Friday, May 2, 2008

Selection of Articles Relating to Recent Class Discussions

Science 7 January 2000:
Vol. 287. no. 5450, pp. 33 - 34
Palestine: Palestinians Inherit Riches, But Struggle to Make a Mark
Michael Balter

Denied for 3 decades the right to dig in their own land, Palestinian archaeologists are now only held back by a lack of cash and training
WEST BANK AND GAZA STRIP, PALESTINE--Khirbet Siya, a craggy mound nestled among austere orange hills near the West Bank town of Birzeit, might not seem the most auspicious site for an archaeological dig. What remains of a Byzantine village has been badly scarred by looters, who over the years have eaten away at the mound looking for ancient treasures. But for Hamed Salem of the Palestinian Institute of Archaeology in Birzeit, it is an opportunity he had been waiting for since the early 1980s. Last July, with the aid of students from Birzeit University, the United States, and Europe, Salem began excavating at Khirbet Siya--the first dig he has directed since becoming an archaeologist nearly 20 years ago. Among the discoveries are a giant olive press and traces of one of the oldest Byzantine churches ever found in Palestine.

Until 5 years ago, when Israel began ceding parts of the territories occupied during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War to the Palestinians, local archaeologists were rarely allowed to excavate in the West Bank and Gaza, which were under military jurisdiction. But after the creation of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) in 1994, Palestinians soon found themselves in possession of thousands of archaeological sites. Many are of major importance, such as Tel es-Sultan in Jericho and Deir el-Balah south of Gaza City, which during past excavations have revealed important insights into the Neolithic and Bronze Age peoples that once inhabited this land. For Palestinian archaeologists, this sudden embarrassment of ancient riches is both a blessing and a curse: Although they are thrilled at the chance to dig at last in their own land, lack of funding and trained excavators means they can often do little more than protect and preserve the sites from falling into ruin or the clutches of looters.

"We are starting completely from scratch," says archaeologist Adel Yahya, director of the Palestinian Association for Cultural Exchange. And as Palestinian archaeologists enjoy their newfound freedom, they are struggling to define their own research priorities and to avoid allowing archaeology to serve political and religious ideologies--a trap many of them believe Israeli archaeologists often fell into (see p. 29).

Their first priority is money. The Palestinian Department of Antiquities based in Ramallah--which was also created in 1994--currently receives only $500,000 annually from the PNA, according to department chief Hamdan Taha. And although contributions from outside donor countries, such as the Netherlands and Italy, have swollen the total department budget to several million dollars each year, nearly all of this money goes into restoring and protecting archaeological sites rather than research. "The major task of the department is rescue archaeology," says Taha. "Many sites were left as they were in 1967, and others have been excavated and then abandoned. Thousands of sites have been plundered and looted."

The lack of funds for research digs is very unfortunate, archaeologists say, because the thousands of sites now under Palestinian control represent a treasure trove of potential new information. "This is one of the richest archaeological areas in the world," says Joanne Clarke, director of the Jerusalem office of the Council for British Research in the Levant. This is especially true of the Gaza Strip, a major crossroads of the ancient Near East. And yet, Clarke says, the Gaza area "is almost completely untouched" by archaeologists. Clarke and the council are now teaming up with Palestinian antiquities authorities to excavate a number of Bronze Age settlements in Gaza, which were home to the Egyptians, Philistines, and Canaanites who vied for control of this region in ancient times.

Like the Gaza project, nearly all research digs currently under way here--such as new excavations by an Italian-Palestinian team at Jericho and Dutch-Palestinian explorations of an extensive Canaanite water system at Khirbet Belameh, near the West Bank city of Jenin--rely heavily on foreign funds and expertise. But this dependence on outside help worries many Palestinian archaeologists. Khaled Nashef, director of the Palestinian Institute of Archaeology, for example, complains that over the decades foreign archaeologists have dug in Palestine and then gone away, publishing their findings in their own languages without translating them into Arabic. "We need to work with foreign archaeologists as equal partners, but it is not easy."

One fundamental obstacle to getting Palestinian archaeology off the ground is a severe lack of opportunities for students wanting to enter the field. Nearly all of the archaeologists in Palestine--who number, according to various estimates given to Science, between 15 and 25 with graduate degrees--were trained in other countries. The only institution that currently offers graduate-level training in archaeology is the Institute for Islamic Archaeology near Ramallah, which awards masters' degrees. The Palestinian Institute of Archaeology, which is part of Birzeit University and once also offered masters' degrees, suffered a major setback when its American director was murdered under mysterious circumstances in 1992. Today, it only offers an undergraduate minor in archaeology, although Nashef--who took over the rudderless institute in 1994--says he hopes to convince university administrators to restore at least a major in the subject soon.

As they wrestle with these legacies of the recent past, many Palestinian archaeologists express a strong desire to keep ideological and religious issues out of their nascent archaeological endeavors. This may prove difficult, because there is considerable evidence that the Palestinian general public--which is well aware that Israeli archaeology has often been linked with the search for Jewish roots in Palestine--appears hungry for archaeological discoveries that would prove that the Palestinians were here first. Over the past few years, a number of articles have appeared in Palestinian newspapers and magazines--and even on the PNA's Web site--claiming that Palestinians were descended from the Canaanites or other pre-Israelite residents of Palestine. In discussions with Science, most Palestinian archaeologists were quick to distance themselves from these ideas.

"We don't want to repeat the mistakes the Israelis made," says Moain Sadek, head of the Department of Antiquities' operations in the Gaza Strip. Taha agrees: "All these controversies about historical rights, who came first and who came second, this is all rooted in ideology. It has nothing to do with archaeology." But not all archaeologists here believe that issues of Palestinian national identity can be totally shunted aside. "This question cannot be avoided," says Nashef. "Until now we Palestinians have not worked to create our own history, and this is our own fault. Archaeology here has concentrated on historical events or figures important to European or Western tradition. This may be important, but it doesn't provide a complete picture of how local people lived here in ancient times."

Until Palestinian archaeologists can develop the basic infrastructure needed to conduct excavations, these thorny ideological issues will probably remain largely academic. In the meantime, they will be concentrating on constructing their budding discipline from the ground up. "We have the core human resources," says Mahmoud Hawari, an archaeologist who teaches at the Institute for Islamic Archaeology. "Now we just need to get ourselves together. It might be a gradual evolution, but it is no shame to start small."

Chronicle of Higher Education
Section: Research & Publishing
Volume 52, Issue 35
The End of Gnosticism?
Richard Byrne

From the moment that Karen L. King entered Brown University's graduate program in religion, in the 1970s, she wanted to study Gnosticism. She was one of several religious-studies students of that era whose interest in the Gnostics was sparked by increased access to a treasure trove of ancient writings that had been discovered in 1945 near the Egyptian town of Nag Hammadi.

The brittle papyri found in Egypt were filled with lost sayings attributed to Jesus and provocative notions about his death and resurrection and the creation of the cosmos. Such writings had been labeled "heretical" by influential second- and third-century Christian bishops, and most of them were destroyed. People who adhered to such beliefs were eventually hounded out of mainstream Christianity and became a footnote in its history.

Now a professor of ecclesiastical history at Harvard University's Divinity School, Ms. King is one of the foremost experts in a field that has received immense popular attention since the publication of Dan Brown's best-selling 2003 novel The Da Vinci Code (Doubleday) and the April news blitz surrounding the Gospel of Judas — a newly unveiled lost text of early Christianity.

Yet the buzz around Gnosticism has drowned out an energetic and fundamental debate among scholars of early Christianity: Does Gnosticism even exist?

Ms. King has not lost her relish for the study of the texts that fall under that rubric. But she and other scholars — most notably Michael Allen Williams, a professor of comparative religion at the University of Washington — are asking hard questions about a definition of Gnosticism accepted for nearly 1,500 years.

Is the term imprecise — or even useless? Has its continued use by scholars stymied new breakthroughs in research on the Nag Hammadi texts?

Ms. King says that her work on texts such as the Apocryphon of John and the Gospel of Mary led her to the conclusion that "Gnosticism" is a bankrupt term for the Nag Hammadi writings and those whose beliefs they reflected. "With both texts," she says, "I kept trying to get them to fit into the mold, and they kept slipping out."

Both Ms. King and Mr. Williams have written trenchant book-length critiques of the term in the last decade. But many other scholars in the field, while agreeing that the term must be used with precision, argue that "Gnosticism" is still useful and necessary.

Bart D. Ehrman, a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, sees the campaign to scrap the term altogether as a bit over the top. "I think it's a knee-jerk reaction," he says.

Sitting in the living room of her home in suburban Boston, Ms. King passionately insists that "Gnosticism" needs to go if scholars want to paint a more diverse and authentic picture of early Christianity. Yet she acknowledges the strength of the current against which she and others are swimming.

"It's extremely difficult to change a master narrative," she says. "And we've had this master narrative of Christianity since at least the fourth century. ... It's become entrenched."

History's Mysteries

That "master narrative" of Christianity traditionally sets those it calls Gnostics — a word derived from the Greek word gnosis, or "knowledge" — against the Christian orthodoxy from which they deviated.

In this narrative, the dividing lines are sharp. Where Christians embraced the God of the Old Testament as part of a new Trinity, Gnostics rejected that God as the Supreme Being. (Some of them believed the Old Testament God who created earth was a lower spirit, or "demiurge," and argued that his lesser status explained the manifold imperfections of his creation.) Christians believed that Jesus was crucified, died, and physically rose from the dead, while Gnostics held a variety of opinions about Jesus' death and resurrection, including the possibility that it was symbolic. Christians relied on a shared knowledge of scripture as interpreted by bishops, but Gnostics held that "secret" teachings of Christ and his apostles also existed.

This definition of Gnosticism was formulated mostly by its enemies. Until the 1940s, almost everything scholars knew about Gnostics came from the writings of early Christian bishops such as Irenaeus of Lyon, who in the second century attacked the theology and the ethics of Gnostics and declared them to be heretics. In refuting the Gnostics, however, the bishops did preserve some accounts of their beliefs — and even their writings.

Until the discoveries at Nag Hammadi, those ancient polemics were the primary sources for most scholarly explorations about the Gnostics. In her 2003 book, What Is Gnosticism? (Belknap/Harvard University Press), Ms. King devotes three chapters to tracing how scholars of the late 19th and early 20th centuries approached Gnosticism before that scholarly windfall. She argues that the lack of new evidence about Gnosticism forced researchers to work creatively within the definition written by the enemies of Gnostics more than 15 centuries before.

Elaine H. Pagels, a professor of religion at Princeton University and author of a number of important books on early Christianity, points to the German scholar Hans Jonas's influential 1934 work, Gnosis und sp├Ątantiker Geist (Gnosticism and the Spirit of Late Antiquity), as a good example of how that dynamic played out. Sifting the ancient evidence with psychology and existential philosophy, she observes, Jonas described the Gnostics as essentially alienated from the world. From that sense of separation, they fashioned a theology that emphasized a duality between body and spirit — and extended that duality to create new myths about the cosmos.

"His book was so compelling," says Ms. Pagels, "that it became the framework in which people saw the discoveries made 10 years later. His scheme was so persuasive that it was taken by many people to be the underlying structure."

Doubting Dualism

The discovery of 45 lost texts at Nag Hammadi in 1945 gave scholars a new perspective on Gnosticism. They now could read "gospels" and "revelations" by believers the early Church fathers had labeled heretics. The papyri even contained attacks against orthodox Christians that accused them of heresy. (A Nag Hammadi text called the Apocalypse of Peter, for instance, assails "those outside our number who name themselves bishop and also deacons. ... They are dry canals.")

The discovery of the Nag Hammadi texts "shows that the Gnostics sincerely and reverently held these beliefs," says Mr. Ehrman. "Their attacks on the proto-orthodox as heretical were one of the most illuminating things for me."

The impact of the discovery in scholarly circles was by no means immediate, however. Dissemination of the texts was slowed by academic turf wars. Few scholars were proficient in Coptic, the language in which the newly discovered papyri were inscribed.

By the 1970s, however, scholars were working on the texts in earnest. The publication in 1978 of The Nag Hammadi Library (HarperCollins), edited by James M. Robinson, a professor emeritus of religion at Claremont Graduate University, provided English translations of all the texts found in 1945 and two additional texts found in 1896.

In 1979, Ms. Pagels's The Gnostic Gospels (Random House) was a popular success that brought the Nag Hammadi texts — and the theological, social, and political issues they raised — to a wider audience.

But as the notoriety of Gnostic writings grew, some scholars — including Ms. Pagels and Ms. King — grew dissatisfied with what they saw as the outdated interpretive framework that had attached itself to the texts like a barnacle.

In What Is Gnosticism?, Ms. King argued that the promise of "a new chapter in the history of Christianity" offered by the Nag Hammadi discoveries had not materialized. "The new riches did not provide quick or easy solutions," she wrote. "Indeed, the surprise is that for decades little has changed."

But Ms. King was not the first scholar to fashion a book-length critique of Gnosticism as it had been defined. In 1996 Mr. Williams, of the University of Washington, wrote a book bluntly titled Rethinking "Gnosticism": An Argument for Dismantling a Dubious Category (Princeton University Press). In that book, he crafted a comprehensive analysis of the ways that the Gnostic texts themselves rejected many of the assumptions generally held about them. Mr. Williams concluded that the texts varied so greatly in outlook and substance that the overall term made little sense.

For instance, he asked, did the myths created by Gnostics about the creation of the world by lower powers ("demiurges") really mean that Gnostics rejected the world? "In fact," writes Mr. Williams, "demiurgical myth seems in many instances to have been associated with greater involvement with the larger society, not less."

Reflecting on his book a decade later, Mr. Williams says that "at least as problematic as the term 'Gnosticism' were the categories used to describe it. ... People seemed to have open avenues to go to any certain text with a category in mind, and a set of expectations, and, of course, you find what you're looking for."

Scary Similarities

In What Is Gnosticism?, Ms. King undermined the term by tracing the history of its use to the present day. In essence, she says, she intended the book to "clean the slate" for a radical rethinking of how to interpret the writings and the beliefs of those who wrote and read them.

One provocative notion she sets forth is that to view Gnosticism solely in terms of its opposition to normative Christianity — heresy versus orthodoxy, public confession versus private teaching — impedes an understanding that it was the similarities between the Gnostics and their orthodox opponents, and not the differences, that fueled intense conflict in the early church.

Early in What is Gnosticism?, Ms. King observes that anti-Gnostic polemicists "took their rivals so seriously and denounced them so emphatically precisely because their views were in many respects so similar to the polemicists' own."

In an interview, Ms. King expands on her theory. "When you map out the similarities rather than the differences between the two sides — or what Irenaeus says are the differences — the territory of similarity is huge," she says. "Both work with this notion of humanity created in the image and likeness of God — and the need for a restoration of that. They both see Christ as the revealer figure, with the body as the place where the struggle takes place. They both have views at the end where humanity is divided into three groups depending on how you do."

Ms. Pagels agrees that "if we drop the invented terms, what we have is many different types of early Christianity. When I used the title The Gnostic Gospels, I assumed that they were all Gnostic. Now I would say that these are other Christianities. ... It's difficult for all of us who were raised the way we were to get rid of the assumptions. The act of shedding assumptions is only done one by one, and with great difficulty."

In What is Gnosticism?, Ms. King also took issue with Mr. Williams's decision to propose "biblical demiurgical myth" as a replacement term for Gnosticism. She argued that the new term retained assumptions that should be discarded in its favoring of "one mythic element over all others as the determinant characteristic" to define the texts.

"The result of Mr. Williams's study," she quipped, "has been merely to lead scholars to put Gnosticism in quotation marks and use it in more or less as always."

In conversation, Ms. King says that Mr. Williams's book was "a necessary step. Because what he's doing is working inside the box to critique it. He takes those typological definitions of Gnosticism and says 'Asceticism or libertinism? This or that?' And he shows us that this-or-that model of Gnosticism moves us in a different direction, and that there are other ways of seeing it, and also that the old stereotypes don't work.

"But then," she continues, "once you see that the old stereotypes don't work, and there's more going on there, what he comes up with at the end is a new term: 'biblical demiurgical myth.' It does not slip off the lips very easily. And one has to say, 'What does that mean?'"

Defenders of the Faith

Mr. Williams acknowledges the awkwardness of his term, but says many of his critics have been misguided.

"People thought I was just swapping names," he says. "Maybe there could have been something more eloquent, but I was suggesting that it might be good — as we looked at this diversity of texts — to also look at the things that group them together."

Indeed, the difficulty in talking about the Nag Hammadi texts and other writings as a group prods some scholars to defend the terms Gnostic and Gnosticism as necessary.

"I truly see the point that Karen makes about this," says Marvin W. Meyer, a professor of Bible and Christian studies at Chapman University. "That these terms are polemical terms, rhetorical terms. They define the Other. But what always makes me pause before abandoning 'Gnostic' is the fact that Irenaeus says that there are certain people who refer to themselves as 'Gnostikoi.' If they think of themselves as Gnostikois, it gives me a certain confidence."

Mr. Meyer adds that he does "try to avoid the term Gnosticism. I think it's a neologism that has come into existence over the past century to cover a lot of different things."

Mr. Ehrman, of North Carolina, also believes the term is useful. "We talk about 'Christianity,' 'Judaism,' and 'apocalypticism,'" he points out, "even though there are many varieties of each."

While he does not agree with Mr. Williams's critique of the term, Mr. Ehrman does share his colleague's desire to plot out what links these texts together. "One of the things historians do in trying to understand the past is to try to find and understand commonalities," says Mr. Ehrman. "Religious historians group things together based on shared beliefs and practices. When we say 'Jew,' we mean something by it. ... A lot of these terms are slippery, but when there are enough similarities, they are shared enough that you can label them."

Doing away with "Gnosticism" entirely, he concludes, "would be to fragment our knowledge to such an extent that we can't know what we're talking about."

In some ways, Mr. Ehrman says, the skirmishes over definition are "old battles." He also worries that efforts to disentangle the Gnostics from their defeat in early Christianity's battles over heresy may simply be swapping the losing side's black hat for a white hat.

"There's a feeling that the Gnostics have to be the good guys," he says.

Mr. Williams says that Ms. King's work in particular is a step toward "breaking away from the way in which these old categories end up privileging the mainstream model of Christianity.

"But," he continues, "my approach is different. ... I think it is important to approach them from a historical perspective, and not always to judge them theologically against normative Christianity." The various strands of belief that are labeled as Gnostic, says Mr. Williams, "were attempts at religious innovation that did not enjoy majority success. What came to be orthodox Christianity did. I treat them sociologically to understand why they were minority movements."

Back to the Future

A question that What Is Gnosticism? left open is just what the book's author proposes to replace "Gnosticism." After taking a wrecking ball to the concept, Ms. King offered only the haziest of ways forward at the conclusion of her study.

So what should replace it? "What if we write the history of Christian identity creation," she says, "and instead of having our already-established categories of orthodoxy and heresy, with all of their diversity, we start asking, Where do Christians draw lines? Who did it? What was at stake? Using what tools?"

Ms. King says that her latest works — The Gospel of Mary of Magdala: Jesus and the First Woman Apostle (Polebridge Press, 2003) and The Secret Revelation of John (Harvard University Press, 2006) — are attempts to write new chapters in that history of early Christian identity, one historical text at a time. Both of Ms. King's studies closely examine one text often defined as Gnostic, and include a translation of the work.

Many of the scholars in the field see such close readings as a strong trend in current scholarship.

"What's going on now is close work on individual texts or groups of texts, asking specific sets of questions," says Mr. Williams.

But how does Ms. King's theoretical approach make her studies different? For one thing, her rejection of "Gnosticism" leads her to place both the Gospel of Mary and the Apocryphon of John at a distance from the classic Gnostic definition.

In The Gospel of Mary of Magdala, for instance, she concludes that the text contains few elements that scholars define as Gnostic. Rather, she observes, it was that gospel's arguments "that the resurrection is spiritual, not physical" and its affirmation "that women can serve as teachers and preachers" that led it to be branded later as a heretical text.

Ms. King's latest book, The Secret Revelation of John (Harvard University Press), transforms a text often used to define Gnosticism, the Apocryphon of John, into a wrestling match among Plato, the Pentateuch, the New Testament Gospel of John, and other ancient spiritualities. She argues that while some parts of this particular writing possess classic Gnostic characteristics (the God of the Old Testament, for example, is cast as a renegade and ignorant child of the embodiment of Wisdom), other parts of the text argue against the classic definition.

In an interview, Ms. King points to a lengthy litany of demons that the Apocryphon of John associates with various parts of the body. Previous scholars have taken this passage to represent a Gnostic rejection of the body as evil, she says. But Ms. King reads it as exactly the opposite: a blueprint for healing. "It is said that Gnostics had no valuation of the body," she says, "but then you have this text — more than half of which is a description of the body."

The Nag Hammadi texts reveal many new things about early Christianity, scholars say. But they do so in dribs and drabs. The texts are fragmentary. They are complex. They offer no smooth avenues or easy interpretations.

"Any time you have new texts of this complexity," says Ms. King, "it requires living with them for awhile, and working with them and working with them, until you gain that kind of understanding. It's partly a matter of research and partly a matter of rethinking. I think this is a big challenge not just for the broader public but for scholars: to be able to reimagine the history of Christianity and to make these texts a part of that history. Right now, they're still off to the edge."

Interview from PBS Thinktank
What Do We Know About the Bible?

Ben Wattenberg: Hello, I’m Ben Wattenberg. Recently an Israeli antiquities collector revealed the existence of a stone artifact inscribed with the words 'James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.' The discovery set off a storm of controversy among archeologists, historians, and biblical scholars. What is science-once the scourge of religion-now telling us about the people and culture of Biblical times? Can the bible serve as both a book of religious faith as well as historical facts?

Eric Meyers, professor of archeology at Duke University, editor of the Oxford Encyclopedia of Arcaheology in the Near East, and co-author of the Cambridge Companion to the Bible.

And Hershel Shanks, editor of Biblical Archaeology Review, and author of The Mystery and Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The topic before the house: What do we know about the Bible?

Ben Wattenberg: Many archeologists have long regarded Biblical scripture as a collection of myths and legends. But beginning around 1960, archeologists began turning up artifacts bearing direct references to important figures in the Bible--King David, Herod, Pontius Pilate, and others. If authenticated, the inscription on the recently discovered ossuary would be the oldest direct evidence of the existence of Jesus.

Piecing together ancient history from stone tablets and pottery shards is no easy task. At many known sites, like Jericho, only a fraction of the ancient ruins have been explored. In Jerusalem, religious restrictions and political violence hamper archeological work. But new technologies are making it easier to pinpoint potential sites. Growing interest among scientists could lead to a golden age of biblical archeology.

Ben Wattenberg: Hershel Shanks, Eric Meyers, thank you for joining us on 'Think Tank.' Hershel, let’s begin with the story that made front pages, the ossuary? Is that how it’s pronounced?

Hershel Shanks: That’s how it’s pronounced. It’s a bone box. In the First Century, Jews in Jerusalem would bury their dead or put them in a niche in a cave. And after a year when the flesh had desiccated and fallen away, they would take the bones and put them in a bone box called an ossuary, a limestone box, long enough to accommodate the longest bone. And this one is inscribed in Aramaic 'James the Son of Joseph, the Brother of Jesus.'

Ben Wattenberg: Now is that the first reference to Jesus in a historical artifact?

Eric Meyers: If the artifact is legitimate then beyond doubt it would be the first extra-biblical reference to Jesus.

Ben Wattenberg: Do you think it’s authentic?

Eric Meyers: I think there’s a high probability that it is, but given the fact that we don’t know its context and that it comes from a looted environment and sold on the open market, I think we have to have a question mark ultimately.

Ben Wattenberg: You have a question mark, Hershel?

Hershel Shanks: Yes, certainty is rare in archaeology.

Ben Wattenberg: Your magazine published it, is that right?

Hershel Shanks: That’s right. Biblical Archeology Review, and the author of the story is one of the world’s leading experts in scripts, a man by the name of Andre Lamaire from the Sorbonne. And we’ve tested the authenticity from everywhere to Sunday. And I’m convinced that there’s almost no question as to its authenticity. The bigger question is whether the three people that are mentioned - James, Joseph, and Jesus - are the three people by those names in the New Testament.

Ben Wattenberg: Is your guess that as archeologists continue the work there would be further historical references, non-biblical references to Jesus?

Eric Meyers: The problem with that is Jesus is a very common name in the First Century. And it’s a shortened form of Joshua-- Jeshu or Jeshua. And so there are numerous mentions of Jesus in Jewish epigraphy and inscriptions from the First Century, but not with the configuration as Hershel has said with these three particular names. Each name is very common in and of itself. Tom, Dick, and Harry as it were. But this configuration is virtually unique.

Ben Wattenberg: What else have you all come up with recently that tends to confirm or deny things in the Bible?

Hershel Shanks: We have a few other artifacts that refer to people that are mentioned in the New Testament. Pontius Pilate is one, Herod the Great. And then going back further, we have a very recent, the last decade, the discovery excavated by professional archeologists of a reference to the House of David or the Dynasty of David within a hundred, a hundred and fifty years after David’s reign.

Ben Wattenberg: What would that be? About a 1000 BC or something?

Eric Meyers: Nine, Nine Twenty-five (BC), something like that. Tenth Century (BC).

Ben Wattenberg: Wow.

Hershel Shanks: That is the inscription. The reign was probably a Thousand to Nine Sixty (BC), something like that.

Ben Wattenberg: How do you go about trying to authenticate these inscriptions? I mean that they’re real? How does that work?

Eric Meyers: Well paleography is not a new science, that is, a study of the shape of the letters, for example in the ossuary. This is a discipline that’s sixty, seventy years old, and is quite advanced. And we have tables and charts that scholars have established as being guidelines to the dating of these letters. Now when you get such inscriptions in stone we have similar paleographical guidelines to understand the dating. And unfortunately the David inscription is also found in a dump at the Tel Dan excavation and it’s out of its context. But it is certainly...

Ben Wattenberg: Do you do carbon dating?

Eric Meyers: You can’t do it for inanimate objects.

Ben Wattenberg: What are the main schools of thought about how accurate the Bible is in-as reality of that time?

Eric Meyers: It’s a pretty heated debate. In general, European scholars have opted for a low chronology, that is saying that the biblical text was produced in late first temple times, at the time of Deuteronomy let’s say the Sixth or Seventh Century, but most of it was created in the postexilic era, the Persian period, Fifth Century BC, Fourth Century BC. Some even want to say it was written, fictionally, in the Hellenistic Period, Third or Second Century BCE. And many scholars, therefore, doubt the veracity, the truth of the reports of the pre-exilic period. That is the first temple period, the united monarchy, the origins of Israel, the exodus of...

Ben Wattenberg: King David, King Solomon, that kind of stuff.

Hershel Shanks: Yes, yes, yes.

Ben Wattenberg: But people are always saying, you know, you can use the Bible almost as a guidebook to the Middle East. All the cities that are mentioned...

Hershel Shanks: No. No. That has to be qualified. The search today is for the core truths of the Bible. There’s no question that the Bible went through stages of composition, was edited by people who used old sources. And to try to separate all this is very difficult. It’s very uncertain. If you want certainty, go into mathematics. Don’t go into ancient history. The effort has to be to look to see the core of the story, or whether there’s a core truth to it. And I think that, while there’s obviously going to be some uncertainty, uh, the basic structure of the story is sound. And it’s very hard for me to imagine that it was simply created fictionally. That someone sat down and said I want to make a story. What they did was to take a story that was there, that was developed over the centuries and gave it a little twist for their own purposes.

Ben Wattenberg: Right.

Hershel Shanks: But still the core is there. And there are exaggerations, too. So our task is to try to find that core. And some of the scholars that Eric was talking about, I think, sort of glory in their own cynicism, in their own knocking of the Bible.

Ben Wattenberg: Are these the so-called minimalists who are sort of fighting this?

Eric Meyers: It’s more widespread than the phenomenon of biblical minimalism. And when I said Europe, I intentionally meant to indict the European scholars in general. They have more or less dismissed the early period of Israelite beginnings and origins years ago. This was something they started doing in the Nineteenth Century. And so this is just coming around a hundred and fifty years later in a more extreme form.

Ben Wattenberg: This was sort of the burgeoning of rationality throughout the Western World. As they said everything’s got to be proved and these are all folk tales and what not.

Eric Meyers: Yes, I’ve taught in Europe two semesters, one in Frankfurt, one in Berlin, and lectured widely there. And people when they hear my sort of conservative, maximalist view, I mean, you know we wind up in the beer hall until early wee hours debating how so many Americans could buy into this.

Ben Wattenberg: But the not so hidden agenda of the minimalists is to attack religion and elevate rationality. I mean it came about in that general area.

Eric Meyers: It’s not attacking a religion. It’s attacking the veracity of the narrative, the truthfulness of what is reported in those books.

Ben Wattenberg: Well, if you take it one step further, you then say well you know it’s all a myth, it’s all a story.

Hershel Shanks : Yeah. They would...they would...

Ben Wattenberg: We are the great Nineteenth Century rationalists and we finally are starting to look at things scientifically. And now my understanding is that there’s a somewhat of a reversal going back. That many scholars now, as you all do, believe that much of the Bible has been authenticated? I mean there was that sort of swing.

Eric Meyers: In its larger framework, yes. Not in every detail, of course.

Ben Wattenberg: No, of course not.

Hershel Shanks: Yes, you have to really talk about specifics. So that when you’re talking about the patriarchs, that’s one thing. When you’re talking about the conquest, for example, there archeology can play a role.

Ben Wattenberg: The conquest...

Hershel Shanks: ...the conquest of Canaan.

Ben Wattenberg: Right.

Hershel Shanks: When the Israelites came out of Egypt, they passed through the desert forty years and then they conquered Canaan according to the book of Joshua.

Ben Wattenberg: And not according to the Marquis of Queensbury rules either. Pretty tough stuff.

Eric Meyers: Not according to the book of Judges either, which I think is what the point Hershel’s going to make, where it wasn’t a conquest. There was a peaceful settlement. There were some battles here and there but it was not the way previous generations understood it. And without archeology we would be in no position to understand it with the kind of refinement and nuance that we do today.

Ben Wattenberg: Now how much do we know about the period in which Jesus lived and immediately thereafter compared to this earlier period.

Hershel Shanks: Enormously more.

Eric Meyers: Well it’s quite different and it’s easier because we’re in a period where written textual material was transmitted in a much better way and more preserved text. We have ancient coinage, which has only invented it in Sixth Century, Seventh Centuries, before that and not in the earlier periods. So we have coins and you have to remember that the New Testament is about one fifth the size of the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament. And so all of the New Testament scholarship that is focused on the historical Jesus and the context of Jesus has produced enormous results over the last two generations.

Ben Wattenberg: And the Dead Sea Scrolls are part of that new scholarship?

Hershel Shanks: They’re part of that. They really provide the Jewish background. This historical Jesus research that’s been going on over the last couple of decades is really quite extraordinary. And the public I think is very unaware of it. For example, there was a big discussion about whether Jesus was born in Bethlehem. He probably wasn’t. He was supposed to have come down with Joseph and Mary because of a census. But the census was at a different time. It doesn’t fit. And it’s very unlikely that people would travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Also, there’s a good reason for him to be born in Bethlehem, to get him down in Bethlehem. And that is that he’s supposed to be a scion, a descendant of King David who was the original Messiah.

Ben Wattenberg: Right.

Hershel Shanks: And his genealogy is given as coming from David. And where was David born?

Eric Meyers: Bethlehem.

Hershel Shanks: In Bethlehem, of course.

Ben Wattenberg: So the Davidic line would be...

Hershel Shanks: That’s right. He’s always called in the New Testament Jesus of Nazareth. So I don’t mean to say that I’m on one side or the other of that debate. But that’s the kind of discussion that’s going on in historical Jesus research. And mainstream, this isn’t some extreme kookiness.

Ben Wattenberg: After both of you, your many decades of study of these texts, are these divine documents?

Eric Meyers: I would put it slightly differently. The Bible is certainly a document prepared and written down by human hands. But without the belief in a supreme being, which underlies it, you would not have the level of high literature that you have in those documents. So it is the record of a discussion between human beings and whom they believe to be God.

Ben Wattenberg: I mean it’s a very important question in American life today generally and people are talking that we’re at the edge of a third Great Awakening, where there will be another surge of religious belief in American life, so it’s not just an argument among scholars.

Eric Meyers: I think we’re seeing that religious awakening in America and certainly I see it on campus every day. But it takes a...

Ben Wattenberg: How do you see it? I mean, what do you see?

Eric Meyers: Well, I meant that evangelical life has never been richer and...

Ben Wattenberg: This is at Duke University?

Eric Meyers: At Duke University and other campuses. You have religious life flourishing, at least on our campus and other campuses that I visit. And I think this is a real genuine searching. But it’s taking two forms. As I said there’s the evangelical thrust and those who are looking for more literal understanding in God’s word as reflected in the Bible, Old and New Testament. And there’s people who follow teachers like me and the rest of our faculties in places like Duke, where we go for the nuance and higher criticism. We try to put it in a way that is compatible with the modern scientific rationalistic spirit.

Ben Wattenberg: Tell me about the Dead Sea Scrolls. How important are the Dead Sea Scrolls?

Eric Meyers: Well, to me, the Dead Sea Scrolls is certainly the most important archeological discovery of the modern era, even beyond the Twentieth Century, because it embraces archeology, the physical ruin of the site, plus eight hundred different manuscripts, canonical, non-canonicals and has shed light on the end of the second temple era, period in Judaism as never before.

Ben Wattenberg: What would the timeframe then be?

Eric Meyers: Well about Two Hundred BC to Seventy AD, roughly those three centuries.

Ben Wattenberg: And this was what? Apparently a library or something, that it would have that much material?

Eric Meyers: This is an ancient archive that was stored by the site, some of it produced by the sectarians who lived there, some of it brought with them when they left the mainstream at the beginning of their tenure in the Second Century (BC). And so you have canonical, that is, material that ultimately appears in the Bible as we know it, and materials that are unique to this sectarian group known as the Essenes.

Hershel Shanks: There’s a commonality between the Dead Sea Scrolls and this really fantastic ossuary that we’ve just brought to light. And that is, as Eric said, the ossuary was looted. We don’t know where it came from.

Ben Wattenberg: It was looted.

Hershel Shanks: It may have been found when they were digging a trench to lay a pipe or add a room to a building or whatever.

Ben Wattenberg: Not stolen but just...

Eric Meyers: Well modern tomb robbers of some kind.

Ben: Right.

Hershel Shanks: And the Dead Sea Scrolls were also looted. We bought most of them from the Bedouin who looted them. And that was certainly the wise thing to do in retrospect. They bought them. And that’s what happened here. So we would know much more if we knew the context. If they were professionally excavated, we always like that. But I guess my position is if we can’t have that, it’s better to have what we do have than to pretend that it didn’t exist. And it’s the same thing with the ossuary as with the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Ben Wattenberg: Are the Dead Sea Scrolls considered authentic? I mean, is there any argument about that?

Eric Meyers: I don’t think anyone would question their authenticity today. When they were first found in the Nineteen Forties, Late Forties and Early Fifties, there was some debate whether they were Early Medieval or Post Seventy (AD), but I think that has all but disappeared. They have been tested for carbon fourteen, and all the dates have been reestablished and resecured through scientific carbon fourteen testing.

Ben Wattenberg: What did your magazine do with the Dead Sea Scrolls? I mean, you played a real role in publishing them.

Hershel Shanks: Well, the Dead Sea Scrolls from Cave Four, comprising over five hundred different manuscripts were assigned to eight scholars to publish. And they kept...

Ben Wattenberg: Assigned by whom? Are they owned by the government of Israel? Or?

Hershel Shanks: No, no. At that time it was by Jordan. There were no Jews on this Judenrein committee. And they kept it to themselves for years and years. Initially they’d published a little then in 1960 they stopped. Decades passed and other scholars couldn’t get access to them. Some of them died and passed them on to their students, who then considered them theirs and they wouldn’t let other scholars see them. And we complained. We complained about them in writing in the magazine and ultimately we published transcripts and pictures of the unpublished scrolls. They weren’t the best copies, but that really forced those few scholars who had access to them to recognize the claims of the public and they opened them up and now they’re free to all scholars to study.

Ben Wattenberg: The photographs that you published of the Dead Sea Scrolls are of the Bible as it existed what a thousand years ago?

Hershel Shanks: No, it didn’t exist two thousand years ago as the Bible. It’s anachronistic to talk about the Bible then. The books of the Bible that were accepted into the canon were accepted later. And also the texts, the Biblical texts, were standardized later so that there is quite a tolerance of different editions of the various books that we know of as in the Bible today.

Eric Meyers: The documents that we have from the Dead Sea Scrolls date from roughly Two Hundred BC to Seventy AD. And among those documents are hundreds of fragments and full complete copies of what we call canonical Biblical texts, such as the Book of Isaiah, we have in multiple copies. The most common copies we have are the Book of Deuteronomy. And it is remarkable that so many of these editions, without vowels by the way, turn out to be the same text virtually, with some modification, as that text adopted, let’s say, Three Hundred AD by the Rabbis and ultimately regularized by the Masserites in Nine Hundred AD. So it shows us that the Bible was stabilized textually at a very early period. On the other hand, it shows us, for example, in the Book of Samuel, that you have variations that are very significant. It shows us a Book of Jeremiah in the Greek that has a underlying much shorter version, that’s attested at Qumran. So it’s full of significant information that sheds light on the textual transmission history of the Old Testament.

Hershel Shanks: I agree with Eric, in general, the text closely follows today what we have from two thousand years ago. And the Dead Sea Scrolls brought us back an additional thousand years. The oldest Hebrew Bible that we had was about a thousand (AD). Now we have those texts going back another thousand years. While that is all true, some of the most interesting things are the differences that we find. And in the Hebrew Bible, for example, in Deuteronomy Thirty-two it talks about the land being distributed according to the sons of Israel. That doesn’t make any sense because, at the time they’re talking about, Israel hasn’t been established. And in the Qumran text that we now have, it says that it was distributed again, according to the sons of God--in Hebrew. And there was a version of it that said according to the sons of God. And you have that in the Hebrew Bible, so the suspicion is that it had a polytheistic stain to it, so that it was changed to the sons of Israel in the Hebrew text.

Ben Wattenberg: As students of the Bible, if you look back at the cultures of that time, or of those times, were the people then people that we would recognize. I mean, I know they were physically, but I mean have all the vast cultural array of modernism just changed us as a species? Or would we know how the world works?

Eric Meyers: I think intellectually and spiritually we could identify with them. But given the nature of what you had to do to survive in a single day, I think we’d all have enormous problems: No electricity, no flush toilets, all of these things would put a hamper on all our life. Just the amount of energy invested into food production per day I think would stymie most families, whether it’s America or Europe. Not in Africa. I recently visited Africa and there you can see pre-industrial life pretty much...

Ben Wattenberg: Well, I mean a hundred years ago, a hundred and fifty years ago, in America you could also. I mean you didn’t have any of that stuff. So.

Eric Meyers: Right. But the people, basically, I think we’d have to say were the same in their intellect and in their spirits and in their hearts.

Ben Wattenberg: Which is what makes the Bible such a universal document.

Eric Meyers: And that’s why it carries well, through time, with an eternal message.

Ben Wattenberg: Okay. Hershel Shanks, Eric Meyers, thank you very much for joining us on 'Think Tank.' And thank you. Please remember to send your comments via e-mail. For 'Think Tank,' I’m Ben Wattenberg.

Saturday, March 22, 2008


The Iron Age is divided into two subsections, Iron I and Iron II. Iron I (1200-1000) illustrates both continuity and discontinuity with the previous Late Bronze Age. There is no definitive cultural break between the thirteenth and twelfth century throughout the entire region, although certain new features in the hill country, Transjordan and coastal region may suggest the appearance of the Aramaean and Sea People groups. There is evidence, however, that shows strong continuity with Bronze Age culture, although as one moves later into Iron I the culture begins to diverge more significantly from that of the late second millennium.

Iron II (1000-550) witnessed the rise of the states of Judah and Israel in the tenth-ninth century. These small principalities exercise considerable control over their particular regions due in part to the decline of the great powers, Assyria and Egypt, from about 1200 to 900. Beginning in the eighth century and certainly in the seventh century, Assyria reestablishes its authority over the eastern Mediterranean area and exercises almost complete control. The northern state of Israel is obliterated in 722/721 by King Sargon and its inhabitants taken into exile. Judah, left alone, gradually accommodates to Assyrian control, but towards the end of the seventh century it does revolt as the Assyrian empire disintegrated. Judah's freedom was short-lived, however, and eventually snuffed out by the Chaldean kings who conquered Jerusalem and took some of the ruling class into exile to Babylon. During the period of exile in Babylon, the area, particularly from Jerusalem south, shows a mark decline. Other areas just north of Jerusalem are almost unaffected by the catastrophe that befell Judah.


PHILISTINES AND SEA PEOPLES: Although the earliest depictions of Sea People occur in the reign of Seti I, the major incursion of these Aegean people happened about a century later during the reign of Ramesis III of the Twentieth Dynasty. Around 1180, Ramesis III defeated the Sea People in a land and sea battle at the borders of Egypt. The Philistines, one of the Sea People groups, are easily identified on the depiction of the battles by their distinctive headdresses. Since the 1920's, most scholars have linked those headdresses with some of the anthropoid coffin burials from Beth Shan and elsewhere in Eretz Israel. Be aware that a few scholars do not link all coffin burials with the Philistines, but with other groups including Canaanites and Egyptians. Besides the headdresses and biblical references, archaeological data suggest the appearance of a new group along the coast. The distinctive Philistine ware (Mycenean IIIc1b) appears in the twelfth century and continues into the eleventh century. This pottery tradition has close parallels to Cyprus as well as other islands in the eastern Mediterranean, and suggests that the Sea People may have originated from the eastern Mediterranean rather than Crete (Amos 9:7 and Jeremiah 47:4). Cremation burial, which can be cited from Anatolia and the Aegean, occurred in the coastal region beginning in the twelfth century and continued well into the seventh century.

The Philistine pentapolis came under control of David and remained generally part of Judah or Israel for most of the 10th and probably part of the ninth century. Later some of the Philistine city states exercised independence from the descendants of Jacob. Also, the general region became known as the land of the Palestu (=Palestine), or Philistines.

Recent excavations at Ashdod, Ashkelon, Tell Miqne (Ekron), Tell esh- Sharia (Ziklag) and Tell Qasile are amplifying our understanding of this intrusive Aegean culture. Sites, such as Ain Shems and even Sarepta, provide additional information on related cultures (e.g. Phoenicians).

ISRAELITES: When exactly the Israelite tribes settled or conquered the hill country of Palestine is somewhat debated due in part to a lack of conclusive evidence. Certainly in the twelfth century we begin to find evidence of a variant type of village culture in the hill country composed of small unfortified settlements, pillared houses, numerous silos, limited pottery repertoire and presence of collared-rim storage jar. There appear to be numerous such sites particularly but not exclusively north of Jerusalem in the tribal inheritance of Ephraim and Manasseh; in fact, there is a definite growth in settled population all along the hill country spur in Iron I. This culture pattern may extend into the lowlands at some sites later in Iron I (Megiddo).

Early in Iron II, major sites (Megiddo, Hazor, and Gezer) show extensive construction on what appears to be similar plans. Other facilities are added in the next century expanding the types of "monumental" structures. Perhaps the most interesting of the new sites, the royal capital at Samaria, further amplifies our information about the Israelite culture in the ninth-eighth centuries. As for sites further to the south along the hill country spur, they also show a planned society with fortified cities, well-laid out streets, pillared houses, large warehouses, and complex water-systems. We have good evidence of industrial and agricultural activities, much more so than in the Bronze Age. Towards the end of Iron II, the material culture declines percipitously as sites are destroyed and are either abandoned or rebuilt on a more modest scale. Intrusive material particularly Mesopotamia also becomes more common place at a number of tells (Megiddo and Hazor). Finally, almost all the known Iron Age cities from Jerusalem southward are either destroyed or abandoned by the beginning of the sixth century.

The "historical" books of the bible remain the primary witness to the culture of Israel and Judah. The text, almost a polemic of the southern tribes against the religiosity of the northern tribes and other neighboring peoples, was composed mostly during this period and is written in part to chronological deity's actions in history. Care must be taken in using the text for historical reconstruction, however. First, it is hardly a complete history of the region and focuses mostly on Judaean society particularly in and around Jerusalem. Some of these works are obviously secondary sources or summaries (e.g. Kings and Chronicles), whereas others may be closer to first-hand accounts( e.g. Prophetic material). Second, the work as a whole is polemical and fails to present a modern, objective historical description of what happened in the past. Modern historians using current ideas in historiography, nevertheless, can work with these and other materials, including archaeological remains and other extra-biblical witnesses, to develop a sparse outline of the history of the descendants of Jacob.

CANAANITES: The Bronze Age culture does not suddenly disappear in the twelfth century. In fact, culture changes very little in the first half of Iron I at sites like Megiddo or Beth Shan. This may suggest that there is no significant cultural break throughout the entire region at the beginning of the Iron Age. As one examines later levels at these and other sites, however, the Bronze Age culture begins to alter. Primary burial practices slowly disappears in favor of secondary burial (Tell el-Farah S or Zeror) by the tenth century. Courtyard houses, a common Bronze Age form, is replaced by pillared houses at a number of sites in Iron II. Egyptianized artifacts are less common in Iron II except for sites along the immediate coast. Bronze weapons and forms are replaced by iron weapons. New Iron II artifacts begin to appear throughout the entire region. Thus, gradually, it seems, many of the characteristic forms and contexts of Bronze Age culture become less evident in later levels of Iron II, although it would be incorrect to conclude that the Bronze Age culture, we call Canaanite, disappeared entirely due to points of continuity that continue unabated from Bronze Age to Iron Age (e.g. compare the artifacts in Shrine 1 Sarepta with the temple of stratum VII-VI Beth Shan).

PHOENICIANS: The coastal region north of Carmel had been known since the time of Thothmosis IV as the land of the Fenkeu, or Phoenicians. In the Iron Age the Phoenician merchants plied their martime trade on the Mediterranean and were the first mariners to circumnavigate Africa. They established a number of Punic colonies in North Africa, Spain, France, Italy and the Aegean islands. Much of their culture in the Lebanese coast, however, remains undocumented in part due to disturbance of Iron Age sites by later Persian, Hellenistic and Roman cultures. Sarepta, excavated by James Pritchard, is one of the few sites from which we can document in Phoenicia proper the culture of these mariners of old in their homeland.

In many ways, one can summarize the material culture from Phoenicia and its colonies as reflecting developments on Canaanite culture from the Bronze Age. (Compare, for example, the small shrine at Sarepta to the Bronze Age temples from Beth Shan.) Of course, this culture is greatly influenced by the Aegean world and continues to reflect that eclectic world we characterize as Canaanite in the Bronze Age.

EGYPTIANS: Although it may be interpreted from Egyptian written sources that Egypt exercised little control over this region after the Nineteenth Dynasty, the archaeological evidence from Palestine suggests otherwise at least for the first kings of the Twentieth Dynasty. Beth Shan remained an Egyptian colony with houses built according to Egyptian style, complete with door lintel inscriptions in hieroglyphics. Egyptian architectural structures, square-shaped houses made of mud-brick, occur at Aphek, Ashdod, Beth Shan (1550 and 1700 houses), Gaza, Hesi, Jemmeh, Joppa, Tell el-Farah S (Sharuhen) and Tell Masos and Tell esh- Sharia (Ziklag). The Timna copper mines continue to be controlled until perhaps Ramesis VI. Egyptian pottery can be cited from many early Iron I sites as well. In summary, it seems at least plausible to suggest that Egypt continued to dominate this region at least until the mid-part of the century and perhaps to the end of the century at least at Beth Shan.

Egyptian contact in Iron II is limited to minor incursions. I Kings 9:16 records that the Egyptian Pharaoh destroyed Gezer. Shishak, the first Pharaoh of the 22nd Dynasty, led a military campaign during the fifth year of Rehoboam, Solomon's son (1 Kings 14:25-26, 2 Chronicles 12:2- 9). A boundary stela of the Egyptian monarch was set up at Megiddo, and the king recorded his victory on the first pylon at the Temple of Karnak. At the end of the seventh century, Egyptian forces attempted to defeat the army of Sennacherib. Necco, Pharaoh of the Twenty-sixth Dynasty, campaigned in Palestine and northward to the Euphrates in 609. Necco's forces defeated Josiah at the Battle of Megiddo where the Judah king was slain in battle (2 Kings 23:29-30, 2 Chronicles 35:20-25).

ASSYRIANS: By the middle of the ninth century, Assyria is exercising some hegemony over the region of Palestine. The Battle of Qarqar (853) may have been a temporary set back for Assyria, but by 840/841 the Assyria King Shalmeneser III is accepting tribute from the Israel King Jehu. In the eighth century, Assyria campaigns throughout the region controlling the political life of the small principalities. Israel continues to try an exercise some independence which leads eventually to its demise in 722/21 when Sargon conquers Israel's capital. A number of Israel's key cities (Hazor and Megiddo) had been captured a decade before by Tiglath-pileser.

Judah remains alone and politically suppressed by Assyria in the seventh century. In 701, Sennacherib attacked most of Judah and even laid siege to Jerusalem. From that point on Judah remains a loyal vassal of Assyria until the reign of Josiah. By then, Assyria was beginning to decay from within, and King Josiah of Judah attempts to play political broker in this region eventually leads to his death at the hands of Egyptian King Necco at the battle of Megiddo (609). By then, Assyria no longer exists for all practice purposes as the Chaldean kings conquered the domains that once were part of Assyria's empire. (From Boston University Website.)


Egypt dominated the political life of Palestine during the Late Bronze Age, a period contemporary with the Egyptian New Kingdom. The first king of the Eighteenth Dynasty defeated the Hyksos at Avaris and continued the battle to Sharuhen in southern Palestine. Thothmosis I and Thothmosis III extended Egyptian influence over the entire region from the borders of Egypt to the Euphrates, the great river that flows backwards. Under the descendants of Thothmosis III, Egypt exercised full hegemony over Palestine by establishing systems of control over vital trade routes and local principalities. Towards the end of the Eighteenth Dynasty Egyptian control may have declined somewhat due to the general lack of attention to political and military matters during the Amarna period.

The Nineteenth Dynasty kings quickly reestablished Egyptian control under Seti I. By the middle of the thirteenth century Egypt lost control of much of northern Syria to the Hittite kings. The two major kings of this dynasty, Seti I and his son Ramesis II, carried out campaigns near Beth Shan. Later in the thirteenth century, Merneptah may have campaigned in Palestine if there is any historical credulity to his hymn of victory, sometimes called the Israelite stela.

The great Temple of Amon-Ra at Karnak is an excellent spot to understand Egypt's power and influence over the Asiatics. Asia was Amon-Ra's domain and the spoils of conquest/tribute supported the building of the world's largest religious structure. Tombs of noblemen, high official in the court and in the Temple at Karnak, also provide a wealth of information about Egyptian control and influence. In sites in Palestine, excavations show a slow but steady egyptianization of the culture as more egyptian or egyptianized artifacts appear in the latter half of the Late Bronze Age, and as egyptian practices (e.g. burial practices) become more the fashion. Remains from sites such as Beth Shan,Tell el-Farah (S), Hesi, Jemmeh, Masos, esh-Sharia and Aphek attest to their extensive control of this region. The copper mines at Timna seem to have been operated under Egyptian direction throughout the Nineteenth and part of the Twentieth Dynasties. All this evidence collectively indicates how thoroughly Egypt controlled this region.

Depictions of Asiatics: On Egyptian temple walls and tombs, the inhabitants of Syria and Palestine are depicted as vassals of their Egyptian overlords. Asiatics, usually dressed in long robes and wearing decorative headbands, bring tribute and produce into Egypt; are bound captive slaves or fierce mercenary soldiers; and work as corvee laborers assisting Egyptians in obtaining raw materials (timber and copper) and exotic produce (wine, oils and perhaps even opium). Of particular interest to archaeologists are the types of goods offered to the officials, for many of these items are known from excavations. The Egyptians did not hold Asiatics in high esteem and often depicted them as a pack of yelping dogs doing the bidding of their Egyptian masters.


Who are the Canaanites? And where is Canaan precisely? Both questions prove to be more difficult to answer than one might first suspect. The land of Canaan seems an imprecise geographical term that is applied sometimes to the entire region of the Egyptian empire and at other times to Lower Retenu or Djahi, that is, southern Lebanon, Israel, Jordan and the Sinai.

The Canaanites were one of many groups that inhabited the area and in Hebrew Bible the word became the designated term for all the inhabitants of the region before the Israelites. There is still some debate on the words etymology. Does it mean lowlanders? Or does Canaan mean the Land of Purple, a probable reference to the dye used to color cloth? Scholars who opt for this second interpretation note that the Greeks referred to the coastal region of Phoenicia as the purple land.

The Canaanites, or Bronze Age inhabitants, made a number of lasting contributions to ancient and modern society, such as specialized storage jars for the transportation of oil and wine, and musical instruments like the castenet. Their high art in working ivory as well as their skills in viticulture were prized in antiquity. Perhaps their most lasting contribution was the development of the alphabet from the proto-alphabetic script of Egyptian hieroglyphics. William Foxwell Albright and others have shown how a simplified syllabary of the Middle Bronze Age eventually was exported to the Greek and Roman worlds by the Phoenicians, northern coastal mariners of the Iron.


Two points need to be made concerning the archaeological remains from this period. First, there is strong cultural continuity between the Middle and Late Bronze Age. The assigned break between the two periods is more a function of Egyptian chronological history than a change in material culture. No excavator or historian familiar with the remains has suggested otherwise. Also, it is important to note that there are scant archaeological remains in the first part of the Late Bronze Age. Many sites in the hill country and Negev were abandoned. Other sites, especially in the southern coastal region, are destroyed and only marginally reoccupied in Late Bronze I.

A second important point about the Late Bronze Age concerns the egyptianization of this indigenous culture. Artifacts and building structures become more egyptian-like as one moves from Late Bronze I into Late Bronze II. Cultural practices also change to Egyptian fashion (e.g. burial practices). Such egyptianization may be due to the proximity of Egypt to Palestine as well as the ways in which Egypt exercised complete control over this region. (NOTE: Egyptianization of Nubia occurred during the same period and may speak to how Egypt influence native culture to adopt an egyptian life style.) As Albright and others may have rightly noted, Palestine proper remained generally loyal to Egypt throughout the Late Bronze Age, while Upper Retenu, modern Syria, did not.

Images and related material are drawn from the excavations at Beth Shan, Beth Shemesh and Tell es-Sa'idiyeh. Complete ceramic forms and some of the fine objects were taken from specific tomb contexts: Beth Shan Tomb 42 (LB I), Gibeon Tomb 10 (LB IIA), Beth Shan Tombs 219 and 90 (LBIIB-Ir I), and Tell es-Sa'idiyeh cemetery (LBIIB-Ir I). The tombs together constitute less than half of the cited material below. Almost all the remaining artifacts, with the exception of one or two outstanding pieces from Beth Shemesh StatumIV, are from strata IX-VII Beth Shan, dated to fourteenth-thirteenth centuries. In particular, we focused on the material from the important Egyptian/Canaanite temple. Be aware that Beth Shan is a highly egyptianize site so that it better reflects the cultural mix of many large sites in the lowlands of southern Palestine (Tell el-Farah S, Tell el-Ajjul, Lachish and Megiddo) and the greater Jordan valley (Tell es-Sa'idiyeh and Deir Alla) than other inland or more northern sites (Hazor).


There is a definite decrease in occupied settlements in the Late Bronze Age from the previous Middle Bronze period. Surveys and excavations appear to confirm that the hill country region lacked a sedentary population except at a few major sites (e.g. Shechem or Tell Beit Mirsim). For example, Tell es-Sultan is abandoned by Late Bronze II; Gibeon show no sedentary occupation in the Late Bronze period though a single tomb was used in Late Bronze IIA.

Many small and minor sites in the coastal region appear also to be abandoned, and very few new sites (e.g. Tell Abu Hawam) are founded.

(Information from Boston University Website.)

Late Iron Age

Late Bronze and Iron Age

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Early and Middle Bronze Age Characteristics

Canaanite City-States and Urbanism in Palestine

Early Bronze Age—3500 to 2200
Middle of the Period--Cultural hegemony of Sumer and Akkad and Old Kingdom Egypt—Begins with the rise of Egypt and Sumer, development of writing, urbanism, monarchy.
Ends with the decline of the Old Kingdom and Sumer at Ur III—meanwhile the beginnings of Minoan civilization in Greece.
Intermediate (EB IV or MB I) to Middle Bronze Age—2200 to 1550 is circumscribed by the Fall of Ur III and the Hyksos invasions of Egypt—Egypt still retained cultural influence over the Levant but Egypt itself was in disarray and alternately ruled by their “Asiatic” or “Semitic” overlords
Meanwhile toward end of this period Mycenaean civilization arises in Greece.
Early Bronze Age Palestine For whatever reason, Palestine lagged behind Mesopotamia and northern Syria in the development of a complex society.
Nevertheless, the rise of urbanism is a hallmark of the Early Bronze Age (3200-2200 BC) in Palestine. The chronology of Early Bronze Palestine is tied to that of Egypt, but there is disagreement over the terminology and dates for the period.
Egyptian finds in Palestine indicate that the Early Bronze (EB) I correlates to the late Predynastic Period and the beginning of the First Dynasty in Egypt, while the EB II correlates to the remainder of the Archaic Period (Dynasties 1-2), and the EB III corresponds to the Old Kingdom (Dynasties 3-6).

The Rise of Urbanism: The EB I Period (3200-3000 BC)
True urbanism only arose after an initial transitional phase, usually called EB I (3330-3000 BC), in which most settlements were unfortified villages. These were generally in different locations than in the preceding Chalcolithic period. Another innovation is the introduction of tombs in which large numbers of skeletons are found together in a natural or hewn-out rock cave.

Such tombs, in fact, are the main source of data for the period. Often, the skeletons are found disarticulated—perhaps indicating secondary burials—ususally with the skulls lined up next to a central bone pile. A huge cemetery at Bab edh-Dhra, at the Lisan peninsula on the east side of the Dead Sea, represents the largest burial ground of this type known in the Near East. A settlement nearby seems too small to accommodate such a cemetery. This has led to the hypothesis that Bab edh-Dhra served as a regional cemetery with sacred associations. Another theory holds that the cemetery served the “cities of the Plain,” including the lost cities of Sodom and Gommorrah (Gen 13:10-12), but this is quite uncertain.

At Bab edh-Dhra, two types of EB I tombs are known. Earlier “shaft tombs,” with multiple secondary burials in an artificial cave reached by a vertical shaft, give way to built up structures of mud brick containing multiple primary burials. Similar to the latter are round stonebuilt tombs with corbelled roofs found in the southern Sinai, called nawamis, apparently built by pastoral nomads.

The major public buildings known from EB I Palestine are temples. A double sanctuary at Megiddo, separated from dwellings by a walled courtyard, may have served as a central shrine for the area. Temples are known from other sites, including Hartuv, where a large broad hall sanctuary incorporating a row of standing stones (Hebrew massebot) may have developed from an open-air sacred area.

Urban Palestine: The EB II-III Period (3000-2200 BC)
With the Early Bronze II period urbanism fully arrived in Paleistine, spurred on, no doubt, by peaking trade relations with Egypt, evidenced already in the EB I period. Large walled cities appeared at Ai, Arad, Beth Yerah, Megiddo, Tell el-Farcah, Yarmuth, and other sites.The fortifications at EB II-III sites are quite impressive. EB II walls were usually entered through narrow gates and reinforced with projecting semi-circular towers as seen in an excellent example at Arad, in the eastern Negev. In the late EB II and EB III periods walls were generally thickened, at Ai and Beth Yerah (Khirbet Kerak) eventually reaching a width of eight meters. At Yarmuth, continued constructions swelled the defensive perimeter enclosing forty acres to a width of forty meters!

In contrast to Mesopotamia, the actual history of the cities in EB Palestine is completely unknown, as no inscriptional material has yet been found. There were connections between Egyptian incursions in the south of Palestine and their construction, but the cities of EB Palestine seem never to have developed a unified political system. Indeed, the fortifications and other features imply a system of large city-states. They were, apparently, the beginnings of the royal Canaanite system of independent, rival states which continued into the next millennium. They may have been in mutual competition or conflict, as occasional destruction levels seem to indicate.The city wall at Jericho, for example, was rebuilt seventeen times during the Early Bronze Age.

Fall of Urbanism: The EB IV/MB I Period (2300-2000 B.C.E.)
The last two centuries of the third millennium BC in Palestine are marked by the wholesale destruction or abandonment of every major EB III site in Palestine. The subsequent period, in contrast to those great city-states, is characterized by a seminomadic, pastoral way of life. This period is comparable to the First Intermediate Period of Egypt, and represents a dark age for Palestine. The MB I pottery shows more characteristics in common with the preceding Early Bronze than with the Middle Bronze IIA which follows. Therefore, some have preferred to call this period EB IV. As we have seen, the interlude of the MB I period also saw a disruption of centralized control in Egypt.The transhumant population of Palestine was feared and loathed by Egyptians.

Negative though it may be, there are similarities between this attitude and the lifestyle described of the Patriarchs in the Bible. Although there have been attempts to place Abraham in the MB I Period, it is far more likely that the age of the Patriarchs should be sought in the early 2nd millennium BC—the Middle Bronze Age. Sometimes referred to as the Intermediate Bronze Age, marks a dramatic transformation in the urbanization and the growth of societies, which were originally established at the beginning of EB I through to the EB III.

Severe drought resulting from a major climatic catastrophe(s) that occurred circa 2300-2200 B.C.E. (EB IV/MB I) encompassed the whole region of the Near East.

The Age of Internationalism: The Middle Bronze Age (2200 - 1570 B.C.E.)
The Middle Bronze Age is contemporary with the First Intermediate Period, Middle Kingdom and Second Intermediate Period in Egypt. United Egypt of the Old Kingdom disintegrated into individual kingdoms (nomarchs) after the Sixth Dynasty. This period of disunity, possibly described in the Admonitions of Ipuwer (ANET, pp.441-444), lasted some three hundred years and is generally contemporary with Middle Bronze I.

Under kings of the Twelfth and Thirteenth Dynasty, Middle Kingdom Egypt reached a cultural pinnacle. Politically Middle Kingdom monarchs extended their influence southward into Nubia as far as the fortress of Semnah. Egypt's hegemony in Asia, however, is more problematic, although there is evidence of early contact with Asiatic peoples. The Tale of Sinuhe describes the adventures of an Egyptian royal tutor who fled to Syria and lived among the Asiatic tribes. Other evidence of contact include Egyptian execration texts, lists of Asiatics living in Egyptian households, extensive gifts and statuary from Byblos and other sites, and Egyptian tomb inscriptions and depictions (e.g. Beni Hasan painting of 37 Asiatics).

Asiatics gained control of the delta region of Egypt in the Second Intermediate Period. Known as the Hyksos “Rulers of Foreign Lands” these Asiatic princes may have extended control beyond the delta and as far south as Abydos. A number of key battles were fought by Egyptian kings of the Seventeenth Dynasty against the Hyksos but it wasn't until the reign of Amosis, the first king of the Eighteenth Dynasty (circa 1570 B.C.E.), that the Hyksos were expelled.

Albright, Nelson Glueck and E. A. Speiser, have linked the Patriarchs to the end of Middle Bronze I and beginning of Middle Bronze II.

More Chronologies and Milestones

Click on the chart for Late Neolithic to Middle Bronze Age milestones and events.