The land of milk and honey

In 1945, as compensation for the genocide committed by Germany (and Russia) on the Jews, the victorious allied nations confiscated land in Canaan from Palestine and awarded the Jews their own state. Palestine was under British mandate at the time and over 10,000 Palestinians joined the British army to fight against the Nazis. For these men and their families the confiscation of part of their land at the end of the war was seen as a betrayal of their loyalty to the allies.

In the Jewish minds, this decision not only compensated for the 20th century holocaust by the Germans, but also for the original 2nd century holocaust by the Romans. After the final crushing of Jewish revolutions against Roman occupation in 135ce, the Roman Emperor Hadrian changed the name of Judaea to Syria Palaestina and occupied Jerusalem as the Roman colony of Aelia Capitolina. The Jews who survived the slaughter were banished. They had been brutally expelled from the promised land, the land of milk and honey, into which the founder of the Jewish race, Abraham, had arrived 2,000 years earlier.

The history contained in the Hebrew bible contains clues as to the origins of the three original civilisations in Egypt, Greece and Sumer. According to the Bible’s book of Genesis, following the great flood the descendants of Noah settled on the eastern banks of the Mediterranean and over time their descendants grew and prospered throughout the region. Noah’s son Shem was given the land Eastwards from modern day Lebanon, Syria and the Euphrates waterway all the way to Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq) and the city of Sumer which was established 6,000 years ago. The descendants of Noah’s son Japheth travelled north and settled in areas around the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, as far as the Greek Islands. The descendants of Noah’s son Ham were the Hamites who occupied the southern Canaan coastal lands from whom the Philistines, now known as the Palestinians, descended; the Hamites extended their settlements down through North Africa from Egypt to Ethiopia. The centuries or millennia over which this migration occurred are not recorded.

Abraham, founder of the Jewish tribe, was born in Mesopotamia around 2000 bce, or a bit earlier. This region was one of the early civilisations of Sumer. The Sumerians are known for their skilled metalwork, stonework and statues. But more importantly they developed, or learned, the mathematics system based on the number 60, a twelve-month calendar based on moon cycles and a cuneiform alphabet which they used to keep records on clay tablets using a stylus. We also know that the oldest records of the science of astronomy are from Sumerian tablets dated back to the 3rd millennium bc and that they demonstrate that the Sumerians had a sophisticated knowledge of the solar system. Clearly an imaginative race. The Bible records in Genesis 10:10, that a man named Nimrod was the first ‘king’ of this region and built his city called Nippur. We know from unearthed and translated Sumerian tablets that a six or seven story Ziggurat had been built in the city of Nippur where this priest-king lived. The 10th-century Muslim historian Masudi recounts a legend identifying Nimrod to be the son of Mash, the son of Aram, son of Shem. 

The Bible also records that humans had been so successful in the development of a common language that God and his angels became alarmed by the construction of the Tower of Babel, which was a sign that humans were challenging God himself. To summarise the Biblical story according to Genesis 11: ‘throughout the land mankind spoke one language and they moved eastwards to the land of Shimar (Sumer). And they said: “Come let us build a town and tower with its top reaching to heaven”.’ The Tower of Babel, said to be a baked brick structure intended to reach the heavens, was halted by God and his angels, because (Gen. 11: 6-9) “the Lord said, ‘If as one people speaking the same language, they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other. ‘ So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world.” But what was it about this Babel tower that so concerned the God of the Bible, Yahweh? The Tower in question was built in Shimar (Sumer) which was Mesopotamia. Archaeology dates the arrival of humans into Mesopotamia between 3500 and 4500 BC. as they moved eastwards from the Mediterranean. This is from carbon dating the virgin soil beneath the earliest records of human occupation. 

The literal words of Genesis 11 are that the whole earth spoke one language. But this is the Bronze age. There were well-established civilisations in Egypt, Ethiopia, Greece, Sparta, Troy, China, Europe, North and South America and archaeology demonstrates that there were already many languages around the world. Being so concerned about this one baked-brick tower trying to ‘reach the heavens’ also seems a bit pointless when  just along the road the Egyptians were building their pyramids, the great one being almost 150 metres high. In Britain they built Stonehenge to study the heavens, in South America pyramids were being built and throughout Mesopotamia the remains of many ziggurats, all built between 3000 BC and 600 BC, used as observatories to study the heavens, have been uncovered .

In 1840 a French Consul in Mosul (now Iraq) who had been filling in his days riding in the desert, had came across mounds that contained pottery shards and also discovered a huge number of clay tablets containing cuneiform writing. Regarding them at first nothing more than a curiosity, a couple of years later he showed them to an Englishman he had befriended, Henry Layford. Layford was convinced this was a major archeological find. This then became a serious archeological site as a joint Anglo-French dig, albeit a clear demarcation line was drawn. But this dig uncovered the first Assyrian palace built by King Sargon 11 near Ninevah in 709BC. Tens of thousands of clay tablets were uncovered and removed for translation and preservation. The information on these tablets changed the whole timeframe understanding of human civilisation. They were written in 700BC but told stories that were 3,000 years old. There is one tablet, named VA/243, which shows all eight major planets in the solar system in correct relative size and the three main dwarf planets of Pluto, Eris and Ceres. It also showed planets circuiting the sun (represented by the star of David). It was not until the 16th century AD that modern astronomers worked out that the earth is travelling around the sun not the sun travelling around the earth; a fact that the Sumerians clearly knew thousands of years before modern science worked it out.

Photo of tablet VA/243; image credit unknown

While the five planets out to Saturn can be seen with the naked eye and were known to ancient astronomers, Uranus was only discovered by William Herschel in 1781, Ceres by Giuseppe Piazzi in 1801, Neptune was discovered by Johann Galle in 1846 and Pluto by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930. And yet these four planets are depicted accurately on this 700BC Sumerian tablet.

Babylon itself is first referenced in tablets as being a small city in Akkad around 2300 BC. Its status grew and in the 20th century BC, the first Babylonian dynasty was established. The Babylonians studied the Sumerians cuneiform alphabet and then adapted it to their own Akkadian language. Perhaps the story of the destruction of Babel and the one language was a recounting of the Babylonians conquering Sumer around 2000 bc. Perhaps the Sumerian priest/astronomers’ knowledge of the heavens was developing far more rapidly than God and his angels deemed safe for humans to possess. Was their imagination starting to get out of control? So was this Babel story no more than an historical account of the Babylonians plundering the library of knowledge, cosmology and science stored in the Priest-King’s Ziggurat in Nippur and then replacing the Sumerian cuneiform language with the Akkadian cuneiform language so that, within one generation, no one would be able to understand the Sumerian language and so the knowledge contained in the old Sumerian tablets would become confused and lost.

Abraham lived in the ancient Sumerian city of Ur, the centre of learning of the region where a huge Zigurat had been built to study the heavens. Abraham was therefore raised in a highly civilised environment, most likely with sophisticated knowledge of ancient history, astronomy and the beliefs in the three gods of that region An, Enlil and Enki. His decision to take his family west to the land of the Palestinians was at a time when his homeland was under military threat and indeed the 3rd Dynasty of Ur fell to the Elamites in 1950 bc, the time when Abraham is believed to have arrived in Canaan. He would have taken the knowledge and beliefs of his homeland with him which then formed the basis of the foundation of Judea and the Jewish tribe. Abraham a descendant of Shem arrived with his family in the land that Noah had allocated to his son Ham and his descendants where the Philistines lived and where they followed several local Gods, Dagon, Baal Zebub, Chemosh and Ashtoreth.

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 named those who went with Jacob and states their total number. With his eleven sons and their families they totalled 70 people. This would be dated as approximately 1800-1900 bce. 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 working as slaves for the Pharaoh. There Jacob and his family met Joseph again. Joseph had prospered in Egypt and was now very influential with the Pharaoh himself as a dream interpreter.

430 years later, around 1400BC, Moses, under the instruction of, and with the assistance of, the God who came to be known to the Israelites as Yahweh, persuaded the Pharaoh to let him lead the Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt (Exodus 12:41) and back to the Promised Land. The book of Numbers (26:51) tells us that 601,750 fighting-aged men (plus families) arrived in Canaan, 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 military training of Yahweh.

It was a very impressive logistical feat to move over a million ex-slaves on a forty year journey through the desert to prepare for an invasion. 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).

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). 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 satisfactorily explained why Yahweh led them on a 40-year wander around the wilderness when it was only an 11-day journey from Egypt to Canaan by the most direct route. The reason for detouring across the Sea of Reeds and travelling south 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 years 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.” Despite Yahweh’s original desire to avoid confrontation with the Philistines, the descendants of Noah’s son Ham, 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 felt the original enslaved Israelites did not have 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.

When the Israelites went into 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 believed these Gods of Canaan were false Gods. And so, with an army of 600,000 men, the Hebrews began attacking the inhabitants of Canaan beginning with the Midian people. The people of Midian had been obstructing the Israelites on their journey in the desert and so (Numbers 31: 1) “Yahweh spoke to Moses and said, ‘exact full vengeance for the sons of Israel on the Midianites. The Israelites captured the Midianite women and children and took all the Midianite herds, flocks and goods as plunder. 10 They burned all the towns where the Midianites had settled, as well as all their camps. 11 They took all the plunder and spoils, including the people and animals, 12 and brought the captives, spoils and plunder to Moses and Eleazar the priest and the Israelite assembly at their camp on the plains of Moab, by the Jordan across from Jericho.’ The Book of numbers details the spoils of war from that battle as: ‘The plunder remaining from the spoils that the soldiers took was 675,000 sheep, 33 72,000 cattle, 34 61,000 donkeys 35 and 32,000 women who had never slept with a man‘ as well as apportioning the share of the spoils that were given to the high priest of the Levites, servants of Yahweh’s tabernacle, as a tribute to Yahweh.

As to the legitimacy of their claim to the Promised land as descendants of Abraham, Jacob and his families would have occupied no more than a large farm or a small village in Canaan as the land they left behind when they migrated to Egypt. But twelve or more generations later, Abraham’s great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandchildren, hundreds of thousands of Egyptian-born slaves who could lay claim to a common ancestor in their family tree, set out to reclaim the the whole of Canaan surrounding that original farmland village which Jacob and his family originally abandoned over 400 years earlier. Exodus 12:41 said the Israelites were in Egypt 430 years so 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, totaling 1.2 million adults plus children. This would be the equivalent, if we fast forward to 2200AD, of a million-plus Australians identifying somewhere in their extended family tree a particular Yorkshireman who came to Sydney as an early migrant to escape the 19th century conditions of Britain. Then this family gathering of 1+ million setting off for England and claiming the whole of Yorkshire as their own land.

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 most violent intrusion into a land that had been legitimately populated by the 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, son of the god Dagon.

In one battle with the Philistines the Israelites lost the Ark of the Covenant that had been given to them by Yahweh. The Philistines slaughtered 30,000 Israelites and claimed the Ark, which they brought back to the temple of 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.

Yahweh communicated through the prophets. 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 military 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 Maccabees 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”. From that time the Jews became a homeless race wandering through Europe and the wider world, particularly America, in the last two centuries. Such was the infiltration of this race into the financial and political infrastructure of the western world that the re-creation of the Jewish state was achieved following World War Two although it continues to be fiercly opposed by the Palestinians. This was the land that Noah allotted to his son Ham and his descendants. Abraham was a descendant of Shem and since the invasion of Canaan by the Jews of Egypt 3,400 years ago, they have never known peace.

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