Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 11 (2011) - Review

Grabbe, Lester L. (ed.), Israel in Transition: From Late Bronze II to Iron IIa (c. 1250-850 B.C.E.) Volume 1. The Archaeology (LHBOTS, 491; ESHM, 7; New York: T&T Clark, 2008). Pp. xii+239. Hardcover. US$130.00. ISBN 9780567027269.

Israel in Transition: From Late Bronze to Iron IIa (c. 1250-850 b.c.e.) Volume 1: The Archaeology is a book I have been waiting for to bring me up to date on the archaeological approaches to the beginning of the Hebrew settlement and early monarchy. The editor's personal introduction and conclusion warns me, however, of setting expectations too high. I will find “a lack of consistent terminology,” the division of the Iron Age into two or three main divisions, differing chronologies for each of the various Iron Age divisions, various technical terminology used for chronological systems, differing terminology for the important Philistine pottery, etc. This thin book does not settle these archaeological issues, but it does show how a historian responds to the language of ‘archaeologese’ and lets an exegete know that archaeology is more technical, less biblical, and more world-embracing in its outlook than ever. Major practicing archaeologists participated in the seminar at the University of Hull on April 24-27, 2006. Some of the papers update the bibliography another year or two. Grabbe's introduction (pp. 3-18) gives a provocative overview of each of the contributions.

Shlomo Bunimovitz and Zvi Lederman (pp. 21-31: “A Border Case: Beth-Shemesh and the Rise of Ancient Israel”) see the identity of Israel built on the western boundaries with the Philistines, not in the eastern highlands, ethnicity coming from inclusion and exclusion under the stress of living on the border. Iron I Beth-Shemesh shows a continuation of Late Bronze Canaanite culture at least to 1100 BCE. but with a complete absence of pig bones, a practice that appears to have begun in the Shephelah and extended into the highlands and may identify Beth-Shemesh as an Israelite town. The famous “Four-room house” apparently developed on the Canaanite Shephelah.

Israel Finkelstein, Alexander Fantalkin, and Eliezer Piasetsky (pp. 32-44: “Three Snapshots of the Iron IIA: The Northern Valleys, the Southern Steppe, and Jerusalem”) acknowledge that their “low chronology” has caused differences with other archaeologists represented in this volume.

Archaeologist Iron I/II Transition Iron IIa Range Relevance of Tel Rehov Judah state origin Importance of Arad and Shoshenq I
Mazar, et al 1100's to end of Egyptian rule Iron I c. 1125 to 970 970 970-840 Earlier Iron I/II dates than North
Finkelstein 925 to 900 925-845 Measures same as other sites Late Iron IIa = 9th century Southern cities abandoned, not destroyed; prosperity increased; Egypt sought control not destruction
Herzog Arad XII/950; Iron II starts 950
Knauf 10th century Jerusalem/Benjamin; later spread north

Norma Franklin (pp. 45-53: “Jezreel Before and After Jezebel”) isolates three Iron Age phases at Jezreel: intense agricultural activity, pre-enclosure, and rectangular enclosure. The master plans for Samaria, Megiddo, and Jezreel are not from Omride but from a post-Omride dynasty, probably Jeroboam II (contra Finkelstein).

Ann E. Killebrew (pp. 54-71: “Aegean-Style Pottery and Associated Assemblages in the Southern Levant: Chronological Implications Regarding the Transition from the Late Bronze II to the Iron I and the Appearance of the Philistines”) traces Mycenaean-style pottery.

Producer Time Pottery
Mainland Greece 1400-1200 All Mycenaean-style pottery
Eastern Mediterranean sites End of 13th century Mycenaean-style pottery
Southern Levant Phase I (14th to 13th century)
Phase II (Late 13th, early 12th century
Phase III (1200-1150)=locally produced
Mycenaean IIIb late (Simple or Derivative IIIb)
Few in northern Canaan Levanto-Helladic/Mycenaean IIIc:1a/Mycenaean IIIc early
Aegean/Southern coastal plain Iron I Mycenaean IIIc:1b/Mycenaean IIIc early to middle I High chronology
Early Mycenaean (1200)
Middle Chronology (1175)
Bichrome (1150)
Low (1140)
Modified Low (1160)
Bichrome (after 1100)

Killebrew concludes that early Iron I Philistine levels offer no absolute chronological indicators. The Philistine settlement was complex, multi-episodal, and extends beyond defeat of Sea Peoples by Rameses III with multiple arrivals from 1200 to 1150 BCE. Philistines could only have arrived in the southern coastal plain after Egyptians left. They arrived most likely under Rameses VI.

Ernst Axel Knauf (pp. 72-85: “From Archeology [sic] to History: Bronze and Iron Ages with Special Regard to the Year 1200 BCE. and the Tenth Century”) states emphatically that to date archaeological periods by historical events is absurd. Why date a period to 1200 BCE when nothing special happened in that year? He is convinced that the Exodus and conquest did not occur, only fundamentalists continuing to believe in them. The core of the tradition emerges from Sethnakht's expulsion of Asians in 1186/85 BCE.

Knauf chooses to do macro-history of the Mediterranean with a special look at shipwreck statistics that indicate the intensity of trade. This reveals a deep trade trough in the 12th to 10th centuries BCE. Knauf holds out the possibility that a trade upsurge began in the 10th century BCE in southern and central Canaan based on Arabah copper production. Phoenicia took over trade dominance in the 9th century BCE based on Cyprus copper.

Amihai Mazar (pp. 97-120: “From 1200 to 850 BCE.: Remarks on Some Selected Archaeological Issues”) defends more traditional dating of archaeological finds. Among other issues he claims:

  1. Egypt's 20th dynasty weakened.
  2. Canaanites remained in northern plains until c. 1000 with flourishing urban and rural culture.
  3. Megiddo has evidence of Canaanite, Phoenician, Sea Peoples culture.
  4. Finkelstein's expectation that contemporary sites should have similar pottery is right in principle but not applicable to every case.
  5. Dor's extraordinary growth came from Ugarit and Hittites.
  6. C14 dates from Iron IIa show 10th and 9th century results.
  7. Mycenaean IIIc:1b comes from the period of the 20th Dynasty of Egypt following Rameses III's battle with Sea Peoples and marks Philistine immigration from Aegean. Specialized Philistine pottery did not immediately become traded due to the newcomers' cultural isolation. Gradually, Philistine bichrome ware emerged about 1125.
  8. Philistines created large urban areas with an economy based on farming and local industry but did not immigrate into northern Israel.
  9. The structures in Jerusalem come from the 11th to 10th century and show Jerusalem as a power base for a strong ruler like David. A Temple Mount construction would expand Jerusalem to a size fit for the capital of a large territorial state under Solomon. “Archeological evidence supports the existence of contemporary polities mentioned in the biblical narrative relating to David and Solomon” (109).

Beth Alpert Nakhai (pp. 121-37: “Contextualizing Village Life in the Iron Age I”) points to villages dominating reduced urban centers in Iron I. She shows the disparate distribution through Palestine and the variety of lifestyles in various areas.

Area Urban Signs Villages New Power Base Transition from Late Bronze
Upper Galilee City States of Tyre, Hazor, Akko 62 new Iron I sites Kinneret replaces Hazor Retained city states
Lower Galilee Egyptian/Canaanite control in Jezreel and Beth-shean valleys Several dozen new sites New regional trade after Egyptian withdrawal New sites continuing from LB; resettlement of older cities
Central Highlands Large complex towns in Benjamin 70% Iron I settlements here of which 90% in Manasseh and Ephraim (Ai, Bethel, Shiloh) Canaanites in Shechem, Dothan, Tell el-Farah North
Judean Hill Country Two dozen fairly large sites between Jerusalem and Hebron; Negev sites complex Leadership by elite in some villages Earlier ways of life in new community settings

Nakhai notes the need for complexity in creating models to explain Iron I and Israelite settlement which represents a wide variety of responses to “human and environmental imperatives” (125). Central highlands houses were simply functional workstations.

Ronny Reich, Eli Shukron, and Omri Lernau (pp. 138-143: “The Iron Age II Finds from the Rock-cut ‘Pool’ near the Spring in Jerusalem: A Preliminary Report”) describe distinctively different Late Iron pottery, seals and bullae without writing, and over 7,000 fish bones. They deduce a nearby administrative city, perhaps imported from Phoenicia via Israel.

Bruce Routledge (pp. 144-76: “Thinking ‘Globally’ and Analyzing ‘Locally’: South-Central Jordan in Transition”) points to great international changes between Late Bronze II and Iron IIb reaching into southeast Anatolia. This brought great regional variation. In Jordan he finds well-fortified villages and large-scale construction but short-lived settlements. He finds the evidence points to the sudden formation of kingdoms in Moab and Ammon in Iron IIa. This shows Routledge that settlements before monarchy are not necessarily unfortified, egalitarian, or stable. No one model can explain all the instances of the rise of monarchy.

Han Sharon, Ayelet Gilboa, and Elisabetta Boaretto (pp. 177-92: “The Iron Age Chronology of the Levant: The State-of-Research at the 14C Dating Project, Spring 2006”) introduce the latest information from Carbon 14 dating with quite some complexity leading to the acceptance of the Low Chronology pattern with the LB transition to Iron I set about 900 BCE. They admit gaps occurring between results of different laboratories. They come to conclusions about the use of C14: do not rely on a single site, replication is absolutely needed, caution is called for in eliminating any measurements, the fit of a model must be investigated with regard to each data set. They posit that most archaeologists no longer believe in a Davidic empire based on dating an archaeological stratum through the use of biblical texts. Instead, the majority of scholars work from “qualified skepticism” rather than “guarded credulity.” They conclude: “We are all minimalists.”

Margaret Steiner (pp, 193-202: “Propaganda in Jerusalem: State Formation in Iron Age Judah”) admits to the scarcity of evidence for what happened in Judah before the 8th century BCE. She differentiates a mature state, which Judah did not have, a chiefdom, and an early state, Judah becoming the latter at the start of Iron II. In that period Jerusalem showed a territory with loose boundaries, a military-leader as ruler, who has to legitimate himself, a monopoly of force, two social classes, small administrative apparatus, a traveling ruler without a fixed court but with a capital, monumental architecture, and the demand for prestige goods. Jerusalem may have been the largest town in Judah or Israel. It did not have mature state characteristics of craft specializations, standing army, money, regular tax levies, or a large bureaucracy.

David Ussishkin (pp. 203-16: “The Date of the Philistine Settlement in the Coastal Plain: The View from Megiddo and Lachish,” 203-16) sees northern Megiddo and southern Lachish as the key sites for Palestine archaeology. The Sea Peoples are pictured in ox carts, not on the sea. The Egyptian strength at Megiddo would have forced the Philistines to fight north of Megiddo, not near Egypt. Philistines moved into southern coastal plain after 1130. Lachish was apparently another Egyptian administrative center with strong trade in lumber and fish, indicating ties to the southern coast. No meaningful Philistine pottery appeared at Lachish, which the Sea Peoples apparently destroyed around 1150.

In his conclusion (219-32) Grabbe raises the issue of how the Bible can still play a central role for so many archaeologists. He points to ethnicity as a major issue at the heart of all others and to pronouncements by archaeologists on technical methods they do not fully understand. He asks what material culture and dates can be associated with the Philistines and concedes no date can be given to Judean state formation. Grabbe does find reality in the telling of the Saul and the David stories, but basically dismisses the Solomon material as the tale of an Oriental monarch, leaving the possibility that he built a temple. Overall, Grabbe finds little difference in the views of Finkelstein and Mazar on the possibility of a United Monarchy. Both see much fiction in the biblical accounts, and each compares David to a typical ‘apiru leader like Labayu of Shechem. So Grabbe finishes by demanding that archaeology serve as the central core of any future history of Israel.


Trent C. Butler, Contract Writer and Editor, Gallatin, TN