Hebron, Jerusalem and the United Kingdom

Beginning next week I am going to turn my attention to the New Testament for a while. But before I do, I want to make a final note regarding what I have read and thought about over the last few months.  In my head, I have been in the late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age.

Although I was not on board with the approach taken by  Jacob L. Wright in David, King of Israel, and Caleb in Biblical Memory, who allows for too much invention by post-exilic scribes, I found his skepticism about the era of David and Solomon fruitful. It caused me to consider that when the Bible portrays Jerusalem as the political capital of a united kingdom it reads a later situation into the times of David and Solomon.

I am tending toward the idea that Hebron, rather than Jerusalem, remained the political capital through the reign of Solomon.

Here are some specific reasons for this that I don’t think I made clear before.

First, it is odd that Shoshenq I, the Libyian Pharaoh of Egypt who invaded in about -925, did not mention Jerusalem as a target of his advance.  In biblical memory, he “came up against Jerusalem” (1 Kings 14:25).  But in his own detailed itinerary for this invasion, he strikes at the southern Judean hills and then advances against northern Israel.

In the Karnak inscription detailing this campaign, one early target of his advance was “the heights of David” (Kenneth Kitchen’s translation, see here).  We cannot be sure that this translation is correct.  The name, Hebron, is only used in the Bible.  The “heights of David” occurs in close association with attacks against Arad and other sites in the Negev and southern Judah.

It seems to me that the “heights of David” is a very likely way for the Egyptians to have referred to Hebron and vicinity.

Second, the Bible’s memory that David had two high priests at the same time has always bothered me.  How would that have worked if they were both serving the same shrine? There are a lot of what seem to be sanctuary traditions about the patriarchs that come out of Hebron.  There must have been an important place of worship there even before David. It is likely that Zadok and the Zadokite priesthood originated there.

The northern priests of Shiloh were displaced by the Philistines and perhaps by Saul. It would make sense that David might have provided a secure shrine for them at the Jerusalem fortress.. Probably, he restored to them their lost Ark of the Covenant.  So, during the time of David, Zadok would have presided at the shrine in Hebron and Abiathar at the shrine in Jerusalem.

Something changed with the palace intrigue that put Solomon on the throne. Solomon centralized everything more.  He was into building projects.  Zadok ended up being his sole high priest, for whom Solomon may have built a more lavish sanctuary at Jerusalem.

Abiathar and his family were exiled to nearby Anathoth, where it seems there continued a conservative religious tradition that bore fruit centuries later in Josiah’s reform and the work of Jeremiah of Anathoth.

Solomon and Zadok may have encouraged pilgrimages to Jerusalem by northerners who had been used to going up to Shiloh.  So Jerusalem became a religious center before it became a political center.

In my scenario; Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, fled from Hebron to the Jerusalem fortress and hid out there from Shoshenq.  The kingdom of Judah was not much of a power again until the time of Asa, when Egyptian power waned and an alliance with Damascus came about.  I do not know if Asa tried to reestablish a capital at Hebron.

Jeroboam, in the north, had power as a vassal of Egypt.  He took steps to establish Bethel as a religious pilgrimage destination and further isolate Rehoboam in Jerusalem.

This is an attractive scenario for me because the attempt of minimalists and even Israel Finkelstein to downplay the united kingdom are looking less and less successful.  And yet. they had a point when they questioned the early political importance of Jerusalem.

It seems to me quite understandable that the story as it came down to us in the Bible sees Jerusalem from the standpoint of its importance in the times of Hezekiah and Josiah.  It was during their reigns that the prophetic visions of Isaiah and, especially, Jeremiah, began to define Jewish religion.  Yet we can still trace older traditions.

Posted in Ancient Egypt, Ancient Israel | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

A bit of a ramble about chronological order in the Bible

Any time you tell a story, you need to put it in some kind of order. My bias is to use chronological order. But I recently saw the movie Arrival where the challenge is to communicate with alien beings who do not order their world linearly or chronologically. A lot of story telling uses flashbacks or, in the case of Arrival, flash forwards. But even the terms “back” and “forward” imply a timeline. Life happens on a timeline from birth to death. Theologians have often ordered thought from Creation to Last Judgement.

But life also has depth and layers (archeologists understand about layers). So strict linear thinking can lead us astray.

There are ways to tell a story that do not precisely follow a timeline. This is especially true of literature. Much literature does more than tell a straight-forward story.  It also seeks to elicit feelings, entertain, and to motivate. It may seek to explore the depths of human experiences like love, anger, grief, and desire.

This is a long way around to get to the point that the Bible does not always use chronological order. This realization helped me put the Book of Acts back together after some of my teachers analyzed away all the precise accuracy that evangelical commentators had assured me was in Acts.

The realization that I came to was that the author of Acts was also the author of the Gospel of Luke. And if you compare Luke to other Gospel traditions like Mark and some of those that make up Matthew, you see that Luke alters their order. It was obvious to me that Luke did not alter the order of Mark because he had better information about the chronological or geographical order in which the events of Jesus’ life happened.

It was because he was shaping his narrative for theological and literary reasons. When he claimed to be making an “orderly account” in Luke 1:3, this misled a lot of people who assumed Luke meant an orderly account in the sense of chronological order. But he clearly didn’t.

Even though I recognize Acts as a nonlinear and theologically shaped book, I still want to know what the actual chronological order of events was.

We can compare Luke with the other gospels. There are no other accounts parallel to Acts. But several problems in Acts become much less severe if we assume Luke overrode chronological order in favor of other considerations.

Although there are no narrative accounts parallel to Acts, there is an apparent contradiction between the Acts chronology and Galatians 1:18-20 where Paul seems adamant in claiming that he never visited Jerusalem between his initial visit and the Jerusalem conference.

John Knox in his book Chapters In a Life of Paul, was entertainingly sarcastic about this:


Sometimes the scholars argue as to why Paul felt constrained to take a solemn oath to the truth of his statement here. I am tempted to suggest that he did so because he had some premonition that most of the books to be written about him in the centuries afterward were going to say to him in effect: ‘You are wrong about this, Paul. Of course you are not deliberately lying, but quite obviously you are mistaken. For the Acts of the Apostles gives a quite different story. It was written, we have good reason to believe, by Luke, who was a traveling companion of yours and therefore, you will agree, could hardly have been mistaken on a point like this.’ As if to forestall such an answer, Paul took a solemn oath; but certainly to little avail; nine out of ten of the ‘lives of Paul’ have preferred Luke’s version.” (p. 37)

Knox thought Acts should be discarded as contributing any knowledge about the timeline of Paul’s life. Paul Jewett, in his A Chronology of Paul’s Life used Knox’s criticism and yet showed how you could still use Acts critically to infer a good deal about the order of events.

That is where I have been for many years. But I realize that Jewett is dated. He published in 1979. I should note, though, that the As Paul tells it… blog  of J. Peter Bercovitz  has continued to support a chronology like Jewett’s.

For some time I have been hearing that the late Jerome Murphy-O’Connor produced one of the best textbooks on Paul and that he included a thorough discussion of chronological issues. So his Paul: A Critical Life will be my next reading project.

But let me restate something important: that the Bible is a bunch of documents that talk about God and only tangentially deal with history neither invalidates the Bible nor cancels out the interest of those of us who do care about history. Timelines help us gain perspective on people and events. But there is much more depth to human life, religion and meaning than you can discern from a timeline.


Posted in Bible | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sparks and the age of the Song of Deborah

Beginning in April of 2005 I blogged for several weeks about Kenton Sparks’ book, God’s Word in Human Words.

Sparks has now made available on the Internet his paper “Religion, Identity and the Origins of Ancient Israel”, which was originally published in Religious Compass in 2007.  The paper is here.

I remember from having read his book that he covered some of the same material there.  However, I want to focus on a particular issue.

The main thrust of his paper is that after a period when the consensus of scholars seemed to be that the Israelites who settled in the central highlands of Canaan around the 12th century BCE were Canaanites, many scholars were pushing back and reconsidering that the Israelites may have been semi-nomads from the east after all. Sparks marshals some of the evidence for this idea that the Israelites were more Shasu than Canaanite.

The issue I want to focus on is Ancient Hebrew poetry, in particular the dating of the Song of Deborah in Judges 5.

From David Noel Freedman, I had received the notion that old poems in the Bible showed certain marks of archaic or paleo Hebrew, and could often be dated to the period before the monarchy.  In Freedman’s article “Canon of the OT” in the supplementary volume of the Interpreter’s Bible Dictionary, he gave a list of these old poems and their probable dates:

…Exod. 15, Judg. 5, and Ps. 29 (twelfth century B.C.) ; Gen 49, Deut. 33, and the poetic portions of Num. 23-24 (eleventh century B.C.) ; I Sam. 2, II Sam. 1, II Sam. 22 (=Ps. 18), II Sam. 23:1-7, and Ps. 2 (tenth century B.C.)  ; and Deut. 32 and Pss. 68, 72, and 77 (ninth century B.C.).

His grounds for these dates depended on his expertise in philology and ancient Near Eastern languages, particularly Ugaritic.  There was a lot of criticism of this attempt to date the poetry.  Some claimed Freedman was just using intuition rather than a rigorous statistical method.  More recently Avi Hurvitz has defended linguistic dating and attempted to develop a better method.

Since my own expertise in Hebrew consists of knowing the alphabet and knowing how to use a lexicon, I cannot evaluate the linguistic argument.  If you want to get into the weeds about this stuff, I recommend taking a look at David Steinberg’s E-book, here.

However, in regard to Judges 5, I agree with Freedman’s date based on a number of non-linguistic factors.  And Sparks, in “Religion, Identity and the Origins of Ancient Israel” helpfully reminds me of several of these.

1.  The southern tribes of Judah and Simeon do not appear among the ten tribes of the Song of Deborah.  Some of these tribes, Machir and Gilead, also do not match the developed tradition. So the Song of Deborah reflects a situation prior to and independent of the narrative of the twelve tribes with Judah as predominant.

2.  The Pentateuch tells the story of how the tribes branched off from a single patriarchal family.  The Song of Deborah, however, seems to tell of the joining together of disparate tribes in the face of a threat.

3. The archeological evidence from Megiddo shows that the city fell to the Philistines no later than -1130, so the Judges 5 battle must have been before that.

4. The song puts the tribe of Dan at their pre-migration location near the Mediterranean.  But archeological evidence shows that their migration to the north happened not long after -1200, perhaps even before.

5. The religious language about YHWH  as a storm God coming from the southeastern mountains and deserts seems to fit a more primitive theme than that of the main Torah narrative.

Sparks got from Egyptologist, Donald Redford, the idea that the name Sisera might be a nickname for Pharaoh Ramses II.   This association would put the battle in the late Bronze Age.

This, in my opinion is very weak and hurts the case Sparks is trying to make. Even as fiction, the idea that a woman drove a tent peg through the Pharaoh’s head makes no sense..  (There is a tentative identification of Sisera that has some archeological backing.  See here.)

Sparks’ main point is that the Song of Deborah supports the idea that a group of nomadic tribes from the east with a common bond to the non-Canaanite deity, YHWH, formed the league of ancient Israel.  In the process he reiterates some of the reasons to think that the Song of Deborah gives us a window on Israel in it very early days.

A bonus idea from me, not Sparks: even among the other poems that Freedman thought were very old, the Song of Deborah is the one that speaks of the “God of Israel” but does not mention Jacob.  Could Jacob have been more identified with Judah?  Might the occasion for uniting the Israel and Jacob traditions have come after the time of Deborah?

Posted in Ancient Israel | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Eclipse hysteria touches the Bible

The Kansas City Star anticipating the solar eclipse on August 21, which will be total here, published an article with this headline:  “Was Jesus crucified during a solar eclipse? NASA shows one occurred in 33 A.D”.  This caught my attention because, on other grounds, I do think the crucifixion took place in +33.   However, the headline is misleading because the path of the eclipse they are talking about was near Antarctica, not Jerusalem.

In fact, no solar eclipse affected Jerusalem on any Passover in any possible year for the crucifixion.  It can’t happen at Passover, because a solar eclipse never happens at full moon.  The article, as opposed to the headline, explains that.

There was a partial lunar eclipse visible in Jerusalem on April 3 in +33, but I don’t see how that is relevant.

The earthquake and the three-hour darkening of the sun that the gospels  report are apocalyptic imagery so we should not expect literal phenomena that we can use to precisely date the event.

The earliest text of Luke 23:45 says the sun’s light failed.  Secondary manuscripts used the word for eclipse, but this was probably a misunderstanding.

Posted in Bible | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The DNA of the Philistines

Could we be on the verge of finding out who the Philistines and other Sea Peoples were?

There has just been published a report about the genetic ancestry of the Bronze Age Minoan and Mycenaean people. These would have been people from the Crete and the islands around Greece. It seems to confirm an earlier migration from Anatolia, modern Turkey. (There is an abstract here. The article itself is behind a pay wall.)

This is more fruit from the use of the human genome to study the past.

Just two posts ago I reported about the results on Phoenician or Canaanite people from ancient Sidon.  It may seem kind of ghoulish that we are using bones and graves. But archeology has long dealt with mummies and tombs.  If it wasn’t for the tombs of Egypt (pyramids) we would know a lot less about ancient Egypt.

A recent discovery has been a graveyard at Ashkelon in Gaza. It has human remains and we have concluded that it was in use from -1000 to -700 when the people of Ashkelon should have been Philistines. (See the article here, which treats the notion that the people in the cemetery are Philistine with an abundance of caution.)

One of the likeliest possibilities in regard to the Philistines is that they also were of Minoan or Mycenaean background. So, since we have these results from Ashkelon, we should be able to compare DNA with DNA and draw conclusions.

We should be able to tell something. If the people at Ashkelon were Semitic or Egyptian, then they were not Philistines. However, if they were from the Mediterranean Islands and match closely the Minoan and Mycenaean folks, then we will have solved part of the mystery of the Sea Peoples.

Posted in Ancient Egypt, Ancient Israel | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Bad cows

The Bible has unicorns, at least in the King James Version.  Modern versions have replaced this with “wild ox”.  For examples of this look to the Balaam oracles: Numbers 23:22 and Numbers 24:8.  I think Jerome’s Latin translation is to blame for the unicorns.

But wait a minute! “Wild ox” does not convey that this was a both a mythological beast and a real one.  The situation is similar to Leviathan, which probably refers to the Nile Crocodile.  The Nile Crocodile is a real reptile, but so fearsome it took on a mythological aspect.

There used to be a really bad ass kind of cow known as an aurochs.  They existed all over Europe and the Middle East, but they became extinct.

They were big, even though the ancients exaggerated their size. Julius Caesar described them in his account of the Gallic Wars as: “a little below the elephant in size, and of the appearance, color, and shape of a bull.”

In Hellenistic epic the seventh labor of Hercules was to capture such a bull.  He sails to Crete where he finds that the bull is creating chaos, uprooting crops and destroying orchard walls.

We are trying to bring them back! See here.

The Assyrians told stories of kings hunting aurochs .  Tiglath-Pileser I bragged about killing them in the mountains of Lebanon. The Assyrian word for the aurochs was rimu.  The word translated unicorn or wild ox in the Bible is re’em.

The sacred bull goes back to prehistoric cave and rock art and is known in several civilizations from the Egyptians to the Cretans to the Celts.  It became associated with the constellation Taurus.  Among Ammorites and Phoenicians it became associated with the god, Baal.

Of course, in the Bible there is the Golden Calf story.  When the northern kingdom became separate, Jeroboam made bovine statues out of gold.   Hosea knew of calf worship at Bethel (Hosea10:5 and 13:2).

But I find it instructive to compare these references to God of gods bringing the people out of Egypt:

God, who brings them out of Egypt, is like the horns of a wild ox for them. (Numbers 23:22 NRSV)

God who brings him out of Egypt, is like the horns of a wild ox for him; he shall devour the nations that are his foes and break their bones. He shall strike with his arrows. (Numbers 24:8 NRSV).

So the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold. He said to the people, “You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Here are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.” (1 Kings 12:28 NRSV).

Like Leviathan, the re’em was a semi-mythological creature.  In the two Balaam oracles it is a metaphor for the power of El (God).  But, somehow, at Bethel, it crossed a line and became the divine power that had brought the people out of Egypt.   Or, perhaps, the Balaam oracles have been modified in Numbers to remove the mythological inference.  There were certainly polytheistic Balaam traditions (see here).

It looks to me like the idea that the power behind the Exodus was aurochs-like originated with the Balaam traditions.

Posted in Ancient Israel, Bible | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The genetic archeology of Lebanon

There are different ways to explore the past.  We have some ancient texts.  We have dug up pots and the remains of buildings.  We even have mummies and other human remains.  More recently we have tried to date sites by radio-carbon tests on organic material.

Studies in the human genome give us a new tool.  Of course, the major use of this is medical.  A British research center called the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute is working on genetics as a way to deal with cancer, aging, and even malaria.  But they also have done some work relevant to the history of the Levant.

Some human DNA collected from Sidon dated at about 4,000 years ago has allowed them to compare the genetics of ancient Phoenicians and modern Lebanese.  They have found a strong link:

They discovered that more than 90% of present-day Lebanese ancestry is likely to be from the Canaanites, with an additional small proportion of ancestry coming from a different Eurasian population.

The team estimates that new Eurasian people mixed with the Canaanite population about 2,200 to 3,800 years ago at a time when there were many conquests of the region from outside.

The analysis of ancient DNA also revealed that the Canaanites themselves were a mixture of local people who settled in farming villages during the Neolithic period and eastern migrants who arrived in the area around 5,000 years ago.

Read the whole report here.

Don’t be confused by the use of Phoenician and Canaanite as interchangeable. Sometimes biblical texts use Canaanite just to mean people who live in Canaan.  But after the Israelite settlement, Phoenician and Canaanite usually refer to the same thing.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment