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:

A New Dynasty and the Beginning of the End

In Exodus 1, Joseph and his generation died, and a new king took the throne of Egypt. This king had no history with Joseph, and Joseph’s family lost its favor with Egypt’s rulers.

The idea of new leadership with no ties to earlier kings was a common one in ancient Egypt. Egypt experienced transitional periods of kingdoms with centralized control of the land to intermediate periods of no centralized control, and back to kingdoms again. The Old Kingdom gave way to the First Intermediate Period, the Middle Kingdom was followed by the Second Intermediate Period, and the New Kingdom devolved into the Third Intermediate Period.

Within the kingdom periods, leadership could be in flux, and old dynasties could be replaced by new dynasties. The New Kingdom of Egypt included the 18th, 19th and 20th Dynasties.

The 19th Dynasty of Egypt included a number of powerful and successful kings. Ramesses II was one of Egypt’s longest serving rulers. Merneptah defeated the Libyans and in the southern Levant he claims to have defeated a number of important city-states and an unsettled group named Israel. But after Merneptah’s reign, the 19th Dynasty was disrupted by palace intrigues, powerful advisors and a revolt led by Setnakhte, who took the throne and founded the 20th Dynasty of Egypt. Setnakhte was then followed by rulers named Ramesses, from Ramesses III to Ramesses XI. These gradually weaker kings presided over the demise of Egypt’s New Kingdom.

Signs of the problems emerge during the reign of Ramesses III, towards the end of the Late Bronze Age. A potsherd held in Berlin records that in the 29th year of Ramesses III’s reign, “20 days have elapsed this month and rations have not been given us.”

The Turin Strike Papyrus contains evidence of a food shortage and the oldest known record of a worker’s strike. In the 29th year of Ramesses III’s reign, the skilled laborers working on the royal tombs complained of a lack of food. They threaten to quit working and leave. The papyrus notes that certain workers have engaged in sabotage and are creating civil disturbances. The local authorities step in and provide emergency supplies to assuage the workers.

This papyrus gives a hint of the larger troubles the 20th Dynasty faced during the Late Bronze Age. A weaker Egypt would eventually have to retrench, and withdraw from the southern Levant. Egypt’s withdrawal would allow the proto-Israelites to settle in the central hill country and establish themselves in the region.

The image above is of a statue of Ramesses III unearthed at Beth She’an in the Jordan River Valley, when Egypt had a firmer control of the southern Levant.

To see an image of the Turin Strike Papyrus, see the following link from the Museo Egizio in Turin:

Humpty Dumpty Placed in the Ground

In Genesis 49, Jacob gave his son Joseph instructions for his burial arrangement. “I am about to be gathered to my people. Bury me with my fathers in the cave in the field of Ephron the Hittite, the cave in the field of Machpelah, near Mamre in Canaan, which Abraham bought along with the field as a burial place from Ephron the Hittite.“ In Genesis 50, Joseph had Jacob’s body treated in the Egyptian manner. “So the physicians embalmed him, taking a full forty days, for that was the time required for embalming. And the Egyptians mourned for him seventy days.” Then Joseph took his father’s body to be buried in Canaan.

In the Late Bronze Age, Egypt seized control of Canaan to dominate trade through the region and to create a buffer zone against foreign invasion. The Egyptians became more entrenched in Canaan during the 19th and 20th Dynasties.

Evidence of the Egyptian presence appears in monumental and cultural forms. The Amarna Letters found at the ancient site of Akhetaten, the Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaten’s capital, contain correspondences from Canaan rulers of cities asking for Egyptian assistance against the nomadic Habiru raiders. Later, stelae, or monuments, recording the feats of the pharaoh Seti I and his son Ramesses II were unearthed at Beth She’an, in the Jordan Valley.

Timnah is the site of a large ancient copper mine near Eilat, and it appears to have operated under Egyptian control during the Late Bronze Age. An Egyptian temple to the goddess Hathor on site points to Egyptian control.

The Egyptian presence in seen in cultural forms. There is an increase in the amounts of Egyptian pottery, including Egyptian stone vessels and beer jugs. There is evidence of Egyptian influence in building styles and cultic properties.

Another area where Egyptian influence can be seen is in burial practices. In the Middle Bronze Age, bodies were more commonly laid to rest in a fetal position. In the Late Bronze Age, bodies were buried a supine position, lying on its back, more typical of Egyptian practices. Bodies became more likely to be buried outside of the city, in contrast to earlier burials nearer to residences. Coffins became more common. And some coffins had anthropoid, or human-like features, as can be found on Egyptian coffins. One example of this is on display at the Rockefeller Archaeological Museum, north of the Old City of Jerusalem’s walls, opposite Herod’s Gate, just east of Damascus Gate. The image above is of an anthropomorphic coffin found at Beth She’an, dating to the 12th century BCE. Any resemblance to Humpty Dumpty is purely coincidental.

In the Late Bronze Age, people in Canaan used vessels like Egyptian, prayed like Egyptians, drank like Egyptians, cooked like Egyptians, lived like Egyptians and buried like Egyptians. All that is left is to walk like an Egyptian:


Canaan to Egypt, Egypt to Canaan

In Genesis 46, Jacob took his family to Egypt to meet Joseph. “Then Jacob left Beersheba, and Israel’s sons took their father Jacob and their children and their wives in the carts that Pharaoh had sent to transport him. So Jacob and all his offspring went to Egypt, taking with them their livestock and the possessions they had acquired in Canaan. Jacob brought with him to Egypt his sons and grandsons and his daughters and granddaughters—all his offspring.”

In the Bible, Jacob went down to Egypt. But in the Bronze Age, Egypt came to Canaan.

In the 16th century BCE, Egypt was in the midst of the Second Intermediate Period, a period in which there was no centralized control over the entire landmass of Egypt. Lower Egypt, or northern Egypt, was under the control of the Hyksos, a people from Asia who are remembered in Egypt for their cruelty. In the mid-16th century BCE, the rulers of Upper Egypt, southern Egypt, who were based in Thebes successfully attacked and expelled the Hyksos. They unified Egypt and ushered in what became known as Egypt’s New Kingdom.

The New Kingdom would come to include the 18th, 19th and 20th Dynasties and would last for nearly 500 years. One step its leaders took was to assert control of Canaan, to dominate trade and to create a buffer zone against foreign invaders. The mid-15th century ruler Pharaoh Thutmoses III recorded his campaigns in the Annals of Thutmose III in the Karnak Temple of Amun. He boasts of his great victory at the Battle of Megiddo, in the Lower Galilee, “the capture of Megiddo is the capture of a thousand towns.” This inscription is said to contain the first mention of a body count in recorded history, listing 83 severed hands collected from the dead.

Thutmoses III’s son Amenhotep II extended his father’s domination of Canaan, capturing many people as slaves and deporting them to Egypt.

Egyptian control of Canaan during the Late Bronze Age is in evidence in the archaeological record. There is a decline in the number of cities. Cities that once were surrounded by walls for defense were now left unwalled and vulnerable. There was a decline in population. Egyptian pottery, scarabs and religious forms are found at sites in the southern Levant.

Egyptian domination led to the decline in Canaanite cities and leadership. Eventually, as the Egyptians gradually pulled back from Canaan towards the end of the Late Bronze Age, it opened the door for new entrants such as the early Israelites to settle and grow.

In the book of Joshua and Judges, the Israelite tribes contend with the local nations, the Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Jebusites, Hivites, Perizzites and Girgashites. Absent is any mention of the Israelites fighting the Egyptians in Canaan. It is for this reason that scholars who argue in favor of an Israelite exodus from Egypt and entry into Canaan, point to the end of the Late Bronze Age as the likely time period.

The image above is a bust of Thutmose III, the Egyptian king who set this process in motion. The bust is on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

For more information about Egyptian pottery, the type found at certain Late Bronze Age sites in Canaan, see this short clip below:

Ancient Animal Husbandry

In Genesis 41, Egypt’s pharaoh had a dream. “He was standing by the Nile, when out of the river there came up seven cows, sleek and fat, and they grazed among the reeds. After them, seven other cows, ugly and gaunt, came up out of the Nile and stood beside those on the riverbank. And the cows that were ugly and gaunt ate up the seven sleek, fat cows. Then Pharaoh woke up.”

Troubled by the dream and with his magicians and wise men unable to interpret the dream, Joseph was summoned from prison. Joseph offered this answer: “Seven years of great abundance are coming throughout the land of Egypt, but seven years of famine will follow them. Then all the abundance in Egypt will be forgotten, and the famine will ravage the land. The abundance in the land will not be remembered, because the famine that follows it will be so severe.“

The Late Bronze Age Collapse led to drought like conditions in Canaan and eventually the collapse of centralized governmental control in Egypt. In Canaan, which during the Late Bronze Age was under Egyptian control, there is possible evidence that steps were taken to prepare for a dryer climate. That evidence appears in the cows. 

Taurine cattle are a type of domesticated cattle that originated in the Near East, but were suitable for European climates and became known as European cattle.

Zebu are another type of domesticated cattle that descends from the same lineage as taurine cattle, but have unique features. Zebu cattle have a hump just past the neck. They are better able to handle heat than European cattle due to larger sweat glands, and they have greater resistance to bugs and parasites. These features led them to be more popular for ploughing in hot and dry regions such as sub-Saharan Africa.

A small number of DNA samples of taurine cattle from the Late Bronze Age through the Iron Age were found at the archaeological sites of Megiddo and Azekah in the region of ancient Canaan. One of the cattle contained DNA that showed it to be a hybrid of a taurine cow and zebu bull. It is unknown exactly when the hybridization occurred. But as the zebu is common in Africa, it likely would have originated in Egypt, which lies closest to Canaan. The most likely time that an Egyptian bull would be transported to Canaan would be in the Late Bronze Age, when the Egyptians ruled Canaan. Thus it is possible that the effort to cross-breed cattle was an attempt to adjust to a changing climate, from a wetter climate better suited to taurine cattle to a drier climate better suited to zebu cattle. If this is the case, it could be another piece in the puzzle demonstrating a changing climate as a cause for the Late Bronze Age Collapse.

The image above is of a zebu. Note the unique feature of a hump behind its neck.

Ugarit, the Next Domino

In Genesis 37, Joseph’s brothers conspired to sell Joseph to traders. “As they sat down to eat their meal, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were loaded with spices, balm and myrrh, and they were on their way to take them down to Egypt. Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.” The brothers agreed. So when the Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt…Meanwhile, the Midianites sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard.”

This episode exemplifies the ancient trading networks. On today’s map it would represent traders from Arabia, coming from northern Jordan, passing through the northern part of the central hill country in the southern Levant, on their way to Egypt.

The Late Bronze Collapse in the late 13th and early 12th century led to the demise of the great kingdoms of the ancient Near East. The loss of the great powers opened the door for new states such as Israel to emerge, but it also resulted in a collapse in the wide trading networks.

One of the theories about the collapse is that a change in climate led to a reduction in rainfall and created famines across the region. There is natural and textual evidence of famine spreading in Canaan, in the Hittite Empire, and in inland Syria. These regions were important for trade. Another domino in this chain fell at Ugarit.

Ugarit was an important trading center on the Mediterranean coast, in today’s Syria. It had good harborage for incoming ships and sat along a series of trade routes that crisscrossed the region. The Urtenu tablets were found within the remains of the southern part of Ugarit, and they contain records of trade across the region. However, they also contain a hint of food shortages at Ugarit. A letter found at the site from the Egyptian king Merneptah records the “consignments of grain sent from Egypt to relieve the famine in Ugarit.” In the early 12th century, Ugarit was destroyed, yet another important polity that became a victim of the Late Bronze Age Collapse.

The image above is of the storm god Baal, an important deity at Ugarit who would later play a role in Canaan.

To recall the domino of Ugarit walking off for good, another Domino:

Ugarit to Emar to Gone

In Genesis 33, Jacob left Syria in the north and headed south to his homeland of Canaan. “After Jacob came from Paddan Aram, he arrived safely at the city of Shechem in Canaan and camped within sight of the city. For a hundred pieces of silver, he bought from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem, the plot of ground where he pitched his tent. There he set up an altar and called it El Elohe Israel.“

During the Late Bronze Age Collapse, many of the great empires of the ancient Near East either declined or disappeared entirely. One of the effects is that it opened the door for new states such as early Israel to emerge. Another effect is that it resulted in a widespread decline in interregional trade.

One of the culprits of the Late Bronze Age Collapse is believed to be climate change. Cooler temperatures led to a reduction in rainfall. And reduced rainfall led to starvation.

Two important trading centers in the area of Syria during the Late Bronze Age were Ugarit and Emar.

The ancient city of Ugarit is at Ras Shamra, north of Latakia in Syria. The site was accidentally discovered when a farmer plowing his field hit an ancient tomb with his plow. Ugarit was well positioned for trade. It sat along a coastal harbor on the Mediterranean and beside a mountain pass through which goods could be carried to the interior regions. Its importance for trade is evidenced by large archives of trading records.

The city of Emar lies further inland along the Euphrates, and was an important point on the trade route from the west leading to Mesopotamia. It too produced a large collection of cuneiform tablets that relate to trade.

The Urtenu archive is a collection of cuneiform records found at Ugarit in the office of a trading agent named Urtenu. One possible reading of a letter found at the site, Ugarit Text RS 34.152, points to a famine ravaging Emar: “There is famine in your house; we will all die of hunger. If you do not quickly arrive here, we ourselves will die of hunger. You will not see a living soul from your land.” In the early 12th century, the city of Emar disappeared from the map. Yet another land suffering the broke and hungry blues.