Drought, Earthquake, and the Emergence of Israel

Drought, Earthquake, and the Emergence of Israel August 22, 2013

Eric Cline has made the case that an earthquake storm in the Eastern Mediterranean region and Anatolia may have created the context in which early Israel emerged, as the resulting cutting of trade routes and system collapse brought about the demise of Canaanite civilization – and others – as they had existed up to this point.

Today on Archaeology Briefs, I saw an article which suggests that a severe drought occurred in the same period.

The early Israelite settlements studied by Israel Finkelstein show evidence of houses being arranged in the same pattern as bedouin tents are in their camps. This might suggest that this was a group which was accustomed to transitioning from sedentary to nomadic life and back again as dictated by climate and other factors.

I wonder whether a major change in climate, coupled with a societal collapse, could have led to such a group transitioning and remaining with a particular arrangement for longer than they had previously done. The weakening of Egypt’s grip on Canaan, and the effects of the drought, could have become seared on their cultural memory, and eventually developed into a tale of plagues and of being freed from enslavement to the Egyptians, without their having to have resided in Egypt proper.

I’m primarily a New Testament scholar, and so I will leave it to those who work on ancient Israel and the Hebrew Bible to explore and assess the possibilities. But having spotted this news item, and made connections in my mind with other events occurring in the same region in the same period, I wanted to share some thoughts and see if it sparked any discussion, especially among those who know this particular topic better than I do.

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  • I wrote about the new PLOS ONE study here:
    Note that the drought had apparently no negative impact on Canaan; the Israelites multiplied after (and probably due to) the end of Egyptian rule. North Syria and Cyprus, however, suffered.

  • Michael Wilson

    I’m actually re-writing one of my old collage papers that deals with the subject of the Exodus and the legends of plagues. I argue that the Exodus was not from Egypt but from Egyptian colonial control, but not necessarily the deliverance of the whole of Canaan from Egyptian dominance. I do think that the basic theme of deliverance from Egypt would have been as common to Canaanite folktales as Indian raids were to western folk tales or communist spies to 20th century pulp fiction. Basically until the Neo-Babylonian era their would have always been tensions about Egyptian control and people shifting from Canaan to Egypt. I suspect though that the reason the Bible does not mention Egyptian ruling Canaan is because that era of history was forgotten, not suppressed. Their is not a hint of the campaign that Merneptah fought against Israel in 1207 and I think that is because the oral history was forgotten. Israel’s written history, I suspect starts with Abimalek and Deborah and at best we remember the names of a few early warriors, perhaps Joshua and Gideon.

    Regarding earth quakes and famines, the jury is still out on what caused the up-heaval of the early iron age, but I think it is certain that without it, their would have been no Yawhism and no Israel.