Israel traced its origin to Babylonia. It was from |Ur of the Chaldees| that Abraham |the Hebrew| had come, the rock out of which it was hewn. Here on the western bank of the Euphrates was the earliest home of the Hebrews, of whom the Israelites claimed to be a part.
But they were not the only nation of the ancient Oriental world which derived its ancestry from Abraham. He was the father not only of the Israelites, but of the inhabitants of northern and central Arabia as well. The Ishmaelites who were settled in the north of the Arabian peninsula, the descendants of Keturah who colonised Midian and the western coast, were also his children. Moab and Ammon, moreover, traced their pedigree to his nephew, while Edom was the elder brother of Israel. Israel, in fact, was united by the closest ties of blood to all the populations which in the historic age dwelt between the borders of Palestine and the mountain-ranges of south-eastern Arabia. They formed a single family which claimed descent from a common ancestor.
Israel was the latest of them to appear on the scene of history. Moab and Ammon had subjugated or absorbed the old Amorite population on the eastern side of the Jordan, Ishmael and the Keturites had made themselves a home in Arabia, Edom had possessed itself of the mountain-fastnesses of the Horite and the Amalekite, long before the Israelites had escaped from their bondage in Egypt, or formed themselves into a nation in the desert. They were the youngest member of the Hebrew family, though but for them the names of their brethren would have remained forgotten and unknown. Israel needed the discipline of a long preparation for the part it was destined to play in the future history of the world.
The Hebrews belonged to the Semitic race. The race is distinguished by certain common characteristics, but more especially by the possession of a common type of language, which is markedly different from the other languages of mankind. Its words are built on what is termed the principle of triliteralism; the skeleton, as it were, of each of them consisting of three consonants, while the vowels, which give flesh and life to the skeleton, vary according to the grammatical signification of the word. The relations of grammar are thus expressed for the most part by changes of vocalic sound, just as in English the plural of |man| is denoted by a change in the vowel. The verb is but imperfectly developed; it is, in fact, rather a noun than a verb, expressing relation rather than time. Compound words, moreover, are rare, the compounds of our European languages being replaced in the Semitic dialects by separate words.
Perhaps one of the most remarkable characteristics of the Semitic family of speech is its conservatism and resistance to change. As compared with the other languages of the world, its grammar and vocabulary have alike undergone but little alteration in the course of the centuries during which we can trace its existence. The very words which were used by the Babylonians four or five thousand years ago, can still be heard, with the same meaning attached to them, in the streets of Cairo. Kelb is |dog| in modern Arabic as kalbu was in ancient Babylonian, and the modern Arabic tayyib, |good,| is the Babylonian tabu. One of the results of this unchangeableness of Semitic speech is the close similarity and relationship that exist between the various languages that represent it. They are dialects rather than distinct languages, more closely resembling one another than is the case even with the Romanic languages of modern Europe, which are descended from Latin.
Most of the Semitic languages -- or dialects if we like so to call them -- are now dead, swallowed up by the Arabic of Mohammed and the Qoran. The Assyrian which was spoken in Assyria and Babylonia is extinct; so, too, are the Ethiopic of Abyssinia, and the Hebrew language itself. What we term Hebrew was originally |the language of Canaan,| spoken by the Semitic Canaanites long before the Israelitish conquest of the country, and found as late as the Roman age on the monuments of Phoenicia and Carthage. The Minaean and the Sabaean dialects of southern Arabia still survive in modern forms; Arabic, which has now overflowed the rest of the Semitic world, was the language of central Arabia alone. In northern Arabia, as well as in Mesopotamia and Syria, Aramaic dialects were used, the miserable relics of which are preserved to-day among a few villagers of the Lebanon and Lake Urumiyeh. These Aramaic dialects, it is now believed, arose from a mixture of Arabic with |the language of Canaan.|
On the physical side, the Semitic race is not so homogeneous as it is on the linguistic side. But this is due to intermarriage with other races, and where it is purest it displays the same general characteristics. Thick and fleshy lips, arched nose, black hair and eyes, and white complexion, distinguish the pure-blooded Semite. Intellectually he is clever and able, quick to learn and remember, with an innate capacity for trade and finance. Morally he is intense but sensuous, strong in his hate and in his affections, full of a profound belief in a personal God as well as in himself.
When Abraham was born in Ur of the Chaldees the power and influence of Babylonia had been firmly established for centuries throughout the length and breadth of western Asia. From the mountains of Elam to the coast of the Mediterranean the Babylonian language was understood, the Babylonian system of writing was taught and learned, Babylonian literature was studied, Babylonian trade was carried on, and Babylonian law was in force. From time to time Syria and Canaan had obeyed the rule of the Babylonian kings, and been formed into a Babylonian province. In fact, Babylonian rule did not come to an end in the west till after the death of Abraham; Khammurabi, the Amraphel of Genesis, entitles himself king of |the land of the Amorites,| as Palestine was called by the Babylonians, and his fourth successor still gives himself the same title. The loss of Canaan and the fall of the Babylonian empire seem to have been due to the conquest of Babylon by a tribe of Elamite mountaineers.
The Babylonians of Abraham's age were Semites, and the language they spoke was not more dissimilar from Canaanitish or Hebrew than Italian is from Spanish. But the population of the country had not always been of the Semitic stock. Its first settlers -- those who had founded its cities, who had invented the cuneiform system of writing and originated its culture -- were of a wholly different race, and spoke an agglutinative language which had no resemblance to that of the Semites. They had, however, been conquered and their culture absorbed by the Semitic Babylonians and Assyrians of later history, and the civilisation and culture which had spread throughout western Asia was a Semitic modification and development of the older culture of Chaldaea. Its elements, indeed, were foreign, but long before it had been communicated to the nations of the west it had become almost completely Semitic in character. The Babylonian conquerors of Canaan were Semites, and the art and trade, the law and literature they brought with them were Semitic also.
In passing, therefore, from Babylonia to Canaan, Abraham was but passing from one part of the Babylonian empire to another. He was not migrating into a strange country, where the government and civilisation were alike unknown, and the manners and customs those of another world. The road he traversed had been trodden for centuries by soldiers and traders and civil officials, by Babylonians making their way to Canaan, and by Canaanites intending to settle in Babylonia for the sake of trade. Harran, the first stage on his journey, bore a Babylonian name, and its great temple of the Moon-god had been founded by Babylonian princes after the model of the temple of the Moon-god at Ur, the birthplace of the patriarch. Even in Canaan itself the deities of Babylonia were worshipped or identified with the native gods. Anu the god of the sky, Rimmon the god of the air, Nebo the interpreter and prophet of Bel-Merodach, were all adored in Palestine, and their names were preserved to later times in the geography of the country. Even Ashtoreth, in whom all the other goddesses of the popular cult came to be merged, was of Babylonian origin.
Abraham took with him to the west the traditions and philosophy of Babylonia, and found there a people already well acquainted with the literature, the law, and the religion of his fatherland. The fact is an important one; it is one of the most striking results of modern discovery, and it has a direct bearing on our estimate of the credibility of the narratives contained in the Book of Genesis. Written and contemporaneous history in Babylonia went back to an age long anterior to that of Abraham -- his age, indeed, marks the beginning of the decline of the Babylonian power and influence; and consequently, there is no longer any reason to treat as unhistorical the narratives connected with his name, or the statements that are made in regard to himself and his posterity. His birth in Ur, his migration to Harran and Palestine, have been lifted out of the region of doubt into that of history, and we may therefore accept without further questioning all that we are told of his relationship to Lot or to the tribes of north-western Arabia.
In Canaan, however, Abraham was but a sojourner. Though he came there as a Babylonian prince, as an ally of its Amoritish chieftains, as a leader of armed troops, even as the conqueror of a Babylonian army, his only possession in it was the burial-place of Machpelah. Here, in the close neighbourhood of the later Hebron, he bought a plot of ground in the sloping cliff, wherein a twofold chamber had been excavated in the rock for the purposes of burial. The sepulchre of Machpelah was the sole possession in the land of his adoption which he could bequeath to his descendants.
Of these, however, Ishmael and the sons of Keturah moved southward into the desert, out of the reach of the cultured Canaanites and the domination of Babylonia. Isaac, too, the son of his Babylonian wife, seemed bent upon following their example. He established himself on the skirts of the southern wilderness, not far on the one hand from the borders of Palestine, nor on the other from the block of mountains within which was the desert sanctuary of Kadesh-barnea. His sons Esau and Jacob shared the desert and the cultivated land between them. Esau planted himself among the barren heights of Mount Seir, subjugating or assimilating its Horite and Amalekite inhabitants, and securing the road which carried the trade of Syria to the Red Sea; while Jacob sought his wives among the settled Aramaeans of Harran, and, like Abraham, pitched his tent in Canaan. At Shechem, in the heart of Canaan, he purchased a field, not, as in the case of Abraham, for the sake of burial, but in order that he might live upon it in tent or house, and secure a spring of water for his own possession.
In Jacob the Israelites saw their peculiar ancestor. His twelve sons became the fathers and representatives of the twelve tribes of Israel, and his own name was changed to that of Israel. The inscribed tablets of early Babylonia have taught us that both Israel and Ishmael were the names of individuals in the Patriarchal age, not the names of tribes or peoples, and consequently the Israelites, like the Ishmaelites, of a later day must have been the descendants of an individual Israel and Ishmael as the Old Testament records assert. Already in the reign of the Babylonian king Ammi-zadok, the fourth successor of Amraphel, the contemporary of Abraham, a high-priest in the district of northern Chaldasa assigned to |Amorite| settlers from Canaan, bore the name of Sar-ilu or Israel.
The fuller and older form of Jacob is Jacob-el. We find it in contracts drawn up in Babylonia in the time of Abraham; we also find it as the name of an Egyptian king in the period when Egypt was ruled by Asiatic conquerors. The latter fact is curious, taken in connection with the further fact, that the son of the Biblical Jacob -- the progenitor of the Israelites -- was the viceroy of an Egyptian Pharaoh, and that his father died in the Egyptian land of Goshen. Goshen was the district which extends from Tel el-Maskhuta or Pithom near Ismailiya to Belbeis and Zagazig, and includes the modern Wadi Tumilat; the traveller on the railway passes through it on his way from Ismailiya to Cairo. It lay outside the Delta proper, and, as the Egyptian inscriptions tell us, had from early times been handed over to the nomad Bedawin and their flocks. Here they lived, separate from the native agriculturists, herding their flocks and cattle, and in touch with their kinsmen of the desert. Here, too, the children of Israel were established, and here they multiplied and became a people.
The growth of a family into a tribe or people is in accordance with Arab rule. There are numerous historical instances of a single individual becoming the forefather of a tribe or a collection of tribes which under favourable conditions may develop into a nation. The tribe or people is known as the |sons| of their ancestor; his name is handed down from generation to generation, and the names of his leading descendants, the representatives of the tribe, are handed down at the same time. Where we speak of the population of a country, the Arab speaks of the |children| of a certain man. Such a mode of expression is in harmony with Semitic habits of thought. The genealogical method prevails alike in history and geography; a colony is the |daughter| or |son| of its mother-city, and the town of Sidon is the |first-born| of Canaan.
Jacob had twelve sons, and his descendants were accordingly divided into twelve tribes. But the division was an artificial one; it never at any time corresponded exactly with historical reality. Levi was not a tribe in the same sense as the rest of his brethren; no territory was assigned to him apart from the so-called Levitical cities; and he represented the priestly order wherever it might be found and from whatever ancestors it might be derived. Simeon and Dan hardly existed as separate tribes except in name; their territories were absorbed into that of Judah, and it was only in the city of Laish in the far north that the memory of Dan survived. The tribe of Joseph was split into two halves, Ephraim and Manasseh, while Judah was a mixture of various elements -- of Hebrews who traced their origin alike to Judah, to Simeon, and to Dan; of Kenites and Jerahmeelites from the desert of Arabia; and of Kenizzites from Edom. Benjamin or Ben-Oni was, as a tribe, merely the southern portion of the house of Joseph, which had settled around the sanctuary of Beth-On or Beth-el. Benjamin means the |Southerner,| and Ben-Oni |the inhabitant of Beth-On.| It is even questionable whether the son of Jacob from whom the tribe was held to be descended bore the name of Benjamin. Had the name of Esau not been preserved we should not have known the true name of the founder of Edom, and it may be that the name of the tribe of Benjamin has been reflected back upon its ancestor.
In Goshen, at all events, the tribes of Israel would have been distinguished by the names of their actual forefathers. They would have been |the sons| of Reuben or Judah, of Simeon or Gad. But they were all families within a single family. They were all |Israelites| or |sons of Israel,| and in an inscription of the Egyptian king Meneptah they are accordingly called Israelu, |Israelites,| without any territorial adjunct. They lived in Goshen, like the Bedawin of to-day, and their social organisation was that of Arabia.
The immediate occasion of the settlement of Israel on the outskirts of Egypt was that which has brought so many Bedawin herdsmen to the valley of the Nile both before and since. The very district of Goshen in which they settled was occupied again, shortly after their desertion of it, by nomads from Edom who had besought the Pharaoh for meadow-land on which to feed their flocks. The need of pasturage from time immemorial has urged the pastoral tribes of the desert towards the fertile land of the Nile. When want of rain has brought drought upon Canaan, parching the grass and destroying the corn, the nomad has invariably set his face toward the country which is dependent for its fertility, not upon the rains of heaven, but upon the annual overflow of its river. It was a famine in Canaan, produced by the absence of rain, which made Jacob and his sons |go down into Egypt.|
But besides this immediate cause there was yet another. They were assured of a welcome in the kingdom of the Nile and the gift of a district in which they might live. One of the sons of Jacob had become the Vizier of the Egyptian Pharaoh. Joseph, the Hebrew slave who had been sold into bondage by his brothers, had risen to be the first minister of the king and the favourite of his sovereign. He had foretold the coming years of plenty and dearth; but he had done more -- he had pointed out how to anticipate the famine and make it subserve the interests of despotism. He was not a seer only, he was a skilful administrator as well. He had taken advantage of the years of scarcity to effect a revolution in the social and political constitution of Egypt. The people had been obliged to sell their lands and even themselves to the king for bread, and become from henceforth a population of royal slaves. The lands of Egypt were divided between the king and the priests; the peasantry tilled them for the state and for the temples, while the upper classes owed their wealth and position to the offices which they received at court.
It would seem that the Israelites entered Egypt when the country was governed by the last of those foreign dynasties from Asia which had conquered the kingdom of the Pharaoh, and are known by the name of the Hyksos or Shepherd kings. The Egyptian monuments have shown us that during their dominion its internal constitution underwent precisely the change which is described in the history of Joseph. Before the Hyksos conquest there was a great feudal aristocracy, rich in landed estates and influence, which served as a check upon the monarch, and at times even refused to obey his authority. When the Hyksos conquerors are finally expelled, we find that this feudal aristocracy has disappeared, and its place has been taken by a civil and military bureaucracy. The king has become a supreme autocrat, by the side of whom the priests alone retain any power. The land has passed out of the hands of the people; high and low alike are dependent for what they have on the favour of the king.
The Hyksos dynasties were allied in race and sympathies with the settlers from Asia. Joseph must have died before their expulsion, but it is probable that he saw the outbreak of the war which ended in it, and which after five generations of conflict restored the Egyptians to independence. The Eighteenth dynasty was founded by the native princes of Thebes, and the war against the Asiatic stranger which had begun in Egypt was carried into Asia itself. Canaan was made an Egyptian province, and the Egyptian empire was extended to the banks of the Euphrates.
But the conquest of Asia brought with it the introduction of Asiatic influences into the country of the conqueror. The Pharaohs married Asiatic wives, and their courts became gradually Asiatised. At length Amenophis IV., under the tutelage of his mother, attempted to abolish the national religion of Egypt, and to substitute for it a sort of pantheistic monotheism, based on the worship of the Asiatic Baal as represented by the Solar Disk. The Pharaoh transferred his capital from Thebes to a new site farther north, now known as Tel el-Amarna, changed his own name to Khu-n-Aten, |the Glory of the Solar Disk,| and filled his court with Asiatic officials and the adherents of the new cult. The reaction, however, soon came. The native Egyptians rose in revolt; the foreigner fled from the valley of the Nile, and the capital of Khu-n-Aten fell into ruin. A new dynasty, the Nineteenth, arose under Ramses I., whose grandson, Ramses II., reigned for sixty-seven years, and crowded Egypt with his buildings and monuments.
One of the cities he built has been shown by the excavations of Dr. Naville to have been Pa-Tum, the Pithom of the Old Testament. Ramses II., therefore, must have been the Pharaoh of the Oppression. The picture set before us in the first chapter of Exodus fits in exactly with the character of his reign. The dynasty to which he belonged represented the reaction against the domination and influence of the foreigner from Asia, and the oppression of the Israelites would naturally have been part of its policy. Such of the Asiatics as still remained in Egypt were turned into public serfs, and measures were taken to prevent them from multiplying so as to be dangerous to their masters. The free spirit of the Bedawin was broken by servitude, and every care was used that they should be unable to help their brethren from Asia in case of another |Hyksos| invasion. The incessant building operations of Ramses needed a constant supply of workmen, and financial as well as political interests thus suggested that merciless corvee of the Israelites which rendered them at once politically harmless and serviceable to the state.
In spite of all repression, however, the oppressed people continued to multiply, and eventually escaped from their |house of bondage.| The stela of Meneptah, on which the name of |Israelites| occurs, implies that they had already been lost to sight in the desert. The other nationalities over whom Meneptah is said to have triumphed all have the term |country| attached to their names; the |Israelites| alone are without local habitation. Egyptian legend, as reported by the native historian Manetho, placed the Exodus in the reign of Meneptah, and as Meneptah was the son and successor of Ramses II., the correctness of the statement is antecedently probable. It was in the fifth year of his reign that the Delta was attacked by a formidable combination of foes. The Libyans threatened it on the west: on the north, bands of sea-pirates from the coasts of Asia Minor and the islands of the Mediterranean attacked it by sea and land. A mutilated inscription of Meneptah tells us how the tents of the invaders had been pitched on the outskirts of the land of Goshen, within reach of the Bedawin shepherds who fed their flocks there, and how the troops of the Pharaoh, pressed at once by the enemy and by the disaffected population of Goshen, had been cooped up within the walls of the great cities, afraid to venture forth. The fate of the invasion was sealed, however, by a decisive battle in which the Egyptians almost annihilated their foes. But the land of Goshen was left empty and desolate; the foreign tribes who had dwelt in it fled into the wilderness under the cover of the Libyan invasion. The pressure of the invasion had forced the Pharaoh to allow his serfs a free passage out of Egypt, quite as much as the |signs and wonders| which were wrought by the hand of Moses. Egypt was protected on its eastern side by a line of fortifications, and through these permission was given that the Israelites should pass. But the permission was hardly given before it was recalled. A small body of cavalry, not move than six hundred in number, was sent in pursuit of the fugitives, who were loaded with the plunder they had carried away from the Egyptians. They were a disorganised and unwarlike multitude, consisting partly of serfs, partly of women and children, partly of stragglers from the armies of the Libyan and Mediterranean invaders. Six hundred men were deemed sufficient either to destroy them or to reduce them once more to captivity.
But the fugitives escaped as it were by miracle. A violent wind from the east drove back the shallow waters at the head of the Gulf of Suez, by the side of which they were encamped, and the Israelites passed dryshod over the bed of |the sea.| Before their pursuers could overtake them, the wind had veered, and the waters returned on the Egyptian chariots. The slaves were free at last, once more in the wilderness in which Isaac had tended his flocks, and in contact with their kinsmen of Edom and Midian.
Moses had led them out of Egypt, and Moses now became their lawgiver. The laws which he gave them formed them into a nation, and laid the foundations of the national faith. Henceforth they were to be a separate people, bound together by the worship of one God, who had revealed Himself to them under the name of Yahveh. First at Sinai, among the mountains of Seir and Paran, and then at Kadesh-barnea, the modern 'Ain Qadis, the Mosaic legislation was promulgated. The first code was compiled under the shadow of Mount Sinai; its provisions were subsequently enlarged or modified by the waters of En-Mishat, |the Spring of Judgment.|
The Israelites lay hidden, as it were, in the desert for many long years, preparing themselves for the part they were afterwards to play in the history of mankind. But from the moment of their departure from Egypt their goal had been Canaan. They were not mere Bedawin; they belonged to that portion of the Semitic race which had made settlements and founded kingdoms in Moab and Ammon and Edom, and their residence in the cultured land of the Nile had made it impossible for them ever to degenerate into the lawless robbers of the wilderness. They were settled Bedawin, not Bedawin proper; not Bedawin by blood and descent, but Semites who had adopted the wandering and pastoral habits of the Bedawin tribes. They were like their brethren of Edom, who, though they came to Egypt seeking pasturage for their cattle, had nevertheless founded at home an elective monarchy. The true Bedawin of the Old Testament are the Amalekites, and between the Israelite and the Amalekite there was the difference that there is between the peasant and the gypsy. The fact is important, and the forgetfulness of it has led more than one historian astray.
The first attempt to invade Canaan failed. It was made from the south, from the shelter of the block of mountains within which stood the sanctuary of Kadesh-barnea. The Israelitish forces were disastrously defeated at Zephath, the Hormah of later days, and the invasion of the Promised Land was postponed. The desert life had still to continue for a while. In the fastness of 'Ain Qadis the forces of Israel grew and matured, and a long series of legislative enactments organised it into a homogeneous whole. At length the time came when the Israelites felt strong enough once more to face an enemy and to win by the sword a country of their own. It was from the east that they made their second attack. Aaron the high-priest was dead, but his brother Moses was still their leader. The Edomites refused them a passage along the high-road of trade which led northward from the Gulf of Aqaba; skirting Edom accordingly, they marched through a waterless desert to the green wadis of Moab, and there pitched their camp. The Amorite kingdoms of Sihon and Og fell before their assault. The northern part of Moab, which Sihon had conquered, was occupied by the invaders, and the plateau of Bashan, over which Og had ruled, fell into Israelitish hands. The invaders now prepared to cross the Jordan and advance into the highlands of Canaan. Moses died on the summit of a Moabite mountain and his place was taken by Joshua.
Joshua was a general and not a legislator. He could win battles and destroy cities, but he could not restore what he had destroyed, or organise his followers into a state. Jericho, which commanded the ford across the Jordan, fell into his hands; the confederate kings of southern Canaan were overthrown in battle, and the tribe of Ephraim, to which Joshua belonged, was established in the mountainous region which afterwards bore its name. Henceforward the mountains of Ephraim formed the centre and the stronghold of Israelitish power in Palestine, from whence the invading tribes could issue forth to conquest, or to which they could retreat for shelter in case of need.
Beyond leading his people into Canaan and establishing them too firmly in its midst to be ever dislodged, Joshua personally did but little. The conquest of Canaan was a slow process, which was not completed till the days of the monarchy. Jerusalem was not captured till the reign of David, Gezer was the dowry received by Solomon along with his Egyptian wife. At first the Canaanites were treated with merciless ferocity. Their cities were burned, the inhabitants of them massacred, and the spoil divided among the conquerors. But a time soon came when tribute was accepted in place of extermination, when leagues were made with the Canaanitish cities, and the Israelites intermarried with the older population of the country. As in Britain after the Saxon conquest, the invaders settled in the country rather than in the towns, so that while the peasantry was Israelite the townsfolk either remained Canaanite or were a mixture of the two races.
The mixture introduced among the Israelites the religion and the beliefs, the manners and the immoralities, of the Canaanitish people. The Mosaic legislation was forgotten; the institutions prescribed in the wilderness were ignored. Alone at Shiloh, in the heart of Ephraim, was a memory of the past observed; here the descendants of Aaron served in the tabernacle, and kept alive a recollection of the Mosaic code. Here alone no image stood in the sanctuary of the temple; the ark of the covenant was the symbol of the national God.
But the influence of Shiloh did not extend far. The age that succeeded the entrance into Canaan, was one of anarchy and constant war. Hardly had the last effort of the Canaanites against their invaders been overthrown on the banks of the Kishon, when a new enemy appeared in the south. The Philistines, who had planted themselves on the sea-coast shortly before the Israelites had invaded the inland, now turned their arms against the new-comers, and contended with them for the possession of the country. The descendants of Jacob were already exhausted by struggle after struggle with the populations which surrounded them. Moabites and Midianites, Ammonites and Bedawin, even the king of distant Mesopotamia, had sacked their villages, had overrun their fields, and exacted tribute from the Israelitish tribes. The tribes themselves had lost coherence; they had ranged themselves under different |judges| or |deliverers,| had forgotten their common origin and common faith, and had even plunged into interfraternal war. Joshua was scarcely dead before the tribe of Benjamin was almost exterminated by its brethren; and a few generations later, the warriors of Ephraim, the stalwart champion of Israel, were massacred by the Israelites east of the Jordan. In the south, a new tribe, Judah, had arisen out of various elements -- Hebrew, Kenite, and Edomite; and it was not long before there was added to the cleavage between the tribes on the two banks of the Jordan, the further and more lasting cleavage between Judah and the tribes of the north. Israel was a house divided against itself, and planted in the midst of foes.
It needed a head, a leader who should bring its discordant elements into peace and order, and lead its united forces against the common enemy. Monarchy alone could save it from destruction. The theocracy had failed, the authority of the high-priests and of the Law they administered was hardly felt beyond Shiloh; an age of war and anarchy required military rather than religious control. The Israelites were passing through the same experience as other kindred members of the Semitic race. In Assyria the high-priests of Assur had been succeeded by kings; in southern Arabia the high-priest had similarly been superseded by the king, and the kings of Edom had but recently taken the place of aluphim or |dukes.|
The first attempt to found a monarchy was made by the northern tribes. Jerubbaal, the conqueror of the Midianites, established his power among the mixed Hebrew and Canaanite inhabitants of Ophrah and Shechem, and his son Abimelech by a Canaanitish wife received the title of king. But the attempt was premature. The kingdom of Manasseh passed away with Abimelech; the other tribes were not yet ready to acknowledge the supremacy of a chieftain who was not sprung from themselves, and Abimelech, moreover, was half-Canaanitish by descent.
The pressure of Philistine conquest at last forced the Israelites with a common voice to |demand a king.| Reinforced by bodies of their kinsfolk from Krete and the islands of the Greek seas, the Philistines poured over the frontier of Judah, plundering and destroying as they went. At first they were contented with raids; but the raids gradually passed into a continuous warfare and a settled purpose to conquer Canaan, and reduce it to tribute from one end to the other. The Israelitish forces were annihilated in a decisive battle, the ark of the covenant was taken by the heathen, and the two sons of the high-priest perished on the field of battle. The Philistine army marched northward into the heart of the mountains of Ephraim, the sanctuary of Shiloh was destroyed and its priesthood dispersed. It was not long before the Philistine domination was acknowledged throughout the Israelitish territory on the western side of the Jordan, and Canaan became Palestine, |the land of the Philistines.|
In the more inaccessible parts of Benjamin, indeed, a few Israelites still maintained a fitful independence, and Samuel, the representative of the traditions of Shiloh, was allowed to judge his own people, and preside over a Naioth or |monastery| of dervish-like prophets under the eye of a Philistine garrison. Israel seemed about to disappear from among the nations of the world.
But it had not yet wholly forgotten that it was a single people, the descendants of a common forefather, sharers in a common history, and above all, worshippers of the same God. In their extremity the Israelites called for a king. Saul, the Benjamite of Gibeah, was elected, and events soon proved the wisdom of the choice. Jabesh-gilead was rescued from the Ammonite king, the Philistine garrisons were driven out of the centre of the country, and, for a time at least, a large part of the Israelitish territory was cleared of its enemies. Saul was able to turn his arms against the Amalekite marauders of the desert, as well as the princes of Zobah to the north-east of Ammon.
But the Philistine war still continued. Saul had incorporated in his body-guard a young shepherd of Beth-lehem in Judah of the name of David. David showed himself a brave and skilful soldier, and quickly rose to high command in the Hebrew army, and to be the son-in-law of Saul. His victories over the Philistines were celebrated in popular songs, and the king began to suspect him of aiming at the throne. He was forced to fly for his life, and to hide among the mountain fastnesses of Judah, where his boyhood had been spent. Here he became a brigand-chief, outlaws and adventurers gathering around him, and exacting food from the richer landowners. Saul pursued him in vain; David slipped out of his hands time after time, thanks to the nature of the country in which he had taken refuge; and the only result of the pursuit was to open the road once more to Philistine invasion. Meanwhile David and his followers had left the Israelitish territory, and offered their services to Achish of Gath; the Philistine prince enrolled them in his body-guard and settled them in the town of Ziklag.
Saul and the priests were now at open war. Samuel, perhaps naturally, had quarrelled with the king who had superseded his authority, and had espoused the cause of David. We are told, indeed, that he had anointed David as king in the place of Saul. When, therefore, David escaped from the court, Saul accused the Shilonite priests who were established at Nob of intentionally aiding the rebel. The high-priest vainly protested their innocence, but the furious king refused to listen, and the priests were massacred in cold blood. Abiathar, the son of the murdered high-priest, alone escaped to David to tell the tale. He carried with him the sacred ephod through which the will of Yahveh was made known, and from henceforth the influence of the priesthood was thrown against the king.
Saul had lost his best general, who had gone over to the enemy; he had employed his troops in hunting a possible rival through the Judaean wilds when they ought to have been guarding the frontier against the national foe, and the whole force of Israelitish religion had been turned against him. There was little cause for wonder, therefore, that the Philistine armies again marched into the Israelitish kingdom, and made their way northward along the coast into the plain of Jezreel. A battle on the slopes of Jezreel decided the fate of Israel. The Hebrew army was cut to pieces, and Saul and his sons were slain. One only survived, Esh-baal, too young or too feeble to take part in the fight. Esh-baal was carried across the Jordan by Abner and the relics of the Israelitish forces, and there proclaimed king at Mahanaim. The Philistines became undisputed masters of Israel west of the Jordan, while their tributary vassal, David, was proclaimed King of Judah at Hebron. His nephew Joab was made commander-in-chief.
War soon broke out between David and Esh-baal. Esh-baal grew continually weaker, and his general Abner intrigued with David to betray him into the hands of the Jewish king. Abner, however, was slain by Joab while in the act of carrying out his treason, but Esh-baal was murdered shortly afterwards by two of his servants. David declared himself his successor, and claimed rule over all Israel.
This brought him into conflict with his Philistine overlords. It was equivalent to revolt, and the Philistine army swept the lowlands of Judah. David fled from Hebron and took refuge in his old retreat. Here he organised his forces; the Philistines were defeated in battle after battle, and David not only succeeded in driving them out of Judah and Israel, but in carrying the war into their own country. The Philistine cities were conquered, and soldiers from Gath, where David had himself once served as a mercenary, were drafted into the body-guard of the Hebrew sovereign.
Before the Philistine war was over, Jerusalem had fallen into David's hands. The stronghold of the Jebusites was one of the last of the Canaanitish cities to surrender to the Israelites. Its older inhabitants were allowed to live in it side by side with colonists from Judah and Benjamin. The city itself was made the capital of the kingdom. Its central position, its natural strength, and its independence of the history of any special tribe, all combined to justify the choice. Here David built his palace, and planned the erection of a temple to Yahveh.
Meanwhile the kingdom of Israel was passing into an empire. Joab and his veterans gained victory after victory, and the Hebrew army became what the Assyrian army was in later days, the most highly disciplined and irresistible force in western Asia. Moab and Ammon were subdued; the Aramaic kinglets to the north-east were made tributaries, and the kingdom of Zobah, which had risen on the ruins of the Hittite power, was overthrown. The limits of David's rule were extended to the banks of the Euphrates, and the Syrians on either side of the river were utterly crushed. Even Edom, which had successfully defied the Pharaohs in the days of Egyptian greatness, was compelled to submit to the Jewish conqueror; its male population was mercilessly massacred, and its ports on the Gulf of Suez fell into Israelitish hands. In the north Hamath made alliance with the new power that had arisen in the Oriental world, while Hiram of Tyre was glad to call himself the friend of the Israelitish king, and to furnish him with skilled workmen and articles of luxury.
The latter years of David were troubled by revolts which had their origin partly in the polygamy in which he had indulged, partly in the discontent of a people still imperfectly welded together, and restless under military conscription. His son Solomon secured his throne by putting to death all possible rivals or opponents, including the grey-haired Joab. Solomon was cultured and well-educated, but his culture was selfish, and his extravagance knew no bounds. Palaces were built at Jerusalem in imitation of those of Phoenicia or Egypt, and Phoenician architects and artisans erected there a sumptuous temple in honour of the national God. Trade was encouraged and developed: the possession of the Edomite seaports gave Solomon the command of the Arabian trade, while his alliance with Hiram opened to him the harbours of the Mediterranean coast. But the wealth which David had accumulated, the tribute of the conquered provinces, and the trading monopolies of the king himself did not suffice for the extravagance of his expenditure, and heavy fiscal burdens had to be laid on the Israelitish tribes. Disaffection grew up everywhere except in Judah, where the king resided, and where the wealth raised elsewhere was spent.
Revolts broke out in Edom and the north. Garrisons, indeed, were planted in Zobah, which secured the caravan road through Tadmor or Palmyra to the Euphrates; but Damascus was lost, and became in a few years a formidable adversary of Israel. The death of Solomon was the signal for a revolt in Palestine itself. The northern tribes under Jeroboam separated from Judah and established a kingdom of their own, while Judah and Benjamin remained faithful to the house of David and to the capital, which lay on the frontier of both. The Levites also naturally attached themselves to the kingdom which contained the great national sanctuary, and to the royal family whose chapel it was. The disruption of the monarchy necessarily brought with it the fall of the empire; Moab, however, continued to be tributary to the northern kingdom and Edom to that of Judah.
Five years after the accession of Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, the kingdom of Judah seemed in danger of perishing altogether. Shishak, the Egyptian Pharaoh, invaded the country and sacked Jerusalem itself. But Jeroboam lost the opportunity thus afforded him of extending his rule over the south; his own territories had been partially overrun by the Egyptians, and he was probably not in a position to commence a war. Judah had time to recover; the walls of Jerusalem were rebuilt, and the Arabian trade soon supplied it with fresh resources.
The long and prosperous reign of Asa, the grandson of Rehoboam, placed the line of David on a solid foundation. The Jewish kingdom was compact; its capital was central, and was not only a strongly-fortified fortress, but also an ancient and venerable sanctuary. As time went on feelings of respect and affection gathered round the royal house; the people of Judah identified it with themselves, and looked back with pride and regret to the glorious days of David and Solomon. Religion, moreover, lent its sanction to the Davidic dynasty. The Levitical priesthood had its centre in the temple which had been built by Solomon, and was, as it were, the private chapel of his descendants; here were preserved the rites and traditions of the Mosaic Law, and the ark of the covenant between Israel and its God. The northern kingdom, on the contrary, had none of these elements of stability. The first king was a rebel, who had no glorious past behind him, no established priesthood to support his throne, no capital even, around which all his subjects could rally. The sword had given him his crown, and the sword was henceforth the arbiter of his kingdom. The conservative forces which were strong in Judah were absent in the north; there the army became more and more powerful, and its generals dethroned princes and established short-lived dynasties. Northern Israel, moreover, was not homogeneous; the tribes on the two sides of the Jordan were never welded together like the inhabitants of Judah, and the divergence of interests that had once existed between them was never wholly forgotten.
Israel perished while Judah survived. Dynasty after dynasty had arisen in it; its capital had been shifted from time to time; it did not even possess a religious centre. Before a line of kings had time to win the loyalty of the people they were swept away by revolution, and the army became the dominating power in the state. There was no body of priests to preserve the memory of the Mosaic Law and insist upon its observance, and the prophets who took their place protested in vain against the national apostasy. Alliance with the neighbouring kingdom of Phoenicia brought with it the worship of the Phoenician Baal, and Yahveh was forsaken for a foreign god. In B.C.722 Samaria, the later capital of the country, was taken by the Assyrian king Sargon, and northern Israel ceased to be a nation.
Judah, on the other hand, successfully defied the Assyrian power. The invasion of Sennacherib was rolled back from the walls of Jerusalem, and though the Jewish kings paid tribute to Nineveh, they were left in possession of their territories. Edom, indeed, had long since been lost, and with it the trade with the Arabian seas, but the Philistines continued to acknowledge the supremacy of Judah, and commercial relations were kept up with Egypt. It was not until the Babylonian empire of Nebuchadrezzar had arisen on the ruins of that of Assyria that Jerusalem and its temple were destroyed, and the Davidic dynasty passed away. But they had accomplished their work; a nation had been created which through exile and disaster still maintained its religion and its characteristics, and was prepared, when happier days should come, to return again to its old home, to rebuild the temple, and carry out all the ordinances of its faith. From henceforth Judah realised its mission as a peculiar people, separated from the rest of the world, whose instructor in religion it was to be. More and more it ceased to be a nation and became a race -- a race, moreover, which had its roots in a common religious history, a common faith, and a common hope. Israel according to the flesh became Israel according to the spirit.
[Footnote 1: See Pinches in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, July 1897. In a tablet belonging to a period long before that of Abraham, Isma-ilu or Ishmael is given as the name of an |Amorite| slave from Palestine (Thureau-Dangin, Tablettes chaldeennes inedites, p.10).]