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Deborah at the SBL Conference

Deborah appeared in different formats at the SBL conference. Sometimes she was the subject of the presentation. Sometimes she was mentioned as part of a presentation where she was not the main subject. Sometimes other figures in the Song of Deborah were the focus. In this post, I will review her presence at the conference mainly from a tribal perspective. Various tribes appear in the Song and they are part of the tribal story addressed in the previous posts about Amalekites, Edomites, Kenites, and Midianites (Tribes and the State at the ASOR and SBL Conferences and Cosmos and Chaos at the SBL Conference: The Kenites and the Amalekites).

S20-120 Joshua-Judges
Pamela J. W. Nourse, Claremont School of Theology
Into the Hand of a Woman: Deborah and Jael in Judges 4–5

Among the themes in the Book of Judges are marginalization and anxiety regarding the stability of Israel’s covenant and the nature of Israel’s leadership. These themes are at play in the unexpected gender roles highlighted in Judges 4 and 5. Whereas most women in the Hebrew Bible are defined by their identities as wives, mothers, or daughters, both Deborah and Jael are shown acting as leaders and heroes of both the prose narrative in chapter 4 and the poetic song in chapter 5. Although both women are presented in a positive light, however, their depictions are quite different from one another. The verbs which describe Deborah’s actions are rare, and sometimes unique, when applied to women; the verbs which describe Jael’s actions are those which are expected of women, yet they produce shockingly unexpected results. This paper will analyze the language used in the text to show that, while Deborah is acting in a manner which appears to transcend the gender norm, Jael’s actions are expressed in verbs appropriate to women’s traditional gender identities, but which are nonetheless subverted and perverted in a manner that produces an unanticipated narrative result.

I begin with the final paper of the conference. I do so because of the general issues it raises regarding two of the women in the Song. It does not mention the third. According to Nourse, Deborah is presented as a public figure and not in a domestic context. She is unique as a female judge and prophet. Moses and Samuel are her male counterparts in these dual functions. Her identity as a wife and mother within the context of the story may be misleading. Her husband’s name is not a personal name but a feminine noun translated as “women of torches” meaning a “fiery woman.” In the Song, Deborah is identified as a “mother in Israel” but has no children. Nourse asks if the term is used metaphorically. The same metaphorical question can be asked about Jael and Sisera’s mother.

Nourse notes that the heroism of Deborah and Jael are not unexpected. In other words, the audience is not expected to react in surprise to their roles in the song and story. Nourse adds that Deborah transcends her gender role while Jael does not, she reverses it. As to what else she said about Jael, I do not know since that is when I left to catch my plane.

S18-112 Archaeology of the Biblical World
Theme: Bronze and Iron Age

Kyle H. Keimer, Macquarie University
Ritual Action or Military Preparation? Interpreting Israel’s Muster at Mizpah in 1 Sam 7

According to 1 Sam 7:5-6 Samuel told all Israel to gather at Mizpah so he could judge them and intercede with YHWH for Israel. What is portrayed as a ritual event is interpreted by the Philistines in 7:7 as strategic military action. This paper offers an explanation for the Philistine response to Israel’s actions through consideration of the geographic reality of the Central Benjamin Plateau. In particular, I will address what it is about Mizpah, specifically, that prompts the Philistines to mobilize against Israel, and whether or not the identification of Tell en-Nasbeh as biblical Mizpah is appropriate. This latter matter will be informed by my work on the unpublished Iron Age I materials from Tell en-Nasbeh.

This presentation was not directly about Deborah. It was another one of the presentations highlighting the Iron I/10th century BCE period in Israelite history as covered in previous posts (Where Is the Tenth Century BCE?: The ASOR and SBL Conferences and The Tenth Century BCE and the SBL Conference). It seeks to link archaeology and text. Keimer claims that the Iron I site of Tell en-Nasbeh or biblical Mizpah was a site of ritual and military preparation. He refers to Judges 4:5

She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the people of Israel came up to her for judgment.

He interprets the verse to mean that Deborah judged at Mizpah. It was a mustering site in Judges 20:1 and 3 for the Israelite tribes against Benjamin. Most of the paper was about the specific incident involving Samuel and the Philistines. In this regard, Samuel represents a continuation of the use of the site as Deborah had used it. The idea that tribes in Iron I had an assembly point for cooperative military actions seems reasonable enough. The questions raised are what tribes, who had the authority to call tribes to battle, and how is it that a woman could hold that position? Those questions were not the subject of the presentation.

S18-127 Hebrew Scriptures and Cognate Literature
Lauren Monroe, Cornell University
New Light on the Curse of mērôz in the Song of Deborah

The curse of mērôz in Judges 5:23 has long been an interpretive crux in the Song of Deborah. The term mērôz is widely understood as an otherwise-unattested place name, a reading understandably conditioned by reference to “its inhabitants”. However, as a toponym, it is unclear why mērôz is singled out for cursing when the non-participating tribes in verses 15b-17 are not, a problem compounded by an inability to locate the town, or ascertain its political affiliations or allegiances within the context of the Song. This paper offers a new explanation for the term, analyzing it as cognate to the Akkadian term râṣu, “to come to the aid of”, attested at Amarna and elsewhere, and the more well-attested noun rēṣu, meaning “ally”. Remarkably, this meaning for the term is provided within the biblical verse itself: “‘Curse mērôz!’ said the messenger of Yahweh, for they did come to the aid of Yahweh, to the aid of Yahweh among the warriors.” I suggest that the curse of mērôz is directed against the non-participating tribes mentioned earlier in the poem; that is, the tribes of Reuben, Dan, Asher and Gilead. These tribes constituted mērôz, or “auxiliary forces” that were expected, but failed to appear for battle. The idea that Yahweh would curse tribes that later are considered part of “Israel” lends greater complexity to our understanding of the socio-political landscape that underlies this most ancient of biblical poems, and illuminates the raw materials out of which the authors of Judges 4-5 constructed their vision of a unified Israelite past.

I was unable to attend this presentation as it conflicted with the previous one. Therefore the abstract will have to stand on its own. Her definition of the term mērôz is consistent with the approach I took in a pre-conference post (Montenegro and Early Israelite History: Lessons from NATO). I suggested that the NATO alliance provided a better model for the relationship among the Song of Deborah tribes than a pre-monarchical Israelite tribal one. Instead of thinking of them as part of a single people, one should think of them as part of an Israelite-led alliance against Egyptian hegemony including the vassal Canaanite cities. As with NATO not everyone shows up when called. The transformation of this tribal alliance into an Israelite polity will be addressed below.

S19-117 Historiography and the Hebrew Bible
Zev Farber, Project TABS –
The Kenite Redaction: A Supplementary Approach to the Hovav and Kenite Accounts

In his talk on the Kenites previously discussed (Cosmos and Chaos at the SBL Conference: The Kenites and the Amalekites), Farber suggested that Heber the Kenite was inserted in the Deborah story. In my notes, I do not have any information as to whether Farber also said Jael was inserted or not.

Daniel E Fleming, New York University
Exodus 15 without the Exodus: Yahweh and the People of the Southern Highlands

Although most of the narrative from Genesis through Kings is devoted to Israel’s distant past, before the time of biblical writing, the project of its application to historical reconstruction is fraught. The most useful material is often what contrasts with the finished Bible, as with the Song of Deborah’s failure to include Judah and the south in its account of battle with “the kings of Canaan.” In the collection of old poetry identified by Albright, Cross, and others, the Song of the Sea in Exodus 15 stood as an independent exodus account, yet its continuity with Jerusalem-oriented poetry in the Psalms and Isaiah 40-55 has led recent European scholars to date it to the 6th century or later. Indeed, the combination of southern geography and shared vocabulary in a hymn to Yahweh suggests composition for Jerusalem worship. Yet the Song’s detail indicates secondary association with the prose exodus narrative rather than inspiration from it, and Jerusalem poetry could be composed during the monarchy. In fact, Exodus 15’s historical usefulness has been obscured by its reference to Pharaoh and incorporation into the Moses story. Egypt is defeated by an act of God, Yahweh himself sinking its chariotry as they were transported across a body of water. Yahweh’s own people, named nowhere in the Song, are not present for the catastrophe that opens the southern highlands for their occupation. While the Song may well have been composed in monarchic Jerusalem, it shows no interest in its institutions or Davidic heritage, instead hearkening back to a time before these. For reconstruction of history, of greatest significance is the combination of Egypt’s removal and identification of the beneficiaries only as “your people, Yahweh” (v 16), a phrasing much like “the people of Yahweh” who unite in battle in the Song of Deborah (Judg 5:13). We are left to explore the historical significance of two early biblical texts, south and north, that recount formative events for “people” defined by relation to Yahweh in a time before kings.

Fleming’s presentation was mainly about the Song of the Sea and not the Song of Deborah. In terms of the latter, I take issue with one oft-repeated claim made about the Song of Deborah, that it does not include the tribe of Judah. True the tribe is not present by name and was not part of the Iron I NATO tribal alliance led by Israel. However, one can make the claim, as Mark Smith has, that in the original version of the Song, both Israel and Yahweh were not present either. Those additions occurred precisely when the NATO tribal alliance was transforming into a polity led by David, king of first Judah and then Israel.  Only then did the non-Israelite tribes of the alliance start to think of themselves as Israelite and that Yahweh was their god. Identifying the deity as coming from Seir provided a link for the Calebite/Shosu to be part of the victory and kingdom of Israel.

The Songs of Deborah and the Sea contain another commonality: the prose versions of both seek to explain the poetry. The difference between the poem and the prose can be seen in Sisera entering the tent of Jael. In the song, it simply happens without explanation because the two historical people are being used metaphorically: they are symbols of the peoples in conflict somewhat like Uncle Sam and the Bear. In the prose an explanation is given. The author is trying to understand how it could have happened that Sisera would do what he did. The author’s best guess is an alliance between them because that is the only way he can make the story work in the prose world. He may not have known the original meaning of the metaphorical scene and have been trying to understand it physically literally. Similarly, the J portion of Ex. 14 attempts to provide a real-world portrayal of how the crossing at the waters in Ex. 15 could have occurred. Whether he is right or not is secondary to recognizing that a single author sought to make sense of the poetic heritage of the Israelite people at t time when Israel became a kingdom. He wanted to understand what actually happened even if he was not an historian.

There were two other presentations in this session

Andrew Tobolowsky, College of William and Mary
The Full Land: Writing Biblical History amidst Contestations

Mahri Leonard-Fleckman, Providence College (Rhode Island)
Boundary Crossing and Boundary Blurring in the Bible’s Tales of David and Gath (covered in Where Is the Tenth Century BCE?: The ASOR and SBL Conferences).

Afterwards there was a general discussion on the topic of tribes including the Song of Deborah. In a follow-up to a question on the Amarna Letters, I commented that those letters were between Pharaoh and Canaanite kings and not to any tribes. I then noted that it was precisely those Canaanite kings who are the enemies of the Canaanite and Transjordan tribes in the Song of Deborah. I did not add that it is those very Canaanite cities which were the last Canaanite peoples to become part of the Israelite kingdom. And they did so unwillingly unlike many Canaanite people symbolically represented by Rahab.

S19-222 Historiography and the Hebrew Bible
Quinn Daniels, New York University
The Politics of the Song of Deborah: The Enduring “Root” of Ephraim in Amaleq (Judg 5:14a)

The Song of Deborah (Jdgs 5) comes to us as one of the earliest biblical texts describing the muster of different peoples for battle; it praises those who join and condemns those who fail to come (vv. 14-18). By naming these peoples, the text has power to reveal old, collective political configurations that existed prior to the Israelite and Judahite monarchies. The Ephraim people, in particular, should hold our attention as the first-mentioned name on the list, partially because of its unexpected connection to another name, Amaleq. The line that crucially defines the relationship between the two: “From Ephraim, their root in Amaleq” (v. 14a), has not been satisfactorily explained, and any way forward demands better understanding of the decisive word “root,” or šōreš, in this context. As English speakers, it is common to assume that “root” conveys a sense of the past or origins. However, when we examine the range of social and political applications for the word šōreš, along with its Semitic cognates, we find that it instead refers to a patrilineage, or line of male kin, that was to extend indefinitely into the foreseeable future. This future-oriented redefinition unlocks a new possibility in our difficult verse – namely, that Ephraim had a patrilineal leader who led Amaleq into battle as part of the Ephraimite fighting force. Ephraim’s “root,” in this case, would be the current and subsequent generations of leadership. A second text, Judges 12:13-15, locates Ephraim and Amaleq together, and although it does not use the word šōreš to define the relationship, it describes a similar political relationship. Here, an Ephraimite patrilineal leader, Abdon son of Hillel, was buried “in Pirathon, in the land of Ephraim, in the hill country of the Amaleqites.” Abdon is commemorated as an elite, almost royal figure, who successfully perpetuated his lineage while he was alive. His burial at a gravesite defined by both Ephraimite and Amaleqite peoples comprises a second, independent memory of Ephraim’s link with Amaleq. Abdon’s elite multi-generational family (v.14) is the type of patrilineage that matches the definition of šōreš. As a result, Abdon represents the Ephraimite patrilineal leader among the Amaleqites – much like the Ephraimite šōreš in the Song of Deborah. The cooperation of Amaleq with Ephraimite leadership in the list of groups (vv.14-18) shows that Amaleq was one component of Ephraim’s larger group “muster” – with Benjamin perhaps another component through its inclusion in the parallel line: “after you, Benjamin, among your peoples” (5:14a). The Ephraim people had a patrilineal leader among the Amaleqites, and was followed by Benjamin – itself a constitution of many peoples. All of these groups participated in a battle in the distant north – a conflict in which nearby groups like Reuben, Gilead, Dan, and Asher refused to participate (vv.15b-17). The fronted placement of the Ephraim-led collaboration perhaps recognizes – even celebrates – the accomplishment of mustering such a variegated fighting force across a long distance.

Daniel’s position is that although Amaleq is employed in a negative sense elsewhere (see Yigal Levin’s presentation in Cosmos and Chaos at the SBL Conference: The Kenites and the Amalekites) that depiction does not apply in this oldest text. His presentation raises many questions regarding the configuration of the tribes in the Iron I period: who they were, where they were, how did they relate to each other, and how did they muster. I am not ready to sort all this out but I do note one major missing ingredient in the analysis: the Merneptah Stele. Merneptah does not mention any tribes save perhaps for Israel itself. He did not succeed in destroying Israel’s seed but Egyptian hegemony did not end either. Israel’s opposition to Egypt and its survival after an Egyptian attack would have been observed by the peoples in the land of Canaan. It is in the aftermath of Merneptah’s failure against Israel that the anti-Egyptian Israelite-led NATO alliance with a possible mustering location at Mizpah would have been emerged. Nourse’s insight about Jael reversing gender roles is relevant here. The symbolic use of the historical wilderness woman Kenite Jael smiting Pharaoh Sese-Ra III/Sisera reversed the Egyptian smiting Pharaoh motif. It announced the presence of a new player in the political arena. Later those tribes decided to become part of the kingdom of Israel.

Then all the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron, and said, “Behold, we are your bone and flesh. In times past, when Saul was king over us, it was you that led out and brought in Israel; and Yahweh said to you, `You shall be shepherd of my people Israel, and you shall be prince over Israel.'” So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron; and King David made a covenant with them at Hebron before Yahweh, and they anointed David king over Israel. (2 Samuel 5:1-3)

It was only after these non-Israelite tribes in the Song of Deborah chose to become part of the kingdom of Israel under David that Jacob came to the fore, that Jacob became Israel, and Jacob genealogy stories were needed.

Tribes and the State at the ASOR and SBL Conferences

The Death of Lawerence 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.

The Tenth Century BCE and the SBL Conference

David by Michelangelo (Wkipedia)

This blog continues the previous blog on the blog on the tenth century BCE at the ASOR conference. Due to the overlap between the two conferences, it does not include any SBL sessions from Saturday, November 17. The abstract of one paper does suggest an archaeological perspective:

Book of Samuel: Narrative, Theology and Interpretation
Theme: 1 Samuel 13-15

Sara Kipfer, Heidelberg University
Everybody Conquered Everybody: Envisioning Power in 1 Sam 14:47–52 and 2 Sam 8

The parallels between 1Sam 14:47-48.52 and 2Sam 8:11-12.15* have long been noted (e.g. Budde 1902). However, their relation is still debated: it has been argued, that the list of Saul’s wars was written in analogy to the wars of David (Stoebe 1973; Stolz 1981; Bezzel 2015) or vice versa, that the praise of Saul was later added to the story of David (Dietrich 2015). Finally it has been estimated, that both lists were the product of the same redactor (Klein 2002). This paper will reevaluate these complicated literary problems by taking into account its larger context: the similarities of 2Sam 8:3-5.7-11* (par. 1Chr 18:3-5.7-11*) with battle reports by Shalmaneser III fighting against a Syrian coalition in 849 BCE demonstrate that the text reflects the setting of the 9th century BCE. However it does not refer to a historical event, but should be understood as an ideological text ascribing the obviously exaggerated victory of Shalmaneser III over Adad-Idri to David fighting Hǎdad’ezer, king of Zoba. Notes about victories over other nations such as the Philistines (2Sam 8:1), Moab (2Sam 8:2) and Edom (2Sam 8:13-14*) where added later to this text. The phenomenon of envisioning the power of one king compared to another was still present in later times: The (dtr?) redactor emphasizes, that Saul successfully fought against all his enemies on every side (1Sam 14:47-48.52). Similarly a later note in 2Sam 8:11*.12.15 stresses the victory of David over Moab, Ammon, Edom, Zoba, the Philistines and Amalek.

For me this paper raises some intriguing questions:

1. Based on the similarities with 9th century BCE compositions, how much of the conquests attributed to David really were about the conquests of Omri especially in the Transjordan?
2. What was the relationship between the Omrides and the Davides? Did Omri who fought the Philistines and obtained power in coup legitimate himself by identifying with David? Did builder Ahab with a foreign-born wife legitimate himself by identifying with Solomon?
3. How would the prophets who had opposed Solomon and Rehoboam have responded to Ahab and sons?

Part of the Israelite historical reconstruction for the 9th century BCE requires understanding its perception of the 10th century BCE.

Turning to the SBL conference on Sunday, there were relevant sessions simultaneously that morning causing me to jump from an archaeology-based one to a literary one.

Archaeology of the Biblical World
Theme: Bronze and Iron Age

Kyle H. Keimer, Macquarie University
Ritual Action or Military Preparation? Interpreting Israel’s Muster at Mizpah in 1 Sam 7 (20 min)

According to 1 Sam 7:5-6 Samuel told all Israel to gather at Mizpah so he could judge them and intercede with YHWH for Israel. What is portrayed as a ritual event is interpreted by the Philistines in 7:7 as strategic military action. This paper offers an explanation for the Philistine response to Israel’s actions through consideration of the geographic reality of the Central Benjamin Plateau. In particular, I will address what it is about Mizpah, specifically, that prompts the Philistines to mobilize against Israel, and whether or not the identification of Tell en-Nasbeh as biblical Mizpah is appropriate. This latter matter will be informed by my work on the unpublished Iron Age I materials from Tell en-Nasbeh.

Keimer approached this story as being based on a real event. He noted the debate over the historicity and the date of composition. In his opinion, even though the text may be a composite one that does not mean it is not historical. It is possible to combine archaeology and text to posit an historical reconstruction. Keimer does so in his presentation. He sets the story in the geopolitical context of the late Iron I so it is before the tenth century BCE. It is included here for two reasons:

1. This real-world 11th century BCE confrontation between Israel and the Philistines in the Benjaminite Plateau is part of the context in which the Israelite monarchy under Saul emerges.
2. The archaeology of Tell en-Nasbeh dovetails with that of Tel Hesi presented at the ASOR conference and written about in my previous post.

Together these two sites document the physical or material background from which the historical Saul and David established their kingdoms and stories about those events were written. As it turns out, one of the presenters in this session asked the obvious question of how many people in the audience also had attended the ASOR conference. My estimate was about 2/3 of the people raised their hands. Combined these two presentations contribute to the effort to write a history of the 11th-10th century Israel and the emergence of the monarchy.

A different perspective was provided in the simultaneous session, a second session to the SBL one I had missed on Saturday:

Book of Samuel: Narrative, Theology and Interpretation

Carl S. Ehrlich, York University
David, Achish, and Their Place within the Historical Consciousness of Ancient Israel/Judah (30 min)

The Davidic narratives may be defined as the accounts of a series of interlocking interpersonal relationships pursued by David. Saul and Jonathan, Samuel and Nathan, Abigail and Bathsheba, Amnon and Absalom, all have their places and functions within the stories of David’s rise and fall. Among these multifarious relationships one stands out by virtue of its incongruity: David’s relationship with Achish, the Philistine king of Gath, whose vassal he becomes while on the run from Saul. While this narrative ultimately serves to absolve David of involvement in the deaths of his Saulide rivals for rule over the Israelites, the question arises to what extent it is reflective of a historical reality, whether of the time period of which it purports to tell or of a later one. This paper will address the form and function of the David and Achish narratives and examine the various possibilities for dating them within the historical and literary contexts of ancient Israel and Judah.

Ehrlich is not interested in the historical reality of the David/Achish and Israel/Gath story. He noted the frequency of the references to Achish as the king of Gath and to the anomaly of the mention of a Philistine king my individual name. While Gath was real in the tenth century BCE, Ehrlich has less confidence in Achish being the name of the king of that city. He cited the archaeological discovery of an inscription at Ekron in the seventh century BCE as the source of the name to the author of the Gath stories. His preference is to date the story to the monarchy of Josiah and his expansionist efforts but he acknowledged that his evidence for this interpretation is “slim.” Ehrlich did mention archaeological evidence in the course of his presentation. He accepts an historical David and an historical association between David and the Philistines that was remembered into the seventh century BCE although the details of that association cannot be known. This comment leaves open the issue of why Gath was used in the story given that its prominence dates to the 10th-9th centuries and not to the 7th, a question he was asked about in the Q&A. To be consistent, if an author uses the name Achish because of an inscription at Ekron, doesn’t it make more sense to use Ekron as the setting for the story instead using Gath and Gittities in the Davidic narrative? Ehrlich would have fewer hoops to jump through in his historical reconstruction if he followed the same approach at Gath with David that Keimer had done about Mizpah about 30 minutes earlier in a completely different session.

Sonya Cronin, Florida State University
David Taking Bathsheba as His Wife: A Righteous Deed; A Narrative Look At 2 Samuel 11-13 (30 min)

The story of David and Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11 is one of the most infamous tales in the Bible. The willful and premeditated transgression of David is clear in the text. He committed adultery with Uriah’s wife, and when she was found to be pregnant, he had Uriah killed in battle and took Bathsheba as his own. The sin of coveting and taking is stark; nobody doubts David’s guilt. Nathan’s word of the Lord emphasizes this even more, “Why have you despised the word of the LORD, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife…” It is easy to take from this the implication that while there were severe consequences, in the end David got what he wanted, Bathsheba to be his wife. However, when paired with the connected story of Tamar and Amnon, it seems that David taking Bathsheba as his wife, might have been the only “righteous” thing he did in this entire episode (2 Samuel 11-12). In fact, it is arguable that taking Bathsheba as his wife is what saved his life. Using a narrative perspective, this paper will evaluate 2 Samuel 11-12 in light of 2 Samuel 13 to argue that with the nuance of David’s sin in regard to Bathsheba, taking her as his wife was actually a righteous deed.

Cronin approached this story strictly from a literary perspective. It may be that she considers all these people and events to be historical: it goes without saying so she didn’t say anything. It may be that she considers the story fictional. I really couldn’t tell from the presentation itself. I can say there was no reference to any historical context or archaeological evidence in it. Admittedly in a story about palace intrigue and sex, it is difficult to identify what would constitute proof. One can also ask what would the relevance of the story about David, Bathsheba, and Uriah the Hittite be to an audience that didn’t already know their names. The author wasn’t writing a script for major motion picture. Why would Hekeziah or Josiah create this story of their ancestors? None of these issues were addressed in what can be considered an ahistorical interpretation.

By coincidence, the next day, there was a presentation where Achish and Gath also were the subjects.

Historiography and the Hebrew Bible

Mahri Leonard-Fleckman, Providence College (Rhode Island)
Boundary Crossing and Boundary Blurring in the Bible’s Tales of David and Gath (30 min)

The Bible describes the Shephelah primarily through the adventures of two characters: Samson and David. These biblical protagonists engage continually in cross-boundary relations with non-Israelites in the lowlands of ancient Israel. In the case of David, the texts at times depict clear boundaries between Israel and non-Israelites, as when we encounter David fighting Goliath in 1 Sam 17. Elsewhere, however, texts portray a socially-ambiguous and un-bordered Shephelah, particularly in the sometimes-cooperative and loyal relations between David and Gittites that blur social boundaries and confuse the notion of antagonist relations between Israel and the Philistines (e.g. 1 Sam 27:1-7; 2 Sam 6:9-11). This paper explores conflicting tales of boundary construction and boundary blurring between David and the Gittites in conjunction with current debates in border studies and the arguable archaeological portrait of the Shephelah as an ambiguous or “liminal zone” in the tenth-seventh centuries BCE (Tappy 2008). The question is whether, or to what extent, distinct literary depictions of boundaries or lack thereof in biblical texts have historical value for understanding the Shephelah in the Iron II. Yet driving this talk are two broader questions: first, to use terminology from the field of secondary language acquisition, how do ancient texts and their audiences “language” society (Swain 2006; 2009; cf. Vygotsky 1987); in other words, how do texts externalize or construct a particular image of the social landscape that is internalized by and shapes the reader’s or audience’s perceptions (e.g. biblical scholars, archaeologists, politicians), and vice versa? Second, to what extent is it possible to distinguish between biblical depictions of society that are idealizations or fabrications, and those that have older tentacles, that connect to or derive from older traditions, or perhaps what was remembered in some sense?

In the previous post on her ASOR paper, I referred to Leonard-Fleckman as an SBL person. She informed me of the error of my ways as she is a member of both organizations. You will notice in the abstract how she is applying archaeology to the understanding of a story. She recognized the issue of the dating and layers of the biblical text, focusing in particular on I Sam. 27. Her approach was geographical based. She contrasted the “hard” borders in the Book of Joshua with the ambiguous porous borders in the Shephelah in the story of David and the Philistines. For Leonard-Fleckman, this blurring of boundaries reflected an older reality and she wondered why a later writer would have invented it.

In this regard, her analysis is distinctly different from Ehrlich’s (above). Gath is not a concern in Neo-Assyrian times so why set a story in it. Gath was dominant in the 10th-late 9th centuries and the stories involving Gath have value for understanding that time period. I Sam. 27 bears the mark of an older less-defined landscape. Leonard-Fleckman referred to the book by Daniel Pioske, Memory in the Time of Prose: Studies in Epistemology, Hebrew Scribalism, and the Biblical Past which has a chapter on Gath and which I have now downloaded.

The recognition of a 10th-9th centuries setting for the story then raised the question for her of who is the bearer of the old traditions. She did not answer this question but it would be nice if we could get these 10th century people together and try to resolve the issue.

In the meantime, the next blog will focus on the sessions involving Israel Finkelstein and Nadav Na’aman.

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.