Hershel Shanks instigates a panel discussion at the end of The Rise of Ancient Israel.
I was amused that Shanks noticed disagreements among the Dever, Halpern and McCarter, but they all downplayed the disagreements and claimed that they mostly agreed. However, they really did disagree. When they said they agreed, I think they meant that over against Finkelstein and Gottwald they somewhat agreed.
The value of the panel discussion is that each of the three got a chance to clarify his views.
The first clarification I found interesting is what Dever thought about the Israel referenced in the Merneptah inscription. This Israel consisted of the villages in the central hill country. To the objection that those villages mostly developed in the next century, he says that “about 1200“ really is indefinite. There is wiggle room in the chronology. So the hill-country expansion could have begun some decades before -1200.
He calls the villagers “proto-Israel” because the full ethnic self-identity of Israel probably developed later.
It seems to me that he evaded the issue that the main expansion and strength of the hill country village culture clearly came after -1200, despite any chronological wiggle room.
One thing he said seems to me to count against his own theory here. As the excavator of Gezer, he knows of a destruction layer there from about the time of Merneptah. There is also a layer like this at Ashkelon. These are the first two cities in Canaan that Merneptah claims to have defeated. Dever said this gives credibility to the Merneptah campaign. It was not just a boast, but a military struggle against real opposition. Yet, on Dever’s theory, one of the targets was a handful of new villages in the uplands rather than anything on a par with Gezer and Ashkelon.
I was glad to see Kyle McCarter challenge the view that the word “Hebrew” has anything to do with the term “Apiru”. Halpern responded to this with a clarification of his own view. In his lecture, he very much identified Hebrew and Apiru. Now he said that in saying that he was relying on older scholarship and that he has come to agree with McCarter. However, he sort of took that back by arguing that, although Apiru does not mean an ethnic group, the Apiru could have developed into an ethnic group.
In passing, Halpern expressed a fascinating interpretation of the lines about Israel in the Merneptah Stele. There is a line that says Hurru (Canaan) was “made a widow for Egypt.” This line, he said, is a couplet with the line that says “Israel is laid waste, his seed is not”.
“With the loss of Israel’s insemination, Hurru has become a widow for Egypt. . . I suggest that what we have is an image of the Israelites entering, in some number, the hill country of Canaan and thus fructifying it.”
“In some number”? In the 13th century? That seems to me to be a problem. Of course, Hurru is much bigger than the central hill country. So if the Egyptian army encountered Israel somewhere other than there, Halpern’s interpretation could still be valid.
McCarter makes an important clarification of his views when he says that he did not believe, as some misunderstood him to say, that the Israelites came into Canaan from the Edom/Midian/Arabia area. What he meant by calling this is the cradle of Yahwism is that Israelite religion arose from contacts with people from that area.
As far as I can tell all three scholars believed that the hill country villages were Israel, even in the 13th century. McCarter qualified this by pointing to connections with areas across the Jordan. Dever was sort of open to this in that he said Canaan included the area east of the Jordan. However, he said archeologists had not been able to find much settlement over there. The others pointed out that we have pottery from Moab and Midian. Dever said he was not talking about that far south, but that there still isn’t much to go on. However, we now have more. See here, for instance.
The recent finds in the lowlands of Edom also may be relevant to this, especially the cemetery at Wadi Fidan. Thomas Levy has a pdf. article here that considers this. His conclusions include
Israel, Edom, and Midian—interacted in meaningful
and profound ways in the cauldron of northwestern
Arabia and Jordan in the Late Bronze Age and early
Iron Age. Thus, competition, conflict, and resistance
between these three groups, for reasons not yet elucidated,
led to the process of fission so typical of tribal
societies, and sparked both Edomite and Israelite
I am not endorsing this scenario. I just put it out there as one example of how new finds since the publication of The Rise of Ancient Israel may change the conversation.