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Syro-Palestinian corridor in the 9th century BC

During the 9th century BC, Israel was under the reign of Ahab, and Judah was under the reign of Jehoshaphat. Israel and Judah were the two most important states occupying the southern end of the strategically crucial Syro-Palestinian corridor. Politics along the Syro-Palestinian corridor have always been determined by large riverine empires to the south and north, namely Egypt and Assyria. Egypt campaigned into Palestine under Shoshenq (a.k.a. Shishak) I's 10th century BC rule, but did not militarily incur into the Syro-Palestine corridor until two centuries later. During the entire 9th century BC, Egypt's primarily role in the affairs of Syro-Palestine and Phoenicia was merely in trade. Also, local adaptions of Egyptian motifs have been found in ivory plaques excavated in Samaria. The Assyrians exerted steady pressure on smaller Syro-Palestinian states during the 9th century BC. For example, Assyrian kings (and contemporaries of Ahab) Assurnasirpal II and Shalmeneser III made repeated incursions into Syria. However, these were delayed by the Damascus coalition at Qarqar until Damascus was successfully seized in 841 BC. At this point, the Assyrians destroyed Beth-arbel (Irbid on Jordan) and first entered Israelite territory. Jehu submitted to Assyrian rule, making Israel a vassal that benefited from Assyrian aid to block Damascus expansionism under Hazael's rule. After decline and sporadic internal conflicts, Tiglath-pileser III usurped control of Assyria and fully consumed Israel in 722 BC and reduced Judah to a vassal in the following century.

Non-Israeli Kingdoms

Opposite Israel, in the territory from east of Jordan valley from south to north, were the modestly-sized kingdoms of Edom, Moab and Ammom. Edom (south of Moab) controlled the vital trade route south to the Red Sea and north to Damascus, and: was conquered by David in the tenth century; won back its independence in the following century during the reign of Jehoram of Judah; and was subjugated by Uzzia (Azariah) seventy years later. Thereafter, the Judean state maintained a tenuous grip on Edom until the Neo-Babylonian conquest. Moab (between Edom and Ammom) was part of reater Israel during the United Monarchy, and was brought under Israelite control by Omri but regained partial independence after the death of his son Ahab. These events are described differently in biblical texts 2 Kings 3 and on the King Mesha of Moab stela discovered in 1868. Ammom (north of Moab) was astride main commercial and military route through the Transjordanian highlands known as the King's Highway, seems to have precariously remained independent during the Neo-Babylonian period.

Palestine, a southern coastal region, was occupied by the Philistine pentapolis during the 9th century BC: Gaza, Ashdod and Ashqelon (Ascalon) on the coast; Gath and Ekron inland. These five cities remained independent of Judah, despite having to pay tribute to Jehoshaphat. During the reign of Adad-nirari (810 - 783 BC), the Philistines had their first contact with the Assyrian westward advance. During Tiglath-pileser III's reign (745 - 727 BC) and thereafter, Assyrian armies frequently entered Philistine territory.

Further north on the Mediterranean coast, at the archaeological site Khirbat al-Burj near Tantura lagoon, Dor was the principal harbor of northern Israel and then a provincial Assyrian administrative center. Just north of Dor, the Mount Carmel promontory marked the border of Ahab's kingdom and the kingdom of Tyre. Shalmaneser III erected a stela at Carmel, and received tributes from the Israeli king Jehu, as well as Phoenician cities. Just north of Carmel was the coastal Phoenician heartland, which was closely linked with the kingdom of Samaria. Inland from Phoencia were modest city-states, which were fragments of the former Hittite empire which had broken up at the end of the Late Bronze Age, as well as Aramaean trible settlements that had formed at the beginning of the Iron Age.

During Ahab's reign, Damascus was the most notable city-state. Bordering Tyre and Israel, Damascus had poor relations with these nations, except when they formed a coalition at Qatar on the Orontes River to stop Shalmeneser III's incursion. Shalmeneser's Monolith Inscription records that: king Adad-idri (a.k.a. Bir-Hadad II) of Damascus mustered 20,000 infantry; king Irkhuleni (a.k.a. Jarhuleni or Urkhilenas) of Hamath mustered 10,000 infantry; and king Ahab of Israel mustered 10,000 infantry as well. The numbers are unreliable, but the proportion of military might is very informative. However, this coalition collapsed around the time of Jehu's destruction of the Omrid Dynasty and Hazael' usurp of the Aramaean throne.

Tyre was ruled by Ethbaal I (a.k.a. Ittobaal or king of the Sidonians), a priest of the goddess Astarte, when Ethbaal I usurped the Tyrian throne in the 9th century BC. Ethbaal I presided over Tyre while it was the dominant southern Phoenician power and the center of a small empire that controlled Sidon (modern Sayda), Byblos (biblical Gebal; modern Jubayl) and overseas territories. Tyrian colonies were already established in the western Mediterranean, including in Cyprus and Tunisia. Additionally, tradition states that toward the end of the 9th century BC, Elissa (a.k.a. Dido, sister of King Pygmalion, great-grandson of Ethbaal) founded the important colony of Carthage. Tyrian foreign policy revolved around its cedar timber (from Lebanon), precious metals, ivory, fine pottery (misnamed Samaria ware) and purple-dyed garments. Tyre also heavily exported shipping and building technology, even providing craftsmen to help build Solomon's Temple. Also, the port of Samaria (capital of Omri) has identical dimensions and arrangement as the southern (a.k.a. Egyptian) Tyrian port constructed under Ethbaal's reign; this parallel suggests another instance where Tyrian technology was exported. The Tyrians even gained economically the Assyrian's westward advance under Assyrian king Assurnasirpal II. In 879 BC, Ethbaal paid tribute to Assyria and was rewarded with an invitation to the inaugural banquet for the newly dedicated Assyrian capital of Kalkhu (modern Nimrud).

Forming Israel & Judah

Toward the start of the 10th century BC, a local brigand chieftain named David ruled over the Judean highlands, Judean wilderness, Shephelah and the Negev. By negotiating with tribal elders, he extended his rule to the central highlands and Galilee. However, the critical move that consolidated his power was the capture of the ancient Canaanite-Jebusite city of Jerusalem. Jerusalem served as a better capital than Hebron, 20 miles (32 kilometers) south.

Solomon built upon David's achievements, elaborating on the state apparatus with a court, harem and Phoenician-style temple. By controlling the main north-south trade routes, Solomon made contact with Phoenicia and Egypt and imported luxury items from as far north as Que (Kue, in Cilicia) and as far south as Yemen and Somaliland. A visit from Sheba's queen 1 Kings 10:1-13 became ingrained in Jewish legend, and likely was tied to an important trade mission. Although the biblical record raves extensively about David and Solomon's achievements, there is no source from their time that mentions them nor their kingdom.

After Solomon's death, his undistinguished son Rehoboam failed to renew the binds between the Israelite kingdom and the Israelite confederacy in the central highlands. Jeroboam, an Ephraimite, led a secession of the northern tribes with the support of a prophet from the ancient cult center of Shiloh (modern Kirbet Seilun) near Mount Ephraim 1 Kings 11:26-40. Notably, this is the first example of a prophecy intervening in the Northern Kingdom's affairs. During the two centuries from Solomon's death to Samaria's capture by Sargon II in 722, the Northern Kingdom had 19 rulers (20 including Tibni, rival of Omri) spanning 9 dynasties. It was relatively easy to seize the Northern Kingdom due to its lack of a dynastic monarchy; this was exploited by Zimri, Omri, Jehu and Pekah. For example, the chariot commander Zimri ended Baasha's legacy by killing his son, Elah; Zimri was then eliminated by the army commander Omri. At almost a century, the longest reign was Jehu's; at only a week, the shortest was Zimri's. Seven of these rulers were assassinated, and Zimri avoided the siege of Tirzah (Tell al-Far'a, 7 miles northeast of Nablus) by the Omri by burning down its royal palace while he was inside. Omri established the first semi-stable dynasty (883 to 841 BC) and was the first Israelite king mentioned in nonbiblical records. Omri imitated David, moving his capital from Tirzah to the more strategic city of Samaria (modern Sabastiyah).

Looking south to Judah, all rulers (except Athalia, Ahab's daughter) belonged to the Davidic Dynasty. The disparate number of dynasties in the Northern Kingdom and Judah is due to the stronger hold of clan ethos and clan organization among the central highlands' Josephite tribes (as opposed to the tribes to the north). Under the Omrid and Jehu dynasties, the Northern Kingdom outweighed its southern neighbor Judah in population, extensiveness and economic and political strength.


Finally a true kingdom due to king Omri's efforts, the Northern Kingdom (a.k.a. kingdom of Samaria>> and kingdom of Israel which are interchangeable terms) had its nucleus in Mount Ephraim, the heartland of the old tribal confederacy, but also sprawled across: the upper and lower Galilee; the fertile Jezreel Valley; the fertile northwest short of Chinnerneth, along the Sea of Galilee and near Bahr Tabariya; the Huleh Valley; the Jordan rift valley, as far south as Jericho (modern Ariba); and the upper Transjordian tableland (including the ancient regions Bashan, Gilead), in modern Jordan. In contrast, Judah was largely desert and its only cultivatable land (limited by rainfall) was in the Judean foothills and along the watershed (a region draining into a river) where Jerusalem stands.

Northern Kingdom and Judean economies were agrarian-pastoral, but Israel had more yield and grazing acreage. Regardless, each kingdom had economic advantages that increased urban populations to a whopping estimated 60,000 households in the Northern Kingdom and no more than 30,000 in Judah. The Northern Kingdom was excellently positioned along the main north-south and east-west trade arteries, giving it: immediate contact with the King's Highway; close contact with wealthy Phoenician cities and the Syrian hinterland; and, at the Jezreel Valley and Manasseh, control over the Way of the Sea. These factors eased export of Northern Kingdom wheat, barley, wine, oil and other produce surplus. On the other hand, Judah benefited from intersecting the trade routes between Egypt and Phoenicia, Damascus and northern territories; however, Judah's Mediterranean access was blocked by Philistine cities.