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Iron Age in the Southern Levant

Location Map
Location Map

Fig. 4.1

Map of major archaeological and historical site in central and northern Israel and Jordan

Mazar et. al. (2020 v.1)

Iron Age Divisions of the southern Levant

Traditional or High Chronology

Period Time Span
Iron I 1200-1000 ca. 1005-931 BCE - reigns of Kings David and Solomon
Iron IIA 1000-925 ~925 BCE - Sheshonoq I's invasion
Iron IIB 925-720 ~732 BCE - Neo-Assyrian Conquest of Israel (the Northern Kingdom)
Iron IIC 720-586 ~587 BCE - Neo-Babylonian Conquest of Jerusalem and Destruction of the First Temple

Low Chronology - Finkelstein and Piasetzky (2010)

Divisions of the Iron Age in Israel Table 2

Dates of six ceramic phases in the Iron Age in the Levant and the transition between them according to the Bayesian model (63% agreement).

Finkelstein and Piasetzky (2010)

Modified Conventional Chronology - Mazar (2014)

Period Time Span
Iron IA 1200-1140/1130
Iron IB 1150/1140-~980
Iron IIA ~980-~840/830
Iron IIB ~840/830-732/701 ~732 BCE - Neo-Assyrian Conquest of Israel (the Northern Kingdom)
Iron IIIA 732/701-605/586 ~587 BCE - Neo-Babylonian Conquest of Jerusalem and Destruction of the First Temple
Iron IIIC 605/586-520

Comparison of the three chronological systems

Divisions of the Iron Age in Israel Figure 2

Comparisons of the three chronological systems

Thomas (2014)

Various Iron Age Divisions

Divisions of the Iron Age in Israel Table 2.1

Divisions of the Iron Age in Israel

Mazar in Levy and Higham (2014)

Iron Age chronology of the southern Levant - Webster et al. (2023)

Stratigraphy of Gezer Table 2

Iron Age chronology of the southern Levant

Webster et al. (2023)

Stratigraphic-ceramic horizons and their 14C dates

Northern Israel (Table 2)

Synchronic Table of Main Iron Age Sites in Israel Table 2

Stratigraphic-ceramic horizons in northern Israel and their 14C dates; grey boxes mark synchronization with southern Israel

Finkelstein and Piasetzky (2009)

Southern Israel (Table 3)

Synchronic Table of Main Iron Age Sites in Israel Table 3

Stratigraphic-ceramic horizons in southern Israel and their 14C dates; grey boxes mark synchronization with northern Israel

Finkelstein and Piasetzky (2009)

Bayesian model for phases and transitions in the Iron Age from Finkelstein and Piasetzky (2010)

Bayesian model for six phases and six transitions in the Iron Age Figure 5

Results of the Bayesian model for six phases and six transitions in the Iron Age

Finkelstein and Piasetzky (2010)

Synchronic Tables of Main Iron Age Sites in Israel

Mazar (2014)

Synchronic Table of Main Iron Age Sites in Israel Table 2.2

Synchronic Table of Main Iron Age Sites in Israel

Mazar in Levy and Higham (2014)

Finkelstein and Piasetzky (2009)

Synchronic Table of Main Iron Age Sites in Israel Figure 4

Synchronization of the ten destruction horizons, pottery horizons and historical events (Destruction 2, middle Iron I, Shiloh, not marked).

Finkelstein and Piasetzky (2009)

Finkelstein and Piasetzky (2010)

Synchronic Table of Main Iron Age Sites in Israel Figure 3

The Bayesian model for six phases and six transitions in the Iron Age. Destruction layers are underlined with a thick black line; historical constraints are indicated by arrows. The late Iron IIA strata were entered in the order of the four destruction horizons that we identified elsewhere

(Finkelstein & Piasetzky 2009)

Finkelstein and Piasetzky (2010)

Explanation of Chronological Models

Thomas (2014)

The Scholarly Background

1 Kings describes both David and Solomon as reigning for a period of forty years each, though the precision of these numbers is unsure in that they may be schematic. The commonly accepted chronology of ancient Israel dates the reigns of David and Solomon to approximately 1005-931 BC, thus the period of focus for study and debate on the United Monarchy is the 10th century BC. 1 Kings records that early in the reign of Rehoboam, Sheshonq the king of Egypt, who is commonly identified as the New Kingdom Pharaoh Sheshonq I, came up against Jerusalem. Sheshonq I left a now-incomplete record of a raid into the southern Levant that has traditionally been dated to approximately 925 BC. The archaeological era which concerns the United and Divided Monarchies is known as the Iron Age and follows immediately on from the Late Bronze Age in the Levant. It is commonly divided up chronologically based upon distinct pottery styles that occur within archaeological strata, and the divisions are traditionally as shown in Figure 1:

Figure 1: Outline of the traditional dates and period divisions of the Iron Age
Period Time Span
Iron I 1200-1000 ca. 1005-931 BCE - reigns of Kings David and Solomon
Iron IIA 1000-925 ~925 BCE - Sheshonoq I's invasion
Iron IIB 925-720 ~732 BCE - Neo-Assyrian Conquest of Israel (the Northern Kingdom)
Iron IIC 720-586 ~587 BCE - Neo-Babylonian Conquest of Jerusalem and Destruction of the First Temple
Thus the time periods that primarily concern discussion of the United Monarchy are the latter Iron I and Iron IIA, in chronological terms the 10th and 9th centuries BC. As will be discussed below, disagreement over this approximate chronological scheme commonly known as the ‘traditional’ or ‘High Chronology’ presented above is a major consideration of this thesis.

For much of the history of research into the archaeological and biblically-based historical background of the world of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, it was not thought that elements of the nature of the biblical text or the archaeological record of the southern Levant contradicted the general historicity of the United Monarchy and its description as given by the associated biblical books. In two articles published in 1958 and 1970, the noted Israeli archaeologist Yigael Yadin provided the high point in the search for David and Solomon ‘on the ground’. He described how three cities that had undergone major excavations in Israel, some partially under his direction, each produced a monumental casemate wall and city gate that featured three chambers on each side of the main passageway. Each was associated with pottery that was, at least at the time, commonly dated to the 10th century BC. These three cities, Hazor in the northern end of ancient Israel’s highlands, Megiddo in the Jezreel Valley adjoining the upper Mediterranean coastal plain, and Gezer on the southern coastal plain near the region inhabited by Israel’s traditional foes the Philistines, were exactly the three sites that the biblical passage 1 Kings 9:15 describes as having been ‘built’ by Solomon. Megiddo was the crown jewel, with a series of palatial buildings that appeared to be major administrative structures present in the same stratum as the casemate wall and six-chambered gate, followed by a later stratum with a four-chambered gate and what appeared to be large stables, apparently built by the Omride dynasty of the early Northern Kingdom of Israel known for their chariotry. Yadin operated with the assumption that 1 Kings 9:15 could be assumed to be historically accurate, and with the passage alongside the stratigraphy, pottery and gates, his findings appeared to provide clear indication of the sophisticated, monumental, centralised and state-directed activity that characterised Solomon’s kingdom, confirming the biblical impression of his rule1.

Later however, a movement taking place primarily within biblical studies as opposed to archaeology began to radically question the date of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament as a whole, including those books which describe the United and Divided Monarchies. This movement, primarily located in Britain and continental Europe, reached a crescendo of sorts in the 1990’s. These texts were declared to be late, dating to Persian or even Hellenistic periods, about half a millennium or more later than the events they described. Thus it was declared that the descriptions of the United and Divided Monarchies were, in common with other historical topics of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament’s authors, essentially a later ideological invention. The biblical portraits of these ancient kingdoms contained little if any historical material and even if they did, it was so bound up in the ideological, nationalistic and rhetorical goals of the authors as to be rendered indistinguishable and useless for a detailed and balanced understanding of ancient Israel. This movement came to be placed involuntarily under the label ‘Minimalism’ and its proponents ‘Minimalists’. Conversely, those who defended the historical integrity of the biblical books and the traditional picture of ancient Israel were dubbed ‘Maximalists’2. These terms have now become well known within the scholarly community, though they are designations placed upon a non-unified and non-self-designating group, and are made within an otherwise complex field that contains as many individual and nuanced views as it does scholars to have them. Thus the idea of ‘Maximalism’ versus ‘Minimalism’ does not concern this thesis. As it is, the ‘Minimalist’ paradigm as sketched out above has been rendered essentially null by the progress of historical, linguistic and archaeological research on ancient Israel and in studies that have addressed the claims and conclusions of the paradigm directly. Important studies of note include research into the diachronic position of the stage of the Hebrew language that was used to write much of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament that has revealed, primarily through comparison with relevant epigraphic materials of the Iron Age, that the Hebrew used to write much of the Deuteronomistic History, a group of books that includes the books of Samuel and Kings and to which this thesis will return, was written before the Exile of Judah to Babylonia of 586 BC3. Even more important as far as the historicity of the monarchical period are studies such as that of Baruch Halpern and William Dever that explicated and laid out in detail the amount of archaeological and textual evidence from the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, the archaeology of the southern Levant, and independent evidence and historical references from ancient Israel’s wider ancient Near Eastern world that demonstrated the general historical reliability of the material reality of ancient Israel, such as names and relative chronological setting of kings who are known from both the biblical books and from references to them in ancient Near Eastern documents4. The most definitive piece of evidence that severely undermined an outright rejection of any historicity to the United Monarchy was found in fragments in 1993 and 1994. The Aramaic stele found at Tel-Dan contains a clear reference to the Northern Kingdom of Israel and to the ‘House of David’, a common patronymic way of referring to a kingdom using the founder’s name5.

As such, this thesis does not focus on the scholarship of those often invoked as ‘Minimalist’ because, as described, their more extreme positions have been rendered essentially invalid by the progress of archaeology and by scholarship that has critically examined their claims. Observe Philip Davies’ ‘Critique of Biblical Israel’ from his In Search of ‘Ancient Israel’, in which the author constructs a situation in which the archaeological record of Iron Age civilisation in the southern Levant actually bears no connection to the civilisation and history, the ‘Israel’, described in the Bible6. Davies’ construction is in fact a bizarre form of exceptionalism, in which biblical Israel happens to be different from all other ancient cultures even though it is in fact no different, having a written history and an archaeological record that has been otherwise accepted to be the actual remains of the civilisation that is described by that written history and from which it emerged. Such thinking has now been bypassed by the debate and not a factor in considering its primary focus and the positions of its important contributors. What does concern this thesis emerged first and foremost out of archaeology. Beginning in the mid-1990s, another Israeli archaeologist named Israel Finkelstein ignited an enormous new debate over the historicity of the United Monarchy, the very debate that this thesis examines. In two articles Finkelstein set out to demonstrate what he saw as deep flaws in the structural matrix of the High Chronology. First, Finkelstein argued that one of the bases used for relative dating of sites in the Iron I and IIA, the settlement of the Philistines in southern Canaan, should be down dated from its traditional position in the 12th century BC to the 11th century BC. His argument derived from the fact that though 12th century BC Egyptian sites in southern Canaan were closely proximal to Philistine sites, these sites did not have any Philistine pottery, an apparently odd situation given their locations. Thus the Philistine settlement must not have occurred in the 12th century BC and must have been later than first thought. Finkelstein then went on to critique Yadin’s identification of the ‘Solomonic’ strata and gates described above, which he argued were inherently subjective due to the reliance on the 1 Kings passage, which seemed to him to be the central basis upon which Yadin did his dating. He took the view that the passage’s own date and relevance to the 10th century BC was not known for sure, as opposed to the possibility of it being related to a later period. He also pointed out that the stratigraphic association of the six-chambered gate at Megiddo had been challenged since Yadin’s time. In line with his arguments about the date of the Philistines’ settlement and their pottery, he concluded that the transition from the Iron I into the Iron IIA should be lowered to the end of the 10th century BC and the associated ‘Solomonic’ strata should be down-dated to the very late 10th or early 9th centuries BC. He thus concluded that construction previously attributed to Solomon was much more likely related to the Omride dynasty in the 9th century, thus stripping the Davidic-Solomonic United Monarchy of its monumental architecture as it became a kingdom, if it could still be called that, of the much poorer Iron I, which now occupied most of the 10th century BC. This new chronological system Finkelstein called the ‘Low Chronology’7. In 1997, Amihai Mazar published a critique of Finkelstein’s views, beginning a debate in which he has been one of Finkelstein’s primary sparring partners, which continues to the present8. In 2001 Mazar introduced his own revision of Iron Age Chronology in Israel, which he has come to call the ‘Modified Conventional Chronology’. This scheme is based on Mazar’s observations concerning pottery but instigated by his collaborative radiocarbon dating studies performed on samples from the excavations at Beth Shean and Tel Rehov, where Mazar has served as director. The Modified Conventional Chronology asserts that the transition from the end of Iron I to Iron IIA occurred at c. 980 BC and that the Iron IIA ended c. 830 BC. This kept alive the possibility that the aforementioned monumental building activity could be attributed to the United Monarchy, but left the situation ambiguous9.

Figure 2: Comparisons of the three chronological systems
Divisions of the Iron Age in Israel Figure 2

Comparisons of the three chronological systems

Thomas (2014)

It is important to note that both Finkelstein and Mazar are first and foremost archaeologists, though they have both addressed what they believe to be the historical implications of archaeological scholarship. This does not mean that those participating in the debate, including those who make important contributions to the primary models for reconstructing the United Monarchy, simply assume that archaeology must be the ‘High Court’, that is to say the final basis of judgement upon which to address the matter of the biblical picture of the United Monarchy. Finkelstein has argued that it can and should be used as such a basis, and this issue will appear when necessary in the chapters of this thesis10.

The debate therefore, as it existed in its early days and as it exists now, can broadly be said to characterise two more or less distinct positions. One, characterised but by no means exclusive to Finkelstein is generally negative about the historicity of the United Monarchy at least as it is portrayed in the biblical text even if it was a real entity of some form while the alternate position is generally positive about the historicity of the United Monarchy even though it seeks to explain its portrayal in the biblical text with critical nuance rather than a naïve total acceptance. These two positions are here simply referred to as ‘models’ as they both use various arguments and bodies of evidence in an attempt to reconstruct a picture of the historical United Monarchy and its relationship to its portrayal in the biblical text.

1 Yigael Yadin, ‘Solomon’s City Wall and Gate at Gezer’, IEJ 8:2 (1958), pp. 80-86; Yigael Yadin, ‘Megiddo of the Kings of Israel’, Biblical Archaeologist 33:3 (1970), pp. 65-96

2 Megan Bishop Moore, Brad Kelle, Biblical History and Israel’s Past (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011), pp. 33-39

3 Avi Hurvitz, ‘The Historical Quest for “Ancient Israel” and the Linguistic Evidence of the Hebrew Bible: Some Methodological Observations’, Vetus Testamentum 47 (1997), pp. 310-315

4 Baruch Halpern, The First Historians: The Hebrew Bible and History (NY: Harper and Row, 1988); Baruch Halpern, ‘Archaeology, the Bible and History: The Fall of the House of Omri-And the Origins of the Israelite State’ in Historical Biblical Archaeology and the Future: The New Pragmatism, ed. by Thomas Levy (London: Equinox, 2010), pp.262-284; William Dever, ‘Histories and Non-Histories of Pre-Exilic Israel: The Question of the United Monarchy’ in In Search Of Pre-Exilic Israel, ed. by John Day (London: T&T Clark, 2004), pp. 65-94; Halpern’s scholarship is of much interest in this thesis so it is necessary to explain why William Dever’s work is referred to only to a limited degree. Dever largely wrote against so-called ‘Minimalist’ scholars prominent before Israel Finkelstein introduced his Low Chronology (for which see below in the main text). The latter and not the former are of primary concern here, and although Dever did write in opposition to Finkelstein, he has not been Finkelstein’s main archaeological opponent and was not involved in the discussion of complex radiocarbon dating efforts or more recent archaeological developments like Khirbet Qeiyafa, both of which have become central to this debate. See William Dever, What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001)

5 Moore, Kelle, Biblical History and Israel’s Past, pp. 217-218

6 Philip Davies, In Search of ‘Ancient Israel’ (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1995), pp. 51-56; Nor does this thesis deal with the work of any other of the other ‘Minimalists’ such as Keith Whitelam, whose most notable (or notorious) work, The Invention of Ancient Israel: The Silencing of Palestinian History does not contribute to the archaeological and historical debate that this thesis surveys but instead is concerned with complaining about the fact that the study of the Bible and ancient Israel has somehow obscured the true history of ‘Palestine’, see Keith W. Whitelam, The Invention of Ancient Israel: The Silencing of Palestinian History (Abingdon: Routledge, 1996)

7 Israel Finkelstein, ‘The Date of the Settlement in Philistine Canaan’, Tel Aviv 22 (1995), pp. 213-239; Israel Finkelstein, ‘The Archaeology of the United Monarchy: An Alternative View’, Tel Aviv 28 (1996), pp. 177-187

8 Amihai Mazar, ‘Iron Age Chronology: A Reply to Israel Finkelstein’, Levant 29 (1997), pp. 157-167

9 Amihai Mazar, Israel Carmi, ‘Radiocarbon Dates from Iron Age Strata at Tel Beth Shean and Tel Rehov’, Radiocarbon 43 (2001), pp. 1333-42; for a more recent overview see Amihai Mazar, ‘The Debate Over the Chronology of the Iron Age in the Southern Levant’ in The Bible and Radiocarbon Dating, ed. by Thomas Levy and Thomas Higham (London: Equinox, 2005), pp. 13-28

10 Nadav Na’aman, ‘Does Archaeology Really Deserve the Status of a ‘High Court’ in Biblical Historical Research’ in Between Evidence and Ideology, ed. by Bob Becking and Lester Grabbe (Leiden: Brill, 2010), pp. 165-183; Israel Finkelstein, ‘Archaeology as a High Court in Ancient Israelite History: A Reply to Nadav Na’aman’, JHS 10 (2010) [accessed 1st January 2014] (pp. 1-8)

The Pertinent Literature

As the debate has progressed it has explored new facets of the analysis of the relevant Biblical texts and of the archaeological record, as well as the continuously growing amount of archaeological data. Important facets that now having bearing on the progress of the debate are explored in detail in this thesis, and individual chapters will discuss literature on these specific topics. Of interest here is a more general class of literature that has emerged, which can be divided into two types.

The first and most useful type of literature can be generally characterised as works that have sought to review the changing manner of the historical and archaeological study of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament and its context. These often include review of the changing study of the United Monarchy and of the debate presently under review. This includes Moore and Kelle’s Biblical History and Israel’s Past, which surveys the history of scholarship and nature of scholarship as it is now pertaining to the entire chronological range of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament History, from the Patriarchs to the Persian period. It incorporates discussion of both textual and archaeological aspects of scholarship and individual scholars, theories, movements, and events of importance11. Historical Biblical Archaeology and the Future: The New Pragmatism edited by archaeologist Thomas Levy is a collection of papers by important scholars that review emergent and critical issues in archaeological practice and theory, text and history and the bridging of the gap between text and archaeology and the proper methodology for combining the two fields12. While these two volumes are both primarily for scholars, Israel Finkelstein’s popular book The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of its Sacred Texts, co-authored with Neil Asher Silberman has, despite its target audience, also captured the attention of scholars across Biblical Studies and stood as a general outline of his Low Chronology system and its implications for historicity, particularly of the United Monarchy. It is also where Finkelstein offered his view that an early state centred on Jerusalem never controlled the north of Israel in the 10th century BC and that the Divided Monarchy kingdoms of Israel and Judah appear to have emerged separately13. More recently Finkelstein has come together with Amihai Mazar to produce the volume The Quest for the Historical Israel, in which the two each lay out an exposition of their personal views on archaeology and its implications for biblical history as pertaining to the earliest period, the United Monarchy and then the Divided Monarchy, with a summary then provided for each period by editor Brian Schmidt14.

The second type of literature concerns a genre that has existed since well before the emergence of this debate, the ‘general history’ of ancient or biblical Israel. Histories written since Finkelstein introduced the Low Chronology in the mid-1990’s have of course needed to pay heed to the debate’s implications though they do not generally explore the mechanics of the debate as such. These include Mario Liverani’s Israel’s History and the History of Israel which actually adopts the Low Chronology and writes the resulting history, downgrading the reality of the United Monarchy to a petty state that only existed as it appears in the biblical records as the ideology and fantasy of a much later author15. Miller and Hayes’ A History of Ancient Israel and Judah represents a more moderate view in not adopting the Low Chronology whilst also adopting a fairly constrained view of the United Monarchy’s extent and the degree to which David and Solomon can be treated as kings of a large and developed stater16. A different kind of ‘general history’ is represented by Baruch Halpern’s David’s Secret Demons: Messiah, Murderer, Traitor, King. This work is both a biography and far more than a biography of David. It critically examines his life, and to a small extent that of Solomon, as portrayed in the books of Samuel and 1 Kings whilst also undertaking a thorough examination of these books on the matter of their sources, rhetoric, ideology, relationship to literature of the wider ancient Near East and their dating. Halpern also devotes much attention to the archaeology related to both David and Solomon and to how it relates to the biblical text. Its approach is firmly integrative, and it treats textual and archaeological considerations as complementary.

What these studies, excellent though they generally are, have in common is that they tend to be in some way weighted towards a specific stance upon what they discuss. They tend to represent arguments for or criticism of a particular major viewpoint in this debate. Finkelstein and Mazar’s The Quest for the Historical Israel has both, from different sides of the debate. They are also often uneven in the degree to which they delve into the minutiae of specific facets of the debate, and therefore don’t always allow the reader to access the often complex developments and arguments that are used to construct a scholar’s views. Thus, there is a gap in the literature for a work that approaches the debate without seeking to exposit the virtues of one view over another throughout, and one that allows a reader to access the intricacies of the important individual textual and archaeological facets of this debate. This thesis is intended to fill that gap.

11 Moore, Kelle, Biblical History and Israel’s Past

12 Historical Biblical Archaeology and the Future: The New Pragmatism, ed. by Thomas Levy (London: Equinox, 2010)

13 Israel Finkelstein, Neil Asher Silberman, The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts (New York: Touchstone, 2001)

14 The Quest for Historical Israel: Debating Archaeology and the History of Early Israel, ed. by Brian Schmidt (Brill: Leiden, 2007)

15 Mario Liverani, Israel’s History and the History of Israel, trans. by Chiara Peri and Philip R. Davies (London: Equinox, 2005)

16 J. Maxwell Miller, John H. Hayes, A History of Ancient Israel and Judah, 2nd ed. (London: SCM Press, 2006)

Finkelstein’s Low Chronology

Finkelstein’s Low Chronology according to Finkelstein (2013)


  • Fig. 2 - Strata in Area H in Megiddo from Finkelstein (2013:9)


2. Recent Advances in Archaeology

A clarification about chronology is in place here. Our knowledge of the chronology — both relative and absolute — of the Iron Age strata and monuments in the Levant has been truly revolutionized. In terms of relative chronology, intensification of the study of pottery assemblages from secure stratigraphic contexts at sites such as Megiddo and Tel Rehov in the north and Lachish in the south opened the way to establish a secure division of the Iron Age into six ceramic typology phases:
  • early and late Iron I (Arie 2006; Finkelstein and Piasetzky 2006)
  • early and late Iron IIA (Herzog and Singer-Avitz 2004, 2006; Zimhoni 2004a; A. Mazar et al. 2005; Arie 2013)
  • Iron IIB and Iron IIC (Zimhoni 2004b)
In terms of absolute chronology, intensive radiocarbon studies enable accurate dating of these phases in a resolution of fifty years and less. his can now be done free of past arguments, which were based on uncritical reading of the biblical text (e.g., Yadin 1970; Dever 1997). In this book I will be using the dates that result from two studies:

  1. A statistical model based on a large number of radiocarbon determinations: 229 results from 143 samples that came from 38 strata at 18 sites located in both the north and south of Israel (Finkelstein and Piasetzky 2010, based on Sharon et al. 2007 and other studies; Table 1 here3). The radiocarbon results from Israel are the most intensive for such a short period of time and small piece of land ever presented in the archaeology of the ancient Near East.

    Table 1

    Dates of ceramic phases in the Levant and the transition between them according to recent radiocarbon results (based on a Bayesian model, 63 percent agreement between the model and the data)

    Finkelstein (2013:7)

  2. A statistical model for a single site — Megiddo: circa 100 radiocarbon determinations from about 60 samples for 10 layers at Megiddo, which cover circa 600 years between circa 1400 and 800 B.C.E. (Tofolo et al. forthcoming; demonstration in Fig. 2). Megiddo is especially reliable for such a model because the time span in question features four major destruction layers that produced many organic samples from reliable contexts. This, too, is unprecedented: no other site has ever produced such a number of results for such a dense stratigraphic sequence. The general model (table 1) represents a conservative approach for determining the dates. It creates certain overlaps in the dates of the phases and a fairly broad range for the transition periods. When this model is adapted to historical reasoning (e.g., the end of Egyptian rule in the Late Bronze III), one gets the following dates, which will be used in this book (Finkelstein and Piasetzky 2011):
    Phase Date
    Late Bronze III twelfth century until circa 1130 B.C.E.
    Early Iron I late 12th century and 1st half of the 11th century B.C.E.
    Late Iron I 2nd half of the 11th century and 1st half of the 10th century B.C.E.
    Early Iron IIA last decades of the 10th century and the early 9th century B.C.E.
    Late Iron IIA rest of the 9th century and the early 8th century B.C.E.
    Iron IIB rest of the 8th century and the early 7th century B.C.E.


3. The model divides the period discussed in this book slightly differently from the six ceramic phases mentioned above. It adds the Late Bronze III, divides the Iron I into three rather than two phases, and ends with the late Iron IIA. he reason for the latter is the Hallstatt Plateau in the radiocarbon calibration curve, which prevents giving accurate dates to samples that come from Iron IIB and Iron IIC contexts.

Finkelstein’s Low Chronology according to Mazar (2014)

Finkelstein’s Low Chronology (LC)

Since 1996, Finkelstein (1995, 1996) went one step further by suggesting the wholesale lowering by 50 - 80 years of archaeological assemblages traditionally attributed to the 12th—10th centuries BC E. His first point was the date of the appearance of the local Mycenaean IIIC or ‘Philistine Monochrome’ pottery. Following Ussishkin (1985), he suggested lowering the appearance of this pottery by 50 years until after the end of the Egyptian presence in Canaan. This subject is beyond the scope of the present discussion, but it should be mentioned that several recent studies and discoveries, such as those at Ashkelon, negate this approach; in fact, none of the excavators of Philistia find this suggestion acceptable. It also creates unsolvable problems in correlating the archaeology of Philistia with that of Cyprus (Dothan and Zukerman 2003 ; Mazar 1985 and forthcoming; Sherratt and Master [Chapters 9 and 20, this volume;). 14C dates for this period are not of much help, due to the many wiggles and complicated shape of the calibration curve for the 11th and 12th centuries BCE . Consequently, Finkelstein suggested lowering the dates of late Iron Age I assemblages from the late 11th century to the 10th century BCE and the lowering of traditional 10th century BCE assemblages to the 9th century BCE. His view became known as the ‘Low Chronology’ for the Iron Age of Israel. This suggestion empties the 10th century BCE of its traditional contents. Sites and strata that were traditionally dated to the late 11th century BCE, such as Megiddo VIA, are dated to the 10th century BCE, until Shishak’s campaign (Finkelstein 1998a, 1998b, 1999b, 2002a, 2002b, 2004, and Chapters 3 and 17, this volume). In a separate study based on 14C dates from Tel Dor, Ayelet Gilboa and Ilan Sharon suggest an even lower chronology from that suggested by Finkelstein (see below).

Finkelstein’s Low Chronology according to Kletter (2004)

Radiocarbon Dating

Thomas (2014)

The Early Iron Age Dating Project and Revealing Issues in Radiocarbon Dating

The Early Iron Age Dating Project is an effort to provide clarification in this debate by collecting and modelling radiocarbon dates from Iron Age strata at sites across Israel. The Project has been initiated on two related bases. Firstly, both Finkelstein and Mazar had published data and analysis of radiocarbon results which they claimed supported their chronological models102. Secondly, it was thought that radiocarbon dating on a large scale could be the key to resolving the debate. The project was initiated to date and analyse a large number of radiocarbon dates from Iron Age strata from sites throughout Israel103. Initial comments were published in 2005 but more importantly the results of the project’s first stage were published in 2007. The 2007 report was stated by the authors as supporting the LC104. The overall conclusions of both the 2005 and 2007 publications from this Project have been called into question however, by both Thomas Levy and Amihai Mazar.

Levy makes three primary criticisms based upon the methodology of the authors that he views as undermining their conclusions, relating to both the 2005 and 2007 publications:
  1. The authors present their initial data on inter-laboratory comparison as indicating no reasonable likelihood of bias between the three labs, one each in Israel, the Netherlands and the US. However, at the 95% confidence level/2σ range for the combination of samples that were used is 232 years, which he aptly states is far too wide a margin to be useful in a debate that comes down to a matter of decades105.

  2. Samples that are tested multiple times do not actually cluster or demonstrate the precision of the results relative to each other that might be expected, even by the Project’s investigators themselves106. Using weighted averages and weighted standard deviations for the combinations of results for a sample does not really help because, as Levy discusses with one example from the 2007 report, the individual results of a sample do not necessarily fall into the 1σ or 2σ ranges to the degree that they should107.

  3. The above problems are present even before coming around to actually calibrating the dates with the ‘troublesome‘, that is to say imperfect, nature of the calibration curve. The very fact that the curve produces multiple potential date ranges or a range that is very wide makes it imprecise108.

Mazar has also taken issue with the methodology of the Project’s publications in three criticisms and re-evaluates a potential conclusion in light of these:
  1. Before getting to broad models, examination of dates from individual sites and strata for the Iron I and IIA periods taken on their own merits generally seems to either support the HC or MCC and not LC or does not have the resolution to side with any109. Additionally Mazar, being aware of dates published elsewhere and a few new dates, takes issue with the inclusion or rejection of some samples in the Project’s publications, on the basis of potentially being outliers or not secure chronologically110.

  2. Models run by Mazar with radiocarbon expert Christopher Bronk Ramsey in an effort to discern a rough transition from the Iron I to Iron IIA, removing results suspected to be outliers and samples that could be old wood111, seemed to place the shift in the middle of the 10th century BC112.

  3. Modelling for the same transition at Megiddo approximates an even earlier transition, and the assumption of the Project’s investigators that several sites’ destructions at the end of Iron I can be viewed as a single event does not hold if the relevant C14 results for those destructions are compared113.

The net effect is that this Project has not proved to be the resolution to the chronology debate, and has brought up several difficulties with the method, analysis and application of radiocarbon dating.

102 Ilan Sharon, Ayelet Gilboa, A.J. Timothy Jull, Elisabetta Boaretto, ‘Report of the First Stage of the Iron Age Dating Project in Israel: Supporting a Low Chronology’ Radiocarbon 49 (2007), pp. 1-46 (pp. 3-4)

103 Ibid., p. 1

104 Ibid., p. 22; Ilan Sharon, Ayelet Gilboa, Elisabetta Boaretto, A.J. Timothy Jull, ‘The Early Iron Age Dating Project’ in The Bible and Radiocarbon Dating, ed. by Thomas Levy and Thomas Higham (London: Equinox, 2005), pp. 65-92; Elisabetta, Boaretto, A.J. Timothy Jull, Ayelet Gilboa, Ilan Sharon, ‘Dating the Iron Age I/II Transition in Israel: First Intercomparison Results’, Radiocarbon 47 (2005), pp. 39-55

105 Thomas Levy, Daniel Frese, ‘The Four Pillars of the Iron Age Low Chronology’, in Historical Biblical Archaeology and the Future: The New Pragmatism, ed. by Thomas Levy (London: Equinox, 2010), pp. 187-202 (pp. 193-194)

106 Ibid., 194-5

107 Ibid., 195-6

108 Ibid., 197

109 Amihai Mazar and Christopher Bronk Ramsey, ‘C14 Dates and the Iron Age Chronology of Israel: A Response’, Radiocarbon 50 (2008), pp. 159-180 (p. 172)

110 Ibid., pp. 162-171

111 The ‘Old Wood effect’ refers to a concern in dating wood and charcoal that it could come from a tree whose death long predates its use at a site in a building or as fuel, see Robert L. Kelly, David Hurst Thomas, Archaeology 6th ed. (Belmont: Wadsworth, 2010), pp. 139-141

112 A. Mazar, Ramsey, ‘C14 Dates and the Iron Age Chronology of Israel: A Response’, p. 175

113 Ibid., p. 176

Israel Finkelstein and the Low Chronology

Finkelstein has stated confidently that radiocarbon dating has provided absolute dating support to his Low Chronology. He recognises that radiocarbon dating is itself not precise enough to resolve the chronology of ancient Israel, but states that in combination with stratigraphic, ceramic and historical information and resulting Bayesian analysis, it supports his interpretation114. In particular Finkelstein has focused on the radiocarbon dating of the important sites and their strata, in particular Megiddo VIA to VA-IVB, and on Iron Age destruction events at various sites throughout Israel.

An initial major linchpin in the LC was the date of the destruction the stratum VIA at Megiddo. This was the last Iron I stratum and precedes building phases previously viewed as Solomonic. Finkelstein originally viewed it as having been destroyed by Sheshonq in the late 10th century and stated that then-current radiocarbon dating supported this115. Newer radiocarbon results have moved Finkelstein to put the destruction of stratum VIA back to the early 10th century, but he has remained firm in his conclusion of placing the beginning of Iron IIA at Megiddo in the late 10th century BC. It should be noted that Finkelstein’s own averaging of the radiocarbon dates for Megiddo stratum VA-IVB, the main Iron IIA stratum that contains large public buildings ascribed to Solomon, on their own are not so clear or precise as to be a resolution and could fit either his LC or a higher chronology116. His conclusion seems to come in the Bayesian modelling which looks for a date range of a wider geographical transition from Iron I to IIA, and thus incorporates dates from multiple sites. It also means equating Megiddo VA-IVB with strata at other sites, as Finkelstein does for other sites with later radiocarbon averaged dates, such as Hazor IX, Rehov IV and Dor D2/8b. His modelling puts the transition in the last few decades of the 9th century, and to him verifies his view of the major structures of VA-IVB most likely being built by the Omrides and not by Solomon117.

Finkelstein has connected radiocarbon dates of destruction layers at important sites in Israel to historical events which he views as having likely caused them, with specific reference to the military actions of the Aramaeans from the north in the 9th century BC and possibly later, as well as earlier events mentioned below. For the end of the Iron IIA period, Finkelstein appears to agree with Amihai Mazar’s conclusion that the end of this period can be placed at the end of the 9th century BC. He notes in particular the destruction of stratum IV at Tel es-Safi, the biblical city of Gath, which is indicated in radiocarbon dating as ending in the late 9th century BC and is connected by Finkelstein with the capture of that city in 2 Kings 12:17118.

Concerning the start of the more pivotal transition from late Iron I to early Iron IIA, Finkelstein’s more recent thinking seems to have come around to a position similar to that mentioned for Megiddo above regarding the end of late Iron I. Firstly he has come to accept the possibility that destruction layers relating to this period need not necessarily appear in connection to the invasion of Pharaoh Sheshonq in the late 10th century BC, nor do they absolutely signal the immediate end of this period. In fact Finkelstein now views the end of late Iron I as having been a gradual process starting in early 10th century and occurring in two waves in the north, for which most data are available, with some sites but not all having actual destruction layers. Finkelstein’s modelling of radiocarbon dates indicates to him that sites in the western Jezreel Valley and Acco plain including Megiddo form a group destroyed circa 1046-996 BC and sites in the eastern Jezreel Valley and Sea of Galilee including Tel Rehov were destroyed 974-915119. Finkelstein has therefore concluded that the end of the late Iron I cannot be connected to one event in entirety, specifically neither David’s nor Sheshonq’s conquests, but more likely to the expansion of the Israelite ‘polity’, remembered in some early texts such as the Song of Deborah120.

Despite this shift, Finkelstein’s thinking regarding transition from Iron I to IIA and the true beginning of Iron IIA throughout the country has remained the same since radiocarbon dating has entered the debate. Finkelstein’s Bayesian modelling places Tel Rehov stratum VI, that site’s earliest Iron IIA level, from circa 924 to 895 BC121. Stratum V, a destruction layer succeeding VI, is placed at circa 918-851 BC, likely too late to be destroyed by Sheshonq and more likely connected with the Aramaean assault on the Northern Kingdom by Ben-Hadad, with later desertions at sites such as Gath, Hazor and Tel-Hammah connected to later Aramaean conflicts122. So despite admitting to a gradual shift from Iron I to IIA, Finkelstein concludes that his current Bayesian models do not place a firm start for Iron IIA before the second half of the 10th century BC, more specifically its last few decades, and thus they are in line with the LC.

114 Israel Finkelstein, Eli Piasetzky, ‘Radiocarbon Dated Destruction Layers: A Skeleton for Iron Age Chronology in the Levant’, Oxford Journal of Archaeology 28 (2009), pp. 255-274 (pp. 255, 257-258)

115 Israel Finkelstein, Neil Asher Silberman, The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts (New York: Touchstone, 2001), p. 141

116 Israel Finkelstein, Eli Piasetzky, ‘Radiocarbon, Iron IIA Destruction and the Israel – Aram Damascus Conflicts in the 9th Century BC’, Ugarit-Forschungen 39 (2007), pp. 261-276 (p. 266); Finkelstein, Piasetzky, ‘The Iron Age Chronology Debate: Is the Gap Narrowing?’, p. 51

117 Israel Finkelstein, Eli Piasetzky, ‘Radiocarbon dating the Iron Age in the Levant: a Bayesian model for six ceramic phases and six transitions’, Antiquity 84 (2010), pp. 374-385 (pp. 381-382)

118 Finkelstein, Piasetzky, ‘The Iron Age Chronology Debate: Is the Gap Narrowing?’, p. 50-51; Finkelstein, Piasetzky, Radiocarbon Dated Destruction Layers: A Skeleton for Iron Age Chronology in the Levant’, p. 265

119 Finkelstein, Piasetzky, ‘The Iron Age Chronology Debate: Is the Gap Narrowing?’, p. 51; Finkelstein, Piasetzky, Radiocarbon Dated Destruction Layers: A Skeleton for Iron Age Chronology in the Levant’, pp. 266, 268

120 Ibid., 267

121 Finkelstein, Piasetzky, ‘Radiocarbon, Iron IIA Destruction and the Israel – Aram Damascus Conflicts in the 9th Century BC’, p. 268

122 Ibid., 270-273

Amihai Mazar and the Modified Conventional Chronology

Unlike with the LC, Mazar was prompted to formulate the MCC directly from both pottery and radiocarbon dating, especially from results at Tel Rehov where he directs excavations, having previously followed the HC. The MCC is a modification of a previous scheme of Aharoni and Amiran from 1958, essentially a variant of the HC with a long duration for the period starting at 1000 BC and continuing all the way to the later 9th century BC. The MCC proposes to lower the approximate date of the Iron I to IIA transition to 980 BC and continue the Iron IIA through to 840-830 BC123. It is appropriate here to look at these two points and how they have been formulated and now defended by Mazar.

Mazar’s original proposal of the MCC indicates that his placement of the date of the Iron I to IIA transition was based upon contemporary radiocarbon studies, including at Rehov for which he was involved with the Bayesian modelling. This modelling takes into account dates for the final Iron I stratum, D-3, and the dates for the earliest Iron IIA stratum, VI124. The modelling then estimates a boundary phase between them. The 1σ range for this was modelled as 992-961 BC, with peak probability at 970 BC, with a 2σ range at 998-921 BC. With these dates and the fact that the lowest dates at the 2σ range were modelled at a low probability, Mazar saw this as a support for dating the transition at circa 980 BC125. Aside from Rehov, Mazar has also seen justification for this upper date in two other places. First, he notes the conclusions that both he and Finkelstein have drawn with regards to the end of Iron I at other sites including Megiddo VIA, its destruction in the early 10th century BC126. Second, he has argued in a similar manner for strata which mark the beginning of Iron IIA, including two 10th century radiocarbon dates for strata VA-IVB at Megiddo and a date of between 1000-930 BC at Bethsaida127. Mazar also sees this earlier transition confirmed in radiocarbon dates from the controversial site of Khirbet Qeiyafa, now one the most important sites outside the physical territory of the Northern Kingdom or Jordan128. The site as discussed in Chapter 1 seems to have had its main occupation around the Iron I-IIA transition, and radiocarbon dates for the site do indicate a relatively short settlement in the late 11th and early 10th enturies BC before destruction129. Additionally, Mazar has rejected a suggestion that the Iron I continued on into a later time at an eastern group of sites in the north, namely Rehov but also nearby Tel Hadar, based upon Mazar’s own modelling of Tel Hadar’s destruction to 1043-979 BC, similar to Megiddo, as well as the fact that some other sites do not feature an Iron I destruction layer and therefore cannot be used to conclude a solid end for Iron I130.

For the end of the Iron IIA period, Mazar’s conclusion of circa 840/830 BC is based upon two considerations. As with the Iron I to IIA transition, individual site dates and Bayesian modelling were involved, backing up conclusions made on pottery. Mazar accepts the conclusions of the excavators of Beth-Shemesh that stratum S-3 contains pottery indicative of a transitional phase between Iron IIA and the next period, Iron IIB and radiometric dates put this stratum in the early 8th century BC, possibly being destroyed during the North-South conflict in the time of Jehoash of Israel. Therefore, to Mazar, Iron IIA as a distinct period must have ended earlier131. Mazar was also of course influenced by his radiocarbon results from Tel Rehov, for the destruction of stratum IV, the last Iron IIA stratum. These results for samples from a burnt building occurred across a somewhat imprecise span including the late 10th century, but with the highest reasonable probability for the mid-to-later 9th century, up to 833 BC, from both the 1σ and 2σ ranges132. Other samples were less clear but at least seemed to not rule out the later 9th century for the end of this stratum133. Mazar’s final conclusion is that these dates support the MCC’s end for the Iron IIA by 830 BC134.

The other factor that has influenced Mazar in this matter is the calibration curve. The curve, frustratingly, has two plateaux in places important for discerning the beginnings and endings of Iron Age I and IIA, in the last third of the 10th century BC and between 880 and 830 BC135. This means that the curve, in the sense of its physical representation, does not have distinct enough variations for this period, so a raw radiocarbon date from this period could as a result match a wider span of dates than otherwise, making it less precise. Somewhat more accuracy can be achieved with Proportional Gas Counting, the oldest radiocarbon dating laboratory process, but this requires more of the physical sample than the newer laboratory process of Accelerator Mass Spectrometry136.

123 Amihai Mazar, ‘The Debate over the Chronology of the Iron Age in the Southern Levant’ in The Bible and Radiocarbon Dating, ed. by Thomas Levy and Thomas Higham (London: Equinox, 2005), pp. 13-28 (pp. 14, 19-21)

124 The numbering of strata at Rehov begins with a letter when it refers to a strata within a particular excavation area, which is necessary as strata at a local point may not be reflected across the entirety of a site, or may not be clearly contemporary with other local strata.

125 Hendrik J. Bruins, Johannes van der Plicht, Amihai Mazar, Christopher Bronk Ramsey, Sturt W. Manning, ‘The Groningen Radiocarbon Series From Tel Rehov’, in The Bible and Radiocarbon Dating, ed. by Thomas Levy and Thomas Higham (London: Equinox, 2005), pp. 271-293 (pp. 286-288)

126 Amihai Mazar, ‘The Iron Age Chronology Debate: Is the Gap Narrowing? Another Viewpoint’, Near Eastern Archaeology 74:2 (2011), pp. 105-111 (p. 106)

127 A. Mazar, ‘The Debate over the Chronology of the Iron Age in the Southern Levant’, p. 25; A. Mazar, Ramsey, ‘C14 Dates and the Iron Age Chronology of Israel: A Response’, p. 171

128 Amihai Mazar, Christopher Bronk Ramsey, ‘A Response to Finkelstein and Piazetsky’s Criticism and ‘New Perspective’’, Radiocarbon 52 (2010), pp. 1681-1688 (p.1686); Yosef Garfinkel, Katharina Streit, Saar Ganor, Michael G. Hasel, ‘State Formation in Judah: Biblical Tradition, Modern Historical Theories, and Radiometric Dates at Khirbet Qeiyafa’, Radiocarbon 54 (2012), pp. 359-369 (p. 359)

129 Ibid., pp. 363-366

130 A. Mazar, Ramsey, ‘A Response to Finkelstein and Piazetsky’s Criticism and ‘New Perspective’’, p. 1685

131 A. Mazar, ‘The Iron Age Chronology Debate: Is the Gap Narrowing? Another Viewpoint’, p. 107

132 Amihai Mazar, Hendrik J. Bruins, Nava Panitz-Cohen, Johannes van der Plicht, ‘Ladder of Time at Tel Rehov’, in The Bible and Radiocarbon Dating, ed. by Thomas Levy and Thomas Higham (London: Equinox, 2005), pp. 193-255 (pp. 243-244)

133 Ibid., pp. 246-250

134 Ibid., p. 254

135 Ibid., p. 213; A. Mazar, ‘The Debate over the Chronology of the Iron Age in the Southern Levant’, p. 20

136 A. Mazar, ‘Ladder of Time’, pp. 213-14; PGC turns the sample into a gas and county β-particles emitted, whereas AMS simply uses a particle accelerator to break up a sample which is then analysed to determine the ration of C14 to other carbon isotopes.

Thomas Levy and the Chronology of Khirbet en-Nahas

As part of his long term project of survey and excavation of historical metalworking in Jordan, Levy has excavated at the copper-production site of Khirbet en-Nahas137 in the lowlands of the Biblical region of Edom. Here he has put into practice his preference for high precision radiocarbon dating, and has also collaborated in Bayesian analysis of the results. The site of KEN consists of multiple buildings and mounds of copper slag, as well as a large square fortress structure featuring a four-chambered gate. The site has produced more than 100 radiocarbon results138.

Area A, containing the gate, is of upmost importance. The lowest stratum above bedrock, A4a, sits below and precedes the actual construction of the gate, showing evidence of metalworking and slag waste. A radiocarbon date from this stratum was calibrated at 1130-970 BC, and its inclusion in Bayesian modelling gave the highest likelihood for this stratum as 1120 BC139. Other samples which appear to have infiltrated into the above stratum also point to metalworking in at least the 11th century BC140. The construction of the gate itself in stratum A3, after removing infiltrating samples from strata above and below, was initially indicated by one radiocarbon sample which dated 1000-985 BC in the 1σ range, but Bayesian modelling with dates from other Area A strata puts its construction apparently later, in the 10th century BC and certainly by 900 BC141. The gate’s re-use for smelting activities is seen in radiocarbon dates for the rest of the 9th century, when the gate was not in defensive use142.

Two other areas, M and S, have also produced interesting results. Area S contained a building used for metallurgical processing. Lower strata, S4 and S3, beneath the building gave radiocarbon dates of the 11th and 10th centuries BC, and it is suggested by Levy that stratum S3, which includes the beginning of large scale metal production, corresponds to A3 and the main use of the fortress gate in the 10th century143. The building itself appears to have been built in stratum S2b, and though the radiocarbon dates are wide and overlap with the 10th century BC somewhat, Levy posits its construction in the mid-9th century BC based on the results144. Area M has a similar situation, with a building constructed in stratum M2 overlaying two previous strata, M3 and M4, M3 being a large mound of slag from metalworking145. Bayesian analysis indicates to Levy that metalworking in area M most likely began circa 950 BC though the modelling leaves room for an earlier date, and that the building in area M was constructed at the end of the 10th century or during the 9th, with metalworking coming to an end in the later 9th century146. Thus the results are similar to areas S and A, and indicate to Levy a period of copper production at the site from approximately the 12th to 9th centuries BC with associated building activity as understood from the radiocarbon dating147. These results are significant for the debate from the perspective of discerning the degree of organisation in the southern Levant during the 10th century BC. These results show large scale metal extraction and production actually preceded the traditional period of the United Monarchy and continued to occur both during and after the 10th century. This was accompanied by a major construction project during the 10th century BC, the fortress and its gate, followed by further building activity in the 9th century. Therefore, KEN shows that a deliberate, managed and large scale economic activity was not foreign to the southern Levant in the 10th century BC, and indicates that the Edom area, bordering the United Monarchy, witnessed complex and organised activity around the time of the United Monarchy, adding a reasonable background to David and Solomon’s dealings with Edom.

137 Hereafter in this chapter abbreviated to KEN

138 Thomas Levy, Mohammad Najjar, Thomas Higham, ‘Ancient texts and archaeology revisited: radiocarbon and Biblical dating in the southern Levant’, Antiquity 84 (2010), pp. 834-847 (p. 843); Thomas Levy, Thomas Higham, Christopher Bronk Ramsey, Neil G. Smith, Erez Ben-Yosef, Mark Robinson, Stefan Münger, Kyle Knabb, Jürgen P.Schulze, Mohammad Najjar, Lisa Tauxe, ‘High-precision radiocarbon dating and historical biblical archaeology in southern Jordan’, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 105 (2008), pp. 16460-16465 (pp. 16460-16461)

139 Thomas Levy, Russel B. Adams, Mohammad Najjar, Andreas Hauptmann, James D. Anderson, Baruch Brandl, Mark A. Robinson, Thomas Higham, ‘Reassessing the Chronology of Biblical Edom: new excavations and C14 dates from Khirbat en-Nahas (Jordan)’, Antiquity 78 (2004), pp. 863-876 (p. 871)

140 Ibid., p. 871; Thomas Levy, Mohammad Najjar, Johannes van der Plicht, Niel Smith, Hendrik J. Bruins, Thomas Higham, ‘Lowland Edom and the High and Low Chronologies’, in The Bible and Radiocarbon Dating, ed. by Thomas Levy and Thomas Higham (London: Equinox, 2005), pp. 129-163 (pp. 138-139)

141 Levy et al., ‘Lowland Edom and the High and Low Chronologies’, p. 134; Thomas, Higham, Johannes van der Plicht, Christopher Bronk Ramsey, Hendrik J. Bruins, Mark Robinson, Thomas Levy, ‘Radiocarbon Dating of the Khirbat en-Nahas Site (Jordan)and Bayesian Modelling of the Results’, in The Bible and Radiocarbon Dating, ed. by Thomas Levy and Thomas Higham (London: Equinox, 2005), pp. 164-178 (p. 170); Neil Smith, Thomas Levy, ‘The Iron Age Pottery from Khirbat en-Nahas, Jordan: A Preliminary Study’, BASOR 352 (2008), pp. 1-51 (pp. 47-48)

142 Higham et al., ‘Radiocarbon Dating of the Khirbat en-Nahas Site (Jordan)and Bayesian Modelling of the Results’, pp. 170-2

143 Levy et al., ‘Reassessing the Chronology of Biblical Edom’ pp. 872-3; Levy et al., ‘Lowland Edom and the High and Low Chronologies’, p. 149; Higham et al., ‘Radiocarbon Dating of the Khirbat en-Nahas Site (Jordan)and Bayesian Modelling of the Results’, pp. 172-3

144 Levy et al., ‘Lowland Edom and the High and Low Chronologies’, p. 151

145 Levy et al., ‘High-precision radiocarbon dating and historical biblical archaeology in southern Jordan’, p. 16461

146 Ibid., pp. 16463-16464

147 Ibid., p. 16461; Levy et al., ‘Lowland Edom and the High and Low Chronologies’, p. 155; Thomas Levy, Mohammad Najjar, ’Some thoughts on Khirbat en-Nahas, Edom, Biblical History and Anthropology - A Response to Israel Finkelstein’, Tel Aviv 33, pp. 107-122 (p. 15)


It is clear from the above results, especially with regards to the Iron Age Dating Project, that radiocarbon dating is simply not the absolute solution to resolving the chronology dispute for the Iron Age IIA and United Monarchy. Aside from the inbuilt imprecision with the technique and the calibration curve for individual dates, even Bayesian analysis, though helpful, only produces a probabilistic distribution for the dating range of a stratum or the transition between strata. Amihai Mazar and his collaborator Christopher Bronk Ramsey, a pioneer in computer-based calibration and Bayesian analysis, have now come to preach caution in the technique’s use148. There are some problems that it cannot resolve or manoeuvre around, such as the fact that dating samples tend to come from the later dates in time of the occupation within a particular stratum or period. This is not so much a problem for the end of Iron I, but it is a problem for trying to find the start of Iron IIA and the transition between the two periods, therefore potentially leading to a misleading model149. An additional issue arises in mixing together dates from a number of sites to attempt to get a large overall model for all regions of Israel in the Iron Age, as this does not give enough weight to potential differences between different regions and sites in their historical shift between periods and might assume a homogeneity that might not necessarily be present. Some regions or sites, conceivably, may have shifted out of Iron I and into Iron IIA later or earlier than others. Therefore Mazar argues for examination of individual sites on their own merits150. The data for a complete consideration of Iron Age IIA and the United Monarchy cannot really be said to be complete anyway. Though two of the debated ‘Solomonic’ sites Hazor and Megiddo have provided radiocarbon dates, the third, Gezer, has not yet produced published radiocarbon dates, though it is the intention of the current expedition to do so once suitable short- lived samples are found151. Lastly, Ramsey and Mazar note the high sensitivity of Bayesian models to addition or deletion of dates arising from new data or a decision to regard a result as an outlier, therein potentially changing the results considerably152.

The issues mentioned above go some way to discerning why the same radiocarbon dates analysed by the same technique, Bayesian analysis, produce different models and different historical conclusions about the data as a result. Ramsey is particularly concerned about the effect of an uneven or biased distribution of radiocarbon samples across strata or sites and the problem mentioned above of a tendency towards samples from the later life of a stratum. If samples were evenly distributed as if they had come from a series of neat destruction layers of a specific period across several sites, then the picture might be clearer. But as it is, radiocarbon samples are simply not so evenly distributed as to provide precise definition for the start and end of specific periods153. Nor are the Bayesian models applied to the data, as well as the interpretation of the models and connections between events they might point to, likely to be performed and applied in the same way by different practitioners154. This can lead to the clearly different outcomes as presented in particular by Finkelstein and Mazar.

Writing on the matter of Iron Age Levantine chronology, Aegean archaeologist Susan Sherratt has come to question the degree to which radiocarbon dating can be used to construct an exact chronology and thereby write history of the Biblical era. Sherratt states that in order to do so, an exact year by year chronology as might emerge from a king list is needed. Though this may appear to be a reasonable aim with high precision calibration with a good dendrochonological record, Sherratt is doubtful that radiocarbon dating can really clarify history, even if it can appear to rule in or out a hypothesis about a historical person or event155. For example, it might indicate Sheshonq’s destruction of Rehov V, but not really anything more156. In the end, Sherratt views radiocarbon dating as simply unable to provide the fine resolution needed to draw historical inference and as such cautions against simply compiling a large group of radiocarbon dates and turning the results into a history that does not consider the relevant texts, as all that results is a pseudo-history centred on archaeological events157. Sherratt reaches the conclusion that with consideration of the results of the excavations at KEN and Rehov in combination the Iron Age Dating Project, the traditional chronology appears to only be out by the archaeologically insignificant period of about 20 years and there is little resolution within a period of about 150 years anyway, covering the time of both the United Monarchy and the Omrides158. It is worth noting that Finkelstein has made comments to the effect that radiocarbon dating of destruction layers cannot be convincingly attributed to early events as described in the Bible, but this appears to be based upon his a priori stance on the historicity of biblical events that the Bible would place before the 9th century159.

148 A. Mazar, ‘The Iron Age Chronology Debate: Is the Gap Narrowing? Another Viewpoint’, p. 105

149 A. Mazar, Ramsey, ‘C14 Dates and the Iron Age Chronology of Israel: A Response’, pp. 178-179

150 A. Mazar, ‘The Iron Age Chronology Debate: Is the Gap Narrowing? Another Viewpoint’, p. 105

151 Steven Ortiz, personal communication, SBL Annual Meeting, 25th November 2013; Steven Ortiz, Samuel Wolff, ‘Guarding the Border to Jerusalem: The Iron Age City of Gezer’, Near Eastern Archaeology 75:1 (2012), pp. 4-19

152 A. Mazar, Ramsey, ‘C14 Dates and the Iron Age Chronology of Israel: A Response’, p. 179

153 Christopher Bronk Ramsey, ‘Improving the resolution of radiocarbon dating by statistical analysis’, p. 61

154 Ibid., p. 60

155 Susan Sherratt, ‘High Precision Dating and Archaeological Chronologies: Revisiting an old problem’, in The Bible and Radiocarbon Dating, ed. by Thomas Levy and Thomas Higham (London: Equinox, 2005), pp. 114-125 (p. 115); Of course without clear evidence it is difficult to say how a destruction layer is to be tied to an event or ruler otherwise attested, and no criteria for doing so other than a vague indication in the C14 dates seems to abound, which is part of the point made by Sherratt.

156 Ibid., p .120

157 Ibid., pp. 116, 119; Certainly it is a pseudo-history from the fact that a history done without some sort of text must struggle to actually be a history.

158 Ibid., p. 120

159 Finkelstein, Piasetzky, ‘Radiocarbon Dated Destruction Layers: A Skeleton for Iron Age Chronology in the Levant’, p. 267


All of these considerations could then leave a poor impression of the usefulness of radiocarbon dating, but Levy has simply warned against trying to push its precision beyond what it is capable of. Instead he acknowledges that scholars should accept its limits and use it as only one line of evidence amongst others160. The caution he advocates here is in a similar vein to Amihai Mazar’s view but in contrast to that of Finkelstein, who seems to place more emphasis on its usefulness for addressing historical problems. The question then arises as to which of these models currently makes best use of radiocarbon dating. Two classes of factor have been considered in this chapter. The first is more broad and the second focused on specific sites. On the broader side, factors have been the limitations of radiocarbon dating as a method such as the problematic nature calibration curve and other issues mentioned above, difficulties with calibration particularly around the late 10th and early 9th centuries, the need to consider sites on their own and potential differences in shifts from Iron I to IIA between them, and the difficulty in translating radiocarbon results into solid chronological and historical conclusions. On the more site-specific side, factors have been the end of Iron I at Megiddo in either the early or late 10th century BC and the available dates for the transition into Iron IIA, the evidence of large scale metalworking and potential associated state and economic development in Edom before and during the 10th century BC, the dates at Tel Rehov and dates at other sites such as Khirbet Qeiyafa. With these criteria considered, the best current fit out of the primary models discussed is Amihai Mazar’s Modified Conventional Chronology. With its wider span for the Iron Age IIA, the MCC accommodates more easily the difficulties with radiocarbon dating and calibration, in particular the plateaux on the calibration curve of at the end of the 10th and during the 9th centuries BC, allowing more flexibility with the imprecision of the technique. This long period also allows for the easier integration of the potential differences from site to site of their transition from Iron I to IIA, rather than a single short date range that all sites must fit into. Its higher date for the approximation of this transition fits more soundly with the radiocarbon dates for the end of the Iron I at Megiddo and the transition into Iron IIA. Indeed, in a newly available publication of dates from Megiddo, a single date for Megiddo’s early Iron IIA Stratum VB is provided as 996-925 BC at 1σ and 1041-898 at 2σ, and the transition from Iron I to IIA at Megiddo is placed conservatively at 985-935 BC. Therefore the authors here, including Finkelstein, admit that this dating is too non-specific for Megiddo to provide a decisive decision between his and Amihai Mazar’s chronologies. The MCC also allows more easily for the Iron IIA or possibly late Iron I site of Khirbet Qeiyafa, as its dates tend clearly towards the earlier part of the 10th century BC at least. It also fits better with radiocarbon indications of the early development of organised construction and metal processing at Khirbet en-Nahas, which shows metal processing going back to possibly the 11th century BC and would be potentially out of place in the broader context of the less-developed Iron I in the southern Levant. Finally, the wide span of the Iron IIA and Mazar’s more open and less absolutist thoughts about potential historical causes of destruction events at Tel Rehov make the MCC less dependent on claims of the attribution of destruction layers throughout Israel to one or other invaders or campaigns such as Sheshonq or the Aramaeans. In any event this would seem to be potentially methodologically unsound and difficult to convincingly substantiate in any event, at least given the current degree of accuracy in radiocarbon dating.

160 Levy, Frese, ‘The Four Pillar of the Iron Age Low Chronology’, p. 197

161 Michael B. Toffolo, Eran Arie, Mario A. S. Martin, Elisabetta Boaretto, Israel Finkelstein, The Absolute Chronology of Megiddo, Israel in the Late Bronze and Iron Ages: High-Resolution Radiocarbon Dating’ Radiocarbon (Forthcoming), pp. 18, 20-21; I greatly thank Israel Finkelstein for providing an advance proof copy of this article for this thesis.

Destructions as Historical Markers towards the end of the 2nd and during the 1st millennium BC in Southern Levant

Destructions as period markers

Iron Age in ancient Palestine is - at a rough synthesis - marked by 5 major destructive events, that basically distinguish the beginning, the end and its sub-periods, which this essay deals with8. Inside these centuries there are other minor destructions, not necessarily interpreted as outcomes of macro-events and not always related to many different sites.

The first group of destructive events roughly marks the end of the Egyptian-Canaanean system and the beginning of the Iron Age I, within an articulated and strongly differentiated panorama.

Looking at the destructions as archaeological milestones is preferable to follow not the traditional chronology, that termed the first part of 12th century BC “Iron Age IA” (contemporary to the 20th Dynasty in Egypt)9, but the revised one, that refers to it as “Late Bronze III”10. While the chronology and the nature of the initial Philistine settlement in Philistia remains partly disputed11, the continuity of Canaanite and especially Egyptian centers at certain lowland sites such as Megiddo VIIA, Lachish VI, and Beth Shean VI12, points to an attribution of this lapse of time to the preceding cultural period13. The largest and powerful Canaanite city, Hazor14, was indeed destroyed at the end of conventional Late Bronze (§ 3.3.1.), while most of other sites showed a strong continuity almost until the final part of 12th century BC. The end of the control and of the Egyptian presence in Canaan occurred during the reigns of Ramses IV-VI15, with the invasion of the Sea Peoples until ca. 1140-1130 BC. This last date can be alternatively considered the beginning of Iron Age I16 or the passage to Iron Age IB17.

The end of Iron Age I (then the beginning of Iron Age IIA) is probably the most questioned topic in recent years, since its beginning has been strongly lowered by a number of scholars, headed by I. Finkelstein. In spite of a partial disagreement about the absolute dating of the beginning and the end of the period (that seems to be slowly narrowing in these last years)18, it is remarkable that the attribution of single strata to the archaeological periodization it is often the same. Then, if there is not a definitive consensus about when (in absolute dating) and by whom and/or by what some determined settlements were destroyed, conversely there is an agreement about which strata of such sites were destroyed at the end of Iron Age IB/beginning of Iron Age IIA. I just mention a few examples Megiddo VIA (§ 3.1.1.), Tell Qasile X (§ 3.3.2.), Yokneam XVII19, Tell Keisan 9a20.

The Egyptian raid of Pharaoh Shoshenq I to Canaan ca. 925-92021 BC, an event mentioned in 1 Kings 14:25-28 (§ 2.2.2.), has been at length used as chronological peg for the end of Iron Age IIA (see the Conventional Chronology in tab. 1), with several destruction strata along the country traditionally attributed to it. Only recently it has been integrated inside the period (about at its midpoint), without any specific connotation of “epoch marker” (§ 3.2.2.)22.

The third series of destructions is associated to conflicts between Israel and Aram-Damascus throughout the 9th century BC, that, especially in the north, fix the end of Iron Age IIA. This datum, known by the sources (§§ 2.2.3.; 2.3.2.), has been deepened by radiocarbon measurements and comparative study of material culture, strengthening the idea of a long duration for the Iron Age IIA, spreading over both 10th and 9th centuries BC (§ 3.2.2.).

Table 1

Chronological span of Iron Age IIA as defined by different chronologies, with related definition and proposer.

Fiaccavento (2014)

The historical datum line for transition from Iron Age IIA to Iron Age IIB in the south (especially in Judah) is still under debate: with the lowering of the chronology it was attributed alternatively to the earthquake which occurred in the days of King Uzziah in ca. 760 BC (Jeroboam II in Israel) (§ 3.1.2.), or to the beginning of the 8th century BC, coinciding with military struggles between the reign of Israel and that of Judah, reported also in the Bible (§ 2.2.4.)

The second part of the Iron Age, Iron Age IIB and Iron Age IIC (840/800/760-732/722/70127 and 732/722/701-604/58628 BC respectively), is less disputed, as it rests on solid archaeological and historical ground29. Both the destructive campaigns of conquest carried on by the Assyrian empire in the late 8th century BC (§ 3.2.3.), than those conducted by the neo-Babylonians in late 7th - early 6th centuries BC (§ 3.2.4.) are well attested on the ground, in external historical written sources (§§ 2.3.3 - 2.3.4.) and in Bible too (§§ 2.2.4 - 2.2.5.).

8 The chronological framework constructed by I. Finkelstein and E. Piasetzky (2010b; 2011) proposes eight ceramic phases and eight transitions which cover ca. 400 years, between the late 12th and mid-8th centuries BC. This model provides for three sub-phases in the Iron Age I (early, middle, late), two for the Iron Age IIA (early and late), one transitional Iron IIA/B (or terminal IA IIA) and one for Iron Age IIB and Iron Age IIC.

9 Mazar 1990, 295-230; 2008; Stern 1993, 1529.

10 According to Ussishkin’s terminology Late Bronze III spans the period ca. 1300-1130 BC (1985; 2004, 75), the time of the Egyptian 20th Dynasty presence in Canaan. This kind of chronological subdivision is followed also by Finkelstein and Piasetzky (2011, 52, fig. 2; 2010a), in whose opinion Early Iron Age I is dated to ca. 1130-1050 BC (see also Nigro in this volume, 263-266).

11 The commonly accepted date of Philistine settlement in Southern Canaan is 13th - beginning of 12th centuries BC, during the time of 20th Dynasty, probably following Ramesses III 8th-year battle against the Sea Peoples (Dothan 2000; Mazar 2008a, 90-94, with previous references); a lower date for this event, namely at the end of 12th century BC, on the basis of the absence of the local Monochrome Pottery at sites as Lachish, was proposed by Ussishkin (1985, 222-223; 2004, 7273; 2007) and followed by Finkelstein (1995).

12 Beth Shean Lower VI (University of Pennsylvania), equivalent to Strata S-3, N-4, Q-1 of recent excavations (Hebrew University - Panitz-Cohen - Mazar eds. 2009).

13 A. Mazar (1992, 290-292, 296-297; 2008, 87) underlined that the Canaanite culture continued even later, into the 11th century BC, such as in the Jezreel and Beth Shean valleys, as well as in the Coastal Plain from Dor northwards. In spite of the acknowledgement of the disappearance of some important LBA features, as international trade connections, and introduction of new ethnic components (initial settlement of Philistines and other Sea Peoples along the southern coastal plain [note 11], and the growth in number of small villages in previously marginal areas, such as the hill country region), the opted choice is to use as distinguishing factor a “catastrophic” event for the region, the end of the Egyptian control over Canaan.

14 In this regard see the proposal moved by A. Zarzecki-Peleg and R. Bonfil (2011) who, including the city in the Mitanni’s sphere of influence, explain the deterioration and collapse of the flourishing LBA Kingdom of Hazor as a secondary result of the fall of the Mitannian empire. This interpretation would well explain also the contrasting continuity displayed by the other major cities of Southern Canaan, such as Beth-Shean, Megiddo, and Lachish, which continued to exist under the aegis of Egypt, even during the 20th Dynasty.

15 Egyptian artifacts found in terminal Late Bronze strata at Lachish (VI) and Megiddo (K6-VIIA) indicate that they survived at least until the days of Ramses IV (1151-1145 BC) and Ramses VI (1141-1133 BC) respectively (Ussishkin 1985 for Megiddo; Lalkin 2004 for Lachish).

16 See note 10.

17 Mazar 2005; 2011, 107, tab. 2; see Nigro in this volume, 263-266.

18 Finkelstein - Piasetzky 2011.

19 Ben-Tor - Zarzecki-Peleg- Cohen-Anidjar 2005, 10-41; Zarzecki-Peleg 2005, 22 23, 35.

20 Humbert 1980, 22-26, tab. 1; 1993, 865-866; Briend 1980, 197-203.

21 The dating of Shoshenq I’s campaign reported in the Bible (the fifth year of Rehoboam’s reign: 925 BC; § 2.2.1.) it is well confirmed by studies based only on internal Egyptian evidence, slightly moving the conventional date (Kitchen 2007, 166-167: 945-924 BC; Shortland 2005, 53: date of accession in the middle of the 940s BC, date of the event: 920 BC ca.), firstly suggested by K. Kitchen (1986, 187-239; 2001).

22 In the “Low Chronology” the Shoshenq’s campaign is used as chronological point of passage between the Iron Age I and Iron Age IIA (see tab. 1).

23 Approximately the time of the “united monarchy” according to the inner-biblical chronology.

24 More recently, as center of the actual debate, see also: Finkelstein - Piasetzky 2006; 2009; 2010a; 2010b; 2011; Finkelstein 2013, 6-10. In this proposed chronology the dating for the early Iron Age IIA is between ca. 940/930 and 880/870 BC, with the end of the period fixed at 760 BC ca. (late Iron Age IIA = 880-760 BC).

25 The Modified Conventional Chronology is principally represented by A. Mazar (since 1997 - Mazar 1990, 40-41; 1997, 163-164; 2008a, 98-99, where he reported who between the archaeologist accepted the long duration for Iron Age IIA, spreading both over 10th and 9th centuries BC), but formerly proposed by Y. Aharoni and R. Amiran (1958).

26 Previously illustrated also in Sharon 2001; Gilboa - Sharon 2001; 2003.

27 Some chronologies prefer, as lower limit of the period, the reduction to provinces of Damascus, Megiddo, Dor and Gilead (732 BC), some other the conquest of Samaria by Shalmaneser V and the destruction of the Kingdom of Israel (722/721 BC), or the conquest of Lachish by Sennacherib (701 BC).

28 This chronological peg depends on the choice of the major destructive event to be considered the period end marker: 604 BC is the date of the conquest and the destruction of Ashkelon in the southern coastal plain, and event marking the definitive general conquest of Philistia, whereas 586 BC is the capture of Jerusalem by the Babylonian army.

29 Anyway, in this case (the late 8th through the early 6th centuries BC) radiocarbon cannot stimulate debate because of the flat section in the calibration curve: “the Hallstatt Plateau”.

Destructions in the Bible


The Deuteronomistic account presents a coherent narrative spanning the conquest of the promised land to the end of the monarchy. Though it contains material from earlier periods30, it is shared opinion that it reached its present form thorough the work of two sets of editors who labored at the end of the 7th century and at the mid of the 6th century BC31. It has been suggested that it preserved historical kernels, even if redrawn a posteriori, in light of successive events.

The peculiar nature of biblical texts (and the point of view of their authors) probably pushed them to use destructions in an ideologically oriented perspective32. Anyway, texts useful to the study of some major period marker destructive events are illustrated below. These major destructions are:
  1. the end of the Late Bronze
  2. Pharaoh Shoshenq’s raid to Canaan
  3. Aram-Damascus war against Israel
  4. Uzziah earthquake
  5. Assyrian campaigns [Samaria takeover, Jerusalem siege and Lachish conquest]
  6. Babylonian conquest

30 I.e. the Song of Deborah, in the Book of Judges, is considered by many to be one of the earliest texts in the Bible (Cross 1973, 100).

31 M. Noth believed that the Books of Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings were part of a single effort, done by a single author during the early Exilic period (6th century BC). Later F.M. Cross (1973) proposed that an early version of the history was composed in Jerusalem in Josiah’s time (late 7th century BC), then revised and expanded during the Exilic Period; the second edition, identified by Noth.

32 Nigro in this volume, iv.

Collapse of Late Bronze Age system in the Deuteronomistic saga

In the Deuteronomistic saga, there are two versions of the conquest and settlement of Canaan by the Israelite tribes. The conquest accounts in the Bible are contradictory, since the two versions displayed in the Book of Joshua and in that of the Judges are opposite. In the first one, the conquest of Canaan is rapid and warlike, whereas the second presents a slow and generally peaceful infiltration, in which the emergence of Israelite element in the hill country coexists with the Canaanites.

The case-study hereby illustrated is the foremost case of the fall of Canaanite capital kingdom of Hazor (Joshua 11:10-13, Judges 4:1-2, 23 24), as the conclusive episode of the conquest. This event is not mentioned in any external document, the Bible being the only source available. Biblical description, in this case, show a violent end of the city, though apparently with a different temporal development.

Shoshenq’s raid to Canaan

The campaign of the founder of the Twenty-Second Dynasty, Shoshenq, illustrated on a wall in the Temple of Amun at Karnak (§ 2.3.1.) and the biblical account in which is reported the payment that King Rehoboam gave him to save Jerusalem is the only match of the biblical text with an external source, related to 10th century BC (§ 2.2.2.).

1 Kings 14:25-26 - 25In the fifth year of King Rehoboam, Shishak king of Egypt attacked Jerusalem. 26He carried off the treasures of the temple of the Lord and the treasures of the royal palace. He took everything, including all the gold shields Solomon had made.

2 Chronicles 12:2-4 - 2Because they had been unfaithful to the Lord, Shishak king of Egypt attacked Jerusalem in the fifth year of King Rehoboam. 3With twelve hundred chariots and sixty thousand horsemen and the innumerable troops of Libyans, Sukkites and Cushites that came with him from Egypt, 4he captured the fortified cities of Judah and came as far as Jerusalem.

Conflicts between Aram-Damascus and Israel

The conflict between Aram-Damascus and the northern reign of Israel in the 9th century BC is reported in several comparable biblical passages. The first, and isolated, hint is about the campaign of Ben-Hadad king of Damascus in the northern part of Israel, in 1 Kings 15:20. This historical event should have taken place around 885 BC33.

1 Kings 15:20 - 20Ben-Hadad listened to King Asa, and sent the commanders of his armies against the cities of Israel. He conquered Ijon, Dan, Abel-beth-maacah, and all Chinneroth, with all the land of Naphtali.

The description of the period of unrest caused by the attacks conducted by Hazael in the late 9th century BC is far more accurate and well documented. According to the Book of Kings, the king of Aram, first conquered Transjordan (2 Kings 10:32-33) and then subjugated the kingdoms of Israel and Judah (e.g. 2 Kings 9; 10:32-33; 13:3, 7, 22, 24). The biblical source describes the event of the double killing of Joram king of Israel and Ahaziah king of Judah in the course of Jehu revolt (2 Kings 9), while the Dan Stela (§ 2.3.2.) recounts that this had been done by Hazael. The alternating events described in the Bible34 seem to have their better match with the archaeological record in 2 Kings 12:17 (and hinted at by prophet Amos), where the campaign of Hazael in Philistia has been clearly linked to the destruction of Tell es-Safi/Gath (§ 3.3.3.).

2 Kings 12:17 - 17Then Hazael king of Aram went up, and fought against Gath, and took it. And Hazael set his face to go up against Jerusalem.

Amos 6:2 - 2Cross over to Calneh, and see; from there go to Hamath the great; then go down to Gath of the Philistines. Are you better than these kingdoms? Or is your territory greater than their territory?

33 Lipinski 2000, 372; contra Finkelstein (2013, 75-76, with previous references) who retains that the description of the campaign is done on the basis of the route of Tiglath-pileser III reported in 2 Kings 15:29, then of a later and not reliable historical redaction.

34 See the reorganization of the order of the historical events, comparing extra biblical texts, and the results of archaeological excavations in Finkelstein 2013, 122-124, tabs. 4-5.

Conflicts between Israel and Judah in early 8th century BC and “Uzziah Earthquake”

A military struggle between Amaziah king of Judah and Jehoash king of Israel at the beginning of 8th century BC, with the destruction of Beth Shemesh, is reported in the book of Kings, and considered a reliable event.

2 Kings 14:11 - 11But Amaziah would not hear. Therefore Jehoash king of Israel went up; and he and Amaziah king of Judah looked one another in the face at Beth Shemesh, which belonged to Judah.

Well-known seismic event dated to ca. 762 BC, the so-called “Uzziah Earthquake”, since it happened at time of King Uzziah of Judah. This event, explicitly mentioned in e.g. Amos 1:1 and Zechariah 14:5 (but this last is a late and less reliable source), for some can be considered the end-point of Iron Age IIA.

Amos 1:1 - 1The words of Amos, who was among the herdsmen of Tekoa, which he saw concerning Israel in the days of Uzziah king of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash king of Israel, two years before the earthquake.

Assyrian campaigns

The campaign conducted by Tiglath-pileser III in the north of the country, against the reign of Israel, is reported to in one passage in 2 Kings 15:29.

2 Kings 15:29 - 29In the days of Pekah king of Israel came Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, and took Ijon, and Abelbethmaachah, and Janoah, and Kedesh, and Hazor, and Gilead, and Galilee, all the land of Naphtali, and carried them captive to Assyria.

The fall of Samaria, capital of the northern Israelite kingdom, by the hands of Shalmaneser V (and not by Sargon II as described in the Assyrian sources; § 2.3.3.) is described twice into the Bible: 2 Kings 17:3-6 and 2 Kings 18:9-11. The texts are parallel with slight differences; we report here just one in 2 Kings 17:3-635.

2 Kings 17:3-6 - 3King Shalmaneser of Assyria came up against him; Hoshea became his vassal, and paid him tribute. 4But the king of Assyria found treachery in Hoshea; for he had sent messengers to King So of Egypt, and offered no tribute to the king of Assyria, as he had done year by year; therefore the king of Assyria confined him and imprisoned him. 5Then the king of Assyria invaded all the land and came to Samaria; for three years he besieged it. 6In the ninth year of Hoshea the king of Assyria captured Samaria; he carried the Israelites away to Assyria. He placed them in Halah, on the Habor, the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.

The campaigns of Sennacherib at the end of the 8th century BC closed the period of conquest of the Assyrian empire in the region, with the submission of the southern reign of Judah. After this event Judah was reduced to the condition of tributary vassal: Jerusalem was spared but the Shephelah was utterly destroyed and Lachish used as military camp of the Assyrian army. These struggling episodes appear in the Old Testament record in 2 Kings 18:13-1536.

2 Kings 18:13-15 - 13In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, King Sennacherib of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and captured them. 14King Hezekiah of Judah sent to the king of Assyria at Lachish, saying, “I have done wrong; withdraw from me; whatever you impose on me I will bear.” The king of Assyria demanded of King Hezekiah of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold. 15Hezekiah gave him all the silver that was found in the house of the Lord and in the treasuries of the king’s house.

35 The scientific tradition on this topic see 2 Kgs 17:3-4 written on the basis of the annals of the Northern Kingdom, and that 2 Kings 17:5-6//18:9-11 were formed by using material from the archives of Jerusalem (Becking 1992, 49, note 8).

36 The passage has its parallel in Isaiah 36-37 and 2 Chronicles 32.

Babylonian campaigns and takeover and destruction of Jerusalem

The last destructive fate for the Southern Levant had the Babylonian name of Nebuchadnezzar II. The destruction of the seaport of the Philistines, Ashkelon, and the end of Philistia in general, is hinted at by the prophecy of Jeremiah: he predicted that Nebuchadnezzar would overwhelm the region.

Jer. 47:4-5 - 4For the day that is coming to destroy all the Philistines, to cut off from Tyre and Sidon every helper that remains. For the Lord is destroying the Philistines, the remnant of the coastland of Caphtor [Crete]. 5Baldness has come upon Gaza, Ashkelon is silenced. O remnant of their power! How long will you gash yourselves?

Nebuchadnezzar’s campaign of conquest and submission of the capital of Judah in 586 BC are detailed in 2 Kings 25 (parallel to 2 Chronicles 36:18 19)37. The story is sadly renown: after two years of siege to the city, the king, his family and his personal guard fled away in direction of the Arabah, but they were caught by the Chaldeans. Zedekiah saw his sons murdered and he was blinded and took captive in Babylon. Jerusalem, and the region of Judah, had a sad fate too:

2 Kings 25:8-12 - 8In the fifth month, on the seventh day of the month – which was the nineteenth year of King Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon – Nebuzaradan, the captain of the bodyguard, a servant of the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem. 9He burned the house of the Lord, the king’s house, and all the houses of Jerusalem; every great house he burned down. 10All the army of the Chaldeans who were with the captain of the guard broke down the walls around Jerusalem. 11Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard carried into exile the rest of the people who were left in the city and the deserters who had defected to the king of Babylon – all the rest of the population. 12But the captain of the guard left some of the poorest people of the land to be vinedressers and tillers of the soil.

37 The alternating episodes that relentlessly led to the final devastation of the reign of Judah in 2 Kings 24 (the deposition of Jehoiachin, the enthronement of Zedekiah, and his rebellion up to the Babylonian attack - Liverani 2003, 201-215) are not here extensively described since not directly referable to “destructive events”.

Destructions in ancient Near Eastern texts


In the following overview main sources referring to the events selected as destructions/period markers in some case recognizable in the archaeological record (§ 3.2.) are enlisted (the sites stroke by Shoshenq I; the Aramaeans wars; the Assyrian conquest; the Babylonian final capture).

Egyptian records

Shoshenq I, founder of the Twenty-Second Dynasty, of Lybyan origin during the Third Intermediate Period, is known to have conducted a military campaign in Palestine. This event, reported into the Biblical text too (§ 2.2.1.), is inscribed on the southern side of the Bubastite Portal of the main temple of Amun at Karnak. The place-name list in this triumph scene is extensive but damaged (names in Rows IV and XI are missing); each inscribed in an oval. After ten introductory heraldic entries (“Nine Bows” plus title), there are 107 names clearly readable (on a total number of ca. 150 toponyms), of which 9 are common to previous lists (these include Megiddo, Taanach, Beth Shean, listed at all times, given their geographic location) and other 98 are unique to Shoshenq I’s list (§ 3.2.1.)38. The historicity of such episode was corroborated also by the retrieval of a fragmented part of a victory stele left at Megiddo by the Pharaoh, unfortunately found out of context39.

38 Kitchen 2003, 32-24, 496.

39 Fisher 1929, figs. 8-9, 60-61.

Aramaic records

The safest archaeological evidence for Aramaean activity in the Kingdom of Israel was uncovered at Dan, where a fragmentary royal Aramaic inscription was recovered in 1993/1994 out of its original context, partly reused in a posterior construction (beginning of 8th century BC)40. The preservation state of such document is partial and the name of the specific Aramaean king who erected the stele had to be restored on the basis of biblical and historical considerations41. The translation obtained resulted as follows:
And Hadad went in front of me [and] I departed from the seven [..] of my kingdom/kings, and I slew [migh]ty kin[gs], who harnessed tho[usand cha]riots and thousands chariot horses. [I killed Jo]ram son of [Ahab], king of Israel, and [I] killed [Ahaz]iahu son of [xx42 kin]g of Beth-David. And I set [their towns into ruins ? and turned] their land into [desolation…]43.
The inscription is strictly linked to the story narrated in 2 Kings. 8:28-29, that helped to integrate the partially broken names, and pointed to recognize in Hazael, king of Aram Damascus, its author. According to the inscription, that diverges to the biblical story, it was Hazael who killed Joram of Israel and Ahaziahu of Judah, and not Jehu (§ 2.2.3.). Probably this last cooperated with the Damascus king, or at least endorsed his overwhelming force, starting his reign as vassal of Damascus44.

40 Biran - Naveh 1993; 1995.

41 Ben-Tor 2000, 12.

42 Biran and Naveh (1995, 13, 17) completed directly with “Jehoram”.

43 Na’aman 1997, 126.

44 Liverani 2003, 127-128.

Assyrian records

The first Assyrian military operations in Israel, conducted by Tiglath-pileser III in answer to the request for help from Ahaz of Judah, is scarcely preserved in the records. The Annals of Tiglath-pileser III mention some Israelite cities which were conquered (but the text is fragmentary) and the number of captive took and deported by each one45.

The subsequent event of destruction is the conquest of Samaria, which is claimed several times in Sargon II’s inscriptions46. In the great Display inscription at Khorsabad (Rooms IV, VII, VIII and X), where the text provides information about Sargon’s military activity and it is framed in a geographical way and without chronological intention, at 23-25 the conquest is referred to:
23. I besieged and conquered Samarina, 24. 27,290 people, who live in its midst, I carried away. 50 chariots I gathered from their midst. The bereaved I taught proper behavior. I appointed my commissioner over them. The levy of the former king 25. I laid upon them.
The last phase of the Assyrian intervention in the region, against the Judean Hezekiah and his energetic polity, was realized in the siege of Jerusalem of 701 (but not in its defeat) and in the devastation of the Shephelah, with assignation of it to the filo-Assyrians Philistine cities, vividly illustrated in monumental reliefs of Sennacherib’s Palace but not described in detail into the Annals47.
As for Hezekiah, the Jew, who did not submit to my yoke, 46 of his strong, walled cities, as well as the small cities in their neighborhood, which were without number, by leveling with battering-rams (?) and by bringing up siege-engines (?), by attacking and storming on foot, by mines, tunnels and breaches (?), I besieged and took (those cities). 200,150 people, great and small, male and female, horses, mules, asses, camels, cattle and sheep, without number, I brought away from them and counted as spoil. Himself, like a caged bird I shut up in Jerusalem his royal city. Earthworks I threw up against him, the one coming out of the city-gate, I turned back to his misery. The cities of his, which I had despoiled, I cut off from his land and to Mitinti, king of Ashdod, Padi, king of Ekron, and Silli-bel king of Gaza, I gave. And (thus) I diminished his land48.

45 Tadmor 1994, 82-83.

46 Becking 1992, 25-45; Pritchard 1969, 284-285.

47 The advance of the Assyrian army into the northern Shephelah passed through the victory against the Egyptians at Eltekeh and the conquest of Timnah (Stratum III), both reported in the Sennacherib’s annals: “..I besieged Eltekeh and Timanah (Ta-am-na-a), conquered (them) and carried their spoils away. I assaulted Ekron..” (Kelm - Mazar 1995, 116-118, fig. 7.2).

48 Luckenbill 1924, 32-33.

Babylonian records

The Babylonian Chronicle covers only the end of the 7th and the beginning of the 6th centuries BC (from 627 to 594 BC). Nebuchadnezzar II conquered all the Syro-Palestinians territories previously subjected to Assyria, and also that independent until that time. Inside the Chronicle this submission is generally presented as spontaneous and bloodless. Anyway inside the campaign to “Ḫatti-Land” (Syria-Palestine), throughout most of the year 604, it is reported the annihilation of Ashkelon, in the Assyrian month of Kislev (November/December) (§ 3.3.5.):
He marched to Ashkelon and in the month Kislev he captured it. He captured its king seized its king, plundered [and sac]ked it. He turned the city into a ruin heap. In the month Shebat he marched away and [returned] to Bab[ylon]49.
The Babylonian account of the destruction of Jerusalem has not reached us. Some consolation is the extant portion of the Babylonian Chronicle that describes Nebuchadnezzar’s campaign in 597 BCE, that is parallel to the Bible (§ 2.2.4.) and accords well with it.
He encamped against the city of Judah and on the second day of Adar, he captured the city (and) seized (its) king. A king of his own choice he appointed in the city (and) taking the vast tribute he brought it into Babylon50.

49 Grayson 1975, 100; Stager 2011, 3.

50 Grayson 1975, 102.

Archaeological evidence


Archaeological destructions are not always ascribable to specific catastrophic events, and it is also difficult to establish if the agent of a destruction was a human one. This becomes more complicated in periods which lack of direct written sources, as the Iron Age I and the beginning of Iron Age IIA. Physical evidence is often similar on the ground51 and the temptation to attribute a destruction layer to a known historical cause has generated frequently many contrasting hypotheses (chronological and interpretative), mainly for the beginning of the period. Conversely, the human brought destructions poured out on the region from the mid to the end of the Iron Age are so manifest archaeologically, and also externally referred (§§ 2.3.3. - 2.3.4.), that there is less contention about it.

51 See further, for distinction criteria between natural and anthropogenic agents.

Natural catastrophes


The Southern Levant is a seismic region, often subjected to earth tremors, sometimes disastrous, with catastrophic consequences over daily life. In fact, it is part of the Dead Sea Transform fault zone, i.e. a plate boundary which accommodates sinistral motion of the Arabia and Sinai tectonic plates52. Along the Iron Age there are two recognized events of this kind, that caused some major ruptures documented in archaeological sites: one at the passage between Iron Age I and Iron Age II (§ 3.1.1.); the second at the end of Iron Age IIA (§ 3.1.2.), reported also in the Bible (§ 2.2.4.). Both seismic events are disputed when the notion of an earthquake occurrence has to be associated with destroyed strata clearly documented on the ground. There is, in fact, no definitive agreement about their wreaking cause.

Recently it has been proposed that also the collapse of Late Bronze system may be associated to an “earthquake storm”, lasted over a 50-year period, that could have occurred in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean ca. 1225-1175 BC, fostering the ongoing socio-political changes53. Criteria for discerning ancient earthquakes are numerous; they were been focused by the young discipline of “Archaeoseismology”54 and described extensively. The most diagnostic ones are collapsed, patched, and/or reinforced walls; bent and warped walls; fractured building stones; dipping stones; crushed skeletons lying under fallen debris; widespread fires and burning; toppled columns lying like parallel toothpicks; and slipped keystones in archways and doorways55. Generally, the distinction between an earthquake-related damage and an anthropogenic one is based also over supportive evidences such as absence or scarcity of implements of war (weapons, military ramps, mass graves - as noticeably evident at Lachish III, § 3.3.4.), historical accounts describing the conquest or historical accounts describing the earthquake56.

Here two cases are illustrated: one is chiefly based over archaeological evidence (§ 3.1.1.), the other on the narrative of the Book of Amos (seen as historical account; § 3.1.2.) and on the attempts to identify it in the archaeological record. .

52 For an overview of historical earthquakes and their related damage in archaeological sites of the Dead Sea fault zone see Marco 2008.

53 Nur - Cline 2000; 2001; Nur 1998.

54 The use of archaeological data to investigate unknown or poorly known historical earthquakes and descriptions of earthquake effects recorded in the archaeological heritage started in the 19th and early 20th century (e.g. Evans 1928). It is only since the 1980s that increased interest in the subject led to the publication of special volumes and articles in seismological and geological journals (Guidoboni - Comastri - Traina 1994).

55 Stiros 1996, appendix 2; Nur - Ron 1997, 50, 52-53.

56 Marco et al. 2006, 569.

A major earthquake at the end of Iron Age I (10th century BC)

The possibility that an earthquake (or of a series of related earthquakes in the same seismic movement, lasted over a period of several years) was the cause of the severe destruction in many sites at the end of the Iron Age I, was recently reasserted by E.H. Cline57.

The pivotal evidence is the total conflagration of Tell el Mutesellim/Megiddo’s Stratum VIA. Hypothesized since the Thirties by P.L.O. Guy58, it is possible to link this dramatic destruction to an earthquake on the basis of several evidences. The destruction stratum reached a meter of height in many spots. It is composed of thick accumulation of burnt mudbricks and partly burnt vessels, remains of charred materials (burnt roof beams and rows of burned wooden posts) and, overall, articulated human skeletons in various contorted poses, killed by falling structures (fig. 1)59. During the renewed excavations was noticed, in Level K-4, that three walls of the courtyard house there discovered (Building 00/K/10), still standing at a height of over 1 m, were distorted, leaning in opposite direction in a wavy manner, and two of them had vertical cracks too60. One of the warped wall was tilted to both sides 12°-15°61.

Fig. 1

Megiddo: Stratum VIA, crushed skeleton and pottery in a domestic structure of Area C (Locus 1745)

(after Harrison 2004, fig. 83, 20)

Fiaccavento (2014)

On the other hand, the absence of weapons from this great destruction stratum, reached in every dug part of the site, should support the hypothesis of a non-human related catastrophe62. The radiocarbon dating of this stratum puts the destruction of late IA I Megiddo in the first half of the 10th century BC or ca. 950 BC.

Other centers seemed to have been destroyed by the same natural agent. At Yokneam, stratum XVII, the city of the terminal phase of Iron Age I, came to an end in a great conflagration: a plethora of vessels on top of the floors, buried beneath collapses, up to 1.5 m high, burnt bricks and charred wood63. At Tell Keisan the stratum 9a ended with a conflagration, that in a house of “Chantier B” left over a meter high destruction stratum, derived from the collapse of walls and ceilings64. At Kinneret/Tell el-cOreme, on the northwestern shores of the Lake of Galilee, clear earthquake traces appear in Stratum V, with structures found bent and displaced, especially in area S where a mudbrick wall collapsed uphill into two rooms, burying a nearly complete household inventory, and evidence of fire is frequent65. The Phoenician town of Dor (Stratum G-7) seems to be possible destroyed by the same natural agent, since in one of the houses was found a heap of fallen stones that sealed half a dozen storage jars and a complete skeleton of a woman, about 40 years old, killed apparently when the structure collapsed66. Tel Hadar/Sheikh Khadr too, on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, met total annihilation at the end of the flourishing Stratum IV - Iron IB, and the three adjacent public buildings exposed (a storehouse, a tripartite pillared building and a granary) were covered by thick layers of burnt bricks and wood, sealing a large amount of complete vessels (about 120)67. Tel Rehov/Tell es-Sarem Stratum VI seems to be not violently destroyed, yet thick mudbrick debris and the poor preservations of the walls of Building A in Area C (local phase C-2), showing signs of brick slippage and cracks, hint at destruction or severe damage which could have been caused by earthquake68. Finally69, at Tell Qasile most of the public buildings of Stratum X were fiercely destroyed by fire and collapsed on themselves (§ 3.3.2.). Nonetheless the distance in between these sites and the difficult stratigraphic correlation among them suggest a cautious approach to this “earthquake swarm hypothesis” for the end of Iron Age I.

57 Cline 2011. The same idea was previously hinted at by P.L.O. Guy (1931, 44 48; Lamon - Shipton 1939, 7; Marco et al. 2006).

58 Guy 1935, 203-204; Harrison 2004, 8-9. Other interpretations for the same destruction layer at Megiddo attributed it to the King David’s conquest (Yadin 1970, 95; Harrison 2004, 108) or Pharaoh Shoshenq I’s campaign (Watzinger 1929, 56-59, 91; Finkelstein 2002); see § 3.2.1.

59 The Stratum VIA was definitively published by T. Harrison (2004), evidencing the total destruction and the final fate of this settlement (Harrison 2004, figs. 29, 30-32, 72-73, 75, 80, 82-83, 90, 94). Data of the Stratum VIA destruction from the Yadin’s excavations have been published by A. Zarzecki-Peleg (2005, 10-11, 13 14), reporting the same kind of evidence.

60 Beside this evidence many other destruction features were recovered: a thick layer of mudbrick debris, ash and burned remains along with several restorable vessels smashed in it; in Square M/9 the retrieval of a human skeleton with the skull intentionally covered by a krater, indicated that the person had been symbolically buried (Gadot et al. 2006, 97-98, 100-101, figs. 7.2, 7.7-7.9, 7.13).

61 Marco et al. 2006, 572, Tab. 31.1-2, fig. 31.3.i. Although they stated that an earthquake as the cause that brought about the end of Stratum VIA is probable but not conclusive.

62 Contra Finkelstein and Piasetzky (2007; 2009, 267, figs. 3-5; Finkelstein 2013, 32-36, figs. 8-9) that on the basis of the results of radiocarbon samples from Late IA I sites, in the northern horizon (Megiddo, Hadar, Hamma, Keisan, Yokneam), individuated two clusters of destructive events, in 1047-996 BC and 974-915 BC according to the UcWA (“uncalibrated weighted average”) method; in 1017-984 and 969-898 BC according to the Bayesian modeling (calibrated dates were obtained using the IntCal04 atmospheric calibration curve by means of the OxCal V 4.0 program; the absolute dates represent the 68.2% probability range). In their opinion these dates would represent the gradual rise of a north Israelite territorial entity, with a period of unrest of several decades (see also Finkelstein 2011c, 229). The destruction strata traced in all the main centers of terminal Iron Age I and here reported as results of an earthquake should be read as the collapse of the “New Canaan” system (Finkelstein 2013, 28-36).

63 Evidences of fierce destruction were visible in “the piazza” and in the Oil Maker’s House (Ben-Tor - Zarzecki-Peleg - Cohen-Anidjar 2005, 10-41), also if there are not direct evidences of an earthquake.

64 Humbert 1980, fig. 6, 22-23. In this case too there is not conclusive evidence of an earthquake, nor this kind of suggestion by the excavators.

65 Münger - Zangenberg - Pakkala 2011, 77-83; Thomsen - Zwickel 2011. Particularly dating is a mass-produced scarab found on one of the buried floors (Münger - Zangenberg - Pakkala 2011, fig. 28, 87). Such seals were produced in Tanis in the Eastern Delta during the late 21st and early 22nd Egyptian Dynasties, increasing suddenly during the reign of Siamun (986-967 BC; Münger 2003, 70 72). An almost exact parallel was found in the destruction debris of Megiddo VIA below Palace 6000 (Yadin 1970, fig. 6). Since the first deposition in Palestine around 960 BC is a likely date (taking into account a certain lapse of time for the group’s dispersion beyond Egypt borders), can be postulated a destruction date after 960 BC at the middle of 10th century BC (Münger 2003, 76).

66 Stern 2008, 1698.

67 Kochavi 1993, 551; 1998, 468-471. The dating of the destruction strata given by M. Kochavi on the basis of material culture is in the final part of 11th century BC. Radiocarbon uncalibrated date, resulting from the analysis of charred grains, is 2780 ± 25 BP (Piasetzky- Finkelstein 2005, 296, tabs. 16.1, 16.3).

68 Stratum VI of Re ov is the first stratum of Iron Age IIA (Mazar 2008b; Mazar et al. 2005, 217-220). Radiocarbon measurements matched with sequential stratigraphic terms give as most likely dating option 975-955 BC (Mazar et al. 2005, 220-222, fig. 13.19).

69 E. Cline indicated as affected by an earthquake also destruction stratum at Beth Shean Upper VI (Cline 2011, 67). At Beth Shean the only stratum that gave evidence of an earthquake seems to be Stratum S-4, where two skeletons were found crashed in domestic contexts (in Building SP), of Iron Age IA (an intermediate phase between Levels VII and VI, or the earliest phase of Level VI - Panitz-Cohen - Mazar eds. 2009, 127-129, photos 4.51-4.52).

“Uzziah earthquake” (8th century BC)

A major seismic event is reported into the Book of Amos (§ 2.2.4.), specifically at Amos 1:1, but hinted at with prophetic visions many times throughout the book. The prominence of earthquake references in this source substantiates the idea that a catastrophic event of this kind must have happened at the time, crystallizing a real phenomenon in a supernatural message70. The proposed sites affected by this catastrophic event are: Tell el-Qedah/Hazor VI and Megiddo IVA in the north, Tell Deir 'Alla IX71, Gezer/Tell el-Jezer72 and Tell-ed-Duweir/Lachish IV73 in the center, Bir’ as-Sabc/Beersheba IV and Arad XI74 in the south, giving birth to the idea that, at least in the south, this event was the peg for the transition from the Iron Age IIA to the Iron Age IIB75. Unfortunately, concrete evidences of so many and distant destructions caused by an earthquake (§ 3.1.) are hardly recognizable in those archaeological strata attributed to “Uzziah earthquake”. Between the mentioned sites, analysis of destruction layers does not provide conclusive evidence by none of them. At Hazor the destruction of Stratum VI, ascribed with certainty by Y. Yadin to the natural power of the earthquake of Uzziah of ca. 760 BC76, is not so convincingly interpretable as outcome of such a natural disaster. The affirmations of Yadin were based on the evidences recovered only in Area A, at the eastern end of the Upper City. Here the area of workshops and shops showed many walls bent or cracked, leaning or fallen walls or pillars and fallen ceiling pieces77. This kind of evidence does not seem to be confirmed by the renewed excavations carried on by A. Ben-Tor. The latter lead to a reorganization of the stratigraphy, placing the damage noted by Yadin to Stratum 4 (ex-Stratum VII), coterminous with the large Pillared Building and adjacent storehouse going out of use78.

At Megiddo, where destruction of Stratum IVA is attributed to the same earthquake, evidence of this kind of event has been found with some certainty only in Silo 143479, which exhibited various fractures on the limestone stones composing it, with some of the them even shattered in various orientations80. The sudden end that met Lachish IV was hypothesized as caused by an earthquake mostly on the basis of negative evidences than of positive ones. No remains of destruction by fire were detected in monumental buildings nor in the domestic structures, but assemblages of complete vessels were uncovered in the domestic structures in Area S, and the monumental buildings , i.e. the Palace-Fort, the Enclosure Wall and parts of the gate complex, seemed to be restored along the same line of the destroyed ones, fact that has been considered as an indication that the builders of Level III were no intrusive population81. Recently it has been proposed that also Tell e-afi/Gath suffered the same seismic event, thus producing more evidences to include the Shephelah in the horizon of “Uzziah’s Earthquake”. At Safi, in facts, a 20 m long wall was discovered in Area F, collapsed uniformly toward the north, in a wavy manner, immediately above the layer of abandonment covering the destruction layer of 9th century BC (§ 3.3.3.)82. As it is clear also in this case, sites and strata attributed to the “Uzziah earthquake” are too many and too far away one from another to fall reasonably within the usual collateral effects of a single seismic event, the most strong and dramatic it was, or even of a seismic swarm during some decades.

70 For a contextual study of archaeological and textual evidences of “Uzziah’s Earthquake”, see Danzig 2011.

71 Austin et al. 2000, 659. The C-14 analyses of grain and leaf material (GrN 14260: 2630±50 BP) were calibrated to around 800 BC. “The excavated part shows a conglomerate of small rooms, and a few alleys. The settlement was destroyed by an earthquake, and partly by the fire, leaving the contents of the rooms in situ” (van der Kooij 1993, 341).

72 Dever 1992.

73 Ussishkin 2004, 83; Barkay - Ussishkin 2004, 447.

74 The proposal is moved by Z. Herzog and L. Singer-Avitz (2004, 229-230) based on the rebuilding projects carried out on the fortification system of Tel Beersheba (from IV to III) and Arad (from XI to X). The Beersheba IV solid city-wall was razed, and subsequently replaced by a much weaker casemate wall, a change considered irrational in the case of destruction by a military act. Also the upper part of the fortification system at Arad XI was totally destructed and rebuilt in successive stratum X (Herzog 2002, 97). Other scholars have negated the idea of an IA II earthquake in the Shephelah and the Beersheba Valley (Fantalkin - Finkelstein 2006, 22-24), suggesting that the Uzziah earthquake affected only the Kingdom of Israel (see note 83), visible specifically at Hazor and Megiddo (see below).

75 Herzog - Singer-Avitz 2004, 229-231; 2006, proposed a subdivision of Iron Age IIA in Early and Late phase, with the first spanning the second half of the 10th century BC, and the second the 9th (and possibly early 8th) century BC; contra Fantalkin - Finkelstein 2006, 22-24; Bunimovitz - Lederman 2011, 43-45 who claim that the transition from Iron Age IIA to Iron Age IIB in Judah took place around 800 BC, without any relation with Amos’ earthquake.

76 Yadin et al. 1960, 36-37; Yadin 1972, 200.

77 Yadin et al. 1960, 24-26; Yadin 1972, 182; Ben-Tor ed. 1989, 41, 44.

78 Ben-Tor - Bonfil eds. 1997, 123-51, 165.

79 Lamon - Shipton 1939, 77.

80 Other evidences of earthquake related damages deriving from the same stratum are not conclusive, possibly attributable to slow processes of deformation due to pressure of the fill over the structures or to the steepness of the area (Marco et al. 2006, tab. 31.1:11-14). Another stratum that seems to has been affected by an earthquake at Megiddo is Stratum VA-IVB, where several walls were retrieved collapsed and tilted (Marco et al. 2006, tab. 31.1:7-10, 572; contra Finkelstein 2009, 118, who related this destruction stratum to the conflicts with Aram-Damascus during the 9th century BC, § 3.2.2.; see as most recent, Finkelstein 2013, 119-122).

81 Barkay - Ussishkin 2004, 445-447. Contra Fantalkin - Finkelstein 2006, who affirm that the earthquake in the days of Uzziah and Jeroboam II is mentioned only by a prophet active in the north, with no reference in any Judahite source, indicating that the southern kingdom was not affected, or at least suffer scanty damage, not enough to be seen as a marker of historical and cultural significance.

82 Maeir 2012, 244-247; Maeir ed. 2012, 49-50.

Human brought destructions


The Iron Age is probably the period of the pre-classical history of Southern Levant when the geographical location and the environmental condition of this region more clearly appear with their tragic consequences . Located at the crossroad between stronger and larger empires, with small scale natural resources, Southern Levant suffered during the Iron Age at least three catastrophic series of destructions brought by human hand. The end of the Egyptian presence and domination in Canaan left open space to the settlement and the appearance of new ethnic components, from longtime present in the region but slowly coagulated in new geopolitical entities (Philistia on the southern coastal plain83, Judah in the southern lowland84, and Israel in the northern territories85). If the destruction levels of military campaign led by Shoshenq I, and its consistency on the ground (§ 3.2.1.) remains object of debate, this is not the same for the series of destructions related to the conflicts with the reign of Aram-Damascus and the Omride dynasty during the 9th century BC (§ 3.2.2.), and, above all, for ruins and destructions brought by the Assyrian and Babylonian empires conquests spanning from the 8th until the 6th centuries BC (§§ 3.2.3.-3.2.4.).

83 Two theories clash regarding the date of Philistine settlement in the southern coastal plain in relation to the collapse of Egyptian rule in Canaan. According to the first, the Philistines settled in the early 12th century BC, during the last phase of Egyptian domination of the region (Mazar 1985b; 2008, 90-98; Sherratt 2006). According to the second, the Philistines settled after the collapse of Egyptian rule, as “Philistine monochrome” (or “Mycenaean IIIC1b” or “local Mycenaean IIIC”), unanimously regarded as representing the initial phase of Philistine settlement, is absent from strata with Egyptian 20th dynasty finds (Finkelstein 1995; Ussishkin 2007). This last theory is contested (summary in Mazar 2008a, 90-98) and explained otherwise. The lack of Philistine monochrome from Lachish VI, or Beth Shemesh Level 7, should be explained for cultural rather than chronological reasons. Monochrome Philistine pottery, produced in the main Philistine centers, could have been deliberately avoided because of the cultural border between the emerging Philistine entity and its neighbors, especially in the southern Shephelah and the western Negev, where many sites were turned into Egyptian governmental and administrative centers during the 20th Dynasty (Bunimovitz - Faust 2001; Bunimovitz - Lederman 2011, 37-38).

84 For a summary and a positive affirmation on the emergence of the Judahite entity already in the 10th century BC, centered on Jerusalem, see Mazar 2006; 2007; 2010; E. Mazar 2009; contra Finkelstein et al. 2007; Finkelstein 2011a; 2011b.

85 Finkelstein 2013.

Archaeological evidence related to Shoshenq I’s campaign to Canaan

The Egyptian campaign of Shoshenq I is known both from the Pharaoh’s inscription on the southern side of the Bubastite Portal of the main temple of Amun at Karnak86, and from the brief hint at in 1 Kings 14:25-28, reporting the tribute paid by Rehoboam, king of Judah, heir of Solomon (cf. also 2 Chr 12:1-2; § 2.2.2.).

The list of topographical names reported in the inscription – each town depicted as a slave with Asiatic-foreigner traits (with long hairs, beard and headbands) – consists of 150 toponyms87, in eleven rows, describing the route of the Egyptian army88. The first 65 are towns in central Palestine (Jezreel Valley, Sharon Plain, the area of Gibeon north of Jerusalem and the area of Jabbok River in Transjordan) and the following 85 are in the Negev (in the Beersheba Valley). There is a third group of 30 names, but only the last five in the southern coastal region have been preserved. Completely missing are the lowlands and highlands of Judah, the hill country of northern Samaria, the Galilee and the northern Jordan Valley, the central and northern coastal plain, and part of Transjordan89.

The generally accepted dating of the campaign in the third quarter of 10th century BC, 925 BC, is chiefly based over the biblical reference, corroborated by the fact that is the only existing correlation between the Bible and an externally written source relating to the 10th century BC90. The retrieval at Megiddo, by C.S. Fisher’s workmen, of a victory stele fragment of Pharaoh Shoshenq produced a direct proof of the historicity of such an event91.

Excavated sites with destruction strata attributed to the passage of the Egyptian army are: Megiddo, Taanach, Rehov, Beth Shean, Gezer, Arad92. As mentioned above, Megiddo (m-k-d-) is the better place where looking for the passage of the pharaoh. Notwithstanding the epigraphic proof represented by the carved victory stele, its retrieval out of a reliable context left room to its attribution to different strata. One interpretation fixes the Egyptian attack in Stratum VA-IVB of the Oriental Institute of Chicago. The detected areas on the mound with clear signs of destruction and collapse are inside domestic installations in Area AA93, into Buildings 10 and 51 unearthed in Area C, in the eastern sector of the mound94, in the northern rooms of Palace 600095, and in stratum H-5 of Area H96

Conversely, another interpretation believes that the stele was left in a vanquished site more than in a destroyed one, and then the stele should not be attributable to Stratum VA-IVB but to the modest Stratum VB; in this vision the pharaoh had chosen annexation more than devastation97. Tell Tacannek (biblical Taanach), t-‘-n-k-i3, the first name in II line, showed great signs of destruction at the end of Period IIB, into its Cultic Structure98 of late 10th century BC. Beth Shean/Tell el-un is identified with number 16, b-t š-n-r-i3, and the stratum possibly classifiable as destroyed by the passage of the Egyptian army is Lower Level V99/Stratum S-1a: the well planned administrative quarter came to an end in a severe conflagration, and the upper mudbrick superstructure of the walls fired to an orange-red color, with the hardness of ceramic, along with carbonized rests of the wooden beams inserted into them100.

Tel Rehov/Tell es-Sarem is number 17 in the list (r-h-b-i3 - Rehob) and the city showing the passage of Shoshenq is that of general Stratum V, where the domestic, storage and maybe cultic units of Area C (Buildings D, E, F, G, H and L) presented clear signs of destruction, with collapsed debris and entire vessels crushed on the floors101.

Moreover, Gezer VIII, the city with the casemate city-wall and the four entry gate, ended with a destruction that has possibly linked to Shoshenq’s campaign102.

In the south, the annihilation of the dense and short-term wave of settlement in the Negev Highland (flourished in the 10th century BC, perhaps related to the copper-smelting activity at Feinan in Edom), was attributed to the passage of the pharaoh, as the responsible of the end of this seemingly important economic and geo-political phenomenon103. Also the village of Arad XII (‘-r-d-i3) was identified with at least one of the Arad mentioned in the topographical list of Shoshenq104. Summing up, also if remains difficult to ascribe with total certainty some destruction strata to the campaign of the Egyptian pharaoh, the epigraphic evidence at Megiddo, along with the physical manifestations on the ground here hinted at, confirm that a destructive event, of which the real extent is unknown, had place in that period. The biblical reference corroborate the impression on memory that the last Egyptian campaign in Palestine left in historical sources.

86 Pritchard ed. 1969, 242-243, 263-264; Finkelstein 2002; Wilson 2005; Junkkaala 2006, 80-81.

87 In total more numerous (185 ca.) but 150 is the number of the preserved and legible names. Between the identifiable names, archaeological excavations have been carrying out in 11 of them, and surveys in 16. For 14 names there is no archaeological information (Junkkaala 2006, 173-226).

88 The proposal of reading the list in boustrophedon order was firstly moved by B. Mazar (1957, 60), creating a route from the Shephelah to the highlands; contra Kitchen (1986, 444) who claimed that the circle route that Mazar arrived at defining was never used in Egyptian military campaigns, and generally (save some religious texts) the principle of reading with the figures direction was never used in Egyptian inscriptions; they should be properly read with the figure’s face. For other rejections of the boustrophedon theory see Na’aman 1992, 79; Ahlström 1993, 5.

89 Junkkaala 2006, 81-82. The suggestion of I. Finkelstein is that the main target of the Egyptian campaign was the emerging Northern Kingdom of Israel, centered on the Jezreel Valley, before the rise of the Omride Dinasty (Finkelstein 2011c, 231-235; 2013, 41-43).

90 I. Finkelstein (2002, 110; 2013, 41) stated that Shoshenq I’s campaign could have taken place any time in the mid - to late 10th century BC (uncertainty of the accession date of this king; uncertainty about the event of the campaign along his reign – at the beginning or in his later days; fifth-year-of-Rehoboam reign schematically arranged to fit the Deuteronomistic history). See note 22.

91 Fisher 1929, figs. 8-9, 60-61; Lamon - Shipton 1939, 71, fig. 70. The fragment was recovered out of its original context, in G. Schumacher’s dumps.

92 Actually, it is impossible to say if the Egyptian army violently destroyed some of the sites mentioned in the list. This observation apparently would vanish the research of specific destruction layers correlated to this event. Rather, the fact that a place is mentioned in this list means that it was occupied at the time of the raid and was well-known to the Egyptians (Mazar 2010a, 30-31).

93 Loud 1948, 45-46, figs. 99, 102.

94 Fisher 1929, 69, figs. 17, 44; Lamon - Shipton 1939, 7, figs. 10-11.

95 Yadin 1970, 75.

96 Yadin 1975, 207-231; Mazar 1997;contra Finkelstein 2002, 120-122 (in which he possibly attributed destruction of Megiddo VIA to the conquest of Shoshenq); R.L. Chapman (2009) agrees upon the attribution of the stele to Stratum VA-IVB, but considers the latter of the 9th century instead of the 10th century BC, lowering through stratigraphical and historical reasons the Shoshenq’s campaign to Canaan to the 9th century BC too, against the Omride Kingdom in the north.

97 Finkelstein 2002, 122; 2013, 64, n. 1; Ussishkin 1990. Wilson (2005, 65-74) is not in accord with the possibility of reading the topographical list of cities conquered by Shoshenq as source for historical data about that campaign, but more as the Shoshenq’s depiction of himself, connected to the pharaohs of the New Kingdom, who also employed triumphal reliefs. The stele though cannot be considered proof of the conquest of the site by the pharaoh, but rather the existence of some kind of relationship between Megiddo and Egypt, in which Megiddo recognized the power and the authority of the pharaoh.

98 The Cultic Structure was partly excavated by Sellin, in the part of a rectangular basin, who designated it an “olive-press” (Sellin 1904, 76); Lapp 1964, 26-30; 88; Rast 1978, 23-24, figs. 97a-b. The destruction of Taanach IIB I is alternatively attributed to the Aramaeans’ attack during the 9th century BC (Finkelstein 1998); see § 3.2.2.

99 James 1966, fig. 75, 151-153. Mazar ed. 2006, 180-196.

100 The associated pottery to these structures does not allow a secure chronological peg for the destructive event. This kind of repertory, traditionally dated to the second half of the 10th century BC, was certainly in use during the 9th century BC, until the time of the Aramaeans, ca. 830 BC (Mazar 2010b, 263-264).

101 Bruins - Mazar - van der Plicht 2003; Mazar 2008b; Mazar et al. 2005, 223-236. Contra Finkelstein - Piasetzky 2009, 267-268, tab. 2 (see also Finkelstein 2013, 113, tab. 3), who dated the destruction of Stratum V to 895-870 BC (or in a range between 918-849 BC), thus affiliated with the conflicts between the Aramaeans and Israel at the time of the Omride dynasty (§ 3.2.2.), and not to the passage of Shoshenq I.

102 Dever - Lance - Bullard 1986, 124-126; Gezer is not the only possible interpretation of the name, since the letters are not well preserved in the list: an alternative seems to be Makeddah (see the discussion in Junkkaala 2006, 198 199).

103 Herzog - Singer-Avitz 2004.

104 Finkelstein 2002, 114; Herzog - Singer-Avitz 2004; Mazar 1990, 373. The initial proposal of the excavators was that the city ascribable to the conquest of Shoshenq was the so-called Solomonic Casemate Fort of Stratum XI (Herzog et al. 1984, 8). Anyway the last interpretation prefers to read the Shoshenq’s list as the depiction of a large raid more than a conquest, fact that would explain well why Arad XII and contemporary settlements in Judah, such as Lachish V, Beersheba VII and Tel Masos II, were not destroyed by violence (Herzog - Singer-Avitz 2004, 232-233; Herzog 2002, 93).

Aramaean wars in the second half of 9th century BC

In the second half of 9th century BC (around 842 BC), Hazael ascended to the Aramaean throne in Damascus and, shortly after, assaulted the Northern Kingdom of Israel. The clashes between Israel and Aram Damascus are documented both archaeologically and textually. Textually they are referred to in the Bible (§ 2.2.3.) and corroborated by the Aramaic inscription recovered at Tell el-Qadi/Dan (§ 2.3.2.)105. Archaeologically, a wave of Late IA IIA sites located in the Jordan and Jezreel Valleys were retrieved destroyed106. Megiddo VA-IVB, Yokneam XIV, Jezreel, Taanach IIB, Tel Rehov IV, Beth Shean Lower V, orvat Rosh Zayit IIa, Tell el-Hamma Lower, Hazor IXA, are the sites where signs of the conflict are apparent. In the south, the destruction of Tell es-Safi (biblical Gath) should also be affiliated with the campaigns of the Aramaean power (§ 3.3.3.).

Evidences of destruction on the ground at Megiddo and Taanach have been already discussed in relation with Shoshenq’s campaign (§ 3.2.1.). This is because the life span of the material culture of Iron Age IIA from the 10th well into the 9th century BC, with an estimated longevity of ca. 150 years, does not allow a secure relative chronology, sometimes not even when combined with radiocarbon measurements107. Nevertheless and in spite of a disagreement about the absolute dating and the perpetrator’s identity of some of the cited destruction strata108, there is a consensus about the general framework of this period of political unrest and fighting between the two entities for the control of the region under Assyrian domination.

At Beth Shean the western part of the northern block of UME Level V, comprising a gate structure and an administrative complex composed by two pillared buildings, was recovered destroyed in a severe conflagration109. Also Tel Rehov/Tell es-Sarem suffered a major blow during the 9th century BC, at the end of Stratum IV, with the total destruction and abandonment of the lower city, that was never resettled again110.

The royal enclosure of Jezreel111, an administrative-military base of the Omride dynasty, short-lived, well dated on the basis of historical considerations, and with ceramics directly comparable to those of Megiddo VA-IVB112, was an important tile for the correlation of northern strata wrecked during the Aramaean conflicts. The city seemed to be destroyed (by Hazael113 or during Jehu’s revolt in 842 BC114) and remained in ruins during the Aramaic rule in Israel. Signs of violent destructions were retrieved only in the southeast corner tower in Area B115, but the presence of nine arrowheads recovered in the vicinity of the gatehouse and of the adjoining segments of the casemate wall (Areas A and F)116 pointed to a military intervention that brought the settlement to an end. Also the “Fort” of Horvat Rosh Zayit/Khirbet Ras-ez-Zeitun in Lower Galilee, a multifunctional fortified storage building, was retrieved completely destroyed. The severe conflagration, that restituted all the contents of the rooms, was caused clearly by an enemy attack: the entrance was blocked through a flimsy wall by the besieged inhabitants and dozens of iron arrowheads were retrieved in an ashy layer in the northwestern corner of the building117.

Yokneam met its demise suddenly at the end of Stratum XIV, with a large number of vessels encountered on the floors of the dwellings and of the casemate-wall chambers encircling the site. Despite this fact no clear evidence of violent destruction was found118. The first Israelite city of Hazor, fortified by a casemate wall and a six-chambered gate (Stratum X), in Stratum IX showed a certain degree of decline, but not a clear-cut wholesale destruction. Evidence of a thick layer of ashes marking the end of Stratum IX, described in previous excavations119, seemed not to be confirmed by the renewed ones120. Localized at the southern entrance of the Beth Shean Valley, Tell el-Hamma Lower was suddenly destroyed in the second part of 9th century BC, probably by Hazael’s charge. The domestic structures labeled western and eastern complex of Area A retrieved sunk into a thick conflagration layer, with vitrified mudbricks and several intact objects inside it121.

A few decades later, the renovated Assyrian pressure on Damascus in the days of Adad-nirari III (805-782 BC) put to an end the period of submission to the Aramaean power, allowing the recovery of Israel and its last independent stage before the direct military Assyrian intervention against it.

105 Dan, in spite of the presence of the inscription (fragmentary and in secondary displacement) does not present destruction strata attributable to the Aramaean conquest. Studies conducted by E. Arie (2008) based on pottery evidence, consider Dan IVA an Aramaean rather than an Israelite city, constructed by Hazael, after its destruction at the end of Iron Age I and a period of abandonment of the site corresponding to Iron Age IIA. In this perspective, the Dan Stele was erected in celebration of the rebuilding of the city and not to commemorate its occupation.

106 Na’aman 1997, 125-127.

107 Mazar et al. 2005; Piasetzky - Finkelstein 2005.

108 The destruction of Hazor IX was attributed to Ben-Hadad I, listed in 1 Kings 15:20 as having conquered “the entire land of Naphtali”, thus dated to 885 BC ca. (Yadin 1972, 143, 200; Yadin et al. 1960, 37; 1961, 36; Ben-Tor 2000, 11-12; § 2.2.3.). On radiocarbon considerations it has been proposed that Stratum IX dates to ca. 830-800 BC, representing the only conflagration (with that of Lower Tell el Hammah in the Jordan Valley) which fits Hazael’s reign (Finkelstein - Piasetzky 2009, 268; Finkelstein 2013, 119-122).

109 See the plan in James 1966, 31; Mazar ed. 2006, 35.

110 In Area C, located on the uppermost part of the lower town, near its northwestern corner, Building F and Building L were retrieved utterly destroyed, with their entire contents intact (Mazar et al. 2005, 237-244; Mazar 2008b; for the radiocarbon dating of this stratum see note 91).

111 Ussishkin - Woodhead 1992; 1994; 1997.

112 Zimhoni 1992; contra Zarzecki-Peleg (1997, 284-287), who retains that the Megiddo and Jezreel assemblages, although quite similar, are not contemporaneous: the Megiddo assemblage (=IVB-VA) should be earlier than the Jezreel material, rather corresponding with Megiddo IVA.

113 Na’aman 1997, 125-127.

114 Ussishkin - Woodhead 1997, 69-70.

115 Layers containing bricks debris, burnt remains and smashed pottery were retrieved in Rooms 214 and 234 (Ussishkin - Woodhead 1992, 28-29; 1994, 26-28, figs. 36-37).

116 Ussishkin - Woodhead 1997, 64-66, fig. 55.

117 Gal - Alexandre 2003, fig. III.108, 128-129.

118 Zarzecki-Peleg 2005, 107, 229.

119 Yadin 1972, 143; Yadin et al. 1960, 4-5; Yadin et al. 1961, 36.

120 Ben-Tor ed. 1989, 36; Ben-Tor - Ben-Ami 1998, 11-12; Ben-Ami 2012. In spite of absence of clear destruction layers, the Hazor IX horizon is, basing on radiocarbon measurements, the one which better meets Hazael’s attack (see note 110).

121 Cahill 2006. Radiocarbon samples taken from the destruction strata gave this chronological range: Hammah Lower = 837-800 BC (2666±15, 826-806 68,2%, Finkelstein - Piasetzky 2008, tabs. 1-2, 262-266; Sharon et al. 2007; Finkelstein 2013, tab. 3, 119-120). Hammah Upper, the subsequent layer of destruction, is radiocarbon dated to 800-780 BC ca., and possibly related to the counterattack of Israel against Damascus in King Jeoash’ s reign, ca. 800 BC (Finkelstein 2013, 122).

Assyrian campaigns in late 8th century BC (end of Iron Age IIB)

The Neo-Assyrian penetration and conquest began in the days of Tiglath pileser III and Shalmaneser V (734-722 BC). The territory of the Israelite kingdom was utterly destroyed: the Galilee and the northern coastal region were the first regions to fall into Assyrian hands. The generalized destruction brought to all settlements is clearly visible in sites such as Dan II122, Hazor VA123, Megiddo IVA124, Beth Shean IV125, Bethsaida V126.

Some of these settlements (such as Beth Shean) were abandoned several years after this catastrophic event. Also the southern coastal plain (southern Phoenicia and Philistia)127 was affected by the first Assyrian movement, even though the consolidation of the power over this region was demanded to Sennacherib, at the end of the 8th century BC.

The second part of the conquest was accomplished by Sargon II (721-705 BC), who took the credit of the capture of Samaria VI (actually fulfilled by Shalmaneser V at the end of his reign)128, with the Israelite kingdom which suffered a total destruction (§ 2.2.5.)129. The complete conquest of Palestine was accomplished by Sennacherib (704-681 BC), who, as a consequence of Hezekiah’s rebellion, brought the Assyrian campaign into Judah, conquering and destroying Lachish III and forty-six additional Judean settlements130. Jerusalem, with the royal Judean family, survived the war131, as well as the region of Benjamin, whereas the Assyrian army destroyed all the Judean settlements in the Negev (such as Arad VIII132 and Biʾr as-Sabc/Beersheba II133), and all of those in the Shephelah (Lachish, Beth Shemesh/'Ain Shems134, Tel 'Eton135), that recovered only partly by this fatal blow.

The most renown example of Assyrian destruction is Lachish III (§ 3.3.4.), for the unique combination of Sennacherib’s inscriptions on reliefs, archaeology and biblical sources (§§ 2.2.5.; 2.3.3.).

Along with this celebrated example, the Assyrian devastation is well evident through every settlement struck by the passage of the enemy army. What is noteworthy, however, in the perspective of catastrophes and their historiographical perception is that during Sennacherib campaign, Jerusalem escaped its destiny and Judah preserved its central core. This is the historical key that apparently had prolific outcomes.

122 Biran 1993, 330; 1994, 203-209; 2008, 1688-1689.

123 Yadin et al. 1958, 19; Yadin et al. 1960, 30, 49; Yadin 1972, 185-190, pl. XXXIII:b; Ben-Tor ed. 1989, 191; Sandhaus 2012, 306-344.

124 Finkelstein 2008, 118-119.

125 Fierce destruction visible especially in residential four-room Building 28636, in Area P/Stratum P-7 (Mazar ed. 2006, 202-286).

126 Arav 2009.

127 In 712 BC, Sargon II conquered ‘amqar(r)úna-Ekron-as depicted in the relief from his palace at Khorsabad (Botta - Flandin 1849, pls. 93, 99; Tadmor 1958). After a short interval, during which the Judean King Ezekiah kept the control of the city, Sennacherib in 701 BC conquered all the Philistia and established Ekron as a Neo-Assyrian vassal city-state.

128 Liverani 2003, 163; cf. H. Tadmor’s opinion (1958) of a double conquest of the city: one in 722 BC by Shalmaneser V and a second in 720 by Sargon II.

129 A review of the Assyrian textual references about Samaria, in parallel with a reevaluation of all the archaeological evidences of Stratum V, pointed to reevaluate the effective destruction of the capital of Israel, that seemed to be inconclusive in coherent layers on the ground (Tappy 2007; contra Crowfoot - Kenyon - Sukenik 1942, 107-108). Probably the Assyrians blocked the capital, ravaging the countryside but without capture or destroy the political center itself (Tappy 2007, 276). Destruction levels at the hands of the Assyrians are evident at Shechem (Layer VII), Tell el-Farah (N)/Tirzah (Level II), Gezer (Stratum VI) (Dever 2007, 83-86).

130 Stern 2001, chapter 6.

131 But see the triumphalist description of Jerusalem’s siege reported into the Annals of Sennacherib (Luckenbill 1924, 33-34).

132 Herzog et al. 1984, 21-22.

133 Aharoni ed. 1973, 11-30, 23-37.

134 Bunimovitz - Lederman 2003; 2008, 1648.

135 Katz - Faust 2012.

Babylonian campaign of the late 7th/early 6th centuries BC

The fall of the Assyrian empire caused by the Babylonians (helped by the Medians) in 612 BC left a temporary power vacuum in the Southern Levant. During this period, Egypt moved into this vacuum holding sway over former Assyrian provinces, such as Megiddo (where in 609 BC Egyptian army clashes with King Josiah causing his death), and dependent territories, such as Philistia. When Nebuchadnezzar II (605-562 BC) took the throne of Babylon defeated the Egyptian army, in the Battle of Carchemish (605 BC) and shortly after at Hammat, conquering progressively all the old Assyrian territory west to the Euphrates and chasing Egyptians troops farther south136. In 604 BC, the Babylonians arrived in Philistia and conquered Ashkelon (§§ 2.3.4.; 3.3.5.). They destroyed the city and deported all its inhabitants, deserving the same fate to almost all the other important Philistine towns. After a few years of relative calm (with the Babylonians engaged in the attempt of conquering Egypt), the rebellion of king Jehoiakim of Judah brought newly the Babylonian army into the region. In 598 BC Nebuchadnezzar himself arrived to suppress the Judean insurgence; shortly after (in 597 BC) Jehoiakim died and his eighteen years-old son Jehoiachin succeeded him as a king, surrendering immediately. He and his officers were exiled to Babylon and Zedekiah (his uncle) was appointed by the Babylonians in his place. After reigning 9 years as Babylonian vassal, Zedekiah in 594/3 BC decided to finally rebel against Babylon, probably encouraged by Pharaoh Psamtik II king of Egypt (595 589 BC) and by his successor Pharaoh Hopra, who spent his entire reign fighting against the Babylonians. In 588 BC Nebuchadnezzar returned to Jerusalem and laid siege to the city: in 586 BC Jerusalem was definitively captured and destroyed (§ 3.3.5.), an important part of its population was deported (§ 2.2.6.)137. The exile to Babylon concentrating the upper class in a cosmopolite city, instead of the deportation of separated groups of Judeans in the immense Assyrian empire, deeply influenced the historical fate of Judeans or, at least , this was the way in which it was perceived by Israeli ancient (and modern) historiography, as a typical example of catastrophe re-elaboration in a teleological conception of history138.

136 Lipschits 2005, 1-35.

137 Liverani 2003, 183-220.

138 See as summa: Liverani 2003, “An Invented History”, 275-407.

Main destructions in main centers

Fall of Canaanite Hazor at the end of the Late Bronze Age

Hazor, the “head of all the Canaanite kingdoms”, the largest Bronze Age city in Southern Canaan, was violently destroyed at the end of the conventional Late Bronze Age, in the second half of the 13th century BC ca.139. The fall of the city occurred in two successive moments. After a first phase (Stratum 1B=XIV) of decline and partial dismissing of some important architectural features of public buildings, the Canaanite Hazor was definitively destroyed at the end of the successive stratum (1A=XIII)140 and deserted for a certain period of time141. It was resettled in a rather poor settlement during Iron Age I (Strata XII/XI)142 The city gates in Areas P and K went out of use already at the end of Stratum 1B, whereas all the major public buildings reached their final and violent destruction at the end of the successive Stratum 1A. In the lower city (Area H), the Orthostats Temple was retrieved filled by a clear destruction level of fallen stones, burnt material, broken cultic vessels and beheaded statues of kings and gods (fig. 2)143. In the Stelae Temple (in Area C) too, was found a decapitated statue of a deity, in spite of the absence of clear-cut signs of conflagration144. On the other hand in the upper city both the Podium Complex (Area M) and the Ceremonial Palace145 (Area A) were destroyed in a fierce fire, and retrieved totally covered and sealed by the thick destruction debris. This last was characterized by thick layers of ashes, burnt wooden beams, cracked basalt slabs, vitrified mudbricks, fallen walls and mutilated basalt statues146. Y. Yadin believed that the LBA city’s destruction had to be ascribed to the Israelite troops of Joshua (§ 2.2.1.)147. Lately the (Proto) Israelites were listed as one of the possible responsible of the downfall of the Canaanite Hazor by A. Ben-Tor, together with Egyptians, Sea People and Canaanites148. It cannot be any definitive evidence, since the only written source about the end of the Canaanite Hazor is the Bible, and it is internally controversial too (§ 2.2.1.).

Fig. 2

Hazor: Holy of the Holies 2113 (Stratum 1A) in the Orthostats Temple in Area H; bowls and basalt mutilated statue as discovered in layer of ashes under the debris

(after Yadin et al. 1961, pl. CXXIII:2)

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139 A fragment of an Egyptian offering table, discovered in the destruction layer of the monumental building of Area M, was dated by A. Allen to “as late as the third decade of Ramesses II’s reign”, and by K. Kitchen, to “sometime in the decade following ca. 1240-35 BC”. Thus Hazor was still a viable city in the middle to the second half of the 13th century BC (Ben-Tor - Zuckerman 2008, 2).

140 Ben-Tor - Zuckerman 2008; contra Finkelstein 2005, who suggests that Canaanite Hazor was destroyed only once, in the end of Stratum 1B (his “horizon B”), and that Stratum 1A (his “horizon A”) represents a short-lived ephemeral occupation restricted to the central and southern parts of the lower city.

141 Ben-Tor - Rubiato 1999.

142 The site was left in ruin for a century or two until it was occupied again during the 11th century BC. The IA I settlement at Hazor is remarkable only for the paucity of its remains (pits and installations scattered throughout the area) cutting into the ruins of Canaanite settlement (Ben-Tor - Ben-Ami - Sandhaus 2012, 1-3).

143 Ben-Tor ed. 1989, 257-264, fig. 6, plan XL; Yadin et al. 1961, pls. CXVI-CXXIX.

144 Yadin et al. 1958, 87-88; Yadin 1972, 67-74.

145 There is not a definitive agreement on the function of the monumental building of Area A (see Bonfil - Zarzecki-Peleg 2007, who promote a palatial purpose, and Zuckerman 2010, who interprets it as a temple; see also Ben-Tor 2013).

146 Ben-Tor - Rubiato 1999.

147 Yadin 1972, 108, 198, 200. Later this hypothesis was considered the most probable by A. Mazar (1990, 334-335), R. Frankel (1994, 31, on the basis of the surveys carried in Upper Galilee), and A. Ben-Tor (Ben-Tor - Rubiato 1999, 38); contra Ben-Ami (2001; 2013, 103) who, underlining the caesura and occupational gap between the great Late Bronze city and the poor successive settlement, guessed that the destroyers of Hazor were not the occupants of the aftermath.

148 Ben-Tor - Rubiato 1999. Contra Zuckerman 2007, who explained the final destruction of public buildings as an expression of rage following a situation of mounting social conflicts in the city; this interpretation could well account for scarce evidence of violent annihilation of domestic quarters (Area S in the Lower City; Zuckerman 2013), and absence of warfare implements (human victims or weapons).

Destruction of Tell Qasile at the end of Iron Age I

The heavy destruction of the Philistine Qasile X was traditionally attributed to the conquest of David149, and dated on the basis of this hypothesis to ca. 1000-980 BC. While the radiocarbon results obtained by samples from the destruction layer can support this dating150, the archaeological evidence points to a natural disaster, more than a human one151. In Area A, the residential and industrial quarter was recovered largely destroyed, with deep burnt fillings and large amounts di complete vessels in situ152. In Area C, the main cult structure of the city, building 131, was destroyed in a fierce conflagration, leaving a destruction layer of mudbrick debris, plaster fragments and charred beams from the collapsed wooden roof, thick up to 80 cm, with several noteworthy cult objects into it (fig. 3)153.

Fig. 3

Tell Qasile: Temple 131, Locus 134 (Stratum X), with finds in situ looking east.

(after Mazar 1980, pl. 11:4, 37)

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Also the adjacent structures, part of a well built and carefully planned residential quarter south of the temple complex, were recovered collapsed on themselves, with thick superimposed layers of burnt earth and fallen stones154. The major evidence that left room to the earthquake’s possibility was the destruction of the small shrine (building 300) in the temple area, due to the collapse of the northern walls without any traces of fire155.

149 Maisler 1951, 23; Mazar 1985a, 127.

150 Radiocarbon data point to an absolute dating of ca. 1000-920 BC (see Mazar 2008a, graph. 1, 101-103).

151 A. Mazar (1985a, 127) considered the earthquake a legitimate possibility along with the David’s conquest.

152 Maisler 1951, 128-136, figs. 4-6, pls. 28, 30:3.

153 Mazar 1980, 33-40, pls. 11:3-4, 12:1-6, 14:2.

154 Mazar 1980, 41-45, pls. 22:2, 23, 24:3-26:4.

155 Mazar 1980, 27-28, pls. 14:1,4; 15:2.

Devastation of Philistine Tell es-Safi/Gath at the hands of Aram Damascus

The major urban entity of the Philistines in Late Iron Age I and Iron Age IIA, Gath, was utterly destroyed by the Aramaeans, connected to the campaign that Hazael, king of Aram Damascus, conducted against Philistia (§§ 3.2.2.; 2.2.3.). Radiocarbon results from the destruction stratum A3 put the absolute dating of the devastating campaign at the third quarter of 9th century BC (850-830 BC)156. Evidences of this event were recovered in all the excavated areas on the upper city (Areas A, D, F), such as in the lower one (Area C) where several parts of the Aramaean siege system have been brought to light157. This last was constituted by a trench and berm on the eastern, southern and western sides of the site, associated with at least two towers (in Areas C2 and C6)158. It seems that the lower city was not resettled after the Hazael destruction. The late IA IIA upper city was densely built up in multifunctional buildings, separated by narrow alleys. The most extensively exposed structure, Building 23033, was a large building, including various industrial and cultic installations, beside the normal residential function. Stratum A3 ended with a violent conflagration, the rooms were destroyed by fire, the structures collapsed on themselves and were covered by a thick layer of fallen bricks, brick detritus, chalk fragments and pieces of roof, along with several ceramic vessels crashed on the floors (fig. 4). The sudden violence of the destruction was corroborated by the retrieval of two skeletons, ancient inhabitants of the city who failed to escape to the enemy attack159. After this event the city was left abandoned for a certain lapse of time, reoccupied partially only later in the Iron Age IIB.

Fig. 4

Tell es-Safi/Gath: pottery vessels in Stratum A3 destruction debris 22028, in Room 32041

(after Maeir ed. 2012, pl. 9.40:B, 200)

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156 Sharon et al. 2007, 44, tab. 8. Later dates were proposed on the basis of the biblical narrative, where the event was placed late in the reign of Jehoash’s reign (820-810 BC) - Lipi ski 2000, 387 (contra see the discussion in Maeir 2012, 242 244; Maeir ed. 2012, 47-49, fig. 1.28, that put the campaign in 835/832 BC, shortly after the murder of Queen Athaliah and enthronement of the boy-king Jehoash, a period of apparent instability in Judah).

157 Maeir - Gur-Arieh 2011; Maeir ed. 2012, 43-47; contra Ussishkin 2009.

158 Maeir - Gur-Arieh 2011, figs. 5-6, 237.

159 Zukerman - Maeir 2012, 191-206, 217-218.

Raze of Lachish by Sennacherib in 701 BC

The conquest and destruction of Lachish by Sennacherib, during his campaign to Judah in 701 BC (§ 3.2.4.), is the daydream of an archaeological destruction. This catastrophic event is in fact testified by a number of independent sources: historical evidence, both in the stone carved reliefs of Sennacherib’s siege in his royal palace at Nineveh,160 that in the Old Testament (§ 2.2.6.); and archaeological evidence, in the mound of Tell ed-Duweir/Lachish161, where the devastating action of the Assyrian army was clearly recognized in Stratum III, and the physical manifestations of its impact brought to light. In every excavated area the destruction layer was easily recognized, consisting of a thick stratum of black cinder and vitrified mudbricks, with fallen pieces of roof and dozens of entire vessels buried under the collapse. Both the residential quarters built near the city wall and to the south of the Palace-fortress162, than the citadel itself (Palace C)163 showed heavy traces of blaze and collapse. The major evidence of a military destruction is the massive and widespread presence of weapons and war implements sparse all over the devastated city. Especially in two areas the dreadful impact of the Assyrian army is vividly inscribed on the archaeological finds: in the city-gate complex (Area G), and in the north western corner of the city (Area R), chosen by the Assyrians as the main spot for the siege164. The city-gate complex, composed by an inner gate (and associated domestic dwellings - Area GE) and an outer one (consisting of the access street, the external city gate and the gate courtyard - Area GW), was blocked by the besieged inhabitants during the battle by means of tiny walls165. The retrieval of iron armor scales, projectiles, slingstones, and several iron weapons166 testified of the violence of the combat. The strong resistance of the population and the technique of the Assyrian attack was sharply exemplified by the ramp-siege laid to the city-wall (Area R), there where the difference between the elevation of the tell and its surroundings was minimal. The attack was directed against the tower-buttress of the Outer Revetment and the Main City Wall behind it. Twelve perforated stones were discovered at the foot of the city walls, large and partly worked, weighting ca. 100-200 kg each, probably forming part of the weaponry of the defenders167. In spite of the mas sive defenses of the city, Lachish was seized and the inhabitants murdered or deported. In the northwest corner of the mound, a mass grave cave was found, with several hundred disarticulated skeletons (fig. 5), perhaps victims of the Assyrian victory.

Fig. 5

Lachish: disarticulated skulls from the mass burials cave (ca. fifteen hundred bodies found), victims of the Assyrian attack of 701 BC

(after Ussishkin 1982, fig. 52, 56)

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160 The sculptured reliefs portraying the siege of Lachish occupied all four walls of Room XXXVI, within the palace complex (Russell 1991, 202-209, figs. 108-113; Ussishkin 1982, 67-118, figs. 58-90).

161 The site of Tell ed-Duweir/ancient Lachish was extensively excavated since 1930s by a British Expedition headed by J.L. Starkey (the Iron Age period published in Tufnell 1958). The renewed excavations have been carried out in the years 1973-1994 by the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University, under the direction of D. Ussishkin (Ussishkin ed. 2004).

162 Tufnell 1953, 103-128, pls. 20, 108, 114-116; Barkay - Ussiskhin 2004.

163 Tufnell 1953, 78-86.

164 As already recognized by Starkey (1933, 198; 1934, 166) and Tufnell (1953, 90). Remains of the battle belong to Phase III of Level V (Ussishkin ed. 2004, 695-742).

165 Ussishkin ed. 2004, chapters 11-12.

166 A dagger, knives, spears and especially 105 arrowheads: Sass - Ussishkin 2004; Gottlieb 2004.

167 Ussishkin ed. 2004, 734-736, figs. 13:47-48.

Ashkelon and Jerusalem: the Babylonian doom

The two waves of destruction and annihilation carried on by Babylonian army are well represented by the violent end of two sites: Ashkelon and Jerusalem. Ashkelon, the primary Philistine seaport on the Mediterranean, was destroyed in 604 BC, providing a vivid picture of what would befall Jerusalem and Judah in the years to come, finally suffering the same fate in 586 BC. At the time of its total destruction, Ashkelon was one of the great commercial centers of the eastern Mediterranean. The well-fortified and thriving city was reduced to a heap of ruins by the armies of Nebuchadnezzar, crystallizing in the archaeological record the last life period of the city. Massive destruction was found in two main locations: in the center of the city (Grid 38) and on its western edge overlooking the Mediterranean Sea (Grid 50). The winery (Building 776 in Grid 38, Phase 14; fig. 6), located in the center of Ashkelon, presented a monumental size (ca. 400 excavated sq. m) and an architectural style, utilizing ashlars and timber, which highlighted its public function, probably a royal installation under the supervision of King Aga, the last of the Philistine kings of the city168.

Fig. 6

Ashkelon: plan of the 604 BC destruction debris layers in the winery (Building 776) and the eastern building (Building 7), Grid 38, Phase 14

(after Stager 2011, fig. 2.4, 13)

Fiaccavento (2014)

The marketplace (Grid 50, Phase 7) was composed by various adjoining buildings with different functions: Building 406 was a row of shops that flanked the street in the north-eastern corner of the excavation area169, Building 260 a sort of “administrative center”, Building 276, in which was a series of long narrow rooms, probably magazines of a warehouse, and Building 234, tentatively interpreted as a “counting house”170. In all of these structures, as in the winery, evidences of conflagration are clearly visible, destruction debris consisting of collapsed mudbrick wall material, plaster, and charcoals, along with dozens of objects and smashed vessels on the ground. The violence of the attack is confirmed by another particular: in Room 406, the architectural hearth of Building 406, amid the debris, was found a complete human skeleton (Feature 400). It was the skeleton of a woman, 35 or 40 years of age, lying in an extended posture, with all her long bones broken at the time of the collapse171.

Jerusalem, the great capital city of the reign of Judah, was conquered by the Babylonians in 586 BC, its richness and prominence, acquired especially after the fall of Samaria in 722/721 BC172, definitively wiped away. The city was utterly destroyed after a long period of siege and evidence of conflagration and blaze have been discovered in several sites. The most vivid picture of a warlike destruction is the fierce fire north to the “Broad Wall” in the western part of the city (present Jewish Quarter)173, where close to the tower W.4030-W.4006 iron arrowheads and one bronze “Scythian arrowhead” were found174. Another arrowhead of the same typology was unearthed, mixed with iron ones175, in the vast destruction layer of the wealthy residential quarter on the eastern flank of the south eastern hill. The so-called “House of A iel”176, “House of the Bullae” and “Burnt Room” of Area G (fig. 7)177, and “Lower Terrace House” and “Ashlar House” of Area E1178, were devastated and left in ruins, sealing large amounts of complete pottery vessels and many other significant finds (standard stone weights of shekel multiples; bullae with personal names).

Fig. 7

Jerusalem: Area G on the south-eastern hill: “Burnt Room” House (Locus 997) and adjacent rooms on north, looking west

(after Shiloh 1984, pl. 32:2, 18)

Fiaccavento (2014)

Y. Shiloh distinguished two sub-phases of the total destruction of these houses: the first was a vast conflagration (10B) that burnt and led to the collapse of the upper storeys (wooden beams and ceilings along with wooden decoration and furniture), filling up the space of the lower floors; the second (10A) is the subsequent accumulation of debris, tumbling down from the upper terraces, that preserved the northern and western structures, and its contents. The same picture was already depicted by Kenyon’s excavation, where residential and commercial Buildings I-VII of Area A, partly built up over terracing substructures of 12th - 10th century BC, were recovered destroyed and filled up by carbonized layers179. Also in the southern part of the Temple Mount, the so-called Ophel, the administrative structures of Iron Age IIB-C, Buildings C and D, were retrieved destroyed in a fierce conflagration, with a large numbers of smashed jars an bowls and twelve pithoi plunged into a thick layer showing evidences of intense fire.180

The fall of Jerusalem put the end word to the Levantine world of the Iron Age. The generalized destructions and the absence of a ruling class, deported in Babylonia, led to a severe demographic and cultural crisis.

168 Stager 2008, 1585; 2011, 13-26, figs. 2.4-2.23.

169 Room 375 was very likely a wine shop, since it was littered with fat bellied wine jars, the most common storage jar found in Philistia. Room 431 contained cuts of meat, thus interpreted as a “butcher shop” (Stager 2011, 7-8, 41-42, fig. 3.15).

170 Stager 2011, 37-48.

171 Stager 2011, 41, fig. 3.14; Stager - Schloen - Master eds. 2008, 533-535.

172 The growth of population and prosperity of Jerusalem and Judah observed in the second part of the 8th century BC was probably caused by two main reasons: the incorporation of Judah into the Assyrian global economy, starting from the 730 BC, and influx of refugees conveying in the Judahite state from vanquished northern kingdom of Israel, and perhaps from the western part of its territory during the attack by Sennacherib in 701 BC (Finkelstein 2008; 2011b, 194-195; Broshi 1974; contra Na’aman 2005).

173 The massive fortification of the 8th century BC on the southwestern hill seemed to be out of use briefly after its construction in the 8th century BC, maybe after a partial destruction due to Sennacherib’s siege in 701 BC (Avigad - Geva 2000a, 45 58).

174 Avigad - Geva 2000b, 131-159.

175 The arrowheads were retrieved in Area G, Stratum 10A, from destruction layer of “Burnt Room” house (L.997) and “Bullae House” (L.967) - Shiloh 1984, pl. 33:2, 19.

176 The building has been partly excavated by K.M. Kenyon and labeled “Building 1” (Steiner 2001, 57, 78), coinciding with the southern part of this “Four-room house” - L.790, later extensively revealed by Shiloh (1984, 19).

177 Shiloh 1984, 17-20.

178 Shiloh 1984, 14; De Groot - Bernick-Greenberg 2012, 22-27.

179 Kenyon 1974, 238; Steiner 2001, 57, 60-64, 93-101.

180 Building C was composed by Rooms 23041, 23042 and 23043, and interpreted as a typical Iron Age four-room gate, reconstructed mirroring Loci 23041 and 23042 (Mazar - Mazar 1989, 13-28, plan 26); Building D was interpreted as a Royal Building adjacent to the gate, both for the massiveness of the architectural features, both for the retrieval of two incised pithoi, one inscribed with LŚRHʾW (“to the minister of the O..”) (Mazar - Mazar 1989, 29-48).


The specificity of Southern Levant in the Iron Age, its time development and related catastrophic events, passing through the lens of the Bible until a teleological reconstruction of its History, has been so amply debated that a comprehensive study over this topic could be defined “impossible”. The correlation of historical and archaeological data, a field naturally open to different interpretations for any epochs, it is becoming more complicated more the data increase in quantity and accuracy. The most recent case of Khirbet Qeiyafa, also if here not extensively discussed, could be a sort of exemplum of how can be harsh the scientific quarrel, on current data and fresh excavation too181.

From a strictly archaeological point of view, the concept of “normal history”, promoted by M. Liverani since longtime182, is the idea that better fits the Iron Age data on the ground.

Iron Age II saw the emergence of the tribe-based entities of Israel before, and Judah later, along with elements of continuity from the previous period, such as the Phoenician and Philistine towns on the coastal plain, inserted in the vaster mosaic of the rise of the “national states” all along the Syro-Palestinian strip (in 9th - 8th centuries BC in the north, and in 8th - 7th centuries BC in the south). In spite of their cultural vivacity, with important urbanistic and architectural achievements, rich artistic and craft productions, religious and literary creations, the small Levantine entities, from a political point of view, remained always easily to threaten by the giant eastern empires. The threaten became concrete at least three times: to a lesser extent in the 9th century BC in the combat with the Aramaeans of Damascus, but much more with the intervening destructive violence of the Assyrian and Babylonian empires, in the 8th and 7th/6th centuries BC. This normal, yet catastrophic, historic curve found in the deportation of the ruling class of Judah in Babylonia the turning point for a new history, anchored to the past but projected in the preservation, accentuation and reconstruction of the idea of national identity.

Defeat and destruction, deportation and subjection are disasters that the sons of Israel [or the God of Israel?] succeeded to overturn through religious ideology and historiography, until to transform it into the secret of their millennial resilience success.

181 Garfinkel - Ganor eds. 2009; Garfinkel - Kang 2011; Garfinkel et al. 2012; Finkelstein - Fantalkin 2012; Finkelstein - Piaseztky 2010c; Finkelstein 2013, 54-59.

182 Liverani 2003.

Notes and Further Reading

Articles and Books

Arie, E. 2006. The Iron Age I Pottery: Levels K-5 and K-4 and an Intra-site Spatial Analysis of the Pottery from Stratum VIA. Pages 191–298 in Finkelstein, Ussishkin, and Halpern 2006.

Arie, E. 2013. The Late Bronze III and Iron I Pottery. Pages 475–667 in Megiddo V: The 2004–2008 Seasons. Edited by I. Finkelstein, D. Ussishkin, and E. H. Cline. Monograph Series of the Institute of Archaeology Tel Aviv University 31. Tel Aviv: Emery and Claire Yass Publications in Archaeology.

Dever, W. G. 1997. Archaeology and the “Age of Solomon”: A Case Study in Archaeology and Historiography. Pages 217–51 in The Age of Solomon: Scholarship at the Turn of the Millennium. Edited by L. K. Handy. Leiden: Brill. - can be borrowed with a free account

Fiaccavento, Chiara (2014) Destructions as historical markers towards the end of the 2nd and during the 1st millennium BC in Southern Levant. in L. Nigro (ed.), Overcoming Catastrophes. Essays on disastrous agents characterization and resilience strategies in pre-classical Southern Levant (ROSAPAT 11 - PRIN 2009 - The Seven Plagues), Roma 2014

Finkelstein, I. (1995) ‘The Date of the Settlement in Philistine Canaan’, Tel Aviv 22 (1995), pp. 213-239 - open access at

Finkelstein, I. (1996) The Archaeology of the United Monarchy: An Alternative View’, Tel Aviv 28 (1996), pp. 177-187 - open access at

Finkelstein, I., Silberman, N. A. (2002). The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Sacred Texts. United Kingdom: Free Press. - open access at

Finkelstein, I., Mazar, A. (2007). The Quest for the Historical Israel: Debating Archaeology and the History of Early Israel. Netherlands: SBL Press. - can be borrowed with a free account

Finkelstein, I., and Piasetzky, E. (2006) The Iron I-IIA in the Highlands and beyond: 14C Anchors, Pottery Phases and the Shoshenq I Campaign. Levant 38:45–61.

Finkelstein, I., and Piasetzky, E. (2009) Radiocarbon-dated Destruction Layers: A Skeleton for Iron Age Chronology in the Levant. Oxford Journal of Archaeology 28: 255–274.

Finkelstein, I., and Piasetzky, E. (2010) Radiocarbon Dating the Iron Age in the Levant: A Bayesian Model for Six Ceramic Phases and Six Transitions, Antiquity 84: 374–385.

Finkelstein, I., and Piasetzky, E. (2011) The Iron Age Chronology Debate: Is the Gap Narrowing? NEA 74:50–54.

Finkelstein, I. (2013) The Forgotten Kingdom: The Archaeology and History of Northern Israel, Atlanta 2013

Finkelstein, I. (2014), A Low Chronology Update in Levy, T. and T. Higham ed. The Bible and Radiocarbon Dating: Archaeology, Text and Science, Taylor & Francis. - can be borrowed with a free account

Gorner, Aaron (2023) Mazar's Modified Modified Chronology: The Preservation of Solomonic Possibilities, BYU Scholars Archive

Halpern, B. (2003). David's Secret Demons: Messiah, Murderer, Traitor, King. United Kingdom: W.B. Eerdmans. - can be borrowed with a free account

Herzog, Z., and Singer-Avitz, L. (2004) Redefining the Centre: The Emergence of State in Judah. Tel Aviv 31:209–44.

Herzog, Z., and Singer-Avitz, L. (2006) Sub-dividing the Iron IIA in Northern Israel: A Suggested Solution to the Chronological Debate. Tel Aviv 33:163–95.

Kletter, R. (2004). Chronology and United Monarchy. A Methodological Review. Zeitschrift Des Deutschen Palästina-Vereins (1953-), 120(1), 13–54.

Levy, T. and Higham, T. ed. (2014) The Bible and Radiocarbon Dating: Archaeology, Text and Science, Taylor & Francis. - can be borrowed with a free account

Levy, T. E. (2016). Historical Biblical Archaeology and the Future: The New Pragmatism. United Kingdom: Taylor & Francis.

Liverani, M. (2014). Israel's History and the History of Israel. United Kingdom: Taylor & Francis.

Mazar, Amihai (1997) ‘Iron Age Chronology: A Reply to Israel Finkelstein’, Levant 29 (1997), pp. 157-167 - open access at ResearchGate

Mazar, Amihai and Carmi, Israel (2001) ‘Radiocarbon Dates from Iron Age Strata at Tel Beth Shean and Tel Rehov’, Radiocarbon 43 (2001), pp. 1333-42 - open access

Mazar, Amihai (2005) ‘The Debate Over the Chronology of the Iron Age in the Southern Levant’ in The Bible and Radiocarbon Dating, ed. by Thomas Levy and Thomas Higham (London: Equinox, 2005), pp. 13-28 - can be borrowed with a free account

Mazar, A., H. J. Bruins, N. Panitz-Cohen, and J. van der Plicht (2005) Ladder of Time at Tel Rehov: Stratigraphy, Archaeological Context, Pottery and Radiocarbon Dates. Pages 193–255 in The Bible and Radiocarbon Dating: Archaeology, Text and Science. Edited by T. E. Levy and T. Higham. London: Equinox. - can be borrowed with a free account

Mazar, A. and Bronk Ramsey, C. 2008. 14C Dates and the Iron Age Chronology of Israel: A Response. Radiocarbon 50: 159-180.

Mazar, A. (2011)“The Iron Age Chronology Debate: Is the Gap Narrowing? Another Viewpoint.” Near Eastern Archaeology 74, no. 2 (2011): 105–11.

Mazar, A. (2014), The Debate over Chronology of the Iron Age in the Southern Levant: It's history, the current situation, and a suggested resolution in Levy, T. and T. Higham ed. The Bible and Radiocarbon Dating: Archaeology, Text and Science, Taylor & Francis. - can be borrowed with a free account

Miller, J. M., Hayes, J. H. (2006). A history of ancient Israel and Judah. United Kingdom: Presbyterian Publishing Corporation.

Moore, M. B., Kelle, B. E. (2011). Biblical History and Israel S Past: The Changing Study of the Bible and History. United Kingdom: Eerdmans Publishing Company. - can be borrowed with a free account

Sharon, I., A. Gilboa, T. A. J. Jull, and E. Boaretto. 2007. Report on the First Stage of the Iron Age Dating Project in Israel: Supporting A Low Chronology. Radiocarbon 49:1–46.


Webster, L. C., et al. (2023). "The chronology of Gezer from the end of the late bronze age to iron age II: A meeting point for radiocarbon, archaeology egyptology and the Bible." PloS ONE 18(11): e0293119.

Zimhoni, O. 2004a. The Pottery of Levels V and IV and Its Archaeological and Chronological Implications. Pages 1643–1788 in D. Ussishkin, The Renewed Archaeological Excavations at Lachish (1973–1994). Monograph Series of the Institute of Archaeology Tel Aviv University 22. Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv University, Institute of Archaeology.

Zimhoni, O. 2004b. The Pottery of Levels III and II. Pages 1789–1899 in D. Ussishkin, The Renewed Archaeological Excavations at Lachish (1973-1994). Monograph Series of the Institute of Archaeology Tel Aviv University 22. Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv University, Institute of Archaeology.

Wikipedia Pages

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