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“The Historical and Archaeological Evidence for Ben-hadad” provides a comprehensive exploration of Ancient Syria’s history and the critical role played by Ben-hadad. By examining the Stele of Zakkur and the Melqart Stele, the article uncovers profound insights into the political and religious landscape of the time. Join us on this historical journey that links these archaeological findings with biblical accounts and broader Near Eastern history.
Ben-hadad III was the son of Hazael, the king of Syria, and his story is detailed in 2 Kings 13:3. During the reigns of Jehoahaz (876-c. 860 B.C.E.), this Syrian ruler played a significant role in oppressing Israel and capturing its cities. However, Jehovah acted in favor of Israel by raising up “a savior,” likely through Jehoahaz’s son Jehoash (c. 859-845 B.C.E.) and his successor Jeroboam II (c. 844-804 B.C.E.) (2 Kings 13:4, 5).
In accordance with the last prophecy of Elisha, Jehoash reclaimed cities that Ben-hadad had taken from Jehoahaz, defeating the Syrian forces three times (2 Kings 13:19, 23-25). Jeroboam II continued his father’s victories over Syria and restored Israel’s boundaries, effectively acting as a savior for Israel (2 Kings 14:23-27). Ben-hadad III’s name is not mentioned in Jeroboam’s conquests, and it’s possible that he may have already passed away at that time.
The term “the dwelling towers of Ben-hadad,” used by the prophet Amos during Jeroboam II’s rule to denote royal palaces in Damascus (Amos 1:3-5; compare 2 Kings 16:9), was later adopted by Jeremiah around two hundred years later (Jeremiah 49:23-27).
In Ancient Inscriptions, there are references to Ben-hadad. Shalmaneser III described a conflict with the Syrians and stated: “Hadadezer (himself) perished. Hazael, a commoner (literally: son of nobody), seized the throne” (Ancient Near Eastern Texts, edited by J. Pritchard, 1974, p. 280). This text identifies Ben-hadad II as “Hadadezer” or “Adad-idri” in Assyrian.
The Zakir Stele provides further historical evidence, describing a military action led by “Barhadad, the son of Hazael, king of Aram” against “Zakir, king of Hamat and Luʽath.” This text adds to the archaeological evidence of Ben-hadad III’s existence (Ancient Near Eastern Texts, p. 655).
The Stele of Zakkur: Unveiling a Window to Ancient Syria
The Stele of Zakkur (or Zakir) is an archaeological find of great importance, shedding light on the complex interplay of politics, religion, and culture in ancient Syria. Discovered in 1903 and dating to around 785 BCE, this royal stele bears the inscription of King Zakkur of Hamath and Luhuti (or Lu’aš) in the province of Nuhašše. The significance of this find extends beyond the historical narrative of King Zakkur’s reign, revealing valuable information about the gods worshiped during this period and the geopolitical tensions of the time.
Description of the Stele
The original stele consists of two parts: an upper section, now mostly missing, that likely depicted King Zakkur seated on a throne, and a lower section bearing the long inscription known as KAI 202. Some small fragments of the upper section, such as the feet, have been preserved.
The Stele was found at Tell Afis (mentioned in the Stele as Hazrach), 45 km southeast of Aleppo, in the territory of the ancient kingdom of Hamath.
Content of the Inscription
The inscription, partly translated, reads:
“I am Zakkur, king of Hamath and Luash . . . Bar-Hadad, son of Hazael, king of Aram, united against me seventeen kings . . .all these kings laid siege to Hazrach . . . Baalshamayn said to me, ‘Do not be afraid! . . .I will save you from all [these kings who] have besieged you’”
The ‘Bar-Hadad’ mentioned may be Bar-Hadad III, son of Hazael, a notable figure of the period.
Historical and Geopolitical Insights
The Stele narrates a tumultuous period of King Zakkur’s reign, marked by military conflict and alliances. The account of seventeen kings uniting against Zakkur illustrates the volatile political environment of the region during that time. The mention of Bar-Hadad, a prominent Aramean king, adds another layer of complexity, tying the Stele to broader regional histories.
The inscription’s mention of two deities, Baalshamin and Iluwer, provides crucial insights into the religious landscape of ancient Syria.
Baalshamin was a god known throughout the ancient Near East. The Stele of Zakkur represents the earliest Aramaean evidence of Baalshamin. This god was also mentioned in the Phoenician Yehimilk inscription, dating to the 10th century BCE, thus pointing to widespread worship and continuity in religious practices.
Iluwer was the personal god of King Zakkur. Some scholars believe that Iluwer represents the earlier god Mer or Wer, going back to the 3rd millennium BCE. This connection suggests a long-standing tradition and continuity in religious practices, with gods evolving and adapting to the cultural context.
The Stele of Zakkur is more than an artifact; it is a piece of a historical puzzle that brings to life a vivid picture of ancient Syria. Its geopolitical narrative elucidates the challenges and complexities of ruling during a period marked by alliances and hostilities. The religious insights broaden our understanding of the syncretism and continuity in ancient Near Eastern religious practices.
The discovery and study of the Stele of Zakkur continue to contribute to the field of archaeology and biblical scholarship. As scholars delve deeper into the intricacies of the inscription and its context, the Stele serves as a rich resource, enabling us to reconstruct and comprehend a world long past. The knowledge gained from this find resonates with contemporary scholarship and adds to the collective understanding of the civilizations that have shaped our human history.
The Melqart Stele: An Insight into Ancient Syria
The Melqart Stele, also known as the Ben-Hadad or Bir-Hadad Stele, provides a fascinating glimpse into the political, religious, and cultural landscape of ancient Syria in the 9th century BCE. This Aramaic stele was discovered in 1939 in Roman ruins in Bureij, Syria, 7 km north of Aleppo. Since its discovery, the stele has been the subject of much debate and interpretation. A partial reading: “A stela set up by Barhadad … for his Lord Melqart” (Ancient Near Eastern Texts, p. 655).
Description of the Stele
The Old Aramaic inscription, known as KAI 201, consists of five lines and reads:
“The stele which Bar-Had-
-ad, son of […]
king of Aram, erected to his Lord Melqar-
-t, to whom he made a vow and who heard his voi-
The inscription is concise and represents a dedication to the deity Melqart. This deity, commonly associated with the Phoenician city of Tyre, was worshiped throughout the ancient Near East.
Attribution and Controversy
The identity of the Ben-Hadad mentioned in the inscription has been a subject of scholarly debate. William Foxwell Albright, a prominent archaeologist and Semitic linguist, attributed the stele to Ben-Hadad I, an Aramean king mentioned in the First Book of Kings. Ben-Hadad I was a powerful and influential king who had interactions with the Israelite King Ahab.
However, Kenneth Kitchen, an esteemed Egyptologist and Biblical scholar, contested Albright’s attribution, arguing that there is no tangible evidence that connects the Melqart Stele to Ben-Hadad I. Kitchen’s skepticism urged scholars to take a closer look at the inscription and the context in which it was found.
A recent re-analysis of the stele indicates that the Ben-Hadad referred to may actually be the king of Arpad, a city-state in ancient Syria. This new interpretation opens up further possibilities for understanding the geopolitical dynamics of the region during that time.
The dedication to Melqart is highly significant, as it reflects the religious syncretism common in the ancient Near East. Melqart was a prominent deity in the Phoenician pantheon, often associated with Hercules in the Greco-Roman tradition. The vow made to Melqart and the acknowledgment that the god “heard his voice” indicates a personal and devotional relationship between the king and the deity.
Historical and Geopolitical Context
The 9th century BCE was a period of political flux in the region. The reference to Aram, a region covering parts of modern-day Syria, Jordan, and surrounding areas, highlights the complexities of political boundaries and identities during this time. The potential connection to the king of Arpad further emphasizes the intricate relationships between various city-states and their rulers.
The Melqart Stele is not just an artifact; it is a window into a multifaceted world that existed over two millennia ago. Its inscription offers valuable insights into the religious practices, political landscape, and cultural interactions of ancient Syria. The controversies and debates surrounding its attribution remind us that archaeological finds are often complex and multifaceted, demanding careful scrutiny and consideration. The ongoing dialogue regarding the Melqart Stele continues to enrich our understanding of the ancient Near East and contributes to the ever-evolving field of Biblical archaeology.