To life!

There was a personal and family event a couple of months ago that I have not mentioned on here before.   Our oldest son, who lives an hour and a half away, called early one morning to say that his wife was having emergency surgery.  We drove over there and spent many anxious hours in surgery-waiting.

The open heart surgery took all day.  But those of us waiting were perhaps not anxious enough.  We still did not know just how serious her situation was.  Finally, the surgeon came out and told us that she had survived the surgery, but that the mortality rate at this point was still high.

She had suffered a thoracic aortic dissection.  Those words strike terror into anybody who knows what they mean.  People seldom survive–one in a hundred, the surgeon said.  Basically, her aorta had burst.  Some well-known people have died of this; such as the actor, John Ritter, and the diplomat, Richard Holbrooke.

But she didn’t die.  She is in cardiac therapy and making a comeback.  This means that our 8-year-old grandson still has his mother.  My son still has his wife.  Her parents still have their daughter.  We still have our daughter-in-law.

Since then I have written rather academically about the love of God and the gift of God.  But gratitude is not academic for us.  I find myself often thinking and saying the Hebrew toast: l’chaim, to life.

This makes family events even more important and satisfying for us.  That is my way of saying that we are at a time of year when we celebrate some anniversaries and birthdays and do a little traveling–which means that this blog will go quiet for a few weeks.

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Garfinkel-the short life of a fortress city

The Rise of Ancient Israel, the book I just finished posting about, was from the early 1990‘s. Much has happened since then in terms of archeological finds in Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria that bear upon the question. However, it is still hard to get a handle on the Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age. There is still no definitive answer for what Merneptah‘s scribe meant by Israel and the other questions from around -1200 and the Late Bronze Age collapse.

Avraham Faust has worked on a slightly later period to argue that Israel’s cultural rise was over against the Philistine people and culture.

But the most promising new material concerns the period around -1000, when the Kingdom of David supposedly arose.

A new article has just come my way through Y. Garfinkel 2017. “Khirbet Qeiyafa in the Shephelah: Data and Interpretations”. In S. Schroer and S. Münger (eds.) Khirbet Qeiyafa in the Shephelah. Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis 282, pp. 5–59. Fribourg: Academic Press.

Yoseph Garfinkel was the leader of the dig at Khirbet Qeiyafa, a well-preserved site 18 miles west of Jerusalem along the Elah river on the route to Philistine Gaza. What he has exposed is an ancient fortress city that must have been similar to fortress cities like Hebron and Jerusalem itself. The thing about this city, however, is that it only existed for a little while. According to Garfinkel the city came to an end by -970 and only existed for 20 or 30 years before that.

We do not know exactly, but David’s reign may have begun in Hebron in about -1010 . So Garfinkel estimates that Kherbet Qeiyafa existed in the later part of his reign. Along with Hebron and Jerusalem it would have constituted one of the three major military and administrative centers of his kingdom.

In a polemical section about different interpretations of the Davidic kingdom, Garfinkel speaks of postmodernist attempts to deconstruct that kingdom. First, there was an effort to claim the whole biblical account was written after -400 with no historical knowledge of the situation in -1000. He calls this the mythological interpretation. It fell apart when references to the House of David showed up in a Tel Dan inscription and probably in the Moabite  inscription. Garfinkel ironically calls the mythological interpretation a “modern myth”.

The next phase was an attempt to change the chronology by 75 to 100 years in order to make David and Solomon just local tribal chiefs, rather than kings with a realm. This involved technical arguments about radio-carbon dating. But Garfinkel says it all fell apart because of his dig at Khirbet Qeiyafa.

The next fall-back position was to argue that Khirbet Qeiyafa was not a Judean site. The implication of Khirbet Qeiyafa is that it was an administrative center for a sophisticated polity. If that polity was Judah, then David and Solomon were more than war lords living in tents.

So some claimed, just on the basis of geography, that it was a Philistine site. However, this did not work as we discovered major differences between the material culture at Khirbet Qeiyafa and that uncovered in the dig at nearby Gath.

Some proposed that it was a center for some otherwise unknown Canaanite kingdom. Again, though, the material culture, especially the architecture and urban planning, does not resemble that of any Canaanite cities we know about.

Israel Finkelstein, still clinging to the low chronology and the primitive existence of Judah at the time, proposed that the site was an outpost of the Kingdom of Israel in the north. But Garfinkel compares the material culture found at Khirbet Qeiyafa with what we have found at sites in the north, particularly in the Jezreel Valley. He says that “small fortified field cities with casement city walls” have not been found in the area of the Kingdom of Israel during this period. Also, he questions the geopolitical and strategic value for northern Israel of putting a stronghold so far south.

Garfinkel then gives his interpretation of the fortress at Khirbet Qeiyafa. First of all, it showed a kingdom seeking to control territory. This fortress blocked the approach to central Judah through the valley. The heavy fortification and the number of weapons found show that it was a military site. Also, the fact that it was soon destroyed shows that it stood in a contested and volatile area.

Second, it showed a kingdom that controlled a population. The main ways city states controlled the surrounding population were through conscription of labor and taxation. Garfinkel thinks the construction of the site involved much labor proving that the there was a state powerful enough to institute forced labor. Storage facilities at the site point to the gathering of goods from taxation. He found large storage jars, which he envisions leaving the city empty and returning full of produce confiscated from farmsteads and villages in the area.

I found his arguments from architecture most interesting. Not only does the city itself show a distinctive plan for walls and houses built out from them, but he found what he thinks is a small model shrine. This may show the architecture eventually applied to Solomon’s Temple. It has unique recessed windows and doorframes.. It shows that a particular style of urban architecture had developed in Judah by the 10th century, 150 years before we find examples of it in real royal buildings. This would have been quite an advance over William Dever’s “Canaanite” style in the villages of the 12th century.

If Garfinkel is at all on the right track with his interpretation, it raises historical questions for me. Just as Israel Finkelstein has a theory that questions the biblical united monarchy by minimizing Judah, Garfinkel questions the biblical scenario by minimizing the northern kingdom. Yet Garfinkel’s conclusions would point to the biblical writers actually having some historical information rather than composing purely literary stories. It is instructive of his view that he says the Bible locates the David and Goliath story near Khirbet Qeiyafa because it really was a point of conflict with the Philistines. However, he clearly does not think the story itself is historical.

So where does Khirbet Qeiyafa fit into the narrative texts?  The scenario where David is there serving with Saul’s army is surely a misreading of the historical situation. What about the narrative that David became a servant and ally of Gath? There are references to David defeating the Philistines on certain occasions. But there are also references to Philistines serving in David’s army and body guard. There is no biblical reference to a Philistine victory that would have marked the destruction of Khirbet Qeiyafa.

Many scholars have resisted Garfinkel’s findings.  It really undermines parts of several books about David and the beginnings of the monarchy, for instance: those of Baruch Halpern and Joel Baden.  In the past, I had a quite different understanding of David. But I am beginning to doubt myself.

Some historical scenarios occurred to me to explain the fall of Khirbet Qeiyafa. Garfinkel puts its existence in the later part of David’s reign, after he was ruling from Jerusalem. An enemy could well have taken advantage of Judah’s weakness at the time of Absalom’s rebellion. On the other hand, suppose that Absalom held Khirbet Qeiyafa. Gath could have attacked it in support of David.

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The rise of Israel-concluding panel

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.

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The rise of Israel-McCarter

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?

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The rise of Israel-Halpern

Baruch Halpern contributes a chapter to The Rise of Ancient Israel.  He, however, does not see the Israelites as Dever’s migrants from Canaanite areas.   He tries to fit an Egyptian background into his theory.

The chronology you would assume from the Bible is that Israel spent 400 years in Egypt.  Then, toward the end of that time, were put to forced labor building mud brick structures for the Pharaoh in the Nile Delta.  After that came the exodus and a generation later came the entrance into Canaan.

Halpern sees something historical behind the Biblical story, but it is like the something behind the stories of Homer about Greek origins.  The stories, in both cases, are not meant to be historical.  They are meant to foster nationalist and religious feelings. One major function of the tales is that they are children’s stories.  They are stories that were told within the family on significant dates on the national calendar to pass on a heritage to children.

The settings of the exodus stories within Egyptian history fit with a lot of what we know about Egyptian history.  There are two focal points for this.  First there is the Hyksos period when Semitic people held power in Egypt, as Joseph is said to have done.  One of the Pharaohs or Viceroys in this period was even named Jacob.  Then about 400 years later came the Ramaside period.  Rameses II built new cities in the Delta and impressed Asiatics into forced labor.

A very significant thing here is that both of these periods were unusual in that the capital of Egypt was in the Delta.  This is what the Bible depicts in both the Joseph and Moses stories.  The capital was usually way to the south in Thebes.

Behind the Joseph stories, Halpern sees a defense of the Hyksos against the charge made in more than one Egyptian document that the Hyksos imposed heavy taxes and took grain at the expense of the Egyptian population.  The story of how Joseph did, indeed, impose harsh measures in Genesis 47:18-26 interprets these measures as needed to prevent a worse disaster.  So the Joseph saga is an interpretation of the Hyksos period from the Israelite point of view.

Several biblical claims for the Moses or exodus story match real details of the 18th dynasty.  Ramses II did build new cities in the delta.  The Egyptians at this time did use mud brick mixed with straw, something not done in Palestine.  The Midianite, Edomite, and Moabite kingdoms which played a part on the story all first appear in history just at the this time.

So Halpern believes that, although the narrative of the exodus has come about for a different purpose, it does show a memory of Egypt at two historically actual times.

Now scholars have often correlated an exodus in the 18th dynasty, say under Merneptah, with the entry of Israel into the land in the 12th centure BCE.  Halpern has a theory, which he has developed in his The Emergence of Israel in Canaan, that the 12th century settlers were part of a displaced Aramean people who came down into the Transjordan in the late 13th century.  A few of these crossed the Jordan and were the people Merneptah refers to in his famous stele.  Halpern’s desire here is to relate these people to an exodus from Egypt, which he thinks contains a real memory.

He thinks the exodus has to be scaled down from the event involving hundreds of thousands or tens of thousands of people according to the Bible or Manetho.

What he thinks we can imagine are small groups of pastoralists migrating legally or illegally out of the Wadi Tumalat (the dried up branch of the Nile that afforded the best pasture land in Egypt and is probably what the Bible calls the land of Goshen) to evade taxation and forced labor.

It is tempting to think that they brought with them the idea that they were linked to the old Hyksos figure, Jacob.  At any rate, they felt they had been touched by the desert God, YHWH. There may have been a series of incidents that are invisible to us archeologically.  Older Egyptian topographical lists had mentioned the land of the Shasu of YHWH.  So Yahwism must have already existed on the southern steppes of  Jordan.

So a group of exiles from Egypt who must have existed as a religious cult came into contact with the Aramaens who were exiles from the north.  They somehow found them a compatable group and imprinted their Egyptian experience upon them.

I find much that comes close to my own views in Halpern.  The Egyptian background cannot be proven, but meshes with Egyptian history in many ways.

However, I am an agnostic about his theory of Aramean refugees recently arrived from Mesopotamia. It is a better theory about Merneptah’s Israel than some.  But it seems unlikely to me that the group the Pharaoh bragged about defeating amounted to only a handful of newly arrived refugees in the mountains.  Maybe I will get to read Halpern’s book about it someday.

It seems possible to me that even people from Syrian regions could have traced their lineage back to the Hyksos.  It seems possible that people could have identified as a nation that had come out of Egypt even if they had not experienced the exodus under Moses.

For my own most recent article supporting the idea there there were several exodus-like event, see here.

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The Rise of Israel-Dever

In reading William Dever’s lecture in The Rise of Ancient Israel  about how you can’t tell the difference between Caananites and Israelites, I realized that much of his theory has to do with his excavations at Gezer.  He excavated that important site for 25 years. When he talks about Canaanites, he means people like those who lived at Gezer. So keep that in mind.

Dever proposes a different model than the traditional, peaceful settlement, or peasant revolt models. He calls it the symbiotic model. Apparently this means that some Canaanites vacated the city states which were breaking down at the end of the Bronze Age. Some of these Canaanites moved to the hill country and learned to use cisterns and terracing to make the land productive. They also were cattle breeders. There is little evidence that they were ever sheep herding nomads from east of the Jordan.

Pottery is a big part of this argument. While excavating Gezer he found a great deal of Canaanite pottery. He is very familiar with it. He says that he does not see the pottery found at sites that seem to be Israelite as significantly different. Israel Finkelstein excavated an Israelite site just eight miles from Gezer. Finkelstein thinks the Israelites had a nomadic background. Dever sees no evidence of this. In fact he says that the contemporary pottery found at the two sites could have been made by the same potter..

So Dever argues that there is no difference between Israelite and Canaanite material culture. Also he does not see the difference between the houses built at Israelite villages and most of the houses in Canaanite cities. Finkelstein, in his response, disagrees with this. I have no expertise that would let me judge the pottery and architecture wars.

What I suspect is that Dever is just setting a higher standard of evidence. He wants to be shown from what we have found in the material culture of the Israelite villages where we would get the idea that they came from the other side of the Jordan and had a nomadic background. He suspects that scholars who make these claims are either accepting late Judaic propaganda from the Bible or are influenced by modern studies of Bedouin tribes. He does not think either of these approaches is good science.

He also does not think that the sociological model behind the peasant revolt theory is good science. This becomes interesting because Norman Gottwald gets to respond in writing and defend an updated version of that theory.

It is kind of amusing because these two scholars, who publicly respect each other, were on opposite sides of the Cold War. Dever questions the notion that the Israelite villagers were “egalitarians”. He thinks Gottwald imposed a Marxist and utopian vision on them. Dever asks why anyone today (after the Soviet and eastern European collapse at the end of the 1980s) would want to be a Marxist. But Gottwald who dedicated his book, The Tribes of Yahweh, to the Viet Cong is unrepentant.

For all of their scholarly and political disagreement, though, Dever and Gottwald both think that the origin of the Israelites was in the Canaanite city states. Gottwald thinks they revolted and created a counter state with a new ideology. Dever thinks they lived along side the Canaanites and gradually migrated to the hills.

As to the ideological or religious distinction of the Israelites, Dever does not find evidence of that in early Israel either. He doubts the late Adam Zertal’s claim to have discovered a Yahwistic cult site near Shechem. (I am confused by Dever’s claim that the roe deer, whose bones are abundant at this site, were not clean. But Deuteronomy 14:5.  Perhaps he just means they were not acceptable sacrifices in later Judaism.  But this would have been around -1200 or so.  So later Judaism may not be relevant.) He does think that the site near Dothan, where Mazar found a four inch high bronze bull, was an Israelite cult site. This means that the only material evidence we have of ancient Israelite religion points to it being Baal worship.

Dever is good on the kinship dynamic in the hill country villages.  There you find households consisting of several generations of extended family.  This agrees with the portrayal in Judges, and 1 Samuel where individuals identify themselves as of the house of X, X being the name of the clan’s father.  This shows us a patriarchal social structure, not exactly egalitarian, but independent of the city-state or Egyptian hierarchies.

One of the problems with Dever is that he tends to overstate his case. Sometimes you get the feeling that he is being mean to the people he disagrees with. But Finkelstein takes it in good humor. In fact comic relief may be what Dever is going for in the lecture. Several times the transcript puts in parenthesis “laughter”. He tends to make fun of positions that do not have the strong archeological evidence he would like. Yet, at other times, he appears willing to speculate beyond the evidence as long as we are clear that it is just a consideration of possibilities.

I have another problem with the question of whether the Israelites were different than the Canaanites.  This has to do with how you define Canaanite. Israelite has an ethnic, cultural and religious connotation. The Egyptians, in the Merneptah stele characterized Israel as a people. In other words, Israel does not seem originally to have been a place name.

But Canaan always seems to have been a place. Most of the Bible’s references to the Canaanites as a single race come from the prophets and later, and really just make it a synonym for Phoenician. Early references refer to several races living in Canaan, the place. For instance I think there should be a colon after Canaanites in Judges 3:5

The Israelites lived among the Canaanites: Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites.

In the late Bronze Age the people, like those at Gezer, who lived within the bounds of Canaan, seem to have developed a common material culture.

But does common pottery and building styles mean anything deeper?  If they all avoided eating pigs, where did that quirk come from?  And even Dever doesn’t claim that all the Israelites had a Canaanite origin.

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The Rise of Israel

Today I begin a short series on The Rise of Ancient Israel, which includes transcripts of lectures from an early ‘90s symposium. The lectures are by William Dever, Baruch Halpern, and Kyle McCarter. The book includes later written responses from other scholars who get a chance to answer critiques of their work in the lectures.   At the end there is a transcript of a panel discussion.

There is an introduction by Hershel Shanks about where we are (or were) in the debate. It is a model for popular presentation of the problems involved in bringing together the Bible with the findings of archeology.

Shanks simplifies the problem down to the discrepancy between the impression given by the book of Joshua and that given by the Book of Judges. In Joshua we find Israel sweeping across the Jordan river and conquering Canaan in no more than about 5 years under the singular leadership of Joshua. In Judges (and some passages that seem to have gotten into Joshua too) we get the impression that the movement into Canaan took a lot longer and happened piecemeal under several leaders. The impression given by Judges seems to fit with archeological discoveries better than that given in Joshua.

But there have been several theories to account for this. The traditional conquest was widely supported by archeologists in the early 20th century who thought they had found a series of destruction layers in cities that the Israelites conquered about the same time. This has fallen apart as we now have to separate these destructions by decades or even centuries in the case of Jericho. Yet there are ways of imagining a violent conquest. Shanks mentions Abraham Malamat and Bryant Wood as two archeological scholars who support some kind of invasion theory.

There has been a peaceful infiltration model. Over a long period of time, former nomads from the desert homesteaded in Canaan without too much conflict with the Canaanites. Surveys enhanced this theory when they showed that the central hill country had close to zero settlement in the Late Bronze Age, but that more than 200 villages there sprang up at the beginning of the Iron Age.

There has been the peasant revolt or social revolution model. The Israelites were people whose origin was in Canaanite city states. They revolted against the feudal social structure and moved to the the hill country to set up a new, independent social structure, perhaps supported by a new religious ideology.

The archeological discussion has mostly assumed that we are talking about something that happened at the end of the Bronze Age and the beginning of the Iron Age–about -1200–about the time of the Late Bronze Age collapse or decline of the great powers in the eastern Mediterranean..

Merneptah inscription complicates this.  This Egyptian king took pride in a military defeat of Israel in the closing years of the 13th century. So Shanks says,

If Israel was already such a force in Canaan in 1212 B.C.E., then Israel must have been established there for some time.

This is inconvenient for the minimalists who want to say Israel only began with the monarchy. It is also inconvenient, I think, for all those who want to make the explosion of villages in the central hill country that took place in the next century the first instance of Israel.

It has been 15 years since this symposium. There is some new data. But, surprisingly, the positions outlined here are the ones we still find scholars entrenched in. This little book still gives a good overview of the opinions and what is at stake (but see my discussion of Avraham Faust’s 2006 work here.)

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