A Test of Time: The Bible – from Myth to History by David M. Rohl Century Ltd., London, 1995 426 pp., 51 color and 424 b/w photos and graphic illustrations sterling17.99 hardcover (available at this time only in the U.K.) ISBN 0-7126-5913-7 Where to start in discussing this piece of work ? David M. Rohl s A Test of Time is quite unlike any other history book that I ve ever read from forward to final appendix. Without question since the author says so it was produced with a popular audience in mind and employs an informal, almost conversational, writing style (with the author s voice always in the first person, addressing his reader directly, with such teacherspeak statements as Now let me remind you… or Let us look in a little more detail at…, etc.).
And he regularly summarizes, point by point, the information and arguments he has been presenting, which in some instances is useful and others merely cloying. However, at the same time, the wide-ranging, multi-discipline material which Rohl deals with is often complex (even rather dense) by its very nature, and a sizable portion of it despite the author s best effort to be crystal clear surely will be lost on many non-specialist readers. This leads to the bottom-line conclusion that Test was written with the ulterior motive of finally persuading the phallanx of orthodox Egyptologists in Britain who already have rejected and others elsewhere who likely will (once they are aware of it) the author s underlying thesis. And this, simply enough, is that, by adjusting both upward and downward rather dramatically the pivotal chronology of ancient Egypt, it is possible (easy even) to place in real time those biblical personalities and events which most often are regarded (except by the fundamentalist devout) as more likely mythic than historical: namely Joseph, the Sojourn, the Bondage, Moses and the Exodus. Rohl protests in Time that he did not purposely set out to prove the historicity of Genesis and Exodus, that this result was merely the unavoidable consequence of his original investigations into what he and others perceived some years ago as serious problems with the accepted orthodox chronology of ancient Egypt. That Rohl s studies shifted to a biblical focus, however, very likely were a root cause of his having parted company with fellow New Chronologists in 1989. Before detailing the provocative textual contents of Time, a few words need to be said about the physical makeup of the book itself, as it is also one of the most unusually designed trade books I ve ever seen. In fact, it has a distinct affinity with college-textbook layout, which may not be all that unintentional (considering the author s propensity to teach, if not preach).
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Generally speaking, the crisp 424 (!) black-and-white photos and graphics are quite excellent, even though a good number of the former are reproduced the size of largish postage stamps and relegated to to the book s wide margins. Chief appeal of Time s layout is the very generous use of computer-generated dramatic graphics (charts, graphs, maps, plans, etc.) and numerous sidebars or mini-essays of extra information to the main narrative, which are set off in framed boxes. The sometimes-smallish fifty-one full-color photos (and one plan) which are ganged together in three groups evenly interspersed through the volume work less well, and seem almost addenda, as if the publisher felt A Test of Time would not sell to its intended popular audience unless it had color in it. It might be noted that a majority of the photographs, both color and b/w are the author s own; and an excellent photorgapher he is, it can be said. David Rohl makes a very seductive case in his lengthy Test of Time revision of ancient Egyptian chronology and the inevitable consequences thereof (i.e., revelation of the historical reality of early-Old Testament personalities and events).
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If in the end he does not succeed in persuading every reader of the correctness of his readings of the facts offered, it certainly is not for lack of exhaustive argument. Rohl divides his book (following a brief preface by free-lance American Egyptologist Robert S. Bianchi, and the author s lengthy, thirty-six-page introduction), into six parts composed of fifteen chapters, five appendices and a reference section (notes, bibliography, index, etc.).
Parts One and Two contain the chapters likely to be of most interest to students of ancient Egypt and anyone with a particular curiosity in how the New Chronology is rationalized. Parts Three and Four are concerned mostly with biblical history and the indentification of the historical Joseph, Moses, Saul, David, Solomon and others. Part Five, Additional Research wherein the author focuses in on such esoteric subjects as dating the reign of Shoshenq I (Appendix A), Third Intermediate Period genealogies (B), radiocarbon dating (C), Sothic dating (D) and Assyrian chronology (E) is guaranteed tough plowing for most non-specialist readers, some of whom will surely elect to skip this material altogether. Following Rohl s long introduction his condensed accounts of the histories of pharaonic Egypt and Old Testament Israel A Test of Time, Part One, Conundrums of the Pharaohs, deals with The Search for Apis (Chapter One), Secret of the Pharaohs (Two) and The Royal Tombs of San [Tanis] (Three).
These chapters cover, respectively, (1) the discovery of the Serapeum at Sakkara by Mariette (1851) and subsequent confusions over the datings of many of the bull-burials therein; (2) the unofficial (1871) and official (1881) discoveries of the Royal-Mummies Cache at Deir el Bahari, which housed the salvaged reburials of numerous New Kingdom royalty and associated individuals, plus the family-interments of the Twenty-first Dynasty priest-kings who ruled at Thebes, as well as the puzzling presence among them of a Twenty-second Dynasty high-priest of Amen; and (3) Montet s discovery of the royal necropolis at Tanis (1939), with its gold-rich burials of kings of both the Twenty-first and Twenty-second dynasties, at least one of the latter arguably pre-dating the others. I shall return to Chapter Two, further on. A Test of Time’s Part Two, Unravelling the Gordian Knot is subtitled Making Sense of Egyptian Chronology. Here the author first discusses the Victorian need to find biblical proofs in the newly readable ancient Egyptian records, and the eagerness of scholars of those early years of the discipline of Egyptology to identify Rameses II with the Oppression and his successor, Merenptah, with the Exodus.
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Then Rohl presents in some considerable detail The Four Great Pillars on which the conventional chronology of ancient Egypt is supported: (1) the 664 B.C. date of the sacking of Thebes by the Assyrians; (2) the identification of Shoshenq I of the Twenty-second Dynasty with Shishak, king of Egypt, who, according to the biblical account, despoiled the Temple of Solomon in 925 B.C.; (3) the Sothic date revealed in the Papyrus Ebers of 1517 B.C. as Year 9 of Amenhotep I; and (4) another astronomical dating (in Papyrus Leiden) placing Year 52 of Rameses II in exactly 1228 B.C., thus giving him an accession date of 1279. Rohl proceeds to demonstrate that just one of these pillars is in his view sound, the 664 B.C. Assyrian sacking of Thebes. As he will argue at length in Time s Chapter Seven, The Historical Shishak, the Shishak/ Shoshenq synchronism is historically untenable. He claims many Egypologists dispute the interpretaton of the Papyrus Ebers Sothic dating of Amenhotep I, and so concludes that the Year 52 lunar date of Rameses II Pillar Four is in error, being entirely dependent on the same debated Sothic dating. Therefore Rohl concludes that the only safe date in ancient Egyptian chronology is 664 B.C.
Chapter Six, Towards a New Chronology, is the heart of Rohl s case for redating the Third Intermediate Period, and deals chiefly (but not exclusively) with a Geneaology of Royal Architects discovered in a schist quarry of the Wadi Hammamat. This rock-cut inscription apparently lists in succession the names of twenty-two generations of a family of architects, as recorded by one Khnemibre in Year 26 of Darius I (496 B.C.) and extending back to his ancestor, Rahotep, who is indicated in the inscription as having flourished early in the reign of Rameses II. By allowing twenty years per generation (admittedly an arbitrary given by the author), this would place Rahotep in 936 B.C., rather than in ca. 1270 B.C., as would be the case for the dating of early-Rameses II according to orthodox chronology. Based on this geneological record, the early-Nineteenth Dynasty would have to be redated to the late-Tenth Century B.C.(!), rather than to the first quarter of the Thirteenth, as is conventional. Dismissing that this Royal Architects genealogy might reflect a possible hapography (accidental omission) of up to ten generations between Rameses II and Shoshenq I, and another eight generations between the latter king and Darius I (if so, two other corresponding independent genealogies discussed in Time s Appendix A make the same omissions ), Rohl proposes that the dramatically shortened time between Rameses II and Darius I be explained by the fact that the Third Intermediate Period s Twenty-first and Twenty-second dynasties, at least, were concurrent.
The Egyptian and Mesopotamian societies are two of the oldest civilizations in the history of the world. The Egyptian and Mesopotamian political, social, and cultural parts of their lives developed differently, but there is a similar basis between the two. Although they had similar political systems in that they both were ruled by kings, the way they viewed their kings and the way that they both ...
At this point in his presentation, the author refers those of his readers who are still thirsty for more sips from the poisoned chalice which is the the TIP [Third Intermediate Period] to turn to his treatment of same in Time s appendices. He explains that he is restrained from being more detailed in the main text of his book by the university regulations regarding [his] PhD thesis presenting this same material, which is due for examination one year following the writing of A Test of Time. Starting with Time s Part Three ( Legendary Kings and Chronicles: Egypt and the United Monarchy Period in Israel ), Rohl advances into territory that requires his readers to have more than just Sunday-school familiarity with Old Testament events and personalities. But first he tackles the sticky wicket of The Historical Shishak (Chapter Seven), whom Rohl identifies with none other than Rameses II rather than the Shoshenq I of conventional wisdom. Having made the third ruler of the Nineteenth Dynasty contemporary with the 925 B.C. biblical date of the despoiling of the Temple of Solomon by an Egyptian king Shishak, the author equates the latter event with Rameses II s plundering of a town named Shalem in his Year 8, as specifically recorded on the pylon gate of the Ramesseum and by inference elsewhere (Abu Simbel).
For Rohl Shalem is easily enough Jerusalem. And Rameses is Shishak, if one is to believe the author s argument that Sese (SS, SSw, SSy or Sysw) a supposed nickname or hypocoristicon for that Egyptian king, as preserved for Rameses III in a cartouche at Medinet Habu is equivalent to the Hebrew Shisha[k]. Additionally, Rohl uses several of Rameses II s war reliefs (such as the Ashkelon Wall at Karnak) as support to his case that the Nineteenth Dynasty ruler engaged in battle with a fully established Israelite nation (possessing war chariots), which would have been impossible had Rameses II been the Pharaoh of the Oppression (or the Exodus, for that matter).
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Next, in Chapter Eight, The Age of Solomon, Rohl posits that the culturally rich time of King Solomon is not likely to have occurred during the universally impoverished first years of the Iron Age (its traditional dating), but rather should be contemporary with the Late Bronze Age IIA-B, or the end years of the Eighteenth Dynasty; and he goes so far as to identify the Pharaoh s daughter who married Solomon as the (otherwise unattested) offspring of Horemheb. Rohl even identifies the site near Jerusalem (grounds of the ?cole Biblique) once occupied by the palace which Solomon built for his transplanted Egyptian bride (II Chronicles 8:11) this based on a few Egyptian minor artifacts and a papyrus capital excavated there in the 1880s. Rohl s chapters Nine, The Lion Man, and Ten, The Beloved, although biblically dense, hold special interest for Amarnophiles, inasmuch as he argues therein that he is able to identify legendary kings Saul and David as historical personalities playing roles in the events recorded in the famous cuniform correspondence known as the Amarna Letters, which dates from the late reign of Amenhotep III into that of Tutankhamen. Scholars have long pondered an identification for the troublesome Habiru of the Letters, though have concluded these nomad-raiders must have been a separate (if possibly related) group from the Hebrews (Ibrim), who still would have resided in Egypt at the time of the royal correspondence in question (according to the traditional dating which places their Exodus some 140 years later).
With his New Chronology making late-Eighteenth Dynasty Egypt contemporary with the rise of the United Monarchy in Israel, Rohl finds a Habiru/ Hebrew synchronism not only possible but certain. Looking at the detailed biblical accounts of the military activities of the first Israelite king, Saul, Rohl sees an amazing similarity in the reported maraudings of a renegade hill-country ruler named Labayu ( Great Lion ), who is repeatedly complained about in the Amarna Letters by Egypt s Levantine vassals (and is himself the author of letters to the Egyptian king).
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And the Habiru rebel Dadua, also subject of frequent reference in Letters, is equated by Rohl with Saul s rebellious son-in-law, David, dynastic founder of Jerusalem making the latter king a contemporary with Egyptian pharaohs Akhenaten to Horemheb and Hittite emporer Suppliluliumas I. This is but the briefest summary of the author s lengthy, greatly detailed discussion of the advent of the United Monarchy in Israel, made possible, he believes, by the deterioration of Egypt s hegemony in Syro-Palestine during the Amarna and post-Amarna years, coupled with Mitanni s defeat by the Hittites during the same period. Part Four of A Test of Time is titled Discovering the Israelites: The Sojourn in Egypt and the Conquest of the Promised Land. Before launching foreward, Rohl cautions readers that they are about to enter a very different kind of world from what they have experienced in parts One through Three. There, he explains, his New Chronology arguments and their biblical synchronisms have been grounded on established historical methodology and other traditional material evidence provided by archaeology, inscribed monuments, surviving archives, etc. But as he necessarily moves his search for the origins of the ancient Israelites back in time beyond the New Kingdom to the well-lighted Twelfth Dynasty, a realm of darkness in Egypt is encountered (the Second Intermediate Period), a span of several centuries during which there is a scarcity of tangible source-material, causing Rohl to rely more heavily on the traditions laid down in the biblical narratives of Genesis and Exodus, and in Manetho s (and others ) imprecise history of Egypt. Having made this caveat, the author spends Chapter Eleven ( Navigating by the Stars ) in a complex discussion of such incomprehensible scientific techniques as astronomical retrocalculation, whereby esoteric data on something called the Ugarit Eclipse Tablet (KTU-1.78) determines for Rohl and others that Amenhotep III died just months before a solar eclipse was observed on May 9, 1012 B.C. Knowing this certainty(?), the author is able to count Eighteenth Dynasty reign-lengths backwards to arrive at a New Kingdom start-date (Ahmose I) of 1194 B.C., rather than the generally accepted circa 1570. Then, using data in the Royal Canon of Turin, Rohl further calculates that the first ruler of the Hyksos Fifteenth Dynasty took power 108 years prior to the Asiatics expulsion from Egypt by Ahmose (1183 B.C.), in circa 1290 B.C. As if all of this were not obtruse enough, the author then resorts to astronomical retrocalculation of Venus observations in the Ammisaduga Texts of Babylon, to ultimately arrive at the determination that the Thirteenth Dynasty s Neferhotep I ruled in the second half of the Sixteenth Century B.C. (ca. 1540-1530), rather than at the beginning of the Seventeenth (according to conventional chronology).
Whew! Which brings us to A Test of Time s key Chapter Twelve, Moses and Khenephr?s, wherein David Rohl reveals the identity of the king of the Bondage as Khaneferre Sobekhotep IV (successor once removed to Neferhotep I), whom James H. Breasted pronounced as the greatest ruler of the Second Intermediate Period. It was during his some twenty-year reign that Moses grew up to be a prince of Egypt, Rohl argues. After tracing the Egyptian career of Moses (including his leading an invasion of Kush), the author turns to a discussion of Austrian archaeologist Manfred Bietak s on-going excavations at Tell ed Daba (Avaris) in the eastern Delta (biblical Goshen) and his discovery there of a sizeable Egyptianized- Asiatic community, which occupied the habitation-and-cemetery site from the end of the Twelfth Dynasty throughout most of the Thirteenth. Coincidentally Tell ed Daba is also the site of later-New Kingdom Pi-Ramesse (biblical Raameses), capital of the Nineteenth Dynasty, although no evidence of any Asiatic settlement was found by the Austrian excavator in that particular stratum of occupation. Thus, Rohl concludes that the only period in Egyptian history with incontrovertible archaeological evidence for a large Asiatic population in the eastern delta…is the Second Intermediate Period the era into which the New Chronology places the historical events which lie at the heart of the traditional stories of the Israelite Sojourn, Bondage and Exodus. And so, at last, comes Rohl s explanation of the historical basis of the Exodus in his Chapter Thirteen ( Exodus, simply enough).
Even the biblically semi-literate know that this event was associated with a series of plagues brought down on Egypt by the Hebrew god, Yahweh, the tenth and last of these being a divine extermination of the first-born of the Egyptians, starting with the Crown Prince and extending even to livestock(!).
Well, Rohl turns again to Tell ed Daba and Bietak s uncovery there of so-called plague pits with large numbers of human skeletal remains in what amount to mass graves. It was at the time of these gruesome group interments, Rohl reports, that the Egyptianized-Asiatic settlement at Tell ed Daba/Avaris was abandoned lock, stock and barrel (not to be occupied again until some time later when non-Egyptianized Asiatic squatters read Hyksos moved into the empty and crumbling town and made it their own).
What better way to explain away these phenomena but a Tenth Plague and the Exodus? And so, for Rohl, circumstantial archaeology fleshes out the myth! He is even able to sort out using Manetho and the Turin Canon and those generational calculations he likes so much exactly which king of Egypt is to be identified as Pharaoh of the Exodus, and that is a little-known Dudimose, thirty-sixth and last ruler of the Thirteenth Dynasty (it seems there were twelve occupants of the throne while Moses was out of the country).
So Moses leads the Israelites out of Egypt at the end of the murky Thirteenth Dynasty, says Rohl. But, say you, what about those 600 chariots Pharaoh s army used to pursue the refugees across the fateful Sea of Reeds? Weren t horses and chariotry introduced to the Egyptians by the Hyksos a dynasty or two later? Not so, according to the author of A Test of Time, and he cites glove evidence (you ll have to read the book to find out what that is) and slim archaeological equine finds (horse teeth) supposedly dating to the Thirteenth Dynasty strata at Tell ed Daba, to argue that the Egyptians were horsemen somewhat earlier than previously supposed. And those Hyksos? Rohl offers that they were Amalekite tribesmen who entered Egypt soon after the Hebrews left (the two groups met in battle, he says, in the Sinai, when their different paths crossed), settling into the town abandoned by those who followed Moses, which these invaders eventually rebuilt as their capital, Avaris. It was an effort to get through Rohl s Chapter Fifteen, And the Walls Came Tumblin Down, since it deals with all that Joshua/Jericho and other post-Moses, pre-David biblical Conquest business, in which I don t have much interest, frankly. But Joseph the Vizier, Chapter Fifteen, did perk me up, since Rohl gets back to Egypt and makes a well-reasoned case for the biblical Joseph having actually flourished during the reigns of the Twelfth Dynasty s Amenemhat III and his immediate successors. Rohl uses complicated Nile inundation records from those three reigns to identify the fat and lean years of the Joseph story, and he points persuasively to the Amenemhat III Labyrinth and the Bahr Yussef canal as evidences of the Hebrew vizier s enterprises on behalf of his king. He explains Joseph s Egyptian name (Zaphenat-Pa aneah) as a Hebrew metathesis of Djeduenef ( he who is called ) and the Egyptian name Ipiankhu (well attested in the Middle Kingdom, but not later, apparently).
But I began to wax sceptical when Rohl goes on to claim that the Austrians have found at Tell ed Daba: (1) foundation evidence of the house built by Joseph for his father, Jacob; (2) ruins of his own retirement palace Joseph built over the former site; and (3) the tomb of Joseph on these same palace grounds, near which was uncovered (4) the badly battered head of a non-royal colossal cult-statue, which Rohl believes depicts Joseph himself(!), and of which he has done a full-color (coat of many colors) reconstruction, using lots of imagination. As I stated above, A Test of Time is a piece of work and provocative, and its author s evidences and arguments are indeed persuasive. But was I persuaded, especially regarding the New Chronology? Much of what David Rohl presents in the elaborate tapestry of Time must be received in good faith, simply because my own knowledge in so many areas he deals with is slim to non-existent. However, my confidence in his overall scholarship was shaken somewhat right in Chapter Two, Secrets of the Pharaohs, where I caught Rohl in several simple errors of fact. The Royal-Mummies Cache, DB320, has been the subject of my own extensive research of late, and so I believe I am more than merely familiar with the subject. Rohl is mistaken, for example, when he writes that American tourist Charles Edwin Wilbour was sent as an antiquities-spy to Luxor by ?mile (which Rohl spells ?mil) Brugsch; and he gives as the latter’s dates (actually 1842-1930) those of his brother, Heinrich Brugsch (1827-1894).
It was Gaston Maspero, in fact, Wilbour’s former teacher, who asked him to make inquiries in Luxor regarding illicit antiquities that seemed to be coming from an unknown royal tomb. When, in Maspero’s absence, Brugsch traveled to Luxor to take possession of the cache of royal mummies, the existence of which had been revealed by Mohamed Abd er Rassul, he was accompanied by two Bulak Museum colleagues, one of whom David Rohl twice identifies as Madame Thadeos Matafian, although it is quite clear that this individual certainly was not female, since Maspero twice refers to him and Brugsch s other Bulak colleague as MM. Thadeos Matafian…[et] Ahmed Effendi Kamal (Les Momies Royales, p. 516), and MM. is, of course, the abbreviation of Messieurs. More seriously, Rohl writes that The unwrapping of the royal mummies did not get underway until May 1886 but, once begun, was completed within two months. The examination was supervised by Maspero and British anatomist Sir Grafton Elliot Smith the great mummy specialist of his day. Five errors in two sentences: (1) Thutmose III was unwrapped by Brugsch in July 1881, but the poor condition of the mummy discouraged Maspero from exposing others of the DB320 royal-remains until 1886; (2) not all of the latter were, in fact, unwrapped at that time, several individuals being left for later; (3) the medical person in attendence at these 1886 unwrappings was Dr. Daniel M. Fouquet; (4) anatomist G. Elliot Smith examined the already-unwrapped DB320 mummies (and completed unwrapping others) between 1905 and 1909 (he would prepare The Royal Mummies Catalogue General volume for publication in 1912); and (5) Smith was Australian and not British. None of these are egregious mistakes in David Rohl’s research, to be sure. But they are there and not likely an editor s unchecked insertions. Which leads this reader to wonder how many more and more serious errors remain to be pointed out by specialists in those several areas of scholarship so authoritatively presented by Rohl in his A Test of Time.