Welcome to Chirstian
Bible Studies
for home study

Here are books & manuscripts by many different authors revealing that truth. A wonderful introduction to studying the Bible.

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Step 1 - Is the Bible Inspired or Expired?

Step 1 - Is the Bible Inspired or Expired?

Step 2 - The Canons of the Bible

Step 3 - Bible Study Guides

Step 4 - Individuali in Religion

Step 5 - Sign of the End of Time

Step 6 -Prophecies in the BIBLE BOOKS of Danie and Revelation

Step 7 - Facts of Faith
NOTE:     To better appreciate this book study the prophecies of Daniel & Revelation first.

Step 8 -- The Sanctuary Service

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ADDITIONAL STUDIES:

1 - "Another Comforter", study on the Holy Spirit

2 - "Saving Faith"

3 - "What is Man" The Gospel in Creation

4 - "A Convicting Jewish Witness", study on the Godhead

5 - "The Place of the Bible
in Education"
- Vs. - Humanism religion as in the modern school system.

6. Bible As History - by Werner Keller - facts brought to light with relation to the Bible account

7. Three Days and Three Nights In the Tomb - study by Ray Cutts - Study on the timeline of the crucifixion of our Lord.

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Bible Search http://bible.gospelcom.net

Bible Concordance http://www.eliyah.com/lexicon.html

Bible Dictionary http://bible.crosswalk.com/
Dictionaries/EastonsBibleDictionary/

Bible Atlas http://www.gregwolf.com
/maps/maps.htm

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May God bless you as you dig for yourself into the treasures of your eternal destiny; into true religion; the truth as it is in Jesus.

2001-2018

 

 

The Bible As History
by Werner Keller

Part 2 of 10

 

p 70 -- Chapter 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 high road.

"And 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" Gen. 12:5.

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.

Anyone nowadays 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 experience.

The ancient 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 and

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

The route taken by the father of the patriarchs from the kingdom of Mari to Canaan.

Behind 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 Israel.

After 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.

Canaan 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

p 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 our alphabet.

The 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 lies Palestine.

When in the course of its eventful history it was constantly being dragged into the affairs of the wider world, it had its position to thank

p 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

If 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:

p 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 desert 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."

Semites 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."

The 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.

Sinuhe, a nobleman in attendance at court, becomes involved in a political intrigue. He fears for his life and emigrates to Canaan:

"As 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

1  --  "Sandramblers" 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.
2   -- Still known as the "Bitter Lakes" on the Isthmus of Suez.

p 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   who lived there had told him about me."

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.'

"He 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 tribe. Top

"Any courier coming from Egypt or heading south to the royal court

1 -- Phoenician seaport north of present-day Beirut.
2  -- Desert country east of Damascus.
3  -- A western Semitic name, an Amorite.
4 -- Name given to the hill country in the north of Palestine.
5 -- Pharaoh's commissioners were at that time stationed all over Palestine and Syria.

p 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.

"When 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.

At 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

Sinuhe's 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."

He 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.

1 -- This points to a considerable traffic between Egypt and Palestine.
2 -- The bow was the typical Egyptian weapon.
3 -- Embalming.
4 -- Date-palms.

p 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

"I 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  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",

1 -- i.e. the dirt that came off him.

p 78 -- the Egyptian text reads: "There was plenty of honey and oil. I had bread as my daily fare."

The 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).

In 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 were reassem-

p 79 -- bled into vases and statuettes, but the most astonishing thing about them was the inscriptions. Top

The 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?

In 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.

It 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.

Sellin 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.

The 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

p 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 B.C.

The 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 they were.

Between 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 Canaanites in the lush valleys of the Plain of Jezreel, on the fertile coast of Judah and amid the luxuriant vegetation of the Jordan valley.

Abraham, as the Bible tells us, chose for his first exploration of

p 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

p 82 -- 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.

And 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.

We 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.

Halfway 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.

The 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.

After 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

p 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?

Hieroglyphs 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  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.

The 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.

The shepherd's crook was so characteristic of the nomads that the Egyptians in their picture-writing used it for the name of these foreigners.

The 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
  -- Colouring for eyelashes. Top

p 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.

Since 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.

In 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 of that.

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

p 85 --


A Semitic family at the time of the Patriachs from a wall-painting in the princes' tomb at Beni-Hasan on the Nile.

keep 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.

After 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" (Gen. 13:6-9).

Abraham 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).

From 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, the "Vale

from a wall-painting in the prince's tomb at Beni-Hasan on the Nile. Top

p 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.

Among 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.

Among 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.

"And 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
-- Dead Sea.

p 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, 28.

The 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.

During 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

W. 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

p 88 -- below the level of the Mediterranean. What then could be the height of the source of the Jordan, which flows through the Lake?

Some 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 where

Diagram of the Jordan-drop. Top

Herod 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.

When 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.

From 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

p 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.

The 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 looking landscape.

Mediterranean and Jordan-Basin.

For 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.

"When 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."

The 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.

p 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

The 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.

On 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. 15:2)

Roman 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.

Unseen 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.

Geologists 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.

The American expedition under Lynch in 1848 produced the first information about the prodigious drop of theJordan on its short course

p 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."

The 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.

THE DEAD SEA (a) in 2000 B.C. before the end of Sodom and Gomorrah; (b) in 1900 B.C. after the disaster.

The 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?

 

p 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 reaches
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. Sweeping
southwards the bogland merges into the desert Wadi el-Arabah, which continues down to the Red Sea.

To 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.

These 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

The 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 and Beersheba.

In 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.

The 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.

But 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.

But 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.

Today's 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 that tradition.

It 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

p 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 really are.

p 96 -- Pictures by Andre Parrot of Mari: Top

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