Christian Leadership Center



Biblical Archaeology Index


Class Eight


THE LATE BRONZE AGE I  (1550-1400 B.C.)


“The Deliverance of Israel from Bondage in Egypt”




The Basis for Dividing

MBII from LBI (1580-1410)


Literary Evidence.  The evidence from the literature of Egyptian is primarily concerned with how the 18th Dynasty threw the Hyksos out of Egypt (see below for the references).  This historical change in Egypt is one main reason for the division.  Ahmosis repulsed the Hyksos and drove them from Tanis to Sharuhen, and then later even farther north.  He then established a new dynasty.

Artifactual Evidence.  There are two main bits of evidence.  First, a destruction level was found at about 1600-1500 at Jericho and Tell Beit Mirsim.  Second, there is a change in pottery at this time as well.  There is now bichrome ware, famous for its birds and fish and the like in mesotropes.  And, there is Cypriot and Mycenean ware (imports), also called base ring ware (Mycenean I and II).


Recall the chart for this line up:

Palestine         Date                    Egypt                           Mycenae             

LBI               1570-1410   Ahmosis-Thutmosis IV    MYC I-II

LB IIA           1410-1340   Amenhotep III-IV   MYC III A

LB IIB           1340-1200   Nineteenth Dynasty          MYC III B

There is always a discrepancy of about ten years.

From the pottery change in Palestine, several conclusions can be drawn:  (1) the society was very fluent,  (2) it was the same general Canaanite culture,  and (3) it shows a great deal of trade.


The Basis for Dividing

LBI and LBII (at c. 1410 B.C.)


Literary EvidenceFirst, in Egypt we read that Amenophis III (Amenhotep) assumed the throne and reigned from 1406 to 1370.  Second, under Amenophis IV (Akhenaton) the Egyptian empire all over Palestine dissolved (1370-1350).

The evidence here comes from the Amarna Letters.  In the extremes they can be dated from 1390-1310, but generally they are dated from 1375-1350.  So LBII finds the 19th Dynasty established.  And as Egypt goes, so goes Palestine politically.

Palestinian Artifactual Evidence.  First, there is a destruction level at Hazor about 1400 B.C.  There are three destruction levels (1400, 1300 and 1230).  The middle one was by Seti I of Egypt.  The later one would fit the judges well.  So the earlier one would fit Joshua and the conquest.  Those who have assumed that the exile was late will obviously say the 1230 was the Israelites under the conquest (but if that was Joshua, then how does Sisera fit with the war with Deborah?).  But for our purposes here, there was a major destruction at 1400.

Second, there is a distinct type of pottery from 1410-1340.  There is a marked deterioration.  Between LBI and LBII there is this dramatic change.  It occurs after the destruction layers of Tel beit Mirsim, Bethel, Duweir (Temple I and Themple II division).  See Kenyon on the streak at Jericho and the LBIIA pottery in it.

Moreover, Mycenean III A pottery is the major pottery for dating this period.  There are precise breaks.  The problem is at Jericho where we find MYC III B pottery which raises the questions of the date of the exodus and the conquest.


Israel in Bondage in Egypt


The Biblical Setting

The time that we are discussing now concerns the material in the Book of Exodus.  The Israelites have been persecuted and forced to serve for several centuries, first by the Hyksos and then by the 18th Dynasty.  In 1550 B.C. the people are laboring and trying to stay alive (Exod. 1).  

In c. 1528 we have the birth of Moses (Exod. 2).  For the links to the 18th Dynasty, see the work by Merrill, Kingdom of Priests.  Moses was brought up in the palace, very possibly by Hatshepsut.

In c. 1488 (when Moses is 40) he killed the Egyptian and then had to flee for his life, probably from the powerful Thutmosis III, who was now ruling on the throne of Egypt.  Moses went to Midian, found his wife, had two sons, and served his priestly father for what is about a generation.

In c. 1450 B.C. Thutmosis III died and was replaced by his son Amenhotep II.  When Moses heard this, he returned to the land of Egypt to deliver his people, probably about 1448/7.  The working of all the plagues took 18-24 months.  And so the exodus would have taken place in 1446 B.C.  Amenhotep II would then be the pharaoh of the exodus.

The Israelites went to Sinai in 1446 and received the Law from God through Moses.  But then, in their unbelief, they failed to obey God, and so they had to wander in the wilderness for 40 years, until that generation had died off. 

Somewhere around 1406, give or take a few years, the Israelites made their move to Gilgal and then Jericho to enter the land.

Our discussion concerns the time almost from Moses' birth to his death at Mount Nebo in Moab.  


Late Bronze I (1550-1410)     

Egyptian Literary Evidence


Ahmosis' Tomb Inscription.  An Egyptian officer named Ah-mosis, the captain of a Nile vessel who served under Pharaoh's Amenhotep (1555-35) and Thutmosis I (1535-1505) wrote about successive attacks on the Hyksos in Egypt and then of the follow up campaign into Asia (see ANET p. 233):

“Then Avaris was despoiled . . . .”

“Then Sharuhen was besieged for three years . . . .”

The significance of this is that it shows that the Hyksos retreated into Palestine and made their stand at Sharuken, a Hyksos city.  At Sharuhen there is a typical glacis fortification--the MB defensive system.

N.B.  There are no literary sources from the Hyksos period. We are of course only interested in the material that is related to Palestine.

          Campaigns of Thutmosis III  (1500-1450)(ANET pp. 243ff.).  Thutmosis III made at least 16 campaigns into Asia in a period of 20 years.  This we learn from his last text.

His first campaign (1479, or 1489--we go higher to harmonize the Biblical record, but some take him lower by ten years) is important.  It is so important that it is recorded three times.  Against an alliance of more than 100 cities of Canaanite kings in the area of Megiddo, he claimed to have conquered 119 towns.  The opposition was led by the kings of Kadesh on the Orontes and of Megiddo.  He captured 942 chariots.

Coming up the coastal plain, along the Via Maris, it is not practicable to lead troops around the shoreline to Carmel.  To go from Sharon to Esdraelon one must go through one of three mountain passes.  Thutmosis surprised everyone and came through the most dangerous pass, at Megiddo.

The significance here is (1) Thutmosis established extensive control of Egypt over Palestine, and (2) the reference to 924 chariots is instructive, because the Bible (Ju. 4:13) tells how Sisera later had 900 chariots.  The Bible is not far-fetched.

His eighth campaign (ca. 1460 B.C., which was his 33rd year).  He crossed the Euphrates and fought Naharin, setting up a stele east of the Euphrates (right at the bend of the river).

The significance of this is that it shows the extent of his empire and the power of the pharaoh of the oppression.  Why was he off fighting like this?  It shows that he wanted the land to have control over the taxes and the trade routes, as well as have access to the Mesopotamian valley.  Canaan was a little country of small tribal nations; these little nations could only act as Egypt permitted.

          Thutmosis’ III topographical list (see ANET, p. 242).  The text is probably arranged in geographical units (see Aharoni, pp. 143-152).  For the districts, regions, and cities, see the text below.

The significance of this is that (1) it shows the Egyptian administrative districts at the time of the Conquest, (2) in this it also shows that Gaza replaced Hazor as the main administrative city, confirming Joshua 11:10,  (3)  it also explains the alliance of the cities at the time of the conquest: “The kings of the various cities generally do not transgress the borders of their respective districts in their correspondence . . . ” (Aharoni, Land of the Bible, p. 152).


District                 Region                       Nos. in Thutmosis III's list


Kumidi             Southern Lebanese Beqa`         3-11 (12?), 55-56

Damascus and Vicinity              12 (13?) - 20

Baashan                                    21-30

N. Jericho Valley                      31-34

Gaza              Plains of Jezreel and Acco           34-54, 2

                      Coastal Plains and Sharon           57-71

          Judean Hills and Shephelah         103-106

          Ephraimite hill country                (107-117)

Sumur            Northern Lebanese Beqa`          72-9 (84?), 1

                      Upper Galilee                            80 (85)-102

                      Phoenician Coast


The list has the 119 cities in Palestine under the Egyptian authority.  The list comes after his first campaign and seems to be arranged in geographical units according to administrative districts.  This makes the most sense of the list.  According to Tell Amarna, there were three major administrative centers: Kumidi, Gaza, and Sumur.  Kumidi is a major city 30 miles west by northwest of Damascus.  It controls the Upper Jordan and Golan Heights.  Gaza is of course in the southern coastal region.  This district runs up through Palestine.  Sumur is 50 miles up the coast near Byblos.

The kings in these districts interact with each other, but not across areas.  This explains why they did not all join in to defeat Joshua.  There was a confederacy of kings in different administrative settings.

The lists show also that there was much open country with a very sparse population.  Israel took this sparsely populated hill country in the conquest.  At the time of the conquest, this is how the land was administered.


.         The Two Campaigns of Amenhotep II  (ca. 1446-1420 B.C.). (ANET, 245-8)

When we get to the campaigns of this king, which would be just after the exodus of the Israelites and therefore with diminished military resources, we find a weakened Egyptian power.

In the seventh year (1439).  In his seventh year he marched up the Via Maris to the Lebanese Beqa‘, Ni in Syria, and to Ugarit.

The significance of this is that it shows Egypt’s sphere of influence at this time is greatly reduced.  What occurred in Ni in N. Syria is not stated.  In any case, the authority no longer exists for the Pharaoh to the Euphrates.       

The capture of an emissary from the Naharin area in the Sharon plain proves the King of Mitanni was continuing his attempts to incite trouble in the Egyptian province.

The significance of this may be that the weakened Egyptian authority could be due to their reversals at the exodus.

In the ninth year (ca. 1437).  The campaign extended only to Sharon and the Jezreel plain as far as Anaharoth (Josh. 19:19), five miles SE of Mount Tabor.

The significance here is an evidence of even more reduced sphere of influence.

Khirbet al-‘Oreimeh.  Here, at the site of ancient Chinnereth, the fragment of an Egyptian stele was discovered bearing an inscription concerning the victory over the foreigners of Mitanni.  The stele is probably from Amenhotep's last campaign when Mitanni had reached the zenith of its power.  Amenhotep's campaign was conducted in November, the rainy season.  This fact alone would show that Mitanni posed a serious threat.

The significance again is that the Egyptian empire was weak, and that condition could very well be explained by the defeat at the exodus--the economic, religious, and military base had been ruined and demoralized.  Amenhotep is in no way the ruler that his father was.

List of Prisoners.  In these inscriptions the lists of prisoners show a good cross section of the social classes of the population.  For the list of prisoners in Amenhotep's Campaign Stelae, see ANET pp. 246,247.


List of Prisoners (* = second campaign)

* 127 rulers

* 179 brothers of rulers

   232 royal sons (=great men)

   323 royal daughters

   270 royal concubines

   550 Maryannu (=noble chariot warriors)

   240 wives of maryannu

   640 Canaanites (a sociological term, wealthy merchants)

* 3600 ‘apiru (gypsy-like wanderers, a type of marauding  sojourner, lacking permanent status).

* 5200 Shashu (the bedouin, especially in the south of  Palestine)

          * 36,300 Khuru (the Horites, the settled people of  Syria/Palestine)

          * 15,070 Neges (people of north Syria)

          * 30,652 families (?) thereof


From this one might estimate that the residents of Palestine were 66% Horites, 27.5% bedouin, and 6.5% ‘apiru.



Late Bronze I (1550-1410)

Palestinian Evidence   


Literary Evidence.  The Taanach tablets provide us with some information from Palestine at this time.  Taanach is one of the major passes over the Carmel range.  Megiddo is the critical pass from the plain of Sharon to Esdraelon.  That is why later Pharaoh Necho goes up to that point for his war.  There are three passes: Yokneam, Megiddo, and Taanach.  The strategic one is Megiddo, where all the famous battles have been fought;  Mount Megiddo is the battle, par excellence.  The Egyptians wanted to control that far north, and did with Thutmosis III.  Later in this period they withdraw to Gaza.

Date of the Tablets.  The material has to come from either Thutmosis III (16th campaign) or Amenhotep II (8th or 9th campaign).  It is dated due to style, form and content.  Probably Amenhotep.

Content.  An Egyptian named Amen-hotep (could have been the pharaoh himself, or just a general) commanded the ruler of Taanach to send men and precious materials to Gaza (the new center) and Megiddo (the more critical pass).

Significance.  This shows again that Gaza and Megiddo were Egyptian bases and that Taanach was one of the important towns in the Valley of Jezreel.  Note Judges 5:19--the Song of Deborah: “by the waters of Megiddo and Taanach.”        

Artifactual Evidence.  There is a unified culture, although there are various ethnic groups.  They worship the same gods, have the same pottery, the same culture, the same artifacts, the same amulets.  They are all the same contaminated culture.

Significance:  Kenyon's chapter on this period in Canaan simply explains that there was destruction of all ethnic groups in the land; they cannot be distinguished from the archaeological evidence.


Proto-Sinaitic Inscriptions

Discovery.   There were about 30 inscriptions on mines and in shafts and on images in the area of the turquoise mines of Serabhit el Khadem in the western side of Sinai peninsula (Fig. 28).  The initial discovery was made by Palmer in 1868, but he lost the report.  He could not tell what he had discovered.  In 1904 Petrie went in and copied the inscriptions. He surmised that it was Semitic and not Egyptian (Petrie, Researches in Sinai).  In 1916 Sir Alan Gardiner deciphered it as an alphabetic script.  Still more work was done by Harvard in 1932.  The definitive work was written by W. F. Albright, Proto-Sinaitic Inscriptions (1966), revised 1969).  It is the major source.

DateThe date of 1475 B.C. is clear and needs no discussion.  It is dated from the pottery there and everyone agrees.

ContentThe inscriptions are prayers of the workers to Canaanite deities for assistance in finding turquoise (a semi-precious stone).  It is written in acrophonic (pictorial script from which the initial sounds become the alphabet).  It mentions Baalath and El.


SignificanceThe discovery has provided a good deal of information.  For literary value:

1.       It gives us evidence of the origin of the acrophonic alphabet.  What is interesting is that it is a combination of Canaanite/Phoenician linear alphabet and Egyptian pictograph.  It shows again that the linear alphabet was being invented in the Sinai Palestine region around 1500 B.C.

2.       It shows the extent of literacy at the time of Moses--miners were able to write their prayers.

3.       It provides examples of biblical vocabulary: out of the 120 words on the walls, 70 of them are in the Pentateuch in exactly the same meanings.  That is about two-thirds of the words.

4.       It is the original script of Moses.  Moses, a Semite, would have used a script very much like this in writing the Law.  His may have been more advanced toward the linear alphabet, such as at Byblos.     


For historical value:

1.       The Semites are serving Egyptians at this time--slaves in the Sinai.  There is no biblical data that Hebrews were down here in these mines, but some could have been.

2.       These slaves kept their distinctive language and religion while in slavery (as did the biblical Hebrews).

And for religious value:    It is providential that this script was available and widespread at the time that the Bible was first inscripturated.


The Hittite Legal Texts from Boghazkoy

Discovery.  The place was excavated in 1906 by Hugo Winckler (Fig. 29).  He discovered a collection of cuneiform tablets including some in Hittite that were deciphered by F. Hronzy (Czech).  The texts belong essentially to the Old Hittite Empire period (c. 1800-1600 B.C.), as well as the New Hittite Empire period beginning under the leadership of Suppiluliuma (c. 1375-1200 for the empire).  The kingdom under Hatursilis fell to the Sea Peoples in 1200.

Significance.  There are several important things about these texts:

1.       They uncover for us the first Indo-European migration from the Caucasus to reach inland Cappadocia.

2.       They are a culturally virile people: advanced technology with smelting iron--the first to manufacture chariots with iron fittings and use them as weapons of war (“iron chariots,” “rod of iron”).

3.       The antagonism between the Egyptians and thye Hittites in LBII is amply illustrated here.

4.       The purchase of the Cave of Machpelah by Abraham becomes clearer (there are also Canaanite texts that have bearing here).  Under Hittite law the one who purchased the field or the entire property from the vendor assumed at the time of the transfer certain legal obligations to render feudal services to the crown, the nature and extent of that at the present are obscure.  If, however, only a portion of the field were purchased, these duties were not mandatory.  Hence, Abram wanted only the cave (Gen. 23:9), but Ephron the Hittite insisted on the field as well (v. 11).  The mention of the trees (v. 17) reflects the Hittite practise of listing the exact number of trees growing on each piece of property sold.  The story fits that particular culture fairly well; it also fits the developed covenant treaties and land grants in Canaan. 

The territory seems to be under the control of a Hittite overlord, or had a whole pocket of Hitties in the area.  The empire did not extend that far south.

5.       The Hittite Legal Texts  (see later in the discussion of the Law)




"Deliverance from Bondage"


The Biblical Setting

The period we will consider now is the time of the exodus and the journey to Sinai where the people of Israel will be made into a great nation with the giving of the Law.  We have already traced the events of the Egyptians and Hittites and others into this period; we must now add the discussion of material that directly has a bearing on Israel's experience.

As is well known, there is a debate over the date and circumstances of the exodus.  The conservative view that takes the biblical data literally arrives at a 1446 B.C. date for the exodus. This can be shown to fit all the related Egyptian historical details very well.  Modern critical (and a lot of “conservative”) scholarship choose a later date, usually about 1290 B.C.  This is primarily due to (1) the name Ramses in Exodus 1:11, (2) the absence of archaeological data in Trans-Jordan for the wars Moses is said to have fought, and (3) the archaeological evidence of the destruction layers in Canaan which point to a later conquest, about 1200.  Then there are the nihilists like Kenyon who do not think there was an exodus because there is no archaeological evidence for it, and others like Gottwald who see a partial exodus of some related tribes, and a peasant revolt in Canaan by mixed tribes, which later banded together to become “Israel.”

We shall look at the conquest data next time, and so have to discuss the proposed evidence for the late date then.  There are very clear indications that much of that data needs to be re-interpreted, as we shall suggest.

With regard to the biblical evidence, several things need to be noted:

1.       Exodus 1:11 cannot be used to date the exodus.  It tells us that the Israelites built the treasure cities of Pithom and Ramses.  If this is a reference to Ramses II (1290-1235), then it is too late.  Think about it: if they were building a treasure city to him, he would already be mature and reigning.  The building would take a decade or so at least to build.  But Moses is not even born yet--that comes in Exodus 2.  Then, when Moses is 40, he kills the Egyptian and flees to the desert, where he is for another 40 years.  Then, when he hears that Pharaoh is dead, he returns and engages the new Pharaoh with the plagues (which take about two years).  So, if Ramses was the king, and did not die, he would be about 122 years old at the exodus. He could not have lived that long to be the pharaoh of the exodus--he did not live that long (we know a lot about his life); and besides, the Bible says that he died.

That would make Merneptah, his successor, the pharaoh of the exodus, if the late date is chosen.  But that cannot be since we have the “Merneptah Stele” that witnesses to the fact that in his campaigns north Merneptah encountered the Israelite nation.  The Israelites were already settled as a nation in Canaan when Ramses’ son campaigned there.  That is what the Bible says--it was the time of the judges.

2.       The biblical data points to an early exodus.  Several passages come into play here:  1 Kings 6:1 indicates that 480 years after the exodus Solomon began building the temple.  He did that in his 4th year, in the month of Ziv (none of these even have the slightest hint of being general numbers).  Since he came to the throne in 970, that would be about 966.  966 + 480 = 1446 B.C.

Judges 11:26, which deals with Jephthah, one of the judges in the period of the judges, mentions that the Israelites .had already been in the land 300 years.  A late date of 1290 (if the exodus were to take place in the first year of Ramses), a wandering of 40 years (if those numbers are accepted), and then a ten year conquest, would allow a period of from 1240--1050 (anointing of Saul) for the judges.  That does not match the 300, which was a number for part of the period.

1 Chronicles 6:1-10.  Here the text lists the descendants of Levi through Aaron: Aaron--Eleazer--Phinehas--Abishu'a--Bukka--Uzzi--Zerahi'ah--Mera'oth--Amara'ah--Ahitub----Zadok--Ahimaaz--Azariah--Johanan--Azariah, and “it was he who served as priest in the house that Solomon built in Jerusalem.” The point is that here we have 14 generations in the line of the high priest between Aaron and Solomon's temple.  Do 14 high priests represent 480 years, or 320 years for the later date.  It harmonizes well with the longer period of the earlier date.  This by itself would not be compelling--it simply works well with the evidence for an early date.  

3.       The Egyptian history fits the early date very well.  As we have already discussed, the Hyksos material provides the right interval between Joseph and Moses.  And, the only Pharaoh that lived long enough to cover Moses' sojourn in Midian is Thutmosis III.  And, it would take a princess like Hatshepsut to defy the pharaoh's orders (read about this lady’s strong will).  And, Amenhotep II shows signs of a much weakened empire after the exodus.  And, Thutmosis IV, who had the vision at the Sphinx, did not expect to be the next pharaoh.  Now admittedly, no Egyptian record mentions the exodus; but the perfect fit in the 18th dynasty, and the problems with the 19th dynasty, lead to the early date as the best choice.

4.       The archaeology of the Conquest of Canaan has yet to be discussed.  We believe that the destruction layers in the cities, the pottery evidence, and the new settlements can be interpreted to support the early date.  That will be in the next section.


The Tell El-Amarna Letters

The Tell el-Amarna letters are dated from 1410-1340; they come a little later than Israel's exodus and covenant at Sinai, if the conservative date is taken, or, they come earlier if the late date is chosen.  In either case, they have a great bearing on the Israelite experience, because of the question of the origin of Monotheism.  Amarna's experience is not entirely monotheistic, but rather a monolatry or henotheism.  But the question must be asked concerning who is influencing whom.

DiscoveryThe letters were discovered in 1887 by a peasant woman at the site of modern Tell El Amarna, which is the location of ancient Akhetaton (Fig. 30).  The discovery came as quite a surprise since it is the only cuneiform discovery in Egypt.  It is the correspondence from two sources to the Egyptian king: (1) some came from the major powers of the day (Hittites, Mitanni, Assyria, along with Egypt), and (2) some came from vassal princes in city-states in Syria, Palestine, and Phoenicia.

The letters date from the times of two pharaohs in Egypt: Amenhotep (or Amenophis) III and Amenhotep IV, who is also called Akhenaton.  The question to be asked is how these documents got to Amarna.

The Amarna RevolutionAmenhotep IV for some reason was not happy with the situation at Thebes which was the capital, as well as with some of the powerful priests of Amon.  So he moved the capital to the city of Aketaton (modern Amarna); and there he also changed his name to Akhenaton.  His other name meant “Amon is satisfied”; but now the sun god replaced the moon god, so his new name meant “Everything is well with Aton.”   This was done in the new city, which had a name meaning something like “the place of the effective glorification of Aton.”  So he came to this place, changed his religion, his name, the priesthood, and of course brought the letters.

The event is called a revolution in the sense of a break from past tradition and practice.  He now dedicated his religion to worship of this new god Aton.  The religion focused on one god, but not to the exclusion of the others; and it was for him and his family, not the nation.  All references to Amon were to be excised.

Is this to be interpreted as monotheism?  Not really.  It is either a syncretistic religion (moving away from polytheism), or henotheism, worshipping one god in one place, but not excluding other possibilities.  Akhenaton and his family were almost monotheists, but the people worshipped other gods as well, including their pharaoh--which he did not discourage.  This is not quite like Moses, who comes from the same general period (Moses is about 1526-1406; Amenhotep III is 1400-1360, and Akhenaton is about 1370-1350--there was a ten year co-regency).

In The Culture of Ancient Egypt John A. Wilson compares Psalm 104 with a hymn to Aton.  See also Albright, From the Stone Age to Christianity.

The Revolution in CultureHere we are concerned with literature and art.  Art was idealistic up to this time; but now it changed and showed more realism and frankness and boldness, almost to the point of caricature.  For example, the limestone bust of Nefertiti (Akenaton's queen) is instructive.  He married his sister, and had six-daughters.  He was rather hen-pecked.  But at this time in Egypt there was greater freedom for women.

Political, Military, and Imperial RevolutionPolitically, Egypt is in a period of breakdown and dissolution.  We learn that there is a loosening of the controls of Palestine just at the time Israel was settling in, and we learn about the many administrative centers in the land as well.

The princes in Syria Palestine and Phoenicia were pleading for help from a pre-occupied Pharaoh who apparently never helped them.  The letters inform us that the empire was crumbling; this crumbling accelerated in the period of Akhenaton.

Many people in the land were pro-Theban--certainly the priests and the wealthy.  So there was a counter revolution against him and back to Thebes.  In this movement two things happened:  (1) Akhenaton disappeared, and (2) his son took over.  The son saw the wisdom of going back to Thebes, and so he changed his name from Tutankhaton to Tutankamon, or more simply, King Tut.

The Habiru ProblemThe letters were written in Akkadian, the international language of diplomacy.  But they were written by Canaanite scribes who occasionally betray themselves--by using Canaanite words (glosses) in the place of Akkadian words.

In the letters a group of people is referred to as the habiru or ‘apiru, and some have thought this was a clear reference to the biblical Hebrews, as has been mentioned before.  The words seem to be etymologically related; but there is an ethnic problem that has to be addressed.  So we would say it is just a possibility there is a connection.  If we say the Hebrews are included in the habiru, then we must be careful to note that the habiru include far more than the Hebrews.  These habiru are referred to all over the ancient world in the second millennium.  So the habiru might include some Hebrews.

The Akkadian word is ha-bi-ru.  It frequently appears in the form of the Sumerian ideogram SA.GAZ.  Albright was the one to show that H  = ‘ayin  in Western Semitic, and the Ugaritic language confirmed it.  From Egyptian and Ugaritic we find the word with a p - ‘apiru (Akkadian cannot distinguish the b and p sounds).  In Hebrew the word for “Hebrew” is ‘ibri.

For the sake of discussion we will assume that they are the same,  phonologically equatable.  But there are problems here: (1) a word with a cvcvc pattern related to a segholate noun pattern of cvcc--this is not normal;  and (2) the change from b to p.



1.       The word is a sociological word (social class) and not ethnic.  There is no agreement to what class it is.  The text shows they are wealthy people, mercenaries, and slaves.  The common idea is that they are outside the norms of society.  In Genesis too the word “Hebrew” probably is non-ethnic as well.  It may be ethnic by the time of Jonah, but not in Gen. 43:32.  The Egyptians would not eat with the ‘ibrim.  It would be hard to see such a custom for 70 people.

2.       Both are sworn enemies of the Egyptians.

3.       Both are associated with Semitic invaders--“Semites” in the linguistic sense here.

4.       They are primarily found in the hill country of Canaan where Israel settled.

5.       The Canaanites tried to make alliances with both (Hebrews and habiru) of them (see the Gibeonites).



1.       According to biblical chronology, the habiru came a bit late (after 1375) for the biblical account of the Conquest (1400).

2.       The names of the kings of EA (El Amarna) differ from the biblical records--no one corresponds to Joshua 12.

3.       They were different in their vocation--they were mercenaries assisting rebel kings in their overthrowing of cities loyal to the king.  This is not the picture of the Conquest.




        1.              One cannot use the habiru to date the Conquest.

        2.       It is probably true that the Israelites were related to and among them after the conquest--in the time of the judges.


The Hittite Legal Documents

One of the important finds for the discussion of the date and structure of the Law was the Hittite treaties.  This was a genre apparently well known in the late second millennium B.C., but probably not known in the later periods.  It matches perfectly the form and function of the Deuteronomic text.  For further information and samples, see the supplementary handout (Fig. 31).