The Borders of Judah: An Archaeological View by Ephraim Stern

Does archaeological evidence allow us to establish the exact borders of independent states in Palestine in the seventh through fourth centuries B.C.E.? I believe it does. These borders are important because in the Late Iron Age no fewer than eight independent nations were settled in the country. 

Palestine during the Iron Age was divided among many nations, each of which produced a unique material culture in its own territory, expressed in particular by language, script, pottery, and cult objects. The kingdom of Judah at the end of the period of the monarchy and the Persian province of Yehud were no different: the region had its own distinct material culture. Two types of Judean artifacts are particularly useful for reconstructing the borders of Judah: the pillar figurines unique to Judah, dating to the eighth–sixth centuries B.C.E. and the rosette stamp impressions from the late monarchic age, that is, the seventh and beginning of the sixth centuries B.C.E.

At least 1,500 pillar figurines have been found at Judean sites (almost half of them from Jerusalem itself). And the heavy concentration of rosette seals in Judah and not in the neighboring kingdom of Israel, even at a time when Judah and Israel maintained close relations and likely traded with one another heavily, establishes a clear northern border for Judah.

Although there are far fewer stamp impressions than pillar figurines from the period of the Judean monarchy, primarily because they were in use for a much shorter time, their distribution follows the same southern border.

When we move on to stamp impressions from the Persian period, we see that they come from an area much closer to Jerusalem than the late-monarchic seals do.  Furthermore, clay analysis has shown that the earlier stamp impressions came from two production centers, one in the western part of the kingdom and one in the area of Jerusalem. The later Persian period impressions, in contrast, come only from the area of Jerusalem, which means that the southern border of the Judean state in the Persian period had contracted.

According to the biblical sources (for example, Neh 3), the area of Yehud in the Persian period was divided into six districts. Seal impressions have been found in each of these districts, indicating that the biblical account is based on historical reality.

Only two impressions have been discovered outside Yehud: one in Kadesh-Barnea and the other in Babylon. Is there a logical explanation for the location of these two seal impressions? Kadesh-Barnea is situated in the middle of the route between Judah and Egypt, where there was a prosperous Jewish community. There was also a thriving Jewish community in Babylon in this period. Though some scholars think these two anomalous seals are therefore evidence of trade between Yehud and Egypt and Babylon, the shape of the jars, intended for storage rather than shipment, suggests instead that they were being sent to the Egyptian and Babylonian Jewish communities that wanted Judean wine made according to the laws of the Torah. The original storage jars, with their stamps indicating their authenticity, were therefore used for shipping this wine as well.

To sum up, we may say that the archaeological finds corroborate the biblical account on two issues: the borders of the kingdom of Judah, until the destruction of the first temple, included the entire southern part of the country, but the border moved north in the Persian period; and in the Persian period an important connection had been created between the independent state of Judea and the Jewish Diaspora communities in Egypt and Mesopotamia.

Ephraim Stern, "Borders of Judah: An Archaeological View", n.p. [cited 27 Jul 2017]. Online: http://bibleodyssey.com/en/places/related-articles/borders-of-judah--an-archaeological-view

Contributors

Ephraim Stern

Ephraim Stern
Emeritus Professor, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Ephraim Stern is emeritus professor of biblical archaeology in the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Of or relating to ancient lower Mesopotamia and its empire centered in Babylon.

A system of religious worship, or cultus (e.g., the Israelite cult). Also refers to adherents of that system.

Jews who live outside of Israel or any people living outside of their native land.

The stage of development during which humans used iron weapons; in the ancient Near East, approx. 1200 to 500 B.C.E.

The southern kingdom of Judah.

Relating to or associated with people living in the territory of the southern kingdom of Judah during the divided monarchy, or what later became the larger province of Judah under imperial control. According to the Bible, the area originally received its name as the tribal territory allotted to Judah, the fourth son of Jacob.

A system of rule with a monarch as its head; or the hereditary system passed from one monarch to another.

Another name often used for the area of Israel and Judah, derived from the Latin term for the Roman province of Palaestina; ultimately, the name derives from the name of the Philistine people.

The Persian name for the province including the territory of Judah, with its capital in Jerusalem.

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