Galilee’s geography backs historicity of Salomon’s kingdom, scholar says

How accurate is the Bible in its portrayal of the size of Salomon's Kingdom?

View from Har Meron looking NNE over the Dalton Plateau. (photo credit: COURTESY KYLE KEIMER / MACQUARIE UNIVERSITY)
View from Har Meron looking NNE over the Dalton Plateau.
In the past few decades, the historicity of the kingdom of Solomon and its prominence in the region as described by the Bible have been highly debated among archaeologists and experts. However, a possible answer backing the Scriptures might come from the tool of historical geography, a scholar has suggested.
A description of some of the kingdom’s territory can be found in the book of Kings:
“Since King Hiram of Tyre had supplied Solomon with all the cedar and cypress timber and gold that he required – King Solomon in turn gave Hiram 20 towns in the region of Galilee. But when Hiram came from Tyre to inspect the towns that Solomon had given him, he was not pleased with them. ‘My brother,’ he said, ‘what sort of towns are these you have given me?’ So they were named the land of Cabul, as is still the case. However, Hiram sent the king one hundred and twenty talents of gold,” read verses 11-14 of the ninth chapter of I Kings.
Dr. Kyle Keimer, a senior lecturer in Archaeology and History of Ancient Israel at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, compared the content of this passage and the characteristics of the lands it refers to as the necessary background to understand the power dynamics between Israel’s monarch and the ruler of the Phoenician city-state.
The scholar suggested that contrary to what others have said in the past, the events portrayed in the Bible are consistent with the geopolitical situation of the time, offering new insights on the accuracy of the description.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, Keimer explained that the first inspiration for this study, whose findings were published in the journal Palestine Exploration Quarterly last month, came while he was working on some Phoenician pottery found in northern Israel.
“I was focusing on a specific kind of Cypro-Phoenician pottery called ‘Black on Red Ware’ and I started to look into the interactions between the Phoenicians and the Israelites,” he said. “At the same time, I was very interested in historical geography and in understanding how the landscape played a part in how certain events unfolded. When I read this passage from Kings, the two aspects came together.”
The scholar regularly comes to excavate in Israel and he currently is co-director of the excavation at Khirbet Arai (el-Rai) in the central part of the country along with Yosef Garfinkel (Hebrew University) and Saar Ganor (Israel Antiquities Authority).
He emphasized that the questions related to the four verses he analyzed must be considered within the larger context of the debate about the historicity of the biblical text.
“Regarding the so-called United Monarchy, the kingdoms of Saul, David and Solomon, there is a big divide. There are those who say that by-and-large the biblical portrait of them is a later creation and they were much more limited in their size and in their reach, and others who say that the Bible is accurate in describing the situation of the late 11th and 10th century [BCE] and how powerful they were,” he highlighted, adding that he believes that both sides are underestimating the added value that geography can offer.
“I think that geography is this one window that still connects us to the past in a very physical way, because in spite of the modern developments, it has not really changed and it provides us with an opportunity to evaluate these texts,” he pointed out. “So far architecture, pottery or carbon-dating have not given us a smoking gun in a way or in another regarding the debate about Solomon’s kingdom. We need to be creative.”
In the research, Keimer worked to uncover whether the relations between Solomon and Hiram appear plausible.
The archaeologists rejected the view offered by some scholars suggesting that between the two rulers, Solomon must have been the one in a weaker position.
“When we look at the physical landscape and the situation of Tyre versus the situation of the Kingdom of Israel, the former was an island with very limited and unproductive hinterland as we know from landscape studies and geological analysis. On the contrary, Israel had much more fertile land and the international trade had to go through its territory,” he pointed out.
It is therefore no surprise that Solomon was the stronger partner in the transaction and that he compensated another ruler to whom he was friendly, but who was in a weaker position with land that was “mountainous” or “good for nothing,” as Keimer suggested understanding the word “Cabul” based once again on the poor characteristics of the area identified as Cabul in the Allonim Hills and western hills ascending into the Lower Galilee.
“The access to good agriculture land is the real geographic component that people have not considered before in the discussion of this passage of the biblical text,” he pointed out. “Everyone looks at Tyre and considers it as the very powerful trading center it would become in the later part of the Iron Age and especially in the seventh century BCE, and from there they make deductions about the 10th century BCE, even though we have fairly limited archaeological findings from this period. I do not believe that this works.”
The scholar also considered other elements, such as the direction faced by several sites in the Galilee, which gave him a better understanding of the border between the political entities.
Keimer stated that this type of geographical analysis offers backing for the historicity of Solomon’s kingdom at large, “because we see a clear shift in the nature of fortified sites from the early part of the Iron Age IIA to the later part, where we find much larger sites fortified in a completely different manner in the north facing Aram/Damascus.”