BIBLE AND SPADE - BY STEPHEN L CAIGER D B - first published at the University Press, Oxford 1936. This Edition prepared for katapi by Paul Ingram 2003.

Chapter VIII: THE HEBREW CONQUEST

HOME | Contents | Introduction | Joshua's Invasion | The Tell El Amarna Tablets | The Hittites | The Habiru

THE period we have now reached is almost as obscure as that of the Egyptian Sojourn, and the dates are still in doubt.
The older School would postpone Joshua's invasion of Canaan until the reign of Merenptah (c. 1200 BC);
but we may safely say that just as opinion is hardening in favour of an early date (c. 1447 BC) for the Exodus,
so inevitably it is coming to accept an early date (c. 1400 BC) for the Conquest. 

Forty years after the Exodus, then, bring us to 1400 BC or thereabouts.
Amenhotep the Magnificent is still on the throne of Egypt,
his temples and palaces resplendent as ever,
his wealth beyond the dreams of any previous monarch,
his imperial writ still running in distant Syria and Canaan.
At first glance it seems an unpropitious time for Joshua to attack the outposts of Egypt. 

But the Hebrew spies made no mistake.
Though the centre seemed as firm as ever, the circumference of the empire began to show signs of breaking up as Amenhotep's luxury-sodden reign progressed.
Of the state of affairs in Canaan at this time we have little evidence.
A letter of Burna-Buriash king of Babylon about 1380 BC speaks of disaffection among the vassal kings of Canaan in the time of Kurigalzu, his father, probably about 1400 BC.
The Tell el Amarna tablets describe a tumultuous situation, which must have been already in existence some years before the first of those tablets (1380 BC) was written.
And in any case it is doubtful how far Amenhotep's vaunted triumphs in Canaan
[Amenhotep's records are not trustworthy.
His inscriptions even claim supremacy over Mesopotamia.
See J. W.Jack, Date of the Exodus (1925).]
at the commencement of his reign had really secured more than the great military roads of the maritime plain and the south.
It is, therefore, not incredible that the Hebrew invasion should have occurred during the lifetime of the famous Amenhotep III. 

For the period covered by Joshua's latest years and those of the Elders who succeeded him, we have plenty of evidence in the Tell el Amarna letters.
These show quite clearly that the end of Amenhotep's reign witnessed a great decline of Egyptian prestige in Canaan.
It had become difficult to interest the Pharaoh,
now engrossed in artificial lakes, lion-hunts, and bullfights,
in the sterner business of empire.
The vassal kings of Canaan, already weakened by the rapacious policy of the Egyptian Hornet
[Garstang, following Hollingworth, sees in the phrase, / sent the hornet before you which drove them (the Canaanites) out (Josh.xxiv.12, &c.), a hidden allusion to Egypt, whose hieroglyph was a hornet.]
,
were abandoned to their enemies.
Their appeals for help were not even answered.
While as for Amenhotep's successor Akhnaton (1375-1358),
his over-absorption in religious innovations
and his consequent unpopularity left the empire more than ever a prey to any enterprising invader.
'One stands amazed at the reckless idealism, the beautiful folly of this Pharaoh', writes Weigall [A. E. P. Weigall, Akhnaton, Pharaoh of Egypt (1910).], 'who in an age of turbulence preached a religion of peace to seething Syria.' 

So that for fifty years after the date which we assume for the Invasion of Joshua, namely, from 1407 to 1358 BC, the supine policy of the Pharaohs afforded the Hebrew tribesmen just the opportunity that was needed for the unimpeded reduction of the Canaanite forts and the settlement in Central Palestine.
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JOSHUA'S INVASION

Recent events in Palestine supply an interesting comment on Joshua's crossing the Jordan on dry ground (Josh.iii JE).
Sixteen miles up the river, at a place still called Damieh (the Adam of the Bible story), the cliffs rise many hundreds of feet high, forming a deep, narrow gorge through which the stream flows very rapidly, especially at the season of floods (Josh.iii.15).
Owing to corrosion or to earth-tremors the cliffs at this point frequently collapse, completely blocking the river with a natural dam. 

This happened as recently as 1927, when the newspapers reported that the waters from upstream were blocked for twenty-four hours, so that many people crossed and re-crossed the river Jordan on foot.

After safely landing his forces on the western bank,
Joshua at once proceeded to the reduction of Jericho.

Excavations on the site of this fortress (El Riha) show that the defences of the city at about 1400 BC. consisted of two parallel walls of brick erected on somewhat insecure foundations of uneven stone, and rising probably to thirty or forty feet.
Over the space between the walls crossbeams of timber had been laid, and upon the timber had been built ordinary dwelling houses, such as Rahab occupied when she dwelt upon the wall (Josh.ii.15 E). 

The excavations further showed that some extraordinary catastrophe had overwhelmed the city about 1400 BC.
At this date
[In dating its fall about 1400 Garstang merely confirmed previous estimates by Sellin and others,
but his conclusions are supported by the evidence of nearly 100,000 potsherds and scores of scarabs.
Excavations at Ai, Bethel, Hazor, &c., yielded similar results.
See also W.O.P. 5.]

the outer wall had collapsed down the slope of the hill on which the city was built,
dragging with it the inner wall.
The ruined city had then been set on fire.
Reddened masses of brick, cracked stones,
charred timber, and ashes all gave evidence of a conflagration of intense heat. 

More than this, the excavations showed that after the destruction of the city,
there was a distinct break in the pottery and other deposits,
proving that the ruin of Jericho had been not only complete but lasting,
thus fulfilling Joshua's curse on any one who should rebuild it (Josh.vi.26 JE).
There is no trace of any repair of the city between 1400 and the year 860 BC, when Hiel the Beth-elite rebuilt it (I Kg.xvi.34).
In other words, if Joshua (as the older view implied) had attacked Jericho as late as 1200 BC,
he would have found no walls to 'fall down flat'. 

The collapse of the walls of Jericho has a parallel in the recent earthquakes (1927) which shattered two whole streets of houses in Nablus, and at Jericho itself caused the walls of the hotel to fall down flat with consequent loss of life.
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THE TELL EL AMARNA TABLETS

It is unfortunate that the short period of the 'elders' who succeeded Joshua, and the oppression by Cushan-Rishathaim which evoked the first of the Judges should be so cursorily treated in the Bible (Jdg.ii.7-iii.11), for this, it would seem, on a dead reckoning from the Biblical time-notes, must have been the very period covered by most of the celebrated Tell el Amarna tablets.

El Amarna Tablet.

In 1887 a countrywoman of Tell el Amarna on the Upper Nile
found in a rubbish-heap the collection of inscribed clay tablets,
which has made the name of her village famous.

Hundreds of them were unhappily destroyed by over-eager 'excavators',
but about 300 found their way on to the market:
and great was the excitement when it was realized that here,
after nearly a century of Egyptian excavation,
was a discovery which put all the others in the shade,
at any rate so far as Biblical studies were concerned. 

For what the woman had found was the buried filing-cabinet, as it were, of the capital of King Akhnaton
[The name of the new capital was Akhetaton.]
,
and the tablets were letters and dispatches
sent during the far-off years 1380-1360 BC
to the court of Amenhotep III and his successor Akhnaton.  

But the thrilling fact about the tablets was that most of them had been written in the Holy Land,
written to their Egyptian overlord by the kings of Canaanite cities named in the Bible,
by the king of Jerusalem itself.
Here, indeed, was the first certain mention of the Holy City in the records of the past.
Here, too, to all appearances, was the first explicit mention of the Hebrew people. 

The Tell el Amarna tablets, in short, threw an entirely new light on one of the darkest, yet most important, periods of Palestinian history, and opened a new epoch in the study of Biblical and indeed of Egyptian archaeology, revolutionizing in many ways our notions of the ancient history of the Near East. 

One of the big surprises was to find that the letters were nearly all written in Babylonian cuneiform.
By this time the Canaanites had a well-developed language and probably an alphabet of their own (pp.51ff.),
while Egypt was even better furnished,
but it seemed that correspondence between the two countries was carried out in the ancient lingua franca of the Babylonian tongue, couched in the crabbed cuneiform script of the past two thousand years. 

The Letters reveal that the Land of Canaan (Kinakhna),
while still ostensibly a province of the Egyptian empire,
was in a state of extreme turmoil.
The vassal kings were sending frenzied appeals to the Pharaohs for help against formidable invaders from the north and east, protesting that unless reinforcements arrived quickly, the country would be lost to Egypt forever.
Fortress after fortress was falling into the enemies' hands.

'Is there no one to deliver me out of the hand of my enemies?'
writes Rip-Adda of Byblus, for instance.
'I am like a bird caught in a trap.'

But the indolent Pharaoh answers never a word.
Already Egypt is earning her reputation as Rahab that sitteth still (Is.xxx.7). 

But who were these enemies of whom the Letters speak?
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THE HITTITES

In the north, of course, the restless Hittites, that mighty nation or confederacy of nations which it is one of the major triumphs of archaeology to have rescued from oblivion.
We have already noted the appearance of the Hatti (Hittites) on the Karnak inscription of Thothmes III.
It was Sayce who first identified these mysterious Hatti with the Hittites of the Bible,
whose existence had hitherto been described as legendary.
Since the publication of Sayce's Story of a Forgotten Empire (1892),
a score of actual Hittite cities have been excavated throughout their extensive empire,
stretching from Smyrna to Erzerum,
from Niobe to Tel Halaf and Carchemish,
from Zenzirii and Hamath in northern Syria to Kara Eyuk and Boghaz Keui by the Halys river.
Striking monuments, inscriptions, and tablets of a highly developed civilization lasting over two thousand years have been discovered in the present century.
[For Hittite excavations see W.O.P. Tell Halaf 14; Carchemish 727; Hittites 827.]
 

One of the greatest achievements has been the interpretation [By Hrozny in 1919.] of the long-dead Hittite language or rather languages, and the decipherment of the cuneiform script in which they were sometimes written;
though the quaintly jumbled hieroglyphic script of many of their inscriptions still remains an unsolved enigma. 

Contemporary portraits show the Hittites as a thick-set folk
with retreating foreheads, high cheek-bones,
clean-shaven, and with what we should call a 'Jewish' nose
['The typical "Jewish" nose is the Armenoid nose of the Hittites',
acquired by the former through racial admixture (Prof. C. G. Seligman, 1931).]
.
They wore the snowshoe with upturned toe and fingerless mitten still favoured by the mountaineers of Cappadocia.
They understood the art of metalworking in gold, bronze, silver (whence the name Hatti),
and even iron as early as 2300 BC, as tablets from Kara Eyuk prove.
Their works of art, statues, frescoes, monuments, are strangely strong and beautifully quaint.
In religion they believed in the 'divine marriage' of the goddess of Nature (Sun, Earth, &c.) to the Jupiter-like god of Power and Thundering might. 

The history of the Hittites in general falls rather outside our scope,
but we must briefly bring it up to the date of the Tell el Amarna letters.
Their first king, Pamba, is dated 2750 BC,
but it was not until the beginning of the second millennium that King Hattusil formed a great empire with its capital at Hattusas (Boghaz Keui), and began to penetrate into the Bible Lands.
It will be remembered that about 2000 BC. Abraham is said to have had dealings with them (Gen.xi. P);
and according to Duncan there are many signs of Hittite inroads into Palestine about that time,
when possibly (it has been suggested) they may have been concerned in the Hyksos invasion of Egypt. 

It is not until the time of Thothmes III (1500) that they 'enter the political history of Western Asia in the full light of history' (Garstang).
Their own records from then onwards are continuous,
and there are many references to them in the Egyptian monuments. 

Among these we include the Tell el Amarna tablets, telling of the Hittite invasion of Northern Palestine in the early fourteenth century.
'Let my lord the King of Egypt know', writes Akizzi of Katna,
'that now the king of the Hittites has burnt our cities with fire,
and carried off their gods and their inhabitants. ...
The King of the Hittites has taken up his quarters in the land of Nukhazi,
and I fear he may go up into the land of the Amorites.'
The king in question appears to have borne the delightful name of Subbiluliuma,
and to have reigned during the whole period of the tablets. 

Among the Hittite archives at Boghaz-Keui are some tablets which the writers would have found it awkward to explain, had they been published 3,500 years ago instead of yesterday.
They reveal that several of the Canaanite kings, while 'bowing down seven and seven times' to their Egyptian overlord, were actually in treacherous communication with the Hittite invader, even as they had been years before with Babylon.
Truly affairs in Canaan had come to a pretty pass, and Joshua had chosen his time well. 

As things turned out, however, the dreaded Hittite invasion of Palestine proper never materialized.
Other interests diverted their energies, chiefly the young but vigorous kingdom of the Mitanni in northern Mesopotamia.
It is a remarkable coincidence, as Garstang points out, that just at this time (if our estimate of the chronology is correct) the Biblical narrative should suddenly mention Mesopotamia and its king Cushan-Rishathaim among the oppressors of Israel (Jdg.iii.7-11).
The Hittites, at any rate, withdrew for the time being;
but in the meantime they had opened a gate through which another and more persistent invader crept in.
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THE HABIRU

While the letters from northern Palestine were bemoaning the incursions of the Hittites, and of still more bloodthirsty bands of Sagas and Sutu marauders who acted as jackals to the Hittite lion, the letters of Arad-Hiba [Arad-Hiba, otherwise spelt Abdi-Hiba, or in older works Ehed-Tob.] king of Jerusalem, in the south, complain of the attacks of a people not elsewhere named in the tablets, whom he consistently calls the 'Habiru' .
[It is interesting to note that the Ras Shamra tablets, believed to be contemporary with those of Tell el Amarna, also mention the Sagaz, the Sutu, and the Ibrim.]
 

'The Habiru',
he writes,
'are now capturing the fortresses of the Pharaoh.
Not a single governor remains among them to my lord the King:
all have perished.
Zimrida of Lachish has been killed.
May the King send help.
Lo, if no reinforcements come this year,
all the countries of my lord the King will be utterly destroyed. ...
The land of the King is lost to the Habiru.
And now indeed a city of the territory of Jerusalem, Bet-Ninib, has been captured. ...
After taking the city of Rubuda, they are now attempting to take Jerusalem... ,
What have I done against my lord the King,
that thou lovest the Habiru, and hatest the governors? ...
The Habiru have wasted all the territory of the King'
,
and so on. 

It is more than tempting to identify these Habiru with the Hebrews of Joshua's invasion. 

It is agreed, that as far as the name goes, Habiru and Hebrew are identical.

'If Habiru does not mean Hebrew,
then no name has been found in Babylonian or Assyrian to designate this important people'
(Jack).

Moreover, the circumstances of the Habiru invasion are precisely, on the face of it, those of the Hebrew invasion, as regards the date, the locality, the results, and the actual place-names concerned. 

The evidence with respect to the last is both negative and positive.
Thus, why should the important cities of Bethel, Hebron, and Jericho remain unmentioned in the tablets, if not because they had already been destroyed by Joshua?
On the other hand, the references to Jerusalem, Lachish, and Shechem imply just the situation described in the Bible
[That is, in the oldest JE documents, on which alone we rely for our present purpose.
The D insertions paint a more optimistic picture of the Hebrew successes.]
:
the first two cities besieged but not taken, the last falling into the Hebrews' hands (Josh.xxiv.1 E).
In the words of the tablets:

They are now attempting to take Jerusalem. ...
Gezer, Ascalon, and Lachish have given oil, food, and supplies to the Habiru. ...
Labaya and the land of Shechem have given all to the Habiru.
 

The identification of Habiru and Hebrew in the fullest sense is therefore now widely, though not universally, accepted.
[The older school of Biblical scholars, believing that the Hebrews did not leave Egypt until two centuries later than the Tell el Amarna period, naturally denied the Habiru-Hebrew identification.

To them, Habiru was merely an alternative name preferred by Abdi-Hiba for the marauders elsewhere called Sagaz.
In support of this they could show that:

  1. no tablet mentions both the Habiru and the Sagaz;
  2. tablets (Hittite) have been found at Boghaz-Keui giving temple lists in which the 'gods of the Habiru' are apparently equated with the 'gods of the Sagaz'.

The suggestion was that the Habiru thus formed part of the Hittite-Sagaz-Sutu invasion which swept down from the north and could not therefore be identified with Joshua's invasion from the east.]
In other words, the Tell el Amarna tablets are believed to paint from the Canaanite side the same picture which the historian of Joshua-Judges paints from the Hebrew side, thus not only fixing the date of the Conquest but greatly illuminating it in every way. 

If this is the case,
it is disappointing at first sight that no Biblical personal names can be identified with certainty in the Tell el Amarna records.
The attempt, it is true, has been made.
Thus Toffteen, Olmstead, Marston, Garstang, and others detect the name of Joshua [Under the formJashuia. Olmstead, Palestine and Syria, pp.188, 198.] himself in a letter of Mut-Baal to Yankhamu.
The names of the kings of Jerusalem, Lachish and Hazor are quite different from those given in the Bible,
but here again Arad-Hiba has been equated with Adoni-Zedek.
[Arad-Hiba = Arta-Hiba (Hittite) = The Righteousness of the god = Zedek-El = Zedek-Adoni (Dhorme, Hommel).]
 

Two facts, however, must be kept in sight.
First, it is next to impossible to identify cuneiform names apart from their context.
Who, for instance, would recognize a familiar friend in Khishiarshi, alias Akhshiwarshu? [Viz. Xerxes.]
And secondly, the period of the tablets is not that of Joshua so much as that of his immediate successors, about which the Bible tells us very little.
There was plenty of time between the Invasion (1407) and the first of the tablets (1380) for the thrones of Jerusalem, &c., to have changed hands half a dozen times.  

Of the characters named in the tablets,
two may be mentioned as having a special interest for us,
since they cast some light on the Biblical story of Joseph,
once Canaanite vizier of Egypt. 

A Canaanite evidently in high favour at the Egyptian Court was one Dudu (= David?).
To him writes Aziru the Amorite:

Whatever is the wish of Dudu, let me know, and I will do it. ...
Thou sittest in the presence of the King my lord as a high dignitary.
 

The position of Yankhamu, another emigre from Canaan, offers a still closer analogy to that of Joseph.
He acted as deputy of the Pharaoh in the grain-growing district of Yari-muta, probably in the Delta.
The tablets are full of complaints against his high-handed methods.
'Our sons are gone, because we were forced to give them for food to Yankhamu. ...
All has been given to Yankhamu for our life's necessities.'
In one letter we are told that a hostage sent from Canaan had been detained in his house.  

It has been suggested that Yankhamu facilitated the Hebrew settlement.
'The Habiru were allowed to settle down with the consent of the Egyptian High Commissioner Yankhamu, who showed himself friendly to them, or even in league with them.
Consequently they were never harried with fire and sword as revolting Amorites and others were' (Jack).
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