Damien F. Mackey
Owing to the fact that Abraham was located by such luminaries as Drs. Nelson Glueck and W. F. Albright to the phase of Palestinian archaeology known as Middle Bronze I [MB I], that period, in the words of Dr. J. Osgood, “has since been indelibly associated with the time of Abraham in the minds of many”. But, as Osgood continues – despite that MB I fits the conventional dating, and that it may have been a nomadic phase – “placement of Abraham in the Middle Bronze I Age has nothing more positive than that to offer”.
Dr. Osgood’s revised model, to be considered here, is, I think, far preferable to it.
Time and again I have returned to this article by Dr. J. Osgood, “The Times of Abraham” (http://creation.com/the-times-of-abraham), which was so sorely needed, as it managed finally to anchor the Genesis record in a reasonable archaeological context.
As Osgood well wrote in the article:
There is much at stake in this discussion, for the whole historical validity of the Scriptural message of hope is at stake. The reality of the promises and covenants (legal agreements) of the spiritual message of hope rest on the historical validity of those promises and covenants. The world’s hope stands or falls on this issue. It cannot just be left to be dealt with in the cold halls of the intellectual who otherwise has no interest in the biblical message, for it is of dynamic concern to all people.
Yet, he goes on to write: “A need for a re-evaluation. In no way can it be said that the times of Abraham have been established. Moreover, there is much about the presently accepted archaeological time slot which makes one feel quite uneasy”.
To save myself a bit of effort here, I simply refer the reader to my first article on this subject of the historical Abraham, Part One in the five-part series:
Bible Bending Pharaonic Egypt. Part One: Abraham to Exodus.
So I can proceed on from that.
Thanks to Osgood’s “The Times of Abraham” and other articles, we are in possession now of a most impressive list of archaeological and historical correlations with Abraham, from Egypt/Ethiopia, through Palestine, to Elam.
Osgood’s starting point was when Abraham was yet known as Abram (his date of 1870 BC), when Palestine was attacked by a coalition of four eastern kings. This is how he introduces it:
Genesis 14 is a narrative which begins with a confederation of four Mesopotamian kings:-
- Amraphel, king of Shinar
- Arioch, king of Ellasar
- Chedorlaomer, king of Elam
- Tidal, king of Goiim (Genesis 14:1)
These extended their empire to include Palestine, or at least the Jordan valley, and in particular they brought under their [suzerainty] the kings of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboiim and Bela – the five cities of the plain. For twelve years (verse 4) this continued, but in the thirteenth year the kings of the plain rebelled, so in the fourteenth year the four kings of Mesopotamia, apparently with Chedorlaomer as chief, came and attacked the whole region.
[End of quote]
This was a well chosen incident with which to start, as one would expect this impact of four strong kings upon Palestine – including their battle with the (five) kings of Pentapolis – would somewhere be archaeologically verifiable. And indeed Osgood, unencumbered by the conventional archaeology, was able to pinpoint it, finding clear archaeological evidence for the action of the four kings at the Late Chalcolithic level at Engeddi (Hazezon-tamar).
Osgood, though, taking the usual view that “Shinar”, the home of the first mentioned king, Amraphel, was Sumer in southern Mesopotamia, had referred to this as “a confederation of four Mesopotamian kings”. This was a view that I also shared until I read Anne Habermehl’s
Where in the World Is the Tower of Babel?
which argues for re-identifying “Shinar” with the Sinjar region of NE Syria, thereby now providing an opportunity also for the true identification of the so far un-located city of Akkad. Habermehl thinks that “the missing city of Akkad” may actually be Tell Brak.
I have come to accept substantially (though not every detail of) Habermehl’s intriguing thesis and have subsequently written, with regard to it:
Tightening the Geography and Archaeology for Early Genesis
Here I, too, following Osgood, shall focus largely upon that window of time when Abraham was yet called Abram:
The World View of Abram
- Palestine and the Amorites
Now broadening the archaeological view, Osgood wrote that the Late Chalcolithic culture of Engeddi that was to be associated with the era of Abram and the four kings (and Pentapolis prior to the ‘fire and brimstone’ destruction) could be synchronised with the Ghassul IV culture of Palestine and Transjordan. The important piece of evidence was what he considered to be the Amorite abandonment – in the face of the invasion there by the eastern coalition – of what is known as the “Cave of Treasure” at Engeddi:
…. a building complex was discovered situated on a hill terrace above the spring of En-gedi approximately 150 metres north. This appeared to be a sacred enclosure, similar to the Chalcolithic sanctuary discovered in Stratum XIX at Megiddo. Notably, the enclosure at En-gedi was not destroyed, but was abandoned with the people apparently taking their cult furniture with them.
I believe it is more than coincidental that corresponding to our new match on the archaeological table we find that there was in fact a civilization in En-gedi during this archaeological period. The picture becomes even more illuminated when we are led into the various caves around the En-gedi region, and particularly to one called the Cave of the Treasure.
In 1960 an expedition of urgency into the Judean desert was conducted by the Hebrew University, the Department of Antiquities, and the Israel Exploration Society with help from the armed forces of Israel. The precipitating motive was to rescue antiquities, such as finds like the Dead Sea Scrolls, from destruction, and to do a complete search of the caves of the Judean desert to look for antiquities for preservation (see Figure 6).
|Figure 6. Significant Chalcolithic finds.|
Many caves were found and finds were such that it was clear that the greatest time of occupation was the Chalcolithic period. Although the caves themselves were apparently occupied for only a brief period, they testified to prolific civilization and a significant population density in this area greater than for any later one. The conclusion can almost certainly be drawn that the sanctuary at En-gedi was the focal point for their worship.
One of the most remarkable caves was the cave of the treasure in Nahal Mishmar. Details have been fully published in ‘The Cave of the Treasure’ by Pessah Bar-Adon.7 A significant treasure of cult artifacts and weapons was found, testifying to a wealth of culture at this period.
‘It took us three hours to remove the articles, which were wrapped in a straw mat, from their hiding place – four hundred and twenty nine in all. Apart from six of haematite, six of ivory and one of stone, all the rest are of metal. They were all of a surprisingly high technical standard of workmanship.’8
And Osgood goes on:-
‘The hoard comprised the following: axes and chisels; hammers; ‘mace heads’; hollow stands decorated with knobs, branches, birds, and animals such as deer, ibex, buffalo, wild goats, and eagle; ‘horns’ (in one of which there was still a piece of thread running through the perforations at the edge); smooth and elaborately ornamented ‘crowns’, small baskets; a pot; a statuette with a human face; sceptres; flag poles; an ivory box; perforated utensils made – as subsequently determined by Prof. Haas – from hippopotamus tusks; and more.’8
They dated it to the Chalcolithic period.
Dr. Osgood is able to propose answers to several questions with which Israeli archaeologist Pessah Bar-Adon found himself confronted regarding the situation at this site:
Bar-Adon queried the reasons for the articles in this context as if somebody had left them there and intended to return but was not able to. He continues on:-
‘What induced the owners of this treasure to hide it hurriedly away in the cave? And what was the event that prevented them from taking the treasure out of its concealment and restoring it to its proper place? And what caused the sudden destruction of the Chalcolithic settlements in the Judean Desert and in other regions of Palestine.’8:226
The remarkable thing about this culture also was that it was very similar, if not the same culture, to that found at a place in the southern Jordan Valley called Taleilat Ghassul (which is the type site of this culture), and also resembles the culture of Beersheba. The culture can in fact be called ‘Ghassul culture’ and specifically Ghassul IV.
The Ghassul IV culture disappeared from Trans Jordan, Taleilat Ghassul and Beersheba and the rest of the Negev as well as from Hazezon-tamar or En-gedi apparently at the same time. It is remarkable when looked at on the map that this disappearance of the Ghassul IV culture corresponds exactly to the areas which were attacked by the Mesopotamian confederate of kings. The fact that En-gedi specifically terminates its culture at this point allows a very positive identification of this civilization, Ghassul IV, with the Amorites of Hazezon-tamar.
If that be the case, then we can answer Bar Adon’s question very positively. The reason the people did not return to get their goods was that they had been destroyed by the confederate kings of Mesopotamia, in approximately 1,870 B.C. in the days of Abraham.
[End of quote]
So much for the localised outlook.
But now a whole world panorama had been opened and Osgood had to confront the total picture. He wrote:
Now as far as Palestine is concerned, in an isolated context, this may be possible to accept, but many might ask: What about the Mesopotamian kings themselves? Others may ask: What does this do to Egyptian chronology? And still further questions need to be asked concerning the origin of the Philistines in the days of Abraham, for the Philistines were closely in touch with Abraham during this same period (Genesis 20). So we must search for evidence of Philistine origins or habitation at approximately the end of the Chalcolithic (Ghassul IV) in Palestine.
And he promised: “All these questions will be faced”.
- The Eastern Scenario
Whilst Dr. Osgood now turns his attention to Mesopotamia, from whence he believes the entire eastern coalition described in Genesis 14 had originated, I would modify this in light of Habermehl’s argument (already referred to) that “Shinar” was not Sumer in Mesopotamia. However, what Osgood has to say about the archaeological period of Chedorlaomer, the Elamite leader of this coalition, I consider to be well worthy of consideration:
The Mesopotamian complex of Chedor Laomer
Ghassul IV corresponds in Mesopotamia to the period known as the Jemdat-Nasr/ Uruk period, otherwise called Protoliterate (because it was during this period that the archaeologists found the first evidence of early writing). Ghassul IV also corresponds to the last Chalcolithic period of Egypt, the Gerzean or pre-Dynastic period (see Figure 7). Let us look, therefore, at both of these geographically and archaeologically, and see what we find.
|Figure 7. Correlation of national archaeological periods.|
Uruk is so called because it refers to a culture associated with the archaeological site called Warka (Uruk of Mesopotamian history or biblical Erech – Genesis 10:10) in the land of Sumer or biblical Shinar (see Figure 8), and we note that one of the kings of the Mesopotamian confederacy came from Shinar, namely Amraphel.
Jemdat Nasr is a site in northern Sumer, northeast of Babylon …. It is a site that was found to have a pottery with similarities to the culture of Elam and corresponding in time to the later phases of the Uruk culture.
We have in Mesopotamia, therefore, archaeological evidence that there was a period in which the Uruk culture, and an Elamite culture typified by Jemdat Nasr, were in some sort of combination, and this corresponds to the period in Palestine when the Ghassul culture disappeared. The writing of this period does not allow us to recognise at this point any particular kings from contemporary records for it is undeciphered, but all that is known archaeologically is in agreement with the possibility of a combine of nations of the description of Genesis 14 existing. Considering the war-like attitudes of Sumer and Elam in later years this is all the more remarkable, for no other period of Sumer/Elamite relationship accepts the possibility of such a semi-benevolent relationship.
Archaeology in Iran. in the plain of Susiana, has demonstrated a resurgent Elamite culture contemporary with Jemdat Nasr in Mesopotamia,9 and this fits the biblical suggestion of a dominant Chedorlaomer (Genesis 14).
Considering the fact that the Bible allows the interpretation of Chedorlaomer being the chief of the combine of kings, one could even theorise that Jemdat Nasr may have been a site deliberately built by the Elamite king to assist control of the region of Sumer, but that remains highly speculative.
We have then so far, in summary, the following evidence as a witness that the end of the Chalcolithic in Palestine was during the days of Abraham:-
- A fit on the archaeological table previously presented that corresponds.
- Positive identification of a culture, corresponding exactly geographically to the biblical story, which disappeared from the scene at that period of time in Palestine and Trans Jordan.
- Archaeological evidence in Mesopotamia which is consistent with a combination of Sumerian and Elamite kings, and which definitely allows the possibility of other confederates.
[End of quotes]
Thanks to this new research, as I just wrote “a whole world panorama had been opened”. Biblically, the patriarch Abram, Melchizedek of Salem, and the four eastern kings, could now be correlated with all of the following, from Egypt to Elam:
end of the Chalcolithic (Ghassul IV);
Uruk period, otherwise called Protoliterate;
last Chalcolithic period of Egypt, the Gerzean or pre-Dynastic period.
Dr. Albright’s radical synchronisation of the prototypical pharaoh, Menes, with one of the Akkadian dynasty’s most celebrated potentates, Naram-Sin, coupled with Dr. Osgood’s archaeological argument for the era of Menes being approximately contemporaneous with Abram, has turned the conventional biblico-history right on its head.
Obviously the era of Abram was situated, according to this archaeological reconstruction, at a very early phase of world history, corresponding to approximately late pre-dynastic Egypt whose ending is conventionally dated to c. 3100 BC.
We read as follows about Egypt’s Gerzean culture – which further correlates with Naqada II and Al Ma’adi – at http://www.britannica.com/topic/Gerzean-culture
Gerzean culture, also called Naqādah II culture, predynastic Egyptian cultural phase given the sequence dates 40–65 by Sir Flinders Petrie and later dated c. 3400–c. 3100 bce. Evidence indicates that the Gerzean culture was a further development of the culture of the Amratian period, which immediately preceded the Gerzean. Centred primarily at Naqādah and Hierakonpolis in Upper Egypt, Gerzean culture was contemporary with that at Al-Maʿādī in the north and was characterized by a buff-coloured pottery with pictorial decorations in dark red paint; the use of a tubular drill with abrasive for stonecutting; pear-shaped mace heads; ripple-flaked flint knives; and an advanced metallurgy. Toward the end of the period, pictographic writing on pottery, slate palettes, and stone appeared, under kings employing pharaonic iconography. Contact with western Asia during this time may have inspired the building of mud-brick niched architecture, the use of cylinder seals, and the adoption of certain ornamental motifs.
The Dynastic culture, which immediately followed the Gerzean, developed directly out of the Gerzean and the other Upper Egyptian cultures that preceded it; gradually, during the last part of the Gerzean, the rulers in Hierakonpolis were able to create not only a cultural but also a political unification of all of Egypt, ushering in the successive dynasties of pharaonic Egypt.
[End of quote]
Dr. Osgood has rightly located the biblical incident of Abram and the invasion of the eastern kings to the approximate time of king Narmer and the beginning of Egyptian dynastic history (op. cit.):
We have placed the end of the Chalcolithic of the Negev, En-gedi, Trans Jordan and Taleilat Ghassul at approximately 1870 B.C., being approximately at Abraham’s 80th year. Early Bronze I Palestine (EB I) would follow this, significantly for our discussions. Stratum V therefore at early Arad (Chalcolithic) ends at 1870 B.C., and the next stratum, Stratum IV (EB I), would begin after this.
Stratum IV begins therefore some time after 1870 B.C.. This is a new culture significantly different from Stratum V.112
Belonging to Stratum IV, Amiram found a sherd with the name of Narmer (First Dynasty of Egypt),10, 13 and she dates Stratum IV to the early part of the Egyptian Dynasty I and the later part of Canaan EB I.
And his interpretation of this archaeological data has led Osgood to the conclusion that the biblical Pharaoh at the time of Abram (or Abraham) was either a late pre-dynastic ruler, or Narmer, or Menes (who may or may not have been Narmer):
The chronological conclusion is strong that Abraham’s life-time corresponds to the Chalcolithic in Egypt, through at least a portion of Dynasty I of Egypt, which equals Ghassul IV through to EB I in Palestine. The possibilites for the Egyptian king of the Abrahamic narrative are therefore:-
- A late northern Chalcolithic king of Egypt, or
- Menes or Narmer, be they separate or the same king (Genesis 12:10-20).
Of these, the chronological scheme would favour a late Chalcolithic (Gerzean) king of northern Egypt, just before the unification under Menes.
Thus the Egyptian Dynastic period would start approximately 1860 B.C.
[End of quote]
Whilst such a conclusion – though Osgood was not yet able to be fully definitive (1. or 2.) – must come very close to the truth of the matter, I have, in a recent series of articles, ventured to distinguish pharaoh Menes from Narmer, both personally and nationally.
And I owe this development (if such it be) to the research of then Dr. W.F. Albright (read on).
The first article in this new series basically followed the contours of Dr. Osgood’s archaeological re-setting of Abraham (Abram), thus enabling me to make this connection:
Narmer a Contemporary of Patriarch Abraham
Then, in Part Two, inspiration from Dr. Albright led me tentatively to propose that Narmer, far from being Pharaoh of Egypt, was the Akkadian potentate, Naram-Sin, who, Albright claimed, had actually fought against pharaoh Menes (often considered to have been the dynastic founder of Egypt):
Narmer a Contemporary of Patriarch Abraham. Part Two: Narmer as Naram Sin.
Albright had estimated that the “Mani lord of Magan” whom Naram-Sin claimed to have smote, could not have been any petty ruler, given that Naram-Sin called him “mighty” (… Mannu dannu šar Magan). (“Menes and Naram-Sin”, JEA, Vol. 6, No. 2, Apr., 1920). And so Albright wrote (p. 89):
The fact that king Mannu here is called dannu, ‘mighty’, is very important, as no other of the princes conquered by Narâm-Sin has this honorific title in his inscriptions except the latter himself who, in common with the others of his dynasty, affixes dan(n)u … to his name: Narâm-Sin dan(n)u … Narâm-Sin, the mighty …. The lord of Magan must have been a powerful ruler to receive so illustrious an appellative.
[End of quote]
I felt impelled to celebrate this sensational correlation in a new article:
Dr. W.F. Albright’s Game-Changing Chronological Shift
Dr. Albright’s radical synchronisation of the prototypical pharaoh, Menes, with one of the Akkadian dynasty’s most celebrated potentates, Naram-Sin, coupled with Dr. Osgood’s archaeological argument for the era of Menes being approximately contemporaneous with Abram, has turned the conventional biblico-history right on its head. No wonder Osgood had sensed: “A need for a re-evaluation. In no way can it be said that the times of Abraham have been established. Moreover, there is much about the presently accepted archaeological time slot which makes one feel quite uneasy”.
What all of this means, numerically speaking, is that Egypt has been conventionally dated about a millennium too early in relation to Naram-Sin of Akkad (c. 2200 BC, conventional), who has, in turn, been dated about 300 years too early in relation to biblical Abram (c. 1900 BC). The conventional system must inevitably lead to biblical minimalisation!