Sunday at the annual Society of Biblical Literature meeting as a day of learning on many counts. If you’re curious about things biblical and archaeological, keep reading …
Rather than reviewing all of the (sometimes) fascinating sessions I attended and boring readers, I’ll focus on one lecture: at a session on Archaeology of the Biblical World, Norma Franklin of Israel’s University of Haifa (and co-director of the Jezreel Expedition), gave a lecture on the identity and purpose of a large stable complex at Megiddo, long known — and wrongly known — as “Solomon’s stables.”
The idea that the stables were built by Solomon goes back to the earliest excavations, in the 1920s, by the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute. Archaeology was still in its infancy, and when a large stable complex was unearthed, director P. L. O. Guy rather uncritically assumed they must have been the stables reportedly built by Solomon in the 10th century, according to 1 Kings 9:15 and 10:26.
Later excavations led by Yigael Yadin of Hebrew University uncovered a palace beneath the stables that dated to a time closer to Solomon, meaning that the stables had to have been built later. Yadin attributed the stables to Israel’s King Ahab, in the 9th century, BCE.
Renewed excavations, beginning in 1992, led by Israel Finkelstein with the assistance of other able archaeologists such as Franklin, did further excavations that allowed them to refine the dates even further, bringing the time of construction into the 8th century BCE, probably during the time of Jeroboam II.
At that time, Franklin said, the whole city was not destroyed, but intentionally rebuilt as a center for raising, trading, training, and stabling horses used mainly to pull chariots. The rebuilding was characterized by a number of new techniques, including the use of the cubit measure used by Assyrians. The stables themselves and an adjoining courtyard measured 120 cubits square — a standard Assyrian measure known as an iku.
By the time of Jeroboam II, the Assyrians had begun to exercise considerable influence in Israel. Thus, Franklin argued, it would have made sense for Jeroboam II (788-747) and the Assyrian king Adad-Nirari III (805-783) to have cooperated in a joint venture to rebuild Megiddo as a trading center for horses, an extremely valuable commodity. As the Assyrians continued to expand their influence and Jeroboam II became largely a vassal, Megiddo would also have housed regional officials from Assyria to oversee the collection of tribute and other matters.
The stables would have remained in use up to the time when Israel was completely overrun by the Assyrians under Sargon II (721-705 BCE). The addition of more Assyrian government buildings made Megiddo a provincial capital of his holdings, with the Hebrew population largely dispersed and others being brought in to replace them.
While we normally think of Megiddo in terms of its significance as an important Israelite city, it had been a powerful Canaanite city long before the Israelites arrived, and it took on an Assyrian character even before the Northern Kingdom was destroyed.
Megiddo was far more than a one-horse town: it was a center for equines extraordinaire — but well after the time of Solomon.