1200 - 1300 BC, the Holy Land

Although their conquest was from from complete, the Israelites were established in the Holy Land. They divided the land among the tribes, each to be responsible for the further subduing and control of its own territory. The tribe of Levi, the heriditary priesthood, received certain of the cities as its portion. Ephraim and Manasseh with their firm base in Shechem were the strongest; Judah dominated the area to the south. With the death of Joshua some time after 1200 BC, central leadership of the Israelites, which had sustained them for so long, also vanished. As government was now split twelve ways, quarrels and alliances were inevitable.

There were troubles enough without intertribal squabbles. The Israelites were a nomadic, pastoral people reluctant to settle into big-city life. They controlled the highlands where this mobility was a great advantage. They did, however, settle in smaller towns, some of which they built on the ruins of those they had destroyed, like Bethel. Greatly increased settlement was possible in the land, becaue of the invention, shortly before the conquest, of slaked lime plaster; cisterns could now be waterproofed to hold the rain water which had formerly disappeared into the thirsty land.

Cities did exist, many of them independent mini-states, like Jerusalem, Gezer, Sidon, Megiddo and others, islands in the Israelite sea.

Egypt, Assyria and the Hittites had all withdrawn. The Israelites were merely one of the several peoples competing in the power vacuum: Philistines, Neo-Hittites, Canaanites, Aramaeans, Moabites, Midanites and toehrs. Yet whenever disaster seemed imminent, the disunified Israelite tribes were able to join together under an inspired leader, or Judge, to defeat the enemy.

The first Judge, Othniel of the tribe of Judah, defeated an invasion of the Edomites. Eleven other Judges arose, their periods of influence at times overlapping. Ehud of Benjamin turned back a Moabite incursion through Jericho, the old Israelite invasion route. Shamgar led a defence against the Philistines. The army of Canaanite Hazor, led by Sisera, was defeated by a coalition of tribes under Deborah, an Ephraimites, the only woman Judge.

Perhaps the greatest of the Judges was Gideon of Manasseh. The recent exploitation of camels had opened the vast reaches of the desert to camel-mounted nomads, and these Arabian Midianites struck deep into the fertile Valley of Jezreel, terrifying the inhabitants. Gideon defeated the raiders, pursuing them back deep into their own territory. The question arose whether this great leader should be made King fo the Israelites, but the tribes were not ready to accept a monarchy; they believed they could survive as independent tribes following the laws of God.

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