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Cosmic ASOR: Suppose a Supernatural Event Occurs in Historical Time

Sodom and Gomorrah by John Martin (Wikipedia)

This blog marks the final one [YAY!] on the ASOR and SBL conferences in 2018.

Suppose a supernatural event occurs in historical time. By supernatural, I am referring to a natural but infrequent event that does not lend itself to daily, weekly, monthly, annual, or even Sothic cycles. These are events in historic time which are unique to the individuals experiencing them. Neither they nor anyone they know has ever experienced the event before. However similar events may have been remembered in the oral tradition from a long time ago.

A classic example would be the volcanic eruption of Mt. Vesuvius and the destruction of Pompeii. That event had an immediate impact on the people at that time. It also became part of the cultural legacy of the people. If a storyteller sets a story in Pompeii (or on the Titanic or in Atlantis), it is not too difficult to figure out that the ending will not go well for the people living there.

There were two such papers at ASOR both with biblical implications.

Environmental Archaeology of the Ancient Near East

“The 3.7kaBP Middle Ghor Event: Catastrophic Termination of a Bronze Age Civilization”

Phillip J. Silvia (Trinity Southwest University), A. Victor Adedeji (Elizabeth City State University), Ted E. Bunch (Northern Arizona University), T. David Burleigh (New Mexico Tech), Robert Hermes (Los Alamos National Laboratory), George Howard (Restoration Systems), Malcolm A. LeCompte (Comet Research Group), Charles Mooney (NC State University), E. Clay Swindel (Comet Research Group), Allen West (Comet Research Group), Tim Witwer (Comet Research Group), James H. Wittke (Northern Arizona University), Wendy S. Wolback (DePaul University), and Dale Batchelor (EAG Laboratories),

This paper surveys the multiple lines of evidence that collectively suggest a Tunguska-like, cosmic airburst event that obliterated civilization—including the Middle Bronze Age city-state anchored by Tall el-Hammam—in the Middle Ghor (the 25 km diameter circular plain immediately north of the Dead Sea) ca. 1700 B.C.E., or 3700 years before present (3.7kaBP). Analyses of samples taken over twelve seasons of the Tall el-Hammam Excavation Project have been and are being performed by a team of scientists from New Mexico Tech, Northern Arizona University, NC State University, Elizabeth City (NC) State University, DePaul University, Trinity Southwest University, the Comet Research Group, and Los Alamos National Laboratories, with remarkable results. Commensurate with these results are the archaeological data collected from across the entire occupational footprint (36 ha) of Tall el-Hammam, demonstrating a directionality pattern for the high-heat, explosive 3.7kaBP Middle Ghor Event that, in an instant, devastated approximately 500 km2 immediately north of the Dead Sea, not only wiping out 100% of the Middle Bronze Age cities and towns, but also stripping agricultural soils from once-fertile fields and covering the eastern Middle Ghor with a super-heated brine of Dead Sea anhydride salts pushed over the landscape by the Event’s frontal shockwaves. Based upon the archaeological evidence, it took at least 600 years to recover sufficiently from the soil destruction and contamination before civilization could again become established in the eastern Middle Ghor.

I am not qualified to discuss the science of this presentation which I did not see. What I do note is that it was of one two papers to garner some media attention. The other one was the session on changing the name of ASOR to delete the word “Oriental.” While I did download the papers from that session, so far I have not decided to write about it and instead am confining myself to archaeological and biblical papers.

The reason for the media attention for this presentation was due to a word not mentioned in the abstract and as far as I know not mentioned in the session. The word is “Sodom.” Here are some examples courtesy of Joseph Lauer.

Evidence of Sodom? Meteor blast cause of biblical destruction, say scientists

Bible’s Sodom and Gomorrah destroyed by an exploding asteroid, says archaeologists

Fire and Brimstone’ that Destroyed Biblical Sodom Matches Findings of Cosmic Catastrophe 3,700 Years Ago

Bible’s Sodom and Gomorrah destroyed by 10 MEGATON asteroid explosion, archaeologists say

Biblical City of Sodom Was Blasted to Smithereens by a Massive Asteroid Explosion

Scientists Admit Biblical Account of Sodom is Accurate.

According to Lauer, the ASOR presentation was not the first one on the subject. Silvia and Steven Collins presented the paper “The Civilization-Ending 3.7KYrBP Event: Archaeological Data, Sample Analyses, and Biblical Implications” to the Near East Archaeological Society in November 2015. The paper had been available at Silvia’s Academia page, This event is in accord with Collins view that Tall el-Hammam at the northern side of the Dead Sea is a strong candidate for the biblical city of Sodom.

The biblical implications of the cosmic event are not that it proves the Hebrew Bible is true. It is  that the memory of the event survived for centuries and could be used by a biblical storyteller just as stories today can be set at Pompeii, on the Titanic, on in Atlantis. The application of the political template I have been using works for the original core story in Gen. 19 as well.

1. The story was composed as a standalone story. It was not yet part of a Lot or Abram cycle yet alone the Book of Genesis.
2. The author took for granted that the audience knew the legacy of the destruction of Sodom. As soon as the story was set there everyone knew what the ending would be.
3. The author took for granted that the audience knew what Israelite city the city of Sodom stood for in the political polemic or allegory (Gibeah).
4. The author took for granted that the audience knew who the weak king of the city was (Ishbaal).
5. The story was composed after the following event had occurred:

2 Samuel 3:7 Now Saul had a concubine, whose name was Rizpah, the daughter of Aiah; and Ishbosheth said to Abner, “Why have you gone in to my father’s concubine?” 8 Then Abner was very angry over the words of Ishbosheth, and said, “Am I a dog’s head of Judah? This day I keep showing loyalty to the house of Saul your father, to his brothers, and to his friends, and have not given you into the hand of David; and yet you charge me today with a fault concerning a woman. 9 God do so to Abner, and more also, if I do not accomplish for David what the LORD has sworn to him, 10 to transfer the kingdom from the house of Saul, and set up the throne of David over Israel and over Judah, from Dan to Beersheba.” 11 And Ishbosheth could not answer Abner another word, because he feared him.

This text had not yet been written but the breakdown in the social order implied by the text had already occurred. Ishbaal had become a figurehead king who had lost control of his military.

6. The author took for granted that the audience knew who the two messengers of Yahweh were (David and Joab).

In other words, according to this story, David offered amnesty or sanctuary to Ishbaal if he abandoned his capital city before it was destroyed. Ishbaal chose not to accept this offer. However Abner did abandon ship as he recognized that David was the superior warrior who could save Israel from the hand of the Philistines, but that’s another story.

The second cosmic story is my own presentation at ASOR.

“What Happened on October 30, 1207 B.C.E. in the Valley of Aijalon?”
Peter Feinman (Institute of History, Archaeology, and Education)

The suggestion has been made that on October 30, 1207 B.C.E. in the late afternoon in the Valley of Aijalon an annular eclipse occurred. The suggestion further has been made that this astronomical event is connected to the poem in the Book of Jashar recounted in Joshua 10. The astronomy and physics in the calculation of the annular eclipse are not the subject of this paper. Given the validity of those calculations, what historical reconstruction, if any, can be proposed that takes into account the relevant archaeological and biblical information including the Merneptah Stele, the Iron Age I hill-country settlements, Iron Age I geopolitics, the poem, and the narrative biblical texts?

I propose that the emergence of Israel as an anti-Egyptian entity generated a reaction among the Canaanite cities. Some cities shared Israel’s antipathy to Egyptian hegemony and welcomed the new entity while others were good vassals of Egypt and opposed the Canaanite cities and Israel that disrupted the Egyptian order. In other words, there is a story to be told of real-world power politics that has been lost amidst the cosmic imagery and the fight to determine whether the Bible is true. Applying the same techniques an American historian would use to understand the American Revolution may provide a more fruitful resolution of these issues.

The second cosmic story differs from the Sodom story in that Israelites, in particular Benjaminites, directly experienced it. The victory and cosmic sign became part of the Benjaminite tribal legacy, an alternative cosmic event to those of the Songs of Miriam and Deborah presumably part of the Book of the Wars of Yahweh controlled by the Levites.

What the paper only briefly alluded to is something frequently minimized in biblical scholarship: the precarious hold of Jerusalem as the capital city after the death of David. It is easy to overlook this situation if you think David and/or Solomon never existed or were at most chieftains. It also is easy to overlook if one’s focus is the temple. But it is important to realize that Jerusalem did not have a dominant position in the land of Canaan over either other Canaanite cities or Israel except for David. Then he died. So did presumably Jebusites Bathsheba and Zadok. Now what?

The questioning of the centrality of Jerusalem to Israel can be observed textually.

Jerusalem was not part of Israel:

Judges 19:10 and arrived opposite Jebus. He had with him a couple of saddled asses, and his concubine was with him. 11 When they were near Jebus, the day was far spent, and the servant said to his master, “Come now, let us turn aside to this city of the Jebusites, and spend the night in it.” 12 And his master said to him, “We will not turn aside into the city of foreigners, who do not belong to the people of Israel; but we will pass on to Gibeah.”

Jerusalem was an enemy of Israel:

Joshua 10:1 When Adonizedek king of Jerusalem heard how Joshua had taken Ai, and had utterly destroyed it, doing to Ai and its king as he had done to Jericho and its king, and how the inhabitants of Gibeon had made peace with Israel and were among them, 3 So Adonizedek king of Jerusalem sent to Hoham king of Hebron, to Piram king of Jarmuth, to Japhia king of Lachish, and to Debir king of Eglon, saying, 4 “Come up to me, and help me, and let us smite Gibeon; for it has made peace with Joshua and with the people of Israel.”

Bethel was a better cosmic center than Jerusalem:

Various supplements to the story of Jacob (Day 3 of the King David Bible).

By Persian times, the rivalry between Bethel and Jerusalem was déjà vue all over again.

To counter this opposition, Jerusalem relied on its old standby protector Egypt. Pharaoh’s daughter replaced Bathsheba as the dominant person in Solomon’s life. Pharaoh Solomon mimicked the ways of Egypt to the point of even building in the same locations Egypt had used to control the local populations. It is during the reign of Solomon when the rivalry among Zadokites, Aaronids, and Levites really heated up in the politics and in the stories.

The 11th-10th centuries BCE were quite active archaeologically, historically, and textually for the shifting Israelite people and polities. There still is a lot of work to do to historically reconstruct this period and to understand the formation of the Hebrew Bible. And with that thought, this review of the ASOR and SBL conferences in 2018 comes to an end.

Tribes and the State at the ASOR and SBL Conferences

The Death of Lawrence of Arabia (

Once upon a time not that long ago, tribes were very fashionable in biblical studies. From Julius Wellhausen in Arabia to Lawrence of Arabia to the amphictyony, tribes garnered a great deal of interest for the understanding of early Israelite history. In the late 19th century and early 20th century, visitors to the Holy Land consistently spotted the ancient patriarchs and matriarchs in the present in a timeless and unchanging land.

Lately states have superseded the tribe in interest. The focus has become on the attributes of the state: the king, the temple, the capital city, and the royal ideology in art, architecture, literature, and writing. Tribes have taken a back seat to the state. It’s almost as if before Israel became a monarchy there was no Israel since there was no Israelite polity. How did the Israelite people even survive for centuries without a king? Biblical scholars tend to ignore that whatever it was that made people self-identify as Israel occurred before Merneptah claimed to have destroyed them. Israel existed for about as long as a tribal people as the northern kingdom of Israel existed or as Judah from Hezekiah to destruction so it behooves biblical scholars to consider what was said about tribes at the recent conferences.

This review will be divided into three parts. This post will focus on the recent archaeological developments in the Arabah related to copper production in the tenth century BCE. The second post will focus on the non-Israelite tribe SBL presentations on the Kenites, and Amalekites and their use in biblical narratives as forces of cosmos and chaos. The third post will focus on the tribe of Dan Fleming…I mean Israelite tribal presentations on Deborah and Benjamin by people who frequently can trace the genesis of their SBL presentation to the NYU professor who was chairing the sessions.


Archaeology has forced a revaluation of the Edomite people and by implication of Israel as well. It has done so in two ways; (i) first by demonstrating what a tribal people can accomplish without a king thereby pushing back the Edomite story to the Iron I period centuries before the traditional Edomite kingdom origin in Neo-Assyrian times; (ii) second, by raising the issue of its contacts with the Israelite/Judahite polities in the tenth and ninth centuries BCE.

William Ondricek (Tel Aviv University; University of the Holy Land), Assaf Kleiman (Tel Aviv University), Sabine Kleiman (Tel Aviv University), and Erez Ben-Yosef (Tel Aviv University), “Early Edomite Fabric and Cultural Interconnections: New Studies on Pottery from the Early Iron Age Copper Production Sites in the Timna Valley” (ASOR 5C Archaeology of the Southern Levant II)

The dramatic change in our understanding of the absolute chronological framework of copper production in the Timna Valley, which fixes the peak in activity there in the tenth century B.C.E., necessitates a reassessment of the pottery found in the main smelting sites in the region. Reevaluation of pottery found by Benno Rothenberg and the Arabah Expedition, as well as substantial new ceramic assemblages uncovered recently by the Central Timna Valley Project, sheds new light on several important questions. This includes the involvement of Egyptians and people from the Hijaz (“Midianites”?) in the Arabah copper industry, the characteristics of local pottery traditions, population overlaps with nearby regions, trade connections with Philistia and other regions, and more. Our ongoing research has yielded important corrections to errors caused by the previous “Egyptian paradigm,” while providing substantial new insights on a formative period in the emergence of a local, nomadic, Edomite Kingdom.

The disruption in Late Bronze Age trading patterns led to the diminishment of copper from Cyprus.  In response, copper production rose in the Arabah by nomad tribes independent of Egyptian control and peaking in the tenth century BCE. When combined with the archaeology of the 11th-10th centuries covered in the previous blogs, Where Is the Tenth Century BCE?: The ASOR and SBL Conferences and The Tenth Century BCE and the SBL Conference, one sees from combining these various presentations that quite a lot was going on then. The reference to “Midianites” raises the questions of how these people self-identified, by what name these copper-producing people would have been known to Israel in the tenth century BCE pre-Sheshonq, and whether that identification would appear in the biblical narrative.

Thomas E. Levy (University of California, San Diego), Mohammad Najjar (University of California, San Diego), Brady Liss (University of California, San Diego), and Erez Ben-Yosef (Tel Aviv University) “The Iron Age Industrial Revolution in Southern Jordan—Thoughts on Punctuated Equilibrium and Technological Change” (ASOR 12H Interrogating Cultural Change – Punctuated Equilibria Models in Near Eastern Archaeology and Egyptology II.)

How does exponential change in technological systems occur, the kind of transformation that promotes rapid social and economic change? While this question is highly relevant today in a world where Google, Facebook, Amazon, and other technological giants dominate our lives, technology has played a definitive role in social evolution throughout prehistory and history. This paper looks at rapid technological change in metallurgy during a relatively short period of less than two centuries during the Iron Age (ca. 1200–500 B.C.E.) of the southern Levant based on excavations by T. E. Levy and M. Najjar at the copper production site of Khirbat en-Nahas in Jordan’s Faynan district, analyzed in collaboration with E. Ben-Yosef and B. Liss. The utility of applying Niles Eldredge and Stephen J. Gould’s theory of punctuated equilibria is explored.

This presentation reiterated the material of the previous one. Ignoring the punctuated equilibrium aspects addressed in a previous post, Lessons from the ASOR Conference: Punctuated Equilibrium and the Writing of the Hebrew Bible, Levy concentrated on the archaeology of the mines, smelting sites, slag, and the protecting fort at Khirbat en-Nahas. One additional note was the discovery of a Sheshonq sacrab. Once again as with Tell Hesi presentation previously described, we have an example of pre-Sheshonq activity which he disrupted. What does all this mean for biblical scholarship? For that we have turn back from this presentation in the final time slot at ASOR to the first time slot.

Erez Ben-Yosef (Tel Aviv University), “Throwing the Baby Out with the Bathwater: On a Prevailing Methodological Flaw in the Treatment of Nomads in Current Biblical Archaeology” (ASOR Archaeology and Biblical Studies I 1B)

The aim of this paper is to highlight a methodological flaw in current biblical archaeology, one which became apparent as a result of the recent research in the Aravah’s Iron Age copper production centers. In essence, this flaw, which cuts across all schools of biblical archaeologists, is the prevailing, simplistic approach applied to the identification and interpretation of nomadic elements in biblical-era societies. These elements have been typically described as representing only one form of social organization, which is simple and almost negligible in historical reconstructions. However, the unique case of the Aravah demonstrates that the role of nomads in shaping the history of the region has been underestimated and downplayed in the research of the region, and that the total reliance on stone-built archaeological features in the identification of social complexity in the vast majority of recent studies has resulted in skewed historical reconstructions. Recognizing this “architectural bias” and understating its sources have important implications on core issues in biblical archaeology today, as both “minimalists” and “maximalists” have been using stone-built architectural remains as the key to solving debated issues related to the genesis of ancient Israel and neighboring polities (e.g., “high” vs. “low” Iron Age chronologies), in which—according to both biblical accounts and external sources—nomadic elements played a major role.

The bold added to the abstract state make the point quite clearly without requiring additional elaboration. The tenth century BCE is in play now. Ben-Yosef built on these points at his SBL presentation.

Erez Ben-Yosef, Tel Aviv University On the Possibility of an Early Iron Age Nomadic Monarchy in the Arabah (Early Edom) and Its Implications on the Study of Ancient Israel (SBL S18-122 Archaeology of the Biblical World Theme: Bronze and Iron Age)

Since its early days, the common perception of nomads in biblical archaeology has been of people that could not form strong political entities, and whose influence on the course of history was marginal. Biblical scholars and archaeologists alike have constantly equated the biblical-era nomads to the modern Bedouins of the Southern Levant, further enforcing the interpretation of these groups as simple tribal societies that existed in the geographical and historical periphery of the settled land. Similarly, almost any discussion on the formation of the Southern Levantine Iron Age kingdoms, including the United Monarchy of Ancient Israel, has been based on the fundamental assumption that such political organizations could not have developed prior to complete sedentarization; consequently, the identification of these kingdoms in the archaeological record has been dependent on the existence of substantial stone-built remains. However, new archaeological evidence from the Arabah, including the recent excavations by the Central Timna Valley Project of Tel Aviv University (https://, challenges this fundamental assumption. In this paper I argue that we have sufficient new data to support the reconstruction of an early (Iron I) Edomite kingdom, which achieved a complex social organization and ultra-regional impact prior to the sedentarization of its (semi-)nomadic (agro-)pastoralistic tribes. This has significant implications on our understanding of the other emerging Southern Levantine kingdoms, including Ancient Israel, as all of which have a nomadic background that is attested for in biblical as well as external sources.

If Ben-Yosef is suggesting that Israelite kingdom in the tenth century BCE might have been a nomadic monarchy then here I part ways with him. The archaeological data presented at these conferences suggest that a “substantial stone-built” kingdom in the tenth century BCE was feasible. Parts of it have been excavated. The story of the Israelite kingdom is very much an urban-based story. It would be more appropriate to consider Israel in the Iron I period prior to it becoming a kingdom and when the tribe was more important. Also, I am not clear from these presentations how one would define or differentiate a nomadic kingdom from a nomadic chiefdom.

Secondly, I would keep open the possibility that the people engaged in the copper-producing activities self-identified as Midianites. Such an identification helps to understand the Kenite/Midian connection in the biblical narrative and it is the Kenites at the SBL that will the subject of the next post.


Nadav Na’aman and Israel Finkelstein at the SBL Conference (2018)

What would an SBL conference be without Nadav Na’aman and Israel Finkelstein? This year there was a special session dedicated to Na’aman:


Historiography and the Hebrew Bible
Theme: Between Biblical Research, Archaeology, and History: A Session in Honour of Nadav Na’aman for his Eightieth Birthday

Before turning to the presentations, it is necessary to include the presentation of one other person who bears directly on this session: Bill Dever. A session immediately preceding this one was:


Archaeology of the Biblical World
Theme: Biblical Gezer: A Decade of Research by the Tandy Institute for Archaeology

As you read the abstracts from this session, note the implications for the United Monarchy and the tenth century BCE, the subjects of the previous blogs. I mention this because these considerations directly relate to the presentations by Finkelstein and Na’aman in the next session.

Gary P. Arbino, Gateway Seminary (Fremont)
Continuity and Change at Gezer: Ancient City Walls and Modern Excavations (15 min)

Each of the three cities noted in 1 Kings 9 as having received special attention in the Solomonic building program – Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer – occupied strategic locations in the region. Gezer’s position as guardian of a main route from the coast into the southern hill country required defensive architecture and planning that both enabled exchange and protected the interests of the Bronze Age city-state and the Iron Age regional polities. Thus it is important to consider the design, engineering, and construction of the various iterations of the city wall systems as they evolved throughout the second and first millennia, and the role they played in the occupational development of the site. With an eye to both the geo-political issues that necessitated their construction and the topographical situation which influenced their design, this paper provides an overview of these changing fortification systems. The research examines materials from the Macalister and the Hebrew Union College excavations in the light of the Middle Bronze and Iron Age structures recently unearthed by the Tandy.

Charissa Wilson, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Gezer in the Iron IIA: Solomonic and Ninth Century Remains (30 min)

The recent completion of fieldwork for the Tandy Institute of Archaeology’s excavations at Tel Gezer marks the end of the third major project to work at the site. Field E of the Tandy’s excavations ended the final season with a wide exposure of architecture belonging to Stratum 8, the Solomonic phase of the city, located adjacent to the site’s well-known six-chambered gate. The first part of this paper will present an overview of this phase, informed by the findings of previous excavations, but focusing primarily on the newly revealed data. The Tandy project has uncovered in its entirety the large administrative building partially excavated previously by the Hebrew Union College excavations and labeled “Palace 10,000” by that project. This structure is significantly larger than previously known, and can now be recognized as a bit hilani-type structure, although that descriptor has been reevaluated recently. The administrative structure was connected to the city gate by a large stone-paved plaza that extended to approximately twenty meters west of the gate entrance. These newly revealed features combine with the city gate, casemate wall, and other previously known Stratum 8 features to provide a more thorough understanding of the character of Solomonic Gezer. The second part of the paper will report on the Gezer Stratum 7 city plan with a focus on a complete domestic structure. Stratum 7 is tentatively dated to the 9th century and has a destruction contemporary with other nearby destructions (e.g. Tel Gath) which has also been associated with Hazael. The Tandy excavations have defined 5 units built directly on top of the 10th century administrative building of Stratum 8 which is west of the Iron Age gate complex. Included in this paper will be a discussion of the change in city plan between Stratum 8 and Stratum 7, a proposal of the origin of the Stratum 7 complete domestic structure, an overview of the distribution of the finds in relation to the domestic structure, and a brief summary of the 9th century ceramics by Sam Wolff.

As with the Tel Hesi presentations at the ASOR conference, there werre specific references to pre-Sheshonq destruction structures reflecting an Israelite dominance over the region with Solomonic gates.

Lyndelle Webster, Institut für Orientalische und Europäische Archäologie (OREA)
Developing a Radiocarbon-Based Chronology at Tel Gezer (15 min)

Gezer is one of the major tell sites in the southern Levant for the Bronze and Iron Ages. The ancient city is well attested in Egyptian and biblical texts, and archaeological work has shown it to have a long occupation history, punctuated by destructions but with few substantial gaps. Thus the development of a radiocarbon-based chronology for Tel Gezer has great potential to contribute to our reconstructions of the region’s history, and the synchronization of southern Levantine strata with Egypt. Until now almost no radiocarbon data has been available from Tel Gezer. In 2016 the Tandy Tel Gezer excavation team radiocarbon-dated an initial set of short-lived material, representing many of the Iron Age strata they have targeted over the past decade of fieldwork. Shortly after this, a collaboration was formed with Lyndelle Webster, whose radiocarbon research focuses on southern Levantine Late Bronze Age chronology. We then proceeded to date the recently excavated strata in Field West spanning the Late Bronze to Iron Age transition. This sequence includes strata characterized by Philistine pottery, and a final Late Bronze Age destruction that the excavators attribute to Pharaoh Merneptah. The Tandy radiocarbon sequence is complemented by new material sampled from the exposed baulks of the earlier Hebrew Union College (HUC) excavations. This material primarily concerns the Late Bronze to early Iron Ages, but includes some data from Middle Bronze strata. This paper will present the first substantial radiocarbon dataset from the occupation levels of Tel Gezer, including the material from the Tandy excavation and newly sampled short-lived material from the HUC baulks. An evaluation of the data will be given, including Bayesian chronological models. Discussion of the results will focus on points where the data is sufficiently robust to help clarify key chronological issues pertaining to the history of the site and the wider region.

In her talk, Webster referred to her ASOR paper. I did not attend that presentation. The abstract refers to “new data” without providing any details so I cannot comment about it. In this paper, she concluded with a summary of the Gezer chronology based on the radiocarbon testing she had done:

Strata 12          Merneptah destruction
Strata 10          11th-10th destruction and not Siamun
Strata 8            10th or 9th destruction date level cause debated
Strata 7            destruction makes strata 8 in 9th century unlikely and Hazael problematic.

According to Webster, strata 8 should be dated earlier to the late 10th or early 9th BCE. This dating would make Sheshonq the likely though not definite candidate for the destruction since how many choices are there?

Due to time constraints from the previous papers, the closing section was shortened to solely Dever’s paper. However, he was not present due to personal reasons so Eric Welch read his 16 page handwritten paper. After the opening acknowledgments and congratulations, Welch summarized each of the remaining pages one by one by saying “Finkelstein is wrong, Finkelstein is wrong, Finkelstein is wrong” until he had gone through all the pages from Dever.

With this background in mind, one can turn to the Finkelstein presentation, a two part paper in partnership with Thomas Römer.

Israel Finkelstein, Tel Aviv University
An Eighth Century BCE Monumental Podium at Kiriath-jearim in Historical Context: Who Built It and for What Purpose? (20 min)

Recent excavations by a Tel Aviv University—College de France team at the site of Kiriath-jearim west of Jerusalem uncovered evidence for the construction of a monumental elevated podium in the Iron Age. Combining an exact-science method of dating with archaeological considerations, the podium seems to date to the first half of the 8th century BCE. The questions which will be dealt are: who built the podium, when and why. The answers may shed light on the history of the region, the relationship between the kingdoms of Israel and Judah and biblical references to Kiriath-jearim.

Finkelstein identified the site as a prosperous 8th-7th century BCE site also named “Gibeah.” It contained a massive wall and platform long before Herod did the same in Jerusalem. Based on the dating, Finkelstein claimed the wall and platform were beyond the capabilities of Judah and could not have been done by Assyria since the construction was prior to the Assyrian conquest. He therefore attributed it to Jeroboam II. He compared it to a similar platform in Samaria also attributed to Jeroboam II. This southern construction was a physical expression of the northern kingdom’s interest in the southern kingdom.

This fascination with Jeroboam II intrigues me. Obviously Roman numerals were not used in the biblical account. What is worth pondering is why did this Israelite king share the name of a predecessor? How often did that happen in either Israel or Judah anyway? I mention that because of Sargon II and Nebuchadnezzar II in Assyria and Babylonia respectively in the late 8th and 7th centuries BCE (besides Ashurnasirpal II and Tiglath-pileser III among others). It is taken for granted that there were a Sargon I and Nebuchadnezzar I and that the names of the second kings were meant in part in honor of the first ones. In fact one of the new books for sale at the conference was on Nebuchadnezzar I: The Reign of Nebuchadnezzar I in History and Historical Memory by John Nielsen (2018).  I have scanned the book and will read it soon. I used Nielsen’s earlier writings on Nebuchadnezzar I in my own book Jerusalem Throne Games and consider him an underappreciated figure who influenced Israelite’s perceptions of a king. Be that as it may, Jeroboam II suggests an historical memory of Jeroboam I, a positive memory of him, and a royal memory that probably was at variance with the memory of him by the prophets, the Davidic dynasty, and the Jerusalem Temple priests. I realize there are limits as to what can be accomplished in an oral presentation of 20 minutes and that I am only reporting on what was presented at the conference and not the full scholarship of the presenter. Still in that presentation there was no sense that Jeroboam II here was a figure from the middle of the history of Israelite monarchy dating back to the 10th century rather than someone initiating traditions. This feeling increased with the presentation by Römer.

Thomas Römer, Collège de France – University of Lausanne
The Origin and Development of the So-Called Ark Narrative (20 min)

This paper will argue that the original Ark narrative ended in 1 Sam 7:1 with the transfer of the Ark to Kiriath Jearim. This narrative was apparently a Northern work, composed possibly under Jeroboam II, who wanted to legitimate the site of Kiriath Jearim as one of his “border sanctuaries”. 2 Sam 6 was composed much later when Josiah took over the territory of Benjamin and transferred the Ark to his capital.

The presentation reiterated the themes raised by Finkelstein regarding a northern intrusion into Benjamin complete with an ark narrative to legitimate it. One wonders why it even occurred to Jeroboam II to deploy the ark motif and why he thought it would be successful.

Somehow there seem to have been no presentations at the SBL or ASOR conferences about the stories that would have been generated about from the pre-Sheshonq sites excavations presented at the conferences. Apparently new traditions can be created from scratch using the names of people from the tenth century BCE without attributing any actual actions, constructions or stories to them.

This shortcoming provided a segue into Na’aman’s paper which did not have an abstract. His subject was the writing of the Book of the Acts of Solomon. He made clear several times during his presentation that the historicity of Solomon was not his topic; the composition of specific verses identified with the Book of the Acts of Solomon was. He examined these passages one by one from I Kings and in each instance determined that the appropriate time for their composition was Neo-Assyrian. Specifically, the late years of Sargon II or the early years of Sennacherib were the most suitable for the writing of this “Book.” The Assyrian empire itself became a model for the golden age attributed to Solomon.

In other words, Na’aman did with Solomon precisely what Finkelstein and Römer did not do with Jeroboam I. Although Na’aman did not address the issue of the historicity of Solomon the implications of his presentation are that there was an historical Solomon, he did things worth remembering, and that the stories about him were updated/revised/created in Assyrian times based on the current circumstances. His presentation also left open the other biblical passages involving Solomon that are not specifically attributed to the Book of the Acts of Solomon. Again, obviously not all Solomon-related passages could be discussed on one paper.

In general terms these three blogs about the tenth century BCE, Na’aman, and Finkelstein at the ASOR and SBL conferences indicate that:

1. presentations on the archaeology of pre-Sheshonq sites were not accompanied by any stories from that time period
2. presentations about tenth century BCE figures were not linked to the pre-Sheshonq archaeology or the historical context in a world of Ham (Egypt), Canaan, Shem (Israel), and Japheth (Philistines)
3. presentations on names and objects from the tenth century BCE, Solomon, Jeroboam I, and the ark, do not indicate why or the process by which they were remembered centuries later.

Sometimes it is easy to get caught up in the swirl and hustle of the individual sessions over the five-day period without noticing any patterns.

Where Is the Tenth Century BCE?: The ASOR and SBL Conferences

David by Michelangelo (Wkipedia)

Where is the tenth century BCE? Not when is tenth century BCE but where is it in the scholarship presented at the recent ASOR and SBL conferences. I cannot claim to have attended every relevant session on this topic. In some instances I am forced to rely on the abstracts provided by the presenters for my information. While it is possible to differentiate between archaeological and literary or textual presentations, the division does not necessarily neatly align with the two conferences. There are occasional literature papers at ASOR and there definitely are archaeological sessions at SBL.

However, as a general observation, never the twain shall meet. The proliferation of sessions into ever smaller niches minimizes the actual dialog or discussion between the literary and archaeology presenters. In general terms, the actual presentations tend to belong to either one niche or the other with nary any contact. Please keep in mind that I am referring to the presentations at the conferences and not necessarily referring to the larger world of biblical scholarship. Nonetheless, it is worth noting how easy it is in two overlapping conferences over six days with thousands of registrants, never to leave one’s comfort zone. The shouting match between Bill Dever and Israel Finkelstein at ASOR last year occurred in the hallway after a session and not within a session dedicated to discussing issues such as where is the tenth century BCE.

The very first session at ASOR included the following presentation:

Shirly Ben Dor Evian (Israel Museum), “Sheshonq at Megiddo: A New Interpretation”

The limestone fragment carved with the royal names of Sheshonq I at Megiddo was found among the excavation dumps on the tell during the season of 1926. Since its discovery, the piece was recognized as part of a large royal stela, erected by the monarch at the site as a sign of Egyptian patrimony. A recent reexamination of the original fragment by the author reveals several anomalies in comparison to the known corpus of Egyptian stelae. Among these is the fragment’s unusual thickness, more than 50 cm wide, and the absence of any smoothed edges on either of its sides. A comparison to contemporary (early 22nd Dynasty) material from both Egypt and the Levant suggests that the fragment was part of an architectural element rather than a stela. The significance of such an interpretation relates directly to Egypt’s involvement in the Northern Valleys. Erecting a stela in a faraway land may have had little or no effect on the local population and cannot attest to continual Egyptian claims on the site. However, a royal inscription on local architecture reflects, at the very least, aspirations of hegemony. Establishing core/periphery relations through the implementation of royal Egyptian institutions was a well-known strategy of the previous Egyptian empire in the Levant, an empire that Sheshonq’s regime was eager to recreate. The role of Egyptian monuments in the early Iron Age Levant will therefore be examined through similar models of core/periphery and imperial influence.

I was unable to attend this session as my own paper presentation was in the same time slot. What is important from this abstract for the subject of this post are:

1. The return of Egyptian hegemony in the land of Canaan (or the Levant) at Megiddo roughly two centuries after its cessation under Ramses VI – a punctuated equilibrium (see the previous post Lessons from the ASOR Conference: Punctuated Equilibrium and the Writing of the Hebrew Bible)
2. Or the imposition of Egyptian hegemony on the kingdom of Israel for the first time ever and nearly three centuries after Merneptah claimed to have destroyed its seed.

How did the divided polities of Israel and Judah respond to this event according to the biblical texts? How does that relate to the archaeology? One sees here the possibility for a session combining archaeology and text on a specific and narrowly defined topic.

At approximately the same time this paper was given another also was presented related to the tenth century BCE.

Yosef Garfinkel (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem), “Lachish and Khirbet al-Ra’i in the Tenth Century B.C.E.”

This paper will discuss the new data relating to the tenth century B.C.E. uncovered at the recent excavations at Tel Lachish and Khirbet al-Ra’i. Both sites are located in the Judean Shephelah, 3 km apart. The excavations at Lachish took place between the years 2013 to 2017. The site of Khirbet al-Ra’i has been under excavated since 2015 and so far four excavation seasons have taken place there.

Unfortunately this presentation was in the same session as mine. I say unfortunately because I tend to zone out just before and after my own presentation so it takes time before I can concentrate on what someone else is saying. Still, imagine if two papers on tenth century BCE Megiddo and Lachish had been in the same session. At least then there would have been an opportunity to raise the issue of Lachish and Sheshonq and that meaning for the biblical text and the kingdoms of Judah and Israel.

Another archaeological site presented at the ASOR conference was Tel Moza.

Shua Kisilevitz (Israel Antiquities Authorities; Tel Aviv University), “Considerations on the Study of Cult near Jerusalem: A View from Tel Moẓa”

Tel Moẓa is located 7 km northwest of the Old City of Jerusalem. The recent discovery of an Iron Age IIA temple at the site provides the unique opportunity to study the cult of ancient Judah from the archaeological perspective. Moẓa’s significance within the Judahite kingdom, serving as part of Jerusalem’s administrative and economic system, is attested by extensive excavations that identified the site as a central granary of the region.

The study of the temple at Moẓa and its associated finds allows us to apply current methodologies on the study of cult places, paraphernalia, and behavior to new materials for the first time since the excavation of the Judahite temple at Arad over half a century ago.

The current research is focused on a number of specific and broad subjects: identification of the cult practices carried out at Moẓa; cultural influences and transmission of religious motifs exhibited at the site; and its raison ďêtre. Especially intriguing is the relationship between the construction of the temple and the worship conducted therein to the broader regional economy, in which the site and its temple played a key role. Taken together, the evidence from Moẓa provides important insights into socio-economic and religious aspects associated with state formation in the region of Judah during the Iron Age IIA.

Previously Tel Moza has been linked to the Ark Narrative. The ark’s journey from Kiriath-jearim  to the house of Obed-edom the Gittite, and from there to Jerusalem would have passed Tel Moza, possibly the site of the temple/house of Obed-edom itself. That linkage drew me to this session. However, that aspect was not part of the presentation. Who built it and why was left unanswered by the speaker except to claim that the small settlement itself was not the builder.

There was one archaeology session devoted solely to the tenth century BCE including with references to Sheshonq.

The Tenth Century B.C.E. Borderlands of the Greater Hesi Region: Implications

Theme: The Greater Hesi Region was a borderland in the tenth century B.C.E. This session explores implications based on the archaeology of the region and theoretical issues such as military activities including war and non-war functions as well as how this region might be seen in the context of state formation processes.

Jeffrey A. Blakely (University of Wisconsin–Madison), “Introduction to the Greater Hesi Region in the Tenth Century B.C.E.: The Archaeological Background”

Archaeological research in the greater Hesi region began with the excavations of Petrie and Bliss on behalf the Palestine Exploration Fund in 1890, continued with the Joint Archaeological Expedition starting in 1970, and now continues with the Hesi Regional Project through both survey and excavation. Each project encountered the 10th century B.C.E. in one or more ways. This paper will present a wide-ranging overview of the archaeological record of the greater Hesi region as it relates to the 10th century. The goal is to provide a sufficient background that can be utilized by the other papers in the session and allow them to focus on their more narrowly defined subject matter.

About 1130 B.C.E. Egyptian presence in the greater Hesi region ended with destruction and abandonment. No discernible occupation has been found from that point until about 1000 B.C.E. other than a few random sherds that might suggest only a transient population. About 1000, Khirbet Summeily, a governmental outpost, was built, as was Tell el-Hesi, seemingly a Judahite military site. At about the same time a few farmsteads, or hazerim, were built. Each of these sites went through various phases and some accompanying destructions before all were destroyed or abandoned in the final quarter of the 10th century B.C.E. Of these sites, only Tell el-Hesi was rebuilt immediately but it was conceived of as something entirely different, a fort.

This tenth-century emphasis extended throughout the presentations in this session. I will not include those abstracts here. They are all available on the ASOR website. The following relevant points were made in the papers.

1. A political entity typically referred to as Judahite was responsible for the establishment in the Hesi region of an organized administrative unit with a defensive and communication infrastructure in the tenth century BCE.
2. Sheshonq was responsible for its destruction.

Several questions automatically should come to mind based on these presentations.

1. Why did the presenters refer to the pre-Sheshonq responsible tenth century BCE polity as Judah? I did ask this question but did not get a satisfactory answer. No one wanted to say Israel was the “complex political body needed for this regional strategy” or that David was driving force behind it.
2. How would one differentiate between what David initiated as king of Judah versus what was completed or he initiated as king of Israel?
3. It seems unlikely that these activities were initiated in anticipation of Sheshonq’s invasion. Therefore what was its purpose? The earlier in the tenth century BCE this activity occurred, the more likely it may have begun as a Judahite king action against the Philistines and not Egypt. Who was that Judahite king? What does all this mean for the stories involving the Philistines set in that time period? In other words, there was an opportunity here to develop a geo-political narrative in a fluid situation of fluctuating boundaries and new kingdoms….but this was an archaeology session.

This observation provides a segue into a paper presented earlier in the conference and by a non-archaeologist.

Mahri Leonard-Fleckman (Providence College), “A Fresh Biblical Lens on the Iron Age Shephelah: Social Ambiguity versus Order in Judges-Samuel”

Textual studies of the Shephelah have yet to catch up with the archaeological portrait of identity ambiguity or “entanglement” in this Iron Age landscape of ancient Israel (Maeir and Hitchcock 2017). [bold added][What sessions need to be created to facilitate such dialog?] Biblical studies continue to view the Shephelah’s social landscape simplistically from the categories presented in the final form of the Bible’s narratives. Such categories (Philistine, Israelite, Judahite) are particularly apparent in the Shephelah wanderings of Samson (Judges 13–16) and David (1 Samuel 21–29, echoing into the surrounding material of 1–2 Samuel). Through a combined literary-historical and anthropological investigation of the textual evidence, this paper proposes that while the narratives’ final forms conceptualize clear boundaries in social geography, earlier traditions within these texts present a social landscape that is ambiguous and hazy to the contemporary interpreter. Such haziness comes alive specifically through relationships, including Samson and his lady friends (Judges 14–16); and David and certain men of Gath: Achish (1 Samuel 27, 29); Obed-edom (2 Sam 6:9–15) and Ittai (2 Sam 15:18–22; 18:2). These relationships present a landscape without clear geographical boundaries or language barriers, in which people intermarry, create political alliances, and protect each other’s most sacred religious objects. This evidence invites us to reexamine our own sense of classifications in the landscape of ancient Israel, to recognize that the biblical evidence itself demonstrates a desire to organize, classify, and border people that develops over time, and to take seriously the ramifications of the archaeological evidence as it helps to illuminate the multi-layered biblical portrait.

The ASOR session was on Friday afternoon the day before the SBL conference started. Its theme was ambiguity and covered many peoples in the ancient Near East and not just Israel. This paper was presented in one of the time slots where I attended papers in three different sessions, still possible at ASOR. Leonard-Fleckman represents the rare occurrence of an SBL person attending (briefly) the ASOR conference to present a text-based paper.

In her paper, Leonard-Fleckman correctly noted the divergence between textual studies and archaeology. She referred to a fluid and ill-defined context without clear boundaries. She did not date these “earlier traditions.” She mentioned she would be speaking at SBL. Her SBL paper in the Historiography and the Hebrew Bible session entitled “Boundary Crossing and Boundary Blurring in the Bible’s Tales of David and Gath” which I did attend does continue this theme and will be covered in a future post.

For now, let me close this already too long post, with an observation of my own based on these presentations on the tenth century BCE, Hesi, Megiddo, Lachish, Moza, and Shephelah ambiguity. A fluid situation at the end of the 11th century and beginning of the 10th century BCE provides an extraordinary opportunity for an individual genius to seize the moment and make it his own. Compared to American history, there is little place for human agency and the “great person in history” in biblical scholarship be it archaeological or text based. As it turns out, there is one straightforward, direct, and simple way to connect the dots of these presentations to create a coherent historical reconstruction at the turn of the 11th century BCE and early tenth century BCE in Judah and Israel. The word is David.