a sensitive subject. To use the word almost invites the charge
of racism. Yet to understand the rise of Christianity
one must come to terms the people who were its original authors the
Myth of the Jewish Race
"Thus saith the Lord God unto Jerusalem; Thy birth and
thy nativity is of the land of Canaan; thy father was an Amorite,
and thy mother an Hittite."
– Ezekiel, 16.17.
claim themselves to be a race but are they?
The earliest reference yet found to this singular people is on
a statue from the Syrian city of Alalakh, dated to about 1550 BC.
The inscription refers to hapiru warriors in the land of Kinanu a presence confirmed by clay tablets
from Akhenatens capital of Amarna, referring to marauders
in the hill country of Palestine. The famous stele of Pharaoh Merneptah
dated to 1207 BC records 'Israel is laid waste, his seed
is not. 'Israel' here is a reference to a people, not
of evidence suggests these original Hebrews coalesced
during the bronze age from successive migrations,
some from the periphery of the Nile delta (in Egyptian, Peru
or apiru meant a labourer) but most from across the Jordan and
rivers. In their own semitic tongue, habiru meant beyond,
suggesting an origin elsewhere. In Babylonian script khabiru referred
to a class of slaves. As a people, therefore, the Hebrews combined
Mesopotamian and Egyptian stock, almost certainly drawn from
the lowest social order, conceivably including runaway slaves.
migration, at least, brought with it a mountain/sky god Yahweh
destined for higher things.
Settlement in Canaan
newcomers to what was the land of Canaan, these semites (speakers
of a tongue common to Syrians, Arabs
took up migratory occupation of the less fertile hill-country of
the interior. Neither their limited sub-culture an illiterate
donkey nomadism; nor their social organisation patriarchal
and authoritarian distinguished them from other tent-dwelling
pastoralists. These early, polytheistic, Hebrews scratched
an existence in an unpromising land on the fringes of the major
civilisations, occasionally moving with their animals into the
Nile delta in times of draught.
It seems as
if they were joined, over time,by outcasts or refugees from
the more sophisticated Canaanite (Phoenician) coastal cities. Israel emerged peacefully and gradually from within
Canaanite society concluded Karen Armstrong, the
noted religious scholar. (A History of Jerusalem, p23]
The Canaanite migrants
brought with them cultic practices and images of their traditional
gods. A major Canaanite god was El, and the phrase El
has conquered gives us the word Israel. The Canaanite
god El had a ghostly presence in a host of Jewish heroes: Dan-i-El;
Ezek-i-El; Sam-u-El, Ish-ma-El, El-i-jah, El-o-him, etc.
names were common throughout the west-Semitic language region.
Canaanite gods included Baal (a storm god) also honoured
in a host of Hebrew names, Asherah (a fertility goddess, consort
of El), Shalem (a Syrian sun god later to be honoured
in the name Jerusalem ), Milcom, Chemosh, etc. Rushalimum is
mentioned in records of the Pharaoh Sesostris III (1872 -
1847 BC) the settlement actually pre-existent long before
the tribe of Hebrews made it their own. The site then appears
been unoccupied for three hundred years until the Jebusites (otherwise
known as Kereti or Peleti Cretans or
and his Asherah
"It will come as
an unpleasant shock to many that the God of Israel, YHWH, had a
female consort and that the early Israelite religion adopted
monotheism only in the waning period of the monarchy and not at Mount
Ha'aretz Magazine, October, 1999
'Should you not possess what your god Chemosh gives
you to possess? And should we not be the ones to possess everything that Yahweh
our God has conquered for our benefit?'
– Judges 11:24
Terracotta plaque of fertility goddess Astarte (Ashtoreth).
have been found throughout Palestine.
"However, in the Second Temple period, the Shema‘ Yisrael text in Deuteronomy would have been read “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.”
The Shema‘ Yisrael was originally a monaltric statement; it stated that Israel had an exclusive relationship with its God, but it did not deny the existence of other national deities for other peoples."
– Noah Wiener, Bible History Daily (BAR) 04/12/2013
by these Canaanite cults, but
devoid of artistic or metal working skills of their own, the
early Hebrews adopted a way of honouring
their god of choice by genital mutilation. This sometime
practice of the Egyptian priesthood became, for the Jews,
a tribal obligation, part of the male regenerative organ offered
as a blood sacrifice to the jealous god Yahweh.
Other gods were worshipped but Yahweh demanded precedence.
Circumcision – a healthy option?
Don't You Believe It!
generations, millions of babies were routinely
circumcised without anaesthetic – sometimes
using a sharpened stone. Even today infant deaths
result from this barbarous mutilation.
the Hebrews were not a race, the males at least acquired a distinctiveness
other Semitic tribesmen who did not practice circumcision. Women,
regarded as mere chattels, were spared this mutilation.
period of proto-Judaism, polygamous males acted as priests for
their extended families and kinship groups and exercised absolute
authority over wives and children. At some point in the tenth
BC the Hebrews were completely overwhelmed by the more advanced
Philistines, moving down from the north. Armed with iron
weapons and deploying chariots the Philistines scattered the
nomads into the hill country and a few austere places in the
Jordan River valley.
Hebrew clans had no single warlord but were led by
tribal elders and shamans. The backward Hebrews remained under
the sway of their shamanic judges to a much later date
than neighbouring peoples. Theirs was a harsh culture of scapegoat sacrifice
and collective and inherited guilt (eye for
an eye vengeance). As marginalised pastoralists they were
acutely xenophobic and demonized the city dwellers and farmers.
With the ebb and flow of empires over centuries, and the endless
movement of peoples, we might have expected this marginal tribe
to have passed into history, along with countless other peoples,
assimilated into a greater multitude.
But we have a story, a tale of tribal fidelity with
frequent, and instructive, lapses to a protector god Yahweh,
who had chosen this people as his very own. For
them, he has a divine purpose. In particular, their migration into
Canaan is given an heroic re-interpretation. No longer
do we have piecemeal migration over centuries but a single
by a cohesive people. The idolatrous city dwellers (of
Jericho, etc.) get their comeuppance and the whole
land is promised to the Jews in perpetuity. They have, it would
seem, arrived as a single group from Egypt, released from slavery
by divine intervention.
The extraordinary thing about this history - complete
with verbatim dialogue between man and god - is that it was not
written until more than a thousand years after the supposed events.
Records one historian,
first millennium of Jewish history as presented in the Bible has
no empirical foundation whatsoever."
– Cantor, The Sacred Chain, p 51.
race history, tracing the Jews (the people of Judah), back through
in Canaan and Israelites in Egypt, to a noble ancestor called Abraham
(father, it seems, of all the races, including Greeks and Arabs!),
and the whole melodramatic story of the Exodus, was concocted
at a much later date, after the tribal leadership of these
Judaean tribesmen had been taken into exile and had learned the
of civilization from their Babylonian captors. This was not at
the dawn of time but in the seventh century BC, when Greece
already a civilization and Carthage had a maritime empire.
no written Hebrew before the 9th century BC. At that
time, the Hebrews adapted the Phoenician script.
Hebrew/Canaanite occupants of Palestine did pass into history.
the so-called lost tribes of
Israel (those living in northern Palestine) were assimilated
by Assyrian conquerors during the eighth century.
the victors, a Persian-sponsored priesthood who settled in Judaea in the 6th century BC, wrote a sacred history, known
to the Jews as the Torah (or Pentateuch ) and
to the Christians as the
first 'five books' of the Old Testament. Together with the 'Prophets'
and 'Wisdom' literature this voluminous text purports to be an
account of the
trials and tribulations of the
Rather oddly, its detail and obvious accuracy peters out the closer
it approaches the time when it was actually written. Joshua,
on the rampage in the thirteenth century BC gets vast reportage,
whereas several 7th century kings known to history are omitted.
four hundred years between the last book of the Old Testament
(the 5th century Malachi) and the first book of
New Testament echo in a biblical silence.
No biblical text gives
the conquest of Palestine by Alexander the Great (in 323 BC) a
Ptolemaic Egypts loss of her Palestinian provinces to Syria
in 198 BC is unrecorded. 'Minor' personages like Julius Caesar
Pompey the Great are overlooked. And the books of Maccabees
which should tell us the recent story of the successful
Jewish rebellion against Greek rule in the second century BC are
so blatantly filled with error and incoherence that even biblical
editors shunted them into the Apocrypha or
omitted them entirely.
But of course
we are not speaking of
history but rather, of sacred testimony, designed to control,
Anyone can be factual. In the Bible we have a book with a purpose.
Letters" – only first
hand 'evidence' for the entire corpus of the Old Testament
Few Bits of Crockery
have entered the land to lay waste ... strong is he who
has come down. He lays waste."
Letters (British Museum) – a collection of 21 pottery
shards or 'ostraca'.
the ruins of Tell ed-Duweir in the 1930s the fragments
bear a few words of Hebrew relating to the fall of Judaean
cities to the Babylonians in the 580s BC.
are from outposts of Lachish to the city's military commander
(a man named Ya'osh) and represent field reports monitoring
the situation as the armies of Nebuchadnezzar closed
find confirmation of the biblical 'Jeremiah' in these
scraps (Letter XVI to be precise) though the reference
could equally well have been to a 'Urijah'.
Finkelstein and Silberman, The Bible Unearthed (Touchstone,
Paul Johnson, A History of the Jews (Phoenix Grant,
Dan Cohn-Sherbok, The Crucified Jew (Harper Collins,1992)
Henry Hart Milman, The History of the Jews (Everyman, 1939)
Josephus, The Jewish War (Penguin, 1959)
Leslie Houlden (Ed.), Judaism & Christianity (Routledge, 1988)
Karen Armstrong, A History of Jerusalem (Harper Collins, 1999)
Jonathan N. Tubb, Canaanites (British Museum Press, 1998)
Norman Cantor, The Sacred Chain - A History of the Jews (Harper Collins,
Thomas L. Thompson, The Bible in History (Pimlico, 2000)
Shlomo Sand, When and How Was the Jewish People Invented? (Resling, 2008)
Some fifty articles are now available as a book.
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Copyright © 2004
by Kenneth Humphreys.
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