The Conquest, as it is described in the Book of Joshua, preceded the Israeli settlement of Canaan. After the Divine Promise is renewed to Moses’ successor Joshua, the Israelites cross the Jordan River into Canaan, where they defeat Jericho and Ai. Later, Joshua defeats the kings of Jerusalem, Hebron, Arad and other cities.
William Stiebig points to two references – one biblical, one historical – that support the thirteenth century B.C.E. as the date of the Exodus. The biblical reference describes how an Egyptian pharaoh forced the Israelites to build the cities of Pithom and Ra’amses, which were probably built under Ramses II in the thirteenth century B.C.E. The earliest historical reference to the Israelites is the Merneptah stele, in which Ramses’ II son and successor, Merneptah, boasts about defeating the Israelites in Canaan. The thirteenth century B.C.E. as the date of Exodus is also supported by the fact that many Canaan cities show signs of destruction and a shift of material culture that dates back to the early thirteenth century – the generally accepted time of Exodus (Stiebig 1985:61). If the Exodus is put into the thirteenth century B.C.E., conquest must have also taken place in the thirteenth century B.C.E.
However, not all scholars agree the destruction of the Canaanite cities in the thirteenth century B.C.E. was caused by incoming Israelites. There are both biblical maximalist and biblical minimalist perspectives surrounding the Conquest, both of which have serious weaknesses. The biblical maximalist theories specifically look for data that can be used as evidence to prove that biblical references are indeed historic. The biblical minimalist theories take archaeological data and use it to interpret the Bible.
Neil Silberman describes in his articleWho were the Isrealites, that many archaeologists consider the destruction of Canaanite cities to be proof of Israelite attacks. Silberman also points out that the remains of hovels and silos amidst the Canaan cities are also proof that semi-nomads defeated the cities’ inhabitants (Silberman 1992:24). Biblical maximalists largely base their theories on signs of destruction and the shift in material culture, both of which were observed at several Canaan sites. Biblical maximalists claim that both are evidence for the historicity of the Israelite conquest. However, the Biblical maximalist theories have a serious weakness: The archaeological data does not show that it was specifically the Israelites who caused the destruction and the change in material culture.
Silberman also points out that no archaeological evidence has been found for an Israelite presence in the Sinai Peninsula. Additionally, cities like Ai and Arad, which were taken over by the Israelites during the conquest, were not even occupied in the thirteenth century B.C.E. In Jericho, there was no evidence of a wall found that would date back to the time of the Conquest (Silberman 1992:24). Jericho’s wall, however, is explicitly mentioned in the biblical account of Jericho’s defeat. Also, the Canaanite cities that show signs of destruction were not destroyed around the same time but over a course of more than one hundred years. Silberman implies this was too long for a single Israelite military campaign (Silberman 1992:24).
Considering the evidence against an Israelite Conquest, as it is described in the Book of Joshua, Silberman introduces the biblical minimalist theory of “peaceful immigration”. The theory of peaceful immigration suggests the Israelites gradually immigrated into Canaan. The theory of peaceful migration is a typical biblical minimalist perspective, because it looks at archaeological evidence, draws a conclusion and uses this conclusion to interpret the Bible.
Throughout Israel’s West Bank, many unfortified villages and herdsmen’s enclosures were found. Silberman mentions these remains could have been left behind by early Israelite immigrants (Silberman 1992: 26).
However, Silberman points to two major problems with the theory of peaceful migration: Camels were only introduced after the Israelites are assumed to have moved into Canaan.
Anthropologists argue the desert has a very low carrying capacity. Therefore, few small groups could survive in the Sinai desert prior to the introduction of camels. Additionally, the Israelites did not traditionally travel through the desert but tended their flocks at the fringes of populated areas (Silberman 1992:27).
- Quote paper
- Anonymous, 2009, The Date of the Conquest, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/131626