The Jerusalem Pomegranate
2 CHRONICLES 4 A thumb-sized chunk of ivory in the shape of a pomegranate may be the only archaeological find recovered from Solomon's temple) This graceful, six-petaled blossom is engraved with the words "Belonging to the temple of the LORD, holy to the priests." Based upon the shape of the Hebrew letters in the inscription, the artifact was initially dated to the eighth century B.C., although that date is now in dispute. Investigators for the Israel Antiquities Authority have reassessed the artifact and concluded that although the object itself dates to about 1400 B.C. (considerably earlier than the age of Solomon), the inscription is a recent forgery. The body of the pomegranate has a hole on the bottom in which a rod might have been inserted to form a scepter.
Two ivory scepters dating to the thirteenth century B.C. have been excavated in a Canaanite temple in Lachish, each topped with a miniature pomegranate. This implies that the pomegranate was a ritual object used regularly by priests in the ancient Near East, although its use specifically by priests in the Jerusalem temple is now open to question.
Ancient art made rich use of the pomegranate as a decorative motif. In a religious vein, this fruit was used by the Israelites as a sign of the fertility of the promised land under the blessing of God (Nu 13:23; Dt 8:8). Chains of pomegranates graced the capitals of the twin bronze pillars flanking the entrance of Israel's temple (2Ch 4:13).They also adorned the hem of the high priestly robes as embroidered blossoms of blue, purple and scarlet alternating with golden bells (Ex 28:33).
2 CHRONICLES 8 Biblical mention of Ezion Geber ("Map 5") is limited to Israel's wilderness wanderings (Nu 33:35-36; Dt 2:8),the Solomonic era (1 Ki 9:26-28; 2Ch 8:17-18) and the time of King Jehoshaphat of Judah (1 Ki 22:47-49; 2Ch 20:35 — 37). Ezion Geber was located near [lath on the Red Sea (i.e., the Gulf of Aqaba) in the land of Edom.2 Solomon, in collaboration with King Hiram of Tyre, developed it as a major seaport where he maintained a fleet and imported luxury commodities from Africa and India. Later, Jehoshaphat unsuccessfully attempted to duplicate Solomon's venture.
Tell el-Kheleifeh, on the northern tip of the Gulf of Aqaba, was once widely identified with Ezion Geber on the grounds that archaeological remains suggested it had been a seaport and a site for smelting minerals. These conclusions have been challenged, and this connection is now regarded as unlikely.' If Tell el-Kheleifeh is not Ezion Geber, the
only other adequate anchorage in the northern gulf is located on an island called Jezirat Faraun ("Pharaoh's Island"; also called Coral Island), approximately 7.5 miles (12 km) south of modern Eilat. A natural harbor was improved in antiquity by the addition of a breakwater, mooring piers and defensive towers.The structure of the port is typical of Phoenician improved harbors, and Iron Age 15 pottery found there confirms habitation of the site during the Solomonic period.
The Campaign of Shishak
2 CHRONICLES 12 Pharaoh Sheshonk I, who ruled Egypt from around 945-924 B.C. (931-910 B.C. on an alternative chronology), is probably the Shishak of the Bible. First Kings 11:40 states that Shishak provided refuge for Jeroboam when he was fleeing from Solomon. Five years after the division of the united monarchy, Shishak invaded Judah (2Ch 12:1-9).
At Karnak in Egypt, near Thebes (see the map of Egypt on p.346), at the great temple of Amun, stands an entryway known as the Bubastite Portal.This imposing entrance was probably constructed or renovated by She-shonk I (the temple complex had existed for hundreds of years prior to Sheshonk and had been built up by numerous pharaohs). On one of the walls of the Bubastite Portal is featured a commemorative relief of Sheshonk's expedition into the region now known as Palestine. Although it is now badly damaged, enough remains to indicate that this pharaoh not only attacked Judah, as the Bible records, but campaigned against the northern kingdom as well. Sheshonk,depicted on the right-hand side of the scene, is about to club a group of foreigners. On the left side is pictured the Egyptian god Amun leading off captive cities with ropes. Each city is represented by an oval cartouche containing the name of the city, with a bound prisoner on top. The list primarily contains place-names in the northern kingdom of Israel.
Megiddo, is one of the towns listed in the Bubastite Portal. Sheshonk's claim to have sacked Megiddo seems to be confirmed by a portion of a commemorative stele found there in 1926. Sheshonk's name can be clearly read, and the stele is probably from his campaign. Many other destruction layers found at Palestinian sites from this period are also attributed to Sheshonk. When his son Osorkon I took the throne, he donated huge amounts of gold and silver to the temples in Egypt, much of it very likely plunder from Sheshonk's raids on Israel and Judah.
The equation of Shishak with Sheshonk is not without its problems. Most notable is the fact that Sheshonk's invasion involved a direct attack on the cities of the northern kingdom of Israel under Jeroboam I, even though 1 Kings 11:40 suggests that Shishak was Jeroboam's patron. Also, Jerusalem is missing from Sheshonk's list of subjugated sites, although 1 Kings 14 and 2 Chronicles 12 both record Shishak's plundering of the temple and palace. However, it is certainly possible that relations between Jeroboam I and Sheshonk / Shishak had deteriorated after Jeroboam had seized control of northern Israel. The Bible does not provide us with a detailed political history of these times. Also, only about 15 per-cent of the writing on the Bubastite Portal is legible, and the absence of Jerusalem from the (readable) names does not prove that it was never there.
It is possible that the inscription also mentions the "highlands of David" in its reference to Israel if so, it is the earliest extrabiblical reference to David in existence and as such affords powerful evidence that he was in fact the great king the Bible portrays him to be., The interpretation of the relevant line of this text, however, is disputed.
Devotion to Asherah in the Khirbet El-Qom Inscription
2 CHRONICLES 15 Religious syncretism (simultaneous worship of various gods) was widespread in ancient Israel. From the time of the judges many Israelites included the Canaanite gods in their worship. Because the god El was in some respects considered to be analogous with the Lord, many also adopted worship of El's consort, Asherah, assuming her to be Yahweh's partner as well. Frequently wooden cult objects representing Asherah were erected in sacred spots. Gideon destroyed such a cult object (1dg 6:25-28), as did Asa (2Ch 15:16), Hezekiah (31:1) and Josiah (34:3-7).
An inscription from Khirbet el-Qom, approximately 8 miles (13 km) west of Hebron, ("Map 6") demonstrates why it was necessary for Hezekiah and Josiah to continue to demolish Asherah poles even after the religious reforms of Asa.This inscription, dating to the late eighth century B.C. (at least 100 years after Asa), originally appeared on a pillar of the burial chamber for an otherwise unknown man by the name of Uriyahu.
His eulogy claims that the Lord had blessed him and delivered him from his enemies"by his Asherah."Similar inscriptions from Kuntillet Ajrud in the northern Sinai suggest that many Israelites continued their devotion to the goddess Asherah, worshiping her as the Lord's spouse.2 It is just such religious syncretism and idolatry that Asa attacked in 2 Chronicles 15:8-17.
2 CHRONICLES 20 En Gedi ("spring of the goats"; see "Map 4") is located on the western side of the Dead Sea. The site was inhabited as far back as the fourth millennium B.c.,the period from which the remains of a temple have been discovered. A cave several miles south of En Gedi has yielded ivory carvings and other objects that were probably temple items hidden by the inhabitants before an Egyptian campaign in the area.To the north of the area, occupation levels dating from the seventh century B.C. to the fifth century A.D. have.been uncovered. Today a kibbutz (Israeli communal farm or settlement) and nature park are located at En Gedi.
While under Israelite occupation the city belonged to the territory of Judah (Jos 15:62). David sought refuge from Saul at En Gedi (1Sa 23:29) and hid in a cave in close reach of the king. (Still today numerous caves pockmark the hillsides above the waterfall there.) In 2 Chronicles 20:2 the site is given the name Hazazon Tamar, which in Hebrew suggests a grove of palm trees, and Song of Songs 1:14 informs us that there were beautiful vineyards there. It was from this location that the Moabites, Amorites and Edomites attempted to invade Judah (2Ch 20), possibly because the terrain was so difficult that an attack from this direction would have been unexpected. Nevertheless Jehoshaphat was warned of their plan, and the Lord answered his prayer by turning the invading armies upon one another, so that the Judahite army found only dead bodies and plunder (vv.5 —26).
En Gedi was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 582 B.C. in the aftermath of his destruction of Jerusalem., When the Israelites returned from captivity they rebuilt the site, which was later occupied by the Hasmoneans. Herod the Great, destroyed this town and then rebuilt and fortified it, but this settlement too was destroyed during the Jewish War. In the nearby caves several letters were found that had been written by Bar Kokhba, leader of the Jewish uprising that was defeated in A.D.135, indicating that Bar Kokhba and his men had used En Gedi as a hideout.
The Levites and the Priests
2 CHRONICLES 24 The descendants of Simeon and Levi appear to have lost their right to a separate inheritance because of their treachery at Shechem (Ge 34:30; 49:5 — 7).1 The Simeonites, absorbed into Judah, all but disappeared from history, but Levi emerged as the priestly tribe. The Levites did not receive an allotment of the promised land but were said to have the Lord as their inheritance (Dt 18:1-2).
The elevation of Levi to the status of priestly tribe is often explained by the golden calf incident. God had claimed all of Israel's firstborn to serve as priests (Ex 12:29-30). But in the aftermath of the golden calf episode the Levites' faithfulness and zeal for the purity of the priesthood led to their divine election to service in place of Israel's firstborn (Ex 32:26-29; Nu 3:11-13,41).
Yet 1 Samuel 2:27-28 indicates that the Levites had functioned in a priestly role already in Egypt. This premise appears to be supported by other texts:
In Exodus 4:14 Aaron is called "the Levite" —a more official designation than the more typical "son of Levi."
Exodus 28-29 describes the priestly vestments and the consecration of Aaron and his sons with no explanation as to why they were to hold this office, suggesting that everyone already knew Aaron as priest.
At the beginning of the golden calf episode (Ex 32:1-3) the people turned to Aaron to perform a priestly act—the creation and consecration of an image.
In the rebellion against the authority of Moses and Aaron led by Korah (a Levite), Dathan and Abiram, both sides acknowledged that the sanctuary prerogatives belonged to the Levites (Nu 16-17).
The Bible distinguishes between priests and Levites in terms of function. The duties of the Levites were theoretically apportioned according to the descendants of Levi's three sons (Nu 3:15-17):
The Gershonites were entrusted with the tabernacle curtains, coverings and cords (Nu 3:21-26).
The Kohathites were to care for the sanctuary vessels, including the ark, table, lampstand and altars once they had been prepared by the priests (Nu 3:27-32).
The Merarites were responsible for the outer structures of the tabernacle enclosure (Nu 3:33-37).
The Levites in general, then, were commissioned with the care, transportation and protection of the sanctuary.They were specifically commanded to encamp around the tabernacle, guarding it from ritual pollution and defending it from those who might have approached the sacred precinct while ritually unclean (Nu 1:50-53).
The duties of the priestly descendants of Aaron consisted of the actual performance of the temple liturgy:
Only Aaron's sons could minister at the altar of the Lord, offering incense and sacrifices there (Dt 33:10).,
The priests represented Israel before the Lord (Lev 1:1-9) and were alone empowered to bless the people (Nu 6:23-27).
Priests accompanied the people during war, sounding trumpets and bearing sacred vessels (Nu 10:9; 31:6).
Priests were entrusted with teaching and interpreting the laws given by Moses (Lev 10:11; cf. Mal 2:7).
A further distinction of holiness was made with regard to the high priest. He alone could enter the Most Holy Place to make atonement for the nation once each year, symbolically bearing the sins of Israel (Lev 16).
Deuteronomy, in using the term "the priests, who are Levites"(lit.,"the priests, the Levites," e.g., Dt 17:9,18), appears to regard all Levites as priests. In contrast, in much of Exodus—Numbers only Aaronites are referred to as priests, with other Levites viewed as minor clergy. The most plausible solution is that Exodus—Numbers are primarily concerned with the central sanctuary. By contrast, Deuteronomy envisioned the dispersal of the Levites to shrines scattered across Israel, where all would serve as priests. Only when the Levites came to the central shrine did they serve in a subordinate role.
Uzziah, King of Judah, and Jeroboam II, King of Israel
2 CHRONICLES 26 Uzziah, called Azariah in 2 Kings 14:21 and 15:1-7, ruled Judah for 52 years, from approximately 792 to 740 B.C.' He "did what was right in the eyes of the LORD" (2Ki 15:3), and God blessed him both militarily and economically. Uzziah's name appears on two seals of unknown origin and in a later inscription. The seals read, respectively,"Belonging to Abiah Servant of Uzziah" and "Belonging to Shebaniah Servant of Uzziah. "The inscription, also of unknown origin, states,"Hither were brought the bones of Uzziah king of Judah —do not open!"
Jeroboam II was a contemporary of Uzziah, ruling the northern kingdom for some 41 years, from around 793 to 753 B.c.2 His career is summarized in just seven verses in 2 Kings 14:23 —29.There is only one known reference to Jeroboam II outside the Bible—the famous "Shema Seal," found in excavations at Megiddo in 1904. It was sent to the Turkish Sultan in Istanbul and
unfortunately lost. Before it was sent, however, a bronze cast was made. Now on display at the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem, it depicts a roaring lion along with the owner's name,"Belonging to Shema," and title,"Servant of Jeroboam."The style of the lettering dates the seal to the early eighth century B.C. This is the earliest of a number of seals and seal impressions bearing the names of Biblical figures.
The Assyrian King Lists
2 CHRONICLES 27 Several first-millennium copies of Assyrian king lists have been discovered at the ancient Assyrian capitals of Calah, Nineveh' and Asshur. Although there are slight differences among the lists, they help scholars reconstruct a general, though incomplete, chronology of Assyrian rulers. The texts begin by naming 17 nomadic, tribal chieftains, fol-lowed by the 10 ancestors of a certain Aminu, whose descendants ruled Asshur.The lengths of reign of the first six descendants of Aminu are unknown, but beyond that point the texts specify the name of each king, his father and the number of years he ruled (cf. the Biblical practice spelled out in 2Ch 27:1,8-9). Occasionally an accomplishment of the king or the means by which he gained control of the throne is also mentioned.
Some Assyrian kings included in the lists are also known from the Bible, among them Tiglath-Pileser III (aka Pul; 2Ki 15:19,29; 16:7-10; 1Ch 5:26)2 and Shalmaneser V, who laid siege to Samaria and deported Israel to Assyria (2Ki 17:1-18:12).3 The lists are of enormous importance in reconstructing the history of the Old Testament world.
2 CHRONICLES 30 Observance of Passover is tied to the deliverance of God's people from the plague on the Egyptian firstborn and the Israelites' subsequent exodus from Egypt. The feast was to be celebrated on the fourteenth day of the first month (called Abib and later Nisan, spanning late March and early April; Ex 12:2; 13:4)1 and was combined with the Feast of Unleavened Bread observed from the fourteenth to the twenty-first day (Ex 12:18).An alternate date,one month later, was provided for anyone who had been unclean or otherwise unavailable to celebrate on the primary date (Nu 9:11).
Passover was one of three annual pilgrim feasts that required attendance at the central sanctuary (Dt 16:5 —6).3 Every circumcised male was to observe the feast, including resident aliens and purchased slaves but excluding foreigners/temporary residents and hired servants. National sacrifices were offered on the fourteenth and twenty-first days of the month, and no labor could be performed on those two days.
The original celebrants—still in Egypt—were to be clothed for travel, with shoes on their feet and staffs in their hands, demonstrating that they were ready to depart from the land of their slavery. A first-year Iamb, selected on the tenth day, was to be guarded by each household until its slaughter on the evening of the fourteenth day. Its blood was to be sprinkled on the door frame with a hyssop branch, signaling to the "destroyer" to "pass over" that home. The lamb was eaten roasted (not raw or boiled) within a single home in one night; leftovers were burned on the following morning. The meal included bitter herbs and unleavened bread, symbolizing affliction and haste.
Passover observance is recorded only a few times in the Bible: in the days of Moses, Joshua, Hezekiah, Josiah and Zerubbabel. This does not imply that the feast was not celebrated at other times, although the commemoration does seem to have been neglected during periods of apathy and apostasy, especially during the preexilic period. Passover is mentioned in the Elephantine papyri (fifth century B.c.) and in the Temple Scroll of Qumran.
The Sennacherib Prism
2 CHRONICLES 32 Upon his ascension to the Assyrian throne, Sennacherib (705 — 681 B.c.) had to quell numerous revolts throughout his domain. The Sennacherib Prism, a monumental text recorded in Akkadian, recounts his campaign to the region now known as Palestine in 701 B.C. Comparing Biblical accounts (2Ki 18:13 — 19:37; 2Ch 32:1-22; Isa 36-37) to Assyrian annals and other archaeological data helps us to make sense of the sequence of events:
Second Chronicles records a massive invasion against the cities in Judah (32:1,9), and Sennacherib, in his prism, claims to have laid siege to 46 of Hezekiah's fortified, walled cities and surrounding towns.
Archaeological data supports these accounts, with evidence of widespread destruction throughout Judah.
The prism describes, in general terms, Sennacherib's advance through the coastal cities of Phoenicia and Philistia toward Jerusalem. This ferocious assault, in which he "slew ...nobles who had provoked rebellion and hung their bodies on watchtowers," vividly illustrated the threats made by the Assyrian messengers (vv. 13-19). Even so, Sennacherib never claimed to have captured Jerusalem but rather to have "shut up Hezekiah in Jerusalem like a bird in a cage." This boast tacitly admits his failure to capture Jerusalem and agrees with the Biblical account.
Josiah, Zechariah and Neco II
2 CHRONICLES 35 When Josiah, king of Judah (c. 640-609 B.c.), made arrangements for celebrating the Passover,' he and his administrators donated vast numbers of animals to be sacrificed (2Ch 35:7-9).0ne of the administrators was Zechariah, a temple official (v.8). An ostracon (broken piece of pottery with writing on it), purchased on the antiquities market and now in a private collection, includes the names of both Josiah and Zechariah. Apparently an order for a royal temple offering, it reads,"As Ashyahu the king has commanded you to give in the hand of Zakaryahu silver of Tarshish for the House of Yahweh:three shekels."The name Josiah is the English equivalent of Ashyahu in the inscription, and Zechariah is the equivalent of Zakaryahu.
In 609 B.C., when Josiah was in his thirty-first year of rule and still a young man of thirty-nine (2Ki 22:1), the Egyptian army under Pharaoh Neco II (r. 610-595 B.c.) marched north to aid the Assyrians in their attempt to stave off the Babylonians. Neco II, known from both Egyptian and Babylonian records, was among the stronger of ancient Egypt's later rulers. The Assyrians were holding out at Carchemish ("Map 8a"), a prominent city on the Euphrates River (2Ch 35:20).Josiah, in an effort to undermine this force, who were dominant in the region, tried to head off Neco at Megiddo. Tragically, the Judahite army was defeated and Josiah lost his life (vv. 21-24).
Judah then became subject to Neco until 605 B.C., when the Babylonians defeated the Egyptians at Carchemish (Jer 46:2). Following Josiah's demise, his son Jehoahaz was made king. After three months Neco removed Jehoahaz and imposed a hefty tribute on Judah (2Ch 36:1-3). The Egyptian king placed Josiah's eldest son, Jehoiakim, on the throne and banished Jehoahaz to Egypt, where he lived out the rest of his days (36:4).
The Sippar Cylinder of Nabonidus
2 CHRONICLES 36 The conclusion to Chronicles describes the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of the Judahites under the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C. The exiles served Nebuchadnezzar and his successors"until the kingdom of Persia came to power" (2Ch 36:20), at which time Cyrus conquered Babylon and subsequently declared that the Jewish exiles could return to their native land and rebuild their temple (vv.22 —23).
An inscription discovered in the Ebabbar temple in Sippar (a Babylonian city) briefly mentions the rise of the Persian Empire and its king, Cyrus. It consists of several copies on clay cylinders, celebrating the rebuilding of three temples by Nabonidus (r. 556-539 B.c.), the last king of the Neo-Babylonian Empire. In the account Nabonidus receives a dream from the gods Sin and Marduk, requesting that he rebuild Sin's temple in the city of Harran.When Nabonidus protests that Harran is still under the control of the powerful Medes and therefore beyond his reach, the deities assure him that the Median Empire will fall to a- subordinate king named Cyrus. Cyrus proceeds to defeat the great Median army and take captive the Median king.Thus Nabonidus is able to complete his rebuilding project through divine intervention, with his gods using Cyrus to remove the Median obstacle.
Although the Sippar Cylinder recounts nothing beyond the rebuilding of the three temples during the latter part of Nabonidus's reign, other historical records complete the picture.The Babylonian Chronicle states that Cyrus's army took control of Babylon itself in 539 B.c.,thereby ending the reign of Nabonidus and the ascendancy of the Neo-Babylonian Empire. Later Persian sources attribute the fall of Nabonidus to his neglect of the supreme Babylonian deity, Marduk, in favor of the foreign god Sin.,