The Bronze Period (3300 –1200 B.C.)
The Early Bronze Period (3300-2200 BC)
During the Early Bronze Period, cultures changed in the Land of Israel. The prehistoric Asulite culture gradually disappeared from the countryside and the transition began from the prehistoric to the historic period. At the same time, writing was invented in Mesopotamia and Egypt and the first cities began to take shape in both areas. The first cities were established in the Land of Israel as well. Canaan encompassed the area west of the Jordan River and Syria. Its important settlements were established along the coastal plain and down to the Zoar Valley in the southern Dead Sea area. The Canaanite settlements did not reach the hilly and desert areas of the country. Neighboring countries influenced Canaan and its culture can be defined as a part of the culture that developed along the coast of the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Archaeological evidence in the country indicates a culture with many fewer achievements than those found in Mesopotamia and northern Syria.
The economic base of Early Bronze Period culture was agriculture. Archaeological digs in Lachish, Jericho, Tel El-Hesi, Bab ed-Dra and Tel Kitan unearthed carbonized seeds of domesticated plants. Among the grains found were species of wheat and barley. Legumes included lentils, peas, garbanzo, vetch and flax. In the third millennium BCE, with the introduction of the animal-drawn plough larger areas of land could be cultivated than in the 0that period. The use of the plough and the expansion of cultivated areas sparked a revolutionary change in the history of ancient agriculture in the Land of Israel, and was a major contributor to the forging of an urban society. With food surpluses and an expanding population, trade in agricultural products began. Processed agricultural produce such as oil and olives were an important factor in the strengthening of ties between the Land of Israel and Egypt at about the time of the founding of the first Egyptian dynasty.
Beit Yerach Utensils
Utensils were used in the Jordan Valley, mainly in the area of Beit Yerach, near Syria of today. With their unique preparation and refinement of materials, shape and ornamentation, they are foreign to the pottery tradition that had developed in the country. Clay utensils are considered part of the culture that apparently came from Armenia and the Caucasus and their production lasted from 200 to 300 years.
Flint Tools and Art
During the Early Bronze Period flint tools were still in use. This explains the many flint tools found in all the sites of the period that have been excavated in the country. Towards the end of the period the art of carving also developed. This can be seen in the impresses of cylindrical seals on pottery mainly in the north of the country. The imprints depict geometric designs as well as common ritual scenes.
The Copper Industry
The quantity of copper utensils uncovered in Early Bronze Period cities is not great. In Tel El-Hesi and on a hill near Kfar Monash in the Sharon Plain, two types of copper utensils were unearthed: work tools and weapons. But to date, no remains have been found of workshops in the cities that have been excavated. Apparently the use of copper tools was not extensive. We learn of the existence of the copper industry from the vestiges of settlements found in the Arava and in southern Sinai.
The End of the Period
Various factors led to the destruction of the cities and to the end of the Early Bronze Period in the Land of Israel. Researchers do not have enough data to be certain, but it should be noted that in this same period Mesopotamia and Anatolia (Asia Minor) also underwent political upheavals and ethnic changes, and in Egypt the ancient kingdom disintegrated.
The Middle Bronze Period (2200-1550 BC)
The findings that have been unearthed and attributed to the beginning of this Period are not impressive. Villages were small and to date no large urban center has been found. Some agricultural villages were established on the ruins of cities from the Early Bronze Period. They were small in area with round houses. Shepherds and semi-nomads inhabited most of the area of the country. Their camps were small, and some of them lived in caves. Several of the settlements are covered today by alluvium and we know of their existence only from their extensive burial fields which have been discovered throughout the country. On the Golan Heights the practice was to bury the dead in megalithic structures, usually dolmens. “Dolmen” is a Celtic word that means “stone table.” In the Golan, more than 1000 dolmens have been found: large stone blocks in the shape of a table – two stones standing upright on which one or more stones are laid horizontally. In the southern parts of the country and along the coastal plain, the custom was to bury the dead in mounds of stones.
At the beginning of the Middle Bronze Period, also called the Canaanite Period, the Land of Israel entered the historic Period for the first time. Archives discovered throughout the fertile crescent and documents written in Akkadian and Egyptian shed light on the period and tell the story of the country. Archaeological finds revealed to date also help to provide a continuous historical narrative. The Land of Israel was part of the Land of Canaan, whose borders were from the Gaza River to the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon Mountains, and from the Jordan and Bashan to the Mediterranean Sea coast. Transjordan, to the border of the Yarmuk River in the north, was outside the borders of the historical Canaan. The country was split into dozens of kingdoms both large and small. Throughout the Middle Bronze Period Canaanite kings succeeded in maintaining their independent status as part of the balance of powers between the Egyptian kingdom to the south and the powers in the north (Abela, Yimchad, Mitanni and Hittites) which alternately entered and exited the stage of history.
The main area of the kingdom-cities in the Middle Bronze Period shifted westward towards the coastal plain and during this period, urbanization spread to the northern Gilead, the Jordan Valley, the hills of Samaria, the Judean Hills and in the lowlands, eventually reaching the Beersheba Valley and the northwest Negev – in the area of the Grar and Habasur Rivers. At the beginning of the period the cities were already fortified by earthen ramparts. In the 17th and 18th centuries BCE, growing numbers of settlers began migrating from the hills. In Mesopotamian documents these residents are called “Amurru”, which apparently refers to the Biblical Amorites . In this period Shechem (Nablus), Hebron and Jerusalem became important kingdoms. Tirzah, Shiloh, Beth EL and Beth-Zur were fortified urban settlements. In the northern Jordan Valley, Rehob was the main city, along with Beth Shean, and in the southern Jordan Valley, Jericho was flourishing. Archaeologists have identified about 200 settlements in the hill area in which the new settlers resided.
The newly created urban centers were certainly attractive to the veteran population, some of whom gradually joined the new settlers in the cities and villages. The population was unified in terms of tribes. Some continued their semi-nomadic lifestyle, combining seasonal agricultural work with animal rearing. Others continued their wandering ways, but also maintained ties with the permanent settlers. It can be assumed that tribal affiliations were very important at the time, and may even have played a key role in the balance of powers and political machinations in Canaan during this highly eventful period.
The First Port Cities
This was period in which the first port cities were established in the country. Achziv, Akko, Jaffa, Yavne on the Sea and Ashkelon marked changes in settlement and demographic patterns along the coast. Within a relatively short period of time, a line of urban settlements grew up along the coast, including fortified cities, port cities, fortresses, villages for field workers and fishermen, small farms and ritual sites.
The Middle Egyptian Kingdom
At the beginning of the second millennium BCE the 12th Dynasty unified and ruled Egypt for about 200 years (1991-1786 BCE). Its kings were called Amenemhet or Senusret. This was a tranquil period for Egypt during which its economy and culture flourished. Important sources of our knowledge of the country in this period are the Mearot Writings, with its lists of place names and rulers of the country, and the Sinocha Scroll. Both were found in Egypt and describe the condition of the country and the nature of the reciprocal ties and relations between the two countries. From them we learn about Egyptian interests, their varying levels of control over the Land of Israel and Canaanite lifestyle of those days.
Objects from the 12th Dynasty have been found in various sites in Israel. Among the prominent findings are stone utensils and scarabs, including royal scarabs discovered in the coastal cities of: Tell el-Ajjul, Gezer, Tel Aviv, Afek and Nahariya; in the valleys: Megiddo and Beit Shean; in the Jordan Valley and in the central hills: Hirbet Kufin and Tel El Fara (north), in other words, on the main thoroughfares. Most of the royal scarabs were found in three sites: Tel EL-Ajjul, Gezer and Megiddo, in which most of the statues of Egyptian officers were also found.
The most important of the kingdoms established in Canaan at that time was Hazor, the only kingdom to maintain close ties with the large urban centers in Syria and Mesopotamia. From the beginning of the 18th century BCE, Hazor’s culture was influenced by them. Several of the tablets found were written in Akkadian, the Mesopotamian tradition of writing, as well as patterned shards of liver-shaped pieces of clay which in Mesopotamian tradition was used for divining the future.
The Hyksos period
In Egyptian history, the Hyksos period (1670-1560 BCE) marks only the 15th Dynasty. In Land of Israel archaeology, however, the period of the 15th Dynasty – the Hyksos Dynasty – at times refers to the entire 2b Middle Bronze Age (1800/1750-1550 BCE) which was characterized by a continuation of the prevailing conditions after the demise of the 13th Dynasty. The Hyksos were rulers of a foreign, probably Asiatic, origin, who conquered and then ruled Egypt with the support of tribes in the eastern delta area of the Nile. Although over time the Hyksos sought to become an integral part of Egyptian culture, their opponents always perceived them as foreigners of inferior lineage, who had illegally seized control of Egypt. From written evidence and archaeological finds, it appears that during their reign, economic (and other) ties were strengthened between Egypt and the Land of Israel and the coast of Phoenicia.
The Middle Bronze Period marked the high point of urbanization of the Land of Israel in the second millennium BCE. During this era all parts of the country down to its southern borders at the Beersheba Valley were dotted with a highly populated line of cities and villages. All of the cities and some of the smaller settlements were surrounded by sloped ramparts with stone-reinforced walls – standard fortification in this period and its hallmark in archaeological digs in the country. In addition to fortifications, the public and private buildings unearthed in the digs reflect the nature of the urban society of that period. Excavations at Hazor, Megiddo, Afek and Tel El-Ajjul uncovered palaces as well as temples in different architectural styles at Megiddo, Naharia, Hazor, Tel Kitan and Shechem (Nablus).
The Material Culture
The material culture revealed at archaeological sites of the period enables us to learn about the technology used in those days, the metals and materials from which utensils, objects and jewelry of the time were made. Burial gifts in coffins that were unearthed are of great importance because they contribute to an understanding of the material culture of the period. The use of bronze symbolizes the period, and indeed many types of bronze weaponry were found in abundance, such as axes, daggers and spear heads. Various work tools were also found as well as bronze figurines. Gold, imported from Egypt, served as an accepted form of payment and was also used in jewelry and decorative objects. Burnished pottery decorated in red and black with drawings of fish, birds and animals were imported from Cyprus.
Towards the end of the period many of the hill cities were destroyed. Based on surveys and archaeological findings, researchers believe that the wave of destruction and ruin may be connected to the conquest of the land by Egypt at the beginning of the 18th Dynasty, which led to a significant change in the distribution of settlements in the country. At the same time, the main center shifted towards the coast, the lower inlands and the valleys, which recovered faster than the hill areas and became the centers of Egyptian rule and urban culture in the Land of Israel. Large stretches of the hill areas remained unsettled throughout the Late Bronze Period, a fact of great importance for the future settlement of the Tribes of Israel.
The Land of Israel during the Middle Bronze Period is the setting described in the Book of Genesis as the area of activity of the forefathers of the nation of Israel: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, in the central hill and northern Negev areas of the country.
The Late Bronze Period (1550-1200 BC)
The Late Bronze Period corresponds to the period of the new kingdom in Egypt (the 18th and 19th Dynasties). Throughout most of the period Egypt maintained direct rule through its officials and the country was both dependent on and subordinated to Egypt. These relationships explain why the history of the Land of Israel was so directly influenced by events in Egypt. This was a low period in terms of settlement in the Land of Israel. Many of the cities were abandoned and destroyed, and most of the remaining populated cities were unwalled and unfortified. The reasons for the settlement ebb were apparently the power struggles between Egypt and the Mitanni (Naharin) Empire, the great powers of the time, with the Land of Israel between them serving as the battle field.
After his ascent to the throne, Tuthmosis III (1504-1450 BCE) became a powerful ruler. From the outset he sought to restore Egypt to its former status in the area. During the period of his mother Hatshepsut, Shaushtatar the Mitanni king had succeeded in expanding his kingdom which became a large empire that ruled northern Mesopotamia, Syria and parts of the Land of Israel. From inscriptions on the walls of the Temple of Amon in Karnak, Egypt, we learn about the struggles between the Egyptians and Mitannis. The inscriptions are based on official war chronicles written during the campaign, and on lists of spoils and taxes. From them it emerges that in 1482 BCE, Tuthmosis III engaged in a war campaign in Canaan against the Huri leader of Kadesh on the Orentes, which was subject to the Mitanni king. Tuthmosis III and his army crossed the Sinai and advanced to Yecham in the Sharon Plain without resistance. The king and his allies set up for war in the Jezreel Valley. Tuthmosis III surprised them and the Egyptian army scored a great victory. The allied leaders and the remainder of their army retreated to Megiddo where they withstood a siege for 7 months, before surrendering to Tuthmosis, who took them captive and reaped extensive booty. Two lists appear in that same inscription, naming 119 cities and settlements by geographic location that were conquered by Tuthmosis in a series of campaigns conducted during the 23rd or perhaps 24th-28th years of his reign. Through a series of war campaigns in following years, Tuthmosis assured Egyptian rule in Canaan and Lebanon, and scored great victories in Syria. However, it appears that in his later years Tuthmosis suffered military defeats and the Mitanni kingdom once again reigned in northern and central Syria, down to the northern border of Canaan.
The war between the powers continued during the reign of Amenhotep II, son of Tuthmosis III, until both sides were exhausted by the prolonged struggles. At a certain stage, as we learn from written evidence from the reign of Amenhotep II, initial ties and rapprochement began between the two powers. A renewed Hittite attack in northern Syria strengthened these ties and spurred a gradual improvement in relations as well as mutual recognition of each side’s borders and areas of influence. The Egyptian border, which in essence was determined in the first campaign of Tuthmosis III, later became the permanent border of the Egyptian empire and did not change much until the end of the new Egyptian kingdom. This is also the northern boundary of the chosen Land of Canaan that appears in the Bible.
During this period most of the cities lay alongside the main roads and at crossroads. Cities served the king and the nobility. This can be seen in the remains of the cities that have been excavated. Considerable areas of the city are taken up by the king’s palace and homes for the ruling class. Cities had public buildings which served citizens living in the cities and the periphery, a temple for ritual purposes, and the city gates as a public square for conducting City business.
The square facing the gate is where city elders and residents gathered. It served as the site of trials as well as market and other trading activities. City economies were based on agriculture and many of the king’s subjects lived outside the city, in rural settlements around the city. In times of trouble the city served as a refuge for these villagers.
The Archives in Egypt and the Land of Israel
From the period of Tuthmosis III and onward, we have royal Egyptian inscriptions and administrative and economic documents found in Egypt that illuminate several chapters in the history of the Land of Israel. Tel Al-Amarna was once the city Akhetaten, the capital of Egypt at the time of King Akhenaten (1364-1347), the son of Amenhotep III. In 1887 the most important archive ever discovered was unearthed at Tel Al-Amarna. It contained documents encompassing a period of about 27 years, from the first half of the 14th century. From the documents, written in Akkadian, we learn about governmental rule in the Land of Israel, the cities subject to Egyptian rule, the balance of powers and the strength of the Egyptian kingdom. Similarly, we can find complaints from Canaanite kings about groups of people called Afaro or Ebro: some researchers contend that the Biblical term “Ivri” (Hebrew) is parallel to Afaro. The documents also reveal differences between the kingdoms in the mountain area and their neighbors along the coast, in the valleys and in the lowlands, and about power struggles for control. The differences between the mountain kingdoms and those on the coast, in the valleys and the lowlands, is of great importance in understanding the political fabric of the Late Bronze Age and the settlement of the Tribes of Israel at a later date.
A number of archives have been uncovered in archaeological digs in the Land of Israel: in Ta’anach an archive was found with tablets dating from the 15th century BCE. In Tel Afek, also known as Antipatris, in the Sharon Plain various documents from the 13th century BCE came to light, among them a letter sent from Ugarit. In Tel El-Hesi, Gezer, Jericho, Shechem and Megiddo individual tablets have also been found. A few documents have also been unearthed in the Lebanon Valley. All of these documents and especially those from Tel Amarna, shed light on the cities of the kingdom in the country and most of our knowledge about the progression of internal events in Canaan from the period preceding the settlement of the Tribes of Israel has been gleaned from these documents.
The Ugarit Archive
The archives unearthed in Hattusa , capital of the Hittite kingdom, and in Alalakh, shed light on the struggles for control in northern Syria from the 17th century BCE to the end of the 13th century BCE. The most important archives were found in the port city of Ugarit (Ras Shamra) in which hundreds of documents were uncovered from the middle of the 14th century and mainly from the 13th century BCE. From these archives, researchers expanded their knowledge about the area encompassing Syria and the Land of Israel through glimpses of political, administrative, judicial and cultural life in the royal city of Ugarit. Many of the documents were written in alphabetic Ugaritic.
The Development of Writing
The Land of Canaan lay between Mesopotamia to the north and Egypt to the south and therefore both hieroglyphic and cuneiform forms of writing were used there. Only Egyptian officials in the country used hieroglyphics. The prevalent form of writing in the Canaanite cities was cuneiform Akkadian, the administrative and diplomatic language in Syria and the Land of Israel. Both cultures developed methods of writing each of which used hundreds of different symbols. Learning them required many years of schooling in special schools. In Mesopotamia the difficulties were even greater because scribes had to learn Sumerian and Akkadian, languages which were totally foreign to them. Under such conditions, reading and writing were not for the masses. Nevertheless, to enable even a small group of students to learn, literary documents and dictionaries of various types were collected which students had to commit to memory. The development of writing made it possible to administer the ancient kingdoms of the east properly and to create ties with foreign kingdoms. The scribes in each of the city kingdoms in Canaan conducted correspondence with Egypt and because they held the key to ties with foreign cities and states, they exerted a certain influence on the ruler. This explains the high status of the royal scribe in Canaanite society.
Invention of the Alphabet
A revolutionary development in human history occurred in Canaan and Phoenicia: the invention of the alphabet. The invention of the new script made reading and writing accessible to the masses. In this system, a graphic symbol did not represent a whole word but rather an isolated sound, which meant that the number of symbols could be reduced from thousands to 30, and even fewer. A few tablets uncovered in Ugarit already contained a reduced number of symbols. This phenomenon recurs in several ancient alphabetical inscriptions discovered in the Land of Israel from the 13th century BCE: in Lachish, Beit Shemesh and in also in Izbet Sartah from the 12th century BCE in which a shard was found with an entire alphabet of 22 letters. At the beginning of the Bronze Period, Canaanite writing became the main writing system in the Assyrian kingdoms, including Judea and Israel, and mainly in the Aramean kingdoms. Early “Hebrew inscriptions” are actually written in Canaanite script, in a language that was a Canaanite dialect. It was from this script that Arabic script evolved with all the Semitic consonants. At the beginning of the Bronze Period Canaanite script reached the Greek world, where it was expanded and some of its symbols were linked to vowels. This became the foundation for the Latin alphabet.
The revolution instigated by alphabet script is of tremendous importance. This was the most important contribution of the Canaanite culture to humankind and to the development of the philosophical side of human life.
Invasion of the “Sea Peoples”
The invasion of the “Sea Peoples” brought about an end to Late Bronze Period culture in large parts of Anatolia (Asia Minor). It also ended the era in which the world was divided between powers according to predetermined and accepted procedures and principles. The large powers in the Middle East of the 13th century BCE were Egypt, the Hittites, Assyria and Babylon, as well as the Mycenaean Empire. At the end of the 13th century BCE the Mycenaean culture suddenly ended and at about the same time the Hittite kingdom also disappeared. In about 1190 BCE, a large migration of nations began, perhaps as the result of serious drought in their birthplaces. Among the nations mentioned in Egyptian documents were the Shardan, Shekelesh, Teresh , Philistines, Tjeker, Danone and Ekwesh. In 1189 BCE the “Sea Peoples” reached Egypt but were repulsed by Ramses III and his army. An inscription from the days of Ramses III from 1186 BCE recounts the failure of the Hittite kingdom “and its daughters [satellites]” to withstand the “Sea Peoples” and archaeological finds corroborate this testimony. The Egyptians continued to rule in the Land of Israel even after the war with the “Sea Peoples.” The entrance of the “Sea Peoples,” their control of the coast of the Land of Israel and of the lowland cities did not greatly affect the ruling powers and material culture of the country. Only later, when political circumstances changed, did the new settlers from the west begin to make an imprint on the regime and on internal relations in the country. Thus, it is possible to mark the end of the Late Bronze Period in the Land of Israel as the settlement of various groups in the peripheral areas and the hills, beginning in the second half of the 13th century BCE, and their later gradual unification within the framework of the Tribes of Israel. The new settlement map was radically different from the preceding society and it influenced the history of the country for centuries to come.