Extra-Biblical Evidence for the Conquest -- By: Bryant G. Wood
BSpade 18:4 (Fall 2005) p. 98
Extra-Biblical Evidence for the Conquest
One of the challenges facing those who hold to a historical Conquest as presented in the book of Joshua is that there is alleged to be no other documentation for this event outside the Bible. Critics are quick to point out that the Bible is a religious book, so the Conquest account could have been exaggerated, or even fabricated, to support the author’s religious message. To counter this, one can appeal to the archaeological evidence for destructions at Jericho, Kh. el-Maqatir (identified as Ai by this author) and Hazor as supportive of a Conquest around 1400 BC, the approximate date of the event according to Biblical chronology (Wood 1993: 262–69). But archaeological evidence is subject to interpretation, so those who disagree with the Biblical model readily can find reasons to dismiss this evidence as being irrelevant to the arrival of Israel in Canaan.
Secular scholars are generally of the opinion that any aspect of the early history of Israel prior to the kingdom period cannot be taken at face value unless the veracity of the events described can be validated by means of independent witnesses. This approach is strongly biased and nonscientific. Other ancient documents are assumed to be accurate unless there is credible evidence to suggest otherwise. These documents are just as religious as the Bible, as the writers of ancient texts regularly mention their pagan gods and what the gods did on their behalf.
Where do skeptics expect the required extra-Biblical documentation to come from? British scholar Kenneth Kitchen has pointed out the general dearth of historical texts from Canaan prior to the kingdom period (1998: 55–56). Apart from a few limited references to campaigns in Canaan in Egyptian records, the only historical texts we have are the Amarna Letters from a period of 20 or so years in the mid-14th century BC (Moran 1992). According to Biblical chronology, this would be the early Judges period, after the Conquest had already taken place. From the Conquest period itself, ca. 1406–1400 BC, we have no written records whatsoever that could provide an independent witness to events occurring in Canaan.
In spite of this negative appraisal, we do have several documents that provide indirect evidence as to the factuality of the Conquest. The Merenptah Stela has been known for over 100 years. One innocuous, but highly significant, section of the stela records a campaign into Canaan by Merenptah in about 1210 BC. One of the results of the campaign, according to the stela, was that, “Israel is laid waste, having no seed. Khurru has become widowed, because of Nile-land” (Kitchen 2003: 15). As was so often the case in ancient records, the author was less than truthful in extolling Merenpta...
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