The slaying of Jesus at the foot of Mount Sinai on a spring evening in 1352 B.C. was later the subject of an elaborate conspiracy to try to conceal the truth about his death. Not the least element of this conspiracy was the "resurrection" of Jesus in order to furnish graphic details of how he conquered the Promised Land in a swift military campaign a century after his death.
After the account in the Book of Exodus of the events at the foot of Mount Sinai when Jesus was killed, Joshua disappears entirely from the scene until the Book of Deuteronomy, the last of the five books of the Pentateuch, where he is mentioned as the leader who succeeded Moses: "And Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom; for Moses had laid his hands upon him: and the children of Israel hearkened unto him ..." (34:9). This is followed by an entire book devoted to his exploits, including his conquest of Canaan at the head of the united tribes of Israel. Although this account has gained popular acceptance, it is a work of fiction that cannot be supported by either biblical criticism or archaeological evidence.
The Book of Joshua is the first of what are known as the Former Prophets or Historical Books. It consists of three main sections—the conquest of Canaan (Chapters 1-12); division of the conquered territory between the twelve tribes of Israel (13-21); and negotiations with tribes to the east of the Jordan, followed by a covenant at Shecham (22-24). The swift military campaigns ascribed to Joshua cannot have taken place in the latter part of the thirteenth century B.C. because two of the cities said to have been sacked by him had been destroyed earlier and the other two were not destroyed until later.
The account of these campaigns tells us that the Israelites began by crossing the River Jordan from east to west opposite Jericho, which was in a state of siege. They took it and "utterly destroyed all that was in the city" after, in a seemingly miraculous manner, its walls came tumbling down (Joshua 6:20-21). Jericho was a very ancient city, dating back as far as 8000 B.C. In the course of its long history, the city and its massive fortifications were destroyed and rebuilt many times. The Hyksos, who invaded Egypt around 1683 B.C., ruled for slightly more than a century and had Jericho under their control at this period, then were expelled by the kings of Egypt's Eighteenth Dynasty, who pursued them into western Asia and destroyed Jericho and its fortifications during the fifteenth century B.C. There is no evidence that the city itself or its walls were rebuilt for many centuries after this destruction: "Thus there was settlement from about 1400 to 1325 B.C., or even for a generation or so longer. Thereafter the earliest evidence for renewed settlement is isolated pottery vessels dating from the 11th into the 10th century B.C."* (my italics). So at the time of the supposed invasion by Joshua in the second half of the thirteenth century B.C., neither the city of Jericho nor its walls existed (Plate 3).
Another ancient Canaanite city, Ai, west of Jericho and north of Jerusalem, became the next target of the Israelite invaders. At the first attempt, when about 3,000 men tried to take the city, they were defeated and forced to flee. Joshua then resorted to another plan. He divided his army into two. Part of it lay in ambush between Bethel, another fortified city a few miles northwest of Ai, and Ai itself. In the ensuing battle, Joshua, pretending that his forces had been defeated, withdrew, pursued by the men of Ai. At a signal, the army waiting in ambush fell upon the city, entering from the west through the open and now unprotected gate, set it on fire and sacked it. In the meantime, Joshua advanced to renew the battle with the King of Ai's army and defeated them (Joshua 8:21).
Excavations have shown that a large city existed at Ai (modern el-Tell) in the early Canaanite period, but it was destroyed in the Early Bronze Age, in about 2350 B.C., and was not resettled until the Early Iron Age (twelfth century B.C.) when a village was established on the site. The newcomers were then mainly farmers, trying to secure a living in the inhospitable hills of central Canaan: "This discovery indicates that, in the time of Joshua, the site was waste (also implied by the name Ai, literally 'ruin'). Scholars explain the discrepancy in various ways. Some consider the narrative of the
*The Bible and Recent Archaeology, Kathleen M. Kenyon.
conquest of Ai contained in the Book of Joshua an aetiological (causal) story which developed in order to explain the ancient ruins of the city and its fortifications."*
Canaan during Joshua's wars
After this campaign, Joshua is said to have been approached to make a peace covenant with the Hivites, who dwelt in four cities to the southwest of Ai and northwest of Jerusalem. Once this covenant had been completed, however, Joshua found himself facing a new threat from Adoni-Zedek, the King of Jerusalem, who arranged an alliance of five Amorite kings of the Judaean hills and lowland— Jerusalem, Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish and Eglon—to fight the united Israelite tribes. Joshua marched against the alliance in another successful campaign, which included the destruction of Lachish. He took the city "on the second day, and smote it with the edge of the sword, and all the souls that were therein . . ." (Joshua 10:32).
Following early excavation of the site of Lachish (modern Tell el-Duweir) in southern Canaan between 1932 and 1938 it was thought that the evidence unearthed made it possible for destruction of the city to have taken place during the reign of Merenptah (c. 1237-1227 B.C.), fourth ruler of the Nineteenth Dynasty, during the second half of the thirteenth century
B.C., which would have made it possible to argue that Joshua's account was correct. However, Kathleen Kenyon points out in her book The Bible and Recent Archaeology that when:
Professor Ussishkin renewed excavations at Lachish in 1973 establishing the correct date for this destruction was one of his main objectives. He was to be unusually lucky in this respect. In 1978 a deep probe into destruction levels of the last Canaanite town at the site of a city gate revealed a cast-bronze fragment bearing the name Ramses III in a cache of bronze objects sealed by production debris. Thus the destruction could not have occurred before the accession of Ramses III to the throne of Egypt (c. 1182 B.C.) . . . Such a substantial bronze fitting, likely to be from an architectural setting, even if allowed a minimum life, makes it likely that Lachish was devastated some time in the second quarter of the twelfth century B.C.
Joshua's battles were not yet over. He next found himself facing another alliance, this time of the northern kings of Hazor, Madon, Shimron and Achshaph: "And when all these kings were met together, they came and pitched together at the waters of Merom, to fight against Israel" (Joshua 11:5). In the subsequent battle, Joshua recorded another distinguished victory in the course of which he "took Hazor, and smote the king thereof with the sword: for Hazor before time was the head of all those kingdoms. And they smote all the souls that were therein with the edge of the sword, utterly destroying them: there was not any left to breathe: and he burnt Hazor with fire" (Joshua 11:10-11). The description of these battles concludes with a list of the conquered Canaanite cities and their kings, numbering in all 31, whose territory was divided among the tribes of Israel.
After defeating Jabin, King of Hazor and head of the coalition against the Israelites, Joshua is said to have burned his city—and his city alone (Joshua 11:1013). Hazor (modern Tell el-Qidah) was a large Canaanite city nearly nine miles north of the Sea of Galilee and situated strategically to dominate the main branches of The Way of the Sea, the road leading from Egypt to Syria, Mesopotamia and Anatolia. The fact that Hazor was mentioned by Ramses III (c. 1182-1151 B.C.) in his Temple of Amun at Karnak indicates that the city was still in existence and under his control during his reign as well as the possibility that Hazor, like so many other sites in Syria/Palestine, was actually destroyed later by the Peoples of the Sea, the Philistines, against whom Ramses III fought a war in the same area. Therefore, two of the principal cities mentioned in Joshua's supposed campaign of conquest (Jericho and Ai) had been destroyed before the thirteenth century B.C. and the other two (Lachish and Hazor) were not destroyed until later. Modern biblical scholars have recognized that the military campaigns described in the opening 12 chapters of the Book of Joshua do not represent a single unified campaign but are a compilation of several ancient battle stories, originally not related and some of which predate the Israelite period.
Martin Noth, the German biblical scholar, was the first to expose the fact that there had been a priestly cover-up. He demonstrated in 1966 that the fifth book of the Pentateuch, Deuteronomy, and the books of the Former Prophets or Historical Books, from Joshua to Kings, are the product of a single priestly editor,* known to scholars as the Deuteronomic redactor, and date from the period of the Babylonian exile in the sixth century B.C., about the same time that Isaiah (II) was claiming that the defeat, humiliation and exile of the Israelites was a punishment for their killing of the Servant of the Lord, their Messiah. What better way to refute this charge than to produce the Servant, still alive after the death of Moses, and present Jesus as the victorious conqueror of the Promised Land?
This tampering with the truth has been the cause of considerable scholarly confusion. The British scholar John Romer had this to say about the matter as recently as 1988 in his book Testament:
All of this was a serious blow to the historians who had long been carefully gathering up archaeological evidence of a systematic invasion and destruction of all the cities of Canaan, and keying their evidence in with biblical accounts of the Israelite invasion. Now it appeared that the destruction of these cities had been earlier and more random than had previously been imagined. Several attempts have been made to salvage their theory by what might best be described as moving the goalposts; the archaeology was re-dated so that Joshua and the Israelites would find someone to fight on their arrival. But most scholars were agreed that the known archaeological facts called for a fresh look at our understanding of these Bible stories.
The doubts about Joshua's campaign have led some scholars to question whether he ever existed. However, what is to be doubted is the
*Or possibly writer.
Deuteronomic account. The aim of Deuteronomic history has been explained as an attempt to show that God's promise, already found in the Pentateuch, of Israelite possession of the Promised Land, had been fulfilled. The compiler recalled ancient traditions to illustrate God's work through history, not to present history itself. It was a theological interpretation designed to renew faith at a time of great difficulty.
It is no wonder that the Qumran Essenes took the view that the Jerusalem priests were falsifying the Scriptures.
Israelite settlement in the Promised Land was a gradual process, not a matter of stirring battles and swift military conquest. All the evidence—the account of the Book of Judges and archaeological discoveries—indicates that after the Exodus, which took place some 20 years after the death of Joshua (Jesus), the Israelites dwelt in the area of Mount Seir in Edom—south and southwest of the Dead Sea—for a longtime. Memory of those days can be found in the Song of Deborah: "Lord, when thou wentest out of Seir, when thou marchedst out of the field of Edom, the earth trembled, and the heavens dropped, the clouds also dropped water" (Judges 5:4). It was only when Egypt lost control over Palestine in the second half of the twelfth century B.C. that the Israelite tribes completed their infiltration of the Promised Land of Canaan, from Dan in the north, near the source of the River Jordan in Upper Galilee, to Beersheba in the Negeb desert to the south, where archaeological excavation has shown evidence of new settlement during this period. They were still semi-nomadic, living among the ruins of ancient cities or among other Canaanite inhabitants. The Philistines—the Peoples of the Sea—had already established their city states of southwest Canaan after a mass invasion and were attempting to expand toward the Dead Sea and the River Jordan when the Israelites, too, were trying to establish themselves in the area. Thus conflict between the two new arrivals became the main preoccupation of both the biblical Saul and tribal David.
After their entry into the Promised Land the Israelites spent the better part of three centuries in small groups, dotted around Canaan without any central authority or central place of worship. During these years the great majority of Israelites forsook the God of Moses for Canaanite and Phoenician deities, and it is thought, by biblical scholars, that the Passover feast was not observed, as no mention of it is found in the Bible, although it must have been known to the priests and the prophets.
The need for protection, particularly against the Philistines, resulted toward the end of the eleventh century B.C. in Saul establishing the state of
Judah with a unified central government. The state was further strengthened by the tribal David. The conventional account goes on to describe how Solomon—who, as we have seen, was actually Amenhotep III, who lived five centuries earlier— developed Jerusalem as the state capital and built a grandiose Temple, measures that gave the state stability and a spiritual authority. However, so it is said, high taxation to pay for the Temple and other massive building projects resulted in ten northern tribes seceding from Judah and setting up their own state, Israel. Israel, rent by dynastic squabbles, was eventually conquered by the Assyrians in the eighth century B.C. and disappeared completely afterward.
Judah suffered a similar fate at the hands of the Babylonians a century later. Jerusalem and its Temple were destroyed, and many Israelite leaders, including its king, Jehoiakim, the intelligentsia and the priesthood, were taken into exile. The Babylonian exile began in 586 B.C. and lasted 70 years until Babylon in its turn was conquered by Cyrus, the Persian king, who allowed the Israelites—known henceforth as Jews—to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Jerusalem Temple. During this period of exile, the Israelite priests and scribes, who had taken a collection of their sacred writings with them, decided on reflection to have some second thoughts about their past history. They put down in their present form the books of the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament, which had originated at the time of Akhenaten (Moses)—the second half of the fourteenth century B.C.—and in the editing process changed certain facts.
For example, when we read in the Old Testament about the Israelites waiting for their "anointed Messiah" this meant that they were waiting for a king to rule them, unite them and defeat their enemies. It was not a messianic Redeemer, the concept introduced by the prophet Isaiah, writing at about this time (sixth century B.C.), whose death the Jewish scribes wished to gloss over, but the death of the anointed king, Tutankhamun, "the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne." Their efforts went far beyond "resurrecting" Jesus. They were trying to disguise the fact that he had been killed at all.
This process of editing-with-intent included tinkering with the chronology and significance of the two principal events in the Israelites' religious calendar—the Passover and the Day of Atonement. Initially, from the time Akhenaten (Moses) was in exile in Sinai with some of his priestly followers, the Passover (in celebration of the Israelites' escape from Egypt) and the Day of Atonement (repentance for the death of their Messiah [king]) were observed in the same period, from the fifteenth to the twenty-first day of Abib (March-April), the first month of the Jewish year. As this double feast had not been celebrated for many centuries, when the feast was reinstated the priestly scribes in Babylonia gave two contrasting accounts of how and why it had been established. The first occurs in the Book of Exodus: "Thou shalt keep the feast of unleavened bread: thou shalt eat unleavened bread seven days ... in the time appointed of the month Abib; for in it thou camest out from Egypt . . ." (23:15). The same exhortation, with slightly different wording, occurs in the Book of Deuteronomy, but there we find that a new element has been added: "Thou shalt therefore sacrifice the passover to the Lord thy God, of the flock and the herd ... " (2:6). The text does not make it clear why such a sacrifice was called for although one would expect it to be a form of expiation for a sinful act.
In exile, the priests adopted the Babylonian lunar calendar in place of the solar calendar used previously. As a result, Tishri (September-October), originally the seventh month of the Israelites' year, became the first month of a new calendar and Abib (Babylonian Nisan) became the seventh month. About half a century after the return to Jerusalem the priests took advantage of the ensuing confusion to separate the Passover from the Day of Atonement. The Passover continued to be observed in Abib (Nisan), the old first month, while the Day of Atonement—Yom Kippur, the most solemn day in the Jewish year—was transferred to the tenth day of Tishri (September-October), the new first month, and its significance was changed from atonement for the killing of their Messiah by the Wicked Priest to repentance for sin in general. In support of this transfer biblical editors reverted to the old calendar, in which Tishri had been the seventh month, and added two passages to the Pentateuch: "on the tenth day of this seventh month there shall be a day of atonement: it shall be an holy convocation unto you; and ye shall afflict your souls ..." (Leviticus 23:27), and: "And ye shall have on the tenth day of this seventh month an holy convocation; and ye shall afflict your souls . . ." (Numbers, 29:7).
All the indications are that Phinehas (Pinhas/Panehesy), presented as the hero of the assassination and subsequent massacre in Sinai, was actually responsible for those events—he is the one identified by the Qumran Essenes as the Wicked Priest—and paid for it with his life. Yet the Deuteronomic redactor chose to "resurrect" him as well as Joshua. He is named as one of Joshua's followers in the account of the latter's conquest of the Promised Land a century later. His death was never reported and he even surfaces again in the Book of Judges, which deals with events that took place nearly three and a half centuries later: "And Phinehas, the son
of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, stood before it [the ark of the covenant of God] in those days saying, Shall I yet again go out to battle against the children of Benjamin my brother, or shall I cease? And the Lord said, Go up; for tomorrow I will deliver them into thine hand" (20:28).
Although more than seven centuries had passed since the death of Joshua (Jesus), the author of these words must have known of the traditions that lay behind Isaiah's account of the death of the Suffering Servant and the later claim of the Talmudic rabbis that "Pinhas killed Jesus." The rabbis of the Talmud, who could not even understand what this statement meant in a historical sense, preserved this tradition in the same way they received it from their predecessors. They also preserved the word "Pandera" as the name of Jesus's father, which turned out to be the Egyptian title of Tutankhamun, "The Son of Ra."
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