ISRAEL, PEOPLE OF:
- I. Origin of the People:
- Ultimate Babylonian Origin.
- II. Tribal History:
- Early Existence of the Tribes.
- Division and Distribution of the Tribes.
- Moses and Jahvism.
- Settlement East of the Jordan.
- Settlement in Canaan Proper.
- Fortunes of the Tribes.
- The National Spirit.
- III. The Kingdom.—
- Battle of Gilboa.
- King David.
- The Northern Kingdom.
- The Southern Kingdom.
- IV. The Babylonian Régime:
- The Remnant in Palestine.
- V. The Persian Dominion:
- The Restoration.
- Reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah.
- VI. The Hellenistic Era:
- Rule of the Ptolemies.
- Seleucid Dominion.
- VII. The Maccabees:
In the Bible "Israel" is the national name of the people who are known racially as "Hebrews." In the tribal condition no comprehensive name was historically applied to the whole people. The story (Gen. xxxii. 24 et seq.) of the change of name from "Jacob" to "Israel" is in part a reflex of the historical fact of the union of the tribes and of their final triumph over the Canaanites.I. Origin of the People: Ultimate Babylonian Origin.
Whether regarded politically or ethnologically, Israel must be considered a composite people. This appears both from the genealogical statements of the Bible and from recorded instances of racial amalgamation. It is not, however, easy to determine exactly all the racial elements of Israel; and the beginnings are involved in greatest obscurity. A primary Babylonian contribution is at least probable. The tradition that Abram as the founder of the race came from Ur of the Chaldees is meaninglessif it is a mere geographical reference; and the fact that the Hebrews shared with the Babylonians their oldest literary reminiscences, such as characteristic forms of the Creation and the Flood stories, is apparently a confirmation of the tradition.
The more immediate Biblical tradition is to the effect that Israel was fundamentally Aramean; and this belief is not incompatible with partial Babylonian descent. The course of the earliest history was perhaps somewhat as follows: During the Babylonian domination of the west country—not later than about 1600
There are thus given a few sturdy clans, the most prominent being marked off by their Aramean affiliations, forming settlements for themselves in Palestine and never wholly abandoning them, till by superior moral and physical energy they make good their claim to the possession of most of the country. By putting in most probable chronological order the substance of the patriarchal and tribal traditions and genealogical tables, and utilizing the scanty notices from outside sources, the following tentative outline history may be constructed:Early Existence of the Tribes.
- 1. The Tribes Before the Exodus: Most, if not all, of the tribes of Israel had some kind of organic existence before 1200 B.C., the approximate date of the Exodus from Egypt, though they may not in all cases have then borne the names which have become historical. The scheme of the Twelve Tribes is a later construction, based in part upon genealogical data and in part upon geographical boundaries; yet this scheme is still the chief guide for determining the tribal distribution in the period preceding the invasion.
The traditional classification of the tribes (Gen. xxx.) into the sons of Leah, the sons of Rachel, and the sons of their two maids is of essential historical value. The eldest four were the first to make an independent settlement in Canaan. Reuben was the first leader; but he early lost his preeminence, and made his permanent home across the Jordan. Simeon and Levi were almost destroyed in a feud with Canaanites of the region of Shechem, with whom they had made an alliance. The scattered remnants of Simeon were later absorbed by Judah. Whether Levi at length became rehabilitated in Israel as the priestly tribe is not quite certain (see Levites). Judah in these early days allied himself with Canaanites of the districts of Adullam and Timnath, and maintained his tribal existence in spite of many disasters (Gen. xxxviii.). Early and late Judah derived strength from the absorption of outsiders.
Some sort of settlement was also probably made by Issachar and Zebulun in the plain of Jezreel and northward before the return from Egypt, which would account for the prominence of these tribes so soon after that era (Judges v.) in those fertile and much-coveted regions. Joseph and Benjamin are of more relative consequence in Palestine after than before the sojourn in Egypt. In the earlier time the ambition and progress of the tribe of Joseph excited the jealousy of the other tribes, and it was compelled to migrate into Egypt, as was the fashion with many Asiatics during the eighteenth and nineteenth dynasties. Benjamin as a tribe in Canaan was perhaps non-existent till after the Egyptian era. The historical location of Gad, Asher, Dan, and Naphtali is suggestive of their predominantly foreign origin, which explains their being accounted as the sons of the maids of Leah and Rachel. As connected with Israel they were not prominent till the time of the general settlement. But in the Egyptian records of about 1300
The question of a federation of any of the tribes is obscure. But there seems to have been an "Israel" in some sense in Canaan before the Exodus, for Me(r)neptah, son of Rameses II., refers to having devastated Israel in Canaan. No other supposed monumental allusion to Jacob or Joseph or the Hebrews can be used as yet for historical purposes.Moses and Jahvism.
- 2. The Egyptian Era and the Exodus: Meanwhile the people of Joseph prospered so greatly in Egypt that many families from kindred tribes migrated thither. But a change of policy under the kings of the nineteenth dynasty brought about a sore oppression of the Hebrews, so that their life there became intolerable. The great design of restoring them to Canaan was cherished by Moses, a Hebrew of Egyptian education, but at this time a fugitive in the peninsula of Sinai in consequence of active partizanship in the cause of his oppressed brethren. There he adopted the religion of his hosts, the Kenites, who were worshipers of Yhwh. He then returned to Egypt, induced his people to migrate with him, and effected a passage of an arm of the Red Sea when hard pressed by the pursuing Egyptians. After this deliverance it became easier for the fugitives to make the worship of Yhwh their own; and the new religious bond was strengthened by a prolonged visit to the seat of Yhwh, Mount Sinai. Of this religion Moses was the first priest, though the ministry was subsequently transferred to other hands. As civil leader and priest in one he was the supreme judge; and as the interpreter of the will of Yhwh he was the first and in a sense the greatest of the prophets. Law and justice, the rudiments of which were imparted by Moses to his people, were also of the essence of revelation.
- 3. The Occupation of Palestine: The tribesmen of Joseph, now divided into two great clans, were naturally the head and front of the movement upon Palestine. Their main endeavor was to effect anentrance into "the hill country of Ephraim," where their kinsmen were most numerous. Attempts to reach this goal by the west and south were found to be hopeless; and after many long delays a détour was made around the land of Edom, a union being effected with the Israelitish population already east of the Jordan and their allies. The chief foes of all the Hebraic peoples of this time were the Amorites, who by the invasion of the newcomers were driven out of Gilead and the northern border of Moab, with the result that new Israelitish settlements were made in the region north and south of the Jabbok.
With these achievements the life and work of Moses were finished. His place was taken by Joshua, the representative of the dominant tribe of Ephraim. Under the new leadership the Jordan was crossed near Jericho (c. 1160
At first aggression was naturally the chief factor. The occupation of the central hill country laid the foundation of the great settlement of the people of Joseph with Ephraim itself in the center, Manasseh (Machir) in the north, and the new tribe of Benjamin in the south. This territory was firmly held and long remained the kernel and defense of Israel. The other tribes adjusted themselves gradually to this primary condition. Those to the north, Issachar, Zebulun, and Naphtali, strengthened their hold upon the plain of Jezreel and beyond, and in an early stage of the general occupation (c. 1130
- 4. Period of the Judges: After centuries of military control Canaan had been relinquished by the Egyptians (c. 1170 B.C.) to become in large measure the possession of the Israelites. But the title of the new occupants was not to be undisputed. Successful raids, sometimes amounting to prolonged occupations, were made by Arameans (who came in large numbers over the Euphrates to replace the now almost extinct Hittite communities), by Moabites, by Midianites, and east of the Jordan by Ammonites. Only a portion of the country was attacked and despoiled by each of the invading hosts; and on each occasion a leader was raised up to deliver his people. The most serious incursion was that made by the Midianites, who (c. 1090 B.C.) struck into the center of Israel's territory by way of the possessions of Manasseh. After the repulse Gideon, the leader or "judge," was almost made a king by his tribesmen; and the lack of a common leadership was henceforth so strongly felt that it became only a question of time when a kingdom of Israel should be established.
The last and greatest of the judges was Samuel (c. 1030
External influences seemed still more destructive. Most pressing of all immediate dangers was the growing power of the Philistines. They had (c. 1040
- 1. The United Kingdom: Samuel now perceived that only a king could reclaim and unite Israel; and by him Saul, a wealthy landholder of Gibeah in Benjamin, was consecrated to the kingly office (c. 1030 B.C.). Saul's first achievement was of happy omen. The town of Jabesh in Gilead was under siege by the Ammonites, and claimed the protection of the western tribes. Saul fired the heart of Israel by proclaiming a holy war in behalf of this town. The rescue which followed gave heart to the despondent tributaries of the Philistines; and a series of brilliant victories, in which the crown prince, the noble Jonathan, took the lead, served to make Israel strong and united. Saulgathered about him men of force and promise, and gave them the command of chosen bodies of militia. Abner, the captain of the host, was a brave and skilful leader; and among the officers was a youth of genius, David, the son of Jesse of Beth-lehem in Judah, the first of that tribe to take an active part in the affairs of Israel. Jonathan and David became fast friends; and their alliance promised well for the redemption of their country.
All went happily for a time. The Philistines, driven out from central Palestine, were kept at bay; and if Saul had been a statesman as well as a soldier the state might have been saved under his régime. But he lacked the gift of administration so essential to the building up of the nation. He also became moody and melancholy, and suspected a plot against him on the part of both David and Jonathan. David was compelled to flee from the court. He made himself the leader of a daring band of outlaws. Though often pursued by Saul, he would not retaliate. He became a nominal vassal of the King of Gath, but helped the Philistines as little, and his own men of Judah as much, as possible. The Philistines; unable to penetrate the western passes of Benjamin and Ephraim, marched northward, and struck at Israel from the plain of Jezreel. On a slope of Mount Gilboa the fateful battle was fought, in which Saul and three of his sons, Jonathan, Abinadab, and Melchishua, laid down their lives; and the Israelites once more became tributary to their terrible foes (c. 1000
David had laid for himself the foundation of a kingdom in his own separate tribe; and when Ishbaal (Ishbosheth), a surviving son of Saul, was proclaimed King of Israel by Abner, he (David) took up a royal residence in Hebron, where he reigned as King of Judah for some years, probably on good terms with his old allies the Philistines. The reign of Ishbaal was very brief; and he never possessed real authority west of the Jordan, his capital being at Mahanaim in Gilead. He was dethroned by his general after a quarrel; and Abner, when a few years of anarchy had passed, handed the kingdom over to David, who then received the allegiance of the elders of Israel (c. 995
David was the political creator of Israel. Before him there had been national aspirations, but never a united nation. He was the most commanding public figure in the history of Israel. Surpassed in the art of war by his general and near relative, Joab, to whom he owed most of his military success, he was unrivaled in his genius for statesmanship. His eventual comparative failure as a ruler was due to moral weaknesses and an overwrought emotional temperament.
His early achievements as King of Israel were the final expulsion of the Philistines from their garrisons in the central region; the capture of Jerusalem from the Canaanitish Jebusites, which he made his capital and the sacred city of
There soon began a period of foreign wars, which ended in the subjugation of the Moabites, Edomites, and Ammonites, besides the Arameans of southern and central Syria. Israel's suzerainty over all of these except the Arameans lasted till well into the reign of David's successor.
The kingdom proper was, however, not fully organized internally; and David's own crimes and follies came nearly rending it into fragments. Adultery with Bath-sheba, the wife of a faithful officer, and the murder of the husband were followed in the latter half of his reign by fatal dissensions among the children of his many wives, and finally by the open rebellion of Absalom, the heir to the throne. Through the fidelity of a few devoted friends David's safety was secured, and through the strategy of Joab, Absalom was defeated and slain. Local dissensions were once more outwardly healed, and the closing years of the great king's reign were passed in comparative tranquillity. A court intrigue at the close of David's days put an end to the pretensions and the life of the next heir, Adonijah, and thereby Solomon, son of Bath-sheba, succeeded to the throne (c. 965
Solomon's merits were fewer and his demerits more numerous than those of his father. He cultivated peace and friendship with his neighbors, developed trade and production, and organized the kingdom into administrative districts; and by the aid of workmen and materials brought from Phenicia, he erected the great Temple on Moriah along with a gorgeous palace for himself. On the other hand, he was sensual in his habits, and without religious depth or steadfastness. He impoverished the rest of the kingdom to build up Judah and Jerusalem, to repay his debts to the Phenicians, to maintain a splendid court, and to gratify his own luxurious and extravagant tastes. Before his reign was ended he had lost the allegiance of all the vassal states, and provoked an ominous discontent throughout northern Israel. His reign was the first epoch of Hebrew literary history; for then was made the oldest collection of epic ballads and of the traditions of tribal heroes.
- 2. The Divided Kingdom: At the death of Solomon (934 B.C.) his son Rehoboam claimed kingship over all Israel. But the discontent in the northern tribes showed itself at once in a great "folkmote" at Shechem. There they chose as their king Jeroboam, an Ephraimite who had been a fugitive in Egypt on account of an attempt at rebellion in the reign of Solomon. Benjamin, in whose territory were Jerusalem and the Temple, remained with Judah. Thus the ideal of a united Israel was shattered forever. Thenceforth for a time there were enmity and strife between north (Israel) and south (Judah); and though there came at length a longer period of almost unbroken peace, yet the hope of reunion was never again cherished.
Despite the popularity of Jeroboam's election, northern Israel was kept in a state of partial or total anarchy for half a century. To compete with the Temple at Jerusalem shrines were erected at Dan and at Beth-el, and strong fortresses were built upon both sides of the Jordan. But at first Israel was at a disadvantage as compared with Judah. The latter was small numerically, but it had a well-disciplined force of warriors along with the legitimate seat of government and worship. The real founder of the Northern Kingdom was Omri (886
The new dynasty suffered terribly at the hands of Damascus, but after that powerful state had been crushed by the Assyrians (797) Israel revived, and under Jeroboam II. (783-742) attained to the height of its power. Jeroboam's successors, however, had brief and unfortunate reigns until in 733 both Damascus and Samaria were captured by the Assyrians, who annexed the whole of Israel north of Jezreel. Hoshea, the vassal king in Samaria, rebelled in 724 at the instigation of the intriguing Ethiopian dynasty in Egypt, and his capital was taken after a siege lasting till the end of 722. Many of the people of the kingdom were exiled, and their places were taken by heathen colonists deported thither from Babylonia. Of internal matters the most important were the rise and influence of the preaching prophet Elijah (c. 870) and his school, and of the first great literary prophets, Amos (c. 760) and Hosea (c. 740).The Southern Kingdom.
The kingdom of Judah, after its early successes against Israel, played a subordinate rôle for over a century. Its fiercest struggles—of varying success—were waged with the Edomites; and it continued to grow by the naturalization of outsiders to the south. Under Uzziah (783-738) it reached the height of its prosperity, having much of Philistine and Edomite territory under tribute. But in 734, under Ahaz (735-719), it became tributary to the Assyrians, who were then ravaging northern Palestine. Ahaz's son, Hezekiah (719-690), joined in an important revolt against Assyria in 701. The kingdom was laid waste; many inhabitants were deported; and Jerusalem was saved from capture only through the breaking out of a plague in the Assyrian army near the border of Egypt. Thenceforth almost till the fall of Nineveh (607) Judah continued an Assyrian vassal.
In 608 Palestine was traversed by an Egyptian force under Pharaoh-Necho; and the young king, Josiah (639-608), having marched out to give him battle, was defeated and slain. A brief Egyptian régime was terminated in 604 by the great Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, who had succeeded to the fallen empire of Assyria. The Egyptians, expelled from Palestine, still kept intriguing, and Judah under Jehoiakim (608-597) was induced to rebel in 598. The next year the newly ascended king Jehoiachin was taken with his city and deported to Babylonia with many of his subjects, including the prophet Ezekiel. In 588 Judah again rebelled under Zedekiah (598-586). In 586 Jerusalem was taken, the king and many more of his people were deported, and the kingdom was finally abolished.IV. The Babylonian Régime: The Remnant in Palestine.
Over the Judahites left in Palestine a governor of their own race, Gedaliah, was appointed. In a few years he was assassinated by an apostate named Ishmael. As a punishment for the murder a third deportation was made to Babylonia, while a band of fugitives, taking the aged prophet Jeremiah with them, made their way to Egypt and were heard of no more. A considerable number still remained in Palestine.
The exiles, as a whole, fared well in Babylonia. The bulk of the first or principal deportation was placed beside the Canal Chebar, not far from Nippur in central Babylonia. Here and elsewhere most of the captives were employed on public works, and many of all classes of the exiles eventually gained their freedom and rose to influential positions. Hence Babylonia furnished a strong moral and financial support to Judaism for many centuries. Here, also, the faith and religious devotion of Israel were renewed; the literature of the kingdom was studied, reedited, and adapted to the needs of the reviving community; and the hope of restoration to Palestine was preached and cherished. About 545 this aspiration took more definite form. Cyrus, King of Persia, had by that time attained to dominion over the whole uplands of Asia as far as the shores of the Ægean Sea, and it seemed to the seers of Israel (the second Isaiah and others) that the Semitic lowlands would soon fall to him also. As a matter of fact, the Babylonian empire became his possession when the city of Babylon surrendered to his army without resistance in July, 539.V. The Persian Dominion: The Restoration.
Soon thereafter Cyrus issued a proclamation giving the Judahite and other exiles permission to return to their own lands. The Jews gladly seized the opportunity. A "prince" of the Davidic line, Sheshbazzar, with a large following, set out for Jerusalem in 538. The difficulties of resettlement were enormous, largely due to jealousy and intrigue on the part of the Samaritans and other peoples of Palestine. The foundation of a temple was laid; but it was not till 521, when Darius Hystaspes, the great patron of subject religions, gave further encouragement, that a decisive impulse was given by the exertions of Zerubbabel, a prince of the same royal line, supported by a contingent of new colonists. Through his agency along with that of Joshua the high priest, and the inspiring words of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, the Temple was completed and dedicated in 516.Reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah.
The Hebrew settlement was still little more than a struggling colony; and during the next two generations it showed a marked decline in religious earnestness and therefore in social and political weal. Separation from the heathen and semi-heathen peoples of the whole region was indispensable. But intermarriages with them were frequent; and with these alliances the practises of forbidden cults went hand in hand. A great reformation was nowbrought about by Ezra, a priest and a scribe in Babylonia, who came to Jerusalem (458?), with authority from King Artaxerxes I., to reform the Jewish community. His efforts would have been of little avail if they had not been backed up by the powerful influence of Nehemiah, a Jewish cupbearer of Artaxerxes, who came with a royal escort and with a governor's commission to set right the affairs of his compatriots in Palestine.
Nehemiah, whose genius was eminently practical, rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem; forced the richer Jews to release the property mortgaged to them by their poorer brethren; forbade the taking of usury, the contracting of mixed marriages, and the profanation of the Sabbath. Ezra's greatest work was the more lasting, being nothing less than a new edition of the Law, which soon became the strongest pillar of Judaism. It was read before a great congregation in 444. A second visit of Nehemiah in 432 resulted in the vigorous carrying out of some of the most sorely needed reforms.
During the century that followed till 330 little is accurately known of the fortunes of the Jewish state. The people were homogeneous; and the result of the labors of Nehemiah and Ezra was seen in the fact that the religious purity of the community was maintained.VI. The Hellenistic Era:
The conquests of Alexander the Great brought Syria under Hellenistic influence, at first chiefly exercised by the Ptolemies of Egypt from Alexandria as a center (323-203), and later by Antiochus III. of Syria and his two successors, reigning in Antioch (203-165).Rule of the Ptolemies.
What the Egypt of the Pharaohs had failed to do in Palestine, the Egypt of the Ptolemies in large measure accomplished. Not only was a political control established there, but a strong intellectual influence was exercised. Ptolemy Logi, who occupied Jerusalem in 320, took large numbers of Jews to Egypt as colonists and prospective citizens. Other Jews followed, strong in their loyalty to the Judaism established by Ezra: forerunners and types of faithful Jews ever since scattered throughout the world. The Jews prospered in Egypt; and Alexandria reacted upon Jerusalem in matters intellectual. The Egyptian capital became a center of Jewish learning; and the devoted Jews who resorted for worship to their Holy City familiarized the people of the home land with the enlarged outlook and knowledge of the world acquired in Egypt. Moreover, the first Greek translation of the Old Testament was made and used by Hellenistic Jews. On the whole, the Ptolemaic régime was a benefit to Judaism.Seleucid Dominion.
In 203 Antiochus III. wrested Judea from Egypt. Under his second successor, Antiochus Epiphanes, the fatal epoch of world-liness and compromise with heathenism began with the success of his endeavor to corrupt the priesthood. His next step was to seize the Temple and profane it.VII. The Maccabees:
At this juncture a heroism worthy of the best days of Israel was displayed by the noble priest Mattathias of the Hasmonean family, who in 167 raised the standard of rebellion. Under his son and successor, Judas Maccabeus, Jerusalem was recovered, the Temple purified, and its worship restored (165). The rule of the Maccabees was finally established in Judea, and was maintained for a full century, till Syria became a Roman province.
- Josephus, Ant.;
- the histories of Grätz (1853 et seq.; Engl. ed., abridged, 1891 et seq.), Ewald (1864 et seq.), Hitzig (1869), Stade (1887 et seq.), Renan (1887 et seq.), Kittel (1888, 1892), Wellhausen (1894), Klostermann (1896), Kent (1896 et seq.), Piepenbring (1898), Cornill (1898), Winckler (1895, 1900), and Guthe (1899);
- Milman, History of the Jews (1829);
- F. W. Newman, Hebrew Monarchy (1847);
- Stanley, History of the Jewish Church;
- McCurdy, History, Prophecy, and the Monuments (1894 et seq.);
- articles on Israel by Wellhausen in Encyc. Brit.;
- by Barnes in Hastings, Dict. Bible;
- and by Guthe in Cheyne and Black, Encyc. Bibl.