The findings of a dig undenvay this month in central Israel could cast doubt on the previous existence of a mighty Solomonic kingdom and lead to a re-evaluation of dating processes throughout the Middle East.
The dig at Tel Jezreel could finally reveal that the biblical royal kingdom of Israel, contrary to tradition, reached its height a hundred years after Solomon.
John Woodhead from the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem, who is leading the team, says the results from previous seasons at Tel Jezreel already point towards this controversial conclusion. Findings over the next few weeks could yield more vital clues.
Perched on the western-most spur of Mount Gilboa and overlooking a green and fertile valley, ancient Jexreel was built, according to the Old Testament, by King Omri and his son Ahab in the ninth century BC.
The city -- or tel -- is linked with one of the first recorded arguments over civil rights in history. Urged on by Jezabel his wife, King Ahab wanted to acquire the vineyard of Naboth the Jezraelite which was next to his royal palace. Naboth refused to let Ahab have it and was stoned to death. The prophet Elijah warned Ahab that as a consequence the dogs would eat Jezabel and the Omride kingdom would collapse.
Nearly 3,000 years later in 1987, residents of the nearby kibLutz stumbled across the remains of two towers dating back to the Iron Age. The discovery caused great excitement in the archaeological world and there was intense competition to get a licence to start excavations for Ahab's royal palace. This was won by the British School in Jerusalem in association with Tel Aviv University.
'Everyone wanted the dig,' said John Woodhead, 'No serious work had been done previously at the site. Small settlements were built at Jezreel over the centuries but the main area hadn't been built over as in most other sites. It was a unique opportunity to explore untouched Royal Israel.'
Work at Tel Jezreel began in 1990 with immediate surprises. The first was over the size of the Jezreel citadel. Measuring 450ft by nearly 1,000ft with a moat of 36ft wide around it, it was more than three times bigger than the citadel at nearby Samaria which Ahab used as his capital.
'The Jezreel fortifications were enormous and sophisticated, beyond anything known so far,' said Mr Woodhead; 'We haven't seen anything like it a thousand years before, or a thousand years after this period in the Middle East. The puzzle was why Jezreel had been built with even larger fortifications than the capital Samaria.'
Secondly, pottery discovered at Tel Jezreel turned out to be identical to that found at Megiddo and Hazor at a datable level associated with the time of Solomon. But that did not tally with the Tel Jezreel dates. …