Embedded in William Frederic Badè’s meticulous plan of Mizpah are telltale clues that the city thrived throughout the Babylonian and Persian periods (c. 586–400 B.C.). The plan (opposite) was published in black-and-white in the final report on the site. Badè identified most of the remains as Iron Age II (1000–586 B.C.). But several irregularities in the plan, recognizable only with the help of Badè’s more detailed field plans, enabled author Zorn to distinguish separate strata, indicated here by different colors. The earliest, Iron Age remains appear in black; the recently recognized remains of the Babylonian and Persian periods are in red; and later, Hellenistic and Roman period (332–37 B.C.) remains appear in green.

A. A wall runs down the center of a four-room house (Building A), practically filling its central chamber. The photo (below) and detail of the plan (beneath photo) clearly show that the house lies on top of the wall—indicating that the house is later. Although Badè failed to detect two structures here, Zorn claims that the thick lower wall was part of the Iron Age II city’s earliest defenses, formed by the linked back walls of Israelite homes that encircled the city (Stratum 3). The upper house (a four-room house larger than those dating to the Iron Age) Zorn dates to the Babylonian and Persian periods (Stratum 2, 586—c. 400 B.C.).

B. Badè cut a deep exploratory trench just south of the outer gate of the heavy offset-inset wall built by King Asa (908–867 B.C.). Although the published plan (at the beginning of the sidebar) fails to show this trench, it does appear in a later site report (in light green in the detail below). The trench reveals a portion of Asa’s wall (in brown) just south of Building B. Zorn realized that an inner wall (in tan) originally extended from the outer to the inner gate. Building B, another four-room house on the published plan, lies directly on top of the remains of this inner wall; it must have belonged to a later stratum.

Zorn argues that both gatehouses were constructed by Asa and functioned as an inner and outer gate complex until 586 B.C. During the Babylonian period, he suggests, the city’s defenses were reorganized and the inner wall and gate were dismantled. At the same time, the city was rebuilt on a grander scale, with more spacious homes, such as Building B.

C. Directly inside the inner gate lies Building C. If the inner gate and Building C were contemporaneous, a traveler passing through the city’s elaborate entranceway would have walked straight into a wall. The improbability of such an unwelcoming city plan led Zorn to date the inner gate and the house to separate strata, placing the commodious Building C in a later period, Stratum 2.

Bronze Age (c. 3100 B.C.)

Stratum 5

A small village occupies the northwestern corner of the tell for a short period around 3100 B.C., during the Early Bronze Age I. Finds include cave tombs with skeletons (above) and jewelry, handmade pottery juglets and a large jar containing an infant burial. The only architectural remains from this period were identified by the excavator as a silo.

The site is then abandoned for more than 1500 years.

Iron Age I (1200–1000 B.C.)

Stratum 4

More than 50 fragments of Philistine pottery and Israelite collar-rim jars attest to the resettlement of the site. Cisterns, silos and a winepress indicate a variety of agricultural activity.

Iron Age II (1000–586 B.C.)

Stratum 3

King David conquers Jerusalem in about 1000 B.C.

A ring-road settlement, with consecutive bands of small three- and four-room homes, is built at Mizpah.

The United Monarchy of David and Solomon splits into two kingdoms in about 920 B.C., with Israel in the north and Judah in the south; Mizpah lies in Judah near the border. About 20 years later, King Baasha of Israel invades Judah, inspiring King Asa of Judah to fortify his northern border by building a massive offset-inset wall around Mizpah’s ring-road settlement.

Babylonian and Persian Periods (586–c. 400 B.C.)

Stratum 2

The Babylonians destroy Jerusalem and conquer Judah, installing a Jewish leader, Gedaliah, who rules from Mizpah. Gedaliah rebuilds the town on a grander level as his administrative center. The apparent prosperity of the town and the continuing use of Israelite four-room houses in this period is at odds with the Biblical account of an exile of all but the poorest Jews.

Excavated artifacts include enormous sack-shaped storage jars (right), generally dated to the late seventh or early sixth century B.C., and a seal belonging to Ya’azaniah.

The Persian ruler Cyrus the Great captures Babylon in 539 B.C. and permits exiled Jews to return to their homeland. Many Jews resettle in Benjamin, the region around Mizpah. Stamp impressions bear the inscription Yahud (YHWD), the Persian name for Judah. The town continues to prosper, as attested by the remains of spacious residences.

Crushed storage jars on the floor of a house may date to the destruction of the town, in about 400 B.C.

Hellenistic period (332–37 B.C.)

Stratum 1

The city is reoccupied, as attested by a Hellenistic coin found in the foundation trench of the Stratum 1 town wall.

According to the Bible, in a struggle to retake Jerusalem from the Seleucids, the Jewish rebel Judah Maccabeus gathers his forces at Mizpah, in about 160 B.C.

Erosion on the surface of the tell makes it difficult to date the end of the town.