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Late Bronze Age - 1550–1200 BC

Egypt ’s influence over Canaan began in the second half of the 16th century BC, and direct Egyptian rule commenced in the early 15th century BC. Despite this, the Canaanites retained their cultural and spiritual independence, and, in fact, their achievements in the realms of religion, literature, and art reached a peak.

Hazor flourished in the Middle Bronze Age (around 1750 BC), and the Israelite period (ninth century BC). It was the largest fortified city in the country at that time, and one of the most important in the Fertile Crescent. It maintained commercial ties with cities in Babylon and Syria, and imported large quantities of tin for the bronze industry. The Bible describes Hazor as "the head of all those kingdoms" (Josh. 11:10).

The importance of Bronze Age Gezer (2nd millennium BC), is attested to in the many references to the city in Egyptian sources. In an inscription of Thutmose III, Gezer is mentioned as being conquered from the Canaanites in his campaign in 1468 BC. In the archives of el-Amarna in Egypt, dating from the 14th century BC, there are ten letters from the kings of Gezer, assuring loyalty to the Egyptian pharaoh whose vassals they were.

The famous Amarna letters of the 14th century BC, excavated at Tell el-Amarna in Egypt, written in Akkadian cuneiform, consist of over 300 pieces of diplomatic correspondence of local rulers in Canaan with two Egyptian pharaohs (Amenophis III [r 1391-1355] and Amenophis IV, also known as Akhenaten [r. 1353-1337]). There is no doubt of the equation of the Urusalim of the letters and Jerusalem, based on the geographical description of its location. Canaan was then under Egyptian hegemony, and Jerusalem was ruled by a local king from a local dynasty in which governance passed from father to son. Jerusalem’s territory extended from just south of Bethel in the north to TelHebron in the south, and from the Jordan River in the east to the hills of the Shephelah in the west. It appears from the Arnarna letters that in the 14th century BC Jerusalem was a capital city from which a considerable territory was ruled (subject to Egyptian oversight).

After settling in Canaan the Israelites were said to have held annual gatherings at Shechem to worship their God. The shrine of Shechem, El-Berith, bore the name of the covenant, and was especially associated with Joshua, who supposedly reaffirmed the covenant with Yahweh there, and established legislation for all the tribes. There may have been a six-tribe alliance at Shechem, forming the nucleus of Israel, and a second six-tribe alliance at Hebron, forming the nucleus of Judah. Despite the plausibility of an early “covenant” of some sort, it is also more than possible that all the to-do in Joshua 23-24 is sheer invention, the product of the imagination of the Exiles in Babylon, some time after 560 BC. The themes of Joshua’s speeches are certainly out of place before the Exile, and the stories of it are heavily reworked in terms to which Judah’s exiles could respond.

The historical evidence to back up the Biblical narrative for this period is sparse, and, in some cases, contradictory. In particular, the account of Joshua's conquest of Canaan is inconsistent with the archaeological evidence. Cities supposedly conquered by Joshua in the 14th century bce were destroyed long before he came on the scene. Some, such as Ai and Arad, had been ruins for a 1000 years. The Book of Judges, which directly contradicts Joshua, and shows the Israelites settling the land over a prolonged period, is nearer historical reality; but even it cannot be taken at face value. Jerusalem has been a 'cosmopolitan' place from earliest times. Despite Israelite conquest, the Jebusites remained inhabitants, as the Bible attests. This give greater credence to the assimilation of urban and tribal/pastoral groups in Canaan than military conquest. The later is gloried in Biblican accounts, but is shorter on archaeological evidence. Joshua could not have conquered the entire land if Jebusites still held Jerusalem.

Tel (mound) Megiddo, known as Tel-el-Mutesellim (Hill of the Ruler) has been identified as one of the most important cities of biblical times. Located on a hill overlooking the fertile Jezreel Valley, Megiddo was of great strategic importance, as it commanded the eastern approaches of Nahal Iron (nahal, a dry river bed), part of the international highway which led from Egypt, along the coastal plain to the Jezreel Valley, and thence to Damascus and Mesopotamia (the highway became known later as Via Maris, Way of the Sea). Numerous battles fought for control of the city are recorded in ancient sources; in the New Testament (Revelations 16:16), Armageddon (believed by some to be a corruption of Har Megiddo - the hill of Megiddo) is named as the site of the "Battle of the End of Days".

Megiddo is mentioned many times in Egyptian royal inscriptions from the 15th to the 13th centuries BC. They attest to the city's importance as the center of Egyptian administration in Canaan and as a logistical base on the road north. Inscriptions in the temple of the god Amon at Karnak (in Upper Egypt) describe the first military campaign of Thutmose III in Canaan, at the beginning of the 15th century BCE. According to this description, the Egyptian army crossed the hills of Manasseh and then advanced via Nahal Iron to the Jezreel Valley. The united army of the Canaanite kings, surprised by this military move, was soundly defeated; Megiddo was conquered after a seven-month siege.

The City of David, Jerusalem of ancient times, was located on a narrow ridge south of the present-day Old City. On the east it borders the deep Kidron Valley where the Gihon Spring, the city's water source, is located. The earliest permanent settlement uncovered is represented by several rectangular buildings with benches along their interior walls. These buildings, dated to the Early Bronze Age (3rd millennium BCE) are typical of Canaanite urban settlements at that time. During the Middle Bronze Age, as early as the 18th century BCE, a massive wall was built around the city, of which a 30 m. long section has been exposed above the Kidron Valley. Within this wall buildings were excavated, indicative of city life during that period.

Finds in Jerusalem of the Late Bronze Age (1600 - 1200 BC) are few and disappointing. This is in marked contrast to the common view of Jerusalem as an important Canaanite urban center, based on mention of the king of the city of Jerusalem in the 14th century BC archive found at Tel el-Amarna in Egypt. In Joshua 10, the defeat of Adonitzedek, king of Jerusalem, who led a coalition of five Amorite kings, is described. Defeat but not conquest: Jerusalem is later mentioned as a Jebusite city (the Amorite and Jebusite peoples were part of the collectively known "Canaanites") in Judges 19:10-12. During the 13th-12th centuries BC structural operations changed the topography of the upper part of the city: interlocking and intersecting stone walls created terraces which provided an artificial surface, apparently the podium of the citadel of the Canaanite-Jebusite city of Jerusalem.

The end of the 13th century BC was a time of worldwide upheaval, which culminated in the fall of many great empires. Egypt weakened, and around 1200 BC its rule over Canaan began to draw to a close. Around 1200 BC, semi-nomads from the desert fringes to the east, joined by elements from Anatolia, the Aegean, and the south, possibly including Egypt, began to settle in the hill country of Canaan. A large proportion - probably a majority of this population - were refugees from the Canaanite city states, destroyed by the Egyptians in one of their periodic invasions.

The story of Abraham's journey from Ur of the Chaldees, the Patriarchs, the Exodus, Sinai, and the conquest of Canaan, all these were apparently based on legends that the various elements brought with them from their countries of origin. The consolidation of the Israelites into a nation was not the result of wanderings in the desert and divine revelation, but came from the need to defend themselves against the Philistines, who settled in the Canaanite coastal plain more or less at the same time the Israelites were establishing themselves in the hills.

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Page last modified: 26-03-2012 18:43:08 ZULU