Tablets from Ugarit and Canaanite Religion

JOSHUA 1 The land Joshua was commanded by God to enter was that of the Canaanites.12 Although the Old Testament provides us with some information concerning these non-Israelite people and their religion, we gain much of our knowledge from the writings of a people not far removed from the Canaanites themselves. Ugarit, a city in northern Syria, has yielded a huge archive of tablets dating from approximately 1400 B.C.3 Though not located in Canaan proper, Ugarit (modern Ras Shamra) shared many close cultural ties with the Canaanites, including a similar religious system and language.

The language in which the tablets from Ugarit were written is now simply called Ugaritic. It is closely related to Hebrew and is of great value in helping scholars to better understand ancient Hebrew. These tablets include texts of various kinds and incorporate a great number of mythological and ritual religious elements. The deities they mention constitute the pantheon (list of officially recognized gods) of Ugarit and of the Canaanite people.

The highest deity was El,the aged father god. His consort or partner was Athirat, a sea goddess also known in the Old Testament as Asherah.5 The principal player in the major mythological text from Ugarit is Baal (possibly El's grandson), the mighty storm god and fertility deity who figures so prominently in many of the Old Testament historical and prophetic books., In the battles depicted in the Baal cycle, this notorious god defeated the deities Yam (the sea) and Mot (death)! His consorts were Anat, a warrior goddess who also was his wife-sister, and Astarte. Other features of Canaanite religion attested at Ugarit include animal sacrifices, seasonal festivals and belief in an afterlife. Child sacrifice, a recurring motif of Canaanite religion in the Old Testament, is not mentioned in Ugaritic texts.

Rahab's House

JOSHUA 2 The Israelite spies instructed Rahab to gather her family into her house, where they would be spared from the coming calamity (Jos 2:18-19). Later, Rahab and her family members were rescued as promised (6:17,22-23). Joshua 2:15 indicates that Rahab's house was located within the fortifications of Jericho ( "Maps 2-3"). Translated literally, the Hebrew reads,"Her house was against the vertical surface of the city wall, and in the city wall she lived." How was her house preserved when the wall fell? Remarkably, archaeology provides an answer.

German excavations from 1907-1909 on the northern section of the site uncovered a portion of the lower city wall that did not fall as it did everywhere else.' The still-standing section rose as high as 8 feet (nearly 2.5 m), with houses built against it still intact. A second wall at the crest of the embankment revealed that these particular houses were situated between the upper and lower city walls and were thus "in the city wall." Since the lower wall also formed the back wall of the houses, an opening (window) in the wall would have provided a convenient escape route for the spies. From this northerly location it was only a short distance to the hills of the Judean wilderness, where the spies hid for three days (2:16,22).

Crossing the Jordan

JOSHUA 3 The Bible describes the miracle of the crossing of the Jordan in graphic Ian-guage:"The water from upstream stopped flowing. it piled up in a heap a great distance away, at a town called Adam in the vicinity of Zarethan, while the water flowing down to the Sea of the Arabah (the Salt Sea) was completely cut off. So the people crossed over opposite Jericho" (Jos 3:16).

The town of Adam (now a site called Tell ed-Damiyeh) was approximately 16 miles (nearly 26 km) north of the point at which the Israelite procession crossed the Jordan, located at a spot where the river flowed near high banks. The Jordan Valley, part of the great Rift Valley, is an unstable region where earthquakes frequently occur. On a number of occasions throughout recorded history earthquakes have dislodged the riverbanks in the vicinity of Adam, resulting in a damming of the Jordan. The most recent occurrence was the quake of 1927,at which time a 150-foot-high (46 m) embankment on the western side of the river collapsed, completely blocking the waters for more than 21 hours. Similar cutoffs have been recorded (moving backward in time) in A.o.1906, 1834, 1546, 1267 and 1160. Excavations at Jericho indicate that an earthquake did in fact occur at the time that city was destroyed. This suggests the possibility of seismic activity around the time of the crossing of the Jordan. It is possible that God used one tremor to dam up the Jordan and a second a short time later to bring down the walls of Jericho.

The Camp at Gilgal

JOSHUA 4 After the Israelites had crossed the Jordan River,' they established a camp at Gilgal (Jos 4:19; see "Map 3").There Joshua set up 12 stones from the river as a memorial (vv. 20-24). All Israelite males born subsequent to the exodus were circumcised there (5:2-9),2 and the first Passover in the promised land was celebrated (v.10).3 Gil-gal became the base of operations for the ensuing six years of the conquest.

Following the conquest Joshua established the primary Israelite religious center of the time at Shiloh (18:1; "Map 3"). After the Philistines had destroyed Shiloh (see Jer 7) the religious center shifted back to Gilgal (1Sa 10:8; 11:14-15; 13:15-18; 15:10-33), where it remained until David brought the ark to Jerusalem (2Sa 6).5 Gilgal remained a prestigious religious hub in Israel, unfortunately also becoming a center for apostasy (Hos 12:11). During the Byzantine period a church was built at the traditional site of Gilgal. It is depicted on the Madaba map, a sixth-century mosaic map of the Holy Land on the floor of Saint George's church in Madaba, Jordan.

Joshua 4:19 states that Gilgal was located"on the eastern border of Jericho."The most likely location for the site is a cluster of small,ancient mounds about 1 mile (1.6 km) northeast of Jericho. This area fits the locational requirements of the Jewish historian Josephus and other ancient writers and sits on the exact spot at which the Gilgal church is depicted on the Madaba map.

The Conquest of Canaan

JOSHUA 5 After defeating the nations east of the Jordan, Israel turned to the promised land west of the Jordan Valley.' The Canaanites occupied the coastal and valley areas and the Amorites the highlands (Nu 13:29). Old Testament chronological data (Jdg 11:26; 1Ki 6:1) suggests that the conquest took place at the end of the fifteenth century B.C.' The entire process, including the taking of Transjordan, took about seven years, most of that time spent in conquering Canaan (Dt 2:14; Jos 14:6-10). Archaeologists disagree about the date of the conquest, variously supporting the following possibilities:

A Late Bronze II Age Conquest

This view, placing the exodus during the reign of Pharaoh Rameses II and the conquest at the end of the thirteenth century B.C., was once almost unanimously held. Cities like Debir, Lachish,3 Bethel and Hazor were said to have been destroyed around 1220 B.C. by the Israelite onslaught. But today many scholars have abandoned this thesis:

    • These cities are now believed to have been overtaken at different times by various armies.

    • The Merneptah Stele (inscribed stone slab) suggests that Israel was already settled in the land.

    • Few walled cities have been discovered from this period (cf. Dt 1:28).

    • It is impossible to place Jericho's fall at this time.

A Late Bronze I Age Conquest

This position argues for a conquest around 1400 B.C., as supported by a current understanding of the Biblical chronology. The scenario:

    • Jericho's capture gave the Israelites a foothold. From their camp at Gilgal they launched attacks westward into the highlands.' After taking Ai they subjugated the southern part of the country (Jos 10).

    • Joshua did not attack Shechem, thought to be a major city at this time, instead striking a coalition of northern kings at Nazar (11:1-15). Shechem, in the central highlands near Mount Ebal and Mount Gerazim, separated the southern from the northern city-states. Joshua could not have avoided Shechem (8:30 - 33),, and some scholars even suggest Shechemite cooperation with Israel.

Problems With a Late Bronze I Age Conquest

    • Canaan was sparsely populated, lacking the great cities the Bible mentions.

    • Most interpreters date Jericho's destruction to the end of the Middle Bronze Age, over 100 years earlier.

    • The book of Joshua nowhere cites Shechem as a powerful city.

    • God commanded Israel to exterminate the Canaanites (Dt 7:1-2). Joshua 9 mentions the Gibeonite trick, but this only underscores Joshua's unwillingness to cooperate with Canaanite cities and contradicts the notion of Shechemite cooperation with Israel.

A Late Middle Bronze Age Conquest

    • Cities were heavily fortified.

    • The end of this age saw a major societal collapse and the destruction of numerov cities, including Jericho. The population may have plummeted by as much as 80 percent Most scholars have attributed this destru, Lion to the Egyptians—a premise now v,, ly questioned based on lack of evidence.

Problems With a Late Middle Bronze Age Conquest

    • This period is thought to have ended about 1550 B.C., too early for the Bible's chronology.

    • It is difficult to relate Egyptian chronology to a 1550 B.(. conquest. No suitable pharaoh reigned then.

Proposed Solutions to the Problems With a late Middle Bronze Age Conquest

Scholars have tried to correlate the exodus with the expulsion from Egypt of the

hyksos. This solution is unconvincing, and there remains the problem of the discrepancy with Biblical chronology.

Some historians suggest redating the end of the Middle Bronze period. If the date were lowered by 150 years, to around 1400 tit, this era could have ended at the traditional date of the conquest. But this would also require a redating of Egyptian chronology. Most interpreters find this view unconvincing and eccentric.

Archaeologists routinely revise older, seemingly well-established conclusions. The interpretation of the data in Palestine is fraught with difficulties; even well-received interpretations may be built upon flimsy foundations. Given this uncertainty, it would be amazing if researchers were able to attain conclusive evidence regarding the time and circumstances of the conquest.

The Walls of Jericho

JOSHUA 6 Old Testament Jericho ("Maps 2-3") has undergone four excavations: by Charles Warren (1867-1868); Ernst Sellin and Carl Watzinger (1907-1909); John Garstang (1930 — 1936); and Kathleen Kenyon (1952 — 1958). Unfortunately, the first three digs used methods modern archaeologists consider primitive and unreliable, and the site has suffered from erosion.

Watzinger concluded that Jericho was unoccupied during the Late Bronze Age,' when it was supposed to have been destroyed by Joshua, while Garstang determined that the heavily fortified city was destroyed late in this period. But Kenyon argued that it was annihilated at the end of the Middle Bronze Age,around 1550 B.C., after which it boasted at best a meager settlement through the Late Bronze period—leaving no fortified city for Joshua to destroy.

Dating issues aside, much of the archaeological data corresponds with the Biblical account:

Jericho's prominence (Jos 5-6) and wealth (7:21) suggest a great city. Excavations have shown that Jericho had massive defenses. Its tell (mound composed of remains of successive settlements) was surrounded by an earthen embankment stabilized by a 15-foot (4.6 m) stone wall. Atop the retaining wall stood a free-standing mud brick wall about 6 feet (1.8 m) thick and three or four times as high. A similar wall topped the embankment. Jericho's mud brick walls crumpled in a heap at the base of the retaining wall (6:20). Archaeologists suggest that an earthquake took place] and that the fallen bricks formed a ramp by which the Israelites surmounted the retaining wall.

A 3 foot (.9 m) high ash layer verifies a massive conflagration (v.24). There are indications of plague in Jericho before its fall (cf. Nu 25:8-9).

Joshua 3:15 states that Israel forded the Jordan at harvest time. Collaborating evidence includes Rahab's drying of flax on her roof (2:6)4 and Israel's Passover celebration (a springtime festival observed just prior to harvest) immediately before the battle (5:10).

Full jars of recently harvested grain confirm the brevity of the siege (6:15).

That Jericho's grain was left to burn is extraordinary, suggesting that the invaders had an unusual reason for leaving it intact (see vv. 17— 19).

The details surrounding the destruction of Jericho City IV thus closely parallel what we read in the Bible. Unfortunately, the date of the fall of this city remains a problem. If, as Watzinger and Kenyon argued, Jericho fell around 1550 B.C, there would have been no significant city there when Joshua arrived around 1400 B.C. Nevertheless, however one deals with the chronological problem,, there is much about City IV to encourage the Christian reader about the reliability of the Joshua 6 account.

Jericho and the date of the conquest

JOSHUA 7 Who destroyed Jericho City !VP The "early date" for the conquest places it at around 1400 B.c., while the "late date" sets it at about 1220 B.C. There are at least three different ways interpreters have tried to correlate the fall of City IV with the"early date:"

    • A Late Bronze 12 conquest theory asserts that Jericho was conquered by Joshua in the latter part of Late Bronze 1 at about 1400 B.C. This theory is based on the presence of Late Bronze I pottery at the site. Also, scarabs of Egyptian pharaohs Hatshepsut,Thutmose III and Amenhotep Ill have been found there. These scarabs indicate a habitation of the site during the Egyptian Eighteenth Dynasty, or during Late Bronze I. All.of this suggests that the catastrophic destruction of Jericho City IV took place at the close of Late Bronze I, about 1400 B.C. Against this view, others have made the following arguments:

Late Bronze I does not work well with an Israelite conquest. There were very few great, walled cities in Canaan during this period, in contrast to the Bible's assertions that the Israelites were in awe of the high-walled cities that confronted them (Dt 1:28).

A number of scholars believe that a small-scale occupation of Jericho during the Late Bronze Age had no walls and could not have been the city Joshua encountered. The Late Bronze I pottery found there may relate to this small occupation, not to City IV, and the Late Bronze I pottery at Jericho may have no relationship to Joshua's conquest.

The scarab of Amenhotep III poses an obstacle for arguing this view. If the Late Bronze I Jericho was indeed destroyed by Joshua, then the scarab of Amenhotep III obviously had to have arrived there before the city fell. The dates of Amenhotep's reign are usually set at 1390 — 1352 (or 1386— i 1349), too late for Joshua's victory, which is generally set at around 1400 B.C.

    • The redated Middle Bronze conquest theory agrees with the conventional wisdom that Jericho City IV fell at the end of the Middle Bronze Age. However, it redates the Middle Bronze Age and asserts that the chronology of Egypt and the Middle Bronze Age needs to be revised downward by about 150 years. Under this premise Jericho City IV actually did fall at the end of the Middle Bronze period—around 1400, not 1550 B.C. Two facts are in favor of this approach, but there is a problem as well:

Most interpreters believe that City IV fell at the end of the Middle Bronze Age, so this theory does not have the burden of having to overturn that conclusion.

A conquest of Canaan works well with what is known about the end of the Middle Bronze Age. The cities of the land were fortified with high walls at this time, but in the next period, Late Bronze I, they were for the most part meager sites with little or no fortification. It is conceivable that the Israelite conquest was instrumental in bringing Middle Bronze culture to an end.

Most interpreters, however, regard the redating of the end of the Middle Bronze Age by 150 years to be radical and unwarranted. There is currently a movement in some quarters to lower dramatically the conventional chronology for Egypt and thus also the date for the Middle Bronze/Late Bronze boundary, but mainstream Egyptology has yet to embrace this proposal.

    • The conventional Middle Bronze conquest theory holds to both a Middle Bronze date for Jericho City IV and the conventional chronology. It argues that the exodus took place during the Middle Bronze Age and that Joshua came to Jericho about 1550. This approach, however, has very few supporters:

It flies in the face of the Bible's own chronology, which strongly indicates a con-quest in about 1400.

It unconvincingly entangles the exodus story with the history of the Hyksos.3 It is extremely difficult archaeologically , to account for Israel in the land as early as the year 1550. Thus, the archaeology of Jericho as we currently understand it is impossible to reconcile with elate date"for the conquest (c. 1220 B.c.).


JOSHUA 8 Locating Bible places is one of the most vexing issues of Biblical archaeology. Professional archaeologists must debate minute points, and lay people are often bewildered by the references to so many unfamiliar sites in the Holy Land, all with modern Arabic names. Pinpointing the location of ancient Ai illustrates this dilemma, which has proven overall to be a thorny problem in Old Testament studies. Sometimes these seemingly obscure issues can have major consequences. Because of questions concerning the location of Ai (but see "Map 3" for proposed location), for example, many scholars argue that the entire story of this city's conquest is simply a legend. Joshua 7:2 states that Ai was east of Bethel, near Beth Aven. Bethel is often identified as modern Beitin, but this is by no means certain. Alternatively, it may have been located at modern El-Bireh, with Beth Aven being modern Beitin.

Because of an influential article in 1924 by W.F. Albright, the "father" of Biblical archaeology, nearly all scholars have accepted the large site of et-Tell as Ai. But this poses a problem, since et-Tell was not occupied in Joshua's time. People did live there during the Early Bronze Age (early patriarchal period), I however, and this location is indeed probably the landmark (original) site of Ai (Ge 12:8).Since the Bible states that the Ai captured by Joshua was small (Jos 7:3, 10:2), it is possible that a fortress near mod-ern et-Tell was called Ai during Joshua's time.

In 1838 the English scholar Edward Robinson was informed of a tradition in the Holy Land that Ai was located at modern Khirbet el-Maqatir. This same notion was encountered in 1899 by the German scholar Ernst Sellin. Since 1995, Bryant Wood has conducted excavations at Khirbet el-Maqatir, determining that a small fortress dating to the fifteenth century B.C. was indeed there—and that it meets all the Biblical requirements for Joshua's Ai.

Geographically, Khirbet el-Maqatir fits the description in Joshua 7 and 8, though the disputed locations of other places come into play. It is located nearly 1 mile (1.6 km) southeast of Beth Aven (7:2), if Beitin is accepted as the site of Beth Aven., It is 2 miles (3.2 km) east-northeast of Bethel (v. 2), if El-Bireh is accepted as the site of Bethel.

In addition, Khirbet el-Maqatir fits the narrative of Joshua 8 well. Between this location and El-Bird' is a deep valley, the Wadi Sheban, which could easily have accommodated a large ambush force such as the one described in verse 9. Joshua 8:11 mentions Joshua's men ascending to the north of Ai and setting up camp. Jebel Abu Ammar, 1 mile (1.6 km) due north of Khirbet el-Maqatir, is the highest hill in the region, providing a commanding view of the battle area. A shallow valley lying north of this site, the Wadi Gayeh, is located between Khirbet el-Maqatir and Jebel Abu Ammar; from here the king of Ai could have seen Joshua and his men (v.14).

Khirbet el-Maqatir also fits the archaeological requirements for identification as Joshua's Ai. A small fortress in the area (7:3,5; 10:2), approximately three acres in size, has yielded pottery dating from the fifteenth century B.C. Although 8:25 states that the town had 12,000 inhabitants, there is reason to believe that textual corruption has increased the number tenfold (i.e., it should read 1,200).4 According to Joshua 7:3 the Israelites calculated that 3,000 soldiers at most would constitute a sufficient force to conquer Ai due to its small size.

The gate of the fortress is located on the north side, corresponding to the Bible's identification of a northern front for the fortress (8:11). Abundant ash at the site, along with burned pottery, stones and bedrock, evidences destruction by fire (cf. v. 28).

In conclusion, the site of et-Tell, identified as Ai by Albright, is most likely the location of Ai in the early patriarchal period. By Joshua's time, however, the fortress had evidently migrated slightly to the west—to Khirbet el-Maqatir.The significance? The taking of Ai by Joshua and his forces was a historical event—a conclusion with profound implications for the acceptance of the whole Bible as God's infallible, inspired truth.


JOSHUA 9 Gibeon is located at the modern village of el-Jib, 6 miles (9.6 km) northwest of Jerusalem. Pottery and two Egyptian scarabs (stone beetles used as talismans, ornaments or symbols of resurrection) indicate occupation at the time of the conquest,' but no architecture from that period has yet been unearthed. Only a small fraction of the site has been excavated, however, so there is much more to investigate.

Gibeon was "an important city, like one of the royal cities" (10:2). It ruled a small league of cities that included Kephi-rah, Beeroth and Kiriath Jearim (9:17). When the Gibeonites arrived at Gilgal, 16 miles (nearly 26 km) to the east,2 they deceived the Israelites by noting the condition of their wineskins: "These wineskins that we filled were new, but see how cracked they are" (v.13).

In the divided monarchy period winemaking was a major industry in Gibeon.3 The people used both wineskins and jars as containers for wine. The handles of the jars in which the wine was exported were inscribed with the name of the city, along with that of the vintner. Some 31 jar handles have been discovered here inscribed with the name "Gib-eon," making identification of the site a certainty—a welcome rarity in the archaeology of Palestine.

When Joshua discovered the Gibeonites' deception, he consigned them to servitude as "woodcutters and water carriers for the house of my God" (v. 23). The most conspicuous feature of Gibeon is in fact its abundant water supply: one major and seven minor springs.The "pool of Gibeon" is mentioned in 2 Samuel 2:134 and the "great pool in Gibeon" in Jeremiah 41:12.

Stopping the sun

JOSHUA 10 The battle of "Joshua's long day"took place in the Valley of Aijalon (Jos 10:12), a strategic trade route through the northern Shephelah (an area of low-lying hills located between the coast and the higher Judean hill country).The city of Aijalon is mentioned outside the Bible in the Amarna Letters' and, centuries later, by the ancient Jewish historians Josephus and Eusebius.The precise location of Aijalon is uncertain.

There are numerous proposed explanations for the long day" of verses 12 —13.The traditional view holds that the Lord stopped the rotation of the earth, so that the sun and moon remained stationary from the perspective of the soldiers. Some proponents of this theory insist that there is astronomical evidence to support this long day, but such claims are unsubstantiated. Other, more conservative scholars read the passage in a figurative sense. Arguments in favor of a figurative reading are as follows:

    • This is one of only two passages of poetry in Joshua, and the similar poetry in Judges 5:20 and Habakkuk 3:10-11 is likely figurative.

    • It might be possible to translate the Hebrew word for"stood still" as"silenced," conceivably suggesting that the heat of the day was lifted to give the soldiers (on both sides) some welcome reprieve from the beating sun. Interpreting the Hebrew to mean simply that the weather became cooler, however, is a doubtful premise.

    • Some argue that the sun's standing still refers to prolonged darkness rather than to prolonged daylight. The attack apparently took place at or before dawn (Jos 10:9), and verse 12 seems to indicate that sun and moon were low on the horizon when Joshua prayed. The hailstorm (v. 11) suggests dark conditions. Against this view, verse 13 appears to say that the sun was suspended in place.

The fact that a text is formatted as poetry does not necessarily imply that the event described is figurative or metaphorical. If what occurred was a pure miracle, of course, archaeological or astronomical evidence could not account for it. Regardless of the interpretation, we can agree on the crucial point of this passage: The Lord heard Joshua's request and granted Israel a miraculous defeat of the Amorites.


JOSHUA 11 Hazor (see"Map 3") was the largest city-state in Canaan at the time of the conquest, dominating the upper Galilee region.' This ancient site, located in the southwestern corner of the Hula Valley, approximately 8.5 miles (14 km) north-northeast of the Sea of Galilee, comprised an "upper city" (acropolis) of approximately 26 acres and a "lower city" of about 162 acres. It was heavily fortified with stone and mud brick walls as wide as 24 feet (7.3 m). One of the more important discoveries at Hazor was made by a tourist in 1962—a clay tablet with the name of the city on it.

After the armies of the Canaanite northern coalition were defeated at Merom — most likely Tell el-Khureibeh, 9 miles (14.5 km) west of Hazor—Joshua captured Hazor and put it to the torch. Evidence of destruction by fire at the time of the conquest (late fifteenth century B.c.) has been discovered in many places at the site. Three temples from the same period have been excavated: the Long Temple in the upper city and the Orthostat and Square temples in the lower. All three had been violently destroyed, in keeping with God's command to "break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and cut down their Asherah poles" (Ex 34:13).Two of the temples, the Long Temple and the Square Temple, were so severely damaged that they were never rebuilt.

Soon after its destruction, however, the city as a whole was restored. The ruler of Hazor was the only leader referred to as king in the Amarna Letters, correspondence from the Canaanite rulers to the pharaoh of Egypt in the mid fourteenth century B.C. This special recognition demonstrates Hazor's importance in comparison to the other Canaanite city-states, as well as the accuracy of the Biblical phrase "head of all these kingdoms" (Jos 11:10). Canaanite Hazor met its end when Deborah and Barak destroyed the city in the late thirteenth century B.C.


JOSHUA 12 The land of Canaan, which the Lord had promised to give to Abraham (Ge 17:8), was recognized as a geopolitical unit in Nuzi texts (fifteenth century s.c.), in the Amarna letters of Egypt (fourteenth century B.c.) and in other ancient Near Eastern sources. Canaanite culture and religion are reflected in the Late Bronze Age (sixteenth to twelfth centuries. B.c.) literature of Ugarit (Byblos) in Syria. Worship of Baal as the god of war and of agricultural productivity is prominent in this literature.

The derivation of the name Canaan is may stem from the Semitic root denoting "to be low" (e.g., lowlands) or relate to a purple dye produced by mollusks native to the region. It also has been suggested that the word originally meant"merchants," based on usage in some Mari and Egyptian texts, as well as in certain Biblical passages in which the word for"Canaanite" can also be rendered as"trader."

The Canaanite language was a mixture of various related dialects, although it appears that there was a higher, literary style all Canaanites shared in common. Ancient Hebrew is essentially a variety of the related Canaanite dialects, while standard Biblical Hebrew is probably closely related to the literary Canaanite form.

The northern border of Canaan extended to Tyre and Sidon (lsa 23:11), veering inland (see especially Nu 34:2-12). The eastern border was just east of the Sea of Galilee and along the Jordan River to the Dead Sea. The southern border passed from the Dead Sea through Kadesh Barnea in the northern Sinai Peninsula, and the Mediterranean Sea formed its western border.

Canaan thus occupied the middle ground between Egypt, Syria and Anatolia, and Mesopotamia, and by way of its seacoast was open to western peoples. Their main ports were Tyre, Sidon, Beirut and Byblos in modern Lebanon. Ships from these ports carried cedar wood, oil, wine and other goods to Egypt, Crete and Greece. They brought back linen from Egypt and fine pottery from Cyprus and Greece. Papyrus was carried from Egypt to Byblos; when the Greeks first saw papyrus scrolls, they called them biblia, "Byblos things,"giving us the word "Bible." The area has a long history as a battleground among great powers, as well as of a region in which diverse peoples lived side by side.

The Transjordanian territories of Kings Sihon and 0g,5 though captured and resettled by Israelite tribes, were neither included in God's original promise to Abraham nor considered a part of Canaan (although both the Moabites and the Ammonites were closely related to the Canaanites and spoke a Canaanite dialect). The Israelites of the conquest encountered a mixture of people groups in Canaan,6 most of them listed in the "table of nations" as descendants of Canaan, son of Ham, son of Noah (Ge 10:15— 19). The Bible identifies more than 25 cities as Canaanite, including Gilgal, Hebron, Shiloh, Megiddo and Hazor. These "city-states," each with its own king, were only loosely organized but readily formed alliances in times of military crisis! See the "Index to Color Maps" on pages 2303-2306 in the back of this Bible for the locations of some of the places mentioned in this article.

Tell Beit Mirsim

JOSHUA 15 Tell Beit Mirsim, located 15 miles (9.3 km) southwest of Hebron', was excavated in the late 1920s and the early 1930s.W.F. Albright, a principal excavator of the site, believed it to be the Biblical Debir. This identification is now widely rejected; Khirbet Rabud is now considered to be a better candidate for Debir ("Map 3"), and no one knows the name by which Tell Beit Mirsim was known in Biblical times. Even so, Albright's careful excavation of Tell Beit Mirsim has helped to define the modern science of archaeology. The story of Tell Beit Mirsim, a particularly informative site, helps us to understand the basics of archaeological methods.

    • In digging a site, it is important to be able to distinguish the strata for that site. Strata refer to the layers formed by successive occupations of a location.Throughout the history of a city, newer occupation levels are built on top of older ones (i.e., earlier occupation levels are lower, with more recent levels closer to the surface). For example, a city may have existed at a particular spot in the twelfth century B.C.— until it was burned down by an enemy. Rebuilding could have occurred at some later time at the site, only for it to have been destroyed again.For example, the presence of clearly defined burn layers at Tell Beit Mirsim have helped archaeologists to distinguish the various strata of that site.

    • Pottery helps to date the strata at a site. The use of pottery to fix a date for a stratum is referred to as "ceramic dating."2 Pottery samples were collected from Tell Beit Mirsim and compared to finds from other sites in Palestine. Careful classification of excavated pottery at the Tell Beit Mirsim site helped to refine and establish the pottery-dating system.

    • Tell Beit Mirsim was unusual in that it held remains from ten different occupation levels, spanning the Early Bronze, Middle Bronze, Late Bronze and Iron periods.3 Also, the site yielded excellent examples of the material culture of a Judean town during the monarchic period (when Israel and Judah were ruled by kings). This evidence is useful for making comparisons to physical remains from other sites, especially those related to the archaeology of early Israel.

    • Periodically the tools of archaeology need to be refined. As an example, Albright attributed the final destruction of Tell Beit Mirsim to the Babylonians in 589-587 ex. Recent investigation, however, has indicated that its ultimate demise likely came at the hands of the Assyrians, as part of the campaign of Sennacherib in 701 B.C.' Based upon the new evidence supporting this dating adjustment, archaeologists have found it necessary to make minor adjustments in the ceramic chronology.

The Taanach Cult Stands

JOSHUA 17 Occupied from the third millennium B.C. until the fourteenth century A.D. (although not continuously), the city of Taanach ("Map 4") is located a few miles southeast of Megiddo in the foothills above the Valley of Jezreel. Along with several other items used in deity worship, two tenth-century B.C. cult stands have been recovered intact from this site.The first was uncovered during excavations from 1902-1904 and is about 35 inches (89 cm) tall.The second, discovered when excavations were resumed in the 1960s, is somewhat smaller, measuring about 23.5 inches (60 cm) in height.

Both stands contain panels of sculpted figures surrounding a hollow core.The larger stand boasts two decorated panels with griffin- or sphinx-like creatures on them, as well as the protruding heads of other animal and human figures.The smaller is decorated in four panels: The bottom is of a female figure holding two lions; the next a cut-out space flanked by griffins (mythical animals combining physical characteristics of eagles and lions); the third a sacred tree with an ibex (wild goat) on either side, each surrounded by lion-like creatures; and the uppermost a winged sun disk on the back-of a horse or bull. This winged sun disk may represent the Canaanite god Baal,2 while the female figure with the lions may depict his consort or partner, Asherah.These were gods to whom the Israelites turned when they fell into apostasy.

Cities of Refuge

JOSHUA 20 The cities of refuge, six cities evenly distributed throughout the land of Israel, were designated centers of asylum for the "manslayer"—roughly the equivalent of the individual in our culture convicted of manslaughter, the person who had killed another human being without prior intent or premeditation (Jos 20:3).These cities served as sites for fair and impartial trial to determine the intentionality of a criminal/crime (v. 9). Each such city was to become a refuge for the innocent from the"avenger of blood," the victim's next of kin, whose family obligation it was to even the score for the loss of life within his clan (Dt 19:6).'

Typical ancient Near Eastern law codes treated the loss of life in economic terms:The crime of murder was redressed by payment of damages to the victim's family.2 Israelite law, however, with its high view of the sanctity of human life, strictly prohibited monetary compensation for a life (Nu 35:31).When an Israelite was murdered, a debit of blood had to be requited (offset by a "credit" of blood). If this deficit went unfulfilled, the land and community were defiled (Nu 35:33; Dt 21:9). The rule for the punishment of homicide was unambiguous: "a life for a life" (Ex 21:12,23). in the case of unintentional homicide, there was to be a vicarious pay-ment of blood, provision for which would be made at the time of the natural death of the high priest (Jos 20:6). Thus, the manslayer who had killed without intent was to seek asylum until the death of the high priest; if he did not, he could be killed with impunity.

The city of refuge, then, was at once a safe haven and a form of exile, protecting the manslayer from blood vengeance while effectively placing him under the death penalty in the event he were to leave the city prematurely (Nu 35:26-28). Even though the man-slayer was not guilty of premeditated murder, he was still held responsible for causing the loss of a human life. In a situation somewhat comparable to our house arrest,this individual served what amounted to the closest analogy to a jail term in the Old Testament.

Levitical Towns

JOSHUA 21 The tribe of Levi was not granted a self-contained territorial allotment as were all the other ancestral tribes, because the Lord himself was their lot: "I am your share and your inheritance among the Israelites" (Nu 18:20; cf. Dt 18:1-2;Jos 13:33).Not being possessed of land or encumbered by the attendant obligations, the Levites were consecrated to the Lord and free to fulfill their priestly duties., According to Numbers 35:1-8, God commanded the remaining tribes to donate forty-eight walled "Levitical towns" from their various tribal allotments, six of which were to serve as cities of refuge., Each Levitical town was surrounded by an area of land in which the Levites might pasture their flocks and herds (Nu 35:2 —5). Together with the people's tithes and offerings (Nu 18:21), these provisions sustained the Levites economically.

The actual distribution of the Levitical towns is delineated in Joshua 21:1-42 and 1 Chronicles 6:54-81; the average number of towns coming from each of the 12 tribes was roughly four. This more or less even sprinkling of Levitical towns throughout the tribal territories would have served to provide centers of religious instruction throughout the land (2Ch 17:7-9).

Levitical land was subject to a distinctive set of laws. In ancient Israel a family in debt could sell its property to obtain cash—in effect pawning the land, since family property could later be redeemed and reclaimed by its original owners (Lev 25:32)) Plots of Levitical pastureland, however, were off limits for sale (Lev 25:34).

The historical existence of the Levitical towns has been the subject of academic inquiry. The Bible appears to indicate that the allotment of these cities took place during the period of the conquest, but scholars have suggested a variety of other explanations for the lists of Levitical cities on the grounds that archaeologists have uncovered little evidence that all of these cities were in fact held by Levites.

    • W.F. Albright posited that the lists of Levitical towns actually date from the period of the united monarchy (tenth century B.c.), since this was the only point in time in which all of the named cities were actually known to have been within Israel's territorial borders. Some argue that David settled the Levites in these cities throughout Israel in order to utilize the clergy to strengthen his hold on the people's loyalties.

    • Other scholars date the lists to an even later time in the monarchy, some suggesting that they were composed as late as the eighth century B.C.—centuries after the conquest under Joshua.

    • Still others reference these lists to the postexilic period. Many of these particular interpreters, in fact, regard them as utopian fantasies created very late in Israel's history and projected back to an idealized but non-historical era.

It is important to realize, however, that the list in Joshua 21 is not accompanied by an explicit statement that each of these cities was actually inhabited by Levites at this point in time. Rather, the list seems intended as a designation of (some possibly future or intended) Levitical cities.The tribe of Dan, we might recall, was initially given an allotment of land in the southwestern part of the country (19:40-46) but in reality moved north when the Danites failed to gain control of their allotted territory., The mere fact that the towns were designated as Levitical cities does not require that all of them served that purpose in Joshua's time.


JOSHUA 24 The city of Shechem ("Map 3") is perhaps best remembered by Bible readers as the place at which Jacob's sons Simeon and Levi deceitfully carried out a terrible slaughter of the local population to avenge the rape of their sister Dinah (Ge 34). Shechem is located in the hill country of Ephraim, in a pass with Mount Ebal to the north and Mount Gerizim to the south. Unfortunately, there are many unanswered questions about its history, particularly as it relates to the Bible.

The earliest occupation of Shechem is known to have been during the Chalcolithic period, from approximately 4000-3500 B.C. No occupation levels of the site are apparent at all from the third millennium B.c.,although a substantial city did arise there during the Middle Bronze Age (c.1900-1550 B.c.).This city suffered a calamitous annihilation at the end of this period; a great deal of destruction debris was found at this level. Shechem was again rebuilt during the Late Bronze Age. A large temple found there probably was that of El-Berith, mentioned in Judges 9:46-49, the site at which Abimelech killed about a thousand people.' Shechem appears to have been a fairly modest city throughout much of the Iron Age and the postexilic period. First Kings 12:25 mentions that Jeroboam made it his residence for a time, and Shechem is also mentioned in Jeremiah 41:4-8.

The situation of Late Bronze-era She-chem presents the greatest challenges for archaeologists. Many believe that the city was rebuilt in approximately 1450 B.C. (after having been completely destroyed at the end of the Middle Bronze period). A commonly held view is that a people group called Labayu dominated the central hill country, using Shechem as a base during the Late Bronze II Age, from approximately 1400 — 1300 B.c. (also called the "Amarna Age" because of the Amarna Letters, diplomatic correspondence between Canaan and Egypt from this time period).

A problem here is the Biblical reference to Joshua's gathering of Israel at Shechem for covenant ceremonies in the vicinities of Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim (Jos 8:30-35; 24:1 (.3 An encounter with the city or people of Shechem is never mentioned in this context,though it would have been unavoidable if the site had been occupied by a regional power at that time. Some historians suggest that the Shechemites cooperated with the Israelites, but this is highly unlikely, given God's stipulation that the Israelites were to exterminate the Canaanites— not to negotiate concessions from them (Dt 7:1-2).4 The chronology and history of Late Bronze Age Shechem are far from settled matters. The notion that Labayu dominated the hill country from Shechem is speculative. There is also uncertainty about when the first Late Bronze period city at Shechem was actually built. This may have occurred after the conquest; Joshua 8 and 24 appear by their silence to imply that there was no significant Canaanite city there in Joshua's time. Joshua 24 does mention a place by this name but never alludes to an encounter with Canaanite inhabitants of the city. The Biblical and archaeological evidence for Shechem is difficult to work into a coherent history, and this dilemma is compounded by other issues surrounding the date of the conquest. Researchers are wise, as always, to exercise caution about jumping to conclusions.