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View series: The Bible and History

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The Biblical narration of the Conquest of Canaan

This map is part of a series of 12 animated maps showing the history of The Bible and History.

The Hebrews’ conquest of Canaan is described in the Book of Joshua. It is said to have taken place under the leadership of Joshua, rather than Moses who was only able to see the Promised Land from a distance.

This campaign involved all the tribes of Israel, although the tribes of Gad and Ruben and the half-tribe of Manasseh had already obtained permission from Moses to settle in territories located on the eastern bank of the River Jordan, which was not strictly speaking the Promised Land [Numbers, chap. 32]

According to the Book of Joshua, the first city to fall after crossing the Jordan was Jericho, whose walls, so the Bible tells us, collapsed at the sound of trumpets.

The next city to be taken was Ai, which means ‘ruin’.

The Hebrews advanced into the western and southern regions and captured the towns of Libnah, Lachish, Eglon, Hebron and Debir [Joshua chap. 10]

The war then moved into the north of Canaan where the Hebrews faced a coalition of kings from several city states, led by King Jabin of Hazor. There was a decisive battle at a place known as “Waters of Merom” [which means ‘height’]. The Hebrews chased their enemies towards Sidon in the north-west and the Valley of Mizpeh in the north-east. On their return, they burned the city of Hazor [Joshua 11:11].

The Book of Joshua ends triumphantly: “So Joshua took all that land, the hill country, and all the South and all the land of Goshen, and the lowland, and the Arabah, and the hill country of Israel, and its lowland; from Mount Halak, which rises towards Seir, as far as Baal-gad in the valley of Lebanon below Mount Hermon”. [Joshua 11.16-17].

Chapter 11 ends with the sharing of territory among the tribes of Israel and the idea that the country was now at peace.

Nevertheless, this idyllic conclusion is contradicted in Chapter 13, where God speaks to Joshua saying : “there still remains very much land to be possessed” [13:1]. Jerusalem, in particular, remained unconquered. Next we learn that, in several regions, the Canaanites were still present among the Israelites, even though Chapter 12 proclaimed that they had disappeared. The Bible itself thus seems to suggest a less literal – or ‘second-degree’ – interpretation of the Book of Joshua.

In addition, archaeological excavations allow us to reconstitute a very different story from that in the Bible …