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Archaeology and Conquest

The conquest story narrated in the Book of Joshua is one of our main sources of reconstructing how early Israel emerged in the land of Canaan, in the land of Israel. 

There are five theories; one of them, the conquest theory as described in the Book of Joshua, describes a lightning campaign through the land of Israel or the promised land, really wiping out, kind of committing almost genocide against the Canaanites. 

The second theory as recounted in the Book of Judges is called the peaceful infiltration theory, which in many respects seems to contradict what’s mentioned in the previous book, the Book of Joshua. 

Then you have three other theories, the social revolutionary theory, which sees the early Israelites as essentially rebelling Canaanites, and the pastoral Canaanite theory, which sees the early Israelites as pastoral nomads, which settled down following the collapse of the last Bronze Age in the twelfth and eleventh centuries. 

Then you have my theory, the mixed multitude theory, which does encompass, I would say, bits and pieces of all of the above theories.  Now in the Book of Joshua, there’s certainly evidence which contradicts the archaeological record.  Most notably, Jericho, which archaeologists have yet to find.  Not only have they not found a wall, they haven’t even found a settlement which can be dated to the time that most scholars believe Joshua would have lead this campaign.  In other accounts, we do have some aspects which do seem to be corroborated in the archaeological record, most specifically, Mount Ebal and Hazor.

  • Ann E. Killebrew

    Ann E. Killebrew is an associate professor of classics and ancient Mediterranean studies, Jewish Studies, and anthropology at the Pennsylvania State University. She has participated in or directed archaeological projects in Israel, Turkey, and Egypt. Her research focuses on the Bronze and Iron Ages in the eastern Mediterranean, ancient ceramic studies, Roman and Byzantine Palestine, and public archaeology. Killebrew is the author of numerous articles and books, including the award-winning Biblical Peoples and Ethnicity (Society of Biblical Literature, 2005), and the co-editor with Gunnar Lehmann of The Philistines and Other “Sea Peoples” in Text and Archaeology (Society of Biblical Literature, 2013).