[b-hebrew] Rohl's Chronology Deconstructed

Dave Washburn dwashbur at nyx.net
Mon Jul 26 14:38:09 EDT 2004

On Monday 26 July 2004 09:09, Walter R. Mattfeld wrote:
> Marianne wrote :
> <For David Rohl to maintain that the Lebayu of
> >the Amarna Letters is none other than Saul is, in my opinion, a ridiculous
> >assertion.
> Peter responded:
> <I'm not sure of all the grounds on which you consider Rohl's conclusion
> <ridiculous.
> Dear Peter,
> Rohl's identfying King Saul with Labayu, places Saul and the events in his
> life in a Late Bronze Age setting (ca. 1560-1200 BCE). Mainstream
> scholarship understands Labayu to be a contemporary of  Pharaoh Akhenaten
> who reigned ca. 1350-1334 BCE according to Clayton (p. 120. Peter Clayton.
> _Chronicles of the Pharaohs_. Thames & Hudson. London. 1994).
> The biblical chronology suggests for the mainstream scholars that Saul
> reigned ca. 1050-1020 BCE,  _not_ some two hundred years earlier. Saul is
> understood by the mainstream to be an Iron Age monarch (ca. 1200-1000 BCE),
> _not_ a Late Bronze Age ruler as maintained by Rohl.

But that's the whole point.  Rohl's evidence indicates that the Egyptian 
timeline as set forth by "mainstream scholars" (whatever that may mean) has a 
serious glitch in it, and his only goal is to correct that.  If you read his 
material, he has no stake at all in whether the Bible aligns with anything 
else in history; he simply doesn't care, and the fact that he can fine 
alignments between the Bible and his revised chronology is a curiosity to 
him, nothing more.  So it's not as if he has a biblical ax to grind here, his 
purpose is purely Egyptological, and his goal is to correct what he sees as 
an erroneous chronology on the part of "mainstream scholars."

> If Rohl is correct that Saul is Labayu, then the places mentioned in
> association with Saul's wars against the Philistines (cf. 1 Samuel,
> chapters 6-14) "ought" to possess archaeological evidence of being in
> existence in Late Bronze Age times and _not_ the Iron Age (1200-1000).
> My investigations into the archaeological findings on the various towns
> mentioned in the Saul narratives concluded that these towns did _not_ exist
> in the days of Akhenaten and Labayu, they existed ONLY in Iron Age times,
> after the arrival of the Philistines who arrived ca. 1175 BCE as the Pelest
> in the days of Pharaoh Ramesses III who reigned ca. 1182-1151 BCE. Ergo,
> Rohl's "alternate chronology" needs some more "work." For the data cf. the
> below article

Please.  We all know that archaeology is based on the accident of 
preservation.  To say that we "ought" to find archaeological material at such 
and such a place for such and such a time, is to bypass the actual sporadic, 
not to say whimsical, flyspecks of preservation that we do encounter and 
suggest that what is essentially a random process - the accident of 
preservation - should follow some kind of rule set that makes what we want 
accessible to us several thousand years later.  It just doesn't work that 
way.  Factors such as erosion, rebuilding, destruction on a massive scale by 
enemies, and what-have-you, combine to make the whole thing a very 
unpredictable process.  That may not be what we want, and we may not like it, 
but those factors tell us, in essence, that if we don't like it, too bad.

This is why arguments from silence will never get anywhere, especially in this 
field.  To say that "there's no positive evidence where we 'ought' to expect 
it," is equally to say "there's no negative evidence where the accident of 
preservation might have wiped something out, either."  It would be nice of 
scholars would get a handle on the fact that absence of evidence does NOT 
equal evidence of absence.  If you're into C programming, it would look like 
(absence_of_evidence) != (evidence of absence)
That's how arguments from silence ALWAYS work.  What's important is for 
qualified Egyptologists who, like Rohl, don't have some kind of ax to grind, 
to examine the revised chronology *on its own merits* and *based strictly on 
the evidence presented* and determine whether there might be something to it.  
Unfortunately, since he presented the material in popular form, first in a 
television show and then in a popular book, too many scholars have just 
written him off as a headline-grabbing crackpot instead of seriously 
examining what he said.  That's just sad.

Before someone brings it up, I really don't care one way or another whether 
Saul was Labayu or whether he was Saul.  None of this chronology stuff 
matters to me at all, I have my own little niche off in the grammatical 
corner.  But the way that Rohl's material has been treated by "scholars" 
betrays an attitude that really bothers me, and that's the only reason I get 
involved in this type of discussion.

Dave Washburn
Insert clever epigram here...or not

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