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PERSIA & CREATION OF JUDAISM

Book 4. Sacred History or Phoney History?

The Divided Monarchy (Part II): Puzzles in the History of Israel and Judah


 

 

Twin Statelelets - Israel and Judah

 

Believers in the bible think Israel and Judah were twin states with the same God and culture. Archaeology belies it. Pottery, architecture, landscape and climate were all substantially different, so the two states were far from identical twins, if they could be called twins at all. Israel was more prosperous and closer to the trade routes to Phœnicia, Syria and Egypt. Judah was poor, off the trade routes, in quite high hills, that no one would willingly climb without a good reason, in those days. The Egyptians planted a few watch towers in the mountains, but otherwise, they too were not interested in the almost empty hill country.

Trading countries are more likely to change because they are subject to invaders coming along the routes and because they were subject to foreign fashions and influences. Judah was conservative out of lack of these influences, and sheer poverty. Judah’s pottery and architecture were more standard whereas those of Israel were more varied and flamboyant. Architecture was meant to impress in places where merchants and potential invaders passed regularly, but there was no need to impress and few people to impress in the hills.

Israel emerged in history, as opposed to biblical history, about 850 BC. Judah did not emerge until after 750 BC. Pottery factories developed in Israel about 850 BC, but in Judah only after 750 BC. Wine and olive production rose rapidly in the eighth century in Israel, but followed only in the seventh in Judah. Trade records on ostraca, and then seals and seal impressions on pottery appear first in Israel, then in Judah.

Ahaz (732-715 BC) was formally recognized as king of Judah. It will have been Ahaz’s reward as a loyal soldier of the Assyrians. Ahaz introduced Assyrian religious practices into Judah, according to the bible (2 Kgs 16:10-16). So, Ahaz and then Hezekiah were set up as Assyrian puppets. Judah was created out of a rib of Israel in the 730s BC, surely from the machinations of Assyrian “prophets”, and took over as the local petty kingdom from 722 BC, apparently an independent rump of the former Israel. It seems likely that Judah had previously, for most of its history, been a part of Israel, and not independent, but with Assyrian encouragement seceded at about the time of the alliance. When Israel became a part of the Assyrian empire as its province of Samerina, Judah was all that remained of an independent Canaan. Judah was always a vassal of Assyria or Babylonia. It was never an independent country until the Maccabees.

Menehem of Israel (753-742 BC) and Ahaz of Judah (730-715 BC) paid tribute to the Assyrian ruler. The bible says Menehem paid a huge bribe to the Assyrians to keep his kingship, suggesting it was strongly threatened. His son, Pekahiah, lasted no time before he was assassinated by Pekah. Hosea was set up as the puppet king of Israel in 731 BC, immediately after the fall of Damascus. Hosea was deposed, according to convention in 722 BC, and Israel ceased to be. This was about the time that Judah was invented. In the reign of Esarhaddon (680-669 BC), it is Manasseh of Judah who provides forced labour for the Assyrians.

Israel disappeared from history as an independent country about 720 BC, the same time that Judah appeared, according to external records. Carchemesh followed because the Hittites of Carchemesh had formed an alliance of small states including the weakened Urartu, but after a six year war the allies were defeated and the king of Urartu, Ursa (Rusa), seems to have committed suicide. Judah was the worthless rump of Israel, and never anything other than a puppet of the Assyrians. For that reason, the Babylonians finished Judah off to complete the destruction of Samaria.

Albrecht Alt surmised that Samaria had ruled Judah until the time of Nehemiah, and that was the root of the bad feeling of Jews for Samaritans. The bad feeling probably came with the refusal of the transported “captives” in the fifth century to accept any help from the native people of the Palestinian hills, but James D Purvis says more recent discoveries have not invalidated Alt’s main conclusion. Who, one might ask are the kings of Judah before this time? The answer is that they are mythical, are city chiefs or are displaced characters from the northern state of Yauda.

Judah was all that remained of Israel when the valuable parts of the country were absorbed into Assyria, because Judah was too poor and unimportant for the Assyrians to bother to administer, though some refugees must have moved there from Israel to avoid Assyrian rule. It was left as wild and unadopted grazing for sheep with some encouragement from ateliers in the richer lowlands to grow cash crops of vine and olives. Making and distributing wine and olive oil was then in some ways like the petroleum industry today. It needed sophisticated co-ordination, production and distribution, and provided work for masses of people.

The architecture of cities like Samaria, Megiddo, Jezreel and Hazor have many common features, even to mason’s factory or individual marks in the buildings of Samaria and Megiddo. Towns like these were hilltop palaces built of ashlar stone blocks with a prominent gate, courtyard and place for administration. The ordinary people lived outside this administrative center, the design of which seems to be like that of the cities to the north in Phœnicia. Similar structures have never been found in Judah.

Only with the takeover of Samaria and the spoiling of Lachish by the Assyrians did Jerusalem become important. The bible says nothing much about Lachish even though it was an important town only thirty miles from Jerusalem. Its destruction by the Assyrians, in 701 BC, left an opportunity for Jerusalem to grow from an unimportant small town to replace Lachish as a center for the trade in olives and wine—in short, as the local market town.

The seventh century is always considered a time of religious and cultural revival in the ancient near east with noble monarchs like Assurbanipal, Nebuchadrezzer and Nabonidus collecting together ancient materials. Care is needed however, because the Persians a couple of centuries later surreptitiously enforced cultural and religious unity often attributing it to earlier times through pseudo-histories, psudepigraphs and legal and religious codification. Thus the Deuteronomic law was introduced in fifth century Yehud but an accompanying pseudo-history attributes it to the seventh century reforms of Josiah. So what is said by scholars to have been an example of Israelite religious zeal of the seventh century is a myth written in the fifth.

Soggin, refering to the supposed religious reforms of Hezekiah, says they have “every appearance of being a projection of later attempts on the past in order to give them greater authority”. If this is true, it is even more true of the reforms of Josiah, a few decades later. These reforms are all described with the unmistakeable stylistic stamp of the Deuteronomistic historian—the justification for setting up the temple state of Jerusalem, Yehud, in the Persian period and to restore the worship of Yehouah in the way that the Persians wanted it to be.

Hezekiah and Sennacherib

Hezekiah was king of Judah, of that there is no doubt. He was mentioned by Sargon II and by Sennacherib. Sargon listed Judah as paying tribute alongside Philistia, Edom and Moab. He actually fought three campaigns against Philistia but also called himself the “subduer of the kingdom of Judah”.

It seems Hezekiah was at first a faithful vassal of the Assyrians whom he assisted. An anti-Assyrian alliance of about 720 BC, consisting of Gaza, Hamath and the Samarians, supported by Egypt, seemed not to include Judah. The Assyrians defeated the alliance and imposed harsh reprisals.

Later, though, in 713-711 BC, Hezekiah was in alliance with the Philistines of Ashdod and other cities, Edom, Moab and Babylon against Assyria, again supported by Egypt. The allies lost again, but Hezekiah seems to have stepped back in time to avoid serious reprisals. Sargon defeated Babylon in 710 BC. Merodach-Baladan was chased into Bit Yadin in the marshes and its conquered citizens were transported in chains to Nineveh. Sargon put down the Elamites, then returned to Hamath which had revolted under a king called Yehubihdi or Ilubihdi, an hypocoristic name that shows he worshipped Yehouah, and that Yehouah and El were even then being equated, and that Yehouah was not, as biblicists insist only the god of Israel. Hamath was a country to the north, inland from Phœnicia, and even there Yehouah was an object of worship. Hamath was defeated and 4,300 people were transported.

Sargon was murdered in 705 BC by his troops and Sennacherib succeeded. By 705 BC, Hezekiah is depicted as the leader of an alliance and takes the king of Ekron, who seems to oppose it, as a prisoner. Merodach-Baladan, now pretender to the throne of Babylonia, was not finished. He had also again seceded in Babylon and supported the allies. He sent ambassadors to form alliances, and the bible mentions them in Hezekiah’s Jerusalem. Hezekiah expected to be part of a large confederacy, but Sennacherib was up to the challenge of the allies, cleaned up Babylonia, then came west with a strong punitive force to settle the Egyptians at Elteqeh. Sennacherib wrote after the battle of Elteqeh:

Trusting in Assur, My Lord, I fought with them and overthrew them.

 

A will, written by Sennacherib, ends with the prayer:

Thine is the kingdom, O Nebo, Our Light.

 

These show that the Assyrian king regarded his god just as the believers in Yehouah in the scriptures regarded theirs, and even used the same phrases. Having disposed of Lachish by seige, he seiged Jerusalem. Jerusalem was apparently not defeated, but, in both the bible and the Assyrian annals, Hezekiah decided to abandon the alliance and pay tribute for the Assyrians to desist. The tribute recorded in Assyrian archives is 30 talents (a tonne) of gold and 800 talents (24 tonnes) of silver (300 in the bible). Again, this seems a huge charge to place on a small country.

In the story about Sennacherib’s attack on Jerusalem in 701 BC, the scriptures say that, in the fourteenth year of king Hezekiah, Sennacherib, king of Assyria, came up against all the fenced cities of Judah, and took them. And king Hezekiah behaved well in the eyes of the Lord, revolted against the Assyrians and smote the Philistines, but when the Assyrian king is at Lachish, Hezekiah surrendered to the Assyrians and paid tribute to his overlord.

Hezekiah king of Judah sent to the king of Assyria to Lachish, saying, I have offended; return from me: that which you puttest on me will I bear. And the king of Assyria appointed unto Hezekiah king of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold. And Hezekiah gave him all the silver that was found in the house of the Lord, and in the treasures of the king’s house. At that time did Hezekiah cut off the gold from the doors of the temple of the Lord, and from the pillars which Hezekiah king of Judah had overlaid, and gave it to the king of Assyria.
2 Kings 18:13-16

 

But then, the Assyrian king sent his general, Rabshakeh—really the Assyrian High Cup-Bearer ( = Rabshakeh), a ministerial position—to Jerusalem, where, in front of the gates of Jerusalem, he delivered an aggressive speech. Hezekiah, in great distress, turned to the prophet Isaiah who promised the assistance of God against the Assyrians. The Assyrian general returned to his master now about to confront an Egyptian army trying to outflank them. Rabshakeh sent a letter to Hezekiah repeating many of the threats against Judah already delivered in his speech. Hezekiah asked the Lord to help him against the Assyrian army. He obliges by sending His nasty angel to kill 185,000 Assyrian soldiers during the night, forcing Sennacherib to withdraw in dismay. Herodotus records the different story that the army was overcome by the Egyptians because mice ate the cords of their bows. The bible then says Sennacherib was murdered. Biblicists claim the biblical account is contemporaneous even though the death of Sennacherib was twenty years later. It also calls the Egyptian general a pharaoh, Tirhakah (Taharqa), which he did not become for another decade. Knowing the Assyrian minister’s title as Rabshakeh implies Mesopotamian knowledge, and the dead Assyrians is the same number as those killed by Narum-Sin, the Sargonid king, legendary even then.

The narrative in these chapters is not a homogenous description of the events of 701 BC. The Rabshakeh incident is superfluous. Hezekiah had already surrendered and paid his tribute to the king of Assyria. The Assyrian king had already achieved his goal, to stop the rebellion in southwestern Palestine. The modern historian would try to distinguish between the historical and the mythological, looking for historical information in the short description of Sennacherib’s campaign at the beginning of the narrative in 2 Kings 18-19, rather than in the expansion that follows.

In the seige of Jerusalem, Rabshakeh, according to the Jewish scriptures, addressed the besieged Jerusalemites in Hebrew instead of Aramaic, so that the ordinary people watching from the walls could understand him. He was invited to speak in Aramaic, the court and diplomatic language, but it seems the people only understood Hebrew. Aramaic became the international language—“Imperial Aramaic”, but that was in Persian times. Biblicists conclude that Hebrew was such an important language that High Assyrian officials must have known it, though skeptical historians think it as likely as George W Bush being able to address the Iraqis fluently in Arabic.

The expression, “eat faeces and drink urine”, thought to have meant the threat of the consequences of resistance, has been traced to the Egyptian Book of the Dead where it simply means death. Copying the Book of the Dead was an industry in Egypt in Persian times, as Herodotus says, so the source of the expressions in both books could have been Persian. If it appears in the Pyramid Texts, its Egyptian provenance is confirmed. Even so, the literary matrix of the story could have been Egypt in Ptolemaic times when the Egyptian rulers favoured the Jerusalem priesthood.

The Rabshakeh (2 Kg 18:22) knew that Hezekiah had started a religious reform, but thought he had done the one remarkable thing that he had not done—removed the altars and high places. Josiah only did it, in the bible, a century later.

Archaeologists have found Sennacherib’s royal annals of the campaign. It opened with a diversion to Phœnicia, to Sidon, to clear obstacles behind the front line and to safeguard the retreat. In Palestine, the “Judaean” Hezekiah had interfered with loyal Assyrian vassals including Padi, the king of Ekron, who Hezekiah held prisoner. Hezekiah and his allies had also approached the king of Egypt. The Egyptian army had arrived and prepared for battle at Elteqeh. Sennacherib conquered the cities of Elteqeh and Timnah, and and occupied Ekron. Hezekiah had to set Padi of Ekron free and he was reinstalled as an Assyrian vassal. Hezekiah did not yield any further but Sennacherib devastated his country, destroyed 46 fortified cities and trapped Hezekiah in Jerusalem. The devastated parts of Hezekiah’s kingdom were handed over to the Philistines. Hezekiah paid a heavy tribute, delivered by his envoys to the Assyrian king in Nineveh. In his own words…

 

I drew nigh to Ekron and I slew the governors and princes that had transgressed, and I hung upon poles, round about the city, their dead bodies. Sennacherib Prism with the fifth edition of his annals, giving the seiging of Hezekiah in Jerusalem. British Museum The people of the city who had done wickedly and had committed offences, I counted as spoil, but those who had not done these things and who were not taken in inquity, I pardoned. I brought their king Padi forth from Jerusalem and I stablished him upon the throne of dominion over them, and I laid tribute upon him.

I then beseiged Hezekiah of Judah, who had not submitted to my yoke, and I captured forty six of his strong cities and fortresses, and innumerable small cities which were round about them, with the battering rams and the assault of engines, and the attack of foot soldiers, and by mines and breaches. I brought out therefrom two hundred thousand and one hundred and fifty people, both small and great, male and female, and horses, and mules, and asses, and camels, and oxen, and innumerable sheep I counted as spoil. Himself, like a caged bird, I shut up within Jerusalem, his royal city. I threw up mounds against him, and I took vengeance upon any man who came forth from the city.

His cities, which I had captured, I took from him and gave to Mitinti, king of Ashdod, and Padi, king of Ekron, and Silli-bel, king of Gaza, and I reduced his land. I added to their former yearly tribute, and increased the gifts which they paid unto me. The fear of the majesty of my sovereignty overwhelmed Hezekiah, and the Urbi and his trusty warriors, whom he had brought into his royal city of Jerusalem to protect it, deserted.


And he despatched after me his messenger to my royal city Nineveh to pay tribute and to make submission with thirty talents of gold, eight hundred talents of silver, precious stones, eye-paint, … ivory couches and thrones, hides and tusks, precious woods, and divers objects, a heavy treasure, together with his daughters, and the women of his palace, and male and female musicians.

 

The biblical narrative and Sennacherib’s annals are two reflexions of the campaign of Sennacherib that ended when Hezekiah gave in and paid the tribute the Assyrians demanded. The two versions agree that Hezekiah rebelled against the Assyrians, Sennacherib attacked his country and destroyed many cities, at the end Hezekiah paid a tribute, but Jerusalem remained in his hand unharmed. 2 Kings is correct that the Assyrians did not conquer Jerusalem. Hezekiah did not willingly “centralize” the cult at Jerusalem, the Assyrians did it for him by destroying the other cult centers of Israel, leaving only that at Jerusalem. Differences are chronological details such as when and where Hezekiah sent his tribute and how big it was.

Only the siege of Jerusalem in the bible is historical, and the rest is a romance written not before the fifth century—when Aramaic became the Persian lingua Franca—and possibly not until the third century when the Greek Egyptian kings commissioned the Jewish scriptures in Greek. Besides the appearance of an Egyptian army in Palestine at this time, nothing else is historical about the Rabshakeh incident. The author of 2 Kings had proper history to work from but invented the Rabshakeh incident to show the God of Heaven saving Jerusalem. The biblical narrative that follows the payment of the tribute is simply propaganda. After the paying of Hezekiah’s tribute, an event that the Persian scribes had found in the annals of Sennacherib’s campaign, the rest is added to introduce the God of Heaven propaganda that the Persians wanted to be accepted.

The word used in 2 Kings 18 and translated as “Hebrew” is actually “Yehudit”. It implies that the country was a well established Yehud where the people were Yehudim and they spoke Yehudit. None of this is likely to have been true until Yehud was a temple state, and built up a national pride that reflected itself in the national language that the author could depict an Assyrian government minister as knowing.

“Awkward” for Minimalists?
Ziony Zevit says “an inscription found in the Philistine city, Ekron, mentioned Achish, a Philistine name, Padi, a name uniquely associated with Ekron in the Bible, and the name Ekron itself”. Zevit says this was “awkward” for the minimalists because it supported the biblical account. Zevit’s reasoning is:
Since it was hardly likely that people concocting a fictional history during the Persian period, as maintained by most minimalists, could have been aware of this trivial onomastic information, the existence of the inscription undermined minimalist claims about the absence of facticity in historical narratives.
Quite why Zevit says this is unclear because s/he acknowledges in the same article in Biblica that minimalists recognize:
For narratives about events that occurred after the ninth century, Israelite writers had access to court and temple records so that more credibility adheres to their contents.
The minimalist argument has always been that the bible has been so mythologised that it is impossible to know what is true and what is myth without external evidence. How is Padi uniquely associated with Ekron in the bible? Padi is not in the bible! As we have seen, Padi is associated with Ekron in the annals of Sennacherib and the biblical reference is the vague passage about Hezekiah:
He rebelled against the king of Assyria, and served him not. He smote the Philistines, even unto Gaza, and the borders thereof, from the tower of the watchmen to the fenced city.
Critics of the minimalists, usually biblicists of greater or lesser degree, pretend that the bible was written by God utterly independently of the physical existence of the world. If this monument had been erected around 700 BC, it could still have been standing a few hundred years later when the Persians wrote the Deuteronomistic history, and could therefore have been a source of it. The vagueness of the biblical reference does not encourage the idea.

Nevertheless, the same applies in many other instances. High places probably operated for centuries, so can have been mentioned in contemporary reference to ancient times without the need to have known those times, merely that the bamahs were there then. What few monumental buildings there were could have featured in fictional history, like the supposed gates of Solomon. Minimalists repeatedly insist that the Persian mythmakers were not writing pure fiction. It was set in the right place—the country of the people they were aiming to influence, Canaan. It therefore made use of what existed there and what was known of it, but most of the reliable history came from Assyrian royal records, as Zevit seems to accept.

The letter of Sennacherib in 2 Kings 19:10-13 includes a list of nations destroyed by the Assyrians, but it includes Haran that had never been destroyed by the Assyrians in about 600 years, since it was last captured by Shalmaneser I in the thirteenth century BC. It was an Assyrian province by 814 BC, was never attacked during the lifetime of the neo-Assyrian empire, and was evidently a city favoured by the Assyrians for its strategic position on the road to the West, and for its cult of the god Sin whom they also favoured. It makes the letter look suspicious.

The list of conquered nations repeats 2 Kings 18:34 implying that the fate of Judah would be the same as that of the other cities, and Samaria. Moreover some of them are the names of the people deported into Samaria from their defeated cities, as we may assume (2 Kg 17:24). Lair was a known city between the lower Zab and Diyala. All seem to be cities frome these middle and higher reaches of the Euphrates and its tributaries, though none of Lair, Sepharvaim, Hena and Ivvah seem to have been major centers or countries, and would probably not have been listed had the author not needed them for his purpose, and lacked anything else.

The city of Haran was attacked shortly after this period described in the scriptures, namely by the Medes and the Babylonians attacking Assyria in 610 BC. An author writing some time after this will remember this battle for Haran rather than any earlier one. It offers the possibility that the seige of Jerusalem described as in the time of Sennacherib is really the seige by the Babylonians retrojected into the earlier period. No reader would have known the difference by the time this was being written. Since 1 Kings 11:11-13, 32-36, 38-39 speak of part of the kingdom being taken away from the wicked kings’ sons, it must have been written after the fall of Samaria, which can hardly have survived the fall of the more powerful city of Damascus in 732 BC for too long. About this same time Judah begins to appear in history.

After the withdrawal of Sennacherib from Jerusalem the scriptures say nothing about the next ninety years.

Manasseh to the Babylonian Conquest

The Assyrians reached the maximum extent of their empire under Esarhaddon (680-669 BC) who subdued Egypt, and Assurbanipal (Greek, Sardanapalus, 669-627 BC) who collected the remarkable library found by the nineteenth century Assyriologists. Assurbanipal was a civilized and wise king, but Assyria was spent by centuries of warfare just as the Greeks were later, and could only decline. In 655 BC, Psamtik liberated Egypt. A few years later, Babylon rebelled and had to be subdued about 650 BC. Assyrian cultural hegemony was soon to pass to the Medes and the Persians.

Manasseh in the bible was a long lived wicked king, but in the Assyrian annals, he was a loyal vassal. Assyrian records of Esarhaddon and Assurbanipal both mention tribute by Manasseh. He even travelled to Nineveh to deliver his tribute in person to the Assyrian monarch, and appears with others who did the same on an Assyrian list. They also show that the countries Judah, Moab and Edom now were paying tiny tributes, showing that earlier huge ones mentioned for Judah were for more than the small country itself, or had been so great that the earlier tribute had impoverished them. Manasseh’s was a minimal kingdom—effectively Jerusalem—even though he might have had more to administer as an Assyrian governor. The land, though, was devastated, and some cities were deserted. The Assyrian empire was at its greatest extent, and Egypt was subjugated as far south as Thebes.

Josiah (639-609 BC) was the next king of note in Judah. The Assyrians were in rapid decline and could not cope with all their problems. Egypt revolted in 655 BC, Babylon in 650 BC, Babylon again about 625 BC, the Medes attacked Nineveh about 625 BC, Scythians raided often and, finally, Nineveh fell in 612 BC. Suddenly, Josiah is a king of a large kingdom, like Solomon’s, according to 2 Kings 22-23. What had been Assyrian provinces are suddenly part of Judah! H Spieckermann thinks he could not have had the manpower for it. South of Judah in Arad, however, is evidence of Greek occupation!

The supposed scroll found in Josiah’s time is described with a definite article. It is “the” book not merely “a” book. Why were the ancient and revered books of Moses not “the” books already at this time? This shows that the book found was the first book of law of the Jews. The story is nevertheless a pseudo-historical myth. No such book could have been found, and there were no circumstances that could have provoked it being forged.

Josiah’s reform was absolute. No syncretism or compromise with Canaanitish cults was allowed and the only sanctuary was Jerusalem, in the scriptures. At Arad in the Negeb, Yohanan Aharoni excavated a temple said to be to Yehouah that functioned from the tenth to the seventh centuries, when the cult paraphernalia were buried with apparently some reverence. Josiah was supposed to have been responsible for closing it, but why? The excuse is supposed to have been centralization in Jerusalem but it simply illustrates that these “scholars” can find any excuse for anything that suits them. It is not science, and if it is art, then it is rarely honest.

Any such reform would have seemed capricious and unjustified to the majority of people who worshipped Canaanite gods. Reforms or restorations had to be subtle, or done on the basis that no one could have known otherwise. Thus a complete reform like Josiah’s could be done after a lifetime’s interval because no one could have known what went before a lifetime ago, but in a shorter interval, reforms had to be more subtle and justified to the people by clear morives. Why should Josiah have introduced radical reforms and courted such unpopularity?

What shows the myth is false is that despite the supposed zeal for the reforms they took “considerably longer than the sources would have us believe,” as Soggin puts it. He means no reforms happened at all! The temple at Elephantine in Egypt remained operating for two more centuries until after 400 BC, and other sanctuaries obviously continued to operate too. These are disconcerting discoveries “given the principles expounded in the reform”. The conclusion of many scholars is that the whole affair is a pious fraud. It was! But it was a pious fraud from 200 years later, and one so successful that Jews and Christians base their religion on it still. F Foresti showed convincingly that any demand for centralization of the cult could not have occurred before the exile, and indeed could only have been conceived in a foreign land where the reforms were already practiced.

Many deliberately broken figurines found at Ophel in Jerusalem are attributed to Josiah’s reforms—or Hezekiah’s earlier ones according to Kenyon who excavated them—but they could simply be votive offerings, or the opposite, some manner of cursing. They were deposited in a small cave next to a sanctuary. Only those who have to relate what they find to some biblical fiction come up with specially pleaded unlikely answers when elsewhere they would have found a more general and more convincing one.

The Pharaoh, Necho, sought to uphold the rump of Assyria which remained centred on Haran in Syria, and sent a force to help the Assyrian king, though the Jewish scriptures say to fight with him (2 Kg 23:29). Josiah supposedly got in the way and was killed at Megiddo leaving Judah now an Egyptian vassal.

Josiah had several sons and the authors of Chronicles and Kings seem quite confused about them. The eldest son was Jehohanan, or was it Jehoahaz? Who followed Josiah? Was it Jehoahaz (2 Kg 23:30; 2 Chr 36:1), Shallum (1 Chr 3:15; Jeremiah) or Jehoiakin (3 Ezra 1:32)? Whoever it was, he was soon deposed and an Eliakim was appointed, but he changed his name to Jehoiakim. Despite this apparent devotion to Yehouah, he was a tyrant.

Jehohanan was younger than the second son, Jehoiakim, but the chapters of 3 Ezra that repeat Chronicles say the first son was Jehoiachin, and he was the one exiled to Egypt and whom the Egyptians replaced by his brother, Jehoiakim! Jeremiah disagrees with all of this, saying that the successor of Josiah was a son called Shallum. Anyway, Pharaoh Necho put Jehoiakim on the throne but, until then, he had been called Eliakim. He reigned for eleven years, presumably as an Egyptian puppet, but even so paid homage to Nebuchadrezzar, the king of Babylon. In 605 BC, Nebuchadrezzer defeated Necho at Carchemish, and Jehoiakim switched his allegiance. The country was divided into pro-Egyptian and pro-Babylonian factions, and prophets were propagandists for one faction or another. Jeremiah spoke for the pro-Babylonian, anti-Egyptian lobby. Then Jehoaikim fought some wars against his new overlord but still died in his bed. 2 Chronicles, however, said he was deported to Babylonia, but first he retrieved a brother from Egypt. This brother was yet another one, because he was called Zarhi (Zarios), unless he was Jehoahaz by another name!, this being from 3 Ezra again. Necho invaded Asia again in 601 BC, and Jehoiakim again switched his allegiance. Nebuchadrezzer was annoyed and seized Jerusalem, in this version killing the king (2 Kg 24:8-17). Josephus says that Jehoiakim was killed by Nebuchadrezzar in Jerusalem.

The son of Jehoiakim was another Jehoiachin, who ruled for three months in 598 before being sent to Babylon with the whole royal household by Nebuchadrezzar. Babylonian records identify a Yaukinu, king of Judah, and was in captivity there effectively under house arrest for 32 years. Exiled royalty were not literally imprisoned in Babylon. They were treated honourably as courtiers, the court being where they could not do harm because they were under close scrutiny. Evil-merodach released him, but he seems not to have returned to Judah. Jehoiachin was a father several times in exile, one of his sons also being called Jehoiachin, and also mentioned in the Babylonian chronicles. All of these extra-biblical sources always called Jehoiachin the king of Judah, even though he remained in exile in the land of his conquerors. Since the actual rulers, the Babylonians, called Jehoiachin the king of Judah, that is what he must have been, and no one else! The biblical Zedekiah (Mattaniah) must therefore have been a governor.

Seals have been found inscribed with, “Eliakim, minister of Jehoiachin”. As Jehoiachin at most ruled in Jerusalem for only three months, the seals most likely refer to ministers acting for the exiled king in Babylon. Thus, Zedekiah was perhaps the governor who was the chief of the substantive government of several ministers, nominally acting for Jehoiachin, but in practice for the Babylonian king. Moreover, if this Eliakim on the seal is the son of Josiah who became Jehoiakim, then the 3 Ezra story looks to be the right one.

Babylonia and Persia

The Lachish Letters are a collection of ostraca with messages apparently written by defenders of the city at some time when it was under attack. The “scholars” say they show that Yehouah was essentially the exclusive god of the soldiers’ families. All of them have the name Yehouah in them in hypocoristic form. Not one contains the name of Baal or El. Yet, as we saw above, plenty of biblical idolators seem to have preferred to be known by names in Yehouah even when the biblical story was that they were worshippers of Baal. Athaliah, for example. Not that the scholars are likely to be wrong here, but it shows how they can call heads or tails and still claim they are right. God’s truth!

The scholars say these ostraca date to the fall of Judah, and the defenders were being seiged by the Babylonians. Perhaps they are right, but Palestinian dating has been distorted by the machinations of the W F Albright school of mendacity which has effectively eliminated the Persian period by dating all Persian strata as late Assyrian. Inadequate consideration has been given to these letters being from Persian times, and inadequate consideration has been given to honestly dating the layers excavated at Lachish. Egypt had a major uprising in the middle of the fifth century, and, shortly after, the Persian general, Megabyxos rebelled in the same area because his promise to Greek mercenaries fighting for the Egyptians had been flouted by the king’s wife. The destruction from these two rebellions must have been considerable and plain enough to see if not to identify easily, but no one can find it because all destruction is either by Nebuchadrezzar or by Joshua.

The Lachish letters are mainly dated by the similarity of their language and the names mentioned to Jeremiah, the biblical prophet who was supposed to have been a contemporary. The explicit mention in the letters of the absence of signals from Azekah, eleven miles north of Lachish is also taken to tie in with Jeremiah’s account of the attack (Jer 34:7). “Jeremiah” might, however, have been writing pseudepigraphy, not history, to show that the same fate awaited the Jews as happened when Nebuchadrezzer wiped out the city, so the content of his book is contemporary, but not with the Babylonian conquest, with the Persian punitive expedition.

Biblicists think, because of their preconceptions, that Jews adopted Babylonian names, and some later swapped back to Jewish names. When Judahites were deported to Babylon, they dropped “Yahu” from their names in favour of “El”. On one seal, a woman called Yehoyishma, taken to signify that she was Jewish, says she is the daughter of Samassarusur, a man with a Babylonian name. For biblicists this exemplifies the Jew given a Babylonian name by his exiled father but returning to a Jewish name for his daughter.

One wonders why the Jewish man given the Babylonian name could not change his own name. They freely changed “Yeho” to “El” when they went to Babylon, so why not change “Samas” to “Yeho” and translate the name into Hebrew? The simpler explanation is that Babylonians were converting to a new sect of Yehouah. It was probably seen as a novel form of worshipping Ea, the Babylonian Oceanus, one of the Babylonian major gods. The Persians saw Yehouah as the equivalent of Ahuramazda and promoted the sect as a non-Persian form of their own religion.

Cunieform tablets from Nippur are records of the large Babylonian bank called Murashu. Scholars says that among them are contracts pertaining to Jews living in 28 districts of the region. How do they know that these people are Jews? How else but that they have Jewish names. Soggin confirms that the clients of the Murashu bank in Persian times with Yehouah in their hypocoristic name are assumed to have been exiled Jews. If so, in little more than a century, large numbers of the people supposedly deported from Judah had become extremely rich.

Whatever these “Jews” were, they borrowed money at the same rate as other customers, so were not discriminated against in money lending. Several have been identified as senior members of society, and one seems to have been a partner or senior executive in Murashu itself. Another was a government civil servant. Yet another had a military fiefdom obliging him to render military service, or find someone who would.

These people were not slaves or captives in any sense demanded by the bible. The bank records are from the fifth century—in the Persian period at the very time that ther Persians set up the Jewish temple state. It was in the century after they had been taken into captivity by the Babylonians as slaves. Ezra 2:65 says that the Jews who returned owned slaves of both sexes, supposedly only 70 years after they were carried off in chains. These returning Jews in the biblical story cannot have been the Judahites who were taken into captivity. Either these people were not the same as those deported, or those deported can never have been captives. There is no doubt that Jehoiachin and his family were not free, although they were not kept in a dungeon, as their ample rations in the Babylonian annals show us. Zedekiah, on the other hand, the scriptures say was blinded and his family apparently killed.

So, it is hard to imagine that those deported from Judah were allowed to do as they pleased, and particularly make fortunes in only a few generations. If they were free, then why did they have to wait for Cyrus to allow them to return? Deportation only makes sense if those deported are given onerous duties that fully occupied their attention to stop them from plotting. The records of Murashu and Sons show that Yehouah was a highly respected god. Since he appears to have been the Canaanite version of the Babylonian god, Ea, he possibly appealed to Mesopotamians too as an exotic version of their old god.

Casiphia (Ezra 8:17) is called “the place” Casiphia, “place” being “meqom” in Hebrew. It is yet another of those mistranslations meant to hide the true story from the gullible believers, because “meqom” means a “holy place,” a “shrine” or “sanctuary,” not just “a place”. The plain conclusion from the passage is that Ezra is visiting a shrine—presumably Jewish!—to recruit people for the task ahead of building a temple state.

There is a notable relationship between forms of “exilic” worship and waters. In Psalms 137, there is weeping besides the waters—a mourning rite. Ezekiel had his visions of God, like Zoroaster, beside a river, the Khabur (Ezek 1:1-3:15), suggesting he was participating in some sort of rite or cleansing by it. According to Walter Zimmerli, Jews in the Greek and Roman diasporas preferred to build their place of prayer by water. This is confirmed in Acts 16:12-13. Ezekiel in his description of the temple specifies water flowing from the altar. All of these are Zoroastrian habits, water being one of their pure elements.

Psammetichus I (Psamtik, 662-610 BC) used foreign mercenaries to garrison his border stations, a policy that his successors continued. Canaanites were among those hired by the Egyptian army to man such stations. The Elephantine Papyri date from the century from 495 to 399 BC. The Elephantine station might have existed for up to 100 years before the earliest of these papyri, so it could have been set up as a consequence of Psamtik’s policy. The mixture of God’s worshipped at the Elephantine temple has been explained by a proponderance of Israelites in the garrison, and by syncretism, but B Porten, who has carefully examined all the evidence says that such an idea “dissipates on close inspection”. The Canaanites before the Persian period therefore worshipped a pantheon in which Yehouah was important but not alone!

Ephraim Stern has noted that in the Persian period, Palestine was divided into two regions as culturally distinct as two different countries. The hill country of Judah and Samaria along with Transjordan was one part, cuturally Canaanite with Mesopotamian and Egyptian influences, and the Mediterranean coast and Galilee was the other, culturally Phœnician and Greek. In the Persian period, the coastal area, and perhaps Galilee, were administered from Phœnicia, while the temple state was modelled on Babylonian lines.

Stern thinks the Persians had little cultural effect, perhaps because the Persian strata have been misdated, but plainly Persia affected the government, the military, economic life especially trade, seals, coinage and taxation, and last and least recognized, religion. Yehud itself was a tiny state, as the range of Yehud seal impressions prove. They are found from Jericho to Gezer, east and west, and from Tel en-Nasbeh to Beth Zur, north and south, little more than 30 miles in each direction. Nehemiah 11:23-35 exaggerates the size of the state greatly.

This all suggests the biblical story of a “United Monarchy” is an idealization of the truth that Samaria preceded Judah and was suppressed in its favour. The Persians sent in colonists who had no regard for the natives whether Judaeans or Samarians, and the antagonism that ever followed began. Judah and Jerusalem had to be made the center of devotion of the whole country in the invented histories, and the people who were Israelites had to be identified with the later Jews of Yehud. Thus the Jews had three names: Jews, Israelites from the former name, and Hebrews as the inhabitants of Abarnahara, the name sticking with them and not others because the temple priesthood guarded the holy scripts which were in that language, a dialect of Phœnician.

Edom and Ammon

Edom is mentioned by the Ramesside kings Rameses II, Merneptah and Rameses III but no pottery preceding the eighth century attributable to the Edomites has been found. It yells out that the Egyptian dating is too high. These mini-states were coalescing from separate settlements and towns from about 850 BC to about 750 BC, suggesting at least a 300 year error in dating the founding of the Egyptian twentieth dynasty.

In 734 BC, Tiglath-pileser III made Edom into a vassal of Assyria. Twelve years later, Samaria went the same way. The bible makes the Jews hate the Edomites, and no one would deny their mutual antipathy, yet they had as much in common as the Jews had with Israel. Their national god was, admittedly different in name, but the gods of the small countries that surrounded Judah had similar characteristics, and were worshipped in a similar fashion.

The story of Jacob and Esau is an allegory of Judah and Edom, in which Judah would prosper in financial matters while the Edomites would sweat in the fields to earn their living. That Jacob stole Esau’s birthright, forcing him to sell it for a mess of pottage, signifies that the Edomites were evicted with little compensation, to allow the Persian colonists to enter Yehud. The two peoples were thereafter perennial enemies. Jacob got his blind father to bless him rather than Esau, but had to flee, and only returned later, a metaphor of the Persian colonisation called “the Return”. But Edom did well out of the spice and perfume trade from Arabia, and this is reflected in the reconciliation of the two brothers, when Jacob offers to properly compensate Esau, and he accepts, even though he is quite well off himself. It suggests that the Edomites were able to get adequate compensation when they had become more powerful.

To judge from the excavations in the Negev desert, the pottery and the figurines of the God, Qos, the Negev was Edomite not Jewish. Qitmit and Tel Malhata, excavated by Tel Aviv University, seem to be an Edomite shrine and its nearby residential and servicing village. The many items found on these sites are Canaanite but come from all the statelets in the region. Another shrine was found at Ain Haseva in the Negev about 20 miles from the Dead Sea. Biblicists are perplexed that Edomite shrines are in places they have God’s word were in Judah. If so, it shows that the Judahites of the time, supposed to have been the seventh century, were not the monotheistic bigots they later became. They worshipped the gamut of Canaanite gods and goddesses, according to their own personal preferences, and Qos was among them. The truth is likely to be that the people of Judah in the seventh century were Edomites, or partly so.

An Ammonite seal found near Hisbon (Hesbon), in the form of a winged scarab with disc and crescent motifs, had Ammonite words inscribed in the Aramaean script. They named their god as Milcom-ur, the exact equivalent of the Phœnician, Melquart. The owner of the seal was Baalyasha, meaning “My Lord Saves”, thought by some to be Baalis of Jeremiah. The seal is dated to the sixth century but the fifth is more likely, being when the Persians made Aramaic the official language of the empire, and a more likely time for the events of Jeremiah. The Persians seemed also to be keen that their officials should have names implying that they were saviours, as part of their propaganda.

The Ancient Attitude to History

Is the history of ancient Israel as told by biblical writers exact in any comprehensive way? This history can be split into several succeeding periods, the period of the patriarchs, the time of the exodus, the Israelites travelling in the desert for forty years, the conquest of Canaan, the heroic exploits of the hero-judges of Israel, the period of national greatness under David and Solomon, impending disaster under the kings of Israel and Judah, the exile, and the Persian period. This history ends with Ezra’s promulgation of the Torah, the Law of Moses, in front of the assembled inhabitants of Jerusalem and Judah. Has this anything to do with real history?

Thomas L Thompson and John Van Seters showed that there never was a patriarchal period. It has nothing to do with history. The exodus passed from history into fiction a long time ago. It never happened. Neither did the conquest. From an historical point of view, the Israelites could not have conquered Canaan by destroying Canaanite forces, simply because the Egyptians still ruled Canaan when Joshua is supposed to have conquered it around 1200 BC. No foreign immigrants left any archaeological mark, and the biblical account about the conquest is so contradictory, it cannot hold water (compare Joshua to Judges 1).

The narratives in Judges about the heroic exploits of the Israelite judges were conditioned by the wish to show how Israel should deal with its enemies, the Canaanites, Moabites, Ammonites, Philistines and Aramaeans—all idolators standing for the apostate Jew. The stories about the judges of Israel belong among the genre of heroic tales that show how the people of Israel had to assert themselves and, more importantly, their God in the face of opposition. It would make any later Jew inclined toward apostasy feel guilty at undoing the work of their ancestors, and tend to bring them back into line.

The empire of David and Solomon believed to have existed in the tenth century BC is fictional. In the tenth century BC, Jerusalem was at most a village or a small town. In the period of the Hebrew kings, although the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah are historical facts, little solid knowledge about them has been discovered.

The authors of Kings confess history is not their purpose for writing. King Omri is dismissed in a few verses (1 Kg 16:16-28). He assumed power by a coup d’état, he ruled Israel for twelve years and built Samaria. He sinned against Yehouah. The author knows that Omri was a great king—after his death his kingdom carried his name for more than a hundred years—but he tells the interested reader to look for the history of Omri, superfluous to his purpose, in the Book of the Chronicles of the kings of Israel (1 Kg 16:27)! His purpose is not to give his reader a report of Omri’s reign.

Interest in 1-2 Kings should not be limited to finding historical information that might only be present in bits. Attention should be directed to the purpose of this literature—that it was composed to impress people in the author’s present, and not merely to save memories of the past for nostalgia’s sake. The past was not interesting except for the examples of good and bad behaviour it provided to condition people’s future behaviour. The past justified present arrangements as legitimate or natural.

The history of the small states, Israel and Judah, as told by biblical historians is not totally devoid of historical information. The people who wrote the historical narratives of the Jewish scriptures knew some facts about Israelite and Judaean history. The difficulty occurs in trying to verify biblical events that cannot be checked by external evidence. How do we solve this problem without ending in the notorious hermeneutical circle? One way would be to approach ancient near eastern history in general to see how it worked and how far it can be trusted.

One step is to recognize the genres of historical writing in the Near East in antiquity. Two genres dominated the field—the year-chronicle system that lists for every year its most important events in a tabular shorthand, and the more extensive royal inscriptions including Assyrian royal annals of the conquests of Assyrian kings.

Sometimes the authors of 1 and 2 Kings refer to the Chronicles of Israel or of Judah. There are now no such chronicles. Were there ever? In ancient times, authors sometimes put in fictitious references, but these chronicles would have been of the shorthand type, if they were genuine. They could not have been detailed reports or contained much narrative. The biblical author invented the reference. Its name was copied from the Chronicles of the Chaldean Kings now in the British Museum, and if that is so, the Chronicles of the Chaldean Kings was used aa a source of the bible. He wrote in an anachronistic style to suit his purpose.

The chronicles of Assyrian and Babylonian kings are literature—fiction and invention—at least as much as history, and so too is the bible. Royal literature of the kind found in Assyrian inscriptions often contain war reports, but the acts of the king are embellished. Defeats are hardly acknowledged. These reports are composed to impress the gods, who were to approve the acts of the king, and particularly his people. It was propaganda! It was written by the “returners”—the Persian colonists, and they used the Assyrian and Babylonian Chronicles. D J Wiseman has rendered the a part of the Chronicles of the Chaldean Kings—626-556 BC, in the British Museum:

In the seventh year, the month of Kislev, the king of Akkad mustered his troops, marched to the Hatti-land, and encamped against the city and captured the king. He appointed there a king of his own heart, received its heavy tribute and sent to Babylon.

 

This is taken to be a reference to the defeat of Jerusalem in 597 BC because it ties in with the biblical account (2 Kg 24:8-17; 2 Chr 36:9-10). We take it that the king of Chaldea, Nebuchadrezzar, is here the king of Akkad. The captured king is not mentioned here and nor is the substitute king, though we gather they are mentioned elsewhere, and Judah is called Hatti-land, something that is presumably well known to scholars if not Jews and Christians. Why is it not possible that these events, known to someone familiar with the Babylonian Chronicles, could not have been used by the authors of the Jewish scriptures as the bogus reason for their “return” to Judah? It was, in short, lifted mutatis mutandis from the Babylonian Chronicles, by the Persians deporting the colonists into Yehud around 420 BC as the bogus basis for their “return”. The Hatti were the Hittites, and the Hittites never held Palestine, or did only briefly in campaigns against the Egyptians. It was in the northern Levant that the Hittites held several small Aramaean countries as colonies, and whose people remained with the name Hitties long after the Hittite empire had gone. The people of Yaudi were Hatti but not the people of Judah! Curiously, the part of the Babylonian Chronicle referring to the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC is missing!

Although minor sections of Kings may have an annalistic background in royal chronicles, most of the literature there neither belongs to this genre nor to that of the royal inscriptions of the Assyrian and later Babylonian type. The authors of Kings used some extant annalistic information but only selected what suited their purpose. Kings is not written to praise the institution of kingship in Israel and Judah or to establish an exalted position for their kings. Their selection was dominated by the wish to create a generally negative impression of the period of the Israelite kingdom—to show that it is a departure from the just rule of God and that its human exponents were hardly heroes of the Yehouistic faith. Few of the kings of Judah are praised for their piety—all of the kings of Israel are condemned. Royal laudatory inscriptions would simply be the wrong type of literature to quote and are hardly present among the narratives of 1 and 2 Kings.

Rather than tracing non-existing historical events, the goal of an investigation would be to find out whether some kind of a pattern can be found. Already several years ago scholars realized that the biblical books of 1 and 2 Chronicles are dominated by a series of stereotypical scenes, each of them having a special purpose—either to recommend a king loved by God or reject a godforsaken king.

Recent investigations have shown that Israel was not deserted in the time of the “exile”. The deportation of Jews by the Baylonians only affected few among the population of the Hill country. There was no “empty land” as postulated by Chronicles and other biblical literature. It was a myth. Archaeology shows some of the towns and villages around Jerusalem actually faired better out of the Babylonian conquest than they had done before. Nor were all the people left behind poor. Some of the tombs of the surrounds of Jerusalem have rich grave goods in them during the Babylonian period. Gabriel Barkay excavated the Jewish tombs at Ketef Hinnom, overlooking the Hinnom Valley, and concluded that the wealthy families that owned the tombs continued to live in Jerusalem and bury their dead in these caves throughout the period when the city was supposed to have been destroyed and deserted. Barkay thinks they lived in the suburbs, which were not destroyed. Either, some of the wealthy class remained or they were quickly replaced by new ones.

Mizpah, depicted biblically as the capital of Judah before Jerusalem, indeed was the capital in the Babylonian and the early Persian Periods, when it briefly flourished. W F Bade excavated five of the eight acres that Mizpah covered—an utterly irresponsible act, especially as he completely misinterpreted the signs in the ground—failing to understand his own work and completely missing the Babylonians. G Zorn, six decades later, noticed that some of Bade’s drawings made no sense. Features from different strata had not been distinguished, so that a gate opened on to a blank wall, and such absurdities. Making an attempt to sort out the confused layers, Zorn found a stratum of grand architecture had been confused with earlier lesser stuff. It was the Babylonian period that Bade had missed utterly.

It was so prosperous as an administrative center in less than fifty years that it had already spawned its own suburb. Though Bade had ruined the site for more advanced archaeologists, we still do not have the benefit of his own report on his excavations. It has never been published. Archaeological vandals like him just want to dig, hoping to make amazing discoveries, but they do not bother about the important detail in the small finds. Yet professional archaeologists are in the usual good pal’s club, and rarely criticise each other for their negligence, failings and sheer vandalism. This is anything but science.

It is time archaeology in the field was banned until all the outstanding reports are published and the countless shelves full of relics in museum basements have been properly inspected and catalogued, dated and published by several experts, not just one. Indeed, tyro archaeologists ought to check these standard entries, as part of their training, so that there might be a chance that misdated artefacts can be discovered. There is little specific in the Holy Word that can be upheld by archaeology. Believers and biblicists have to make an excuse for almost everything that is found, but do it without a qualm. Chaos suits biblicists in particular because nothing certain can then rock their leaky little coracles. They never wonder at the apparent perversity of God, or consider that men who were cleverer than they are have fooled them.

The Persian period is territory in the historical map of Palestine that no one cares to explore, and have actually deliberately hidden:

Archaeologists skipped over this time. They rarely published pottery from this period. Sometimes they did not even bother saving their finds, instead digging down to the earlier periods that dealt either with the emergence of Israel in Canaan or with the so-called golden era of David and Solomon.
Amy Dockser Marcus, Rewriting the Bible

 

Only from about 1980 did it enter the consciousness of biblical scholars that the Persian period was at all important, and now they are fighting a rearguard action against the painful truth—the Persians created Judaism! The biblicists, who never once think it is remarkable that invisible shepherds could have written histories, psalms and odes, suddenly think it is impossible that the Persian and Persian colonists could have written anything.

Biblicists suffer from a desire to date everything as early as they can feasibly entertain, and often whether it was feasible or not, and seem not to understand that in the second half of its existence, the Persian empire was effectively a new Babylon. Darius II was half Babylonian and preferred Babylon to Susa and Ecbatana. Ostraca meant as dockets for produce destined for Babylon are not necessarily from the period of the Babylonian empire, but might be later. Examination of Persian period constructions shows them with natural enough objects like wine and olive presses, loom weights, tools and pots said to characterise the Babylonian period, once it was evident enough in the ground. Some Greek artefacts are found among them.

The Babylonians administered Judah for 50 years and the Persians for 200. Which should have made the more significant mark? The Persians made the most significant mark in inventing Judaism, but also hid this from the world by inventing the Jewish scriptures, which Jews and Christians have believed ever since, despite the idea being as full of holes as a colander.

Archaeologists noted that a string of fortresses appeared in Judah and in the Negev in the fifth century, and the walls of Jerusalem were repaired at just this time too. The reason seems clear. Egypt rebelled in mid-century with Greek support, and even some Canaanite support as well—the seaport Dor was involved—such as Egyptian sympathisers in Yehud. Evidence is that ten similar fortresses were built in commanding positions, were maintained for a few decades and then were abandoned when the danger was past. The Egyptian sympathisers will be depicted in the Jewish scriptures as the Am ha Eretz, the native inhabitants of Yehud who opposed the incoming colonists when they ignored their legitimate rights of possession of the land. Nehemiah in this somewhat confused story had official approval to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, doubtless as a consequence of the revolt.

Ezra, the great hero of post-exilic Judaism, the bible makes out is almost 200 years old when he arrived back in his putative homeland sometime between 450 and 400 BC. His father was killed by Nebuchadrezar’s general, Nebuzaradan, in 587 BC—according to the biblical account! Such an error does not invalidate the historical reality of Ezra, but it shows he is already being mythologized. He is being made to fit the paradigm of exile and return when the reality was colonisation by deported people. The intended reader in antiquity would not be expected to know that Ezra lived 200 years after the occupation of Jerusalem by Nebuchadrezar.

Conclusion

The biblical picture of ancient Israel is contrary to any image of ancient Palestinian society from contemporary or local sources, and cannot be reconciled with the historical past of the region. Pre-Hellenistic history of the region cannot be constructed from the Jewish scriptures. It is a fictional history that refers little to things that happened or existed.

From an historian’s point of view, ancient Israel is a monstrous creature, sprung out of the fantasy of biblical historiographers and their modern paraphrasers.
Niels-Pieter Lemche

 

 

 

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