The point I want to make here is that even some very good scholars have assumptions about the dates of events that do not seem to me to make sense. The recent issue of Biblical Archaeology Review (March/April 2017) has interesting articles about the excavations at Hazor, the once powerful kingdom north of Galilee.
One of the articles is William Dever’s review of the new book by excavation director Amnon Ben-Tor, Hazor: Canaanite Metropolis, Israelite City. The title of the review is “Who Destroyed Hazor?” although that is not the only focus of the review.
Still Dever mulls over the problem. Somebody put an end to late Bronze Age Canaanite Hazor in a “fiery cataclysm”. Of course, some have put this together with the account in Joshua 11 that says Joshua and the Israelites burned Hazor. And Dever even agrees with Ben-Tor that you can’t eliminate Israel or proto-Israel as a candidate for the destroyer.
However, Dever has a chronology problem. He says,
“But Joshua’s claim that the Israelites defeated and burned Hazor and Judges claim that in a later day the Canaanites still ruled at Hazor (cf. Judges 4:2) cannot both be correct.”
Why does Dever assume that Judges is talking about a later day? Does he accept at face value the order of the primary history of Israel developed after the time of King Josiah, which claims the events of Judges follow the death of Joshua?
The historical position of Joshua is very problematic. The Book of Joshua wants to paint a picture of the conquest of Canaan during one very short period under one leader. This is pretty transparent in the account of the southern campaign where, instead of the Calebites, as older accounts say, it is Joshua with “all Israel” who captured Hebron (10:36).
So I assume the account of the northern campaign in Joshua 11 also imports Joshua into an old story about the conquest of Hazor.
The archeological findings show that Canaanite Hazor fell sometime in the mid to late 13th century. That is before we have evidence of the settlement and village-building in the central highlands that we associate with Israel. It is also before the campaign of Pharaoh Merneptah, who claimed to have defeated Israel.
There is, though, something in Judges 4 that might represent a historical memory about Hazor.
Then the hand of the Israelites bore harder and harder on King Jabin of Canaan, until they destroyed King Jabin of Canaan (v. 23 NRSV).
This depicts not one battle but a series of blows leading up the final fall of the king.
Sharon Zuckerman (who sadly died a few years ago when she was only 49) was Amnon Ben-Tor’s associate in the excavation of Hazor. She offered an alternative theory to the Israelites burning Hazor. She showed that during the 13th century Hazor showed signs of being in decline. They seemed to be scaling back on temples and public buildings. She suggested that hardships eventually caused a popular uprising that took down the king and that the people vented anger by defacing statues and burning the remaining public buildings.
I am not convinced by the whole of this scenario. But if somebody’s “hand bore harder and harder” against the king, that would fit with the setbacks she showed the government enduring.
So here is a scenario. It is my way of thinking out loud. I know it is highly speculative. But I have some facts behind my points.
First, the city of Laish or Dan was north of Hazor and, if it was supposed to be a buffer for Egypt (see my earlier post this week), it would also have been an ally of the Egyptian vassal state of Hazor. But suppose Dan defected from Egypt. That would have been a major blow to Hazor.
Second, in the Transjordan there is the area called Giliad in the Bible. One of the documents we have from Hazor is about a lawsuit. A woman is being sued about properties in Hazor and “Gilad”. This likely means the Giliad was under the authority of Hazor.
Suppose semi-nomadic tribes in the Transjordan rebelled against Hazor. It is in this area that we find many of the old unengraved standing stones which seem to have featured in tribal worship. The people who burned Hazor may have hated graven idols. They defaced both Egyptian and Canaanite images. So such a rebellion would have been another blow to Hazor.
Third, the battle depicted in the Song of Deborah could be about the defeat of some mercenaries in the service of Hazor. This would have weakened Hazor in the south and meant another setback for the king. It could have meant he was facing threats from three directions.
I do not see the creative chronology of Joshua-first-and-then-Judges as a real problem for this.
Of course, I could be wildly wrong about all this. The other article about Hazor in BAR was by Sharon Zuckerman’s student, Shlomit Becher “How to Find the Hazor Archives (I Think)”. She gives reasons to be hopeful that we will soon find government archives in Hazor. If we find them, we will probably have some answers–and some new mysteries.