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Beth-Shan

Palestinian archaeology is a confused terrain dug upside down. The Mycenaean ware is thought to be a product of the pre-Israelite period, whereas actually it denotes the period between Solomon and Hezekiah and even Josiah. The time of Judges is thought to follow the time of the Mycenaean ware, whereas it was antecedent to it and, together with the time of the wandering in the desert, comprises the Hyksos period in Palestine. Thus there seems to be no level for the time of the Kings in the earth of Palestine.

This can be well illustrated by the excavations at Beth-Shan.(1) This city in the valley of the Jordan played a notable part in all the periods of Palestinian history. During the time of the Judges it was an unsubdued Canaanite city defended by chariots of iron. When Saul fell in the war with the Philistines his body was carried to Beth-Shan and hung on the city wall. The city was an administrative center in the days of Solomon.(2) Scythians occupied it in the days of Manasseh (Menashe) or Josiah. Whereas other sites excavated in Palestine presented chronological difficulties, it was expected that a site like Beth-Shan, occupied through all the periods of biblical history, would disclose a well-defined archaeological succession if the excavations were scrupulously executed as to stratification. This condition was also fulfilled.

The tell has been explored to a depth of about thirteen meters, and another thirteen meters conceal the older strata, still unexplored. The deepest stratum explored (IX) is that of Thutmose III and is assigned to between -1501 and -1447. Stratum VIII is ascribed to the period of -1447 to -1412, , and Stratum VII to Amenhotep III, Akhnaton, and the epigoni of the Eighteenth Dynasty. Stratum VI is divided into two thick layers, the “early Seti” and the “late Seti,” together composing the period from -1313 to -1292. Stratum V, the largest, is that of Ramses II ( -1292 to -1225). Stratum IV covers the time of the “Late-Ramessides, Philistines, Israelites, Assyrians, Scythians, Neo-Babylonians, Old Persians, etc. or from -1224 to -302, over nine hundred years of stormy history. This means that none of these periods has a separate stratum: one very thin layer represents all of them. But this stratum is less than one third of the stratum of Seti; in other words, the stratum of 922 years, including many consecutive important periods in the history of Beth-Shan, is equal in thickness to layers deposited every seven years during the reign of Seti; and again, this 922-year deposit is but one fifth the thickness of the stratum of Ramses II alone.

The real meaning of the strata archaeology of Beth-Shan is as follows: Strata IX to V (Thutmose III to Ramses II) cover the period of the kings from Solomon to Zedekiah and the exile. Stratum IV covers only the end of the Neo-Babylonian period (Nabonidus) and the old Persian, which is contemporaneous with the Later Ramessides. Strata III, II, and I are correctly presented as Hellenistic-Roman, Byzantine, and Arabian.

As, actually, the time of Seti is the same as the period of the Scythians in the Near East, the time of Ramses II the same as the period of the Neo-Babylonian Empire under Nebuchadnezzar, and the Late Ramessides period the same as the Persian, it is no wonder that the levels are found to be “disturbed.

Dealing with the finds of the Ramses II level, the archaeologist writes: “The disturbance of the levels immediately above leaves us in uncertainty concerning the length of time during which these buildings were occupied, and we are therefore not entitled to assert that every object found upon or near the floor-level must be even approximately of the date of Rameses II. The presence of the Cypriote bottle No. 27 is sufficient by itself to rebut any such assumption, as this type is, apparently, not earlier than the eighth century.”(3)

The superimposed Level IV is thin but very confused. “The long period indicated by the title of this division [Late Ramessides, Philistines, Israelites, Assyrians, Scythians, Neo-Babylonians, Old Persians, etc.] is represented by a relatively shallow stratum, in which floor-levels are rarely distinguishable. Here, therefore, we are obliged to estimate the age of particular pieces by their characteristics rather than, as in the lower divisions, by their situation.(4)

The absence of the long Israelite period of the judges as well as the Kings is explained in this way: “The disturbance of the upper levels has made it scarcely possible to distinguish any stratification. We shall therefore, in respect of the pottery from above the Rameses II floor-level, confine ourselves to indicating such pieces as are obviously of Hellenistic or later date.”(5)

In Lachish we had a similar case.(6) One area of a certain stratum was described as containing ashes from the time of Ramses, and another area of the same stratum was said to contain ashes of the time of Nebuchadnezzar, because in one place scarabs of Ramses II were found and in the other, a short distance away, ostraca belonging to the war with Nebuchadnezzar were discovered. However, in ashes the ostraca of a vase of the Nineteenth Dynasty was found.(7)

References

  1. A. Rowe, Topography and History of Beth-shan; G. M. Fitzgerald, Beth Shan: The Pottery (Philadelphia 1930); A. Rowe, Beth Shan: The Temples and Cult Objects (Philadelphia, 1940)

  2. Joshua 17:11-16; Judges 1:27; I Samuel 31:10-12; I Kings 4:12.

  3. Fitzgerald, Beth Shan: The Pottery, p. 11.

  4. Ibid., p. 1.

  5. Ibid., p. 15.

  6. I. Velikovsky, Ramses II and His Time (New York, 1978), pp. 44-49.

  7. Cf. W. F. Albright, “The Israelite Conquest of Canaan in the Light of Archaeology,” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, 74 (1939), 11-23.



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