Jerusalem Abandoned for Monotheism


In Deuteronomy 7, Moses tries to instill confidence into the Israelites before they will cross into Canaan and conquer the land. “You may say to yourselves, These nations are stronger than we are. How can we drive them out? But do not be afraid of them; remember well what the Lord your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt. You saw with your own eyes the great trials, the signs and wonders, the mighty hand and outstretched arm, with which the Lord your God brought you out. The Lord your God will do the same to all the peoples you now fear.”

While the evidence in Jerusalem about the status of Jerusalem in the Late Bronze Age is sparse, evidence from outside Jerusalem points to the city having been a significant entity during that period.

In the mid-14th century, Egypt’s 18th Dynasty king Amenhotep IV led a monotheistic religious revolution in Egypt. He banned the worship of the Egyptian pantheon of gods, and focused all worship on the Aten, the sun disk. To honor the Aten, Amenhotep IV changed his name to Akhenaten. Akhenaten moved his capital to a new site in central Egypt, and called it Akhetaten.

As the king of Egypt, Akhenaten appears to have expended his energy on his religious movement, at the expense of other responsibilities. Egypt’s earlier 18th Dynasty kings sent Egypt’s military to seize control of Canaan, to give the Egyptians control of trade routes and to provide a buffer zone to protect Egypt from an invasion from Asia. Akhenaten neglected these Egyptian vassal states in Canaan.

Akhenaten’s capital Akhetaten was discovered at modern day Tel el-Amarna in central Egypt. Letters on clay tablets sent by rulers of Canaanite city-states were unearthed at Akhetaten. These letters show increasingly desperate rulers pleading for assistance from Akhenaten to protect them from attacks.

In a series of letters, Abdi-Heba, the ruler of a city in Canaan called Urusalem, seeks assistance from Egypt to protect him and his city from attacks by the Hapiru. The letters sound increasingly desperate, and seem to be ignored by Akhenaten.

The ultimate outcome of the attacks is unknown. What, if any, connection the Hapiru have to the Hebrews cannot be stated with any certainty. But the series of letters demonstrates that in the 14th century BCE, Jerusalem was a significant city, with literate scribes and the resources and connections to communicate with the ruler of Egypt.

The image above is of an Amarna Letter, with both cuneiform and Egyptian hieratic writing.