an archaeologist categorically states that there is no evidence for the
conquest of Canaan by the Children of Israel, what does he/she mean and
how do they obtain that information? The following statement was issued
by one of the most eminent Israeli archaeologists, Johanan Aharoni who
actually founded the Institute of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University.
This is his exact quote "It is still quite difficult to fix the date for
the founding of the various conquest settlements. The widely accepted
date, the beginning of the twelfth century, is influenced by the
identification of the Israelite period with the Iron Age and has no
archaeological basis." The Archaeology of the
Land of Israel
In that one sentence, we shall see all the problems that surround Biblical
Archaeology and how so many false assumptions can lead to so many erroneous
conclusions. As the computer experts so wisely say, "Garbage in, garbage out."
On the one hand, he states that there is a widely accepted date for the conquest
of the land by the children of Israel, on the other he states there is no
evidence for that conquest. The obvious question, therefore, is why should it be
so widely accepted? He then identifies that conquest with the beginning of the
Iron Age, and it is this classification which we will try to understand in this
We have all heard of the stone, bronze and iron ages, but how many of us,
including professional archaeologists, understand where and when that
classification was established, and more importantly, how the dates correlating
to these classifications were arrived at.
It was the Scandinavians, in the early part of the nineteenth century, who
first divided the history of the ancient world into three main divisions: stone,
bronze, and iron. The founder of what was to become the National Museum of
Copenhagen, Christian J Thomsen (1780-1865), first published his classification
in 1836 in his "Guide to Scandinavian Antiquities".
His immediate successor, J. J. A. Worsaae (1821-1885), further refined the
system by sub-dividing each of the ages, two for the Stone Age, two for the
Bronze Age and three for the Iron Age. As the century progressed, more and more
refinement was established, and towards the end of the century, the Montelius
system, named after the Swede G. G. Montelius (1843- 1921) was generally
recognized. He established that the Scandinavian Bronze Age could be divided
into six divisions and the dating established by using the objects found in a
closed deposit (either a tomb or a hoard ) of a fixed date, as a base standard.
A comparative dating system could then be established for those sites which were
not obviously dated by noting such things as technological advances, changes of
shape and decorations of an object or their geographical distribution.
Then came the link that caused all the trouble. The great Egyptologist, Sir
William Flinders Petrie, linked Egyptian chronology with the mainland of Europe
via Greece and Asia Minor (Anatolia - present day Turkey). He did this by
organizing and classifying pottery types for the complete time span of the
Pharaonic age. He was thus able to date a stratum anywhere in the Near East and
Southern Europe by comparing the pottery type found in that stratum with his
classification. It was this system that enabled Montelius between 1889-1891 to
suggest dates for the European Bronze Ages. I cannot stress how important that
chain of events is to the understanding or rather the misunderstanding of how
archaeologists date their findings. When excavating a site, an archaeologist
will find a sherd (a piece of pottery) which will enable him to state with
reasonable certainty that it was from say, the Middle Bronze Age (MB). He may
even be able to pin it down to any one of the three sub-divisions of that
category MBI, MBIIA or MBIIB. He will know automatically from his college days
the dates for those sub-divisions so that he can immediately put an approximate
date on his find. He might be even luckier and find some dateable object like a
scarab from Egypt or even an inscription. The major problem with excavations in
the Bible Lands is that there are very, very few inscriptions, and most of the
objects which are datable are Egyptian.
Whichever way an archaeologist looks at it therefore, he/she has to rely on
Egyptian dates for the dating of their own finds. For such total reliance, we
would expect that the Egyptian chronology and dating system is very secure
indeed for it to carry the burden of all other dating on its shoulders. Next
week, we shall discover that, far from being secure, it too was based on many
misconceptions, plain error and is no foundation at all.
Last week, we sent you a chart with the old chronology detailed in 52/53 year
periods. We will explain those subdivisions at a later date, but for now, we
will attach the most up-to-date dating classifications for the Bronze and Iron
Ages of the Bible Lands, which is essentially the period of the Tanakh.
The first question of course to ask is why there is a division between one
time period and the next. How does one know when one period ends and another
begin. In fact the science of stratigraphy is essentially the science of
discontinuity. Some ages were brought to an end by massive catastrophes which
were widespread throughout the Near East.
Thus the great French archaeologist, Claude Schaeffer (b.1898), found
destruction layers widespread between the following periods. All conventional
Between Early Bronze II (approx. 2600 BC) and Early Bronze III
By definition, there has to be some discontinuity between one
sub-age and another, one stratum and the next for there to be
any classification division. At another time, we will explore
what might have caused such discontinuities at what appear to be
End of the Early Bronze Age (approx. 2300 BC )
End of the Middle Bronze Age (approx. 1750 BC) [ more of a hiatus than a
Between Late Bronze II(A) (approx. 1300 BC) and Late Bronze III (IIB)
End of Late Bronze Age (approx. 1200 BC)
We have to stress again and again that ALL those dates are based on the
Egyptian dates and virtually no other. When there is a controversy as to dating
it is usually because there is an archaeological date which is based on the
Egyptian chronology and some link to Mesopotamia which has its own fixed
Some of the greatest debates on the dating of sites in the Bible Lands have
been between two groups of archaeologists, the one side using the archaeological
dating system we have described above and the other identifying objects on the
site which have either Babylonian or Assyrian links.
Of course, if both sets of chronology were correct, there would have been no
controversies. That there were debates is, in fact, the proof that one or the
other is in error. We will look at some of these great debates in future
We hope we have shown you that all dating, and therefore, all conclusions
regarding the sites in the Bible lands are based on Egyptian dating. Next week,
we will show how these foundations are in fact quicksand, and are based on no
firm knowledge whatsoever.