The King Solomon of a Later Century

3,000-Year-Old Jerusalem City Wall
Third-generation Israeli biblical archaeologist Eilat Mazar stands next to a Jerusalem city wall she has dated to King David’s time.

There is an ongoing debate between Biblical scholars on whether the David and Solomon of the Bible are history or myth. On one side of the debate is the belief that the stories of David’s military exploits and Solomon’s massive empire were embellished but generally true. A comparison between the mythical elements of the two Books of Samuel with the historical annals of the two Books of Kings may yield clues as to how we can understand the Bible’s relation to history.

But first, a little background on the Bible. Most Old Testament scholars today believe that the majority of the Old Testament, minus the prophets, was written by four specific authors, or possibly schools. The earliest source, known as J, was written by the “Yahwist.” This author, who started from Adam and ended with Solomon, wrote the majority of the family relationship stories in the bible, especially in Genesis and 2 Samuel (Friedman, Hidden 51-52). It’s nearly universally agreed that he or she lived in the southern hill country of Judah because of the extended attention the author gives the area (Boadt 94). Another source is called E, because the author, the “Elohist,” uses the name Elohim (“God” instead of “Yahweh,” like the Yahwist does.) He wrote parts of Genesis, Exodus, and Numbers, and focused mainly on Moses. These two sources were then combined into one JE narrative, which was later combined with two other sources, P and D, to form the Pentateuch. The P source was made up the second part of Exodus, all of Leviticus, and the first part of Numbers, while The D source was made up of all of Deuteronomy and most of everything up to 1 Samuel.

One example of the Yahwist’s pro-Judah perspective can be found in the intertwined JE narrative in which Joseph is sold by his brothers. In the J verses, it is Judah who tries to save Joseph from his brothers, while in the E verses, it is Reuben, father of the northern tribe of Reuben (Gen. 37.26, 21; Friedman, Who 65). In the “Blessing of Jacob,” Jacob criticizes his eldest son Reuben for defiling his bed and curses Simeon and Levi for being angry and violent before praising Judah and promising that the scepter would never depart from Judah (Gen. 49.1-12). In the J narrative, perhaps elaborated on by the Yahwist, this is taken to mean that Reuben slept with his father’s concubine, and that Simeon and Levi avenged the rape of their sister by slaughtering the inhabitants of the northern capital of Shechem.

Most scholars believe both the J and E texts could not have been composed any earlier than the 700s B.C. (Dever, Did 69). In the past, one of the most popular identifications of the Yahwist was with a scribe in the court of Solomon, working under the assumption that such a detailed description of the lives of David and Solomon must have entailed the recording of information from someone with first-hand knowledge of the events. Unlike the other three source authors, the Yahwist doesn’t center the entire narrative on Moses but devotes nearly the same amount of material to Joseph and even more material on David, proving the interest in developing the legacy of Jerusalem’s royal dynasty. Richard Friedman says that J “might conceivably” have been written that early but stresses that the ark and the command against molten gods instead point to a time after Solomon’s kingdom was divided (Friedman, Who 86-87). He shows that in J, Isaac prophecizes that Esau would break Jacob’s “yoke” from his neck, which would indicate it was written after the Edomites won independence from Judah in 848 (Gen. 27.40). He also notes that the J narrative refers to Simeon and Levi being dispersed but none of the other tribes, which he takes to mean the other tribes must have still existed, putting the source before the fall of Israel to the Assyrians in 722 (Gen. 49.5). However, as Friedman himself points out, this is part of the “Blessing of Jacob,” identified by Frank Moore Cross and David Noel Freedman as a pre-monarchic source edited into the J narrative, which means the Yahwist took the poem and expanded it into story elements in the patriarch stories of Genesis, so the date is tentative (Friedman, Who 85-87; Bible 114f).

Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman instead date J after the collapse of the northern Israelite kingdom under the Assyrians, when a refugee crisis would have caused a burst of literary development, making it an ideal time for J to “redefine the unity of the people of Israel” (Finkelstein, Bible 45). The story of Abraham defeating Mesopotamian kings and chasing them all the way to Damascus and Dan is cited by Finkelstein and Silberman as corresponding to the territorial ambitions of seventh-century Judah after the fall of Israel (Gen. 14.14; Finkelstein 46f). However, according to Friedman, Genesis 14 is not part of J but is a separate narrative source independent of the main four sources (Friedman, Bible 52f). This makes sense because it is a different version of the story about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah than the one the one involving Lot’s wife being turned into a pillar of salt, as told by J (60). The writing style of the story is also very different than that of the Yahwist’s, supporting Friedman’s identification as an independent document, making Finkelstein and Silberman’s late dating of J very flimsy.

Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman argue in their their second book, David and Solomon: In Search of the Bible’s Sacred Kings and the Roots of the Western Tradition, that while king Solomon was a real historical king, the Deuteronomistic Historian’s reconstruction of his life was based on a recasting of Hezekiah’s “idolatrous” son, Manasseh, who ruled during the first half of the 600s (David 31, 155). Finkelstein and Silberman date the first evidence of writing in Judah to the late 700s, when they believe fortresses, storehouses, administrative centers, new villages, offical inscriptuions and public literacy can first be attested (David 123). They contend that the earliest stories of David and Solomon as folk heroes were then changed into “court drama” characters of a later era, after the monarchy had long been established. And Finkelstein and Silberman argue that the target of Pharaoh Sheshonq’s invasion in the 900s was the kingdom of Saul (in David’s time), not Solomon.

In the mid-1950s, Yigdael Yadin, the second Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defense Forces, who later became an archaeologist, linked a large six-chambered gate he excavated at Hazor to a similar gate excavated in Megiddo and then another one excavated in Gezer in the 1900s, believing all three to have been built by King Solomon (1 Kings 9.15). This became the first and primary link that the majority of biblical archaeologists cite as evidence for a Solomonic state. William Allbright and Yadin dated the “palaces city” to the time of Solomon and the later “stables city” to the time of Ahab, although many argued that the gate may not have even been built before the “stables city” (Mazar, “Search” 131). William F. Dever, who studied under one of students of the long-dismissed “Father of Biblical Archaeology,” William F. Albright, at Albright’s “Jerusalem School,” but who has nevertheless gone from theologian to atheist and is a strong proponent for the argument that God originally had a wife, explains that both he and Yadin had dated the gates to Solomon’s times “on commonly accepted ceramic grounds – not a naïve acceptance of the Bible’s stories about ‘Solomon in all his glory’” (Dever, What 132). Dever also argued that the plan for Solomon’s temple “turns out to be the standard LB and early Iron temple plan throughout Syria and Palestine, with nearly 30 examples now attested” (145). Dever came to the conclusion that: “[i]f the biblical Solomon had not constructed the Gezer gate and city walls, then we would have to invent a similar king by another name” (133).

Finkelstein and Silberman instead argue the gates in Hazor and Gezer were built earlier than the Meggido gate and were connected to a casemate wall while the Megiddo gate was connected to a solid wall. Finkelstein, who studied at the “Tel Aviv School,” instead links building and pottery uncovered in Jezreel, firmly dated to king Ahab’s time in the mid-800s, with buildings and pottery found in Solomon’s Megiddo. Like Yadin and Dever, Finkelstein and Silberman link the gate to the “palace city” but following Finkelstein’s “Low Chronology” they date the “palace city” to Ahab and the “stable city” to the time of king Hezekiah’s son, Manasseh. The story of Solomon as the great horse-trader of wealth and wisdom as portrayed in 1 Kings 3-10 is connected by them to the new prosperity of the Assyrian world economy from the reign of king Manasseh in the 600s, but the story of Solomon as the “senile apostate, who is led astray by the charms of his foreign wives,” as portrayed in 1 Kings 11.1-13, comes from the Deuteronomistic Historian, who they believe represented a coalition of groups in dispute with Manasseh’s policies (David 180-182; Handy, Age of Solomon 71). In their minds, the tradition of Solomon’s 40,000 horse stalls and chariots instead come from the memory of Israel’s famed equestrian skills consequent to being part of the main line of Kushite and Nubian horses being traded between Africa and Assyria during the late 700s (165). One description of Solomon’s territory from 1 Kings 4.24 is listed as stretching out from the Euphrates to Gaza, “a vision of Assyrian kingship as the ultimate ideal,” while another description of Solomon’s kingdom from Kings 4.25 is simply made up of the combined lands of Israel and Judah (176).

As for Solomon building the first temple in Jerusalem, Finkelstein and Silberman argue that “[a]s the son of a local chief of a small, isolated highland polity, he would not have had access to resources to do much more than erect or renovate a modest local dynastic shrine of a type well known in the ancient Near East” (David 172). Finkelstein and Silberman claim Carbon 14 analyses confirm their “Low Chronology” by showing that the destruction layers traditionally linked to conquests David made around the year 1000 were instead dated to the mid-900s and the monuments linked to Solomon’s reign have been dated to the early 800s, during the era of the Omri dynasty (281). M. L. Steiner came to similar conclusions, stating that there probably would not have been any Jerusalem royalty before the 800s with evidence for fortified walls not appearing until the late 700s. An extensive socio-archaeological analysis of Judah done by D. W. Jamieson-Drake provided no evidence for production, centralization, and specialization necessary for statehood until the 700s. Many other scholars have come to similar conclusions (Stavrakopoulou 83). “To make a long story short, tenth-century Jerusalem—the city of the time of David and Solomon—was no more than a small, remote highlands village, and not the exquisitely decorated capital of a great empire” (Finkelstein, “Truth” 113).

Amihai Mazar, however, finds the “total deconstruction of the United Monarchy” as described by Finkelstein to be “unacceptable” and that “history cannot be written on the basis of socio-economic or environmental-ecological determinism alone, as was common during the procuessual phase that dominated historical studies and archaeology in the 1970s and 1980s” (Mazar, “Search” 138). Mazar agrees that the chronology needs to be changed but instead offers a “Modified Conventional Chronology,” in which the “Solomonic gate” can be associated with either Solomon or Ahab, although he thinks Yadin’s link more tenable because Assyrian records confirm that Ahab owned many chariots, which would be characteristic of the “stables city,” plus the “palaces city” was unfortified and Ahab’s royal enclosure in Jezreel had huge fortifications (131). Mazar also points out that the Jezreel pottery which Finkelstein and Silberman used to link Megiddo to Omri was also found in construction fills of a royal enclosure “probably” associated with an earlier pre-Omri town which could itself be tenth century (119). Mazar also links pottery excavated from the earliest settlements of Arad, a city mentioned on Pharaoh Sheshonq’s stele from the late 900s, to pottery from Beer-sheba and Lachish traditionally linked to the 900s, a link Finkelstein “surprisingly” accepts since “by doing so he pulls the rug out from underneath his own theory” (121).

Amihai Mazar and Ch. Bronk Ramsey also published a study revising the Carbon 14 analyses that had previously seemed to confirm Finkelstein’s “Low Chronology.” By calculating in the destruction of other three major sites (Megiddo, Yoqne’am, and Tell Qasile), the transition from Iron I to Iron IIA was averaged out to the early 900s, although Mazar admitted “the study has also shown how sensitive statistical models of 14C are” and that new data could “change the results substantially” (Mazar 123). Mazar also agrees with Dever that the details surrounding the construction of Solomon’s Temple as described in the Bible closely matches the Iron Age temples from the time such as the ones in Tell Tayinat and ‘Ain Dara in northern Syria (128). Two short Hebrew inscriptions reading “Hanan” found in contexts dated to the 900s match the place name “Elon Beth Hanan” from Solomon’s second administrative district, adding validity to a Solomonic administrative list surrounded by legendary material (1 Kings 4.9; Mazar 132). Mazar finds demographic studies to be “strewn with methodological problems” but finds an approximation of 20,000 people in Judah and 50-70,000 in Israel during the 900s to be “realistic” (134). Mazar points out that while literacy in the northern lands of Israel during the 800s is undisputed, there is little material of evidence of this just as there is little material evidence for literacy in Judah, and so concludes, rightly I believe, that the “few inscriptions incised on stones or pottery vessels for daily use from a tenth century context hint at the spread of literacy already in this time” (135). Although Mazar admits that Jerusalem was smaller and less fortified than most of the major cities surrounding it, he considers the question as to the realism of Jerusalem being the seat of a developed state as “probably unanswerable in archaeological terms” (Mazar, “Jerusalem” 268). In a supreme irony, Mazar cites “our postmodern way of thinking” as one of the main reasons for siding with the post-modern-deriding modernist Dever against Finkelstein in order to explain how “the role of the individual in history has gained weight again” (268).

Probably the strongest argument made by Finkelstein and Silberman against Solomon’s United Monarchy was the lack of evidence for large architectural achievements from Solomon’s time in Jerusalem, though Dever attributed this to the limits placed on digs on or around places deeemed holy like Mount Zion. More recently, a very large structure uncovered south of the Temple Mount in old Jerusalem, known as the “Stepped Stone Structure,” was dated by pottery in its foundations to no later than the 1100s-1000s (A. Mazar, “Seach” 125). Excavations in 2005 led by third generation Israeli archaeologist Eilat Mazar have revealed an enormous building with walls over two meters wide extending beyond the limits of the excavation site in all directions. Eilat Mazar dated the pottery to the 900s and identified it as the palace David built with the help of king Hiram of Tyre in 2 Samuel 5.11. “This is the end of Finkelstein’s school”, said Eilat Mazar to National Geographic (75).

Our preminent “centrist,” Amihai Mazar, says a more plausible identification is the Jebusite “Fortress of Zion” that was renamed the “City of David” in 2 Samuel 5.7, 9 (“Search” 127). Finkelstein, however, dates the Stepped Stone Structure much later, pointing to other evidence that the building was first built in Hellenistic times and added on to during the Roman era, including Herodian pottery found around the site and a Herodian ritual bath built on the same strata level. In Ferburary 2010, a defensive wall was re-excavated by the team and ancient artifacts found cermaics that were of a level of sophistication common to the second half of the 900s B.C. Religious figurines and seal impressions on jar handles with the inscription “to the king” were discovered at the site. Finkelstein was more than a little cautious in accepting Eilat Mazar’s dating. “Of course we’re not looking at the palace of David!”, said Finkelstein in the National Geographic interview, “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.” Eilat Mazar took a less backhanded approch in disparaging the attention that Finkelstein regularly receives, saying, “He doesn’t even use science—that’s the irony. It’s like giving Saddam Hussein the Nobel Peace Prize” (85). No consensus has been reached for the dating of the wall so far.

In arguing against Finkelstein’s downgrading of Solomon, Amihai Mazar asks: “[s]hould Solomon be removed from history, who then would have been responsible for the construction of the Jerusalem Temple?” (Mazar, “Search” 128). Finkelstein and Silberman say that although they “simply do not know who built the first elaborate Temple in Jerusalem. . . [i]t is possible that the description in 2 Kings 12 of the extensive renovation of the Temple in the days of King Jehoash (c. 836-798 BCE) is significant” (David 172).

In fact, there are more connections than they realize.

The story from 2 Kings 12 tells how Jehoash hired all kinds of carpenters, builders, masons and stonecutters for the job and that it took many years to complete, indicating that the construction may have been more than simply “repairs” (2 Kings 12). Like Solomon, Jehoash was also an unlikely king who only inherited the throne following the death of older brothers brought on by dynastic conflicts. Like Solomon, he is said to have turned away from Yahweh in his old age and allowed Asherah poles and idols to be worshipped in the temple. Like Solomon, he is said to have reigned 40 years (2 Kings 12.1). Like Solomon, his mother must have been influential in court politics since she is mentioned in the annals while most women were not. Solomon’s mother is named Bathsheba, meaning “Daughter of the Oath;” Jehoash’s mother is from Beersheba, which means “Well of the Oath.” Solomon is said to have secured his throne by ordering Benaiah, son of a priest named Jehoiada, to carry out political killings against several people, including Solomon’s half-brother Adonijah. Jehoash had his throne secured for him when a priest named Jehoiada ordered political killings against several members of Judean royalty including Jehoash’s “grandmother,” the queen. Solomon rewards Jehoiada’s son Benaiah by giving him the slain Joab’s position over the army (1 Kings 2.35). Jehoash also appears to have given Jehoiada’s son Zechariah an important position since Zechariah later plotted from within the court to overthrow him (2 Chron. 24.20-21). Solomon, influenced by his foreign wives, built “high places” to the gods of Moab and Ammon, and the Deuteronomistic Historian says it was because of this that Yahweh tore most of the kingdom away from Solomon’s son (1 Kings 11.7-13). After being wounded in a battle against the Arameans, Jehoash was murdered by two conspirators within his court, identified as the son of a Moabite woman and the son of a Ammonite woman, indicating Jehoash may have been betrayed by the children of his foreign wives or concubines, an act that would no doubt have caused the Judean court to become very suspicious of foreign wives (2 Chron. 24.25-27).

Baruch Halpern, leader of the archaeological digs at Tel Megiddo since 1992, argues that the story of David’s affair with Bathsheba and how Solomon succeeded his father’s throne was used as a powerful political statement aimed at countering rumors that Solomon was really Uriah’s son and not of David’s blood. (Halpern, David’s 402-403). But considering the fact that Jehoash was said to have been hidden away during a purge against his bloodline only to re-emerge and claim the throne at the tender age of seven, the story may have been meant to defend Jehoash, who would certainly to have needed to fight rumors that he was not really descended from David. The reign of Jehoash would have been an ideal time for the Yahwist to write a story about how king David had conquered many outside lands for Judah just as king Asa did, how he had served under the northern king Saul just as king Jehoshaphat served under Ahab, and how Solomon had survived dynastic conflicts with his family despite his questionable heritage just as Jehoash did. Since Jehoash’s rise to the throne around 835 also entailed the death of a queen associated with the Asherah cult and replacement with a male-dominated priesthood, this could also explain the Yahwist’s declaration that Eve would be subservient to Adam, who in Kassite myth was Adapa, the first Sumerian priest. The beginning of Jehoash’s reign was also within 15 years of the Edomite rebellion, making the topic still prescient to the Yahwist’s audience. So while the J source could have been written any time between 848 and 722, the ideal time for its composition would have been during the beginning of Jehoash’s 40-year reign in the 830s.

Now that we have a general date for the Yahwist’s time period, let us move on to the Elohist. Since the linguistic evidence points to J and E being written around the same time, we should expect to find the date and time for the Elohist not too far away from this time period as well. The Elohist is generally agreed to be a Levite priest from the northern plains of Israel. The source author fleshes out the character of Moses to a greater magnitude, with Joshua acting as Moses’ faithful assistant and the only Israelite not to worship Aaron’s golden calf. Unlike the Yahwist, he referred to Abraham as a prophet, was more suspicious of authority than J, and took a stronger stand against “foreign gods” (Boadt 101-102). The Elohist’s depiction of the deity was typically less anthropomorhic than the Yahwist’s with the exception of Jacob wrestling with El at Penuel. The E source pays particular attention to the hill country of Ephraim, which was also the tribe of the northern war-hero Joshua and the Levite priest Samuel, who crowned David (Josh. 24.30, 1 Sam. 1.1). The Elohist could be described as the northern literary rival of the Yahwist in that he was following the same plotline as J, while changing many of the details to reflect the perspective of the Northern Kingdom. The Elohist’s political rivals, however, was the priesthood behind the P source, the Aaronid priests in Jerusalem and Bethel.

Frank Moore Cross and Richard Elliot Friedman argue that the best candidates for both the Elohist and Deuteronimist are Levitical priests whose main shrine was located in the town of Shiloh, just north of Jerusalem on the border of Israel and Judah. Priests from Shiloh like Samuel and Jeremiah were not only priests but also prophets, which matches up with the Elohist’s interest in prophets. Cross and Friedman argue that the tension between Moses and his “brother” Aaron as presented in the Pentateuch is a symbol for the conflict between two different priesthoods: the Levitical priests who were descended from Moses, and the Aaronid priests of Bethel who were descended from Aaron. Cross argues that many of the contradictions within the Pentateuch can be answered “if we posit an ancient and prolonged strife between priestly houses: the Mushite priesthood which flourished at the sanctuaries of the local shrines at cArad and Kadesh opposed to the Aaronite priesthood of Bethel and Jerusalem” (Cross, Canaanite 206). Although the Aaronid Priest who wrote P tries to cover this division up by representing Aaron as a descendant of Levi, the Elohist makes no distinction between different Levitical priesthoods, leading Cross to believe that the Aaronid Priesthood was actually not related in any way to Moses and the Levites. Dever points out that neither the “Song of the Sea” from Exodus 15 nor the “Magnalia Dei” from Deuteronomy 26.5-10 mention Moses in connection with the Exodus, and that Jeremiah and Micah are the only prophets outside the Pentateuch that actually refer to Moses (Jer. 15.1; Mic. 6.4; Dever, Who 235-236).

Cross explains that the golden bulls set up by king Jeroboam I in Dan and Bethel representing the traditional Levantine god El the Bull were most likely connected to the iconography of the Aaronid priesthood, while the Levite priests descended from Moses used the iconography of the cherubim throne identified in many representations of the same god (69, 198-199). Cross also cites an “archaic tradition” in the Book of Judges, which Friedman identifies as being a part of J, placing Phineas, the grandson of Aaron, at the sanctuary of Bethel at the same time the ark was there (Jud. 20.26-28; Canaanite 199). Friedman points out that while the Elohist has Moses destroy the tablets holding the Ten Commandments, there is no Elohist narrative in which Moses writes them back again, which he interprets as an attack on the legitimacy of the Ark of the Covenant in Jerusalem’s Temple (1 Sam. 3.3; Friedman, Who 73-74).

This separation of Moses and Aaron helps explain why Aaron is described as fashioning the golden calf yet is not executed for it like those who bow down before the idol. The Elohist could not escape the fact that Aaron was associated with El the Bull, so he wrote that the people forced Aaron into fashioning the idol, providing an excuse for Yahweh not to punish him, since any punishment would have caused him to lose his status as high priest. (Taking a cue from Freud, this may also be an accurate representation of how Egypt-oriented priests were pressured by local Canaanites into adopting the bull totem against their own iconoclastic nature). The connection is strengthened by the fact that Aaron’s sons are Nadab and Abihu and Jeroboam’s sons are Nadab and Abi-Yah. Aaron’s sons are killed by divine wrath for making an offering with “unauthorized fire” while Abi-Yah died of sickness and Nadab from war, reportedly on account of Jeroboam setting up the golden calves (NJB, Lev. 10.1-3; 1 Kings 14.1-17, 15.28-30; Friedman, Bible 160n, 204n). Although it is the pro-Aaron P source that records these deaths in the combined Pentateuch that has come down to us, it may be based on a discarded part of the E source since it is the E source that first mentions the two sons (Ex. 24.1). The P source also has two other sons of Aaron not mentioned in E, Eleazar and Ithamar, who conveniently take their brothers’ places, and P also describes an event in which a fifth son, Phinehas, earns the right to inherit the priesthood for violently purifying Yahweh’s assembly of Midianite intermarriage (Lev. 10.2, Num. 25.7; Friedman, Bible 204f).

The stories about Solomon appear to be a mixture of pro-Solomon and anti-Solomon material, with the Deuteronomistic Historian supplying the negative material (1 Kings 11). The Elohist refers to the Egyptian taskmasters working over the Hebrew slaves as the “officers of missim,” using the same word that is later used for Solomon’s forced labor policy (1 Kings 9.15; Friedman, Who 66). Cross and Friedman take this to mean that the Elohist must have supported Jeroboam I in favoring the division between Judah and Israel. They also suggest some of this hostility comes from the fact that the Davidic high priest from Shiloh, Abiathar, is portrayed at the end of the J narrative as supporting Adonijah against Solomon, causing him to be exiled by Solomon, leaving the Aaronid priest Zadok the sole high priest of Jerusalem (1 Kings 2.26; Cross, Canaanite 208). King Jeroboam I, the king reported to have caused Israel to rebel against Solomon, was himself coronated by a priest from Shiloh (Friedman, Who 48). Friedman argues that even though Jeroboam I did not reciprocate this accommodation by installing Shiloh priests in Bethel and Dan, Judah and Jerusalem probably offered even less hope of legitimization at the time, while Dan and Bethel could conceivably dismiss its current priestly occupants. Thus, according to Friedman, the Elohist “favored that kingdom’s political structure while attacking its religious establishment” (74).

The Copenhagen minimalist Thomas Thompson instead makes the unlikely argument that Jeroboam I was written to supply an iconic enemy for the Maccabeans in 100s B.C., because “[t]he north’s abandonment of the house of David in Chronicles mirrors the Seleucid’s rejection of the true sucessors of Alexander: Egypt Ptolemies” (Thompson 208). Aside from this hypothesis going against linguistic evidence that the J and E sources are much older than that, the thematic similarities between David and the Ptolemies or Jeroboam and the Seleucids are not especially apparent.

Nevertheless, there actually is a far more likely candidate to serve as the symbol for Jeroboam I.

In 2 Kings, another unrelated king of Israel, also named Jeroboam, restored his nation’s old boundaries and recovered Damascus and Hamath from Judah (14.25-28). Jeroboam I is famed for erecting the golden bulls in Bethel and Dan and establishing priesthoods there, but less well known is the fact that the prophet Hosea also criticized Jeroboam II for making golden calves, and we know Jeroboam II had loyalty from Bethel’s priesthood because a priest from there warned him of the prophet Amos conspiring against him (Hosea 8.5; Amos 7.10). Just as Solomon’s son Rehoboam is portrayed as unjustly increasing the “yoke” of Jeroboam I and the Israelites ten-fold, Jehoash’s son Amaziah, when he became king of Judah, attempted to unjustly conquer Israel during the reign of Jeroboam II’s father, whose name was also Jehoash (1 Kings 12.14; 2 Kings 14.11). The fact that both Judah and Israel were ruled by a king named Jehoash may be linked to the belief that Solomon was king of both Judah and Israel before the resulting conflict between north and south. Jeroboam I wins the battle against Rehoboam and king Shishak of Egypt later takes away all the gold shields from Solomon’s Temple, just as Jehoash of Israel defeats Amaziah of Judah and takes away all the gold and silver from the “repaired” Temple (1 Kings 14.25; 2 Kings 14.14). The Deuteronomistic Historian has a prophet named Ahijah predict that Jeroboam I’s bloodline would be cut off because of his idol worship and that his son would die as soon as the boy’s mother set foot in the pre-Omri capital of Tirzah, while Jeroboam II’s bloodline was cut off when his son was assassinated within six months of succeeding his father, after which the assassin was himself killed within a month when a man from Tirzah took control of the Omri capital in Samaria (1 Kings 14.12-17; 2 Kings 15.10-14). And since Jeroboam II was the great grandson of Jehu, a prince of Judah, he could also have been seen as a rebel from the David’s royal house, just as Jeroboam I was. Added all together, it seems very likely that Jeroboam I and Jeroboam II are the same person.

There have been some attempts at proving the historicity of Jeroboam I through two archaeological associations. The first is a jasper seal discovered in Megiddo which reads, “belonging to Shema” and “Minister of Jeroboam” with a roaring lion in between. The seal has been dated by most scholars to the reign of Jeroboam II, though a few archaeologists such as Shmuel Yeivin, Gosta Ahlstrom, and David Ussishkin instead date it to Jeroboam I’s time. Ussishkin argues that the unpierced seal should be connected to another unpierced griffon seal, called the Asaph seal, found in a 10th-century gate about a meter east and below from where the Shema seal was found (Ussishkin 422). However, many seals are unpierced and besides the Asaph seal could have fallen onto the foundational ashlars of the gate from above where it was found. That leaves the best evidence to be an epigraphical analysis of the Hebrew lettering, which dates the Mesha seal to the 700s (Mykytiuk 136-137). The seal is also markedly similar to two Neo-Assyrian seals that are probably from the 600s (Strawn 105).

The second connection, made by Dever and Biblical scholar Ziony Zevit, links the golden calf stories of Jeroboam I to a 10th-century cult center found in Dan, with Dever arguing that Jeroboam I restored the pre-monarchic shrines in Bethel and Dan to harken back to the “El the Bull” cult (Dever, Did 151, 282). The “high place” was refashioned during the reigns of Ahab and Jeroboam II, and a monumental staircase was added during the later’s reign as well (Isserlin 245). Another 10th-to-8th-century shrine in Israel, Tell el Far’ah, an archaeological site identified with Tirzah, has two of the same features as the Dan shrine: a standing stone and a basin used for olive oil or anointing (Did 154). Bronze bulls from the Bronze Age have been found by Yigael Yadin in the city of Hazor in Galilee, dating to the 1300s B.C., and by Amihai Mazar just east of Dothan in Samaria, from the 1100s B.C. (Dever, What 175). But no bull iconography has ever been found in a 10th-century context at either Bethel or Dan.

Neither of these attempts to prove the historicity of Jeroboam I are very compelling. However, one problem my hypothesis does have is that both Jeroboam I and Jeroboam II are said to have been listed in the “annals of the kings of Israel,” which give some reasonably credible numbers for the reigning years of other kings. Jeroboam I is said to have reigned 22 years while Jeroboam II is said to have reigned 41 years (1 Kings 14.19; 2 Kings 14.23). In contrast, the legendary “golden age” elements used for Solomon in 1 Kings 3-11 appears to have to been largely taken from “the annals of Solomon,” the name of which lends itself to the argument that it was probably a fictional account meant to symbolize the current reign of king Jehoash (1 Kings 11.41). If the 10th-century Jeroboam was an eponymous ancestor of the 8th-century Jeroboam, it is questionable whether he would have been invented by Judean scribes and placed in the “golden age of Solomon” if the Deuteronomistic Historian could credibly claim to have taken his material from the “annals of Israel.” If the name really was in Israel’s royal annals and not some counterfeit created by Judean scribes, then perhaps Jeroboam I was the invention of Israelite scribes, either to legitimize Jeroboam II’s reign or mythicize Jeroboam’s adoption and restoration of the Bethel and Dan shrines.

Richard Friedman and Lawrence Boadt date the E source to some time between the division of Solomon’s United Monarchy in 922 and the fall of Israel to Assyria in 722. Friedman adds as an endnote that his research has led him to believe that it was written some time after the mid-700’s (Who 47-48). The reign of Jeroboam II lasted from some time in the 780s to the 740s. Although Cross, Friedman, and Boadt assume that the Elohist is referring back 200 years to a Jeroboam of the Solomonic era, it would have been far more priscient that the Elohist be referring to the Jeroboam of his own time.

This is another excerpt from “The Four Stages of Mythological Development”

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About Jeff Q

I live in New Orleans. I have a Bachelors in Computer Science and a Masters in English Literature. My interests include ancient history, religion, mythology, philosophy, and fantasy/sci-fi. My Twitter handle is @Bahumuth.

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