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Open letter to science editors


A note on some
synchronical problems

The El-Amarna Letters
 and the Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylonia
 Albert W. Burgstahler

Dr.  Burgstahler is professor of chemistry, University of Kansas.  This paper is based on the concluding portion of a presentation given at the Velikovsky Symposium, Lewis and Clark College, August, 1972.  At that time Velikovsky replied within the framework of a general discussion, and invited Burgstahler to elaborate on the issue of Assyria-Babylonia-el-Amarna synchronisms in written form.  Velikovsky will answer Burgstahler in a forthcoming issue of Pensée.

In the closing chapters of Volume I of Ages in Chaos (Doubleday, 1952), Velikovsky presents extensive evidence and arguments to support his view that the famous el-Amarna tablets or letters date not from the fourteenth century B.C., as is commonly believed, but rather from the ninth century B.C. These remarkable clay tablets, written in cuneiform, were discovered by accident in the late 1880's at Tell el-Amarna in Egypt, lying buried amid a portion of the ruins of ancient Akhet-Aton, the ill-fated capital of the Eighteenth Dynasty pharaoh Amenhotep IV (Akhnaton).

According to Velikovsky's historical reconstruction of the Amarna period, the letters include official correspondence with Egypt from such Biblical figures as Ahab (Rib-Addi), Jehoshaphat (AbdiHiba), Hazael (Azaru), and their contemporaries (ca. 870 - 840 B.C.). Within this framework, Velikovsky also correlates various conquests and military exploits of the ninth century Assyrian monarch Shalmaneser III with information contained in the letters.  He suggests, moreover, that Shalmaneser himself sent a number of letters to Egypt under the name "Burraburiash [Burnaburiash], king of Karaduniash" (Babylonia), after his occupation of Babylon, which occurred about 850 B.C. in the ninth year of his reign.

However, despite the many items of evidence for such ninth century identifications of persons, places, and events in the letters, there remain a number of unresolved difficulties, especially in connection with Babylonia and Assyria.  In fact, one of the major obstacles to a more favorable reception of Ages in Chaos undoubtedly stems from independent available evidence indicating that certain fourteenth century B.C. rulers of these lands were actually contemporaries of Akhnaton and/or his father, Amenhotep (Amenophis) III, in the Amarna period.  Briefly, this evidence emerges from detailed sequential king-list inscriptions from Assyria and partial ones from Babylonia, plus other records, in which names of various fourteenth and late-fifteenth century Assyrian and Babylonian monarchs (but not names of ninth century ones) turn out to be the same as those found in the el-Amarna letters.

Here, in order to bring the magnitude of the problem more clearly into focus, a modest attempt is made to direct attention to a number of key interrelationships among principal personalities in the letters whose names are preserved in various ancient records of Assyria and Babylonia.  It should be noted, however, that this is done not out of contention but in a cordial spirit of respectful good will, with the thought that reconciliation or harmonization of such evidence with a ninth century placement of these names would probably do much to overcome what at present, in the eyes of many, looms as an insurmountable impediment to Velikovsky's proposed revision of the chronology of Egypt and other parts of the ancient civilized world.

Babylonian Letters

Among the el-Amarna tablets are drafts or copies of two letters (Nos. 1 and 5 in the Knudtzon and Mercer editions cited by Velikovsky) from Amenhotep III (Nimmuria), king of Egypt (Misri), directed to Kadashman-Enlil (I) (read as Kadashman-Harbe by Knudtzon), king of Babylonia (Karaduniash).  There are also three letters (Nos. 2 - 4) from Kadashman-Enlil to Amenhotep III.  In letter No. 3, Kadashman-Enlil calls attention to the friendly relations his father (or fore-father) had enjoyed with Amenhotep.  In a later letter (No. 10) from Burnaburiash (see below), this predecessor of Kadashman-Enlil appears to be identified in the person of an earlier king named Karaindash.

Now, according to the independent witness of the Assyrian Synchronous History (1), Karaindash (1) is the name of a late-fifteenth century Babylonian (Kassite dynasty) signer of a boundary treaty with the Assyrian king Assur-belnisheshu.  The latter occurs as king No. 69 in several ancient Assyrian king records, the most complete of which are the Khorsabad and the SDAS (from the Seventh-Day Adventist Theological Seminary, Washington, D.C.) king-list tablets (2).  Collectively, these tablets preserve, in chronological order, the names of 109 Assyrian kings, together with the number of regnal years enjoyed by all but the earliest of them, beginning with Tudia, who apparently lived in the third millennium B.C., and ending with Shalmaneser V, who ruled from about 725 to 721 B.C.  The nine-year reign recorded for Assurbel-nisheshu is reckoned by Poebel (2b) and by Van Der Meer (3) from these lists and other sources to have lasted from 1416 to 1408 B.C. (See accompanying scheme.)

From King Burnaburiash (Burraburiash) of Babylonia, six letters (Nos. 6 -11) have survived in the el-Amarna collection.  In addition, there are two extensive gift or tribute lists: one (No. 13) evidently from Burnaburiash to Akhnaton (text badly broken) and the other (No. 14) to Burnaburiash, apparently from Akhnaton.  Moreover, there is a short Babylonian letter (No. 12) from "the daughter of the king," commending the safety of her lord to "the gods of Burraburiash."

Because it refers to an earlier time when the addressee (name no longer legible) and Burnaburiash's (fore)father "were on good terms with one another," letter No. 6 is considered to have been sent to Amenhotep III, whose long reign appears from hieratic dockets found at his palace area in Thebes to have lasted at least 38 years (4).  The other letters, with the possible exception of letter No. 9, are directed to Akhnaton (Naphuria).  Letter No. 9, addressed to "Ni-ib-hu-ur-ri-ri-ia" may not have been intended for Akhnaton (written as "Na-ap-hu-ru-ri-ia" in the other letters from Burnaburiash to Akhnaton) but rather for his youthful successor, Tutankhamon, whose throne name is transliterated as "Nibhururiya" (3).  Although quite conjectural and open to considerable doubt (5), this interpretation is consistent with the fact that a contract of Burnaburiash is known which dates from the 25th year of his reign (6).

                                                                                      Conventional Synchronization of the Amarna Period of Egypt

with Babylonia and Assyria a


                        YEAR             EGYPT                                  BABYLONIA                                              ASSYRIA

                        (B.C.)           (18th Dynasty)               (Kassite Dynasty)          (Khorsabad and SDAS

  King Lists b)


Amenhotep II


16. Karaindash (I)             69. Assur-bel-nisheshu

Thutmose IV                                                   (EAc 10:8; 3:9)                                             (1416-1408)

17. Kurigalzu (I)                                         70. Assur-rim-nisheshu

Amenhotep III                                               (EA 9:19; rev. 11:19)         (1407-1400)

(EA=               Nimmuria)


71. Assur-nadin-ahhe II

18. Kadashman-Enlil (I)      (1399-1390; EA 16:19)

    [Kadashman-Harbe (I)]

    (EA 1-5)                            72. Eriba-Adad I


1375                                                                                                              19. Burnaburiash (III)d

Amenhotep IV                                               (1375-1349; EA 6-14)


(EA=Naphuria)                                                                                                                   73. Assur-uballit I

    (1362-1327; EA 15-16)


1350                                      Tutankhamon                                            20. Karaindash (II)


21. Kadashman-Harbe (II)

22. Kurigalzu (II)

    (1337-1313)                                            74. Enlil-nirari

1325                                                                                                                                                                                          (1326-1317)


aexcept for the reversed order of the Kassite dynasty kings 17 and 18, the king number designations and dates are those given by P. Van Der Meer in ref. 3.

                        bFor detailed comparative presentation and discussion, see ref. 2.

                        cthe abbreviation EA=el-Amarna Letters (Knudtzon and Mercer editions).

ddesignation of K. Jaritz [Mitteilungen des Instituts für Orientforschung, 6 (1958), 2011 followed by Van Der Meer (ref. 3).  Most other authors give Burnaburiash II for this king (cf. ref. 5).

In line 19 of this letter No. 9 (and also in line 19 of the reverse side of letter No. 11), Burnaburiash gives the name of his (forefather as Kurigalzu.  Independently, this name is known from excavations at Aqar-Quf in Iraq as that of the probable Kassite dynasty founder of Dur-Kurigalzu (7).  Burnaburiash's mention of Kurigalzu as his (fore)father in these letters has often been taken to mean that the order of Babylonian kings in this period is Karaindash, Kadashman-Enlil, Kurigalzu, Burnaburiash (3).  However, in a Babylonian inscription from Nippur (8), Burnaburiash is specifically called "the eldest son" of Kadashman-Enlil; and this fact, plus the presence of letters from Kadashman-Enlil in the el-Amarna collection but not from Kurigalzu, strongly indicates that the correct order is actually Karaindash, Kurigalzu, Kadashman-Enlil, Burnaburiash (5), as indicated in the accompanying synchronical chart.  In any event, regardless of their exact regnal sequence, all four names are found in Assyrian and Babylonian records dating from the fourteenth and late fifteenth centuries.

Assyrian Letters

Unfortunately, only two letters from Assyria are preserved in the el-Amarna correspondence.  Both are from Assur-uballit, king of Assyria: one (No. 16) is addressed "to Naphuria [Akhnaton], king of Egypt," and the other (No. 15) simply "to the king of Egypt."  In letter No. 16, Assur-uballit recalls "the time when Assur-nadin-ahhe, my (forefather, wrote to Egypt" and received "20 talents of gold."

By way of independent evidence, the Khorsabad and SDAS Assyrian king lists (2), in agreement with Assur-uballit's own inscriptions (9), record Assur-uballit I (king No. 73, with a reign of 36 years) as the son of Eriba-Adad (king No. 72), who, in turn, was a son of Assur-belnisheshu (king No. 69), already mentioned in connection with a boundary treaty with Karaindash (1) of Babylonia.  However, in line with Assur-uballit's reference in the above letter to an ancestor named Assur-nadin-ahhe, the same king lists also state that the immediate predecessor of Eriba-Adad was Assur-nadin-ahhe II (king No. 71), son of Assur-rimnisheshu (king No. 70).  The latter, according to one of his own inscriptions (2b, 9), was a brother, and not a son (as in the king lists), of Assur-bel-nisheshu. (For dates, see synchronical scheme.)

                                                                               Synchronization of Ninth Century Rulers of Babylonia and Assyria a


YEAR (B.C.)                                                                       BABYLONIA                                              ASSYRIA b


Nabu-shum-ukin                                       99. Adad-nirari 11 (911-891)

900                                                                                                                                                                                         100. Tukulti-Ninurta II (890-884)

Nabu-apal-iddin                                        101. Assur-nasir-pal II (883-859)

Marduk-zakir-shumi        102. Shalmaneser III (858-824)

850                                                                                         Marduk-bel-usate


103. Shamshi-Adad V (823-811)


800                                                                                                                                                                 104. Adad-nirari III (810-783)'


adates as given by P. Van Der Meer in ref. 3, nearly matching those presented by A. Poebel in ref. 2b.

bfrom the Khorsabad and SDAS Assyrian king lists published in ref. 2.

cHis widowed mother, Queen Sammuramat (Semiramis), may also have ruled during the first five years of this period (cf. ref. 2b, Part III, pp. 80-84).


Additionally, according to Babylonian Chronicle P (10), some time after the reign of Burnaburiash, "Assur-uballit, the king of Assyria, went to Babylonia to avenge [the murder of] Kadashman-Harbe, the son of his daughter" (Muballitat-Sherua, named earlier in the passage).  The same chronicle also relates that the husband of Muballitat-Sherua was Karaindash (II), son of, and successor to, Burnaburiash.  In the Assyrian Synchronous History version (11) of these events, the names are confused, and the murdered son of Muballitat-Sherua is called Karaindash instead of Kadashman-Harbe.  It also states that Kurigalzu (II) the younger, who was placed on the throne of Babylonia by Assur-uballit after the death of Kadashman-Harbe, was the son of Burnaburiash, instead of the son of Burnaburiash's murdered grandson, Kadashman-Harbe.

Note that in the synchronization of these various rulers according to the conventional placement of the Amarna period in the fourteenth century, as set out in the accompanying scheme, the reign of Burnaburiash entirely spans that of Akhnaton and overlaps the first part of the long reign of Assur-uballit I. This fits in well with the internal evidence of the letters for the ascendancy of Assyrian power in this period.  The tone and style of Assur-uballit's second letter (No. 16) clearly reflect a situation which can explain why, in letter No. 9, Burnaburiash urges the pharaoh not to "carry on any business" with envoys of the Assyrians, whom he still regards as being his "subjects" (or vassals).  Thus the Assyrian elements in the el-Amarna letters also point to a fourteenth century setting.

Ninth Century Problems

Throughout his many records and chronicles (12), Shalmaneser III always refers to himself as "Shalmaneser [Shulmanu-Asharid], son of Assur-nasir-pal [II], grandson of Tukulti-Ninurta [II]." These Assyrian rulers appear some 500 years after Assur-uballit I and are found as Nos. 102, 101, and 100, respectively, in the Khorsabad and SDAS king lists.  None of the Assyrian names cited above in the el-Amarna letters occur among those of Assyrian kings who reigned in this period (see accompanying table of ninth century rulers).

Similarly, none of the Babylonian names that occur in the el-Amarna letters appear among those of the kings who are known to have ruled in Babylonia in the ninth century (see table).  According to the Assyrian Synchronous History (13), Shalmaneser III concluded a peace treaty early in his reign with King Nabuapal-iddin of Babylonia.  The latter, in turn, was succeeded by his son, Marduk-zakir-shumi, whose brother, Marduk-bel-usate, then led a revolt in league with the Chaldeans.  Marduk-zakir-shumi, fearful that his kingdom would be overthrown by his brother, turned to Assyria for aid, which Shalmaneser was evidently only too eager to provide.  Shalmaneser promptly helped defeat the usurper Marduk-bel-usate, and Babylonia became a vassal state of Assyria with Marduk-zakirshumi as a tribute-paying king.  As indicated earlier, these events are recorded (12, 13) as having occurred in the ninth year of Shalmaneser's reign, or about 850 B.C.

It would, of course, be only after this date that Shalmaneser could be expected to write to Egypt as "King of Babylonia," using or assuming the name Burnaburiash as his alter ego, as Velikovsky proposes.  However, even apart from other difficulties, this date seems impossibly late, since in Velikovsky's revised chronology, it falls some years after the reign of Amenhotep III, to whom, as already discussed, Burnaburiash appears to have addressed letter No. 6 of the el-Amarna collection.


As Velikovsky himself has pointed out, his contention that the el-Amarna letters were written not in the fourteenth but in the ninth century before the present era "should not be accepted merely because it fits into a scheme built on other evidences of preceding or following periods.  It should be demonstrated with respect to the letters themselves.  Besides the Scriptures and the el-Amarna tablets, two other sources relate to the time of King Jehoshaphat: the stele of King Mesha of Moab and the inscriptions of the Assyrian king, Shalmaneser III.  These relics, too, and not the Bible alone, must correspond to the contents of the el-Amarna letters, if it is true that Egyptian history must be revised and moved forward more than half a thousand years" (Ages in Chaos, p. 229).

In subsequent passages, Velikovsky cites numerous close parallels of events and similarities or identities of names between those found in the el-Amarna letters and those preserved not only in mid-ninth century Biblical history but also in the ninth century inscriptions of Shalmaneser III and the stele of King Mesha.  Thus he is able to provide strong support for his thesis of a ninth century placement of the letters.

On the other hand, as shown here, no name of any known ninth century ruler of either Babylonia or Assyria, including Shalmaneser, corresponds directly to any in the Babylonian or Assyrian letters in the el-Amarna collection.  This contradiction is further compounded by the fact that the names of various fourteenth and late-fifteenth century Babylonian and Assyrian monarchs, as preserved in independent ancient records, do appear to correlate well with corresponding names in the el-Amarna letters.

Thus, barring serious, hitherto unsuspected errors in the transliteration and/or translation of proper names in the texts, or unless there is a remarkable "ghost" doubling of reigns and events in the accepted history of both Assyria and Babylonia, as Velikovsky contends is the case in Egypt, the evidence assembled here is clearly more in agreement with the conventional view of a fourteenth rather than a ninth century setting of the Amarna period.


(1)      Cuneiform Texts from Babylonian Tablets in the British Museum, 34, pl. 38, 1-4 (quoted by Van Der Meer, ref. 3 below, V. 18).

(2)       (a) I. J. Gelb, "Two Assyrian King Lists," Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 13 (1954), 209-230; (b) A. Poebel, "The Assyrian King List from Khorsabad," ibid., 1 (1942), 247-306, 460-492; 2 (1943), 56-90.

(3)       P. Van Der Meer, The Chronology of Ancient Western Asia and Egypt, Second re vised edition (Leiden, E. J. Brill, 1963).

(4)       W. C. Hayes, "Inscriptions from the Palace of Amenhotep III," Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 10 (1951), 87-88.  See also pp. 15-16 of ref. 5 below.

(5)       See E. F. Campbell, The Chronology of the Amarna Letters (The Johns Hopkins Press, Baltimore, 1964), pp. 44-62.

(6)       Babylonian Expedition of the University of Pennsylvania, 14, 9, 7-9 (cited by Van Der Meer, ref. 3 above, p. 17).

(7)       Iraq Expedition Supplement, 1944-1945 (cited by Van Der Meer, ref. 3 above, p. 19).

(8)       See W. F. Albright, "A Revision of Early Assyrian and Middle Babylonian Chronology" Revue d'assyriologie et d'archeologie orientale, 18 (1921), 91 citing Hilprecht's Old Babylonian Inscriptions, nos. 66-67.

(9)       See D. D. Luckenbill, Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylonia, Volume I, Historical Records of Assyria University of Chicago Press, 1926, reprinted by Greenwood Press, New York, 1968), Ch. II.

(10)     Babylonian Chronicle P, obv.  I, 5-14 (quoted by Van Der Meer, ref. 3 above, p. 16).

(11)     Cuneiform Texts, 34, Pl. 38, 8-17 (quoted by Van Der Meer, ref. 3 above, p. 15).

(12)     See ref. 9 above, Ch. XII.

(13)     Cuneiform Texts, 34, Pl. 40, rev. III, 21-34 (quoted by Van Der Meer, ref. 3 above, p. 41).

PENSEE Journal V

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