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ABR is always pleased to help sincere seekers get sound Biblical and archaeological answers to their questions. We hope our readers will clearly see that the Bible is trustworthy...

Recently, a visitor to the ABR Website contacted us with the following message and questions in italics. Dr. Bryant Wood responds.

Re: Egyptian Domination of Canaan During Joshua/Judges

Hi, I find your theory about the date of the exodus and the conquest really exciting, for it is really hard to fit these events with the end of the late bronze age (circa. -1200) as do Kenneth Kitchen and Hoffmeier.

For my critique of the 13th century Exodus-Conquest theory, please see: The Rise and Fall of the 13th Century Exodus-Conquest Theory

I think there are good correlation for the destructions of the cities, and also for egypt, but there is an huge problem: if the exodus really occurred in 1500-1450 BC, the Israelites were present in Palestine between 1400 and 1200. But there are a lot of evidences proving that the Egyptians ruled the whole territory during this period of the time, and all the kings of Canaan (who were numerous and divided as it is reported in the Bible) were in fact nothing more than Egyptians vassals with a few autonomy.

You are quite correct that the Egyptians had political control of Canaan in 1400 BC and they maintained that control by means of suzerainty treaties with the kings of the local city states. The reality of the situation, however, was that the Egyptians had very few troops and other personnel in Canaan. They had several administrative centers in the lowlands, such as Gaza, Joppa, Megiddo and Beth Shan, but did not maintain a similar presence in the highlands. It was in the highlands that the Israelites settled, in the area that is often referred to as the central hill country. The areas that the Israelites could not conquer, listed in both Joshua and Judges 1, were the lowlands, the areas occupied by the Egyptians.

I also find the equation Hebrew = Habiru/Apiru really attractive, and I think they could be the Israelites during the period of judges (and perhaps also Joshua, although the names of the involved rulers do not correspond to the names of the rulers in the book of Joshua, but that does not discredit the accuracy of the Bible). However, it is clear that some pharaohs have sent troops to fight against the Habirus, and some of them even boasted over having taken into captivity thousands of them. If this is the case, why is it not mentioned in the bible ?

The term Habiru/Apiru was used in antiquity for a social class of individuals who lived outside the city-state political system of the time. The term is used over a broad range of space and time, and was used of political refugees, outlaws, nomads, etc. Israel in the Exodus-Judges period certainly fell into this class and could be referred to as such by the Egyptians, but there were many others in this social class. So the large numbers of Apiru captured by Amenhotep II, probably to replace the escaped Israelites, could have been comprised of Apiru from Canaan and possibly some Israelites from Sinai. Not everything that took place in Israelite history is recorded in the Bible. We have several examples in Assyrian records of events involving Israel that are not mentioned in the Old Testament.

The same problem also come up with regard to the stela of Merenptah: it is rightly regarded by conservative scholars as a proof of the existence of Israel during the period of judges in spite of the denials of the minimalists. However, it also poses a problem: why was this battle not mentioned in the book of Judges, although it was certainly noteworthy for the Israelites?

The Merneptah Stela, dating to ca. 1210 BC and written in poetic style, was a eulogy extolling the accomplishments of Pharaoh Merenptah. At the end of the document is a section describing a campaign to Canaan in which Israel is mentioned. The author claims that Israel was obliterated: 'Israel is wasted, its seed is not; and Hurru [Canaan] is become a widow because of Egypt.' Since we know that Israel was not obliterated in 1210 BC, it is clear that the stela is propagandistic in nature and greatly exaggerated. Since the Israelites were most likely the most powerful people group in Canaan in 1210 BC (they had just defeated the largest city-state, Hazor, Judges 4-5), it is only natural that the author would claim that Merenptah had defeated them. In actual fact, however, he might not have had any contact with Israel.

For more on the Merneptah Stela, see the following:

Kenneth A. Kitchen, The Physical Text of Merenptah's Victory Hymn [The 'Israel Stela'], The Journal of the Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities 24 [1994]: 71-76.

Another related problem with the isrealite presence in those days concerns the archaeological reconstructions of the canaanites towns between 1440 and 1200: the culture was absolutely similar to the pagan one before the coming of the isrealites (remains of porks, widespread idolatry and so forth).

Could that really match the way living of the isrealites as it is depicted in Judges ?

Or does that mean that the isrealites were not present in the towns, but in small unfortified villages or campments, whose remains elude us ?

When the Israelites arrived in Canaan in 1406 BC they had no material culture of their own since they had been living in the Sinai as nomads for the previous 40 years. What is more, those with craft skills learned in Egypt had died in the wilderness. As a result, the Israelites purchased their pottery, tools and weapons from the Canaanites making it difficult to distinguish Israelites from Canaanites until the Israelites began making their own material items ca. 1200 BC. There is one finding, however, that may point to an Israelite presence. A number of cemeteries from this time period have been found in the central hill country with no town site nearby. This suggests a pastoral-nomadic population, possibly Israelite.1

That really puzzling questions for me, and I would be really grateful if you could answer me. With best regards-M.

Best Regards, Bryant Wood.

Editorial Note: ABR is always pleased to help sincere seekers get sound Biblical and archaeological answers to their questions. We hope our readers will clearly see that the Bible is trustworthy, and Christians should know that the assertions of the minimalists and skeptics are fraught with interpretive and methodological errors and anti-Biblical philosophical presuppositions.


1. Gonen, Rivka

1984 Urban Canaan in the Late Bronze Period. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 253: 61-73.

1992 Burial Patterns and Cultural Diversity in Late Bronze Age Canaan. Winona Lake IN: Eisenbrauns.

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