Somewhere between The Deadliest Catch marathon this weekend, I saw a little bit of a History Channel show called Battles of the Bible, or something. (note: historical battle reenactment = awesome)
The basic theory of the show was that the Jews were never slaves in Egypt, but a warrior class that was subjugated into physical labor after becoming too powerful. The Jews originally left Canaan after famine forced them to find new grazing grounds. For hundreds of years in Egypt, they were mercenaries. I imagined them like the Samurai, fighting for a dollar but holding a certain level of esteem in society.
They settled in the area between modern day Cairo and the Sinai, a strategic position in the land bridge between Africa and the Middle East. Their status and geographic location gave them strength, which the Pharaohs feared. They eventually were put to labor to mitigate their military might, though they may not have been as mistreated as we were taught to think.
When the Jews were freed by a "general" named Moses, they left for the dessert. But before they left Egypt, they sacked a town to gather all the provisions they would need in the wild. (It says the Jews boldly left in arms.) That's right, the Jews robbed and plundered before they left Egypt! That's why the Pharaoh came after them. Moses, familiar with the terrain, planned their escape to take advantage of the tides in the Sea of Reeds, as it was known.
For 40 years, Moses then trained the Jews into a disciplined and powerful army. When he died, Joshua took over as general for the return to Canaan. Of course, the people living in Canaan did NOT want the Jews coming back to take the land that was "promised to them by God." It was a war to get back to the Holy Land; makes 40 years wandering in the dessert a little more understanding.
Joshua led a campaign of extermination against the Canaanites, starting in a city called Jericho. The Jews killed everyone that opposed them, destroying 31 city-states all together. I would guess that some of those cities submitted to Jewish rule. Joshua died of old age before then, when Gideon took over as lead of the Jews. Then Lilah woke up and it was time to go.
The show treated the Bible as a military document. I take it with a grain of salt, but it was an amazing new perspective on the "greatest story ever told."