Was This the Birth of Monotheism?

It was a liveable, walkable city until it suddenly vanished (Rice/West et al, 2021).

There you are, living your polytheistic/animistic Bronze Age life in a middle-sized city of about 8,000 people in what today we call the Jordan Valley when boom!

Actually, you don’t remember anything. You and everyone else nearby were vaporized in an explosion so intense that grains of sand turned into diamonds.

“What god did that?” the outlying surivors wonder. Some hollow-eyed bearded guy has an explanation: the Lord of Storms was punishing the land, and now we must obey Him.

Then the LORD rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven;

And he overthrew those cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground. (Genesis 19:24–25)

Obviously, the people there deserved it. What did they do to anger the LORD? Clearly he wreaked his vengence upon future generations:

The proposed asteroid that exploded over Tall el-Hammam may have also vaporized and ejected the nearby water from the Dead Sea over the area. Being highly toxic from the sheer amounts of salt in the water, the toxic water may have scattered across the lands from the impact; this, according to the research team, may be the reason why the city,together with some nearby settlements, remained uninhabited for hundreds of years after the proposed event took place. The resulting levels of salinity in the area would have been damaging for any crops they may have attempted to grow on the same soil, and would have needed hundreds of years’ worth of rain to wash out.

Fourteen miles away, the important city of Jericho was also smashed.

The very same winds that finished off Tall el-Hammam then reached Jericho, toppling some of its famous walls; some parts of Jericho burned as well.

You may know the story about how “Joshua fit [fought] the battle of Jericho” and “de walls came tumblin’ down.”  And then the Hebrews killed everybody except Rahab the prostitute. 

Well, no. Jericho’s walls came tumbling down two or three centuries before the Hebrews conquered Canaan (an event that not all historicians — even Israeli historians — think actually happened). The destruction formerly blamed on an Egyptian army might well have been caused by this “giant space rock.”

If you live in an “enchanted” world, in which events have meaning, what meaning would you draw from massive destruction out of nowhere?

A Bronze Age Battle Lost in the Misty Past

Tollensetal Impressionsfraktur

Some fighters had bronze weapons and armor; others carried wooden clubs — and used them. (Landesamt für Kultur und Denkmalpflege Mecklenburg-Vorpommern/Landesarchäologie/D. Jantzen)

Men came to Tollense . . . or whatever it was called about 3,260 years ago.[1]“The things they carried” — an appropriate literary reference? In a river valley north of Berlin, two Bronze Age armies clashed, casualties were at least in the hundreds, and no one can say who fought or why.

“We have 130 people, minimum, and five horses. And we’ve only opened 450 square meters. That’s 10% of the find layer, at most, maybe just 3% or 4%,” says Detlef Jantzen, chief archaeologist at MVDHP. “If we excavated the whole area, we might have 750 people. That’s incredible for the Bronze Age.” In what they admit are back-of-the-envelope estimates, he and Terberger argue that if one in five of the battle’s participants was killed and left on the battlefield, that could mean almost 4000 warriors took part in the fighting.

And this comparison to a war that spawned literature we still read today:

As University of Aarhus’s Vandkilde puts it: “It’s an army like the one described in Homeric epics, made up of smaller war bands that gathered to sack Troy”—an event thought to have happened fewer than 100 years later, in 1184 B.C.E. That suggests an unexpectedly widespread social organization, Jantzen says. “To organize a battle like this over tremendous distances and gather all these people in one place was a tremendous accomplishment,” he says.

It’s my literary imagination at work — someone must have sung those dead warriors, maybe in a long elegiac poem like Y Gododdin — but in what language? And to what ends?

Lost, all lost.

Notes

Notes
1 “The things they carried” — an appropriate literary reference?

Scandinavian Style, 1400 BCE

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(National Museum of Denmark)

The acidic peat surrounding this grave of a Bronze Age girl, labeled a “priestess” for her elaborate jewelry,  preserved her clothing and hair but not her skeleton. The burial was found in 1921, but only this month did analysis reveal that, for instance, the wool in her skirt came from the Black Forest region of German, but also that she herself may have traveled back and forth.

The Bronze Age teenager was wearing a wool skirt belted with a large bronze disk with spirals on it.

“She looks, in a way, very modern, in this kind of miniskirt and a kind of T-shirt,” [Danish researcher Karin] Frei told Live Science. (Her unique fashion sense has inspired scores of Pinterest-worthy re-enactments.)

Peaceful Minoan Crete . . . Was Not

Boy boxers smack each other in a Minoan fresco. (Wiki Commons).

Bronze Age (Minoan) Crete is often portrayed as this peaceful place where people gathered flowers, danced, sang, and worshiped the Great Mother Goddess.

Um, no, says an archaeologist from the University of Sheffield:

“Their world was uncovered just over a century ago, and was deemed to be a largely peaceful society,” explained [Barry] Molloy. “In time, many took this to be a paradigm of a society that was devoid of war, where warriors and violence were shunned and played no significant role.

“That utopian view has not survived into modern scholarship, but it remains in the background unchallenged and still crops up in modern texts and popular culture with surprising frequency.

“Having worked on excavation and other projects in Crete for many years, it triggered my curiosity about how such a complex society, controlling resources and trading with mighty powers like Egypt, could evolve in an egalitarian or cooperative context. Can we really be that positive about human nature? As I looked for evidence for violence, warriors or war, it quickly became obvious that it could be found in a surprisingly wide range of places.”

Much like other people, in other words. Read the rest here.