Archaeology and the early Old Testament

writings of and commentary inspired by Charles Pellegrino

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Part IV : Rape and Pillage - the Conquest of Canaan

At the time the Hebrews were about to start their crusade against the Canaanites, war was a really nasty business. Hitler was a saint compared to the things that went on back then. Egyptian rulers had a fondness for displaying the severed heads of kings they had defeated. So the details of the "conquest" of Canaan were not unusual for the time. "Setting cities aflame, looting them, taking away young virgin girls for sex slaves and killing everyone else" was what they did, but also what everyone else was doing as well. Military "christians" also liked doing such things ... when christian crusaders captured the arab capital in Crete in the 10th century, the whole population was exterminated, so that the soldiers could not be "contaminated". Not to mention the atrocities committed in Palestine.

There was, however, something unusual about the Hebrews, even at an early time there appeared the idea that killing, even in war, was unclean (Nu 31:19, for eg). A really radical idea for the time. Radical today, for that matter.

Around 1515 BC the Egyptians had another civil war (they seemed to enjoy having them) and "King Tut" came to the the throne. During this time Egypt's military power was weak so withdrew their forces from Canaan. The Canaanite city states revolted and they, in turn, were overcome by an invading force (or forces) of semites starting c.1500BC. The bible itself is contradictory as to how the conquest went. Joshua implies it went fairly smoothly and soon the Hebrews controlled a huge area; but Judges indicates that it wasn't smooth, Canaanite cities were still around in David's day and the Jews suffered many defeats at the hands of the Canaanites. It can be pictured as a bunch of guerrilla groups or tribes of Jews swarming over the country side, but probably not able to destroy many cities.

The one major exception was Jericho. The city has stood, in one incarnation or another, for more than 10000 years, but between 1540 and 1450 BC, the city was destroyed, it's walls tumbled and warehouses full of grain burnt to the ground .. as in the Joshua account. Timing (just after harvest) likely discounts either an Egyptian or Canaanite attack, which leaves the Semites. Archaeology gives no more collaboration to the OT account of Joshua, but there does exist a very simple explaination which would cover both the fall of Jericho and other things mentioned in Joshua - viz the parting of the river Jordan. An earthquake. Even in recent times quakes have often struck the area and since the river passes thru' narrow valleys, quite often there are landslides that temporarily stop the river ("part the waters"), sometimes for up to a day. So, the Egyptians had left Canaan, leaving a tempting target for the Hebrews, an earthquake had blocked the Jordan and at the same time brought down at least some of Jericho's walls .. and taking use of the opportunity the Jews swarmed in over Jericho, taking them by surprise, in the middle of a natural emergency. Of course it could have happened literally as in Joshua, but if the previous books are any indication, it probably didn't happen that way and things were semi-fictionalised to make them sound "more impressive". The circle of stones at "Gilgal" likely refers to a VERY old stone circle, ala Stonehenge, near Jericho, but which dates back to 250,000 years or more ... the handiwork of cro mangon man.

But once Joshua reduced Jericho, there is no archaeological evidence that he went rampaging across Canaan and destroyed most of the other cities. If he did, the fire and ruins would say so. They don't, so he didn't. The guerrilla warfare idea fits better. In fact their lot would have become even worse (as hinted in Judges) when refugees from Crete settled on the coast of Canaan and allied themselves with the Canaanites - they would be called the Philistines by the Jews. Then too, the iron age reached Canaan about then, so the Jews, armed with bronze and using hit-an-run tactics, would have been even worse off (Judges does indicate that at one point they were all but eliminated as a military threat to the Canaanites).

"Philistine" is a Greek translation of the Hebrew translation of the Egyptian translation (!) of what they called themselves. The Egyptians called them "pulesati", what they called themselves is anyone's guess.

When all seemed lost fate - or the hand of God - took action. In c.1300BC when the Canaanites and Philistines presumably all but eliminated the Hebrew threat (about the time of Samson?) a powerful pharaoh (Ramses II) came to power in Egypt and began a series of raids into Canaan, decimating the Canaanite fighting force and looting their cities. Pellegrino speculates that after the Egyptians had laid the Philistines and Canaanites low, the Hebrews came and gave them the "coup de grace", much as they did with Jericho. Fortunately for the Hebrews, Egypt then had another civil war, followed by an economic collapse, which removed them from the scene, pretty much for good. This allowed the Hebrews and the Canaanites and Philistines to battle things out on a more even footing (as far as the Hebrews were concerned). By 1080-1030 BC, when Saul came to the throne, the Canaanites had been reduced to almost nothing (a very few cities and a hefty genetic contribution to the Hebrew race) and Canaan became Israel. The Philistines remained, though greatly weakened, to trouble Samuel, Saul and then David.


Incidently, until 1993 there was no non-biblical evidence for David. That year they found a Syrian inscription dating to c.850BC that mentioned "King Asa of the House of David". The inscription celebrated the defeat of King Baasha of Israel by Asa and the Syrians - an event recorded in Kings and Chronicles.

From the time of Saul on, the Israelites learned the "secret of steel" (to steal a line from Conan) and changed from a mountain dwelling nomad race to a settled city dwellng race. As the Israelites grew in power and control of the land, the Philistines diminished .. but they were still pretty powerful, as evidenced by the many defeats that Samuel, Saul and David suffered at their hands. (see 1 Sam 4, eg). One such loss was when Samuel "lost" the Ark to the Philistines, who promptly suffered what sounds, to me, very similiar to accounts of the Black Plague in europe, right down to the mice and "blisters". Even the Jews were not unaffected .. 50,000 were said to have died after they retrived the Ark. Wrath of God for looking in the ark, plague, or both? Who knows.

From this point in "biblical history", what happened was recorded soon after the event and the Bible and archaeloogy essentially converge. [I will skip several sections of the book here].

In an ironical twist, the writer of Chronicles refers to the king of the Babylonians as the "king of the Chaldees", ironical given that Abraham was said to have come (incorrectly) from "Ur of the Chaldees", so in a sense they were returning home when they were taken captive in the "Exile".

The Philistines

In several passages the bible mentions that the Philistines came from Crete (the Minoan empire) and were in fact refugees, much like themselves. In fact it goes even further. In Jeremiah 47 and Amos 10 it mentions that the Philistines (Minoans) were destroyed by a "wall of water". The Minoans were a sea trading race, most of their settlements and colonies were on the coast, they have been found in Egypt, Greece and Canaan. In the Theran tidal wave many of these would have been drowned. But Amos goes further and describes what sounds very much like the Thera episode, complete with tidal wave and the volcanic eruption. In fact Amos implies that the same "act" that brought the Philistines to Canaan (ie Thera) also brought the Hebrews out of Egypt, which fits in pretty well with the Thera interpretation of the exodus. If Amos was right (and modern biblical chronology wrong) then the Exodus occured at the time of Thera and the Egyptian records of the Thera incident must be considered when looking at the exodus. The OT word for Crete was Kapthor, from the Egyptian Keftiu.

Another offtrack, but interesting piece of trivia .. apart from archaeology, little has come down to the present from the Minoans, it's as if they disapeared off the planet, as some modern legends of Atlantis (Thera) suggest they did. And what has remained is paradoxial .. their very names have become terms of insult. Crete giving rise to cretin and creticism "cretan behavious: lying and cheating" according to the Oxford Dictionary. "Philistine" today means cultural barbarian, not the name of a race. Yet despite this, much of Greek mythology, "classical culture" was inherited by the Greeks from the Minoans (so called cretins and philistines). Even the name Europe comes from the Minoans.


Comments on Part IV

What does it say? We've already established that the creation story was "just" Sumerian legend, we established the Jews as just a bunch of Sumerians who got lost. That Noah was, at best, some guy who saved a few livestock on a raft in a flood of the Euphrates, that Sodom was real, kinda, but the story a trifle changed, that the Jews were in Egypt and left in an exodus, but unlike the biblical one, it was a series of waves of exodus from Egypt of a bunch of people who previously invaded and took over, only to eventually be overthrown .. the last of them were turned into slaves .. and were kicked out of Egypt when Thera blew up and caused a famine in Egypt.

But what this time? That Moses was more fictional than real, though he may have existed. His stone tablets and their breaking and renewal came out of post-Abraham Sumerian history, his laws were Sumerian laws spruced up. The 40 years in the wilderness was nearer several hundred. Their rapid conquest of the promised land was more a several hundred year guerrilla warfare, of hit-and-run tactics ... it was not until the Egyptians renewed their might and trompted the Canaanites and then themselves collapsed that the Jews could conquer Canaan and make it Israel.

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