Monday, April 23, 2012

The Hyksos in Tradition and History

[Note: This is an essay written in the 2nd year of my degree course in Ancient History and Egyptology at University College London (1989). As a result, it does not include the latest research. However, it does give an insight into how I was thinking back then.]

The field of Tell ed-Daba/Avaris where a palace and pyramid tomb were found.

Until recently much of what had been written on the Second Intermediate Period (SIP) revolved around attempts to establish its chronology, both in relative and absolute terms. Little monumental or settlement archaeology had apparently survived upon which to draw conclusions about the social and cultural history of the period. Scholars were therefore dependent mainly on later written sources to reconstruct any sort of history of the SIP. Some of these sources were near contemporary, such as the Speos Artemidos inscription (mid-18th Dyn) – in which Hatshepsut proclaims her restoration of monuments neglected by the Asiatics of an earlier time; the Turin Canon (mid-19th Dyn) – listing the kings of the 13th to 17th Dynasties; and the Papyrus Sallier tale (late-19th Dyn) of Sekenenre and Apophis – a folk tale about the machinations of a 17th Dynasty Theban king and his contemporary, the 'Hyksos' ruler of Avaris. From several centuries later we also have the Genealogy of the Memphite Priesthood – a large block from a Sakkara tomb containing a list of priests of Ptah (and in some instances the rulers under which they served) extending back to Mentuhotep II and therefore including the SIP. Finally, of course, considerable use had to be made of the history of Egypt recorded by the Ptolemaic priest, Manetho, as handed down to us in the writings of Africanus, Eusebius and, for this period in particular, Josephus [Waddell 1971, pp. 73-99]. The only two primary source documents considered to be contemporary with the period under discussion are: the Kamose Stela describing the king's war against Auserre Apophis; and, the biography from the el-kab tomb of Ahmose, son of Ibana [Lichtheim 1976, II, pp. 12-15], who served in the army of Ahmose I and had participated in the siege and capture of Avaris – the event which finally resulted in the Hyksos expulsion from Egypt. Both these documents deal with the end of 'Hyksos' rule and we thus have no contemporary material which throws light on the events which led up to the rise of a foreign dynasty in Lower and Middle Egypt.

Recently, within the last fifteen years, we have at last begun to receive data from settlement sites of the period, and the initial results are suggesting that a new approach is needed to both our understanding of the nature of 'Hyksos' society and to the historical events related to their occupation of Egypt.

The remainder of this essay will review the corpus of material currently available to us in the late 1980s (including recent archaeological discoveries in the eastern delta) and will, in particular, attempt a new reconstruction of the famous Turin Canon papyrus fragments – a proposal which has important consequences for both the length of the SIP and the relative position of the principal 'Hyksos' dynasty.

The first of our tasks is to attempt to construct a picture of the society which occupied Egypt (and in particular the delta) in the years following the 12th Dynasty and prior to the Hyksos dominance. In other words, we shall be discussing the archaeological and textual evidence for Manetho's 13th and 14th Dynasties. Let us start with a new phenomenon which is apparently introduced on a large scale for the first time in Egyptian society during the 13th Dynasty.

The Evidence for Slavery in Egypt

The major document which has come to light concerning the Canaanite population of Egypt during the 13th Dynasty is the Brooklyn Papyrus 35.1446 [Hayes 1955], but there are also several papyri from the pyramid town of Senuseret II at Kahun, known collectively as the Illahun Papyri [Griffith 1898]. In the case of the former, out of a total holding in one Theban estate amounting to 79 domestic slaves, no less than 45 bore Canaanite names [Kemp 1983, p. 155]. The fact that the household was located in Upper Egypt suggest that an even higher proportion might be expected for the eastern delta where Egypt adjoins Canaan. Thus it should be quite reasonable to infer that between 50% and 75% of the slave/servant population during the 13th Dynasty was of Asiatic/Canaanite origin.

Posener has noted that all the early references to Aamu (i.e. Canaanites) living in Egypt date to the period from Amenemhat III down to the mid-13th Dynasty, around the time of Neferhotep I (Turin Canon VI, 25) [Posener 1957, pp. 145-63]. The evidence further suggests that they were more numerous in the 13th Dynasty, in spite of the poverty of archaeological data for this period, compared to the relatively rich preceding dynasty [Van Seters 1966, p. 90]. In general, they seem to have assimilated well into the existing culture of Egypt. The surviving Aamu population records of the 13th Dynasty also show a greater number of female slaves to male [Hayes 1955, p. 99]. 

Asiatics entering Egypt from the tomb of Khnumhotep, Beni Hassan.

A number of texts have come to light which indicate that certain of these Aamu managed to reach high positions in the administration during the latter part of the 12th Dynasty (some also marrying Egyptian women), but that this state of affairs did not last into the late 13th Dynasty:

‘The fact that important persons in the time of Amenemhet III felt free to designate themselves as Aam or as born of an Aamt means that one can hardly consider them as slaves in the ordinary sense as in the Brooklyn Papyrus. One must therefore reckon with a deterioration in the status of Asiatics between the time of Amenemhet III and that of Neferhotep.' [Van Seters 1966, p. 91]

Van Seters also interestingly compares the Aamu of the Middle Kingdom with the Habiru, referred-to throughout the Levant from the Middle Kingdom to the el-Amarna Period [Van Seters 1966, p. 91].

Seth Worship in the Eastern Delta

An obelisk of a 'king's son' Nehesy ('the Nubian') found at Tanis [Leclant & Yoyotte 1957, pp. 50-54] has been used to establish the relative date for the beginning of the 14th Dynasty in the eastern delta. It has been almost unanimously agreed that this new dynasty arose sometime during the second half of the 13th Dynasty, whilst the kings of the latter dynasty apparently still ruled from the old 12th Dynasty royal residence of Itj-tawy south of Memphis. The argument goes something on the following lines: as artefacts for the 13th Dynasty kings succeeding Khaneferre Sebekhotep IV (Turin Canon VI, 27) have not been found in the delta, these kings must have lost control of Lower Egypt to a local dynasty which the archaeological evidence suggests was based at or near Avaris. In spite of the fact that it is an argument based on negative evidence from a region which has rarely received the archaeologists' attention until recently, this understanding of SIP history has remained the popular option. This is in no small measure due to the chronological restrictions which have been imposed upon the 13th to 17th Dynasties as a result of two key Sothic dates. By dating Year 7 of Senusret III (?) to 1830 BC (Illahun Papyrus) – and thus the end of the 12th Dynasty to 1759 BC [1]; and Year 9 of Amenhotep I to 1505 BC (Ebers Papyrus) – giving a starting date for the 18th Dynasty of 1539 BC, the SIP is restricted to just 220 years [Kitchen 1987, pp. 43-44]. Given the minimum lengths attributable to both the 13th and 14th Dynasties, as derived from the Turin Canon and Manetho, this must force an overlap between the two dynasties simply on chronological grounds.

Seth Lord of Avaris.

Returning to Nehesy, the primary candidate for founder of the 14th Dynasty, we can make certain tentative assumptions based on eastern delta archaeology. As obelisks are associated with temple facades, it would be reasonable to assume that Nehesy was involved in the construction of a temple, somewhere in the eastern delta; this is on the basis of the provenance of other Ramesside obelisks found at Tanis which have been shown to have originally come from the city of Pi-Ramesse, built at the site of the earlier city of Avaris. The obelisk is inscribed with the phrases ‘eldest royal son, Nehesy, beloved of Seth, Lord of r-3ht’ and ‘beloved of hry-s.f’ (Arsaphes). Montet has suggested that perhaps the origin of the name of the Sethroite (14th) nome is to be identified with the cult of ‘Seth Ra-akhet’ [Montet 1957, p. 199].

Royal Canon of Turin Column VIII with the name of King Nehesy at the top.

It has recently been suggested by Ahmed Osman [Sunday Times, 21st May 1989] that a newly discovered fortress town of Ramesside date, just east of the Suez Canal, may be Pi-Ramesse: the capital of the 19th and 20th Dynasties. The large 400m by 400m enclosure of Tell el-Hebua also contains an Asiatic occupation level, beneath the New Kingdom structures, which he therefore associates with Avaris. However, it is much more likely that the EAO excavator, Mohamed Abdel Maksoud, has unearthed the famous frontier town of Djaru/Sile, known to be located near Kantara, and which was undoubtedly occupied throughout most of Egypt’s history, given its strategic importance as the ‘gateway’ into the delta. That the site lies on a sand spit between salt flats and alongside the ancient pharaonic water course of the Pelusiac branch of the Nile, points clearly to el-Hebua being one of the fortress towns built to protect the principal eastern entrance into Egypt. Its large dimensions (the biggest Egyptian fort ever found) reduces the possibilities of identifying the site to either Seti I’s ‘House of the Lion’ (Karnak annals) or Djaru/Sile, both of which lay at the western end of the line of Ramesside forts.

Van Seters has persuasively argued that Ra-akhet, which means ‘gateway of the cultivation’ is to be located at Sile where cultivation and desert meet [Van Seters 1966, p. 101]. The phrase ‘beloved of Arsaphes’ gives us a further clue as to where the Nehesy obelisk may have been erected. Arsaphes was worshipped in later times at Heracleopolis Parva, capital of the 14th nome, and this too has been tentatively located at or near Sile. Thus we may postulate that Nehesy’s obelisk, and therefore the temple which it adorned, was probably erected at the Kantara fortress site where substantial remains of his time have been found. What is more, the only stelae recovered so far from el-Heboua are two bearing the name of Nehesy [2]. The implication of all this is that Nehesy, as a king’s son and heir, was charged with the protection of Egypt’s eastern frontier and that he may have resided at Sile at least for a time. Maksoud’s continuing excavations will no doubt prove to be of considerable importance and an investigation of the SIP strata at the site may well add much to our knowledge of 13th and 14th Dynasty history.

Fragments of a lintel of Nehesy found at Tell ed-Daba.

Soon after Nehesy became king, he established or enhanced the cult of ‘Seth, Lord of Avaris’ (a block of his bearing this epithet was found at Tell Moqdam – one of the two primary candidates for the Biblical Pithom). It has thus been suggested that Nehesy built a temple to Seth at Avaris which in turn is to be identified with the Canaanite temple found by Bietak at Tell ed-Daba (Stratum F/E) [Bietak 1986, p. 247]. This, however, should only be taken as a tentative suggestion. Clearly, a few monuments from the reign of Nehesy prove nothing regarding the origins of Seth-worship in the eastern delta, and, with a large part of the site as yet unexcavated, evidence might still be unearthed to show that a temple of Seth was already established and functioning at Tell ed-Daba prior to the reign of this king. It is not even absolutely certain whether the Canaanite temple was built by the Stratum F population (as seems likely) or those of the later Stratum E [Bietak 1979, p. 241-42]. Nor is it certain which of the strata represents the arrival of the main Hyksos dynasty at Avaris – any candidate from F to D/2 appears to remain a possibility [Bietak 1979, p. 237].

Professor Manfred Bietak.

Moreover, Bietak himself has tentatively postulated that a palace from Area F at ed-Daba (which is located in the equivalent stratum to Stratum G on the main tell) may be a royal palace and therefore the residence of Nehesy and his dynasty [Bietak 1986, p. 294]. If this is so, then the temple must be of a later date than the palace and would clearly have to be that constructed by the Hyksos of the 15th Dynasty – perhaps the temple of Seth built by Apophis, as related in Papyrus Sallier. With this scenario, the temple which had previously been suggested as marking the establishment Seth worship by the founding kings of the 14th Dynasty must, in fact, still await discovery at Tell ed-Daba.

The Ipuwer Papyrus

‘The Admonitions of an Egyptian Sage’, as Gardiner has called the text of Papyrus Leiden 344 (recto), is a plea to an un-named king of Egypt by one Ipuwer, who relates to his lord how the land of Egypt has degenerated into chaos. The papyrus itself was found at Memphis and, according to Gardiner, is to be dated to the 19th Dynasty at the earliest; however, the palaeography and orthography suggest that the 19th Dynasty version was a copy of an earlier 18th Dynasty text, whereas the language is typical of the Middle Kingdom. Gardiner, on somewhat tenuous grounds, proposed a date at the beginning of the First Intermediate Period (FIP) for the original story. Because of the authority he holds in the discipline of the ancient Egyptian language, his view has generally held sway ever since. On the other hand, Gardiner himself conceded that a date as late as the early 18th Dynasty could not be excluded [Gardiner 1909, pp. 3 & 18].

Van Seters has since convincingly argued that the original Ipuwer text belongs securely in the late Middle Kingdom or Second Intermediate Period [Van Seters 1966, pp. 103-20]. He has shown that the orthography and language are not typical of Old Kingdom texts and that, if Gardiner's view holds, then ‘the many intimate connections with the Middle Kingdom’ would have to be ‘considered merely as anticipations’. There are so many points of language, social structure and ethnic terminology which favour the later period that our current view of Egyptian cultural and social history would have to be turned on its head if a First Intermediate Period date is to be retained.

I shall briefly summarise Van Seter’s arguments concerning the Admonitions of Ipuwer here and rely on the reader to pursue the points in more detail in the original work. His telling observations include the following:

1. The md3yw as a pro-Egyptian military force are not attested until the Middle Kingdom [Van Seters 1966, p. 106], yet they appear in line 14:14 of the Ipuwer text as a force to be relied upon by the Egyptian authorities during troubled times [Lichtheim 1973, p. 161].

2. The term sttyw to designate Asiatics who carry the bow (with an archery target as its determinative) [Admonitions 14:11 & 15:2] is common during the Middle Kingdom but does not occur in this form in the Old Kingdom and rarely in the New Kingdom [Van Seters 1966, p. 107].

3. Winlock noted that there was a shortage of coffin wood from Syria and Lebanon near the beginning of the Second Intermediate Period [Winlock 1947, p. 101]; this is reflected in the Admonitions [3:6-8]: ‘None indeed sail north to Byblos today. What shall we do for the ’s wood (pine?) for the making of coffins?’

4. The term Keftiu (kftiw) for Crete, found in line 3:9, does not occur in the Old Kingdom and is even quite rare in the 12th Dynasty [Van Seters 1966, pp. 108-9].

5. ‘The institution of slavery, apart from a type of serfdom associated primarily with royal land estates, is not attested for the Old Kingdom. Slavery is, at the earliest, a product of the Middle Kingdom; in this period there is clear evidence for privately owned household slaves, male and female, who were considered as transferable, moveable property.’ The term hm/hmt is used seven times in the Admonitions in the context of household slaves, exactly as it is used in the slave list of the Brooklyn Papyrus which is dated to the 13th Dynasty.

In summation of his findings Van Seters makes the following statement:

‘One date seems to fit all the requirements: late Thirteenth Dynasty. The orthography and the linguistic evidence have always pointed toward this later date, and our present knowledge of the social and political history of this period confirms this opinion.’ [Van Seters 1966, p. 115]

Thus the Admonitions of Ipuwer should more justifiably be utilised in the elaboration of SIP history than the FIP. Even if one were to argue that this type of literature is of the didactic variety (like the predominantly Middle Kingdom sb3yt ‘instruction’ texts which often deal with chaos versus order), there is no reason why it should not reflect, to some degree, the conditions which Egypt found itself in at the time of the writing of the original text. In other words, Egypt was suffering from severe distress sometime during the mid-13th Dynasty/early SIP, at least partly due to the machinations of the large Asiatic population in the delta which looms large in the Admonitions.

It is therefore also my own view that Gardiner was quite wrong in his dating of this important text, and to continue to regard Ipuwer as reflecting the troubles at the end of the Old Kingdom, as most authoritative reference works still do, is to perpetuate a serious misconception concerning the nature of the era known as the First Intermediate Period and deprive the 13th Dynasty of an important document relating to the troubled conditions that generally pertained at the time. One may legitimately argue that the Admonitions has no real historical value, but this would be to ignore the obvious point that pessimistic writings tend to be born out of periods of political instability and can justifiably be used to some degree to create a picture of the era which created them. In the case of Ipuwer it is the continuous references to 'Asiatics’, who seem to be at the focus of the troubles, which can add to information from other sources pointing to a general decline during the second half of the 13th Dynasty. It has been suggested that one major element in this scenario of decline was ‘Asiatic’ expansion in the delta and this appears to be precisely the sort of political picture described in the Ipuwer Papyrus.

Hyksos Invasion or Asiatic Infiltration and Internal Coup?

Save-Soderbergh [Save-Soderbergh 1951, p. 55] and others [e.g. Alt 1959] have argued that there was no sudden invasion of Egypt by Asiatic chiefs who subsequently became the Hyksos 15th Dynasty of Manetho. They point to the ‘Asiatic’ names of rulers of Egypt found in the Turin Canon at lines IX:29 & 30 (An[a]ti = Anath (?) & Bebnem = Bnon (?)), who occur 16 places before the Hyksos kings of the 15th Dynasty (currently residing in column X), according to the accepted reconstruction of the papyrus. Thus they argue that Asiatic kings were already ruling in the eastern delta long before the main group of 6 Hyksos kings. This then contradicts Josephus’ supposed verbatim account of Manetho which tells of a sudden invasion of oppressive Asiatics ‘from Phoenicia’ [Waddell, pp. 77-91].

On the other hand, Helck has strongly supported the invasion story of Josephus and the Manethonian excerptors [Helck 1962]. He argued (before Bietak’s discoveries at Tell ed-Daba) that, by its very nature, an invasion of a civilised and established culture by nomadic groups will not necessarily appear in the stratigraphical record. He sites the Kassite conquerors of Babylonia, who were completely assimilated into the existing culture of the region and only identifiable as a new group through the evidence of later written records. He also cites the Speos Artemidos inscription of Hatshepsut as literary support of the character of Hyksos rule, less than a century after their expulsion:

‘Listen all people, as many as you may be! I have done this according to the wishes of my heart ... I have restored that which was in ruins, I have raised up that which was unfinished since the Asiatics were in the midst of Avaris of the Northland, and the barbarians were in the midst of them, overthrowing that which had been made, while they ruled without Ra’.

  Hatshepsut's Speos Artemidos temple.

This, Helck argues, is clear evidence for the veracity of the Manethonean tradition, whereas there are no native Egyptian or Syro-Palestinian sources which can be seen to contradict the Egyptian priest’s version of events – only the apparent occurrence of kings bearing Asiatic names prior to the main Hyksos dynasty.

Alt’s typically sceptical approach to Manetho views the Hyksos invasion tradition as a symptom of the later military invasions of Assyria and Persia [Alt 1959, pp. 72-98]. Thus, having rightly observed that Josephus’s ‘verbatim’ account is riddled with later additions, including the mention of Assyrians, who do not appear on the Egyptian scene until much later in 7th century Egypt, he contends that the story of a sudden invasion is a reflection of the Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal invasions of 671 and 667 BC. But can this approach really be employed to deny the substance of Manetho’s history, simply because there were other invasions between the Hyksos period and the Ptolemaic historian’s own era? The fact that peoples and places mentioned in the traditions are to be identified with political and geographical conditions nearer to Manetho’s lifetime simply shows that the writer thought of his country’s past in terms of the political topography of its recent history; but this in itself cannot deny the basic truth of the original event. The Romans did not build a garrison town at York but at ‘Eboracum’, and Julius Caesar did not cross the ‘English Channel’. Do these simple statements mean that we must reject all popular accounts of historical events simply because modern historians employ 20th-century names to describe ancient events and places? Surely in this case Alt’s reasoning is not based on a sound methodology.

Alt’s somewhat jaundiced view of ancient historical tradition also accounts for the loss to history of the Conquest narratives of the Old Testament. This sort of scholarship is partly responsible for the trend towards the so-called ‘healthy skepticism’ approach to the study of ancient history, which, in my view, has tended towards rampant gradualism. Virtually all the great traditions of invasions and population movements in the ancient world are now apparently seen as rather insipid infiltrations thanks to the Alt and Noth school of thought.

As the non-invasion view of the Hyksos period is now given prominence in the standard works on Egyptian history, the reconstruction of the surviving Turin Canon fragments proposed below, which undermines one of the principal arguments at the heart of this view, is important for the re-establishment of a counterweight to this now somewhat unbalanced debate.

The Turin Canon: A New Reconstruction

During one afternoon spent undertaking research in the Edwards Library at University College London, I chanced to come across the original publication of The Royal Canon of Turin by Alan Gardiner [Gardiner 1959]. I decided to thumb through the pages of this large format volume, just to give my brain a rest from the long and somewhat dry tome that I had been studying. Almost at once I noticed something on Plate III which struck me as very odd, for in the middle of column IX of the reconstructed papyrus, Ibscher (who undertook the second restoration) had placed one of the ancient repair patches which were otherwise consistently to be found at the top of the Canon’s columns.

Column IX (left) with the darker patch towards the bottom of the column.

The most reasonable explanation for these patches would be that, after the 19th Dynasty tax list on the recto was put into store, the top of the role had been eaten through by an insect, leaving a hole right through the document, a couple of centimetres from the top edge. When the papyrus was reused to record a copy of the kings list (on the blank verso) it was necessary to stick small patches of papyrus over the holes which had been discovered upon unrolling the papyrus. The patches thus appear at intervals of 17cms along the upper section of its length – that is except for the patch which now stands in the middle of column IX and one which remains in the collection of unplaced fragments. 

Greedy beetle!

What appeared quite obvious to me was the simple fact that in three places where one might have expected to find repair patches there were none: in the gaps at the top of columns I and IV and the left side of column IX.

Simplified layout of the Royal Canon showing positions of patches (darker).

Why then hadn’t someone suggested that the patch in the middle of column IX, and that assigned to the fragments, belonged in the gaps at the top of these columns? Surely a closer scrutiny would reveal why those who had assembled the fragments had not taken this logical step? Subsequent investigation has, however, convinced me that a serious error was made in the mounting of the Turin Canon by Ibscher [published in Farina, 1938] and later retained by Gardiner. This in turn has led to a number of false assumptions about the length of the SIP and the position of the Hyksos 15th Dynasty within that period.

Looking in detail at the two patches of concern: the one mounted in column IX bears names which Gardiner describes as ‘wholly fictitious beings’ and ‘fantastically named royalties’ [Gardiner 1959, p. 17]. They include animals and animal deities like ‘ibis/Thoth?’ (IX,17), ‘goose/Geb?’ (IX,18) and ‘Apis’ (IX,19) and the term ‘shemsu’ – a designation for the semi-divine beings of Predynastic Egypt. If any location on the papyrus were to suit these strange entries it must surely be in the space at the top of column I where, at the bottom half of the column, we find the gods and demi-gods of the prehistoric era. This would leave the patch from the unplaced fragments (containing only numerals of reign durations) to occupy either the top of column IV or the left half of the top of column IX.

Three stages of reconstruction.

By removing the patch from column IX we now find ourselves with a large gap in the middle of that column and an equally large question begging to be answered – why, in the first place, was the Canon reconstructed into eleven columns when all the pieces could be mounted in ten columns? The small fragments in column X could easily fit in the new space now available in column IX and, what is more, fragments 150 and 152 certainly do not belong at the top of column X where they currently reside, as neither is a patch (on the arguments already aired above, a patch would have to stand here). The recto tax list, on the back of the fragments placed in columns IX to XI, is ‘wholly chaotic’ (in Gardiner's words), so is useless in determining any of the positions for the fragments of the last third of the document.

Unfortunately, it seems that historians in recent years have taken the order and position of these fragments as established with some degree of certainty, and have failed to take into consideration Gardiner’s salutary remarks found in the notes of his publication of the Turin Canon:

‘Down to IX,10 of the King-list the positions of the fragments as seen in F[arina] may be regarded as on the whole certain or at least plausible, but the arrangement of the remainder of col. IX and the whole of col. X must be regarded with the utmost skepticism. The scanty traces on the recto are wholly chaotic. In our Plates the positions given by Farina or Ibscher are retained, but only in order to avoid relegating to the Unplaced a number of pieces that undoubtedly belong to this papyrus. ... With the scanty material before us we see no solution to these problems.’ [Gardiner 1959, p. 17]

It is thus difficult to understand why the two great modern works on the chronology of the Turin Canon, those of von Beckerath [1964] and Malek [1982], have made use of the existing mounting of columns IX and X to develop their arguments.

  Columns VI to IX of the Royal Canon of Turin.

It is my contention that Ibscher’s column X is superfluous, resulting in an artificial stretching of the Canon (and therefore the chronology) by one column of 25 to 30 kings. Column XI, containing some of the 17th Dynasty rulers, should therefore be renamed as column X and brought into contact with a newly reconstructed column IX. It is the latter to which we should now turn in order to relocate the fragment bearing the total for the Hyksos dynasty which previously resided in the now defunct column X.

The Hyksos fragments reunited.

The reconstruction of column IX is best explained by reference to the illustration above. The top two fragments (105 & 108) have been retained in their original position. Similarly, fragment 112 has been left where Ibscher mounted it although it must be said that there is no evidence for doing so (but see below). The patch fragments 41, 41a and 42 have been relocated to column I, and in their place is positioned the un-numbered fragment bearing the name of the last Hyksos ruler, Khamudy, followed by the total line: ‘6 rulers of foreign lands for 100[+x years]’ (this fragment will be designated the number 112a in order to simplify references to it in the following discussion). Beneath this is placed the small fragment 22 from the old column X, simply to fill the gap above fragments 123 and 122 which have been retained in their original positions. Now let us look at the results of this arrangement to see what information can be gleaned.

The place to start is with the central fragments 112 and 112a which form the focus of this new reconstruction. What we now have is the following:

[...] – Line IX,14

Dual King [...] – Line IX,15

Dual King Anak[...] – Line IX,16

Dual King Ia[...] – Line IX,17

Dual King Ap[...] – Line IX,18

[...] Khamudy – Line IX,19

6 [heqau]-khasut for 100[+x years] – Line IX,20

I would therefore like to tentatively propose that this constitutes the 6 kings of the 15th Dynasty and that Manetho's list of Hyksos kings may be arranged as follows:

Salites/Saites = Shalek

Bnon/Baion = Bebnem

Apachnan = Anak-idbu ('Lord of the Isles') Khyan [3]

Iannas/Staan = Ianassi (son of Khyan)

Apophis = Auserre Apophis

Assis/Archles = Khamudy

One of the principal arguments against the theory of a sudden Asiatic invasion of Egypt was that the Turin Canon had kings with Asiatic names residing at the bottom of column IX, a number of generations before the Hyksos 15th Dynasty (represented by 112a) standing in the middle of the old column X. Now that we have relocated the 15th Dynasty before these other Asiatic rulers, they simply become part of Manetho's ‘17th Dynasty’ group of ‘shepherd kings’ and no longer predate the arrival of the Hyksos.

Moreover, the number of kings which follow the first Hyksos ruler (IX,14) accord perfectly with von Beckerath’s excellent suggestion that Manetho’s 17th Dynasty (Africanus version) represents the 6 main Hyksos kings, plus 5 Theban rulers, plus 32 minor Asiatic rulers – a total of 43 kings ruling for a period of 151 years [von Beckerath 1964, p. ..]. According to this argument, the 17th Dynasty is therefore a construct which arose from Manetho’s misunderstanding of a summary line in the original kings list giving in reality the total reigns and years since the foreign occupation of Egypt had begun. The reconstruction offered here has exactly 43 kings from the first Hyksos (IX,14) to the end of the new column X – the beginning of the 18th Dynasty (according to the column line totals calculated by Malek, p. 94).

The new arrangement of the Turin Canon is also compatible with the Genealogy of the Memphite Priesthood (see diagram) where we have 7 generations between one ‘Aken’ (perhaps Akenenre Apophis, an early Hyksos ruler not to be identified with Auserre Apophis – a theory for which there is absolutely no proof and little precedent) and Ahmose I (at 22 years a generation a total of around 154 years and therefore close to the figure arrived at for the 17th Dynasty). Before Aken the Genealogy gives the name Iby, and this ruler is attested in the Canon (VII,14) immediately after a broken entry which reads ‘[...]mes’, almost certainly the Djedneferre Dudimose of the Gebelain Stela and several other monuments from this period [Gauthier 1907, pp. 50-51]. Thus again Manetho may be quite correct when he states (Josephus version) that:

‘Tutimaeos. In his reign, for what cause I know not, a blast of God smote us; and unexpectedly, from the regions of the East, invaders of obscure race marched in confidence of victory against our land.’ [Waddell, p. 79]

It is very likely that this Tutimaeos is our Dudimose of the 13th Dynasty and, given the overlap already established for the late 13th and early 14th Dynasties it is not inconceivable that the Hyksos invasion may have taken place during the reign of the 38th king of the 13th Dynasty and some 9 or 10 rulers into the parallel 14th.

With this scenario, the new reconstruction of the Turin Canon is consistent and compatible with both the Memphite Genealogy and Manetho. The latter’s history of this period once again appears to have been vindicated by new research, just as both Malek and von Beckerath had independently argued that the data derived from the Ptolemaic priest’s dynastic list had a genuine historical basis which simply required the correct interpretation. By adopting this new proposal, a number of the riddles which have tended to confuse the chronology of the SIP have been solved and an opportunity exists to establish a clearer chronological framework for the history of this fascinating period of Egypt’s past.

The golden diadem of a Hyksos princess from Tell ed-Daba.


1. The dates used here are the low chronology of Krauss [1985]. For the higher chronology of Parker the reader should date the end of the 12th Dynasty to 1801 and the start of the 18th to 1550, giving an interval of 251 years in which to place the dynasties of the SIP. Krauss’ dates are based on observations of the heliacal rising of Sirius at Elephantine whereas Parker locates the observations at Memphis or Itj-tawy.

2. Disclosed by the excavator at the recent seminar held in the Egyptian Cultural Centre in London – May 1989.

3. Personal communication from Dr Bietak – letter of 29/9/86 in which he informed me that his team had found a stela of ‘the eldest son of king Ianasi, son of king Khyan’. Manfred Gorg proposed that Ianasi should be identified with Iannas and that Khyan must therefore be identified with the predecessor of Iannas in the redactions of Manetho.


A. Alt 1959: ‘Die Herkunft der Hyksos in neuer Sicht’ in Kleine Schriften zur Geschichte des Volkes Israel Vol. 3 (Munich), pp. 72-98.

J. von Beckerath 1964: Untersuchungen zur politischen Geschichte der Zweiten Zwischenzeit in Agypten (Glöckstadt).

J. von Beckerath 1984: Handbuch der Agyptischen Konigsnamen (Munich).

M. Bietak 1979: Avaris and Piramesse (Oxford)

M. Bietak 1984: ‘Problems of Middle Bronze Age Chronology: New Evidence from Egypt’ in AJA 88, pp. 471-85.

W. G. Dever 1985: ‘Relations Between Syria-Palestine and Egypt in the "Hyksos" Period’ in J. N. Tubb (ed.): Palestine in the Bronze and Iron Ages: Papers in Honour of Olga Tufnell (London), pp. 69-87.

G. Farina 1938: Il Papiro dei Re Restaurato (Rome).

A. H. Gardiner 1909: Admonitions of an Egyptian Sage, (Leipzig), pp. 3 & 18.

A. H. Gardiner 1959: The Royal Canon of Turin (Oxford).

A. H. Gardiner 1961: Egypt of the Pharaohs (London).

F. L. Griffith 1898: Hieratic Papyri from Kahun and Gurob 2 vols (London).

W. C. Hayes 1955: A Papyrus of the Late Middle Kingdom in the Brooklyn Museum (Brooklyn).

W. C. Hayes 1973: ‘Egypt: From the Death of Ammenemes III to Seqenenre II’ in CAH II:1, pp. 42-76.

H. W. Helck 1962: Die Beziehungen Agyptens zu Vorderasien im 3. und 2. Jahrtausend V. Chr. (Wiesbaden).

M. Ibrahim & D. Rohl 1988: ‘Apis and the Serapeum’ in JACF 2, pp. 6-26.

P. P. James 1987: ‘Bronze to Iron Age Chronology in the Old World: Time for a Re-assessment?’ in JACF 1, pp. 6-80.

B. J. Kemp 1983: ‘The Second Intermediate Period in Egypt’ in B. G. Trigger et. al.: Ancient Egypt: A Social History (Cambridge).

K. M. Kenyon 1983: ‘Palestine in the Middle Bronze Age’ in CAH II:1, pp. 77-116.

K. A. Kitchen 1987: ‘The Basics of Egyptian Chronology in Relation to the Bronze Age’ in High Middle or Low: Acts of an International Colloquium on Absolute Chronology Held at the University of Gothenburg 20th-22nd August 1987 Part 1, pp. 37-56.

R. Krauss 1985: Sothis- und Monddaten, Studien zur astronomischen und technischen Chronologie Altagyptens (Hildesheim).

P. H. Labib 1937: Die Herrschaft der Hyksos in Agypten und ihr Sturz (Glockstadt).

J. Leclant & J. Yoyotte 1957: ‘Les Obelisques de Tanis’ in Kemi 14, pp. 50-54.

M. Lichtheim 1973: Ancient Egyptian Literature Vol. I (London), p. 161.

J. Malek 1982: ‘The Original Version of the Royal Canon of Turin’ in JEA 68, pp. 93-106.

P. Montet 1957: Geographie de l'Egypte ancienne 2 vols (Paris), p. 199.

G. Posener 1957: ‘Les Asiatiques en Egypte sous les XIIe et XIIIe dynasties’ in Syria 34, pp. 145-63.

D. B. Redford 1970: ‘The Hyksos Invasion in History and Tradition’ in Orientalia 39, pp. 1-51.

D. Rohl & P. James 1983: ‘An Alternative to the Velikovskian Chronology of Ancient Egypt: A Preview of Some Recent Work in the Field of Ancient History’ in SIS Workshop 5:2, pp. 12-22.

D. Rohl & B. Newgrosh 1988: ‘The el-Amarna Letters and the New Chronology’ in C & C Review X, pp. 23-42.

T. Save-Soderbergh 1951: ‘The Hyksos Rule in Egypt’ in JEA 37.

J. Van Seters 1966: The Hyksos (London).

W. G. Waddell 1971: Manetho (London).

W. Whiston (trans.) 1981: Josephus (Grand Rapids).

H. E. Winlock 1947: The Rise and Fall of the Middle Kingdom in Thebes (New York).

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

How Myth Became History

By Peter Martin of the Sunday Times

The Eastern Desert, situated between the Red Sea and the Nile, is a fairly barren place that has never much caught the interest of archeologists. An exception was Hans Winkler, who, when he came here in the 1930s, recorded scads of ancient rock carvings depicting strange high-prowed ships, right here in the desert. Winkler died puzzled, and nobody laid eyes on the carvings again until the Egyptologist David Rohl, on an expedition here in 1997, recognised them as an extraordinary archeological scoop.

The Eastern Desert Survey Expedition.
Most of us have a passing familiarity with the wonders of ancient Egypt, if chiefly with Tutankhamun’s fabulous burial treasure. But the big mystery is how such a sophisticated culture sprang up so quickly, as if from nowhere, and how this ties in with civilisation's best-known founding story, the Old Testament.
Rock-art boat from the Wadi Barramiya.
The Eastern Desert rock carvings depict an epic journey made by a godlike people – exotic and terrible strangers – who, by what looks to have been a surprise invasion of Egypt, dragged their large reed ships overland from the Red Sea to the Nile. These were plainly warships, with up to eighty oars apiece, their chieftains armed to the teeth and pointing westward. Great lines of other men are shown dragging the ships with ropes. Strategically, you can see how it could have worked: haul the ships two-thirds of the way, get into the dried-up river beds, then wait for the annual high Nile to carry you to war at eighty-oar speed.
Rohl is convinced that these invaders came from Mesopotamia at the onset of the third millennium BC: “We can tell this from their style of weapons, ship design, their dress and their religious symbolism”, he says. “They carry pear-shaped maces, far more lethal than the disc-shaped maces the Egyptians used at that time, and their ships are typical Mesopotamian seagoing vessels. Their chieftains wear tall twin plumes, and kilts with animals’ tails attached. I've linked them with the mythical ‘followers of Horus’ because the carvings feature the falcon god, Horus”.

Rohl’s interpretation of these rock-art sequences as an all-out invasion of Egypt neatly elides, with an archeologically famous ceremonial knife. Unearthed at nearby Gebel el-Arak, it was made in the same era as the invasion. Carved on its ivory handle is the world’s oldest pictorial record of a battle. “And we know who won it”, says Rohl, “because it shows the long-haired Nile valley dwellers succumbing to the pear-shaped maces of the short-haired invaders. We also see the high-prowed boats knocking the hell out of the people in the crescent-shaped Nile boats, who are shown drowning”.
Further evidence strongly suggests that these foreigners eventually became the pharaohs: “Within 500 years, in pyramids and tombs, we begin to see all this Mesopotamian symbolism now become part of Egyptian culture. The gods wear tall twin plumes, the kings have tails attached to their kilts, and the bodies of the pharaohs are dragged to their underworld tombs in high-prowed ships. After the falcon god in the rock carvings, we soon get the Horus kings of Egypt. We see pharaohs smiting their enemies with pear-shaped maces and, as with King Tut, they're all depicted wearing false beards, as if imitating the divine heroes of Mesopotamia”.
But what has all this to do with civilisation’s founding story, as told in the Old Testament (OT)? According to Genesis, following Adam's ancestral line from the Garden of Eden, through Noah and the flood, it was Ham’s second son, Mizra, who came with his tribe and settled Egypt. Still today, an Egyptian will refer to himself as a descendant of Masr. Not just a phonetic similarity, it’s an etymological fit.
As civilisation’s founding stories go, the OT is no means an exclusive. The Sumerian and Akkadian epics come to us from Mesopotamia, written down for the first time – in cuneiform script on clay tablets – circa 2,500 BC. Albeit with different names, they tell the same story – the first of all stories – involving the same principal characters. Like Eve in the OT, in Mesopotamian legend ‘the Lady of the Rib’ is banished from eternal life in heaven. Next, there’s Noah, the exact double of the Sumerian flood hero Utnapishtim. Both send out doves from the ark to find dry land. Later, Noah's great-grandson, Nimrod – warrior, mighty hunter and builder of the great city of Erech – has his twin in the Sumerian saga of Enmerkar, ‘Enmer the Hunter’, the warrior and builder-king of Uruk. Same man, same city?
But of all Rohl’s evidence for the adoption of Mesopotamian culture by Egypt, here's a language detail to lift the hair on your neck. The odd epithet ascribed to the ancient Mesopotamian flood hero, ‘the far distant’, is the exact meaning of the Egyptian word ‘Horus’. This takes you from Noah to the pharaohs in just one word.

That Rohl packs more into one book than most archeologist-historians would attempt to set down in a lifetime is only the half of it. In his latest work, The Lost Testament, he upsets convention, very ably demonstrating that the OT was in part based on real people and actual events. Following the Mesopotamian invasion of Egypt, he pieces together Joseph’s life as Pharaoh's right-hand man, through to how Moses came to learn the true name of God – Yahweh – to the exodus, the Israelites’ storming of the Promised Land, and the extraordinary rise of King Saul and King David, ending with the fall of Jerusalem to Nebuchadnezzar in the sixth century BC – 5,000 years of history delivered at a tremendous lick. If, here and there, Rohl’s evidence reads a little thin, it’s chiefly because he’s attempted to tell a seamless story for a lay audience. At the back of each chapter, however, he presents his evidence cold.
Of course, conventional academic wisdom holds that the OT is little better than a fairy story because no archaeological evidence for it has been found. On the contrary, says Rohl. There’s evidence galore, and all sorts of specialists have been staring at it for decades. The mistake, he argues, is that the ancient world has been dated wrongly. Take Joshua and his Israelite army destroying the city of Jericho. Jericho’s tumbled walls are still there, along with storage jars, the grain inside burnt to a cinder, consistent with Joshua's infamous torching of the city. The glitch is that orthodox chronology would place Joshua at the end of the Late Bronze Age, when no such fortified cities were built. Hence, either Joshua was born too late to have had anything to do with Jericho, or he never existed. Everyone's problem, of course, is that there were no calendars BC, only tantalisingly incomplete king lists and dynastic records. All we have, then, are evidence-based interpretations – and ferocious arguments.

When Rohl first advanced his new chronology in A Test of Time, published in 1995, he got some awful stick. The leading Bible scholar Professor Thomas L Thompson insisted that any attempt to write history based on a direct integration of biblical and extra-biblical sources was "not only dubious but wholly ludicrous". The very architect of Egyptian chronology, Professor Kenneth Kitchen, dismissed Rohl’s thesis as "98% rubbish".

Undeterred, in his next book, Legend, Rohl advanced new discoveries relating to the Book of Genesis. Indeed, as readers of The Sunday Times may recall, he even gave a geographical fix for the Garden of Eden, in Iran, based on his deciphering of the ancient language names of four rivers given as co-ordinates in Genesis, chapter two. For our story, we went and we saw, including a place ‘east of Eden’, as described in Genesis, that is still called Noqdi, the Land of Nod.
In the interim, the pendulum of serious opinion has begun to swing Rohl’s way. Dr Ronald Wallenfels, for example, the curator of New York’s Metropolitan Museum, and an Assyrian specialist, says there's plenty of flexibility in the ancient Assyrian dates. Given that all chronologies are interdependent, the same flexibility would inevitably apply to the Egyptian time line. Just recently too, one of Rohl’s peers, an American Egyptologist, cold-canvassed a number of other Egyptologists with a single question: if you were to place the Israelite sojourn and exodus in any period in history, what would it be? The majority picked the middle Bronze Age, concurring with Rohl.
Of all OT characters, the best drawn is Abraham's descendant Joseph, but Rohl gives him the evidential kiss of life. This – to remind you – is Joseph of the coat of many colours, whose jealous brothers had him sold as a slave into Egypt. Eventually, his talent for dream interpretation brings him to the attention of Pharaoh, who has had a nightmare of seven emaciated cattle rising up out of the Nile to devour seven fat cattle. As Joseph divined it, seven years of plenty would be followed by seven of famine, and he urged Pharaoh to reorganise the nation's grain supply against the lean time to come. Joseph, the Hebrew foreigner, got the job of vizier of all Egypt.

Pharaoh Amenemhat III.
But did it happen, and if so, what caused the famine years? In 1844 a German Egyptologist discovered a series of flood records – water heights chipped into cliff faces just south of the Nile's second cataract. Dating from the late 12th Dynasty, when Rohl’s chronology places Joseph in Egypt under Pharaoh Amenemhat III, the records show flood heights of nine metres above normal. The American hydrologist Barbara Bell recently calculated that, on those reckonings, the Nile valley would have been inundated with four times the usual volume of water, making seed-sowing impossible for several years and famine inevitable.
The OT also tells us that Joseph, as part of the now-centralised grain strategy, forced Egypt’s landowners to sell him their stocks. Intriguingly, the 12th-Dynasty archeological record shows that tomb building for regional chieftains suddenly ceased, as if they’d been dispossessed. Separately, contemporaneous Egyptian papyrus documents mention the setting up of an agricultural office called ‘the Department of the People's Giving’. Grain to be handed in for later redistribution in the famine years?

The Bahr Yussef.
Stronger evidence suggests that reorganising Egypt’s grain supplies was by no means Joseph's only great work. We know from Diodorus Siculus, writing in the first century BC, that a canal was dug to drain off the Nile’s destructive inundations. Today, in the Arabic, the canal is still known as Bahr Yussef, the Waterway of Joseph. At the time, Amenemhat III was so taken with the canal, he had his pyramid built overlooking it.
Rohl’s research has produced evidence that Joseph, a Hebrew regarded as the saviour of Egypt, had his own palace at Avaris in the part of the Nile delta known in the OT as Goshen. As per the OT too, Hebrews were now so welcome in Egypt that they soon became very influential in Egyptian affairs, and the archeology concurs: wealthy Semitic graves at the Middle Bronze Age level have been found at Avaris. Joseph, at his death, unheard of for a foreigner, was entombed in a small pyramid in the grounds of his palace, with a chapel containing his colossal cult statue.
On Rohl’s reading, it was following a series of weak 13th-Dynasty pharaohs, with consequent political chaos in Egypt, that the Hebrews were infamously pressed into slavery. Grimly tallying, Middle Bronze Age documents have yielded up pharaonic slave lists with Hebrew names, and the tin-pot grave goods of an underclass have been unearthed at Avaris. When excavated, Joseph's pyramid tomb turned out to be empty. "But that’s consistent with his dying wish to be returned to the Promised Land," argues Rohl. "At the Exodus, they took his body with them”. What was found in the chapel of the tomb, however, was a busted-up painted statue of an Asiatically pale fellow with reddish hair adorned with the multi-coloured coat of a Middle Bronze Age chieftain.
Although seemingly outrageous, Rohl’s bold placing of these events in time, often to the very year, has lately been vindicated by independent researchers, here and in the United States, in the complex field of astronomical dating. What they did was to retro-calculate the dates of astronomical events – chiefly eclipses and moon phases – as described in the ancient texts. And the results? Rohl had fixed the coronation date of Joseph’s pharaoh, Amenemhat III, at 1678 BC. It turned out that he had missed by just four years, and has since tweaked his time line accordingly.
Also, in a head-to-head contest, Rohl's placing of Amenemhat III in the seventeenth century BC resulted in 37 out of 39 lunar month-length matches, whereas orthodox chronology – which keeps its options open with two possible placings – scored no better than 21 matches. The astronomer Dr David Lappin of Glasgow university, concluded: “Most of the astronomical data – particularly the 12th-Dynasty lunar dates simply do not fit with the orthodox chronology, while the support it gives to David Rohl’s new chronology is nothing less than startling”.
So let's revisit Jericho for a moment. The Book of Joshua describes the Israelites destroying not just Jericho but also the cities of Ai, Debir, Hebron and Hazor. “And the king of Hazor is actually mentioned by name – King Jabin, who was personally knifed to death by Joshua” says Rohl. “Now, at Hazor they've found a tablet with the name Jabin on it. And where? In the same Middle Bronze Age levels that mark the destruction of Jericho”.
The Jabin Tablet from Hazor.

Of all the scoops in The Lost Testament, Rohl's marshalling of evidence for the late-eleventh-century life and times of King Saul is so impressive that it makes the orthodoxy look like a flat-Earth proposition. Background: at the same time that a politically complacent pharaoh, Akhenaten, came to power in Egypt, the Israelites found themselves with a fierce warrior leader in Saul. Saul – Shaul in Hebrew – was not his actual name, but an epithet meaning ‘asked for (by the people)’ that was given to him by the later Bible writer.
So who was this first king of Israel, what was his real name, and what evidence is there, outside the OT, of his existence? One of the great finds of the mid-nineteenth century was the el-Amarna letters, 3,000-year-old eyewitness accounts, in the form of 380 clay tablets, that represent the correspondence sent to Pharaoh Akhenaten by his vassal rulers. They tell of a new and belligerent Habiru rebel leader called Labaya. Some letters from vassal kings complain to Pharaoh that Labaya keeps making war on them. Others, from Labaya himself, reveal a crafty long-game specialist.

Akhenaten in whose capital the Amarna Letters were found.
The thing to grasp here is that the orthodox time line fixes Saul and his Hebrew army at a distance of three centuries from Labaya and his Habiru fighters. In Rohl’s chronology, however, they come up as exact contemporaries. But are they the same man? Judge for yourself.
As per the OT, Saul, having declared his war of liberation, seized the two towns of Gibeah and Michmash. Similarly, in a letter from Labaya to Pharaoh, the Habiru chieftain argues that his recent taking of two towns was justified because they were his in the first place. Bolshie in the extreme, this particular letter not only omits the customary obeisance – ‘I am the dirt under your feet’ – but issues Pharaoh with a veiled warning – “If an ant is struck, does it not fight back and bite the hand of the man that struck it?”
More persuasive that Labaya was Saul is their identical family politics. In the Bible account, Saul was enraged by the close friendship of his son Jonathan with the rebel mercenary David. Since David was also Saul's son-in-law, he and Jonathan should have been rivals for the kingship. Instead, famously, they doted on each other. In the OT, Saul cursed Jonathan as the “son of slut” – and you can see why. At one point, his bosom pal David and his Hebrew mercenaries were fighting on the side of the Philistines against Saul. And guess what: Labaya, in an ostensibly embarrassed letter to Pharaoh, protests that he didn't know that his son was consorting with the Habiru.
The name of one of the rebel leaders in the Amarna Letters, Tadua – an epithet bestowed on him by his Hurrian warriors – means “the beloved”. The Hebrew name David also means ‘the beloved’, which in its earlier, Canaanite form would have been written as Dadua. But the clincher is that Saul and Labaya shared exactly the same death. As in the OT, so in the Amarna Letters, both die in battle – against a coalition of city-states from the coastal plain – on or near Mount Gilboa, both as a result of betrayal.
Combining information from both the Bible and the Amarna letters, Rohl has reconstructed the course of the battle. At first, it seemed that Labaya/Saul couldn't lose. He was at the top of Mount Gilboa, and the only access for Philistine chariots and archers was protected by his ally Tagu. But Tagu had done a treacherous deal with the Philistines and, in a surprise onslaught from the rear, Labaya was mortally wounded. Rather than be taken in shackles to Egypt for ritual slaughter, however, he fell on his own sword.
Rohl completes this chapter with a stunning flourish. The OT also tells us that Saul's body was taken from Mount Gilboa to the fortress of Beth-Shean, beheaded there, and hung on the wall. Three thousand years later, in 1993, the excavators of Beth-Shean found a fragment of a small cylinder seal, the sort used for quick communication between allied commanders in battle. Cylinder seals usually came with a string attached for hanging them around your neck. The Beth-Shean seal fragment reads: “To Labaya, my Lord, speak. Message from Tagu: ‘To the king my Lord. I have listened carefully to your message from me’”. The rest is missing. Let Rohl savour it: “So here we have a message from the traitor Tagu, probably delivered to King Labaya/Saul before the battle on Mount Gilboa, then carried here to Beth-Shean still around the king’s neck, fallen to the ground when he was beheaded”.
But what of David? Later in the OT, King David, as he now is, storms and takes Jerusalem. Among the Amarna letters is a plea from Abdi-Heba, the ruler of Jerusalem, begging Pharaoh for reinforcements against the besieging Habiru army. Then the pleas stop. Jerusalem has fallen.
The final battle between the Philistines and the all-conquering Hebrews is described in both the OT and the Amarna Letters as having taken place in exactly the same spot – just outside Jerusalem, in the Vale of Rephaim. One difficulty in fixing King David as a real historical figure was the lack of evidence outside the ancient texts. Until just under a decade ago that is, when a stone stela fragment bearing the phrase ‘The House of David’ was found in the city of Dan, incorporated into a 2,800-year-old wall.

Ramesses II.
As after a round of musical chairs, not the least effect of Rohl’s New Chronology is that many ancient figures have switched thrones. That of mighty Ramesses II of the 19th Dynasty, once thought to be the repressive Pharaoh of the Exodus, is now taken by Dudimose, a petty king of the 13th Dynasty. Ramesses, meanwhile, becomes a contemporary of the Israelite King Solomon, David’s son. Orthodox chronology puts Solomon in the relatively impoverished early Iron Age. But, as described in the First Book of Kings, Solomon’s reputation as a successful merchant king sits far better in the wealthy Late Bronze Age.
Take his fabulous palaces, commissioned from the best of ancient stonemasons, the Phoenicians. They used three rows of fine-cut stone, topped by a cedar beam, backfilled with rubble to protect the structure against earth tremors. Today, Solomon's Late Bronze Age gate at Megiddo is a perfect example. No similar construction technique was used in the early Iron Age, where orthodoxy places Solomon.
Sunday Times Magazine front cover picture (1995).
A nonbeliever, Rohl has no religious mission to vindicate the Old Testament. “I don't doubt that I've got some of the details of this historical reconstruction wrong”, he says, “but I find the big picture so convincing. If I am wrong, so be it – but let’s see the evidence, not the dogma”.