In a series of three lectures over a two-day period, Dr. Eric H. Cline, professor of Classics and Anthropology, former chair of the Department of Classical and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations and current director of the GWU Capitol Archaeological Institute, described the factors that could have caused the collapse of various civilizations and led to the rise of Israel in the late Bronze Age, the reasons why Megiddo was such an important strategic site and the possible locations of Biblical events.
Professor Cline was in Orange County of behalf of the Orange County Jewish Community Scholar Program. Celebrating its 16th year, OCCSP’s mission is to share the joy of Judaism, build community and celebrate our Jewish heritage with a rich adult education program and unique family experiences. CSP. Which has spent more than $3 million on adult education, has programs to offer for all ages.
In his first lecture, Professor Cline, whose primary fields of study are biblical archaeology, the military history of the Mediterranean world from antiquity to the present and the international connections between Greece, Egypt and the Near East during the Late Bronze Age (1700-1100 BCE), began with the question, “How were the Israelites able to take over Canaan and establish themselves in the land?” Professor Cline, who is an experienced and active field archaeologist, with more than 30 seasons of excavation and survey to his credit since 1980 in Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Cyprus, Greece, Crete and the United States, theorized that numerous cosmopolitan civilizations interacted globally from present-day Afghanistan to present-day Crete.
One or more cataclysmic events over a 300-year period – drought, famine, earthquakes, invasions by “sea people” destroyed these civilizations that were independent but interacted with each other, he said. “We don’t know why, but we think a ‘domino effect’ brought down these civilizations in a perfect storm or multiplier effect,” Professor Cline explained. “Chaos prevailed and destroyed every civilization but Egypt. Then Egypt got weaker and gave up Canaan.”
There are lessons for the present day to be learned from this collapse, according to Professor Cline. They involve the impact of climate change, famine, drought, earthquakes and rebellions. Since the identity of the “sea people” is uncertain, one should think about the factors leading to refugee populations and rebellions.
“Recent news from the Middle East sounds like news from 1280 BCE,” Professor Cline said. “Israelites took over Canaan because of a power vacuum with the collapse of late Bronze Age powers and the rise of other powers such as Greece.”
Many students of the Bible believe that Armageddon, the place where the cataclysmic battle between the forces of good and the forces of evil will unfold, will take place in the very near future, according to Professor Cline. However, few know that Armageddon is a real place — one that has seen more fighting and bloodshed than any other spot on earth. The name “Armageddon” is a corruption of the Hebrew phrase “Har Megiddo,” and it means “Mount of Megiddo.”
Professor Cline, who is currently the associate director (USA) of the Megiddo Expedition, has been involved in the excavations at the site from 1994 to the present. Based upon his experiences there, and using material from his book that was awarded the BAS 2001 prize for “Best Popular Book on Archaeology” (The Battles of Armageddon: Megiddo and the Jezreel Valley from the Bronze Age to the Nuclear Age; University of Michigan Press, 2000), he presented an illustrated overview of the renewed excavations at the site and highlighted some of the discoveries made. He talked about unresolved questions including the palace, stables and other ruins initially attributed to King Solomon’s building activities and the extent of King David’s involvement at the site, as well as some of the numerous battles that have already been fought at Armageddon.
Megiddo, which is near Jenin and the West Bank, is the site of the world’s first recorded battle, and 34 battles have been fought there. Twenty cities have been found inside the mound, and they may represent 30 phases. The area is at a crossroads, so that people would have to control the Jezreel Valley to control the region. “Ancient sites needed defense, water and food,” Professor Cline explained. “There were the original hills, and then cities were built on top of them, making them towering.”
Four archaeological teams, beginning in 1903, have dug at Megiddo. They have found temples, stables and water systems that may date back to Canaanites from the Bronze Age, are often credited to Solomon but may have been built later.
“The beauty of archaeology is that you never know what you’re going to find,” Professor Cline concluded.
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