Judaea in Vassalage (~947 – 722 BC)

(This is a continuation of Ancient Israel – A Brief History (876 – 722 BC). I guess this history is not that brief, anymore; I used the year 947, in the title of this article, as an approximate guess at the beginning of the reign of Saul, in Israel: assuming Shoshenq I’s campaign took place in 925 BC, and that it ended the reign of Saul which, according to the Bible – the OT – lasted 22 years, this gives us the not too accurate figure of 947 BC.

I link a lot to Wikipedia in this series; please keep in mind that it is a problematic source, though it is often quite useful)

Judaea, the southern kingdom, had been a vassal of its large northern neighbor – the kingdom of Israel – probably from the days of king David, the founder. David may have tried to resist the northern kingdom’s hegemony over Judaea, under king Saul, and eventually, having sided with Israel’s enemies (Egypt and the Philistines), gained a temporary independence.

Be the truth what it may be, Jerusalem was a small town in the late 10th century BC (when David, probably succeeded by Solomon, ruled in the south, and Saul – in the north), or a big village, much the same way as it had been in the Late Bronze Age (and as described in the Amarna Letters) – a small mountain chiefdom ruling over a few thousand desert clansmen and nomads spread across a relatively large mountain range, with its influence spreading further, much further, in this thinly settled region, than its numbers would warrant. It’s population was homogenous, it was fairly secluded and its material culture was not diverse. There are remains of monumental structures dating back to the Bronze Age, in Jerusalem, but nothing worthy of note from the 10th century – the time of David and Solomon.

I believe it’s safe to assume that it gained some sort of independence after Shoshenq I‘s campaign to Canaan (c. 925 BC), which resulted in the destruction of the second northern state formation (the house of Saul). For awhile, Judaeans continued to live as they more or less always had, even before the arrival of David and his band of Appiru – feuding, raiding, migrating with their livestock in set patterns, down to the foothills in spring and into the mountains, in high summer, when the grazing would get scarce. Some were living in villages and raised crops. Trade had been minimal.

This changed in the 9th century, when the northern kingdom regained its strength, maybe with the waning of the power of Egypt and of its allies, in the region, and the rise of local, national, powers. Israel, to the north, had reached one of its 2 greatest peaks, under the Omrides (~876 – 841 BC). Judaea was again its vassal. It participated in Israel’s trade and economy, payed taxes, no doubt, but also prospered (though it’s hard to say how far down this prosperity had trickled). Increased organization, more wealth, more imported goods, and influences – all were forced/taught by the northern kingdom.

Some monumental structures have been discovered on the eastern hill of Jerusalem – The City of David – which is the older part of the city and the only part, other than the Temple Mount, that had been occupied before the late 8th century BC: The Large Stone Structure and the Stepped Stone Structure – the first is a group of several large buildings at the top of the hill and the latter is a supporting structure laid out on the side of it, underneath the buildings. They have been dated, at least in part, by Finkelstein, to the 9th century BC (a dating contested vehemently by many archaeologists who still support the united monarchy paradigm, and are inclined to date them all to the 10th century BC). Also, signs of wealth, of trade relations with the outside, begin to appear. One such example is a large deposit of 9th century Phoenician bullae found in a landfill, together with thousands of Mediterranean fish bones.

The population of Jerusalem might have grown to ~1000 people, maybe a little more if we assume the area of the Temple Mount had also been occupied, which is possible, but it is not accessible for excavations, these days, and it had been disturbed several times by large construction operations, since. The population of the rest of Judaea shows an even more dramatic increase – the number of settlements in the highlands doubled, in the 9th century, and they have increased in size, with some becoming large, more central settlements. This is a sign of increased trade and organization, and it marks the transition of the Judaea from chiefdom to an early state.

The kingdom flourished under the Omrides, but the northern kingdom kept it under tight control. In 853 BC Assyrian ambitions in the area were temporarily curbed by a powerful alliance of local states and smaller kingdoms, chief amongst which were Aram-Damascus and Israel, who, pretty quickly, after gaining their joint victory, began fighting among themselves.

The last king from the House of David – the ‘original’ House of David – king Jehoram of Judaea, was married to Athalia, daughter of king Ahab and queen Jezebel, of Israel. Jehoram of Judaea apparently had been forced into this marriage. When he died and Ahaziah assumed the throne, Athalia became queen dowager.

Not long after that Israel fell under the mighty assault of Aram-Damascus, the powerful Aramean kingdom of Syria. Though the Bible does not tell us explicitly why King Ahaziah found himself accompanying the northern king in this campaign, of which Judaea had not been a target, it is pretty obvious: Ahaziah had come with his army as vassal. Jehu – an upstart – also appears on the stage at this time. An Israeli general, he was either eager to use this time of trouble to gain power, or was an agent of Ha’za’el, king of Aram-Damascus, doing his bidding for high promises, as some have conjectured (to reconcile the Bible with Ha’za’el’s inscription, in which he claims to have killed the kings of Israel and Judaea himself, whereas the Bible claims Jehu had done it).

When the forces of Israel were defeated and Ahaziah and Jehoram of Israel were killed, either by Ha’Za’el of by the usurper, Jehu (841 BC), Athalia proceeded to kill all members of the House of David to secure her own reign. She was replaced, in turn, (and executed) bu Joash, who had been put forward – rediscovered! – by the heads of the priesthood in Jerusalem. This was the first of the 3 great pious revolutions in Judaean history – Yahwe may have been made head of the local pantheon during this first one*. This just goes to show you how religion acts, not in the background, as we may think, but pretty much at the foreground, of any social change, as a historical force, giving people’s urge to effect change a shape, and an ideological framework.

Such upheavals were common in the ancient world, as was the constant use of violence in politics. The original house of David had most likely perished in that purge of Athalia, in 841, but her pious successor claimed to be of that line. This had also been common practice in antiquity, and it might have, quite accidentally, or not completely accidentally, given us the myths of the unbroken lines of judaean and Assyrian, and other, kings.

Ha’za’el reduced Israel, in his offensive, and then destroyed the city of Gath which, in the first half of the 9th century BC, had risen to great prominence as a major trade center in the coastal planes west of Judaea. Gath never recovered from Ha’za’el’s attack and there is evidence of Judaea’s spread into the western lowlands in the late 9th century, filling the power vacuum Gath’s absence had created. Walled cities such as Lachish & Azekah appeared in the lowlands and Arad, in the northern Negev, that were under Judaean control. It may have done this expansion as a vassal of Aram-Damascus but no evidence to this effect exist.

Damascus was sacked by Adad-Nirari III, king of Assyria, in 796 BC, which spurred a resurgence of the power of Israel, this time under the reign of Joash (798 – 782 BC) and the long peaceful reign of Jeroboam II (~793 – 753 BC). Much of its lost territory was re-taken and Judaea was its vassal again.

Of course, it was all taking place under Assyrian hegemony and with the blessing of Assyria. Not yet a direct ruler it had already controlled Canaan. It was collecting tribute from its kingdoms and they had become part of the great Assyrian economy and of its vast trade empire.

Archaeology has 2 anchors in this period: the first is the destruction wrought by Ha’za’el, around 840 BC, in the north and along the coastal plain of Israel, and the other – by Sennacherib, in 701 BC, in Judaea. Both give ceramic assemblages that mark the era that had just ended…. but it is often hard to recognize individual tacts – changes – within this given era, unless there are more instances of destruction spread across it. So, it’s hard to distinguish the first half of the 8th century BC, which had been a long and peaceful period of prosperity in both the northern and the southern kingdoms, from its second half, which had been different.

Things in Judaea seem to have carried on as before: a budding kingdom with a population of tens of thousands, many of them living in the lowlands surrounding its mountainous core, controlling its section of the coastal plains, trading, manufacturing goods for export – such as olive oil, which was in high demand in Assyria’s heartlands. It became involved in the Arabian trade, going southeast, probably at the instigation of Assyria.

In the 2nd half of the 8th century BC Assyria had undergone a great transformation: its new king, Tiglath-Pileser III (ruled: 745 – 727 BC), changed the policy of ruling over a constellation of client states with a small number of provinces directly governed by Assyria into one of aggressive conquest and annexation.

One could argue that the ancients – just like the barbarians on the borders of the Roman Empire – needed frequent reminders of imperial power, lest they forgot and became mutinous. Light cultural baggage, short, uncertain lives or the fact that violence was probably going to happen one way or another – be the reason what it may have been, Damascus and Israel rebelled against Assyria and against its frightening new king, in 732 BC. They tried to pull Judaea into this plot with them, but Judaea, under king Ahaz, appealed to Assyria, offering tribute and seeking to become its client state.

Damascus was sacked in 732 BC, and the Kingdom of Israel was reduced to the mountainous area around Samaria – its traditional homeland, or part of it. It rebelled  again and was sacked again, and destroyed, in 722, by Sargon II.

Judaea had survived all this. In fact, the sudden disappearance of its great northern neighbor – at  least as a political entity – had opened for it some truly great opportunities.


(Next: The Pious Revolutions: Judaea, 722 – 586 BC; Previous: Ancient Israel – A Brief History (876 – 722 BC))


* – Actually, I’m not 100% sure this is accurate – Judaea already had kings who had theophoric names containing the name Yahweh, before Joash. Whatever was the actual reform conducted under Joash – if indeed one was – it’s impossible to glean any reliable information from the Old Testament about it, anymore.

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