Egypt's Hebrew/Habiru/Apiru "Slaves" and their "Covenantal" Conquest of Canaan

Walter Reinhold Warttig Mattfeld y de la Torre, M.A. Ed.

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13 June 2003 (Revisions & Updates through 19 June 2005)

***15 May 2005 UPDATE: Please be advised that I _now_ understand that a "conflation and fusion" exists of events appearing in the Bible's Exodus narratives: first, the Hyksos expulsion of 1540-1530 BCE, secondly, Ramesside Era events in the Sinai and Arabah, and thirdly, of  places existing only in Late Iron II, 640-562 BCE. Mainstream scholarship understands Israel's settling of the Hill Country is Iron I, ca. 1200-1000 BCE based on archaeological findings. Why then does the Bible have an Exodus so much earlier ?

The answer is very surprising and has been preserved for almost 2000 years in the writings of an Egyptian priest/historian called Manetho. He wrote a history of Egypt in the 3rd century BCE for his Hellenistic Greek overlord Ptolemy II. He noted that TWO EXPULSIONS occurred in Egypt's history, of Asiatics. The first was of the Hyksos of the mid 16th century and then another in the Ramesside era. He understood that the Hyksos fled to and settled at Jerusalem, but that 500 years later (Josephus' reckoning) "their descendants" reinvaded Egypt, resettling at the town they had been expelled from earlier called Avaris. After 13 years of "lording it" over the eastern delta, the Ramessides expelled the Hyksos' descendants a SECOND TIME, and they eventually again settled at Jerusalem. The Jewish historian Josephus (1st century CE) was adamant that the 16th century expulsion was the Exodus based on the Bible's chronology and furious that Manetho had said the Exodus was preserved in a Ramesside expulsion! Modern archaeology has established the Israelite settlement of the Canaanite Hill Country from Galilee to the Negev as portrayed in the Bible, was in Ramesside times. Please click here for my article on Manetho vs. Josephus on the Exodus. If Manetho is correct, that Avaris was resettled by Canaanites in Ramesside times, and expelled again, perhaps this answers the "great mystery" ? Why is the pottery of the IRON IA settlements Canaanite in appearance and not Egyptian ? The answer: 13 years was too short a period of time for the reinvading Canaanite descendants of the Hyksos to adopt Egyptian potting techniques. They cast their Canaanite pots in Egypt and still were casting them in the Canaanite manner when they settled AGAIN near Jerusalem in the Hill Country. Not until Egypt abandoned Canaan circa 1130 BCE under Ramesses VI was the land open for conquest, by Philistines and Israelites (Please scroll down to the "19 June 2005 Update" at the end of this article for more details).

As regards the frequently touted date of the Exodus being 1446 BCE, this is based on 1 Kings 6:1 which states that 480 years elapsed between the Exodus and Solomon's 4th year when he began to build the Temple in Jersualem. This year is usually understood to be 966 BCE, so by adding 480 we get an Exodus 1446 BCE. The problem? A number of scholars, Jack (1925), De Vries (1962), Hoffmeier (1996), Kitchen (2003) and Goldstein (2006) have noted that a "careful reading" of data preserved in the books of Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel and Kings actually suggests that almost 600 years elapsed rather than 480 years. I have noted that when one adds this new data to Solomon's 4 th year of 966 BCE the Exodus falls in the reign of Pharaoh Ahmose I who expelled the Hyksos from Egypt, sending them packing back to Canaan. This "new data" suggests that the Hebrew Bible's chronology is aligning the Exodus with the Hyksos Expulsion. For all the details please click here.


Archaeology has established that the Exodus as presented in the Bible never happened, it is a Myth. Some of cities, towns and hamlets mentioned in the Pentateuchal narratives about the Exodus and Joshua's Conquest of Canaan have been attested as being either abandoned or not existing till much later times. The question remains, if archaeology has demonstrated the biblical account to be fictious, how did the notion arise that the Israelites understood that their Hebrew ancestors had once been slaves in an Egyptian bondage, who fled from their captor with God's help and later conquered Canaan ?

This brief article attempts to answer such a question. My research suggests that the "historical kernel" behind this notion lies in events arising in the transition period from Late Bronze Age to Early Iron Age times in Canaan. 

Scholars have long been fascinated with the Tell el-Amarna tablets some which, written by Canaanite Princes to Pharaohs Amenhotep III and Akhenaten (1386-1334 BCE), mention Habiru brigands attacking Pharaoh's lands in Canaan. Some have suggested that the "Habiru" may have been transformed by later storytellers into the "Hebrews" of the Pentateuchal narratives. It is clear from the tablets written in Akkadian (Babylonian) in a Canaanite dialect, that they are not describing the Hebrew conquest of Canaan by Joshua because the names of various Princes of the Canaanite cities do not match the names of the kings appearing in the Book of Joshua.

The Exodus is dated 1446 BCE by some Conservative scholars (cf. 1 Kings 6:1), while Liberal or Humanist scholars prefer 1250 BCE. Neither of these dates falls within the time period of the Amarna letters. Many scholars prefer to see the Early Iron Age (Iron I, 1200-1000 BCE) as being Israelite, noting the appearance of new agarian settlements in the hill country as described in the biblical texts, which in Iron II (1000-587 BCE) become an urban Israel. The study of Early Iron pottery forms in these new settlements revealed that they evolved from Late Bronze Age Canaanite exemplars, not Egyptian types. Archaeological surveys indicated that in the Late Bronze Age the fabric of urban life was severely strained. The high level of urbanization that characterized Canaan in Middle Bronze II B/C did not survive into the following era. The Egyptians are believed to have destroyed the MBIIB/C civilization ca. 1550/1540/1530 BCE after expelling the Hyksos from the Eastern Delta. Thus Canaan became a vassal of Egypt. Annals of various New Kingdom pharaohs mention forays into Canaan to pacify it and collect tribute and slaves to work in Egypt.  Archaeological surveys revealed that many Late Bronze Age sites were not fortified, a contrast to the heavily fortified MBIIB/C period. Nor did these sites ever see again the population levels of the earlier period. I suspect that the Egyptian imperial policy was to keep Canaan weak and in servitude by denying her the right to refortify and resist future Egyptian forays for more tribute and slaves. In this same Late Bronze Age period, we learn of the Habiru attacking Egyptian appointed princes of various cities in Canaan. The Habiru would have a definite advantage in attacking the unfortified settlements of this period.

It has been established that the word Habiru denotes a social class, a term for elements within a society that lived beyond the pale of societal control. At times they are portrayed as runaways who flee to regions beyond the control of the city states where they live a life of brigandry.

I suspect that it is with the Habiru that the notion arose that the Hebrews were  in bondage to Egypt, fled that bondage, and with their God's help were able to return to their ancestral land and conquer it. Some of the Amarna documents mention Canaanite princes being murdered by their townspeople who are characterized as "Slaves" who then runaway to become "Habiru."

`Abdu-Heba, a prince of Jerusalem writes to Akhenaten-

" the Habiru capture the cities of the king...behold Turbazu has been slain in the very gate of Sile...Behold Simreda, the townsmen of Lachish have smitten him, SLAVES WHO HAD BECOME HABIRU. Yapti has been slain in the very gate of Sile, yet the king holds his peace." (p.176, Ian Wilson. The Exodus Enigma. London. Weidenfeld and Nicholson. 1985. ISBN 0-297-78749-7)

These Canaanite princes also speak of themselves as being Pharaoh's "SLAVES" (which, in a sense they were, as vassals serving their Lord) :

"To: Pharaoh, ruler of the heavens and earth
From: Biridiya, governor of Meggido

I AM YOUR SLAVE, and I renew my covenant with you as my pharaoh by bowing before you seven times seven times."

"To Pharaoh, ruler of the heavens and earth
From: Labayu, governor of Shechem

I AM YOUR SLAVE, who is less than the dust under your feet, and I renew my covenant with you as my pharaoh by bowing before you seven times seven times...I am, and always have been, loyal to pharaoh. I am neither a traitor nor a rebel. I pay tribute on time, and I obey every order which the representative of pharaoh here in Canaan gives me...Pharaoh has also indicted my heir as a rebel (Akkadian `apiru). I had no idea that my son was consorting with rebels. I have since handed him over to Addaya. Even if pharaoh had indicted my wife, I would hand her over for trial. I would not even refuse your order to thrust a dagger of bronze into my own heart."
(pp.138-139, "El Amarna Letters." Victor H. Matthews and Don C. Benjamin, Editors.
Old Testament Parallels, Laws and Stories From the Ancient Near East. New York. Paulist Press. 1997. ISBN 0-8091-3731-3 pbk)

Monotheism, the Pre-biblical Origins of 

It is my understanding that the `Apiru/Habiru are the "historical kernel" underlying the imaginary Gibeon-Joshua narratives, Gibeon NOT existing in the Late Bronze Age, when Joshua allegedly conquered the area ca. 1406 BCE (cf. 1 Kings 6:1). The notion that Israel enters into a Covenant of WAR and of PEACE, with her God, who promises to give the Hebrews ALL THE LAND OF CANAAN, mirrors the reports from mayors loyal to Pharaoh that the `Apiru grand plan is to make ALL THE LANDS OF CANAAN APIRU LANDS, to the very border of Egypt. The `Apiru leagues or covenants follow the same procedures outlined for Israel by Moses. First, offer PEACE, if accepted the city must be servants to Israel, if they resist, destroy them in war. I really see no differences between God's Covenant with Israel, promising her victory over her enemies and the `Apiru tactics, both had the same ultimate goal, winning ALL THE LAND OF CANAAN for themselves. 

The Bible portrays God as accomplishing the setting free of his Hebrew people from a long 400 or 430 year Egyptian oppression. I understand that Egypt "oppressed" the `Apiru for the same period of time in Canaan -taking some of them to Egypt as Slaves- ca. 1540-1140 BCE. It is the successful employment of the `Apiru's covenant or league system that, may in part, have driven Egypt out of Canaan, setting free the `Apiru (or their Iron I descendants), allowing them to attain their goal of winning back their patrimony, ALL THE LAND OF CANAAN. Later generations ascribed this victory to God. Shechem's role in the `Apiru uprising is only vaguely remembered in the book of Joshua. It serving as the shrine for the "GOD OF THE COVENANT."

Israel in the Sinai Wilderness is portrayed as possessing two unflattering qualities, she "despises" God and is "rebellious" to his authority. Perhaps these notions recollect the `Apiru in the Amarna era ?  That is, the `Apiru "despised" the ONE GOD, because he is a weakingly god, NOT a "warrior god," to be feared. The `Apiru are also in a state of open "rebellion" vis-a-vis the ONE GOD and his earthly representative, Pharaoh Akhenaten. I suspect that later generations fused these "conflicting concepts" into the biblical narratives. The ONE GOD made possible the weakening of Pharaoh's resolve to put down the Slaves' (`Apiru vassalage being a type of slavery) desire for freedom, allowing them to dream of one day possessing all the Land of Canaan to the border of Egypt, yet the Hebrew ancestors (`Apiru) were in defiance of this ONE GOD, giving him only "lip-service" and engaging in numerous acts of rebellion against this ONE GOD's authority over them.

As noted by numerous commentators, the biblical narrator appears to be "unaware" that in the biblical time frame of the Exodus and Conquest, 1446-1406 BCE (1 Kings 6:1) that Egypt was a mighty power in Canaan.  His memory is NOT of Hebrews fighting Egyptians for control of Canaan, but of Hebrews fighting Amorites, Hittites and Canaanites for control of ALL THE LAND OF CANAAN. Could this notion be based on a historical kernel ? That is, Hebrews fighting Amorites, Hittites and Canaanites may be a vague recollection that the `Apiru state of Amurru (Amorites ?) with its shifting alliance with Hatti (the Hittites ?), may have contended with the Shechemite `Apiru (Shechem of the Joshua narratives) for control of Canaan after Egypt withdrew from Canaan ca. 1140 BCE ? The Exodus and Conquest stories are thus understood to be fictitious, set in a Late Iron II world of ca. 640-562 BCE, but recollecting in a garbled manner real historical events, anchored in historical time by archaeological discoveries in the Amarna era and the `Apiru/Habiru struggles for ALL the Land of CANAAN, and FOR PEACE, that is, no fear of Egyptian dominance, no more war. An end to rule by mighty despots like Pharaoh, rule being more egalitarian, and by tribal laws and the notion of Covenants or Leagues, sworn to in a local shrine before a local god or gods.

Could perhaps the notion that Israel is to honor ONLY ONE GOD, be indebted to the Amarna era and the `Apiru ? Laba`yu of Shechem, accused of being an `Apiru, addressed Pharaoh as "my king, my lord, my God, my Sun." He was evidently well aware that Akhenaten had in place a system of worship of  ONLY ONE GOD, THE ATEN SUN DISK, and that Egyptian myth made Pharaoh the "son of the Sun."

According to Matthews and Benjamin, Labayu, the accused `Apiru, speaks of RENEWING HIS COVENANT with the ONE GOD'S REPRESENTATIVE, pharaoh Akhenaten, and Labayu's city, Shechem, is in the biblical narratives a city par-excellence of  THE GOD OF THE COVENANT in Joshua's days.

Matthews and Benjamin (Emphasis mine) :

"Letter 254:1-40"

"To : Pharaoh, ruler of the heavens and earth,
From Labayu, governor of Shechem,
"I am your slave, who is less than the dust under your feet, and I  RENEW MY COVENANT WITH YOU as my pharaoh by bowing down before you seven times seven times. I have received pharaoh's letter. Your fears are unfounded. I am far too insignificant to be A THREAT to the LANDS OF THE PHARAOH IN CANAAN." (p. 139. Victor H. Matthews and Don C. Benjamin.
Old Testament Parallels. Laws and Stories from the Ancient Near East. [Revised Second Edition]. New York & Mahwah, New Jersey. Paulist Press. 1991, 1997)

I would argue that "if" Matthews and Benjamin's above translation is "valid," that Labayu, an accused `Apiru of Shechem, professing loyalty to the representative of the ONE GOD, THE ATEN, is what is behind the garbled biblical narratives. Here we have an `Apiru/Hapiru/Habiru/Hebrew, professing with lying lips loyalty to the One God and his representative, and in reality despising both and in rebellion to both, just as mirrored in the biblical narratives- that is, Israel is portrayed as despising the ONE GOD, and in rebellion to his authority, even though the ONE GOD "facilitates" the Conquest by ending Egypt's power as a precondition to Conquest.

Matthews and Benjamin explain their translations which are "at variance" or "less literal" than Moran's:

"A. Leo Oppenheim, who died in 1974, was an outstanding philologist and Assyriologist, whose major contribution to scholarship was made as the editor of the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary...he wrote: "...translated texts tend to speak more to the translator than of their original message. It is not too difficult to render texts written in a dead language as literally as possible and to suggest to the outsider, through the use of quaint and stilted locutions, the alleged awkwardness and archaism of a remote period. Those who know the original language retranslate anyhow, consciously or unconsciously, in order to understand it. It is nearly impossible to render any but the simplest Akkadian text in a modern language with a satisfactory approximation to the original in content, style, or connotation..."

Matthews and Benjamin continue (Emphasis mine) :

"In preparing Old Testament Parallels we tried to meet Oppenheim's challenge. Our readings are NOT literal or visual, text-orientated, translations, but responsible, reader-orientated, paraphrases. The English vocabulary and idiom emphasizes the relationship between the ancient Near Eastern parallel and the Bible. It imitates commonly used patterns of speech today. It avoids awkwardness and archaism." (p. xii, "Foreword." Victor H. Matthews and Don C. Benjamin.
Old Testament Parallels. Laws and Stories from the Ancient Near East. [Revised Second Edition]. New York & Mahwah, New Jersey. Paulist Press. 1991, 1997)

Archaeologists speculated that the Late Bronze Age IIB temple found at Shechem was re-orientated 5 degrees to align with the RISING SOLSTICE SUN. As Laba`yu calls Pharaoh my god, my Sun, was this temple honoring Pharaoh, the living representative of THE ONE GOD, THE ATEN (the Aten was also honored by Amenhotep III, Akhenaten's father) ?  Is it just posible, that via an inversion, the `Apiru of Shechem came to identify their local God as possessing all the powers of the Aten ? All Canaan was under the power of THE ONE GOD, THE ATEN, in Akhenaten's days.  Did the `Apiru's descendants come to identify allegiance to the ONE GOD as replacing allegiance to a human king, noting that when Akhenaten passed away the Egyptians disavowed the heretic Pharaoh, returning to their gods ? Thus in a remote enclave of the Egyptian Empire, the memory of the ONE GOD, the Aten, lived on in a new form or inversion, all the royal Egyptian solar imagery, the Sun with wings, the Scarab beetle holding the sun at SUNRISE, the Cherubim derived from the Sphinx, Hor-em-akhet, the SUNRISE on the horizon (recalling Akhenaten had himself portrayed as sphinx with raised hands adoring the Aten), Horus the Calf at SUNRISE came to be refomatted as Yahweh-Elohim DAWNING AT SUNRISE from Sinai, Paran and Seir upon his people (De 33:2), a `Apiru/Habiru/Hebrew Israel.

Assmann on the Aten (Emphasis mine) :

"Whereas the Heliopolitan priests worshiped the sun god as the highest god and creator of all, Akhenaten proclaimed him to be the ONE and ONLY god: 'YOU SOLE GOD BESIDE WHOM THERE IS NO OTHER.' There is only one possible conclusion to draw: If Moses was an Egyptian and if he communicated his religion to the Jews, IT MUST HAVE BEEN AKHENATEN'S the ATEN RELIGION." (p. 153. Jan Assmann. Moses the Egyptian, The Memory of Egypt in Western Monotheism. Cambridge, Massachusetts. Harvard University Press. 1997)

Assman noted that Sigmund Freud, after lengthy investigations, seeking the origins of Judaism's intolerant Monotheistic faith, concluded that an Egyptian was an unlikely candidate for introducing Monotheism to Israel. Nevertheless, he suspected that through some "undetermined mechanism," Judaism had obtained its notion of ONE GOD, from Akhenaton's Aten (cf. pp.151, 167. Jan Assmann. 1997)

In regards to the probabilities of archaic ideas surviving on the fringes of an empire in a backwater region like Canaan, seeing that as Egypt disavowed the Aten and ONE God, so would Canaan according to some scholars, I submit the following from Moran who remarks about archaic relics of language and scribal practices surviving in Canaan, long forgotten of in the motherland.

Moran :

"Language and writing. The Amarna letters are manifestations of the 'cuneiform culture' that was shared in the 14th century BC throughout the ancient Near East...By the middle of the 3rd millennium BC not only had cuneiform writing been introduced into Syria, but already at that early was being used in a breadth of application and with a sophistication rivaling those of the great centers in Sumer and Akkad. By the first quarter of the 2d millennium BC knowledge of cuneiform writing had spread far and wide, and Babylonian had become the principal language of a cosmopolitan culture. It was the language of international relations, but often, too, of local affairs, both legal and administrative. It was also a language of learning...the language of the Amarna letters is Babylonian, but for the most part it is a Babylonian profoundly different from that of the previous international age. It reflects many of the developments that one finds in the 'good' Middle Babylonian language of the letters from Babylonia itself. But if the cuneiform culture of the provinces was to some extent up-to-date, it was not infrequently, as is usually the way with the provinces, also behind the times. This is true of the writing: a logogram that had been replaced by another logogram centuries before in the scribal schools of Babylonia survives in the provincial culture; an exercise once part of the scribal training but long abandoned in Babylonia is still part of the provincial curriculum; old orthographies are retained, sometimes mixed together with modern ones; and so on. In the language, too, one finds a similar quaint and archaic quality. The provincial scribes, perhaps at times because of analogues in their own native language, may use old common or dialectal forms that had otherwise disappeared centuries before. Their lexicon is full of words that by the 14th century BC had either disappeared completely from the Babylonian language or lived on only in the elevated language reserved for the solemnities of myth, epic, hymns and prayers. It is this combination of the old and the new that is so typically provincial and so distinctive of the Amarna letters." (pp.xix-xx. "Introduction." William L. Moran. The Amarna Letters. Baltimore. The Johns Hopkins University Press. 1987)

Some scholars have been struck by the parallels between  Psalm 141 glorifying Yahweh in the Bible and a hymn honoring the Aten in Akhenaten's days. Here is possible proof, that the memory of the ONE GOD, the Aten, "lives" in Judaism, but assimilated to Yahweh by the Apiru/Habiru's descendants. The ONLY time this hymn would have come into the sphere of knowledge of the Hebrews would be THE AMARNA period, a window of 16 years. A period when, according to the mayor of Gubla (Gebal or Byblos) warnings were given that Pharaoh must realize that the Apiru's inent is take ALL THE LANDS OF CANAAN for themselves to the borders of Egypt- just as another Hebrew, Abraham is "promised" ALL THE LAND OF CANAAN for his progeny, a land whose borders are from the river of Egypt to the Euphrates- the very borders of the Egyptian Asiatic empire.

A letter from Rib-Hadda, prince of Gubla (Gebal, Byblos) to Pharaoh, warning him that the `Apiru may seize his city at any moment and that they intend to seize all of Pharaoh's lands :

"Moreover, look, he strives to seize Gubla ! And...may the king, my lord, give heed to the words of his servant, and may he hasten with all speed chariots and troops that they may guard the city of the king, my lord...But if the king, my lord, does not give heed to the words of his servant, then Gubla will be joined to him, and all the lands of the king, as far as Egypt, will be joined to the `Apiru..." (P.160. EA 88. "Blockaded." William L. Moran. The Amarna Letters. Baltimore. Johns Hopkins University Press. 1987)

The prince of Gubla again warns of the imminent fall of his city to the `Apiru if Pharaoh neglects to send forces, his comment suggests that Gubla/Gebal/Byblos is PART OF CANAAN. He also states that the `Apiru will take all the land of Canaan. It is worth recalling that Abraham the Hebrew is promised by God, all the land of Canaan (Ge 15:18-21).

"...Sumur has now been seized; troops from Gubla have been killed...We are servants of the king, and it is distressing for us to see we are going to be taken. I myself am afraid I will be killed...He must not neglect his city. If he does not send them [troops] to Gubla, they [`Apiru] will take it...The lands of Canaan will not belong to the king." (pp.212-213. "EA 131 A Commissioner Killed." Moran. 1987)

Professor Mendenhall on the Apiru use of "Covenants" to wrest the land from Egypt (Emphasis mine) :

"Rib-Addi [of Byblos] again had to plead desperately to the pharaoh to send food for the inhabitants of his city, who were living on meagerly rationed supplies, verging on starvation, and about to revolt. The enemy was circulating messages to the local populations saying, in effect: "Assassinate your rulers, JOIN US IN A COVENANT, THEN YOU WILL HAVE PEACE," (pp. 221-222. George E. Mendenhall. The Tenth Generation, The Origins of the Biblical Tradition. Baltimore. Johns Hopkins University Press. 1973).

"The final goal was the unification of the land by COVENANT, if Rib-Addi's source of information is to be trusted." (p. 129. George E. Mendenhall. The Tenth Generation, The Origins of the Biblical Tradition. Baltimore. Johns Hopkins University Press. 1973).

A letter advising Pharaoh of the `Apiru capture and burning of cities :

"...the `Apiru forces waged war against me and captured the cities of the king, my lord, my god, my Sun. The `Apiru captured Mahzibtu, a city of the king, my lord, and plundered it and sent it up in flames..." (p.265. EA 185. "An Egyptian Traitor." Moran. 1987)

Joshua is recorded as burning "some" but not all cities. This situation is reflected in the Amarna Letters, that is, cities who agree to enter into a covenant or league with the `Apiru are spared, those who resist are in some cases, plundered and burned.

Hazor, in Canaan, is allied with the `Apiru:

"The king of Hasura has abandoned his house and has aligned himself with the `Apiru...He has taken over the land of the king for the `Apiru." (p.235. EA 148. "The Need for Mainland Tyre." Moran. 1985)

Meggido is under attack by the `Apiru :

"I have obeyed the orders of the king, my lord and mu Sun, and I am indeed guarding Magidda, the city of the king, my lord, day and night...By day I guard it from the fields with chariots, an by night on the walls of the king, my lord. and as the warring of the `Apiru in the land is severe, may the king, my lord, take cognizance of his land." (p.297. EA 243. "Around-the-clock defense." Moran. 1987)

Abraham is not only depicted as being a Hebrew, whose descendants will obtain "all of the land of Canaan"  -like the `Apiru are alleged to be doing-  but he evidently was in Damascus as he notes that he has no son and that a slave, Eliezer of Damascus, born into his own household, will be his heir (Ge 15:2). It is noteworthy that `Apiru are portrayed as being active as mercenaries in the Damascus area in the Amarna letters. We are told Israel's ancestor was a wandering Aramean (De 26:5). Damascus was later a capital of some Aramean tribes. Perhaps the Bible is recollecting Aramean `Apiru from the Damascus area in the scenarios about Abraham ?

Rib-Hadda advises Pharaoh that the son of `Abdi-Ashirta of Amurru, who has formed an alliance with the `Apiru, is in Damascus-

"May my lord heed my words. Seeing that Aziru, the son of `Abdi-Ashirta, is in Damascus along with his brothers." (p.181. EA 107. "Charioteer but no horses." Moran. 1987)

Biryawaza relates how `Apiru enemies seek his life, while he holes up for protection in Damascus-

"They gave his horses and his chariot to the `Apiru...And who am I ? My purpose is to be a servant. Everything belongs to the king. Biridaswa saw this deed and moved Yanuamma to rebellion against me. Having barred the city gate against me, he took the chariots from Astartu but gave both of them to the `Apiru and did not give both of them to the king my lord. When the king of Busruna and the king of Halunnu saw this they waged war with Biridaswa against me, constantly saying, "Come, let's kill Biryawaza, and we must not let him go...But I got away from them and stayed in Dimasqa..." (p.275. EA 197. "Biryawaza's plight." Moran. 1987)

Professor Moscati has observed that "Canaan" was ALL of Syria-Palestine (Emphasis mine) :

"As early as the 3rd millennium BC, the term "Canaanites" was used for the people and Canaan" for the region, but THIS DENOTES THE WHOLE SYRO-PALESTINIAN AREA." (p. 24. "Who Were the Phoenicians?" Sabatino Moscati. The Phoenicians. Gruppo Editoriale Fabbri Bompiani, Sonzogno, Etas S.p.A. Via Mecenate 91, Milan. 1988)

If Moscati's observation is "on target" we may have another explanation for why Israel saw her ancestors as invading Arameans from Northern Syria (Haran being in Northern Syria today).

I have explained elswehere that I believe that one of the historical kernels to the Exodus story is the Hyksos expulsion, dated variously 1580-1540 BCE. Some scholars (Mendenhall, Hess, Saggs) have suggested that Iron I A may be an Aramean Israel invading and settling the land from Northern Syria. If they are correct, how do we account for the notion that invading Iron IA Arameans would possess a tradition of their ancestors having been expelled from Egypt in Hyksos times ? The answer will surprise some. Bietak, who is charge of the excavations at Tell ed-Daba, believed to be the Hyksos capital in the eastern delta, noted that two different groups of people were settling down there, Northern Syrians, arriving via ships from the coast (Ugarit and Phoenicia) as well as Southern Canaanites (some of the houses they built exhibited architectural features from Syria). When these people were expelled, they fled back to their homelands. Egyptian annals suggest Egypt pursued these peoples as far as the Euphrates, that is NORTHERN Syria ! The Hyksos world was NOT just South Canaan, it stretched to the Euphrates ! When an "Aramean" Israel invaded Canaan in Iron IA, she BROUGHT with her the memory of her Hyksos ancestors (North Syrians) being expelled from Egypt. Her attack from Transjordan, via Syria preserved the memory of her ancestors being Arameans, a term which arose in the course of the 12th century, being first attested in Neo-Assyrian records. As regards invading North Syrian "Arameans" possessing the notion that their ancestors were "Hebrews" or Habiru/Apiru, one must recall that this term was NOT UNIQUE to Canaan, Abiru appear in the records of Syria, and Mesopotamia. So the notion that Hebrews lived in Ur of the Chaldees (Babylonia) and at Haran, is correct, they are the Habiru of those areas in Late Bronze Age times. Neo-Assyrian records mention expelling Arameans from the area of Babylonia and the western borders of Assyria, in northern Mesoptamia.

Bietak (Emphasis mine):

"The sites, in particular Tell ed-Dab`a, show that long before the Hyksos, Near Easterners lived in the Nile Delta. The camp sites at Wadi Tumilat show that they were nomads pasturing their flocks. The stable settlement at Tell ed-Dab`a, with its Syrian middle-room houses (dated to the Middle Bronze IIA period), as well as house burials and temple constructions, demonstrate that an urban population of a different background was in residence there. Some of the ceramic and architectural features point toward northern Syria as their origin. This source is also indicated by a locally made cylinder seal, with a representation of the northern Syrian storm god. Another part of the population may have originated from southern Palestine, from where the majority of trade originated." (p.142. Vol. 2. Manfred Bietak. "Hyksos." Donald B. Redford, Editor. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt. Oxford University Press. 2001)

Joshua and Jabin in the Amarna Letters?

Moran (1987 The Amarna Letters p. 385) notes a Yabni-Ilu, West-Semitic, meaning "Ilu has created" as a mayor of Lakisha (biblical Lachish). So, perhaps biblical Jabin of Joshua's conquest (Joshua 11:1) recalls a Late Bronze Age Yabni [El]? What is interesting is that this name suggests that the mayor of Lachish in the Amarna era was a worshiper of the god El, the same god (?) Yisar-El (Israel) worshiped!

The 1992 excavations at Hazor found a partial clay tablet (2 centimeters, or less than 50% of its original size) addressed to an Ibni-Addu (Jabin-Adad), dated variously to ca. the 19th-17th centuries BCE (Middle Bronze II).  Middle Bronze II Hazor is believed to have been destroyed by the Egyptians in the 16th century (ca. 1540 BCE) upon the expulsion of the Hyksos. If the Hyksos expulsion has been reformatted into the bible's Exodus, perhaps Ibni-Addu of Middle Bronze II Hazor is being recalled ?

Where is Joshua? Does he appear in the Amarna Letters? The answer is, yes, perhaps he does! Letter EA 256 line 18 mentions an individual bearing the west-semitic name Yishuya, according to Moran, a hypostation of "[Divine Name] has saved" [ysh`](cf. 1987:385, Moran. The Amarna Letters. "Index of Proper Names").

"Yishuya" appears in a letter written by Mut-Bahlu ("Man of Baal"), the son of the deceased Laba`yu, mayor of Shechem (Laba`yu being accused of handing over Shechem to the `Apiru in earlier letters). Mut-Bahl is the mayor of Pihilu (Classical Pella, Arabic khibet el Fahil) in Transjordan. How interesting that Yishuya is known by members of a family associated with Shechem in the Hill Country of Canaan, scene of a swearing in Covenent by Joshua in the Bible, and that Joshua launched his attack from Transjordan. Might Yishuya of Transjordan (?) be the character "lurking behind" Joshua, Hebrew "Yehowshuwa"  in the garbled biblical account of the Conquest of Canaan by the Hebrews?

Moran (Emphasis mine):

"Say to Yanhamu, my lord: Message of Mut-Bahlu, your servant. I fall at the feet of my lord. How can it have been said in your presence, "Mut-Bahlu has fled. He has hidden Ayyab" ? How can the king of Pihilu flee from the commissioner: su-ki-ni of the king, his lord ? As the king, my lord. lives, I swear Ayyab is not in Pihilu. In fact, he has been in the field for two months. Just ask Ben-Elima. Just ask Tadu. Just ask YISHUYA whether, after he robbed Shulum-Marduk, I went to the aid of Ashtartu, when all the cities of Garru had become hostile: Udumu, Aduru,Araru, Meshta, Magdalu, Heni-anabi, Sarqu. (Hayyunu, along with Yabiluma, has been captured.) Moreover, seeing that, after you sent me a tablet, I wrote to him, before you arrive from your journey, he will surely have arrived in Pihilu. And I do obey your orders." (Moran 1987:309)

There is a problem, however, in regards to associating Monotheism with Atenism. The Aten was not presented in Akhenaten's hymns as a mighty Warrior or War-god. The Aten was "The SOLE GOD," a god of ALL mankind, not just of Egypt. But Yahweh in the biblical narratives is portrayed as a "God of War," a great warrior. Another problem we face is that the supreme god of the Late Bronze Age Ugaritic myths, El or Bull El, is NOT portrayed as a fearsome warrior god either.

Yet, as noted by scholars like Frank Moore Cross and Mark S. Smith, there are certain qualities ascribed to Bull El that appear to be assimilated to Yahweh, like being "the kindly, the compassionate."  Smith is of the opinion that Canaanite El (Bull EL) has been merged with another god, Yahweh. He notes that in the Ugaritic myths, that while El was the Supreme god, he takes a backseat to Baal, who is a warrior god. Smith suggests that this may have happened to El, that Yahweh the warrior, eclipsed or supplanted the "the Kindly, the Compassionate" El ( He speculates that Yahweh was originally the son of El, just as Baal was a son of El).

It is my understanding that Finkelstein and McDonald are correct, the setting of the Exodus stories is toward the end of Late Iron II, ca. 640-560 BCE. In the course of the 9th-7th centuries BCE Assyria and then Babylon came to dominate the Ancient Near Eastern world. Both had national gods who were  -foremost-  warrior gods. Israel probably also came to see her God as a great warrior too. But the need for a warrior god appears even earlier, the `Apiru assembled themselves at the shrine of Ninurta ( a warrior god honored by the Assyrians) to form an alliance or league against the mayors of the city-states still loyal to Pharaoh. So, evidently, the `Apiru honored a warrior god, not a god of mercy and compassion, that is El. El was probably still honored, but he took a backseat to warrior  gods like Baal (Baal Hadad), Ninurta, Reshep, Sopdu, and Mekal. Smith and Cross are probably correct, El the merciful, the compassionate, in later ages came to fused with his sons, the warrior gods.

I have noted that Egyptian Solar imagery was assimilated to Yahweh, the Sphinxes, aspects of Horus (Egyptian Hor-em-akhet) the rising Sun of Dawn, relentless destroyers of Egypt's enemies in war; in art, they are portrayed trampling upon fallen Asiatic, Lybian and Nubian foes, came to be reformatted as Yahweh's creatures or Cherubim, accompanying him into battle with the Ark of the Covenant. Horus the mighty warrior who slew Egypt's enemies as Horus of Behdet, the Winged Solar Disk, became metaphorically, Yahweh the rising sun of dawn with healing in his wings (Malachi 4:2). Thus Egyptian solar-warrior gods came to be transformed and assimilated to Yahweh.

Just as El was famed for his compassion and mercy, so, likewise the Aten. It would be the merciful qualities of these two gods that would be fused to Yahweh the mighty warrior god. The Aten would also provide, perhaps, the "seed-kernel" of  "a ONE GOD" concept assimilated to Yahweh.

During the Late Bronze Age Egyptian metaphysical thought explored the notion that all the gods were but aspects of ONE GOD. The Babylonians appeared to have had similar notions, in that in the Enuma Elish hymn they declared that the 50 gods were but aspects of the Great God, Marduk. When the Assyrians captured Babylon and made it part of her empire, they took the Babylonian national hymn the Enuma Elish, dedicated to Marduk, and made their god, Asshur, the god who was manifest in the 50 gods. It would appear then, that both in Egypt and Mesopotamia metaphysical speculation existed about ONE GOD being revealed in many gods. Perhaps the Hebrews took these seed kernels and via an "inversion" developed them into their notion of ONE GOD?

The Late Bronze Age Egyptians were also fond of fusing or combining gods, such as Re-Harakhty, Amun-Re, the sun being three gods fused together as Khepri-Re-Atum. Perhaps this fusion of gods had an impact on Late Bronze Age Syro-Palestine as well, and they came to fuse their gods and goddesses together ? Thus Israel in fusing Baal the Storm god with Yaw/Yam the sea god, and Bull El was employing Egyptian models? Perhaps Athirat, Anat, Astarte, Qatesh, and Hathor (Baalat) came to be fused eventually into Asherah by Iron II times?

To the Degree that the worship of the ONE GOD weakened Egypt, allowing the `Apiru to hope to reclaim All the Lands of Canaan for their children to enjoy in peace, this event may have been recollected in Iron II times as the ONE GOD humbling Egypt, setting his people free (Egypt's 400 year oppression of the Apiru and Syria-Palestine coming to an end ca. 1140 BCE) and delivering the Land of Canaan to them.

A number of scholars have noted that Yahweh appears to be a storm god like Baal, but I would like to point out here, that my research suggests he is also assimilating Sun gods and Moon gods as well. A number of scholars have noted the observance of the New Moon and Full Moon in the Israelite Cult. The Sabbath or Hebrew Shappatu has been suggested as derived in part from Moon worship, Haran/Harran being a center of worship of the Moon god, Su'en or Sin, and Abraham allegedly being of this city. The Mesopotamian texts speak metaphorically both the Moon and Sun as Calves (the Queen of Heaven is a cow goddess and sister of the Sun Calf, both born of the Moon Calf). Egyptian myths speak of the Sun as a Golden Calf at sunrise born of the sky/cow goddess Hathor. So, It is my understanding that Yahweh is not "just" a Storm God, he is also assimilating Moon and Solar/Sun forms of worship as well.

Smith on Israel's Canaanite Heritage (Emphasis mine):

"The most significant change involves Israel's cultural identity. Despite the long regnant model that the "Canaanites" and Israelites were people of fundamentally different culture, archaeological data now cast doubt on this view. The material culture of the region exhibits numerous common points between the Israelites and "Canaanites" in the Iron I period (ca. 1200-1000). The record would suggest that the Israelite culture largely overlapped with and derived from, "Canaanite" culture...The change in the scholarly understanding of early Israel's culture has led to the second major change in perspective, which involves the nature of the Yahwistic cult. With the change in perspective, concerning Israel's "Canaanite" background, long-held notions about Israelite religion are slowly eroding. Baal and Asherah were part of Israel's "Canaanite" heritage, and the process of the emergence of Israelite monolatry was an issue of Israel's breaking with its own "Canaanite" past and not simply one of avoiding "Canaanite" neighbors...The shape of this religious spectrum in early Israel changed, due in large measure to two major developments; the first was convergence, and the second was differentiation. Convergence involved the coalescence of various dieties and/or some of their features into the figure of Yahweh. This development begain in the period of the Judges and continued during the first half of the monarchy. At this point, El and Yahweh were identified, and perhaps Asherah no longer continued as an identifiably separate deity. Features belonging to dieties such as El, Asherah, and Baal were absorbed into the Yahwistic religion of Israel...The second major process involved differentiation of Israelite cult from its "Canaanite" heritage. Numerous features of early Israelite cult were later rejected as "Canaanite" and non-Yahwistic. This development apparently began first with the rejection of Baal worship in the ninth century, continued in the eighth to sixth centuries with legal and prophetic condemnations of Baal worship, the Asherah, solar worship, the high places, practices pertaining to the dead, and other religious features. The two major developments of convergence and differentiation shaped the contours of the distinct monotheism that Israel practiced and defined in the Exile (ca. 587-538) following the final days of the Judaean monarchy." (pp.6-9. "Introduction." Mark S. Smith. The Early History of God, Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel. Grand Rapids, Michigan. William B. Eerdmans. 1990, 2000)

Of interest is that in the Ugaritic texts El possesses a wife and children, the gods and goddesses. He is also called "the father of mankind," ab-adm. By biblical times, the Iron II (ca. 1000-587 BCE), El "the compassionate, the merciful," has been merged with Yahweh, a warrior god, and he has lost his family; El now has no wives, no children, his "wife" is metaphorically "Israel" the harlot ! El's rebellious feuding, quarrelsome children, the gods and goddesses, Baal, Mawt, Yaw/Yam and Anat disappear in Iron II times to be replaced by different children, a rebellious, feuding  mankind in the form of Israel.

Mendenhall argues for an identfication of the Apiru with the Hebrews:

"The final point to be raised in this chapter is a defense of the equation of 'Apiru and Hebrew on this nonethnic but legal and political ground...has already been pointed out...that the patriarchal narratives indicate a similiar pattern of social behavior. Abraham and Jacob, as well as others in the patriarchal period, are chieftains not of nomadic groups but of 'Apiru groups which have no legal status and have indeed severed themselves from an earlier political community...Jacob was neither a 'wandering Aramean' nor a 'Syrian ready to perish.' He was in fact a fugitive Aramean who by flight and stealth cut himself off from the community of which he had been a member...The designation Ivri for the Israelites is then the last preserved usage of a term which had applied to any number of stateless persons and groups in the second millennium BC. It came to be applied to Israel because there was a continuity in pre-Israelite tradition and history of refusal by villagers and shepherds to become assimilated to the existing political organizations in whose environs they lived...It was only under the Monarchy that they ceased to be 'Apiru and became a nation. Consequently, the term 'Apiru ceased to be a politicolegal term and became an 'ethnic' designation...The 'Apiru whom the new state created by its intolerability had to be desinated by some other term...The Bible is the best illustration of the one 'Apiru ethic whic has always been thrown out when the political state took over." (pp.135-138. George E. Mendenhall. The Tenth Generation, The Origins of the Biblical Tradition. Baltimore. Johns Hopkins University Press. 1973)

I suspect that the Habiru came to see themselves as freedom fighters. They fought against the quisling Canaanite princes (their brethren) who served Egyptian interests. As long as Egypt remained strong the only way of escape from tribute and slavery or servitude was to flee to the Hill Country where the city states had no power. When enough disaffected Canaanites had fled they formed themselves into a political body whose aim it was to take back their ancestral lands from Egypt and her quisling Canaanite princes. Over a period of time later generations transformed this "historical kernel" into a myth about their "Hebrew" ancestors being Egyptian slaves and fleeing Egyptian control, and conquering the "Promised Land." It's interesting to note that Ezra portrays the returnees from the Babylonian capivity as "Slaves in their own land" rendering the land's bounty to their Persian overlords (Ezra 9:8-9). Evidently the Habiru saw themeselves as slaves in their own country too serving Egypt and Pharaoh.

When the Philistines arrived and settled in coastal Canaan, they destoryed the cities and displaced the population living there. Perhaps some survivors fled eastward to the Hill country to link up with the Habiru ? With them, they may have brought garbled memories of their Hyksos ancestors who settled at Sharuhen (Tell el Ajjul near Gaza?) who were expelled by Egyptians. The memory of an expulsion from Egypt combined with Habiru notions of being slaves in one's own land of the Egyptians, eventually came to be reformatted as Hebrews in an Egyptian Captivity, fleeing that captivity and eventually reclaiming the Promised Land.

This proposal would account for the Early Iron pottery forms being non-Egyptian and derived from Late Bronze Age types. The disaffected Canaanites, some of whom -who were being characterized by Egyptian serving Canaanite princes- as runaway murdering slaves to become Habiru, would explain the origins of Hebrew slaves fleeing Egyptian control.

Joshua's conquest would be a garbled allusion to the Habiru attacks of Akhenaten's era, and probably even later times. The destruction of Late Bronze Age sites in Canaan would then be a result of several factors, Habiru raids on quisling Canaanite princes attempting to win back their "ancestral heritage," Philistines expanding eastward and destroying Canaanite cities after throwing off vassalage to the Egyptians, and the Egyptians attempting to counter Habiru successes. When Egypt finally left Canaan to her own devices, the Habiru were able to eventually coalesce into the "Hebrew" ancestors of Early Iron Israel.


I am aware that a controversy exists about equating Hebrews with Habiru. The Hebrew Bible presents the Hebrews as their ancestors, and descendants of Eber. The bliblical geneaolgy is probably fictious. Yet, I still believe with others, that there is a relationship, linguistically and historically. True, in earlier ANE contexts, Habiru are not portrayed as Hebrews, nor is Habiru used as a "gentilic,"  as in the Bible, yet we must allow that later generations may not have known this information and advanced their own "misguided notion" that a person existed called Eber, from whom they traced their descent.  Sooo, I agree, the Habiru are not really Hebrews as the Bible understands and presents the term, the Habiru are, however, in my humble opinion, *the historical kernel* which later generations transformed into the Hebrews via a "mythical" ancestor called Eber.

Update 23 July 2004

Some Conservative Christian scholars understand on the basis of 1 Kings 6:1 that the Exodus was ca. 1446 BCE and after wandering in the Wilderness for 40 years Canaan's Conquest began under Joshua ca. 1406 BCE.

Solomon is assumed to have come to the throne ca. 970 BCE, we are told that David reigned 40 years (1 Kings 2:11) so 970 + 40 = 1010 BCE for the beginning of his reign, and, according to the New Testament, Saul reigned 40 years (Acts 13:21), 1010 + 40 = 1050 BCE for the beginnig of his rule.

1406 BCE minus 1050 BCE =  356 years, more or less, for the period of the Judges.

Is there any information about events in Canaan during "the period of the Judges," 1406-1050 BCE, "outside of" the biblical account ?

Yes. Under Pharaoh Akhenaten who reigned ca. 1350-1334 BCE, we are informed that the land of Canaan is in a state of rebellion to Egyptian authority egged-on by forces who are called 'Apiru/Habiru. Loyal Egyptian-appointed mayors of some Canaanite settlements inform Pharaoh that the intent of the 'Apiru/Habiru is to seize all the land of Canaan to the border of Egypt to make it their own.

Of interest is that the book of Judges tells us that Israel, more specifically, Judah, shortly after the death of Joshua captures Jerusalem (Judg 1:8) killing all its inhabitants and setting it on fire. What is surprising is that we are later told that the Jebusites -the inhabitants of Jerusalem- were not all slaughtered after all, Judah intermarried with them (Judg 3:5-6) and when David captured Jerusalem, Jebusites still lived there (2 Sam 5:6-9), and later he bought a threshing floor for the future temple from Araunah the Jebusite (2 Sam 24:16).

Is there any archaeological data on Jerusalem under the Judges ? Yes. An Egyptian-appointed mayor called Abdi-Heba wrote several letters in Akkadian script on clay tablets to Pharaoh Akhenaten appraising him of the deteriorating political situation in Canaan. He notes with alarm the growing power of the 'Apiru, and eventually informs Pharaoh that all the land of Canaan is lost to the 'Apiru, ONLY his city, Jerusalem is still loyal and has not gone over to the rebels. He pleads for Pharaoh to send troops to restore Canaan to Egyptian sovereignty, and concludes his letter, that if Pharaoh chooses not to send troops, then he requests permission to abandon the city and come live in Egypt as a loyal servant.

Scholars are divided as to what to make of the "Apiru. Are they the Hebrews wresting the land of Canaan away from the Canaanites or are they some other unknown phenomena which the Bible is silent about ?

The date for the 'Apiru activity is ca. 1350-1334 BCE, the reign of Akhenaten. If Conservative Christian scholars are right about a Conquest under Joshua ca. 1406 BCE, this means Israel and its Judges have been in Canaan for approximately 56 years when the 'Apiru rebellion takes place. Did Jerusalem "fall" to the 'Apiru shortly after Abdi-Heba's letter to Pharaoh ? If so, how to explain the biblical statement that Jerusaelm was captured by Judah, all its inhabitants put to the sword, and the city set on fire, after Joshua's death ?

We are told after conquering the land Joshua assembles the tribes at Shechem to get them to pledge their loyalty to Yahweh (Josh 24:1-29). Still later, under the Judges, Israelites at Shechem choose a king for themselves called Abimelech  (Judg 9:1-22), who rules for three years.

Is there any data, archaeologically speaking on Shechem, in the time of the Judges, 1406-1050 BCE ? Yes. The Egyptian-Appointed mayor of Shechem, caled Labayu, is busy defending himself in letters to Pharaoh, countering claims from other mayors that he is an Apiru, "a rebel" to Egyptian authority and aiding and abetting the 'Apiru seizure of nearby cities loyal to Pharaoh.

If Shechem is an "Israelite" city under Joshua and Abimelech, who's this Labayu character ? What's he doing here, in the setting of the Judges, 1406 BCE to 1050 BCE ? Labayu also learns that Pharaoh considers his son to be a possible Apiru, consorting with those disloyal to Egypt. Still later one of Labayu's sons appears in the correspondence as being in charge of Pella in Transjordan and he has to defend himself, to Pharaoh. Of interest is that this son knows an individual called Yishuya, which is similar in sound to Joshua of Transjordan fame in the Bible.  So, how does one reconcile Holy Writ's scenario of Shechem being in Israelite hands since Joshua's days, yet it has "Apiru/Habiru rebels" residing within it opposing Akhenaten's authority and writing to him NOT in Hebrew but in Akkadian (Babylonian), in a Canaanite vernacular ?

If the "Apiru/Habiru residing in the Hill Country of Canaan and Shechem of 1350-1334 BCE are NOT the Hebrews in the days of the Judges, 1406-1050 BCE, then WHERE ARE THE HEBREWS ? Why  _no mention of them_  in the Tell el-Amarna correspondence ? Are they just invisible tent-dwelling "phantoms" wandering the hills with their tents, goats and sheep, waiting to settle down and build their villages in Iron I ca. 1200-1000 BCE ?

There exists an extensive literature arguing as to whether the 'Apiru/Habiru
are the Ibri (Hebrews) of Scripture. Some say yes, some say no. I am sure
that if you go to and key in Habiru/Hebrew you will get a
sampling of arguments pro and con.

For the sake of argument lets say that the 'Apiru/Habiru cannot be the Ibri

The question still remains, the Bible suggests for some Conservative scholars that Shechem since 1406 BCE has been in Israelite hands under Joshua and his successors, the Judges. How does one "account" for the _disharmony_ of the political situation in the Tell el-Amarna letters concerning Shechem vis-a-vis the Bible?  If Hebrews during the days of the Judges are in control of Shechem, ca. 1406-1050 BCE, who is Labayu, an _EGYPTIAN-APPOINTED MAYOR_ of Shechem, and accused 'Apiru/Habiru, writing in Akkadian (Babylonian) cuneiform, betraying a "Canaanite dialect" and NOT a "Hebrew dialect"? Again I ask of Conservative scholars, "Where are "the Hebrews" (Ibri) of Shechem under the Judges, ca. 1406-1050 BCE?

19 June 2005 Update:

Rosen :

"The virtual absence of remains from the Middle Bronze or Late Bronze Ages in this area [the Lower Negeb] and the rest of the Negeb contradict the 38 year Israelite settlement recounted in Exodus. Similar problems attend virtually all attempts to identify specific sites (especially Mt. Sinai) in the Central Negeb with places mentioned in Exodus." (Vol. 4. p.1064. Steven A. Rosen. "Negeb."David Noel Freedman. Editor. The Anchor Bible Dictionary. New York. Doubleday. 1992)

In addition to Rosen's above observation of an ABSENCE of a Late Bronze Age presence (1540-1200 BCE) of Israel in the Negev is that field surveys undertaken by the Israeli Department of Antiquities in the 1970's through 1980's FAILED to find a presence of Israel in the Hill Country of Canaan from the Galilee to the Negev in the same time period. That is to say, those scholars arguing for an Exodus circa 1446 BCE on the basis of 1 Kings 6:1 statement of 480 years elapsing from the Exodus to Solomon's 4th year have _no archaeological proof_ of Israel's presence in these areas. The Galilee to the Negev is pretty much DEVOID of any human occupation, sedentary or non-sedentary. If Israel settled in this area under Joshua circa 1400 BCE as maintained by some Conservative Bible scholars, where's the archaeological proof ?

This area  -Galilee to the Negev-  however, is extensively occupied beginning with Iron IA (circa 1230-1150 BCE). Seeking "archaeological proof" of the Bible's portrayal of Israel under Joshua, seizing and controling the Hill Country of Canaan from the Galilee to the Negev, most archaeologists understand this occured in Iron IA, as suddenly over 300+ villages and hamlets of stone appear in this region and in Moab too. 

Is there a "way out" for Conservative scholars ? Perhaps. They "might" argue that from 1400 to 1200 BCE Israel dwelt in tents which leave no traces of an occupation, and for unknown reasons, circa 1200 BCE, Israel began building hamlets and villages of stone. The problem ? Why would Israel wait almost 200 years before building villages ? 

Professor Finkelstein on the ABSENCE of an extensive Late Bronze Age presence in the Hill Country of Canaan from the Galilee to the Negev:

"However Late Bronze Age sites are virtually absent not only in my own southern Samaria survey, but also in the surveys which have been carried out in the Galilee (Frankel 1994; Gal 1992:56), in the the hill country north of Jerusalem (Finkelstein and Magen 1993) and in the Judaean hills (Ofer 1994). In all these regions, which were surveyed by different teams, hundreds of survey days have revealed very little evidence for sedentary sites of this period, and almost no evidence for non-sedentary activity." (p. 25. "The Archaeology of Nomads, Survey Methods." Israel Finkelstein. Living on the Fringe, the Archaeology and History of the Negev, Sinai and Neighboring Regions in the Bronze and Iron Ages. Sheffield, England. Sheffield Academic Press. 1995, 2001)

For a more detailed account of the "absence" of a Late Bronze Age presence in the lands allotted the Tribe of Benjamin please click here.

Stager found fault with Finkelstein's notion that Nomads wandering the periphery of Canaan settled down to become "Israel" in Iron I and become sedentary. His concern was that the archaeological data suggested a massive influx of peoples and he couldn't accept that such numbers could come from the impoverished Late Bronze Age Canaanite city-states or Nomads wandering about on Canaan's periphery.

Stager provides more details on the number of Late Bronze Age vs. Iron Age I sites and the estimated populations:

"The Israeli archaeologist [Finkelstein] has adapted and updated Alt's nomadic hypothesis to explain the hundreds of new settlements that have been recorded in archaeological surveys. But it is difficult to believe that all of these new founded, early Iron I settlements emanated from a single source, namely, sheep-goat pastoralism. In symbiotic relations the pastoral component rarely exceeds 10 to 15 percent of the total population. Given the decline of sedentarists in Canaan throughout the Late Bronze Age, it seems unlikely that most of the Iron Age settlers came from indigenous pastoralist backgrounds." (p. 139. Lawrence E. Stager. "Forging An Identity, The Emergence of Ancient Israel." M.D. Coogan, editor. The Oxford History of the Biblical World. New York. 1998)

"In the nine areas surveyed, 88 Late bronze Age sites occupy a built-up area of more than 200 hectares (500 acres), for an estimated total population of about 50,000. In the same areas there are 678 Iron Age I settlements, each site being a hectare or less, for a total of about 600 hectares (nearly 1,500 acres), with an estimated 150,000 inhabitants...633 or 93% of these Iron Age I sites are new foundations, usually small, unwalled villages. Most of these new settlements are located in the highlands or plateaus on both sides of the Jordan river. Settlement is especially dense in the territories of Manesseh and Ephraim in the west and in Gilead and Moab in the east, both "frontiers" having been sparsely settled in the Late Bronze Age. This extra-ordinary increase in occupation during Iron I cannot be explained only by natural population growth of the few Late Bronze Age city-states in the region: there must have been a major influx of people into the highlands in the 12th and 11th centuries BCE." (p.134. Lawrence E. Stager. "Forging An Identity, The Emergence of Ancient Israel." M.D. Coogan, editor. The Oxford History of the Biblical World. New York. Oxford University Press. 1998)

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