The Sea Peoples: Weshesh
Sat Sep 6, 2008 05:19
126.96.36.199 (XFF: 188.8.131.52)
The final people in this series are the Weshesh. They formed part of the coalition against Ramesses III but were not mentioned in the time of Merenptah. There seems to be less speculation about distant origins of the Weshesh than all of the other Sea Peoples. There is some tentative speculation about a link with Wilios/Ilios, i.e. Troy in N.W. Anatolia. Woudhuizen suggests that they were the same people as the Italian Oscans.
This sort of speculation is not convincing for the same reasons as have been explained for the other Sea Peoples. In addition the fact that Ramesses III attacked the Weshesh in their homeland rules out the Troad or Italy. The absence of any evidence that the Oscans were ever a sea faring people is another major obstacle to what Woodhuizen suggests.
Bearing in mind that Weshesh is once again an ethnic name with the Egyptian -esh ending I find a theory previously posted on Wikipedia very persuasive. This identifies the Weshesh with the Israelite tribe of Asher. The relevant comments included:
“Egyptian accounts of the Sea Peoples mention a group named Uashesh/Ueshesh, referred to as the Weshesh by modern scholars for convenience; this name can be decomposed as Uash-esh, meaning men of Uash in Hebrew, which may be a reference to Asher, one or both of the names having been slightly corrupted.”
“A group named Aseru, living in a similar region to Asher in the 14th century BC, are mentioned in Egyptian monuments of the period; though it is probable that the name of Asher derives from these Aseru…”
As well as being one of the peoples that attacked Ramesses III the Weshesh were attacked in their turn by Ramesses III when he campaigned in Syria-Palestine. They are mentioned in conjunction with the Sherden in Papyrus Harris as the Weshesh of the sea. This places the Weshesh in the same general area, probably as neighbours of the Sherden.
According to the Bible (Joshua 19.25 – 30) the tribe of Asher occupied territory immediately to the south of Sidon as far as Carmel, i.e. close to Dor. In other words it seems to have occupied territory in between the Sherden to the north and the Zakar (Tjekker) to the south. The alliance against Ramesses III seems therefore to have included both intrusive Aegean elements (Peleset and at least a component of the Denyen) and some of the rebellious peoples of the Levant.
I don’t think it should be a surprise that we find Israelite tribes like Issachar and Asher in the list of the enemies of Egypt. We know that there was a political entity called Israel in the time of Merenptah. We know that Israel was contemporary with the Philistines. Both Merenptah and Ramesses III campaigned into Syria/Palestine. It would be surprising if the lists of their enemies did not include some Israelite tribes, especially tribes that are known to have had a coastal or maritime connection.
A point to note is that Ramesses III, unlike Merenptah, does not use the term Israel of any of his enemies. It may be that he was simply being more specific about which tribes opposed him. Alternatively it may be that the tribes of Asher and Issachar were not yet part of the Israelite confederation.
It may have been the subsequent actions of the aggressive Peleset in their new homeland that prompted the Israelite alliance to expand and include formerly non-Israelite tribes. Or it simply may be that the name Israel was only really applicable to wars fought by a group of these related tribes together rather than to when they fought on their own account.
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