The Conquest of Canaan

Who are the Canaanites

The Canaanites were the inhabitants of Canaan, the older native name of Palestine. As a geographical designation, the Hebrew form of "Canaan" seems to be derived from "Hurrian", meaning "belonging to the land of red purple." As early as the fourteenth century BC this term came to be used of the country in which the Canaanites, or Phoenician traders, exchanged for their wares their most important commercial commodity, red purple dye, which was obtained from the murex shells found on the shores of the eastern Mediterranean. Accordingly, the Amarna Letters apply the term "Land of Canaan" to the Phoenician coast, and the Egyptians referred to all of western Syria by this name.

By the time of the Conquest, however, the term Canaan was in vogue as the general designation of the territory later called Palestine. Canaanites lived in both the eastern and western part of the country (Josh. 11:3). According to Judges 1:9, 10, they were praactically everywhere, in the hill country, the Negev, the Shephelah, and Hebron. "The language of Canaan" (Is. 19:18) refers principally to Hebrew, but embraces the general West Semitic languages spoken in this territory, of which Phoenician and Moabite were also dialects.

The name Palestine, as a geographical term, is of later origin and is derived from the Philistines (peleste) who settled in large numbers along the southern coast in the twefth century BC. The area where they settled became known as Philisita (Joel 3:4), from which, in turn, the Greek name (he palestine) was derived (interesting note: in Hebrew, Palestinians, for instance as in Palestianian Liberation Organization, is called a philisti. This term appears in the Bible and is translated there as Philistine. Israeli is simply the English transliteration of the Hebrew yisraeli, which appears in the Bible also and there is translated into English as Israelite. One gets a very interesting and different perspective on current events in the Middle East if you think in terms of the Israelites against the Philistines. Makes it easy to figure out who the good guys are, in case you had any doubts. Is the current Israel the Israel of the restoration? see Hosea 11:10-11. Behind yahweh they will go [reversal of 2a]. Because he roars, his children -- i.e., the Israelites -- will return, but they do not return in joy, but in a state of shock and fright, in a time of disaster and panic. The word "tremble" is usually the result of dread at a sudden noise, the meaning of which is not understood, by which probably is indicated that something is wrong. They return from the west -- literally, "sea". The use of the verb "to tremble" and the statement from "the sea" gives us a clue as to the restoration being described here. It is not the restoration of Ezra's time after the Babylonian captivity. They did not come from the west or the sea then -- only from Assyria and Egypt. What is described here best fits the return in the twentieth century to the establishment of the present state of Israel. Notice in this jpassage that there is no recognition of sin, no repentance, no turning to God. they come, and not in joy, but in fear.

The NIV translates taht they come when he roars, literally, "because he roars." That is, because of the action of God, they come trembling.

Following World War II thousands and thousands of Jewish people fled Europe, coming on ships toward the land of Palestine. Many were stopped by the British and housed in concentration camps on Cyprus until Israel became independent in 1948. Many emigrants also came from the Arab countries, to the north and east and from Egypt in the South. They left evrything they owned, many times. And they came trembling, not with assurance. See Deuteronomy 28:64-67. In the Nazi camps, in the morning the Germans would line the Jews up, pick a few at random, and those were were randomly selected would be gassed. At night, the same process would be repeated. See also Ezekiel 37 -- the Dry Bones.)

The Invasion of Canaan

In the great pagan centers on the Nile and the Tigris there was always an active movement of religious and cultural elements which tended to create an almost imperceptible synthesis. Throughout the many centuries preceding the Israelite conquest this syncretizing process had been operative upon the pre-Israelite inhabitants of Syro-Palestine, so that by the time of Israel's entrance into the land the Canaanites were enslaved by a morally degenerate paganism.

Israel's conquest of the land would be the ultimate fulfillment of Gen. 9:25-27 (see also Josh. 9:22-22).

Israel's Opportunity and Peril in the Conquest

In this moral and religious situation, which confronted Israel on the eve of the Conquest, lay the Hebrew nation's greatest opportunity for witness to its distinctive calling and mission and at the same time its greatest peril. if the nation would remain loyal to its call to separation and resist incessant pressure from all sides to yield to moral and religious syncretism with surrounding paganism, the discharge of its high task of world-blessing would be assured (Ex. 19:5-7).

If, however, the nation compromised its moral and spiritual separateness, its witness was doomed, its role of blessing forfeited. This is the reason the Israelites were divinely commanded to not only utterly destroy the Cannanites, who by their idolatry and wickedness had forfeited their rights to the land of Canaan, but also to possess their land and to keep themselves in rigid and uncompromising separation from the idolatry that led to their corruption and downfall (Gen. 15:16; Josh. 6:17, 21; Judges 2:1-3).

What they faced is the same thing we face today. To be a Christian is almost fashionable, or at least not horribly unacceptable. It is difficult to make fun of a group when one of their number becomes President of the United States (i.e., Jimmy Carter or, for that matter, Bill Clinton -- also the Gores are both Southern Baptists, and for that matter, so was Harry Truman). However, as we are acceptable, this is still within firm limits. It is okay to believe anything, just so long as you don't bother anyone with it. Live and let live. Don't hassle thy neighbor. Alternate life-styles and all. And unfortunately, many evangelicals have accepted this idea. In so doing, evangelicals, for the most part, have lost their purpose, the very meaning of their name. We don't evangelize! It is not acceptable. We don't want anyone thinking we're a JW or worse yet, a Moonie. Instead, of evangelizing, a lot of evangelicals are busy lobbying for new laws, completely obscuring the gospel in so doing.

The Biblical Resume of the Conquest

After signal victories in Transjordan over Sihon, king of the Amorites and Og, king of Bashan, Israel after the death of Moses and under Joshua's leadership, passed over Jordan and began the Conquest. The story of the Conquest is told in Joshua 1 to 12, and the allocation of the land to the various tribes is related in Joshua 13-22. After the destruction of Jericho and Ai (Josh. 6:1-8:29), the conquest of southern Canaan (10) and northern Canaan (11:1-5) is described. Joshua 11:16-12:24 summarizes the Conquest as a whole.

The events recorded in the biblical account are evidently highly selective. Summary statements (21:43-45) seemingly embrace other conquests not specifically described in the book. Those which are included were considered sufficient to accomplish the author's purpose of proving God's faithfulness to His people to give them the land of Canaan for their possession.

The Date of the Conquest

The question of the date of the Conquest is of a piece with the problem of the date of the Exodus. Both as yet contain many unsolved difficulties and are subject to limitless disagreement among scholars. As one wrote (Miller Burrows): "It must be acknowledged that archeology has not simplified the problems of the date of the Conquest, but has rather introduced new complications."

Biblical Account of the Conquest Abbreviated

The quite detailed account of certain phases of the Israelite victories, particularly the initial successes at Jericho and Ai, and the extremely abbreviated report of some of the other campaigns, for example, that in northern Canaan (Josh. 11:1-5), with apparently some important battles unmentioned, have combined to give the impression of simplicity and have thus obscured to some extent the original complexity, which in turn is undoubtedly being revealed by archeology. However, the account in Joshua does indicate that the problem is complicated by the fact that the Conquest did not take place all at once, but in stages.

It is clear, for example, that the Transjordan was conquered by Moses, much of eastern and central Palestine by Joshua, and the remaining portions by the tribes either before or after the death of Joshua (Judges 1:1-36), while other individual towns like Gezer (Judges 1:29, 1 Kings 9:16), Dor, Megiddo, Taanach and Bethshan (Judges 1:27-28) were not subdued until much later.

Biblical Chronology and the Conquest

If the biblical narratives are accepted as reliable sources and the Biblical chronology followed, the Exodus, as already noted, must be placed around 1441 BC and the fall of Jericho around 1401 BC. With this agrees the view of the British excavator of Jericho, John Garstang. The chronological notices in Judges 11:26 and 1 Kings 6:1 support this position, as well as the evident time scheme underlying the OT historical books to the Solomonic era. In addition, this position has the distinct advantage of allowing at least a partial equation of the Habiru of the Amarna letters and the Israelites led by Joshua.

Alleged Conflicting Archeological Data at Ai

A 1401 BC date of the beginning of the conquest is supposed to violate the assured results of archeological findings in Palestine, notably at Ai, Lachish, and Debir. The problem of Ai is indeed acute, if the mound of et Tell is actually the biblical city. Excavation of the site by Mme. Judith Marquet-Krause in 1933 and 1934 has shown that there was an occupational gap in the history of the mound from about 2200 BC until after 1200 BC, so that supposedly there was nothing but a ruin there when Joshua and Israel are said to have captured and destroyed it (Josh. 8).

Some critics, like Martin Noth, attempt a solution to the problem by radically dismissing the biblical story as an aetiological (a story made up to explain why something is the way it is, as in Native American stories about "how the bear lost his tail" or the like) legend, which supposedly explains how the place came to be in ruins and to be called "Ruin" (the meaning of Ai in Hebrew, after all). A less radical explanation, but one which scarcely accords much more historical reliability to the biblical account is that of Albright, who assumes that the narraive in Joshua 8 originally referred to the destruction of Bethel in the 13th century BC but that the aetiological interest in the ruins of Ai caused the story to be attached to this site instead of Bethel. But this assumption, besides being objectionable in that it reflects upon the genuine historicity of the biblical account, is extremely unlikely ecause the biblical narrative carefully distinguishes between the two cities (Joshua 8:12) and there is not the slitest hint of any destruction of Bethel at this time.

However, the destruction of Bethel in the 13th century BC by a tremendous conflagration, shown in the excavation of the site in 1934 by a joint expedition of the Pittsburgh-Xenia Theological Seminary and the American Schools of Oriental Research, under the leadership of Albright, undoubtedly is to be connected with the later destruction of the city by the tribe of Joseph quite some time after Joshua's death (Judges 1:22-26).

More reasonable is the explanation of Father Hughes Vincint that the inhabitants of Ai had merely a military outpost at Ai of such modest proportions and temporary nature that it left no remains to give a clue of its existence to the archeologists. However, the narrative clearly indicates an inhabited city.

Whatever the explanation, further investigation and excavation in the vicinity will doubtless yield the correct solution. It is still barely possible as Vincent suggests, that there was a settlement in Joshua's day there, although no trace of it has as yet been found. The biblical narrative stressed the smallness of the then-existing city (Josh. 7:3), which may have been nothing more than a fortress guarding Bethel. Then too, it should be remembered, as Sir Frederick Kenyon observed, "the the transference of a name from a ruined or abandoned site to another nearby is a common phenomenon in Palestine." Future research may establish the actual site of the late Bronze Age city which fell to Joshua is not et-Tell at all, but somewhere in the immediate or more remote vicinity of the ancient ruin, and discover that the name of the older city was transferred to it.

Alleged Evidence from Lachish

Archeological findings at Lachish (Tell ed-Duweir), the capture of which by Joshua and all Israel is related in Joshua 10:31-33, show that the city suffered violent destruction by fire about 1230 BC. A thick layer of ash containing a scarab of Rameses II, an inscribed bowl and several other details combine to establish the date. But the question may fairly be broached, is this destrction to be attributed to the invading Israelites under Joshua? Advocates of the late-date theories of the conquest readily assume this to be the case. But besides being complete out of focus with the findings at Jericho and the general biblical datings, the fact must be faced that the biblical record says not a word about the city itself being burned or destroyed when captured by Joshua. Rather, in the light of Joshua 11:13 it is clearly to be intimated that in the case of "cities that stood upon their mounds", it was Joshua's later military policy, and with few exceptions, to burn none of them.

Alleged Evidence from Debir

The city of Debir, earlier known as Kiriath Sepher, offers a similar example. Now identified with Tel Beit Mirsim, thirteen miles soutwest of Hebron, the mound was excavated in 1926 by a joint expedition of the Pittsburgh-Xenia Theological Seminary and the American Schools of Oriental Research at Jerusalem under the direction of Melvin Grove Kyle and W.F. Albright. Here, too, at the end of the Late Bronze Age there is a great burned layer, above which are Israelite remains. But is this destruction of the Canaanite city shortly before 1200 BC to be connected with Joshua's conquests? he conqueror is not said to have destroyed the city itself (Josh. 10:38-39) but only its inhabitants, and it must have been reoccupied by the Canaanites and subsequently recaptured for Judah by Caleb's nephew, Othniel (Josh. 15:15-17), Judges 1:11-13), unless two variant and contradictory accounts are assumed.

Necessity of Caution in Using Archeological Data

It is thus apparent that investigators must be extremely careful of the ever-present temptation to misuse archeological evidence to support a theory; that is, to use only some of the evidence available for a given question and, because it doesn't support the theory, to ignore or assume erroneous other data. This is a caution for all sides on the debate.

Scholars must also be extremely wary of attaching undue authority to acheologist's estimates of dates and interpretation of data. That the fixing of dates and the conclusions drawn from archeological findings are too often dependent on subjective rather than objective factors is amply demonstrated by the wise divergence between compentent authorities on these matters.

On the question of the twin problems of the date of the Exodus and the conquest of Canaan the conservative student is warranted in moving very slowly before abandoning the date of c. 1441 BC for the Exodus and 1401 BC for the Conquest in favor of a period a century and a half or more later under the plea that archeological evidence demands it. Of greater importance is the reading given in scripture.

The Extent of the Conquest

In the account of the invasion of Canaan under Joshua (Josh. 1-12), it is apparent that, although the power of the Canaanites was broken by the destruction of Jericho and Ai (Joshua 6-8), as a result of the southern (10) and northern (11:1-5) campaigns, yet the inhabitants were not wholly exterminated (Judges 1:1-36).

Extermination of the Canaanites Not Complete

Although the Canaanites were completely massacred when a city was taken, yet in many cases the city itself was not destroyed (Josh. 11:13), and not a few of the people who had escaped by flight or were in hiding returned (Josh. 10:43) to the conquered cities, and years afterward, when the tribes of Israel were scattered to settle, they met with sporadic resistance. Accordingly, places once conquered like Debir (Josh. 10:38-39) had to be subsequently reconquered (Judges 1:11-15). Among other similar cases is Hebron (Josh. 10:36-37, Judges 1:10) [alternately, the "retakings" may merely be "retellings" of the same story from different perspectives, with different emphases. Keep in mind the tendency to tell stories thematically, letting chronological order take a back seat].

Joshua's Political Blunders

Three political blunders were committed by Joshua. First, he made a treaty with the Gibeonites (Josh. 9). Second, he allowed the Jebusites to hold Jerusalem (Josh. 15:63), and third, he failed to dispossess the Philistines and control the country to the sea. As a result, Judah and Simeon were cut off from the rest of the nation. The Jebusite stronghold at Jerusalem commanded the main road north and south and was skirted for some ten miles on the west by settlements of the Gibeonites. Between Jerusalem and Jericho was a tract of rocky land cut by impassible gorges running east and west. From Jerusalem westward to the Mediterranean Sea was a strip of territory occupied by foreigners -- first Gibeonites, then other Canaanites in Dan and then the Philistines as far as the sea. This situation was to have serious repercussions affecting subsequent Israelite history, not least of which was the fact that the northern tribes remained somewhat separated in their thinking from Judah, perhaps easing the subsequent splitting of the kingdom after Solomon.

And Joshua and Israel failed to drive the Canaanites out of various other sections of the country -- notably out of Gezer (Josh. 16:10) and out of Bethshan, Ibleam, Dor, Endor, Taanach and Megiddo in and about the Plain of Esdraelon (josh. 17:11); out of Beth-shemesh in the Shephelah (Judges 1:33), and out of the region of Accho and Sidon in the northwestern coastal territory (Judges 1:31). Wherever the Canaanites were allowed to remain they were to prove a snare to the Israelites, according to the divine warning (Judges 3:6-7).