The High and Low Roads

Credit:, Joppa, Israel

In Numbers 16, Moses was challenged by Korah, Dathan, Abiram and their 250 supporters. In a similar vein, in the 1990s, the traditional view amongst archaeologists, referred to as the High Chronology, was challenged by proponents of a Low Chronology.

The traditional view, the High Chronology, was that King David ruled over a united monarchy in the Iron Age IIA period in the 10th century BCE. Supporters of the Low Chronology claimed that King David only ruled later and was never the ruler of a large confederation of tribes.

One of the premises for the Low Chronology challenge to the traditional view was based on an observation of pottery.

Since the Middle Bronze Age and the rise of Egypt’s New Kingdom in the 16th century BCE, Egypt had dominated the territory of Canaan. However, by the 12th century BCE, as Egypt’s central government began to weaken, its hold on the territory of Canaan began to wane, until it eventually withdrew from the region.

The traditional High Chronology assumption is that Philistines arrived on the southwestern coast of Canaan in the late 13th or early 12th century BCE, while Egypt still held fortresses in Canaan. Thus the two competing forces were settled in Canaan at the same time. This period of the Philistine arrival represented the shift from the Late Bronze Age into the Iron Age I period and so the Iron I period was deemed to begin in the early 12th century BCE. This framing of time allowed for the Iron IIA period to begin in the early 10th century BCE and left room for King David’s kingdom.

However, an observation was made and used to challenge the idea of King David’s kingdom. Egyptian and Philistine pottery did not appear together in the same archaeological layers that were unearthed. This led to the Low Chronology claim that the Philistines only arrived in coastal Canaan in the late 12th century BCE, after the Egyptians had left the region. This in turn led to an Iron Age I period that started later and squeezed the time length available for the Iron I and Iron IIA,  by extension compressing the time available for a Davidic kingdom to rule in the 10th century BCE.

Those who supported the High Chronology idea that King David ruled over united tribes extending into northern Israel countered that Egyptian and Philistine pottery did not appear together because they were rivals and maintained a divide between themselves.

Recent excavations done at Jaffa, along the coast of Israel, north of the Philistine regions along the southern coast, have countered this challenge. The Low Chronology argued that the Egyptians had exited Canaan before the Philistine arrival and that the Philistines arrived in the 1130s. The destruction layers at the fort of Jaffa and radiocarbon dating point to the Egyptians still being in Canaan in the late 12th century BCE, perhaps as late as 1115 BCE, after the Philistines had settled the southwestern coast. The argument that the Philistines appeared after the Egyptians left, which compressed the time periods, does not appear to be a concrete argument, again opening the window for a powerful Davidic kingdom in the 10th century BCE.

The image above is of the ancient Egyptian fort at Jaffa.