Any modern assessment of the 'Biblical Period' in Palestine, or a part of it, has to take into account three sources of information: the literary, which is principally biblical, the archaeological, and the epigraphic, the last two both from Palestine and from neighbouring regions. Each source is the realm of specialists who differ from each other to a noticeable extent in presuppositions and methods. Attempts to unite them have frequently been unsuccessful through allowing one element to dominate the others: the problem of keeping a balance between all three lies largely in their interpretation. The first part of this paper will offer a brief consideration of the three strands of evidence; the second part will contest the way they have been handled in a recent essay by J. Maxwell Miller concerning King Solomon's reign (Miller 1987).
Ancient Palestine has bequeathed to us more literary evidence than any other part of the Near East, if we take literary evidence to be compositions preserved over the centuries and never lost to human knowledge. The books of the Bible and the works of Josephus are the main ones. For present purposes only the Bible is relevant, and only the books of Kings in that, for they are the primary source of evidence for the reign of King Solomon. What quality of evidence does it offer?
There are several lines to follow, each producing a different type of answer and with varying degrees of certainty. Although they are interwoven in practice, it is helpful to distinguish them.
First is the history of the text. How reliable is the Hebrew text of Kings printed today in representing the books as they left their author's hands? While the Jewish scribes certainly worked with great accuracy and the traditional text reaches back at least two thousand years, the Greek version of Kings (3 and 4 Reigns) is not a straightforward translation of it, suggesting that there were other textual traditions. Whether the Greek reflects a Hebrew text which differed from the Massoretic in certain respects or is the product of an attitude which required explanatory paraphrases and narratives more readily acceptable among Greek-speakingJews is debated (on this see Gooding 1976, 1978, and the further discussion in Tov 1984). The recovery of some Hebrew biblical manuscripts amongst the Dead Sea Scrolls which preserve texts that vary from the Massoretic and are sometimes more like the Greek has encouraged the view that there was a variety of Hebrew texts circulating in the last centuries B.C., the Massoretic representing only one of several. Consequently, variant readings may be adduced in preference to the Massoretic for historical or cultural studies, or it may be concluded that textual uncertainty robs the traditional text of factual value where it presents an historical narrative.
With regard to the text of Kings, it is noticeable that, on the whole, biblical scholars are very ready to accept information and arguments that throw doubt on the value of the traditional text and less ready to listen to cases made in its favour. There are probably psychological and
religious reasons for this situation, but it needs to be recognized because it is both unscientific and unfair to the evidence of the particular ancient document, the Massoretic text. An example is J. D. Shenkel's treatment of the chronology used in the Septuagint of Kings (Shenkel 1968), which several writers have taken up as a basis for reconstructing parts of Israelite history without attention to the strong arguments which have been advanced against it by Gooding (Gooding 1970). At present, scholars are not in the position where they can state that the Massoretic text is of secondary value except in a few short and well-known passages. Arguments can be advanced for such a position and against it. Historians have to be alert to the possibilities, but they should not prejudice their work by abandoning the traditional text without an overwhelming and convincing case.
Style and composition offer the second line of approach in evaluating Kings. The Hebrew style of the books shows clear affinities with the style of Deuteronomy and Jeremiah. In close conjunction with this style is the moralizing tone and theological outlook of the work. This has impressed scholars so much that the existence of a 'Deuteronomistic School' operating in Judah in the late seventh century and the sixth century B.C. has come to be accepted. According to this view, so far as Kings is concerned, its compilers, who were members of this school of thought, drew upon earlier sources, upon accounts which had grown as they were told from one generation to another. The compilers moulded these sources to suit their philosophy and sometimes invented material to illustrate their interpretation of history. In consequence, the book should be read primarily as a statement of theology; what is related about events from David to the Exile is highly subjective and deserves thoroughly critical examination before it can be used in any attempt to write a history of Israel.
The third approach is to consider the content of Kings. Mixed with reports of battles, diplomatic exchanges and palace intrigues are stories of prophets and their deeds, of revelations from God, and of divine interventions in human affairs (which we term 'miracles'). While some parts read soberly and appear to be matter-of-fact, others have some of the characteristics of folk-tales. Throughout the book there is a patent religious moralistic tone. How can the twentieth-century historian treat such a mixture as a sound historical source? If nothing else, surely its obvious religious stance, its clear bias, renders it less than satisfactory. Added to that are the claims it makes which find no complements in other ancient records, claims like the extent of David's rule or the magnificence of Solomon's capital. Recently Maxwell Miller has exemplified the common reaction to the Hebrew record in his essay 'Old Testament History and Archaeology' (1987). He commented: 'The narrators of Kings and Chronicles would have us believe, for example, that Solomon was a fantastically wealthy and powerful ruler whose domain extended from the Egyptian frontier to the Euphrates. He was a great builder, and goods poured into his empire from the far corners of the earth. Historians generally have taken these claims essentially at face value. Solomon's reign is presented as Israel's "golden age" ... Yet commentators have long since observed that the biblical descriptions of his power and wealth are as vague as they are fantastic, and that the few really tangible details provided actually suggest a rather modest operation...'
Of course, these are somewhat over-simplified pictures of approaches to Kings; it would not be hard to amplify and document them, but that is not the concern of this essay. One factor unites them all: they are carried out almost entirely inside the covers of the Bible, they are textual, literary, theological, and, within their own limits, historical exercises which are in themselves respectable scholarly pursuits. They began in the nineteenth century and continue in many respects with methods and presuppositions unaltered after a hundred years. One major new element has come to the fore in that time, the evidence of the ancient world. To some this is irrelevant, and the extra-biblical material impinges upon their studies only when it relates
directly to an episode or a person in the biblical text (e.g. Sennacherib and Hezekiah). Others are more willing to use archaeological and epigraphic discoveries as aids to their studies.
A century of excavation in Palestine has left us with great quantities of pottery, metal-work, tools, jewellery and remains of buildings. Stratigraphic and typological studies can set these in relative chronological positions and enable some reconstruction of the material cultures of various periods. Differences in technique may show advances or declines in local fortune, or a contrast between rich and poor. One aspect of archaeological evidence in need of constant recognition is its random nature. Ancient people did not bury their possessions so that archaeologists might discover them! Nor did they leave in their houses or their tombs fully representative selections of all their belongings (except, perhaps, in Egyptian tombs). What the archaeologist can recover, therefore, is only partial and always incomplete evidence for ancient activities. Two examples illustrate this point well. Dame Kathleen Kenyon's excavations at Jericho, which the Palestine Exploration Fund supported, yielded the extraordinary plastered skulls of Pre-Pottery Neolithic B, and some information about the culture that produced them. More light has been thrown on the customs of the age by the discoveries of the plaster figures at 'Ain Ghazal in Jordan. The unexpected discovery which adds a new dimension to knowledge of the period was made in a cave near the south end of the Dead Sea. There, at Nahal Hemar, were not only a decorated skull and stone and bone tools like those from Jericho, there were also examples of the fabrics woven and sewn with the help of those tools, and wooden beads still retaining green and red painted decoration (Bar-Yosef 1988). Such perishable objects could only have been imagined from the finds at Jericho, and everyone would have imagined differently. That textiles were woven at so early a date was not suspected. In the second case a single discovery demonstrates how opinions have to be changed in the light of new evidence. The first metal-using culture in Palestine was the Ghassulian. Copper, the metal worked, was cast into 'mace-heads ... pins, rings, ornamental cylinders, and handles', and at Ghassul two copper axe-heads were found. Dame Kathleen Kenyon could write, 'The metal was still regarded as far too precious for rough, everyday use' (1985, 62). The number of copper objects from any site was small. Then the great hoard of over four hundred copper objects was uncovered in Nahal Mishmar (Bar-Adon 1980). Most of them may be ceremonial, their forms revealing an unsuspectedly high level of ability among the coppersmiths, but with them were a number of axes, adzes, and chisels, just the tools of daily labour for which copper was supposed to be too precious!
This random factor has another notable effect. At any site occupied for long periods the greater proportion of the objects recovered will belong to the final phase of each period. A place inhabited without interruption over generations is likely to yield relatively little from any but the last two or three, unless the rubbish dumps are located.
Added to the hazards of burial, survival, and recovery which face almost all archaeological remains is the process of interpretation. Often a quick verdict is given at the moment of discovery and never questioned. Observations made at one site are transferred mechanically to a different one. Labels are given in accordance with preconceived ideas, causing unnecessary complications, as the use of the term 'Israelite' does for the study of the earliest Iron Age levels in Palestine. How misleading hasty interpretations may be is demonstrated by an object from Gezer. When Macalister published it, he called it a 'degenerated Ashtoreth plaque' and this was perpetuated in a German handbook of Palestinian archaeology (Macalister 1912, II, 416). It is, in fact, a cheap version of a common ancient gaming board known from Babylonia to Egypt in stone and ivory, an interpretation which Macalister had rejected. When it is set in its Near
Eastern context its interpretation becomes clear. The reason for mentioning these points is to emphasize the subjective element in archaeological interpretation and to warn against insisting on any one interpretation unless the evidence is clear and other possibilities have been thoroughly explored before being rejected.
Discovery of written documents makes a qualitative difference to the appreciation of an ancient culture. A single monument or text can be as precious as an archive, witness the Moabite Stone or the ostracon from Yavne-Yam in comparison with the Samaria Ostraca. Epigraphic evidence can clarify and remarkably extend the archaeological evidence. The perception of Late Bronze Age Palestine, for example, would be very different without the El-Amarna Letters, a situation impossible to envisage because the Letters came to light before excavators had identified the Late Bronze Age strata. Equally, the archaeological evidence offers a material context for some of the Letters. The Hebrew Ostraca have a dimension almost all Hebrew seals lack inasmuch as the majority of them have recorded provenances. How much more informative the recently published hoards of Hebrew bullae would be if their archaeological contexts were known, or, in the case of the Jerusalem find (Shiloh 1986), fully excavated!
Epigraphic evidence has particular value in relation to the traditional sources already discussed. So far as Egyptian and Babylonian are concerned, it is worth emphasizing that the documents can include examples of the same type as our Literary Evidence. Egyptian and Babylonian scribes copied and recopied traditional compositions so that manuscripts of the same composition made as much as a thousand years apart can be compared with each other to disclose scribal customs and, sometimes, editorial practices. Mistakes and changes appear, usually unpredictable, but care is also evident in the transmission of texts and the preservation of knowledge of the past. Again and again new discoveries prove statements ancient authors made about events long before their times are correct, although modern scholars have decried or discounted them as legendary or tendentious. For over a century epigraphic discoveries have served the Old Testament in this way through direct correlations, like the establishment of Belshazzar's existence, or the dating of Jehoiachin's exile, and now the extent of documentation is so great that much more of the cultural life-setting of the Hebrew books can be reconstructed.
There is no denying the similarity of style between Kings, Deuteronomy and Jeremiah. A single school of thought could have produced them all, for the witness of the language, the lists of common phrases and concepts is impressive (see Driver 1902, lxxvii-xcv). However, similar language, style and outlook do not unequivocally indicate a common and contemporary origin. The fact that Jeremiah stems from the late seventh century and the sixth century B.C. does not require that Deuteronomy and all of Kings belong to the same period. Continuity of a style, including phraseology and attitudes, over many centuries is well-attested in Assyrian royal inscriptions (see Borger 1964, Schramm 1973), and can be documented abundantly in other texts from Egypt, Anatolia, and Mesopotamia (Kitchen 1970). Study of these texts reveals that features considered 'Deuteronomistic' in Hebrew literature, and therefore dating from the years immediately before the Exile at the earliest, were current centuries earlier in other near eastern cultures. Many of those texts are royal inscriptions, the monuments inscribed to proclaim the achievements of the kings to their contemporaries, their gods, and to future generations. All are devoted to the glorification of the kings and their gods. All are compositions rooted in and
imbued with religious beliefs and convictions, with the gods depicted participating in earthly affairs. Any reader can recognize the propagandistic purpose of these memorials, but that does not rob them of their value as historical sources nor should it lead to an excessive scepticism in the way they are evaluated. Where it is possible to compare accounts of one event in the records of opposing parties the different viewpoints become clear and some sort of assessment can be made by balancing the accounts. The results do not usually show either account to be false, but obviously partisan.
Regrettably, no compilations on the scale of Kings survive from other ancient Near Eastern cultures. Evidence for daily or frequent record-keeping in Egypt, Assyria, and Babylonia points to widespread perception of a need to note events as they happened, the preservation of the chronicles, and their use by later generations (see Spalinger 1982; Grayson 1975; Millard 1980). In such a situation continuity of style and attitude is likely, and so too is the preservation of factual details.
When considering the content of an ancient book or documents, it is easy to judge it by current expectations and experience. In some respects that is correct; the plainly impossible is to be rejected. In many respects it is wrong, and as unfair to the ancient record as Procrustes' bed to his victims. To apply such terms as 'vague' and 'fantastic' to the claims of the biblical writers is to pass a judgement on them without supplying evidence for it, even if it is the common verdict of previous commentators. In fact, the accounts of King Solomon's reign include specific figures for the amounts of gold he received, for the method of supplying his court (see Kitchen, 1982b) and for his trading ventures in chariots and horses (see Ikeda 1982). More exact information is given for Solomon's wealth than for any other king of Israel and Judah, quite enough information, clearly, so far as the compiler(s) of Kings were concerned. Modern scholars might be better satisfied with the chancellor's ledgers or the palace day-books, but Kings, although it is a narrative with a purpose, not an archive, is hardly 'vague' on these matters. Where according to Miller 'the biblical descriptions are ... fantastic' is presumably in their reports of the Temple with its interior entirely plated with gold, and of the great quantities of gold which Solomon received, among them 120 talents of gold (about 4½ tons) from the Queen of Sheba. Fantastic the descriptions may seem to the modern western reader, but, as other studies have shown, they cannot be so lightly dismissed. Ancient kings boast of comparable ostentation; three passages serve as examples. Esarhaddon of Assyria (680-669 B.C.) restored the shrine of Ashur, plated its doors with gold and 'coated the walls with gold as if with plaster' (Borger 1957, 87). In the next century, Nabonidus of Babylon (555-539 B.C.) recorded his enrichment of the temple of Sin at Harran: 'I clad its walls with gold and silver, and made them shine like the sun' (Langdon 1912, 222). These kings bracket the 'Deuteronomistic' period, but lest anyone think the gold-plating of temples was an innovation of that time, here is one of several statements by pharaohs of the New Kingdom in Egypt: Amenophis III (c. 1386-1349 B.C.) ornamented a temple in honour of Amun at Thebes, it was 'plated with gold throughout, its floor adorned with silver, all its doorways with electrum' (Breasted 1906, II, para.883). Such seemingly extravagant boasts are not isolated, they stand in records which are in no way abnormal or otherwise incredible. Further, wholesale gold-plating is a natural development for wealthy kings from the embellishment of doors with gold and the covering of furniture with gold. Actual specimens of this extravagance are supplied by Tutankhamun's tomb where stood gold-covered shrines, large and small, and beds and thrones plated with gold or gilded. Egyptian kings before Solomon, Assyrian and Babylonian kings after him said they did what biblical scholars today deem fantastic. Egyptologists and Assyriologists accept the royal records, despite their bias, aware that what they describe was not out of place in those cultures. To cast doubt on the description of King Solomon's temple simply because it is hard to believe is clearly unjustifiable,
and the evidence shows it is also unjustified. Information from the ancient world indicates that the biblical narrative is in harmony with ancient practices; it implies that a wealthy king in Jerusalem could have built a temple there and decorated it lavishly, although it does not prove that one did.
Excavations in Jerusalem have yielded next to nothing that can be associated with Solomon's major buildings, and there is little hope that they will in future. At other sites archaeologists have uncovered remains of structures which they assign to Solomon's reign. The gateways and walls at Gezer, Hazor and Megiddo are well-known. Miller acknowledged the identification of these (Miller 1987, 60), and allowed that the 'architectural remains that can be associated with his [Solomon's] reign are fairly impressive by local Palestinian standards of the early Iron Age', but then claimed that the structures of a later phase in the Iron Age are more impressive. This was the era of Omri and his dynasty, which Miller concluded may represent 'the (still rather modest) "golden age" of ancient Israel, at least as far as material wealth and engineering accomplishments were concerned' (Miller 1987, 61-62). The impressive structures are the extended defences of Hazor, the water system there and at Megiddo, and the 'stables' at Megiddo. These are indeed notable pieces of civil engineering and betoken a prosperous and able monarchy, as do the palace buildings at Samaria. Do these achievements of the Omrides eclipse Solomon? The material remains weigh more heavily in Solomon's favour than Miller suggests. (Admittedly his treatment is restricted in length.) A standard phenomenon of archaeological sites also has to be taken into consideration.
Lacking any foundation inscription or other closely datable objects, assigning a structure to Solomon's reign rather than Ahab's is a matter of stratigraphy and pottery chronology. Current discussions reveal the areas of disagreement between archaeologists, complicated by the introduction of 'historical' information. A 'minimal' view, setting only Yadin's 'Palace 6000' at Megiddo, together with the two-chambered gate and perhaps a fortress next to or succeeded by 'Palace 6000' in Solomon's time, rests on Dame Kathleen Kenyon's analysis of pottery from Samaria. In her opinion there was very little occupation there prior to Omri's purchase of the hill, and so Iron Age pottery found on the natural surface comes from early in the ninth century B.C. G. Wightman argues from the similarities between this and pottery from Hazor, Gezer and Megiddo that the associated structures there were erected in the ninth century, among them the 'Solomonic' gates (Wightman 1990). Re-examining the stratigraphy and construction of the 'Solomonic' gate at Megiddo led D. Ussishkin to give it a later date, in 1980, and he has now added to his arguments and claims that uncertainties in pottery chronology allow a ninth century date for it too (Ussishkin 1990). W. G. Dever and J. S. Holladay see the hand of Shishak in the heavy destruction of the 'Solomonic' gate at Gezer, which was built, therefore, before 926 B.C., so supplying a fixed point in the pottery sequences (Dever 1990; Holladay 1990). In a re-assessment of the Samaria pottery from levels below the building attributed to Omri, L. E. Stager claims it belongs to the eleventh and tenth centuries B.C., as G. E. Wright had done after the appearance of the Samaria volume (Wright 1959). However, this dating also assumes the Solomonic origin of the gateways and related strata and their contents at Hazor, Megiddo and Gezer (Stager 1990). Evidently there is need for a detailed synthesis of the pottery excavations have produced and a careful correlation of the stratigraphy without any attempt to make links with historical events. When the archaeological evidence is thoroughly understood and its interpretation established as firmly as possible, then it can be associated with the textual statements.
Megiddo is the site richest in ruins attributed to Solomon's reign. Besides the city gate, at least three buildings of Stratum VA/IVB are called 'Solomonic'. One is termed a 'palace'
(Building 1723) and another one, next to it, is thought to have had an administrative function (Building 1482). Y. Yadin's brief investigation in the north-east of the site disclosed a further large building (no. 6000), which may have been a fortress. In the subsequent period ranges of 'stables' overlay both the 'administrative' building and the 'fortress'. Another range of 'stables' stood opposite the area of the 'fortress' and G. I. Davies has recently suggested traces of 'stables' from the 'Solomonic' period lay below them (Davies 1988; for the discoveries at Megiddo and a review of the debate about the 'Solomonic' gate, see Davies 1986, ch. 5). In every case the walls of this stratum had been destroyed to ground level or below. A striking aspect in all the walls of these structures, even their meagre remains, is the use of fine ashlar masonry, and with it the [I]proto-Aeolic' pillar capitals. This especially fine stonework began to appear in the tenth century B.C. and continued in the ninth (see Shiloh 1979). At Hazor traces of a citadel and of other buildings were noted in Stratum X, the level of the 'Solomonic' defences (Yadin 1972, ch. XII).
At both sites the Solomonic cities were reconstructed in subsequent periods, notably under the Omrides. Their builders were the ones who robbed the stones from the earlier walls at Megiddo, one can assume. Their buildings lasted at Megiddo and Hazor; still to be seen today are their pillared storehouses or 'stables' (see Holladay 1986). They stood long not because of superior craftsmanship but because no later occupants replaced them, although at Hazor the storehouse was partly re-used for dwellings (Yadin 1972, 179). This all illustrates the common archaeological fact that the last major occupation of a site prior to a destruction will have the most extensive remains. Earlier occupations following one another without a major break will yield less, for the inhabitants will have cleared old buildings of everything valuable to them and taken from them anything they could use.
These observations permit a different conclusion from Miller's. The artifactual record reveals building works well-planned and of high standard in the tenth century B.C. in Palestine when masons applied new techniques giving their work greater strength and beauty (for sites in Judah as well as Israel see Dever 1982). Other aspects of material culture, pottery apart, are little known for, despite any destruction Shishak's raid caused, there was almost uninterrupted occupation at most sites until the Assyrian invasions late in the eighth century B.C.
As noted already, no document from any state contemporary with Solomon's mentions him or his kingdom; the Hebrew history-writers are the only sources for his reign, and for David's. The accidents of survival and discovery are partly responsible for that. Jerusalem has been so long occupied, destroyed and rebuilt that the lack of monuments of her Hebrew kings, early or late, is no surprise. Notice how foundation stones survive from only one temple of the tenth century B.C. in the region, the temple of Byblos, and they survive as blocks re-used in later walls: the temple has disappeared (inscriptions of Shipitbaal and of Yehimilk). Archives from the tenth century B.C. will probably never be unearthed in Palestine because the normal writing material at that time was papyrus, which only lasts when buried in unusually dry places (see Millard 1985). That is also the reason why there are no Phoenician records about dealings with Solomon, or any other major events in the whole history of Phoenicia. Until late in Solomon's lifetime, Egypt was comparatively weak, and hardly any documents from the period refer to affairs beyond her frontiers. Even when Shishak established a new dynasty (the XXIInd) and did campaign in Israel and Judah, the only Egyptian inscription about it is the invaluable but incomplete list of place names on the wall of Shishak's temple at Karnak. There is no narrative of the expedition, nor are there administrative texts about it, listing prisoners or booty (on the Egyptian material and history, see Kitchen 1986). At that time Babylon was in eclipse. The period c. 1000-912 B.C.
represents 'a nadir even within the obscurity of Babylonian history in the first quarter of the first millennium B.C. ... Except for [one stela], no original text is more than four lines long' (Brinkman 1982, 296). Assyria was equally silent for the years c. 1070-930 B.C.: 'it was not a period of foreign conquest and presumably Assyria was hard pressed to defend her very borders' (Grayson 1982, 248). There are no Aramean sources older than 850 B.C. The absence of David and Solomon from extra-biblical sources is, therefore, no reflection on their standing. Revealing the weakness of the major powers demonstrates there was opportunity for a vigorous ruler such as David to establish a small empire in the Levant then.
The fact that 'the first biblical characters to be mentioned' in 'nonbiblical documents contemporary with Old Testament times' are Omri and Ahab does not confirm Miller's claim that Solomon's grandeur has been overrated and that the Omride period was superior (Miller 1987, 62). Assyrian forces first clashed with Israel's at Qarqar in Ahab's reign (c. 853 B.C.), So it is not surprising no earlier kings are named on Assyrian monuments. Ahab was the son of Omri, who established his dynasty at Samaria, so is not surprising that Omri's name occurs as the dynastic 'surname', and that Assyrian scribes used it long after the dynasty of Omri was defunct to denote kings who ruled at Samaria. It would be surprising if David or Solomon occurred in those contexts, for they reigned over a kingdom which had since been fragmented.
Balancing the testimony of the Bible, ancient texts, and archaeology is a delicate task. Each type of evidence has its own weight and has to be given its due. To diminish one without compelling, preferably objective, reasons or to enhance the significance of another without positive grounds will produce a skewed reconstruction. All the information preserved to the present century from antiquity is precious, and dismissing it in favour of a hypothesis which contradicts it is to presume to knowledge which, in the case of King Solomon, no-one can now possess.
* This article is based on a lecture given to the Palestine Exploration Fund on 9 November 1989.
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Davies, G. I., 1986. Megiddo (Cities of the Biblical World. Cambridge).
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Millard, A. R., 1980. Review of Grayson 1975, Journal of the American Oriental Society, 100, 364-68.
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Miller, J. M., 1987. 'Old Testament History and Archaeology', The Biblical Archaeologist, 50.1, 55-63.
Schramm, W., 1973. Einleitung in die assyrischen Königsinschriften, II. 934-722 v. Chr. (Leiden).
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Tov, E., 1984. 'The LXX Additions (Miscellanies) in 1 Kings 2 (3 Reigns 2)', Textus, 11, 89-118.
Ussishkin, D., 1990. 'Notes on Megiddo, Gezer, Ashdod, and Tel Batash in the Tenth to Ninth Centuries B.C.', BASOR, 277/278, 71-91.
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