Friday, December 3, 2010

The Mythical Conquests of Canaan and Israelite Identity (pt.2 of 2)

As for the conquest narratives of Canaan by the early Israelites, these too are called into question by modern historians and archaeologists. First of all, it seems clear to most scholars that Israelites were always Canaanites. There is basic continuity between their cultures for centuries in the archaeological record. The traditional notion that they came from outside of Canaan and conquered it is heavily challenged by at least two other theories. First, Israel may have been ex-urbanite Canaanite revolutionaries who got fed up with their overlords who were serving the Egyptian empire and oppressing the lower class. Second, Israel may have originated as semi-nomadic desert nomads who settled in the highlands of Canaan, became agriculturalists, grew in population, developed a distinct culture, and spread out to the low -lying areas of Canaan. Once they entered the rest of Canaan, they would have possibly both peacefully and forcefully infused Canaanite identity and culture with Israelite identity and culture. Either way, it seems clear that Israel did not come forcefully (for the most part) from outside of Canaan in conquest of the land.

The second blow to the conquests come mainly from the results of Kathleen Kenyon, a British archaeologist in the 1950s. She re-excavated at Jericho and concluded that at the time of the supposed conquests, the city was insignificant and did not even have a wall. Thus, the stories of conquest at Jericho seem like later inventions of the "D" source. Furthermore, very few sites in Canaan show any signs of massive conquest for the time period. The final blow to the conquests comes from within the bible itself. Even after Israel supposedly wiped out the occupants of the land, the biblical narrative says that "the Canaanites were still in the land."

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