Tag Archives: history

Jews, Tribes, Trials and Tribulations

Please visit my author websiteJews, Tribes, Trials and Tribulations

Before I begin my discussion, I highly recommend The Historical Atlas of THE BIBLE: A visual Guide from Ancient Times to the NEW TESTAMENT: THE FASCINATING HISTORY OF THE SCRIPTURES by Dr. Ian Barns, to anyone interested in the history of religions which trace their origins to the Patriarch Abraham.

imageThe previous post posited the idea that socio-behavioral evolution selected for characteristics that enabled small hunter-gatherer groups to survive. It further implies that these are the same qualities that allow larger political units, like city-states, to develop and prosper. I also suggested religion in these civilizations was polytheistic with the exception of the Jews, but this oversimplification of history is consistent with the beliefs of the Judeo-Christian world, however less than accurate.

This map represents the tribal regions in Palestine before unification under Saul, the first king of a unified nation. This nation of the Israelites was formed about two centuries after the time of the exodus from Egypt in the mid to the latter part of the 13th Century BCE. Such maps as these imply that areas of Palestine were distributed to Jacob’s sons, who were twelve in number. Ten of Jacobs sons led ten of the tribes, and two carry the names of Josephs sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, which Jacob (Israel) had adopted. This was the extent of Palestine at the time of the Judges, who were the leaders in each of these tribal political zones of influence. This image of an organized nation reflects the Biblical record but belies the evidence of history.

Did Abram (Abraham after the covenant) exist? Perhaps! The Biblical record led archeologists to sites that represent settlements mentioned in the text of the Bible. There is also evidence of the wanderings of a group of nomadic/semi-nomadic peoples who left the region of Ur in ancient Sumer towards the very end of the late 3rd Millennium BCE. This wandering tribe of nomadic Semites, who may or may not have been led by a historical Abraham, travelled through the region of the Fertile Crescent to Egypt, then back to the land of the Canaanites. This wandering tribe or group of tribes, are the Hebrews) in search of a place to settle.

The biblically oriented view of the Patriarchs – (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph) – is as great leaders and founders of the Hebrew/Israelite nation. I tend to look at these leaders as pragmatic and politically astute individuals who shaped a peoples perspective on the nature of God. Each of them in their turn, built a foundation of an intellectually challenging and rational belief system that enabled the peoples who became the Jews to survive the trials and tribulation of history.

The individual identified as Abram (Abraham) was certainly a leader. He led his peoples from Ur to the Nile and back to the land of the Canaanites (also semi-nomadic Semitic peoples) to set up settlements in the part of the Fertile Crescent that received the most rainfall and had a fertile river valley included. This once wandering band of Semitic peoples now began to infiltrate the region and take over some of the Canaanite cities by force. Those Canaanites who played ball with the tribes following Abram became absorbed into the group, and those that didn’t met the fate of all conquered peoples who refuse to co-operate with the conquerors. There is no room for illusion or delusion here. The political masterstroke of the leader of these peoples was the single most important idea of this leader or cluster of leaders, and it all had to do with the beginnings of a monotheistic belief structure.

The principal god of the Canaanites was El. There were other gods to be sure, but El was the chief god amongst them. The word Elohim, which we find in the text of the Bible, simply meant gods. It is also possible that El was a god familiar to the wandering Semitic peoples led by Abraham. At this point in Abrams conquest, he conceives of an idea that is matched only by Saul of Tarsus (Paul), and his epiphany on the road to Damascus. Abram, desiring to grow his following, adopts El as the god of the Hebrews and now says that he is the one true God. Thus, it is possible to co-opt the people of Canaan who wished to join up with Abram’s followers. God also became portable and personal, which is important, because the Jews have literally wandered the globe throughout their history and have carried their idea of God with them.

The idea of one God was not easy to instill. Many pagan gods persisted among these early Hebrews, and that was fine, because leaders like Abraham knew that bold new ideas take time to become core beliefs for a group. Every time a new group of Canaanites were incorporated into the growing numbers of Abram’s followers, the proselytizing and conversions began again. The other master stroke of the leader we shall call Abram was to have a vision of God, establish a visible sign of the covenant (circumcision), and change his name to Abraham from Abram. The next problem for the leaders of this group of nascent monotheists was to eliminate human sacrifice. That was Abraham’s next task.

Abraham deals with the issue of human sacrifice by relating a story about how he was commanded by God to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. It was a test of loyalty. In the end, God saves Isaac from being sacrificed and offers a ram to be sacrificed in his place. The message was clear. Abraham let his followers know that God (El), did not approve of human sacrifice. Isaac takes Abraham’s place as patriarch, and besides his faithfulness to the God of the Hebrews, contributes two sons to the mix, Esau and Jacob. Although polygamy was an acceptable practice, he takes only one wife, which presages the idea of monogamy.

Jacob fathers twelve sons by three different wives. As the number of followers of the Hebrew God increases, it becomes a management issue. When a famine threatens the population, Jacob, his son’s and many of the Hebrew peoples go to Egypt. This, of course, becomes the story of Joseph. The Hebrew peoples manage to survive the famine and live in Egypt comfortably, increase in number, and settle in the area until the leadership changes. Joseph loses whatever political pull he had and the people are enslaved. By now, the Hebrew peoples are divided up into tribes led by the sons of Jacob.

The next great political leader of the Hebrews is Moses, who may or may not have been a Hebrew. It really doesn’t matter, because the exodus from Egypt had begun under the leadership of a man we call Moses. The Hebrew may have given up human sacrifice, but polytheism had not been completely extinguished. Moses’, with the support of the leaders of the Hebrew tribes, managed to work a deal that freed them from slavery. Thus began the return to Palestine. On the way, Moses ascends a mountain, stays for many days, and returns with the tablets containing the Ten Commandments. Another master stroke of political thinking.

Eventually, this large population of wandering Hebrews returns to Palestine under the leadership of ten of Jacob’s sons and Joseph’s sons who had been adopted by Jacob when Joseph died. The key thing to remember is that not all the Hebrews left for Egypt, and there was a population of Abrahamic Hebrews that were there when the Israelites who followed Moses out of Egypt arrived. The Patriarchs of the bible were astute political leaders who understood human nature. They understood the power of the idea of an invisible, ever present, personal God. They used some clever stories to bring those they led to monotheism and away from pagan beliefs. They also established a leadership structure that adjusted to the size and needs of the population they led.

The monotheism of the Hebrew/Israelites was the foundation for the Judeo-Christian world, and the Islamic peoples. It was also more than a religion. It was a political philosophy based in God (a theocracy) let by political and militarily capable men who are indeed Patriarchs (founders) of a people.

In my next post, I will address the development of the system rule by Judges, Kings and Clerics.

What do you think God would think of this post? Please comment…

Yours as always, your faithful blogger,

L Alan Weiss (Larry) – Author of Through a Lens of Emptiness: Reflections on Life, Longevity and Contentment

Please visit my author website at www.lalanweiss.com

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Writing – It’s All Trivium To Me

One’s concept of the meaning of a word, and its actual meaning are often at odds. The full meaning of the word diction provided one of those surprising contrasts. Griggs and Webster (the Guide and Handbook for Writing previously mentioned ) defines proper diction in writing as using the correct words, in the correct manner, at the correct time. Here are two simpler definitions available on the internet.

dic·tion
(dkshn)

n.

1. Choice and use of words in speech or writing.

2. Degree of clarity and distinctness of pronunciation in speech or singing; enunciation.

The second of the two definitions reflected my original understanding of the word, but the primary definition reflects the content in Griggs and Webster. I decided to find out some more about the origins of diction as an essential component of the writer’s craft before further reflection on its importance. The history of education provides the answers.

The heart and soul of DICTION was born when the “seven liberal arts” were born. They were organized into two groups, the Trivium and the Quadrivium. These two groups of subjects formed the backbone of classical education from ancient Greek civilization until the 19th century. Diction is grounded in the Trivium which covers the disciplines of grammar, logic and rhetoric. The rules of grammar govern the structure of writing, logic governs the sense of writing and rhetoric governs the persuasiveness of writing. There is nothing trivial about the Trivium. If one has an interest in history, particularly the history of education,  he or she should investigate the Quadrivium as well, which is the basis for the natural sciences.

The rhetorical skills of a writer are essential to success in his or her trade . A writer of fiction is just as interested in persuading a reader to become engrossed in their stories as the writer of non-fiction is in informing a reader, and driving greater interest in the topic of his or her book. As the pen is mightier than the sword, it is also like a double edged sword. The power of the sword is released through the cut and thrust of a swordsman. The power of a word is released through the writer’s choice for its meaning and its placement in a sentence. If the sentence is to exert its full force within a paragraph, then the words that comprise it must exert their full force within it. A skilled writer, like a skilled swordsman, triumphs through their ability to use of the weapons at hand.

The Trivium governs sound writing. This is my mantra as I write and rewrite. The logical organization and sequence of ideas supporting the thesis of a written work are the first order of business. The words come next in importance as they are arrayed one by one to form the sentences in a paragraph to act as instruments of information and persuasion. Each sentence is written according to the rules of grammar and the dictates of a good style manual. Finally the copy edit and polish is applied to the work, and another written gem is ready for the reader.

A postscript: This post was delayed by an exciting event, the receipt of my developmental edit results. I’ll be writing some preliminary comments about the editorial process to date in my next post. Until then . . .

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Why Anselm Kiefer?

Prior to a visit to the SFMOMA, I knew nothing about Kiefer and his work. The museum showcased his work in a special exhibit on display at a time I happened to be in San Francisco. Of all his work on display, a painting titled “Every man stands under his own dome of heaven” captured my attention and my thoughts.

Kiefer is a bit more than a year older than I, so he is one of my contemporaries. He was born in post war Germany (vanquished and diminished in so many ways), and I was born in the USA (one of the victors, and among that group of nations, the least devastated by war). As I learned more about the man, I tried to put myself in his place, growing up in a country so marked by the vestiges of war, that unexploded bombs still turn up as construction crews excavate for new projects or unearthed in a farmer’s field while cultivating. I thought about what it would it be like to grow up hearing of the shame associated with your country, and seeing the results of the physical and economic scares of defeat while you were in your formative years. In the USA, it was not shame, but the glory of helping to rid the world of evil that was the theme. I clearly remember my mother taking me to see Eisenhower’s motorcade down Broad Street in Philadelphia shortly after his election. I was taken to see the great man, the architect of conquest, who on at the end of his eight years in office, warned of the dangers of the mitlitary/industrial complex. I began to think about the impact of early memories and how they shape our future.

As I learned more about Kiefer and his art, it became clear that his creative expression was in part a reflection of his reactions to the influences of his youth. His history shaped his art and his philosophy as expressed in his works. It became apparent that the memories of his youth were integral to his autobiography, and hence his autobiographical memory was integral to his identity.

The concept of each one of us creating our own dome of heaven captured my imagination, and forced me to examine what my dome of heaven looked like, and how it came to be. In the process, the idea that preserving autobiographical memory was critical to preserving a sense of self became a dominating thought. How do you go about preserving memories that have already begun to fade? How does one go about resurrecting their autobiographical memory? How important is the preservation of self to our sense of well-being?

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Filed under The Big Picture