Prepare Ye the Way
1300 - 1400 BC, the Holy Land
In the space between the epmires of the Hittites and Egypt, the Canaanite coastal cities of Byblon and Sidon had maintained a certain measure of independence, especially after the Kadesh standoff. Most of southern Palestine was under nominal Egyptian control, particularly the larger cities of the coastal plain and its bordering foothills. Many of these still had Egyptian "inspectors" or tax gatherers at the time fo the Israelites conquest. Farther to the west, however, cities like Shechem maintained a virtual independence, which grew as Egypt's forces were distracted by raids of the Sea People. An old pattern was about to repeat itself; the measure of stability provided by Hyksos, then Egyptian central government was soon to disappear.
After leaving Egypt in mid-century, the band of Israelite Hebrews under Moses made their way from the Sinai Peninsula into the Negeb Desert, probably stopping near the oasis of Kadech-Barnea. From here, spies were sent into the land to be conquered. Of these men the most notable were Joshua of the tribe of Ephraim and Caleb of the tribe of Judah. The twofold division of the Israelites into north and south factions had already appeared. Canaan was too strong to be invaded by the refugees, however, and they spent a generation as nomads near Kadech-Barnea, becoming a more organized, disciplined people.
Late in the century, the Israelites were once again on the move. Their stragety was to circle the Dead Sea and attack the promised land on its eastern side, farthest from the fortified city-states of the coastal plains and possible Egyptian support. They planned to march northward along the "Kings’ Highway" down which the four kings had attacked the vanished cities of the plain in the days of Lot and Abraham. However, the Edomites, whom the Israelites recognized as descended from Esau, brothers of the Patriarch Israel himself, and the Moabites and Ammonites, descendants of Lot, had established kingdoms in the area to be traversed. They fearfully forbade the Israelite host to cross their territory.
To avoid Edom's fortified areas, the Israelites detoured south, perhaps as far as the Gulf of Aqaba, and marched up the hot, dry Arabah toward the Dead Sea on the western side of Edom. The next roadblock was Moab; at the river Zered, the travelers could round Moab on its eastern side.
The next kingdom to the north, however, lay in Amorite hands. With no feeling of kinship to stay them, the Israelites fought for their right of passage and won this territory. Encouraged by victory, the invaded Gilead, which lay along the east side of the Jordan, and even took the land of Bashan to the east of the Sea of Galilee. Now in firm possession of the Transjordan territory, the Israelites turned toward their goal, the Promised Land.
To the beleaguered Egyptians, the poised Hebrews were just one more problem in a welter of troubles. The Pharaoh Merneptah waged a disciplinary campaign in western Canaan some time before 1225, but the Sea People were attacking again, and Egypt was in no position to defend its Canaanite territories.
In this anarcy, it was every man for himself. The proven Israelite forces under Joshua crossed the Jordan and attacked Jericho. Taking the fortress, they pressed on to the battle of Bethel-Ai. These victories brought further successes. The near-by city of Gibeon capitualed without a fight. No mention is made of a battle for Shechem, the important crossroad city on the trade routes northward, although Joshua made a major covenant with its people in which they agreed to accept the Israelite God. It is possible that its population was recognized as kin by the invaders, who were returning to the ancient land of their forefathers.
The highland cities to the south belatedly united to quell the new danger but their disorganized forces were defeated. Having destroyed their leaders and armies, the Israelites were able to devastate several of the attacking cities in a march to the south: Makkedah, Libnah, Lachish (which had recently been crushed by Merneptah), Eglon, Hebron and Debir.
A successful battel was also fought with a coalition of northern cities, including Hazor, the great city of the long gone Hyksos.