SYNOPSIS: The existence of a strong centralized kingdom at the time of Solomon as described in the Bible is something that is disputed by many scholars. A recent discovery of fortification walls at the important biblical city of Lachish now challenges that view, in more ways than you might think. The Lachish city wall discovery lends support to the biblical account.
Then Joshua and all Israel with him passed on from Libnah to Lachish and laid siege to it and fought against it. And the LORD gave Lachish into the hand of Israel, and he captured it on the second day and struck it with the edge of the sword, and every person in it, as he had done to Libnah.– Joshua 10:31-32 (ESV)
Fortification Wall at Biblical Lachish Points to the Kingdom of Judah
The ancient city of Lachish has a long biblical history. As Judah’s second-most important city after Jerusalem, it has been the scene of many battles and destructions over the centuries. A newly discovered fortification wall at Lachish, dated to the 10th century BC adds to the debate among archaeologists as to whether Judah was a strongly centralized kingdom in the days of David and Solomon as the Bible claims.
The announcement came early in April of new finds made by Yosef Garfinkel, head of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Institute of Archaeology. Scholars at The Hebrew University have generally been more positive toward the historical validity of the Bible’s account of David and Solomon leading a strong and expansive Israel. Often opposing the conclusions of professors from the Hebrew University are the more skeptical views of scholars from Tel Aviv University, headed by Israel Finkelstein.
Tim Mahoney interviewed Israel Finkelstein twice for the film Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus. In his influential book, The Bible Unearthed, Finkelstein along with co-author Neil Asher Silberman has written that “…neither David nor Solomon is mentioned in a single known Egyptian or Mesopotamian text. And the archaeological evidence in Jerusalem for the famous building projects is nonexistent.” (p. 128)
While admitting that much of the Temple Mount has been off-limits for archaeological excavation, when Finkelstein looked at the general evidence from the supposed era David and Solomon he concluded, “Jerusalem itself was, at best, no more than a typical highland village… in the tenth century [BC], their rule extended over no empire, no palatial cities, no spectacular capital.” (p. 142-43) He has called the Bible’s glorious United Monarchy of David and Solomon a local dynasty of rustic tribal chiefs.
Fortification Wall Dated to 10th Century Lachish?
It is into the middle of this debate that the discovery of the walls at Tel Lachish enters. Garfinkel argues that the fortifications are supportive evidence of the Bible’s account of Solomon’s son Rehoboam. The kingdom split in two shortly after Solomon’s death, with 10 tribes forming the rival northern Kingdom of Israel. Rehoboam, as the king of Judah, prepared for the expected attack from Israel’s ally Egypt, by fortifying a series of cities.
Rehoboam lived in Jerusalem, and he built cities for defense in Judah… Adoraim, Lachish, Azekah …He made the fortresses strong, and put commanders in them, and stores of food, oil, and wine. And he put shields and spears in all the cities and made them very strong. So he held Judah and Benjamin.– 2 Chronicles 11:5, 9, 11-12 (ESV)
Lachish, located about 30 miles southwest of Jerusalem, had previously been thought to have no walls in the 10th century of Solomon and Rehoboam, bolstering the skeptical views of scholars like Israel Finkelstein. The site has been excavated multiple times since the 1930s and has produced many exceptional artifacts including a Toilet at a holy site: Probable evidence of King Hezekiah’s war on idolatry.
Discovery of Royal Architecture in Judah at the Time of David and Solomon
In all these excavations, no walls from the early Iron Age levels of Lachish (including what is thought to have been the 10th century BC) had previously been found. Garfinkel believes the new find counters the skeptics and shows that Judah was a strongly centralized kingdom by the 10th century BC, at least a century earlier than Finkelstein and many historians believe.
“During the Late Bronze Age, Lachish was a very large, grand Canaanite city. Then in the 12th century B.C.E., it was destroyed, and stood waste for 200 or 250 years,” Garfinkel is quoted as saying in Haaretz. “The big question for research in the city is what happened in Layer 5 [of the early period] of the Iron Age: Is that a fortified city, or a village? If it was a city, when was it built? Some say, in the time of David and Solomon, in the early 10th century. Others think it was only built in the late 9th century.”
“We looked in three places, and ultimately, in the northern section, we found a wall between Layer 6 and Layer 4. Later the excavators reached a floor that stretches to the wall, which could be dated using olive pits found beneath the floors. Samples of the pits were sent to the particle accelerator at Oxford, which ruled that the wall had been built around 920 B.C.E., which was exactly the rule of Rehoboam, son of Solomon and grandson of David.”
Garfinkel is also well known as the lead excavator at Khirbet Qeiyafa, a small fort north of Lachish that was on the ancient border between Judah and Philistia. As reported in the past Thinker Update about the Valley of David and Goliath, Garfinkel and his team made several finds at Qeiyafa that they also dated to the 10th century BC. They believe these show that it was connected to a strong centralized power in Jerusalem at the time.
But others discount the idea that this is proof supporting the biblical account. Tel Aviv University’s Professor Nadav Na’aman told Haaretz that the presence of the thicker wall does not show who built it; it could have been built by Philistines who he believes controlled Lachish at the time.
“In the 10th century B.C.E., Judah was still very peripheral, and very weak. It only began to gain strength in the 9th century B.C.E.,” he said.
New Chronology and a Third Option for the Finds at Lachish
Archaeological Evidence of Destructions at about the Same Time the Son of King Solomon Reigned over Isreal.
There is another possible explanation for the finds at Tel Lachish. If the New Chronology proposed by David Rohl and other scholars is employed, it may give a superior fit for the evidence that has been found. In Rohl’s view, the reason scholars are finding little evidence for the wealthy and cosmopolitan empire of Solomon is that they are looking in the wrong time period because evidence has been assigned the wrong dates. This is a similar problem to finding evidence for the exodus from Egypt. Rohl believes we must look centuries earlier for evidence that matches the biblical accounts.
If Egypt’s Third Intermediate Period were drastically reduced, it would have all the effect of moving the Bronze and Early Iron Ages forward in time from two to three centuries, resulting in lower dates for these periods. This evidence would align them in whole new ways with the biblical timeline, which comes from an independent source – the Bible.
Under Rohl’s theory, the Israelites conquest of Canaan would have occurred around 1400 BC in line with biblical chronology, however this date would correspond to a point late in the Middle Bronze Age (earlier than conventionally believed) when the conquest cities mentioned as overcome in the Bible (including Lachish) all show archaeological evidence of destructions at about the same time. For more information on the evidence in Canaan matching the Middle Bronze Age destructions, see the book Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus.
Motifs That Fit King Solomon Found
This would put the Late Bronze Age remains of places like Lachish and Megiddo into the period of kings David and Solomon. This would be the very large, grand “Canaanite” city mentioned by Garfinkel. Beautiful ivories matching motifs that fit King Solomon have been found in this period of great wealth and international trade, all dubbed as the height of Canaanite culture by most scholars. However, these are linked to Solomon’s glorious empire by David Rohl as can be seen in the previous Thinker Update Discovering the real Gate of Solomon.
A pair of destructions exist fairly close to each other at Lachish around the end of the Late Bronze Age. These are conventionally linked to the period around 1200 BC, but Rohl would tag these as the city being captured by David and then being defeated by Pharaoh Shishak in the fifth year of David’s grandson, Rehoboam.
In the fifth year of King Rehoboam, because they had been unfaithful to the LORD, Shishak king of Egypt came up against Jerusalem …And he took the fortified cities of Judah and came as far as Jerusalem.– 2 Chronicles 12:2, 4 (ESV)
The Iron Age II period then follows, which is one of the poorest times of Canaan’s archaeological remains, at least in view of what has been found so far. This would equate to the decline of Judah after the time of Rehoboam. In this scenario, the sites of Tel Lachish and Khirbet Qeiyafa were indeed linked to a centralized power in Jerusalem as Garfinkel has proposed. However, this was during a period long after Solomon reigned, when they were greatly reduced in strength, explaining why the evidence for a grand, extremely wealthy empire is generally lacking.
The next time Lachish is mentioned in the Bible is during the reign of Amaziah of Judah about 160 years later. This may be the time of Garfinkel’s newly discovered wall, at a time that would predict it was not as impressive as the wall at the end of the Late Bronze Age from the time of Rehoboam, just after Solomon’s reign had ended.
From the time when he turned away from the LORD they made a conspiracy against him in Jerusalem, and he fled to Lachish. But they sent after him to Lachish and put him to death there.– 2 Chronicles 25:27 (ESV)
Carbon Dating Supports the Biblical Account of the Early Israelites in the Judges
What about the olive pits? The carbon dating method used to establish the date of the pits at 920 BC has been shown to have inaccuracies in this area, as the following article shows: Carbon Dating Errors may Rewrite the Bible’s place in history. The underlying presuppositions of the method continue to be in question.
Realizing that finds labeled as “Canaanite” may actually pertain to the early Israelites in the Judges and United Monarchy Period may be the solution to finding the missing reigns of David and Solomon. Exploring the pattern of evidence matching the Bible is something we will continue to do in thePatterns of Evidence films. – Keep Thinking!
TOP PHOTO: The front gate at Lachish, an area that was previously thought to be unguarded by fortification walls. (from Wikimedia Commons )