Christian Leadership Center




Biblical Archaeology Index

Class Nine


THE LATE BRONZE AGE II  (1400-1200 B.C.)



 "The Making of a Nation"


In this class and the next we have to consider the formation of Israel as a nation, her wanderings in the wilderness, her march up the King’s Way to Edom and Moab, the crossing into the land at Jericho, and the conquest of the land under Joshua.  We shall first sort out in summary fashion the biblical data, and then we shall consider what archaeological material is available.

Here we shall find some debate over the time and circumstances of the exodus and the conquest, for some of the information given in support of the late dates comes from Trans-Jordan as well as the destruction levels of cities in the land itself.

But in this first class we must first look at the formation of Israel with the Law, comparing that Law to others in the ancient world as well as with the treaty covenants.  Then we shall look at the general background of the history of the Late bronze Age to see the connections with the kings and events, in order to see where Israel fits best.  Next time we will look at the exodus itself, the treaty at Sinai, the tabeernacle, and the line of march in the conquests.

The Egyptian literary data of the 14th and 13th centuries also will be relevant to the whole period of the exodus and conquest, even though it looks ahead to the time of Ramses.  But since we are comparing the early date and the late date, that stretch of time will have to be included in the survey.


The Biblical Events


It will be instructive now to chart out the biblical sequence of events for comparison with the archaeological data.


The events in the Bible as they are presented lead to these dates and sequences:


1.         The Exodus from Egypt  (Spring, 1446 B.C.)

2.         The Arrival at Mount Sinai (Late Spring, 1446 B.C.)

3.         The Wandering in the Wilderness (1446-1406 B.C.)

4.         The Conquest of the Land (1406-1390 B.C.)

5.         The Time of Settlement with the Judges (1390-1050 B.C.)


The events in the Bible as they are presented by the critical interpretation:[1]


1.         The Date of the Exodus from Egypt (Spring, ca. 1290 B.C.)

2.         The Arrival at Sinai (Late Spring, ca. 1290 B.C.)

3.         The Wandering in the Wilderness (perhaps 1290-1250 B.C.).

4.         The Conquest of the Land (1250-1240 B.C.).

5.         The Time of Settlement with the Judges (1240-1050 B.C.).


Our study so far has shown that the biblical records when taken with the early date of the exodus fit the Egyptian chronology better than the late date of the exodus.  It now remains to be seen if the early date of the exodus fits the historical and archaeological evidence of Trans-Jordan and Canaan in the following decades just as well.


The Law of Moses and Ancient Law Codes

Law in the Ancient Near East



1.                  Akkadian.   Here we have the Anu-Ittisu series, legal terms drawn up for the use of Babylonian scribes around 2000 B.C. from Ur III (Sumerian laws in Akkadian translations.  We also have the code of Esh-nunna (bila-lamma) dated around 1950 B.C. from the Ur III dynasty.  It has a prologue, 60 laws, and an epilogue.

2.                  Sumerian.  There is a section of seven laws from Er-nammu, with the same basic format as Hammurabi--prologue, corpus, epilogue.  Then we have Libi-Ishtar, law from the ruler of Isan city in southern Babylonia (ca. 1983-1733); it has a prologue, 38 laws, and an epilogue.

3.                  Babylonian.   Here is Hammurabi’s famous code (ca. 1728-1686).  It has a historic prologue, 282 laws, and an epilogue.

4.                  Assyrian.  Here we have the Laws of Tiglathpileser I (ca. 115-1076)--but the laws date from the 15th century.  There are 116 laws on women, marriage, and sex crimes especially.  Heavy corporeal punishment for menial crimes with the brutality of amputation frquent.

5.                  Egypt.  Laws are not practically comparable to Mesopotamian law codes except for customs.  Theology is characterized by an irrelevant deity and arbitrary justice.

6.                  Hittite.  Two major tablets found at Hattusas, 100 laws on each.  These show the development of law in one culture from the middle kingdom time of 1400-1300.  For example, it refers to earlier laws with “formerly” and later laws as “and now.”  The trends were a reductiopn in fines, the specification of the nature of the crimes, and the elimination of corporeal punishment.



1.                  Mesopotamian laws were casuistic (based on cases); there was precedence, hence the law.  They are in the third person, usually with a conditional clause.

2.                  In general there is an emphasis on the legal document; it has a similar literary form.

3.                  There is a common conception of the overall character and content of law.

4.                  There is a similar use of principles.

5.                  Biblical law is also apodictic--categroical, personal, appealing directly to the conscience (in the 2nd person).  Exodus 21:7-11 is the clearest case of casuistic law in the Torah.


Philosophy of Law in the Ancient Near East

1.                  There is no basic term for law; instead, two balancing concepts exist:

The first is kittum, truth--that which is firmly established.  Gods were not the authors of the laws, merely custodians--“Shamash received his kittum.”  So neither the gods nor humans originated the laws in Mesopotamia.  They were “meta-divine.”   The sub-categories of this kittum are nature, fate, time, and magic.  So there is no divine revelation of law.   The king is given perception into or of law, and so he has authority.  These laws are then immutable, transcendant, impersonal--the greatest contrast with the personally manifested laws of the Hebrew God.

2.         The other is mesharim.  This is the dynamic whereby the law is vitalized and made to function--it is equity or justice.


Purpose of Law in the Ancient Near East

The purpose was to promote (make good) the general welfare of the people (mostly secular laws--the religious were window dressing).  The laws were to cause justice to precail, to destroy the wicked so that the strong would not oppress the weak.  


The Form of Ancient Near Eastern Law

1.                  The Prologue.  This told of the divine election of the king by the gods (he was commissiones to eastablish justice), the the feats of the king displayed, and the boasts of accomplished justice.

2.                  The Corpus of Laws.  They were casuistic, commands in the forms of “if . . . then”.  Basic circumstances and attenuating circumstances were covered.

3.                  The Epilogue.  There was a historical survey (the king established justice at the hand of the god) emphasizing the well-being of the ;and; an erection of a stele monument, and then blessings and curses.


The Hittite Covenant Treaty

We shall return to this in great detail when we cover the events at Sinai.  But the Torah of Moses, while showing similiarities and differences with ancient law codes, follows this form of treaty covenant more precisely.  The clearest treatment of it with connection to Deuteronomy is that of Meredith Kline, The Treaty of the Great King.

1.                  Historical Preamble: “I am the great king who delivered you.”

2.                  Covenant Stipulations: Loyalty to the great king, obedience to the laws, and faithfulness to other covenant members.

3.                  Blessings and Curses: Details of what will happen when people obey or rebel; laid up in the temple.



Israelite Law

The Origin of Biblical Law

1.                  Obviously the Law of Moses evidences some of the influences from previous or existing codes; this is not surprising since they share same culture, and since truth and justice are universal principles.

2.                  But the Torah is the Law of God--and this is unique in the ancient world--how is it to be explained?  God calls it “my law”; it has come to mean the authoritative direction for guiding and ordering the life of the people of God.  It came by revelation (which does not mean it is all previously unknown truth), which means that God decided what the laws should be and they are binding, not just for justice in this life, but for accountability to him.


The Essence of Biblical Law: the Statement of the Personal Will of God.  Therefore:

1.                  God is not the custodian but the direct author.  The law is not above him, and it is not impersonal.  Eichrodt: “The law gets validity from being a direct command from God.”

2.                  Parallels do not make the emphasis in Hebrew Law; rather, the fact that God stated it, and not culture, is the distinctive emphasis.

3.                  Crime is now a sin (Num. 15:30,31): the soul that acts against the law sins against God.  Such sins have no human means of pardon, for it is no longer a crime on the human level, but sin on the divine level.  God is the one who sets the standards for reconciliation, not man.  For example, adultery could be cancelled by human will in Hittite laws (ANET, p. 171, 129).  But in the Law adultery is death, for it was against God and his institution.  In Psalm 51:4 the sin was against God alone, and there was no mitigation.

4.                  There are great implications then as to what a government should do, for observance of God’s laws meant well-being for the land.  Thus, it was a theocracy with theocratic administrators.



The Purpose of the Law

1.                  To sanctify Israel to God himself (Exod. 19:5, 6; Deut. 29:3).

2.                  To teach God’s people the fear of the LORD (Deut. 4:10; 6:2).

3.                  To establish righteousness (Deut. 6:25) by revealing the holiness of God and the sinfulness of people.

4.                  To develop wisdsom, skill in living from the divine viewpoint.

5.                  To regulate Israel’s worship.

6.                  To function as Israel’s national constitution.

7.                  To serve as a “pedagogue” to bring us (the race) to Christ (Gal. 3:24).

Note: The law was never given as a means of salvation, but as a guide for people to follow so that they might live and enjoy the blessings of the covenant and be useful to God as a kingdom of priests.  The law was given to a people who were already redeemed.


Distinctives of Israelite Law

1.                  The law had a deepened moral responsibility; it was social and religious at the same time.

2.                  It had a higher value on life than the other laws.  In the ANE man was not made in the image of God and so had no intrinsic value at all.  Other cultures have tried to give value to life, but it is always subservient to some impersonal thing, such as the state.

3.                  God’s hesed or faithful covenant love is the divine motive.  He loves his people, and this puts a high value on them and the covenant.  It is his evaluation of their worth.  And the motivation for their response is love. It is far more than a civil constitution.

4.                  The laws in Israel were kinder.  Tallium was taken to extremes in the ancient world--if a man killed another man’s child, his child would be killed, or someone could hire someone else to pay the debt for him (die).  In Ezekiel 18:2 the maxim “teeth set on edge” was against God’s will.  There seems to be vicarious punishment in Deuteronomy 5:9 (sins visited on the children).  But this is a more complicated issue, and the emphasis is on responsibility not to duplicate the sins of the fathers, for those sins are visited on “those who hate me.”

5.                  No death penalty for property cases, and no money payment for capital offenses (Exod. 21:31 comes the closest, but it is more complicated--see Cassuto). The law is just.  Life and property are not equal in the Bible.

6.                  Class distinctionds are obliterated.  Even a stranger or a slave could be compensated (Exod. 21:26,7).   



Evidence from the Nineteenth Dynasty of Egypt

The Late Bronze Age IIB  (1340/1320 B.C. -- 1200 B.C.)


The standard critical view of the exodus and the beginnings of Israel is that it all occureed later in the time of Ramses II, in the 19th dynasty.  So we will begin by surveying that period to see what the connections might be if we worked it through in those dates.


Egyptian Literary Texts

Introduction.  This period begins with Seti I (about 1310/20) according to the history people; the pottery people go higher, to 1340, because of the MYC III B connection.

There is no information here regarding Palestine from 1350-1300.  This is the early conquest period in Israel and the initial settlement in the land in the time of the Judges.  The Judges are in LB II and Iron I A (1200--1050).  Critical scholars have to squeeze the judges all into Iron A I.

Background of the 19th Dynasty.  This was a very imperialistic time in Egypt.  It began with Seti I, who moved the capital back to the north, to Zoan in the Delta (there were obvious advantages in this for controlling the empire; Akhenaton had not been interested).  The desire was, of course, to re-establish the empire of the 18th dynasty.

But this was the ancient Hyksos capital.  The city was rebuilt and named Pi-Ramses.  This is thought to be for Ramses II, but that may not be the case.  “Ramses” is a Hyksos name.  The dynasty is associated with the Hyksos religion by worshiping Seth.  “Seti” means “Seth’s man.”  There is some imprecise Semitic affinity here, for the names and the religion are Semitic, the gods are the gods of the Hyksos.


Seti I (1318-1301):  In his first year he led a campaign into Canaan and conquered it. 


1.         Conquest of Canaan.  There are three complimentary sources:

Stele of Beth-Shean.  In his first year he smashed the league of King Ham(m)math with the King of Pehel, who had conquered Beth-Shean and Rehob; he also sent an army to Yanoam (Aharoni says this is south of Galilee, Wilson says north of Galilee) (ANET, p. 253).  It looks like Seti wanted to take Beth Shean because it is the gateway to the Jezreel valley by the Jordan.  Yanoam in the north was probably important to take as a safeguard against the Hittites.

Karnak Relief.  This relief shows his conquest of Shashu at the upper Galilee also in his first year.  These are a nomadic, unsettled people in the Sinai and Palestine; they also confronted the Hittites in the Damascus area.

Topographical Lists.  He records the conquest of 17 towns in the first year.  This enables us to reconstruct the line of his march.  It includes the town of Hazor (#16). 

There is also a mention of 'I-s-r, “Asher,” the earliest reference to the tribe in the area of Beth Shean, in lower Galilee (See Simons, Handbook, p. 147, list XVII, 4). 

2.         Second Stele of Beth Shean:

Here Seti tells of his victory over the ‘apiru at Mount Yarmuta (see Josh. 21:29).  Kenyon says, “Whether we have here the other side of the story of the biblical account that the tribe of Manasseh failed to capture Beth-Shean there is not yet sufficient evidence to say, but it is not impossible that there is a connection” (p. 219).

Ramses II (1301-1234).  There are many texts from this king in Egypt, but they lack the historical relevance or clear applicability to the Old Testament.

1.         “400 Year Stele.”  This was set up in Zoan-Ramses by Ramses II to commemorate the 400th year of the reign of the god Seth, which anniversary had been celebrated at that place in c. 1320 by his father Seti before the dynasty was founded.  So the Hyksos came in 1720; and the 19th dynasty considered themselves heirs and guardians of the Hyksos tradition. 

The Hebrews probably were aware of this stele.  See Numbers 13:22 which gives the route of their travels, and mentions that Hebron was built seven years before Zoan (so they were aware of all that had gone on down there in Egypt).

2.         Hittite Battle.  In his fourth year (1297) he fought a famous battle  against Muwatallis, the King of the Hittites, which took place at Kadesh on the Orontes.  He describes the battle as a victory, but it was clearly a draw or a defeat.

N.B. According to the critical view of the Date of the Exodus,   this would be the time that the plagues were supposed to be going on in Egypt.  There is no clue nor hint that Ramses was even pre-occupied at this time with such things.   

3.         Capture of Kerepna.  A relief from the 8th year of his reign describes the capture of Kerepna (k-r-p-[n]) in the mountains of Beth-anath, Kanah (q-n) and Merom (m-r-m), all of which are Bath-anath of Naphtali, Kanah of Asher, and Merom of the famous “Waters of Merom” (Ju. 5) in Upper Galilee.

4.         Conquest of Ashkelon.  One relief depicts this conquest, specifying that the spirit of rebellion had penetrated into southern Palestine (ANET, p. 256; ANEP, No. 334).

5.         Ninth Year Stele.  A stele from his ninth year was discovered at Beth-Shean.  It bears witness to a campaign in that year (ANET, p. 255).  The topographical list associated with this campaign includes names such as Dor (right below Carmel, Edom, and others in the Negev. 

6.         Peace Treaty.  In his 21st year he made a peace treaty with Hatti, recognizing the status quo in the Levant; it was found in both Egyptian and Hittite (ANET, p. 199-203).

7.         Luxor Reliefs.  Reliefs in Luxor mention the land of Moab and the city of Dibon--the earliest mention of it.

8.         Papyrus Anastasi  III.  Papyrus Anastasi III (schoolboy texts) describes the extent of Canaan from the border of the land to Damascus.

9.         Papyrus Anastasi  I.  This is a letter from an Egyptian scribe to his rival.

a.         Aharoni says that “It gives the description of the main roads in Canaan of that day, describing them in terms of questions about the fate of a lonely and inexperienced traveller.  The main difference of this papyrus is that it gives us a general picture of Canaan from Sile [the border] to Damascus as the Egyptians knew it during the reign of Ramses II . . . . This is the land of Canaan as described in the biblical conquest narratives.  Numbers 34:1-2 matches precisely the Egyptian province called Canaan in that period”  (pp. 170-172).

b.         For references made to Qazaradi, chief of Asher (i-s-r), Aharoni says, “The use of the name to define a tribal group in Canaan at that time proves that it must be equated with the Israelite tribe of Asher” (p. 171;  Albright disagrees--see JAOS 74 [1954]:222ff.).

N.B.  Egypt is rather active in the land at this time, the early part of the settlement.  But this is not mentioned in the Book of Judges.  It appears that Egypt was waging wars,          but not ruling over the land.  And the Israelites were settling in and among the people, and having to fight various smaller groups.

Merneptah (1234-1220).  With the reign of Merneptah we have an anchor point in the chronology. 

1.         The “Israel Stele.”  In 1234 Merneptah put up a stele indicating that he had fought “Israel.”  This is called the “Israel Stele.”  This would suggest that the hold of Ramses II in the land of Canaan/Israel had been weakened in the second half of his reign.  The stele mentions a few places in the land (Ashkelon, Gezer, and Yeno`am).  But it mentions Israel (ANET, p. 378).

N.B. This means that Israel had to be a settled nation, known as Israel to the Egyptians, in the years 1234--just after the reign of Ramses II.  If the late date of the exodus (1290) is correct, then this would require the conquest and settlement to have happened quickly, and the nation to have become somewhat united to fight Egypt within a couple of years of the conquest--and known as “Israel.”  

As said earlier, however, this will not work.  Ramses could not be both the pharaoh of the treasure city (Exod. 1:11) and the exodus.  If he was the former, Merneptah would be the pharaoh of the exodus--but he is fighting Israel in the land.  Something is really off in this chronology.

2.         Papyrus Anastasi V.  This is about the pursuit of runaway slaves who slipped through the network of forts north of the Migdol of Seti Merneptah.  It is similar to the earlier flight of Moses.

3.         Papyrus Anastasi VI.  This concerns permission granted to tribes of Shashu from Edom for passing over to Pithom in order to preserve cattle and lives (similar to Israel in Joseph's day).


     [1] Of course many modern scholars deny that any of this happened, and so the biblical text to them is essentially worthless.  The exodus, the wandering, Sinai--all of the work of later story tellers.