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Ancient Chronology: The Goldberg Variations

I’m a fan of David Rohl and his “New Chronology.” In favor of the New Chronology (NC) is its attempt to take the Old Testament seriously as a historical source. Rohl is an agnostic, and it seems he was as surprised as anybody that his reworking of conventional Egyptian chronology‚ on purely archeological grounds‚ ended up providing some rather striking synchronisms with the biblical record. As far as I can tell, he doesn’t believe in miracles, angels, and so forth, and he doesn’t even argue for the 100% accuracy of the historical accounts. He does assume that the Bible, like any other ancient document, ought to be given a fair hearing. He provides an interpretation of ancient history in which the biblical history is recognizable in its rough outline.

Rohl’s chronological revision mostly tracks within 200 years or so of the conventional system. It is only in the years following the Exodus and Conquest that things get stretched out to (or past) the breaking point. I’m way out of my league in terms of the archeology behind Rohl’s system, but I’m enough of a conservative to wonder about such a radical revision of the accepted scholarly wisdom.

Therefore, I was pleased to have come across a couple of papers by Jeremy Goldberg arguing for a more general 200-year downdating of Egyptian chronology, based on a re-evaluation of the chronology of Egypt’s Third Intermediate Period (TIP)‚—a notoriously difficult era to untangle! He has a couple of papers in the Files section of the New Chronology Yahoo! list that are worth closer investigation. In particular, his “Centuries of Darkness and Egyptian Chronology: Another Look” presents his rationale for downdating Egyptian history as he does. Much of Goldberg’s work, especially on Egyptian genealogical data from the TIP, is quite technical, but let me point you to some of the payoff from a biblical history perspective:

(1) King Saul ends up being possibly a friendly vassal of Ramesses II (r. 1075-1009).

(2) Merenptah’s campaign against Israel can be dated to the very early reign of David. Goldberg explains:

If (as often suggested) David and the Philistines were not foes then, this could fit very well with hostility between Merneptah and both of the otherwise inveterate late 11th c. foes, Israel and the Philistines. This dating also fits well with the total obscurity of David’s (apparently unedifying) earliest reign over Israel.

(3) The “unfortified Israelite settlement” conventionally dated ca. 1200 BC now becomes understandable in terms of relatively secure conditions Israel enjoyed during the United Monarchy.

(4) The impoverished character of said settlements might count against the supposed wealth of the Solomonic era, but the opposite is actually the case. Remember: Solomon had been heavily taxing the populace to pay for his various public works projects‚ a fact that came back to haunt his son Rehoboam when he came to the throne (1 Kgs 12:4). One would expect to find signs of Solomon’s extravagances not in the countryside but in urban areas and, as Goldberg notes, “in fact, most cities in this region flourished during much of the ’12th c.’ to such an extent that Oren has referred to this period as the ‘swan song’ of the Late Bronze Age” (“The Search for David and Solomon: Revised Chronologies Compared”). The Megiddo Ivories, which would now fit into this era, are perhaps the most impressive example of the wealth of the Solomonic era.

(5) Solomon’s father-in-law (1 Kgs 3:1) is then clearly identifiable as Ramesses III, “whose situation indeed appears to dovetail nicely with that of Solomon. E.g.: considered in isolation, the power of each ruler seems to have reached surprisingly far to the north, and against surprisingly little opposition. But considered as contemporary allies, the situation of each king could very nicely explain that of the other.”

(6) The puzzling Pharaoh “Shishak,” who campaigned against Judah in the fifth year of Rehoboam (927 BC) may be identified as Ramesses IX. Rohl and others have already demonstrated the absolutely atrocious fit between the biblical campaign of “Shishak” and the presumed parallel with Shoshenk I’s campaign. They have also pointed to “Sysa” or some such as a commonly accepted hypocoristicon for the Egyptian name “Ramesses.” In the Semitic languages of western Asia, “Sysa” can easily become written as “Shysha” or something similar. Rohl identifies Shishak with Ramesses II “the Great,” while Peter James et al. believe he was Ramesses III. While there is no record of a campaign into Canaan by Ramesses IX, such an identification “would at least help explain this lack by the late Dyn.20 breakdown of royal authority and increased dependence on foreign troops.” Goldberg continues,

Perhaps very significantly, this choice agrees excellently with surprising evidence from Beth-Shan, where Egyptian royal stelae were restored to a position of honor for a significant period beginning during late Dyn.20. Since there is no evidence for on-going Egyptian military domination of this region then, such continuing respect for Egypt should reflect a pro-Egyptian tendency by its ruler, in very good agreement with expectations concerning Jeroboam.

(7) Goldberg is noticeably proud of this chronology’s identification of Zerah (2 Chr 14:8), who brought a vast multinational force against Judah during the reign of Asa:

He would be dated to the very late Dyn.20 period. This would be extremely appropriate, since Nubian power within Egypt reached a peak then that was not repeated till the later 8th c. More specifically, Zerah may be very nicely identifiable with Pinhasy, a Nubian who probably campaigned (at least) as far north as the Delta. This would most likely equate Pinhasy’s downfall in year 18 of Ramesses XI + 1 year with the disastrous rout of Zerah c.896. Such an Asiatic locale for Pinhasy’s downfall fits nicely with the sequel in year 23 of Ramesses XI, when an Egyptian envoy was treated with contempt in Levantine ports.

(8) Although I haven’t found mention of this in Goldberg, I would also add that a general 200-year (or so) downdating of Egyptian chronology provides an interesting historical background to the early judgeship of Deborah. I have proposed a date for Deborah’s judgeship of ca. 1259-1220. The beginning of this period would accord well with a 200-year downdated Battle of Megiddo in 1257. (Either the battle should be dated 1259 or Deborah should be downdated two years; it matters little either way.) Richard Abbot (see also here) has suggested the intriguing possibility that the battle portrayed in Judges 5:19 at Megiddo captures the memory of Israelites capitalizing on a larger Egyptian campaign to secure their own liberation.

(9) One of the most fascinating synchronisms in the NC is between the reign of Saul and the Amarna period of Egypt. In particular, the equation of biblical Saul with the renegade king Labayu of the Amarna letters is worked out in incredible detail. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most difficult synchronisms to swallow‚ requiring a downdating of Egyptian history on the order of 350 years! With a more modest (although still unconventional) downdating of 200 years, this thorn in the side of Akhenaton may possibly be identified with Abimelech from the book of Judges (1175-1173 by my estimation). Once again, Abbot provides a summary of the issues involved. This does not work precisely. Abimelech would have to be downdated another twenty years or so, but given the ambiguities of the chronology of Judges, this does not seem insuperable. For that matter, perhaps there is a glitch somewhere that might make it possible to downdate Akhenaton by 180 years rather than the full 200?

Update: It turns out a 1375 date for Akhenaton (1175 + 200) is not uncommon. In fact, many believe a solar eclipse seen from Ugarit on 13 May 1375 (recorded on Tablet KTU 1.78) was an inspiration for his sun-worshiping reforms. There was a similar eclipse visible from Ugarit on 12 February 1175!

Finally, the compelling synchronisms Rohl has suggested for the pre-Conquest period can remain untouched: Amenemhat III with his dangerously high Nile flood levels can still explain the “years of famine” in which Joseph became vizier of Egypt, and Dudimose’s reign, which ended in the plague-like disasters lamented in the Ipuwer Papyrus, can still be the Pharaoh of the Exodus.

I’m going to give this matter some more thought, and I’m definitely going to include this information on my biblical timeline for others to evaluate as they see fit.

technorati tags: chronology, david rohl, jeremy goldberg, old testament, third intermediate period



  1. George Anderson says:

    No matter whether Velikovsky or Rohl (or anyone else) has the right answer, it is obvious to anyone with the ability to think that there is something very much adrift in the accepted chronology of ancient Egypt, upon which all accepted dating is based. Is there no-one who has such qualification who also has the guts to question it?


  2. Jon Clark says:

    Created a “New Chronology Group” on Facebook. Check it out, join, leave comments. It is interesting what you have written here.


    Thank you,


  3. REX says:

    Check out Egyptian chronology vs. Bible chronology (Israel-a-history-of)


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