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RB. 2015 - T. 122-2 (pp. 247-267).






Avraham FAUST

The Institute of Archaeology

The Martin (Szusz) Department of Land

of Israel Studies and Archaeology

Bar-Ilan University



The rural settlement sector of Iron Age Israel did not attract much scholarly attention, and although various discussions were published over the years, those tended to be specific and did not present overall developments and trends. It is therefore the aim of this article to present, for the first time, an overview on this neglected settlement sector during the Iron Age. The article will review the evidence, mainly on the basis of excavations, and will reconstruct the develop- ments and changes this sector experienced at the time. The data will enable us to discuss questions related to social structure on the one hand, and to assess the influence of the various historical events and processes on rural settlement pat- terns on the other hand. These processes include the Iron Age I settlement phe- nomenon, the emergence of various polities in the Iron IIA, as well as the incor- poration of the region within the Assyrian, and later Babylonian, empires.


La question de la présence rurale d’Israël à l’Âge du Fer n’a pas beaucoup attiré l’attention des chercheurs, et bien que diverses analyses aient été publiées au fil des ans, celles-ci inclinaient à être trop spécifiques et ne présentaient pas globalement les développements et les tendances. C’est donc le but de cet article de présenter, pour la première fois, une vue d’ensemble de cette question négli- gée de la présence rurale d’Israël à l’Âge du Fer. L’article passe en revue les éléments de preuve, principalement sur la base de fouilles archéologiques, et 248 AVRAHAM FAUST reconstitue les évolutions et les changements que cette présence a connus au fil du temps. Les données vont nous permettre d’examiner des questions liées à la structure sociale d’une part, et d’évaluer l’influence des divers événements et processus historiques sur les modèles d’établissement rural d’autre part. Ces ana- lyses incluent le phénomène d’implantation rurale à l’Âge du Fer I, l’émergence de différents systèmes politiques à l’Âge du Fer IIA, ainsi que l’incorporation de la région au sein des empires assyrien, et, plus tard, babylonien.


Archaeologists had always preferred to concentrate on excavating large, urban settlements and to devote attention to the sector in which “history” was created and written. Although villages and rural settlements were the most common type of settlements in the southern Levant during the Bronze and Iron Ages, the “tell minded”1 modern scholarship tended to concentrate on excavating towns, and the study of the rural sector received relatively little scholarly attention.2 The response to criticism regarding this neglect was by gradually stressing the significance of the survey as a methodology that sheds light on the rural sector.3 Indeed, extensive surveys were carried out over the years throughout the region, significantly enhancing our understanding ancient settlement patterns and identifying numerous new sites.4 Despite their importance, however, surveys are inaccurate, tend to flatten settlement graphs, and to miss some important phenomena.5 Thus, surveys are only a partial compensation for scholarship’s neglect of the rural sector.

At the same time, and despite the strong “urban bias” of Near Eastern Archaeology,6 more and more sites are being excavated in salvage excavation. Thousands of such excavations were carried out in Israel over 1 G. W. AHLSTROM, Royal Administration and National Religion in Ancient Palestine (Leiden 1982) 25.

2 G. A. LONDON, “A Comparison of Two Life Styles of the Late Second Millennium BC”, BASOR 273 (1989) 37-55; A. FAUST, “The Rural Community in Ancient Israel during the Iron Age II”, BASOR 317 (2000b) 17-39; A. FAUST, The Archaeology of Israelite Society in Iron Age II (Winona Lake 2012b) and references.

3 For discussion and references see A. FAUST and Z. SAFRAI, “Salvage Excavations as a Source for Reconstructing Settlement History in Ancient Israel”, PEQ 137 (2005) 139-158.

4 E.g., A. ZERTAL, The Manasseh Hill Country Survey (Tel Aviv 1992-2005) (Hebrew);

I. FINKELSTEIN, Z. LEDERMAN and S. BUNIMOVITZ, Highlands of Many Cultures: The Southern Samaria Survey (Tel Aviv 1997); and others.

5 Faust and Safrai, “Salvage Excavations” and references.

6 London, “A Comparison of Two Life Styles”.



the years, mainly in small rural sites, supplying us with a much better and more reliable data on the rural settlement sector. This, along with a few planned excavations conducted in rural sites, presents us with data from over 100 excavated Iron Age rural sites, and this enables us to discuss settlement processes and dynamics in this important sector. It is, thus, the aim of the present article to analyze long term settlement processes on the basis of the data that can be gleaned from an examination of the information on the rural settlement sector during the Iron Age – mainly excavated sites (and to some extent also on the basis of trends identified in surveys) – and especially on developments and changes through time and space.


When compared with the Late Bronze Age, the Iron Age experienced a sharp increase in the number – both absolute and relative – of rural sites, especially in the highlands.

The Late Bronze Age in general, was a period of small towns, and very few villages were excavated.7 The transition to the Iron Age witnessed some drastic changes. While some regions in the lowlands experienced continuity in general settlement patterns, e.g., in the northern valleys,8 and other exhibit even a decline, e.g., the Shephelah,9 the highlands were drastically transformed in this time, and hundreds of rural sites were established in areas that was only sparsely settled before.10 A few of those villages were 7 For settlement patterns, see R. GONEN, “The Late Bronze Age”, in A. BEN-TOR (ed.), The Archaeology of Israel (New Haven 1992) 211–257; S. BUNIMOVITZ, The Land of Israel in the Late Bronze Age: A Case Study of Socio-Cultural Change in a Complex Society (Ph.D. dissertation, Tel Aviv 1990) (Hebrew); S. BUNIMOVITZ, “On the Edge of Empires – the Late Bronze Age (1500–1200 BCE)”, in T. E. LEVY (ed.), The Archaeology of Society in the Holy Land (London1995) 320–331.

8 A. MAZAR, “The Iron Age I”, in A. BEN-TOR (ed.), The Archaeology of Israel (New Haven 1992) 296-297.

9 Y. DAGAN, The Settlement in the Judean Shephela in the Second and First Millennium BCE: A Test-Case of Settlement Processes in A Geographic Region (Ph.D. Dissertation, Tel Aviv 2000) 191 and fig. 16; Y. DAGAN, “Results of the Survey: Settlement Patterns in the Lachish Region”, in D. USSISHKIN, (ed.), The Renewed Archaeological Excavations at Lachish (1973-1994) (Tel Aviv 2004) 2680; A. FAUST, “The Shephelah in the Iron Age: A New Look on the Settlement of Judah”, PEQ 145 (2013b) 203-219.

10 I. FINKELSTEIN, The Archaeology of the Israelite Settlement (Jerusalem 1988);

I. FINKELSTEIN, “The Great Transformation – The ‘Conquest’ of the Highland Frontiers and the Rise of the Territorial States”, in T.E. LEVY (ed.), The Archaeology of Society in the Holy Land (London 1995) 349–365.


–  –  –

excavated over the years, e.g., Giloh,11 ‘Ai,12 Kh. Raddana,13 Shiloh,14 Karmiel,15 Kh. Za’akuka,16 Mt. Ebal,17 and many others (Figure 1). These excavations allow us a glimpse into life in those settlements, their social organization, family structure, ethnic identity, etc.18 The settlement process and the society in the highland, Israelite villages had received a great deal of scholarly attention,19 and is not of our concern here, except for its importance in setting the scene for the later development of Iron Age rural settlement patterns.


Contrary to the common interpretation of surveys,20 the transition to the Iron II (regardless of its exact dating) witnessed a major break in the rural sector.21 Thus, most excavated Iron I sites were abandoned (or destroyed 11 A. MAZAR, “Giloh: An Early Israelite Settlement Site Near Jerusalem”, IEJ 31 (1981) 1–36.

12 Finkelstein, “The Archaeology of the Israelite Settlement”: 69–72 and additional references (for the sake of brevity, some of the references will be to I. Finkelstein, The Archaeology of the Israelite Settlement [Jerusalem 1988]).

13 Finkelstein, “The Archaeology of the Israelite Settlement”: 67–69.

14 I. FINKELSTEIN, “Conclusions”, in I. FINKELSTEIN, S. BUNIMOVITZ and Z. LEDERMAN (eds.), Shiloh, The Story of a Biblical Site (Monographs Series of the Institute of Archaeology) (Tel Aviv 1993) 371–393.

15 Z. GAL, D. SHALEM and M. HARTAL, “An Iron Age Site at Karmiel, Lower Galilee”, in S.W. CRAWFORD (ed.), Up to the Gates of Ekron: Essays on the Archaeology and History of the Mediterranean in Honour of Seymour Gitin (Jerusalem 2007) 119-134.

16 E. EISENBERG, “Khirbet Za’akuka: An Iron Age I Settlement between Jerusalem and Bethlehem”, Atiqot 71 (2012) 1*-20*.

17 A. ZERTAL, “An Early Iron Age Cultic Site on Mount Ebal: Excavations Seasons 1982–1987”, Tel Aviv 13–14 (1986–1987) 105–165.

18 E.g., L.E. STAGER, “The Archeology of the Family in Ancient Israel”, BASOR 260 (1985) 1–35; G. LEHMANN, “Reconstructing the Social Landscape of Ancient Israel: Rural Marriage Alliances in the Central Hill Country”, Tel Aviv 31 (2004) 141-193; A. FAUST, Israel’s Ethnogenesis: Settlement, Interaction, Expansion and Resistance (London 2006b).


E.g., Stager, “The Archeology of the Family”; L.E. STAGER, “Forging an Identity:

the Emergence of Ancient Israel”, in M.D. COOGAN (ed.), The Oxford History of the Biblical World (New York 1998) 123–175; Faust, “Israel’s Ethnogenesis” and many references.

20 E.g., I. FINKELSTEIN, “[De]formation of the Israelite State: A Rejoinder on Methodology”, NEA 68 (2005) 202-208.

21 We do not wish to discuss here the Iron Age chronology (e.g., I. FINKELSTEIN and E. PIASETZKY, “The Iron Age Chronology Debate: Is the Gap Narrowing?”, NEA 74 [2011] 50-53; A. MAZAR, “The Iron Age Chronology Debate: Is the Gap Narrowing?

Another Viewpoint”, NEA 74 [2011] 105-11.), which is irrelevant for identifying the patterns discussed (though the debate is relevant for the interpretation of the patterns of course). Note that the dating of the abandonment of some the sites had been challenged, e.g., I. FINKELSTEIN, “Iron Age I Khirbet et-Tell and Khirbet Raddana: Methodological 252 AVRAHAM FAUST and deserted) at the end of the Iron Age I or at the beginning of the Iron Age II.22 Moreover, none of the Iron I highland villages excavated so far continued to exist as a rural site in the Iron Age II. The following, mainly excavated, sites were abandoned (or destroyed): Izbet Sartah,23 Kh. Raddana,24 Ai,25 Shiloh,26 Kh. el-Maqatir,27 Giloh,28 Kh. Umm et-Tala,29 Kh. Za’akuka,30 Mt Ebal,31 the Bull Site,32 Tell el-Ful,33 Tel Masos,34 Nahal Yatir,35 Tel Esdar,36 Karmi’el,37 Ras-‘Ali,38 Kh. ‘Avot,39 Sasa40 and Lessons”, in S.W. CRAWFORD (ed.), Up to the Gates of Ekron: Essays on the Archaeology and History of the Eastern Mediterranean in Honor of Seymour Gitin (Jerusalem 2007) 107-113, but what is important for the purposes of this article is the mere fact that even Finkelstein agrees that the sites were abandoned during the transition to the Iron II.


See already Mazar, “The Iron Age I”: 301; W.G. DEVER, “From Tribe to Nation:

State Formation Processes in Ancient Israel”, in S. MAZZONI (ed.), Nuove Fondazioni Nel Vicino Oriente Antico, Realtà E Ideologia (Pisa 1994) 218; W.G. DEVER, “Archaeology, Urbanism and the Rise of the Israelite State”, in W.E. AUFRECHT, N.A. MIRAU and S.W. GAULEY (eds.), Urbanism in Antiquity, From Mesopotamia to Crete (Sheffield 1997) 182; A. FAUST, “Abandonment, Urbanization, Resettlement and the Formation of the Israelite State”, NEA 60 (2003a) 147-161; A. FAUST, “Forum: Rural Settlements, State Formation, and ‘Bible and Archaeology’” (with responses by Neil Asher Silberman, Lester L. Grabbe, Alex Joffe and Ze’ev Herzog), NEA 70 (2007) 4-25; contra Finkelstein, “[De]formation of the Israelite State”; more below.

23 I. FINKELSTEIN, ‘Izbet Sartah: An Early Iron Age Site Near Rosh Ha’ayin, Israel (BAR International Series 299) (Oxford 1986); Finkelstein, “The Archaeology of the Israelite Settlement”: 73-80.

24 Finkelstein, “The Archaeology of the Israelite Settlement”: 67-69.

25 Finkelstein, “The Archaeology of the Israelite Settlement”: 69-72.

26 Finkelstein, “Conclusions”.

27 B.G. WOOD, “Khirbet el-Maqatir (notes and news)”, IEJ 51 (2001) 246–252.

28 Mazar, “Giloh”.

29 A. OFER, “‘All the Hill Country of Judah’: From a Settlement Fringe to a Prosperous Monarchy”, in I. FINKELSTEIN and N. NA’AMAN (eds.), From Nomadism to Monarchy (Jerusalem 1994) 96.

30 Eisenberg, “Khirbet Za’akuka”.

31 Zertal, “An Early Iron Age Cultic Site”.

32 A. MAZAR, “The ‘Bull-Site’ – An Iron Age I Open Cult Place”, BASOR 247 (1982b) 27–42.

33 Finkelstein, “The Archaeology of the Israelite Settlement”: 56–60.

34 Finkelstein, “The Archaeology of the Israelite Settlement”: 41–46 and references.

35 Y. GOVRIN, “The Nahal Yatir Site – Moladah in the Inheritance of the Tribe of Simeon?”, ‘Atiqot 20 (1990) 22* (Hebrew).

36 M. KOCHAVI, “Excavations at Tel Esdar”, ‘Atiqot 5 (1969) 45 (Hebrew with an English abstract).

37 Gal, Shalem and Hartal, “An Iron Age Site at Karmiel”.

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