Bible’s Bronze-Age Background

The third millennium BCE, the Early Bronze Age timeframe, was a period in which urban life had been well established in the Near East region now known as Palestine.  Archaeological research has shown that there were cities of several thousand persons in that timeframe which contained palaces, temples, and defined areas of commerce, all surrounded by impressive ramparts and buttresses.  These commonly served as the capital of city-states which ruled over the surrounding rural population.  For the most part, these were well-developed but rather languid cultures.

This Early Bronze Age urban atmosphere is glaringly out-of-place as background for the stories of Genesis or for the alleged wilderness wanderings as depicted in the biblical books of Exodus and Numbers.  According to those priest-written accounts, written in seventh century BCE Jerusalem, urban life was virtually nonexistent: world population was thus characterized in the biblical tales from a pastoral nomadic point of view.  This clearly indicates that something brought about the breakdown of the urban way of life later in the third millennium BCE, so the early Bible tales are actually set in the Intermediate Bronze Age, the timeframe between two urban eras.  The collapse of the urban cultures apparently occurred suddenly c. 2200 BCE, lasting into about 1800 BCE (the Intermediate Bronze Age), which is more closely the time associated with priest interpreted chronology of the alleged patriarchs.

It was noted earlier in these web posts that there were worldwide climate changes in this Intermediate Bronze Age timeframe.  Rainfall dropped by twenty percent, crops failed everywhere, famines swept across the urban societies which resulted in riots and massacres.  Temples and whole cities were abandoned: the Old Kingdom of Egypt collapsed, for example.  The Kingdom of Akkad also collapsed, and there is a preserved lamentation called The Curse of Akkad, that tells of the Akkad empire’s fall.  Typically the lamentation attributes the collapse as due to an outrage of the gods toward one of the grandsons of Sargon who is accused of having plundered the temple of Enlil.  Part of the lamentation reads: For the first time since cities were built and founded/  The great agricultural tracts produced no grain/  The inundated tract produced no fish/  The irrigated orchard produced neither syrup nor  wine/  The gathered clouds did not rain, the masgurum did not grow…  Coinciding with this, the weather throughout Europe brought a long period of freezing conditions.

Biblical chronology implies that Abram (who was later transfigured into Abraham) was supposedly born c. 2150 BCE in Chaldea and departed the city of Ur c. 2100 BCE (the third millennium BCE).  This would be in the  Intermediate Bronze Age, and although there were no large cities in this timeframe, it was not an entirely nomadic period: much of the population led sedentary lives in hamlets and villages. 

For many generations the historical existence of the alleged patriarchs of the Bible tales was never doubted, and the “age of the patriarchs” was long accepted to be the earliest phase of a sequential history of Israel.  Thus the patriarchs were believed to have come upon the world stage sometime from the mid-third millennium BCE to maybe the late third millennium.  The science of archaeology, however, began to unearth evidence that moved the background of the patriarch saga more into the early second millennium BCE.  The unearthed evidence pretty much exposed the biblical “historical” accounts, compiled by priests of Yahweh in the seventh century BCE, to be more of a national mythology than reliable history.  Part of the appeal of the Old Testament tales is the illusion of culture and customs that outwardly parallels Mesopotamian customs and laws to those portrayed in the patriarchal stories.  The secret to those enduring biblical accounts is that those cultural features are presented in such a general manner that they could easily apply to most any locale in the Intermediate Bronze Age history of the Near East.

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3 Responses to “Bible’s Bronze-Age Background”

  1. Enormously educational thanks, I do believe your visitors will very likely want further blog posts like this maintain the excellent effort.

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