the conquest of canaan

The Conquest of Canaan and The Scriptural Cities

Moses died at the top of Mount Nebo, east of the Dead Sea, after having contemplated the land of Canaan. In which the Israelite people were to settle. Joshua was designated to replace him as the head of the Hebrew people and to take possession of the country, the “Promised Land” offered by God to his people. The book of Joshua records the course of the military conquest of Canaan. And relates how the Canaanite cities fell into the hands of the Hebrews one after another.

The Israelites crossed the Jordan north of the Dead Sea through a miracle. By which God stopped the flow of the river. Then they approached the city of Jericho and established their camp at Gilgal. To the east of the town, a place became their base camp for the capture of the country (Jos. 1, 4).

The City of Jericho during the Conquest of Canaan

The inhabitants of Jericho feared the approach of the Israelites and shut themselves up within their walls. Joshua sent out two scouts who entered the city. With the collaboration of a resident named Rahab, a prostitute by trade. The two spies were nevertheless spotted, but Rahab helped them to escape outside the wall in exchange for the promise of being spared when the city was taken.

The famous episode of the fall of Jericho took place after a long encirclement maneuver. On divine advice, the Hebrews marched several times around the fortified city in a ritual procession, carrying the Ark of the Covenant and playing the trumpet. On the seventh turn, the ramparts collapsed brutally, and the city fell into the hands of the people of Israel. It was burned and ravaged, and its inhabitants were killed, except for Rahab and her family. God had forbidden the Israelites to seize any spoil (except metal objects). Nor to reoccupy the city doomed to anathema (Js. 6).

The remains of ancient Jericho occupy a place called Tell-es-Sultan. Located near the current city and at the foot of the hills of Judah. The first excavations were carried out there in 1909 by the Germans Ernst Sellin and Karl Watzinger, who uncovered a double brick wall surrounding the city. In 1930, English professor John Garstang excavated in his turn and highlighted the traces of the brutal destruction of the city as well as a violent fire. Curiously, the outer enclosure had fallen flat on the sloping embankment, dragging the inner square attached to it by dwellings. Inside, the remains of stores contained many jars still filled with charred food supplies that had not been looted. 

The Excavations from Jericho

the excavations carried out in Jericho pose a problem of date. Between the years 1952 to 1958, British archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon studied the site extensively. She experimented in Jericho with a new method of excavation developed by the Scotsman Mortimer Wheeler. Far from the old disorderly and destructive practices, the technique consisted of meticulously studying the stratigraphy of the terrain by cutting it into squares and carrying out systematic surveys at each level. This kept an exact memory of the layout of the site.

Kenyon concludes from his work in Jericho that the founding of this city dated back to the Neolithic period and was among the oldest cities in the world. Remains of huts and flint tools stood alongside the first brick dwellings. An ancient circular tower nine meters in diameter appeared to date back to more than 8000 years before our era, representing the oldest known masonry work.

The destruction of the city must have occurred around 1550 BC. BC, a century and a half earlier than Garstang had estimated. And as it was clear that after its destruction, the city was no longer inhabited for centuries, it was deduced that in the time of Joshua, it was already nothing but ruins. This result made the biblical account of the capture of Jericho anachronistic since all the historians of the Bible place the event between 1450 and 1200 approximately.

conquest of canaan

Representation of the Conquest of Canaan

Other biblical cities during the Conquest of Canaan

The capture of Jericho left the field open to Joshua’s army to continue its campaign. The next town taken after Jericho was Ai, which the Hebrews captured by ambushing its defenders while they set fire to the city.

The Hebrews turned to other cities on the plain of Canaan and continued their advance in the conquest of Canaan. While the inhabitants of Gibeon spontaneously submitted to Joshua, the other kingdoms formed a defensive coalition against Israel: Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. All were defeated at Gibeon on a memorable day in which, oddly enough, “the sun stood still” to allow Israel’s complete victory. Five of the defeated kings fled and hid in a hole in the rock, from which they were dragged out to be executed. Then the cities deprived of their rulers were taken from assault and fell one after another: Maceda, Libya, Lachis, Eglon, Hebron, and Debir. Their inhabitants were put to the sword, and their towns were condemned to anathema.

The Israelite fighters then headed for territories further north. There too, a coalition had been formed at Merom to fight Israel, but it was attacked unexpectedly by Joshua and immediately annihilated. The Hebrews then seized the city of Hazor, the capital of all these principalities, and this capture also opened to them the gates of Madon, Semeron, and Achsah. The city of Hazor was set on fire while the other towns were preserved, although their inhabitants were killed (Js. 8-11).

Primary Takeaways

  • A significant detail appears on the inscription and further increases its interest. Unlike Israel, the names of the other peoples cited in the exact text are followed by the determinative sign of the territory (hieroglyph depicting three hills). Thus, it is clear that the scribe deliberately differentiated between the already settled peoples and the still-migrating Israelite people. It is, therefore, necessary to recognize the historical presence of a group of nomads. Called Israel in the East at the end of the 13th century.

  • In 1887, a peasant woman unearthed by chance at Tell el-Amarna a large number of ancient documents. Consisting of nearly four hundred clay tablets covered with engraved cuneiform characters. These documents of Asian provenance are inscribed in Akkadian. Constitute the correspondence exchanged by King Akhenaten with his vassals in the Near East. They are essentially letters sent by the Canaanite kinglets. Who complained of being exposed to attacks from their neighbors and asked for the intervention of the mighty king of Egypt.


According to the book of Judges, Jerusalem was taken by the Hebrews. For the first time shortly after the death of Joshua (Jg. 1, 8). If the siege of Jerusalem mentioned in the Amarna records is the work of the Hebrews. This places their invasion of Canaan around 1350 BC. J.-C. The date pleads for a relatively old chronology of the conquest of Canaan. That is to say, under the XVIIIth dynasty.

If Joshua fought a lot, he was far from having completed the conquest of Canaan. The Promised Land during his lifetime. One of his last acts was to divide the Canaanite territory into twelve parts. Each goes to one of the Israelite tribes made up of the descendants of the sons of Jacob. This geographical division was to serve as a model for the administrative organization of the country (Js. 13-21).