The Event Horizon

The Event Horizon

By Vern Crisler, 2003

Rough Draft



Donovan Courville was the first to identify the late Early Bronze period as the time of Joshua’s conquest of the land of Canaan.  In his book, The Exodus Problem and Its Ramifications [1971], he argued that the most likely archaeological strata for the conquest would show both a “general invasion” of the land followed by “evidences of occupation of the entire territory by a new people….” (Courville, p. 87).


This is actually a quite logical view to take.  If the Exodus and Conquest (hereafter “the Event”) were anything like what the Bible says they were, then we should expect to see signs not only of an invasion, but also of an almost complete change in culture.  As a third condition, we should also expect to see overwhelming signs of occupation in the Negev and in Kadesh-barnea by this same culture who invaded Canaan.  It’s not a necessary condition, but it might also come as a bonus that this invading culture will be the only culture that will be significantly represented in the Negev and in Kadesh-barnea.


The Bible also mentions that some cities still retained their Canaanite characteristics even after the Event, because some of the Canaanites were determined to stay in the land.  These Canaanites (especially at Megiddo) were thus placed under tribute by the Israelites rather than driven out.  This situation of pockets of cultural continuity from the previous archaeological period should show up in the stratigraphic record in the following way — the problem of successive pottery indicia showing anomalous contemporaneity.  (Such out-of-place pottery is dismissed as “intrusive” — viz. one type of pottery “intruding” or being reworked by erosion, etc., into a level of a supposedly later period.)


Another way it could show up is by the presence of “gaps” in the archaeological periods.  For instance, Courville theorized that since the Israelites weren’t allowed to have much contact with the Edomites or other Transjordan inhabitants, then very little, if any, of their respective pottery should show up in the southern Transjordan.  Instead, a “gap” would show up just at this point in the Transjordan; or looking at it from a different point of view, the pre-Israelite pottery culture of the Transjordan would continue in the Transjordan region for many years, while the new pottery indicia of the Israelites would be completely “skipped”—thus giving the impression of a gap in the archaeological strata in the Transjordan.

It’s important that at least three of these conditions be met.  It’s not enough that there be a cultural change, but no evidence of invasion.  Such culture change could come about as a result of trade, for instance.  Moreover, a military invasion, but no change in culture would also be insufficient.  All that would mean is that the area was conquered and placed under tribute, while the population as a whole was allowed to stay in the land.  Both of these situations would be in contradiction to the biblical record, which says that there was not only a military invasion, but that most of the Canaanite population were killed or driven out of the land, with only a few remaining in their cities under tribute to the Israelites.


The third condition is also important.  It would be hard to believe that more than two million Israelites and their allies who left Egypt with them—and who the Bible says lived in the Negev and in Kadesh-barnea for forty years—failed to leave even a trace of their passage in the archaeological record of these geographic areas.

If you’ve read my essay on Alternative Chronologies (Velikovsky, Rohl, and Bimson), you can see at once that their proposed locations in the archaeological record for the Exodus & Conquest  (at the end of MB2a, MB2b, and MB2c) not only fail to meet all three conditions, but also fail to meet even two of the conditions, and all three viewpoints fail to meet the crucial test of Kadesh-barnea and the Negev, for there is no pottery at all from the MB2a, MB2b, or MB2c archaeological periods in that geographic region.



If the Exodus and Conquest were anything like what the Bible says they were, then we should also expect to find some other key indicia in the archaeological strata associated with this Event.  Here are a few just as a start:



a.  Jericho and Ai should show signs of destruction or abandonment at this time.


b.  Shechem should not show any signs of destruction.


c.  The invaders should show signs of having a tribal organization.


d.  They should show a concern with the afterlife, but very little if any idolatry.


e.  The tribes under “c” should shows signs of “regionalism,” that is, each tribe settling in distinct geographic regions in the land of Canaan.


f.  They should show signs of having been in Egypt (by pottery).


g.  They should show signs of having been at the Red Sea.


h.  They should be at least a semi-nomadic people (wanderers).


i.  The alliance of the Israelites and Kennites would result in skilled metallurgical productions.


j.  Egypt should be having a rough time of it after the Exodus.



Of course, we could come up with more expectations, but surely there are enough “predictions” here to help us settle for the most probable archaeological stratum for the Exodus and Conquest.  You might think I’m making it up when I say it, but every single one of these conditions, including the three we talked about at the beginning, are satisfied by one, and only one, archaeological stratum—the Middle Bronze 1 stratum.


Courville, in presenting his view that the MB1 stratum represents the Israelites under Moses and Joshua cited many of these as evidence, though he appears not to have known about e, f, and g, as well as what type of pottery was located in the Negev and in Kadesh-barnea (which problem we discuss in our essay Wilderness & Conquest).  Moreover, he was mistaken—in my opinion—about how to revise the chronology of Egypt, about the identity of Shishak, and also on the interpretation of the later stratigraphy of Israel.  Yet in this one idea, this single thing, this most important of all conclusions—that the MB1 people were the Israelites—his insight was revolutionary.


Since these correlations are so overwhelming, I spent some time gathering together the evidence into one place, which I have titled the MB1 Fact Sheet.


There are also criticisms of Courville’s view, so I’ll spend some time in the coming months talking about them, too.  But even if the Courville theory cannot explain everything—and what scientific theory can?–it still remains true that only one stratum in Palestine meets the three crucial conditions that must be met in order to match the biblical account of the Exodus and Conquest.  The only one that does is the Middle Bronze Age 1 stratum.  None of the other strata proposals for the Exodus and Conquest come even close.  Not one.




Some Iron 1 and a large amount of Iron 2 pottery are represented in these regions, but their presence is irrelevant in any case, since they are too late for the Exodus on traditional chronological views.  Traditional chronology holds that the Exodus took place during the time of Ramses 2, which would be Late Bronze 2b.  Nevertheless, LB2b pottery has not been found in Kadesh-barnea, nor in the Negev.  Indeed, between Early Bronze 2 and Iron 2, Middle Bronze 1 represents the only significant pottery horizon in these areas.  Amihai Mazar says:


“A most peculiar feature of EB IV/MB I [i.e., Albright’s MB1–VC] is the habitation of arid regions, particularly the central Negev and Sinai….This area may have been inhabited by nomads throughout historical periods as it is today, but significant archaeological remains have been found here from only a few periods, one of the predominant of which is EB IV/MB I.  Surveys and excavations…revealed a few large villages (2-5 acres in area), hundreds of smaller settlements, and vast cemeteries from this period scattered throughout this geographic zone and extending west into the northern half of the Sinai Peninsula.”  (Mazar, Archaeology of the Land of the Bible, [1990], pp. 154-55.)


There is an almost complete break between the Early Bronze civilization and the MB1 culture.  Ram Gophna says: “Such excavations have revealed stratigraphic gaps between the settlement remains of the two periods.  This indicates a chronological gap and cultural discontinuity between the urban system of the Early Bronze Age and the new system of village settlement established during the Intermediate Bronze Age [i.e., MB1–VC].”  (Amnon Ben-Tor, ed. The Archaeology of Ancient Israel [1992], p. 136.)


Other archaeologists echo the view of an absence of significant pottery in this region.  William Dever says: “All we can say is that recent, extensive exploration of the entire Sinai by Israeli archaeologists, geologists, and others has turned up no Middle or Late Bronze Age presence in the central or southern Sinai whatsoever.  Thus our current, detailed knowledge of this remote and hostile area calls into question the biblical tradition of some two million people wandering there (Numbers 11:21) for some 40 years (Deuteronomy 2:7). The barren terrain and sparse oases might have supported a few straggling nomads, but no more than that.”  (Ernest S. Frerichs & Leonard H. Lesko, eds., Exodus: The Egyptian Evidence [1997], p.72.)


Of course, Dever’s claim is somewhat misleading in that there is plenty of evidence of Middle Bronze 1 pottery in this region.  Nevertheless, unless we want to accuse Dever of lying or of being willfully ignorant, we should perhaps recognize that he is probably using a different terminology.  For him, Albright’s MB1 would most likely be Dever’s Early Bronze 4, and if that’s the case, then Dever’s comments are technically correct, even if misleading.


It’s only if one identifies the Israelite Exodus & Conquest with any of Dever’s Middle Bronze Age or Late Bronze Age periods that one may have grounds for calling into question the biblical tradition.  Indeed, the Negev and Kadesh-barnea do not contain any pottery from MB2a, MB2b, MB2c, LB1, LB2a, or LB2b (using Albright’s terminology).  Obviously, Velikovsky, Rohl, Bimson, and conventional chronologists have a real problem making their chronologies work in the light of this evidence.




In his book, God’s Wilderness: Discoveries in Sinai [1961], the archaeologist Beno Rothenberg set out to explore the region of Kadesh-barnea (Ain el Qudeirat), as well as the Sinai.  What is remarkable about this journey is that almost all the pottery Rothenberg found was Middle Bronze 1 pottery (which is dated to the time of Abraham in traditional chronology).  Here are a few examples, which can be found on almost every page of Rothenberg’s book.  (Note: Rothenberg often uses terms such as Patriarchal” or “Canaanite” to refer to MB1.)


“I carefully scanned every hill within sight and…spotted some structures which on subsequent examination proved to be tombs of early Patriarchal [sic] period….”  (Ibid, p. 16.)


“We crossed the dam and began searching the steep slopes of Jebel Rekhme….We found sherds as soon as we reached the site; all were Middle Bronze I.” (Idem.)


“We went on up to the top of the hill—a steep climb.  On this upper slope, too, we collected a number of sherds, again all MB I.” (Idem.)


“It was with a thrill of excitement that we realised we had discovered the first Canaanite [sic] sanctuary in the Negeb.  The great stone in the middle left us in no doubt that we were face to face with a Canaanite [sic] ‘High Place’.”  (Idem.)


“The steep slope west of the ‘sanctuary’ too was strewn with typical MB I buildings.” (Ibid., p. 17.)


“Eventually we climbed the large hill to the north, collecting more sherds—all MB I—on the way.” (Idem.)


“In the courtyard are ruins next to a cup-marked rock.  The site is strewn with numerous sherds and flint implements.  Sherds and ruins are all indubitably MB I.” (Ibid., p. 18.)


“We found another site of particular interest….In all likelihood this was the chief settlement of the region in the Middle Bronze I period.” (Ibid., p. 19.)

 “We descended the Nitzana hill and drove on to Beerotaim….[T]here are remains of extensive settlements from the time of Abraham’s [sic] wandering in the Negeb (Middle Bronze Age I).” (Ibid., p. 21).“I succeeded, too, in finding one structure which was more or less intact.  This was a typical dwelling of the Canaanite [sic] period….It may be that there were once early graves on this hill, but all that could be found now were remains of a small settlement.  The sherds, too, were evidently parts of Canaanite [sic] cooking pots (MB I).” (Idem.)

“I was curious to see these remains [of El Qusaima]….I found an appreciable quantity of sherds….Most of these sherds were Middle Bronze I; a few dated from the time of the Judaean kingdom (Iron Age II).” (Ibid., p. 35.)

“Remains of an MB I settlement are found on a number of hill-tops north and south-east of the spring.  On the low ridge east of the small plain of El Muweilah [possibly biblical Azmon—VC] it is possible to distinguish 20 to 30 ruins of dwellings characteristic of the same period.” (Ibid., p. 37.)



I’m confident that the reader can now see that the MB1 pottery horizon is well-represented in this region of the Negev and Kadesh-barnea.  Indeed, in terms of pottery that is relevant to dating the Exodus, it’s the only pottery of any significance in this region.  Rothenberg asks a question whose irony should not be lost:  “We were confident that Ain el Qudeirat: Kadesh-barnea lay ahead of us, and that we were passing through territory where the Israelite hosts had encamped for a whole generation.  How was it possible that we should not be able to find at least some traces of their stay here?” (Ibid., p. 39.)


Rothenberg then proceeded to the region of Kadesh-barnea, and reported:


“My companions, however, had continued their search for sherds…and had been able to find sherds and some flint implements; all without exception Middle Bronze I of the type so well known to us from the Negeb.” (Idem.)


“The hill on which we found this Canaanite [sic] settlement—or rather, the range of hills bordering the whole length of the wadi on which we found similar remains and sherds as we continued on our way—is situated above Wadi el Ain….” (Idem.)


“At the other side of the wadi, too…we saw relics of a Canaanite [sic] settlement…and on a later trip we found further Canaanite [sic] ruins….” (Ibid. p. 40.)


“We also went up Jebel el Ain on the north side of the wadi.  Here, just above the spring, we found many clear remains of the Middle Bronze I period.”  (Idem.)


“One striking fact emerged after we had discovered and examined a number of Middle Bronze I remains in this region; a fact which may help to eludicate a number of archaeological and historical problems connected with Kadesh-barnea: we cannot point to any particular centre of Canaanite [sic] settlement in the region and it is unlikely that any city-like centre ever existed.” (Ibid, pp. 41-42.)


“The great majority of the remains convey the impression of ‘family settlements’.  Their wide dispersal over the whole area of the major springs—such as those of El Qudeirat and El Muweilah—bears a close resemblance to the way in which the Beduin tribes live dispersed in their goatskin tents.” (Ibid., p. 42.)


Rothenberg, of course, does not recognize these MB1 people, families, or tribes as the Israelites; instead, due to chronological necessity, he correlates the MB1 people to Canaanites, Amorites, and Amelekites (Idem).


The rest of Rothenberg’s report is much the same.  On almost every page, he reports the finding of MB1 pottery sherds, with some occasional Iron 2 or Byzantine sherds.  Without realizing it, he even slept among MB1 sherds, thinking they were rocks, until the morning light showed what they really were.  It’s hard not to feel a bit sorry for Rothenberg.  He mused earlier about whether it was possible that he wouldn’t be able to find a trace of the Israelites’ presence in a land they had wandered in for forty years—this, of course, while he was literally almost up to his eyeballs in MB1 pottery sherds.


Another irony is that Yohanan Aharoni, writing in the second part of Rothenberg’s book, said: “Traces of the Israelites’ stay in Kadesh-barnea even in the thirteenth century B.C., before they entered Canaan, have yet to be found.”  (Ibid, p. 123.)  He explains why by saying that either the remains have yet to be excavated, or that the Israelites carried only wood or leather, or that they used only primitive pottery.  Just before this, however, Aharoni had said:  “Remains of a wave of settlement across the length and breadth of the Negeb have been discovered dating from the first stage of the Middle Bronze Age….” (Idem.)


There is no question then, that Middle Bronze 1 pottery is the main pottery found in the Negev and in Kadesh-barnea.  This meets our expectation that if the Israelites are to be associated with an archaeological period, then of necessity, this period should be unmistakably represented in the Negev and in Kadesh-barnea.  Only one relevant period presents itself, of course, and that’s the MB1 pottery horizon.


But there is also what might be called a “negative inverse proof.”  Not only is there a positive correlation between the Israelites at the time of the Exodus and the archaeological period known as MB1, but a negative inverse is also true, namely, that no other significant pottery is found in the Negev and Kadesh-barnea until Iron 2, with only an insignificant representation from Iron 1.  This means that no pottery from the period of the rest of the Middle Bronze age or of the Late Bronze age has been found in this region.


“Archaeological investigations have been conducted at ‘Ain Qedeis and, more extensively, at ‘Ain Qudeirat.  One of these two springs is almost certainly the site of Kadesh-Barnea, yet there is no evidence that either place was occupied during the Late Bronze Age, the time when most scholars think the Exodus took place.” (William H. Stiebing, Jr., Out of the Desert?: Archaeology and the Exodus/Conquest Narratives [1989], p. 69.)


We also saw earlier that Dever pointed out that no archaeological evidence from the Middle Bronze age through the Late Bronze Age has been found in this region (using his terminology, of course).  It’s too bad that Dever adopted the usual way out for chronological failure among current day archaeologists, especially the minimalist type.  He simply denies the truthfulness of biblical history.