Reflections on Brinkman’s Notae Bibliographicae by an interested layman.
Professor J.A. Brinkman has written the'Notae Bibliographicae' which is reproduced in the previous blog. He is the author of the standard work ‘A political history of post-Kassite Babylonia’ (1968 Analecta Orientalia 43). Chronology at the Crossroads has at least provoked comment here from the very top of the field, and it may be worth reflecting on what he has to say.
One would never guess from Professor Brinkman's brief paragraph that the question of chronological revision, even major revision, has received considerable and serious attention in recent years. For instance, the chairman of the trustees of the Egypt Exploration Society, Dr Aidan Dodson has written a new and hopefully authoritative account of the disputed period in Egypt. His new book dealing with the Egyptian Third Intermediate period is entitled 'Afterglow of Empire', and in it he devotes a sizable part of the introduction and a separate appendix to the chronological debate. It is a good place to find a summary of the latest scholarly thinking. He makes only a fairly small revision to Kitchen's dates, finding that he cannot accept the assumptions of the major revisionists, though he thanks them for their stimulating debate. He states what those assumptions are. He confirms his reliance on the Assyrian connection which is now coming under scrutiny from Newgrosh in Chronology at the Crossroads.
So Brinkman's whole tone seems to be several years out of date.
The only specific errors (‘far-fetched concepts’) found by Brinkman are trivial. A ‘0 BC’ slip-up; and a debatable use of Latin. Can he not find a more signicant miscalculation than these? Would we then be correct in assuming that there are no major mistakes in the book?
Why not indicate where the ‘few useful critical observations are’? What are they?
What details are ‘skewed’? Examples?
There is nothing in Chronology at the Crossroads about “making the Amarna kings contemporary with the early Israelite monarchy.” This is an erroneous criticism by Professor Brinkman. On the contrary such topics are deliberately omitted (p8). Newgrosh hardly mentions the Bible, and has nothing to say about the relative chronologies of Egypt and the Hebrew accounts. It is a condemnation of earlier work by Newgrosh and others, but says nothing about the merits or otherwise of this new book.
It correctly gives an idea of the radical degree of Newgrosh’s revision, to be sure, but perhaps also betrays no little prejudice. The arguments in C at C have no direct connection with the Bible, though they do have implications for the Amarna Letters and therefore Egypt.
If Newgrosh’s work is worthless, as the tone of this note would imply, why should Brinkman bring it to the attention of readers of Orientalia?
If it has some value (‘a few useful critical observations’), then the book merits a sensible review, not an assassination! Clearly, Brinkman clearly considers that the revised sequencing of rulers is incorrect – but where are the mistakes in Newgrosh’s line of reasoning? We are none the wiser from reading Brinkman’s paragraph.
Does Professor Brinkman really demonstrate here that he has actually grasped and weighed up the close reasoning involved in the book? Does he indicate exactly where he thinks the errors lie, either in the understanding of evidence, or the chain of reasoning? There is no doubt about his verdict: but where are his arguments? He appears to have assumed that because the result is radical, and perhaps because it is written by an outsider, then the book does not merit serious consideration. One would think that it ought to be easy for him to highlight major errors of the work, but he does not! He just pours scorn on the result. This lack of specific pertinent criticism is extremely interesting. ‘The whole book is worthless’! Is this an adequate scholarly response? Or is it the well-known phenomenon of cognitive dissonance?
For instance, where does Brinkman stand on the identification of Ashur-uballit I as the writer of the Amarna Letters 15 & 16? We can’t tell from this brief comment, but he will no doubt adhere to the traditional assumption that they were one and the same person. What then does he have to say about the many differences between the two homonyms? We are not told. This is a crucial synchronism – is it really so secure? Why does Brinkman not comment, when this point is pivotal?
If, on the other hand, Brinkman is prepared to posit a different, and hitherto unknown, Ashur-uballit then where would he place the new king? One would be interested in seeing his suggestion!
The ‘note’ harks back to previous proponents of radical revision, and attempts to condemn Newgrosh by association with them. Newgrosh’s new research however does not rely upon those earlier works, but produces independent arguments. Chronology at the Crossroads is certainly radical in its amendment of dates, but does not depend upon, or derive support from the previous books which chiefly concerned different countries. This new work is far more detailed than the vague suggestions made in Centuries of Darkness, for instance, and proposes a different solution. It contains a new case for revision, which justifies new responses, not a testy ‘we’ve heard all this before’. No-one has heard some of Newgrosh’s lines of reasoning before! Specific counter-arguments would carry weight – but not this ‘guilt by association’.
Regardless of the merits or otherwise of Newgrosh’s particular dating framework, the result is the removal of the ‘Middle Assyrian Dark Age’, a period for which little evidence exists. It would be valuable to hear Professor Brinkman’s views on the plausibility of any such attempted removal, however achieved.
In his book, Newgrosh has drawn upon previous scholars’ papers which have suggested that the AKL registers parallel rulers within its linear format. (we understand that this is readily discussed for the earlier portions of the AKL – the Reade hypothesis). Newgrosh applies this existing approach to the Middle Assyrian period - presumably for the first time. He points to markers (claimed to be a new discovery, and Brinkman misses an opportunity to comment) within the AKL which indicate when such periods of dual kingship began. Why should this new example of an accepted feature be treated so dismissively, one wonders, when earlier instances are no longer controversial?
Remember, Newgrosh does not claim to have a total answer, but to have found one possible chronological model which satisfies all the attested synchronisms. Newgrosh has drawn up a catalogue of these – believed to be the first such comprehensive list. Is this one of the ‘useful aspects’ of the book to which Brinkman alludes? And is it true that such a list has not been compiled before? Professor Brinkman would be the ideal person to comment on this, but fails to do so. In his haste to condemn, he has made no comment upon several significant claims in the new book.
Brinkman criticises the complexity of the new scheme, but is this really a valid argument? History is complex. Evidence for concurrency, or otherwise, between particular individuals would carry more weight. The Newgrosh revision is the simplest one to comply with the synchronisms; at least that is the claim. The answer will turn out to be not necessarily the simplest, but the best fit with the evidence.
In chapter one of his book Newgrosh brings together several arguments that the conventional dating scheme is in crisis, yet Brinkman makes no comment on these problems. Is the standard model sound or not? Brinkman does not say! His comments imply it is impertinent to question it, but many scholars acknowledge there are problems. It is not unreasonable to look for new solutions, however radical. Whether right or wrong, the new thesis is rational, but Brinkman’s criticisms are not!
The title of the book, Chronology at the Crossroads, reflects the very divergent paths that result from just a few different initial assumptions. If one route is correct, then the other is indeed a huge wrong turning! The resultant historical pictures are 'chalk and cheese', though they flow from just a few simple initial changes.
In his ‘Note’, Professor Brinkman has written neither a review, nor a refutation, and has employed a tone that suggests the new work has touched a nerve. On reflection his brief paragraph stimulates curiosity to look further into this subject. It is one reason why this website was created!