There is an ongoing debate in scholarly
circles of OT studies on how Israel became established in the land of
Canaan. There are three contemporary positions vying for ascendancy: 1)
the traditional "conquest" model; 2) a "migration" or "infiltration"
model; 3) a "peasant revolt" model. There is no present consensus,
although it seems that the current general trend is to move away from
the traditional "conquest" model.
a. The traditional conquest model.
Those who hold to the "conquest" model are of the opinion that Israel
invaded the land from outside its borders, broke organized resistance
by a series of swift attacks, and then settled down to complete the
occupation of the land in the various tribal territories.
Traditionally adocates of this view have appealed to archaeological
evidence, usually from destruction levels of various Canaanite cities
in the late 13th century B.C., and have accepted the picture given in
the biblical narrative as either completely or at least generally
historically reliable. Advocates of this view belonging to the Albright
school usually qualify historical reliability by maintaining that
historicity must not be pushed to details.
The conquest model is supported by evangelical scholars (e.g. K. A.
Kitchen, David Howard, Richard Hess), by W. F. Albright and a number of
his students, as well as by such Israeli scholars as Yigael Yadin and
Abraham Malamat. In recent years a more nuanced version of the conquest
view (sometimes termed a "modified conquest model") has developed in
which the destruction levels of the late 13th century B.C. Canaanite
cities are not cited as evidence for the view. Eugene Merrill (Kingdom of Priests
David Howard (Joshua
NAC, pp, 36-40, 1998) are among those who argue that according to the
biblical text only three Canaanite cities were destroyed (Jericho, Ai
and Hazor). Merrill comments: "Once one understands that the mrj
under which Canaan stood
applied only to populations and not places (Jericho, Ai and Hazor
excepted) the archaeological verifiability of the conquest is shown to
be an exercise in irrelevance" (BibSac
152  145 162).
J. Bimson (1989, see bib.) has supported a conquest model with a 15th
century date by suggesting that destruction levels at the end of the
Middle Bronze Age are to be associated with the Israelite conquest.
This suggestion involves a revision, downward, of the end of the MBA
from about 1500 to about 1400.
b. The migration or infiltration model.
Advocates of this view conclude that there was no military assault on
Canaanite cities, but rather there was a gradual infiltration by
pastoral nomads from the deserts of the south and east (the Israelite
tribes) into the sparsely populated hill country of Canaan during the
Late Bronze Age (1500-1200 B.C.) and Early Iron Age (1200-1000 B.C).
These nomads are said to have lived on good terms with the Canaanites,
even intermarrying with them, and not to have engaged in serious
conflicts until the 11th century when they moved into the fertile
plains where the strong Canaanite cities were located.
This thesis was initially proposed by Albrecht Alt in 1925 and was
followed by M. Noth. More recently it has been supported by Manfred
Weippert, J. M. Miller and the Israeli scholars Yohanan Aharoni and M.
Mochavi (see course bibliography).
According to Alt the real process of settlement was a peaceful process
of transition on the part of nomads to a sedentary way of life. Only at
a second stage did the Israelites seek possession of the valleys and
plains and in the process occasionally engage in military activity. Alt
termed this second stage "territorial expansion." Both Alt and Weippert
dismiss archaeological evidence as either "silent" or inconclusive.
c. The peasant revolt model
According to this view the occupation of Canaan is not to be viewed as
an invasion from outside, but rather as an uprising within the land of
Israel. G. Mendenhall claims that there was no "conquest" in the sense
in which that is usually understood, but rather that rural peasants who
were unhappy with the Canaanite city state system "rejected the old
political ideologies in favor of the covenant community of Yahweh."
Mendenhall argues that: "there was no statistically important invasion
of Palestine at the beginning of the twelve tribe system of Israel.
There was no radical displacement of population, there was no genocide,
there was no large scale driving out of population, only of royal
administrators (of necessity!). In summary, there was no real conquest
of Palestine in the sense that has usually been understood; what
happened instead may be termed, from the point of view of the secular
historian interested only in socio-political processes, a peasant's
revolt against the network of interlocking Canaanite city states" ("The
Hebrew Conquest of Palestine," The Biblical Archaeologist Reader
He says further: "the Hebrew conquest of Palestine took place because a
religious movement and motivation created a solidarity among a large
group of pre-existent social units, which was able to challenge and
defeat the dysfunctional complex of cities dominating the whole of
Palestine and Syria at the end of the Bronze age." ("The Hebrew
Conquest of Palestine," The
Biblical Archaeologist Reader
, 3, 107)."
The "internal revolt" model took a new turn with the publication of
Norman Gottwald's The Tribes
of Yahweh A Sociology of the Religion of Liberated Israel 1250 1050
in 1979 and his The
Hebrew Bible - A Socio-Literary Introduction
in 1985. Gottwald
approaches his analysis of biblical traditions from a Marxist
orientation. The result is a radically new reading of the biblical
material from a sociological perspective. Gottwald agrees with
Mendenhall that the origin of Israel is to be traced to a revolutionary
social movement within
Canaanite society, but he departs from Mendenhall's original thesis in
that he denies that the revolution was inspired at least to some extent
by Yahwistic religious belief. In fact he argues that the order is to
be reversed. Yahwism only arose as a function of the revolution. It was
the revolution that created the conditions under which Yahwism emerged.
Religion thus becomes a function of class relations, employed either by
"the powerful to justify their superior class position or the powerless
to validate their class struggle" (P. Kyle McCarter, Jr. "A Major New
Introduction to the Bible," Bible
2/2 (1986) 44). Mendenhall himself has strongly rejected
Gottwald's modification of the peasant revolt hypothesis (see G.
Mendenhall, "Ancient Israel's Hyphenated History," in Palestine in Transition
eds., David Noel Freedman and David F. Graf [Sheffield, England: Almond
Before leaving discussion of this matter it is instructive to notice
the shift in emphasis and even
viewpoint on this issue reflected in the 3 successive editions of John
Bright's A History of
noted in E. Noort, "Geschiedenis als Brandpunt over de Rol van de
Archaeologie bij de Vestiging van Israël in Kanaän, GTT
78  84-102).
Bright, A HISTORY OF
ISRAEL, 1960, 126-127.
Bright, A HISTORY OF
Bright, A HISTORY OF
ISRAEL, 1981, 142.
In the latter half of the thirteenth century there took place, as
abundantly attests a great onslaught upon Western Palestine, which,
however, incomplete it may have been, broke the back of organized
resistance and enabled Israel to transfer her tribal center there.
There is not reason to doubt, that this conquest was, as the Book of Joshua depicts it,
a bloody and brutal business. It was the Holy War of Yahweh, by which
he would give his people the Land of Promise. At the same time, it must
be remembered that the herem was applied only in certain cases; the
Canaanite population was by no means exterminated. Much of the land
occupied by Israel was thinly populated and much inhabited by elements
who made common cause with her.
My own earlier presentation has been revised in the light of the
important article of G. B.
Mendenhall has perhaps expressed himself incautiously in places
... In any event, whatever the size of the group coming from the desert
may have been (and it may have been larger than Mendenhall seems to suggest), its
crucial role in what took place must receive full stress (p. 133, n.
. . . in the latter part of the thirteenth century when, as
archaeological evidence suggests
a violent convulsion
shook Western Palestine, as a result of which organized resistance was
broken and Israel was enabled to transfer her tribal center there. In view of the complexity of the
evidence we cannot undertake to reconstruct the details of the action
by which this was accomplished. But there is no reason to doubt
that it was, as the Bible depicts it, a bloody and brutal business. It
was the Holy War of Yahweh by which he would give his people the Land
of Promise. At the same time, it must be remembered that the herem was
applied only in the case of certain
Canaanite cities that resisted; the population of Palestine was
by no means exterminated. Indeed there is every reason to believe
that large elements of that population - specifically Hebrews
but others as well - made common cause with the Israelites and rendered them willing assistance.
|The presentation offered here
follows in all essentials
that of G. E. Mendenhall... (p. 137, n.76).
disaffected elements among the Hebrew population have been set to
wondering if they too
might not hope to get free from their hated masters. It was
inevitable that the
conflagration should spread. And this it did as the thirteenth century
gave way to the twelfth... Indeed
it is not impossible that uprisings against the city lords on the part
of individual tribes, of groupings of tribes had been taking place
there even before the coming of Yahwism But it was the new faith that drove the
conflagration out of control and provided the catalyst that brought
Israel together as a people. The process by which this came
about was complex and doubtless
of long duration in
view of the nature of the evidence, we cannot undertake to
reconstruct it in detail. But there is no reason to doubt, that it was,
as the Bible depicts it, a bloody and brutal business. It was the Holy
War of Yahweh by which he would give his people the Land of Promise. At
the same time it must be remembered that the herem was applied only in
the case of certain Canaanite cities that resisted: the population of
Palestine was by no means exterminated. Indeed, there is every reason
to believe that large elements of that population - specifically
Hebrews, but others as well - made common cause with the Israelites and
rendered them willing assistance.