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Israelite Settlement. OTST 510 Archaeology and the Bible Lesson 10 part 4. Israelites as pastoralists.

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israelite settlement

Israelite Settlement

OTST 510

Archaeology and the Bible

Lesson 10 part 4

israelites as pastoralists
Israelites as pastoralists
  • One of the strange and challenging archaeological facts is the absence of evidence for Israelite settlement between 1400 and 1200 BC; this seems to lend credence to the idea that the Exodus/Conquest did not take place until around 1200 BC, although it could be argued that the Israelites lived as semi-nomadic pastoralists for the first 200 years in Canaan
date of settlement
Date of settlement
  • If 1 Kings 6:1 is used as the foundation for the Exodus/Conquest chronology, 480 years from the 4th year of Solomon (c. 970 BC) takes us to 1450 for the Exodus and 1410 for the beginning of the Conquest
date of settlement1
Date of Settlement
  • A date of c. 1410 for the initiation of the conquest is supported by Jdgs 11:26 which says that from the Conquest to the days of Jephthah was 300 years
  • Since Jephthah judged Israel c. 1100 BC (he has to date before Saul), 300 + 1100 = 1400 BC—this lines up closely with 1 Kngs 6:1!

Merneptah Stele

  • An Egyptian monument known as the Merneptah Stele describes a battle of Pharaoh Merneptah against a people in Canaan called “Israel”—the first extra-biblical reference to Israelites!
  • The stele dates to about 1207 BCE
  • Cairo Museum

“Israel” appears here


This picture of the Merneptah stele shows what the hieroglyphics on the second line from the bottom actually look like—the Egyptian is translated “Israel is laid waste—his seed is not!” (The use of the masculine pronoun indicates that the Egyptians understood Israel’s God to be male!). The text would suggest that the Egyptians wiped out the Israelites just prior to 1207 BC, although Egyptians were prone to hyperbole. This incident isn’t even mentioned in the Bible.

pharaoh merneptah
Pharaoh Merneptah
  • Some scholars use this stele to date Israel’s arrival in Canaan to the 1200’s
  • However, it could just as easily be argued that Israel had already been established for sometime in Canaan before Merneptah fought them in 1207 BC

Merneptah Stele

  • Interestingly, the stele suggests that the Israelites were not sedentary—this fits the archaeology evidence which suggests Israelites did not establish towns until after 1200 BC
merneptah s campaign record at karnak
Merneptah’s Campaign Record at Karnak
  • It has recently been discovered that a pictorial version of Merneptah’s stele appears on a wall in the Egyptian temple at Karnak in central Egypt
  • While there is some controversy over aspects of the picture (nothing everything is labeled!), it appears that the Israelites are shown as Shasu-like semi-nomads at this time
early israelites were probably pastoralists
Early Israelites were probably pastoralists

Based on the archaeological evidence, the Merneptah stele, and Karnak pictures, it appears that the early Israelites lived as semi-nomadic pastoralists in Canaan between 1400 and 1200 BC.

israelites avoid egyptian corvee
Israelites Avoid Egyptian Corvee
  • There are a number of reasons why the Israelites may have chosen not to settle down for the first 200 years they were in Canaan (period of the early Judges), not least of which was the fact that Egypt dominated Canaan at this time and forced local men from the towns and villages to serve in the corvee (forced labor taxation); Israelites could have avoided this forced labor if they were semi-nomadic
early israelite settlements
Early Israelite settlements
  • Around 1200 B.C., the Israelites began establishing villages throughout the highlands of Canaan; in the archaeological record, the appearance of these settlements seems like an explosion (Egyptian power had declined in Canaan by this time).
  • This was about the middle of the period of the Judges—Israel was finally dominating and driving out the Canaanites
settlement in iron i palestine
Settlement in Iron I Palestine
  • Notice the jump in settlement in Palestine around 1200 BC
  • There is little settlement in the Late Bronze Age (1550-1200, suggesting that the Israelites were more nomadic earlier on