Ancient Israel: Its Life and Institutions

By Roland De Vaux ; John McHugh | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO
FORTIFIED CITIES AND SIEGE WARFARE

THE ancient cities of Canaan, each of which was the centre of a tiny State, were encircled by ramparts and defended by towers and fortified gates. The Egyptian illustrations of campaigns under the Pharaohs of the New Empire give a picture of what they looked like, and excavations in Palestine allow us to study the plan of these defences and the techniques employed in their construction. It is understandable that these heavily fortified towns struck fear into the Israelite invaders ( Nb 13: 28), for their ramparts reached 'to the sky' ( Dt 1: 28); they were 'strongholds enclosed by high walls, protected by gates and bars' ( Dt 3: 5). After their conquest or occupation of these towns, the Israelites took care to rebuild the defences (though archaeological evidence of this begins only at the reign of Saul); they preserved intact the parts which remained, and repaired them if necessary. Where the destruction had been complete, they rebuilt the ramparts in new ways, and they applied these new methods in the towns they themselves founded. These latter fortifications, replanned or erected by the Israelites, are the only ones which interest us here.


1. Fortified towns

Every town ('ir) was normally encircled by a rampart, which distinguished it from an open village (ḥaser, cf. Lv 25: 31). But a town which was defended by solid constructions was called a 'fortified town' ('ir mibṣar: cf. Jr 34:7 and many other texts).

The entire population of the neighbourhood would seek protection behind these defences in times of danger ( Jr 4: 5; 8: 14). Lists of strongholds and isolated references to them occur in the Old Testament; but though these texts throw some light on the system of protecting the territory, the information is incomplete, and applies only to certain periods.

David's first objective after the capture of Jerusalem was to build a wall around it ( 2 S 5: 9): we should take it to mean that he merely repaired the Jebusite ramparts. The Bible mentions no similar work outside the capital during his reign, but it is quite certain that he secured the defences of other places as well, and archaeologists attribute to him the building of the ramparts at Tell Beit-Mirsim and at Beth Shemesh. Solomon's chariot

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