The conquest of Canaan (Joshua 5)

Illustration: Ruins from ancient Jericho

After defeating the nations east of Jordan, Israel turned to the promised land west of the Jordan Valley. The Canaanites occupied the coastal and valley areas and the Amorites the highlands (Numbers 13:29). Old Testament chronological data (Judges 11:26, 1 Kings 6:1) suggests that the conquest took place at the end of the fifteenth century B.C. The entire process, including the taking of the Transjordan, took about seven years, most of that time spent in conquering Canaan (Deuteronomy 2:14, Joshua 14:6-10).

Archaeologists disagree about the date of the conquest, variously supporting the following possibilities:

A Late Bronze II Age conquest

This view, placing the exodus during the reign og Pharaoh Rameses II and the conquest at the end of the thirteenth century B.C., was once almost unanimously held. Cities like Debir, Lachish, Bethel and Hazor were said to have been destroyed around 1220 B.C. by the Israelite onslaught. But today many scholars have abandoned thi thesis:

  • These cities are now believed to have been overtaken at different times by various armies.
  • The Mernepath Stele (inscribed stone slab) suggests that Israel was already settled in the land.
  • Few walled cities have been discovered from this period (cf. Deuteronomy 1:28).
  • It is impossible to place Jeicho’s fall at this time

A Late Bronze I Age conquest

This position argues for a conquest around 1400 B.C, as supported by a current understanding of the Biblical chronology. The scenario:

  • Jericho’s capture gave the Israelites a foothold. From their camp at Gilgal they launched attacks westward into the highlands. After taking Ai they subjugated the southern part of the country (Joshua 10).
  • Joshua did not attack Shechem, thought to be a major city at this time, instead striking a coalition of northern kings at Hazor (Joshua 11:1-15). Shechem, in the central highlands near Mount Ebal and Mount Gerazim, seperated the southern from the northern city-states. Joshua could have avoided Shechem (Joshua 8:30-33), and some scholars even suggest Schechemite cooperation with Israel.

Problems with a Late Bronze I Age conquest

  • Canaan was sparsely populated, lacking the great cities the Bible mentions.
  • Most interpreters date Jericho’s destruction to the end of the Middle Bronze Age, over 100 years earlier.
  • The book of Joshua nowhere cites Shechem as a powerful city.
  • God commanded Israel to exterminate the Canaanites (Deuteronomy 7:1-2). Joshua 9 mentions the Gibeonite trick, but this only underscores Joshua’s unwillingness to cooperate with Canaanite cities and contradicts the notion of Shechemite cooperation with Israel.

A Late Middle Bronze Age conquest

  • Cities were heavily fortified
  • The end of this age saw a major societal collapse and the destruction of numerous cities, including Jericho. The population may have plummeted by as much as 80 percent. Most scholars have attributed this destruction to he Egyptians – a premise now widely questioned based on lack of evidence.

Problems with a Late Middle Bronze Age conquest

  • This period is thought to have ended about 1550 B.C., too early for the Bible’s choronology.
  • It is difficult to relate Egyptian chronology to a 1550 B.C. conquest. No suitable pharaoh reigned then.

Proposed solutions to the problem with a Late Bronze Age conquest

Scholars have tried to correlate the exodus with the expulsion from Egypt of the Hyskos. This solution is unconvincing, and there remains the problem of the discrepancy with Biblical chronology.

Some historians suggest redating the end of the Middle Bronze period. If the date were lowered by 150 years, to around 1400 B.C., this era could have ended at the traditional date of the conquest. But this would also require a redating of Egyptian chronology. Most interpreters find this view unconvincing and eccentric.

Archaeologists routinely revise older, seemingly well-established conclutions. The interpretation of the data in Palestine is fraught with difficulties; even well-received interpretations may be built upon flimsy foundations. Given this uncretainty, it would be amazing if researchers were able to attain conclusive evidence regarding the time and circumstances of the conquest.


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