Israelite Conquest of Canaan
© Charles Chandler
The article on Yashuya, Hoshea, & Jacob showed that Jacob was the best candidate for Moses' successor, and thus would have been the one to lead the conquest of Canaan after Moses died in . If so, we need to re-read Jacob's story in Genesis, and wonder if somewhere in there, a conquest of Canaan after might have been omitted, or at least understated, compared to the conquest described in the Book of Joshua.
Jacob's "conquest" of Canaan in Genesis starts with the violation of Dinah, followed by the sack of Shechem, the acquisition of Bethel, etc. Dating these events to after should be explained, since there are two possibilities. One tradition has it that Simeon & Levi were both 13 years old when they attacked the Shechemites.1 If so, it would have been in . (Jacob spent 20 years total in Mitanni,2 the first 7 as a bachelor. Then he married Leah & Rachel, and started having children, meaning that when he left, the oldest was 13 years old.) But it's a little hard to believe that a couple of 13-year olds could have slaughtered every male in the town, totaling 645 adults and 246 sons,3:ch34:1,4:483 captured all of the wives & daughters, and seized all of the valuables, in the houses and in the fields. To do all of that would have taken a superior force, but it's hard to imagine that many troops obeying a couple of 13-year old field commanders. And the support couldn't have come from within their family, because then Jacob would have known, and if he cursed the attack after the fact, he probably wouldn't have approved it in advance. So the support had to come from outside of Jacob's family, and of course from outside of Shechem's family as well.
The other tradition was relayed by Alexander Polyhistor (as preserved by Eusebius).5:b9:ch21 He was very specific about the ages of Jacob's children, giving the year and month of their births, which was information not given in Genesis 29-30. Polyhistor was known for relaying stories without judging them, meaning that the specificity wasn't embellishment on his part, and is rather to be taken as evidence that he had access to a more detailed account. He agreed with Genesis that Jacob was 20 years in Mitanni,2 and that Jacob's oldest was 13, and youngest was 6 (including Dinah), when they moved to Shechem. But then he deviated from Genesis in saying that the family was in Shechem 10 years before the conflict. 10 years after the return from Mitanni in would make the year . In another fragment, Polyhistor said that when Rachel died shortly after the conflict, she had been with Jacob for 23 years. If Jacob was born in , and if he went to Mitanni when he was 18 years old, and if he was there 7 years before marrying, he married Rachel at the age of 25, which would have been in . Then, if Rachel died 23 years later, the year would have been . Since more numbers line up this way, is the more confident date for the conflict over Dinah. That puts it just after the death of Moses in , meaning that it can be considered as part of the subsequent "conquest." It also means that Simeon & Levi would have been 23 years old at the time, and thus old enough to be directly involved, though the outside help still needs to be identified.
As the story goes, Dinah (age 16 in ) had caught the eye of Shechem, the lord of the principal city in the northern province.6 Marriages between the clans of Jacob & Shechem were eventually approved, on the condition that all of the males in the city of Shechem got circumcised,7 which was an Egyptian custom,8,9:34 and which was required of all of the males descended from Abraham.10 So Jacob maintained his loyalty to Egypt in insisting that no daughter from his clan would marry an uncircumcised Shechemite. But Jacob's sons Simeon & Levi took exception to the marriage, killing all of the men who had gotten circumcised.11 Jacob then gathered up all of the likenesses of foreign gods that he could find, along with the earrings from everybody with him, and "hid" them under a famous oak tree in the city of Shechem.12 Then he continued on to Bethel,13 where God gave him the new name of Israel,14 and promised him all of the land that he promised to Abraham.15 This story is given as the foundational event for both the Levites and the Israelites, but taken at face value, it asks more questions than it answers.
To start, the premise of the conflict with Shechem has been questioned. Genesis 34:2 says that the man humiliated Dinah, while the next verse says that he "loved the young woman and spoke tenderly to her," leaving us to wonder which verse was closer to the truth. Subsequent verses favor the latter — suitable marital terms were found, and the Shechemites had already gotten circumcised as their part of the bargain — it's hard to imagine how things could have progressed that far if Dinah had actually been violated. So the "violation" was more likely fabricated to hide the real motive. If so, we can get a better idea of what that motive might have been by seeing how the situation unfolded.
That famous oak tree in Shechem was where the Lord had confirmed the Covenant with Abraham.16 A "sanctuary of the Lord" (as worded in the KJV) had been built there, and this was where Joshua erected a monument as testament to the loyalty of the people to God.17 This was also where Joseph's bones were later buried.18 It sounds like Jacob "hid" the idolatry and jewelry in the most important temple in the northern province. Of course, "hiding" something in a temple is more commonly called an offering, and if it was made in the "sanctuary of the Lord," it was an offering to the pharaoh. Thereafter, neighboring townsfolk didn't attack Jacob for looting the city, since now the fear of "God" was in them.19 Hence the Lord Horemheb acknowledged Jacob's offering, and afforded him protection.
Next, Jacob ventured to Luz, which he renamed to Bethel,13 and where the Lord confirmed his new name of Israel. The Lord (Horemheb) had given Jacob his new name before, after the wrestling match that the Lord won, but this time was different. The first time, Jacob just moved to Shechem, built an alter named El-Elohe-Israel ("God is the God of Israel," meaning "Horemheb is the overlord of Jacob"?),20 and that was that. This time, the Lord also promised Jacob all of the land that he had promised to Abraham. In other words, Jacob was now the trustee of the Covenant, disinheriting Esau.15 So Jacob moved to Hebron.21 Shortly thereafter, Isaac passed away, being 78 years old in , which sealed the deal with Jacob,22 forcing Esau to move to Seir.23 This would have been the substance of the claim that Jacob tricked Esau out of his birthright, not the story about the lentil stew,24 or about the old & blind Isaac mistakenly blessing Jacob instead of Esau.25 Rather, Jacob gave the loot from Shechem to Horemheb, and Horemheb rewrote the Covenant in Jacob's name.
Back to the beginning, what superior force had a motive to slaughter the Shechemites in ? The first thought would be Esau, but that attack was before the Covenant was reassigned to Jacob, meaning that Esau was still in charge, and the marital arrangements could have only proceeded with his approval, leaving him with little grounds to change his mind later. In the other direction — this time to the east — there was a group of people with an excellent motive for taking exception to the marriage — the Levites. With Moses and all of that generation gone, the Hebrews in Moab were set to claim their share of the Promised Land. So they took Jericho, and possibly other towns on the West Bank.26 And Shechem was one of the cities granted to the Levites,27 meaning that they would have seen the alliance between Israelites & Shechemites as a preemptive challenge to their claim. Thus Hebrew expansionism would have given Jacob a reason for seeking an alliance, and it would have been the Levites who would have attacked Jacob's recruits.
If so, why did they leave the loot to be recovered by Jacob's sons? This only makes sense when we recall Moses' stipulation that his followers would inherit nothing from Jacob.28 So the Levites thought that it was OK to kill all of the males in Shechem, but not OK to rob them. Jacob didn't want to profit from the massacre, so he turned it all over to Horemheb, and got himself a much more useful alliance.
Somewhere in here we should note that the Torah gives credit to Simeon & Levi for killing all of the males in Shechem, while the superior force that actually did the deed was more likely the Levites, who of course could not have been descendants of that Levi, who was only 23 at the time. Perhaps Jacob had a son who he named Levi after Moses' grandfather, and it was just a coincidence that his son got blamed for what the Egyptian Levites did. Or perhaps Jacob didn't actually have a son by that name until the Deuteronomic Reform, when the conflict between Israelites & Hebrews was eliminated by shifting Jacob back in time, making Israel Moses' ancestor, not his alternative. If so, the Israelite & Hebrew lineages were spliced together precisely where they actually entered into open conflict with each other. The campaign that started at Shechem was the direct conflict that the Deuteronomists had to hide in order to unify their nation. So they replaced "Levites" in the text with "Levi," who they made the son of Jacob. Thereafter, it would be hard to imagine Hebrews & Israelites as adversaries, the one being descended from the other, and in precisely the generation that the conflict was said to have occurred — the conflict that actually did occur, but which didn't suit the Deuteronomists.
Unfortunately for the Hebrews, and for the Canaanites, the Israelites went on the offensive. After depositing the loot from Shechem in the sanctuary of the Lord (Horemheb), Jacob ventured to Luz. In Genesis, Jacob merely built an altar and renamed the town Bethel, but in Judges, the Israelites slaughtered everyone in the town (except the one who thereafter moved to Adana).29 If that story lines up with the one in Genesis, perhaps other towns taken earlier in Judges were also part of the Israelite conquest, such as Jerusalem and Hebron.30 If so, Jacob took control of the most important cities in the Judaean Mountains, leaving only Seir to Esau.
There was a religious significance to Jacob taking over the town of Luz. The place got its name from the Indo-Aryan root meaning "light," suggesting that it was an Atenist town. The local chief then moved to the land of the Hittites, where he founded another town of the same name. Kizzuwatna, and its capital city of Adana, first attested in the Amarna period, showed the Atenist influence in their very names. So Luz was probably an Atenist city, and for Jacob to exile its chief and rename the town, Israel & Atenism were mutually exclusive. Also, the Deuteronomic History records the defeat of Adoni-Zedek, lord of Jerusalem. He had an Atenist name, and in the Visions of Amran, he played the role of Prince of Light,31 further associating him with Sun worship, and thus Atenism. He was allied with, or a member of, the Perizzites,32 who are thought to have come from Adana. So his defeat at Gibeon was another triumph of Israelites over Atenists.
Now if we remember that Jacob made a point of gathering up all of the foreign gods he could find in Shechem, and an interesting pattern emerges. They had fought battles before, but this is the first campaign in which they explicitly went after the religions of their adversaries. So Jacob suppressed the existing faiths in Shechem, Bethel, Gibeon, & Jerusalem. He may have campaigned elsewhere, but 4 cases is enough to establish the pattern, and easily enough for the people at the time to get the message.
The significance of this is not to be underestimated, as it changed the complexion of the entire situation. What was new was the intolerance, which Canaan hadn't seen before. One can argue that the intolerance began at Amarna, and that Moses had brought it with him to Moab in , ultimately getting brought into the Promised Land by his Hebrew successors after he died in . But there isn't any way of reconciling that with the fact that the conquest of Canaan, as described in interlocking accounts in Genesis, Joshua, & Judges, included the suppression of Atenists, who the Hebrews would not have suppressed if they were Atenists themselves, while if they weren't, they didn't get their intolerance from Amarna. So the people suppressing all other faiths including Atenism weren't Hebrews — they were Israelites commissioned to oppose the Hebrews. Perhaps the Lord (Horemheb) hoped that the two groups would keep each other busy, rendering neither a threat to Egypt.
Of course, the intolerance that did begin at Amarna was the initiative of Akhenaten, who couldn't have had the longevity of Atenism in mind when he picked a fight with every other faith in Egypt. It's possible that something like Atenism was gaining in popularity, and Akhenaten decided to take it over so that he could drive it into the ditch, pairing it with an intolerance that would seal its fate. So the Atenists were taught to hate everybody, and to do things to get everybody else to hate them, with rather severe punishments for not going along. When somehow the Hebrews survived, Jacob was commissioned to oppose them, now with orders to suppress all of the other faiths in Canaan. Thus the Torah contains strong doses of intolerance that relative to them came in from two different directions — from Amarna to Moab to Canaan by the Hebrews, and from Thebes to Canaan by the Israelites — while from one step further back, both threads of intolerance were spun by the Theban aristocracy, and in both cases, it's arguable that the intent was to destroy whatever was attached to it. This now included the legacies of both Moses & Jacob. And in , both flavors of manufactured extremism were pitted against each other — how ironic!
So in Jacob had been installed as the high priest of the Is'Ra'El cult in Shechem, while Moses set up camp in Moab. In Moses passed away, leaving the Hebrews free to cross the Jordan and claim their share of the Promised Land. Shechem had been promised to the Levites, but Jacob also had titles in the town that he didn't want to forfeit. So in , in a preemptive maneuver that backfired, Jacob arranged the marriage of his daughter Dinah to the son of Hamor, lord of the town. But the Levites slaughtered all of the men who had gotten circumcised. This backfired also, as Jacob appealed to Horemheb, who promoted Jacob to administrator of the Covenant if he would suppress all other cults in Canaan.
That too seems to have backfired — in , the Hebrews invaded Canaan, and the Israelites moved to Avaris, where Seti I had commissioned a summer palace to be built by Canaanite laborers, with Joseph as the superintendant. So the Hebrews displaced the Israelites, and the two groups wouldn't begin to merge until after Merneptah's war on the Sea Peoples Coalition in . The Hebrew "conquest" in is barely mentioned in the Tanakh, in the story of Ehud in Judges 3:15-30.


1. Kalmenson, M. (2017): Simeon and Levi — Paradigms for a Bar Mitzvah Boy?

2. Genesis 31:38 (E)

3. Samuel, M. (ed.) (1552): Sefer haYashar.

4. Kennedy, T. M. (2013): A demographic analysis of Late Bronze Age Canaan: ancient population estimates and insights through archaeology. University of South Africa

5. Eusebius (313): Præparatio Evangelica.

6. Genesis 34:2 (J)

7. Genesis 34:15-16 (J)

8. Wilkinson, J. G. (1854): The Ancient Egyptians. Bonanza Books/Crown

9. Teeter, E. (2003): Ancient Egypt: Treasures from the Collection of the Oriental Institute. Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago

10. Genesis 17:10 (P)

11. Genesis 34:25 (J)

12. Genesis 35:4 (E)

13. Genesis 35:6 (E)

14. Genesis 35:10 (P)

15. Genesis 35:12 (P)

16. Genesis 12:6-7 (J)

17. Joshua 24:25-26 (DH)

18. Joshua 24:32 (DH)

19. Genesis 35:5 (E)

20. Genesis 33:18-20 (E,R)

21. Genesis 35:27 (P)

22. Genesis 35:29 (P)

23. Genesis 36:6-8 (R)

24. Genesis 25:29-34 (J)

25. Genesis 27:1-10 (J)

26. Judges 3:12-14 (DH)

27. Joshua 21:21 (DH)

28. Deuteronomy 18:1 (D1)

29. Judges 1:22-26 (DH)

30. Judges 1:8-10 (DH)

31. Eisenman, R. H.; Wise, M. (1993): The Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered: The First Complete Translation and Interpretation of 50 Key Documents withheld for Over 35 Years.

32. Judges 1:4-6 (DH)

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