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How Inferior Israelite Forces Conquered Fortified Canaanite Cities, Abraham Malamat, BAR 8:02, Mar-Apr 1982.

the-ancient-road-along-the-northern-coast-of-sinaiFor over 50 years now, a school of thought associated with the names of the great German scholars Albrecht Alt and Martin Noth has espoused a particular view of what is described in the Bible as the Israelite conquest of Canaan. This view that there was no conquest but, in fact, a peaceful infiltration by way of transhumance—pastoralism, the herder’s trek—into hitherto unoccupied areas, particularly in the central hill country of Palestine.

This “infiltration” model has been accepted widely, inter alia, by several Israeli scholars, in particular by the late Yohanan Aharoni. Other interpretations of the Israelite occupation of Canaan have become fashionable in recent years, most notably the so-called “revolt” model. This model was first suggested by George Mendenhall of the University of Michigan and recently elaborated by Norman K. Gottwald in his adept book The Tribes of Yahweh (Mary-knoll- New York,1979).a

Both the “infiltration” model and the “revolt” model hold some truth. No doubt some peaceful infiltration and settlement occurred. No doubt there was dissension and some insurgence in the Canaanite cities, with some Canaanites even joining forces with the invading Israelites. Consider, for example, Rahab, the harlot, who let the Israelites into Jericho (Joshua 2) and the informer from Bethel who showed the Israelites the way into that city (Judges 1-24–25).

But there is a third “model”—the Biblical tradition, per se,—that describes an outright military conquest of Canaan, and this third model cannot simply be discarded. Without accepting every detail of the Biblical account, it is nevertheless clear that alongside a peaceful settlement process on the one hand, and some unrest and revolt in the Canaanite cities on the other hand, there was Israelite military action which achieved forceful penetration into Canaan.

The archaeological evidence clearly shows that a significant number of Canaanite cities were destroyed in the 13th century B.C. or, more precisely, in the second half of the 13th century. Lachish in the south, Bethel in the central sector, and Hazor in the north are examples. The archaeological evidence indicates that, after being destroyed, these sites were settled by the Israelites.

Moreover, this military conquest model is consistent with a critical examination of the Biblical text. A basic element of Israelite consciousness is that Canaan was “inherited” by force, whether this force was an act of God or of man. This tenet is like a leitmotif that runs through the Biblical sources.
In saying this, I do not suggest that the Biblical account of the conquest is to be taken literally. On the contrary, the Biblical account of this stage of Israelite history can properly be regarded as protohistory and thus is of a highly hypothetical nature. The tradition of the conquest that the Bible records crystallized only after generations of complex reworking and, in certain respects, reflects the conceptions and tendentiousness of later editors and redactors. No doubt new assessments and motivations were grafted onto the early events, which were made subservient to later political and religious ideologies.

It is also true that Biblical historiography explained historical events theologically. This theological perspective accentuated the role of the Lord of Israel and submerged the human element. Such factors as the number of soldiers their weapons, or the disparity of strength between Israel and her adversaries are of little, if any, consequence in the face of Yahweh’s power.

Thus, there emerged the canonical or “official” tradition of the conquest, a tradition that presents a more or less organic and continuous chain of events in which all 12 Israelite tribes acting in concert conquered both sides of the Jordan in a swift military operation. Thus the divine pledge to the Patriarchs (see for example Deuteronomy 30-20) that Canaan would be occupied in its entirety was redeemed.

This “official” and no doubt highly telescoped version of the conquest is contradicted by remnants of deviant traditions which remain extant in the received text. For example, Judges 1 clearly contradicts the “earlier” depiction in Joshua of a unified, pan-Israelite conquest. This chapter of Judges not only describes particularistic tribal conquests but contradicts the “total conquest” by specifying alien enclaves which held on in the midst of the domains of the individual tribes, too strong to be dispossessed.

Clearly, the actual course of events comprising the conquest was very much more complex than the simplistic, streamlined, pan-Israelite description projected by the “official” tradition.

But at the core, a military conquest remains. Despite poetic embellishment and distortion, this ancient tradition reflects an intimate and authentic knowledge of the land, and a knowledge of its topography and demography—all as they relate to military strategy—which strongly support the conclusion that the settlement of the Israelites in Canaan was accompanied by substantial military operations.

Let us look at the Biblical text with this in mind. Military considerations were paramount almost from the moment the Israelites left Egypt. A major theme in the several Biblical traditions regarding the route of the Exodus is that the Israelites were deflected from forcing a direct entry into Canaan by the shortest route. The road along the northern coast of Sinai, known in the Bible as the “way of the land of the Philistines,” was surely blocked to the Israelites because it was the Egyptian military route par excellence. The reliefs of Seti I (c. 1,300 B.C.) depict a series of fortifications protecting this highway and showing that the Egyptians could easily have stemmed any Israelite movement along it. The book of Exodus is quite explicit- “When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said,‘Lest the people repent when they see war, and return to Egypt.’” (13-17)

Moreover, the Israelite attempt to penetrate northward through the Negev, farther inland, ended in failure, for Canaanite strongholds such as Hormah, possibly north of Beersheba, effectively protected the southern hill-country. (See Numbers 14-40–45; 21-1; Deuteronomy 1-44.) Unable to advance, the Israelites made a broad swing around into Trans-Jordan, crossing the Jordan River to invade Canaan from its eastern flank.

The Canaanite populace west of the Jordan had no unified, overall military organization with which to confront the invaders. Their absence of political cohesion was matched by the lack of any Canaanite national consciousness. This political fragmentation in Canaan is demonstrated by the situation depicted in the Amarna Letters, diplomatic correspondence of the mid-14th century B.C., as well as in the list of 31 Canaanite kings allegedly defeated by Joshua (Joshua 12-9–24). Because the Canaanites lacked a broad territorial defense system, they made no attempt to stop the Israelites from fording the Jordan, even though the river was surely a potential impediment for the Israelites and could have provided the Canaanites with a fine means of forestalling the invasion.

The Jordan’s military importance is not hypothetical—the Israelites themselves demonstrated this more than once during the period of the Judges. The Israelites seized the fords of the Jordan to cut off an enemy’s line of retreat on three occasions- to prevent the Moabite army from escaping to Trans-Jordan in the days of Ehud (Judges 3-28–29); to prevent the Midianites’ retreat to the desert in the days of Gideon (Judges 7-24–25); and to halt the escape of Ephraimites in the days of Jephthah (the Shibboleth incident, Judges 12-5–6).

Nevertheless, despite evidence presented by archaeology and the Biblical tradition, one like myself who espouses a military conquest of Canaan must still explain a major point of contention. How could semi-nomadic Israelite tribes successfully conquer strongly fortified Canaanite cities defended by well-trained forces who possessed superior technology, including formidable chariotry. Indeed, this obvious military disparity is one of the primary reasons many Bible critics abandoned the traditional conquest view and hypothesized instead a peaceful infiltration of Canaan.b

Let us dispose of the chariot at the outset. The Canaanite chariot was a light, two-wheeled vehicle which provided maximum maneuverability in battle. The tactical role of chariotry was similar to that of modern armored forces. Contemporaneous Egyptian reliefs depict the chariot as forming a protective screen for advancing infantry and as pursuing a broken enemy in flight. The Canaanite chariot, like its Egyptian counterpart, also served as a mobile platform for the longest-range weapon employed in ancient times—the bow.

However, the chariot was least effective in mountainous areas. That is why, in the first stages of the Israelite settlement, military operations were confined to the hill-country of Canaan and its western slopes. Indeed, the Israelites’ inability to capture the plains was a consequence of the Canaanites effectively deploying their chariots on flat terrain.

Ephraim and Manasseh complained that “the hill-country is not enough for us, but all the Canaanites have chariots of iron” (Joshua 17-16). Joshua predicted that nevertheless the Israelites would be successful- “The Canaanites may be powerful and equipped with chariots of iron, but you will be able to drive them out” (Joshua 17-18). However, hundreds of years passed before this prediction proved true. The Bible says of Judah, “He took possession of the hill country, but he could not drive out the inhabitants of the plain because they had chariots of iron” (Judges 1-10). (See also Judges 1-34 on the Danites.)

The Canaanite-chariot aside, we must still explain how the Israelites could conquer fortified cities, even those in the hill-country.

Fortunately for the Israelites, the Canaanite city-states of the 13th century had already endured a prolonged period of Egyptian military attacks and colonial subjugation, and had reached a state of deterioration which made them vulnerable to Israelite attack, despite the Israelites’ own military deficiencies.c The Amarna letters frequently mention requests for military assistance of 10 to 50 men, implying that a force of this size was a significant factor in the defense of a city. A request for a force of 50 chariots was considered extraordinary. One letter to a chieftain of Lachish requests a consignment of six bows, three daggers and three swords—arms for twelve men, at most. These insignificant numbers reveal the vulnerability of Canaanite cities to even small bodies of invaders.

The Israelites were also able to exploit the disunity among the city-states within Canaan. These comprised a veritable mosaic of ethnic groups—including the seven peoples of Canaan so frequently referred to in the Bible (Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites). The Israelites skillfully manipulated local animosities as well as political and social differences. One example is the treaty that Joshua concluded with the Gibeonites, a Hivite people of non-Semitic stock (Joshua 9).

But, most important, the Israelites were successful because of specific military tactics designed to compensate for their natural deficiencies as a technologically inferior invading force facing fortified cities.

As the Bible makes clear, the Israelites made maximum use of intelligence and reconnaissance operations. I have dealt elsewhere with two such prominent cases—Moses’ dispatch of the 12 spies to undertake a comprehensive strategic probe on reaching the Canaanite border (Numbers 13) and the Danite campaign to conquer and settle the city of Laish in the north during the period of the Judges. The Danite story, of more realistic stamp than the episode under Moses, reveals a similar pattern of spies being sent out and then reporting back (Judges 18).d

In other instances, the Bible merely refers to such matters in passing, in a single word. The conquest of the land of Jazer in Trans-Jordan (which fell to the Israelites after the defeat of Sihon, King of Heshbon) is described in this telescoped manner- “And Moses sent to spy out Jazer; and they took its villages, and dispossessed the Amorites that were there” (Numbers 21-32). And prior to the conquest of Bethel- “The house of Joseph sent to spy out Bethel … ” (Judges 1-23)

Reconnaissance was the first Israelite objective in Canaan according to the “official” tradition. The spies dispatched to Jericho found cover in the house of Rahab the harlot. This particular “contact” was a logical one militarily, for Rahab’s house was “built into the city wall, so that she dwelt in the wall” (Joshua 2-15); thus, the house was located in a vital spot in the city’s defenses. Further, Rahab’s profession enabled her to come into contact with many of the city’s menfolk. She could provide the spies not only with details of the city’s defenses, but also with a description of the fighting forces and their morale.e The morale of the enemy was of particular interest to the Israelite command- “And they said to Joshua, ‘Truly the Lord has given all the land into our hands; and moreover all the inhabitants of the land are fainthearted because of us.’” (Joshua 2-24)

A reconnaissance unit was also sent to the next city in the path of the advancing Israelites, Ai, at the upper reaches of Wadi Makkuk which leads down toward Jericho. In this instance, however, a mishap in Israelite intelligence led to the one and only military defeat appearing in the book of Joshua. The reconnaissance unit underestimated the enemy’s strength. Moreover, instead of simply reporting the raw data, the spies’ report was couched in terms of military counsel “Let not all the people go up, but let about two or three thousand men go up and attack Ai; do not make the whole people toil up there, for they are but few” (Joshua 7-3). “They are but few” was of course a major intelligence blunder. But the spies also erred by interfering with operational decisions (“Let about two or three thousand men go up and attack Ai”). No doubt in Biblical times as in the present, operational decisions like this were prohibited to field intelligence agents and belonged exclusively to those in command.

In the initial attack on Ai, the small force of 3,000 was routed, with losses. In the second attempt, Joshua threw 30,000 choice troops into battle (Joshua 8-3ff.). Though this number appears exaggerated, it indicates that the force in the first operation was but a tenth of the strength necessary to assure success.

In accordance with its historiographical assumptions, the Bible attributes the initial setback at Ai to a sin among the Israelites and regards the subsequent success as feasible only after the expiation of guilt (Joshua 7-11ff.). From a realistic military viewpoint, however, the “transgression” was a breakdown in discipline at the time of the conquest of Jericho—specifically, Achan’s taking of loot which was under divine ban. The glory at Jericho produced over-confidence which infected the Israelite command no less than the ranks and became manifest in the gross underestimation of the enemy at Ai.

The Bible also reflects the importance of supplies, material, and distribution within the Israelite army, despite the fact that in the Bible’s own terms, the victory belongs to God. The very timing for the invasion across the Jordan was apparently determined by logistical considerations to assure the Israelites steady supplies. It fell in the early spring, “on the tenth day of the first month” (i.e., the month of Nisan; Joshua 4-19) when crops, especially barley, had already begun to ripen in the hot climate of the Jordan Valley.

The “official” tradition of the Bible ascribes a central role to Gilgal, the initial camp of the Israelites after the Jordan crossing. After each operation into southern Canaan, the Israelites would retire to Gilgal, as they did after the conquest of Ai, after the battle at Gibeon, and even after the taking of Canaanite strongholds farther west (Joshua 9-6; 10-15, 43; and cf. 10-6–9). The precise location of Gilgal is unknown. Some scholars have argued that Gilgal was a cultic site to which various stories accreted without any historical foundation. Other scholars have suggested that there were several Gilgals.

However, the central role of Gilgal can easily be understood in terms of logistics and strategy. First, as an operational base, Gilgal was a bridgehead in Canaan, supported by the recently conquered hinterland in Trans-Jordan, through which supplies and reinforcements could be channeled as required. Neglect of this vital link would have endangered the elongated lines of the invasion and placed the Israelite task forces in jeopardy. Second, Gilgal was the springboard into the mountainous interior, veined with routes along which the Israelites could penetrate. These mountainous pathways appear to have stretched through the boundary zone between the territories controlled by the two principal kingdoms in the central hill country, Jerusalem and Shechem. Thus, the pathway offered the Israelites a chink, a means of facilitating their various operations into Canaan as described in the book of Joshua.

After intelligence and logistics, we turn to the tactical plane that typified Israelite warfare during the period of the Conquest and Settlement. Here the focus is on individual engagements rather than on broad questions of strategy.

In the face of a technologically superior enemy defending fortified cities, the Israelites achieved success through what modern military science termed “the indirect approach”—a concept propounded by Liddell Hart.f The Israelites sought to avoid frontal assault and siege warfare, as well as straightforward encounters with enemy forces, especially chariotry, in the open field. To achieve this the Israelites resorted to tactics based on deception—feints, decoys, ambushes and diversionary maneuvers—any guile to attain surprise in overcoming the enemy.

Interestingly enough, in the early wars of Israel as described in the Bible, there is not a single instance of an outright successful assault on an enemy city. The indirect military approach finds expression in two principal categories of tactics employed by the Israelites- covert infiltration—neutralizing the city defenses (as the Greeks did, using the Trojan horse); and enticement—drawing the city defenders out into the open.

Incidentally, the Israelites were not the only ancient peoples to employ stratagems to compensate for an inferior strike force. As early as the 18th century B.C., in the Mari archives, a Mesopotamian king advised his son, “Devise feints (shibqu) to defeat the enemy, and to maneuver against him, but the enemy too will devise feints and maneuver against you, just as wrestlers employ feints against each other.”g This comparison of warfare to a wrestling match, found also in classical literature, anticipates the well-known Clausewitz simile by 3,500 years.h

However, even if Israel was not unique in its employment of stratagems in warfare, no other literature of the ancient Near East equals the books of Joshua and Judges in the number and variety of battle stratagems described. We can only wonder about the lost contents of the “Book of the Wars of the Lord” and the “Book of Jashar,” both mentioned in the Conquest cycle (Numbers 21-14; Joshua 10-13).

The fall of Jericho, as described in Joshua 2–6, was a siege culminating in a “miraculous” destruction of the walls, and a subsequent penetration into the defenseless city. However, as we have already seen, militarily the attack depended on expert intelligence and infiltration into the city with the help of Rahab the harlot. Although the Biblical tradition attributes Jericho’s defeat to the miraculous crumbling of the city walls, this “official” tradition also preserves an early strand, which hints at an actual military conquest of the city In Joshua’s valedictory review of Israelite history (Joshua 24-11) the great leader states- “And you went over the Jordan and came to Jericho, and the men of Jericho fought against you. …” We may conclude that there once circulated a more realistic account of the capture of Jericho, including an intelligence mission involving a “fifth column” within the city.

We cannot completely reconstruct that early version of the conquest of Jericho because it was suppressed and truncated in the extant text and supplanted by the historiographer’s actus Dei. Nonetheless, some suggestions are probable. Rahab probably played a more active role in the Israelite penetration into the city, which was most likely accomplished by stratagem. Note that the spies had Rahab tie the scarlet cord outside her window in the city wall (Joshua 2-18). This was not to protect her household from the Israelites rampaging within the city after the collapse of the walls, as the late redactor would have us believe. Rather, it would have marked the way for a stealthy entry into the city, like the secret ingress in the conquest of Bethel (Judges 1-25).

Could the encircling maneuver around the city, the horn blasts, and the great battle cry preceding the miraculous collapse of the walls (Joshua 6-20) also be survivals from that realistic account of the city’s fall? The repeated encircling of Jericho on six successive days, the Israelites retiring each day to their camp (Joshua 6-3, 14), has sometimes been regarded as a psychological device to lower the enemy’s guard, preparing the way for a breach into the city. This stratagem may have been meant to distract the enemy from the specific Israelite design, or it may have been a well-known form of surprise which we may term “conditioning,” that is, deceiving the enemy by repeating the same “field exercise” until he has relaxed his vigilance and a decisive blow can suddenly be dealt.

Stratagems of this latter sort have been employed throughout history. Frontinus, a Roman military strategist of the first century A.D., cites quite a few examples, one of which is particularly similar to our case- A Roman general marched his troops regularly around the walls of a well-fortified city in northern Italy, each time returning them to camp; when the vigilance of the defenders had waned, he stormed the walls and forced the city’s capitulation. (Strategemata III, 2, 1)i

In the books of Joshua and Judges the most satisfactory accounts of city conquests for reconstructing the minutiae of planning and execution of Israelite operations relate to Ai (Joshua 7–8) and Gibeah of Benjamin (the latter destroyed in an internecine war; Judges 20-18–44). In both instances, almost identical stratagems are described, in similar military terms. This similarity has led many commentators to believe that one of the two accounts served as the literary model for the other, but particularly effective stratagems were undoubtedly re-employed in Israelite tactics. If indeed there was interdependence, the capture of Ai (et-Tell) is more likely the copy, for the archaeological evidence there is quite negative, indicating no destruction level during the period of the Israelite conquest and settlement. However, this fact has no effect on a military analysis of the Biblical tradition as transmitted.

The stratagem employed in capturing these cities is clear enough, in spite of the awkward and repetitious presentations in the text. The ruse was based on a diversionary movement intended to decoy the defending forces away from their fortifications (Joshua 8-6, 16; Judges 20-31, 32), onto open ground, concurrently enabling another Israelite force to seize the then undefended city. The tactical aim was achieved by splitting the Israelite force- the main body was deployed as if to storm the city walls but then feigned retreat into the wilderness, with the enemy in hot pursuit. Such simulated, controlled flight, which could be reversed upon order, was a difficult maneuver, involving a certain amount of calculated risk. The second body, the “ambush,” was concealed behind the city (at Ai, to the west) or around it (at Gibeah). (Judges 20-29) At Ai, it is explicitly stated that the ambush took cover during the night, remaining there “in readiness” (Joshua 8-4); this was probably so at Gibeah as well.

The fate of the battle turned on precise coordination between the two Israelite wings, a complicated task in any situation. The adversary had to be lured not only to convenient ground but also to an optimal distance from the city before the “flight” could be reversed. This would allow the ambush (the second force) sufficient time to gain control of the city before the enemy could regroup and counterattack. Yet the town defenders could not be so far away as to prevent the ambushing force from joining the fracas afield, blocking the enemy’s rear.

Coordinated timing was assured by predetermined signal. At Ai, Joshua himself, who was with the “fleeing” force, gave the signal to the ambush forces by stretching out his spear toward the city (Joshua 8-15, 18). At Gibeah, the very burning of the city by the ambushing force formed a “smoke signal” initiating the counterattack by the main Israelite body (as explicitly stated in Judges 20-38). At this point, the tables were turned and disorder and panic reigned in the ranks of the enemy, caught in the enveloping movement, as so poignantly depicted in the text- “So when the men of Ai looked back, behold, the smoke of the city went up to heaven; and they had no power to flee this way or that, for the people that fled to the wilderness turned back upon the pursuers. … And the others [of the ambush] came forth from the city against them; so they were in the midst of Israel, some on this side, and some on that side; and Israel smote them, until there was left none that survived or escaped.” (Joshua 8-20–22) (See Ai strategic plan.) And in the Gibeah episode- “… the Benjaminites looked behind them; and behold, the whole of the city went up in smoke to heaven. The men of Israel turned, and the men of Benjamin were dismayed, for they saw that disaster was close upon them … Cutting off the Benjaminites, they pursued them and trod them down … as far as opposite Gibeah on the east.” Judges 20-40–43)

In both these cases final success was preceded by abortive attempts upon the fortified cities, each culminating in the repulse of the attackers. As noted above, the initial Israelite assault on Ai failed, and in the campaign against Gibeah there were two initial setbacks, on successive days. (Judges 20-19–25) The true ingenuity and boldness of the final battle plan put into effect in the Israelite operations against these cities lie in the seeming repetition of the very tactics which previously led to failure. This, then, is another instance of the “conditioning” we noted at Jericho, in which repetitive names are designed to lull the enemy into a false sense of security How well the Israelites foresaw that the people of Ai would fall for the ruse- “[The Israelites] are fleeing from us, as before,” the people of Ai said. (Joshua 8-6) Likewise the defenders of Gibeah- “[The Israelites] are routed before us, as at the first.” (Judges 20-32 and cf. 39)

We may now ask how the Israelites attained victory in those rare instances of open clash in the field, especially at Gibeon and at the Waters of Merom, where the Canaanites employed formidable chariotry (Joshua 11-4, 6, 9). A glimmer of the Israelite tactics can be found in the brief descriptions of these battles themselves- “So Joshua came upon them suddenly, having marched up all night from Gilgal [to Gibeon]. And the Lord threw them into a panic before Israel, who slew them with a great slaughter at Gibeon and chased them by the way of the ascent of Beth Horon.” (Joshua 10-9–10) Taking advantage of the hours of darkness, the Israelites made a lightning march from Gilgal to Gibeon (el-Jib)—a distance of about 20 miles, involving a climb of over 3,000 feet. The attack upon the astonished enemy apparently took place at dawn.

Surprise is a universal principle of war, essential in engaging an adversary superior either technologically or numerically. We have already seen two of its typical manifestations—the subtle device of conditioning and outright deception. In the open battles at Gibeon and the Waters of Merom, however, the surprise took a more direct, forthright form, in lieu of stratagem. In both cases the two vital components of surprise, secrecy and speed on the part of the attacking force, deprived the enemy of the opportunity of assessing his situation in order to counteract effectively.
Thus we read that “Joshua came sullenly upon them with all his people of war, by the Waters of Merom, and fell upon them. And the Lord gave them into the hand of Israel, who smote them and chased them as far as Great Sidon … ” (Joshua 11-7–8)

“Suddenly,” the key word in both Biblical passages quoted above, evokes the concept of surprise, which the Israelites utilized to the fullest in these attacks. We may suppose that the Israelites attacked at a place as well as at a time that surprised the enemy. Once the Israelites dislocated the enemy, they pressed him beyond the breaking point and relentlessly hounded him in his headlong flight (Joshua 10-10, 19; 11-8), in classical application of the “principle of pursuit,” as the Biblical passages make clear.

The credibility of this reconstruction of the battle of Gibeon is supported by the renowned verse from the Book of Jashar- “Sun, stand thou still at Gibeon, and thou Moon in the valley of Aijalon … ” (Joshua 10-12). This wondrous picture well reflects an early morning situation before the setting of the moon in the west, over the Aijalon valley, and after the sun had risen in the east, over Gibeon, with the Israelites marching through the night at breakneck speed to meet the foe before being sighted.

Utilization of the veil of darkness in achieving surprise was ingrained in Israelite tactical planning, from the days of the Conquest down to the beginning of the Monarchy.

Night movements in anticipation of attack in light occur in the following Biblical episodes- (1) in the final attack upon Ai (Joshua 8-3, and cf. vs. 13); (2) as we have seen, at Gibeon (Joshua 10-9); (3) in Abimelech’s ambush against Shechem Judges 9-34); (4) in Saul’s deployment against the Ammonites besieging Jabesh-Gilead (1 Samuel 11-11); and possibly (5) in David’s raid on the Amalekite camp (1 Samuel 30-17).

Bolder still and more exacting in planning and execution were actual night attacks. One instance is the sequel to Saul’s victory with Jonathan over the Philistines (1 Samuel 14-39). Another is the classical example, not only in the Bible but throughout military history, of a diminutive force’s ability to rout its far superior enemy in a night attack—Gideon’s raid on the Midianite camp, described in great detail in Judges 7. Analysis of this episode, its theological tendentiousness aside, reveals characteristics of night warfare still quite valid today. This was a precisely planned operation, relatively simple in execution and thus well suited to nocturnal conditions. To attain manageability in the dark, Gideon limited his force to 300 picked troops—the prototype of a “notional army” or “dummy army”—leaving the bulk of his camp behind. Thorough reconnaissance, including a last-minute patrol by the commander himself, further assured success.j

The early Israelites encountered adversaries much their superiors in military strength. However, with a clear view of their objective, they applied military tactics unanticipated by their enemies. A bold and imaginative Israelite leadership was successful in translating what we would today call a specific military doctrine—“the indirect approach”—into decisive victory.

(For further details and full bibliography, see A. Malamat, “Israelite Conduct of War in the Conquest of Canaan” in Symposia (Frank M. Cross, ed.), American Schools of Oriental Research,1979; and A. Malamat, “Conquest of Canaan- Israelite Conduct of War According to Biblical Tradition,” Revue Internationale d’Histoire Militaire, No. 42 (1979).)

a. According to the “revolt” model, indigenous, lower-class, underprivileged elements of the Canaanite peasant population rebelled against the urban oligarchy. This peasant revolt constituted the Israelite “conquest,” according to Gottwald. See Norman K. Gottwald, “Were the Early Israelites Pastoral Nomads?” BAR 04-02. See also Gottwald’s review of John Bright’s History of Israel in a forthcoming issue of BAR (“John Bright’s New Revision Of A History Of Israel,” BAR 08-04).

b. Others, however, credited the ancient Israelites with outstanding military skills. In particular, among those who assess the Israelites’ military skill very highly is Professor Yigael Yadin in his thorough book The Art of Warfare in Biblical Lands,1963.

c. See “Is the Biblical Account of the Israelite Conquest of Canaan Historically Reliable?” BAR 08-02.

d. See Abraham Malamat, “The Danite Migration and the Pan-Israelite Exodus-Conquest A Biblical Narrative Pattern,” Biblica 51 (1970), pp. 1–16.

e. Joshua 2-15ff.; Josephus, Antiquities V, 1, 2, elaborates on the intelligence gathered.

f. Liddell Hart is the doyen of British military theorists. (See his classic treatise Strategy, latest revised edition 1967). The notion of the “indirect approach” is one of those novel conceptual frameworks which promises to bring about a new assessment of well-known ancient battles, at the same time affording deeper insights into the specific manner in which such engagements were conducted. Liddell Hart applied the “indirect approach” concept mainly on the strategic plane rather than the tactical, as I do here. Liddell Hart himself traced the course of the “indirect approach” as far back in history as Classical times, but unfortunately he ignored the Bible.

g. Archives Royales de Mari, I, No 5, lines 4–9. Mari is located on the Middle Euphrates, 16 miles north of the Syria-Iraq border.

h. General Carl Von Clausewitz says, “War is nothing but a duel on an extensive scale. If we would conceive as a unit the countless number of duels which make up a War, we shall do so best by supposing to ourselves two wrestlers. Each strives by physical force to compel the other to submit to his will each endeavours to throw his adversary, and thus render him incapable of further resistance.” From Clausewitz, On War, (London, 1940), p. 1.

i. This parallel has already been noted by Père Louis Felix Abel and subsequently by Yigael Yadin. Frontinus’ description of military strategy in the classical age contains further examples of stratagems described hereinafter in this article not previously alluded to in the Biblical context.

j. See Abraham Malamat, “The War of Gideon and Midian—A Military Approach,” Palestine Exploration Quarterly 85 (1953), pp. 61–75.

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