One of the major arguments against the historicity of Joshua and Judges is that archaeology has revealed a significant Egyptian presence in Canaan in the 12th – 11th centuries, something that is not reflected in the Bible. Nadav Na’aman has gone so far as to argue that the Biblical account of the slavery of the Israelites in Egypt is really just a dim recollection of Egypt’s oppressive imperialistic polices in the land of Canaan at the time when ‘Israel’ began to emerge as a distinct entity in the highlands of Canaan. I was interested to come across an article by J.M. Weinstein that offers a completely different view of Canaan during the New Kingdom period. According to Weinstein, the bulk of the evidence for a significant Egyptian presence in Canaan in the 12-11th centuries BC comes from two places – Bet Shean and Timna – cities on the periphery. Furthermore, very little identifiable pottery from Egypt has been found in Late Bronze / Iron Age 1 Canaanite cities – a period when Naaman argues that Canaan was a virtual colony of Egypt! (actually, archaeologists cannot seem to find anything from that time period but that is another story)
But what I find even more interesting is the lack of evidence for an abiding Egyptian presence in Canaan at the end of the Middle Bronze age. The Middle Bronze age cities in Canaan where massive, with walls ‘fortified to the heavens.’ The destruction of these cities was epic. Weinstein states,
“It would appear that at the end of the Middle Bronze Age or very early in the Late Bronze Age, a large series of destructions occurred in a geographical arc stretching from southwestern Palestine eastward across the southern part of the country, up through the Judean hills-with at least one destruction in the Jordan Valley, at Jericho-and then north past the Sea of Galilee and westward across the Plain of Esdraelon at least as far as Tacanach.” (Weinstein 1981)
Here is a list of cities compiled by G. Wright and W. Dever where evidence has been found of destructions or abandonments at the end of MB IIC or early in the Late Bronze Age (taken from Weinstein 1981) :
1.Tell el-’Ajjdl (City III and Palace I)
2.Tell el-Farcah (South)
5.Tell Beit Mirsim [Debir] –
8.Shechem (two closely-spaced destructions)
9.Tell el-Farcah (North)
Weinstein adds another eight cities to the list.
The standard narrative is that the Egyptians laid waste Canaan after they expelled the Hyksos from Egypt (1530 BC). If so then we should expect to find records in Egypt of significant military campaigns in Canaan. But the opposite is true. The Caananite cities listed above (with the exception of Tanaach) are absent from Egyptian monuments. It is not even clear whether Thutmose III destroyed Megiddo.
According to the internal Biblical chronology – the beginning of the Israelite conquest dates to around 1400 BC… later than the date assigned to MBIIC if we go by the standard chronology. Of course, if archaeologists give the Exodus any historical significance at all, they date it to 1250 BC, and so Israel is never considered to be a possible cause for the destruction of the Canaanite cities at the end of the Midde Bronze period. But it seems to me that the destructions commonly assigned to the end of the Middle Bronze age are worth considering in light of the Israelite conquest.