ISRAEL, HISTORY OF, 1
(1) The Old Testament
(3) The Monuments
2. Religious Character of the History
I. ORIGINS OF ISRAEL IN PRE-MOSAIC TIMES
1. Original Home
2. Ethnographical Origin
3. Patriarchal Origins and History
(1) Patriarchal Conditions--Genesis 14
(2) Ideas of God
(3) Descent into Egypt
II. NATIONALITY UNDER MOSES
1. Israel in Egypt
2. Historical Character of the Exodus
(1) Egyptian Version of the Exodus
(2) Geographical Matters
(3) The Wilderness Sojourn
(4) Entrance into Canaan
III. PERIOD OF THE JUDGES
1. General Character of Period
2. The Different Judges
3. Chronology of the Period
4. Loose Organization of the People
IV. THE KINGDOM:
2. The Kingdom of Saul
5. Division of the Kingdom
6. Sources of the History of the Kingdom
7. Chronological Matters
V. PERIOD OF THE SEPARATED KINGDOMS
1. Contrasts and Vicissitudes of the Kingdoms
2. The Successive Reigns
3. The Literary Prophets
VI. TIME OF THE BABYLONIAN EXILE
1. Influence of the Exile
3. Elephantine Papyri
VII. RETURN FROM THE EXILE AND THE RESTORATION
1. Career of Cyrus
2. First Return under Zerubbabel
(1) Building of the Temple
(2) Haggai and Zechariah
3. Ezra and Nehemiah
VIII. THE JEWS UNDER ALEXANDER AND HIS SUCCESSORS
1. Spread of Hellenism
2. The Hasmoneans
IX. THE ROMANS
1. Division of Territory
2. Destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans
Later Insurrection of Bar-Cochba
3. Spiritual Life of Period
Appearance of Jesus Christ
The chief and best source from which we can learn who this people was and what was its history is the Bible itself, especially the Old Testament, which tells us the story of this people from its earliest beginnings.
(1) The Old Testament.
The origins of Israel are narrated in Genesis; the establishment of theocracy, in the other books of the Pentateuch; the entrance into Canaan, in the Book of Joshua; the period preceding the kings, in the Book of Judges; the establishment of the monarchy and its development, in the Books of Samuel, and the opening chapters of the Books of Kings, which latter report also the division into two kingdoms and the history of these down to their overthrow. The Books of Chronicles contain, parallel with the books already mentioned, a survey of the historical development from Adam down to the Babylonian captivity, but confine this account to theocratical center of this history and its sphere. Connected with Chronicles are found the small Books of Ezra and Nehemiah, which probably originally constituted a part of Chronicles, but which pass over the Exile and begin at once with the story of the Return. Then, too, these two books contain only certain episodes in the history of the Return, which were of importance for the restoration of the Jewish theocracy, so that the story found in them is anything but complete. With the 5th century BC the Biblical narrative closes entirely. For the succeeding centuries we have nothing but some scattered data; but for the 2nd pre-Christian century we have a new source in the Books of the Maccabees, which give a connected account of the struggles and the rule of the Asmoneans, which reach, however, only from 174 to 135 BC.
The historical value of the Old Testament books is all the greater the nearer the narrator or his sources stand in point of time to the events that are recorded; e.g. the contents of the Books of Kings have in general greater value as historical sources than what is reported in the Books of Chronicles, written at a much later period. Yet it is possible that a later chronicler could have made use of old sources which earlier narrators had failed to employ. This is the actual state of affairs in connection with a considerable number of matters reported by the Biblical chroniclers, which supplement the exceedingly meager extracts furnished by the author of the Books of Kings. Then, further, the books of the prophets possess an extraordinary value as historical sources for the special reason that they furnish illustrations of the historical situation and events from the lips of contemporaries. As an example we can refer to the externally flourishing condition of the kingdom of Judah under King Uzziah, concerning which the Books of Kings report practically nothing, but of which Chronicles give details which are confirmed by the testimony of Isaiah.
A connected account of the history of Israel has been furnished by Flavius Josephus. His work entitled Jewish Antiquities, however, as far as trustworthiness is concerned, is again considerably inferior to the Books of Chronicles, since the later traditions of the Jews to a still greater extent influenced his account. Only in those cases in which he could make use of foreign older sources, such as the Egyptian Manetho or Phoenician authors, does he furnish us with valuable material. Then for the last few centuries preceding his age, he fills out a certain want. Especially is he the best authority for the events which he himself passed through and which he reports in his work on the Jewish Wars, even if he is not free from certain personal prejudices (see JOSEPHUS). For the customs and usages of the later Jewish times the traditions deposited in the Talmud are also to be considered. Much less than to Josephus can any historical value be credited to the Alexandrian Jew, Philo. The foreign authors, e.g. the Greek and the Latin historians, contain data only for the story of the nations surrounding Israel, but not for the early history of Israel itself.
(3) The Monuments.
On the other hand, the early history of Israel has been wonderfully enriched in recent times through the testimonies of the monuments. In Palestine itself the finds in historical data and monuments have been, up to the present time, rather meager. Yet the excavations on the sites of ancient Taanach, Megiddo, Jericho, Gezer and Samaria have brought important material to light, and we have reasons to look for further archaeological and literary finds, which may throw a clear light on many points that have remained dark and uncertain. Also in lands round about Palestine, important documents (the Moabite Stone; Phoenician inscriptions) have already been found. Especially have the discovery and interpretation of the monuments found in Egypt, Assyria and Babylonia very materially advanced our knowledge of the history of Israel. Not only has the connection of the history of this people with universal history been clearly illuminated by these finds, but the history of Israel itself has gained in tangible reality. In some detail matters, traditional ideas have given way to clearer conceptions; e.g. the chronology of the Old Testament, through Assyriological research, has been set on a safer foundation. But all in all, these archaeological discoveries have confirmed the confidence that has been placed in the Biblical historical sources.
2. Religious Character of the History:
It is true that the rules applied to profane history cannot, without modification, be applied to the historical writings of the Hebrews. The Biblical narrators are concerned about something more than the preservation of historical facts and data. Just as little is it their purpose to glorify their people or their rulers, as this is done on the memorial tablets of the Egyptian the Assyrian, and the Babylonian kings. Looked at merely from the standpoint of profane history, there are many omissions in the Old Testament historical books that are found objectionable. Sometimes whole periods are passed over or treated very briefly. Then, too, the political pragmatism, the secular connection in the movements of the nations and historical events, are often scarcely mentioned. The standpoint of the writer is the religious. This appears in the fact that this history begins with the creation of the world and reports primitive traditions concerning the origin of mankind and their earliest history in the light of the revelation of the God of Israel, and that it makes this national history a member in the general historical development of mankind. Nor was this first done by the author of the Pentateuch in its present shape. Already the different documentary sources found combined in the Pentateuch, namely E (Elohist), J (Jahwist) and P (Priestly Code), depict the history of Israel according to the plan which the Creator of the world had with this people. Also, when they narrate the national vicissitudes of Israel, the writers are concerned chiefly to exhibit clearly the providential guidance of God. They give special prominence to those events in which the hand of God manifests itself, and describe with full detail the lives of those agents of whom Yahweh made use in order to guide His people, such as Moses, Samuel, David, Solomon and others. But it is not the glory of these men themselves that the writers aim to describe, but rather their importance for the spiritual and religious greatness of Israel. Let us note in this connection only the extreme brevity with which the politically successful wars of David are reported in 2 Samuel; and how fragmentary are the notices in which the author of the Books of Kings reports the reigns of the different kings; and how briefly he refers for all the other details of these kings to books that, unfortunately, have been lost for us. But, on the other hand, how full are the details when the Bible gives us its account of the early history of a Samuel or of a David, in which the providential guidance and protection of Yahweh appear in such a tangible form; or when it describes the building of the temple by Solomon, so epoch-making for the religious history of Israel, or the activity of such leading prophets as Elijah and Elisha. Much less the deeds of man than the deeds of God in the midst of His people constitute theme of the narrators. These facts explain, too, the phenomenal impartiality, otherwise unknown in ancient literatures, with which the weaknesses and the faults of the ancestors and kings of Israel are reported by the Biblical writers, even in the case of their most revered kings, or with which even the most disgraceful defeats of the people are narrated.
It cannot indeed be denied that this religious and fundamental characteristic is not found to the same degree in all the books and sources. The oldest narratives concerning Jacob, Joseph, the Judges, David and others reveal a naive and childlike naturalness, while in the Books of Chronicles only those things have been admitted which are in harmony with the regular cult. The stories of a Samson, Jephthah, Abimelech, Barak, and others impress us often as the myths or stories of old heroes, such as we find in the traditions of other nations. But the author of the Book of Judges, who wrote the introduction to the work, describes the whole story from the standpoint of edification. And when closely examined, it is found that the religious element is not lacking, even in the primitive and naive Old Testament narrative. This factor was, from the outset, a unique characteristic of the people and its history. To this factor Israel owed its individuality and existence as a separate people among the nations. But in course of time it became more and more conscious of its mission of being the people of Yahweh on earth, and it learned to understand its entire history from this viewpoint. Accordingly, any account of Israel's history must pay special attention to its religious development. For the significance of this history lies for us in this, that it constitutes the preparation for the highest revelation in Christ Jesus. In its innermost heart and kernel it is the history of the redemption of mankind. This it is that gives to this history its phenomenal character. The persons and the events that constitute this history must not be measured by the standards of everyday life. If in this history we find the providential activities of the living God operative in a unique way, this need not strike us as strange, since also the full fruit of this historical development, namely the appearance of Jesus Christ, transcends by far the ordinary course of human history. On the other hand, this history of Israel is not to be regarded as a purely isolated factor. Modern researches have shown how intimately this history was interwoven with that of other nations. Already, between the religious forms of the Old Testament and those of other Semitic peoples, there have been found many relations. Religious expressions and forms of worship among the Israelites often show in language and in cult a similarity to those of the ancient Canaanites, the Phoenicians, the Syrians, the Babylonians, and the Egyptians. But it is a mistake to believe that the history and the religion of Israel are merely an offspring of the Babylonian. As the Israelites clung tenaciously to their national life, even when they were surrounded by powerful nations, or were even scattered among these nations, as in the Exile, thus too their religion, at least in its official representatives, has been able at all times to preserve a very high originality and independence under the influence of the Divine Spirit, who had filled it.
I. Origins of Israel in Pre-Mosaic Times.
1. Original Home:
The Israelites knew at all times that Canaan was not their original home, but that their ancestors had immigrated into this land. What was their earlier and earliest home? Tradition states that they immigrated from Haran in the upper Euphrates valley. But it is claimed that they came to Haran from Ur of the Chaldees, i.e. from a city in Southern Babylonia, now called Mugheir. This city of Ur, now well known from Babylonian inscriptions, was certainly not the original home of the ancestors of Israel. They rather belonged to a purely Semitic tribe, which had found its way from Northern Arabia into these districts. A striking confirmation of this view is found in a mural picture on the rock-tombs of Benihassan in Upper Egypt. The foreigners, of whom pictures are here given (from the time of the XIIth Dynasty), called Amu, namely Bedouins from Northern Arabia or from the Sinai peninsula, show such indisputable Jewish physiognomies that they must have been closely related to the stock of Abraham. Then, too, the leader of the caravan, Ebsha`a (Abishua), has a name formed just like that of Abraham. When, in later times, Moses fled to the country of the Midianites, he doubtless was welcomed by such tribal relatives.
2. Ethnographical Origin:
The Israelites at all times laid stress on their ethnographical connection with other nations. They knew that they were intimately related to a group of peoples who have the name of Hebrews. But they traced their origin still farther back to the tribal founder, Shem. Linguistics and ethnology confirm, in general, the closer connection between the Semitic tribes mentioned in Genesis 10:21. Undeniable is this connection in the cases of Assur, Aram, and the different Arabian tribes. A narrower group of Semites is called Hebrews. This term is used in Ge in a wider sense of the word than is the case in later times, when it was employed as a synonym for Israel. According to its etymology, the word signified "those beyond," those who live on the other side of the river or have come over from the other side. The river meant is not the Jordan, but the Euphrates. About the same time that the ancestors of Israel were immigrating into Canaan and Egypt, other tribes also emigrated westward and were called, by the Canaanites and by the Egyptians, `ibhrim. This term is identical with Chabiri, found in the Tell el-Amarna Letters, in which complaint is made about the inroads of such tribes. The Israelites cannot have been meant here, but related tribes are. Possibly the Egyptian Apriu is the same word.
3. Patriarchal Origins and History:
The Israelites declared that they were descended from a particular family. On account of the patriarchal characcter of their old tribal life, it is not a matter of doubt that, as a fact, the tribe did grow out of a single family. The tribal father, Abraham, was without a doubt the head of the small tribe, which through its large family of children developed into different tribes. Only we must not forget that such a tribe could rapidly be enlarged by receiving into it also serfs and clients (compare Genesis 14:14). These last-mentioned also regarded the head of the tribe as their father and considered themselves as his "sons," without really being his descendants. Possibly the tribe that immigrated first to Haran and from there to Canaan was already more numerous than would seem to be the case according to tradition, which takes into consideration only the leading personalities. Secondly, we must remember that the Israelites, because of their patriarchal life, had become accustomed to clothe all the relations of nations to nations in the scheme of the family. In this way such genealogies of nations as are found in Genesis 10 and 11 originated. Here peoples, cities and countries have also been placed in the genealogies, without the author himself thinking of individual persons in this connection, who had borne the names, e.g. of Mizraim (Egypt), Gush (Ethiopia), etc., and were actually sons of Ham. The purpose of the genealogy in this form is to express only the closer or more remote relationship or connection to a group of nations. Genesis 25:1 also is a telling example, showing how independently these groups are united. A new wife (Keturah) does not at this place fit into the family history of Abraham. But the writer still wants to make mention of an Arabian group, which was also related to Israel by blood, but in fact stood more distant from the Israelites than did the Ishmaelites. Out of this systematic further development of the living tradition, however, one difficulty arises. It is not in all places easy, indeed not always possible, to draw the line between what is reliable tradition and what is a freer continuation. But it is a misinterpretation of the historical situation, when the entire history of the patriarchs is declared to be incredible, and when in such sharply defined personalities as Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, and others, only personifications of tribes are found, the later history of which tribes is said to be embodied in the lives of these men; e.g. the name Abraham cannot have been the impersonal name of a tribe or of a god. It is found as the name of a person on old Babylonian tablets (Abu ramu); but originally in the nomadic tribe was doubtless pronounced 'abhi ram, i.e. "My father (God) is exalted." The same is true of the name Jacob (really Jakob-el); compare Joseph (Joseph-el), Ishmael, and others, which find their analogies in old Arabian names.
(1) Patriarchal Conditions--Genesis 14.
Further, the conditions of life which are presupposed in the history of the Patriarchs are in perfect agreement with those which from the Tell el-Amarna Letters we learn existed in Canaan. While formerly it was maintained that it would have been impossible for a single tribe to force its way into Canaan at that time when the country was thickly populated, it is now known that at that very time when the ancestors of the Israelites entered, similar tribes also found their way into the land, sometimes in a peaceable way, sometimes by force. Egypt for the time being had control of the land, but its supremacy was at no place very strong. And the `ibhrim, as did others who forced their way into the country, caused the inhabitants much trouble. Especially does Genesis 14, the only episode in which a piece of universal history finds its way into the story of the tribal ancestors, turn out to be a document of great value, which reflects beautifully the condition of affairs in Asia. Such expeditions for conquest in the direction of the Mediterranean lands were undertaken at an early period by Babylonian rulers, Sargon I of Akkad and his son Naram Sin. The latter undertook an expedition to the land of Magan along the exact way of the expedition described in Genesis 14, this taking place in the days of Amraphel, i.e. Hammurabi. The fact that the latter was himself under an Elamitic superior is in perfect agreement with the story of the inscriptions, according to which the famous Hammurabi of Babylon had first freed himself from the supremacy of Elam. The fact that Hammurabi, according to accepted chronology, ruled shortly after the year 2000 BC, is also in agreement with Biblical chronology, which places Abraham in this very time. These expeditions into the country Martu, as the Babylonians call Syria, had for their purpose chiefly to secure booty and to levy tribute. That the allied kings themselves took part in this expedition is not probable. These were punitive expeditions undertaken with a small force.
Genesis 14 seems to be a translation of an old cuneiform tablet. As a rule the stories of the patriarchal age for a long time were handed down orally, and naturally were modified to a certain extent. Then, too, scholars have long since discovered different sources, out of which the story in its present form has been compiled. This fact explains some irregularities in the story:
e.g. the chronological data of the document the Priestly Code (P), which arranges its contents systematically, do not always harmonize with the order of events as reported by the other two leading documents, the Elohist (E) and the Jahwist (Jahwist), the first of which is perhaps the Ephraimitic and the second the Judaic version of the story. But, under all circumstances, much greater than the difference are the agreements of the sources. They contain the same picture of this period, which certainly has not been modified to glorify the participants. It is easily seen that the situation of the fathers, when they were strangers in the land, was anything but comfortable. A poetical or perfectly fictitious popular account would have told altogether different deeds of heroism of the founder of the people. The weaknesses and the faults of the fathers and mothers in the patriarchal families are not passed over in silence. But the fact that Yahweh, whom they trusted at all times, helped them through and did not suffer them to be destroyed, but in them laid the foundation for the future of His people, is the golden cord that runs through the whole history. And in this the difference between the individual characters finds a sharp expression; e.g. Abraham's magnanimity and tender feeling of honor in reference to his advantage in worldly matters find their expression in narratives which are ascribed to altogether different sources, as Genesis 13:8 (Jahwist); 14:22 (special source); 23:7 (P). In what an altogether different way Jacob insists upon his advantage! This consistency in the way in which the different characters are portrayed must awaken confidence in the historical character of the narratives. Then, too, the harmony with Egyptian manners and customs in the story of Joseph, even in its minutest details, as these have been emphasized particularly by the Egyptologist Ebers, speaks for this historical trustworthiness.
(2) Ideas of God.
Further, the conception of God as held by these fathers was still of a primitive character, but it contains the elements of the later religious development (see ISRAEL, RELIGION OF).
(3) Descent into Egypt.
During a long period of famine the sons of Jacob, through Divine providence, which made use of Joseph as an instrument, found refuge in Egypt, in the marshes of which country along the lower Nile Semitic tribes had not seldom had their temporary abodes. The land of Coshen in the Northeast part of the Delta, Ed. Naville (The Shrine of Saft-el-Henneh and the Land of Goshen, London, 1887) has shown to be the region about Phakusa (Saft-el-Henneh). These regions had at that time not yet been made a part of the strictly organized and governed country of Egypt, and could accordingly still be left to such nomadic tribes. For the sons of Jacob were still wandering shepherds, even if they did, here and there, after the manner of such tribes, change to agricultural pursuits (Genesis 26:12). If, as is probable, at that time a dynasty of Semitic Hyksos was ruling in lower Egypt, it is all the more easily understood that kindred tribes of this character were fond of settling along these border districts. On account of the fertility of the amply watered districts, men and animals could increase rapidly, and the virile tribe could, in the course of a few centuries, grow into a powerful nation. One portion of the tribes pastured their flocks back and forth on the prairies; another builded houses for themselves among the Egyptians and engaged in agricultural pursuits and in gardening (Numbers 11:5). Egyptian arts and trades also found their way among this people, as also doubtless the art of writing, at least in the case of certain individuals. In this way their sojourning in this country became a fruitful factor in the education of the people. This stay explains in part the fact that the Israelites at all times were more receptive of culture and were more capable than their kinsmen, the Edomites, Ammonites and Moabites, and others in this respect. Moses, like Joseph, had learned all the mysteries of Egyptian wisdom. On the other hand, the sojourn in this old, civilized country was a danger to the religion of the people of Israel. According to the testimony of Joshua 24:14; Ezekiel 20:7; 23:8,19, they adopted many heathen customs from their neighbors. It was salutary for them, that the memory of this sojourn was embittered for them by hard oppression.
II. Nationality under Moses.
1. Israel in Egypt:
It is reported in Exodus 18 that a new Pharaoh ascended the throne, who knew nothing of Joseph. This doubtless means that a new dynasty came into power, which adopted a new policy in the treatment of the Semitic neighbors. The expulsion of the Hyksos had preceded this, and the opposition to the Semitics had become more acute. The new government developed a strong tendency to expansion in the direction of the Northeast. Under these circumstances it is not surprising that the laws of the empire were vigorously enforced in these border districts and that an end was made to the liberties of the unwelcome shepherd tribes. This led to constantly increasing measures of severity. In this way the people became more and more unhappy and finally were forced to immigrate.
It is still the current conviction that the Pharaoh of the oppression was Rameses II, a king who was extraordinarily ambitious of building, whose long reign is by Eduard Meyer placed as late as 1310 to 1244 BC. His son Merenptah would then be the Pharaoh of the Exodus. But on this supposition, Biblical chronology not only becomes involved in serious difficulties, since then the time of the Judges must be cut down to unduly small proportions, but certain definite data also speak in favor of an earlier date for the Exodus of Israel. Merenptah boasts in an inscription that on an expedition to Syria he destroyed the men of Israel (which name occurs here for the first time on an Egyptian monument). And even the father of Rameses II, namely Seti, mentions Asher among those whom he conquered in Northern Palestine, that is, in the district afterward occupied by this tribe. These data justify the view that the Exodus already took place in the time of the XVIIIth Dynasty, a thing in itself probable, since the energetic rulers of this dynasty naturally have inaugurated a new method of treating this province. The oppression of Israel would then, perhaps, be the work of Thethroes III (according to Meyer, 1501-1447 BC), and the Exodus would take place under his successor, Amenophis II. In harmony with this is the claim of Manetho, who declares that the "Lepers," in whom we recognize the Israelites (see below), were expelled by King Amenophis.
The length of the sojourn of the Israelites in Egypt, according to Genesis 15:13 (P), was in round numbers 400 years; more exactly, according to Exodus 12:40 f (P), 430 years. But the last-mentioned passage in Septuagint reads, "the sojourn of the sons of Jacob, when they lived in Egypt and in the land of Canaan." (The same reading is found in the Samaritan text, only that the land of Canaan precedes that of Egypt.) Since, according to this source (P), the Patriarchs lived 215 years in Canaan, the sojourn in Egypt would be reduced also 215 years. This is the way in which the synagogue reckons (compare Galatians 3:17), as also Josephus (Ant., II, xv, 2). In favor of this shorter period appeal is made to the genealogical lists, which, however, because they are incomplete, cannot decide the matter. In favor of a longer duration of this sojourn we can appeal, not only to Genesis 15:13 Septuagint has the same!), but also to the large number of those who left Egypt according to Numbers 1 and 26 (P), even if the number of 600,000 men there mentioned, which would presuppose a nation of about two million souls, is based on a later calculation and gives us an impossible conception of the Exodus.
While no account has been preserved concerning the sojourn of the Israelites in Egypt, the history of the Exodus itself, which signifies the birth of Israel as a nation, is fully reported. In this crisis Moses is the prophetical mediator through whom the wonderful deed of God is accomplished. All the deeds of God, when interpreted by this prophet, become revelations for the people. Moses himself had no other authority or power than that which was secured for him through his office as the organ of God. He was the human instrument to bring about the synthesis between Israel and Yahweh for all times. He had, in doing this, indeed proclaimed the old God of the fathers, but under the new, or at any rate hitherto to the people unknown, name of Yahweh, which is a characteristic mark of the Mosaic revelations to such an extent, that the more accurate narrators (E and P) begin to make use of this name only from this period of time on. In the name of this absolute sovereign, God, Moses claims liberty for Israel, since this people was Yahweh's firstborn (Exodus 4:22). The contest which Moses carries on in the name of this God with Pharaoh becomes more and more a struggle between this God and the gods of Egypt, whose earthly representative Pharaoh is. The plagues which come over Egypt are all founded on the natural conditions of the country, but they occur in such extraordinary strength and rapidity at Moses' prediction, and even appear at his command, that they convince the people, and finally Pharaoh himself, of the omnipotence of this God on the soil of this country. In the same way the act of deliverance at the Red Sea can be explained as the cooperation of natural causes, namely wind and tide. But the fact that these elementary. forces, just at this critical time, proved so serviceable to the people of God and destructive to their enemies, shows unmistakably the miraculous activity of God. This the Israelites experienced still further on the journey through the desert, when they were entirely dependent on Divine leadership and care. The outcome of these experiences, and at the same time its grandest demonstration, was the conclusion of the covenant at Mt. Sinai. From this time on Yahweh was Israel's God and Israel was the people of Yahweh. This God claimed to be the only and absolute ruler over the tribes that were now inwardly united into one nation. From this resulted as a matter of course, that Moses as the recognized organ of this God was not only the authority, who was to decide in all disputes concerning right, but also the one from whom a new and complete order of legal enactments proceeded. Moses became the lawgiver of Israel.
Even if the history of the origin of the Old Testament covenant is unique in character, it is nevertheless profitable to take note of an analogy which is found in a related people and which is adapted to make much in Israel's history clearer. Mohammed also, after he had at the critical point of his career persuaded his followers to migrate from their homes, soon after, in Medina, concluded a covenant, according to which he, as the recognized speaker of Allah (God), claimed for himself the right to decide in all disputes. He, too, in his capacity as the prophet of God, was consulted as an infallible authority in all questions pertaining to the cult, the civil and the criminal laws, as also in matters pertaining to politics and to war. And his decisions and judgments, uttered in the name of Allah, were written down and afterward collected. This Koran, too, became the basis of sacred law. And by causing the hitherto divided and antagonistic tribes to subject themselves to Allah, Mohammed united these his followers into a religious communion and in this way, too, into a national body. Mohammed has indeed copied the prophecy of earlier times, but the work of Moses was original in character and truly inspired by God.
2. Historical Character of the Exodus:
The historical character of the exodus out of Egypt cannot be a matter of doubt, though some suspect that the entire nation did not take part in the march through the Red Sea, but that certain tribes had before this already migrated toward the East. We must not forget that the song of victory in Exodus 15 does not mention a word about Pharaoh's being himself destroyed in going through the Sea. It is only the late Psalms 136:15 that presupposes this as a certainty. That an entire nation cannot emigrate in a single night cannot be maintained in view of the fact that the inhabitants of the same Wady-Tumilat, through which Israel marched, so late as the last century, emigrated in a single night and for similar reasons (compare Sayce, Monuments, 249).
(1) Egyptian Version of the Exodus.
The fact that the Egyptian monuments report nothing of this episode, so disgraceful to that people, is a matter of course, in view of the official character of these accounts and of their policy of passing over in absolute silence all disagreeable facts. And yet in the popular tradition of the people, which Manetho has handed down, there has been preserved some evidence of this event. It is indeed true that what this author reports about the Hyksos (see above) does not belong here, as this people is not, as Josephus thinks, identical with the Israelites. However (Apion, I, xxvi, 5), he narrates a story which may easily be the tradition concerning the exodus of the children of Israel as changed by popular use. King Amenophis, we are told, wanted to see the gods. A seer, who bore the same name, promised that his wish would be gratified under the condition that the country would be cleansed of lepers and all others that were unclean; and it is said that he accordingly drove 80,000 such persons into the stone quarries East of the Nile. As the seer was afraid that these measures would be displeasing to the gods and bring upon the land a subjection of 13 years to the supremacy of foreigners, he gave up to these lepers the former city of the Hyksos, Avaris by name. Here they appointed a priest by the name of Osarsiph, later called Moses, as their chief, who gave them a special body of laws and in these did not spare the sacred animals. He also carried on war against the Egyptians, the Hyksos helping him, and he even governed Egypt for 13 years, after which he and his followers were driven out into Syria. Similar stories are found in Chaeromon, Lysimachus, and others (Apion, I, xxxii, 36; compare Tacitus, History, verses 3-5). When we remember that it is nonsense to permit lepers to work in stone quarries and that the Egyptians also otherwise call the Semites Aatu, i.e. "plague," then this story must be regarded as referring to such a non-Egyptian nation. Hecataeus of Abdera has a report of this matter which is much more like the Biblical story, to the effect, namely, that a plague which had broken out in Egypt led the people to believe that the gods were angry at the Egyptians because they had neglected the religious cult; for which reason they expelled all foreigners. A part of these is said to have migrated under the leadership of Moses to Judea and there to have founded the city of Jerusalem (compare Diodorus Siculus xl.3; compare xxxvi.1).
(2) Geographical Matters.
The Red Sea, through which the Israelites went under the leadership of Moses, is without a doubt the northern extension of this body of water, which in former times reached farther inland than the present Gulf of Suez; compare Edouard Naville, The Store-City of Pithom and the Route of the Exodus, 1885; and The Route of the Exodus, 1891. This savant is entitled to the credit of having identified the station Sukkoth on the basis of the monuments; it is the modern Tell-Mashuta and identical with Pithom, which was the name of the sanctuary at that place. Later the city was called Heroopoils. The route accordingly went through the modern Wadi-Tumilat to the modern Bitter Sea, North of Suez. It is a more difficult task to trace the route geographically on the other side of the Sea. For it is a question whether "the Mountain of Yahweh," which formed the goal of the journey, is to be located on the Sinai peninsula, or in the land of the Edomites, or even on the western coast of Arabia. A.H. Sayce and others reject the traditional location of Sinai on the peninsula named after this mountain, and declare that the Israelites marched directly eastward toward the Gulf of Akaba. The reasons for this are found in the work of Sayce, The Verdict of the Monuments, 263. But even if on this supposition a number of difficulties fall away, there nevertheless are many arguments in favor of the traditional location of Sinai, especially the grandeur of the chain itself, for which a rival worth mentioning has not been discovered in the land of the Edomites or in Northwestern Arabia. The Sinai traveler, E. H. Palmer, has also shown how splendidly the surroundings of the Sinai chain, especially the Jebel Musa with the Ras Sufsafeh, is adapted for the purpose of concluding a covenant.
(3) The Wilderness Sojourn.
The duration of the sojourn in the "desert" is everywhere (as in Amos 5:25) given as 40 years. In harmony with this is the fact that only a few of those who had come out of Egypt lived to enter Canaan. The greater part of these 40 years the Israelites seem to have spent at Kadesh. At any rate, there was a sanctuary at that place, at which Moses administered justice, while the different tribes probably were scattered over the prairies and over the tillable districts. The central sanctuary, which Moses established, was the Tabernacle, which contained the Ark of the Covenant, the sanctissimum. This sacred ark with the cherubim above it represents the throne of God, who is thought to be enthroned above the cherubim. The ark itself is, as it were, His footstool. As in Egyptian sanctuaries not infrequently the most sacred laws are deposited beneath the feet of the statue of the gods, thus the sacred fundamental laws of God (the Decalogue), on two tablets, were deposited in this ark. This Ark of the Covenant presupposes an invisible God, who cannot be represented by any image. The other laws and ordinances of Moses covered the entire public and private legislation, given whenever the need for these made it necessary to determine such matters. In giving these laws Moses connected his system with the old traditional principles already current among the tribes. This fact is confirmed by the legal Code of Hammurabi, which contains remarkable parallels, especially to Exodus 20:1-23:19. But Moses has elevated the old traditional laws of the tribes and has given them a more humane character. By putting every enactment in the light of the religion of Yahweh, and by eliminating everything not in harmony with this religion, he has raised the people spiritually and morally to a higher plane.
Among the people, the undercurrents of superstition and of immorality were indeed still strong. At the outset Moses had much to contend with in the opposition of the badly mixed mass of the people. And the fact that he was able for the period of 40 years to hold the leadership of this stubborn people without military force is a phenomenal work, which shows at all hands the wonderful cooperation of Yahweh Himself. However, he did not indeed succeed in raising the entire people to the plane of his knowledge of God and of his faith in God. This generation had to die in the wilderness, because it lacked the sanctified courage to take possession of the land of promise. But the foundation had been laid for theocracy, which must not in any way be identified with a hierarchy.
(4) Entrance into Canaan.
It was Joshua, the successor of Moses, who was enabled to finish the work and to take possession of the land. Not far from Jericho he led the people over the Jordan and captured this city, which had been considered impregnable. After that, with his national army, he conquered the Canaanitish inhabitants in several decisive battles, near Gibeon and at the waters of Merom, and then went back and encamped at Gilgal on the Jordan. After this he advanced with his tribe of Ephraim into the heart of the land, while the southern tribes on their part forced their way into the districts assigned to them. Without reasons this account has been attacked as unreliable, and critics have thought that originally the different tribes, at their own initiative, either peaceably or by force, had occupied their land. But it is entirely natural to suppose that the inhabitants of the country who had allied themselves to resist this occupation by Israel, had first to be made submissive through several decisive defeats, before they would permit the entrance of the tribes of Israel, which entrance accordingly often took place without a serious struggle. That the occupation of the land was not complete is shown in detail in Jud 1. Also in those districts in which Israel had gained the upper hand, they generally did not wage the war of annihilation that Moses had commanded, but were content with making the Canaanites, by the side of whom they settled, bondsmen and subjects. This relation could, in later time, easily be reversed, especially in those cases in which the original inhabitants of the country were in the majority. Then, too, it must be remembered that the latter enjoyed a higher state of civilization than the Israelites. It was accordingly an easy matter for the Israelites to adopt the customs and the ideas of the Canaanites. But if this were done, their religion was also endangered. Together with the sacred "holy places" (bamoth) of the original inhabitants, the altars and the sanctuaries there found also came into possession of the Israelites. Among these there were some that had been sacred to the ancestors of Israel, and with which old memories were associated. As a consequence, it readily occurred that Israel appropriated also old symbols and religious ceremonies, and even the Baals and the Astartes themselves, however little this could be united in principle with the service of Yahweh. But if the Israelites lost their unique religion, then their connection with the kindred tribes and their national independence were soon matters of history. They were readily absorbed by the Canaanites.
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