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11. The Period Of The Exodus And Conquest

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Palestine has a five finger grip on the seas. It forms the strategic land bridge of the Middle East.1

The “two Israel” theory propounded by Albright and others (especially his students, such as Wright, BA, p. 77) is that there were Israelites in Canaan while other Israelites were in Egypt. These two linked up through a gradual infiltration into Palestine by the Egyptian Israelites. This would explain some of the diverse traditions which have become interwoven into the biblical documents. The only problem with this is that there is not one shred of evidence for this either in the biblical text or in history or in archaeology. It should be dismissed out of hand (Cf. Albright’s own admission in SATC, p. 279 “The Hebrews [Canaanites] coalesced so rapidly with their Israelite kindred that hardly any references to this distinction have survived in biblical literature and the few apparent allusions are doubtful.”).

Modern Old Testament scholarship no longer even discusses an Exodus. Dever was quoted earlier saying that in spite of Albright’s arguments that there was a 13th century Moses who was a monotheist, “the overwhelming scholarly consensus today is that Moses is a mythical figure, that Yahwism was highly syncretistic from the very beginning; and that true monotheism developed only late in Israel’s history, probably not until the Exile and Return (see the state-of-the-art studies gathered in Miller, Hanson, and McBride 1987).”2

For those who believe in the biblical Exodus, its date continues to be a vexing problem from the point of view of relating the biblical data (and date) to the extra-biblical material (archaeological and historical).

The biblical chronology based on 1 Kings 6:1 has already been presented. The date for the Exodus is usually given as 1441 (the variations result from some uncertainty as to the date of Solomon’s accession). Some critical scholars hold to an Exodus of some sort (certainly on a much more limited scale than that indicated in the Bible) in the 13th century. Albright set the stage for this date with his conquest model and his understanding of the archaeology of the cities. Recent scholarship seems to be denying any sort of Exodus. Evangelical scholarship may be moving back to a Late Bronze date (mid 1500’s).3

The issues with we must grapple are:

1. The archaeological data.

2. The cities in Exodus 1:11.

3. Hebrews and Hyksos.

4. Hebrews and Habiru.

5. Egyptian chronology.

6.Trans-Jordan occupation (no structures at Heshban. See also C. Krahmalkov, “Exodus Itinerary Confirmed by Egyptian Evidence,” BAR 20:5 (1994), 54-62+).4

Albright gives an apologetic for the destruction of the Canaanites.5 This is quite a strong contrast to a prominent Methodist bishop of a few years ago who referred to the God of the Old Testament as a Bully. Albright argues first that contemporary “civilizations” have little right to sit in judgment on others with regard to total warfare. Secondly, he says, “It was fortunate for the future of monotheism that the Israelites of the Conquest were a wild folk, endowed with primitive energy and ruthless will to exist, since the resulting decimation of the Canaanites prevented the complete fusion of the two kindred folk which would almost inevitably have depressed Yahwistic standards to a point where recovery was impossible.” This issue will be taken up further in the next lecture on Canaanite religion.

The Archaeological Picture for the Thirteenth Century.

Albright believed in a conquest, but he thought it was in the thirteenth century. The discussion that follows is based on his view. Provan says, “Today, most scholars regard Albright’s conquest model as a failure, which is not surprising since, as L. Younger observes, ‘the [conquest] model was doomed from the beginning because of its literal, simplistic reading of Joshua.’ It might be more accurate to speak of a simplistic misreading of Joshua, for the conquest model assumes massive destruction of property as well as population, whereas the book of Joshua suggests no such thing. Joshua speaks of cities being taken and kings being killed, but only three cities—Jericho, Ai, and Hazor—are said to have been burned.”6

As to the archaeological evidence for settlement in the land, Provan, et al., say “Thus, on the basis of the archaeological evidence alone, we know that (1) at the beginning of the Iron Age hundreds of new villages sprang up in the central hill country; (2) those who settled these villages apparently eschewed pig consumption, in contradistinction to their Canaanite neighbors on all sides; and (3) the new settlers may have been new arrivals from elsewhere, or (if we follow Finkelstein’s studies that find evidence of large number of pastoralists in the area throughout the crisis years of the Late Bronze Age) they may have already been in the area for several hundred years. As Hoffmeier succinctly remarks, ‘the villages do not tell us how long the settlers had been pastoralists in the area before settling, or whether they had moved about inside or outside of Canaan, or both, before becoming sedentary.’”7

The Amarna tablets coming from the 15th and 14th centuries should not be lightly dismissed as having a possible bearing on the entry of the Israelites. They report an incursion of Habiru (Hapiru and now Khapiru) and appeal to the Egyptian court for help (But see Bruce in Archaeo1ogy and Old Testament Study: The Hebrews were part of a broad group. At Ugarit it was pronounced as a ע not a h). Provan, et al., say, “Na’aman notes that after a century of discussion, ‘a scholarly consensus has still not been reached.’ Obviously, a straight equation of the two terms is out of the question. Not all apiru could possibly have been Israelites; the geographical and temporal distribution is simply too great. But could the Israelites as they are described in the books of Joshua, Judges, and even Samuel have been viewed as apiru by their Canaanite opponents, whatever may have been their own self-perception?” This would fit an earlier date for the exodus.8

The Cities of the Central Campaign of Joshua.

Jericho. This is a key city in which to look for archaeological help on the biblical data. Garstang (Digging up Jericho) in his excavations from 1930‑36 identified a set of burned walls as belonging to the late bronze age or the time of Joshua. K. Kenyon (“Jericho,” AOTS) says that “This was…a completely erroneous identification, for the defenses in question belonged to the Early Bronze Age” (3000‑2300 by her reckoning). Archer, in a series on biblical archaeology in Bib Sac (1970), quotes Garstang (in 1948) as saying his position has not been refuted. Archer argues that this is a case in point where the prejudgment of one’s position (in this case a late date for the Exodus) controls the interpretation of the data. However, Miss Kenyon argues that “…it is impossible to associate the destruction of Jericho with such a date [late date]. The town may have been destroyed by one of the other Hebrew groups, the history of whose infiltrations is, as generally recognized, complex. Alternatively, the placing at Jericho of a dramatic siege and capture may be an aetiological explanation of a ruined city [Wright, in BA denies this (see my opening lecture)]. Archaeology cannot provide the answer.”9 Wood’s discussion is promising, but most archaeologists do not agree with him. Provan, et al., summarize the situation: Jericho: what do we know? Data: Collapsed city walls; burning; spring time (indicated by a presence of grain); presence of grain (so must have fallen quickly and not a lengthy siege). A quick fall points to a supernatural fall (not his words). The stoppage of the Jordan correlates with historically known stoppages. “Taken together, all these factors would seem to encourage confidence in the compatibility of the archaeological and textual evidence relating to the fall of Jericho. The problem of Jericho has to do not so much with the material finds as with the dates assigned to these findings.” Garstang> Kenyon> Wood.10

It would be better to accept the biblical account including the date of 1 Kings 6:1, which is not disproved by archaeology, and wait for further information.11

Ai. “And Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is beside Bethaven, on the east side of Beth‑el…they are but few.” (Josh. 7:2‑3). Ha’ai means “the heap” as does Et-Tell, the modern name for this site (see BASOR, #198, April, 1970).

According to Wright, Ai’s excavation indicates a small, flourishing town, heavily fortified, between the 33rd and 24th centuries B.C. The chief structure within was a fine temple, beautifully built and the huge walls were its protection.12

The city is said to have been destroyed about 2400 B.C. and not reoccupied until c. 1000 B.C. Attempts to answer this are:

Etiological explanation.

People from Bethel temporarily occupying the city.

Albright: Story in Joshua concerns Bethel but later it was identified with Ai.

Excavation shows a violent destruction of Bethel in the 13th century (Albright and Kelso—1934, 1955‑60). It is more probable that this is the destruction of Bethel referred to in Judges 1 at a later date.

Since the biblical account is quite explicit, we can only assume:

The occupation was so light as to leave no trace, or the mound excavated (et Tell) is not Ai.13 Bryant Wood is currently excavating at Tell el Maqatir, believing it to be a good candidate for Ai.14


The Gibeonites made a league with Joshua (chapter 9) and became “hewers of wood” and “drawers of water.”

Gibeon was excavated by Pritchard (Gibeon, Where the Sun Stood Still) from 1956‑1962 (It is not all finished). The most outstanding thing there is the huge water cistern 37 feet in diameter and 82 feet deep (ANE 1 # 179, 180). In addition there was a winery with a capacity of 25,000 gallons.

There is evidence of continuous habitation without destruction in accord with the biblical account (Gibeon not attacked).15

The Cities of the Southern Campaign.

The defeat of these outpost cities was necessary to open up the hill country. When Sennacherib and Nebuchadnezzar invaded Judah centuries later, they followed the same strategy. All the cities mentioned in Joshua can today be located with a high degree of probability except Makkedah.16


Lachish was excavated by Starkey beginning in 1933. It was finished in 1957.

A jar was found with hieratic script of a receipt dated in the year of some Pharaoh. Which one? There is no real way of knowing, but Ramases II or Merneptah is usually chosen for obvious reasons (see chronology). It is the stele of Merneptah (c. 1220 B.C.) which contains the only mention of Israel and refers to them as a people in Palestine.17

Lachish letters—Jeremiah’s time.

Debir—Kiriath‑Sepher—Modern tell Beit Mirsim.

Albright’s own discussion of the archaeological data in AOTS does not sound as conclusive as Wright indicates in BA. One phase of the city was destroyed about the middle of the 14th century although an earlier or later date is possible.

The destruction of another level “must have been quite late in the 13th century B.C.”

I do not feel that Albright’s discussion is dogmatic enough to warrant a 1250 date for Israel to have defeated Debir.

The Northern Campaign.

“And Joshua at that time turned back, and took Hazor, and smote the king thereof with the sword: for Hazor beforetime was the head of all those kingdoms.” Joshua 11:10.

See BAXXII, 1959, and Yadin in AOTS for a discussion. Hazor is mentioned in the execration texts and the Mari tablets. There was caravan travel between Hazor and Babylon. It was a huge city of 40,000 people.

Hazor was destroyed in the middle of the 13th century B.C. Wood says Hazor was burned but the evidence of destruction in the 13th century is not burning. But Stratum XVI (3) dated by Yadin in 16th‑15th centuries was burned. This may be the one Joshua burned, and it was rebuilt and strong during the time of Deborah.18


We conclude our study of the conquest as we began. Archaeology is not as conclusive for a late date theory as is often presented, but neither does it prove an earlier date. We will simply have to wait (perhaps in vain) for further interpretation and correlation which will help. The evidence does show violent disruption of many of the cities in the general period of the 13th century. In the meantime, we should hold to the biblical chronology as given in 1 Kings 6:1. As Provan, et al., say, “We recognize that some knotty problems remain: Has Ai been correctly located? Has Jericho’s destruction been correctly dated? What’s that on Mt. Ebal? Finally, we recognize that how we read the evidence is in some measure related to larger issues of how we see the world. All in all, we believe that such archaeological evidence as is known to us in no way invalidates the biblical testimony (provided that both text and artifact are properly read) and that at least some promising ‘convergences’ exist.”19

1See D. Baly, Geography of the Bible.

2W. Dever, “What Remains of the House that Albright Built,” BA 56 (1993) pp. 32-33.

3See Provan, et al., A Biblical History of Israel, pp. 131-32.

4Thiele (Zondervan Bible Dictionary, p. 167) quotes G. L. Harding (PEQ Jan-Jun, 1958, 10-12) for sedentary occupation in the MB age (1550) to LB (1200).

5Albright, SATC , pp. 280ff

6Provan, et. al., A Biblical History of Israel, p. 140.

7Ibid., pp. 188-89.

8Ian Provan, et al., p. 171-72.

9K. Kenyon, AOTS, p. 273. Bryant G. Wood (“Did the Israelites Conquer Jericho? A New Look” BAR 16:2 (1990), 44-58) has taken up the issue again and argues that Kenyon misinterpreted some of the data. See Provan, et al., for a good summary of Wood’s position (A Biblical History of Israel, 175-76).

10Ian Provan, et al., A Biblical History of Israel, pp. 174-75.

11See Kitchen in OROT, pp. 187-88, for a discussion of the vast erosion of the tell. He holds to a mid-thirteenth century conquest. Albright (The Biblical period from Abraham to Ezra, p. 28), says there must have been a city from 19-13 c. since pottery shows up at the base of the mound in the 10th c. stratum. It must have eroded away (see further, Wright, BA, pp. 79, 80, Wood in New Perspectives on Old Testament Studies, and Waltke, Bib Sac, J‑M, 1972).

12G. E. Wright, BA, p. 80.

13See Livingston, WTJ, 33, Nov., 1970, p. 20f. He argues that Bethel is really modern Bireh and Ai an unnamed mound nearby. But see Rainey, “Bethel is Still Beitin,” WTJ 33 (1971).

14See also Callaway, “New Evidence on the Conquest of `Ai [*]”JBL 88 (1968) 312-20.

15See Reed, in AOTS. See also Lapp, Biblical Archaeology and History and “The Conquest of Palestine in the Light of Archaeology, CTM 38 (1967).

16Wright, BA, p. 81.

17ANE p. 231, fig. 96.

18See L. Wood, “The Date of the Exodus,” in New Perspectives on the Old Testament, pp. 74 and Y. Yadin, “Hazor and the Battle of Joshua—is Joshua 11 Wrong,” BAR 21(1976) pp. 3-4, 44.

19Provan, et al., A Biblical History of Israel, p. 192.

Related Topics: Archaeology, History