In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Archaeology and Material Culture of the Kingdom of Israel and the Israelites (C. 1000 – 722/21 BCE)

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Historical Geography
  • Regional Surveys
  • Active Excavations (Israel/Palestine)
  • Active Excavations (Jordan)
  • Important Past Excavations
  • Ceramic Remains
  • Zooarchaeological Remains
  • Remains and Methods Accessible via Archaeological Science
  • Epigraphic Remains
  • Iconographic and Other Artistic Remains
  • Historical Syntheses
  • Everyday Life Syntheses
  • Religious Syntheses

Biblical Studies Archaeology and Material Culture of the Kingdom of Israel and the Israelites (C. 1000 – 722/21 BCE)
Jonathan S. Greer
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 October 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0309


Biblical texts describe the foundation of the kingdom of Israel (also known as the “northern kingdom”) as a secession, in which the northern tribes revolted against the installation of Rehoboam son of Solomon and appointed Jeroboam son of Nebat as their king (1 Kgs 12). The resultant kingdom of Israel is described as enduring for some two hundred years reigned by twenty kings from nine dynastic houses (though some “dynasties” are only represented by ephemeral reigns of a single king), a portrayal broadly corroborated by ancient inscriptions, Neo-Assyrian annals, and archaeology for the later 9th and 8th centuries BCE, though archaeological debate surrounds the origins of the kingdom. Its end was ushered in by the devastating 733–732 BCE campaigns of Tiglath-Pileser III that resulted in the annexation of the Upper Galilee, with the final blow coming in 722 or 721 in the conquest of the capital of Samaria following a siege by Shalmanesser V and then Sargon II. The geographical boundaries of the region are described in the Hebrew Bible in terms of cities affiliated with varying degrees of centralization and those boundaries fluctuated some throughout the period. The extent of the kingdom at any given time is difficult to identify archaeologically, but the heartland of the northern central hills remained stable as the capital moved from Shechem to Tirzah and eventually to Samaria under the Omrides (cf. 1 Kgs 12:25; 15:33; 16:24). The kingdom reached its first peak of power and broad geographic extent under the Omrides encompassing the Galilee, the Sharon plain, the Jezreel Valley, and the Jordan Valley as well as regions of the Transjordan. There is also biblical and extrabiblical evidence for northern control of southern regions as far as the Gulf of Aqaba that would have included important caravan routes through the Sinai. Archaeological surveys and site excavations demonstrate the regional prominence of the kingdom, although debate remains regarding the appearance of monumental architecture and other material remains as part of a larger discussion surrounding the end of the Iron Age I and the beginning of the Iron Age II. Expansion under the Omrides in the 9th century BCE brought the kingdom into conflict with other regional kingdoms and the Neo-Assyrian empire, as attested in a number of significant epigraphic discoveries including the Moabite Mesha stela, the Aramean Tel Dan stela, and many neo-Assyrian inscriptions. A second and perhaps more expansive peak of power occurred under the Nimshides in the 8th century BCE, especially during the reign of Jeroboam II, due to the Neo-Assyrian domination of the rival kingdom of Aram Damascus before Assyria set its sights on Samaria. Archaeological discoveries have also shed light on the wealth and economy of the Israelite kingdom and have proved essential in reconstructing religious practices, social structures, and the activities of everyday life.

General Overviews

A number of short surveys provide entry points for explorations of the archaeology of the kingdom of Israel within an historical framework. Earlier treatments Mazar 1992, Barkay 1992, and Campbell 1998 engage material relevant for the “maximalist” and “minimalist” controversies of the ‘90s concerning the value of the Bible for historical reconstruction, with Holladay 1995 attempting to rely exclusively on archaeological data. More recent treatments have shifted toward prioritizing anthropological modes of inquiry illustrated most clearly in Killebrew 2013 and Master 2019, while analyses such as Younker 2017 and Wright and Elliott 2017 illustrate the enduring emphasis on historical questions.

  • Barkay, Gabriel. “The Iron Age II-III.” In The Archaeology of Ancient Israel. Edited by Amnon Ben-Tor, 302–373. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992.

    A standard, still helpful though now somewhat dated summary of the archaeology of the regions associated with both Israel and Judah. Touches on some of the debates as they stood in the early ‘90s and provides helpful figures and images.

  • Campbell, Edward F., Jr. “A Land Divided: Judah and Israel from the Death of Solomon to the Fall of Samaria.” In The Oxford History of the Biblical World. Edited by Michael D. Coogan, 270–319. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

    An historically focused treatment but fully integrated with archaeology and more recent anthropological approaches accompanied by maps, figures, and images.

  • Holladay, John S. “The Kingdoms of Israel and Judah: Political and Economic Centralization in the Iron IIA-B (ca. 1000–750 BCE).” In The Archaeology of Society in the Holy Land. Edited by Thomas E. Levy, 368–398. London: Leicester University Press, 1995.

    A social history of both Judah and Israel driven by an analysis of archaeology and contemporary inscriptions that intentionally deprioritizes the biblical portrayal, now somewhat dated. Focused on the economy in the broader sociopolitical context, material remains are interpreted with reference to then-current anthropological models.

  • Killebrew, Ann E. “Israel During the Iron Age II Period.” In The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of the Levant: c. 8000–332 BCE. Edited by Ann E. Killebrew and Margreet Steiner, 730–742. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

    A concise treatment with special attention to stratigraphic correspondences among important sites commonly understood to be part of the northern kingdom, as well as survey data, and discussions of state formation and trade.

  • Master, Daniel M. “Phases in the History of the Kingdom of Israel.” In The Social Archaeology of the Levant: From Prehistory to the Present. Edited by Assaf Yasur-Landau, Eric H. Cline, and Yorke M. Rowan, 354–370. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2019.

    An updated synthesis of archaeological and textual sources interpreted in light of current theories of state formation and patrimonial kin-based structures. Explores the period before the kingdom and the regional settlement dynamics that inform an understanding of the formation of political structures in the Omride period and in the 8th century BCE.

  • Mazar, Amihai. Archaeology of the Land of the Bible, 10,000–586 B.C.E. The Anchor Bible Reference Library. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

    Standard treatment by one of the preeminent Israeli archeologists active in the region. Presents an archaeological history with much integration of biblical texts deeming them to contain valuable historical information despite their ideological perspective.

  • Wright, J. Edward, and Mark Elliott. “Israel and Judah under Assyria’s Thumb.” In The Old Testament in Archaeology and History. Edited by Jennie Ebeling, J. Edward Wright, Mark Elliott, and Paul V. M. Flesher, 433–475. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2017.

    A synthetic overview combing analyses of biblical and ancient Near Eastern texts with archaeology covering the final days of the kingdom of Israel alongside the history of Judah in relation to Assyria, with discussions of methodology, literacy, and religion.

  • Younker, Randall W. “Israel: The Prosperous Northern Kingdom.” In The Old Testament in Archaeology and History. Edited by Jennie Ebeling, J. Edward Wright, Mark Elliott, and Paul V. M. Flesher, 363–389. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2017.

    An archaeologically informed historical overview of the kingdom of Israel with a discussion of historical methodology followed by a survey of the various phases from the division of the kingdom and the Sheshonq invasion through the Assyrian conquest, with reference to important sites and finds.

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