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Israelites as Canaanites

Returning to the thirteenth century BCE, an elaborate study by the archeologist Israel Finkelstein counted 25 Israelite settlements at one given time in the hill country of eastern Canaan – settlements with a total population of perhaps 3,000 to 5,000. Settlements dated 200 years were 250 in number with a total population of 45,000 or so. The increase during the 200 years is thought by various scholars to have come from more than just the begetting of the original inhabitants. Other Canaanites had moved into the area, running from war and upheaval to the hills where the Israelites dwelled. The Israelite, it seems, had become more of a mix of Canaanite people. William G Dever, an American archaeologist specializing in the history of Israel and the Near East in Biblical times, interviewed for the program PBS science program "The Bible's Buried Secrets," claimed that "The notion is that most of the early Israelites were originally Canaanites, displaced Canaanites. Also interviewed, Peter Machinist of Harvard's Divinity school says, "The Israelites were always in the land of Israel. They were natives, but they were different kinds of groups. They were basically the have-nots."

Also interviewed, Israel Finkelstein adds:

In the [Biblical] text, you have the story of the Israelites coming from outside, and then besieging the Canaanite cities, destroying them and then becoming a nation in the land of Canaan, whereas archaeology tells us something which is the opposite. According to archaeology, the rise of early Israel is an outcome of the collapse of Canaanite society, not the reason for that collapse.

Referring to an upheaval in Canaan, scholars join in by describing Egyptian rulers and their Canaanite vassal kings as having put a burden on "the lower classes of Canaan with taxes and even slavery." The burdened abandoned the old-city states and headed for the hills. "Free from the oppression of their past, they eventually emerge in a new place as a new people, the Israelites.The pottery found in the newer settements is "very similar to the everyday pottery found at the older Canaanite cities like Hazor. In fact, the Israelite house is practically the only thing that is different." note10

A part of the dissent from a traditional understanding of who the Israelites were is the story of Joshua, of walls tumbling down and the Battle of Jerico fame. Biblical chronology has Joshua living between 1355-1245 BCE – an attempt to date from within the context of the Biblical narrative. That narrative describes Joshua leading the Israelites into Canaan in a military campaign.

Joshua is described as having led the destruction of Jericho and then to Ai, a small neighboring city to the west. At the city of Gibeon in Canaan, Gibeon Joshua asked the god that Moses had met in the desert to cause the sun and moon to stand still, so that he could finish the battle in daylight. "So the sun stood still," .according to Joshua 10:13. From there on, Joshua was able to lead the Israelites to several victories, securing much of the land of Canaan.

The archeologist Ann E. Killebrew claims that "Most scholars today accept that the majority of the conquest narratives in the book of Joshua are devoid of historical reality." note11  Destroyed cities that the Bible associated with Joshua show little of what was supposed to have happened, and the cities that were destroyed are not the ones the Bible associates with Joshua. William G Dever in the PBS interview states,

There was no evidence of armed conflict in most of these sites. At the same time, it was discovered that most of the large Canaanite towns that were supposed to have been destroyed by these Israelites were either not destroyed at all or destroyed by others. note12   

And the narrator claims that " A single sweeping military invasion led by Joshua cannot account for how the Israelites arrived in Canaan. But the destruction of Hazor does coincide with the time that the Merneptah Stele locates the Israelites in Canaan."


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