I. The Settlement Process of the Tribe of Simeon:
The settlement process of the tribe of Simeon in the south is described in I Chronicles 4 according to which the settlement began in the eastern Negev in the region between Arad/Harama in the east and Beer Sheva in the west (Verse 28: “They dwelt in Beer-Sheba, Moladah and Hazar-shual ….), and existed until the beginning of the United Kingdom (Verse 30: “These were their cities until David reigned”).
Due to demographic pressures (Verse 38: “increased greatly”), the Simeonite families expanded their subsistence area to the plains of the western Negev and Nahal HaBesor (Verse 39: “They journeyed to the entrance to Gedor, to the east side of the valley, to seek pasture for their flocks”). Another phase in the settlement of the tribe occurs when the families of the tribe of Simeon expand their habitation areas southward (Verse 42: “And some of them, five hundred men of the Simeonites, went to Mount Seir”). The Simeonite settlement in Mount Seir, encountered the remnants of the Amalekite tribes that were expelled from the Negev by Saul. The nomadic Amalekite tribes are destroyed by the Simeonites who turn Mount Seir into a new subsistence area for them (Verse 43: “and they destroyed the remnant of the Amalekites that had escaped, and they have dwelt there to this day”).
II. The Geographic Location and Identification of Mount Seir:
Most scholars of the Bible and biblical geography have identified Mount Seir in the Edom Mountains, east of the Arava. And that is also where that name appears on geographic maps.
A careful perusal of the biblical text dealing with Mount Seir has led me to draw the conclusion that the currently accepted location of Mount Seir along the high mountain range east of the Arava is incorrect. In my estimation bBiblical Mount Seir should be identified in the high mountainous range located in the “Central Negev” (according to the modern definition) and referred to today as the “the Negev Highlands”. This subsistence area, located in the heart of the desert in the south, has different geographic and settlement features than the desert regions that surround it. Biblical Mount Seir (the Negev Highlands) is an Irano-Turani enclave that penetrates from the biblical Negev to the Saharo-Sindi desert region. These subsistence regions, which are defined as wildernesses, facilitate an economy based on sheep and goat herding by nomadic and semi-nomadic populations.
III. The Identification of the Builders of the “Israelite Fortresses”:
One of the fascinating phenomena of the archaeology of the Negev Highlands/Mount Seir is the extensive Israelite occupation utilizing the settlement model referred to as: “the Israelite fortress in the Negev Highlands”.
As to the identity of the builders of these fortresses scholars have suggested various proposals, such as Amalekites (Rothenberg), the kings of Israel and Judah (Aharoni), nomadic settlement (Finkelstein), a project initiated by the Kingdom of Israel (Meshel, Cohen and Herzog), and Edomites (Itam). Each of the scholars has his own reasons.
All of the researchers point to the extensive ties that the inhabitants of the fortresses in the Negev Highlands maintained with the settlements in the Beer Sheva Valley, primarily in those aspects connected with architecture and pottery.
I submit that the beginning of the settlement in the fortresses in the Negev Highlands –biblical “Mount Seir”, should be ascribed to the families from the tribe of Simeon who while driving out the remnants of the Amalekites expanded their subsistence areas southward to Mount Seir of the Arava. At a later stage the royal fortresses were built in Mount Seir as part of the struggle by the Kingdom of Judah against Edom and in an effort to take control of the roads to the Red Sea.
The geographic identification of the Negev Highlands as biblical Seir and the Simeonite identity as the first builders of the “Israelite fortresses” is likely to greatly advance the study of the period, the region and its inhabitants.