King Jeroboam II: An Archaeological Biography

Almost 150 years after Jeroboam, son of Nebat, broke away from Judah and was crowned king of the northern tribes of Israel, Jeroboam II took the throne. 

“In the fifteenth year of Amaziah the son of Joash, king of Judah, Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel, began to reign in Samaria, and he reigned forty-one years.  And he did what was evil in the sight of the LORD. He did not depart from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin” (2 Ki 14:23-24).

Jeroboam’s Kingdom

Jeroboam ruled for 41 years in the 8th century BC; this consisted of a 12-year coregency with his father, Joash/Jehoash (ca. 793-782 BC), and 29 years of sole reign (ca. 782-753 BC).1 During this time he oversaw a prolonged period of prosperity in Israel.  Despite his wickedness, God spoke to him through the prophet Jonah, and allowed his kingdom to expand.

Scripture records that Jeroboam, “restored the border of Israel from Lebo-hamath as far as the Sea of the Arabah, according to the word of the LORD, the God of Israel, which he spoke by his servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet, who was from Gath-hepher. For the LORD saw that the affliction of Israel was very bitter, for there was none left, bond or free, and there was none to help Israel.” (2 Ki 14:45-46)

Assyrian raids had weakened the Aramean kingdom to the north, creating favorable conditions for Jeroboam to restore the northern border of Israel.2  It is interesting to note that Jeroboam expanded the northern border to Lebo-hamath, the same boundary marking the extent of Solomon’s kingdom(1 Ki 8:65).

Jeroboam’s kingdom not only expanded in territory, it grew in prosperity. A storehouse at Samaria was a collection point for oil and wine flowing throughout the kingdom, as evidenced by the Samaria Ostraca (see below). A massive grain silo dating to the time of Jeroboam is prominent at Megiddo. It is 11 meters in diameter and 7 meters deep and would have stored 450 cubic meters of grain. Two spiral staircases lead to the bottom of the silo.

The grain silo at Megiddo which was likely constructed during the reign of Jeroboam II. Photo: www.HolyLandPhotos.org

Todd Bolen summarizes Jeroboam’s kingdom this way:

“No king of Israel ruled longer than Jeroboam II, and no dynasty had as many monarchs sit on the throne as did that of Jeroboam’s forebear, Jehu. Jeroboam’s rule stands in stark contrast to that of his predecessors and successors. The half-century before him witnessed the most violent and trying time of persecution Israel had ever faced. Beaten down so that they were like “dust at threshing time,” the apostate rulers of Israel ultimately sought out even the Lord for salvation (2 Kgs 13:7). The last half of the ninth century was most unlike the period of expansion and economic growth that Jeroboam fostered, and the stability that he established would be unknown after his death.”3

The Samaria Ostraca

In 1910, a group of more than 100 ostraca (pottery fragments with ink inscriptions) were discovered in excavations at Samaria, the capital city of the Northern Kingdom.  Both the archaeological stratum in which they were discovered, and the style of the paleo-Hebrew script indicate they were written in the 8th century BC.4  They contain receipts of shipments of wine and oil in and around Samaria in the 9th, 10th, and 15th years of a king, likely Jeroboam II.Some scholars have suggested the ostraca may come from the reigns of two kings, Joash/Jehoash and then his son, Jeroboam, or may have been from the reign of Joash/Jeohash while Jeroboam was younger or serving as co-regent.

A recent study by a multi-disciplinary team at Tel Aviv university used new image processing and computer learning techniques to analyze 39 of the Samaria ostraca.  They discovered that only two scribes wrote these ostraca, and both were located in Samaria, rather than the countryside, indicating a palace bureaucracy during the reign of Jeroboam II.6  

The Samaria Ostraca testify to prosperity during the time of Jeroboam, and provide information about the administration of the Northern Kingdom during this period. 

Two of the Samaria ostraca: No. 14 (left) and No. 18 (right). Photo: Tel Aviv University

The Megiddo Seal

A replica of the Megiddo Seal of Shema, servant of King Jeroboam II. Photo: Ferrell Jenkins, https://ferrelljenkins.blog/2018/07/15/the-shema-seal-from-megiddo/

The historicity of Jeroboam was established by the discovery of a seal belonging to an official in his courts.  The “Megiddo Seal,” as it called, was discovered in excavations at Megiddo in the early 1900’s.  The seal was made of jasper, and depicted a crouching lion, along with the inscription, “(belonging) to Shema, Servant of Jeroboam.”7  Kenneth Kitchen notes, “The famous seal of ‘Shema servant [=minister of state] of Jeroboam’ is almost universally recognized to belong to the reign of Jeroboam II of Israel…attempts to date it to Jeroboam I’s reign are unconvincing.”8  The seal itself disappeared while being transported to the Turkish sultan in Constantinople and hasn’t been seen since; thankfully, a bronze cast was made of the seal before it was shipped.

The Shema Bulla

The clay impression from a seal of a servant of the Israelite King Jeroboam II (8th century BC). Photo: Dani Machlis/Ben Gurion University

In 2020, a bulla (clay seal impression) of Shema was authenticated by Ben-Gurion University Professor, Yuval Goren.9  The bulla’s impression is almost identical to the much larger Megiddo Seal.  It bears the image of a roaring lion and a paleo-Hebrew inscription, “(Belonging) to Shema, Servant of Jeroboam.”  The clay bulla was purchased in the 1980’s without provenance from a Bedouin antiquities dealer, leading many to believe it was a forgery.  However, Goren developed a strict set of testing protocols involving a series of overlapping tests from a variety of disciplines, which led him to conclude the bulla was authentic.  The authentication of the seal impression of Shema, the servant of Jeroboam, if accurate and properly understood, is another artifact which affirms the historicity of King Jeroboam II.

The Earthquake in the Days of Jeroboam

A leaning wall at Hazor is evidence of Amos’ earthquake. Photo: https://www.icr.org/article/scientific-scriptural-impact-amos-earthquake/

The prophet Amos noted an earthquake that occurred during the reigns of Uzziah of Judah and Jeroboam of Israel (Amos 1:1).  Archaeological evidence for this earthquake has been found at sites all around the Levant, including at Hazor, Deir ‘Alia, Gezer, Lachish, Tell Judeideh, and ‘En Haseva.10 Archaeologists have discovered damaged walls at each of these sites, including broken ashlars, displaced rows of stones, leaning or bowed walls, and walls collapsed with sections still lying course-upon-course.  Because this evidence is tightly dated stratigraphically to the middle of the 8th century BC, scholars believe the there was a single, regional earthquake which occurred around 750 BC (+/- 30 years).11 This earthquake, which had a magnitude of up to 8.2, shook cities and damaged buildings.  The event provided Amos with an excellent image to describe God’s judgment on the people of Israel for their wickedness.  With prosperity came luxury, idolatry, immorality, corruption, and oppression of the poor throughout the kingdom. As Steven Austin notes, “Amos spoke of the land being shaken (Am 8:8), houses being smashed (Am 6:11), altars being cracked (Am 3:14), and even the Temple at Bethel being struck and collapsing (Am 9:1). The prophet’s repeated contemporary references to the earthquake’s effects is why it bears his name.”12

Conclusion

Jeroboam II ruled the northern Kingdom of Israel for longer than any other king.  Numerous discoveries affirm his historicity and enlighten our understanding of the administration of his kingdom.  Despite his wickedness, and that of the people he ruled, God’s graciously spoke to His people through the prophets Jonah and Amos.  The prosperity and stability experienced by Jeroboam II and the Northern Kingdom are a testimony to God’s unmerited favor. 

Cover Photo: A replica of the Megiddo Seal of Shema, the Servant of Jeroboam II. Photo: Israel Antiquities Authority

Endnotes

1 Ewin R. Thiele, The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1983), 116.

2 Study note on 2 Ki 14:25, in ESV Archaeology Study Bible, ed. John Currid and David Chapman (Wheaton: Crossway, 2018), 539.

3 Todd Bolen, “The Reign of Jeroboam II: A Historical and Archaeological Interpretation.” Masters Thesis, (The Master’s Seminary, 2002). https://www.academia.edu/1644551/The_Reign_of_Jeroboam_II_A_Historical_and_Archaeological_Interpretation (Accessed March 1, 2021).

4 Scott B. Noegel, “The Samaria Ostraca,” in The Ancient Near East: Historical Sources in Translation, ed. by Mark W. Chavalas. (London: Blackwell, 2006), 396.  Online: https://faculty.washington.edu/snoegel/PDFs/articles/Noegel%2048%20-%20ANEHST%202006c.pdf (Accessed March 3, 2021).

5 “The Samaria Ostraca,” NIV Archaeological Study Bible (ed. Walter C. Kaiser Jr and Duane Garrett; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 550.

6 Amanda Borschel-Dan, “Illiterate Israelites? Hi-tech review of ancient sherds suggests few scribes.” Times of Israel. 22 January 2020. https://www.timesofisrael.com/illiterate-israelites-hi-tech-review-of-ancient-sherds-suggests-few-scribes/ (Accessed March 3, 2021).

7 David G. Hansen, “Megiddo, the Place of Battles.” Bible and Spade. Vol. 23, No. 2, Spring 2010.  Online: https://biblearchaeology.org/research/chronological-categories/conquest-of-canaan/3084-megiddo-the-place-of-battles (Accessed March 3, 2021).

8 K. A. Kitchen, On The Reliability of the Old Testament. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2006), 19.

9 Amanda Borschel-Dan, “2,700 years ago, tiny clay piece sealed deal for Bible’s King Jeroboam II.” Times of Israel. 10 December 2020. https://www.timesofisrael.com/2700-years-ago-tiny-clay-piece-sealed-deal-for-bibles-king-jeroboam-ii/ (Accessed March 3, 2021).

10 Steven A. Austin, Gordon W. Franz, and Eric G. Frost, “Amos’s Earthquake: An Extraordinary Middle East Seismic Event of 750 B.C.” International Geology Review. Vol. 42. 2000. 657.  Online: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/00206810009465104 (Accessed March 3, 2021).

11 Steven A. Austin, “The Scientific and Scriptural Impact of Amos’ Earthquake.” Institute for Creation Research. Feb. 1, 2010. https://www.icr.org/article/scientific-scriptural-impact-amos-earthquake/ (Accessed March 3, 2021).

12 Ibid.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s