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And in particular they are throwing off the yoke of their Canaanite and Egyptian overlords. Now, why these people were willing to take such a risk, colonizing the hill country frontier, is very difficult to know.
I think there were social and economic compulsions, but I would be the first to say I think it was probably also a new religious vision.
From the beginnings of what we call biblical archeology, perhaps 150 years ago, scholars, mostly western scholars, have attempted to use archeological data to prove the Bible. [William Foxwell] Albright, the great father of our discipline, often spoke of the "archeological revolution." Well, the revolution has come but not in the way that Albright thought.
You have to think of how perilous the journey would have been had it really taken place. It is profoundly true, but it's not the kind of truth that archeology can directly illuminate. The victory stele of Pharaoh Merneptah, the son of Ramesses II, mentions a list of peoples and city-states in Canaan, and among them are the Israelites. E., know of a group of people somewhere in the central highlands—a loosely affiliated tribal confederation, if you will—called "Israelites." These are our Israelites. We know today, from archeological investigation, that there were more than 300 early villages of the 13th and 12th century in the area. Forty years ago it would have been impossible to identify the earliest Israelites archeologically. And then, in a series of regional surveys, Israeli archeologists in the 1970s began to find small hilltop villages in the central hill country north and south of Jerusalem and in lower Galilee. The settlements were founded not on the ruins of destroyed Canaanite towns but rather on bedrock or on virgin soil.
And it begins a slow process in which the Israelites distinguish themselves from their Canaanite ancestors, particularly in religion—with a new deity, new religious laws and customs, new ethnic markers, as we would call them today. Well, it was told because there were probably armed conflicts here and there, and these become a part of the story glorifying the career of Joshua, commander in chief of the Israelite forces.
I suspect that there is a historical kernel, and there are a few sites that may well have been destroyed by these Israelites, such as Hazor in Galilee, or perhaps a site or two in the south.
When you think of how little we knew about the biblical world even 100 years ago and what we know today, it's astonishing.
One of the first efforts of biblical archeology in the last century was to prove the historicity of the patriarchs, to locate them in a particular period in the archeological history. Are we to become unbelievers if we can't prove that Abraham ever lived? It's a story about freedom and faith and risk.
Most of us mainstream archeologists also have now dated a series of monumental royal constructions to the 10th century—the famous gates at Hazor and Megiddo and Gezer.