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Near East Kingdoms

Ancient Levantine States


Jebusites (Canaan)
Incorporating Eglon, Hebron, Jarmuth, Kirjath-arba, & Lachish

In the mid-third millennium BC, city states began to appear in Syria as people benefited from interaction with Sumer and from improvements in irrigation. Within five hundred years, around 2000 BC, the same process was happening farther south and west, in the Levant, along the Mediterranean coast. Semitic-speaking Canaanite tribes occupied much of the area, creating a patchwork of city states of their own. The Phoenicians (more Canaanites) also occupied parts of this region, eventually founding their own mighty seaborne trading empire.

The estimated - and generally accepted - period for the arrival of the Israelites during their exodus from Egypt is about 1230-1200 BC. Almost certainly not a coincidence, the entire Near East was suffering a social collapse at the time, allowing these disruptive incomers to establish a bridgehead as they pushed into Canaan from the south-east. Other incomers were doing the same from the west (notably the Philistines, Danya, and Tjekker), while proto-Phoenician and neo-Hittite states were struggling to survive in the north.

By about the 1170s BC, the Israelite tribes are estimated to have been conquering various minor Canaanite groups and cities during the creation of their own state. By this stage a Canaanite tribe or group of tribes known as the Jebusites, which traditionally had already been occupying the mountains near the city of Shalem in the Judean Mountains, had also occupied the city itself. According to the Old Testament, the city's king led the Jebusites from their cities against the Israelites, but they were utterly defeated and their cities were incorporated into the new Israelite state.

The Jebusites were not a united people, at least not by the time they appear in the Old Testament. Alongside Shalem, they also held the small cities of Eglon (now, possibly, the archaeological site of Tell el-Hesi, a fortified city which sits in Israel, precisely midway between the West Bank and the northern tip of the Gaza Strip), Kirjath-arba (now on the edges of Hebron which became an Edomite town in the later first millennium BC), Jarmuth (now Tell Yarmuth), and Lachish (today's archaeological site of Tell Lachish, known as Tell ed-Duweir in Arabic). Various modern analyses of the Jebusites has suggested entirely possible links with the Amorites, who had infiltrated areas of northern Canaan. Many of the Jebusite kings seem to bear names which show Hurrian influences, despite Canaan largely being outside of the Hurrian sphere of influence.

Phoenicians shifting cedarwood from shore to land

(Information by Peter Kessler, from A Test of Time, David Rohl (Arrow, 2001), from Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, David Noel Freedman, B E Willoughby, & Heinz-Josef Fabry (G Johannes Botterweck & Helmer Ringgren, Eds, William B Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999), from A History of Israel: From the Bronze Age through the Jewish Wars, Walter C Kaiser Jr (Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998), from Jewish War & Jewish Antiquities, Flavius Josephus, from the NOVA/PBS documentary series, The Bible's Buried Secrets, first broadcast 18 November 2008, from the Illustrated Dictionary & Concordance of the Bible, Geoffrey Wigoder (Gen Ed, 1986), and from External Link: Encyclopædia Britannica.)

c.1170s BC


Jebusite king of Hebron (then called Kirjath-arba). Killed.

The site of Kirjath-arba (or Qiryat Arba) is today an Israeli urban settlement on the outskirts of Hebron, inside the occupied West Bank. It had been here that, roughly six hundred years before Hoham's reign, Abraham's wife, Sarah, had died. The word 'kirjath, kiryat' means 'town'.

Map of Anatolia and Environs 1550 BC
Small cities and minor states which had been founded by the Hittites littered the meeting point between Anatolia and Syria around 1500 BC (click or tap on map to view full sized)

c.1170s BC


Jebusite king of Jarmuth (Tell Yarmuth). Killed.

The city of Jarmuth has been matched to the modern archaeological site of Tell Yarmuth or Tell Jarmuth (in English and Hebrew, the Arabic version being Khirbet el-Yarmûk). This is located in central Israel, immediately south of Beit Shemesh, a short way to the west of Jerusalem, and approximately thirty-five kilometres north-west of Kirjath-arba.

c.1170s BC


Jebusite king of Lachish (Tell Lachish/Tell ed-Duweir). Killed.

Today's site of Tell Lachish sites roughly due west of Hebron and south of Tell Yarmuth. The name Tell ed-Duweir is the Arabic version of the better-known Hebrew name. The city is first mentioned in the historical record in the Amarna letters between Egypt of the fifteenth century BC and its Canaanite subject states. Its first occupation has been dated to 5500 BC, although it had been abandoned for a time prior to resettlement around 1550 BC, presumably by the Jebusites.

Canaanite bronze figure
This photo shows a bronze figure from Tyre, created between 1400-1200 BC and probably representing the Canaanite god Baal in the role of a warrior

c.1170s BC


Jebusite king of Eglon (Tell el-Hesi?). Killed.

The site of Tell el-Hesi had flourished as a walled Neolithic city, providing a home to a population which excelled in animal husbandry and perhaps some important trade. Then it had been abandoned at a point between about 2625-2550 BC before being reoccupied in the middle of the second millennium (as with Lachish), again presumably by the Jebusites and presumably as the city of Eglon (disputed).

c.1170s BC

Adonizedec of Shalem leads the fragmented Jebusites against Joshua of the Israelites, but they are defeated at Gibeon and apparently suffer again at Beth-horon, not only from attacks by their pursuers but also from a great hail storm.

The five allied kings take refuge in a cave at Makkedah (an allied city which is conquered within the next decade during the Israelite Settlement period), and are imprisoned there until after the battle, when Joshua commands that they be brought before him. They are brought out, humiliated, and put to death, and Jebusite Shalem is conquered (Beroth is included as a supporter of this Canaanite coalition).

Ancient Jerusalem
The ambitious Ophel excavation in Shalem (Jerusalem) has produced many finds, but precious little before the tenth century BC, by which time the city was in Israelite hands

The Jebusite city of Lachish is greatly developed by the Israelites in subsequent centuries, becoming second only to Jerusalem itself in terms of wealth and sophistication.

c.1160s BC

The Jebusites are utterly conquered by the Israelites, as are many other small Canaanite city states which are situated in and around what becomes Judah and lower Syria, with Dor, Gezer, Megiddo, Shimron-meron, and Tirzah amongst their number, along with the other Israelite Settlement period conquests. Referring to them as city states may be a little grand. Many of them are probably little more than obscure settlements and small tribes which are taken over piecemeal.

975 BC

Jebusite King Araunah is mentioned in the Old Testament in relation to the formerly-Jebusite town of Shalem during the formation of the Israelite kingdom, so he is probably the city's ruler.

Having lost the city to the Philistines, Israelite attempts to re-take the city from its re-instituted Jebusite dominance have been ongoing for some time. So poorly has this been going that the Jebusites have even resorted to mocking their assailants for their failures. Now Israel's King David manages to conquer the city once and for all, taking it as his new capital and renaming it hebiru-Shalem, or Jerusalem.

Tell Lachish in Israel
Tell Lachish in Israel represents the highly-developed post-Jebusite city of Lachish, by which time it was firmly part of the first millennium BC Israelite state(s)

The Jebusites now disappear from all records, most likely being absorbed over time into the general Israelite population. From this point onwards, Jerusalem serves as Israel's spiritual centre, as well as its administrative capital. When Israel divides into Samaria and Judah in 928 BC, Jerusalem serves as Judah's capital.

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