In the late 13th century and the 12th centuries BCE hundreds of villages and farmsteads appeared in the inland hill country of Canaan. Most scholars now identify these villages with the beginnings of Israel.
In Israel’s Ethnogenesis, Avraham Faust calls attention to the fact that most all of these villages and farmsteads seem to have disappeared by sometime in the 10th century. What can be the explanation for this?
Examining the archeological evidence more closely, Faust comes up with a four important aspects. First, people abandoned most all these rural sites that we have excavated. Second, it happened in two stages, one in the first half of the 11th century and one in the first few decades of the 10th century. Third, these stages took place in two regions. The 11th century phase happened in the core of the hill country, Benjamin and the areas adjacent to it. The 10th century phase happened in the rest of the country from Galilee to the Negev. Fourth, the abandonment of the rural villages corresponds to a growth in urbanization, especially at the time of the 10th century phase (p. 126).
There have been several explanations offered for this. Faust believes the most likely has to do with security. The rural villages were unfortified. The urban centers were walled and defended.
It is worthwhile to note that this resettlement started before the monarchy arose. So the explanation cannot be that the kings liked to build cities. It is more likely that a security threat arose first. In the biblical account the monarchy itself came about as a response to security threats for Ammon and the Philistines. So Faust’s scenario at least partly corresponds to the text.
He thinks a combination of voluntary resettlement by villagers and later forced resettlement by the monarchy explains the pattern. The area of Benjamin shows the most elaborate social organization at the earliest date. It has the most dense population and the most central towns at an early date. It was also closest and most likely to feel a threat from the Philistine city states of Ekron and Gath.
Although 1 Samuel and the Dead Sea Scrolls’ expanded (perhaps older) version of 1 Samuel say the earliest threat to Benjamin was from Ammon, Faust says that only the Philistines could have initiated this process of resettlement. He wants to rely on what we know from material culture dug up by archeology more than what the texts tell us. Indeed there are reasons to see the text of 1 Samuel as a bit confused in its account of Saul’s ascension and wars.
I was intrigued by one of ways others have explained the beginning of the monarchy and urbanization. In the clans in the hill country villages there would eventually be a problem with inheritance. After a while land could no longer get divided among a man’s sons without making plots too small for a family to live on. So their would be a bunch of displaced young men. The monarchy and the new cities offered a place to these men. They could be soldiers. They could be government officials. Maybe they could even be priests.
Although I would agree more with Faust’s idea that security worries caused resettlement, there does seem to have been a supply of displaced young men. 1 Samuel 22:2 describes the people recruited to David’s band or gang.
“And everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was bitter in soul, gathered to him.”
If you look at the Middle East today you will see that failed economies there have left a whole bunch of young men with minimal prospects. They often get recruited to nasty groups like ISIS. Something similar spurs young men to join gangs in American cities. So it is not good when young men have little hope for their futures. When that happens something in society is not working.