in battle, as reported in 2 Kings 23:29:
In his days Pharaoh Neco king of Egypt went up against the king of Assyria to the river Euphrates: and King Josiah went against him; and he slew him at Megiddo, when he had seen him.
Either Josiah was a fool or the authors of the bible take its readers as fools, or deluded. The idea of Judah deliberately setting out to take on the Egyptian army is absurd. It was not a lion roaring but a mouse!
Radio Carbon (C-14) Results
Seed and wood samples from the major site involved in the tenth century debate have been C-14 dated and support the new Low Chronology. Until recently wide error bands on radiocarbon dating for such recent periods as the Iron Age, often a century or more, meant the C-14 dates were useless for regnal dates, but refinements of C-14 dating techniques have reduced the uncertainty.
Samples from Stratum VIA at Megiddo—the city long believed to have prospered in the eleventh century BC—give dates that cluster decades later. Fifteen wood samples were taken from roof beams that had collapsed in the terrible fire and destruction of Stratum VIA. The C-14 dates of large timbers at best date the time when the trees used to make the beams were cut down, and for heartwood, date the time when the tree rings were being laid down, not the date of the destruction or even the construction. Timbers, a valuable resource, were often re-used from earlier buildings, but some might have been freshly cut. Either way, a piece of charcoal from the heart of a beam might give a date hundreds of years before the date of its combustion. So, in the range of dates found, only the latest should be assigned to the age of the construction of the building or city. Six of the samples fall in the 12-eleventh centuries and can well represent reused logs. Eight of the samples fall well into the tenth century and one into the ninth. The Stratum VI city apparently dates to the tenth century BC.
These dates have been confirmed by test of parallel strata, such as Tel Hadar on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, Ein Hagit near Megiddo and Tel Kinneret on the northern coast of the Sea of Galilee. Grains of wheat, barley, and other plants can often be dated more accurately, because they are annual plants that would not lie around for too many years without germinating or decomposing. A Mazar describes a series of samples from the destruction of a stratum at Tel Rehov near Beth Shan which is contemporary with Megiddo’s supposed “Solomonic” city, Stratum VA-IVB, and which gave mid-ninth century dates—a long time after its supposed destruction by Pharaoh Shoshenq in 926 BC. Yet, being a biblicist, Mazur ignores all convention, science and common sense, to say the opposite in a popular journal.
At Tel Rehov a major destruction layer is associated with hand-burnished pottery. Mazar told Science that radiocarbon dating of charred grains from this layer, which he believes corresponds to the Shoshenq invasion, gave dates ranging from about 916 to 832 BC, the older end of which he thinks correlates “reasonably well” with the timing of Shoshenq’s raid. Any objective observer would note immediately that all of these dates are lower than the expected date of 926 BC, and using the rule of preferring the lowest—even burnt grains could have been burnt in hearths during the lifetime of the city not when it was destroyed—the destruction was up to 100 years after the conventionally accepted date. Mazar then points to radiocarbon dates of 1120 to 990 BC from a beam of elm wood, which he takes to show that this settlement was constructed no later than the tenth century BC.
In summary, according to Finkelstein’s Low Chronology, strata which were previously dated to the eleventh century BC would now be dated to the tenth century BC. In Israel, this includes Megiddo VIA and its contemporaries, Beth-shan Upper VI, Tel Hadar, and Yokneam XVII, and in Judah, Beer-sheba VII and Arad XII. Strata which were dated to the tenth century BC should be re-dated to the ninth century BC. Therefore, in Israel Megiddo VA-IVB and its contemporaries and in Judah Beer-sheba V and Arad XI date to the ninth century. Strata which were dated to the eighth and seventh centuries BC should remain dated as such. The Low Chronology resolves some thorny problems raised by the prevailing dating. Among other things, it closes the gap of a century or more between the beginning of monumental architecture at Megiddo, and the appearance of other manifestations of developed administration in Israel and the entire Levant, such as monumental inscriptions, administrative ostraca and inscribed seals and seal impressions.
The Biblicist Defence
Biblicist archaeologists claim Finkelstein has not proven his case for altering the conventional chronology. Seymour Gitin, director of the W F Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in Jerusalem, thinks that pottery was not necessarily exchanged between neighbouring contemporaneous sites. Gitin, who co-directed excavations at the Philistine site of Ekron, says that no monochrome pottery has been found at Gezer, a nearby Canaanite city widely agreed to have existed at the same time.
Not one sherd representing early Philistine culture has been found at Gezer. How do you explain that?
A scientist should begin with the evidence, namely that there was no shared contemporary pottery in adjacent sites, and conclude that the strata under consideration were not contemporary, rather than begin with the assumption, however widely agreed, that they “existed at the same time.”
Another claim is that the late dating does not leave enough time for the various strata up until the Assyrian conquest which are easily recognised. Amnon Ben-Tor and Doron Ben-Ami defend the traditional chronology at Hazor, devised by Yigael Yadin, and therefore a tenth century date for the buildings of Hazor Stratum X, which include the casemate wall and six-chambered gate traditionally attribued to Solomon. Ben-Tor and Ben-Ami question the reliability of ceramic dating, Jezreel’s poor condition, as well as the compression of strata.
The studies are contradictory, but Finkelstein defends his confidence in the dating of the royal enclosure at Jezreel. He had already lowered the chronology of Megiddo Strata VA-IVB from a 1992 pottery study by Zimhoni at Jezreel, and believes later work by the same author shows Hazor Stratum X is contemporary. The pottery assemblage from Jezreel, which was destroyed apparently in the middle of the ninth century BC, is identical to that from Megiddo, which according to the conventional theory was destroyed in the tenth century. It is impossible that Jezreel is tenth century, so Megiddo must be ninth. The palaces at Samaria (clearly ninth century BC) are markedly similar to those at supposedly tenth century Megiddo. The palace at Samaria built by Omri cannot be tenth century, so the palace at Megiddo must be ninth century.
In the ninth century, the greatness, the strength and the prosperity of the Omride dynasty in the northern kingdom of Israel is testified to by the Assyrians who refer to the Omride state as Beit Omri, the house—land or dynasty—of Omri. They knew there was a monarch named Omri who was the founder of the dynasty and the founder of the capital. The biblical text here is confirmed by ample extra-biblical evidence and archaeology. In the case of Solomon, it is not.
The proliferation of strata Finkelstein attributes to a period of warfare between Israel and Damascus. These Aramaean statelets were just forming at that time, and after the establishment of an Aramaean state at Damascus, the Omrides set up Samaria nearby with the inevitable clashes between them, visible in Hazor Strata X-IX. Ben-Tor rejects this on the grounds that so many strata are not found at Tel Dan even though it is nearer to Damascus. Dan in this period might have been an ally of Aram or occupied by the Damascenes, explaining this. The fragment of an Aramaean stele found unstratified at Tel Dan in 1993, if genuine, confirms Dan was an ally of Damascus not Samaria. Ben Tor accepts that there is effectively no evidence of the Aramaeans and without something more positive, there can be no strong arguments. The Assyrians under Tiglath-pileser III were more likely to have caused serious damage at Hazor than the incipient state of Damascus.
William Dever adds that Finkelstein has neglected the circumstantial evidence left by the invasion of Shoshenq I in 926 BC, which he believes supports the conventional view. Egyptian inscriptions list more than 100 cities that Shoshenq supposedly conquered—including Megiddo and Gezer. Excavations of more than 25 sites on the list have identified destruction layers that many archaeologists attribute to Shoshenq’s invasion. It ought to be clear by now that “many archaeologists” using wishful thinking rather than proper evidence do not add up to a tel of beans. Since cities were commonly destroyed by fire whether by conquest or accidentally, and were not uncommonly deliberately pulled down and rebuilt for reasons of pestilence among other reasons, destruction was commonplace.
A characteristic difference in pottery styles—a shift from a hand-burnished to a wheel-burnished finish—also characterizes some particular destruction layers. Dever believes this hand-burnished pottery is a chronological marker for the tenth century BC Shoshenq destructions. Finkelstein disagrees, arguing that many of the destruction layers usually attributed to Shoshenq should be blamed on later ninth century BC invaders.
Aviram Mazar notes that sherds from Beth Shan include ceramics in the Philistine style but from the end of the Egyptian occupation, contradicting Finkelstein. The Philistine presence in southern Canaan need not have awaited the complete withdrawal of Egypt. Mazar through is not convinced himself of the biblical empire:
I have no doubt that the description of David and Solomon in the bible is to a large extent exaggerated, but this doesn’t mean you have to cancel David and Solomon as historical figures.
Finkelstein is willing to concede that David and Solomon might still have existed, but he is offering a sop to the biblicist faction. Even if some primitive tribal leaders called David and Solomon existed by those names at some time before Omri, they were plainly not the same as the biblical legends. The early Israelites formed much smaller political entities, restricted to smaller territories even than the small states of Judah and Israel, as indicated in the bible. The later biblical writers wanted legendary heroes and so they created them.
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