Bible Review 10:4, August 1994

Climate and Collapse

Did the weather make Israel's emergence possible?

By William H. Stiebing Jr.

The Late Bronze Age did not die a slow, lingering death. It came to a swift end in the 12th century B.C.E., marked by sudden cultural collapse and widespread population shifts. Out of the ashes of the Bronze Age destructions emerged classical Greek culture and biblical Israel. When one considers the contributions these two cultures have made to Western civilization, it becomes clear that the change from the Bronze to the Iron Age in the eastern Mediterranean represents one of the most momentous revolutions in human history.

Could climate also have played a part in the 12th-century B.C.E. collapse of Late Bronze Age societies? I think so. And it is in the context of the tumultuous events taking place throughout the eastern Mediterranean world that the emergence of Israel in Canaan should be understood.

The extent of the social dislocations and cultural discontinuities at the end of the Late Bronze Age is little short of astounding. They extend to almost all the civilizations of the ancient world. We can only briefly survey them.

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