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Open letter to science editors



Rejoinder to Velikovsky

William H. Stiebing, Jr.

Dr.  Stiebing is Associate Professor of History, University of New Orleans.

In the Winter, 1973-74 issue of Pensée (pp. 38-42), Immanuel Velikovsky replied to my criticism of his revised chronology (Pensée, Fall, 1973, pp. 10-12).  However, his reply contained so many misunderstandings and misstatements that I feel constrained to make the following comments.

First of all, Velikovsky seems to misunderstand the methodology of modern archaeology, at least in regard to the nature of stratigraphical evidence.  In the first paragraph of his reply he quotes my statement that his historical reconstruction "cannot be reconciled with the stratigraphical evidence of archaeology," then counters with the claim that "by stratigraphical evidence are usually meant mute artifacts, mostly pottery."  Neither pottery nor any other type of artifact constitutes stratigraphical evidence unless it is found stratified—buried in layers—in the remains of ancient cities.  The correct chronological sequence of pottery types in Palestine has been determined (mainly since the 1930's) by the careful excavation of a number of sites in which the occupation layers were meticulously observed and the pottery which each stratum contained was kept separate and compared with the pottery of the other layers.  Such a stratigraphical succession can provide only a relative chronology-that is, from the superposition of materials in the earth we can learn that the pottery types and other artifacts we label Early Bronze Age in Palestine were in use before the types of artifacts characteristic of the Middle Bronze Period, etc. (The names of the periods are determined, of course, after the general sequence of artifacts has been worked out-they have no absolute reference in themselves.  There was no general Early Bronze Age covering the same period of time throughout the world or even throughout the Mediterranean area.) Absolute dates may be supplied to the archaeological periods worked out in this way through written records found in some of the strata, through carbon-14 dating, or through evidence linking various strata with the remains of some other society for which the exact dates are known (1).

Literary evidence is extremely important in archaeological dating, but it should not be used in the way Velikovsky proposes.  It is not acceptable methodology to simply compare literary accounts and if they seem similar, to declare them contemporaneous regardless of their archaeological contexts.  This is what Velikovsky does, for example, when on the basis of supposed similarities in the names and events recounted in biblical texts and the Amarna letters he asserts that the Amarna texts belong to the same era as the Hebrew Divided Monarchy.  As I tried to show in my article, the archaeological contexts of the Israelite Monarchy and the Amarna Period in Egypt will not allow any such synchronization.  If archaeological chronology has been based on texts which it turns out were dated incorrectly, then the absolute dates for the stratigraphical sequence of a country may be affected, but the validity of the sequence itself will not be.  Thus, if the Amarna letters really belong to the eighth-seventh centuries rather than the fourteenth, the absolute dates for archaeological deposits in Palestine are all wrong.  But that would not change the fact that in Palestine the material which archaeologists have classified as Late Bronze Age preceded the material designated as Iron Age.

What I attempted to point out in my article was that in Palestine material of the Egyptian Empire (including the Amarna Period) and of the Mycenaean Age is found stratified in deposits with artifacts characteristic of the Palestinian Late Bronze Age.  But pottery and other objects of the Assyrian Empire are found in occupation layers of Palestinian cities with artifacts characteristic of the Iron Age II.  The occurrence of the Iron Age layers above Late Bronze Age layers proves that the Iron Age in that area is later than the Late Bronze Age.  Thus, no matter what dates one assigns to the Amarna Age, the evidence from Palestine indicates that it was earlier than the time of the Assyrian Empire and the Palestinian Iron Age with which Velikovsky attempted to synchronize it (2).  Stratigraphical evidence will not allow one to drastically move Egyptian and Mycenaean chronology forward in time while keeping Assyrian and Hebrew chronology at rest, which is what Velikovsky does in his revised chronology.

It is unfortunate that I have to note that while Velikovsky and his supporters complain loudly when they feel other scholars misrepresent or misquote his works, in his attempt to demolish my arguments from archaeological stratigraphy Velikovsky misstated my position and completely missed the point of my argument.  In the fifth paragraph of his reply to me (Pensée, Winter, 1973-74, p. 38) he writes:

Of the counterarguments offered by Dr.  Stiebing, the strongest appears to be the following: Egyptian scarabs or seals and other objects of the 18th Dynasty, specifically those of Thutmose III or Amenhotep III, are not found in the excavated strata in Israel dating from the time of the monarchy (from David to Jehoshaphat, the period covered in Ages in Chaos I); neither have seals of Ramses II of the 19th Dynasty turned up in Palestine of the Divided Kingdom or in Syria of the Iron Age.

The factual situation is the opposite of this statement by Dr. Stiebing.

I did not state that 18th and 19th Dynasty seals and scarabs are not found in the excavated strata in Israel dating from the time of the monarchy.  What I said was that Mycenaean pottery (which, since it was found at Tell el-Amarna, Velikovsky admits was contemporaneous with the Egyptian 18th Dynasty) is not found in Iron Age layers in Palestine as it should be if Velikovsky's synchronisms were correct.  Instead, it is found with Late Bronze material.  Then in the following sentence I remarked:

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. (Pensée, Fall, 1973, p. 11.)

Scarabs, like coins, were often kept in circulation long after they were made.  Therefore, it is difficult to use them as absolute indicators of date.  Velikovsky is correct in pointing out that many 18th and 19th Dynasty scarabs are found in Iron Age strata in Palestine (3), but he failed to understand the chronological implications of my use of scarabs to establish a terminus a quo (the latest date possible) for the 18th-19th Dynasties.  What I pointed out was that scarabs of Thutmose III, Amenhotep II, Rameses II and other rulers of the Egyptian Empire are also found stratified in Late Bronze Age material (4).  Furthermore, I noted the fact (ignored by Velikovsky in his reply) that Hyksos scarabs were found in Palestine in Middle Bronze Age II contexts (5).  Now what does this prove?  It demonstrates that the rulers of the 18th and 19th Egyptian Dynasties could not have lived later than the Late Bronze Age in Palestine (which was prior to the Iron Age, the period of the Israelite monarchy and the Assyrian Empire), and that the beginning of the Hyksos Period could not have been later than the Palestinian Middle Bronze Age II (which, in turn, was prior to the Late Bronze Age).

Obviously scarabs with the names of 18th and 19th Dynasty pharaohs might remain in use or be copied at any time after the pharaohs in question reigned, but such scarabs could not have been in circulation before these pharaohs were even born.  Since 18th and 19th Dynasty scarabs are found in Late Bronze Age layers in Palestine (which are earlier than the Iron Age with which Velikovsky synchronizes the Egyptian Empire), either scarabs were being issued with the names of Thutmose III, Amenhotep II, Rameses II and others before these rulers were born or Velikovsky's proposed synchronisms are incorrect.  I choose to accept the second of these alternatives.

Velikovsky also ignored the fact that Mycenaean pottery, like that found at Amarna, is extremely common in Late Bronze Age II strata in Palestine (6), but it is not found in the Iron Age strata with which he claims it is contemporary.  Pottery, after all, is more reliable for establishing synchronisms than scarabs.  Pottery is fragile and generally cheap.  When a piece breaks it is thrown away, and no care is taken to retrieve it when it is covered by other debris.  Eventually the sherds of broken pottery of one period become stratified beneath the remains of succeeding eras.  Since pottery styles change over time, careful study of the sherds in successive layers of debris provides a reliable tool for relative dating (7).  Why are pieces of Mycenaean pottery found buried in Palestinian towns in layers of debris below (sometimes far below) the remains representing the Iron Age II (the time Velikovsky claims the pottery was in use), but not in the strata from the era when the pottery was supposedly made?

It was on similar evidence that I stated that the Hyksos Period was contemporaneous with the First Babylonian Dynasty (Hammurabi and his successors).  Hyksos objects are found in Middle Bronze Age II contexts in Palestine, while the MB II material also has close connections with Mesopotamian artifacts belonging to the First Babylonian Dynasty.  The reasoning is simple: A=B and B=C, therefore, A=C.  It follows that the Kassite Period in Mesopotamia (which followed the First Babylonian Dynasty) was contemporaneous with the Palestinian Late Bronze Age and the Egyptian New Kingdom, not with the Middle Bronze Age and Hyksos period as Velikovsky states (8).

Velikovsky again distorted the truth by claiming that my arguments are based on familiar text-books with which he disagrees.  If an unbiased reader will check the references cited in my article he will find that arguments on which I based my attack on Velikovsky's system (those restated above and ignored or misunderstood by Velikovsky in his reply) were supported by references to original sources—the excavation reports of Palestinian archaeologists or archaeological articles in scholarly journals.  I used "familiar text-books" as references only to provide the reader with convenient summaries of data obtained from a great many excavations in the Holy Land.

Finally, Velikovsky makes one of my conclusions the exact opposite of what I wrote.  He says (p. 42): "Whether my reconstruction of ancient history depends on my reconstruction of cosmological events is also irrelevant and contrary to Stiebing's claim."  However, I made no such claim!  What I said (pp. 11-12 of my article) was that I was calling into question "his entire series of synchronisms, some of which are necessary to sustain the interpretations he gives to texts from Egypt, Palestine and Greece."  Rather than claiming that his chronology depends upon his cosmology, I, in fact, stated that 'his cosmology (which was based on his interpretation of many ancient texts) depends upon his chronology.  If, for example, Moses cannot be synchronized with the beginning of the Hyksos Period (and he cannot), then it is unwarranted for Velikovsky to use passages from both the Ipuwer and the Exodus account to reconstruct the same cosmic cataclysm which supposedly occurred in the fifteenth century B.C.

Velikovsky should have read my article more carefully before drafting a reply.  Velikovsky's followers are always ready to cry, "foul," when someone distorts Velikovsky's position.  I hope that the reader will carefully compare my article and Velikovsky's reply, noting the numerous misstatements and distortions he makes in referring to my views.  The reader will also note that Velikovsky's replies to my arguments were largely beside the point and did nothing to refute the evidence from stratigraphy.  The concluding statement of my article is still valid: "Revisions of the kind proposed by Velikovsky are not in harmony with the mass of archaeological evidence presently at our disposal."


(1)       Readers interested in learning more about current methods of archaeological research should consult K. Kenyon, Beginning in Archaeology (Praeger, rev. ed., 1961) or F. Hole and R. Heizer, An Introduction to Prehistoric Archaeology (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 2nd ed., 1969).

(2)       W. H. Stiebing Jr., Pensée (Fall, 1973): 10-11.

(3)       I. Velikovsky, Pensée (Winter, 1973-74): 38-40 and in his article on "Scarabs," pp. 42-45 of the same issue.

(4)       See note 17 of my article (p. 12) for some references.  This list is not exhaustive by any means.  It should also be noted that the works referred to are archaeological reports of the original excavators.  Velikovsky completely misstates the facts when he remarks on p. 40 of his reply: "Dr.  Stiebing mentions, besides Thutmose III, also Amenhotep III (Amenophis III); as indicated by his footnote 14, his main authority is G. E. Wright in the 1961 volume, The Bible and the Ancient Near East.  " Note 14 of my article referred to my statements on the sequence of archaeological deposits in Palestine, and Wright was cited as a "convenient summary" of evidence compiled from the excavation of numerous sites.  It was footnote 17 which gave the references for my statements on 18th and 19th Dynasty scarabs in Late Bronze Age contexts, and these references were to archaeological reports, not a standard history or summary!

(5)       See p. 11 of my article and footnote 23. Unfortunately, when the article was printed the word "Middle" was omitted before "Bronze Age II" in the second sentence of the first paragraph of the third column on p. 11. However, the next sentence makes it clear that I was referring to the Middle Bronze Age II.

(6)       See note 16 of my article (p. 12) for some examples.

(7)       Of course, the archaeologist must be careful that the deposits are sealed and uncontaminated by intrusions from later periods.  Today a very exacting methodology is practiced in archaeological excavations to be sure that evidence of intrusions is detected and that the deposits used for dating purposes were sealed by later floors.  Such meticulous excavation has been in use in Palestine only since the 1930's, and evidence from earlier "digs" is often unreliable.  Velikovsky's arguments in "Scarabs" (pp. 42-45) and "Tiryns" (pp. 45-46) are almost all based on the results of such early pre-"scientific" excavations.  More recent excavations provide little evidence to support his claims.

(8)       See p. 11 of my article and p. 41 of Velikovsky's reply.  It should be stressed again as I noted in footnote 22 of my article that the names of the kings of Babylon given in the Amarna letters are Kassite, not Assyrian.

PENSEE Journal X

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