Judges
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The Judges of Israel - the external view

Summary

This page investigates the various individuals named in the book of Judges with a view to ascertaining overall timing and chronology in comparison with external indications. It should be viewed in conjunction with the companion page on internal chronology. In the descriptions below, all elapsed times are given according to the stated (average) figures given on the companion page - the numbers in [square brackets] show the range between minimal and maximal values.

Tell ed Daba

As explained elsewhere (Under construction), the pre-Hyksos levels at Tell ed Daba show the following characteristics. The population appears Canaanite in origin, but with quite different customs and burial traditions to the Hyksos layers. This occupation level ends quite suddenly, with a short gap before the Hyksos arrival. There is, therefore, the possibility that these remains provide an archaeological record of the Israelite sojourn in Egypt. One possibility is that the Exodus occurred prior to the Hyksos occupation. Another is that the Hyksos supplanted the Israelites from this strategic location and resettled them elsewhere, preferring to make use of the settlement themselves. Other evidence of Canaanite or Asiatic occupation of the Eastern Delta in this general time-period (Middle Bronze) is found at numerous sites in the Wadi Tumilat, including Tell el-Maskhuta, Tell el-Yehudiyeh and Tell Farasha.

Cushan-Rishathaim

As explained on the companion page, there are at least two main linguistic explanations for this name. These give rise to slightly different chronological pictures. On the assumption that he represents one of the military elite rulers originating from Mitanni, this would place him in conventional terms probably 1700-1600 (possibly later), NC 1550-1450. On the other hand, if he was a Hyksos ruler, then conventionally he would be placed after about 1630, and in NC after about 1450. The internal dating indicates that his rule began about 65 [25-90] years after the Conquest.

The Philistines as opponents

Shamgar, approximately 200 years [125-250] after the Conquest, is said to have fought Philistines. As explained elsewhere, the incursion of the Philistines into the coastal plain area seems to have happened in a gradual manner, starting with small-scale migrations and culminating with a major influx around the time of Ramesses III. Conventionally this spans the time 1550-1175, in NC 1235-860. The narrative suggests that Shamgar's opponents were not organised and ready for war in the large-scale way that is presented in the later parts of Judges, and this fits well with the picture of early, geographically-limited groups of Philistines being able to be restrained by the efforts of Shamgar and others. Even in the time of Jephthah, approximately 370 years [185-445] after the Conquest, the Philstines appear as the junior partner in the coalition oppressing Israel, with the Ammonites taking the lead. Only by the time of Samson, after about 420 years [220-530] do they appear as serious and more relentless enemies.

Sisera and Jabin

If the battle in which Jabin was defeated was the same as Thutmose III's battle against Canaanite kings near Megiddo, the date for this is known. In conventional terms it is 1457, and in NC 1116. The internal dating indicates about 230 [80-270] years after the Conquest.

Ammonites

Archaeological study indicates that town-based occupation of Ammon had been considerably reduced (though still present) during the Middle and Late Bronze ages. At the start of the Iron Age town-centered occupation was vigorously renewed. In the conventional chronology this would approximately correspond to the time of Jephthah. In the New Chronology the Late Bronze-Iron transition is much later, so this incursion would be in the era when the Ammonites were more dispersed. Jephthah's campaign does not seem to have been directed towards any major cities, but simply records him "devastating twenty towns" of no specific size. The account therefore does not help us to discriminate here.

Egyptian dynastic dates

As mentioned on the companion page, the span of years possible for Judges is very extensive. It is of some help to see how the division of Egyptian history, both conventionally and in NC, can inter-relate with this. The span of time in which we are interested is from about 1660 to about 1000 BCE.

Broadly speaking, this breaks down as follows:

EraDynastyConventional datesNC dates
Second Intermediate Period13th1760-16401630-1445
 14thIncluded in D13-17
 15th1635-15301445-1285
 16thIncluded in D15-17
 17th1640-15401290-1185
New Kingdom18th1540-12951195-960
 19th1295-1185960-855
 20th1185-1070 
Third Intermediate Period21st1070-945 

In conventional terms, the end of the 13th dynasty matches reasonably closely with the eruption of the volcano Thera. Since some see a link between some of the plague descriptions prior to the Exodus (as regards their natural explanation) and certain peripheral effects of volcanos, this gives an appealing chronological connection. In NC, this link is not present, and Thera is more closely linked in time with the end of the 12th dynasty.

Egyptian interest in the Levant

The question as to why the Egyptians do not feature more prominently in the book of Judges arises frequently. The only explicit mention is in the list of oppressors given in 10:11 - however this could easily represent a retrospective look at the time before the Exodus rather than a more recent event. As discussed elsewhere on these pages, the possibility exists of interpreting Cushan-Rishathaim as a Hyksos ruler, and of seeing traces of Thutmose III's campaign in the account of Barak and Deborah, but these are matters of interpretation rather than definite mention. It is useful, therefore, to consider what degree of interest Egypt may have had during the times in question.

During the Middle Kingdom (ending with the start of the 13th dynasty), although Egypt traded extensively through the Levant to Byblos, Ugarit and beyond, there seem to have been few military campaigns. The only one definitely attested is of Senuseret III up to Shechem, at which point he turned back. Other expeditions are suggested and hinted at, but are not definite. For an Eastern defence, Egypt relied on fortifications in Sinai. A chain of forts guarded the edge of the Delta region (near to the present-day Suez canal) and extended along the caravan coastal routes known as the Ways of Horus, with the final fort at Sharuhen, not far from Ashkelon and Gaza.

The Second Intermediate Period is marked by few extensive accounts. Many of the 13th dynasty kings were quite weak, and even the stronger ones were more concerned with internal than external issues. The Hyksos, who appear to have had strong Asiatic connections, left few records of any specific activities there.

When the Hyksos were driven from Avaris by Ahmose, founder of the 18th dynasty, they initially withdrew to Sharuhen but were eventually thoroughly defeated there. The early 18th dynasty kings then began a process of establishing an Egyptian presence up the Levant coast. Commonly, Egyptian forces were despatched by sea to Byblos, avoiding Canaan altogether in the interest of the more important lands further north. Stelae were erected close to Carchemish, and Thutmose III carried out numerous campaigns in the intervening lands. In his 22nd year he returned from the Kadesh area down to Galilee. 4 years later his army marched up the coast to defeat a coalition of Canaanite kings near Megiddo - the city itself fell after a 7 month siege. Although he campaigned at least four more times into Canaan (but only once into the more southerly areas of key relevance to Israel), this is the only occasion on which he claimed to have captured cities or replaced local leaders. It seems that most of his campaign activity here was as a formal display of authority rather than having definite military targets - shows of strength and animal hunts were more the order of the day. Amenhotep II carried out similar (but fewer) campaigns, mostly along the coastal plain area or bypassing it altogether via Byblos.

The Amarna letters, from the late 18th dynasty, give a fascinating picture of life in the Levant, which is reviewed in more detail elsewhere (Full investigation Under construction, but a review of Abimelech in relation to this may be found entitled Abimelech, Saul, and Amarna). The main impression of Egyptian involvement at this time is that there was little. Garrisons were maintained in cities, and the loyalty of rulers was secured by holding family members at the Egyptian court - simultaneously being trained in Egyptian ways and acting as hostages.

In the 19th dynasty, Rameses II was heavily involved with countering Hittite expansion southward, with the Battle of Kadesh a key moment in this prolonged struggle. Once again, his troop movements were predominantly along the coast. However, in his 8th year he campaigned around both sides of the Dead Sea against Edom and Moab, passing close to Jerusalem on the northerly route. After that, the next campaign of real note into Canaan was that of Shoshenk I, at the start of the 22nd dynasty - in either chronology outside of the Judges era.

So the main periods of Egyptian activity insofar as it would affect Canaan and Israel were in the early years of the 18th dynasty, and then again in the first half of the 19th dynasty. Conventionally, assuming an average or extended model, the early 18th dynasty aligns with Ehud and Barak, and the early 19th dynasty with Gideon, Jephthah, and the 6 minor judges. As explained elsewhere, the Song of Deborah may be seen as reflecting the consequences of the early 18th dynasty expeditions through the Levant. The activities of the second group of individuals are focused in the northern, central hill-country and transJordan areas, and not until Samson does attention return to the coastal area. Even the campaign of Rameses II into Moab was not in the sphere of influence of these judges. Hence, the lack of mention of Egyptian activity through most of Judges is explicable.

Within the New Chronology, the great majority of Judges occurs within the Hyksos era. From approximately the time of Gideon onwards is parallel with the 18th dynasty. Again the focus of Judges is inland, predominantly in the Jordan valley, whereas the focus of Egyptian activity was along the coast. The early 18th dynasty campaigns are not alluded to at all, and time between Gideon's defeat of the Midianites and Jephthah's of the Ammonites is presented as quite peaceful. Barak's struggle against Jabin is during the Hyksos era. The 19th dynasty does not begin until the United Monarchy period has started.

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