© Anthony E. Larson, 2003
A Matter of Time
Search as much as you like, you will find little archeological or historical evidence to confirm much of the Old Testament. If you are a student of the scriptures, then you have undoubtedly been frustrated by this fact.
Early hopes of religionists, Latter-day Saints included, that biblical archeology and scholarly research would vindicate the Old Testament as accurate history have been repeatedly dashed.
Some of the first work done by 19th century Egyptologists was to create a comprehensive, chronological record of Egyptian history. Archeologists and historians decided that since it seemed to be the most complete chronological record of ancient history, as well as the oldest and the most long lived, Egyptian history could be used to create a complete, chronological timeline. It would thus function as a yardstick to correlate events in all the other contemporary ancient cultures in the Middle East and the Mediterranean—including those of the Hebrews or the Israelites—into a unified, seamless historical overview.
The sad reality was, though, once the Egyptian timeline was firmly established, scholars and historians found that archeological evidence seemed to contradict the historical timeline of the Old Testament at almost every turn. There seemed to be no evidence of the major events of Israelite history, as recorded in the Bible. There was little or no data confirming the existence of the Israelite nation in Egypt, no evidence of the Exodus or the conquest of Canaan in the relevant archeological strata.
For example, when Kathryn Kenyon excavated the site of ancient Jericho, she found a city with massive walls that had crumbled due to a sizeable earthquake. This was strongly suggestive of the biblical narrative that tells how the Israelite army, under Joshua’s leadership, took Jericho after its impressive city wall fell. But because of the conventional archeological dating of artifacts found at the site, Kenyon surmised that the fabled walls of Jericho fell hundreds of years before Joshua’s arrival, casting considerable doubt on the accuracy of the Old Testament as history.
In fact, these types of findings led many archeologists to doubt the historicity and the validity of a large part of the Bible. Most historians and scholars today consider most of the Old Testament to be conjured or borrowed history, if not mere mythology.
Frustrated religionists, Christians and Jews alike, were left with little historical or archeological evidence to support the sacred record. The advent of modern science and scholasticism had been no help. Archeology would be no friend to religion. It was as if the Old Testament Hebrews or Israelites never existed—a disturbing state of affairs.
Then a quiet revolution began.
A few maverick historians and archeologists suggested that their colleagues had, as one researcher put it, “been looking in the right places, but in the wrong time.” That is, they saw glaring flaws in the accepted chronology of ancient history.
These unorthodox scholars, such as British archeologist and historian David Rohl, sought to create a new chronology, one less arbitrary and more accommodating of strong historical and archeological evidence for inter-cultural correlations that were rejected in the old, rigid chronological scheme. Rohl and others suggested egregious errors in the Egyptian timeline had, in effect, dislocated and distorted other histories—including the Hebrew. They recommend that documented connections or correlations in the historical and archeological record should be allowed to speak for themselves instead of forcing an illogical, rigid chronology on all ancient history.
The result is a fascinating, insightful chronological and historical revision.
The happy news for Latter-day Saints and religionists everywhere is that by allowing heretofore discounted correlations between Egyptian and Hebrew histories to stand alone, irrespective of any ‘established’ chronology, we discover that much of the long sought for evidence of the validity of the Old Testament record has been right under our noses all the time.
For two centuries no evidence was found for the Israelites when looking in Egypt in the strata of the 19th Dynasty. Amended chronologies now suggest that the Israelite sojourn in Egypt be placed in the 12th and 13th dynasties. With that revision, we suddenly find a wealth of archaeological evidence corroborating the biblical account—some very revealing of ancient events, people and situations. The orthodox timeline prevented us from seeing them because the dating created an illusion of history that was really a dislocation in time, in most cases by hundreds of years.
Evidence of the Exodus, perhaps the most impressive event in Hebrew history, has been lacking in profane history for this very reason.
In the old chronology, Ramases II was thought to be the Pharaoh of the Exodus, if there was one at all. There was little evidence for a large population of Hebrew slaves, for ‘plagues’ that swept the Nile Valley or for the decimation of the Egyptian armies, as the Old Testament relates.
In the new chronology, the Exodus occurred toward the end of the 13th Dynasty. Pharaoh Tutimaeus, or Didimose, emerges as the ruler whom Moses confronted. Thus, the corrected chronology gives new meaning to Josephus’ quote of the Egyptian scholar, Manetho, when he writes, “Tutimaos: in his reign, for what cause I know not, a blast of God smote us.”
The “blast of God” in the time of Tutimaos (Tutimaeus or Didimose) can now be seen as the Exodus plagues.
What is more, the Exodus story suggests that Egypt was left defenseless since Pharaoh’s army was drowned in the Red Sea. So, the Amalkites that did battle with the Israelites, who were on their way to Canaan, went on to easily conquer Egypt and became known to history as the barbarous Hyksos.
The new chronology allows a reassessment of the archeological and historical record, offering many fascinating historical details and creating a much more complete picture of Hebrew history in Egypt.
Egyptian history and archeology now confirm that Joseph became a vizier under Pharaoh Amenemhat III, and the Egyptian Labyrinth at Hawara with its thousands of storerooms was nothing less than Joseph’s administration center for the distribution of grain during the famine.
Near Tell ed-Daba in the Nile delta region, archeologists excavated a large city beneath the city of Ramesses, mentioned in Exodus 1:ll. This city, which was called Avaris, anciently, had a large Israelite quarter. A magnificent palace with 12 pillars was excavated there and is thought to be Joseph’s. Additional evidence for that conclusion was a tomb found in the palace garden with the desecrated remains of a twice life-size statue with a uniquely Hebrew hairstyle—likely a statue of Joseph, the most powerful Hebrew in Egyptian history.
Further, death pits discovered at Avaris attest to the deaths of the Egyptian first born during that plague. What is more, immediately after this disaster, the remaining population left the city en masse—a startling corroboration of the Israelite Exodus following a terrible pestilence.
The same historical revision reveals evidence for the later Hebrew Monarchy in Palestine during the time of Saul, David and Solomon, which had been completely discounted under the old chronology. It now shines forth to illuminate the Old Testament accounts of that era and give it a historical context that has been utterly lacking heretofore.
As it turns out, the Amarna letters, clay tablets found at Tell el-Amarna over a century ago, record the correspondence of the famous Pharaoh Akhenaten with rulers in Canaan, and contain information about the Israelite conquest of that area following the Exodus. They paint a more complete picture of a tribal Palestine that corroborates the biblical picture described by the prophet Samuel.
Indeed, they tell of a king named Labayu, meaning “the great lion of Yahweh,” who shows scant respect for Pharaoh in his communiqué to that Egyptian potentate. The career of Labayu in the Amarna letters is strikingly similar to that of Saul, who was also known as the “great lion of Yahweh.” Thus, we reach the astounding conclusion that we have had in our possession a letter from Saul to Akhenaten, warning off an Egyptian Pharaoh, for over a century without recognizing it for what it is.
Moreover, the Amarna letters yield dozens of names recognizable to scholars as equivalents to familiar, prominent biblical characters of that era. Ayab is Joab, commander of David’s army. Dadua is a form of the name David, and Yishuya is Jesse (Yishay in Hebrew), David’s father.
We can now also see that instead of reigning in the impoverished Early Iron Age where conventional chronology puts him, Solomon is now seen to rule in the Late Bronze Age, a period of wealth and prosperity in the Levant. His contemporaries in Egypt were Haremheb and Seti I. An ivory piece excavated at Megiddo, which the Bible tells us was built up by Solomon, depicts a king on his throne flaked by two sphinxes with his queen before him. This could very well be Solomon and the Egyptian queen (I Kings 3:1) since Solomon is said to have had a throne flanked with lions.
Naturally, conventional historians and archeologists hotly contest such notions. The reputations of some eminent scholars and well-established academic careers are at stake in this debate.
Any Latter-day Saint wishing to better understand the characters found in the Old Testament and the history of God’s dealings with Israel and its prophets would do well to inform themselves of the revelations coming from these avant-garde archeologists and historians working on the revision of ancient history and its chronology.