JEWISH ACTION – KOSHER FOOD FOR THOUGHT
I was first introduced to Jewish Action when Rabbi Reznick’s article on the Bar Kokhba Temple appeared several years ago. That article and his subsequent contributions have certainly piqued my interest. His latest article on the Beit Hamikdash has prompted this letter.
Over the past few years I have read each issue of Jewish Action from cover to cover with relish and delight. Though I do not always agree with a particular author’s presentation, Jewish Action has given me kosher food for thought and has helped me achieve a more considered opinion. (I must admit that many articles have compelled me to be more open to certain issues.)
Jewish Action is possibly the only venue open to the free exchange of ideas within the Jewish Orthodox camp and presents articles of general interest that cannot be found anywhere else. The magazine’s professionalism and color photographs certainly enhance its image even more. May you continue to have many years of deserved success. Hatzlocho!
Dr. Lawrence Kantrowitz
WHEN WAS THE EXODUS?
I read “When was the Exodus”, by Brad Aaronson (Jewish Action, Spring 1995) with great interest. Problems in Biblical chronology are all too often left for the secular scholar to solve, with the results not always to our liking. It is heartening to read an article on this subject written from a traditional perspective.
Mr. Aaronson points out some of the archaeological problems associated with the conventional datings of the Exodus in 1450 or 1290 BCE. Citing some intriguing parallels between the Exodus and the Ipuwer papyrus from 2150 BCE, he proposes to move the Exodus to this earlier period. Unfortunately, I cannot agree with this proposal. Dating the Exodus in this period comes into conflict with Biblical chronology. Furthermore, this dating is incompatible with what we know about the history of the ancient Near East.
Mr. Aaronson himself notes that his dating of the Exodus poses severe problems for the Biblical account. According to the traditional chronology, 890 years elapsed between the Exodus and the destruction of the Temple. If the Exodus occurred in 2150 BCE, a total of 1564 years (according to the accepted date of 587-586 BCE for the destruction of the Temple), or 1729 years (according to the author’s alternative date of 421 BCE), elapsed between these two events. The author does not explain how he fits in the extra 674 or 839 years.
Even if the problem of the extra years could be solved, however, Mr. Aaronson’s theory would still come into conflict with the history of the ancient Near East. To illustrate this, I would like to briefly discuss Mr. Aaronson’s theory as it relates to three periods in ancient Near Eastern history: the Hyksos period (1720-1570 BCE), the Canaanite period (1550-1200 BCE), and the First Temple period (approximately 950-586 BCE).
The Hyksos period: Mr. Aaronson shifts the United Monarchy from its accepted dating (approximately 1008-928 BCE) to the period of the Hyksos kingdom, 700 years earlier. The identification of the United Monarchy with the Hyksos Kingdom is problematic. The Hyksos kingdom included both Egypt and Canaan; the Bible, on the other hand, states that Solomon ruled only until the border of Egypt (I Kings 5:1).
The Canaanite period: Mr. Aaronson shifts the Divided Monarchy from its accepted dating (928-586 BCE), to the Canaanite period, 600 years earlier. This dating is contradicted by the El-Amarna letters, our primary source of information about the Canaanite period. In these letters, Canaan appears as a land divided into city-states, such as Lachish, Gath, Jerusalem, and Shechem, all under the subjugation of Egypt. The mayors of these city-states are obligated to swear an oath of loyalty to Pharaoh, to pay taxes to him, and to house any Egyptian troops passing through. The mayors appeal to Pharaoh to resolve their local political disputes. The political structure of Canaan as described in these letters is irreconcilable with the centralized monarchies of Judah and Israel as depicted in the book of Kings.
The First Temple period: The most decisive argument against Mr. Aaronson’s theory relates to the First Temple period. We are lucky enough to have an absolute chronology for this period, derived from the Assyrian chronological lists. These lists, which systematically account for every year from 892 BCE through the Persian period, also mention a solar eclipse in one of these years, which astronomers calculate to have occurred in 763 BCE. On the basis of this absolute date, all of the reigns of the Assyrian kings in this period can be dated precisely.
Several Assyrian inscriptions from this period mention kings from the Divided Monarchy of Judah and Israel. Thus, for example, we learn from Assyrian sources that King Ahab joined in a campaign against Shalmaneser III in 853 BCE, that King Menahem paid tribute to Tiglath-pileser III in 738 BCE, that Sargon II captured Shomron in 722 BCE, and that Sennacherib besieged King Hezekiah in 701 BCE (See H. Tadmor, “The Chronology of the First Temple Period,”The Age of the Monarchies: Political History [World History of the Jewish People 4/1, ed. by A. Malamat], pp. 44-60.) These sources conclusively prove that the Divided Kingdom cannot be moved back to the Canaanite period, as Mr. Aaronson suggests.
Nevertheless, Mr. Aaronson’s article has raised some interesting points. Hopefully, further research will lead to a clearer understanding of the dating of the Exodus.
New York, N.Y.
Brad Aaronson Responds:
Before I turn to the specific points mentioned by Ms. Moshavi, I wish to clarify an apparent misunderstanding. As I wrote in my article, “the apparent conflict between ancient records and the Bible is due to a misdating of those ancient records, and…when these records are dated correctly, all such ‘conflicts’ disappear.” Thus, I do not suggest that the Exodus be pushed back to 2035 BCE, but rather that the end of the Egyptian Old Kingdom be brought forward to 1310 BCE. And likewise for the other periods mentioned in Ms. Moshavi’s letter.
Regarding Ms. Moshavi’s other points, a great deal of work has been done on revising the history of Egypt, and the rest of the ancient near east. Those wishing a bibliography of this work, which has taken place over a period of decades and dozens of countries, are welcome to write to me at 29/4 Mitzpeh Nevo, Ma’aleh Adumim, Israel, or to send a request by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ms. Moshavi states that the “Hyksos” Empire included both Egypt and Canaan. However, archaeological evidence has shown that this empire included only the northeast portion of the Nile Delta, an area known to us as Goshen. While it is possible to argue whether Solomon’s empire did extend to this area (if it did, the border of Egypt would have been to its southwest, so the verse Ms. Moshavi cites would not be relevant), the fact remains that the empire found by archaeologists did not extend to Memphis, which Josephus tells us was the capital of the “Hyksos.” The Hyksos Empire described by Josephus does not agree with the biblical description of the United Monarchy; the “Hyksos” Empire discovered by archaeologists does. Exactly.
The system of rule prevalent in the Bronze and Iron ages was what might be called polyarchy, or tiered kingship. Minor kings, such as city rulers, were subject to greater kings, such as regional rulers, who in turn were subject to emperors. This was a political reality. But the minor kings did not consider themselves “minor,” only temporarily forced to acknowledge a greater power.
For example, in I Kings 22:48, we are told, “There was no king in Edom; a governor was king.” Yet even before the revolt of Edom, this “governor” is referred to repeatedly as “the king of Edom.” (II Kings 3:9) And if it is suggested that the case of Edom was different, since Edom was a separate nation under Judahite occupation, we are further told that following the revolt of Edom, Libnah revolted as well. Rashi on the spot (II Kings 8:22) points out that Libnah was a city in Judah, which is cause for confusion. But when we understand the actual political system in use at the time, the confusion goes away. These minor city-kings were the equivalent of feudal barons. The king of Libnah was a king. Yet he was subject to Jehoram in Jerusalem. Jehoram, though it is not mentioned in the biblical narrative, was himself subordinate to the king of Egypt.
The “centralized monarchies” depicted in the book of Kings are a matter of a given point of view. The biblical point of view and the point of view which was safe to express in correspondence with the then-superpower of Egypt were not at all the same.
It is true and has been pointed out by others that the Bible does not mention any major Egyptian influence during this period. Yet Ms. Moshavi mentions in her letters that King Ahab is recorded in Assyrian inscriptions as having taken part in a major battle against Assyria, another significant event which the Bible does not mention. The Bible is not a history book as we are used to history books. It includes only those things which were necessary in order to teach us certain lessons. Just as Ahab’s campaign was not necessary in this way, neither, it would appear, was the political structure of the ancient near east during the time of the Divided Monarchy.
The Assyrian lists during the First Temple period have no direct bearing on the revision of the previous periods, since the Divided Monarchy is not being redated. It is the Canaanite period which is being brought down to the days of the First Temple. Nevertheless, it should be pointed out that an uncritical acceptance of the Assyrian based dates for the period Ms. Moshavi mentions create irreconcilable conflicts with the internal chronology of the Divided Monarchy. Just for one example, Assyriologists maintain that Tiglath-Plieser III received tribute from both Menahem and Hoshea, kings of Israel. But Tiglath-Pileser only reigned for 18 years, and Menahem and Hoshea were separated by kings Pekahiah (2 years) and Pekah (20 years). This problem is resolvable, but not without questioning certain assumptions of the conventional dating.