rainey shasu color - GARO NALBANDIAN Who Were the Early...

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Unformatted text preview: GARO NALBANDIAN Who Were the Early Israelites? ANSON RAINEY IT IS TIME TO CLARIFY FOR BAR READERS THE widely discussed relationship between the habiru, who are well documented in Egyptian and Near Eastern inscriptions, and the Hebrews of the Bible. There is absolutely no relationship! The first appearance of the term habiru (also hpirul) surfaced in the late 19th century in the cuneiform archive from Egypt known as the Amarna Letters. Seven of the letters in the archive are letters of Abdi—Heba, king of Canaanite Jerusalem, to his overlord, the pharaoh (king) of Egypt.2 “I fall at the feet of my lord, the king seven times and seven times,” Abdi-Heba’s letters often begin. A frequent complaint is that “habiru have plundered all the lands of the king.” And again: “the habiru have taken the very cities of the king.” If Pharaoh does not send archers, “the land of the king will desert to the habiru.” Abdi—Heba complains that the pharaoh is not sufficiently helpful to him: “I am treated like a habiru.” It was not long before some scholars suggested a relationship between “habiru” and the similar—sounding “Hebrew.” SHASU OR HABIRU ‘ WHAT'S IN A NAME? The cuneiform archive well 1 known as the Amarna Letters was discovered at I the ancient Egyptian capital city of Akhetaten (Tell el—Amarna). From this Late Bronze Age cor- respondence that includes letters between the pharaoh and his Canaanite vassals, we learn that Canaanite rulers repeatedly wrote to Pharaoh concerning the persistent threat of the habiru or ‘apiru. In letters such as this one, King Abdi- Heba of Jerusalem complained that "the habiru : have taken the very cities of the king." Because of the surface similarity of the words habiru and "Hebrew," many scholars assumed I the habiru were closely related, if not identi- cal to, the earliest Israelite tribes. Upon closer examination, however, all similarity disappears. It is linguistically impossible to equate habiru and ‘ivri {the Hebrew word for "Hebrew"} and, in any case, the word habim was not used to describe a single ethnic group but rather an array of disenfranchised social groups that inhabited the fringes of Bronze Age Near Eastern society. 52 BIBLICAL ARCHAEOLDGY REVIEW - Since then, we have literally hundreds of references to habiru (‘apinfi from Egypt, Nuzi (beyond the Tigris), Syria and Canaan. Most recently an 8.5-inch- high square cuneiform prism was recov- ered from Anatolia that lists 438 names of habiru.* We now have a plethora of references to habiru from over a *See Strata, “A 3,500—Year—Old Inscription From a Syrian Kingdom May Tell Us Who the Habiru Were,” BAR, November/December 1996. NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2008 AN 'EJUHOSEH illV/ZLFSSBQDDHX EBHSISSHEN AIHDUVUTFE GOO-year period, from the 18th to 12th centuries B.C.E. It is clear from these references, how- ever, that habi'ru is not an ethnic desig- nation. The habiru are a social element. It is likewise clear from the personal names of individual habiru that they are not from a single linguistic group. There seem to have been several kinds of habiru—but always of inferior status. The term itself has a negative 93 Et.Q-;lj.0 03%" it _.._1\- 5.. __ ___. connotation. The word is sometimes used as a synonym for mutineer or pau- per. Sometimes habiru are individuals and sometimes members of a group. Some are servants or slaves. Others are members of robber bands who attack and plunder, especially in times of dis- integrating rule. Elsewhere they seem to have become a ruler’s militia. In other instances, individual habiru are recruited as mercenaries into a militia. Sometimes as a benefice, they were given lands and estates. But they are never mentioned as pastoralists (as are the Hebrews). And they are never referred to as belonging to tribes. Moreover, as I have shown elsewhere in a discussion too technical for BAR, there is absolutely no linguistic relation— ship between habim and Hebrew (Turf).3 I have described the effort of some scholars to relate the two as nothing short of “silly” and “absurd mental gym- nastics” by “wishful thinkers who tend to ignore the reality of linguistics.”4 But another term may indeed have something to do with the early Israelites, not linguistically but socially: namely the shasu who are often found in Egyptian texts and inscriptions of the Late Bronze Age. The Egyptians probably learned the term from West Semites of the Levant. Whether the original meaning of the term was “pastoralist” or "plunderer” is uncertain. What is clear, however, is that the shasu were pastoralists (nomads) who lived in symbiosis with sedentary populations but were prone to violence in times of distress. The term first appears in the 15th century B.C.E. in Egypt. One inscrip— tion refers to “shasu country.” Several different shasu lands appear in Egyp— tian topographical lists. The shasu are also known from the Amarna Let- ters referred to above. There the lan- guage is Akkadian; the Akkadian form of the term applied to the pastoralist, NOVEMBER/DECEMBER idill ‘l SHASU OR HABIRU AN EARLY ISRAELITE PORTRAIT? Author Anson Rainey believes a social group known as the shasu provides a more accu- rate depiction of early Israel than habiru. The show appear repeatedly in Egyptian texts of the Late Bronze Age and often show up in Egyptian art as bound prison- ers with bag-shaped headdresses, as in this colorful faience tile found at the temple of Medinet Habu, near Luxor. The shasu moved widely throughout the Levant— sometimes working as mercenaries or laborers for Canaanite kings—but they are most often identified as nomadic pastoral- ists originating from the steppe east of the Jordan. The nomadic character and eastern origins of the show are strikingly similar to the Biblical description of early Israel’s wanderings. 2008 o BIBLICAL ARCHAEOLOGY REVIEW 53 PAUL HOFFMAN SHASU OR HABIRU MERNEPTAH'S ISRAEL. In his well-known i991 BAR article, Frank Yurco identified several battle reliefs of the Egyptian pharaoh Merneptah at Karnak. The worn reliefs portray the various victories reported in Merneptah’s famous stele, including his victory over the "people" “Israel.” But which relief depicts Pharaoh’s battle with Israel? While Yurco identified israel as a group of Canaanite-dressed warriors being overrun by the king in one panel [top drawing and photo), Rainey argues that the Israelites are actually shown on another panel, among depictions of captured shasu nomads (bottom drawing and photo). This portrayal befits the Biblical por- trayal of the early lsraelites, who originated not from the Canaanite cities but rather from the nomadic steppe lands east of the Jordan River. nomadic element in Canaanite society is sum. The sum appear to be Egyptian mercenaries in the Lebanese Beqa‘ near Damascus, where we read of a place called ‘Ajn-Shasu. A text in the hypostyle hall at Kar- nak that can be dated quite precisely to 1291 B.C.E. (to the reign of Seti I) tells of shasu pastoralists on the mountain ridges of Canaan. They have no regard for the laws of the Egyptian palace. A similar text locates a clash with shasu in north- ern Sinai or the western Negev. Another well-known Egyptian text from the late 13th century B.C.E., called Papyrus Anastasi VI, refers to the trans- fer of “shasu tribes in order to keep them alive and in order to keep their cattle alive.” This text provides clear 54 BIBLICAL ARCHAEOLOGY REVIEW - NOVEMBER/DECEMBER zoos evidence of the pastoral character of the shasu and, indeed, of their being permit- ted to enter the eastern Egyptian Delta in order to graze their flocks. This, of course, is the same area referred to in the Bible as the land of Goshen where Jacob’s sons took their flocks to Egypt in a time of drought (Genesis 4245). A picture of a group of shasu can be found on a wall of the Karnak temple, where they may be the “Israel” of the Merneptah Stele, although this is disputed.* These shasu were the main source of early hill-country settlements in Canaan' that represent the Israelites’ settling *See “Can You Name the Panel with the Israelites?” containing “Rainey’s Challenge” and “Yurco’s Response,” BAR, November/ December 1991. NVIUNVEWN OHVD A9 SOLUHd de: mi: 5111‘ ii _qre ‘ THE HARSH REALITIES of ancient Bedouin life are strikingly recorded in this report of an Egyptian frontier official during the late 19th Dynasty (1292—1190 B.C.E.). In Papyrus Anastasi VI, which was written in cursive hieratic script, the official states that he has allowed shasu pastoraiists, together with their families and herds, to pass into Egypt to drink from the pools of Succoth near the borders of the Sinai. He permits the nomads to enter “in order to keep them alive and in order to keep their cattle alive." During times of drought and scar- city, the settled fertile plains of the Egyptian delta have traditionally served as a refuge for desert pastoralists. down. The earliest hill-country settle- ments from Iron Age I sprang up in man ginal areas where pastoralists could graze their flocks and engage in dry farming. This same thing was happening elsewhere in the Levant. In the shasu tribes, we may well find the origins of not only the Israelites, but also their eastern neighbors, including the Midi- anites, Moabites and Edomites. The pastoralists from the steppe lands all around the Fertile Crescent were driven into more settled areas at the same time as the Israelites were emerging in the hill country of Canaan. Israel was simply one group among many shasu who were moving out of the steppe lands to find their livelihood in areas that would provide them with food in times of drought and famine. E lThe true Semitic form of the word is obscured by the Akkadian syllabic script of the Arnarna Letters and other cuneiform documents. The word is really ‘apz'ru meaning “dusty, dirty.” 2For Abdi-Heba’s letters, see EA 280, 285, 286, 287, 288 in William Moran, The Amama Letters (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1992), pp. 279—280, 325—332. 3Anson Rainey, Review of O. Loretz, Habiru— Hebrder; Eine sozioilingnistiche Studie fiber die Hei‘kunft des Gentiliziums ‘fbri zum Appellati- vum ‘abiru, in Journal of the American Oriental Society 107 (1987), pp. 539—541. 4Anson Rainey and R. Steven Notley, The Sacred Bridge (Jerusalem: Carts, 2006), p. 89. _ __._ ____.___._ __ .1 SHASU OR HABIRU WHESBW HSILIHQ 3H1 at) $3315an EHlD NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2008 - BIBLICAL ARCHAEOLOGY REVIEW 55 ...
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