Naboth and King Ahab. (Image credit: Moody Publishers/FreeBibleimages.org)
Now Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard in Jezreel, beside the palace of Ahab king of Samaria. And after this Ahab said to Naboth, “Give me your vineyard, that I may have it for a vegetable garden, because it is near my house, and I will give you a better vineyard for it; or, if it seems good to you, I will give you its value in money.” – 1 Kings 21:1-2 (ESV)
The Bible relates the dramatic story of a wicked king and queen of Israel who steal a man’s vineyard in Jezreel by means of false accusations and murder. Now with the help of modern technology, discoveries have been made that shed light on this story and may even have located the area where the events are said to have happened.
We don’t read much in the biblical account about Jezreel until the time of King Ahab when he built a palace in the town. According to the Bible, Ahab lived there in residence with queen Jezebel. The queen’s quarters overlooked the valley on the eastern side of the palace. To the east of the city is where it is believed a vineyard flourished that belonged to a man named Naboth. The king desired the land for himself to make it into a garden of vegetables and herbs.
Naboth refused Ahab’s offer to purchase the vineyard and part with his inheritance. This greatly displeased the king and seeing him distressed, Jezebel took matters into her own hands. She made false accusations about Naboth, which resulted in him being stoned to death. Once Naboth was dead, Ahab was free to take possession of the vineyard.
Jezebel and Ahab Meeting Elijah in Naboth’s Vineyard Giclee. Print by Sir Frank Dicksee. (Public Domain)
On his way to acquire the vineyard, Ahab was confronted by the prophet Elijah who declared the act against Naboth as vile, and pronounced a judgment against the king and the royal house. This judgement was postponed due to his repentance, but ultimately was carried out against him, his son and wife Jezebel.
Recently, using laser technology some remarkable discoveries have been made in the Jezreel Valley. Archaeologist Dr. Norma Franklin shares a critical view that Biblical scholars may be at odds with. And while not religious in her personal life, just as she told us during our interview for Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus, the Bible continues to be a relevant source for her work in Israel.
Dr. Norma Franklin appearing in the documentary film Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus. (©2014 Patterns of Evidence. LLC)
Dr. Franklin ascertains that based on the evidence found, we can say that this was a region that produced wine. The remnants of wine and oil presses and the most recent discovery that shows over 100 bottle-shaped pits carved into the bedrock indicates a vineyard was established here. She suggests that these pits could have been used to store wine.
LiDar map of Jezreel area. Wineary in Area K (credit: Jezreel Expedition)
While Dr. Franklin confirms the Biblical narrative of the existence of a vineyard in Jezreel she also told Breaking Israel News
, “As an archaeologist, I cannot say that there was definitely a specific man named Naboth who had a particular vineyard,” She told Breaking Israel News. “The story is very old but from what I have found, I can say that the story as described in the Bible quite probably could have occurred here in the Jezreel.”
Jezreel and Surrounding Region. (credit: Biblos.com)
… And the Israelites were encamped by the spring that is in Jezreel.– 1 Samuel 29:1 (ESV)
In an article that details many of the findings, Dr. Franklin and her team found in Jezreel; She notes that in Scripture, reference is made to a spring in Jezreel, which still exists today. It would have provided fresh water to to those that lived there and provided for a rich agriculture and grazing environment. Dr. Franklin’s team also had information on a soil test that had been done. Noting that the conditions at Area K (possible vineyard location) were excellent for growing grapes. However just to the west, soil conditions were much better for growing olives.
Directly north to the area thought to be a vineyard, there is evidence of a winery. In the ancient era, it would been common to have the two very close to each other. The details of a rather large rock formation also make a rather clear argument for this area being the home of a winery. In Franklin’s article she notes the findings in detail:
- A square rock-cut treading floor measuring 3.2 meters on each side.
- Two adjacent rock-cut vats each ca. 1.3 meters square and over one meter deep.
- The treading floor, which slopes down toward a vat, Vat 1, and is connected to it by a 15 centimeter long, 5 centimeter wide, rock-cut channel.
- A sump for collecting liquids in the northwest corner of Vat 1.
- Another vat, Vat 2, located to the east of the treading floor but not connected to it.
- A deep circular basin, northeast of the treading floor, ca. 1 meter in diameter, that possibly functioned as another vat.
Treading floor draining to into vat 1 (credit: Jezreel Expedition)
Franklin compares the winery found at Jezreel to a similar set-up found in Samaria, giving further support that this rock formation was used as a winery. She also explains that there are evidential texts that support the stories of large volumes of wine and opulent dining at the same time as Naboth is believed to have a vineyard. The evidence she cites tells of Ashurnasirpal II of Assyria providing 10,000 wineskins at a party at his new palace in Calah for his guests. She notes that while there isn’t textual evidence of the same level of entertaining in ancient Israel, we do know that wine “flowed freely at the Israelite capital, Samaria. Archaeologists have recovered over one hundred wine dockets (receipts for taxes paid in wine), in the form of ostraca (inscribed pottery sherds), that testify to wine having been brought in to the capital.”
However, Franklin thinks she sees a disconnect between the culture and biblical text, explaining that during the ninth and sixth centuries B.C. wine was listed among basic military supplies. In the Iron Age, Jezreel was a military center and could likely have been the center for Ahab’s chariot strength. Access to a vineyard in the heart of Jezreel would have handsomely supplied his troops. So it seems strange to her that Ahab would have suggested to Naboth that he wanted to acquire his vineyard and turn it into a garden.
And after this Ahab said to Naboth, “Give me your vineyard, that I may have it for a vegetable garden, because it is near my house, and I will give you a better vineyard for it; or, if it seems good to you, I will give you its value in money.” – 1 Kings 21:2 (ESV)
However, the text also indicates that there were other and better vineyards in the vicinity. So choosing to make a vineyard close to his palace into a garden as a source for his personal menu seems consistent with the vanity of this king as described in the text. We can’t surmise the hidden intentions of a man. For now, we can only judge by the physical evidence at hand, which once again is found to be consistent with the claims of the Bible. Keep Thinking!