August 22, 2007
The July-August issue of Biblical Archaeology Review includes a very interesting article entitled “Lost Tombs of the Israelite Kings” (pp. 26-35). The article, by Norma Franklin, re-examined previous archaeological findings at the site of ancient Samaria, the capital of the ancient kingdom of Israel, and concluded that one or two of the tombs of ancient Israelite kings had been found.
Ms. Franklin’s article notes that the site chosen by King Omri to be Israel’s new capital (I Kings 16:23-24) was “not simply a small family estate, as might be inferred from a simplistic reading of the biblical text, but a major commercial enterprise…probably for wine and oil production. Based on just the cisterns we know about, they would have held almost 100,000 gallons of liquid. Pre-Omride Samaria was thus a vital economic hub.” The site of ancient Samaria lies “about 30 miles northeast of Tel Aviv.” This archaeological evidence indicates that King Omri not only chose a site which was militarily defensible, but also one which was already a location to which the Israelite population already regularly traveled for commercial purposes.
The article also describes how the Romans inadvertently preserved some Israelite royal tombs and part of Omri’s palace by building Roman structures over them when the city of Sebaste was built during the reign of Herod the Great.
Ms. Franklin also notes that the Bible records that six Israelite kings were buried at Samaria (see I Kings 16:28, 22:37; II Kings 10:35, 13:9 and 14:16, 29). Her archaeological analysis reveals, credibly, that two of the royal tombs were preserved and now recognized for what they were. She proposes that the two tombs belonged to King Omri and King Ahab (or possibly King Omri and his wife). The way the tombs were built into the foundation of the city’s original structures strongly argues that one of the tombs must have been intended for King Omri.
Her article also mentions that the Israelite capital city was expanded during a later time, and she proposes that this was during the time of King Jeroboam II. This makes sense as the kingdom of Israel was enjoying a period of resurgent strength under King Jeroboam II (II Kings 14:23-29). Israel would have had the economic means to fund additional construction during a time when Israel was victorious in its wars and expanding its domains. This expansion at Samaria would then have occurred during the ministry of the prophet Jonah.
I recommend the full article to those who would like to examine this subject in greater detail. If you do not subscribe to Biblical Archaeology Review, you should be able to find it at a city or college library, especially the libraries of private colleges which have Christian denominational affilaitions.