6. The Fortifications
Both Wright and Stager believe that Abimelech destroyed the temple of
Shechem circa 1175 BC (or whenever Abimelech lived), but they differ
as to which temple was destroyed. Wright believed at first that it
was the migdal or fortress temple that was destroyed by Abimelech,
but he subsequently gave this view up and adopted the theory that the
LB temple was destroyed by Abimelech, and that the migdal was
destroyed at the end of the Middle Bronze age. He says:
"It was noted...that Shechem has a gap in its history as a city of
nearly a century's duration, between ca. 1540 and 1450 B.C. [sic].
That Temple 1 was completely destroyed in the destruction of the city
by the Egyptians [sic] is indicated by the fact that the rebuilding
in the Late Bronze Age, perhaps by a father or grandfather of
Lab'ayu, is quite different from the original structure." (Wright,
*Shechem*, p. 95.)
As we have seen, Stager rejects Wright's view, and denies the
existence of an LB temple. He dates the migdal's destruction to the
Iron age. Thus, both Wright and Stager hold that Abimelech's
destruction of the Shechem temple (whichever it was) took place in
the Iron age -- the period usually ascribed to Abimelech in
conventional chronology. The view of Courville, however, is that
it's not just the temple that needs to be explained, but also the
destruction of the city itself -- its walls and gates. If
conventional chronology is correct, why is there no evidence for the
destruction of Shechem's *fortifications* between the MB2c strata and
the Iron 2 strata? Courville says,
"[I]f this assumption [that the migdal survived to Abimelech's day]
were to be considered permissible, then there should be
archaeological evidence of an additional and later destruction [of
the East gate] between Middle Bronze IIC, in the 16th century, and
the much later destruction c. 800 B.C. After all, the Abimelech
story emphasizes the total and complete destruction of the *city*
with only incidental mention of the burning of the roof over the
heads of the people who had gathered in the hold for refuge."
(*Exodus Problem*, Vol. 2, p. 181.)
Courville argued that the massive MB2c temple was the temple
destroyed by Abimelech, and that the destruction of the city's
fortifications at the end of MB2c should also be ascribed to
Abimelech: "The date however is not 1600-1550 B.C. When it is
recognized that the proper background for the Conquest belongs to the
end of Early Bronze, then this destruction in Middle Bronze II C is
to be correlated with the period of the late judges, and this is
where the story of Abimelech is found in Scripture." (*Exodus
Problem*, Vol. 2, p. 186.) It hardly needs to be said that New
Courville agrees with this aspect of Courville's chronology.
If Stager's claim is false that the MB2c migdal of Shechem survived
down to the Iron age, it might be thought that there is evidence for
a destruction of temple 2b, the one Wright eventually decided on as
the temple destroyed by Abimelech. Wright mentions that he found
carbonized material at this level in the LB temple, and it might be
inferred from this that some sort of "violent disturbance" took
place. The fact is though, whatever may have happened to the LB
temple, the excavators found no violent disturbance of the
fortifications of the city during the LB/IA transition. Note that
it's very important to distinguish between the temple and the
fortifications of the city. If the temple was destroyed, or pulled
down, or burned with fire, it must have happened at the end of the
Late Bronze Age or beginning of the Iron age since Iron 1A debris was
in the pits after the temple's presumed destruction. (*Shechem*, p.
102). And if Wright is correct in locating this period in the time
of Abimelech, we should also expect to see -- as Courville argued --
the fortifications of the city demolished during this general time
Here are some basic facts regarding the fortifications of the city:
Wall A---------------------MB2c, late "Hyksos"
Wall B---------------------MB2c, late "Hyksos"
Wall C---------------------MB2c, early "Hyksos"
C-Embankment---------------MB2c, early "Hyksos"
Wall D---------------------MB2b, pre-"Hyksos"
Wall E---------------------MB2c, late "Hyksos"
East Gate------------------MB2c, late "Hyksos"
Northwest Gate-------------MB2c, late "Hyksos"
Wall D was the earliest wall and served as the western edge of the
sacred acropolis (the temenos area). Eventually, the C-Embankment
used wall D as an inner retaining wall and wall C as an exterior
retaining wall (both walls apparently covered over when the
embankment was later extended). Wall A was connected to the North
West gate and seems to have circled the whole city. Later, wall B
and the East Gate were added *within* the wall A system to strengthen
it, while wall E was also added for extra strength at the end of the
Stratum 15: This is the last MB2c level, and provides evidence of
massive destruction of the city. There is little need to review all
this evidence since it is widely accepted, but there are some curious
facts that most scholars, including Courville, have not discussed.
If the end of the MB2c strata represents the time of Abimelech, then
we should expect to find the inhabitants strengthening the
fortifications of the city at the end of MB2c period. During their
rebellion against Abimelech, the Israelites living in Shechem, were
fortifying the city under the leadership of Gaal ben-Ebed. Judges
"When Zebul, the ruler of the city, heard the words of Gaal the son
of Ebed, his anger was aroused. And he sent messengers to Abimelech
secretly, saying, 'Take note! Gaal the son of Ebed and his brothers
have come to Shechem; and here they are, fortifying the city against
According to Wright: "Hence the Wall A system belongs to MB II C,
but during the course of the same period it was strengthened on the
east and north by the Wall B system" (*Shechem*, p. 69).
Furthermore, "The nature of this fortification system and the fact
that in both Fields III and I it is above and just 11 m. (36 ft.)
inside Wall A, proves that it was built as a means of strengthening
the Wall A system from the Northwest Gate around to the East Gate,
and on south beyond the limit of excavations. The fact that the bank
between the two in Field III was a cemented glacis is a further
support to this conclusion....One would think that this intensive
effort would indeed have made an impregnable city." (Ibid., p. 71.)
No doubt the followers of Gaal ben Ebed thought so themselves.
Wright further says, "Wall A and Fortress-temple 1a were erected
about 1650 B.C. [sic], during the period of the Fifteenth Dynasty,
when concentration of power was great. Yet it was also a time when
*security* was the paramount concern, and the people of Shechem, as
elsewhere, were willing to exert themselves to unparalleled efforts
in fortification for self-defense." (*Shechem*, p. 100.)
All to no avail.
In the first part of this essay (surveying the biblical data for what
went on at Shechem), it was noted that there were two attacks on
Shechem, one that nearly overran the gate of the city, and the second
that succeeded in overtaking the city and burning it to the ground.
Judges 9:39-41 says,
"So Gaal went out, leading the men of Shechem, and fought with
Abimelech. And Abimelech chased him, and he fled from him; and many
fell wounded, to the very entrance of the gate. Then Abimelech dwelt
at Arumah, and Zebul drove out Gaal and his brothers, so that they
would not dwell in Shechem."
Here we see some possibilities for explaining the destruction that
occurred at the East gate prior to the final destruction of the city,
and we also see that the driving out of Gaal may have resulted in
some internal destruction to the city. Of the signs of destruction
at the East gate, Wright says, "It appears evident that the East Gate
suffered destruction some time after it was erected, but, still
within the MB II C period, it was reconstructed." (Ibid., p. 73.)
According to Wright, new steps were added and the road was repaired:
"The steps show little evidence of wear....[T]hey cannot have been
long in use when they were completely covered by fallen brick debris
from the towers above. A fierce battle had taken place and the
towers were burned and at least partially destroyed. Rebuilding was
evidently rapid. The debris of the gate, including the
disarticulated fragments of at least six human bodies, was swept into
the step area until its level was raised nearly to the threshold
level. A new street was created....Then came a second destruction of
much greater violence. It filled the south guardroom stairwell with
2 m. of brick debris which spilled out through the door into the
gate's court....Thick masses of brick and carbonized wood from the
large timbers which reinforced the brick fell inside the city when
Wall B was destroyed along its entire length. As suggested above,
apparently an enemy had pulled out enough brick and beams from the
inside foundations to make the whole mass fall inward on the city,
instead of outward down the slope." ((Shechem*, p. 74.)
From what Wright has said, we can see that the East gate suffered
some destruction -- though not total -- just before the final
destruction of the whole gate and wall system. When Abimelech chased
Gaal back to the city, he could go no farther than the gate in his
pursuit. The many men who died at the gate were obviously Gaal's
men, and the remains of some of those who died were covered over by
the new steps for the gate. The disarticulated bones of human beings
mentioned by Wright above indicates that some sort of military
engagement at the gate had taken place. Abimelech went away for a
while, and Zebul eventually drove the much weakened Gaal from the
The second destruction was the burning of the city by Abimelech (as
we are arguing). This is evidenced by the fact that the walls were
destabilized from the inside, rather than from the outside. Of
course, Wright assigns these destructions to the Egyptians and
divides the signs of destruction at the East gate by 10 years (Ibid.,
p. 75), but the first claim merely assumes the correctness of
conventional chronology, and the second is just a guess based on the
fact that there is little wear on the rebuilt steps of the East
gate. Moreover, the archaeological material can only give relative
dating, not absolute dating, and 10 years could as easily be 10 days.
The burning of the migdal by Abimelech must have given him the idea
of burning the city gates and walls to the ground. This was made
easier by how the walls were constructed. Wright says,
"When it was first destroyed, evidently by the Egyptian army
[sic]...the Egyptians [sic] were able to set fire to the wall because
there was so much wood in it and in battlements upon it, and to pull
sufficient brick from its lower part as to cause it to fall inward,
instead of outward down the slope. The great quantity of charcoal
remains of the wooden beams indicates an exceedingly hot fire. The
distance the fallen debris spread within the city from the wall base
was at least 14 to 15 m. (46 to 49 ft.) in Field III." (*Shechem*, p.
Wall E was apparently the last fortification to be built before the
MB2c destruction: "Dever detected that still another fortification
wall, wall E, which overlay the Middle Bronze Age IIC complexes south
of the northwest gate, had been built at the very end of the Middle
Bronze Age IIC, probably as a desperate defensive effort against
attacks accompanying the expulsion of the Hyksos [sic] by the
Eighteenth Egyptian Dynasty (c. 1540 BCE) [sic]." (Article on Shechem
by E. Campbell, in E. Stern, ed. *The New Encyclopedia of
Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land*, , Vol. 4, p.
Describing the end of MB2c Shechem, Campbell says, "Everywhere,
evidence of destruction, probably in two quickly successive phases,
covers the uppermost (stratum XV) Middle Bronze phase. Thus ended a
two-hundred year [sic] period of prominence as a city-state...."
(Ibid., pp. 1351-52.)
The final destruction of the city left a long gap in
occupation. "The city was so violently ruined, and so many people
were killed by the Egyptians [sic], that nearly a century goes by
before the city begins to flourish again." (*Shechem*, p. 76).
Further, "The greatest disturbance shown in the section [of Field 8]
is marked by a layer of dark-brown field soil running across the
whole section, roughly separating the Middle from the Late Bronze
Ages." (Ibid., p. 48.). Wright concludes that after the MB2c
destruction of the city, it was used for raising crops, "[T]his layer
of field soil suggests that the tell was used for farming during the
period of the gap." (Ibid., p. 48).
Thus, the sowing of the city with salt by Abimelech may have stopped
the city from growing again for a long time, but it did not stop the
farmers from using the tell as a place to grow their crops, salt or
While no pottery or other indicia were found that could help date the
destruction of the MB2c migdal, it was reasonable for Wright and his
colleagues to conclude that its destruction took place at the end of
MB2c when the rest of the city was destroyed. "This massive
structure (Temple 1) was destroyed at a date which cannot be
accurately fixed from the evidence available within the temple, but
which probably coincided with the general destruction of the city
attested at the East Gate and in Fields III and VIII, about 1550 B.C.
[sic]. Subsequently, a less substantial structure (Temple 2) was
built on the ruins of the former temple. Its foundation date is
uncertain, but undoubtedly falls within the LB period, judging from
the quantities of LB pottery associated with the building of the
podium in its first phase." (Wright, *BASOR*, No. 161, p. 32, section
by Field Supervisor Robert Bull; cf., Wright, *Shechem*, p. 95).
Stager's attempt to bring the destruction of the migdal down to the
Iron age must ultimately fail if Wright, et al. are correct about the
existence of an LB temple on the ruins of the MB2c city.
Stratum 14: The city was rebuilt in the LB1b period, perhaps by the
ancestors of Lab'ayu. The Northwest and East Gates were rebuilt, and
a new temple was built over the strata of the MB2c migdal temple.
There is no way of knowing at this point how long the city was in
ruins before the rebuilding in LB1b, despite Wright's claim of a
hundred years. Such reckoning ultimately would depend on the
connection of the archaeological ages to a supposedly correct
Egyptian chronology -- a view that New Courville and other
alternative chronologies are challenging.
Stratum 13: This represents the Amarna age (LB2a) when Lab'ayu ruled
in Shechem with the support of the Habiru (or Hebrews). This strata
represents Shechem at its most prosperous, but there are signs that
structures within the city were destroyed at the end of this period,
i.e., in Fields 7, 8, 9, and 13 (Campbell, Ross, Toombs, "Eighth
Campaign," etc., *BASOR*, no. 204, p. 14). Nevertheless, the
fortifications of the city were left intact, and the temple does not
appear to have been disturbed at this time. This destruction level
could be related to the capture of Lab'ayu by his enemies, who
eventually executed him.
Stratum 12-11: This represents the LB2b period. New Courville holds
that this is the period of Saul through Jeroboam, so we should expect
to see some changes to the city during this period, but no
destruction. We read in the Bible that Jeroboam refortified the
city, and this appears to be supported by the archaeological
evidence. "A more radical change in architecture took place about
1300 B.C. [sic] when walls 3706 and 3663 went out of use and the main
north-south construction line was shifted eastward about 1.50 m.
This construction represents the transitional phase between LB and
Iron I. Its foundation pottery is LB II in date, while the pottery
in its destruction debris belongs to Iron I...." (*BASOR*, Vol. 204,
p. 15.) We would thus place Jeroboam at the end of the LB2b period,
and ascribe the destruction indicia of stratum 11 to the Sea Peoples
(Iron 1), even though they did not remain in the city, apparently, or
else to the Syrians, who were at war with Israel during this period.
Stratum 10: This stratum also suffered destruction, but in our view,
this is probably related to the wars with the Syrians, Ben-Hadad or
Hazael (cf., 2 Chron. 16, 2 Kings 6:24, 8:28, etc.).
We have already discussed the rest of the strata of Shechem and found
good reason to ascribe the end of Stratum 9b to Uzziah's earthquake,
and the end of Stratum 7 to the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar.
IRON AGE DESTRUCTION?
As we have seen, there is little evidence that the city itself was
destroyed at LB/IA or in the early Iron age. The lack of any
destruction of the city's fortifications during these periods is
quite problematic for conventional views. Indeed, it's not really
that evident that temple 2b was *burned* to the ground. It may have
been burned, or knocked down in some way, and its columns used
elsewhere, but there isn't much archaeological detail to hang a
conclusion on, especially with regard to what it might tell us about
the fortifications of the city. Later builders filled in the pits of
the LB temple with carbonized debris, but we don't know where they
got the debris. It looks as though someone were absconding with the
temple's columns or column bases. Wright believes these pits show
that the city was destroyed in the Iron age, but we must read Wright
a bit judiciously before accepting his conclusion. He is basing his
conclusion for the destruction of the city itself on his reading of
the putative evidence from temple 2b. He says,
"The logical conclusion is that the charcoal and quantities of
twelfth-century pottery found in these pits must have come from a
twelfth-century destruction of the city" (*Shechem*, p. 102).
Notice that Wright is developing a "logical conclusion" -- namely
that the evidence from the *temple* shows that the *city* must have
been destroyed. But as we have seen, there was no significant
destruction of the fortifications of the city at this time. Other
excavators on the site said, "The Late Bronze city ["city",
not "temple"--VC] once ruled by Lab'aya and his sons never suffered a
destruction....Rather there is a smooth and apparently peaceful
transition from the Late Bronze Age to the pre-Philistine Iron Age
(Iron 1A) [sic; pre-Sea Peoples-VC]. This is especially apparent in
one of the guard rooms of the late Bronze East Gate. Here we found
five levels of late Bronze floors superseded, without an intervening
destruction layer, by no less than fourteen super-imposed Iron 1
floors." (cited by Courville, *Exodus Problem*, Vol 2, p. 182; cf.,
*Biblical Archaeologist*, Vol. 26, p. 10; compare with Wright,
*Shechem*, p. 78.)
Thus, even if Wright is correct that someone burned the LB2 temple to
the ground, it would be hard to establish that the same thing
happened to the whole city. Wright had to give up the idea that the
migdal was burned by Abimelech and opted instead for the LB temple.
He further had to find some evidence for the destruction of the city
at this time since the Bible says Abimelech destroyed both the temple
and the city, and yet other archaeologists on the scene at Shechem
could find no evidence for an LB/IA destruction of the city. Wright
had to *deduce* the destruction of the city from the presumed
destruction of the temple, combined with the biblical story.
There were several resurfacings of the floors of the LB and Iron
ages, but no signs of destruction: "The main historical point to this
stratification is that there is no evidence of sharp conflict,
separation or destruction between the thirteenth- and twelfth-century
[sic] phases." (*Shechem*, p. 78.) It should also be pointed out
that this lack of evidence of the destruction of the gate during the
LB and early Iron age runs against Wright's theory that Abimelech
destroyed the city during a *later* part of the early Iron age.
An IA2b grain warehouse (8th century, Samaria ware) follows LB Temple
2b, so that if the latter was destroyed by Abimelech, there's still a
gap in which we find Shechem not being used as a city of refuge, nor
being divided as spoil by David, nor used by Rehoboam as his
coronation city, nor being rebuilt by Jeroboam. This is about a 300
year gap that cannot be explained on the basis of conventional
The archaeologist, Toombs, claims to have found signs of destruction
everywhere during the late Iron age period (*BASOR*, No. 204, p.
15). Toombs was excavating Field 13 on the 8th campaign, a site
that's next to the temple courtyard, and he was able to find signs of
destruction (black striations). But if this is so, it must be a
destruction limited to some of the interior buildings, for the gates
were not disturbed in any significant way, as pointed out above.
Indeed, Toombs says that the catastrophe is everywhere indicated by
the accumulation of black striations over the "building remains."
This would seem to indicate that the fortifications of the city
remained standing -- a fact at odds with Toombs' claim that the Iron
1 destruction indicia should be ascribed to Abimelech. We would
suggest that this is the same problem that both Wright and Stager
face as well, that it's one thing to find evidences of destruction
within the city -- whether it's of the temple, the palace, the
temenos area, or of other inner structures. It's quite another to
find a match between these interior destructions of the city, and a
destruction of the fortifications of the city (the walls and the
gates). Prior to the later Iron age, only the destruction at the end
of MB2c matches the inner city destruction with the destruction of
the fortifications, and indeed with the destruction of the migdal
The history of Shechem is unique, and its archaeology matches the
Bible in a remarkable way. My feeling is that the archaeology and
history of Shechem could bring about a veritable Copernican
revolution in historical studies if scholars were willing to awaken
from their conventional chronological slumbers. Surely such things
as the misinterpretation of the archaeology of Shechem, and (say) the
wiping out of the Davidic and Solomonic kingdoms by the Finkelsteins
of the world should have awakened all the sleepers by now. As such,
I regard the matching of the MB1 period with the Exodus/Conquest, and
the end of the MB2c period with the time of Abimelech, as providing
the twin pillars that hold up the foundation of a new understanding
of the chronology of the ancient world. And this new chronology
provides a much stronger basis for unraveling the chronology of the
ancient world than is to be found in the king lists of Manetho.
NOTE: I disagree with Courville at one point, namely on when the
city was rebuilt. He ascribes it to Jeroboam's time, but we have
seen that the city was rebuilt at least by David's time, and was used
by Rehoboam as his coronation city while Jeroboam was still a refugee
in Egypt. Thus, there is no basis for ascribing the rebuilding of
post-Abimelech Shechem to Jeroboam.