Michael D. Coogan: Hard Pressed to Identify A Distinct Israel

Michael D. Coogan, The Old Testament: A Historical and Literary Introduction to the Hebrew Scriptures, third edition (Oxford University Press, 2014), 228.

The cumulative evidence, then, suggests that the Israelite confederation was composed of groups of disparate origin, including Canaanites. What would have motivated such groups to join Israel? One factor could have been the persuasive power of the story of the victories of Yahweh, the god who had rescued Hebrew slaves from Egypt and led them in a triumphant march through southern Transjordan into Canaan. Another must have been the political, military, social, and economic benefits of belonging to the confederation. The principle of mutual support (“love of neighbor”) would have provided a strong incentive for highland villagers at risk from stronger groups. The egalitarianism of early Israel may have proved attractive to individuals or groups who had found the feudalism of the Late Bronze Age Canaanite city-states oppressive. And the inclusiveness of the confederation would have provided a haven for survivors of the collapse of many of those same city-states.

The Canaanite components of the Israelite confederation explain the material culture continuities not only between early Israel and its neighbors but also between the Early Iron Age and the preceding Late Bronze Age. Had we only the archaeological record, we would be hard pressed to posit the existence of Israel as a culturally distinct group in the region – a significant contrast with the Philistines, with their very different material culture.

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