This is the first of a series of blogs about the Bible and its relationship to the current Zionists whose claims are based on the Bible.
Who Wrote the Bible?
The books of the Bible were originally individual scrolls, made of parchment, papyrus, or occasionally of leather. Thus there were from 12 to 20 scrolls: one for the first five books of the Bible [Genesis through Deuteronomy, often referred to as the Torah or the Pentateuch], one for Isaiah, one for Jeremiah, one for Ezekiel, one for the Psalms, and so forth.
These scrolls were created from the centuries-old oral traditions that had been transmitted through male tribal elders, and most probably women, whose role it was to educate the young children. After the Babylonians conquered the area of Judea, destroyed the Temple, and forced the top tier of Israelites — doctors, priests, scribes, elders — off the land and into exile in Babylon, to maintain a unity of the faith, it became necessary to have written confirmation of the Israelite sacred history and Israel’s relationship with God. Somewhere in Babylon the first written biblical accounts were composed on scrolls that were not bound as one book until after the discovery of printing in the fifteenth century. Thus, the Bible as we know it was unknown among the Jews of ancient times.
Jumping from Scroll to Scroll
Reading with an eye to each narrative, one’s interpretation depends on where one stops reading the narrative of ancient Israel. We hold the single book in our hands; the ancients referred to particular scrolls to create their narratives. Take one example: the tomb of Abraham in Hebron was the first piece of land purchased from the Hittites by Abraham, owned by deed. The biblical account is quite specific:
Abraham agreed to Ephron’s terms and weighed out for him the price he had named in the hearing of the Hittites: four hundred shekels of silver, according to the weight current among the merchants. So Ephron’s field in Machpelah near Mamre — both the field and the cave in it, and all the trees within the borders of the field — was deeded to Abraham as his property in the presence of all the Hittites who had come to the gate of the city. Afterward Abraham buried his wife Sarah in the cave in the field of Machpelah near Mamre (which is at Hebron ) in the land of Canaan. So the field and the cave in it were deeded to Abraham by the Hittites as a burial site. (Gen 23:16-20).
We shall consider the veracity of these biblical stories and the characters themselves in another post. Let us say briefly that there is no proof from stelas, inscriptions, or histories of other cultures that confirm even scraps of the account within the Bible. The stories in Genesis were not even put into a narrative order for a minimum of a thousand years after the purported time of Abraham’s first hearing the command of YHWH. And the Exodus? The Egyptian rulers and scribes, who noted every development in every city and village, described every ship, every building they constructed, but never mention a slave revolt or a group of Hebrew slaves leaving Egypt and crossing the Sinai desert. If there had been more than a couple hundred slaves crossing the Sinai, someone from another group would have noticed.
Moses disobeys God and never gets to enter the Promised Land. Nor do those who followed him out of Egypt. Stop the dialogue there? Then there is nobody in the Promised Land except the Canaanite, Hittites, Moabites, and other ancient semi-nomadic tribes. No one alive today claims Moabite ancestors. Continue reading the narrative and accept that the Israelite peoples must wander for 40 years, and then, the second generation, post-Moses, go into the Promised Land.
Within the two scrolls of First and Second Samuel are found the stories of Saul’s fated kingship, and the kingship of God’s beoved David. The tumultuous world of Israel and Judea are found in the continuing story in First and Second Kings. Judea and Samaria! How often do we hear or read those place names, the real-estate mantra of today’s Orthodox settlers? They are the biblical lands that modern-day Israel claims as its own. Because the names they attached to the modern towns of the West Bank were mentioned in the Bible. Have the settlers read only “the good parts,” where Israel, the Northern Kingdom, and Judea, the Southern Kingdom, are described triumphantly as extensive kingdoms? In the translations one reads today, words like nation, boundaries, kingdom are used. But these are modern terms. There were no nations, although the Babylonians, the Selucids, the Greeks, and the Romans ruled empires. The Israelites were members of semi-nomadic tribes; each tribe had been given land for planting olives, fruits, and animal grazing.
As you will see below, the returning Judeans had a temple-state, whose laws were ordered by the High Priest. Babylon, and later Alexander the Great, and then the Romans continued to rule the Judeans and imposed hefty taxes upon them. Borders were porous, not mapped or defined, not defended by walls or soldiers, except in times of war.
It is time to question the biblical claims of the settlers, living in luxurious neighborhoods that mirror ones in the valley east of Los Angeles, red-tiled roofs, swimming pools, neatly tended flower beds. Stolen olive trees, ancient witnesses to the violence done to the land, are now re-rooted on this settler land, surrounded by circlets of well-watered grass and brilliant flowers.
The primary question: Do today’s Israelis have a right to re-create the biblical stories like an ongoing pageant with props including Abraham and Sarah’s tomb, the tomb of sweet, piteous Rachel, even the mountain where Moses received the Law from YHWH.
Post-Exilic Biblical History as Told by Modern Historians
After about fifty years an edict of Cyrus the Great permitted those Judeans who had been deported from their former homeland to return and rebuild the temple at Jerusalem. After 23 years of construction and decoration, the restored shrine was dedicated to the worship of YHWH although the most sacred item of worship, the Ark of the Covenant, had disappeared forever. The Second Temple, like the First, was under the supervision of the Levites and other local priests. Daily sacrifices to YHWH were made in the morning and in the evening. A portion of the animal was given to God, who apparently was partial to the thigh, and the rest was aportioned to the Levite priest and to the family making the sacrifice.
From this time until the destruction of the Second Temple in AD 70, Jerusalem had almost continuously the status of a holy city. Together with the territory immediately surrounding it, it constituted a temple-state. There were several such temple-states in the Persian and Graeco-Roman world; one of the best known (apart from Jerusalem itself) is Hierapolis in Syria, the city attached to the temple of Atargatis In these states the city existed to support the temple, and not vice versa. The laws of the state were in essence the laws of the temple; the state was governed internally by the temple priesthood. The prerogatives of the cult were protected by the imperial power, who owned the land, demanded material goods and money from the tribal vassals.
Secular rule continued under the rule of each successive imperial power, with the day-to-day running of the temple-state was in the hands of the Levites, who did not have land apportioned to them in order to make their decisions appear just. The head of the state was the high priest, who was assisted by a council of seventy elders called the Sanhedrin.
Jerusalem’s “constitution” as a temple-state was drawn upon ancient precedent, found in the scrolls and imposed by imperial authority. The temple staff of priests and Levites was maintained by a ten percent tithe, paid by each male Jew in the empire, whether he lived in Judea or not. While Judea belonged to the empire of the Persians, and later to that of Alexander and his successors, the imperial interests were served by a governor appointed by the court,
Until 174 BC the high priesthood enjoyed a large measure of autonomy. The High Priest was a descendant of Zadok, chief priest in Solomon’s time. During the following years there was considerable interference with the priesthood and temple by the Seleucid dynasty; this reached its peak during the three years 167-164 BC, when the temple was turned over to the worship of Olympian Zeus. Later the priestly family of the Hasmoneans, who led the movement for religious and secular independence, assumed the high priesthood and exercised it until Judea fell to the Romans in 36 BC and was ruled in the Roman interest by the client king Herod the Great (37-4 BC). After that time the high priest was appointed either by members of the Herod family or by Roman governors. By this time the Empre was overtly corrupt; the priesthood was awarded to the Palestinian Jew who offered the highest gift of money to the Roman governor.
If one accepts the above historical account, it becomes clear that the Israelites, Judeans, or the Jews, depending upon the historical period, never gained possession of the land of Israel again. If one insists upon believing that God gave the land to Israel in a covenant made with Abraham, well then the irascible God waited about two thousand years to return the land, one supposes, by floating the concept of a state of Israel in the minds of the Western powers who created the United Nations.