Ancient Israelite Technology

Ancient Israelite Technology

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Technology enabled ancient Israel, the Northern Kingdom excluding Judah, to be economically prosperous and establish itself as a major political power as early as the 10th century BCE, steadily growing until its destruction in 720 BCE. Some of the most important technologies evident in archaeological and literary records include, though are certainly not limited to, construction and architecture, writing, industrial tools, and weapons of war.

As ancient Israelite technology here is presented primarily from the historical timeline as derived from archaeology, not the Hebrew Bible, the chronology suggested by Z. Herzog and L. Singer-Avitz will be used. Likewise, for the sake of this definition, “Israel” and “ancient Israel” refer to what is traditionally called the Northern Kingdom, while “Judah” refers to what is traditionally called the Southern Kingdom, with reference to the Hebrew Bible. “Israelite” or “Samarian”- Samaria being the capital of ancient Israel - and “Judean” or “Judahite” refer to the people of Israel and Judah respectively.

Technology in Israel Between the 13th and 11th Centuries BCE

The earliest mention of Israel appears in the Merneptah stele, which suggests that all the Israelites were killed. This was likely Egyptian propaganda. Even so, archaeological evidence for Israelites in this region as a unique ethnicity is lacking during this period. Therefore, is too hypothetical to discuss Israel's technology prior to the 10th century BCE.

Town Building & Fortifications

During the Early Iron IIA (c. 950-900 BCE), settlements were small and unfortified, often lacking large public structures. In the Late Iron IIA (c. 900-840/830 BCE), the amount of large public architecture increased: construction of residencies/palaces, large royal enclosures, high places, and fortifications with walls and gates. Construction of such structures by the political elite is reflective of social and cultural changes, especially the increasing centralization of power in ancient Israel.

The Golden Age of Israel lasted until the mid-8th century BCE.

Though Arameans subjected Israel to regular incursions and attacks between the 10th and 9th centuries BCE, the Neo-Assyrian king Adad-Nirari III subjugated Damascus in the early 8th century BCE. As a result, Israel experienced territorial growth and economic prosperity because it was putting less resources into defending territory. Israel's architectural infrastructure grew dramatically: extensive city fortifications in places like Dan, Megiddo, and Hazor; monumental city walls; multi-towered city walls; and multi-gate entryway systems. The Golden Age of Israel lasted until the mid-8th century BCE.

In response to Israel's revolts against Neo-Assyria, Tiglath-Pileser III and Sargon II (and/or Shalmaneser V) destroyed Israel's large, well-fortified settlements (733/732 BCE; 722/721 BCE). They also deported thousands of inhabitants of Israel. In other words, Neo-Assyria swiftly eliminated the technologies, namely the structures, which had enabled Israel to thrive during the 9th and 8th centuries BCE.

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Though we often take it for granted in the modern period, writing – even the words in a paperback book – is a technology:

Writing is a 'machine' to supplement both the fallible and limited nature of our memory (it stores information over time) and our bodies over space (it carries information over distances).

(“Writing as technology,” Oxford University Press Blog).

Therefore, writing plays an important role in understanding technology in ancient Israel, a technology enabling political centralization, expanding economic potential, and contributing to the development of a scribal social class.

The most significant evidence for writing in ancient Israel was discovered in 1910 CE. G.A. Reisner excavated at Samaria, the capital of Israel during the 9th and 8th centuries BCE. He uncovered 102 ostraca (potsherds with writing) written in the Hebrew language. The ostraca are dated from about 865 to 735 BCE, coinciding with ancient Israel's Golden Age. Of the legible and readable ostraca (63/102), all of the texts are receipts “recording the transmission of luxury goods”(Noegel, 196).

For example, one ostracon describes the shipment of wine: “In the ninth year (of the king): from (the district of) Qosah, to Gediyahu: a jar of aged wine” (Noegel, 196). Another text is less clear about the materials send and received: “In the fifteenth year (of the king): from (the district of) Heleq to 'Asa' (son of) 'Ahimelekh, Heles from (the district of) Haserot” (Noegel, 197). Though the texts are relatively uninteresting, they provide insight into how ancient Israel used writing as a technology for economic and political purposes.

First, writing enabled the political leaders in Israel to keep records of and collect taxes. Subsequently, Israel could pay its required tribute to the Assyrian Empire and develop industrial and war technologies. Second, writing enabled more regular communications between settlements in Israel, resulting in a more defined Israelite ethnic identity. Third, writing resulted in a scribal social class. Although texts within the Hebrew Bible are primarily written from a Judahite perspective, various scholars conjecture that texts like Hosea, Amos, and the Elijah-Elisha narrative in Kings developed out of oral or written traditions from Israel after the destruction of Samaria and migration of Samarians (Israelites) to Jerusalem.


From the 10th century BCE until the 8th century BCE, Israel was involved in multiple industries, each utilizing different technologies. Here we will focus on two major industries. First, Israel boasted “the largest centers for the production of olive oil in the region”, growing significantly in this period (Faust 2015, 778-779). Archaeologists Zvi Gal and Rafael Frankel describe a type of olive-oil press discovered around Galilee, dating to the 8th century BCE: “This press consists of a round, free-standing crushing mortar… and a round-cut press bed… of the same diameter. The oil was collected in a lateral rock…” (1993, 130). A different type of olive press was used at Dan, where scholars have suggested that “stones were most likely used as counterpoise weight for a beam or lever press” (Stager and Wolf 1981, 96). In other words, Israel used at least two types of olive-press technology in order to press olives, create olive oil, and use it themselves or sell it to neighbors.

Second, Israel was involved in the wine production industry. For this, they constructed wine presses next to vineyards. The installations consisted of large, shallow basins. First, grapes would be placed in the basin. Then, individuals would press the juice out of grapes by stomping on them. Finally, juice would flow towards a lower basin, wherein it would be collected into jars and stored. A good example of this technology is present at Tell en-Nasbeh, which Israel may have occupied in the 10th century BCE.

The technology of ancient Israel, namely wine and olive presses, enabled them to leverage the natural resources of the land and more actively participate in the regional economy. As a result, they became more prosperous. Moreover, texts from the 9th and 8th century attest to the large amount of wine and olive oil shipped within, into, and out of ancient Israel, as mentioned previously in the Samaria ostraca. Unfortunately, the destruction of Samaria and many Israelite cities and towns in the 8th century BCE resulted in the destruction of technologies which, for so long, had enabled Israel to be prosperous.

Horses & Chariots

Israel's use of military technology, both in the form of horses & chariots, enabled it to become a major regional power.

One of the most significant technologies used by Israel was chariots. According to a propaganda text from King Shalmaneser III of Assyria describing a coalition of Israelite, Aramean, Phoenician, and other regional powers from the Levant, Ahab, the king of Israel, contributed 2,000 chariots to the coalition in 853 BCE, fending off Neo-Assyrian powers from expanding closer to the Mediterranean Sea. Such a number is further notable because M. Elat suggests that “Israel's chariot force alone was equal to that of the Assyrians” (35). Put another way, Israel's use of military technology, both in the form of horses and chariots, enabled it to become a major regional power in the 9th and 8th centuries BCE.

The prowess of military chariot technology of Israel lasted well into the 8th century BCE, supported by archaeological excavations at Megiddo of many horse stables dating to the same period. Even after the defeat and deportation of Israelites in 720 BCE, Assyrian records specifically mention a unit of Samarian charioteers. This shows that entities outside of Israel recognized the strength of Israel chariot technology and their ability to use it.


Undoubtedly, Israel used more technologies than the above; technologies used by many groups during the Iron Age. However, those that enabled Israel to grow economically and develop as a powerful force in the ancient world occurred were city building, writing, industrial technologies, and chariots. Although some Israelites remained in northern Israel after 720 BCE, the wave of destruction throughout the region resulted in seismic cultural and social shifts, as the Kingdom of Israel ceased to exist as a political power.

What Archaeology Tells Us About the Ancient History of Eating Kosher

In 2017, archaeologist Yonatan Adler and friends paid tribute to a retiring colleague with speeches about how their respective work in the field of archaeology was influenced by each other. After Adler spoke about his research on the mikveh, the Jewish ritual bath, Omri Lernau—senior research fellow at Haifa University and Israel’s top authority on all things fish—spoke about remains of aquatic creatures unearthed in ancient Judean settlements. He mentioned catfish, skate and shark.

Adler, who works at Israel’s Ariel University, was instantly intrigued. According to the Jewish laws of kashrut—the set of rules written in the Torah, the Hebrew Bible, that outline foods suitable for human consumption—these species are deemed non-kosher, and therefore unfit to eat. So why were the ancient Judeans eating them? Did they not yet know these rules? To Adler’s knowledge, no one in archaeology had tried to analyze why remains of the non-kosher fish existed at the ancient Judean settlements. So when Lernau finished his speech, Adler approached Lernau and expressed his interest in the tantalizing relics. The pair agreed to take a deeper dive into where and when the non-kosher fish were being eaten. “I knew it was going to be an interesting subject,” Lernau says.

Now, in a study published today in the journal Tel Aviv, the pair reveals that ancient Judeans, in a period that spans throughout much of the first millennium B.C., enjoyed a diet that didn’t fully adhere to Jewish kosher laws. According to the study, archaeologists have found the remains of three non-kosher species in the two ancients Judean settlements—the Kingdom of Israel in the region’s north and the Kingdom of Judah in the south. Judah residents in particular ate a lot of catfish. These findings help scientists and historians build a more complete picture of how the ancient Judean cultures developed and adopted these rules.

According to rabbinic tradition, Moses, the most important prophet in Judaism, received the commandments that outlined how to live life as a Jew sometime around the 13th century B.C. Scholars don’t know exactly when these rules and practices were written down into the Torah, but in his upcoming book, Adler argues that evidence for its observance does not appear until the Hasmonean period that lasted from 140 B.C. to 37 B.C. And the point in history at which Judean citizens adopted the dietary rules prescribed in Torah into their lifestyles, essentially becoming kosher, is also not certain.

Adler has been working on the Origins of Judaism Archaeological Project, which aims to find out when ancient Judeans began to observe the laws of Torah, including dietary rules. He was hoping that the centuries-old fish scraps tossed away after dinner might help shed some light on that. “I can find out a lot about people by going through their garbage,” he says. “So we can learn a tremendous amount of what people were actually doing through the material remains they left behind—and this is particularly true for food.”

When both kingdoms rose to prominence, an average Judean denizen lived under the rule of a king, and was a farmer who plowed fields and harvested crops. With the exception of the societal elite, most individuals were illiterate. So while the educated intellectuals of the time had penned down laws, scribbling them on animal skins or papyrus, the vast majority of Judeans didn't necessarily know about them and couldn’t read them either. Even if the societal intellectuals may have started adopting kashrut, the masses likely hadn’t yet gotten the memo.

“I am interested in social history, in what, the actual regular people were doing but they didn't leave any texts because they were illiterate and left no writing,” Adler says. Archaeology can help bridge that gap, he notes. “If we want to know what the regular people were doing or not doing, archaeology is a wonderful tool to answer this question.”

The two scientists didn’t have to dig deep for the vestiges of aquatic life— Lernau had a collection of about 100,000 fish remains gathered from dozens of sites in Israel, which spans 10,000 years, from the Neolithic times to the present. Originally started by his father, it has every piece tucked away in an envelope and filed in meticulously labeled boxes. The collection resides inside his home’s Fish Bone Cellar, which doubles as a bomb shelter during times of armed conflict. Lernau spent three years combing through the boxes and identifying fish species eaten at the ancient Judean settlements ages ago. Altogether, he had looked at about 20,000 fish scraps. It’s important not to call them bones, he notes—because while catfish have bones, the skeletons of sharks and skates are composed of cartilage, the softer connective tissues that in humans makes up joints. These creatures don't leave behind bones, but rather calcified fragments of their cartilaginous vertebrae and an occasional tooth.

The body of a shark vertebrate excavated from a site in Ashkelon, in Israel (Omri Lernau)

The two collaborators found that during the Persian Period, which lasted from 539 to 332 B.C., centuries after it is believed Moses received his commandments, ancient Judeans ate a lot of catfish as well as skate and shark, two other non-kosher species. (The reasons for their taboo nature are incredibly complex but have to do with their lack of the proper type of scales.) Fast-forward to the Roman times that span from 63 B.C. to 324 A.D., and the scaleless fish remains nearly disappear from the ancient trash. Unfortunately, very little fish data falls in between the two timeframes examined, in the Hellenistic Period. That doesn’t necessarily mean individuals weren’t eating fish it may just mean that archaeologists haven’t unearthed enough fish bones from the Hellenistic household rubbish. Typically small, the fish scraps are harder to find in dusty digs, so archaeologists must sift through the dirt to spot them. That’s a laborious and time-consuming process, so scientists will only do that if they expect to find something of value—and fish fragments aren’t a prized item for many researchers.

Lidar Sapir-Hen, archaeozoologist at Tel Aviv University, who also studied the history of Judeans’ dietary restrictions but was not involved in this study, found similar evidence that Judeans weren’t following the laws of kashrut around similar dates that Adler examined. She had examined pig bones found in ancient Judean settlements. Pork is another type of non-kosher food and yet some digs yielded a number of pig remains. The ancient Kingdom of Judah, located in the region’s south part had very few pig bones, but the Kingdom of Israel up north had quite a few.

“It looks like in the Kingdom of Israel, a lot of people ate pork during the 8th century B.C.,” Sapir-Hen says. “So we think that these dietary prohibitions happened later.” Thus, the new study adds to the already mounting evidence that ancient Judeans weren’t strictly kosher. “I was happy to see that Yonatan and Omri came to a very similar conclusion as we did,” Sapir-Hen says.

Lernau and Adler hope that their paper will not only add to the existing knowledge about ancient Judeans, but also will inspire more archeologists to search for fish bones in the primordial dust. “Hopefully, more people will be looking for them now,” Lernau said.

Adler also hopes that the study will encourage scholars of different disciples to join forces in studying history. Scientists often work in silos, he points out. The text scholars bury their noses in books while archaeologists shovel dirt in their digs. He says the two camps could unearth a lot of history together by comparing notes and evidence. “We need to look at whatever scanty remains of the past we have,” he says, “and make the best use of them we can.”

About Lina Zeldovich

Lina Zeldovich has written for the New York Times, Scientific American, Reader’s Digest, and other publications and has won four awards for covering the science of poop. Her book, The Other Dark Matter: The Science and Business of Turning Waste into Wealth, will be released in October 2021 by Chicago University Press.

Ancient Israelite Technology - History

By Christopher A. Rollston
(Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2010),
xix + 171 pp., 71 figures, $21.95 (paperback)
Reviewed by Alan Millard

Did ancient Israelites write? Is there evidence apart from the Hebrew Bible? If so, what did they write? And who could write?

Inscriptions on stone, notes and scribbles on pots and potsherds, names on seals and other writings are often so interesting you don’t ask how they were written or who the writers were. Chris Rollston does that in this readable new book.

He also sketches the early history of the alphabet—to about 900 B.C., when monuments from Byblos show that the letters had reached their basic shapes. His detailed analysis reveals how small changes in letters appear at Byblos over a century or so of use. That Phoenician script, he argues, was used for the Gezer Calendar late in the tenth century and in the Aramaic language Tell Fekheriyeh statue a century later.

The author’s drawings of the shapes of the letters—his special expertise—illustrate the differences between Hebrew and Phoenician. If the letter b (bet) leans leftward, it’s Phoenican (or Aramaic), if it leans backward (to the right), it’s Hebrew. If the tails of k (kaph), m (mem) and n (nun) curl to the left, they are Hebrew.

These Hebrew features were consciously created, Rollston contends, to make a distinct script as “a nationalistic statement” in the ninth century B.C. they were “not merely an evolutionary development.” My own view, on the other hand, is that the development of Aramaic letters (used also in Hebrew) was very likely evolutionary. Unfortunately, we cannot demonstrate this beyond cavil because we have no examples from the tenth and ninth centuries B.C. on papyrus and leather, the normal materials for writing daily records.

Examples of inscriptions from Israel and neighboring kingdoms reveal their “form and function” as royal memorials, short messages, religious statements, marks of ownership or epitaphs. Rollston draws on fragmentary examples from Samaria and Jerusalem to counter scholars who have maintained there was no tradition of monumental inscriptions there, yet, oddly, he does not include the famous inscription describing the digging of the Siloam (Hezekiah’s) Tunnel.

The evidence for standard forms of writing and spelling suggests that scribes were members of an elite society centered in Jerusalem, but they could travel and so could their products. They could be hired to write legal deeds or letters. Rollston argues they did not learn their craft in schools, as sometimes supposed, but as apprentices, one or two attached to an established scribe, based in his home, following and watching him on his business. Rollston identifies a curiously inscribed stone from Jerusalem as a master’s model with a pupil’s poor copy.

How long did it take to learn to write? The great W.F. Albright thought a day or two would be enough for an alpha pupil. “Much longer,” Rollston would reply. Looking at current education in Hebrew and Arabic, he thinks competence would be gained only after five years or so.

If you own an ancient Hebrew inscription, a seal say, you may have paid highly for it. As the market has grown in the past 50 years, so looters and forgers have tried to keep up a supply. Rollston takes a lead in identifying fakes. He explains how forgers may work and how his expertise in Hebrew script, along with other factors, helps him to unmask their creations. He labels the “Moussaieff ostraca”* and the “Jehoash Tablet”** as fakes. Not all would agree, however. The geological aspects of the Jehoash (or Yehoash) Tablet apparently weigh in its favor.

Rollston also includes the ivory pomegranate inscription as a fake—without discussion—a verdict this reviewer rejects, in company with André Lemaire.†

Rollston’s proposal that any publication using unprovenanced inscriptions should mark them clearly as such deserves to be followed universally.

Many will welcome Rollston’s conclusion, countering views that deny Hebrew books were written before 700 B.C.: “I am absolutely certain that a nation (Israel) that has a scribal apparatus that is capable of developing a national script and employing standardized orthographic conventions is certainly capable of producing literature.”

This book deserves to become a textbook for courses on Israelite culture. A chart of Old Hebrew and Phoenician alphabets, however, needs to be added as only advanced students can be expected to recognize the letters without one.


Alan Millard is Emeritus Rankin Professor of Hebrew and Ancient Semitic Languages in the University of Liverpool, England.

Ancient Israelite Technology - History

Farming was the principal occupation of people in both the Bronze and Iron Age . Farm work dictated the pace of life throughout the year, with different tasks for different seasons. Dry summers and wet winters meant that planting occurred in the late fall and harvest in the early summer. The main crops were wheat, barley, legumes, figs, grapes and olives.

Because most river valleys in the region were unsuited for irrigation on a large scale, farmers were dependent on rain. They built and maintained stone terrace-walls to retain water and soil on the steep slopes of the highlands. By late in the Iron Age , some farmers used elaborate systems of conduits and check-dams to capture and redirect rainwater into fields and thus were able to raise crops in areas receiving less than five inches of precipitation per year.

This seasonal schedule is reflected in the Gezer Calendar, a 10th century BCE inscription excavated at Tel Gezer in Israel.

two months of sowing

two months of late sowing

one month of hoeing weeds

one month of barley harvesting

one month of harvesting and measuring (wheat)

two months of cutting grapes

From the earliest beginnings of farming, the basic tool used was the hoe. It was used to break up the soil before planting and for weeding and thinning the crops. The mattock, a heavier tool for breaking up the soil was also used by farmers. Some examples of bronze and iron mattocks and hoes are displayed in the exhibit at the Museum.

Another important agricultural tool was the ard, or scratch plow. The ard had a wooden point, clad with either bronze or iron, which could penetrate the fields to a depth of a few inches. The ploughman controlled the point with a handle and the ard was pulled by draft animals (horses, donkey or cattle). Grain was then sown in the ploughed fields.

Canaanite flint
Grain was harvested using sickles of flint, bronze and later, iron.

Harvesting was an activity which involved the whole community. Grain was cut and gathered on threshing floors which were usually of beaten earth. Oxen would pull a heavy wooden sledge, studded underneath with jagged flints, in circles over the grain. This process served to cut up the straw and crush the husks around the grains. The results were placed in a broad, flat winnowing basket and tossed in the air. The breeze would carry away the lighter chaff, leaving the heavy grain. The chaff was then collected for use in making mud-bricks and manufacturing pottery.

Conversion 101

A Crash Course in Early Jewish History

My Jewish Learning is a not-for-profit and relies on your help

Reprinted with permission from The Theory and Practice of Welcoming Converts to Judaism (The Edwin Mellen Press, Ltd.).

The Biblical Israelites had no concept of religious conversion because the notion of a religion as separate from a nationality was incoherent. The words &ldquoJews&rdquo and &ldquoJudaism&rdquo did not exist. Abraham was called an ivri, a Hebrew, and his descendants were known either as Hebrews, Israelites (the children of Israel), or Judeans. These words are nationalistic terms that also imply the worship of the God of Abraham.

Earliest Form of &ldquoConversion&rdquo was Assimilation

While there were no &ldquoconversions,&rdquo many non-Israelites joined the Israelite community, often through marriage or acceptance of the beliefs and practices of the community. In this sense, assimilation is the earliest form of conversion. Abraham and his descendants absorbed many pagans and servants into their group, greatly increasing the size of the Israelite people.

After their journey into Egypt, their Exodus with the &ldquomixed multitude&rdquo [non-Israelites who joined the nation as it left Egypt], and the receiving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, the Israelites returned to the land of Israel. Once again, they increased their numbers from among non-Israelite peoples, both those who lived in Canaan (such as the Hittites, Hivvites, Girgashites, Amorites, Perizzites, Jebusites, and others) and those who entered the land.

Some of these foreigners, the nokhri, remained apart from Israelite society, apart from the ezrach, the native Israelite. Some nokhri, though, wished to join the Israelites. Such people were given a new status, as gerim (Hebrew for &ldquostrangers&rdquo). A ger would be taken to the holy mountain and there render the necessary sacrifices.

Gerim often assimilated into the Israelite people by intermarriage. For instance, pagan women who married Jewish men automatically adopted their clan, and thus their religious views. The marriages that resulted were seen as positive because pagans would turn from idolatry to God through such marriages.

The gerim were permanent residents, but did not own land. All non-Israelites who joined a family or tribe were to be given equal rights and equal responsibilities, although the participation in religious rituals developed in stages. The Israelites were enjoined to love the gerim, for the Israelites had been gerim in Egypt.

As Judaism attracted adherents, it became both useful and necessary to explain the relationship between Jews and gentiles within Jewish thought. For a full theory of Jewish universalism [that is, a Jewish approach to conversion and proselytization] to develop, the central Jewish understanding of God had to undergo maturation.

God was conceived in very early Jewish thought as a national deity, protecting the Israelites in their land, aiding them in their fights, freeing them from hunger, and generally providing for the nation&rsquos sustenance. Misfortune&ndashbad crops, illness&ndashcould be overcome by offering a sacrifice to God. God was seen as the exclusive Lord of the Israelites they could worship no other deity and God would protect no other people.

Israel Becomes &ldquoReligion&rdquo with Move to Universal God

The concept began to change in the 800s BCE. The Assyrians, desiring hegemony over the world, gave impetus to the very idea of a single, unified world, an idea that transplanted itself into an emerging Israel and was transformed into a spiritual concept. It was such an idea that the prophet Amos (c. 751 BCE) adapted when he asserted that God was not just the God of the Israelites, but of all people, of the whole world. Amos concluded that if the Jews were faithless, God could rescind the covenant made with the Jews and give it to another people, assuming the other people accepted God&rsquos commandments. Amos, of course, preached a fidelity to the covenant that would ensure God&rsquos continuing favor. The startled Israelites heard from the prophet that their God was independent of them and could exist without them if they did not adhere to God&rsquos commandments.

Amos, the first universalist, could not fully comprehend the implications of his own interpretation. He believed God could enter into only one covenant at a time rather than entering simultaneous covenants. Also, Amos could not conceive of Israel worshipping God outside the land of Israel.

Amos&rsquos disciple Isaiah (c. 740-700 BCE), also noting Assyrian power, concluded that it, like Israel, was susceptible to God&rsquos ethical teachings. This was a vital step for Jewish universalism, for a critical connection had been made. Isaiah concluded that if God is God of the whole world, not just Israel, and if God had revealed divine laws at Mount Sinai, then it follows that those laws must apply not just to Israel, but to the whole world.

One of the defining moments of Jewish history was the exile of Jews from the land of Israel in 586 BCE. The exile had many significant effects. It destroyed the tribal structure of the Israelites. The severing of national identity from the overall identity of the people made the religious elements of the people paramount. The rabbinate based on scholarship replaced the priesthood based on lineage synagogues and academies replaced the Temple and Torah study and prayer replaced sacrifices. The Israelites, a national people, became Jews, the followers of a religion.

Portable God Means Gentiles Outside of Israel Can Adopt Jewish Religion

At some point, the prophet Jeremiah sent a letter to the Babylonian exiles telling them to pray for the welfare of their settlement in Babylon. The revolutionary theological change was that Jeremiah, altering the views of Amos and Hosea, argued that God could be worshipped outside the land of Israel.

Such an insight about God transformed not only the theological views of the Israelites, but their view of gentiles living outside the Holy Land. Just as the concept of a &ldquoportable God&rdquo made it possible for Israelites to retain their identity outside their promised land, so, too, did such a concept of God allow for gentiles living outside the land to join the people, not by moving to the land of Israel, but by adopting the religious views of the Jews. Non-Jews could join the Jewish people by worshipping God, by renouncing their pagan ways, and by accepting new beliefs.

Return to Land Diminishes Universalism

The return of Ezra in 458 BCE and Nehemiah in 444 BCE [to Israel] brought back the particularist strand of Jewish thought. Proselytism was halted. Opposition to this isolation was expressed in Ruth and Jonah, but the particularists won for three-quarters of a century as Jews regrouped and focused only on battling significant internal problems such as intermarriage.

But the Jewish universalism that developed in the fourth and third centuries BCE, a careful blending of particularism and universalism, did not die. It was passed on to and interpreted by the Pharisees [a Jewish sect of the Second Temple period who believed in the oral tradition and interpretation of Torah and gave us the rabbinic Judaism we know today].

The emergence of the Pharisees was important because their theological views buttressed the pro-conversionary views widely held by Jews. The Pharisees believed that a universal messianic future would eventually occur, and that salvation was not a matter of birth, but of keeping the Torah. This democratization of salvation was important, for it theoretically made Judaism available to everyone in the world. The Pharisaic emphasis on social ethics included the notion that loving your neighbor as yourself meant making the Torah available to that neighbor. The Pharisees also believed in chosenness, with its sense of mission.

Ancient Israel

After the invasion of Canaan under the leadership of Joshua, Ancient Israel extended 150 miles / 240 km from north to south, &lsquofrom Dan to Beersheba&rsquo (see 2 Samuel 24:2 and Map 34).

Map 34 Ancient Israel in the Old Testament

As the boundaries of Canaan set out by Joshua (see Numbers 34:1-12) and the boundaries of the Twelve Tribes of Israel (see Joshua 14:1-19:51) are broadly similar, it is often assumed that Israel controlled the whole of Canaan after the conquest in c.1406BC. This is, however, a gross simplification as much of the &lsquopromised land&rsquo of Canaan remained unconquered for hundreds of years. Jerusalem, Hazor and Gezer, for example, remained independent Canaanite city-states for many years. For much of the following four hundred year period of the &lsquoJudges&rsquo, Israel was under the control of the Philistines, while the Philistine cities of Ashdod, Ekron, Ashkelon, Gaza and Gath were only eventually conquered by King David in c.1000BC (see 2 Samuel 5:17-25 & 8:1 and Map 34).

Ancient Israel was at its greatest extent under the rule of King David and his son Solomon, when the Kingdom of Israel and its vassal states stretched from the borders of Egypt to the banks of the River Euphrates (see 2 Samuel 8:2-14 & 1 Kings 4:20-21). Solomon took the wise political decision of allying with the neighbouring super-power Egypt. This meant that Israel was able to deploy the latest military technology - the iron chariot. With his network of strategically placed 'chariot cities', Solomon was able to extend his kingdom across the lowland plains beyond the Judaean uplands.

Stables at Megiddo housed the horses for King Solomon's war chariots

But this 'mega-Israel' lasted for only two generations - about 50 years. After this brief &lsquoglorious age&rsquo during the &lsquoUnited Monarchy&rsquo, the country split in two. Repeated power struggles and civil wars during the &lsquoDivided Monarchy&rsquo period ensured that both the remnant kingdoms of Israel and Judah were ultimately conquered by their neighbours &ndash the northern kingdom of Israel by Assyria in 722BC, and the southern kingdom of Judah by Babylon in 587BC.

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Warfare in Ancient Israel and the Importance of Iron

The general history of ancient Israel is, by its very nature, somewhat challenging to piece together, as the written and archaeological record is fragmentary (DeVaux & McHugh 213 Miller & Hayes 19). The limited information that is available is sourced primarily from religious texts, and the metaphorical and interpretive nature of these writings creates difficulties in establishing the accuracy of the stories as historical fact (DeVaux & McHugh 241). The same difficulties are confronted when studying the military history of ancient Israel. As DeVaux and McHugh wrote, “the very words used for military equipment are far from precise, and their meaning is often uncertain" (241). In addition, the traditional sources that are used to corroborate historical interpretations, such as archaeology, have not been helpful in terms of expanding historians’ knowledge of ancient military history in Israel. Despite the challenges that are presented in the effort to reconstitute this history, a close examination of secondary sources reveals a consistent narrative that helps contemporary students learn about the important role that the military played in the early days of the Israelites. When these sources are consulted, the student learns that the organization, weaponry, and strategic goals of the military of ancient Israel were distinct from those same variables among the militaries of neighboring tribes and states. In the case of Israel, one of the historical facts that stands out is that the Israelites lacked the sophisticated weaponry and the training to use arms compared to the Philistines, who had advanced weapons of iron (Gabriel 111 Orlinsky 63). In fact, iron plays a central role in the military history of the ancient Near East, and it is this subject that is the focus of this paper.

Throughout the course of human history, the absence of an object or resource has often been as much a provocation for conflict and action as the presence of it. In the ancient Near East, iron plays a significant role in military history, both with respect to the reasons why wars were fought as well as how they were fought. Compared to its neighbors, ancient Israel did not enjoy the kinds of natural resources that were in abundance in the area now referred to as Palestine (Orlinsky 48-49). In particular, Israel lacked reserves of minerals and ores, and as Orlinsky has pointed out, “[t]he copper and iron ores [that did exist] in the south were exploited by the Israelites only when Edom was under their control" (48-49). The absence of ores, especially iron, is significant because the period was the Iron Age, and the enemies of the Israelites had already fashioned advanced weaponry by exploiting the natural resources that were adaptable for this purpose (Gabriel 105 Orlinsky 63). In fact, “[i]ron weapons had been extant in Palestine in small numbers from at least the time of Pharoah Merneptah," a fact which is known because the Pharoah’s own iron sword, was discovered by archaeologists (Gabriel 105).

The fact that the Philistines had access to ores that they could use for developing weaponry was not their only strategic advantage when compared to the Israelites. The Philistines had pioneered and begun to perfect other instruments of war, including the all-important chariot (Gabriel 111). The Israelis had no such instruments they may not have even known about them (Gabriel 111). The Philistines actively tried to “deny the secret of iron-mongering to both the Canaanites and the Israelites, [a] monopoly [of knowledge which] is recorded in 1 Samuel 13:19-20" (Gabriel 105). In that particular passage of scripture, it was confirmed that “there was no smith found throughout all the land of Israel" because the Philistines said, “Lest the Hebrews make them swords or spears: but all the Israelites went down to the Philistines to sharpen every man his share, and his coulter, and his axe, and his mattock" (Gabriel 105). When the Israelites finally did discover this powerful secret, it changed their military potency, their strategies, and their very motives (DeVaux & McHugh 241).

In addition to possessing the material for weapons and the means to move around, the Philistines also were able to use their weapons more effectively because their troops were more structured and organized than those of the Israelites (Orlinksy 63). As Gabriel observed, “The armies of the Philistines were mostly comprised of a well-armed professional feudal military caste…." (105). By contrast, the military of the Israelites was considered to be organized loosely and chaotically, a fact which seemed to reflect the very structure of the government, a structure which Gabriel described as non-existent (110) and which DeVaux and McHugh acknowledged as lacking in stability (214). Because of the nature of the loose organization of Israeli society, the military necessarily reflected social realities. In ancient Israel, a cohesive identity as a state and a society had not yet been formed (DeVaux & McHugh 214). Instead, Israel at that time was characterized as a conglomerate of disparate but related tribes, and each tribe tended to act independently of the others (DeVaux & McHugh 214). The Israelites were nomads, and “[a]mong nomads there [was] no distinction between the army and the people" (DeVaux & McHugh 214). Although the various tribes would come together on occasion to defend common interests, they had not trained together, did not necessarily use the same weaponry, and certainly had not had the opportunity, in most cases, to devise any meaningful and effective tactical strategy (DeVaux & McHugh 214). In fact, each man who reported for duty brought his own weapon, fashioned out of whatever materials were available to him (DeVaux & McHugh 216). These arms tended to be simple swords and slings, primitive compared to the advanced weaponry of the enemy (DeVaux & McHugh 216). Another important social variable that had direct implications for the military of ancient Israel was the fact that the Israelites were poor (DeVaux & McHugh 222). Quite simply, their economic limitations did not permit frequent military excursions, especially those that were for purposes of scouting, or prospecting in the region (DeVaux & McHugh 222).

It was not until the leadership of Saul, which spanned 1025 to 1006 B.C.E. that the trajectory of the Israeli military began to be redefined (Gabriel 110). Saul, in fact, laid the foundation for an attack by the Israelites against the Philistines with the purpose of toppling “their valuable monopoly of iron" (Orlinsky 66). “Saul called ‘all Israel’ to arms against the Ammonites," and his strong leadership resulted in one of the earliest of the Israeli military’s victories" (DeVaux & McHugh 215). The importance of this victory cannot be understated, for it was Saul’s call to arms and the subsequent success that created the conditions for political unity to finally be achieved (DeVaux & McHugh 215). By the example of Saul’s leadership, the disparate tribes of Israel began to come together, and Saul leveraged the newfound unity to pursue other strategic targets, among the Amalekites and the Philistines (DeVaux & McHugh 215). Although Saul would be killed in the Battle of Gilboa, meeting “defeat and death at the hands of the Philistines," and possibly even dying on the tip of an iron sword, Saul died knowing that he had done what no other man in military or political history had accomplished Saul had “gathered ‘all Israel’" (DeVaux & McHugh 215).

Although the weaponry of the ancient Israeli military is one of the most incomplete chapters of history, as the “biblical texts do not describe their weapons" and “very little is known about the equipment of Israelite soldiers" (DeVaux & McHugh 241), some general observations and conclusions can be made based on the limited archaeological findings that have been reported. There are four main types of weapons and pieces of protective gear described by the literature that ancient Israelis were believed to have used for military purposes (DeVaux & McHugh 242). First, is the romah, or a pike. DeVaux and McHugh describe the romah as a simple “pointed stave [with] a metal head…fixed on by a pin or socket" (242). The romah was not “much longer than the height of an average man," and it was used in close-range fighting, generally in hand-to-hand battles (DeVaux & McHugh 242). The second weapon, referred to as a hanith, was somewhat similar to the romah, but was used differently (DeVaux & McHugh 242). The hanith was both shorter in length and lighter in weight than the romah, and it was used as a javelin. It may be reasonable to surmise that the use of iron in the hanith made a significant difference in the innovation of this particular weapon, for the application of iron to the lower end of the hanith served several functions, including “balanc[ing] the weight of the head, mak[ing] the throw more accurate,…and [making it possible for] the lance [to] be stuck in the ground" (DeVaux & McHugh 242). In addition, the butt of the hanith could be used as a weapon, possibly to strike an enemy, as with a blunt object (DeVaux & McHugh 242). According to historians, the hanith was Saul’s weapon of choice (DeVaux & McHugh 242). In addition to the romah and the hanith, iron was also used in Israelis’ arrows and in their helmets. Iron replaced bronze tips in arrows, and “never went out of use" (DeVaux & McHugh 244). As for the helmets, this was a late development in the Israeli military’s protective armoire, but an important one, and it built upon the innovations of gear worn earlier by Egyptians, Assyrians, and, not surprisingly, the Philistines (DeVaux & McHugh 246).

When iron weaponry became standard issue in the military of ancient Israel, the attentive scholar can see how the incorporation of ore was reflected even in religious thought and text. As DeVaux and McHugh wrote, “The rabbis [said] iron is for punishing’, or ‘The altar prolongs life, but iron cuts it short’" (408). They went on to point out another instance when iron was acknowledged in the scripture specific to Israelites: “Ex[odus] 20 merely says that iron ‘desecrates’ stone the meaning is that things should be used for the service of God only in their natural condition, before they have been interfered with in any way by man" (DeVaux & McHugh 408). Thompson identified another reference to iron in the religious texts, noting that “all of the prophecies of destruction against Israel’s enemies…are mere variations of single theme," summarized in a powerful metaphor from Psalms 2 that makes a direct reference to iron: “‘Pray, and I will give the nations into your possession, [Israel,] and you will own the ends of the earth. You will crush them [the enemies] with an iron mace, break them into pieces like the shards of a pot’" (Thompson 20). One sees, then, how developments in society—even within the military—get incorporated into religious texts and thought. The role that iron played in the military history of ancient Israel is clearly a role of central importance. Its absence, coupled with other variables that must be taken into account, prevented earlier successes, and its eventual incorporation into weaponry and even religious imagery and ideology created new opportunities, including, significantly, a means for Israelis to establish a cohesive identity as a group.

De Vaux, Roland and John McHugh. Ancient Israel: Its Life and Institutions. New York: McGraw Hill, 1961.

Gabriel, Richard A. The Great Armies of Antiquity. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2002.

Miller, James Maxwell, and John Haralson Hayes. A History of Ancient Israel and Judah. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1986.

Orlinsky, Harry M. Ancient Israel. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1954.

Thompson, Thomas L. The Mythic Past: Biblical Archaeology and the Myth of Israel. New York: Basic Books, 1999.

A Topical Description of Book Three of a Four-Part Series by author Steven M. Collins

This book details the history of the greatest Israelite empire in the post-exilic period: Parthia. Even Roman writers acknowledged it was the equal of the Roman Empire. In fact, its forces frequently defeated Roman armies in many wars, and Parthia was the only empire that Rome actually feared. Just decades before the birth of Christ, its armies drove the Romans completely out of Palestine, Syria and Asia Minor, forcing the reigning King Herod to flee for his life. This ancient superpower rival of Rome that lasted for half a millennium was the Parthian Empire. Its Semitic/Israelite origins are well documented as well as the fact that its single dynasty was descended from King David. The Parthian Empire rose to power as Carthage fell, and the names of Israelite tribes and clans are in evidence within the Parthian Empire. Parthia's first capital city was named after "Isaac." Josephus, the famous Jewish historian, records that the ten tribes were a very numerous people in Asia and he identifies them as living in Parthia's empire. Secular histories have long acknowledged the Parthians were related to the Scythian tribes, and Scythian "Sacae" tribes often assisted the Parthians in their wars against Greece and Rome. The reason for Parthia's omission from history texts is clear: If its origins and histories were examined in any detail, its Israelite origins would become obvious. That would confer great credibility on the Bible and its prophecies about the Israelites, and evidence leading to such conclusions is simply omitted from modern, evolutionary-based history books. Parthia and Rome fought battles that were among the largest and most pivotal ever fought in the ancient world. The Roman Triumvir, Crassus, met an ignominious death fighting the Parthians and Mark Antony led a large army into Parthia, but was driven out and barely escaped with his life.

Parthia was governed by the feudal system that later resurfaced in Europe. Its Emperors were elected by Parthian elites from the royal dynasty, and it even offered "home-rule" to some of its larger cities. While Rome's rulership was harsh and oppressive, Parthia's was enlightened and much wiser. Nations sometimes fought Roman armies in order to be part of the Parthian Empire instead of the Roman Empire. The Parthian and Roman Empires waged epic wars, had "summit conferences" between their emperors and even had a period of "detente" during which Jesus Christ lived his entire life.

Some of the events of Jesus Christ's life become more understandable when they are examined in light of the politics that prevailed between Rome and Parthia at that time. One group of the Parthian elites that chose Parthia's emperors was called the "Magi" or "Wise Men." A delegation of these high Parthian officials worshipped the young Jesus Christ.

How many Magi were there? Why did the arrival of these high Parthian officials in Jerusalem frighten King Herod and the entire city, as Matthew 2:3 asserts? This book documents the real size of the immense caravan of Parthians that accompanied the Magi to visit Jesus when he was a child,
and why the Magi's visit almost led to a major Parthian-Roman war. The Roman rulers of Judea were well aware of Parthia's interest in Jesus Christ, and some accounts in the Gospels "come alive" in a new way when this fact is taken into account. The critical role of Joseph of Arimathea in the life of Jesus Christ is examined, as is evidence of where Jesus Christ was and what he was doing during the "missing eighteen years" of his life that are not discussed in the Bible.

Parthia sat astride the trade routes between Europe and the Orient, and they prospered in this position. This book includes information about events between the Parthians and the Chinese along the eastern edge of Parthia's border. Parthian technology and society was much more developed than many have thought. Readers will find it a startling surprise to learn the Parthians had developed a rudimentary form of a modern technology that was not reinvented until the modern Industrial Revolution! [You will have to read the book to learn which technology.]

After Parthia defeated the Roman Empire in an immense war in the 3rd century BC, it was overthrown by the Persians who had been Parthian subjects for centuries. The Persians drove the Semitic Parthians out of Asia, and their destination is detailed in the final book in the series.

This book is available for US$20 plus shipping direct from Bible Blessings Christian Resources at their website:

Read an interesting excerpt from this book on the "Book Excerpts" section of this website!

Biblical Villains or Israelite Ancestors?

Biblical accounts generally portray Canaanites as the arch-enemies of early Israelites, who eventually conquered Canaanite territory and either exterminated or subjugated its people.

Archaeologists, however, identify the Canaanites as a collection of tribes of varying ethnicities that appears in the Levant around the beginning of the second millennia B.C. Over the centuries, they were at various times independent city-states or client states under Egyptian control, and their presence is recorded in letters from Bronze Age rulers in Egypt, Anatolia, Babylon, and elsewhere in the region.

Despite massive cultural and political upheaval in the eastern Mediterranean at the end of the Bronze Age in the 12th century B.C., Canaanite presence persisted in the region, most notably in powerful port cities along the coast, where they were known to the Greeks as Phoenicians.

No archaeological evidence for the widespread destruction of Canaanite settlements described in the Bible has yet been identified, and many scholars believe that the Israelites, who appear around the beginning of the Iron Age, may have originally been Canaanites.

Ancient Technology

The winter solstice has a special effect at Ireland’s most famous megalith.

The discovery of an ancient man entombed in the Alps’ ice was one of the greatest finds of the last century.

Most people have heard of Stonehenge and Cheops, but archaeologists have discovered monuments built many years earlier.

Approximately between 1860 and 1930, in some cases even later, there was a discussion about flint findings from Paleocene to Pliocene strata which were similar to tools.

Over my many years of traveling and speaking, I’ve realized that even many Christians (mostly unwittingly) have adopted an evolutionary view of man’s intelligence and achievements over the millennia.

Common ancestor of Neanderthals and Homo sapiens said to have made spears.

The Genius of Ancient Man is the most complete, biblically based, and beautifully designed work ever assembled on the intelligence of ancient man.

Read excerpts from the book The Genius of Ancient Man by Don Landis

Fairly sophisticated optical technology was being used soon after the Flood ended.

Fifty years ago, the then Director of the Baghdad Museum, Wilhelm Konig, reported the discovery of an electric battery 2,000 years old.

An item of possible minor interest appeared in Time magazine, Sept 25th, 1978 p.72. It reports the findings of anthropologist Peter Schmidt who studied the Haya people of Tanzania.

Watch the video: Doku in HD Ursprung der Technik - Mechanik des Nahen Ostens (October 2022).

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