Biblical City of Libnah Found, Archaeologists Surmise

Finds at Tel Burna increasingly strengthen the theory that the town was a Judahite stronghold; it also dates to Libnah's era, the 7th century BCE.

Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster
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"Area B" in Tel Burna, where cultic finds were made.
"Area B" in Tel Burna, where cultic finds were made.Credit: Skyview, courtesy of Itzhaq Shai
Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster

Have archaeologists found the long-lost city of Libnah, the Judahite border city that revolted against the "godless" king Jehoram? Some think Tel Burna, a hillside dig of a town in south-central Israel that was occupied for several thousand years, from the Bronze Age to the end of the Iron Age, fits the ticket.

Importantly, the archaeologists found evidence of fortification, which is what a border town would be expected to have – especially when located right between the remains of two ancient biblical-era cities, the Philistine city of Gath and the Judahite city of Lachish.

"Our findings strengthen the hypothesis that it is Libnah," says Itzhaq Shai, a senior lecturer at Ariel University. Crucially, the digging at Tel Burna has shown that it is from the appropriate time-frame, the entire Iron Age II including the 7th century BCE, and the more the site is excavated, the clearer the town's identity as a Judahite border town becomes, he told Haaretz.

Chronicles II (9-11) says: "Then Jehoram crossed over with his commanders and all his chariots with him. And he arose by night and struck down the Edomites who were surrounding him and the commanders of the chariots. So Edom revolted against Judah to this day. Then Libnah revolted at the same time against his rule, because he had forsaken the Lord God of his fathers."

Moreover, the age of the remains is appropriate. "According to the bible, Hamutal daughter of Jeremiah, the wife of King Josiah, came from Libnah and we know she lived in 7th century BCE," Shai explains.

Aerial view of the Tel Burna archaeology site.Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Other towns have been found in the region, of course, but date to earlier periods, not the era of Hamutal, Shai explains (Jeremiah 52:1 – "Zedekiah was one and twenty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. And his mother's name was Hamutal the daughter of Jeremiah of Libnah.")

The Judahite remains at Tel Burna are from the right era – although the site also has extensive pagan findings from an earlier time, the late Bronze Age.

Among the cultic finds confusing the issue, leading to speculation that the city was a pagan center, were masks, plaque figurines and zoomorphic (animal-shaped) vessels, apparently of Cypriot origin. The archaeologists also found a small, three-headed circular imported from Cyprus. Other finds lending credence to cultic practices included goblets, chalices, cups and saucers commonly associated with cultic assemblages. But these findings were from an earlier, Canaanite period and in any case, were not associated with the later Judahic period, Shai explains.

With reporting by Julia Fridman

A piece of mask found at Tel Burna, seen roughly where it would have fit. Doesn't mean the site was a cultic hub.Credit: Itzhaq Shai

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