Cline-15th century globalism

In order to show how civilization collapsed in the 12th century before Christ, Eric Cline in 1177 B.C. the Year Civilization Collapsed, goes back to earlier centuries to show what civilization existed before the collapse.  He does this by recounting history in what he calls a drama of four acts.

The first act goes back to the 15th century to show the existence of vibrant trade and cultural exchange around the eastern Mediterranean.  What he shows first is that there seems to have been a lot of interchange between Egypt and the Minoan civilization on Crete and other islands.

After the Egyptians deposed the Asiatic Hyksos rulers from their capitol at Avaris, they rebuilt Avaris.  Manfred Bietak, the Austrian archeologist, has uncovered the widespread use of Minoan art at the city.  This means the Egyptians must have imported Minoan artisans.

Cline goes on to tell the very interesting story of how we went from knowing little about the Minoan civilization in the early 1900s to detailed knowledge today.  One of the things found in Minoan Crete is a number of imported Egyptian objects.

Cline points out that what one finds are the few imperishable items of trade.  There must have been much trade in grain, wine, textiles, perfumes, and wooden objects–all of which would not survive for us to dig up.  Also many metal or precious stone objects would have been recycled for reuse by later peoples and so be unavailable to us.  However, we do have written texts and paintings on Egyptian tombs that testify to this kind of trade.  Cline believes there was a vibrant system of international diplomacy, commerce and transportation.

We know that Egypt established widespread international trade in the 15th century. During the reign of queen Hatsheput (1507-1458) a trading expedition went to Phoenicia to arrange for trading in wood (the cedars of Lebanon). She also sent an expedition to the Land of Punt (coastal areas of Sudan and Somalia or maybe Yemen across the Red Sea).  During the time of the next Pharaoh, Thutmose III, Egypt traded copper and horses with a place they called Isy.  This may have been a non-Hittite polity in what is today Turkey.

Thutmose III invaded Canaan and established Egyptian power there that would last until about 1177, when the Sea Peoples struck.

Thutmose III also fought against the Mitani kingdom. But following that war, there were peaceful relations between Egypt and Mitani.  There was intermarriage of the royal families and thus commercial, and cultural exchange.

Archeology, as mentioned above, has found out a lot about the Minoan civilization in the last two centuries.  But at least, because they are mentioned in Thucydides, we know of the existence of the Minoans.  The Hittites are different.  Some Hittites are mentioned in the Bible.  We do not know if they have anything to do with the Hittite Empire.  Just from the Bible, you would think that they were one of the Canaanite tribes.  But until recent times we were totally unaware of the existence of the Hittites as a great Bronze Age civilization. Now we have not only uncovered Hittite cities, but found a treasure of Hittite documents and texts.

So we know the Hittite Empire existed in Turkey.  In about 1430 the Hittites put down a rebellion by several states in the northwest.  One of these states was probably Homer’s Troy.  Doing a little textual detective work, Cline develops the theory that one of the letters associated with that war, came from a king of the Mycenaeans.  These would have been the proto-Greeks–the other side of the Trojan war. So Cline wants to date the historical events behind the Homer’s epic earlier than people usually do.

The point he is making with all this is that there was a robust international system of interrelations beginning in the 15th century B.C.E.

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

Cline-a perfect storm

The book I am reading has the title 1177 BC: the Year Civilization Collapsed. It is by Eric H. Cline.

His choice of 1177 as the crucial year could be contested. But in the 8th year of the reign of Pharaoh Ramses III, which he reckons as 1177, the Sea Peoples attacked Egypt. Actually this was just one of several waves of such attacks. But it is the one written down with the most detail in Egyptian records. These documents include pictorial representations of the Sea Peoples as tribes with different attire and weapons. So they probably represented a military alliance of several groups. Their transport included boats, but also chariots and oxcarts. So they came by both sea and land.

The 1177 attack seems to have come after the Sea Peoples had successfully defeated all other eastern Mediterranean powers. Ramses III claims to have decisively defeated them. This is probably true in the sense that his forces prevented them from overrunning the Nile Delta.

Cline is more accepting of the proud claims of Ramses III than I would be. Egypt apparently lost control of the trading routes to the north. Ramses III tried to put the best face on this by claiming to have deliberately settled the defeated Sea Peoples in strongholds and imposed taxes on them. However, the settlement of his enemies in Gaza (the biblical Philistines) and elsewhere was likely more an acknowledgement of reality than something he imposed. Perhaps he made an arrangement whereby some of the Sea Peoples formed buffer states shielding the Delta.

At any rate, Cline agrees that the Egyptian victory was hollow. Although only Egypt of all the powers was able to resist the onslaught, it was weakened and became a second-rate empire.

Thus the geopolitical situation was much changed after 1177. Egypt declined and other powers, like the Hittite empire, dried up and disappeared. It was as if civilization had just collapsed and all the advances in trade and culture of the previous centuries had been wiped out.

Some have taken this as a straight up military disaster. Scholars are divided about just who the Sea Peoples were. There are several theories. But the fact that we have such a hard time identifying them makes it especially surprising that they were able to just knock out big empires and powerful city states. Cline says that the tide of scholarship is now turning away from making military exploits the main cause of the Bronze Age collapse.

This is partly because doubts have been raised about whether all the destructions previously attributed to the Sea Peoples were really caused by them. The destructions attributed to them took place over as much as a century. So, although there were waves of  attacks over many years, we can’t be sure that all the cities destroyed were destroyed by the same group. Digging up an ancient city can tell you that it was destroyed. But it often can’t tell you who or what did it.

Another newer theory is that the Sea Peoples themselves were victims of the forces at work in that age. They may have migrated because of factors that made their original homelands unsuitable.

So Cline tends toward the general systems theory of the late Bronze Age collapse. He says it is more likely that complex factors including climate change, natural disasters, and the outbreak of civil wars brought about a “perfect storm” that plunged civilization into darkness.

Cline’s idea is to make this study of ancient history relevant. He notes that many studies of ancient collapses, such as Gibbons’ Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, get taken as warnings for modern society. So he thinks that we may learn something from the Bronze Age collapse that casts light on trends in this century.

In the current global economy, and in a world recently wracked by earthquakes and tsunamis in Japan and the “Arab Spring” democratic revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Syria, and Yemen, the fortunes and investments of the United States and Europe are inextricably intertwined within an international system that also involves East Asia and the oil-producing nations of the Middle East. Thus, there is potentially much to be gleaned from an examination of the shattered remains of similarly intertwined civilizations that collapsed more than three thousand years ago.

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

The mystery of the late Bronze Age collapse

Around 1200 B.C.E. there took place a series of events that we call the late Bronze Age collapse.  All around the east end of the Mediterranean city states and empires fell or got pushed back. Previously the Hittite Empire held  sway over Anatolia and northern Syria. Egypt held sway over Canaan, Lebanon and southern Syria.  This world order fell apart. The Hittite empire ended.  Egypt withdrew into Egypt proper and no longer exercised dominance in the Levant.  Also the Mycenaean cities on the Greek islands and the cities on Cyprus fell.  Ugarit fell.  A kind of dark ages ensued.

For students of the Bible, this has two major consequences.  First, it created a power-vacuum in Canaan that seems to coincide with the rise of Israel or Israel’s movement into Canaan.  Second, the Philistine settlement of Gaza, prominent in stories from Judges and Samuel, relates to the mysterious Sea Peoples whose sea and land raids seem to have finished the Hittites and weakened the Egyptians.

What caused this?

There have been a variety of theories.

Natural disasters like earthquakes, volcanoes, famine and plague may have played a role. Climate change is being explored as a possible explanation.

The very fact that this marked the change from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age hints that technology may have figured in.  Iron weapons were not as good as bronze, but more of them could be made.  So perhaps troops armed with the new iron spears overwhelmed the elite chariot corps of Hatti and Egypt.

Military historian, Robert Drews, thought that iron working and advances in bronze production were paired with new military tactics. Foot soldiers with shields, javelins and long swords no longer had to avoid facing chariots on the plains. There is a short summary of his conclusions here.

A newer proposal comes from systems theory and does not see a single cause-and-effect reason for the collapse.  Possibly the military defeat of the empires and city states involved the interplay of demographics, political instability and unwieldy institutions.  It could be as much true that the military disasters resulted from the collapse as that lost wars caused the collapse.  This perspective is called the general systems collapse theory.

Another mystery involves the Sea Peoples, among whom were the Philistines.  We still do not know their background and motives.  Sea Peoples is partly a mistaken name.  Some of them were like pirates or Viking sea raiders.  But many of them seem to have migrated by land.  So they were Sea and Land Peoples.

This leads me to the next book I want to make a reading project, Eric H. Cline’s 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed.   I’ll start next week.

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


Some implications of David M. Carr’s approach to the Bible as a text in continuity with other ancient long-duration texts get drawn out in his conclusion to Writing on the Tablet of the Heart.

Before mentioning some of those implications let me recap his proposal.  The Bible is a text that arose in a society were writing served oral transmission, education, and enculturation.  The texts were like written music and aided in the performance of their content.  We should not read back into ancient cultures our modern habit of private, solitary reading for pleasure or information.   Mastery of a text by memorization and repeated performance of it were the norm.

This led to an institution where scribes became elite guardians and teachers of culture. Often scribes were priests attached to a temple.  Master scribes often updated traditional texts.  Sometimes they produced new works infused with allusions to past works.  Often they did so in the name of some figure from the past.

They usually did not do this by looking at and copying from the scrolls of older works, but they operated creatively from memory.

Now to the implications.  Carr says his approach has implications for certain kinds of biblical criticism.

First there is what is called canonical criticism.  Although Carr is close to some of the insights of canonical critics like Brevard Childs, he does not think that “canon” is a good term for the Hebrew Bible.  He would prefer to speak of “scriptural criticism.”  He agrees with someone like Childs that the scriptures were shaped into their present form by scribal activity over time.  But he thinks canonical critics tend to see too much theological motivation for such shaping.  There probably were other motives like adapting the work to different audiences and making it a better tool for teaching.

Another trend in biblical criticism that he finds some fault with is the attempt to reconstruct the original text behind a passage.

“One can speculate about individual readings of the tradition in earlier periods, but the fluid dynamics of textual transmission in such periods render impossible a methodologically controlled reconstruction of a broader textual tradition before such authorization of a single textual tradition occurred.  As a form critic, I now look first to the process of education and other forms of cultural reproduction as the Sitz im Leben (institutional setting) for the formation and transmission of all texts. . . . Though such texts often had a previous oral or written prehistory,  they entered the stream of ongoing written tradition as part of a matrix of socialization-enculturalization literature. . .”

Further, he talks about implications for society today.  He notes his sympathy with postcolonial and feminist criticism.  The use of education and enculturation by one society or culture to impose new thought forms on another, he finds problematic.  He sees that ancient scribal education was mostly open only to men.  (He doesn’t say anything about males as a distinct minority in higher education today and the surprising kind of elitism that may lead to.)

He knows he belongs to a guild defined by knowledge of ancient languages and historical methods.  Of course, STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering and math) also produce an elite based on arcane knowledge.  But knowledge about texts puts one in a unique cultural power position like the scribes of old.

This may give rise to an emphasis that ignores the oral energy behind written texts.  Carr gives the example of professors disparaging students who use the KJV Bible. There is a dynamic around the KJV (also Latin for some Catholics, Greek for some Orthodox and Hebrew in some synagogues) that involves memorization and archaic, poetic language.  We see that dynamic was also part of old scribal traditions. He does not want to return to assigning memory verses to college students.  But Carr thinks scholars could be more aware of the robust oral force of texts.  And perhaps the performance of texts could be a part of biblical education.

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

Carr-oral to text with rabbis and evangelists

I am close to the end of David M. Carr’s Writing on the Tablet of the Heart. He has covered a lot of territory, from Babylonian, Egyptian and Greek scribal culture through the evidence for the beginnings of writing in Israel, to the developments under the Persians and Greeks, to the period of relative Jewish independence under the Hasmoneans.

As I recounted in my last post, he now believes that the Hasmonean rulers adopted Hellenistic educational practices ironically to promote an anti-Hellenistic and pro-Hebrew cultural agenda. In the process they made authoritative Scriptures out of the Law and the Prophets.

“What I have not clarified here is the journey of such Scriptures from the Hasmonean period onward. Even after the Hasmonean period, some Jewish groups appear to have persisted in focusing exclusively or almost exclusively on the Torah, while others like those at Qumran treated a broader collection of writings as inspired and worthy of copying and study. Nevertheless, once the Hasmoneans had set this temple-based system of broader education in motion, its temple connections would have supported its continuance during the Roman period, even when rulers like Herod appointed high priests but were not high priests themselves.”

More and more Jews were living outside of Palestine in the Hellenistic world. Herod the Great spent much wealth on the renovation and expansion of the temple. This caused it to serve as a magnet for great pilgrimages by the Jews of the Diaspora. One of the results of this extension of the temple’s influence was the translation of the Bible into Greek, the Septuagint.

Again this had an ironic or double effect. It put the Hebrew Scriptures into the Greek language. At the same time, it helped define the Jews as non-Greek. Thus we get the binary of Jew and Greek so prominent in Paul and Acts.

The Hasmonean temple-based education system made this possible. But Josephus and others show that the effects lasted after the destruction of the temple. Rabbinic writings testify to the temple as a place where many scrolls had been stored. They also point back to the priestly nature of education when they say all education should begin with Leviticus.

Carr points out that the development of rabbinical Judaism ended up with something different from what Christians understand as the Bible or the canon of Scripture. The heart of Judaism was always the Torah. But as testimony the the original orality of the Torah, the rabbis continued to espouse an oral Torah along with the scrolls. Together with the Prophets and Writings (Wisdom and Psalms) this was authoritative for Jews. But it was also combined with authoritative interpretive works of Midrash and Talmud.

So the scribal role of first mastering the primary texts and then adding to and applying them anew continued.

Carr says that before the Christians canonized the books of the Bible, they also depended on the interplay of the oral and the written. He talks about the synoptic problem of how the gospels came to be written so that the same stories get told with different wording and emphasis in different gospels. These variants, he says, show the orality of the transmission of the earliest Christian traditions. There may have been a Jerusalem-centered educational effort. But with the Jewish War and the destruction of Jerusalem, there was a motive to textualize what had been oral sayings and oral narratives.

I will need one more post to summarize and comment on Carr’s book. I notice that I have not had many hits on these posts. This does not concern me. Nothing from here will likely ever go viral. I do this blog as a project in continuing my own education in retirement. Carr’s discussion is important, I think. But I recognize that it is technical and full of jargon– and I think it tries to cover too much territory.

Anyway, after I finish with Carr, I am going to move on to a book about the late Bronze Age collapse in the Near East.  This has more the elements of a mystery story. So, to me at least, it will be more exciting.

Posted in Bible | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Carr-synagogue, scripture and the Hasmonean spin

David M. Carr has a chapter in Writing on the Tablet of the Heart about the broadening of textuality in late second Temple Judaism due to the synagogue.   Philo, Josephus,  4 Ezra, and New Testament all testify to importance of the synagogue and its educational aspects.

Carr points out that the use of books besides the Torah became accepted at some time in this period.  Josephus and 4 Ezra witness to there having been a list of more than twenty books used in the synagogues.

In 1996 Carr wrote a paper arguing that the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E. caused the Jews to make this compilation of acceptable books.  Now he has changed his mind and proposes that both the broad use of Hebrew studies outside the Temple and the solidifying of a body of scriptural writings goes back earlier.

After Greek rule the Hasmonean dynasty ruled Israel until 63 B.C.E.  Even the Herods of the New Testament connected to the Hasmonean dynasty by marriage. Carr now believes it was the Hasmoneans who instituted a program of anti-Hellenistic and pro-Jewish culture.  A textual education system and its development in the synagogue was central to that program.  That we have so many anti-Hasmonean texts due to the discoveries at Qumran has perhaps skewed our understanding.

There has been a trend to play down how anti-Hellenistic the Hasmoneans were.  But Carr cites evidence that there are two levels to the Hasmonean attitude toward Hellenism.  There was a willingness to use Greek texts and Greek culture.  But this is complicated by their presentation of themselves to the people as anti-Hellenistic.

This goes along with the notion of “hybridization” that Carr gets from post-colonialist thought.   Even when a culture adopts the culture of a conqueror, it incorporates it in a way that allows for a counter colonial drive toward liberation from that culture.  In this case, the Hasmoneans encouraged textualization and the collection of writings–features of Greek culture–in order to establish an alternative Hebrew culture.  The promoted several features of Greek culture at the same time that they engaged in anti-Hellenistic propaganda.

He shows how this dual attitude toward Hellenism reveals itself especially in 2 Maccabees and Jubilees.  So he thinks that the emergence of Hebrew Scriptures–the Law and the Prophets– as a form of Hebrew-language nationalism belongs to this period.

I am not competent to judge whether Carr’s view here is correct.  I do see the Law and the Prophets already assumed by the New Testament as a reality before the destruction of the Temple.

Carr also talks about the Book of Daniel as useful for dating the hardening of the writings into a compilation.  He says that it comes from the time just before the founding of the Hasmonean dynasty.   It stands out because it is partly in Greek and partly in Hebrew/Aramaic and because only some accepted it.  But the Hasmoneans promoted Daniel because it was a prophecy steeped in their own ideology.


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


The Dead Sea Scroll found near Qumran are still being studied and new ones are being published. So, even though the scrolls have been part of the background for biblical studies since they were found in 1948, the results are still preliminary.  David M. Carr in a long and technical chapter about education and textuality at the Qumran community stresses this.

Nevertheless, he says the old theory that the residents of Qumran correspond to Josephus’s Essenes is plausible.  What is more important is that they were a community of radical priests.  They first called themselves sons of Aaron.  After their reform and reeducation by someone called the Teacher of Righteousness, they called themselves sons of Zadok.

They were radical priests in that they renounced participation in the Jerusalem Temple. They seem to have tended toward dualism in theology and toward an apocalyptic expectation for divine intervention. However, their originating disagreement with the Jerusalem priesthood seems mostly about the purely priestly matter of the calendar.  The Qumran community held to the older solar calendar.

For education and scribal activity, their documents are important because they give us direct evidence for a system of scribal and priestly education.  There was a year of probation for initiates with an examination at the end.  Disciples who completed that could then share in the community meals.  Another year of study and another examination led to full membership in the community.

Every group of 10 had to have a priest who was learned in the “scroll of recitation/meditation”, which was probably the Torah.

Because so many Wisdom texts have turned up among the scrolls, Carr thinks that these played the role of fundamental educational texts.

The other major foundational text was the Torah.  It played a role in education at Qumran much like the role played by Homer in Greek education.

In fact, for all the separatism of the Dead Sea sect, they often parallel Hellenistic models in education.  The importance of Wisdom literature is one example.  But the very existence of the collection of scrolls may be another.  The collecting of archives or libraries of scrolls was a practice in Greece and Egypt

Carr says that the collection of texts at Qumran might be modeled on the collection at the Temple in Jerusalem–a collection that he thinks may have existed based on a tradition to that effect in Christian-era rabbinic sources.

Education at Qumran intended to extend priestly learning beyond just the priests.  The community was involved in the education of other children and women.  The Dead Sea Scrolls are the only texts where we have direct evidence for this kind of socialization and education for nonpriests in Israel.

I have tried to hit just the highlights of Carr’s extensive discussion of Qumran.  In the earlier chapters Carr was surmising much about scribal activity and education based on a few clues and hints.  Here he has a mass of direct evidence about how one ancient Jewish community engaged in the writing and collecting of texts and how they used these texts in education.

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