Dothan, Ben-Hadad and a chronological problem (2 Kings 6)

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Illustration: Ahab conquering Ben-Hadad

The chronology of 2 Kings 6 is difficult to reconstruct. There were at least three Aramean (Syrian) kings at Damascus named Ben-Hadad. A plausible sequence is as follows:

  • Ben-Hadad I (son of GTabrimmon, ruled in late tenth to early ninth century B.C., 1 Kings 15:18)
  • Ben-Hadad II (father’s name never given, ruled mid-ninth century B.C.)
  • Hazael (ruled late ninth century B.C., ca. 842-800)
  • Ben-Hadad III (the son of Hazael, ruled early eighth century B.C.)

In addition, it is difficult to determine the historical circumstances behind 2 Kings 6-8. Basic facts are as follows:

  • According to 6:8-23, a king of Damascus tried unsuccessfully to capture Elisha at Dothan. After this episode Israel was for a time spared the depravations brought about by bands of Arameans, but neither the king of Damascus nor the king of Israel is named.
  • However, 6:24-7:20 describe an invasion led by “Ben-Hadad king of Aram” that nearly brought Samaria to its knees (6:25). The text identifies the leader of the Arameans as Ben-Hadad; otherwise, we know only that this event occurred during Elisha’s ministry.
  • 2 Kings 8:7-15 describes the death of “Ben-Hadad” (probably Ben-Hadad II) and the rise of Hazael. This suggests that Ben-Hadad II was the king of 2 Kings 6-7.

The archaeology of Dothan, where Elisha resided, may have bearing on Ben-Hadad’s invasion. Dothan is mentioned in the Bible only in Genesis 37:17 and 2 Kings 6:13. It was strategically located on a highway in the southern Dothan Valley in central Israel, with the Jezreel Valley to the north and Samaria to the south.

Evidence of occupation levels from the Chalcolithic and all three Bronze Ages was found at Dothan, but most of the finds are from the Iron Age II, the period of the Elisha stories. Remains of private homes, storage bins, ovens and pottery vessels were unearthed, along with a large public building.

Excavations were conducted at Dothan in the 1950s. Unfortunately, the reports are unclear, and this lack of definition has made it difficult to piece together the site’s history. There is evidence of a late ninth century B.C. destruction of Dothan, possibly related to Ben-Hadad’s invasion in 6:24. We might speculate that the Ben-Hadad of this verse demolished Dothan during the course of this invasion to secure supply lines for his troops around Samaria. If this Ben-Hadad was indeed Ben-Hadad II, he may also have been the anonymous Aramean king who tried to capture Elisha at Dothan (6:8-23).

This premise would require that both episodes took place early in Elisha’s ministry. Based upon 1 Kings 19:16 and 2 Kings 3, Elisha was anointed around 855 B.C. (near the end of Ahab’s reign) and began his ministry around 851 B.C. (the beginning of Joram’s). 2 Kings 6:31 suggests that Elisha was already a prophet of renown during the invasion of 6:24, since Israel’s king was angry that Elisha had not done more to thwart the incursion. It may be that the events of 6:8-23 helped to establish Elisha’s reputation. If all of this was so, these events must have occurred around 850 B.C., with 6:24 and the following taking place around 845 B.C. We might speculate that the ninth century destruction of Dothan took place around 845 if that destruction is related to this story.

Another possibility is that the Ben-Hadad of 6:24 was Ben-Hadad III and that this story was related öut of sequence for thematic purposes.

Evidence suggests that Dothan was rebuilt and reoccupied in the eighth century B.C. but destroyed again by Assyrians, either in the invasion of Tiglath-Pileser III in 732 or in the final obliteration of the northern kindgom around 721 B.C. Among the pottery finds at eighth century Dothan were carinated bowls of Assyrian origin, attesting to an Assyrian presence or influence at that time. Dothan was then abandoned, although a small settlement was established there during the Hellenistic period.


 

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