Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Presenting a new ancient Middle Eastern chronology

In this essay, I argue for a new ancient Middle Eastern chronology in which the Mesopotamian "high" chronology is used in correlation with K. A. Kitchen's "low" chronology for the Egyptian Twelve Dynasty. Although my primary focus is on the Akkadian Empire and the Fifth and Sixth Dynasties in Egypt, I also show that this chronological reconciliation obtains widespread consistency with data over the total period of Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilization throughout the third and second millennia BC. I also discuss the Hebrew chronology in the framework of this new ME chronology. 

After centuries of archaeological endeavour in the Middle East, there is still no consensus about the dating of the early Mesopotamian and Egyptian civilizations – both in absolute terms as well as in relation to each other. In this essay, I make a new proposal using well-established chronologies, namely that the Mesopotamian high chronology should be correlated with K. A. Kitchen's low chronology for the Egyptian Twelve Dynasty (Kitchen 1987; Ward 1992) [1]. In this chronological reconciliation, the Akkadian Empire (2370-2190 BC) is taken to have been simultaneous with the Fifth and early Sixth Dynasties in Egypt (2385-2120 BC) [2]. This period is the main concern of this essay.

In my approach I argue that we should make the following identifications regarding geographical terms: 1) the Mesopotamian name Makkan, which is nowadays often identified with Oman, refers to Egypt 2) the Egyptian name Punt refers to the island of Bahrain in the Persian Gulf, which was called Dilmun in Mesopotamia and 3) the Egyptian name ssmt, which is usually identified with the Sinai, refers to Sumer. I argue that the first appearance of iconography that is associated with the ssmt land during the reign of Sahure, the second king of the Fifth Dynasty – which was closely associated with a sudden burst of copper mining activity in the Sinai – corresponds with the newly founded Akkadian Empire's relations with the copper-mining land of Makkan during the reign of Sargon the Great.

After discussing these terms and presenting the arguments for my view, I show how the rest of ancient Middle Eastern chronology is influenced by this approach. I also consider the Hebrew chronology and shows that a remarkable match with the dating in the Septuagint is obtained. All in all, my approach is able to obtain widespread consistency with data over the total period of the Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilizations throughout the third and second millennia BC.

The land of Makkan

The land of Makkan is first mentioned during the reign of Sargon the Great (2370-2310 BC), the founder of the Akkadian Empire. Sargon mentioned it together with two other countries, namely Dilmun and Meluhha: “Sargon, king of the world, was victorious in 34 battles. He destroyed their city walls as far as the shore of the sea. He moored ships of Meluhha, Magan and Dilmun at the quay of Agade [Akkade]” (Frayne 1993:29). I assume that Dilmun refers to the island of Bahrain in the Persian Gulf, which Sargon is said to have conquered, and that Meluhha refers to the pre-Vedic Harappan civilization that flourished at that time in the great Indus valley (Potts 1982:280).

The next Akkadian king who mentioned Makkan was Naram-Sin. He was the fourth Akkadian king and came to the throne in about 2290 BC, 80 years after Sargon founded the empire. He is said to have conquered Makkan during the time of the Great Revolt against him. He wrote in an inscription: “(When) all the four quarters together revolted against him and confronted him… Further, he crossed the sea and conquered Magan [Makkan], in the midst of the sea, and washed his weapons in the Lower Sea [the Persian Gulf]” (Frayne 1993:97). He also captured Manium, the ruler of Makkan, and is said to have quarried diorite in those mountains for a statue of himself, which he dedicated to the god Dagan (Frayne 1993:117).

In the last mentioned inscription Naram-Sin is said to have crossed from Makkan to the Persian Gulf. Although one may take this as implying that Makkan was located in the Persian Gulf area, it is also consistent with Makkan being Egypt if we reconstruct Naram-Sin’s route as follows: after he conquered the northern regions towards the Mediterranean Sea during the first part of the rebellion, he proceeded to Egypt and then from there down to the Persian Gulf [3].

Such a northern location of Makkan would be consistent with another inscription, presumably by Naram-Sin, in which Makkan is grouped with the northern lands: “E(bl)a, Mari, Tuttul… Urkis, Mukis… Abarum and the land where the cedars are cut down, along with their provinces. The land of Subartum on the shores of the (Up)per Se(a), and Magan [Makkan], along with (its) province(s)… the other side of the se(a)” (Frayne 1993:163).

In my view there are various other reasons to also go with Thorkild Jacobsen and others in identifying Makkan with Egypt:

1. Egypt is the only location that has ever been identified beyond a reasonable doubt with this name, namely during the reign of Takulti-Ninurta I, king of Assyria (1243-1207 BC).

2. Although Makkan was primarily associated with copper, Naram-Sin also mentioned that he obtained diorite for a statue from there. Since the diorite deposits of Oman are not found in large enough blocks to be used for the carving of statues, it has been suggested that Makkan included areas on the Makuran coast (the southern parts of present-day Iran and Pakistan) across the Strait of Hormuz (Possehl 1996:136). The problem with this view is that another Akkadian king, named Manishtushu, who got his diorite from there, never called this area Makkan (Frayne 1993:76). In fact, in one of his inscriptions it is associated with Meluhha (Possehl 1996:141), which corresponds to the fact that archaeological evidence shows that it belonged to the Meluhha cultural sphere (as did Oman) (Dales 1962:5; Vogt 1996:110, 119). On the other hand, we know that high-quality diorite statues were synonymous with Egypt since early times.

3. The name Makkan is for the first time mentioned by Sargon (Cleuziou 1986:148). This is quite significant because the Sumerians got their copper from Oman since they first used the metal – and it would be strange indeed if it is first mentioned in Akkadian times. We also find that Makkan is mentioned only by the two most prominent of the Akkadian rulers (although it is also mentioned by the later Ur III rulers) – whereas Meluhha is mentioned already in the previous period. Makkan is also not mentioned as often as Meluhha (Possehl 1996:145). These points suggest that it was a much longer journey to Makkan which was made less frequently – only during those periods when the Akkadian Empire reached its greatest extent.

4. The alabaster vase that Naram-Sin inscribed with the words “booty of Makkan” is distinctly similar to vases from the late Fifth and Sixth Dynasties (Edwards 1971:445). Alabaster vases from Egyptian origin (from the Fifth and Sixth Dynastic Periods) were also found at the Barbar temple on Bahrain (level IIa), which suggests that contact with Egypt happened during the Akkadian period via the sea route (Mortensen 1986:184).

After the Akkadian period, the contact with Makkan was re-established during the Ur III period (2168-2060 BC). During this time two kings, namely Amar-Sin and his brother Su-Sin, mention that Makkan recognized their rule (Astour 2002:101)! We also read that a governor (ensi) ruled over Makkan in the name of the king during Amar-Sin’s rule. Now, although such claims would be nonsensical in orthodox chronology if Makkan is taken as referring to Egypt (since that would be during the Old Kingdom Period), in my chronological reconstruction it makes sense: Amar-Sin (2096-2088 BC) and Su-Sin (2087-2079 BC) ruled during the chaotic period which followed the fall of the Old Kingdom in 2120 BC until the Ninth Dynasty was established in 2080 BC.

The Ur III dynasty also had some control over Byblos on the Canaanite coast and a governor (ensi) is even said to have ruled this city on their behalf (Sollberger 1959-60:122). A cuneiform tablet dating from that period was discovered there (Albright 1961:45) as well as an inscribed seal of a merchant (Malamat 1975:373). The Lady of Byblos (Baalat) was even worshipped at that time at Ur in Sumer (Dalley 1998:15). In fact, it seems that she was also worshipped in the Sinai in the form of Hathor, who had the epithet nbt kpn, which may be an Egyptian translation of Baalat Gebal (Baalat of Byblos; Giveon 1978:61). This Hathor was also called Lady of Punt, which was located down the Red Sea route. This suggests that the sea route was used to travel from Byblos to the Sinai and from there to Ur [4].

The ssmt land

The iconography associated with the ssmt land appears for the first time in Egypt during the reign of King Sahure (2378-2366 BC), second king of the Sixth Dynasty. There can be no doubt that the name ssmt was somehow related to the copper mining activities in the Sinai that commenced at this time and which are attested for nearly two hundred years. As such depictions of boats appear in the funerary temple of Sahure and again in the Causeway of Unas, the last king of the Sixth Dynasty, whereas inscriptions appear at the mining areas in the Sinai during the reign of Djedkare Isesi, the second-last king of the Fifth Dynasty, as well as during the reigns of Pepi I and Pepi II, the third and fifth kings of the Sixth Dynasty.

The hogging-truss on the boats show that these were seafaring boats which were able to carry huge loads (Nibbi 1975:131). Both Egyptians and Asiatics are shown on the boats and there is a specific reference to translators, which may imply that the Asiatics came from elsewhere to work the mines in the Sinai (Nibbi 1975:131). These boat depictions are consistent with the inscriptions in the Sinai in which reference is made to copper, scribes, translators, pilots of boats and other naval officials (Cerny 1955:61). The depicted boats clearly transported copper – presumably to the land from where these Asiatics came.

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Figure 1. A depiction of a boat with Asiatics from Sahure’s funeral temple.
At the same time that these mining activities commenced, another remarkable figure makes his appearance (in the funeral temple of Sahure). He is called Sopdu and appears again during the Fifth Dynasty in the funerary temple of Neuserre, the sixth ruler of the dynasty (Nibbi 1981:35). He is also mentioned in the Pyramid Texts inscribed in the funeral temples of the kings of the Fifth and Sixth Dynasties since the time of Unas to Pepi II. In later periods he is also attested in the Sinai as one would expect (although this is attested only from the Twelve Dynasty).

Sopdu is depicted with a naked upper body, wig, curly beard, collar, kilt as well as an ankh in the one hand and a w3s-sceptre (“power” or “dominion”) in the other. On his head are two straight feathers. The kilt is fastened with a girdle from which tassels hang. This girdle or apron is called the “ssmt-apron” and is identified with the ssmt land (Nibbi 1981:34). This depiction is consistent with those of the spirits/souls of (deceased) divinised kings, except for the headpiece and the tasselled girdle (Frankfort 1948:97; Baines 1985:35, 38) [5]. Sopdu is afforded the following titles: “Lord of foreign lands”, “Lord of the ssmt land”, “Lord of the east” (Cerny 1955:42).

Who is Sopdu? The fact that Sopdu is associated with the Sinai obviously does not imply that he was a local lord of that region; rather, one would think that he may be the ruler or god of those Asiatics who were active in the Sinai. In fact, the first depiction of this figure shows him as a great conquering warrior-god-king. He walks behind Seth and his captives are shown in a panel underneath them. According to this depiction, it was the god Seth who gave him the victory. The inscription above identifies him as “Lord of foreign lands”. Obviously, Sopdu was not a local king associated with the Sinai since no signs of such a kingdom have been found. We never find any suggestions that such mighty kings ruled from the Sinai during the Old Kingdom period.

Figure 2. Sopdu as conquering god-king
Sopdu seems to be a representation of Asiatic kings who ruled somewhere in the east over the ssmt land. They did not always have peaceful relations with Egypt since we read in the Pyramid Texts of Unas that Sopdu was the one who killed that king: “Sopdu he (who resides) under his kesbet-tree. Has he killed you (the king) after his heart told him that you shall die through him? Lo, you come into being against him as the Bull of the wild bulls, who remained (after the fight). He remains, he remains, the bull who remained, and you will also remain, Unas, at their head, at the head of the spirits forever” (utterance 306).

In my view there are various reasons to think that Sopdu was originally a representation of the Akkadian king and that the ssmt land refers to Sumer:

1. The copper mining activities in the Sinai during the Fifth and Sixth Dynasties correspond with the Akkadian reference to boats from Makkan, where copper was mined during the empire period. In my chronology the Akkadian Empire does not only co-existed with these dynasties; the duration of these activities over a period of about two hundred years is consistent with the duration of that empire. Furthermore, translators and escorts (viaticum) on boats are also attested in Akkadian relations with Meluhha (Glassner 1996:235/6).

2. Sopdu as conquering king is consistent with the traditions about Sargon, who conquered the outlying areas of northern Mesopotamia. According to the omen tradition, “He (Sargon) crossed the sea of the west [Mediterranean Sea] and in the 3rd year his hand conquered the land of the west to its full extent, he made its mouth to be one (i.e. he made it obedient to him); he erected his steles in the west; their booty he brought over (the sea) in rafts” (Malamat 1975:366; Edwards 1971:425).

Sargon says in an inscription: “Sargon, the king, bowed down to the god Dagan in Tuttul. He [the god Dagan] gave to him [Sargon] the upper land: Mari, Jarmuti and Ebla as far as the Cedar Forest [the Amanus] and the Silver Mountains [the Taurus mountains in southern Turkey]” (Frayne 1993:29). If the Jarmuti referred to is the same one that is mentioned in the Amarna letters, Sargon’s conquest brought him south of Byblos or maybe even to the Nile delta, depending on where this city was located (Astour 2002:70).

Of special interest is the reference to the western weather god Dagan who gave these victories to Sargon. If we take Seth as being identified with the western weather god since the time of Sahure (as he was later during the Middle Kingdom), then the depiction of Seth leading Sopdu to victory is consistent with Dagan leading Sargon to victory! We find consistent with this that steles of Sopdu were later placed next to that of Baal (and Anat) when this god supplanted Dagan as the Canaanite weather god.

3. Sopdu is depicted as a divinised king. This is also what we know about Sargon, for example on his victory stele, where he is identified with the god Ningirsu. On this stele he is shown standing before the enthroned Ishtar, holding a net in which his enemies were caught. This depiction is taken over from an earlier pre-dynastic stele erected by king Eanatum where Ningirsu held the enemies of the king in a net (ca. 2500 BC). In this case, Sargon himself does not only hold the net, he is even depicted in the pose of the god, which led Lorenzo Nigro to write: “Sargon presents himself in the classic position of a city-god” (1998:87). Naram-Sin was also famously declared to be a god after his victory in the rebellion.

4. Sopdu’s tasselled girdle is identified with the ssmt land. Such a tussle on a girdle is also shown on a statue of the funerary priest Kaemqed, which dates from Fifth Dynasty. What is especially interesting about the priest is the way in which his hands are folded together. It had been observed by the French scholar Pierre Gilbert that it is in the typical Sumerian convention (Gilbert 1960:101). Usually, the Egyptian priests hold their hands apart. This may imply that the tasselled girdle is also of Sumerian origin. 

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Figure 3. Kaemqed
Since the girdle is the only item (with the feathers) that distinguishes Sopdu from the (deceased) divinised Egyptian kings, we may ask if this piece of clothing was part of the Akkadian royal dress. We do in fact find that such tasselled girdles were worn by the so-called lahmu’s (hairies) on Akkadian seals. One can even see such a belt with tassels on Naram-Sin’s Bassetki sculpture. A variation on this figure is the naked bearded hero who is shown in the Akkadian period as a “royal hero”, with a flat cap, long hair, beard and fringed kilt (Costello 2010). This royal dress may reflect the king’s participation in the cult. The dress of the “royal hero”, with tasselled belt and kilt (and the long hair and beard), looks distinctly similar to that of Sopdu [6] (except for the feathered headpiece which had some special significance for the Egyptians [7]).

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Figure 4. A seal from Ur showing the "royal hero" (ca. 2200 BC)
5. What is especially significant is that Sumerian iconography appears in Egypt exactly in the period that the relations with the ssmt land commence. Pierre Gilbert mentions, apart from the posture of the priest Kaemqed, the depiction of twin lions looking in opposite directions that appears during the reign of Sahure. This depiction is in accordance with Sumerian iconography that goes back to the royal tombs of Ur in pre-Akkadian times (Gilbert 1960:95; Frankfort 1939:98).

There cannot be any reasonable doubt that this confirms that contact between Egypt and Sumer happened during Sahure’s reign. Gilbert suggests that these Sumerian influences in Egypt which appeared since the time of Sahure is connected with the boat depictions in his funeral temple. One may suggest that the reason why we find Sumerian influences instead of Akkadian ones even though this corresponds with the early Akkadian period in my reconstruction of events, is that Sargon visited the northern lands early in his reign (in his third year, according to the omen tradition). His usage of Sumerian motifs is also visible on his victory stele discussed above. One should also note that the name ssmt corresponds with Sumer if the feminine t-ending is ignored.

6. The appearance of Sopdu during Sahure’s reign (in about 2367 BC) and the death of Unas by Sopdu’s hand (in about 2282 BC) is consistent with Sargon and Naram-Sin’s visits to the northern lands (Makkan). Sargon’s campaign took him to the Mediterranean Sea in about the eleventh year of Sahure’s reign (if we assume it was in Sargon’s third year) whereas Naram-Sin’s conquest of Makkan took place after his victory over the northern rebels led by the city of Apisal in the north (in about the eighth year of his reign), which would correspond with the end of Unas’s reign (and the end of the Fifth Dynasty) [8, 9]. Although Naram-Sin calls the conquered king of Makkan Manium, this name is similar to Maneros, the name under which the Egyptian kings were bewailed in the Osiris cult.

These points provide substantial evidence that the ssmt land refers to Sumer. One of the main aims of the Akkadian king’s military campaigns to far-away regions was to establish supplies of metals. Their visits to Egypt would have led to Sinai copper being shipped to southern Mesopotamia through the southern sea route. An important intermediate stop on this route would have been Bahrain, which the Sumerians called Dilmun. In my view, this island was called Punt by the Egyptians.

The island state of Punt

There is another land that also for the first time became significant since the reign of Sahure, namely Punt (Kitchen 1982:1198) – which is only mentioned once before in connection with a Puntite slave in the time of King Khufu. What is significant about Punt, is that it was reached by the sea route down the Red Sea and that it seems to have been located within the geographical sphere of influence of the ssmt land. As Punt is mentioned more often in inscriptions we may assume that it was located closer to Egypt than the ssmt land.

Kings who are associated with Punt are Djedkare Isesi of the Fifth Dynasty and Pepi II of the Sixth Dynasty. Of special interest is the fact that only kings that are associated with depictions of the mentioned boats or inscriptions in the Sinai are associated with Punt! Mereruka, a high official of Teti, first king of the Sixth Dynasty, probably also undertook expeditions to Punt. In his mastaba is a depiction of a flotilla of more than 20 boats. Also shown are dwarfs in a metalworking context. Another official who visited both Punt and Byblos was Khnumhotep, a high official of Pepi II (Kitchen 1982:1199). The inhabitants of Punt are called the “bearded ones” (Nibbi 1981:51). Various esoteric products have been associated with Punt which may imply that it was a great trading centre.

A particularly colourful story about Punt from a later period (Middle Kingdom), is about the “shipwrecked sailor”. According to this story, a sailor was on his way to certain mines on the king’s behalf, when his boat sunk during a storm and he was washed ashore on an island situated about two months sailing from Egypt. The lord of the island is described as a snakelike figure who showed him hospitality and pronounced that he will be found by sailors from his homeland in four month’s time. When that day eventually came, the lord gave the sailor all sorts of precious gifts including spices, incense, elephants' tusks, greyhounds, and baboons.

In my view there are various reasons to accept the identification of Punt with Bahrain:

1. The only place that fits the description of Punt in the story of the “shipwrecked sailor” – and with which a snake-cult was associated – is Bahrain (Dilmun). Michael Rice, who has done a lot of research about the relations between Egypt and the Gulf, writes: “Dilmun is the only example in the Old World of an island-based society [my accentuation]… To anyone familiar with Dilmun’s customary merchandise the gifts [from the serpent-king to the sailor] make interesting reading for they are all products for which the island’s trade was later celebrated” (Rice 1986:204, 123). The mentioned mines would refer to that of Oman.

2. Bahrain is the only known island state that could have had substantial trading relations with Egypt consistent with boats carrying copper to that destination (which seems to be a sensible deduction in the light of the discussion above). After the Akkadian conquest, Bahrain became the centre of a node of trading relationswhich stretched to distant lands. The scholar Gregory Possehl, who studied this period extensively, writes: “In the ancient texts there is talk of Dilmun merchants and, as noted, many references to this place as a commercial centre. One gets a sense that Dilmun was the operational ‘nerve-centre’ for this early Gulf and Arabian Sea Trade” (Possehl 1996:147).

3. Towards the end of the Old Kingdom [i.e. the end of the Sixth Dynasty], we read about the so-called Fenekhu and “bow-people” who appeared in the Nile delta from the east. We read in the last Pyramid Texts about “the Ram gate which repulses the Fenekhu” and “fear of me extends to heaven… my slaughter impresses the Fenekhu” (Redford 1992:63). The name Fenekhu shows a close correspondence with that of the later Phoenicians. It seems likely that it refers to early forefathers of the Phoenicians who appeared in Canaan since the early Middle Bronze Period (since the end of the Old Kingdom). What is important for our purposes, is that the name Fenekhu also corresponds with the name “Punt” ("Fen").

There is an ancient tradition that the forefathers of the Phoenicians came from the Persian Gulf to settle on the Canaanite coast. The Greek historian Herodotus wrote, for example: “[The Phoenicians, they say,] came to our seas [the eastern Mediterranean] from the Erythrean Sea [Persian Gulf], and having settled in the country which they still occupy, at once began to make long voyages”. This tradition explains why the names of the Phoenician cities correspond with similar names in the Gulf as Strabo mentions: “On sailing further [down the Erythrean Sea], one comes to the other islands, I mean Tyre [Dilmun] and Aradus, which have temples like those of the Phoenicians. It is asserted, at least by the inhabitants of the islands, that the islands and cities of the Phoenicians which bear the same name are their colonies”.

If we take the forefathers of the Phoenicians as the Fenekhu of the last Pyramid Texts, then their origin from Punt (from which the name Fenekhu seems to be derived) is consistent with that island being the Dilmun of the Phoenicians traditions. This would reaffirm that Punt refers to the island of Bahrain (Dilmun) [11].

Other considerations

I have now argued that we have good reasons to assume that the Akkadian Empire co-existed with the Fifth and early Sixth Dynasties in Egypt. What about the earlier period? Is this dating – which uses astronomical data (the observations of Venus in Mesopotamia and that of Sirius in Egypt) – consistent with other such data from earlier periods? In my view it is.

The most important archaeoastronomical monument in Egypt is the Great Pyramid, which was built during the reign of Khufu, the second king of the Fourth Dynasty. Although the pyramid has a very special design that blends in with the particular orientation of the shafts in the Queen’s and King’s Chambers, I do not believe that these should only be considered as an architectonic feature. Rather, I believe that their alignment with certain stars (within the range of error that is to be expected) is a perfectly legitimate way of dating that beautiful structure.

Chronological dating based on the alignment of the shafts with those stars gives a date of about 2450 BC. This corresponds very well with the dating of the pyramid that supposes that it was aligned with the cardinal points, namely 2480 BC (Nature, Nov. 2000). Although these dates are about 150 years later than that which is usually assumed, they are consistent with each other and also fits in very well with Kitchen’s low chronology.

I acknowledge that the shafts are not perfectly straight and that their alignment with the relevant stars is not exact, but we know that we cannot expect German precision for a monument that is about 4500 years old! Realistically, we know that all ancient archaeoastronomical alignments involve a degree of error due to 1) the restricted measurement and building tools available at that time and 2) imperfections due to ageing.

The point is that the agreement is good enough to assume an archaeoastronomical basis – especially since the relevant stars also play an important role in the Pyramid Texts. This is why scholars such as I. E. S. Edwards had no problem accepting the usage of these shafts for archaeoastronomical dating [12]. Based on these archaeoastronomical considerations I date the beginning of Khufu’s reign to about 2470 BC, which is 100 years before the start of the Akkadian Empire according to the high chronology of Mesopotamian dating.

When we go further back to the beginning of the dynastic period, we find that these dates are consistent with that period commencing with the Sothic New Year on 17 July 2781 BC. Since the Egyptians observed the heliacal rising of Sirius at that time as can be seen from an inscription on an ivory tablet from the time of King Djer, the successor of King Horus-Aha, we may assume that the Egyptians probably made a big deal of this rare event when the heliacal rising of Sirius occurred on the New Year’s day – planning the unification of the lands to coincide therewith.

Insofar as the pre-dynastic period is concerned, there is a lot of archaeological evidence for contact with Sumer which has been extensively studied and is not our concern here. When considered in the context of my chronological reconstruction, the end of the Uruk period in Mesopotamia may be dated to about 2850 BC [13].

Hebrew chronology

When we move in the opposite direction to investigate later periods, there is not a lot to go on in searching to reconcile Egyptian and Mesopotamian chronology for the next few centuries [14]. One group that did interact with both lands is the Abrahamic family. According to the Hebrew Bible Abraham, who came from Ur in Sumer, journeyed to Canaan and visited Egypt. Of particular importance in this respect is an Elamite incursion that is said to have happened in the period after Abraham migrated from Harran (where he and his family stayed for some time) to Canaan.

We are in the fortunate position that we do not only know that such an incursion of the Elamites into north-western Syria actually took place during that time but also when, namely in 1822 BC (it happened only once during that period). Although some scholars are suspicious about the historicity of Abraham, the historicity of this event suggests that the story of Abraham is also based on real events. In fact, the date of this event is consistent with the Septuagint dating of Abraham’s arrival in Canaan, namely in 1837 BC [15, 16].

The Elamite incursion would have happened 15 years after Abraham’s arrival in Canaan, during the reign of Siwe-palar-huppak, king of Elam (1826-1799 BC), which is about 19 years before Hammurabi became overlord of Mesopotamia in 1818 BC after his victory over Rim-Sin of Larsa in Sumer. The northern invaders might have marched under the leadership of Kudu-zulus, the brother of the king, who ruled in Esnunna (Van de Mieroop 2005:17). One may suggest that the name “Kedor” in Kedor-Laómer, the name of the leader of the invaders according to the Biblical narrative, goes back to “Kudu” in Kudu-zulus because these names have the same root form K-d.

Another interesting piece of information in the Hebrew Bible is that Abraham journeyed to Egypt – seemingly directly after his first arrival in Canaan because there was famine in the land (see Gen. 12:5-10). According to the Septuagint this would have happened in about 1836 BC, which is consistent with the well-known depiction at Beni Hassan in Egypt of a man called Abishai/r, which is of the same Amorite name-type as Abraham (Hoffmeier 2008:42), who came with his entourage from Canaan to Egypt in the sixth year of King Senusert II in about 1836 BC [17]. Since Abraham is said to have been a “mighty prince” (Gen. 28:6), it is reasonable to think that his arrival might have been noticed by the ruling class in Egypt (as the Biblical tale also mentions). As such the Beni Hassan depiction might indeed be that of the Biblical Abraham.

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Figure 5. Abishai and his entourage arriving in Egypt from Canaan
What we find are that the events ascribed to the Biblical Abraham are in agreement with my chronological reconstruction – both insofar as the Elamite incursion as well as his visit to Egypt is concerned. 

We may also consider the Biblical information about the exodus of the people of Israel from Egypt. According to the Septuagint that happened 430 years after Abraham’s departure from Harran to Canaan, which would be in 1408 BC. When we compare that with Kitchen’s low chronology, this happened during the reign of Amenhotep II (1427-1401 BC).

Insofar as Israel's residence in Egypt is concerned, one may mention depictions from the time of Thutmose III (1481-1427 BC) showing foreigners making bricks in which a clear distinction is made between West Asian Semites, African Nubians and the Egyptian taskmasters, some of whom are shown with sticks prodding the workers. This is consistent with the Biblical description of the final years of Israel's stay in Egypt. 

Scholars who take the Biblical chronology serious, often assume - consistent with my position - that his son Amenhotep II was the pharaoh of the exodus [18]. During the time of Merneptah, son and successor of Ramesses II (from the Nineteenth Dynasty), Israel was already established in the land of Canaan since he mentions them in a stele in 1208 BC as already living there (Hoffmeier 2008:51).


In this short essay, I present arguments for a new ancient Middle Eastern chronology in which the Mesopotamian high chronology is used with Kitchen’s low chronology for the Egyptian Twelfth Dynasty. I propose that the Akkadian Empire co-existed with the Fifth and early Sixth Dynasties in Egypt. In my view, the land Makkan refers to Egypt whereas the ssmt land and Punt refers to Sumer and Dilmun respectively. I discuss a wide range of data to show that this position is not merely consistent with the evidence but also explains data that has until now merely been ignored, such as the Sumerian influences in Egypt during the reign of Sahure.

I also explain why a conquering divinised king, namely Sopdu, who was the “Lord of foreign countries”, appeared in Egypt at exactly the same time when large-scale copper mining activities commenced in the Sinai. In my view, this king is Sargon the Great and the copper was shipped eastwards to the island of Bahrain and also to Sumer. My view also explains the extremely strange statement in the Pyramid Texts of Unas that he was killed by Sopdu. I show that this is consistent with Naram-Sin’s conquest of Makkan. In general, I show that this chronological reconciliation is consistent with the Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilizations for other relevant periods.

[1] Kitchen’s low chronology is consistent with Rolf Krauss’s (1985) assumption that the observation of the heliacal rising of the star Sirius in the seventh year of king Senusert III of the Twelve Dynasty, was made at Elephantine – which gives a date of 1830 BC. In Kitchen’s low chronology the Twelve Dynasty is dated to 1937-1759 BC (Ward 1992:63).
[2] Using Kitchen’s low chronology as the basis, we may proceed as follow to obtain these dates: The Eleventh Dynasty lasted for 143 years according to the Royal Canon, which brings us to a date of about 2080 BC for the beginning of that dynasty. The Tenth and Ninth Dynasties, situated at Heracleopolis, coexisted with the Eleventh Dynasty based at Thebes (both the Heracleopolitan and Theban dynasties commencing in 2080 BC, but the first mentioned ended earlier). One may assume that the Eight Dynasty lasted only for about 21 years. The Seventh and Sixth Dynasties together lasted for 181 years according to Royal Canon. This gives a date of about 2282 BC for the beginning of the Sixth Dynasty. For the Fifth Dynasty, the Royal Canon lists nine kings of whom seven's reign-lengths are preserved giving 96 years. If we assume that the Fifth Dynasty lasted about 103 years (which would be necessary for a reconciliation with the Akkadian chronology), then it began in 2385 BC. Khufu’s reign started about 85 years earlier in 2470 BC.]
[3] There is literary evidence which suggests that the sea route from the Mediterranean Sea to the Persian Gulf was known at that time. In the Sargon birth legend we read: “The entire sea I went around, Dilmun did submit to me”. The words “the entire sea I went around” implies that Sargon travelled by sea around the known world. The Akkadian word used literally means “surrounded” (Lewis 1980:64), which means that he went around the entire sea. We find this same picture of the world being surrounded by the sea in the story of Etana – that great Kishite hero who became very popular during the Akkadian period (Horowitz 1998:60; Frankfort 1939:137). According to the story, Etana saw the world from above when he looked down from the back of the eagle. It looked like an “animal enclosure”, surrounded by the ocean (Wiggermann 1996:209). This suggests that the general opinion at that time was that the sea surrounds the Mesopotamian world. Consistent with this view, it might have been possible at that time to sail from the Mediterranean Sea through the Nile delta, the Wadi Tumilat and the Eastern Lakes to the Red Sea (Nibbi 1975:18).
[4] A seal from the Ur III period which belonged the merchant Shukur-ili, who might have been an agent of a Mesopotamian trading firm, was discovered in Egypt (Smith 1922:209).
[5] Two divinised ancestor-kings are shown on the doorjambs of Sahure’s temple. This is the first time that they are depicted in this form and may have reference to two statues of such kings. Dual statues are also attested in Sumer, where two of them stood before the Enlil temple at Nippur in pre-Sargonic times (Hallo 1992:390).

Figure 6. Divinised ancestor-kings: Sahure's temple
[7] These two feathers signify the two divine eyes, the sun, and moon (Richter 2012:108). It probably appears on Sopdu’s head to show his remarkable greatness and glory [6]. As far as I know, Sumer is the only place where the tasselled belt is attested in iconographic depictions of this early period.
[8] In my view Sargon came to the throne in about 2370 BC in accordance with the high chronology. If he visited (conquered?) Egypt during his campaign to the Mediterranean Sea in the third year of his reign, that would have been in 2367 BC. In my version of the Egyptian chronology, this would have been in the 11th year of the reign of Sahure, who came to the throne 7 years after the commencement of the Fifth Dynasty. 
According to the Sumerian King List, Naram-Sin came to the throne 80 years after the beginning of the Akkadian Empire, that is, in 2290 BC. That would be about eight years before the end of Unas’s rule in 2282 BC. This date is consistent with archaeological data from the destruction of the north-Syrian city of Ebla by Naram-Sin. That conquest could not have taken place before the reign of Pepi I, third king of the Sixth Dynasty since an alabaster vase bearing his titles was found in the ruins. If we allow that Pepi I’s two predecessors as kings of that dynasty ruled for about 14 years in total, then Naram-Sin would have conquered Ebla some time after his twenty-second year. This is consistent with the reconstruction of the events during his reign done by Douglas Frayne.
[9] There has been a lot of debate about the dating of Ebla's destruction in the Akkadian Period. Is the archaeological evidence consistent with a destruction during Sargon's time or during that of Naram-Sin? Paolo Matthiae, who excavated the ruins, dated the palace on stylistic grounds to the time of Naram-Sin (Matthiae 1977:92,159). The excavated Ebla archives, however, belong to an earlier period and some have used that to argue that the destruction took place in the time of Sargon (Archi & Biga 2003:13). In this regard, one should remember that archaeological remains always provide us with an incomplete picture of the events of that time. In my view, Naram-Sin would not have boasted in an inscription and introduced a new title for himself regarding such a great and remarkable victory if it did not really happen.
[10] Anchor stones in front of Mereruka’s mastaba show a remarkable correspondence with similar ones from the same period at the Barbar temple (level II) on Bahrain (Mortensen 1986:184).
[11] There is substantial archaeological evidence that Canaanite migrants came from southern Mesopotamia and the Persian Gulf during the early Middle Bronze Period. One may mention the stone-built corbel-vaulted tombs that now appear in Canaan and which are known from Bahrain and even Ur where such mud-brick tombs also appear under the floors (Weadock 1975:109), the practice of placing anchors at temples such as those at the Baal temple at Ras Shamra and at the Barbar temple on Bahrain (Mortensen 1986:184), the Canaanite bull-cult which had a long history in the Gulf, seals with Gulf designs that appear not only in Egypt but also in Syria-Cappadocia (Kjaerum 1986:275) as well as seals with mixed Egyptian-Gulf designs that were found in the Gulf (Frankfort 1939:297; Rice 1994:282).
Scholars such as Michael Rice (1994) and Poul Kjaerum (1986) made a convincing case that people from the Gulf had migrated through the Nile Delta to Canaan during the First Intermediary Period (which includes the Seventh to Tenth Dynasties) in Egypt.
[12] One may even assume that the shafts have historically been used to establish the traditional chronology because those dates are perfectly consistent with previous calculations of their orientation – giving a date of about 150 years earlier than 2450 BC.
[13] Although this date is substantially later than dendrochronologically obtained dates, this is not a problem for my position because such dates can never be more than relative dates. In his book A Slice through Time the dendrochronologist M.G.L. Baillie acknowledges that the master chronologies "are not 100% matches" and that the application of the technique is based on subjective judgement: “The practiced dendrochronologist is looking for matches that he/she is willing to accept, based on experience, as correct matches between long ring patterns”.
In his review of this book, Ron Tappy wrote: "This subjective intuitive aspect of dendrochronology might easily fail to satisfy the tolerances and significance levels expected by statisticians... Recognition of this subjective human element and the inconclusiveness of many of the case studies introduced in the course of the book dampen somewhat one’s appreciation for the purportedly absolute precision of the science. Various factors, such as the loss of the outermost layers of unconsolidated sapwood from a collective sample, seem to compromise the accuracy of the overall method” (Tappy 2001:215).
Dating archaeological layers have other problems as well. Sometimes the dendrochronologically derived at dates for samples from the same archaeological layer differ substantially. So, for example, the grain and charcoal samples taken under well-controlled circumstances from the destruction signifying the end of layer 6 at Tell Brak (this is the period just before the Naram-Sin palace) gave dates of 2023 BC and 2662 BC respectively (Oates 1985:144). Archaeologists normally assign the reign of the Akkadian ruler Naram-Sin somewhere between these dates. Many similar examples can be added.
[14] I agree with Ward (1992) that the identification of Yantin-hammu of Byblos, who lived during Hammurabi’s reign, with E/Antin of Byblos who lived during the reign of Neferhotep I, the twenty-first king of the Thirteenth Dynasty, is based on “questionable reconstructions of damaged texts” (Ward 1992:54).
[15] The Septuagint is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible made during the third to second centuries BC.
[16] According to the Septuagint, Abraham’s journey from Harran in upper-Syria to Canaan took place 430 years before the exodus of the people of Israel from Egypt (Ex. 12:40), which in turn happened 440 years before Solomon commenced with the building of the temple in 967 BC (1 Ki. 6:1). This gives a date of 1837 BC for Abraham’s arrival in Canaan. According to the Masoretic text, the 430 years commenced much later, namely with Israel's migration to Egypt. The text reads (the differences with the Septuagint are shown in italics): "And the sojourning of the children of Israel, and of their fathers, while they sojourned in the land of Canaan and in the land of Egypt, was four hundred and thirty years".
[17] I assume that Senusert II ruled for only 6 years in accordance with Kitchen's dating of his rule to 1842-1836 BC (see note 1). He might have started some of his building projects while he was co-regent with his father. This means that the depiction at Beni Hassan of Abishai/r arriving in the sixth year of king Senusert II from Canaan would place this event in 1836 BC. This is consistent with the Hebrew chronology in the Septuagint. 
[18] Amenhotep II is also suggested as the pharaoh of the exodus by some scholars who use the Egyptian high chronology together with the Masoretic text of the Bible. In this case, Amenhotep II’s rule may be dated to 1455-1418 BC whereas the exodus may be placed in 1446 BC. For a detailed discussion of the consistency of Amenhotep II’s reign with the Biblical details of the exodus, see Douglas Petrovich’s thesis, Amenhotep II and the historicity of the exodus-pharaoh, Novosibirsk (2006).


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Author: Dr Willie Mc Loud (Ref.

The author has written a book on the Sumerian roots of the early Biblical tradition (Abraham en sy God (Griffel, 2012)) and is a scientist-philosopher (PhD in Physics, MA in philosophy). He writes on issues of religion, philosophy, science and eschatology.

Read also: 

A critique of archaeology as a science
An archaeological perspective on the Bible

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