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The Oxford History of the Biblical World An in-depth chaptered work by leading scholars providing a chronological overview of the history of biblical times.

The Decline of the Early Bronze Age

The last quarter of the third millennium brought instability and decline throughout the ancient Near East. In Mesopotamia, the first great empire, that of the Akkad dynasty, collapsed in 2193 BCE, ushering in nearly a century of political fragmentation. In Egypt the Old Kingdom monarchy, which had produced the mighty pyramids, also dissolved after centuries of relative stability, leading to the chaos of the First Intermediate Period (2160–2010 BCE). In Syria-Palestine, no written documents survive to describe the events, but the archaeological record testifies to a serious economic and political decline there too.

In Palestine, evidence points to a nearly complete collapse of urban civilization at the end of the Early Bronze III period (2300 BCE), a situation that lasted about three hundred years. Habitation of the fortified cities ceased, with many destroyed violently and others simply abandoned. This period is now most commonly called Early Bronze IV, although some scholars designate it Middle Bronze I or Intermediate Early Bronze–Middle Bronze. At this time most of the population of Palestine, on both sides of the Jordan River, followed a pastoral existence, regularly migrating to various seasonal camps throughout the region. Such campsites provide few remains that archaeologists can locate. Only one town, Khirbet Iskander, occupying a 3-hectare (7.5-acre) site in Jordan, is known to have been surrounded by a wall during the Early Bronze IV period. Other villages existed in Transjordan at this time, but they were only pale reflections of the urban culture that had preceded them. Few settlements existed west of the Jordan River until about halfway through the period, when seasonal villages were constructed in the southern marginal lands.

Not until about 2000 did cities begin to revive in Palestine. Their reappearance marks the inauguration of the Middle Bronze Age (2000–1550 BCE), the period that saw the genesis of the Canaanite culture that would dominate Palestine throughout the second millennium. From this culture Israel would emerge around 1200 BCE.

In northern Syria, excavations have yet to give a clear picture of the Early Bronze IV period. Evidence from such sites as Ebla and Leilan bespeaks a significant decline during this time, and Leilan may have been abandoned for a while. Certainly this region avoided the complete urban collapse that befell Palestine. Thus, following its destruction, Ebla was rebuilt, although on a more modest scale. Despite the decline, however, the written sources of Sumer show that extensive trade continued to move through cities such as Ebla. Gudea of Lagash in southern Mesopotamia mentions trade dealings with several cities and regions in Syria, including Ebla and Ursu, during the twenty-second century. Cedars from the Lebanon Mountains, as well as wood, precious metals, and other goods from Anatolia (Asia Minor), continued to cross Syria as caravans brought them into Mesopotamia. This kind of trade also took place during the Ur III Dynasty (ca. 2112–2004 BCE). Except for these scraps of information from Sumer, we know little else from this time about northern Syria's social makeup or even the location of its primary political entities, although several city-states remained viable despite the chaos that erupted from time to time.

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