Balaam's Kittim Oracle (560 BCE?)

Walter Reinhold Warttig Mattfeld y de la Torre, M.A. Ed.

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I have posited that the Primary History (Genesis-2 Kings) was written ca. 
560 BCE. It follows that if this date is correct for the text's composition, that Balaam's Kittim Oracle may refer to either an event that occurred before that date, or perhaps, that it refers to a future event. I suspect it is the former.

Greenfield's observations, suggest that the Kittim, if descended of the Greeks (Javan or Ionia), dates Genesis to circa the 8th century BCE at the earliest.

"Kition was the important Phoenician establishment on Cyprus since the
9th/8th century BC and Phoenician inscriptions found there refer to the city
as kty. Although there was still a large autochthonous population, the
island was by the 8th century BC essentially Greek in population. This is
acknowledged by the listing of the Kittim as one of the sons of Yawan
(Ionia, and by extension, Greece)..." 

(p. 40. Vol. 3. J.C. Greenfield. "Kittim." G.A. Buttrick. Editor. The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville. Abingdon Press. 1962)

Balaam portrays the Kittim ships as afflicting both Asshur and Eber. This is an important clue as to who is being alluded to and when.  The traditional understanding is that Eber is the ancestor of the Hebrews, who in turn are the ancestors of the Israelites and Jews.  If the Primary History was written ca. 560 BCE, then Eber is most likely either the Israelites or the Jews.


"But ships shall come from Kittim and shall afflict Asshur and Eber; and he shall also come to destruction." (Numbers 24:24)

To narrow the field of inquiry we need to identify a situation, historically speaking, where both Asshur and Eber are being simulatneously "afflicted" by Kittim Ships. 

Traditionally the Kittim have been understood to be a euphemism for the Greeks, or Greek-related peoples.  What period of time witnessed the arrival of Greeks in Palestine, via ships, afflicting the descendants of the Hebrews ?

Some have suggested the Philistines are the Kittim afflicting Israel in Saul's and David's days. The problem though, is that Genesis understands the Philistines to be the descendants of Ham and the Egyptians, so they cannot be the Kittim who are portrayed as being the descendants of Japheth (Genesis 10: 2,6,14).

Does the Hebrew Bible anywhere mention an event that has the descendants of Eber being afflicted by Kittim ?  I suspect that such an event is noted in the book of Jeremiah. The prophet portrays the men of Memphis and of Tahpanhes has having broken the crown of Judah's head-

"Is Israel a slave? Is he a homeborn servant? Why then has he become a prey? The lions have roared against him, they have roared loudly. They have made his land a waste; his cities are in ruins, without inhabitant. Moreover, the men of Memphis and Tahpanhes have broken the crown of your head. Have you not brought this upon yourself by forsaking the Lord your God, when he led you in the way? And now what do you gain by going to Egypt, to drink the waters of the Nile? Or what do you gain by going to Assyria, to drink the waters of the Euphrates?" (Jer. 2:14-18 RSV)

"How well you direct your course to seek lovers !...You shall be put to shame by Egypt as you were put to shame by Assyria. From it too you will come away with your hands upon your head, for the Lord has rejected those in whom you trust, and you will not prosper by them." (Jer 2:33, 36-37)

The book of Jeremiah ends with Judah in captivity, in Babylon, so the events it portrays evidently extend from King Josiah's days to the Exile.

According to Breasted, Greeks were in Memphis and Tahpanhes (Daphnae) under the Saitic Pharaohs:

"The army which Psamtik I now put together was made up of Greeks, Carians and Syrians on the one hand, and on the other of Libyans and their Egyptianized kindred. The Ionians and Carians were stationed on the northeastern frontier near Daphnae, with a branch of the Nile running through their camp..." 

(p.569, "The Restoration." James Henry Breasted. A History of Egypt, From the Earliest Times to the Persian Conquest. New York. Charles Scribner's Sons. 1912)

"Ere long the country was filled with Greek merchants...There was a Greek and Carian quarter in Memphis...By 640 BC Psamtik felt himself strong enough to resume the old projects of conquest in Asia, to revive Egypt's traditional claims upon Syria-Palestine, and to dispute their possession with Assyria. He invaded Philista..." 

(pp. 577, 580, Breasted)

Jeremiah portrays God as angry that Judah has sought alliances first with Assyria and later with Egypt, referring to these nations as "lovers" (its interesting that in oaths of fealty to Assyrian overlords that the vassal has to swear "to love" the overlord), and to Judah as a "Harlot" for abandoning trust in Yahweh to succor them, and establish their freedom and independence.

Baalam portrayed the Kittim as afflictiing both Asshur and Eber, as Jeremiah alludes to Judah being an "ally", seeking out the approval of her Assyrian overlord, we have here I believe, the historical situation that Balaam appears to be alluding to.  Asshur is Assyria and Eber is Judah, Asshur's "ally" and vassal. They are united together and both will suffer affliction at the hands of the Kittim as allies of each other.

About 640 BCE Assyria began the withdrawal from her western empire, her troops were needed to deal with constant rebellions in the eastern empire by Elamites, Babylonians and Medes. In the politcial vaccum occasioned by the Assyrian withdraw stepped Josiah with ambitions to extend Judah's borders to the north with hopes of refounding an empire like David's and Solomon's. At the same time, however, a superpower  -Saitic Egypt-  was also expanding into Canaan. Egypt had traditionally claimed Canaan as part of her empire since the days of the 18th Dynasty (ca. 1560 BCE). The Egyptians, employing Greek mercenaries from Caria, Ionia and Lydia, utilized them in conquering Canaan and evidently, in ending Josiah's kingdom and Judah's brief taste of independence. Josiah was mortally wounded in battle at Megiddo attempting to stop Pharaoh Necho's march to the Euphrates. His successor, Jehoahaz, was removed from power by Necho and carried off in chains to Egypt. Egypt made Judah her vassal and appointed a new king, Jehoiakim, who would be agreeable to being a vassal and "ally" of Egypt (2 Kings 23: 29-36).

Ray noted that Ionians and Carians were probably in Egypt, serving Pharaoh Psammetichus I (664-610 BCE) in the 7th century BCE:

"Carians, together with their Ionian cousins, soon migrated to the banks of the Nile. Herodotus (2.152) dates their arrival to the early years of Psammetichus I, whose reign began about 664...This early date for the Carian's arrival is confirmed by the account of the military historian Polyaenus (2nd century BCE) and archaeolgy suggests that it was in this period that the settlement of Naukratis was first established as an emporium for traders from the Aegean...In 593, Psammetichus II, grandson of the founder of the dynasty, undertook a major campaign into Nubia. This was a time-honored pharaonic custom, but on this occasion the Egyptian army included contingents of Ionians, Phoenicians, and Carians. On their return toward Egypt, they camped at the foot of the colossal statues of the temple of Abu Simbel...One of the Ionians left an inscription below the knee of the broken colossus south of the doorway; this is probably the earliest historical inscription in the Greek language anywhere. Carian inscriptions were also carved on the legs of this colossus."

(Vol. 2, pp.1189-1190,  John D. Ray, "Soldiers to Pharaoh: The Carians of Southwest Anatolia."  Jack M. Sasson. Editor. Civilizations of the Ancient Near East. Peabody, Massachusetts. Hendrikson Publishers. [1995 Charles Scribner & Sons] reprint 2000 rebound into 2 vols)

Stern on Greek pottery in Palestine and Judah  in the 7th - 6th centuries BCE:

"These vessels had a strong influence on the local east Mediterranean potters. "Greek lines" are characteristic of the local coastal pottery of the 7th and early 6th centuries BCE all along the shores of Phoenicia, Palestine, and Philista. But their influence expanded far beyond the coastal region, penetrating many inland sites in the 7th to 6th centuries, both Judaean settlements and those of Transjordanian states. It is today quite impossible to consider Palestinian 7th century BCE pottery assemblages without looking at Greek imports. These East Greek and Corinthian vessels are known today from all coastal sites from north to south...Many have been found at interior sites...and in Judah (Tell Malhata)...It is noteworthy that in the course of counting all the mortaria finds of the early type, it became clear that most sites from which these vessels originate lie near the East Greek islands of Rhodes and Samos, and western Anatolia (sites in Lydia, Caria and Lycia)..."

(Vol.2, p.219, "The Greek Penetration, The Import of Greek Pottery." Ephraim Stern. Archaeology of the land of the Bible, The Assyrian, Babylonian and Persian Periods, 732-332 BCE. Anchor Bible Reference Library. New York. Doubleday. 2001. ISBN 0-385-42450-7)

Stern on the presence of Greeks in Palestine and Judah in the 7th century BCE:

"Herodotus (2.152,154), relates that Pharaoh Psamtik I (664-610 BCE), founder of the 26th dynasty, hired Greek and Carian mercenaies. It seems likely that other contemporary rulers used Greek mercenaies as well and that the soldiers stationed at Mezad Hashavyahu were hired by King Josiah of Judah. The fortess was apparently destroyed during Pharaoh Necho's campaign in 609 BCE, the same year that Necho defeated Josiah at Megiddo. While some scholars have suggested that this fort belonged to the Egyptian king and that Greeks were in his hire, not a single Egyptian find was uncovered in the two excavations  conducted here." 

(p. 223, Ephraim Stern,"The Greek Penetration, The Population in 7th Century BCE Phoenicia and Palestine")

"The findings at Mezad Hashavyahu and Migdol led some scholars to assume a cluster of fortresses in the Judaean kingdom partly manned by Greeks, especially during the reign of Josiah...Yigael Yadin accepted Aharoni's view that the kittiyim were Greek soldiers stationed in the garrison at Arad...From this combined evidence of both written documents and archaeological remains, it appears that, even before the arrival of the Assyrians, but mainly during and after their period of domination, there was Greek penetration into Palestine by both traders and mercenaries. No discussion of the archaeology of Palestine of this period can ignore them, and in any case, their presence here seems to reflect somewhat more than the results of regular trade relations alone, as was recently suggested by J. Waldbaum."

(pp. 226-7, Ephraim Stern, "The Greek Penetration, The Population in 7th Century BCE Phoenicia and Palestine.")

The Kittim ships were ships that brought the Greek mercenaries of Ionia, Lydia and Caria to the shores of Egypt to serve in the armies of the Saitic Pharaohs. After Egypt had conquered Canaan and Judah, some Kittim ships may have directly docked at the ports dotting the Philistine and Phoenican coasts, providing more mercenaries for the Pharoahs.

Rations for the Kittim were found inscribed on pottery fragments (called ostraca) at Tell Arad, a Judaean fortress in the Negeb, and dated to the late 7th or early 6th century BCE. This suggests to some scholars that either Greek mercenaries had been hired by Josiah or that the Saitic Pharaohs may have left Kittim mercenaries in key locations to supervise the collecting of tribute imposed on the Jews by Necho, and ensure their loyalty to Egypt.

It would appear then, that Judah's knowledge of the Greeks arose in the course of the 7th through 6th centuries BCE, before the Primary History was written ca. 562-561 BCE.

It is my understanding, then, that Balaam is alluding to events transpiring in the course of the 7th century BCE, Judah's being an ally of Assyria, and both of them being afflicted by the Greek mercenaries serving in the armies of the Saitic Pharoahs.  

Asshur's "affliction" at the hands of the Kittim, was that due to their military aid, the Saitic Pharaohs were able to throw off the Assyrian yoke, re-establishing Egypt's independence, then wrest away from Assyria the western part of the Assyrian empire in Canaan, Phoenicia and Syria.  

Eber's "affliction" at the hands of the Kittim, was that these mercenaries stationed in Memphis and Tahpanhes, brought about Judah's defeat, the death of good king Josiah, and the occupation of Judah.  So, "both" Asshur and Eber "suffered" at the hands of the Kittim. 

Balaam predicted that a day would come that the power of the Kittim would end. That day arrived in the early 6th century BCE when Nebuchadrezzar appeared in Canaan and with his armies devastated the areas of Judah and Philista, carrying off into exile many of these nations' peoples. The Babylonians did not resettle the cities they destroyed, they remained unoccupied ruin heaps until the return from exile ca. 538 BCE under Cyrus' Persians, who defeated Babylon. 

Archaeologists have noted that Greek pottery from Attica, Ionia, Caria, Rhodes and other locations was plentiful in Palestine and reached even into Judah from the 8th through the 6th centuries, but that after Babylon had devastated the area, the Greek pottery ceased to be present in Palestine to any degree.  Balaam's oracle had been fulfiled, God, using Babylon as his agent of vengenace, had broken the Kittim Ships' power, first by chasing Egypt out the area, then by destroying the coastal cities that had established maritime trade relations with the Greeks.

Stern on the absence of Greek pottery after Nebuchadrezzar devastates Palestine:

"As destroyers the Assyrians and Babylonians had much in common. But the periods that followed their conquets could not be less alike...While the Assyrians left a clear imprint of their presence in Palestine, there is a strange gap after the Babylonian destruction. Call it an archaeological gap, if you wish...But the strange thing is that above the remains left by these destructions, we find no evidence of occupation until the Persian period, which began in about 538 BCE. For roughly half a century- from 604 BCE to 538 BCE- there is a complete gap in evidence suggesting occupation. In all that time, not a single town destroyed by the Babylonians was resettled...the only indications of a Babylonian presence in Palestine are the massive destruction levels the Babylonians left behind. These are indeed impressive, but there is nothing above them that can be attributed to the Babylonian period. The Babylonian destruction of the major harbor towns along the Palestinian coast also ended the previously intensive import of Greek ceramics into the country. As scholar Saul Weinberg has lamented, "We are left with a gap of almost a centruy for which we have so little imported Greek pottery that it is of no help just where it is most needed." 

(pp. 45-47, Ephraim Stern, "The Babylonian Gap." Biblical Archaeology Review. Nov. Dec. 2000. Vol. 26. No.6)


I have argued that "Balaam's Kittim Oracle" appears to be relating to events occurring in the course of the 7th and 6th centuries BCE (640-587 BCE). The author of the Primary History, written ca. 562-560 BCE, knew of the Kittim's power, and how their power brought about "affliction" for "BOTH" Assyria and Judah. He also knew of the "ending" of their power via God's use of Nebuchadrezzar as his agent of vengenace. It is my understanding that Balaam's Kittim Oracle, then, was an "after the fact" prognostication of 562-560 BCE.

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