Archaeology meets Joshua from the Bible

Joshua and Caleb returning from the promised land

After wandering in the wilderness for forty years, Moses handed over the leadership of the Hebrew nation to Joshua, who brings the children of Israel into the promised land.

According to the Bible, after entering Canaan, Joshua had to go to war with the inhabitants of the land.

There is an amazing piece of evidence to support this. A letter has been found that was written by a man named Abdi-Heba, Governor of Jerusalem, to an unnamed Pharaoh, requesting aid from Egypt in fighting the approaching Hebrews.

The letter states the following: "Why do you not hear my call for help? All the governors are lost; the king, my lord, does not have a single governor remaining! Let the king send troops and archers, or the king will have no lands left.

All the lands of the king are being plundered by the Habiru (Hebrews). If archers are here by the end of the year, then the lands of my lord, the king, will be saved, but if the archers are not sent, then the lands of the king, my lord, will be lost." (El-Amarna Letter EA.286)

Compare this with the following Bible statement found in Joshua 10:1-5: "Now it came to pass when Adoni-Zedek king of Jerusalem heard how Joshua had taken Ai and had utterly destroyed it; . . . Therefore Adoni-Zedek king of Jerusalem sent to Hoham king of Hebron, Piram king of Jarmuth, Japhia king of Lachish, and Debir king of Eglon, saying, "Come up to me and help me, that we may attack Gibeon, for it has made peace with Joshua and with the children of Israel." Therefore the five kings of the Amorites, the king of Jerusalem, . . . gathered together and went up, they and all their armies, and camped before Gibeon and made war against it."

The Bible states in Joshua 10:26 that Joshua defeated these kings, captured them, and killed them, including the king of Jerusalem, Adoni-Zedek.

It is very likely that Abdi-Heba and Adoni- Zedek are one in the same man. The reason being is that Adoni-Zedek is a title rather than the actual name of the king. Adoni-Zedek means the Lord of Zedek, similar to the name Melchi-Zedek which means Prince of Zedek, who was the ruler of Salem according to Genesis 14:18. The Hebrews would have associated this title with the prince of Salem, an early name for the city of Jerusalem.

So the letters written by Abdi-Heba, trying to stop the advancing Hebrews, were likely written by either Adoni-Zedek, mentioned in Joshua 10:1, or Adoni-Bezek, another king mentioned in Judges 1:7, who was defeated by Joshua and buried in Jerusalem.

The letters from Abdi-Heba seem to have been written to either Amenhotep II or Amenhotep III. Since one of the letters from Abdi-Heba mentions that the pharaoh, whom he was requesting help from, had conquered the land of Naharaim and the land of Cush, this would likely point to Amenhotep II who indeed had military campaigns against both these countries. This letter also mentions that the Apiru (Hebrews) were at one time known as slaves.

The letter states: The arm of the mighty king conquers the land of Naharaim and the land of Cush, but now the Apiru have captured the cities of the king . . . Behold Zimreda, the townsmen of Lachish have smitten him, slaves who had become Apiru (Hebrews). (El-Amarna Letter EA.288)

The time frame of this letter also corresponds to the dating found in the Bible.

According to 1Kings 6:1, the Exodus was 480 years before King Solomon built the temple, which occurred in 1012 B.C. That would date the Exodus at approximately 1486 B.C. and their entering into the land of Canaan around 1446 B.C.

According to historians, Amenhotep II began his reign somewhere between 1450 and 1425 B.C., right in the middle of Joshua's conquest of Canaan.


And if Amenhotep II began his reign about the same time the Hebrews entered Canaan, then both of his successors, Thutmose IV and Amenhotep III, the other possible candidates to whom these letters were written, would have ruled during Joshuas lifetime as well. This is because Joshua would have lived for at least another 55 years after entering Canaan.

This is derived from the fact that Exodus 33:11 states that Joshua was a young man at the time of the Exodus. The Hebrew word used for young man refers to a boy of an age somewhere between infancy and adolescence. So the oldest Joshua would have been during the Exodus was 15 years old. Then tack on another 40 years wandering in the wilderness, and this would make him, at the oldest, 55 when he enters into Canaan. He then lived at least another 55 years before dying at the ripe old age of 110.

Other letters requesting aid from Egypt have also been discovered that were written during this same time frame as well. These letters are part of what are known as the Amarna tablets.

The following letter is from a man named Shuwardata, governor of Gath, who mentions "the chief of the Hebrews," a possible reference to Joshua himself. It states:

"May the king, my lord, know that the chief of the Apiru (Hebrews) has invaded the lands which your god has given me; but I have attacked him. Also, let the king, my lord, know that none of my allies have come to my aid, it is only I and Abdi-Heba who fight against the Apiru chief.

Zurata, the prince of Accho, and Indaruta, prince of Achshaph, were bribed with fifty chariots by the Apiru so that they would not come to my help; now they are against me. I plead with the king my lord, if you agree, send Yanhamu, and let us quickly go to war, so that the lands of the king, my lord, might be restored to their original boundaries!" (Ancient Near Eastern Texts 487)

Shuwardata governor of Gath is also mentioned in the following letter from a man named Milkilu, a prince of Gezer, with whom he was allied:

"Let it be known to the king that there is great hostility against me and against Shuwardata. I ask the king, my lord, protect his land from the approaching 'Apiru." (El-Amarna Letter EA.271)

These two men later seem to have offered allegiance to Joshua, as evidenced from a second letter from Abdi-Heba, governor of Jerusalem:

"Let it be known what Milkilu and Shuwardata did to the land of the king, my lord! They sent troops of Gezer, troops of Gath . . . the land of the king went over to the Apiru.

But now even a town near Jerusalem, Bit-Lahmi (Bethlehem) by name, a village which once belonged to the king, has fallen to the enemy . . . Let the king hear the words of your servant Abdi-Heba, and send archers to restore the imperial lands of the king! But if no archers are sent, the lands of the king will be taken by the 'Apiru people. This act was done by the hand of Milkilu and Shuwardata." (El-Amarna Letter EA.290)

This letter is interesting because even though Joshua destroyed most of the inhabitants of the cities he came across, the city of Gath was spared. Joshua 11:22 states: "No Anakites were left in Israelite territory; only in Gaza, Gath and Ashdod did any survive."

Another letter indicates that the prince of Gezer and the prince of Shechem surrendered to Joshua during the conquest of the land: "See the actions taken by Milkilu (prince of Gezer), and the sons of Lab'ayu (princes of Shechem), who have handed over the land to the 'Apiru. (El-Amarna Letter EA.287)

This letter also confirms the Bible in that these two cities were also spared in Joshua's conquest, and they are mentioned together in Joshua 21:21.

These and many other Amarna letters, from this same time frame, mention cities that had either fallen to or were fighting against the advancing Hebrews. These cities match exactly with the cities Israel had captured as listed in the Book of Joshua as well as Judges chapter one.

The cities and lands include Lachish, Gezer, Ashkelon, Hazor, Gath, Keilah, Acco, Bethlehem, Gaza, Jerusalem, Achshaph, Carmel, Beth-Shean, Megiddo, Shechem, Makkedah, Ajalon, Zorah, as well as a mention of the land of Canaan itself. So there is no doubt that the Apiru or Habiru mentioned in the Amarna letters were the Biblical Hebrews.

Another amazing find that confirms the Book of Joshua was found on the walls of an Egyptian temple at Medinet Habu. The walls contained a list of cities that Ramesses II recorded as enemy towns. The cities are represented on the wall by a man bearing a shield, and within the shield is the name of the city. Among the list of cities were Janum, Aphekah, and Hebron.

Joshua 15:53-54 states that among the cities on the border of the children of Judah were "Janum, . . . Aphekah, . . . Kirjath Arba (Hebron)."

Medinet Habu inscription

Wall at Medinet - Habu

Lists "Hebron, Janum, Aphkah"


"But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD." Joshua 24:15

"Come here, and hear the words of the LORD your God." Joshua 3:9

Bible Archaeology

This article on Joshua conquering the promised land is taken from our 4 volume book series "Bible Believer's Archaeology" which can be downloaded for your ebook reader by visiting our resource download page by Clicking Here.

Next Chapter - King David

Sources used in compiling data and illustrations for this article:

Amarna Tablet EA#286 Photo Link

Amarna Tablet EA#287 Photo Link

Amarna Tablet EA#288 Photo Link

Amarna Tablet EA#289 Photo Link

Amarna Tablet EA#290 Photo Link

Amarna Tablet EA#271 Photo Link

The Holy Bible, Author: The Lord God. Scripture is taken from the New King James Version unless noted.

Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, Editor: James Pritchard. ISBN 0-691-03503-2, (The Amarna Letters)

ANET 487-488 EA.286 Abdi-Hiba letter, Habiru Plunder the land. Note: The name Abdi-Heba meant servant of Heba. Possibly referring to Hebat, a false god. Two Biblical figures that may match with Abdi-Heba are Adoni-Zedek. (Joshua 10:1) and Adoni-Bezek (Joshua 1:7) whom they buried in Jerusalem.

ANET 487-488 EA.286 Abdi Heba letter, the Habiru plunder the land.

ANET 488-489 EA.288 Abdi-Hiba letter, Slaves became Apiru, Pharaoh conquered Naharaim and Cush. Lists: Seir: Joshua 11:17, Sile (In Goshen) Joshua 10:41

ANET 486 EA.271. Milkilu letter mentioning the Apiru.

ANET 487 RA, XIX, p.106 Shuwardata and Abdi Heba fight against the Apiru chief. Lists: Acco: Judges 1:31, Achshaph: Joshua 12:20

ANET 487 RA, XXXi, pp.125-136 Mentions Milkilu as prince of Gezer.

ANET 488 EA.287 Princes of Gezer and Shechem surrendering to the Apiru. Lists: Lachish: Joshua 12:11, Gezer: Joshua 12:12, Ashkelon: Judges 1:18

ANET 489 EA 287 Mentions Labayu as prince of Shechem. Lists: Shechem: Joshua 20:7, Carmel: Joshua 12:22, Beth-Shean: Joshua 17:11, Gaza: Joshua 10:41, Jerusalem: Joshua 12:10

ANET 489 EA 289: Lists: Jerusalem: Joshua 12:10

ANET 489 EA.290. Gezer and Gath allied with the Apiru' Lists: Gath: Joshua 11:12, Keilah: Joshua 15:44, Bethlehem: Joshua 9:15

ANET 485 EA 244 Lists: Megiddo.

ANET 484 RA, XIX, p.100 Lists: Canaan.

pg. 242-243 Thutmose III listed cities under Egyptian Rule, On that list is the following cities which were later taken by Joshua in the conquest of Canaan listed in the Bible: Makkedah, Megiddo, Gezer, Meron, Achshaph, Taanach, Kadesh, Dibon, Ashtarith, Edrei, Socho, Migdol, Beth-Anath, Beth-Sean, Geba, Beeroth, Anaharath, Kishion, Rehob, Chinnero, and Hazor. After this time, Amenhotep II mentions only Hazor as under his rule sometime during his reign. The rest are not mentioned either in his reign, or his successors Thutmose IV and Amenhotep III. Therefore it can be deduced that the conquest of Canaan happened most likely in the reign of Amenhotep II or his successors.

The Best of Josh Mcdowell (A Ready Defense), Author: Josh Mcdowell. ISBN 0-89840-281-6 PG.104 (Habiru inscription)

Biblical Archaeology Review, Sept/Oct 1994

pg.60 (temple at Medinet Habu), pg.57 (Thutmoses III list of cities)

Ancient Records of Egypt: The eighteenth dynasty. Author James Henry Breasted. pg.315 Turra Inscription of Amenhotep II mentions he erected tablets in Naharin and in the land of Karoy (a town in Nubia - Cush) which may identify him with the pharaoh of the Abdu-Heba letters since Armarna letter AE288 (ANET 489) mentions the king as the conquerer of Naharin and Cush. pg.325 An inscription either from the reign of Thutmose IV or Amenhotep II states: Attendant of the king on his expeditions in the south and north countries; going from Naharin to Karoy . . . Amenhotep triumphant. Amenhotep probably refers to the pharaoh Amenhotep II, not the body guardsman of Thutmose IV as asserted in this book. Although Naharin did bring tribute to Thutmose IV which had been conquered by Amenhotep II, and Thutmose IV did have campaigns against Nubia.

The El-Amarna Letters Photo Archive of tablets at the Vorderasiatisches Museum of Berlin which includes EA271 and EA286-EA290 was found on the website: at the time of this original writing. Now can be found at

Artwork: "Joshua and Caleb Return from Canaan" The Holy Bible with Illustrations by Gustave Dore’” publisher Cassell, Petter & Galpin 1866-1870

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