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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.