Kingdom of Israel
|c. 1047 BCE-930 BCE|
|Capital||Gibeah (1030-1010 BCE)|
|Common languages||Hebrew, Aramaic|
|Government||Hereditary theocratic absolute monarchy|
o 1047-1010 BCE
|Historical era||Iron Age|
|c. 1047 BCE|
|ISO 3166 code||IL|
The United Monarchy (Hebrew: ?) is the name given to the Israelite[a] kingdom of Israel and Judah, during the reigns of Saul, David and Solomon, as depicted in the Hebrew Bible. This is traditionally dated between 1047 BCE and 930 BCE. On the succession of Solomon's son, Rehoboam, around 930 BCE, the Biblical account reports that the country split into two kingdoms: the Kingdom of Israel (including the cities of Shechem and Samaria) in the north and the Kingdom of Judah (containing Jerusalem) in the south.
The United Monarchy was accepted on an archaeological basis until Israel Finkelstein published two essays proposing a "Low Chronology". This stratigraphic model posited that what was otherwise taken as abundant archaeological evidence for a United Monarchy in the 10th century BCE should instead be dated to the 9th century BCE. This model also places David in the Iron I period, which would suggest that he was not a king of a centralized kingdom but a chieftain over a small polity in Judah, disconnected from the tribes of the northern kingdom. Archaeologists have since fiercely debated regarding whether or not to accept the Low Chronology.
Since this debate began, Amihai Mazar proposed the "Modified Conventional Chronology" which places the beginning of the Iron IIA period in the early-10th century and its end in the mid-9th century. According to Mazar, such Modified Chronology would "fix" the problems of the Traditional Chronology, while continuing to date the archaeological findings to the time of Saul, David and Solomon (11th-10th century BCE). Mazar has strongly argued against Finkelstein's views.
Mazar's Modified Conventional Chronology has received fairly wide acceptance, but no consensus on the topic exists. The debate is still ongoing and scholars are divided among those who support the historicity of the biblical narrative, those who completely deny the existence of the United Monarchy and those who support its existence but believe that the Bible contains theological exaggerations.
According to standard source criticism, several distinct source texts were spliced together to produce the current Books of Samuel. The most prominent in the early parts of the first book are the pro-monarchical source and the anti-monarchical source. In identifying both sources, two separate accounts can be reconstructed. The anti-monarchical source describes Samuel as having thoroughly routed the Philistines, begrudgingly accepting the people's demand for a ruler and appointing Saul by cleromancy.
The pro-monarchical source describes the divinely-appointed birth of Saul (a single word being changed by a later editor so that it referred to Samuel) and his leading of an army to victory over the Ammonites, which resulted in the clamouring of the people for him to lead them against the Philistines, when he is appointed king.
Several scholars believe the Books of Samuel exhibit too many anachronisms to have been a contemporary account. For example, there is mention of later armour (1 Samuel 17:4-7, 38-39; 25:13), use of camels (1 Samuel 30:17), cavalry (as distinct from chariotry) (1 Samuel 13:5, 2 Samuel 1:6), and iron picks and axes (as if they were common) (2 Samuel 12:31).
Most scholars believe that Samuel was compiled in the 8th century BCE, rather than the 10th century, when most of the events described took place, based on both historical and legendary sources. It served primarily to fill the gap in Israelite history after the events that had been described in Deuteronomy.
In 1995 and 1996, Israel Finkelstein (Tel Aviv University) published two papers where he proposed a Low Chronology for the stratigraphy of Iron Age Israel. Finkelstein's model would push stratigraphic dates assigned by the conventional chronology by up to a century later, and consequently, Finkelstein concluded that much of the monumental architecture characterizing Israel in the 10th century BCE that has been traditionally associated with the biblical United Monarchy instead belongs to the 9th century. Finkelstein wrote that "Accepting the Low Chronology means stripping the United Monarchy of monumental buildings, including ashlar masonry and proto-Ionic capitals" According to Israel Finkelstein and Neil Silberman, the authors of The Bible Unearthed, ideas of a united monarchy are not accurate history but "creative expressions of a powerful religious reform movement" that are possibly "based on certain historical kernels." Finkelstein and Silberman accept that David and Solomon were real kings of Judah around the 10th century BCE, but they cite the fact that the earliest independent reference to the Kingdom of Israel dates to about 890 BCE and that to the Kingdom of Judah dates to about 750 BCE. Some see the united monarchy as fabricated during the Babylonian Exile transforming David and Solomon from local folk heroes into rulers of international status. Finkelstein has posited a potential United Monarchy under Jeroboam II in the 8th century BC, whereas the former one was potentially invented during the reign of Josiah to justify his territorial expansion.
Finkelstein's views have been strongly criticized by Amihai Mazar (Hebrew University of Jerusalem); in response, Mazar proposed the Modified Conventional Chronology which places the beginning of the Iron IIA period in the early 10th century and its end in the mid-9th century, solving the problems of the High Chronology while still dating the archeological discoveries to the 10th century BCE. Finkelstein's Low Chronology and views about the monarchy have received strong criticism from other scholars, including Amnon Ben-Tor, William G. Dever, Kenneth Kitchen, Doron Ben-Ami, Raz Kletter and Lawrence Stager.
Amélie Kuhrt (University College London) acknowledges that "there are no royal inscriptions from the time of the united monarchy (indeed very little written material altogether), and not a single contemporary reference to either David or Solomon," but she concludes, "Against this must be set the evidence for substantial development and growth at several sites, which is plausibly related to the tenth century." Kenneth Kitchen (University of Liverpool) reaches a similar conclusion, arguing that "the physical archaeology of tenth-century Canaan is consistent with the former existence of a unified state on its terrain."
On August 4, 2005, archaeologist Eilat Mazar announced she had discovered in Jerusalem what may have been the palace King David. Now referred to as the Large Stone structure, Mazar's discovery consists of a public building she dated from the 10th century BCE, a copper scroll, pottery from the same period, and a clay bulla, or inscribed seal, of Jehucal, son of Shelemiah, son of Shevi, an official mentioned at least twice in the Book of Jeremiah. In July 2008, she also found a second bulla, belonging to Gedaliah ben Pashhur, who is mentioned together with Jehucal in Jeremiah 38:1. The dig was sponsored by the Shalem Center and financed by an American investment banker, Baron Corso de Palenzuela Ha Levi-Kahana Mayuha. The land is owned by the Ir David Foundation. Amihai Mazar called the find "something of a miracle". He has said that he believes that the building may be the Fortress of Zion that David is said to have captured. Other scholars are skeptical that the foundation walls are from David's palace.
Excavations at Khirbet Qeiyafa, an Iron Age site in Judah, found an urbanized settlement radiocarbon dated well before scholars such as Finklestein suggest that urbanization had begun in Judah, which supports the existence of an urbanised kingdom in the 10th century BCE. The Israel Antiquities Authority stated, "The excavations at Khirbat Qeiyafa clearly reveal an urban society that existed in Judah already in the late eleventh century BCE. It can no longer be argued that the Kingdom of Judah developed only in the late eighth century BCE or at some other later date." The techniques and interpretations to reach some conclusions related to Khirbet Qeiyafa have been criticized by some scholars, such as Finkelstein and Alexander Fantalkin of Tel Aviv University.
In 2010, archaeologist Eilat Mazar announced the discovery of part of the ancient city walls around the City of David which she believes date to the tenth century BCE. According to Mazar, "It's the most significant construction we have from First Temple days in Israel" and "It means that at that time, the 10th century, in Jerusalem there was a regime capable of carrying out such construction." The 10th century is the period the Bible describes as the reign of King Solomon. Not all archaeologists agree with Mazar and archaeologist Aren Maeir is dubious about such claims and about Mazar's dating.
In the Jewish Study Bible (2014), Oded Lipschits states the concept of United Monarchy should be abandoned, while Aren Maeir believes there is insufficient evidence in support of the United Monarchy. In August 2015, Israeli archaeologists discovered massive fortifications in the ruins of the ancient city of Gath, supposed birthplace of Goliath. The size of the fortifications show that Gath was a very large city in the 10th century BCE, perhaps the largest in Canaan at the time. The professor leading the dig, Aren Maeir, estimated that Gath was as much as four times the size of contemporary Jerusalem, which cast doubt that David's kingdom could have been as powerful as described in the Bible.
In his book, The Forgotten Kingdom (2016), Israel Finkelstein considered that Saul, originally from the Benjamin territory had gained power in his natal Gibeon region around 10th century BCE, and that he conquered Jerusalem in the south and Shechem to the north, creating a polity dangerous to Egypt's geopolitical intentions. So, Shoshenq I, from Egypt, invaded the territory and destroyed this new polity, and installed David of Bethlehem in Jerusalem (Judah) and Jeroboam I in Shechem (Israel) as small local rulers which were vassals of Egypt. Finkelstein concludes that the memory of a united monarchy was inspired by the Saul's conquered territory serving first the ideal of a great united monarchy ruled by a northern king in the times of Jeroboam II, and next to the ideal of a united monarchy ruled from Jerusalem. Finkelstein's theory has not gained acceptance.
In an article on the Biblical Archeology Review, William G. Dever (Lycoming College) strongly criticized Finkelstein's theory, calling it as full of "numerous errors, misrepresentations, over-simplifications and contradictions". Dever noted that Finkelstein is proposing that Saul ruled a polity extending as far north as Jezreel and as far south as Hebron and reaching a border with Gath, whereas a capital was located in Gibeon rather than Jerusalem: according to Dever, such a polity is a united monarchy in its own right, ironically confirming the biblical tradition. In addition, he rejected the notion that Gibeon was the capital of such polity, since "no clear archaeological evidence of occupation in the tenth century, much less monumental architecture." Dever went as far as to dismiss Finkelstein's theory as "a product of his fantasy, stemmed by his obsession to prove that Saul, David and Solomon were not real kings and that the United Monarchy in an invention of a Judahite biased biblical writer". Dever concluded by stating that "Finkelstein has not discovered a forgotten kingdom, he has invented it. The careful reader will nevertheless gain some insights into Israel--Israel Finkelstein, that is."
Another, more moderate, review was written on the same magazine by Aaron Burke, (University of California): Burke described Finkelstein's book as "ambitious" and praised its literary style, but did not accept his conclusions: according to Burke, Finkelstein's thesis is mainly based on his proposed Low Chronology, ignoring the criticism that it has received by scholars like Amihai Mazar, Christopher Bronk Ramsey and others, and engages in several speculations that cannot be proved by archeology, biblical and extra-biblical sources. He also criticized him for persistently trying to downgrade the role of David in the development of ancient Israel.
In his books, Beyond the Texts (2018) and Has Archeology Buried the Bible? (2020), William G. Dever has defended the historicity of the United Monarchy, maintaining that the reigns of Saul, David and Solomon are "reasonably well attested". Similar arguments were advanced by Amihai Mazar in two essays written in 2010 and 2013, which point toward archaeological evidence emerged from excavation sites in Jerusalem by Eilat Mazar and in Khirbet Qeiyafa by Yosef Garfinkel.
In 2018, archaeologist Avraham Faust (Bar-Ilan University) announced that his excavations at Tel 'Eton (believed to be the biblical Eglon) had uncovered an elite house (which he referred to as "the governor's residency"), whose foundations were dated by Carbon-14 analysis in the late 11th-10th century BCE, the time usually ascribed to Saul, David and Solomon. Such dating would strengthen the thesis that a centralized state was already existing in the time of David.
According to the Book of Judges, before the rise of the united monarchy the Israelite tribes lived as a confederation under ad hoc charismatic leaders, called judges. Abimelech, the first judge to be declared king by the men of Shechem and the house of Millo (Bet Millo), reigned over Israel for three years until he was killed during the Battle of Thebez.
According to the biblical account, the united monarchy was formed by a large popular expression in favour of introducing a king to rule over the decentralised Israelite confederacy. Increasing pressure from the Philistines and other neighboring peoples is said to have forced the Israelites to unite as a state after the anointing of Saul by Samuel. The notion of kingship is treated as having been anathema and viewed as the placing of one man in a position of reverence and power that ought to be reserved for God.
David and Saul become bitter enemies, at least from Saul's point of view, but sources describe Jonathan, Saul's son, and Michal, Saul's daughter and David's first wife, as assisting David to escape Saul, which ultimately leads to a brief reconciliation before Saul's death.
According to the Second Book of Samuel, Saul's disobedience prompts God to curtail his reign and to hand his kingdom over to another dynasty. Saul dies in battle against the Philistines after a reign of just two years. His heir, Ishbaal, rules for only two years before being assassinated. David was king of Judah only but ends the conspiracy and is appointed king of Israel in Ishbaal's place. Some textual critics and biblical scholars suggest that David was actually responsible for the assassination and that his innocence was a later invention to legitimise his actions.
Israel rebels against David and appoints David's son Absalom king. David is forced into exile east of the Jordan but eventually launches a successful counterattack, which results in the loss of Absalom. Having retaken Judah and asserted control over Israel, David returns west of the Jordan. For the remainder of his reign, he continues to suppress rebellions that arise among the people of Israel.
This section of the biblical text and the bulk of the remainder of the Books of Samuel are thought by textual critics to belong to a single large source, known as the Court History of David. Although reflecting the political bias of the Kingdom of Judah after the destruction of Israel, the source remains somewhat more neutral than the sources for the earlier parts of the text. Israel and Judah are portrayed in the later source as quite-distinct kingdoms.
Prior to the ascension of Saul, the city of Shiloh is seen as the national capital, at least in the religious sense. From an archaeological standpoint, the claim is considered to be plausible. Throughout the monarchy of Saul, the capital is in Gibeah. After Saul's death, Ishbaal rules over the Kingdom of Israel from Mahanaim, and David establishes the capital of the Kingdom of Judah in Hebron.
After the civil war with Saul, David forges a strong and unified Israelite monarchy, rules from c. 1000 to 961 BCE and establishes Jerusalem as his national capital in 1006 BCE. Some modern archaeologists, however, believe that the two distinct cultures and geographic entities of Judah and Israel continued uninterrupted, and if a political union between them existed, it might have had no practical effect on their relationship.
In the biblical account, David embarks on successful military campaigns against the enemies of Judah and Israel and defeats such regional entities as the Philistines to secure his borders. Israel grows from kingdom to empire, its military and political sphere of influence expanding to control the weaker client states of Philistia, Moab, Edom and Ammon, with Aramaean city-states Aram-Zobah and Aram-Damascus becoming vassal states. The imperial border is described as stretching from the Mediterranean Sea to the Arabian Desert, from the Red Sea to the Euphrates River. Some modern archaeologists believe that the area under the control of Judah and Israel, excluding the Phoenecian territories on the shore of the Mediterranean, did not exceed 34,000 square kilometres (13,000 sq mi), of which the Kingdom of Israel had about 24,000 square kilometres (9,300 sq mi).
David is succeeded by his son Solomon, who obtains the throne in a somewhat-disreputable manner from the rival claimant Adonijah, his elder brother. Solomon's reign (c. 961 to 922 BCE) proves to be a period of unprecedented peace, prosperity and cultural development. Solomon embarks on an aggressive campaign of public building and erects the First Temple in Jerusalem with assistance from the King of Tyre with whom he has maintained the strong alliance that was forged by his father. Like David's Palace, Solomon's temple is designed and built with the assistance of Tyrian architects, master craftsmen, skilled labourers, money, jewels, cedar and other goods obtained in exchange for land ceded to Tyre.
Solomon goes on to rebuild numerous major cities, including Megiddo, Hazor and Gezer. Some scholars have attributed aspects of archaeological remains excavated from this sites, including six-chambered gates and ashlar palaces, to the building programme. However, Israel Finkelstein's Low Chronology would propose to down-date them to the 9th century BCE. Yigael Yadin later concluded that the stables that had been believed to have served Solomon's vast collection of horses were actually built by King Ahab in the 9th century BCE.
Following Solomon's death in c. 926 BCE, tensions between the northern part of Israel, containing the ten northern tribes, and the southern section, dominated by Jerusalem and the southern tribes, reached a boiling point. When Solomon's son and successor, Rehoboam, dealt tactlessly with economic complaints of the northern tribes, in about 930 BCE (there are differences of opinion as to the actual year) the Kingdom of Israel and Judah split into two kingdoms: the northern Kingdom of Israel, which included the cities of Shechem and Samaria, and the southern Kingdom of Judah, which contained Jerusalem. Most of the non-Israelite provinces became independent.
The Kingdom of Israel (or the Northern Kingdom or Samaria) existed as an independent state until 722 BCE, when it was conquered by the Neo-Assyrian Empire. The Kingdom of Judah (or the Southern Kingdom) existed as an independent state until 586 BCE, when it was conquered by the Neo-Babylonian Empire.
Many alternative chronologies have been suggested, and there is no ultimate consensus between the different factions and scholarly disciplines concerned with the period as to when it is depicted as having begun or when it ended.
Most biblical scholars follow either of the older chronologies established by William F. Albright or Edwin R. Thiele or the newer chronology of Gershon Galil, all of which are shown below. All dates are BCE. Thiele's chronology generally corresponds with Galil's chronology below with a difference of at most one year.
|Albright-Thiele dates||Galil dates||Biblical name||Regnal name and style||Notes|
|House of Saul|
|c. 1021-1000||c. 1030-1010||Saul||Shaul ben Qish, Melekh Ysra'el||Killed in battle, suicide|
|c. 1000||c. 1010-1008||Ishbaal (Ish-boseth)||Ishba'al ben Shaul, Melekh Ysra'el||Assassinated|
|House of David|
|c. 1000-962||c. 1008-970||David||David ben Yishai, Melekh Ysra'el||Son-in-law of Saul, brother-in-law of Ish-boseth|
|c. 962-c. 922||c. 970-931||Solomon||Sh'lomoh ben David, Melekh Ysra'el||Son of David and Bathsheba|
The name ... signifies the people composed of [Jacob's] descendants (the "children of Israel"), being applied (a) to the whole people (including Judah) ... [but] (b) with the division of the kingdom after the death of Solomon, to the Northern Kingdom only."
As this essay will show, however, the premonarchic period long ago became a literary description of the mythological roots, the early beginnings of the nation and the way to describe the right of Israel on its land. The archeological evidence also does not support the existence of a united monarchy under David and Solomon as described in the Bible, so the rubric of "united monarchy" is best abandoned, although it remains useful for discussing how the Bible views the Israelite past. [...] Although the kingdom of Judah is mentioned in some ancient inscriptions, they never suggest that it was part of a unit comprised of Israel and Judah. There are no extrabiblical indications of a united monarchy called "Israel."
For conservative approaches defining the United Monarchy as a state "from Dan to Beer Sheba" including "conquered kingdoms" (Ammon, Moab, Edom) and "spheres of influence" in Geshur and Hamath cf. e.g. Ahlström (1993), 455-542; Meyers (1998); Lemaire (1999); Masters (2001); Stager (2003); Rainey (2006), 159-168; Kitchen (1997); Millard (1997; 2008). For a total denial of the historicity of the United Monarchy cf. e.g. Davies (1992), 67-68; others suggested a 'chiefdom' comprising a small region around Jerusalem, cf. Knauf (1997), 81-85; Niemann (1997), 252-299 and Finkelstein (1999). For a 'middle of the road' approach suggesting a United Monarchy of larger territorial scope though smaller than the biblical description cf.e.g. Miller (1997); Halpern (2001), 229-262; Liverani (2005), 92-101. The latter re-cently suggested a state comprising the territories of Judah and Ephraim during thetime of David, that was subsequently enlarged to include areas of northern Samariaand influence areas in the Galilee and Transjordan. Na'aman (1992; 1996) once accepted the basic biography of David as authentic and later rejected the United Monarchy as a state, cf. id. (2007), 401-402.
Archeological evidence for the early stages of the monarchy is minimal at best. [...] In any case, the lack of substantive epigraphic materials from this early stage of the Iron Age II (after 1000 BCE), and other extensive archeological evidence, indicate that even if an early united monarchy existed, its level of political and bureaucratic complexity was not as developed as the biblical text suggests. The mention of the "House of David" in the Tel Dan inscription, which dates to the mid/late 9th c. BCE, does not prove the existence of an extensive Davidic kingdom in the early 10th c. BCE, but does indicate a Judean polity during the 9th c. that even then associated its origin with David. [...] Although there is archeological and historical evidence (from extra biblical documents) supporting various events of the monarchical period (esp. the later period) recorded in the Bible, there is little, if any evidence corroborating the biblical depiction of early Israelite or Judean history.
Finkelstein's low chronology, never followed by a majority of mainstream scholars, is a house of cards. Yet it is the only reason for attributing our copious tenth-century-BCE archaeological evidence of a united monarchy to the ninth century BCE. Finkelstein himself seems to have doubts. Originally, he insisted that no Judean state emerged until the eighth century BCE. Then it was the ninth century BCE. Eventually he posited a tenth-century-BCE "Saulide polity" with its "hub" at Gibeon--not Jerusalem, and not Solomon, only his predecessor! But there is absolutely no archaeological evidence for such an imaginary kingdom. Finkelstein's radical scenario is clever, but not convincing. It should be ignored. The reigns of Saul, David, and Solomon are reasonably well attested.CS1 maint: date and year (link)
The continuous debate concerning the evaluation of the United Monarchy as an historical entity cannot be resolved unequivocally by archaeology due to the current disagreements among archaeologists regarding the interpretation of the evidence. In my view, when taking into account the combined evidence presented above, as well as in previous papers, we cannot simply deny the existence of such an entity. How to define and explain this state in the tenthcentury is a matter of debate. In previous papers, I explained David's kingdom as a tribal state that emerged at a time of political vacuum in most of the southern Levant, caused by the great weakness of the earlier Canaanite population and the increase in the Israelite population in the highlands. This background, combined with personal qualities and a small but effective milittary force, may have enabled David to create a substantial political and military power, which may have included large parts of the country.