Option C: The Historical and Geographical Context

Option C: The Historical and Geographical Context

Option C: Survey

The historical and geographical context, including

Map of Ancient Societies

Click here to download this map.

The Geographical Setting, Natural Features and Resources of Ancient Israel


Aharoni, Y. (1979), The Land of the Bible: A Historical Geography (trans. and ed. by A.F. Rainey).

(You can find this source in Google Books!)

pp.3-6: Introduction to the geographical setting and its role in relation to the Fertile Crescent.

pp.8-11: Climate

pp.11-13: Geological characteristics of the land and its agricultural potential.

pp.13-19: Economy

pp.22-24: Jezreel Valley and a map of Israel’s different regions.

pp.28-29: Mount Ephraim.

Hindmarsh, H. and C. Harnack (2009), The Near East: Nelson Ancient History.pp.130-133: General outline of the geographical setting of Ancient Israel.
Rainey, A.F. and R.S. Notley (2014), The Sacred Bridge: Carta’s Atlas of the Biblical World 2nd ed.

p.38: A good map for the different regions of the land

p.39: Very brief geographical description of Jezreel and Samaria, with emphasis on their mentions in the bible.

pp.41-42: Climate, with emphasis on how the rainfall regime dictated the cultivation of the land throughout the year.

Rogerson, J. (1985), The New Atlas of the Bible.

pp.58-60: Overview of the geography

p.63: Map of vegetation of ancient Israel (the smaller map)

pp.146-151: Geographical description of the heartland of the Kingdom of Israel (Bethel, Samaria, Carmel and Jezreel) with detailed topographical maps.


Samaria served as the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel from the rule of Omri (c.875 BC) to the destruction of the kingdom (722BC).

The site was excavated by Reisner and Fisher in 1908-1910 and by Crowfoot in 1931-1935. A royal complex was unearthed on the summit of the hill. Alongside the acropolis there was also a large lower city. It is disputed whether the royal complex stood in the heart of a large city from its first stage of construction, or whether ninth-century Samaria encompassed only the royal compound and the site expanded beyond the summit only in the first half of the eighth century.

The royal complex, constructed during the ninth century BC, includes the palace, storerooms and administrative structures, as well as a casemate wall surrounding the compound. The archaeological remains attest to Samaria’s role as the capital of the kingdom: Monumental stone buildings were uncovered. The part of the palace that was exposed is ca. 55x40m in size. It is one of the largest Iron Age buildings known in the Levant. It was surrounded by several auxiliary buildings of an administrative nature. The architecture is similar to that found in Jezreel, and in two sites in Moab – all built by the Omrides.

The artefacts also attest to the unique nature of the site: In one building, ivory carvings were found. In another building the "Samaria Ostraca" were found. These ostraca indicate that a large amount of produce was concentrated in the site.

The city was captured and destroyed by the Assyrians in 722-720 BCE.


A. Faust (2012), The Archaeology of Israelite Society in Iron Age II, p.46. Find it here.

A brief summary of the role and architecture of Iron Age Samaria.

I. Finkelstein (2013), The Forgotten Kingdom: The Archaeology and History of Northern Israel, pp. 87-94. Find it here.

New thoughts on the architectural elements of Iron Age Samaria. Includes maps, images and figures.

1 Kings 16: 23-24

The establishment of a new capital in Samaria.

2 Kings 17: 1-6

The destruction of Samaria.

Look up any biblical verse here.

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The Ruins of Samaria The Ancient Ruins of Samaria

Retrieved at: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/7e/Ruins_of_Samaria.jpg

Tirzah ( Tell el-Far'ah)

Tirzah served as the capital of the Kingdom of Israel for a period of 40-50 years (circa 920-880 BCE). The biblical town is identified with Tel el-Fra’ah, located in the northern highlands, in a fertile valley near two springs. This was the capital of Israel before Samaria was built by the Omrides. This makes it a crucial place for the study of the early days of the kingdom.

The site was excavated by De Vaux between 1946-1960. According to Finkelstein, it dates to the second half of the 10th century and the early 9th century BCE. The archaeological evidence from this time is sparse as it was apparently a small unfortified settlement. The settlement of the next period was denser and better planned.

Tirzah must have been chosen to serve as the capital due to its advantageous environment and its location on the main road to the Jordan Valley. However, so far, no signs of public architecture from the phase when Tirzah was the capital have been unearthed. On the other hand, a large number of seals have been discovered from this period, indicating the possible existence of a bureaucratic apparatus.

This could speak to the nature of the kingdom itself at this point: a territorial entity, ruled from a humble settlement, which nevertheless was strong enough to expand and rule territory in the Jezreel Valley. Tirzah lost its importance in the early ninth century BCE, when Omri (884-873 BCE) moved the capital to Samaria.


I. Finkelstein, (2013), The Forgotten Kingdom: The Archaeology and History of Northern Israel, pp.63-82.

An overview of the archaeology of Tirzah and the background on the Kingdom of Israel in its early days, when it was controlled from Tirzah.

A. Chambon (1993), "Far'ah, Tell-el- (North)", in New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land, vol. 2, p.433 and 439-440.

Identification and history of the site and description of the finds of the different periods.

Joshua 12:24

Joshua captures the city of Tirzah.

1 Kings 15:33

Tirzah is the capital of Israel.

1 Kings 16:15-17

Omri besieged Tirzah.

Look up any biblical verse here.

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The ancient town Shechem has been identified at Tell Balatah, in the modern day city of Nablus. Itis located in the central hill country, strategically situated on the road between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim. It is mentioned in the bible in relation to Abraham (Gen 12:6), Jacob (Gen 33:18-20, 35:1-4) and Joseph (Gen 37:12-17). While the historicity of these stories is dubious, the mentioning of Shechem in them makes clear that it was part of the Israelite lore as a prominent sanctuary center, related to Israel’s heritage.

Shechem is also mentioned in stories indicating its role as a place where one goes to establish his right to rule the region (Abimelech in Judges 9; Rehoboam and Jeroboam in 1 Kings 12). Shechem is named as the city Jeroboam built as the first capital of the Northern Kingdom (1 Kings 12:25). With the rise of a new dynasty in the days of Ba’asha the capital moved from Shechem to Tirzah. However, there are no archaeological finds from Shechem from the tenth century BCE to indicate its position as a capital.


E.F. Campbell (1993), "Shechem", in New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land, vol. 4, pp.1345-1346 and 1352-1353.

History of Shechem and results of excavations at the site of Shechem.

Genesis 12:6

Sechem is mentioned as the first place Abraham came to in Canaan.

Genesis 33:18-20

Jacob purchased a parcel of a field in Shechem and erected an altar there.

Genesis 37:12-17

Joseph went in search of his brothers who had gone to feed their flock in the fertile fields of Shechem.

Joshua 24:1

The Israelites make a commitment to Yahweh at Shechem.

Judges 9

Abimelech goes to Shechem to establish his right to rule.

1 Kings 12

Rehoboam and Jeroboam go to Shechem to establish the right to rule.

Look up any biblical verse here.

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Tel Megiddo is located on the western margin of the Jezreel Valley of inland northern Israel. Due to its strategic position on one of the key trade routes of the ancient Near East, it developed into an important regional urban center. In the Iron Age II it served as an administrative center of the Northern Kingdom of Israel.

Yadin, who excavated Megiddo in a few short excavation seasons in the 1960s, attributed the construction of Stratum VA‒IVB to King Solomon. This city was surrounded by a casemate wall with a six-chambers gate and it included two palaces. The Solomonic city, according to Yadin, was destroyed during Pharaoh Sheshonq’s campaign (926 BC). Yadin linked a fragment of a stele of Shishak found during earlier excavations to this event. On top of the ruins of the Solomonic city, Stratum IV was constructed, with large stables, fortifications, a water system and a governor’s residence. This was the city of the Kings of Israel until its final destruction by the Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser in 732 BC.

I. Finkelstein has excavated the site of Tel Megiddo for the last two decades. He has shown many historical problems with Yadin’s reconstruction. Based on the similarity to the palace of Kings Omri and Ahab at Samaria, and pottery comparisons, Finkelstein associated palaces of Megiddo with the Omrides and assigned a later date of ninth century BC. In addition to comparisons with other sites, Finkelstein used Radiocarbon tests to date the layers of Megiddo accurately. He dated the palaces of Megiddo to the first half of the ninth century BC. The destruction of this layer, traditionally associated with Sheshonq’s campaign, was re-dated to the middle of the ninth century BC and associated with the campaign of Hazael, king of Aram.


Y. Yadin (1970), Megiddo of the Kings of Israel, pp.93-96. .

Yadin’s reconstruction of “Solomonic Megiddo” following his excavations at the site.

I. Finkelstein (2009), "Destructions: Megiddo as a case study", in Schleon (ed.), Exploring the Longue Duree, Essays in Honor of Lawrence E. Stager, pp.113-126.

On the dating of the Iron Age IIA destruction layer in Megiddo. See especially 'The Tel Aviv University Excavations', pp.117-118.

I. Finkelstein (2010), "A Great United Monarchy? Archaeological and Historical Perspectives", in Kratz and Spieckermann (eds.), One God – One Cult – One Nation: Archaeological and Biblical Perspectives, pp. 3-28.

pp.3-14: A reappraisal of the traditional theory regarding the United Monarchy and the problems with it. Discussion of the role of Megiddo in this period and the interpretations of the archaeological finds from Megiddo.

pp.19-20: General concluding notes on the character of the United Monarchy.

1 Kings 9:15

King Solomon taxed a levy on the kingdom in order to fortify Megiddo amongst other places.

Look up any biblical verse here.

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Gate of Megiddo Outer Opening of the Chambered Gate at Megiddo

Retrieved at : https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/83/Outer_opening_of_the_chambered_gate_at_Megiddo_%2820531458520%29.jpg


Jerusalem in the tenth century BC is the topic of much controversy. It sits atop the Judean hills and is relatively isolated and easily guarded. According to the biblical narrative, it was the capital of the united monarchy, conquered by David (2 Samuel 5:6-9), who renamed the city 'Jerusalem' and made it the religious centre of the kingdom. Solomon then proceeded to build it into a magnificent capital with a temple dedicated to the worship of Yahweh (1 Kings 9:15).

However, archaeological evidence for this tenth century BC building activity is meager and very contested. This is despite the fact that Jerusalem is one of the most thoroughly investigated archaeological sites in the world. Remains possibly belonging to this phase include “The Stepped Structure” and “The Large Stone Structure”:

  1. The Stepped Structure is a large structure built along the slope of the hill which includes an outer sloping stepped structure and below it a supporting substructure of stone ‘boxes’ filled with stones. The purpose of the structure was probably to support foundations of a large building constructed on top of the hill.
  2. The Large Stone Structure is a building excavated on the summit of the hill. Only a few walls were preserved of this structure. The excavator (Eilat Mazar) presented it as a large building, constructed in the Iron Age (IIA) and connected it with the Stepped Structure, creating one large architectural complex. He therefore identified it with the palace of king David.

In opposition to this reconstruction, Finkelstein and other scholars have shown that the actual remains found are problematic to date and reconstruct due to the many later disturbances. He showed that they might belong to several separate periods and do not make up one large architectural complex. This argument is crucial to the understanding of the nature of Jerusalem in the days of “the United Monarchy” and thus of the monarchy itself: Was it a kingdom ruled from a fortified center, albeit a small one, or was Jerusalem a remote highland village with no evidence to its position as a capital in the tenth century BC?

The archaeology of Jerusalem as a royal capital from the eighth century BC is much clearer, with the city expanding to its maximum size, fortifications and small finds which indicate an administrative system. However, this capital already belongs to the Kingdom of Judah and it thrives mostly after the fall of the Kingdom of Israel in 722BC.


A. Mazar (2010), "Archaeology and the Biblical Narrative: The Case of the United Monarchy", in Kratz and Spieckermann (eds.), One God – One Cult – One Nation: Archaeological and Biblical Perspectives, pp.29-58.

pp.29-30: A brief overview of approaches to the biblical narrative in relation to the archaeological finds.

pp.34-46: A defense of E. Mazar’s reconstruction of the Stepped Stone Structure and the Large Stone Structure as being part of the same architectural complex, dated to the United Monarchy.

See p.36, fig.1 for an image of the remains of the Stepped Stone Structure.

pp.51-52: A view on the possible nature of the United Monarchy in light of the meager archaeological evidence.

I. Finkelstein (2011), "The 'Large Stone Structure' in Jerusalem: Reality versus Yearning", Zeitschrift des Deutschen Palästina-Vereins vol.127, pp.1-10.

Presents the arguments against the Mazars’ reconstruction of the Large Stone Structure and Stepped Stone Structure.

See fig.1 for the remains of the Large Stone Structure.

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Like Jerusalem, Beersheba is located in the southern kingdom of Judah rather than the northern kingdom of Israel. It is located deep in the Negev desert in the south of modern Israel.

Archaeological excavations have revealed several strata (layers) of occupation, including Stratum VII, which has been dated to the early part of the Iron IIA (950‒900 BCE). The settlement of this stage is characterized by the arrangement of the houses in a “belt” around a central open space, creating a pattern known as an “enclosed settlement”, typical to many highland sites at this period.

This settlement was part of an extensive wave of rural settlements, unusual for this arid area, which encompassed the Negev Highlands and Nahal Besor. A settlement at nearby Tel Masos, which was the largest and most complex site in the area at this phase, was apparently the center of this system. Finkelstein has suggested that this settlement array formed a territorial-political entity. He linked the emergence of this local desert polity with the southern Levantine copper industry that thrived during the 12th–9th centuries BC at sites along the Arabah Valley. The end of this settlement system was attributed by Herzog to a worsening of climatic conditions combined with pressure put on the area by Egypt (an example of this is Shosenq’s campaign).

The next stratum, Stratum VI, demonstrates a transitional phase in which little construction took place within the remains of the Stratum VII town. Stratum V already represents a fortified city belonging to the kingdom of Judah.


Z. Herzog (2016), "Social, Historical and Cultural Ramifications", in Beer-Sheba vol.III, pp.1457-1459.

A summary of the nature of settlement at Beersheba in the different periods and the historical implications.

M. Martin and I. Finkelstein (2013), "Iron IIA Pottery from the Negev Highlands: Petrographic Investigation and Historical Implications", Tel Aviv vol.40, pp.6-45. See esp. pp.6-10 and 38-39.

Research on the pottery from southern Israel in early Iron IIA in order to establish its origin and its relation with the copper production in Wadi Arabah.

A. Fantalkin and I. Finkelstein (2006), The Sheshonq I Campaign and the 8th-Century BCE Earthquake: more on the Archaeology and History of the South in the Iron I-IIa, pp.24-26.

Some background on the “Desert Polity” centered around Tel Masos and its relation to the copper industry.

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Tel Beesheba

Tel Beersheba Overview

Retrieved at: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/62/Tel_Be%27er_Sheva_Overview_2007041.JPG

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