Christian Leadership Center



Biblical Archaeology Index


Class Five[1]





Part One: “The End of the Stone Age”

From the Neolithic to the Chalcolithic Age (8500-4300)


Introduction: A General Framework


It might be helpful to lay out a chart at this point to know where we are.  Then we can survey what fits archaeologically into the periods, and see where we are with the data from the Bible.


Neolithic (Stone)                                                             8500-4500 B.C.

Early Chalcolithic (Copper/Stone)                                   4500-3800 B.C.

Late Chalcolithic                                                             3800-3300 B.C.

Early Bronze IA                                                              3300-3150 B.C.

Early Bronze IB                                                              3150-3000 B.C.

Early Bronze II                                                               3000-2750 B.C.

Early Bronze III                                                              2750-2300 B.C.

Early Bronze IV                                                              2300-2000 B.C.

Middle Bronze                                                                2000-1500 B.C.

Late Bronze                                                                    1500-1200 B.C.

Iron Age                                                                         1200-586 B.C.


The Beginnings of Settled Life

At the end of the Mesolithic period and beginning of the Neolithic period there is evidence of the beginning of settled life in areas.  The terms refer to the relative age of the material within the stone age (when stone implements and not pottery were in use).  Paleolithic is the old stone age, mesolithic the middle, and neolithic the new or late stone age, the most recent.  

Jericho.  This site has proved to be a rich source of information.  The mound is 70 feet high and about 10 acres in size.  The place is extremely dry since it is 900 feet below sea level and near the Dead Sea.  There is a permanent water supply from the spring of Ain es Sultan.  The spring appears to have been a constant supply of water, for the entire 70 feet of the tell shows layers of human occupation, covering over seven or eight thousand years.

Excavations in 1958 revealed an unusual structure at bed rock on the north end of the tell.  The structure was unlike any houses on the tell.  Two large stones were built into the wall, each with a hole through it, possibly to hold posts of some kind (like a totem pole).  There was also a clay platform, suggesting this was once a sanctuary.  Some of the implements (arrowheads especially) found nearby were clearly of the Natufian culture, as at Mount Carmel.  So this was probably built at the same times as the Mesolithic group at the Carmel caves--it is very old!  Could it have been a sanctuary for early hunters near the river. 

The place had wooden beams that had burnt down, leaving charcoal remains.  Carbon 14 dated the material at 7800 B.C. (plus or minus 210 years)--to put that in perspective, that is 6400 years before Joshua’s arrival.

In the center of the tell there were found a series of neolithic huts.  Thirteen feet of debris had no solid structure, but bumps, which were all that remained of hut-like structures, beaten down and built over.  So people were living here for a considerable period of time in the sort of housing suited for nomadic, hunting folk.

After this time someone began a solid house--the first Palestinian[2] architecture.  These houses that followed were patterned after the huts--round with domed roofs (as the angle of the surviving walls suggest).  Each has a step or entrance from a higher place.  They are made of mud bricks, but sometimes they have wooden posts in the walls.  This led to a major expansion because there is evidence these houses stretched from one end of the tell to the other.

This find provided archaeologists with evidence of the transition from Mesolithic period to the Proto-Neolithic to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A period.  Jericho gives the evidence of the transition of man from hunter to man as member of a settled community.  At least this is the conclusion of archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon.

After the settlement had been established, it appears to have been surrounded by massive defenses and assumes an urban character.  The town wall was a solid, free standing stone wall about 6 feet 6 inches wide.  It was preserved on its west side at a height of 12 feet.  At this point the excavation found a massive tower of stone, built against the inside of the wall, still surviving to a height of 30 feet (figure 1).  It seems to have been for defensive purposes.  A passage came in the eastern side, ascended 22 steep steps to the top.  It seems to have had a long history, since different phases of building can be found in it and the walls.  By the time the third stage of the tower was built the internal level of the place had risen and was built against the wall of the tower, leaving 25 feet free standing.  A series of houses was built against the wall and the tower.  Charcoal timbers in one of the places date to 6850 B.C. (plus or minus 210 years).

So in about a thousand years the people at Jericho (or whatever they called it) had changed to a fully settled existence with defensive walls and towers.  The remains witness to a fully organized community.  When these finds were made, the earliest villages known were fully 2000 years later, from about 4500 B.C.--so this was amazing. Even the great pyramids of Egypt are 4000 years younger than this great tower.[3]

The assumption is that this Pre-Pottery Neolithic A settlement depended on agriculture.  This is simply an assumption.  But a built up area of 10 acres could possibly represent about 2000 people.  They could not be supported by wild grain and wild animals in the area.  Since the water supply was a spring in one area, we may also assume that some irrigation ditches were dug to channel water to fields.  This in turn would require a communal system of organization.  In the Tigres-Euphrates region, such organized water systems were essential to life.  But in the Jericho area everything is covered by modern fields and buildings.

El Khiam near Bethlehem.  One would assume there were other spots in the area where civilization was developing.  And this appears to be one of them.  But this place seems not to have been as advanced, but stayed in the Mesolithic way of life, the people living in caves as hunters and food gatherers--as far as we can tell.  But there is a development in the flint industry which is known as Tahunian.  The Tahunians seem to have come in from the outside, and are not from Jericho.

This is supported by the change at jericho as well.  At Jericho the Pre-Pottery A period ends with an abrupt erosion all around the edges of the tell.  The people must have been driven out, and their town destroyed.  The next level, or their successors, represent an entirely different group.  This is known as Pre-Pottery Neolithic B.  Their flint was Tahunian.  And all their other living equipment was different.

The most striking feature now is the housing.  The houses are large, many-roomed places of rectilinear plans.  The newcomers arrived with this knowledge of architecture in mind.  One might suspect that they did not live far away, and that Jericho had fortified itself against them.  But they come in with what appears pre-planned housing.

The houses of Pre-Pottery Neolithic B are surprising.  The rooms are large with wide doors flanked by timber.  The plans of the rooms were rectangular with rounded corners.  The brickwork was very unusual, flattened cigar-shaped bricks with thumb-prints (herringbone pattern) to allow keying for the mortar.  The floors and part of the walls were covered with a hard lime plaster.  The main room was flanked by small storage rooms, and there were storage vats outside for water. The houses were built around courtyards where most of the cooking was done (for the floors were covered with charcoal).

Tools were mostly of stone.  But among them a sickle was found, and actual grain.  Every kind of implement has been found, including arrowheads.  But hunting was not now the main work.  Large numbers of bones from cows, pigs, sheep, and gazelles, suggest they were keeping flocks and herds.

The agriculture, the architecture, and the lavish equipment, show that these folks formed a prosperous and highly organized community.  But there was also evidence of a religious interest.  Small animal figurines have been found, which may have been votive offerings.  But there is a little figurine, about two inches high, of an elegant lady with flowing gown gathered at the waste, with her hands under her breasts.  This is typical of mother-goddess statues.  It may be that the people here already imagined a personified deity.

In another house there is a small niche which must have served as a shrine.  At its base there was a small rough stone, that seems to form a pedestal.  Not far away there was found a stone that fit the niche perfectly.  It had been flaked into a pillar of pointed oval section.  It must have had a cult meaning; it probably foreshadows the standing stones and pillars of the later Canaanites.

There were found skulls beneath the floors.  These were placed there carefully, suggesting that they believed the spirits would remain in the houses, so that the wisdom of such could be preserved.  Some of the skulls have plaster applied as if to fill out the appearance (like forming the dust of the ground into the flesh and skin over the bones).

The Pre-Pottery Neolithic B period in Jericho extends to around 5850 B.C. (plus or minus 160 years).  There is nothing else in Palestine like it for that period.  Some work is being done in other areas, such as Beidha near Petra in Jordan, and in Anatolia the finds at Catal Huyuk hint at a related culture.  In Palestine there were no doubt other Neolithic groups that did not achieve what was achieved at Jericho.


The Beginnings of Civilized Life

Palestine is one area that the transition from nomadic life to settled existence took place very early.  The next stage of development is concerned with the spread of villages all around the northern part of the fertile crescent, from the Iranian foothills to the Mediterranean Sea, before the development of the great river empires of the third millennium B.C. 

These villages are not uniform villages; but they are all settled groups.  The common feature that gradually appears in all of them is the pottery, a simple hand made pottery, dark faced, bag shaped. 

The general date for these villages is from about the middle of the fifth century B.C. down to the end of the fourth millennium (4500--3000 B.C.).

Jarmo in Iraq.  This is one of the earliest villages. It covers about 3 acres and has solid rectangular buildings.  Like early Jericho it has no pottery, but it is different than Jericho in a number of ways.  The site is dated by Carbon 14 at 4750 B.C.  Some have dated it at 9000, others 5000-7000 but now somewhere around 6500.  But Kenyon says the most probable date is about 4500.  The point is that there were several places of development in antiquity--Iraq, Syria, and Palestine.

Jericho and Beersheba.  Pre-Pottery Neolithic B Jericho came to an abrupt end, and the succeeding occupation showed signs of retrogression.  The newcomers brought pottery (the erosion is under their level); but they were troglodytes--living in pits and caves.

But in Chalcolithic Beersheba we have a similar subterranean settlement (parallel to Pre-Pottery A).  There are pits all over the mound, so the population must have been quite numerous.  Yet there are no free-standing structures.

At Jericho we enter the Pottery Neolithic A period. The pottery there is either a course ware, or fine decorated ware.  It is soft and crumbly, therefore simple and primitive. The equipment includes pestles and sickle blades with course denticulation.

But by the Pottery Neolithic B period the pottery changes.  It is new, better pottery--better fired with less amount of straw mixed in.  The jars now have rims (“bow rim”).  These folks did not at first bring with them the ability to build free-standing buildings; but later there are free structures, bun shaped buildings, rounded in plan and humped on top.  This provides a link with other sites. 

Sha‘ar ha Golen near the Jordan at the Yarmuk.  When digging anti-tank ditches the people found pottery similar to Pottery Neolithic B of Jericho.  Some of it had herringbone patterns similar to Byblos.  They also found figurines made from pebbles.

Byblos on the Syrian coast.  The link now with this site is important because of its trade with Egypt in timber.  The evidence of trade with Egypt comes in the pre-dynastic period of Egypt, namely the fourth millennium B.C.  Some houses in the beautiful little harbor have similarities with Pre-Pottery Jericho, but only marginally.  These houses are flimsy, perhaps made with branches.  The pottery is very diverse, suggesting the place was already very cosmopolitan.  Here too were the pebble figurines, dark burnished pottery, and implements. 

So here we have a link between Jericho and the Fertile Crescent--a way of life had grown up, a simple life, with villages, permanent structures, and modest agriculture.  They all developed differently, but by 4500 they were similar.  And yet, the way of life seems to be a retrogression from the earlier period.  The light of progress in Pre-Pottery Neolithic A and B was out, and the decay set in.  Did it fall to invaders?  Or was there a change in climate or some other circumstance to upset life?  At any rate the prosperity of the 8th to the 6th millennia was succeeded by these little drab villages.


The Chalcolithic Period

This period is so named because of the metal, copper, used as well as stone.  The sources of this metal were limited to certain areas, and so trade was necessary, breaking down isolation.  The transition was gradual, however.

Tell Halaf (Northern Iraq) 

There seems to be a widespread culture in this area, called Halafian.  There is a distinct type of pottery with geometric designs in red on lighter color.  The pottery is usually dated to the late fifth millennium.  The culture is succeeded by stages that led up to the Proto-literate period. 

Teleilat Ghassul 

This place gave the name to the Ghassulian culture.  The pottery is similar to Jericho Pottery B, but with many highly individualized forms that are new.  The culture seems to have been brought in by newcomers to the area, perhaps in the gap in culture at nearby Jericho (which shows no evidence of them).

Ghassul is in the Jordan valley, three miles east of the Jordan, just north of the Dead Sea.  There are four levels to the site, each a rebuilding.  The top layer was firmly settled with a farming way of life.  It has solid stone foundations of an irregular shape; there are fragments of painted wall plaster.  The house has a variety of equipment--storage pits, jars, threshing floors, open hearths (with date stones and olive stones) (fig. 2).  There is evidence of grain production and orchards.

The pottery is more advanced here.  It includes a churn for butter, ossuaries, a “bird jar,” geometric red designs, and decorative bands like snakes.  The place also has a rich flint industry--knife blades, sickles, picks, adzes, and arrowheads.  There are also two copper axes.

Tell Abu Mater south of Beersheba

The Ghassulian culture was widespread--Jericho, Beersheba, Affuleh (near Nazareth).  But at Tell Abu Mater at this time there is a remarkable community.  It is filled with artificial caves, some fourteen by ten feet, with galleries of five or seven chambers.  It is a curious troglodyte community.  It may have had about 200 people.  There was a good flint industry.  But most interestingly there was a copper processing plant--open fire places, ore smelting ovens, crucibles for refining it, and probably molds (not found) for casting it. They made mace heads (ceremonial?), pins, rings, handles and the like.  It was still too precious for the average person to own.

Of course they would need food to support life, and so trade probably brought it in.  But this was a complex community.  It shows a transition from self-sufficiency to communal industry. 

The next stage had rectangular houses, which reflect the Ghassulian culture.  So we would say that the Ghassulian culture was intrusive and not indigenous.  It describes the culture of a number of groups loosely connected.  They contributed little to the development of culture in Palestine.  It seems to have died out in the early fourth millennium B.C.


The Late Chalcolithic Period


The latter half of the fourth millennium, roughly 3400 to 3000, is the late Chalcolithic period, or the Proto-Urban period. The settlements seem to stretch along the Jordan Valley, from Syria in the north, the Golan Heights, and the Dead Sea region.

The point is often made that these folks seemed to enjoy the dry desert climate, and so settled here.  This assumes that the climate and the area were then as they are now.  That raises a lot of questions about how life could be sustained at such a level.  The evidence seems to indicate that the area was tropical, that the flora and fauna was rich, that many animals were found in the Jordan valley that are not there now, and that it was extremely well watered and pleasant (see Gen. 13:10).

The settlers in this period combined farming and pastoralism, along with their working with copper instruments.  It is the widespread use of copper that is so distinctive. 

The En Gedi Temple 

One of the most interesting sites is the remains (foundations) of a chalcolithic temple high on a hill at En Gedi (just south of the canyon and the falls) (fig. 3).  These stones have remained in place for all this time, some 6000 years.  About four miles south of this spot a cave along the Nahal Mishmar (fig. 4) was discovered with an amazing collection of copper-stone objects, crowns, scepters, and sundry other items (fig. 5, 6).  These all seem to be cult objects from the temple.  They are now on display in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.  

The Beginning of the Early Bronze Age 

In this period, known as the Proto-Urban Period, there seems to have been an invasion of tribesmen.  The evidence comes from tombs in places like Ophel (spur off Jerusalem), Megiddo, Jericho, Beth Shean, and Tell el Far`ah (in the Jordan Valley near Nablus).  The pottery in the tombs is at the base of these mounds; the tombs are cut into the rock, or extended from natural caves.  The finds include offerings to the dead (food and drink, because the pottery is there)--and some of these tombs have 140 or even 400 skulls.

The guess is that these newcomers came from the north and the east, for they are mostly north in the country, although evidence is at Jericho, suggesting they came in that way too.  The evidence of a new settlement comes with the pottery and the implements and the structures that are found.


The site of Tell Megiddo, on the southern edge of the Valley of Jezreel, near Mount Carmel, is one of the most impressive sites in Palestine.  It was strategically located, guarding the pass between Mount Carmel and the central mountain range.  Its first occupation dates back before Egypt was interested in foreign contacts--pre-dynastic.  The mound covers some 35 acres; it is 55 feet deep, its history beginning in the second half of the fourth millennium, before it was a walled town.  The first settlers lived in caves there; but the implements are fascinating, suggesting a more advanced culture.  For example, some implements seem to be needle shuttles for weaving.  Also, at the second level at Megiddo there is a small shrine.

Affuleh and Beth Shean

These sites are also in the valley of Esdraelon (or Jezreel).  Affuleh is just north of Megiddo, across the valley.  Beth Shean is at the Jordan end of the valley.  There is evidence that a settlement was in Beth Shean as early as the Ghassulian period, and certainly in the late Chalcolithic period, because of the pottery types.


Again, there is evidence of this period at Jericho as well, suggesting that the newcomers, at least some of them, came in to the land through this entrance. 

Carbon 14 dating and distinctive jar seals impressed on the jars connect the material with the Jemdet Nasr period in Mesopotamia, about 3200 B.C.

Biblical Data

Of course, the Bible makes no reference to the land of Canaan prior to the entrance of Abram at the end of the Early Bronze Age.  But all the evidnece shows that there were villages, and then later cities, all over this land for at least several thousand years earlier.  It is impossible to tell who they were, or from whence they came--especially since this land was the land bridge between the continents.

The material in Genesis 9-11 is not concerned with all these civilizations.  It tells us that after the flood the survivors migrated towards Shinar (Babylon) where they stopped and settled.  There they began to build a city.  Does the text jump thousands of years between Genesis 9 and 11?  (Chapter 10 is not in chronological order, as we shall see).  Apparently, for in chapter 9 we have the people coming out of the ark, and in chapter 11 we have the account of the dispersion at the Tower of Babel. 

The account of the building of the tower at Babel reflects the Babylonian account from the period of the great city empires of the region, but it is probably referring to an earlier building at that location (that became a pattern for the later).  The reason for this is that the whole population speaks one language.   So at the least the account of Genesis 11:1-9 must come before the settlements all over the Fertile Crescent (Gen. 10)--there had to be people spreading out in these areas.  The indication from Scripture is that the race flourished and grew rapidly for several generations from Noah.  Then, in the days of Peleg the earth was divided--a reference to the incident at Babel (because of the use of the verb for division of languages elsewhere).  From there folks moved into different places with their common culture (at first), but that culture soon became diverse as they settled in various areas around the Fertile Crescent, and beyond.  Then we begin to see evidence of people in different locations.  So the generations after Peleg span the centuries down to the high culture at Ur from whence Abram comes. 


Part Two: "Cities, City-States and Kingdoms"


It is in the third millennium B.C., 3300--2000, that we find the archaeological discoveries becoming far more dramatic and substantial.  This period is known as the Early bronze Age.  Here we see develop the great empires of the river valleys in Egypt and in Mesopotamia.  Here we find written records that show us that a fully developed system of writing existed in the Nile Valley and in the Tigris and Euphrates region.  And here we find advances for the good of the economy--a fully developed calendar in Egypt, and well developed cities, organized by administration and properly defensed.

The towns that had located along the river valleys were far outstripping others that were more remote.  Why?

1.   They had the ability to produce food for all their people.  The valleys were fertile and well-watered.  They could provide food for other trades and guilds that were not simply trying to produce food for themselves--all the crafts and skills could be supported.  The alluvial plains did this.

Of course, this meant they had to have a system of irrigation, and that required a controlling administration to organize it, to protect it, and to make it truly cooperative.  Magistrates, nobles, princes--the powerful people, served this capacity.

But they also had to have the support of deities.  Priests or demigod/kings had divine support for their authority, and for the productivity of the land.  Their God/gods were the ones sending rain and flooding the plains to produce the crops.  Naturally, all production surpluses came to these leaders.

2.   The surpluses of productivity enabled these groups to trade with others for the raw materials they did not have--timber, metal, building stones--these and more had to be brought in from outside.  Unless they were productive beyond their own needs, they could not trade for these things.  This, in turn, inspired them to be more productive.

Now here is where we need to make an observation, just to raise the question.  The archaeologists give us a certain amount of information and draw conclusions from it.  We rely on that, because we do not have the experience in the field.  But there are some obvious questions:

*We are told that for a few hundred thousand years there were humans who lived in caves, used stone implements, had a primitive life, but were fully human.  There were also Neanderthal types who were there for a while, but seemed to have died out in an ice age.

*Then, around about 10,000 B.C. some of these began to live in small settlements rather than the caves.  In a few places they built walls, and in Jericho, a massive tower. 

*About two or three thousand years later we see similar cultures appearing in places in Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Palestine, small settlements that now show signs of pottery, farming, and communal living.  But they do not all progress.

*Somewhere about 4500 B.C. there are better settlements, solid houses now, better pottery, some copper and copper refining appearing, and some religious sanctuaries with cult objects.

*Then, around 3200 B.C. we start seeing major cities, the beginning of empires even.  Large cities with walls that are heavily fortified.  Great advances in establishing kingdoms and culture.  Well developed written documents in distinct languages that are fully developed.  It is all of a sudden there.

Now, we have already questioned the dates, especially of the tower at Jericho.  But how much hard evidence is there to reach these conclusions.  Is the carbon 14 dating accurate here?  Do we know how long these groups lasted, or whether they were in the sequence given for them?  We would say it is possibly an accurate arrangement.  But we would also say that it quite possibly is not.  There is just not much material available for such decisions.  The use of written documents is telling: all of a sudden, people are writing, and in complete languages.  How did this come about so quickly, and so late in time?  These we will have to ponder.


For the archaeological data of early Egypt, see the literature that covers that in some detail.  Clearly, by the beginning of the Early Bronze Age, the people living in Egypt had the power to go beyond their borders for various reasons.  They had designs on the surrounding nations, especially the land of Canaan.  But they never actually ruled over all of it; they were more satisfied with putting garrisons along the coastal way as an outer flank for protection.


The Early Kingdoms of the East

The text of Genesis gives us a glimpse of this early development.  According to chapter 11, the folks who survived the flood reproduced and flourished.  They traveled off east from Ararat, eventually coming to settle in Shinar--an ancient name for the region of later Babylon.  It was there that they settled, and began to build a city with a tower.

If the flood occurred in the period of that sterile level, then there is possibly a long period of time between it and this building--if we match the building of a city and tower with Jericho, sometime in the range of 10,000--8,000 B.C.  But Genesis, without dating anything, says that at the time of that building they all lived in the one area and spoke the same language--until the LORD confused them and scattered them across the face of the earth.[4]  Here, then, we might see the beginnings of developments and settlements all over the Fertile Crescent region.  Genesis 10 indicates that the groups from Ham made it to Egypt, as well as Canaan, while some remained in Babylon.  The descendants of Shem ranged from the north to the east generally.  And the descendants of Japheth went far north and north west.  Groups of people, then, split off in family divisions, and generally scattered.

Is there a clue when this took place?  The most plausible idea is that it took place in the days of Peleg, for in his days the earth was divided (Gen 10:25).  The verb is used elsewhere to describe the division of languages.  Now the genealogy order goes Noah, Shem (100), Arphaxad (35), Salah (30), Eber (34), Peleg.  So there are about five generations here, covering a couple of hundred years.  But the line of Shem is one line--do not forget Ham and Japheth.  But all of these folks are said to live longer than 200 years, so they are still all alive when Peleg is around--as well as all their sons and daughters.  It is a guess, but calculations about population over such a period of time would suggest that by the time you get to Peleg there would be a lot of people on earth.  If each family had about 4-6 children, and this is continuing every 40 years, and they are all living long enough to still be around with Peleg, then the population could easily be over 20,000 in five generations.

But if there are gaps in the genealogy, then all such calculations are off--it could be a lot of people by the time of the incident at Shinar.[5]

Now the account itself is striking for its allusions to the traditions about Babylon itself. But the beginning of that place in Genesis is much earlier than the Babylonian traditions themselves.  Genesis 11 is placed after Genesis 10 for rhetorical purposes.  So we look into Genesis 10 for the actual beginnings of the kingdoms that followed the incident at Babel. Genesis 10:8-10 portrays the beginning of imperial power in the region.  Kingship is first found among the descendants of Ham, upon which branch there rested a prophetic curse (Gen. 9:25-27).  Nimrod (10:8,9) is the founder of Babylon, which is invariably presented in the Bible as a morally, religiously, and politically evil system.  This name Nimrod, if studied from Hebrew etymology, indicated “rebel.” But it has been plausibly explained as a Sumerian name, Nin-Maradda, Lord of Marad, a town near Kish, possibly making the Hebrew spelling a parody on the name, unless it is simply an eastern Semitic name written in later Hebrew characters.  If the Babylonian empire can be traced to this ancient settlement of Kish, from where the Babylonian emperors took their titles, then some light is shed on this name Nimrod.  It is important to note that The Sumerian King List names the dynasty of Kish with 23 names first in the enumeration of kings or dynasties that reigned after the flood.[6]

This Nimrod is said to be a mighty hunter.  A hunter is the exact opposite of an ideal king, for a hunter gratifies himself at the expense of the victims.  A shepherd, however, expends himself for the good of the subjects of his care.  Food gathering and hunting is not what produces a king; rather, food distribution and organization does.  But Nimrod is seizing power for himself. His kingdom includes several cities.

Babel, Erech, and Akkad are the beginning.  These are well known through archaeology.  Babylon (Bab-ilu, “gate of God”) dates from pre-historic times, but only became a super power in history under Hammurabi (1728-1686).  Its history, though, goes far back into the pre-Semitic era.

Erech is Akkadian Uruk, represented by modern Warka, about 100 miles southeast of Babylon in a marshy region of the Euphrates.  Here was discovered the first ziggurat or sacred temple tower and evidence of the first cylinder seals.

Akkad was the name given to the northern area of Babylonia from the city of Agade which Sargon brought to prominence when he established a dominant empire (2360-2180 B.C.).

Calneh has not been clearly identified.  It may be connected with Nippur, one of the oldest cities of central Babylonia.  It may also be Hursagkalama (Kalama), a twin city of Kish.

Then, there is appended to this notice an account of the start of the Assyrian empire by the Hamitic Cushites of Babylonia.  Nimrod went out into Assyria and built Nineveh (or, it could be rendered that Asshur went out and built Nineveh).   This fits the ancient monuments: Assyria was secondary to and dependent on Babylon, in politics, culture, building, religion, and writing.  But the idea that both cultures with four cities each is the founding work of one man cannot be backed up by the monuments.

But the monuments do support the geographical data of the text. The city of Asshur, strategically located on the west bank of the Tigris above the Little Zab tributary and about 60 miles south of Nineveh, was the most ancient capital and center of Assyrian power.  The city, which gave its name to the country, was the name of the national deity.  It shows occupation well back into the fourth millennium B.C.

Nineveh (modern Kuyunjik) was ultimately the great capital of the empire.  It had been so completely obliterated, as the prophets said, that it seemed like a myth--until it was unearthed by Layard and others.  Its occupation levels go back to pre-historic times.  The actual walled area seems to be about 3 miles by a mile and a half.  But tradition includes the surrounding cities as part of it--Calah, 18 miles south, Resen, between Calah and Nineveh, Nineveh proper, and Rehoboth-Ir, which is Rebit-Ninua, west of the capital.  These are the four areas that made up “the great city.” Other towns were added in the cities hey-day.  Calah has been dug, as well as Nineveh proper.

Now, with this material we must note that the beginnings of these city-states recorded in Genesis 10 come after the event in Genesis 11:1-9.  And, we must note that the great archaeological materials found at these locations mostly fit the great empires that developed in these places much later.  We shall be coming back to study Babylon, Nineveh, Nimrud, Nippur, Kish, and the rest of them at the proper time.

The Tower of Babel (Gen. 11:1-9)

After the flood, and before settlements grew up around the Fertile Crescent, the people migrated nomadically to the valley of Shinar.  In time they multiplied sufficiently to need a city, and developed the industries necessary to build.  This data matches the skills identified in the various locations--cities, towers, implements.

The motivation for building a city and a tower is twofold: to gain a name for themselves, and fear.  So they made bricks, built a city, and a tower.  The text does not call the tower a Ziggurat, but its description fits the later name of the Babylonian Ziggurat.  What is interesting is this: the events portrayed here go back to the dawn of civilization--they go back to the earliest nomadic and sedentary civilization in the region (when everyone spoke the same language, not Sumerian, Egyptian and Babylonian; but the telling of the story draws on Babylonian texts that describe the beginning of their city.  These texts are later, connected with the great Babylonian empire.  But the Babylonians themselves traced their beginnings to the acts of the gods at the dawn of civilization.  There is no account in the east about the confusion of languages; but since Babylonia was the most polyglot centers in the ancient world, it makes sense to have this connection.

Note some of the Babylonian coloring of the Hebrew report:

1.       The name is “Babel,” but it is explained from the Hebrew perspective.

2.       The theme of pride fits the account in Mesopotamia very well.

3.       The ziggurat was the center of the city of Babylon.

4.       The name of Marduk’s sanctuary in Babylon was E-sa-gila, “the house of the lifting up of the head,” which fits the wording in Genesis 11 of their intent.

6.       The ritual of the bricks before the building is the same in both traditions.

7.       The celestial nature of the city is a motif the Bible contrasts.

The building of ziggurats in the Babylonian world must reflect these ancient transitions, if not pattern themselves after them.  So the original building of the tower is recorded in Genesis 11, and the Babylonian material reflects it in its traditions.[7] 

Ziggurats are connected with Babylon, and were copied all over the Babylonian region.  The first ziggurat (meaning “pinnacle, mountain top”) discovered was at Warka (Biblical Erech, Gen. 10:10).  The text does not call its tower a ziggurat; but rather, the text indicates that this is the first tower people ever attempted.  It was a massive artificial mountain made out of mud bricks.

At Ur, Abram's home town, the divinity was Nannar, the moon god, and his sacred shrine was at the top of the ziggurat.  At Borsippa, ten miles southwest of Babylon, the deity was Nebo, the god of knowledge and literature.  There are about two dozen of these ziggurats known today.  The common structure seems to be three stages to the tower; but the tower in the Neo-Babylonian empire (later, 600 B.C.) was far more grand.  We shall come back to these later as we look at the great empires.


In the ancient land of Canaan,[8] the towns no longer could keep pace with the great civilizations of the river valleys.  They stayed as towns, and usually had their own rulers.  So a whole country of little city-states grew up.  But they could not produce enough surplus to build the great power bases.

Egypt's influence came up through the land, but usually the coastal way.  This kept the people of Canaan at bay from the coastal plains.  But in the Early Bronze period a number of these city-states were quite formidable.  And we now know that by the middle of the period, about 2600 B.C., there was a large Canaanite Empire that stretched the length of the land.


Tell Arad, down in the Negev near the Dead Sea, is a fascinating archaeological site.  It has the fortress from the Israelite period on top of the hill (to which we will return), but the lower hill is the Old Canaanite city of some 22 acres.  Its greatest strength comes from the period of 2700 B.C. or so.  It has many houses of standard Canaanite variety (fig. 7), a sanctuary or two at least with standing stones, and a cistern at the bottom of the hill for the water.  It was completely walled with a wall two meters wide (fig. 8).  The population apparently flourished from trade with Egypt or the Sinai travelers.  It has a commanding view of the east-west valley.


Once again Jericho figures predominantly in the land, primarily because of its rich resources and its strategic location.  The Early Bronze remains are at the top of the tell, which means everything after this time (i.e., the Late Bronze city and Joshua's walls) is all gone.  There is nothing there.  New Testament Jericho is a couple of miles south.

But the Early Bronze material shows a fortified city, external ditches, glacis, and a very different housing structure with more timber.  It was a flourishing town, solid and substantial.

Tell el Far‘ah

This settlement also grew into a town, surrounded by a wall.  This was probably due to the increased competition and the rivalry between these city-states.  The place was abandoned by EB III.


The settlement at this spot became a powerful Early bronze town and then fortress.  It remained so for centuries.  The most significant material from the Canaanite period are the sanctuary complexes that were discovered.  Among the several temples is the spectacular high place, a “bema” platform, 1.4 meters high, and about 8 meters across, with steps up the front to the platform.  This is a good sample of a high place--2700 B.C. (fig. 9

Beth Shean

Down the Jezreel Valley the settlement at Beth Shean became one of the strong cities of the Canaanite and Israelite period. Several temples were found here in the later Early Bronze Age (to which we shall return).  But in the Canaanite period it was the type of pottery that helped identify the levels.  This is Khirbet Kerak ware, so named for the site at the north of the Sea of Galilee.  Khirbet Kerak then also becomes an important city in the Early bronze period.

Ai (Et Tell)

The city of Ai for the Early Bronze Age was identified as Et Tell because of the general location and the amount of material there.  But there is a problem here--the site was abandoned at 2000 B.C., and not resettled till long after Joshua.  So if this is the site or the only site, there was nothing for Joshua to attack.  The choices are simple: (1) the Bible is wrong, (2) this is not the site, or (3) this is the early site but the  Late Bronze Ai is nearby.

Other Early Bronze sites that offer the same information are places like Taanach, Gezer (unwalled), Lachish (Tell Duweir), Ekron (Tell Hesi), and Tell Beit Mirsim--places we will be studying again later.

In the north the most spectacular material comes from Ebla (Tell Mardikh) and Byblos.   The Ebla tablets have provided us with an enormous collection of material from the latter part of the Early Bronze Age, and so we shall survey that closely.

In the last century of the EB period there is a decline in town life.  The fields were denuded of trees, towns abandoned, and occupation in the cities greatly limited.





     [1] The first four studies in the course were general introductory discussions of the history and method of doing archaeological work, as well as a survey of the history and the countries in the ancient Near East, and a brief look at Mesopotmian texts about creation and the flood.  These lessons deal more with the data that has been gathered that has a bearing on Biblical passages, and so are posted for the class, as well as for others who may be interested in the subject..

     [2] I would remind the student that the word Palestine is convenient, but not accurate.  The land was not called Palestine until the time of Hadrian, about 135 A.D.  In the ancient world we do not know what it was called; but later it was Canaan, and then Israel, and then various names of provinces under persia, Greece, and Rome.

     [3]There is some question about the dating of the tower and remains.  People accept the date, but they wonder.  There is no other tower or wall like it anywhere for thousands of years.  If it was for defensive purposes, against whom where they defending? And what happened to the others?

     [4] Scholars debate whether the flood and this settlement were universal or local; in other words, is the “whole world” of the Semites in view of the writer, or the whole world literally.  That issue is beyond the purpose of this course of study.

     [5] For example, the New Testament calls Jesus the son of David--but there are a thousand years between David and Jesus.

     [6]See George Barton, Archaeology and the Bible (Philadelphia, 1937), pp. 39-43;  Thorkild Jacobsen, The Sumerian King List.  Assyriological Studies 11 (Chicago, 1939).

     [7]There is a good deal of literature available on this:  See Dale DeWitt, "The Historical Background of Genesis 11:1-9, Babel or Ur?" JETS 22 (1979):15-26;  Donald Gowan, When Man Becomes God: Humanism and Hubris in the Old Testament (Pittsburgh, Pickwick, 1975); Allen P. Ross, "The Dispersion of the Nations in Genesis 11:1-9," BibliothecaSacra 138 (1981):119-138; and E. A. Speiser, "Word Plays on the Creation Epic's Version of the Founding of Babylon," Or. N.S. 25 (1956):317-323.  And for the Epic, see Heidel again.

     [8]Most texts refer to this region as Palestine, even if they were written after the establishment of the State of Israel.  There is a distinct refusal to call it Israel, probably from bias against the Jews.