Exodus 12:37-38, The Conquest of Canaan (part III of III)

Then the children of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides children. A mixed multitude went up with them also, and flocks and herds—a great deal of livestock.

//We continue our discussion from yesterday about whether Israel conquered the promised land. Archaeological evidence seems to tell a much messier story than the simple, sweeping genocide described by the Bible. Yet, the period immediately following the supposed conquest shows considerable growth in population. So what really happened, and how did Israel really happen to settle in the land of Canaan?

Four possibilities have been proposed by scholars, as described in The Meaning of the Bible, by Douglas A. Knight and Am-Jill Levine:

1. There is at least some evidence of combat in the period, though of course by far fewer troops than the 600,000 invading army described by the Bible. Could a much lesser invasion have occurred, which then grew into legend?

2. The territory seems to have been pretty much a political vacuum at the time, and some scholars consider “Israel’s” settling there to be more of a peaceful immigration of people from Southwest Asia.

3. Or did Israel rise up from within? Perhaps peasants from city-states in the valleys and coastal plains rebelled or escaped oppression, settling in the Canaanite highlands.

4. The scenario the authors find most likely is a cultural-evolution model. Population did increase dramatically in the 12th and 11th centuries BC, and there were numerous ethnic groups in the area. The Bible refers to Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. A peaceful convergence of farming and herding seems probable.

But is it not possible that all scenarios contain an element of truth, culminating eventually in cultural evolution? This question brings us to today’s verse, describing a “mixed multitude” of people among the Hebrews as they left Egypt. Israel’s legends of battle surely sprang from minor scuffles, and the legends also attempt to explain the merging of peoples. In reality, however, this convergence probably occurred in later centuries within the promised land rather than during the exodus.

If you find the stories of divinely sanctioned genocide in the Bible to be disturbing, at odds with the God of love you’ve come to know, then you can rest assured no such thing happened.


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