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Canaanites Vow to Build a Wall: Moses-Mob of Middle-Easterners Will Be Stopped

Refugee Caravan (Image: Pueblo Sin Fronteras)


The numerous Canaanite kings banded together today to announce their intention to build a wall to prevent the Moses-led mob of Middle-Easterners from entering the land. The Canaanites have seen the havoc these refugees wreaked in the land of Egypt and are determined not to permit a repeat in Canaan. Spokesperson Rahab Huckabee Sanders

said to the men, “The fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you.  For we have heard what you did before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites that were beyond the Jordan. And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no courage left in any man, because of you” (mostly Joshua 2:9-11).

Canaanite spies dispatched to monitor the movements of the mob have reported that all is not what it seems to be. These people ae not simply walking step by step on a long journey through the wilderness. Like Frodo, they traversed the wilderness on the wings of eagles (Ex. 19:4).

Furthermore, the Canaanite spies have observed drones supplying the refugees with manna from heaven. Clearly this movement has received organized help from an outside agency.

In response, the Canaanites have decided not to build a single wall across the land. Egypt tried that centuries earlier and it did not work. Instead the Canaanites will build a wall around each Canaanite city to prevent the Israelites from encroaching on their land. The first city selected for the wall was Jericho.


Putting aside the hyperbolic rhetoric portraying the refugee caravan as an apocalyptic scourge from the end of days, the event does provide an opportunity to think about how the Canaanite people actually did respond to the appearance in history of the Israelite people in the land of Canaan.

Typically, Merneptah (1212-1202 BCE) hogs the attention at this transition from the Late Bronze Age to Iron Age I due to the Merneptah Stela.1 His reference to Israel as a people and not settled city-dwellers has led to continual discussion about exactly who or what Israel was and where they lived. There is no indication of any alliance or relationship among the four entities named in the Merneptah Stela. Nor is there any reason to believe he listed all the Canaanites who opposed Egyptian rule. In this regard we may never know the true extent of the Canaanite Spring and how widespread the anti-Egyptian feelings and actions were in the land of Canaan even without the potential Israelite catalyst.2

What was the geopolitical landscape in the land of Canaan at this time and how did Israel fit in?

Israel’s appearance in history occurred during a roughly 350-year period of Egyptian hegemony in the land of Canaan.3 At times, various Canaanites, some known, some not known, rebelled against Egyptian rule. As Egyptologist Ellen Morris points out, Gezer and Yenoam on the Merneptah Stela had appeared before in the Egyptian records as periodic irritants dating back to the 15th century BCE. The newcomer to the Canaanite city-list was Ashkelon, a day’s march from the Egyptian stronghold at Gaza, the border between Egypt and Canaan. She suggests that a city in such close proximity to a major Egyptian military base only would have rebelled if “something had gone fundamentally wrong in Egypt’s maintenance of its northern empire….Ashkelon would never have attempted insurrection had Egypt been in full fighting form.” She posits that the joint attack by the [non-Arab] Libyans and the Sea Peoples on Egypt created a window of opportunity for Ashkelon given the magnitude of Egyptian forces committed to resisting those intrusions. Morris wonders if Ashkelon expected aid from Gezer and notes that these two cities had warred against Jerusalem in the Amarna Age.4 One may add that Israel would have been an eyewitness to these machinations among the Canaanite cities, Egypt, and the Sea Peoples. These actions involving the sons of Ham, the sons of Japheth, and the sons of Shem were part of Israel’s collective memory. To isolate Israel from the surrounding political developments creates a skewed understanding of Israel’s early history. Israel was not alone in its opposition to Egypt and there is no inherent reason that these different entities were not as aware of each other just as their counterparts had been aware during the Amarna Age a century earlier.

According to the archaeological surveys, around this time hundreds of small settlements appeared as new sites in the Rachel lands/West Bank/hill country. These settlements routinely are identified as Israelite.5 Based on that obvious conclusion, one would further conclude that these Israelites were no direct threat to Canaanites along the coast, in the Jezreel, or in the Galilee. Those areas would not be part of an Israelite polity until the kingdom of David centuries later.

Within the area of Israelite settlement, what were the primary Canaanite cities with which Israel would interact? Again the answer is straightforward. In the Middle Bronze Age, Late Bronze Age, and Iron Age I, two Canaanite cities above all others stood out within the area of Israelite settlements – Shechem and Jerusalem.6 As it turns out, both cities figure in the archaeological and biblical record. Combined they help create an historical reconstruction around the time of Merneptah and afterwards.

Shechem, the proverbial navel of the universe, was a pain in the royal ass according to the Amarna Letters. According to this diplomatic correspondence from the 14th century BCE, Shechem, led by its king Labayu, was always fomenting trouble with its neighbors.7 Labayu’s actions lead to neighboring kings contacting Pharaoh for help. This correspondence is used to portray Egypt as supporting a divide and conquer approach to its vassals. As long as they paid their tribute, garrisoned Egypt’s troops, and did not have any foreign alliances, who cared about their internal petty squabbles?

Pharaoh’s physical presence was not necessary to resolve such internal conflicts.  His depiction on a relief was not a photograph of a battle scene. He did not have to be present. The garrison forces and/or vassals who fought on his behalf signified his symbolic presence even if not a physical one. Indeed, collective action on the part of Canaanite kings without Pharaonic guidance or blessing is unlikely.8 The Canaanites themselves should take care of these matters involving Shechem and the habiru which they did. These actions and correspondence were a precedent for how they would react to the appearance of Israel.

For Israel, the single most welcoming area for them in all the land of Canaan was likely to be Shechem and its environs. As it turns out by no coincidence whatsoever, it is exactly to this traditional anti-Egyptian city where the biblical narrative recounts Moses telling the people to go:

Deuteronomy 11:29 And when the LORD your God brings you into the land which you are entering to take possession of it, you shall set the blessing on Mount Gerizim and the curse on Mount Ebal.

Deuteronomy 27:12 “When you have passed over the Jordan, these shall stand upon Mount Gerizim to bless the people.”

The campaign promise was fulfilled by Joshua:

Joshua 8:30 Then Joshua built an altar in Mount Ebal to the LORD, the God of Israel.

This altar has been discovered complete with pharaonic scarabs that could be used in ritual celebrations of the liberation from Egyptian hegemony.9 Furthermore, Merneptah’s depiction of the Israelites at the Cour de la Cachette likely draws on the perceived Israelite-Shechemite link as Canaanites.10 In other words, there is a convergence of material archaeology, inscriptions, and biblical narrative on the peaceful settlement of Israel in the area of Shechem.

With Jerusalem, the story is different. According to the Amarna Letters, Jerusalem was a good vassal of Pharaoh. Its ruling dynasty even had been installed by the strong arm of Pharaoh. Jerusalem was used to contacting Egypt for assistance against potential threats and to allying with other Canaanite cities against upstarts like Labayu. Again there is a precedent for how it would respond to Israel.11

Within the hill country where Israel settled, the most prominent area where it would be least welcome is Jerusalem. As it turns out by no coincidence whatsoever, it is exactly this pro-Egyptian city with which Israel has the most difficulty.

According to Joshua 10, Jerusalem initiates an alliance against a Canaanite city that had dared to ally with Israel.

Joshua 10:3 So Adonizedek king of Jerusalem sent to Hoham king of Hebron, to Piram king of Jarmuth, to Japhia king of Lachish, and to Debir king of Eglon, saying, 4 “Come up to me, and help me, and let us smite Gibeon; for it has made peace with Joshua and with the people of Israel.” 5 Then the five kings of the Amorites, the king of Jerusalem, the king of Hebron, the king of Jarmuth, the king of Lachish, and the king of Eglon, gathered their forces, and went up with all their armies and encamped against Gibeon, and made war against it.

In the subsequent battle in the land of Benjamin, Israel prevails over Jerusalem.

According to Judges 1, Benjamin fails in its efforts to conquer Jerusalem.

Judges 1:21 But the people of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites who dwelt in Jerusalem; so the Jebusites have dwelt with the people of Benjamin in Jerusalem to this day.

One may see in this version, that although Benjamin defeated the Jebusites in open-field battle, it did not succeed in capturing the city. It did however continue building settlements that increasing encroached on the city without conquering it.12

The situation grew even more precarious for Jerusalem when it lost its protector. The strong Egyptian presence which had been maintained through the reign of Ramses III in the 12th century BCE abruptly ended during the reign of Ramses VI by 1139 BCE. Morris characterizes the end of Egyptian rule as “a short and bloody affair.” Her survey of Egyptian military bases in Canaan indicates that virtually every one was torched.

[T]he local populations must have seized the opportunity of Egypt’s internal weakness to rid themselves of their overlords. Without Egyptian taxation, corvée labor demands, co-option of local industries and resources, and interference in local politics, the inhabitants of Canaan must surely have believed that their lots would improve significantly.13

So what did Jerusalem do now? Given the failure of Merneptah to destroy the seed of Israel, given the failure of the Jerusalem initiated alliance with its defeat in the land of Benjamin, given the withdrawal of Egypt from the land, given presence of ever-closer Benjaminite settlements including with a fort, then what was Jerusalem to do? How could Jerusalem protect itself from Israel in general and Benjamin in particular? Answer – IT COULD BUILD A WALL!

As it turns out, that is exactly what Jerusalem did. The appearance of Jerusalem changed after the withdrawal of Egyptian forces from the land of Canaan. Two monumental structures in the city from this time period have been discovered by archaeologists. The first is the Stepped Stone Structure. This terraced construction on the eastern slope of the city was built possibly as an integral part of the city’s fortification system. It is dated to the Iron I period meaning the 12th or 11th centuries BCE prior to the creation of the Israelite kingdom. The structure consists of two parts: a stone mantle and rampart built on a terracing system. Theoretically the two components could have been built separately. Such a construction project demonstrates the capabilities of the city government to initiate an organized effort on a massive scale just as it had done centuries earlier when it build the walls and gates which protected the perennial water source at Gihon.14

The second building is the more recently discovered Large Stone Structure. The two structures generally are perceived to be one entity with the more extensively-preserved Stepped Stone Structure serving as a support for the mostly-vanished Large Stone Structure on the summit.15 This view is consistent with the biblical text referring the fortress of Zion:

II Samuel 5:9 And David dwelt in the stronghold, and called it the city of David. And David built the city round about from the Millo inward.

A natural question to ask is “Why did the Jebusites build it?” Amihai Mazar decisively declares its magnitude and uniqueness had no parallel from the 12th to early 9th centuries BCE in the Levant.16 Its construction was an impressive and monumental achievement. The Jebusites faced with the realization that they were on their own decided to act to protect themselves by constructing the Stepped Stone Structure and the Large Stone Structure.

The geopolitical situation following Merneptah is crucial to understanding the formation of the monarchy centuries later. Based on these events at the beginning of Iron Age I (1200 BCE), one needs to resolve the following issues at the conclusion of the period (c. 1000 BCE).

1. Why did David select Jerusalem to be his capital city? – One needs to keep in mind not just the traditional north-south conundrum routine in biblical scholarship but the inclusion into the Israelite polity of non-Israelite Canaanites. How many were Rahab Canaanites who did not fear but welcomed Israel and how many had been supporters of Pharaoh against Israel and suffered the same fate as the killed kings of Canaan?

Joshua 12:9 the king of Jericho, one; the king of Ai, which is beside Bethel, one; 10 the king of Jerusalem, one; the king of Hebron, one; 11 the king of Jarmuth, one; the king of Lachish, one; 12 the king of Eglon, one; the king of Gezer, one; 13 the king of Debir, one; the king of Geder, one; 14 the king of Hormah, one; the king of Arad, one; 15 the king of Libnah, one; the king of Adullam, one; 16 the king of Makkedah, one; the king of Bethel, one; 17 the king of Tappuah, one; the king of Hepher, one; 18 the king of Aphek, one; the king of Lasharon, one; 19 the king of Madon, one; the king of Hazor, one; 20 the king of Shimronmeron, one; the king of Achshaph, one; 21 the king of Taanach, one; the king of Megiddo, one; 22 the king of Kedesh, one; the king of Jokneam in Carmel, one; 23 the king of Dor in Naphathdor, one; the king of Goiim in Galilee, one; 24 the king of Tirzah, one: in all, thirty-one kings.

2. Why did Benjamin choose to ally with its longtime enemy Jerusalem during the reign of Solomon prior to the division of the kingdom? – I suspect that with the deaths of probable Jebusites Zadok and Bathsheba and the exile of Abiathar, Benjamin thought it would dominate the Jerusalem-based kingdom by operating behind the king through Pharaoh’s Daughter. Solomon legitimated his temple through “I had dream” in Benjamin

1 Kings 3:5 At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask what I shall give you.”

but the king did not relocate the temple to Bethel as Benjamin undoubtedly would have preferred. Still for the moment the Aaronids had triumphed over the Zadokite priests.

The memories of the geopolitical context when Israel first appeared in history in the land of Canaan carried forward to when Israel became a political entity with a king. Ironically, the very wall the Jebusites had built to defend the city against Israel and Benjamin became the foundation of David’s military power when he chose to make Jerusalem his capital.



1. The discovery of the Merneptah Stele in 1896 with its mention of Israel was big news. For reports from that time, see James Henry Breasted, “The Latest from Petrie,” Biblical World 7/2 1896: 139–140; James Henry Breasted, “The Israel Tablet,” Biblical World 9 1897: 62–68; Expository Times 7 1896: 387–388, 445–447, 548–549; 8 1896: 76; W. M. Flinders Petrie, “Egypt and Israel,” Contemporary Review 69 1896/Jan.–June: 617–627; W. M. Flinders Petrie, Six Temples at Thebes (London: Bernard Quaritch, 1897), 26–30.

2. For the political situation at the time Merneptah claimed to have destroyed the seed of Israel, see Dan’el Kahn, “A Geo-political and Historical perspective of Merneptah’s Policy in Canaan’, in Gershon Galil, Ayelet Gilboa, Aren M. Maeir and Dan’el Kahn, ed., The Ancient Near East in the 12th–10th centuries BCE: Culture and History: Proceedings of the International Conference, held at the University of Haifa, 2–5 May, 2010 (AOAT 392; Münster: Ugarit-Verlag, 2012), 255–268; Colleen Manassa, The Great Karnak Inscriptions of Merneptah: Grand Strategy in the 13th Century BC (YES 5; New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003); Nadav Na’aman, “The Egyptian-Canaanite Correspondence’, in Raymond Cohen and Raymond Westbrook, ed., Amarna Diplomacy: The Beginnings of International Relations (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000), 125–138, here 137; Nadav Na’aman, “‘Praises to the Pharaoh in Response to His Plans for a Campaign to Canaan,” in Tzvi Abusch, John Huehnergard and Piotor Steinkeller, ed., Lingering over Words: Studies in Ancient Near Eastern Literature in Honor of William L. Moran (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1990), 397–405.

3. For this 350-year period and its relation to the Exodus, see Nadav Na’aman, “The Exodus Story: Between Historical Memory and Historiographical Composition,” JANER 11 2011: 39–69, here 44–55.

4. Ellen Morris, The Architecture of Imperialism: Military Bases and the Evolution of Foreign Policy in Egypt’s New Kingdom (Leiden: Brill, 2005), 379–381, quotations from 379.

5. William Dever asks “If this is not Merneptha’sIsrael, where is it at? And if the settlers were not his Israelite people, who were they? Skeptics have no answer to these questions” (William G. Dever, Beyond the Texts: An Archaeological Portrait of Ancient Israel and Judah (Atlanta: SBL Press, 2017), 218).

6. Israel Finkelstein, “The Territorial-political System of Canaan in the Late Bronze Age.” UF 28 1996: 221–255; Israel Finklestein, and Nadav Naaman, “Shechem of the Amarna Period and the Rise of the Northern Kingdom of Israel,” IEJ 55 2005: 172–193; Nadav Na’aman, “Canaanite Jerusalem and its Central Hill Country Neighbours in the Second Millennium BCE,” UF 24 1992: 175–291.

7. Labayu’s actions have been seen as a forerunner of the actions of by Saul and/or by David; see Erhard Blum, “Solomon and the United Monarchy: Some Textual Evidence’, in Reinhard G. Kratz and Hermann Spieckermann, ed., One God – One Cult – One Nation: Archaeological and Biblical Perspectives (BZAW 405; Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2010), 59–78, here 73; Daniel Bodi, “Outraging the Resident-Alien: King David, Uriah the Hittite, and an El-Amarna parallel,” UF 35 2003: 29–56; Israel Finkelstein, ‘The Last Labayu: King Saul and the Expansion of the First North Israelite Territorial Entity’, in Yairah Amit and Nadav Na’aman, ed., Essays on Ancient Israel in its Near Eastern Context: A Tribute to Nadav Na’aman (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2006), 171–187; Amihai Mazar, ‘The Spade and the Text: the Interaction between Archaeology and Israelite History Relating to the Tenth–Ninth Centuries BCE’, in H. G. M. Williamson, ed., Understanding the History of Ancient Israel (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 143–171, here 165; Nadav Na’aman, “The Contribution of the Amarna Letters to the Debate on Jerusalem’s Political Position in the Tenth Century BCE’, BASOR 304 1996: 17–27.

8. See Morris, The Architecture of Imperialism, 351, 696.

9, The structure at Mount Ebal is a scary discovery in biblical archaeology. The existence of an altar from the time of Ramses II to Ramses III consistent with the story of Joshua is too frightening to be taken seriously. Not taking the biblical account seriously historically is one of the bedrock axioms of modern biblical scholarship. On the other hand, there is no reasonable explanation why an obscure short-lived site from early Israel, like Ebal, would even be remembered yet alone included in the biblical narrative unless something of importance had happened there. Typically isolated farmsteads and watchtowers are not the focus of biblical stories and Israelite memories. If it really was an altar, who knows what else in the Bible might be true as well? For the altar at Mount Ebal, see Ralph K. Hawkins, The Iron Age I Structure on Mt. Ebal: Excavation and Interpretation (BBR Supplements 6; Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2012); Aharon Kepmpinski, “Joshua’s Altar – an Iron Age I Watchtower,” BAR 12/1 1986: 42–53; Pekka Matti Aukusti Pitkānen, Central Sanctuary and Centralization of Worship in Ancient Israel from Settlement to the Building of Solomon’s Temple: A Historical and Theological Study of the Biblical Evidence in Its Archaeological and Ancient Near Eastern Context (Ph.D. dissertation, Cheltenham and Gloucester College, 2000), 148–164 (published Piscataway: Gorgias, 2003); Pekka Matti Aukusti Pitkānen, Joshua (AOTC 6; Nottingham: Apollos, 2010), 192–204; Adam Zertal, “Has Joshua’s Altar Been Found on Mt. Ebal?” BAR 11/1 1985: 26–43; Adam Zertal, “An Early Iron Age Cultic Site on Mount Ebal: Excavation Seasons 1982–1987,” TA 13–14 1986–1987: 105–165: Adam Zertal, “A Cultic Center with a Burnt-Offering Altar from Early Iron Age I Period at Mt. Ebal’, in Matthias Augustin and Klaus-Dietrich Schunck, ed, Wünschet Jerusalem Frieden: Collected Communications to the XIIth Congress of the International Organization for the Study of the Old Testament, Jerusalem 1986 (Frankfurt am Main: P. Lang, 1988), 137–147; Adam Zertal, “Ebal, Mount,” in ABD II: 255–258; Adam Zertal, “’To the land of the Perizzites and the Giants’: on the Israelite Settlement in the Hill Country of Manasseh,’ in Israel Finkelstein and Nadav Na’aman, ed., From Nomads to Monarchy: Archaeological and Historical Aspects of Early Israel (Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 1994), 47–69; Ziony Zevit, The Religion of Ancient Israel: A Synthesis of Parallactic Approaches (London: Continuum, 2001), 196–201.

10. In 1978, Egyptologist Frank J. Yurco began advocating that reliefs on a wall at Karnak that had been attributed to Ramses II really belonged to his son Merneptah. He then suggested that the pictures illustrated the very campaign in the Merneptah Stele mentioning Israel. If true, then Merneptah left not only the first mention of Israel in the archaeological record but the first images. There has been general agreement that Yurco is correct in his recognition of the true Pharaoh responsible for the images but debate over which images are of Israel and what the significance is. For the Cour de la Cachette, see Peter J. Brand, “Usurped Cartouches of Merenpah at Karnak and Luxor,” in Peter J. Brand and Louise Cooper, ed., Causing His Name To Live: Studies in Egyptian Epigraphy and History in Memory of William J. Murnane (CHANE 37; Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers, 2009), 30-48); Peter J. Brand, “The Date of the War Scenes on the South Wall of the Great Hypostyle Hall and the West Wall of the Cour de la Cachette at Karnak and the History of the Late Nineteenth Dynasty,” in Mark Collier and Steven Snape, ed., Ramesside Studies in Honour of K. A. Kitchen (Bolton: Rutherford Press, 2011), 51-84; Anson F. Rainey, “Rainey’s Challenge,” BAR 17/6 1991;56-60, 93; Frank J. Yurco, “Merneptah’s Palestinian Campaign,” JSSEA 8 1978:70; Frank J. Yurco, “Merneptah’s Canaanite Campaign,” JARCE 23 1986:189-215; Frank J. Yurco, “3,200-Year-Old Picture of Israelites Found in Egypt,” BAR 16 1990:20-38. Frank J. Yurco, “Yurco’s Response,” BAR 17/6 1991:61.

11. For Jerusalem in the Amarna Age, see Nadav Na’aman, ”Jerusalem in the Amara Period,” in Caroline Amould-Béhar and André Lemaire, ed., Jerusalem Antique et Medievale: Mélanges en l’honneur d’Ernest-Marie Laperrousaz (Paris: Peeters, 2011), 31–48.

12. With Khirbet ed-Dawwara, the 11th-10th century date is not in dispute as much as who built this unique walled-town fort site. Israel, Jerusalem, and the Philistines all have been suggested. See Dever, Beyond the Texts, 163,170,285,370n.40; Avraham Faust, Israel’s Ethnogenesis: Settlement, Interaction, Expansion and Resistance (London: Equinox Publishing, 2006), 129-130; Israel Finkelstein, “Excavations at Khirbet Ed-Dawwara: an Iron Age Site Northeast of Jerusalem,” TA 17 1990: 163–208; Nadav Na’aman, “Ḫirbet ed-Dawwāra – a Philistine Stronghold on the Benjamin Desert Fringe,” ZDPV 128 2012: 1–9; Omer Sergi. “The Emergence of Judah as a Political Entity between Jerusalem and Benjamin,” ZDPV 133 2017:1-23. I lean towards a Benjaminite construction that was seen as threatening to Jerusalem. It also may have been a forerunner to the Khirbet Qeiyafa fort.

13. Morris, The Architecture of Imperialism, 546–586, 709, quotations from 709.

14. The dating of the Stepped Stone Structure is debated. See Jane Cahill, “Jerusalem at the Time of the United Monarchy: The Archaeological Evidence’, in Andrew G. Vaughn and Ann E. Killebrew, ed., Jerusalem in the Bible and Archaeology: The First Temple Period (SBLSymS 18; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2003), 34–53; Dever, Beyond the Texts, 277-279; Israel Finkelstein, The Rise of Jerusalem and Judah: The Missing Link,” in Andrew G. Vaughn and Ann E. Killebrew, ed., Jerusalem in the Bible and Archaeology: The First Temple Period (SBLSymS 18; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2003), 81–101, here 84–87; Gunnar Lehmann, “The United Monarchy in the Countryside: Jerusalem, Judah, and the Shephelah during the Tenth Century BCE,” in Andrew G. Vaughn and Ann E. Killebrew, ed., Jerusalem in the Bible and Archaeology: The First Temple Period (SBLSymS 18; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2003), 117–162, here 134–136; Amihai Mazar, “Jerusalem in the 10th Century BCE: The Glass Half Full,” in Yairah Amit and Nadav Na’aman, ed., Essays on Ancient Israel in its Near Eastern Context: A Tribute to Nadav Na’aman (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2006), 255–272, here 269–270; Mazar, “The Spade and the Text,” 152–153; Amihai Mazar, “Archaeology and the Biblical Narrative: The Case of the United Monarchy,” in Reinhard G. Kratz and Hermann Spieckermann, ed., One God – One Cult – One Nation: Archaeological and Biblical Perspectives (BZAW 405; Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2010), 29–58, here 34–40; Margaret Steiner, “The Evidence from Kenyon’s Excavations in Jerusalem: A Response Essay,” in Andrew G. Vaughn and Ann E. Killebrew, ed., Jerusalem in the Bible and Archaeology: The First Temple Period (SBLSymS 18; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2003), 347–363; Sergi, “The Emergence of Judah,” 2-5.

15. For the Large Stone Structure, see Dever, Beyond the Texts, 280; Avraham Faust, “The Large Stone Structure in the City of David: A Reexamination,” ZDPV 126 2010: 116–130; Avraham Faust, “Did Eilat Mazar Find David’s Palace?’ BAR 38/5 2012: 47–52; Israel Finkelstein, “Has King David’s Palace Been Found?” TA 34: 142–164; Israel Finkelstein, “The ‘Large Stone Structure’ in Jerusalem: Reality versus Yearning,” ZDPV 127 2011: 1–10; Mazar, “The Spade and the Text,” 152–153; Mazar, “Jerusalem in the 10th Century BCE,” 257–265; Mazar, Amihai, “Archaeology and the Biblical Narrative,” 40–46; Eilat Mazar, “Did I Find King David’s Palace?” BAR 2006 32/1: 16–27, 70; Nadav Na’aman, “Biblical and Historical Jerusalem in the Tenth and Fifth–Fourth Centuries BCE,” Bib 93 2012:21–42, here 26–28.

16. A. Mazar, “Archaeology and the Biblical Narrative,” 45. Mazar employs identical words in publications in 2006 and 2007: A. Mazar, “Jerusalem in the 10th Century B.C.E.,” 264, and “The Spade and the Text,” 152-153.

Montenegro and Early Israelite History: Lessons from NATO

Flags of the Members of NATO (courtesy

Over the summer, the tiny country of Montenegro for a brief moment became a topic of discussion in American politics. The reason was due to Montenegro’s membership in NATO. Under the terms of the alliance, members are obligated to come to the aid of any other member who is attacked…meaning by the Soviet Union now Russia. The debate was over why the United States should risk anything on behalf of this teeny-tiny country just because it was part of a mutual alliance.

Putting aside any current political issues regarding this position, the situation involving Montenegro sheds light on the early history of Israel. As it turns out, NATO provides a better template for understanding Israelite political history in the LBA/Iron I transition then does other models. Let’s look at the international context at the time when Israel first emerged in history through the lens of NATO.


As is well-known, the first mention of Israel occurs in the Merneptah Stele, roughly 1206 BCE. It refers to a campaign possibly dated five years earlier. The Stele mentions Israel along with three cities in Canaan. The implication is that each one of the four is acting independently and that they are not part of a Canaanite coalition or alliance. There is no archaeological evidence to confirm or to refute that common assumption.

Merneptah was not the first Pharaoh to face rebellion in Canaan. In fact his father and grandfather both erected monuments in the same Canaanite city signifying their triumph over those who challenged Egyptian authority. What are the odds that Ramses II and Seti I identified all the Canaanite cities that had rebelled? What are the odds that in the 13th century BCE before Merneptah only Beth Shan and a few others had confronted Pharaoh? Without the equivalent of the Amarna Letters, we will never know the extent of the opposition to Egyptian hegemony.

In this regard, Israel was the new kid of the block. It had not appeared in any of the extant conquest lists by the great warriors of the 18th Dynasty who had established what scholars refer to as the New Kingdom. It had not appeared in the Amarna Letters when Pharaohs sought to maintain that empire. And it had not appeared in texts of the 19th Dynasty before Merneptah when Pharaohs repressed those who rose up against Egypt. Then Israel did appear in the Merneptah Stele.

Mernepath’s campaign against Israel seems to locate Israel in the highlands where archaeology reveals the presence of hundreds of new settlements. Contrary to the stele, Merneptah did not succeed in destroying the seed of Israel. Did that mean that Egypt simply gave up and acquiesced to the existence of anti-Egypt Israel? Did that mean that Israel would continue to stand alone against Egypt?

Who in the land of Canaan were the potential allies of Israel against Egypt and who were its enemies? Based on the archaeological evidence, Hazor was the most promising candidate for an anti-Egyptian ally. However its participation in a Canaanite Spring possibly in the wake of Ramses’s “victory” at Qadesh, undermined its ability to provide military support. Closer to Israel in the highlands and according to the biblical text, the stronghold of Gibeon appears to have been a suitable candidate to join an anti-Egyptian coalition led by Israel, the people whom Merneptah had targeted and not destroyed.

Gibeon’s potential alliance with Israel, also identifies some Canaanite cities who were loyal vassals to Pharaoh. According to the biblical text, Jerusalem initiated an alliance against Gibeon with four other cities (Josh 10:3) and therefore against Gibeon’s ally Israel. Again the absence of an equivalent of the Amarna Letters hinders any reconstruction. Those letters do show Jerusalem to be a loyal vassal and do indicate that Canaanite cities could join together against a common foe. Egyptologists have shown that Canaanite cities were capable of acting on behalf of Pharaoh even without the actual presence of Pharaoh in a campaign. It is quite reasonable to conclude that after Merneptah’s failed campaign, vassal cities in Canaan would continue the fight against the anti-Egyptian peoples and cities. I suggest that the story in Joshua 10 draws on memories of such an early confrontation between pro-Egypt Canaanite cities and anti-Egypt Israel.


By the time of Deborah, the political context had changed. When Ramses -> Sese -> Sisera III invaded Canaan in Year 8, he faced an Israelite-led NATO. Since the time of Merneptah, various non-Canaanite city peoples had formed an alliance against Egypt. These peoples are listed in the Song of Deborah (Judges 5:14-18). When called to battle, they did not all respond. Apparently one expected ally, Meroz, did not show up and was cursed (Judges 5:23).

Let’s examine this Israelite-led anti-Egypt NATO alliance further. The issues here are twofold.

1. The peoples participating in the Canaanite NATO against Egypt did not consider themselves to be Israelite. At the time of confrontation, roughly 1177 BCE, these tribes still self-identified by their tribal name and not as part of a larger political entity. There was no “Robert E. Lee” scenario where one could chose loyalty to one’s state over one’s country. The members of this alliance had not merged into being a single country with a single leader. Deborah of Israel could call the alliance into battle under the terms of the covenant they had cut, but that did not mean these tribes had become part of Merneptah’s Israel. They simply shared a common enemy.

2. One should recall that at the onset of Egyptian hegemony in the time of Thutmose III, numerous peoples had formed a coalition and fought at a battle at Megiddo. That defeat was part of the cultural memory of the Canaanites. Now, three hundred years later, perhaps this time the results would be different. As it turned out, they weren’t. The withdrawal of Egypt from the land of Canaan was still decades away until the time of Ramses VI who graciously left a statue of himself at Megiddo.

Centuries later, another coalition would arise against Assyria. From 853-845 BCE, a coalition including Israel held four times against Shalmaneser III. Then that coalition collapsed. Each member of the coalition remained independent. There was never any consideration of its members coalescing into a single political entity. One should note that a coalition had confronted Ramses II at Qadesh as well. The idea of coalition appears to have been quite acceptable before and after the Song of Deborah coalition.

The Song of Deborah frequently is regarded as one of the oldest if not the oldest text in the Hebrew Bible. It also has been the source of debate over whether it had been composed at one time or has multiple layers. (The same could be said for the Song of Miriam/of the Sea.)

Mark Smith regards the 10th century BCE as the time of transformation of a pre-monarchic oral poetry society to a monarchic prose narrative society (Poetic Heroes: Literary Commemorations of Warriors and Warrior Culture in the Early Biblical World [Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2014], 284-307, 326-328). Specifically, he designates David as the watershed figure emblematic of the shift from the heroic poetry of early Israel to prose narratives during the monarchy.

In making this claim, Smith posits that the Song of Deborah was composed in two primary units. He dates the initial composition to the Iron I period of early Israel, to a time of various tribal militias who join or decline to participate in a coalition against a Canaanite foe [vassals of Egypt who opposed Israel]. The names Yahweh and Israel are conspicuously absent or minimized in this version. By contrast, the added component abounds in references to the two “signatories” to the covenant. Smith interprets this addition to reflect the development of the monarchical society. The emphasis had become national and not local (Smith, Poetic Heroes, 211-266, 287-289).


Let’s consider the significance of the additions of Yahweh and Israel to the original version of the Song of Deborah. The participants in the Israelite-led Canaanite NATO against Egypt not only were independent entities, they did not worship the same deity. To the non-Israelite members of Canaanite NATO, Yahweh was not the victorious deity. Now he was.

Why was this change made? The answer is that someone is attempting to transform the identity of the coalition. The prominence of the deity Yahweh in the revised Song of Deborah represents an effort to redefine Canaanite NATO into a single political identity with a shared deity. By implication, that redefinition significantly includes Judah. Although the tribe and kingdom of Judah had not participated in the original battle in 1177 BCE, the deity of this Shosu/Caleb-based people and kingdom was Yahweh from the south. The revised Song not only emphasizes Yahweh, it locates him as coming from Seir. We are witnessing the effort to have non-Merneptah Israelites accept Yahweh as their deity if they did not already worship him.

The second part of the transformation is to have the members of Canaanite NATO become part of Israel. The addition to the song posits that one shared deity, Yahweh, of one people, Israel, led his people to victory over Egypt. He did so at Megiddo thereby bringing to closure the era of Egyptian hegemony initiated by Thutmose III. He did so with a water miracle and in the land of Canaan, just as he had with original Israel when he led them out of Egypt. Wilderness woman Kenite Jael had smited Pharaoh just as wilderness woman Kenite Zipporah’s people had done. The members of Canaanite NATO should become part of Israel.

One notes the existence of series of stories about membership in Israel. Dan (Judges 17-18), Gad, and Reuben (Num. 32) all have stories related to the responsibilities of membership including links to Levites and Aaronids. Caleb becomes a junior counterpart of Joshua (Num. 13:30; 14:24, 30, 38) focusing on the south (Joshua 15:13-19; Judges 1:12-20). Northern hero Gideon reaches out to Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali (Judges 6:35), all mentioned in the Song of Deborah (Judges 5:14, 17, 18). All these stories are reflective of the process whereby Mernepath’s Israel reached out to nearby non-Canaanite city peoples to create a larger Israelite identity. The story of the Exodus was revised to include these peoples. The birth story of Israel became the birth story of anti-Egyptian peoples in the land of Canaan who had not actually departed from Egypt. In the revision of the Song of Deborah, these people were being asked not simply to be allies of Israel but to become part of Israel.

Significantly the Song of Deborah does not refer to a human king. There is no suggestion that anyone other than Yahweh should be king. He is responsible for the victory over Egypt. In political terms, the revision does not suggest that there will a human king who will do the many terrible things ascribed to a king elsewhere:

1 Samuel 8:11 …he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; 12 and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. 15 He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. 16 He will take your menservants and maidservants, and the best of your cattle and your asses, and put them to his work. 17 He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves.

As presented in the Song of Deborah, the price of membership in Israel does not these abuses of power. Actually that may not be quite true. King Solomon is remembered for doing all these terrible things, especially the forced labor. Interestingly, the claim is made that forced labor only applied to non-Israelites:

1 Kings 9:15 And this is the account of the forced labor which King Solomon levied to build the house of the LORD and his own house and the Millo and the wall of Jerusalem and Hazor and Megiddo and Gezer…17 …and Lower Bethhoron 18 and Baalath and Tamar in the wilderness, in the land of Judah, 19 and all the store-cities that Solomon had, and the cities for his chariots, and the cities for his horsemen, and whatever Solomon desired to build in Jerusalem, in Lebanon, and in all the land of his dominion. 20 All the people who were left of the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, who were not of the people of Israel — 21 their descendants who were left after them in the land, whom the people of Israel were unable to destroy utterly — these Solomon made a forced levy of slaves, and so they are to this day. 22 But of the people of Israel Solomon made no slaves; they were the soldiers, they were his officials, his commanders, his captains, his chariot commanders and his horsemen.

Regardless of the validity of this suspect protestation, it raises the idea of different treatment of the Israelites by choice and the residents of the kingdom by force. I suggest something similar is behind the thinking expressed in the revision of the Song of Deborah. To the allies of Israel in the Canaanite NATO against Egypt, no harm will come. The people of Dan, Gad, Reuben, Judah and the others will continue to live their lives as before except as Israelites who worship Yahweh and fight for him when called. For the Canaanite vassals of Egypt who opposed Israel from the start, this offer did not apply. Since one of the non-Israelite peoples mentioned here was the Jebusites, this proposal occurred before Jerusalem became the capital under David.

Perhaps, the revision may also have served as a warning to the peoples and cities who had been enemies of Israel for lo, these two hundred years, since Israel first appeared in the land of Canaan. Their fate would not be so pleasant.

Joshua 12:7 And these are the kings of the land whom Joshua and the people of Israel defeated on the west side of the Jordan, from Baalgad in the valley of Lebanon to Mount Halak, that rises toward Seir (and Joshua gave their land to the tribes of Israel as a possession according to their allotments, 8 in the hill country, in the lowland, in the Arabah, in the slopes, in the wilderness, and in the Negeb, the land of the Hittites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites): 9 the king of Jericho, one; the king of Ai, which is beside Bethel, one; 10 the king of Jerusalem, one; the king of Hebron, one; 11 the king of Jarmuth, one; the king of Lachish, one; 12 the king of Eglon, one; the king of Gezer, one; 13 the king of Debir, one; the king of Geder, one; 14 the king of Hormah, one; the king of Arad, one; 15 the king of Libnah, one; the king of Adullam, one; 16 the king of Makkedah, one; the king of Bethel, one; 17 the king of Tappuah, one; the king of Hepher, one; 18 the king of Aphek, one; the king of Lasharon, one; 19 the king of Madon, one; the king of Hazor, one; 20 the king of Shimronmeron, one; the king of Achshaph, one; 21 the king of Taanach, one; the king of Megiddo, one; 22 the king of Kedesh, one; the king of Jokneam in Carmel, one; 23 the king of Dor in Naphathdor, one; the king of Goiim in Galilee, one; 24 the king of Tirzah, one: in all, thirty-one kings.

In other words, there came a time, when people in the land of Canaan had a choice to make about their political allegiance. Those who had been part of Israelite-led Canaanite NATO against Egypt could worship Yahweh and become part of Israel without suffering any consequences. Those had been pro-Egypt and anti-Israel would pay the price. Evidently, someone was quite confident in his military prowess and of the opportunity to dominate the land of Canaan.

Apparently also this kingdom was to be like no other kingdom. Ishbaal’s kingdom was just another kingdom:

2 Samuel 2:9 and he [Abner] made him king over Gilead and the Ashurites and Jezreel and Ephraim and Benjamin and all Israel.

There was no vision to this kingdom, no transformation of identity to something larger than one’s blood or soil.

Last October at the National Constitution Center, John McCain said:

We live in a land made of ideals, not blood and soil. We are the custodians of those ideals at home, and their champion abroad. We have done great good in the world. That leadership has had its costs, but we have become incomparably powerful and wealthy as we did. We have a moral obligation to continue in our just cause, and we would bring more than shame on ourselves if we don’t. We will not thrive in a world where our leadership and ideals are absent. We wouldn’t deserve to.

Some of his words and idols were voiced anew at his recent funeral. Over 3000 years ago, a leader in Israel had a similar vision about how peoples of different blood and different soils could constitute themselves as a single people in a kingdom based on a covenant. That vision an effort of part of Israel’s story. The challenge in reconstructing Israelite history is in addressing the area where biblical studies are the weakest – the human element.