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”

The Song of Deborah: Late Canaanite or Neo-Canaanite?

The Song of Deborah describes a case of a confederation of Israelites defeating an army of the kings of Canaan at “Taanach by the waters of Megiddo”. The question is what time period does the Song represent? Only the Late Bronze IIB-III and Late Iron I could be intended, since the Caananite city-states were insufficiently strong in Early-Middle Iron I (the days of Israelite settlement) and Early Iron IIa.

Now, it is known Hazor was destroyed in the middle of the Late Bronze IIB, when there was no Israelite settlement, and was not settled as a city until Iron IIa, the Omride period, showing Judges 4 cannot be used as a resource for dating the Song. Since Israelite settlement was highly unlikely to have begun until the collapse of Late Bronze III, when the collapse of the Canaanite city-state system disabled both pastoralists and farmers from producing food in the lowlands in a stable manner and when the collapse of Egyptian rule made powerless the city-states and made the Hill Country suitable for settlement. The fact the Song describes a rather complete settlement of the Hill Country, both Cis and Transjordan, makes it highly unlikely the LB III/Late Canaanite period was intended. The mention of the Tribe of Dan, likely the Danuna Sea Peoples tribe residing at Joppa, makes it more likely the Song was written in the Iron I period, when there is some evidence of settlement there, the tribe of Dan not being mentioned in any Late Bronze text.

In short, due to the developed Israelite settlement patterns described in the Song, it is quite likely its events took place in the 11th-10th centuries BC, during the gradual collapse of the Neo-Canaanite Iron I culture in the Jezreel Valley.