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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.