The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies
PERSIA & CREATION OF JUDAISM
Book 6. Dating
Dating Ancient Near Eastern History
If an excavator believes from the scriptures that an ancient mound must contain buildings from Solomon’s reign, it is almost certain that sooner or later he will find structures that fit the bill. The spurious air of biblical authority given to such a discovery can then make the identification stick, despite any evidence to the contrary. In the meantime a small tourist industry may even have grown up around this “confirmation” of the Bible.
Palestinian archaeology is confused, though you would never believe it listening to Sunday School teachers. Mycenaean ware is thought to be a product of the pre-Israelite period, whereas actually it denotes the period of Bit Khumri. Sherds of Greek pottery found in Palestine have been used to date Greek pottery in Greece! This is utterly bizarre because the biblicist archaeologists can never agree among themselves about dating the levels in their excavations. Needless to say, the dates are early but no one can get the biblicists to concede that their own dating is 300 years too high. It has to match their biblical preconceptions. In a recent example, a Greek mixing bowl was found at Tel Hadar in Galilee in a level dated by Israeli archaeologists to 1000 BC at the very latest. Greek ceramicists say the vessel cannot be before 900 BC at the very earliest! Stretching credulity as far as it will go leaves a 100 year minimum gap—the real gap will be about 300 years.
The common excuse used incessantly by biblicists is that the material cannot be dated precisely because the ground is “disturbed”. What they mean is that they had rather say that the ground is disturbed than confess that it is they who are disturbed that the evidence does not match the bible. Kenyon found that the disturbed layers at Jericho had been so disturbed, they did not exist at all. In fact, their absence showed that Jericho had not been occupied for a thousand years, right in the period when it should have been conquered by Joshua!
Beth-Shan is another example. In the bible, Beth-Shan is the Canaanite city in the valley of the Jordan which, during the time of the Judges was not subdued, being defended by chariots of iron. Later, Saul fell fighting the Philistines and his body was carried to Beth-Shan and hung on the city wall. In the days of Solomon, it was an administrative center. Beth-Shan should have had a clear archaeological pedigree.
The truth is that Beth Shan was an Egyptian colony from about 1500 BC to about 1200 BC in conventional chronology, from Thutmose III to Ramses II. Thick layers of debris in this period are categorical. After that a thin unproductive layer is found, one fifth of the thickness of a single layer attributed to the time of Seti. The absence of the Israelite periods of Judges and Kings is explained:
The disturbance of the upper levels has made it scarcely possible to distinguish any stratification. We shall therefore, in respect of the pottery from above the Rameses II floor-level, confine ourselves to indicating such pieces as are obviously of Hellenistic or later date.
The missing layers are “disturbed!” They are so disturbed that again they do not exist until Hellenistic times, so anything found above the layer of Rameses II is Hellenistic. What then when something unusual is found in a house of the time of Rameses? Should it be assigned to the time of Rameses?
The presence of the Cypriote bottle number 27 is sufficient by itself to rebut any such assumption, as this type is, apparently, not earlier than the eighth century.
An eighth century pot is found in thirteenth century deposits but nothing should be deduced from it. Plainly, Beth-Shan existed only as an Egyptian city, and thereafter was scarcely occupied until Greek times, so that few remains are found assignable to the intermediate period. That is unacceptable to biblicists, so the layers that do not exist from 1200 to 300 are called disturbed! The presence of Cypriote ware on the floor of a house of Rameses II, suggests that the two were contemporaneous. If the site was deserted except for a few passing shepherds for 900 years, why should an expensive pot have been buried there? When Archaic Greek pottery is found in Palestine in stratified layers, it should be used to date the Palestinian layers, not the other way round.
If the ground is manifestly not disturbed then the biblicists disturb it, or move the finds to places where the ground is disturbed, thereby doing God’s work.
The biblicist, W F Albright, had dated ivories found at Megiddo in Palestine as twelfth century. At Nimrud, capital of the Assyrian king Shalmaneser III, three large rooms full of ivories were found. Many were like those made in Egypt in the Amarna era in the fourteenth century BC. Shalmaneser III is firmly dated by Assyrian chronology to the ninth century BC. The ivories were therefore ninth century forgeries! Five female figurines found at the Dipylon Gate at Athens are identical in style to Nimrud ivories some of which are also found at Megiddo and, because of Albright, are considered of a Mycenaean type. Albright had also dated the Carmona Ivories, found in a treasure horde in Spain, to the twelfth century because they too resembled the Megiddo ivories, yet they show influence of the Greeks and the Phœnicians, neither of whom were in Spain in the twelfth century BC, though they were doubtless made by Phœnician colonists at a later period.
The earliest possible time would have been about the eighth century, and so the Megiddo ivories, that Albright wanted to be in the “time of Solomon”, are actually about the time of the Assyrian conquests. The story that Tartessos in Spain was Solomon’s Tarshish is belied by the scriptures themselves—the goods brought back after the three year trip were African and Oriental not Spanish. Sixteenth century Spaniards made the claim for the usual reason that history is altered—to boost their national pride.
Cadiz was founded, according to dates based on Trojan legends, in 1110 BC, but nothing Phœnician has been dug up in Cadiz before the eighth century. No Phœnicians traded in the western Mediterranean before the eighth century when Carthage was founded. The Carthaginians were in Spain about the year 600 BC, A Schulten tells us, but S Gsell says that nothing certain is known about the Carthaginians being in Spain before the fourth century BC. The Phœnicians controlled most of Spain before then, and it is probably the fall of Phœnicia with the Persian empire to the Greeks that allowed the Carthaginians a free hand to take over the Phœnician colonies in Spain.
Albright recognized the similarity of unquestionably eighth century Carthaginian ware with supposed tenth century pottery from Megiddo. It was, he said, because the Carthaginians continued to make pots in an old fashioned style for another 200 years after production had stopped in Megiddo. The natural explanation that the Megiddo pots were eighth century spoiled the biblicist idea that they proved the finery of the Solomonic Age.
A small shrine at Tanit is built on hardcore that contains pots dateable to the latter half of the eighth century by comparison with Greek pottery. Since it is built in the earliest layers of a Phœnician Tophet, a depository for the urns of infant sons offered in sacrifice to the gods, it is secure evidence of it having been founded early—tophets were particularly sacred to the Phœnicians, and were set up at the start of every city founded. Pottery found there is also found in Tyre dated to the late eighth century.
The tradition that Carthage was founded about a hundred years earlier is either the exaggeration typical of early history already noted or is because Carthage is the Phœnician for “New Town”. As the Phœnicians expanded they founded more than one New Town but those nearer home had their names changed later in history or disappeared. Carthage is the one that became famous but was not the first. Kition in Cyprus was earlier founded as a Carthage, and the classical tradition might have transferred from this to the famous Carthage.
The range of dates offered for the conquest of Israel by different biblical experts is 2300 BC to 1150 BC. This is not history and it is not science. It shows that the choices are entirely arbitrary—they have nothing substantial enough to support them. They are foolish attempts to find historical roots in biblical myth.
There is nothing sacrosanct in a date, so it beggars belief that supposed scientists will defy all evidence and logic and will blatantly lie and deceive to maintain an accepted set of dates. It is not the dates that are sacrosanct, it is the implication for the truth of the bible itself that is at stake. Abandoning the biblicists’ absurdly high dates for Palestine would get rid of the whole spurious period when early Israelite history—the mythical history—supposedly occurs, closing up a nasty dark age in Palestine archaeology. Even the champion of latter-day chronology revisers, Peter James, sneers at the idea of eliminating the empire of Solomon from history and firmly classifying it with Hans Anderson:
The rising school of “minimalists” within biblical scholarship are attempting to scotch the historicity of the Bible, claiming that Saul, David, Solomon and the early kings of Israel are merely fictitious characters.
Quite so. P John Crowe, who has written a useful review of misdating from a catastrophist’s viewpoint, writes:
That Sesostris was Tuthmoses III finds support from Homer, who tells us that Memnon (Amenophis III), was at Troy some 70-90 years after the death of Solomon.
We can take his point, but that a man speaking of false dating can tell us Homer wrote about Solomon does not give us confidence!
Among the most common foreign objects found in Palestine suitable for dating are Egyptian scarabs of the nineteenth and twentieth dynasties of 1300 to 1100 BC. Adjusted, these dates would be about 1000 to 800 BC, fitting perfectly the time when the small kingdoms of southern Canaan, including Israel, briefly flourished as colonies of Egypt, or independently before being swamped by Assyria. At present, it is the need for this gap to accommodate Moses, Joshua, the Judges, Saul, David and Solomon that perpetuates the faulty and lunatic chronology of the biblical archaeologists. The references in the el-Amarna letters To the country of Jerusalem and its capital city, Salem or bit Shalmi, make more sense in the eleventh century than in the fourteenth, and readily give a basis for the legend of Solomon (Salem, Shalmi).
Solomon’s (960-920 BC) stables at Megiddo were ascribed by Kathleen Kenyon to Omri (886-875 BC) who has the advantage for historians as opposed to novelists of being mentioned in history in external records. The Solomonic Gates found at Megiddo, Hazor and Gezer, were exulted by Yigael Yadin and William Dever as confirmation of the bible (1 Kgs 9:15-17). Israel Finkelstein, an admirable scientist and scholar, conceded that Yadin had nothing to go on in the 1950s except the bible:
The only way for Yadin to establish an absolute chronology was to look at the Bible. There was no other way in the 1950s.
Regrettably, identical gates turned up in Lachish, not said to have been Solomonic in the bible, and even at Ashdod in Philistia. These gateways were questioned by Finkelstein and other archaeologists of Tel Aviv university in the 1980s and redated to about 800, much to Dever’s annoyance.
Dever persists that archaeologists reject these new dates on ceramic typological grounds, but notes also they “have robbed the supposed Solomonic kingdom of much of its architectural basis”. But, for all their fortified gates, these were primitive towns not grand ones as Solomon should have had. None of them have revealed the least sign of opulence—no monuments, statues, art, gold or silver items, or jewels. Solomon’s buddy in Phœnicia, Hiram, was in the same boat—neither had one! There are no grand remains in Phœnicia dateable to the same time either. The Ahiram tomb is dated in the tenth century but had artifacts associated with it that had cartouches of Rameses II, 300 years earlier. The latter date prevailed creating the remarkable historic fact that Hebrew writing was in use before Moses had escaped from Egypt.
B Rothenburg excavated the site of “Solomon’s Pillars” in the Timna Valley at Wadi Arabah. The consensus was that the site and other copper workings in the area were King Solomon’s Mines—copper mines. Y Aharoni had dated the site from pottery to the “time of Solomon” in the tenth century. Rabbi Nelson Glueck, a well known biblicist of the W F Albright school of credulity, made out that Solomon had a vast industry just east of Eilat. It all turned out to be biblicist fancy. Rothenburg, contrary to his hopes, found the workings were Egyptian, a temple of Sethos I and one of Rameses III.
One cannot but wonder how it comes about that pottery, thus dated in 1962 (to Solomon), is now so unequivocally transferred to the periods of Sethos I and Rameses III.
After that, the local people used the temple as a shrine but it yielded only one item, the ancient fertility symbol of the Middle East, a tiny moulded copper serpent with a gilded head, calling to mind the “serpent of brass” which the bible admits was the object of veneration of the Israelites, given them by Moses himself (Num 21:9). Thereafter, there is nothing in the ground until the Byzantine period.
Museums have many examples of artefacts of similar styles and manufacturing techniques dated by as much as 1000-1500 years differently. These anachronisms had arisen by archaeologists arbitrarily adding “occupation gaps” of many centuries that increased the age of the lower strata. The justification they offered was to match a biblical date for Abraham contemporary with the Amorite king, Hammurabi. Occupation gaps, remember, are not just gaps—they leave signs of desolation—so this is plain and straightforward dishonesty.
Excuse upon excuse is made for the mismatches in chronology but, like the multitude of excuses that Christians like to find to explain anomalies in the bible, they become utterly unconvincing by their sheer number. In scientific terms, they are contrary to Occam’s Razor or the principle of parsimonious explanation. Like Ptolemy’s epicycles, they will have to be discarded eventually in favour of something better. There was no need to accept the absurd dates in the first place—they were forced on to us by dogma. A simple revision of chronology removes most of the problems. Inevitably new ones will be introduced—nothing is perfect—but the revision will give a better synchronicity with other finds and events than at present.
It would be entirely possible to program even a modest computer to accept data about artefacts and fixed points with reasonable error bands and minimize the sum of squared differences between the synchronisms, automatically producing the best fit of the synchronisms to a set timescale based on the evidence. Has anyone attempted such an approach?
Dating Some Pharaohs
They key date in this falsification of the chronologies of ancient Egypt, Israel, and Mesopotamia is the year 925 BC, supposedly the year when Shoshenq I, founder of the Egyptian twenty second dynasty invaded the Judah of Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, an event recorded in the bible, the Pharaoh being called Shishak. Champollion thought he had found “Judah the Kingdom” among the hieroglyphs of subdued cities listed in Sheshonq I’s military campaign mural. He concluded that Sheshonq was the Biblical Pharaoh Shishak. Shoshenq is dated to this time to match the biblical Shishak, so history is being dated from the bible! As the editor of Biblical Archaeology admits:
The calculated beginning of the twenty first Dynasty stems from the equating of the twentieth year of Shoshenk I with the fifth year of Rehoboam.
Jeremy Hughes, an Oxford chronologist, confirms it, though he thinks the date was 932 BC:
Egyptian chronologists, without always admitting it, have commonly based their chronology of this period on the Biblical synchronism for Shoshenq’s invasion.
A Harvard authority on biblical chronology, William Barnes adds:
Apart from the biblical synchronism with Rehoboam (which remains problematic at best) there is no other external synchronism by which one might date his reign, and the Egyptian chronological data themselves remain too fragmentary to permit chronological precision.
By 1888, Champollion’s “Judah the Kingdom” had been corrected and associated geographically with northern Israel not Judah. Though the link had gone, Shishak remained Sheshonq. From Shoshenq to Psamtik I in 664 BC, Egyptian chronology is almost as imaginary as the bible—it is the remainder of the Third Intermediary Period—invading Nubians, duplicate pharaohs and nonentities. And what are we to make of the curious fact that the name of Shishak in the Septuagint is “Susakim” which means “One of the Susa People”—Persians!
Pharaoh Takelot I, Kenneth Kitchen describes as a “witless nonentity who allowed all real power to slip through his fumbling fingers”, because he is only known through a genealogical note. Yet Kitchen gives him 15 years. Takelot I will have left no monuments, not because he was witless, but because he died after reigning only a few months or even not at all, being a regent or even just a viceroy. Most of the kings of the twenty second and twenty third dynasties have peculiar non-Egyptian names. Libyans, we are told, yet the names sound Assyrian—Osorkon is Sargon, the Assyrian king who claimed to have brought Egypt under his control, and Takelot is Tiglath—and suddenly these Assyrian names pop up repeatedly over a period of 200 years. Are they viceroys of the Assyrian kings? Victorian Egyptologists thought so. Manetho’s dynasties might not have been listed in chronological order. He might have put foreigners last, after the foreign Hyksos.
Kitchen claims that his date for Shoshenq I is supported by “the series of known regnal years of his successors, which fill up the interval 924-712 BC almost completely, leaving just 18 years for the one king (Osorkon IV) whose reign is poorly documented in terms of monumental year-dates”. Many of these “known” regnal years are not known, as the aforementioned Takelot I proves, and no one knows that they were all consecutive and none were concurrent. So, Kitchen assigns various kings enough years to fill the spurious gap, and, Lo! he finds the gap filled.
The “Genealogy of the Royal Architects” suggest a date for Shoshenq I sometime in the 9th century BC, a hundred years later than convention. From Phœnician findings, Shoshenq is better dated to the beginning of the eighth century. Abibaal of Byblos reigned just three generations before Tiglath-pileser III, and was a contemporary of Shoshenq I putting Shoshenq about 825 BC. Presents from Shoshenq and his son Osorkon were inscribed by respectively, Abibaal and Elibaal, successive rulers of Byblos. The son of Elibaal, Shipitbaal is known from Assyrian annals to have ruled about 740 BC.
Release Shoshenq from Shishak and he can appear in the eighth instead of the tenth century BC, and Omri can emerge as the true founder of the Israelite state. The Merenptah Stele abuts on to Omri, and might suggest a failed but boasted-about punitive expedition to put the rebel king, or his rebellious predecessors, in his place. It also more closely abuts on to the Mesha of Moab Stone. The adherence of scholars to the bible as true history is a lunacy that they cannot cure easily. Loosing their cherished beliefs in the word of God, they might be able to cope with, but looking utter idiots is unthinkable.
Even Peter James writes disparagingly that it is easy to dismiss the biblical narrative as unbelievable, but says it is “poor methodology”. In fact, it is poor methodology to believe that devotional works are true history when they are written to promote particular religious prejudices. The scientific method is to disbelieve until a sound basis for belief has been established. It is not a sound basis of belief that something is “plausible”, as biblicists tell us the scriptural account is. Gone with the Wind is plausible—but it is not true.
James also writes that the identification of “Apiru”, a name that occurs in diplomatic correspondence, with “Hebrew” can hardly be doubted. That too is poor methodology because it begs the question. It can be doubted. The scientific historian should not make assumptions like this based on the evidence that “it can hardly be doubted”. Reducing ancient dates around 1200 BC by 300 years gives much more credence to the idea that Apiru = Hebrew, but establishing the identity will then become evidence for the need to redate.
Shishak could have been Shoshenq, read by the Persians in the Assyrian annals and translated into a Pharaoh of the time of the legendary Solomon, but this is not history! Alternatively, the revisionists think he could have been a reference to Rameses III, known as Sysw (Shisha) on his own monuments. The added “k” makes the name a pun on the word “assaulter” in Hebrew. A revised chronology would place Sysw in the latter half of the tenth century BC, a few decades before Omri (Khumri) founded the state of Israel. It is therefore in just that period when Solomon was supposed to have lived, but the dates of this Rameses are entirely arbitrary, and there are unexplained signs that he is later still.
David Rohl has found a rare synchronism in the reign of the eighteenth Dynasty Pharaoh, Akhenaten. Shortly after the death of his father Amenhotep III, Akhenaten received a letter from his vassal Abimilku of Tyre saying a fire had destroyed half of the palace of King Nikmaddu II at the city of Ugarit. Archaeologists found, in the remains of the palace, a tablet describing an eclipse of the sun at sunset in the month of “Hiyaru” (mid-April to mid-May). The setting sun (Salem) was divine in the Canaanite pantheon, so its eclipse seemed a bad omen—the reverse of the tablet declared it was. Calculations confirm that thirty minutes before sunset on 9 May 1012 BC an eclipse did occur, the only significant eclipse of the sun, within an hour of sunset, visible in the Levant in the second millennium BC. The combination of circumstances date Akhenaten near the turn of the millennium, not 300 years before!
From the el Amarna tablets, Rohl thinks the ethnic and political makeup of Palestine, and the activities of the Apiru correspond with the Biblical record. He identifies Saul with a character in the letters called Labayu, and he thinks other events mentioned therein can be matched with the careers of Saul and David. A “Dadua”, the Akkadian version of David, is even mentioned, with no special significance. When biblicists realize that it is a way to save their beloved David, they will become chronology revisers!
The many tablets found at el Amarna and at Hattusas show that pharaohs and Hittite kings were in correspondence. Current chronology suggests the Hittites flourished from the fifteenth to the thirteenth century BC, disappearing about 1175 BC. Von Soden (The Ancient Orient ) says that, with the destruction of Hattusas, cuneiform fell out of use in the Hittite world, including in Syria, but it was reintroduced by the Assyrians about 850 BC, when, the Assyrians are found corresponding with Hittites in north Syria who had the same hieroglyphic script and had the same culture but existed from the tenth to the eighth centuries! This looks like the same phony dark age. Assyrian dates are reliable from about 900 BC onwards. Assyrian art, distinctive as it was, influenced the countries subdued and associated with the great empire. These countries closely linked with Assyria can therefore be dated reasonably well by comparisons with Assyria. Earlier than the tenth century, Assyrians mention encountering Hittite soldiers but seem unaware of the great Hittite kingdom in Anatolia.
Excavations at the Syrian town of Carchemish place it entirely in the first millennium BC. Leonard Woolley found sherds of Mycenaean and Cypriot ware on a ninth century pavement. Another link was an apparent reference to pharaoh Rameses II on a mace head. Seventh century layers revealed winged discs identical to specimens from supposed thirteenth century Hattusas. The figures at Carchemish were little gold figures like brooches and the excuse for the discrepancy in the dates is that the small figures were hierlooms—kept for 500 years, apparently.
The city of Malatya has an Assyrian palace built on top of a late Hittite complex built on an earlier (but still late) Hittite structure. The neo-Hittite complex had a lion gate carbon dated by charcoal found beneath it to the early tenth century BC. In style it matches independently dated art at Carchemish. Yet all of these are in the same style as the supposed thirteenth century art of Hattusas in central Anatolia. The neo-Hittite complex is apparently identical in style to the imperial Hittite buildings of 300 years earlier.
More remarkably, the kings of Malatya can be linked with the kings of Imperial Hattusas. The so-called kings of Carchemish unearthed by Woolley were apparently local officials treated as vassal “kings”, under the authority of the Great King. A stele from the temple of the storm god at Carchemish confirms that the Great Kings of the Hittites still existed in the ninth century.
The Phrygians arrived in Anatolia in the ninth century, apparently as wild invaders similar to the Cimmerians. But excavations show that at Gordion, where Alexander was to cut the Gordion Knot, Phrygians and Hittites lived together, although the Phrygians gradually displaced the Hittites, until the Cimmerians plundered the city. It suggests a gradual break up of the Hittite kingdom in the latter half of the tenth century, so that Phrygians were able to move in in strength in the ninth.
Cyprus, according to the bible, ruled by Hiram of Tyre in the tenth century BC was not occupied by the Phœnicians until the eighth. The earlier Cypriots had an unusual and still undeciphered script that disappeared about 1200 BC. Old scripts do die out, but this one reappeared again about 900 BC! How can a script be unused for 300 years then resume in use as if it had never stopped? Answer—it cannot.
The “Divided Monarchy” of Israel and Judah begins to to find confirmation in Assyrian archives and suggests that the historical scriptures from this point on show that the authors’ had access to Assyrian diplomatic records and king lists. It does not mean that the content of each king’s reign is anything other than romance meant to show Israelites as perpetual apostates to bring them in line behind the god, Yehouah. It does not even prove that the monarchy was divided—Yehud (Judah) might have been an invention of the Persians and the north Syrian state of Yaudi might have been confused with the later Yehud.
From about the ninth century there seems to have been a kingdom of Israel, but it was destroyed by the Assyrians after a life of less than two centuries and repopulated with people from north Syria, some of whom possibly came from the kingdoms of Yaudi and Samal, others from Haran. Several kings of Israel and some kings of Judah appear in Mesopotamian records but there are no monuments or inscriptions from Palestine that mention these kings. Only the stele of Mesha of Moab mentions an Israelite king—Omri.
Valuable Assyrian glass is sometimes found in Palestine. The tyro archaeologist would take it that the strata containing it should be dated to the Assyrian period. No! They are uniformly dated as preceding the Assyrian period. They were imports, the experts say, yet curiously, the imports ceased when Samaria came within the Assyrian sphere, and the glass became more accessible.
Some seals have been found but they are never found in context! One seal mentions Hezekiah and another Jeroboam (II). The only seal found in context mentions Jehoiachin who was supposed to have ruled briefly in 597 BC, but the context of this seal was pottery from from before the Assyrian conquest, over 100 years before! The implication is that Judah never existed independently of Israel and was brought down with Israel by the Assyrians.
The excavation of Samaria caused problems. It was expected to have been founded in the ninth century, by Omri, and to be built therefore on ground that had tenth century remains. Pottery found in the ground was also found in the casement walls, but whereas the pottery in the ground was mixed with identifiably older material, as would be expected, the walls only contained the pottery, that must, therefore, have been contemporaneous with the building, as Kathleen Kenyon realized. The pottery was ninth century, offering no trouble to the date of the building but it was the same pottery that was dated at Hazor and Megiddo by Egyptian chronology to the twelfth century.
An example of exaggerated dating is possibly the temple at Arad excavated by Y Aharoni. It was not of the type of Solomon’s temple described in the bible, but Aharoni dated its foundation “in Solomon’s reign” (tenth century), and attributed changes to the reforming kings, Hezekiah and Josiah, the latter actually closing it in the seventh century. More recently, critics of Aharoni disagree considerably. The temple was, they think, only founded about the time of Hezekiah, and it is unlikely to have been closed so soon after by Josiah. Closure sometime in the Persian period when worship was centralised in Jerusalem is more likely.
A more surprising dark age is the one that occurs in Judah after the exile and the supposed return of Zerubabel and Joshua. The gap is almost a century until Nehemiah and Ezra get active from the middle of the fifth century on, although nothing much is known from archaeology for hundreds of years after even this. Was this dark age real or was it a product of biblicist chronology? In the early twentieth century, there had been sites attributed from its pottery to this interval but Albright and his school reclassified them all as pre-exilic. Albright himself noted that it “left something of a void behind”. Such scholarship begins to look deliberately perverse.
B S J Isserlin (The Israelites, 1998) says the pottery chronology developed between the wars by W F Albright, and elaborated by R Amiram is still the basic standard. Since Albright paid little or no regard to the “void” he had created in post-“exilic” period, the continuing use of this standard must be perpetuating error, and is even more perverse than the original crime. The error is that much of the pottery of the Persian period is assigned to the Assyrian period with an error of at least 200 years.
Lachish was devasted by the Assyrians and remained unoccupied until the time of Nehemiah when he says it had a remnant of Israel. Excavation at Lachish revealed a set of ostraca written in Hebrew script—the oldest examples known. They were letters from a local commander, Hoshaiah to his general, Yaosh. They were found in a burnt layer (level II) immediately beneath the mid-fifth century Persian layer.
A biblicist declared that, to judge by the names, the letters were written at the time of Jeremiah. This misled researchers for decades until a closer look showed that the names actually fitted the post-exilic period better. One clue to this is obvious if it is accepted that the Persians promoted the name Saviour because they claimed to be saviours of people and gods. Both Hoshaiah and Yaosh include the word “Saviour”.
Unarguable evidence however is that one of the letters actually relates events found in the book of Nehemiah, speaking of a “servant of the king” (“servant” in Nehemiah) called Tobiad. The destroyed layer at Lachish therefore must have been caused by internal dissent under the Persian governor in Persian times and not at the conquest of the Assyrians as had been thought.
The next layer (Level III) at Lachish is also burnt but, from various seals, seems to be dateable to the conquest by Nebuchadnezzar. The Assyrian Palace Ware, as Petrie had called it, was shown to be neo-Babylonian, not Assyrian, so these strata previously assigned to the end of the eighth century were actually from the sixth. This fits in with the Archaic Greek pottery found in north Palestine. That leaves Level IV as the layer of the Assyrian conquest and that one was not incinerated. Assyrian records do not claim that Lachish was burnt and it makes more sense for them to have left the town in the care of their vassals, the Philistines, as a fortress against the Egyptians.
The corollary is that the Assyrian conquests have to be found in strata previously assigned to the ninth century. It is another of those curiosities of biblical archaeology that clearly Assyrian objects offering the chance of unequivocal dates, never come from careful excavations but from disturbed ground or rubbish pits. It is all dubious, casting a poor light on the honesty of people who excavate with their bibles instead of scrapers. A century ago, an Assyrian tablet with a precisely identifiable date of 651 BC was found by Macalister in layers he preferred to date in the “time of Solomon”. Pottery of an identifiably Assyrian style is commonly found in strata dated two centuries before Tiglath-Pileser came a-conquering in 733 BC. All of this matches the misdating of Cypriot black on red ware.
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