1 Kings

The Cylinders of Gudea

1 KINGS 3 Two large, inscribed clay cylinders were discovered at the end of the nineteenth century. After their broken pieces had been meticulously reassembled, the cylinders revealed a lengthy Sumerian' composition memorializing the building of a new temple by a Mesopotamian ruler named Gudea (r. c. 2112-2095 B.C. or shortly before.)

The cylinders claim that the deity Ningirsu appeared to Gudea in a dream, commanding him to build his new temple, the Eninnu. Gudea prayed and slept in the temple already existing on the site, waiting for a second dream; in it Ningirsu revealed the new temple's plan.The cylinders provide detailed information about the preparation and purification of the temple area and specifics about conscripting workers, the acquisition of building materials and the laying of the foundations. Next, they describe the building process, decorations and furnishings.Gudea then installed the statues of Ningirsu and his consort, Baba, offered dedicatory prayers and hosted a seven-day banquet. Upon completion of the project, Gudea recorded, he was blessed and promised long life by his personal gods.

It has been suggested that the account of Solomon's construction of the Jerusalem temple follows this same general outline. Since divine sanction for Solomon's temple building had been given to his father, David (2Sa 7:12-13), Solomon declared his intention to build Yahweh's temple in fulfillment of the divine command (1Ki 5:3 —5).This is followed by a description of the arrangements between Hiram of Tyre and Solomon, which provided for Hiram to contribute cedars and pine for the building project, as well as for Solomon's levy for laborers and the quarrying of stone for the foundation (5:6-18). The details of the construction process, including the layout and dimensions of the individual rooms, are included (6:1-38), as are directives regarding the furnishings (7:13-51).

Just as Gudea installed the statues of his deities to symbolize their presence in the temple, Solomon brought the ark of the covenant, which represented God's footstool (1Ch 28:2),2 into the temple in Jerusalem (1Ki-8:1-21). He then offered his prayer of dedication and hosted a seven-day feast (8:22-66). Finally, the Lord appeared to the king to bless him and promise him an everlasting throne over Israel, provided Solomon would continue to follow his commands (9:1-9).

That the account of Solomon's temple building follows the same structure need not surprise or alarm the reader. The inspired writers worked within familiar cultural and literary structures to faithfully transmit the history of Israel and the Word of God.

Egyptian and Israelite Administration

1 KINGS 4 Archaeological investigations of ancient Israelite sites have shown that the Israelites had adopted an Egyptian script, hieratic, for recording numbers and measures. For example, several ostraca found at Arad in the Judean Negev employed hieratic symbols for numerals in listing commodities. This demonstrates that at least in some respects Egyptian administrative models influenced Israel; scholars continue to look for other parallels. One of the more widely discussed correspondences involves Solomon's division of Israel into 12 administrative districts (Ai 4:7-19). The governors of these districts "supplied provisions for the king and the royal household. Each one had to provide supplies for one month in the year" (v. 7). According to a recently discovered stele, Solomon's contemporary, Sheshonk I of Egypt's Twenty-first Dynasty,2 instituted a similar policy for provisioning the temple of Arsaphes in Herakleopolis. He divided the name (administrative district) of Herakleopolis into 12 sections, with each one responsible for supporting the temple for one month per year. As with 1 Kings 4, the Egyptian stele defines each of the 12 districts, as well as designating their respective administrators. It is an open question whether the Egyptian model influenced the Israelite version or the other way around, or whether the parallel is coincidental. One thing is clear, however:The Israelites did not live in isolation; they both knew and were influenced by Egyptian (and other) models.


1 KINGS 5 The Phoenicians were descendants of the people of Canaan (cf. Ge 10:15). Phoenicia was never organized as a nation-state but consisted of a group of independent port cities along the northern sea-coast of Israel. Phoenicia's main centers included Arwad, Byblos ("Map 5"), Sidon and Tyrel (both"Map 6"). Relatively few Iron Agee remains have been located at these sites. Following the socioeconomic collapse of the Late Bronze Age,3 the Phoenicians established themselves as the preeminent sea traders in the Mediterranean.Their craftsmen's need for metals and other goods led merchants to establish colonies throughout the Mediterranean, as far away as Spain and the Atlantic coast of northern Africa. Phoenician fame also spread from its lumber trade' and its thriving purple dye industry. A noted legacy is the Phoenician alphabet, which the Greeks borrowed, probably during the eighth century B.C.

Solomon solicited Phoenician expertise for the construction of the temple and for the maritime gold trade (1 Ki 5; 9:26-28).5 The king of Tyre provided cedar and pine in exchange for wheat and olive oil and sent experienced sailors to assist Solomon's fleet. But the Phoenicians also exported their religion to Israel.The Sidonian princess Jezebel, who was given in marriage to Omri's son Ahab, used her position to promote Baal worship in Israel (16:29-33; 18).6 Phoenician influence also penetrated the kingdom of Judah, including, among other things, the practice of child sacrifice in the Hinnom Valley of Jerusalem (2Ki 23:10).

Excavations at Carthage in northern Africa, the most famous of the Phoenician/Punic colonies, provide grim evidence of the long-standing practice of child sacrifice (eighth — second centuries B.C.).Thousands of urns containing the charred bones of infants and children have been excavated from the ritual burial precinct of Tannit, a Phoenician goddess. These Phoenician religious practices became a stumbling block to both Israel and Judah (e.g., 2Ki 16:3; 21:6) and a recurring theme of Israelite prophetic rebuke (Jer 19:5-6; 32:35; Eze 16:20-22; Mic 6:7).

Solomon and the Israelite Empire

1 KINGS 6 Solomon inherited a vast empire, extending from the Euphrates to the Gulf of Aqaba and from Tyre to Egypt. He maintained this kingdom during a 40-year reign through diplomacy, industry and effective administration. Although Israel dominated the political scene of his day, the name Solomon is not attested in extrabiblical records discovered to date. Even so, archaeology gives us a better appreciation for the glory of Solomon's age.


    • Efficient internal administration facilitated control of the empire. Royal administrators included a chief of staff, secretaries, a military commander, a supervisor of forced labor, royal priests, a recorder (for foreign affairs) and a chief over regional districts. .

    • Twelve regional governors each furnished a month's support for the central government. A similar administrative structure may have been in place in Egypt.,

Fortified Cities

    • An older contemporary, Pharaoh Siamun, may have conquered the Philistine city of Gezer and given it to his daughter, with whom Solomon is thought to have entered a marriage alliance (the identity of this pharaoh has not been authoritatively confirmed)., Excavations at Gezer confirm its destruction in the early tenth century B.C.

    • Archaeological finds confirm the rebuilding of Gezer, Megiddo ("Map 6") and Hazor ("Map 6"), as described in 1 Kings 9:15.4 • Fortified cities controlled the major trade arteries around and through the Holy Land. More than 40 small, tenth-century B.(. for-tresses have been discovered in the southern Negev.

    • Storehouses have been excavated at Hazor, Beth Shemesh and other locations. Similar structures at Megiddo, previously identified as"Solomon's stables," have more recently been assigned archaeological-ly to the time of Jeroboam. However, these structures may have been built on foundations from an earlier period.

Trade and Wealth

    • Sources of revenue were foreign trade, caravan tolls, the export of refined copper and tribute from vassal nations. Solomon capitalized on a vigorous import-export trade in horses and chariots with Egypt, Anatolia, Syria and Mesopotamia.

    • An alliance with Hiram, king of Tyre, allowed Solomon to develop trade between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. Hiram provided experienced seamen and experts in both ship and harbor construction.

    • The visit of the queen of Sheba to Jerusalem was probably concluded with a trade agreement. Israelite sea trading ventures from Ezion Geber on the Gulf of Aqaba threatened overland trade, previously monopolized by Arabian tribes.The precise location of Ezion Geber° is disputed.

    • Subjugation of Ammon,Moab,Edom and Syria gave Solomon control over the major north-south land routes through the region.?

The Temple and the Palace

    • Hiram furnished artisans and architects for Solomon's construction projects. Nothing remains of the Jerusalem temple, but it is described in detail in 1 Kings 6.

    • Phoenician influence in the temple's architecture and decoration has been confirmed by comparison with other temples excavated in Syria and Palestine.The Ain Dara Temple near Halab (Aleppo) in northern Syria, roughly contemporary with Solomon's temple, was remarkably similar in size and style. It featured a portico with two columns, one on each side of the entryway. Within, it was divided into three parts, with an antechamber, main hall and main shrine ("Most Holy Place"). A multi-story corridor enclosed the inner temple on three sides. Ornamentation using both cherubim and palm trees is well attested in Canaanite art of the Iron Age.

    • A twelfth-century B.C. ivory panel recovered from Megiddo depicts a throne similar to Solomon's (see 10:18-19).

The Pharaoh Whose Daughter Solomon Married

1 KINGS 7 Solomon acquired a number of foreign wives (1 Ki 11:1) as the result of diplomatic marriages as he forged peaceful ties with surrounding nations early in his reign (3:1). The only such wife about whom we know anything specific is the daughter of an anonymous pharaoh.Solomon gave her a private palace (7:8), and she received the city of Gezer ("Map 4") as a dowry gift from her father (9:1 6).

The identity of the pharaoh whose daughter Solomon married is somewhat problematic. The rulers of Egypt during this time (the Twenty-first Dynasty) were from Libya, so the pharaoh's daughter would have been of Libyan descent. Based upon the dates of Solomon's reign (970-930 B.c.) and Egyptian chronology, the most likely candidate is Siamun, who ruled from the capital at Tanis in northern Egypt from 979 to 960 B.C. A relief located at Tanis ("Map 1") depicts Siamun slaying a captive. Some suggest that this represents a campaign to Philistia,since the captive is pictured holding a double ax,a weapon thought to be Philistine.2 Thus, some scholars argue that Siamun led a campaign against the Philistines and in the process captured Gezer, which he later gave to his daughter.

There are several difficulties with this explanation, however:

  • The era of David and Solomon was the high point of Israelite power, and it would have been imprudent for an Israelite king to have allowed a foreign invader like a pharaoh to come so near the heart of Israelite territory.

  • The pharaohs of the late Twenty-first Dynasty were ineffective, and it is questionable whether Siamun could have mounted such a campaign.

  • Philistines are nowhere else represented with double-bladed battle axes, and thus the relief portraying the warrior with such an ax is of doubtful significance.

Still, there is no reason to doubt that Solomon did marry an Egyptian princess. Both Israel and Egypt engaged in diplomatic marriages, and the Biblical account seems too detailed to be a fabrication. Also, the capture of Gezer by the pharaoh's forces may have been by prior agreement with Solomon's government. Gezer was at this time a weak city, and if its capture was carried out with Israel's support it would not have required a major Egyptian expedition. Allowing Siamun the honor of capturing this city could conceivably have been a face-saving way for Solomon to enable a weak pharaoh to provide his daughter with a meaningful dowry.

The Building Activity of Solomon

1 KINGS 9 Royal inscriptions throughout the ancient Near East attest to the building activities of kings who wished to consolidate their military and political gains. While his father had wielded the sword to secure land from the Philistines, Solomon built an administrative and commercial apparatus for the young kingdom.' Beginning with Jerusalem he authorized the construction both of the temple and of his palace, as well as reinforcing the milio, a term meaning "supporting terraces" (1Ki 9:15). This may have been an artificial landfill of terraces between the temple mount and the eastern side of Jerusalem.

Most scholars concur that there is archaeological evidence for building activity during the tenth century ax. at Hazor, Megiddo and Gezer (all on "Map 6"). First Kings 9:15 specifies that Solomon fortified these cities, and evidence indicates that he did so through the use of casemate walls, a new defensive structure employing a double wall.The work in these cities made use of ashlar masonry and displayed similar facades, dimensions and designs. The cities also featured six-chambered gates, with three chambers on each side of a gateway. This evidence is of enormous importance for establishing the historicity of Solomon's reign. Today, some scholars argue that the Biblical account is at best an exaggeration and at worst a complete fiction. The excavation of the cities of 1 Kings 9:15 helps to demonstrate that the age of Solomon was precisely as the Bible describes it.

Whereas Hazor, Megiddo and Gezer lay along a north-south axis through Israel's northern territory, Lower Beth Horon, Baalath and Tadmor (vv. 17-18) occupied critical positions along important trade routes within the tribe of Judah. Solomon's building activity crossed traditional tribal boundaries and signaled his intention both to ensure a consolidated nation and to secure a place in international commerce. His fleet of ships at Ezion Geber (v. 26), located at the head of the Gulf of Aqaba ("Map 3"), also enabled the king to expand Israelite trade. Both the Bible and archaeology suggest that Solomon's reign was a time of great prosperity and significant cultural transition. The nation progressed from being a confederation of shepherds and peasants to becoming a nation-state with international trade and urban centers that transcended traditional tribal boundaries.


1 KINGS 10 Sheba, land of the queen who visited Solomon (1Ki 101 —13), was located at the southwestern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, in modern Yemen. This location permitted the people of Sheba (Sabeans) to conduct sea trade with both Africa and India. In addition, caravan trade in gold, jewels, myrrh, frankincense and spices from the East was facilitated by the domestication of the camel.1 No other pack animal could survive the long distances between water sources.

The Sabeans, who had a reputation as raiders (see Job 1:15), may have been descendants of Abraham through his second wife, Keturah (Ge 25:1-3). Elements in the Sabean dialect connect them linguistically with northwestern Semites. The Sabeans moved from northern Arabia before the tenth century B.C. and developed a capital at Marib, sustained by a large dam that collected seasonal rainfall. Assyrian inscriptions attest that several queens ruled the Sabeans during this period. Solomon's maritime enterprises threatened the Sabean trade monopoly, and many scholars speculate that their queen visited Solomon to negotiate a trade agreement. A ninth-century B.C. stamp with a southern Arabic script, made of a reddish-brown clay indigenous to Yemen and unearthed it Bethel,2 corroborates this theory.

The Overseer of the Forced Labor

1 KINGS 12 By the time Rehoboam became king, the northern tribes had grown weary of Solomon's oppressive forced labor policy (1Ki 5:13-18; 12:4).' They asked Rehoboam to lighten their burden; but rather than following the wise counsel of the elders who had served under Solomon, Rehoboam listened to his young peers and pledged to intensify the burden of labor (vv. 6-14). This prompted the ten northern tribes to secede (v. 16). Their new leader was Jeroboam, himself a former overseer of forced labor for the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh (11:28).

In a final effort to resolve the crisis, Rehoboam dispatched Adoniram, the official in charge of forced labor, to broker a settlement. Adoniram was experienced in these matters, having served as national overseer of forced labor under both David (2Sa 20:24) and Solomon (1Ki 5:14).Tragically,Adoniram was stoned to death, and Rehoboam himself was compelled to flee in his chariot to avoid a similar fate (12:18).

The seal of a later overseer of forced labor has appeared on the antiquities market.One side was for personal use, while the other designated his official title. Side A reads "(Belonging) to Pelayahu (son of) Mattityahu," while Side B specifies "(Belonging) to Pelayahu over (seer of) the forced labor."

Pelayahu ("Yahweh is wondrous") is not mentioned in the Bible. His function as an administrator "over the forced labor," however, uses exactly the same terminology we find in the Old Testament with regard to Adoniram and Jeroboam.The seal therefore serves as external verification for the administrative policies of the early monarchy as described in the Bible.

The High Place at Dan

1 KINGS 12 According to 1 Kings 12 Israel's King Jeroboam I challenged Jerusalem's claim to be the only legitimate location for worshiping and offering sacrifices. Jeroboam built "shrines on high places" (v. 31) in Dan and Bethel as rivals to the Jerusalem temple,' installed golden calves in each,2 appointed priests and institutionalized festival days. During excavations at Tel Dan (Tell el-Qadi) beginning in 1966, archaeologist A. Biran discovered a sacred precinct that has been identified as almost certainly the one established by King Jeroboam I in the tenth century B.C. The shrine was renovated and expanded under Kings Ahab and Jeroboam II during the eighth and seventh centuries B.C., respectively.

In the sacred area a massive stairway (approximately 27 feet [8.2 m] long and 26 feet [7.9 m] wide) leads up to an ashlar block platform, which is nearly 10 feet (3 m) high. This "high place," where the golden calves would have been displayed, was either an open-air sanctuary or served as the base of a temple structure. Within the sacred precinct Biran uncovered both small and large four-horned altars (the smaller ones for incense and burnt offerings, such as birds, and the large altar for bigger animals, like sheep and goats, the remains of which were also unearthed). Iron shovels, a jar used for ash disposal, a ceremonial drinking bowl, oil lamps with seven spouts and numerous other religious objects were also found.

By all archaeological and Biblical indications, Jeroboam I was successful in rerouting Israelite pilgrims from Jerusalem to Dan and other shrines (v. 30).These shrines were condemned by the prophets as spurious and as enticements to apostasy.

The History of the Northern Kingdom

1 KINGS 13 The northern kingdom is variously called Samaria (after its capital), Ephraim (after its dominant tribe) or Israel. Nineteen kings, representing nine different families, reigned there for a combined period of 208 years.

After Solomon's death (930 B.c.) Jeroboam I led the northern tribes to separate from Judah (under Rehoboam) and to establish Israel as a separate kingdom. Jeroboam built a capital at Tirzah ("Map 4") and set up golden calves in Bethel and Dan (both "Map 6") to rival worship in Jerusalem.' But he lost territory in Moab and Syria, and tensions smoldered between Israel and Judah for half a century. Jeroboam's son Nadab was assassinated by Baasha.

Israel fell into disorder. Baasha exacerbated tensions with King Asa of Judah by fortifying Ramah, near Jerusalem, to which Asa responded by hiring Syria's Ben-Hadad to attack Israel (1Ki 15:16-22). Baasha's dynasty ended when Zimri killed his son Elah. After a seven-day reign, Zimri burned the palace, with himself inside, at Tirzah.

Israel returned to power and stability under Omri (884-873 B.c.), who bested Tibni in a four-year civil war and established a capital at Samaria ("Map 4"). He warred continually against Syria, subdued Moab, made peace with Judah and entered into a trade alliance with Phoenicia, resulting in the marriage of his son Ahab to Jezebel, daughter of the Sidonian king. Revolts in Moab plagued the Omrides (Omri, Ahab, Ahaziah and Jehoram), and Samaria was fortified heavily against attacks from Syria-Damascus. These same kingdoms, however, cooperated with one another when their personal interests were at stake. A temporary alliance of Syrian-Palestinian states pitted itself against Assyria at the battle of Qarqar (853 B.C.).

The Omride dynasty was characterized by apostasy. During this time the prophets Elijah and Elisha confronted the religious policies of Israel's kings. Jezebel introduced the worship of Baal-Melqart, and this cult was promoted by Omride kings until the usurper Jehu executed Omri's descendants, along with Jezebel and the prophets of Baal (841 B.C.).

The fourth-dynasty kings (Jehu, Jehoahaz, Jehoash, Jeroboam II and Zechariah; 2Ki 10:30), despite a temporary suppression of the Baal cult (2Ki 10:18-27), maintained the worship of the golden calves of Jeroboam I. Syria and Assyria continued to menace Israel over the next 50 years. Israel was greatly reduced in territory and military resources and regularly paid tribute to Assyria. But Assyria, after considerably weakening Damascus (Syria), suffered its own period of vulnerability. With its two principal enemies in a diminished state, Israel's Jeroboam II was able to regain some territory. This period ended when Shallum assassinated Jeroboam II's successor, Zechariah.

Israel then fell rapidly into chaos and crisis. Shallum was assassinated by Menahem, and a fifth dynasty (Menahem and Pekahiah)briefly came to power around 746 B.C. Anti-Assyrian sentiment flared after Menahem exacted a head-tax to pay tribute to Tiglath-Pileser III. Following a coup d'etat, Pekah seized control of Israel, forming an anti-Assyrian alliance with Syria's Rezin. Pekah and Rezin pressured Ahaz of Judah to join them and attacked Jerusalem when he resisted. Ahaz sent tribute to Tiglath-Pileser III, king of a resurgent Assyria, seeking help, to which Assyria responded by sweeping down over northern Israel and Damascus. Rezin was killed and his subjects deported to Assyria.

A new usurper seized Israel's throne: Hoshea assassinated Pekah and ruler in his place. Soon after the death of Tiglath-Pileser III (727 B.C.), Hosea withheld tribute from Assyria, Shalmaneser V, successor to Tiglath-Pileser III, imprisoned Hosea and put Samaria under siege. With the fall of the city (722 B.C.) and the deportation of its population, the northern kingdom came to an end.

The northern kingdom was noteworthy in three ways:

  • It was powerful relative to Judah.

  • It was idolatrous.

  • It was politically unstable.

The Problem of the chronology of the kings of Judah and Israel

1 KINGS 14 One of the most vexing problems in the Old Testament is the chronology of the divided monarchy. Interpreters as early as the Greek translators of the Old Testament have struggled to understand the lengths of reigns of the Israelite and Judahite kings. In some cases the numbers simply do not seem to add up.

    • First Kings 15:25 states that Nadab began to rule in Asa's second year, and verse 28 claims that he died in Asa's third year. Simple math would indicate that Nadab reigned for one year, but verse 25 states that he ruled for two.

    • Second Kings 3:1 notes that Joram began to rule in Jehoshaphat's eighteenth year, but according to 1:17 Joram ascended the throne in Jehoram's second year.

    • According to 9:24-27 Jehu killed King Joram of Israel and mortally wounded King Ahaziah of Judah on the same day. Thus, the total length of reigns for the kings of Israel and Judah from the division of the united kingdom in Rehoboam's time to Jehu's assassinations must have been equal. But adding up the numbers in the Biblical text yields a total of 98 years for Israel and only 95 for Judah.

Probably the best approach to resolving these chronological problems has been proposed by Edwin Thiele, who determined how chronological reckoning was handled by the ancient Israelites. Three important aspects of Israelite chronology are as follows:

    • Different calendar years were in use in Israel and Judah. Israel began its calendar year in the month of Nisan (in the spring), while Judah's year started in Tishri (in the fall).

    • There were two different ways to count the first year of a king's rule. In the "accession year" system, the time from the day a king began to reign until the beginning of the new year was counted as his "accession year"—not his first year, which would begin on the first day of the official new year. "Non-accession year" reckoning, by contrast, counted the time from the king's accession until the beginningeonf ethweyneeawr myeaarkr eads thnisefisrtsatrtyeoafrt;hine this system, the first day of the king's second year, no matter how long shteemhadthreenigntheed,,dfiursrtinygeahris "first year."In the non-accession yealsrrsayel a apparently followed the was always less than one full year. non-accession year system until the reign of Jehoash, when the nation shifted to accession year reckoning. Judah adhered to the accession year system except for a brief time when peaceful relations with the northern kingdom led to a temporary change.The northern kingdom's early use of the non-accession year system explains how Nadab's rule of one actual year was counted as two.

    • Sometimes Israel was ruled by coregents (father and son reigning simultaneously). In such a situation the son would be elevated to the throne before his father's death and would begin counting his regnal years immediately. Such was the case for Jehoshaphat, who apparently installed his son Jehoram as coregent five years before his own death. Joram of Israel came to the throne during Jehoshaphat's eighteenth year (2Ki 3:1), which was also Jehoram's second year (2Ki 1:17). Because two Judahite rulers were each counting the years of overlap in their regnal totals,adding up the Biblical numbers understandably results in a figure too high for the period and unequal to the regional totals in the northern kingdom.

Recently some scholars have proposed minor modifications to the dates set forth by Thiele for the reigns of the kings of Israel and Judah, but on the whole the principles he outlined and the chronology he established have stood the test of scholarly scrutiny. When coordinated with absolute dates known from Assyrian and Egyptian records, the chronological principles recognized by Thiele make excellent sense of a thorny problem and provide an accurate chronology of the kings based upon the sum total of the Scriptural data.


1 KINGS 15 Tirzah ("Map 6") was the capital of the northern kingdom for about 40 years, including the 24-year reign of its third king, Baasha (1 Ki 15:33). It is located at Tell el-Farah ("North") in the tribal area of Manasseh, approximately 36 miles (58 km) north of Jerusalem. Baasha was buried at Tirzah (16:6)—the only Israelite king whom the Bible specifically states was interred there. Baasha's son Elah, who ruled for two years (16:8), was overthrown by a chariot commander named Zimri around 885 B.C. (16:9-10). After only seven days on the throne, Zimri was supplanted by Omri, the army general (16:15-20).

Recognizing his imminent defeat, Zimri" went into the citadel of the royal palace and set the palace on fire around him" (16:18).1 Excavators at Tell el-Farah have found evidence of destruction by fire early in the ninth century B.C., with the debris layer as much as 3 feet (.9 m) thick in some places. Reconstruction of Tirzah began after a short period of abandonment. The major building of this time was a solidly constructed structure of 31 feet (9.4 m) by 44 feet (13.4 m), built of well-dressed masonry. It was never completed, however, as evidenced by the presence of abandoned building materials, partly dressed stones and the absence of ruins.This fits the Biblical record, which states that Omri ruled at Tirzah for only six years, after which he established a new capital at Samaria. Omri abruptly halted the rebuilding of Tirzah when he started construction on Samaria. Tirzah's significance dwindled thereafter; by the postexilic period the city was abandoned. Song of Songs 6:4 sets Tirzah alongside Jerusalem as one of Israel's two great cities, indicating that the Song was written during Tirzah's glory days.

Omri and Samaria

1 KINGS 16 Following his coup Omri ruled the northern kingdom for 12 years (1Ki 16:15-22). Although a failure as a spiritual leader, Omri was a powerful king (vv. 16— 18,21-28). Perhaps his most significant accomplishment was the founding of the new capital at Samaria (v. 24). It was established around 885 B.C. and remained the capital until the demise of the northern kingdom in 722 B.C.

Samaria is situated at a crossroads near the main north-south road through the highlands of Israel, 34 miles (55 km) north of Jerusalem. Situated on a high hill,the city dominates the surrounding countryside. Excavations at the site have unearthed Omri's royal citadel on the acropolis. It was surrounded by a 5 foot (1.5 m) thick wall enclosing a four-acre area.The wall was constructed of fine ashlar (cut) masonry laid in header-stretcher fashion (alternating narrow-face and wide-face placement of rectangular blocks). On the southwestern side of the enclosure was a palace constructed around a central courtyard. The preserved portion is 78 feet (24 m) by 88 feet (27 m) in size. Outside the royal quarter was a lower city built on the slope of the hill.

Omri's name appears in a number of ancient documents:

  • The earliest known inscription to mention a king of Judah or Israel is the Mesha (or Moabite) Inscription, written approximately 846 B.c.2 It states that "Omri had occupied the land of Medeba [northern Moab), and had dwelt there in his time."

  • in a document from about five years later the Assyrian king Shalmaneser III referred to Jehu, a later Israelite king, as the "son of Omri."3 Other Assyrian kings, such as Tiglath-Pileser III (c. 732 B.c.) and Sargon II (c. 721 B.c.),4 attached such importance to the reign of Omri that they referred to Israel as "Omri-Land."

Omri was an enormously famous and successful king,yet the Bible pays him virtually no attention. Political success, in the eyes of the Biblical writers, counted for very little if an individual had turned away from God.


1 KINGS 17 A city on the Mediterranean coast 14 miles (22.5 km) north of Tyre and 8 miles (13 km) south of Sidon,, Zarephath ("Map 7") is mentioned in Neo-Assyrian records of the seventh century B.C. (when it surrendered to the Assyrian king Sennacherib), as well as in an Egyptian papyrus from the thirteenth century B.C.Today the small village of Sarafand lies close to the remains of the old city. Excavations have uncovered that this ancient port was not only a commercial center for the export of wine, olive oil and the purple dye extracted from murex shells but also a manufacturing hub for textiles, pottery and glassware. In the Roman period the city featured a shrine to the goddess Tannit, to whom child sacrifices are believed to have been made. By the fourth century A.D. pilgrims were making their way to Zarephath to commemorate Elijah's miracles there, and a tower was erected to mark the site of the "upper room" in which he had lived (1 Ki 17:19). Though never considered a city of great importance, Zarephath's location places it in the center of the Phoenician heartland.

First Kings 17 demonstrates in no uncertain terms that Yahweh, the God of Israel, was more powerful than the Canaanite god Baal, who was worshiped as the god of rain and fertility and the vanquisher of death.4 But in 1 Kings 17 the God of Israel provides sustenance during a famine and proves his power over death in the raising of a child (v. 22).The next chapter, 1 Kings 18, recounts the triumph of Yahweh and his prophet over Baal and his prophets. God's command to Elijah to remain in the home of a pagan widow must have seemed strange. Jesus cited this story as an example of how a prophet is often unwelcome in his home country (Lk 4:26).


1 KINGS 19 Beersheba was the proverbial southern limit of Israel, as in the expression"from Dan [in the north] to Beersheba" (e.g., Jdg 20:1; see"Map 6").Elijah,therefore, wanting to separate himself as far as possible from Queen Jezebel of the northern kingdom, fled to Beersheba.The name of the site originates from Abraham's treaty with Abimelech and means"well of the oath" or "well of the seven" (Ge 21:31). Located 50 miles (81 km) south of Jerusalem in the center of the Negev region,' Beersheba's general location is not in doubt, although scholars have debated which mound to identify as the city's location during the time of the monarchy.

Beersheba assumed a prominent role in the administration of the southern region of the kingdom during the united and later the divided monarchy. Archaeological excavations of Tel Beersheba have revealed nine strata, or levels of occupation, dating from the Iron Age. The earliest, strata IX through VI from the Iron Age I (late judges period), reveal a site no larger than a small village. Strata V through II date to the period of the monarchy, with stratum II being the best preserved and most visible today. Stratum V has been equated with the Beersheba of the united monarchy, which was violently destroyed, quite possibly during the campaign of Pharaoh Sheshonk (Biblical Shishak; 1 Ki 14:25). Soon afterward the city was rebuilt, but it was again destroyed at the stratum II level. This destruction is generally dated to Sennacherib's campaign against Judah in 701 although some suggest that it was leveled by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C.,Stratum I (the most recent) - fairly meager and soon abandoned - was built shortly thereafter.

Beersheba occupied a three- acre site and was used largely for governmental purpose. The city was laid out in an oval shape, with a ring of typical Israelite houses aburtting its casemate wall. Streets radiated out from the town gate and plaza, with three large government storehouse located near the gate. One large structure from stratum II, dubbed the "Governor's Palace, "was impressive administrative building featuring three large reception halls. It was built of ashlars (cut-stones), in contrast to the other buildings, which were constructed of field stones. A remarkable find at Beersheba was a dismantled,, sacrificial altar. Archaeologist who located the stones of this altar - in secondary use in one of these storehouses - were able to reconstruct it. The altar may have been part of a temple complex destroyed during the reforms of king Hezekiah (2Ki 18:4). The prophet Amos spoke harshly against the religious practices that took place in this city (Am 5:5; 8:14)

The location of the Beersheba of the patriarchs is unknown. This earlier settlement was undoubtedly in the Beersheba Valley but not necessarily at the identical site. The Bible does not suggest a large settlement at Beersheba during patriarchal times, and it is unlikely that archaeologists will be able to pinpoint its location.

Ben-Hadad I and II

1 KINGS 20 There are at least two, and probably three, kings named Ben-Hadad in the Old Testament. They ruled Aram from Syria's capital city, Damascus' (see "Map 6"). Ben-Hadad I (late tenth to early ninth centuries B.c.), the son of Tabrimmon, is known in the Bible for having entered into a treaty with Judah to attack Israel (1 Ki 15).

Ben-Hadad II (also called Hadadezer; B.C. 860-841 B.c.) is prominent in 1 Kings 20 and 24 and in 2 Kings 5-8. He attacked Samaria ("Map 4") around 857 B.C. but was defeated by Ahab (1 Ki 20:1-21).The following year he returned to engage Israel at Aphek, 3 miles (4.8 km) east of the southern coast of the Sea of Galilee, but once again Ahab emerged victorious (vv. 22-34). Ben-Hadad was more successful three years later when he at last overcame the joint forces of Ahab and Jehoshaphat of Judah at Ramoth Gilead. Ben-Hadad laid siege to Samaria once again during the reign of Joram (2K1 6-7)—and once again was defeated, this time by divine intervention (2Ki 7:6).

Apart from the Bible, ancient inscriptions also mention Ben-Hadad II:

  • In the records of Shalmaneser HI, king of Assyria from approximately 858-824 B.C., Ben-Hadad II is referred to as "Adad-idri." Along with other kings from the region (including Ahab of Israel), Ben-Hadad fought against Shalmaneser repeatedly—in 853, 849, 848 and 845 B.C. In the battle of Qarqar, Syria, in 853 B.C., Ben-Hadad commanded a force of 20,000 foot soldiers, 1,200 chariots and 1,200 cavalry.

  • Lines 3 and 4 of the Tel Dan Stele refer to an unnamed individual as"my father."6 Since the author of the text appears to have been Hazael, Ben-Hadad ll's successor (but not actually his son)/ the reference to "my father" is probably to Ben-Hadad II.

An apparent third Ben-Hadad ruled during the early eighth century B.c. and fought against Jehoash (see 2Ki 13:14-19,25).

Ahab and the Battle of Qarqar

1 KINGS 22 Ahab, son of Omri, ruled the northern kingdom for 22 years,from approximately 874-853 B.C. — the fourth longest rule of the 20 kings of that nation.' Four Old Testament chapters are devoted to his reign (1Ki 18; 20-22), more than to any other king of the northern kingdom. Because Ahab promoted the worship of Baal and Asherah, he carries the ignominious distinction of having been Israel's most wicked king (16:30 — 33).2 During the last four years of his reign Ahab was involved in a war with Aram to the north. In his first two encounters with the Arameans he was victorious,3 but in the third recorded battle, at Ramoth Gilead ("Map 4"), Israel was badly defeated and Ahab mortally wounded (22:29-37). Although he died a violent death, Ahab at least avoided the fate of several other kings of the north, who were assassinated by rivals (see 21:20-29).

Ahab was known as an enthusiastic and skilled "builder" (meaning that he commissioned the construction of various buildings; 16:32; 22:39), and archaeological findings have borne this out. Remains of his palace have been unearthed at Samaria, where Ahab expanded the royal quarters built by his father.5 Inside the compound archaeologists have unearthed numerous fragments of carved ivory plaques from his palace (v.39).6 In the northwest corner of the citadel was a pool, quite possibly the one in which Ahab's bloodied chariot was washed (v. 38). Fortifications and elaborate constructions at Megiddo, Hazor (both "Map 6") and Tel Dan have also been attributed to this king.

In 853 B.C., just prior to his engagement with the Arameans at Ramoth Gilead ("Map 4"), Ahab participated in a coalition of 12 states that were opposed to Assyria's westward expansion, an event not recorded in the Old Testament.The Assyrian king Shalmaneser III confronted the coalition at Qarqar, Syria, and defeated its combined forces. In the Assyrian record of the event,"Ahab the Israelite" is credited with having contributed one of the largest forces-2,000 chariots and 10,000 infantry soldiers. The Assyrian record, as well as artifactual and architectural evidence excavated in Israel, fully substantiates the tone of the Biblical record concerning Ahab. He was a powerful and prosperous, albeit idolatrous, Biblical king.