Land conquest by the Israelites

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The conquest of the Israelites , the Israelite conquest , the conquest of Canaan or the conquest of the land of Canaan are summarized in those narratives of the Hebrew Bible ( Tanakh ) that depict the settlement of the Israelites in the cultivated land of Canaan . The stories of the ancestral parents describe this process predominantly as a peaceful infiltration, whereas the Book of Joshua describes it as a military conquest, be it through the destruction or expulsion of the previous inhabitants. The book Richter suggests an exciting coexistence of different ethnic groups in the settlement area of ​​Israel. The biblical texts therefore do not offer a uniform picture and contradict each other in many details.

Research classifies the image of a uniform military conquest in the Book of Joshua as a literary construction from a later period and dates the conquest texts to the second half of the 8th century BC at the earliest. When the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah were already experiencing land losses and the danger of exile.

The Near East Archeology discusses the topic of "land grabbing" with various hypotheses about the origin of the people of Israel. New findings from the early Iron Age (~ 1200–1000 BC) questioned the Bible-based model of conquest, according to which Israel emerged as a force capable of action in Egypt, invaded Canaan from outside and prevailed against local ethnic groups. In addition to the infiltration model, that Israel emerged as part of the pasture change of semi-nomads next to Canaan, there was the revolutionary model, that Israel emerged from uprisings by rural Apiru against the cities in Canaan. The latest evolutionary model connects the change of pasture with the collapse of the Canaanite urban culture, which has made it possible for the semi-nomads to settle down.

Biblical tradition

The parentage stories of the Book of Genesis (Gen 12–50) are opened with the promise of land and thus pave the way for the later land acquisition texts. So YHWH , the God of Israel, promises Abraham in Gen 12: 1-7  EU many descendants and to them the land in which he still lives as a stranger. YHWH affirms this promise to Abraham in Gen 13: 15–17  EU ; 15.18-21 EU ; 17.8 EU ; 22.17 EU ; towards his son Isaac in Gen 26.3  EU ; towards his grandson Jakob in Gen 28.13  EU and 35.12 EU . From Gen 50.24  EU , YHWH repeatedly announces that he will lead the Israelites who have become people in Egypt to the promised land ( Ex 3.8.17  EU ; 6.8 EU ; 32.13 EU ). It is continuously emphasized that it is a gift from God, not a human achievement.

In the context of the biblical concept of Israel's emergence, the subject of land acquisition follows the tradition complexes about the exodus from Egypt and the desert migration . It remained open at first what should happen to the pre-residents in Canaan, but the dispatch of the scouts ( Num 13-14 EU ) heralds  a military conquest. Num 21  EU announces first territorial income in the East Bank , which is distributed to the Twelve Tribes of Israel in Num 32  EU . The book of Joshua then describes in detail the taking of the West Bank and leads with Jos 11.23  EU over to its distribution. These general notes run through the entire Torah and literarily connect them with the land acquisition texts. They almost always name YHWH as the sole subject who “leads” the Israelites “into” or “allows them to go up” into the land he has given, who “drives out” or “throws them out”. Like the parentage stories, these texts primarily describe a "land gift" that enables and demands the "land acquisition" of the Israelites.

Joshua , fighting with the king of the Amalekites , representation from the Hortus Deliciarum the Herrad of Landsberg , 1175
The fall of Jerichos

The book of Joshua describes a military conquest of Canaanite city-states with lists of warfare and consecration of destruction . The cities of Jericho ( JosEU ) and Ai (8.14–29 EU ) are said to have been conquered and destroyed, and their entire population was killed. According to Jos 10–11  EU, this was followed by other similar conquests in which the local population was destroyed on the orders of YHWH. This contradicts the retrospective stylized as God's speech in Jos 24 : 11–12  EU : Afterwards YHWH sent hornets, which drove the inhabitants from Jericho. According to Ex 23.28–30 EU , hornets gradually  expelled the country's inhabitants until the Israelites were numerous enough to take over the country. The hornets are integrated into the summary of the land grab Dtn 7.16–26  EU (v. 20). Here, too, a longer process of conquest is assumed (v. 22). Nowhere is an attempt to resolve the contradiction between the extermination or expulsion of the country's inhabitants. In addition, according to JosEU , the residents of Gibeon reached a contract with the Israelites and were thus spared the extermination intended for them.

The fact that Joshua "took over the whole land" according to Jos 11:23 is denied by the following list in EU 13 : 1-6 : According to this, the Israelites could not take large parts of Canaan. The reports on the distribution of the conquered areas also show that Canaanites have lived in the East Bank ( Jos 13.13  EU ) and in the core area of ​​Israel, for example in Jerusalem , "to this day" ( Jos 15.63  EU ; 16.10 EU ; 17.12-13 EU ). The book of judges supplements these exceptions and describes the previously declared successful land grab as a failure. According to Ri 1.19  EU , the tribe of Judah could only take the mountains, not the plains. Ri 1,22–36 EU lists what the tribes of the later northern empire  did not conquer. According to Ri 2,1–6 EU, the Israelites disregarded YHWH's earlier order not to conclude any federal treaties  with the inhabitants of the country ( Ex 23.32  EU ; Dtn 7.2  EU ); therefore he spared them. As a result, the Israelites lived “in the midst of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites”, not remnants of these peoples in the midst of the Israelites ( Judges 3: 1–5  EU ). This invalidates the complete conquest of Canaan which was claimed in Jos 11:23 and which was achieved in a single victorious campaign.

Its previous residents are listed in stereotypical lists of names, which are at least three-part ( Ex 23.28  EU ), mostly six-part ( Ex 3.8.17  EU ; 23.23 EU and others), a maximum of ten parts ( Gen 15.19-21  EU ). They usually name the Canaanites, Hittites, and Amorites first, but in different sequences. In other places these names are collective names for all ethnic groups in the cultivated land. In Gen 10.15–19  EU , “Canaan” appears once as the “father” (generic term) of all other peoples in the region. Only the Hivites (in Gibeon) and Jebusites (in Jerusalem) are located and emphasized that they still existed. Nowhere is it stated where the other peoples were driven to. Some of their names only appear in the lists. All are consistently differentiated from the neighboring peoples of the Israelites in the time of the kings. Accordingly, the authors of these texts had only vague memories of the earlier peoples of Canaan. These no longer existed at the time the text was written.

The fact that the Book of Joshua ahistorically depicts the settlement of the Israelites in Canaan as a campaign of annihilation is explained by historical analogies, the situation of the authors when they were written, and their theological intentions. They followed an ancient oriental scheme to reduce the existing land ownership to the order of their deity: This had ordered the land to be subjugated and the previous inhabitants to be destroyed if they resisted. Such a war ideology is evidenced by the Meschastele for the Moabites as well as numerous royal inscriptions and campaign reports from the younger Assyrian Empire (both from the 9th century BC). From these models the biblical authors took the idea of ​​the " ordination of destruction ", which is offered in Dtn 20,16–18  EU and according to Jos 6,21  EU ; 8.24-25 EU ; 10.10.28-30 EU ; 11.1.14 EU was enforced on the previous residents . These texts emphasize that YHWH himself wages war and brings about victory. The conquest of Jericho is represented as a cultic ascent. In addition, most of the stories in Jos 1–11 are etiologies that were supposed to explain a found condition retrospectively: The city of Ai was destroyed in the late Bronze Age and was only known to the Israelites as a "heap of rubble". Israel threatened from about 850 BC. BC even the loss of his land to the advancing Assyrians, who finally destroyed the northern empire and deported large parts of the population. In this situation, according to Volkmar Fritz , the texts emphasized : "The enemies have no existence before God as the real warlord ..." to encourage their readers at the time not to give up their "inheritance" even in the face of overpowering enemies and not to alienate themselves through material advantages To be seduced by the gods. This intention to make a statement is also shown by the exceptions to the regular extermination: The non-Israelite whore Rahab was allowed to stay alive in Jericho because she had protected the Israelite spies (Jos 2); likewise the Gibeonites, who experienced and believed YHWH's glory (Jos 9: 9f.).

The gradual settlement of tribes, which later grew together to form the people of Israel, in the interstices of Canaanite city-states has also been proven by extra-biblical finds. Therefore, the image of the Book of Joshua of a military conquest and extermination of the previous inhabitants is considered an ideological construction.

Archaeological evidence


According to the Book of Numbers, the Israelites conquered the following places in the East Bank:

  • Ḥormah , according to Num 21.3  EU, named after the root of "Bann" (ḥrm) (again in Ri 1.17  EU ).
  • all the cities of the Amorites in the East Bank. According to Num 21.25  EU , the Israelites settled there “... in Heschbon and all its daughter cities”.
  • Jaser in Moab and "its daughter cities " ( Num 21,31f  EU ).
  • after a battle near Edreï the land of Bashan ( Num 21,33-35  EU ). The cities of Moab and Bashan were then immediately populated by the tribes Ruben , Gad and parts of Manasseh .

Most of the places mentioned were, according to the information, contested, captured and their inhabitants killed, but not destroyed. According to the book of Joshua, the following places were destroyed or burned:

  • Jericho (Jos 6);
  • Ai (Jos 8);
  • Makkeda ( Jos 10.28  EU );
  • Hebron ( Jos 10.36f  EU ). According to Jos 15: 13-17  EU , Kaleb or Otniël later took Hebron again for the tribe of Judah, so it cannot have found the place destroyed.
  • Hazor ( Jos 11.11  EU ). According to RiEU , Hazor was first conquered by Debora and not destroyed in the process.

The following places were taken without mentioning their destruction:

  • Libna ( Jos 10.29f  EU );
  • Lachish ( Jos 10.31f  EU );
  • Eglon ( Jos 10.34f  EU );
  • Debir ( Jos 10.38f  EU ).
  • Jos 12 lists 31 cities by name, the kings of which Joshua defeated, including those previously mentioned. This contradicts information from the Book of Judges, according to which the Israelites could not conquer some of these cities in Joshua's time: including Jerusalem ( Judgment 1.20  EU ), Gezer ( Judgment 1.29  EU ), Taanach , Megiddo and Dor ( Judgment 1.27  EU ) . From the taking of Bet-Els reported Ri 1.22ff  EU .

Only some of these places have been excavated:

  • Hormah has often been identified with Tell Masos ;
  • Heschbon with Tell Heshbâ ;
  • Jaser as Jahaz or Jahza ;
  • Debir as Tell er-Rabud .
  • Makkeda and Libna could not be identified. Libna may be identical to Khiriat Libb ( Num 21,23  EU and others);
  • Dibon ( Num 32.3  EU and others) with Dhibân .
  • Eglon ( Tell ῾Aitun ) has not yet been thoroughly excavated.

No traces of destruction and resettlement from the late Bronze Age were found for any of the locations identified. Only one Canaanite city in Tell el-῾Umeiri was founded in the 13th century BC. Chr. Destroyed; neither her name nor the destroyers have yet been identified. Also for cities west of the Jordan such as Hebron and Debir were found for the 13th century BC. No traces of extensive destruction.

According to Kathleen Kenyon, Jericho was around 1550 BC. Was destroyed and existed until 1300 BC. BC only as an unfortified village, which was then abandoned and remained uninhabited for around 1000 years. Like all Canaanite places, it had no city walls. Earlier historians tried to explain the lack of wall traces near Jericho by “environmental influences” or “soil erosion”. Most recent research refrains from "taking" Jericho by Israelites.

That since about 3000 BC Ai was inhabited around 2400 BC. Destroyed around 1200 BC and Rebuilt; like other villages in the mountains, possibly by inhabitants of the coastal plain, who at that time avoided the sea ​​peoples in the mountains. Ai was abandoned around 1050. No traces of further destruction can be found in the 150 years since its reconstruction.

Destruction in the 13th century is certain only for Hazor. The Canaanite palace excavated there showed traces of a strong fire; several statues of Egyptian origin inside were mutilated. However, the archaeologist Amnon Ben-Tor involved in the excavation does not attribute this to the Israelites. The name Jabin mentioned in Jos 11,1 and Ri 4 for King Hazors is recorded as Ibni on an Akkadian cuneiform tablet . It is believed that the name denotes a dynasty that formed the Hazor from around 1900 to 1700 BC. BC (long before the "conquest" time in question) had ruled.

While hardly any places in Canaan were verifiably destroyed in the late Bronze Age, the number of new village settlements there, now also in northern mountain regions, increased considerably in the early Iron Age. Archaeologists explain this decline in Canaan's urban culture not from conquests from outside, but from the decline in power of Egypt, which had ruled the region up to then. Only then did the Israeli ethnic group emerge in Canaan. Erich Zenger mentions the consensus of archaeological research on the early history of Israel: “There has never been a military conquest as a campaign by a twelve-tribe Israel with the annihilation of all its inhabitants. This results from our knowledge of the origin of Israel, according to which Israel in the 12th century BC. Formed as a 'mixed society' whose members did not come mainly from outside, but were already in the country before ... "


The 1887 discovered around 379 Amarna letters to Pharaoh Amenophis III. (1388–1350 BC) document the Egyptian domination of the city-states of Canaan and the conflicts between local vassal princes and with semi-nomadic social groups. The authors called them Apiru and always portrayed them as threatening robbers, bandits, looters and blackmailers, also in order to trivialize conflicts with other city kings and to show devotional loyalty to the pharaoh. The Apiru appear in many other texts of the 2nd millennium BC. BC as a "trouble spot" for city-states. After the decline of the urban culture of Canaan and the settlement of the mountains, they no longer appear in the sources of that time. It is therefore assumed that these groups participated in this upheaval, co-founded and inhabited the new settlements.

The biblical name " Hebrew " can be related to the word root 'hpr, but the Apiru were not an ethnic group and their name was common in the whole of the Near East long before evidence for a people of Israel was found. A stele of Amenhotep II mentions 3,600 ʿapiru deported . The expression was often used in Egyptian texts for slaves, labor or farm workers, in texts from Ugarit , Babylon , Mari , Nuzi and Alalach also for semi-nomads who were used as labor or for military services.

Merenptah stele

Vertically mirrored drawing of the victory stele of Merenptah (F. Petrie)

The Merenptah stele found in 1896 contains as part of a victory song on the 1208 BC In line 27, the back labeled the probably oldest known extra-biblical evidence for the name "Israel": "Israel lay fallow and had no seed". The name stands between defeated areas and localities in Canaan and Syria. Since there is no other evidence of a campaign by Pharaoh Merenptah in this region, it is unclear what kind of victory was meant here. A pre-state or state entity Israel is excluded, however, since the wording Israel as “people”, the neighboring names “Canaan” as “country” and “Ashkalon” as place.

The word for “seed” can mean “seed” or “offspring”. It leaves open whether and where this group was based. Accordingly, she may have lived in Canaan even before the reign of Ramses II (i.e. before the time in which the Exodus is usually dated). It can (despite the symbol for “people”) refer to an area or to a group that has not yet settled because of the context, so it would then be compatible with a “land grab” process.


Large-scale archaeological surveys (inspections) were carried out in Israel for the first time after 1950 under the direction of Yohanan Aharoni . For the West Bank areas they were started after the Six Day War in 1967 and later extended to several regions of Palestine.

The method is based on the search of large areas: groups of archaeologists roam the investigation area and record all traces that are visible on the surface of the ground that indicate human settlement: topographical irregularities, contours of ramparts and walls, pottery shards, silices, etc. The material is then chronological and classified typologically. The method makes it possible to produce overall recordings for the examined region, which do not (only) relate to individual sites and which can provide important information on farming techniques and settlement patterns . Furthermore, the standardized examination of a room provides data for statistical evaluations and GIS analyzes. Remnants of sites with brief settlements may have been destroyed by erosion or other causes, but such analyzes provide good relative estimates of macroscopic changes over certain periods.

On the basis of the inspections, significant changes in the number, size and population of the Canaanite settlements at the transition from the late Bronze Age (16th to 13th / 12th centuries) and the Iron Age I (12th to 11th centuries) were determined. According to Israel Finkelstein , Nadav Na'aman, Lawrence Stager and William Dever, the hypotheses give the following picture of demographic development (the nomadic population, which is not taken into account in the calculations, is given as 10 to 15% of the total population). :

Canaan settlements Canaan residents
total Mountain country total Mountain country
16. 270 a 240 a 140,000 a 37,000 a
13. 100 a / 88 b 29 a c / 36 b 70,000 a / 50,000 b 12,000 a c
12-11 687 b 254 c / 318 b 150,000 b 40,000 c / 50,000 d
8th. - 500 e - 160,000 e
aIsrael Finkelstein, Neil Asher Silberman: From Nomadism to Monarchy (quoted from William Dever: Who Were the Early Israelites? P. 156 f.).
bL. Stager: Forging an Identity (quoted from William Dever: Who Were the Early Israelites, p. 98).
cIsrael Finkelstein: The Archeology of the Israelite Settlement , quoted from William Dever: Who Were the Early Israelites. P. 97 f.
dWilliam Dever: Who Were the Early Israelites , pp. 98 f.
eIsrael Finkelstein, Neil Asher Silberman: No Trumpets Before Jericho , p. 131.

According to Stager, 93% of all 12-11 In the 19th century, settlements in the Palestinian hill country inhabited new unfortified villages. Most were inhabited for several generations up to the royal times. For these settlements, which are described as early or proto-Israelite , a number of features have been identified that are interpreted as signs of the ethnic uniformity of the population of this region. The inhabited areas are usually small (around 100 inhabitants) unpaved villages, whose houses are grouped in blocks of 2 or 3 with shared walls and sometimes shared facilities. The typology of these houses - with 3 to 4 rooms and an inner courtyard divided by stone pillars (pillar-courtyard houses) has no equivalent in the Canaanite Bronze and Iron Ages I and points to a social organization based on large families. The lack of military installations, temples, palaces and other monumental structures also suggested that the population of these villages had a tribal, non-hierarchical form of society.

Other features of the archaeological finds, which provide information about the technology and production methods of the “early Israelites”, point to a high degree of organization and efficiency in agriculture: extensive cultivation of terraces; cisterns hewn in the rock ; Silos and other storage facilities. These are not always new technologies, as in the case of the silos, which were largely unknown in the Bronze Age: where the technology has a continuity with the Canaanite Bronze Age (e.g. cisterns and terraces), its distribution and functionalization are homogeneous and standardized economy the real innovation. The finds are interpreted as evidence of subsistence agriculture , the production method of which was based on large families, but was able to produce the surplus of goods required for exchange - but also for overcoming drought and epidemics. The bone finds also fit into the picture of subsistence agriculture: sheep, goats, cattle and donkeys predominate in the animal population (pigs, on the other hand, only make up a one percent share of the total population). The evaluation of the ceramic finds is controversial , which, according to Dever, shows an almost complete continuity with Canaanite production and, according to Finkelstein, is “in [a] sharp contrast” to this.

Apart from two cultic institutions that are considered to be early Israelite - the so-called "bull site" and the altar on Mount Ebal - no remains of cult or burial sites connected with the early Israelite villages have been found . The only example of a Canaanite temple that was used by the early Israelites as a place of worship is a temple fortress in Shechem , which its discoverer George Ernest Wright called the temple of Ba'al or El-Ba'al Berith named in Ri 9.4.46  EU identified.

Historical explanatory models

Classification of Palestine among the 12 tribes of Israel by the conquest; after a map by Tobias Lotter (1759).

The Israelite conquest in Canaan has been discussed in the research in connection with the investigations into the origin of Israel, whereby the general assessment of the biblical traditions played a decisive role. An essential contribution to the textual criticism of the oldest biblical traditions, which had a decisive influence on later studies and has been questioned many times, was Julius Wellhausen's " Newer Document Hypothesis " ( The Composition of the Hexateuch 1877) on the origin of the Pentateuch and the Book of Joshua, which postulated, among other things, a dating of parts of these texts to the second half of the 1st millennium. In the last decades of the 20th century the concept of historiography for the cultures of the biblical environment has also been redefined and criticized. In the course of this rethinking, many biblical historians have brought the question of the “seat in life” of Old Testament historiography to the fore. In addition to the later dating of the biblical traditions and the contextualization of Old Testament historiography in the context of a much later Israel, this approach has been reflected in a biblical "minimalism", especially in relation to the patriarchal and exodus stories as well as the traditions of the books of Joshua and Judges. This attitude has in part produced "revisionist approaches" with regard to the early history of Israel and an overestimation of the archaeological and non-biblical sources.

The land acquisition after a synthesis of the 19th century

Historical studies of the conquest of Canaan remained largely anchored in interpretations of the biblical text until the beginning of the 20th century. In the Encyclopaedia Biblica from 1900 approx. Two waves of migration from Israelite tribes to the Canaanite country are distinguished. The first wave probably took place under the leadership of Moses and led to the occupation of the areas of the East Bank by the " Leah tribes " ( Ruben , Simeon , Levi and Judah ). Subsequently, the tribes Simeon, Levi and Judah invaded the West Bank and tried to settle near Shechem , which only Judah south of it had partially succeeded in ( Gen 38  EU ; Jos 15,13ff  EU ): If this attempt failed, the story was Dinahs ( Gen 34  EU ) to contact. The second wave of migration was driven by the " Rahel tribes ", especially the Joseph tribes Ephraim and Manasseh , under the leadership of Joshua. All those Canaanite cities that militarily opposed the Israelites' invasion were put under ban and destruction. The "House of Joseph" conquered the areas between the Jezreel plain in the north and the Wādi Bēt Ḥanīnā in the south, thus clearing the way for the other tribes of Israel to settle.

Based on the Merenptah stele, this “second conquest” can be dated to the period between 1230 and 1200 BC: The Merenptah inscription also indicates that the Israelites or only the Joseph tribes in Canaan against the Egyptians struggled. The success of the conquest was due to the weakened control of Egypt over the Canaanite cities and the lack of unity of the Syro-Canaanite potentates. The non-Israelite inhabitants of Canaan were divided into seven groups, namely the Amorites , Girgashites , Hittites , Hivites , Jebusites , Canaanites and Perizzites .

After the settlement, a gradual transition to an agricultural way of life took place, with further confrontations and peaceful alliances with the Canaanites, internal migrations and clashes with other nomads invading Canaan.

Conquest Model

This model, proposed as early as the end of the 19th century, according to which the conquest of Palestine by what would become Israel took place in the form of a conquest and the subsequent occupation of the country, was first proposed by William F. Albright ( From the Stone Age to Christianity , 1946) and later developed by George Ernest Wright in a way that is coherent with the geographical indications of the biblical account in Jos 1-12. According to this model, it is in principle possible that nomads, who did not all come from Egypt, invaded Canaan in the course of several waves of immigration and constituted themselves there as Israel: the archaeologically proven traces of destruction can be traced back to the clashes that took place with the Canaanites. These traces had been discovered by Albright in Tell Beit Mirsim , whom he identified with Debir , and by Wright in Beitîn, probably Bet El , and dated to the late Bronze Age. Israeli archaeologists and historians such as Benjamin Mazar , Yigael Yadin and Abraham Malamat followed this model until the 1970s .

Renewed studies for the dating of the "City IV" destroyed by fire in Tell es-Sultan / Jericho and the completion of the excavations in et-Tell contributed to the questioning of the conquest model of Albright and Wright . For the destruction of Jericho, John Garstang had proposed a date around 1400 BC, which coincided with the so-called "early dating" of the Exodus. After renewed research between 1950 and 1960, the archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon postponed the destruction around 1550 BC and linked it to the expulsion of the Hyksos from Egypt. Kenyon's results have rarely been challenged in later studies. Also the lack of traces of settlement between 2400 and 1200 BC Chr. In et-Tell, which Garstang identified with the biblical Ai based on the geographic descriptions in Jos 7,2.5  EU and 8.11 EU , contributed to the discrediting of the Albright-Wright model.

Migration model, penetration model

The penetration model advocated by Albrecht Alt and Martin Noth , which excluded the capture of Canaan by a unified Israel under the leadership of Joshua , is mainly based on the view that the Book of Joshua is an etiological story . According to Alt ( The Israelites' land grab in Palestine 1925), the land grab was the result of the slow settling down of transhumant nomads, although armed conflicts with the Canaanite population could only have occurred in the later phase of the "land development". According to Noth ( Geschichte Israels, pp. 67–82), the process was analogous to the settlement of today's nomads in the Middle East. He later pointed out that there was no evidence to attribute the archaeologically proven destruction to the Israelites.

In Noth's view, the model of the Amphiktionie -verband was an organizational form of the settled population, which took into account the known division of Israel into tribes and was compatible with the model of migration. Heinrich Georg August Ewald ( History of the People of Israel I, 3rd edition 1864) first developed this thesis in analogy with the amphiktionien known for Italy and Greece: Associations of twelve tribes or cities, in which a central sanctuary and the cult practiced therein ensure cohesion . Among others, Georg Fohrer, Roland de Vaux and Cornelis Hendrik Jan de Geus criticized the amphiktioniethese with reference to the biblical representations, which do not reveal a strict organizational form for the pre-state Israel. In contrast, the main features of the migration model from Alt and Noth have been adopted by Manfred Weippert. Yohanan Aharoni also followed this model. According to Aharoni, however, confrontations, especially with the northern Canaanites, took place in the early stages of settlement and up to the destruction of Hazor . According to Joseph Callaway, the invading population was not nomadic: the waves of migration were triggered by wars, as a result of which the future Israelites sought refuge in the mountains of Palestine.

Revolt model

The so-called "revolt model" goes back to George E. Mendenhall. According to Mendenhall, the Israelites were not nomads, but rather uprooted, “socially declassed” rural dwellers, according to the ḫabiru / ʿapiru of the Amarna letters, who, under the leadership of the “Moses group” from Egypt, began to revolt against the Canaanite city dwellers.

Mendenhall's model was continued by Jan de Geus and Norman Gottwald, among others, who expanded it in the sense of a “ class struggle ”. Gottwald excluded the traditions of Moses and the Exodus from his theses and dated the events of the conquest between 1350 (Amarna period) and 1225 BC: This corresponds to the time of the establishment of the unfortified settlements of the early Iron Age in the mountains of Palestine, which is evidence of the independent development of population groups independent of the organizations of the Canaanite city-states.

Gottwald's work has been rejected mainly because of the Marxist character of his theses and has occasionally been heavily criticized - not least by Mendenhall himself. Gottwald's emphasis on the role of the indigenous component in the development of Israel and the novelty of the socio-anthropological character of his approach in Old Testament research and in “biblical archeology” have received many awards.

The revolt model was followed, with a few differences, by Robert Coote, Marvin Chaney and William Dever, among others. According to Coote, the early Israelites were Canaanites who settled and farmed in the higher regions of Canaan: They organized themselves in a tribal association, which was at least initially promoted by the Egyptians. According to Chaney and Dever, the emergence of the early Israelite groups cannot be explained by a religiously motivated movement, as Mendenhall, Gottwald and others had suggested. Rather, the founding and cohesion of the early Israelite population of the mountain region had an economic background: These groupings emerged from the amalgamation of Canaanite elements who had to leave the areas of the city-states of the coastal plain and developed a form of social organization that was functional the new challenges of agricultural life in the mountains.

"Minimalist" and "revisionist" approaches

The hypotheses of Niels Peter Lemche , Volkmar Fritz , Gösta Ahlström and others, who express a “minimalism” in relation to the biblical text, are more recent approaches in academic research on the origin of Israel .

Lemche rejected the models of conquest and migration and pointed out that there was no archaeological evidence for an immigration of the future Israelites into the land of Canaan: Such an origin could only be postulated on the basis of biblical traditions. According to Lemche, the biblical texts are not a historical source, as most of them were written between the 5th and 2nd centuries BC and - especially the book of Joshua - are fictitious. Lemche also sharply criticized Gottwald, whose use of the anthropological data was outdated and inadequate. According to Lemche's "evolutionary hypothesis", the early Israelites came about as an amalgamation of groups or tribes from ʿapiru and after the Merenptah campaign they became identifiable as a people.

Also Volkmar Fritz keeps the traditions of the Book of Joshua for legends and assumes that the early Israelites' cultivated land nomads "were that not the 'apiru be to identify and" ratio symbiosis "lived in one with the Canaanite population.

Gösta Ahlström developed the hypothesis that the future Israelites were part of the population of the Canaanite Plain, which in the crisis of the late Bronze Age withdrew to a small region of Canaan - the same region that Ahlström said was called "Israel" in the Merenptah stele would have. This population could also have taken in ʿapiru and could only be identified as a people of Israel during the time of the monarchy.

William G. Dever accuses revisionist research positions on the early history of Israel with a clearly ideological coloring. Philip R. Davies takes the view that "ancient Israel" is an academic invention and that nothing can be known about "historical Israel": research is carried out via a "social construct". According to Keith W. Whitelam, this academic invention goes hand in hand with the “expropriation” and “ silencing” of the history of the “native Palestinians”. According to Thomas L. Thompson , too , the Bible is a literary work of the Hellenistic period. Accordingly, “Israel” is a “mythical construct” and the question of its origin is “not a historical question, but a theological and literary one”.

Further attempts at a historical-archaeological synthesis

The archaeologist Israel Finkelstein takes the view that Israel emerged as the result of the "resettlement" (resedentarisation) of parts of the Canaanite population who had become nomadic in the crisis period of the late Bronze Age. The settling population carried out a slow migration towards the western parts of Canaan and caused the archaeologically proven population increase in the Palestinian hill country of the early Iron Age. The reason for the transition to a sedentary peasant life was the breakdown of the balance between the settled and nomadic parts of the population in Canaan in the 12th century, which occurred because of the reduced production of agricultural goods on the part of the Canaanite villages and which forced the nomads to To farm to produce grain. In contrast to, for example, Philistine mountain villages, no pork bones were found in the settlements in the west Jordanian mountainous region, which Finkelstein sees as an indication of the development of a common identity through food regulations .

Finkelstein's hypotheses have been adopted by other Israeli archaeologists such as Adam Zertal, Moshe Kochavi and Shlomo Bunimovitz. Instead of east-west migration, Bunimovitz postulates a retreat of nomadic shepherds and other non-settled groups from the plains to the mountains of Palestine. With reference to the incompatibility of the increase in population for the mountains of Palestine in the first Iron Age, taken from the archaeological data, with a migration of nomads within Canaan, Finkelstein's positions were criticized by, among others, Lawrence E. Stager and William Dever.

Steven A. Rosen and Gunnar Lehmann point out that research in the 20th century put forward theses on a nomadic or "seminomadic" way of life of the Israelites, which took over data from ethnographic research on recent Bedouins in Palestine. The fact that Bedouins rose to a political power factor in northern Palestine in the 18th century and represented a large population group in the northern Negev in the early 20th century is the result of special, modern developments. "The idea of ​​large populations of mobile and autonomous tribal shepherds around a central, sedentary agricultural core area cannot be accepted as a model for antiquity, at least not in derivation of modern ethnographic analogies from Palestine."

The Egyptologist Donald B. Redford rejected all syntheses worked out up to then. According to Redford, the future Israelites were a contingent of Shasu Bedouins who settled in the mountains of Canaan from the south and who only left traces after the adoption of Canaanite settlement patterns.

Source value of the book of Joshua for models of conquest

Even if many of the so-called "minimalist" approaches to land acquisition research have evolved in opposition to the Albright-Wright synthesis of the conquest model , the similarities between them are almost entirely limited to the evaluation of the biblical accounts and give no indication of a consensus in archaeological and historical research on the subject. A double exaggeration has been pointed out in many cases: On the one hand, within the framework of the conquest model, the biblical data were interpreted several times beyond the text and understood as a report of a comprehensive and sudden destruction of Palestine. For example, Wright attributed far more destruction to Canaanite cities to the Israelites than the Book of Joshua claims. On the other hand, the “minimalists” rejected the conquest model as being too faithful to the Bible and rejected it along with a literal interpretation of the Bible. But these authors, too, have often interpreted the biblical account of the conquest as a description of the extensive destruction of Canaan in order to highlight the problematic location of the archaeological evidence. For example, Finkelstein and Silberman have interpreted the book of Joshua as a report on a "military lightning campaign" carried out by an "army in rags" or a "chaotic heap" that overwhelmed "great fortresses" and "well-trained charioteers " and the Canaanites Should have destroyed cities.

James K. Hoffmeier has emphasized from a "conservative" point of view that the book of Joshua describes the destruction of only three cities, Jericho, Ai and Hazor. But that is not the only reason why the destruction of all other cities is not necessarily to be assumed. Even the tactics of Israelite warfare, which can be assumed on the basis of the biblical reports, were not based on frontal attacks and massive destruction: Such destruction is more typical for attacks and punitive expeditions by foreign powers, not for the conquest of the country by a people who settle in the country want. The literary characteristics of the book of Joshua are also not without parallels in the literature of the Middle East in the 2nd and 1st millennium BC: This applies to the religious character of the narrative of military enterprises; for the hyperbolic descriptions of the victories and annihilations of opponents; for the concealment of any defeats suffered; for the repetition of stories that repeatedly report the same victory with different authors; for the stereotypical enumeration of the conquests in the manner of Jos 10: 28-43 EU , i.e.  for all characteristics on the basis of which the biblical tradition of the conquest was assessed as unhistorical.

See also


  • Janet Amitai (Ed.): Biblical Archeology Today. Proceedings on the International Congress on Biblical Archeology, April 1984. Israel Exploration Society, Jerusalem 1985.
  • William G. Dever: Recent Archaeological Discoveries and Biblical Research. University of Washington Press, Seattle 1990, ISBN 0-295-96588-6 .
  • William G. Dever: Who Were the Israelites and Where Did They Come From? William B. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids / Cambridge 2003, ISBN 0-8028-0975-8 .
  • Israel Finkelstein : The Archeology of the Israelite Settlement. Israel Exploration Society, Jerusalem 1988.
  • Israel Finkelstein, Nadav Na'aman (Ed.): From Nomadism to Monarchy: Archaeological and Historical Aspects of Early Israel. Israel Exploration Society, Jerusalem 1994.
  • Israel Finkelstein, Zvi Lederman (Ed.): Highlands of Many Cultures. The Southern Samaria Survey. Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv 1998
  • Israel Finkelstein, Neil Asher Silberman : No Trumpets Before Jericho. The Archaeological Truth About the Bible. Beck, Munich 2003, ISBN 3-406-49321-1 .
  • James K. Hoffmeier : Israel in Egypt: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Exodus Tradition . Oxford University Press, New York et al. 1997. ISBN 0-19-509715-7 .
  • Eckart Otto:  land grab / land grab tradition . In: Religion Past and Present (RGG). 4th edition. Volume 5, Mohr-Siebeck, Tübingen 2002, Sp. 63-65.
  • Steven A. Rosen, Gunnar Lehmann: Does biblical Israel have a nomadic origin? Critical observations from the perspective of archeology and cultural anthropology . In: Die Welt des Orients 40/2 (2010), pp. 160–189.
  • Lawrence E. Stager: Forging an Identity. The Emergence of Ancient Israel. In: MD Coogan (Ed.): The Oxford History of the Biblical World. Oxford University Press, New York 1998, pp. 123-175.
  • Jonathan N. Tubb (Ed.): Palestine in the Bronze and Iron Ages. Papers in Honor of Olga Tufnell. Institute of Archeology, London 1985.
  • Peter van der Veen , Uwe Zerbst (ed.): No trumpets before Jericho? 3rd edition, SCM / Hänssler, Holzgerlingen 2018. Scientific outsider positions from the study group Word and Knowledge .
  • Peter van der Veen, Uwe Zerbst (Ed.): Biblical Archeology at the Crossroads? Pros and cons of re-dating archaeological epochs in Old Testament Palestine. Hänssler, Holzgerlingen 2004, ISBN 3-7751-3851-X .
  • Moshe Weinfeld: The Promise of the Land: The Inheritance of the Land of Canaan by the Israelites . University of California Press, Berkeley 1993

Web links

Commons : Kanaan  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Rainer Kessler: Josua and Richter: The land acquisition between conquest and liberation. In: Rainer Kessler: The way to life. Old Testament ethics. Gütersloher Verlagshaus, Gütersloh 2017, pp. 291-318, here p. 301
  2. ^ Christian Frevel: Geschichte Israels , 2nd edition, Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 2018, ISBN 3170354205 , p. 87
  3. Rainer Kessler: The way to life , Gütersloh 2017, p. 292 f.
  4. Rainer Kessler: The way to life , Gütersloh 2017, pp. 294–299
  5. Georg Hentschel: The book of Josua. In: Erich Zenger: Introduction to the Old Testament. 6th edition, Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 2006, ISBN 3-17-019526-3 , p. 210 f.
  6. Rainer Kessler: The way to life , Gütersloh 2017, p. 299 and 301
  7. ^ William Dever: Who Were the Israelites? P. 26.
  8. ^ William Dever: Who Were the Israelites? P. 30 ff.
  9. ^ William Dever: Who Were the Israelites? P. 35.
  10. ^ William Dever: Who Were the Israelites? Pp. 54-68.
  11. ^ William Dever: Who Were the Israelites? P. 67.
  12. ^ William Dever: Who Were the Israelites? P. 67 f.
  13. Erich Zenger: Introduction to the Old Testament. Stuttgart 2006, p. 209
  14. Christian Frevel: Geschichte Israels , Stuttgart 2018, p. 59
  15. James K. Hoffmeier: Israel in Egypt, pp. 112-115 and 124.
  16. Article עִבְרִי (ʿIvri) . In: Ludwig Koehler, Walter Baumgartner: Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon for the Old Testament. 3rd edition, Brill, Leiden 2004, ISBN 90-04-10323-6 , p. 739
  17. Christian Frevel: Geschichte Israels , Stuttgart 2018, p. 64 f.
  18. ^ Herbert Donner: Geschichte des Volkes Israel I, p. 105 f.
  19. James K. Hoffmeier: Israel in Egypt , pp. 27–31.
  20. ^ Israel Finkelstein, Neil Asher Silberman: No Trumpets Before Jericho , pp. 121–123.
  21. ^ William Dever: Who Were the Early Israelites? P. 157. The settled population is estimated at 1 inhabitant per 10 m² of building area (ibid p. 78).
  22. ^ A b Lawrence E. Stager: Forging an Identity
  23. ^ William Dever: Who Were the Israelites? Pp. 102-128; Israel Finkelstein, Neil Asher Silberman: No Trumpets Before Jericho, pp. 123–126.
  24. ^ William Dever: Who Were the Israelites? Pp. 118-122.
  25. Amihai Mazar: The "Bull Site": An Iron Age I Open Cult Place . In: Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 247, 1982, pp. 27-42.
  26. Adam Zertal: Has Joshua's Altar Been Found on Mt. Ebal? In: Biblical Archeology Review II / 1, 1985, pp. 26-43; William Dever: Who Were the Israelites? P. 89 f. and 126 ff; same: Recent Archaeological Discoveries , pp. 128-133.
  27. ^ William Dever: Recent Archaeological Discoveries p. 163.
  28. James K. Hoffmeier: Israel in Egypt , p. 10 ff.
  29. James K. Hoffmeier: Israel in Egypt , p. 10 ff.
  30. ^ Hermann Guthe: Israel. In: Encyclopaedia Biblica Volume II, London 1903, columns 2225-2228
  31. Herbert Donner: History of the People of Israel I, p. 142.
  32. Yigael Yadin: Hazor. London 1972
  33. a b Abraham Malamat: Conquest of Canaan. Israelite Conduct of War According to the Biblical Tradition. EJ Yearbook 1975/76, Jerusalem 1976, pp. 166-182; same: Early Israelite Warfare and the Conquest of Canaan. Oxford 1978.
  34. James K. Hoffmeier: Israel in Egypt p. 5.
  35. ^ Herbert Donner: Geschichte des Volkes Israel I, p. 143.
  36. Martin Noth: Geschichte Israels , pp. 83-94.
  37. Otto Bächli: Amphiktionie in the Old Testament research history. Study on Martin Noth's hypothesis. Basel 1977.
  38. Georg Fohrer: History of Israel from the beginnings to the present. Heidelberg 1977; Roland de Vaux: The Hebrew Patriarchs and the Modern Discoveries. Leipzig 1959; the same Ancient Israel , New York 1961.
  39. ^ A b Cornelis Hendrik Jan de Geus: The Tribes of Israel. Amsterdam 1976.
  40. Manfred Weippert: The conquest of the Israelite tribes in the recent scientific discussion: a critical report. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1967.
  41. ^ Yohanan Aharoni: Nothing Early and Nothing Late: Re-Writing Israel's Conquest. In: The Biblical Archaeologist 3, 1973, pp. 55-76; same: The Land of the Bible: A Historical Geography. (1966), Philadelphia 1979.
  42. Joseph Callaway: A New Perspective on the Hill Country Settlements of Canaan in Iron Age I. in: Jonathan N Tubb (Ed.): Palestine in the Bronze and Iron Ages , pp. 31-49.
  43. George E. Mendenhall: The Hebrew Conquest of Palestine. In: The Biblical Archaeologist 25, 1962, pp. 66-87; the same: The Tenth Generation, Johns Hopkins University Press , Baltimore 1973; Herbert Donner: History of the People of Israel I, p. 144 f.
  44. ^ William Dever: Who Were the Early Israelites? P. 73 f.
  45. Theological Real Encyclopedia Volume 12, p. 707.
  46. ^ William Dever: Who Were the Early Israelites? Pp. 54, 111 and more often; James K. Hoffmeier: Israel in Egypt , p. 6.
  47. ^ Robert B. Coote: Early Israel: A New Horizon. Fortress, Minneapolis 1990.
  48. ^ William Dever: Who Were the Israelites? P. 132 and 178 ff.
  49. ^ Niels Peter Lemche: Early Israel: Anthropological and Historical Studies on the Israelite Society before the Monarchy. Brill, Leiden 1983.
  50. ^ Volkmar Fritz: Conquest or Settlement. In: The Biblical Archaeologist 50/2, 1987, pp. 84-100.
  51. Gösta Ahlström: Who Were the Israelites , Eisenbrauns, Winona Lake 1986, pp. 37-43; same: The History of Ancient Palestine , Fortress, Minneapolis 1993.
  52. ^ William Dever: Who Were the Israelites? P. 138.
  53. ^ William Dever: Who Were the Israelites? P. 139.
  54. ^ William Dever: Who Were the Israelites? P. 141.
  55. ^ Israel Finkelstein: The Archeology of the Israelite Settlement. Israel Exploration Society, Jerusalem 1988; James K. Hoffmeier: Israel in Egypt , pp. 31-33.
  56. ^ Israel Finkelstein, Neil Asher Silberman: No Trumpets Before Jericho , pp. 121-136.
  57. ^ Moshe Kochavi: The Israelite Settlements in Canaan in Light of Archaeological Surveys, in: Janet Amitai (Ed.): Biblical Archeology Today pp. 54-60.
  58. S. Bunimovitz: Socio-Political Transformation in the Central Hill Country in the Late Bronze-Iron I Transition ; Israel Finkelstein, Neil Asher Silberman (eds.): From Nomadism to Monarchy , pp. 179-202.
  59. ^ William Dever: Who Were the Israelites?
  60. Steven A. Rosen, Gunnar Lehmann: Does biblical Israel have a nomadic origin? Critical observations from the perspective of archeology and cultural anthropology , 2010, p. 165.
  61. ^ Donald B. Redford: Egypt, Canaan and Israel in Ancient Times. Princeton University Press, Princeton 1992.
  62. James K. Hoffmeier: Israel in Egypt , pp. 33-36 and the literature cited there.
  63. ^ Israel Finkelstein, Neil Asher Silberman: No Trumpets Before Jericho , pp. 86-89.
  64. James K. Hoffmeier: Israel in Egypt pp. 36–43.