Is Rohl's chronology inaccurate?

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A reply to BGA

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The editors of 'Bijbel, Geschiedenis en Archeologie' (BGA) are to be thanked for their detailed criticisms concerning the New Chronology. Critical re-assessments are useful and necessary. We are well aware of the fact that the reconstruction of ancient history before 664 BC - a most reliable chronological anchor point in Egyptian history when Thebes was sacked by Ashurbanipal - for the entire ancient world is an enormous if not impossible task.

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Twenty years of research is too short a period to cover all aspects of such an enormous project and it is understandable that many details of Third Intermediate Period chronology and the complex synchronisms between New Kingdom Egypt and Mesopotamia have not yet been fully dealt with as yet. It has never been our aim solely to prove the New Chronology correct without question, but rather to demonstrate that there may be alternative ways to look at ancient history and at the problems relating to Israel's early history.

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In 1996 a conference organized to debate Rohl's book 'A Test of Time' was held in London, in which two proponents of the New Chronology (Rohl as egyptologist and Robert Porter as archaeologist) defended the new theory against the criticisms of two critics (Aidan Dodson (egyptologist) and Rupert Chapman (archaeologist). More recently I myself (together with a colleague from Mecklenburg-Vorpommern) am preparing a book (c. 350 pp.) in which the pros and cons (expressed by a good number of scholars) will be made accessible to the public. This year's issue (1999) of the English Journal of the Ancient Chronology Forum (JACF VIII) will also contain several articles by proponents and critics of the New Chronology theory.

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It somewhat surprises me that the editors of BGA base many of their arguments on what they have seen on television and not on what is actually written in the published material on the subject. Surely it is understood that one cannot cover all of the complexities of ancient world chronology in a TV programme which is primarily produced for a lay audience. I have therefore included a bibliography covering the most important papers on the topic in this reply. Many of the arguments and criticisms have been extensively dealt with there and so I will only briefly reply to the editors of BGA 's points here.

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I. Clarifications of the Problems involved

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What strikes me is that the editors of BGA place no significance on Rohl's three key chronological anomalies. Their alternative explanations are superficial and inconclusive.

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a. The missing Apis bulls

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From the beginning of the 21st Dynasty onwards, the royal mummies were no longer buried in the Valley of the Kings. But what does this have to do with Memphis/Saqqara and the Apis bulls? Even if the pharaohs Smendes and Amenemnisu had been unable to revive the old burial rites at Saqqara, there is no reason to believe that this situation remained unchanged throughout 21st Dynasty.

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The absence of Apis burials from the 21st Dynasty may, however, be readily explained if we assume that another line of pharaohs held sway over Memphis, whose officials served at the Lesser Vaults of the Serapeum. Shoshenk I may have continued the burial rites (as could be deduced from the embalming table at Mit Rahina). We, however, believe that the Hedjkheperre Shoshenk (contemporary of Shedsunefertem, son of Ankhefensekhmet) mentioned on this block, is a later Hedjkheperre Shoshenk (I(B) also called 'IV'), who is now thought to have reigned between Shoshenk III and Pimay [cf. A Test of Time, p. 378; Kitchen, ThIP (1996), p. xxv-vi].

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The suggestion that the Apis bulls of the 21st Dynasty were probably buried elsewhere finds no confirmation in the archaeological record and ignores the fact that the Lesser Vaults continued in use following the so-called hiatus.

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(b) The burial of a mummy in the sealed Royal Cache at Deir el-Bahri.

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The editors' explanation of Djedptahefankh's burial at the Royal Cache is also unconvincing. What evidence do they have that Djedptahefankh's place of burial was misrecorded? This argument is a complete invention unsupported by the facts [cf. A Test of Time, p. 75ff].

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b. The Date of Osorkon II's tomb at the Tanite Royal Necropolis

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The argument that Osorkon II had usurped an older tomb (perhaps that of pharaoh Smendes) is mere speculation. An inscription in Tomb I clearly states that Kapes, the mother of Osorkon II, had built this tomb for her son [A Test of Time, p. 98]. Moreover, if an older tomb had existed south of Tomb III, Psusennes' architects would have added the two extra chambers (of Wendjabaendjed and Ankhefenmut) on the northern side of the structure and not the south. However, they were unable to do this because there was an existing monument already there occupying the ground: the First Pylon of the Temple of Amun built by Osorkon II!

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But these three anomalies are not the only arguments on which the revised chronology is based. Three genealogies also support the proposition that the time between the New Kingdom and the 22nd Dynasty has to be shorter: the Khnemibre Genealogy from the Wadi Hammamat; the Memphite Priest List (which in turn can be linked to the Persian period by way of another genealogy); and the famous Ankhefenkhons Genealogy mentioned also by the editors of BGA. Our revised dates for the 22nd Dynasty are, in turn, supported by archaeological evidence from Palestine, Syria, Spain and even Mesopotamia [A Test of Time, pp. 370-371; JACF 1, pp. 60-61]. The editors of BGA, however, base their interpretation of the TIP chronology on Kitchen's work and so they are unable to consider Rohl's alternative.

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II. The Period of the 22nd Dynasty

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One cannot simply rely on Kitchen's published findings without returning to the original sources to confirm his conclusions - after all, Kitchen is merely an interpreter of evidence just like any other historian. The editors of BGA argue for instance on p. 3 that the Nile-god statue BM 8 shows that Maatkare, the daughter of Tyetkheperre Har-Psusennes, was married to Osorkon I, the son of Shoshenk I. If this was correct, then any extensive overlap between Dynasties 21 and 22 would be excluded. However, this is NOT what the statue tells us. What it actually says is that HPA Shoshenk was the son of an Osorkon (with no prenomen to identify him). The argument that this Osorkon was Sekhemkheperre Osorkon 'I' is wholly dependent on conventional interpretation. The Osorkon on BM 8 is tentatively identified in the New Chronology with Osorkon II and not Osorkon I. Tyetkheperre Har-Psusennes becomes Manetho's Psusennes I whereas Akhepere Psusennes is transferred to later in the dynasty as Manetho's Psusennes II.

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III. The High Priests at the Temple of Karnak

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The assumption that there was an unbroken line of high priests of Amon in Thebes from the late 20th Dynasty through to the 25th Dynasty (the editors of BGA, p. 4-5; Kitchen, 1996, p. xliv) is unfounded. This line is a modern historical reconstruction. Rohl has already demonstrated (in 1986) that only the offices of HPAs Yuput (son of Shoshenk I) and Menkheperre (21st Dynasty) overlap in the New Chronology model. HPA Yuput was not attested in the Karnak Annals or in the Nile Level Texts and only appears in the victory inscriptions of Shoshenk I. Hence he may not have been officially recognized by the Theban high priesthood. HPAs Yuwelot and Smendes were not sons of Osorkon I but again, as the texts tell us, sons of “an Osorkon” (again prenomen not given) [cf. Rohl, 1986,1, p. 22]. We again argue that it is Osorkon II who is being referred to. Rohl suggests that HPA Psusennes (21st Dynasty) had died by the 5th year of Osorkon II. So the line of known HPAs from this period does not contradict the new chronological model. Even if there had been overlaps - why should this be a problem? We all know that there were overlaps of HPAs during the 21st Dynasty (HPA Menkheperre and HPA Pinudjem II) and in the 22nd Dynasty (HPA Osorkon B - i.e. the later Pharaoh Osorkon III - and HPA Harsiese) [cf. K. Jansen-Winkeln, 'Historische Probleme der 3. Zwischenzeit' in JEA 81 (1995), p. 139]. A number of the 22nd Dynasty royal heirs, bearing high-priestly titles, were no more than nominal HPAs, as is clear from the career of Harnakht, son of Osorkon II, who died at the tender age of nine. A plurality of kings as well as high priests during the TIP is totally in line with Libyan royal philosophy as Jansen-Winkeln has shown.

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IV. The Duration of the 22nd Dynasty

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The editors of BGA argue (p. 3) that only 85 years are left in the New Chronology to accommodate the whole 22nd Dynasty. This is a problem of their own making. Had the editors of BGA read our work properly they would have known that Shoshenk I became king in c. 823 BC (at the latest), and that we place the end of Shoshenk V's reign somewhere around 670 BC [Rohl, A Test of Time, p. 376-378] (at the earliest). Hence we give the 22nd Dynasty some 155 years. R. Porter has shown recently [this paper will appear in the German book and in JACF VIII (1999)] that the timespan between Hedjkheperre Shoshenk I and Osorkon III may have been somewhat shorter than is currently accepted (5-6 generations). Hence there could have been only 7-8 generations between Shoshenk I and Shoshenk V - and this would be more or less in agreement with the New Chronology. There is also no evidence that Osorkon I reigned for 33 years (the editors of BGA et al., p. 5). In all probability the Year 33 found on the mummy bandages of Nakhtefmut belongs to another pharaoh who would be Osorkon's contemporary in the 21st Dynasty line, i.e. Tyetkheperre Har-Psusennes, whose reign lasted c. 49 years [cf. Rohl, JACF III, pp. 57ff].

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V. Nine Generations

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Rohl has elsewhere discussed the Genealogy of Ankhefenkhons (BGA V, 4, p. 5) and shown that the reigns of Osorkon I and Ramesses II were separated by only nine generations [A Test of Time, p. 379-381]. Rohl argues that when Ipuy served at the funeral of Baenre Merenptah he was probably already an old man. Ipuy's father, Roma, had served as 2nd Prophet of Amun during the early years Ramesses II. In the conventional scheme, nine generations between Osorkon I in c. 920 BC and Ramesses' early years in the first quarter of the 13th century BC is impossible unless we are prepared to consider 38-year generations! It seems to me that the editors of BGA have ignored this striking problem. In fact, the Ankhefenkhons Genealogy strongly supports the proposal that the interval between Ramesses II and the 22nd Dynasty was considerably shorter than is currently accepted.

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VI. The Campaign of Pharaoh Shishak

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It is certainly true that the linguistic resemblance between the names Shishak and Shoshenk is striking. But this does not rule out the possibility that Shishak might be linked to another Egyptian royal name such as the hypocoristicon of Ramesses - Sisa - which was written in Akkadian (the lingua franca of the Late Bronze Age) as Shesha [cf. the Hittite treaty's Riamashesha and Shesha-type names in the Amarna Letters - see: Van der Veen on Shishak in the German Book (forthcoming), and in JACF VIII (forthcoming)]. The final qoph in Hebrew may be explained as a wordplay - a phenomenon frequently attested in the biblical record (linking it to the geminated Personal Name 'Shashaq' and the Hebrew verb 'shaqaq' - 'the one who rushes [upon the spoils]' - or to 'Shish[a]q' - Byssus-man). John Bimson has shown that the campaigns of Shishak and Shoshenk are completely contradictory [JACF VI, pp. 19-32].

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To argue that Jerusalem is not mentioned in the Shoshenk campaign simply because it was not conquered does not make sense. If Jerusalem had paid tribute, then the Egyptians would certainly have considered this town to be under Egyptian control [Bimson, p. 27]. Besides the biblical texts refers to the plundering of Jerusalem, not the paying of tribute. Moreover, in 2 Chronicles 12:8 we are explicitly told that the Judeans served the king of Egypt. Why did the editors of BGA ignore this verse?

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VII. Did Ramesses II conquer Jerusalem?

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In my view, the city of Shalem conquered by Ramesses II in his Year 8 cannot be identified with any other city in Palestine other than Jerusalem ('city of Shalem'). The inscription on the north pylon of the Ramesseum probably does not list the cities in geographical sequence but rather as highlights of the campaign. Ramesses did indeed take the cities of Merom, Kerep, etc, but this does not mean that he could not have taken a city in the south on his way back to Egypt or during his expedition against Moab.

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The editors of BGA are right to state that Pharaoh Seti I, Ramesses' predecessor, campaigned in Jordan and Syria. In the New Chronology this would have been during the latter years of Solomon's reign. This part of Solomon's reign is little attested in the Bible, yet we read that it was the time when Solomon fell 'from glory' in the eyes of his own people. During this period he seems to have had several foreign enemies [1 Kings 11:14ff and 12:4ff]. But why could Seti not have acted as a friend and ally of Solomon, with Bethshan as an Egyptian fort and trading station [R. Porter, 'Shishak - Ramesses II or Ramesses III' in C&CR XVI (1994), pp. 11-12].

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Amongst the Egyptian funerary artefacts at St. Etienne monastry in Jerusalem, Professor Gabriel Barkay discovered a heart-scarab bearing the cartouche of Seti (presumably Seti I). Rohl argues that these artefacts belonged to Solomon's Egyptian queen [A Test of Time, pp. 181ff]. This princess (a daughter of Haremhab?) seems to have died during the reign of Seti I.

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VIII. The Amarna Letters

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The editors of BGA argue that Labayu was king of Shechem. De Vaux demonstrated long ago that there is no positive proof that Shechem was indeed Labayu's capital [The Early History of Israel, Vol. 2 (1978), p. 801; Newgrosh et al., 'The el-Amarna Letters, p. 48]. There is only one reference to the 'land of Shechem' [EA 289] where it is said that Labayu had assigned quarters in the land of Shechem to his Habiru-soldiers, probably in return for military service. This only indicates that the hill country around Shechem was situated within Labayu's borders. In fact, Labayu owned many towns, two of which (including his paternal town) were captured by his enemies early in his reign [EA 252].

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The editors of BGA argue that the Books of Samuel know nothing of an Egyptian hegemony in Canaan at the time of Saul. But likewise, the Books of Kings do not mention that Jehu, Joash and Manasseh paid tribute to their foreign overlord, the king of Assyria - something which we only learn from contemporary Assyrian records. During the Amarna Period Egypt itself had become relatively weak and had to rely on its vassals to secure stability in the region.

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Like Labayu, Saul did not know about his son's (Jonathan's) allegiance to the 'Habiru-rebels' (under the leadership of the bandit David who lived as a soldier of fortune in the hills of Judah) [cf. 1 Samuel 22:6ff and 23:16ff].

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Although the original plan had been to send Labayu alive to Pharaoh, Labayu was killed on the battlefield near Jezreel [EA 245]. In all probability, Labayu was killed by the forces of the king of Gath who reports in EA 366 that he had killed the Habiru (sing.). Various scholars believe that the Habiru chieftain concerned was Labayu. It is therefore untrue to say that only the people of (the Land of) Gina were responsible for Labayu's death.They quite likely played an important role in the last hours of Labayu's life. We have argued that they betrayed Labayu/Saul and that their betrayal enabled Labayu's enemies to take their chariots up onto the gentler southern slopes of Gilboa.

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We believe that the two unnamed sons of Labayu were Mutbaal/Ishbaal and David (the king's son-in-law), who acted as allies immediately after Saul's death until civil war broke out between them. On the other hand, it is also possible that Ishbaal acted as an ally of David during the last phase of David's kingship in Hebron. At this time David was apparently still a vassal of the Philistines, which seems also to be in agreement with EA 287 and EA 289. It is true that Mutbaal governed the city of Pella [EA 256]. Pella, however, is located near to Khirbet Mahna which we (in agreement with a number of earlier scholars) identify as biblical Mahanaim. Pella was inhabited both during the early Iron Age and the Late Bronze Age. It is hard to believe that Ishbaal did not also hold sway over this strategic city, situated as it is on an important route between the Jezreel valley and the King's Highway. Some of the later kings of Israel resided at several royal cities; for example Jerobeam I at Shechem, Penuel and possibly Tirzah; and Ahab at Samaria and Jezreel. The same appears to be true for a number of Syrian kings. There is therefore no problem with Mutbaal/Ishbaal writing from Pella.

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It is also true that the Philistines are not called 'Peleset' in the Amarna Letters, but John Bimson has conclusively argued that the Philistines had already settled in southern Palestine towards the end of the MBA and had largely adopted Canaanite culture during the LBA [JACF IV pp. 58-76]. Hence the Amarna Period kings residing in Gath, Ashkelon, etc. may well have been the 'Philistine' seranim known from the Bible.

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IX. The Archaeology of Late Bronze Age Palestine

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The editors of BGA argue that Hazor was a Canaanite city during the LBA and hence cannot have been governed by Solomon. But what do the editors of BGA mean by Canaanite? The biblical narrative makes it abundantly clear that Solomon built high places for a great number of foreign deities [1 Kings 11:5ff].

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It cannot also be excluded that some of the statues representing the storm god are, infact, images of Yahweh who is represented in the Bible as a storm god defeating his enemies Mot and Litanu [Psalms 18; 74; 89; 93, etc.]. Jeroboam also seems to have made golden bull statues to represent Yahweh 'the God who brought Israel out of Egypt'. Furthermore, Keel and Uehlinger have argued that El and Yahweh may be represented in the later iconography of ancient Israel [Göttinnen, Götter und Gottessymbole, Freiburg i. Br. 1995, p. 199ff]. Glen Taylor has even suggested that Yahweh was worshipped as a solar deity. The editors of BGA do not appear to know any of this literature.

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The statue of Ramesses VI at Megiddo need not necessarily indicate foreign occupation of Israel by Egypt. The pharaohs Shoshenk I and Osorkon I sent their statues as gifts to the kings of Byblos (Abibaal and Elibaal) who, in turn, dedicated the statues to the divine Lady of Byblos. There is no suggestion that Byblos was occupied by Egypt at this time.

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That Dor, Ashkelon and Ashdod (the same is true for Gezer) were captured by the Sea Peoples at the beginning of Iron Age I does not contradict the New Chronology. Bimson has shown that there may have been a further wave of Aegean newcomers during the reign of Joram of Judah, when Philistine power had once more increased. Philistines together with Arabs attacked Jerusalem [2 Chron. 21:16-17; 22:1] and this was around 840 BC [Bimson, JACF IV, p. 74].

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X. Mesopotamian Chronology

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In closing, a few thoughts on the Assyrians and Babylonians who were in contact with Egypt during the New Kingdom Period. Mesopotamian chronology is certainly a problem for the New Chronology. We have never denied this. The problem is a difficult one, but progress is being made. Work is currently underway for revising Mesopotamian Chronology [cf. the two essays by Dr. Bernard Newgrosh on the Assyrian Chronology in JACF VIII (forthcoming)]. At the moment, however, removing 300 years from Assyrian and Kassite chronology is proving to be a daunting challenge. We still require an uncanonical Ashuruballit as a contemporary of Akhenaton at around 1010 BC. Yet the Eponym of 1007 BC (reign of Ashurrabi II) does mention a fragmentary name 'Ashur[u]ba[lit]' [KAV 21] who may be the Ashurubalit we are looking for. A Babylonian letter confirms that the political situation in Assyria at this time was confused and that there were at least two contemporary rulers.

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I have shown [C&CR XV (1993), pp. 33-35; also P. James, Centuries of Darkness, pp. 340ff] that the kings Tukulti-Ninurta [KbO XVIII:25; KUB III:74; KUB XXVI:70] and Shalmaneser [KUB XXIII:99 and XXIII:88] received letters from the Hittite king Tudhaliyas IV. These Assyrian rulers may in reality have been Tukulti-Ninurta II (rather than Tukulti-Ninurta I) and Shalmaneser III (rather than Shalmaneser I).

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I would just add that W. Mitchell's astronomical retrocalculations for ancient Babylon (based on the computer programs produced by Professor Peter Huber) appear strongly to support the New Chronology [cf. W. Mitchell, JACF III, pp. 7-26; A Test of Time, pp. 237 ff].

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Again I would like to stress that I appreciate the criticisms raised by the editors of BGA. It is to be hoped that they and other critics will take the time to consult the more detailed discussions mentioned in the bibliography below.

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drs. P.G. van der Veen

Latest update: april 17 2019