Home » Levant » Ancient civilizations of the Levant-Syria, Phoenicia and Palestine (Israel) in the III-II millennium BC.

Ancient civilizations of the Levant-Syria, Phoenicia and Palestine (Israel) in the III-II millennium BC.

The emergence of civilization

Geography and natural conditions

Let’s define the geographical framework, what is “Syria, Phoenicia and Palestine” in this article —

  • Ancient Syria included only the western part of the modern state (from the Euphrates River to the Mediterranean Sea) and partly the adjacent regions of Turkey to the south of the Taurus Mountains;
  • ncient Phoenicia roughly corresponded to the modern state of Lebanon;

Ancient Palestine occupied not only the territory allocated by the decision of the United Nations to the State of Israel, as well as the territory of the Palestinian Arabs, but also modern Jordan (this part of ancient Palestine was also called “Zaiordan”).

In natural terms, these areas are very diverse. Ancient Palestine was separated from Egypt by a desert. Palestine itself is a land of natural contrasts: to the west of the river. Jordan it is occupied by the highlands and partly by oases and fertile valleys, a fertile lowland stretches along the Mediterranean Sea. And in the north, snow-covered peaks often rise. Zaiordan was separated from the rest of Palestine by the deep depression of the Jordan River, overgrown with moist forests and thickets of papyrus, and the salty Dead Sea with its sun-scorched, almost lifeless shores. Mountainous or hilly Zaiordan, covered with steppe vegetation, gradually turned into the Syrian-Arabian semi-desert.

It'll burn you out. Entrance to the royal palace.

It’ll burn you out. Entrance to the royal palace. XV-XIII centuries BC

Phoenicia is fenced off from the rest of Western Asia by the high mountain range of Lebanon with cedar and mixed forests, Alpine meadows and snow-capped peaks. The slopes of Lebanon facing the sea were covered with evergreen Mediterranean vegetation, and the wet sea winds that brought rain made artificial irrigation unnecessary.

To the east of Lebanon is Syria. It is cut from south to north by the valley between Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon — in the southern part it is called Bekaa or Kelesiriya, here the Litani River flows to the south, breaking through to the sea, and to the north — the Orontes River (now al-Asi). Beyond the Anti-Lebanon, in the direction of the Syrian semi-desert, was the great oasis of Damascus, and beyond it were barren lava fields. The caravan route, which was usually threatened by pastoral tribes, passed through the small oasis of Palmyra towards the middle course of the Euphrates. The bend of this river formed in ancient times the north-eastern border of Syria. Northern Syria stretched from the Mediterranean Sea (where, after passing through the now almost non-existent lakes and swamps, the Orontes River flowed, turning to the west) to the mountains of the Taurus of Asia Minor and the crossings of the Euphrates. The mouth of the Orontes gave wide access to the winds from the Mediterranean Sea in this hilly country, and therefore it was quite fertile.

It is already clear from this description that the Eastern Mediterranean (under this name you can combine all these three historical regions) was not a whole and uniform natural area; there were deserts, fertile lowlands, highlands, evergreen vegetation, swamps, and snow-capped mountains. But there were no deep, overflowing rivers that could create an extensive irrigation system. The country was rich in valuable forest species in ancient times, but relatively few minerals were discovered here at that time. If copper was transported through Syria and Palestine, then it went —

  • either from the south, from the Sinai Peninsula,
  • or from the north, from the upper reaches of the Tigris River,
  • or from the west – from the island of Cyprus.

It was only later that copper, iron, and natural asphalt were mined in southern Palestine. But there were always the most important caravan routes – from Egypt to Asia Minor and Mesopotamia and back. Note that if in our view the word “caravan” is associated with a string of camels, then the ancient caravans transported goods on donkeys; the hardiest were bred for sale in the Damascus oasis.

The first proto-cities and movements of Semitic tribes

Decorated skulls found in Tell Aswada, near Damascus. Natufian culture.

Decorated skulls found in Tell Aswada, near Damascus. Natufian culture.

In the caves of the Eastern Mediterranean, almost the most archaic remains of the “Intelligent Man”were found. Palestine, Syria, Asia Minor, the mountains of Upper Mesopotamia, and the regions beyond the Tigris were the very first home of pastoralism, and especially of agriculture. The Natufian culture (named after the dry Natuf riverbed in Palestine) belongs to the XI-X thousand BC, according to some researchers, created by the first speakers of Afroasian languages. The Natufians lived in semi-dugouts made of clay, sand and stone, reaped wild cereals with special wooden sickles with flint teeth, and probably began to tame wild small cattle. In Palestine (in Jericho), as well as in Chatal Huyuk (in Asia Minor) and in some parts of Syria, already in the VIII thousand BC there were flourishing agricultural settlements, sometimes (as in Jericho) surrounded by powerful stone walls in the early Neolithic. There is reason to believe that it was Palestine-Syria that was the center of settlement of one of the groups of tribes that spoke Afrasian languages — the Semites. From here they spread in three directions —

  • throughout the Arabian Peninsula (South Arabians and Arabs),
  • the Eastern Mediterranean (Western Semites),
  • Mesopotamia (Akkadians).

None of these tribes were originally quite nomadic, but the further into the steppes and semi-deserts that occupied Arabia in the IV—III millennium BC, the greater the role played by cattle breeding and the less by agriculture.

A fragment of a jewelry box for cosmetics. It'll burn you out.

A fragment of a cosmetics box with the image of the goddess of fertility. Ugarit, 1200-1150 BC Ivory.

However, in the future-perhaps due to the constant movement of tribes and troops along the Syro-Palestinian trails, or due to the lack of raw materials needed for the technology of the Copper — stone and then Bronze Age-the development of society here definitely slowed down compared to Southern Mesopotamia and Egypt. In the second half of the third millennium BC, the original city-states of the Sumerian-Akkadian type appeared here only in Northern Syria (where, among others, the important city of Ebla, associated with Middle and Southern Mesopotamia, flourished), as well as at one point on the Phoenician coast — in the city of Aden. Byblos, the center for the export of precious cedar to Egypt.

The study of the oldest geographical names in this area and partly direct data from Egyptian and Mesopotamian texts suggest that the Eastern Mediterranean was inhabited by various groups of Western Semites from at least the third millennium BC. They can be classified by some features of their dialects. Conventionally, these dialects can be divided as follows:

  • Eblaite dialect of the settled population of Northern Syria and Northwestern Mesopotamia;
  • The Amorite dialects are mainly of the pastoral population of the same or somewhat wider territories;
  • Canaanite dialects of Palestine and Phoenicia;
  • The Aramaic dialects of the tribes that ntered the historical arena a little later, but for now lived in the depths of the Arabian Peninsula in contact with the tribes of the Arabs.

In addition, since the third millennium BC, from the mountains around the lakes Van and Urmia (on the territory of modern Russia). Turkey and Iran), and eventually from Transcaucasia, the Hurrian tribes advanced in separate waves through Upper Mesopotamia and Syria — the first wave reached Northern Palestine in the second half of the third millennium BC. Under the Akkad dynasty (XXIII century BC), Mesopotamian troops penetrated into Northern Syria, and later, under the III dynasty of Ur (XXI century BC), the kingdom of Sumer and Akkad temporarily extended its power to Northern Syria and Byblos. Somewhat later, the pharaohs of the Egyptian Middle Kingdom began their raids on Palestine — Byblos for some time became an isolated center of Egyptian culture among the Semitic population (the ancient Egyptians, as is known, spoke the Afrasian language of another, non-Semitic branch). However, by the end of the third millennium BC, Byblos and his Egyptian temple were burned. Perhaps it was then, as the legend says, that a group of tribes settled on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, who came from Northern Arabia and spoke the West Semitic dialect of the Canaanite group, which later bore the name of the Phoenicians. North of Byblos, the dialect of the Amorite type has been preserved, in particular in the city of Ugarit, which later successfully competed with Byblos.

The citadel of the city of Bybla.

The citadel of the city of Bybla.

By the end of the third millennium BC, the entire Eastern Mediterranean was covered by a network of early class city-states. The cities were fortified with walls, and in the center of them were the shrines and residences of the local rulers, surrounded by clinging mud and brick houses, usually two-storeyed, with an open or barred gallery on the upper floor, where the owners lived. The lower one, often made of stone, was used for storing supplies and housing slaves. The cities were located almost exclusively in the valleys; The highlands were sparsely populated, and on the outskirts — in the oasis of Damascus, beyond the Jordan, and in other areas on the edge of the desert — people lived in tents and in the spring, when the steppes were blooming, they moved with their herds from the fields sown in the oasis. The life of these tribes is colorfully described in the ancient Egyptian “Tale of Sinuhet”, and later-in the narratives of the Bible about the tribal patriarchs.

The main unit of the society of the Amorite shepherds of this time was the tribal community, which formed part of the tribe, and sometimes of the tribal union. The power of the head of the patriarchal large family extended, in addition to his wives and children, also to the families of his sons, to strangers who joined the family or were adopted by it, to slaves and female slaves. The Patriarch disposed of life and death and all the property of these persons. The affairs of the tribal community group were managed by the council of “elders” and the leader, who was called out at the meeting of all adult male warriors. From time to time, combat squads formed around one or another leader, which could be the core of the rodo-tribal militia. Sometimes disputes between neighbors were resolved by single combat of strongmen from both sides.

Modern view of the hill where ancient Hatzor was located (Israel)

A modern view of the hill where the ancient Hatzor (Israel) was located.

The settled agricultural population, however, prevailed. The largest city in Northern Palestine — Hatzor occupied by this time an area of 50 hectares, very large at that time. Hatzor traded far away — even with Mari on the Euphrates. In Phoenicia and coastal Syria, not only Byblos, but also Ugarit and a number of other settlements turned into much smaller than Hatzor (usually ten times), but thriving towns. The reason for the heyday was the early development of trade in Phoenicia, and especially with Egypt: the Phoenicians carried timber there by ship, and the Egyptians sought to keep their royal officials in Bybla. At the same time, as the trade correspondence from Kanish in Asia Minor and the news of the constant movement of the Egyptian royal people through the pastoral areas show, land trade through Syria with both Egypt and Mesopotamia and Asia Minor was also of serious importance. Most important of all, of course, was the transit trade, but Syria itself traded in timber, pack donkeys and ivory (there were still elephants in Syria at that time). In accordance with the directions of trade, if there was an Egyptian influence on the coast (many Egyptian inscriptions are found in the Bible), then in the interior of the country there was also an Akkadian influence: not only did many people know how to speak Egyptian, but there were also those who could write in cuneiform.

Ebla City-State

The ruins of the royal palace " G " in ancient Ebla (Syria).

The ruins of the royal palace ” G ” in ancient Ebla (Syria).

Until recently, it was believed that in the third millennium BC, Inner Syria did not reach the level of civilization. This point of view changed after the findings of the Italian expedition to the site of Tell Mardih, under which the ancient city of Ebla was hidden. Now, thus, the existence of a civilization not connected with river irrigation in Syria as early as the third millennium BC is established.

The texts from Ebla are written in Sumerian script, preserving the archaic features of the Second stage of the Early Dynastic Period (RD II), although they are modern to the period of the Third stage of the Early Dynastic Period (RD III) in Lower Mesopotamia (XXVI—XXIII centuries BC), but these texts are intended to be read according to Semitic rules, but not in Akkadian, but in a previously unknown Semitic language, which is conditionally called “Eblaite”. Most of the texts are economic documents, although there are also Sumerian-Eblaite dictionaries and a small number of religious texts.

Ebla was a city-state, probably the most powerful within the lands along the Euphrates, up to the Orontes River valley: from Mari on the middle Euphrates to Qatna in Southern Syria; these lands may correspond to the area of distribution of the “Eblaite” language, but the state limits of Ebla itself were much smaller. Even then, the Amorite pastoral tribes lived around the cities here.

Statue of the ruler of Ebla. 2000-1600 BC

Statue of the ruler of Ebla. 2000-1600 BC is preserved at the Cleveland Museum of Art, USA.

The territory of Ebla proper was divided into

  • central (the name is not readable) and
  • peripheral (noise. uru-bar).

Both parts of the land were subordinated to the palace (or temple palace), but the former was part of the palace economy, and the people of the land of uru-bar were only obliged to supply the palace-many of them were sedentary pastoralists. Whether there was still a land that was not subordinate to the palace at all is not clear from the documents. The situation of the people who worked for the palace, apparently, was similar to that of the Helots, but this is still subject to clarification.

The ruler of Ebla bore the title malikum, literally “the one who is advised”. In most of the later Semitic languages, except Akkadian, this term means “king”, in sections of texts written in Sumerian, it is called en. Under Malikum Ebla, there were two councillors (in other cities — several) and a number of chiefs-sharrum (shum. lu-gal). The palace of Ebla overlooked a small square surrounded by loggias, under one of them there was a pedestal, possibly for the ruler’s chair: here they received ambassadors and merchants from abroad and, probably, suppliers of tribute from the possessions of Ebla herself. The palace itself had a complicated layout of the “strung” structure — new rooms were constantly added to it, and eventually it began to “slide” from the hill-citadel to the plane (within the city walls).

A clay tablet from the Ebla archive.

A clay tablet from the Ebla archive.

Ebla was a major center of international trade — documents often refer to itinerant merchants, lu-kar — ” people of the wharf (market)”. Large stocks of raw Badakhshan lapis lazuli (from Afghanistan) and fragments of alabaster vessels from Egypt were found in the palace, including inscriptions of the Pharaohs Chephren and Piopi I.

However, such goods were brought by foreigners, and not by Eblaite merchants: a review of the documents shows Ebla’s close ties only with the cities of Northern (Syrian) Mesopotamia (Abarsal, Mari), as well as with the region beyond the Tigris (Gasur) and with northern Sumer (Kish). Even Ugarit, just a hundred kilometers west of Ebla on the Mediterranean coast, is mentioned only in the dictionary list of place names, but not in business documents. Neither Byblos nor the other cities of Palestine and Syria are mentioned, let alone Egypt, Asia Minor, or the Iranian Highlands. Egyptian and similar products came to Ebla, apparently through many intermediaries. From the reports of the kings of the Akkad dynasty (Sargon the Ancient and Naram-Suen), it follows that they made campaigns against Ebla, and there is every reason to believe that Ebla was destroyed during the reign of its last king, Ibbi-Zikir, by Naram-Suen of Akkad at the end of the XXIII century BC. After that, Ebla was revived again at the beginning of the II millennium BC, but never had the same significance. Its population had by this time merged with the surrounding Amorites.

The situation in the region at the beginning of the second millennium BC.

At the beginning of the second millennium BC in Northern Syria, the powerful state of Yamhad with its capital in the city of Haleb played a prominent role — Amorite in terms of population, Akkadian in culture. And in Southern Syria (Qatna) and even up to the Phoenician coast, the political influence of the upper Mesopotamian king Shamshi-Adad I penetrates.

In the city-states of Syria, about which we have little written data (with the exception of the insufficiently studied archives of the XVIII century BC from the city of Alalah north of the lower Orontes), the social structure was apparently very similar to the Hurrian society of Arrapha. This is due not only to the fact that many Hurrians lived in Alalakh, but above all to the same nature of the economy and the level of its development.

A bull with the head of a man. Gold, lapis lazuli.

A bull with the head of a man. Gold, lapis lazuli. Found in Eble. XXIV century BC.

It is interesting that here the king of the city sometimes granted or sold to his property agents or just close to the whole community-the documents are formulated precisely as a gift or purchase and sale transaction, although it is believed that in fact it is only about the transfer of the right to receive taxes and duties from these villages. There were apparently both reversible and irreversible land alienation transactions, sometimes concealing the foreclosure of property for debt. Usury was highly developed. Individual owners and entire rural communities were also loaned out. Obviously, there was an intense property stratification of society with the impoverishment of ordinary community members, many of them fled and became hapiru (habiru), hiding in the desert areas of Syria. Earlier, scientists suggested that the term “hapiru” should be seen as the oldest form of the ethnic name “Jew”. However, most modern researchers have strongly rejected this, and now this assumption is supported by only a few.

Between the end of the XVIII and the beginning of the XVI century BC. e. there was an infiltration into the Nile delta of militant pastoral tribal groups — the so — called Hyksos-from Palestine or from Sinai. The alien war parties gradually seized power in the northern nomes of Egypt, and their leaders began to assume Pharaonic titles. In Egypt, the Hyksos lost their ethnic identity and merged with the local population. It remains unclear to what extent they maintained dominance in their original habitats. But it is at this time that there are signs of growing prosperity in the cities and rural areas of Palestine. However, the rich, extensive and comfortable houses of the nobility contrasted with the miserable huts of the poor: the process of sharp property stratification was also going on here. Palestine was not politically united at this time. The frequent internecine wars are indicated by the powerful fortifications of cities and archaeological traces of their various-time destruction by the enemies. It is possible, however, that the Palestinian cities nominally recognized the supreme authority of the Hyksos king in the city of Avaris. The second Hyksos center could be Gaza in the southern part of the Palestinian coast.

The hegemony of Mitanni and Pharaonic Egypt

In the second half of the 17th century BC, the Hyksos kingdom in Egypt began to decline. Since the beginning of the sixteenth century, several important new political factors have emerged in the Eastern Mediterranean.

The rise of Mitanni

The "Ishtar Stele" from the temple of Ishtar in Ebla. The height is about 2 m. It dates from about 1850 BC.

The “Ishtar Stele” from the temple of Ishtar in Ebla. The height is about 2 m. It dates from about 1850 BC.

In the north, the Hurrian power of Mitanni absorbed the minor Akkadian, Hurrian, and Amorite kingdoms, not excluding the once powerful kingdom of Yamhad on the Euphrates, which held the keys to Syria. Idri-Mi, one of the kings of Alalakh at that time, tells in his inscription how a revolution took place in his city, how he was forced to flee in a chariot with one faithful charioteer to the mountain hapiru and spent several years there before he was able to take possession of the city again, but this time, apparently, on the condition of recognizing the supremacy of Parrattarna, the king of Mitanni. The direct state power of the Mitanni west of the Euphrates is unlikely to have ever been solid, but the spread of Mitanni influence was significant. Indo-Iranian and Hurrian names of dynasties are found up to the end of the XV century BC in various cities of both these countries, despite the fact that the languages of the population of Syria and Palestine remained Canaanite (in the south) and Amorite (in the north) West Semitic dialects (only partly also Hurrian). This situation is most likely due to the fact that the dynasties were relatives of the Mitanni kings, because there was no living Indo-Iranian language outside of the Iranian Highlands in Front Asia at that time.

The rise of Mitanni coincided with the time when two important inventions were made that could enrich Syria and Phoenicia.

  1. Around the 18th and 17th centuries BC, the Hurrians of Upper Mesopotamia invented a method for making small dishes from opaque colored glass. This technique later spread to Phoenicia, Lower Mesopotamia, and Egypt, but for some time the Hurrians and Phoenicians were monopolists in the international trade in glass products.
  2. No later than the end of the XVI century BC. e. in Phoenicia, a method was discovered for coloring wool in purple-red and purple-blue colors with purple-a paint extracted from sea shellfish. In this regard, the import of cheap unpainted wool is of great economic importance (the paint itself was not transportable). In the small towns of Canaanite Phoenicia, large stocks of bread and metal products began to accumulate, which came in abundance in exchange for purple wool.

Thanks to the discoveries, a lively trade (as well as robbery) of the Phoenicians begins in the more remote parts of the Mediterranean. From about 1400 BC, Mycenaean and Cypriot pottery appeared in Syria and Palestine as evidence of the ongoing trade. It is very likely that the Phoenicians also began to import Spanish tin by sea, which made it cheaper to make bronze in Asia Minor (but this may have happened later).

The increased role of merchants slowed down the development of a Mesopotamian or Egyptian type of monarchical system in Phoenicia: although almost every town had kings, but in general they were governed by an oligarchic character with certain remnants of primitive democracy.

Egypt’s offensive in Palestine

The flourishing of the Canaanite cities of Palestine and Phoenicia, the Amorite and Hurrian cities of Syria, which could have been expected under these conditions, did not take place due to the Egyptian conquest that began shortly after 1600 BC. The Hyksos power in Egypt was destroyed, and the pharaohs of the new, XVIII dynasty moved from individual raids to a systematic offensive on Palestine-Phoenicia-Syria. Pharaoh Yahmose I occupied the last Hyksos stronghold in Southern Palestine. Then, in the last quarter of the XVI century, Pharaoh Thutmose I made a campaign as far as the Euphrates. After the peaceful reign of the female pharaoh Hatshepsut, since the time of her successor Thutmose III, a long bloody and systematic devastation of the Canaanite cities begins.

Each Egyptian campaign ended not with the inclusion of the territory passed into Egypt, but only with the looting of villages and cities (especially palaces), the theft of livestock and people. The administrative arrangements of the Pharaohs were very primitive. Several Egyptian fortresses were established, controlling the main roads and passes. The presence of garrisons encouraged the local rulers to appease the conqueror with gifts and tribute for as long as possible — in the form of a guarantee to the Egyptian court, their children were taken as hostages: their sons were brought up in the spirit of loyalty to the Pharaoh, their daughters were given to his harem.

But the Pharaohs never tried to extend the internal administrative system of the Egyptian state to Palestine and Syria as a whole. The small detachments they kept at the courts of individual kings were more of an observational nature. Tax collection, for example, was not part of their task: both values and labor were siphoned from Palestine, Phoenicia and Syria not by regular taxation, but by more or less constant military campaigns, accompanied by looting and pogroms in the already conquered territory. The lists of loot carved on the walls of Egyptian stone temples (although probably not entirely reliable from the figures given in them) list colored fabrics, wood, chariots, ivory and crafts made from it, gold and silver products in abundance, large quantities of grain, oil, tens and hundreds of thousands of stolen people, hundreds of thousands of cattle. The tsars and their nobles, no doubt, tried to make up for lost time by increased exploitation and enslavement of their own citizens who fell into unpaid debts.

A significant part of the population of the cities and surrounding villages, apparently, fled from them, joining the ranks of the hapiru. The losses of the Syro-Palestinian states from the Egyptian invasions by the end of the XV century BC. e. were already, apparently, a huge percentage of the population.

Division of spheres of influence and administrative reform of the Egyptians in Palestine

Sphinx of Megiddo

“Sphinx” of Megiddo. Ivory. XIII century BC.

Although the Pharaohs managed to push the Mitanni forces beyond the Euphrates, they failed to break Mitanni. The Mitanni kings maintained constant contact with the forces of disorganized but incessant resistance to the Pharaohs in their own Syro-Palestinian rear. Once Egyptian soldiers managed, for example, to capture the agents of the Mitanni king, who carried clay tablets with cuneiform text of the address to the local kings on neck laces. The main thing was that the more luxurious and rich the Pharaoh’s loot was, the more the trade along the Syro-Palestinian route died down, and without it, the country was not rich enough to continuously supply Egypt with all kinds of valuables. In the end, Pharaoh Thutmose IV was forced to negotiate peace and the division of spheres of influence with the Mitanni king Artadama I. Northern Syria with access to the Mediterranean Sea remained in the Mitanni zone, and in their own zone the Egyptian pharaohs made an attempt to siphon funds without annual military pogroms.

The end of the XV — beginning of the XIV century BC is usually distinguished in the history of Palestine-Phoenicia-Syria as the “Amarna period” on the formal grounds that this time is covered in some detail by diplomatic cuneiform documents preserved partly on the site of Tell Amarna in Egypt (the ancient capital of Pharaoh Amenkhetep IV-Akhenaten), partly on the site of Bogazkei (the ancient capital of the Hittite kings). The participants in the diplomatic correspondence used cuneiform and different languages: the Kassite and Mitanni kings — Akkadian (Mitanni-also Hurrian), the Hittites-Akkadian and Hittite, the kings of the Eastern Mediterranean-a strange, artificial semi-Akkadian, semi-Canaanite language.

At this time, the Pharaoh kept his residents in three places — in the south of Palestine, in the south of Syria and in the north of Phoenicia. Otherwise, the management order remained the same. Curiously, any local Syro-Palestinian ruler could be called by three different designations:

  • for the Pharaoh, he was “a man of such and such a city”,
  • in diplomatic documents — “mayor”,
  • and for his own subjects — “king”.

Only the ruler of Hatzor dared to call himself “king” even in letters to the Pharaoh. The power of the city governor, in any case, was always limited to the council of elders, and in some cases the council or even the “sons of the city” (i.e., the people’s assembly) calmly ruled the city without a king, even directly related to other rulers and with the great powers. If you go through the cities, the most important at that time were —

  • Of the Palestinian city-states, these were Gazru (Gezer), Lachish, Jerusalem, Megiddo, Hatzor;
  • in Phoenicia-Byblos;
  • The important trading post of Ugarit on the Mediterranean coast of Syria belonged rather to the Mitanni zone of influence;
  • In Southern Syria, the city of Kinza with the Canaanite nickname “Sacred” (Qudshu, better known by the conventional Egyptological designation Kadesh) was of particular importance, Kinza-Kadesh closed access from the south to the valley of the Orontes River.

Hapiru People’s Movement and the Amurru Kingdom

At the very beginning of the XIV century BC. e. in the mountains between Phoenicia and Syria, a new, very interesting state arose. Its main population consisted of Hapiru, and since they did not have a certain single tribal or territorial origin, the name of the new state was very vague — Amurru-until the end of the XV century. this in Akkadian simply meant “the west, the abode of the pastoral tribes” (which were therefore called “Amorites”, i.e. “westerners”, their self-name, apparently, was Sutii). The Hapiru had already formed their own self-governing communities where they could-some of them went to the military service of the local kings (mostly away from the Pharaonic Egypt), and all of them were hostile to the royal power in general and the Pharaonic power in particular.

Statue of King Idrimi-ruler of Alalakh

Statue of King Idrimi-ruler of Alalakh (c. 1460-1400 BC). He came to power with the help of hapiru. Preserved in the British Museum, London.

These hapiru decided to use as a tool the ambitious creator of the kingdom of Amurru-Abdi-Ashirta. According to a report received by Pharaoh Amenhetep III, he made this speech to his supporters: “Gather yourselves, and we will attack Byblos. And if there is no man there to deliver him from the hands of the enemy, then we will drive the city governors out of their regions, and then all the regions will join the hapir; and let there be “justice” for all the regions, and let the young men and women be safe forever. And if the Pharaoh goes against us, then all the regions will be hostile to him — then what can he do to us?»

The term “justice” in ancient Near East Asia, as already mentioned, was understood primarily as the release from debts and the return of hostages, and if possible also of the land taken or bought up. So, the subjects of all the small states were asked to expel their “mayors” (kings) and become free hapiru, debt bondage was to be abolished, and military force was opposed by the unanimity of the rebels. It is not surprising that the Pharaonic government has long persecuted, caught and sent hapira to slave hard labor, such as quarries.

Abdi-Ashirta and after him his son Aziru, in their letters to the Pharaoh, out of caution pretended to be his loyal servants, but at the same time, through their agents, systematically called on the population to kill their “city governors”, which happened here and there throughout Phoenicia and Palestine — in some places even it came to the actions of individual armed groups of slaves.

Meanwhile, in the 60s of the XIV century BC, the Hittite king Suppiluliuma I began to defeat the ally of the Pharaohs-the kingdom of Mitanni. Amurru found itself in a buffer position between the Hittite and Egyptian powers, but its king Abdi-Ashirta took a pro-Hittite position. From the very beginning of the Hittite offensive in Syria, it became clear to everyone that the Hittite power was easier than the Egyptian one. The Hittite king defined his relations with his subordinates by written treaties, sealed with a terrible oath by the names of all the gods worshipped by the contracting parties, and generally observed the treaties. The tribute levied by the Hittites, and the military contingents they demanded, were far less heavy than the plunder inflicted by the Pharaonic troops and officials. The highly artistic, luxurious decoration of the Pharaonic palaces and tombs cost the Eastern Mediterranean a truly high price. The Hittites were not yet accustomed to such luxuries, and their power was as much a conglomerate of allied, though unequal, states as the Mitanni had been before it.

Aziru, the second of the kings of Amurru, by then the largest state in Syria, paid the Hittite king 2.5 kg of gold a year, the price of about a hundred slaves — this was a lot, but he would have to pay the Pharaoh much more. It is clear that almost all segments of the population of the Eastern Mediterranean, minus the Pharaonic adherents of the nobility, preferred the rule of the Hittites.

Amenhetep IV, preoccupied with his utopian religious reform, was unwilling or unable to send enough troops to hold Egypt’s Asian possessions. But Suppiluliuma I did not capture them yet: it was necessary to finish with Mitanni. The Asian empire of the Pharaohs was falling apart under the blows of Aziru and the ruler of Damascus, who also surrounded himself with hapiru troops. In Phoenicia, the king of Sidon went over to the side of hapiru (is it not since then that the importance of Sidon has surpassed that of Byblos in the Mediterranean?). Despite the inaction of the Pharaonic authorities, most of the kings, too compromised by their cooperation with the invaders, remained loyal to Egypt, but the earth burned under their feet.

Following the footsteps of Hapiru, the Hittite troops began an offensive to the south. About the middle of the XIV century. They advanced as far as Northern Palestine. We have hardly heard of the Hapiru since: they must have merged with the rest of the Canaanite population. Perhaps they managed to improve their living conditions somewhat, or even partially return to their homes. But, of course, a radical change in the social system could not happen. The kingdom of Amurru became an ordinary small Syrian state and existed, maintaining access to the Mediterranean Sea, until the end of the XII century BC.

The period of struggle between the Hittites and Egyptians for influence in the Syrian and Palestinian lands

After the fall of the eighteenth dynasty of Egypt, the pharaohs of the next, nineteenth dynasty — Seti I and Ramesses II — had to begin the conquest of Palestine, Phoenicia, and Syria anew. The situation of the Hittites in Syria was also far from simple, and the Hittite kings had to play a complex political game. After the destruction of Mitanni, the crossings of the Euphrates into Northern Syria were threatened by the newly formed Assyrian power, and the Syrian states learned that, although Hittite rule is softer than Egyptian, it is tougher than Mitanni: all the treaties with the Hittite power contained a condition that deprived the subordinate state of the right to an independent foreign and especially military policy, as well as other points that severely limited its independence. As a result, a number of Syrian kingdoms were separated from the Hittites, and they had to be forced into submission, the kingdom of Amurru maneuvered between the Hittite and Egyptian powers.

The city of Ugarit and its social structure

The main support of the Hittites in Syria was the city of Karkemish on the Euphrates, where Hittite princes sat as kings. Another such support for the Hittites would like to see the seaside town of Ugarit. The State Archive of Ugarit has given us valuable information about the Syrian society of the XIV-XIII centuries BC.

In the most general terms, the structure of Ugarit society can be seen from the diplomatic message of the Hittite king Hattusili III to the king of Ugarit. From the terms of the agreement that the Hittite king offers Ugarit, it is clear that, from his point of view, Ugarit society consisted of:

  1. “the king’s slaves (i.e. servants) »;
  2. “the sons (i.e. free citizens) of Ugarit»;
  3. “slaves of the tsar’s servants” (i.e., slaves of the tsar’s employees; perhaps this included the lowest category of workers of the tsar’s economy, who were under the supervision and authority of the tsar’s employees);
  4. purchased private slaves.

Cases of flight of people of each of these categories to the Hapiru communities under the protection of the Hittite king are stipulated, and the latter undertakes to extradite such fugitives.

According to the documents, we are well aware of the collection of collective taxes (in kind and partly in silver) from Ugarite communities and the summoning of their members to state duties —

  • “walking”, in Akkadian ilku. Here it is worth mentioning that in Old Babylonian times, ilku was not called the service of the population, but service as an ordinary soldier for an allotment from the royal land;
  • in Hurrian, unushshe.
Golden bowl of Ugarite

Golden Bowl of Ugarite (1450-1365 BC) Museum of Aleppo, Syria.

The most important duties were military, rowing and labor in state jobs — those who served them were supported by the treasury. Representatives of separate large-family communities, apparently by their choice, were allocated for conscription. The communities were governed by elders and a special intermediary between the community and the royal power — sakinu. This was also the rule of the Ugarite state as a whole, but here the king stood next to the sakinu, which did not prevent the council of elders or the sakinu from sometimes conducting external relations directly.

The ” royal people “(unlike the Hittite king, the Ugarites themselves did not call them” royal slaves”) included ploughmen, shepherds, wine growers, salt workers, various kinds of artisans, but also warriors, including charioteers, called by the Hurrian term Marianna (they received chariots, horses and all equipment from the treasury). Judging by their names, they were Amorites and Hurrians-they were certainly not the “Indo-Aryan equestrian feudal aristocracy” as they were portrayed in science before. Each professional group had its own “senior”.

All the “royal people”, not excluding Marianna, did not carry “duty” (ilka), but “service” (pilka — a number of researchers identify ilka and pilka) and, in addition, paid the state in silver, at the same time they could receive conditional land allotments. A person who did not perform his service was declared a “sluggard” (nayyalu), and his allotment was transferred by the king to other persons. “Royal people” could sometimes be transferred to the” use “of major dignitaries of the court, who themselves, however, were “royal people”. Some dignitaries, especially those who had to do with international maritime trade, bought up land for a lot of money, including the royal, i.e. connected with a certain service (they bought it from employees, but for a bribe to the king). However, the legal status of such lands remained apparently unclear to the Ugaritans themselves, and sometimes new registration of such transactions was required upon the accession of a new king.

Military service was subject to both community members and “royal people”, with the exception of those exempt from it by special privilege. As a result of the strengthening of Karkemish, in the sphere of hegemony of which Ugarit also fell, the influence of the latter later fell.

Spheres of influence section

Meanwhile, the offensive launched around 1300 by Pharaoh Seti I was further developed under Ramesses II. Thus, the situation of the Canaanite cities of Palestine was worse than that of the Amorite-Hurrian cities of Syria. Once again, the rampant Pharaonic plunder, slaughter and theft of people began. After the battle of Kinza-Kadesh, Ramses, almost falling into a trap set for him, managed to defeat the Hittites and their allies, he spent about a decade and a half annually ravaging the local population not only in Palestine, but also in Syria. In the end, Hattusili II, king of the Hittites, prompted by the Assyrian threat from the flank (because of the Euphrates), agreed with Ramesses II for peace (1296 or 1270 BC).

Migration of “river tribes” and “peoples of the sea”»

The movement of peoples in the late XIV-early XIII centuries BC.

e. Shortly after the reign of Ramesses II (late XIV — early XIII century BC. e.), the invasion of Palestine by a large group of pastoral tribes moving from the trans-Jordan steppes began. About this invasion there are both quite detailed archaeological data, and historical legends recorded 400-500 years later according to oral legends and preserved to our time as part of the Bible.

Duck heads with detailed Katna ornaments

Duck heads with detailed Katna ornaments. Gold. Ca. XV-XIV centuries BC. Stored in the Museum of Damascus, Syria.

The attitude to the biblical historical traditions even today ranges from an unconditional recognition of their authenticity to a complete denial of any value for the historian. In fact, precisely because these are traditions, and moreover used later in a sharp ideological struggle, each of them can be attracted by the historian to the extent that it can be controlled, at least partially, by independent sources — archaeological monuments or foreign-language written evidence of contemporaries of events.

As early as the mid-nineteenth century, it was clear that the biblical accounts of the patriarchs, the ancestors of various Jewish, Aramaic, and Arab tribes, were a reflection of the general Semitic legends. Such legends are based on the memorization of genealogies, which the nomads included in the mandatory circle of knowledge of everyone. Such genealogies have come down to us not only from the Bible, but also from the dynasties of Hammurabi and Shamshi-Adad I in Mesopotamia, who ascended to the Amorite (Suti) ancestors, and are also known to this day among the Bedouin Arabs. The analysis of the biblical genealogies contained in the ” Book of Genesis “(it opens the first part of the Old Testament, revered by both Jews and Christians — the “Pentateuch”, or “Torah”), shows that these genealogies basically belong to the Suti tribes, because their first ancestor, the son of the first man Adam, Seth (other-Heb. Shet) — none other than Sutu, or Shutu, the mythical ancestor-eponym of the Suti, i.e., the Amorites.

Based on this, as well as on the presence in the Bible of a number of legends about the origin of ancestral tribes from Mesopotamia, some myths of undoubtedly Mesopotamian origin (the myth of the Flood) and other data, it can be assumed that the tribes that appeared in the second half of the XIII century in Zaiordan, and then invaded Palestine, ultimately must be identified with the tribes of the Amorites-Sutians of Upper Mesopotamia, hurrians and cassites. In fact, Babylonian documents of this time indicate the disappearance of the Amorite pastoral tribes from Mesopotamia, and the Aramaic pastoral tribes that replaced them from the more southern Arabian oases appear here in separate groups from the XIV century, and on a mass scale-only from the end of the XII century BC.

Ceramic vessel in the form of a fish. It'll burn you out.

Ceramic vessel in the form of a fish. It’ll burn you out. Preserved in the Louvre Museum, Paris, France.

The Suti tribes that were located in the XIII—XII centuries in the Trans-Jordan region were designated as Ibri. This literally means ” one who has crossed (the river)” (the river, of course, does not mean the Jordan, which they did not cross at that time, but the Euphrates), i.e., in essence, “those who came from Mesopotamia”. But the concept of “ibri” here is by no means equivalent to the Jewish people of later times (other-Heb. ibri, modern. Ivri) – this designation refers to all the descendants of the legendary patriarch Abraham and even his distant, even more legendary ancestor Eber (this name means ” Crossing [the river]”), and according to the biblical, as well as according to the later Koranic tradition, Abraham was considered the ancestor not only of the Israelites, but also of the Aramaic and Arab tribes. However, some of the former Upper Mesopotamian tribes (for example, the Didans, known in Mesopotamia since the third dynasty of Ur) went into the desert, mixed with the Arameans and Arabs, some settled in the Jordan (Moabites and Ammonites) and south of the Dead Sea (Edomites, or Edomites). All of them lost the designation of “those who crossed the river”, and it eventually remained only for the Jews — one particular group of tribes (or “tribes”), the one that raised itself to the legendary patriarch Jacob, or Israel, the grandson of Abraham, and traveled longer than many before finally settling down.

The division into tribes and the arrival of the Israeli tribes in Palestine

According to a later tradition, which became a firm belief of all the Israelites, their ancestors settled in the area of Goshen, or Goshen (both of these forms of the name are used in the Hebrew and Greek versions of the Bible, and both are found in Egyptian texts), which belonged to Egypt, on the eastern edge of the Delta, and there, having fabulously multiplied (from 12 men in four generations there were allegedly 643,550 soldiers!), they fell into “slavery” as “royal people”, used by the Egyptians in compulsory labor (The Bible mentions the construction of two cities in this connection, in fact, founded under Ramesses II). Then they were miraculously brought out by the prophet Moses, an Israelite, the pupil of an Egyptian princess and the husband of a Midianite woman (the Midianites were apparently a Northern Arab tribe). Moses, as described in the book of Exodus, renewed the” covenant ” (contract) of the Israelites with the god Yahweh, originally concluded with Abraham — according to this contract, the god Yahweh promised to give the Israelites Palestine, and they pledged not to worship any other god. Since the Israelites did not keep their promise, Moses declared that they would wander through the deserts of Sinai and beyond Jordan for forty years, until all those who had sinned died out, and only a new generation would enter Palestine. Moses also received various ethical and legal instructions from Yahweh regarding a settled future life in Palestine.

Terracotta figurine of the mother goddess. Terracotta figurine of the mother goddess.

The 2nd millennium BC is preserved in the National Museum of Haifa, Israel.

The above story is a myth, moreover, set out three or four hundred years later than the alleged events-so far no objective evidence and external data have been able to confirm it, and it is useless to search for a rational grain in it (as in any myth): if it exists, then we do not have a criterion by which we can determine what it is. But then the legends begin, which can already be controlled with the help of archaeological data. Of course, in the biblical text, events from the end of the XIII to the X century BC. they are presented with a bias, a distortion of the historical perspective (which is usual for legends), many events are forgotten, many homogeneous facts are combined into one, the real is mixed with obvious legends. Nevertheless, the outline of the narratives relating to the events of this time, as they are described in the biblical “Book of Joshua” and (to a lesser extent) in the “Book of Judges”, still consists of memories of actual events, and not fairy-tale motifs.

Obviously, the tribal invasion of Zaiordan, and then in Palestine proper, must have been preceded by the consolidation of the tribes and the formation of the Israelite tribal union itself, which recognized a common deity — Yahweh. The area of consolidation was probably the pastoral oasis of Kadesh-Barnea in the north of the Sinai Peninsula (in this tradition, probably, reflects the historical reality), but the original composition of the tribal union is subject to great doubt. The actual picture of the invasion, as it is drawn from archaeological evidence, was very different from the Bible’s depiction of the concordant simultaneous movement of the twelve tribes, led by Moses ‘ successor, Joshua.

The tribes of the first wave of the invasion crossed the Jordan at Jericho — its walls collapsed, apparently, not from the biblical trumpet voice, but as a result of digging. At the same time, the city of Betel was destroyed, and the invaders advanced into the center of Palestine. One group of tribes (Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin) subsequently descended from Jacob and his beloved younger wife, Rachel.

Then, apparently, followed a second invasion from Sinai to Zaiordanea. If the first group passed through the Jordan without hindrance, the second group passed through it with battles. Only a part of the tribes of this group then crossed the Jordan — two of them were located in the areas west of the Jordan and east and north of the Manasseh tribe.

The third tribe, Judah, turned south, destroying cities along the way, and occupied the entire Southern Palestinian highlands southwest of the Dead Sea. The fate of two other tribes, which later apparently lost their independent existence, is not entirely clear. In addition, the original Edomite group of Calebites (Kenazites), who came to the highlands not through the Jordan, but from the south, seems to have joined the Judah tribe. This whole group of tribes traced their origins to Jacob and his eldest wife, Leah.

Terracotta bull figurine.

Terracotta bull figurine. C. 1500-1250 BC Found in Hebron, Israel.

Four tribes were attributed to descend from the concubines of Jacob; all four lived on the outskirts of the tribal union and may have been local Amorite tribes who joined the union only after its introduction into Palestine. Of these tribes, three lived in Phoenicia (where, apparently, the god Yahweh was not worshipped at all), in the south of Palestine and in Zaiordan; the fourth tribe lived first in the southwest, then in the north of Palestine. At the same time, some of the tribes had no tradition of staying in Egypt.

In Palestine, the Israelites (apparently part of the Amorite-Suti tribes) met mainly the Canaanite and Amorite populations who had lived here before. In the Bible, the Hittites, Hurrians, and other unknown tribes are also mentioned among the pre-Israeli population of Palestine, but they are all united under the common name of the Canaanites. The difference between the dialects of the Canaanites and the Amorites was small. Many gods were shared.

Tribal mixing and Jewish education

Later tradition claims that the invading Israelites allegedly massacred the entire Canaanite population at the behest of Yahweh. Indeed, the destruction in the Canaanite settlements was enormous. However, the extermination of the entire population and even the destruction of all cities did not really come to the point. The ease of conquest of the Canaanite city-states, with their long cultural and military traditions, is probably due to their complete destruction and the reduction in the number of the Canaanites themselves as a result of the continuous military pogroms by the Egyptians during the previous three and a half centuries. But the most important Canaanite cities were not conquered by the “river” tribes — some of the cities were bought off by tribute or obligation to pay duties, and some, like Jerusalem, the city of the Jebusites, located on an impregnable rock, remained independent. The Manasseh tribe had virtually no significant population centers, and half of them had to go back across the Jordan.

Canaanite Short Sword

Canaanite short sword. Bronze, length 39.6 cm. 2-a floor. II thousand-I thousand BC.

We can say that the conquerors mastered the previously sparsely populated highlands — the valleys remained largely in the hands of the Canaanites, and they not without success went on the counteroffensive. They were supported in the last quarter of the XIII century BC by the Egyptian pharaoh Mer-ne-Ptah, who invaded Palestine. It is his inscription that is the first written monument in history that mentions Israel: “Canaan is ruined by every misfortune … Israel is destroyed, and its seed is no more. Hurri (as the Egyptians then called Palestine) I became a widow because of Egypt.” The biblical traditions have not preserved any memory of this episode, and it was of no small importance. Deprived of the initial impulse and, moreover, pressed from across the Jordan by new, now truly nomadic tribes (who had domesticated the dromedary camel), all the tribes of Palestine in the XII century BC found themselves in a difficult situation. For this century, there are still archaeological traces of Egyptian influence in Palestine. It was at this time that the final unity of the Israelite tribal union should be attributed, a unity whose memory remained forever, even when most (and even the most indigenous) tribes ceased to exist at the end of the eighth century BC. But then the composition of the union was still different from the later classical “12 tribes” – this is shown in the Bible by the passage of the ancient Israeli epic of the late XII century BC “The Song of Deborah”, where only seven tribes, led by Barak and Deborah, participate in the war against Yabin, king of Hazor, and his commander Sisera:

In the days of Shamgar the son of Anat, in the days of Jael, the paths were empty,
And those who followed the path passed by devious ways,
The villages in Israel were empty, empty —
Until I, Deborah, rebelled, rebelled as the mother of the people.

Anat, mentioned in the epic, is a goddess, and Jael is one of the heroines of the epic.

Hatzor, the largest and most important city of the Canaanites, was destroyed to the ground, which is confirmed by archaeological evidence. On its ruins, a few miserable huts of the conquerors appeared. But this was the last episode of the war between the Israelites and the Canaanites. Another time came when it was necessary to defend against common enemies. In one nation, the conquerors and the conquered are now merged together. The literary language of the Bible was formed on a mixed dialect basis, and the ancient Jews themselves called this language not” Hebrew “(as later), but” Ken’anit”, i.e.”Canaanite”. It should be noted that the term ” Jew “meant from this time on a common ethnicity, the narrower term “Israeli” – belonging to a tribal union, and later to the state.

Invasion of the “peoples of the sea”

The events that changed this picture were related to another tribal invasion — the “peoples of the sea”. The Egyptians called the” Peoples of the sea ” a group of diverse tribes, some of which moved on boats, others on wheeled wagons on dry land. Among them, no doubt, were the Achaean Greeks who destroyed Troy, other tribes (perhaps Proto-Armenians) who put an end to the Hittite kingdom, and some other tribes known only by name, and even then in an inaccurate Egyptian translation, “camped in the middle of the Amurru”. At the same time, the city of Ugarit died, but for a different reason: when the “peoples of the sea” were on the approach and the Ugarit fleet was sent against them, the city was destroyed by a catastrophic earthquake. But at the same time, the city of Karkemish was preserved and became the center of the Late Hittite (Luwian) culture in Syria.

The “Peoples of the sea” were in league with the Libyans (the Libyans, apparently, had been in Palestine long enough to become familiar with the Semitic alphabet: its very early form dates back to the Libyan script of North Africa, which has survived in the Sahara to the present day). They attacked Egypt together from the land (from the east and west) and from the sea (from the north). The invasion unfolded from the end of the XIII century. (with the” peoples of the sea ” faced the Pharaoh Mer-ne-Ptah). It reached its climax at the beginning of the twelfth century. With the destruction of the Hittite kingdom, their advance on Egypt was stopped by Pharaoh Ramesses III at some point after the middle of the XII century BC.

Two tribes from among the “peoples of the sea”, later known as the Philistines (from their name comes the word “Palestine”, while it is possible that the Philistines-another name for the Pelasgians), settled on the fertile Palestinian coast, on a strip of 60 km long and 20 km wide, and created here a union of five self-governing cities: Gaza, Ascalon, Akkaron, Gata and Ashdod. They brought with them the Late Mycenaean material culture, iron technology, and iron weapons, and soon established their hegemony over almost all of Palestine. At the same time, nomadic Semitic (Aramaic or Arab) tribes raided the area from Sinai and across the Jordan, and apparently partially settled on the outskirts.

The difference between the Jews and other tribes of the region, which became self-identification

Apart from individual temporary military leaders, the Israeli tribes had no general political power and were governed by elders, who also listened to the sayings of the” prophets ” (Nabi), who at that time had not yet turned into political preachers, but were something like shamans. In particularly difficult circumstances, individual tribes or the entire union voluntarily submitted to a chosen or simply self-appointed leader-deliverer (“judge”, in Hebrew shofet), who was credited with the magical power sent by the deity. Their names mentioned in the biblical “Book of Judges” (Samson, Jephthah, etc.) are at least partly unreliable. The rudiments of the state began to be composed only under the last leaders of the period of “judges” (XI century BC).

Bronze figure of Baal.

Bronze figure of Baal. Found in Ugarit. XIV-XII centuries BC. Stored in the Louvre, Paris, France.

The Israelite tribal Union was traditionally considered to consist of 12 tribes (“tribes”); in fact, the number of tribes in the union fluctuated. It was primarily a cult association, cemented by a common veneration of the allied god Yahweh. The maintenance of the cult was entrusted to the inter-tribal organization of the Levites (according to tradition, one of the “tribes”, namely the twelfth). The Levites were allocated settlements on the territory of the other 11 “tribes”. Yahweh and the other gods could be worshiped anywhere-mostly on the hills and heights of the mountains, but it was believed that on earth he lived invisibly in the “Ark of the Covenant”, kept in a tent, as in the days of the wandering life of the tribes.

At that time, Yahweh was easily identified with the local Canaanite gods, especially since both the name of Yahweh and the proper names of the Canaanite gods were avoided by believers to pronounce “in vain” (unnecessarily) and replaced them with common names: “god” (el) or even “gods” (Elohim), “lord” (baal), “my lord” (adonai). Yahweh, neither then nor much later, was considered the only deity in the universe — he was only a jealous god who made a pact with his tribal alliance that he would not be placed on an equal footing with other gods. The symbol of this contract was considered circumcision-a rite that was originally one of the tests of the boy when he entered the community of full-fledged warriors (initiation), but in many Semitic tribes eventually died out (for example, among the Canaanites, but not among the Arabs; the Israelites began to perform it soon after the birth of the boy). However, despite the” agreement ” and symbolic rites, even centuries later, in some places, Yahweh was given the Amorite-Canaanite goddess Anat as a wife, and in each family, figurines-idols of either deities or ancestors (teraphim) were worshipped, and in principle, the possibility of praying to other gods was not excluded, and even more so, the power of other gods on the territory of other tribes and peoples was not denied.

Cultural traditions

The earliest Israelites had neither their own building nor fine art, only fragments of the epic have been preserved, and written literature, worthy of interest in many respects, has yet to emerge. But the Canaanites left an important legacy, but they also had archaic customs.

Divine representations

Each Canaanite-Amorite community had its own patron deities, most often a god with a spouse and son; they were often, as already mentioned, designated by common names, and differed among themselves by the names of the place of worship of them, for example, Baalt Gubli — “Lady of the city of Byblos”. A certain number of mainly cosmic deities (Sun, Moon, vegetation, thunderstorms, sea) were also worshipped outside of any one community. Such is the “cultural hero”, the inventor of the craft of Kushar-wa-Husas. In some cases, foreign gods (Egyptian, Sumerian, Hurrian, etc.) were also worshipped. By identifying different eles (gods), the image of the universal supreme god was formed, but in different communities he had different spouses.

A bronze figure of a Canaanite god.

A bronze figure of a Canaanite god. Ca. 1400-1000 BC.

Many of the deities were either identified with animals, plants or objects, or had them as their permanent attributes (this could be a bull, a heifer, a lioness, a snake, a tree, etc.). Stone pillars, which were often the object of worship, may have had a phallic origin. In the worship of fertility deities, orgiastic cults involving sacred harlots were common. There were such archaic ritual institutions as the initiation of girls and boys by fire (perhaps circumcision was also used) and male cult unions. For example, the rite of initiation by fire was called molk or molch in Phoenician, and later readers of the Bible, where it is mentioned, interpreted it as the name of the god Moloch; such a god was not really known to antiquity. In particularly disastrous or important cases for the community (a siege, the foundation of a new fortress), first-born children were sacrificed. In all respects, the religious worldview of the Amorites and Canaanites was very primitive.

In the field of art, the Canaanites also lagged somewhat behind other civilizations of the Middle East. But if in the III — beginning of the II millennium BC Canaanite-Amorite architecture repeats in the north Mesopotamian, and in the south and in Phoenicia Egyptian, then in the II millennium BC developed a large and original fortress and temple construction throughout the Eastern Mediterranean. The largest of the temples had dimensions of 30×20 m. Inside they had two rows of round pillars, either in the sanctuary itself, in front of the statue of the deity, or in front of the entrance they placed stone steles or erected masts on the Egyptian model. Sculpture (images of gods, rarely-kings) was in the pre-Israeli period at the stage when they try to give the image a formidable, superhuman, terrible appearance. This is mostly small bronze plastic, rarely-stone figures. The Israelite god could not be represented, and the prohibition attributed to Yahweh, “Thou shalt not make an idol for thyself, nor any likeness,” led to the almost complete disappearance of fine art, although domestic terracotta idols continued to exist. True, the figures of the naked goddess of birth and fertility, who emphasized her nakedness or pregnancy with a gesture, are replaced by the figures of the clothed goddess among the Israelites. In everyday life, Israeli women, including even harlots, unlike Canaanite women, covered their faces.

Very little has survived from the Canaanite-Amorite literature of the second millennium BC. From the temple library in Ugarit, religious poetic texts in the local Semitic language are preserved, of which the most interesting are epic cult songs, for example, about the god Aliyan-Bal, who dies in the struggle with the god of withering and death, but then, thanks to the intervention of other gods, conquers death, after which there is an abundance of food: “the heavens ooze with oil, the rivers flow with honey.”

There was also a heroic epic in Ugarit. An interesting inscription stands apart — “autobiography” of Idri-Mi, king of Alalakh — here the influence of the Egyptian “autobiographical” genre is possible.

The appearance of alphabetic writing

Copper figures with gilding from the Temple of Obelisks

Copper figures with gilding from the Temple of the Obelisks (Byblos). Beginning of the second thousand BC.

In general, however, the most important achievement of the Canaanite-Amorite civilization was alphabetic writing. In the Eastern Mediterranean, for a long time, either the Egyptian language and writing, or the broken Akkadian language and cuneiform script were used. But during the second millennium BC, a special linear syllabic script appeared in the Bible, conventionally called “proto-Biblical”. There are about a hundred characters in it, each sign apparently transmitting a syllable from a consonant and one of the three Old Semitic vowels (a, and or y; one of the combinations was also used for a consonant without any vowels). Such writing was suitable for transmitting text of almost any complexity and was much easier to learn than Akkadian cuneiform or Egyptian writing, and it could be learned in a few weeks instead of many years. For reading, however, it was difficult, since it had no word divisions (in Egyptian writing, word divisions were determinatives, i.e. indicators of the categories of concepts to which the word belongs, in cuneiform also had its own rules for determining the boundaries of words). The signs of the “proto-Biblical” script have no prototypes in other scripts and, apparently, were invented specifically during the one-time invention of the entire writing system, in imitation of the Egyptian or Cretan-Mycenaean script, or both.

However, it seems that for the Phoenician merchants and sailors, learning the “proto-Biblical” script was not yet easy enough. They were willing to speed up their training even by making it more difficult to understand texts (Ancient Eastern international merchants never sought to make their letters and documents understandable to the uninitiated). Therefore, from Sinai to Syria, there are different types of simplified writing of the same type. It was simplified by reducing the number of signs so that each sign (letter) denoted a consonant with or without any vowel. In addition, similar consonants were indicated by the same letter. So it was possible to create a consonant (consonant) alphabet with the number of letters from 30 to 22.

The shape of the letters could be different: in Ugarit they were written on clay tiles, as in Babylonia, and the letters were “assembled” from wedge-shaped dashes, in Canaanite Phoenicia they developed linear forms of 22 consonant letters (probably in the XIII century BC).

Writing without vowels was not at all “convenient for Semitic languages”, although this is why it is often claimed, rather it was a kind of merchant’s secret writing. But this writing, especially when the Phoenicians began to use the signs‘, b, and also for long vowels (a:, o:, y:, e:, and:) and introduced word divisions, became much easier to learn. Therefore, although the imperfection (ambiguity) of the transmission of the text by the Phoenician script made itself felt for a long time and for hundreds of years cuneiform and hieroglyphics successfully competed with it, the future was still behind it, and it was (after improvements made to it by the Greeks and other peoples) the ancestor of all alphabets, both West and East.

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