It seems pretty clear in some of the texts that when Land of Canaan was conquered, there were no one left alive, all were killed:

Joshua defeated the whole land, including the hill country, the Negev, the lowlands, the slopes, and all their kings. He left no survivors. He annihilated everything that breathed, just as the LORD God of Israel had commanded. Joshua conquered the area between Kadesh Barnea and Gaza and the whole region of Goshen, all the way to Gibeon. Joshua captured in one campaign all these kings and their lands, for the LORD God of Israel fought for Israel. (Joshua 10:40-42 NET)

It seems like the same thing is also said (but not as clear) in Joshua 21:44 and Joshua 24:11.

BUT in other texts like:

The men of Judah were unable to conquer the Jebusites living in Jerusalem. The Jebusites live with the people of Judah in Jerusalem to this very day. (Joshua 15:63)


After Joshua died, the Israelites asked the LORD, "Who should lead the invasion against the Canaanites and launch the attack?"


The men of Judah attacked Jerusalem and captured it. They put the sword to it and set the city on fire.


The men of Benjamin, however, did not conquer the Jebusites living in Jerusalem. The Jebusites live with the people of Benjamin in Jerusalem to this very day. (Judges 1:1, 8, 21)

It seems like not everyone was killed in the land. What are the options for harmonizing those texts?

3 Answers 3


No, the Caananites were not destroyed by the Jewish people. The cited verse in Joshua 10:40 speaks only of the completion of Joshua's campaign against the Canaanie tribes of the south. In the next chapter Joshua fights the northern tribes. In chapter 13, when Joshua is already too old to continue the fight, G-d tells Joshua that his job is incomplete; he still must destroy the kings of the Philistines, Gazathites, Ashdodites, Ashkelonites, Gitttites, Ekron, Sidonians and others the Bible considered part of Canaan. This site has some maps that illustrate the three campaigns that Joshua led, although I do not vouch for any of the other contents of the website.

We know that Joshua did not complete the job. In the Book of Kings we read that all of the survivors of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites who did not belong to Israel — that is, those of their descendants who survived in the land wherever the Israelites had been unable to annihilate them — all were employed by Solomon as perpetual forced labor, "which they still are" (I Kings 9:20-21) at least until the time the Book of Kings was written.

While the Canaanites lived among the Jews, their idols and worship practiced -- which included sexual rites with temple priestesses -- tempted the Hebrew lay persons and even their kings. 1 Kings 14:22-24. While the prophets made clear that the continued presence of the Canaanites and their debaucherous rites were a drag on Israel's spirtual purity, see e.g. Hosea 4:12-14, the removal of the Canaanites and the spiritual threat it posed cannot be said to have been accomplished by the Jews militarily.

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    Yet this is what my first quote says: "Joshua defeated the whole land[...] He left no survivors. He annihilated everything that breathed". Or is it something from your answer I don't understand (English is not my native language)? How to harmonize the two accounts? Commented Jun 7, 2013 at 18:48
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    @Niclas Nilsson: It's pretty likely that Joshua 10 is hyperbole. Ancient writings often exaggerated the accomplishments of kings in this way. See, for instance, the Merneptah Stele which (falsely) asserts that a number of people groups, including Israel, were wiped out by Egypt's pharoah. Commented Jun 7, 2013 at 20:26
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    @JonEricson Yeah! I know that it's not uncommon. But that answer challenges my view of the scripture. And I'm not sure I want to go where such an answer leads me ;-) But that of course is a much bigger discussion which is beyond the scope of this question! Commented Jun 8, 2013 at 11:29
  • Joshua 10 is not hyperbole; it is speaking of the success of hat campaign, like discussing the Allied forces sucess in N. Africa when they still had Europe to conquer. Commented Jun 9, 2013 at 3:57
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    @Bruce: In that case, I misunderstood your first paragraph. Would you consider an edit to expand on the idea that Joshua 10 is just the southern tribes? (A map would probably help for those of us with only a passing knowledge of geography in the region.) Commented Jun 9, 2013 at 5:03

Regardless of whether there was a military conquest (more on this later) by the Israelites, the Canaanites continued to occupy the rich coastal plains north of Philistia until Roman times. This coastal plain formed the curtilage (if I can use that term loosely) of the Canaanite-Phoenician city of Dor. Dor was conquered by the Israelites under King Omri because he needed a Mediterranean port, but the Israelites never ousted the indigenous people and both the Dorians and the Israelites were soon conquered by the Assyrians. Ephraim Stern (The Many Masters of Dor, Part 3: The Persistence of Phoenician Culture) says:

Although Phoenician culture dominated Dor for some 800 years, practically every major people of the region occupied or ruled the site at one time or another, as excavation director Ephraim Stern shows in his three-part article... Stern traced Dor’s history from its Canaanite roots, in the 20th century B.C.E., through a series of conquests by Sikils (a Sea Peoples tribe), Phoenicians, Israelites and Assyrians. Picking up the story in 733 B.C.E., this final installment looks at a succession of absentee landlords—Assyrian, Babylonian and Persian—who ruled Dor until the city’s complete Hellenization in the third century B.C.E.

William G. Dever (Who Were the Early Israelites, and where Did They Come From?, page 38) says, in the Book of Joshua '"Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites" are annihilated. Only the Shechemites are spared... and the Gibeonites, who however are enslaved.' He asks whether these horrifying events really happened, just as described, going on to say, "These are stories that we might well hope have no basis in fact."

On page 39, Dever says that many scholars would reject the Book of Joshua because it is "of little historical value." He goes through the archaeological evidence, city by city, to show that the 'conquest model' can no longer be regarded as historical.

"It seems like not everyone was killed in the land."

If the account in the Book of Joshua is literally true, not all the indigenous people were slaughtered, and this becomes even more confusing when we compare the Book of Joshua with Judges.

Once we become aware, from biblical analysis and archaeology, that the biblical accounts are not historical, we can begin to understand that any contradictions merely result from different traditions being written down centuries after the events were supposed to have occurred.

Lawrence E. Stager says, in 'Forging an Identity: The Emergence of Ancient Israel', published in The Oxford History of the Biblical World, page 102, "the evidence from language, costume, coiffure, and material remains suggest that the early Israelites were a rural subset of Canaanite culture and largely indistinguishable from Transjordanian rural cultures as well." In fact, nearly all historians and biblical scholars now agree that the Israelites were themselves rural Canaanites who migrated peacefully from the region of the rich coastal cities to the hinterland. This coincided with the arrival of sea-people who, as 'Philistines', occupied the southern coastal plains and foothills and who, for a time, conquered the Canaanites of Dor before being driven out by the Phoenician people to the north.

The hinterland that became the homeland of the Israelites was sparsely populated prior to this migration, so there was no slaughter and no need for slaughter.

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    Dick do you really believe this? Do you think that the Israelites didn't know their own history and place of origin and we need some biblical scholars to tell us who they really are and where they came from? This is pure nonsense! Every ancient nation has an oral history that was handed down from generation to generation child to child, the Hebrew traditions embodied in the bible can and should be trusted as well, there is no reason to doubt them especially when it has been proven time and again.
    – bach
    Commented Apr 29, 2018 at 22:13

The Israelites, under Joshua’s guide did not conquer every piece of territory in which the 7 Canaan tribes – by God execrated - resided. Joshua himself – by that time – very old, encouraged his men to continue battling for God (see, please his talk in the 13th chapter of his book). Afterward, Joshua, did admit in all honesty, that pockets of resistance remained (Jos 16:10; 17:11-13). In one occasion – at least – Joshua appeared bothered with the lack of initiative and divine courage showed by the descendents of Joseph. Responding to their complain about the smallness of the territory assigned to them, he said to them: “If [אם] you are such a great people [like you claim], go up into the woodlands, clearing a place there for yourselves in the land of the Perizzites and the Rephaim, if the hill-country of Ephraim is not wide enough for you.” [Bible in Basic English]”.

And also after the Joshua’s death (Kri [Judges] 1:17-21; 3:1-6) the Conquest wasn’t completed. In fact, Kri 1:28-33 reported - 5 times - the negative sequence הורישׁ לא, ‘[This or that tribe] drove not out [this or that Canaanite people]’. Moreover, in the same verse 28, the reading is more forthright than ever, והורישׁ לא הורישׁו ‘but, regarding the driving out of them [Canaanites], they [the Israelites] did not drive them out [completely]’.

Nevertheless, though many of the Canaanites survived the major conquest and resisted subjugation, it could still be said that: “[…] the LORD [יהוה] gave unto Israel all the land which He swore to give unto their fathers; and they possessed it, and dwelt therein. And the LORD [יהוה] gave them rest round about, according to all that He swore unto their fathers; and there stood not a man of all their enemies against them; the LORD [יהוה] delivered all their enemies into their hand. There failed not aught of any good thing which the LORD [יהוה] had spoken unto the house of Israel; all came to pass.” (Jos 21:43-45, JPS). This happened why, all around, the Israelites broke the tight unity the enemy peoples did possess, so they offered yet no hard threat to the Israelites’ security. Any failure of the Israelites finally to take certain territories could not be charged to IEUE’s account as a failure on his part to fulfill his promise. (Jos 17:16-18; Kri 4:13). We have to remember – always - that the record shows that the Israelites’ defeats were due to unfaithfulness on their part (Num 14:44-45; Jos 7:1-12), because God had warn them - in advance - that their (future) victories (so, really, the IEUE’s participation to the battles) would depend on their obedience to His laws and guidelines. So, the Conquest was a conditional goal to be attained.

I am not agree with you (Niclas Nilsson), when you say, ‘It's pretty likely that Joshua 10 is hyperbole. Ancient writings often exaggerated the accomplishments of kings in this way.’ Granted, various ancient kings exaggerated their victories stories. For an example, Yuval Noah Harari remember us that “Sargon [of Assyria] boasted that he had conquered the entire world. In reality, his dominion stretched from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean. […] For the next 1,700 years Assyrian, Babylonian and Hittites kings adopted Sargon as a role model, boasting that they, too, had conquered the entire world.” [Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind]. I don’t see, however, any similar boasting in the Joshua historical recording. Would he did mention the abovementioned Israelites’ conquest failures if he did want ‘hyperbolize’ the global war report?

Finally, the idea - Lawrence E. Stager-expressed - that the Conquest did not really happen, is (for my viewpoint) one of the various attempt to ridiculize the Bible account as non-historical text. I encourage smart users – before to reach any conclusion about this important topic – to read (as just a taste of huge literature on behalf of Bible historical reliability) the fine books by historian and archaeologist David Rohl, especially, A Test of Time – The Bible From Myth to History (chapter 14, in particular), along with The Lost Testament (chapter 11, in particular).

P.S. I apologize for my wobbly English.

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