I am finishing today with my treatment of Meindert Dijkstra’s “The Origins of Israel Between History and Ideology”. He uses both Israelite and Egyptian documents. But he thinks both are obscured by ideologies that require us to go behind them critically to see what might have really happened.
So what happened after the time of Merneptah, at the end of the 13th century BCE, and before Pharaoh Sheshonk I invaded around 950 BCE?
We do not have much outside the Bible about the growth of Israel. The growth of a village culture in the highlands happened during this period. Most reason that this must have been Israelite.
But Dijkstra says that we can know a lot about what was going on in the coastal regions of Palestine. He makes claims for three realities.
First, Egypt continued to control and influence the ports, roads and fortresses throughout much of the 12th century. He cites new archeological finds as far north as Damascus showing continued Egyptian power. Also they kept appointing an official called the “overseer of northern foriegn countries” until at least mid-century. The records show that the same was true of military and other officials.
So the idea that the Bronze Age collapse suddenly ended Egyptian hegemony is false. However there was a decline in Egyptian power and influence. But, especially along the coast and in the south of Canaan, Egyptian influence remained until around 1100 BCE.
Second, there was a rise of Phoenician power and influence. The Phoenicians appear to have been left alone by the Sea Peoples who destroyed Ugarit and some cities on Cypress. There is archeological and documentary evidence that Phoenician territory expanded south to Acco and eventually to Dor.
Also a Philistine presence arose along the southern coast, especially in Gaza. This did not result from a Sea Peoples blitzkrieg. It seems to have come about through a relatively peaceful settlement process. There was a Sea Peoples enclave at Dor for a while. It eventually became Phoenician. But the process of change seems to have been gradual if not peaceful. In the end, Dijkstra thinks the Yarkon River became the border between the Philistines and the Phoenicians.
Judges chapter 1, although late, recognizes the reality that Israel did not extend into the coastal or Gaza regions. Dijkstra holds that Gezer–a crucial outpost on the road north from Egypt– probably never fell into Israelite hands until after Sheshonk I.
Recent studies of climatic change, hydrology and palaeometeorology in Egypt and North Africa have indicated correlations between solar activity, rainfall, Nile flooding and climatic change. Climatic change or variation affects environment and civilization.
So he proposes that, although the historical record outside the Bible is sparse, we can partly explain the rise of Israel through climatology. He brings up several studies that connect the Bronze Age collapse to environmental factors. It seems that in the Eastern Mediterranean there was a sharp increase in humidity and rainfall from 1400 to 1000 BCE. But it leveled off and dipped toward the end of that period. So food production probably stagnated and there were periodic droughts.
Dijkstra relates this to the claim of Finkelstein and others that the settlement of the Canaanite hill country happened intermittently over thousands of years. However, he warns that just because the early Iron Age settlement was one of these cycles, it did not necessarily happen the same way the others did. This time it happened during a time of Egyptian retreat, Phoenician expansion, and Philistine settlement.
Dijkstra acknowledges that there are several feasible theories about who the original Israelite settlers were. The migration probably had much to do with the need to produce more food. He thinks ideas from several theories probably contribute to the truth.
The Bible has verses that may recall the complexity of Israelite origins. For instance, there is the Exodus text about the Israelites including “a mixed multitude” (Exodus 12:38). In addition, he suggests that Joshua’s story about the Gibionites who became woodcutters and water bearers for the Israelites (Joshua 9:27) might go back to a historical reality that the settlers appropriated the agricultural skills of others, who then became a part of Israel. New agricultural skills would have been needed to adapt to settlement in the highlands.
As Israelite documents are mostly silent about the Egyptian power in Canaan, so Egyptian documents are mostly silent about the presence of Israel in Canaan. Egypt cared mostly about the roads and the ports near the coast. Israel may have been trying to eek out an existence in the hills.
Egypt lost control of the coast, but not to Israel. Israel occupied the central highlands, but did not, for a long time, penetrate to the coast.