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

Recognizing a Palestinian State Won’t Help Palestinians, or Even Make Palestinian Statehood More Likely

While Shira Efron and Michael Koplow are more sanguine about the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and more critical of Israel’s policies in the West Bank, than I am, I found much worth considering in their recent article on the condition of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Particularly perceptive are their comments on the drive to grant diplomatic recognition to a fictive Palestinian state, a step taken by nine countries in the past few months, and almost as many in total as recognize Israel.

Efron and Koplow argue that this move isn’t a mere empty gesture, but one that would actually make things worse, while providing “no tangible benefits for Palestinians.”

In areas under its direct control—Areas A and B of the West Bank, comprising 40 percent of the territory—the PA struggles severely to provide services, livelihoods, and dignity to inhabitants. This is only partly due to its budgetary woes; it has also never established a properly functioning West Bank economy. President Mahmoud Abbas, who will turn ninety next year, administers the PA almost exclusively by executive decrees, with little transparency or oversight. Security is a particular problem, as militants from different factions now openly defy the underfunded and undermotivated PA security forces in cities such as Jenin, Nablus, and Tulkarm.

Turning the Palestinian Authority (PA) from a transitional authority into a permanent state with the stroke of a pen will not make [its] litany of problems go away. The risk that the state of Palestine would become a failed state is very real given the PA’s dysfunctional, insolvent status and its dearth of public legitimacy. Further declines in its ability to provide social services and maintain law and order could yield a situation in which warlords and gangs become de-facto rulers in some areas of the West Bank.

Otherwise, any steps toward realizing two states will be fanciful, built atop a crumbling foundation—and likely to help turn the West Bank into a third front in the current war.

Read more at Foreign Affairs

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian statehood