Hershel Shanks

The parching sun cracks the earth’s surface near Masada, in the Judean wilderness about 35 miles southeast of Jerusalem. Climate affects every aspect of life in the Middle East—where to settle, when and where to plant, where to irrigate, where to lead flocks and which desert ravines to avoid in winter lest they be suddenly inundated by rushing water. In addition to such seasonal and day-to-day fluctuations, major shifts in weather patterns can have a much larger impact. William Stiebing marshals a vast array of evidence—from movements of whole peoples across the Mediterranean to changes in the water levels of the Tigris and Euphrates—to argue that climatic change was responsible for the widespread collapse of Near Eastern civilizations in about 1200 B.C.E.