I continue to read Igor Lipovsky’s Early Isrealites. It has dawned on me that, although he published it in 2012, it is a translation from Russian. I venture to guess that Lipovsky wrote it in the late 1990s.
His major thesis is that Israel and Jacob are two different ancestors of two different tribal groups. The names Jacob and Israel often appear as synonyms in the Hebrew Bible. However, in the oldest sources they sometimes seem to mean two groups that have been added together. Lipovsky takes one of the prophecies of Balaam that way:
For there is no spell against Jacob,
nor is there any divination against Israel.
At this time it must be said of Jacob
and of Israel, ‘Look at what God has done!’ (Numbers 23:23 NET Bible).
He says the uniting of the two peoples happened this way:
First, people called Israel centered around the house of Joseph, lived in the land after they left Egypt in the 16-15th centruy BCE as part of the Hyksos expulsion, which was not just a one-time event. They lived in out-of-the-way, less habitable parts of Canaan. They were the Habiru of the Amarna period and the Israel of the Merneptah Stele.
Second, the house of Jacob and other Amorite groups left Egypt in the 12th century under Moses. He intended to meet up and form an alliance with the northern tribes. He tried to invade southern Canaan but met with defeat in the vicinity of Arad. So the people trekked around to the south of the Dead Sea and came into the Transjordan. They skirted the Edomites and Moabites but Amorite occupied territory still came between the two peoples. Israel from one side and Jacob from the other side attacked the Amorites. With the defeat of the Amorites (Sihon’s kingdom in the Bible), the two tribal groups of Israel and Jacob united.
But they waited a long time to move against the Canaanite low country west of the Jordan. This was because Egypt asserted itself again under Ramses III. It was only after the Egyptians left Palestine when Ramses III died that more conquest in Canaan was possible. This is the real reason for the generation-long gap between the exodus and the conquest. Ramses III ruled from about 1187-56 BCE.
The Book of Joshua describes an all-out invasion of the lowlands. But it contains divergent data. Some things in Joshua might have archeological confirmation for the 12th century. But some definitely do not. So Lipovsky says that the Book of Joshua has lumped together traditions about three chronologically spread out attempts to take land in Canaan.
First, there were attempts to take land by Western Amorites going all the way back to the 23rd century BCE. It is a legend from this era that Lipovsky thinks might lie behind the story of the conquest of Ai (Joshua 8:1-29). It was in the Early Bronze Age that Ai, which means “ruin”, became a pile of ruins and a well-known landmark.
Second, some of the legends may go back to the time when the former Hyksos became Habiru waging war sometimes for and sometimes against Canaanite city states. There may have been victories, especially when Egypt was weaker as in the mid 14th century Amarna period.
But third, and most important, in the 12th century, after Ramses III, Joseph and Jacob together tried to get a foothold in the land. Joshua presents this as a short, victorious campaign. There were many set backs, though, and the conquest was not finished until the time of David.
The above is a broad summary of what Lipovsky envisioned. Mostly it is educated guess-work. He has some fascinating theories about particular biblical reports. I want to deal with some of these in a few more posts.
I remain unconvinced of some of his main points. But his proposal that puts big biblical events in the context of the transition from the 19th to 20th dynasty in Egypt, the late Bronze Age collapse in the Eastern Mediterranean, and the time when archeology tells us there was a burst of new villages in the highlands of Israel–this is very attractive.