General chronology
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City records - Gibeah

This page summarises the history of Gibeah, as revealed by the Old Testament, other textual sources, and archaeological surveys. Gibeah is best known as the home town of Saul, and is commonly but not definitely identified with Tell el Ful, about 5 km north of Jerusalem. The word Gibeah and its close relatives such as Geba or Gibeath mean "hill" and as such are not uncommon names.

Contents

  1. Old Testament references
  2. Other textual references
  3. Archaeology
  4. Chronological implications

Old Testament references

Joshua 15:57 lists a Gibeah amongst the towns of Judah: however 18:28 lists Gibeath in Benjamite territory. It is possible that neither of these pertain to the Gibeah of interest here. All later passages link Gibeah with the tribe of Benjamin. Judges 19 and 20 describe a conflict between the Benjamites and other Israelites, in the course of which the city was burned.

A considerable number of references in 1 and 2 Samuel refer to it as Saul's home town, and it features prominently in the account of his reign. Other than a few scattered references identifying it as the town of origin of individuals, the next significant mentions are in the prophetic writings of Isaiah and Hosea. Isaiah lists it as a place from which people flee at the Assyrian advance, and Hosea mentions it several times as a representative place of wickedness for Israel. Both of these men lived and spoke in the second half of the 8th century, when the threat of Assyria was becoming more immediate.

A town Geba is also mentioned, and in some cases may refer to the same place. For example, 1 Kings 15:22 (2 Chronicles 16:6) relates how Asa of Judah took stones and timber from Ramah, where Baasha of Israel had been building a border fortification, and used them to build forts of his own at Geba and Mizpah. This could well relate to the same location.

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Other textual references

There are no definite references to Gibeah - a town called Geba is in the campaign lists of Thutmose III and (less certainly) Rameses II, but these may not relate to the town in question here.

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Archaeology

The lowest identified occupation level (Gibeah I) starts in the early Iron Age. This was a fairly poor village with a central, solidly built fortress/tower. A stone base evidently had a wooden superstructure, made of cypress and pine. Both these kinds of wood became scarce in later years. This was destroyed by fire in the second half of the 12th century (conventionally).

Gibeah II again had a central stronghold surrounded by a village, better constructed but not affluent. It fell into ruins in early Iron II.

The fortress (now known as Gibeah III) was rebuilt a little later, this time without a surrounding village. The wood used this time was almond. It was destroyed, again by fire, in the late 8th century during the Assyrian campaigns.

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Chronological implications

Gibeah chronology The diagram to the right shows the relative placement of the archaeological findings and Biblical references to Gibeah in both conventional and New Chronology terms. The Bronze to Iron Age transition is the point of greatest divergence between the two, and this is highlighted by the differences here.

Conventionally the archaeological record and Old Testament references tally, with no special explanations required. The burning of the Gibeah I settlement could correspond with the episode described in Judges 19 and 20. Saul's family dwelt in Gibeah II, and as a settlement it fell into disrepair at some stage after the reign of David. The archaeological date for Gibeah III is around the time of the regnal dates of Asa and Baasha.

However, the New Chronological redefinition of the Late Bronze to Iron Age transition breaks all of these points of correspondence. Judges is redated to the Middle and Late Bronze Ages, and Saul, being parallel to the Amarna period in Egypt, is also well within Late Bronze IIA. Hence the fact that Tell el Ful had no apparent occupation before the start of the Iron Age is difficult. There are a number of possible resolutions. The most obvious is that Tell el Ful is not in fact Gibeah of Saul - an alternative location at the site of the village of Jaba is often suggested. This site has not yet been excavated. Alternatively, perhaps Bronze Age occupation of the site has been overlooked or not yet identified. This is doubtful, but a possibility is that a different location in the vicinity was used in the Bronze Age, and the Iron Age settlement (approximately in Asa's time) was the result of the population moving a short distance. Any of these explanations might be valid: however it is clear that the match in the New Chronology of Tell el Ful with Gibeah is poor.

General chronology