In my last post I reviewed Immanuel Velikovsky’s book Worlds in Collision and his theory that the plagues that afflicted the Egyptians during the days of Moses were caused by a comet which came into contact with Earth at the time the Hebrews were departing from Egypt.
In the same book Velikovsky also said that the comet, which eventually became the planet Venus, caused the sun to stand still in the days of Joshua and caused the shadow to turn back ten degrees on the sun dial of Ahaz when it collided with the planet Mars.
In his books Ages in Chaos (New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1952) and Peoples of the Sea (New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1977), Velikovsky continues developing the theory he proposed in Worlds in Collision and offers a radical revision of Egyptian and Israelite histories. Ages in Chaos is a reconstruction of ancient history from the Exodus to King Akhnaton and Peoples of the Sea is a reconstruction of ancient history from the Persian conquest of Egypt to the conquest of Egypt by Alexander the Great.
The key to Velikovsky’s reconstruction of ancient history is his belief that there exists a connecting link between the history of Egypt and the history of Israel. This link was provided by an Egyptian eyewitness who wrote a first-hand account of the catastrophe that came upon Egypt.
According to Velikovsky, the Papyrus Ipuwer, published under the title The Admonitions of an Egyptian Sage, describes the horrors and the ruins that came upon Egypt when the comet came into contact with Earth. On page 26 of Ages in Chaos, Velikovsky cites Worlds in Collision to affirm that “The papyrus of Ipuwer contains evidence of some natural cataclysm accompanied by earthquakes and bears witness to the appearance of things as they happened at that time.”
One key point in Velikovsky’s reconstruction of ancient history is a statement in the Papyrus Ipuwer (p. 38):
Papyrus 3:1 Forsooth, the Desert is throughout the land. The nomes are laid waste. A foreign tribe from abroad has come to Egypt.
According to Velikovsky, in the aftermath of the catastrophe caused by the comet, tribes from the Arabian desert invaded Egypt pillaging the country, raping women, and killing the population. This group of people were called the “Amu,” whom Velikovsky identified with the Hyksos. He wrote: “If the catastrophes of the Papyrus Ipuwer and of the book of Exodus are identical; if, further, the Hyksos and the Amalekites are one, then world history, as it really ocurred, is entirely different from what we have been taught” (Ages in Chaos, p. 99).
The issue for Velikovsky’s reconstruction of history hinges on the identification of the Hyksos. Although the identity of the Hyksos has been an item of debate, scholars believe that they were a Northwest-Semitic people who invaded Egypt and Syria. Since the Hyksos worshiped Canaanite gods, especially Baal, it is possible that some of them were Canaanites.
Velikovsky identifies the Hyksos with the Amalekites. The Amalekites were an Arabian tribe that lived in the Arabian desert. On their way from Egypt to Canaan, the Israelites fought against the Amalekites at Rephidim (Exodus 17:8).
Velikovsky uses Arabian sources to demonstrate that the Amalekites ruled in Mecca and from there controlled all other Arabian tribes. He also quotes Arab writers of the ninth and tenth centuries A.D. who say that the Amalekites conquered Egypt and Syria. Velikovsky quotes Abulfeda, an Arab writer of the fourteenth century A.D. who wrote: “There were Egyptian Pharaohs of Amalekite descent.”
The traditional view is that the Hyksos invaded Egypt in 1700 B.C (or 1650 B.C.) and were expelled by Amosis in 1542 B.C. This means then, that the Israelites came into Egypt during the reign of the Hyksos. However, in Velikovsky’s reconstruction of history, the Israelites met the Hyksos (or the Amalekites) on their (the Hyksos’) way into Egypt.
In order to demonstrate that the Amalekites were the Hyksos and that the Hyksos conquered Egypt a few months after Israel left Egypt, Velikovsky has to revise Egyptian history and chronology: “His reconstruction places before the reader this question–Are six hundred years missing in Israel’s history or have six hundred ghost years crept into Egyptian history” (this quote is taken from the front flap of the book).
The above quote is a paraphrase of the statement that appears on p. 101: “Six hundred years disappeared from the history of the Jewish people, or six hundred years were doubled in the history of Egypt and in the history of many other people as well.” Velikovsky wrote: “If the fault lies in Egyptian history, the only possibility is that events of that history are described twice, and six hundred years is repeated” (p. 100).
Beginning with the view that the Papyrus Ipuwer is an eyewitness version of what happened in Egypt at the time of the Exodus, Velikovsky lowers Egyptian chronology by several hundred years in order to synchronize Egyptian history with Israelite history. He said: “I shall set down the events of the time following the expulsion of the Hyksos-Amalekites, reign by reign and age by age, in Egypt and in Palestine” (p. 100).
The result of this attempt at revising Egyptian chronology becomes what I consider to be an amusing reconstruction of ancient history. Most people who will read this post may not be familiar with Egyptian history and how it is related to the history found in the Old Testament. Those who know that history will immediately recognize the incongruity of Velikovsky’s synchronisms.
1. The person who expelled the Hyksos from Egypt was Saul (p. 79).
2. King Amosis was fighting with Joab when Joab conquered the Hyksos (the Amalekites; p. 85).
3. Hatshepsut was the Queen of Sheba (p. 108).
4. Thutmose I was the Shisak of 1 Kings 11:40 (p. 104).
5. Thutmose III was the Egyptian pharaoh who conquered Palestine after the death of Solomon, (p. 144).
6. Shoshenq (the Shishak of the Bible) was King So of Egypt to whom Hoshea paid tribute (2 Kings 17:4; p. 176).
7. The Ras Shamra texts were not written in the 14th-13th centuries B.C. They come from the time of Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, that is, between 870-840 B.C. (p. 229).
8. Amenhotep II was Zerah the Ethiopian (2 Chronicles 14:9; p. 214).
9. Amenhotep III and Akhnaton were contemporaries with Jehoshaphat.
10. In the El-Amarna letters, the city of Sumur was Samaria and the city of Gubla was Jezreel.
11. The kings mentioned in the Amarna letters:
Abdi-Hiba, king of Jerusalem was Jehoshaphat
Rib-Addi, king of Sumur was Ahab
Abdi-Ashirta, king of Amuru was Ben-Hadad of Damascus
Azaru, the son of Abdi-Ashirta was Hazael (but Hazael was not the son of Ben-Hadad).
12. The Obelisk of Shalmaneser III is contemporary with the Amarna Letters and the Ras Shamra literature.
In Peoples of the Sea Velikovsky says that Ramses III lived in the fourth century B.C., that the Peoples of the Sea were Greek mercenaries, and that the Pereset were Persians.
Time and space do not permit me to give all the details of Velikovsky’s reconstruction of ancient history. Anyone educated in Biblical studies, classical history, or archeology will clearly understand that this reconstruction of history is just not acceptable. Velikovsky wrote:
“The attempt to reconstruct radically the history of the ancient world, twelve hundred years in the life of many nations and kingdoms, unprecedented as it is, will meet severe censure from those who, in their teaching and writing, have already deeply committed themselves to the old concept of history” (Ages in Chaos, p. vii).
Those who “will express their disbelief that a truth could have remained undiscovered so long” will not learn the truth because “the guardians of dogma” will stamp out this new teaching “by exorcism and not by argument” (p. vii).
Velikovsky complains that none of the many people who have reviewed his book has been able “to prove the book or any part of it wrong or any quoted document spurious.” But how can anyone prove that Ipuwer was an eyewitness of the Exodus? How can anyone prove that Islamic writers, writing in the ninth, tenth, eleven, and twelfth centuries of the Christian era were not bragging that Arabians ruled Egypt in the ancient past? The interpretation of ancient documents can be skewed by the presuppositions of the interpreter and we must acknowldge that Velikovsky had a huge presupposition behind the reading of these ancient texts.
I am not a guardian of dogmas nor do I seek to stamp out Velikovsky’s teaching by exorcism. I believe Velikovsky loses by the sheer weight of historical evidence that militates against his theory. It is sad that such a brilliant author spent more than twenty years developing a theory that few people will accept. This is, as I wrote in my previous post, “a magnificent exercise in futility.”
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary