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Herakles, Genealogies, and Biblical Chronology

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!)

Alexander’s Genealogy

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:

  1. Herakles
  2. Hyllos
  3. Kleodaios
  4. Aristomachos
  5. Temenos
  6. Keisos (time of the Dorian invasion)
  7. Maron
  8. Thestros
  9. Akous
  10. Aristodamidas
  11. Karanos (first king of Macedonia)
  12. Koinos
  13. Tyrimmas
  14. Perdikkas I
  15. Argaios I
  16. Philip I
  17. Aeropus I
  18. Alketas
  19. 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.

Biblical Relevance?

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.

Newgrosh concludes,

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!

technorati tags: alexander the great, chronology, dorian invasion, egypt, exodus, genealogy, herakles, hercules, trojan war



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