in the bosom of Abraham.
Has there ever, through history, been a more troubled piece of earth than the strip of land on the east coast of the Mediteranean sea between Turkey to the north and and Egypt to the south?
The history of Israel begins with Abraham, the Yahweh-annointed father of the Hebrew nation.
Abraham was born in Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) around 2000BCE, or a bit earlier, (4,000+ years ago). Abraham, under God’s instruction (Genesis 12) took his family to Canaan, the coastal strip of land that was originally populated by Ham, son of Noah, and is now the modern Israel, including the West Bank and Gaza.
Abraham had a son Isaac with his wife Sarah (plus many more illegitimates by concubines), Isaac married Rebekah and had two sons Esau and Jacob. Esau moved away to Seir (Gen. 36:6) as the land could not support both his and Jacob’s families.
Jacob had twelve sons including Joseph by his second wife Rachel. Through jealousy of Joseph’s favoured status with Jacob, his brothers sold him into slavery and he eventually arrived in Egypt. Some years after the selling of Joseph as a slave, Jacob took his family to Egypt due to famine in Canaan. Genesis 46:27 and Exodus 1:1 names those who went with Jacob and state their total number. With his eleven sons and their families they totalled 70 people.
Egypt was emerging as a strong civilisation as so many farmers from other parts of Africa had progressively migrated to the very fertile land in the Nile valley. There they met Joseph again. Joseph had prospered in Egypt and was now very influential with the Pharaoh himself as a dream interpreter. Around 1400BC a Hebrew called Moses, under the instruction and with the assistance of the God known to the Israelites as Yahweh, persuaded the Pharaoh to let him lead the Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt (Exodus 12:41).
The assistance of Yahweh was in the form of temporarily creating a powerful wind to hold back the water of the Sea of Reeds to allow a crossing and to safeguard them from the chasing Egyptians whose Pharaoh had apparently had a change of heart about freeing them. Yahweh guided them through the wilderness by way of a “cloud” hovering over them during the day and that cloud becoming a pillar of light for night travel. (Exodus 13:21). Periodically the “cloud” would land beside the tent of meeting and God would meet with the leaders of the Hebrews. (Exodus 33: 7-11).
Exodus 12:41 said the Israelites were in Egypt 430 years. They would have left Egypt with Moses around 1400BC and, according to Exodus 12:37 there were 600,000 Hebrew men plus their families. 600,000 men would have had a similar number of women in the same age, totalling 1.2 million adults plus children. To get that growth rate the Hebrews had to be breeding at several times their base population, so at a minimum four children per breeding pair, which gives a total population of 6 million people. To cross-check those numbers, even assuming the 70 original Israelites arriving in Egypt were equal breeding pairs, and ignoring for the moment that the children are all first cousins, if each breeding pair produced four breeding pairs, that is eight children, over a fifty-year period, there would still only be 80,640 breeding pairs after 400 years. So with every single person producing 4 children (eight per couple), after 400 years the total population would have grown from 70 to 161,280. That 600,000 men plus wives and families left Egypt 430 years after arriving as 11 men plus families seems implausible, however that is what the Bible states. Perhaps other tribes from the Middle East region also settled with them, also seeking a better life in Egypt.
In the wilderness food was clearly a major concern for such a large population. Yahweh was also responsible for an aerial drop of a bread substance, six days a week for forty years to feed the travelling Israelites in the desert. The bread or dough appears to have arrived frozen: “in the morning there was a coating of dew all round the camp. When the coating of dew lifted there was a thing delicate, powdery…that, said Moses is the bread Yahweh gives you to eat.” (Exodus 16: 13-15). “And when the sun grew hot, it dissolved” (Exodus 16:21).
Finally Yahweh led the Israelites in battle to conquer the lands of Canaan Deuteronomy 1:29-30.
Yahweh demanded singularity of recognition as the God of the Israelites. His first commandment of all the rules for conduct he gave to Moses was: “I am Yahweh, your God, you shall worship no other Gods but me. For I, Yahweh am a jealous God. “ (Exodus 20).
However Yahweh never in the Bible said he was the only Deity, his words in the first commandment indicate there are other Gods although Israelites believe He was referring to pagan idols rather than real Gods.
After 40 years in the desert, the twelve tribes finally arrived back in Canaan, although Moses had not lived to reach his destination. It is never explained why Yahweh led them on a 40 year wander around the wilderness when it was actually only an 11-day journey from Egypt to Canaan by the most direct route? The reason for detouring across the Sea of Reeds and into the wilderness was given as avoiding confrontation with the Philistines, (Exodus 13: 17) which, Yahweh was concerned, would encourage the Israelites to return to Egypt. This longer route explains why it would take more than 11 days for the journey, however 40 years is an extraordinarily long detour. The explanation in Deuteronomy 8:2-3 “Yahweh, your God, led you for forty year in the wilderness, to humble you, to test you and know your innermost heart.” But in Joshua 5:6 it says “The Israelites had moved about in the wilderness forty years until all the men who were of military age when they left Egypt had died,” It continued that the reason they died was because they disobeyed God.
After 40 years in the wilderness, 601,750 fighting-age men (plus families) arrived in Canaan (Numbers 26:51), a similar number to that which departed Egypt 40 years earlier and it would appear a reasonable assumption that Yahweh intended that the generation arriving in Canaan would have been raised from a very young age under the laws, guidance and possibly military training of Yahweh.
Despite Yahweh’s original desire to avoid confrontation with the Philistines, there was a great deal of military action, bloodshed, looting and slavery of young women undertaken under Yahweh’s instruction before the Israelites eventually re-established themselves in the land of Canaan forty years after the escape from Egypt. Clearly the new generation of Hebrews had been trained for war during their decades in the wilderness. Perhaps Yahweh had not felt the original enslaved Israelites had the necessary military skill and strength of character to conquer Canaan, which is why He avoided initial military conflict with the Philistines when they first escaped Egypt.
But with an army of 600,000 men, the Hebrews began attacking the inhabitants of Canaan beginning with the Midian people. Numbers 31: 1 “Yahweh spoke to Moses and said ‘exact full vengeance for the sons of Israel on the Midianites.’
The God Yahweh was certainly a God of war, not peace. He brought the Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land, but it was a violent intrusion into a land that had been legitimately populated by other tribes, understood to be descendants of Ham, son of Noah, and the Hebrews have not known peace since they arrived there.The Israelites continued their battles against the residents throughout Canaan until they had established themselves in this Promised Land.
The tribes of Israel were allocated their areas of land according to Yahweh’s instruction and continued to live tribal life over the next 3-400 years with neither central government nor central place of worship to Yahweh. The governance was by the tribal Judges (Holy Men) and the military leaders. But it was a life both of integration into Canaanite cities and intermarriage with Canaanites and also constant tribal wars. Many who integrated with the Canaanites abandoned Yahweh and gave their loyalty to the God of the Canaanites, Baal.
Yahweh communicated through the prophets. In one battle with the Philistines, who had become the most powerful race in the region, the Israelites lost the Ark of the Covenant with the Lord Yahweh. The Philistines slaughtered 30,000 Israelites and claimed the Ark, which they brought back to the temple of their god Dagon, in Ashdod, which was on the coast of the West Bank. However the Philistines returned the Ark to the Israelites seven months later when their people had become afflicted with boils and ulcers and other calamities that they attributed to possessing the Ark. The return of the Ark sparked a renewed interest among the Jews in the heritage of Yahweh and the journey from Egypt.
Samuel, who had ‘heard the voice of God’ since a young person was the acknowledged senior Prophet and Judge of Israel. Samuel preached the return to the laws of the Bible, and, under the instruction of Yahweh, anointed a man named Saul as the first King of Israel under whose rule the twelve tribes could be united. This was 1046 BCE, just over 3,000 years ago. It was the same time that Rome was established as a settlement of farmers and shepherds. There was a level of dissatisfaction with Saul during his reign and conversely much support for David, a military hero and leader following his slaying of Goliath. There was much conflict between Saul and David, although David did marry Saul’s daughter. Saul died in the battle of Gilboa against the Philistines when he fell on his sword rather than be captured. David at the time had led a successful battle against the Amalekites.
At this time Saul’s army commander appointed Saul’s son, Ishbaal as king of Israel. The nation became divided between the House of Saul, which was based in northern Israel, and the House of David, which was based in Judea. They met in battle at Gibeon and David was victorious. As the House of Saul became weaker, Ishbaal’s own men eventually murdered him and delivered his head to David. They were put to death for their treachery.
Under King David, Israel was united and the Israelites conquered their old enemy, the Philistines and established Jerusalem as David’s city. David was succeeded by his son, Solomon. After Solomon’s death in 925 BC Israel again became divided between Israel and Judea.
The Kings of Israel ruled until 721 BC when the Assyrians conquered Northern Israel; the Kingdom of Judea lasted until 605 BC when the Babylonians conquered them and the temple was destroyed and over subsequent periods to 582 BC the Jews were deported into captivity in Babylon.
In 538 BC the Persians conquered the Babylonians and ruled Judea; then in 332 BC Alexander the Great conquered the Persians and brought Judea under the Greek Empire. Judea was temporarily independent again when the Jewish tribe of the Maccadees staged a successful revolt in 164 BC but then in 63 BC the Romans acquired the state when they conquered the Greek empire.
The Romans eventually tired of the regular Jewish insurrections and in 135 AD, they brutally crushed the Jewish state with hundreds of thousands of Jews killed, deported or sold into slavery. The Romans renamed Judea as Palestine (Palaestina) derived from “Philistine”.
It was not until 1948 AD, after the Second World War, that the victorious gentile nations re-created the state of Israel, a state that remains in a state of war with the Palestinians as they had from their arrival out of Egypt 3,500 years earlier.
Today, in the 21st century, this region still presents a volatility that threatens the peace of the entire earth. According to their Bible, a very small tribe of descendants of Abraham, 70 people, left the region of milk and honey during very serious famine, when milk and honey was nowhere to be found, and went to live in Egypt; they returned 400+ years later as an army of 600,000 men plus families and brutally waged war on the tribes that lived there. They established their own nation of Israel with bloodshed and they have never known peace since.
footnote: I could not find any record of what became of Essau and his family. Esau was of course Abraham’s grandson but did not travel to Egypt with Jacob’s family. Presumably they joined up after Isaac’s tribe returned from Egypt.