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Oxford Bible Atlas Contextualizes the stories and lands of the Bible through user-friendly maps and illustrations.

The Stories of Joshua and the Judges, Samuel and Saul

Adrian Curtis

Conquest, Infiltration, or Emergence?

One of the most debated topics in the study of the Hebrew Bible in recent years has been whether the traditional view of an Israelite conquest of the land of Canaan is historically reliable. The traditional picture owes much to the general sweep of the stories in the Book of Joshua, recounting the tumbling down of the walls of Jericho (Josh. 5–6 ), the destruction of the city of Ai (Josh. 8 ), the defeat of a coalition of the five kings of Jerusalem, Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish, and Eglon who made war on the Gibeonites (Josh. 9–10 ), and the defeat of a northern coalition led by KingJabin of Hazor, and the destruction of his great city (Josh. 11: 1–15 ). In a summary statement, a biblical writer claims, ‘So Joshua took all that land: the hill country and all the Negeb and all the land of Goshen and the lowland and the Arabah and the hill country of Israel and its lowland, from Mount Halak, which rises toward Seir, as far as Baal‐gad in the valley of Lebanon below Mount Hermon’ (Josh. 11: 16–17a ). But the biblical narrative itself raises questions about this picture of an overall conquest of the land. Even within the Book of Joshua, there are suggestions that much land remained to be possessed, including some territory ostensibly within the boundaries of what Joshua had taken, notably the five cities of the Philistines (Josh. 13: 1–7 ). And the opening chapter of the Book of Judges presents a very different picture. What it describes is apparently the situation after the death of Joshua (Judg. 1: 1 ), but in fact Joshua is again described as alive in Judges 2: 6 and his death is recalled in the subsequent verses. The likelihood is that Judges 1 is an alternative account of the taking of the land, perhaps set after Joshua's death by an editor who wanted to avoid apparent contradiction with the general impression given by the Book of Joshua. The presentation in Judges 1 is stylized, commencing with Judah and some of its subgroups in the south, and then dealing with some of the other tribes in an approximately south‐to‐north sequence; but it is frequently noted that the previous inhabitants were not driven out but continued to live alongside the Israelites, albeit sometimes reduced to forced labour.

Zev Radovan, www.BibleLandPictures.com

In part because of the biblical hints at a more complex picture, and in part because archaeology does not present such a clear‐cut picture of a conquest as was once claimed to be the case, other models were put forward to explain the process whereby the Israelites came to control their territory. One was that of ‘nomadic infiltration’, a largely peaceful process of nomads moving into and settling in unpopulated areas, perhaps occasionally coming into conflict with the local inhabitants. This view was particularly associated with Martin Noth, but was also espoused by others. A more radical alternative proposal, put forward by George Mendenhall, has come to be known as the ‘peasants' revolt’ model. This suggested that there was no ‘statistically significant’ invasion but a relatively small group of incomers entered the land, bringing with them a religion whose characteristics appealed to those already in the land who felt themselves oppressed by what were envisaged as feudal‐type overlords. These oppressed people withdrew from an existing Canaanite city‐state system to make common cause with the newcomers. This model underwent a number of refinements, including that associated with Norman Gottwald, who argued for a process of retribalization as a more egalitarian form of organization developed. Such variations on the traditional ‘conquest’ model have attempted to account not only for the Bible's own suggestions that there was not a complete conquest and that Israelites and Canaanites continued to live alongside each other but also for the very limited evidence for major destructions or a significant change of population. The recent trend has been to think more of the ‘emergence’ of Israel from among the previous inhabitants.

Zev Radovan, www.BibleLandPictures.com

Zev Radovan, www.BibleLandPictures.com

Zev Radovan, www.BibleLandPictures.com

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