There I was, minding my own business putting together my king list for the Argead Dynasty of Macedonia (the line that produced Alexander the Great), when I decided to crunch some genealogical numbers.
Long-time readers may know that I’m willing to be convinced by those who advocate a revision of the conventional chronology of the ancient world. I’ve lately been leaning toward the revision suggested by Jeremy Goldberg, although I first got into the debate through the writings of David Rohl. In The Lords of Avaris, Rohl makes the case that several traditional Greek genealogies—embellished with many mythological elements, to be sure—argue against a prolonged “Greek Dark Age” and in fact point to a Fall of Troy coming only a couple of generations before the Dorian invasions, led by the fabled “sons of Herakles” (that’s Hercules to you Latinophiles). If there really was a “historical Herakles,” he is said to have lived a couple generations before the Trojan War. (I don’t know why there couldn’t have been some kind of heroic figure adventuring through Greece and the Aegean in the Late Bronze Age, fathering children and inspiring later legends of derring-do, even if I deny that Zeus was his father!)
Rohl, however, never addressed the genealogy of Alexander the Great, which, like that of the royal dynasties of Sparta, also claims to go back to Herakles a couple generations before the Trojan War. This seems to be a glaring omission. Was Alexander’s genealogy an embarrassing anomaly Rohl preferred to keep under wraps? Or did he simply not see fit to include it?
Here is the traditional father-to-son genealogy I’m working with:
- Keisos (time of the Dorian invasion)
- Karanos (first king of Macedonia)
- Perdikkas I
- Argaios I
- Philip I
- Aeropus I
- Amyntas I (reigned ca. 540-498 BC)
To make a long story short, I figured I would see what happened if one took the genealogy at face value and applied Rohl’s date for Herakles (floruit ca. 910 BC; I assumed a birth date around 945) at the high end and the accepted date for the accession of Amyntas I at the other. (Historians are loathe to assign firm dates to any of these kings prior to Amyntas I, who was contemporary with Darius the Great of Persia.) Given those parameters and assuming an average generation-length of 21 years (from one’s own birth to the birth of one’s firstborn), the Rohl chronology actually seems to be a pretty close fit. Amyntas I ends up being born ca. 567 and coming to the throne in his mid-20′s—not an unreasonable scenario in the least. Keisos, whose first cousins Eurysthenes and Prokles are said to have figured prominently in the Dorian invasions (ca. 820 according to Rohl), would have been born ca. 840. The three of them would thus have been young men of fighting age at about the right time.
On Goldberg’s chronology (in which Fall of Troy would have happened ca. 990 if I read him correctly), Herakles would have been born around 1070. To get to the birth of Amyntas I would take an average generation-length of about 27 years. While quite high, this would not be an impossible figure, especially if one assumes there are actually a handful of generations missing from the list. This is often the case in the genealogies of the Bible, as cross-checking between multiple sources will attest. Two or three missing names would bring the average generation length down to about 25 years, which is not unreasonable.
If one prefers the more modest 100-year downdating advocated by Graham Hagens and others, with the Fall of Troy ca. 1090 and the birth of Herakles ca. 1170, the average generation-length has to be on the order of about 33 years. We are now definitely in the realm where we must assume there are gaps in the data. Needless to say, the conventional chronology has an even rougher go of it, which is why historians largely dismiss the usefulness of these genealogies and other ancient Greek traditions that point to a far more recent Trojan War than is currently accepted. If a shorter chronology is embraced, however, it turns out we may know more about the history of the ancient world than we thought we did.
If the accepted chronology of the ancient world is somehow flawed, it stands to reason that so are the assumptions of biblical scholarship about how the people and events of the Bible fit into that world. For example, the reason I suggested the dates I did for the Fall of Troy is that a fairly convincing case can be made , based on a constellation of Hittite and Egyptian documents, that Troy fell during the last year or so of Egypt’s Nineteenth Dynasty. An earlier Pharaoh of that dynasty, Ramesses II, is commonly believed to be the Pharaoh mentioned in the Exodus story, and the Exodus event is thus dated to some time during his long reign, usually ca. 1250 BC, give or take.
But what if that is not the timeframe of Ramesses’ reign? What if, following Hagens, 1250 BC is actually during the reign of Akhenaton? The national calamities that accompanied Akhenaton’s descent into religious fanaticism provide an interesting backdrop in which to understand how a bunch of slaves can somehow pack up and leave the country with seeming impunity. Were the Egyptian forces too overspent trying to hang onto the northern trading colonies quickly slipping from their fingers to pursue the Israelites into the wilderness? Or, if the Exodus was a bit earlier (and after all, the only reason 1250 BC was latched onto was the Ramesses connection), might the frantic letters to Akhenaton from his Canaanite vassals about marauding “Habiru” be in reference to the Conquest under Joshua?
Or should we instead keep the Ramesses-Exodus connection but downdate the Exodus to ca. 1150 BC? And if that is the option, we need to admit that the only reason the Ramesses connection was put forward in the nineteenth century was a Victorian attempt to shoehorn the new discoveries from Egypt into the biblical story. Before then, everyone assumed the Exodus took place about 480 years before Solomon’s fourth regnal year (1 Ki 6:1) or ca. 1450 BC. (To be fair, the biblical genealogies are more amenable to a lower date for the Exodus, but 1 Ki 6:1 and Jdg 11:26, taken at face value, argue against it.) But Ramesses II seemed to be a better fit to the Exodus story than Thutmose III, who was supposed to have been ruling at that earlier date. I personally find it hard to imagine either of these famously powerful Pharaohs letting the Hebrews go barring some kind of calamity the likes of which could not have been expunged from history, much less the archeological record!
But what if Thutmose wasn’t on the throne in 1450? Again, if Hagens is right, this was at the tail end of the Hyksos period. Might the Expulsion of the Hyksos at the beginning of the Eighteenth Dynasty be somehow related to the liberation of another group of Asiatics: the Hebrews? This is in fact how Josephus interpreted Egyptian history. Then again, if Rohl and Goldberg are right, 1450 comes at the very end of the thirteenth dynasty, just before the Hyksos period began. And if that is the case, might the Ipuwer Papyrus reflect the disastrous plagues Egypt suffered before the Hebrews left on the cusp of the Hyksos’ arrival?
(And just for fun, what if we accepted the Septuagint reading in 1 Ki 6:1—440 years, not 480—and we should be looking for an Exodus ca. 1410 BC? Then the options would be: Hagens = ca. 20 years after the expulsion of the Hyksos; Goldberg and Rohl = ca. 40 years after Hyksos encroachment: a new dynasty of Pharaohs who “did not know Joseph”?)
My sense (and I am definitely out of my league when it comes to archeology!) is that the accepted chronology of the ancient world is poised for a Kuhnian revolution, as Bernard Newgrosh has recently expressed it in a post to the New Chronology Yahoo! Group. The pillars of this chronology have already been undermined:
- The conventional Egyptian chronology is based on Sothic dating and other astronomical dating methods, but Sothic dating was abandoned twenty years ago and, since the late 1990s, mainstream academia has also rejected the evidence of the entire corpus of Egyptian astronomical dates. And yet, no new Egyptian chronology has resulted.
- It now seems to be the established position that Egyptian chronology depends on Assyrian chronology for its validity, and yet I am led to believe it is accepted that one cannot read the Assyrian King List as a literal, linear chronicle.
In effect, what the academics are saying is this: we got it wrong initially. We constructed the framework using a faulty method. By accident we arrived at an accurate framework. We have filled in all the intermediate bits nicely. What we have works. It will be correct. By accident.
Mainstream scholars are already accepting some of the conclusions of the chronological revisionists, albeit in a piecemeal fashion. Eventually, the dam is going to break. What new thesis will eventually come to take the place of the conventional chronology, and what will be its implications for understanding the history in the Bible? This is a fascinating time to be a biblical historian, but I imagine a very unnerving time to be a textbook publisher!
Here’s one more “king list”: the high priests of Israel. The dates on this one are dicey, especially for the period of the monarchy and before. I didn’t even try to attach dates to high priests before Eli, as I’m convinced there are some gaps in the biblical genealogies and because the date of the Exodus is in itself a matter of contention. Fortunately, there are some internal synchronicities between certain high priests and certain kings that help to at least reach an approximation at a few key points.
I love the fact that my daughter’s school has a uniform dress code: “Lolita’s Closet: Unbearably Trampy Back-to-School Clothes” by Emily Yoffe.
“Mom, I’m 11!” she said. “I’m not Harriet Miers!”
She (child of Washington that she is) had given me a useful parameter of ‘tween fashion. While you don’t want your daughter to look like Britney Spears, she doesn’t want to look like a failed Supreme Court nominee from the Bush administration.
Well said, Ms. Yoffe. I feel your pain‚Äîor at least I expect I will in a few years.
Update: The doctor agrees.
The judge has rendered a decision. Having drawn his name from her favorite cowgirl hat, Rebecca Pursiful has officially declared Mike Aquilina the winner of this year’s Blogiversary Writing Project. As soon as he gets back to me about which book he would like to receive, it will be speeding his way.
I’d like to thank Mike for his devotion to making the Fathers of the Church seem a bit more accesible, his occasional comments on this blog, and especially for the pun-ishment he often inflicts upon his readers in his post titles!
Thanks, Mike. I’m glad I’ve gotten to meet you, at least digitally.
The winner in this year’s Blogiversary Writing Project will be announced some time tonight, after my impartial judge returns from first grade this afternoon and we’ve all had a nice family meal. It’s not too late to write a post (essay, question, knock-knock joke, etc.) about either St. Augustine of Hippo, the revered Doctor of the Church or John Smyth (with or without his colleague, Thomas Helwys), the revered Baptist rabble-rouser.
The winner will receive a copy of any of the new titles from Smyth & Helwys Publishing (excluding commentaries and titles from other publishers).
Just let me know if you have a post you’d like included and, even if you don’t, thanks for being a great bunch of readers!
Lists of rulers of Greece (Athens, Sparta, Macedonia) and Rome are now posted. I’m working on a list of Jewish high priests from Aaron to the fall of Jerusalem, which will probably go up some time later this week.
Take Dr. Witherington’s trip to the woodshed. You’ll be glad you did.
The first “real” day of lecturing in CHR 150 is always rough on students. That’s the day I talk about the Greco-Roman context of the New Testament. There’s just so much doggone history to cover it’s a wonder they aren’t coming after me with torches and pitchforks long before I get to the Roman occupation of Judea! There’s not much I can do about it, however. I’ve got to get all the way to the end of the Bible before Christmas, and as much as I love the contextual stuff, we really need to get to the biblical text ASAP or I’ll really have a revolt on my hands!
I would hope that by the time they’ve entered college, people have at least heard of Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar, know something about classical Greek culture (do they still teach Sophocles in high school English?), and have an inkling that Jesus lived during the days of the Roman empire. But what do you do with that information? What does it mean for the study of the New Testament?
My students run the gamut from folks who barely know what the Bible is to kids who’ve been in Sunday school since they were toddlers. The latter group may well be wondering why we can’t just dive it at Matthew 1:1 and go from there. Well, they’ll get over it. Duking it out with Alexander and Judah Maccabee and the rest will be good for them. “Builds character,” the old curmudgeons would say. (And I do.) It will open up the possibility that there may be more in the New Testament than they have realized.
I feel for those in the first group, however. They know their classmates have an advantage over them in the sheer bulk of biblical data they have at their command, but they don’t yet realize what an advantage they have in being able to read the New Testament with fresh eyes and (one hopes) the freedom to ask questions that would have never occurred to the Sunday school set. I can tell them this is true (and I do), but that’s not the same thing as knowing it for themselves. But if they can make it through the opening salvos of historical background, technical terms, and methodology (Good grief! Jewish context and Historical Jesus are coming up next week!), they will definitely add something to the class.
Almighty God, the foundation of all wisdom:
Enlighten by your Holy Spirit those who teach
and those who learn…
There are five days left to enter my Blogiversary Writing Project by writing up anything of your choosing on the topics of either St. Augustine or John Smyth and Thomas Helwys. Theology? Exegesis? Prayers? Limericks? Whatever you prefer to do is fine with me. (Rules have never really been my strong suit….) I have one entrant so far, and I know of a couple more in production. Please don’t miss out on the chance at getting one of this year’s new titles from Smyth & Helwys Publishing.