[b-hebrew] Joshua 15: 52-59: Hill Country Cities?

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Mon Dec 29 10:32:11 EST 2008


Joshua 15: 52-59:  Hill Country Cities?
 
Yigal Levin is one of the leading experts in the world on the subject of the 
identity of Biblical cities in southern Canaan.  But let me venture a few 
thoughts of my own on that important subject.  I think I may have located a main 
source of the longstanding post-Biblical misunderstanding of Biblical 
geography:  a mis-reading of Joshua 15: 48-60.
 
A.  The text of Joshua 15: 48-60 unambiguously states that the first 11 
cities listed there (Joshua 15: 48-51) are located in hill country.  These 11 
cities include Debir, a well-known city located in hill country south of the city 
of Hebron.  Socoh is located on the western edge of hill country.  I do not see 
any of the 11 cities there as being known not to be located in hill country.  
So far, so good.
 
But as I see it, the text, out of context, is inherently ambiguous as to 
whether or not the next 27 cities listed thereafter are, or are not, asserted by 
Joshua to be located in hill country.
 
For starters, it is hard to see how hill country south of Jerusalem could 
contain that many cities.  38 cities in that part of hill country?  The flip side 
is that it seems very odd that on what I believe is the customary reading of 
the text, not a single city in the attractive Aijalon Valley is assigned to 
Judah in the Book of Joshua.  (I realize that Gezer, and the city of Aijalon, 
are dealt with separately, at Joshua 16: 10;  19: 42.)
 
I note that the cities in the Shephelah well south of the Aijalon Valley are 
well represented at Joshua 15: 33-47, along with several cities on the coast 
which are not in the Shephelah.  Joshua 15: 33-36 lists 14 cities “in the valley
”, which apparently means the Shephelah south of the Aijalon Valley, and 
perhaps south of the Sorek Valley as well.  All 14 of those cities may well be 
located in the Shephelah (not on the coast).  But as for the next 28 cities 
listed (at Joshua 15: 37-47), although many such cities are located in the 
Shephelah, not all of them are.  Ashdod and Gaza at Joshua 15: 47 certainly are 
located on the coast, not in the Shephelah.  Moreover, in this list of 44 cities, I 
see not a single city located in or near the Aijalon Valley.
 
Most of the foregoing problems disappear entirely if one recognizes that (i) 
not all of the 28 cities listed at Joshua 15: 37-47 are asserted by Joshua to 
be “in the valley”, that is, in the Shephelah, and that (ii) the cities 
listed at Joshua 15: 52-60 likewise are not being asserted by Joshua to be located 
in hill country.
 
Yes, the reference to “hiy Hebron” at Joshua 15: 54 is a major concern.  The 
city of Hebron is definitely located in hill country, south of Jerusalem, 
though the city name “Hebron” is not attested in secular history prior to the 
8th century BCE.  But other than that one controversial reference (which looks 
like a gloss, and can be discussed in a later post), it appears to me that all 
25 cities listed at Joshua 15: 52-59 may be located in or near the Aijalon 
Valley, not in hill country.
 
B.  In this post, I will start things out by mentioning just one specific 
city:  MQRT.  [The letters “Mqrt” are set forth as item #106 on the Thutmosis 
III list from the mid-15th century BCE here:  
http://www.archaeowiki.org/Topographical_List%2C_First_Campaign_of_Thutmose_III P. 74 of Anson Rainey’s “The 
Sacred Bridge” adds in some vowel sounds and sets forth either “ma-q-r-tu” or “
ma-q-ra-tu”.  (The final U there is a pre-12th century BCE case ending that 
would not be reflected in the Bible.)]  
 
Nadav Na’aman, who is one of the best historians in the world, states that he 
and other scholars have not been able to figure out what the city of MQRT is 
at item #106 on the Thutmosis III list.    “The place of Mqr/lt (No. 106) is 
unknown.”  [The 3rd letter is an Egyptian R, which could be either resh/R or 
lamed/L, hence Prof. Na’aman’s rendering of “r/l”.  Here, I see that R as 
being a resh/R.]     
_http://books.google.com/books?id=HmTOoQmf23AC&pg=PA208&lpg=PA204&ots=9b0fS9ucF2&dq=rubutu+letter&ie=ISO-8859-1&output=html_ 
(http://books.google.com/books?id=HmTOoQmf23AC&pg=PA208&lpg=PA204&ots=9b0fS9ucF2&dq=rubutu+le
tter&ie=ISO-8859-1&output=html)   MQRT comes immediately after Gezer and 
Rubutu on the Thutmosis III list, and right before the geographical focus of the 
Thutmosis III list appears to shift to the Jezreel Valley (at item #107).  We 
would logically expect MQRT to be the last of 7 straight cities listed on the 
Thutmosis III list that are cities located in or near the Aijalon Valley.
 
Apparently, scholars have not looked at Joshua 15: 52-59 in trying to 
understand MQRT, on the grounds that (i) all of the cities listed there allegedly are 
asserted by Joshua to be in hill country, and (ii) pharaoh Thutmosis III 
never went anywhere near hill country.  But the text of Joshua does not say that 
those cities are located in hill country, as I read it.  Rather, I see all of 
the 25 cities listed at 15: 52-59 as likely being in or near the Aijalon 
Valley, rather than being in hill country (subject to the one controversial 
reference to “hiy Hebron”, which can be addressed later).
 
If we are willing to look in Joshua 15: 52-59 for a MQRT located in or near 
the Aijalon Valley, we find it immediately, at Joshua 15: 59.
 
MQRT = Biblical “Maarath”.  MQRT is item #106 on the Thutmosis III list 
(being the last of 7 straight cities on that list that appear to be located in or 
near the Aijalon Valley).  The letter Q on the Thutmosis III list often 
represents a gimel/G sound.  (Thus Gezer, at item #104 on the Thutmosis III list, is 
QDR, where the Egyptian Q represents a west Semitic gimel/G.)  An archaic 
ghayin in the Bronze Age had a sound similar to gimel/G, as we see in “Gaza” and 
“Gomorrah” in the Patriarchal narratives, each of which begins with an 
archaic ghayin, which is represented in Biblical Hebrew writing as a regular ayin, 
but which comes out as a G in the Septuagint in Greek.  If the Q here 
represents a ghayin/ayin (which sounded a lot like gimel/G), then the four Hebrew 
equivalent letters would be mem-ayin-resh-tav/M(RT.  That is exactly what is 
found, letter for letter, at Joshua 15: 59:  M(RT/“Maarath”.  MQRT as item #106 on 
the Thutmosis III list = Biblical “Maarath”/M(RT at Joshua 15: 59.
 
Though scholars have been baffled by MQRT at item #106 on the Thutmosis III 
list, it’s right there at Joshua 15: 59, plain as day, as a city in or near the 
Aijalon Valley, if we are willing to recognize that the text of Joshua does 
not assert that the cities at Joshua 15: 52-60 are located in hill country.
 
In my view, the key to understanding what Joshua is doing with his 
controversial reference to “hiy Hebron” at Joshua 15: 54 is first to try to understand 
all that we can about the 25 cities that surround that apparent gloss.  It 
makes all the difference in the world whether those 25 cities are in or near the 
Aijalon Valley, or by sharp contrast are in hill country.  It makes no sense 
to ignore those 25 cities listed in Joshua.
 
With 25 Biblical city names to look at in Joshua 15: 52-59, and with the 
mid-15th century BCE Thutmosis III list available to be consulted for Late Bronze 
Age cities in Canaan, which seems to include 7 straight cities located in or 
near the Aijalon Valley (items #100 - #106), surely we should we able to 
determine whether those 25 listed cities in Joshua are located in or near the 
Aijalon Valley, or rather are located in hill country south of Jerusalem.  We have 
now seen that item #106 on the Thutmosis III list, MQRT, matches up very nicely 
to Biblical Maarath at Joshua 15: 59.  Knowing that pharaoh Thutmosis III 
never went anywhere near hill country, but did spend time in the Aijalon Valley 
area, that tends to indicate that MQRT/Biblical Maarath was located in or near 
the Aijalon Valley, not in hill country.  Granted, this post has only analyzed 
a single city name.  But we’ve got 25 city names at Joshua 15: 52-59, and 7 
consecutive cities at items #100-#106 on the Thutmosis III list which all 
appear to be located in or near the Aijalon Valley (the only place where pharaoh 
Thutmosis III recorded city names in Canaan that is south of the Megiddo area).
 
I myself think that Joshua has a lot more accurate historical information in 
it than most people realize.  No, it’s not the pinpoint historical accuracy of 
the Patriarchal narratives.  But Joshua’s extensive listing of cities in 
Canaan should not be ignored.  We may be able to figure out where post-Biblical 
analysts have gone wrong as to Biblical geography if we pay close attention to 
the geographical place names in (1) Joshua, (2) the Patriarchal narratives, and 
(3) the Thutmosis III list.  Certainly the various authors of the Bible knew 
the  l-o-c-a-l  geography of southern Canaan.  It is post-Biblical analysts, 
not the Bible itself, who have gotten so very far off the track regarding 
Biblical geography.
 
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois

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