There never were twelve tribes of the Israelites—only three or four tribes settled in Palestine. The Hebrew nation came into being as the result of the union of the so-called Israelites and the Canaanites. “And the children of Israel dwelt among the Canaanites. And they took their daughters to be their wives and gave their daughters to the sons of the Canaanites.” The Hebrews never drove the Canaanites out of Palestine, notwithstanding that the priests’ record of these things unhesitatingly declared that they did.
The Israelitish consciousness took origin in the hill country of Ephraim; the later Jewish consciousness originated in the southern clan of Judah. The Jews (Judahites) always sought to defame and blacken the record of the northern Israelites (Ephraimites).
Pretentious Hebrew history begins with Saul’s rallying the northern clans to withstand an attack by the Ammonites upon their fellow tribesmen—the Gileadites—east of the Jordan. With an army of a little more than three thousand he defeated the enemy, and it was this exploit that led the hill tribes to make him king. When the exiled priests rewrote this story, they raised Saul’s army to 330,000 and added “Judah” to the list of tribes participating in the battle.
Immediately following the defeat of the Ammonites, Saul was made king by popular election by his troops. No priest or prophet participated in this affair. But the priests later on put it in the record that Saul was crowned king by the prophet Samuel in accordance with divine directions. This they did in order to establish a “divine line of descent” for David’s Judahite kingship.
The greatest of all distortions of Jewish history had to do with David. After Saul’s victory over the Ammonites (which he ascribed to Yahweh) the Philistines became alarmed and began attacks on the northern clans. David and Saul never could agree. David with six hundred men entered into a Philistine alliance and marched up the coast to Esdraelon. At Gath the Philistines ordered David off the field; they feared he might go over to Saul. David retired; the Philistines attacked and defeated Saul. They could not have done this had David been loyal to Israel. David’s army was a polyglot assortment of malcontents, being for the most part made up of social misfits and fugitives from justice.
Saul’s tragic defeat at Gilboa by the Philistines brought Yahweh to a low point among the gods in the eyes of the surrounding Canaanites. Ordinarily, Saul’s defeat would have been ascribed to apostasy from Yahweh, but this time the Judahite editors attributed it to ritual errors. They required the tradition of Saul and Samuel as a background for the kingship of David.
David with his small army made his headquarters at the non-Hebrew city of Hebron. Presently his compatriots proclaimed him king of the new kingdom of Judah. Judah was made up mostly of non-Hebrew elements—Kenites, Calebites, Jebusites, and other Canaanites. They were nomads—herders—and so were devoted to the Hebrew idea of land ownership. They held the ideologies of the desert clans.
The difference between sacred and profane history is well illustrated by the two differing stories concerning making David king as they are found in the Old Testament. A part of the secular story of how his immediate followers (his army) made him king was inadvertently left in the record by the priests who subsequently prepared the lengthy and prosaic account of the sacred history wherein is depicted how the prophet Samuel, by divine direction, selected David from among his brethren and proceeded formally and by elaborate and solemn ceremonies to anoint him king over the Hebrews and then to proclaim him Saul’s successor.
So many times did the priests, after preparing their fictitious narratives of God’s miraculous dealings with Israel, fail fully to delete the plain and matter-of-fact statements which already rested in the records.
David sought to build himself up politically by first marrying Saul’s daughter, then the widow of Nabal the rich Edomite, and then the daughter of Talmai, the king of Geshur. He took six wives from the women of Jebus, not to mention Bathsheba, the wife of the Hittite.
And it was by such methods and out of such people that David built up the fiction of a divine kingdom of Judah as the successor of the heritage and traditions of the vanishing northern kingdom of Ephraimite Israel. David’s cosmopolitan tribe of Judah was more gentile than Jewish; nevertheless the oppressed elders of Ephraim came down and “anointed him king of Israel.” After a military threat, David then made a compact with the Jebusites and established his capital of the united kingdom at Jebus (Jerusalem), which was a strong-walled city midway between Judah and Israel. The Philistines were aroused and soon attacked David. After a fierce battle they were defeated, and once more Yahweh was established as “The Lord God of Hosts.”
But Yahweh must, perforce, share some of this glory with the Canaanite gods, for the bulk of David’s army was non-Hebrew. And so there appears in your record (overlooked by the Judahite editors) this telltale statement: “Yahweh has broken my enemies before me. Therefore he called the name of the place Baal-Perazim.” And they did this because eighty per cent of David’s soldiers were Baalites.
David explained Saul’s defeat at Gilboa by pointing out that Saul had attacked a Canaanite city, Gibeon, whose people had a peace treaty with the Ephraimites. Because of this, Yahweh forsook him. Even in Saul’s time David had defended the Canaanite city of Keilah against the Philistines, and then he located his capital in a Canaanite city. In keeping with the policy of compromise with the Canaanites, David turned seven of Saul’s descendants over to the Gibeonites to be hanged.
After the defeat of the Philistines, David gained possession of the “ark of Yahweh,” brought it to Jerusalem, and made the worship of Yahweh official for his kingdom. He next laid heavy tribute on the neighboring tribes—the Edomites, Moabites, Ammonites, and Syrians.
David’s corrupt political machine began to get personal possession of land in the north in violation of the Hebrew mores and presently gained control of the caravan tariffs formerly collected by the Philistines. And then came a series of atrocities climaxed by the murder of Uriah. All judicial appeals were adjudicated at Jerusalem; no longer could “the elders” mete out justice. No wonder rebellion broke out. Today, Absalom might be called a demagogue; his mother was a Canaanite. There were a half dozen contenders for the throne besides the son of Bathsheba—Solomon.
After David’s death Solomon purged the political machine of all northern influences but continued all of the tyranny and taxation of his father’s regime. Solomon bankrupted the nation by his lavish court and by his elaborate building program: There was the house of Lebanon, the palace of Pharaoh’s daughter, the temple of Yahweh, the king’s palace, and the restoration of the walls of many cities. Solomon created a vast Hebrew navy, operated by Syrian sailors and trading with all the world. His harem numbered almost one thousand.
By this time Yahweh’s temple at Shiloh was discredited, and all the worship of the nation was centered at Jebus in the gorgeous royal chapel. The northern kingdom returned more to the worship of Elohim. They enjoyed the favor of the Pharaohs, who later enslaved Judah, putting the southern kingdom under tribute.
There were ups and downs—wars between Israel and Judah. After four years of civil war and three dynasties, Israel fell under the rule of city despots who began to trade in land. Even King Omri attempted to buy Shemer’s estate. But the end drew on apace when Shalmaneser III decided to control the Mediterranean coast. King Ahab of Ephraim gathered ten other groups and resisted at Karkar; the battle was a draw. The Assyrian was stopped but the allies were decimated. This great fight is not even mentioned in the Old Testament.
New trouble started when King Ahab tried to buy land from Naboth. His Phoenician wife forged Ahab’s name to papers directing that Naboth’s land be confiscated on the charge that he had blasphemed the names of “Elohim and the king.” He and his sons were promptly executed. The vigorous Elijah appeared on the scene denouncing Ahab for the murder of the Naboths. Thus Elijah, one of the greatest of the prophets, began his teaching as a defender of the old land mores as against the land-selling attitude of the Baalim, against the attempt of the cities to dominate the country. But the reform did not succeed until the country landlord Jehu joined forces with the gypsy chieftain Jehonadab to destroy the prophets (real estate agents) of Baal at Samaria.
New life appeared as Jehoash and his son Jeroboam delivered Israel from its enemies. But by this time there ruled in Samaria a gangster-nobility whose depredations rivaled those of the Davidic dynasty of olden days. State and church went along hand in hand. The attempt to suppress freedom of speech led Elijah, Amos, and Hosea to begin their secret writing, and this was the real beginning of the Jewish and Christian Bibles.
But the northern kingdom did not vanish from history until the king of Israel conspired with the king of Egypt and refused to pay further tribute to Assyria. Then began the three years’ siege followed by the total dispersion of the northern kingdom. Ephraim (Israel) thus vanished. Judah—the Jews, the “remnant of Israel”—had begun the concentration of land in the hands of the few, as Isaiah said, “Adding house to house and field to field.” Presently there was in Jerusalem a temple of Baal alongside the temple of Yahweh. This reign of terror was ended by a monotheistic revolt led by the boy king Joash, who crusaded for Yahweh for thirty-five years.
The next king, Amaziah, had trouble with the revolting tax-paying Edomites and their neighbors. After a signal victory he turned to attack his northern neighbors and was just as signally defeated. Then the rural folk revolted; they assassinated the king and put his sixteen-year-old son on the throne. This was Azariah, called Uzziah by Isaiah. After Uzziah, things went from bad to worse, and Judah existed for a hundred years by paying tribute to the kings of Assyria. Isaiah the first told them that Jerusalem, being the city of Yahweh, would never fall. But Jeremiah did not hesitate to proclaim its downfall.
The real undoing of Judah was effected by a corrupt and rich ring of politicians operating under the rule of a boy king, Manasseh. The changing economy favored the return of the worship of Baal, whose private land dealings were against the ideology of Yahweh. The fall of Assyria and the ascendancy of Egypt brought deliverance to Judah for a time, and the country folk took over. Under Josiah they destroyed the Jerusalem ring of corrupt politicians.
But this era came to a tragic end when Josiah presumed to go out to intercept Necho’s mighty army as it moved up the coast from Egypt for the aid of Assyria against Babylon. He was wiped out, and Judah went under tribute to Egypt. The Baal political party returned to power in Jerusalem, and thus began the real Egyptian bondage. Then ensued a period in which the Baalim politicians controlled both the courts and the priesthood. Baal worship was an economic and social system dealing with property rights as well as having to do with soil fertility.
With the overthrow of Necho by Nebuchadnezzar, Judah fell under the rule of Babylon and was given ten years of grace, but soon rebelled. When Nebuchadnezzar came against them, the Judahites started social reforms, such as releasing slaves, to influence Yahweh. When the Babylonian army temporarily withdrew, the Hebrews rejoiced that their magic of reform had delivered them. It was during this period that Jeremiah told them of the impending doom, and presently Nebuchadnezzar returned.
And so the end of Judah came suddenly. The city was destroyed, and the people were carried away into Babylon. The Yahweh-Baal struggle ended with the captivity. And the captivity shocked the remnant of Israel into monotheism.
In Babylon the Jews arrived at the conclusion that they could not exist as a small group in Palestine, having their own peculiar social and economic customs, and that, if their ideologies were to prevail, they must convert the gentiles. Thus originated their new concept of destiny—the idea that the Jews must become the chosen servants of Yahweh. The Jewish religion of the Old Testament really evolved in Babylon during the captivity.
The doctrine of immortality also took form at Babylon. The Jews had thought that the idea of the future life detracted from the emphasis of their gospel of social justice. Now for the first time theology displaced sociology and economics. Religion was taking shape as a system of human thought and conduct more and more to be separated from politics, sociology, and economics.
And so does the truth about the Jewish people disclose that much which has been regarded as sacred history turns out to be little more than the chronicle of ordinary profane history. Judaism was the soil out of which Christianity grew, but the Jews were not a miraculous people.