Christina Nelson, Jeffrey Chadwick, Church History and Doctrine
As the home to several Old Testament prophets such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and King David, Hebron holds a significant role in the biblical narrative and history of the Israelites. Today, the modern city of Hebron is located in the hill country of Judah, most known for the Tomb of the Patriarchs and the Cave of Machpelah. Fifty years ago the site of Tell er-Rumeide/Hebron was excavated by Philip C. Hammond as the American Expedition to Hebron (AEH). He excavated between the years of 1964-1966 until the war of 1967 necessitated his withdrawal. Dr. Hammond willed to Jeffrey R. Chadwick the ceramic collection from those three seasons of excavations. Our purpose for this project was to reexamine the collection of pottery sherds in order to determine if the current understanding was correct regarding the stratigraphy of Tell er-Rumeide or if there needed to be any revisions.
We primarily focused on the pottery from the Middle Bronze, Late Bronze, and Iron Age periods. Within this context we were concerned in determining the nature of the Late Bronze age settlement at the site. Previously, it was believed that the city of Hebron had been abandoned during the Late Bronze Age while the Middle Bronze Age settlement was a robust town. Our objective was to determine if this hypothesis was correct according to the ceramic evidence.
We met for an hour twice a week in a temporary lab set up in the JSB which contained the entire AEH sherd collection. This collection consisted of bags of pottery separated according to area and level. We systematically reviewed ceramic pieces from each level in an area, re-sorting and identifying the sherds based on the most current pottery classification 1. As we examined the bags we recorded our readings and noted any variations from Hammond’s initial assessments.
Though we have not yet been able to sort through the entire collection, as we examined the ceramic collection thus far we came to see some interesting deviations. While there was evidence from every stratigraphic layer of the Early Bronze, Middle Bronze II, Late Bronze, Iron I, Iron II, Hellenistic and Herodian periods, there were some incorrect classifications in the original report. Consequently, we noticed that some features for categorization upon which Hammond based his classifications have been refined in the intervening years. For instance, what had once been thought to be Roman period pottery can now be identified more specifically as Hellenistic. Accordingly, it appears that the Hellenistic presence was actually quite larger than Hammond had recorded. 1 Much of our classification was based upon the reference guide from Ruth Amiran, Ancient Pottery of the Holy Land: From Its Beginnings in the Neolithic Period to the End of the Iron Age (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1970). Likewise many sherds that had been associated with the Middle Bronze level were in fact later, signifying a smaller MB presence than had previously been assumed. As well, we discovered a much greater occurrence of Late Bronze ceramic ware…
In five of the six areas opened on the tell, there was ceramic evidence of LB occupation. Two areas in particular provided strong evidence of the LB level: Area 1 and Area 6. Between the two, a total of 154 identifiable and indicative LB sherds were found. This amount was greater than the total number of MBII sherds in all strata of those areas. In Area 1 we identified 68 sherds to the Late Bronze period, while 40 to the Middle Bronze. Likewise in Area 6 there were 86 LB sherds and 83 from the MB period.
Hammond’s initial assessment had been that the LB presence was smaller than the MB settlement. Accordingly, Avi Ofer concluded in The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land that, “During the Late Bronze Age the city of Hebron was abandoned”2 While Dr. Chadwick has done some work to challenge this opinion, our work in the AEH publication project served to support the new theory that there was in fact a substantial Late Bronze period population at Hebron. Not only that, but it appears the population in this period was possibly larger than that of the previous Middle Bronze town.
Dr. Chadwick, another student, and I submitted a proposal and were accepted to present our findings at the annual conference of the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) held in San Diego in November of this year. I co-presented our paper entitled “The Late Bronze Age at Hebron (Tell er-Rumeide): A Reevaluation on the 50th Anniversary of the American Expedition to Hebron.” Our paper was based on the data collected from our research as well as the site reports from Hammond. We compared area features such as the Middle Bronze fortification wall and Late Bronze layers with the new ceramic evidence. Through the revised evidence we gathered in our work on the ceramic collection, we were able to confidently argue the strong Late Bronze presence at Hebron.
2 Avi Ofer, “Hebron” in New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land vol.2 ed. E. Stern (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993), 608.