Canaan was the inheritance which the Israelites won for themselves by the sword. Their ancestors had already settled in it in patriarchal days. Abraham |the Hebrew| from Babylonia had bought in it a burying-place near Hebron; Jacob had purchased a field near Shechem, where he could water his flocks from his own spring. It was the |Promised Land| to which the serfs of the Pharaoh in Goshen looked forward when they should again become free men and find a new home for themselves.
Canaan had ever been the refuge of the Asiatic population of Egypt, the goal at which they aimed when driven out of the land of the Nile. The Hyksos conquerors from Asia had retreated to Jerusalem when the native Egyptians recovered their independence and had expelled them from their seats in the Delta. Though Moses had assured the Pharaoh that all the Israelites needed was to go a short journey of three days into the wilderness, and there sacrifice to their God, it was well understood that the desert was not to be the end of their pilgrimage. Canaan, and Canaan only, was the destined country they had in view.
In the early inscriptions of Babylonia, Canaan is included in the rest of Syria under the general title of |the land of the Amorites.| The Amorites were at the time the dominant population on the Mediterranean coast of western Asia, and after them accordingly the whole country received its name. The |land of the Amorites| had been overrun by the armies of Babylonia at a very remote period, and had thus come under the influence of Babylonian culture. As far back as the reigns of Sargon of Akkad and his son Naram-Sin (B.C.3800), three campaigns had laid it at the feet of the Chaldaean monarch, and Palestine and Syria became a province of the Babylonian empire. Sargon erected an image of himself by the shore of the sea, and seems even to have received tribute from Cyprus. Colonies of |Amorite| or Canaanitish merchants settled in Babylonia for the purposes of trade, and there obtained various rights and privileges; and a cadastral survey of southern Babylonia made at the time mentions |the governor of the land of the Amorites.|
The Amorites, however, though they were the dominant people of Syria, were not its original inhabitants; nor, it is probable, did they even form the largest part of its population. They were essentially the inhabitants of the mountains, as we are told in the Book of Numbers (xiii.29), and appear to have come from the west. We have learnt a good deal about them from the Egyptian monuments, where the |Amurru| or Amorites are depicted with that fidelity to nature which characterised the art of ancient Egypt. They belonged to the white race, and, like other members of the white race, were tall in stature and impatient of the damp heat of the plains. Their beard and eye-brows are painted red, their hair a light red-brown, while their eyes are blue. The skin is a sunburnt white, the nose straight and regular, the forehead high, and the lips thin. They wore whiskers and a pointed beard, and dressed in long robes furnished with a sort of cape. Their physical characteristics are those of the Libyan neighbours of the Egyptians on the west, the forefathers of the fair-skinned and blue-eyed Kabyles or Berbers who inhabit the mountains of northern Africa to-day. Anthropologists connect these Libyans with the Kelts of our own islands. At one time, it would seem, a Kelto-Libyan race existed, which spread along the northern coast of Africa to western Europe and the British Isles. The Amorites would appear to have been an eastern offshoot of the same race.
Wherever they went, the members of the race buried their dead in rude stone cairns or cromlechs, the dolmens of the French antiquarians. We find them in Britain and France, in the Spanish peninsula, and the north of Africa. They are also found in Palestine, more especially in that portion of it which was the home of the Amorites. The skulls found in the cairns are for the most part of the dolichocephalic or long-headed type; this too is the shape of skull characteristic of the modern Kabyle, and it has been portrayed for us by the Egyptian artists in the pictures of their Amorite foes.
In the days of the Egyptian artists -- the age of the Eighteenth and two following dynasties (B.C.1600-1200) -- the special seat of the Amorites was the mountainous district immediately to the north of Palestine. But Amorite kingdoms were established elsewhere on both sides of the Jordan. Not long before the Israelitish invasion, the Amorite king Sihon had robbed Moab of its territory and founded his power on the ruins of that of the Egyptian empire. Farther north, in the plateau of Bashan, another Amorite king, Og, had his capital, while Amorite tribes were settled on the western side of the Jordan, in the mountains of southern Canaan, where the tribe of Judah subsequently established itself. We even hear of Amorites in the mountain-block of Kadesh-barnea, in the desert south of Canaan; and the Amorite type of face, as it has been depicted for us on the monuments of Egypt, may still be often observed among the Arab tribes of the district between Egypt and Palestine.
Jerusalem, Ezekiel tells us, had an Amorite as well as a Hittite parentage, and Jacob declares that he had taken his heritage at Shechem out of the hand of the Amorite with his sword and bow. It must be remembered, however, that the term |Amorite| is sometimes used in the Old Testament in its Babylonian sense, as denoting an inhabitant of Canaan, whatever might be the race to which he belonged; we cannot always infer from it the nationality or race of those to whom it is applied. Moreover, individual branches of the Amorite stock had names of their own. In the north they were known as Hivites, at Hebron they were called Anakim, at Jerusalem they were Jebusites. The Amorite kings of Bashan are described as Rephaim, a word which the Authorised Version translates |giants.| It was only on the northern frontier of Palestine and in the kingdom of Sihon that the name of |Amorite| alone was used.
The Babylonian conquests introduced into Canaan the government and law, the writing and literature, of Babylonian civilisation. The Babylonian language even made its way to the west, and was taught, along with the script, in the schools which were established in imitation of those of Chaldaea. Babylonian generals and officials lived in Palestine and administered its affairs, and an active trade was carried on between the Euphrates and the Mediterranean coast. The trade-road ran through Mesopotamia past the city of Harran, and formed a link between the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf.
From an early date libraries had existed in Babylonia stored with the literature of the country. Similarly, libraries now grew up in |the land of the Amorites,| and the clay tablets with which they were filled made known to the west the legends and records of Chaldaea. Amorite culture was modelled on that of Babylonia.
Babylonian influence lasted for centuries in western Asia. In the age of Abraham the Amorites still obeyed the suzerainty of the Babylonian kings. Khammurabi, the Amraphel of the Book of Genesis, calls himself king of the country of the Amorites as well as of Babylon, and his great-grandson does the same. At a later date Babylonia itself was conquered by a foreign line of kings, and Canaan recovered its independence. But this was of no long duration. Thothmes III., of the Eighteenth Egyptian dynasty (B.C.1503-1449), made it a province of Egypt, and the Amorites were governed by Egyptian prefects and commissioners. The cuneiform tablets found at Tel el-Amarna in Upper Egypt give us a vivid picture of its condition at the close of the Eighteenth dynasty. The Egyptian power was falling to pieces, and Palestine was threatened by Hittite invaders from the north. The native governors were fighting with one another or intriguing with the enemies of Egypt, while all the time protesting their loyalty to the Pharaoh. Ebed-Asherah and his son Aziru governed the Amorites in the north, and the prefect of Phoenicia sends bitter complaints to the Egyptian court of their hostility to himself and their royal master. Aziru, however, was an able ruler. He succeeded in clearing himself from the charge of complicity with the Hittites against whom he had been sent, as well as in getting the better of his Phoenician rival. The latter disappears from history, while the Amorites are allowed to settle undisturbed in Zemar and other cities of inland Phoenicia.
Under Ramses II. of the Nineteenth dynasty, Canaan still yielded a reluctant obedience to Egypt. In the troubles which had followed the fall of the Eighteenth dynasty, it had shaken itself free from foreign authority, but had been reconquered by Seti I., the father of Ramses. Egyptian authority was re-established even on the eastern side of the Jordan; but it did not continue for long. Ramses was hardly dead before Egypt was invaded by Libyans from the west and robber hordes from the Greek seas, and though the invasion was ultimately beaten back, its strength had been exhausted in the struggle. The Egyptian empire in Canaan passed away for ever, and the Canaanites were left free to govern themselves.
The kingdom of Sihon was one of the results of this ending of Egyptian rule. The Amorites became a power once more. A few years later Egypt was again attacked by armed invaders from the north. The assailants poured into it both by sea and land. Fleets of ships filled with Philistines and Achaeans and other northern tribes entered the mouths of the Nile, while a vast army simultaneously attacked it by land. The army, we are told, had encamped in |the land of the Amorites,| and they carried with them on their farther march recruits from the countries through which they passed. The Amorite |chief| himself was among those who followed the barbarians to Egypt, eager for the spoils of the wealthiest country in the ancient world.
Ramses III. of the Twentieth dynasty was now on the throne. He succeeded in rolling back the wave of invasion, in gaining a decisive victory over the combined military and naval forces of the enemy, and in pursuing them to the frontiers of Asia itself. Gaza, the key to the military road which ran along the sea-board of Palestine, fell once more into Egyptian hands; and the Egyptian troops overran the future Judah, occupying the districts of Jerusalem and Hebron, and even crossing the Jordan. But no permanent conquest was effected; Ramses retired again to Egypt, and for more than two centuries no more Egyptian armies found their way into Canaan. Gaza and the neighbouring cities became the strongholds of the Philistine pirates, and effectually barred the road to Asia.
The campaign of Ramses III. in southern Palestine must have taken place when the Israelites were still in the desert. Between the two invasions of Egypt by the barbarians of the north, there was no great interval of time. The Exodus, which had been due in part to the pressure of the first of them in the reign of Meneptah, was separated by only a few years from the capture of Hebron by Caleb, which must have occurred after its evacuation by the Egyptian troops. The great movement which brought the populations of Asia Minor and the Greek islands upon Canaan and the Nile, and which began in the age of the Exodus, was over before the children of Israel had emerged from the wilds of the desert.
In the Old Testament the Amorites are constantly associated with another people, the Hittites. When Ezekiel ascribes an Amorite parentage to Jerusalem, he ascribes to it at the same time a Hittite parentage as well. The same interlocking of Amorite and Hittite that meets us in the Bible, meets us also on the monuments of Egypt. Here, too, we are told that Kadesh on the Orontes, the Hittite capital, was |in the land of the Amorites.| It was, in fact, on the shores of the Lake of Homs, in the midst of the district over which the Amorites claimed rule.
The Hittites were intruders from the north. The Egyptian monuments have shown us what they were like. Their skin was yellow, their eyes and hair were black, their faces were beardless. Square and prominent cheeks, a protrusive nose, with retreating chin and forehead and lozenge-shaped eyes, gave them a Mongoloid appearance. They were not handsome to look upon, but the accuracy of their portraiture by the artists of Egypt is confirmed by their own monuments. The heads represented on the Egyptian monuments are repeated, feature by feature, in the Hittite sculptures. Ugly as they were, they were not the caricatures of an enemy, but the truthful portraits of a people whose physical characteristics are still found, according to Sir Charles Wilson, in the modern population of Cappadocia.
The Hittites wore their hair in three plaits, which fell over the back like the pigtail of a Chinaman. They dressed in short tunics over which a long robe was worn, which in walking left one leg bare. Their feet were shod with boots with turned-up ends, a sure indication of their northern origin. Such boots, in fact, are snow-shoes, admirably adapted to the inhabitants of the mountain-ranges of Asia Minor, but wholly unsuited for the hot plains of Syria. When, therefore, on the walls of the Ramesseum we find the Theban artists depicting the defenders of Kadesh on the Orontes with them, we may conclude that the latter had come from the colder north just as certainly as we may conclude, from the use of similar shoes among the Turks, that they also have come from a northern home. In the Hittite system of hieroglyphic writing, the boot with upturned end occupies a prominent place.
When the Tel el-Amarna tablets were written (B.C.1400), the Hittites were advancing on the Egyptian province of Syria. Tunip, or Tennib, near Aleppo, had fallen, and both Amorites and Canaanites were intriguing with the invader. The highlands of Cappadocia and the ranges of the Taurus seem to have been the cradle of the Hittite race. Here they first came into contact with Babylonian culture, which they adopted and modified, and from hence they poured down upon the Aramaean cities of the south. Carche-mish, now Jerablus, which commanded the chief ford across the Euphrates, fell into their hands, and for many centuries remained one of their capitals. But it was not until the stormy period which signalised the overthrow of the Eighteenth Egyptian dynasty, that the Hittites succeeded in establishing themselves as far south as Kadesh on the Orontes. The long war, however, waged with them by Ramses II. prevented them from advancing farther; when peace was made at last between them and the Egyptians, both sides had been exhausted by the struggle, and the southern limit of Hittite power had been fixed.
The kings of Kadesh had, however, been at the head of a veritable empire; they were able to summon allies and vassals from Asia Minor, and it is probable that their rule extended to the banks of the Halys in Cappadocia, where Hittite remains have been found. Military roads connected the Hittite cities of Cappadocia with the rest of Asia Minor, and monuments of Hittite conquest or invasion have been met with as far west as the neighbourhood of Smyrna. These monuments are all alike distinguished by the same peculiar style of art, and by the same system of pictorial writing. The writing, unfortunately, has not yet been deciphered, but as the same groups of characters occur wherever an inscription in it is found, we may infer that the language concealed beneath it is everywhere one and the same.
When the Assyrians first became acquainted with the West, the Hittites were the ruling people in Syria. As, therefore, the Babylonians had included all the inhabitants of Syria and Palestine, whatever might be their origin, under the general name of Amorites, the Assyrians included them under the name of Hittites. Even the Israelites and Ammonites are called |Hittites| by an Assyrian king. It is possible that traces of this vague and comprehensive use of the name are to be met with in the Old Testament; indeed, it has been suggested that the Hittites, or |sons of Heth,| from whom Abraham bought the cave of Machpelah, owed their name to this cause. In the later books of the Hebrew Scriptures the Hittites are described as a northern population, in conformity with the Egyptian and Assyrian accounts.
The Hittites of Hebron, however, may really have been an offshoot of the Hittite nations of the north. The |king of the Hittites| accompanied the northern barbarians when they invaded Egypt in the reign of Ramses III., and Hittite bands may similarly have followed the Hyksos conquerors of Egypt several centuries before. One of these bands may easily have settled on its way at Hebron, which, as we are told, was built seven years before Zoan, the Hyksos capital. At Karnak, moreover, an Egyptian artist has represented the people of Ashkelon with faces of a Hittite type, while Ezekiel bears witness to the presence of a Hittite element in the founders of Jerusalem. But the fact that Thothmes III. in the century before Moses calls the Hittite land of the north |the Greater,| is the best proof we can have that there was a Hittite colony elsewhere, which was well known to the Egyptian scribes. The |Greater| implies the Less, and the only Lesser Hittite land with which we are acquainted is that of which the Book of Genesis speaks.
So far as we can judge from the evidence of proper names, the Hittites belonged to a race which was spread from the Halys in Asia Minor to the shores of Lake Urumiyeh. The early inhabitants of Armenia, who have left us inscriptions in the cuneiform character, also belonged to it. So also did the people of Comagene, and it seems probable that the ruling class in northern Mesopotamia did the same. Here there existed a kingdom which at one time exercised a considerable amount of power, and whose princesses were married to the Pharaohs of the Eighteenth dynasty. This was the kingdom of Aram Naharaim, called Naharina in the Egyptian texts, Mitanni by its own inhabitants. The language of Mitanni was of a very peculiar type, as we learn from the tablets of Tel el-Amarna, one or two of which are written in it. Like the Hittites in Syria, the Mitannians appear to have descended from the north upon the cities of the Semites, and to have established themselves in them. Mitanni was at the height of its influence in the sixteenth and fifteenth centuries before our era; its armies made their way even into Canaan, and the Canaanite princes intrigued from time to time against their Egyptian masters, not only with the Babylonians and Hittites, but also with the kings of Mitanni.
Before the time of David the power and almost the name of Mitanni had passed away. The Hittite empire also had been broken up, and henceforth we hear only of |the kings of the Hittites| who ruled over a number of small states. The Semites of Syria had succeeded in rolling back the wave of Hittite conquest, and in absorbing their Hittite conquerors. The capture of Carchemish by Sargon of Assyria in B.C.717 marks the end of Hittite dominion south of the Taurus.
But the Hittite invasion had produced lasting results. It had severed the Semites of Assyria and Babylonia from those of the West, and planted the barrier of a foreign population on the highroad that ran from Nineveh to the Mediterranean. The tradition of Babylonian culture in western Asia was broken; new influences began to work there, and the cuneiform system of writing to be disused. Room was given for the introduction of a new form of script, and the Phoenician alphabet, in which the books of the Old Testament were written, made its way into Canaan. When Joshua crosses the Jordan there is no longer any trace in Palestine of either Babylonian or Egyptian domination.
Like the Amorites and the Amorite tribe of Jebusites at Jerusalem, the Hittites were mountaineers. The hot river-valleys and the sea-coast were inhabited by Canaanites. Canaan is supposed to mean |the lowlands| of the Mediterranean shore; here the Canaanites had built their cities, and ventured in trading ships on the sea. But they had also settled in the inland plains, and more especially in the valley of the Jordan. The plain of Jezreel formed, as it were, the centre of the Canaanitish kingdoms.
The Canaanites were Semites in speech, if not in blood. The language of Canaan is what we term Hebrew, and must have been adopted either by the Israelites or by the patriarchs their forefathers. Between the dialect of the Phoenician inscriptions and that of the Old Testament the difference is but slight, and the tablets of Tel el-Amarna carry back the record of this Canaanitish speech to the century before the Exodus.
In person, as we learn from the Egyptian monuments, the Canaanites resembled their descendants, the modern inhabitants of Palestine. They belonged to the white race, but had black hair and eyes. They dressed in brilliantly-coloured garments, stained with that purple or scarlet dye in search of which they explored the coasts of the Greek seas, and which was extracted from the shell of the murex. On their feet they wore high-laced sandals; their hair was bound with a fillet. Their skill as sailors was famous throughout the Oriental world; the cities of the Phoenician coast already possessed fleets of ships in the age of the Eighteenth Egyptian dynasty, and their merchants carried on a maritime trade with the islands of the AEgean and the coast of Africa. Before the time of Solomon their vessels had found their way to Tartessus in Spain, perhaps even to Cadiz, and the alliance between Hiram and the Israelitish king enabled the Tyrians to import gold and other precious things from Africa and Arabia through the ports of southern Edom. The Tel el-Amarna letters refer to the riches of Tyre, and excavations on the site of Lachish have brought to light amber beads ef the same age, which indicate intercourse with the Baltic. It is possible that the tin which was needed in such large quantities for the bronze tools and weapons of the ancient East was derived from Cornwall; if so, it would have been brought, like the amber, across Europe along the road which ended at the extremity of the Adriatic Gulf.
The wealth of the Canaanitish merchants was great. The spoils carried away to Egypt by Thothmes III. after his conquest of Palestine are truly astonishing. Beautiful vases of gold and silver, artistically moulded bronzes, furniture carved out of ebony and cedar and inlaid with ivory and precious stones, were among the booty. Iron, which was found in the hills, was freely used, and made into armour, weapons, and chariots. It was |the chariots of iron| which prevented the Israelites from capturing and sacking the cities of the plains. Wealth brought with it a corresponding amount of luxury, which to the simpler Hebrews of the desert seemed extravagant and sinful. It was associated with a licentiousness which Canaanitish religion encouraged rather than repressed.
The religion was a nature-worship. The supreme deity was addressed as Baal or |Lord,| and was adored in the form of the Sun. And as the Sun can be baleful as well as beneficent, parching up the soil and blasting the seed as well as warming it into life, so too Baal was regarded sometimes as the friend and helper of man, sometimes as a fierce and vengeful deity who could be appeased only by blood. In times of national or individual distress his worshippers were called upon to sacrifice to him their firstborn; nothing less costly could turn away from them the anger of their god. By the side of Baal was his colourless wife, a mere reflection of the male divinity, standing in the same state of dependence towards him as the woman stood to the man. It was only the unmarried goddess, Asherah as she was called by the Canaanites, who had a personality of her own. And since Asherah came in time to be superseded by Ashtoreth, who was herself of Babylonian origin, it is probable that the idea of separate individuality connected with Asherah. was due to the influence of Babylonian culture. Asherah was the goddess of fertility, and though the fertility of the earth depends upon the Sun, it was easy to conceive of it as an independent principle.
The name Baal was merely a title. It was applied to the supreme deity of each city or tribe, by whatever special name he might otherwise be known. There were as many Baals or Baalim as there were states or cults. Wherever a high-place was erected, a Baal was worshipped. His power did not extend beyond the district in which he was adored and to which he was territorially attached. The Baal of Lebanon was distinct from the Baal of Tyre or Sidon, though in every case the general conception that was formed of him was the same. It was the attributes of particular Baalim which differed; Baal was everywhere the Sun-god, but in one place he showed himself under one shape, in another place under another. The goddesses followed the analogy of the gods. Over against the Baalim or Baals stood the Ashtaroth or Ashtoreths. The Canaanitish goddess manifested herself in a multitude of forms.
As the firstborn was sacrificed to the god, so chastity was sacrificed to the goddess. The temples of Ashtoreth were crowded with religious prostitutes, and the great festivals of Canaan were orgies of licentious sin. It was a combination of nature-worship with the luxury that was born of wealth.
The Canaanites of Phoenicia believed that they had originally migrated from the Persian Gulf. In Canaan, at all events, according to the Book of Genesis, the |Fishers| city of Sidon was the first that was built. But Tyre also, a few miles to the north of it, claimed considerable antiquity. The temple of Melkarth or Melek-Kiryath, |the King of the City,| the name under which the Baal of Tyre was worshipped, had been built on the island-rock twenty-three centuries before the time of Herodotus, or B.C.2700. Gebal or Byblos, still farther to the north, had been renowned for its sanctity from immemorial times. Here stood the sanctuary of Baalith, the |lady| of Gebal, of whom we hear in the tablets of Tel el-Amarna. Still farther north were other cities, of which the most famous was Arvad, with its harbour and fleet. Southward were Dor and Joppa, the modern Jaffa, while inland were Zemar and Arqa, mentioned in the Book of Genesis and the Tel el-Amarna correspondence, but which ceased to be remembered after the age of the Exodus. Before the Israelites entered Canaan they had been captured by the Amorites, and had passed into insignificance.
Between the Canaanites of the coast and the Canaanites of the interior a difference grew up in the course of centuries. This was caused by the sea-trade in which the cities on the coast engaged. The |Phoenicians,| as they were termed, on the coast became sailors and merchants, while their brethren farther inland were content to live on the products of agriculture and import from abroad the luxuries they required. While Tyre and Sidon were centres of manufacture and maritime trade, Megiddo and Hazor remained agricultural. After the Hebrew invasion the difference between them became greater: Phoenicia continued independent; the Canaanites of the interior were extirpated by the Israelites or paid tribute to their conquerors. Little by little the latter amalgamated with the conquered race; towns like Shechem contained a mixed population, partly Hebrew and partly native; and the Israelites adopted the manners and religion of the Canaanites, worshipping at the old high-places of the country, and adoring the Baalim and Ashtaroth. The Amorite heads depicted at Karnak above the names of the places captured by Shishak in Judah show how little the population of southern Palestine had changed up to the time of Solomon's death.
Canaan was ruined by its want of union. The Canaanitish cities were perpetually fighting with one another; even the strong hand of the Pharaoh in the days of Egyptian supremacy could not keep them at peace. Now and again, indeed, they united, generally under a foreign leader, but the union was brought about by the pressure of foreign attack, and was never more than temporary. There was no lack of patriotism among them, it is true; but the patriotism was confined to the particular city or state to which those who were inspired by it belonged. The political condition of Canaan resembled its religious condition; as each district had its separate Baal, so too it had its separate political existence. If there were many Baals, there were also many kinglets.
The fourteenth century B.C. was a turning-point in the history of Canaan. It witnessed the fall of the Egyptian supremacy which had succeeded the supremacy of Babylonia; it also witnessed the severance of western Asia from the kingdoms on the Euphrates and Tigris, and the consequent end of the direct influence of Babylonian culture. The Hittites established themselves in Syria |in the land of the Amorites,| while at the same time other invaders threatened Canaan itself. The Israelites made their way across the Jordan; the Philistines seized the southern portion of the coast.
The Philistine invasion preceded that of the Israelites by a few years. The Philistines were sea-robbers, probably from the island of Krete. Zephaniah calls them |the nation of the Cherethites| or Kretans, and their features, as represented on the Egyptian monuments, are of a Greek or Aryan type. They have the straight nose, high forehead, and thin lips of the European. On their heads they wear a curious kind of pleated cap, fastened round the chin by a strap. They are clad in a pair of drawers and a cuirass of leather, while their arms consist of a small round shield with two handles, a spear, and a short but broad sword of bronze. Greaves of bronze, like those of the Homeric heroes, protected their legs in battle.
The Philistines formed part of the host which invaded Egypt in the reign of Ramses III. Along with their kinsfolk, the Zakkal, they had already made themselves formidable to the coast of the Delta and of southern Canaan. The sea had long been infested by their ships, bent on plunder and piracy; the Zakkal had attacked Egypt in the time of Meneptah, and the road from Egypt to Asia which skirted the sea had long been known as |the way of the Philistines.| When Ramses III. overran southern Canaan, Gaza still belonged to Egypt, as it had done for the three preceding centuries; but it is probable that the Philistines were already settled in its neighbourhood. At all events, it was not long before they made themselves masters of Gaza, and thus closed for Egypt the way to Asia. Henceforward Gaza and its four companion cities became the strongholds of the Philistines (B.C.1200). The southern coast as far north as Mount Carmel fell into their hands: the Zakkal established themselves at Dor, and the port of Joppa was lost to the Phoenicians.
Hardly were the Israelites planted in the Promised Land before they were confronted by the Philistines. Shamgar, we are told, one of the earliest of the Judges, slew six hundred of them |with an ox-goad.| But it was not until the close of the period of the Judges that they became really formidable to Israel. Judah had become a distinct and powerful tribe, formed out of Hebrew, Kenite, and Edomite elements, and its frontier adjoined Philistia. At first there was desultory warfare; the Philistines made raids into Judaean territory, and the Jews retaliated whenever the opportunity occurred. But the Philistines were a nation of warriors, and their forces were recruited from time to time by fresh arrivals from Krete or other parts of the eastern Mediterranean. Year by year, therefore, the Philistine attack became more formidable; the raids of the enemy were no longer confined to Judah, but extended into Benjamin and Mount Ephraim. The Philistines began to dream of conquering the whole of Canaan, which was henceforth to bear the name of Palestine, |the land of the Philistines.|
The Israelitish army was shattered in a decisive battle, the ark of the covenant between Israel and its national God was taken by the heathen, and the priests of Shiloh, the central sanctuary, were slain. The victors marched unresisted through the country, burning and spoiling, and securing the passes by means of permanent garrisons. Shiloh and its temple were destroyed, and its priesthood scattered abroad.
The Philistine supremacy lasted for several years. A few outlaws maintained a guerilla warfare in the mountains of Benjamin, and the prophet Samuel, the representative of Shiloh, was allowed to declare the oracles of Yahveh to his countrymen. But the vanquished population was deprived of the means for revolt. The Israelites were forbidden the use of arms, and no itinerant smith was permitted to enter their territory. The Hebrew who wished to sharpen his ploughshare or axe was forced to go to a Philistine city.
The condition of Israel became intolerable. There was but one remedy: the people needed a leader who should organise them into an army and a nation, and lead them forth against their foes. Saul was elected king, and the choice was soon justified by the results. The Philistines were driven out of the country, and Saul set up his court in the very spot where a Philistine garrison had stood.
But the Philistines were not yet subdued. Civil war broke out in Israel between Saul and his son-in-law David; the troops which should have been employed in resisting the common enemy were used in pursuing David, and David himself took service as a mercenary under Achish, King of Gath. Saul and his sons fell in battle on Mount Gilboa; the relics of the Israelitish army fled across the Jordan, and the Philistine again ruled supreme on the western side of the Jordan. David was allowed to govern Judah as a tributary vassal of the Philistine |lords.|
The murder of the feeble scion of Saul's house who had the name of king on the eastern side of the Jordan put an end to all this. David threw off his allegiance to the Philistines, and was crowned King of Israel. This act of open defiance was speedily followed by the invasion of Judah. At first the war went against the Israelitish king; he was forced to fly from his capital, Hebron, and take refuge in an inaccessible cavern. Here he organised his forces, and at last ventured into the field. The Philistine forces were defeated in battle after battle; the war was carried into their own territory, and their cities were compelled to surrender. Philistia thus became a part of the Israelitish kingdom, and never again made any serious attempt to recover its independence. At the division of the Israelitish kingdom it fell to Judah, and its vassal princes duly paid their tribute to the Jewish kings. It would seem from the Assyrian inscriptions that they were played off one against the other, and that signs of disaffection in any one of them were speedily followed by his imprisonment in Jerusalem. At all events, the Philistine cities remained in the possession of Judah down to the time of the overthrow of the monarchy, and the most devoted of David's body-guard were the Philistines of Gath.
It has been said above that Judah was a mixture of Hebrew, Kenite, and Edomite elements. Kenite means |smith,| and the tribe furnished those itinerant smiths who provided Canaan with its tools and arms. Reference is made to one of them in the Travels of a Mohar, a sarcastic description of a tourist's misadventures in Palestine which was written by an Egyptian author in the reign of Ramses II., and of which a copy on papyrus has been preserved to us. The horses of the hero of the story, we are told, ran away and broke his carriage to pieces; he had accordingly to betake himself to |the iron-workers| and have it repaired. Similar itinerant ironsmiths wandered through Europe in the Middle Ages, handing down from father to son the secrets of their craft.
The Kenites came from the desert, and were apparently of Midianitish descent. Balaam had looked down upon their rocky strongholds from the heights of Moab; and they had accompanied their Hebrew comrades of Judah from their first camping-ground near Jericho to the wilderness south of Arad. Here they lived among the Amalekite Bedawin down to the days of Saul. To the last they maintained their nomadic habits, and the Kenite family of Rechab still dwelt in tents and avoided wine in that later age when the kingdom of Judah was about to fall.
The Edomite element in Judah was stronger than the Kenite. It consisted of the two clans of Jerahmeel and Kenaz, or the house of Caleb as it was called in the time of David. Kenaz was a grandson of Esau, and the fact that the Kenizzites shared with the Israelitish tribes in the conquest of Canaan throws light on the law of Deuteronomy which gave the Edomite of |the third generation| all the rights and privileges of a Jew. Caleb, the conqueror of Hebron, was a Kenizzite; so also was Othniel, the first of the Judges of Israel. Edomites, rather than Hebrews, were the founders of the future Judah.
This accounts for the comparatively late appearance of Judah as a separate tribe in the history of Israel, as well as for the antagonism which existed between it and the more pure-blooded tribes of the north. In the Song of Deborah and Barak, Judah is not mentioned; Ephraim and Benjamin, and not Judah, are still regarded as forming the bulwark of Israel against the Amalekite marauders of the southern wilderness. It was the Philistine wars which first created the Judah of later days. They forced Hebrews, Edomites, and Kenites to unite against the common enemy, and welded them into a single whole. Though the three peoples still continued to be spoken of separately, this was but a survival of ancient modes of speech, and after the accession of David all distinction between them disappears. From this time forward the kingdom of Judah is one undivided community.
But the Amalekites were ever on its borders. The Amalekite of the Old Testament is the Bedawi of to-day. Now, as ever, he is the scourge of his more settled neighbours, whose fields he harries and whose families he murders. He lives by robbery and theft; too idle to work himself, he plunders those who do. A strong government forces him to hide himself in the depth of the wilderness; when the countries that skirt the desert fall into decay he emerges from his retreat like a swarm of flies. The ancient Oriental world saw in Amalek |the firstborn of nations;| he was for them the representative of the primitive savage who had survived in the wilds of the desert. Untamed and untamable, his hand was against every man, and every man's hand against him.
Before Babylonian culture had been brought to the West, Amalek already existed. He was older than the oldest of the civilised kingdoms of the earth. But civilisation had raised a barrier against him which he was ever on the watch to break through. He never lost the opportunity of raiding the inhabitants of the cultivated lands, and escaping again into the desert with his booty before he could be overtaken and punished. The desert between Palestine and Egypt was his chief camping-ground. He had occupied the wadis of Mount Seir before the Edomites had entered them, and a part of the later population of the country traced its descent from a mixture of the Bedawi with the Edomite. The Egyptians had many names for the Bedawin hordes. Sometimes they were the Herusha or |Lords of the Sands,| sometimes the Shasu or |Plunderers,| sometimes again the Sute or |Archers.| The third name was borrowed from the Babylonians; in return, as we learn from the tablets of Tel el-Amarna, the Babylonians adopted the second.
Hardly had the Israelites escaped from Egypt when they were called upon to dispute with the Amalekites the possession of the desert. At Rephidim the Bedawin robbers fell upon the Israelitish camp. But they were beaten off with slaughter, and never again ventured to molest the people of Yahveh during their wanderings in the wilderness. The attack, however, was never forgotten, and vengeance was exacted for it in the reign of Saul. Then the Amalekites were pursued into their desert domain and mercilessly slaughtered. They had their home, it is said, in the desert which extended from Shur to Havilah. Shur was the line of fortification which defended the eastern frontier of Egypt, and ran pretty much where the Suez Canal has been dug to-day; Havilah was the |sandy| desert of northern Arabia. Here was the |city| of tents of which Agag was shekh, and which the troops of the Israelitish king burnt and spoiled.
But the remembrance of the expedition did not last long. When civil war had weakened the power of Saul, and the march of the Philistine army to the north had left the south of Canaan without defenders, an Amalekite tribe again poured into Judah and sacked the Philistine town of Ziklag. The wives and property of David and his followers were carried off into the wilderness. But the marauders were overtaken by the Israelites they had robbed, and summary vengeance taken upon them. Men, women, and children were alike put to the sword; four hundred only escaped through the fleetness of their camels.
In the Tel el-Amarna tablets we find the Bedawin and their shekhs playing a part in the politics of Canaan. Their services were hired by the rival princes of Palestine, and from time to time we hear of their seizing or plundering its cities on their own account. They have never ceased indeed to infest the land. Amalekite bands joined with the Midianites in devastating the villages of central Israel in the days of Gideon, and the Amalekite who brought to David the news of Saul's death was one of those who had hovered on the skirts of the contending armies, eager when the fight was over to murder the wounded and strip the slain. In a later age the |Arabs| who, according to the inscriptions of Sennacherib, formed the body-guard of Hezekiah were probably Bedawin, and Geshem the Arabian in the time of Nehemiah seems to have represented the Amalekite chieftain of an earlier epoch. The Bedawin still haunt the plains and unfrequented paths of Palestine, waylaying the traveller and robbing the peasant of his flocks.
The peasantry or fellahin are the Perizzites of the Hebrew Scriptures. |Perizzite,| in fact, means |villager,| and the word is a descriptive title rather than the name of a people or a race. It denotes the agricultural population, whatever their origin may have been. Another word of similar signification is Hivite. If any distinction is to be drawn between them, it is that the term Perizzite was specially applied to the fellahin of southern Canaan, while the term Hivite was restricted to the inhabitants of the north. In two passages, it is true, |Hivite| seems to be used with an ethnic meaning. Esau is said in one of them to have married the granddaughter of |Zibeon the Hivite,| while in the other we read of |the Hivite| who dwelt under Mount Hermon. But a comparison of the first passage with the later verses of the same chapter shows that |Hivite| must be corrected into |Horite,| and in the second passage it is probable that |Hittite| instead of |Hivite| should be read.
Amorite and Hittite, Canaanite and Philistine, were all alike emigrants from other lands. The Hittites had come from the mountains of Asia Minor, the Amorites had probably wandered from the northern coast of Africa, the Canaanites traced their ancestry to the Persian Gulf, the Philistines had sailed from the harbours of the Greek seas. Canaan had been inhabited, however, before any of them had found their way to it, and this prehistoric population of the country was known to the Hebrews by the name of Rephaim. In the English translation of the Bible the word is usually rendered |giants;| it seems, however, to have been a proper name, which survived in the name of one of the cities of Bashan. Doubtless it often included other elements besides that to which it was properly applied. At times it was extended to the Amorites, whose occupation of Palestine went back to a remote past, just as in the Babylonian inscriptions the name of Amorite itself was extended to the aboriginal population. Among the Philistines this older population was called Avvim, the people of |the ruins.|
Such then were the races who lived in Canaan, and with whom the invading Israelites had to contend. There was firstly the primitive population of the country, whose rude rock-sculptures may still be seen in the Wadi el-Qana near Tyre. Then there were the intrusive Amorites and Canaanites, the Amorites with their fair skins and blue eyes who made themselves a home in the mountains, and the Semitic Canaanites who settled on the coast and in the plains. The Amorite migration went back to an epoch long before that of the first Babylonian conquests in the West; the Canaanitish migration may have been coeval with the latter event. Next came the Hittites, to whom the Jebusites of Jerusalem may have belonged; then the Philistines, who seized the southern coast but a few years previously to the Israelitish invasion. Canaan was a land of many races and many peoples, who had taken shelter in its highlands, or had found their further progress barred by the sea. Small as it was, it was the link between Asia and Africa, the battle-ground of the great kingdoms which arose on the Euphrates and the Nile. It formed, in fact, the centre of the ancient civilised world, and the mixture of races within it was due in great measure to its central position. The culture of Babylonia and Egypt met there and coalesced.
[Footnote 2: Numb. xiii.29.]
[Footnote 3: 1 Chr. ii.55; Jer. xxxv.3-10.]
[Footnote 4: 1 Sam. xxx.14.]
[Footnote 5: Deut. xxiii 8.]