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Rise of God

Introduction to Biblical Archaeology 5:
The Rise of God

by Joel Ng (2005)


The Judaeo-Christian faith and the study of God within this faith has long been a central question in Western culture. Yet a single God as the omnipotent ruler of the universe is in fact a relatively late tradition in the history of society. The Bible itself depicts the history of exclusive monotheism as emerging at Mount Sinai, with the declaration that "Thou shalt have no other gods before me." Even then the following centuries were depicted as alternations between lapses and revivals of faith, a model that has taken on greater meaning within theological expositions.

The Enlightenment moved the emphasis toward critical study of religion as the product of human agencies and structures, as successive philosophers questioned or attacked the concept of God and the religious institutions whether in the traditions of Feuerbach, Nietzsche, Marx, Freud, Durkheim, or others. In more conservative circles, the essence of monotheism remains intact, while in departments of religious studies, the idea of God has become increasingly problematic. What has often been lacking in discussions of the God of the Judaeo-Christian tradition is the origins from which he emerged as the identifiable and distinct God he is today. While it may seem irrelevant or marginal to the questions raised by philosophers, theologians, and sociologists, it is helpful to be mindful of the history of God.

In this piece, we will depart somewhat from archaeology per se and move more into textual analysis, as ancient texts and their interpretation shed a great deal of light on the early history of God. I am greatly reliant on Mark S. Smith's two works on the subject, The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel and more importantly, The Origins of Biblical Monotheism: Israel's Polytheistic Background and the Ugaritic Texts. A summary of his views can be found here.

The tentative nature of interpretation should provide a warning for the readers of atheistic or conservative Christian or Jewish inclinations. This piece only seeks to place a context on the emergence of Yahweh, who would become central figure in so much of Western thought. Unfortunately, because of the history of interpretations of religion, this piece may appear strident in the constant warnings given to the reader, but it is only there in the hopes that greater care will be taken than what has come before. In reading texts, we develop theories of explanation to account for them, and these theories must be understood as susceptible to our preconceived notions, and so we must tread carefully.

Some Preliminary Remarks on Divinity

Understanding the term "god" in today's context will always be influenced by our modern understanding of "God" as a supreme ruler of the cosmos (or at least prime mover). But when we examine what it meant to be a "god" in Ancient Near Eastern societies, this understanding often leads to anachronistic reading. When we examine those things known as "divine" (ilu in Akkadian, 'il in Ugaritic, 'el in Biblical Hebrew), we find a multitude of figures that do not relate necessarily to our ideas of god:

[M]onstrous cosmic enemies; demons; some living kings; dead kings or the dead more generally; deities' images and standards as well as standing stones; and other cultic items and places. In addition to words for "divine", Akkadian uses a special sign (called a "determinative") to mark divinity. The special sign for divinity applies not only to deities but also to many other phenomena such as demons, stars, the images of monstrous creatures, the determined order (šimtu), and legendary human heroes of old, such as Gilgamesh and Enkidu.

Mark S. Smith, 2001, The Origins of Biblical Monotheism: Israel's Polytheistic Background and the Ugaritic Texts, Oxford: Oxford University Press, p.6

"Divine" for Smith is "not to be human" as Erra, the Mesopotamian god is chided, "You changed your divine nature and made yourself like a mortal" (cf. Hosea 11:9). If this is so, it then follows that the very ideas of monotheism and polytheism as understood today are anachronistic and not especially applicable to understanding the early beliefs of the Israelites. Indications in the Bible that (when read neutrally) show awareness of other gods (e.g., Exodus 15:11) reinforce this point and we will return to this idea later. We find instead that monotheism was not always in conflict with polytheism as portrayed in the Bible, but that it emerged as a rhetoric to support the monolatrous practices of later Israelites or Judaeans. Arguing for monotheism prior to the seventh century B.C.E. is extremely difficult, as I hope to demonstrate later.

The Texts

Where do we begin in such a vast array of texts to consider? Chronologically speaking, the earliest mythologies belong to Egypt and Sumer, though their influence on the religions of Israel are debatable. Indirect influence also arrives from the Ebla texts, a hoard of writings found at the ancient site of Tell Mardikh in Syria. Unfortunately, these were discovered fairly recently, and not all of them have been published, let alone studied and debated. Much more work has focused on the texts found at Ras-Shamra (ancient Ugarit) and Tell Hariri (ancient Mari), dating to the last half of the second millennium B.C.E., which are themselves influenced by earlier Sumerian and Akkadian accounts. These are perhaps the closest in time and space that we have to early Israelite beliefs, though their relevance has again been questioned. Babylonian parallels in their creation myths are now well-known, suggesting that the two had some influence on each other, or else a common influence dating to an earlier time. Elsewhere, attempts have been made to compare early Greek and Egyptian myths with Hebrew ones.

Drawing parallels between ancient sources will always be contentious, and perhaps illustrate the preconceptions of the theorist rather than really-existing parallels in the texts. We can be sure that there was contact between these civilisations through trade, wars, diplomatic communications and such, and so we cannot also go in the opposite direction to overemphasise the uniqueness of these myths. However, it would also be wrong to think that contact implied understanding between cultures. One need only look at the relations between followers of Judaism and Christianity for nearly two millennia to realise that at a deep level, few people from one side really understood much of the other. In working with external influences, it is important first to understand the religions on their own terms, as close as possible to the way the people who believed in them might have seen them, and likewise, how they would have viewed people belonging to groups they classified as "others".

One concept to introduce here is "syncretism", which can be understood as the merging of beliefs from different sources, such that those holding these beliefs view them as their own. As such, we will draw on such similar texts when they can help enlighten our look into the ancient beliefs, always aware of the potential pitfalls in this exercise. In looking at syncretism, we will note that it is a long and complicated process, with little evidence of easy transplantation (or co-option) from one group to another. We must forget about trying to get at the "real" situation, but rather construct theories to help us understand their societies and what they might help to tell us about our own beliefs.

Mendenhall and Gottwald Again: Early Theories of the Development of Monotheism

Initially, archaeologists and biblical scholars largely assumed that the history of biblical beliefs was accurate, recalling the optimism of W.F. Albright, or else that there was insufficient information to challenge the biblical account. However, as information from Ras-Shamra and other places began to filter out, a new direction opened up to study the history of Israelite religions.

If we recall the earlier "Peasant Revolt" theories of George Mendenhall and Norman Gottwald, we see these theories tied to explaining the origins of monotheism. Mendenhall argued that the newly discovered form of religion, monotheism, was the impetus for a revolt against the old polytheistic order, permitting a unification of the previously acephelous tribes (that is, with no governing heirarchy). Its break with previous forms of religion necessitated a break with the old social order, and the common covenant with Yahweh provided the shared interests necessary for the development of a theocratic state.

Religion furnished the foundation for a unity far beyond anything that had existed before, and the covenant appears to have been the only conceivable instrument through which the unity was brought about and expressed.


What happened at Sinai was the formation of a new unity where none had existed before ... a real elevation to a new and unfamiliar ground in the formation of a community took place—a formation based on common obligations rather than common interests—on ethic rather than on covetousness.

George Mendenhall, 1973, The Tenth Generation: The Origins of the Biblical Traditions, Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, p. 16,21.

Though not as sophisticated archaeologically, the great sociologist Max Weber argued similarly that Moses' monotheism created a new perspective of confronting social problems that would prove to be radically successful.

While Gottwald accepted the revolt, he argued instead that the social revolution which brought about a more egalitarian society resulted in mono-Yahwism. The people did not have a common commitment to or covenant with Yahweh, but instead a commitment to removing feudalism and maintaining a new egalitarian society. For Gottwald,

the fundamental intention of Israel to limit the exercise of power by any one group ... in order to ensure egalitarianism ... enhanced the probability that the community would adopt or, as necessary, create a religion that did not usurp communal resources or communal power, but rather legitimised the egalitarian impulse.

Norman Gottwald, 1980, The Tribes of Yahweh: A sociology of the religion of liberated Israel, 1250-1050 B.C.E., London: SCM Press, p. 617.

Whatever the case, they both postulated an early development of monotheism around the time of the Judges (since neither subscribed to a literal Exodus), and both saw it in functional terms.

The case for early dating is somewhat backed up by the study of "theophoric names"—names that bear reference to a deity (my name is a classic theophoric name: "Joel" is literally Yah + El to mean "the Lord is God"). Jeffrey Tigay's study of theophoric names has shown that of 738 Israelite names found on inscriptions, 351 are Yahwistic, 48 have 'el, which may refer to Yahweh, and 339 make no known reference to deities. That leaves 48 bearing theophoric names to others, including Baal (however, Baal also meant "lord" so it is not necessarily a sign of Baal-worship). We should note of course that this may attest to the popularity of Yahweh, but says nothing about monotheism per se. We also realise that there are a variety of reasons for naming a child as something, which may not be religious in nature (today, the situation is clear where many non-Christian parents will name their children after characters in the Bible, so common are names like John, David, Mark, and so on, though these examples are not theophoric except for John).

The Artifacts and the Hunt

When we examine the artifacts left by people of the Iron Age, we firstly must note that the land called Israel was an extremely diverse place. Although the Bible leaves plenty of hints of this, for the most part many of us would have grown up thinking of Israel as a "nation" akin to our modern understanding of what nations are. As we saw earlier, the Late Bronze (Amarna) Age had been one of city states and petty rivalries, similar to the Greek model prior to Alexander. The centralisation of the Israelite kingdom never fully occurred, nor did such a system get introduced in the later Judah. As discussed before, the United Monarchy, if it existed at all, never matched the Biblical portrait in the splendour of the Biblical David or Solomon.

During this period, the Philistines, Edomites, Aramaeans, and Israelites all shared the land we now think of as "Israel". Within Israel proper, the Bible tells us of the continuous falling away of the Israelites to foreign gods, so it is little surprise then that cultic artifacts abound throughout these lands, from small personal altars to large temples. In fact, the earliest definite cult sites of the Iron Age come from Tel Miqne, Tel Qasile (both Philistine), Qitmit (Edomite), and Bethsaida Geshur (Aramaean). What is perhaps surprising instead is that so few artifacts relate to Yahwistic worship, though this is mitigated by the Bible's explanation that Judaism was an aniconic religion, prohibiting graven images (idols) except perhaps for cherubim on the ark of the covenant and suchlike. Unfortunately, the religious beliefs of other cultures has not sustained the interest that the ones relating to Judaeo-Christian beliefs have, but in recognising the rich interplay between many of them, the subject can be understood on its own terms.


An intriguing discovery, mostly associated with Tel Dan, has been found at various entrances to the city. Standing stones called massebot, usually in fives, are found along the paths of the gates to the city. Nearby each had a basin which would have contained water. This sort of public cult place has some similarities to the Aramaean Bethsaida-Geshur, where a basin is found alongside undecorated stelae. Avraham Biran has suggested that this practice is indirectly hinted at in 2 Kings 23:8b, "he broke down the bamot (pl.) of the gates (pl.) in the entrance of the gate of Joshua, officer of the city, that is on a man's left in the gate of the city." (Biran's translation) The phrase bamot hasse'arim, "bamot of the gates" had a fixed form, suggesting a common well-defined phenomenon. Similarly it has been suggested that the five stones represented five deities, without disagreeing with Biran's explanation. Although it does not add directly to our story, it attests to the heterogeneity of religious practice in Israel, exactly what the prophets decried.

In this case, we can see further that without texts, we are left to reconstruct the significance of various finds, based on linking seemingly disparate clues together, and leaving us with only tentative reconstructions. Thus it will be the ancient texts and inscriptions that are the key artifacts, because only so much can be speculated about images and icons. The comparison between Hebrew myths and other Semitic and Mesopotamian myths is an intriguing journey, but beyond the scope of this article, though I hope to cover it in a later piece. What we will explore now is a key series of finds, and how they lead to questions (and hopefully some answers) about the emergence of monotheism from a thoroughly polytheistic context.

Yahweh and Asherah

The most important artifacts relating to our exploration are some discoveries that relate to Yahweh and Asherah. At the ancient site of Kuntillet 'Ajrud, a large pottery jar dating to 8th century was discovered with the inscription brkt 'tkm lyhwh šmrn wl'šrth, which has been transliterated to mean "I bless you to Yahweh of Samaria [or Shomron] and his a/Asherah" (this is the ancient equivalent of "I'm praying for you"!). A pictorial scene beside the first depicts two standing figures, with another playing the lyre. Another inscription there states almost the same lines (brktk lyhwh [šmrn] wl'šrth) to someone else. Here, plenty of inscriptional artifacts have been found, linking Baal with El, Yahweh with Asherah/Asherat/Asheratah), or referring to Yahweh's location at Teiman or else Samaria/Shomron. At another site, Khirbet el-Qom, an 8th century eulogy on a tomb reads "May Uriyahu [Uriah] be blessed by Yahweh for from his enemies he has been saved by his a/Asherah." At Khirbet Beit Lei, a 7th century image of two figures making a petition to Yahweh with another figure identified as Asherah playing has also been found, though the interpretation is more circumstantial.

Some debate exists about whether this referred to Asherah the goddess, or asherah poles, cultic objects said to even have been erected at the temple in Jerusalem. Though some believe the pronominal suffix (the ending of 'šrth which denotes "his asherah") indicates that this did not refer to the proper name for Asherah, and thus denotes asherah the wooden object. However, while divine names with pronominal suffixes do not appear in Hebrew, many divine names are in fact bound in a form that can be read as a pronominal suffix. Another argument by Ziony Zevit is that the extra "h" at the end is simply an additional feminine ending. What "his Asherah" means is problematic though, since it doesn't make sense without an interjection like "his consort Asherah", whereas "his asherah" makes sense as an object. The crux may well be at Beit Lei, where the understanding that Yahweh had a consort named Asherah is likely, if the figures are correctly identified.

Yahweh and El

Many scholars have noted the complete absence of polemics in the Bible against El, the chief god of the Canaanite pantheon, reserving the most polemic against other Canaanite gods like Baal, Mot (Death), and Yamm (Sea), or the deities of other ethnic groups such as the Philistines. This should be surprising considering that we know of El being recognised as a Canaanite deity well into the 7th century by Israel's neighbours and possibly even into Roman times. The transformation of El in Phoenicia and Aram was likely done through renaming him as Baal Shamayin, "Lord of the heavens" or Baal Hamon "Lord of the mountain". In fact, in the Bible, El in various manifestations is himself identified as Yahweh, and rarely ever distinguished.

Similarly, Asherah is missing from the polemics, with the only reference being to tearing down the "asherah poles" (the translators of the King James Version referred to these as "groves"), though the goddess herself receives no critique. We might say that she has been written out of the story through depersonification, but some clues remain. The Yahwist reformer Jehu, for instance, leaves the asherah poles alone, only to be condemned by later prophets for this negligence. Similarly, the "prophets of Asherah" who appear alongside the prophets of Baal in 2 Kings 23:4 may be a later interpolation of guilt-by-association, since Baal had no relation to Asherah (his consort was Baalat, which coincidentally was used in the names of some Israelite settlements). Other interpretations spurred by the 'Ajrud discoveries see them as neutral parties, since Elijah neglects to take any action against them, but the former hypothesis of interpolation is probably the more likely (though a good conspiracy theory would no doubt be lost).

From the Ugaritic texts however, the evidence of their relationship begins to unravel. We find that El and Atherat (a cognate with Asherah) were the chief god and goddess of the Canaanite pantheon respectively. If Yahweh had taken over El's role syncretistically (since his origin is likely from the south, whether in Sinai, Paran, Edom, or Teiman, associated with the Shasu nomads of Arabia that we saw earlier), then it explains how he would similarly have taken over the partnership with Asherah as supreme god. Certainly, the majority view is that Asherah once existed as an Israelite goddess related to Yahweh or El.

Despite the lack of polemics against El in the Bible, it is not wholly silent on the matter. C.L. Seow has pointed out the strong association of the cult of Shiloh with El language (particularly in Psalms 78), as well as God's abode as a "tent" originating from Ugarit. Similarly, at Shechem the god associated with that location is El Berit "El of the Covenant", and several scholars have pointed out that the Ugaritic 'ilbrt was another title for El. Similarly, Exodus 6:2-3 directly states the transference of one name (El Shadday) to another (Yahweh), claiming them as different titles for the same god. More generically, Gensis 49:24-26 represents a confusion in the attribution of titles known to other Canaanite gods being given to El. "Bull (of Jacob)" was the animal associated with El and can be read as a direct metaphor for him (think of the Golden Calf story). The "blessings of the deep" tehom are associated with Yamm, while the strange inclusion of "blessings of breasts and womb" are more likely to be associated with a fertility goddess such as Asherah or Astarte (who are essentially the same goddess in different spaces). As Smith concludes,

This record illustrates the old transmission of West Semitic/Israelite traditions. Israelite knowledge of the religious traditions about other deities did not only reflect contact between Israel and her Phoenician neighbors in the Iron Age. In addition, as a function of the identification of Yahweh-El at cultic sites of El, such as Shiloh, Shechem, and Jerusalem, the old religious lore of El was inherited by the priesthood in Israel. At a variety of sites, Yahweh was incorporated into the older figure of El, who belonged to Israel's original West Semitic language heritage.

M.S. Smith, 2001, p. 140

The question that follows then, is whether El, not Yahweh was the original god of Israel. On the face of it, the biggest clue is the name Israel itself, since we don't call it yisra-yahweh or yisra-yah. However, the name "Israel" itself is extremely old, probably as old as the god El (since it means "fighter of/for/with El" as Genesis 32:28 points out) and attested at Ebla and Ugarit, and therefore this evidence is not conclusive. We have already seen that Yahweh, whenever associated with a physical place (Sinai, Edom, Paran, Teiman), was always to be found originating in the south where the Shasu nomads lived.

However, the biggest clue comes from Deuteronomy 32:8-9, part of Moses' farewell assembly:

When Elyon apportioned the nations,
when he divided humankind,
he fixed the boundaries of his peoples
according to the number of the sons of El;
Yahweh's own portion was his people,
Jacob his alloted share.

The Masoretic text revised the fourth line to read "sons of Israel", glossing over this rather uncomfortable line, but it disagrees with our earlier Septuagint and Dead Sea Scrolls texts. Targum Pseudo-Jonathan goes even further to insert "70" as the number of sons of El, which coincides with the number of sons of El in the Ugaritic pantheon, and was also believed to be the number of nations on the earth. The tradition of Elyon being the father of the gods reappears in Psalms 82:6, where the term bene elyon is used. What the text above represents is an older tradition, with the aetiological device of explaining Yahweh's foreign entry into the Canaanite pantheon, thus supporting the notion that El was the original god of Israel.

The Road to Monotheism

With these ideas in mind, we can now attempt to trace the trajectory from the polytheistic milieu at Ugarit to the fully-fledged monotheism of Second Temple Judea. As noted before, the terms "monotheism" and "polytheism" have their limitations, and the understanding of these as categorical terms must not overlook the fact that these concepts were foreign to the people themselves.

Mark Smith's summary is very useful and worth quoting:

  1. El was the original god of early Israel. As noted, the name Israel points to the first stage. So do references to El as a separate figure (Genesis 49, Psalm 82).
  2. El was the head of an early Israelite pantheon, with Yahweh as its warrior-god. Texts that mention both El and Yahweh but not as the same figure (Genesis 49, Numbers 23-24, ..., Psalm 82) suggest an early accommodation of the two in some early form of Israelite polytheism. If Psalm 82 reflects an early model of an Israelite polytheistic assembly, then El would have been its head, with the warrior Yahweh as a member of the second tier (...). Yet the same psalm also uses familial language: the other gods are said to be the "sons of the Most High." Accordingly, Yahweh might have been earlier understood as one of these sons.
  3. El and Yahweh were identified as a single god. If El was the original god of Israel, then his merger with Yahweh, the southern divine warrior, predates the Song of Deborah in Judges 5, at least for the area of Israel where this composition was created. In this text Yahweh, the divine warrior from the south, is attributed a victory in the central highlands. The merger probably took place at different rates in different parts of Israel, in which case it is relatively early in the area where Judges 5 was composed, but possibly later elsewhere. Many scholars place the poem in the pre-monarchic period, and perhaps the cult of Yahweh spread further into the highlands of Israel in the pre-monarchic period infiltrating cult sites of El and accommodating to their El theologies (perhaps best reflected by the later version of Deuteronomy 32:8-9). The references to El in Numbers 23-24 (...) and perhaps Job appear to be further indications of the survival of El's cult in the Transjordan. Beyond this rather vaguely defined pattern of distribution, it is difficult to be more specific.
    M.S. Smith, 2001, pp. 143-144

At Ugarit, El presided over a divine council or family, whose characters included his consort Atherat, the storm god Baal, the bloodthirsty anti-authoritarian Anat, and a host of others. Many of the stories there will trace back to Sumerian myths, but that is beyond the scope of this piece. Mark Smith has suggested that the divine council should be better understood as originating from a divine household, with all the familial squabbles thrown in. He proposes a four-tiered structure, with El and Atherat as the heads of the household. Below them are the seventy sons of El, including Baal, and to whose number Yahweh was to eventually be included. Below them are the chief helper, Kothar wa-Hasis, and then below him, his helpers (akin to angels). However, the power of the royal metaphor took over, and El became equivalent to the king, in effect reducing the power of the other gods beneath him. With this metaphor, the stage for the rise of national identities was set, with nations adopting their god as the national god, and his supernatural contests with others as manifestations of their physical contests with neighbouring nations.

Thus, the idea of "henotheism" developed, where many gods were believed to exist and hold real power, but only their god was to be worshipped for that locale. With henotheism, the conditions for polemics against other gods were in place, to the extent of denying any powers of those other gods. The aniconic practices of the Israelites perhaps allowed people the ability to see that they could destroy the sacred places of other gods with impunity, while their god remained untouchable. During this stage then, the presence of Asherah, who was represented by her symbol, could have become uncomfortable, despite the deep-rooted tradition of her worship in Israel. Alternatively, it has been hypothesised that a collapse in the familial structure in Israel resulted in a similar collapse in the structure of the divine family presiding. Certainly later texts like Deuteronomy 24:16, Jeremiah 31:29-30 and Ezekiel 18 renege on the claims that the children may be punished for the sins of their fathers (e.g. Exodus 34:7) and some scholars have taken this to be indicative of a social change. However, it is possible that a "ditheism" existed at some point, where Yahweh and Asherah existed as the two deities looking after Israel.

Finally, as revisions and perhaps extraneous political factors led to the removal of Asherah and the destruction of her symbols, a fully-fledged monotheism could now develop. It is in this period that Yahweh finally replaces El fully, as the ruler of the divine family (for example, Habakkuk 3:5 relates to the gods Resheph and Deber being part of his forces, though these are unfortunately translated into "pestilence" and "plague" in most translations).

The story does not end there, however. The Assyrian and Babylonian dominance (and the resultant elevation of their gods Assur and Marduk) from the 8th centuries onward would have forced a deep reflection as to the nature of the deity, while at the same time introducing ideas about the cosmos that had not been thought of to that point. This view coincides with Karl Jaspers' "Axial Age", wherein revolutionary new understandings of the universe began to emerge. The exile would have caused a move from identity based on territorial ownership to one of unique belief and practice, that would later prove to be an enduring cultural safeguard against the aliens around them. Smith again points out that, "As Judah's situation on the mundane level deteriorated in history, the cosmic status of its deity soared in its literature" (M.S. Smith 2001, p. 165). Thus Israel's view of equality with the other nations could no longer be sustained, but instead of lapsing into despair, they elevated their god further, viewing him as punishing them for their sins, and it followed then that he must control the fates of all nations.

Others have linked the emergence of monotheism with the encounter with Persian monotheism in the form of Zoroastrianism. However, as I have suggested, the social conditions for a trajectory toward monotheism was already in place prior to the encounter, though it would be undoubted that some direct influence played a role in reinforcing the move. The Jewish sectarianism represented by the Qumran group, Pharisees, Samaritans, and early Christians all had a root in the Persian period, illustrated by the exclusivist impulses recorded in Ezra and Nehemiah (in contrast to protest books like Ruth and Jonah). Similarly, Zoroastrian beliefs in purity laws, cosmic struggles between a good god and an evil one, and a final apocalyptic battle all bear semblance to later Jewish beliefs.

However, a number of problems arise in this comparison, not least related to the dating of various Hebrew scriptures. The language of the Hebrew texts, even the monotheistic ones, are representative of a rhetoric of praise that certainly predates Zoroastrianism. In fact, as shown above, much of the Yahwistic imagery bears import from other older religions. A further argument is that the emergence of the evil manifested by Belial, Beelzebub, or Satan is a relatively late development in Judaism, certainly of the Hellenistic period and not the Persian period (most people's first glimpse of them comes in the New Testamentha-Satan, "the Accuser" in Job is hardly the Satan of later theology), where contact would have been most certain. Furthermore, a good deal of the subjects of eschatological writing were clearly local in origin (whether it was Leviathan or tannin), and with only a shift from placing their battles in primordial history to end times. Thus we must be careful in drawing parallels without regard to the nuances.

To conclude, in this piece I have tried to give a brief overview of the development of Jewish monotheism. It is an extremely complicated affair, and spans centuries, with conflicting interpretations and many differences in explanation and hypothesis, which is why I have tried to stick to Mark Smith's overview as closely as possible so as not to confuse the reader, while introducing two earlier views as background. While we can trace the path, we must not fall into the Whiggish practice of determining that this had to be this way, or that there was only one route for the Jews to take. We saw how other Yahwists like Jehu were turned against as the practices of one age became the heresies of a later age. Perhaps this is a lesson for our own views on religious beliefs. Being conscious of our religious heritage and the beliefs of those who came before may prevent us from elevating our beliefs above all else into an intolerant and stultefying dogma, for the practices and beliefs that did survive were those that could adapt to the rapidly changing conditions of the late Iron Age. An introduction to Hebrew mythology, which has only been hinted at it in this piece, will follow shortly.


[1] More circumstantial evidence has emerged from Tel Miqne (ancient Ekron). The discovery of 15 inscriptions recording the phrases l'šrt and lqdš have been proposed by Seymour Gitin (the excavator) to represent "Asherat" and her epithet "Holy One". If this is so, then a seventh century medallion depicting a figure praying to a goddess on a lion may refer to Asherah, and associate her with the lion. This could then lead to questions of the imagery of the "Lion of Judah" associated with King David, but again it is very circumstantial. Ziony Zevit has suggested that a goddess similar to the Greek Hestia was probably worshipped there.

[2] Lawrence Stager has postulated that the Roman emperor Elegabalus' name is a Latinised form of El Jebel, "El of the mountain". He brought a statue of Tannit to Rome, married a Vestal virgin whom he identified as Tannit, replicating the union of Baal Hamon (which is arguably another title, probably Phoenician, for "El of the Mountain") and Tannit.

[3] The difficulty with spotting the god is that literally, "El" appears as 'l in inscriptions, Baal as b`l, and the necessity of identifying the text as reading "El" is not always certain. "El" was a generic term for "god" or "divine", and "baal" a generic term for "lord". A possible confusion of exactly this sort is found in Deuteronomy 33:26-27, where Baal imagery (Baal was a storm god) has been overlain by elohe qedem.

[4] Plentiful examples abound in the Bible of this stage, certainly Deuteronomy 32:8-9 as discussed already, but an interesting story is related in 2 Kings 3:27, where Mesha's sacrifice of his firstborn son results in wrath falling upon Israel. This idea is most fully developed in Psalm 82, where Yahweh appears before the divine council, exhorting the other gods to action and criticising their ineffectiveness. From henotheism comes "monolatry", which is the exclusive worship of one of the gods of the pantheon throughout the adherent's life. When this emerged in early Israel is unclear, except to state it is somewhere between henotheism and monotheism.

[5] However, Jaspers uses the term in reference to Ancient Greece especially, and Jewish contact with the Hellenic world would have been indirect initially (most likely through Phoenicia) until the Hellenistic period with Alexander's conquest. His identification of any Jewish developments coincident with his Axial Age are being revised towards the later end of his scale. Later Greek influence on Judaism is undoubted, as exemplified by Philo of Alexandria.

[6] The clearest example of how the myths are continuations of older themes (and not necessitating Zoroastrian influence) is a comparison of Psalm 74:12-17 with the proto-apocalyptic Isaiah 27:1. While the Psalmist demonstrates God crushing Leviathan (lotan in Ugaritic literature, who was a serpent), Yamm (usually translated as "sea" or "waters" but was actually an Ugaritic god), and tannin (Tunannu in Ugaritic literature, described as seven-headed dragons/serpents) in the primordial past, Isaiah 27 transposes the defeat of Leviathan and tannin to a battle that is to come—end times (and it is completely forgotten who Yamm is, or at least the significance of Sea). The diminishing esteem of Yamm and tannin finds a nice intermediary in Job 7:12, where their significance is acknowledged, but their equality with Yahweh is not. The interesting point of convergence with these three is that in Ugaritic literature, they were all enemies of Baal, though by the time of the Bible, they had transfered over to Yahweh.

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The Ascendance and Decline of Israel and Judah

Introduction to Biblical Archaeology 4:
The Ascendance and Decline of Israel and Judah

by Joel Ng (2004)

As we enter the Iron Age II, we find ourselves in more of the same quandaries as we encountered in the last piece. As we saw in the last piece, the ethnic division between "Israelites" and "Canaanites" was impossible in the Iron I, and we continue to be plagued with similar problems. Whatever their origins, the inhabitants were beginning to form their own identity, one that would last to this day. According to the Bible, this is the period of David and Solomon, whose empire was the heyday of Israel. Unfortunately, the archaeological evidence is less than overwhelming. Nothing of any confidence has been connected with David (though we shall look at the Mesha stele later), and the so-called Solomonic gates' builders are the subject of raging conspiracy. Starting from 1000 B.C.E., we can divide this period into Iron IIa, b, and c, according to three important dates: 923—Shishak's campaign, 722—the fall of Israel, and 586—the final fall of Judah. The Iron IIa is sometimes known as the "Solomonic" period, although it should not be mistaken as proof of his existence, merely an accepted convention.

By now, Egypt's decline was complete, and the vassals in Palestine were free. Likewise, the Philistines and other Sea Peoples were rapidly assimilating into the local population, and by the end of the Iron II, all that would be left of them would be the name they bequeathed to the region. A number of states were also rising both in the period before and now: Samal, Cicilia, Gurgum, Carchemish, and Hamath were neo-Hittite cities in northern Syria (though the ethnic relation to Hittites is unknown, they used a Hittite script). Further south, the Aramaeans were developing cities along the Orontes River, Coele-Syria, Hamath, Geshur, and Damascus. While present in the Bronze Age, their rise at this time was unhindered by other powers in that region. Their West Semitic tongue, though distinct from Phoenician, and Canaano-Hebrew dialects, would eventually become the lingua franca of Jesus' day.

Material Evidence in the 9th century

During the Iron IIa, the expansion of the population that began earlier continued apace. Sites that had been abandoned in the last millennium were reinhabited and in some cases, large fortresses were built. An urban culture was once again developing as cities grew once again after the turmoil of the previous period. At the same time, relatively few inscriptions and figurines have been recovered from this period, suggesting perhaps that the land of Israel was really an aniconic culture as described in the Bible. Unfortunately, this also makes it difficult for archaeologists to make definitive statements about the time.

The "Solomonic" Gates

A number of "six-chambered gates" of remarkably similar designs have been discovered at Megiddo, Gezer, Ashdod, Hazor, Beth-Shemesh, and Lachish. Yigal Yadin believed that these were direct evidence of a centralised building project at the time of Solomon (1 Kings 9:15-17). Each had four gates, and 6 chambers (for guards?), with the ones at Megiddo, Hazor, and Gezer including projecting towers and a passage 4.2 metres wide (almost exactly 8 Egyptian cubits). The building of these varied, with Megiddo having high quality ashlar stone (as were the palaces there), Hazor's built from fieldstones, and Gezer using ashlars for its facade. However, these gates have been the subject of intense debate since. One problem is that they may not be associated with the right stratum. Yadin dated the Megiddo Stratum IVA to the Omrides, while VA-IVB were Solomonic, based on correlation with the other gates elsewhere. Meanwhile, David Ussishkin argued that the gates should be placed in Stratum IVA, and therefore after Solomonic times.

Israel Finkelstein (co-director of the Megiddo dig with Ussishkin, alongside Baruch Halpern) also argues along these lines (1 Kings 16:21-28), placing the layers in the 8th century B.C.E. He notes the similarity of the palace at Megiddo with that of the one at Samaria, and concludes that they were built at the same time (see below on Megiddo).

A wider problem Finkelstein identified was the over-reliance on the biblical record (Yadin had written that 1 Kings 9:15-17 had "clinched" the date for him) in establishing an absolute chronology. Revising all this would provide a problem for other chronologies (particularly Shishak's campaign, where destruction layers attributed to him comes after the construction of the stratum), so we shall see what Finkelstein has to say about that later on. At the same time, one wonders about Finkelstein's use of 1 Kings 16:23-24, 21:1 that establishes the Omrides as the builders of Samaria.


Jerusalem which, according to the Bible, was David's capital that he conquered from the Jebusites, has proven to be frustratingly silent in shedding any light on the period. It is important to note that while Jerusalem has a long history (well into the early second millennium BCE), it was sacked, plundered, or destroyed several times. Such famed structures as Solomon's temple remain undiscovered, though the potential site includes the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, strictly off-limits to excavation for cultural reasons. At the same time, Jerusalem during this period appears to have been a small provincial town of little interest, unlike the Biblical portrait as a grand capital of an empire.

Fortifications uncovered there have proven to be either far too early (by about a millennium), or at least two centuries too late to be part of David's conquest (or building) of the city. One encouraging discovery has been a stepped-stone foundation structure dated to the Late Bronze/Iron I or possibly later (Yigal Shiloh dated it to the tenth century). Kathleen Kenyon thought it might be the millo ("fill") which David built his capital around (2 Samuel 5:9). If correct, then this could be the remnant of his palace. However, no clear link with the biblical account exists, and the conclusions remain tentative.

The Negev

An area largely unpopulated in the second millennium was the Negev highlands, south of Beersheba. During the Iron II however, towns here grew in their dozens. The Bible describes many of the patriarchal stories to have occured in this area, and perhaps this early settlement was of our mysterious Israelites. Their settlement appears to have been one of even distribution—there is no sign that they built up around strategic routes. Many of the towns here were fortified with casemate walls (25-70 meters in diameter), following the contours of the hills on which they were built. Most were destroyed at the end of this period, however, usually accredited to Shishak's (Sheshonq/Shoshenq) campaign, to which we now turn.

Shishak's Campaign

As stated previously, the ubiquitous layer of carbon and ash is often the archaeologist's best tool. It does help to explain why archaeologists of the past seemed so obsessed with the capture or destruction of cities. Here we are doubly aided by attestation from a variety of sources. Shishak was a well connected general in Egypt, who began the 22nd dynasty upon the death of Psusennes II. The records of his campaign are preserved in the temple of Amun in Karnak, and on the "Shoshenq stele" at Megiddo. The Bible records an account of Shishak taking away "all the treasures of the house of the Lord" in Jerusalem in 1 Kings 14:25-26 (though Jerusalem itself is absent from the list in Karnak—perhaps Rehoboam bribed Shishak to leave him alone, or perhaps Jerusalem was too small a town to take notice of during this time!).

The temple at Karnak bears inscriptions with a prefix hgr, which may be a transcription of the Hebrew hagar ("belt"/"enclosure"), which would then be referring to the casemate walls in the Negev. Certainly most of the towns listed in his victory stele are related to the Negev region. It appears that he moved from Gibeon and Bethel through the Jordan up to the valley of Jezreel. Then he returned via Megiddo to Gaza ("the Way of the Sea"). So many towns were destroyed in this period that archaeologists use it to fix a date for the strata around the region. Donald Redford, meanwhile, speculates that the raid may actually have taken place during the time of the united monarchy, disrespecting as it was of any putative national boundaries. Whatever the case, this last-gasp attempt to reassert Egyptian hegemony over the region appears to have been short-lived. We find, at the close of the Iron IIa, considerable evidence that the region was soon standing on its own feet again.

The Northern Kingdom of Israel

A number of important sites have been excavated in the northern half, which shed some important light on our developing kingdom. Among them, Tel Dan, Megiddo, Hazor, and Samaria have been excavated considerably. Immediately, Samaria comes into consideration—biblically, it became the capital of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, which split when Jeroboam rebelled after the death of Solomon (as an Egyptian exile though, Donald Redford has speculated that Jeroboam could just as easily have been installed as an Egyptian puppet). The Bible records Samaria's construction by Omri in 1 Kings 16:23-24, and it is the Omride dynasty which provides us the first solid references to "Israelite" ethnicity, even though the biblical portrait of them is one of heathens.

The Assyrian king Shalmeneser III's Monolith Inscription attests to tribute given by "Ahab of Israel" (Akha'abbu mata Sirla'a) as 2,000 chariots and 10,000 soldiers (a likely exaggeration). Elsewhere in the Assyrian records, Israel was referred to as "the House of Omri". As early as 1850, Edward Hincks had argued correctly that an inscription refering to "Yua bit Humri" was in fact a reference to Jehu, son of Omri (though the Bible views him as a rebel, here the Assyrians simply equated anything that we would later call Israel as 'of the house of Omri'). This puts the Shalmaneser of the obelisk (III) a century before the Shalmaneser (V) who sacked Samaria.

Likewise, in the Mesha stele (Moabite stone), Omri is called the king of Israel, and appears to have had a relation to Yahweh (Mesha records taking Yahweh's vessels while fighting Omri). However, when we compare the biblical records with Mesha's stele, we find discomforting incongruity with both accounts. 2 Kings 3 describes Mesha as a vassal of Israel who rebelled after the death of Ahab (as well as Mesha's miraculous sacrifice of his son that caused Israel to fall back). On the other hand, Mesha (or the scribe recording the events) sees himself as being oppressed by Omri and his son (who is never named), and breaking free from the yoke of this oppression. Both versions are equally propagandistic, but we might conclude that Mesha was a vassal of Israel, that he broke free of Israel, and that thereafter, Israel no longer controlled Moab. As Niels Peter Lemche has pointed out, the eponymous "Omri" in the Mesha stele is really the symbol of Bet Omri, "the House of Omri", and his "son" would be any successor of Omri's (whether Ahab or Jehoram), just as in Shalmaneser's inscriptions. Thus both versions of the account are fictional, even if we can attempt to gleam some potential snippets of information out of them.


Samaria itself was one of the largest cities in Palestine of the time, attesting to the strength and prosperity of Israel. Elaborate stone capitals (the supports at the top of a column) of a proto-Aeolic style were also discovered here (thus called because of their resemblance to the later Greek Aeolic style), as well as at Ramat Rahel, Megiddo, and Jerusalem. The acropolis alone, at 89 by 178 metres, was the size of many of the towns in the rural areas. The artificial nature of its construction (rather than a city evolving over hundreds of years) is shown by the large retaining walls that had to be built into the hilly slopes of the hill on which the city stood, in order to support the rather flat architectural plans of the city's buildings. Perhaps the reasons for this were that they were Phoenician in origin (as the Bible describes), and thus unused to building on such terrain.

Pottery with writings on them (called "ostraca") have also been recovered in Samaria though the date ranges are not agreed upon. Most of them seem related to trade or taxes (or both) as records of who was giving what to whom. Because biblical names are theophoric—that is, they attest to the god of their fathers—we have an interesting hint of the religious beliefs of these northerners. In contrast to the suffix -yahu in Judah (as in "Yahweh"—Yahu was the name used for Yahweh in some inscriptions, if a little unfortunate), we see many names with -yw (similar to -yahu, Yaw was sometimes the name of the Yahweh) and -bl (think of Jerubaal a.k.a. Gideon). These perhaps attest to a more pluralistic religious practice, but it is important to note that theophoric names of themselves cannot tell us about the religious beliefs of the people. Also discovered in these inscriptions were towns such as "Yasith", "Yashub", and "Qosoh", none of which receive mention in the Bible.

Tel Dan

One of the largest fortifications of the area lies at Tel Dan, with a large structure (about 96 by 58 feet) comprising its four-chambered city gate (distinct from the six-chambered gates mentioned above). On the right side of the outer gate, 5 standing stones known as massebot have been discovered alongside oil lamps, incense bowls, and other pottery remains. While we cannot discover the nature of the deity involved, it is almost certain that this structure had some cultic significance. The biblical record sometimes speaks of these positively (Genesis 28:18, 22; 31:13, 45; 35:14) and at others negatively (Deutoronomistic authors make associations with Baal worship (2 Kings 10:26; 17:10, Deuteronomy 16:22; Hosea 10:11). The city itself was well-planned and thoroughly urban Although some similarities have been pointed out with the palace at Megiddo, Mazar disagrees that it is an example of the bit hilani palace model. For him, the "courtyard palace" resembled the four room buildings of the lesser residences.

More recently, Avraham Biran discovered a controversial inscription at Tel Dan. The translation is tricky, although it mentions King Hadad of Syria, but without any context (Hadad was also the head of the Aramaic pantheon). Also found are rm br and yhw br which possibly attest to "Jehoram son of..." and "Azariah son of..." (note that yhw was a common suffix for Judahite names, as mentioned above). Another section of the inscription refers to k.bytdwd, taken to mean "[kin]g(?) of the House of David". If correct, it is our first correlation of the term "House of David" found outside of the Bible. However, as George Athas has pointed out, this is old Aramaic, and not Biblical Hebrew. Because of the lack of word dividers that are found elsewhere in the inscription, he believes it must be understood as a single word, such that the meaning is lost. Like the Assyrian examples of Yua bit Humri, we may be dealing with an initially unclear meaning of these terms and of course the context of the usage is absent. Subject to much controversy, it is certain that the final word on this has not been said.

Megiddo and Chronological Problems

Megiddo, as mentioned earlier, is the site of a fabulous palace that display the riches of the Omride dynasty. Termed as "bit hilani" palaces, they are an Akkadian name for palaces which featured colonnaded entrance porches to the throne room. Thus the design had a "hall of pillars" and similar structural features to Solomon's palace described in 1 Kings 7:1-11. Starting around the 9th century B.C.E. (at least outside Palestine), their form exemplifies the standards of that region, using many similar features like ashlar stone for their facades. The bit hilani designs are attested in Syria as Neo-Hittite palaces, though slightly later than the ones in Palestine, if Mazar's dating scheme is followed (contemporaneous if following Finkelstein's).

In pushing the bit hilani palaces into the 8th century, this causes some potential problems at places like Hazor, where the strata may span a mere quarter century each. While Finkelstein's downward chronology does compress the strata into a small number of years at some places, it is unclear why he should be criticised when there are similar problems elsewhere. The number of strata identified is related to the quality of the dig and care in classification of finds. At the same time, a decompressed strata can become too big, for example, Megiddo IVA lasting for a century and a half. The debate on this is far from settled, but no consensus seems forthcoming.

The Fall of Israel

In 745 B.C.E., an Assyrian civil war resulted in the ascension of Pul, a general who we know as Tiglath-Pileser III. His strategic and organisational skills enabled the rise of Assyria as an empire, and began a march on the Levant. He immediately defeated the kingdom of Urartu (biblical Ararat) and several cities in northern Syria. Turning south, he drove a wedge between Israel and Syria (who according to the Bible, had formed an alliance against him), reaching the Phoenician coast and capturing its cities. He then proceeded through the Philistine territories where he erected a victory monument at Gaza. Egypt was of little assistance as they faced their own troubles from the south—a Kushite expansion around this time preoccupied them, and by 711 B.C.E., had taken control of Egypt. The archaeological evidence is unequivocal: Hazor, Dan, Megiddo, Dor, Chinnereth, Qiri, Shiqmona, Jokneam, Accho, Keisan, Beth-Shean, 'En Gev, Tel Hadar, Kedesh, and Bethsaida were all sacked, the last five to be abandoned for several years after. Although Tiglath-Pileser died around 727 B.C.E., Shalmaneser V, Sargon II, Sennacherib, Esarhaddon, and Ashurbanipal would continue the Assyrian expansion.

Any of the cities that were rebuilt after that showed significant Assyrian influence in both architecture and material remains. On the other hand, the Assyrian presence is not overwhelming, and instead we find Phoenician and Greek ostraca beginning to appear alongside (for example, at Megiddo Stratum III, which was a provincial capital). This attests to the mass deportation practices recorded in the Bible and elsewhere. If we were beginning to recognise Israel in the Iron IIb, it was lost once again to us. Perhaps large swathes of Israelites moved into Judah, fleeing the Assyrian deportations, but such is conjecture. Then, as quickly as it started, the Assyrian hegemony was thwarted by internal turmoil and a failed campaign in Egypt (the Kushites were certainly a tougher adversary than the small Palestinian states), and their 80-year empire was over. The time was ripe for the rise of Babylon.


Judah began to flourish from the 8th to 6th century B.C.E., benefiting from the collapse of its more illustrious neighbour in the north. If the Biblical accounts are correct—that it emerged around the time of Shishak's campaign, and continued till its fall in 586 B.C.E., then it is one of the longest running monarchies of all of the Ancient Near East. Pretty good for a small provincial state. Although a number of sites were sacked by the Assyrians in 701 B.C.E., they recovered quickly. During this time, cities such as Jerusalem, Lachish, Tell en-Nasbeh (Mizpah), Tell el-Ful (Gibeah), Beersheba, and Khirbet Rabud (Debir) grew and flourished, and we have now excavated these to some extent. Here we find a large number of inscriptions, including lamelech jar handles, named because of the stamp on them bearing lmlk ("belonging to the king") with unique beetle and solar symbols marked on them. It is argued that perhaps the four-winged beetles were a symbol of Israel, and the two-winged ones that of Judah, but more likely, both were symbols of the Judahite monarchy.

Jerusalem Again

When we return to Jerusalem 2 to 3 centuries later, we find that much has changed—in Mazar's words, it was at "the peak of urban development" in the 8th and 7th centuries. By now, a great wall had been built on the eastern slope. Yigal Shiloh estimates that between the tenth and eighth centuries, Jerusalem grew from 25,000 to about 40,000 people. Spanning about 150 acres, it would have been a bustling and crowded city, perhaps a reason for the construction of a separate palace at Ramat Rahel. At the "Bullae house", so named because of the large number of bullae, or seal inscriptions, discovered there, 82 names have been found, including the biblically significant Gemaryahu (Gemariah) son of Shaphan (Jeremiah 36:10, 25), and Azaryahu (Azariah) son of Hilqiyahu (Hilkiah—I Chronicles 9:10-11). However, again the illusive temple has not yet been discovered, possibly because of rebuilding works and lack of access (as is the Ophel, a region between the "City of David" and the Temple Mount).

Another remarkable achievement of ancient engineers was the construction of the Siloam tunnel, also known as "Hezekiah's Tunnel" because of the account in 2 Kings 20:20. It was discovered in 1880, winding under Jerusalem to the Gihon spring, where it is said Hezekiah prepared for its construction to counter the Assyrian threat. A famous inscription inside records the meeting of the two groups of diggers such that they could hear the voices of their colleagues before they broke through "pick against pick".

Lachish and Sennacherib

Judah's growth was always delimited by the greater powers on either side, and we see the effects of this in great detail at Lachish (Tell el-Duweir). Prior to the 8th century, it was partially built and unfortified, but like Jerusalem, was now fully fortified with inner and outer walls. Although 2 Chronicles 11:9 attributes the building of the walls to Rehoboam, Ussishkin believes the fortifications reflect a much later period, possibly assigned to Asa or Jehosaphat. However, these defenses eventually failed in 701 B.C.E. to the Assyrian assault of Sennacherib. In his palace at Kuyunjik (Nineveh) lies a great relief depicting the siege in fine detail, from the positioning of archers and sling-men to the execution of captives and deportation of exiles. At Lachish itself, an Assyrian siege ramp was discovered—a straightforward earthen ramp to breach the city walls. Even more fortuitously, a counter-ramp on the inside of the walls was discovered. At the base of the ramp and wall, hundreds of arrowheads, sling stones, and heavy stones (presumably thrown from the city wall) have been discovered alongside charred wood, giving us a vivid picture of the struggle to take the city. While the city was eventually taken, it would soon recover (though not as resplendent) until the arrival of the Babylonians.

Some Conclusions

As we have seen there are multiple points of disagreement on several issues. Such is the nature of archaeology. Whatever the case, some provisional conclusions can be taken. For one, the Israel of Omri is all we have from the archaeological record, and it is not clear if it correlates with the Biblical record. External sources, while unquestionably important, lead us to wonder what actually may be confidently reconstructed when they both contradict each other and affirm each other at various points. The rise of Judah seems to be related to the decline of Israel, and the vacuum that arose as Israel and then Assyria were to come into decline. Jerusalem continues to refuse to yield its mysteries. As Assyrian power waned, a neo-Babylonian empire was emerging, one that would leave an indelible mark on the course of Judaism's history. As we move on, we will take a short break to observe the rise of Israelite monotheism in the next piece, and the polytheistic context in which it emerged.


[1] Finkelstein's case for a low chronological revision derives from the absence of Philistine monochrome ware at Lachish Stratum VI and Tel Sera Stratum IX. Normally dated to around 1175-1150 B.C.E., Finkelstein believes the Philistine arrival only begins with the withdrawal of the Egyptian presence, and not in the twilight years of their presence, as the traditional picture presents. Thus this monochrome ware should be revised to around 1135-1100 B.C.E., and the later bichrome ware pushed from the late 12th/early 11th to the late 11th/early 10th and so on. This cascades into our Iron Age and pushes everything later, in some cases filling in the gaps (possibly at Ashdod, Tell Beit Mirsim, Tel Haror, and Tel Mor), but in others leading to conflicts. His case is still the subject of debate, and his is by no means a majority view. Amihai Mazar criticised his rejection of the possibility that Egyptian and Philistine settlements could co-exist, and also pointed out the expected lack of Philistine pottery outside of the Philistine pentapolis (the initial 5 cities the Philistines built). Finkelstein's views can be found in "The Date of the Settlement of the Philistines in Canaan", in Tel Aviv, Vol. 22, No. 2, pp. 213-239, 1995, and Mazar's critique in "Iron Age Chronology: A Reply to I. Finkelstein", in Levant Vol. 29, pp. 157-167, 1997.

[2] Interestingly, the designs recorded of Solomon's temple (1 Kings 5:16-6:38 and 2 Chronicles 4) are startlingly similar to Middle Bronze Age temples at Ebla, Megiddo, and Shechem, as well as an 8th century B.C.E. temple at Tell Tainat (Northern Syria).

[3] As general, he commanded all the army, but his family connections were possibly more important. His uncle through marriage was the high priest of Memphis, his oldest son Osorkon was married to the Pharoah's daughter, another son married into the family of the family of the fourth prophet of Amun, and another the commander at Herakleopolis. Certainly he was skilled at both military and political maneuvering!

[4] The towns in which destruction layers in the Iron II have been associated with Shishak include Timnah (Tel Batash), Gezer, Tell el-Mazar, Tell el-Hama, Tell el-Sa'idiyeh (these three in the Jordan Valley), Megiddo, Tell Abu Hawam, Tel Mevorakh, Tel Beth Shean, Tel Dor, Tel Michal, Tell Qasile, Tel Amal, as well as most of the minor fortifications in the Negev. Megiddo probably escaped complete destruction as the chambered gate remained in use into the Iron IIb.

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The Rise of Israel

Introduction to Biblical Archaeology 3:
The Rise of Some People or Other

by Joel Ng (2004)

This section will probably be the longest and most difficult to follow. Attempts to depict a historical rise of ancient Israel in the Late Bronze/Iron I intermediary have been frought with bitter quarrels, polemics, and name-calling, much of which clouds the issues in which the scholars do closely agree upon. While scholars like William G. Dever, Amihai Mazar, and Lawrence Stager all believe that Israel or proto-Israel may be attested very early in the archaeological record, others like Israel Finkelstein and the various "minimalists" disagree, pushing that date much later. As always, I continue to follow Laughlin's outline in Archaeology and the Bible (2000) although I will try to go further to illustrate the similarities and divisions in contemporary debates.

The Amarna Age

When we last left off, we had just witnessed the demise of the Hyksos at Sharuhen and Avaris, and a century later Egypt rose to power in what we now call the "Amarna Age" based on hundreds of Akkadian tablets found at Tell El-Amarna in Egypt. Several contain correspondence between the pharoah and various petty rulers of Egypt bringing to life a rich but troubled time in Palestine. As we have seen earlier, there is little here that corresponds with the biblical portrait of the era, probably contemporaneous with Joshua and Judges. Instead, we see petty rulers squabbling (and seeking assistance from the Egyptians) over border disputes, rivalries, raiding parties, and the ever-scorned Hab/piru. Could the Hab/piru be the ancestors to our Israelites? Scholars have long noted its similarity to the word "Hebrew" ('ibrî or 'ivrî) and of a people active in Egypt called 'pr.w.

Unfortunately, the connection fails because so-called "Hebrews" are mentioned only in connection with King Abdi-Heba's Jerusalem, which does not correspond to the Biblical account that Jerusalem was only captured much later by King David. In the Amarna letters, they are portrayed as renegades, bandits, and perhaps a class (as Mendenhall argued, below), but are difficult to define being so eclectic. Moreover, as Niels Peter Lemche points out, the term is used identically with the Sumerian SA.GAZ (possibly following after the Akkadian saggasu, meaning "murderers"), which means that our Hab/piru start popping up all over the Ancient Near East, never confined to the hill country or Palestine for that matter. That they are trouble-makers is drawn from a literal reading of the texts (and perhaps the disturbances they caused made possible the rise of Israel later), but Dever sees them as victims, blamed for all sorts of social ills.

Whatever the case, they cannot be confidently identified as Hebrews, and what little we know of them suggests that they were not migrants (perhaps fringe dwellers). Until the 11th century B.C.E., this was to be a continuous period of Egyptian domination over the region, and not an ideal time for the Biblical Israel to emerge (and indeed there is no ideal time), though this may in fact be the time when historical Israelites (or "proto-Israelites") began to emerge, yet even this is disputed as we shall see later.

The Merneptah Stele

One tantalising hint of Israelite origins comes from the "Victory Stele" of Pharoah Merneptah dated to 1207 B.C.E.:

The princes are prostrate, saying "Mercy!" Not one raises his head among the Nine Bows. Desolation is for Tehenu; Hatti is pacified; plundered is the Canaan with every evil; Carried off is Ashkelon; seized upon is Gezer. Yanoam is made as that which does not exist; Israel ( is laid waste; his seed is not; Hurru is become a widow for Egypt! All lands together, they are pacified.

All this of course says nothing of an Exodus or Conquest, but that a certain people termed "Israel" is already inhabiting Palestine by this point. The inscription clearly refers to a people (man + woman + 3 strokes) of Israel, whereas in reference to the others (e.g. Yanoam, Ashkelon, and Gezer), the inscription has three hills for its determinative sign (thus indicating geographical areas). While Philip R. Davies argues that the determinative sign is ambiguous it is likely that we do have here the first extrabiblical mention of Israel. William Dever goes further to argue that in fact the list is a "map" of Merneptah's conquests, with Tehenu (Libyans) west of Egypt, Hatti (Hittites) in northern Syria, Hurru (Hurrians) in Syria, and then Ashkelon, near the modern day Gaza strip, Gezer in the centre of Israel, Yanoam in the North, and therefore Israel in the central highlands, exactly where they need to be to emerge later as a fully-fledged monarchy. Israel Finkelstein disagrees with this somewhat arbitrary claim, and indeed there is no evidence to support this, only the aesthetic appeal to one's eye. It is also unclear whether this Israel is even our biblical one. We will return to the question of ethnicity later.

Models of Israelite Origins

There are three great models of the older schools of archaeologists, championed by many of the late generation of scholars that pioneered work from World War I till the 1960s. Today, none of these are accepted at face value primarily because of the simplistic assumptions, weak methodologies, and paucity of evidence available for study. It has been recognised that there was a significant change in material culture (a discontinuity) between the Late Bronze II and Iron I (circa 1200 B.C.E., ironically around the same time as Merneptah's campaign), which is the best possible time to fit in a sudden conquest, but what is the evidence?

The Conquest Model

William Foxwell Albright, the father of biblical archaeology, developed a "conquest" hypothesis of a unified Israelite push through Canaan citing evidence from his work at Tell Beit-Mirsim (he identified it as the biblical Debir, though this is disputed today), Lachish, and Bethel. Later proponents such as George Ernest Wright, John Bright, and Yigal Yadin also added Heshbon, Jericho, Eglon, and Hazor to cities which supported the conquest model with destruction layers in the Iron I age, akin to the treatment in Joshua 6-12. However, as regional surveys came to be published, this idea was found to be clearly wrong.

Firstly, many of the cities listed in Joshua were not destroyed at a time close enough for them to be carried out in a systematic campaign (Taanach, Megiddo, Kedesh, Jokneam, Dor), or were simply not destroyed (Jerusalem, Hebron, Debir, Tirzah). Others were destroyed, but by invaders who we can identify as either "Sea Peoples" (more on them later) or Merneptah, but not Israelites (Gezer, Aphek, Dor). Further evidence at Lachish has shown that the rebuilt city of Lachish VI (atop the ruins of Lachish VII) was probably an Egypto-Canaanite settlement. Finally, several were simply unoccupied or completely unlike the biblical portrait at the time (Jericho, Ai, Eglon, Arad). That leaves Bethel, and Hazor as the only cities which the Israelites could have captured, which certainly does call into question the conquest model, although a few others are as yet unidentified or unexcavated. The apologist excuse (for those are the only ones who still defend the conquest) that the Israelites simply walked into the cities killing people but not destroying anything cannot be taken seriously.

Moreover for a case to be made for mass migration, Lawrence Stager writes:

  1. The implanted culture must be distinguishable from the indigenous cultures in the new zones of settlement. If the intrusive group launches an invasion (as proponents of the Israelite "conquest" postulate), then there should be synchronous discontinuities, such as destruction layers, separating the previous "Canaanite" cultures from the newly established "Israelite" cultures in the zone of contention.
  2. The homeland of the migrating/invading groups should be located, its material culture depicted, and temporal precedence established in its place of origin. In the case of invading Israel, this should be in Transjordan or in Egypt.
  3. The route of migration/invasion should be traceable and examined for its archaeological, historical, and geographical plausibility. If the new immigrants took an overland route, the spatial and temporal distribution of the material culture should indicate the path and direction of large-scale migrations.

    L.E. Stager (1998), "Forging an Identity", in M.D. Coogan (ed.) (1998), The Oxford History of the Biblical World, Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 94

This is not a case of setting the bar so high that it is impossible to prove. A similarly large migration has been shown using these standards of the "Sea Peoples" (precursors to the Philistines) from Mycenaea (southern Greece and Crete).

The Migration Model

Meanwhile, in Germany, Albrecht Alt and his students (particularly Martin Noth) were developing a different theory that ignored Joshua altogether and explained Israelite emergence in terms of pastoral nomads slowly infiltrating Canaan over a vast period of time (and fitting nicely with the slow progress in the book of Judges). Perhaps their annual route took them from the Transjordan into Canaan and some decided to settle over time. It was a completely theoretical model, based on his contact with Bedouin nomads around Palestine, and the factors that led to their sedentarisation (settling down into permanent locations).

Yohanan Aharoni later developed some evidence for this theory, locating areas which were empty in the Late Bronze, but with new settlements in the Iron I. While Alt's theory is sometimes known as the peaceful-infiltration model, Aharoni's was more of a conquest-infiltration, only with the conquest carried out over several centuries. Unfortunately, there are several alternative explanations as to why this emergence of settlements in the Iron I may have occurred, and we will deal with them later.

The problem with Alt's theory is that the idealised "nomadic" phase of many cultures is often fictitious (and Alt had been basing much of his work on the biblical accounts of the wandering patriarchs), and what we do know of nomadic cultures shows that they are notoriously difficult to settle: The Mari tablets detail the attempts to control and tax the Amorite movements in the 18th century B.C.E., largely unsuccessful. The eventual sedentarisation process of the Amorites took over 500 years! Ironically (when we look at the next theory), a different Marx, Emmanuel, showed that Bedouin nomadism is a deeply ideological value, not prone to swift transitions due to changing climatic conditions or economic factors (though this says nothing of nomads 3000 years ago). Alt's theory is rarely taken seriously today. Aharoni's theories were made obsolete by his own students with his methods of regional surveys (as we shall see below).

The Peasant's Revolt

George Mendenhall developed a new theory of Israelite origins that departed wholly from the Bible altogether. He had spotted that the Hab/piru of the Amarna were a social class around 1947, and that the city-states in Canaan had deep class divisions between the rulers (and the urban classes) and the rural peasants. Uniting under a single religion (Yahwism), they were able to overthrow the rulers of the city-states and develop an emerging nation of Israel. Perhaps the Israelites knew of Akhenaten's 14th century monotheistic revolution, or were influenced by the Shasu nomads who worshipped Yhw. Norman Gottwald, meanwhile, had independently identified sites he believed to be Israelite since being on the fringe, one could escape the closely controlled areas and urban problems (as we saw in the Amarna age), a process called "withdrawal". Many of the features identified here became marks of identification for "Israelite" culture (he believes Yahwism was a result, not a catalyst, of the revolt). The revolt for Gottwald, was in fact a revolution.

William G. Dever

Although initially rejected for its overtly Marxist formulation, William G. Dever developed this theory further based primarily on archaeological evidence (he calls it an "agrarian frontier reform model"). His proto-Israelites are seen as the direct ancestors of ancient Israel which would develop its distinctiveness under the united monarchy of David and Solomon. So, who were the early Israelites, and where did they come from? (I will discuss this in reverse.)

Firstly, as we have seen, the best possible time for Israelite emergence is marked by the Late Bronze II/Iron I transition. Secondly, older models have proven obsolete, though they may provide important insights or methods. Thirdly, we have seen the shortcomings of the biblical portrait, and must base our evidence primarily on archaeological evidence. Fourth, the evidence for indigenous, Canaanite origins of the Israelites is overwhelming, as we have seen in dealing with the "conquest" hypothesis. Finally, alongside the archaeological evidence, a multi-disciplinary enquiry must take place utilising palaeozoology, palaeobotany, anthropology, radiometric dating, linguistics, and other areas of research relating to the past. No longer can biblical archaeology stand aloft from other modes of inquiry.

Several distinctive features in the hill country (our modern West Bank), as well as a population explosion in the Iron I are caused by none other than our proto-Israelites. Drawing on Israel Finkelstein's 1988 work, The Archaeology of Israelite Settlement, the highland areas show a marked population increase: Some 93% of Iron I sites surveyed did not exist in the Late Bronze, and most of these are in the hill country. In the Late Bronze, the total population of the area was some 50,000 inhabitants; by the Iron II, it was perhaps 150,000. Clearly, population growth cannot fully account for this (population explosions were never sustained prior to the last two centuries), but an influx of people is necessary to explain this explosion.

Dever argues that it was simply a quest for a new lifestyle that drove this micro-exodus, not Yahwistic belief, nor class oppression, not unlike various attempts by Quakers, Hamish, Mayflower Pilgrims, and others. He also draws on David Hopkins' work that shows how incredibly difficult to settle a hill country area unless there is previous agricultural experience in the population (accompanied by the development of hill terraces to increase the available land suitable for agriculture). However, whether cisterns and terracing show resultant innovation from living in the hill country, or were factors that made settlement possible is difficult to determine. Meanwhile, he, like Mendenhall and Gottwald, speculates that the troubled Amarna period in Canaan spurred the migration into the hills—pastoral nomads would probably have gone further. These are indirect rebuttals to Finkelstein's hypothesis, which we come to now.

Israel Finkelstein

Finkelstein's theory is that the rapid increase in population in the hill country was brought about by nomads coming from the east (modern Jordan). It does bear some similarity to Alt's model, but it is based primarily on archaeology rather than speculative extrapolation of theories about Bedouins. Finkelstein's nomads simply became farmers as they moved into the hill country, and were hardly Israelite or even proto-Israelite ("hill country settlers" according to him). In fact, this was the third time such sedentarisation had taken place in the hill country, having taken place in the Early Bronze I and Middle Bronze II.

It should be important to note, firstly, what Finkelstein and Dever agree upon. First, they both are reliant on Finkelstein's 1988 work that demonstrated the rapid increase in population in the hill country in the Iron I. Secondly, they both accept that population growth alone cannot account for the increase. Thirdly, they both agree that long-term cycles of pastoralism and sedentarisation take place, with various periods demonstrating various shifts between each lifestyle. Like Dever, he agrees that archaeological evidence must be the primary source of reconstruction, but the debate between them shows how theory-laden even "evidence" can be, and dare I say, incommensurable.

The hill country settlements have distinctive features, particularly oval-shaped buildings. Like circled caravans, Finkelstein concludes that livestock were kept in these areas at night, and show the pastoral characteristics of the people who lived here. At Izbet Sartah, a crucial site has been excavated displaying his oval pattern, although it may be somewhat conjectural. Others have argued that it may simply be a matter of following contour lines, or possibly defence, though neither of these arguments would significantly trouble the pastoral theory. Elsewhere, he has found Transjordanian Iron I sites that are identical to the hill country sites in terms of pottery and material culture, and this gives rise to the possibility of an east-west movement of pastoral nomads.

In answer to Hopkin's difficulties regarding hill country agriculture, Finkelstein notes only that they produced only enough to survive, there was little social stratification (something only surplus economies are able to produce), and little trade routes or greater administration. He also dates these settlements to late in the 12th century and early 11th, considerably later than the time most others would (and his radical chronology is not accepted by most.

Questions of Ethnicity

If Dever seems to have something of an upper hand in the debate over the rise of the hill country peoples, much of the problems are technical and deal with the interpretation of archaeological evidence. Leaving aside the question of where these hill dwellers came from, we must now ask, were these people "Israelite", "proto-Israelite", or just "hill country settlers"? We have already seen that someone called "Israelites" existed, at least, as early as the late 13th century, but what else can we say? Again, we'll follow the discussion between Dever and Finkelstein, but first, a boring discussion of the problems involved.

The sociological literature on defining "ethnicity" is complex, but we can say a little on how it is formed. Firstly, it emerges from an "us vs. them" distinction. It has two identifiers: how groups define themselves, and how others define them. Most of the labels are descent-conscious; that is, they reflect an inherited identity and broad kinship. Finally, ethnicity is to be distinguished from totemism in which differences are born out of equal relationships. Instead, ethnicity derives historically from unequal relations such as resource competition and social evolution of society (simple to complex?).

Clearly, archaeologists have long sought marks of self-identification (called "type fossils"), such as distinctive pottery styles, architectural plans, and so forth. As David Small points out, this does not even fit the definition of ethnicity, but rather one must look for assymetrical relations which are the basis for ethnic division. Secondly, in cases such as architecture or technologies, much of it may simply be environmentally constrained (perhaps Finkelstein's oval plans?) and thus fit a geographical region well, while not being a sign of ethnicity. As you can see, this discussion cannot simply be a matter of assumption and rhetoric, something Dever is prone to.

Dever's problems lie in insisting that there are both LB/Iron I continuities (hence the indigenous origins of Israelites) and significant enough distinctions to identify a new ethnic group (the shortcomings of using Fredrik Barth's 1969 definitions apparent). Israelite type-fossils include four-room (or pillared courtyard) houses, hewn cisterns (water drainage specially developed for rocky outcrops), terracing, and collar-rimmed store jars. However, all of them have been found to be located in the Transjordan or elsewhere in the Ancient Near East and across time—hewn cisterns having existed in the Bronze Age.

The type-fossils approach sets itself up for refutation (unless it can find overwhelming numbers of artifacts), nor does it even consider environmental factors. Even with respect to Philistine artifacts, some such as Philistine bichrome ware may be signifiers of wealth and social status, and hence not useful for ethnic labelling. Secondly, Dever's evidence can be selective: Iron I sites such as Tell en-Nasbeh and Bethel (not in the hill country) are materially identical to Shiloh and et-Tell, yet Dever considers the latter to be proto-Israelite, and the former not to be. A stronger methodology must come forth.

Finkelstein, admirably, has pursued such a path. He admitted that his methodology in identifying "ethnicity" in the 1988 paper was simply naive, identifying ethnicity merely on territorial and socioeconomic aspects. His rebuttal of himself includes the questioning of the historicity of the biblical texts on the united monarchy, that differentiating sedentary and non-sedentary people in the LB/Iron I for the sake of ethnic identification is "meaningless", and so forth. Likewise, the Merneptah stele cannot confidently give us a location of the early Israelites, no matter the interpretations. Finkelstein finally rests ethnicity on the issue of foodways—dietary patterns—primarily, pig bones.

However, in 1994, at a conference where Finkelstein retracted, the use of pig bones (and hence consumption) to signify ethnic lines was being questioned—in fact they were rarely consumed by people all over Palestine, and much of the Ancient Near East. The factors that provided for large-scale consumption of pork (and then people identifying themselves through nonconsumption) would only come about in Hellenistic times.


Because of the complexity of this particular piece, I have only dealt with the major theories, and the biggest recent debate. Plenty of other ideas have been mooted—in particular, the Shasu nomads who worshipped Yhw, and adaptations of the major models have been around us for a long time, and will continue to do so. The debate between Finkelstein and Dever over the origins of ancient "Israelites" is far from over, and much work has yet to be published. In many ways, the debates over interpretations and methods have strengthened the field considerably, though it has also been frought with acrimonious arguments.

I have not dealt much with the minimalists, since they have not actively engaged the archaeological record. Most notably, Keith Whitelam has deconstructed the approaches of several older generations of scholars (and a few current ones) in showing how the inexorable search for "Israel" has sidelined a search for other indigenous people of the period, though not specifically tackling assumptions of ethnic identity (which would have made for a much stronger work). Niels Peter Lemche views this period, not unlike Dever, as one of turmoil and strife, in which the decadence of the Canaanite city-states, suffering from the withdrawal by Egyptian forces, allowed the periphery (in his view, nomads, like Finkelstein) to overtake the centre in much the same way we saw at the Intermediate Bronze Age (between Early and Middle Bronze). Perhaps that is as far as the consensus goes. Next, we will look at even more arguments as we cover the Iron II and the Israelite monarchy.

  No.    Ancient Place-Name    Archaeological Evidence
  1.  Jericho  Meager LB II occupation
  2.  Ai  No occupation from 2250 to 1200 B.C.E.
  3.  Jerusalem  No destruction at end of LB II
  4.  Hebron  No evidence
  5.  Jarmuth  Continuous LB II to Iron I occupation
  6.  Lachish  City VII destroyed in late 13th century,
  City VI destroyed ca. 1150
  7.  Eglon  Tell 'Aitun; LB occupation unclear
  8.  Gezer  LB destruction, probably Merneptah or Philistines
  9.  Debir  Tell er-Rabud; no destruction at end of LB
  10.  Geder  Khirbet Jedur; LB II and Iron I pottery; not excavated
  11.  Hormah  Identification unknown
  12.  Arad  No LB occupation
  13.  Libnah  Identification unknown
  14.  Adullam  Khirbet 'Adullam; not excavated
  15.  Makkedah  Identification unknown
  16.  Bethel  Destruction in the late 13th century
  17.  Tappuah  Tell Sheikh Abu Zarad; not excavated
  18.  Hepher  Tell el-Muhaffer; not excavated
  19.  Aphek  LB destruction followed by Iron I "Sea Peoples" occupation
  20.  Lasharon  Identification unknown
  21.  Madon  Identification unknown
  22.  Hazor  LB city Stratum XIII, destroyed in 13th century
  23.  Shimron-meron  Identification unknown
  24.  Achsaph  Khirbet el-Harbaj; LB II and Iron I pottery
  25.  Taanach  Meager LB II remains; Iron I village destroyed
  in latter half of 12th century
  26.  Megiddo  LB II/Iron I city, Stratum VIIA, destroyed in
  latter half of 12th century
  27.  Kedesh  Tell Abu Qudeis; Iron I settlement Stratum VIII,
  destroyed in latter half of 12th century
  28.  Jokneam  LB II settlement, Stratum XIX, destroyed in
  late 13th or 12th century; gap follows
  29.  Dor  "Sea Peoples" known as Sikils occupy city in 12th century;
  transition from LB to Iron I not yet determined
  30.  Goiim  Identification unknown
  31.  Tirzah  Tell el-Farah (North); LB II and Iron I occupation;
  no evidence of destruction

from Stager (1998), pp.98-99.

Appendix B: The "Sea Peoples" and Philistines

One might begin to ask, are archaeologists asking too much in order to prove the early existence of Israelites? Well in order to prove the biblical Israelites, where the Egyptian origins, migration route, and invasion are clear, we have a good comparative case study with the "Sea Peoples" who started to leave Mycenaea possibly as early as the late 14th century, and the people specifically known as the Philistines in the early 12th century B.C.E. (the anachronism in Genesis 26 notwithstanding). Their migration is so distinctive that they were the ones who gave their names to many of the Mediterranean areas: Philistines eventually gave their name to Palestine, the Sikils to Sicily, and the Sherden to Sardinia (Cyprus was renamed from Alashiya to Yadanana, although one wonders why this name didn't stick). Aegeans and Denye even correspond with Homer's Achaeans and Danaoi.

Stage I (1175-1150 B.C.E.)

The first stage of the Philistines' exodus involves their arrival in southern Canaan destroying several Late Bronze cities along the way, including areas along coastal Cilicia, Cyprus, and Palestine. This shows the route they took in finally reaching the southwestern coast of Canaan, where they finally settled. Indeed there are recorded correspondences between the king of Cyprus and the last king of Ugarit detailing the threat the "Sea Peoples" posed. Their origins are distinctive, since they arrive with pottery which we now call Mycenaean IIIC:1b, even though it is found in Palestine (but also elsewhere along the Mediterranean coast, Cyprus). It is shown to share a common tradition or style with other Aegean LB cultures, but the Philistines also bring with them new cultural traditions: "domestic and public architecture focusing on the hearth; weaving with unperforated loom weights; swine herding and culinary preference for pork; drinking preference for wine mixed with water; and religious rituals featuring female figurines of the mother-goddess type" (Stager 1998, p. 115). This is still a period of Egyptian hegemony in Canaan, so Egyptian and Canaanite garrisons in the south make desperate attempts to contain these invaders. As yet, there is little sign of infiltration of cultures, except perhaps as war booty.

Stage II (1150-1050 B.C.E.)

Egyptian hegemony collapses after the death of Rameses III (1153 B.C.E.), and the Philistines begin their second phase of expansion, and their pottery is now known as Philistine bichrome ware (that is, using two colours), and shows sign of Canaanite contact and acculturation. According to the Bible, they accepted Canaanite gods early on (Dagon and Baal Zebub as recorded in the Bible are Semitic names), but we know that they worshipped Ashdoda, an equivalent of the Mycenaean "Great Mother" at least as late as the latter half of the 12th century. On this, Finkelstein disagrees and argues that it is here that the Philistines actually arrive (thus revising the chronologies considerably), since he disagrees that they could have made an impact during Egyptian control of the region. This has ramifications elsewhere, pushing much of the period usually ascribed as 10th century B.C.E. into the 9th, filling some gaps (and devastating the period of "united monarchy"), but causing other problems elsewhere, particularly at Hazor. I will try to deal with the implications of this later in the series.

Stage III (1050-950 B.C.E.)

Aegean characteristics among the Philistines begin to diminish, though still recognisable, and complex geometrical patterns and elegant waterbird motifs have diminished into simple spirals. One might say that the Philistines began to dumb down after meeting the Canaanites, and by now they are almost fully integrated. Although maximalists argue that their defeat by King David brought about their end, the process of acculturation was also significant. Their eclecticism allowed them to assimilate rapidly but it also meant they lost their distinctiveness in equally quick fashion (the loss of language early on may be shown by the lack of Philistine inscriptions).

What we clearly see, however, is the process by which one culture migrates or invades another. In this case, the clear origins, route, and invasion by the Philistines followed by their rise and fall in Canaan are well-attested archaeologically. Their distinctive ethnicity and culture allow for easy identification, while their assimilation and disappearance attest to the complex social interactions that took place following their arrival. For our early "Israelites", no distinctive Egyptian pottery, Yahwist religion, tribal social organisation or other distinctive features show the biblical account to be fanciful and unreflective of actual events.

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From Stone to Bronze

Introduction to Biblical Archaeology 2:
From Stone to Bronze

by Joel Ng (2003)

The Grand Narrative

With a brief understanding of how biblical archaeology developed and its methods, we can move on to a journey through time. Before I get to the bit where I can step on the toes in presenting the story, some explanation is in order. Underdetermination of data (that is, the theory that for any given body of empirical data, multiple theories can be constructed to account for it) is a particular problem.

Further, the underdetermination theory states that theory choice (that is, the grounds for making a decision to adhere to one of the competing theories) is subjective.

This is tied in with the idea of incommensurability—that is, that theories cannot be evaluated as "better" or "worse" because they either have different rules of evidence, or draw on different interpretations of evidence altogether. Lack of consensus in almost every archaeological matter seems to give much credence to these theories. As I quoted Gottwald in the earlier introduction, I reiterate that archaeological interpretation is a subjective field for which little remains conclusive for long.

In some sense, this can be circumvented by avoiding the historiographical implications of the Bible and archaeology, but this defeats the purpose of many who work in the field. They want to know not just how ancient people lived, but how accurately they wrote their historical works. They want to know the religions of these people, but also how closely and when the biblical account of the development of Jewish and Israelite religion follows "reality." Secondly, rules which everyone can agree upon as to what constitutes "evidence" needs to be more thoroughly debated—that is, the rules of methodology and epistemology. This is unfortunately a problem with this field, which is why many have claimed that it is still a "young" science. So what exactly do archaeologists agree on?

Rocks of Ages

The various ages embedded in sediment follow what you'd expect: There's the stone age, the bronze age, the iron age, and so on. When exactly these came about is disputed, some by fractional amounts, and others by thousands of years. We will follow the story of the rise of Israel from what we can gather of these periods, and compare it with the Biblical account where possible. Here I defer to the Archaeological Encyclopaedia of the Holy Land (eds. A. Negev & S. Gibson, 2001, New York: Continuum). Roughly, the identified ages are (and potentially useful in pub quizzes if nothing else):

Palaeolithic (Old Stone Age)1,400,000 - 17,000 B.C.E. 
Epipalaeolithic/Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age)  17,000 - 8500 B.C.E. 
Neolithic (New Stone Age)   
    Pre-Pottery Neolithic A8500 - 7000 B.C.E. 
    Pre-Pottery Neolithic B7000 - 6000 B.C.E. 
    Pottery Neolithic6000 - 4500 B.C.E. 
Chalcolithic (Copper Stone Age)4500 - 3500 B.C.E. 
Early Bronze (EB) Age  
    EB IA3500 - 3300 B.C.E. 
    EB IB3300 - 3050 B.C.E. 
    EB II3050 - 2700 B.C.E. 
    EB III2700 - 2350 B.C.E. 
Intermediate Bronze Age  
    (EB IV/MB I)2350 - 2000 B.C.E. 
Middle Bronze (MB) Age  
    MB IIA2000 - 1800 B.C.E.  the Patriarchs?
    MB IIB1800 - 1550 B.C.E.  Hyksos in Egypt
Late Bronze (LB) Age  
    LB I1550 - 1400 B.C.E. 
    LB II (Amarna Age)1400 - 1300 B.C.E.  slavery in Egypt?  
    LB IIB1300 - 1200 B.C.E.  the Exodus?
Iron Age  
    Iron IA1200 - 1150 B.C.E.  Conquest & Judges?  
    Iron IB1150 - 1000 B.C.E.  Period of the Judges?  
    Iron IIA1000 - 900 B.C.E.  United Monarchy?
    Iron IIB900 - 700 B.C.E.  Divided Monarchy
    Iron IIC700 - 586 B.C.E.  Judah
Babylonian/Persian Period586 - 332 B.C.E. 
Early Hellenistic332 - 167 B.C.E. 
Late Hellenistic167 - 37 B.C.E. 
Early Roman37 B.C.E. - 135 C.E. 
Late Roman135 - 325 C.E. 

As immediately becomes apparent, the rise of civilisation is a slow and steady one, in which no invocations of deities or aliens should be necessary. The second important feature is that the Babylonian capture of Jerusalem, dated to 587 or 586 B.C.E. is a seminal moment in history (and a point where we can confidently correlate some Biblical accounts with archaeological excavations). Archaeology does not like long peaceful periods of thumb twiddling and making hay. Indeed, the easiest way to identify a layer is if there is a ubiquitous level of carbon and ash—in short, the razing of a city or town.

A Prehistorical Journey

Archaeology, however, can do far more. Let us forget the Bible for a moment, and journey back into the dawn of history (the timeline above may help). It is now evident that man has inhabited the Ancient Near East and Nile Regions for hundreds of thousands of years, and shared this land with our relatives Homo erectus and Neanderthal man. Here we shall take a brief glimpse at some of the major changes along the way. Recent discoveries in Israel have pointed to the possibility of the first use of controlled fire by humans being found here, almost 800,000 years ago. Similarly, we know some of our earliest ancestors walked through the Levant as Oldowan tools (around 2 million years old) made their way from Africa into Georgia.

Crude pear-shaped axes have been discovered (and are classified as belonging to the "Acheullian" stone age culture and probably the products of H. erectus) from the early Ice Ages. Mousterian, another stone age culture, is responsible for tools that, from evidence outside of the Near East, were the products of Neanderthals. Intriguingly, another "first" may also have occurred here, as evidence for grain milling and baking has been discovered at Ohalo, southwest of the Sea of Galilee—agriculture must then have predated agricultural civilisations considerably. This sleepy time came to a close with the end of the last great ice age some 20,000 years ago. After this, the tools grew in variety—blade making and polishing, cultural expression, and composite tools make their appearance.

Middle Stone Age

In the Epipalaeolithic, the Sebilian culture in Egypt is the witness to this transition—they seem to have got the basics of animal domestication, and have become semisedentary, that is, they are no longer permanent nomads like other hunter gatherers (because they are fortunate enough to live in the rich valley of the Nile). In Palestine, the Natufian culture has emerged, with larger social organisation (living in groups of up to 150).

There are permanent bases, from which hunters would move out to seasonal hunting grounds. They are technologically superior to their forebears in the Old Stone Age—having made good use of flint, bone, and stone to create specialised tools. At about 9000 B.C.E. our time machine blacks out, and we are left with an infuriating darkness—archaeologists do not know when the crucial transition from hunter-gatherers to sedentary agricultural societies takes place.

New Stone Age and Pottery

But when we emerge, we have reached the Neolithic (New Stone Age). Here we see a mix of agricultural techniques. Some argue that it was introduced from elsewhere, and the composite of advanced methods of farming and basic hunter gatherer lifestyles show an uneasy reception to these new techniques. Humans have not yet discovered pottery, but Jericho is already a city, built with enormous walls 3 metres wide and 4 metres tall. Defense seems to be the priority. A look at ancient words can give us a clue as to the process of sedentarisation (the process of making permanent settlements): âlu in Akkadian has its linguistic roots in the plural for "tent" while other terms for settlement are linguistically equivalent to our modern "fort." Some burial customs point to the emergence of religious belief—"skull plastering" is done over the dead to recreate lifelike human features. Perhaps we have some sort of belief in the afterlife.

Then, sometime late in the seventh millennium B.C.E., pottery is discovered. Amihai Mazar argues that it developed first through the use of clay for flooring or depressions used as basins, and perhaps a chance fire hardened it and so pottery is "discovered" rather than "invented." Laughlin (wrongly) states that Mazar attributes it to plastered fireplaces. Older theories may imagine an early human sitting down at a fire and tossing clay figurines into the fire to see what happens, and thus we could call pottery an "invention."

Whatever the case, once people discover that portable containers can be created out of this hard substance, it revolutionises our way of life. Not only that, but people decorate their new inventions with innovative cultural symbols, though we can still see interrelationships between the types of pottery, and thus early people have inadvertently taken a major step forward in helping us to understand them.

Chalcolithic Innovation

Things accelerate, and by the fifth millennium, the technology to produce copper emerges, although stone tools are not completely replaced (hence "Chalco"—copper, "lithic"—stone). The main culture of this time is called "Ghassulian" culture. It produces a flurry of copper crafts—the best example being a "Cave of Treasure" at Nahal Mishmar (just west of the Dead Sea) was discovered in 1961 where a cache of over 400 copper objects were discovered, preserved by the dry Judean desert.

Here, we have all variety of tools, advanced metalwork is evident using lost wax casting and combinations of other metals from far afield (probably Armenia). We can conclude that specialists have arrived on the scene—no longer are people just hunter-gatherers or farmers, but a new class of artisans has emerged, capable of skillfully creating figures of ivory, bone, metal, flint, and stone.

At Teleilat Ghassul (from which the name "Ghassulian" comes), settlement patterns show signs of planning with houses built along straight narrow streets. North of Nahal Mishmar is a Chalcolithic temple at En Gedi (from where it is speculated the treasure comes), which has its own inner chamber (like a "Holy of Holies" in the Biblical temple), courtyard, and possibly a living quarter. Again, another sort of specialised class—priests—have emerged, as has a religious institution alongside them.

The Bronze Age

Early Bronze I and the Coming of Cities

We could explore this region much more, but we have to move on. With earlier experimenting of mixing metals, the key breakthrough of melting tin and copper together lead to harder and more useful metals. There is a slight break in continuity between the Early Bronze I (EB I) and the previous Chalcolithic in Palestine, which has led some to conclude that EB I peoples were foreign invaders. For example, oval houses are found in several locations in the north, where the previous period favoured rectangular layouts.

However, growing consensus is that there is an evolutionary connection in pottery style between the ages, and Egyptian contact and development of the agropastoral community is enough to account for the changes in between. Perhaps imported features from Syria, Anatolia, and Mesopotamia had a great influence as well. Whether Egyptian pottery discovered in Palestine represents Egyptian trade, colonisation, or conquest is difficult to tell. However, this period ended by EB II.

Settlements in the south seem to decrease dramatically, and Israel Finkelstein suggests that there were economic advantages of living in highlands, while others theorise a population explosion. At Hartuv, standing stones known as massebot have been discovered, which figure in Canaanite and Israelite religion. Lack of iconographic evidence (that is, religious or cultural figurines) makes it difficult to confidently ascertain their use, and in fact, temples of this period are not identified with too much certainty either.

Early Bronze II-III and Disaster

The first cities arise in the Early Bronze, most of it in EB II-III. Egypt's first dynasty, Sumer's early dynastic period, and Akkadian civilisation are all in the ascent at this point. Of course, these civilisations did not just pop out of thin air, but material conditions (agriculture, trade, etc.) made the construction and habitation of cities possible. For Egypt, a colossus is rising, and its organisational structure changes to accommodate the transition into a nation. Couriers, residents, transporters, retainers, hosts, dependents, headmen, producers and purveyors of food, and service providers are all necessary, and Egypt rises to the challenge with a fundamentally new means of organisation.

Egypt's access to Palestine is largely through the port of Byblos, where Lebanese wood is much sought after. Sumer meanwhile is influential in Syria and in particular by EB III, Ebla (Tel Mardikh) is the centre of literacy and writing. Ebla has its own unique language and writing system, and is the oldest West Semitic language known. It is a precursor to the Ugaritic language, which in turn is a precursor to ancient Hebrew. Akkad plays an influence in this region which will cause the end of the EB III.

Many prominent cities of the Bible emerge during this time, either being rebuilt (Tel Dan (Laish), Megiddo, Ai, Beth Shan, Jericho) or founded (Bethel, Beth-Shemesh, Tell Beit Mirsim, Hazor). Large fortifications are built at major cities—if there is any doubt about Jericho in the Neolithic, there is no such doubt about the purpose of fortifications at Megiddo (25 feet thick), Arad (3800 feet long), and Jericho (repaired 17 times, according to Kathleen Kenyon). Yet by the end of EB III, "the fears that led to such massive fortifications were realized." (Laughlin, p. 50) These fortifications and cities were either abandoned or destroyed by 2300 B.C.E., throughout Palestine and beyond (Ebla fell in 2250 B.C.E. to Naram Sin of Akkad).

Intermediate Bronze Age

With the destruction of these large cities, we lapse back to a quieter time in Palestine—the transition from EB IV to the Middle Bronze. Settlements are sparse, and much of what we can know about this time comes from cemeteries. The most numerous sites from EB IV are at Negev and Sinai are very small and have been called "open air museums" because of the excellent preservation.

Settlement patterns are slightly similar to EB II sites, but also resemble Neolithic sites. The sites uncovered seem to be out of touch of trade routes. Only in some regions around the Transjordan (east of the Dead Sea and Jordan River) do we see much connection with EB III pottery and culture, particularly at Khirbet Iskander where large fortifications and monumental architecture remains.

The whole period seems to be something of a mystery. It has been proposed that Syrian tribes known as the Amurru (Sumerian MAR.TU) or Amorites were the invaders (or perhaps just filled the empty space) and in fact initiated the move to the Middle Bronze. Ilan argues that connections could be found with the north in terms of sun-dried mud bricks (useful in Syria, prone to erosion in Palestine), new burial practices, multiple populations, and pottery similarities.

Another theory argued that these people were Indo-Europeans, based on the similarity in copper torques (necklaces) found in graves in Ras Shamra and Europe. Still another theory reached the same conclusion based on studies of tumuli (burial mounds) and dolmens (also tombs where a stone is laid horizontally over upright stones, and made famous in the Asterix comics), which were peculiar to Europe at this time.

William Dever's views, which are also the dominant view, is that these EB IV/MB I sites (particularly the Negev and Sinai sites) are merely continuations of indigenous culture and not a product of any foreign invasions or migrations. The urbanisation in EB III were extreme, and perhaps these rural settlements preserved their way of life from much earlier times better than most. We can at least confidently state that these people were both sedentary and nomadic. Certainly, a different mix of factors was at work here, and much work remains to be done.

The Middle Bronze Age

However, recovery from the desolation and abandonment at the end of EB III soon comes as we enter the MB II. Again, the dates for the start of MB II are hotly contested, though not particularly exciting, so I should state that the 2000 B.C.E. date (per the timeline above) is considered a "high" chronology, and perhaps a bit conservative. It is here that Albright tries to place the time of the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob), and it is the first period where a comparison with the Biblical account might be possible (it would be rather silly to try to fit the Tower of Babel into EB IV/MB I or even a local Noachian deluge (Noah's flood) into EB II/III where the Bible places them).

Again, as in EB III, large structures and fortifications are being built throughout Palestine and illustrate the rise of Canaanite city-states. Some texts written on Egyptian artifacts dated to the twentieth century B.C.E. attest (by name) to the cities of Beth Shan, Jerusalem, Laish (Tel Dan), Shechem, Hazor, and Beth-Shemesh which we have already noticed in EB II. Palaces, temples, defensive gates, and residential buildings are all identifiable in this period, some of them, such as at Megiddo, would continue to be used into the Late Bronze Age. Some 400 sites have been identified in this period, and is clearly a thriving region in contrast to the Intermediate Age before. At Mari (Tell Hariri), the discovery of over 25,000 tablets describing trade records and legal and diplomatic letters shed dramatic light on this region, and we shall hear more about it later.

The Hyksos in Egypt

An important change also takes place in Egypt. The Fifteenth Dynasty is established by a West Semitic people known as the Hyksos, who reign from the 17th to 16th centuries B.C.E.. The Egyptian writer Manetho, in the third century B.C.E. mentions them invading from the north, and he is quoted (and thereby preserved) by the first century CE Jewish historian Josephus (in Contra Apion 1.74, Josephus states that they are the ancestors of the Jews).

They controlled Egypt, and perhaps reached as far as Syria and Baghdad, and introduced such revolutionary weapons as the war chariot and composite bow. Their dominance also helps explain the organisation of Canaanite city-states, where the connections are clear: Palestinian and Phoenician pottery are strikingly similar to those of the Hyksos'. It is possible that because Egypt had a large foreign population, they took over peacefully with the weakening of the royal authority in Egypt. Surely a candidate for the Hebrew enslavement in Egypt?

Well not really. The Hyksos left behind no writings of their own (hence their name is taken from Manetho's description of them). Donald Redford notes that Kamose of Thebes, the Egyptian ruler who rebelled and eventually defeated them considered them destroyers, as did Hatsheput (who referred to them as nomads), about 50 years later. We have evidence of large scale destruction of Egyptian monuments that speak of a violent takeover and victorious reprisals. Their religion also differed from the Biblical Hebrews. They featured Anat, the bloodthirsty consort of Canaanite Ba'al, and a male mountain deity (hr) probably identifiable with Ba'al.

Whatever the case, Kamose laid siege to their capital Avaris, and defeated them (but then dies suddenly). The Hyksos fled to Sharuhen (Tell el-Ajjul), a fort south of the Gaza strip (not quite an Exodus) but Kamose's brother Ah-mose finished the defeat and established the Eighteenth Dynasty in Egypt. A long period of Egyptian domination of Palestine would follow soon after.

The Patriarchs in the Middle Bronze?

The Biblical chronology contains two contradictory accounts. If we are to take the Exodus as correlating to a destruction layer found around Jericho, 'Ai and other cities in the 13th century, then the 17th century fits the Hyksos period and Joseph's rule quite nicely (see Exodus 12:40, where the Israelites emerge from Egypt 400 years after arriving). 1 Kings 6:1, however, states that Solomon built his temple 480 years after the Exodus, which means that we require a 15th century date for the Exodus (and therefore, Albright's older age for the period of patriarchs in the turn of the second millennium). Elsewhere, the combined ages of the Judges conflict with the chronology given in 1 Kings. This problem is generally ignored, and dates are assigned as convenient to the debate.

Here we meet our first argument between maximalists and minimalists. Maximalists would generally assign the date for the patriarchal narratives in Genesis to the time of Solomon (10th century B.C.E.), while minimalists would probably push it further back, possibly as late as the Persian period (and of course, arguments have been made for just about every date in between as well). Much of the argument is linguistic, which we will have to leave till we study Genesis itself later in the series. The connection with archaeology is unclear, but I have included it out of possible interest of the reader. Note that nobody here is crediting the authorship to Moses.

Amihai Mazar (as a sample maximalist) argues that the similarities between MB II culture and Genesis are too close to be ignored, and that the traditions in Genesis are extremely old, having passed through oral transmission. He further draws attention to many dissimilarities between MB II and the time of Solomon, and that these could not be simply made up.

John Van Seters (sample minimalist) dates these stories to the exilic and post-exilic periods (6th-5th centuries B.C.E.). He compares them to historiographical work (or antiquities/genealogies) of Greece and Rome that write of the earliest humans and its relation to the rise of nationhood as we see in Genesis. The influence of Mesopotamian, Phoenician and Canaanite myths on Genesis raise large doubts about the age of the stories.

It is clear that establishing a plausible setting in the MB II does not necessitate its placement there. Many scholars have shown that while a story may be consistent with a certain age, it may also be consistent with a whole range of other dates. On the other hand, a late date need not mean that the stories are entirely fictional. The Bible itself lists numerous lost books from which stories have been drawn. Mazar expects too much from the correlations he has drawn, while Van Seters has no way of establishing the originals beneath the layers are late—he has no clear way of denying a pre-tenth century date for the original stories. This debate continues...

The End of the Middle Bronze

After the defeat of the Hyksos at Sharuhen, reprisals continued into Palestine, and J.M. Weinstein and many others conclude that a destruction layer found around several MB sites is limited to those under Hyksos rule, and probably carried out by Egyptians. Donald Redford, on the other hand, concludes that the experience at Avaris and Sharuhen showed that the Egyptians were largely incompetent at laying a seige (Avaris held out for several decades, and Sharuhen for 3 years). Although Redford notes the absence of Egyptian artifacts or governors in ancient lists, this may be explained by the theory that Egypt was not going in search of imperial conquests, but merely carrying out reprisals.

Redford theorises that a new Hurrian nation-state called "Mitanni" may be responsible for this destruction. It rises rapidly in the 16th century, while Babylon, lacking leadership after the demise of Hammurabi is waning, and grows to lead Hurrian culture and dominate Assyria. In fact, Kadesh on the Orontes dominates Palestine, and its rulers bear Mitanni names.

Whatever the case, the fall of the Hyksos, and a consistent destruction layer around 1500 B.C.E. mark the end of the Middle Bronze. Some cities such as Shechem show several destruction layers, and this is a tumultuous time for the inhabitants. With so many cities sacked during this period some would not return for several centuries (Jericho) or never again (Ai). However, northern cities such as Megiddo and Hazor would survive for a while later. Unlike the destruction at the end of EB III, there would be a continuity in Canaanite culture.

We will cover the Late Bronze Age, early Iron Age, and the rise of Israel in the next episode. Stay tuned.


[1] I particularly like Larry Laudan's description of Imre Lakatos's position that, "any theory can be made to look good, provided enough bright people commit their talents to it." What Lakatos really writes is, "A brilliant school of scholars (backed by a rich society to finance a few well-planned tests) might succeed in pushing any fantastic programme [however 'absurd] ahead, or, alternatively, if so inclined, in overthrowing any arbitrarily chosen pillar of 'established knowledge.'" in Lakatos & Musgrave Criticism of the Growth of Knowledge, pp.187-8; taken from Laudan, 1996, Beyond Positivism and Relativism Westview Press, p. 19 and 249 n.31. One need only look at the usual fallguys like Soviet Russia or Nazi Germany to see that such is possible. The problems of underdetermination, however, are a problem for epistemology and the philosophy of science (see for example, Hugo's introductory series), so I must leave the debate with only the note that archaeologists can (and do) disagree about any and every thing.

[2] Others, however, argue that the enormous stone walls at Jericho were built to stop flooding or sedimentation. It is striking that Jericho would need such strong defense against enemies with primitive weapons amounting to little more than spears and clubs (and certainly no siege weapons of any sort had yet been developed).

[3] Strictly, bronze is made of copper and tin, but copper, in various combinations with tin, lead, or zinc may all be refered to as "bronzes" or "brasses" depending on the alloy content.

[4] Egyptian chronology (dates) follows according to its dynasty of kings. There is little agreement on when exactly the first dynasty (Narmer) emerged, but it is usually between 3200 and 2900 B.C.E. (with the most accepted date around 3100 B.C.E.). If you assign an earlier date, you would be assigning a "high" chronology, while if you assign a later date, you would call it a "low" chronology. The problems of this sort of dating are difficult. For example, the end of EB II follows the end of the Second Dynasty, so depending on your chronology, EB II can fluctuate accordingly, but the general consensus would be around 2700 B.C.E..

Carbon dating is used to calibrate this analysis, but there are several problems: Firstly, carbon dating has a small margin of error, which is sometimes too big for the archaeologists to be satisfied with (particularly when it comes to the emergence of the Israelite kingdom). Secondly, whether an object is EB I or II or III is sometimes a matter of interpretation—delineating the strata is difficult where there are few clear lines. Thus carbon dating may be of no use if it gives a date that allows for either period (and where the competing theories require it to be in one or the other period, the arguments can get quite acrimonious).

[5] A note for the confused here: EB IV = MB I, so the Middle Bronze Age starts here. Where MB I is used in the Intermediate Bronze, then the Middle Bronze actually starts at MB II. So don't be shocked if you read that Bietak is arguing for a MB I age starting around 1900 B.C.E.. What he is referring to is what I call here the MB II. The terminology I'm using follows Albright's older demarcation.

[6] More notes for the confused: Egyptian dynasties are a mishmash of overlapping kings and rulers. So while the 16th dynasty ruled a part of Egypt (Thebes) not controlled by the Hyksos, and were replaced by the 17th dynasty, also in Thebes. Seqenenre Ta'o, the penultimate ruler of the Seventeenth dynasty, died in combat against the Hyksos, and his recovered mummy showed damage from spears and arrows and finally an axe crushing his skull. Kamose was the last king of the 17th dynasty, and therefore Ah-mose (sometimes Ahmosis) "logically" is the one to set up the 18th dynasty. I'm no Egyptologist, so perhaps someone else can explain it better than I can.

[7] It doesn't take much effort to realise that the long ages of the patriarchs is also problematic, considering that all burial sites show a life expectancy of roughly 50 years during the EB and MB. More problems with chronology will become clear as we deal with the Late Bronze Age.

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