A 3,200-year-old text that lay undeciphered for 140 years has finally been translated, revealing details of the military campaign of the fabled Sea People and the downfall of the Hittites. Most importantly, it gives definitive clues about the true identity of Israel’s archnemesis, the Philistines.
The remarkable story behind the story began in 1978 when villagers in the village of Beyköy discovered scattered pieces of a hieroglyphic inscription that, when assembled, was over 95 feet long. At the time, the inscriptions, Luwian hieroglyphics, were indecipherable, but French archaeologist Georges Perrot made detailed copies. But after local residents used the stones to build a mosque and Perrot’s copies disappeared, it seemed that the fabled inscription was gone forever.
Then in 2012, a six-inch-thick manuscript of Perrot’s work was discovered. Dr. Eberhard Zangger, the president of the Luwian Studies Foundation, teamed with Dr. Fred Woudhuizen, a scholar near Amsterdam, who is one of only two dozen people in the world able to decipher Luwian script.
“We believe the frieze to be the only contemporary account describing the fall of the Hittite Empire,” Dr. Zangger told Breaking Israel News. In the Bible, the Hittites are descended from Het, Noah’s grandson, who settled in the land of Canaan, named for Het’s father.
More important to Bible scholars is what the new findings reveal about Israel’s Biblical arch-nemesis: the Philistines. Throughout the Bible, the Philistines controlled the coastal region down to Gaza. This is confirmed by Dr. Zangger’s finding, but with significant additional details.
Some historians theorized that the Philistines were not a specific nation but a conglomeration of marauding states, but the frieze’s description contradicts this theory. The inscription describes in detail the rise of a powerful kingdom called Mira, which launched a military campaign led by Prince Muksus from Troy, now in modern Turkey.
Mira was part of a confederation that comprised ‘the Sea People’, who led a naval expedition into Syria. The Sea People worked their way down the Mediterranean coast, eventually establishing a stronghold in Ashkelon.
In the Bible, the Philistines are described as conquering the coastal region. Some historians conjecture that the term Philistine refers to a confederation of nations. Dr. Zangger admits that his knowledge of the Bible is too limited to draw conclusions, but according to his findings, the Philistines, described in the frieze as Philistia, were clearly an entity unto themselves.
“The Luwian hieroglyphics state that Mira is part of the confederation, which make up the Sea People, and also describes Philistia as being part of the Sea People, all of whom came from Western Asia Minor,” Dr. Zangger explained. “They were not a unit unto themselves but they could form a unit if needed. There were 150 separate place names, and one of them was clearly Philistia.”
Dr. Zangger noted that like the other nations in the confederation, the Philistines came from Western Asia Minor.
Much of the manuscript has yet to be translated, so there may be more remarkable revelations in the future.
“This is one of the more special works of its kind in archaeology today,” Dr. Zangger said, noting that the original inscriptions, stone and bronze, may still come to light.
The team will publish their findings in Talanta archaeological journal in December, but the discoveries are in danger of being discounted due to the source material. Dr. Zangger and Dr. Woudhuizen were, after all, working from a copy of an original that no longer exists. The manuscript’s provenance has been questioned, and it has been suggested that Mellaart used ‘imagined evidence’.
In his rebuttal to skeptics of the text’s authenticity, Dr. Woudhuizen pointed out that it would have been impossible for Mellaart to fake what is by far the longest Luwian inscription discovered to date.
“Luwian hieroglyphic was only deciphered around 1950,” he stated. “I doubt whether anybody had the expertise to produce such an inscription between 1950 and 1989. As a matter of fact, I don’t think anyone could do it even today.”
Dr. Zangger made a final observation that is a poignant lesson for students of ancient history as well as students of the Bible.
“From the text, it is evident that the political and cultural reality was much more complicated than previously thought. Of course we need simplifications to understand and talk about what happened, but we need to remember that these simplifications are not the truth. The truth is much, much larger.”