B412- The History of the Ancient Near East - From Joshua to Solomon

LECTURES


A. The Conquest and Settlement

1. Joshua and the Conquest

ASSIGNMENT: Read Joshua; Mays, The Oxford Bible Atlas, pp. 60-63.; Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts, pp. 320- 324.

The period of Joshua can be easily dated as occurring sometime after 1237 BC, according to the biblical chronology. The entry of the people into the land is fraught with debate. Some suggest that the notion of a "conquest" is extremely inaccurate. They suggest that the people did not conquer so much as they simply infiltrated and settled in small tribal groups. Others suggest that a small group left Egypt and along the way were joined by the landless; until eventually they entered the land as a surge of refugees. Though these suggestions are interesting, there is no reason to discount the traditional view that there were a relatively large group of people who left Egypt and conquered various cities until they gained a foothold throughout the territory of Canaan. From the conquest of Jericho to the covenant ceremony in Shechem, the people of Israel seem to have had no difficulty in attaining what they desired, again, according to the Biblical text. There was, after all, no centralized government in Canaan at the time; thus making it very easy for the Israelites to settle where they wished without much opposition. Yet we must remember that there is no archaeological or textual evidence for any of the narrative outside the bible.

As to the historical Joshua, little can be said apart what is said in the Biblical text. There is no evidence of him outside of the Bible. But this does not mean that he was merely a literary invention (as some modern scholars suggest). In fact, it seems quite reasonable that after the death of Moses a leader among the people would need to finish the journey that had begun so many years earlier.

2. The Period of the Judges.

ASSIGNMENT: Read Judges- I Samuel 6.

Once the people of Israel had settled in their allotted territories, the y lived essentially as farmers. They grew crops and worshipped (for the most part) the gods of the Cannaanites among whom they lived. Each territory had its "Ba'al" or "master" who was worshipped at the local high place or temple. Such a temple has been unearthed as far north as Tell-Dan and as far south as Beer-Sheba. The most intriguing thing about this is that in the ancient Near East "whose territory was their god" was a philosophy hardly abandoned by any settler or traveler. That is, a visitor to Canaan from Ur would worship the local god at the local sanctuary, and vice versa. Thus, when Israel entered the land there was a very powerful urge to worship the gods of the area. Yahweh was, after all, the God of the desert and the God of deliverance. But once Israel settled in the land it was only proper for many of the Israelites to adopt the fertility gods worshipped by their neighbors -- who farmed as they did. The later Biblical writers railed against this attitude and it was not until the Babylonian exile that Israel can truly be called exclusively Yahwistic (that is, worshippers of Yahweh alone). (NOTE: Yahweh is the Hebrew name of God -- sometimes transliterated [inaccurately] as "Jehovah"; more often rendered "Lord" in English translations as a consequence of the Jewish tradition of never pronouncing God's name. Instead, when the Jewish people read the Bible and they come upon God's name, they say "adonai", which is Hebrew for "Lord". God's name in actuality seems to be a third person form of the Hebrew verb, "to be"; hense, if we were to translate God's name, it might actually be something like "He is", following the analogy of Exodus 3:14.)

During this period, after the death of Joshua, the Israelites were led by those who would later be called judges. These "judges" were not so much judiciaries as they were military leaders. Israel would wander from God; they would be oppressed by an enemy; they would cry out for deliverance, recognizing their unfaithfulness to God; God would raise up a judge who would deliver them. Then, after a few years, the cycle would repeat itself again. This "judges cycle" was never a country wide event. Rather, these judges were regional leaders who did not have authority in the entire country.

The last and most significant of these judges was Saul. Saul is usually considered the first King, but if the reader of the text pays particular attention he or she will notice that Saul is more judge than King. That is, his authority exists only when there is a crisis and when the crisis is over he returns to his farm to carry out his family's business. He had no centralized government and no regular army. He was, in short, more judge like than king like.

The historical time-frame of the Judges was from the death of Joshua (around 1230 BC, perhaps) till the establishment of the kingdom under David (around 1000 BC).

B. The United Kingdom of David and Solomon

ASSIGNMENT: Read 1 and 2 Samuel.

The greatest bulk of the books of Samuel have to do with the kingdom of David and Solomon. There is, again, no archaeological evidence for the existence of this united kingdom. In all likelyhood, David and Solomon were, like Saul, tribal leaders whose names were later made into eponyms. But according to the biblical account, the rule of David probably began around the year 1000 and lasted until around 960 BC. His son Solomon ruled from 960 till 920 BCE The kingdom established by David and expanded by Solomon would see Israel at its greatest power and its greatest geographical control.

1. The Kingdom of David

a) Consolidation

When David assumed control of the tribes of Israel during the later life time of Saul, he set in motion a series of events that would prove to be very beneficial to his long term political goals. First, he eliminated t he descendants of Saul who could have challenged his leadership. As descendants of the most recent charismatic leader (judge), the children of Saul could have been a source of great disharmony in the united kingdom that David was attempting to establish. Thus, David, through his lieutenants, saw to it that the most capable of Saul's sons were removed from the scene.

Second, he made the capital of his kingdom the neutral city of Jabesh/Jerusalem. Jerusalem was not in the territory of any of the tribes and thus it was not politically connected to any of the tribes. David thereby a voided the natural pitfalls attendant to the choice of any city as a capital (i.e., "this is our city, not yours", etc.). Further, David also made Jerusalem the center of the spiritual life of the country by moving the here-to-fore mobile sanctuary to it and planning to build it a permanent home (the later Temple).

b) Expansion

Along with David's political strategy lay his military strategy: provide security and you will be admired and adored. In line with this goal D avid eliminated the Philistine threat which had dogged Saul his whole life and expanded the territory of Israel to nearly double the size governed by Saul. David also established treaties with the larger states that surrounded Israel and thus was able to form a buffer zone between his nascent kingdom and the great powers of the Ancient Near East.

In short, David was a brilliant (if not crafty) politician and military leader. His shortcomings (as the Bathsheba incident, etc. show), served ultimately to endear him to his people ("because he is just like us!") David is thus called the "apple of God's eye"! A truly remarkable description in light of his incredible cruelty and his standing as an absolute despot.

The reign of David ended approximately 40 years after it began. His son Solomon was chosen by him as his successor.

2. The Rule of Solomon

ASSIGNMENT: Read Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel and Song of Solomon.

a) Building

The reign of Solomon was characterized by building and bureaucracy. Solomon built the famous Temple in Jerusalem in an incredible seven years (though there is as of yet no archeaological evidence that the Temple existed). Yet the Deuteronomist (the theological historiographer ) who penned the books of Joshua through 2 Kings) does not hesitate to tell us that it took fourteen years for Solomon to build his own house. Solomon also built a number o f fortresses, stables, villages, and storerooms. In fact, though ancient Israelites are not known for their architectural achievements, (the Egyptians far exceeded them in this) Solomon is a notable exception. Only Herod the Great built more than Solomon did!

Solomon's building projects did not end with his erection of a temple and the cities he is credited with establishing. He also built alliances with his neighbors. He married so many foreign women, in order to establish treaties with their respective countries, that the Deuteronomist maintains that he had 700 wives and 300 concubines! It is clear that the Deuteronomist was intentionally exaggerating the power and influence of Solomon.

b) Bureaucracy

To run this massive government (in ancient terms, of course) was an enterprise which no single person or small group of advisors could manage. Solomon thus began to train governmental employees in what can best be described as "wisdom schools". These schools (patronized by Solomon' s riches) were established in various parts of the country, but specifically in Jerusalem. These schools trained young men to be diplomats, ambassadors, and government employees. The remnants of the ideas taught in these schools are encapsulated in the Biblical wisdom literature: Psalms (in part), Proverbs, Qoheleth (Ecclesiastes), Song of Solomon, and Esther(!) as well as Daniel and Job. The purpose of this literature is to show the young "wise man" how he is to behave in the royal court, whether at home or abroad.

The later years of Solomon's reign were not as happy as the early year s. His foreign wives came to wield power over him so that his decisions were more beneficial to the families these women came from than they were to Israel. The high taxes he levied for his many projects came to be despised by the laborers who bore the burden of payment, and the tribes (except Benjamin) which were not "Davidic" were growing restless in their desire to have a representative on the throne. So when Solomon died (sometime around 920 BC) he left a vacuum of power which his weak son Rehoboam was not capable of filling. The death of Solomon, then, was the death of the United Kingdom (though the body would not be buried until later).