Friday, August 7, 2015

Layers of History in the Land of Israel (Part I)

Hattusas, Capital of the Hittite Empire and the Oldest civilization
The hunt for truth is deep core both to those who believe and to those who are still seeking. At its very heart is the urgency to validate what you believe or disbelieve.

Here, shown on the left is Hattusas, the capital of the Hittite Civilization, the oldest known Empire. Ezekiel's polemic invective underlines the origin of the Jews to these Hittites (Ezekiel 16: 1-3).

Now, tracing the dawn of history that connects with Abraham (Gen 5 & 11), the journeys of the Patriarchs, the formation of the 12 tribes, the spiritual vacillation in the time of Judges, followed by the Monarchy and the subsequent divided kingdoms of Judah & Israel in the Old Testament is to discover that it is pock-marked with the pot-holes of different cultures and history. Negotiating through these cultures, their languages, prevalent customs, taboos and myths play a critical role in understanding how the Bible texts differed or resonated from other texts written during the same periods. Some thick books are entirely devoted to this subject, and vast volumes of technical journals are available. In fact it is impossible to properly understand some sections of the Old Testament, without a parity assessment with extra-Biblical sources and archaeological discoveries.  And all this is irrevocably connected with available documentation in the ancient written records. Technically, it is impossible to escape the fact that the Bible is a historical document.

The most ancient written records were in various forms as inscriptions on clay tablets, pots (ostraca), papyri and parchment. The earliest was Anatolian as seen in the form of logophonetic Luwian Hieroglyphs, discovered at Hattusas (near present day Boghazkoy in Turkey). Actual writing, not hieroglyphs, is seen in the Sumerian texts (Southern Mesopotamia) dating between 3500 – 3000 BC. It arose from long distance communication necessitated by trade. The exception is Enheduanna, the Akkadian poet (2285-2250 BC). She is the world’s first author known by name and was the daughter of Sargon of Akkad (Sargon the Great). Interestingly, the British archaeologist Sir Leonard Wooley found the now-famous Enheduanna calcite disc in his excavations at the Sumerian site of Ur, in 1927, which was also the city of Abraham (Gen 12).  It was Sumerian mathematicians, who devised the sixty-minute hour that still rules our lives. Of course, there is also the well known Hammurabi’s Code of Law and it is dated at 1754 BC.

Both the Luwian texts and Hittite texts are part of the Indo-European group of languages, based on the evidence in historical linguistics. As a result they are considered as precursors to English, German, Sanskrit, Hindi, Bengali, Gujarati etc.

James Pritchard’s “Ancient Near Eastern Texts” is an exhaustive, technical and archaeological compendium of all the early texts of this region. Originally printed in 1969, it is now updated and available in its III edition. However, today much of this information is easily verifiable and available on the internet. So here I provide just a brief outline of the slices of Israel's history and also provide some clues to trace further data on extra-biblical sources. Some recent books of great value provide geographical information that is chronologically arranged and updated with archaeological discoveries:
  • William Schlegel, Satellite Bible Atlas: Historical Geography of the Bible
  • Anson F. Rainey & R. Steven Notley, A Sacred Bridge: Carta’s Atlas of the Biblical World
Thus, the whole the history of the Levant can be sliced into the following categories up to the present. These slices outline only periods of occupation and control in Palestine, and not the actual periods of their power globally:
  1. Mesopotamian Migration (2125 to 1700 BC)
  2. Egyptian Settlement and Slavery (1700-1447 BC)
  3. Exodus and Settlement in Palestine (1407-722 BC)
  4. Neo-Assyrian Period (722-609 BC)
  5. Neo-Babylonian Exile (597-539 BC)
  6. Medo-Persian Period (539-330 BC)
  7. Greek Period (333-30 BC)
  8. The Roman Period (30 BC-313 AD)
  9. Byzantine Period (313-638 AD)
  10. Islamic Occupation (638- 1098 AD)
  11. Crusader Period (1091-1259 AD)
  12. Mameluke Period (1260 -1516 AD)
  13. Ottoman Empire (1517-1917 AD)
  14. British Mandate (1917-1948)
  15. Statehood of Independent Israel (Since 1948)

I will continue with more detail in my next blog on each of these sections. The first 8 sections cover the ground in which the texts of the Bible were written.

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