Packed Pilgrims and Pandemics

In the course of human history, humans began as hunter gatherers. Small bands of humans would forage for food, picking fruits, vegetables, nuts and other edibles. They would engage in hunting and fish when and where it was available. In foraging for food, these bands could cover large distances while looking for food. And they had limited interaction with other humans and animals.

Eventually humans learned to domesticate plants and animals, and established farming civilizations. Humans no longer had to wander to find food, but could stay in one place and meet all their nutritional needs. But with sedantarization, humans came into regular contact with animals, and into contact with animal diseases.

One source of disease for humans is when animal waste contaminates water that is used for drinking. Humans can contract cholera, typhoid and diphtheria.

Animal to human disease can be described in stages. Some diseases remain confined to animals. Diseases such as rabies and West Nile viruses can be transmitted from an animal to a single human being. Ebola can spread from animal to human and then spread amongst humans, but its rapid and severe effects tend to limit the spread. Some diseases began in animals but take on a long independent life in the human population, and some graduate to become solely human diseases.

Some of the deadliest pathogens in human history, such as measles, influenza, smallpox and tuberculosis are believed to have originated in cattle, pigs, dogs or ducks.

Leviticus 1 initiates a series of chapters that list the various animal sacrifices that were to be offered to God. It begins: The Lord called to Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting. He said, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: When anyone among you brings an offering to the Lord, bring as your offering an animal from either the herd or the flock.” The sacrifices were to come from cattle, sheep, goats, turtle-doves and pigeons.

The Bible’s rules dictated what would be done with the animals. The animals would be slaughtered and the blood drained. The animal would be cut up, and then depending upon the specific sacrifice, parts would be parceled out to priests or consumed by large groups of people. During pilgrimage periods, the number of daily sacrifices would increase.

The archaeological record can show that certain places operated as cultic sites. This can be seen in cultic vessels that do not have a domestic purpose, in unique building designs and in unique icons. Another sign of a cultic site can be large animal bone deposits beyond what the residents of an ancient site might have been expected to consume. Bronze Age Shilo and Roman era Jerusalem are two examples of this. They both were cultic sites with significant bone deposits.

The presence of pilgrims, bringing large quantities of animals, along with the mass slaughter of the animals would have brought the risk of disease. And the Bible appears to acknowledge that pandemic was a constant risk.

Unlike some of the miraculous plagues in the exodus account, such as the Nile being turned to blood and the death of the Egyptian firstborn sons, plague appears to have been a normal risk.

In Leviticus 26, God warns Israel that if they do not follow his rules, “I will bring on you sudden terror, wasting diseases and fever that will destroy your sight and sap your strength.” In Deuteronomy 28, God “will send fearful plagues on you and your descendants, harsh and prolonged disasters, and severe and lingering illnesses.”

In the 8th century BCE Book of Hosea, God warns of the devastation he will bring. “Where, O death, are your plagues?” In the 6th century BCE, Ezekiel it warns, “How much worse will it be when I send against Jerusalem my four dreadful judgments—sword and famine and wild beasts and plague—to kill its men and their animals!”

While plagues may strike with varying frequency, with animal sacrifices, a poor understanding of hygiene and regular pilgrimages, they remained a reality for ancient Israel and ancient Judah.

The image above is from Kumbh Mela, a Hindu pilgrimage and routinely the largest single gathering of people in human history. The video below shows the magnitude of the crowds, and the risk of the spread of disease. 

 

Sore Winners

In Exodus 37, the centerpiece of the tabernacle, the ark of the covenant, was built.  “Bezalel made the ark of acacia wood—two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high. He overlaid it with pure gold, both inside and out, and made a gold molding around it. He cast four gold rings for it and fastened them to its four feet, with two rings on one side and two rings on the other. Then he made poles of acacia wood and overlaid them with gold. And he inserted the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark to carry it. He made the atonement cover of pure gold—two and a half cubits long and a cubit and a half wide. Then he made two cherubim out of hammered gold at the ends of the cover. He made one cherub on one end and the second cherub on the other; at the two ends he made them of one piece with the cover. The cherubim had their wings spread upward, overshadowing the cover with them. The cherubim faced each other, looking toward the cover.”

In Joshua 18, Joshua set up the tabernacle in Shiloh. “The whole assembly of the Israelites gathered at Shiloh and set up the tent of meeting there. The country was brought under their control.”

In 1 Samuel 4, the Philistines defeated the Israelites between Ebenezer and Aphek. To improve their chances for the next battle, the Israelites went to Shiloh and took the ark of the covenant to protect them. The plan failed. The Philistines again defeated the Israelites, only this time they captured the ark of the covenant.

The Philistines took the ark and brought it to the Philistine city of Ashdod. The inhabitants of the Ashdod became afflicted with hemorrhoids. In distress, they sent the ark to the Philistine city of Gath, and Gath too was afflicted with hemorrhoids. The ark was sent to Philistine Ekron, and again the inhabitants suffered a bout of hemorrhoids.

To alleviate the problem and atone for taking the ark, the Philistines put the ark on a cart, with five golden hemorrhoids and five golden mice, each one representing the five great Philistine cities: “for Ashdod one, for Gaza one, for Ashkelon one, for Gath one, for Ekron one.” The ark was then sent to Beit Shemesh, and the plague ended.

The five major Philistine cities listed in the Bible are often referred to as the Philistine Pentapolis. 

There are a number of ways archaeologists can determine where an ancient city was. One way of doing so is by its name, and Ashdod, Ashkelon and Gaza all carry their ancient names. There has not been extensive digging at heavily populated Gaza, but both Ashdod and Ashkelon have been demonstrated to be the sites of major Philistine cities, based on the pottery and other material evidence. The ancient gate of Ashkelon, believed to be the oldest remaining arched gate in the world, is shown in the image above. It dates to the Canaanites of the Midddle Bronze Age, before the Philistines arrived in the Iron Age, and was thus in existence during the Philistine settlement. 

Archaeologists have been able to locate what they believe are the cities of Gath and Ekron, based on their large geographical footprints and the prevalence of Philistine artifacts. Gath is associated with the over 100 acre site at Tel es-Safi, just south of the Elah Valley. 8 km to the north is Tel Mikne, believed to be the site of Ekron.

Unlike the first three cities mentioned that sit on the Mediterranean coast, Gath and Ekron lie between the coastal plain and the Judean highlands. Thus in the biblical story, the ark would have been carried from battle to the Philistine coast, passed to Gath, along to Ekron and then sent east to Beth Shemesh in the Shefela region between the coast and the Judean hill country.

In the Bible, returning the ark of the covenant was sufficient to end a plague of hemorrhoids. For the rest of us:

 

Who Showed First?

In Exodus 33, God tells Moses: “Leave this place, you and the people you brought up out of Egypt, and go up to the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I will send an angel before you and drive out the Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites.” The Bible lists six nations that Israel will defeat in its conquest of Canaan.

In Deuteronomy 7, it reads “When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations – the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you.” This list contains seven nations that Israel will defeat in its conquest of Canaan.

One nation that is missing from this list but which would become a rival of Israel is the Philistines.

The Merneptah Stele was written in the late 13th century BCE, in approximately 1209 BCE. It records the Egyptian king Merneptah’s victories over the Libyans. But near the end of the inscription, it mentions Merneptah suppressing a revolt in the area of Canaan. “The princes are prostrate saying Shalom!…Ashkelon is conquered, Gezer seized, Yanoam made nonexistent; Israel is laid waste, its seed is not.” This is the first mention of Israel outside of the Bible, and places nascent Israel within the southern Levant, likely in the central hill country of Canaan.

Ramesses III was the second Egyptian king of Egypt’s 20th Dynasty. His reign lasted from 1186-1155 BCE. In Ramesses III’s mortuary temple at Medinet Habu, it records his victories over invaders from the north, the “the Peleset, Theker, Shekelesh, Denyen, and Weshesh.”

Papyrus Harris I was found in a tomb near Ramesses III’s mortuary temple. It is the longest papyrus ever found in Egypt, and it provides a bit more color about these invaders. Ramesses III describes the battles. “I extended all the boundaries of Egypt; I overthrew those who invaded them from their lands. I slew the Denyen in their isles, the Thekel and the Peleset were made ashes. The Sherden and the Weshesh of the sea, they were made as those that exist not, taken captive at one time, brought as captives to Egypt, like the sand of the shore. I settled them in strongholds, bound in my name. Numerous were their classes like hundred-thousands. I taxed them all, in clothing and grain from the storehouses and granaries each year.”

Ramesses III claims to have “settled them in strongholds.” Where these strongholds were is not known. But some claim that he settled them in the southwestern corner of the southern Levant.

This raises the possibility of Israel appearing in the land before the end of the 13th century BCE, only later followed by the Peleset, the likely forebears of the Philistines. If this is the case, it may not be an oversight that the Philistines are not included in the list of nations of Canaan before the Israelites arrived.

A statue of Ramesses III, on display at the Penn Museum, is shown in the image above.

Papyrus Harris I, also known as the Great Harris Papyrus, is housed at the British Museum. A fragment of it can be seen in the link below.

https://research.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?objectId=114412&partId=1

Up on a Hill

In Exodus chapters 25 through 31, Israel is given instructions to build a Tabernacle shrine and to tailor the clothing the priests are to wear for the service in the Tabernacle.

The dimensions are given in Exodus 27. “Make a courtyard for the tabernacle. The south side shall be a hundred cubits long and is to have curtains of finely twisted linen, with twenty posts and twenty bronze bases and with silver hooks and bands on the posts. The north side shall also be a hundred cubits long and is to have curtains, with twenty posts and twenty bronze bases and with silver hooks and bands on the posts. The west end of the courtyard shall be fifty cubits wide and have curtains, with ten posts and ten bases. On the east end, toward the sunrise, the courtyard shall also be fifty cubits wide.”

In the Book of Joshua, chapter 18, Joshua established this Tabernacle at Shiloh.

Archaeological digs at the site of Tel Shiloh produced an estimate of the periods of settlement at the site. In the 18th century BCE, during the Middle Bronze Age, Shiloh was a small, unwalled village. In the 17th century BCE, after the town grew in size, a wall was build around it.

In the 16th century BCE, the New Kingdom of Egypt asserted its control over the southern Levant, and the region experienced a gradual decline, with a reduction in the population, and a reduction in the number of walled cities and villages, especially in the central hill country. Consistent with this trend, the site of Tel Shiloh shows a decline in settlement.

In Iron Age I, during the 12th and 11th centuries BCE, the town experienced a rebirth, with an increase in settlement. Collard Rim Jars, pottery that is often an indicator of early Israelite presence, were unearthed in this layer.

Tel Shiloh is recognized as a possible cultic site during the Middle Bronze Age. There is no evidence for an Israelite Tabernacle at the site of Tel Shiloh, but with possible evidence of Israelite settlement in the 12th and 11th centuries BCE, some have attempted to identify potential sites where a Tabernacle might have once stood.

The central and highest point on the site would traditionally be a logical place for cultic activity. A good example of which would be the Acropolis of Athens, shown in the image above. But the summit of the hill at Shiloh does not have enough flat space to support the dimensions of the Bible’s Tabernacle. To the north of the summit, there is a large flat area which could accommodate a building of the size the Bible describes, but this site is a distance from the location of the large animal remains, if there was animal sacrifice taking place at the site.

Others suggest a site to the south of the tel, the one time site of a Byzantine church. The argument for this site would be that the church was built on a recognized earlier sacred site.

There is no evidence for there having been a Tabernacle at the site. But the layout of the area and potential landing spots can be seen (and is available for purchase) via the link below:

https://www.shutterstock.com/video/clip-20449711-tel-shiloh—excavations-overview-israel-aerial

Sacred On Top of Sacred

In Exodus 25, God tells Moses: “Tell the Israelites to bring me an offering. You are to receive the offering for me from everyone whose heart prompts them to give. These are the offerings you are to receive from them: gold, silver and bronze; blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen; goat hair; ram skins dyed red and another type of durable leather ; acacia wood; olive oil for the light; spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense; and onyx stones and other gems to be mounted on the ephod and breastpiece. Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you.”

In Joshua 18, Joshua followed the biblical instruction and set up the national shrine. “The whole assembly of the Israelites gathered at Shiloh and set up the tent of meeting there. The country was brought under their control.”

Archaeologists and historians can attempt to locate ancient sites based on the geography as described in the Bible. Another method of identification is based on name. The modern site of Khirbet Seilun, an Arabic name, bears a similarity to Shiloh, and thus archaeologists have associated the site with ancient Shiloh, now Tel Shiloh.

Historically, new religious shrines have often been built on the site of earlier shrines. The Pantheon in Rome was converted into a Catholic Church. The Dome of the Rock sits on top of the presumed site of the Temple in Jerusalem. The Babri Masjid mosque in Ayodhya, India was built on a sacred Hindu site.

A similar process occurs in the Bible. In Judges 18, the tribe of Dan established themselves at Laish, and worshipped an idol that Micah had made. In 1 Kings 12, after Jeroboam seceded from the southern kingdom, he set up a shrine at Dan, site of Laish. 

Joshua may have been doing the same by setting up the Tabernacle at Shilo.

The site of Tel Shilo appears to have been settled by Amorites in the 18th century BCE, during the Middle Bronze Age. In the Late Bronze Age, the site shows evidence of being a cultic center. There are pit deposits of bones, cultic vessels and an incense stand. The presence of a pre-existing cultic site would be an attractive location to establish a cultic site. For Joshua in the Bible, this could be a driver for choosing a site like Shiloh to establish the Tabernacle.

For an aerial view of the site, see the video below.

 

Warships in the Nile

Exodus 23 lists a series of ethical rules. One of these addresses the treatment of non-locals. “Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.”

The Torah warns Israel not to oppress a foreigner, for the people of Israel were foreigners in Egypt and should understand that experience. In the Bible, the Egyptians mistreated the Israelites. In Egyptian art from Ramesses III’s mortuary temple at Medinet Habu, Egypt was unkind to another foreign group.

Ramesses III was the second king of Egypt’s 20th Dynasty of the New Kingdom, and perhaps the last truly significant king of the New Kingdom period. The Valley of Kings and the Valley of Queens sits on the west bank of the Nile River, opposite the Karnak Temple complex that sits on the east bank of the Nile. The Valley of Kings and the Valley of Queens is the site of many of the ancient tombs of Egypt’s nobility. The largest temple structure on the west bank is the mortuary temple of Ramesses III at Medinet Habu.

The temple has over 75,000 square feet of walls that are covered by a vast number of inscriptions that record the feats of Ramesses III. One notable group of inscriptions that are on the northern external walls record his battles against the Libyans and invaders from the north.

In Year 8 of his reign, Ramesses III faced a threat from the north, of invaders who approached from the sea. 

These invaders were said to have wreaked havoc elsewhere. “No land could stand before their arms, from Hatti, Kode, Carchemish, Yereth, and Yeres.” They set up camp in Amor, which would correlate to the land of the biblical Amorites, in the Levant.  The invaders were a confederation of groups, “the Peleset, Theker, Shekelesh, Denye(n), and Weshesh, lands united.”

But when they reached Egypt, Ramesses III defeated and captured them. “Now the northern countries, which were in their isles, were quivering in their bodies. They penetrated the channels of the Nile mouths. Their nostrils have ceased, their desire is 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 into their bodies; capsized and overwhelmed in their places. Their hearts are taken away; their soul is flown away. Their weapons are scattered in the sea. His arrow pierces him whom he has wished among them, while the fugitive is become one fallen into the water. His majesty is like an enraged lion, attacking his assailant with his paws; plundering on his right hand and powerful on his left hand.”

Ramesses III captured the invaders and resettled them. Notably, one of the groups that Ramesses III captured is the Peleset. Peleset has a linguistic similarity to the Pelishtim of the Bible. Pelishtim is translated as Philistines, the Philistines who would settle in the southwestern corner of the southern Levant and in the Bible would become a rival of early Israel.

The right hand side of the image above shows the unique headdresses of some of these invaders from the north. The invasion by these groups is depicted at Medinet Habu, and can be seen in the link below, from the University of Chicago collection. Ramesses III fires an arrow at the invading ships as his own ships confront the enemy. To date, it is the world’s oldest known depiction of a naval battle.

Northerners From All Lands

In Exodus 19, the Israelites continued their journey into the Sinai desert. “On the first day of the third month after the Israelites left Egypt—on that very day—they came to the Desert of Sinai. After they set out from Rephidim, they entered the Desert of Sinai, and Israel camped there in the desert in front of the mountain.” They continued on their path east into the Sinai, instead of heading northeast through “Philistine country.”

In the Late Bronze Age, there were other peoples who were on the move in the ancient Near East.

Ramesses II was one of Egypt’s longest serving rulers. He outlived many of his sons, so at the time of his death he was replaced by one of his later born sons, Merneptah. Merneptah became the fourth king of the 19th Dynasty during the New Kingdom period in Egypt. Merneptah is perhaps best known for the Merneptah Stele, which contains the first known mention of Israel outside of the Bible. But he fought other significant battles as well.

In the New Kingdom period, the Karnak Temple was the most important temple complex in Egypt. The temple was located in Thebes, Egypt’s southern capital, on the eastern banks of the Nile River, in the region of today’s Luxor. The central feature was the Temple of Amun-Re, Egypt’s most important god at the time, whose origins were in southern, or Upper Egypt, the original home of Egypt’s New Kingdom kings.

The main section of the Karnak Temple runs along an east-west axis. Just south of the Great Hypostyle Hall and Central Court along the north-south axis lies the First Court. On the inside of the eastern wall of the First Court is the Great Karnak Inscription. This inscription records Merneptah’s victories against the Libyans and their allies during the fifth year of his reign. 

The inscription describes the Libyans’ allies as the Akawasha, Terusha, Lukka, Sherden, Shekelesh. These were the “northerners, coming from all lands.” As Egypt’s northern border is the Mediterranean coastline, the northerners in this context are thought to be the invaders from the northern side of the Mediterranean, across the sea. There is no certainty about where exactly these invaders came from, but the names Akawasha, Terusha, Lukka, Sherden, Shekelesh have a linguistic affinity to Achaea, Tyrsenia, Lydia, Sardinia and Sicily.

These groups are described as bringing their wives and children. This points to a migration, of people fleeing a bad situation elsewhere, possibly a drought or turmoil during the Late Bronze Age, and attempting to resettle in a new land. The attack was not just an invasion of soldiers.

The threat of a migrating group of invaders arriving from the sea, or a group of migrants who had already settled the southeastern corner of Canaan, would make traveling into the interior of the Sinai safer than traveling northeast along the Mediterranean coast to Canaan. And this is the route the Israelites are said to travel because of the threat of war. 

The image above is of the massive pillars at Karnak Temple in Luxor, Egypt.  

The Great Green

In Exodus 13, when Pharaoh let the people of Israel go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.”

The typical route from Egypt to Canaan would take a traveler along the coast from the northeastern edge of the Nile Delta, through the western edge of the Sinai along the Mediterranean coast to coastal Canaan. The southwestern corner of Canaan would come to be occupied by the Philistines in the Late Bronze Age/Early Iron Age transitional period. This is presumably what the Bible is referring to when it says God did not want the escaping Israelites to be confronted with war if they escaped along the coastal route. God did not want the newly freed nation to travel along the Mediterranean Sea and then face war.

Invasions from the sea were a risk in the Late Bronze Age. 

Ramesses II was an Egyptian king, part of the 19th Dynasty during the New Kingdom period. He was one of Egypt’s longest serving rulers, dominating Egypt throughout the 13th century BCE. In the second year of Ramesses II’s reign he claims to have engaged in a war in the Mediterranean Sea and fought off invaders along Egypt’s northern coastline, in northern, or Lower Egypt. The Aswan stele, found in southern, or Upper Egypt, records that he captured the “warriors of the Great Green,” meaning the Mediterranean Sea.

During Ramesses II’s reign, he kept his northern capital at the city of Pi-Ramesses. When the branch of the Nile that ran along Pi-Ramesses dried up, the city was abandoned.

Tanis was a city in the northeastern Nile Delta that served as Egypt’s capital after the demise of Egypt’s New Kingdom. It was located on the Tanitic branch of the Nile, which has long since dried up. Tanis was located in the same general vicinity as Pi-Ramesses, and many of the stones that were used in the construction of Pi-Ramesses were relocated to Tanis and used to build that city.

A fragmentary inscription found at Tanis, which likely originated in Pi-Ramesses, records Ramesses II’s victory over a force invading from the sea. This fragment, also referred to as the Tanis II rhetorical stele, records his victory over the Shardana warriors, and that Ramesses II defeated their battleships and the invaders from the Great Green.

It is thought that both of these inscriptions are referring to the same event. The name Shardana bears a similarity to the island Sardinia, a possible origin of the named invaders.

The above image of the Great Green, the Mediterranean Sea, taken from the coast of Sardinia. The following song was inspired by Ringo Starr’s visit to Sardinia and imagination of what it looked like beneath the waves of the Mediterranean Sea, the Great Green.

The End of the Road

The Wilbour Papyrus, ca. 1147 B.C.E. Papyrus, ink, Glass: 16 15/16 x 18 1/8 in. (43 x 46 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 34.5596.27 (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, CUR.34.5596.27_front_IMLS_PS5.jpg)

In Exodus 12, the Pharaoh tells Moses and Aaron to leave Egypt. “Up! Leave my people, you and the Israelites! Go, worship the Lord as you have requested. Take your flocks and herds, as you have said, and go. And also bless me.” The Egyptians urged the people to hurry and leave the country. “For otherwise,” they said, “we will all die!”…Now the length of time the Israelite people lived in Egypt was 430 years. At the end of the 430 years, to the very day, all the Lord’s divisions left Egypt.

In the Bible, after 430 years the Israelite presence in Egypt was over. In Egypt, after 480 years the Egyptian New Kingdom was over. The 20th Dynasty first lost control of Canaan in the 12th century BCE, and then the 20th Dynasty lost control of Egypt in the 11th century BCE.

Ramesses III’s reign started off well enough, as he successfully defeated foreign invaders. But later in his reign he faced domestic troubles, possibility the result of worsening regional conditions from drought and the Late Bronze Age Collapse. And the troubles appear to have hastened his end. CT scans of his mummy show that his esophagus and trachea were sliced open, indicating that he was assassinated.

Ramesses IV began a large construction program, but some of his projects went uncompleted. Ramesses V had a short reign, and power appears to have shifted to the priests of Amun at Karnak. Ramesses VI’s claim to fame is for his tomb obstructing King Tut’s tomb, thus preserving its wealth.

Gradually conditions in Egypt worsened. The country experienced droughts and below average flooding of the Nile. There are reports of corruption lasting extended periods of time. Civil unrest was a problem.

Under Ramesses XI, there were raids by foreigners and civil war. The priests of Amun in Thebes effectively ruled southern, or Upper Egypt. Before Ramesses XI’s ultimate demise, the 21st Dynasty had taken control of parts of Egypt, marking the end of centralized rule over Egypt and the end of the New Kingdom.

The Wilbour Papyrus, shown in the image above contains a land survey and assessment for taxes. It shows that the priests of Amun controlled vast tracts of land. It is believed to date to the reign of Ramesses V, indicating the loss of control by Egypt’s kings and the concentration of power in the hands of the priests. Another step on the way to the end of the road for the New Kingdom. 

Under the Yoke of Egypt

In Exodus 6, God instructs Moses to tell the enslaved Israelites “I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the Lord.”

In the Late Bronze Age, that land to which God would take them was under Egyptian control. Egypt’s New Kingdom was initiated with the expulsion of the Asiatic Hyksos to west Asia, and gradually Egypt extended its control to the southern Levant. This served the dual purpose of giving Egypt a buffer zone to protect against invasion and to control trade in the region.

Evidence for Egyptian control appears in both Egypt and Canaan. In Egypt, on temple walls, Asiatics are depicted as vassals bringing tribute to their Egyptian overlords.

Beit She’an sits at an important juncture for trade along the Jordan Valley and Jezre’el Valley, which today is just north of the West Bank in Israel. Beit She’an is referenced on a list at the temple at Karnak of sites crossed by the Egyptian king Thutmose III. In the Amarna Letters sent from Canaan to the Egyptian king Akhenaten, the ruler of Jerusalem, Abdi-Heba, cites Beit She’an as the source of attacks against him.

Numerous findings at Beit She’an demonstrate an Egyptian presence. A statue of Ramesses III and a stele of Seti I indicate Egyptian control. The temple at Beith She’an features Egyptian design elements. Burial practices with anthropomorphic coffins mimic Egyptian practices. The Egyptian game Hare and Hounds appears on the site. Homes are built in the Egyptian style. A door lintel with an inscription in hieroglyphics was unearthed at the site.

Papyrus Anastasi I dates to the 19th or 20th Dynasty, and contains a list of sites along the coastal road that carried trade to and from Egypt. Along the route were Egyptian military garrisons, some of which have been unearthed and feature Egyptian elements, including Egyptian home styles and Egyptian pottery.

In the 12th century BCE, as Egypt’s 20th Dynasty of the New Kingdom weakened, Egyptian control over Canaan waned. A bronze base for a statue of the Egyptian king Ramesses VI, is a late sign of Egyptian control. Ramesses VI died in 1137. Egyptian pottery dating to roughly 1125 BCE, was unearthed at the garrison at Jaffa, perhaps the last gasp of Egyptian control.

The image above is the Egyptian lintel, a block that rested above the doorposts, with hieroglyphs, found at Beit She’an. 

For another example of a lintel, see the clip below:

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