The Deuteronomic Reform
© Charles Chandler
If that's what actually happened, and if that was the story that was presented to King Josiah in ,1 why did he change it all around, and into the form that has been passed down to us?
First, we should consider that to Josiah, the Hebrew literary tradition was effectively just lore — there was no guarantee that any of it was fact. He would have been well aware that the Hebrews had been the underdogs the majority of the time, and that they had obfuscated their history to escape persecution under Egyptian governors. So in the 600 years that had passed, there was no telling which passages were historically accurate, which were obfuscated, and which were pure story-telling.
Second, he would have found four different stories of the conquest of Canaan, by the Hyksos, by Joshua, by Moses' followers, and then by Merneptah. He might have suspected that they all described the same events, just told from different points of view. But distinguishing among them would have been particularly difficult, if we take a close look at the events just prior to the last conquest, by Merneptah, followed by the repopulation of the Judaean Mountains by the Canaanites.
Ramesses moved the capital to the delta region, and ruled from Pi-Ramses, which the Canaanites apparently helped to build. Under the circumstances, there was more to this than just wanting to live closer to the coast. Previously, the capital had been at Thebes, which was controlled by the Amun cult. In the delta, Ra and Atum were more popular, both of which were associated with Sun worship. The fusion of these gods into the Amun-Ra deity theoretically unified the entire country under one religion, and under one religious leader (i.e., the pharaoh), but regional differences were still present, and clearly the delta cults were a focus during this period.
Moving the capital to the delta can be interpreted in two different ways. First, it can be seen as Ramesses favoring the Sun gods. Second, it can be seen as Ramesses being concerned about the power and independence of the Ra and Atum cults, demanding his presence to keep things from getting out of hand.
Then, if we consider what else was going on at the time, it takes on another significance. The Amarna heresy had been suppressed, and the surviving Atenists had been exiled to Canaan, where they converted enough Habirus to establish the first Hebrew nation. People not wanting to convert to Atenism had sought refuge in the delta, which was the home of the Sun gods. And Ramesses moved the capital to the delta to ride herd over them. This paints a picture of a more general shift, away from the Amun cult, and toward Sun worship. So the difference between the Hebrews and the Canaanites wasn't a difference in kind, but rather, a matter of degree, depending on just how far they went in their Sun worship.
Now let's look at this through the eyes of Josiah. He reads this story of Moses bringing a new faith to the Habirus from Egypt, which has many thinly veiled references to Sun worship. Then he reads another story of Sun worshipers in Goshen returning to their ancestral homeland in Canaan. This might have sounded like the same story. And he saw yet another account of the conquest of Canaan by Joshua. And yet another of the migration of the Hyksos, who were sun-worshipers. If Josiah suspected that there was really only one conquest, he would have concluded that there were four different chroniclers telling the same story from four different perspectives, and the accounts had been obfuscated to hide the true identity of the Hebrews.
And third, we should consider Josiah's ulterior motive. He was a king who wanted to consolidate his power, and he had inherited a land of mixed ethnicity, where people worshiped Baal, Asherah, Yahweh, Elohim, and Adonai. If somehow he could convince them that they all shared a common cultural heritage, he could unify the nation. But to do so, he had to eliminate the Hebrew/Canaanite polarization. By the , Egypt's power was waning, which meant that the external political force sustaining the polarization (i.e., the anti-Atenism) wasn't there anymore. There obviously was no local reason to continue the divisiveness, so Josiah forged a simpler story in which the Hebrews and Canaanites were the same people.
The most recent conquest was by Merneptah, followed by the return of the Canaanites. So he used that as the anchor. This favored the Canaanites, which was easy since they were the dominant power on Josiah's ascension, and had probably dominated since the defeat of Israel by Merneptah.
So the return of the Canaanites after became the "Exodus". The conquest of Canaan by Joshua had to come after that. And the oppression under the pharaoh who "knew not Joseph" had to come before. Here's what he did:
  • The stories of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, and Joseph were retained, though they were said to be Hebrews, when actually, they were the Egyptian governors of Canaan. This was necessary to make sense of the "returning Hebrews" claiming ancestral rights in Canaan.
  • The hardship endured by the Canaanites due to the shepherd boycott becomes a famine that struck the Hebrews, forcing them to seek refuge at Goshen, where they lived under Ramesses II, supervised by Joseph.
  • The release (or eviction?) of the Canaanites from Goshen becomes the Exodus of the Hebrews, preceded by the Plagues, and followed by the conquest of Canaan.
  • The nature of the conquest merges details of Joshua, Moses, and Merneptah.
The following image shows the re-arrangement of events by the Deuteronomic Reform that produced the story that we were handed.
This, of course, makes the Biblical chronology impossible to reconcile. If the Exodus occurred 480 years before the reign of King Solomon (),2 that puts it back to , and the captivity would have begun circa . But then Jacob, who was an old man at the time, could not have known Ramesses, whose reign was . So taken literally, if any given detail in the Tanakh is assigned an historical date, it throws everything else off. Only by carefully matching up scripture and archaeology, on the basis of incontrovertible parallels, can this be sorted out. This clearly reveals that there were four different conquests. Then everything fits. Furthermore, things happened for reasons, and thus the literature becomes meaningful, in a way that impossibilities accepted on blind faith cannot.
We should also note that while the new Torah condemns Baal and Asherah as false gods, thus alienating Canaanites, the true god that is defined more closely resembles Atum than Aten.3 This would have been an easy compromise, acceptable to people who picked up their faith from Amarna or from their stay at Pi-Ramses.


1. 2 Kings 23.

2. 1 Kings 6:1.

3. Genesis 1:1-8. (P)

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