The Ammonites inhabited the northern Central Transjordanian Plateau from the later part of the second millennium BCE until the end of the Iron Age II. The name of their state was "Ammon," and their capital was Rabbath-Ammon (modern-day Amman). Of the Transjordan polities during the biblical period, more is known of the Ammonites due to extensive archaeological research.
The political and geographical boundaries shifted throughout their history. They were centered around Rabbath-Ammon, but extending as far north as the Jabbok River (Wadi Zarqa), as far south as the Arnon River (Wadi Mujib), and from the Jordan Valley in the west to the desert in the east.
The Ammonites allied with the Amalekites to help the Moabite king defeat and subjugate Israel (Judg. 3:12-14; 10:6-18). Jephthah defeated the Ammonites (Judg. 11:33), as did Saul (1 Sam. 11:11) and David (2 Sam. 8:12). Solomon married the Ammonite Naamah, whose son Rehoboam became king (1 Kings 14:21, 31). This marriage represents the tribal relations between Ammon, Gilead, Gad, Rueben, and the half-tribe of Manasseh.
The Ammonites became dominant in the Iron Age IIB (eighth-seventh centuries BCE), as they were able to control the major trade routes from the south up to Assyria. They are mentioned in the annals of Assurbanipal, Tiglath-pileser III, and Sennacherib. 610 611
The second group consists of those scholars who attempt to analyze the biblical narrative and separate historical events from later tradition. The assumption is that the biblical writers had an agenda when recounting the events associated with the rise of the united monarchy. Some have viewed it as the natural outcome of the desire to place the monarchy in a positive light, while others conclude that the writers tried to deceive their audience by distorting any negative event regarding the monarchy.612 The result of this scholarship promotes an unflattering view of the biblical account of David and represents the influence of minimalist trends within biblical studies. There appears to be a new trend to popularize these critical views of the historicity of the rise of the monarchy.
William F. Albright began study of the archaeology of David and Solomon. The Albright model has been the dominant paradigm in biblical archaeology. Albright developed the current ceramic stratigraphy for the study of sites in Syria-Palestine based on his excavations of Tell Beit Mirsim. Today the dating of almost all archaeological strata is based on the principles underlying ceramic seriation. Albright associated the adoption of red-slip burnished pottery with the united monarchy Hence, cultural horizons with this ceramic trend were dated to the tenth century BCE.
Yigael Yadin’s excavations at Hazor further developed the archaeology of the united monarchy. Yadin noticed that the gate systems at Megiddo and at Hazor were very similar. Recalling the text of 1 Kings 9:17—19 (Solomon’s building projects), he associated the gate systems with a common architect and hence a central authority. Yadin went back to Megiddo and Hazor and isolated monumental features that he associated with Solomon, notably Palace 6000 and Palace 1723 at Megiddo. He also went to the old Gezer excavation reports and postulated a third Solomonic gate erroneously identified as a Hellenistic Tower.613 William Dever reexcavated Gezer and unearthed the city that is associated with Solomon.614 He found that Yadin’s intuitions were correct. Yadin’s association of the three-chambered gates of the Iron Age with the Solomonic building projects became the model for traditional biblical archaeology, making a one-to-one correlation between the biblical text and archaeological data.
In the early 1990s the debate over the stratigraphy of the Iron Age was initiated with an article by Gregory Wightman, who proposed a redating of stratigraphy associated with the tenth century, particularly the Solomonic levels.615 Wightman’s proposals were not accepted, as John Holladay and Ron Tappy independently addressed the relevant issues.616 Wightman’s redating was again proposed by Israel Finkelstein’s “Low Chronology” paradigm. This has dominated archaeological discussion for the last decade.617 The Low Chronology proposes that the conventional ceramic chronology that archaeologists have been using for dating strata in the southern Levant is off by nearly one hundred years. This would push cultural horizons that had been dated to the tenth century forward into the ninth century BCE. While the Low Chronology debate has identified some simplistic reconstructions, its greatest contribution has been to sharpen the use of archaeology in biblical reconstructions. Ironically, more biblical scholars than archaeologists have jumped on the Low Chronology bandwagon. Although Finkelstein has been influential, the majority of field archaeologists are not swayed by his chronological reinterpretations. The Low Chronology was popular when first proposed, but recent excavations continue to support the conventional chronology (e. g., Hazor, Rehov, Edom, Tel Gezer, Tel Beth Shemesh, Khirbet Qeiyafa; and Philistine sites such as Ashkelon, Tel-Miqne-Ekron, Tel es-safi, and Gath). In addition, methodological shortcomings of the Low Chronology have been identified.618
In an attempt to unite the text with the archaeology, scholars have turned to the use of anthropological models. This has been very productive, as patterns found throughout human social structure are clearly seen in the biblical accounts. Many theories have been adopted to explain the united monarchy, but the issues are now coalescing around three areas: (1) Iron Age state formation, (2) kinship and kingship, and (3) urbanization and social stratification.
The united monarchy is best viewed as a secondary state within the southern Levant. This is typical for the Iron Age II period, as many other secondary states were formed during this period (e. g., Aramea, Philistia, Edom).619 One of the classic paradigms is the evolution from a chiefdom to a state society.620 This simplistic paradigm has been questioned in the larger field of anthropology, but there is still some relationship between state development and a chiefdom social structure. The question for social scientists is how states are formed. Sophisticated models address center and periphery and the collapse of states. These studies have led scholars to develop the concept of “secondary states” (states that develop in the collapse or vacuum of primary states). The small states of the southern Levant, to which the united monarchy belonged, were formed during the end of the Iron Age I period as the larger Late Bronze Age states collapsed (e. g., Egyptian New Kingdom, Mitanni, Mycenae, and Hittites).621
One of the catalysts for state formation in the history of the Middle East is the underlying tribal organization that still underpins the states of this region.622
Several scholars have noted that the rise of the Davidic state fits the pattern found in many Middle Eastern cultures. This is a secondary state formed in the vacuum created by primary states where the social organization is based on tribal chiefdom patterns of social organization. Some of these scholars have proposed models of secondary state formation. Alexander Joffe has presented the most comprehensive model incorporating anthropological theory623 Lawrence Stager has offered a model that incorporates the kinship model of a patrimonial kingdom.624 This is supported by the biblical text describing how David and Solomon organized the kingdom based on established tribal structures of the earlier period. Other anthropological models focused on kinship, social stratification, and the role of the temple.
Conclusion: Uniting the Biblical Text and Archaeological Data
Several basic questions face the archaeologist studying the united monarchy. Can archaeology shed light on the transition from a tribal society to the centralized rule of a monarchy? Does the archaeological record reflect the existence of a mighty kingdom as described in the biblical sources? Does the archaeological record reflect the internal development of the kingdom from Saul until the time of Solomon? The question today is not “Has archaeology proved that David and Solomon existed?” Rather, it is “What was the nature of the united monarchy?” Even with the lack of nonbiblical historical sources for the united monarchy, and the nature of the narrative genre that we find in the biblical texts, scholars have been able to coalesce the biblical accounts with the archaeological record and provide a fairly robust historical reconstruction of the united monarchy.625 When the layers of biblical tradition and the theological paradigms are removed, archaeologists have been able to reconstruct the kingdoms of David and Solomon.626
The southern Levant is situated between major powers and is a vital bridge connecting major communication and trade routes. It is part of the eastern Mediterranean littoral that joined Egypt and Mesopotamia. The emergence of the united monarchy occurred during major shifts in the eastern Mediterranean and specifically the southern Levant. On the international scene there was the thirteenth-century BCE collapse of the Eastern Mediterranean. This produced major migrations of peoples and destruction of sites. Two of the best-known migrations were the Sea Peoples, of which the Philistines were a part, and the Israelites. The collapse of these major states (e. g., Egyptian New Kingdom, the Hittite state, Mycenae) had created a power vacuum. Two north-south routes, the traditional Via Maris (International Coastal Highway) and the highway along the Transjordan Plateau, were major thoroughfares in the ancient Near East. In addition, there were two major east-west routes. The broad Jezreel Valley linked the two north-south highways in the north, and the Negev desert linked them between Gaza and the Edomite territory in the south. These four routes and the topography of the southern Levant created interaction spheres where the intersections became valuable points of power that states wanted to control.
During the Iron Age I-II transition (ca. 1100-1000 BCE) both the southern and the northern Levant (e. g., Lebanon and Syria) experienced the growth of various secondary states. While this development was not unilateral, or caused by a single variable, historians can document the political gamesmanship that occurred as various polities grew into secondary states and vied for control of the land bridge—more specifically, the two major north-south routes and the two east-west routes. The biblical account of the rise of Saul and the dimin-ishment of the prophet Samuel illustrates this period. As the Philistines were becoming a dominant force in the southern Levant, the Israelites demanded a “king” to organize the tribes into a similar polity. Saul was unable to bring state development about, but he was able to organize the Israelite tribes into a larger tribal confederacy. It was not until David that the political transformation occurred, although it was still based on a fragile social organization and tribal allegiance.