“Patterns” of the Joshuan Conquest


Damien F. Mackey


Dr. Norman Geisler:

“Patterns are really more important than dates because dates kind of fluctuate and the argument about dates is still going”.

 Patterns of Evidence. Exodus.

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 This is one of the most sensible statements that I have read regarding the methodology required for attaining a proper biblico-historical revision.

Those would-be historians obsessed with dates, numbers, and charts, could take heed.



One might expect that major biblical events, such as the Exodus and the Fall of Jericho, and more especially the great Noachic Flood, would have had such a notable impact on their environs as to have left some substantial evidential imprints, thereby enabling for a better co-ordination of stratigraphical and or/geological data. Even a conventional scholar such as professor Emmanuel Anati had appreciated – what I also firmly hold – that the Joshuan Conquest must have occurred during the Early Bronze III [EB III] era in Palestine. I re-visited it in my:


Comparing a One Dimensional Biblico-Stratigraphical Model with a Multi-Dimensional One




…. According to an intriguing detail of supporting evidence as gleaned by Anati from the Book of Joshua, EBIII Jericho alone qualifies for the city destroyed by the Israelites (Mountain of God, p. 280, emphasis added):


With regard to the correspondence between archaeology and biblical descriptions, if the latter is reliable in terms of historical reconstruction, then the following passage may prove to be particularly significant:


‘Rahab let them down from the window by a rope, for her house was against the city wall itself’ (Jos 2:15). Which of the archaeological layers that have been excavated might correspond to this description? …


This … description can only refer to a form of urban planning and surrounding wall from the Early Bronze Age….


There were no windows that looked towards the outside of the walls, during the Middle and Late Bronze Ages, either at Jericho or at any other site in the Syro-palestinian region.

[End of quote]


However, whilst it was fully apparent that EBIII satisfied the basic details here for Jericho, that particular level of the Archaeological Ages does not appear to have the capacity within it – at least as conventionally understood – to satisfy all of the biblical Conquest data. This has been made clear by the research of professor W. Stiebing.

Here follows what I wrote about this anomaly in that same stratigraphical article:


The Exodus/Conquest Era


Everything changes (by way of contrast with the conventional scenario) when the Conquest is located earlier, to the Canaanite EBIII stage, with the conquerors being the MBI people whom, according to [Dr. David] Down, more and more experts archaeological experts are calling the ‘Israelites’. Even conventional scholar, Stiebing, who rejects an MBI conquest of EBIII as the time of Joshua, admits that this version of the Conquest does have arguments in its favour. Let us firstly, then, read about Stiebing’s important distinctions between EBIII and MBI (“New Archaeological Dates for the Israelite Conquest”, C and AH, Vol. X, pt.1, Jan., 1988, pp. 5-7):


Several scholars believe that agreement between archaeology and the Bible can be achieved if the conquest is placed at the end of the Early Bronze Age. The latter part of the Early Bronze Age was an era of widespread urbanization in Palestine (including the Negev) and Transjordan. But almost every one of the flourishing Palestinian cities was destroyed at the end of the … EB III period. The succeeding era … MBI was characterized by a non-urban pastoral society. The change from EB III to MB I has often been seen as a total cultural break. The urban culture of EB III was succeeded by an era in which there were no true cities in Palestine, only small villages consisting of a few flimsy, poorly built structures. Pottery types and other artifacts were very different in the two periods.

The Early Bronze practice of multiple burials in large caves was replaced by single or double burials in smaller tombs, and the differences between the tomb styles and burial practices during the MB I period might indicate that they belonged to non-sedentary groups with a tribal social structure. This view that the EB III culture was almost totally destroyed and replaced by that of invading semi-nomadic tribes has led some scholars to place the Israelite conquest of Canaan at this point in the archaeological history of Palestine.

[End of quote]


Stiebing now points to what he considers to be certain advantages of this interpretation:


An EB III exodus and conquest would solve some problems. Both Ai and Jericho were large, walled cities during EB III and were destroyed at the end of that era. And the widespread destruction of cities and the changes in material culture which took place at the end of EB III could be credited to the invading Israelites. The almost total cultural break between EB III and MB I could indicate that the Israelites conquered virtually all of Palestine and massacred most of the Canaanite population, just as the Bible says.

[End of quote]


Such a scenario, Stiebing goes on to tell, has recently been strengthened by the testimony of experts.

Firstly by Dr. Cohen:


This view has been bolstered in recent years by Israeli archaeologist Rudolph Cohen’s claim that the spread of the MB I culture into Palestine follows the pattern which the Bible gives for the invading Israelites. Cohen argues that the MB I culture first appeared in northern Sinai and the southern Negev, spread through Transjordan, then across the Jordan into the southern hill country, and finally into northern Palestine. ….


Secondly, by Professor Anati:


Emmanuel Anati, professor of paleo-ethnology at the University of Lecce, in Italy, furthermore has found an EB III/MB I holy mountain which he claims is Mount Sinai. Anati discovered a great concentration of rock art (much of it with what seem to be religious themes) at Har Karkom, a mountain in the southern Negev of Israel. He also found standing stones and altars, suggesting that this mountain had been a place of religious pilgrimage. All in all, he feels it fits the Bible’s description of Mount Sinai quite well. The largest number of habitation sites near Har Karkom and the greatest volume of rock art there belong to the Early Bronze Age and Middle Bronze Age I.  There seems to have been little activity at this site during the Middle Bronze II, Late Bronze, and Iron Ages.


…. So, if Har Karkom was Mount Sinai (as Anati believes), then the Exodus must have begun during the Early Bronze Age and the conquest must have taken place at the end of EB III.

[End of quotes]


So far so good.

But now professor Stiebing proceeds to point out what he perceives to be the inadequacies of this particular model (as espoused by the likes of Dr. D. Courville and by Stan Vaninger).

My article continues:



The general stratigraphical problem of the Courville/Vaninger model – and indeed the complexities of stratigraphy – is/are well explained by Stiebing (op. cit., pp. 11-12), who had previously noted this model’s strong points:


This theory, however, contains a major inconsistency in dealing with cultural breaks in Palestinian archaeology. On the one hand, the break between EB III and MB I is seen as evidence for the invasion of a new population group. But the equally complete and dramatic change from MB I to MB IIA …. is supposedly due only to the Israelites’ settling down and becoming more urbane.

Vaninger tries to remove this inconsistency by minimizing the cultural discontinuity between MB I and MB IIA and by arguing that population growth, climatic change, new pottery-making techniques, and influence from the north through trade account for the differences between the two periods.

…. But he rejects the opinion of archaeologists who have argued for continuity between EB III and MB I on much the same grounds – that the changes reflect socio-cultural fluctuations between periods of urban settlement and eras of pastoralism and small villages, rather than invasions by new groups of people. …. Vaninger justifies his different treatment of the two periods of cultural change by noting that major destructions mark the end of EB III towns while no destruction levels delineate the end off MB I…. However, climatic changes and internal strife can lead to widespread destruction, abandonment and urbanization, and a reversion to pastoral life.

The EB III destructions do not necessarily prove that an invasion took place.

On the other hand, since during the MB I period there were only small semi-nomadic encampments or villages in Palestine, rather than cities, destruction levels should not be expected. If invaders had arrived in strength at the end of MB I they would have had little reason to burn and destroy the undefended villages they found, especially since most of the MB I settlements were in the Negev, an area in which the MB IIA population chose not to settle. So destruction layers at the end of EB III do not prove that an invasion occurred then, nor does the lack of destruction levels at the end of MB I prove there was no invasion at that time. The changes between MB I and MB IIA are comparable to those between EB III and MB I. If such changes signal the appearance of new population groups at the end of EB III, then the abrupt change from MB I pastoralism to the new urban culture of MB IIA should also be credited to invaders.


(ii) Specific Sites


Stiebing continues:


… excavations have shown that Beth-shean, Dor, and Beth-shemesh were not occupied in EB III …, and thus could not have survived the Israelite conquest as the Book of Judges claims.

… Shiloh and Gaza present major problems for theories of an EB III conquest. Shiloh was one of the centers of Israelite activity during the period of the Judges (Joshua 18:1-10; Judges 21:12,19; etc.) and Gaza was a Philistine city which plays an important role in the stories about Samson (Judges 13-16). Yet Shiloh (Khirbet Seilun) was occupied for the first time in MB IIB (which begins just before the time of Saul, according to the Courville/Vaninger chronology), while Gaza (Tell Harube) was not occupied until the Late Bronze Age (which equals the Divided Monarchy in their system)….

[End of quote]


The conclusion that I would draw from all of this is that, due to the academic obsession with simple linearity in history, in palaeontology – when the actuality can often by more complex than this – a conventional understanding of the Archaeological Ages has been arrived at that is defective and artificial – a model that does not have within it the capacity to cope with a scenario so eminently testable as is the Conquest. It is clear from the above that we have two archaeological scenarios that fit, but not fully within each one, the Conquest scenario.

It is only by a combination of these that we begin to arrive at a complete picture.





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