The Quantum Thomist

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Is God a failed Hypothesis? Part 15: The Conquest of Canaan

Is God a failed Hypothesis? Part 16: The Judges
Last modified on Sun Jan 16 14:56:37 2022


This is the sixteenth post in a series on Victor Stenger's book God: The failed hypothesis. In his sixth chapter, The failures of revelation, Professor Stenger made a brief mention of Biblical archaeology, making the (rather common) claim that not only is there is no evidence for most of the Old Testament, but some parts of the Old Testament are directly contradicted by the archaeological evidence. My intention is to answer this criticism, or at least give hints as to how it might be answered.

The first post in this mini-series gave a general introduction to the topic of Old Testament archaeology as a whole. The subsequent posts discuss individual periods and topics. This post will discuss the Judges period. I discussed the early part of the Judges a little while discussing the conquest in the previous post, but here I want to go into more detail. My goal is not to prove the Biblical account from archaeology, but to ask if Professor Stenger is successful in saying that there are contradictions between the Biblical account and the archaeological record. In particular, we need to bear in mind that archaeological evidence is still very fragmentary and incomplete. There are periods of history and places about which we know a lot, but other periods and places where we still know very little, and people try to construct elaborate theories on the basis of insufficient evidence. The Judges period is one of those times were there is very little evidence one way or the other.

The period of the Judges is an interesting one. It lasts from the end of Joshua's life until the time of Samuel and the appointment of Saul as the first king. This occupies the book of Judges itself, Ruth, and the first part of the first book of Samuel. The duration of the period is a bit over 350 years if the early date of the Exodus is accepted, and about 200 years if the late date is accepted. The book of Judges provides a few snapshots of what happened in that time. Large periods of time and various places are not addressed in the book. For example we read that the land had "forty years of rest," or "eighty years of rest," with no idea about what happened during those times.

There are a number of problems when piecing together the Biblical history of the Judges. Firstly the material itself is edited. Judges chapter 1 to 16 form what appears to be a chronologically ordered history of Israel. Chapters 17 to 21 feature two additional stories, one involving the origin of the tribe and city of Dan, and the second describing a set of events that led to the near extinction of the tribe of Benjamin at the hands of the other Israelites. These two additional stories are out of place, and seem to belong to a time early in the period. It is likely that they were added by a later editor. Secondly, we have the problem of Chronology. The book of Judges contains an incomplete tally of years for each Judge and the periods of rest between the Judges. Adding these up leads to a span which by any measure is too long, unless the Exodus occurred during the Hyksos period in Egypt: a view not widely supported (though one which I think ought to be given more consideration than is usually given, including my treatment in the previous post). Thus we need to compress the period of the Judges. This is possible by supposing that some of the Judges operated in parallel with each other rather than in sequence, or that some of the time periods (and in particular the rounded numbers) are exaggerated. The Judges generally had influence in different areas of the country and over different tribes, so positing parallel activity is not unreasonable. In particular, Judges 10:7 states that Israel was subjected to the Ammonites and the Philistines, while the rest of chapters 10, 11 and 12 focus on the Northern tribes' battles over the Ammonites, while chapters 13-16 and the early part of the book of Samuel focus on the battles of the Southern tribes against the Philistines. Many people propose that this is where we should split into parallel narratives. So while people have drawn up chronologies of the Judges period (and I will draw up my own below), these depend a little on guesswork and we don't have the evidence to be quite sure how things line up.

Then we have the question of authorship. Minimalist scholars place the book of Judges as part of the Deuteronmistic history, composed after the time of Josiah (albeit possibly based in part on earlier legends). There is no evidence for this, aside from one verse, Joshua 18:30, which has knowledge of the Assyrian invasion. It depends on the assumption that the book of the law found by Josiah's officials was a) the book of Deuteronomy; and b) written by those officials rather than rediscovered after a long period when the temple was given over to pagan worship and Yahweh worship was suppressed. Both of these assumptions are rather dubious, for reasons I gave in earlier posts. The phrase "In those days there was no King in Israel" which repeats from chapter 17 onwards suggests that those portions of the book were written after the establishment of the monarchy. There is, however, no suggestion that Israel was divided and there were multiple Kings, which might suggest that those passages come from before Rehoboam (although that is somewhat more speculative). Given that those sections were possibly a later addition to the book, it is possible that chapters 1-16 were written before the monarchy. The reference to the Jebusites living in Jerusalem "to this day" in chapter 1 suggests that that section of the book was written before the time of King David. The old names of Bethel and Debir are preserved in chapter 1, which might also suggest an origin early enough to remember the old name of the city, but late enough that its new name was established. And that is all the evidence we have. Of course, it is also quite possible that whoever wrote the first recognisable version of Judges 1-16 based his history on earlier writings. So the date when the book of Judges was written is something of a mystery. Some portions of it pre-date David, and other portions and the final form of the book come from the time of Saul or later. Joshua 18:30 is either a later edit, or an indication that the final form of the book was put together after the time of Hoshea and Hezekiah. If I had to give a verdict, I would say based on this slim evidence that it is most likely that it was written either during Saul's reign or during the early part of David's, but the uncertainty in this is very great. It is also possible that different parts of the book were written at different times. The books of Samuel read to me like a contemporary account, and I like to speculate that they might be the chronicles of Samuel, Nathan and Gad referred to in 1 Chronicles 29:29, and compiled from the writings of those three men. But again, there is no real evidence to decide so we ought not to conclude anything.

As far as archaeological periods are concerned, the Judges period spans LB1 and most of IA1 for an early date exodus, and most of IA1 for a late date Exodus. The last few years of IA1 overlap with Saul's reign and possibly that of David.

The sceptics

As usual, I shall begin by reviewing by what Professor Stenger and then Professors Finkelstein and Silberman have to say about the Judges period.

Professor Stenger just jumps from Joshua to David, so says nothing of interest.

Professors Finkelstein and Silberman, in their work The Bible unearthed, one of the major Sceptical texts and Professor Stenger's primary source, devote a chapter to the Judges period, but they only spend a few paragraphs actually on the book of Judges. He notes the cycle of sin, destruction, repentance and deliverance which permeates the book of Judges, and the rest of the Deuteronmistic History. They believe it to have been composed late in the period of Judah's monarchy. They find it impossible to say to what extent the stories within the book reflect actual folk-tales of ancient heroes, but believe that they were largely re-written by the authorities of Judah to serve their theological and political needs. This is evident from chapter 1 where the tribes of Judah are alone successful in driving out Canaanite influences, showing (according to Finkelstein). However, they believe that the picture of righteous Judges has little to do with what really happened in Canaan.

There is thus little discussion of the actual stories of the book of Judges itself, and comparison against the archaeological evidence.

Instead, Professor's Finkelstein and Silberman focus on the emergence of numerous settlements that appeared in the hill country of Israel, both North and South of the Jezreel valley at the start of the IA1 period. Recall that the highlands had numerous smaller towns and villages in the Middle Bronze Age and Iron Age, but very few in the Late Bronze Age. The new Iron Age settlements have various distinctive features, unique to them, but common between them. In particular, there is a lack of pig bones, and some new pottery types and archaeological styles.

The Merneptah stele indicates that there was a people group known as Israel by the start of the Iron Age. Settlements destroyed in the Late Bronze Age often had above that destruction layer some haphazard pits with rather crude pottery. These were interpreted as evidence for a semi-nomadic population.

Recall that Professor Finkelstein has already dismissed the Biblical picture of a violent conquest. So what alternative model can explain the emergence of Israel in the Iron Age (or very end of the Late Bronze Age)?

Professor Finkelstein mentions the theory that the Israelites were various groups of arriving pastoralists. He likens them to both the Apiru and Shashu, who lived on the boundaries of society during New Kingdom times, and mentions the idea that these were tribal communities from whom the Israelites would later be descended. However, this peaceful infiltration theory was undermined by discoveries that the agricultural and urban populations had close trade relations to each other. They were closely connected to the urban dwellers.

Next he discusses the "peasants revolt" model, which suggests that the Israelites were a lower class who fled from the Canaanite cities in the lowlands to form their various highland communities. These communities were more egalitarian and lacked the hierarchy of most of the civilisations seen around them. Perhaps a small nucleus of people came up from Egypt to form the spark that led to this revolt. However, this view is also disregarded by Finkelstein because of a lack of evidence for it. The new settlements had a distinct culture, and the lowland poorer villages remained as they had been throughout the Late Bronze Age.

Before the 1960s, the highlands of Israel were largely neglected by archaeologists. After that time numerous surveys were conducted. These discovered the network of Iron Age villages established at the start of the Iron Age. There was no sign of violent conflict. The new villages were usually at the top of a hill or a ridge, surrounded by natural forests. Their inhabitants drew water from springs and stored it in cisterns. The villages were small, with populations of fewer than a hundred. There were no public buildings, no sign of any writing, and few luxury items such as jewellery. The people seemed to be dominated by agriculture, both arable and livestock. There were no religious shrines. The villages were unfortified, and there was no evidence of violent destruction.

These early Israelite settlements were isolated from trade routes, largely lived in peace, and also largely isolated from each other.

Some of the earliest of these settlements seem to be oval shape enclosures. These were reminiscent of the designs of nomadic encampments. So Professor Finkelstein suggests that the people who built them were originally Bedouin nomads, who then established semi-permanent encampments where they subsequently replaced canvas with stone. At this point they gave up a migratory lifestyle. They were nomads who gradually became farmers. Before the settlements, in the Late Bronze Age, most animal bones found in the region were sheep or goat, indicating pastoralists. After the Iron Age settlements were founded, more cattle bones were found. This suggests a transition from a more pastoralists and nomadic existence to one of settled arable farming (the oxen were used to plow fields).

Professor Finkelstein notes a cyclic behaviour in Israel between urban settlements and a more unsettled population. There were many settlements in the highlands in the Early Bronze Age. Few in MB1. The settlements were re-established in MB2. They vanished again in the Late Bronze Age, and were re-established in the Iron Age. The Israelite population from the Iron Age started off small, but rapidly grew as the regions agricultural potential was realised. In later periods, they exported wine and olive oil -- both grapes and olive trees thrive in highland Israel -- to Egypt. There was always tension between farmers and shepherds, and Professor Finkelstein suggested that there were cycles when one form of life became dominant and then the other. Heavy taxation, authoritative rulers, and unsettled times led to the village people abandoning their fields and escaping to a more nomadic pastoral lifestyle. When the urban centres lost their power and times became more peaceful, then these highland dwellers settled down again and took up agriculture. Shepherds need to trade with farmers (for example in the lowlands) for their vegetable products. When the lowland economy collapsed, the highland dwellers were forced to settle down and grow crops for themselves.

Thus Professor Finkelstein proposes that the early Israelites were these Canaanite highland population which oscillated between shepherding and farming. The collapse of the Canaanite urban society towards the end of the Late Bronze Age caused them to settle down. Thus the emergence of the Israelites was caused by the collapse of Canaanite culture, not the other way round. And the Israelites themselves were the descendants of the Canaanite highland populations, who had dwelt in the land since at least the Early Bronze Age.

I should note that most of this information comes from surveys and probes rather than full excavations. Only a few sites have been fully excavated.

So what should we make of Professor Finkelstein's presentation? The only evidence he presents which actually contradicts the Biblical account is that the highland villages seem to have been largely peaceful. Few weapons were found in them, and there is no sign that they were attacked, fortified or destroyed. He claims that this contradicts the rather violent times of the book of Judges. However, I am not sure there is a contradiction. The book of Judges contains violent episodes, but for large periods the Israelites are at peace. Furthermore, when they are under oppression, there is no indication that their oppressors actually destroyed the villages.

Take, for example, the case of the Midianites in Judges 6. In an early conquest theory, this would occur roughly at the start of the Iron Age, just when the hilltop villages start appearing. In the late conquest model, this is midway through the Iron Age 1 period.

Judges 6:1 The people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord gave them into the hand of Midian seven years. And the hand of Midian overpowered Israel, and because of Midian the people of Israel made for themselves the dens that are in the mountains and the caves and the strongholds. For whenever the Israelites planted crops, the Midianites and the Amalekites and the people of the East would come up against them. They would encamp against them and devour the produce of the land, as far as Gaza, and leave no sustenance in Israel and no sheep or ox or donkey. For they would come up with their livestock and their tents; they would come like locusts in number—both they and their camels could not be counted—so that they laid waste the land as they came in. And Israel was brought very low because of Midian. And the people of Israel cried out for help to the Lord.

Note the reference in verse 2 to the Israelites building their strongholds in the mountains at this time. Indeed, this is the first clear reference we have in the book of Judges to the Israelites building stone dwellings in the mountains and growing crops. Prior to this there isn't really much indication of how the Israelites lived. Judges 4 mentions one family who dwelt in a tent, and Judges 5 mentions that the tribe of Reuben tended sheep rather than joined the battle, and that the Israelites had abandoned village life. Judges 7:7-8 (part of the same story that begins in Judges 6) records Gideon's troops going home to their tents. So there is slim evidence, but what there is isn't inconsistent with the hypothesis of a largely tent-dwelling Israelite population during the early part of the Judges period. Of course, Moses commanded the Israelites to occupy the Canaanite towns and houses. But this was (in the maximalist view) written before the time period in question, and thus is little indication of what the Israelites actually did. The Israelites of the Judges period were not known for their adherence to the law of Moses. Perhaps the stone settlements weren't heavily fortified, but they would have been better than tents. But the Midianites did not target the Israelite population. Instead they raided the livestock and crops. So we would not expect to see any damage to the settlements themselves. There is nothing from the Midianite raids that would show up in the archaeological record.

In the book of Judges, the account of the Midianites is the most detailed account of an oppression. Otherwise we are told that the oppressors treated the Israelites cruelly or forced them into servitude -- no mention of widespread destruction of the villages.

Professor Finkelstein makes a reasonable case that the first generation of these villages were built by nomadic tribes settling down -- which is fully consistent with the Biblical account. Either the Israelites had just moved in from the wilderness in the LB2 conquest model, or the highland inhabitants had been living in tents since a LB1 conquest, and these villages are the evidence for the building projects mentioned in Judges 6:2. In either theory, the inhabitants of the villages would have been nomadic communities first settling down. But the rest of his thesis is just conjecture. His only supporting evidence comes from studies of nineteenth and twentieth century tribes, or what happened in the Middle Bronze Age. There is no reason that the same phenomena that occurred in the Middle Bronze Age repeated itself in the Iron Age. Furthermore, his claim that Israelites villages were originally Canaanites falls to the same problem as the peasants revolt model -- they were clearly a very distinct culture.

Indeed, the evidence that Professor Finkelstein presents closely matches what we expect from the Israelites from the early Judges period. They were a different culture from the Canaanites. There was no sign of any central administration -- the Israelites had no King. They lived in close-knit communities. There were few religious shrines in the villages -- the Israelites were meant to worship only at the tabernacle, which, during this time period, was at Shiloh. The people were not wealthy, and separated themselves from their neighbours. They largely lived in peace, just farming their land.

In the late conquest model, the new settlements would have emerged immediately after the Israelite conquest. So the Israelites were nomadic pastoralists who came in at the end of the Late Bronze Age, and then immediately settled down in the hill country creating these villages after wiping out any Canaanites who dwelt in the hills.

In the early conquest model, the Israelites would have come in as nomads during the LB1 period. They only managed to establish themselves in a few cities, but dominated the highlands. They might have been responsible for the destruction of Middle Bronze Age settlements (which, in this model, would in fact have disappeared early in the Late Bronze Age rather than at the end of the Middle Bronze Age). But then, instead of obeying Moses' command to live in Canaanite houses, most continued to tend to their flocks in tents, leaving little trace for the archaeologists to find. It wouldn't be the first or last time that they disobeyed Moses. Some would have settled in those towns which continued to be settled in LB2, such as Shiloh and Schechem. Eventually, perhaps due to pressure from the Midianites at the start of the Iron Age, they start building more secure stone dwellings, initially just moving their encampments to the hill-tops and fortifying them, but later on, when the threat had eased, building actual houses and villages.

Either model is perfectly consistent with the evidence that Professor Finkelstein provides. His own model is just speculation. It might be consistent with the evidence -- although I am not sure it explains the cultural differences between the hilltop settlements and the urban Canaanites. But that is not proof that it is correct. What we are looking for is a contradiction with the Biblical account -- and the emergence of the hilltop villages does not provide that.


The chronology of the judges period is notoriously difficult to pin down, using either the early or late conquest date. Although the book of Judges meticulously records the length of time of each judge or period of oppression, the total number of years adds up to considerably more than the allotted span. It is therefore necessary to suppose that several judges or oppressors ruled at the same time. There are additional problems at the start and the end of the period. The length of time between the end of Joshua's conquest and the first oppression in book of Judges is not recorded. The text recording the length of Saul's reign is corrupted, and it is not clear how Eli and Samuel's judgeship, and the start of Saul's reign, relate to the Philistine oppression of Judges 13:1. The judge Shamgar doesn't have a period of time allotted to him, which might mean that he fought the Philistines either during a period of rest or when another judge was active elsewhere; or might mean that there is another gap in the chronology.

The problem of condensing the book of Judges is difficult enough with the early conquest theory; with the late conquest theory one has 150 years more to take out from the Judges period. The Chronology below is going to assume an early conquest model. I will adopt the standard Egyptian Chronology, and assume the Exodus took place in Amenhotep II's year 9 (to precede his slave-raid in the winter of this year). With the most accepted Egyptian chronology, this places the Exodus in 1418BC. The 480/440 years (depending on which textual variation you accept) of 1 Kings 6:1 is treated as an approximate number, precise to about 20 years. The end of the chronology is the Ascension of King David in 1010BC, which is known to within a few years.

I have assumed that there is a minimal amount of time between the end of the book of Joshua and Cushan-rishathaim's oppression. This allows me to put the oppression before the time of the Amarna letters. The Amarna letters rule out an oppression during the period they cover, and Mitanni was too weak (and dominated by the Hittites) after the Amarna period so placing Cushan-rishathaim then seems less likely. This model has the weakness of putting Mitanni in Northern Canaan during the time when Egypt would have seen it as its own possession. But Mitanni and Egypt were allied at the time, so maybe Egypt would have tolerated a limited action directed specifically against the invading Habiru rather than the Egyptian client cities. There are hints in the Amarna letters of a brief break-down of Egyptian-Mitanni relations towards the end of Shuttarna II's reign, although this is usually attributed to the assassination of Egypts preferred successor to Shuttarna. If this occurred, Egypt and Mitanni soon made up again and were on good terms during the Amarna period. The chronology also requires that Hazor would be rebuilt very soon after Joshua burnt it to the ground. Against this is the Biblical implication that Cushan-rishathaim invaded after the death of Joshua, and after the people of Israel started sinning. In favour of a shorter gap between the conquest and Cushan-rishathaim is that Othniel, who defeated Cushan-rishathaim, was both the Nephew of Caleb who was eighty at the time of the conquest, and a man of fighting age during the conquest himself. Add a few decades, and he would have been too old to lead the campaign against Aram-Naharaim. It is a difficult judgement to make, but since I had to make a decision I have gone with an early Cushan-rishathaim (which would put that oppression described in Judges 3 a little out of sequence with the introductory material in Judges 1-2).

Most of my condensing of the chronology is towards the end of the Judges period. I have assumed that the minor Judges Tola and Jair overlapped with each other and the start of the Ammonite oppression; and that the Philistine oppression overlapped with some of the minor Judges, and finished with the ascension of King Saul. I have assigned 32 years to King Saul, somewhat arbitrarily, but I think it has to be a similar length of time to fit in the events of his reign.

I am not completely happy with this chronology; in particular Shamgar is a few decades before the Sea people and Philistines launched their first attack on Egypt. I also have Ramesses II attacking Moab a few decades after they threatened Egyptian interests in Canaan. I have also assumed that the suspiciously round numbers of 40 and 80 years are to be taken literally and are not rounded or symbolic, which could well be problematic. I thus make no claims that this chronology is accurate to any more than a few decades, and it will obviously be far more wrong than that even if the late conquest model is correct. But it gives a rough idea of when to expect the various judges. The dates are all uncertain, with (I would estimate) an imprecision of about 30 years either way.

Exodus1418BC1379BCYear 9 Amenhotep II
Joshua 7 1379 1372
Cushan-rishathaim 8 1371 1363
Othniel4013631323Amarna Letters 1360-1332BC
Eglon1813231305Jericho LB2 palace about 1300BC
Ehud8013051225Seti I campaign against Habiru 1289BC
Seti I campaign against Asher 1281BC
Ramesses II campaign against Moab/Israel 1274BC
Jabin2012251205Merneptah stele 1208BC
Sea people attack on Egypt 1208BC
End LB2 destruction of Hazor
Barak4012051165Sea People/Philistinbe attack on Egypt 1180BC
Midian711651158IA1 hilltop villages/Israelite build mountaintop strongholds
Abimelech311181115Shechem destroyed 1125-1100BC
Jephthah610871081About 300 years after conquest (Judges 11:26)
Abdon 810641056
Eli4011021062Destruction of Shiloh about 1050BC

The sites

The book of Judges is somewhat harder to analyse through archaeology. There were no major powers involved in the narrative, except perhaps Mitanni in its closing years if that is what Aram-Naharaim refers to. As such, we would not expect to find any contemporary written sources. While there were plenty of wars and battles, there is little evidence of any major city being destroyed. The only example I can think of is Abimelech's attack of Schechem, and even there it was only the temple complex he was recorded as burning down. The general cultural trend seems to be favourable to the Biblical account, with clear evidence of the emergence of Israel at the very start of the Iron Age. But even where there are still hints of worship of the Canaanite gods, or a synthetic Yahweh/Baal/Ashteroth religion (and there is; not least in the numerous small idols and figurines found throughout the era), this does not contradict the book of Judges, which implies that many Israelites did worship the Canaanite gods and borrowed heavily from Canaanite culture.

So we are not likely to find specific evidence for the stories in the book of Judges. For the most part, they refer to events that would not survive into the archaeological record.

But there is still evidence to be found. I'm going to approach this discussion by looking at some of the major locations mentioned in the book of Judges, and seeing what (if any) archaeological evidence exists at those places. We expect at the very least that they should be occupied at about the same time that they are mentioned in the Biblical text.


Although barely mentioned in the book of Judges, Shiloh was probably the most important Israelite settlement of the period. It was the site of the tabernacle, and Israelite worship, from the time of Joshua (either LB1 or LB2, depending on when the Exodus is dated) through to the time of Samuel (towards the end of IA1). At that point, the ark of the covenant is captured, and Shiloh loses its religious significance. It appears from later hints in the prophets and Psalms that the city might have been destroyed by the Philistines following the ark's capture (Psalm 78:59-64; Jeremiah 7:12-14), although this isn't completely clear.

The location of ancient Shiloh is not disputed. It has been excavated by a Danish team in the 1920s, by Israel Finkelstein in the 1980s, and most recently by the Associates for Biblical Research under Scott Stripling. The city was founded in the MB2 period, and the MB3 city was heavily fortified. This city was destroyed. From the Late Bronze Age to the Iron Age the city was used as a cultic or religious site. Large storage jars were found, the burnt and cut bones of numerous sacrificed animals, as well as two stone four-horned altars (only seven such altars have been found across Israel). The city was burnt towards the end of the IA1 period, at about 1050BC (with a precision of a few decades). There was a later a small IA2 village.

From this summary, we immediately see strong parallels with the Biblical narrative. The site was seems to have been used as a cultic centre even in the Canaanite days (the MB city), although the strongest evidence for it being a centre of worship is from the Late Bronze period. The destruction of the city is at about the same time as it drops out of the Biblical narrative. Although the Biblical account in 1 Samuel doesn't say that Shiloh was destroyed when the ark was captured, there was conflict with the Philistines at the time and it does not contradict the text.

The houses of the Late Bronze Age city were built in Israelite style. The animal remains from the Late Bronze and Iron Age are almost entirely from Biblically clean animals, unlike the Middle Bronze Age. ("Almost entirely" doesn't mean none; but the Israelites weren't entirely faithful to the law.) More interestingly, most of the bones found in one particular deposit were from the right hand of the animal, which, according to Leviticus 7:32, was reserved for the Priest. Small clay pomegranates were found, which are used in Israelite worship and sewn into the robes of the high priest. These Israelite features date from either the end of the LB1 period or start of the LB2 period, in line with the fifteenth century BC date of the exodus and conquest.

The evidence from Shiloh thus closely matches the Biblical account, and favours the early exodus date.


Schechem is presented as one of the most important Israelite cities. It was where Joshua renewed the covenant at the end of the book of Joshua, and set up a large memorial stone by the sanctuary of the Lord. Later on, Schechem was the centre of activity of one of the Judges, Abimelech. Although he set himself up in Schechem, Abimelech was not a very popular ruler, and the people of Schechem rebelled against them. Abimelech won the day, and the people retreated to the temple of El-berith (or Baal-berith), God of the covenant. Rather than break in, Abimelech simply decided to burn the temple down with all the people inside it. After this, the city is not mentioned again in the Biblical text until the time of Rehoboam.

Schechem is mentioned in the Amarna tablets and also documents from the 19th and 20th dynasties in Egypt. Its location is not disputed. The city was destroyed at the end of the Middle Bronze Age, and rebuilt midway through the Late Bronze Age. The city peaked in the LB2 period, and was destroyed during IA1. It was then rebuilt in IA2 during the period of the early Israelite monarchy.

The Late Bronze Age/IA1 city would be the Israelite city during the period of the Judges (possibly the earliest phase of the LB city would have been Canaanite, depending on which chronology is correct). A large temple (the largest found in Canaan) was built in MB Schechem, and continued to be used until the destruction of the Iron Age city. A large standing stone was discovered in the courtyard outside the temple, probably set up either during the MB or LB1 periods. The gate of the city was found on the East side, facing the hills as implied in Judges 9. The temple, and indeed the city as a whole, were burnt down. The excavators dated this destruction to around 1125BC-1100BC, which is roughly the right time for Abimelech's destruction of the city on the early Exodus view.

In summary, the archaeology of Schechem matches that of the Biblical text. The city was occupied when it was meant to be occupied, and also destroyed at the right time. The large temple found in the city matches the temple of Baal-berith described in Joshua and Judges, and there is even a candidate for the standing stone erected by Joshua.


Canaanite Jericho was destroyed by Joshua. Subsequently it was occupied by Eglon of Moab. The city is then not mentioned again in the Biblical text until the time of King David, and it was not rebuilt until the divided monarchy period. In the early conquest theory, Eglon would have ruled in the LB2 period; in the late conquest theory, Eglon dates from the IA1. There was a substantial LB2 palace, which seems to have only been occupied for a short period, uncovered by Garstang and Kenyon. These two archaeologists dated the building to around 1325 BC, late in the LB2A period. Current excavations suggest that this settlement was more extensive than the early results implied, but still wasn't as grand as the earlier Middle Bronze Age city.

In the early conquest theory, the LB2 remains at Jericho would correspond to Eglon's occupation of the site. The dating by Kenyon and Garstang was that this occupation was towards the end of LB2A. The current Italian excavations have perhaps complicated that interpretation a bit. The suggest that the middle building was occupied for a longer time and into the LB2B period. This leads to a date of around 1350BC-1250BC, with considerable uncertainty. This range is consistent with when we would expect Eglon's occupation of the site in the early conquest Chronology.

There is no evidence for a IA1 occupation at Jericho as required by the late Exodus date. However, given the site is badly eroded, was disturbed by the later Iron Age occupation, and that the Biblical text demands no more than a palace which could have been on an unexcavated part of the Tell, this is not completely fatal for the late Exodus theory.

Thus the archaeology of Jericho is consistent with the Biblical account of the Judges period using the early conquest theory, but not for the late conquest theory. However, there are mitigating factors which might explain why no evidence for Eglon's occupation of Jericho has been found in the late conquest theory.

Ramesses II also launched a campaign against Moab at around the time of this account in the early conquest model. While in the chronology I tentatively proposed above this is a a few decades after the time of Eglon, it still demonstrates that Moab existed and was powerful enough to come to the attention of the Egyptians in the same general time period as Ehud and Eglon.


In the Bible, Hazor was destroyed and burnt to the ground by Joshua. It was, however, evidently later reoccupied by Canaanites, who rebuilt a substantial city. The Canaanites based in Hazor oppressed the Israelites. The Canaanite King Jabin and his army commander were defeated in battle by Deborah and Barak, as related in Judges 4-5, and the Israelites then grew stronger and overcame the city. It is not explicitly stated that Hazor was destroyed by the Israelites at this time, but it is not inconsistent with the text. In the early conquest theory, this campaign would be towards the end of the LB2 period. In the late conquest theory, this campaign would be deep into IA1.

It has become fashionable in some circles to conflate the Judges account of the battle against Hazor with the Joshua account. The main reasons for this seem to be that a) Hazor was a powerful Canaanite city; and b) the King of Hazor in both accounts was called Jabin. This argument is dishonest, however. It is a bit like saying that Ramesses II and Ramesses III were both the same ruler since they were both called Ramesses and were successful military commanders. We have archaeological evidence for other Kings of Hazor called Jabin, and it could well have been a dynastic name. Apart from the name of the King and the city he ruled from, there is no resemblance between the Joshua and Judges accounts of the defeat of Hazor.

Hazor was destroyed and burnt to the ground several times from the end of the Middle Bronze Age to the end of the LB2 period. After that, it was abandoned until about the time of Solomon. The final LB2 destruction, with its desecration of the Canaanite temples and dismemberment of the idols, is usually associated with the Israelites. This would have happened towards the end of the 13th century BC.

The early conquest theory attributes an LB1 destruction of Hazor to Joshua, and the final LB2 destruction to Barak. Although the Biblical text doesn't specifically record that Hazor was destroyed in the campaign described in Judges 4-5, it is not inconsistent with the narrative. Judges 4:24 states that following their victory in the field battle, the people of Israel pressed against Hazor and its allies and destroyed the King. A destruction of the city would explain why Hazor ceased to be a problem for the Israelites.

The late conquest theory has a major problem with the story of Deborah and Barak, since there is no evidence of IA1 occupation of Hazor. Hazor is a clean site, and the city defeated by Barak was evidently large enough that it is difficult to imagine that it could have been missed by the excavators. An advocate of the late conquest theory would have to argue that it was missed, or evidence for it destroyed by later building works.

Thus the archaeology of Hazor is consistent with the Biblical account of the Judges period in the early conquest theory, but not in the late conquest theory, and this time the lack of evidence is much harder to explain away.


Ramah is mentioned in passing in the book of Joshua, in relation to the Deborah and Barak story, in the story of the sins of Benjamin in Judges 19, and as one of the centres of Samuel's activity, and Samuel's home town. These references might refer to different towns. If the references do refer to a single town, we would therefore expect the site to be occupied (by Israelites) in the Late Bronze Age and Iron Age 1 periods. The city is in the territory of the tribe of Benjamin, and near Bethel and Gibeah. The identification of the town is not known for certain. One proposed location is under the Palestinian village of Al-ram, which, to my knowledge, has not been excavated.


Bethel was an important Israelite city throughout Israel's history, partly due to its association with the Patriarchs. It was defeated but not conquered by Joshua, but overcome shortly after Joshua's main campaign by the tribes of Joseph. This conquest was not too difficult for the Israelites: they bribed a man to let them in through the city gates. The Israelites then butchered the native population, and moved into their homes. We would thus not expect to see much evidence of the event of the conquest. The city was not (as far as I am aware) mentioned in the Amarna letters, either as Bethel or the city's Canaanite name of Luz. Subsequent to its conquest, Bethel is mentioned in the story of Deborah and Barak, the story of the sins of the tribe of Benjamin, and as one of Samuel's centres of activity. We would therefore expect it to be occupied throughout the Late Bronze Age and Iron Age, initially as a Canaanite city and subsequently as an Israelite city (although the takeover might not be obvious in the archaeological record).

Bethel is usually associated with Beitin, although a few people favour neighbouring el-Bireh. Beitin was excavated in the 1930s, and then in the late 1950s until 1960. The city was established in the Middle Bronze Age, and continued to be occupied throughout the Late Bronze Age. It was destroyed towards the end of the Late Bronze Age. The city was rebuilt early in the Iron Age, albeit as a poorer settlement until the time of David and Solomon. The pottery of the Iron Age village on the site matches that of other Israelite settlements of the same period. I haven't been able to find much information on the Late Bronze Age city, and if there are any clues to its occupants. However, since the Israelites took over the Canaanite dwellings and possessions, and were strongly influenced by Canaanite culture in the early Judges period, it is not clear that we should expect any clear markers of an Israelite occupation if they indeed occupied Bethel in the LB2 period (in line with the early conquest date).

There is no hint in the Old Testament narrative as to what might have caused the destruction of Bethel at the end of the Late Bronze Age. Even if this was the time of Joshua and Judges 1, there is no suggestion that the Israelites burnt the Canaanite city and hints that they didn't. One possibility is that it was attacked by the Sea Peoples/Philistines.


Kedesh-naphtali is associated with Barak in Judges 4. The location of this site is unknown, with two commonly proposed options being Tel Kadesh at the very Northern limits of Israel, and Khirbet-Qasish in the South of Galilee. Kedesh is also mentioned in the book of Joshua and then (much later) with respect to the Assyrian invasion. We would thus expect to find remains in the LB1 and LB2 periods (early conquest date) or LB2 and IA1 periods (late conquest date).

Tel Kadesh has been excavated several times, but I haven't been able to find much relevant information. A probe in the 1950s found Middle Bronze Age, Late Bronze Age (but my source doesn't reveal when in the Late Bronze Age), and Iron Age 2 remains. An excavation in the 1980s focused on Roman remains. The major excavation from the 1990s and early 2000s concentrated on the Persian and Greek remains, and didn't seem to reach the Iron Age or Bronze Age layers.

So there isn't that much data, but what there is seems to be consistent with the early conquest model.


Ophrah is mentioned in the book of Joshua (end LB1 early conquest/end LB2 late conquest), as the home of Gideon (end LB2 early conquest/IA1 late conquest), and at the time of King Saul (IA2a). The city mentioned in Joshua and Samuel was likely in the territory of Benjamin; Gideon's home-town might be a different city with the same name (Gideon belonged to the tribe of Manasseh). The location of the city is not positively identified, so little can be said.


The Midianites fled to Beth-shittah after being defeated by Gideon. I cannot find any information concerning this site.


This site is also mentioned in the context of the Midianite retreat. Again, the site is not identified so there is little to say.


Succoth was briefly occupied by Jacob, is assigned in Joshua to the tribe of Gad (formerly being part of the Kingdom of Heshbon), is mentioned in the context of the Midianite retreat (early IA1 in the early conquest model/late IA1 in the late conquest model), and from the time of Solomon. It is commonly associated with Tell Dair Alia. Gibeon is recorded as torturing the leading men of Succoth after his pursuit of the Midianites, as they would not help him.

The main settlement at Tell Deir Alia was founded in the Middle Bronze Age, and reached its height in LB1. In LB2 the site declined but remained occupied. This city was destroyed in a fire. An Egyptian scarab and various inscriptions found in the last layer of this settlement dates this destruction to sometime after 1190BC. A new settlement was established a while after this during the IA1 period, although with a much more limited occupation. Possibly the earliest phases of this settlement was by a semi-nomadic population, but this developed into a more permanent settlement by the end of the IA1 period. This settlement grew and continued to exist throughout the Iron Age.

In the late conquest theory, the town encountered by Gideon would be the Iron Age settlement. The early conquest theory is a little bit harder to judge. The LB2 city was likely destroyed before the time of Gideon, although given the uncertainty in both the date of its destruction and the time of Gideon this isn't completely clear-cut. It is not mentioned in the Biblical text that Gideon attacked the city, beyond torturing its elders, but he was in a bad mood, as witnessed by his treatment of Penuel. If Gideon wasn't responsible for the destruction, it would have happened just after his time. With the chronology I propose, the more likely solution is that Gideon encountered the earliest stages of the Iron Age settlement.


Penuel was another site which refused to help Gideon when he pursued the Midianites. This time he tore down the city's tower, and killed all the men in the city. The city is mentioned in the Judges account, and was rebuilt by King Jeroboam of Israel. The site is not mentioned in the account of Joshua's division of the land.

Penuel is tentatively associated with Tall edh-Dhahab esh-Sharqiyeh. The site is badly damaged through erosion, looting and human development. There was a survey in the 1980s, and a detailed excavation from 2005. I haven't been able to find much concerning that excavation beyond a preliminary report, and a more detailed report (in German). As far as I can tell, the excavators found remains of Iron Age buildings, but relatively little pottery, so dating is uncertain. However, they did find some IA1 and IA2 pottery. There was also a carbon dating of some residue found in a garbage pit, which gave a date of 1212–988 BC. It is thus possible that the site was settled at the time of Gideon early in the twelfth century and early IA1. I couldn't see that the excavators found any evidence of a collapsed IA1 tower.


This was the city where Abimelech met his end, which would have been early in IA1 in the early chronology, or mid-way through IA1 in the late chronology. It is not mentioned in Joshua's list of towns. The location of this city is uncertain. It is sometimes associated with the site of the modern village of Tubas. The two largest archaeological sites in the Tubas valley, Khirbert ‘Eynun and Khirbert Fuqahah, were both founded during Iron Age I, were well fortified and are possible candidates for Thebez.


Shamir is assigned to Judah in Joshua 15. In the book of Judges, Shamir of Ephraim is listed as the home town of the judge Tola. I can find no information about this place (or these places, if the two references refer to different cities).


The home town of the Judge Jephthah was at Mizpah, and it was also place where the Ammonites encamped. Its location is uncertain.


Bethlehem is mentioned three times in the book of Judges, all of which would have been deep into IA1. Firstly, as the home of the Judge Izban. Secondly, it was the home town of the Levite who accompanied the tribe of Dan in their conquest of Laish. Thirdly, in the narrative of the immorality of the tribe of Benjamin, it was the hometown of the concubine whose rape started the whole affair. It is also featured in the book of Ruth, and plays a leading role later on in the Biblical account as David's hometown. It is also mentioned as a city of Judah in the book of Judges. I have seen it suggested that Izban's Bethlehem might have been a different town of the same name. If so, its location is unknown. The town was originally known as Ephrath.

Outside the Bible, there is a possible mention of the town in the Amarna letters (EA290), where it defects from Jerusalem control to that of Quiltu, under pressure from the Habiru.

Excavations at Bethlehem have been difficult due to the modern city on the site and disturbance from later building projects. There have been remains found from the IA2 and IA3 periods. However, a nearby burial site has tombs dating from the Middle Bronze Age and throughout the Iron Age, with some sparser remains from the Late Bronze Age. The only water source close to this burial site is at Bethlehem, so it is likely that this necropolis was associated with Bethlehem. If so, Bethlehem was occupied during the Judges period.


Two towns of Zorah are mentioned in the book of Joshua, one assigned to Judah and the other to Dan. In the book of Judges, the city is associated with the Danites. It was Samson's family home and also the place where the Danites set out from to capture Laish.

There is a possible mention of Zorah in the Amarna letters (EA273), which describes the town being captured by Habiru. The site is usually associated with Tel Tzora, the site of the abandoned village of Sar'a. To my knowledge this site has not yet been excavated.


Eshtaol is another town assigned to both Judah and Dan in the book of Joshua. It appears in two judges narratives, where it is recorded as being close to Samson's tomb, and another city which the Danites set out from before their conquest of Laish. The location of Eshtaol is not completely certain, but is often associated with the abandoned village of Ishwa. To my knowledge, this has not been excavated.


Timnah is another of those cities assigned by Joshua to both Judah and Dan. It was the hometown of one of Samson's many girlfriends, where it is identified as a Philistine city. The most likely location of Timnah is Tel Batash. There was an unfortified Canaanite town at the site during the Late Bronze Age, which had numerous burn layers but was rebuilt each time. Interestingly, a two pillared temple similar to the one which Samson would later encounter at Gaza. The Iron Age I town had typical Philistine pottery. This was abandoned for a while late in IA1 (late 11th Century BC). An Israelite town was established on the site in the IA2 period (10th century BC). The Philistine IA1 town matches that visited by Samson.


Gaza was one of the major Philistine cities during the Iron Age. It was the place where Samson was taken after he was finally captured and died. Before being occupied by the Philistines, the city was captured by the tribe of Judah in Judges 1, and raided by the Midianites in the story of Gideon. It is listed as an unconquered city in Joshua 13.

The city is mentioned in Thutmose III's campaign lists, and also in Amarna letter EA 296, where one of the Canaanite Kings reports that he is guarding the city. Excavations have not been possible due to the modern city on the site.


Dan is associated with Tell Dan. The previous name of the city was Laish, which is attested to in Thutmose III's campaign list. It is not clear from the internal Biblical evidence when the city was conquered by the Israelites, but it would have been sometime in the Judges period. The story of Dan's conquest itself is appended to the end of the book of Judges but, as it is outside the main Judges narrative, could well have been inserted as a later edit to the book.

Tell Dan was fortified in the Middle Bronze Age, and the city continued to be occupied until the Assyrian invasion. It was a large and prosperous city for most of the Late Bronze Age. There was a notable change in the pottery types midway through IA1, with the new pottery being typical of Israelite sites elsewhere. This change is usually associated with the Israelite conquest of Dan.


Sidon is mentioned in Judges 18 as being associated with Laish before the Israelites took the city -- the only city the people of Laish had business with. It was one of the major Phoenician cities, and continually inhabited from the Late bronze Age through the Iron Age. I am not aware of any direct evidence linking the inhabitants of Tell Dan with the Phonecians. However, there is a great deal of imported Mediterranean pottery in Tell Dan both during the Late Bronze Age and into the early part of Iron Age I. The Phoenician's were the major sea-faring traders of the period, so it is likely that this pottery was imported via one of the Phoenician cities, and Sidon is the closest of these to Tell Dan. So the link between Laish and Sidon is not inconsistent with the evidence.


Kiriath-jearim was a Gibeonite city in the book of Joshua. The tribe of Dan stopped here on the way to conquer Laish. The city was located on the border between Judah and Benjamin. The city is most commonly identified with a Tell close to the Israeli Arab village of Abu Ghosh or the Israeli settlement of Kiryat Ye'arim. The site is largely occupied by a convent. Limited excavations have been carried out around the edge of the Tell by Israel Finkelstein, as well as a few earlier soundings. Preliminary findings from the first season are published here. The most of the finds are from the IA2 period, but there is also some MBA, LBA and IA1 pottery. Finkelstein naturally makes a great deal of the IA2 finds, and a cultic site there, and claims that that shows that the Biblical references reflect that later platform. Somehow he seems to associate the use of the site with the Kingdom of Israel even though it is to the West of Jerusalem well inside the territory of Judah. In practice, with the bulk of the site inaccessible, it is difficult to draw any conclusions. The small number of pottery shards found from earlier periods imply that there was a settlement there during the time of Joshua and the Judges period, even if it was much smaller than the later IA2 town.


In the book of Judges and Samuel accounts, Jerusalem is mentioned firstly as a city that was attacked and burnt by the men of Judah, and then failed to be conquered by the men of Benjamin. The latter reference states that it remained a Jebusite city until the time that the Judges account was compiled. It is also mentioned as a Jebusite city in Judges 19. It was conquered by the Israelites under King David at around 1000BC.

Jerusalem in the time of the Judges was most likely centred on the ridge above the Gihon spring, the area now known as the City of David archaeological park. At the time the city was occupied by Jebusites, not Israelites. Excavations at ancient Jerusalem are difficult, partly because of current occupation of the site, and partly because of later destruction as the city was expanded in the IA2 and later periods. It is also possible that the Middle Bronze Age city, which has been uncovered continued to be used through the Late Bronze Age. As such, there is only limited evidence of its occupation during the Late Bronze and Iron Age 1 periods. Not no evidence -- some property from those periods has been found. Also, and more importantly, the Amarna letters record that Jerusalem was an important city towards the start of LB2 -- one of the periods that is (largely) missing from the archaeological record.

So although there is little evidence from the ground of Jebusite Jerusalem, the difficulties in excavating the site mean that that it is too hasty to conclude that it didn't exist, especially since we have evidence of the city in Egyptian records, and a little pottery from the periods in question.


Gibeah is listed in Joshua as a city of Benjamin (it seems to have first been given to Judah, and then reallocated). It is mentioned in Judges 19, as the city where the Levite's concubine was raped, leading to the attack on the tribe of Benjamin. It is not clear when the events described in those chapters occurred. At the end of the Judges period, it was the hometown and later the capital of King Saul. We thus expect to see occupation at the time of the conquest (whether that is at the end of LB2 or the end of LB1), and towards the end of IA1, as well as whenever the attack on Benjamin took place. It is likely that the city had a severe reduction in population after the Israelite attack on Benjamin, and the text implies that it was burnt, but it is not clear from the Biblical account precisely when we should expect this.

The location of the site is not certain. Tell el-Ful and Jaba are common candidates. Tell el-Ful was excavated in the 1920s, 1930s and there was a very limited excavation in the 1960s. A few pieces of Middle Bronze Age pottery were found, and then the earliest remains was a small settlement from the middle of IA1. This small settlement grew into a significant fortress by the end of IA1, and remained occupied until the times of the Babylonians. Jaba has not yet been excavated, but some IA2 pottery has been found during a surface survey.

Tell el-Ful fits the description of Saul's hometown and capital. The earliest phase of the city might serve the place where the concubine was raped, although the description I have seems a little small and without evidence of a destruction. There is no evidence as yet that the city at Tell el-Ful was occupied at the time of Joshua (to be placed in his lists), or the town destroyed during the attack on Benjamin. To be consistent with the Biblical account, one must therefore suppose that the earlier settlement was either missed by the excavators, destroyed by later activity on the site, or that at least that first phase of Gibeah was located elsewhere.


This site is mentioned in 1 Samuel 1 as the hometown of Samuel's parents. It is not known where it was located.


Aphek was an unconquered city mentioned in Joshua 13, and again in Judges 1:13. In 1 Samuel 4 the Philistines encamped at Aphek in one of their battles against Israel. We thus expect the city to be occupied at the time of the conquest, and at the end of IA1.

Aphek is usually associated with Tell Ras el-Ain. The city is mentioned in 18th and 19th Dynasty Egyptian texts. Substantial remains of a Middle Bronze Age and LB1 city, which included some cuneiform texts. This city seems to have been destroyed during the latter part of the LB2 period. A little while later, midway through IA1, a Philistine city was built at the site. The Philistines continued to occupy the site up to the start of IA2. Later remains are in the usual Israelite architectural style. The city was thus occupied during the periods when it is referenced in the Biblical text on the early conquest model. There is a discrepancy for the LB2 conquest model, which the archaeological city was burnt at the time when a supposed LB2 conquest would have happened, but the Israelites did not destroy the Biblical city.


Ashdod was recorded as an unconquered city in the book of Joshua. In the book of Samuel (the very end of IA1), it is recorded as one of the Philistine cities.

Tel Ashod features a Middle Bronze Age city, which continued to be used until its destruction by fire at the end of the LB2 period. The Philistine city was established in early IA1, and continued to occupied well into IA2. The situation is thus similar to that of Aphek: the occupation and destruction layers agree with the LB1 conquest model, but not the LB2 conquest model.


Gath is mentioned as an unconquered city in the book of Joshua. It is one of the main Philistine cities mentioned in 1 Samuel.

Gath is identified with Tell es-Safi. There was continuous occupation of this site from LB2 until IA2, with the Philistines taking over midway through IA1. I haven't found evidence for an LB1 occupation of the site, consistent with the mentions in the book of Joshua in the early conquest theory. There is, however, the mention of Gintu in the Amarna letters which is sometimes identified with Gath.


Biblical Ekron is mentioned in the Joshua accounts, and was captured intact by the tribe of Judah in Judges 1. Later on it became a major Philistine city.

Ekron is securely identified with Tel Miqne, due to an inscription found at the site. The city existed from the Middle Bronze Age until a destruction towards the end of LB2. The Philistines then reestablished the city in IA1, and continued to live in the city until a burn layer at the start of IA2.

The archaeology is thus consistent with the early conquest model. The late conquest model is problematic, with the city destroyed at the end of LB2 archaeologically (about the time of the conquest in this model), but the Biblical account suggests that it was captured intact and settled by the tribe of Judah shortly after the conquest.


Beth-shemesh was a border town between the Israelites and the Philistines. It is mentioned in the book of Joshua as a city on the border of Judah's territory, and then again in the early chapters of 1 Samuel (late IA1), when it was an Israelite town.

Beth-shemesh is usually identified with Tell er-Rumeileh. The middle Bronze Age city was destroyed at the end of that period or early in LB1. The city was soon refounded during LB1, but destroyed again towards the end of LB2. An IA1 city was then founded on the site, and continued to be occupied until it was depopulated by the Assyrians. An absence of pig bones suggests that this Iron Age city was Israelite, although the pottery suggests that there was a Philistine influence.

In the early conquest model, the city thus existed both during the time of Joshua and Samuel. The late conquest model is once again inconsistent with the destruction of Tell er-Rumeileh at the supposed time of the conquest.


Gilgal was the location of the main Israelite camp during the book of Joshua. In Judges 3:19, Ehud turned back at the idols near Gilgal (end of LB1). In 1 Samuel, it is recorded as one of the centres of Samuel's ministry (end of IA1).

While Gilgal is located in the plain to to the North East of Jericho, its precise location is uncertain.


Gibeath-elohim is mentioned in the book of Samuel as a Philistine garrison. If the site is not a variant spelling of Gibeah, then its location is unknown.


Jabesh-gilead was a town mention in Judges 21 who did not aid the Israelite assault on the tribe of Benjamin (LB2 or IA1), when the town was depopulated, and again in 1 Samuel (early IA2).

One possible location for Jabesh-Tell, Abu al-Kharaz was occupied from the end of the Middle Bronze Age until the LB2 period, when the city was largely abandoned. There are limited remains in IA1, which grew into a substantial IA2 settlement.

Thus if the attack on the tribe of Benjamin occurred during the LB2 period, then town was abandoned as described in the Biblical text.

The Philistines

The Philistines, in the Biblical text, are people originally from Caphtor, one of the Greek Islands or possibly Crete. They occupied the coastal plain closest to Egypt -- what is now the Gaza strip, and the areas of Israel to the North and immediately West of it. They are mentioned throughout the Old Testament history, for example, from the time of Abraham and Isaac, and at the time of Moses and Joshua. I discussed those earlier Philistines in a previous post. However, the Philistines start to become particularly prominent from Judges 10. For a while, they became Israel's main adversary. They were subdued under David, but still maintained some sort of independent identity. Towards the end of the monarchy period, they reasserted themselves, as recorded in passages such as 2 Chronicles 28 and Jeremiah 47.

These later Philistines are well attested in the archaeological record. The name is recorded in Egyptian inscriptions from the late New Kingdom, the time of Ramesses III. They are mentioned as one of a coalition of "Sea Peoples." These had been causing havoc along the entire Eastern Mediterranean for a number of years; there are possible references to them in the time of Ramesses II, and Merneptah records that he defeated an attempted invasion. At around the start of the Iron Age, about 1180BC or so (although this number isn't very precise), they brought down the Hittite Empire, contributed to a collapse of Bronze Age civilisation seen throughout Syria and Phoenicia, and attempted to invade Egypt on several occasions. Although Ramesses III kept them out of Egypt, the Sea Peoples attack still weakened the Egyptians, and removed what power they had remaining in the Levant. Egypt would soon after fracture into several different regions each subject to their own dynasty. It appears that at least some of the sea peoples settled down in the coastal plain of Israel.

Archaeologically, we clearly see these newcomers dominate the coastal part of Israel from the start of the Iron Age. There is a new culture, a new architectural style, new pottery, a new diet, all very reminiscent of the Mediterranean cultures and distinct from the Semitic/Canaanite/Israelite culture that resided in the highlands both before and after these newcomers arrived. Their presence is recorded those of the five cities that the Bible gives to the Philistines which have been excavated (Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gath and Ekron), as far as they have been excavated, as well as many other smaller towns in the region. Over time, the Philistines started to assimilate into the local culture.

In the book of Judges, the first reference to the Philistines is Shamgar in Judges 3, who defeated 600 Philistines and saved Israel. Shamgar is not placed clearly in the Biblical chronology -- he is after Ehud (who I would place at around 1305BC, in the early conquest model), and before Barak (who I would place at about 1205BC); the implication was that he should be towards the end of this period. So this is roughly the time period that the Sea Peoples first make their appearance in the Egyptian and other records and settled in their main cities.

The evidence suggests that the Philistines began gradually expanding beyond their initial settlement around the rest of the coastal plain a generation after their initial settlement. At some point, they would have come into conflict with the early Israelites in the highlands. The main Philistine attack on Israel begins in Judges 10:6, which I date to about 1070BC, and it continues until the end of the Judges period.

So the timing of the Philistine arrival and expansion is in rough agreement with when they make their appearances in the book of Judges. Their culture agrees with the Biblical claim of of Mediterranean origin. They lived in the same cities as described in the Bible. It is also notable that the Philistines of archaeology were notable metalworkers, in agreement with 1 Samuel 13:10.

There is, therefore, a good agreement between the Philistines of archaeology and the Philistines described in the Old Testament from Judges 3 onwards.

Jerubbaal inscription

We don't expect to find much written evidence for the Judges, simply because there is not much written evidence for anything in ancient Israel, and the Judges did not interact with the major powers of the time. However, there is one inscription I am aware of which possibly names one of the Judges.

The fragment in question was discovered in a silo at Khirbet el-Rai, close to Lachish. It is only a small fragment of what was once a larger jar, and just contains (most of) the name Yerbaal, which is equivalent to, Jerubbaal, as the name was transliterated in our English Bibles. This was the nickname given to the Judge Gideon. The first letter is only partially legible, and is a reconstruction, and any remaining parts of the original inscription are lost. We just have the name without any context.

The fragment dates from about 1100BC, which is roughly 100 years after I would place Gideon. It is also found deep into the territory of the tribe of Judah, a long way from where Gideon is known to have operated. Thus there is no direct connection between this inscription and the Biblical Judge. It might refer to the Judge; it might refer to another individual of the same name; it might even refer to someone of a different name (if the first letter is to be reconstructed differently, or there are additional letters missing off the front) although Jerubbaal is the most plausible reading of what survives. With no wider context, it doesn't not give any indication that the Biblical story of Jerubbaal is true. The inscription is still important. Firstly, because, as one of the few inscriptions we have from the period, all evidence of writing is important, particularly for those who study the evolution and use of the alphabet. And secondly, it is some evidence that the name Jerubbaal was used in ancient Israel in the same general time period that it was mentioned in the Biblical text. We are not aware of any other Jerubbaals other than Gideon and whoever this inscription referred to. In particular, the name is not testified towards the end of the Israelite monarchy (where we have better knowledge of the names used by the Israelites), which is when minimalists would claim that the book of Judges was written. If the story was made up at that time, and not based on an older source, why would they choose a name which had long since been forgotten, but which turns out to be in use at the time? Of course, this isn't a particularly compelling argument (for example, we don't know with certainty that there were no Jerubbaals in the later period); but nonetheless the evidence still sits better with the proposition that the book of Judges was compiled around the time of King Saul (less than a century after the inscription) than the proposition that it was composed five hundred years after the name was in use.


There isn't much evidence available for the Judges period in Israel. The precise chronology is uncertain, which also doesn't help. But what evidence we do have, for example from Schechem and Shiloh, is supportive of the Biblical account. The evidence strongly favours the LB1 conquest hypothesis, with quite a few sites contradicting the chronology of the LB2 conquest model but in agreement with a LB1 conquest. The only exceptions are Gath, where I am not aware of any LB1 occupation to mark the city that Joshua failed to capture, and Gibeah, where if the site is Tell el-Ful, then there is no evidence of the city that Joshua encountered in LB1 nor its destruction in LB2. However, given that the identification of the site is uncertain, and excavations at the site have not been extensive, the evidence of Gibeah is not conclusive.

Is God a failed Hypothesis? Part 17: The early Monarchy

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