>The Tenth Century and the United Monarchy

>In a previous post I gave an introduction to Israel Finkelstein’s and Amihai Mazar’s book, The Quest for the Historical Israel: Debating Archaeology and the History of Early Israel (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2007). In that post I listed the way the authors classify the different approaches used in writing a history of Israel. In the present post I want to introduce the content of the book and discuss what Finkelstein and Mazar believe about the tenth century and the United Monarchy.

The Quest for the Historical Israel is divided into six parts. Parts 1-5 deals with a major period in the history of Israel. In Part 6 the authors summarize the discussion by presenting the implications of the work of archaeologists to people of faith and to biblical studies. Each part contains a summary assessment by Brian B. Schmidt and one lecture by Israel Finkelstein and one by Amihai Mazar.

Part 1: “Archaeology and the Quest for Historical Israel in the Hebrew Bible.”

Israel Finkelstein: “Digging for the Truth: Archaeology and the Bible.”
Amihai Mazar: “On Archaeology, Biblical History, and Biblical Archaeology.”

Part 2: “Using Archaeology To Assess the Bible’s Traditions about ‘the Earliest Times.’”

Israel Finkelstein: “Patriarchs, Exodus, Conquest: Fact of Fiction?”
Amihai Mazar: “The Patriarchs, Exodus, and Conquest Narratives in Light of Archaeology.”

Part 3: “The Historical Origins of Collective Israel.”

Israel Finkelstein: “When and How Did the Israelites Emerge?”
Amihai Mazar: “The Israelite Settlement.”

Part 4: “The Tenth Century: The New Litmus Test for the Bible’s Historical Relevance.”

Israel Finkelstein: “King Solomon’s Golden Age?: History or Myth?”
Amihai Mazar: “The Search for David and Solomon: An Archaeological Perspective.”

Part 5: “On More Secure Ground? The Kingdoms of Israel and Judah in the Iron II Period.”

Israel Finkelstein: “The Two Kingdoms: Israel and Judah.”
Amihai Mazar: “The Divided Monarchy: Comments on Some Archaeological Issues.”

Part 6: “So What? Implications for Scholars and Communities.”

Israel Finkelstein: “A Short Summary: Bible and Archaeology.”
Amihai Mazar: “Concluding Summary: Archaeology’s Message.”

Each part deserves to be studied in detail because both Finkelstein and Mazar present relevant information for each period and discuss how archaeological findings are related to the biblical material. However, such a project would require several additional posts and a more complete review of the book. I will limit myself to the tenth century because, as the writers say, the tenth century is the new litmus test for the Bible’s historical relevance.

Finkelstein begins his discussion of the United Monarchy by taking a centrist position. He wrote: “Against the conservative or maximalist camps, I argue that much of the David and Solomon narrative in the Bible cannot be read as a straightforward historical testimony and that their kingdom was far more modest than traditionally perceived. At the same time, against the so-called minimalists, I contend that David and Solomon were historical figures–the founders of a dynasty based in the Judahite city of Jerusalem” (p. 107-08).

According to Finkelstein, the whole theory of a United Monarchy is based on the statement of 1 Kings 9:15: “This is the account of the forced labor that King Solomon conscripted to build the house of the LORD and his own house, the Millo and the wall of Jerusalem, Hazor, Megiddo, Gezer.”

Yigael Yadin saw a similarity between the six-chambered city gates at Hazor, the one at Megiddo, and the one at Gezer and concluded that archaeology proved that 1 Kings 9:15 was correct. But Finkelstein believes that the gates at Megiddo were built later than the gates at Hazor and Gezer.

Finkelstein proposes an alternative theory. Since the ashlar blocks at Megiddo preserve distinctive masons’ marks, the same marks found in the palace of Omri and Ahab at Samaria, Finkelstein concludes that the building at Megiddo must be dated to the ninth century, during the reign of Ahaz and not in the tenth century, during the reign of Solomon.

Finkelstein says that the Tel Dan inscription proves that David and Solomon were historical figures but, according to him, archaeology shows that “the kingdom of David and Solomon was no more than a poor, demographically depleted chiefdom centered in Jerusalem, a humble village” (p. 115).

Finkelstein also believes that if there was a United Monarchy, it existed during the days of Omri and it was centered in Samaria and not in Jerusalem. He wrote: “For a few decades in the first half of the ninth century, Israel managed to establish a great United Monarchy–an actual United Monarchy–which stretched from Dan in the north to Beer-sheba in the south. Yet, this United Monarchy was ruled from Samaria, not from Jerusalem” (p. 152).

Mazar begins his discussion of the tenth century by stating that the deconstruction offered by Finkelstein and other archaeologists “has gone too far” (p. 117). Mazar said that scholars accept the historicity of the Northern Kingdom because it is mentioned in documents external to the Bible. Yet, he believes that “there is no logic in acknowledging the historicity of the biblical account regarding ninth-century northern Israel but discrediting the historicity of the United Monarchy of the tenth century or for that matter, that of Judah in the ninth century” (p. 118).

Mazar criticizes Finkelstein’s proposal to lower the chronology of the Iron Age IIA by seventy-five to one hundred years, a chronology that places the archaeological assemblages attributed to the tenth century into the ninth century, thus eliminating the archaeological evidence for a United Monarchy in Judah. Mazar discusses how archaeology supports the view that there was a United Monarchy in the tenth century. He surveys archaeological excavations at Jerusalem, Megiddo, Hazor, Gezer, the Shephelah, and the Negev to show that the findings in these places are consistent with the concept of a United Monarchy in the tenth century.

Mazar emphasizes two important external sources that relate archaeology to events in the tenth century. One in the inscription of Sheshonq I (the Shishak of the Bible) inscribed in the wall of the Temple of Amun at Karnak. Although Finkelstein relates the events associated with the invasion of Sheshonq to the time of Saul (p. 148), Mazar says that Sheshonq’s military campaign in Canaan which took place in 920 B.C. was because of “the existence of a political power in the central hill country that was significant enough in the eyes of the Egyptians to justify such an exceptional route for the campaign” (p. 124).

The other source is the Tel Dan inscription which mentions the “House of David” (or bytdwd). According to Mazar the inscription shows that “approximately a century and a half after his reign, David was still recognized throughout the region as the founder of a dynasty that ruled Judah.”

Thus, these lectures by Finkelstein and Mazar demonstrate that archaeologists look at the same data and come up with contradictory interpretations of the data. The reason archaeologists arrive at such contradictory conclusions is because they use different archaeological chronologies to date their findings. And since the data is mute, archaeologists have to interpret their findings and in the process they come up with vastly different interpretations of the same archaeological data.

Mazar wrote: “The interpretation of archaeological data and its association with the biblical text may in many cases be a matter of subjective judgment, since it is often inspired by the scholar’s personal values, beliefs, ideology, and attitude toward the text or an artifact” (p. 31).

Those of us who are not directly involved in archaeological excavations must depend on the meticulous work of archaeologists as they summarize their findings. The archaeological data must be published and made available to scholars and to the public for examination and evaluation. Since the whole debate hinges on issues of interpretation, archaeologists must make their findings available for public scrutiny. As someone once said: “Trust but verify.”

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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