What Clay Seals Can Tell Us about Iron-Age Israel

Last year, archaeologists discovered lumps of clay (known as bullae) made for sealing documents in Khirbet Summeily in the Negev. Their presence suggests a higher degree of political organization in 10th-century BCE Israel than was previously thought, thus lending greater credibility to the biblical books of Samuel and I Kings. James Hardin, Christopher Rollston, and Jeffrey Blakely explain what this discovery implies (free registration required):

A seal of the parties to an agreement would be impressed into the soft clay leaving an impression. A document “sealed” in this fashion would not be opened (that is, the seal would not be broken) unless there was some legal reason to do so, for example, in some sort of a court case where the contents of the document were at issue. . . . The precise material that the Summeily bullae “sealed” is still in the process of analysis. . . . But the practice of sealing is an elite or official activity.

We believe that the remains discovered at Summeily demonstrate a level of politico-economic activity that has not been suspected for the late Iron Age I [1300-1000 BCE] and early Iron Age IIA [1000-800 BCE]. . . . Many scholars have tended to dismiss trends toward political complexity (that is, state formation) occurring prior to the arrival of the Assyrians in the region in the later 8th century BCE. However, based on our work in the Hesi region, we believe these processes began much earlier.

Read more at ASOR

More about: Ancient Israel, Archaeology, Bible, Book of Kings, History & Ideas, Negev

To Save Gaza, the U.S. Needs a Strategy to Restrain Iran

Since the outbreak of war on October 7, America has given Israel much support, and also much advice. Seth Cropsey argues that some of that advice hasn’t been especially good:

American demands for “restraint” and a “lighter footprint” provide significant elements of Hamas’s command structure, including Yahya Sinwar, the architect of 10/7, a far greater chance of surviving and preserving the organization’s capabilities. Its threat will persist to some extent in any case, since it has significant assets in Lebanon and is poised to enter into a full-fledged partnership with Hizballah that would give it access to Lebanon’s Palestinian refugee camps for recruitment and to Iranian-supported ratlines into Jordan and Syria.

Turning to the aftermath of the war, Cropsey observes that it will take a different kind of involvement for the U.S. to get the outcomes it desires, namely an alternative to Israeli and to Hamas rule in Gaza that comes with buy-in from its Arab allies:

The only way that Gaza can be governed in a sustainable and stable manner is through the participation of Arab states, and in particular the Gulf Arabs, and the only power that can deliver their participation is the United States. A grand bargain is impossible unless the U.S. exerts enough leverage to induce one.

Militarily speaking, the U.S. has shown no desire seriously to curb Iranian power. It has persistently signaled a desire to avoid escalation. . . . The Gulf Arabs understand this. They have no desire to engage in serious strategic dialogue with Washington and Jerusalem over Iran strategy, since Washington does not have an Iran strategy.

Gaza’s fate is a small part of a much broader strategic struggle. Unless this is recognized, any diplomatic master plan will degenerate into a diplomatic parlor game.

Read more at National Review

More about: Gaza War 2023, Iran, U.S. Foreign policy