Fifteen Frequently Asked Questions

  • Q1: Hasn't Egyptian chronology, which CoD challenges, been firmly fixed by 'Sothic' astronomical dating? [Answer below]
  • Q2: Can Radiocarbon Dating prove CoD right or wrong? [Answer below]
  • Q3: Do the results from the developing dendrochronology for Anatolia agree or disagree with CoD? [Answer below]
  • Q4: Where does CoD stand with the scientific dating for the explosion of Thera which is raising, rather than lowering, Bronze Age chronology? [Answer below]
  • Q5: Has Professor Kenneth Kitchen shown that the CoD restructuring of Egyptian chronology is impossible? [Answer below]
  • Q6: Egyptologists say that they can retrocalculate, by means of 'dead reckoning', from securely dated later dynasties back through the Third Intermediate Period to the New Kingdom. Is this true? [Answer below]
  • Q7: But how can you dispute the obvious similarity between the names Shoshenq and Shishak? [Answer below]
  • Q8: Is it true that the conventional chronology of Egypt is supported and proved to be correct by its synchronisms with the chronology of Mesopotamia? [Answer below]
  • Q9: How valid is the statement that CoD makes nonsense of Biblical history by placing King David in the middle of the reign of Ramesses II? [Answer below]
  • Q10: If the Philistines arrived in Canaan in the time of Ramesses III, whom CoD makes a contemporary of King Solomon, how could they have fought his predecessors Saul and David as mentioned in the Old Testament? [Answer below]
  • Q11: Have any valid criticisms been levelled at CoD which the authors have not been able to answer? [Answer below]
  • Q12: Is there any truth in the rumour that scholars have fabricated or falsified evidence in order to disprove CoD? [Answer below]
  • Q13: Have any of the conclusions in CoD been accepted by other archaeologists and ancient historians? [Answer below]
  • Q14: Why has CoD not been generally accepted as the correct chronology for the ancient world? [Answer below]
  • Q15: Is there a single test that can be done to prove or disprove CoD? [Answer below]

    References here

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Q1: Hasn't Egyptian chronology, which CoD challenges, been firmly fixed by 'Sothic' astronomical dating?

No it has not. The Sothic theory depends on a number of assumptions which do not stand up to close scrutiny. Since our first published criticisms (James et al. 1987, 71-74) there has been a sea-change in opinion as to the reliability of this astronomical dating.

Two key references to the rising of the star Sirius (Sothis) provide the lynchpins for the conventional chronology of the Egyptian Middle and New Kingdoms respectively. Both of them have been effectively scotched. Senior Egyptologist W. Helck (1989, 40-41) pointed out that the Ebers Papyrus, which supposedly provides the Sothic fixed point (traditionally 1517 BC) for the New Kingdom, does not actually contain a calendar date - so that it is useless for any calculations. The Middle Kingdom fixed point (traditionally 1872 BC) derived from the Illahun Papyri now faces serious problems raised by L. Rose (1994), who has demonstrated that the lunar data mentioned in the same documents cannot fit a date in the 19th century BC.

As there are no longer any reliable astronomical fixes, Egyptologists have, by and large, abandoned their reliance on Sothic dating - although they have been rather slow in admitting it in public.

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Q2: Can Radiocarbon Dating prove CoD right or wrong?

Although this method has the potential to do so, C14 results from the relevant areas are at present generally unsatisfactory. For prehistoric cultures earlier than, or unrelated to, the Egyptian dynasties, archaeologists regularly test dozens of samples. By contrast, for the Late Bronze and Iron Ages, they have tended to assume that, as the chronology is 'known', radiocarbon tests are not really needed. As well as the shortage of results, inappropriate samples have usually been chosen, mostly of wood and charcoal which, unless selected with extreme care, will give dates much older than the context they come from. There have also been many problems at laboratory level, such as varying degrees of pretreatment to remove contamination. Calibration raises further difficulties, as the statistical variables involved are often poorly understood. Consequently most C14 dates for the period in question amount to little more than 'window dressing' for a site report.

From another perspective, it is also well known that numerous radiocarbon dates from sites in the Aegean, Egypt and the Near East, have never been published because they do not suit preconceptions - a phenomenon we have dubbed the 'publishing filter'. Though it is rarely admitted in print, there are documented cases from at least three sites (see James et al. 1998, 36).

Given all this, we strongly feel that the radiocarbon dates currently available are not adequate to judge the CoD theory. New series of tests need to be performed on good materials from secure contexts, with the samples divided between at least three laboratories for cross-checking as results can differ between them. In one case in the 1970s the same Egyptian samples were tested by the Pennsylvania, British Museum and Uppsala labs (Olsson & El-Daousay 1979). The dates from the first two generally fitted the conventional chronology but those from Uppsala were consistently lower and fit well with our chronology. Had Uppsala alone done the tests it would have looked as if radiocarbon had proved CoD correct! The Uppsala laboratory took pride in its careful pretreatment of samples to remove contaminants, a fact which may perhaps explain the divergent results. We would not, however, use these old tests to reinforce our case. There is increasing realisation, due to enormous improvements in the method, that all determinations from before the 1990s should really be discarded.

So until new series of good quality dates are produced we simply cannot say whether radiocarbon can prove CoD right or wrong. The C14 database from Greece is, like that from Egypt, a shambles, and we would fully agree with the following statement made by Sturt Manning (1990, 37) of Reading University:

... new series of highly quality dates from sealed stratigraphic contexts from all the Aegean periods are required. The current corpus consists of dates from very different technical processes, and dates usually lacking carbon-13 normalization, or alkali pre-treatment! This is unacceptable... The pressing need is therefore for Aegean radiocarbon dates with the contextual and measurement quality to match the precision of the current radiocarbon calibration curves.

Yet only two years later, with no new C14 dates (but not without a degree of hypocrisy), Manning and his colleague Weninger (1992) attempted to use the available results from the Aegean to show that CoD was wrong! Their article, published in Antiquity, has been repeatedly cited. This is unfortunate, as it contained a number of serious methodological errors. Most of the C14 results they used, some going back to the 1950s (!), came from unsuitable samples of wood and charcoal. We have published a detailed response (James et al. 1998, 36-38) showing that if due attention is paid to the context of the samples, the presently available radiocarbon dates for the end of the Late Bronze Age in Greece fit comfortably with our model.

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Q3: Do the results from the developing dendrochronology for Anatolia agree or disagree with CoD?

As with radiocarbon, some loose claims have been made about tree-ring chronology conflicting with the CoD model, but a balanced assessment reveals a very different picture.

Professor Peter Kuniholm and his Cornell University team have established a 1503-year 'floating sequence' of tree-rings for Bronze and Iron Age Anatolia. When this has been extended to the point where it becomes continuous with modern sequences, it should provide the best yardstick for testing CoD - circumventing some of the uncertainties involved in C14 dating. At present, however, Kuniholm's 'floating' sequence is still reliant on radiocarbon for its absolute dates. In the words of Professor Lord Colin Renfrew (1996, 734):

Their work offers the best hope we have for a really sound chronology for the later prehistory and history of the Near East and Egypt, and indeed the eastern Mediterranean in general. But their work is not yet complete.

On the release of CoD, Kuniholm unfortunately began giving misleading impressions of what his dendrochronology could show with respect to the c. 250 years we wished to eliminate: "I have tree-ring sequences, which cover almost all those nasty centuries, and they're there." (Reported in Brown 1991, 15). This completely missed the point. We are not disputing that trees grew during the 12th, 11th and 10th centuries BC! The question is whether those tree-ring centuries are linked with post-Hittite cultures (as the conventional chronology would have it) or with those of the Hittite Empire (as our model predicts). If Hittite buildings destroyed at the very end of the Late Bronze Age were to be found exclusively with timbers dating from considerably before 1200 BC, then our theory would be in trouble.

Blue door-post from Dispilio
The blue door-post from Dispilio.
© N. Kokkinos, 1999
We stress the word exclusively here, because as with radiocarbon dating there is an 'old wood' problem in tree-ring dating. Dendrochronology can rarely give us a date when a particular piece of wood was used; even less often will it give a date for an archaeological destruction. Dendrochronology gives us the dates when tree rings grew, so one has to be very careful about using it to date archaeological levels. Kuniholm himself has noted many examples of centuries' old tree-rings incorporated into much later structures and he frequently recommends caution. A recent and extraordinary case concerns a piece of wood he collected at Dispilio-Kastoria in northern Greece, near a Neolithic lakeside settlement:

A well-preserved juniper post, painted blue and with modern door hinges, was recovered from a modern village house simply because it looked suspiciously old. The sample we were given did not fit anything in our Neolithic inventory, so we sent a piece of it to Heidelberg to see what radiocarbon analysis would reveal. The date is 2117 B.C. + 110 years, which means it is from some Early Bronze Age occupation near the lake at Kastoria. (Kuniholm 1998, 4)

Yes, this does actually mean (given the right climate and conditions) that four thousand-year-old pieces of wood can be reused in building! Given the 'blue door' phenomenon, it should be obvious that the latest dendro dates from a structure, site or culture are the most significant.

There is now dated tree-ring material from a handful of sites of the Hittite period. Unfortunately the most poorly published of these results has received the most attention from our critics. This is from Masat Hüyük, where preliminary reports gave a dendro date of 1392 + 37 BC (since then lowered to 1353 + 1 BC) for a site associated with the 14th-century Hittite king Suppiluliuma. As Suppiluliuma is generally thought to have died c. 1320 BC, the result represented, in the view of Professor Anthony Snodgrass (1991), "a shot in the arm" for the conventional chronology. The problem is that the information given about the context of this wood sample makes no sense in terms of the stratigraphy as it was published by the Turkish excavator - and may indeed turn out to be a "shot in the foot". There are three levels from the site, and Kuniholm's comments have muddled them together (James et al. 1998, 38). More worrying, in a private letter to us, he revealed that a sample from an earlier level remains unpublished; as far as he could remember, it postdated the published result. This would completely invalidate the significance of this dendro-date. Despite numerous appeals since 1991, Kuniholm has yet to retrieve and publish the full data from the site.

Only the results from one Hittite site have been formally published, those from Tille Höyük on the Euphrates. These were striking. The construction of the last phase of the Tille Höyük Gateway is dated to 1101 + 1 BC, with its use lying in the 11th century BC. Yet Tille Höyük was an Imperial Hittite outpost, which on the conventional chronology would have been constructed about 1300 BC, and destroyed c. 1190 BC. The dendro-date is clearly impossible for the conventional chronology. Furthermore, the best fit for this sample (using the normal T-score statistical test) is actually in 942 + 1 BC (James et al. 1998, 41, n. 10)! An extra statistical test had to be introduced to avoid this awkward conclusion.

Kuniholm does indeed have tree-rings for those "nasty centuries". Nastily for the conventional chronology, at Tille Höyük they are associated with the remains of an Empire which was supposed to have fallen at least a century earlier.

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Q4: Where does CoD stand with the scientific dating for the explosion of Thera which is raising, rather than lowering, Bronze Age chronology?

In the mid-1980s dendrochronologists proposed a way of dating the explosion of Thera scientifically. They suggested that narrow tree-rings (caused by frost) around 1628 BC in North America reflected the adverse weather caused by the volcano. Such an event seemed to be confirmed by later finds of frost-ring damage in Irish tree-rings and a peak of sulphuric acid in the Greenland ice-cores. This ran counter to the archaeological dating of the Thera explosion to c. 1500 BC.

Both vulcanologists (notably David Pyle of Cambridge) and archaeologists (notably Peter Warren of Bristol) advised caution about such "proxy dating". Frost-ring damage and acidity peaks might well be caused by volcanic eruption, but there was no evidence to show which volcano was responsible. Nevertheless, by the 1990s an increasing number of scholars had jumped on the 'scientific dating' bandwaggon, attempting to raise the beginning of the Late Bronze Age Greece to accommodate the 1628 BC date. Manning (1992), for example, insisted that the 1620s acid peak was the only signature in the ice-cores which was close enough in time to match the Thera event.

We have always remained sceptical of the case for a high date for Thera, suspecting that the whole thing would eventually fall through. Unfortunately, our position recently led an otherwise favourable reviewer to remark that we took a "sceptical view of the new scientific dating techniques" (Gerding 1997/8, 160), which is far from the truth. Proxy dating is not to be confused with the scientific techniques themselves.

As it happens, we have now been vindicated. When further work was published on the Greenland ice-cores the real reason why the 1620s date looked so conspicuous became clear. Due to budgetary constraints, a thorough search measuring the sulphuric acid from each year had never been undertaken! When this was done, the 1620s BC 'event' ceased to be special. Similar peaks of sulphuric acid are now known to exist in the 16th, 15th, 14th and 13th centuries (Zielinski et al. 1994)! Any of these (for example those from the ice-core years 1594, 1454, 1327 and 1284) might represent the Thera eruption. Worse still, small particles of volcanic ejecta have now been found in one of the very ice-levels from Greenland. Analysis has shown that their chemical composition does not match that of Thera (Zielinski & Germani 1998a). Clearly miffed, Manning (1998) published a "correction" to the geologists' conclusions, arguing that they had misinterpreted their data and that the particles came from Thera after all. The geologists' response (Zielinksi & Germani 1998b) stated, in as many words, that Manning was out of his depth and simply did not understand the methods involved.

Apart from the entertainment value of watching these developments from the sidelines, we are now able to stress that there is no longer any 'scientific' consensus on the high dating. Indeed, the direct evidence from the Greenland ice-cores suggests that the c. 1628 BC event should not be linked with the explosion of Thera, but with that of an unidentified volcano.

In short there is no good evidence for raising the dates for the beginning of the Late Bronze Age in Greece, rather than lowering them - as we feel should be the case. (Even though, strictly speaking, a raising of the beginning and a lowering of the end are not mutually exclusive, as the real length of the Late Bronze Age remains sub judice.)

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Q5: Has Professor Kenneth Kitchen shown that the CoD restructuring of Egyptian chronology is impossible?

Far from it. In his review of CoD in the Times Literary Supplement, Kitchen (1991a) claimed that our proposed overlaps between the dynasties of the Third Intermediate Period are "ruled out by a mass of evidence. A single example must suffice."

For his example he chose the 21st Dynasty, claiming that the successor of Siamun, penultimate ruler of this dynasty, was the brother-in-law of Shoshenq I, founder of the next (22nd) Dynasty. Therefore, according to Kitchen, this rules out any overlap between the 21st and 22nd Dynasties, as we proposed.

We responded in a letter (James & Morkot 1991), towards the end of which we focussed on his "single example". We agreed it is known that a 21st-dynasty Pharaoh called Psusennes was the contemporary of Shoshenq I. (Kitchen opted to call him his "brother-in-law".) This in itself shows that there was some overlap between the two dynasties. Further, there is no evidence that this Psusennes was the successor of Siamun and hence the last ruler of the 21st Dynasty, and thus nothing to rule out our proposed overlap between the two dynasties. We concluded that we "were confident that he [Kitchen] cannot demonstrate their successive nature without recourse to circular argument or reliance on Manetho [a late source from Hellenistic Egypt]."

In his response Kitchen (1991b) failed to take up our challenge. So, in a final rejoinder (James 1991) we noted:

Kenneth Kitchen appears to have conceded the major point of his initial review. In our reply we challenged Professor Kitchen to produce hard evidence that the 21st and 22nd Egyptian Dynasties were successive rather than overlapping. Since he failed to respond, we can only assume he was unable to do so, replying on different matters entirely.

To this date Kitchen has not replied to back up his "single point" with any evidence, although he has never lost opportunities to make critical remarks about our work. His latest strategy has been limited to confusing CoD with the secondary, and manifestly incorrect, efforts of another author.

Kitchen also claimed that his case regarding the relationship between dynasties 21 and 22 was "backed by other evidence (the Neseramun family tree, etc)". What the Neseramun genealogy says is actually rather surprising. The family trees of Egyptian officials often mention under which Pharaoh a given individual held office. In this case the Neseramun genealogy specifically states that Siamun was the contemporary of two individuals. If Kitchen is right, one would expect from the rest of the genealogy that these individuals lived before the end of the 21st Dynasty. As it happens they did not. In genealogical terms they lived one to two generations after Shoshenq I, founder of the 22nd Dynasty. At a conference on Mediterranean chronology in 1995 we presented the evidence from the Neseramun and other genealogies that Siamun must have been a contemporary of the early 21st Dynasty (James et al. 1998, 32-4). The evidence from the Neseramun family tree thus shows completely the opposite of what Kitchen claimed.

Our point about the overlap between the 21st and 22nd dynasties, which allows a lowering of Egyptian chronology, has not completely fallen on deaf ears. Egyptologist Aidan Dodson (1992) has conceded a possible 50-year reduction, involving a small overlap between the dynasties in question. In response to CoD, John Ray of Cambridge (1992) also considered that a reduction of this order is possible. Graham Hagens (1996) took up our suggestion of a major overlap between dynasties in the Journal for the American Research Center in Egypt. Kitchen believes the 21st Dynasty ruled as an independent entity for 125 years. We would propose reducing that figure by a century, Hagens by 75 years. Kitchen's attempt to debunk our restructuring of chronology should now be a matter of increasing embarrassment.

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Q6: Egyptologists say that they can retrocalculate, by means of 'dead reckoning', from securely dated later dynasties back through the Third Intermediate Period to the New Kingdom. Is this true?

This claim is frequently made but is false. The lynchpin for the Third Intermediate Period in Egypt is the identification of Shoshenq I (founder of the 22nd Dynasty) with a character mentioned in the Old Testament. According to the First Book of Kings "Shishak king of Egypt" invaded Judah in the fifth year of Rehoboam (c. 925 BC). Since Champollion's time it has been assumed that Shoshenq I, who campaigned in Palestine in his Year 21, was the same person as Shishak. This meant that Egyptologists could use biblical chronology to date the beginning of Shoshenq's reign, and hence that of the 22nd Dynasty, to 945 BC. Various reign-lengths were then assigned to fill up the time between this point and the firmly fixed dates at the end of the TIP about 670 BC.

Yet Kitchen claims that he arrived at a 945 date for Shoshenq I by 'dead reckoning', i.e. by adding up the reigns of the pharaohs involved back from the 7th century BC. This he manifestly did not do. To take just one example, Pharaoh Takeloth I, who left no dated monuments or documents at all, is given 14 or 15 years by Kitchen, simply because of the need to fill the gulf of time created by the Shoshenq=Shishak equation.

We are not alone in drawing attention to the fact that egyptologists have been dishonest on this point. Independently, Jeremy Hughes (1990, 190), an Oxford expert on biblical chronology, has stated clearly:

Egyptian chronologists, without always admitting it, have commonly based their chronology of this period on the Biblical synchronism for Shoshenq's invasion.

The true situation was described with equal force by a Harvard authority on biblical chronology, William Barnes (1991, 66-7):

Although the present scholarly consensus seems to favor a date c. 945 B.C.E. for the accession of Shishak ..., apart from the biblical synchronism with Rehoboam (which as I have noted above remains problematic at best) there is no other external synchronism by which one might date his reign, and the Egyptian chronological data themselves remain too fragmentary to permit chronological precision.

Egyptian chronology from the end of the New Kingdom down to c. 670 BC is actually dependent on a single, alleged synchronism with biblical chronology - and not on supposed 'dead reckoning'.

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Q7: But how can you dispute the obvious similarity between the names Shoshenq and Shishak?

From a philological point of view Shoshenq and Shishak make a good match, but there we feel the resemblance ends. (As a caveat to the dangers of playing the 'name game' in ancient history one can cite numerous spurious efforts, though one example will suffice: in the 1940s someone argued that the 'Derbe' and 'Lystra' visited by Paul the Apostle - in Lycaonia in cental Asia Minor - were actually located at 'Derby' and 'Leicester' in England. A good phonetic match, but slightly implausible on other grounds!)

Apart from the fact that both individuals were Pharaohs who campaigned in Palestine, there is absolutely no match between the accounts given of Shoshenq I and Shishak in the respective Egyptian and biblical records. According to the Old Testament, the focal point of Shishak's campaign was the city of Jerusalem, before which he seized fifteen Judahite cities fortified by Solomon's successor Rehoboam. Only one of these towns, Aijalon, occurs in the list of Palestinian place-names left by Shoshenq I at Karnak. As Yohanan Aharoni (1966, 285) wrote in his classic work on biblical geography:

It is clear from the Egyptian text that the main objectives of the expedition were not the towns of Judah and Jerusalem, but rather the kingdom of Israel on the one hand and the Negeb of Judah on the other.

The situation may actually be worse than Aharoni thought. Frank Clancey (1999) has recently argued that Shoshenq's campaign was restricted to the Sinai, Negev, southern hill country and Shephelah of Judah; though some of his conclusions may be questioned, he has reinforced the point that there is no evidence that the central hill country around Jerusalem was involved. Admittedly, we do not yet fully understand the purpose of the place-name lists of foreign lands drawn up by the Pharaohs - they may be towns conquered, neutralised or simply those they passed through or received tribute from; nor can we demand that the scribes who prepared Shoshenq's records had the same perspective or concerns as those who prepared the Hebrew account of Shishak's invasion. But the fact remains that no case can be made for identifying the two individuals from the geopolitics of their campaigns.

The superficial resemblance between the names Shoshenq and Shishak may be just that. More importantly, the other side of the coin is that acceptance of the equation has done away with an identical name-match in Phoenician history. Incriptions from Byblos reveal the following sequence of kings:

Abibaal -------- contemporary Shoshenq I

Elibaal -------- contemporary Osorkon I (son of Shoshenq I)

Shipitbaal (son of Elibaal)

The synchronisms with the 22nd-dynasty rulers Shoshenq and Osorkon are known from the fact that in each case the Byblite ruler had added his own inscription around the cartouche of the Pharaoh, on statues imported from Egypt. Following the conventional Egyptian chronology the Byblite inscriptions have been dated to the 10th century. This, however, has always caused problems. Many scholars have preferred a later date, on palaeographic grounds, and the late Benjamin Mazar was tempted to lower the date for the whole series, making the last ruler Shipitbaal the same as the "King Shipitbaal of Byblos" known from Assyrian records around 740 BC. Mazar offered the suggestion twice but, with the utmost reluctance, had to concede that the Egyptian evidence seemed to date Shipitbaal nearer 900 BC. More recently a detailed paper by epigrapher Ronald Wallenfels has raised the spectre of the same synchronism, which the conventional chronology is forced to reject. Wallenfels produced a mass of evidence for redating the Byblite insciptions to the 9th-7th centuries, and even toyed with the idea of challenging the conventional date for Shoshenq I. On the CoD model the conundrum is resolved. Shoshenq I was not the biblical Shishak of c. 925 BC. Rather he campaigned in Palestine c. 800 BC and the same date should be given to his contemporary Abibaal. Shipitbaal, two reigns later than Abibaal, would then after all be the king mentioned in Assyrian records about 740 BC. This is one of the many 'natural' synchronisms between Egypt and Western Asia which CoD is able to restore to ancient history.

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Q8: Is it true that the conventional chronology of Egypt is supported and proved to be correct by its synchronisms with the chronology of Mesopotamia?

No, it is not true. Numerous synchronisms have been drawn between Egypt and Mesopotamia, but many of these are based on unproved assumptions. Of those that are genuine, closer examination reveals that in many cases Mesopotamian chronology is actually dependent on Egyptian - and not the other way around. For example it is clear (Brinkman 1976) that the list of kings for the late Kassite period in Babylonia, conventionally 14th-13th centuries BC, has been heavily restored from Egyptian and Hittite evidence. (Hittite dating is directly dependent on that of Egypt.) Where there are genuine synchronisms based on independent Mesopotamian evidence, the model outlined in CoD provides as many links as the conventional chronology, so there can be no preference here for one model or the other. For example, the conventional chronology has a convenient match in the 14th century BC between the Assuruballit I of the Assyrian King List and a like-named ruler who wrote two letters to Pharaoh Akhnaton. (On the CoD model, the contemporary of Akhnaton would have to be an otherwise unattested Assuruballit 'II', as suggested by the fact that the fathers of the Assuruballits concerned are different in each case.) On the other hand, for example, the CoD model offers a new synchronism in the 10th century BC, between the Ini-Teshub, Hittite King of Carchemish, and the Ini-Teshub, King of Carchemish, known from Assyrian records. (For another 'new' synchronism see Q 7 above.)

Mesopotamian chronology itself is in need of serious re-examination and revision. There are 'dark age' gaps and archaeological anomalies during the 12th-10th centuries in Assyria, Babylonia and neighbouring Persia (Elam). During this period documentary evidence becomes extremely scarce, and chronology is largely dependent on the statements made in a King List drawn up by the Assyrians in later times (9th-8th centuries BC). Yet it has been shown by many scholars that this King List was an artificial construct, the aim of which was to provide a continuous line of kings stretching back into the distant past, masking unofficial rulers and rival dynasties. In the Assyrian dark age there is contemporary evidence that there was more than one dynasty ruling. As argued in CoD, two parallel dynasties ruled during the 11th to 10th centuries period, which reduces Assyrian chronology by some 110 years.

Work is ongoing on whether Assyrian chronology can be further reduced. Model building is difficult, as there is little controlling evidence on the data provided by the Assyrian King List. Careful study of the fragmentary eponym-lists (annual officials) could provide ways of moderating the figures it gives.

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Q9: How valid is the statement that CoD makes nonsense of Biblical history by placing King David in the middle of the reign of Ramesses II?

The statement is completely invalid, as CoD does not place David in the middle of Ramesses' reign. The idea originated with Kitchen (1991c, 238):

On their dates, King David would have carved out his empire in Syria from the Euphrates to SW Palestine right in the middle of the reigns of Ramesses II of Egypt and the Hittite King Hattusil III, after their peace-treaty ending two decades of war over who should have how much of Syria. Is it even remotely conceivable that these two formidable rulers should just sit idly by, cowering with armies in mothballs, while some upstart prince from Jerusalem's hills calmly carved out three-quarters of their hotly-disputed territories (and revenues) for himself? This is sheer fantasy...

The chronology here is Kitchen's assumption, not ours. The dates for King David are dependent on those for his successor King Solomon. Ancient historians agree that the reign of Solomon ended c. 930 BC, but hardly any (except uncritical fundamentalists and Kitchen) accept the schematic biblical figure of 40 years apiece for the reigns of Solomon and David. Forty years for both reigns together would be more realistic. This - on our chronology - would place the unification of Israel under Saul and David during the last years of Ramesses II and the reign of his successor Merenptah. It is generally acknowledged that the armies of Egypt were indeed sitting idle during the last years of Ramesses II, while Merenptah, though he campaigned in southern Palestine, ruled a much reduced territory. Ramesses III later described this time as the "empty years" when there was chaos in the Egyptian empire.

We should also remember that the heartland of Israel was the hill country in the interior, in which the Egyptians showed no great interest. Their imperial ambitions in Palestine were largely restricted to controlling the rich cities of the coastal area and the Jezreel Valley. Through most of the Late Bronze Age the hill country was something of a backwater unaffected by the Egyptian comings and goings through the more economically important parts of Canaan. It is significant that the first (and only) reference to Israel in Egyptian records occurs in a stela of Merenptah which celebrates the troubles afflicting neighbouring countries. One enigmatic line, which has exercised scholarly imagination for decades, states that "Israel is laid waste, his seed is not". It is generally thought to mean that Merenptah claimed to have bested Israel in a military conflict. But a more literal translation might be safer, with the "seed" referring to grain. As it was a standard Egyptian tactic to destroy the fields and trees of enemies and rebels, it seems that Merenptah was boasting about his raids on Israelite fields. In the CoD chronology, the famine said to have occurred during the reign of David (2 Samuel 21:1) may reflect these circumstances.

In the same text Merenptah states that he conquered the Canaanite city of Gezer, a fact which can provide us with an invaluable synchronism. According to the Bible an unnamed Egyptian Pharaoh became the father-in-law of Solomon. As a dowry Solomon received the city of Gezer, which this Pharaoh had recently conquered (1 Kings 9:16). In the CoD model he must be Merenptah, who presumably effected a rapprochement with Israel sometime after his raids. During the reign of Solomon Egypt was clearly friendly towards Israel, a policy which was reversed again after Solomon's death.

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Q10: If the Philistines arrived in Canaan in the time of Ramesses III, whom CoD makes a contemporary of King Solomon, how could they have fought his predecessors Saul and David as mentioned in the Old Testament?

Warrior of the Shardana
(Centre) A warrior of the Shardana, one of the mysterious 'Sea Peoples', as depicted on Egyptian reliefs conventionally dated to the 13th and 12th centuries BC. Egyptian references to the Shardana continue until the early 11th century BC. (Right and left) Bronze figurines from Sardinia, usually dated to the 9th-7th centuries BC. While it is tempting to draw some connection between the two groups they are presently separated by over two centuries.

Quite simply we dispute the idea that the Philistines first appeared in Canaan during the reign of Ramesses III. The interpretation of that Pharaoh's records regarding the so-called Sea Peoples (including the Plst who are generally thought to be the Philistines) has been the subject of increasing debate over recent years. How much these records describe the arrival of peoples or tribes new to the Levant is a moot point, but some aspects of the problem have been clarified. When the Philistines (Plst) and their confederates transgressed the "borders" of Egypt in the years 5 and 8 of Ramesses III, his scribes always referred to them using the traditional terms for "Asiatics" (a geographical rather than ethnic term). Moreover, Ramesses III's inscriptions specifically mention the towns and orchards of the Plst - which stands clearly against the idea that they were all new arrivals from elsewhere in the Mediterranean. Many Plst must have already been settled in southern Palestine. These points, originally stressed by Alessandra Nibbi (1975), have since been echoed in the work of other scholars including Peter James (in numerous lectures and in an unfinished postgraduate thesis of the early 1980s), Phoenician archaeologist Patricia Bikai (1992) and classicist Bob Drews (1993, 52-3).

The Philistine problem is extremely complex but, in short, there is a growing school of thought which regards the so-called 'Sea Peoples' invasion as having been overstated. This, while it does not rule out new settlements of peoples from Cyprus and the Aegean at the transition from the Late Bronze to Iron Ages, does stress that the Plst were already an entity in coastal Palestine before the reign of Ramesses III. On the archaeological side, while the Philistines adopted the latest Aegean-style pottery at the beginning of the Iron Age (Monochrome 'Philistine Ware'), this cannot be taken as proof that they had only just arrived; it may only reflect new settlers that had joined them. In our archaeological model Philistine presence during the Late Bronze Age is reflected by, among other things, the 'Bichrome Painted' pottery (thought to be Cypriot in origin) of the coastal region. The 'foreignness' of the Philistines, as perceived by the Hebrews, who always distinguished them from the Canaanites, springs from their long-standing relationship with Cyprus and the Aegean - a relationship that continued in the Iron Age but had its origins much earlier.

There is, therefore, no conflict between the idea that Saul and David fought the Philistines before the reign of Ramesses III, since Philistines were already present in Palestine. Incidentally, this would also mean that at least some of the biblical references to Philistines in earlier times - e.g. those at the time of the Israelite Conquest/Settlement - need not be 'anachronistic', as the conventional chronology assumes them to be.

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Q 11: Have any valid criticisms been levelled at CoD which the authors have not been able to answer?

No, not yet. We are still waiting to be proved wrong, and should this ever happen we would readily accept it. But we insist that CoD can only be disproved by good evidence and argument, not fudge and misinterpretation.

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Q12: Is there any truth in the rumour that scholars have fabricated or falsified evidence in order to disprove CoD?

Unfortunately, yes. Reactions to our theory have exhibited examples of the most dubious side of scholarship, ranging from the time-honoured practice of misciting one's opponents, through sheer misstatements of fact, to actual fabrication. Here are a few examples:

  • In a 'critique' of CoD Egyptologist Professor Frank Yurco (1993, 10) claimed that we had overlooked "an important synchronism". He stated that at the battle of Karkar (Syria) in 853 BC, Pharaoh Osorkon II of Egypt contributed 1,000 troops to fight king Shalmaneser III of Assyria. If that were the case, our redating of Osorkon II to the 8th century would be impossible. However, Yurco seems to be unaware of what a synchronism means. A synchronism between two individuals requires that two names are given. The Assyrian texts of Shalmaneser III do indeed refer to an Egyptian contingent at the battle of Karkar. But they do not name the Pharaoh who sent them. Yurco has simply supplied that name, probably by reference to the chronological tables in Kitchen's book. In this circular argument, and all other respects, Yurco's 'critique' was so shoddily researched that it would shame an undergraduate.

  • We stated that Ramesses III (of the 20th Dynasty) used the abbreviation of his name 'Sesi'. This concerns an important point, as on our model we have suggested that he is to be identified with the Egyptian king 'Shishak' who invaded Palestine c. 925 BC. (The Hebrew text was originally unpointed, so that strictly speaking the name should be read as 'Shyshk' or 'Sysk'.) Kitchen (1991c, 236), with amazing effrontery, denied that Ramesses III used the abbreviated form of his name. Effrontery is the only word one can use, because Kitchen himself had published the evidence to show that Ramesses III used the name Sesi on an inscription from Medinet Habu (see James et al. 1992, 127). Unaware of Kitchen's convenient lapse of memory, Yurco (1993, 11) simply repeated the claim. Both have manipulated the facts to suit their preconceptions.

  • The worst case, evidently one of sheer fabrication, appeared in a review of CoD by James Mellaart (1991/2), a famous archaeologist and, until recently, a lecturer at University College London. While he made some favourable comments, he claimed to have access to an unpublished cuneiform text which gives a list of synchronisms between Lydia (a kingdom in western Turkey in classical times) and Assyria, running back 21 generations from the 7th century BC through to the Late Bronze Age. According to Mellaart it confirmed the conventional chronology and made "short shrift" of our model. Apparently some scholars were taken in and rejoiced at our defeat. Alan Millard of Liverpool University, a noted expert on Near Eastern languages, praised Mellaart's review as "appropriately negative" (1994, 27).

    Quite incredibly, Mellaart has never produced any evidence that such a unique text exists, outside his imagination. Despite his best efforts, Professor David Lewis, an eminent epigraphist at Oxford, could find no trace of such a tablet. Other scholars, such as cuneiform expert Professor David Hawkins of the School of Oriental and African Studies, are confident that the text is simply not real. With evident embarassment, the editor of the Bulletin of the Anglo-Israel Archaeological Society, which had carried Mellaart's review, published a note, alongside letters from ourselves (James & Kokkinos 1992/3) and Lewis, stating that Mellaart's "alleged documents... should not be cited as valid source material." (Gibson 1992/3, 82). And there this extraordinary episode ended. Mellaart does not appear to have mentioned his tablet since.

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Q13: Have any of the conclusions in CoD been accepted by other archaeologists and ancient historians?

Many of the individual conclusions arrived at in CoD (and its pilot project Studies in Ancient Chronology 1, published in 1987) have been accepted or subsequently proposed by other scholars. Examples include:

  • We suggested that the 'Pantalica III (South)' phase in Sicilian archaeology was a chronological phantom, and that it should be completely scrapped. It used to occupy some 120 years between the end of the Cassibile phase (c. 850 BC) and the beginning of Greek colonisation in c. 735 BC, creating a strange gap betweeen burnt native settlements and the Greek colonies founded on top of them. (Especially strange as we know that the Greeks drove out the natives and burnt their settlements.) Our argument has been accepted and augmented by Robin Leighton (1993), a leading authority on the archaeology of Sicily. Following us, he lowered the end of Cassibile down from c. 850 BC to c. 735 BC.

  • We demonstrated that the Greek pottery finds from Tell Abu Hawam on the coast of Israel cannot be used to prop up the presently accepted high chronology for the Greek Iron Age. This conclusion (with reference to our work) was accepted in the handbook on Aegean chronology written by Professor Peter Warren and Vronwy Hankey (1989, 167). Mention of Tell Abu Hawam as a useful benchmark for Greek Iron Age Greek chronology has now dropped out of the literature.

  • We stressed that the classical traditions do not consistently point to a date for the Trojan War in the 12th century BC or earlier but, particularly using genealogical material, that dates can be calculated as late as the tenth century BC. Walter Burkert (1995) has since reached the same conclusions.

  • We pointed out that the astronomical information on the Ammizaduga Tablets, generally used to date the fall of the First Dynasty of Babylon to 1595 BC, "provide no serious obstacle" to a substantial lowering of Mesopotamian chronology. In fact we noted that the tablets would allow the Hittite sack of Babylon to "have taken place in 1466 BC". Recently H. Gasche et al. (1998) have argued for redating Babylon's fall to 1499 BC, a century later than the conventionally preferred date.

  • Following our criticisms of Sothic dating, most Egyptologists have now abandoned reliance on this method (see Q1 above).

  • We have argued that the chronology of the early 25th (Nubian) dynasty in Egypt needs shortening - specifically we have lowered the beginning of the reign of Shabaqo in Egypt to c. 708/707 BC. Subsequently a date of 706 BC was argued by Egyptologist L. Depuydt (1993), though with no reference to our work.

  • We suggested that the reigns of the 22nd Dynasty pharaohs Shoshenq III and Takeloth II overlapped by some 20 years. This was argued independently by Egyptologist David Aston (1989).

  • We argued that there was a considerable overlap between the 21st and 22nd Egyptian Dynasties. This has been followed by Hagens (see Q5 above).

  • We claimed that the Iron I period in Palestine needs to be drastically reduced. Again Hagens (1999) has followed this, in a paper in Antiquity, Britain's leading archaeological journal.

  • We put forward the idea that the Iron II (so-called 'Solomonic') period in Palestine should be lowered in date from the 10th to the 9th century BC. As the evidence for this is so strong, we predicted that within a few years such a revision would be followed, but with disastrous consequences. We feared that if done as a half-measure, it would only succeed in creating a 'dark age' in Palestine during the time of David and Solomon - it would, nevertheless, be consistent with the dark periods elsewhere in the Eastern Mediterranean. We jokingly referred to this as the 'Thatcherite' solution to chronology - "things have to get worse before they get better". Our prediction has now been fulfilled by the work of Israel Finkelstein (e.g. 1996), a leading Israeli archaeologist, who has argued our 10th to 9th century revision (without reference).

    While the arguments in CoD are frequently being borrowed by other scholars in a piecemeal fashion, there is still reluctance to adopt - or sometimes even consider - the scheme as a whole. The consequences are misleading, as the case of Finkelstein illustrates. His lowering of Iron Age chronology (while leaving the end of the Late Bronze at its conventional placement) has created the predicted 'dark age' for Israel in the 10th century BC (see James & Kokkinos forthcoming). This caused an unprecedented furore, as Finkelstein has stranded King Solomon in an archaeological vacuum - against Old Testament tradition. Not unexpectedly, his conclusion has been eagerly seized by the rising school of 'minimalists' within biblical scholarship - who are attempting to scotch the historicity of the Bible, claiming that Saul, David, Solomon and the early kings of Israel are merely fictitious characters.

  • For the key site of Samaria, we proposed that levels V-VI should not be seen as the last Israelite phase before the Assyrian conquest of 722 BC, but as the final Assyrian levels - with a terminal date no earlier than about 630 BC. Such a date has since been forcefully argued in a doctoral thesis by the late Stig Forsberg (1995, 24).

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Q14: Why has CoD not been generally accepted as the correct chronology for the ancient world?

Archaeologists are usually specialists working in separate fields. While they are happy to draw conclusions in their own areas of study, they are reluctant to make assessments of the problems in other areas. Because the issues raised by CoD involve interconnections between all fields of ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern studies, the overall case is simply too difficult for most to comprehend. As in any scientific discipline it is easier to keep to the status quo and avoid 'sticking one's neck out', as it were. Academic inertia, scholarly egotism, the desire for promotion, teaching convenience and a number of other reasons continually reinforce this attitude.

It is quite clear, for example, that no-one would be encouraged to publish articles agreeing with our model - they would probably be automatically rejected. We have naturally encountered this problem ourselves. With respect to academic journals, we have been frustrated by a 'lack of airtime' in which we could defend our case against critics. For example, when the Cambridge Archaeological Journal published lengthy, and sometimes rambling and unjustified, criticisms from several scholars, the editor declined to publish our reply in the same issue and allowed only limited space in the next. In the case of Antiquity, our reply to Manning and Weninger's ill-considered treatment of the radiocarbon evidence from the Aegean, was flatly rejected.

Despite such difficulties, and in the meantime, CoD has become a respectable and widely known antidote to the conventional chronology which is regularly cited in the literature and used in numerous university courses.

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Q15: Is there a single test that can be done to prove or disprove CoD?

Unfortunately there is no deus ex machina. The problems of ancient chronology we have highlighted are so vast and complicated that there is no easy way to prove or disprove CoD - i.e. to the satisfaction of all concerned. Only a combination of tests, including more rigorous studies of comparative typology and stratigraphy, hand-in-hand with scientific dating methods, will ultimately provide the answer.

Having said that, and as most archaeologists accept the primacy of radiocarbon dating, an extensive series of fresh C14 results should by itself go a long way to resolving whether we are right in lowering the end of the Bronze Age by as much as 250 years. But, to achieve this kind of chronological 'fine tuning' - though revolutionary in archaeological terms - far more than the usual handful of determinations would be needed. An adequate test of CoD should involve a new suite of well-chosen samples, short-lived and from secure contexts, each divided into three parts and sent to as many laboratories. Radiocarbon labs are normally informed of the expected archaeological date of submitted material, but in this case 'blind testing' should be followed. The samples must range between a number of different sites, thus providing further control. Were such a programme to be undertaken, we are confident that the results will clearly be discrepant with the conventional chronology but in harmony with that in CoD.

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