In Search Of Ancient Famines -- By: Rodger W. Dalman

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 17:1 (Winter 2004)
Article: In Search Of Ancient Famines
Author: Rodger W. Dalman


In Search Of Ancient Famines

Rodger W. Dalman

In the last few decades, concern over global warming has led to an ongoing discussion about climate change. Part of this discussion has explored archaeological and textual evidence for famines that struck Egypt and the Levant during the last 4, 000 years. It may be of value to ask if this evidence may shed light on events recorded in the Biblical account.

Abraham’s Famine

The first famine for which there is extra-Biblical evidence has received quite a bit of academic attention in recent years. It began in 2300 BC and lasted for three centuries! This drought was a global even that may have been felt as far away as Australia (Lamb 1982:131). In Egypt, it produced the First Intermediate Period, when the land descended into political, social, and economic disruption. In western Mesopotamia, many sites were abandoned across the Habur river valley and the Assyrian plains (Gibbons 1993:985, Weiss et al. 1993:999). In the Levant, drought nearly brought an end to the Early Bronze Age culture. William Dever has argued that the years between 2300 and 2000 BC constituted a “non-urban interlude” between the Early Bronze Age and Middle Bronze Age. Dever notes that cities like Megiddo were reduced to villages and the highlands of Palestine were almost unpopulated. He suggests that the Early Bronze Age culture continued only on the fringe of the semi-arid land (Dever 1980:35–64).

The significance of this famine for Israel’s history depends on the dates that are defended for Israel’s patriarchal age. Traditional patriarchal age dates have been calculated by adding the 480 years of 1 Kings 6:1 and the 430 years of Exodus 12:40 to 966 BC. This approach was taken by Merrill, who suggested that Abraham entered Canaan in 2091 BC and that Joseph was brought to Egypt in 1899 BC (Merrill 1980:241–43). Similar chronologies have been popular in the evangelical community, but have not been universally accepted.1 For example, Hoerth recently argued for an 18th Dynasty Exodus and a patriarchal age during Egypt’s Second Intermediate Period.2 This would move Joseph forward to the Hyksos era (Hoerth 1998:142–47, 179).

If the traditional dates for Israel’s patriarchal age are accepted, Abraham entered the Levant in the latter part of this famine. Palestine was occupied only by semi-nomadic people, who farmed small fields in the summer and moved to warmer areas in the winter. If Abraham entered Palestine at this time, it should not be surprisin...

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