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David Rohl Chronology

3 April 2014
Ancient history

At www.bibleorigins.net/RohlsChronologyDeconstructed.html … people at blogs such as this seem to have a need to inform Christians to be aware of various ideas the authors of them perceive as non-factual and not in sync with 'real' Biblical history (or their perceived version of it). The link cropped up on Eric Aitchison's 'email thread' on chronology – and not too much was made of it. These guardians of the truth are useful in that they can dispel populist notions that are too way out and mainstream has its own blogs that warn its readers against sites spreading what they regard as false rumours, and pseudo science (which of course includes Creationism in various shapes and forms). What I find unnerving about this kind of approach is that it assumed their average fellow human is virtually a moron ready to fall for anything posted on the internet – which is a patently false perception. People are capable of sorting the wheat from the chaff. – and they do it all the time, in every walk of life. Mostly, people don't need somebody looking over their shoulders – don't read this, don't read that. Hence, my approach to this post is to blow a raspberry at the blog author.

The blog author makes two points in his criticism of David Rohl (and Jeremy Goldberg, another revisionist widely quoted on the internet). One of these revolves around an article that he says debunks their arguments for placing Saul and his contemporaries in the LB age. The article is based on research – a field survey of the hill country. In the desert a field survey will look for artifacts on the ground – that have been dropped. Where it involves farm land that has been ploughed the field survey relies on the ability of the plough to dislodge and bring to the surface pieces of pottery and bone from the past. Most of it will remain in the ground – all that will be found, however meticulous it is done, are the odd bits and pieces that have accidentally come to the surface. This could be a flint from thousands of years ago – or a piece of drainage pipe from the 20th century (or even a piece of plastic clay pigeon that has been shattered by shooters). It is not conclusive. It is indicative – indicating where archaeologists may dig a trench for a better view of what has been going on in the past. The whole point of field surveys is to plot finds on paper and if there is a lot of shall we say Iron Age material in a hotspot and then that would provide a good idea that some interesting archaeology awaited the spade. In the particular field survey mentioned by the blog author, the team of walkers (peering intently at the ground) found pottery and material from every period apart from the LB age – or that is the inference. He then claims this means there was nobody living in the central hill country in the LB age and therefore Saul could not have been active in the region at that time and the mainstream view  that Saul was early Iron Age was indisputable. 

We might look at that assumption again. He is saying that nobody lived in the hill country for 400+ years. Surely the odd bedouin would have turned up and lets not forget, the hill country as such would have made a prize location for people on the edge of society such as the habiru (Hebrews). Saul was associated with the tribe of Benjamin. This tribe is mentioned in texts from Mari in the MB age – where did they go in the LB age? Even if David is bound to the beginnings of the Iron Age (as an ally of the Philistines) it doesn't mean that Saul lived at that time. The Biblical text binds the two by the figure of Samuel. He was the last Judge – and won a great victory over the Philistines. Is it just an accident that Saul is a shortened form of Sa(m)u(e)l and just because his opponents are called Philistines that does not mean they were – as the people of SW Canaan are invariably called Philistines, even in the time of Abraham when no Philistines could possibly have been in the region. It is still feasible (but I am not saying it is true) that Saul lived in the Amarna period and David at the end of the LB age (although Rohl has them both in the Amarna period), or any such permutation. In the Monarchy period, post-Solomon, Biblical history has the foundation of palace and temple records and is pretty reliable. Prior to the Monarchy period (Iron II) the history is less reliable – and we don't really know if the Biblical chronology of events is fact or embroidered. An open mind is necessary. The blog author has closed his mind.

He does raise an interesting issue when it comes to language – claiming that all LB texts are by Canaanite speakers (and not Hebrew speakers). He says this means there could not have been any Hebrew speakers in the southern Levant in the LB age – which sounds a trifle unsound. We know there were groups of 'habiru' in the LB age as they are referred to on many occasions (in the EA letters for example) and Habiru are Hebrew (although what dialect of language they spoke is an unknown). We may also note that Canaanites remained prominent in the southern Levant (and their language too we may suspect) all the way down to the 7th and 6th centuries BC (well into the Iron Age). It was the religious reforms introduced by Hezekiah and in the time of Josiah that involved demolishing the hill sanctuaries closely associated with the Canaanites (with the emphasis on a religious reform). This might too be a red herring. He may of course argue that Habiru does not equal Hebrew, avoiding the fact that Hebrews were Habiru but not all Habiru became associated with the Biblical Hebrews.

His second point revolves around sites such as Mizpah – associated with Saul. No LB age artifacts have been found – it was abandoned in the LB age. Does that shatter Rohl's argument? It might do if the Bible is talking about a town by the name of Mizpah – but is it? Might it not have been some kind of hill shrine (situated on a tell), a rallying point for the followers of Samuel and Saul. Also, could Iron Age Mizpah have been elsewhere from LB Mizpah – and has the site been conclusively identified as Mizpah. This argument turns up on the Yahoo New Chronology Group forum but a couple of suggestions for alternative locations were quickly shot down in flames. Not all the possible sites for Mizpah of Saul have actually been excavated – and some of them only down to Hellenistic or Roman periods (and no further). Hence, the outcome here is uncertain – not as certain as the blog author declares. Rohl and Goldberg live to ride their horses another day.

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