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The Stratigraphical Chronology of Ancient Israel
Gunnar Heinsohn

 I.  Ancient Israel Debunked?

The fundamentalistically computed biblical dates for the major events in the history of ancient Israel cannot be convincingly synchronized with the stratigraphical sequence of the land's archaeological sites.  This want of harmony between biblical chronology and archaeological stratigraphy is mainly due to the excavators' attempts to impose biblical dates on the strata which have actually been dated by other means—such as pseudo-astronomical (i.e., Sothic) retrocalculations in Egyptology and arbitrarily designed kinglists in Assyriology.  Neither the biblical nor the "scholarly" dating schemes seem to be very much in touch with the actual depth, volume and number of strata in the ground.  Time and again, archaeologists have failed to make sense of the biblical events when they took their pious dates and tried to accommodate them in their stratigraphies.  Hence, it became ever more fashionable to discard the historical information contained in the biblical legends.  Scholars from Israel and the rest of the world try to convince their bewildered audiences that whatever passage in the Bible appeared to allude to history, in actual fact turned out to be fiction or, worse, to have sprung from feverish fantasies.

This scholarly movement began long ago.  Any genuine historical content of the Abraham legends was dismissed as early as 1878 when Julius Wellhausen published his famous Geschichte Israels (History of Israel).  All he could see in the patriarchs were composite figures designed to serve as , "models of the good Israelite." [1]

Meanwhile the exposition of biblical events as awkward blunders has focused on the Exodus, conquest and settlement: "There was no real Exodus, there was no real wilderness wandering, and there was no sojourn at Kadesh Barnea,"[2] because "a thorough archaeological research at the oasis of Kadesh Barnea did not even reveal one sherd from the Late Bronze Age or Iron Age I (1550-1000).”[3]  The "scholarly" date of 1550 for the termination of the preceding Middle Bronze Age ruled out an evaluation of the natural upheavals and military destructions accompanying the shift from Middle to Late Bronze as an environment for the biblical claims in question.

The period of Judges, of course, could not remain untouched after the settlement traditions were discredited.  Biblically dated to 1450-1012 and described as a pre-Iron culture, it is now searched for in Iron Age I strata with a "scholarly" date of 1200-1000.  The results are devastating for the biblical narratives:

 "Nothing in the archaeological findings from this period points to foreign traditions or objects brought by the Israelites [of biblical legends] from outside the country."[4]

The entire period of the United Kingdom and the northern kingdom of Israel, biblically dated to 1012-721, also lacks archaeological credibility. The splendid capital of Jerusalem does not deliver the expected voluminous urban strata. The city suffers from "the lack of any remains"[5] for David and his successor. "The intensive building activity of Solomon and his entourage in Jerusalem are illuminated only by indirect sources."[6]  The same archaeological emptiness was confirmed for Jerusalem's western hill where an Israelite settlement only began in "the eighth century B.C."[7]

On the other hand, Jerusalem has urban structures during a time when, from the viewpoint of biblical chronology, "nobody needs them." Early Bronze Age II (3050-2650)--the first urban period in the Land of Israel with "stone walls 3-4m wide"[8] is "exemplified at Jerusalem (the City of David)" with solid stone houses.[9] In the Middle Bronze Age (2000-1550)--so intriguing for the sudden arrival of Mesopotamia's material culturel[10]--Jerusalem for the first time is surrounded by a wall which, however, irritates chronographers for what it encloses:

"It is 2.5 meters wide and built of very large boulders.  On the strength of the finds discovered in the foundation trench of the wall, it is definitely dated to Middle Bronze Age II.  However, the layers on the slope beyond the line of the wall are not earlier than the seventh century BC." [11]

What happened between 1650 and 650 or, in Jerusalem's earlier period, between 2650 and 1650?  Two blank millennia in the Holy City without clear-cut evidence for a cessation of settlement indeed cry for a chronology built neither on biblical nor on "scholarly" chronology, but on dates based on hard evidence.  To compensate for Jerusalem's disturbing lack of strata in the biblical period of the monarchies, 10th-8th century strata are claimed at least to exist in Israel's famous long stratigraphies (e.g., Megiddo, Gezer, Hazor).  However, the strata in question contain remains which elsewhere are dated four to five centuries later, i.e., around 500--notably the notorious Aeolic columns and capitals as in Megiddo VA-IVB.

Aeolic capital from Megiddo VA-IVB.  The stratum is biblically dated to 1050-900, but contains capitals the likes of which are elsewhere stratigraphically dated to the 6th/5th century.  Therefore the capitals were christened "Proto-Aeolic."

             The desperate designation of these prominent architectural features as "proto-Aeolic capitals" in no way could save the reputation of the excavators.  It only exposed them to derision: After they had used up the strata with the capitals for the 10th century, they had nothing left to show for the true period of the capitals in the 6th/5th century.  The specimens existed only once and, therefore, could not be divided into "proto" and genuine pieces.  Moreover, the archaeologists were not only ridiculed, they also invited anti-Zionist efforts to delegitimize the modem State of Israel,[12] which State seems to be left with no provable past of its own to build upon.

Israel's rule by the Sargonid kings from Tiglat-Plieser to Ashurbanipal (biblically dated to the 8th/7th century) did not fare better than the earlier periods.  The famous Sargonid pottery ("Palace Ware"), which was already dated to the 6th-3rd century by earlier excavators,[13] was meanwhile also found in Mesopotamia proper and, for stratigraphical reasons, had to be dated after 610.[14] This fine ceramic ware was even dug up in Hellenistic burials.[15] Stratigraphically, the Sargonid remains immediately precede the Hellenistic ones of the 4th/3rd century without any recognizable hiatus whatsoever (e.g., at Hama[16] and Nimrud/Calah[17]).  The Persian period, therefore, seems to provide a more convincing environment for these powerful kings.[18]

The impressive achievements of nearly 150 years of modem archaeology in the ancient Near East seem to have debunked Israel's biblical history from Abraham to the Babylonian Exile, which likewise is burdened with some big question marks (see Section II below).  The opposing parties are well entrenched.  One side defends the biblical period from ca. 2100 (birth of the patriarch in Ur of the Chaldees) to 586 (deportation of Judah).  The other side insists on its "scholarly" dated stratigraphy which does not allow for these one and a half millennia in the archaeological strata of the land.  The present author chooses a different approach.  The core events as preserved in the biblical legends are provisionally accepted.  However, the genealogically and numerologically computed dates assigned to these events by the biblical compilers are just as provisionally set aside.  Thus, the author attaches little value to the capacity of the biblical compilers to reliably reconstruct ancient chronology.  He feels, however, much less inclined to blame them as the mere inventors of an imaginary history.  Even if one were to concede an arbitrary colouring of the biblical traditions, one still has to ask: why particularly these traditions instead of others?

Hence, stratigraphy has to be chosen as the starting point for the reconstruction of Israel's history.  It is in the uninterrupted stratigraphy that historians should look for the archaeological environment that would fit the historical legends of the Hebrew Bible.  Its compilers were not yet aware of stratigraphy.  Modern excavators, on the other hand, read the stratigraphies with preconceived chronologies-be they biblical or "scholarly." The stratigraphies, so to speak, were never allowed to speak for themselves.  Today's confusion concerning the history of Israel is mainly due to such an approach.  In an unbiased reconstruction, a chronology should not stand at the beginning of excavations and the evaluation of the reliability of ancient texts.  At best, a framework of tentative dates will be a fallout of careful comparisons of texts, strata and undisputed traditions found in the history books of antiquity.  Unfortunately, within the century and a half of excavations in the Near East, historians have not been able to bring themselves to adopt such an approach, even though they might readily concede that it represents the only one which can be scientifically justified.

II. The Core Events in Israel's Biblical History

The biblical narratives provide the following core events and periods in the history of Ancient Israel:

(1) According to the Abrahamic legends, the land he migrated to was populated by Canaanites[19] who had already reached the stage of urban civilizations[20] Evidence of the latter should therefore be stratigraphically indicated in the archaeological sites of the land.

(2) According to the same legends, Abraham's people came from Mesopotamia.[21] A sudden impact of Mesopotamian material culture, therefore, should also be indicated in Israel's strata.

(3) Abraham's legendary sojourn in Egypt[22] should also have left its evidence in Egyptian strata. Do we come across an infiltration of Israelite material culture in Egypt which simultaneously reflects Mesopotamian origins?

(4) According to the legends, the Abrahamic period ends in some natural catastrophe which, inter alia, levels Sodom and Gomorrah.[23] Signs of this event should be archaeologically evident.

(5) According to the Joseph legends,[24] the descendants of Abraham, with their roots in Israel, gain a strong position in Egypt. Do stratigraphies in the Nile valley reflect such a state of affairs?

(6) According to the Exodus and Conquest legends, a large and militarily efficient group of people had to flee from Egypt. Members of this group claimed descent from the People of Israel. The flight is renowned for its catastrophic circumstances which, inter alia, include several plagues,[25] a mysterious pillar of cloud and fire[26] and the collapse of Jericho's walls.[27]

(7) The powerful enemies the Israelites clashed with during the conquest and settlement included the Amalekites who struck as far as the Egyptian border[28] and the Mardu or Amorites.[29] Iron weapons were common among the Canaanite adversaries.[30] The Exodus, conquest and settlement should provide enough material to be looked for in stratigraphy. These powerful enemies should also be mentioned in written sources other than the Bible.

(8) During Davidic times,[31] the Philistines were as prominent as in the legends concerning Joshua who must have reached some agreement with these dangerous opponents.[32] According to Amos,[33] the Philistines and the Israelites from Egypt seem to have come to the Levant simultaneously. Stratigraphical knowledge about the Philistines is excellent. Their iron arms proved detrimental to the Israelites.[34] Philistine sites should therefore prove helpful in aligning a chronological scheme for the biblical legends concerning the conquest, settlement, the period of the judges and the monarchies.

(9) The northern monarchy of Israel was attacked by King Pul[35] and its people deported by King Shalmaneser.[36] These kings should also be looked for in non-biblical sources.

(10) The southern monarchy of Judah was defeated by King Nebuchadrezzar.[37] Judah's upper ten thousand were deported to Babylonia.[38]

(11) The Babylonian Exile was lifted by a Persian king called Cyrus who allowed the Jews back to Jerusalem.[39]

(12) The re-construction of the Temple was facilitated by a Persian king called Darius.[40]

(13) Another exile of Judeans was brought about by the Persian King Artaxerxes III (358-338) after he had crushed a revolt in Jericho.[41]

(14) The Book of Daniel was composed in the late 3rd or early 2nd century BCE. Yet it provides the best biblical record of the Babylonian Exile which is dated to the 6th century BCE.

(15) According to Talmudic chronology, the post-exilic Temple was not rebuilt in the late 6th, but in the mid 4th century BCE. It is not understood why the rabbinical historians should have made the temple one and a half centuries younger than it really was.

(16) The Jewish Temple at Elephantine in Egypt flowered in the 4th century BCE and, even then, was not yet monotheistic. Anath and Yahweh were its main deities.[42] However, this temple on the Nile was on good terms with Jerusalem which had supposedly been monotheistic since the 6th century.

(17) Great confusion is caused by the excellently established stratigraphy of Israel's capital, Samaria. The sequence of strata is continuous -- that is free of gaps. A reasonable average duration per stratum does not allow for the sequence to stretch back to the biblical 9th century when King Omri founded the city. Even with a maximum duration of some 30 years for each stratum (derived from strata III and IV), Samaria would have been founded in the 7th to 6th, rather than in the 9th, century.

The preconceived chronology of the excavators of Samaria, of course, was biblically based.  They "did not need" Egyptian chronology because they believed in the validity of the history of the Northern Kingdom as derived from Scripture.[43] That's why Samaria's strata I and II were not dated to the 15th century even though a scarab of Thutinose III (conventionally dated 1479-1425) was found on the floor of the palace assigned to Omri and Ahab.[44] In Beth Shean--and other sites with much less information available from the Bible--a scarab of Thutmose III should have transformed the corresponding stratum into a Late Bronze I level.  In Samaria the stratum was turned instead into an Iron Age IIB level.  Beth Shean, therefore, inter alia, later suffers a pseudo-hiatus between levels IV and II, whereas Samaria's stratigraphy remains continuous even though overextended.

The location of material related to Thutmose III in the 2nd last pre-Hellenistic strata group, of course, illuminates in an instant how much Egyptological chronology (15th century for the pharaoh in question) is out of tune with Egyptian stratigraphy (ca. 7th/6th century for the layer under discussion). [45]

(18)  The Hebrew "People of the Book" fell silent around 400 BCE.  Not a single scripture is known for the two centuries between ca. 400 and ca. 200 BCE.  It is strange, however, that when writing was re sumed, the Hebraic style of 400 BCE was continued more or less unaltered.  Thus philology does not support the 200 year gap required by biblical chronology.  According to Bible scholarship, Ezra and Job were written around 450.  Nehemiah followed in 430.  Proverbs and The Song of Solomon were completed around 400.  Then ensued a gap until, shortly before or after 200, Daniel and Ecclesiastes were published.  Jesus Sirakh, Esther, Tobias and Judith are dated to 180. 1 and 2 Maccabees saw the light of day in 135 and 60 respectively.  The writing of the Dead Sea Scrolls might have commenced as early as the 2nd century BCE.  The greatest confusion is related to I and 2 Chronicles.  Some specialists consider them completed around 450 while others do not allow for a date before 200 BCE.[46]

III. Stratigraphies in the Land of Israel

The first truly stratigraphically minded excavation in the Land of Israel was carried through by R.A. Stewart Macalister between 1902 and 1909.  Even though Macalister--since his collaboration with F.J. Bliss[47]--adhered to biblical chronology insofar as he roughly related the Chalcolithic beginnings of Gezer ("Pre-Semitic" period) to Abraham's biblical birth date in the late 3rd millennium, this Englishman was not yet haunted by more recent ideas on chronologies and sequences of empires which are so well entrenched in today's Egyptology and Assyriology.  This relative sobriety enabled him to record the stratigraphy as he found it in the ground.  He was not bound by a chronology which forced him to insert hiatuses into his stratigraphy since his archaeological expertise did not require them.  Thus, although his dates should not be adhered to, his stratigraphical sequence can more or less be trusted.

What Macalister saw stratigraphically in situ was what he put on paper.  He did not allow others to blot his results which, of themselves, confirmed the continuity of Gezer's strata.  He wanted the hard facts-whatever the dates he felt obliged to assign to them-to stand on their own.  For that reason he caused something of an uproar by registering Egyptian scarabs of the Old, Middle and New Kingdom, conventionally stretched over more than a millennium, in one and the same period. [48]  Gezer, of course, is important for anyone working on a stratigraphical chronology because its settlement did not only continue uninterrupted, but did so from the Chalcolithic to Hellenistic times.  It therefore allows for an exact count of the distinct strata groups (four altogether) between these two periods.  Nevertheless, Macalister's language--"Pre-Semitic", "Semitic" etc.--still reflected a biblical stamping.  Even so, he was careful not to identify these peoples more specifically.  It is also to be kept in mind that he failed to identify a separate stratum for the 220 years assigned to the Persian period; he lumped these centuries together with the Hellenistic ones.

The best stratigraphics in the Land of Israel more or less confirmed the sequence established by Macalister.  This is exemplarily shown for Beth Shean:

[Its] central mound was excavated from 1921 to 1933 by the University of Pennsylvania Museum.  In scope and in conception this was [after Gezerl the pioneer excavation in the archaeology of Palestine.[49]

One of this excavation's pioneering aspects was to allow the pseudo-astronomical chronology of modern Egyptology[50] to serve as a guide for archaeology.  The excavators ceased to use their own results to check the reasonability of the chronologies they had learned in high school and university.  In Beth Shem, for example, they inserted a gap of more than seven hundred years between strata IV and III without any archaeological justification whatsoever.

Macalister's four urban archaeological -- i.e., high culture -- periods between the Chalcolithic and Hel lenism were not only confirmed in Beth Shean, but also in the other long stratigraphics in the Land of Is rael.  However, his simple and sober counting of pre-Hellenistic strata was replaced by a much more ideological terminology based on developments in metallurgy which are out of tune with the real appearance of metals in the ground.

IV. Are Biblical Events and Archaeological Strata Really Incompatible?

The deepest stratum in the Land of Israel, which exhibited a strong and sudden Mesopotamian material impact, is called "Second Semitic" by Macalister, Middle Bronze IIA in conventional terminology, and 3rd pre-Hellenistic by the author.  Nearly sixty years ago it was for the first time recognized that the pottery in Israel's Middle Bronze IIA period looked very similar to the pottery of the Early Dynastic III penod in Mesopotamia. [51] Yet, the conclusion of an immigration of Mesopotamians was not drawn, because both periods are more than seven centuries apart in conventional chronologies-with Israel dated Egyptologically, and Mesopotamia dated Assyyriologically.  Nevertheless, two decades ago, the striking ceramic similarities were rediscovered.  They could not only be shown between Mesopotam'a's Early Dynastic III and Israel's Middle Bronze IIA, but also between Mesopotarm'a's Old-Akkadians and Israel's Hyksos of Ntddle Bronze IIB.[52]

Stratigraphy of Israel From the Chalcolithic to Hellenism

Macalister's dates and terminology Conventional dates and terminology (Mazar 1990) Author's tentative dates and terminology
Hellenism + Persians








4th Semitic



Iron Age (to 586) though Iron much earlier + Persians



1st pre-Hellenistic urban strata-group



3rd Semitic



Late Bronze Age (Mitanni) though Iron already proven



2nd pre-Hellenistic urban strata-group



2nd Semitic



Middle Bronze II B-C


(Hyksos with 2400 BCE old-Akkadian material culture) and MB II A (with 2500 BCE Early Dynastic III B Mesopotamian pottery). Bronze only appears now.


3rd pre-Hellenistic urban strata-group



1st Semitic



Early Bronze to Middle Bronze (though no bronze yet). No significant Mesopotamian impact



4th pre-Hellenistic urban strata-group



Pre-Semitic Chalcolithic Chalcolithic

The Abrahamic legends concerning the immigration from Mesopotamia to the Land of Canaan are, at the ' earliest, reflected archaeologically in the 3rd pre-Hellenistic strata group of the Middle Bronze IIA period.  Logically, the urban dwellers already active in the Land in the 4th pre-Hellenistic strata group of' the Early Bronze Age must have been the Canaanites with whom the Abrahamic newcomers began to in termingle.  It is interesting to note that in several sites within Mesopotamia proper, the Early Dynastic III period was immediately preceded by flood layers-for example at Ur, Kish and under the "Kalksteintempel" of Uruk.[53] Could it be that this disaster was what incited the Mesopotamians to emigrate to Canaan and further west?  Within Israel, the shift from Early Bronze to Middle Bronze (with the latter being the stratigraphical equivalent of Mesopotamia's EBIII) was also marked by a virtual "final annihilation."[54] One should therefore look for the causes of these cataclysms.

The Joseph legends, which reflect a strong influence of Abrahamic descendants in Egypt, also tind their earliest archaeological equivalent in the Middle Bronze Age.  The most carefully established stratigraphy in Egypt, Tell ed-Daba,[55] exhibited a strong material influence from the Land of Israel in strata G and F. According to the excavator, they lasted some 70 years and were particularly rich in Middle Bronze IIA pottery.

A virtual dominance of Abrahamites in Egypt may be located during the period of the Hyksos (Tell ed-Daba/E-D).  The Hyksos should then be identified as the Old-Akkadians with whom they not only share the pre-Mitanni stratigraphical location, but also cuneiform writing, pottery, scimitars. fortifications, composite bows, vertical looms, vaulted burials, etc. [56]

The Exodus and conquest legends find their best fitting archaeological accommodation in the period of the expulsion of the Hyksos from Egypt.  It is therefore at the termination of the Middle Bronze Age (3rd pre-Hellenistic strata group) that one has to look for the natural upheavals experienced during the flight from Egypt and the subsequent military destructions brought about by Joshua's forces.  It is exactly here that archaeology seems to quite convincingly deliver what the narratives require:

The most significant event concerning Palestine was the expulsion of the Hyksos from Egypt in the mid-sixteenth century BCE.  The Hyksos princes fled from the Eastern Delta of Egypt to Southern Palestine; the Egyptians followed them there and put them under siege in the city of Sharuhen.  This event was probably followed by turmoil and military conflicts throughout the country, as a number of Middle Bronze cities were destroyed during the mid-sixteenth century BCE... However, unlike the great collapse of the urban culture at the end of the EBIII period, the turmoils of the mid-sixteenth century BCE did not cause a total break of the Canaanite urban culture.   Important cities in the northern part of the country, such as Hazor and Megiddo, suffered some disturbance at this period but soon were rebuilt on the same outline.  Major temples at these cities were rehabilitated and continued to be in use in the late Bronze period.  The cultural continuity can be seen also in terms of pottery production, crafts, and art.  Thus, the wide-scale destructions in the mid-sixteenth century BCE, which mark the end of the Middle Bronze Age, did not bring an end to the Canaanite civilization. [57]

The terminal fate of the Old-Akkadians in Mesopotamia proper was also accompanied by some natural upheaval as indicated by the destruction of the ziggurat of Kish.[58]

The marauding Amalekites, who threatened the Egyptian border and did battle with the Israelites on their Exodus from Egypt, should be stratigraphically equated with the Scythians whom Herodotus has on record for such a campaign.[59]  As Qutheans, these Asian warriors also play a major role in the defeat of the Old-Akkadians whose Egyptian arm (i.e., the Hyksos) is cut off simultaneously with their loss of power in Mesopotamia.  Archaeologically, Scythian iconography (panthers and stags) became prominent in the 2nd pre-Hellenistic strata group of the Late Bronze Age or Mitanni period.[60]

The Scythian motifs are closely associated with material remains of the Mitanni who, consequently, must be identified as the Mardu or Amorites of the Joshua legends.  The Medish-Persian tribe of the "Mardians" (Mardoi in Greek[61] but also read as Amardians) has, according to Ctesias, its greatest son in Cyrus the Great. [62] Thus, the biblical Amorites were the Mitanni.  This Indo-Aryan nation had to be identified as the Medes in the outfit of the Mesopotamian part of their post-Assyrian empire.[63]

The stratigraphical location of the Philistines, who are found--with no intervening hiatus-- immediately beneath the Hellenes,[64] shows that the Joshua and David legends share one and the same archaeological horizon with the beginning of the use of iron.  This period commenced in what is called the Late Bronze Age or, by the present author, the 2nd pre-Hellenistic strata group.  The legends, therefore, are divided geographically rather than chronologically- with the David material focusing on Judah and the Joshua material centered around the northern area of Israel.

The Persian period, which Macalister could not identify in Gezer, must be looked for in the Ist pre-Hellenistic stratum if the Greek historians are to be trusted-that is if Alexander the Great indeed conquered the Persian Empire.  According to conventional chronology, this last pre-Greek period, called the Iron Age, has to accommodate the Monarchies, the Sargonids, the Neo-Babylonians and the Persians - al together a biblical time span of nearly 700 years (1012-330).  It was seen long ago that Israel's imperial borders-as given in the Solomonic legends- were more or less identical with the borders of the Persian Satrapy known as "Trans-Euphrates."[65] Thus, whereas the Joshua, Saul and David legends are archaeologically reflected in the 2nd pre-Hellenistic stratum (Late Bronze or Mitanni = Medish period), the leg ends concerning the later monarchical development can only find their place in the "Iron Age." This penod, stratigraphically speaking, is contemporary with the "Middle Assyrians" in Northern Mesopotamia and the Amorites or Old-Babylonians in Southern Mesopotamia.  These two "empires" had to be identified as the up-to-now archaeologically missing Persian Satrapies of "Assyria" ( i.e., Strabo's Aturia) and Babylonia.[66]

V. Absolute Dates and Stratigraphy

Neither Macalister's nor the mainstream absolute date of ca. 1600 for the Hyksos, who left strata in Egypt as well as in Israel, can be reasonably reconciled with the stratigraphical evidence, which puts this powerful nation merely three strata groups beneath the Hellenes.  In Mesopotamia. the Old-Akkadians are found in the same archaeological position.

Exemplary Stratigraphical Locations of the Old Akkadians in Mesopotamia[67]

Mari Der Hamadiyah Brak
Hellenism Hellenism Hellenism Hellenism
Hellenistic Strata-Group
Amorites Amorites Middle-Assyrians Middle-Assyrians
1st Pre-Hellenistic Strata-Group
Neo-Sumerians Neo-Sumerians Mitanni Mitanni
2nd Pre-Hellenistic Strata-group
Old-Akkadians Old-Akkadians Old-Akkadians Old Akkadians
3rd Pre-Hellenistic Strata-Group

A closer look at four scrupulously excavated north Mesopotamian tells, known since the 20s and 30s of this century, also shows that, stratigraphically, the Old-Akkadians precede the Late Bronze Mitanni/Hurrians in exactly the same way as the Middle Bronze Hyksos precede the Late Bronze Mitanni period in Syro-Palestine and Egypt.

Also, an impressive series of excavations in Northern Mesopotamia wefe undertaken in the 1980s.  The Swiss work at Tcll Hamadlyah[68] and the German dig at Tell Munbaqa are considered examples of careful research focusing on the Mitanni/Hurrian period and the strata preceding them.  Hamadlyah was settled well beyond the Hellenistic period.  It is compared below with Der, a site in Southern Mesopotamia,[69] to allow for an understanding of total stratigraphic depth from Old Akkadians up to the Greeks.  If the dates for the Old Akkadians had been determined by archaeological means alone, the scholarly world would have been told that they were located in the third strata group beneath the Hellenistic ones.  The two intervening strata groups contain somewhat different material remains in the north and in the south of Mesopotamia, but both areas have only two strata groups between Old Akkadians and the Hellenes.

Exemplary Mesopotamian Stratigraphies According to the Evidence in the Ground

Hamadiyah Der
A. Hellenistic Stratum A. Hellenistic Stratum
B. 1st Pre-Hellenistic Stratum
Middle Assyrians
B. 1st Pre-Hellenistic Stratum
Old Babylonians
C. 2nd Pre-Hellenistic Stratum
C. 2nd Pre-Hellenistic Stratum
Ur III: Neo Sumerians
D. 3rd Pre-Hellenistic Stratum
Old Akkadians
D. 3rd Pre-Hellenistic Stratum
Old Akkadians

Usually the scholarly world is not only confronted with the stratigraphic evidence in the ground but is also offered excavation reports that add periods to the strata actually found.  This stretching of the sites' historical duration is done to meet the chronology leamt in high school and university that the excavators have in mind before their work begins.  Instead of testing this chronology through their own archaeological discoveries, they usually try to adjust their finds to fit these preconceived dates.  Thus the two exemplary tells presented above are turned into the following picture:

Tell I: Hamadiyah Tell II: Der
A. Hellenistic Stratum
from -330
A. Hellenistic Stratum
from -330
1st Hiatus
from -1100
from -1700
B. Middle Assyrians
from -1350
B. Old Babylonians
from -2000
C. Mitanni/Hurrians
from -1475
C. Ur III: Sumerians
from -2150
2nd Hiatus
from -2200

D. Old Akkadians
from -2350
D. Old Akkadians
from -2350

None of the hiatuses in the preceding overview was ever shown to exist by archaeological means (aeolic layers, discontinuity of architecture, pottery decorations, tool shapes etc.). The only scholarly study ever made on the 2200-1475 BCE Old Akkadian-Mitanni-hiatus positively showed it to be absent.[70] The continuity of terracottas,[71] pottery,[72] and other small finds over the supposed hiatus from 1700 to 300 BCE between Old-Babylonians and the Hellenes is also well known. The Middle-Assyrian-Hellenistic-hiatus from 1100 to 300 BCE was indirectly shown to be absent by Manfred Bietak at Tell ed-Daba. In his first major excavation report, in 1981, he still showed a hiatus between stratum B and stratum A,[73] but today Bietak is convinced of the continuity between these two strata.

A chronology based on stratigraphy, of course, will not forego historical traditions which appear to be reliable. This author has always been intrigued by the historical information provided by Herodotus[74] who only knew of two major powers in North Mesopotamia after the Chalcolithic: "When the Assyrians held sway over upper Asia for five hundred and twenty years, the first to begin to revolt against them were the Medes." The imperial sequence Assyrians>Medes>Persians, to the best of this author's knowledge, was never seriously placed in doubt. Could it be that the first three pre-Hellenistic strata groups found in Mesopotamia, Israel and Egypt (Daba) provide the material background for Herodotus' historical information? The Greek "father of history", after all, had no knowledge of this stratigraphical sequence. Yet their contents seem to fit his line of empires -- Assyrians>Medes>Persians -- quite well.

Herodotus' own dates, of course, are highly dubious, but nobody would doubt that his empires and the following Hellenistic period can entirely be accommodated in the 1st millennium bce. The author, therefore, identified the Hyksos = Old Akkadians (3rd pre-Hellenistic strata group) with the Assyrians. The Mitanni of the 2nd pre-Hellenistic strata group turned out to be the alter egos of the Medes. The Old Babylonians and the Middle Assyrians of the 1st pre-Hellenistic strata group were identified with the Persian Satrapies of "Babylonia" and "Assyria" (Aturia) respectively. Consequently, the dates of our three pre-Hellenistic strata groups have to be reduced drastically. Old-Akkadians (conventionally placed at 2350 onwards) and their Hyksos alter egos (conventionally placed at 1650 onwards) have to come down to something like 750 or 700 onwards. Their Early Dynastic IIIB predecessors would have commenced on their urbanization around 850 or 800. High culture (urban civilization) began in Early Dynastic I somewhere in the 10th century. The Mitanni = Medish successors of the Old-Akkadians = Hyksos = Assyrians made their debut as the leading power of upper Asia in the late 7th century until they were replaced by the Persians some three quarters of a century later. (In conventional chronology, of course, Assyria's cities -- such as Nineveh and Ashur -- did not begin to thrive at Herodotus' rough date of 1000, but already by ca. 2600 BCE.[75])

The chronologies of Israel, Egypt and the entire Near East as far as the Indus Valley have to follow the chronology of Mesopotamia[76] with which they are so tightly synchronized through numerous relations. By discarding non-scholarly chronologies through the resorting to stratigraphy, the major events of Ancient Israel will reemerge from the dustbin where mainstream researchers want to store them for good.

VI . The Rehabilitation of Israel's History Through the Vanquishing
of Israel's Bible-Fundamentalist Chronology

Starting from our archaeological-Herodotian sequence, Israel can now be reinstalled with her core of historical events. Yet, before ca. 200 BCE, none of the dates biblically assigned to these happenings stands the test of stratigraphy. Freed from these pious figures, however, the best stratigraphies in the Land of Israel deliver an archaeology rich enough to illustrate the written history of the "People of the Book" as well as their Canaanite predecessors and neighbors.

If, however, these holy dates were to be kept, one would merely be left with a long list of enigmas. Thus, for example, in the conventional chronology, we are brought face to face with an unknown Early Bronze Age people in the 4th pre-Hellenistic stratum--normally dated between 3300 and 2000--who are known for their mysterious anticipation of "Canaanite and later Israelite cultic practice."[77]

These "proto-Canaanites" are followed--in the 3rd pre-Hellenistic stratum (Middle Bronze IIA)--by equally unintelligible immigrants who bring the material culture of Mesopotamia to the Land of Israel and, therefore, could well be labeled "proto-Abrahamites."

Then arrive--still in the 3rd pre-Hellenistic stratum--the even more puzzling Hyksos (Middle Bronze IIB-C). This Asian world power has already left a graveyard--expanding for nearly 2000 years--of eleven major theories. These "Rulers of Foreign Lands" have been identified as (1) pre-Exodus Israelites, (2) marauding Arab Bedouins, (3) a narrator's invention, (4) Indo-Aryans, (5) Hittites, (6) biblical Amalekites, (7) the United Kingdom of Israel from Saul to Solomon, (8) Old-Babylonian Amorites, (9) Hurrites, (10) Syro-Canaanite Princes and (11) Mycenaeans. None of these eleven theories could satisfactorily encompass what is known about the Hyksos from texts and archaeology. For chronological reasons, the Old-Akkadians, who match the Hyksos like twins and, therefore, could easily be called "proto-Hyksos", were never considered.

As disturbingly unknown as the Hyksos are, so, basically, are the Mitanni who follow them in the 2nd pre-Hellenistic stratum (Late Bronze Age): "The kingdom of Mitanni was completely forgotten for millennia until discoveries in the nineteenth century revealed its name and existence."[78]

The biblically dated Exodus is supposed to follow after the conventional date of the Mitanni (1500 onwards). Therefore, this decisive event is--to no avail[79]--looked for in the last pre-Hellenistic stratum (Iron Age). The "proto-Exodus" events at the end of the Middle Bronze Age are not considered. Conquest and settlement, for the same chronological reason, are no longer looked for in the--conventionally--too early Late Bronze Age and, therefore, are also notorious for their archaeological absenteeism in the Iron Age. Where the end of the Middle Bronze Age is considered for the Exodus events--as is occasionally done[80]--this most promising approach is again muddled by forcing Joshua's Bible-fundamentalist date of "ca. 1430" on the beginning of the Late Bronze Age.[81]

If, however, the stratigraphy in the ground--tested against the most reliable independent (non-biblical) historical information from antiquity (as Herodotus' sequence of Assyrians>Medes>Persians)--is rigorously adhered to, many a biblical event can throw off its phantasmagoric label. After all, the scholars, who insist that these events are nothing but a fancy, still cannot explain why the visionaries dreamed them up in the first place.


[1] J. Wellhausen, Prolegomena zur Geschichte Israels (Berlin, 1878/1906), p. 318; cf. similarly, H. Weidman, Die Patriarchen und ihre Religion im Licht der Forschung seit Julius Wellhausen (Göttingen, 1968); T. L. Thompson, The Historicity of the Patriarchal Narratives (N.Y., 1974); J. Van Seters, Abraham in History and Tradition (New Haven, 1975); and numerous others.
[2] W.G. Dever, as quoted by Herschel Shanks, Editorial, Biblical Archaeology Review (March-April 1987); cf. also, idem, Recent Archaeological Discoveries and Biblical Research (Seattle, 1989).
[3] B. Mazar, Archaeology of the Land of the Bible 10,000-585 B.C.E. (N.Y., 1990), pp. 329 ff. (emphasis added).
[4] Ibid., p. 354; cf. in detail, I. Finkelstein, The Archaeology of the Israelite Settlement (Jerusalem, 1988).
[5] B. Mazar, op. cit., p. 375.
[6] Ibid.
[7] M. Avi-Yonah, "Jerusalem," Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land, Vol. II (Jerusalem, 1976), p. 597.
[8] B. Mazar, op. cit., p. 119.
[9] Ibid., p. 124.
[10] J. Kaplan, "Mesopotamian Elements in the Middle Bronze II Culture of Palestine," Journal of Near Eastern Studies 30 (1971); idem, "Further Aspects on the Middle Bronze II Culture of Palestine," Zeitschrift des Deutschen Palstinavereins, Vol. 91 (1975).
[11] K. Kenyon, "Jerusalem," in M. Avi-Yonah, Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land, Vol. II (Jerusalem, 1976), p. 594.
[12] K. Salibi, Die Bibel kam aus dem Lande Asir: Eine neue These über die Ursprnge Israels (Reinbek, 1985).
[13] W.F. Albright, The Archaeology of Palestine (Baltimore, 1954), p. 142; H. Weippert, Palstina in vorhellenistischer Zeit (Mnchen, 1988), p. 646.
[14] J. S. Holladay, "Of Sherds and Strata: Contributions Towards an Understanding of the Archaeology of the Divided Monarchy," in F. M. Cross, et al., Magnalia Dei: The Mighty Acts of God (N.Y., 1976), p. 282.
[15] D. & J. Oates, "Nimrud 1957: The Hellenistic Settlement," Iraq, Vol. 20 (1958), pp. 130, 152; cf. also M. Lebeau, La céramique de l'âge du fer II-III à Tell Abou Danné et ses rapports avec la céramique contemporaine en Syrie (Paris, 1983), p. 96.
[16] J. N. Coldstream, Greek Geometric Pottery (London, 1968), p. 385.
[17] J.E. Curtis, et al, "Neo-Assyrian Ironworking Technology," Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 123 (1979), pp. 369 ff.
[18] G. Heinsohn, "Persische Hyksos und Ägypten oder waren Herodots Assyrer aus dem -7. Jh. identisch mit den Sargoniden?" Vorzeit-Fürhzeit-Gegenwart I:4 (October 1989).
[19] Genesis 11:31.
[20] Ibid., 13:12.
[21] Ibid., 10:11.
[22] Ibid., 12:10 ff.
[23] Ibid., 19.
[24] Ibid., 37 ff.
[25] Exodus 7-11.
[26] Ibid., 13:21 ff.
[27] Joshua 6.
[28] Exodus 18:8 ff.; Numbers 14:43 ff.; Judges 3:13, 6:3, 7:12.
[29] Joshua 10:5 and various other sources.
[30] Ibid., 17:16; Judges 1:19.
[31] 1 and 2 Samuel.
[32] Judges 3:3.
[33] Amos 9:7.
[34] 1 Samuel 13:9 ff., 17:7.
[35] 2 Kings 15:19 ff.
[36] Ibid., 18:9.
[37] Ibid., 24:12 ff.
[38] Ibid., 24:14.
[39] Ezra 1:1 ff.
[40] Indirectly referred to in Zechariah 1:7.
[41] E. Stern, Material Culture of the Land of the Bible in the Persian Period 538-332 B.C. (Jerusalem, 1982), p. 282.
[42] B. Porten, "The Jews in Egypt," in W. D. Davies & L. Finkelstein, The Cambridge History of Judaism--Vol. I: The Persian Period (Cambridge, 1984), pp. 391, 393.
[43] 1 Kings 16, 20, 22; 2 Kings 6-7, 10, 14, 17-18, 23; Amos 3:9 ff., 4:4; Jeremiah 41:4.
[44] G. A. Reisner, et al, Harvard Excavations at Samaria (Cambridge, 1924), p. 131.
[45] Cf. in detail, G. Heinsohn & H. Illig, Wann lebten die Pharaonen? (Frankfurt, 1990), passim.
[46] Cf. in detail, J. Botterweck, "Zur Eigenart der chronistischen Davidgeschichte," in K. Schubert, et al, Festschrift fr Prof. Dr. Viktor Christian (Vienna, 1956).
[47] R. A. S. Macalister & F.J. Bliss, Excavations in Palestine (London, 1902).
[48] J. Dayton, Minerals, Metals, Glazing and Man (London, 1978). pp. 318 ff.
[49] F. James & A. Kempinsky, "Beth Shean," in M. Avi-Yonah, Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land, Vol. I (Jerusalem, 1975), p. 209.
[50] Cf. O. Neugebauer, "Die Bedeutungslosiggkeit der 'Sothisperiode' für die älteste ägyptische Chronologie," Acta Orientalia, Vol. XVII (1939); I. Velikovsky, "Astronomy and Chronology," in Peoples of the Sea (New York, 1977), pp. 205-244; R. R. Newton, The Crime of Claudius Ptolemy (Baltimore, 1977); W. Helck, "Zur Lage der gyptischen Geschichtsschreibung," in S. Schoske, 4. Internationaler Ägyptologenkongres (1985); G. Heinsohn, Die Sumerer gab es nicht (Frankfurt, 1988), pp. 13-45; G. Heinsohn & H. Illig, op. cit., pp. 11-31.
[51] C. Watzinger, Denkmäler Palästinas: Eine Einführung in die Archäologie des Heligen Landes - I: Von den Anfängen bis zum Ende der Königszeit (Leipzig, 1933), p. 48; cf. also R. M. Engberg, The Hyksos Reconsidered (Chicago, 1939); J. Kaplan, "Mesopotamian Elements in the Middle Bronze II Culture of Palestine," Journal of Near Eastern Studies 30 (1971); E. C. M. van den Brink, Tombs and Burial Customs at Tell Dab'a (Vienna, 1982); M. Bietak, "Canaanites in the Eastern Nile Delta," in A. F. Rainey, Egypt, Israel, Sinai: Archaeological and Historical Relationships in the Biblical Period (Tel Aviv, 1987).
[52] J. Kaplan, op. cit.; G. Heinsohn, "Who Were the Hyksos? Can Archaeology and Stratigraphy Provide an Answer?" read at the Sixth International Congress of Egyptology, Turin, Sept. 4, 1991.
[53] M. E. L. Mallowan, "Noah's Flood Reconsidered," Iraq 26 (1964); G. Heinsohn, "Destruction Layers in Archaeological Sites: The Stratigraphy of Armageddon," in M. B. Zysman & C. Whelton, Catastrophism 2000 (Toronto, 1990).
[54] B. Mazar, op. cit., p. 141.
[55] M. Bietak, Avaris and Piramesse: Archaeological Exploration in the Eastern Nile Delta (London, 1981); idem, "Problems of the Middle Bronze Age Chronology: New Evidence From Egypt," American Journal of Archaeology 88 (1984); idem, "Tell el Dab'a," Archiv für Orientforschung 32 (1985); idem, Übersicht über die Strtatigraphie in Tell el-Dab'a (Vienna, 1988); G. Heinsohn, "Stratigraphische Chronologie Ägyptens oder warum fehlen zwei Jahrtausende in den Musterousgrabungen von Tell el-Daba und Tell el-Fara'in?" Vorzeit-Frühzeit-Gegenwart III:3-4 (1991).
[56] G. Heinsohn, "Who Were the Hyksos? Can Archaeology and Stratigraphy Provide an Answer?" read at the Sixth International Congress of Egyptology, Sept. 4, 1991; G. Heinsohn & H. Illig, Wann lebten die Pharaonen? (Frankfurt, 1990), pp. 302 ff.
[57] B. Mazar, op. cit., pp. 226 ff.
[58] M. E. L. Mallowan, "Noah's Flood Reconsidered," Iraq 26 (1964), p. 79; M. Gibson, "Kis. B. Archäologisch," Reallexikon der Archäologie, Vol. 5 (Wiesbaden, 1976-80), p. 618; G. Heinsohn, "Destruction Layers in Archaeological Sites: The Stratigraphy of Armageddon," in M. B. Zysman & C. Whelton, Catastrophism 2000 (Toronto, 1990), pp. 238 ff.
[59] Herodotus, Histories I:105.
[60] Cf. in detail, G. Heinsohn, "Hirsche aus Beth Shean oder gibt es wirklich keine Skythenschichten in Scythopolis?" Vorzeit-Frhzeit-Gegenwart III:1 (1991).
[61] Herodotus, op. cit., I:84, 125
[62] J. M. Cook, The Persian Empire (N.Y., 1983), p. 39.
[63] Cf. G. Heinsohn, Die Sumerer gab es nicht: Von den Phantom-Imperien der Lehrbücher zur wirklichen Epochenabfolge in der "Zivilisationswiege" Südmesoptomaien (Frankfurt, 1988), pp. 140 ff.
[64] Idem, "The Israelite Conquest of Canaan," AEON I:4 (1988), pp. 113, 117 ff.
[65] A. Malamat, "Das davidische und salomonische Königreich und seine Beziehungen zu Ägypten und Syrien," sterreichische Akadamie der Wissenschaften (Sitzunggsbericht, 1983)
[66] G. Heinsohn, op. cit.
[67] Cf. G. Heinsohn & H. Illig, op. cit., passim.
[68] S. Eichler, et al, Tall Al-Hamadiya 2 (Göttingen, 1990).
[69] R. Opificius, Das altbabylonische Terrakottarelief (Berlin, 1961).
[70] U. Rsner, "Zu den Fragen eines mittelbronzezeitlichen Besiedlungshiatus und einer spätbronzezeitlichen Kulturschift auf Tell Munbaqa/Nordsyrien--Sedimentologische Erklärungsantze zu archäologischen Problemen," Institut für Geographie der Universität Erlangen-N&u uml;rnberg (preliminary report, 1990); G. Heinsohn, "Who Were the Hyksos? Can Archaeology and Stratigraphy Provide an Answer?" read at the Sixth International Congress of Egyptology, Sept. 4, 1991.
[71] Ibid.
[72] E. J. Ciuk, "Continuity of Tradition in the Pottery from Parthian Nippur," (page proofs, April, 1990).
[73] M. Bietak, op. cit.
[74] Herodotus, op. cit., especially I:95.
[75] H. Lewy, "Assyria c.2600-1816 B.C." The Cambridge Ancient History, Vol. I, Part 2 (Cambridge, 1971 third edition).
[76] G. Heinsohn, "Zentralasiens chronologische Rätsel und die Rehabilitierung der Altchinesischen Zivilisation," Vorzeit-Frühzeit-Gegenwart II:4 (1990); G. Heinsohn & H. Illig, op. cit.
[77] S. Richard, "The Early Bronze Age: Archaeological Sources for the History of Palestine," Biblical Archaeologist (March 1987), p. 32.
[78] A. K. Grayson, "Mitanni," in A. Cotterell, The Penguin Encyclopedia of Ancient Civilizations (London, 1988), p. 109.
[79] I. Finkelstein, The Archaeology of the Israelite Settlement (Jerusalem, 1988).
[80] J. J. Bimson, Redating the Exodus and Conquest (Sheffield, 1981).
[81] Ibid., p. 222.