Friday, August 28, 2009

Did "Joshua fit the Battle of Jericho"?

Eric Cline's From Eden to Exile: Unraveling Mysteries of the Bible (2007) from National Geographic Books won the Biblical Archaeology Society's 2009 Publication Award for Best Popular Book on Archaeology. Here's the blurb from the BAS:

In this engaging and well-written book, Eric Cline discusses popular Biblical mysteries such as the Garden of Eden, Noah’s Ark and the Ten Lost Tribes. He does an excellent job of explaining why many of the sensational claims made about supposed archaeological discoveries relating to these mysteries are unfounded, while providing readers with a clear and balanced account of what we do know about them. Cline’s book shows how archaeologists can responsibly and professionally involve the public in ongoing discoveries.
These are the sorts of topics that popular publications like to cover, But their coverage is often fairly dull, and typically bend over backward not to offend Biblical literalists who want to treat the Scriptures as precisely accurate history textbooks. They often are fairly clueless in trying to discuss theological issues. It's usually pretty painful to try to read them.

Cline in this book focuses on the archaeological issues and does try to dig much into the theological issues. He quotes Randall Younker of Andrews University (A Seventh-Day Adventist institution) in Michigan on what he called the Andrews Way of approaching Biblical archaeology:

  1. Be forthright with findings. Do not minimize problems or stretch interpretations of data to explain things away.
  2. Do not make claims beyond what the data can support.
  3. Be quick and complete in publishing results.
  4. Engage and work within mainstream scholarship.
  5. Include a diversity of people and specialists.
  6. Take the history of the Bible seriously, but do not place upon archaeology the burden of "proving" the Bible.
I would like to think that most professional archaeologists and ancient historians already follow Younker's six points and that the "Andrews Way" is actually an excellent blueprint for how to conduct biblical (or Syro-Palestinian) archaeology. And three of his points (1, 2, and 6) seem eminently appropriate for enthusiasts, pseudoscientists, documentary firm-makers, and even the most fervent evangelical biblical maximalists and minimalists to adhere to as well.
The chapter on "Joshua and the Battle of Jericho" is the most interesting part of the book for me. But the story of Joshua is very much connected with the story of the Exodus, because the Bible describes Joshua as leading the final conquest of Canaan after the death of Moses.

He devotes a chapter to "Moses and the Exodus". The short version is that there is little supporting evidence in the archaeological records for the Exodus of a large group of Hebrews from Egypt. Even the record for the presence of Hebrews in Egypt is limited. And the evidence in the Middle East shows evidence that the Hebrew settlement of the "land of Canaan" took place as a combination of peaceful settlement through the expansion of local groups and of military conquest.

But if there was a single migration of a large group of Hebrews out of Egypt like that described in the Hebrew Bible, archaeologists and historians find it difficult to credit the chronology of that event as described in the Bible. The time of the Exodus and/or the emergence of a distinct group known as Israel in Canaan is most plausibly dated between 1250 BCE and 1150 BCE.

But there is definite archaeological evidence for the existence of the city of Jericho. Cline describes the most important excavations:

British engineer Charles Warren first excavated the ancient site of Jericho, today known as Tell es-Sultan, in 1867 and 1868. Some 40 years later, an Austro-German team led by archaeologists Ernst Sellin and Carl Watzinger excavated at the site from 1907 to 1909 and again in 1911. John Garstang next excavated parts of Jericho from 1930 to 1936, followed by Dame Kathleen Kenyon from 1952 to 1958.
Ernst Sellin was also an accomplished Biblical scholar, whose unusual (and little accepted) theory that Moses was murdered by his people was adopted by Sigmund Freud in his controversial late work Moses and Monotheism (1939).

The archaeological evidence shows that there was a city of Jericho that suffered major destruction, including the collapse of its city walls. The dates for the destruction of Jericho ranged from around 1550 BCE (Sellin, Watzinger, Kenyon) to as late as 1300 BCE (Garstang, and Bryant Wood more recently). Kenyon even argued that the destruction of the city walls could have taken place as early as 2400 BCE.

Even with the later dating, the available evidence at this point indicates that during the most plausible period for Joshua's conquests, Jericho had been abandoned for decades if not centuries.

Philistine captives (ancient relief in Thebes, Egypt

Cline does believe that the evidence favors some version of the "Conquest" model of the Hebrew occupation of Canaan. He postulates that the invasions of the Sea Peoples (of which the Biblical Philistines were one), which are attested in Egyptian inscriptions from 1207 BCE and later, may have resulted in the destruction of some Canaanite cities, and the Hebrews may have taken advantage of the Sea Peoples' military actions to occupy territory with the Sea People withdrew from part of the area. As he puts it:

I am not implying that the Israelites were among these Sea Peoples, because we know they most certainly were not. Rather, I am suggesting - using what I might call the "Piggyback" model - that the Israelites may have taken advantage of the havoc the Sea Peoples caused in Canaan and elsewhere in the Near East, and moved into areas they could not have taken over and occupied under their own power. Thus, the late 13th and early 12th century B.C. destructions at Hazor, Lachish, and perhaps even Megiddo in Canaan may not have been caused by the Israelites, as the Bible states. Instead, they might have been caused by the much more fierce and battle-proven Sea Peoples, who had already brought an end to the Mycenaeans in Greece, die Minoans in Crete, die Cypriots in Cyprus, and the Hittites in Anatolia.

Whether languishing in the Sinai for several decades, or already present in the land but "invisible," or toiling as an underclass, or infiltrating the land slowly over centuries, according to my model, the Israelites would have simply been the beneficiaries of these destructions. By "piggybacking" on the success of the Sea Peoples, they finally would have been able to take over all or most of Canaan in the first half of the 12th century B.C., including the still smoldering ruins of cities such as Hazor and Megiddo. This would provide the "how" that I believe is missing in most of the other hypotheses. How could the Israelites have possibly attacked and successfully captured the imposing Canaanite cities? The answer is they didn't; the Sea Peoples did. But once the Sea Peoples had brought the Canaanite culture to its knees, the Israelites may have been able to take over some of the lesser towns by themselves, thus completing the conquest of Canaan.

I do not see any other way to accommodate the archaeological and textual data currently available to us.
Cline's book is a readable account of the current state of scholarship on the historical record of the events with which he deals.

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