Update: Even more information can be also be found in this post: Sand and Sin: More Research on the History of Jerusalem, dated January 2017.
In August a post was published which talked about the economy and climate of Isra’el in King David’s time, and how this affected his reign. All my posts are written ahead of time, sometimes by months, and in the intervening time I have completed months of study on ancient Isra’el and her neighbours. This has made some of the information in that post redundant and given me a much clearer picture of what did go on.
That’s good news! The project is a process of growth and discovery, and after two years, it’s still exciting to ponder what gems I will come across next. The greatest take home message is that you need to study beyond the Bible to understand it. Ancient history is a critical resource, as is archaeology. Any proper course of study takes in all the surrounding information, and David’s life should be treated no differently.
This post will give you additional information which makes greater sense of Saul and David’s stories.
The late Bronze Age Collapse crippled all the empires and city states from modern day Greece up to Turkey, across to the Persian Gulf affecting Iran and Iraq, through the area of Lebanon, Israel, Jordan and Palestine and right down into Egypt. There is a list of around 38 *cities which show destruction layers from this time frame, some which were critical to economic survival. The impact of the collapse was greater than the end of the Roman Empire and is the greatest economic disaster in all of history.
Cities were completely abandoned, with no clues as to the cause left behind; the population dramatically declined, famines occurred, and even powerful nations such as Egypt and Mesopotamia, wilted and struggled for several hundred years. The affects were the same as if our modern key trading cities such as Singapore, New York and London all ceased to function within fifty years, with no one else arising to cover their function.
This collapse occurred during the era of the Book of Judges (1200 BC) and the effects lasted into and past Saul and David’s time. Smaller nations such as Mycenae, Minoa, and Ugarit ceased to exist altogether and Cyprus lost written language and all trade for around 300 years. The loss of written language is why the era following the collapse is known as a dark age. In essence, the progression of civilisation was catastrophically set back.
Before the collapse, the Near East had a very modern society which was not equalled until the height of the Greek Empire around seven hundred years later. The area is considered by historians to have had an “international economy” with extensive, well engineered diplomatic relations between the countries, and trade networks which bought a great deal of wealth into the region. Bureaucracy was in full swing, laws were well established, public works were undertaken, better military tactics were being developed and civilisation was anything but stone age and backwards. Life was surprisingly modern, much, much earlier than the Greek and Roman empires. Their later success was birthed in this period.
At this time, as we do today, most of the population relied on food supplies coming through the trade networks, as the bulk of the population dwelt in cities and worked as merchants or manufacturers. When the trade routes collapsed, many people faced starvation as they didn’t have their own land for food production. It is thought that natural disasters such as earthquakes and the possible eruption of the volcano at what is now Santorini, contributed to the collapse, as one simple factor alone is insufficient to create such wide-spread, long-term havoc. There is also a theory that climate change during that time led to the perfect storm which created the complex collapse.
There is archaeological evidence to back this up. The Near East is now much drier than it had been and the flora and fauna has dramatically changed as well. Elephants and hippopotamus populations used to roam Mesopotamia (modern Iraq), creating local sources of ivory. They are long gone, perhaps from hunting, perhaps from climate change or a combination of both?
Before and during the collapse, there were many diplomatic letters send back and forth between Kings, such as between the Kings of Egypt and Ugarit, which provide useful accounts of what occurred in the Near East during this time, some which were cries for help because of the invasion of the Sea Peoples.
From King Ammurapi to the King of Alasiya: “My father, behold, the enemy’s ships came (here); my cities were burned, and they did evil things in my country. Does not my father know that all my troops and chariots are in the Land of Hatti, and all my ships are in the Land of Lukka?… Thus, the country is abandoned to itself. May my father know it: the seven ships of the enemy that came here inflicted much damage upon us.” Translation by Jean Nougaryol et al. (1968) Ugaritica V: 87–90 no. 24.
These letters were well preserved on baked clay tablets, but in the dark age that followed the collapse, this form of communication ceased, leaving us with a frustrating black hole of lost information. Most of what we have comes from destruction layers uncovered by archaeologists, pollen records showing evidence of famines and some clay tablets. For that reason, this period is considered to be one of the great mysteries of history.
Disenfranchised populations threatened everyone’s national security, and the standard of living plummeted. The arrival of these “Sea Peoples,” as Egypt referred to them, (which we believe were the Philistines), were part of the Bronze Age Collapse. They arrived in several mass migrations, attacked the local inhabitants with the men at the forefront and their women, children and all of their possessions following close behind. It appears they were also homeless because of the collapse and this is the cause of their arrival in Canaan, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Isra’el and the Hittites land to the north-west. Not only were trading routes cut by invasion, but communication routes would have also been affected, so the problem simply snow balled as conditions became worse.
The Impact on Isra’el
We don’t know the actual impact of the collapse on Isra’el, except that David’s reign must have still been affected by the insecurity of the surrounding nations and still reduced trade routes. We do know that he was active diplomatically and that some luxury goods were available through Tyre, but life was still hampered by upheaval and uncertainty. It is not a peaceful time for anyone. Trade, government and communication didn’t have to be reinvented, but it was partially suffocated until empires such as Neo-Assyria could rise up and completely stamp out security threats.
War has always been common in antiquity in order to gain more land and better resources, but it does appear to be heightened in this period, which is seen in the desperate pleas for help to allied kings as seen above. Isra’el would have also been economically affected as trade was functioning at a lesser level than the past, and raiders were keen to relieve the Israelites of what wealth they did have.
“Many people say, “Who will show us better times?” Let your face smile on us, LORD.” Psalm 4:6
The necessity of enlarging and securing borders for economic survival and to ward off the Philistine threat, could have been the reason why kings routinely went to war every spring. [Ref. 2 Samuel 11:1] In 1 Samuel 13:19 we know that the Philistines were withholding blacksmiths from the Israelites, as they didn’t wish them to access better weapons. They would have done the same to any other territories they could bully, and would have to have been a menace to trade in and out of the area as well. This kind of stranglehold produces poverty, which gives rise to desperation and conflict. It all comes down to survival, possibly mixed with greed.
Long-term struggles such as these exhaust populations and can also create the kind of power struggles which threatened David’s leadership, even into his old age. [Ref. Psalm 71] David’s inability to quell all security threats against Isra’el quickly may have made him unpopular. It is easy to look back now and see all the factors and realise why David was still going to war twenty years after he became King of Isra’el, but to his population at that time, their main concern was that life was scary, unpredictable and tough and they needed deliverance now!
“Meanwhile, my enemies lay traps to kill me.
Those who wish me harm make plans to ruin me.
All day long they plan their treachery.
But I am deaf to all their threats.
I am silent before them as one who cannot speak.
I choose to hear nothing,
and I make no reply.
For I am waiting for you, O LORD.
You must answer for me, O Lord my God.” Psalm 38:12-15
We know from the books of Samuel that David was allied with the King of Tyre who gave him the luxury items needed to build his palace. During those years, Tyre was an island (it is now a peninsula, a lot can change in three thousand years), and they traded in luxury items such as the cedars of Lebanon, tin, copper, ivory, perfumed oils and high-end hand crafted items. This shows a resurgence of luxury trade at around 1000BC, but a great deal of work was ahead of the nations to rebuild the wealth of the region, and much of that would have been hindered by the relentless wars, as everyone fought for survival and a secure, wealthy territorial share of the land and it’s resources.
Essential Study Resources:
University of California, Berkeley, Near East Studies:
Web site: http://cmes.berkeley.edu/category/videos/
Youtube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL-XXv-cvA_iBIm79tkbWrFKg9rwMVDytI
The Oriental Institute
Web site: http://oi.uchicago.edu
Youtube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/JamesHenryBreasted/videos
*Affected Cities and Nations
Anatolia (Asia Minor): Troy, Miletus, Hattusas (Hittites), Mersin, Tarhuntassa
Cypres: Palaeokastro, Kition, Sinda, Enkomi
Mesopotamia: Ugarit, Tell Sukas, Kadesh, Qatna, Hamath, Alalakh, Aleppo, Carchemish, Emar
Levant / Canaan: Hazor, Akko, Megiddo, Deir ‘Alla, Bethel, Beth Shemesh, Lachish, Ashod, Ashkelon
Modern Greece area: Teichos Dymaion, Pylos, Nichoria, The Menelaion, Tiryns, Mycenae, Thebes, Lefkandi, Iolkos, Knossos, Kydonia.
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