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IV. The Battle for the Promised Land

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IV. The Battle for the Promised Land

from Joshua to Saul.

15. Israel invades.

The world about 1200 B.C. — the weakness of Canaan — the first iron merchants-the ford across the Jordan — the stronghold of Jericho, the oldest city in the world — scholars quarrel over broken walls — a trail of fire — pharaoh mentions “Israel” by name for the first time — excavations at Hazor — graves at the Village of Joshua.
Now after the death of Moses the servant of the Lord it came to pass, that the Lord spake unto Joshua, the son of Nun, Moses' minister, saying: Moses my servant is dead; now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, thou, and all this people, unto the land which I do give to them, even to the children of Israel” (Josh. 1:1-2).
About the same time as Israel was standing by the Jordan ready to march into the Promised Land, fate was advancing upon Mediterranean Troy and the days of the proud strong­hold of King Priam were numbered. Soon the Homeric heroes of Greece, Achilles, Agamemnon and Odysseus would be arm­ing for the fray — the hands of the timepiece of history were moving towards 1200 B.C. Israel could have chosen no better time for invasion. No danger threatened them from Egypt. Under Ramesses II Egypt had indeed known a last period o glory during which it had consolidated its power in Palestine, but even the might of Egypt crumbled in the political upheavals which marked the transition between the Bronze and the Iron Ages. Its influence in Canaan declined rapidly.

Torn by internal feuds between the innumerable petty king­doms and principalities of its city-states, and sucked dry by the corrupt politics of Egyptian occupation, Canaan itself had shot its bolt.

Ever since the expulsion of the Hyksos about 1550 B.C. Palestine had been an Egyptian province. Under the Hyksos a feudal system had broken up the old patriarchal social structure as it had existed in the towns of Abraham's day. Under an aristocratic ruling class, which was self-centred and despotic, the people were reduced to the level of subjects without rights, and became mere plebeians. Egypt left this feudal system in Palestine unaltered. Native princes could do as they pleased: they had their own armies, which consisted of patrician charioteers and plebeian infantry. Bloody warfare between the city-states did not worry the Egyptians. All they were interested in was the payment of tribute, which was supervised by strict and inflexible Egyptian inspectors. Garrisons and defence posts tacitly lent their activities the necessary weight. Gaza and Joppa housed the most important Egyptian administrative centres. By means of labour levies — supplied by the feudal lords — roads were built and maintained, the royal estates on the fertile plain of Jezreel south of Nazareth were managed and the glorious cedar forests of Lebanon were felled to the ground. The commissioners of the Pharaohs were corrupt. Often the troops' pay and rations were misappropriated. Whereupon they took the law into their own hands, and mercenaries from Egypt and Crete, Bedouins and Nubians plundered defenceless villages.

Under Egyptian rule the land of Canaan bled to death. The population shrank. Patrician houses of the 13th century B.C. are more primitive than they had been in earlier times, as is shown by excavations. Objets d'art and jewellery of any value are rarer, and gifts deposited with the dead in their tombs are of poorer quality. Fortress walls have lost their old solidity.

Only on the coast of Syria, protected on the landward side by me mountain ridges of the Lebanon and less affected by the quarrels of the princes, life in the maritime republics pursued its untroubled way. Whatever else happens seaports are always places where men can exchange what they have for what they want. About 1200 B.C. an entirely new metal — as valuable to begin with as gold or silver — appeared on the price lists: iron. Since it came from the Hittite country, the Phoenicians were first to deal in this metal, which was to give its name to one of the ages of man's history. The Egyptians had known about iron for nearly 2,000 years and valued it as an extremely unusual and rare commodity. The iron they knew however did not come from our planet at all but from meteors. And the few expensive weapons that they managed to produce in this way were very properly called “Daggers from Heaven.”

With the appearance of this new metal a new epoch, the Iron Age, was announced. The Bronze Age with its unique civilising achievements died away and a great epoch of the ancient world came to an end.

At the end of the 13th century B.C. a great new wave of foreign peoples surged down from the northern Aegean. By land and water these “Sea Peoples” flowed over Asia Minor. They were the fringes of a great movement of population to which the Dorian migration to Greece also belonged. The impetus of these foreigners — they were Indo-Germanic — was directed to Canaan and Egypt: For the time being Israel, waiting poised by the Jordan, had nothing to fear from them. And the Canaanites were divided and weak. Israel's hour had come. The Biblical trumpets of Jericho gave the signal.

“... and they removed from Shittim and came to Jor­dan ... and all the Israelites passed over on dry ground, until all the people were passed clear over Jordan... and encamped in Gilgal, in the east border of Jericho” (Josh. 3:1-17, 4:19).

Today there is a bridge over the river at this point: the Jordan is very narrow and has always been fordable in many places. The natives know exactly where these fords are. In the dry season the dirty yellow water at Jericho is only about 30 feet wide.

When Israel reached the Jordan they found it in full spate, “for Jordan overfloweth all his banks all the time of harvest” (Josh. 3:15). As happened every year, the snow on Hermon had begun to melt: “...the waters which came down from above stood and rose up upon an heap” (i.e., were dammed) “very far from the city Adam... and all the Israelites passed over on dry ground, until all the people were passed clear over Jordan” (Josh. 3:16-17). A much frequented ford on the middle reaches of the Jordan, el-Damiyah, recalls the “city Adam.” Should there be a sudden spate it can quite easily be dammed at such a place for a short time, and while it is blocked the lower part of the river is almost dried up.

Considerable damming of the Jordan has however often been attested as a result of earthquake. The last thing of this kind happened in 1927. As a result of a severe quake the river banks caved in, tons of soil crashed down into the river bed from the low hills that follow the Jordan's winding course. The flow of water was completely stopped for twenty-one hours. In 1924 the same thing happened. In 1906 the Jordan became so choked up with debris as the result of an earthquake that the river bed on the lower reaches near Jericho was completely dry for twenty-four hours. Arab records mention a similar occurrence in A.D. 1267.

It is easy to see from the air why this part of the Jordan valley was so important thousands of years ago. To the east, between the river and the Arabian desert, stretches the hilly plateau of Jordan, which has always been the home of countless tribes of nomads and from which they have always been able to look across to the fertile pastures and ploughed fields of Canaan. It is a natural line of attack — the principal ford across the Jordan, easily negotiated by man and beast. But anyone trying to force his way in from the east had to face the first serious obstacle soon after crossing the river — Jericho, the strategic key to the conquest of Canaan.

“And it came to pass, when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, and the people shouted with a great shout, that the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they took the city.... And they burnt the city with fire and all that was therein” (Josh. 6:20-24).

Joshua's battle for this city has made it famous. Today a battle rages round it, but it is between experts armed with spades, picks and chronological tables. According to the Bible it took Joshua seven days to subdue Jericho. The battle of the archaeologists over what is left of it has lasted — with intervals — for more than seventy years now and is by no means settled.

The exciting and dramatic excavations at Jericho are rife with remarkable finds and unexpected discoveries, with surprises and disappointments, with assertions and counter-assertions, with disputes over interpretation and chronology.

The Jordan basin has a tropical climate. The village of Eriha, the modern successor of Jericho, gives the impression of being an oasis on the edge of a barren waste of chalk. Even palm trees grow here although they are seldom found anywhere else in Palestine, except to the south of Gaza. The Bible too calls Jericho “the city of palm trees” (Jud. 3:13). Golden red clusters of dates shimmer among the green foliage. From ancient times the spring called “Ain es-Sultan” has produced as if by magic this lush patch of vegetation. North of present day Jericho a mound of ruins is named after it, Tell es-Sultan. This is the battle ground of the archaeologists. Anyone wanting to examine it must buy a ticket. The site of the excavations lies behind a barbed wire fence.

The remains of Jericho have made Tell es-Sultan one of the most extraordinary scenes of discovery in the world, for it has long since been not merely a matter of investigating the fortress of Biblical times. In this mound, under the strata of the Bronze Age, lie traces of the Stone Age, which take us back to the earliest times of all, to the days when man first built himself settled habitations. The oldest of Jericho's houses are 7,000 years old and, with their round walls, resemble Bedouins' tents. But the art of pottery was as yet unknown among their inhabitants. In 1953 a British expedition conducted excavations here, and the director of the enterprise, Dr. Kathleen M. Kenyon declared: “Jericho can lay claim to being by far the oldest city in the world.”

Shortly after the turn of the century archaeologists directed their attention to this lonely mound of Tell es-Sultan. From 1907 to 1909 picks and spades carefully felt their way through layer after layer of this massive mound of ruins. When the two leaders of the German-Austrian expedition, Professor Ernst Sellin and Professor Karl Watzinger, made known what they had discovered, they caused genuine amazement. Two concentric rings of fortification were exposed, the inner ring surrounding the ridge of the hill. It is a masterpiece of military defence made of sun-dried bricks in the form of two parallel walls about 10 or 12 feet apart The inner wall, which is particularly massive, is about 12 feet thick throughout. The outer ring of fortification runs along the foot of the hill and consists of a 6 foot thick wall, about 25-30 feet high, with strong foundations. These are the famous walls of Jericho. The two lines of fortification, their exact historical placing, the dates of their erection and destruction have given rise to a vehement dispute among the experts who advance the pros and cons in a welter of opinions, hypotheses and arguments. It began with the first announcement by Sellin and Watzinger and has continued ever since.

Both discoverers arrived themselves at what they called a “considerable modification” of their first conclusion. They issued a joint statement in which they maintained that the outer wall “fell about 1200 B.C., and therefore must be the city wall which Joshua destroyed.” To shed new light on the whole business a British expedition set out for Tell es-Sultan in 1930. After six years' digging further portions of the fortifications were exposed. Professor John Garstang as leader of the expedition noted every detail with the utmost precision. He described graphically the violence with which the inner circle of parallel fortifications had been destroyed: “The space between the two walls is filled with fragments and rubble. There are clear traces of a tremendous fire, compact masses of blackened bricks, cracked stones, charred wood and ashes. Along the walls the houses have been burned to the ground and their roofs have crashed on top of them.”

After Garstang had consulted the most knowledgeable experts, the outcome of the second archaeological battle was that the inner ring was the more recent, therefore the one which must have been destroyed by the Israelites. But that did not settle the matter. The wrangle about the Walls of Jericho continues. Garstang dates the destruction of the inner ring about 1400 B.C. Hugues Vincent, a leading archaeologist and one of the most successful investigators into Jerusalem's ancient past, also studied the evidence and dated the destruction of the walls between 1250 and 1200 B.C.

Today we know that both experts were mistaken. Since their day, archaeologists have developed methods which allow us to understand excavation sites much better than was the case a few decades ago. Professor Garstang and Father Hugues Vincent both thought that walls from the early Bronze Age belonged to the late Bronze Age. Today we know that this is not so. The mistake occurred because wind and weather had largely carried away the more recent layers which covered the earliest remains. It is in one area only, at the highest place on Tell es-Sultan, on the northwest of the heap of ruins, that the remains of middle Bronze Age defence works, built on top of what is left of early Bronze Age walls, have been preserved at their full height. Scanty vestiges of late Bronze Age dwellings have been found only on the lower eastern slopes of the hill. We owe all this information to the great British archaeologist Kathleen M. Kenyon who by her extensive and successful excavations in Jericho during the fifties of the present century laid the foundations of our present-day knowledge. It was Kathleen M. Kenyon, too, who convincingly interpreted the very small amount of pottery found at Jericho. She was also able to interpret the information provided by the graves which constitute the only evidence concerning the late period of ancient Jericho.

According to her findings the walls of Jericho had to be rebuilt during the Bronze Age no less than seventeen times. The walls were repeatedly destroyed either by earthquakes or by erosion. Perhaps this weakness of the walls of Jericho found expression in the Bible account of how the children of Israel, in order to conquer Jericho, merely had to shout their war cry when the priests blew the trumpets. The middle Bronze Age city dated from the time of the Hyksos and came to an end at the same time as they, around 1550 B.C. Thereafter Jericho remained uninhabited for about a century and a half. It is only about the year 1400 B.C., as is shown by pottery, objects found in graves and the few late Bronze Age remains of dwellings on the eastern slope of the hill, that people began to settle there once more. This late Bronze Age town, of whose existence we have only such sparse evidence, was again deserted by its inhabitants, however, around 1325 B.C. Did they become the victims of conquerors of some kind who were subsequently absorbed in the melting-pot of “Israel” and whose conquests were ultimately incorporated in the Biblical account of the settlement of the land? For if it is the case that Israelites did not come to Jericho until the time of the occupation, i.e., about the middle or towards the end of the 13th century B.C., they did not need to conquer the city for they found it uninhabited! Jericho was not rebuilt until the 9th century before Christ, in the days of King Ahab (1 Kings 1634). As the Bible tells us (Joshua 656), it was as though a curse had lain on the place for centuries.

Jericho was the first strong point to be overcome on the way to the Promised Land. Archaeologists have been able on other sites to follow the further progress of the children of Israel towards their conquest of Canaan.

About 12 miles southwest of Hebron lay the Debir of the Bible. Defended by a strong enclosing wall it dominated the Negev. Excavations by W. F. Albright and M. G. Kyle of the U.S.A. in Tell Beit Mirsim since 1926 disclosed a layer of ashes and considerable destruction. The stratum of ashes contained sherds which undoubtedly date from the end of the 13th century B.C. Immediately above the burnt layer are traces of a new settlement by Israel. “And Joshua returned, and all Israel with him, to Debir, and fought against it” (Josh. 10:38).

Thirty miles south-west of Jerusalem the Lachish of the Bible can be identified. It must have been an extraordinarily strong fortress for Canaan. In the thirties at Tell ed-Duweir a British expedition under James Lesley Starkey measured out an area of twenty-four acres which had at one time been built up and surrounded by a strong wall. This city also fell a victim to a conflagration which destroyed everything. A bowl which was salvaged from the ruins bears an inscription giving its date as the fourth year of Pharaoh Merenptah. That corresponds to the year 1230 B.C. “And the Lord delivered Lachish into the hand of Israel” (Josh. 10:32).

In the Cairo Museum there is a monument from a mortuary temple near Thebes, on which the victory of Pharaoh Merenptah over the Libyans is commemorated and celebrated. In order to augment his triumph, other notable victories which this ruler is said to have achieved are also mentioned. The end of the hymn of praise runs as follows: “Canaan is despoiled and all its evil with it. Askelon is taken captive, Gezer is conquered, Yanoam is blotted out. The people of Israel is desolate, it has no offspring: Palestine has become a widow for Egypt.”

This triumphal hymn, written in 1229 B.C., is in more than one respect valuable and illuminating. Here for the first time in acceded to the throne in 1234 B.C. an history the name “Israel” is immortalised, and that by a foreigner and a contemporary. Israel is expressly described as “people” and moreover in connection with Palestinian place-names — surely a proof for the most hardened sceptic that Israel was already properly settled in Canaan in 1229 B.C. and no longer completely unknown.

Shortly before 1200 B.C. Israel had reached the goal which had for so long been the object of its aspirations. It is now in Canaan, but it is not yet in full control of the country. A trail of burnt out cities marks its path and indicates an extremely shrewd strategic plan. Joshua avoided the strongest fortresses like Gezer and Jerusalem. Obviously he followed the line of least resistance. The fertile plains and river valleys are likewise still in the hands of the Canaanites and will remain so for many generations to come. Israel has neither the armour to resist the dreaded chariots, nor the technique and experience required to war against strongly fortified cities. But it has secured a foothold in the more sparsely populated areas, the hill country on both sides of the Jordan is in its hands.

About ten miles north of the Lake of Galilee lay the mighty stronghold of Hazor, which was still quite powerful, although it had had to suffer, about 1300 B.C., at the hands of conquerors, probably the Egyptians under the Pharaoh Sethos I; Joshua “took Hazor, and smote the king thereof with the sword: for Hazor beforetime was the head of all those kingdoms” (Joshua 11:10). The word “beforetime” provides us with cause for reflection. The town, devastated probably by Sethos I, before its destruction by the Israelites, had indeed been richer and more flourishing than the Hazor they found. The more crucial event and the one which had the gravest consequences in the town's history was undoubtedly this destruction by Israel towards the end of the 13th century B.C.

The rediscovery of this royal city can be counted as one of the most surprising pieces of good fortune in recent Biblical archae­ology. John Garstang, the English archaeologist, had already identified as the site of old Razor the extensive mound of rubble Tell el-Qedah, which stands out prominently to the west of the Jordan between Lake Huleh and the Lake of Galilee. But it was not until excavations, begun in 1953 under the auspices of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and directed by Yigael Yadin of the James A. de Rothschild expedition, had continued over several seasons that the hitherto undisturbed Tell could be awakened from its dreams and induced to part with its closely guarded secrets. Bit by bit its layers began to tell the experts the long and exciting story of the chequered fortunes of Hazor.

No fewer than twenty-one stages of development can be distinguished: twenty-one cities growing up on top of one an­other, each built on the rubble of past generations and each in its turn levelled to the ground, destroyed by war or fire or the force of nature. Surmounted by its citadel and fortified area the city spread its lower reaches far out into the plain. An ingenious drainage system consisting of clay pipes looked after public sanitation.

What has been discovered confirms in a striking way what the Bible has to say about the powerful role that Hazor played in Canaan at the time of the Israelite conquest. Hazor was in fact not only one of the largest settlements of the country but also one of the strongest fortresses. In the 13th century B.C. it was destroyed, as the Book of Joshua records. A layer of burnt rubble indicates a great conflagration about that time. Many scholars do not hesitate to attribute this burnt rubble to Joshua and his hosts.

With these victories and the promised occupation of Canaan, Joshua's great assignment has been fulfilled. At a ripe old age he dies and is buried, “in Timnath-Serah which is in mount Ephraim, on the north side of the hill of Gaash” (Josh. 24:30). The Greek text (LXX 24:30b) adds a very significant remark: “There they put with him into the tomb in which they buried him, the knives of stone with which he circumcised the children of Israel in Gilgal.” In Gilgal, on the way from the Jordan to Jericho, the rite of circumcision was carried out on the men of Israel according to tradition “with stone knives.” “Now all the people that came out were circumcised: but all the people that were born in the wilderness by the way as they came forth out of Egypt, them they had not circumcised” (Josh. 5:5). Ten miles north-west of Bethel lies Kefr Ishu'a, the “Village of Joshua.” In the neighbouring hillside are some rock tombs. In 1870 in one of these sepulchres a number of stone knives was found....

The Biblical account of what appears in the history books as Israel's occupation of the land and the confirmation by archaeo­logical finds of what the Bible says once again provide excellent examples of the fact that new knowledge gives rise to new problems. Hazor is a prime example. With its burnt rubble, its layer of ashes and its broken idols, it seems to support the following passage: “But the Lord thy God shall deliver them (the Canaanites) unto thee, and shall destroy them with a mighty destruction, until they be destroyed. And he shall deliver their kings into thine hand, and thou shalt destroy their name from under heaven: there shall no man be able to stand before thee, until thou have destroyed them. The graven images of their gods shall ye burn with fire...” (Deuteronomy 7:23-25). Hazor's late Bronze Age layer of rubble does indeed fit in chronologically very well with the beginning of Joshua's conquest towards the end of the 13th century B.C. Hazor nevertheless presents us with a problem for the king of Hazor was Jabin whom Joshua defeated “by the waters of Merom” (Joshua 11:5ff). According to the Book of Judges (Judges 4:2) which deals with a later phase of Israel's history, Jabin was still ruler over the same town and Israel had been “sold into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan, that reigned in Hazor” (Judges 4:2). It was only subsequently that Jabin was “subdued” (Judges 4:23) by Barak, the commander of the Israelites, although it is not clear whether the decisive battle took place on the banks of the River Kishon (Judges 5:21) or on Mount Tabor. What are we to think of this duplication? Archae­ology here comes to our aid for after the catastrophe towards the end of the 13th century Hazor was by no means such an important town that it could have been considered as the resi­dence of a “king of Canaan” into whose hands Israel was “sold.” After an interlude of occupation by semi-nomads and sparse early Israelite settlement (12th-11th century B.C.), it was not until the days of King Solomon (10th century B.C.) that Hazor again became a fortified place. It seems, in consequence, that King Jabin from the period of the Judges probably never existed. He is presumably merely a literary reflection of that earlier king of Hazor of the same name during the period of the occupation of the country, that is to say, of the late Bronze Age, except that in the traditions which attached themselves to his person, late Bronze and early Iron Age elements became mingled.

Hazor is situated fairly far to the north, quite a distance north of the Lake of Galilee. Yet the Biblical accounts of a number of other sites which have been excavated in the south of the Promised Land reveal a similar mingling of Iron Age and Bronze Age traditions. Thus the town of Ai is of considerable impor­tance among the Canaanite towns conquered by Joshua (Joshua 7:2ff as well as 8:1-24). According to the Bible (Joshua 12:16) the neighbouring Beth-el is of subsidiary importance. In point of feet, a thick layer of ash and soot-covered brick rubble which covered the late Bronze Age stratum has been found in Beth-el just as was to be expected. But what happened at Ai? Judith Marquet-Krause, who excavated there, was unable to find any stratum providing evidence of destruction in Joshua's time, the late Bronze Age. In his day Ai had long since lain in ruins and had been deserted ever since the early Bronze Age — thus justifying its name, which in Hebrew merely means “ruin,” but not the detailed description of its conquest in the eighteenth chapter of the Book of Joshua! It was not until the beginning of the Iron Age that new settlers arrived, but their village was also destroyed in the end. Had Judith Marquet-Krause been mistaken? Fresh excavations directed by J. A. Callaway were intended to investigate the question. Callaway could do no more, however, than confirm that there had not been any settlement in Ai during the late Bronze Age. The Israelites, therefore, had never been able to conquer the town.

The experts racked their brains. Could the Bible have been in error to this extent? Or had the writers of the Bible confused something? Did the Biblical account of the capture of Ai really refer to the neighbouring place Beth-el which had indeed fallen into ruins at the end of the Bronze Age? Finally the idea occurred to them that all that was needed was not to cling slavishly to the hypothesis that all the events related in the Bible in connection with the occupation of the country really took place towards the end of the Bronze Age. Could the Bible perhaps be referring to the Ai of the early Iron Age? In that case, it was not only the results of excavations at Ai and the Biblical account which would correspond with one another, but a number of other sites as well such as Arad, Dibon and Gibeon which also had not yielded any traces of occupation during the late Bronze Age except for one grave in Gibeon. Even the statement that Gibeon was greater than Ai (Joshua 10:2) is correct in regard to the Iron Age settlements. Once more the Bible is right if we accept that the traditions concerning the occupation of the country mingle facts from the Bronze Age and the Iron Age.

It was in consequence of these and similar inaccuracies, however, that the specialists found themselves able to look upon the Biblical account of the occupation of the country as the condensed description of an extremely complicated and lengthy process which lasted for several centuries, but which the Bible presents to us in compressed form concentrating it all on the person of Joshua. In doing so, the Bible selects specific events and combines them to form a story in which the episodes do not always agree. Some specialists even claim that an occupation, such as is described in the Bible, never occurred and surprisingly this can be substantiated in the Bible. After his first victories in the land of the Canaanites, Joshua assembled “all Israel” by Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal which rise above the old town of Shechem now known as Nablus. In connection with this event the Bible expressly uses the words “all Israel... as well the stranger, as he that was born among them” (Joshua 8:33). How could that be the case? Had not “all Israel” only just arrived in the Promised Land? What did this mention of those “born among them” signify? Many scholars are of the opinion that the subsequent influx of Israelites occurred in several waves. That might be the explanation — when the newcomers arrived, the others were already there. They were already residents.

There are other theories finding support in the scholarly discussions on the settlement of the land. One of them that what the Bible describes as an occupation was really a series of clashes between residents of the towns and the nomads or semi-nomadic inhabitants of the steppes which were brought about by social and religious motives.

Still another theory advances the idea that the occupation was really a mostly peaceful infiltration of foreign immigrants only now and then leading to tensions which worked themselves out in warlike conflicts.

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