Graphic Rule
Graphic Rule



Graphic Rule
The Heaven Is My Throne and the Earth My Footstool


BETWEEN Egypt and Mesopotamia lay the heterogeneous country of Syria, a buffer land never completely subjugated by either power. Its mountains, rivers and deserts were so disposed as to militate against political consolidation, and its many tribes, the Canaanites, Amorites, Aramaeans, Midianites, Hivites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Ishmaelites, Edomites, Moabites and others whose names are long forgotten, were incapable of uniting for long even against a foreign invader. Only the Philistines, who occupied the coastland from Jaffa southward, were permanently federated and even among them each city-state had its own ruler. No corner of the world has been the scene of more sanguinary engagements, or witnessed century after century so many armies crossing and recrossing its borders. Sargon had nibbled at it in building his Sumerian empire; Babylon and Assur had repeatedly sent armies westward in the endeavor to subjugate its fortified cities; the Mitannians and the even more powerful Hittites had stormed it repeatedly from the north; while Thothmes III had garrisoned it with Egyptian troops in order to assure a westerly flow of tribute. For the Syrians warfare was the common state of existence and they resolutely refused to be pacified.

The Bedouins of Syria belonged to that language group which modern scholars call Semites (sons of Shem), a term designating both recent or ancient peoples whose languages are closely related, as closely, for example, as are French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese. The various Semitic peoples, however, are not necessarily related by blood for they include the Akkadians, Assyrians, Amorites, Canaanites, Aramaeans, Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Israelites, Ammonites, Moabites, Edomites, Nabateans, Southern Arabs, Sabaeans and Abyssinians. The most widely accepted theory is that the original Semitic stock arose in Arabia, whence it radiated into Africa, Syria, Mesopotamia and northern lands.

In Syria the Bedouins were mostly nomadic shepherds, perpetually quarreling with each other for rights to the most fertile wadies and the permanent springs, and Egyptian and Mesopotamian records reveal that they were given to harassing the important trade routes between the Nile and the Euphrates. In the time of Rim-Sin, a king of Larsa who was overthrown by Hammurabi (1910 B.C.), a people known to the Sumerians as the Habiru were living in southern Mesopotamia; they were not Sumerians, but Aramaean (Syrian) nomads who came in from the desert to enroll as mercenaries with the Sumerians. The philological equivalence of the words Habiru and Hebrew are accepted by all authorities.

In their later traditions the Hebrews described themselves as of twelve tribes descended from Abraham of Ur, these tribes having been united by Moses after an exodus from Egypt, and welded together by Saul and David into the ephemeral nation of Israel. Woolley accepts the tradition of Abraham as essentially historical, except that the Hebrew patriarch is not to be interpreted as one man but as a composite of several generations of a family whose home was in Ur during the reign of Rim-Sin (1970-1940 B.C.); possibly it was when Hammurabi gained control of the city that a general migration of the Habiru into northern Syria occurred, certain of the tribes subsequently migrating into Palestine in the fifteenth and fourteenth centuries.

The next certain evidence of the Hebrews is from the Nile, though this evidence is not consonant with the traditional sojourn of Joseph in that land and the exodus under Moses. When or why any of Abraham's descendants entered Egypt is unknown. They may have been among the Semitic mercenaries or servants who accompanied the Hyksos when this hated people first brought ruin upon Egypt; certainly during the rule of the Shepherd Kings (1800-1580 B.C.) the attraction which the Nile valley had for foreigners was considerably increased: immigrants were welcomed and the royal palace was open to foreign counsellors and favorites, while Semitic dancing girls and concubines were highly esteemed. Throughout this period and later, famine, war in Syria and expansion of the Mesopotamian cities all conspired to drive westward not only isolated individuals but whole families and tribes, and it may have been that before the founding of the New Kingdom one or more Semitic groups, closely related by blood, were established in Egypt. So many Syrians were taken back to Egypt by Thothmes III and other conquerors of the XVIIIth Dynasty, many of them women who became wives or concubines of officers and nobles, that the physiognomy along the Nile developed a definite Egypto-Syrian cast.

Again it is recorded in the Tell el-Amarna letters of Akhnaten's time that Syria and Palestine were being periodically disturbed by people called the Habiri, a term which is also to be equated with the Hebrews. In the cuneiform idiom they are referred to as 'cut-throats' or 'brigands,' and in view of their half predatory, half nomadic life and mercenary habits it is probable that there were as many fighting with as against Egyptian troops. In the century following Akhnaten's death, the Egyptians were forced on several occasions to make sorties into Palestine in order to force the Hittites northwards, and perhaps some Hebrews returned with the army as mercenaries, while it is equally possible that some were carried back as captives. Seti I and Rameses II both brought back a spoil of slaves after punishing the Syrians, and finally about 1220 B.C., Merneptah, Rameses's successor, had to 'pacify' the land once more. On the back of a large stele which this Pharaoh appropriated from the temple of Amenhotep III at Thebes, and which is now called the 'Israel stele' because it is the first monument in which this word is used, he recorded a hymn of victory which reads in part:


The kings are overthrown, saying 'Salam'!
Not one holds up his head among the nine nations of the bow.
Wasted is Tehenu,
The Hittite Land is pacified,
Plundered is the Canaan, with every evil,
Carried off is Askalon,
Seized upon is Gezer,
Yenoam is made as a thing not existing.
Israel is desolated, her seed is not,
Palestine has become a [defenseless] widow for Egypt.
All lands are united, they are pacified;
Everyone that is turbulent is bound by King Merneptah.


Merneptah's monument proves that by 1220 B.C. one or more of the Habiri tribes having the name Isra-el (ruled by God) had achieved sufficient political and military unity in Canaan to be ranked with the inhabitants of the cities of Tehena, Askalon, Gezer and Yenoam. Thus the Hebrews were established in Canaan and Palestine certainly as early as the reign of Rameses II (1292-1225 B.C.), the traditional Pharaoh of the exodus, and they had probably been established there for close on to two centuries. These appear to have been the Leah tribes who called their deity Yahweh, while one or more of the Rachel tribes, living in Egypt, knew him as Elohim, at least until the name Yahweh was traditionally revealed to them on the occasion of the exodus.


It is pertinent to interpolate here a brief summary of the political history of the Hebrews and of their sacred work, the Old Testament.

In the period between 1090 and 1000 B.C., while Egypt was too feeble to remonstrate and the Assyrians and Hittites were occupied with each other, one or more Habiri tribes under the leadership of Saul and David gained domination over Palestine and formed the monarchy of Israel. (The oldest epigraphic evidence of Hebrew culture, a short Hebrew inscription at Byblos, dates from this or the previous century.) Then, under David's son Solomon, a cruel, vainglorious despot with a burning ambition to live like the king of Assyria, the monarchy became weakened and, in consequence of his tyranny and oppression, it divided on his death into two independent kingdoms, one in the north consisting of ten tribes, centering about Samaria and still carrying the name of Israel, and a second in the south, consisting of two tribes, centering about Jerusalem and known as Judah. For some centuries these two kingdoms remained in intermittent conflict with the Philistines, Amalekites, Moabites and Ammonites, while they struggled with variable success to maintain an independent existence between Assyria and Egypt. In 722 B.C. Samaria was sacked by the Assyrians and 27,000 of the inhabitants of Israel were carried away as prisoners. Their identity was lost among the Assyrians, all that remained of them being the legend of the lost Ten Tribes. Though this was the end of the Kingdom of Israel, the term Israel has come to be applied to the smaller and more robust sister state, Judah, and generically to all the descendants of its inhabitants.

Shortly after 600 B.C., when the center of power in the East shifted from Assur to Babylon, the Babylonians found in the small Israelite kingdom a troublesome neighbor who was aiding their enemies of the Nile. They twice invaded Jerusalem and severely punished the people. On the second occasion the walls of the city were wholly demolished, the important buildings leveled and a large number of the prominent inhabitants were removed to Babylon. This captivity, or Exile, lasted until 538 B.C., when the Persians under Cyrus conquered Babylon, at which time many of the captives returned to Jerusalem as Persian subjects.

An independent national existence was never again achieved, but the Hebrews dreamed always of what might have been, or what might still be; and these dreams, coupled with an unquenchable desire for national unity and independence, impelled the development of their religious literature. At the close of the Babylonian captivity the Hebrews possessed a considerable body of folklore, legends, genealogies and fragments of history, which the priests now arranged into a composite work (practically represented in the first five books of the Old Testament, the Pentateuch), and finally edited about the time of Ezra (ca. 400 B.C.). Any appraisal of the Old Testament must recognize that the history of Israel from the earliest days to the Babylonian captivity had been transmitted largely by oral tradition. At this period history was never written as such and, judging from all parallels in Mesopotamia and Syria, the most in the way of pre-exilic written sources which the scribes had available to them was a miscellany of king lists, genealogical tables, tribal laws and moral anecdotes. Even these written records had of necessity been copied and recopied many times, in which process the legends and even the presumptively historical facts had been re-edited and given new meanings as the viewpoint of the scribes changed with the passing centuries. Moreover, the priestly writers had a completely nonhistorical bias; they were so zealously intent on pleading a special cause -- Yahwism in all its aspects -- that they remained unaware of or quite indifferent to a vast array of contradictions and incompatibilities in the finished work. >From the time of the Reformation it was believed by Christians that this literature was divinely inspired and literally true to the letter of the word, and only in the nineteenth century did scholars come to see it in its proper historical light: on critical analysis the Biblical books in many instances were found to have historical value, but the very sanctity that produced them and led to their preservation proved to be the chief reason for questioning their historicity at every point.

The Pentateuch is now recognized to stem from three more or less independent sources, the Yahwistic and Elohist versions which were probably not committed to writing before 750 B.C., and the Priests' Code which was composed as an amplification of Deuteronomy shortly after the return from Babylon (ca. 535-469 B.C.). The Pentateuch (plus Chronicles and Kings) was probably arranged in its present order before 300 B.C., though a standard Hebrew text (the Masoretic text) was not finally established until the second century of the Christian Era. This text, of which no copy is extant, in turn supplied the model from which the Torah and Old Testament were derived. The Hebrew text was originally written in consonants only, the vowels being supplied by the reader; then at some time between the sixth and eighth centuries of the Christian Era a system of vowel points was invented and applied to the ancient text, and such was the subsequent force of this innovation that after its widespread adoption all the manuscripts which had not been so re-edited were destroyed or allowed to perish. Consequently no copy of the Hebrew text of any part of the Old Testament is known that can be dated with any certainty earlier than the tenth century. A copy of the Prophetic Books preserved at Leningrad, bearing the date A.D. 916, has long been accepted as the oldest surviving, primary Hebrew record. (Scrolls bearing much of Isaiah and fragments of Genesis, Deuteronomy and the Apocrypha, preserved in jars and found by Arabs near the Dead Sea in 1947, are believed by Professor Sukenik of Hebrew University to antedate the Christian Era. Some scholars place their date in the sixth century B.C., but others suspect them to be forgeries and in any case do not date them earlier than the Middle Ages.)

For earlier redactions of the Old Testament scholars must rely on Greek, Latin, Syriac and other translations which differ markedly among themselves in consequence of their checkered history. Until the third century of the Christian Era writing was confined to papyrus rolls, a number of such rolls being required to contain all the books of the Old Testament, and since these rolls were circulated separately and separately translated by scribes who frequently had more zeal than skill, the various rolls probably differed on one point or another in almost every paragraph. In the third century the papyrus codex, or book of papyrus leaves, was introduced, and in the fourth century the vellum codex, and then the various texts began to be gathered into simple volumes. Editors and redactors selected from the diverse translations available to them on papyrus those texts which seemed to be most suitable, this work of selection going on in several independent centers, such as Alexandria, Greece, Constantinople and Rome, until there were produced a number of stem texts which differed considerably from each other.

The first translation of the Old Testament from Hebrew into Greek had been the Septuagint, which had been prepared from various Hebrew papyri by a number of translators (traditionally seventy) in the third century B.C.; this originally included only the Pentateuch, but other books were added by the first century B.C. and in the first century after Christ the collection was accepted by the Jews of the Dispersion as Holy Scripture and passed on as such to the Christian Church. In both Hebrew and Christian hands, however, the papyri underwent independent changes until in the fourth century Jerome collected numerous Hebrew manuscripts, edited them and translated them into Latin to produce the Vulgate text. For textual purposes this possesses but little value, since Jerome presupposed a Hebrew original practically identical with the stereotyped Masoretic text, and made his selections accordingly. It is this Vulgate which is still used by the Catholic Church, but the oldest extant fragments date from the sixth to the ninth century and these have now been shown to differ markedly from the stem texts on which Jerome's compilation was based. In view of Jerome's limited sources, his edition must itself have differed considerably from the older Hebrew manuscripts.

In the preparation of the standard English Bible (King James Version, 1611), the translators unfortunately relied chiefly upon a Greek text which had been collected and edited by Erasmus in 1516, who had in turn used the few Greek manuscripts that were available in Basle. In the light of recent examination Erasmus's sources appear to have stemmed largely from what scholars call the Byzantine text, one which had been gradually assembled at Constantinople between the fourth and eighth centuries and which differs substantially from other texts that by their concordance appear to approach more closely to the original Hebrew manuscripts.

The oldest extensive manuscript of the Septuagint in any language consists of 235 leaves of the Greek Codex Sinaiticus which dates from the fourth century, discovered by Tischendorf in the monastery of St. Catherine at Mount Sinai in 1844 and 1859. The Codex Vaticanus, also in Greek, which has been preserved in the Vatican Library since 1481, is a nearly complete copy of the Old and New Testaments and is also dated as fourth century. Next in age is the Greek Codex Alexandrinus, also a nearly complete copy of the Old and New Testaments dating from the fifth century, which was preserved at Constantinople until 1627 when it was presented to Charles I. The Chester Beatty Papyri are remnants of twelve manuscripts allegedly found by natives buried in one or more jars in a Coptic graveyard in Egypt; they comprise two substantial portions of Genesis, small fragments of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Esther and Ecclesiasticus from the third and fourth centuries, and a portion of Numbers and Deuteronomy which is said to be not later than the first half of the second century. A fragment of Deuteronomy is contained on a few bits of papyrus which were used in making a mummy cartonnage case found in Egypt; these date from the middle of the second century B.C. and are by some three centuries the earliest manuscript of any portion of the Bible yet discovered, with the possible exception of the Hebrew fragments mentioned above.

In view of the fact that the oldest manuscripts, incomplete as they are, represent the nth edition in the process of copying and recopying, editing and re-editing which has gone on for centuries it is not surprising that all extant copies differ markedly from each other and from the King James Version. The Revised Version of 1881 incorporates the results of much recent research on the ancient manuscripts but can scarcely be considered either final or identical with any ancient copy, and the choice between the King James Version and the Revised Version is largely a matter of literary taste.


The traditions of the Israelites, as set forth in the Pentateuch (and excluding numerous contradictory details) relate that in a time of famine the sons of Jacob, a descendant of Abraham, had migrated into Egypt where their brother, Joseph, was prime minister; there they had been welcomed and given land in the province of Goshen, and had resided until forced into slavery by a hostile Pharaoh. Under the leadership of Moses, and after numerous dramatic episodes in which Moses's god had 'hardened the heart' of the Pharaoh to prevent the Israelites from leaving (and which afforded the god an opportunity to exhibit his supernatural powers) they had escaped from Egypt to wander in the 'wilderness' for forty years, until at last they had reached the promised land of Canaan.

Whether any such mass exodus of Hebrews out of Egypt ever actually occurred is undetermined. Those historians who answer affirmatively place it at about 1450 B.C., a date which is obtained from internal evidence in the Pentateuch, and from the fact that the Habiri, as demonstrated by the Tell el-Amarna letters, were creating trouble in Palestine by 1370 B.C. and were well established there certainly before the time of the Merneptah stele (1220 B.C.). Recent excavations at Jericho show that the walls of this town were leveled by an earthquake between 1413 and 1300 B.C., which is consonant with the Hebraic dates and traditions. In this view the 'Rameses' of the oppression is either a synonym for 'Pharaoh' or some unknown Egyptian ruler of that name, for no Rameses is recorded in Egyptian history until a much later time.

Whatever the date of the traditional migration, and assuming it to have a historic basis, it is obviously impossible to accept the Exodus account that there went out of Egypt 'about six hundred thousand on foot that were men, beside children. And a mixed multitude went up also with them; and flocks, and herds, even very much cattle.' Apart from the 'mixed multitude,' this would mean a million and a half men, women and children, and an equal number of cattle and sheep, and any such mass movement would certainly have resounded loudly in Egyptian or Syrian history, while any such number of persons and animals would certainly have died of starvation within a short time in the deserts and mountains of Sinai. It is more likely that the legend of the exodus is a garbled and fanciful account of the flight from Egypt to Palestine of a relatively few members of the Rachel tribe under the leadership of a patriarch who fled the country because he had come afoul of the Egyptian law; or perhaps it only reflects the continuous infiltration of Hebrews into and out of Egypt over the period between the Hyksos invasion (1800 B.C.) and the reign of Merneptah (1200 B.C.), and their gradual rise to power in Palestine. Later, when they were politically established in that country, their Egyptian experiences and the adventures which they had had at one point or another in their travels were developed into a tale of epic proportions.

Moses was, by tradition, learned in the wisdom of the Egyptians, and Egyptian influence in early Israelite thought is evident in many places. Though the name Moses was related by Sayce to the Assyrian word masu, meaning hero or leader, other Egyptologists have emphasized its affinity to the Egyptian word mose, meaning son, while Yahuda equates it with the Egyptian mu-sheh, meaning 'child of the Nile.' Like Horus, beloved god of Egypt, and also like Sargon, founder of the kingdom of Sumer, Moses had been born in secret and hidden in a basket among the bulrushes. A malicious god, Set, sought to destroy Horus; a malicious Pharaoh sought to destroy Moses. Buto, the goddess of the north, found and reared Horus while his mother visited him secretly; a Pharaoh's daughter found and reared Moses, his mother being employed as his nurse. When Horus grew to manhood he slew Set, who had wronged his father; when Moses grew to manhood he slew an Egyptian who was wronging a Hebrew. To escape punishment, Moses fled from Egypt to the land of Midian, where he lived with Jethro, the ministrant of the god Yahweh who appears at this stage to have been the local deity of a sacred volcanic mountain; and, on the occasion of the burning bush, Moses's great mission to deliver the Israelites from bondage was revealed to him by Jethro's god who proved to be the hitherto unrecognized god of Moses's ancestor, Abraham. The god first told Moses his 'secret name,' thus imparting to him such magic power that in Egypt Moses would have been stronger than the god himself. Then the god expounded a guileful plan to coerce the Pharaoh into letting the Israelites leave Egypt and to persuade them to follow Moses. The plan involved various 'wonders' or magical operations in the form of typical Egyptian plagues. In an incident involving the god, Moses and his wife, it was revealed that the bloodletting rite of circumcision, which was indubitably in vogue in Egypt in earliest dynastic times, was to be substituted for human sacrifice. Moses carried a magic staff which was also a serpent, and he revered the healing power of the shining brazen image of the serpent divinity, Uraeus, the symbol of the Egyptian king. On the sacred mountain he acquired a highly sacred stone from the god, which was forever after surrounded by Egyptian mystery and preserved in a chest or 'ark' comparable to the sacred chests used by Egyptian priests.

Such Nilotic elements are those which one would expect to find among Semites who had lived in Egypt at any period from the Hyksos invasion to the time of Rameses. The ancient literature of that country, such as the writings of Ptahhotep, was probably not readily available to any except the priests who because of its sacred nature kept it closely guarded either in the House of Rolls or in the temples; certainly if any of the more abstract 'wisdom' of the Nile was carried away by Moses and his companions, it was lost in the wilderness or in Canaan where they finally settled down.

The Israelites of Syria at the time of Rameses and Merneptah lived as they had lived for a thousand years, pasturing their flocks on the thin herbage in the valleys, moving onward from well to well whenever the supply of fodder was exhausted, and coming into the cities only when forced to do so by the onset of winter or the assault of enemies. They reverenced as abodes of supernatural beings the springs upon which they and their flocks were so dependent, or any tree that was of excessive size or grew miraculously in a desert cleft. As late as the Hellenistic period it was accepted that trees had perception, passion and reason, and in earlier days men sensed in these mysterious organisms potent beings who exerted a profound influence upon human fate. Such were the 'terabinths of soothsayers,' the 'palm tree of Deborah,' or the unusual tamarisk or pomegranate at Gibeah where Saul abode. Tree worship was interwoven in the cult of Ishtar, and in the absence of a tree the nomads erected near a sacred spring or artificial altar a bare pole, or asherah, to represent the god. Like the peoples of Ur and Babylon, the nomads revered sacred images, or ephods, which the soothsayer consulted, or before which he cast lots to divine the future, and teraphim, images of venerated ancestors; the latter were preserved in each household with reverential care, attended with ritual and sacrifice by the family or tribal patriarch, and were consulted in all grave crises. Such were the images which Rachel stole from her father, which Micah consulted, and the worship of which Hosea and Zechariah condemned with vehemence.

The Israelites had their animal gods, the sacred serpent, a brazen image of which Moses brought out of Egypt, and the golden calf, which was probably the counterpart of the highly revered Hathor, Mother Goddess of the Nile. Deified animal ancestors were possibly represented in certain tribal names such as Simeon (hyena), Caleb (dog), Hamor (ass), Rachel (ewe) and Tesh (wild cow), and the worship of these totems may have furnished the original taboos against eating the flesh of particular species, though the majority of such taboos as they appeared in later Judaism were outgrowths of priestly legalism.

Although every field, vineyard, well and spring had its divine possessor and protector, the Israelites turned whenever possible to mountains as the abode of divine beings. They designated such gods generically by the Syriac name of Baalim, the 'lords' of such-and-such places, the Baal of Lebanon, of Mount Hermon or Mount Peor. The evidence of the Pentateuch reveals an early and impressive experience with some mountain, probably a volcano, in which lived a deity whose name, too terrible to be pronounced, was, in keeping with the custom of omitting vowels, spelled YHWH and was probably pronounced Yahweh. (The Tetragrammaton was incorrectly translated in fourteenth century manuscripts as Jehovah, a word formed by combining YHWH with the vowels of adhonay, or Lord, on the erroneous assumption that the synonymy in Hebraic usage afforded a key to the pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton. Actually, adhonay was substituted merely to avoid saying the holy name.) In many places in Syria there are evidences of recent volcanic activity, and there is much to favor the view that Yahweh was originally the spirit of an active crater. He appears repeatedly in images that could only arise from an intimate experience with such a peak, as in the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night that guided the Israelites, in the thunders and lightnings and the thick cloud and the voice of a trumpet exceeding loud that accompanied the appearance of the god upon the mountain when 'the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly.' Centuries later it echoes in the prophet Isaiah's words: 'Behold the name of Yahweh cometh from afar, his anger burneth, and violently the smoke riseth on high: his lips are full of indignation, and his tongue is a devouring fire.'

Although the Israelites always spoke of Yahweh as coming from Sinai, Jethro's mountain, where Yahweh revealed himself to Moses, was not in the Sinai peninsula but in the land of the Midianites which lay to the east of the Gulf of Akaba in Arabia proper; the erroneous association of Yahweh with Sinai stems from the subsequent encampment of the Israelites near the foot of the mountain of the Law during the exodus. This mountain of the Law may or may not have been Mount Sinai: the Pentateuchal writers sometimes called it Sinai, and sometimes Horeb. Traditionally it was such a mountain that over a million people could encamp at its base for some time with pasture and drink for their cattle; it rose from the wilderness so sharply that its base could be fenced in, yet it was easily ascended and its peak could be seen by a great multitude below. It is impossible to fit Sinai or any other existing mountain into this description, but it was probably Mount Sinai that supplied many of the legends of the exodus and some of the attributes of the deity who sponsored this migration.

Among the Bedouins Mount Sinai was sacred to the moon god, Sin, from whom it derived its name. Sin, by nature of his nocturnal light, was the favored god of nomadic peoples, their guide and protector at night when they must do most of their wandering in a hot country. He was conceived to be the father of the gods, their chief and leader, and the god of wisdom. His symbol was a conical stone surmounted by a gilded crescent, and his service even down to late times involved human sacrifice. Sin was worshiped at Mount Sinai well into the Christian Era, and the rocky caves which abound in its jagged walls and deeply cut valleys had harbored his priests a thousand years before the Exodus. The ruins of temples at Serabit reveal altars for incense and sacrifice, tanks for ablutions, stone pillars suggesting phallic beliefs and a vast accumulation of ashes from burnt offerings. When the Israelites left their 'mountain of the Law' they carried with them Sin's commandments to make an altar to burn incense upon, this altar to have 'horns' for a ceremonial blood offering, lavers for the hands and feet, a tabernacle in which to worship the god and the ritual of burnt offerings. Every seventh day, the unlucky day of the moon god throughout the East, had become a sabbath or sacred day. To argue that the Israelites acquired these practices, which were ancient and widespread throughout Arabia and Syria, solely from the cult of a single mountain, Sinai or any other, would of course be forced; the point is that in their own tradition Sinai was the place upon which Yahweh descended with fire and smoke and earthquake to instruct Moses about the Sabbath, the making of an altar of unhewn stone with horns, the rituals of the blood offering and the burnt offering, the feast of the harvest and first fruits, the sacrifices of the first-born, all the sacred Law that was the foundation of Israel, and much of this 'law' was pre-existent in the moon god's cult.

Yet as Jeremiah later said, 'For according to the number of thy cities were thy gods, O Judah, and according to the number of the streets of Jerusalem have ye set up altars to that shameful thing, even altars to burn incense to Baal.' Yahweh, slowly taking shape in a welter of polytheism, took one or another attribute from various of Israel's early gods. Above all else, he was a god of generation. The Israelites never doubted that with his help they would some day outnumber their enemies, for the god had appeared to Abraham and promised to make him 'a father of many nations'; and later, when Abraham complained 'To me thou hast given no seed,' the god 'brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be.' Repeatedly the god promises fruitfulness: 'I will multiply thee exceedingly'; 'thou shalt be a father of many nations'; 'And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee'; 'for a father of many nations have I made thee'; of Sarah he said, 'she shall be a mother of nations; kings of people shall be of her'; of Ishmael, 'I have blessed him and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he beget, and I will make him a great nation.' To the agricultural Egyptians, who needed food and not numbers, Osiris was above all the personification of the fertility of the soil and seed, and the power of resurrection; but the shepherd-warrior peoples living in sparsely populated Palestine were not interested in agriculture and they had no notion whatever of a happy afterlife. What they wanted chiefly was to resist their foes by force of arms, to which end they had to multiply their numbers as rapidly as possible. So the god promised them, 'I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the seashore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies.'

From this and other evidence, many students have identified Yahweh as a phallic stone such as was revered by neolithic man and by more recent peoples. It is not to be denied that phallic symbolism has been attributed to megalithic monuments, amulets, signs, incantations and literary allusions, in which the suggestio concupiscentiae is purely fortuitous. The Semitic asherim, or sacred poles, have been so identified, but the evidence is unconvincing and it is more likely that as substitutes for a sacred tree they were erected indifferently in the worship of any deity. Although Kennett thought that Yahweh was a golden serpent brought perhaps from Egypt and preserved in the ark until its loss or destruction, possibly as late as the reformation in the days of Hezekiah, and Barton that he was a sacred meteorite, the belief that he was a phallic deity has much more support in evidence.

The Semites were among the most assiduous of stone worshipers in the ancient world. From the fact that sacred stones were usually erected on or near the summit of a hill, they came to refer to any megalithic monument as a 'high place.' A particular stone which was the abode of deity was called Beth-el, the 'house of god,' though this term was also applied to sacred springs and other sacred localities. Among a circle of stones, the Beth-el is usually identifiable by its superior size, its unique position, or by the fact that it has been worn smooth by being repeatedly anointed. The conical menhir, called a massebah (to set up), was especially revered, and so numerous were they with the accompanying asherim it could be said that they might be found 'on every high hill, and under every green tree.' A cup was frequently hollowed out in the altar stone to receive the libation of wine or oil, or the blood of human or animal sacrifice, and in some instances channels were dug in the altar to drain the blood into a neighboring subterranean grotto. On the altar an entire animal might be consumed by fire, to ascend as a sweet-smelling savor to the god whose blessing the worshipers acquired by partaking of the sacred flesh or anointing themselves with its blood. Seers incubated near the altar to obtain oracular information, and the recurring seasons as well as occasions of victory were celebrated there with music, dancing and wine; men sacrificed their blood and gave themselves up to an orgy of ecstasy in which they were visited by oracular visions, while women received the fertility of the god.

It was in keeping with what was apparently a neolithic tradition that the sacred stones were never cut with the chisel, for fear of disturbing the embodied spirit; and thus it was that Yahweh said unto Moses, 'And if thou wilt make me an altar of stone, thou shalt not build it of hewn stone: for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it,' and it was such an unhewn stone that Jacob took for a pillow and afterwards consecrated by pouring oil upon it, or that he set up for a covenant pillar with Laban, or on the altar at Shilan, or on the grave of Rachel, or at Luz where his god appeared to him; and such was the great stone which Joshua set up 'under an oak, that was by the sanctuary of Yahweh.' The prophet Isaiah contemptuously says to the recalcitrant polytheist: 'Among the smooth stones of the stream is thy portion; they, they are thy lot: Even to them hast thou poured a drink offering, thou hast offered a meat offering.' The stone of Bethel was apparently a menhir, the cairn of Mizpeh a sepulchral monument; Joshua's Gilgal was twelve standing stones; and it was at these sacred places that Samuel judged Israel. He 'took a stone and set it between Mizpeh and Shen,' and its name, Eben-ezer, meant the stone of help, and he directed Saul to go to the stone circle of Gilgal, adding, 'I will come down unto thee, to offer burnt offerings, and to sacrifice sacrifices of peace offerings.' There also it was that 'they made Saul king before Yahweh in Gilgal; and there they sacrificed sacrifices of peace offerings before Yahweh.'

One of the most interesting of the high places which have been found in Palestine is that at Gezer, where the Canaanites worshiped. It contained ten monoliths or upright pillars, varying from five to nearly eleven feet in height, one of which was the sacred stone, as the smooth spots on it show. It is a kind of stone not found near Gezer and was apparently brought from Jerusalem. Mesha, king of Moab, related that he dragged the altar stones of his enemies away from their original locations and erected them to his own god, Chemosh, and it is possible that the Gezer stone was thus carried away from Jerusalem as the booty of war, and the other stones erected to do it honor. Judging from the scarabs found at Gezer, this high place was in use in 2000 B.C., and it continued to be a place of worship down to the time when the Jews were carried off to Babylon. Among the fragments of pottery is a brazen serpent, suggesting that live sacred snakes may have been kept in the temple, and it may have been here that Hezekiah broke the images, cut down the sacred trees and destroyed 'the brazen serpent that Moses had made' and to which the children of Israel were burning incense. Beneath this high place is a cemetery of newborn infants, some of the bodies displaying marks of fire, and most of them enclosed in large jars into which they had often been put head first. That the children were live sacrifices is probable from the fact that throughout the traditions of the East dead bodies were unclean and would never be brought near a sanctuary. That the cult of the Mother Goddess had intermingled with stone worship at Gezer is shown by the fact that a great many plaques bearing the figure of Ishtar (whom the Israelites called Ashtoreth) were found in the ruins. The great high place at Petra, one among twenty in this locality, is conjectured by Robinson, its discoverer, to have been the central sanctuary of the Edomites, and it may mark the spot where religious rites were celebrated by the sons of Esau. Other high places have been discovered at Migiddo, Tell es-Safi, Tell Ta'annek and elsewhere.

Under the command of his god, Abraham went to the land of Moriah to offer his only son Isaac as a burnt offering upon a mountain to which the god directed him; it was on this mountain, just outside Jerusalem, that Solomon built his Temple. The mountain is surmounted by a great rock surface which is now enclosed in the Mosque of Omar; the Mohammedans still regard it as a sacred rock, and on it can still be traced the blood channels which were probably carved there by Solomon or someone before his time.

It has been propounded that the Semites in pre-Israelite days had passed through a phase of matriarchal culture in which descent was traced through the women, who not only ruled the clan but led its members on to the battlefield. In such a culture it is the Mother Goddess who is chiefly revered, as in the case of Ishtar and Astarte; and, as in these cults, the creatress of flocks and the divinity of maternity would be likely to esteem an enduring symbol of generation. The dominant role of phallism in the worship of the Syrian Astarte would establish the presupposition of phallic worship among the Israelites: before the Beth-el of Yahweh, erected near the sacred spring, victims could be slain and offerings of blood and oil could be rubbed or poured upon the god without contaminating the sacred waters.

Ancient phallic stones are still standing in western Syria, but in Palestine such monuments are rare because after the captivity the Israelites, having learned the folly of 'idolatry,' looked down upon stone worship with contempt and zealously eradicated all these 'idols.' They failed, however, to expunge from their sacred literature an abundance of phallic-megalithic metaphors. Moses says of his god, 'He is the rock,' David sings, 'exalted be the god of the rock of my salvation,' and throughout the Psalms the identification occurs repeatedly: 'Thou art my rock and my fortress'; 'Who is God save Yahweh, and who is a rock save our God?'; 'Lead me to the rock that is higher than I'; 'Yahweh is my defense, and my God is the rock of my refuge'; 'O come, let us sing to Yahweh: let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation.' Samuel says, 'There is none holy as Yahweh: for there is none beside thee: neither is there any rock like our God,' and joins with the Psalmist in declaring, 'The God of my rock; in him will I trust: he is my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my high tower, and my refuge, my saviour.' The Deuteronomist inquires, 'Where are their gods, their rock in whom they trusted, which did eat the fat of their sacrifices, and drank the wine of their offerings?' The priestly author of this book, which was 'found' in the Temple about 621 B.C., naively reveals the nature of his god in a passage which later editors failed to purify: 'They sacrificed unto devils, not to Yahweh; to gods whom they knew not, to new gods that came newly up, whom your fathers feared not. Of the rock that begat thee thou art unmindful, and hast forgotten Yahweh that formed thee.'

The postexilic scribes undoubtedly removed many allusions to phallic worship, or blunted them to make them appear merely figurative, but as a figurative expression the 'rock' of salvation, power, refuge and judgment associated with a god of procreation is too frequent and too artificial to be fortuitous. That the rock was not figurative but literal is shown by the fact that Yahweh was concrete and tangible. The most sacred object in Israel was the chest called the 'ark,' which was carried about by the people from place to place and taken into battle, as the Egyptians carried the king's umbilical cord or other fetishes onto the battlefield to give them victory. It is made clear by repeated statement that the Israelites believed that their success in arms depended upon the strength of their god, whose presence coincided with the presence of this ark; were they to admit permanent defeat, it would prove that the god of their enemies was stronger than their own. Indeed, it was Yahweh himself who was in the ark, for when David took the ark to Jerusalem, it was carried on a new cart and the people 'played before Yahweh on all manner of instruments,' and David himself 'danced before Yahweh with all his might.' It was stored in a tent until Solomon built a great temple for it, 'the house of Yahweh,' and then it was brought into the holy of holies, 'into the oracle of the house, to the most holy place, even under the wings of the cherubim,' or, as a later gloss has it, it was enshrined 'between the thighs of the building.' The postexilic assertion that 'There was nothing in the ark save the two tables of stone, which Moses put there at Horeb, when Yahweh made a covenant with the children of Israel, when they came out of the land of Egypt,' is at once an admission that the ark's contents were rock and a denial of its true function. The denial has little weight inasmuch as the decalogue which, according to the postexilic writers, was inscribed on the two tablets incorporates the advanced morality of Amos, Hosea, Jeremiah and other prophets, and differs in all but three commandments from the decalogue as it existed before the Exile, and which, according to Kennett, read as follows:


(i) I am Yahweh thy god, thou shalt worship no other god. (ii) The feast of unleavened cakes thou shalt keep; seven days thou shalt eat unleavened cakes. (iii) All that openeth the womb is mine; and all thy cattle that is male, the firstlings of ox and sheep. (iv) My sabbaths shalt thou keep; six days shalt thou work, but on the seventh day thou shalt rest. (v) The feast of weeks thou shalt celebrate, even the first-fruits of wheat harvest. (vi) The feast of ingathering thou shalt celebrate at the end of the year. (vii) Thou shalt not sacrifice my sacrificial blood upon leavened bread. (viii) The fat of my feast shalt not remain all night until the morning. (ix) The fruit of the first-fruits of thy ground thou shalt bring into the house of Yahweh thy god. (x) Thou shalt not seethe a kid in its mother's milk.


The view that what the ark originally contained was a phallic stone, perhaps with, perhaps without some 'words of power' inscribed upon it, is therefore highly probable. In its travels it had acquired the name of Jethro's volcanic god YHWH, a secret name of such magic power in the Egyptian manner that the true pronunciation was transmitted only to qualified disciples. He who pronounced the Tetragrammaton profanely was threatened with dire punishment. For this reason the writers of the Old Testament commonly substituted the Syriac word, Adonai, meaning 'my Lord.' The deity had assimilated many of the attributes of the moon god of Sinai, as well as those of the family and tribal images, the teraphim. It was a jealous rock which would allow no other sacred rocks to remain undemolished within its tribal boundaries, for when the Philistines recognized and captured the ark at Ebenezer it plagued them even as Yahweh had plagued the Egyptians, until their own sacred stone, Dagon, fell down and broke in its presence. They were glad to be rid of the Israelite deity. It was so powerful that when the men of Bethshemesh ventured to open the ark to look upon it, the sacred presence smote them down, 'fifty thousand and threescore and ten men,' so that they sent a messenger to the inhabitants of Kirjathjearim begging them to take the deity away.

If Yahweh rejoiced in human sacrifices he was no different from any other Syrian god. That the practice of sacrificing a human victim to supply a foundation deity for important buildings, widespread in later times, was observed in Syria is indicated by the fact that at Megiddo the skeleton of a fifteen-year-old girl was found built into a wall, and when Hiel, the Bethelite, built Jericho, 'he laid the foundation thereof in Abiram his first-born, and set up the gates thereof in his youngest son Segub, according to the word of Yahweh.' When delivering the Israelites from Egypt, Yahweh himself had heartlessly killed the first-born in every Egyptian home, 'from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the firstborn of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the firstborn of cattle'; and in payment for delivering his people, he demanded that 'thou shalt set apart unto Yahweh all that openeth the matrix, and every firstling that cometh of a beast which thou hast; the males shall be Yahweh's and every firstling of an ass thou shalt redeem with a lamb; and if thou wilt not redeem it, then thou shalt break his neck: and all the firstborn of man among thy children shalt thou redeem.'

That the tribe of Israel at the time of the Exodus had generally adopted circumcision as a substitute for this redemption is indicated by Yahweh's covenant with Moses, but the old ritual was not abandoned completely. Human sacrifice had been generously tempered by the substitution of animals, particularly the ram; it was only because Abraham dutifully 'bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar upon the wood' that Yahweh stayed the father's hand. But Yahweh was not always content with the blood of circumcision or the first-born of animals, and in crises he demanded the more potent sacrifice. Jephthah offered up his daughter as a thank offering for victory; Samuel hewed Agag to pieces before the face of Yahweh; and David sought to pacify Yahweh by a sacrifice of seven of the sons of Saul.

During the early history of Israel many Semitic peoples worshiped a god called Moloch (the king) and, buried in prohibitions against the practice of child sacrifice, are numerous evidences that Moloch was identified by the Israelites as Yahweh himself. The custom of burning children long persisted at Jerusalem, the sacrifice being made at a place situated in the valley of Hinnom, just outside the walls of the city, which bore the name of Tophet. Evidence of a later date indicates that the children were rolled from the hands of a bronze image of the god into a pit of fire. In this custom the kings of Judah and its neighbors sometimes set an example, for Ahaz and Manasseh both caused their children to be sacrificed in this manner, and when the king of Moab was besieged by the Israelites and hard beset, he offered his eldest son, who should have reigned in his stead, for a burnt offering 'on the wall.' Philo of Byblos, in his work on the Jews, relates: 'It was an ancient custom in a crisis of great danger that the ruler of a city or nation should give his beloved son to die for the whole people, as a ransom offered to the avenging demons; and the children thus offered were slain with mystic rites. So Cronus, whom the Phoenicians call Israel, being the king of the land and having an only-begotten son called Jeoud, dressed him in royal robes and sacrificed him upon an altar in a time of war, when the country was in great danger from the enemy.'

At a later time the moralists found in child sacrifice one of the reasons for Israel's misfortunes. Jeremiah repeatedly bemoans the fact that the people of Jerusalem had 'built the high places of Tophet, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire,' and the same lament is uttered by Ezekiel. It is inferred that there were several Tophets. Traditionally, under the rule of Josiah the Tophet of Hinnom was destroyed and the people commanded that 'no man might make his son or his daughter to pass through the fire to Moloch,' but Kennett believes that the reference is unreliable and that sacrifice may have continued there until the sixth century B.C., and in outlying districts of Palestine, Ammon, Moab or Edom, down to the second century B.C. However, Jerome reported in the fourth century of the Christian Era that Tophet was then a pleasant and shady spot watered by the rills of Siloam and laid out in delightful gardens.

The horror of Tophet may not have been as great as it would seem, for when the Israelites watched their children pass into the fire they were moved by a sense of heroic duty. They would have been ashamed to offer to their god only the paltry things that money could buy. The supreme sacrifice appropriate to the god who had delivered them from bondage in Egypt and on whom they staked their all, was that which they loved most, and they were not a people to falter.

Kennett has suggested that the sacrifice of the first-born may have been based on the circumstance that in Israel as among Semites elsewhere the kedheshim or sacred men acted as the surrogates of the deity in stimulating the generative powers of nature, and since the first-born had been fathered by the deity, it was rightfully his. A potent factor in favoring the burnt sacrifice was no doubt the primitive attitude towards the magic power of blood, as revealed by Yahweh's injunction to Moses to forbear from eating blood and to avoid coming in contact with it: 'For the life of all flesh is the blood thereof.' Everything that blood had touched was unclean and had to be ritually purified. It is also possible that the burnt sacrifice goes back to the volcanic origin of Yaweh, or to the cult of the moon god at Sinai.

As time went on Yahweh disposed of competing gods by the simple expedient of absorbing them. Unlike other deities of the ancient world he was a very jealous god, and the first commandment given to Moses enjoined the Israelites from worshiping any other. Consequently when the tribes were united under David, when Jerusalem was made the capital of Israel and when Yahweh was at last enshrined by Solomon in the holy of holies of the national Temple, the religion of Israel was both monotheistic and purified of idolatry to the extent of having no graven image except the mysterious presence in the ark; nevertheless, Yahweh was still the ethnic god of one small tribe and his presence did not extend beyond the ark that had been his original abode. It required the physical destruction of this embodiment, in the calamity that was to come upon Jerusalem in the sixth century, to effect his liberation and transformation into an omnipresent, etherealized deity.


Enough has been written on the subject of Hebrew morality to fill a large library, but the ancient Egyptian scribe who, thinking of the sun god's celestial realm, wrote at a date prior to 3000 B.C.: 'Life is given to him who does what is loved, and death is given to him who does what is hated,' anticipated most of what there was to say. The Memphite maxim is fundamental to all morality, and to the understanding of the beliefs of Israel.

It is obvious that the moral features of any religion must not be judged by the particular character of its precepts, for to do so is to assume unwarrantedly that moral canons have their genesis in some frame that has absolute and universal, rather than relative and local, co-ordinates. To the Israelites, willful contact with blood, or with anything that had been rendered 'unclean' by blood, was immoral because it was forbidden by divine command; whereas the sacrifice of the first-born child in the fire of Tophet was an act of the highest moral order, because the deity esteemed it. Judgments cannot be rendered in terms of right or wrong, good or bad, material or spiritual, for these are but categories into which conduct is arbitrarily classified by the local moral code, and the highest authority which any moral code has is the approval of the people who make it. It follows that the only sense in which any religion can be said to be 'moral' is in respect to the extent to which it impresses some mode of conduct, regardless of its particular nature, upon its adherents.

Using the word in the above sense, Yahwism in its final form was extremely moral, its restrictive character being its dominant feature. To the Hebrews of the newborn nation of Saul and David religion was patriotism, tribal solidarity and military victory. Above all else they desired to achieve national greatness. They were perpetually in conflict with the tribes about them, and in cycles which varied inversely with the national safety they manifested decreased or increased religious fervor. When not oppressed by fear of invasion the people became indifferent to their ethnic god and turned to the worship of Astarte or other deities revered by neighboring tribes; the strongest single factor leading them away from the Mosaic code was the peacetime marriage with non-Israelite women. Then in another crisis the prophets would search out the transgressors and exhort them to cast aside their gentile wives and to repent of all their other transgressions, and in these prophetic exhortations the 'commandments' of the deity became multiplied many fold. If the survival of Yahwism over other cults was in great part owing to the life-and-death struggles which Israel fought with the Philistines and other enemies, these same struggles, combined with the mystery and adaptability of the deity, slowly shaped the vast complex of the Hebraic moral code.

Prophecy among the Israelites was a characteristic form of divination partaking of the nature of both an exalted profession and a religious frenzy. The prophets foretold the future by casting arrows or lots, by dreams, or by incubation on a high place; they ranged from magicians to kings, from worldly individuals who participated in the life of the community to austere mountain recluses; their notions ranged from the most primitive magic to the most unselfish conceptions of society. Most of their revelations were characterized by orgiastic attacks in which they poured out intense patriotism combined with zealous devotion to the current doctrines of Yahweh, and as Israel's self-consciousness developed they became the interpreters of Yahweh's will, the voice of the people's conscience and the arbiters of national politics. Their true merit is difficult to evaluate, for without exception their words have been reworked by later writers prone to interpolate into their frenzied outpourings the advanced principles of later generations and intent upon demonstrating that these principles stemmed from Yahweh through his chosen mouthpieces, just as the earlier exegetes made it appear that the deity revealed himself to Moses on the occasion of the burning bush and entrusted him with the Law among the fires and vapors of Sinai's summit.

The one certain thing about prophecy is that it shaped Israel's laws. Since the people never conceived that a blight of crops, a plague, a famine or defeat in arms could be the result of aught but Yahweh 's wrath, prophetic vision discovered in every adversity a new iniquity of the people and set against it an appropriate prohibition. The ceremonial code thus evolved under the accumulating visions of the seers became ever more restrictive, until it culminated in the book of Deuteronomy. The nucleus of this work, of which the present text is a postexilic elaboration, was 'found' in the Temple about 621 B.C., even as one tradition had it that the original recension of the Book of the Dead had been 'found' in a temple over 2000 years earlier. This was a most critical period in Israel's history. 'A very forward generation' had provoked Yahweh's wrath: Judah had suffered under Assyrian tyranny for a hundred years and saw no hope for the amelioration of her woes, and the people were steeped in gloom. One day King Josiah, who was but eighteen years old, sent a servant to Hilkiah, the high priest, with an order covering the payment of workmen who were repairing the Temple, and the servant came hurrying back with astounding news: Hilkiah had found a book in the house of Yahweh, the very Book of the Law as written down by Moses. Josiah had the book brought and read to him and, very much alarmed, immediately consulted the prophetess Huldah, who pronounced it to be in truth the Law of Moses. Whereupon the King summoned the inhabitants of Jerusalem and read in their ears all the words of the discovered covenant.

If the people did not obey these laws, so Hilkiah's book threatened, Yahweh would direct more misfortunes against Israel than he had ever let loose upon the hated Egyptians: a multitude of blights would strike the fields, the stores, the kine, all that men owned and everything they set their hands to do; the people would suffer with the botch of Egypt, and with the emerods, and with the scab and itch; madness and blindness, consumption, fever, inflammation and extreme burning would beset them; blotches that could not be healed would appear from the soles of the feet to the top of the head, and men would be struck down by sword, by blasting and by mildew; heaven would turn to brass and earth to iron, rain would turn to dust and cover the fields, wives would be unfaithful, sons and daughters would be given into slavery -- so on and on through every imaginable misfortune until the people of Israel had been scattered from one end of the earth unto the other. On the other hand, blessings of every sort were promised the people if they hearkened to the voice of Yahweh -- the voice of Yahweh being purportedly here set forth in the form of the Law as it had been originally imparted to Moses.

The Deuteronomic code may have been written some fifteen to twenty-five years before it was 'discovered,' that is, during the reign of Josiah's grandfather Manasseh, for that king had favored the worship of the 'host of heaven' and had set up altars to strange gods in Jerusalem itself. It is equally possible that the work was a pious fraud perpetrated by Hilkiah and his priests with the idea of forcing it, as indeed they succeeded in doing, upon the young king and the people by sheer terrorism. It contained many of the ethics which had been at least nominally esteemed in Egypt and Babylonia for centuries, with such innovations as had been made by the prophets: it condemned child sacrifice, adultery, fornication, incest, sodomy and rape, dishonest weights and other unfair practices; it prescribed consideration for the poor, the widowed, the fatherless and the priest, and the free release of debtors and slaves every seven years. Its ethics were, however, subordinate to its chief intent of furthering the exclusive and ritualistic worship of Yahweh. It reaffirmed burnt offerings, sacrifices, tithes, heave offerings, free-will offerings, the firstlings of herds and flocks, the use of unleavened bread, the observance of the Sabbath and of the feasts of the Passover and of the Tabernacles and the Weeks, while it reiterated the prohibitions against eating the flesh of any beast that did not both cleave the hoof and chew the cud, or any flesh not drained of blood, against wearing woolen and linen garments at the same time, and against seething a kid in its mother's milk. It prohibited the eating of any flesh that dieth of itself, but sanctioned the giving of this flesh to a stranger or its sale to an alien. It forbade usury among the Hebrews but approved it between Hebrews and outsiders. It prescribed that one who used divination, or was an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, or a charmer, or a consulter of familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer, as well as a stubborn and rebellious son or a maiden falsely pretending to virginity, should be stoned to death. It commanded that the people immediately destroy all high places and idols, asherim and stone pillars, and expel the sacred men and women from the temples, and all altars and images of other gods were to be burned in the fire. Any man of Israel who had gone out to worship another god should be killed and his cattle with him, and his city should be burned. Idolators should be stoned to death, and any stranger within the city who worshiped another god, and any prophet who invited men to worship other gods, even a brother or sister or son or daughter or wife or friend who did this, should be stoned outside the city gates until they died.

So terrible were the curses threatened by the Deuteronomist if the Israelites did not return to Yahweh as their only god that King Josiah and the people of Jerusalem were frightened into the quickest reform in history. When the king and his people entered the Temple and 'made a covenant before Yahweh, to walk after Yahweh, and to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes with all their heart and all their soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book,' the gates of the most enduring walls ever to imprison men -- the Hebraic Law -- shut silently behind them.


What magic was to Egyptian culture, prophecy was to Hebraic culture -- both its genesis and its ruin. Frazer has said: 'Prophecy of the Hebrew type has not been limited to Israel; it is indeed a phenomenon of almost world-wide occurrence; in many lands and in many ages the wild, whirling words of frenzied men and women have been accepted as the utterances of an indwelling deity. What does distinguish Hebrew prophecy from all other is that the genius of a few members of the profession wrested this vulgar but powerful instrument from baser uses, and by wielding it in the interests of a high morality rendered a service of incalculable value to humanity. That is indeed the glory of Israel.' This evaluation, however, requires not only the separation of prophetic gold from dross, but it fails to take cognizance of the heritage which was bequeathed to Israel by Egypt. Recent appraisals of Nilotic literature reveal that much that had previously been conceived to be the peculiar genius of Israel was long antedated by, if not derived from, the culture of the Nile. Social consciousness and a humane ethical code, for example, were abundantly contained in the maxims of Ptahhotep, whose 'wisdom,' if Breasted's dating is accepted, was formulated in writing nearly two thousand years before the Kingdom of Israel was founded. Although Ptahhotep did not neglect the services of the gods, propitiation of the deity certainly looms no larger in his thoughts than in those of Amos, Hosea or Samuel; and, with whatever reservations the talismanic power of righteousness is accepted, both the Egyptian and the Hebrew moralists subsumed within the term all the social virtues which they esteemed. 'Great is righteousness'; wrote the Grand Vizier, 'its dispensation endures, nor has it been overthrown since the time of its maker [the sun god, Ra]: for punishment is inflicted on the transgressor of its laws .... Although misfortune may carry away wealth, the power of righteousness is that it endures .... Make righteousness to flourish and thy children shall live .... Established is the man whose standard is righteousness, who walketh according to its ways.' Twenty centuries elapse before the prophet Amos turns in fiery denunciation of his fellow men: 'But seek not Beth-el, nor enter into Gilgal, and pass not to Beer-sheba: for Gilgal shall surely go into captivity, and Beth-el shall come to nought .... I hate, I despise our feast days, and I will not smell in your solemn assemblies. Though ye offer me burnt offerings and your meat offerings, I will not accept them: neither will I regard the peace offerings of your fat beasts. Take thou away from me the noise of thy songs; for I will not hear the melody of thy viols. But let judgment run down as waters; and righteousness as a mighty stream.'

Perhaps it had been in the 'words of the ancestors' which he bade his son read that Khati had found an echo of Ptahhotep; 'more acceptable is the virtue of the upright man than the ox of him that doeth iniquity .... Set not thy mind on the length of days, for they [the judges] view a lifetime as an hour. A man surviveth after death and his deeds are placed beside him like mountains .... The gods, who know character, have hidden themselves, they confound by what is seen of the eyes.' Seventeen centuries later Samuel echoes, 'Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.' True, Samuel was thinking of the tribulations of Israel, and gave no thought to the possibilities that 'a man surviveth after death,' but he was equally unaware that 'the gods have hidden themselves.' Nearly a hundred generations of Egyptians had looked forward to the Osirian Judgment before the author of the Book of Proverbs observed that 'Yahweh weigheth the hearts,' and, echoing Samuel, 'To do justice and judgment is more acceptable to Yahweh than sacrifice.'

When and to what extent Egyptian literature became available to the Hebrews is not known. The possibility that the fugitives of the Exodus carried it away with them may be dismissed completely in favor of the supposition that Egyptian literary works were available to them in the prophetic period. Egyptian influence is evident in the royal tombs and burial customs at Byblos as early as 2000 B.C., and in subsequent centuries Egyptian troops carried into Syria Egyptian gods, and Egyptian priests served these gods in Egyptian temples. Transfusion of ideas probably occurred until Hebrew thought had developed so far in its own direction that it had become exclusive. It would be beyond the range of probability that the Hebrews could forever remain ignorant of all except the most primitive Egyptian notions.

The question of a possible relation between Hebrew monotheism and that of Akhnaten has been left open or answered negatively by most historians. In the violent reaction which followed that king's death (1362 B.C.), nearly all visible evidences of his doctrines had been obliterated; if any Semites in either Egypt or Syria had been favorably inclined to Akhnaten's deity, there seems to have been no lasting impression of details for there is but a single parallel between the one-god-Aten and the Yahweh of the Pentateuch. This is the similarity between the fragments of the Aten hymns preserved at Tell el-Amarna and Psalm 104. Breasted has contrasted them verse by verse and metaphor by metaphor, and the parallelism is too close for accident. These verses are, however, such as would be useful to any god -- Ra, Amen-Ra, Aten or Yahweh -- and do not imply that Palestine was indebted to Egypt for the monotheistic doctrine. Though the doctrine of monotheism was not actualized in the body of the Old Testament until long after the Exile, and perhaps as late as 300 B.C., the first exposition of the monotheistic principle in Hebrew literature was traditionally attributed to Amos, who preached at Bethel shortly after 700 B.C.; at a minimum, therefore, five centuries intervened between the two ideas. It was as a special product of their tribal jealousy and ambition, and independently of any precedent, that the Israelites developed their own particular type of monotheism, an exclusive rather than inclusive type, as is indicated by the first commandment: 'Thou shalt have no other gods before me.'

The two chief Egyptian features emerging in the voice of Yahweh's prophets are a deity who has dominion of all the earth, and the doctrine of the talismanic power of righteousness. It was Amos who asserted that Yahweh demanded not sacrifices but righteous conduct and it was Amos who first presented to the God of Israel the dominion of the universe: 'Seek him that maketh the seven stars and Orion, and turneth the shadow of death into the morning, and maketh the day dark with night: that calleth for the waters of the sea, and poureth them out upon the face of the earth: Yahweh is his name ... he that formeth the mountains, and createth the wind, and declareth unto man what is his thought ... Are ye not as children of the Ethiopians unto me, O children of Israel ? saith Yahweh. Have not I brought up Israel out of the land of Egypt? and the Philistines from Caphtor, and the Syrians from Kir?' These two ideas -- the idea of the One God and the idea of the supernatural power of righteousness -- are the most highly esteemed elements in the Old Testament, yet they go back to the Middle Kingdom and to the sun god Ra, and in the time of Amos could no doubt have been found in literature in any part of the Mediterranean world.


The quick reform effected by King Josiah under the threats of the Deuteronomist did not save Jerusalem. Egypt, recovering from the blows of Ashurbanipal, had thrown off the Assyrian yoke and was preparing to cross Palestine in order to strike against the northern Assyrian provinces. The Scythians were moving into the country around Samaria, intent upon stealing this northern fragment of the original kingdom of Saul and David away from Assyria; and on the Euphrates, an upstart prince, Nabopolassar, had got the upper hand in Babylon and was about to carve out a kingdom for himself. A spirit of conflict was everywhere in the air and, sensing the coming danger, the little state of Judah banked everything upon her god.

Josiah brought forth from the Temple 'the vessels that were made for the Baal, and for the grove [Ashera], and for all the host of heaven: and he burned them without Jerusalem in the fields of Kidron.' He abolished all the shrines and priesthoods of other gods, even the temples said to have been built by Solomon for Chemosh, Milcom and Ashtoreth; he prohibited the worship of Yahweh in all high places other than in the one holy of holies, the Temple of Jerusalem. At last Judah was purified of polytheism and all idolatrous usages, and had put its sole trust in the god of Abraham.

But it was too late. The Egyptians marching against Assyria invaded Palestine and Josiah, siding with Assyria, was slain and Judah captured. Within the space of three years Judah found herself the helpless vassal of a broken Egypt, the nominal ally of a defeated Assyria, and the enemy of the ascendant power of Babylon. Jeremiah implored the Hebrews to throw in their lot with the new Babylonian kingdom, but they continued to maintain subversive relations with Egypt until in 596 B.C. Nebuchadrezzar was forced to punish them. He laid siege to Jerusalem and took as prisoners many of its inhabitants. Still the people, always looking to Egypt for help, plotted rebellion under Zedekiah; a second time Nebuchadrezzar was forced to proceed against Jerusalem and now convinced of the infidelity of its people he determined to destroy the city. After a siege of some months his soldiers were able to carry out his commands. The walls were leveled, the Temple was burned, all that was worth destroying was utterly demolished; the high priest and other leaders were put to death, and a large number of the important inhabitants were again carried off to Babylon (586 B.C.). As the prophets had so long foretold, Jerusalem had fallen and the Temple had been destroyed.

If the prophets had failed to save Jerusalem, Amos, Isaiah, Jeremiah and the Deuteronomist had saved Yahweh from destruction. It has been the otherwise invariable sequence of history that every intensely national religion has been extinguished with the nation's overthrow: but all that was required for Yahweh to survive the fall of Judah was complete etherealization, separation from the wells and springs, the altars and temples, that were forever fastened to the land. This had been half effected by Josiah's concentration of all worship in the Temple of Jerusalem, the holy of holies which had been built by David, who had himself housed Yahweh 'between the thighs of the building.' And the transmutation was completed by the Babylonian troops.

'What, in this disaster, became of the Yahweh himself?' asks Allen. How fared the ark, the Rock of Israel, in the general destruction? The Hebrew annalist, he notes, though plaintively enumerating every pot and shovel and vessel destroyed by the Babylonians, never so much as mentions the most precious item of all, the ark of the god. Perhaps the historian shrank from relating the final disgrace of his country's deity; perhaps a sense of reverence prevented him from recording it; perhaps he knew nothing of what had finally been done with the cherished stone around which Israel had hoped to build a nation. Perhaps, indeed, the ark had long since disappeared from the Temple and the priests had never let the people know it. Its fate is hidden in impenetrable mystery. If the Yahweh of Saul and David and Solomon was still sheltered in the Temple, the ruthless troops of Nebuchadrezzar probably broke it into pieces and left it lying among the other stones. In any case, the physical presence in the ark, and the ark itself, are revered no more. The Israelites were left with a god who had no well, no spring, no tree, no graven image, no temple, no home anywhere on earth -- and therefore no boundaries. Unseen, and having no altar before which he must be worshiped, he was omnipresent and could be worshiped anywhere.

'The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: where is the house that ye build unto me?'


The city to which Nebuchadrezzar carried off the captives from Jerusalem was one of the wonders of the Orient. The grandeur that was Babylon is now wholly dust, but fancy may reconstruct it as it was when the captives from Jerusalem first passed its gates. Where remain only disintegrated piles of clay, colorful temples and palaces take shape; pomp and magnificence again parade through streets whose only vestiges are buried rubble.

There had been nothing in Jerusalem to compare with Babylon, and it is scant wonder that to the Jews it seemed a 'city of gold' and the 'glory of the Kingdoms.' None of them had ever seen so fine a palace or city walls so thick, or dreamed of anything so grand, so tall, so rich with golden images and vessels and turquoise tiles as Ba-Bel, the temple of the celestial Bel-Marduk. One imagines that the Babylonians tried to explain to these people from Palestine, who had revered a god shut up in a box, about the stars and how these stars were gods who controlled the destinies of men, the Jews listening to these tales with only half an ear, not being much better disposed toward the gods of Babylon than toward its king and army. Nevertheless certain episodes lingered in their memories. The story of the Great Flood, as it was related by Uta-Napishtim to Gilgamesh, they used with changes in names and localities as the foundation for an epic of their own. On the legend of how the great Bel-Marduk had cut Tiamat in half they patterned their own story of creation, relating that the god had made the earth and the firmament by dividing the primeval waters into the waters that were above and the waters that were beneath the firmament (the Hebrew word for 'the deep,' tehom, being derived from Tiamat); how he had put the heavenly bodies in their places to mark the day from the night, and how he had created man and commanded him to exalt his name in the sanctuary. It was difficult for them to picture Yahweh in the heavens, so they transferred him to Gilgamesh's land of Eden, the most fertile country in the world according to the Babylonians, one great garden of trees and flowers and fruits. The traders from Persia knew of such a marvelously fertile land: it was on a mountain which they called Pairidaeza or Paradise, and it was here that there grew the Tree of Everlasting Life.

It had been in Eden that Engidu had been created out of clay by Aruru, and had lost immortality by reason of the woman whom Shamash had sent to seduce him. Perhaps they confused Engidu, the man who slept and ate with the animals, with Etana who, wishing to procure from Ishtar a drug to alleviate the birth pangs of his wife, had presumed to gain to heaven by soaring aloft on the wings of an eagle, but having reached the place where there was no living thing to be seen and from which the earth appeared no more than a garden plot, the great sea no more than a puddle of water, was overcome with fear and fell and was dashed to pieces on the ground. They may have confused Engidu with the first man, Adapa, or Adamu, as the Babylonians sometimes called him. Or they may have chiefly remembered Gilgamesh himself, who undertook his epic journey to find the Tree of Knowledge, or the Tree of Life -- for knowledge and wisdom were equivalent to magic, which was the key to eternal life -- only to have a serpent steal it away from him.

Not that these tales were wholly new: some had been old when Abraham abandoned Ur for Haran and with slight changes they were circulating throughout Canaan at the time of Saul and David, as is demonstrated by the fact that two of the Tell el-Amarna letters contain them as school exercises; again when Ahaz erected an altar in Jerusalem patterned after the Assyrian altar at Damascus, and when Manasseh permitted altars to the host of heaven to be set up in Yahweh's temple, Babylonian literature must have entered with her gods. Now in the retelling, however, these tales acquired new meaning and became adapted to the God of Israel. It was related that the first man, Adam, had been created of clay, and had been immortal until a wise serpent had said that one who ate of the Tree of Knowledge should be as a god -- deceitfully failing to mention that to retain this high estate the eating of the fruit must be continued. Adam had eaten of the Tree and had been punished for presumption and driven out of Eden; and because they hated Ishtar, and because they were afraid of blood and of the chronic uncleanness that was attached to woman, they laid the blame of the debacle on Adam's mate.

Not the least of the captives' troubles in Babylon was the multiplicity of languages confronting them, for they despised all peoples who spoke a foreign tongue and deemed their own to be Yahweh's dialect. After the Exile, and after Babylon had been destroyed by Cyrus, they spun the legend of the men who presumed to build a tower whose top should reach to heaven; and Yahweh, seeing this presumption and fearing that 'now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do,' destroyed the tower, confounded language until men no longer understood each other and scattered them over the face of the earth.

Of those Jews who were carried into captivity, some, convinced that the destruction of Jerusalem proved the impotence of Yahweh and the superior might of Marduk and his court, abandoned the God of Israel; while others, perhaps only a minority, looking with disdain upon the grandeur of Babylon and holding that everything pertaining to the city was unclean, drew themselves apart to dream of Palestine. In retrospect the rolling hills of that country seemed to have been eternally green and fruitful, the cities ineffably lovely, the warriors and prophets of the past loomed as supermen. To assuage the sickness in their hearts they related tales of the glories of old Israel and of Moses, David and Solomon, tales that the scribes patched into the tattered rolls of parchment which had been secretly saved in the destruction of the city and carried to Babylon under the tunics of the devout. As they wept by the waters of Babylon they conceived and began to cherish a new idea; shifting from the view that the calamities of Israel were Yahweh's punishment for her iniquities, the prophets began to say that she had a secret mission: the Israelites were Yahweh's chosen people by whom he intended in his own time to conquer the world, not with chariots and battering rams, but with righteousness. In this new role of Yahweh's 'suffering servant,' Israel was serving a great end; she suffered, was despised, rejected, chastened and afflicted that others might be blessed: 'I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth.'

For forty years the faithful Jews were kept in captivity, listening to the ancient tales of Sumer and Akkad and of Babylon, all the while thoroughly hating their captors. Cherishing the new prophetic doctrine of the coming Kingdom of the Lord, dreaming of the day when those who were now laughed at and spat upon would be the mightiest conquerors of all and wicked Babylon would be destroyed and punished for its iniquities, they drew around themselves tightly and ever more tightly the innumerable rituals that isolated them from strangers. They remained a people apart, moved by a zeal which persecution and ridicule only fired to greater intensity.

Then a new power appeared in the person of Cyrus. The Persian general probably had not the slightest interest in the Jews, but they had every reason to look upon him as Yahweh's messenger. In 539 B.C. he destroyed Babylon, an event which could only be interpreted as Yahweh's retribution upon that wicked city; and, tolerant towards subject races and their religions, within a year he permitted and probably aided those Jews who wished to do so to return to Jerusalem.

At this point the thread of Judaic history is broken. The Jews who had remained in Palestine during the captivity and those who remained in Babylonia after the return are henceforth dropped from the record. How many Jews went into captivity or how many returned is undetermined; the figure of 4600 cited by Jeremiah is perhaps closer to the truth than the 10,000 'men of valour,' 7000 'men of might' and 1000 'craftsmen and smiths' recorded in II Kings. In any case it is the returning exiles who in tradition are made to appear as the founders of the new Israel, as it had been the exiles entering Canaan from Egypt who had been made to appear as the founders of the old.

Against almost overwhelming difficulties the walls of the city were rebuilt (444 B.C.) and a golden crown was made ready for the coronation of the king whom Yahweh was to send. When after long years of waiting the king did not appear and instead political jealousies among the leaders and recurrent warfare with the Edomites, Philistines and Samaritans kept Jerusalem in a perpetual state of chaos and poverty, the high hopes of Israel slowly turned to bitterness. Once more prophetic vision, fired in the cause of nationalism, attributed the postponement of Israel's glory to Yahweh's wrath. Once more the seers exhorted the people to righteousness and under Ezra and Nehemiah ritual purity was re-emphasized and the Deuteronomic code extended, compounded and further multiplied. The Sabbath, once a festival, was made a holy day given over entirely to Yahweh's worship; the world was divided into the holy and the profane; men were divided into clean and unclean, Jews and goyim, and the Jews were required to put aside their gentile wives. Israel became a 'holy congregation' ruled by a high priest, its only intellectual forum, the synagogue.

Slowly through the years the scribes edited the Pentateuch and gradually added the other books of the Old Testament, and in this rewriting they wove the past and present into such a tangled skein that it is impossible to tell with certainty where the new begins and the old leaves off. And as the scribes wrote they built around Israel a wall stronger than any brick -- a wall destined to preserve her against disintegration or any change whatever: the Holy Law which, so the priests insisted, Yahweh had given directly into Moses's hands on Sinai's clouded summits.


In the fourth century there came the Greeks, in the second century the Syrians, in the first century the Romans; but against all foreigners the pious Jews kept alive the faith in Israel as the 'chosen people.' Each national crisis seemed only to bring the coming of the king a little nearer. The tide of Greek culture spread by Alexander exposed the Jews to rationalism and diluted their language with new words and ideas, but it left untouched the fundamental Judaic faith. Antiochus looted the Temple, expelled the priests and forbade the Jews to observe the Sabbath, to practice the rite of circumcision and to worship Yahweh in any manner, but he only stirred them to such a war for religious freedom that a tiny band of priests and peons, fighting with little more than their bare fists, defeated four successive Syrian armies and at last drove the invaders out of the country.

When Rome pushed its frontiers eastward Pompey discovered that the Jews would not fight on the Sabbath unless attacked, so he kept guard for six days and took advantage of the seventh to push his siege works against their fortifications. It was on a Sabbath that he took Jerusalem and, with the aid of other Jews, slaughtered 12,000 who remained at worship in the Temple in the face of death. In theory the Roman state was a stable empire; actually it was an almost perpetual state of war, and when the Jews were not quarreling among themselves, they were the deserving, or more rarely the undeserving, victims of these imperial conflicts. No program of co-operation, no martial threat could repress their ambition for national freedom, and rebellion was always in the air. Throughout the time when Palestine was a Roman province it had to be garrisoned with Roman soldiers to keep the Jews and Samaritans from war, or within Jewry itself, to keep the Sadducees, Pharisees and Zealots from cutting each others' throats over the interpretation of the Law. But Roman domination could not prevent the Jews from dreaming their dreams of the coming Kingdom of Yahweh: in the apocalyptic gospels mystical visions and tortuous calculations proved that all the predictions of the prophets had come true, or were about to come true: the world was soon to be destroyed in a great holocaust, and a messiah, one anointed by Yahweh, would descend from heaven and pass judgment on Israel's enemies. 'Repent ye,' the apocalyptic writers cried, 'for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!' 'Repent ye' meant for all practical purposes closer adherence to the Law and greater hatred of the Romans and all gentiles.

In A.D. 67, Nero was forced to send Vespasian into Galilee to quell a rebellion over seventeen talents which had been unlawfully appropriated from the treasury of the Temple. Vespasian advanced to the walls of Jerusalem to find three rival factions warring within the city for the control of the Temple. He isolated Jerusalem and left the inhabitants to starve while he subjugated the surrounding country. By 70 Nero had died and Vespasian had been proclaimed emperor, so he delegated Titus to take the city. Only when Titus's troops had moved up to the walls did the inhabitants leave off murdering each other to join hands in self-defense, yet two factions began to fight for possession of the town's granery and, after repeated raids and massacres, succeeded in burning it. Meanwhile the Romans went at the walls with battering rams; the first wall fell in fifteen days, the second in another nine, but still the Jews would not surrender. They huddled in the upper city, dying of starvation, murdering each other for scraps of meat, or risking crucifixion by stealing out at night to pick a few herbs in the fields between the Roman camps. Undermining the Roman mounds so that the battering rams fell down, they flung themselves at the enemy with such clawing and slashing of their nails that the Roman soldiers had to retreat. So Titus built a high wall of earth around the city and sat down to wait. Hard Roman that he was, and used to war, he begged them to surrender in order to stop the horror, but they only scraped together the debris of the city and with it refortified the inner wall. The air reeked with the stench of dead bodies and men fought for the privilege of eating straw, leather or offal. What Titus asked was that they give the city over to Rome; they replied that the city belonged to Yahweh and was not theirs to give. In the end, when they were starved to the point where resistance was impossible, the Romans came in, slaying until their arms were tired. When the destruction was over there was scarcely a stone in place or a piece of wood unburnt, and for the second time Jerusalem was a mass of ruins. The Law required that Yahweh be worshiped and that sacrifices be made only in the one Temple of the holy city: when in the year 70 the Temple was destroyed and Jerusalem as a holy city ceased to be, there remained of Israel only the Law to bind together its scattered people.

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