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. 

Pollen, the Hardy Survivors

In Genesis 30, Rachel becomes increasingly jealous of her sister and anxious about her inability to bear children: During the wheat harvest, Reuben went out into the fields and found some “duda’im,” which he brought to his mother Leah. Rachel said to Leah, Please give me some of your son’s “duda’im.” Presumably this was because Rachel believed these plants could aid in reproduction.

There have been a variety of suggestions as to the identification of “duda’im,” but translators have settled on the Mandragora officinalis, also referred to as the mandrake.

Plants such as mandrakes have their own reproductive strategies. In cross-pollination, pollen from one flower can be transferred by insects or by wind to another flower.

In the late 13th century and early 12th century, the great kingdoms of the Ancient Near East either collapsed or were significantly reduced in power and size. It would be between 200 and 300 years before some of them recovered, if they did at all. It was in this power vacuum in the area of Canaan into which new states, such as the Kingdom of Israel, were born. The period between collapse and the emergence of the new states was one of smaller groups and tribal affiliations. It is an archaeologically quieter period in which the evidence suggests that Canaan was free of foreign control. And it correlates well with the description the pre-monarchical society described in the Book of Judges.

One of the possible culprits of the Late Bronze Age Collapse was climate change. A colder climate and colder sea temperatures could have resulted in lower rainfall amounts and caused drought conditions. 

Pollen grain shells are hard and very durable, and pollen grains are unique by species. Pollen’s hard shell allows it to survive for long periods of time, even under adverse conditions. Pollen’s unique forms can also tell us about the plant diversity at a given point in time.  These factors allow pollen to be used to study the Late Bronze Age Collapse.

If pollen settles in a body of water, new sediment can accumulate on top of that pollen. As the process repeats itself, new sediment building on top of older pollen, over time, this can create layers that can be analyzed to determine the type of plants that existed at a particular point in time. To sample these, paleobotanists take mud cores to sample the layers of dirt that settled sequentially over time.

Researchers from Tel Aviv University took sample mud cores from the Sea of Galilee. The results of testing showed that beginning in the 13th century and into the 11th century, there was a decline in the more typical amounts of pollen from carob trees and olive trees. Instead there was an increase in pollen of plants better built to survive desert-like conditions. This would appear to point to a change in climate. The climate change and drought that fueled the demise of Egypt’s New Kingdom and the Hittite Empire, and allowed for nascent Israel to emerge.

In the above image, a bee is shown covered in pollen, a process by which pollen can be spread. For a brief video about pollen, enjoy the link below. 


Egypt As Breadbasket

Sa-Iset the Younger, ca. 1279-1203 B.C.E. Wood, 22 1/2 x 6 x 6 1/2 in. (57.2 x 15.2 x 16.5 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 47.120.2. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 47.120.2_SL1.jpg)

In Genesis 26, the land of Canaan was hit by yet another drought: Now there was a famine in the land—besides the previous famine in Abraham’s time—and Isaac went to Abimelek king of the Philistines in Gerar. The Lord appeared to Isaac and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; live in the land where I tell you to live. Stay in this land for a while, and I will be with you and will bless you. For to you and your descendants I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham. I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because Abraham obeyed me and did everything I required of him, keeping my commands, my decrees and my instructions.” So Isaac stayed in Gerar.

The land of Canaan was dependent upon rainfall to irrigate its crops and for drinking water, and was subject to variation in annual rainfall amounts. Egypt had the Nile River, which was a more reliable source of water for agriculture. A sensible move during periods of drought in Canaan would be to go to Egypt. In the biblical story, God denies Egypt its traditional role as breadbasket during a time of need.

The Late Bronze Age Collapse of the late 13th and early 12th centuries was a widespread phenomenon, and saw the demise of the major kingdoms and empires of the ancient Near East. In the Aegean, Mycenaean Greece saw its end, ushering in a 300 year dark period. The Hittite Empire was reduced to minor Neo-Hittite states. The Amorites were displaced by the Arameans. The Assyrian kingdom shrunk in size and the Babylonian Kassite dynasty was overthrown.

A cooling in temperatures, which resulted in less sea water evaporation and a reduction in rainfall has been identified as a cause of the Late Bronze Age Collapse. But just as in the Bible, during the Late Bronze Age Collapse, Egypt stepped into its traditional role as the breadbasket of last resort.

Merneptah was an Egyptian pharaoh who ruled Egypt for a decade near the end of the 13th century BCE, following his father Ramesses II. In Egyptian records, he is said to have attempted to help the Hitties stave off starvation. “[I] caused grain to be taken in ships, to keep alive this land of Hatti.”

The chief of his granaries was one Siese the Younger, also referred to as Sa-Iset the Younger. His likeness, in the photo above, can be seen at the Brooklyn Museum. 

For a song of coming to someone’s aid in a time of need, enjoy Irving Berlin’s Operation Vittles at 2:45-4:10 in the link below:


A Matter of Life or Death

In Genesis 23, Abraham conducted a transaction with Hittites: Abraham rose from beside his dead wife and spoke to the Hittites. He said, “I am a foreigner and stranger among you. Sell me some property for a burial site here so I can bury my dead.” The Hittites replied to Abraham, “Sir, listen to us. You are a mighty prince among us. Bury your dead in the choicest of our tombs. None of us will refuse you his tomb for burying your dead.” Then Abraham rose and bowed down before the people of the land, the Hittites

With the sale complete, “Afterward Abraham buried his wife Sarah in the cave in the field of Machpelah near Mamre, which is at Hebron, in the land of Canaan.”

In Joshua 1, the tribes of Israel began their campaign to conquer the land of Canaan. The tribes of Judah and Simeon attacked the Canaanites and captured the southern hill country, including the Canaanites living in Hebron, the land that Abraham was said to have purchased as a burial ground.

To the north, the tribes of Joseph sent spies to scout the city of Bethel. The spies happened upon a man who proceeded to tell them how to enter the city. When the tribes of Joseph attacked Bethel, the man was spared and sent further north to the land of the Hittites.

The Hittite Empire ruled over most of Anatolia, the area of modern Turkey. It was established in the 17th century BCE, with its capital at Hattusa. Over time it grew to rival the Egyptian pharaohs of the New Kingdom. In 1274 BCE, the Hittite king Muwatalli II fought the Egyptian king Ramesses II in the greatest chariot battle in human history at the Battle of Kadesh. Yet within one hundred years the Hittite Empire had disintegrated, a victim of the Late Bronze Age Collapse. In its place were the smaller and weaker Neo-Hittite states.One possible explanation for its demise is the effects of a change in the climate causing a shortage of food.

The Hittites engaged in trade with Ugarit, in coastal Syria. A letter from the Hittite king to Ugarit (RS 20.212 / Ug. 5 N 33) found at Ras Shamra, the modern site of ancient Ugarit, indicates the trouble:

“His Majesty” they asked for food, (and so) 2000 (units of) barley “His Majesty” has allotted for them from Mukish. As for you, one big ship and crew of sailors give to the[m].[May] they convey this barley to their country. Whether they load it once or twice, do not withhold the ship from them.

The Hittite king’s letter finishes, “It is a matter of life or death.”

The photo above is of a column, from the ruins at Hattusa, near today’s Boğazkale, Turkey. Home of a once great empire that was reduced by natural forces, as climate disasters have harmed humans before and since:

Cold Temperatures Frozen in Time

In the late 13th and early 12th centuries the ancient Near East experienced the Late Bronze Age Collapse. This period saw the demise of the major kingdoms of the time. The large kingdoms’ pain was Israel’s gain, as their weakness opened the door for new, smaller states such as Israel to emerge.

There are various theories as to the cause of the Late Bronze Age Collapse. One theory is that it was a result of a change in the climate. This theory can be tested by studying ice cores.

Greenland and Antarctica have large ice sheets created from snowfall that has accumulated over time. The Greenland Ice Sheet covers over 650,000 square miles and over 2 miles thick at its deepest point.

Differences in annual snow give each season’s snow unique properties. As new snow falls, the weight of the snow compacts the snow beneath it, and traps those properties. It creates an annual accounting that is frozen in time.

The thickness of an annual layer can demonstrate the amount of precipitation for a given year. Melting snow eliminated bubbles in the snow, and can be an indicator of warmer summer temperatures. Carbon dioxide and methane are trapped in the ice, and variances can be measured over time. Differences in the air temperature can be reflected in changes in oxygen and hydrogen isotopes.

Ice layers contain also contain particles that were present in the air. In Genesis 19, God rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah, enough to destroy all the vegetation. In Judges 15, Samson tied lit torches to foxes’ tails, and set them loose in the Philistines’ grains, burning them. These localized destructions would not be large enough to show in the ice in Greenland, but massive volcanic eruptions have spewed enough ash into the atmosphere and fallen in Greenland to appear in the ice.

The study of this ice over time can be done by looking at ice cores. Ice cores are cylinders of ice taken from the ice sheets. They are created by drilling a vertical hole into the ice, and gradually removing the ice core in sections as the drilling goes deeper.

The Greenland Ice Sheet Project (GISP2) took ice cores to a depth of over 10,000 feet. And it showed that temperatures were cooler between 1200 though 850 BCE, with a brief warming period between 1050-970 BCE. This correlates well with other studies that have pointed to cooler temperatures and lower rainfall in the eastern Mediterranean during this same period, and a possible explanation for the Late Bronze Age Collapse.

For a photo of an ice core with volcanic ash embedded inside, see the following link:

To see a clip of an ice core being taken, see this short video:

When God Does Not Bring Rain

In Genesis 12, God tells Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” In the narrative, just after Abram receives his blessing, the Bible says that there was a famine in the land where he was told to go. So Abram traveled to Egypt to find food and water.

The significance of water is recognized in the biblical Book of Judges. In the Song of Deborah she sings, “When you, Lord, went out from Seir, when you marched from the land of Edom, the earth shook, the heavens poured, the clouds poured down water.” The ability to deliver water is connected to God.

The availability of water was arguably the single most important factor in the development of the ancient Near East. Egypt and Mesopotamia became great powers through their ability to harness their rivers, which allowed them to produce excess food supplies and engage in trade. Rivers are fed by precipitation and thus are dependent upon rainfall amounts, especially from higher elevation areas. Other parts of the Near East were more directly dependent upon rainfall for their survival. The southern Levant, corresponding to ancient Canaan and the Transjordan, is dryland country, with semiarid, arid and hyperarid regions that get limited rainfall even during good times.

Changes in annual precipitation in the 12th and 11th centuries BCE in the Near East may have played an important role in the Late Bronze Collapse that caused the demise of the major kingdoms and opened the door for Israel to develop. A variety of methods can be used to test this theory of climate change as the cause.

One such method is the analysis of speleothems, which are mineral deposits in a cave. These deposits form into stalactites and stalagmites in caves. Stalactites are icicle-like rock formations that form in caves by slowly dripping moisture and hang from the ceiling, while stalagmites appear as inverted icicles, rising from the floor. These are shown in the image above.   

Stalactites and stalagmites form under specific conditions. It requires some form of rock above the cave where the water can collect minerals as it drips downward. The presence of organic material above can add acids to the water and effect the rate of growth of the speleothems. It also requires narrow holes where water from above can drain through slowly, and enough airflow inside the cave to allow for evaporation.

The Soreq Cave, also known as Me’arat HaNetifim, is located near the Israeli city of Beit Shemesh. It features an extensive collection of stalactites and stalagmites and has played in an important role in the study of ancient climates.

There are different types of hydrogen and oxygen isotopes in water, and the ratio between them is affected by the climate. Differences in temperature and rainfall amounts create a varying mix of isotopes, some lighter, some heavier.

By analyzing the hydrogen and oxygen isotopes in the stalactites and stalagmites taken from the Soreq Cave in Israel, a determination can be made about the level of rainfall during different periods of time, including during the period of 1200 BCE through 1000 BCE. And it appears that during the Late Bronze Age Collapse, the isotope mix changed, because God did not deliver enough rain:

Dancing in the Dark

In Genesis 6, God decides to destroy the human race due to their wickedness, and to leave only Noah, his family, and the animals to continue on. In Genesis 7 God floods the earth, and in Genesis 8 Noah’s family grows to become the founders of new nations.

In the late 13th and early 12th centuries BCE, a similar process of destruction and regenesis ocurred. The Late Bronze Age collapse in the ancient Near East saw the large powers of the time suffer the loss of centralized authority, economic decline and resulted in changes in population and settlement patterns.

Many of the great kingdoms of this period experienced declines or disappeared altogether. At the outset of the 12th century BCE, the Mycenaean kingdom of Greece was destroyed. In the middle of the 12th century BCE, the Kassite kingdom of Babylon was defeated. Around the same time, the Hittite kingdom of Anatolia, modern day Turkey, collapsed. Egypt’s New Kingdom saw its power begin to wane and it lost control of Canaan. By the mid-11th century BCE, centralized control of Egypt had unwound, ushering in the Third Intermediate Period. The Assyrian kingdom survived, but as a rump state.

A number of suggestions have been made as to the cause of the upheaval. Climate change or revolts in the Aegean could have triggered disruptions that gradually sent shockwaves through the entire region. Invasions of ‘Sea Peoples’ from the Aegean or Anatolian coast could have destroyed cities and disrupted the various powers and the networked trading system in the region. The loss of trade would have been catastrophic for kingdoms that depended upon food imports. The spread of iron and steel tools could have changed the power balance, and advances in war fighting could have disrupted the balance of power. Internal revolts could also have been a cause for the demise of the kingdoms. 

The collapse of these kingdoms led to a reduction in trade across the entire region and the decline of large urban cities. It also led to an archaeological dark age. Large kingdoms have access to greater resources and specialization of tasks, feature better record keeping of trade, produce more monuments and construct monumental buildings. When large powers are weakened or disappear, these records of the past disappear with them.

This archaeological dark age lasted for 200-300 years. When the archaeological record picks up again, new entities emerge. This created an effect comparable to shutting the light in a room, and when the light goes on again the room has been rearranged. When the archaeological light turns on in the ancient Near East in the 10th century BCE, new groups such as the Arameans, Philistines and Israelites are established as independent regional powers.

In Joshua 3, Joshua led the Israelite invasion of Canaan: “So when the people broke camp to cross the Jordan, the priests carrying the ark of the covenant went ahead of them. Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, the water from upstream stopped flowing. It piled up in a heap a great distance away, at a town called Adam in the vicinity of Zarethan, while the water flowing down to the Sea of the Arabah (that is, the Dead Sea) was completely cut off. So the people crossed over opposite Jericho. The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stopped in the middle of the Jordan and stood on dry ground, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground.”

In the biblical story, this scene is the start of a new era for ancient Canaan, signifying a changing of the guard that will lead to the entity of Israel establishing itself in the early Iron Age. 

The image of above is of a Mycenaean grave mask, on display at Greece’s National Archaeological Museum in Athens. This bright gold mask is from a culture that would soon go dark with the Late Bronze Age Collapse. This has left archaeologists studying the period dancing in the dark:

Old Man Rivers

In chapter 2 of Genesis, God placed the first man Adam in the Garden of Eden. The Garden of Eden is said to be the source for four rivers: the Pishon, Gihon, Hiddekel and Euphrates.

A simple reading of the text would suggest that the four rivers emerge from one source. The Hiddekel is identified with the Tigris, which lies to the east of the Euphrates. But the Tigris and Euphrates have different sources. The Gihon is described as the river that surrounds the land of Kush, which generally refers to Ethiopia, a fair distance from the Tigris and Euphrates.The Jewish medieval commentator Rashi thus did not require the rivers to be referring to rivers that emerge from one source. Rashi identified the Pishon with the Nile River. And unbound from the requirement of geographic proximity, the Gihon could possibly refer to the Blue Nile in Ethiopia, one of the sources of the Nile River. 

These rivers, the Blue Nile, Nile, Tigris and Euphrates played an important role in human history. The consistent flow of water along these rivers allowed for the domestication of plants and animals. It was along these rivers that humans first transitioned from hunter-gatherers to farming societies.

The region extending from southern Iraq, up to northern Iraq, through Syria and Turkey, down the coast of Lebanon and Israel to the Nile Delta region forms an upside down crescent of fertile areas surrounded by arid regions. For this reason the extended area is referred to as the Fertile Crescent.

The effect of these rivers can be seen in the image above. To the east of the Tigris lies the mountainous countries of Iran and Afghanistan. To the south are the deserts of Arabia. To the west, the deserts of Africa. The Fertile Crescent is a green oasis, fed by its rivers, surrounded by the tans and brown of the dry deserts and mountains.

This geographic feature plays a key role in the Torah. Abraham heads northwest from Iraq to Turkey, Syria and then Canaan, along the Fertile Crescent. The patriarchs traveled from Canaan to Egypt in times of poor irrigation, and the nascent nation of Israel wandered in the desert for 40 years, sustained by God alone.

Similarly, this geographic feature plays a key role in the Historical and Prophetic books of the Bible. It was a driving force for the empires that crossed the biblical land of Israel to control the food supplies of the Fertile Crescent.

In the U.S., the Mississippi River was the Old Man River. In the Bible, beginning with the Garden of Eden,  and for human civilization, the the Pishon, Gihon, Hiddekel and Euphrates are the original Old Man Rivers.

Science and Faith

In Deuteronomy 31, Moses tells Israel to put their faith in God, that God will help them conquer the land of Canaan. “The Lord your God Himself will cross over ahead of you. He will destroy these nations before you, and you will dispossess them. Joshua will cross ahead of you, as the Lord has said. And the Lord will do to them as He did to Sihon and Og, the kings of the Amorites, when He destroyed them along with their land. The Lord will deliver them over to you, and you must do to them exactly as I have commanded you. Be strong and courageous; do not be afraid or terrified of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.”

The evidence unearthed in Egypt and in the southern Levant can support a limited Israelite exodus and entry in Canaan. The earliest mention of Israel in the 13th century BCE, coinciding with the population spike in the central highlands of Canaan, provide a framework within which one can argue that a group left Egypt and settled in Canaan.

Ultimately though, what scientists understand about the geography in Egypt and the Levant, the availability of water, food supplies, towns, use of slaves, population and the archaeological evidence do not support the literal biblical version of the Exodus account. The size and scope of the story are too large for historians to accept. The limitations of science explain why this is the case.

Science is the systematic study of the physical world, through observation and experimentation. The scientific method begins with an observation. From an observation, one would form a hypothesis to explain the observed phenomenon. The hypothesis is then tested. If the test fails, a new hypothesis is required. If the test succeeds enough times and can be replicated, the hypothesis can rise to the level of theory.

Historians attempt to use the scientific method when analyzing the past. However, with history, nothing can be fully proven. There is no way to truly test what happened in the past if it is not in front of us to be tested. There is no way to prove or disprove if Martians built the pyramids in Egypt or if giants build Stonehenge. Instead, historians make judgments about the physical world today and apply them to the past. If Martians do not interfere in human affairs today, it is assumed Martians did not involve themselves in human affairs over 3,000 years ago. If open miracles cannot be observed today, then historians will assume that open miracles could not be observed in the past. Science will discount the miraculous, the divine, the otherworld and any and all unobservable claims.

Still, history is limited in its ability to explain events from the past. And despite it’s discounting, history cannot rise past the level of theory to become an unassailable scientific law.

By contrast, religion makes claims about the metaphysical, beyond the observable physical world. Religious claims about God, divine beings, immortality of the soul and miracles in the past can neither be proven nor disproven. Therefore, they are beyond scientific analysis.

At the end of the Yom Kippur prayers, when the Ne’ilah prayer reaches its crescendo, the cantor and then congregation announce:

“Hear Israel, YHWH is our God, YHWH is one.”

“Blessed is the name of the glory of his kingdom for eternity.”

“YHWH is God.”

These are all statements of faith. They cannot be proven scientifically. They cannot be tested. They cannot be proven, and they cannot be disproven. They are simply statements of faith. One either believes or does not believe.

This can provide an approach for the biblical account. Science cannot allow for miracles and for divine intervention. There can be no miraculous plagues, or a splitting of the sea or millions wandering in the desert and being sustained by God. To believe these stories requires more. A literal reading requires a leap of faith, similar to the leap of faith taken with the prayers at the end of Yom Kippur.

“You Yourselves Know How We Lived in Egypt”

In Deuteronomy 29, towards the end of their journey, Moses reminds Israel of their experience in Egypt and wandering in the desert. “You yourselves know how we lived in Egypt and how we passed through the countries on the way here. You saw among them their detestable images and idols of wood and stone, of silver and gold. Make sure there is no man or woman, clan or tribe among you today whose heart turns away from the Lord our God to go and worship the gods of those nations; make sure there is no root among you that produces such bitter poison.” The upcoming close of the Jewish New Year and completion of a Torah reading cycle is an opportune time to review the archaeological evidence for the Israelite experience and exodus from Egypt.

Egypt’s Middle Kingdom lasted from the 21st century BCE through the 17th century BCE, and was a prosperous time for Egypt. In Genesis, Joseph is given a multi-colored coat by his father. The Beni Hasan Tomb painting shows Semitic traders from the Levant wearing multi-colored clothing, a marked contrast to the white linen clothing worn by native Egyptians. The Brooklyn Papyrus contains a list of slaves, many of whom have Semitic names, attesting to the use of slaves from the Levant in Egypt. Egypt experienced periods of turmoil, even during the Middle Kingdom, and the Ipuwer Papyrus contains imagery that is similar to the language used later in the Bible’s story of the Ten Plagues.

The collapse of the Middle Kingdom’s central authority ushered in the Second Intermediate Period and the rise of Semitic kings. A scarab with the name of a king Jacob-Baal that dates to this period was found in the area of Canaan. Egypt’s New Kingdom kings eventually expelled the Hyksos from Egypt and extended their reign into Canaan. The Egyptian king Amenhotep II recorded taking many slaves from Canaan back to Egypt. Amenhotep III defeated the Shasu of YHW, a location that may be the origin of Israel’s God, in the region of northern Arabia and southern Jordan, an area Moses was said to have crossed before he met God at the burning bush.

In the 14th century, the pharaoh Akhenaten launched a religious revolution in Egypt, restricting worship to the sun disc Aten, similar to the Bible’s idea of worshipping only one God. Akhenaten moved the Egyptian capital to Akhetaten, between Memphis and Thebes, in today’s Tel el-Amarna. The Amarna Letters found there are tablets that contain correspondences with rulers and Egyptian subjects outside of Egypt. A number of tablets contain pleas for assistance from the ruler of a town Urusalim, who was being attacked by the nomadic Habiru raiders, whose name retains a linguistic affinity to the Bible’s Hebrews.

In the 13th century, the Egyptian pharaoh Ramesses II did battle with the Hittites at Kadesh, in the region of Syria. Records of the battle show Ramesses II’s encampment. At the center of the encampment was a traveling temple, and the shrine features winged figures within its enclosure, similar to the description of Israel’s traveling tabernacle and winged cherubs. Potential sites of Ramesses II’s cities of Pithom and Ramesses were unearthed in the northeastern delta region of Egypt.

The 14th century fragmentary Berlin Pedestal contains a possible mention of a group or nation called Israel. But the late 13th century Merneptah Stele contains the earliest uncontested mention of Israel outside of the Bible. This monument seems to place Israel in the central highland of Canaan, during the reign of Merneptah and after Ramesses II’s reign.

In the transition from the Late Bronze Age to Iron Age I, a sharp population increase begins to take root in the central highlands of Canaan. These new settlers are thought to be the proto-Israelites, the early groups that came to be known as the nation Israel. These villages contain a number of unique cultural markers.

In the 13th and into the 12th century, villages with unique ‘four-room’ houses appear in the Transjordan and in the central highlands of Israel. These homes contain narrow rooms divided by pillars and a broad room running along the width of the other rooms. In the coastal regions of southwestern Canaan inhabited by the Philistines, pig bone remains demonstrate that pig was a major part of the Philistine diet. In contrast, in the central highlands and some of the Canaanite areas pig bones are not found, indicating that these new villagers did not eat pigs, a cultural trait that aligns with the biblical prohibition on eating pigs.

The pottery in these areas was unique. Whereas Philistine pottery was highly ornate, the highland settlers used pottery that was simple and undecorated. They feature a high percentage of large ‘collared rim jars,’ and few examples of imported pottery. The burial patters of these early proto-Israelites was simple, which would change over time to dedicated family burial sites.

The Manasseh Hill Country Survey undertaken by Adam Zertal indicates that the early settlers of the hill country moved in an east to west direction, the direction which the Bible indicates the Israelites traveled from Jordan into Canaan. Zertal identified a structure on Mount Ebal that he identified as Joshua’s altar, but most archaeologists would argue against assigning this structure to a specific individual.

Ultimately, what does all this mean?

There are archaeologists who argue for an exodus of Israel from Egypt, but there are disagreements about the date of this event. Some place the exodus during Egypt’s Second Intermediate Period, but this requires a revision of the generally accepted dating system. Some point to the Thera Eruption as a trigger for a tsunami that coincided with the splitting of the Reed Sea, but the odds of these two events coinciding are highly improbable. Christian biblical literalists like to place the exodus in the 15th century BCE. The problem with this view is that Egypt maintained tight control over Canaan in the 15th century, and the biblical books of Joshua and Judges that tell the story of Israel’s early years in Canaan are entirely unaware of an Egyptian presence when Israel is said to have conquered the land.

For these reasons, along with evidence mentioned above, many scholars who argue for an exodus place it in the 13th century BCE. The Merneptah Stele provides an anchor date by which Israel is already inhabiting the land in the late 13th century BCE. The sharp increase in the number of villages along with unique cultural markers argue for this being the proto-Israelites, the earliest Israelite settlers who would later come to represent the kingdom of Israel. And if the 13th century is the date of an exodus, it would likely have occurred either during the reign of Merneptah or Ramesses II, shown in the image above.

Secured By miniOrange