Thoughts on the Late Bronze Age Collapse, and the enduring Word of God
I am haunted by the series of events known as the Late Bronze Age Collapse. In the 12th century bce the great ancient cultures of the Mycenaeans in Greece and Cyprus, the Hittites in what is now northwest Turkey, the Egyptian New Kingdom, along with civilizations in Babylon, Syria and the Levant all collapsed. A world bound together by the critical natural resource of tin from Afghanistan, and united in trade and political friendships, came apart. Cultures that had lasted 500 years disappeared. Climate change, crop failures, migrations, civil unrest, natural disasters, failed political leadership, and a collapse of international trade converge into an ancient “dark ages”. I am haunted because I see so many echoes of that ancient period in our own.
Luther refers to “good government” in his description of all that is included in our prayer for “daily bread”. Paying attention to ancient history and the world of the Biblical writings makes me mindful that things can go terribly wrong for the human community. There is a moment in Israel when a woman beseeches the king for justice during a time of famine. Her complaint is that she and her companion agreed they would first eat her child and then the other’s, but the mother of the second child reneged and hid her son. (2 Kings 6:24-30). It’s not one of the stories we read to children. It is one of the stories that reminds us of the sorrows of the world
The news is troubling. Enwrapped in political rivalry, we are not mindful of the common good. We do not remember that things can go horribly wrong. Selfish decisions can have terrible consequences. Bombs and guns are not abstract things to those who taste their bitterness. Lies have real and lasting consequence. Fear and greed corrode the social fabric. When parents argue, the children fight. When parents are out of control, the children are out of control and the sorrows of one family can end in harm to others. The painful lessons of Israel’s history are the painful lessons in all of history: when greed, pride and corruption rule, terrible sorrows follow.
But there is another thing about the Late Bronze Age Collapse that matters to us. This was the time when Israel was brought out from Egypt. This was the time when God formed a people at Sinai and bound them with a covenant in which God taught them the way of mercy and faithfulness to one another. This was the time when the words were spoken that formed the foundation for the prophets who were yet to come. From those dark days the Biblical vision of justice and mercy percolates through history.
We haven’t done a good job at living up to that profound Biblical vision. We have a tendency to twist and adapt the words to suit our needs and fancies. We focus on minor details and miss the grand vision. As Jesus said: Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel! (Matthew 23:23-24)
But the vision remains. It plucks and prods us towards mercy. It pushes us towards kindness and faithfulness. It haunts us with stories like the Good Samaritan that challenge us to act like a neighbor towards all people. It calls us to generosity. It shows us the wounded hands and side of Jesus and tells us to love one another. It declares that the Lord is our shepherd and that the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep, setting before us both promise and example. It reveals the living embodiment of all God’s Word on his knees with a basin of water and a towel and calls us to do likewise. It speaks of a bread from heaven that brings God’s true and imperishable life and breathes upon us a new and holy spirit.
So we wrestle with the news and whatever fearful portents we see there. But whether the days ahead are dark or bright, the Word of God abides. It rumbles and sometimes roars through history. It plucks up and throws down kingdoms (Jeremiah 1:10). It lifts up the fallen and carries the weak. It manifests itself in him who said, “I am the vine, you are the branches,” (John 15:5) and summons us to abide in him.
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Image 1: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Orchomenos_boar_tusk_helmets.jpg See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Image 2: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Elephant_or_Hippopotamus_Tooth_Warrior_Head_Wearing_Boar_Tusk_Helmets_(3404330867).jpg By Sharon Mollerus [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Image 3: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Abu_Simbel_Temple_May_30_2007.jpg By Than217 at English Wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Image 4: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lions-Gate-Mycenae.jpg By Andreas Trepte [CC BY-SA 2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons