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Biblical Archaeology Index


Class Ten


THE LATE BRONZE AGE II  (1400-1200 B.C.) 



"The Coming of the Israelites"



We now must consider the details of the exodus itself, the journey to Sinai, the wilderness wandering, the conquest along the king’s highway, and the entrance into the land at Jericho--a vast amount of material to include, but since this is a survey we will be able to look at the main points.  Our goal is to see what archaeological material is available, and from that see how the text may be clarified with regard to date and circumstances.


The Evidence from the Route of the Israelites


The City of Ramses in Exodus 1:11                                                

In this first section we need to consider further the details of the exodus from Egypt, whether it was early (traditional date) or late (critical date).  From there we may continue through LB II period to the settlement in the land.

We have already noted how it is not possible that Ramses II be the pharaoh of the exodus--if the biblical data is taken seriously and not simply dismissed.  Since Exodus 1:11 is one of the proof texts for an exodus in a latter date, that is, 1290 B.C. in the time of Ramses II, we need to look at this material.  The text says that the Israelites helped build treasure cities to the pharaoh, and one of them was named Ramses.  How should this be understood?  If that name is taken literally to refer to the reigning pharaoh, then the rest of the details in the chapters have to be taken literally too, and that is where things do not add up.      If the city that the Israelites built in Exodus 1:11 was named for Ramses II, then there are real difficulties.  First, the building of that city, which would take a good twenty years, comes before the birth of Moses, before the edict to kill the male children.  If the exodus took place in 1290 or 1280, when Moses was 80 as the Bible says, then, he was born in 1370-1360 B.C.  That would mean that the building of this city took place before 1360, or, as we know from Egyptian chronology,  45 years before the start of the 19th Dynasty and their first Ramesside king!   Ramses would not have been around yet. 

But if one argued he was the king, then he would be reigning while they built the city (20 years), while Moses grew up (40 years), while Moses was in Midian (40 years), and during the plagues (2 years) and afterward.  Ramses did not reign for over a hundred years.

The only two solutions are:  the city was built and existed before Ramses II, or the name is a modernization.  The point is that those who argue for a late date for the exodus cannot argue against the early date interpretation without destroying their own argument, for they would have to discount the witness of the details in Exodus. 

In short, Exodus 1:11 offers little proof for the late date of the exodus.  The city was founded and named at least 70 years before the reign of Ramses II--if one assumes the late date.  And according to Genesis 47:11 it was located in a region called “the land of Ramses”--a name that was used some 550 years before Ramses II came to the throne!

If it cannot be Ramses II who is the pharaoh of the exodus, we have to look for another candidate, one who came after a king who reigned for about least 40 years (the time Moses fled from him til he heard he was dead).   

The Pharaoh's Residence

A second cosideration is the residence of the king--Moses had to be able to go back and forth from Goshen to the palace with some dispatch.  Those who argue for the late date note that during the 18th Dynasty (1580-1314) the palace was in the south in Thebes, making it impossible for Moses to go back and forth from Goshen to the palace (Thebes is a good two hour flight now from Cairo).  They argue that it was not until the 19th Dynasty that the capital was moved to the Delta, to Pi-Ramses.

But the evidence may suggest otherwise.  Archaeological discoveries in the Delta, in Memphis, indicate the Pharaoh’s spent considerable time there.  Amenhotep II set up a stele there which recorded some of his military exploits and his victorious return to Egypt: “His Majesty reached Memphis, his heart joyful . . . Now the God’s wife, King’s wife, and King’s daughter, beheld the victory of the Majesty.”  It appears that the king had his royal welcoming party in a residence in the Delta (see ANET, p. 246).   Therefore, a royal residence in the delta made it easy for Moses to come and go, just as the Bible says.


The Evidence from Sinai


We have already laid out the Egyptian chronology of the 18th dynasty to show how Amenhotep II makes a better candidate for the pharaoh of the exodus, and his father, Thutmoses III the pharaoh from whom Moses fled.  Now we want to look at the literary and religious setting of the events at Sinai to see what significant background material there might be.

There is a modern view that suggests that Sinai was actually in Saudi Arabia, and that the Israelites did indeed cross the Red Sea (south of the Sinai peninsula).  But the biblical data has to be shuffled for this to work.  The pharaoh and his armies chased the Israelites and after three days boxed them in at the crossing.  There is no way that the company of Israelites could go by foot far enough south to cross the Red Sea and get to Arabia.  The traditional view is that they left Goshen and crossed the region of the bitter lakes, which at that time would have been deep, and then went down the western side of the Sinai peninsula to the bottom, to Jebel Musa, the traditional site of the camp at the mount of God.  This cannot be proved, for there is no actual confirming evidence.  But this has been the most likely spot since antiquity. 

One of the issues that is raised concerns the Bitter Lakes--were they simply swamp or marsh lands?  Whatever waterway was crossed, it was deep and strong enough to destroy the Egyptian army.   Another issue that is raised concerns the number of people that had to be fit into the areas around Sinai.  But we do not know how many Israelites there were.  The text says 600 ’elaphim.   This Hebrew word ’eleph has several meanings: thousand, troop, general/captain, cow, family unit, and the like--about twenty meanings.  If we were to assume that there were 600 thousand who could fight, and then add in women and children and elderly, we would get a population for Israel of about a million and a half, or two million even.  This is way too large (note, the Bible does not say there were two million), because the Bible says there were seven nations in Canaan larger than Israel.  A population of 15 million in the land at any time is out of the question.  Today there are six million people in Israel.  So we will just have to say we do not know how many people came to Sinai--it was a huge number, but any calculation is a guess.


The Form of the Law Code

Of greater interest to us is the form of the Torah, the Law--it seems to be patterned after the Hittite Treaty Codes of the 14th century.  If the Pentateuch was compiled later, as many argue, why would documents written in the 7th and 6th and even 5th centuries use a literary form from the Late Bronze Age?--it would not communicate anything.  But in the Late bronze Age, around 1400 B.C., when these treaty codes were being used, the Law was put in that form to communicate what the Israelites were doing by coming into covenant with God.  He would be their great Suzerain, their great over lord.  They would derive benefits from their king, such as protection and provision; but they would owe him and their fellow covenant members allegiance and service.   So it was a covenant binding the people to God as their king, and to one another as co-vassals.

For a detail of the covenant form, see Meredith Kline’s, The Treaty of the Great King  (Fig. 40).  The essential ingredients of the form were:

Preamble: to identify the great king or suzerain who is the author of the covenant: “these are the words of the Sun Mursilis, the Great King, the King of Hatti, the valiant, the favorite of the storm-god, the son of Suppiluliumas (ANET, p. 203).

Historical Prologue: Great emphasis is put on the deeds that the Hittite king had performed for the people, showing that the vassal was obligated to serve with perpetual gratitude.  The vassal is exchanging future obedience for past benefits.  Exodus 20 begins: “I am Yahweh who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of bondage . . . .”  And Deuteronomy has the first few chapters provide the historical prologue.  The format in the Hittite codes follows the “I-You” format, just like Exodus 20.

Stipulations.  This section states in detail the obligations imposed upon and accepted by the vassal. The vassal must remain loyal to the king alone, must not be guilty of enmity against anything under the king’s dominion, must answer the call to arms, must hold admiration and trust for the king, must appear before the great king at least once a year, perhaps at the time of the annual tribute, and must bring conflicts between vassals before the king.

Provision for Deposit and Reading.  The code is then stored up in the temple, one copy in the king’s temple, and another in the vassals.  The deity was therefore to safeguard the treaty.  In the Bible the tablets are put in the ark of the covenant and placed at the foot of the LORD, so to speak.

Invocation of Witnesses.  Other gods would be called to witness this covenant.  Most interesting is the inclusion of mountains, rivers, heaven and earth, the winds and the clouds, as witnesses--just as in the Bible (see Ps. 50).

Curses and Blessings.  A list of the good things that will happen for obedience and the bad things for rebellion is included.  Leviticus 26 does the same, as does the end of the Book of Deuteronomy.

Activation.  Some solemn assembly and oath taking cermony would then seal the agreement between Suzerain and vassal (Exod, 24).        


The Portable Shrine and Sanctuary

The pattern of the tabernacle and its courtyard follows ancient plans for central sanctuaries in the region.  While this does not argue one way or the other about the date of the exodus, it does show that the instructions for building the shrine fit the Late Bronze period very well, and not the exile a thousand years later when the pious were trying to restructure the Law.  Portable shrines using tents was a common feature of the period.

Holy Ground.  In the ancient world the places where people worshiped were consecrated as sacred.  That was not “common” land, but property designated for the god or gods.  This applied not only to the altar and tent, but the precinct around it, a buffer zone so to speak.  At Khafajeh in Mesopotamia about 3000 B.C., there was an oval of property some 100 by 70 yards.  Babylonian temples had large courtyards, but Assyrian ones did not (a non-Semitic influence).  In Ur III the ziggurat was enclosed in a precinct some 200 yards square.   In earlier days the precinct was marked off by boundary stones (Exod. 19:12).  Later temples built elaborate walls.  The holy precinct kept common or profane things out of the place of God.

Holy ground was usually a place where some great religious happening occurred.  Usually that meant that there was water and food in abundance, and so the local deity must have provided it.  But in the Bible we have actual appearances of God to man, and so those spots were commemorated with a shrine.  In the Bible place names attest to this phenomenon: Kadesh, “holy place”; En Mishpat, “place of judgment,” Oaks of Moreh, “Arbor Shrine of the Teacher,” or Bethel, “House of God.”

Sacred trees also figured prominently in cult centers (Gen 12--Oaks of Moreh). They were depicted as symbols of fertility, closely related to fertility gods and the rites connected to them.  God condemned such practices, as we shall see later (Isa. 57; Hos. 4).

High places formed natural locations for worship centers, for they lifted the person up toward heaven, to the place of the gods.  On the heights the god was said to have met with his divine council; there the god or gods made their palace or temple.  Gradually certain mountains became identified with these holiest of all places, Olympus in Greece, Saphon in Canaan, and Tabor and Carmel in Palestine. Later Israel would build their temple on Mount Zion; but at Sinai God revealed himself on a mountain, calling for the elders to come up to meet with him.  The instinct was fine; it was not particularly pagan.  God often used the forms and the structures of the world religions but invested them with the truth--putting new wine into oldwine skins.

Sacred Buildings.   Once deities were identified with certain mountains, permanent temples were constructed for them, and for the people whow worshiped them.  In Psalm 132 we read how God chose Jerusalem to be his resting place forever, and so the ark was moved there and the temple built.  If a ziggurat had to be built (due to the absence of mountains), then temples were built on it right away.  At Tchoga-Zanbil in ancient Persia the ziggurat is 114 yards square and 165 feet high.  The temple was on the top level.  Either the god rested at the top, or descended and rested on his way to the lower temples.

Temples were just larger houses than the people had.  In the ancient days the name was just E.Gal, “big house” ( > Hebrew hekal).  But a temple could also be called Bet (or beyt, or bayt), “house of [deity’s name].”   The statue of the god resided in the house, which usually looked like other house in the area of the wealthy and powerful.  Babylonian worshipers entered the courtyards flanked by buildings, to pray in front of the rooms where the ritual took place.  They could not enter these rooms, only look through the doorway to the carved image.  Priests would enter to care for and feed the gods.  Assyrian temples, modeled after Assyrian houses, were different. They had no courtyard.  Instead, an open door led into one of the longer sides of the temple, but the worshiper had to turn to see the statue at the back of the room.  Canaanite temples had a room corresponding to the Israelite holy place, and a smaller room in the back for the deity that paralleled Israel’s holy of holies.  At Hazor, for example, in 1400 B.C., there was a shrine (raised) and a vestibule; these stood one behind the other.  The worshipers entered on the shorter side of the building.  Excavations at Lachish and Beth Shean have found more Egyptian influence--because Egypt controlled them.  In the ruins from the centuries between the 18th and 13th centuries, they found a stepped altar, a raised stone platform, several tables of basalt, and several vessels (mostly from the 14th century).

Israel’s Tabernacle.  It is clear that the basic structure of the Tabernacle building, under the tent, was like these ancient Canaanite shrines, and the courtyard, marked off by curtains, was comparable to the holy precincts in all temples.  This came from divine revelation on the top of Mount Sinai--but obviously this revelation did not mean that it was all previously unknown material.  Moses was allowed to see the heavenly pattern (Exod. 25:8-9), probably what the Book of Hebrews describes as the heavenly sanctuary, and what John on Patmos was permitted to see.  A detailed study of the Book of Revelation will show that all the parts of the tabernacle are copies or shadows of heavenly realities--so God was reveealing to Moses what all these things meant.  Where the pagan nations got the basic ideas for their tabernacles remains a problem--it is probably part natural instinct (making a temple after the pattern of houses), part memory of ancient traditions and reports, and part, possibly, of supernatural influence--apart from God.

The Tabernacle was replaced by Solomon’s Temple, which is called the first temple.  Although it was looted at times, it remained til 586 when it was destroyed. Israel began to rebuild it in 536 when they returned, and finished at 515 B.C. This is the second temple.  Herod the Great greatly expanded and remodeled the temple, but his is still the second temple.  Those who believe a temple will be built on that spot when Messiah comes refer to theirs as the third temple.



It should be obvious by now that the Tabernacle (and later the Temple) had great significance for Israel.  As Semites they understood from earlier pagan traditions the basic meaning of a sanctuary; but as Israelites, the people of God, they came to know the full and true meaning of it all.  The structure conveyed the meaning, but the one true and living God gave it the reality.


1.                  The Tabernacle was considered the dwelling place of the God among hispeople, the throne room as it were (see Isaiah’s vision in Isa.6).  Because the nation was a theocracy, God was the ruler or king.  He sat enthroned above the mercy seat and ruled by mediation.

2.                  The Tabernacle represented the perfection of God.  Every part was detailed and perfected to repredent God, the things being the closest to God were of pure gold.

3.                  The Tabernacle represented God’s sanctifying presence among his people.  Everything in the place was designed to do that. This was very different than the pagan’s ritual in their temples, which was either to ward off evil spirits or to feed the gods.  Atonement and forgiveness were not the dominant themes in pagan temples that they were in Israel’s.  Israel’s priests did not have to feed the gods (see Ps. 50) to ensure that the cycle of life would continue.

4.                  Pagan temples and sacred precincts were often the location of debauchery in the name of religious, with cult prostitutes, male and female, on hand.  God barred nudity and sexual activity from his holy place with the strictest of safeguards--not that he is against sexuality, but that it is out of place in the sanctuary.


The Conquest of Edom and Moab


The Status of Edom and Moab

A second argument given for the late date of the exodus concerns the status of Edom and Moab at the time of the exodus.  Numbers 20:17-20 and Numbers 22:1,41 tell us that these two lands were populated during the period shortly after the exodus--that there were cities there.

But according to Nelson Glueck, the area was largely uninhabited between 1800 and 1300 B.C. (see The Other Side of the Jordan, published in 1940, pp. 125-147).  But here is where the integrity of the archaeologists can and should be questioned: the archaeological work of Glueck sought to prove that the area was not inhabited until the 13th century in order to support the late date.  This was not malicious; it was simply that a conclusion was posited and evidence was sought to support it (see C. Francisco, “The Exodus in its Historical Setting,” Southwestern Journal of Theology, 20 [1977]:12).   So it comes as no surprise that Gluck found no evidence for cities and settlements--not from the way that he surveyed the area.

Merrill offers a simple explanation, which exposes the weakness of Glueck's work.  The Bible says Moses wanted to pass through their lands on the King's Highway, a narrow mountain pass into and out of the region of the city of Petra.  This pass could easily be defended by a few hundred well trained troops--and they need not be a sedentary people.  Nomads or semi-nomads could well have occupied the area in such sufficient numbers that they prevented Israel from passing through.  And the nature of their existence would clearly explain the lack of remains--they have tent cities.  The point is that it is an argument from silence that Glueck offers; and, the “absence of remains of a settled people need not militate against the early date of the exodus if the people simply did not leave remains” (Eugene Merrill, Historical Survey of the Old Testament, p. 108).

Some scholars show an amazing inconsistency in the matter of the “argument from silence.” Kenneth Kitchen accepts Glueck's argument as the first major argument against the early date.  But, when archaeological excavations found no material remains for even the 13th century at Dibon, the capital of Moab--which Numbers 21:30, 32:2, 34, 41-46 clearly mentions--he argues that just because nothing was found does not mean it did not exist!  His reason?  Ramses II has a wall relief depicting his defeat of Dibon in the land of Moab (see Kenneth Kitchen, The Bible in Its World, p. 77). So there is a text mentioning Dibon in Moab, but no archaeological evidence to confirm it, but it must have existed.  Why then will they not do this with the Bible, which mentions these places, but has no archaeological evidence (yet!) to confirm it?

But how did Nelson Glueck study this vast territory.  Gleason Archer gives the most devastating attack on Glueck's position, noting that Glueck's work was largely of the nature of surface exploration.  It was not detailed excavation at all (A Survey of Old Testament Introduction,  pp. 225-226).

What has come to light when more serious excavations have been undertaken is that in Amman numerous artifacts have been found in tombs (including black pricked ware, button-base vases, oil flasks, scarabs, and toggle pins) that date from about 1600 B.C. (see C. Lankester Harding, Antiquities of Jordan [1959]).  Harding lists Middle Bronze Pottery found near Mount Nebo, and a 16th century tomb at Pella.  There was a Late Bronze temple uncovered under a runway at the Amman airport in 1955 (CT, Dec. 22, 1971, p. 26).  And then work at Heshbon has shown that the pottery was very different from that produced in the west bank of the Jordan.  Glueck assumed the homogeneity of the pottery, and introduced confusion into the data.

The evidence from Moab and Edom has been trickling in, indicating there were indeed people there.  But since they were nomadic, or semi-nomadic, one would not expect to find large settlements.  But here is another question: If this region was unoccupied between 1800 and 1300 B.C., where then were the Moabites, Edomites, and Ammonites during that period?


The Destruction of Cities in Palestine



No Late Bronze Walls. As is now well known, the walls of Jericho from the days of Joshua are nowhere to be found.  The walls at the top of the tell are essentially Early Bronze Age walls which are earlier than Joshua’s time, meaning that if there had been remains of the Late Bronze Age walls--any Late Bronze Age walls--they should have been higher than these (over the heads of the people standing on top of the tel).  Apparently over the centuries the locals have carried away the rich mud bricks for either building or more likely fertilizer.

No 13th Century Occupation.  But this does not mean that the work at Jericho tells us nothing.  There are other forms of archaeological evidence besides walls.  Kenyon studied Jericho extensively, notably the tombs.  She concluded that in the areas excavated the pottery indicated that there was no occupation in the 13th century (!)--which is when the critical view dates Joshua and the conquest.  But she noted that there was some occupation in the 14th century.  And while exact information from pottery is missing, she concluded that most of the typically fifteenth century forms are missing (Palestine Exploration Quarterly 83 [1951]:121,2).  But what does this information tell us?  It is hard to decide since it is so sketchy.

A 1375 Destruction of Jericho.  But there is some important information available.  Garstang, who originally identified Joshua's walls (incorrectly), did argue convincingly for an early date of the exodus, or a date of 1375 or so for Joshua at Jericho, on the following reasons:

            1.                  Not one of the distinctive, plentiful, well-established archaeological criteria characteristic of Akhenaton's reign has been found in either the city or the tombs.

2.         There is no mention of Jericho in the Amarna letters of Akhenaton's reign, even though many major cities of Canaan are mentioned.

3.         There is no scarab after Amenhotep III (1412-1375) though there were found an abundance of scarabs from Hatshepsut down to Amenhotep III.

Granted, these are all negative witnesses and could be explained on other grounds besides the idea that Jericho was destroyed before 1375.  But with the evidence of ceramics (see below) and the other details of the exodus, this seems to be the most plausible explanation.

But there is some positive evidence as well.  There was found in one of the tombs a 15th century scarab, which seemed to be the insignia of a high Egyptian official.  Kenyon amazingly says that this has to be an heirloom of some later official!

Moreover, there is evidence from the burnt debris.  On the upper levels of the store rooms joining the palace on the knoll, located on the slope, and first built in the Middle Bronze Age, there is debris accumulation.  The archaeologists described it as clearly burnt material that washed down the hill.  This "streak" and its debris contained a good amount of pottery from the first half of the 14th century.  Kenyon said that this pottery has connections with that at Beth Shean Level VIII (1479-1350).  According to Kenyon, the latest burnt debris from the Late Bronze Age city cannot be dated later than the mid-fourteenth century B.C., and probably belongs to the LB II A period (1410-1340) (see PEQ [1951], p. 120,121, and AHL, pp. 210,211, and pp. 341-343).

The evidence from Jericho, then, is not outstanding, but it is there.  There may not appear to be much to go on at all.  But there are plausible arguments for a destruction of the city between 1410 and 1375; and the Canaanite city seems to have ceased to exist by 1375 B.C.

Jericho was then inhabited shortly thereafter by the Benjamites, and then by Eglon (ca. 1320) according to the Bible (Josh. 18:21; Judges 3:12-14).  There is no evidence of any occupation after 1325.  The city was not occupied during the 13th century, precluding the option of the late date of the exodus.



Hazor was a major city; it had 21 occupations between 2700 and 150 B.C.  The archaeologist, Yadin, accepts the late date and says that Hazor was destroyed at the end of LB II in the second half of the 13th century (between 1250-1200).

Evidence of an Early Destruction.  But Yadin did find some interesting things.  He found a Late Bronze II gate erected on the foundation of the earlier Middle Bronze Age II gate.  He noted that the gates were destroyed by a violent conflagration though the exterior walls still stand to a height of nine feet.  The burnt brick and the burnt timbers still covered the floor.  Yadin concluded that the “evidence suggests that this destruction occurred before the final destruction of Hazor by the Israelites, but this problem remains to be studied (“Excavation at Hazor,” Biblical Archaeologist 22 [1959]:9).

The point should not be missed.  Yadin accepts the 1250 B.C. destruction of Hazor as Israelite under Joshua; but he is saying another destruction took place during the Late Bronze Age as well.  Now the Late Bronze Age II is 1400-1200.  If there are two destructions of Hazor in this period, and the last one is in 1250, then the other must be earlier, closer to 1400.  Question: How does the archaeologist know which destruction was Joshua?  There were no records found at the site.  He must assume one or the other is the conquest.

Evidence of Three Destruction Levels.  But the problem is compounded by the fact that there is a third destruction of Hazor in this period.  There are burnt, destruction levels at 1400, 1300, and 1230 B.C.  After the 1230 destruction, there is no occupation on the tell, not until the time of Solomon.  Which is Joshua's level?  Yadin concluded that the 1300 level was connected with Seti I of Egypt (ca. 1318 B.C.) because of material evidence found.  So it is either 1400 or 1230.  Yadin chose 1230. 

But, and this is a major question, if 1230 was Joshua's, and the tell was abandoned afterward, where then was Sisera coming from to fight Deborah and Barak in Judges 4 and 5?  Judges 4:2-3 says that Jabin, King of Hazor, opposed Israel during the time of the judges.   The defeat of this Jabin may very well have been about 100-165 years after Joshua destroyed Hazor.  The conclusion is inescapable--if Hazor ceased to exist after the 1230 destruction, but if it is still in existence for three or four generations after Joshua, then Joshua's destruction level cannot be attributed to the destruction level dated to 1230.  It cannot be the 1300 level, for that was Seti I.  It had to be the 1400 level.

Neither Jericho or Hazor argue for the late date of the exodus.  They provide stronger support for the early date.


Other Cities in Palestine

The archaeologists are constantly looking for burnt layers in the cities to attest to the destruction wrought by Joshua at the conquest.  But the Bible says that Joshua only burned three cities, Jericho, Ai, and Hazor (Josh. 6:24, 8:28, and 11:13).  This latter reference clearly says Joshua did not burn any city that stood on its tell, except Hazor.  The divine goal was to give Israel these cities, not destroy them (see Deut. 6:110-11).  Cities burned to the ground do not give to their captors good houses.  The basic assumption that there had to be burnt layers is just wrong.  But what does the excavation of the major cities tell us?

The City of Ai.  This is the city that Joshua took immediately after he destroyed Jericho.  The difficulty is that Albright concluded that there was no occupation at Ai between the Early Bronze Age (2000) and the Iron Age (1200).  Was the capture of Ai recorded in Joshua a much later defeat projected back to the conquest as some argue?  That would be very problematic.  There is some question whether the tell Albright excavated was actually Ai.  There were no texts, no certain indications.  Many conservative archaeologists believe that if he did find Ai, it would have been EB Ai, and not LB Ai--cities do tend to relocate in the vicinity at later times (NT Jericho is a couple of miles away from OT Jericho).   There is archaeological work underway on another site that may be Ai of Joshua, but it is in Palestinian territory.

Bethel.  There is an occupation level here in the 15th and 14th centuries, and then a destruction.  Then, there is settlement in the 14th and early 13th centuries, followed by a terrific destruction, followed by poor pottery.

Tell Beit Mirsim.  There is occupation early, but then the site is abandoned from 1600 to 1450.  It was re-occupied in 1450, but destroyed in 1350.  Then there followed an occupation level on the site with an inferior culture.  Then it was finally destroyed in 1230.  One cannot prove that the destruction in 1230 was by Joshua.  It could have been the 1350 one.

New Cities in Palestine

The evidence indicates that in the later period, LB II, there were many new cities growing up all over the land of Palestine.  This is often pointed to as a clear indication that the Israelites had just entered the land and were building their new cities.  But there are difficulties with this line of argument.  In the first place, it is the stated purpose of Deuteronomy that the Israelites would not destroy the existing cities but occupy them.  Therefore, in the early period of the settlement one would not expect to find new cities springing up.  The fact that new cities appear in the later period, then, is actually support for the early date of the exodus.

Even if the Israelites did not occupy all the cities, it must be remembered that they are not city-builders, but nomads, or semi-nomads.  For a good while they would continue their mode of living.

But by 1200 there are many other groups of peoples sweeping into the land, notably the Sea Peoples.  These built cities, their famous pentapolis (as we shall see next time).  They even forced the Danites to migrate north, where the tribe took over a city and renamed it Dan. 

So the discussion of these new cities, to which we shall return in the study of the Judges, is a rather unconvincing argument.  


The Material Culture in Palestine

For the archaeological evidence of Palestine we have two types to consider: the destruction levels and the material culture.

With regard to the first we have noted that the working presupposition of many is that the invasion of Israel will be marked by destruction.  But the Bible clearly indicates that this only happened in three cities.  Some critics ignores this.  Moreover, they assume that since the date of the exodus must be late, the 1230 destruction layers are taken to prove the late date.  Conservatives have long suggested that the 1230 layers would more likely be the invasion of Merneptah--who says that he fought Israel--this was in 1234!  Or, some of them could be the raids of the Sea Peoples who came in force around 1200. Or they could be due to wars between the Israelites and the Canaanites during the period of the judges.


No Complete Break in the Culture

So with regard to the second, the material culture, what do we find?  There is often no evidence of a change in the culture between 1400 and 1200.  Why not?  Because nomads most often would settle and adopt the culture (as Judges painfully reminds us).  This should not come as a surprise to anyone.  The Israelites would not be expected to arrive with vast amounts of equipment or durable material objects.  Their containers may well have been made of skin, and their place of worship was a portable tent with moveable furniture--even the altar.

Kenyon herself concludes: “History and archaeology show again and again how such bands, coming amongst a settled population, tend to adopt the material culture (which alone is reflected archaeologically) of that population” (Archaeology of the Holy Land. p. 209).   


Decline in Artistic Ability

The Cities of the Hill Country.  On the other hand, while there is no complete break in the culture, the sharpest change in the culture occurs at the transition between LB I and LB II, or, about 1400.  Kenyon again says, “. . . the biggest change occurs, with the transition from LB I to II, when the culture does seem to show a marked deterioration.  In the pottery, for instance, there is the introduction of a class of saucer bowls of a very plain and undeveloped form, which form one of the least attractive series in the whole of Palestinian pottery.  The archaeological remains are undistinguished and the objects found suggest a low level of artistry” (ibid.).

The crude art of the period is represented by a stone libation tray from Tell Beit Mirsim (see Albright, The Excavation of Tell Beit Mirsim, Vol. II, AASOR 17 [1938], p. 120, pl. 24).  Kenyon notes, “Such a situation would well reflect the state of affairs during the acclimatization to settled life of wanderers such as the Habiru bands of the Amarna Letters and the Israelites of the Old Testament” (p. 209).

In short, the material culture harmonizes well with a date of the Israelite occupation of the cities around 1400 B.C.

Also found in these locations are temples and cult objects to pagan gods.  Some archaeologists have argued that this must be pre-Israelite, and hence a later date for the exodus.  But one should not assume the Israelites were not responsible for these temples and cult objects.  The writer of the Book of Judges recalls how thoroughly engrossed Israel became in all kinds of pagan worship.  From the time of the conquest on the Israelites mingled their faith with Canaanite ritual; and for the majority of the Israelites this did not seem to be apostasy, but a commonly accepted thing.

The Cities of the North.  One would not expect to find this marked deterioration in the great cities of the north, Megiddo and Beth Shean, for they did not fall into Israelite hands until much later. 

Kenyon summarizes how Megiddo is an exception to the cities of the hill country.  She says that there is no indication here of a low level of the culture as seen elsewhere.  The buildings show architectural pretension.  The pottery is finer; the crude saucer is hardly found here, and the pottery decoration continues what was there in LB I.  But most significant are the ivories found in the palace, indicating the cultural tastes of the ruling classes (AHL, pp. 215, 218).  She concludes that Megiddo was not submerged in the increasing tide of barbarism.

Beth Shean also exhibits a high degree of civilization.

Now one cannot automatically conclude that the Israelites caused the decline in the material culture, or that where there was no decline the Israelites were not present.  However, given the other data that leads to the conclusion of an early date, the facts of the material culture comport favorably with this conclusion.  But where there is evidence of a change, the biggest change came in between LB I and LB II, right around 1400.



Concluding Observations


As you can see, the issue of the date of the exodus and the conquest is no small subject.  It involves a lot of Scripture, a lot of Egyptian history, and all the archaeological work on many locations for the whole Late Bronze Age. Here is a brief review of where we have been:

* 1 Kings 6:1--temple begun 400 years after exodus

A literal interpretation fits the early date; late date requires some other interpretation of the number.

* Judges 11:26--by Jephthah's time 300 years since the exodus

Literal interpretation fits the early date; late date requires this to be interpreted figuratively.

* 1 Chronicles 6:1-10--fourteen generations from Aaron to Zadok

Literal view of genealogy fits early date; late date has to compress the genealogy in some way.

* Exodus 1:11  Israelites built the treasure city Ramses

This cannot support the late date, for if this is Ramses II, he cannot be the pharaoh of the exodus because Moses was not yet born. Late date view has to alter all the historical notes of ages of Moses and time passing. Early      date view says it was an earlier Ramses name.


* Hyksos Reign in Egypt

The facts of the early date view fit better because Joseph then precedes the Hyksos; the Late date view puts him in the Hyksos period.

*Egyptian Chronology

The early date puts the exodus in the time of Amenhotep II, which makes sense after the death of Thutmosis, and the weakening influence of Egypt in Canaan.  The late date has to put the exodus in the 19th dynasty of Ramses, but have them settled in the land by Merneptah's reign.       

*Delta Capital

There is clear evidence that Amenhotep had a palace in the Delta (near Goshen) during the time ascribed to the plagues.  In later times the main capital was in Thebes.

*Merneptah's Stele

Stele set up about 1234 B.C. mentioning Israel in the land of Canaan.  Early date allows time for settlement and recognition as a nation, but the late date does not.

*Amarna Experience

The early date would see the "monotheism" rebellion (which was not actually monotheism) coming after the exodus; late date sees it before and as an influence on Moses (this is one of the major motivations for many critical scholars--an explanation of where Moses got monotheism).


The Amarna Letters mention marauding bands of “habiru” in Canaan.  These cannot be connected with the Hebrews of Joshua since neither date fits that time.  Israelites in    the settlement time could be among them.  But they also existed much earlier.

*Edom and Moab

No cities found in Edom and Moab during the period of the early date, ca. 1400, but now there is evidence appearing.  But the peoples were bedouin, nomadic.  One would not expect to find cities.         


No walls of the 15th century remain; they were taken away.  But in the "streak" there is evidence of LB I remains.  There was no occupation here in the 13th century, so no one for Joshua to fight if the late date is taken.


Three destruction levels, 1400, 1300, 1234, and then no occupation until Solomon's time.  Late date says 1234 is Joshua; but then how can Judges 4 and 5 be reconciled.  Early date fits very well with the 1400 destruction.  The 1234 is a later one.


The site of the Late Bronze city is disputed; it may be a different place than the early one, which fell out of use by 2000.

Burnt Levels

Archaeologists assume the conquest destroyed the cities; but Joshua says he burnt only three--the rest they occupied.  There is no reason to look for other burnings.


There is a marked deterioration in the culture remains after the 1375 destruction ended, most notable in the pottery.  This fits the idea of a wave of people settling in the land who are not skilled at the cultural works. 

*New Cities

In LBII there are a number of new occupations in new cities.  There is no proof it was the Israelites under Joshua.  It could have been Philistines or Israelites in the period of the Judges.   Early Israelites occupied existing cities.  Not only does the evidence continually point to the early date, but that early period affords a far more consistent harmony with Scripture.  When the facts of the Bible are seen in that setting, everything fits very well.

Why is this important?  Many people would say it makes little difference exactly when the exodus took place.  They must either say that the prophet historians who wrote Scripture have committed serious historical blunders and therefore the Bible is less than a completely trustworthy document on which people can rest their faith, or, they must say that the numbers in the Bible cannot be taken on their face value, but serve some rhetorical purpose.  If this latter view is taken, then much of the biblical material throughout cannot be taken on face value.  And, this will mean all the dates in the Bible will have to be re-examined, for all biblical chronology depends on determining dates.