Why NOVA’s Peasant Revolt ‘Theory’ Is Wrong

I was the first commentator on this video. I also disliked it. The reasons for this are to be found in the comments section of the video. As I have described my explanation for the origin of the Israelites, similar to the ‘peasant revolt’ hypothesis, in the previous post, I would like to take a moment to describe why the peasant revolt explanation described in the NOVA program on the Bible’s origins is wrong.

The relevant part of the program:

A radical new theory based on archaeology suggests what happens next. As that oppressive social system declines [Hazor shown here], families and tribes of serfs, slaves and common Canaanites seize the opportunity.

[smashed idol here]

In search of a better way of life, they abandon the old city-states, and head for the hills. Free from the oppression of their past, they eventually emerge in a new place as a new people, the Israelites.

-Needless to say, no archaeologist is called upon to explain this theory. This is because it is not a ‘new’ theory (it is from the 1970s) and because it is not based on archaeology. Perhaps the most striking part of “The Bible’s Buried Secrets” is that it does not mention the Sea Peoples at all (except for the quotation of a single Bible verse mentioning them). This is inexcusable. The Philistines were the single most important contributor to the collapse of Egyptian rule in Canaan. The ‘oppressive social system’ of Canaan under New Kingdom rule could have theoretically been maintained for eternity, discounting the effects of Egyptian land grants to the Priesthood of Amun. The oppressive social system of Late Bronze II Greece could not have been maintained for eternity due to the fact there was no strong empire in the Aegean that could commit genocide and mass population movement or even patrol the seas. The fact is, the great turn from settlement to nomadism in Canaan was during the Late Bronze IB, when Egyptian rule over Canaan was just beginning. It was, as Israel Finkelstein says, a great settlement of long-existing nomads in Canaan that took place during the transition to Iron Age I. Of course, displaced lowland Canaanites also formed a good portion of the ‘proto-[monarchical] Israelite’ population, but they were driven by the Philistines and the social collapse in the lowlands the Philistines caused. Hazor is an unusual case; most cities in Canaan were long largely depleted of population by the Amarna era. Thus, though the words of the program are technically correct (except for the first ones), they ignore more important facts, and their combination with the scenes in the video leads the viewer to incorrect conclusions.

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A Short Non-Biblical History of Palestine from the 13th C BC to the 11th C BC

Or, the Chronology page of this blog in narrative form, Part 1.

As I have recently stumbled upon the idea (which I think false, for archaeological reasons), that the Pentateuch was composed almost entirely around 270 BC and the pre-Exilic material found in it was preserved at Mizpah (partially due to the seamless blending of Babylonian and Late Iron Age Judahite tradition in the Primary History), I have discovered the need to write a truly extrabiblical history of Iron Age Cisjordan (Israel, Judah, and Philistia). While I do think that it is impossible to write a good and comprehensive history of Iron Age Cisjordan without use of the Bible, a wholly extrabiblical history would certainly be useful to compare with the Biblical one.

Part 1: The Collapse of the Imperial Order and the Return of the Sovereign City-State

I shall start a little earlier, in the Bronze Age, specifically the LB IIB. The context was one of what seemed to be next-to guaranteed perpetual peace. The treaty ending further military conflict between the Egyptian and Hittite empires had been accepted by both parties only a few decades before. Needs for defense were next-to nonexistent. A few hundred Egyptian troops could crush any existent foe of the Empire. Maritime trade in what would later be the Eastern Roman Empire was experiencing its greatest period of prosperity ever seen in the Bronze Age. Ivory carving in Cisjordan was witnessing its greatest use in the whole Late Bronze Age. Canaanite scribes were beginning to use the Alphabet, an invention whose advantages had been unnoticed by Eastern Semitic and Egyptian scribes alike.

Yet, all was not well with this imperial order. The Late Bronze IIB was a golden age, indeed, but only for two major classes: those dependent on taxes and those transporting goods between those dependent on taxes. The Forgotten Man was benefited only by the security of this state of affairs, which, more often than not, was only security for his expropriators and those dependent on them. The Forgotten Man could accept this state of affairs, as he did in Egypt, or, as he did in Palestine, Syria, and the Balkans, become to the established authorities a nameless, faceless enemy of civilization and imperial progress. Thus, the Amarna letters reveal the hills of the West Bank (as well as any hilly area in the Egyptian empire as far as northwest Lebanon) were endemically plagued by wandering bands of ‘apiru. Indeed, these bands might have been responsible for the destruction of some Late Bronze Canaanite cities (such as Megiddo VIII) known to not have been destroyed by Egyptians or by Sea Peoples.** Though some (such as Anson Rainey) have taken pains to distinguish the ‘apiru and the shasu, the former subsisting on stolen property, the latter on herded sheep, it seems to me that both are two faces of the same coin. Much like in the modern West Bank, where unemployment is over 20% and looting is endemic, the ancient West Bank was a place where much surplus labor remained untranslated into surplus productivity.

Thus, when the name ‘Isrr’, very likely to be connected with the later-mentioned land of “Sir. ‘i. la. aa“/”Israel” by historians, Continue reading “A Short Non-Biblical History of Palestine from the 13th C BC to the 11th C BC”

Humorous Image of the Day


-Har-dee-har-har! Obviously, this comes by way of the Safi/Gath blog, whose contributors are clearly overburdened with pictures of Philistine pottery they wish to get off their chest, especially after Netanyahu’s infamous bomb presentation. “LPDW” is “Late Philistine Decorated Ware” Monochrome is c. 1130-c. 1050 BC, Bichrome is c. 1070-c. 1020 BC, Debased Bichrome is Late Iron I and LPDW is Iron IIa.

The “Hemming In” Theory of Late Ramesside Policy

The “hemming in” theory of Late Ramesside policy is the name I have given to the hypothesis which states that, after a supposed Philistine invasion in the late 1180s or 70s BC, Ramesses III attempted to “hem in” the already-settled Philistines by constructing a series of forts/governor’s residencies around their territory. This hypothesis is supported by the fortification of such sites as Tell el-Hesi City IV, Tel Sera IX, Tell el-Farah S., Gezer XIV, and Tel Mor VI and V. However, if Ramesses III was strong enough to fortify the border with Philistia, he was certainly powerful enough to attack it. However, no Philistine site shows signs of destruction in the period immediately after the Philistine conquest of Philistia. Also, the “hemming in” model presumes that there was little to no trade between such cities as Lachish VI and Ashkelon. However, the archaeological data argues otherwise, as many marine fish bones were discovered at Lachish VI, while not a single sherd of Philistine Monochrome has been discovered there. This strongly argues that Lachish VI and Ashkelon Phase 20 were not contemporary, and that Lachish VI and Ashkelon Phase 21 were. Thus, it is probable that the line of Egyptian governor’s residencies built on the Via Maris was simply an extension of the earlier Egyptian “Way of Horus” fortification line, and that the decline of Egypt’s Levantine presence at the end of the 12th century was due to a second Philistine invasion. It is also probable Gath was an integral part of Egypt’s 12th century Via Maris fortification line, as made probable by the excavation results from there.