Balaams Kittim ships
Walter R. Mattfeld
mattfeld12 at charter.net
Sun Dec 15 11:44:27 EST 2002
Ian in a reply to Michael Banyai observed on the Kittim :
> A population which called itself kty, you know,
> just like the Hebrew ktyym. The Hebrews wrote about
> ktyym at Arad, circa 600 BCE, and there is the
> presence of Cypriot and eastern Greek pottery in the
> zone at the time (A.Mazar, Archaeology..., p441).
> There is of course more evidence, but I would like
> to see just one piece that would make anyone want to
> consider the existence of Kittim before the tenth
> century. Just one, otherwise all of this stuff can
> be written off as wishful thinking.
I would add to Ian's observation another, suggesting the Kittim are
descended of the Greeks (Javan or Ionia) and thus this dates Genesis to ca.
the 8th century BCE at the earliest.
"Kition was the important Phoenician establishment on Cyprus since the
9th/8th century BC and Phoenician inscriptions found there refer to the city
as kty. Although there was still a large autochthonous population, the
island was by the 8th century BC essentially Greek in population. This is
acknowledged by the listing of the Kittim as one of the sons of Yawan
(Ionia, and by extension, Greece)..." (p. 40. Vol. 3. J.C. Greenfield.
"Kittim." G.A. Buttrick. Editor. The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible.
Nashville. Abingdon Press. 1962)
My own research on Balaam's Kittim oracle suggests it is alluding to events
in the 7th century BCE as noted below-
Balaam's Kittim Oracle (562 BCE ?)
I have posited that the Primary History (Genesis-2Kings) was written
562/561 BCE. It follows that if this date is correct for the text's
composition, that Balaam's Kittim Oracle may refer to either an event that
occurred before that date, or perhaps, that it refers to a future event. I
suspect it is the former.
Balaam portrays the Kittim ships as afflicting both Asshur and Eber.
This is an important clue as to who is being alluded to and when. The
traditional understanding is that Eber is the ancestor of the Hebrews, who
in turn are the ancestors of the Israelites and Jews. If the Primary
History was written ca. 562 BCE, then Eber is most likely either the
Israelites or the Jews.
"But ships shall come from Kittim and shall afflict Asshur and Eber;
and he shall also come to destruction." (Numbers 24:24)
To narrow the field of inquiry we need to identify a situation,
historically speaking, where both Asshur and Eber are being simulatneously
"afflicted" by Kittim Ships.
Traditionally the Kittim have been understood to be a euphemism for
the Greeks, or Greek-related peoples. What period of time witnessed the
arrival of Greeks in Palestine, via ships, afflicting the descendants of the
Some have suggested the Philistines are the Kittim afflicting Israel
in Saul's and David's days. The problem though, is that Genesis understands
the Philistines to be the descendants of Ham and the Egyptians, so they
cannot be the Kittim who are portrayed as being the descendants of Japheth
(Genesis 10: 2,6,14).
Does the Hebrew Bible anywhere mention an event that has the
descendants of Eber being afflicted by Kittim ? I suspect that such an
event is noted in the book of Jeremiah. The prophet portrays the men of
Memphis and of Tahpanhes has having broken the crown of Judah's head-
"Is Israel a slave ? Is he a homeborn servant ? Why then has he become
a prey ? The lions have roared against him, they have roared loudly. They
have made his land a waste; his cities are in ruins, without inhabitant.
Moreover, the men of Memphis and Tahpanhes have broken the crown of your
head. Have you not brought this upon yourself by forsaking the Lord your
God, when he led you in the way ? And now what do you gain by going to
Egypt, to drink the waters of the Nile ? Or what do you gain by going to
Assyria, to drink the waters of the Euphrates ?" (Jer. 2:14-18 RSV)
"How well you direct your course to seek lovers !...You shall be put
to shame by Egypt as you were put to shame by Assyria. From it too you will
come away with your hands upon your head, for the Lord has rejected those in
whom you trust, and you will not prosper by them." (Jer 2:33, 36-37)
The book of Jeremiah ends with Judah in captivity, in Babylon, so the
events it portrays evidently extend from King Josiah's days to the Exile.
According to Breasted, Greeks were in Memphis and Tahpanhes (Daphnae)
under the Saitic Pharaohs-
"The army which Psamtik I now put together was made up of Greeks,
Carians and Syrians on the one hand, and on the other of Libyans and their
Egyptianized kindred. The Ionians and Carians were stationed on the
northeastern frontier near Daphnae, with a branch of the Nile running
through their camp..." (p.569, "The Restoration." James Henry Breasted.
A History of Egypt, From the Earliest Times to the Persian Conquest.
New York. Charles Scribner's Sons. 1912)
"Ere long the country was filled with Greek merchants...There was a
Greek and Carian quarter in Memphis...By 640 BC Psamtik felt himself strong
enough to resume the old projects of conquest in Asia, to revive Egypt's
traditional claims upon Syria-Palestine, and to dispute their possession
with Assyria. He invaded Philista..." (pp.577, 580, Breasted)
Jeremiah portrays God as angry that Judah has sought alliances first
with Assyria and later with Egypt, referring to these nations as "lovers"
(its interesting that in oaths of fealty to Assyrian overlords that the
vassal has to swear "to love" the overlord), and to Judah as a "Harlot" for
abandoning trust in Yahweh to succor them, and establish their freedom and
Baalam portrayed the Kittim as afflictiing both Asshur and Eber, as
Jeremiah alludes to Judah being an "ally", seeking out the approval of her
Assyrian overlord, we have here I believe, the historical situation that
Balaam appears to be alluding to. Asshur is Assyria and Eber is Judah,
Asshur's "ally" and vassal. They are united together and both will suffer
affliction at the hands of the Kittim as allies of each other.
About 640 BCE Assyria began the withdrawal from her western empire,
her troops were needed to deal with constant rebellions in the eastern
empire by Elamites, Babylonians and Medes. In the politcial vaccum
occasioned by the Assyrian withdraw stepped Josiah with ambitions to extend
Judah's borders to the north with hopes of refounding an empire like David's
and Solomon's. At the same time, however, a superpower -Saitic Egypt- was
also expanding into Canaan. Egypt had traditionally claimed Canaan as part
of her empire since the days of the 18th Dynasty (ca. 1560 BCE). The
Egyptians, employing Greek mercenaries from Caria, Ionia and Lydia, utilized
them in conquering Canaan and evidently, in ending Josiah's kingdom and
Judah's brief taste of independence. Josiah was mortally wounded in battle
at Megiddo attempting to stop Pharaoh Necho's march to the Euphrates. His
successor, Jehoahaz, was removed from power by Necho and carried off in
chains to Egypt. Egypt made Judah her vassal and appointed a new king,
Jehoiakim, who would be agreeable to being a vassal and "ally" of Egypt (2
Kings 23: 29-36).
Ray noted that Ionians and Carians were probably in Egypt, serving
Pharaoh Psammetichus I (664-610 BCE) in the 7th century BCE -
"Carians, together with their Ionian cousins, soon migrated to the
banks of the Nile. Herodotus (2.152) dates their arrival to the early years
of Psammetichus I, whose reign began about 664...This early date for the
Carian's arrival is confirmed by the account of the military historian
Polyaenus (2nd century BCE) and archaeolgy suggests that it was in this
period that the settlement of Naukratis was first established as an emporium
for traders from the Aegean...In 593, Psammetichus II, grandson of the
founder of the dynasty, undertook a major campaign into Nubia. This was a
time-honored pharaonic custom, but on this occasion the Egyptian army
included contingents of Ionians, Phoenicians, and Carians. On their return
toward Egypt, they camped at the foot of the colossal statues of the temple
of Abu Simbel...One of the Ionians left an inscription below the knee of the
broken colossus south of the doorway; this is probably the earliest
historical inscription in the Greek language anywhere. Carian inscriptions
were also carved on the legs of this colossus."
(Vol. 2, pp.1189-1190, John D. Ray, "Soldiers to Pharaoh: The Carians
of Southwest Anatolia." Jack M. Sasson. Editor. Civilizations of the
Ancient Near East. Peabody, Massachusetts. Hendrikson Publishers. [1995
Charles Scribner & Sons] reprint 2000 rebound into 2 vols)
Stern on Greek pottery in Palestine and Judah in the 7th - 6th
centuries BCE :
"These vessels had a strong influence on the local east Mediterranean
potters. "Greek lines" are characteristic of the local coastal pottery of
the 7th and early 6th centuries BCE all along the shores of Phoenicia,
Palestine, and Philista. But their influence expanded far beyond the coastal
region, penetrating many inland sites in the 7th to 6th centuries, both
Judaean settlements and those of Transjordanian states. It is today quite
impossible to consider Palestinian 7th century BCE pottery assemblages
without looking at Greek imports. These East Greek and Corinthian vessels
are known today from all coastal sites from north to south...Many have been
found at interior sites...and in Judah (Tell Malhata)...It is noteworthy
that in the course of counting all the mortaria finds of the early type, it
became clear that most sites from which these vessels originate lie near the
East Greek islands of Rhodes and Samos, and western Anatolia (sites in
Lydia, Caria and Lycia)..."
(Vol.2, p.219, "The Greek Penetration, The Import of Greek Pottery."
Archaeology of the land of the Bible, The Assyrian, Babylonian and
Persian Periods, 732-332 BCE. Anchor Bible Reference Library. New York.
Doubleday. 2001. ISBN 0-385-42450-7)
Stern on the presence of Greeks in Palestine and Judah in the 7th
century BCE :
"Herodotus (2.152,154), relates that Pharaoh Psamtik I (664-610 BCE),
founder of the 26th dynasty, hired Greek and Carian mercenaies. It seems
likely that other contemporary rulers used Greek mercenaies as well and that
the soldiers stationed at Mezad Hashavyahu were hired by King Josiah of
Judah. The fortess was apparently destroyed during Pharaoh Necho's campaign
in 609 BCE, the same year that Necho defeated Josiah at Megiddo. While some
scholars have suggested that this fort belonged to the Egyptian king and
that Greeks were in his hire, not a single Egyptian find was uncovered in
the two excavations conducted here." (p,223, Ephraim Stern,"The Greek
Penetration, The Population in 7th Century BCE Phoenicia and Palestine")
"The findings at Mezad Hashavyahu and Migdol led some scholars to
assume a cluster of fortresses in the Judaean kingdom partly manned by
Greeks, especially during the reign of Josiah...Yigael Yadin accepted
Aharoni's view that the kittiyim were Greek soldiers stationed in the
garrison at Arad...From this combined evidence of both written documents and
archaeological remains, it appears that, even before the arrival of the
Assyrians, but mainly during and after their period of domination, there was
Greek penetration into Palestine by both traders and mercenaries. No
discussion of the archaeology of Palestine of this period can ignore them,
and in any case, their presence here seems to reflect somewhat more than the
results of regular trade relations alone, as was recently suggested by J.
(pp.226-7, Ephraim Stern, "The Greek Penetration, The Population in
7th Century BCE Phoenicia and Palestine.")
The Kittim ships were ships that brought the Greek mercenaries of
Ionia, Lydia and Caria to the shores of Egypt to serve in the armies of the
Saitic Pharaohs. After Egypt had conquered Canaan and Judah, some Kittim
ships may have directly docked at the ports dotting the Philistine and
Phoenican coasts, providing more mercenaries for the Pharoahs.
Rations for the Kittim were found inscribed on pottery fragments
(called ostraca) at Tell Arad, a Judaean fortress in the Negeb, and dated to
the late 7th or early 6th century BCE. This suggests to some scholars that
either Greek mercenaries had been hired by Josiah or that the Saitic
Pharaohs may have left Kittim mercenaries in key locations to supervise the
collecting of tribute imposed on the Jews by Necho, and ensure their loyalty
It would appear then, that Judah's knowledge of the Greeks arose in
the course of the 7th through 6th centuries BCE, before the Primary History
was written ca. 562-561 BCE.
It is my understanding, then, that Balaam is alluding to events
transpiring in the course of the 7th century BCE, Judah's being an ally of
Assyria, and both of them being afflicted by the Greek mercenaries serving
in the armies of the Saitic Pharoahs.
Asshur's "affliction" at the hands of the Kittim, was that due to
their military aid, the Saitic Pharaohs were able to throw off the Assyrian
yoke, re-establishing Egypt's independence, then wrest away from Assyria the
western part of the Assyrian empire in Canaan, Phoenicia and Syria.
Eber's "affliction" at the hands of the Kittim, was that these
mercenaries stationed in Memphis and Tahpanhes, brought about Judah's
defeat, the death of good king Josiah, and the occupation of Judah. So,
"both" Asshur and Eber "suffered" at the hands of the Kittim.
Balaam predicted that a day would come that the power of the Kittim
would end. That day arrived in the early 6th century BCE when Nebuchadrezzar
appeared in Canaan and with his armies devastated the areas of Judah and
Philista, carrying off into exile many of these nations' peoples. The
Babylonians did not resettle the cities they destroyed, they remained
unoccupied ruin heaps until the return from exile ca. 538 BCE under Cyrus'
Persians, who defeated Babylon.
Archaeologists have noted that Greek pottery from Attica, Ionia,
Caria, Rhodes and other locations was plentiful in Palestine and reached
even into Judah from the 8th through the 6th centuries, but that after
Babylon had devastated the area, the Greek pottery ceased to be present in
Palestine to any degree. Balaam's oracle had been fulfiled, God, using
Babylon as his agent of vengenace, had broken the Kittim Ships' power, first
by chasing Egypt out the area, then by destroying the coastal cities that
had established maritime trade relations with the Greeks.
Stern on the absence of Greek pottery after Nebuchadrezzar devastates
"As destroyers the Assyrians and Babylonians had much in common. But
the periods that followed their conquets could not be less alike...While the
Assyrians left a clear imprint of their presence in Palestine, there is a
strange gap after the Babylonian destruction. Call it an archaeological gap,
if you wish...But the strange thing is that above the remains left by these
destructions, we find no evidence of occupation until the Persian period,
which began in about 538 BCE. For roughly half a century- from 604 BCE to
538 BCE- there is a complete gap in evidence suggesting occupation. In all
that time, not a single town destroyed by the Babylonians was
resettled...the only indications of a Babylonian presence in Palestine are
the massive destruction levels the Babylonians left behind. These are indeed
impressive, but there is nothing above them that can be attributed to the
Babylonian period. The Babylonian destruction of the major harbor towns
along the Palestinian coast also ended the previously intensive import of
Greek ceramics into the country. As scholar Saul Weinberg has lamented, "We
are left with a gap of almost a centruy for which we have so little imported
Greek pottery that it is of no help just where it is most needed."
(pp.45-47, Ephraim Stern, "The Babylonian Gap." Biblical Archaeology Review.
Nov. Dec. 2000. Vol. 26. No.6)
I have argued that "Balaam's Kittim Oracle" appears to be relating to
events occurring in the course of the 7th and 6th centuries BCE (640-587
BCE). The author of the Primary History, written ca. 562/561 BCE, knew of
the Kittim's power, and how their power brought about "affliction" for
"BOTH" Assyria and Judah. He also knew of the "ending" of their power via
God's use of Nebuchadrezzar as his agent of vengenace. It is my
understanding that Balaam's Kittim Oracle, then, was an "after the fact"
prognostication of 562/561 BCE.
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