The Land Before the Kingdom of Israel: A History of the Southern Levant and the People who Populated It 9781575064284

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The Land before the Kingdom of Israel

History, Archaeology, and Culture of the Levant Edited by Jeffrey A. Blakely University of Wisconsin, Madison K. Lawson Younger Trinity Evangelical Divinity School  1. The Horsemen of Israel: Horses and Chariotry in Monarchic Israel (Ninth–Eighth Centuries b.c.e.), by Deborah O’Daniel Cantrell  2. Donkeys in the Biblical World: Ceremony and Symbol, by Kenneth C. Way  3. The Wilderness Itineraries: Genre, Geography, and the Growth of Torah, by Angela R. Roskop  4. Temples and Sanctuaries from the Early Iron Age Levant: Recovery after Collapse, by William E. Mierse  5. Poetic Astronomy in the Ancient Near East: The Reflexes of Celestial Science in the Literature of Ancient Mesopotamia, Ugarit, and Israel, by Jeffrey L. Cooley  6. A Monetary and Political History of the Phoenician City of Byblos in the Fifth and Fourth Centuries b.c.e., by J. Elayi and A. G. Elayi  7. The Land before the Kingdom of Israel: A History of the Southern Levant and the People Who Populated It, by Brendon C. Benz

The Land before the Kingdom of Israel A History of the Southern Levant and the People Who Populated It

Brendon C. Benz

Winona Lake, Indiana Eisenbrauns 2016

© 2016 by Eisenbrauns Inc. All rights reserved Printed in the United States of America

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Benz, Brendon C., author. Title: The land before the kingdom of Israel : a history of the Southern Levant and the people who populated it / Brendon C. Benz. Description: Winona Lake, Indiana : Eisenbrauns, 2016. | Series: History, archaeology, and culture of the Levant ; vol. 7 | Includes bibliographical references and indexes. Identifiers: LCCN 2016001593 (print) | LCCN 2016002075 (ebook) | ISBN 9781575064277 (hardback : alk. paper) | ISBN 9781575064284 (pdf) Subjects: LCSH: Bronze age—Palestine. | Ethnology—Palestine. | Canaanites—History. | Bronze age—Middle East. | Palestine—Antiquities. Classification: LCC GN778.32.P19 B46 2016 (print) | LCC GN778.32.P19 (ebook) | DDC 933—dc23 LC record available at

The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of the American National Standard for Information Sciences—Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI Z39.48-1984. ♾™

For my wife, Merritt, whose faithful support has been manifest in her enthusiasm for life, her ability to engage, and her vision for our future In memory of my dear friend Joseph R. Reilly (1976–2012)

Contents Acknowledgments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   ix Abbreviations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . xiii Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   1 Part 1 The Varieties of Sociopolitical Experience in the Late Bronze Age Levant Chapter 1. Setting the Context of the Late Bronze Age Levant: Defining Policies and Perceptions . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17 Chapter 2. Cities of the Southern Levant . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 47 Chapter 3. Lands of the Southern Levant . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 81 Chapter 4. Other Categories of People in the Land: The Sutû and the ʿapîrû . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 111 Part 2 Two Case Studies on the Varieties of Sociopolitical Experience in the Late Bronze Age Levant: The Land of Amurru and the Land of Shechem Chapter 5. Tracing the Political Trajectory of the Land of Amurru . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 141 Chapter 6. The House of Labʾayu and the Land of Shechem . . . . 180 Chapter 7. The Land of Shechem in the longue durée . . . . . . . . 210 Chapter 8. The Land before the Rise of Israel . . . . . . . . . . . . 246 Part 3 The Transition from the Late Bronze Age to the Iron I and the Rise of Early Israel Chapter 9. Setting the Context of Premonarchic Israel . . . . . . . 263 Chapter 10. Shechem, Israel, and the Historical Memories in Judges 9: The King and the Collective . . . . . . . . . 303 vii



Chapter 11. Shechem, Israel, and the Historical Memories in Judges 9: The Shechemite Identity, the Identity of Shechem, and Identity in Israel . . . . . . . . . . . .   337 Chapter 12. Reflections of the Multipolity Decentralized Nature of Early Israel . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   366 Conclusion From Decentralization to Centralization and Back: Israel’s Return to Its Roots . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   401 Bibliography . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   429 Indexes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   477 Index of Authors  477 Index of Scripture  484 Index of Other Ancient Sources  490

Acknowledgments “Spirit,” writes Martin Buber, “is not in the I, but between I and Thou.” 1 Indeed, much of the inspiration and motivation behind the present volume was the product of fruitful collaboration with and the support of many colleagues, family members, and friends. To list them all and all of their contributions would be impossible. What follows, therefore, is an abridged account, with the understanding that I am grateful to all. This monograph is a revised version of my New York University doctoral dissertation that I completed in 2013. Consequently, Professor Daniel E. Fleming and Professor Mark S. Smith have left the most obvious imprint on it, each in his own way. From the outset, Dan modeled and fostered within me the method of taking an accepted scholarly paradigm, turning it on its head, and asking new questions of the evidence. He often reminded me that, though this practice does not always bear fruit, it is the process that matters. In this way, he provided the space and encouragement that allowed me to raise many of the questions that inform this study. As my adviser, Dan also offered unrivaled support during the writing process, reading and commenting on an inordinate number of drafts. I acknowledge with pleasure that his influence on this study will not go unnoticed. Mark, too, has greatly influenced my approach, instilling within me a methodology that emphasizes the necessity of pursuing concentric circles of evidence in order to support a claim. And yet, I must confess that, in spite of his best efforts, one of the most outstanding phrases in his copious comments on my drafts was “too speculative for me.” For this, I take full responsibility. Most importantly, both Dan and Mark continue to model for me and many others what it means to be a friend who cares as much about his students’ personal development as he does about their scholarly and professional development. The support that I received from Dan and Mark was complemented by the other members of my defense committee. As my professor of Egyptian language, history, and religion, Dr. Ogden Goelet, who is fondly known by his students as a walking bibliography, played a crucial role in shaping my understanding of the social and political history of the southern Levant 1.  I and Thou (trans. R. G. Smith; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1937).




from an Egyptian perspective. Dr. Lauren Monroe took an interest in my work at an early stage, graciously dialoguing with me for an extended period of time after I presented material that was eventually included in this monograph at the national meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in 2010. Since then, she has played a unique role as one who has challenged my interpretation of the archaeological evidence and encouraged me to think more deeply about the philosophical underpinnings of my approach toward it. Though I list him last, Professor Leong Seow’s academic contributions began years ago. In the fall of 2001, he began constructing a solid foundation on which many have helped me build, when I became his student at Princeton Theological Seminary. During my training at NYU, I also received a high level of support from the faculty and staff in the Skirball Department of Hebrew Judaic Studies, where hospitality and collegiality stand front and center in all the fields represented. Ann Macy Roth, Robert Chazan, David Engel, Jeffery Rubenstein, Shayne Figueroa, and Madeleine Goico all added to my experience. The quality of student that the department draws is a testament to its commitment to fostering a healthy scholarly community. This was palpable in the colleagues that I worked with and the friends that I made during my years there, many of whom read portions of this project and served as dialogue partners and sources of encouragement. In this regard, I think specifically of Mahri Leonard-Fleckman, Sara Milstein, Stephen Russell, Cory Peacock, Elizabeth Knott, Aaron Tugendhaft, Daniel Oden, Lynn Kaye, and Jeffrey Garcia. I am also thankful for the opportunity to have worked with Anne Porter, whose vision is uninhibited by convention, and to dialogue with Ellen Morris while they were both at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World. Recognizing that this project has been the product of a long journey, I would also like to express my gratitude for those outside NYU who contributed to it. While in New York, I had the distinct privilege of taking a class with David Carr at Union Theological Seminary. At Princeton Seminary, I was heavily influenced by J. J. M. Roberts, Chip Dobbs-Allsopp, and George Parsenios. After graduating from Princeton, I was welcomed with open arms by the faculty at Yale University and its Divinity School while my wife completed a post-M.S.W. fellowship at the Yale Child Study Center. I am particularly thankful to Benjamin Foster, Kathryn Slanski, Emmanuelle Salgues, David Bartlett, and Christine Hayes for giving their time and opening my eyes to the breadth of the field. Several portions of this study were also presented at a number of professional meetings and conferences. The feedback I received from participants at the American Oriental Society and the Society of Biblical Literature was very fruitful. Most notably, Daniel Pioske contributed enormously to my understanding



of the relationship between place and memory. Recently, the Central States regional meeting of the SBL has provided a welcome home, affording me the opportunity to engage in productive dialogue with, among others, Victor Matthews, Roger Cotton, John Strong, and Adam Dodd. I am also thankful for having had the opportunity to present at the conference “Exodus: Out of Egypt,” organized by Thomas Levy and Thomas Schneider at the University of California, San Diego, in 2013. While there, I received generous feedback from Israel Finkelstein and was able to engage in vigorous conversation with Avi Faust. Finally, this volume would not have been possible without the wonderful team at Eisenbrauns and the editors of HACL, Jeffrey Blakely and Lawson Younger. The editorial acumen of Jim Eisenbraun and Beverly McCoy and the competent work of the rest of the production team were rivaled only by their swift, patient, and personable responses to my inquiries. Additionally, the artistic eye of Andy Kerr made my suggestions for the cover palatable. Completing this project in a healthy and balanced manner would not have been possible without a strong community of friends in Brooklyn and in Kansas City. With this in mind, I want to recognize the support of Mike and Char Turrigiano, who were shepherds and harbormasters to us in New York, and the rest of the community that they fostered. In addition, I am grateful to Jon Stanley, Adam Konopka, Andrew Rock, Beau Smith, Don Groscost, Isaac Anderson, and Todd Marcus for serving as models of what it means to pursue a life of inquiry and virtue. When my wife and I made the snap decision to move to Kansas City in 2011, I had the certain fortune of becoming part of the community at William Jewell College. The support that I have received from my colleagues, specifically Brad Chance and Milton Horne in the Department of Religion, contributed significantly to the smooth completion of this project and its revision. My students have also been a source of inspiration. I am particularly grateful to Curtis Chapin, who gave me the honor of reading through the entire manuscript and offering penetrating feedback as I was preparing it. At last, I want to acknowledge the unwavering support, generosity, and contributions of my family. My parents Stephen and Linda, my brother Blake, my in-laws Margi, Mike, and Dana, and my wife Merritt, to whom this book is dedicated, have never stopped believing in me. Finally, I am grateful to Judah, now seven, who spent many early mornings as an infant looking up at me with his characteristic inquisitive gaze that inspired as I translated Egyptian and Akkadian, and Jack, now four, whose joy for life has been disarming. May good will extend to all. —Brendon C. Benz Kansas City, Missouri

Abbreviations Note to the reader : Abbreviations found in the bibliography are based on the list of abbreviations in The SBL Handbook of Style for Biblical Studies and Related Disciplines (2nd ed.; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature) §8.4.2. Egyptological and a few other abbreviations that are used in the text of the book are listed here.

General A. Louvre Museum siglum AMP Asiatic Mode of Production model Ass. Assyrian D/Dtr Deuteronomist/Deuteronomistic source E Elohistic writer/source E Execration Texts sigla in Posener, G. Princes et pays d’Asie et de Nubie. Brussels: Foundation égyptologique reine Élisabeth, 1940 EB Early Bronze Age ESM Early State Modules J Yahwistic writer/source km kilometer(s) LB Late Bronze Age LXX the Septuagint m meter(s) m. masculine MB Middle Bronze Age MT Masoretic Text n(n). note(s) NA Neo-Assyrian no(s). number(s) NRSV New Revised Standard Version P. Papyrus pl. plural pl(s). plate(s) rev. reverse RS field numbers of tablets excavated at Ras Shamra–Ugarit SMN tablets excavated at Nuzi, in the Semitic Museum, Harvard University




Reference Works ARM AT

Archives royales de Mari Wiseman, D. J. The Alalakh Tablets. London: British Institute of Archaeology at Ankara, 1953 BDB Brown, F.; Driver, S. R.; and Briggs, C. A. Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament. Oxford: Clarendon, 1907 CAD Oppenheim, A. L., et al., eds. The Assyrian Dictionary of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. 21 vols. (A–Z). Chicago: Oriental Institute, 1956–2011 CDME Faulkner, R. O., ed. A Concise Dictionary of Middle Egyptian. Oxford: Griffith Institute, 1962 CT Cuneiform Texts from Babylonian Tablets in the British Museum DDD Van der Toorn, K.; Becking, B.; and van der Horst, P. W., eds. Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible. Leiden: Brill, 1995 EA Knudtzon, J. A., editor. Die El-Amarna Tafeln. 2 vols. Leipzig, 1915. Reissued, Aalen, 1964 KAI Donner, H., and Röllig, W. Kanaanäische und aramäische Inschriften. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1964–68 KAV Schroeder, O. Keilschrifttexte aus Assur verschiedenen Inhalts. WVDOG 35. Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1920 KRI Kitchen, K. A. Ramesside Inscriptions: Historical and Biographical. 8 vols. Oxford: Blackwell, 1976–90 KTU Dietrich, M.; Loretz, O.; and Sanmartín, J., eds. Die Keilalphabetischen Texte aus Ugarit. Alter Orient und Altes Testament 24. Kevelaer: Butzon & Bercker / Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1976 NEASB Near East Archaeological Society Bulletin PBS Publications of the Babylonian Section, University Museum, University of Pennsylvania PRU Le Palais royal d’Ugarit Urk. IV Sethe, K., ed. Urkunden der 18. Dynastie. Urkunden des ägyptischen Altertums 4. 3 vols. Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1914–84 WVDOG Wissenschaftliche Veröffentlichungen der deutschen Orientgesellschaft YOS Yale Oriental Series

Introduction For many of the civilizations of the ancient Near East, the Late Bronze Age (LB; ca. 1550–1200 BCE) 1 was a period of renaissance. In Egypt, this era commenced with the achievements of Ahmose (ca. 1539–1514 BCE), who ushered in the New Kingdom by driving the foreign Hyksos out of the land and reunifying his country. The subsequent kings of the 18th (ca. 1539–1295 BCE) and 19th (ca. 1295–1186 BCE) Dynasties instituted policies of imperial expansion into the Levant, at times exerting their influence as far as Ugarit on the northern coast of the eastern Mediterranean. The Egyptian advance could extend only as far as Mesopotamia, however, as it too was dominated by a number of powerful entities, including the Hittites, Mittani, the Assyrians, and the Babylonians. Though the power of these kingdoms ebbed and flowed as the LB unfolded, it was an age of empires, international diplomacy, and conflict. Located between these superpowers, the small polities and populations of the southern Levant served as buffer zones and battlegrounds where these “world powers” often negotiated their relationships and resolved their differences. In spite of the benefits they reaped as middlemen in an extensive network of international trade, they were rarely, if ever, able to achieve political independence. This situation drastically changed during the transition from the LB to Iron Age I (ca. 1200–960 BCE). From the western horizon emerged waves of invaders whose origins have yet to be firmly fixed. The arrival of the Sea People, a group of whom have been identified with the Philistines of the Bible, in combination with the already declining glory of the regional superpowers led to the Egyptian withdrawal from the Levant and the decline of the socioeconomic fabric of the region. At the same time, however, it created a sociopolitical vacuum in the midst of which a new political entity referred to as “Israel” emerged. This transition and the social and political changes associated with it have long been topics of intense interest and debate because of the implications they hold for understanding both the biblical and extrabiblical evidence regarding the origins and nature of Israel. 1. See Finkelstein 2013: 6–10 for a nuanced description of the end of the LB and the dates attributed to the Iron I based on recent developments in archaeology. The implications of Finkelstein’s proposals will be discussed in greater detail below.




While archaeology has long been an important source of information for understanding this period, the discovery of the Amarna letters paved the way for scholars to investigate the sociopolitical landscape of the LB Levant in a new way. Dating to the middle of the 14th century, this corpus includes hundreds of missives dispatched to Egypt from its vassals and dependents who were scattered throughout the region. As texts, they offer a unique window into the entities that populated it, providing key names and unparalleled details regarding a number of political categories, identities, and alliances that help fill the gaps in the archaeological record and bring it to life. In spite of the wealth of information provided by the ancient data, scholarly inquiry has been overshadowed by several underlying presuppositions revolving around three critical issues. They include the nature of social power, the processes involved in the formation of ancient “states,” and the sociopolitical makeup of ancient societies. Social power is often viewed as a resource in and of itself that is exercised in a unidirectional manner; the development of polities is often tracked according to a linear evolutionary or neo-evolutionary model; and there is very little recognition of the potential political integration between populations who are identified as “urban centered” and those who are not. Working from this theoretical framework, the resulting reconstructions generally maintain that the LB Levant consisted of small “city-states” in the lowlands of the coast and valleys and larger “territorial kingdoms” in the eastern highlands. As characteristically “Canaanite” polities, each was defined by a particular urban center from which power was administered by a small proportion of the political elite over and against the large sedentary populations within their respective domains in a manner comparable to medieval feudalism or a Marxist “Asiatic mode of production.” As for the “non-sedentary” populations, their relationship with these polities is often viewed as inimical. If interaction did occur between these two sectors of society, it was limited to the economic sphere. This backdrop has become the foil for understanding the emergence of Israel. It is generally agreed that it was into or out of the dominant “Canaanite” sociopolitical structure that Israel emerged and that it was against it that Israel defined itself. For these reasons, Israel is commonly cast as a group of geographical, economic, and/or political outsiders to what is conceived as the dominant regional society of hierarchically organized, urban centered city-states and territorial kingdoms. In order for this field of inquiry to move forward, the data must be reevaluated through a new set of theoretical lenses. The study at hand responds to this call. Drawing on a number of insights from the disciplines of sociology, history, anthropology, and archaeology, I argue that the land-



scape of the southern Levant was characterized by a wide variety of sociopolitical experiences. Rather than consisting of several static, monolithic entities, the southern Levant’s political structures and its populations were diverse and fluid. Social power was more widely distributed than is generally recognized and was often negotiated among a range of political players in a relational or “egalitarian” manner. Because of this, political entities and alliances took several forms, often consisting of populations that were defined by settled centers and those that were not. Moreover, these entities and alliances were subject to a high degree of variability and flux over a relatively short period of time. In the end, these phenomena resist any attempt to conceptualize the Levantine landscape according to narrowly defined categories and parameters. Such observations radically alter not only the accepted view of the LB Levant but conventional wisdom regarding the origin and nature of early Israel as well. I argue that, instead of being relegated to a purely outsider status, a large contingent consisted of geographical, economic, and political insiders who were socially and spatially embedded within the land before they were identified as “Israel.” This conclusion is largely based on the continuity between the sociopolitical structure of the LB Levant as it is described in the textual and archaeological evidence and the nature of early Israel as it is attested in a number of biblical texts, many of which have not been sufficiently explained by the models that currently dominate the field. A prime example of this is Judges 9. Because this text revolves around what has been interpreted as an urban-centered population under the authority of a king during the premonarchic period of Israel, several scholars have concluded that it stems from a Canaanite rather than an Israelite tradition. As I will suggest in part 3 of this book, this judgment overlooks a number of critical issues associated with the history of Shechem, the way it is depicted in Judges 9, the nature of premonarchic Israel, and the function of memory in the creation of history. For example, there is evidence in both the textual and archaeological record of a strong collective political tradition consisting of a variety of populations associated with Shechem during the Bronze Age, a feature that plays a defining role in Judges 9. In addition, several other biblical texts suggest that monarchies may have existed within Israel before the founding of the Israelite monarchy. Because the Iron I populations who identified themselves with Shechem were probably continuous with their LB predecessors, these points of continuity suggest that we should read Judges 9 in the same way that the tradents of this tradition did—as a critical part of Israel’s early history worthy of inclusion as a biblical text. This book does not represent another hypothesis of how Israel began but an entirely new way of looking at Israel’s context that will significantly



affect the entire range of hypotheses regarding its early history. At many points, I will draw from and build upon a number of the critical insights of studies that have preceded this book, which represent another stage in the history of scholarship. Nevertheless, I will provide a historical foundation by which one can better evaluate and understand the land before the Kingdom of Israel.

Historical Data Pertaining to the Late Bronze Age and the Iron I The Amarna Archive One of the most important bodies of evidence pertaining to the social and political landscape of the LB Levant is the Amarna archive (EA). This body of texts derives its name from Tell el-Amarna, the location of its discovery. Tell el-Amarna was the site of Akhetaten, the short-lived capital of Amenhotep IV (ca. 1344–1328 BCE), who is better known by his alternative name Akhenaten and his fame as the so-called “heretic king” who attempted to introduce monotheism to Egypt. 2 Discovered in the late 19th century CE, the archive consists of 382 cuneiform tablets written in Akkadian, the international language of the day. Though the archive includes a variety of genres, 3 345 of tablets are personal letters, most of which are addressed to the Egyptian king or members of his administration. While some of these letters were sent from the major political players of the day, 4 the majority were dispatched from Egypt’s vassals and dependents who were scattered throughout Syria–Palestine. 5 To be sure, they cover a relatively short span of time, 6 dating from approximately the last decade of the reign of Amenhotep III (ca. 1382–1344) to the abandonment of Akhetaten in the first year of Tutankhamun (ca. 1327–1318), the son of 2. For a summary of the life and religious innovations of Akhenaten, see Hornung 1999a. 3. The remaining tablets consist of inventories associated with specific letters (EA 13, 14, 22, 25, 120), literary texts (EA 340 [?], 341, 356–59, 375 [?]), syllabaries (EA 348, 350, 379), lexical texts (EA 351–54, 368, 373), a god-list (EA 374), and, according to Moran’s tentative identification, an amulet (EA 355). Due to their fragmentary condition, the nature of the remaining texts (EA 342–47, 349, 360, 301, 372, 376, 377, 380, 381) has yet to be determined. 4. These include Babylon (EA 1–14), Assyria (EA 15–16), Mittani (EA 17–30), Arzawa (EA 31–32), Alašia (EA 33–40), and Ḫatti (EA 41–44). Because EA 18 is broken and its clay is of a different type from the other Mittani letters, some have questioned whether it should be considered part of the Mittani corpus (see Moran 1992: 43 n. 1). 5. EA 99, 162, 163, 190, 367, 369, and 370 were sent from the Egyptian court to their vassals. 6. For a summary of the evidence and the various arguments, see Moran 1992: xxxiv–xxxix.



Akhenaten. Nevertheless, they are indispensable for the evidence they provide about the period in general. As texts, they contain direct accounts of the social and political dynamics that occurred on the ground, bearing witness to, identifying, and describing in relatively consistent terms the various political entities, categories of people, and players involved. As personal letters, they also supply the reader with intimate descriptions of the web of often-strained relationships that the local leaders had to negotiate and the motivations behind the actions that they, their allies, and their enemies took. An excellent example of this is found in a letter from Rib-Addu, the ruler of Gubla (Byblos). One of the most prolific communicators with the Egyptian king, he frequently aired his concerns regarding the complexity of the situations in which he found himself. This is dramatically illustrated in EA 114: The ships of the men of Tyre, Beirut, and Ṣidon are in Waḫliya. Everyone in the land of Amurru is at peace with them. I am the enemy! . . . If you are unable to fetch your servant, then send archers to fetch me. It would be good to be with you. The enemies of the king are at war with me, as are his governors! (EA 114, lines 11–15, 44–48)

Rib-Addu’s testimony bears witness to the fact that professed loyalties and political affiliations were not always clear-cut. Such intense and detailed descriptions of history can only come from the type of firsthand reports found in the Amarna texts. It is for this reason that they will take a leading role in my analysis of the period in parts 1 and 2 of this book. Egyptian Literary, Military, and Administrative Records In addition to the Amarna archive, there is a large body of Egyptian literary, military, and administrative records that provide information on the region and its history. Inscribed for perpetuity on monuments and temple walls in both Egypt and Syria–Palestine, these often take the form of selfaggrandizing depictions of military campaigns that the kings of Egypt led into the Levant. One of the most enduring examples is the description of the battle of Megiddo orchestrated by Thutmose III (ca. 1479–1425 BCE). Carved on the walls of the Temple of Amun-Re at Karnak, this inscription depicts his bold victory over a coalition of more than 100 polities gathered at Megiddo (Aharoni 1967: 140). After learning of his opponents’ intentions, Thutmose III consulted his military advisers to determine the best plan of attack. There were three roads that led to Megiddo. Two were wide, and the third was narrow. Those assembled encouraged their king to take one of the wide roads, cautioning that the narrow path would put the army in peril. In spite of this advice, Thutmose III threw caution to the wind and “valiantly” chose the narrow path. Expecting the alternative strategy, the



coalition at Megiddo was taken by surprise. Fighting with the strength of the gods at the head of his army, Thutmose III defeated his enemies and firmly established Egyptian hegemony in the region. 7 The value of these texts is not limited to their literary panache and imaginative accounts. They provide modern historians with important information regarding the entities who populated the southern Levant, as well as Egypt’s own interests and interaction with them. In addition to his annals, there are three topographical lists from the reign of Thutmose III that preserve the names of approximately 350 cities in the region (Urk. IV 781–806; Helck 1971; Astour 1963; Aharoni 1967: 143). While the location of some remain unknown and others debated (Aharoni 1967: 147–51; Helck 1971: 12, 126–32; Weinstein 1981: 11), many have been identified. Several other texts also provide insight into additional categories of people that are not directly identified with settled centers. One of the most significant of these is the Shasu (šꜢsw). 8 In the topographical list of Amenhotep III (ca. 1382–1344 BCE) discovered in the Temple of Amun at Soleb, the Shasu are associated with the Transjordanian land of Seir (tꜢ šꜢsw sʿr), as well as the ambiguous term yhwꜢ (tꜢ šꜢsw yhwꜢ; Giveon 1964: 244; 1971: 26–28, no. 6a and 74–77 no. 16a), which some take as one of the first extrabiblical reference to Yahweh. 9 When it comes to the study of early Israel, the most significant Egyptian document is the Merenptah stele. The majority of this text is dedicated to an account of Merenptah’s victory over the Libyans who had invaded Egypt during the fifth year of his reign (ca. 1207 BCE). However, it concludes with a short poem extolling Merenptah’s triumph over Egypt’s neighbors to the north. Included in this hymn of self-praise is the earliest extrabiblical reference to an entity called “Israel”: 10 7. For a full English translation of this and other New Kingdom texts, see Lichtheim 1976 and Simpson 2003. 8. See, for example, the record of Ahmose Pennekhbet (Urk. IV 36: 12–14), an official of Thutmose II; the 14th campaign from the annals of Thutmose III (Urk. IV 890: 14–15); the Karnak stele booty list from the campaign of Amenhotep II during his ninth year (Urk. IV 1315: 5–17); Amenhotep’s Memphite stele (Urk. IV 1306: 6–10; ANET 245–47); and the Karnak relief of Seti I (KRI I 7: 1–2; 9: 3–5). 9. Recently, Schneider has identified what he believes is another reference to Yahweh in the name of the owner of a late 18th or 19th Dynasty (ca. 1330–1230 BCE) Book of the Dead (Pharaonic Roll 5). Commonly rendered j: t-w-n-jꜢ-rʿꜢ-y-h—the reading *ʾadoniroʿe-yah, “my lord is the shepherd of Yah,” is proposed by Schneider rather than the more familiar reading ʾaduni-raʿiyu-hu, “(my) lord is his shepherd” (Schneider 2008: 113–20). 10. However, van der Veen, Theis, and Görg (2010: 15–25) have recently proposed an earlier reference to Israel in an Egyptian inscription (Berlin Statue Pedestal Relief 21687) dating to the reign of Ramesses II (ca. 1279–1218 BCE).



Canaan has been plundered into every sort of woe Asheklon has been overcome Gezer has been captured Yenoam is made nonexistent Israel is laid waste—its seed is not [ysrꜢr/l fk(w) bn prt.f] Hurru has become a widow because of Egypt

In chaps. 9 and 11, I will examine a number of the critical issues revolving around this reference and its implications. Archaeological Evidence Though this study will rely primarily on textual evidence, it will also appeal to the significant contributions made by archaeology. A number of new methodological approaches in the field (Shanks and Hodder 1995; Renfrew and Bahn 2004) have greatly contributed to our understanding of this region during the period in view. Perhaps the most significant of these is the scope of archaeological surveying that has taken place in the Palestinian central hill country (see esp. Finkelstein 1985; 1988a; 1988–89; 1994; 1995b: Zertal 1991; 1993: 1311–12; Ofer 1994), the region that scholars have isolated as the place where Israel emerged (de Vaux 1978: 391–92; Hasel 1994: 48; 2000: 80; Hoffmeier 1997: 29; Dever 1992; 1995a; 1998; 2001; 2003; Kitchen 2003: 460; Finkelstein 1988a: 28, 324; Faust 2006). Though these surveys focus on the surface pottery of archaeological sites as opposed to systematically uncovering and evaluating each site’s individual layers, they have produced a wealth of information regarding settlement patterns in both the LB and the Iron I. In addition, large-scale excavations at such sites as Tell Balâṭah, which has been identified with the biblical city Shechem, have also contributed significantly to our understanding of the historical phenomena that took place in the region. Several other important methods and sites will be described in greater detail in my analysis of the contributions that the archaeological world has made to this discussion. Reading the Ancient Data The wide range of ancient evidence available to the modern historian makes the job of reconstructing the social and political landscape of the southern Levant during the LB and the Iron I an exciting and an accessible endeavor. One must, however, always proceed with caution when working with these data. For one thing, it is important to remember that the record is incomplete. The aforementioned texts from Egypt that detail the nature and extent of various royal campaigns are an excellent case in point. As I noted above, there are several toponyms that scholars have not identified



or whose identification is dubious. In addition, it is safe to assume that only those campaigns, conflicts, and toponyms that were viewed as significant enough to be publicized in the official propaganda would have been recorded (E. F. Morris 2005: 36–37). This implies that the Egyptians may have confronted additional entities that were not mentioned. To argue, therefore, that these lists provide a comprehensive picture of Egyptian involvement in the region would be misleading. Cases such as this underscore the importance of reading the textual record in conversation with the relevant archaeological data. Just as texts provide an interpretive framework for the archaeological evidence, so also archaeology aids in the reading of texts. This becomes particularly germane when we recognize that texts are highly influenced by the perceptions and motivations of their authors, making it difficult for the reader to distinguish between history and ideology. Events are invariably filtered through the interpretive lenses and ideological concerns of their authors—regardless of whether they are kings or their dependents. Rather than simply reporting history, these authors constructed history for a particular audience in order to express an immediate concern. This is not to say that the use of textual material for reconstructing history is an entirely subjective enterprise. 11 In many cases, the details that I will be analyzing are reported in a consistent way by their authors and are occasionally confirmed by the reports of others. These qualities contribute to the likelihood of their authenticity. Nevertheless, it is always important to be conscious of the intended audience, or what I refer to as the direction of political discourse; to be attuned to any ideological motivations that may color a report; and to be aware of the archaeological record when evaluating the contents of a written source. In addition to these concerns, one must also be aware that texts and archeological data are shaped by the influences of modern scholarship, a phenomenon that I will highlight at a number of points throughout this book. As A. Giddens has noted, there is a “widespread proclivity to generalize to all forms of societal totality features that are in fact specific to modern societies” (Giddens 1984: 164). One way to avoid this tendency is to focus one’s attention on the specific terminology used by the authors of 11. This position is taken by L. Grabbe, who argues that inscriptions and archaeology “furnish information not found in texts and also provide an objectivity not possessed by texts because they provide actual realia from the past” (Grabbe 2007: 6). However, there are at least two problems with this statement. First, inscriptions themselves are texts and can provide more information about a sociopolitical entity than the simple narrative that it contains (see esp. Sanders 2009). Second, as Grabbe himself states only a few lines later, the “use of archaeology for historical reconstruction is as complicated as the use of texts. The material data have to be interpreted just as much as textual data” (Grabbe 2007: 6).



the ancient texts themselves. Though one cannot (and perhaps even should not) completely avoid modern terminology in the classification of ancient social and political structures, a higher degree of clarity and nuance can be achieved by pursuing a greater level of precision with one’s language (Giddens 1984: 164). In this regard, I will follow the lead of a number of scholars of the ancient world who appeal, whenever possible, to the regional or indigenous term for the polity, social phenomenon, or category of people under scrutiny (Marcus 1989: 92; Hansen 2000: 166; Fleming 2004).

The Bible Appealing to the Bible as a source for reconstructing Israel’s early history poses its own unique set of problems. As with the other texts that I have introduced, those in the Bible that deal with this period run the risk of being influenced by the ideological motivations of their authors. This problem is exacerbated by the belief held by a number of scholars that most of these stories were developed—if not entirely invented—at a time far removed from the period they are depicting. In their opinion, therefore, the best that the Bible can offer is a picture of “Israelite history” that suits the theological program and reflects the immediate historical concerns of the exilic and postexilic Judahite authors who fabricated it. 12 In response to this view, D. Fleming (2012) has developed a method to access what are likely authentic memories of Israel’s early history that have been retained and embedded within the later Judahite framework of the Bible. Turning the argument of the skeptics on its head, he contends that some of the nuanced accounts of the social and political organization of Israel could not have been devised by a Judean author who was living so far removed temporally, ideologically, and even geographically from the events being depicted. 13 Perhaps the most compelling example of this is found in the various texts that portray Israel as maintaining a strong collective political tradition. Such a tradition would have been foreign to an exilic or postexilic Judean whose own political heritage was highly centralized under the authority of a single dynastic tradition. Though these memories were recast through a variety of editorial methods for the purpose of supporting the specific aims of a later Judahite author, the unique 12. In the words of Finkelstein, the Bible’s “relatively late date and its literaryideological character make it irrelevant as a direct historical source” (Finkelstein 1995a: 351; see also 2007b: 74). 13. In many ways, Fleming’s work along with the present analysis serve as a response to the question recently posed by Finkelstein (2013: 5) regarding “how the late-monarchic Judahite author(s) who lived in Jerusalem know about the events that took place centuries before their own time, some in locations far from Jerusalem.”



contours of Israel’s history were retained. Fleming provides further support for the credibility of these memories by pointing to structural parallels among the polities and populations of Mesopotamia that preceded Israel’s emergence. Following a similar methodology, I dedicated parts 1 and 2 of this book to setting the historical backdrop of Israel’s emergence by providing a fresh look at the sociopolitical landscape of the LB Levant. The intent of part 3 is to illustrate the points of continuity between these entities and the biblical depictions of early Israel found primarily in the book of Judges. In most cases, these parallels present an alternative view of Israel’s earliest history that is so foreign to the interpretive framework in which it is set that it is difficult to imagine a Judean author fabricating them centuries later. In this way, they will affirm the historical reliability of these core depictions. Moreover, and perhaps more importantly, they will provide social and historical explanations for several phenomena recorded in the Bible that have not yet been sufficiently evaluated because of the interpretive influence that the Judahite ideological framework continues to hold. While I am concerned with highlighting the points of continuity between the sociopolitical landscape of the LB Levant and the biblical depictions of early Israel, it is not my intent to “prove” the historicity of the biblical texts that I analyze. 14 I do, however, take seriously the idea that the Bible is a sociohistorical document. While there are core texts containing historical memories, the historical veracity of these memories is not the type framed and defined by modern scientific notions of historical analysis. However, as a social historian, I am of the mind that the Bible does provide a faithful account of the sociopolitical phenomena associated with early Israel. 15 As K. van der Toorn contends, “The Hebrew scriptures remain of eminent value to the historian—on condition that they be used with intelligence and discrimination. One of the ways in which such discrimination can be exercised is by comparing the biblical information on a given period with relevant data that have not been subject to subsequent alterations” in 14. In this way, I follow Fleming’s contention that, if “we want a precise picture of the population and political players of the region during what archaeologists call the Iron Age I, Judges will not provide it. At the same time, however, its picture of separate peoples who consider themselves part of a larger association has historical value for understanding Israel under kings and may also preserve glimpses of the earlier period, fixed in the details of stories passed down for generations” (Fleming 2012: 403). 15. Here, my approach corresponds to that of Heffelfinger, who states that her own “study . . . is concerned only with what may have seemed plausible to the ancient tradents of the tale based on their implicit familiarity with their own political system” (Heffelfinger 2009: 290).



the way that the biblical texts have been (van der Toorn 1996: 237). In this way, the general contours may be regarded as sociohistorically accurate, particularly when they reflect the sociopolitical situation attested in the historical records that I evaluate in parts 1 and 2 of this study. 16 In the end, “the goal is the engagement itself, under new terms that raise fresh questions about what Israelite writers understood about their past and how that understanding relates to actual history” (Fleming 2012: 403). Theoretical Presuppositions Governing Previous Reconstructions As I noted at the outset of this introduction, reconstructions of the Levantine sociopolitical landscape and the subsequent emergence of Israel have been and largely continue to be overshadowed by several theoretical presuppositions. These presuppositions are influenced by a long tradition in ancient Near Eastern studies of adhering to what Fallers (1974) refers to as a “macrocosmic” analysis of ancient societies. In this approach, sociopolitical structures that stand at the center are emphasized at the expense of those on the periphery (see also Marfoe 1979: 1, 10). Recently, a handful of social theorists, historians, archaeologists, and anthropologists have recognized that this trend is largely informed by a myopic vision of power that casts it as a resource in and of itself that is wielded in a unidirectional and often oppressive manner by a small proportion of the population. This has led to the common assumption that ancient Mesopotamian societies were characterized by a high degree of centralization, where “exclusionary power struggles predominate[d]” (Blanton et al. 1996: 2) through the monopolization of certain resources and the imposition of certain rules (Giddens 1984: 162; see also Marfoe 1979: 1, 10, 16; Yoffee 2005: 5, 15). In other words, the primary concern of a central political authority is often seen as the promotion of its own goals at the expense of the goals of the populations that fell within its domain. The prevalence of such a model is exhibited in the longstanding use of the popular phrase “oriental despotism” when referring to the polities of the region (Marfoe 1979: 16; Stager 1985: 25–28; Master 2001; Fleming 2002; 2004: 227–28). Admittedly, there is good reason for this trend. In the documentary evidence from the ancient Near East, kings are often depicted as the sole source of political authority and action. Even when such texts are read with an eye for their ideological intentions, this monolithic view of power and its impact on the development of the ancient “state” is intensified by a number of modern assumptions that are imposed upon the evidence and 16. Even Finkelstein acknowledges that many of the biblical texts contain early cultural artifacts (Finkelstein 2003: *189; 2013: 5, 21, 26–27, 35).



thereby overshadow the various clues that point to the contrary. The first of these is the idea that power is exercised within a single social sphere. Perhaps the most common example of this is the tendency to locate power in the economic sphere. As D. Schloen (2001: 51; see also McGeough 2007: 49–60) has pointed out, this view has led to a “reductionist ‘two-sector’ model based on Marx’s concept of the ‘Asiatic mode of production’,” where a “contrast is drawn between the simple village community as the locus of production and the highly developed and powerful centralized state” (Gottwald 1983: 26–27). Those who had political power were largely those who had control over the agricultural means of production. One can observe the general acceptance of this model in the common reference to those elements of the population who are not immediately identified with the centralized political authority as “peasants.” As I shall point out in chap. 2, this trend is demonstrated in the widespread rendering of the Akkadian term ḫupšū in the Amarna letters as “peasantry” (Mercer 1939; Albright 1940: 217; 1963: 25–26; Mendenhall 1962: 77–78; Astour 1964; Altman 1978; Liverani, 1979; Zertal 1994: 67; Gottwald 1999: 212–13; Adam­thwaite 2001; Killebrew 2006: 571; Grabbe 2007: 66, 118–19). Not only does this model fail to recognize the influence of other social spheres in the exercise and administration of power, but it also tends to overlook the viability of other important subsectors within a single sphere. A second misconception stems from the general acceptance of M.  Rowton’s model of ancient societies (1967; 1973; 1974; 1976; 1977). In spite of the significant insights articulated by Rowton, his categories and those who adhere to them tend to oversimplify the complexities on the ground (Marfoe 1979: 10). This is due largely to a misunderstanding of the Amorite period and a number of problematic ethnographic cross-cultural analogies that have been imposed upon the data (Kamp and Yoffee 1980: 92; Fleming 2004: 70; Porter 2012). According to Rowton’s model, society was strictly divided between two categories of people based upon their competing identities and their different lifestyles. The first were those who identified themselves with an agriculturally based urban center. This category was viewed as largely leading a sedentary lifestyle. The second category consisted of individuals who were associated with a nonsedentary lifestyle. This group was made up of tribally identified nomadic or pastoralist populations. Because they were not sedentary, they were less culturally developed than their urban-centered counterparts. These competing modes of sustenance and different levels of development led Rowton to envision sharp social and political distinctions between these two groups. In spite of these distinctions, Rowton set himself apart from his contemporaries by arguing that sedentary and nonsedentary populations were



not entirely isolated from one another. According to his analysis, before such advancements as the domestication of the camel, the practice of tribal nomadism could not extend beyond the fringes of sedentary zones. Tribal elements were therefore “enclosed” by the urban centers around which they operated, leading to the phenomenon that Rowton referred to as “enclosed nomadism.” Due to their proximity with their sedentary neighbors, tribal populations tended to interact with them. It was this “double process of interaction between nomad and sedentary, between tribe and state” that led to the “dimorphic societies” that Rowton was interested in isolating (Rowton 1973: 202). In spite of their nonsedentary, tribal identification, Rowton did acknowledge that pastoralist populations could settle in towns or villages. However, though these settlements may have fallen within the territorial scope of urban-centered polities, they were under the authority of their own “chiefs.” This essentially meant that they were independent entities, distinguished from the centralized bureaucratic structures of their state-centered counterparts (Kamp and Yoffee 1980: 93; Lemche 1985: 198– 201; Grabbe 2007: 106–7). Underlying this reconstruction is the assumption that urban-centered polities viewed these tribal groups as outsiders with regard to the states that dominated the political landscape. Only the sedentary populations who fell under the hegemony of these states were consid