Biblical Archaeology Saul

But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear. (1 Peter 3:15)

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Passages concerning Saul

The Amarna Letters are archaeological artifacts which are correspondences between the city-state rulers of the Levant (Palestine and Mesopotamia) and the Pharaoh of Egypt. They present us with an opportunity to examine the political world at the time of the rise of the Israelite monarchy — the time of Saul and David.

The Amarna Letters log the whole process beginning with the Hebrew revolt in the central hill country of Palestine at the beginning of King Saul's reign and ending with the assault upon Jerusalem in the eighth year of King David. (pg 196, 199 "Pharaohs and Kings" by David Rohl)

Saul Identified | Saul's name | Political situation in Canaan | Saul's defeat at Gilboa | Abner  Ishbaal after Saul's fall | Table of Contents

Saul Identified

The Amarna Letters identify a king named Labayu whose career matches the career of King Saul in every detail.

Saul's rebellion against Egypt.

Saul [Labayu] rebelled against the Philistines and Egypt. The Bible and archaeology both confirm this.

From the Bible From Archaeology
Page numbers from "Pharaohs and Kings" by David Rohl
So all Israel heard the news: "Saul has attacked the Philistine outpost, and now Israel has become a stench to the Philistines." (1 Sam 13:4) The hill country to the north of Jerusalem was dominated by a king who did not show respect toward Egyptian sovereignty in Palestine. (pg 205)

The Philistines owed their allegiance to Egypt so by rebelling against the Philistines Saul was rebelling against Egypt. (pg 209)

Saul is untrained in international politics.

Saul [Labayu] was new to international politics. The Bible and archaeology both confirm this.

From the Bible From Archaeology
Page numbers from "Pharaohs and Kings" by David Rohl
. . . To whom is all the desire of Israel turned, if not to you [Saul]. . . . Saul answered, "But am I not a Benjamite, from the smallest tribe of Israel, and is not my clan the least of all the clans of the tribe of Benjamin? Why do you say such a thing to me?" (1 Sam 9:20, 21) Labayu's [Saul's] scribes were poorly versed in the language employed by the other nations. Albright thinks it is because Labayu [Saul] was new to the game of international politics: he was a king whose "beginnings were insignificant." (pg 209)

Labayu wrote an early letter to the Pharaoh in biblical Hebrew instead of using the Akkadian language. (pg 208)

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Saul's name

Labayu's [Saul's] name means 'great lion.' David uses the word 'lions' in several Psalms when referring to his enemies.

From the Bible From Archaeology
Page numbers from "Pharaohs and Kings" by David Rohl
. . . Of David. . . . When he had fled from Saul into the cave. I am in the midst of lions. . . . (Psalm 57:1, 4)

. . . [Saul] was told, "David is in the Desert of En Gedi." So Saul took three thousand chosen men from all Israel and set out to look for David. . . . A cave was there, . . .  David and his men were far back in the cave. . . . David crept up unnoticed and cut off a corner of Saul's robe. (1 Samuel 1-4)

. . . A psalm of David. . . . Roaring lions tearing their prey open their mouths wide against me. (Psalm 22:1, 13)
Psalm 57 describes King Saul's personal bodyguards as lebaim, a word which means "great lions." (pg 206)

His name was Labayu which means "Great Lion of N" where "N" represents the name of a deity. (pg 205-206)

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Political situation in Canaan

The information presented here is a summary of details in the Amarna Letters that refer to events during the time of Saul and David. It is from a chart on pg 203 of "Pharaohs and Kings" by David Rohl. The information in the Amarna Letters matches in every detail with the biblical text.

From the Bible From the Amarna Letters
The coastal plain is dominated by the five Philistine cities of Ashkelon, Gath, Gaza, Ashdod and Ekron with the king of Gath as their leader. The Philistines also control the Jezreel Valley and are of Indo-European stock. The city-state rulers of the coastal plain and Jezreel Valley bear names of Indo-European origin.
Gezer is ruled by Canaanite kings who are not part of the Philistine confederacy. The city of Gezer is in the hands of Canaanite rulers bearing west-semitic names.
Jerusalem is an independent enclave and is ruled by the Jebusites — an Indo-European or Hurrian elite. The independent city-state of Jerusalem is ruled by a king whose name means 'servant of Heba [a Hurrian goddess].'
The major opponent of David during his long reign was Hadadezer whose sphere of influence encompassed the whole of Syria. The political boundaries of the Amorites and Hadadezer are identical. The region of Syria is dominated by kings of Amorite stock one of whom is named Aziru. These rulers continuously stir up trouble in the region and attack neighboring city-states. The names Hadad-ezra, Hadad-aziru and Aziru all refer to the same person — the biblical Hadadezer.

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Saul's defeat at Gilboa

One of the Amarna Letters mentions that the people of En-Gannim [Gina] are responsible for the death of Saul. A look at the circumstances of the battle at Mt. Gilboa sheds light on the final battle of King Saul.

From the Bible From Archaeology
Page numbers from "Pharaohs and Kings" by David Rohl
Now the Philistines fought against Israel; the Israelites fled before them, and many fell slain on Mount Gilboa. The Philistines pressed hard after Saul and his sons, and they killed his sons Jonathan, Abinadab and Malki-Shua. The fighting grew fierce around Saul, and when the archers overtook him, they wounded him critically. (1 Sam 31:1-3)

"I happened to be on Mount Gilboa," the young man said, "and there was Saul, leaning on his spear, with the chariots and riders almost upon him. (2 Sam 1:6)
The surviving sons of Labayu [Saul] sent a letter to a king urging him to "wage war against the people of En-Gannim [Gina] for having killed their father [Saul]" (pg 217)

Saul made a strategic withdrawal onto the heights of Gilboa to make it difficult for the Philistines to use their chariots and cavalry. In spite of this apparent disadvantage the Philistines pursued the Israelite army up the mountain and pressed home their superiority in numbers. (pg 216)

The town of En-Gannim [Gina] is situated beneath the southern slopes of Gilboa. From this side of the mountain the terrain rises up to the summit in a gentle incline. This is in stark contrast to the steep, almost precipitous northern and western slopes. If the Philistines had been allowed access to the mountain top via the territory of En-Gannim then the strategic advantage of Saul's position would have been lost. It is envisaged that the men of En-Gannim had been positioned to defend the Israelite rear but that they betrayed Saul by allowing the Philistine archers to ascend the mountain unopposed. (pg 218)

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Abner & Ishbaal after Saul's fall

There are two events after the fall of Saul [Labayu] which are corroborated in detail by the archaeological evidence. These are: (1) Saul's son Ish-Bosheth [Ishbaal] is taken to safety by Abner and is eventually made king, and (2) the Philistines immediately occupy the city of Bethshan [Beth Shan]. The Amarna Letters refer to these events.

(1) Ish-Bosheth is rescued and eventually made king.

From the Bible From Archaeology
Page numbers from "Pharaohs and Kings" by David Rohl
Meanwhile, Abner son of Ner, the commander of Saul's army, had taken Ish-Bosheth son of Saul and brought him over to Mahanaim. He made him king over Gilead, Ashuri and Jezreel, and also over Ephraim, Benjamin and all Israel. Ish-Bosheth son of Saul was forty years old when he became king over Israel, and he reigned two years. The house of Judah, however, followed David. (2 Sam 2:8-10)

The war between the house of Saul and the house of David lasted a long time. David grew stronger and stronger, while the house of Saul grew weaker and weaker. (2 Sam 3:1)
The Amarna Letters tell exactly the same story as they relate the activities of 'the two surviving sons of Labayu' [Saul]. These sons were Ishbaal and David. (pg 219)

Only the king's youngest son, Ishbaal and his son-in-law, David, were still alive to succeed him. Ishbaal was taken over to Transjorden by Saul's military commander, Abner, where they remained for the next seven years. In the sixth year following the death of his father, Ishbaal was proclaimed king by Abner, but within two years the young ineffectual second king of Israel was murdered in his palace. David, on the other hand, set himself up as ruler of Hebron before becoming king of all Israel upon the death of Ishbaal. (pg 219)

(2) The Philistines immediately occupy Bethshan.

Notice that in the biblical account the Philistines hang up Saul's body on the wall of Bethshan. This indicates that Bethshan now belongs to the Philistines.

From the Bible From Archaeology
Page numbers from "Pharaohs and Kings" by David Rohl
The next day, when the Philistines came to strip the dead, they found Saul and his three sons fallen on Mount Gilboa. They cut off his head and stripped off his armor, and they sent messengers throughout the land of the Philistines to proclaim the news in the temple of their idols and among their people. They put his armor in the temple of the Ashtoreths and fastened his body to the wall of Beth Shan. When the people of Jabesh Gilead heard of what the Philistines had done to Saul, all their valiant men journeyed through the night to Beth Shan. They took down the bodies of Saul and his sons from the wall of Beth Shan and went to Jabesh, where they burned them. (1 Sam 31:8-12) Abdiheba of Jerusalem writes that immediately after the death of Saul the troops of the western coalition garrison Bethshan. (pg 219)

In the immediate aftermath of the Battle of Gilboa the Jezreel valley was occupied by the armies of the Philistine western allies. Bethshan was garrisoned to prevent the remnants of the Israelite army from regrouping. The fortress of Bethshan guards the eastern end of the Jezreel valley. (pg 219)

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 Revised: Nov 11, 2000