Monday, April 19, 2010

They're Dead, Jim.


I'm doing my best to wedge the story told in The Last Days of Jericho into both the available archaeological evidence and into the Biblical account.

This required me to be something of a schizophrenic, because I don't accept the accuracy of the Biblical account, and I think that Kenyon makes a compelling case that Jericho wasn't even occupied any more during the late Bronze Age - but I wanted to tell a story that required me to pretend that I didn't believe this. I had to pretend to accept Wood's dates, which are probably wrong, and the account in Judges and Joshua, which are almost certainly wrong. I ended up forging a messy compromise where I said, "OK, let's say that there was an independent city-state at Jericho, and there was an invasion as described in the Old Testament - but let's do the best we can to place those events in the context of as accurate a depiction of Late Bronze Age Canaan as the available research permits."

On the bright side, taking the real history of the Late Bronze Age seriously allowed me to enhance the Biblical account in ways that were, well, a whole lot of fun. For example, I am indebted to Richard Gabriel's excellent The Military History of Ancient Israel for his account of the chariot tactics employed by the Canaanites. Gabriel persuasively argues that a Canaanite force equipped with chariots, facing an enemy with no chariots on open and flat ground, would have almost certainly attempted to employ a mobile defense based on hit and run tactics; they would only have relied on siege defenses as a last resort. This means that the Biblical account, which leaps directly from Joshua's use of spies against Jericho to an account of the seven-day siege and its associated miracle, cannot be complete. In such circumstances, the Canaanites would have at least attempted to contest the Hebrews' crossing of the Jordan, and would have similarly attempted to engage them on the plain.

Including an engagement between the Jordan and Jericho was a great self-indulgence on my part - since I got to put on my SM Stirling costume - but I think most readers will get a big kick out of this "Military Horror" section. And as fans of Steven Spielberg will know in advance, a military situation where two armies meet and one of them is carrying the Ark of the Covenant can mean only one thing: face-melting. Win!


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