Rohl's New Chronology does not accommodate the Philistines

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Reply to R.M. Porter

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If David Rohl's chronology would be correct, it would have far-reaching consequences for the history of the Philistine cities. Whole archaeological eras would be moved to much later dates. According to Rohl the Late Bronze period would no longer run from 1470 to 1180 B.C., but from 1220 to 820 B.C..

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Excavations of Late Bronze strata in the Philistine cities of Ashkelon, Ashdod and Ekron have produced only Canaanite pottery, not a single shard of Philistine pottery. The three cities were destroyed in about 1180 B.C., at the end of the Late Bronze period. The new chronology would date this event to 820 B.C..

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Archaeologists and historians are almost unanimous in their view that the Philistines tried to invade Egypt in the eighth year of Ramesses III, in 1177 B.C., but were defeated by the Egyptian army in the north-eastern part of the Nile delta. This battle is vividly described in tableaus on the walls of the temple of Medinet Habu, west of Luxor. It is the general view that the Philistines afterwards settled in the cities of Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron, and Gaza.

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Strata dating from directly after the destruction of these Canaanite cities have produced pottery of the Mycenaean IIIC type. The usual explanation is that this pottery was manufactured by small groups belonging to the Sea Peoples who had arrived in south-western Canaan previous to the great Philistine invasion of 1175 B.C. Strata dating from the days of Ramesses III appear to be rich in Mycenaean IIIC:1b pottery.

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Finkelstein however believes that the Philistines did not settle in Canaan until 1135 B.C. According to Porter however Ashdod and Ashkelon were inhabited by Philistines already in the Late Bronze era and the Peleset who fought against Ramesses III arrived in about 840 B.C..

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The facts are that Ashdod and Ashkelon were destroyed at the end of the Late Bronze period (c. 1200 B.C.) and that the stratum following directly on the destruction stratum con- tained monochromic Mycenaean IIIC:1b pottery, made of local clay. It must have been manufactured by Philistine immigrants who came in from the Aegean. Philistine bi-colour pottery came into use shortly later (c. 1150 B.C.), apparently as a mix of Canaanite, Egyptian and Mycenaean traditions.

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The Philistines who settled in Ashkelon and Ekron in the eighth year of Ramesses III built new, well organized cities on the ruins of the Canaanite Late Bronze cities, and introduced an entirely different culture, characterized by Mycenaean IIIC:1b pottery.

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This type of pottery has also been found in large quantities on Cyprus, in settlements apparently built by invaders from outside the island. They most probably belonged to the Sea Peoples, who were well known as destroyers, and afterwards rebuilders, of Late Bronze cities.

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It appears that Mycenaean IIIB pottery from Greece stopped  being imported at the end of the Late Bronze period; it was succeeded immediately by the monochromic Mycenaean IIIC:1b pottery characteristic of the recently arrived Philistines.

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The inhabitants of Ashkelon, who are clearly depicted as Canaanites on a relief of Merneptah, are called Philistines by Porter. He presumes that the Peleset, after being defeated by Ramesses II, settled themselves in Ashkelon and mixed peacefully with the original inhabitants. If this is what happened, how then does Porter explain the thick destruction stratum that marks the violent transition of Late Bronze to Iron I as found in Ashkelon and Ashdod ?

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Israelite Timna

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Several cities lying outside the central Philistine area, such as Timna (Tel Batash), Gezer and Tel Qasile, lack any trace of the Mycenaean IIIC:1b pottery made by the Peleset.

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This absence is easily explained within the usual chronology, where the archaeological data fully correspond with those from the Bible. Philistines did not settle in Timna until their area had expanded, and by that time they manufactured bichromic pottery, dating from the late 12th century B.C. Timna was a Philistine city in the days of Samson (c. 1080 B.C.; Judges 14). In the Iron II period it was an Israelite city (stratum IV), since it had been conquered by David in about 1000 B.C. Timna was destroyed in 925 B.C., most likely by pharao Shishak, and remained uninhabited till about 760 B.C., when king Uzziah, or Azariah, of Juda had it rebuilt (stratum III, Iron II). Uzziah conquered the area around the cities of Gath, Jabneh and Ashdod (2 Chron. 26:6). On the handles of broken jars the 'lmlk' inscription - 'belonging to the king' - has been found. Jars of this kind were manufactured in haste under king Hizkiah (727-698 B.C.) when an Assyrian invasion was imminent.

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If the new chronology would be correct, a new Philistine tradition would have developed in the existing Philistine cities as a result of the arrival of new immigrants. The Philistine people started to manufacture Mycenaean IIIC:1b pottery. Why then is this pottery absent in Timna, which was a Philistine city already in the days of Samson ?

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Stratum VII dates from Late Bronze IIA, in Rohl's view the time of Amenhotep III, Amenhotep IV, Horemheb, and also Samson. If this dating would be correct, stratum VI would be a Philistine stratum containing Late Bronze pottery; it would be followed by pottery from the Peleset, the new immigrants. In Timna however no trace of Philistine pottery has been found in strata older than stratum V.

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The new chronology would imply that Timna became an Israelite city after 700 B.C., i.e. in stratum IV. During the next century or longer it remained uninhabited. In stratum III, definitely after 500 B.C. in the new chronology, pottery has been found that was characteristic of the days of Hizkiah, who reigned till about 698 B.C.!

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All this is evidence that Rohl's chronology and Porter's statements do not have a sound basis to stand on.

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J.G. van der Land

Latest update: april 17 2019