Tel Burna: Biblical Libnah?


The identification of tell sites with ancient cities mentioned in the biblical texts is hardly ever certain. Often many lines of evidence have to be pursued. Already the late Anson Rainey identified Tel Burna with the biblical town of Libnah (seen here from the west). The directors of the Tel Burna Excavation Project, Itzick Shai and Joe Uziel, also support this identification. They now have several field seasons to assess the evidence. Let’s look at some of the descriptions of Libnah in the Bible.

According to Joshua 10:29, Joshua attacked Libnah. In other words, we should expect to find Late Bronze Age remains at the site of Libnah. The list in Joshua 15 situates Libnah in the western foothills, in the general area of Mareshah. A revolt of Libnah during the time of Jehoram, king of Judah, is mentioned in 2 Kings 8:22. This might indicate that Libnah was at the border of Judah, rather than more central. It is mentioned again in 2 Kings 19:8 as the city Sennacherib besieged and attacked after he had sacked Lachish. We might therefore expect a layer indicating destruction at the end of the 8th century. Hamutal, one of the wives of King Josiah, was from Libnah (2 Kings 23:31 and 24:18). Libnah would therefore have been occupied in the 8th century. These are a good set of criteria.

Tel Burna was occupied in the Late Bronze Age (and also in the EB and MB). It sits in the western foothills, near the proposed border with Philistia. The hill of Tell Safi, identified with Philistine Gath, is visible from Tel Burna, as is Mareshah. We have evidence that it was settled during the early Iron II, that is the 10th and 9th centuries BCE, as well as the 8th century BCE. I am not yet sure whether a destruction in the late 8th century BCE has been confirmed. More importantly, we have clear evidence that it was resettled in the 7th century BCE. All this makes Tel Burna a good candidate for the Biblical city of Libnah.

Another contender is Tel Zayit, only a few kilometers to the west. At first the little tell might not appear to support a big city. But careful survey concluded that at one stage the tell was a lot bigger. While I have not participated in excavations there, I have visited the site and spoken with the excavator, Dr Ron Tappy. There are good remains from the 8th century BCE and earlier periods. The picture shows the view from Tel Zayit across Nahal Gubrin, a stream that would have once ran along the side of the town. But so far an occupation during the 7th century could not be confirmed, as far as I am aware. Still, at the time I considered his argument for an identification with Libnah sustainable. However, over time, the association with Tel Burna has become more convincing.

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This entry was posted in Archaeology, Bible, Discussion, Judah, Tel Burna and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Tel Burna: Biblical Libnah?

  1. Pingback: Places in “Daughter of Lachish” | Tim Frank – imagining the past: Archaeology and the Bible

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