As to the central question behind The Rise of Ancient Israel, the lecturers give different answers. William Dever finds no distinction between the early Iron Age Israelites and the Canaanites in terms of things like pottery and house building. So he says they must have been Canaanites who migrated to the hills.
The other scholars go beyond archeology. How do we account for the texts about the exodus and the patriarch stories that have the Israelites coming from Mesopotamia and Egypt? Baruch Halpern finds an explanation in what we know about migration out of Mesopotamia at the end of the Bronze Age and the fit between the exodus story and Semitic presence in Egypt in the 18th dynasty, which is also at the end of the Bronze Age. While not denying some Canaanite connections, he sees the bulk of the early Israelites as recently displaced Arameans influenced by a new religious cult from Egypt (Levites?).
The third lecture is by P. Kyle McCarter and deals with the “Origins of Israelite Religion”. McCarter looks more closely at the textual evidence.
Central to this textual evidence are several ancient poems embedded in the Hebrew Bible. These all seem to point to the origin of Yahwism in the deserts and mountains southeast of Israel. These poems include Exodus 15, Judges 5, Deuteronomy 33, Habakkuk 3, and Psalm 68. They speak of Yahweh arising from Edom, Paran, Teman, Sier and Sinai.
To these McCarter adds a non-biblical plaster and ink inscription found at Kuntillet Ajrud, an old caravan stop in the desert between Israel and the Red Sea. We can only read part of this inscription. But it seems to be a poem about a divine manifestation or theopany.
This translation from here gives you an idea of what it says:
“… in earthquake. And when El shined forth on…
… and the mountains were melted and the highlands crushed…
… earth, Holy One over the gods (?)…
… to prepare for the Blessed of Baal on the day of battle…
… for the Name of El on the day of battle…”
McCarter thinks this poem is older than this 9th century inscription: between -1200 and -1000.
McCarter also thinks that Baal here simply means Lord, not the Phoenician god who became the enemy of Elijah. This is probably right. There is a lot of evidence that in the time of David, for instance, Baal was just another name for El or Yahweh.
(Other graffiti at the outpost refers to Yahweh of Teman, Yahweh of Samaria, and Yahweh and Asherah. This last has created a rash of people asking if it means God had a wife or consort. McCarter puts the question as “Was God a bachelor?”. He thinks the question partly arises from a misunderstanding of ancient religion where there was a complimentary male and female pole to most deities. But he wonders why anyone would be shocked that Israelites, as the Bible clearly states, worshiped Yahweh in ways the prophets disapproved of.)
The point about this inscription is that it sounds similar to ancient biblical poems about theopanies where God “shines forth” in the context of battles. It also associates this God with the deserts in the south.
Combine this with the Midianite tradition about Moses marrying into a priestly family from this region and Egyptian references to the land of the Shasu of Yahweh and you get a strong case for Yahwism originating in the south.
McCarter agrees with Dever that people from the Canaanite valleys may have moved into the uplands between the Egyptian controlled Aijalon valley and the Egyptian controlled Jezreel valley. But then he makes what I think is a very important point.
Israel existed before this settlement!
The Merneptah stele shows that a paleo or proto Israel existed in the late 13th century. But the hill country expansion did not come until the 12th century. See here.
So McCarter makes an elaborate argument that in the 13th century Israel was already Yahwist and that then the hill country settlers joined them. He bases this argument on geography and political reality. Egypt controlled the coast and the valleys. The uplands of Ephraim and the Transjordanian deserts were isolated from the Egypto-Canaanite areas.
…what I am suggesting to you is that in that period, the Late Bronze Age, the earliest characteristic aspects of Israelite culture developed, most especially the worship of the God of Israel. This is the only period in which the central hills of Palestine,where Yahwism took root, and the region northeast of the Gulf of Eilat, where Yahwism originated, were connected in a cultural continuum. After the rise of the nation-states of Ammon, Moab and Edom early in the Iron Age this continuum was brought to an end. Thus if Yahwism came to Israel from Midian, as it almost certainly did, it had to arise in the Late Bronze Age and not in the Iron Age.
My question about this is who destroyed Hazor in the Late Bronze Age and, if it was paleo Israel, had Yahwism already come north into Bashan? Merneptah’s campaign makes the most sense to me as a response to a geopolitical event on the scale of the fall of Hazor.
At any rate, we have the options of
(1) the Israelites were Canaanites who came up from the lowlands, but mostly after Merneptah.
(2) the Israelites were Arameans who combined with some Egyptian exiles and came into Canaan from the north and west
(3) the Israelites were from Midian/Edom and came into Canaan from the southeast to find some Canaanites already beginning to settle in the highlands.
How does any of this account for Israel already being enough of an annoyance to Egypt in -1212 to justify sending the army?