It’s time for another in my series of bioarchaeographies (from the Greek words bios/life, arkhaois/ancient, and graphia/writing). In these I use archaeology to explore the life of historical people mentioned in the Bible. King Jehoram of Israel is the subject of this archaeological Biography
Making Sense of King Jehoram
Jehoram was the last king of the might Omride Dynasty of the northern Kingdom of Israel. He reigned for 12 years, from ca. 852-841 BC.1 When he was killed by King Jehu, who had been anointed by a prophet to “strike down the house of Ahab” (2 Kings 9:7), the once mighty empire that Omri had founded came to an abrupt end.
Readers of the Bible often find the account of the final days of the Omride Dynasty confusing, especially since there were two kings with the same name around the same time in both Judah and Israel. To simplify things, I’ll follow Edwin Thiele’s convention of using Jehoram to refer to the King of Israel and Joram, to refer to the king of Judah.2 The two names are simply different spellings of the same name, similar to Bryan and Brian today. Indeed, Jehoram is known in Scripture as both Jehoram (2 Kings 3) and Joram (2 Kings 9). Adding to the confusion is the fact that there was an Ahaziah, King of Judah and an Ahaziah, King of Israel. These same names are likely an indication of close ties between the two kingdoms; the Bible makes it clear that Judah and Israel were allies at this point in history (ie. 2 Kings 3:7; 9:16). In fact, their alliance was sealed through marriage, as Joram’s wife was Ahab’s daughter (2 Kings 8:18, 26), making Joram and Jehoram brothers-in-law.
For clarification, here are the kings who reigned in each kingdom early in the 9th century BC3:
|Judah (Southern Kingdom)||Israel (Northern Kingdom)|
|Asa – ca. 911 – 868 BC||Omri – ca. 885 – 874 BC|
|Jehoshaphat – ca. 872 – 848 BC||Ahab – ca. 874 – 853 BC|
|Joram – ca. 853 – 841 BC||Ahaziah – ca. 853 – 852 BC|
|Ahaziah – ca. 841 BC||Jehoram – ca. 852 – 841 BC|
|Note: There were likely overlapping co-regencies among the kings of Judah during this period|
Jehoram, King of Israel, like his predecessors, was a wicked king. 2 Kings 3:1-3 records, “In the eighteenth year of Jehoshaphat king of Judah, Jehoram the son of Ahab became king over Israel in Samaria, and he reigned twelve years. He did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, though not like his father and mother, for he put away the pillar of Baal that his father had made. Nevertheless, he clung to the sin of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin; he did not depart from it.” Jehoram inherited not only the kingdom, but the traits of his predecessors, even if his evil was not at the level of his father’s. While it is true that he “put away the pillar of Baal,” he did not fully eliminate Baal worship, as the temple of Baal, was later destroyed by Jehu (2 Kings 10:27). Keep in mind that Jezebel was still alive and likely wielded her considerable evil influence as the queen mother.
While the summary of Jehoram’s reign is brief, there is considerable material in the Bible related to his reign. Indeed, the days of Jehoram run from 2 Kings 1:17 – 9:24, and include much of the ministry of the prophet Elisha, Moab’s rebellion against Israel, the Syrian siege of Samaria, a seven-year famine, Edom’s revolt against Judah, and the battle against Hazael of Syria by a coalition of Israelite and Judahite forces. The twelve years of Jehoram’s reign were marked by turbulence and difficulty.
Jehoram’s Capital – Samaria
Like his brother, father and grandfather before him, Jehoram ruled from Samaria, the capital of Israel. It was strategically located near “the road running toward the Sharon Plain on the Coast and on another leading northward through the Jezreel Valley to Phoenicia, where the Omrides had important connections.”4 It was also located atop a steep hill, which provided a good view of the surrounding area and was beneficial for defense. While Samaria was not a large city, it was nonetheless surrounded by a casemate wall.5 The palace of the kings of Israel was located on the acropolis by the Harvard Expedition in 1908-1910, and affirmed by subsequent excavations. Specifically, the initial building phase (Period I) was attributed to Omri, with the next phase (Period II) attributed to his son Ahab.6 More recently, Norma Franklin has suggested that Period II should be attributed to Jehu, rather than Ahab.7 The archaeological findings, both the high-quality masonry and the cache of impressive ivories8, testify to the wealth of Samaria during the Omride Dynasty.
The Tel Dan Stele – Direct Affirmation of Jehoram
The Tel Dan Stele is a fragment of a victory monument discovered at Hazor and dating to the ninth century BC. It was likely erected by Hazael, king of Syria, and in it he claims to have killed the kings of Israel and Judah. Specifically, the inscription has been reconstructed to read:
“And my father lay down and went to his [ancestors] and the king of I[s]rael entered previously into my father’s land. [And] Hadad made me king. And Hadad went in front of me, [and] I departed from [the] seven […]s of my kingdom, and I slew the [seve]nty kin[gs]. , who harnessed thou[sands of cha]riots and thousands of horsemen (or: horses). [I killed Jeho]ram son of [Ahab] king of Israel, and [I] killed [Ahaz]iahu son of [Jehoram kin]g of the House of David.”9
Kenneth Kitchen notes that this reconstruction is most likely since, “In the whole series of the kings of Irsael, there is one and only one king whose name ends in -ram, and that is J(eh)oram, son of Ahab…in strict parallel with the sentence about [Jeho]ram of Israel, we have another that our Aramean king killed “[xxx]iah, son of [X],” plus mention of the House of David = Judah…it is extremely likely that we should further restore “[Ahaz]iah son of [Joram] [king of] the house of David.”10
While this is true, Bible scholar Lawrence Mykytiuk has cautioned that, “To bring in any biblical context into the process of interpreting the inscription, especially if it is ‘just’ to fill out a fragmentary personal name, opens the potential for circular reasoning if the match is subsequently used to confirm a biblical reference.”11To guard against this Mykytiuk has used his three-step methodology to make an identification. Specifically, his analysis demonstrates that the inscription is 1) Authentic; 2) Likely written by Hazael within 50 years of the events; and 3) Bears three identifying marks: the endings of the names of the kings killed matches the names of the biblical kings of Israel and Judah at this time, the kingdom they are said to have ruled over also match, and Hazael is implicitly connected to the killings of Jehoram of Israel and Ahaziah of Judah in both the biblical text and Tel Dan Stele. Based on this reasoning, he concludes, “the stele refers to these two kings with virtual certainty.” 12
Hazael’s boast of killing both Jehoram of Israel and Ahaziah of Judah is contrary to the biblical record, which explicitly states that Jehu killed both kings (2 Kings 9). While Hazael would hardly be the first king in history to take credit for another’s accomplishments, he could actually claim some credit. Todd Bolen notes that the world translated “kill” on the Tel Dan Stele can also be translated “strike” or “defeat.” Since Jehoram was at Jezreel recovering from wounds he had received in battle against the Syrians when Jehu killed him, Hazael had some “justification for taking credit for the king’s death.”13
The Mesha Stele – Indirect Evidence for Jehoram
Under Omri and Ahab, Israel expanded its kingdom, subduing Moab to the east. 2 Kings 3 records the Moabite rebellion that occurred sometime after Ahab’s death. “Now Mesha king of Moab was a sheep breeder, and he had to deliver to the king of Israel 100,000 lambs and the wool of 100,000 rams. But when Ahab died, the king of Moab rebelled against the king of Israel. So King Jehoram marched out of Samaria at that time and mustered all Israel.” (2 Kings 3:4-6).
In 1868, Anglican missionary Frederick Klein discovered that a Moabite victory monument was at Dhiban, Jordan, the site of ancient Dibon. During the process to acquire the monument from the locals, it was broken, but not before a paper-mâché squeeze of the original inscription was taken. Many original pieces of the stone were eventually purchased; these, along with the squeezes that were taken, allow scholars today to study almost the entire inscription. The Moabite Stone, as it has come to be known popularly, contains a record of the reign of King Mesha, including his rebellion from Israel.
André Lemaire’s most recent translation of the Mesha Inscription reads:
“I am Mesha, son of Chemosh[ît], king of Moab, the Dibonite. My father ruled over Moab thirty years, and I ruled after my father. I made this high-place for Chemosh in Qerihoh, high-pl[ace of sal-]vation, for he saved me from all the kings and made me enjoy the sight of my enemies. Omri, king of Israel, oppressed Moab for a long time because Chemosh was angry with his country. His son succeeded him, and he also declared: “I will oppress Moab.” In my days, he declared thus, but I enjoyed his view and that of his house: Israel was destroyed forever. Omri had taken possession of the land of Madaba, and he dwelt in it (during) his days and, (during) half of my days, his sons, forty years, but Chemosh restored it during my days.”14
According to the Mesha Inscription, Moab was subdued by Omri and was subject to Israel for forty years throughout the reigns of his sons. Omri began his reign in 885 BC, but likely spend a couple of years solidifying his hold on the throne before looking to expand his borders. If one assumes he conquered Moab in 883 BC, and subtracts 40 years for the Moabite subjugation, it brings us to around 843 BC, in Jehoram’s reign. Thus, the Moabite Stone indirectly affirms that Jehoram was the king under whom Mesha’s rebellion was ultimately successful, just as the Bible states in 2 Kings 3.
When Jehu killed Jehoram at Jezreel, the dynasty of Ormi came to an end. Two ancient inscriptions – the Tel Dan Stele and the Mesha Inscription – affirm details of Jehoram’s life in the biblical text. Moreover, they provide geopolitical background details that help us understand the turbulent days in which Jehoram lived.
1 Ewin R. Thiele, The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1983), 99.
2 Ibid, 100.
3 Ibid, 217.
4 Amahai Mazar, Archaeology of the Land of the Bible (London: Yale University Press, 1990), 406.
4 Ron E. Tappy, “Samaria,” Bible Odyssey. https://www.bibleodyssey.org/places/main-articles/samaria/ (Accessed Feb. 3, 2023).
5 James D. Purvis, “Samaria,” In Anchor Bible Dictionary, ed. D.N. Freedman. (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 7732.
6 Ibid, p. 7730.
7 Norma Franklin, “Samaria: from the Bedrock to the Omride Palace,” Levant 36, 2004, pg. 201. Online: file:///C:/Users/Owner/Downloads/samariabedrockLevant.pdf (Accessed Feb. 3, 2023).
8 Rupert Chapman, “Samaria, Capital of Israel.” BAR 43:5, (September/October 2017), 30.
9 Avraham Biran and Joseph Naveh, “The Tel Dan Inscription: A New Fragment.” Israel Exploration Journal, Vol. 45, No. 1 (1995), 13. Online: https://www.jstor.org/stable/27926361 (Accessed Feb. 3, 2023).
10 K. A. Kitchen, On The Reliability of the Old Testament. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2006), 37.
11 Lawrence Mykytiuk, “Don’t Pave the Way for Circular Reasoning! A Better Way to Identify the Two Deceased Hebrew Kings in the Tel Dan Stele.” In Epigraphy, Iconography, and the Bible. Edited by Meir Lubetski and Edith Lubetski. Hebrew Bible Monographs 98. (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2021), 117.
12 ibid, 128 – 131.
13 Todd Bolen, “The Aramean Oppression of Israel in the Reign of Jehu,” PhD diss., (Dallas Theological Seminary, 2013), 56. https://www.academia.edu/6097624/The_Aramean_Oppression_of_Israel_in_the_Reign_of_Jehu (Accessed Feb. 3, 2023).
14 André Lemaire, “What Does the Mesha Stele Say?” Bible History Daily. November 18, 2022. https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-artifacts/inscriptions/what-does-the-mesha-stele-say/ (Accessed Feb. 3, 2023).
Thank you, Bryan, for bringing this information together. Both Dan and the largest of several ancient cities named Hazor are in northern Israel. If I may offer a correction, however, Tel Dan, where the fragments of the “house of David” stele were discovered, is not located at the site of any of the ancient cities named Hazor. This is clear on the map at https://www.biblestudy.org/maps/historic-israel-map.html .