Alternative Chronologies

By Vern Crisler

Copyright, 2003

Rough Draft

1. Velikovsky’s View of the Egyptian New Kingdom

I could spend a lot of time going through all the details of this view, but it would be pretty tedious.  Velikovsky’s mode of operation is to assert identity between various individuals, or nations, then having asserted an identity, to give a long, tiresome history of each compared individual, or compared nation, and then argue that they have to be identical because of all the “synchronisms.”

He says: “It goes without saying that synchronism of the whole means correspondence in details too; but if the contemporaneity of the epochs is disputed, how shall the synchronism of details be explained?” (Ramses II and His Time, pp. 55-56.)

But many of Velikovsky’s instances of “correspondence in details” turn out to be superficial.  For instance, he cites the fact that chariotry was used by both Ramses 2 and Necho 2 (ibid., p. 24) — and we’re supposed to take this as evidence of a correlation?  Does Velikovsky mean to suggest that these are the only two pharaohs who ever used chariots?  Most of Velikovsky’s other “correspondences” can be dismissed for the same reasons—too much superficiality and too little substance to the correlations.

But going through all of them would be an exercise in redundancy.  As I’ve pointed out, Velikovsky’s use of literary sources as his primary evidence is already fatal to his revision, and we only need to cite one instance to show this.  Ramses 2 is correlated to the archaeological period known as Late Bronze 2b.  Necho 2 is correlated to the archaeological period known as Iron 2c.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what’s wrong in trying to identify these two individuals.  You’d have to run together two distinct archaeological periods.   William H. Stiebing, Jr. pointed out:

“Scarabs and other inscribed objects bearing the names of Thutmose III, Amenhotep III, Ramses II, Merneptah, and other Egyptian New Kingdom rulers have been found with Late Bronze Age artifacts buried beneath Iron Age material at a number of Palestinian archaeological sites.  This stratified physical evidence will not allow one to move Egyptian chronology forward by four hundred years or more while keeping Israelite and Mesopotamian chronology unchanged.” (Out of the Desert?, p. 122.)

In my opinion, that little archaeological fact spells doom for Velikovsky’s revision.  It’s not physically possible for the Late Bronze 2b period to be identified with the Iron 2c period.  In order to do that, one would have to wipe out Iron 1a, Iron 1b, Iron 2a, and Iron 2b, not to mention explaining how a stratum underneath another stratum could be identical to the one it’s underneath (or how can a lower stratum be identical to a higher stratum)?  This is all that’s needed to show Velikovsky’s mistake in his interpretation of the New Kingdom pharaohs of Egypt.

While I’m partial to revisionism myself, it’s important that it be done in a way that takes account not just of literary evidence, but also of stratigraphic evidence.  If that’s not done, the resulting revision may end up as unworkable as Velikovsky’s.  It’s no wonder that many of Velikovsky’s disciples left the master and wandered down different paths.

2.  Velikovsky’s Date for the Exodus

Velikovsky places the time of the Exodus at the end of the Egyptian Middle Kingdom, and the Conquest 40 years after the Middle Kingdom.  (Cf. Earth in Upheaval, p. 249)  He claims that the Middle Kingdom of Egypt went down in a “great natural catastrophe” (idem).

Unfortunately for Velikovsky, he again relied too much on literary evidence, e.g., the Papyrus Ipuwer and its tale of woe.  The fact is, there was no catastrophe at the end of the Middle Kingdom in Egypt (and the Ipuwer papyrus is usually regarded as describing the end of the Old Kingdom in Egypt).  The end of Egypt’s Middle Kingdom corresponds to the end of the pottery horizon known as Middle Bronze MB2b, and the beginning of the pottery horizon known as Middle Bronze 2c.

Not only is there no evidence of catastrophe during this period in the Holy Land, as required by Velikovsky’s thesis, there is also cultural continuity all the way from MB2a through at least the MB2c strata.  According to Amihai Mazar in his Archaeology of the Land of the Bible: 

“[T]he transition between MBIIA and MBIIB was a smooth and slow process of cultural development unaccompanied by a cultural crisis….” (p. 191).

“The quality of the MB IIB-C pottery is particularly good…Many of the vessel shapes evolved from those which were introduced in the preceding MB IIA period; this is a significant indication of cultural continuity between the two periods.” (p. 214)

Because there is no evidence of widespread catastrophe during MB2a, MB2b, and throughout most of MB2c, and if archaeological science has any meaning, it shows that no Middle Bronze Age theory of the Exodus and Conquest can work.  It either as to be at the very beginning (with MB1) or at the very end (with MB2c) but it cannot be during the Middle Bronze Age itself.  This rules out Velikovsky, along with Rohl and Stewart.

Velikovsky also attempted to correlate the Exodus to the Hyksos invasion of Egypt, regarding the latter as Amalekites.  Nevertheless, there is no evidence that Palestine went through a major upheaveal at this time; indeed, the start of MB2c (the 15th dynasty Hyksos strata) finds a very heavily fortified Palestine, with no evidence of major destruction.  There was also cultural continuity from previous periods, as indicated by pottery (ibid., p. 214).

It’s easy enough to misidentify biblical sites because the site location is more of an art than a science, and is hardly out of the crib as a body of knowledge compared with the mature science of stratigraphic analysis.  My view is that many biblical sites are even now being misidentified to an alarming degree (primarily because Iron age material is being used for site identification).

Nevertheless, it’s a lot harder to misidentify a whole geographic region, or a whole pottery horizon, and the failure of Velikovsky to produce any evidence of  widespread geographic destruction of cities in Palestine at the end of the Middle Kingdom in Egypt (MB2a or even MB2b), and his parallel failure to explain the evidences of cultural  continuity and heavy fortification during these periods, shows that his revised chronology was rightly rejected by many of his disciples.

They went on to attempt to identify the end of the Middle Bronze Age (MB2c) as the era of the Exodus.  (Note that the end of the Egyptian Middle Kingdom is not the same as the end of the Middle Bronze age.)

It doesn’t really matter what calendar date you assign to any of Velikovsky’s periods.  The problem is not with dates, but with stratigraphy.  Ramses 2 is archaeologically linked to LB2b and Necho 2 is linked to IA2c.  The archaeological ages tell us the relative age, regardless of what the absolute date is.  And in terms of current archaeological science (which has become a mature science because of Albright and Kenyon’s work) the Late Bronze age is stratigraphically underneath the Iron age.

Moreover, the Late Bronze age and the Iron age are divided up into distinct pottery horizons that correspond to the physical location of the pottery strata on the tells.  Imagine the following as a tell:

Earlier levels

Just above earlier levels is the pottery horizon (LB2a) which is underneath the next one up (LB2b), and so on — so the above column mimics what is actually on the ground at these tells.  As you can see, for Velikovsky’s revision to work, he’d have to plow through four pottery periods in order to make LB2b identical with IA2c.  It’s physically impossible, unless one wants to throw out the whole science of archaeological stratigraphy.

That’s probably why many in the revisionist field abandoned Velikovsky’s chronology back around 1979.  Velikovsky’s fundamental mistake, as I’ve said, was to rely almost exclusively on literary data for his revised chronology, and this left his chronology exposed to almost instant falsification.

3.  Did the Conquest Take Place During MB2C?

Some of Velikovsky’s disciples, recognizing problems with his chronology, adopted a different view of how the chronology of the ancient world could be reconstructed.  Instead of going along with Velikovsky and dating the Exodus and Conquest to the end of the Middle Kingdom of Egypt, they instead dated these events to the end of the Middle Bronze Age, specifically, the MB2c pottery horizon.

John Bimson rejected the widely held view that the destructions at the end of the Middle Bronze Age were occasioned by the Egyptians of the 18th dynasty—in their wars against the Hyksos—and instead offered the theory that they were caused by the Israelites during the Conquest under Joshua.

There are significant problems with this view, however.  From the viewpoint of the Neo-Courville Interpretation, it’s almost certain that the destruction of Shechem in the MB2c period was the work of Abimelech.  On Bimson’s chronology, this would place the Conqest at the time of the later Judges.  Of course, Bimson would reject MB2c as the time of Abimelech, but that is too bad for his chronology, in my judgment!

Others have pointed out that the city of Ai was not occupied after the Early Bronze Age and thus could not have been destroyed by Joshua at the end of MB2c.  This was such bad news for Bimson’s chronology that he adopted the view that Ai had been misidentified.  It’s plausible that biblical cities have been misidentified by archaeologists¾even likely—but it’s not very plausible or likely that Ai is one of those.

Nevertheless, Bimson regarded Khirbet Nisya as  providing the correct site for Ai rather than the traditional site of et-Tell.  Khirbet Nisya, however, has provided no evidence for a destruction at the end of the Middle Bronze age. (See, William Stiebing, Jr., Out of the Desert, p. 139).

In addition to the lack of evidence of an occupation at Ai during the MB2c period, there is also no evidence of any MB2c occupation of the Negev or of the Kadesh-Barnea region, the places where Moses and the children of Israel wandered for 40 years.

The destruction of Shechem is a real problem for Bimson’s view, even if it’s not interpreted as the work of Abimelech.  The Bible does not say that Shechem was destroyed during the Conquest.  Indeed, Joshua met with the people at or by Shechem in order to confirm the Covenant with them.  “Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem and called for the elders of Israel, for their heads, for their judges, and for their officers; and they presented  themselves before God” (Josh 24:1).

MB2c Shechem was razed to the ground, completely destroyed.  Thus, from an archaeological point of view, there would have been no city in which Joshua could have met with the elders of Israel.  I see no way out of this for Bimson’s chronology.

4.  Did the Conquest Take Place During MB2B?

David Rohl, in his book Pharaohs and Kings: A Biblical Quest (hereafter P&K) adopted MB2b as the period of the Conquest, but there are some problems with this identification as well.

First, as I’ve said, I think it’s almost a certainty that the MB2c destruction of the city of Shechem was carried out by Abimelech, who is much later than the Conquest.  The MB2c destruction of Shechem is the only time in the whole history of Shechem — at least before the later Assyrian destructions — in which the whole city (fortress temple, inner housing, defensive walls, and tower gates) was completely destroyed.  Nothing else in the history of Shechem comes close in terms of the level of destruction that took place in MB2c.

David Rohl, in speaking of the destruction of the city of Shechem, says,

“The destroyed second stage of the massive MB fortress-temple at Shechem is to be identified with Migdol Shechem burnt to the ground by Abimelech with one thousand Shechemites inside.  The subsequent abandonment of the site is consistent with the Abimelech story in which he razed the town and sowed it with salt.” (P&K, p. 325).

In standard archaeological terminology, the destruction of the city of Shechem noted by Rohl would be at the end of the MB2c pottery horizon.  Logically, then the Conquest must be earlier, and Rohl adopts the MB2b pottery horizon as the time of the Conquest:

“Let me remind you of the passage in the book of Joshua concerning the Israelites Covenant, the events of which we are now dating within the MB IIB archaeological phase” (Ibid. p. 322).

He further says,

“All this fits perfectly with the biblical story of the great Migdol Temple of Baal-Berith, first mentioned during the final phase of the Conquest campaign (MB II-B, 1405 BC), then destroyed by Abimelech during the first part of the Late Bronze Age (LB1, 1168 BC), contemporary with the reign of Amenhotep I in Egypt….” (The Lost Testament, p. 279).

It’s important to recognize that Rohl is adopting a different terminology from that used by the archaeologists who excavated Shechem.  They used the standard pottery periods, i.e., MB2a, MB2b, MB2c, followed by the Late Bronze Age.  They clearly connected the massive destruction of Shechem with the end of the MB2c pottery horizon.

Other archaeologists have denied that the later Middle Bronze Age can be divided into an MB2b and an MB2c period, and have simply called it all MB2b, seeing an earlier and a later period within the MB2b strata.  This latter view appears to be the one adopted by Rohl, though I’m not entirely sure I understand Rohl’s views on this subject.

The Shechem excavators used the MB2c classification for the massive destruction of Shechem, so it would be confusing to adopt Rohl’s terminology and say that they dated this destruction to the MB2b period.  But even if we follow some writers and recognize only the MB2b divided up into an earlier and a later period, it’s still true that Rohl must place the Conquest during the earlier part of MB2b, not the latter or final part.

Thus, he cannot make use of the destruction that occurred at the end of the Middle Bronze Age in support of his theory of an MB2b Conquest, even though he seems to be trying to do that in praising Bimson’s work. (Cf. P&K, p. 306).

However, under the standard pottery classification, there was no widespread destruction during the MB2b pottery period.  That occurred later, during the MB2c pottery period.  Indeed the cultural continuity between MB2b and MB2c is what has led some to deny a distinction between the two phases!

Therefore, Rohl’s adoption of MB2b as the time of the Conquest suffers from the same problem that Velikovsky’s adoption of MB2a did, namely that there’s no evidence of significant cultural change during this period, or at its end.

Indeed, the 15th dynasty Hyksos invaded Lower Egypt apparently at the beginning of MB2c, and most of the cities of Palestine remained as strong as ever, and grew even stronger.  There is not the slightest evidence of an invasion of Palestine at this time by the Israelites, or anybody else.  Rather, it seems that the kings of Palestine were strong enough to invade Egypt.

Personally, I think Rohl has simply misunderstood the distinction between MB2b and MB2c, and even the distinction between an earlier and a later MB2b.  Even if one were to combine MB2b and MB2c into just MB2b, the earlier phase would correspond to the old MB2b and the later phase would correspond to the old MB2c.

Once that is understood, it’s not at all possible for Rohl to (rationally) derive any comfort from destruction levels at the end of the Middle Bronze Age, and this would be true regardless of whether he adopts the old distinction between MB2b & c, or opts for the notion of a single MB2b period.

5.  Who Was Shishak?

One of the New Chronology claims is that Merneptah (or Merenptah) was a contemporary of Asa and Omri.  This follows logically if Ramses 2 is identified as Shishak.  Nevertheless, the Bible says Asa defeated the Egyptian army that came up against him under Zerah.  Merneptah, however, lists the peoples or cities he defeated, and Israel is one of those.  Thus, the lack of correspondence between these two events undermines Rohl’s identification of Ramses 2 with Shishak.

It may be claimed that this war was the same event seen from two different points of view.  But there is no apriori reason that these two sources would be referring to the same battle, so there’s no independent evidence that these two sources are giving different interpretations of the same battle.   Such a conclusion would be based strictly on chronological necessity, not on independent grounds.

Hence, on the face of it, any connection between Merneptah and Asa seems problematic, thus leaving the Ramses2/Shishak identification underdetermined.

The theory of Peter James, et al., in Centuries of Darkness (hereafter CoD) is that Ramses 3 was Shishak.  It follows from this that Merneptah was Solomon’s father-in-law.  But this view suffers from a problem similar to the one Rohl faces, namely that if according to CoD, Merneptah is Solomon’s father-in-law (who defeated Gezer and gave it as a dowry for his daughter) this would mean that Merneptah was lying when he said he defeated Israel.

But if he gave his daughter to Solomon in marriage, why would he make up a story about defeating Israel, his new ally?  Again, to say that Merneptah was lying or exaggerating would be to adopt an interpretation that is not based on any independent evidence but on an apriori chronological requirement.

The situation of Merneptah’s defeat of Israel is problematic for either Ramses 2 or Ramses 3 as Shishak.  Merneptah himself seems a better choice for Shishak.  After all, he did invade Israel, and is the only Egyptian king who ever got around to mentioning Israel.  Moreover, his father, Ramses 2, can be connected to Ahiram, a Phoenician king who some Egyptologists connect up with the Hiram who lived during the days of Solomon.

6.  Did the Middle Assyrian Kings Live Before the Amarna Age?

I don’t plan on spending a lot of time on this. Steve McIntyre is to be credited for showing that Rohl has made a major mistake in his chronology on this issue.  Basically, Rohl placed Shalmaneser 1, a Middle Assyrian king, before the Amarna period in Egypt.

McIntyre has shown, convincingly, that the mA1 kings are located in strata that are at least in part on top of Amarna strata, thus showing the mA1 kings were later or overlapped in time than the Amarna pharaohs, thus disproving a major contention of Rohl’s theory.

Anyone who wants to follow up on this can do so by going to the “New Chronology” Yahoo list and simply typing in the name “McIntyre” and you should (hopefully) call up most of the emails pointing to this problem in Rohl’s chronology.

7.  Late Bronze Age Exodus

I may write up something in critique of the conventional view that the Exodus took place under Ramses 2, and that the Conquest happened at the LB2b/Iron age transition.  Stiebing has already provided much evidence against this view, though his conclusion is that biblical history is untrue, (or rather, that was his starting assumption).

From my viewpoint, the failure of the LB2b and Iron 1 periods to provide a background for the Exodus and Conquest should have led scholars to question the chronology of the ancient world developed on the basis of Egyptian king lists.

Unfortunately, the modern scholar is often too conformist and cowardly to give up old, comforting theories.  And the fact is that he is also under the spell of the Graf-Wellhausen fantasies that cling to Old Testament studies like an old growth fungus.

So it’s unlikely that self-satisfied modern scholars will open their minds to any chronological reconstruction that questions the validity of a Late Bronze Age Exodus theory, but perhaps younger, less close-minded scholars, will tackle these issues anew.