The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies
Book 1. The Crisis of Sacred History
History for the Besotted
The Practice of History
Those who look upon the past have survived it—they are its offspring and its victors. The western history of writing history draws upon the Hellenic and Jewish historiographic efforts of the fifth century. To find its real roots it should turn to the Zoroastrianism of the Persians and Medes which planted the seeds in Judah and Ionia. They never do. The Persians were not ultimately the victors.
The Jewish scriptures are considered the greatest history book ever, the record of God Himself acting in human history, and Herodotus is called the “Father of History” though his offspring were not fruitful for many centuries—only Thucydides, Polybius, Livy, Sallust and Tacitus in the next 600 years, though the works of others were not liked by the Christian victors and were allowed to decay. Modern historians are superior simply because they benefit from better methods and much more experience, and so are better scholars, if not stylists, and the Jewish scriptures, if historians dared to pronounce on them rather than the clergymen and theologians that call themselves biblical scholars, would be found to be mainly mythology. It is said: “If all the biblical historians that ever lived in the world were laid end to end, they would not reach a historical conclusion.” If they had, it would have destroyed their purpose in life and their sinecures. If the scriptures are history in any sense, it is primitive history and forged history. Creation myths and cosmogonies gave meaning to the past and lessons for the present in primitive societies, forgeries gave rights.
History is the surviving past. Yet, the past is over and done with and cannot be relived, only rebuilt from what it left behind. History is concerned with events, with changes that have occurred. It is rarely clear cut, and the present evidence of it is crucial. The greater problem of history is to establish what this is, to establish fact, rather than interpreting it. No historians think they know all or even most of what could be known, but they believe that, though events are receding into the past, they once happened in reality.
Historical facts are knowable only by the evidence they leave for subsequent ages. Not all of it is recoverable and the study of history is confined to that part of it that has left traces, or can be reconstructed by reason, to fill a hiatus. If something once happened, then it is responsible for still existing clues, and it can be hypothesized what they should be and where they should appear. So, evidence can sometimes be found when it was thought not to exist, and the historian can sometimes construct what was lost from what remains.
The historian cannot but work on the assumption that whatever happened is capable of a rational explanation and that evidence is the product of an act discoverable by reason.
Especially for ages where little has survived, the historian will have to depend not only on extant evidence but also on what is missing but must have existed. Lacunae in the documents and missing books. Searching for the reasons for their disappearance can help fill gaps. Investigating who is behind a piece of legislation, it is natural to assume that the interests that benefitted by a law were those who demanded it. Admittedly people do not always know what their best interests are, but those that do rarely have any difficulty persuading those that do not. Educated people at least are generally rational and consciously act on the basis of reason much of the time, so inferences based on this assumption are often correct.
Properly conducted archaeology assists history by recovering evidence that can help to reconstruct an event that the archaeology itself is otherwise ignorant of. The site report of the archaeologist has to confine itself to the bare facts of the description of the site, and only by reference to known history or some historical hypothesis can more be said about the meaning of the findings. It can force historians to ask and seek the answers to new questions. Sociology, economics, anthropology and social psychology can also force new questions of historians, to do with class structure, the origins and meaning of social myths and rules. Mythology is unlikely to tell the archaeologists anything reliable.
The historian’s main uncertainty is in ignorance and this is better confessed, because thereby there is hope that evidence will emerge, but when certainty is declared, the supposed knowledge is cast in bronze and no progress is possible without a sledgehammer.
Often, there is too much evidence in the sense that the historian cannot deal with it all and has to select from it. This is a source of criticism from would be philosophers, but in practice the arbitrary choice is that of the subject area to be explored. Thereafter, the material is the master of the historian, if honesty is the criterion. If not, the subject is mythology, not history. Mythologists are pseudo-historians. They set out, say, to prove that the Irish were really ancient Egyptians. They will succeed to their own satisfaction because they are interested in creating a myth, and will not admit anything to the contrary. Honest scholars, given the same puzzle, would soon begin to find so many impossibilities in the hypothesis that they would find themselves being led by the evidence in some different direction. That is the sense in which the evidence is the master of the historian. If history is not a search for truth, it is not history.
Viewpoint or Prejudice
Lack of knowledge and the need to select are problems but they are faced up to through proper research standards, scholarship and intellectual honesty. At the end of the search, only one thing is sure, that there is more to be said, and it will be said. Historians ultimately are democrats who enjoy debating in public, and history progresses by the refining of apparently settled questions through exposure to new evidence directly or indirectly. Knowing what other historians have written is essential to do the job. As in any study, there is no point in doing what has been covered to exhaustion or repeating an error, and other scholars will point to sources that they have found useful, problems that they have considered and solutions that might suggest solutions to you. The analytical work of other scholars need not be taken on trust until it has been checked at least in sample, but sometimes it is necessary, especially in peripheral subjects. Further, while studying the history of the last millennium might mean the available material is too extensive to comprehend, earlier periods can allow a diligent scholar to get a grip on most of the available material. In history, as in any scholarly endeavour, reading is the main way of admitting knowledge—and books are not likely to be supplanted by the internet, even for intellectuals.
“History” has a habit of passing people by, leaving them uncomprehending. Only later, when the historian examines the period can judgements be made about causes that were invisible at the time. Historians, like other people, judge their world from their own experiences and habits, and can therefore be biased. Yet to be universally sympathetic means that judgement is wavered and history becomes bland and of little meaning for anyone. Tepid history will have tepid approval, but that is no valid reason why any historian should suppress a view they hold. Refusal to judge looks like cowardice, but judging based on erroneous criteria deserves criticism. It is through such criticism that history in the end can claim to be objective. Intellectual honesty is to be preferred to a mawkish objectivity.
The materials of history are partial and the judgements of historians are more partial, so history always gives rise to dispute and hostility. The second historian in western history, Thucydides attacked the methods and purpose of the first, Herodotus. Historians are inclined to brutality of expression, and so the debate might look brutal to the onlooker, but it is no more so than were the discourses of medieval theologians.
Every generation rewrites history from its own point of view, and every historian worth reading will be expressing a viewpoint. History from a viewpoint is more interesting history than the tepid variety, and so more likely to be read. If history is not read, it might as well not have been written. So, those who read it must reach their own conclusions from reading different viewpoints. Historians are probably no more prejudiced, blind or wilful than anyone else, but, in as much as they are, their work can justifiably be criticized. Once they are published in journals or books, these products of preoccupation and bias are the common property of all. Those that see prejudice in them can expose it, and can write an alternative history giving another view. Others can look on in concern or amusement or can join in the fun, if they wish. Often alleged bias amounts to criticisms that assail irrelevancies or straw dolls pulled out of the minutiae of the endeavour. A serious attempt to right the supposed wrongs can however progress understanding of the period in question.
A variety of opinion in historical debate reflects the process of historical discovery. The debate is based on evidence that was left by a real event and will converge on it provided that scholars treat the evidence honestly. History is not arbitrary, as some modern intellectuals seem to think, as long as reason remains a criterion of scholarship. There might indeed be several different ways of interpreting a body of historical evidence, but we are not free to take any that we like. If the first of the possibilities is considered unsatisfactory, the critic must explain why some other is preferable. If the critics’ arguments have not been given sufficient weight beforehand, then the whole of the evidence was not in, because the emphases were wrong. If the emphases is correct, or there are reasons why the critic is overstaing the case, then the first explanation must stand.
What can do nothing of value, and could be dangerous, is to sneer that all history is biased, and pretend that fiction or mythology is just as good. It might be better, especially for right wing groups in society, but that is not considered by liberal critics who think they are avant garde. Historical writing can have an effect, so there is a tension between the search for historical truth and the effect it might have. But there is also an effect when truth is suppressed or distorted as propaganda. This too ought to be considered by critics of historians. As long as the debate is on, and the issues are alive, the prejudices of historians, inadvertent or intentional, froth up, are easily seen and skimmed to one side. What endures is what rises above prejudice and becomes a step towards what is sought—historical truth—and the bias of a historian might have been the reason it emerged at all. The background and personality of the historian cannot be bypassed. Politically biased work will rarely stand up, but alternative viewpoints in history can only be stimulating, providing that good standards of scholarhip are kept up.
Could this have been?
Sometimes “history” is only the presuppositions of those attached to some doctrine or theory, and the honest application of some new approach can help to reveal this false history. Religious history regrettably seems immune to any such breakthrough. The doctors of biblical history reject any analysis not based on the fundamental assumptions of their doctrine. Those holding to such views cannot see, or refuse to, that the rejection on reasoned grounds of their interpretation cannot honestly be answered without producing any new arguments or proof, merely by asserting the original again, even more vigorously. For the biblical historian, it is true because it is decreed, they believe, by God!
Others of the same or similar ilk hide behind “the social responsibility of the historian” being “the defence of ‘values’.” This was the expressed view of the American businessman turned historian, Mr Conyers Read who declared that the historian must “accept and endorse” the social controls that “preserve our way of life.” Read was concerned that, unless history was properly controlled, people would seek “more positive” assurance from Rome or Moscow. He wants the historian to join his plot to write mythology, not history—and this is in the modern world! Admittedly people like Stalin and Hitler at opposite poles of the political spectrum have tried writing modern mythology instead of history and perhaps some countries still do it, but they all take their lessons from Christian bishops and from the propagandists who wrote the Jewish scriptures before Christianity.
Read cannot want anyone to know “history” but only some “Big Brother” form of mythology to placate the people. He is no better than Stalin or the Popes—but historians must insist on the truth. Conyers Read should have given up business to become a theologian, not a historian. The historian’s job should never again be reduced to the role of a preacher. The preacher can rest his case on faith but historians should not, but must even question their own beliefs. The task of history is to understand the past. The task of mythology is to control the present. To be properly understood and not metamorphosed into mythology, the past must be respected in its own right. Use of history in the present for theological, political and propaganda purposes must be suspect, and considered dangerous to freedom.
The honest historian must abandon the present except to the extent that it reveals and illuminates the past. Study of history is an intellectual pursuit, the work of a reasoning mind. It must concentrate on the search for truth. These determinedly non-historians assert that, since the past is dead and irrecoverable, and that the historian’s interpretation of historical evidence is subjective, historical truth cannot be found. They seem to think that if we cannot know the whole truth then we might as well know none of it, or anything that they care to tell us. History to these critics is a matter of pure belief or even faith. It becomes the same as biblical history.
The historian’s aim is to seek the truth even if it is no longer entirely knowable, just as the natural scientist aims to understand nature as best as it is possible to do, even if it is ultimately impossible to know it all. Both recognize the problem of certainty and work on the principle of the civil courts that our approximation to the truth is built on the balance of probability. Like a court, the just outcome is based on asking the right questions and accepting the proper standards of probability. This automatically takes account of the Principle of Parsimony (Occam’s Razor) which, is that the simplest explanation, where there are more than one, is the probable one. The answers to historical questions must be probable! They must agree with what is known to be possible in human experience. At the end of a study, when scholars have worked out their reconstruction of history, they must ask: “Could this have been?” If it could not then they must abandon their scheme and reconsider the evidence. Christianity pretends to be historical, but on the best critera of historical scholarship it is not!
History treats the transformation of things, and the historian’s concern is to understand change. History seeks the causes of effects, but has to recognize that the cause has to be shown, not merely assumed. Facts and events are not unique, even if individual and particular, but must be like other things of their kind though never identical with them, part of common experience, before they can mean anything in general. Anything truly unique is a freak that can never recur in meaning or implication and can never be assessed.
In historic times, there is the problem of knowing whether evidence, notably manuscript evidence, is genuine or not. The historian has to establish its genuineness and assess its significance. Historians ought to be able to distinguish a modern fake from a genuine article, but even notable scholars have been taken in in recent decades. It is much harder in the case of ancient forgeries and only utterly naïve people will deny that there are plenty of them, especially religious fakes. The Donation of Constantine was not exposed until Lorenzo Valla in the fifteenth century, but the papal officials had known all along, or at least for 500 years.
The historian must be trained to be skeptical and critical—everyone should—yet in the case of biblical history, the scholars make a study of what they know to be fakes that they take at face value, trusting to the honesty of a supposed holy spirit. These are not scholars and not historians. The truth can be obtained from fraudulent documents, especially when they are extensive, because it is impossible to maintain proper consistency over many pages of fake documentation. It does not need saying that the holy books of Christian and Jewish scripture are utterly inconsistent, but the scholars of these ancient forgeries spend more time finding ingenious ways of harmonizing them rather than exposing them.
Forgeries, or pseudepigraphs as biblical historians call them, are usually produced, like all fraud, to fool people then alive for the benefit of others, not to fool future historians. However, when a forgery is so successful that it is accepted at the time and becomes a part of history, like the “Donation of Constantine,” it might be difficult to expose. Many people will have a vested interest in refusing to accept the forgery for what it is. Entitlements are the main forgeries made and the many medieval charters are prime examples. V H Galbraith said “forgery was the medieval monk’s pecadillo.” The purpose was to establish legal rights. That is exactly what the books of the Old Testament are intended to do. They establish the rights of the colonists sent by the Persians to rule the small country called Yehud. Around these original books, meant to butress these rights, grew a whole spurious history of Israel and Judah. Biblical historians cannot expose such a fraud because they are not skeptics but believers.
Geoffrey Elton, a professor of Tudor history at Cambridge in The Practice of History, says there are no historians used to examining old documents that have not wondered about the genuineness of some document sometime. He advises that, if there is internal or external evidence of forgery, it should be declared as such and only used as a forgery (in short, to show the opposite, or almost so, of what it claims). No one surely could take propagandist literature at face value. If there is doubt that it is genuine but no clear evidence one way or the other, then Elton says it should not be used at all! The doubt utterly invalidates it.
Biblical history is based on two assumptions that no one has ever doubted until recently.
Both assumptions are largely false. The scriptural accounts of Israelite history are essentially fictional. Its authors were not Israelites and were not contemporaneous, as the bible often makes out. Philip Davies says:
There can be no serious claim that the biblical texts as we have them derive from the Iron Age.
Non-biblical sources admit to a kingdom of Israel and another kingdom of Judah, but do not suggest any connexion between them, and references supposed to be to Judah cannot certainly be distinguished from references to the Aramaean kingdom of Yaudi. What seems historically secure is that a small country called Israel existed in the hill country of Palestine drom about 900 to 700 BC. The authors of the scriptures were initially the Persian rulers of the country in the fifth century, then the Greek rulers and Judaeo-Hellenistic dynasties later on.
Critical reading, like all good enquiry, begins with skepticism, so a text has to persuade the reader who, as a critic, will be checking it for accuracy against other available sources of information. When the text agrees with other sources, it will be believed. Novels, short stories, plays, poetry or other similar literary forms have no need to be so examined because they are making no pretense at truth. We accept that their world is imaginary. The scriptures however claim to be historical, and so invite us to criticize them. They claim to be describing the historical intervention of a supernatural being in the world. If they fail to stand up to criticism we cannot believe that the events described in them are either true or supernatural.
As to the authorship, the standard interpretation of the bible makes out that the authors are “Israel” as though the whole mass of people called Israel wrote the books of scriptures—under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, naturally. Plainly the whole people were not responsible. Even if the authors were from Israel, they could only have been some literate class of people because the mass of the people in the greater part of the period covered by the bible were illiterate. So, the authors are not representative of the whole of society at all, contrary to biblical commentators. Moreover, the authors were not necessarily, or even likely, to have been members of the society described in these books. They were foreign rulers writing these accounts of the supposed history of a subject people to shame them before God to behave in ways acceptable to the God’s choice of king—the Shahanshah.
History for the Besotted
History is an attempt to show how we got to the present. Modern historians have a lot of past historical material to use as well as highly developed scientific and archaeological skills. Ancient historians had little of this. Some might have had royal or imperial archives or expenditures, but otherwise they depended on stories. They put together sagas based on what they knew, together with what seemed desirable to suit the situation of their own time. Historical works can say as much about the aspirations of the historian’s time as the history he is discussing. This is what happened in Israel when people came to write its history, now called the Jewish scriptures. They compiled a fictional history based on re-written old stories combined with fictional inserts to paint out blanks and suit the aspirations of the time—the time when the Maccabees had just dedicated a temple to Yehouah and set up a Jewish state for the first time in history.
Palestine is almost devoid of pre-Hellenistic texts. No international power developed there, it remaining divided into local tribes except when united under a foreign conqueror. It never developed culture—art, architecture or literature—until eventually the Maccabees asserted their independence in the second century BC. Everthing found before then is essentially Egyptian, Mesopotamian or Phoenician and even after then is mainly Greek or Roman.
Israel is a product of the Persian and the Hellenistic periods. The people deposited into the hill country around Jerusalem in the population displacement known as the “return” arranged by Cyrus, the Persian king, were encouraged to build a temple to “restore” their god, Yehouah, to his rightful glory. Persian experts put together books of law and some legends were invented to justify them.
A few centuries later an independent state did briefly emerge and then the people wrote out a national “history” to glorify the new state and its uncompromising god. The ancient books had been partly destroyed in the freedom battle but from fragments the Hasmonaean scholars reconstructed what they could and invented the rest. The rebirth of Israel was not a rebirth but a birth because there had never been an independent state before, so the history was a pious forgery and the glory of David and Solomon pure romances to give the people something to live up to.
Biblical experts are usually drunk and cannot be taken too seriously. The are drunk with their preconceptions of the power of God and his Holy Spirit. Were it not for their insobriety, we would today know a lot more about the bible and Near Eastern history than be do. W F Albright was for half a century a famous authority on the bible and biblical archaeology, but he spent his entire professional career totally besotted, so today it requires a scholar to distinguish honest facts from Albright’s drunken wanderings. The books he has written about biblical history are worthless except for amusement. He is often quoted as having written:
There can be no doubt that archaeology has confirmed the substantial historicity of Old Testament tradition. (Archaeology and Religions of Israel)
Yet even when this was written in 1956, it was not true. Almost half a century later, no such claim can be made on any excuse. Albright was able to see in the Balaam Oracles of Numbers 23f features that reminded him of the Ras Shamra tablets of northern Canaan in Syria. He drunkenly concluded that the Balaam Oracles were written by a twelfth century BC north Syrian fortune teller! Who knows? Perhaps he was right but his scholarship, if this was the extent of it, was pathetic.
Drunken Christian apologists are certain that, though people could write before the crucifixion, they were all fools. No one had the wit, for example, to write in a deliberately archaic or arcane style to give their screed an illusion of antiquity. Yet these same “scholars” will concede that Luke or the editor of Luke-Acts could do this literary trick and did—but they were Christians guided by the Holy Spirit and so were clever, unlike the moronic Pagans or even Jews who went before. Of course, human mental abilities have not changed noticeably in 35,000 years as any zoologist and anthropologist will confirm, but to the besotted no one was clever until they had God’s revelation.
Once this pious nonsense is ignored, it is possible to see that the Hellenistic authors of the Old Testament were quite capable of inventing and emulating old fashioned styles of writing, when it suited them. Otherwise the remarkable thing about the Jewish scriptures is a uniformity of language, proving that they were composed over not more than a century.
Most English speakers today find Chaucer unreadable, but he died only 600 years ago. Hebrew was supposed to have been a vernacular language double this time from Moses until Jesus and should therefore have looked quite different from the beginning of the period to the end. Hebrew linguistic history, like so much else of the ancient Hebrews, is unknown and John Joseph Owen says there “has not been a continuous use of Hebrew.” The language is not even called Hebrew until the time of the Greeks and it is not called Hebrew in the scriptures themselves.
Differences there are in biblical Hebrew but they are as likely to be varieties of dialect as chronological changes. In fact, Hebrew is some local dialects of Canaanite adopted by the Persian “returners” as a religious language in the fifth century and spoken thenceforth by priests, Levites and pious Jews, just as Jews today have artificially adopted an invented language—modern Hebrew.
Certainly, the myths and extracts of Jewish history that are recorded in the scriptures when they were written down about 100 BC included much older songs, hymns, poems, fragments of old folk tales and so on, as well as the legacy of the Persian period. But rather more than an apparent antiquity is needed to be sure that something is a genuinely old fragment.
Hymns and songs in particular might be genuinely old, because they are in a memorable and orally transmittable form, but unless the same hymn or psalm is found elsewhere to confirm its age, stylistic quirks are unlikely to be sufficient to judge. Christian writers of hymns rarely fail to use sixteenth century English words like “hath,” “thy” and “saith” to give their work the necessary gravity and biblical flavour. The editors of the Hebrew scriptures were quite capable of doing the same. Drop of the holy water, Father?
Cyrus H Gordon, in an article in the fifties on Homer and the bible and in a later book, saw a common background in the Greek and Hebrew writings. For example, 1 Samuel 5-6 describes a plague which closely follows a description of a plague in the Iliad, book 1. The two are most unlikely to be independent. That was controversial if thought to go back to 800 BC but is quite understandable if the Jewish scriptures are late enough to have drawn on the Hellenistic culture that pervaded the world from 300 BC.
Is the Bible based on a Historic Kernel?
A historic kernel can just mean a historical setting and can therefore be nothing more than period detail. Any competent writer setting up a romance in some historical period will set it in whatever context he has. If he has no historic context, perhaps he will use some other context as the best he has, perhaps even the contemporary period he lived in.
The Persian province Abarnahara is mentioned by name several times in the Jewish scriptures but it is always translated to mean “beyond the river.” The river was the Euphrates and has been considered a notable boundary since ancient times. People on either side referred to the other side as Abarnahara (or Eber-nari in Assyrian). The likely start of the word Hebrew is from the Persian name for the people who lived in their provice of Beyond the River. They were the Hebrews—all the people of the province not just Jews. The Hebrew language is Phoenician i.e. Canaanite. What is causing confusion is that people from the far side (Assyrian) of the Euphrates were also called Hebrews by earlier people in Canaan, so Assyrian or Aryan raiders will have been Habiru, and they might also have been Arab raiders from Beyond the Jordan (perhaps with runaways and outlaws) for all we know. So the real kernel of the word Hebrew in its present use is more recent in reality than Habiru.
That it was associated with the earlier use might be right though—deliberately by the mythologists. The Egyptians had control of Canaan until the ninth century when Omri set up a kingdom in Israel. If the Habiru were Assyrian raiders, they eventually became the Assyrian conquerors as the Assyrian kingdom built itself into an empire. So, the short-lived kingdom of Israel died when the Assyrians colonized it, whereas a couple of centuries earlier Assyrians might have been the Habiru helping to get Israel’s independence from Egypt. The native Canaanites were slaves of Egypt but they were not in the land of Egypt (most of them), but in their own country as an Egyptian colony.
If the Habiru were some sort of social class, they were associated with robber barons who apparently sought assistance from Beyond the River and fought the colonists. It was rather like the Maccabees later fighting the Seleucids, and the Maccabees will have seen this and expanded on the legends of David (a mythicized founder of Yehud—a different legend of foundation from that of Judah) and Solomon as they existed in what was probably an attenuated form, originally. The extension of the parallel is that the Assyrians were doubtless using the Canaanite guerillas against the Egyptians just as the Romans used the Maccabees to weaken the Greeks. So, they might have seen themselves as freedom fighters, but really they were being duped like the Maccabees, and the outcome was the same. The feeble kingdom finished up a colony of the manipulative power. The Persian “novelists” will have had sight of the Amarna letters or similar letters in the archives and could have associated their own name for the people of the satrapy with the historical name for these guerillas, but this too must have been an attenuated tale expanded later into a saga by the Egyptian Greeks.
The Hyksos have nothing to do with the Exodus. It is probably invented by Josephus trying to rationalize Jewish history, or one of his sources. The expulsion was a metaphorical one—Egypt was really expelled from Canaan. The promised land was an invention based on the “return” from “exile.” The promise of land was made by the Persians to the colonists, and was then written back into deepist history to give them a spurious entitlement. The Moses saga was mainly written in the time of the Ptolemies who supported the Jewish temple, and printed the original Septuagint.
Joshua’s conquest did not refer to the original Habiru at all. It was a romanticized allegory of the colonial conquest of Yehud, drawing upon Assyrian military tactics, but the tribal districts would have been taxation districts being given a spurious factuality in history. So, the tribes of Israel began as Persian taxation areas.
If we want to talk about kernels then the kernel of the word Hebrew is the mythical ancestor Eber (Eber-niri). The geneology can be nothing other than fictitious but is likely to show relationships between peoples rather than individuals, as is common in Genesis. They were not misguided. It was common Hellenistic practice and most of the genealogies will have been added to the bible in Hellenistic times.
The whole story did not fell together by chance but was deliberately concocted by the Persians using the Assyrian sources they had, and later was elaborated in Greek and Maccabean times. The final additions might have been made as late as the Herodian period.
Biblical history is not true history but a set of stories about righteous people struggling against wicked people. It is not though a saga of “Good” and “Evil” because morality is scarcely involved. The righteous people are, by definition, the people who worship Yehouah, and the unrighteous worship other gods. Nothing has changed in the last 2000 years!
A Summary History of Palestine
The Jewish scriptures have totally distorted our view of ancient Palestinian history, which was far more complicated and had many more participants than just these two kingdoms. The Jewish scriptures never even explain how this territory got the name of Palestine (the land of the Philistines). Foreigners including Assyrian authors of royal annals and Herodotus knew the name of Palestine. Herodotus says Palestine is the part of Syria that is situated between Lebanon and Egypt.
The basis on which archaeologists found their theories can never be revisited. All excavations include—in Kathleen Kenyon’s words—destruction. The archaeologist destroys the evidence when it is excavated. The original archaeological situation can never be re-established. However, archaeologists continually formulate general hypotheses about the development of this geographic area in ancient times that speak against the evidence of a late written source such as the Jewish scriptures. This late source—although written—does not constitute a historical source.
Lemche explains that Palestine between, say 1250 and 900 BC is an example of this. Archaeology as well as other non-biblical information about ancient Palestine shows that Palestine in the late Bronze Age, roughly the 2nd half of the 2nd millennium BC, was an Egyptian province ruled by local princes who looked upon themselves as faithful vassals of their patron, the Pharaoh. Most of the time, Palestine was left alone. Only occasionally did the Egyptians interfere directly with the mundane problems of their colony. The constant internecine wars of the local chieftains who saw themselves as “kings” (the Egyptians called them hazanu, “mayors”) had a devastating effect on the wellbeing of the country. Not before the so-called “Ramesside restoration” of the Egyptian presence in Western Asia after the debacle that ended the 18th dynasty, did matters change and the Egyptian presence became more dominating. Ramesses II perhaps created a kind of “Pax Egyptiaca” in Palestine.
The Egyptians limited the devastating effects of “free-for-all” politics and created a situation of relative peace in the country that might have had a positive demographic effect as people moved from the cities to the countryside to live closer to their fields. The late 13th, the 12th and the early 11th centuries BC were witnessing the foundations of scores if not hundreds of insignificant and unprotected village settlements, not least in the mountains of Palestine. Life must have become pretty safe. From at least the 11th century BC, a certain reduction of the number of villages took place. This demographic chance was counterbalanced by the rise of some settlements to fortified townships. Tel Beersheba with its circular walls and planned layout is a typical example of such a settlement that may look more like a medieval fortress than a proper city or town.
This stage may have occurred as a consequence of an at least partial Egyptian withdrawal from Palestine, although at least in Bet Shean an Egyptian garrison remained to the beginning of the 10th century BC. Life became more dangerous and the socio-political system of the past—local patrons fighting other local patrons—emerged again. Lemche describes this as a move from one patronage society to another patronage society, from an old political system to a new system that was an exact copy of the former system. In the middle of the 9th century, some chieftains created larger political structures that eventually coalesced into the statelets of Israel and Judah, Moab, Edom, Ammon.
Principles for Proper Research
Thomas L Thompson has offered a series of principles that ought to be agreed by scholars who want to enquire into the history of Palestine and the bible. Thompson’s full lists can be seen in his paper, available online: A view from Copenhagen: Israel and the History of Palestine. Here is a selection showing he is being quite reasonable in what he would like to see done by everyone. Those who are sure they have God’s authority behind them will disagree.
Copyright © 1998-2015 The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies (CAIS)