Old Testament Life and Literature (1968)
Chapter 9 - The Settlement of Canaan
THE Hebrews entered a land with its own highly developed culture. During the Late Bronze and Early Iron Ages, Canaan was dotted with strong, walled, industrial and trade centers surrounded by orchards, vineyards, grain fields and pasture land. Wool and flax were woven and dyed with the rich purple obtained from the Murex shellfish. Wine, dried fruits, grain and milk products were also produced. Minerals from the Wadi Arabah were smelted and fashioned into ornaments, tools and weapons for sale and exchange. The rich lived in magnificent villas built around central courts; the poor dwelt in hovels massed together. Slaves captured in battle, and the poor who sold their families and themselves to meet debts, contributed to the power and wealth of the few.
Canaanite religion, a fertility or nature religion, reflected the major concerns of the populace - increase and productivity. Until recently, information about Canaanite belief was drawn largely from the negative statements in the Bible, but since 1928 new data has been forthcoming. While plowing a field, a farmer discovered a Canaanite necropolis at Ras es-Shamra in northern Syria at a point along the seacoast to which the "finger" of Cyprus appears to be pointing. Excavations began in 1929 under the direction of Claude F. A. Schaeffer of France and have continued since with only a brief interruption during World War II. The necropolis belonged to the ancient city of Ugarit, known to scholars from references in the El Amarna texts. The city was destroyed in the fourteenth century by an earthquake and then rebuilt, only to fall in the twelfth century to the hoards of Sea People. It was never rebuilt and was ultimately forgotten. One of the excavator's most exciting discoveries was a temple dedicated to the god Ba'al with a nearby scribal school containing numerous tablets relating the myths of Ba'al written in a Semitic dialect but in a cuneiform script never before encountered. The language was deciphered and the myths translated, providing many parallels to Canaanite practices condemned in the Bible and making it possible to suggest that the religion of Ba'al as practiced in Ugarit was very much like that of the Canaanites of Palestine.
The texts1 portray a divine hierarchy headed by the benign father-god El, a rather subordinate figure in some of the myths, and the mother goddess, Astarte, who appears in the Bible as Ba'al's consort. The numerous children include: Ba'al, the god of rain or weather and fecundity; Yam, the sea god; Mot, god of death; Koshar or Kothar, the artisan god; Shemesh, the sun god; Anat, the sister-consort of Ba'al; and numerous other minor figures. One myth reflects the seasonal cycle which must have been basic for cultic observances. It tells of a battle for sovereignty of the land between Ba'al and Yam, in which Yam, defeated by magic weapons supplied by Kothar, is confined to the ocean bed. (Compare Prov. 8:29; Ps. 89:9 f.) The triumphant Ba'al builds a castle and, in a victory feast, extols his prowess in battle and his role of lord of the land. During the banquet, messengers from the uninvited Mot bring a challenge to Ba'al, and when Ba'al and Mot meet, the god of life is overcome by the god of death. Without rain Mot's deathly powers begin to encroach upon the fertile land. El descends from his throne and sits on the ground pouring ashes on his head and, in a ritual act, gashes his face, arms, chest and back (cf. I Kings 18:28). Anat too, conducts mourning rites, weeping over hill and mountain as she searches for the dead god. Finally, having discovered Ba'al's fate through the sun god, Anat encounters and defeats Mot, grinding him and scattering his remains. In some manner not explained, Ba'al was revived and life returned to earth. For the seasonal pattern of the ritual, Ba'al's death symbolized the aridity of summer; the defeat of Mot symbolized the time of harvesting crops and fall sowing; and the rebirth of Ba'al symbolized the coming of the autumnal rains. Numerous "stage directions" point to some form of dramatic enactments.2 Within this and other myths, gods perform sexual and cultic acts prohibited in the Hebrew religion, suggesting that some biblical prohibitions may have been directed against participation in Canaanite religion as much as against some violation of accepted mores.
THE CANAANITE GOD BA'AL. A limestone stele found at Ras es-Shamra portrays Ba'al wearing a conical headdress with horns, a short kilt, and a sword strapped to his side. His upraised right arm is poised to hurl a thunderbolt, and his left hand holds a spear of lightning, stylized to represent a tree. He stands above the undulating hills, or perhaps the waves of the ocean. The small figure below the tip of the sword is, perhaps, the donor of the stele.
As a god of productivity, Ba'al was well suited for the social and economic climate of Canaanite business society. There can be little doubt that the prophetic idealization of the wilderness period and the outcries for justice for the widow and orphan reflect Canaanite social mores which made it possible to seize every opportunity to profit from the death of a neighbor's father or husband. On the other hand, in another Canaanite tale in which a certain Dan'el (or Daniel) is a symbol of those who maintain social order, Dan'el judges the cases of widows and orphans, and this text sets forth the responsibility of a son for his father, so that it should not be assumed that Canaan was without any moral code.
THE INVASION OF CANAAN
The only written reports of the Hebrew invasion of Palestine are found in Joshua and in the first chapter of Judges, both of which are part of the Deuteronomic history, and in Num. 13; 21:1-3, a combination of materials from J, E and P sources.3 It is clear that Joshua did not write the book bearing his name, for some passages reflect a post-conquest point of view (cf. "to this day" in Josh. 4:9; 5:9; 7:26; 9:27; 15:63) and Joshua's death and burial are reported in Josh. 24:29 f. A number of inconsistencies and repetitions (cf. Josh. 3:17 and 4:10 f.; 4:8, 20 and 4:9; 6:5 and 6:10; 8:3 f. and 8:12; 10: 26 and 10:37; 10:36 and 15:14) have led some scholars to extend Pentateuchal sources into Joshua, but so thoroughly has the Deuteronomist integrated and overwritten the work that the analyses are not very satisfactory.4 As a result, serious difficulties are encountered in any attempt to reconstruct the invasion history.
The general picture presented in the book of Joshua is that of a swift, complete conquest by invaders who were enabled, through Yahweh's miraculous intervention, to overcome the most powerful Canaanite fortress without difficulty, and who engaged in a program of massive annihilation of the Canaanite populace. Despite this picture numerous passages reveal that the conquest was not complete (cf. 13:2-6, 13; 15:63; 16:10; 17:12), and the impact of Canaanite life and thought through the period of the monarchy reveals the continuation of strong Canaanite elements within the culture.
The Deuteronomic interpretation of the invasion in terms of a holy war adds further problems to our efforts to understand what actually happened. Holy war was waged under the aegis of the deity. Battles were won not by might of human arms, but by divine action. The hosts of heaven assisted human soldiers who represented the family of worshipers, and battles were waged according to divine directions. Ritual purification was essential. Conquered peoples and properties came under the ban or herem and were "devoted" to the deity.5
A GODDESS FIGURINE. A contemporary bronze cast made from a mold found in a Canaanite shrine from about 1500 B.C. uncovered at Nahariyah, which is located along the Palestinian coast, north of Acco. It is quite probable that priests or smiths at the shrine manufactured figurines for sale to worshipers. The goddess, who may be Astarte, wears a horned headdress, like the goddess Hathor of Egypt, a tall peaked cap, and, perhaps, a string of beads.
Read Josh. 1-12, 23-24
Archaeological research has provided only limited assistance for the reconstruction of the invasion history. Excavation at Jericho produced no evidence for the period of the Hebrew attack because erosion had washed away all remains7 but there is no reason to doubt the tradition that Jericho fell to the Hebrews. The problem of Ai mentioned earlier must remain unsolved. Of the cities of the southern coalition both Lachish (Tell ed-Duweir) and Eglon (possibly Tell el-Hesi) have produced evidence of destruction in the thirteenth century; Hebron (Jebel er-Rumeide) is being excavated; Jarmuth (Khirbet Yarmuk) has not been explored; and Jerusalem, if it fell in the thirteenth century (cf. Josh. 15:63), was rebuilt and reoccupied so that it had to be reconquered when David came to the throne (II Sam. 5:6-9). Other sites, Bethel (Beitan), Tell Beit Mirsim (possibly Debir) and far to the north, Hazor (Tell el-Qedah) reveal thirteenth century destruction, supporting the thesis of a Hebrew invasion.
Read Judg. 1-2:5
Read Numbers 13, 21:1-3
Despite the fact that archaeological and biblical sources are inadequate for any detailed or precise formulation of how the invasion was accomplished, a number of hypotheses have been developed. One analysis finds three separate waves of invasion: one from the south by the Calebites and Kenizzites, both part of Judah; one encompassing Jericho and its environs by the Joseph tribes, led by Joshua; and a third in the Galilee area.9 Another theory suggests that there were two Hebrew invasions separated by 200 years: a northern invasion under Joshua during the fourteenth century in which the Ephraimite hills were seized (perhaps to be related to the Habiru problem of the El Amarna correspondence) and a southern invasion around 1200 B.C. involving the tribes of Judah, Levi and Simeon, as well as Kenites and Calebites and perhaps the Reubenites, with Reuben finally migrating to the area northeast of the Dead Sea.10 Still another suggestion is that, prior to the thirteenth century, a number of Hebrews of the Leah tribes had united in an amphictyony centered in Shechem and that the Joseph tribes, under Joshua, invaded in the thirteenth century. The earlier occupation may have been a peaceful one, in contrast to the devastation wrought by Joshua's forces. The Shechem covenant (Josh. 24) marked the union of the Leah group and the newcomers.11 The recital of further hypotheses could add but little to this discussion. No single view can be embraced with full confidence. Perhaps it will be enough to say that in the light of present evidence, the entrance of the Hebrews into Canaan was marked in some instances by bloodshed and destruction and in others by peaceful settlement among Canaanite occupants; and, although the thirteenth-century date best fits the invasion, it is likely that movement into the land by Hebrew people had been going on for at least 200 years.
The Hebrews were established in Canaan. Their status in the eyes of the Canaanites, how they organized their communities, what patterns of living they developed, and how they worshipped is not known. Some may have lived in tents (Judg. 4:17; 5:24) or caves (Judg. 6:2); others adopted the cultural patterns of settled society.
On the basis of archaeological study, it is surmised that three kinds of Hebrew settlements were developed.12 Villages were built on abandoned tells or in previously unoccupied areas. Where Canaanite cities had been destroyed, new dwellings were constructed amid the ruins. In some instances, by mutual agreement, Hebrews settled more or less peacefully among the Canaanites (Josh. 9:3-7). By comparison with Canaanite dwellings, Hebrew houses were poorly built. In new villages little attention was given to town planning and homes were constructed wherever the owner desired. Defensive walls were relatively weak and crudely composed, revealing limited mastery of structural engineering principles. Hebrew pottery, in contrast to well levigated, well fired Canaanite ware, appears quite poorly made. Some Hebrews ventured into Canaanite agricultural and commercial pursuits, others continued to raise flocks and herds (I Sam. 17:15, 34; 25:2). Despite efforts of a conservative element, fiercely loyal to old tribal ways, Canaanite cultural patterns were gradually assimilated. The unsettled nature of the times is revealed by the numerous destroyed layers from the thirteenth to eleventh centuries found in some excavations.
Literary information about this period is limited to the book of Judges, the third volume of the Deuteronomic history, which presents events within a somewhat stereotyped theological framework. When this theological structure is removed, a collection of early traditions reveals the chaos of the times. Numerous enemies threatened the loosely organized tribal structure; moral problems beset some communities; lack of organization afflicted all.
The book of Judges is usually divided into three parts: Chapters 1:1-2:5 which was previously discussed; Chapters 2:6-16:31, containing traditions of the judges; and Chapters 17-21, a collection of tribal legends. The second section, most important for reconstruction of Hebrew life, reports that in time of crisis, leadership came from "judges" (Hebrew: shophet), men best described as governors13 or military heroes, rather than as those who preside over law cases. These leaders were men of power and authority, individuals empowered by God to deliver the people-charismatic personalities.14 Apart from Abimelech's abortive attempt to succeed his father (Judg. 9), no dynastic system appears to have developed, and the role of the judge when not delivering the people is not defined, although perhaps, as local leaders and chiefs, they did preside at the settling of disputes. Long terms of office ascribed to these men may reflect a protracted military struggle, an on-going office of protector-of-the-people conferred for life, or an artificial term of office designed by an editor. Attempts to formulate a chronology of leadership have proven fruitless, for the total of terms of office is 410 years - a period much too long for the interval between the invasion and the establishment of the monarchy. Events probably fall between the twelfth and the eleventh centuries.15 Leaders represent only the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, Ephraim, Naphtali, Manasseh, Gilead, Zebulun and Dan. Enemies included Syrians (possibly), Moabites, Ammonites, Amalakites, Philistines, Canaanites, Midianites and Sidonians.
JUG FROM THE LATE BRONZE AGE PROBABLY IMPORTED TO PALESTINE FROM CYPRUS. White decorative stripes have been added to the rich chocolate-brown background. Such vessels would be in use among the Canaanites when the Hebrews entered the land.
The Deuteronomic theology-of-history formula is summarized in Judg. 2:11-19, and reiterated in Judg. 3:12-15; 4:1-3; 6:1-2:
When this framework is removed, stories devoid of the theological concerns of the editors remain. The age of the stories and how long they circulated prior to being recorded cannot be determined, but they do appear to coincide with the archaeological evidence of turmoil during the settlement pcriod,16 although such evidence cannot be construed as substantiation for the historicity of the narratives in Judges. However, the archaeological evidence does warn against casual dismissal of the stories as being without historical content.
Read Judg. 3:1-11
Read Judg. 3:13, 15b-29
Read Judg. 3:31
Read Judg. 4-5
Read Judg. 5
In the battle fought at Taanach, near Megiddo, a tremendous rainstorm, interpreted by the Hebrews as an act of Yahweh, transformed the brook Kishon into a raging torrent. Canaanite chariots were trapped in the heavy mud and the tide of battle turned to favor Deborah and Barak. Meroz, an unknown group or location, is cursed for failure to help, and Jael, a Kenite woman, is blessed for the murder of the Canaanite general, Sisera, who sought sanctuary in her tent. As if death at the hand of a woman were not degrading enough, the singers added a taunt song, mocking the fruitless wait of Sisera's mother. Her pitiful attempts to reassure herself of her son's safety close the poem. The closing statement, a wish that all Yahweh's enemies might suffer Sisera's fate (v. 31), may have been added later.
A DYE VAT, NOW RESTING ON ITS SIDE, FROM TELL BEIT MIRSIM. The vat was carved out of a single block of limestone. The thread or cloth was dipped into the dye through the center opening and then the excess dye was carefully squeezed out and any run-off was caught in the outer trough and channeled back into the vat. The value placed on dyed cloth is evident from the remarks of Sisera's mother (Judg. 5:30).
The theological convictions are clear. Yahweh was the god of a specific people. Their wars were his wars and Yahweh fought for his own. Others had their own gods and enjoyed a similar relationships. Social relationships are also revealed. Individual tribes were free to decide whether or not to participate in specific battles, but it was expected that they would rally when the war-cry was sounded. This, together with lack of reference to the tribes of Simeon, Judah and Gad and the listing of the people of Meroz as though they belonged to the tribal federation, raises questions about the patterns of relationship between the tribes. Were they really united by amphictyonic bonds? How many and what tribes settled the land? Does the amphictyonic pattern truly reflect eleventh-century relationships? For these questions there are no sure answers.
Read Judg. 4
Read Judg. 6-8
"Is the palm of Zebah and Zalmunnah in your hand that we should give bread to your army?"
This literal translation brings out a meaning that may reflect the custom of removing the hands of the slain to facilitate rapid tallying of the dead.26 Once the kings were captured, the Succothites experienced the vengeance of Gideon. Gideon's grateful followers sought to make him king, but he chose a monetary reward.
Read Judg. 9
Read Judg. 10:1-5
Read Judg. 10:17-12:7
The ritual of bewailing of virginity that develops out of the death of Jephthah's daughter is not mentioned elsewhere in the Bible, and the account of the sacrificial death of the young woman may be associated with a fertility ritual adopted into Hebrew religious practice (cf. Ezek. 8:14). Possibly it is an adaptation of a custom similar to Anat's weeping for the dead Ba'al, which incorporates an Hebraic aetiological legend. The remaining portion of the Jephthah story reflects intertribal conflict and provides interesting insight into dialectical variations among the groups (12:6). Only in 12:7 does Jephthah finally receive the title "judge."
Read Judg. 12:8-13:1
Read Judg. 17-18
The lawlessness of the period (reflected in the intertribal hostility, justice by the imposition of the will of the stronger upon the weaker, and the continuing destruction and occupancy of Canaanite cities) is succinctly summarized by an editor: "In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes."
Read Judg. 19-21
The period of the judges was a time of social, political and moral unrest. Law, which can only have significance if means of enforcement are available, appears to have been pretty much a hit-and-miss matter. The bonds uniting the Hebrew tribes are not clearly revealed: some situations evoked a co-operative spirit; others met with indifference or intertribal hostility. The newly won land was not held without difficulty: from without, Moabites and Ammonites pressed in; within the land were Canaanite citadels that had not been conquered; from the seacoast, the Philistines exerted expansive pressures eastward and northward. The socio-political structure of Hebrew society as reflected in the book of Judges simply could not cope with the situation. Something or someone had to unify the tribes, control the enemy, establish law and develop the nation. It was time for a king.
Old Testament Life and Literature is copyright © 1968, 1997 by Gerald A. Larue. All rights reserved.
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