Damien F. Mackey
“The wealth and international trade attested by these [Late Bronze Age] levels certainly reflect the age of Solomon far more accurately than the Iron Age cities normally attributed to him, from which we have “no evidence of any particular luxury”.”
Revisionists have accepted the need to re-date the Eighteenth Dynasty era of Egyptian history, of the Late Bronze Age [LBA], to the time of kings David and Solomon of Israel. See e.g. my:
Solomon and Sheba
Archaeologically, Dr. John Bimson had re-set this all into a proper perspective in his important article, “Can There be a Revised Chronology Without a Revised Stratigraphy?” (SIS Review, 6:1-3, Glasgow Proceedings, pp. 18-20).
Here is the relevant section of it for King Solomon:
- The Late Bronze Age and the Reign of Solomon
Although an exhaustive study of the LBA contexts of all scarabs commemorating Hatshepsut and Thutmose III would be required to establish this point, a preliminary survey suggests that objects from the joint reign of these two rulers do not occur until the transition from LB I to LB II, and that scarabs of Thutmose III occur regularly from the start of LB II onwards, and perhaps no earlier . Velikovsky’s chronology makes Hatshepsut (with Thutmose III as co-ruler) a contemporary of Solomon, and Thutmose III’s sole reign contemporary with that of Rehoboam in Judah . Therefore, if the revised chronology is correct, these scarabs would suggest that Solomon’s reign saw the transition from LB I to LB II, rather than that from LB I A to LB I B.
Placing the beginning of LB II during the reign of Solomon produces a very good correlation between archaeological evidence and the biblical record of that period. It is with this correlation that we will begin. In taking the LB I – II transition as its starting-point, the present article not only takes up the challenge offered by Stiebing, but also continues the revision begun in my previous articles, and will bring it to a conclusion (in broad outline) with the end of the Iron Age.
Though KENYON has stated that the LB I – II transition saw a decline in the material culture of Palestine , ongoing excavations are now revealing a different picture. LB II A “was definitely superior to the preceding LB I”, in terms of stability and material prosperity; it saw “a rising population that reoccupied long abandoned towns” . Foreign pottery imports are a chief characteristic of the period . According to the biblical accounts in the books of Kings and Chronicles, Solomon’s reign brought a period of peace which saw an increase in foreign contacts, unprecedented prosperity, and an energetic building programme which extended throughout the kingdom .
I Kings 9:15 specifically relates that Solomon rebuilt Hazor, Megiddo and Gezer. In the revised stratigraphy envisaged here, the cities built by Solomon at these sites would therefore be those of LB II A. More specifically, these three Solomonic cities would be represented by Stratum VIII in Area AA at Megiddo , by Stratum XVI at Gezer, and by Stratum XIV of the Upper City at Hazor (= Str. Ib of the Lower City) .
The wealth and international trade attested by these levels certainly reflect the age of Solomon far more accurately than the Iron Age cities normally attributed to him, from which we have “no evidence of any particular luxury” [21a].
The above-mentioned strata at Megiddo and Gezer have both yielded remains of very fine buildings and courtyards . The Late Bronze strata on the tell at Hazor have unfortunately not produced a clear picture, because of levelling operations and extensive looting of these levels during the Iron Age; but the LB II A stratum of the Lower City has produced a temple very similar in concept to the Temple built by Solomon in Jerusalem, as described in the Old Testament .
Art treasures from these cities not only indicate the wealth of the period, but reflect contacts with Egypt and northern Mesopotamia . These contacts are precisely those we would expect to find attested during Solomon’s reign, the Bible records Solomon’s trade with Egypt and his marriage to the Pharaoh’s daughter , and says (I Kings 4:24) that his kingdom extended as far to the north-east as Tiphsah, which is probably to be identified with Thapsacus, “an important crossing in the west bank of the Middle Euphrates … placed strategically on a great east-west trade route” .
The Bible adds extra detail concerning Gezer: namely, that Solomon rebuilt it after it had been captured and burnt by the Pharaoh, who had given the site to his daughter, Solomon’s wife, as a dowry (I Kings 9:16-17). In Velikovsky’s chronology, this pharaoh is identified as Thutmose I . In the revised stratigraphy considered here, we would expect to find evidence for this destruction of Gezer at some point during LB I, and sure enough we do, including dramatic evidence of burning . The “latest possible date” for this destruction is said to be the reign of Thutmose III, with some archaeologists preferring an earlier date . We may readily identify this destruction as the work of Solomon’s father-in-law.
From the period between this destruction and the LB II A city comes a group of several dozen burials in a cave. DEVER remarks that most of these “show signs of advanced arthritis, probably from stoop labour, which may be an indication of the hardships of life during this period” . Yet contemporary finds, including “Egyptian glass, alabaster and ivory vessels, and a unique terra-cotta sarcophagus of Mycenaean inspiration” , indicate considerable prosperity and international trade at this time. In a revised framework, it is tempting to speculate that the burials were of people who suffered under Solomon’s system of forced labour, by which Gezer was built according to I Kings 9:15. It emerges in I Kings 12 that this forced labour caused sufficient hardship to contribute to the bitterness which split the kingdom after Solomon’s death.
We must turn briefly to Jerusalem, where Solomon’s building activities were concentrated for the first twenty years of his reign, according to I Kings 9:10. Here we find that traces of occupation datable to Solomon’s time in the conventional scheme are rather poor  In the revised scheme, we may attribute to Solomon the impressive stone terrace system of LBA date excavated by Kenyon on the eastern ridge . In fact, this is probably the “Millo” which Solomon is said to have built (I Kings 9:15, 24; II:27). Kenyon describes the nucleus of this terrace system as “a fill almost entirely of rubble, built in a series of compartments defined by facings of a single course of stones…” . “Fill”, or “filling”, is the probable meaning of “Millo” . Also to Solomon’s time would belong at least some of the LBA tombs discovered on the western slope of the Mount of Olives; many of these contain LB I – IIA material which includes “a surprisingly large number” of imported items from Cyprus, Aegean and Egypt . The number would not be surprising in the context of Solomon’s reign. ….
Comparison of (A) LB II (Stratum Ib) temple at Hazor with (B) the basic ground plan of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem, as deduced from biblical information. Both have a tripartite division on a single axis, side-rooms and a pair of free-standing pillars (though the latter are not identically situated in both cases) …”.
This LBA world, though, does not even enter the mind of a conventional archaeologist such as Israel Finkelstein as a possible setting for King Solomon. We read of Finkelstein’s views on the matter in Robert Draper’s article, “Kings of Controversy” (National Geographic Magazine, December 2010):
…. The once common practice of using the Bible as an archaeological guide has been widely contested as an unscientific case of circular reasoning—and with particular relish by Tel Aviv University’s contrarian-in-residence Israel Finkelstein, who has made a career out of merrily demolishing such assumptions. He and other proponents of “low chronology” say that the weight of archaeological evidence in and around Israel suggests that the dates posited by biblical scholars are a century off. The “Solomonic” buildings excavated by biblical archaeologists over the past several decades at Hazor, Gezer, and Megiddo were not constructed in David and Solomon’s time, he says, and so must have been built by kings of the ninth-century B.C.’s Omride dynasty, well after David and Solomon’s reign.
During David’s time, as Finkelstein casts it, Jerusalem was little more than a “hill-country village,” David himself a raggedy upstart akin to Pancho Villa, and his legion of followers more like “500 people with sticks in their hands shouting and cursing and spitting—not the stuff of great armies of chariots described in the text.
“Of course we’re not looking at the palace of David!” Finkelstein roars at the very mention of [Eilat] Mazar’s discovery. “I mean, come on. I respect her efforts. I like her—very nice lady. But this interpretation is—how to say it?—a bit naive.”
…. To the minimalists, David and Solomon were simply fictitious characters. The credibility of that position was undercut in 1993, when an excavation team in the northern Israel site of Tel Dan dug up a black basalt stela inscribed with the phrase “House of David.” Solomon’s existence, however, remains wholly unverified.
…. “You can find evidence in radiocarbon for David being a villager in Norway in the sixth century A.D.!” declares Israel Finkelstein—exaggerating to make a point, as he is prone to doing. “But look, I enjoy reading everything Tom writes about Khirbat en Nahas. It has brought all sorts of ideas to me. I myself would never dig in such a place—too hot! For me, archaeology is about having a good time. You should come to Megiddo—we live in an air-conditioned B&B next to a nice swimming pool.”
This is how Finkelstein begins his rebuttals, with amiable preambles that cannot conceal the Mephisto-like gleam in his eyes. For a scholar, the Tel Aviv archaeologist has a highly visceral manner—leaning his tall, bearded frame into a visitor’s face, waving his large hands, modulating his baritone with Shakespearean agility.
Yet his charm wears thin for those who have felt the sting of his attacks. “If you want to attract attention, you behave like Finkelstein,” says Eilat Mazar. Similarly unamused is Yosef Garfinkel, who says of Finkelstein’s recent receipt of a four-million-dollar research grant, “He doesn’t even use science—that’s the irony. It’s like giving Saddam Hussein the Nobel Peace Prize.” Still, Finkelstein’s theories strike an intellectually appealing middle ground between biblical literalists and minimalists. “Think of the Bible the way you would a stratified archaeological site,” he says. “Some of it was written in the eighth century B.C., some the seventh, and then going all the way to the second B.C. So 600 years of compilation. This doesn’t mean that the story doesn’t come from antiquity. But the reality presented in the story is a later reality. David, for example, is a historical figure. He did live in the tenth century B.C. I accept the descriptions of David as some sort of leader of an upheaval group, troublemakers who lived on the margins of society. But not the golden city of Jerusalem, not the description of a great empire in the time of Solomon. When the authors of the text describe that, they have in their eyes the reality of their own time, the Assyrian Empire.
“Now, Solomon,” he continues with a sigh. “I think I destroyed Solomon, so to speak. Sorry for that! But take Solomon, dissect it. Take the great visit of the Queen of Sheba—an Arabian queen coming to visit, bringing all sorts of exotic commodities to Jerusalem. This is a story which is an impossibility to think about before 732 B.C., before the beginning of Arabian trade under Assyrian domination. Take the story of Solomon as the great, you know, trainer in horses and chariots and big armies and so on. The world behind Solomon is the world of the Assyrian century.” ….
Wrong era, wrong cultures, Israel!
The following recent article by Dave Aeilts and Steve Law is a refreshing change from such endemic biblical minimalising:
Contents of Greek Tomb May Rewrite History
The miniature masterpiece, as UC Magazine calls it, was carved on an agate just under 1-½ inches in length. (Credit: University of Cincinnati)
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. – Isaiah 55:8 (ESV)
A worker at an archeological dig unearths a lump of limestone and puts it to the side. It’s just another shapeless artifact to clean and classify as a team from the University of Cincinnati excavates this 3,500-year-old gravesite in southern Greece. What the team does not realize is that, underneath layers of sediment deposited by the ages lies the work of a genius. This masterpiece may change scholars’ views of Late Bronze Age art—and the other contents of the burial may reveal new insights about this neighbor of Israel, including the dates that should be assigned to events in the ancient world.
What’s going on in the Bible lands has been the focus of many Thinker Updates, but this time we’re exploring a find from one of Israel’s neighbors that just might help us better understand the world of the Bible and its place in history.
A year-and-a-half ago, archeologists affiliated with the University of Cincinnati (UC) made a startling discovery. They were excavating the tomb of a Mycenaean warrior near the Palace of Nestor in Pylos, Greece. They believed this warrior was buried around 1,500 BC, during what is commonly referred to as the “Late Bronze Age.”
The Mycenaean civilization is thought to have controlled what is now southern Greece as well as other lands around the Aegean Sea from about 1,600 to 1,200 BC. Around 1,200 BC at the end of the Late Bronze Age, this early Greek culture went into a downward spiral along with many of their neighbors at the time of the Sea Peoples incursion. By about 1,100 BC, according to standard dating, the Mycenaeans were gone and Greek history had entered a dark period of weakness and disunity about which relatively little is known.
The image of a male warrior has been recreated by layering muscle and skin over the well-preserved skeletal remains in his tomb. (Credit: University of Cincinnati)
The skeletal remains in this tomb were so well preserved that an image of the male warrior has been recreated by overlaying muscle and skin. He has been dubbed “the Griffin Warrior” because of a plaque found next to him. On that plaque, made of ivory, was engraved the body of a lion and the head and wings of an eagle. That character, in both Greek and Egyptian mythology, is known as a griffin—hence the Griffin Warrior.
Besides the plaque, workers unearthed more than 3,000 objects buried with the warrior. The number and quantity of these items speak to his elevated status. According to UC Magazine’s article Unearthing a Masterpiece, the treasure trove included “four solid gold rings, silver cups, precious stone beads, fine-toothed ivory combs, and an intricately built sword, among other weapons.”
No wonder it was a full year before anyone got around to cleaning and categorizing the aforementioned lump of limestone. Imagine their surprise when they removed the crusted veneer of the small agate and realized that its flat surface bore an almost microscopic carving that may change how scholars view the development of art at that time and place.
This artifact was discovered in the grave, next to the Mycenaean warrior. Little did archaeological workers know what was under the limestone veneer. (Credit: University of Cincinnati)
First of all, the image on the stone depicts a battle scene in which a warrior overcomes a foe with his sword while trampling another underfoot. This scene is characteristic of warfare in that era, but it was the extremely fine detail of the artwork that astounded archaeologists who unearthed it.
“Looking at the image for the first time was a very moving experience, and still is,” the magazine quoted Shari Stocker, dig leader and senior research associate in UC’s Department of Classics. “It’s brought some people to tears.”
“What is fascinating is that the representation of the human body is at a level of detail and musculature that one doesn’t find again until the Classical period of Greek art 1,000 years later,” explained Jack Davis, dig leader and professor of Greek archeology, in UC Magazine.
Not only the detail but the size of Pylos Combat Agate, as it is referred to, is amazing. The agate on which this depiction of armed combat is carved is just under 1-1/2 inches in length and contains tiny features which may only be appreciated when viewed through a photographic lens.
“Some of the details on this are only a half-millimeter big,” said Davis in the magazine. “They’re incomprehensibly small.” The small size has prompted some to speculate that a magnifying glass was needed to engrave such exquisite detail.
The intricate detail of the Pylos Combat Agat is revealed in this enlarged drawing of the image on the stone. (Courtesy of Tina Ross/the University of Cincinnati)
The warrior scene is thought to have been created by artisans of the Minoan culture, which inhabited the island of Crete, southeast of Pylos.
“Although the Minoans were culturally dominant to the Greek mainlanders, the civilization fell to the Mycenaeans around 1500-1400 BC—roughly the same time period in which the Griffin Warrior died,” according to the magazine.
What surprised the archeologists was the large number of artifacts of high quality discovered in this Mycenaean warrior’s grave. “It seemed the Minoans were producing art the sort that no one ever imagined they were capable of,” Davis told the magazine.
According to the UC archeologists, this treasure trove also suggests that relations between Mycenaean and Minoan were closer and their cultures more interwoven than earlier thought.
Will this remarkable find rewrite the history of Greece and Greek art? Could the advanced quality of the Pylos Combat Agate, engraved 1,000 years before any comparable artwork, cause scholars to rethink their ideas of when these societies rose and fell?
The Pylos tomb and future archeological digs may reveal more answers. As has been mentioned, Greece supposedly fell into a dark age of nearly 500 years after the collapse of the Mycenaean Greece and the Bronze Age in about 1,200 BC. Yet many scholars have noted the close stylistic similarities in many aspects of the culture (including art) between Mycenaean Greece and the rise of Classical Greece about 500 years later.
One book, Centuries of Darkness by Peter James (Athens: Aiolos, 2006), points to problems with the dating of these dark ages around the Mediterranean. James notes that evidence from before and after the dark periods shows that some of these styles are so similar that the time of depression must be much shorter than normally thought. He concludes that the “dark periods” in the cultures have all been artificially lengthened by centuries due to their reliance on Egypt’s timeline for their dates.
Apparent problems with standard dating are what prompted Egyptologist David Rohl to explore potential revisions. The New Chronology being proposed by Rohl and others would decrease the long dark periods in Egypt and its neighbors by centuries, which would pull a remarkable pattern of archaeological evidence matching the Bible’s Exodus account from the Middle Bronze Age forward in time to match the biblical dates for the Exodus. It would also have the effect of drawing Mycenaean Greece much closer to classical Greece.
David Rohl has noted that some scholars have been puzzled by the historical detail gotten right by Homer in his great tale of the Iliad. Many think Homer lived in the 800s BC, but the Trojan War, which is the subject of the Iliad, was about 400 years earlier. Under the New Chronology, the end of the Bronze Age and the Trojan War would move forward by at least three centuries, so Homer could have spoken with some whose grandfathers participated in the war. This would explain how he got so much right.
So Hiram supplied Solomon with all the timber of cedar and cypress that he desired … So Solomon’s builders and Hiram’s builders and the men of Gebal did the cutting and prepared the timber and the stone to build the house… and Hiram king of Tyre had supplied Solomon with cedar and cypress timber and gold, as much as he desired, – 1 Kings 5:10, 18, 9:11 (ESV)
Will connections drawn from evidence at Pylos show signs that the Bronze Age happened later in history than the standard view holds. If so, the Mycenaean civilization could have been active through the time of kings David and Solomon, rather than collapsing centuries earlier. The result would be that the glorious kingdom of Solomon would no longer be lost. Currently, most scholars conclude that the Bible is exaggerating when it describes the peace, wealth and cosmopolitan nature of Solomon’s kingdom. This is because the period of the Iron Age in which Solomon is currently set was the most impoverished in Canaan. But a shift as called for in the New Chronology would set Solomon in the era of wealth and international trade found in the Late Bronze Age. This controversial proposal is dismissed by many, but troublesome anomalies continue to point to the fact that something is wrong with the standard view.
Researchers continue to sort through this amazing find in one of the world’s oldest continuously populated regions. The UC archeological team has yet to restore and catalog some of the items found in the grave with the Griffin Warrior.
“There will be many more surprises to come, for sure,” stated Davis confidently in UC Magazine. Keep Thinking.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. – Isaiah 55:9 (ESV)