Assyrians Came, Conquered, and Kicked Everyone Out: Tablets Reveal 2,700-year-old Relocation

Cuneiform records show land sales 2,700 years ago in Hadid, central Israel, were made to people with entirely foreign names

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Tombs in Tel Hadid
Tombs and installations in Tel HadidCredit: Daniel Warner
Philippe Bohstrom
Philippe Bohstrom
Philippe Bohstrom
Philippe Bohstrom

Two clay tablets found in Hadid recording loans and land sales in the seventh century B.C.E. indicate that most of the people living in the town, between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem today, were foreign, not Israelites, archaeologists say.

In fact, the former territory of the Kingdom of Israel may have had very few Israelites left during the 7th century B.C.E., archaeological evidence suggests.

The two tablets, made of clay and inscribed in cuneiform, have been dated to the time of Assyrian rule over the Southern Levant: the eighth and seventh century B.C.E. They name several individuals, none with typical Hebrew names.

The town of Hadid perches on a hill, covering a vast 50 hectares, making it one of the largest archaeological sites in Israel.

It first arose, it seems, in the second millennium B.C.E., assuming it is the Huditi mentioned in the Karnak list of towns conquered by Egyptian Pharaoh Thutmose III. Numerous pottery sherds have been dated to the Late Bronze Age, meaning occupation of the site goes back at least 3,600 years.

During the following biblical period, the settlement grew well beyond the mound. Among the structures uncovered in the excavation is a pillared four-room house, typical of the Iron Age in the Levant. And as said, the archaeologists uncovered evidence of non-Israelite influences.

Aside from the tablets showing land sales to people with strange names, a seal has been found with the emblem of the Assyrian moon god Sin. That was discovered during this season of excavations led by Eli Yannai, formarly of the Israel Antiquities Authority; Ido Koch of Tel Aviv University and Dan Warner of the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

The shadow of Assyria

There were two main centers of worship for the moon god Sin: Ur in the south and Harran in the north. And as Assyria spread its wings over the lands of Syria and Palestine – its gods came too.

“The iconography of the moon god spread across the Levant in the seventh century B.C.E.. We found it in a secured archaeological context of the seventh century B.C.E. and hence we can speculate about its connection to an agent of the Assyrian Empire,” says Koch.

One tablet, found in the courtyard of the pillared house, documents a land sale in the year 698 or 697 B.C.E.. The other tablet was inside a different structure and documents a loan in the year 665 or 664 B.C.E.

This money was lent to what appears to have been a family for a three-month period by a Mesopotamian living in the area of the former Israelite kingdom. The borrower, according to the document, used his wife and sister as collateral and promised to pay punitive interest amounting to a third of the sum if he did not return the loan on time.

Both documents feature Akkadian, perhaps Babylonian, and Aramaean names of several individuals. No local, Yahwistic name is mentioned.

Why would the area of the former Kingdom of Israel, north of Jerusalem, become thronged by non-Israelites?

Tel HadidCredit: Daniel Warner

The Netanyahu of Gezer

A silver cross found in a Byzantine-period burialCredit: Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University

During the mid-eight century B.C.E., the Assyrians under the leadership of Tiglath-Pileser III grew in all directions. Order was maintained in the realm by means of a program of mass deportation and transplantation of conquered peoples.

Scholars have interpreted the clay tablets found in Hadid as evidence of the Assyrian kings’ relocation drive. In fact, archaeologists have uncovered similar evidence of forced migration in the nearby regional capital of Gezer.

Gezer was a major regional center, located only a few kilometers away from Hadid. It was probably conquered by Tiglath-Pileser III in 734 B.C.E. and after some years, it was rebuilt. A handful of Assyrian-style architectural elements and an assemblage of Assyrian-style cylinder seals, were connected to this phase in the history of Gezer.

There archaeologists had found two other clay tablets composed in Assyrian style like those from Hadid, dealing with land sales in the mid-seventh century B.C.E.. Among the individuals mentioned, 12 bear Mesopotamian names, five probable Aramaic names, one Egyptian and one had a Yahwistic name: Netanyahu.

The evidence from Hadid and Gezer provides solid evidence regarding the notorious Assyrian policy of deportation, says Koch.

It seems the Assyrians forcibly relocated hundreds of thousands of people to other places within the realm of conquered lands during their 100 years of domination over the Levant. The apparent purpose behind the harsh policy was to break the spirit of the national groups and weaken or eliminate potential rebellion.

Relocating vanquished peoples seems to have been quite a norm in biblical times. Something similar apparently happened in the territory of the Kingdom of Israel.

In 722 B.C.E., after the son of Tiglath-Pileser III, Shalmaneser V, had conquered the kingdom, he continued his father’s policy of expelling the locals and replacing them with foreigners.

During the following centuries, through to the Persian Period (539 B.C.E.-332 B.C.E.) the people of Assyria and the vanquished Israel seem to have become entwined.

For instance, several governors of Israel during the Persian period are named Sanballat, an Akkadian name (meaning Sin-Ubalit=”The moon god Sin has begotten”). Letters found in an archive in the island of Elephantine, in southern Egypt, show that one of these governors, ruling during the late fifth century B.C.E., had children with Yahwistic names: Delilah and Shelemiah. The implication is that the Israelites and Mesopotamians were mixing in this area, Koch says.

Hasmoneans at war

Somewhat more recent ruins from the Hellenistic period discovered in the upper city of Hadid during two previous excavation seasons include what seem to be the corner of a fortification wall and a tower built during the Hasmonean period, perhaps by Simon Maccabeus in 165 B.C.E. during the war with Seleucid general, Diodotus Tryphon

And Simon built Adiada in Sephela, and fortified it, and set up gates and bars.” -(Maccabees 12:38; 13:13).

While digging up the Hellenistic fortifications, the archaeologists also found a grenade, identified as an imitation of a British Mills 26 grenade made by the Haganah forces. It was found with several bullet casings. These probably date to the Israeli war of independence in 1948.

However, in antiquity, located past the Jerusalem foothills, the city controlled the east-west road to Jerusalem and the north-south coastal road between Mesopotamia and Egypt. It is also located in one of the most fertile areas in the land, and indeed the majority of the population farmed, producing wine and olive oil. More then 25 olive presses as well as several rock-hewn wine presses have been discovered at the site.

It was clearly a site of strategic significance for occupying armies. The Jewish-Roman historian Flavius Josephus writes that a Roman garrison was stationed there during the First Jewish War (Antiquities 13:5-6;2).

The town continued to exist in the Byzantine period, 330 CE – 638 C.E., a period of major growth throughout Israel, one in which Hadid appears to have taken part. Finds from the time at Hadid include, from which ceramic vessels, oil lamps, and a silver crucifix have been found, as well as jewelry, glass, coins and a mosaic pavement with Nilotic scenes dating to the 6th century.

Hadid was explicitly mentioned by the Church Father Eusebius, (260/265–339/340 CE). He called it Haditha and identified it as the site of “Adithai”m, a town in the allotment of Judah (Joshua 15:36).

Among the discoveries this season was a very large wine press about 6 meter in diameter, which was cut into bedrock and also appears to date to the Byzantine period.

Occupation continued in the Islamic and Ottoman periods, according to pottery fragments - until 1948. In that year of Israeli independence, the village of el-Haditha was evacuated. It was briefly resettled by a kibbutz that was abandoned after just two years.

In 1952 Moshav Hadid was founded on the plain to the west of the mound. It exists to this day.



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