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Open letter to science editors


Metallurgy, pottery,
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 theories.

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 (9).


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 (11).  The period of the Judges and the united monarchy of Saul, David and Solomon corresponds to the Iron I period of the archaeologists (12).

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 Age" culture.

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 Greece:

"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 Pensée.  Ed.


(1)      Velikovsky, Worlds in Collision (1950), pp. 39-203.

(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 [1950], 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 [1967], p. 378).

(12)     Kenyon, Archaeology in the Holy Land, pp. 240-259.

(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. 81-94.

(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. 11-17, 18.

(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 . 196-205).

(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

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