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VELIKOVSKIAN                                                                                                     Vol. 11, No.  1

The Emerging Revision of Ancient History:
Recent Research
Martin Sieff

Was Shishak of the Bible really Thutmose III, as Immanuel Velikovsky claimed?  Or was he really Ramses II, as claim Peter James, David Rohl and other proponents of the historical model long pushed by publishers of the British-based Catastrophism and Chronology Review?  Did the Exodus occur at the end of the Middle Bronze Age, as they argue and John Bimson argue, and as Velikovsky himself believed?  Or did it take place earlier, at the end of the Early Bronze Age, as Donovan Courville, Tom Chetwynd, Stan Vaniger, Emmett Sweeney, Brad Aaronson and I have argued?

Over the years, it seems that detailed new models for the radical revision of ancient history have been falling faster than leaves in a New England autumn.  Proponents of many models claim, as original, points which have been made by earlier writers.  Work embarrassing to their theories is often ignored through convenient ignorance.  With some honorable exceptions, most protagonists fiercely hold to their views without showing the slightest willingness to amend them in the light of others' work, and, if one dares to raise one's head and criticize such a theory, the response is a torrent of ad hominem abuse.

However, amid this babel of tongues and theories, much significant work has emerged within the past five years or so; from both the academic mainstream and revisionist camps.  Some of the most serious work by revisionists, most notably Gunnar Heinsohn and Yehoshua Etzion, has been addressed in open debate by mainstream scholars.

It is my contention that the thrust of this work establishes a coherent model that solves many major problems of the revision of ancient history and opens fruitful roads of research to exploring many more.  This piece, therefore, does not presume to be comprehensive, but aims to introduce readers of this journal to developments they may be unfamiliar with.

My own position, as mentioned above, is that the Israelite Exodus from Egypt and the conquest of Canaan occurred at the end of the Early Bronze Age, in the era known as Early Bronze IV or Middle Bronze 1A in the stratigraphical record.

To the best of my knowledge, Donovan Courville was the first researcher to espouse the theories that the Exodus took place at the end of the Early Bronze Age and that the Israelite United Kingdom of David and Solomon was the Hyksos Empire of the High Middle Bronze II period.  Courville introduced us to his theories in 1971, through the two-volume work, The Exodus Problem and Its Ramifications.[1]

At approximately the same time, Tom Chetwynd came to the same conclusion.  Then, in 1991, he published The Age of Myth,[2] a book on his position.  He has published various articles over the years, primarily in the Los Angeles-based Catastrophism and Ancient History, which has also published pieces by Courville.

Courville and Chetwynd both noted the general consensus on the Palestinian stratigraphical record: The Early Bronze Age in Israel was noted for great walled cities, virtually megalithic in their construction.  At the end of the Early Bronze Age, these cities and their people were overthrown by invaders from east of the Jordan River, widely assumed to have come from Mesopotamia or from the north, although there is no direct evidence of this.

The invaders are assumed to be the Canaanites of the Bible.  At first nomads, the Canaanites later developed a wealthy, cultured and literate civilization which reached its height in the mysterious Hyksos Empire of the Middle Bronze II period.  At this time, the composite Asiatic strongbow and the light chariot were introduced into Middle Eastern warfare for the first time.  They also built vast fortresses, protected by so-called glacis-embankments of piled earth, probably built only through the use of forced labor, at such sites as Gezer, Megiddo and Hazor.  The Hyksos [Canaanites] also ruled the Egyptian delta.  Their rule ran from the Nile River to the Euphrates River.  Then their empire mysteriously disappeared.  However, there was no striking change in the occupation of the land of Israel; the so-called Canaanite civilization entered a new, almost as brilliant period, contemporaneous with the 18th and 19th dynasties of Egypt, in the Late Bronze I and II periods.

At the end of the Late Bronze era, a catastrophic breakdown afflicted the entire Near East.  The civilizations of Canaan, Egypt and the Hittite Empire all collapsed, supposedly before the invasion of mysterious "Peoples of the Sea," and a dark age swept the entire region.  There was a mysterious Asiatic occupation of Egypt--led by one "Arsu"--between the 19th and 20th dynasties.  Another equally mysterious, apparently Asiatic invader, also occupied the land during the early 21st dynasty.  During the Iron I period, after all this, a relatively small group of people, numbering probably no more than 50,000, settled the hill-lands of Judea from across the Jordan.  They showed no sign of Egyptian influence; they did not conquer Galilee or occupy the north, as the Bible's book of Joshua claims; they were a strong presence in and around Jerusalem, the very area where the book of Judges claims that Israelite influence was most weak during the Judges' period.  Nevertheless, they were assumed to be the Israelites.

Both Courville and Chetwynd's works are heavily flawed--not an uncommon problem for pioneers!

Courville shoehorned the entire historical and stratigraphical record into a Christian fundamentalist time frame starting with a 2400 BC date for the Great Deluge.  His Mesopotamian chronology, like many others, may best be described as fictional.  It lacks external verification.  His dates for the period of the biblical kings are taken, uncritically, from Edwin R. Thiele's The Mysterious Dates of the Hebrew Kings,[3] and from the framework for an Egyptian chronology of the dynasties that has proven unworkable in detail, specially for the 20th dynasty period and the Third Intermediate Period.

However, Courville deserves great credit for amassing valuable testimony, much of it culled from mainstream archeologists, that argues a strong case for placing the Exodus at the end of the Early Bronze Age; for identifying David and Solomon as Hyksos; and for placing the Egyptian 19th dynasty immediately after the 18th dynasty, without a 150-year gap between them, as Immanuel Velikovsky had claimed in Ramses II and His Time,[4] one of the published successor volumes to Ages in Chaos.[5]

Chetwynd amasses a brilliant series of correlations between biblical writings and both Egyptian and Mesopotamian texts, arguing strongly that they have been written in the same time periods.  His weakness is that he accepts conventional dates for the Early and Middle Bronze eras and then invents a colossal "gap," or "dark age," greater than anything in conventional history after the Hyksos when, he claims, the brilliant Semite civilization of the Hyksos was destroyed--only to be partially reconstructed more than a 1,000 years later.

There is no archeological or literary evidence to suggest such a gap at such a time, and, by arguing so tenaciously for one, Chetwynd only discredits the value of the impressive evidence he has amassed.  Thus, he provides no credible model, or paradigm, into which the material he assembles can be fitted.  Nevertheless, his work is a valuable introduction to the possibilities of such a model.

Over the past decade, the theory of the Early Bronze Exodus has received dramatic support from the work of two of the world's most respected archeologists, Emmanuel Anati and Rudolph Cohen.

Professor Anati, who teaches paleoethnology at Italy's University of Lecce and directs the Centro Camuno di Studi Preistorici, is probably the world's leading expert on prehistoric rock art.  He summarized his work in a Biblical Archaeological Review article,[6] then wrote a richly-illustrated book, The Mountain of God,[7] which described the most credible candidate yet found for the biblical Mount Sinai, Mount Karkom in Israel's southwest Negev Desert, a sacred site of immense popularity throughout the Early Bronze Age but deserted thereafter.  In his book, Anati recorded an astonishing array of finds that appeared to correlate with the book of Exodus's account of the Israelites' experience at Sinai.

The great argument against Anati's theory, according to mainstream critics, is that the conventional date for the end of the Early Bronze Age, falling sometime between 2400 BC and 2200 BC, is virtually 1,000 years too early to fit the Exodus and the Israelite experience at Sinai.

Anati, in most respects a conventional mainstream scholar, never tackled this central criticism.  But, as we shall see, his work fits well into a detailed archeological model prepared by revisionists.

Dr. Cohen, former Director of Antiquities of the Negev, published an article in Biblical Archaeological Review,[8] where he discussed the mysterious inhabitants of the Negev who were there for no more than two generations, possibly less, during the Early Bronze/ Middle Bronze transition period.

According to the conventional chronology as interpreted by W. F. Albright and Nelson Glueck, among others, this corresponded to the period when the patriarchs were in Israel's southern desert.  But, as Albright, Glueck, Kathleen Kenyon and others have admitted, the remains from this period are more numerous and imposing than any nomadic remains in the region from any other period before or since.  A large population, ranging from the tens of thousands to--possibly--the hundreds of thousands, appeared at this time in settlements with stone-piled, simple houses all over northern Sinai and the Negev.  If climactic conditions were as they are now, as appears to have been the case, how they subsisted--where they got their food and water--is a mystery.  No one knows where they came from or where they went to.  But, immediately after this period, Canaan was conquered and its entire Early Bronze civilization was destroyed by nomads from east of the Jordan who introduced an entirely different culture.

In his article, Cohen did not come out and actually say that "the Mysterious Middle Bronze I people" were the Israelites of the books of Exodus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, but he relentlessly piled up one striking parallel after another.  In an accompanying map, he listed the distribution of these sites.  Strikingly, a number of them are found in the northern Sinai passes that link Egypt with Canaan.  Several sites are found along the key communications route which was bitterly fought over by Israel and Egypt in their 1956 and 1967 wars: the Miti pass.

            Neither Rudolph Cohen nor Emmanuel Anati publicly suggested that the conventional chronology of ancient history be revised in line with their work.  However, by 1985, such outlines, had been published as part of the revisionist debate, as we have seen, taking the end of the Early Bronze Age as their starting point for the Exodus from Egypt and the conquest of Canaan.  The work of Anati and that of Cohen fits dramatically with these models.

A new book, The Lost Bible,[9] by Yehoshua Etzion, goes far beyond the work of Anati and Cohen, providing the most detailed archeological reinterpretation yet of the Israeli strata.

Etzion's work follows the general outlines of Courville's work, which he acknowledges.  Like Courville, Etzion places the Exodus at the end of the Early Bronze Age and the conquest of Canaan at the beginning of the Middle Bronze Age.  He also identifies the Hyksos Empire of Middle Bronze II as the United Israelite Kingdom of Saul, David and Solomon, and places the Assyrian conquest of the land of Israel at the end of the Late Bronze Age, when the so-called "Canaanite" (Etzion's Israelite Northern Kingdom) civilization is destroyed and replaced, in Iron I, by the more primitive, so-called "Israelite" civilization, the Samaritans of the books of Chronicles and Kings.

Many agreed with Courville's conclusions, as did I. However, Etzion excelled in the rigor, scholarship and detail of his work.  He studied the original excavation reports of all the major digs in Israel during this century and quoted extensively from them.  When his work appeared, published in Israel, it could not be ignored.  Published by Schocken Books, Israel's largest publisher, his book sold well, attracting both pro and con articles in the mainstream Hebrew press.  Some leading Israeli archeologists, in an eerie echo of the 1950 "Velikovsky Affair," actually threatened Schocken Books with an academic book boycott if that company published the book.  This provoked widespread outrage and, unlike the Macmillan Publishing Company, Velikovsky's first publisher, Schocken Books stood firm, put out the book and made a handsome profit from it.

A few mainstream archeologists publicly praised Etzion's handling of the material in their own areas of specialty, and Professor Abraham Negev, one of the world's leading authorities on the archeology of Israel, welcomed the book as an important contribution to the archeological debate.

Etzion's work has yet to be published in English translation, but any historical revisionist who can read Hebrew should order a copy as soon as possible.  I believe that it is the most outstanding work published by any revisionist since Ages in Chaos, volume I, came out 41 years ago.  Etzion very carefully limits the scope of the work to Israeli, or Palestinian, archeology, and does not suggest how the chronologies and stratigraphical interpretations of neighboring lands are affected by his work.  This is not to duck the issue; as the reader will see, others have already started to take up that challenge.

What Etzion does achieve is to produce a work that, in its depth, scope, command of sources and documentation, is likely to prove as authoritative as Claude Schauffer's Stratigraphie Comparée, [10] a book that influenced Velikovsky greatly.  Etzion produces a coherent model fitting the biblical historical record to the archeological strata over more than 2,000 years, starting with the Chalcolithic period, which he identifies with the time of the patriarch Abraham--thereby validating Tom Chetwynd's insight in The Age of Myth that the Abraham tales, regardless of how much later they were written down, reflect a primeval society not far out of the Stone Age.

Etzion produces an original and radical interpretation of the Iron Age, long a stumbling block for revisionists.  In the late 1970s, the British scholars of the Glasgow School (named after the 1977 Glasgow Conference on Velikovsky's historical work) faced the problem of squeezing an Iron Age conventionally reckoned to be 500 years long into a 140-year period between the Assyrian conquest of the Northern Kingdom, at 720 BC, and Nebuchadnezzar's destruction of Jerusalem, at 587 BC.  It could not be done.

Etzion retains the 720 BC start for the Iron Age, but gives it a full 550 years to run.  He identifies Iron I as the Assyrian period, from 720 BC to 587 BC; Iron II as the Babylonian and Persian periods in Israel, from 587 BC to 333 BC; and Iron III as the period of Greek dominance starting with Alexander the Great, continuing through the conflicts between the Syrian Seleucid and Egyptian Ptolemaic empires, and ending with the Hasmonean revolt against Syria, all from 333 BC to 167 BC.

Radical as this approach is, it solves many problems.  The mystery of the "missing" Persian period--the dearth of remains from the Persian period--is resolved.  Samaria, the Iron II city of Omri and Ahab, kings of Israel, conventionally dated at the 9th century BC, is shifted by half a millennium down to the 4th century BC and is interpreted as the Persian provincial capital.

On the immensely complicated archeological problems of Jerusalem, Etzion is even more radical and dramatic in his conclusions.  He argues, in detail, that much of the monumental stonework in the Old City [Jerusalem], conventionally dated to the period of the Hasmonean rulers (from c. 160 BC to 66 BC) is actually 900 years older and is part of the great Middle Bronze II city that was the capital of the Hyksos Empire.  He adduces much more evidence from digs to argue the thesis that the biblical Jerusalem of the kings and prophets from David to Jeremiah was not the small Iron Age city, as is universally accepted, but that it was virtually identical in size and location to the Old City, as it has been defined over the past 2,000 years.

Etzion's work presents revisionists with both a negative and a positive challenge.  The negative challenge is their willingness to abandon or revise many dearly held personal views in light of the abundant primary documentation, from Israeli archeological sites, that he assembles.  He has forever changed the terms of the revisionist debate.  No future stratigraphical model can hold any credibility unless it embraces or manages to convincingly refute his conclusions.

On the positive side, Etzion gives more credibility to the radical revisionists than anyone, including Velikovsky, has ever done before.  He has made radical revisionism intellectually respectable in the Israeli archeological mainstream so that the leading Israeli archeologists, including Professor Abraham Negev, are for the first time procured to debate the subject in an open and fair manner.  This is a development whose importance cannot be overly estimated.

Etzion's work also opens up rich and rewarding lines of research for the radical revisionists.  I am personally convinced that any future radical consensus will have to coalesce around his work.

Peter James, David Rohl and Bernard Newgrosh, and their supporters, have argued zealously in favor of models which are based on having the Exodus occur at the end of the Middle Bronze Age.  Gunnar Heinsohn places the Exodus later still in the chronological and stratigraphical record: at the end of the Late Bronze era, in the 7th century BC.  But none of these researchers has produced a convincing stratigraphical model for all the Palestinian/Israeli sites that so dovetails with the biblical record as Etzion's model does.  As self-proclaimed revisionists all, they cannot retreat behind the claim that other models for Egyptian or Mesopotamian history render Etzion's model impossible.  They must challenge and discredit the documentation and interpretation that Etzion assembles.  They cannot ignore him.  Taking such a course of action would render them unworthy of any serious consideration.

If Etzion is right--as I believe he is--then revisionists face an even greater challenge: to produce credible and coherent chronological models {for the} rest of the ancient world that will harmonize with his model.

Three such models have already been attempted, the first two produced independently of Etzion's work:

Brad Aaronson, a senior editor of Catastrophism and Ancient History, has produced what he calls "The Jerusalem Chronology" for the biblical record, which he proposes as an alternative to the widely accepted Edwin Thiele chronology.[11]

Emmett Sweeney has produced a daring chronological model for ancient Egypt that accepts virtually all of Ages in Chaos, including Velikovsky's later volumes, and brings down the 4th, 5th and 6th dynasties of the pyramid-builders to the 8th and 9th centuries while it claims the 12th dynasty as an alter-ego of both Hyksos-Israelite and 18th dynasty rulers.[12]

I have produced an alternative model for Asia Minor, Israel and Egypt, published in Catastrophism and Ancient History's newsletter as "Theses for the Reconstruction of Ancient History."[13]  This model is in full agreement with Etzion's work in its sections about Israel, which I was familiar with, and offers a new chronology for the Egyptian dynasties--from the 13th dynasty, which I identify as the 400-year Amalekite oppression of Egypt after the Exodus (from 1500 BC to 1100 BC), to the 26th dynasty.

Like Sweeney and Courville, I identify the Hyksos as the Israelites.  Like Courville, but unlike Sweeney and Velikovsky, I follow the conventional view in running the 19th Egyptian dynasty right after the 18th Egyptian dynasty.  My "Theses" include a solution for the period from the 20th to the 26th dynasties, covering the Third Intermediate Period of Egyptian history.  I first proposed my theories in Catastrophism and Ancient History. [14]

The list of works discussed above can, obviously, be neither comprehensive nor authoritative.  Some people may disagree with what these authors believe, but ignorance is no defense in historical debate.  The works discussed represent a challenge: They open a new era in the historical debate.  They may be validated or refuted.  They must be discussed.  There is no excuse for ignoring them.

[1]       Donovan Courville, The Exodus Problem and its Ramifications, 2 vols. (Loma Linda, California, 1971).

[2]      Tom Chetwynd, The Age of Myth (London, England, 1991).

[3]       Edwin R. Thiele, The Mysterious Dates of the Hebrew Kings, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1940).  The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings, a new revised edition, was published in 1984.

[4]      Immanuel Velikovsky (A), Ramses II and His Time (New York, 1978).

[5]       Immanuel Velikovsky (B), Ages in Chaos (New York, 1952).

[6]       Emmanuel Anati (A), "Has Mt. Sinai Been Found?" Biblical Archaeological Review (July/ August 1985): 42-57.

[7]       Emmanuel Anati (B), The Mountain of God (New York, 1986).

[8]       Rudolph Cohen, "The Mysterious Middle Bronze I People," Biblical Archaeological Review (July/ August, 1983): 16-29.

[9]      Yehoshua Etzion, The Lost Bible (Tel Aviv, Israel, 1992).

[10]      Claude Schauffer, Stratigraphie Comparée et Chronologie de l'Asie Occidentale (IIIe et IIe milenaires) (London, England 1948).

[11]      Brad Aaronson, "The Jerusalem Chronology," a privately published, privately distributed report, Jerusalem, Israel.

[12]     Though his chronological revisions first appeared in privately published works, Genesis of Israel and Egypt (1989) and The Legacy of Akhnaton (1989), and also in "An Answer to the Critics of Ramses II and His Time," SIS Workshop (1991): 6-9, Emmett Sweeney is believed to be revising his conclusions.

[13]     Martin Sieff (A), "Theses for the Reconstruction of Ancient History." Catastrophism and Ancient History newsletters (1991-1992).

[14]     Martin Sieff (B), "Scarab in the Dust: Egypt in the Time of the 21st Dynasty," Catastrophism and Ancient History VII: 2 (July, 1985): 99-109 and Martin Sieff (C), "The Lybians in Egypt: Resolving the Third Intermediate Period," Catastrophism and Ancient History VIII: 1 (January, 1986): 29-39.


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