Wilderness & Conquest 1

Wilderness & Conquest, Part 1

By Vern Crisler

Copyright, 2007, Updated 2009

Rough Draft

1.  Introduction

2.  Judgment & Years of Wandering

3.  The MB1 Settlements

4.  Mount Hor

5.  Kadesh-barnea

6.  How Shall We then Live?

7.  A New Generation is Prepared

8.  Occupying the Transjordan

9.  Notes on the Theology of Wandering & Conquest

10.  The Tribes of Israel

1. Introduction

This chapter is an interlude between chapters on Egyptian chronology.  In a way, it parallels the MB1 pottery itself, in that the MB1 civilization is considered to be a nomadic interlude between the Early Bronze Age civilization and the Middle Bronze Age civilization.  This is why some archaeologists, such as Kenyon, called it an “Intermediate” period.  Our emphasis in this chapter will be on the MB1 pottery itself and its relation to the history of the Israelites from the Wandering stage to the Conquest stage.  In addition, we will describe in more detail the history of Israel and its theological perspective.

 2.  Judgment & Years of Wandering

According to the Bible, after the great sin of making the golden calf, the Israelites journeyed from Sinai, until they came to Kadesh-barnea.  Here the Israelites refused to fight against the inhabitants of the Promised Land, and the result was that all the fighting men, 20 years and above, were condemned to spend the rest of their lives wandering in the wilderness (Num. 14, the exception being Joshua and Caleb).  Some of the Israelites could not accept this, and rebelled, but were swallowed up by the earth as part of a divine judgment (Num. 16:33).  Others, still not wanting to accept the judgment of Wandering, complained and fell victim to a terrible plague (Num. 16:49).  At this point in the book of Numbers, the early part of the Wandering ends with the miraculous budding of Aaron’s Rod (Num. 17).

Some might think the punishment of the Israelites was too harsh.  After all, is complaining about lack of water, or not enough variety in a diet, really that bad?  This, however, is only a superficial view of the great sin of the Israelites.  First, their refusal to go up and fight the Canaanites was not their first rebellion, but was their tenth, ironically corresponding to the ten times Pharaoh hardened his heart at the Exodus (Num. 14:22).  Secondly, the Israelites were not just guilty of “equivalency” thinking.  They did not say, “We should just stay in this wilderness, or go back to Egypt, for fighting the Canaanites is just as bad.”  No, they went beyond the evil of moral or situational equivalence, and actually claimed that living in the wilderness or living in Egypt was better than fighting the Canaanites:

“If only we had died in the land of Egypt!  Or if only we had died in this wilderness!  Why has the Lord brought us to this land to fall by the sword, that our wives and children should become victims?  Would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?….Let us select a leader and return to Egypt”  (Num. 14:2-4).  

Not only were they ready to go back to Egypt, but they would not listen to Caleb and Joshua, and were ready to murder them (Num. 14:10).  Thus, there was more involved in the sin of the Israelites than complaining, or fear.  It was a whole attitude, a backward-looking attitude.

We see it today with people who are freed from slavery or oppression and who subsequently run into hard times.  Unless they are a people of great character, they will complain that they were better off under their oppressors.   In mid-19th century America, the African orator Frederick Douglas broke from the “moral improvement” approach of ending slavery (advocated by William Lloyd Garrison) and believed it could only be ended by political action.  Accordingly, against the advise of other abolitionists,  he started his own newspaper.  James M’Cune Smith said of Douglas that he “had fully grown up to the conviction…, to wit: that in their own elevation—self-elevation—colored men have a blow to strike ‘on their own hook,’ against slavery and caste.”  (“Introduction,” to Frederick Douglas, My Bondage and My Freedom, 1855.)

That men must fight for their freedom is a truth often lost, especially by those who have never been free.  Douglas, upon first realizing he was a slave, and understanding what it meant, said that the “revelation haunted me, stung me, and made me gloomy and miserable.  As I writhed under the sting and torment of this knowledge, I almost envied my fellow slaves their stupid contentment.”  (Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, 1845.)  Contentment in slavery!  Douglas, however, was not willing to go back to the leeks and onions of Egypt, as it were.  Echoing Patrick Henry, he said, “For my part, I should prefer death to hopeless bondage.”

Perhaps this is what the first generation of Israelites lacked, a true sense of what slavery meant.  It is true that their service was bitter with hard bondage—that they were made to serve with rigor (Ex. 1:13, 14).   And yet, did they ever wake up one day to realize that they were slaves?  Did this realization ever haunt them in the way it haunted Douglass?  Or was the alleviation of physical hardship their only concern?  When they were confronted in the Wilderness by the ten trials, did the Israelites see these as obstacles to be overcome for the sake of the future?  Or rather as high walls that required a return to a hopeless past?  For most it was the latter, but at least two were of strong enough character to choose the former, Joshua and Caleb.  Once a man has been born to a life of slavery or caste, it seems almost impossible to free him from seeing himself as inferior, and of being seen as inferior.  Joshua and Caleb, however, proved that faith in the Lord could overcome the psychology of slavery (Num. 13:9).

The Wandering Phase of the Exodus:  The historical narrative of the Wandering is not taken up again until Numbers 20, where the Israelites have returned to Kadesh-barnea.  Yet this is 38 years later.  What happened in the meantime?  In Deuteronomy, Moses reviews the history of Israel from when they first arrived in Kadesh-barnea (Deut. 1:19).  After their miserable failure before the Amorites (Deut. 1:44), the Israelites “remained in Kadesh many days…” (Deut. 1:46).  The next temporal reference is in Deut. 2:14, which says, “And the time we took to come from Kadesh Barnea until we crossed over the Valley of the Zered was thirty-eight years….”  The Valley of the Zered was in Transjordan, and was reached just before the invasion of the Promised Land.  Moses was summarizing all the Wandering of the Israelites since leaving Kadesh-barnea for the first time.  Moses also wrote a detailed itinerary, which is contained in Numbers 33—let us call it the “Wandering List” —and it starts with verse 16, as follows (including Hebrew meanings for the stations):

1.  Wilderness of Sinai (receiving of the law)

2.  Kibroth Hattaavah (“graves of lust”; 3 days journey, Num. 11:34; quail sent)

3.  Hazeroth (“settlement”; Num. 12; Miriam punished, 7 day wait)

4.  Rithmah (“heath”; Num: 12:16; located at Kadesh)

5.  Rimmon Perez (“pomegranate of the breach”)

6.  Libnah (“pavement”)

7.  Rissah (“ruin”)

8.  Kehelathah (“assembly”)

9.  Mount Shepher (“beauty”)

10.  Haradah (“fear”)

11.  Makheloth (“place of assembly”)

12.  Tahath (“station”)

13.  Terah (also “station”)

14.  Mithkah (“sweetness”)

15.  Hashmonah (unknown)

16.  Moseroth (“chastisement”; located at Mt. Hor; Deut. 10:6)

17.  Bene Jaakan (“sons of twisting”; a place with wells, Deut. 10:6)

18.  Hor Hagidgad (or Gudgodah; Deut. 10:7; “cavern of Gidgad”)

19.  Jotbathah (“pleasantness”)

20.  Abronah (“passage”)

21.  Ezion Geber (“backbone of a man”; at Gulf of Aqaba)

22.  Kadesh (40th year; death of Miriam; )

23.  Mount Hor (death of Aaron)

24.  Zalmonah (“shady”; start of journey to the land of Moab)

25.  Punon (“darkness”; Num. 21:6, fiery serpents)

26.  Oboth (“waterskins”)

27.  Ije Abarim (“ruins of Abarim”; east of Moab)

28.  Dibon Gad (Dibon means “wasting”; Gad is Israelite tribe)

29.  Almon Diblathaim (“concealing the two cakes”)

30.  Mt. Nebo (death of Moses; Deut.34)

The Numbers itinerary listed above has not been transmitted in its original order in the case of Bene Jaakan and Moseroth.  The actual order was from Hashmonah to Bene Jaakan, then to Moseroth, then to Hor Hagidgad.  (Compare, Deut. 10:6).  Also, many of the above names appear to be nicknames, e.g., Kibroth Hattaavah (“graves of craving”) and Moseroth, plural for “chastisement.”  In addition, Kibroth Hattaavah was earlier nicknamed Taberah (or Burning; Num. 11:3).  Others may be updated names, i.e., names given to those cities after the Conquest, or at least after the Transjordan had been divided between the tribes (Deut. 3:12, 13).  For instance, the city of Dibon Gad took its new name after Gad had received its tribal allotment (Num. 32:3; 34).  Some of the names of towns after the site of Ije Abarim (Num. 21:20) were part of another list—the “Transjordan List”—and were not included in Numbers 33.  In addition, Numbers 33 does not list all the cities captured in the defeat of Amorite kings Sihon and Og (Num. 21:21, 33, the “Amorite List”).  Thus, we need to remember that there are three lists, the Numbers List, the Transjordan List, and the Amorite List.

The journey to Mt. Hor (no. 16) in the middle of the itinerary suggests that the main area of Wandering was close to the Kadesh-barnea region.  However, the Israelites also appear to have journeyed far and wide, given that they made it all the way to Ezion Geber at the northern tip of the Gulf of Aqaba before returning to the city of Kadesh for the last time.

Can any of these sites be located?  Aside from Kadesh-barnea, Ezion Geber, and Mt. Nebo, very little is known.  Between the first settlement at Kadesh to the last settlement at Kadesh, 38 years went by.  Thus, the Wandering started at “Rithmah” (no. 4, located at Kadesh), and lasted all the way to Ezion Geber (no. 21).  There is no information about how long the Israelites stayed at each location.  If 18 stations are divided into 38 years, the average stay per station would be about 2.1 years.  However, this would be a fallacious inference since Numbers 9:22 states that the time allotted to each station could be two days, a month, or a year, i.e., there was no average time for each station.  We could infer, however, that anything longer than a few months or a year would be regarded as a permanent or semi-permanent camp where building could take place.  Anything less might only involve the pitching of tents, with no central buildings constructed.  More than likely, most of the Israelites pitched tents anyway, even at “permanent” settlements.  Buildings would then represent the work of only a few.

3.  The MB1 Settlements

Here we wish to discuss in detail the archaeology of the Middle Bronze 1 settlements across the Negev and northern Sinai.  In terms of both Classic and New Courville, the MB1 people are the Israelites, so it is not surprising that the MB1 distribution in the Kadesh-barnea region would seem to track well with the history of the Israelites.  In a previous chapter, it was pointed out that the MB1 distribution is on both sides of the Red Sea (Gulf of Suez), so that there is a significant correlation with the history of the Israelites at the time of the Exodus.  To cite Rothenberg again:

“The area of distribution of the occupation wave of Early Bronze Age IV comprises the border region of the Negev all the way down to the Red Sea….Considerable remains of that period were, astonishingly, found also on the Mittla and Giddi Passes, as far as the banks of the Suez Canal between Port Taufiq [at the eastern tip of the Gulf of Suez] and the Small Bitter Lake [north of the Gulf]—and across the Suez Canal to Gebel Atika in Lower Egypt.”  (Sinai, p. 121.)

The site of Gebel Atika is on the western side of the Gulf of Suez, in Lower Egypt proper, while all other EB4 (i.e., MB1) sites are on the eastern side of the Gulf of Suez, or up around the Bitter Lakes area.  This matches what the Bible says, in that the Israelites turned away from the Wilderness and went back over to the western side of the Red Sea (thus allowing the Exodus pharaoh to catch them with their backs against the sea).  While we cannot prove on the basis of the MB1 distribution that the Israelites crossed the Red Sea by miraculous intervention, the situation on the ground is at least consistent with the biblical narrative, and certainly calls for an intensive archaeological research program in the area.

Between the initial Exodus from Egypt and the Conquest of the Holy Land, there was a long period of Wandering.  It is our opinion that many of the large MB1 sites reflect this period in Israel’s history.  As pointed out previously, Rothenberg surveyed many of these MB1 settlements, noted the types of pottery found in the Negev, and described the presence of MB1 sites in the areas he visited.  A closer look at the major MB1 sites in the Negev will be of value in the study of the relation between the MB1 people and the Israelites during the Wandering era.

4.  Mount Hor

In the Bible, Mount Hor is famous for being the burial place of the high priest Aaron.    Aaron was a descendent of Levi, and the brother of Moses (Ex. 4:14), and was also the representative of Moses to the king of Egypt (Ex. 5:1).  Near the end of the Wilderness Wandering, the Israelites moved from their camp at Kadesh to Mount Hor.  The hand-over of Aaron’s priestly vestments to his son symbolized that the priesthood was now the responsibility of a new generation.  When this was finished, Aaron died and was buried on the mountain, and was mourned by Israel for thirty days (Num. 20:29).  The man who had spoken for Moses in the presence of Pharaoh, who had committed great sin on more than one occasion, and who had stood by Moses when the Israelites refused to take the Promised land, was now dead.

His sister Miriam had died at Kadesh, and his brother Moses was soon to die in the land of Moab (Deut. 34:5).  By God’s design, the leaders of the great Exodus from Egypt—Moses and Aaron—who were responsible for the liberated people, would now accompany them even in death.  This must have been some comfort to their children in the Promised Land, who were reassured that their fathers had not been wholly abandoned, if even Moses and Aaron died with them. 

Various suggestions have been made respecting the site of Mount Hor, e.g., Jebel Harun or Jebel el Madra.  However, the identification of Ain el Qudeirat as Kadesh-barnea rules out the first site, while the second site has no archaeological remains at all.  Yohanan Aharoni points out that Mount Hor should be found on the way to Arad, not to the Araba (east of the Jordan).  (God’s Wilderness, 1961, p. 141.)  For this reason, he identifies Mount Hor with Bir Rekhme (i.e., Yeruham):

“The fact that Mount Hor is mentioned as being on the borders of Edom accords with its being not too far from Kadesh-barnea, which also is described as a city on the uttermost border of Edom (Num. xx. 17).”  (God’s Wilderness, p. 141.)

The remains indicate that Tell Rekhme (Yeruham) was “a main burying place for the region’s inhabitants.”  Further, “We have no certain proof, but it seems to the writer that this mountain must be regarded as one of the most serious candidates for identification with the Biblical Mount Hor.”  (Idem.)  Aharoni says that the wadi that runs near the mountain is named Harunia and this led to an earlier identification of the site as Mount Hor.

Rothenberg, in the same book, says that the main archaeological finds were from Middle Bronze 1:  “The structures [on Rekhme] were on top of a narrow rock rising to a height of some few yards in the centre of the slope, and 110 yards above the level of the wadi.   We found sherds as soon as we reached the site; all were Middle Bronze I.  The structures were fairy clear, too; tombs, partly broken up by the action of man or beast, partly eroded by time.”  (God’s Wilderness, p. 16.)  From there Rothenberg went to the top of the steep hill and found more MB1 sherds, along with a wall of unhewn stone that went around the flat hill-top.  Much of the settlement on top of the hill would eventually be “razed to the ground” and the stones used for tombs, “perhaps for the burial of the settlement’s warriors….” (Ibid., p. 17.)  Rothenberg says,

“It is interesting to note that the largest tomb has next to it a smooth rock with a number of large cup-marks and many more very small ones.  The dwellings have their courtyards attached, indicating a well-organized settlement….The site is strewn with numerous sherds and flint impliments.  Sherds and ruins are all indubitably MB I.”  (God’s Wilderness, pp. 17-18.)

If the MB1 people were the Wandering Israelites, and if Rekhme is Mount Hor, which is where Aaron was buried, one wonders whether the largest tomb at the site was the burial place of Aaron.  Since Rothenberg thinks MB1 represents “patriarchal” material, he did not ask the question, nor did he provide a description of the tomb contents.  In any case, he believes that the area of Tell Rekhme was the “Negeb of the Jerahmeelites.”  This identification is based on linguistic speculation found in Palmer & Drake’s 1873 Our Work in Palestine: “‘Any tolerably competent linguist will see that Jebel Rekhme is an echo of the name Negeb of the Jerahmeelites.’”  (Ibid., p. 18, note 2.)  Since most of us are not tolerably competent linguists, or even incompetent ones, we will have to take Palmer & Drake’s word for it.

Of course, if it is true that the area of Rekhme was part of the south of the Jerameelites, it would not disprove that the mountain at Tell Rekhme was also Mount Hor.  Jerahmeel was the great-grandson of Judah and the brother of Caleb (which, by the way, seems to support the short chronology of the oppression in Egypt).  As such, Jerahmeel would have received his inheritance within the tribal land of Judah, which encompassed Kadesh-barnea and presumably Mount Hor (Josh. 15:3).  Thus, Mount Hor (at Tell Rekhme) could very well have been part of the tribal allotment to Jerahmeel.  As it stands now, Aharoni’s Tell Rekhme seems to be the best candidate site for Mount Hor.

5.  Kadesh-barnea

In the Bible, Kadesh-barnea was the site where the Israelites camped when the spies were sent north into the land of Canaan.  At least two encampments at Kadesh are mentioned, one at the beginning of the Wandering period (at Rithmah, located at Kadesh-barnea) and one at the end (when Miriam was buried 38 years later).  As we noted earlier, in the Wandering List (Num. 33), Moseroth is listed in the middle of all the stations of wandering.  According to Deuteronomy 10:6, Moseroth was located at Mt. Hor — where Aaron died, and where he was buried” — a few miles north of the Kadesh-barnea area.  The stay at Moseroth (or Mount Hor) came only a few stations before the final journey to the Gulf of Aqaba.  The movement of the Israelites up to Mount Hor appears to indicate that they were in relatively easy reach of the mountain, that is, they must have been staying in the region surrounding Kadesh-barnea for many years.  This would make the journey to Mount Hor more convenient than if they had been far away in the southern Sinai.

With respect to the Israelites’ last journey, it is not clear how long it lasted, perhaps a couple of years.  Our guess is that this last journey was a departure from the Kadesh-barnea region, wherein the Israelites move south to Ruweiset el Akheider, then into the region of Wadi el Shallala and Wadi Gharandal (near the Gulf of Suez).  If this is the correct trajectory of their last Wandering, it is possible that the Israelites continued farther south, then turned east on an ancient path that later became a Roman road.  This road was pictured on the Medieval Peutinger Table, showing a route from Aqaba to Suez.  Rothenberg believes this Roman road ran from:

“Elat [Elath], through the Wadi Tueiba or one of the wadis parallel to it and thence ran south…through the wadis parallel to the coast as far as ‘Ain Hudera [near the Gulf of Aqaba]  From there, the route ran through the Wadi Saal and the Wadi Zaghra into the central ore-bearing massif in the south.  The big oasis in the Wadi Feiran [near the Gulf of Suez] was the southern-most point on this route….From the Wadi Feiran…the track led to the north, up to the Tih plateau and then followed the watershed towards the north to Clysma=Suez.”  (Cf., Rothenberg, Sinai, pp. 160).

Rothenberg found settlement remains on this route from the Neolithic period to the New Kingdom, though he does not specify whether he found MB1 or not.  The Israelites would have been going in the opposite direction, moving from the Wadi Gharandal down towards the Feiran Oasis, crossing over to ‘Ain Hudera, then moving up to Ezion Geber.  Once they arrived there, the Israelites would then have moved on to their final stay at Kadesh-barnea and Mount Hor, during which time Miriam and Aaron died and were buried.  Thus, in our opinion, all the previous stations before Moseroth (Mount Hor) were in the area surrounding Kadesh-barnea, and those that followed Moseroth were the stations on the way south, then east over to the Gulf of Aqaba and up to Ezion Geber.

In 1914 C. L. Wooley and T. E. Lawrence (of Arabia) identified Kadesh-barnea with the site of Ain el Qudeirat, the richest spring in northern Negev.  It is about 12 miles north of Ain Qadeis, and several miles south of Beersheba.  With respect to its archaeology, Yohanan Aharoni says,

“Remains of a wave of settlement across the length and breadth of the Negeb have been discovered dating from the first stage of the Middle Bronze Age [MB1], sometimes referred to as the Patriarchal period….”  (God’s Wilderness, p. 123.)

As with Rothenberg, Aharoni believed that this was the period of the Amorites, and the remains at Kadesh-barnea represent the colonization of the Amorites.  From our point of view, the remains represent that of the Wandering generation of Israelites near the time of the Exodus.  The Kadesh-barnea region lacks anything after the MB1 period until the Iron Age period, the supposed period of the Judges in conventional chronology.  As Aharoni says: 

“Traces of the Israelites’ stay in Kadesh-barnea even in the thirteenth century b.c., [sic] before they entered Canaan, have yet to be found.”  (God’s Wilderness., p. 123.)

By this he means that no material from the end of the Late Bronze Age had been found, since that is when the Exodus is conventionally placed.  Not a trace of the Israelite presence, not even a little bit, was found — truly another nail in the coffin of any Late Bronze Age exodus theory.  Aharoni attempts to explain the lack of evidence by claiming that the Israelites were “semi-nomads” and would have been using wood or leather, something easily portable, and “they would pass on their way leaving little traces of their presence, since these materials cannot be found and recognized after such a lengthy span of time.”  (Ibid., p. 124.)  Since the MB1 people were also “semi-nomads,” why did they not also use such materials?  Why did they leave their pottery and building remains scattered throughout the Negev, while their mirror-image, the Israelites, left not a trace?  Like the MB1 people, if two million Israelites wandered in the Kadesh-barnea region for several years, it is likely they would have left some traces of their encampments, and in fact, it would not just be a likely thing, but would be a virtual certainty.

Someone may claim that the reason the Israelite presence cannot be found in the Negev and in Kadesh-barnea is that the Israelites were clean and picked up after themselves.  Presumably, this would mean that the MB1 people were slobs in comparison.  However, the argument is problematic in that everyday trash would have disintegrated over time, so its absence would not prove one thing or another.  The remains archaeologists are interested in, however, are permanent artifacts such as pottery sherds, tombs, or rocks used in architectural structures.  These are not the kinds of things that can be carried off, like human skeletal remains, or even trash.  If the Israelites lived in the Negev and in Kadesh-barnea for 40 years, we should expect to find plenty of these permanent artifacts.

Given the burial of Miriam at Kadesh-barnea, it is interesting that a large cemetery was found in the region.  It consisted of a walled enclosure with two large stone circles, and the pottery was from MB1, IA2, and the Roman and Byzantine periods.  According to Rothenberg:

“In this arid catalogue of remains, masonry, conjectural routes, the interest of this huge, enigmatic ancient cemetery stands out.  On this hill-top that stands at the intersection of two broad wadis covered with gleaming loess and low shrubs, with flints and pebbles, hundreds—perhaps thousands—of early Israelites have been ‘gathered to their fathers’; semi-nomads who died in the Negeb in the beginning of the Patriarchal period [i.e., MB1] and were brought to the Holy Mountain from afar off; wanderers of the Exodus who camped near the springs of Kadesh-barnea and to whom a sight of the Promised Land was never to be vouchsafed.”  (God’s Wilderness, p. 21.)

Rothenberg, of course, does not believe the MB1 remains are of the Israelites of the Wandering period.  He is willing, at most, to follow conventional views and link them to Abraham in some way.  In any case, as with the main site for Mount Hor, Kadesh-barnea also evidences the existence of a cemetery or burial ground during the MB1 phase, and this is consistent with the biblical description of the burials of Aaron and Miriam.

Other sites located within or near the Kadesh-barnea region are El Qusaima, Gebel Halal, Bir Hasana, and Gebel Maghara.  These are to the west or south-west of Kadesh-barnea, and all have MB1 pottery indicia.  The Giddi Pass and Ruweiset el Akheider (near the Parker Memorial) may also be considered close to the Kadesh-barnea region, though further south.  These also show evidence of settlement during the MB1 phase, though I think Ruweiset el Akheider may have been visited during the last phase of the Wandering.  (Cf., Beno Rothenberg, Sinai, pp. 120-21; 126.)

The lack of any archaeological material between the MB1 period and the Iron 2 period is a real problem for any who would locate the Exodus, Wandering, and Conquest within the archaeological span of MB2a through the Late Bronze Age into Iron Age 1.  Such material is not only lacking at Kadesh-barnea, but has not been found in the whole Negev region.  No satisfactory explanation of this phenomenon has been forthcoming from the various revisionist camps—if they even see the problem—and it is not likely there will be any in the near future.  As it stands of this date, only Classic and New Courville are compatible with the most important data of all—the archaeological evidence from the Holy Land.  Reconstructions of Egyptian or Mesopotamian chronology that ignore this tremendous problem are sterile, and can never produce a consistent or convincing account of the chronology of the ancient world.

 6.  How Shall We then Live?

In 1996, Mordechai Haiman published an essay entitled “Early Bronze Age IV Settlement Pattern of the Negev and Sinai Deserts: View from Small Marginal Temporary Sites,” (BASOR, 303, 1996, pp. 1-32.)  The purpose of the essay was to explain why there should have been such large-scale settlement during the EB4 [MB1] period (a thousand sites) when the environmental conditions were so difficult for human existence.  Of course, a reading of the Bible indicates that God was sustaining the Israelites throughout all of this period, which is why they could survive in such harsh desert conditions.  The conditions were so bad as almost to cry out for the miraculous.  Haiman describes the situation:

“This arid desert region has few water sources, and the average annual rainfall is…well below the minimum necessary for cultivation of grain.  Most of the area lacks suitable farming land, and the grazing potential only allows for small herds of sheep and goats, which cannot serve as a sole source of income.  Frequent drought and extreme fluctuation in the amount of rainfall from year to year make it impossible to plan agricultural activity in advance or to base the economy on exploitation of local resources.”  (BASOR, 303, p. 1.)

Haiman asks the question, “How was such extensive settlement possible in an impoverished desert?”  (Ibid., p. 2.)  He then reviews previous studies of  EB4 such as those of Glueck, Rothenberg, Dever, Cohen, and Oren & Yekutieli.  These researchers theorized that the MB1 culture was either from the north (Kurgan, Hebron Hills), or was from Egypt, or was even indigenous to the region.  Large settlements of the MB1 people have been found in northern Israel, and on both sides of the Jordan.  “Nevertheless,” says Haiman, “we still need to explain this large scale settlement in the desert.”  Further, “[T]here is a reasonable basis for doubt that the natural resources of the desert could accommodate the large number of settlements that emerged during EB IV.”  (Idem.) 

The point is also made that the MB1 people may not have had the intention to exploit all the resources in the area.  According to Haiman, “Not only was there extensive settlement in the arid desert region, but hundreds of sites were dispersed throughout the central Sinai in hyperarid niches and in the harshest areas imaginable while no sites were surveyed at all in the southern Sinai [Jebel Musa, etc.], which has abundant water sources.”  (Ibid., p. 3.)  So, Haiman theorizes that the settlements were not set up to exploit the natural resources (agriculture and pastoralism), but rather to exploit the copper trade, which is independent of desert resources.  For Haiman, the copper trade, “constituted the main component of the economy.”  (Idem.)  We disagree with this assessment.

Haiman distinguishes “permanent” settlements vis-à-vis what he calls “temporary” settlements.  The main difference between the former and the latter is not ethnic or tribal but quantitative.  In the Negev there are seven large settlements or “central settlements” located near water sources.  These quantitatively rich areas allowed year round occupation, and are described as “permanent” settlements.  Among the large settlements are three groups: the ’En Ziq Group, with sites having multiple acres, and  up to 200 round structures of one-room type; the Har Yeroham Group, 2.5 acres, with two strata of occupation; and the Nahal Nizzana Group, 2.5 acres, 80 courtyards, and 90 rooms.

The smaller sites are described as “temporary” and there are about a thousand of them.  Most are not near water sources, but have numerous animal pens.  Each site contained between 1 to 10 structures.  Haiman says, ““The distribution of the sites reflected the same strange phenomenon discovered in the Sinai.  Contrary to environmental logic, the number of sites increases in proportion to distance from water sources.”  (Ibid., p.5.)  In theory, these “temporary” sites are seasonal settlements: “In my opinion,” says Haiman, “these sites are satellites of permanent settlements, reflecting seasonal migration from the permanent settlements to peripheral areas specifically for farming and herding.”  (Ibid, p. 7.)

Further, according to Haiman, the two strata at Har Yeroham indicate that “even permanent settlements did not exist throughout the entire period.”  (Ibid., p. 15.)  The “permanent” settlements are found mainly in the areas northeast and northwest of Kadesh-barnea, i.e., in the Negev Highlands and Negev Lowlands.  (Ibid, pp. 4; 10.)  Haiman holds to the older view that the homogeneous MB1 culture came from the north, that it “spread from the Dead Sea to Egypt….”  (Ibid., p. 14.)  It is regarded as a “single cultural framework” and its origin was in Jordan.

From this point, Haiman reviews the question of subsistence.  With respect to pastoralism, he points out that there was simply not enough grazing capacity to sustain a large population in the Negev by way of animal husbandry:

“The limited potential for herding, scarcity of water sources, and shortage of manpower to care for the large herds in the Negev—the herds must be spread over vast areas—and particularly the lack of animal pens in permanent settlement, lead to the conclusion that during EB IV pastoralism could not have been the main economic component.”  (BASOR, 303., p. 18.)

Haiman also argues that agriculture was of little significance in the EB4 (MB1) culture.  This was in contrast to other periods, EB2, IA2, the Byzantine, and Early Islamic, where there was found large numbers of sickle blades and clear evidences of agricultural activity.  In addition, sickle blades from EB4 could be found in the northern region of the Holy Land, on both sides of the Jordan, but very few could be found in the Negev:

“[T]he scarcity of blades in the Negev settlements suggests that agriculture played a marginal role in that area.  Other finds such as grinding-stones, hammerstones, and saddle querns are indicative of food processing rather than cultivation of grain.”  (BASOR, 303., p. 18.) 

These are interesting points, for according to the Bible, the Israelites were sustained by divine manna, and God opened springs of water for Moses and the children of Israel.  From this perspective, a large pastoral or agricultural economy in the wilderness was not needed, and the food processing equipment noted above may have simply been needed to convert the manna into more mundane form.  In short, according to the Bible, there was no need for large flocks of animals, nor for farming or grain cultivation.

Nevertheless, Haiman does not consider any of this to be related God’s miraculous provision for the Israelites.  He is aware of Cohen’s “Mysterious Bronze Age” essay, wherein Cohen argued that the MB1 people were Israelites, or at least proto-Israelites.  Modern historians have simply ruled out in advance the possibility of supernatural intervention in human affairs.  Instead, Haiman puts forth the theory that the main avenue of subsistence for the MB1 people was the copper trade.

“The limited evidence of pastoralism and agriculture and the abundant indications of copper industry and trade suggest that the latter constituted a central element of the economy.”  (BASOR, 303, p. 20.)

In our opinion, Haiman has an uphill battle in proving this, for most archaeologists who have surveyed the Negev did not regard the copper industry as of any great importance.  Haiman himself admits: “The quantity of copper ingots found in the Negev may not be impressive enough to prove that they were the central element of the economy.”  (Ibid., p. 20.)  In mitigation of this, however, he claims that “families of craftsmen” would take the “expensive” ingots with them when they left the area.  He therefore does not think it “reasonable” to expect that many more ingots will be found in the Negev since the ones found were primarily from “hordes.”  This is a rather strange way of defending the case, explaining away in advance the lack of evidence.

Moreover, there are other possible explanations, as well.  If the MB1 people were the Israelites, as we hold, then a small-scale copper industry would most likely be used for making weapons, which the Israelites needed.  Furthermore, Moses had married into the Kenite clan, which was a metallurgical guild, and Haiman even says swords were found among the ingots.  (Idem.  More than likely, the swords were left behind because they were defective.)

Haiman does proffer what he thinks is evidence for the “commercial transport of ingots.”  (Ibid., p. 21.)  First, the settlement plan at such sites as Be’er Resisim or at sites of the ’En Ziq group, reveal a “strange phenomenon” of one-room structures rather than family dwellings.  These one-room structures are taken as “primitive inns” for “copper traders traveling to Egypt.”  (Ibid., p. 22.)  This was housing for “representatives” of families engaged in the copper trade.  However, the settlement patterns at sites of another group, the Har Yeroham group, reflect “regular family dwelling structures” and would seem to contradict Haiman’s view that single-room structures are necessarily correlated to a copper trade.  Not to worry, however, for Haiman restricts the Har Yeroham group to an “earlier period of copper transport to Egypt….”  (Idem.)  Thus, aside from the Har Yeroham settlement patterns, the housing patterns at other sites show, in Haiman’s view, a large scale copper trade that required “mass delivery and more rapid transportation” than had been used in the “earlier” period of copper transport.

For Haiman, the primary mode of subsistence for the MB1 people cannot be based on the environment, which is too harsh for pastoralism or agriculture, but must be based on something external to the region, such as government interest.  (Ibid., p. 23.)  The government that Haiman selects is Egypt.  It was the existence of international trade with Egypt that made it profitable to settle in the Negev.  This would seem to be problematic, however, since the MB1 people correspond to the First Intermediate Period in Egypt, where there is little, if any, evidence of Egyptian contact with the Negev.  However, Haiman argues that, “there is no reason to assume that Egypt would not have continued to consume copper only because the kingdom had dissolved into small political entities….”  (Idem.)  He does admit, however, that “[n]o relevant finds have been discovered in Egypt.”  (Ibid., p. 24.)  But this does not dissuade him, for “the only reasonable destination for the ingots found in the Negev was Egypt.”  (Idem.)

One gets the uneasy feeling from reading Haiman’s article that he all too often attempts to prove his theory by appealing to aspects of his own theory as evidence.  When the facts on the ground contradict his theory, he divides the facts into earlier and later periods, as with the “representative” theory of copper trade.  When the lack of evidence in Egypt for any trade with the MB1 people is admitted, an appeal is made to a negative, i.e., there is no reason to assume that Egypt would not have continued to consume copper during the First Intermediate Period.  When no MB1 presence is found in Egypt [aside from the Gulf of Suez indicia], Egypt is regarded as the only reasonable destination for the ingots from the Negev.

Apparently, Haiman’s case for a commercial copper industry as the main mode of subsistence for the MB1 people in the Negev is merely the absence of any large pastoral or agricultural economy in the Negev.  Since Haiman thinks the only other alternative is a copper industry as the mode of subsistence, it wins by default.  Nevertheless, Haiman spends much of his article trying to explain away the absence of evidence for his theory rather than providing positive support for it.  According to Amihai Mazar:  “[T]he EB IV/MB I sites do not appear to have been related to any outside economic system.”  (Archaeology of the Land of the Bible, 1990, p. 157.)  Haiman’s lack of success in providing such evidence for an external economic system is sufficient proof of Mazar’s point.

The evidence does not provide scientific confirmation of  the miraculous provisions of meat, bread, clothing and water for the Israelites (cf., Exodus 16:8; 17:6, Josh. 5:12, etc.).  Nevertheless, the lack of any large pastoral, agricultural, or commercial modes of subsistence in the Negev is at least what one would expect to be the case if the Exodus and period of Wandering took place as the Bible describes them. 

7.  A New Generation is Prepared

 When the last of the disobedient generation died out, the new generation was now ready to obey and conquer.  For 38 years of wandering, Moses provided leadership and instruction for the people, but now the time had come for Moses to stay behind in death with the first generation, while Joshua would lead the new generation in his place.

Thus began the final journey, this time through the Transjordan.  Moses initially sent out a message to the king of Edom for permission to pass through his country, but was refused.  The king of Edom even came out in force on the border of Edom near Kadesh, where the Israelites were living (cf., Num. 20:16).  On modern maps, Edom is often shown as southeast of the Dead Sea, but at the time of the Exodus, the land of Edom went farther west, almost to the Kadesh-barnea region.  Thus, when the Israelites were required to go around Edom, they could not just cut straight east from Mount Hor to the Dead Sea.  They had to go down to the Gulf of Aqaba to skirt the western territory of Edom.

After the death of Aaron, the king of Arad attacked and captured some of the Israelites, but the Israelites fought back and destroyed the cities of the Canaanites (Num. 21:1-3).  It is possible that the Arad destroyed by Moses was the EB2 site of “Arad” (called that by contemporary archaeologists).  This could only be true if the EB2 sites in southern Palestine carried on into the time represented by EB3.  Some scholars have argued this very point, that EB2 sites in the south were contemporary with EB3 sites in the north.  The lack of archaeological correlation between the two regions may simply be due to the absence of Khirbet Kerak ware in the south that is characteristic of EB3 sites in the north.  In Rudolph Cohen’s view, “the Khirbet Kerak pottery simply never penetrated into the south….”  (“The Mysterious MB1 People,” available online at Biblical Archaeology Society Website.)  Paul Lapp also questions the chronological significance of Khirbet Kerak ware for some sites in Palestine.  (Cf., “Palestine in the Early Bronze Age,” in J. A. Sanders, ed., Near Eastern Archaeology in the Twentieth Century, pp. 128, ftn. 88.)  It is hard to evaluate these suggestions, but in our judgment it at least shows the need for a more reliable indicator of the EB3 period than the possibly ethnic Khirbet Kerak ware.

From Mount Hor the Israelites journeyed down to the Gulf of Aqaba (the Way of the Red Sea), but they repeated the sin of their fathers—implying that they would be better off in Egypt—and many were bitten by poisonous serpents and perished (Num. 21:6).  Nevertheless, once the Israelites arrived at the Red Sea, they made their way north through the Transjordan, to Oboth, then Ije Abarim, “east of Moab” (Num. 21:11), then, according to the Transjordan List, camped in the Valley of Zered.  From there they journeyed into the land of the Amorites, which was above the Arnon, then to Beer, then Mattanah, Nahaliel and Bamoth, then to Pisgah (Num. 21:20).

Above the Arnon, the Israelites encountered the Amorite Kings, Sihon and Og, who would not allow them to pass, despite a plea for peace (Num. 21:22).  The Amorite List mentions some of the cities captured by the Israelites as Aroer, Jahaz, Heshbon, Dibon, Nophah, Medeba, Jazer, Edrei (Num. 21:23-35; Deut. 2:36).

When the Israelites made camp across from Jericho, the Moabite King Balak sent for Balaam, the Mesopotamian soothsayer, to come and curse the Israelites (Num. 22:5-6).  Balaam, however, was forced to bless Israel instead.  Despite this, Israel quickly turned out of the way, and at Baal Peor joined themselves with the women of Moab and sacrificed to their gods (Num. 25).  Perhaps Balaam, seeing a way to hitch Moab to Israel’s future blessings, persuaded the women of Moab to seduce the men of Israel (Num. 31:16).  However, the scheme failed, for a plague from the Lord killed twenty-four thousand Israelites, in addition to those who were executed for their idolatry.

After this, Moses was commanded to recruit men from Israel to war against the Midianites.  During this war, Balaam was killed in the conflict, along with the five kings of Midian (Num. 31:8).  The treachery of the women of Midian, following the counsel of Balaam, led to the execution of the married women, as well as the male children (Num. 31:16).  The victory over the Midianite warriors strengthened the morale of the Israelite fighting men, who would soon be at war with the Canaanites on the west side of the Jordan.  At the same time, the death of the Midianite women and male children was a harsh lesson for the Israelites.  Here they learned of the terrible consequences that ensued from the sins of idolatry and the worship of heathen gods.

8.  Occupying the Transjordan

In his chapter on the Transjordan, Donovan Courville points out that the Israelites were not allowed to occupy the country of the Edomites since they were sons of Esau, the brother of Jacob.  (Exodus Problem, 2:251.)  Nor were the Israelites permitted to occupy the country of the Moabites and Ammonites since these were the descendents of Lot.  (Ibid., p. 252.)  Farther north in the Transjordan, the Amorites had displaced some of the territory of the Moabites, but they were defeated by the Israelites prior to the crossing of the Jordan.  (Ibid., p. 253.)

Unfortunately, much of the archaeology of the Transjordan, at least during the 1970’s, had been done by way of surface examination.  (Ibid., p. 254.)  Courville, summarizing the results of Nelson Glueck’s  rather cursory survey, says:

“[T]here had been two, and only two, eras of sedentary occupation of Transjordan in historical times.  The first of these was the Early Bronze civilization, assumed by Glueck to have ended with the end of the Early Bronze Age west of Jordan.  The second began with the beginning of the Iron Age.  It was presumed that between these two, a gap in sedentary occupation encompassed the entire periods of Middle and Late Bronze Age.”  (Courville, Exodus Problem, 2:254; cf., Glueck, The Other Side of Jordan, 1940.)   

During the Early Bronze Age, the pottery in use was the same for both the west side and the east side of the Jordan River.  Courville takes this to fit the scriptural data that the Amorites were in control of both sides of the Jordan.  (EP, 2:255.)  We agree that the sameness of pottery shows a cultural unity during the Early Bronze Age, and the Canaanites dwelt on both sides of the Jordan.

We should pause to note that Courville thinks the MB1 pottery represents a post-Conquest strata:

“Middle Bronze I, by the altered interpretation, represents the culture of the Israelites after the Conquest, when they had opportunity to settle down in their new inheritance and utilize their inherent abilities.”  (Exodus Problem, 2:264; emphasis added.)

We disagree and think that Courville has confused, in this instance at least, Albright’s MB1 with Kenyon’s MB1.  In Exodus Problem 2:264, Courville refers to MB1 as representing the Israelites’ settling down and utilizing their inherent abilities.  In Exodus Problem 1:91, he ascribes this settling down period to the end of Kenyon’s Intermediate EB-MB phase (i.e., at the start of her MB1 phase).  Nevertheless, Kenyon’s MB1 is really Albright’s MB2a, and her Intermediate EB-MB is really Albright’s MB1.  Thus, Courville seems to have taken Kenyon’s MB1 as commencing at the same time as Albright’s MB1, and took the latter as referring to Kenyon’s MB1 “settling down” period.  This cannot be right, however, inasmuch as the two archaeologists were using different terminology, i.e., Kenyon’s MB1 is not the same as Albright’s MB1.  This may be why Courville did not recognize Albright’s MB1 indicia in the Negev as evidence of the Exodus and Wandering phase of Israel’s history.  Contrary to Courville, however, the Negev material is unlikely to represent the post-Conquest phase, given that it can be found along the east side of the Gulf of Suez as well as on the west side in Egypt proper (both areas being outside of Israel’s post-Conquest territory).  The MB1 distribution in the Negev, however, fits very well with the Exodus and Wandering phases of Israel’s history.  (See sections 12 & 13 below for more discussion of the terminological difficulties for this phase of Holy Land archaeology.)

Courville thinks that because the Israelites did not occupy the territories of Edom and Moab at the time of the Conquest, the Early Bronze 3 period continued on in these areas without interruption “at least to the time of David and possibly even later.”  (EP, 2:264-65.)  While we agree that there was some EB3 continuity in the south of Transjordan for the reasons given by Courville, it is unlikely to have lasted all the way down to David’s day.  The only “gap” that should show up in southern Transjordan would only be with respect to one culture, namely the MB1 culture (if the MB1 people were the Israelites).  There is no reason that the archaeological phases of MB2a through the end of the Late Bronze Age would not show up in both the north and the south of Transjordan.

The problem, as most archaeologists now realize, is with surface surveys.  They can be deceptive.  Ram Gophna, writing in 1992, points out that since Glueck’s time (1947), intensive surveys of northern Transjordan have shown that “the extent of settlement in the Transjordanian plateau was no smaller than that of the hill regions west of the Jordan.”  (“The Intermediate Bronze Age,” in Amnon Ben-Tor, ed., The Archaeology of Ancient Israel, 1992, p. 137.)  Material from MB1 (i.e., Intermediate Bronze) has been found in Gilead, at Amman, and at Khirbet Iskander, Aroer, and Ader.  With the exception of Ader, these sites are north of the Arnon River, though unfortunately, archaeologists have neglected much of this region.

Gophna notes that the Intermediate Bronze Age (i.e. Albright’s MB1) pottery in the west and in north Transjordan is different from the pottery in the south of Transjordan.  The western and northern complex is:

“one cultural-geographical unit, differing from southern Transjordan.  The latter region may be viewed, in light of the newest evidence, as a geographical unit with a different settlement history.”  (Archaeology of Ancient Israel, p. 137; hereafter AOAI.)

He goes on, highlighting the differences between the regions:

“The three sites of the late third millennium [sic] excavated in southern Transjordan reveal a different picture from that of the Jordan valley and westward, in the Land of Israel.”  (AOAI, p. 138.)

In Gophna’s opinion, while western Israel and northern Transjordan show a clear discontinuity with the EB3 civilization, the same is not true of the southern Transjordan region, which showed a different settlement history, which revealed a different picture, and was not interrupted as it was in the north and west:

“[T]he material culture sequence of the late third millennium [sic] was not interrupted, as appears to be the case in the southern Transjordanian plateau.”  (AOAI, p. 138.)

According to the Bible, northern Transjordan was occupied by the Israelites, but they did not occupy the territory of southern Transjordan, the home of Edom and Moab.  Thus we have a clear match between the MB1 distribution and the Israelite settlement pattern.  If the Israelites skirted the southern Transjordan, then the southern Transjordan would not have experienced the MB1 conquest.  Hence, the archaeology of southern Transjordan should show continuity with the earlier EB3 period, and show a different settlement history.  This is exactly what the archaeology shows, as noted by Gophna.  The southern Transjordan was not interrupted, but northern Transjordan and western Canaan were disrupted considerably.

Courville restricts the occupation of northern Transjordan to the post-Conquest phase.  (EP, 2:265.)  However, the Bible makes it clear that the Israelites conquered the northern territories of the Amorites before crossing the Jordan.  In addition, this Conquest prepared the way for some of the tribes to settle down in the northern Transjordan.  It is in Numbers 32 that we read of Moses’ grant to Reuben, Gad, and East Manasseh of permission to build cities and fortifications in the northern Transjordan region.  This was done by the Transjordan tribes in order to protect their families and livestock. As a condition of this grant, the men promised Moses they would not settle down in their cities until all the other tribes had obtained their lands.

Moses said: “Build cities for your little ones and folds for your sheep, and do what has proceeded out of your mouth.”  (Num. 32:24.)  Gad and Reuben responded: “Your servants will do as my lord commands.  Our little ones, our wives, our flocks, and all our livestock will be there in the cities of Gilead; but your servants will cross over, every man armed for war, before the Lord to battle, just as my lord says.”  (Num. 32:25-27.)

In the above, Moses is commanding the Transjordan tribes commence the building of cities to protect their children and the livestock.  Presumably, the cities were really villages, not large fortified tell-cities, but it is reasonable to assume that the cities had strong enough walls to provide some protection from invasion.  In any case the women could keep watch for hostile forces and could send for the warriors if need be.  Numbers 32:34 describes the building activity of the tribes in the Transjordan prior to the conquest of Canaan:  “And the children of Gad built Dibon and Ataroth and Aroer…”, etc., (cf. Deut. 3:12, 19).  The cities built or rebuilt were as follows:

Gad Reuben East Manasseh
Dibon Heshbon Gilead
Ataroth Elealeh Havoth Jair (later)
Aroer Kirjathaim Nobah (Kenath)
Atroth Nebo  
Shophan Baal meon  
Jazer Shibmah  
Beth Nimrah    
Beth Haran    


In addition, Joshua 13:13 says that the tribes of Reuben and Gad did not drive out all the Canaanites: “Nevertheless, the children of Israel did not drive out the Geshurites or the Maachathites, but the Geshurites and the Maachathites dwell among the Israelites until this day.”  These verses may help explain some of the confusion regarding the terminology of the Middle Bronze 1 period.  Archaeologists use different classifications for essentially the same period.  The most widely accepted classification systems are those provided by W. F. Albright and Kathleen Kenyon; — i.e., one either uses Albright’s terminology or one uses Kenyon’s terminology, and a reminder is usually given to the reader regarding which one is being used.  To make matters worse, some archaeologists even prefer using the terms Middle Bronze I, II, and III for Albright’s MB2a, MB2b, and MB2c.  Others even want MB2b and MB2c to be one MB2b (divided into a first and second part).  Hence, the complaint among archaeologists about terminological chaos for this period.  (Cf., A. Mazar, Archaeology of the Land of the Bible, 1990, p. 152; see sections 12 & 13 below for more discussion).

Why does Kenyon adopt the terminology of Intermediate EB-MB, and MB1 for the period after?  An answer is provided by John Van Seters:

“While the picture of MB I as a rather seminomadic interlude between two periods of highly developed urban life is true of Palestine west of the Jordan, it is not at all the case in Transjordan.  The difference between the two regions is, in fact, so striking that it has caused a great deal of confusion in the treatment of MB I.  During MB I in Transjordan there was a very significant sedentary civilization.”  (The Hyksos, 1966, pp. 11-12.)

Van Seters also cites Nelson Glueck’s description of the MB1 sites in Transjordan:

“Most of the sites are large, strongly walled, and frequently built on an eminence easy of defense….The dwellers of the land were industrious tillers of the soil, who built strong walled villages in which they lived and used much excellent, if on the whole somewhat coarse, hand-made pottery.”  (Glueck, Explorations in Eastern Palestine, Part 3, AASOR, 18-19, 1937-39, p. 83; in Van Seters, The Hyksos, p. 12.)

The Transjordanian MB1 pottery is mixed with pottery from the Early Bronze Age, leading Van Seters to deny that there was an invasion of the Transjordan like that which occurred in Palestine west of the Jordan:

“The coming of the MB1 people into Transjordan does not, as in Palestine, represent an invasion and sudden destruction of the previous EB III civilization.  It is instead an immigration and settling, for the most part, on previously uninhabited sites.  The rise of a new sedentary population began when the Early Bronze tradition of ceramics was still strong.  The first phase of the new immigration [sic] is often known as EB IV….The mixture of ceramic styles of EB IV and MB I cannot be easily distinguished stratigraphically in Transjordan, and therefore Glueck’s designation EB IV-MB I for the whole period in Transjordan is a good one.”  (The Hyksos, p. 13.)

Van Seters does not say whether he is talking about northern Transjordan or southern Transjordan, nor does he provide a map to show the locations of those cities he is talking about in the Transjordan.  He lists Iskander, which is in the north, but he continues to trace cities down past the Wadi Arabah, then over to the Negev and on to the “borders of Egypt.”  (Ibid., p. 12.)  He is really illustrating his theory that a commercial system was operative at this time going from the Transjordan over to the Negev and then to the border of Egypt.  Unfortunately, his book was written in 1966 and only had Glueck’s material on which to base such judgments.  Ram Gophna has shown, however, that the northern region of the Transjordan had a different settlement history from southern Transjordan (see above).

Our view is that the new “immigrant” EB4 pottery does not represent a significant time period.  It may be a poor version of EB3 pottery, perhaps a refugee pottery.  “It appears,” says Mazar, “that this part of Transjordan became a refuge for population groups escaping from extermination which occurred at large parts of the country at the end of EB III.”  (Amihai Mazar, Archaeology of the Land of the Bible, p. 158.)

It may be a refugee pottery, perhaps even the pottery of such groups as the Geshurites or Maachathites, tribes that Israel was not able to drive out.  The reason that we find MB1 fortifications in Transjordan is, as we discussed above, that the tribes of Reuben and Gad built their towns and fortifications prior to the Conquest under Joshua.  They were thus still using MB1 pottery when they were building their cities.  By the time the Conquest was complete, the Israelites put aside their rustic MB1 pottery and began to purchase and even make a higher quality of pottery, namely the MB2a pottery.  This pottery signifies the beginning of urbanism in Palestine after the destruction of the towns at the end of the EB3 period.  (We will later see that MB1 pottery and MB2a pottery have sometimes been found together, indicating an overlap between the two pottery styles.)

Thus, the confusion of terminology exhibited above may simply be due to archaeologists’ failure to understand the data at their disposal, a failure brought about by their reliance on conventional chronology.

On the whole there is a good match between the MB1 people and the Israelites, not only with respect to the Negev, but also with respect to the history of both southern and northern Transjordan   Southern Transjordan represents a different archaeological history from northern Transjordan and Canaan, and this can be explained by the biblical injunctions that the territory of Edom and Moab could not be occupied by the Israelites.  Additionally, the Transjordan tribes built their cities and homes before crossing the Jordan to help their brothers win the land of Canaan.  We find that the MB1 pottery in northern Transjordan represents a “significant sedentary civilization,” and that its users “built strong walled villages.”  (Van Seters, The Hyksos, p. 12.)  Because this was a pre-Conquest effort, the pottery in use was still MB1.

After the Conquest, the Israelites left off making MB1 pottery and began to purchase, or to learn, a different pottery style, i.e., the MB2a pottery.  This would explain town life in northern Transjordan but the lack of MB1 town life in Canaan: “This lack of monumental architecture and planned urban life is characteristic of MB I throughout Palestine.”  (The Hyksos, p. 10.)  At first the Israelites lived, for the most part, in already built Canaanite cities, but by the time they began building their own cities, or at least new buildings, they were probably already using the new MB2a pottery.  The MB1 pottery was therefore too short of a time period for Palestine, though the earlier building phase in northern Transjordan was still coincident with its use.  Once the Israelites were no longer wanderers, they could turn their attention to cultural enrichment.

9.  Notes on the Theology of Wandering & Conquest

a.  The last year of Wandering is described in the Book of Deuteronomy.  Here we have Moses addressing the people, reminding them of their history, encouraging them to conquer the Promised Land, and to remain faithful to their guiding theology.  This theology was summarized in Deuteronomy 6:4:  “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one!”  The unity of God means the world is not controlled by the whims of gods or goddesses, nor by inscrutable fate.  The universality of God’s control of creation is expressed in the Shema, that there are no competitors to the Lord.  This metaphysical fact is the basis for the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Ex. 20:3).  In the Bible, ethics rests on ontology rather than on the caprice of men, nations, or gods.  This objectivity is the basis of the natural law concept in Western culture, that there is a transcendent law—the law of God or law of nature—that cannot  be dismissed as local custom, positive or circumstantial law, or as man-made, subjective ethics.  (For a brief but good discussion of the natural law concept, see Russell Kirk, The Roots of American Order, 1974, 2003, pp. 106ff.)

b.  The Shema cannot at the time of the Exodus be interpreted to teach the Christian doctrine of the Trinity (which according to Christian theology was not fully revealed this early).  By the same token, however, it cannot be interpreted to teach unitarian or nominalistic conceptions of God, nor the Quranic deism of Islam.  The emphasis at this time in the Old Testament is not on theological definition but on action, on loyalty to the covenant, on obedience to the law of God.  Hence, the constant warnings about idolatry and Israel’s rebelliousness.

c.  Much attention has been drawn to the harshness of the Conquest.  Here we have Israelites killing women and children who had been taken as captives.  Is this ever right?  Does not this harshness and cruelty reflect upon the religion of Israel, upon the God of Israel?

We cannot mitigate the harshness of Israelite warfare by saying it was only restricted to the land of Canaan.  That is true enough, but critics want to known why it was permitted even in the land of Canaan.  Isn’t the killing of captives, especially of women and children, always wrong?  Surely, we would not find such practices acceptable today.  So has morality changed between the time of Moses and our time?

When this issue of the harshness of the Conquest is brought up, the question of moral equivalency must also be discussed.  Those who point to the cruelty of God, or of the Israelites, are essentially saying that all actions are equivalent on the moral plane.  This is a view that needs to be justified.

The harshness of holy war during the Conquest cannot be explained without taking into account the redemptive-historical nature of Israel.  Israel was a unique nation, one that cannot be placed on an equivalent plane with the nations of the world.  Israel was a priestly nation.  In Christian theology, it had as its primary purpose the foreshadowing of the work of Christ, and was therefore required to be a holy nation, free from the blemish of idolatry.  Harsh punishment and cruel warfare were the means of preserving the holiness of Israel vis-à-vis the syncretism and commonality of idolatry.

No other nation, either in the ancient world or today, can claim to be a priestly nation, to have a unique covenant with God after the manner of the Mosaic covenant.  Holy warfare is therefore a thing of the past (as are imprecatory psalms).  Holy warfare was allowable only at one time and for one nation, and that nation is now gone forever (as a unique covenantal nation).  During the Conquest, Israel was acting as God’s agent of holiness, and Israel’s killing of its foes was no harsher than God’s similar punishment of sinners during the Flood, at the time of the plagues upon Egypt, and so on.

Perhaps it seems harsher because there is a human agent involved.  That tends to be unsettling, for would this not provide a rationale for others to seek to enforce God’s will upon others by violence?  Would it not be a recipe for cruelty in war?

Of course, when it comes to discussing fallen man, and his capability for cruelty and oppression, such questions are not silly, even if one does not go to Hobbesian extremes in describing the fallen state.  Nevertheless, the redemptive-historical nature of Israel prevents any deduction from Israel’s mode of holy warfare to any modern model of total warfare (including jihad).  There can no longer be any justification for harshness in war.  Any state, any religion, or any cause that claims holy war as a proper method of fighting, or of propagating a message, is claiming a unique moral status.  For Christians, however, such unique moral status was meant only for ancient Israel, and for no other nation, whether in the ancient world or in our own world of today.

Israel’s laws and forms of warfare cannot be explained in terms of setting up Israel as an ideal nation that all nations past and present must emulate, as if a modern polity could adopt Israel’s covenant and its laws, and thereby share in Israel’s unique moral status.  As soon as one attempts to do this one is immediately confronted by the problem of holy war.  Nevertheless, it is only by recognizing Israel’s redemptive-historical role that holy war can be fairly explained and also seen as forever discontinued.

10.  The Tribes of Israel

According to the Bible, Israel consisted of twelve tribes.  These were:

1.  Reuben

2.  Simeon (incorporated into Judah)

3.  Levi (inherited the priesthood)

4.  Judah

5.  Issachar

6.  Zebulun

7.  Benjamin

8.  Dan

9.  Naphtali

10.  Gad

11.  Asher

12.  Joseph (Ephraim, received land on west side of Jordan; and Manasseh, divided land east and west of Jordan).

Ephraim and Manasseh were sons of Joseph, and are often described as the Joseph tribes.  They are sub-tribes of the tribe of Joseph, and the total tribes and sub-tribes would then be thirteen different cultural groups.  Given that the Israelites entered into northern Transjordan and Canaan as one nation divided into diverse tribes, we should expect to see such unity and diversity revealed in the archaeological record.  In addition, each tribe settled into a distinct geographic region, so we should expect to see signs of geographic regionalism.  The latter has been amply documented by William Dever for the Middle Bronze 1 people (his EB4):

“Together with the pastoral-nomadic model, I suggested that the material culture of Palestine in EB IV, particularly the pottery, could best be understood in terms of several differing regional assemblages, or geographico-cultural ‘Families’.”  (T. E. Levy, ed., The Archaeology of Society in the Holy Land, 1995, p. 289.)

The archaeology of this period shows a great discontinuity between MB1 and the previous EB3 and later MB2a civilizations.  Kathleen Kenyon describes the end of the Early Bronze Age in terms of this discontinuity:

“At the end of the Early Bronze Age there was a complete and absolute break in Palestinian civilization.  The town dwellers of the earlier period were succeeded by semi-nomadic pastoralists who had no interest in walled towns.  They seem to have destroyed the towns of their predecessors, and with the exception of Megiddo, which is a special case, their contribution to the history of towns is negligible [sic].”  (Kenyon, “Archaeological Evidence From Palestine,” Cambridge Ancient History, 1:2, 1971, p. 567.)

She goes on to point out that the Intermediate EB-MB (i.e., Albright’s MB1) archaeology is just as distinct from the Middle Bronze Age as it is from the Early Bronze Age.  That is why she left Albright’s terminology aside, and instead adopted and abbreviated J. H. Iliffe’s terminology of “Intermediate Early Bronze-Middle Bronze” (or simpler “Intermediate E.B.-M.B”).  Iliffe had been responsible for the arrangement of exhibits at the Palestine Archaeological Museum, and Kenyon felt his terminology served to call attention to the great difference of the Intermediate pottery from that which was under it and that which was above it.  There was also a difference in weaponry.  Kenyon points out that the Intermediate people were unique in their use of weapons:

“Metal weapons are rare in the Early Bronze Age, and not very common in the Middle Bronze Age.  In the E.B.-M.B. period they are very common….”  (CAH, 1:2, p. 568.)

This is provided with a ready explanation if the Intermediate period were the Israelites.  Under Joshua, the tribes of Israel were warriors and had the services of the Kenites, famed for their metalurgical skills.  So it is not surprising that the Israelites would be buried with their weapons, used in the Conquest of northern Transjordan and Canaan.

In the same volume of the Cambridge Ancient History, Kenyon goes on to describe various sites in Palestine in order to provide more evidence of the differentiation between the Early Bronze and the Middle Bronze periods.  We have already written about Jericho, but Kenyon mentions something that may be of further interest about Jericho.  Archaeologists in the 1952-58 expedition uncovered some EB3 houses on the east side of the tell that had not been destroyed:

“[I]n squares E III-IV the ruins of the Early Bronze Age houses showed no sign of destruction or disturbance in the E.B.-M.B. period, but no overlying Middle Bronze levels survived here.”   (“Palestine: The Sites,” CAH, 1:2, 1971, p. 569.)

Could these Early Bronze houses be the dwelling place of Rahab, the famous spy?  According to the Bible: “Now the city shall be doomed by the Lord to destruction, it and all who are in it.  Only Rahab the harlot shall live, she and all who are with her in the house, because she hid the messengers that we sent.”  (Josh. 6:17).  Of course, the Bible does not say that the house would be spared no matter what, only that Rahab and her family would be spared while they remained in the house (as long as they placed the scarlet cord in the window).

In addition, Rahab’s house is mentioned as being “on the city wall” (Josh. 2:15), so if the Israelites destroyed the walls of Jericho after the battle, it is not clear how Rahab’s house could have escaped destruction by fire.  Still, it is tempting to identify these EB3 houses on the east of the tell as the area where Rahab and her family lived, and it might provide a good explanation as to why these EB3 structures were not destroyed. 

The Intermediate people did not build a town or walls at Jericho.  Kenyon says, “The non-urban character of the occupation is emphasized by the absence of town walls.  Jericho was a nucleus of population rather than an urban centre.”  These non-urban occupiers only set up structures on the slopes of Jericho, and on nearby hills.  “Indeed,” says Kenyon, “it would appear that part of the town site was unoccupied, while on the other hand there were dwellings on the surrounding hill slopes [of Jericho].”  Moreover, “The evidence for contemporary occupation beyond the limits of the tell comes from the hill slopes to the north and north-west, which was one of the main cemetery areas.”  (CAH, 1:2, p. 569-70.)  This is consistent with the Biblical narrative.  The Israelites were forbidden to build the city of Jericho again, at the cost of a terrible curse, so they set up their temporary structures (tents, shacks) on the slopes of Jericho and on the surrounding hills, just as the Intermediate people did.

In terms of the biblical narrative, Rahab and her family were spared, and they lived among the Israelites after the battle.  Once Rahab was rescued from the city, Jericho was burned with fire (Josh. 6:24).  Kenyon says,

“The evidence from the tell thus suggests a destruction of the pre-existing Early Bronze Age town, followed by a camping period in which there were no solid structures on the site; subsequently there were buildings, slight in character and entirely different from the buildings of the Early Bronze Age.  The evidence from the tombs suggests that there was a numerous and virile population, of which the burial practices were entirely different from those of the Early Bronze Age occupation of Jericho.”  (Cambridge Ancient History, 1:2, p. 570.)

Kenyon then discusses the burial practices of the Intermediate people.  Excavations at Jericho revealed at least seven tomb types:  “In the E.B.-M.B. burials,” says Kenyon, “the emphasis is on individual tombs, but the Jericho finds show that there was a variety in the method of tomb excavation and burial that is significant for the interpretation of the evidence.  Seven types of tomb could be identified, all of them consisting of rock-cut chambers approached by a vertical shaft.” (CAH, 1:2, p. 570.)  The types of burial practices are categorized as:

Tomb Description
1.  Dagger type individual burial of complete skeleton; dagger, pins, and beads.
2.  Pottery type individual burial; disarticulated skeleton; pottery jars, lamp.
3.  Square-shaft tomb-shaft was square, not round; pots, weapons, javelin with curled tang.
4.  Bead type disarticulated skeletons; beads.
5.  Outsize type large shaft and chamber; pottery vessels, spouted jars, staves.
6.  Composite type mixture of tomb styles and grave goods of all the preceding types.
7.  Multiple-burial type a single tomb with three burials; weapons, vessels related to types found in southern Palestine.


From these Kenyon concludes: “The features shared in common by these tombs and their contents leave no room for doubt that they belong to the same general period—the practice of individual burial, the overlap in pottery types and the similarities in pot-making techniques even when the forms varied, the similarities in weapon-types….They are distinguished from the tombs of the Early Bronze Age not only by complete difference in burial practices but also by the evidence of an absolute environmental break.”   (CAH, 1:2, p. 574.)

The important thing to note in the above is that there were seven distinguishable tomb types.  This means that there were either families, clans, or tribes that were distinct enough in their burial practices that at least seven could be distinguished.  As noted above, the Israelites consisted of twelve tribes (thirteen if Joseph’s tribe is subdivided).  Seven distinct burial customs among the Intermediate people is a pretty good match with the biblical narrative about the number of tribes who entered the land of Canaan.  Kenyon comments:

“The very clear evidence of the Jericho tombs is therefore of the presence in the neighbourhood of a number of loosely connected groups.  The newcomers were tribal groups, joining in a general movement, a movement that resulted in the submergence of the pre-existing civilizations, but one which did not impose a truly unified culture on the occupied area, except in the general sense that it was one that was semi-nomadic and pastoral rather than urban and agricultural.”  (CAH, 1:2, p. 575; emphasis added.)

New Courville, of course, views the Intermediate people as the Israelites.  Since the Conquest only lasted about six years, and since the Israelites probably upgraded with respect to pottery very soon after the Conquest, we need not follow Kenyon’s view that the Intermediate people were non-urban and non-agriculturalist.  Additionally, if the Intermediate people are the Israelites, then their semi-nomadic phase only lasted forty or so years in the Negev, on only six or so years in the land of Canaan.  Once the Israelites had finished the Conquest, they did not build many cities for themselves in Canaan proper, but occupied the tell cities, or practiced farming and agriculture within the boundaries of their inheritance.  Only in this sense, that the Israelites settled into distinct geographic regions as separate tribal entities, would it be true to say that there was no truly unified culture.  There would in fact be both unity and diversity in Israel’s cultural makeup, both a national and a local aspect to Israelite culture.   Kenyon says, regarding the unity and diversity of the Intermediate people:

“By far the greatest amount of evidence comes from tombs, which attest the existence of a numerous population.  The people which buried its dead in the tombs had little interest in the town sites of the preceding era [sic], either ignoring them or occupying them incompletely, with a spread out over the surrounding countryside, and in no case building town walls.  Between the people living at these three places [Duweir, ‘Ajjul, Beit Mirsim] there was, on the pottery evidence, a close connexion, but not identity.  The two cemeteries at ‘Ajjul could well indicate tribal groups; the less pronounced differences at the other two sites may suggest some amalgamation and interconnexions after groups had settled down.”  (CAH,1:2, pp. 577-78; emphasis added.)

We reiterate, however, that the “spread” over the countryside could just as easily indicate a short period of time while the Israelite tribes were fighting in other parts of the land.  On the New Courville theory, the Intermediate period does not need to represent an archaeological period lasting a couple hundred years.  Thus, the reason the Intermediate people did not build towns is that they were fighting rather than building.  They only built towns later, and only after occupying the remaining cities in the land.

Can any more burial practices be discerned?  The answer is yes.  In fact there are two more tomb groups, making a total of nine distinguishable funerary types.  Kenyon points out that at Tell el-‘Ajjul, Petrie found two separate cemeteries, the 100-200 and the 1500 cemeteries.  The tombs in these cemeteries contained only single burials, with 100-200 having a majority as disarticulated skeletons, and round shaft tombs.  In cemetery 1500 intact crouched bodies were interred, and the shafts of the tombs were rectangular.  There were also differences in pottery and weapons.  From all this Kenyon infers that at ‘Ajjul:

“[I]t is again reasonable to deduce the presence of two separate but related groups.  Neither used burial practices identical with those of the Jericho groups, but the tomb offerings are related.”  (CAH, 1:2, p. 576.)

Again unity and diversity.  At Duweir, some tombs were located north of the tell, with some similarities to the tombs at ‘Ajjul, but with differing pottery shapes.  At Beit Mirsim, strata I and H of the Intermediate period showed pottery forms similar to Duweir’s pottery, but Kenyon says that “there are again variations, such as the predominance of knob handles on the large ovoid jars.”  (CAH, 1:2, p. 577.)

The practices at these two sites would seem to bring the total of burial types up to eleven.  Are there any more?  Kenyon describes the variation in tomb types at Megiddo as “suggesting the arrival of immigrant groups with differing equipment and practices, for there are two entirely different types of tombs….There is no doubt that the tombs provide evidence at Megiddo of yet further tribal groups arriving in Palestine.”  (CAH, 1:2, p. 579.)

Thus, there are two more groups at Megiddo. So far that is a total of thirteen different burial practices, and Kenyon does not hesitate to interpret these as tribal groups.  So we can infer from the evidence of the diverse tomb groups that the Intermediate people were divided into thirteen separate tribes.  This is rather obviously an exact match with the Israelites, who were distributed into thirteen distinct tribes or sub-tribes.

Nevertheless, we should be cautious at this point.  Some of these burial practices may be clan or family traits, rather than tribal indicators.  The evidence looks good for a match between the Israelites and the Intermediate people, but archaeologists should focus more attention to this issue, to make sure these are separate tribes.

Dever thinks another tribe of the Intermediate people can be discerned from the archaeological evidence, this time not in the west, but as part of the Transjordan:

“The only modification [of the regional theory]…has been the possible addition of a new family on the Transjordanian plateau, based on new material—‘Family AZ’ (for the Amman-Zerqa region).”  (T. E. Levy, ed., The Archaeology of Society in the Holy Land, 1995, p. 289.) 

Thus, we have the possibility of thirteen tribes represented in the west, and at least one in the east.  Even if only seven or eight tomb types turn out to be indicative of real tribal characteristics, it would still represent a fairly significant match with the Israelites.  The ease with which archaeologists were able to find even more tribal characteristics is what one would expect if the thirteen tribes or sub-tribes of the Israelites are the same as the tribes of the Intermediate people.  That Dever was able to find another possible tribe in the Transjordan shows the predictive power of the Israelite-Intermediate people theory.  For we know that Reuben, Gad and East Manasseh had their inheritance in the Transjordan.  It is likely that more tomb types will be found in north-Transjordan besides the one mentioned by Dever.


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