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The Amorites: Bronze Age Invaders Who United an Empire

The Amorites: Bronze Age Invaders Who United an Empire



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Sometime during the third millennium BC, a group of nomadic raiders expanded out of their mountainous homelands in Syria and stormed Mesopotamia. They were known as the Martu or Tidnum to the Sumerians, and the Amar to the Egyptians. These names denote ‘of the west’, or ‘the western people’. In the Book of Genesis 10:16, these people are referred to as the Amorites, descendants of Canaan. The scriptures also state that the Amorites had gigantic chiefs and warriors among them. Amos 2:9 compares the size and strength of the Amorites to the cedar tree, while in Numbers 32:29-32, the Amorites are among the peoples ‘of great stature’ encountered by the Israelite spies. The Amorite chief Og is described in Deuteronomy 3:11 as ‘of the remnant of giants’. In Akkadian, both the Amorites and Syria itself were named after Amurru, a deity of the Amorites. Amurru is also known as Belu Sadi, or ‘Lord of the Mountains’, while his divine consort, Belit-Seri was ‘Lady of the Desert’.

Jebel Bishri Tombs of Amorite Kings

The MAR.TU are mentioned in a tablet from Tell Farah dated to around 2550 BC. MAR-TU/MAR-DU appears on the 24th-century BC Ebla Tablets as a name for both a geographic region as well as its inhabitants. According to Lönnqvist (2008) some scholars have specifically identified the Amorite homeland with Jebel Bishri, a mountain region situated between Palmyra and the Euphrates River. Similarly, Michael Astour (1992) has also traced Mar-du.ki (the Amorite homeland in the Ebla Tablets) to Jebel Bishri. The Mari texts make it clear that during the Bronze Age, Jebel Bishri was the territory of at least two Amorite tribes: the Suteans and the Yaminites.

View on Qasr al-Banat from east city of Ar-Raqqa Ar-Raqqah Governorate ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

There are more than 400 stone burial mounds (or cairns) on the northern and western slopes of Jebel Bishri. The mound fields were generational burial places of the Amorites, and several were utilized for many centuries. For example, Ristvet (2015) found the use of the Tor-Rahum Cairns has been dated to between 1900 and 1600 BC. According to Silver (2014) the tumuli of Jebel Bishri frequently cover stone ring walls surrounding stone burial cists, which contain the remains of dead Amorite chiefs. At Tell Banat in northern Syria, an Amorite occupation dating to between 2450 and 2000 BC produced an extraordinary tumulus known as the White Monument.


Akkadian Empire

The Akkadian Empire ( / ə ˈ k eɪ d i ən / ) [4] was the first ancient empire of Mesopotamia after the long-lived civilization of Sumer. It was centered in the city of Akkad / ˈ æ k æ d / [5] and its surrounding region. The empire united Akkadian (Assyrian and Babylonian) and Sumerian speakers under one rule. The Akkadian Empire exercised influence across Mesopotamia, the Levant, and Anatolia, sending military expeditions as far south as Dilmun and Magan (modern Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Oman) in the Arabian Peninsula. [6]

During the 3rd millennium BC, there developed a cultural symbiosis between the Sumerians and the Akkadians, which included widespread bilingualism. [7] Akkadian, an East Semitic language, [8] gradually replaced Sumerian as a spoken language sometime between the end of the 3rd and the early 2nd millennia BC (the exact dating being a matter of debate). [9]

The Akkadian Empire reached its political peak between the 24th and 22nd centuries BC, following the conquests by its founder Sargon of Akkad. [10] Under Sargon and his successors, the Akkadian language was briefly imposed on neighboring conquered states such as Elam and Gutium. Akkad is sometimes regarded as the first empire in history, though the meaning of this term is not precise, and there are earlier Sumerian claimants. [11] [12]

After the fall of the Akkadian Empire, the people of Mesopotamia eventually coalesced into two major Akkadian-speaking nations: Assyria in the north, and, a few centuries later, Babylonia in the south.


Byblos

Byblos was the ancient Phoenician port city of Gebal (called Byblos by the Greeks) on the coast of the Mediterranean sea in what is, today, Lebanon. According to the historian Durant, “Byblos thought itself the oldest of all cities the god El had founded it at the beginning of time, and to the end of its history it remained the religious capital of Phoenicia." Because papyrus was one of the principal articles in its trade, the Greeks took the name of the city as their word for book - biblos - and from their word for books named our Bible - ta biblia - which means 'the books'. Byblos is among the cities listed as candidates for the distinction of 'oldest city in the world' as it has been continuously inhabited for over 7,000 years. Byblos is listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

Origins

The city began as a small fishing village called Gubal or Gebal while the coastal region of the land, which the Greeks named Phoenicia, was known to the inhabitants as Canaan. By 3000 BCE the little village had grown to a prosperous city through trade. The cedars of Lebanon were highly prized by other countries for use in construction, and Byblos became the single most important shipping port for timber to Egypt and elsewhere. Byblos was also the first city to perfect shipbuilding, and it is largely due to the craftsmanship of the shipwrights of Byblos that Phoenicians acquired their fame as sailors and "princes of the sea" (as they are referred to in the biblical book of Ezekiel). It was primarily through trade with Egypt that Byblos grew so incredibly wealthy. The Egyptians flooded Byblos with material wealth but also with aspects of their culture and Egyptian religion.

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In Egyptian mythology, Byblos is cited as the city where Isis located the body of her dead husband Osiris in the trunk of a tree that had grown around him after his murder by his brother Set. The Phoenicians of Byblos also exported their own tales concerning Phoenician religion, and it is thought that the stories surrounding war in the heavens and an eternal battle between a great god of good and another deity of evil grew out of the Phoenician myths concerning the eternal war between Baal (god of the sky) and Yamm (god of the sea). This myth may have come from the Egyptian tale of the war between Osiris' son Horus and the dark god Set or transference may have gone from the Phoenicians to the Egyptians. The tale of the war in heaven related in the biblical book of Revelation bears many similarities to both these much older myths in the same way that there are many motifs in the Bible borrowed by the scribes who wrote it from earlier tales of other cultures. So closely-knit were the ties between Egypt and Byblos that some historians and scholars have claimed that Byblos was almost an Egyptian colony.

Amorite, Hyksos, & Phoenician Byblos

The Amorites burned the city in their invasion of 2150 BCE. After subduing the populace, they rebuilt and settled in the area. Their control of the region ended in 1725 BCE with the invasion of the Hyksos people who ruled until they were driven out by the Egyptians in 1580 BCE. The Egyptians then lay claim to the coast of Canaan.

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It is during the period of Egyptian occupation that the Phoenician culture developed arguably their most important contribution to the world: their alphabet of 22 characters which replaced cuneiform in written communication. Through trade, the Phoenician alphabet traveled first to Greece around 800 BCE and then spread to other countries through Greek merchants.

Decline of Byblos

Between 1100 and 725 BCE Byblos declined in importance as its sister city, Tyre, grew. After the conquest of the region by Alexander the Great, and the destruction of Tyre in 332 BCE, Byblos again prospered and became completely Hellenized, adopting Greek culture, dress, and language. During the Hellenistic period (330-64 BCE) Byblos became most famous for the production of papyrus which would give it its Greek name. In 64 BCE the region was conquered by the Roman general Pompey the Great and continued as a Roman colony from 64 BCE to 395 CE. The Romans, as usual, improved upon the city they found, ordering the streets and building large temples, Roman baths, and civic gardens.

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After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire controlled Byblos from 395-637 CE when the Muslim Arab invaders took the region and drove the Byzantines out. Under Muslim rule, Byblos steadily declined in wealth and importance. Now known as the city of Jbail, the Muslims considered it of so little importance that they did not even bother to rebuild the defences they had destroyed in taking the city. The great port was virtually ignored for centuries and provided an easy target for invading Crusaders in 1098 CE during the First Crusade. Once the Crusaders had been driven out, the Muslim rulers continued to neglect the city, busying themselves with rule further inland. Byblos was forgotten for centuries until the work of the French historian Ernest Renan brought the city back to light in 1860 CE.


Ancient History

I’ve written about the Sumerian civilisation, from the beginning of Mesopotamian history until the fall of the Third Dynasty of Ur in 2004BC (Middle Chronology) and I’ve written a little bit about the Bronze Age Kassites (more to follow about them later) but I haven’t dealt with the intervening period, so here goes.

After the fall of Ur, the kingdom of Elam (located in present day south-western Iran) dominated the south of Mesopotamia. A number of small city-states in Mesopotamia had small kingdoms that negotiated and fought each other, but there was no dominant empire to replace the great Sumerian kingdom of Ur. These cities had had powerful governors during the time of Ur and these now became independent kings. Cities such as Ebla, Mari, Asshur, Babylon, Larsa and Eshnunna were the main centres of power in the Mesopotamian region.

Sumerian now had ceased to be spoken by most of the inhabitants of Mesopotamia and the Semitic language, Akkadian was widely used. Sumerian did however continue to function as the language of learning, much like Latin in the Middle Ages in Western Europe. Scribes would be trained to write in Akkadian, but also to be able to write parallel texts in Sumerian as well. These parallel texts over the next millennia would provide the key to translating Sumerian. The fact that Sumerian is a language isolate means that it would have been almost impossible to translate were it not for the fact that there are numerous parallel texts, creating a multitude of Rosetta Stones as it were.

Cuneiform
A new people group moved into Mesopotamia from the west. The Akkadian word for the west and the western peoples roughly translates as Amurru, so these people have been referred to as the Amorites. It is unclear if this is the same group that are mentioned as inhabiting Canaan in the Bible, as the Hebrew derivation is different. They spoke a Semitic language and had been known in Mesopotamia since around the time of Sargon of Akkad, albeit as nomads on the outskirts.

As the Third Dynasty of Ur collapsed and city states became independent the Amorites moved into the power vacuum and took over many of the cities of Mesopotamia. The language was very similar to Akkadian and they probably had similar gods. In any case they effectively merged with existing Akkadian culture and the scribal tradition continued. In archaeological terms a dark age merely means an era where texts are scarce, regardless of whether civilisation declined in other respects. The continued literary tradition means that although the Amorites were “barbarian invaders” this era is still well-documented. Interestingly the sheer amount of independent cities appear to have made this era the age with the highest literacy in cuneiform writing, with many individuals outside the scribal class being able to write.

Inscription of Yakhdun-Lim, the king ousted by Shamshi-Adad
It is however, quite difficult to categorise the era well. There were a host of small kingdoms and we have a large amount of texts dealing with diplomacy between them. Alliances and betrayals happened with bewildering frequency and dynasties rose and fell like pendulums in a hurricane. Isin was initially dominant in the south before eventually being eclipsed by Larsa, while in the north Mari eventually became more powerful than Ebla.

To the east lay Elam, a powerful kingdom that was a dominant force when the cities were divided but which did not have the resources to fight the cities of Mesopotamia when they were united. To the south lay the marshy sea where the trade with Meluhha (probably the Indus Valley) and other civilisations continued. To the west lay the desert, where pastoral nomads roamed. To the north-west lay the cities of Mari and Ebla in modern day Syria and to the north was the city of Asshur, which was destined to change history but was at the time a small insignificant city.

Mural from the wall of the palace of Mari showing the
Investiture of Zimri Lim after his return
Shamshi-Adad, son of Ila-kabkabi, went to Karduniaš (Babylon) in the time of Naram-Sin. In the eponymy of Ibni-Adad, Shamshi-Adad went up from Karduniaš (Babylon). He took Ekallatum, where he stayed three years. In the eponymy of Atamar-Ištar, Shamshi-Adad went up from Ekallatum. He ousted Erišum, son of Naram-Sin, from the throne and took it. He ruled for 33 years.
Assyrian KingList

Around 1830BC a man called Shamshi-Adad came to power as the ruler of a small city in northern Mesopotamia. Some initial setbacks at the hands of the king of Eshnunna forced him to flee to the minor city of Babylon for a time but soon he had become king of both Ekallatum and Asshur before expelling the prince Zimri-Lim from Mari, after the probable death of his father, and controlling it as well. Shamshi-Adad had forged an empire in the north of Mesopotamia.

To stabilise this empire Shamshi-Adad parcelled out the cities under his rule to his sons, while he remained as overall ruler in his new capital of Shubat-Enlil. He did not get on with his younger son, who had the difficult task of controlling the city of Mari, and the correspondence between the two gives a revealing picture of father-son relationship problems throughout the millennia.

How long do we have to guide you in every matter? Are you a child, and not an adult? Don't you have a beard on your chin? When are you going to take charge of your house? Don't you see that your brother is leading vast armies? So, you too, take charge of your palace, your house!
Letter from Shamshi-Adad to his son Yasmakh-Adad (viceroy of Mari) comparing him to his brother Ishme-Dagan in a none-too-favourable light.

Shamshi-Adad held his empire together until his death but the empire did not long survive its creator. Zimri-Lim returned to Mari after the hapless son of Shamshi-Adad (Yasmakh-Adad) was expelled from Mari, probably by the armies of Eshnunna. Ishme-Dagan managed to hold the core of his father’s empire together but the kingdom was now merely a minor player again. However the fact that Shamshi-Adad had been able to create this empire showed that a strong ruler could potentially unite the warring cities, if they were cunning enough with both swords and letters.

Hammurabi, king of Babylon, mustered his army and marched against Rim-Sin, king of Ur. Hammurabi captured Ur and Larsa and took their property to Babylon.
From the Chronicle of Early Kings

The Code of Hammurabi
Hammurabi was a king of Babylon, which was a small city state that had never previously achieved political prominence. His early reign involved making strong diplomatic contacts with other powerful cities in Mesopotamia, while acknowledging the general overlordship of the king of Elam. The Elamites attacked Eshnunna in an attempt to push their power into the plains of Mesopotamia. Hammurabi seems to have been allied with the Elamites at this time but soon after made an alliance with Larsa to attack and defeat the Elamites before turning on the city of Larsa with the aid of his ally Zimri-Lim of Mari.

“I told you my concerns… Why do I want Hit? Your country’s power lies in donkeys and chariots. My country’s power lies in ships. That is exactly why I really want the bitumen and pitch from that city. Why else would I want the city from him? In return for Hit, I will listen to anything Zimri-Lim asks.”
Hammurabi writing to Zimri-Lim of Mari

In recent history control of resources, particularly oil, has been cited as a cause of wars between states, with many alleging that it was the underlying cause for the latest Gulf Wars. Even Daesh or IS are concerned to seize wells and refineries in Iraq and Syria. The oldest known diplomatic dispute that eventually led to war was actually in this region under Hammurabi. Oil was not used as a fuel source. Before refineries to transmute the petroleum and wells to drill for the easier grade the only oil available was that which oozed from the ground naturally in a sticky tar like bitumen. This tar was used to caulk the river ships that were used for trade along the Tigris and the Euphrates and was a valuable resource. Hammurabi wanted to gain control of the town of Hit, where these bitumen deposits were plentiful. Unfortunately for Hammurabi this town was controlled by his ally Zimri-Lim and there are letters where Hammurabi demands that the town be ceded to him. Zimri-Lim refused and when hostilities later broke out this was undoubtedly a motive for Hammurabi’s attack. This is the first verifiable war fought with petroleum as a possible motive.

Ask the oracles about Hammurabi of Babylon. Will this man ever die? Does he speak honestly with us? Will he declare war? Will he start a siege when I am on campaign in the north? Ask questions about that man. When you have done the questioning once, repeat it and write me all the answers to your questions.
Zimri-Lim of Mari writing to his wife Shibtu asking for oracles about his ally Hammurabi

The ruined ziggurat at Mari
After Larsa was crushed Hammurabi attacked Mari and possibly killed Zimri-Lim. The remaining territory of the city of Asshur paid tribute after this. A later revolt by Mari was crushed by Hammurabi and the city never regained prominence. At the time of Hammurabi’s death he had subjugated most of present day Iraq and most of eastern Syria.

This post has become significantly longer than anticipated so I will break it into two with the second to follow shortly.


1. Introduction: Amorites, their legacy, and the study of identity
2. Communities at the margins: the origins of Amorite identity, 2500–2200 B.C.
3. Beyond pastoralism: diaspora and opportunity, 2200–2000 B.C.
4. Mercenaries and merchants: networks of political and economic power, 2000–1800 B.C.
5. Competition and emulation: the Amorite Koiné from Dilmun to Avaris, 1800–1500 B.C. 6. Conclusion: Amorite identity in the long durée.

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The Assyrians, Hittites and Kassite Babylonians vied with one another for power

Thus, with the destruction of the Mittani, the stage was set for a rivalry between three powerful empires. The Assyrians to the northeast, the Hittites to the northwest and the Kassite Babylonians to the south.

These three empires would vie with one another for power. Frightened by the growth of Assyrian power, the Babylonians allied with the Hittites to curb their expansion, but it proved pointless. For the second and third times, Babylon was sacked and burned to the ground by a succession of Assyrian kings. Yet no sooner would a new ruler of Babylon be named than he would try to break free of Assyrian control.


The Amorites: Bronze Age Invaders Who United an Empire - History

By the dawn of the Bronze Age, the Levant had seen the rise of several different kingdoms. Some Semitic like the Eblaite and Yamhad kingdoms, and others Indo-European like Mitanni and the Hittite Empire. This multi-cultural land was populated by Semitic-speakers like the Amorites, Indo-European speakers like the Luwians, and Alarodian-speakers like the Hurrians. Historical facts, which disprove the claims of Aramean supremacists and their propaganda of a purely Semitic and Aramaic land.

One argument that Aramean supremacists attempt to use against the very idea of an ethnic Rûm identity, as if they have the right to enforce their beliefs upon another community, is that Greeks are “foreigners” and “invaders” to the Levant. Throughout the region, the need to justify one's culture as ‘indigenous’ is paramount to justifying one's political authority or right to exist. Arab, Israeli, and now also Aramean supremacists all fight for the right to be called ‘indigenous.' However, the reality is that this title belongs to people that have long gone extinct, such as the Canaanites, Luwians, and Amorites. Those who may or may not claim this title today did not emerge as a people or culture until after the infamous Bronze Age Collapse.

It is around this time that the first ethnic Greeks settled the Levant, historically known as the Sea Peoples. Arriving along the coast, this collection of tribes separated, some developing their own civilizations like the Philistines around Gaza, and Kingdom of Palistin in Northern Syria. While others mingled with the local Canaanites to create the great Phoenician Civilization. Meanwhile, at the same time history sees the emergence of both the ancient Israelites and Arameans for the first time. Therefore, blessing all three with the same rights to the title of ‘indigenous’.

The first undisputed reference to the Arameans as a distinct people appears in the inscriptions of the Assyrian King Tiglath Pileser I (c.1100 B.C.). Originating in what is today southern and central Syria. The Arameans displaced the indigenous Amorites from the region, and in the aftermath created several Aramaic-speaking city-states of their own, such as Aram-Damascus. Like the ancient Greeks of the Aegean, the Arameans never had a united ‘state’ but reminded divided between numerous city-states.

It is with this being said that the Aramean argument of Greeks being “foreigners” and “invaders” falls apart. If the Greek is an invader for displacing the original inhabitants of the coast after the Bronze Age Collapse. Then what are the Arameans for doing the very same to the Amorites in central and southern Syria? How can one identity be deemed ‘indigenous’, and the other “foreigner”, when they both arose at the same time?

Aramean supremacists have long portrayed the Levant’s Hellenistic period and Hellenization as a form of cultural imperialism. This over-simplistic approach to Levantine history is not just wrong, but blatantly Hellenophobic. To make matters worse, these propagandists conveniently forget that the region also went through a process of Aramaization. Just which, if any, of these two cultural expansion, was truly imperialistic?


Old Testament Life and Literature (1968)

Chapter 7 - The People, from the Early Bronze to the Early Iron Ages

MANETHO, the Egyptian priest-historian of the third century B.C., writes of Egyptian history in terms of dynasties. Modern historians, without abandoning Manetho's pattern, prefer broader designations of Protodynastic, Old, Middle and New Kingdoms to mark periods of outstanding prosperity and development, with "Intermediate Periods" to designate eras of weakness.

During the Protodynastic period (c. 2900-2700 B.C.) widespread commercial interests brought Egypt into touch with Syria and Mesopotamia, resulting in interchange of products and skills. Now a new concept of monarchy developed in united Egypt. The pharaoh was recognized as a god consequently, Egyptian government became a pharaoh or god-centered bureaucracy with a powerful priesthood. Memphis, near the junction of Upper and Lower Egypt, was the capital and nearby Heliopolis the headquarters of the priesthood. Godship and immortality are closely linked concepts hence increasing importance was placed on the burial of the Pharaoh. Royal tombs of the first dynasty were underground pits lined with brick and roofed with timber and matting. About the central chamber, small offering rooms were clustered, and adjacent to the royal tomb were graves of servants. In time a superstructure, a rectangular shell with sloping sides called a mastaba (platform), was added.

During the Old Kingdom (c. 2700-2200 B.C.), which encompasses the third to sixth dynasties, the great pyramids were built. For Djoser, the first monarch, a royal mausoleum was erected by the gifted priest-magician-engineer-architect, Imhotep. Five mastabas of diminishing size were imposed one upon the other to form the famous step-pyramid. Succeeding monarchs built larger and smaller pyramids. Egyptian territorial control was extended to Nubia in the south and Palestine and Syria in the north and east, and the resultant trade and inflow of products and wealth brought higher standards of living and better education to the common people. Schools of wise men produced aphorisms similar to those preserved in the book of Proverbs. However, huge building projects, expensive military forays, and perhaps royal indolence brought Egypt to a point of weakness and foreigners, possibly Amorites, l gained control of the land. This dark page in Egypt's history is classified as the First Intermediate Period (c. 2200-1900 B.C.). Despite the "darkness" of the era, or perhaps as a result of it, a remarkable literary document "A Dispute Over Suicide" was written. 2 A man, weary of life, argues with his soul the merits of self-destruction after a fashion that calls to mind the unhappy lot of Job and the philosophy of Ecclesiastes.

CHART V - POLITICAL AND CULTURAL FACTORS

Early Bronze or Early Urban

Protodynastic Period (2900-2700): Unification of Egypt
Old Kingdom (2700-2200): Mastabas and pyramids Extensive literature
First Intermediate Period (2200-1990): Amorite Invasion Early Dynastic Period (2800-2360): Founding of great cities Development of writing Primitive democracy yields to monarchy Flood legends, great epics
Old Akkadian Period (2360-2180): Semitic control-Sargon of Agade Gutian invasion Sumerian Renaissance Early Urban Period:
Walled cities Under Egyptian control Amorite invasion about 2200 Middle Kingdom (1990-1786): Theban rulers Extensive trade Building, writing, art, literature flourish
Second Intermediate Period (1786-1570): Hyksos control Elamites and Amorites in control Rise of Assyrian Power Time of Hammurabi References to "Habiru" Cassites control Babylon Hittite attacks Canaanite invasion
Eighteenth century invasion by Hyksos
Horse and chariot introduced
Time of Abraham and patriarchs New Kingdom (1570-1290): Expulsion of Hyksos Time of Akhenaten Reference to 'Apiru , Time of Hebrew Exodus Invasion by Sea People Hittites master smelting of iron Under Egyptian and Hittite (?) control
Invasion by Philistines
Invasion by Hebrews

The time of the Hebrew Kingdoms

In Mesopotamia, the Early Bronze Age embraces both the Early Dynastic (c. 2800-2360 B.C.) and the Old Akkadian (c. 2360-2180 B.C.) periods. Such great cities as Shuruppak, Eshnunna and Erech were founded in the Early Dynastic era. Writing developed away from pictographic forms and a tremendous literature was produced. Shortly after 2500 B.C., a chronology of rulers known as the Sumerian King List cataloged kings who reigned before and after the great flood.Reigns of tremendous length (43,000 to 18,000 years) were ascribed to the eight antediluvian monarchs, a familiar literary device by which "history" is extended into the distant past and vast periods of time encompassed by simply listing names (cf. Gen. 5). The flood is reported next, after which kingship was again established at Kish. At first, post-diluvian dynasties embrace vast periods of time (24,510 years), but as the period in which the writing was composed is approached, more reasonable figures begin to appear (100, 99, 491, 25 years).

A GRANITE BOWL FROM THE EARLY PROTODYNASTIC PERIOD. Long before men learned to form vessels out of clay and bake their products for lasting hardness, they worked the hard stone to form vessels of simple form and beautiful shape. Similar stone vessels have been found in Palestine.

A Sumerian flood story relating the adventures of Ziusudra, a priest-king who escaped in a boat, was later incorporated in the Gilgamesh Epic as part of a literary struggle with the issues of life and death. Gilgamesh (another Sumerian hero-king) hears the story from Utnapishtim, who has replaced Ziusudra as the hero of the flood. 3 Other myths relate stories of gods and goddesses and, with hymns and prayers, provide valuable insights to religious beliefs and practices.

Additional documents record business affairs, the building of temples, legal issues, and taxation problems. Earliest Sumerian cities appear to have had a form of "primitive democracy," according to Thorkild Jacobsen. 4 Everyday business affecting the community was handled by a committee of elders, but major issues were voted upon by the adult free men. In an emergency, one person could be appointed leader pro tem . The unwieldy nature of this arrangement yielded to the centralization of authority in one individual, a leader or governor, who was recognized as the representative of the particular god of the city. In this capacity his duties included concern for religious matters such as sacrifice and temple building and for community welfare, which involved maintenance of irrigation channels and a protecting army. The will of the gods was sought in all matters.

Graves of common people were pits into which the body, wrapped in matting or placed in a wooden or clay coffin, was placed, usually on one side in the sleep position with a cup placed before the face. So-called "royal" burials at Ur were most lavish. Huge underground pits in which a stone burial chamber for the "king" or "queen" was erected contained the bodies of guards, servants and animals. Within the tomb chamber, the royal bodies were lavishly attired, and large quantities of gold and silver household items, weapons and personal jewelry were placed nearby. Because the names of these monarchs are not found in any list of royal personages known to date, it has been suggested that they may have been individuals appointed king or queen for sacrificial ceremonies of fertility rites. Artistic talent is demonstrated in exquisite work in stone, copper, silver, gold, electrum and lapis lazuli. Harps and lyres indicate enjoyment of music. Sculpting was highly developed. The Early Dynastic was a period of great art and literature.

The Old Akkadian period began when Semitic peoples, who had been moving into the area for many years and whose names began to appear with greater frequency in Sumerian documents, assumed kingship. Only minor cultural changes took place and Sumerian customs were continued, but the Semitic tongue was the language of the land, although a Sumerian cuneiform script was used. Sargon, the Semitic king of Agade, brought Mesopotamia under his domain in a series of conquests and extended his kingdom through Syria to the Mediterranean. His dynasty ended with the invasion of the Gutians, a people from the eastern Caucasus about whom little is known. Their control lasted for only 100 years, then Sumerians resumed power and introduced a short-lived cultural renaissance lasting until about 1960 B.C.

The corresponding period in Palestine is the Early Bronze or Early Urban period (c. 3300-2000 B.C.), a time when villages became walled towns encircled by cultivated fields and grazing grounds, each with its dependent hamlets. Beth Yerah, Megiddo, Beth Shan, Shechem, Gezer, Lachish, Jericho and Ai were among the powerful centers. Well built homes, large public buildings and granaries were protected by heavy walls of stone or mud brick. No single power united the land, although much of the time, Egyptian garrisons with petty princes controlled key cities. Canaanite, a Semitic language, was written in a syllabic script influenced by Egyptian writing. Egyptian influence can also be seen in pottery patterns. A unique pottery with a red and black burnish of unusual beauty, known as Khirbet Kerak ware after the site where it was first found, reflects the intrusion of a people from the north whose identity is not yet known. Of religious beliefs, little is known. At Megiddo a large circular stone altar was uncovered (see photograph) upon which pottery fragments and animal bones were found, suggesting a place of offering. A large rectangular temple was found at Ai. Burial caves, often containing between twenty-five and fifty entombments, suggest family tombs utilized over long periods of time. Jugs, juglets and bowls found in the graves may have contained food, liquids and unguents.

AN OPEN-AIR CANAANITE ALTAR FOR BURNT OFFERING FOUND AT MEGIDDO. The huge circular altar comes from the last years of the Early Bronze Age and is twenty-nine feet in diameter and six and a half feet high. At the base of the six steps that lead up to the altar, animal bones were found. An adjoining sanctuary can be seen in the lower right hand portion of the photograph with a square altar with four steps.

The final years of this period in Palestine are marked by the same decline noted in Egypt. Waves of desert people swept into the land, and battles decreased the number of city dwellers. Established patterns were abandoned and new pottery, weapons, architecture and burial customs were introduced. The newcomers are usually identified as Amorites. Having destroyed the towns, these pastoral nomads were content to dwell in unwalled communities. Family-tomb burials ceased and individuals were interred in local cemeteries. Variations in funerary practices indicate that the newcomers represented different tribal groups with individualistic customs.

The resumption of the city-state marks the end of Amorite control. The newcomers who dominate the Middle Bronze Age (c. 2000-1500 B.C.) are broadly identified as Canaanites, a Semitic people whose origins are not known.. The Amorites appear to have been content to dwell with the Canaanites, but once again new weapons, pottery and interment patterns are introduced. Heavy walls reinforced with towers protected the towns. Large dwellings, some with upper stories, were constructed. The dead were placed with pottery and bronze weapons in oblong stone lined trenches and covered with stone slabs. Pottery was fashioned in new shapes on a fast wheel, covered with a deep red slip and highly burnished. For the first time, bronze appears in abundance.

During the Middle Kingdom, which coincides with the twelfth dynasty (c. 1990-1786 B.C.), Egypt was ruled by Thebans. If Abraham's visit to Egypt is dated between the twentieth and nineteenth centuries, it occurs when Egyptian splendor was at a peak. Nubia was held by Egypt, and Sinai was exploited for metals and stone for statuary. Egyptian engineers constructed a canal linking the Nile and the Red Sea so that trade from Arabia and Mesopotamia flowed by seaway into Egypt to meet merchants and ships from the Mediterranean. Egyptian art found expression in buildings, ornaments and tomb paintings. Literary talent abounded. Coffin texts, religious documents, were written in the lids of coffins. The "Tale of Sinuhe," with its important description of Palestine and Syria, is from this era. 5

The Second Intermediate period, during which art, architecture, literature and economy entered a period of decline, lasted from the thirteenth to seventeenth dynasties (c. 1786-1570 B.C.). The nation, weakened by internal political strife, was easy prey for a people of mixed stock, known as the Hyksos, 6 who seized and held rule for 150 years (c. 1700-1570 B.C.). Excavations in Palestine indicate that the Hyksos built city walls of beaten earth with a sloping face, encircled their cities with dry moats, utilized the horse and chariot for rapid troop movement, and employed the composite bow and arrow. In the literature of the period, other migrations are mentioned - the Hurrians 7 and Habiru (who will be discussed below) - and it is possible that some of these may have joined the Hyksos movement. 8 Josephus identified the Hyksos with the ancestors of the Jews and their expulsion by Pharaoh Alimose with the Exodus. 9

HYKSOS GLACIS (SLOPING RAMP) AT JERICHO. The sloping face of the Hyksos glacis begins in the lower left-hand corner of the photograph and can be traced upward to the top of the picture. When the Hyksos came to Palestine they constructed cities on the tops of ancient tells, and introduced a new structural concept in defence works. The slope of the tell was hardened by pounding and packing the earth (terre pisée) and the packed surface was coated with a thin coating of Plaster (visible in the picture) . The city wall was built at the top of this glacis making attacks very difficult.

The New Kingdom (eighteenth to twentieth dynasties) began with Ahmose, lasted from approximately 1570 to 1290 B.C., and constitutes ancient Egypt's most glorious period. Ahmose, using the new weapons introduced by the Hyksos, unified the nation and extended its borders from the fourth cataract of the Nile to the Euphrates. Once again art, architecture and religion flourished. A vigorous commercial policy brought new products from foreign nations. Royal marriages were made with foreign princesses.

A few of Ahmose's immediate successors are worthy of comment. Queen Hatshepsut, mother of Thutmose III (1490-1436 B.C.), who by law could not officially reign, donned royal robes, wore the double crown, and for eighteen years (c. 1486 to 1468) conducted affairs of state and engaged in extensive building. At her death, Thutmose III disfigured his mother's monuments and then turned his attention to the expansion of the empire, conducting campaigns into Palestine and Syria. His successor, Amenhotep II (c. 1436-1410), an athlete and warrior, held the territories and, when Amenhotep III (c. 1400-1364) became king, Egypt was at a peak of power.

Amenhotep IV (c. 1370-1353), son of Amenhotep III, served as co-ruler during his father's declining years, but altered his name to Akhenaten when he came to power and made dramatic changes in religion and government. Sun worship, central in Egyptian history, was continued, but the center of worship was moved to a new city, Akhetaten (El Amarna), thus depriving ancient worship centers of power, prestige and wealth. The various animal manifestations of the sun were abandoned, and only the sun disc (Aten) was recognized. A hymn to the sun, bearing striking parallels to Ps. 104, may have been composed by the monarch. The well-being of the nation faltered under Akhenaten, and control of Palestinian provinces, as indicated in the El Amarna letters, 10 was slipping away through political intrigue and invasion by a people called the 'apiru.

Only four other pharaohs will be mentioned. Seti I (c. 1302-1290 B.C.) conducted campaigns in Palestine and Syria. Rameses II (c. 1290-1224 B.C.) fought the Hittites in an attempt to regain Syria and Palestine, but had to be satisfied with Palestine. Both Seti and Rameses were involved in building programs at Per-Rameses (the House of Rameses) and Pi-Tum, called Raamses and Pithom in Exodus 1: 11. Mernephtah (c. 1224-1214 B.C.) campaigned in Palestine, and in his fifth year published his conquests in Canaan on a victory stele, mentioning the cities of Ashkelon, Gezer and Yenoam, and going on to announce "Israel is laid waste his seed is not." The grammatical structure of the claim indicates that a people rather than a country is meant by "Israel." Rameses III (1195-1164 B.C.) came to the throne following a number of contenders who held brief rule after Mernephtah's death. New invaders, the "Sea People," threatened the land. Among these were the "Peleste" who settled the Philistine plain after a sea and land battle. A pictorial and verbal record of the encounter has been preserved in Rameses' mortuary temple at Medinet Habu.

The next 700 years of Egyptian history are marked by strife within the nation and decline in international power. Only for brief periods does Egypt exert real influence beyond her own borders, and because these periods affect biblical history, they will be considered in their proper sequence.

Political changes were also taking place in Mesopotamia. After the Neo-Sumerian period, Elamites and Amorites controlled Southern Mesopotamia. Of the Amorite rulers, the most distinguished was Hammurabi, a military, administrative and economic genius who united the country. His famous law code, reflecting, in part, earlier codes, contains many regulations not unlike those found in the Bible, indicating a broad common pattern of dealing with legal issues in the Near East. Administrative, trade and commercial, building and agricultural matters appear in documents of this period. A religious text contains a myth in which man is formed of clay in the image of the gods. 11 Another myth relates the story of creation by the chief god of Babylon, Marduk. Representing the forces of order, he defeats the powers of chaos and forms the world and man, utilizing in part the bodies of defeated gods. The leader of the opposition forces, Tiamat, is split in half: one part of her divided body is arched to form the heavens and the other part stretched out to form the earth and sea. The sun, moon and stars are made to mark the divisions of the year. The blood of the rebel god Kingu, the consort of Tiamat, is mingled with clay and man is formed with the express purpose of serving the gods. 12 During this same period, reference to a people called "Habiru" is found in diplomatic correspondence.

A LIMESTONE RELIEF OF AMENHOTEP IV (AKHENATEN) AND QUEEN NEFERTITE. The rays of the sun stream from above and terminate in hands, two of which present the symbol of life, the ankh , to the Pharaoh and his wife.

Toward the middle of the seventeenth century, Cassites from the eastern mountains overcame Babylon and succeeded in establishing a kingdom that lasted into the twelfth century. The Cassite period is most obscure, but it is clear that they were under pressure from two other peoples, Hittites and Assyrians.

The Hittite nation, centered in Anatolia, arose during the second millennium (the period of the Old Empire), 13 when Indo-Europeans took control of the existing native population and established a feudal nobility under a monarch with limited powers. Some attempts at expansion were made around 1800 B.C., but it was not until the sixteenth century that the Hittites pushed into Syria and then eastward to Babylon. In the New Empire (c. 1460-1200 B.C.), Hittite power again affected Syria and Upper Mesopotamia, incorporating the kingdoms of the Mitanni 14 and engaging in clashes with Egyptians. Hittite documents indicate that wars generally ended with settlement treaties which clearly reveal the use of diplomatic strategy. One contribution of these people to Near Eastern culture is the use of iron. Between the fourteenth and twelfth centuries, Hittites, used iron for weapons, holding a virtual monopoly on this product. Weakened by internal problems and by the invasion of Syria by Sea Peoples, the Hittite empire finally fell under attacks from less civilized peoples from the North. Hittite power was never again a threatening force in the Near East. After the collapse of the Hittite empire in the twelfth century, iron came into common use in Palestine, first among the Philistines, then among the Hebrews. 15

THE HiTTITE WEATHER GOD TESHUB holding a hatchet (thunderbolt) in his upraised right hand and a trident (forked lightning?) in his left. He wears a short fringed tunic with a wide belt. His horned helmet is reminiscent of the bull figures often associated with him. The statue was found at Til Barsip.

The Philistines, the Peleste branch of the Sea People, settled in Palestine in the twelfth century BC. While it cannot be proven beyond all shadow of doubt, it is believed on the basis of pottery similarities that they are related to the Mycenaeans whose beginnings go back to the nineteenth century when waves of Indo-Europeans invaded Greece. During the fourteenth and thirteenth centuries, the Mycenaeans developed a tremendous export industry and their pottery was shipped to important Mediterranean centers. In the twelfth century some upset seems to have occurred in Mycenaean life, perhaps an Earthquake, disrupting normal settled life. Bands of people usually associated with Mycenaeans began to roam the seas, apparently seeking a new place to settle. These "Sea People," as they are called in Egyptian literature, first threatened the delta during the reign of Rameses II and were defeated by his successor Mernephtah. The participants are called Danaans and Achaeans, names used by Homer to designate Greeks. 16 It appears that Cyprus, Ras es-Shamra, and the Hittite country, were also attacked at this time. 17

A second wave of Sea People, which broke into two parts, followed the first. One group, the Tjikal or Tjeker, struck north Syria. The other, the Peleste or Pulusatu, attacked Egypt. After a bitter land and sea battle they were prevented from entering Egypt proper and were held to the area known as the Philistine Plain in southern Palestine. Here they settled in five major cities: Ashkelon. Ashdod, Ekron, Gath and Gaza, but their activities and holdings were much more extensive as revealed by excavations at Tell Qasile, Gezer, Beth Shan and elsewhere. The northern group settled the seacoast around Tyre and Sidon, an area ultimately called "Phoenicia" by the Greeks. 18

We know something of Philistine dress. Rameses III depicted the sea battle in his mortuary temple at Medinet Habu and the Philistines are shown wearing kilts and armored vestments. On their heads were high feathered headresses with chin straps and they carried huge round shields, bronze swords and spears. Those who attacked by land were similarly attired and came in horse drawn chariots and carts drawn by oxen. The same feathered headdress is depicted on a sarcophagus from Tell Far'a.

It would appear that the Philistines were organized along the state pattern with local rulers for each unit. Little is known of their industry, apart from the characteristic pottery and the reference to the control of the iron industry (I Sam. 13:19 ff). Whatever their language may have been, it would appear that they soon adopted the Canaanite tongue, for they appear to have had little difficulty in communicating with the Hebrews. 19 Like other peoples in Palestine, they suffered the pressures of the great powers around them, utterly disappearing from history after the neo-Babylonian period (sixth century) and leaving only their name to designate the territory they partially occupied (Palestine). 20

A POTTERY SARCOPHAGUS FOUND AT TELL FAR'A, a site about ten miles inland on the Philistine plain. The lid, in the form of a human face and arms, may reveal Egyptian influence, but the high headdress suggests that the coffin was for a Philistine burial.

One other people, the Assyrians, were destined to play an important role in Near Eastern and Hebrew history. The nation was located in the foothill region of the Kurdistan mountains at the middle course of the Tigris, and both country and capital city were named after the god Asshur. Excavations at Asshur show the site to have been occupied in the early third millennium but Assyria did not begin its rise until the second millennium with the decline of power of the first Babylonian Dynasty. Language and religious beliefs were like those of Babylon. In the second half of the eighteenth century B.C. under King Shamsi-Adad, the city-state of Asshur began to develop in power and independence, ultimately to become the basis for the formation of the Assyrian Empire, which lasted until the end of the seventh century B.C. Under Tiglath Pileser I (C. 1100 B.C.), Assyrians took possession of land as far as Lake Van on the north and Syria and the Mediterranean Sea on the west. The events of the next centuries are obscure, but in the ninth century under Ashurnasirpal II, when a military machine renowned for its efficient ruthlessness was developed, Assyria again became a threat in the Near Eastern political affairs. Because Assyrian growth directly affects the Hebrew people, subsequent Assyrian history will be discussed in context.

  1. The name "Amorite" is related to the Akkadian Amurru which designated inhabitants of Amurru, a land west of Mesopotamia, the precise whereabouts of which is unknown. (As a result of Amorite movements, Amorite cities and states sprang up in the area of Aram. M. Noth, The History of Israel , p. 24, contests the hypothesis that these invaders were Amorites.) In the Bible the term sometimes refers to a Canaanite tribe (Gen. 10:16 Exod. 3:8) and at other times designates the pre-Hebrew inhabitants (Gen. 15:16).
  2. Cf. ANET, p. 405 D. W. Thomas (ed.), Documents from Old Testament Times (henceforth DOTT ) (New York: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1958), p. 162.
  3. Cf. ANET , pp. 44 f., 60 f. DOTT , p. 17 f.
  4. T. Jacobsen, "Primitive Democracy in Ancient Mesopotamia," Journal of Near Eastern Studies , II (1943), 172.
  5. ANET , p. 22 f.
  6. Manetho identifies these people as "Hyksos" which he interprets to mean "shepherd kings." Modern scholars believe the name means "rulers of foreign countries."
  7. A people called Horites, Hivites and Jebusites in the Bible and who were the dominant element in the Mitanni kingdom, located in the Middle Euphrates region. For a fine summary see E. A. Speiser, "Hurrians," The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible .
  8. Kenyon, op. cit ., pp. 182 ff.
  9. Contra Apion I: 14,16.
  10. Cf. ANET , pp. 483 f. DOTT , pp. 38 f.
  11. Jack Finegan, Light from the Ancient Past , 2nd ed. (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1959), p. 62.
  12. Enuma elish , cf. ANET , pp. 60 ff. DO TT , pp. 3 ff.
  13. S. Moscati, The Face of the Ancient Orient (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1960), p. 158.
  14. Both Hurrians and Mitanni were mountain peoples from Armenia. Cf. John Bright, op. cit ., pp. 55 f.
  15. Wm. F. Albright, The Archaeology of Palestine , p. 110.
  16. Among the Egyptian mercenaries were a group of Sea People known as "Sherdans." Cf. Y. Yadin, The Art of Warfare in Biblical Lands (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1963), pp. 248 ff.
  17. Michael C. Astour, "New Evidence on the Last Days of Ugarit," American journal of Archaeology , LXIX (1965), 253-258.
  18. The term "Phoenicia" is the plural form of the Greek word "Phoenix" and seems to mean a dark red or purple color. Cf. Michael C. Astour, "The Origins of the terms 'Canaan,' 'Phoenician,' and 'Purple,'" Journal of Near Eastern Studies , XXTV (1965), 346-350.
  19. However, cf. G. E. Wright, "Fresh Evidence for the Philistine Story," The Biblical Archaeologist (henceforth BA ),XXIX (1966),70-86.
  20. The territory possessed by the Philistines is called "Pelesheth" in the Bible (cf. Exod. 15:14 Isa. 14:31 Joel 3:4), "Palaistine" by the Greeks, and subsequently "Palaestina" by the Rornans, which became "Palestine" in English.

Old Testament Life and Literature is copyright © 1968, 1997 by Gerald A. Larue. All rights reserved.
The electronic version is copyright © 1997 by Internet Infidels with the written permission of Gerald A. Larue.


The Middle Bronze I People Were Clearly the Israelites

This article was published in the Spring 1995 issue of Jewish Action, put out by the Union of Orthodox Rabbis. Because Jewish Action is a family magazine, the article is a popular, rather than scholarly one. This does not mean that the arguments in it are faulty I stand behind them fully. Feedback is welcome. – Lisa

The Exodus and Ancient Egyptian Records

“And Moses said unto the people: Do not fear! Stand and see the deliverance of Hashem which he shall do for you this day. For as you have seen Egypt this day, never will you see it again.” (Exodus 14:13)

The Exodus from Egypt was not only the seminal event in the history of the Jewish People, but was an unprecedented and unequaled catastrophe for Egypt. In the course of Pharaoh’s stubborn refusal to let us leave and the resultant plagues sent by Hashem, Egypt was devastated. Hail, disease and infestations obliterated Egypt’s produce and livestock, while the plague of the first born stripped the land of its elite, leaving inexperienced second sons to cope with the economic disaster. The drowning of the Egyptian armed forces in the Red Sea left Egypt open and vulnerable to foreign invasions.

From the days of Flavius Josephus (c.70 CE) until the present, historians have tried to find some trace of this event in the ancient records of Egypt. They have had little luck.

According to biblical chronology, the Exodus took place in the 890th year before the destruction of the Temple by the Babylonians in 421 BCE (g.a.d. 587 BCE) [1]. This was 1310 BCE (g.a.d. 1476 BCE). In this year, the greatest warlord Egypt ever knew, Thutmose III, deposed his aunt Hatshepsut and embarked on a series of conquests, extending the Egyptian sphere of influence and tribute over Israel and Syria and crossing the Euphrates into Mesopotamia itself. While it is interesting that this date actually saw the death of an Egyptian ruler – and there have been those who tried to identify Queen Hatshepsut as the Pharaoh of the Exodus – the power and prosperity of Egypt at this time is hard to square with the biblical account of the Exodus.

Some historians have been attracted by the name of the store-city Raamses built by the Israelites before the Exodus. They have drawn connections to the best known Pharaoh of that name, Ramses II, or Ramses the Great, and set the Exodus around his time, roughly 1134 BCE (g.a.d. 1300 BCE [2]). In order to do this, they had to reduce the time between the Exodus and the destruction of the Temple by 180 years, which they did by reinterpreting the 480 years between the Exodus and the building of the Temple (I Kings 6:1) as twelve generations of forty years. By “correcting” the Bible and setting a generation equal to twenty five years, these imaginary twelve generations become 300 years.

Aside from the fact that such “adjustments” of the biblical text imply that the Bible cannot be trusted, in which case there is no reason to accept that there ever was an Exodus, Ramses II was a conqueror second only to Thutmose III. And as in the case of Thutmose III, the Egyptian records make it clear that nothing even remotely resembling the Exodus happened anywhere near his time of history.

We appear to be at a standstill. The only options are to relegate the Exodus to the status of myth, or to conclude that there is something seriously wrong with the generally accepted dates for Egyptian history.

In 1952, Immanuel Velikovsky published Ages in Chaos, the first of a series of books in which he proposed a radical redating of Egyptian history in order to bring the histories of Egypt and Israel into synchronization. Velikovsky’s work sparked a wave of new research into ancient history. And while the bulk of Velikovsky’s conclusions have not been borne out by this research, his main the-sis has. This is that the apparent conflict between ancient records and the Bible is due to a misdating of those ancient records, and that when these records are dated correctly, all such “conflicts” disappear.

Both Thutmose III and Ramses II date to a period called the Late Bronze Age, which ended with the onset of the Iron Age. Since the Iron Age has been thought to be the time when Israel first arrived in Canaan, the Late Bronze Age has been called “The Canaanite Period,” and historians have limited their search for the Exodus to this time. When we break free of this artificial restraint, the picture changes drastically.

According to the midrash [3], the Pharaoh of the Exodus was named Adikam. He had a short reign of four years before drowning in the Red Sea. The Pharaoh who preceded him, whose death prompted Moses’s return to Egypt (Exodus 2:23, 4:19), was named Malul. Malul, we are told, reigned from the age of six to the age of one hundred. Such a long reign – ninety four years! – sounds fantastic, and many people would hesitate to take this midrash literally. As it happens, though, Egyptian records mention a Pharaoh who reigned for ninety four years. And not only ninety four years, but from the age of six to the age of one hundred! This Pharaoh was known in inscriptions as Pepi (or Phiops) II [4]. The information regarding his reign is known both from the Egyptian historian-priest Manetho, writing in the 3rd century BCE, and from an ancient Egyptian papyrus called the Turin Royal Canon, which was only discovered in the last century.

Egyptologists, unaware of the midrash, have wrestled with the historicity of Pepi II’s long reign. One historian wrote: [5]

Pepi II…appears to have had the longest reign in Egyptian history and perhaps in all history. The Turin Royal Canon credits him with upwards of ninety years. One version of the Epitome of Manetho indicates that he “began to rule at the age of six and continued to a hundred.” Although modern scholars have questioned this, it remains to be disproved.

While the existence of a two kings who reigned a) ninety four years, b) in Egypt, and c) from the age of six, is hard enough to swallow as a coincidence, that is not all. Like Malul, Pepi II was the second to last king of his dynasty. Like Malul, his successor had a short reign of three or four years, after which Egypt fell apart. Pepi II’s dynasty was called the 6th Dynasty, and was the last dynasty of the Old Kingdom in Egypt. Following his successor’s death, Egypt collapsed, both economically and under foreign invasion. Egypt, which had been so powerful and wealthy only decades before, suddenly could not defend itself against tribes of invading bedouin. No one knows what happened. Some historians have suggested that the long reign of Pepi II resulted in stagnation, and that when he died, it was like pulling the support out from under a rickety building. But there is no evidence to support such a theory.

A papyrus dating from the end of the Old Kingdom was found in the early 19th century in Egypt [6]. It seems to be an eyewitness account of the events preceding the dissolution of the Old Kingdom. Its author, an Egyptian named Ipuwer, writes:

Plague is throughout the land. Blood is everywhere.

That is our water! That is our happiness! What shall we do in respect thereof? All is ruin!

No fruit or herbs are found…

Forsooth, gates, columns and walls are consumed by fire.

Forsooth, grain has perished on every side.

The land is not light [dark].

Velikovsky recognized this as an eyewitness account of the ten plagues. Since modern men are not supposed to believe in such things, it has been interpreted figuratively by most historians. The destruction of crops and livestock means an economic depression. The river being blood indicates a breakdown of law an order and a proliferation of violent crime. The lack of light stands for the lack of enlightened leadership. Of course, that’s not what it says, but it is more palatable than the alternative, which is that the phenomena described by Ipuwer were literally true.

When the Bible tells us that Egypt would never be the same after the Exodus, it was no exaggeration. With invasions from all directions, virtually all subsequent kings of Egypt were of Ethiopian, Libyan or Asiatic descent. When Chazal tell us that King Solomon was able to marry Pharaoh’s daughter despite the ban on marrying Egyptian converts until they have been Jewish for three generations because she was not of the original Egyptian nation, there is no reason to be surprised.

In the Wake of the Exodus

It was not only Egypt which felt the birth pangs of the Jewish People. The end of the Old Kingdom in Egypt preceded only slightly the end of the Early Bronze age in the Land of Israel. The end of this period, dated by archeologists to c.2200 BCE (in order to conform to the Egyptian chronology), has long puzzled archeologists. The people living in the Land of Israel during Early Bronze were the first urban dwellers there. They were, by all available evidence, primitive, illiterate and brutal. They built large but crude fortress cities and were constantly at war. At the end of the Early Bronze Age, they were obliterated.

Who destroyed Early Bronze Age Canaan? Some early archeologists, before the vast amount of information we have today had been more than hinted at, suggested that they were Amorites. The time, they thought, was more or less right for Abraham. So why not postulate a great disaster in Mesopotamia, which resulted in people migrated from there to Canaan? Abraham would have been thus one in a great crowd of immigrants (scholars of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries often felt compelled to debunk the idea of divine commands).

Today, the picture is different. The invaders of the Early Bronze/Middle Bronze Interchange seem to have appeared out of nowhere in the Sinai and the Negev. Initially, they moved up into the transjordan, and then crossed over north of the Dead Sea, conquering Canaan and wiping out the inhabitants. Of course, since we are dealing with cultural remnants and not written records, we don’t know that the previous inhabitants were all killed. Some of them may have remained, but if so, they adopted enough of the newcomers’ culture to “disappear” from the archeological record.

Two archeologists have already gone on record identifying the invaders as the Israelites. In an article published in Biblical Archeology Review [7], Israeli archeologist Rudolph Cohen demonstrated that the two invasions match in every detail. Faced with the problem that the two are separated in time by some eight centuries, Cohen backed down a bit:

I do not necessarily mean to equate the MBI people with the Israelites, although an ethnic identification should not be automatically ruled out. But I am suggesting that at the very least the traditions incorporated into the Exodus account may have a very ancient inspiration reaching back to the MBI period.

The Italian archeologist Immanuel Anati has come to similar conclusions [8]. He added other pieces of evidence, such as the fact that Ai, Arad and other cities destroyed by Israel in the invasion of Canaan were destroyed at the end of the Early Bronze Age, but remained uninhabited until the Iron Age. Since the Iron Age is when Israel supposedly invaded Canaan, we have been in the embarrassing position of having the Bible describe the destructions of these cities at the very time that they were being resettled for the first time in almost a millennium. When the conquest is redated to the end of the Early Bronze, history (the Bible) and physical evidence (archeology) are in harmony. Anati goes further than Cohen in that he claims the invaders really were the Israelites. How does he get around the eight hundred year gap? By inventing a “missing book of the Bible” between Joshua and Judges that originally covered this period.

Both Cohen and Anati are in the unenviable position of having discovered truths which conflict with the accepted wisdom. Their “tricks” for avoid the problem are lame, but the only alternative would be to suggest a radical redating of the archeology of the Land of Israel. And there is good reason to do this. It is not only the period of the Exodus and Conquest which suddenly match the evidence of ancient records and archeology when the dates of the archeological periods are brought down:

The Middle Bronze Age invaders, after some centuries of rural settlement, expanded almost overnight into an empire, stretching from the Nile to the Euphrates. This empire has been termed the “Hyksos Empire,” after a group of nomads that invaded Egypt, despite the fact that there is no historical evidence for such an identification. History knows of one such empire. Archeology knows of one such empire. The same adjustment which restores the Exodus and Conquest to history does the same to the United Kingdom of David and Solomon.

The Empire fell, bringing the Middle Bronze Age to an end. Archeologists and Egyptologists are currently involved in a great debate over whether it was civil war or Egyptian invasions which destroyed the “Hyksos” empire. The biblical accounts of the revolt of the ten northern tribes and the invasion of Shishak king of Egypt make the debate irrelevant.

The period following the end of the Empire was one of much unrest, but saw tremendous literary achievements. Since this period, the Late Bronze Age, was the last period before the Iron Age, and since the Iron Age was believed to have been the Israelite Period, the Late Bronze Age was called the Canaanite Period. Strangely, these Canaanites spoke and wrote in beautiful Biblical Hebrew. Semitic Canaanites? Did the Bible get it wrong again? But then, coming after the time of David and Solomon, they weren’t really Canaanites. The speakers and writers of Biblical Hebrew were, as might have been guessed – Biblical Hebrews.

Finally we get to the Iron Age. This is when Israel supposedly arrived in Canaan. But it has been obvious to archeologists for over a century that the archeology of the Iron Age bears little resemblance to the biblical account of the conquest of Canaan. There were invasions, but they were from the north, from Syria and Mesopotamia, and they came in several waves, unlike the lightning conquest under Joshua. The people who settled the land after the invasions also came from the north, though there is much evidence to suggest that they weren’t the invaders, and merely settled an empty land after it had been destroyed by others. The south remained in the hands of the Bronze Age inhabitants, albeit on a lower material level.

The conclusions drawn from this evidence have been devastating. The people in the south, who constituted the kingdom of Judah, from whence came the Jews, has been determined to be of Canaanite descent! If not biologically, then culturally. And the people in the north, the other ten tribes of Israel, have been determined to have been no relation to the tribes of the south. The idea of twelve tribes descended from the sons of Jacob has been removed from the history books and recatalogued under “Mythology, Jewish.”

What is most strange is that multiple waves of invasion followed by northern tribes settling in the north of Israel is not an event which has gone unmentioned in the Bible. The invaders were the Assyrians. The settlers were the northern tribes who eventually became the Samaritans. And if the people in the south were descended from the Late Bronze Age inhabitants of the land, why, that merely means that the kingdom of Judah was a continuation of the kingdom of Judah. The only historical claims which are contradicted by the archeological record are those of the Samaritans, who claim to have been the descendants of the ten tribes of Israel.

A simple redating of the archeological periods in the Land of Israel brings the entire scope of biblical history into synchronization with the ancient historical record. Only time will tell whether more archeologists will follow Cohen and Anati in their slowly dawning recognition of the historicity of the Bible.


Who Were the Sea People?

During the late Bronze Age and early Iron Age, civilisations across the Near East, Aegean, Anatolia, North Africa, the Caucasus, the Balkans, and the Eastern Mediterranean collapsed and vanished off the map.

Historians believe the period was violent and culturally disruptive, marking the end of the Hittite Empire, the Mycenaean kingdoms, the Kassites, the Ugarit, the Amorite states, and the disintegration of the palace economy of the Aegean. Some states survived the collapse (albeit saw a period of decline), that includes the New Kingdom of Egypt, Assyria, Phoenicia, and Elam.

Historians describe the period as the “the worst disaster in ancient history”, with various theories behind the collapse suggesting environmental factors, drought, a general systems collapse, technological changes in warfare, disruption in trade, a volcanic eruption, and the elusive Sea People.

Virtually nothing is known about the Sea People, with the only evidence of their existence coming from sparse contemporary sources, although the evidence is interpretive at best, and often debated in scholarly circles.

It has been proposed that the Sea People was a seafaring confederation who may have originated from western Asia Minor, the Aegean, the Mediterranean islands, or Southern Europe.

The term “peuples de la mer” (literally meaning “peoples of the sea”) was first concocted by French Egyptologist Emmanuel de Rougé whilst studying reliefs at Medinet Habu, becoming further popularised with an associated migration theory in the late 19th century.

The historical narrative for identifying the Sea People stems primarily from seven Ancient Egyptian sources (with some information from Hittite sources), which names nine ancient cultures possibly responsible: the Denyen, the Ekwesh, the Lukka, the Peleset, the Shekelesh, the Sherden, the Teresh, the Tjeker, and the Weshesh (further proposals from narratives in other civilisations includes the Etruscans, Trojans, Philistines, Mycenaens, and even Minoans).

One such source (the Tanis Stele II) notes an event during the reign of Ramesses II, where the Nile Delta was attacked by raiders of the Sherden. An inscription on the Stele notes: “the unruly Sherden whom no one had ever known how to combat, they came boldly sailing in their warships from the midst of the sea, none being able to withstand them.”

A narrative from the reign of Ramesses III (2nd Pharoah of the 20th Dynasty), also records waves of invasions by seafaring peoples, with the most detailed account being found at his Medinet Habu mortuary temple in Thebes, where Ramesses III is depicted forcing back the invaders during the “Battle of the Delta” around 1175 BC.

An inscription on the Medinet Habu mortuary temple states:

“Now the northern countries, which were in their isles, were quivering in their bodies. They penetrated the channels of the Nile’s mouths. Their nostrils have ceased (to function, so that) their desire is [to] breathe the breath. His majesty is gone forth like a whirlwind against them, fighting on the battlefield like a runner. The dread of him and the terror of him have entered in their bodies (they are) capsized and overwhelmed in their places. Their hearts are taken away their soul is flown away. Their weapons are scattered in the sea.”

A study on references to the Sea People have highlighted hundreds of possible mentions in historical text (see “The ‘Sea Peoples’ in Primary Sources” by Matthew J. Adams), with the elusive Sea People remaining just a footnote in history, as the bogeyman of the Bronze Age.


Watch the video: Episode - The Amorites and the rise of Babylon (August 2022).