an autodidact meets a dilettante…

‘Rise above yourself and grasp the world’ Archimedes – attribution

the Palestinian/Israeli tragedy 2 (not so much a timeline)

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found em! Josh’s 12 tribes

It’s been a while since I wrote the first part of this series, and I may never have returned to it but for a book I’ve been perusing, A brief history of the Middle East, by Christopher Catherwood, which has caused some slight irritation. It has also made me feel that my first timeline, which tried to cover the region from about 9000 years ago to the destruction of the second temple by the forces of Titus in the first century CE, didn’t sufficiently cover the religious developments in the region. This is no doubt a product of my secular bias, but since so much of the modern tragedy is wrapped up in religion, I feel I need to at least try to make an effort to make something of the changing religious impulses and beliefs of those more or less prehistoric times. 

Statements in Catherwood’s book have also made this a priority. In its opening chapter, ‘Ancient Empires’, he clearly takes much of the history of the Palestinian region from the Old Testament, which I’ve always assumed to be a highly unreliable historical document (but of course I’m no authority on the region or the period). Particular claims strike me as odd, such as this, on what Catherwood calls the Israelites, or the Children of Israel:

Initially, the new state in which the different tribes settled was a kind of theocratic republic. The people were ruled by prophets speaking on behalf of the one God, a being who the Jews realised was not just a tribal deity, or even simply their tribal deity, but the one and only God who existed.

C Catherwood, A brief history of the Middle East, p19

There’s much that’s problematic here. First, the Jewish movement towards monotheism was a matter of changing belief, not realisation. Realisation here suggests reality, and there’s no evidence that a universal god is any more real than a local, tribal one. This isn’t history. The ‘different tribes’ here refers to the putative tribes of Israel who conquered the promised land. Catherwood assumes that this conquest, and the exodus from Egypt, were real events, even dating the beginning of the conquest at ‘around 1220 BC’ (note the use of the Christian dating scheme, which has long been superseded). You will find voluminous material about the ‘ten (or twelve) lost tribes’ online, but very little, indeed nothing, that amounts to evidence. Much (or should I say all?) of the material is written by Jewish scholars, who spend their lives in disputation over such matters. It’s easy to get swamped by all this. A good place to find a more objective view is, but the likelihood that these Israelites were once enslaved in Egypt is not great – the Egyptians weren’t slave-owners as the later Greeks and Romans were, and there is no evidence of major warfare and ethnic cleansing in the Palestine region at the period Catherwood suggests.

Having said all that, the problem for Palestine is that conservative Jews fervently believe in these myths and in their god-given right to ethnically cleanse all unbelievers and other-believers, in spite of their ancestry in the region.

I’ll take a deep breath and dive into what is known about the religious beliefs and practices during the period when Jewish monotheism became a thing, in future posts on this subject.

Written by stewart henderson

November 25, 2019 at 11:46 pm

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