Blog Supplement

Blog Post

 

I wasn’t going to go here, but since Al asked and has been kind to me, I’ll throw my cracker in the soup—but it’s a small cracker—disclaimers: (1) I am not a religious professional. I did consult LSP, but I don’t speak for him. (2) Everyone has a theory. EdB mentioned this one yesterday in the comments on Father’s Day. (3) Evidence of slave revolts doesn’t equate to the one Moses led, nor does evidence discount it. My opinions are my own, and you are free to offer criticism (bitter or mild) at the conclusions I come to. Frankly, there’s not much data out there. We know much more about historical Troy (same time period) than we do about the Exodus and the arrival of Israelites in Caanan circa the late Bronze Age. There is evidence that Israelites occupied that land continuously through the period in question. That neither supports nor dismisses claims by the Hebrew Bible.

I’m going to take Al’s comments in turn and will comment myself and none of this will convince anyone. But it’s a useful discussion. THEN we’ll look at the larger world at the end of the Bronze Age when civilization in the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean essentially collapsed, which is the world in which the Exodus took place. Again, this isn’t LL’s theory. It’s been extensively researched.

1 . Was it the main body of the Red Sea that was parted, or was it the ancient canal of the Pharaohs or any one of the numerous branches of the Nile or the streams or rivers at the north end of the Red Sea? The folks fleeing knew where the Red Sea shoreline was so either they had a plan on boats or were actually further north where one could walk east into the other lands.

The Hebrew Bible is unclear. Was it the Red Sea or the Reed Sea (shallows) where the crossing was made? If it was made during the rule of Thutmose III, who also ruled Caanan, the Egyptian Army (another one) would have been waiting on the other side. At the time, it was the most powerful army in the world and had dominant control of the entire area. So another Pharoe perhaps – or it may have happened closer to 1177 BC when the Egyptian Army was engaged in an attack by the Sea Peoples (more on that later) and focused elsewhere. The timing of the Bible is precisely referenced to the building of Soloman’s Temple, but it doesn’t work if you use that.

2. The Red Sea was a busy commercial corridor with sail and trade routes inland, and the shoreline of the Red Sea and Sinai was busy with harbors, mining, fishing, and towns. It was kind of hard to hide thousands of fleeing slaves.

Not if it was timed with the civilizational collapse associated with the end of the Bronze Age when commerce ceased to exist.

3. Various mining towns, military forts, fishing towns, and trade routes were all over the Sinai desert, shores, and mountains. It has some rugged wilderness, but it’s not really a big place, as it’s smaller than West Virginia. A large group wandering about for numerous years would get noticed and interact with the trade routes, towns, military patrols, and so on. You’d think they’d get discovered. So did the Egyptian leadership not care, just leave them alone?

Egypt suffered a near military defeat in 1177 BC (again, more below). Biblical scholars, of which I am not one, will be able to tell you possibly to the minute how long it would take to walk from Egypt to Canaan. I can’t, but it’s three weeks or so if you’re moving with women and children. Forty years is a long time for the Biblical numbers of up to two million former slaves to be moving in such a small area. I’m not saying that they did or didn’t.  Hebrew scholars put the likely numbers of a Levite exodus at around ten thousand, which, while large, is not the sort of group that would require 10 million gallons of water a day in the desert. I (personally) have a problem with the Biblical numbers.

4. Moses knew the general geography of the area and would have been aware of the mining and commerce. They May have had allies in some of the far corners of the empire. He was educated and had a plan of some sort. Did it all fall apart as they learned about the military chariots following them? Then, divine help was the solution.

I think the Exodus works historically if you place it in the time when Egypt was challenged militarily in 1177 BC, and the entire infrastructure in the larger Middle East was almost completely disrupted. (again, see below)

Okay, we will set the Hebrew Bible and the Exodus aside and widen our scope to the entire Eastern Mediterranean, where big things were happening and essentially went to pot after the Bronze Age. I’ll refer you to a YouTube video, which you should watch.

Dr. Eric Cline has forgotten much more about this period than I’ve ever known. I will try to summarize the situation for those of you who don’t want to spend an hour and a half listening but want an executive summary.

Climate

Working independently, Brandon Drake of the University of New Mexico has provided scientific data. In the Journal of Archaeological Science, he cites three lines of evidence supporting the view that the Early Iron Age was more arid than the preceding Bronze Age. First, oxygen-isotope data from mineral deposits (speleothems) within Soreq Cave in northern Israel indicate a low annual precipitation during the transition from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age. Second, stable carbon isotope data in pollen cores from Lake Voulkaria in western Greece show that plants were adapting to arid environments at this time. Third, sediment cores from the Mediterranean reveal a drop in the sea’s surface temperature, which in turn would have caused a reduction in precipitation on land (by reducing the temperature differential between land and sea). He notes that while it “is difficult to directly identify a point in time when the climate grew arider,” the change most likely occurred before 1250–1197 BC,37, the time under discussion here. He also notes not only that there was a sharp increase in Northern Hemisphere temperatures immediately before the collapse of the Mycenaean palatial centers, possibly causing droughts, but that there was a sharp decrease in temperature during the abandonment of these centers, meaning that it first got hotter and then suddenly colder, resulting in “cooler, more arid conditions during the Greek Dark Ages.”

As Drake says, these climatic changes, including a decline in the surface temperature of the Mediterranean Sea before 1190 BC that resulted in less rainfall (or snow), could have dramatically affected the palatial centers, especially those that were dependent upon high levels of agricultural productivity, such as in Mycenaean Greece. Israel Finkelstein and Dafna Langgut of Tel Aviv University, in conjunction with Thomas Litt at the University of Bonn in Germany, added additional data. They note that fossil pollen particles from a twenty-meter-long core drilled through sediments at the bottom of the Sea of Galilee also indicate a period of severe drought beginning ca. 1250 BC in the southern Levant. A second core drilled on the western shore of the Dead Sea provided similar results. Still, the two cores also indicate that the drought in this region may have already ended by ca. 1100 BC, thereby allowing life to resume, albeit perhaps with new peoples settling down.

Nevertheless, as exciting as these findings are, droughts have been frequent in this region throughout history, and they have not always caused civilizations to collapse. Again, it would seem that, on their own, climate change, drought, and famines, even if they “influenced social tensions and eventually led to competition for limited resources,” are not enough to have caused the end of the Late Bronze Age without other mitigating factors having been involved.  So, let’s look at the rest of the picture.

Inscriptions of Merneptah and Ramses III in Egypt explain that they were invaded and militarily defeated by so-called Sea Peoples. The Sea Peoples were likely migrants from Europe who were fleeing an extensive and long-lasting famine. Nobody is sure who they were, but what evidence there is points to several different groups. They remain as enigmatic and elusive as ever. Whether seen as sea raiders or migrating populations, the archaeological and textual evidence indicates that the Sea Peoples, despite their moniker, most likely traveled by land and sea—that is, by any means possible. Those proceeding by sea would most likely have hugged the coastline, perhaps even putting it into a safe harbor every evening. However, questions remain about whether the enemy ships mentioned in Ugaritic texts belonged to the Sea Peoples.

Among the many scenarios suggested to explain the final days of the Late Bronze Age in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean, the proposal made by Israel Finkelstein of Tel Aviv University a decade ago still seems most likely. He argues that the migration of the Sea Peoples was not a single event but a long process involving several phases, with the first phase starting in the early years of Ramses III, ca. 1177 BC, and the last phase ending during the time of Ramses VI, ca. 1130 BC. He says specifically that despite the description in the Egyptian texts of a single event, the migration of the Sea Peoples was at least a half-century-long process with several phases.

It may have started with groups that spread destruction along the Levantine coast, including northern Philistia, at the beginning of the twelfth century and were defeated by Ramesses III in his eighth year. Consequently, some of them were settled in Egyptian garrisons in the delta. Later groups of Sea Peoples, in the second half of the twelfth century, succeeded in terminating Egyptian rule in southern Canaan. After destroying the Egyptian strongholds … they settled in Philistia and established their major centers at Ashdod, Ashkelon, Tel Miqne, and other places. These people—the Philistines of the later biblical text—are easily identifiable by several Aegean-derived features in their material culture. Most scholars agree with Finkelstein that the archaeological evidence seems to indicate that we should be looking primarily at the Aegean region, perhaps via the filter of western Anatolia and Cyprus as intermediate stops for some or most along the way, rather than Sicily, Sardinia, and the Western Mediterranean for the origin of many of the Sea Peoples. However, Yasur-Landau suggests that if they were Mycenaeans, they were not those fleeing the ruins of their palaces, at Mycenae and elsewhere, just after those places were destroyed. He points out that there is no evidence of Linear B writing or other aspects of the wealthy palatial period from the thirteenth century BC on the Greek mainland at these Anatolian and Canaanite sites. Rather, the material culture of these settlers indicates that they were from “the rather humbler culture that came [immediately] afterward” during the early twelfth century BC. He also notes that some may even have been farmers rather than raiding warriors, looking to improve their lives by moving to a new area. They were “an entire population of families on the move to a new home.”

Renfrew noted the general features of systems collapse, itemizing them as follows: (1) the collapse of the central administrative organization; (2) the disappearance of the traditional elite class; (3) a collapse of the centralized economy; and (4) a settlement shift and population decline. He said it might take as much as a century for all aspects of the collapse to be completed and noted that there is no single, obvious cause. Furthermore, in the aftermath of such a collapse, there would be a transition to a lower level of sociopolitical integration and the development of “romantic” Dark Age myths about the previous period. Not only does this fit the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean region ca. 1200 BC, but, as he pointed out, it also describes the collapse of the Maya, Old Kingdom Egypt, etc.

However, as we have seen, soon after 1200 BC, the Bronze Age civilizations collapsed in the Aegean, Eastern Mediterranean, and Near East, exhibiting all of the classic features outlined by Renfrew, from disappearance of the traditional elite class and a collapse of central administrations and centralized economies to settlement shifts, population decline, and a transition to a lower level of sociopolitical integration, not to mention the development of stories like those of the Trojan War eventually written down by Homer in the eighth century BC. More than the coming of the Sea Peoples in 1207 and 1177 BC, more than the series of earthquakes that rocked Greece and the Eastern Mediterranean during fifty years from 1225 to 1175 BC, more than the drought and climate change that may have been ravaging these areas during this period, what we see are the results of a “perfect storm” that brought down the flourishing cultures and peoples of the Bronze Age—from the Mycenaeans.

Major Observations 1. We have several separate civilizations that were flourishing during the fifteenth to thirteenth centuries BC in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean, from the Mycenaeans and the Minoans to the Hittites, Egyptians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Canaanites, and Cypriots. These were independent but consistently interacted with each other, especially through international trade routes. 2. It is clear that many cities were destroyed and that the Late Bronze Age civilizations and life as the inhabitants knew it in the Aegean, Eastern Mediterranean, Egypt, and the Near East ended ca. 1177 BC or soon after that. 3. No unequivocal proof has been offered as to who or what caused this disaster, which resulted in the collapse of these civilizations and the end of the Late Bronze Age.

Discussion of Possibilities: Some possible causes may have led or contributed to the collapse at the end of the Late Bronze Age. Still, none seems capable of having caused the calamity on its own. A. There were earthquakes during this period, but societies usually recover from these. B. There is textual evidence for famine, and now scientific evidence for droughts and climate change, in both the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean, but societies have recovered from these times and times again. C. There may be circumstantial evidence for internal rebellions in Greece and elsewhere, including the Levant, although this is not certain. Again, societies frequently survive such revolts. Moreover, it would be unusual (notwithstanding recent experience in the Middle East to the contrary) for rebellions to occur over such a wide area and for such a prolonged period. D. There is archaeological evidence for invaders, or at least newcomers probably from the Aegean region, western Anatolia, Cyprus, or all of the above, found in the Levant from Ugarit in the north to Lachish in the south. Some cities were destroyed and then abandoned; others were reoccupied, and others were unaffected. E. The international trade routes were affected for some time if not completely cut. Still, the extent to which this would have impacted the various individual civilizations is not altogether clear—even if some were overly dependent upon foreign goods for their survival, as suggested by the Mycenaeans. Indeed, sometimes, a civilization cannot recover from invaders or an earthquake or survive a drought or a rebellion. Still, at the moment, for lack of a better explanation, it looks as though the best solution is to suggest that all of these factors together contributed to the collapse of what had been the dominant Late Bronze Age kingdoms and societies in these regions. Based on the evidence presently available, we may be seeing the result of a systems collapse caused by a series of events linked together via a “multiplier effect,” in which one factor affected the others, thereby magnifying the effects of each. Perhaps the inhabitants could have survived one disaster, such as an earthquake or a drought. Still, they could not survive the combined effects of earthquake, drought, and invaders in rapid succession. A “domino effect” then ensued, in which the disintegration of one civilization led to the fall of the others. Given the globalized nature of their world, the effect upon the international trade routes and economies of even one society’s collapse would have been sufficiently devastating that it could have led to the demise of others. If such were the case, they were not too big to fail.

However, despite my comments above, the collapse of systems might be just too simplistic an explanation to accept as the entire reason for ending the Late Bronze Age in the Aegean, Eastern Mediterranean, and Near East. It was in this world that we should insert circumstances surrounding the Exodus.

 

End

35 thoughts on “Blog Supplement

        1. X2
          *
          Because of other battles that the Egyptian main army fought, we know quite a bit about the order of battle, how they fought, and in what strength. In the years of Thutmose III (possibly before the Exodus by a hundred years or so), they fielded a combined arms force of about 150,000 men including companies of Libyans, Nubians, Canaanites, and Sherdens (Greeks) divided up into platoons of 10 men, companies of 200, and divisions of about 5,000 men each. The basic maneuvering unit (comparable to a Roman Legion) was a division. They fielded heavy four-wheel horse-drawn chariots (wagons) that moved slowly and excelled in the two-wheel carts that could be folded and packed during a long journey and unpacked for battle. They were light and were not designed for extensive travel. Each two-wheel chariot was crewed by a driver and a weaponeer armed with javelins and Composite bows in the period we’re discussing. The composite bow, made of wood and double curved shape, ushered in a new era of strategic possibilities.
          *
          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uHV_NGndbq0
          *
          The Egyptian army was also supported by a reliable logistical system and an efficient armaments industry.
          *
          In a combat scenario, the divisions would divide and attack the enemy from different angles, using their longer-range archery to degrade enemy formations before sending in slingers and infantry. The infantry fought as a (generally) articulated unit, not as a mob (unarticulated infantry). Chariot tactics were rehearsed in unit, division and corps levels and were the best and most professional in the world at the time.

    1. It takes a lot longer when you have a dictate that says because you feared the inhabitants you’ll walk in a circle for 40 years.
      And if you are in fear, you’ll take that option.
      Then after you wander and die off and a new generation of Fremen Warriors arise, you go in and take the land..

      1. That’s been my understanding as well, and we can’t harshly judge their actions by the rearview.

    1. LL .. amazing information, and doubly amazing you were able to cobble together a coherent answer to my thoughts/questions in such a short amount of time. A hundred thanks. I have so much more to learn. I’ll watch the video tonight.
      *
      What were the Persians doing while all this was going on? Seems they were always probing Egyptian defenses to do a proper invasion. And the military march route was right thru Israel and the Sinai.
      *
      Sad to think the Great Egypt Library that burned might of contained the answers.
      *
      Ed… thanks for your comments in the Father Day blog and today. I suspect you have more to add. Hint, hint…
      *
      And I agree the last few blogs and comment sections have been first class.

  1. Ever since I was a little kid able to read the four questions, I had a fifth: if the Israelites were fleeing (meaning they had just about enough time to take their toothbrushes and a couple of changes of underwear), where did they find the time (and it is heavy and not easy to transport) to take enough gold to build a calf?
    Did Pharaoh’s army chase them because Pharaoh wanted the slaves back or he wanted the gold they (might have) stole(n) from his treasury?
    Might include a précis of the above interleaved in the Haggadah next April.
    Sorta reminds me of “Das Boot”.

    1. The golden calf is believed by many scholars to have been added for local color to discredit the Northern 10 tribes whose symbol was a bull. I take no position but report what they say. Reference available.

        1. I’ve always been curious where they obtained the gold
          BTW: not that I’m at all interested in scatology, but I think many civilizations may have extinguished themselves in a pile of … ; they had to have had problems getting rid of it – not just human, but rat and pet excrement; has any “great” scholar done an in-depth study?.

          1. If it was a Levite/scribe revolt, many of them were wealthy in their own right. The notion of “slave” needs to be reconsidered.

          2. I’ve read someplace that New York City (among others) was drowning in the stuff before the internal combustion engine and the automobile and trucks conveniently cleaned up the streets by replacing horses. Maybe they need more automobiles in San Francisco to clean up the human poo, I dunno.

            And thank you, L-L for one of the most interesting posts you’ve ever provided, if not THE most interesting.

          3. X2…more historical detail than I ever have been exposed…right here…on this lil ol’ blog. Incredible indeed.

    2. The Old Testament says that they were basically given the loot by the Egyptians.
      They took spoils.
      Ex 14
      5 Now it was told the king of Egypt that the people had fled, and the heart of Pharaoh and his servants was turned against the people; and they said, “Why have we done this, that we have let Israel go from serving us?”
      6 So he made ready his chariot and took his people with him.
      7 Also, he took six hundred choice chariots, and all the chariots of Egypt with captains over every one of them.
      8 And the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he pursued the children of Israel; and the children of Israel went out with boldness.

  2. Is there any chance that 40 years is a mistranslation of a much shorter time period?

    Drought can explain a lot, it’s what ended the Anasazi Civilization 1000 years ago right here in our own back yard.

    1. I think the answer is that the Hebrew Bible says that they wandered in the desert (a relatively small area) for 40 years and you can take it on its face or not. Depending on which scholar you listen to, between 6,000 and 160,000 Israelites made the trek. Taking the more significant number (including animals) in the desert, they’d need 1.4 million gallons of potable water a week. The average person needs about a ton of food a year, and they eliminate roughly that amount. Answering the dung question, they’d leave roughly 300 tons of dung per year in the desert (40). Studies have been done, and nothing was found. Maybe manna wasn’t eliminated like typical food?

      1. God knows…but yes, a logistical mystery for a two week journey…altho, define “wandering”, seems to be the key word in the narrative.

  3. I took a history class in the 1980’s on medieval history from a Cistersien Monk. I view the Dark Ages as just a rural time. The cities failed. life did not change much for the farmers or the lower classes. I don’t expect it to be much different after the initial 50 years or a 100 years time. A new generation of small strong men will rule a small areas. It will be to their benefit to make things work on whatever scale.

    1. The bubonic plague wiped out a significant percentage of city dwellers. Not at all like Covid, which was a bad flu year.

  4. I am not a scholar.
    I read accounts, usually that support my view :)
    My view is that the Bible has been proven relentlessly by archeology.
    Sodom was a myth. Then a guy I interviewed read the Bible closely and seems to have found it. Some dispute it. I don’t know why.
    All the evidence says it is. But f someone wants to not believe, they won’t. I am not referring to anyone here.
    I read a very readable account of biblical historical accuracy in Metaxas’s “Is Atheism Dead?”
    Many for years said David was fictional, no historical evidence of a king given that he was so powerful at one time.
    Then a few years ago, they found evidence.
    Biblical prophecy regarding the restoration of the nation of Israel was neglected or explained away.
    Then 1948 happened and a lot of views changed.

    I am not here to argue, but I choose to believe the Bible as written. Did a donkey really speak? Who am I to say no, when a Man rose from the dead?
    If I start picking and choosing, what else might I choose not to believe because it’s convenient or expedient?
    I’m not picking a fight. Larry is a friend. I think it’s good to challenge assumptions.
    I just have a different opinion.

    1. Ed and I broadly agree. My study of — everything includes a context of time and place and the totality of circumstances. The events of the Hebrew Bible (OT) in the context of the Late Bronze age are but one aspect of the history of the world. Much in the Bible can’t find a historical reference but then you find it. Nobody could prove that Pontius Pilate existed until 1961 and he was the Roman Governor of Judea for TEN YEARS. Then we could. That’s only one example. Part of what I do on the blog is interrogate events both old and new. It’s how I work. The world is a puzzle and putting pieces into place helps me understand it.
      **
      Persia/Parthia is a LONG way from Egypt in the Bronze age, but most of the known world (Near East/Eastern Med) drew its tin from Afghanistan at that time and it came overland through Persia/Parthia. The Medes, Persians, Hittites (in decline during the Late Bronze Age), and City States such as Uruk (Ur) in Mesopotamia, which gave birth to Babylon, Assyria, etc., were to challenge Egypt more directly in the Early Iron Age. The Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem had a LOT to do with reducing the influence of Egypt in their sphere of influence (600 BC). The Persians challenged Israel more directly in the First Century AD than they did in the timeframe of this discussion. By then, Alexander (born 356 BC) had conquered them, and they were a form of Macedonian Persians – and Egypt was ruled by the Greek Ptolemy Dynasty.

      1. Further, when the Romans fought the Parthians (Persians) and had their helmets handed to them, they fought Greeks more than pure Persians. In 53 BC, Crassus led an invasion of Mesopotamia with catastrophic results; at the Battle of Carrhae, Crassus and his son Publius were defeated and killed by a Parthian army under General Surena. The bulk of his force was either killed or captured; of 42,000 men, about half died, a quarter made it back to Syria, and the remainder became prisoners of war. Rome was humiliated by this defeat, which was made even worse because the Parthians had captured several Legionary Eagles. Crassus was forced to drink molten gold…not the best way to end your career as the most wealthy Roman. The Romans and Parthians fought for 682 years. It has to be a record.

        1. This sort of discourse is necessary to flesh out some of the secondary biblical accounts, plus it’s fascinating. Funny how we gain a new perspective on historical events once we gather just a little bit more information. I lived where Washington Crossed the Delaware…I saw the places and the events became real, but that was only a few hundred years ago, not thousands.

        2. I spoke with Conrad Black after having quickly read (and retained little of) his recent book, the first of a trilogy, on civilization up to the Romans, Larry’s explanation of that period reminded me of that.
          The Political and Strategic History of the World, Vol I: From Antiquity to the Caesars, 14 A.D.

  5. Around the time I was awakening to Christianity and Christ, my wife was getting a little magazine called the Biblical Archaeology Review – which is still around.

    What stuck with me, just glancing at it a few times, was the articles would often include something along the lines of, “I thought this was all legend” for any dig that was in there.

    I’ve read on this subject before, but not recently enough to contribute anything meaningful. I was left with the impression that the exodus was before the 1200 to 1170 BC (-ish for both ends) that seem to be the emphasis here. More like 1500 BC. I’m sure there are defenders of pretty much any position one can come up with – as with virtually all academic debates.

  6. Thank You, Sir, for filling the gaps in my history: Roman/Viking/England/Old European centered education. I learned about Troy and the Greek classics, Egypt & the importance if the Nile. I had to recite the correct order of the Kings, Queens & Pretenders before I could earn my long trousers. My father was stationed in 1955s England and lived in a rented row-house across the street from the Roman wall (still an obstacle) that separated the “OLD” part of Lincoln, Lincolnshire (the original Roman Legionary retirement town outside the permanent fort astride the Roman Road on the way to York).
    In spite of being a lifelong (77yo) student of the history that I was surrounded and immersed in, I did not know or understand the collapse of the co-dependent “confederation” of Bronze Age states around the Eastern Mediterranean ca1177 BC. Now, I believe that I understand WHY the evolving Etruscan/Roman State changed the rules of citizen verses allied neighbors. Citizenship became a prized achievement that was bestowed on allies or integrated provincial peoples because of all the major benefits that came with a “Citizen of Rome” title. Each new province became an integral part of the Roman Empire building machine.

  7. My dear LL, you went and did it! Charged headlong into the Hyksos/Sea Peoples/Exodus fray. What can I say, respect. That in mind, this struck me:

    (1) the collapse of the central administrative organization; (2) the disappearance of the traditional elite class; (3) a collapse of the centralized economy; and (4) a settlement shift and population decline. He said it might take as much as a century for all aspects of the collapse to be completed…

    Some say history rhymes.

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