The Emergence of the Israelites: an Archaeological Perspective

In a previous post, I discussed the Exodus myth and the archaeological evidences (and lack thereof) associated with the period. I recall a comment on the post on another blog somewhere that noted my use of the phrase “[t]he same progenitor peoples of the modern day Israelites and Palestinians” with regard to the Canaanites. The commenter remarked how this was becoming more and more accepted and the reason is because of the work of archaeologists like Israel Finkelstein, who are objectively weighing the evidence and letting their conclusions arise after going where the evidence takes them.

Below the fold, I’ve presented a summary of some of their findings, which, as far as I can tell, haven’t been successfully refuted by those that have an agenda rooted in Biblical mythology.

Several hypotheses exist to explain the emergence of the Israelites in Canaan, among them are:

1) The Biblical hypothesis: after their escape from Egypt and having wondered the desert, the Jewish people began a campaign of conquest led by Joshua at around 1230 – 1220 BCE.

2) The Peaceful Immigrant hypothesis: the suggestion that Israel conquered Canaan through gradual immigration into the region rather than abrupt and violent military conquest.

3) Peasant Revolt hypothesis: which provides an explanation that the Israelites emerged as peasants who overthrew their Canaanite masters through a religious revolution in which they developed a monotheistic religion that provided an egalitarian set of laws regarding social conduct, replacing the complex pantheon of Canaanite religious belief.

The Biblical account is very often the one taken at face-value and without question. Indeed, many archaeologists have proceeded in both the past and the present with the assumption that Israel was conquered by force as the Israelites took Canaan from its inhabitants. This conquest is preceded by the story of Exodus, in which the Israelites are chased out of Egypt as by the Pharaoh’s army as they escaped across the Red Sea and into the Sinai Peninsula. It is natural, perhaps, to associate this story with the Egyptian story of the Hyksos, since they, like the Israelites, are of Semitic origin and were “chased” out of Lower Egypt by the Pharaoh. From about 1668 – 1565 BCE, Canaanites occupied the Delta and ruled Lower Egypt. Manethos referred to them as heku-shoswet, and, Hellenized, it became “Hyksos,” which means rulers of a foreign land. This later became a general Egyptian term for Asiatic foreigners.

The Hyksos had a distinctive Canaanite pottery and architecture, which is present in the archaeological record and, according to the Turin Papyrus, they ruled Lower Egypt for 108 years. One of the most prominent of their rulers was Apophis and their capital was Avaris, known today as the archaeological site Tell Daba’a.

Pharaoh Ahmose I (18th Dynasty) sacked Avaris and chased the Hyksos to southern Canaan to their fortress, Sharuhen near modern day Gaza. Ahmose laid siege to the fortress for three years before he stormed it. From that point, the Egyptians maintained tight control of the border between Eastern Egypt and Canaan. The Hyksos story, however, takes place 119 years before Exodus is alleged to have occurred, so it either isn’t the same group of people or the story survived as an echo of its original, degraded through time and embellished to retell the episode as a story of success rather than failure.

This is the first of Two parts (it ended up being too lengthy to toss out all at once) and, in the second/final part, I’ll discuss the Merneptah Stele, the alleged military campaign of Joshua at Jericho, Ai, etc., and the archaeological evidences of settlement patterns in the Levant, particularly the highlands of Canaan.

Playing God? Life Created in the Laboratory

Newsweek’s Cover story is about abiogenesis and synthesis of self-replicating organisms. I just finished reading this article online [NewsWeek at MSNBC.Com] and noticed that PZ Myers has a post on it already. Before I read his, I thought I’d post a quick review of the article with a few quotes and encourage others to check it out.

The Newsweek article’s author refers to biological researchers concerned with creating life synthetically as “SynBio practitioners,” giving the field a near religious moniker. The article was informative but the slant seemed decidedly against science in this regard, going out of its way to point out the “dangers” and “immorality” of research in this field:

Despite the opposition, the researchers who work in the field, which is known as Synthetic Biology, have a disarming casualness about their work—almost as though they were building machines, rather than living things.


Like most biologists, SynBio practitioners have a more materialist view of life. “Life is not magic,” says Princeton’s Ron Weiss, an electrical engineer who now concentrates on genetic programming of cells. He thinks older biologists like Kass have not kept up with advances in science. Of course, SynBio scientists haven’t quite proven that a cell is a kind of biochemical machine, and religious biologists like Kass and Collins hang on tightly to this uncertainty. Proof will come when the first discrete, self-maintaining, self-replicating, stable organic creature—Life 2.0—is created from scratch in the lab.

And, of course, the very lead in for the magazine is the cover, which has “Playing God” in big, bold type. Then the subtitle of the article reads, “[a] new generation of scientific mavericks is not content to merely tinker with life’s genetic code. They want to rewrite it from scratch.”

It benefits a magazine like Newsweek, of course, to use lead-ins and call-outs that hook the reader by highlighting the controversial aspects. They’ll already have the attention of those interested in the science behind the story, but such editorial strategies will ensure that those that question the research will read as well. So I really can’t fault Newsweek much for playing both sides of the fence. Particularly when they include many positive aspects of the research as well:

A few projects are already giving us a glimpse of the power of this new field. The most extraordinary effort is to create a microbial organism that would produce a powerful antimalarial drug.


Christopher Voigt, of UC San Francisco, and Christina Smolke, of Caltech, are in the early stages of designing microbes that would circulate through the human bloodstream, seeking out cancerous tumors anywhere in the body. The microbes might be equipped with a biodevice that detects the low oxygen levels characteristic of a tumor, another that invades the cancer cells, a third that generates a toxin to kill the cells and a fourth that hangs around afterward in case the cancer comes back.


Venter and Church are eyeing an even bigger prize: a self-sustaining, highly efficient biological organism that converts sunlight directly into clean biofuel, with minimal environmental impact and zero net release of greenhouse gases.

So maybe those skeptical because of religious reasons will see what they came for: like minded scientists that dissent from the research (albeit a small minority). But, at the same time, maybe some will be swayed by the benefits and begin to question their dogmatic opposition.

Related Links:
Silver, Lee (2007) Life 2.0:
A new generation of scientific mavericks is not content to merely tinker with life’s genetic code. They want to rewrite it from scratch. Newsweek, found on the web at:

I Sailing a Raft of Reeds Across the Atlantic Experimental Archaeology?

Not a chance. It’s more like pseudo-experimental, pseudo-archaeology. But, either way, a German man plans to sail his Bolivian made raft across the Atlantic as “proof” that this is the way it was done throughout antiquity. More below the fold.

Forty year-old Dominique Gorlitz thinks that people crossed the Atlantic regularly at around 14,000 years ago based on the skimpiest of evidence. So he plans to sail a raft, most of which was made by Bolivian natives then shipped to the States, from Jersey City, NJ to the opposite shore of the Atlantic Ocean. The raft is being completed by 25 volunteers and did I mention he bases the voyage on evidence?

What evidence, you say? Did archaeologists find a detailed codex in an ancient tomb, which outlines voyages, raft designs, goods traded? Or was an intact raft found in an anaerobic peat bog or below the oxidation level of some deep lake?

Nope. None of this. Gorlitz bases his life threatening voyage on traces of cocaine and tobacco that are supposedly found in Egyptian tombs. And on a spurious cave drawing that is interpreted as Atlantic ocean currents. And the raft itself (pictured above) is designed after a 6,000 year-old northeastern African design. To paraphrase Kenneth Feder, author of Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries: Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology, the evidence they’re considering is really cool. But it doesn’t demonstrate ancient rafting skills.

But at least Gorlitz and his volunteers are professional sailors and nautical geniuses, right?

Nope. He’s a novice. An amateur. Indeed, he can’t even swim, according to the linked article! But don’t worry, because he’s quoted in the article as saying, “It’s like kung fu… The less you know, the better.” Right.

Cocaine and tobacco traces in Egyptian tombs is something I heard/read once a few years ago, but I’m not up to speed on this. If nothing else, the Gorlitz story gave me a topic to pursue in a later post here at Hot Cup of Joe under the Forbidden Archaeology and Pseudoarchaeology labels. If anyone has information or sources for me to pursue on this, I’d be grateful. I think the topic came up at Hall of Ma’at a few years ago.

Related or Sourced Links:
image from:

Gilgamesh and Mesopotamian Mythology Part II

In my last post, I discussed both the Old Babylonian and the Akkadian versions of the Gilgamesh Epic and some of their similarities and differences. I find the Akkadian acceptance and fascination of Sumerian gods and mythology to be fascinating itself. I often wonder if, perhaps, their fascination with the earlier Sumerian culture could be analogous to the fascination modern Americans have with Native American culture. Like the Akkadians, we assign many place-names based on Native words and we continue to have a special reverence for Native mythology and culture.

In this part, I’ll quote two passages of the Flood Myth present in Gilgamesh which demonstrates the popularity and appeal of at least one aspect of the story that still resonates with people even today.


Non-Mesopotamian versions of the Flood diverge further. Berossos, who wrote the Greek history of Babylonia in the 3rd century BCE, has his ark land in Armenia rather than Dilmun or even Mt. Nisir. He uses the name Xisouthros instead of Ut-napishtim, indicating that he is familiar with the Ziusudra version, but the use of mountains might demonstrate an embellishment designed to show that no culture could escape the flood. Nisir is only 9,000 feet and further south, while the Armenian mountains are probably among the highest known to Berossos. It could very well be that the original intent of the story was to maintain the Dilmun connection in an inaccessible and secret land, since NIŞIRTU, the possible source of the NI SIR sign in line 140, means “inaccessible,” “secret” or “hidden.” The assumption that the sign referred to Nisir may have led to an embellishment of landing the boat on a mountain, further embellishing the significance of the Flood’s reach.

By the time the story has been adopted by Jewish authors in Genesis, many embellishments are added, such as significantly increasing the number of days of rain from six or seven to forty days and forty nights; changing the perspective to a monotheistic one; the inclusion of two of every animal; the size of the boat; and so on. Even the reason for the destruction of mankind is embellished, evolving from being noisy to being wicked. But the core framework of the Sumerian flood myth still remains:

Gligamesh XI, 145-54

When the seventh day arrived,
I sent forth and set free a dove.
The dove went forth but came back since no resting place was visible, she turned around.
Then I set forth a swallow
The swallow went forth but came back, since no resting place for it was visible, she turned around.
I then set free a raven. The raven went forth and, seeing that the waters had diminished, he eats, circles, caws, and turns not around.

Genesis 8:6-12

Then it came about at the end of forty days, that Noah opened the window of the ark which he had made;
and he sent out a raven, and it flew here and there until the water was dried up from the earth.
Then he sent out a dove from him, to see if the water was abated from the face of the land,
but the dove found no resting place for the sole of her foot, so she returned to him into the ark, for the water was on the surface of all the earth. Then he put out his hand and took her, and brought her into the ark to himself.
So he waited yet another seven days; and again he sent out the dove from the ark.
The dove came to him toward evening, and behold, in her beak was a freshly picked olive leaf. So Noah knew that the water was abated from the earth.
Then he waited yet another seven days, and sent out the dove; but she did not return to him again.

In addition to the similarities of the end of the survivor’s time at sea, other key elements remain, which include: deciding to send a flood to wipe out life on earth; selecting a worthy man to survive; building a boat; riding out the storm on the boat; offering a sacrifice on dry land at the end; and establishing a covenant between the gods and mankind. Ut-napishtim and his family achieve immortality and Noah is instructed to “be fruitful and multiply. Ishtar tells Ut-napishtim that she “shall remember these days and forget never,” and Enlil, seeing the error of his rage, takes Ut-napishtim and his wife by the hands, touches their foreheads and announces, “Hitherto Ut-napishtim and his wife shall be like unto us gods. Yahweh tells Noah, “I will never again curse the ground on account of man, for the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth; and I will never again destroy every living thing, as I have done.”

The natural appeal of Gilgamesh as an adventurous hero was likely a source of its popularity in pre-literate as well as post-literate Mesopotamia. Oral traditions may have out-weighed written ones in transmitting the story during the heights of Sumerian and Akkadian cultures, but the traces of the motif are present in cultures that are far removed from Mesopotamia in both space and time, testifying to the power of a good story to propagate itself in human culture, particularly when its themes of heroism, loss, survival, and friendship resonate so well with human nature.


Dalley, S. (1989). Myths from Mesopotamia: Creation, The Flood, Gilgamesh, and Others. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kraeling, Emil G (1947) Xisouthros, Deucalion and the Flood Traditions. Journal of the American Oriental Society, 67 (3), 177-183.

PSD (2006) Pennsylvania Sumerian Dictionary Project. Babylonian Section of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology. Found on the Internet at:

Pritchard, J. B. (1958). The Ancient Near East, Volume 1: An Anthology of Texts and Pictures. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Woolley, C. L. (1928). The Sumerians. Oxford: The Clarendon Press.

The Gilgamesh Epic and its Relationship to other Mesopotamian Myths

The Epic of Gilgamesh is a story of heroism and adventure that still has an appeal to the reader today, suggesting that the human need for fictional identification with heroes and adventure is one that has possibly always existed. Keeping this in mind can help when the epic as a whole is examined and its parts dissected to reveal its origins. It can also benefit the reader of related Mesopotamian and Near Eastern Myths as motifs and themes find their way from one to another across time and space.

Part I

The standard version of the Gilgamesh Epic is comprised of written and oral stories and tales that originate from Sumer but were probably collected and redacted by one or more Akkadian scribes, perhaps Sin-leqe-unnini of the Kassite period whose name is known because he “signed” his work. But Sin-leqe-unnini didn’t invent the epic. Earlier Sumerian stories include Gilgamesh as the central character, such as Gilgamesh and the halub-tree, Gilgamesh and Huwawa, and The Descent of Inanna to the Underworld. In these and other stories, themes and events are drawn from to create the Akkadian epic where Gilgamesh, part god, part man, teams up with Enkidu who is created by the gods to provide a balancing companion to Gilgamesh. Throughout the epic, many themes are dealt with by Gilgamesh: friendship, honor, life, death, loss. But it is, perhaps, human mortality that becomes the central theme as Gilgamesh deals with the death of his friend and explores the concept of immortality with Siduri, the wine maker, in tablet ten and Ut-napishtim in tablets ten and eleven. To them both he asks, “Am I not like him [Enkidu]? Must I lie down too, never to rise, ever again?” And to both of them he says, “I was frightened. I am afraid of death.”

In the Old Babylonian version, it is Siduri where Gilgamesh’s journey ends rather than Ut-napishtim. As with Enkidu, who was humanized by a harlot, Gilgamesh is humanized by a woman (an ale-wife or wine-maker). The addition of the Ut-napishtim story, however, is significant and it imparts the significance of the flood event that is regarded in many Mesopotamian and Near Eastern stories as one that was initiated by gods to “cleanse” the land of wicked or just annoying humanity.

Other stories that included the subject of wide-scale flood, which displaces or wipes out humans that inhabit the world include the Myth of Ziusudra, Atrahasis, and Genesis, through which there are many similarities and distinctions. The similarities are interesting and useful to students of mythology and anthropology for obvious reasons, since the motifs can be traced through space and time giving evidence that these cultures had ties to each other. The distinctions are, likewise, useful but perhaps for less obvious reasons. Where the stories depart can show how cultures evolve, differ, or intentionally accept or reject the motifs of other, contemporaneous or preceding cultures.

In looking first at the similarities, the evolution of the flood myth can be examined. Ziusudra, from a Sumerian tablet dating to around 1600 BCE, provides a flood myth among the oldest in known literature. In it, the gods have decided to destroy mankind and one of the gods warns Ziusudra, Sumerian for “extra-wise,” which is the same meaning of the Akkadian name “Atrahasis.” Ziusudra escapes the flood, which lasts seven days and seven nights by boat, to the island of Dilmun, where he prostates himself before the gods.

The Atrahasis story, found on Akkadian tablets dating to about 1650 BCE, depicts the same hero in the same situation. Atrahasis is warned by Enki of the impending flood, speaking to him through a wall, and instructed to build a boat for him and his family to escape the flood which lasts seven days and seven nights.

The second Akkadian version, found in Gilgamesh, refers to the survivor as Ut-napishtim by name, which means “he found life,” though he is referred to once as Atrahasis in tablet ten, line 187 of the standard Babylonian version. Ut-napishtim weathers only six days and seven nights in the flood, however, and lands his boat on Mount Nisir (a.k.a. Nimush) rather than the island of Dilmun (perhaps Bahrain) or the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates.

Dalley (1989) suggests at one point that the Ziusudra myth is “based on the relatively composition based on an Akkadian version of the story,” but acknowledges that the flood motif was one of Sumerian origin and was effectively incorporated into Atrahasis. The dating of the tablets themselves cannot date the individual stories and only reveal when they were scribed to clay for a given tablet. Oral traditions likely predate the cuneiform traditions and, thus, the flood motif may have existed long before the technology of writing. That the Akkadian culture is using Sumerian gods to tell a Sumerian story is telling, but examination of the differences might give further insight as to which story follows which.

Ziusudra reports that the boat lands on the island of Dilmun whereas Atrahasis has the landing at “the mouth of the rivers,” meaning the Tigris and Euphrates, which come together over 300 miles from Bahrain, often suggested as the island of Dilmun. But since Arab tradition holds that these two rivers flow beneath the sea only to emerge at the surface at Bahrain where they provide a “miraculous supply of sweet water,” it is still tenable that Bahrain is the intended location of Dilmun in the Atrahasis story. The Sumerian and Akaddian versions would seem to have a common progenitor, which is obviously Sumerian since the central figures are Sumerian as are the geographical details.

The Gilgamesh epic adopts the flood motif, with slight embellishments. The name, Ut-napishtim is contextually important since Gilgamesh is searching for immortality and it is the Flood survivor, Ziusudra (“extra-wise”) who finds it, thus living up to the new name, Ut-napishtim, which translates to “he found life” on at least two levels: surviving the deluge intended by the gods to destroy mankind; and granted immortality by the gods. The addition of the

The cuneiform sign for KUR [KUR] in line 140 of Gilgamesh refers to “underworld; land, country; mountain(s); east; easterner; east wind” (PSD 2006). The sign for NI SIR [KURKUR] is traditionally translated to mean the mountain, Nisir, which reaches 9,000 feet. But if KUR is referring to something other than “mountain,” such as land or country, then KUR KURKUR may have been derived from KUR NIŞIRTU, meaning “hidden land/country” or “secret land/country,” which is contextually consistent with the motif since the legend of Dilmun includes a Utopist perception of a place that is holy and removed from the profane. Dilmun is “pure,” “pristine” and “virginal” according to The Myth of Enki and Ninhursag.

I don’t pretend to be an expert on either cuneiform or ancient Mesopotamian languages and spent more than a few collective hours looking over some of the scripts and translations involving Gilgamesh and other ancient texts. I wouldn’t even consider myself a novice in the field and I defer willingly to any input others like Duane at Abnormal Interests might have to offer. The more I look at ancient cuneiform, however, the more I’m interested.

I’ll post Part II in a day or so, where I’ll look more closely at the flood myth in Gilgamesh and how it relates to other Mesopotamian texts, including the Noachian myth. I’ll also include a short bibliography that I used for those interested in following up or finding additional sources.

New Egyptian Tomb Find May Be Best Preserved
Belgian archaeologists of the Leuven Catholic University discovered a tomb of Henu, a high-ranking estate manager and Egyptian courtier. The tomb dates to about 4,000 years ago and is located in the necropolis of Deir al-Barsha in Minya, Egypt.

Hieroglyphic texts on the sarcophagus of Henu’s linen-wrapped mummy mention the gods Anubis and Osiris and the tomb included wooden models that depicted scenes of brickmaking, beermaking, cereal grinding, and one of a boat with 10 rowers.

The story as I found it was at, the “first art newspaper on the net.”

However, after a little “internet excavation,” I found the Deir al-Barsha project’s website and their page on The Tomb of Henu, where I found this quote:

Intact tombs of the First Intermediate Period that are as rich as Henu’s burial have been found only rarely, the latest similar find dating back more than twenty years. Before that, a number of similar tombs, although of slightly later date, were discovered in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The find is therefore most exceptional. Additionally all of the objects are in perfect condition which is remarkable since they are made in wood that was first plastered and then painted.

The authors of the Tomb website go on to point out that looting in antiquity was probably thwarted because of New Kingdom quarry debris covering this and other tombs in the area.

Photo Source:

Loch Ness to become World Heritage Site

Nessie Fans take notice! The Loch Ness, about 37 km from Inverness, Scotland may be destined to become a World Heritage Site.

the UK’s largest body of fresh water and one of the deepest at 754ft, which makes it a vital site for scientists, as well as monster hunters and tourists. Its largely undisturbed mud-beds are a source of important historical, geological and environmental data, giving clues to such phenomena as the formation of the Great Glen.

The application will need to be made to UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, before it can be considered, listing it with 162 other sites like The Grand Canyon, the Galapogos Islands, and The Great Barrier Reef.

Loch Ness has some some significant peers to compare with should it be accepted by UNESCO.