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Jerusalem in the 10th / 9th centuries BC

What has been found from the 10th (or 9th) century BC... are remains of public buildings and fortifications only. Jerusalem was only a small town then, maybe 12 hectares large, and it harbored certainly no more than 2000 inhabitants. Maybe the Queen of Sheba would still have enjoyed her visit to Jerusalem, but I doubt that she would have been greatly impressed. Or - another possibility - the town of Jerusalem was founded in the beginning of the 9th century BC, and Solomon and David had nothing to do with it.

A walk through the town

Above I have described the buildings recovered from the earliest phase of the Iron Age town of Jerusalem. But how did this town look? Maybe we should take a walk through ancient Jerusalem, through the town built by the kings of Judah somewhere in the 10th or 9th century BC.

Envision a group of travelers, coming from the east, hungry and thirsty after a long journey through the Judean desert. Their first glimpse of Jerusalem would impress them greatly. Before their eyes rises the 27 m high stepped stone structure, its steps invisible under a layer of earth and chalk. This formidable fortification, guarding the entrance to the spring Gihon, would give them a first idea of the strength of the town. On top of the hill, casemate walls measuring five meters wide surround a small town. There probably was a gate nearby through which the travelers entered the town. Once inside they feasted their eyes on the fine buildings, constructed of ashlars and proto-aeolic capitals. Going south they would find markets and inns to eat and rest. If the next day they walked to the north side of the town, they would pass more markets and caravanserais. Then they would come to a halt before the "royal" quarter, seat of the king or governor of the region. A large gate led to a complex of halls and palaces. Of course they were not allowed to enter. If the famous temple had already been built, they would certainly visit it, paying respect to the God that resided there. Finally they walked the street sidling the town walls. This would not take them long, as the total length of the walls would not exceed 2 km. A very nice town, they would conclude, and very much like Megiddo and Hazor, which they had visited before.

 

The City of David?

A very nice town, our imaginary visitors concluded. But who had built it, and when and why?

The Bible describes how the small fortress of Zion, where the Jebusites resided, was captured by King David. He transformed it into the capital of his state, a position it kept during the United Monarchy, roughly the 10th century BC. His successor King Solomon built several palaces and a grandiose temple. Jerusalem is described as a beautiful city, capital of a large and wealthy empire. When the Queen of Sheba saw the affluence of Solomon, it left her breathless.14

None of the buildings described in the Bible have been traced by archaeological research. No temple, no palaces, and no "millo house" (even though archeologists sometimes assume they have found traces of the buildings). That doesn't mean the town was not there; maybe everything has been eroded away. But neither does it mean that it was there. Maybe we don't find the grandiose town of the 10th century BC simply because it was never there.

Or maybe it was a much more modest town than the Bible describes. What has been found from the 10th (or 9th) century BC, as described above, are remains of public buildings and fortifications only. Jerusalem was only a small town then, maybe 12 hectares large, and it harbored certainly no more than 2000 inhabitants. Maybe the Queen of Sheba would still have enjoyed her visit to Jerusalem, but I doubt that she would have been greatly impressed.

Or – another possibility – the town of Jerusalem was founded in the beginning of the 9th century BC, and Solomon and David had nothing to do with it. If the advocates of the "low chronology" are right, then most Iron Age towns in ancient Israel have been built in the 9th rather than in the 10th century. The 9th century would be the period when state formation started, kings established themselves, the states of Israel and Judah were formed, and administrative towns such as Hazor, Beersheba, and Jerusalem were built. (In that case, the Queen of Sheba would have been bitterly disappointed when she visited Jerusalem in the 10th century).

 

A new town

Whatever its dating, a very important aspect of this town is the fact that it was a new settlement. The above-described town was not a rebuilding or an extension of an earlier town. Before the 10th century BC no town existed in Jerusalem (except for the Middle Bronze Age, some 800 years earlier). During the Early Iron Age (1200-1000 BC), the hill, which is now called the City of David, was mostly barren. Only a small fortress was located there, near the spring Gihon, the only available water source then. This isolated fortress defended the spring and controlled the area.

When the new town was built on the same hill, no parts of this fortress were used at all. The stepped stone structure covered all earlier remains. Probably the fortress had been out of use for some time. Anyhow, a new town was built on a spot where only ruins of earlier occupation were visible.

This new town was not a small market town. It did not develop slowly from a small village into a larger settlement and eventually into a walled town. Already in its earliest phase Jerusalem shows defensive walls, fortifications, large gates and public buildings made of ashlars and decorated with proto-aeolic capitals. The town shows all the characteristics of an administrative center, built by ruler who wanted to control a large area.

In the ancient Near East, the building of new administrative centers was a political action. When a new ruler, or a new dynasty, established itself, a new capital was built. Also, when new land was incorporated into an existing kingdom, new administrative centers were built. So we can view the building of this new town in Jerusalem as the material expression of a new political situation. Some ruler built an administrative center there. Not a large residential city, but a modest, heavily fortified town with a palace complex at the northern side. From here he (always a he) ruled the region, either as king in his own kingdom, or as governor representing a mightier king.

 

Capital of the United Monarchy?

We may thus conclude that somewhere in the 10th or the beginning of the 9th century BC a small state was founded of which Jerusalem was the administrative center. Whether Jerusalem was the capital of a large state is impossible to say. It certainly was the capital of Judah later in the Iron II period, so maybe it was the most important town of the state of Judah from the beginning onwards. But it is doubtful that it was by far the largest, richest, most important town of the region as the Bible suggests. Megiddo, Hazor, Lachish and Beth Shemesh all display the same characteristics: mainly public buildings, ashlar masonry, proto-aeolic capitals, fortifications and not much room for residential areas. They were as rich or richer than Jerusalem. There is no archaeological or literary- historical evidence for the United Monarchy.

But neither was Jerusalem an unimportant, backward settlement in that period, as some archaeologists maintain. The buildings described above are neither small nor unimpressive. They make a statement, a clear statement, that says: this is the central town of a new political entity that came into existence in the 10th or 9th century BC.

 

Conclusions

  • A new town was founded in a place where no town existed before.

  • No more precise dating of this town is possible at the moment than the 10th or 9th century BC, even though I would be inclined to favor a date in the 9th century BC.

  • Several large public buildings have been found, confirming that this was an administrative center.

  • This town was very similar to such towns as Megiddo, Hazor, or Lachish in lay-out and architecture. These towns all date to the 10th or 9th century BC. Jerusalem was neither more spectacular than these settlements, nor was it more backwards.

  • The archaeological remains show that a new political entity had established itself in the Highlands of Judah and had constructed an administrative center there from which to rule the region.

  • It is impossible to ascertain how large this new entity was. Maybe it consisted only of a small region around Jerusalem, or maybe Jerusalem was part of a larger regional state. This state may have included such towns as Lachish, Beersheba, and Beth Shemesh.

  • The archaeological remains do not confirm the idea that Jerusalem was the main capital of a large state, not that it was larger and more beautiful than other towns.

  • It is impossible to ascertain which ruler built and decorated Jerusalem.

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