History: Beginning Until the Monarchy
BEGINNING UNTIL THE MONARCHYThe Patriarchs of Israel
The Exodus and Wanderings in Sinai
The Conquest and Settlement of Canaan
The beginning of the history of Israel, like that of many other nations, is obscure. The passage of time caused many features to fade from the memory of the people, while others were altered. Furthermore, the early period of Hebrew history, which was of decisive importance for Israel, did not leave any impressions on the environment in which the ancestors of Israel lived and functioned; and therefore, no external evidence concerning the beginning of the process of national consolidation has been found.
The Bible is the only source on the lives and activities of the *Patriarchs, and the traditions it preserves about them are evaluated very differently by different scholars (see *Genesis). There are those who completely negate the historicity of the Patriarchs and their period, regarding the pertinent biblical data as myths or literary epics; while others discern in these stories cores of historical facts overgrown with later revision and editing. The difficulties that the biblical narratives raise for historical research relegate the dispute about the existence of the Patriarchs to a secondary place. At present, research is focusing on attempts to discover the period and the political, ethnic, and cultural background that was likely to have served as the setting for the emergence of the nation. Because the Book of Genesis has been held to contain obscure chronological allusions, anachronistic descriptions (*Philistines and *Arameans; camels), and later adaptations, and redactions, no way has been found of utilizing it for the purposes of chronology. Therefore, sources other than the Bible, such as epigraphical and archaeological finds from the Fertile Crescent, are employed as indirect proof of the reality reflected in the patriarchal narratives. The setting of the patriarchal period would correspond in modern chronology to the first half of the second millennium. It is during this period that West Semitic ("*Amorite") elements began their migrations and movements in *Mesopotamia. These West Semitic elements also increased their migrations west of the Euphrates, becoming nomads or settling in new, or already existing, settlements. The Egyptian Execration Texts dating from the 19th–18th centuries b.c.e. provide clear evidence of the integration of these Western Semites in the city states of Syria and Palestine and of the existence of West Semitic rulers, especially in the plains and coastal areas which were then under Egyptian control. It can be seen that the mountain regions, on the other hand, were underpopulated. Apparently the Western Semites the settlements in Transjordan and within a limited period (19th century b.c.e.) brought prosperity to the settlements in the Negev and Sinai along the routes to Egypt. Unfortunately, the attempt to correlate the historically documented West Semitic movements with the biblical accounts have proved elusive.
The biblical accounts reflect conflicting traditions that circulated in ancient Israel. According to Genesis 11, *Abraham's family came from *Ur in *Chaldea, in southern Iraq. Inasmuch as Ur did not become Chaldean until the 9th–8th centuries, the traditions of Abraham's migration cannot be any earlier. In all probability, Abraham's migration from Ur to Palestine belongs to the latest stratum of biblical traditions, and reflects the desire of Babylonian Jews in the later first millennium b.c.e. to claim that Israel's founding father came from their homeland. In contrast, the earlier *Haran traditions connect the Hebrews to the Arameans of Syria and are part of the general migrations of the Western Semites in that period. In the biblical traditions, Abraham and his descendants traveled along the routes in the hill country and in the Negev. In these regions they were able to find subsistence and pasturage for their cattle. The connection between the Patriarchs and the Western Semites, particularly the Arameans, and their existence in the first half of the first millennium, is attested by a comparison between Genesis and written sources from Syria and Mesopotamia, which reflect the material and spiritual world of that period. Earlier documents dating from about the 18th century b.c.e. found in the royal archives of *Mari on the Middle Euphrates include useful evidence about organizations of West Semitic tribes, ultimately related to the Arameans and Hebrews, their patriarchal society, ways of life, language, leadership, and wanderings. They provide no direct evidence of the patriarchal period as was once thought. The *Nuzi documents, although likewise much earlier than the biblical sources, are also very important analogically because they shed light on various aspects of the family customs and laws described in the Bible. The Nuzi documents illustrate the mixed Semitic and *Hurrian society of Nuzi in Eastern Iraq in the 15th–14th century b.c.e. Late second millennium Syria-Palestine likewise had Hurrian and West Semitic populations. By the 19th century b.c.e. and perhaps even earlier, the first waves of Western Semites arrived in Egypt, at the southern edge of the Fertile Crescent. In the course of the following centuries these peoples declined under the pressure of foreign ethnic elements of Indo-European and Hurrian origin, who invaded certain regions of Mesopotamia, *Syria, and Palestine and sought to establish themselves there. Allusions to these events, which occurred in the second quarter of the second millennium b.c.e., are preserved mainly in documents recovered by archaeological expeditions, but find few echoes in the Bible. Indeed, the social terminology of Syria-Palestine in the second millennium is virtually absent from the Bible. An Egyptian tradition in the Hellenistic period (see *Manetho) preserved the memory of a wave of Western Semites and non-Semitic foreign groups which it called *Hyksos, a corruption of an ancient Egyptian term for "rulers of foreign lands" referring to Asiatics. From later sources it seems clear that the Hyksos gained control over large areas in Egypt and set up their headquarters in the Delta region of the Nile, which is the biblical *Goshen. They established an empire and maintained relations with Syria and Palestine. Royal dynasties were descended from them (xv–xvi Dynasties); names like Yaqob-har, Anat-har, Khyan, etc. indicate that they were of Semitic origin. Manetho, followed by Josephus, identified the Hyksos with the Israelites. It appears that the migration of Jacob's sons to Egypt and the rise to power there of Joseph reflect dim memories of the rule of the Hyksos. Similarly dim memories are the biblical accounts of the descent from Canaan to Egypt for food (Gen. 12, 26, 41–50), which reflect the reality of famine and migration in the late 13th to 11th centuries b.c.e. (Na'aman), and the fact that Egyptians allowed nomads to enter the Delta region during such periods (COS iii, 16–17). Attempts to derive any useful chronology from the patriarchal narratives founder on the gaps and inaccuracies in the chronological and genealogical data of the Bible, which are mutually contradictory. Thus the number of years that the Hebrews sojourned in Egypt is given as 400 years (Gen. 15:13) or 430 years (Ex. 12:40), which is far more than four generations. In the light of the evidence available at present, it seems that the patriarchal period is legendary; the stories of the patriarchs provide theological and ideological lessons and not history, though certain details provide verisimilitude. The Patriarchs supported themselves by raising cattle, sheep, and goats (only Isaac engaged in seasonal agriculture in the western Negev, Gen. 26:12). Light is also shed on the depiction of the sociological makeup of the Patriarchs by the possible connection between the biblical designation "Hebrew" and the appellation for the social class *Ḥabiru (Ḥapiru) or ʿApiru, known from many sources, and current in the Ancient East over a long period. In the Bible non-Israelites called the Patriarchs and their descendants "Hebrews" (e.g., Gen. 39:17; 41:12) and the Israelites themselves used this name to identify themselves when dealing with foreigners (Gen. 40:15). Thus the name "Hebrew" came to designate Israel on the social level and did not refer to their obscure ethnic origin. If there is any comparison to be made between "Hebrew" and Ḥabiru, it is that the Hebrews belonged to this large class of people who were scattered overa wide area and consisted of nomads or vagabonds who lived on the margins and under the protection of societies whose laws did not apply to them. Their relation to their Canaanite hosts is that of gerim or metics (Gen. 23:4), and Canaan is the land of their megurim or sojourn as metics (Gen. 17:8; 28:4; 36:7; 37:1; 47:9; Ex. 6:4; see *Stranger). From all that has been said thus far it may be assumed that the general term ivri (if related to Ḥabiru) was applied only at a later stage to the tribes of Israel as a branch of this class and thus became an ethnic designation. It is possible that their non-Israelite neighbors, because they regarded the ancient Hebrews as a component of the general class of Ḥabiru, ignored those specific features which distinguished this small group from the other Ḥabiru and West Semitic elements.
The Bible describes the Hebrews' migration to Egypt and their stay at Goshen as a favor bestowed upon them because of Joseph who had attained prominence in Egypt. There is no external evidence about their life and activities there. The Bible relates that after a certain period they were subjugated by the pharaohs. It is actually not unreasonable to suppose that after the expulsion of the Hyksos the Egyptians should have enslaved kindred Semitic elements still living in Egypt. Nonetheless, the elaborate story of the slavery of the Israelites and their Exodus from Egypt are considered unhistorical by most scholars. Although the traditions about the enslavement and liberation can be dated to the ninth or eighth century (Hoffmann, Carroll), the traditions that the enslaved Hebrews built the cities of Pithom and Raamses (Ex. 1:11) originated among Egyptian Jews living in Egypt after the fall of Judah. The garrison city Per-Raʿmses (biblical Ramses) was built in the sixth century b.c.e., as was the reconstructed Per-Atum (biblical Pithom). The earliest extra-biblical reference to a group called "Israel" comes from *Merneptah, son of the long-lived Ramses ii. In a stele from the fifth year of his reign (c. 1220) celebrating Merneptah's defeat of his enemies in Palestine, "Israel" is written with the determinative sign indicating that a people is named rather than a place. Unfortunately, we must wait until the ninth century for the next mentions of "Israel" in datable sources.
The discussion of the Exodus is connected with the Israelite Conquest of Canaan. Both of these events are not historical, as will be seen below.
The Exodus from Egypt, although not a historical event, became the symbol of the hope of liberation for all generations. In theological terms, the Exodus from Egypt was a divine act which preceded the revelation at *Sinai, or according to Deuteronomy, *Horeb, the dwelling place of the God of Israel where Moses was given the tablets and the laws.
Truth to tell, there was never any external evidence for the enslavement in Egypt and the subsequent exodus. Those scholars who supported some version of the enslavement tradition argued, irrelevantly, that no one would have made up a tale of enslavement, and that the tradition was persistent. As for the the exodus through the desert, the 1967 victory of the Israel Defense Forces opened up biblical Israel (Judah and the West Bank of the Jordan) and the Sinai desert to extensive archaeological excavation. These showed no evidence of population in the Sinai during the required time period, nor could the Sinai have ever supported a population remotely close to the biblical numbers. The general consensus at present is that the people Israel arose in the land itself or perhaps from an area slightly to the east, with no indication of an Egyptian cultural past (see below). Na'aman departs from this consensus, arguing that the rise of Israel in the 12th–11th centuries must be seen as part of an enormous wave of migration in which Sea Peoples, Syro-Anatolian groups, and West Semitic groups and refugees from the Hittite empire that fell ca. 1200 reached Canaan. But these are all "northern" immigrants, not Egyptian. The unhistorical character of the biblical traditions of the exodus and the trek through the desert is evidenced by the Bible itself, which describes these events as miraculous, i.e. impossible (see e.g. Ex. 12:9–36; 14:15–15:19; 24:18; Deut. 8:2–4; 9:9–12). Accordingly, in studying the biblical accounts of the pre-settlement period, even allowing for the survival of some dim recollections, we should understand that these shed far more light on the periods of their composition than the periods of their setting. As such, our goals should be to reconstruct the literary history of the traditions and to understand the theological, political, and ideological agenda of the authors. For example, the tradition that the people of Israel originated outside of the land serves to distance Israel from peoples to whom there were ethnically quite close. The *Golden Calf story of Israelite *idolatry (Ex. 32), set in the desert in pre-settlement times, has been shown to be a polemic against the Northern Israelite cult of monarchic times. Nonetheless, we have to attempt to understand the details of the biblical traditions, and many remain unclear. The geographical aspects of the journey of the Hebrews in the Sinai desert have not been clarified. Even the location of the *Red Sea, where Pharaoh and his soldiers died, and of Mt. Sinai or Horeb, are unknown. The biblical account, according to which the Hebrews did not choose the shortest way to Canaan "through the way of the land of the Philistines" (Ex. 13:17), i.e., the road along the seashore of the Mediterranean to Egypt, has its inner logic, and reflects historical realities no earlier than the reign of Ramses iii (1183–1152), when *Philistines settled the coastal plain and became Egyptian mercenaries. The reason that the Israelites did not choose the coastal route, the normal one followed by invading Egyptian armies, was that they wanted to avoid confrontation with the Egyptian forces stationed in the fortresses along "the way of the land of the Philistines" which defended the approaches to Egypt. The indirect journey was difficult and very long, and was dependent on places with drinking water and oases. In the biblical account, the journey in the desert ended in *Kadesh-Barnea, an oasis with abundant water in northeastern Sinai. From here the Israelites attempted to penetrate Canaan. On the basis of biblical descriptions and archaeological evidence it becomes clear that the references are to Ein Qudeirat on which fortresses stood from the tenth century (Manor). Accordingly, traditions that may hark back to Solomonic times have been traced back to Moses. Given the unhistorical character of the Bible's grand narrative, it is better to understand the rise of Israel against the events of the later second millennium. In general terms, the rise of Israel was facilitated by a breakdown of the international system, which had been in place between 1550–1200. This enabled Western Asiatics, including Israel, to consolidate in Cisjordan and Transjordan thanks to a weakened Egypt and a destroyed *Hittite empire. Though some LB cities persisted in Palestine into Iron i, in the 12th century all Anatolian and Syrian kingdoms except for Carchemish and Melid were utterly destroyed. The wave of destruction reached the Aegean and Balkan regions (Na'aman, Drews). By the reign of Ramses vi (1143–1136), or Ramses viii (1129–1126) Egypt had completely withdrawn from Asia. For reasons of their own, the Bible's writers describe the Egyptian withdrawal from Asia in terms of the Israelite exodus from Egypt (Sperling).
As is true of the Egyptian enslavement and subsequent exodus, the account of the conquest is regarded by most scholars as unhistorical. The various biblical sources dealing with this subject are heterogeneous and there are many contradictory descriptions. Moreover, there are also inconsistencies in important details between these sources and archaeological finds. The biblical material, especially that which is found in Joshua, gives the impression that it has gone through a selective and unified editing to produce an "official" version of the "Conquest." This version represents the Conquest as a single campaign that was conducted according to an earlier plan which distributed the country in advance and was led by a sole leader, Moses, and later *Joshua. Apart from this version there are traditions that point to an entirely different situation. *Judges 1, a late text, describes military actions by individual tribes or small tribal coalitions. The late book *Chronicles views the Israelite presence in the land as continuous, ignoring the conquest and muting the exodus. Joshua appears in Chronicles 7:27 not as a war hero but as a distant descendent of Ephraim. The archaeological data do not usually support the biblical accounts of the Conquest. (1) The description of the conquest of *Ai by Joshua (Josh. 7–8) is contradicted by the fact that this place was desolate from the late 16th century to the early 12th. (2) Heshbon, Arad, and Jarmuth were deserted throughout the second millennium. Hebron and Gibeon were not occupied in the late Bronze Age (Na'aman). (3) Jericho was completely abandoned by the end of the Middle Bronze age (ca. 1550), probably because of some combination of earthquake and plague. The famed walls of Jericho go back to the Early Bronze Age (Kenyon apud Holland and Netzer). The site was probably resettled in the ninth century. (4) In contrast to the Bible, excavations show that the destruction of what archeologists call Late Bronze urban culture took place over more than a century. Hazor was destroyed in the mid-13th century and Lachish in the second half of the 12th. (5) After the Egyptian withdrawal from Canaan in the late 12th century, Beth-Shean, Megiddo, Ashdod, and other Canaanite cities were destroyed but they are all located in the lowlands, whereas Israelite settlement was in the highlands. From the archeological finds it becomes clear that the biblical accounts of a unified conquest are unhistorical. Writing minimally two to three centuries after the rise of Israel, and later, the authors of the conquest accounts made use of written and oral traditions of varying veracity. They tended to project conditions of their own day backward, and of course, to explain defeats and triumphs theologically. In addition, it was natural for them to attribute ruined sites of their own time to the activities of their victorious ancestors.
details of settlement
Actually, the tribes of Israel occupied only the hill country where the Canaanites were not able to use their chariots and the southern regions that were underpopulated or not populated at all. The general picture of the settlement points to four Israelite regions, separated by narrow strips of fortified Canaanite cities. This picture, as is known, follows the topographic structure of Palestine and emphasizes the contrast between the population of the mountainous regions and the population of the plains. The northern region of settlement was bordered on the south by a strip of plains (Jezreel and Beth-Shean) with fortifications ranged from Beth-Shean to Megiddo. Further, even in the territories of the northern tribes there were numerous Canaanite enclaves which undermined the unity of the Israelites; the large block of central mountains was between the Canaanites of the valleys and the chain of Canaanite fortresses in the south, starting with Jerusalem and ending in Gezer. This chain separated the central tribes from the southern tribes. Between these three blocks and the Israelite settlements in the east there was a natural border – the Jordan. Thus, the Canaanite fortresses interrupted the continuity of the Israelite settlement and prevented close contact among the groups of tribes. This isolation created specific local developments in each group of tribes and weakened their attachments to one another. It is noteworthy that the break between the central and southern tribes was so absolute that even the most reliable biblical sources (including the "Song of Deborah") do not mention the tribe of Judah at all as a component of the tribal alliance during the period of settlement.
Within the framework of the limited Israelite territory there began, according to the archaeological finds and surveys, a process of gradual expansion. The early Israelites were faced with grave difficulties, in particular a lack of fields suitable for cultivation and a shortage of water. As a consequence, the settlers had to cut down the forests within their territories (Josh. 17:14–18). Archaeological research shows that the settlement was, to a great extent, made possible by the extension and greater use of cisterns. Although it had been argued that Israelite settlement in the mountains was also facilitated by the use of iron, it appears that widespread use of iron did not come to Palestine until the 10th century. Bronze and tin implements were sufficient (Stager, 1985, 11). The settlement of the Israelites was accompanied by shifts and movements of tribal and sub-tribal units both within and outside the tribe's territory. A variety of reasons motivated these units to seek new territories, including lack or shortage of land suitable for cultivation, pressure from Israelite or alien neighbors, etc. Evidence for such events is found especially in the genealogical lists in the Bible and in particular in i Chronicles 1–11. In the genealogical lists are included fragments of information and various traditions about tribal and sub-tribal movements. These genealogies give information on their wanderings, their attachments with (and separations from) kindred or alien elements, and their elevation and decline. The tribal genealogy was constructed in a schematic way using familial terminology. This clarifies various phenomena such as the affiliation of clans and families to two tribes which obviously attests the transition of tribes from one territory to another. Such relations existed between Judah and Reuben (cf. e.g., Josh. 7:18 with Num. 26:6) and between Asher, Ephraim, and Benjamin (Josh. 16:3; i Sam. 9:4; 13:17), among others. It is also known that Manassite families in the west migrated to Transjordan and that families from Ephraim moved in the same direction (ii Sam. 18:6). A good example of the migration of a family-tribal unit is Dan who, because it was compressed between the territories of its brother tribes and of alien inhabitants of the plains, moved to the northern border of the Israelite territory (Judg. 18). As mentioned above, echoes of the absorption of alien elements into Israelite tribal units or territories are preserved in genealogical lists, in the terminology of matrimonial relations and by tracing their lineage to the ancestor of the tribe. Most instructive are the genealogical lists of the tribe of Judah which are very complicated (i Chron. 2;4:1–23). These lists show Judah's affiliation with Canaanite, Edomite, Horite, and Gileadite groups (as *Ephrath, *Caleb, Kenaz, *Hur, *Ethan, *Heman, *Machir, and others).
Similar affiliations and assimilation can be found also in the tribe of Manasseh, whose genealogy reflects the absorption of Canaanite territories. One can assume that the changes in the status of the tribes, the description of their achievements, their territories, and occupations as they appear in the Blessing of Jacob (Gen. 49), the Blessing of Moses (Deut. 33), and the Song of Deborah (Judg. 5) reflect changes that took place within the tribes during Israel's formative period and later. They do not necessarily represent events that occurred simultaneously.
some results of settlement
Despite the fact the major biblical traditions about the rise of Israel are unhistorical, we have to deal with the undisputable fact that Israel arose. (For summaries of current archaeological theories, see Bloch-Smith and Nakhai.) Archaeologists discern a significant shift in settlement patterns from the Late Bronze Age to the Iron Age. There is a large increase of population in Iron I, especially in the hill country. Most archaeologists agree that these new settlers were from Canaan itself. Finkelstein argues that they were originally pastoral nomads. Dever sees them essentially as having been sedentarized in the lowlands. (Halpern, more from the biblical traditions than from archaeology, argues for a Transjordanian origin.) The newer settlements seem to have been founded peacefully on new sites, not on destroyed ones. The development of these sites was gradual and lasted some time, beginning either in the 13th century (Dever) or the 12th through 11th (Finkelstein). The type and pattern of settlement differ from the LB large walled urban Canaanite sites. These small towns are characterized by the so-called "four room" house with a courtyard and, usually, a cistern and a silo, indicating an agrarian economy, based on terrace farming and livestock. There is some evidence of trade with Canaanite urban centers. Pottery traditions do not represent a significant break with l b forms, though the collared rim pithos may be an ethnic marker. Perhaps most significant is that the houses in these towns show little variation and are clustered closely together. There are no grand residences or administrative structures. There is evidence for a domestic shrine at Khirbet Radanna (Bloch-Smith and Nakhai, 73). This same site seems to attest to occupational specialization, literacy, and a social and economic hierarchy. There are few fortified sites. Two mountaintop shrines have been identified in the biblical territory of Manasseh; Mt. Ebal and the open-air "Bull Site" in the hills near Dothan. It is most likely that this new highland population is Israelite, or "proto-Israelite" (Dever). Some scholars view the absence of pig bones as significant, but of the prohibited animals, the pig was not singled out for opprobrium until post-exilic times (Isa. 65:4; 66:3, 17). The archaeological picture points to small-scale settlement, initially peaceful, of indigenous former pastoralists, farmers relocated from Canaanite city-states. The population was augmented by some movement from the coastal regions and from the North, and possibly by some nomadic groups (Bloch-Smith and Nakhai, 119). The biblical conquest tradition is based on (a) exaggeration of actual military encounters: some of the destroyed sites of the 13th–12th centuries may have met their end through the activity of elements of Israel; (b) retrojection of the wars beginning with Saul through the monarchic period to the time of Israel's rise. The Bible describes early Israel as a group of tribes with weak political attachments, not as a firmly consolidated framework with distinct political aims and characteristics.
There is disagreement among scholars as to how the unification of the tribes into a nation took place. Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to assume that the tribes of Israel consisted of entirely separated and disconnected units. Merneptah recognizes Israel as an ethnic entity. The name Israel, "El-is-Upright," indicates the common worship of the ancient Syrian god El, who in the Bible is blended with Yahweh. Judges gives examples of concerted supra-tribal actions (ch. 5, 11, 19ff.) Moreover, the schematic pattern of 12 tribes, which always remains unchanged even if its components undergo changes, should not be ignored.
In contrast to the Pentateuch and the Book of Joshua, Judges provides a picture that is reasonably consistent with archaeology. Most instructive is the fact that during the period of settlement there was no one leader of all the tribes or national leader – a clear indication that an overall national consciousness had not crystallized.
Nevertheless, the settlement period laid the foundation for a new type of leadership institution which had not existed previously. As it was a product of the period it rose and declined with it. The Bible defines the new type of leader as "judge." To the judge and his period a whole biblical book was dedicated, i.e., the Book of *Judges.
This book is the only source of information about the characteristics of the judges as leaders – their qualities and activities. However, Judges is only a selection of stories concerning a few judges, and does not describe all the judges who lived and functioned nor all the events that occurred in this period. These stories were included in the book in a pragmatic pattern and were edited so as to stress the overall national character of the judges' activity. According to the available data, all these tendentious ingredients date from a later period. It is obvious that the judge was the answer to the problem of leadership that appeared at a particular stage of the settlement period, when the neighbors started to react to Israel's existence in Canaan, in the hope of taking advantage of the weakness and disunity of the tribes. The judge was first of all a prominent tribal leader who was elevated to this position in a time of crisis when an external menace threatened his tribe's existence. The period of leadership was limited to the time that was needed to subjugate the enemy. Authority was given to the judge by the traditional leaders of the tribe. The judge was also impelled by the spirit of God to succeed so that the faith of the people in his political and military skill would be strengthened. The divine favor that descended upon the judge increased the influence and authority of the judge over the tribe. Since the task of the judge was completed when the objective which made leadership necessary had been attained, the principles of inheritance or pedigree which characterized the typical tribal leadership were not applied. This type of judging is not identical with the office of a judge in court. The Book of Judges presents two prototypes of the judges: (1) the charismatic leader, the "deliverer," who goes to war against Israel's enemies and defeats them (six: *Othniel, *Ehud, *Deborah, *Gideon, *Jephthah, *Samson); (2) the "minor" judge who did not accomplish heroic deeds on the battlefield but who possessed tribal pedigree (Judg. 10:1–5; 12:8–15). It appears that these two types of judges were current during the period which is named after them. Whether this division is historical or literary is difficult to determine.
Insufficient chronological evidence makes it difficult for the historian to reconstruct the dates of the events recounted in Judges. The same applies to the order of the judges from the point of view of their time and activity. In only isolated cases is it possible to show that a certain event preceded another one. Anyway, it is obvious that the order in which the stories concerning the judges appear is not necessarily parallel to any chronological order.
The background of the activity of the first judge, Othniel son of Kenaz, who fought against Chushan-Rishathaim king of Aram-Naharaim, is not at all clear (Judg. 3:8–10). According to one theory his deliverance was connected with the invasion of the territory of Judah by a northern ruler in the 12th century b.c.e. Another opinion is that the reference is to an Edomite ruler. No less vague is the background of the deliverance story of Ehud son of Gera and the period in which it took place. There was, apparently, a Moabite invasion of Cisjordan which subjugated the territory of Benjamin (Judg. 3:12ff.). Taking advantage of the weakness and disunity of the Israelites, the Moabites succeeded in occupying parts of their territories in the center of the country for some time.
The section dealing with Samson belongs to a comparatively late period (Judg. 13–16). The historical nucleus of this episode is obscure, as a result of the literary-legendary nature of the stories. One can recognize that the traditions about Samson are connected with the period marking the beginning of *Philistine settlement; in any case, it took place before the migration of the tribe of Dan to the north (see above). Nonetheless, the tale in its current form cannot be earlier than the borrowing of the word ḥiddah, "riddle" (Judg. 14:12) from Aramaic.
Another episode meriting special notice is the conflict between the tribes of Israel and the Canaanite element. It is possible that the battle of Deborah and Barak against the Canaanites illustrates a central event of the settlement period, a consequence of which was the liberation of the northern bloc of tribes from the increased pressure of the Canaanite chariotry. In the light of the parallel account in Joshua (Josh. 11:1ff.), this narrative presents many difficulties which have increased with the excavations at *Hazor. According to one opinion Hazor and *Jabin are a later addition to the story, and the Canaanite elements who took part in the battle were from the entrances to the valley of Jezreel. The Canaanite army was defeated in a battle at the foot of Mt. Tabor by Israelite troops, who took advantage of topographic and climatic advantages. Relatively many Israelite tribes participated in this battle (all the central and some of the northern tribes). In their victory they destroyed the Canaanite hegemony in the north including the valley of Jezreel. Moreover, for the first time territorial continuity was established between the northern tribes and the group of central tribes (Judg. 4–5).
The battle of Deborah and Barak should be dated, it seems, to the second half of the 12th century b.c.e. when the Philistines were in the country. This conclusion is based on the fact that the battle is recorded after mention is made of the judge *Shamgar son of Anath who fought against the Philistines, and also on the fact that the tribe of Dan is mentioned as living in its northern territory. Another consideration is that *Taanach in the Song of Deborah is mentioned as being "by the waters of Megiddo." This testifies to the latter's destruction which has been proved to have taken place in the last quarter of the 12th century b.c.e.
The Canaanite opposition was broken, and this destroyed the fragile balance of power in the north. There were no more Canaanite fortresses to stand in the way of peoples who looked enviously upon the fertile fields of the plains. The raiders of the border regions of the desert, being aware of the new situation, poured across the Jordan on their way west. The Midianites, and those accompanying them (Judg. 6:3–5; 7:12), plundered the Canaanite and Israelite settlements. The Israelites were the greater sufferers, since they lived in unwalled settlements until they were delivered by Gideon's troops which were supported by Gideon's tribe Manasseh and by the northern tribes. Gideon decisively defeated the Midianites and pursued them into Transjordan.
The Bible relates that after Gideon's victory he was offered the kingship, but declined the royal honor (Judg. 8:22–23). However, there are many indications in the stories about Gideon that he still occupied a high position after his task was accomplished, some of which may be interpreted as signs of kingship: his receiving a portion of the spoil of the tribes, his marrying many women, and his making Ophrah, his hometown, into a religious center by erecting a sanctuary there in which he placed an ephod (Judg. 8:24–27). In addition, there are allusions to political and military control that he exercised over the Canaanite city of Shechem. After Gideon's death, his son *Abimelech (Judg. 9) attempted to succeed to his position by utilizing the relations his father had with Shechem, his mother's native city. After disposing of all potential rivals to the succession, he attempted to exert his authority over Shechem by forming an alliance with the city's nobility. He also planned to maintain his authority among the Israelite tribes. However, Abimelech's efforts ended in failure with the destruction of Shechem (which is attested by the Bible and archaeological excavations at the site), shortly after which he died.
The Israelites' offer of kingship to Gideon has often been interpreted as the first sign of a change in the attitude of tribal leadership toward centralized rule – a change whose results were not felt until later. Scholars have seen in the Abimelech episode an experiment in imitating non-Israelite rule, and the creation of a transitional stage between a tribal order and a monarchy. However, these two stories concerning Gideon and Abimelech are actually only isolated episodes which had no sequel. Thus, it is difficult to deduce from them to what extent they were the precursors of the establishment of monarchy in Israel, although they are instructive in their own right.