Christian Leadership Center



Biblical Archaeology Index


Class Thirteen


THE IRON AGE II B  (930-587)


“The Kingdom is Divided”


We have seen briefly how the policies of Solomon greatly extended the “empire” of Israel.  It truly became a first-rate power due to its economic policies.  But the negative side of that wealth and prestige was the disobedience.  Deuteronomy 17 warned the kings not to multiply horses and not to take many wives.  These are the very things that Solomon did.  He became confident in his economic strength and international position.  And, thinking himself to be wise (a thin line between the proper use of the wisdom God had given him and the wrong choices of his own wisdom) he made the treaties with pagans through marriages.  His marriages opened the door for idolatry in Israel.  And, what he did in the tenth century, Ahab of Israel did in the ninth by marrying Jezebel, the daughter of Ethbaal; Solomon’s disobedience opened the door for the problem, and Ahab’s disobedience ushered in Baalism as a state religion.  



The Sin of Jeroboam


The Biblical Data

The biblical material for this section comes from 1 Kings 12 and 13.  Because of the idolatry of Solomon, ten tribes were torn away from Rehoboam and given to Jeroboam to become the northern kingdom of Israel.  So Jeroboam I had an auspicious beginning--prophetic sanction.

But this king was motivated by fear and by envy.  He was afraid for his people to go up to Jerusalem to worship--in the “other country” now.  (Islam has shown that this could have worked, for people from different countries have been going to Arabia to Mecca for centuries).  But Jeroboam built sanctuaries in Bethel (within easy sight of Jerusalem) and Dan (on the far north border).  Here he made the high altars and set up the images of the calves (which some might have reasoned at first could have been the platforms for the presence of the invisible Yahweh).  But we also know that the true priests of Yahweh left the north and came to Judah.  So Jeroboam installed all kinds of riff-raff as his priests.  He then made separate feast days.  And he himself usurped the position of a priest to make sacrifices.  Everything he did was wrong. 

So God sent the young prophet from Judah to denounce it and tell how it would be judged.  Unfortunately, the young prophet was deceived by an old prophet, whose sons were at the altar when the confrontation was taking place.  Here was an old “true prophet” who had apparently sold out to Jeroboam, but was starved for fellowship.  And God spoke through him to rebuke the young prophet for believing him.



Tel Dan

The archaeological work at Tell Dan has been most instructive for visualizing the corruption that occurred at this border town.  As with the city of Arad, here we have a sanctuary far removed from the biblically mandated location of Jerusalem.

The Sacred Precinct.  There is no doubt that a cult center had always existed in the city of Laish before the Danites migrated here from the south; abundant springs of water would not only have been practical, but they would have been spiritually significant and reason enough to attest to a local baal, thus inspiring a shrine to be built here.  Judges 18:30 then tells how in the times of the judges the Danites set up graven images in this place, thus becoming the first Israelite tribe to formally install idols.

In the kingdom period Jeroboam I (930-920) made a shrine here and put one of the golden calves he had made in it.  It was probably because of the long tradition of worship here that the king fixed the continuity with the Danite sanctuary.  No doubt being on the border with the Canaanites invited all kinds of pagan influence.  Indeed, vessels with snakes drawn on them have been found in the area, showing a Phoenician influence. 

Archaeological work identified a high place, a central building, an open courtyard, a sunken basin and pool, perhaps for water libations (1 Sam. 7:6, 2 Sam. 23:16), and a high altar--not all from the same period of time.  Some of it comes from the earliest time, some from subsequent idolatrous kings.

In the 9th century, 860-850, Ahab was responsible for building up the High Place into a massive structure. 

In the first half of the 8th century, Jeroboam II also added to the structure, putting the main steps up to the high place.  From this time also was discovered the horn-shaped stone for the high altar that had stood there.  From its size we can estimate that the altar was 3 meters high--this fits with the size and location of the steps going up to and coming down from it.

In the middle of that same 8th century the prophet Amos condemned the city because it followed its own god (Am. 8:14).  The city fell to the invading Assyrians in 732.  The city is also mentioned in Jeremiah 4:15, 8:16, and in Ezekiel 27:19 as a commercial center.

Israelite Fortifications.  The city figures significantly in the wars of Israel, especially with Damascus.  It was captured by Ben Hadad of Damascus at Asa's request (1 Kings 15:20; 2 Chronicles 16:4).  But the city was fortified by Ahab who was quite a builder.  An enormous wall was built around the city at the foot of the Canaanite sloping mound.  And in typical Israelite fashion, the main gate area had the outer court, a place within the gate for court and for business, and then a series of gates with enclosures on either side for a variety of uses.  The series of gates leads to a processional way that curls around beside the gate complex and ascends to the top of the tel. 

In the entrance gate a canopied structure existed, with poles standing in pumpkin-shaped stones (one original was found in place) to hold up the roof; this was probably for the king to sit under and hold court (see 2 Sam. 19:8; see also Gen. 19:1 and Ps. 69:13), although it is possible a statue of a deity could have been set up there (see 2 Kings 23:8).  There was also a bench in this gate for the elders, which probably would indicate that the king or his ambasador sat under the canopy. 

To the right of the main gate where the canopied pavilion and the elders’ bench was, there was found a series of standing stones (masseboth--pronounced mats-say-boat) with evidence of a bench and walls.  The stones are not very tall for cult objects, but tall enoug--about a foot or two high.  There was, therefore, an enclosed shrine or chapel in the main gate, for standing stones were used in ancient times in a number of religious ways (even Jacob stood the stone up as a massebah and anointed it with oil (Gen. 28:18).  So here from the time of the Israelite occupation were a number of false shrines in Dan.

"House of David" Inscription.  In 1993 the archaeologists found one of the flagstones on the entrance pavement had writing on it--in old Aramaic.  It was dated to the 9th century B.C.  At first it was thought that the writing reflected the war of Ben Hadad I who was bribed by Asa of Judah to attack Baasha of Israel (about 900 B.C.--see 1 Kings 15:16-22, and 2 Chronicles 16:1-6).  But the important point is that the inscription mentions bet dawid, “the House of David”--the only extra-biblical reference to David or his dynasty.  One may speculate that the tablet was put up by one of the captains from Damascus who may have been appointed governor over this northern Israelite city.  Then, when it passed back into Israelite hands, the monument was knocked down and used for pavement, a smooth entrance of flat flagstones--upside down of course.

More recently two more fragments of this inscription have been found in what is called the hutzot, a trading area just outside the Israelite gate.  Part of it now reads “I killed Jehoram, son of Ahab, king of Israel, and I killed Ahaziah, son of Jehoram, king of the house of David.”  This would put the event around 840 B.C. 

There is a slight problem here in that 2 Kings 9 says that Jehu killed the northern king Jehoram and the southern king Ahaziah (son of the southern king Jehoram).  But the inscription records the claim of the king of Damascus, Hazael (Ben Hadad I died about 843, and the usurper Hazael began to seize power) over this.  One solution is that King Hazael may have seen Jehu as an agent of his since the prophet Elisha had been in Damascus before he (Hazael) killed Ben Hadad. 

The archaeologists are keen to find more of this inscription to the puzzle.  The biblical data is not necessarily out of harmony with the inscription, for both Hazael and Jehu could claim responsibility.  It was an incredible time.  Elijah had just passed the mantle to Elisha; and Elisha had sanctioned the changes in dynasties in both Damascus and Samaria.

The Triumphal Way.  Beyond the main entrance, the stone road then ascended through the complex gates and wound around to the top of the hill where there were more gates (and grooves are still in the pavement stones where the gates were).  This became the triumphal way to the sanctuary.


Israel and the Aramaeans of Damascus


The disruption of the kingdom at the death of Solomon and the subsequent wars between Israel and Judah not only permitted Shishak of Egypt to plunder Palestine (see the section of the notes on Egypt), but also permitted the Aramaeans of Damascus to consolidate their power and make their kingdom the dominant power in Syria-Palestine.


The Early Kings of Damascus

The history and culture of the Aramaeans has now been fairly well illumined by archaeology.  In 1940 archaeologists found the stela of Ben Hadad I in North Syria.  It confirms the list of early kings given in 1 Kings 15:18, where Ben Hadad is said to be the son of Tabrimmon, the son of Hezion, king of Aram.  The same kings in the same sequence are listed on the stela: Hadyan, Tab-Rimmon, and Bar Hadad (Aramaic equivalents).

The problem is king Rezon, who seized Damascus during Solomon’s reign and ruled there (2 Kings 11:23-25).  Is this king the same man as Hezion?  We just do not know.  Some wish to exclude his name from the passage in Kings, but according to the text he is founder of the Damascene kingdom and inspired all the hostility against Israel.


Ben Hadad I

Ben Hadad I came to the throne about 890 B.C., when Syria had become the dominant force in the Syria-Palestine region.  It was ready to take any opportunity to advance its power and influence.  One opportunity came from Asa of Judah (917-876) who wanted help against Baasha of Israel (900-877)(see 1 Kings 15:17).  Asa, in desperation, sent what was left of the temple and royal treasure so recently plundered by Shishak of Egypt.  So he was following the policy of his father Abijam, who made an alliance with Syria when the other kingdom of Israel became aggressive.

But the plan worked against Judah.  It was successful at first, for Syria forced Israel to abandon Ramah and return to the capital of Tirzah.  With Israel and Judah in such a tension, Syria could expand its power unhindered.


Ben Hadad I or Ben Hadad II

The question is whether these are the same king in Damascus.  Up until the discovery of the inscribed stele of Ben Hadad scholars almost universally distinguished between Ben Hadad the contemporary of Asa and Baasha (1 Kings 15:18), and Ben Hadad the contemporary of Elijah and Elisha.  They thought Ben Hadad I died during the early years of Omri and Ahab (ca. 865) and was succeeded by Ben Hadad II.  But the evidence indicates there was only one Ben Hadad in this early period.

The problem comes in harmonizing the reigns of the kings of Israel and the name Ben Hadad of Syria (because the Bible does not say Ben Hadad I or II).  One argument offered against the identification is the word of the vanquished Syrian monarch to Ahab (1 Kings 20:34).  When he refers to “your father” he cannot be referring to Omri;  the reference must be to towns that Ahab's predecessor Jeroboam I--and not actual father--lost to the Syrian kings such as Hezion or Tabrimmon 922-900 B.C.  That was the period of Syrian expansion into Israel.

Ben Hadad's war with Baasha (900-877) gave Damascus the control of the rich trade routes to the Phoenician ports. This added to its great strength in the north.  Aramaean merchants then rather easily captured the Israelite trade market.

But with the death of Baasha, Ben Hadad faced a new problem--Omri and his son Ahab.


Ben Hadad I during the reign of Omri

Omri's Diplomacy with Phoenicia.  Omri reigned about 876-869, and ushered in a new era in Israelite power.  He took diplomatic steps to establish close ties with Phoenicia to offset the threat of Syrian commercial monopoly--he negotiated the marriage of his son to Jezebel, the daughter of Ethbaal, king of the Sidonians (1 Kings 18:18).

Omri's Oppression of Moab.  Omri was vigorous in other directions as well.  The famous “Moabite Stone” written by king Mesha (aboput 840) indicates that Omri had gained control of north Moab, occupying its cities and exacting heavy tribute:

“I am Mesha, son of Chemosh . . . king of Moab, the Dibonite . . . Omri, king of Israel . . . oppressed Moab many days     because Chemosh was angry with his land.  And his son succeeded him, and he also said, I will oppress Moab  . . . .  Now Omri annexed all the land of Madeba, and Israel occupied    it, his days and half his sons’ days, forty years, and Chemosh restored it in my days."  

Omri's Capital at Samaria.  This was a strategic new site for a capital; his elaborate buildings and strong fortifications ensured safety from the Syrian menace.  Samaria is about 6 miles northwest of Shechem, and 35 miles north of Jerusalem.  Omri bought the hill and transferred the capital there from Tirzah about 880 B.C.  It was an easily defended hill 300 to 400 feet above a fruitful plain.  On a clear day one can see to the Mediterranean.

Archaeology proved to be fruitful here in confirming what the Bible said about Omri and Ahab.  It has shown that periods I and II belong to Omri and Ahab, III to the time of Jehu, and periods IV and VI to the eighth century when the city reached its zenith of prosperity.  The remains of the walls and the large cisterns are a silent witness to Samaria's ability to hold out attack, first from Syria, then Assyria (see 2 Kings 6:24-30, and 2 Kings 17:5).

The summit was surrounded by a wall 33 feet thick in places.  The palace measured 160 feet square and was composed of a number of rooms around open courts.  Later kings enlarged the palace and built a second wall down the slopes.  In the second palace there was found a pool, which may have been the pool of Samaria where the bloodstained chariot of Ahab was washed (1 Kings 22:36).

Light was shed on the economic matters of the region with the discovery of the Samaria Ostraca.  These are inscribed pieces of pottery dated mostly to the later period of the reign of Jeroboam II in the early eighth century.  They form tax and revenue slips, suggesting that many of the products from the region were being collected and shipped (to Assyria as tribute?).  They show what writing was like in the time.  And the fact that many of the names are formed with the theophoric element “Baal” shows the influence of Jezebel for some time to come.

There was also the discovery of ivory in the excavations that supported the witness of the Bible.  The archaeologists found fragments of ivory spread all over the mound.  Probably the palace was called “the ivory house” because the thick walls were inlaid with ivory works.  There were also found many fragments of ivory inlay that had at one time been part of the furniture.  We are reminded of Amos’ denunciation of beds of ivory (6:4).

After Samaria was besieged and destroyed by Assyria (722 B.C.), it does not emerge again until the times of Herod when it was rebuilt as “Sebaste,” the Greek form of “Augustus.”  We shall return to this with the study of Herod.

Omri's Unexpected Help.  Israel had an easier time with Syria than expected due to the rise of Assyria, which troubled Syria on its eastern front.  So there is no evidence of an invasion of Israel by Syria in the reign of Omri.

But the initial contact between Assyria and Israel occurred in Omri's day, for from that time on Israel refers in Assyrian texts as Bit Humri, the House of Omri.  The designation of an Israelite king became mar Humri, “son [successor] of Omri.”  The fact that over a century later Tiglathpileser III still refers to Israel this way shows the importance of Omri--although the Bible gives him little press.


Ben Hadad I during the Reign of Ahab

Ahab's Reign.  Ahab reigned from about 869-850.  He spent a good deal of his time strengthening the kingdom within and without against the eventual invasion from Syria.  Samaria was strengthened as a palace and fortress; but so were other cities under his control, including Jericho (1 Kings 16:34; 22:39).

He also cemented relationships with marriages.  He married Jezebel, of course, and introduced the cult of Baal-Melcart into Israel.  He also made a treaty with Judah by marriage, giving his daughter Athaliah, in marriage to Jehoram, the crown prince of Judah (2 Kings 8:18-26).

The long-expected war came near the end of Ahab's reign, about 856.  Ben Hadad suddenly appeared at the gates of Samaria at the head of a coalition of 32 vassal kings (1 Kings 20:1).  Ahab somehow managed to win the battle, and win again in the following year at Aphek east of the Sea of Galilee, on the road from Damascus to Beth-Shean (1 Kings 20:26-43).

The Battle of Qarqar.  But, the next year the appearance of Assyria marching toward the west forced Ahab and Ben Hadad to become allies to block the Assyrian move. Ashurnasirpal II (883-859), whose fighting machine had reached the Mediterranean, had not bothered Damascus or Israel.  But his son, Shalmaneser III (859-824), directed repeated attacks against Syria and Israel.  The monolith of Shalmaneser (now in the British Museum) records the campaigns of his first six years, including his clash with “Hadadezer (Ben Hadad) of Aram (Damascus)” in 853.  The battle was at Qarqar, north of Hamath in the Orontes Valley.  Also mentioned on the monuments is “Ahab the Israelite.”  Ahab’s prominence is registered by the large number of chariots he is said to have brought to the battle--2,000 as compared with 1,200 for Ben Hadad, and 700 from Irhuleni of Hamath.  But Ben Hadad furnished 20,000 soldiers, to 10,000 from Ahab.

In extravagant terms the Assyrian king claims a great victory, which is probably a lie, since he did not continue to press on in the expedition to Hamath.  Moreover, he did not try it again for another six years.


Ben Hadad and Joram

 Ahab died in 850 in his attempt to recover Ramoth Gilead from the Syrians, after the Assyrian menace abated for a few years (so much for the alliance!).  Then, when Ahab died, Moab rebelled against the weak heir Ahaziah (850-49) and Joram (849-842).

Interestingly, when Shalmaneser III came again in 848 and in 845, he fought the coalition led by Ben Hadad.  But Israel did not participate.  It seems that in view of Ahab's death they refused to join the coalition under Ben Hadad, and chose instead to take their chances with Assyria alone.


Hazael and Jehu

Ben Hadad I’s long and energetic reign came to an end about 843.  By 841, a court official in Damascus, had already usurped the throne.  Shalmaneser records his campaign crossing the river for the 16th time in his 18 years' reign, to fight “Haza’ilu of Damascus.”  A text from Asshur describes this change and confirms the biblical record (2 Kings 8:7-15).  The Assyrian record says: “Adadidri [Ben Hadad] forsook his land [i.e., died violently or was murdered]. Hazael, son of nobody, seized the throne.”

Joram's reign was brief, but he seems to have recaptured Ramoth Gilead (2 Kings 8:28; 9:14).  Very soon the Syrian usurper found himself opposed by an Israelite usurper, Jehu (842-815), who began a violent political and religious purge of Israel.  Jehu incurred the hatred of Hazael by submitting to Shalmaneser III in 841 rather than join the Syrian in opposing him.

N.B.  It is here that the new discovery at Tell Dan is relevant for biblical studies.  It is written by the king of Damascus concerning his wars with Israel.

The Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III, which Layard found in 1846 in Nimrud, and which is now in the British Museum, shows Jehu kneeling before the Assyrian.  Following the prostrate Israelite king come Israelites with gifts; the text says: “Tribute of Iaua [Jehu], son of Omri.  Silver, gold, a golden bowl, a golden beaker, golden goblets, pitchers of gold, lead, staves for the hand of the king, javelins I received from him.”

Hazael single-handedly withstood the Assyrian in 841; but Damascus took a terrible beating.  For several more years Hazael lived with the threat of an Assyrian invasion, but after his final attempt in 837 Shalmaneser had to turn his attention to more pressing problems in the north.  Neither he nor his son Shamshi-Adad V (824--815) were able to attack middle or southern Syria.

So, Hazael began to harass Israel relentlessly, especially in eastern Jordan.  The Aramaeans pitilessly “threshed” Gilead and Bashan  (2 Kings 10:32,33; Amos 1:3,4).  Jehu must have realized how badly he had gauged the international situation when he placated Assyria.


Hazael and Joahaz

When Jehu died in 815, Hazael turned up the pressure on Israel, and reduced Joahaz (815-801) to little more than a retainer of the Aramaeans (2 Kings 13:1-9; 22, 25).  Israel now was not much more than the hill country of Ephraim.

This gave Hazael the freedom to pass through Israelite territory.  He destroyed Gath and occupied the Philistine plain.  He was then in a position to attack Jerusalem!  But he was bought off with gold from the temple (2 Kings 12:17-18).

So in view of this campaign, Hazael appears as one of the greatest of Damascus' conquerors.  His reign brought Syria to its greatest power, and his kingdom to its greatest extent.  However, the reappearance of Assyria under Adad-nirari III (8-5-782)  proved that Hazael's empire was only strong in comparison to the other western states.

This time Syria could not stave off the Assyrians.  Adadnirari met no resistance from a unified Syria.  Damascus escaped total destruction, but was put under heavy tribute.  The Saba'a Stele (in Constantinople now) records the words of the Assyrian king: “To march against Aram I gave command.  Mari' [Hazael] I shut up in Damascus, his royal city; 100 talents of gold, 1,000 talents of silver . . . I received.”

Even countries Hazael had conquered revolted and were put under Assyrian tribute--Israel among them.  From a slab found at Nimrud Adadnirari says, “Tyre, Sidon, Humri [Omri-land], Edom, Palastu [Philistia] I brought in submission to my feet.”

After a long reign of at least forty years, Hazael died around 801 B.C.

The later dealings of Israel with Damascus will be discussed in the larger context of Israel with the Assyrian menace, the next class discussion.