[b-hebrew] Re: A model of Hebrew settlement

David N. da Silva huyxh8s02 at sneakemail.com
Fri Oct 22 14:01:36 EDT 2004

In a previous post, I proposed that the wave of settlement in the highlands of Israel, c. 1200 b.c.e. was caused by the collapse of Canaanite and Egyptian power, which had actively suppressed settlement.   I want to consider what, if this model is correct, we can conclude about where these settlers came from.

Israel Finkelstein's model, is that nomadic herdsmen, who had been accustomed to trading meat for grain, were obliged by the destruction of Canaanite cities, to plant their own crops.  If this is correct, the new settlers could have been in the land all along, and they could have been of the same tribes or nations as the inhabitants of the bronze age cities.

But if the reason that the settlements happened at just the time they did, no earlier and no later, was that the nomads were prevented from settling any earlier, then they must have been of different tribes or nations than the bronze age cities.    The bronze age kings would not have objected if their own people had chosen to live in houses rather than tents.    So if there was a policy of the suppression of settlement, then it was a policy to suppress the settlement of foreigners: that is, of 'Apiru.   Perhaps the 'Apiru were not welcome at all, but keeping them out altogether would have been very hard.  Keeping them from settling would have been easy.

We know that in the bronze age, the kings struggled with 'Apiru nomads.  When the kings power collapsed c. 1200, the 'Apiru who had been there as nomads (but foreigners to the Canaanite cities) could have settled if they wanted to.

But we have no reason to suppose that everyone who settled c. 1200, had been a nomad in the kings' territories prior to 1200.   Once the kings fell and the possibility of settlement was open, nomads who had never entered the kings' lands as nomads, could have come in to settle.

While the power of the bronze age inhabitants was surely weakened by the Sea Peoples, they were not wiped out or rendered helpless.   So there may well have been battles between the incoming nomads and the existing inhabitants.    But weakened, and with help from Egypt cut off, the kings would have lost control over land which in the bronze age they had been able to hold.    The incoming nomads are thus just one more example of people who, at the end of the bronze age, left their homes and were able to defeat kings and empires.    If they traveled from outside of Canaan, that would have been a short journey compared to the many others taking place at that time.

Finkelstein doubts that nomads came from any distance to build the new villages in the central highlands of Israel - at most they came from the "desert fringe" land within Israel or Transjordan north of the Dead Sea.   He thinks that prior to the domestication of the camel, the "deep desert" was uninhabited.    But just what the population was of any desert place is unknown.  Surveys have not been done, and it is hard to count nomads with a survey anyway.  We just don't know what the boundary was for survival in the goat-and-donkey era.  So there is really quite a lot of territory from which the nomads could have come.   Most notably, Edom, Se`ir, and northeast Sinai.   We know that some population of Shasu was in the habit of crossing into Egypt during droughts from these places, in the bronze age.  So the overall picture is of a population from around Se`ir, who during the bronze age had moved in and out of Egypt, and who a bit before 1200 moved north, and also across the Jordan, and conquered new land.

David Nunes da Silva

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