Sunday, May 04, 2008

The Conquest of Canaan: Did It Happen?, P.9

9) Less ‘Dramatic’ Evidences and Further Interpretation

Gottwald remarks that although these indications open up the possibility of an early Israelite settlement, “the people who made these settlements are not, however, identified inscriptionally or by any distinctive artistic or cultic objects.” (p.195-196)

Some might object that, “No other people are known to have been on the move in Palestine at this time, so by a process of elimination it appears that the ruined Canaanite cities and the new settlements were alike the work of the invading Israelites” But Gottwald maintains that “When the whole body of biblical and extrabiblical data is examined, far-reaching objections to the conquest model arise.” (p.196)
“If Jericho stood at all in the late thirteenth century, it was apparently no more than a small unwalled settlement, or at most a fort. Ai (et-Tell) was not occupied at the time and had not been occupied for centuries. No feasible alternative site for the biblical Ai has been located in a survey of the area around et-Tell. May be the actual conquest of Bethel has been confused with Ai; but if that is the case, we then have two different versions of how Bethel was taken, and they do not agree in details (Josh 8.1-29, Judges 1.22-26). No Late Bronze remains (other than some tomb pottery from the fourteenth and possibly early thirteenth centuries) have been found at Gibeon, raising questions about Joshua’s purported treaty with the Gibeonites (Josh 9). Also, while the evidence from Hazor is still in the hands of a King Jabin. An outright harmonization of Joshua 11 and Judges 4 requires that Deborah and Barak predate Joshua or that Canaanites have returned in force to Hazor between the battles of Joshua 11 and Judges 4.” (p.199)

“As a self-sufficient explanation of the Israelite occupation of the land, the conquest model is a failure. On the literary-historical side, the biblical traditions are too fragmentary and contradictory to bear the interpretation put upon them by the centralized cult and by the editorial framework of Joshua. On the archaeological side, the data are too fragmentary and ambiguous, even contradictory, to permit the extravagant conquest claims made by some archaeologists and historians using archaeological data.” (p.202)

In regards to bichrome pottery, Lawrence E. Stager has documented that such pottery technique “had been known in Canaan since the Late Bronze Age I (1500-1400 BCE). A variant of the bichrome tradition developed in Phoenicia and in Palestine (eg. at Ashkelon) in Late Bronze Age II (1400-1200 BCE), where it was later absorbed into the Philistine repertoire.” (Levy, 1998:335-340). Hence bichrome is not a distinctive Israelite pottery since it was developed gradually and widely utilized in Palestine at that time.

Finkelstein and Silberman noticed such changes in the material culture, yet these evidents do not allow to be construed as distinctively Israelites, “In the thirteenth century BCE, Ashdod in particular was a prosperous Canaanite centre under Egyptian influence. Both Ashdod and Ekron survived at least until the days of Ramesses III and at least one of them, Ashdod, was then destroyed by fire. The Philistine immigrants founded cities on the ruins, and by the twelfth century BCE, Ashdod and Ekron had become prosperous cities, with a new material culture. The older mix of Egyptian and Canaanite features in architecture and ceramics was replaced by something utterly new in this part of the Mediterranean: Aegean-inspired architecture and pottery styles.” (2001:89)

Add to that, recent studies done on ancient Israelites ethnicity by Elizabeth Bloch-Smith has show that the attempt to identify Israel’s ethnicity based on the presence or absence of specific features such as pillared house, storage jars, and pork diet is faulty. (Elizabeth Block-Smith, ‘Israelites Ethnicity in Iron I: Archaeology Preserves What Is Remembered and What Is Forgotten in Israel’s History”, JBL 122 [2003], as referred by John J. Collins, 2005).

In similar vein, Niels Peter Lemche devotes a chapter in surveying the identity of ‘Israel’ as known by her contemporary neighbours through excavated inscriptions. He concludes, “It is true that the written documentation from the ancient Near East has nothing to contribute to the question of the existence of a specific Israelite ethnos that could identified and separated on the basis of ethnic distinctions from its neighbors.” (1998:63)

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