Redating the exodus and conquest

This admittedly poor “fit” between Biblical tradition and archaeological evidence is universally recognized by scholars, the majority of whom nevertheless accept a date of 1230–1220 B. Another, newer proposal is the “peasant revolt” theory advocated by George E. Gottwald.12 According to this, what the Bible describes in terms of an Israelite conquest was in fact a revolt of local peasants against the urban centers that previously dominated them.a We believe there is a better solution, one that does more justice to the Biblical traditions, which we would like to present to BAR readers.13 Our solution requires us to make two radical chronological adjustments, which we will discuss in turn.

The first is simple- Move the date of the conquest back about 200 years, to shortly before 1400 B. Although this conflicts with the GAD for Israel’s emergence in Canaan, it is in fact the date implied by the Bible itself. This is almost 200 years earlier than the GAD of 1230–1220 B. Another Biblical text—Judges 11-26—indicates that the Israelites had been settled in Transjordan for 300 years by the time of Jephthah, one of the Judges.

C.11 Two destroyed cities hardly amount to evidence for a conquest, especially when there is no evidence that their attackers were the Israelites. One approach, which has gained considerable support in mainstream scholarship, is to explain Israel’s emergence in Canaan by processes other than conquest—that is, by thoroughly rejecting the Biblical account.

These destructions may have resulted from any one of a number of other causes, for example, Egyptian campaigns or local intercity warfare. Among these alternative views is the “peaceful infiltration” theory, long favored by German scholars.

Since the early decades of this century, three main arguments have been built up for dating the Exodus to the 13th century B. First, the very name Raamses recalls the Egyptian name Ramesses, borne by one of Egypt’s most illustrious Pharaohs, Ramesses II (the Great), who reigned from 1290 to 1224 (or 1279–1213) B. This Pharaoh did indeed build a royal residence-city called Pi-Ramesse in the eastern Nile Delta.

Exodus 1-11 has therefore been taken to indicate that the Israelites cannot have left Egypt before the reign of Ramesses II.

The Bible describes the Israelite conquest of Canaan at length and refers to a number of cities encountered by Joshua and his armies.

Last modified 31-Mar-2020 08:19