Bible As History
by Werner Keller
2 of 10
p 70 --
6 -- THE
LONG JOURNEY TO CANAAN -- 600
miles by the caravan route - Nowadays four visas are required -
The land of purple - Punitive expeditions against "Sand-dwellers"
- Proud seaports with a troublesome hinterland - An Egyptian best-seller
about Canaan - Sinuhe praises the Good Land - Jerusalem on magic
vases - Strongholds - Sellin finds Shechem - Abraham chooses the
Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother's son, and all their
substance that they had gathered, and the souls that they had gotten
in Haran: and they went forth to go into the land of Canaan"
The road from
Haran, the home of the patriarchs, to the land of Canaan runs south
for more than 600 miles. It follows the river Balikh as far as the
Euphrates, thence by a caravan route thousands of years old via
the oasis of Palmyra, the Tadmor of the Bible, to Damascus, and
from there in a south-westerly direction to the Lake of Galilee.
It is one of the great trade routes that have always led from Euphrates
to Jordan, from the kingdom of Mesopotamia to the Phoenician seaports
on the Mediterranean and the distant Nile lands in Egypt.
wanting to follow Abraham's route requires four visas: one for Turkey,
in which the site of Haran lies, one for Syria to cover the section
from the Euphrates via Damascus to the Jordan, and one each for
the states of Jordan and Israel, which occupy what was once Canaan.
In the time of the father of the patriarchs all this was much easier.
For on his long trek he had only to pass through one large stretch
of national territory, the kingdom of Mari, which he was in fact
quitting. The smaller city states between the Euphrates and the
Nile could be by-passed. The road to Canaan lay open.
The first city
of any size that Abraham must have struck on his journey is still
standing today: Damascus.
To go by car
from Damascus to Palestine is, particularly in springtime, an unforgettable
city with its narrow streets and dark bazaar-alleys, with its mosques
and its Roman remains, lies in the centre of a wide and fertile
plain. When the Arabs speak of Paradise they think of Damascus.
What other Mediterranean city can compare with this place, which
every spring is decked with an incredible mantle of gay blossom?
In all the gardens and in the hedgerows beyond the city walls apricots
p 71 -- almonds are a riot of pink. Flowering trees line the
road which climbs gently as it heads for the south-west. Tilled
fields alternate with olive groves and large mulberry plantings.
High above, to the right of the road, rises the El Barada river,
to which the land owes its fertility. Here mighty Hermon thrusts
its steep slopes 10,000 feet into the heavens above the flat and
verdant plain. From the side of this famous mountain ridge, to the
south, gushes the source of the Jordan. Towering over both Syria
and Palestine and visible from afar it seems to have been placed
there by Nature as a gigantic boundary stone between them. Even
in the blazing heat of summer its peak remains covered in snow.
The effect becomes even more impressive
as on the left of the road the green fields disappear. Monotonous
grey-brown hills, streaked with dried up river beds, pile up towards
the distant shimmering horizon where the scorching
Syrian Desert begins - the home of the Bedouins. The road climbs
gradually for an hour and a half. Fields and groves become rarer.
The green is more and more swallowed up by the sandy grey of the
desert. Then suddenly an enormous pipeline crosses the road. The
oil that flows through it has already come quite a way. Its journey
began in the oil wells of Saudi Arabia, over a thousand miles away,
and will end in the port of Saida on the Mediterranean. Saida is
the old Sidon of the Bible. Top
route taken by the father of the patriarchs from the kingdom of
Mari to Canaan.
a ridge suddenly appear the hills of Galilee. A few minutes later
comes the frontier. Syria lies behind. The road crosses a small
bridge. Under the arch a fast moving narrow current hurries on its
way. It is the Jordan: we are in Palestine, in the young state of
a few miles between dark basalt rocks the bright blue of the Lake
of Galilee sparkles up at us from far beneath. It was on this lake,
where time seems to have stood still, that Jesus preached from a
boat off Capernaum. Here he told Peter to cast his nets and raise
the great draught of fishes. Two thousand years before that the
flocks of Abraham grazed on its shores. For the road from Mesopotamia
to Canaan went past the Lake of Galilee.
is the narrow mountainous strip of land between the shores of the
Mediterranean and the borders of the desert, from Gaza in the south
right up to Hamath on the banks of the Orontes in the north. Top
72 -- Canaan
was the "Land of Purple". It owed its name to a product
of the country which was highly prized in the olden days. From earliest
times the inhabitants had extracted from a shellfish (Murex), which
was native to these parts, the most famous dye in the ancient world,
purple. It was so uncommon, so difficult to obtain and therefore
so expensive, that only the wealthy could afford it. Purple robes
were throughout the Ancient East a mark of high rank. The Greeks
called the manufacturers of purple and the purple-dyers of the Mediterranean
Phoenicians. The country they called Phoenicia, which meant "purple"
in their language.
The land of Canaan is also the birthplace of two things which have
radically affected the whole world: the word "Bible" and
our alphabet. A Phoenician city was godparent to the Greek word
for "book": from Byblos, the Canaanite seaport, comes
"Biblion" and hence, later, "Bible". In the
9th century B.C. the Greeks took over from Canaan the letters of
part of the country which was to become the home of the Israelite
people was named by the Romans after Israel's worst enemies: Palestine
comes from Pelishtim, as the Philistines are called in the Old Testament.
They lived in the southernmost part of the coast of Canaan. "All
Israel, from Dan even to Beersheba" (I Sam- 3:20) is how the
Bible describes the extent of the Promised Land, that is, from the
sources of Jordan at the foot of Hermon to the hills west of the
Dead Sea, and the Negev in the south.
If we look at a globe of the world, Palestine is only a tiny spot
on the earth's surface, a narrow streak. It is possible to drive
comfortably in a single day round the borders of the old kingdom
of Israel: 150 miles from north to south, 25 miles across at its
narrowest point, 9,500 square miles in all, its size was about that
of the island of Sicily. Only for a few decades in its turbulent
history was it any bigger. Under its renowned kings David and Solomon
its territory reached to the arm of the Red Sea at Ezion-Geber in
the south, and far beyond Damascus into Syria on the north. The
present state of Israel with its 8,000 square miles is smaller by
a fifth than the old kingdom.
There never flourished here crafts and industries whose products
were sought after by the world at large. Traversed by hills and
mountain chains, whose summits rose to over 3,000 feet, surrounded
in the south and east by scrub and desert, in the north by the mountains
of the Lebanon and Hermon, in the west by a flat coast with no natural
harbours, it lay like a poverty stricken island between the great
kingdoms on the Nile and the Euphrates, on the frontier between
two continents. East of the Nile delta Africa stops. After a desolate
stretch of 100 miles of desert Asia begins, and at its threshold
When in the course of its eventful history it was constantly being
dragged into the affairs of the wider world, it had its position
73 -- for
it. Canaan is the link between Egypt and Asia. The most important
trade route of the ancient world passes through this country. Merchants
and caravans, migratory tribes and peoples, followed this road which
the armies of the great conquerors were later to make use of. Egyptians,
Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks and Romans one after another
made the land and its people the plaything of their economic, strategic
and political concerns.
It was in the interests of trade that the giant on the Nile in the
third millennium B.C. was the first great power to stretch out its
tentacles towards Canaan.
"We brought 40 ships, laden with cedar trunks. We built ships
of cedarwood: One 'Pride of Two Lands' - ship of 150 feet: And of
meru-wood, two, ships 150 feet long: We made the doors of the king's
palace of cedarwood." That is the substance of the world's
oldest advice note from a timber importer about 2700 B.C. The details
of this cargo of timber in the reign of Pharaoh Snefru are scratched
on a tablet of hard black diorite, which is carefully preserved
in the museum at Palermo. Dense woods covered the slopes of Lebanon
then. The excellent wood from its cedars and meru, a kind of conifer,
were just what the Pharaohs needed for their building schemes.
Five hundred years before Abraham's day there was a flourishing
import and export trade on the Canaanite coast. Egypt exchanged
gold and spices from Nubia, copper and turquoise from the mines
at Sinai, linen and ivory, for silver from the Taurus, leather goods
from Byblos, painted vases from Crete. In the great Phoenician dye-works
well-to-do Egyptians had their robes dyed purple. For their society
women they bought a wonderful lapis-lazuli blue-eyelids dyed blue
were all the rage-and stibium, a cosmetic which was highly thought
of by the ladies for touching up their eyelashes.
In the sea-ports of Ugarit (now Ras Shamra) and Tyre there were
Egyptian consuls; the coastal fortress of Byblos became an Egyptian
colony; monuments were erected to the Pharaohs and Phoenician princes
adopted Egyptian names. Top
the coastal cities presented a picture of cosmopolitan life which
was busy, prosperous and even luxurious, a few miles inland lay
a world which provided a glaring contrast. The Jordan mountains
have always been a trouble-spot. Bedouin attacks on the native population,
insurrection and feuds between towns were unending. Since they also
endangered the caravan route along the Mediterranean coast, Egyptian
punitive expeditions had to bring the unruly elements to heel. The
inscription on the tomb of the Egyptian Uni gives us a clear picture
of how one of these expeditions was organised about 2350 B.C. Uni,
an army commander, received orders from Pharaoh Phiops I to assemble
a striking force against Bedouins from Asia who were attacking Canaan.
His report on the campaign reads as follows:
74 -- "His
Majesty made war on the desert peoples and His Majesty gathered
an army: in the south beyond Elephantine ... all over the north
... and among the Jertet -, Mazoi -, and Jenam Nubians. I was entrusted
with the whole campaign." The morale of this multi-coloured
fighting force comes in for high praise, and in the course of it
we learn what sort of attractions Canaan offered in those days in
the way of loot: "None of them stole the sandals off anyone
who came their way.... None of them stole food from any of the cities....
None of them stole any goats."
Uni's war-diary proudly announces a great victory and in passing
gives us valuable information about the country: "The king's
army returned in good order, after laying waste the country of the
peoples,... after destroying their fortresses... after cutting down
their fig-trees and vines ... and carrying off a large number into
captivity. His Majesty sent me five times to ravage the land of
the desert peoples with these troops every time they revolted."
thus made their first entry into the land of the Pharaohs as P.O.W.s
where they were contemptuously described as "Sand-dwellers".
Chu-Sebek, adjutant to king Sesostris III of Egypt, wrote in his
war-diary 500 years later the following account which had been preserved
at Abydos on the Upper Nile, where it was chiselled out on a monument:
"His Majesty proceeded northwards to crush the Asiatic Bedouins....
His Majesty went as far as a place called Sekmem.... Sekmem collapsed
together with the whole miserable country of Retenu."
Egyptians called Palestine and Syria together "Retenu".
"Sekmem" is the Biblical town of Shechem, the first town
which Abraham struck on entering Canaan (Gen. 12:6).
With the campaign of Sesostris III about 1850 B. C. we are right
in the middle of the patriarchal period. Meantime Egypt had taken
possession of the whole of Canaan: the country now lay under the
suzerainty of the Pharaohs. Thanks to the archaeologists we possess
a unique document from this epoch, a gem of ancient literature.
The author: a certain Sinuhe of Egypt. Scene: Canaan. Time: between
1971 and 1928 B.C. under Pharaoh Sesostris I.
a nobleman in attendance at court, becomes involved in a political
intrigue. He fears for his life and emigrates to Canaan:
I headed north I came to the Princes' Wall, which was built to keep
out the Bedouins and crush the Sandramblers. 1
I hid in a thicket in case the guard on the wall, who was on patrol
at the time, would see me. I did not move out of it till the evening.
When daylight came ... and I had reached the Bitter Lake 2
I collapsed. I was parched with thirst, my
and "Wilderness-Wanderers" were the favourite nicknames
which the Egyptians gave to their eastern and north-eastern neighbours,
the nomads. This also included the tribes in Canaan and Syria which
had no fixed location.
known as the "Bitter Lakes" on the Isthmus of Suez.
75 -- throat was red hot. I said to myself: This is the taste
of death! But as I made another effort and pulled myself on to my
feet, I heard the bleating of sheep and some Bedouins came in sight.
Their leader, who had been in Egypt, recognised me. He gave me some
water and boiled some milk, and I went with him to his tribe. They
were very kind to me.
Sinuhe's escape had been successful. He had been able to slip unseen
past the great barrier wall on the frontier of the kingdom of the
Pharaohs which ran exactly along the line which is followed by the
Suez Canal today. This "Princes' Wall" was even then several
hundred years old. A priest mentions it as far back as 2650 B.C.:
"The Princes' Walls are being built to prevent the Asiatics
forcing their way into Egypt. They want water ... to give to their
cattle." Later on the children of Israel were to pass this
wall many times: there was no other way into Egypt. Abraham must
have been the first of them to see it when he emigrated to the land
of the Nile during a famine (Gen. 12:10).
Sinuhe continues: "Each territory passed me on to the next.
I went to Byblos, 1 and farther on reached Kedme
2 where I spent eighteen months. Ammi-Enschi, 3
the chief of Upper Retenu 4 made me welcome.
He said to me: 'You will be well treated and you can speak your
own language here.' He said this of course because he knew who I
was. Egyptians 5 who lived there had told him
We are told in great detail of the day to day experiences of this
Egyptian fugitive in North Palestine. "Ammi-Enschi said to
me: 'Certainly, Egypt is a fine country, but you ought to stay here
with me and what I shall do for you will be fine too.'
gave me precedence over all his own family and gave me his eldest
daughter in marriage. He let me select from among his choicest estates
and I selected one which lay along the border of a neighbouring
territory. It was a fine place with the name of Jaa. There were
figs and vines and more wine than water. There was plenty of honey
and oil; every kind of fruit hung on its trees. It had corn and
barley and all kinds of sheep and cattle. My popularity with the
ruler was extremely profitable. He made me a chief of his tribe
in the choicest part of his domains. I had bread and wine as my
daily fare, boiled meat and roast goose. There were also desert
animals which they caught in traps and brought to me, apart from
what my hunting dogs collected.... There was milk in every shape
and form. Thus many years went by. My
children grew into strong men, each of them able to dominate his
courier coming from Egypt or heading south to the royal court
seaport north of present-day Beirut.
country east of Damascus.
western Semitic name, an Amorite.
-- Name given
to the hill country in the north of Palestine.
commissioners were at that time stationed all over Palestine and
76 -- lived with me. 1 I gave hospitality to everyone.
I gave water to the thirsty, put the wanderer on the right way,
and protected the bereaved.
the Bedouins sallied forth to attack neighbouring chiefs I drew
up the plan of campaign. For the prince of Retenu for many years
put me in command of his warriors and whichever country I marched
into I made... and.... of its pastures and its wells. I plundered
its sheep and cattle, led its people captive and took over their
stores. I killed its people with my sword and my bow 2
thanks to my leadership and my clever plans."
Out of his many experiences among the "Asiatics" a life
and death duel, which he describes in detail, seems to have made
the deepest impression on Sinuhe. A "Strong man of Retenu"
had jeered at him one day in his tent and called him out. He was
sure he could kill Sinuhe and appropriate his flocks and herds and
properties. But Sinuhe, like all Egyptians, was a practised bowman
from his earliest days, and killed the "strong man", who
was armed with shield, spear and dagger, by putting an arrow through
his throat. The spoils that came to him as a result of this combat
made him even richer and more powerful.
length in his old age he began to yearn for his homeland. A letter
from his Pharaoh Sesostris I summoned him to return: ... Make ready
to return to Egypt, that you may see once more the Court where you
grew up, and kiss the ground at the two great gates.... Remember
the day when you will have to be buried and men will do you honour.
You will be anointed with oil before daybreak and wrapped in linen
blessed by the goddess Tait. 3 You will be given
an escort on the day of the funeral. The coffin will be of gold
adorned with lapis-lazuli, and you will be placed upon a bier. Oxen
will pull it and a choir will precede you. They will dance the Dance
of the Dwarfs at the mouth of your tomb. The sacrificial prayers
will be recited for you and animals will be offered on your altar.
The pillars of your tomb will be built of limestone among those
of the royal family. You must not lie in a foreign land, with Asiatics
to bury you, and wrap you in sheepskin." Top
heart leapt for joy. He decided to return at once, made over his
property to his children and installed his eldest son as "Chief
of his tribe". This was customary with these Semitic nomads,
as it was with Abraham and his progeny. It was the tribal law of
the patriarchs, which later became the law of Israel. "My tribe
and all my goods belonged to him only, my people and all my flocks,
my fruit and all my sweet trees. 4 Then
I headed for the south."
was accompanied right to the frontier posts of Egypt by Bedouins,
thence by representatives of Pharaoh to the capital south of Memphis.
The second stage was by boat.
-- This points
to a considerable traffic between Egypt and Palestine.
2 -- The
bow was the typical Egyptian weapon.
3 -- Embalming.
77 -- What a contrast! From a tent to a royal palace, from a
simple if dangerous life back to the security and luxury of a highly
civilised metropolis. "I found his Majesty on the great throne
in the Hall of Silver and Gold. The king's family were brought in.
His Majesty said to the Queen: 'See, here is Sinuhe, who returns
as an Asiatic and has become a Bedouin.' She gave a loud shriek
and all the royal children screamed in chorus. They said to his
Majesty: 'Surely this is not really he, my lord King.' His Majesty
replied: 'It is really he.' Top
was taken to a princely mansion," writes Sinuhe enthusiastically,
"in which there were wonderful things and also a bathroom ...
there were things from the royal treasure house, clothes of royal
linen, myrrh and finest oil; favourite servants of the king were
in every room, and every cook did his duty. The years that were
past slipped from my body. I was shaved and my hair was combed.
I shed my load of foreign soil 1 and the coarse
clothing of the Sandramblers. I was swathed in fine linen and anointed
with the finest oil the country could provide. I slept once more
in a bed. Thus I lived, honoured by the king, until the time came
for me to depart this life.
The Sinuhe story does not exist in one copy only. An astonishing
number of them has been found. It must have been a highly popular
work and must have gone through several "editions". Not
only in the Middle Kingdom but in the New Kingdom of Egypt it was
read with pleasure, as the copies found indicate. One might call
it a "best-seller", the first in the world, and about
Canaan, of all places.
The scholars who came across it again at the turn of the century
were as delighted with it as Sinuhe's contemporaries had been 4,000
years before. They regarded it however as a well-told story, exaggerated
like all Egyptian writings and completely without foundation. The
Tale of Sinuhe became a mine of information for learned Egyptologists,
but not for historians. They were so busy disputing about the clarification
of the text, the letters, the construction and connection of the
sentences that the contents were forgotten.
Meantime Sinuhe came into his own. For we now know that the Egyptian
had written a factual account of Canaan at about the time that Abraham
migrated there. It is to hieroglyphic texts dealing with Egyptian
campaigns that we owe the first evidence we possess about Canaan.
They agree with Sinuhe's description. Similarly, the Egyptian nobleman's
story shows in some places almost literal correspondence with verses
of the Bible which are often quoted. "For the lord thy God
bringeth thee into a good land" says Deut. 8:7 - "It was
a fine country" says Sinuhe. "A land" continues the
Bible "of wheat and barley and vines and fig trees.... "
"Barley and wheat, figs and vines were there" Sinuhe tells
us. And where the Bible says: "A land of oil, olive and honey,
a land wherein thou shalt eat bread without scarceness",
the dirt that came off him.
78 -- the Egyptian text reads: "There was plenty of honey
and oil. I had bread as my daily fare."
description which Sinuhe gives of his way of life among the Amorites,
living in a tent, surrounded by his flocks and herds, and involved
in conflict with presumptuous Bedouins whom he has to drive away
from his pastures and his wells, corresponds with the Biblical picture
of life in patriarchal times. Abraham and his son Isaac have also
to fight for their wells (Gen. 21:25, 26:15, 20).
The care and accuracy with which Biblical tradition depicts the
actual living conditions of those days is best seen when we examine
the results of sober investigation. For the variety of recently
discovered documents and monuments makes it possible for us to reconstruct
a true picture of the conditions of life in Canaan at the time when
the patriarchs entered it.
About 1900 B.C. Canaan was but thinly populated. Properly speaking
it was no-man's land. Here and there in the midst of ploughed fields
a fortified keep could be seen. Neighbouring slopes would be planted
with vines or with fiG trees and date palms. The inhabitants lived
in a state of constant readiness. For these widely scattered little
townships, like veritable islands, were the object of daring attacks
by the desert nomads. Suddenly, and when least expected, these nomads
were upon them, with indiscriminate butchery, carrying off their
cattle and their crops. Just as suddenly they would disappear again
into the vast recess of the desert plains to the south and east.
There was endless war between the settled farmers and cattle breeders
and these plundering hordes who had no fixed abode, whose home was
a goatshair tent somewhere out under the open skies of the desert.
It was into this restless country that Abraham made his way with
his wife Sarah, his nephew Lot, his kinsfolk and his flocks.
"And into the
land of Canaan they came. And Abram passed through the land unto
the place of Sichem, unto the plain of Moreh.... And the Lord appeared
unto Abram and said: Unto thy seed will I give this land; and there
builded he an altar unto the Lord, who appeared unto him. And he
removed from thence unto a mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched
his tent having Bethel on the west, and Hai on the east: and there
he builded an altar unto the Lord, and called upon the name of the
Lord. And Abram journeyed, going on still toward the south"
(Gen. 12 5-9).
the twenties, remarkable sherds were found on the Nile, the chief
finds at Thebes and Saqqara. Archaeologists in Berlin obtained some
of them, others went to Brussels, and the rest went to the great
museum at Cairo. Under the careful hands of experts the fragments
79 -- bled into vases and statuettes, but the most astonishing
thing about them was the inscriptions. Top
writing is full of menacing curses and maledictions like: "Death
strike you at every wicked word and thought, every plot, angry quarrel
and plan". These and other unpleasant wishes were generally
addressed to Egyptian court officials and other eminent people,
but also to rulers in Canaan and Syria.
In accordance with an old superstition it was believed that at the
moment the vase or statuette was smashed the power of the person
cursed would be broken. It was common to include within the spell
the family, relatives, even the home town of the victim of the curse.
The magical texts include names of cities like Jerusalem (Gen. 14:19),
Askelon (Jud. 1:18), Tyre (Josh. 19:29'), Hazor (Josh. 11:1), Bethshemesh
(Josh. 15:10), Aphek (Josh. 12:18'), Achshaph (Josh. 11:1) and Shechem
(Sichem). Here is a convincing proof that these places mentioned
in the Bible existed already in the 19th and 18th centuries B.C.,
since the vases and statuettes date from that time. Two of these
towns were visited by Abraham. He calls on Melchizedek "King
of Salem" (Gen. 14:18) at Jerusalem. Jerusalem is well enough
known, but where was Sichem?
the heart of Samaria lies a broad flat valley, dominated by the
high peaks of Gerizim and Ebal. Well cultivated fields surround
Ashkar, a small village in Jordan. Nearby at the foot of Gerizim
in Tell el Balata the ruins of Sichem were discovered.
was due to the German theologian and archaeologist Professor Ernst
Sellin that during excavations in 1913-14 strata from very early
times came to light.
came across remains of walls dating back to the 19th century B.C.
Bit by bit the picture emerged of a mighty surrounding wall with
strong foundations, entirely built of rough boulders, some of them
6 feet in diameter. Archaeologists call this type a "cyclops-wall".
The wall was further strengthened by an escarpment. The builders
of Sichem fortified the 6 feet thick wall with small turrets and
provided an earth wall in addition.
remains of a palace also emerged out of the ruins. The square cramped
courtyard, surrounded by a few rooms with solid walls, hardly deserved
the name of palace. All the Canaanite towns whose names are so familiar,
and which the Israelites feared so greatly in the early days, looked
like Sichem. With few exceptions the notable building projects of
that period are now known. Most of them have been excavated within
the last sixty years. For thousands of years they have been buried
deep in the ground, now they stand clearly before us. Among them
are many towns whose walls the patriarchs had seen: Bethel and Mizpah,
Gerar and Lachish, Gezer and Gath, Askelon and Jericho. Anyone who
wanted to write the history of the building of fortresses and
80 -- cities in Canaan, would have no great difficulty in doing
so in view of the wealth of material going back to the third millennium
Canaanite towns were fortresses, places of refuge in time of danger,
whether it was from sudden attack by nomadic tribes or civil war
among the Canaanites themselves. Towering perimeter walls built
of these great boulders invariably enclose a small area, not much
bigger than St. Peter's Square in Rome. Each of these town-forts
had a water supply, but they were not towns in which a large population
could have made a permanent home. Compared with the palaces and
great cities in Mesopotamia or on the Nile they look tiny. Most
of the towns in Canaan could have gone into the palace of the kings
of Mari comfortably.
In Tell el-Hesi, probably the Eglon of the Bible, the ancient fortifications
enclosed an area of just over an acre. In Tell es-Safi - formerly
Gath - twelve acres; in Tell el-Mutesellim - formerly Megiddo -
about the same amount; in Tell el-Zakariyah - the Biblical Azekah
- less than ten acres; Gezer, on the road from Jerusalem to Jaffa,
occupied just over twenty acres. Even in the more built-up area
of Jericho, the inner fortified wall, the Acropolis proper, enclosed
a space of little more than five acres. Yet Jericho was one of the
strongest fortresses in the country.
Bitter feuds between the tribal chiefs were the order of the day.
There was no supreme authority. Every chieftain was master in his
own territory. No one gave him orders and he did what he pleased.
The Bible calls the tribal chieftains "kings". As far
as power and independence were concerned that is what
the tribal chiefs and their subjects the relationship was patriarchal.
Inside the wall lived only the chief, the aristocracy, Pharaoh's
representatives, and wealthy merchants. Moreover they alone lived
in strong, solid, mostly one-story houses with four to six rooms
built round an open courtyard. Upper class homes with a second story
were comparatively rare. The rest of the inhabitants - vassals,
servants and serfs - lived in simple mud or wattle huts outside
the walls. They must have had a miserable life.
Since the days of the patriarchs two roads meet in the plain of
Shechem. One goes down into the rich valley of the Jordan. The other
climbs over the lonely hills southwards to Bethel, on past Jerusalem
and down to the Negev, or the Land of the South as the Bible calls
it. Anyone following this road would encounter only a few inhabited
areas in the central highlands of Samaria and Judah: Shechem, Bethel,
Jerusalem and Hebron. Anyone choosing the more comfortable road
would find the larger towns and more important fortresses of the
in the lush valleys of the Plain of Jezreel, on the fertile coast
of Judah and amid the luxuriant vegetation of the Jordan valley.
as the Bible tells us, chose for his first exploration of
81 -- Palestine the lonely and difficult road that points over
the hills towards the south. For here the wooded hillsides offered
refuge and concealment to a stranger in a foreign land, while the
clearings provided pasture in plenty for his flocks and herds. Later
on he and his tribe and the other patriarchs as well went back and
forth along this same wretched mountain track. However tempting
were the fertile valleys of the plain Abraham preferred to establish
himself at first up in the hill country. For with his bows and slings
he was in no condition to risk a clash with the Canaanites, whose
swords and spears were more than a match for him. Abraham was not
yet ready to venture out of the highlands. Top
Chapter 7 -- ABRAHAM
AND LOT IN THE LAND OF PURPLE -- Famine in Canaan - A
Family Portrait of the patriarchal age - Permit of access to the
Nile grazings - The mystery of Sodom and Gomorrah - Mr. Lynch investigates
the Dead Sea - The great fissure - Did the Vale of Siddim take a
headlong plunge? - Pillars of salt at Jebel Usdum.
there was a famine in the land: and Abram went down into Egypt to
sojourn there; for the famine was grievous in the land - Gen. 1:2.
have to thank the dryness of the sands of the Egyptian desert for
preserving a considerable variety of hieroglyphic texts, among which
is to be found a wealth of written evidence of the immigration of
Semitic families into the Nile valley. The best and clearest proof
is however a picture.
between the old cities of the Pharaohs, Memphis and Thebes, 200
miles south of Cairo, there lies on the banks of the Nile amid green
fields and palm groves the little settlement of Beni-Hasan. Here
in 1890 a British expert, Percy A. Newberry, was given an assignment
by the Cairo authorities to investigate some old tombs. The expedition
was financed by the Egyptian Exploration Fund.
tombs were located at the outer end of a desert wadi, where the
remains of old quarries and a large temple also lay in peaceful
seclusion. Week after week nothing but debris, rubble and the remnants
of broken stone pillars streamed out of the rock-face behind which
the last resting place of the Egyptian nobleman Khnum-hotpe was
concealed. Hieroglyphs in a small entrance hall indicated the name
of the occupant. He was the ruler of this district of the Nile,
which at one time was called Gazelle Province. Khnum-hotpe lived
under Pharaoh Sesostris II about 1900 B.C.
a great deal of time and effort had been expended Newberry eventually
reached a huge rock chamber. By the light of numerous torches he
was able to see that there were three vaults and that the stumps
of two rows of pillars protruded from the ground. The walls were
bright with gorgeous coloured paintings on a thin lime-washed plaster.
These depicted scenes from the life of the nobleman telling of harvest,
hunting, dancing and sport. In one of the pictures on the north
83 -- wall,
immediately next to an over life-size portrait of the nobleman,
Newberry discovered foreign looking figures. They were wearing a
different type of clothing from the ordinary Egyptians, they were
fairer-skinned and had sharper features. Two Egyptian officials
in the foreground were obviously introducing this group of foreigners
to the nobleman. What sort of people were they?
on a written document in the hand of one of the Egyptians gave the
explanation: they were "Sanddwellers", Semites. Their
leader was called Abishai. With thirty-six men, women and children
of his tribe Abishai had come to Egypt. He had brought gifts for
the nobleman, among which special mention was made of some costly
stibium 1 for the nobleman's wife.
Abishai is a genuine Semitic name. After the conquest of Canaan
by Joshua the name occurs in the Bible during the reign of the second
king of Israel: "Then answered David and said to ... Abishai
the son of Zeruiah" (I Sam. 26:6). The Abishai of the Bible
was the brother of king David's unpopular commander-in-chief Joab
about 1000 B.C., when Israel was a large kingdom.
artist whom Prince Khnum-hotpe entrusted with the decoration of
his tomb has depicted the "Sanddwellers" with such care
that the smallest detail is faithfully noted. This lifelike and
unusually striking picture looks more like a coloured photograph.
It gives the impression that this family of Semites had just stopped
for a second, and that suddenly men, women and children would start
off again and continue their journey. Abisha'i at the head of the
column makes a slight obeisance and salutes the nobleman with his
right hand, while his left hand holds a short cord to which a tame
horned goat is attached, carrying between its horns a bent stick
which is a shepherd's crook.
shepherd's crook was so characteristic of the nomads that the Egyptians
in their picture-writing used it for the name of these foreigners.
style and colour of their clothing are faithfully reproduced. Square
woollen blankets, reaching in the case of the men to the knee, in
the case of the women to the calf, are caught up on one shoulder.
They consist of highly coloured striped material and serve as cloaks.
Does that not remind us of the famous "coat of many colours"
which Jacob, much to the annoyance of his other sons, bestowed upon
his favourite son Joseph? (Gen. 37:3). The men's hair is trimmed
into a pointed beard. The women's hair falls loosely over breast
and shoulders. It is fastened by a narrow white ribbon round the
forehead. The little curls in front of the ears seem to have been
a concession to fashion. The men are wearing sandals, the women
have dark brown half-length boots. They carry their water ration
in artistically embroidered containers made of animal skins. Bows
and arrows, heavy throw-sticks and spears
for eyelashes. Top
84 -- serve
as their weapons. Even their favourite instrument has been brought
with them on their long journey. One of the men is playing the eight-stringed
lyre. According to the instructions given in the Bible some of the
Psalms of David were to be accompanied on this instrument: "To
be sung to eight strings" is the heading of Psalms 6 and 12.
this picture dates from about I900 B.C., which was the period of
the patriarchs, we may imagine that Abraham and his family looked
something like this. When he reached the Egyptian frontier a similar
scene must have taken place. For the procedure for admitting foreign
visitors was exactly the same at all the other frontier posts as
in the case of the lord Khnum-hotpe.
It was thus no different long ago from what it is now to travel
in a foreign country. Certainly there were no passports but f6rmalities
and officialdom made life difficult for foreign visitors even then.
Anyone entering Egypt had to state the number in his party, the
reason for his journey and the probable length of his stay. All
the particulars were carefully noted down on papyrus by a scribe
using red ink and then sent by messenger to the frontier officer
who decided whether an entrance permit should be granted. This was
however not left to his own judgment. Administrative officers at
the court of Pharaoh issued from time to time precise directives,
even to the point of specifying which grazings were to be put at
the disposal of immigrant nomads.
times of famine Egypt was for Canaanite nomads their place of refuge
and often their only salvation. When the ground dried up in their
own country, the land of the Pharaohs always afforded sufficient
juicy pastures. The Nile with its regular annual flooding took care
On the other hand the proverbial wealth of Egypt was often a temptation
to thieving bands of daring nomads who were not interested in finding
pasture but were much more concerned with the bursting granaries
and sumptuous palaces. Often they could only be got rid of by force
of arms. As a protection against these unwelcome invaders and to
Semitic family at the time of the Patriachs from a wall-painting
in the princes' tomb at Beni-Hasan on the Nile.
a closer check on the frontier, the erection of the great "Princes'
Wall" was begun in the third millennium B.C. It consisted of
a chain of forts, watchtowers and strongpoints. It was only under
cover of darkness that the Egyptian Sinuhe with his local knowledge
was able to slip through unobserved. Six hundred and fifty years
later, at the time of the exodus from Egypt, the frontier was also
strongly guarded. Moses knew only too well that escape from the
country in defiance of Pharaoh's orders was impossible. The sentries
would at once have sounded the alarm and summoned the guards. Any
attempt to break through would have been nipped in the bud by sharpshooters
and commandos in armoured chariots and would have ended in bloodshed.
That was the reason why the prophet knowing the country chose another
quite unusual route. Moses led the children of Israel southwards,
as far as the Red Sea, where there was no longer any wall.
their return from Egypt Abraham and Lot separated: "For their
substance was great," says the Bible, "so that they could
not dwell together. And there was a strife between the herdmen of
Abram's cattle, and the herdmen of Lot's cattle.... And Abram said
unto Lot, Let there be no strife I pray thee, between me and thee,
and between my herdmen and thy herdmen: for we be brethren. Is not
the whole land before thee? Separate thyself I pray thee from me:
if thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right: or
if thou depart to the right hand, then I will go to the left"
left the choice to Lot. Lot, taking everything for granted, like
so many young people, chose the best part, in the neighbourhood
of the Jordan. It was "well-watered everywhere ... as thou
comest into Zoar" (Gen. 13:10) and blessed with luxuriant tropical
vegetation "even as the garden of the Lord, like the land of
Egypt" (Gen. 13:10).
the wooded mountain chain in the heart of Palestine Lot made his
way downhill to the east, wandered with his family and his flocks
southwards along the Jordan valley and finally pitched his tent
in Sodom. South of the Dead Sea lay an extremely fertile plain,
a wall-painting in the prince's tomb at Beni-Hasan on the Nile.
86 -- of Siddim, which is the salt sea" 1
(Gen. 14:3). The Bible lists five towns in this valley, "Sodom,
Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Zoar" (Gen. 14:2). It also knows
of a warlike incident in the history of these five towns: "And
it came to pass" that four kings "made war with Bera king
of Sodom, and with Birsha king of Gomorrah, and with Shinab king
of Admah, and Shemeber king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela, which
is Zoar" (Gen. 14:2). For twelve years the kings of the Vale
of Siddim had paid tribute to king Chedorlaomer. In the thirteenth
year they rebelled. Chedorlaomer sought help from three royal allies.
A punitive expedition would bring the rebels to their senses. In
the battle of the nine kings, the kings of the five towns in the
Vale of Siddim were defeated, their lands were ravaged and plundered.
the captives of the foreign kings was Lot. He was set free again
by his uncle Abraham (Gen. 14:12-16), who with his followers dogged
the withdrawal of the army of the victorious four kings like a shadow.
He watches it unobserved from safe cover, makes accurate reconnaissance
and bides his time. Not until they reach Dan, on the northern frontier
of Palestine does the opportunity arise for which he has been waiting.
Like lightning, under cover of darkness, Abraham and his men fall
on the rearguard and in the confusion that follows Lot is set free.
- Only those who do not know the tactics of the Bedouins will consider
this an unlikely story.
the inhabitants of that stretch of country the memory of that punitive
expedition has remained alive to this day. It is reflected in the
name of a road which runs eastward of the Dead Sea and parallel
with it, traversing what was in ancient times the land of Moab and
leading to the north. The nomads of Jordan know it very well. Among
the natives it is called, remarkably enough, the "King's Way".
We come across it in the Bible, where it is called "the king's
high way" or "the high way". It was the road that
the children of Israel wished to follow on their journey through
Edom to the "Promised Land" (NUM. 20:17, 19). In the Christian
era the Romans used the "King's Way" and improved it.
Parts of it now belong to the network of roads in the state of Jordan.
Clearly visible from the air the ancient track shows up as a dark
streak across the country.
the Lord said, Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and
because their sin is very grievous.... Then the Lord rained upon
Sodom and upon Gomorrah, brimstone and fire from the Lord out of
heaven; And he overthrew those cities, and all the plain, and all
the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground.
But his [Lot's] wife looked back from behind
87 -- him, and
she became a pillar of salt.... And lo the smoke of the country
went up as the smoke of a furnace" Gen. 18 :20, 19:24-26,
calamity which is the subject of this powerful Biblical story of
divine punishment for incorrigible sin has probably in all ages
made a deep impression on men's minds. Sodom and Gomorrah have become
synonymous with vice and godlessness. When men have talked in terms
of utter annihilation, again the fate of these cities has always
sprung to their minds. Their imaginations have constantly been kindled
by this inexplicable and frightful disaster, as can well be seen
from the many allusions to it in ancient times. Remarkable and quite
incredible things are said to have happened there by the Dead Sea,
the "Sea of Salt", where according to the Bible the catastrophe
must have happened.
the siege of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 It is said that the Roman army
commander Titus sentenced certain slaves to death. He gave them
short shrift, had them bound together by chains and thrown into
the sea at the foot of the mountains of Moab. But the condemned
men did not drown. No matter how often they were thrown into the
sea they always drifted back to the shore like corks. This inexplicable
occurrence made such a deep impression upon Titus that he pardoned
the unfortunate offenders. Flavius Josephus, the Jewish historian
who lived latterly in Rome, repeatedly mentions a "Lake of
Asphalt". Greeks lay stress on the presence of poisonous gases,
which are reported as rising from all parts of this sea. The Arabs
say that in olden times no bird was able to reach the opposite side.
The creatures, as they flew across the water, would suddenly drop
dead into it.
These and similar traditional stories were well enough known, but
until a century ago we had no first hand knowledge of this odd mysterious
sea in Palestine. No scientist had investigated it or even seen
it. In 1848 the United States took the initiative and equipped an
expedition to solve the riddle of the Dead Sea. One autumn day in
that year the beach of the little coastal town of Akka, less than
10 miles from present-day Haifa, was black with spectators who were
engrossed in an unusual manoeuvre. Top
F. Lynch, a geologist and leader of the expedition, had brought
ashore from the ship which was lying at anchor two metal boats which
he was now fastening on to large-wheeled carts. Pulled by a long
team of horses, the trek began. Three weeks later after indescribable
difficulties they had succeeded in getting the waggons over the
hills of Southern Galilee. The two boats took to the water again
at Tiberias. When Lynch set up his theodolite at the Lake of Galilee,
the result produced the first big surprise of the expedition. To
begin with he thought he had made an error of calculation, but a
cross check confirmed the result. The surface of the lake, which
played so notable a part in the. life of Jesus, is 676 feet
88 -- below
the level of the Mediterranean. What then could be the height of
the source of the Jordan, which flows through the Lake?
days later W. F. Lynch stood on the slopes of snow-capped Hermon.
Among remains of broken columns and gateways lies the little village
of Baniya. Local Arabs led him through a thick clump of oleanders
to a cave, half choked with rubble, on the steep limestone flank
of Hermon. Out of its darkness gushed a stream of pure water. This
is one of the sources of the Jordan. The Arabs call the Jordan Sheri'at
el Kebire, the "Great River". This was the site of Panium
of the Jordan-drop. Top
built a temple of Pan in honour of Augustus. Shell-shaped niches
are hewn out of the rock beside the Jordan cave. "Priest of
Pan" is still clearly legible in Greek characters. In the time
of Jesus the Greek pastoral god was worshipped at the source of
the Jordan. There the goat-footed Pan raised his flute to his lips
as if he wanted to send the Jordan on its way with a tune. Only
3 miles west of this source lay Dan, which is frequently mentioned
in the Bible as the most northerly point in the country. There too
is another source of the Jordan where its clear waters spring out
of the southern slopes of Hermon. A third stream rushes out of a
wadi higher up. The bottom of the wadi just above Dan is 1,500 feet
above sea level.
the Jordan on its way south reaches little Lake Huleh 12 miles away,
the river bed is only 6 feet above sea level. Then the river rushes
down the next 6 miles to the Lake of Galilee. In the course of its
descent from the slopes of Hermon to this point, a distance of only
25 miles, it has dropped 2,275 feet.
Tiberias the members of the American expedition in their two metal
boats followed the endless windings of the Jordan downstream. Gradually
the vegetation became sparser and the thick undergrowth
89 -- extended no farther than the banks. Under the tropical
sun an oasis came into view on their right - Jericho. Soon afterwards
they reached their goal. There before them, embedded between almost
vertical precipices, lay the vast surface of the Dead Sea.
first thing to do was to have a swim. But when they jumped in they
felt as if they were being thrown out again. It was like wearing
life-jackets. The old stories were therefore true. In this sea it
is impossible to drown. The scorching sun dried the men's skins
almost at once. The thin crust of salt which the water had deposited
on their bodies made them look quite white. No shellfish, no fish,
no seaweed, no coral -
no fishing boat had ever rocked on this sea. Here was neither a
harvest from the sea nor from the land. For the banks were equally
bare and desolate. Huge deposits of coagulated salt made the beach
and the rockface above it sparkle in the sun like diamonds. The
air was filled with sharp acrid odours, a mixture of petroleum and
sulphur. Oily patches of asphalt - the Bible calls it "slime"
(Gen. 14:10) - float on the waves. Even the bright blue sky and
the all powerful sun could not breathe any life into this forbidding
twenty-two days the American boats went back and forth across the
Dead Sea. They tested the water and analysed it, they took innumerable
soundings. The mouth of the Jordan, at the Dead
Sea, lies 1,280 feet below sea level. If there were any connection
with the Mediterranean, the Jordan and the Lake of Galilee, 65 miles
away, would disappear. A vast inland sea would stretch almost up
to the shores of Lake Huleh.
a storm sweeps up through this rocky basin," observed Lynch,
"the waves strike the sides of the boats like blows from a
hammer. But the weight of the water is such that a short time after
the wind has died down the sea is calm again."
world learned for the first time from the report of the expedition
two astonishing facts. The Dead Sea is over 1,200 feet in depth.
The bottom of the sea is therefore about 2,500 feet below the level
of the Mediterranean. The water of the Dead Sea contains approximately
30% of solid ingredients, most sodium chloride, i.e. cooking salt.
The normal ocean has only 3.3 to 4% salt. The Jordan and many smaller
rivers empty themselves into this basin of approximately 50 x 10
miles which has not a solitary outlet. Evaporation under the broiling
sun takes place on the surface of the sea at a rate of over 230
million cubic feet per day. What its tributaries bring to it in
the way of chemical substances remains deposited in this great basin's
500 square miles.
90 -- It was only after the turn of the century that, keeping
pace with excavations in other parts of Palestine, interest was
also awakened in Sodom and Gomorrah. Archaeologists began their
quest for the vanished cities that were said to have existed in
the Vale of Siddim in Biblical times. At the furthermost south-east
point of the Dead Sea remains of a large settlement were found.
The place is still called Zoar by the Arabs. The scientists were
delighted, for Zoar was one of the five wealthy cities in the Vale
of Siddim, which had refused to pay tribute to the four foreign
kings. But exploratory digging which was immediately undertaken
proved a disappointment. It remains uncertain, however, whether
Zoar is identical with the place called Zoar in the Bible. Top
date of the ruins that came to light showed it to be a town which
had flourished there in the Middle Ages. There was no trace of the
ancient Zoar of the king of Bela (Gen. 14:2) or of its neighbours.
Nevertheless there were plentiful indications in the environs of
mediaeval Zoar that there had been a numerous population in the
country in very early times.
the eastern shore of the Dead Sea the peninsula of el-Lisan protrudes
like a tongue far into the water. El-Lisan means "the tongue"
in Arabic. The Bible expressly mentions it when the country is being
divided up after the conquest. The frontiers of the tribe of Judah
are being carefully outlined. In the course of this Joshua gives
an unusually illuminating description of their southern limits:
"And their south border was from the shore of the Salt Sea,
from the bay [lit. 'tongue'] that looketh southward" (Josh.
history has a story to tell of this tongue of land, which has always
been wrongly regarded with considerable scepticism. Two deserters
had fled to the peninsula. The legionaries in pursuit combed the
ground for a long time in vain. When they eventually caught sight
of the men who had given them the slip it was too late. The deserters
were clambering up the rocks on the other side of the water - they
had waded straight across the sea. Obviously the sea was more shallow
at this spot in those days than it is today.
from the land the ground falls away here under the surface of the
water at a prodigious angle, dividing the sea into two parts. To
the right of the peninsula the ground slopes sharply down to a depth
of 1,200 feet. Left of the peninsula the water remains remarkably
shallow. Soundings taken in the last few years established depths
of only 5o-6o feet.
added to these discoveries and observations a fresh explanation
which might clarify the occasion and the result of the Biblical
story of the annihilation of Sodom and Gomorrah.
American expedition under Lynch in 1848 produced the first information
about the prodigious drop of theJordan on its short course
91 -- through Palestine. This plunging of the river bed until
it is far below sea level is, as later investigation established,
a unique geological phenomenon. "There may be something on
the surface of another planet which is similar to the Jordan Valley,
but on our planet there certainly is nothing," wrote George
Adam Smith, the Scottish Old Testament scholar, in his Historical
Geography of the Holy Land. "No other part of the globe,
which is not under water, lies deeper than 300 feet below sea level."
Jordan Valley is only part of a huge fracture in the earth's crust.
The path of this crack has meantime been accurately traced. It begins
far north, several hundred miles beyond the borders of Palestine,
at the foot of the Taurus mountains in Asia Minor. In the south
it runs from the south shore of the Dead Sea through the Wadi el-Arabah
to the Gulf of Aqabah and only comes to an end beyond the Red Sea
in Africa. At many points in this vast depression signs of earlier
volcanic activity are obvious. In the Galilean mountains, in the
highlands of Transjordan, on the banks of the Jabbok, a tributary
of the Jordan, and on the
Gulf of Aqabah are black basalt and lava.
DEAD SEA (a) in 2000 B.C. before the end of Sodom and Gomorrah;
(b) in 1900 B.C. after the disaster.
subsidence released volcanic forces that had been lying dormant
deep down along the whole length of the fracture. In the upper valleys
of theJordan near Bashan there are still the towering craters of
extinct volcanoes; great stretches of lava and deep layers of basalt
have been deposited on the limestone surface. From time immemorial
the area around this depression has been subject to earthquakes.
There is repeated evidence of them and the Bible itself records
them. Did Sodom and Gomorrah sink when perhaps a part of the base
of this huge fissure collapsed still further to the accompaniment
of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions? And did the Dead Sea then
take on a further extension towards the south as shown in Fig. 12?
92 -- And Lot's wife - "looked back from behind him and
she became a pillar of salt" (Gen. 19:26).
The nearer one gets to the south end of the Dead Sea the more wild
and desolate it becomes. Landscape and mountain grow eerier and
more forbidding. The hills stand there silent and everlasting. Their
scarred slopes fall sheer and steep down to the sea, their lower
are crystal white. The unparalleled disaster which once took place
here has left an imperishable and oppressive mark. Only occasionally
is a band of nomads to be seen heading inland along one of the steep
and rugged wadis.
Where the heavy oily water comes to an end in the south the harsh
rock-face on either side breaks off abruptly and gives place to
a salt-sodden swamp. The reddish soil is pierced by innumerable
channels and can easily become dangerous for the unwary traveller.
southwards the bogland merges into the desert Wadi el-Arabah, which
continues down to the Red Sea.
the west of the southern shore and in the direction of the Biblical
"Land of the South", the Negev, stretches a ridge of hills
about 150 feet high and 10 miles from north to south. Their slopes
sparkle and glitter in the sunshine like diamonds. It is an odd
phenomenon of nature. For the most part this little range of hills
consists of pure rock salt. The Arabs call it Jebel Usdum, an ancient
name, which preserves in it the word Sodom. Many blocks of salt
have been worn away by the rain and have crashed downhill. They
have odd shapes and some of them stand on end, looking like statues.
It is easy to imagine them suddenly seeming to come to life.
strange statues in salt remind us vividly of the Biblical description
of Lot's wife who was turned into a pillar of salt. And everything
in the neighbourhood of the Salt Sea is even to this day quickly
covered with a crust of salt. Top
question of Abraham's journeyings has not allowed scholars any peace
of mind even in recent times. Abraham's sojourn in Egypt, it has
been pointed out, cannot be confirmed from non-Biblical sources
and even in the Bible it is merely indicated incidentally in connection
with a trick to which Abraham resorted because he feared he might
be killed on account of his beautiful wife.
The story in question is one of those repetitions to which we refer
in the appendix to the present revised edition. It also occurs in
two places in the Bible (I Gen. 12, 9ff and I Gen. 20, 1ff ), except
that in the second case there is no mention at all of Egypt, but
of "south country" and of Gerar which lies between Gaza
whatever way we are to interpret all this, we can scarcely be encouraged
to regard the story as historical. Furthermore, the wall paintings
in the grave of Khnum-hotpe at Beni-Hasan, in the light of our most
recent knowledge, do not fit into the framework of the Biblical
p 93 -- account
of the patriarchs. And what is the explanation of this? As one would
expect of caravan people around 1900 B.C., the caravan people depicted
in the Khnum-hotpe grave had donkeys, whereas the Bible says that
Abraham and his people, who according to the traditional interpretation
are supposed to have lived at the same period, already possessed
camels. There is a vast difference between the two animals, whether
used for riding or as beasts of burden, in the distance they can
travel, their cost, their mobility and consequently also in the
safety of caravans equipped with one or the other of these species.
introduction of the camel as a mount and a bearer of burdens was
equal to a revolution in the organisation of transport in the Ancient
East. We shall have occasion to refer to the question again.
when did this "revolution" take place? Zoologists and
Orientalists specialising in the study of domestic animals have
continued to puzzle over the question, but the famous camels of
the patriarchs as well as the camels belonging to those merchants
who took Joseph to Egypt (we shall return to this point at the end
of the next chapter) quite definitely remain problematical.
Almost more problematical than Abraham's camels, however, is the
tradition concerning Sodom and Gomorrah. In particular, we must
remember there can be no question that the Jordan fissure was formed
before about 4000 B.C. Indeed, according to the most recent presentation
of the facts, the origin of the fissure dates back to the Oligocene,
the third oldest stage of the Tertiary Period. We thus have to think
in terms not of thousands, but of millions of years. Violent volcanic
activity connected with the Jordan fissure has been shown to have
occurred since then, but even so we do not get any further than
the Pleistocene which came to an end approximately ten thousand
years ago. Certainly we do not come anywhere near to the third,
still less the second millennium before Christ, the period that
is to say, in which the patriarchs are traditionally placed.
In addition, it is precisely to the south of the Lisan peninsula,
where Sodom and Gomorrah are reported to have been annihilated,
that the traces of former volcanic activity cease. In short, the
proof in this area of a quite recent catastrophe which wiped out
towns and was accompanied by violent volcanic activity is not provided
by the findings of the geologists.
what are we to think of the incursions of the Dead Sea into the
more flat area of the southern basin? During the course of its chequered
history the Dead Sea or its predecessors in the Pleistocene frequently
extended far across today's southern basin into Wadi el Arabah.
At times its surface lay as much as 623 feet higher than it does
today. The vast sea which had collected there in those days completely
filled the whole Jordan rift from Wadi el Arabah as far as the Lake
of Galilee. Then the lake diminished in size, no less than 28 ancient
p 94 -- shore terraces bearing witness to the process. It is
even possible that it dried up completely. Only at a later date
did the formation of the Dead Sea of today occur, accompanied probably
by violent earth tremors. This, too, took place in the Late Pleistocene
when man already existed, but when there could be no question of
towns. There is nevertheless the very vague possibility that the
experiences of Stone Age man in this region, transmitted from generation
to generation, finally took shape as the traditions of "towns"
which had disappeared or even gave rise to such a tradition. This
tradition appears to be very old, much older than has so far been
assumed. We shall refer to it again. Top
Certainly earthquakes occurred in the Dead Sea area at a later date.
Flavius Josephus describes the destruction caused by one which took
place in 31 B.C. and there was another in Khirbet-Qumran, where
the famous Dead Sea scrolls were found, which left impressive traces
behind it, although there are no indications of any catastrophe
which might have destroyed towns during the early part of the second
millennium before Christ.
placenames such as Bahr-el-hut (sea of lead, which is the Arabic
name for the Dead Sea), Jebel Usdum (Mount Sodom) and Zoar do not
necessarily derive from genuine, independent, direct, primary traditions
parallel to the Bible. It is quite possible that they were applied
to these localities subsequently and so linked to the Bible story.
If so, they would merely represent a secondary tradition. We have
a similar state of affairs with "Joseph's Canal" (Arabic
Bahr Yusuf) in Faiyum in Egypt to which reference will be made in
the next chapter. The "Egyptian Joseph" of the Bible also
makes his appearance in Islamic tradition and the name of the waterway
in question could, and in all probability does, merely refer to
is only very recently that a great stir was caused by the excavation
of Tell-el-Mardikh south of Aleppo. It was here that the Italian
scholars Paolo Matthiae and Giovanni Pettinato discovered Ebla,
a town dating from the third millennium before Christ. The first
sensational discovery was that in almost prehistoric times a high
degree of culture had existed there with what was for those days
an enormously differentiated social structure. The second sensation
was that Ebla possessed rich archives of clay tablets. As always
with archives of this nature, we are justified in having high hopes,
but must be prepared to accept that opinions hitherto considered
unassailable may be shown to have been built on insecure foundations.
"When the texts have been studied, we shall perhaps have to
forget the results of a whole century of research in the Ancient
East," is how a German colleague of the Italian scholars expressed
it. The third sensation and the most important in connection with
the question of names is that the texts from Ebla dating from the
third millennium before Christ contain names which are familiar
to us from the Bible. The name of Abraham was encountered
95 -- as well as those of the sinful towns of Sodom and Gomorrah,
Admah and Zeboiim on the Dead Sea which were all destroyed by fire.
At this point a number of fellow specialists expressed their scepticism.
Had Pettinato read the texts correctly, they asked. of course, they
agreed that patriarchs' names have been found in other sources,
as has already been mentioned, but did the names of Sodom and Gomorrah
really occur in archives of the third millennium before Christ in
Syria? Had these towns really existed as the archives said? Or do
traditions concerning them go back to such early times, even earlier
than the customary date accepted for the beginning of the period
of the patriarchs?
A considerable period of time will elapse before all these questions
are answered. In the normal way, scholars are not interested in
sensations and a vast amount of work has to be done before it can
be established beyond a doubt how sensational the finds at Tell-el-Mardikh
96 -- Pictures by Andre Parrot of Mari: