Excerpts from Bible as History

Four hundred year’s silence

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9. Four hundred year’s silence.

Reawakening on the Nile — Thebes instigates revolt — rout of the Hyksos — Egypt becomes a world power — Indian civilization in Mitanni — the “Sons of Heth” on the Halys — Pharaoh's widow in quest of a mate — the first non-aggression pact in the world — Hittite bridal procession through Canaan.
And Israel dwelt in the land of Egypt in the country of Goshen: and they had possessions therein, and grew and multiplied exceedingly” (Gen. 47:27).
For a space of 400 years, during which, politically, the face of the “Fertile Crescent” was completely altered, the Bible is silent. In these four centuries there took place a vast rearrangement of the disposition of national groups. They interrupted the history of the Semitic kingdoms that for 1,000 years had maintained their sway on the Euphrates and the Tigris. The great island of civilization in the Middle East was rudely dragged from its self-sufficient existence. Foreign peoples with foreign ways surged in from distant and hitherto unknown lands. For the first time it felt the clash with the outside world.

For 150 years there is also silence in Egypt. The prelude to the reawakening of the giant of the Nile opens with a remarkable motif: the roaring of hippopotami.

A papyrus fragment15 tells how the ambassador of the Hyksos king Apophis went from Avaris to the prince of the City of the South. The City of the South was Thebes and its prince was the Egyptian Sekenenre, who paid tribute to the foreign overlords on the upper delta. The prince in astonishment asked the emissary of the Asiatic occupying power: “Why have you been sent to the City of the South? Why have you made this journey?” The messenger replied: “King Apophis — may he have long life health and prosperity! — bids me say to you: Get rid of the hippopotamus pool in the east end of your city. I cannot sleep for them. Night and day the noise of them rings in my ears.” The prince of the City of the South was thunderstruck because he did not know what answer to give to the ambassador of King Apophis — may he have long life, health and prosperity! At last he said: “Very well, your master — may he have long life, health and prosperity! — will hear about this pool in the east end of the City of the South.” The ambassador however was not to be so easily put off. He spoke more plainly: “This matter about which I have been sent must be dealt with.” The prince of the City of the South then tried in his own way to get round the determined ambassador. He was well aware of the ancient equivalent of the present day slap-up lunch as a means of creating a friendly atmosphere and goodwill. Accordingly he saw to it that the Hyksos commissioner was “supplied with good things, with meat and cakes.” But his luck was out. For when the ambassador departed he had a promise from the prince in his saddle-bag, written on papyrus: “All that you have told me to do I shall do. Tell him that.” Then the prince of the City of the South summoned his highest officials and his leading officers and repeated to them the message that King Apophis — may he have long life, health and prosperity! — had sent him. “Then one and all remained silent for quite a while....” At this point the papyrus text breaks off. The end of the story is unfortunately missing, but we can reconstruct the sequel from other contemporary evidence.

In the Cairo Museum lies the mummy of Sekenenre. When it was discovered at Deir-el-Bahri near Thebes, it attracted special attention from medical men, for there were five deep sword cuts in the head. Sekenenre had lost his life in battle.

It sounds like a fairy tale, yet it is an attractive possibility that the roaring of hippopotami at Thebes should have unseated the Hyksos rulers up in the delta. The roaring of a hippopotamus is probably the most extraordinary casus belli in world history.16

Beginning at Thebes the rebellion against the hated oppressors spread like wildfire throughout the country. Egyptian battalions marched once more down the Nile. They were accompanied by a well-equipped fleet of galleys which headed north down the sacred river. In 1580 B.C., after years of furious attacks, Avaris, the chief fortress of the Hyksos in the delta, fell amid bloody and savage fighting. Ahmose I, son of Sekenenre, was the glorious liberator of Egypt. A namesake of his, Ahmose, an officer in the new Royal Egyptian Navy, has left us a record of this decisive battle on the walls of his tomb at El-Kab. After a detailed description of his education he adds laconically: “Avaris was taken: I captured one man and three women, four people in all. His Majesty gave them to me as slaves.”

This naval officer had also something to say about the military side of things: “Sharuhen was besieged for three years before his Majesty captured it.” This was also a profitable occasion for Ahmose: “I collected two women and one laborer as my booty. I was given gold for my bravery, as well as the prisoners for my slaves.”

Sharuhen was, on account of its commanding position in the Negev, an important strategic point south of the brown mountain chains of Judah. The small mound of rubble, Tell Far'a, is all that remains of it. Flinders Petrie, the famous British archaeologist, brought to light a thick wall here in 1928.

The multi-colored army of mercenaries which the Egyptians controlled, consisting of Negroes, Asiatics, and Nubians, marched on northwards through Canaan. The new Pharaohs had learned a lesson from the bitter experience of the past. Never again would their country be taken by a surprise attack. Egypt lost no time in creating a buffer-state far in advance of its frontier posts. The remainder of the Hyksos empire was crushed and Palestine became an Egyptian province. What had once been consular stations, trading posts, and messengers' quarters in Canaan and on the Phoenician coast became permanent garrisons, fortified strong points and Egyptian fortresses in a subjugated land.

After a history of more than 2,000 years the giant of the Nile stepped out of the shadows of his Pyramids and Sphinxes and claimed the right to take an active part in affairs beyond his own border and to have some say in the outside world. Egypt matured more and more into a world-power. Previously, everyone who lived outside of the Nile valley was contemptuously described as 'Asiatics,” “Sandramblers,” cattle-breeders — people not worthy of the attention of a Pharaoh. Now however the Egyptians became more affable. They began communications with other countries. Hitherto that had been unthinkable. Among the diplomatic correspondence in the archives of the palace of Man there is not one single item from the Nile. Tempora mutantur — times change.

Their advance brought them eventually to Syria, indeed to the banks of the Euphrates. There, to their astonishment, they came up against people of whose existence they had no idea. The priests searched in vain through the ancient papyrus rolls in the temple archives, and studied without result the records of the campaigns of earlier Pharaohs. Nowhere could they find even a hint about the unknown kingdom of Mitanni. Its foundation is attributed to an extremely active and creative people, the Humans, named as Horites in the Bible about the time of Abraham (Gen. 14:6, etc.).

In the neighborhood of the oil-wells of Kirkuk in Iraq, where now derricks draw immeasurable wealth from the earth, archaeologists from U.S.A. and Iraq came across a large settlement, the old Human city of Nuzi. Stacks of tablets which have been salvaged, and among these principally marriage contracts and wills, contained extremely interesting information: the Biblical Horites were not a Semitic people. Their home was among the mountains round Lake Van. The names on many Human documents indicate that at least the princely caste must be reckoned as Indo-Aryan. It is even certain that as far as their outward appearance was concerned they belonged to the brachycephalous type like present day Armenians.

In the north of Mesopotamia they had built up the powerful kingdom of Mitanni between the upper reaches of the Euphrates and the Tigris. Their kings had collected round them an aristocracy of warlike charioteers and they bore Indo-Aryan names. The aristocracy of the country was called Marya, which is the equivalent of “Young Warriors.” Marya is an old Indian word and their temples were dedicated to old Indian gods. Magic incantations from the Rigveda were intoned in front of the images of Mithras, the victorious champion of Light against Darkness, of Indra, who ruled the storms, and of Varuna, who governed the eternal order of the universe. The old gods of the Semites had crashed from their pedestals.

The Mitanni were completely devoted to their horses, they were “horse-daft.” They held the first Derbys in the world along the banks of their great rivers. Advice on the breeding and care of stud animals, directions for the training of cavalry horses, instructions on breaking-in young horses, regulations for feeding and training in racing stables fill veritable libraries of clay tablets. These are works on equitation which can bear comparison with any modern textbook on horse-breeding. As far as the Marya, these aristocratic charioteers, were concerned, horses were of more account than human beings.

It was with this state of Mitanni that Egypt had now a common frontier, nevertheless one on which there was to be no peace. Local feuds were unending. Raids on one side or the other constantly involved Egyptian archers in angry passages with the charioteers. In the course of these expeditions sometimes it was Egyptian striking forces, sometimes columns of Mitanni, who struck deep into the enemy's territory. The valleys of the Lebanon, the banks of the Orontes and the Euphrates were the scenes of endless battles and bloody melees. For almost a century the two great kingdoms were at each other's throats.

Shortly before 1400 B.C. the warlike Mitanni proposed a peaceful settlement with the Egyptians. The enemy became a friend.

What was the reason for the unexpected desire for peace on the part of the warlike Mitanni?

The impulse came from outside. Their kingdom was suddenly threatened with war on two fronts. A second powerful opponent began to storm the frontiers with his armies from Asia Minor in the north-west. This was a nation about which scholars until this century knew hardly anything, but which plays a considerable part in the Old Testament — the Hittites.

It was among the “Sons of Heth” that Abraham pitched his tent near Hebron, south of the hills of Judah, and it was from them that he bought the land where he laid his wife Sarah to rest (Gen. 23:33). Esau, much to the distress of his parents Isaac and Rebecca, married two Hittite women (Gen. 26:34), and King David himself took “the wife of Uriah, the Hittite” (2 Sam. 11). We are told by the prophet Ezekiel that Hittites were partly responsible for founding Jerusalem: “Thy birth and thy nativity is of the land of Canaan: thy father was an Amorite, and thy mother a Hittite” (Ezek. 16:3, 45).

The rediscovery of the Hittite people who had sunk into complete oblivion took place in the heart of Turkey shortly after the turn of the century.

In the highlands east of Ankara, the capital, the river Halys makes a huge bend on its way to the Black Sea. Almost exactly in the middle lies Boghaz-Keui: “Boghas” in Turkish means a gorge and “Keui” is a village. Near this “Village in the gorge” the German Assyriologist Professor Hugo Winckler discovered in 1905 a number of cuneiform texts, among which was also a peculiar type of hieroglyphics. They aroused tremendous interest and not only among scholars. The general public learned with amazement just what kind of people these Biblical “sons of Heth” were. The translations of the cuneiform writings brought to the notice of the world at large the hitherto unknown Indo-Germanic Hittites and their vanished empire.

Two years later a fresh expedition set out from Berlin for Boghaz-Keui. This time it was under the direction of the President of the Archaeological Institute of Berlin, Otto Puchstein. The great pile of ruins above the village was carefully examined. This was the site of royal Chattusas, the proud capital of the Hittite empire. What remained of it was a vast ruin of walls, temples, fortified gateways — the remnants of a great city. Its walls enclosed an area of 425 acres. Chattusas was almost as big as mediaeval Nuremberg. At the city gates were life-size reliefs. It is to these effigies, carved out of black basalt as hard as iron, that we are indebted for our knowledge of the appearance of Hittite kings and warriors: their long hair hung over their shoulders like a full-bottomed wig. On top sat a high dented cap. Their short aprons were fastened with a wide belt and their shoes had pointed toes.

When Shuppiluliuma, king of the Hittites, marched south-east with a powerful army about 1370 B.C. the days of the kingdom of Mitanni were already numbered despite all their clever dynastic politics. Shuppiluliuma crushed the kingdom of the warlike charioteers, compelled it to pay tribute, and then pressed on farther to the mountains of the Lebanon in the north of Canaan. Overnight, as it were, Egypt had a new equally powerful neighbor in Syria, thirsting for victory.

A delightful document has come down to us from this period. Prince Mursilis, son of Shuppiluliuma, tells in his autobiography of an episode at the Hittite Court, which must have made such a lasting impression on him that he had it recorded.

Anches-en-Amun, the wife of Pharaoh Tutankhamun, had become a widow. She had very famous parents, Akhnaten and Nofretete. We know her from wonderful Egyptian representations as a slight young thing. But she must have been a woman who knew what she wanted and used all her natural charm to further the aims of her people in the realm of high politics. Using the inviting bed and throne of the Pharaohs as a bait — and what an attractive one — she tried to take the wind out of the sails of her powerful new neighbors by discouraging their warlike intentions. Hittite warriors had just made an attack on Amqa, the fertile country between Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon.

Mursilis dictated: “When the Egyptians heard of the attack on Amqa they were alarmed. To make matters worse, her husband, Tutankhamun, having just died, his widow, the Egyptian queen, sent an ambassador to my father and wrote him the following letter: 'My husband is dead and I have no son. I am told that you have many sons. If you send me one of your sons he could become my husband. I do not wish to take one of my servants and make a husband of him.' When my father heard this he summoned his nobles to a council and said: 'I have never in all my life come across anything like this.' He dispatched his chamberlain Hattu-Zitis: 'Go and find out if this is true. Perhaps they are trying to deceive me. There may in fact be a prince. Bring me back reliable information.' The Egyptian ambassador, the honorable Hanis, came to my father. Since my father had instructed Hattu-Zitis before he left for Egypt: 'Perhaps they have a prince of their own: They may be trying to deceive us. They may not need one of my sons at all to occupy the throne', the queen of Egypt now replied to my father in a letter: 'Why do you say, they may be trying to deceive me? If I had a son would I write to a foreign country in a manner that is humiliating both for me and my people? You do not trust me, otherwise you would not say such a thing. He who was my husband is dead and I have no sons. Am I to take one of my servants and make him into my husband? I have written to no other country, I have only written to you. They tell me you have so many sons. Give me one of your sons and he shall be my husband and king over the land of Egypt.' Since my father was so fine a king, he complied with the lady's request and sent her the son she asked for.”

Fate prevented the successful conclusion of this unusual offer of marriage. The royal throne and the bed of Anches-en-Amun both remained empty, since the candidate for both was murdered on his way to Egypt.

Seventy-five years later another offer of marriage on this same Halys-Nile axis had a happy ending, although the prelude to it, which was the din of battle and the clash of weapons, pointed to a different conclusion. Ramesses II, who was called the “Great,” set out with his army for Palestine and Syria. He intended to deal with the hated Hittites once and for all.

In the valley of the Orontes, where today fields of cotton stretch far and wide and the old Crusader castle “Krak des Chevaliers” keeps an eye on the fertile plain of Bukea, there lay in those days the city of Kadesh, a little to the south of the dark green of Lake Horns. Before its walls four Egyptian armies threw themselves on the swift war-chariots and infantry of the Hittites. The battle did not, as it happened, bring Ramesses II the victory he had hoped for — he came in fact within an ace of being captured himself — but it put an end to these endless military incidents. In 1280 B.C. the Hittites and the Egyptians concluded the first non-aggression and mutual defense pact in world history. The good understanding was cemented at top level by the marriage of Ramesses II to a Hittite princess. Many lengthy inscriptions give in full and vivid detail the colorful background of what was in the circumstances an international event of the first order. Whether they are found on the walls of the temples at Karnak, Elephantine or Abu Simbel, or on the numerous monuments, they all tell the same story.

As far as self-advertisement and self-praise were concerned, Ramesses II put all his predecessors in the shade. “Then came a messenger to inform His Majesty. He said: 'Behold, even the great Prince of Hatti! Prince of the Hittites. His eldest daughter is on her way and she brings untold tribute of all kinds.... They have reached His Majesty's frontiers. Let the army and the dignitaries come to receive her! Then His Majesty was greatly delighted, and the palace was glad to hear these unusual tidings which were quite unheard of in Egypt. He therefore sent forth the army and the dignitaries to receive her.”

A large delegation was dispatched to the north of Palestine to bring back the bride. Yesterday's enemies became brothers: “So the daughter of the great Prince of Hatti came to Egypt. Whilst the infantry, charioteers and dignitaries of His Majesty accompanied them, they mingled with the infantry and charioteers from Hatti. The whole populace from the country of the Hittites was mixed up with the Egyptians. They ate and drank together, they were like blood-brothers....”

The great bridal train proceeded from Palestine to the city of Per-Ramesses-Meri-Imen in the Nile delta: “Then they brought the daughter of the Great Prince of Hatti... before His Majesty. And His Majesty saw that she was fair of countenance like a goddess... And he loved her more than anything else....”

Any of the children of Israel, of their ancestors who were in Egypt at that time, could have been eye-witnesses of the ceremonial arrival of the bridal procession in the city of Per-Ramesses-Meri-Imen, which means “The House of Ramses the Beloved of Amun.” As the Biblical description indicates however their presence in this city was by no means of their own accord. It is at this point also that the Bible resumes its narrative. Four hundred years which the Children of Israel had spent as immigrants in the land of the Nile have been passed over in silence. A new and significant chapter of the history of the Biblical people now begins.

To assert that the Bible remains silent concerning a period of four hundred years is correct only if the period of the patriarchs really occurred between 2000 B.C. and approximately 1800 B.C. It is precisely this, however, which recent discoveries have already obliged us to express doubts about. For example, if the legal practices of the Biblical “patriarchs” were to correspond so very exactly to those of the Human town of Nuzi in Mitanni, as we noted in Book I, Chapter 5, the beginning of the patriarchal period at around 1900 B.C. becomes extraordinarily problematical.

The places, too, where the Bible speaks of Hittites appear to consign Abraham and consequently all the Biblical “patriarchs” as well to a later period. Allegedly Abraham acquired the burial-place in Hebron of his wife Sarah from Hittites (Gen. 23:lff).

It is a fact that the negotiations for the sale, which are described in detail in the Bible, become clear to us today only by comparison with Hittite documents. Obviously Abraham wanted nothing but the cave and not the whole plot. Hittite documents tell us why. In accordance with Hittite customs, the plot would otherwise have been free for utilization by the previous owner! In the end, however, agreement was reached and Abraham took not only the cave but also the field and all the trees. This, too, reminds us of Hittite documents dealing with such transactions which always state with scrupulous exactness the number of trees! This is undoubtedly another example of the surprising confirmation of details found in the Bible.

And yet we must ask what Hittites these were with whom Abraham was negotiating. Where did they come from if Abraham, as is alleged, lived at such an early date that the Hittite Empire, which according to Hittite sources was not founded until about the sixteenth century B.C., was not even in existence? And how did Hittites get to Hebron? In other words, to Southern Palestine, between the Dead Sea and the Mediterranean, and, what is more, how does it come about that the Bible (Gen. 23:7) refers to them as “the people of the land,” although the southern border of the Hittite Empire at the time of its greatest extension ran very much farther to the north, somewhat south of the modern town of Aleppo, at any rate “right up on the edge” of the maps of Palestine in current use today? And nothing else is known about any further advance southwards by Hittite settlers.

The Hittite Uriah, whom King David first cuckolded and then sent to his death (2 Sam. 11) perhaps came from one of the small early or late Hittite lands which continued to exist in Northern Syria even after the collapse of the Hittite Empire around 1200 B.C. When the Hittites are mentioned as the founders or co-founders of Jerusalem, however, this is perhaps one of those Biblical statements, according to which the “children of Heth” must have been more probably a Canaanite mountain tribe (cf. Numbers 13:29-30). “The Amalekites dwell in the land of the south; and the Hittites, and the Jebusites (i.e., the original inhabitants of Jerusalem) and the Amorites dwell in the mountains; and the Canaanites dwell by the sea, and by the coast of Jordan.” These inhabitants of Canaan cannot have had much to do with the Indo-European Hittites of history.

One thing is certain. The problems raised by the references to the Hittites in the Bible have not been cleared up by the discovery of the Hittite Empire in Asia Minor. On the contrary, we now have two categories of Hittites, those in the Bible and the others whose presence in Asia Minor has been proved by archaeology. The statements about the two kinds do not coincide in all respects. The difficulties have not been removed, they are just beginning! It is only the future, as we now know, that can show whether the Bible is correct in what it has to say about the Hittites.

It is necessary to add a “late news item” regarding the Hittites. Mention has already been made of the young widow of a Pharaoh who requested the Hittite King Shuppiluliuma to send her one of his sons to be her husband. Until quite recently indeed the conviction was general that this must refer to Anches-en-Amun, the widow of Tutankhamun. It is only recently that a dissenting view has been expressed, which is not yet accepted by all but appears nevertheless to be well founded, to the effect that the petitioner was not Anches-en-Amun but her elder sister Meritaton who after the death, or was it the repudiation, of her mother Nofretete, was made queen and was perhaps the last wife of her own father, Akhnaten. This deduction has been made because of the connection between the request for a bridegroom and the Egyptian-Hittite war, which took place in the time of Akhnaten and not of Tutankhamun.

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