David Rohl Does Read My Blog After All!

…but for some reason, my post on his being a reader of this blog has been bizarrely misinterpreted by some of his fans.

While I was spending some time at around 5 AM today reading the recently-released U.N. report on Syrian chemical weapons use on August 21, I noticed a huge spike in my views by way of notification from WordPress. Looking at my list of referrers, I saw a huge wave of visitors to my previous post from Facebook. It was only a matter of a few seconds before I found this post by David Rohl himself.

I would be interested to see from your comments if I am really retired and a complete failure … or whether Mr Pithom is talking through his backside.

-Rohl said

No more books (apparently nobody reads history anymore). No more documentaries on the horizon (see above). Just retirement. My god, sent out to pasture at the age of sixty – what a bummer! Then again …???????

-I think those words are pretty clear and adequately explain why I thought (incorrectly?) that Rohl was retired.
Rohl has also become so infamous in the scholarly world that at least one student was prohibited from using him as a source. Even George Grena, author of what is certainly the worst book I own, has not been that heavily dismissed by most of the scholarly world. I did not say Rohl was a “complete failure”, I said he was a failed chronological revisionist. I did not mean any hostility towards Rohl. I simply tried to write as objective a description as I could of him and a few of his ideas from less than an hour of research. The Facebook commentator who almost hit the nail on the head was Charles Scott Kimball:

Obviously that blogger does not know you very well if he just found out you’re in Spain, and does not know that Peter Van Der Veen is on our side. I’m guessing he thinks you’re retired because he is not familiar with your Mandalaband work, so maybe your new book on the Exodus will correct that.

-Though I was aware that Van Der Veen dated the Izbet Sartah inscription over half a century too late, I was not aware that he is, in fact, a proponent of the idea that the Amarna Era is contemporary with the United Monarchy. However, I never said that Van Der Veen was an opponent of Rohl’s Chronology, so my post stands.

For those wondering what the purpose of my previous post was, please understand that this is a small and little-visited blog. Any publicly prominent reader of this blog is an extraordinary outlier, and, consequently, the rest of my audience should be informed of the existence of that publicly prominent reader.

Most of the commenters on Rohl’s post have an astonishing lack of self-awareness. They, rather bizarrely, took my post as some kind of personal attack on David Rohl or an attempt to belittle him, which, as any reader can see by reading my post, is definitely not the case. I have no personal axe to grind against David Rohl, as I simply have not read much of what he writes. The idea that I am “a jealous ‘David Rohl wannabe'”, proposed by one commentator, is ridiculous- I want any chronological revisionism I may make (such as the downdating of the destruction of Ekron from 604 BC to the early 580s BC) to be accepted by the scholarly community, not, as most of David Rohl’s chronological revisionism, be rejected by the scholarly community! At least one commentator attacked peer review (the worst system of accepting or rejecting papers, except all the others), for not allowing change, completely ignoring the examples of successful chronological revisionists I gave! The crank Robert Bauval called me a jerk not deserving attention. Some commentators used my lack of relevant credentials in archaeology, Near East studies, and Biblical studies to dismiss all my blogposts- a classic example of an ad hominem attack.

As for my dismissal of the Egypt-Sumer boat contact hypothesis- firstly, there is no evidence from the Sumerian records of Sumerian ships sailing to any country further than Lothal. Secondly, there is no evidence, either archaeological or textual, of Sumerian ships sailing to any land further South than northeast Oman. The sea journey from Sumer to Egypt is at least twice as long as the journey from Sumer to Lothal. Thirdly, there is no evidence that either Eritreans or South Arabians adopted Sumerian inventions before Egyptians, which would be the case if this hypothesis was correct. Fourthly, Egyptian texts simply do not describe visitors to Egypt journeying by way of the Red Sea from any land further than Punt.

A word must be said on the association of Meluhha with Kush in the Amarna letters- as there is no evidence of Sumerian-Kushite contact by sea, and the Meluhha-Indus Valley link is very well established on both archaeological and textual grounds (Kush is not exactly famous for its forests), it seems that the location of Meluhha was lost in about the 16th century BC and the toponym was used by Babylonians to describe another faraway land (Kush) by the 14th century BC.

Secondly, the land route from Egypt to Sumer was used far more frequently (and was far shorter than) the sea route. In fact, there is no evidence the sea route was used at all until the Hellenistic period. The land route, however, was used to spread a cuneiform standard stretching from Egypt to West Anatolia to Babylonia during the Amarna era and was used by the Assyrian government to expand its empire during the 8th century BC. For a good overview of the evidence of contact between Egypt and Sumer during the 4th-3rd millennia BC, including evidence for the use of the land route for this contact (at least by the 3rd millennium BC), see here.

Occam's Razor, anyone?
Occam’s Razor, anyone?

Author: pithom

An atheist with an interest in the history of the ancient Near East. Author of the Against Jebel al-Lawz Wordpress blog.

7 thoughts on “David Rohl Does Read My Blog After All!”

  1. Occam’s Razor has often been used under completely false pretences. In this case the distance is not the issue … what matters is speed, safety and terrain. It took Thutmose III’s army (if I remember correctly) twelve days to travel from Tjaru to Gaza (that is just across northern Sinai). A reed ship travels ten times the distance of a donkey in a day and much more safely because it is not required to pass through someone else’s (possibly hostile) territory. As Professor Alan Lloyd (Egyptologist, Swansea University) stated in the documentary film The Egyptian Genesis, travel by boat was by far the best method for trade because you could carry more and transport trade goods much further distances in relative safety. Dr Penny Wilson (Egyptologist, Durham University) agreed that it was entirely feasible and practical to reach the Upper Nile valley around the Arabian peninsula and through the wadis of the Eastern Desert.

    Evidence for ocean-going reed ships has been dug up in Kuwait recently and obsidian from Yemen was found in the same archaeological context, suggesting that Mesopotamian ships of the Ubaid period reached as far as the Bab el-Mandeb. The vast majority of Mesopotamian artefacts found in Predynastic Egypt (Nakada II & III) have been unearthed in Upper Egypt and not Lower Egypt. There is plenty of evidence that there was Mesopotamian contact with the Nile valley via the Eastern Desert, whereas you cannot produce any evidence that contact was made overland from northern Mesopotamia to the Egyptian delta. There is southern Canaan pottery but no Mesopotamian artefacts. There is a clear archaeological gap between the Upper Euphrates predynastic cultures and southern Canaan and Lower Egypt.

    Now apply your Occam’s Razor to that.

    1. Robert Carter (the author who is apparently your source on the matter of the obsidian at Kuwait) is not apparently optimistic about the probability of Egypt-Sumer contact by sea-see the bottom of page 355 of this chapter. The obsidian from the western Arabian peninsula may have been transported by land through the Yabrin oasis, known to be occupied in the 4th-3rd millennia BC (for more on eastern Arabia before the 2nd millennium BC, see here).

      The vast majority of Mesopotamian artefacts found in Predynastic Egypt (Nakada II & III) have been unearthed in Upper Egypt and not Lower Egypt.

      -Can you give references for this statement, preferably those I can read online? Driving across town to the local library or buying another book are not exactly everyday actions for me. If the above is so, it must be evaluated along with the Naqada I-II Upper Egyptian social and political structure, economy, and possible cultural underdevelopment. As an analogy, Assyrian ware is most often imitated in Edom, not in Cisjordan or in Syria, due to Edom’s rapid economic development in the late 8th century BC resulting from the settlement of deportees in the Negev by Sargon II and the resulting spike in trade between Arabia and Philistia along the Beersheba Valley and the King’s Highway. Had Edom been more culturally developed in the mid-8th century BC, I doubt this imitation would have been adopted at so great a scale.

      you cannot produce any evidence that contact was made overland from northern Mesopotamia to the Egyptian delta

      -I presented circumstantial evidence, such as cuneiform writing spreading across the Fertile Crescent land route in the early-mid 2nd millennium BC and Egyptian-produced material at Ebla in the 3rd millennium BC. Let us also recall the mentions of Middle Bronze IIB Hazor at Mari. The land route from Sumer to Egypt was frequently used from at least the 3rd millennium BC, while there is no evidence the sea route around the Arabian peninsula was in use before the Hellenistic period.

      I am not quite done responding.

    2. As for Mesopotamian contacts with Palestine in the 3rd-4th millennia BC -there is some evidence for this, such as Chalcolithic mace heads in Palestine, a wall paintings at Teleilat Ghassul, the spread of the cylinder seal, and the introduction of the stamp seal into Palestine in the EB II. Some of this is later than the Naqada I-II transition, but still adds to the circumstantial evidence for the use of the land route across the Fertile Crescent in rather early times.

      1. You can’t use the spread of the Ottoman Empire to make a point about the prehistoric Middle East. Equally you can’t use a well established 1st millennium trading network (Assyrian/Babylonian/Egyptian) as proof that Sumerians were in contact with Egypt via the Levantine land routes in prehistoric times. That is nonsense. Chalcolithic mace heads in Palestine? What about pear-shaped mace heads in Upper Egypt which proliferate in Nakada II? Cylinder seals proliferate at Nakada and elsewhere in Upper Egypt. The Gebel el-Arak knife with Mesopotamian Master of Animals motif. Niched facade architecture at Nakada and Nekhen. Mudbrick usage at Nakada for the first time. Lapis lazuli in Nakada graves. Obsidian in Nakada graves. Zoomorphic stone vessels in Upper Egypt. The Egyptian White Crown on a cylinder seal from Susiana. Antithetical long-knecked beasts on the Narmer palette from Nekhen. The rosette as a symbol for deity. Thousands of rock art carvings of high-prowed boats carved in the Nakada II and III era on the cliffs of the transverse wadis between the Red Sea and Nile. The two major political centres of the Nakada period on the Nile opposite the two main transverse wadis. All this appears in Upper Egypt.

        I make a case for contact by geographical distribution of artefacts. You haven’t produced any evidence of this pattern in Lower Egypt. The best you can do is some dubious cultural connections in the Levant. And you seem to be missing the point. The argument is not land route versus sea route. The two are not mutually exclusive.

        And, by the way, for your info I got the info about the Yemenite obsidian from Professor Harriet Crawford of the Institute of Archaeology, London, who was your man’s boss.

        1. That does it! I’m adding a new point to my comment policy- commenters must give references to their sources! I requested you to do this in my first reply to you on this post. I try to do this as often as I think I need to. Giving references for sources makes research over twice as easy. Why do you expect me to produce evidence for Mesopotamian-style artifacts in Lower Egypt if you haven’t given me any sources (in the form of links) for your claim that most Mesopotamian-style artifacts in Naqada II Egypt are found in Upper Egypt? Evidence lies in sources. If you don’t give me any, how can I evaluate your claims? Besides, wasn’t it pointed out in one of the sources I referenced in my first reply to you that

          With one possible exception, however, none of these petroglyphs show Mesopotamian boats, and our understanding of the Uruk world now indicates that contact with Egypt was via northern Mesopotamia and the Nile Delta

          Besides, I don’t deny that 4th millennium BC Upper Egyptians had boats that could sail the Red Sea. I do, however, deny that Sumerians ever sailed south of Oman.
          Even if you are correct that most Mesopotamian-style artifacts in Egypt are found in Upper Egypt, this could indicate sampling or preservation bias (deserts preserve more than deltas), or Lower Egypt being too poor, too culturally developed, too culturally underdeveloped, insufficiently politically developed, or having an environment in which imitation of Mesopotamian inventions would have been impractical. This could also indicate a greater degree of regional trade and specialization in Upper Egypt than in the Delta.

          You can’t use the spread of the Ottoman Empire to make a point about the prehistoric Middle East.

          -Maybe you can, but I haven’t seen it done yet.

          Equally you can’t use a well established 1st millennium trading network (Assyrian/Babylonian/Egyptian) as proof that Sumerians were in contact with Egypt via the Levantine land routes in prehistoric times.

          -Yes, but you can use it as circumstantial evidence. Just like the Western Arabian/Yemeni obsidian found at Kuwait is merely weak circumstantial evidence for the idea that the Sumerians sailed to south of Oman.

          And you seem to be missing the point. The argument is not land route versus sea route. The two are not mutually exclusive.

          -Once the land route (known to have been used at least two millennia before the Hellenistic period) becomes known to have been in use in the 4th millennium BC, the probability of the sea route (not known to have been used before the Hellenistic period) being used at so early a date falls drastically.

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