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Ages in Chaos: A Reconstruction of Ancient History from the Exodus to Akhnaton – Immanuel Velikovsky

06 Mar

YonksAgoIn this book, Immanuel Velikovsky takes you on a fascinating journey through ancient history – beginning with the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt to pharaoh Akhnaton. You will meet an Egyptian eyewitness of the biblical plagues and the mysterious Queen of Sheba. You will find out to where her legendary visit led her. You will, moreover, learn surprising details about the temple of Solomon and learn who was behind its sacking.

Above all, Velikovsky establishes the astonishing fact that conventional history books describe a 600-year-period which, in reality, never took place. After reading this work, you will never again look upon a book of written history with the same eyes.

Whilst partaking of a perusal of the inviting spines in the second-hand bookshop, I came across Ages in Chaos and it immediately brought back nostalgic thoughts of a summer long ago when I first read David Rohl’s alternative chronology of Egyptian and Biblical history and was suitably intrigued about all things historical and covered in sand.

There is something about books like this, that challenge preconceived ideas and providing they aren’t compete nonsense they occasionally come up with some interesting points.  Sadly the easily dismissable ideas usually gains the headlines but for me, it’s all about the small details.

Biblical archaeology has always been an interesting subject, with it usually throwing up more questions than satisfactorily answering them so despite this book being published in 1953 there is a still a need – and an appeal – of books like this to question if we are going wrong and where the conventional chronology needs to be revised (if at all).  Although the text is now dated, containing such gems as ‘the history of the Hittite empire is entirely invented’, it does have some interesting ideas and of course debating them however erroneous they may seem should always be tackled and disproved wherever possible.

I love the etymology of words and place names, the corruption of both in other languages and the piecing together of such, it does make the reader feel like a literary Indiana Jones probably including the fear of snakes.  There is plenty of that here as well as ancient writings aplenty all compared and contrasted as well as an abundance of speculation on such things as the ten plagues of Egypt and their causes, were the Jews guided out of Egypt by a volcano and so on and so forth.  Theories that may stand up or not, either way it is fun to indulge in a flight of fancy now and again.

Herein lies the problem, not being an expert or sufficiently widely read about ancient near eastern history, it is hard for the lay reader to sift the fact from the supposition, or to understand the context of quotes taken in isolation from a body of work.  There is a certain element of trust the reader needs to give to the writer and as the book flies in the face of conventional ideas then there will be those who fancy undertaking their own research which will interrupt the flow of the book and is probably as detrimental to the book as it is required to the curious mind.

The main problems I have with this book is that everything fits together too well, Unlike Rohl who will throw in a conundrum and answer it with the logic of his own theory, there is none of that here.  It must be selective of texts to achieve such preciseness and that is the problem, archaeology is hardly used at all.  Assuming the Bible is accurate (as Velikovsky does being Jewish and therefore not as neutral as one would wish for) then all other histories can be taken from its base.  Yet the archaeology we have in Egypt and other places is what conventional views are based on so surely those should be given primacy?

We come back to the first point I made about Biblical supporting archaeology being a murky area.  The author’s arguments would have been stronger if based in Archaeology and supported by texts.  A strong standpoint would be to apply the dating theory, fix it in Levantine archaeology and then work back to the Egyptian slavery of the Jewish people, then write it forward supported by archaeology and text and make the case strongly.  Chance meetings with the Hyksos on their way to conquer Egypt, days after the Exodus seems a little too neat to me.

That there are anomalies in accepted chronologies is not disputed and speculation is always fun so if you fancy reading an alternative then you may find this book entertaining.  As a lover of jigsaws I did enjoy the detective work in various parts, however to take the whole as a solid theory is a mistake.  My advice would be to pick up something more modern like David Rohl’s A Test of Time and then indulge in a bit of online archaeology yourself.

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33 Comments

Posted by on 06/03/2016 in History

 

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33 responses to “Ages in Chaos: A Reconstruction of Ancient History from the Exodus to Akhnaton – Immanuel Velikovsky

  1. Bumba

    06/03/2016 at 17:13

    It’s frustrating for the critical reader to get good information. OK Biblical literature is least scientific. There is some amazing archeology being done in Israel and Jordan. Paleontology has some amazing dating and mapping techniques today and we got bones and microfossils being chemically analyzed and dated. I’ve tried to learn about the Great Pyramid, also crop circles, and the literature on those subjects is off the wall. Then you also have all those newspaper and popular scientific books about research into consciousness, ESP. Like I say, it’s hard for the lay reader to get to the bottom of things
    Still digging…..
    Yours truly

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    • Ste J

      07/03/2016 at 10:52

      There is no much information and conflicting interpretations of these subjects that it is tough to find out what is right and the only way to be so is to be wide read and forever comparing. The advances we have made scientifically is really amazing and what we know and how we know it is fascinating. There was a BBC programme about a satellite that found shedloads of yet to be excavated buildings in Egypt which was fascinating.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  2. Andrea Stephenson

    06/03/2016 at 19:00

    Interesting stuff Ste, my favourite periods of history are ancient – pre-history above all – and although I would love to be able to travel back in time to see what really happened, part of the fascination, I think, is the magic of not knowing what really happened and being able to theorise about it.

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    • Ste J

      07/03/2016 at 10:28

      It is frustrating to think that in years when we are gone, there will probably be some amazing things discovered and we will never know. The mystery and romance are all part of it and that is something I love, the unanswered and enticing. If you do hitch a lift on a time machine, save me a seat!

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  3. Alastair Savage

    06/03/2016 at 19:23

    Perhaps a lot of progress has been made since the treatment of ancient texts in the 1950s. For example, having just read Mary Beard’s SPQR, I was astonished by her assertion that Romulus was a fictional creation and not a real historical figure. She also takes great care in looking at archeological remains and the few stone carvings that have survived from the earliest days of the ancient world. always pointing out how poor the evidence is for any concrete assertions that people might make.
    This book sounds good though but from your write-up, I suspect that it is also very dated.

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    • Ste J

      07/03/2016 at 11:10

      If I hadn’t already put this on my wishlist thanks to your review then I certainly would now. There does seem a reticence to challenge long held assertions even if they now appear erroneous but it is good to have scholars who will point out where we should be wary and tell us what we actually do know with confidence.

      Ages in Chaos is very dated, Try David Rohl if you want something more recent and interesting along the lines of the new chronology. He has a new book out about the Exodus which I need to get my sticky hands on.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  4. gargoylebruce

    06/03/2016 at 21:15

    I thought you were going to say it brought back memories of one summer …when the locusts were plentiful or some such!

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    • Ste J

      07/03/2016 at 10:18

      You don’t get summers like that anymore, we dined in style on those long evenings.

      Liked by 1 person

       
      • gargoylebruce

        09/03/2016 at 00:53

        Oh, the protein! You could just pluck it out of the air!

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  5. clarepooley33

    06/03/2016 at 23:45

    I also become a little sceptical if a story/theory is just a little too precise with no murky areas. I prefer an author to give me all the facts and recount all the details of their research. This makes for a very long-winded book but I would prefer to know as much about the subject as possible. The archaeology is all we have to go on and I agree that this should be the primary source and written records as back-up and secondary sources.

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    • Ste J

      07/03/2016 at 10:33

      There seems an obsession with making an idea fit the fact, I would much rather trust a writer who says that they have a theory and there are some bits that there is no proof for but for logical leaps. I trust that person more than the one who picks out bits that suit their case, that theory soon breaks down under the readers scrutiny before we even get to an expert taking it apart.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  6. Jilanne Hoffmann

    07/03/2016 at 20:35

    Although I’m not familiar with the subject matter of this text, I’m a stickler for checking citations and bibliographies. If the source is questionable, how can you base your conclusion on that source? If there’s any question, the author must say so and explain why he/she is tending in one direction or another. It doesn’t sound like the author has built his house on a solid foundation, here, or am I misunderstanding you?

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    • Ste J

      08/03/2016 at 10:10

      The problem the author has is using texts as a primary source, the veracity of ancient texts is always something of a challenge but to not use it in conjunction with archaeology and such is always going to be problematic in proving a case. I started to make a list of things to check out but by the end of chapter three I had so many things I wanted to check out that I gave up with the idea.

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      • Jilanne Hoffmann

        08/03/2016 at 19:33

        Aha! I understand, now. I can see why you wouldn’t want to spend all that potential reading time investigating the author’s points. On to the next book!

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  7. shadowoperator

    07/03/2016 at 22:20

    If you’re serious about reading something a bit more modern which will knock your socks off and be historically accurate by modern standards, there is a six-volume book (or possibly it’s four volumes, very thick; I was only 3/4 way through the first volume when I had to pack my heavy books away) called “A History of Private Life.” It’s fascinating, so far, at least. It isn’t about major historical events, really, though their impact is occasionally considered. It’s rather about what day-to-day life was like at different periods of time in various parts of the world. I was fascinated to find out what some of the conditions of slavery were like in Rome and Geece on a day-to-day basis, not at all what one would expect as a regular thing. It’s by a French couple, I believe a husband-and-wife team, sort of a latter day Will and Ariel Durant (and you probably have already run across them in other researches, they were famous). The French couple wasn’t known to me before this set of volumes, but it’s probably the most interesting kind of history for me to read, as I prefer stories of everyday life and don’t care too much for battles and major world events, etc. Give it a look-see if you can, though you may prefer to take it out of a library rather than buy it: numerous volumes, especially hardback, can be quite costly, and I know you’re a bookaholic (otherwise known as bibliophile) already, and probably have your funds earmarked for other projects.

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    • Ste J

      08/03/2016 at 10:06

      My funds tend to be as shifting as my book fancies, I have mastered how to find my Amazon wishlist on my phone so I can find things as I am pottering around. I do love a good hardback, especially when in the pub so I will see what I can find when I next go out. I do prefer to own rather books, especially one’s recommended by your good self. It sounds like a really insightful series and if that weren’t enough the quest for a complete set is always a noble cause.

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  8. Resa

    08/03/2016 at 22:40

    Whew!
    I love history, and I’ve always liked when the biblical stories line up with archaeological history. Yes, I have read the bible… although I am not practicing any religion. I’m almost sure not to read this book, as I am, too, shallow to bother sifting the truth from the sands of time & supposition.
    Nonetheless, you have offered the world’s citizens’ a fair and educated opinion.
    This makes you a brainy book rock star. ⭐
    Resa

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    • Ste J

      09/03/2016 at 08:10

      I think biblical literacy is important whether people believe or not so that’s proof you aren’t shallow. A brainy book rock star, that is the first time I have been called that, I’m actually proud of that, I must have that printed on a t-shirt along with your blog addresses.

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  9. macjam47

    10/03/2016 at 15:37

    Steve, I’m not sure how you find these books and then write such absorbing reviews. I think most would shy away from some of the books you read, but you jump right in and give us the real low-down on each book. Once again, you have written a fabulous review. Etymology has always fascinated me, and who wouldn’t find archaeology equally interesting.
    How you have a fantastic day. Hugs, my dear friend.

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    • Ste J

      10/03/2016 at 20:27

      I’m attracted to the obscure and the different, I’m the guy who has his face in the bottom corners of the book shop using his phone as a torch to get to the hidden ones. That this book has so many things I enjoy, it made it doubly interesting and challenging to not get lost in the ideas and keep a critical mind to it. Still a challenge is always good and it spurs me on to more when I tackle each one.

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  10. aliceatwonderland

    10/03/2016 at 16:31

    There certainly is some history to be taken from the Bible, although it is of course limited by the area in which the people lived. God may know the universe, but the writers only knew as far as they could walk. One thing that gets me is when people take something from the Bible, then try to use archaeology to prove it. Like that there is a lot of salt where the Red Sea was parted, so that story must be true. Orrrr maybe it was an explanation for why the ground was salty there? Also, aren’t we supposed to just have faith, not need a scientific answer? Which is it? I am mostly agnostic, but my kids and husband are regular church goers (I go sometimes). I am fine with religion, as long as people are still able to think critically. So I’m sure books like that are interesting. I love anything history.

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    • Ste J

      10/03/2016 at 20:43

      The tricky thing with biblical archaeology is that if one aspect is proved, then it follws that all the Bible should logically be able to flow through that in evidence. Faith goes so far but there will always be a demand for the physical proof so faith can arguably be made more powerful. At least books like this, whilst lacking do ask questions and open debate and that is always a good thing.

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  11. Sherri

    11/03/2016 at 18:44

    This: ‘…intrigued about all things historical and covered in sand…’ Me too! I would love to go to Egypt, or should I say, I once would have. I was obsessed in becoming an archeaologist but alas, my conviction to do all the hard work along the way was far outweighed by my desire to get a job and save up money to buy a car so I could have a social life. Growing up in the countryside does that to you. My excuse, my bad. How fascinating about the Hittite empire (didn’t exist?) and the possibility of the Israelites being led out of Eqypt by a volcano. A lot to think about, especially in light of modern thinking. Great review my friend, this is great stuff! I’m signing off now…have a great weekend and I’ll catch up with you next week!

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    • Ste J

      11/03/2016 at 21:35

      Well had you become that archaeologist not only would you have sand in uncomfortable places but you may not have gone blogging with us so it is archaeology’s loss and I am fine with that for my own selfish reasons. This book is firmly in the nostalgia camp for me, I enjoy those alternative ideas on history but this one falls apart, partly because of its age – the Hittite empire was confirmed as having been real (and vast as well) – and partly because it s a bit barmy. Enjoy your weekend my friend, chat soon.

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  12. Jeff

    13/03/2016 at 15:57

    There are some things that have to be borne in mind with ancient history. The first is that the documentation that’s used by historians is part of the archaeology. The written record is on clay tablets and papyrus found in tombs along with other artefacts. Most of the dating is carried out comparatively between different accounts from different sources. These sources may have been independent of each other and not in the business of documenting the same events with the same emphases. Another complication is that the period under examination didn’t use our current calendar, probably didn’t always record any dating, or may have recorded dating but this dating isn’t available.
    Historians have to trawl through thousands of documents and decide which ones tell us anything useful. Near where I live, supply lists have been found for the Roman garrisons on Hadrian’s Wall, for example. Piecing them together and placing them among previous finds depends on those finds, where they were found, and the previous scholarship on them. It’s this fragmentary nature to ancient history that makes, compared with modern history, the task of chronology, cause and effect, and so on, arduous and highly contestable. But surely partiality is what makes it fascinating?
    Like historians, their readers need to read several texts to form a picture. And like any of the humanities, history has its outliers as well as its orthodoxies.

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    • Ste J

      13/03/2016 at 20:34

      As part of a jigsaw, the delicate business of piecing together the future is absolutely fascinating, the problem with this book was that it was pretty much based solely on texts and with only that tried to seismically change the accepted chronology by six centuries. If people are to take this seriously then there needs to be more varied evidence to beef up the argument otherwise it becomes more problematic to refute when people start to pick it apart. As a lay reader, I hoped for more to convince me of its validity, selected passages of a text always makes me wary out of context.

      I do enjoy the debate though, there is always a question worth asking or a grey area of accepted teaching, although there does seem to be a worrying trend of these sorts of books not being debated these days so general readers don’t get to hear about the alternative ideas as much.

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      • Jeff

        13/03/2016 at 20:53

        What more varied evidence do alternative historians from the 1950s offer, apart from text, to beef up their arguments? I’m trying to understand how your criticisms apply to the book, it’s just that it’s difficult without specific examples.

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        • Ste J

          13/03/2016 at 21:04

          Sadly the book is away at one of the local charity shops so example wise I am short on. By all accounts from what I have read Velikovsky knew very little of archaeology but if his theories of a six hundred year shift were workable then that would be the best way to do it. To use the Bible as the basis source should require agreeable archaeology for his time frame to make it viable. Even with the Egyptian discoveries, there were a wealth of excavated sites that he could have tested his ideas with.

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          • Jeff

            13/03/2016 at 22:00

            Strange. His acknowledgements open with ‘In composing this reconstruction, I incurred a debt to archaeologists, who for more than a century have toiled in excavating numerous places in the lands of the ancient East; to generations of philologists, who have read the ancient texts; and to those among the scholars who have made easier the work of research by collecting and classifying the material.’
            As this avers, he does seem to vary his sources. By the bible you presumably mean his references to the Septuagint? But he also extensively uses sources from the Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, secondary sources in Arabic (Hari for example), German (Pfluger),
            analysis of the the Talmud (Ginzberg),
            and the primary source for Greek historianship, Herodotus.
            The sites he mentions include Auaris, Pithom, Sekhet-za and Tharu – is your complaint is that his was a desktop exercise rather than hands-on excavation? This would seem to amount to the complaint that a historian isn’t doing the job of a field archaeologist.
            I’m not defending the author. But without enrolling as a classics or ancient history undergrad, from just a cursory glance, I wouldn’t have picked the book up! Way too specialist for me. I salute your boldness in attempting such a work if you haven’t got the read-around to give it context.

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            • Ste J

              14/03/2016 at 13:05

              The archaeology seemed to be lacking in the text itself, there is no references to stratigraphic evidence for his ideas which should be the minimum attempted for an idea that is seismic in its scope. The main archaeological text sources were heavily leaned on and seemed to be done so in a way that suggests his cherry picking of relevant passages to support his theory. My use of Bible over Septuagint was incorrect but made more sense in a review simply to stop people having to Google it, call me helpful or a menace to accuracy!

              My problem with the book overall is the bias to his Jewish heritage, assuming the primacy of the Exodus text above accepted chronology and anythign contrary is wrong and needs to be corrected, all Velikovsky does is give speculation for his theories.

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  13. Jeff

    13/03/2016 at 16:25

    Some helpful stuff here about reading history:
    https://apps.carleton.edu/curricular/history/resources/study/read/readinghistory/
    E H Carr’s What Is History? is a standard that crops up in the secondhand market.

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    • Ste J

      13/03/2016 at 21:00

      That’s a fascinating piece and well worth a reread before I start another history book. I appreciate that the author needs to tell a story, when it comes to ancient history though I like an author that attempts to find the sticky points of a theory and answer them rather than avoid them entirely. Still I suppose a lot of the the time space is at a premium and the right of reply can come in essays about the book more of which I would like to read.

      Liked by 1 person

       

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