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Chronology Issues to take onboard (1)

17 January 2014

This comes from an article linked from Eric's email thread with the title, 'Jeroboam II and Osorkon II' which might be useful to interested parties. It dovetails into Bob Porter's talk at a recent SIS meeting (video  available elsewhere on the site). This discussed the date of Osorkon II of dynasty 22 (there was also a post on In the News, somewhere in the deep recesses).

During the years 1908-10 Harvard University (archaeological expedition) excavated ancient Samaria and unearthed the foundations of a palace complex. It was built on virgin rock and as a result of this was identifed as the palace of Omri and Ahab (northern kingdom). The Bible explicitly says Omri built his palace on an occupied hill and this amounts to clear proof that the Bible has preserved that tradition and although editing at a later date may have altered the gist of the religion (various reforms) the facts on the ground as far as historicity is concerned appears to be reliable. This would primarily be the situation for the Monarchy period as various palace and temple records would have been used by the writers and consulted by editors etc.

On the floor of the palace numerous small Egyptian objects were found – such as scarabs. One of these had the name of Thtumose III. The most important find from a chronological point of view was the discovery of an alabaster jar, of Egyptian provenance, with the cartouche of Osorkon II. It was found near the palace of Samaria but was used as evidence to 'prove' the near contemporary existence of Osorkon II with Ahab. It became an enshrined piece of consensus science. Scores of ostraca were also found. These are potsherds inscribed with ink and were commonly used in commercial transactions. The jar with the carouche of Osorkon II was found in the same debris as the ostraca and therefore it was concluded the ostraca also belonged to the era of Ahab. Seemed a logical deduction.

The excavation report, however, gives the location of the ostraca and alabaster jar precisely – and all might not be what it seems. The big bit of mud in the eye was the ostraca themselves – as they preserve a tale in the sting. The script improved over time, from rudimentary to advanced. Dating the ostraca to the 9th century was problematic as archaeologists also had in their possession the Stele of Mesha of Moab (mid 9th century) and the script here was more basic than the script on the ostraca. As usual, when a consensus view is first punctured there is considerable squirming around in order to save face. In this instance, the hastily convened explanation, that also became a consensus view as it was repeated over and over again, was that the Moabites were backward in comparison with Israel. This piece of muffling waffle deliberately ignored the fact that at the time, Ahab exercised political control over Moab (and most of the Transjordan zone). Why would the king of Mesha be using a backward script?

The style of the script on the ostraca was closer to Samaritan writing that has been preserved from the reign of Hezekiah (late 8th century and some 150 years later). It is nowadays conceded the ostraca do belong to the 8th century and as some of them have year dates, and some of these are lengthy, only two kings reigns are possible – that of Jeroboam II, or Pekah. A relook at the excavation report came up with the realisation that the building in which the alabaster jar with cartouches of Osorkon II was built on the ruins of the house that held the inscribed potsherds, which is very interesting as this means Osorokon II should be located in the 8th century – later than Ahab (the original palace, sacked by the Arameans) and Jeroboam II (under the umbrella of Assyria) but before the sack of Samaria in the later 8th century (by Sargon II who beseiged the town but died in the interrum, the final breach coming in the brief reign of Shalmaneser V). At this time, and the reason for the Assyrian attack, was an increase in Egyptian interest in Palestine – with a see-saw between different kings (or vassals) loyal to one or the other. From all this it has emerged Osorkon II lived quite a long time after Ahab, and this aspect is now enshrined in conventional chronology. In other words, it makes it increasingly difficult to equate Shishak of the 10th century with Shoshenk I, who claims to have campaigned in Palestine (presumably in the 9th century). In other words it might be worthwhile having a re-look at Psusennes I as Shishak. According to Kenneth Kitchen he had visions of grandeur when it came to recreating the empire of Egypt and he it was that was responsible for dismantling lots of dynasty 19 buildings at Pi-remese and relocating them elsewhere, his new capital. The Pelusiac branch had dried up in dynasty 20 and Pi-ramese had become stranded. As such, Psusennes was a formidable person (in his own time) and clearly lived in a period when the climate had improved (after the famine and drought that plagued late dynasty 20), which is mirrored in the late 10th/ early 9th century situation as portrayed in Assyrian records etc. Get your thinking caps on folks, and some paper and a pen to calculate the permutations.

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