Around 1220 B.C., the Five Books of Moses were reportedly created, outlining the precise intentions of God in terms of the behavior of his people. These books became known as the Jewish “Law”, or, translated into the Hebrew language, the Torah.
Moses himself did not survive to witness the arrival of his people in the “Promised Land,” which was by that time inhabited by polytheistic peoples of a semi-urbanized mode of existence. They were located on the outskirts of Phoenician metropolises such as Tyre and Sidon to the north, and shared certain aspects of Phoenician religion, including the worship of Ba’al, a fertility deity, as their chief god.
According to the Book of Joshua, God ordered a Hebrew warrior to subjugate these peoples, cleanse Canaan of idolatry and reclaim the land lost to the Jews in the famine four centuries earlier. The campaigns of Joshua underwent a climax at the Siege of Jericho that resulted in the obliteration of the town with the exception of a woman who had before sheltered two Israelites from arrest by the city’s king.
Helen Chapin Metz writes that “the conquest of Canaan under the generalship of Joshua took place over several decades. The biblical account depicts a primitive, outnumbered confederation of tribes slowly conquering pieces of territory from a sedentary, relatively advanced people who lived in walled cities and towns. For a long time the various tribes of Israel controlled the higher, less desirable lands, and only with the advent of David did the kingdoms of Israel and Judah come into being with a capital in Jerusalem.”
The geographical features of Canaan at last permitted the Hebrews to rely on agriculture as their dominant source of food and to withdraw the herding of cattle to a mere supplement. The “land of milk and honey” is so named for the particularly high fertility of its soil, hydrated by the Jordan River to the east, and the Mediterranean Sea to the west, from which spring numerous minor rivers. This enabled the development of relatively large cities in the area several centuries prior to the advent of the Hebrews.
Archaeological evidence at the ruins of Jericho, for example, points to a foundation date near 6000 B.C. Other natural boundaries of Canaan include the Dead Sea to the southeast, the semi-mountainous, semi-barred Sinai Peninsula to the southwest, and the minor Sea of Chinnereth to the northeast. Nevertheless, due to its productivity and abundance of arable land, the region had since the Neolithic era and continuing into the present day allured numerous ethnic groups, which was a key factor in the inception of bloody conflicts of which Canaan has never been cleansed.
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Arkenberg, J.S., ed. “Ancient History Sourcebook: Kurash (Cyrus) the Great: The Decree of Return for the Jews, 539 BCE.” The Great, Cyrus. The Kurash Prism. Available: http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/ancient/539cyrus1.html. February 6, 2002.
CenturyOne. “THE GIFTS OF THE JEWS: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels (Hinges of History Series Volume 2).” (A book review of Thomas Cahill’s work.) Available: http://www.centuryone.com/8249-3.html. February 6, 2002.
Helen Chapin Metz, ed. “EARLY ISRAEL.[Excerpted from Israel: A Country Study.Helen Chapin Metz, ed. Washington, DC: Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress, 1988].” Available: http://lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/cs/iltoc.html. February 6, 2002.
Kamm, Josephine. The Hebrew People: A History of the Jews. New York: McGraw-Hill: 1967.
Lipman, David E. “Gates to Jewish Heritage. Bar Kochba: The Bar Kochba Revolt.”Available: http://www.jewishgates.org/personalities/bar.stm. February 6, 2002.
Silvestri, Anthony. “Dr. Silvestri’s WWW Ancient World History Resource. III. The Hebrews.” Available: http://www.drhistory.org/main.html. January 27, 2001.
Speake, Graham, ed. The Cultural Atlas of the World: The Bible.Alexandria, Va., Stonehenge Press, 1992.
West, Jim. “Ancient Israelite Marriage Customs.” Available: http://www.theology.edu/marriage.htm. February 6, 2002.