Tuesday, May 19, 2009
A lot of myth, especially of the National Epic variety, is based in some amount of truth. The events as recorded probably didn’t happen in most cases, but that doesn’t mean absolutely nothing like those events happened. In the case of history this might not be such a big deal. But in the case of, say, the Jewish Bible, wherein the non-historical event becomes a lynch-pin in the story of the religious identity things get more complicated. Then, of course, when Christianity comes along and co-opts the story as part of its own tale, a whole new layer of problems is added to the mix. I started thinking about this last week when I popped in to Dwindling in Unbelief and left a random comment about ancient Egyptian chariot tactics. This is, apparently, something I know a bit about. Either way, the post was about the logistics of the Exodus. The story of the Egyptians keeping Jewish slaves numbering 600,000 men and, therefore, probably a number of slaves that actually adds up to close to three million is, quite simply, absurd. There is, for one thing, absolutely no evidence that there were Hebrew slaves in Egypt at any time. Tradition says the Pharaoh of the Exodus was Ramses II. Ol’ Rammy, as his friends called him exactly once before getting killed for daring to give familiar nicknames to an actual god on Earth, was a Pharaoh of the New Kingdom. Studies indicate that the population of Egypt during the New Kingdom was somewhere around three to five million. This means that the Biblical numbers of Hebrews are, quite simply, impossible. That and the fact that there’s no way a three million strong band of refugees would have spent forty years wandering about in the Sinai. No, something else was going on there. I have a theory. During a period that included the time of Ramses II Egypt was hit by a mysterious band called “the Sea Peoples.” Egyptian records indicate that ultimately Ramses III beat back the Sea People, who then settled in the Levant, which was just fine by Ol’ Rammy, Jr., since they were another buffer between Egypt and its mortal enemy, the Hittites. Now, historians seem to think that the arrival of the Sea People coincided with the start of the Philistinian kingdoms in Canaan. Exodus indicates that the Philistines were already there when the Hebrews showed up. This is entirely plausible if we look at the records of the New Kingdom and see that there were many different references to Sea People across the reign of several different Pharaohs. The interesting thing, too, is that this period of unrest and reference to Sea People coincides with a complete re-ordering of the Mediterranean. This was the time of the Dorian Invasion, a massive migration of people from somewhere around the Danube to Greece at about the time of the fall of Mycenae. The Dorian Invasion is often used to explain the transition from Mycenaean Greece to Classical Greece, since there are key cultural and linguistic differences between the people of the two ages. There are also some interesting indications in the Illiad that the Greeks of Homer’s time simply did not understand Mycenaean culture all that well. Either way, we find an interesting collection of coincidental events in a period of a century or two leading up to 1200 BCE: the fall of Troy, the fall of Mycenae, the fall of the Minoan civilization, the fall of the Hittite civilization, the wholesale replacement of culture groups around the Levant and Anatolia, the Biblical Exodus, and the documentation in Egypt of successive invasions by the Sea People. There’s also incidental information, such as the existence of what appear to by Mycenaean artifacts in Philistia and descriptions of the Sea People that are quite similar to descriptions of Mycenaeans. I, therefore, have a theory. It’s not necessarily correct, but it’s a theory: The Exodus is actually the story of the Sea People. There’s a mass migration, whether we’re talking Dorians, Trojans, or Greeks and Minoans fleeing from the Dorians or seeking to colonize or conquer Egypt I cannot say. There’s a brief time in Egypt. There’s a move from Egypt to the Levant. Interestingly enough, too, there are stories in Joshua, Judges, and Kings about intrigues between the Jews, Egyptians, and Hittites. This would be consistent with the role of the Levant as a buffer territory between the two great empires of the area. There was an existing Semitic population in the Levant at the time of the New Kingdom in Egypt, too. We can probably place a Hebrew or proto-Hebrew population in and among those groups. Meanwhile, the Pentateuch was not written until the Babylonian Captivity some six centuries after the supposed events. There is a strong possibility, then, that the stories of the migratory Sea People were mixed in with the legends of the Semitic populations and what came out was the Exodus. This is, as I said, speculation on my part. However, we have plenty of evidence of mass displacement over a certain period of time and a specific geographic space. We do not, however, have any evidence that the Biblical Hebrew population was involved. It is, therefore, worthwhile to read between the lines and see if there are any alternate explanations that fit the data we have on hand. Also, this is a decidedly short post for me. Weird.