“The role of Shechem in the Conquest narrative has been an enigma to generations of Bible scholars. After the Israelites blazed a safe trail to central Canaan by defeating Jericho and Ai, they immediately went 34 km north to convene a covenant ceremony in the area of Shechem (Josh 8:30-35). This journey took them through the heart of the central hill country, territory they had not yet conquered. Significantly, women and children participated in this trek (Josh 8:35). It is obvious that the journey was a peaceful one, not a military expedition. In addition, not only did the Israelites travel through an unconquered area, but this event had previously been commanded by Moses (Josh 8:33; Deut 11:29, 30; 27:4-13). It is clear that the Shechem event was planned well ahead of time–before the Israelites set foot in the Promised Land and before the first spear was hurled in the land Canaan.”
[The] act of burying Joseph in Shechem demonstrates that a peaceful relationship existed between the Israelites and the people of Shechem. Jacob’s land at Shechem had been willed to Joseph (Gen 48:22), who presumably passed it on to his eldest son Manasseh. The tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim settled in the area under the jurisdiction of Shechem (Joshua 16, 17), perhaps because of the land ownership there. This once again underlines the cordial relations that existed. In the period of consolidation following the Conquest, the tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim did not carry out any military operations within their allotment, but rather against Bethel and other towns at their borders (Judg 1:22-29, 35).1
There are about five solutions to this strange relationship:
- Josh 8:30-35 and Joshua 24 are simply literary constructs… This may explain the journeys to Shechem for covenant ceremonies, but it does not explain the lack of military campaigns in the territory of Shechem, or the burial of Joseph there.
- Shechem had already been conquered by the Israelites as described in Genesis 34. “Here, we have the account of the slaughter of the men of Shechem by two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, because of the rape of Dinah, their sister. According to this theory some Israelites settled in Shechem at that time and were still living there at the time of the Conquest”
- Israel conquered Shechem, or Shechem surrendered without resistance, but the event was not recorded in the Bible.
- Shechem was already destroyed and abandoned before the Israelites arrived. The possibility that this could be the case is dependent upon one’s chronology for the Conquest.
- The most attractive solution thus far proposed is that the Israelites made a treaty or covenant with Shechem, which is not recorded in the Bible.
“As a proposed solution, I suggest a slight variation on the treaty/covenant approach. In view of the power and influence of Shechem, it seems most plausible that Israel came into central Canaan under the patronage of the king of Shechem. Such an arrangement would differ from a covenant or treaty. In a patron-client relationship, the client is under the care and protection of the patron, and in the case of Shechem and Israel, both parties stood to gain by the arrangement.”2
- Random fact: Justin Martyr, the first Christian apologist on record, is from Neapolis, the Roman city they re-founded near ancient Shechem.