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Canaanite female lyre player - The Megiddo Ivory, circa 1300 BCE 



In this section, I wish to explore fascinating evidence of the influence that both the musical culture of Canaan & ancient Egypt had on the evolution of the music of the ancient Hebrews. During the course of my research, I have also found some compelling arguments that these ancient cross-cultural influences may have gone even deeper - and that just possibly, the ancient Canaanites and even some of the ancient Egyptians themselves, may have actually been the ancient Hebrews!



The influence of the musical culture of ancient Egypt, was firmly in place in ancient Canaan, well before the Biblical narrative of the conquest of the land of Canaan by the ancient Israelites! Indeed, the per-existing Canaanite musicians guilds found in Canaanite cultural centres, such as Ugarit, may in fact be the ultimate origin which influenced the formation of the Levitical Musician's Guild for the music which was to be later performed in the Temple of Jerusalem...

Indeed, according to the fascinating archaeological research of Israel Finkelstein, in his book "The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts ", there is a growing body of evidence that the Israelites, were, in fact, originally Canaanites! In short, Dr Finkelstein's extensive research has revealed that  Canaan was a city state, two-tier society, of monarchs & ruling classes who were under Egyptian control, and an oppressed lower class of society. 

In 1200 BCE, there began what is now referred to in archaeology, as the "Bronze Age Collapse"

This was a dramatic period of social revolution, migrations and upheavals which eventually spread through the entire ancient Near East, as described here in Wikipedia:

"The Bronze Age collapse is a transition in southwestern Asia and the Eastern Mediterranean from the Late Bronze Age to the Early Iron Age that some historians believe was violent, sudden and culturally disruptive. The palace economies of the Aegean and Anatolia which characterized the Late Bronze Age were replaced, after a hiatus, by the isolated village cultures of the Ancient Dark Age.

Between 1206 and 1150 BCE, the cultural collapse of the Mycenaean kingdoms, the Hittite Empire in Anatolia and Syria, and the Egyptian Empire in Syria and Canaan interrupted trade routes and severely reduced literacy. In the first phase of this period, almost every city between Troy and Gaza was violently destroyed, and often left unoccupied thereafter: examples include Hattusa, Mycenae, Ugarit.

The gradual end of the Dark Age that ensued saw the rise of settled Neo-Hittite Aramaean kingdoms of the mid-10th century BCE and the Neo-Assyrian Empire." 

The waves of this immense social revolution also made themselves felt in Canaan - leading to the collapse of the Canaanite ruling classes from about 1200 BCE. There was a social revolution, in which the formerly oppressed lower classes took over the vacuum left by the former ruling classes of the Canaan, and in the process of striving to set themselves apart from the old Canaanite gods and the old Canaanite society, forged for themselves a new identity & a new religion, as the Israelites:

"But if the Israelites did not flee Egypt and invade Canaan, who were they? After the Arab-Israeli War of 1967, Jewish archaeologists began to thoroughly explore, map, and analyse the hill country of Judah, looking for settlement patterns, evidence of lifestyles, and changes in demography and the environment.

These surveys revolutionized the study of early Israel. The discovery of the remains of a dense network of highland villages -- all apparently established within the span of a few generations -- indicated that a dramatic social transformation had taken place in the central hill country of Canaan around 1200 BCE. There was no sign of violent invasion or even the infiltration of a clearly defined ethnic group. Instead, it seemed to be a revolution in lifestyle. In the formerly sparsely populated highlands from the Judean hills in the south to the hills of Samaria in the north, far from the Canaanite cities that were in the process of collapse and disintegration, about two-hundred fifty hilltop communities suddenly sprang up. Here were the first Israelites. 

Further research showed that there had been two previous waves of settlement: first in the Early Bronze Age around 3500 BCE, peaking at about 100 villages and towns, which were abandoned around 2200 BCE; and again in the Middle Bronze Age shortly after 2000 BCE, resulting in 220 settlements ranging from villages to towns and fortified centres, comprising perhaps 40,000 people. This period ended sometime in the sixteenth century BCE, and the highlands remained sparsely populated for 400 years. The Israelite settlements of around 1200 BCE contained 45,000 people in 250 sites, climaxing in the eighth century BCE with 160,000 people in over 500 sites. During settled times, farming was common; in unsettled times, herding sheep and goats dominated, a pattern found throughout the Middle East. As Canaanite cities collapsed, the pastoralists in the hills were forced to grow their own grain and produce, resulting in settlements.

Thus, the emergence of early Israel was an outcome of the collapse of the Canaanite culture, not its cause. And most of the Israelites did not come from outside Canaan -- they emerged from within it. There was no mass Exodus from Egypt. There was no violent conquest of Canaan. Most of the people who formed early Israel were local people -- the same people whom we see in the highlands throughout the Bronze and Iron Ages. The early Israelites were -- irony of ironies -- themselves originally Canaanites!"

 Archaeology & The Old Testament Review by Sarah Belle Dougherty
In attempting to untangle the ancient historical threads in this argument, there are interesting counter-arguments to Finkelstein's theory in this article:

 "The ancestors of the Israelites did previously live in Canaan at one time (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph's early years), then returned there to conquer and settle. However, the assertion by Finkelstein that the Israelites were originally Canaanites oversteps the evidence, while the conclusion that some shared ancestry, linguistics, and material culture means there was no Exodus or Israelite Conquest is a leap in logic that does not follow from that evidence. The available historical records do not state that the Israelites of the Kingdom period were Canaanites, but only that they had some Canaanite ancestors, while the archaeological data demonstrates that the two groups had shared some aspects of material culture at one time. Further, ethnicity goes beyond mere similarities in genetics, similarities in language, or the sharing of some material culture--the Israelites were clearly distinct from the Canaanites in their theological beliefs, religious practices, diet, and political structure, except in the cases where certain Israelites adopted various Canaanite religious practices (cf. the book of Judges). Therefore, the ancient Israelites were not just Canaanites as some scholars have argued, but instead an ethnic group that intermarried with people from various regions, including Canaan, and adopted some aspects of Canaanite culture in the Bronze and Iron Ages."




Taking the connections between the ancient Hebrews, Canaanites and the ancient Egyptians even further, to its ultimate conclusion, I have recently found the following video documentary, presenting fascinating arguments that not only were the ancient Hebrews influenced by the culture of the ancient Egyptians - some of them may have actually been the ancient Egyptians!

The video documentary below cites the archaeological research, which presents evidence in claiming that the Biblical Joseph can be indentifed as  the Grand Vizier Yuya, who served under two 18th Dynasty Pharaohs, Thutmosis IV and Amenhotep III, in the middle of the 14th Century BCE.  

The documentary also puts forward intriguing arguments that none other than the Biblical character of Moses himself, may have actually been the rebel Egyptian Pharaoh, Akenhaten..who is significantly, having banished worship of the entire pantheon of traditional ancient Egyptian gods, is already known to be first founder of any form of Monothesism in History, in the worship of the only the Aten (Sun Disk) as the one true god: 




I am not an Egyptologist, so I cannot comment or critically appraise these arguments in any great detail , other than to simply present them -


"Was Yuya the Biblical Joseph? In the Cairo Museum resides the remarkably well-preserved mummy of the Grand Vizier Yuya, who served under two 18th Dynasty Pharaohs, Thutmosis IV and Amenhotep III, in the middle of the 14th Century BCE. Yuya and his wife, Thuya, are the only non-royal persons buried among the Pharaohs in the Valley of the Kings, the New Kingdom's famous royal burial ground. Prior to the discovery of the boy king Tutankhamun's fabled tomb in 1923, the tomb of Yuya and Thuya was the only almost-intact burial found in the Valley of the Kings. Yuya is, in fact, the Biblical patriarch Joseph. Yuya matches up with the Biblical Joseph in virtually every particular. And the recent DNA study published in the Journal of the AMA 2/17/10 shows that Yuya's genes were represented throughout the Royal Family to the end of the dynasty, making his family, the Israelites, very closely related to the Royal Family during the last four generations of the 18th Dynasty. And his son, Aye was the very last Pharaoh of that Dynasty." (the detailed notes about the video above which I found on YouTube)

...the possible evidence of ancient cross-cultural connections between ancient Egypt, Canaan and the ancient Hebrews, may in fact, have been at a level as deep as their actual DNA itself! 

There are lots of inaccuracies in this documentary, though, as kindly pointed out to me by acquaintances I have corresponded with on the Facebook Archaeology News Network - for example, Ay was the Grand Vizier not Yuya!   

However, the arguments presented in the documentary below, certainly add plenty of fuel to further verify my own research, in my quest to explain the evidence of the overwhelming influence of ancient Egyptian culture had on the  music of ancient Canaan, and ultimately, on the music of the ancient Hebrews, since it seems that that many of the the ancient Hebrews were in fact, for the most part, either related by marriage to Canaanites (as described in the Biblical texts), or according to Finkelstein, were descendants of the Canaanite underclass, who forged their new identity as the Israelites, along their new revolutionary brand of Monotheism,  in the void left by the collapse of their former Canaanite elite ruling class, which collapsed along with so many other cultures & civilizations around 1200 BCE, during the period now known as the Bronze Age Collapse.

In summary, no matter what the precise nature of the interconnected relationship was, between the ancient Israelites, Canaanites and ancient Egyptians, the fact remains that there were many close cross-cultural connections between these ancient peoples - and with with that knowledge, music, the most universal cross-cultural language of all, must have been one of them!

As an attempt to evoke this ancient musical cross-cultural connection between ancient Egypt, Canaan and Israel, here is my arrangement of the traditional Hebrew song, "Zemer Atik" (fittingly translating from the Hebrew as 'Ancient Melody'), performed on a replica of an actual surviving ancient Egyptian lyre preserved in Leiden; a typical form of Canaanite asymmetrical lyre which almost certainly was introduced to ancient Egypt during the reign of the Canaanite Hyksos and which is almost identical to the famous illustration of a Canaanite lyre depicted on the Megiddo Ivory, an illustration of which was depicted at the beginning of this investigation:







In the 18th and 19th Dynasties of ancient Egypt, Canaanite slave girls, particularly musicians and dancers, "were a highly valued commodity..." ( p.86,"Music in Ancient Israel/Palestine", Joachim Braun).

Fascinating contemporary descriptions from ancient Egypt of this phenomenon can be found in the Amarna Letters, from the 14th century BCE, "To Milkilu, Prince of Gezer. Thus the King. Now I have sent thee this tablet to say to thee: Behold, I am sending to thee Hanya, the commissioner of the archers, together with goods, in order to procure fine concubines: silver, gold, garments, turquoise, all sort of precious stones, chairs of ebony, as well as every good thing. Total: 40 concubines in whom there is no blemish" (ANET, 487; Amarna-Letter RA, xxxi) . These Canaanite slave girls were also dancers and musicians...

Braun goes onto say "The singers of the local Canaanite aristocracy, however, were even more popular", and quotes a further fascinating ancient Egyptian letter from c.1500 BCE - in the fifteenth century BCE, an Egyptian governor in Canaan wrote to Rewasha, Prince of Tannnach near Megiddo, regarding Rewasha's daughter, " As for your daughter who is in the town of Rubutu, let me know concerning her welfare; and if she grows up you shall give her to become a singer" (Albright, 1944; ANET, 490). In other words, a daughter from the Canaanite aristocracy was to become a singer in the Temple of Amun at Karnak, and to take a vow of chastity.

One of the actual names of these musicians from Canaan who went to Egypt to become a singer in the Temple of Amun is also documented - she was called Kerker, and she was the minstrel of the ancient Egyptian god Ptah, who also had a shrine in Ashkelon. Braun goes on to describe how four ivory tablets dating from the 14-13th century BCE describe both the god Ptah and his servant and musician together: "Servant of her Mistress every day, the singer of Ptah, Lord of the Life of the Two Lands, and Great Prince of Ashkelon, Kerker" (Loud, 1939; ANET, 263).

Regarding Kerker, Braun goes on to mention the work in a paper from 1956 of the musicologist, Albright: "Albright believes that the Kerker goes back to biblical Calcol, whom in I Chronicles 2:6 mentions together with the musicians Heman and Ethan, possibly documenting the emergence of musicians' guilds and as such a Canaanite origin of Judean Temple music"

In the section of this website discussing the work of Suzanne Haik-Vantoura, in my page entitled "The 3000 Year Old Music of the Bible Revealed" (which describes how she claimed to have found representations of "chironomy": a form of ancient Egyptian-based musical notation in the mysterious "Te Amim" accents, attached to the oldest surviving Masoretic text of the Hebrew Old Testament! ), this ancient musical exchange of ideas between ancient Egypt and the land of Canaan, prior to the emergence of the Israelites in around the 12th century BCE, may well be one explanation of how this ancient Egyptian-based musical notation found its way into the Hebrew Bible?