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

https://bibleatlas.org/gezer.htm

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

S18-324

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:

S18-204

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.

Archaeologists Confirm Ancient Famine: Déjà Vu Joseph All Over Again

Joseph and Potiphar's Wife by Guido Reni (Wikipedia)

On Easter Sunday, April 1, “Faced with Drought, the Pharaohs Tried (and Failed) to Adapt” appeared in the news section of the New York Times (the online version was posted March 30). According to the article, the famine among the Hittites in modern Turkey was so bad, the Queen was forced to reach out to longtime former enemy Egypt for grain.

The article reports that the Egyptians had anticipated the crisis and planned ahead unlike the now-starving Hittites desperate for food. The reporter’s source for this information was a study published in this year’s edition of the journal Egypt and the Levant [note -actually vol. 27, 2017]. The study cited research at Tel Aviv University conducted by Israel Finkelstein and his colleagues. They determined through archaeological evidence that Egypt had foreseen and planned for the drought that lasted from 1250 to 1100 B.C. covering from the middle of the reign of Ramses II until a few decades after the Egyptians had withdrawn from its empire in the land of Canaan.

According to the newspaper article, the Egyptians had:

1. Ordered increased grain production in the greener parts [of its Canaanite empire]
2. Crossbred cattle to produce a heat-resistant plow animal.

In addition tthe archaeologists discovered at Megiddo:

1. Sickle blades used for harvesting grain
2. An unusually high frequency of cattle bones suggesting animals that had been used for plowing and not food.

By putting the pieces together, the archaeological team concluded that Egypt had prepared for the drought while the Hittites had not.

I confess that I was not familiar with this unnamed article. However I was able to locate and download the article in the volume noted above. Its title is “Egyptian Imperial Economy in Canaan: Reaction to the Climate Crisis at the End of the Late Bronze Age” by Israel Finkelstein, Dafna Langgut, Meirav and Lidar Sapir-Hen. I hesitated before printing and reading it because it seemed familiar as if I read it before. So I went to my Late Bronze Age folder and found an article “Climate and the Late Bronze Collapse: New Evidence from the Southern Levant,” by Dafna Langgut, Israel Finkelstein, and Thomas Litt (Tel Aviv 40 2013:149-175). So a related article by some of the same authors had appeared four years earlier (which does not mean I had read it four years ago).

For me, the words Egypt, drought, and food, call to mind the story of Joseph. In that story, Pharaoh has a dream:

Genesis 41:1 After two whole years, Pharaoh dreamed that he was standing by the Nile, 2 and behold, there came up out of the Nile seven cows sleek and fat, and they fed in the reed grass. 3 And behold, seven other cows, gaunt and thin, came up out of the Nile after them, and stood by the other cows on the bank of the Nile. 4 And the gaunt and thin cows ate up the seven sleek and fat cows. And Pharaoh awoke. 5 And he fell asleep and dreamed a second time; and behold, seven ears of grain, plump and good, were growing on one stalk. 6 And behold, after them sprouted seven ears, thin and blighted by the east wind. 7 And the thin ears swallowed up the seven plump and full ears. And Pharaoh awoke, and behold, it was a dream.

As the story plays out, Joseph ,who is providentially in Egypt at that time, turns out to be the one and only person capable of explaining the meaning of the dreams to Pharaoh. But he doesn’t merely explain the dreams, he provides a solution. He informs Pharaoh what must be done to mitigate the pending disaster:

Genesis 41:33 Now therefore let Pharaoh select a man discreet and wise, and set him over the land of Egypt. 34 Let Pharaoh proceed to appoint overseers over the land, and take the fifth part of the produce of the land of Egypt during the seven plenteous years. 35 And let them gather all the food of these good years that are coming, and lay up grain under the authority of Pharaoh for food in the cities, and let them keep it. 36 That food shall be a reserve for the land against the seven years of famine which are to befall the land of Egypt, so that the land may not perish through the famine.”

So let it be written; so let it be done. Pharaoh wisely selects the dream-interpreter to be the solution-implementer as well and everything come to fruition as predicted and planned for.

As a result, we now have two incidents of people preparing for food shortages – the story of Joseph and archaeology in Canaan – just as we had two 400-year stories – the Hyksos and the brethren of Joseph in Egypt until Pharaoh forgot Joseph for having saved Egypt. Previously I suggested that the two 400-year stories were related and part of the secular reality that the Levites were Hyksos (Were the Levites Hyksos? – No! That Would Mean Having to Take the Exodus Seriously as a Secular Event in History).  Now, what if anything does the Joseph story have to do with the archaeologically-confirmed time of plenty in the land of Canaan? We are all used to the reverse condition of a food shortage in Canaan necessitating sojourning to Egypt for food. In fact, that exact situation occurs later in the Joseph story.

Genesis 41:57 Moreover, all the earth came to Egypt to Joseph to buy grain, because the famine was severe over all the earth.
Genesis 42:1 When Jacob learned that there was grain in Egypt, he said to his sons, “Why do you look at one another?” 2 And he said, “Behold, I have heard that there is grain in Egypt; go down and buy grain for us there, that we may live, and not die.”

Perhaps, the story and the archaeology refer to two different time periods. Perhaps not.

The first consideration is to recognize the cultural memory of the Israelites. That memory included events that were not part of the direct Israelite experience as Israelites but were memories that subsequently became part of the Israelite heritage. I can think of five such examples:

1. Middle Bronze Age destruction of Sodom (Lot cycle)
2. Middle Bronze Age Amorite settlement in Haran (patriarchal stories)
3. Late Bronze Age onset of Egyptian empire in the Land of Canaan by Thutmose III at Megiddo (Song of Deborah and prose story)
4. Late Bronze Age 400-Year Stela by Ramses II of the Hyksos in Egypt (Exodus)
5. Late Bronze Age/Early Iron Age famine in the eastern Mediterranean (Joseph)

I suggest that each of these oral memories became part of the written tradition of Israel. It happened not necessarily at the same time or for the same reason. In each instance it is necessary to determine what the trigger was that caused the written narrative to come to be.

In this instance, the New York Times article serves as an excellent case study for what happened in ancient times. The reporter does not appear to have an archaeological background. Nor was the article written as history. Some research into previous articles by the reporter indicates stories about climate change and global warming. Indeed, a close reading of the text, the NYT article, reveals that the article is really about climate change. Consider the following passages by the reporter:

[T]he study shows how recognizing and preparing for climate disaster can make societies more resilient.

The lesson for our own civilization — which is likely to face increasingly severe droughts as humans change the climate far faster than nature has ever done — is to plan ahead, Dr. Finkelstein said. “This collapse of the Late Bronze Age is not just a matter of ancient history that has no relevance to us,” said Eric H. Cline….Just as drought was among the “stressors” leading to famine and war during the Bronze Age, Dr. Cline said, today’s drought could amplify existing problems.

Slightly over three of the six columns of the printed article are devoted to climate change and the leadership failure to address this looming crisis to human civilization. The article ends with Cline warning us that we may be no better the Hittites. How exactly the NYT reporter became aware of this academic journal article and its connection to climate change is not specified although I can make a guess.

By the way with all the focus on Assad, Islamic terrorism, and geo-politics with Russia and Iran, we tend to forget or overlook the drought in Syria that helped generate the Arab Spring revolt there in the first place.

The bottom line is that an article with an archaeological headline and data really is a political polemic against the failure of political leadership to deal with a crisis. The article gives the appearance of one thing at first glance but turns out to be quite another once one examines it. I suggest the exact same thing happened with the original story of Joseph. It was not written as a history of the Israelite people in Egypt or even an explanation for the background to the Exodus. We need to put aside the additions to the original story about the political relationships among the tribes of Israel, within the tribe of Joseph, the Hyksos, and the Exodus. Instead we should focus on the original core story of an individual advising the person in power of the course of action to take in the present.

Seen in this light, the original story is not about what happened in Egypt; it is about what is happening in Israel at the time it was written. So why set the story in Egypt? Why use well-known Egyptian motifs? What adapt an Egyptian story? Who in the Israelite audience would even recognize the Egyptian allusions? Who in the Israelite audience in a position of power would even recognize the Egyptian allusions? To recognize the story as a political polemic necessitates an audience who would understand it. Who was that audience?

Pharaoh’s daughter, queen of Israel, that’s who. The answer to the questions is the woman behind the throne who was the real power after Bathsheba died. Pharaoh’s daughter recognized the Egyptian allusions (and she was not the Potiphar’s wife character). Solomon lacked the wisdom and leadership skills to act in the way envisioned of the king by the Joseph story. But the Egyptian woman could help steer the action just as Rebekah did with the patriarch who could not see.

The suggestion that Pharaoh’s daughter actually was queen of Israel naturally is rejected in biblical scholarship since there is no archaeological evidence for it. Once upon time 400 years earlier, a Pharaoh had said no intermarriage for Egyptian daughters of the king. Presumably the idea of an Egyptian queen reaching out for a Hittite prince to marry or an Egyptian king marrying a Hittite princess once must have seem equally farfetched as well although both then did in fact happen. Pharaoh’s daughter marrying Solomon doesn’t violate the laws of science; it violates the idea that Solomon didn’t exist and didn’t have a wealthy kingdom, the preferred idea in biblical scholarship. That’s a preference not a proof and I prefer a different interpretation.

I am not suggesting that there was famine in the land at the time of the writing of the original Joseph story. I am suggesting that someone had the foresight to know that no matter how good things were today there would come a time when there would be famine in the land:

1 Kings 18:2 So Elijah went to show himself to Ahab. Now the famine was severe in Samaria.

As prophecies go, the prediction in the mid-10th century BCE that there would be a famine a century later is a bit of a stretch. People tend to want their prophecies to be about something that is going to happen now or in the immediate future and not a century or more away. Be that as it may, the call for preparing for the future instead of simply waiting for it to occur generally is sound advice.

The questions then arise who would author such a political polemic and for what purpose. In my previous blog (Massacre Survivor David Hogg and the Origin of Biblical Prose Narrative Writing)  I suggested that Saul was catalyst for the development of the alphabet prose narrative. I then suggested that Abiathar was the ancient David Hogg, massacre survivor, who became the father of the alphabet prose narrative with his political polemics against Saul. I went on to say that he wrote throughout his life on multiple occasions in the time of Saul, David, and Solomon. I stated there is an opportunity to study and trace the writings of a single individual over time, a rare if not impossible act for the ancient world. Here we have an example of writing towards the end of his life in the time of Solomon.

In the original Joseph story, we can see how Abiathar, a Hyksos Levite in exile sought to return to power. He used the figure of the falsely-accused-and-imprisoned Joseph to represent himself. Joseph could see the truth of what was best for the kingdom. The king’s advisors (Zadokites and Aaronids) who opposed Abiathar could not. Abiathar wrote the original story of Joseph to plea for an end to his exile and to be restored to the good graces of the crown. He claimed he saw something which needed to be done for the long-term best interests of the kingdom. He drew on the memory of events two centuries earlier. He hoped Pharaoh’s daughter would be wise enough to see that truth and welcome him back to the capital. The effort failed just as Adonijah’s had with Bathsheba. Abiathar remained in exile until he died and the glory days of the united monarchy were soon over. Rehoboam wasn’t any good at taking sound advice either.

I will conclude with the same sentiments I expressed at the conclusion of the previous blog. 10th century Israel is the best documented century in the ancient Near East for the quantity of writing, quality of writing, and diversity of views expressed. Just as American historians can analyze the writings of Hamilton and Jefferson to reconstruct American history, so biblical scholars have the opportunity to analyze the writings of Abiathar, his rivals, and his successor to reconstruct the history of 10th century Israel.