An aerial view of the excavations at Tamar. (Credit: Israel Antiquities Authority)

(… so Solomon rebuilt Gezer) and Lower Beth-horon and Baalath and Tamar in the wilderness, in the land of Judah, and all the store cities that Solomon had, and the cities for his chariots, and the cities for his horsemen, and whatever Solomon desired to build in Jerusalem, in Lebanon, and in all the land of his dominion. – 1 Kings 9:17-19 (ESV)

Some think a recent excavation at Biblical Tamar Park in southern Israel has unearthed the entrance to one of Solomon’s store cities. Paul Lago, one of the archeological workers at the site, believes the gates he helped uncover in this recent dig led to one of the fortified cities described in the Book of First Kings.

“The Bible says that Solomon built a fortress in the desert,” Lago told Breaking Israel News. “The archeological evidence is consistent with 1 King 9:19, where it says Solomon built Tamar in the wilderness.”

Volunteers dig at the excavation site. (Credit: Screenshot)

Lago is associated with the Christian organization Blossoming Rose, which has taken responsibility for the welfare and development of Biblical Tamar Park in recent years.

Archeologist Dr. Tali Erickson-Gini, who led the excavation at the park on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, is grateful for the organization’s watch-care over this ancient archeological site. However, she disagrees with Lago’s conclusion. According to Breaking News Israel, Erickson-Gini says archeological evidence indicates the gates were constructed after Solomon’s reign. A majority of scholars believe that the Bible indicates that Solomon reigned in the 10th Century BC from year 970 to year 930. Some have slightly different opinions with one tradition putting the dates for Solomon about 45 years older. Breaking Israel News refers to the fortress gate as 9th century BC.

Despite her skepticism about the gate’s Solomonic origin, Erickson-Gini is optimistic the work being done at Biblical Tamar Park will bring researchers closer to understanding exactly who built this city entrance.

“We are working on very ancient parts of the site, which includes a four-chambered gate,” Erickson-Gini told the news service. She adds, “Hopefully, we will find some new evidence . . .”

Gates Tied to Larger Debate

Whether or not the gate was constructed by Solomon could have a huge impact in another debate among scholars. Some today openly express doubts that a United Monarchy ruled Israel from about 1050 BC to 930 BC. They cite the lack of archeological evidence for such a powerful and cosmopolitan polity. Instead of Solomon’s wealth and thriving international trade, the chronology and archaeological evidence puts his kingdom into perhaps Canaan’s most impoverished period. For the same reason, many doubt that kings David and Solomon as described in the stories, ever existed outside the pages of the Hebrew Bible, which they say was written much later and contained many fictional events and characters.

However, Biblical Tamar Park, which contains the ruins of a fortified city, is just down the road from huge mines in the Aravah Valley, 180 miles south of Jerusalem, which were written about in a recent article by Haaretz Daily. Archaeologists agree that these mines at Timna, Faynan and other locations in the region produced “more than 100,000 tons of slag” which remains to this day. The slag is a by-product of a long and fruitful copper mining industry.

First image, copper ore found at Timna. Second image, clay nozzle of a bellow pipe from a copper smelting installation, found in the Timna mines, 10th century BC. (Credit: Erez Ben-Yosef/TV Project)

Everyone agrees the mining operations were carried on by nomadic Edomites, according to Haaretz. What is debated is whether or not these nomads had the resources and the political will to manage such an operation. Some say a copper mine of this magnitude must have been supplied and overseen by a strong political entity such as Egypt. But Haaretz notes that Egypt was in decline at the time, and no Egyptian pottery has been found in those 10th Century excavations.

Others suggest that a strong political entity may well have been the Davidic dynasty with King Solomon on the throne. A United Monarchy would have needed huge quantities of copper for weapons and agricultural tools—and for the king’s many building projects.

The Bible says King David had earlier conquered the Edomites, and Chapter 7 of the Book of First Kings contains detailed accounts of the embellishments ordered by Solomon for the temple he constructed. Below are two of the larger embellishments.

He cast two pillars of bronze. Eighteen cubits was the height of one pillar, and a line of twelve cubits measured its circumference. It was hollow, and its thickness was four fingers. The second pillar was the same. He also made two capitals of cast bronze to set on the tops of the pillars. The height of the one capital was five cubits, and the height of the other capital was five cubits. – 1 King 7:15-16 (ESV)

Then he made the sea of cast metal. It was round, ten cubits from brim to brim, and five cubits high, and a line of thirty cubits measured its circumference. Under its brim were gourds, for ten cubits, compassing the sea all around. The gourds were in two rows, cast with it when it was cast. It stood on twelve oxen, three facing north, three facing west, three facing south, and three facing east. The sea was set on them, and all their rear parts were inward. Its thickness was a handbreadth, and its brim was made like the brim of a cup, like the flower of a lily. It held two thousand baths. – 1King 7:23-26 (ESV)

Editor’s Note: Bronze is an alloy most often containing about 88% copper and 12% tin. So most of the building material required here for the columns and for the “sea of cast metal” would have been copper.

As the scriptures read, these embellishments range from hollow copper pillars to a “sea of cast metal” which Haaretz identifies as a basin used by the priests for washing. The newspaper estimates this basin had a displacement volume of 66 tons.

Professor Gabriel Barkay holding tiling believed to be form the Second Temple courtyard. (Credit: Moshe Menagen)

Professor Gabriel Barkay, director of the Temple Mount Sifting Project, believes Chapter 7 of the Book of First Kings contains the actual dimensions of the embellishments Solomon ordered for the First Temple and is therefore a reliable historical record rather than simply a theological treatise written year later.

“These descriptions do not make any sense on theological grounds,” Barkay told Haaretz. “There is no (other) reason to specify these technical details that basically are instructions to the contractor.”

If, as Barkay insinuates, the Biblical dimensions were real and so was the construction of the temple, then an enormous source of copper would have been needed. It would have made sense for Solomon to build a fortress city like Tamar in the wilderness to supply and protect the mines that produced the embellishments for the temple.

In the following generation, Solomon’s son Rehoboam would also replace all the gold shields taken by Pharaoh Shishak with ones made of bronze (1 Kings 14:25-27).

A Matter of Time

But what about those who suspect the age of the gates to be much later than Solomon? This may seem like bad news for the validity of the Bible, but facts are facts. The interesting thing is, that if it becomes established that these gates (along with other “Solomonic” gates such as at Megiddo) are in fact from after Solomon’s time, then that actually fits nicely into the New Chronology proposed by David Rohl.

Rohl believes the dates for archaeological periods before about 700 BC have been overinflated, and need to be reduced drastically. By the time of King Solomon, the dates would be off by three centuries or more under Rohl’s system. Because the Bible’s dating system is separate and independent, the shift would bring Egypt’s 19th Dynasty forward into the time of Solomon.

From the David Rohl Lectures: An ornate scene carved on ivory from Megiddo in the Late Bronze Age, showing a king seated on a winged-lion throne, approached by a queen bearing Egyptian lotus flowers, and surrounded by a psalmist and doves. Solomon’s name means “peace.” He married an Egyptian queen and reigned in a period when many of the biblical psalms were written. The wealth of the ivory collection found at Megiddo also fits the wealth of Solomon’s reign. (Copyright Patterns of Evidence, LLC 2015)

If the dates assigned to archaeological periods shifted forward by this amount, the biblical dates for Solomon would also put him into the highpoint of wealth and trade in Canaan – the Late Bronze Age before its collapse. Archaeological finds from this older (and deeper in the ground at dig sites) period of history actually fit the Bible’s description of the time of Solomon remarkably well, as can be seen in this previous Thinker Update that includes a video from the David Rohl Lecture Series.

Rohl points to a factor seen in news articles about the copper mines help make his point. In a comment on his Facebook page, he wrote:

“Copper exploited and controlled by Cyprus until 1200 BC (according to the article). [Kings] David and Solomon took over the copper trade (based at Timnah) from 1050 BC (again according to the article). See a problem here?”

Rohl went on to explain that the articles imply that the copper trade shifted from Cyprus to Israel when Israel began exploiting the Timna copper mines. But there is a 230-year gap between the collapse of the Cyprus copper trade and the reign of Solomon. Moreover, the Timna operations ceased at the beginning of the 20th Dynasty (standard date of about 1200 BC) when the Egyptian presence at Timna disappears.

The anomaly of the copper gap is entirely resolved with the New Chronology, because Solomon married Pharaoh’s daughter, and in the New Chronology this pharaoh is Ramesses II. This would have been when the Timna mines were in full operation during the 19th Dynasty, thus removing the anomalous gap of 230 years when (under the standard view) no copper industry seems to have been in existence throughout the Middle East.

This would also mean the paradigm of calling these “Solomonic” gates would have to change. In the New Chronology the gates were a style that was actually used by kings later in Israel and Judah’s history as these sites continued to be occupied. We will monitor these issues as more news and discoveries come out of the lands of the Bible. It is important not to hold too tightly to any particular view of chronology while assessing the different finds and how they might fit into the puzzle of ancient history. And as always, keep on thinking!