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Open letter to science editors
and "Ages in Chaos"
A Criticism of the Revised Chronology
William H. Stiebing, Jr.
Dr. Stiebing is associate
professor of history, Louisiana State University, New Orleans.
Immanuel Velikovsky's works have been attacked by scientists,
particularly astronomers, who are concerned by his theories of astronomical
catastrophes in fairly recent times. Ancient historians have generally
ignored this fray although almost all of Velikovsky's arguments are based on
ancient texts and in spite of the fact that his proposed synchronisms for
Egyptian, Palestinian and Minoan-Mycenaean history, if correct, would
require a complete rewriting of ancient history. Whether this silence has
been caused by ignorance of Velikovsky's writings and the controversy they
have engendered or by a conviction that he is so totally wrong that there is
no need to answer his arguments makes little difference. The issue cannot
be forever avoided--if Velikovsky is right, then it's time to begin the
massive job of rewriting ancient history; if he is wrong, then ancient
historians, biblical scholars and archaeologists should present their cases
against him so that the average person (and particularly students) will have
a basis for making a decision about where the truth is to be found.
Perhaps the task of answering Velikovsky's arguments has been
avoided because a point by point answer would require volumes as long as
Worlds in Collision or Ages in Chaos. However, a start must be
made. This article will concentrate on Velikovsky's proposed chronology for
ancient history. It shall not concern itself with the question of whether
or not astronomical catastrophes of the kind described by Velikovsky are
possible, for the author is not competent to decide such issues. Nor shall
the claim be made that if Velikovsky is wrong in one or more areas, his
entire theory must be in error (although occasionally his followers have
committed the opposite fallacy of assuming Velikovsky's entire theory to be
proved by evidence that some of his predictions about Venus, the moon and
Jupiter may be correct). Hopefully, in the future other specialists in
ancient history will join the discussion and present their views on
Velikovsky's position is that in the days of Moses, the Exodus
and the conquest of Canaan under Joshua (which he dates to the
fourteenth century B.C.) a universal catastrophe overwhelmed the earth-a
comet (which later became the planet Venus) passed close to the earth
causing tidal waves, earthquakes, pestilence, unnatural darkness, death
and other destruction, while causing a temporary halt in the earth's
rotation (1). These events, Velikovsky claims, are reflected not only
in the Hebrew scriptures but also, among other sources, in an Egyptian
text called the "Admonitions of Ipuwer" (2). Since the Ipuwer papyrus
also mentions an invasion of Egypt, Velikovsky synchronizes the Hebrew
Exodus with the invasion of the Hyksos at the end of the Egyptian Middle
Kingdom (3). He goes on to equate Queen Hatshepsut of Egypt with the
Queen of Sheba who visited Solomon (4), thus moving Egyptian chronology
forward in time by about 600 years. Amenhotep III and Akhenaton become
contemporaries of Jehosephat of Judah and Ahab of Israel (5); the
destruction of Ugarit, the Mycenaean Period and the Trojan War are all
viewed as coeval with the Hebrew divided monarchy of the ninth through
the seventh centuries (6). It is also claimed that in the mid-eighth
and early seventh centuries Venus and Mars collided, changing Mars'
orbit, moving Venus into its present orbit, shifting the inclination of
the axis of the earth, and slightly increasing the period of its
revolution around the sun (7), This last cosmic catastrophe, Velikovsky
believes, caused the destruction of the Assyrian army led by King
Sennacherib, who was besieging Jerusalem at the time (8), and he argues
that it is reflected in Assyrian texts as well as biblical accounts
Can Egyptian history be shifted by more than half a millennium
as Velikovsky's synchronisms demand? The absolute dates assigned to
Egyptian rulers or dynasties are calculated on the basis of ancient king
lists and ancient references to astronomical phenomena. Since
Velikovsky has questioned the uniformitarian assumptions upon which
such calculations depend , almost all absolute dates in Egypt become
questionable. However, even without absolute dates historians and
archaeologists can establish a relative chronology of events and
cultural periods against which Velikovsky's theories can be tested.
Does the archaeological evidence from the Near East and the eastern
Mediterranean favor a chronology in which the beginning of the Hyksos
Period is synchronized with the Hebrew Exodus and the Egyptian
Eighteenth Dynasty is contemporaneous with the Israelite monarchy?
In Palestine archaeologists have been able to establish a
relative sequence of pottery objects and other artifacts based on their
occurrence in stratified layers of tells (or mounds) which
represent the remains of ancient cities. It is known from the objects
found in the remains of the ancient city of Samaria (which was founded
in the ninth century B.C. by Omri, King of Israel and destroyed in 722
by the Assyrians) and in, the destruction levels at Lachish, Jerusalem
and other sites razed by Assyrian or Neo-Babylonian rulers, that the
pottery style in use in Palestine during the divided monarchy was the
one archaeologists call Iron Age II (10). Assyrian objects found in
Iron II layers of Palestinian sites clinch this equation of the Iron Age
II with the era of the divided monarchy and the Assyrian Empire
The period of the Judges and the united monarchy of Saul, David and
Solomon corresponds to the Iron I period of the archaeologists
However, archaeologists equate the Egyptian Eighteenth
Dynasty with the Late Bronze Age in Palestine, not the Iron Age.
Velikovsky questions the use of the terms "Bronze Age" and "Iron Age" as
adequate chronological indicators and argues that bronze continued to be
the main metal used in Egypt long after iron became common elsewhere
(13). There is much validity to his claim that the use of iron did not
progress at the same pace in all areas of the Mediterranean--that one
area could be in a "Bronze Age" while another was in an "Iron Age." The
"Three Age" terminology (Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages) usually used by
archaeologists can be misleading, but the names used for the cultures of
a given area are not as important as the identification of the
characteristic artifacts of each culture and the determination of the
sequence in which the cultures flourished. Thus, when an archaeologist
talks about the "Late Bronze Age" in Palestine, he is referring to a
cultural period identified by certain pottery styles and particular
types of weapons, jewelry, buildings and other artifacts, not just to
the presence or absence of a particular metal (in this case, bronze).
What is important for chronology is not whether the names "Bronze Age"
or "Iron Age" are justified, but rather that the characteristic
artifacts of the Palestinian culture that archaeologists designate as
"Late Bronze" occur repeatedly in tells below the floors of
buildings containing characteristic artifacts of the culture labeled
"Iron Age" (14). Regardless of the names one gives them, the
Palestinian "Middle Bronze Age" culture existed before the Palestinian
"Late Bronze Age" culture which in turn preceded the Palestinian "Iron
To determine synchronisms between Egyptian history and
Palestinian and other Near Eastern cultures, archaeologists study the
overlap or association of artifacts characteristic of each area.
Velikovsky himself used this procedure in noting that the Egyptian
Eighteenth Dynasty was contemporaneous with the Mycenaean Period in
"At Mycenae on the Greek mainland also were
unearthed a few Egyptian objects bearing the cartouches of Amenhotep
II, Amenhotep III, and his wife Tiy, of the Eighteenth Dynasty (New
Kingdom); vases of Late Mycenaean style were dug up in large numbers in
Egypt, in Thebes, and especially from under the ruined walls of
Akhnaton's palace at el-Amarna" (15).
Now it so happens that Mycenaean pottery of the type unearthed
at el-Amarna and other Egyptian sites is quite common in Palestinian
remains as well, but it is not found in Iron I or Iron II layers as it
should be if Velikovsky's synchronisms were correct. Rather, imported
Mycenaean pottery types as well as local imitations of Mycenaean wares
are associated with Palestinian Late Bronze Age material (16). Egyptian
scarabs and other objects inscribed with the names of pharaohs such as
Thutmose III or Amenhotep III of the Eighteenth Dynasty or Rameses II of
the Nineteenth also occur in Late Bronze contexts in Palestine, proving
that these rulers could not have lived later than the time of the
Palestinian Late Bronze Age (17).
Other archaeological synchronisms support those linking the
Egyptian New Kingdom to the Late Bronze Age in Palestine. At Alalakh in
Syria Late Bronze Age I bichrome ware was found in Levels VI-V along
with an early phase of Mitannian Ware (a type of decorated pottery found
at numerous northern Mesopotamian sites) (18). The appearance of this Mitannian Ware is associated with a great increase in the number of
personal names in the Hurrian language at Alalakh and in northern
Mesopotamia (19). The introduction of Mitannian Ware and the influx of
great numbers of Hurrians into Mesopotamia and Syria-Palestine can
therefore be correlated with the beginning of the Palestinian Late
Bronze Age, and stratigraphical evidence from numerous sites makes it
certain that this phase is far earlier than the Iron Age II (which has
already been shown to correlate with the divided monarchy and the
Assyrian Empire of the eighth seventh centuries B.C. Egyptian
documents begin using certain Hurrian and Indo-Aryan terms connected
with chariot warfare for the first time early in the Eighteenth
Dynasty, while the Kingdom of Mitanni (a kingdom with a basically
Hurrian population ruled by an Indo-Aryan warrior aristocracy) became
one of Egypt's major foes from the reign of Tutmose III to that of
Akhenaton (20). At Ras Shamra (Ugarit) Hurrian texts as well as
Akkadian and native Canaanite ones were found associated with Late
Bronze Age pottery types and Mycenaean wares (21). It is thus clear
that the Egyptian Eighteenth Dynasty was not contemporaneous with the
Iron Age in Palestine, the period of the Hebrew monarchy, but rather
that it was much earlier. Hatshepsut could not have been a
contemporary of Solomon, the Amarna Period did not correspond to the
reigns of Jehosephat and Ahab (22), the palaces of Mycenae and Tiryns
could not have been constructed in the eighth century, and the end of
the Mycenaean Age as well as the destruction of Ugarit cannot be
associated with catastrophes of the eighth - seventh centuries B.C.
Archaeological evidence also indicates that the beginning of
the Hyksos Period in Egypt cannot be equated with the time of Moses
(which is variously dated between the fifteenth and thirteenth
centuries B.C.). Egyptian objects with the names of Hyksos kings are
found in Palestine with Bronze Age II pottery and in Crete with Middle
Minoan material (23). Parallels between the Middle Bronze Age deposits
in Syria-Palestine and Mesopotamian strata indicate that the MB II
period in Palestine corresponds to the Old Babylonian and Old Assyrian
Periods-the Age of Hammurabi and his successors (24). This is much too
early for Moses, for fairly complete Assyrian king lists indicate that
the Age of Hammurabi (or of his contemporary, Shamshi-Adad of Assyria)
must be about the seventeenth century B.C. or earlier. Since it is
almost impossible to place the Hebrew Exodus as early as the
seventeenth century B.C. and equally difficult to support a date for
the "Admonitions of Ipuwer" later than the beginning of the Hyksos
Period, this Egyptian text could not have been contemporaneous with the
Exodus and could not have described a cosmic cataclysm which supposedly
occurred at the time of Moses.
Velikovsky's revised synchronisms for ancient history cannot
be reconciled with the stratigraphical evidence of archaeology. " Ages
in Chaos" is an apt description of the result of his attempt to uproot
Egyptian chronology and move it forward by five or six hundred years.
In the foreword to Ages in Chaos (p. viii) Velikovsky wrote:
"I claim the right to fallibility in details and I eagerly
welcome constructive criticism. However, before proclaiming that the
entire structure must collapse because an argument can be made against
this or that point, the critic should carefully weigh his arguments
against the whole scheme, complete with all its evidence. The historian
who permits his attention to be monopolized by an argument directed
against some detail, to the extent of overlooking the work as a whole
and the manifold proofs on which it stands, will only demonstrate the
narrowness of his approach to history."
This article has not dealt with the ultimate question of
whether or not there were extraterrestrial cataclysms in historical
times affecting Venus, Mars and the earth, but neither is it a minor
detail of Velikovsky's scheme which has been called into question
here--it is his entire series of synchronisms, some of which are
necessary to sustain the interpretations he gives to texts from Egypt,
Palestine and Greece. Whatever the final verdict on Velikovsky's
astronomical theories, they must be viewed within the normally accepted
framework of ancient Near Eastern history, for revisions of the kind
proposed by Velikovsky are not in harmony with the mass of
archaeological evidence presently at our disposal.
Further discussion of the questions raised by Dr.
Stiebing will be contained in a subsequent issue of Pensee. Ed.
(1) Velikovsky, Worlds in Collision (1950), pp.
(2) Ibid., p. 49. Velikovsky, Ages in Chaos
(1952), pp. 22-37.
(3) Ages in Chaos, op. cit., pp. 37-39, 48-5 3.
(4) Ibid., pp. 103-141.
(5) Ibid., pp. 223-340.
(6) Ibid., pp. 219-222. Worlds in Collision,
op. cit., pp. 216, 245-253, 276.
(7) Worlds in Collision, op. cit., pp. 207-37 5.
(8) Ibid., pp. 227-235.
(9) Ibid., pp. 241-243, 261-264.
(10) For a convenient summary of the evidence see K.
Kenyon, Archaeology in the Holy Land (1960), pp. 260-302
and W. F. Albright, The Archaeology of Palestine (revised ed.,
1960), pp. 128-142.
(11) For example, the Assyrian helmet crest found at
Lachish (O. Tufnell, Lachish III , Pl. 39) and Assyrian
pottery in Stratum I at Tell el-Far'ah near Nablus (R. de Vaux,
"Tirzah," in D. Winton Thomas, ed., Archaeology and Old Testament
Study , p. 378).
(12) Kenyon, Archaeology in the Holy Land, pp.
(13) See Velikovsky's article, "Metallurgy and
Chronology," elsewhere in this issue.
(14) A chart conveniently summarizing the stratigraphical
sequences of the major Palestinian tells may be found in G. E.
Wright, ed., The Bible and the Ancient Near East (1961), pp.
(15) Ages in Chaos, op. cit., p. 182. See also
Velikovsky, Oedipus and Akhnaton (1960), p. 188.
(16) For example, W. F. Albright, "The Excavation of Tell Beit Mirsim, Vol. I," Annual of the American Schools of Oriental
Research, Vol. XII (1930-31), pp. 43-45; E. Anati, Palestine
Before the Hebrews (1963), 418-422; and Stubbings, Mycenaean
Pottery from the Levant (1951), pp. 53-87.
(17) For example, Albright, "The Excavation of Tell Beit
Mirsim, Vol. II," A.A.S.O.R., Vol. XVII (1936-37), 70-72; W. M.
F. Petrie, Ancient Gaza I (1931), Pl. XIV (associated pottery
types listed on Pls. LX and LXI), Ancient Gaza II (1932), Pl.
VII (especially numbers 19, 21, 23, 33, 37, 52-53, 63, 65 and
67--associated pottery types listed on Pls. LVI-LVII); E. MacDonald, J.
Starkey and L. Harding, Beth Pelet II (1930), Pl. XLVIII: Nos.
22, 27, Pl. L; Nos. 74, 97, PI. LII; Nos. 109, 113, 115, 119, 121,
etc. (associated pottery types listed on Pls. XCI-XCII); and J. B.
Pritchard, The Bronze Age Cemetery at Gibeon (1963), pp.
(18) C. L. Woolley, Alalakh (1955), Pls. XCIII: 1,
m, and r, XCIV: a and XCV. See also C. Epstein, Palestinian Bichrome
Ware (1966), pp. 134-137, 150-152.
(19) J. R. Kupper, "Northern Mesopotamia and Syria,"
The Cambridge Ancient History (rev. ed., Vol. II, Chap. 1), fascicle
14 (1963), pp. 37-38. See also Woolley, Alalakh, pp. 66-71,
238-239, 317-319, 386-387; and A Forgotten Kingdom (1953),
pp. 84, 86-87, 9498.
(20) E. A. Speiser, "Ethnic Movements in the Near East in
the Second Millennium B.C.," Annual of the American Schools of
Oriental Research, Vol. XIII (1931-32), pp. 49-50; J. Van
Seters, The Hyksos (1966), pp. 186-187 and Epstein,
Palestinian Bichrome Ware, pp. 153-166).
(21) Ages in Chaos, pp. 180, 196-197. Since all of
this evidence for the appearance of the Hurrians places them in the Late
Bronze Age and not in the Iron Age II, it is impossible to accept
Velikovsky's contention that the Hurrians of the Egyptian, Hittite,
Mesopotamian and Ras Shamra texts were the Carians (Ibid., p .
(22) One last point may be made: the king of Babylon in the Amarna letters is named Burnaburiash (see, for example, J. Knudtzon, Die
El-Amarna Tafein [1907-151, no. 9). This is a Kassite, not an Akkadian
name, and this king must have ruled Babylon during the time that it was
dominated by Kassite monarchs. Assyrian synchronistic chronicles which list
the kings of Assyria with the corresponding rulers of Babylon do list
Burnaburiash and indicate that the Kassite kings of Babylon ruled during an
early period in the Assyrian monarchy--long before the rise of Assyria to
dominance over the entire Near East. See the article by Prof. Albert
Burgstahler, "Note on the Synchronization of the El-Amarna Letters With the
Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylonia" elsewhere in this issue for a more
complete demonstration and documentation of this point.
(23) See T. Säve-Söderbergh, "The Hyksos Rule in Egypt,"
The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, Vol. 37 (1951), pp. 62-66
(especially the chart on p. 65) for a summary of the distribution of
objects bearing the names of Hyksos kings. An example of a Hyksos scarab
from a Middle Bronze II context in Palestine (Tell Beit Mirsim, Stratum E2)
may be found in Albright, "The Excavation of Tell Beit Mirsim, II,"
A.A.S.O.R., Vol. XVII (1936-37), Section 51 and Pl. 29:2. For
discussion and an illustration of an alabaster lid with the name of the
Hyksos king Khyan which was found in a Middle Minoan III layer at Knossos
see A. Evans, The Palace of Minos, Vol. 1, pp. 416-422.
(24) J. Kaplan, "Mesopotamian Elements in the Middle Bronze II
Culture of Palestine," Journal of Near Eastern Studies, Vol. 30
(1971), pp. 293-307.
PENSEE Journal V