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ASIMOV'S

GUIDE TO

THE

BIBLE
TWO VOID MIS IN ONi:

THE OLD AND NEW TESTAMENTS

ISAACASIMOV

ASIMOVS
GUIDE TO

THE BIBLE
TWO VOLUMES IN ONE

ASIMOVS
GUIDE TO

THE BIBLE

TWO VOLUMES IN ONE


THE OLD AND NEW TESTAMENTS

ISAAC ASIMOV
Maps by Rafael

Palacios

Downloaded from www.holybooks.com

WINGS BOOKS
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NEW

JERSEY


This book was previously published in two volumes as
Asimov's Guide to the Bible: Volume One,

Asimov's Guide

Volume One, The Old Testament

to the Bible:

MCMLXVII by Isaac Asimov

Copyright
Asimov's Guide

New Testament

MCMLXXXI by Isaac Asimov

Copyright
Asimov's Guide

The Old Testament and

Volume Two, The

to the Bible:

to the Bible:

Copyright

Volume Two, The

New Testament

MCMLXIX by Isaac Asimov

All rights reserved under International and Pan- American

Copyright Conventions.

No

part of this

book may be reproduced or transmitted

in

any

form or by any means electronic or mechanical including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval
system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

This edition

is

published by Wings Books, a division of

House Value Publishing,

New Jersey 07001,

Inc.,

Random

40 Engelhard Avenue, Avenel,

by arrangement with Doubleday

Company,
Wings Books and colophon

&

Inc.

are trademarks of

Random House

Value Publishing, Inc.

Random House

New

York Toronto London Sydney Auckland


http://www.randomhouse.com/

Printed and

bound

in the

United States of America

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Asimov,

Isaac,

1920

Asimov's Guide to the Bible.


Reprint. Originally published in 2

Garden

City, N.Y.

Includes indexes.
1.

History of

Bible

interpretation, etc.

BS635.2.A8
29

28

Biblical events. 2. Bible

I.

Title.

1981

II.

27

Criticism,

Guide to the
220.9'5
81-3537
Title:

ISBN 0-517-34582-X
30

v.:

Doubleday, 1968-1969.

AACR2

Bible.

CONTENTS

Volume One

Introduction

1.

Genesis

15

2.

Exodus

3.

Leviticus

118
154

4.
5.

Numbers
Deuteronomy

193

6.

Joshua

7.

Judges

8.

10.

Ruth
1 Samuel
2 Samuel

11.

9.

208
226
261

Kings
Kings
Chronicles

14. 2

Chronicles

12. 2
1

3.

5.

16.

267
297
320
35?
397

412
430
453
463
474
488

Ezra

Nehemiah

17. Esther
18. Job
19.

Psalms

20. Proverbs

507
512

21. Ecclesiastes

22.

The Song

of

Solomon

23. Isaiah

24. Jeremiah
25.

165

Lamentations

524
555
581

26. Ezekiel

583

27. Daniel

596
623
630
634
639
643
650
655
657
658

28.

Hosea

29. Joel
30.

Amos

31.0badiah
32.

Jonah

33.

Micah

34.

Nahum

35.

Habakkuk
Zephaniah

36.

Haggai
Zechariah
39. Malachi
37.

661

38.

664
670

Volume Two

1.

Tobit

2.

Judith

Maccabees

3.

4.

2 Maccabees

5.

6.

7.
8.

9.

10.

677
686
696
753
766
903
912
952
995

Matthew
Mark
Luke
John
Acts

Romans

Corinthians
12. 2 Corinthians
13. Galatians
14. Ephesians
11.

15.

Philippians

16. Colossians

Thessalonians

17.

18.

2 Thessalonians

19.

20. 2

Timothy
Timothy

Philemon
Hebrews

24.

James

25.

22.

1144
1146
1149
1152
1158
1161
1165
1168
1170
1171
1172

Peter

26. 2 Peter

John

27.

28.

2 John

29.

31.

3 John
Jude
2 Esdras

32.

Revelation

30.

Dates of Interest

1114
1119
1122
1128
1134
1137
1141

21. Titus

23.

1091
1102
1110

1176
1190
in Biblical History,

Old and New Testament


Index of Biblical Verses
Volume One, The Old Testament

Volume Two, The New Testament


Index of Subjects
Volume One, The Old Testament
Volume Two, The New Testament

1220
1231
1241
1251

1279

INTRODUCTION
The most

influential, the

most published, the most widely read book


is the Bible. No other book has been

the history of the world

in

so studied and so analyzed and

it

the Bible and the eagerness of

students that after thousands of years

of study there are


I

still

its

a tribute to the complexity of

is

endless books that can be written about

it.

have myself written two short books for young people on the

books of the Bible* bat

earlier

have long wanted to take on a job

of more ambitious scope; one that

can most briefly describe as a

consideration of the secular aspects of the Bible.

Most people who


of

and

ethical

its

too. It

writers lacked

but the Bible has a secular

book covering the

a history

is

human civilization.
The Bible is not
its

read the Bible do so in order to get the benefit

spiritual teachings,

a history

book

in

first

modern

modem

the benefit of

sense, of course, since

techniques,

archaeological

did not have our concept of dating and documentation, and had
ferent standards of

what was and was not

side,

four thousand years of

dif-

significant in history. Further-

more, Biblical interest was centered primarily on developments that

impinged upon those dwelling

in

Canaan, a small section of Asia

bordering on the Mediterranean Sea. This area makes only a small

mark on the
and modern
little

history of early civilization (from the secular viewpoint)


histories, in contrast to the Bible, give it comparatively

space.

Nevertheless, for

most of the

last

two thousand

years,

the Bible

has been virtually the only history book used in Western civilization.

Even

today,

history

is still

remains the most popular, and its view of ancient


more widely and commonly known than is that of any

it

other.

So

it

happens, therefore, that millions of people today know of

Nebuchadnezzar, and have never heard of

Nebuchadnezzar
is

is

mentioned prominently

never mentioned at
Millions

know

Pericles,

in the Bible

is

Most of those same


modern historians

to

no

who

millions never suspect that he


as Xerxes

in Genesis

married Esther,

is

better

known

and that the most important event

was an invasion of Greece that ended


That invasion is not mentioned in the Bible.
Words

Pericles

record of such an event outside the Bible.

in his reign

and

all.

of Ahasuerus as a Persian king

even though there

simply because

and Words from the Exodus.

in

utter defeat.

INTRODUCTION

8
Millions

know

minor Egyptian Pharaohs, such

certain

and Necho, who are mentioned


existence

is

Shishak

Thutmose III, who is not. People


such as Nimrod and the queen of

of the great conquering Pharaoh,

whose very

as

the Bible, but have never heard

in

doubtful,

Sheba, are household words because they are mentioned in the Bible,
while figures

who were

colossal in

their

day are sunk in oblivion

because they are not.


Again, small towns in Canaan, such as Shechem and Bethel, in

which events of the Bible are described

taking place, are

as

more

familiar to us today than are large ancient metropolises such as Syracuse

or Egyptian

Thebes, which are mentioned only glancingly in the

Bible, or not at

all.

Moreover, usually only that

be mentioned

to

Empire,

is

earlier

its

remembered

and

capital in the

known about such

in connection

later history are

be surprised to

is

places as happens

in the Bible. Ecbatana, the capital of the

know

that

it

dim indeed
still

modern nation of

Median

with the story of Tobit, but

exists

to

most people, who might

today as a large provincial

Iran.

who is familiar with


the Bible, at least in its general aspects, but who knows little of
ancient history outside the Bible. I assume a reader who would be
interested in filling in the fringe, so to speak, and who would expect
much of the Bible to become easier to understand if some of the
places and people mentioned in it are made less mysterious. (After
In this book, then,

am

assuming a reader

those places and people were well

all,

of the Bible, and

it

would be sad

known

to

to the original readers

allow so important a book

grow needlessly murky with the passing of the centuries because

to

the periphery has grown


I

am

dim and

attempting to correct

indistinct.)

this, in

part at least. I will, for instance,

who Nimrod might have been, try to define the time


in which Abraham entered Canaan, place David's kingdom in its world
setting, sort out the role played by the various monarchs who are only
mentioned in the Bible when they fight against Israel and Judah, and
work out the relationships among the Herods encountered by Jesus

speculate on

and the Apostles.


I

in

am

trying, in short, to bring in

the outside world, illuminate

it

terms of the Biblical story and, in return, illuminate the events

of the Bible by adding to

it

the non-Biblical aspects of history, biography,

In doing so, there will

be the constant temptation (bom of the

and geography.

INTRODUCTION
modem

view of history) to bring

in dates

though few can be

definitely

assigned to individual events in the Bible. It will be convenient then

make

to

chop

make

history into sections that will

The

can be lumped together as "the Biblical period."

a.d.,

the period to 400


b.c. is

New

for easy reference.

period from the beginning of the earliest civilizations, say 4000

100

b.c. to

or less arbitrary set of "periods" which will

more

use of a

b.c. is

Old Testament

"the

Of

this

period," from 400 B.C. to

the "inter-Testamental period," while the aj>. section

is

"the

Testament period."

The

Biblical period can

be broken down into smaller sections

as fol-

lows:
B.c. to

2000

b.c,

2000

b.c. to

1700

b.c.

1700

b.c. to

1200

b.c.

1200

b.c. to

1000

b.c.

1000

b.c. to

900

b.c.

Thereafter,

who

4000

most convenient to name periods

it is

did, in fact,

after the peoples

dominate western Asia. Thus:

900

b.c. to

600

b.c.

600

b.c. to

540 b.c

540

b.c. to

330

b.c.

330

b.c. to

70

b.c.

70

b.c. to

During the

The Primeval period


The Patriarchal period
The Egyptian period
The Tribal period
The Davidic kingdom

last

100 a j>.

The Assyrian period


The Babylonian period
The Persian period
The Greek period
The Roman period

century of the Greek period, the Jews

won

a brief

independence under the Maccabees, so that the century from 170


to

b.c.

70

cannot pretend that in writing

this

book

original contribution to Biblical scholarship;

to

do

b.c.

might be called "the Maccabean period."

so. All that I will

have to say

am making any significant


indeed, I am not competent
I

will consist of material well

known

to students of ancient history. (There will, however, be a few places

where

will indulge in personal speculation,

Nevertheless,
it

may be

way, since

it

is

my hope

will

label

that this material, well

in separate bits, will


it

and

now be

it

as such.)

known though

presented in a newly useful

be collected and placed within the covers of

moderately sized book, presented in one uniform manner, and in a


style

and fashion which,

it is

hoped,

will

be interesting to the average

reader of the Bible.


I

to

intend to be completely informal in this book, and to adhere

no

rigid rules. I

won't invariably discuss a place or person

at

its

INTRODUCTION

lO
appearance in the Bible,

first

sense out of

it

it

me

seems to
in

not hesitate to leave a discussion incomplete

will

again later on.


I

if

by bringing the matter up

will

leave

can make more

a later connection.
if I

plan to take

out items toward which

don't feel

can contribute anything either useful or interesting, and

without particular concern, allow myself to digress

if

up

it

will,

feel that

the

digression will be useful.

Again, since this book


I

not intended to be a scholarly compendium,

is

do not plan to burden

its

as footnotes giving sources.

pages with such extraneous appurtenances

The

sources that

use are, after

all,

very

general and ordinary ones.


First of

all,

of course, are various versions of the Bible:

The Authorized Version, originally published in 1611 and


known as the "King James Bible." This is the Bible used

a)
iarly

various Protestant churches. It

most Americans and

it is

from

is

the version which

is

familin the

most familiar

this version that I quote, except

to

where

otherwise indicated.

The

b)

Revised Standard Version,

Thomas Nelson &

Sons, 1946,

and 1959.

1952,

c) Saint Joseph

"New

Catholic Edition," Catholic

Book Publishing

Co., 1962.

The Jerusalem Bible, Doubleday and Co., Inc., 1966.


The Holy Scriptures according to the Masoretic text, The

d)
e)

Jewish

Publication Society of America, 1955.


f)

have leaned particularly heavily on those volumes of the Anchor

Bible (Doubleday) so far published, since these represent

some

of the

and most profound thinking on the Bible.


Much of the Apocrypha is contained in the "New Catholic Edition"
and, in addition, I have made use of the King James Version and the

latest

Revised Standard Version of these books.


I

ary,

steadily, A New Standard Bible DictionThird Revised Edition, Funk and Wagnalls Company, 1936, The

have also consulted, quite

Abingdon Bible Commentary, Abingdon Press, 1929, and "Dictionary


of the Bible" by John L. McKenzie, S.J., Bruce Publishing Company,
1965.

In addition,

have turned to general encyclopedias,

dictionaries,

and any other reference books available to me


which could in any way be useful to me.
The resultwell, the result can begin to be seen when you turn
histories, geographies,

the page.

VOLUME ONE

THE OLD TESTAMENT

To
Lawrence

who

P.

Ashmead

has faith

1.

GENESIS

GENESIS COD " THE SEVENTH DAY * THE LORD GOD MAN - EDEN * THE
EUPHRATES RIVER 'THE SERPENT "EVE * CAIN AND ABEL "NOD ENOCH [OF
CAIN] * SETH ENOCH [OF SETH] ARARAT " HAM ' JAPHETH " CUSH

NIMROD * ARAM BABEL UR OF THE CHALDEES * HARAN * CANAAN "EGYPT


PHARAOH * JORDAN RIVER * HEBRON AMRAPHEL * THE VALE OF SIDDIM "
REPHAIMS "SALEM DAMASCUS "THE HITTITES * ISHMAEL CIRCUMCISION *
SODOM AND GOMORRAH " MOAB AND AMMON CERAR BEERSHEBA *
PARAN MORIAH " ARAM AND CHESED MACHPELAH " MESOPOTAMIA
MmiAN EDOM " BETHEL * REUBEN AND HIS BROTHERS * SEER
SYRIA
ISRAEL SHECHEM * HAM OR THE HTVTTE EPHRATH BIUHAH AM ALEE * SEIR
THE HORTTE "BELA AND JOBAB "POTIPHAR "FHAREZ AND ZARAH "PHARAOH
[OF JOSEPH] "THE RIVER [NILE] "ON "GOSHEN EFHRAIM AND MANASSEH *
JUDAH
*

'

Genesis

The

Bible begins at the logical place the beginning.

The

very

verse starts:

first

Genesis 1:1. In the beginning

The

phrase "In the beginning"

is

a translation of the

Hebrew word

bereshith. In the case of several of the books of the Bible, the

word

is

taken as the

title

of the whole

(much

first

as Papal bulls are

named for the two Latin words with which they begin.) The Hebrew
name of the first book is, there, Bereshith.
The Bible was first translated into another language in the course of
the third century b.c. and that other language was Greek. This Greek
version was, according to tradition, based

learned scholars, and

it

is

therefore

known

on the work

of seventy

as the Septuagint,

from a

Latin word meaning "seventy."


In the Septuagint, the various books of the Bible were, naturally

GENESIS
enough, given Greek names.

words

name was not

as the

The Hebrew

17

habit of using the

first

and descriptive names were used

followed,

instead.

The

book was named "Genesis," which means,

first

into being." It implies a concern with births


is

book

appropriate for a

and

literally,

"coming

and beginnings which

that begins with the creation of heaven

earth.

By ancient

books of the Bible were written

tradition, the first five

by Moses, the folk hero who, according to the account given


second through

Modern

fifth

in the

books, rescued the Israelites from Egyptian slavery.

scholars are convinced that this theory of authorship

not

is

tenable and that the early books of the Bible are not the single

work of any man. Rather, they


version of a
first

number

are the

combined and

carefully edited

of sources. Despite this, the full

book of the Bible

as

commonly

name

of the

given in English translation

re-

mains "The First Book of Moses, Called Genesis."

The

five

first

books of the Bible give not only the traditional

history of the ancestors of the Israelite people, but also describe a


legal

code as having been given to Moses by

God and by Moses

to the Israelites generally. Because of Moses' traditional role in what

was, in actual fact, a set of laws that developed slowly over the centuries,

the whole

is

termed the "Mosaic law"

or,

more simply

still,

"the Law."

The Hebrew word for the first five books is "Torah," which
Hebrew word for "law."
The Greek word for the first five books is "Pentateuch"
books"). In recent times,
the Bible

is

it

books

the

("five

has been recognized that the sixth book of

closely connected with the

lar sources. All six

is

may be

first five

and

is

referred to as the

derived from simi-

"Hexateuch"

("six

books").

God
The

Bible centers about God, and

God

is

brought into the tale

at once:

Genesis 1:1. In the beginning


earth.

God

created the heaven and the

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

i8

The Hebrew word,


is

translated "gods." It

which the Bible


plurality of gods.

God,

translated here as

a plural form which would ordinarily

is

"Elohim" and that

tradition were defied) be

(if

the work of a

based, the creation was indeed

is

The

on

possible that in the very earliest traditions

is

firmly monotheistic Biblical writers

would

care-

fully have eliminated such polytheism, but could not perhaps do any-

thing with the firmly ingrained term "Elohim." It was too familiar
to change.

Some

hints of polytheism

after the

first

man disobeys God's injunction


God is quoted as saying:

created

tree of knowledge,

Genesis 3:22.

evil

Then,

later,

too,

become

is

Thus,

not to eat of the

as one of us, to

when God

is

concerned over mankind's

ar-

quoted as saying:

Go

Genesis 11:7.

language
It

editing.

attempting to build a tower that would reach to heaven,

rogance in
is

still

man

Behold, the

know good and

He

seem to have survived the

to, let

us go down,

possible to argue that this

is

God might be

theism.

and there confound

their

is

not true evidence of early poly-

viewed as using the royal "we"; or as speaking

to an angelic audience; or even, in the Christian view, as speaking in

the persons of the Trinity.


Nevertheless, as far as

we know

the history of religion outside the

Bible, early beliefs were always polytheistic


late

development in the history of

and monotheism was a

ideas.

The Seventh Day


Carefully and sparely, and with great vigor and beauty, the
thirty-four verses of the Bible tell

creation are described as taking place

Genesis 2:2.

and

rested

Genesis 2:3.
it

And on
.

first

the story of creation. Six acts of

on

six successive days:

the seventh day

God ended

his

work

And God

blessed the seventh day,

and

sanctified

GENESIS

19

This marks the traditional establishment of the Sabbath a day


separated from the ordinary days of the

The
first,

role

played by the Sabbath in

and quite enormous

in the end.

week and dedicated to God.


Judaism was quite small at

The

dividing line comes at one

of the great watersheds in Jewish history the Babylonian Exile. This

took place in the sixth century


the book. It

later in

when

will refer

is

times,

its

little

will

be dealt with extensively

that sixth-century dividing line to which

say something

pre-Exilic or post-Exilic.

is

In pre-Exilic times the Sabbath

have been of

and

b.c.

barely mentioned

is

consequence among the

Israelites.

and seems

to

In post-Exilic

observance was of the greatest importance and Jews died

rather than violate that observance.

tempting to suppose that the Sabbath was Babylonian in

It is

and that
576).

it

new

gained

Nor can one

fairly use the first

origin,

(see page

significance to the Jews in exile

chapters of Genesis as evidence

for the great antiquity of the Sabbath in

its

holiest form, since

widely accepted these days that the creation tale received

shape after the Babylonian Exile and was, in

fact,

its

it

is

present

a version of the

Babylonian creation myth, purified of polytheism and grossness, and

put into the

and most

loftiest

abstract terms of

which the Jewish

priesthood was capable.

The

creation tale

is

typical of those portions of the

first

few books

of the Bible that were put into final form by priestly hands soon

time of the Exile. Such portions are part of the "Priestly


document" and are usually designated as P by Biblical scholars. The
Priestly document is characterized by impersonality and by a heavy

after the

on

reliance

statistics

and genealogies.

The Lord God


Once

the

version of creation

is

ended, a

new

version begins:

Genesis 2:4. These are the generations of the heavens and of


the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God

made

The

the earth and the heavens.

distinctive feature here

is

God," where throughout the first


referred to as simply "God."

the sudden use of the term "Lord


thirty-four verses the Deity

had been

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

20

The Hebrew word, here translated as "Lord," is made up of four


Hebrew letters, which can be written in English as YHVH, and which
are expressed, traditionally but mistakenly, as "Jehovah" for reasons to

be given

later (see

page 135).

Modem

scholars believe

"Yahveh"

is

the more accurate presentation.

Where "god"

term for any

a general

is

and where the

deity,

capital-

ized form "God" expresses the one Deity of the Bible, Yahveh

name

specific

of that specific Deity.

Names were

is

the

of considerable im-

portance to ancient man, for they were considered an extension of


personality.

To be

name was to be able (accordnamed. Names were therefore

able to pronounce the

ing to folklore) to control the being

magic and Jews of post-Exilic times disapproved of magic,

tools of

not because they did not believe

was usually performed

The name

When

it

in the

God came

of

did occur in

some

in

names
to

its

but because the magic

reality,

of heathen idols.

be avoided on principle, therefore.

of the traditional sources of the early books

of the Bible or in the writings of the prophets of pre-Exilic times,

pious Jews took to saving Adonai ("Lord") instead. This

was accepted

of

in English translation

God, Yahveh"

as "the

and what might have been given

given as "the Lord

God"

instead.

The use of the term "the Lord God" ("Yahveh Elohim") in place
God ("Elohim") is characteristic of a particular early strand of

tradition

known

which was incorporated into the Hexateuch. This strand


the

as

document" because of

"J

"Jehovah" ("Yahveh")

There

is

are

in

its

characteristic

use

is

of

connection with God.

another strand of early tradition which like the P document

uses simply

is

euphemism

Elohim

much more

and do not

for

God, and

personal than P,

it is

the

"E document." Both

tell stories

and

with circumstantial detail

greatly interest themselves in the

more formal

aspects of

the matter.

The

document may have been put into written form as early


century in the more southerly of the two kingdoms into
which the Israelites were then divided. This was the kingdom of Judah.
J

as the ninth

The E document was put


northern kingdom of

The dominant

into written

form a century

later in the

Israel.

tribe

in

the northern kingdom was Ephraim and

that was sometimes used as a poetic

synonym for Israel. There is


document can stand for

thus the interesting coincidence that the J

GENESIS
Judah

as well as Jehovah,

and the

E document

Ephraim

for

21

as well as

Elohim.

The

northern kingdom was destroyed toward the end of the eighth

century b.c. and the priests of Judah incorporated

made

This

J tradition.

own

into their

the primitive history of their ancestors more

complete, but also introduced occasional duplications, with the same

once with a northern orientation and once with a

tale told twice,

southern. Despite the careful dovetailing of verses, such duplicate ver-

be dissected and

sions can

During and

combined JE
Genesis as

identified.

after the Babylonian

added P material of

version,

we have

Exile, the priesthood took this

now.

it

It

is

not

my

their

own, and produced

purpose, in this book, to

untwine Genesis and identify the source of each verse (something


that

is

done

Anchor

in the

that different sources

but

Bible, for instance)

it is

well to

know

do exist

Man
In fs tale of creation (more primitive than that of P) God does not
human beings into existence by spoken command alone. Rather,

call

he shapes them out of


Genesis 2:7.

And

clay as a sculptor might:

the Lord

God formed man

of the dust of the

ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of

came a

and man

be-

living soul.

The word "man"


is

life;

is

Hebrew word adam, which


what we mean when we say "man-

a translation of the

a general expression rather akin to

(The Hebrew word for an individual man is ish.)


The word adam, used in reference to this first created man, came to be
a proper name, Adam. The King James version slips into this usage later

kind."

in the chapter:

.the Lord God formed every beast


and brought them unto Adam

Genesis 2:19.

fowl

name

Actually, the

proper

Hebrew does not seem

until the

Genesis 5:1. This

beginning of the
is

to

. .

and every

make

use of

Adam

as a

fifth chapter:

the book of the generations of

Adam

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

22

and the Jerusalem

"man" up

Bible, for instance,

is

careful to translate

adam

as

to that very point.

God

After forming man,

breathes

life

into him, a reminder that in

primitive times, the breath was often equated with

life

for

what seemed

obvious reasons.

Dead

no longer breathed, and breath was

creatures

impalpable and therefore seemed a


ous something that

word "soul" used

left

the body at the

in Genesis 2:7

is

and

invisible

fitting representation of that mysteri-

moment

of death. Indeed, the

a translation of the

Hebrew nephesh,

which means "breath."

Eden
Having formed man, God

him

also prepares a dwelling place for

and that involves the mention of the

first

definite place

name

in the

Bible:

And

Genesis 2:8.

Eden

God

the Lord

planted a garden eastward in

Notice that

it is

not the garden

itself

that

is

named Eden. One cannot

speak of "Eden" as though it were synonymous with the garden, any


more than one can speak of "California" as though it were synonymous

with Yosemite Park.

The

garden

planted somewhere in a land called

is

location of that land

which

"eastward"; eastward, that

is,

and the

question, then,

is

Eden?

There have been numerous answers

to this question,

some

exceedingly farfetched, and no definite answer acceptable to


ble.

And

yet, if

we were

home

original readers of Genesis.

Where

is:

the

from Canaan,

the focal point of reference of the Biblical story and the

is

of both the writers

The

is

Eden and

to try the simplest

and most

of

them

all is possi-

direct possible

line of thought, a reasonable solution will offer itself.

In the

not as

it

first

place,

suppose

we

consider the geography of the region

was at the time the ancient Jews believed creation to have taken
modem dating convention) but as it was in

place (roughly 4000 b.c. by

the

much

later

time when the material

in the

Book

of Genesis was

re-

duced to writing.
Genesis

is

based, to

some

extent,

on very ancient

traditions,

but these

GENESIS

The Garden

Some

earliest.

eral centuries later

The

sev-

into

until the fifth century B.C.

geographical references in Genesis must therefore refer to the

situation as

it

was from the ninth

somewhat

period and

and

B.C. at

book were not written until


and the whole was not unified and put together
strands of the

we now have

the form

Eden

were not reduced to writing until the ninth century

traditions

the

of

23

later)

if

to the fifth centuries b.c. (the Assyrian

they were to have meaning to the writer

reader.

Thus,

if

someone were

to write a book, today, about the fourteenth-

century American Indians, he might well write of "the Indian tribes


that inhabited

what

is

now

the United States."

To

save space, he might

speak elliptically of "the Indians of the United States," taking

it

for

granted that the readers would realize the United States did not actually exist in

the fourteenth century and would not be confused. In an-

cient times,

when

Lord

God

hand and not

the need to be economical with words was far


be expected that anyone would write, "And the
planted a garden eastward in the land which we now call

by the printing
greater. It

every copy of a book was produced by

press,

was not

to

Eden."

So we must ask ourselves where Eden was during the Assyrian period;

and the Bible tells us that quite


not as a mystical primeval

plainly. It refers to

site of

Eden

a garden in which

several

times

Adam and Eve

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE


roamed, but

as a prosaic

everyday land which was conquered by the

Assyrians in the eighth century B.C.

Thus, when the Assyrian hosts of Sennacherib were laying siege to


Jerusalem in 701

they sent a message to the

B.C.,

walls of the city, warning

men
God

guarding the

for salvation,
them not to rely on their
had not saved those nations from conquest

as the gods of other nations

by the Assyrians:

Gozan,
Have the gods of the nations delivered
were
in
and Rezeph, and the children of Eden which

2 Kings 19:12.

and hlaran

Thelasar?

Thelasar ("Tel-assar"

in

the Revised Standard Version)

an Assyrian province, mentioned


It

is

the

name

of

as "Til-asuri" in Assyrian inscriptions.

extended on both sides of the middle reaches of the Euphrates River

and so was, indeed, "eastward" from Canaanabout four hundred miles


due

east, in

And

yet,

fact.

even

intended the

so, it is

not necessary to suppose that the Biblical writer

specific, relatively small, area of

names have

Thelasar. Place

a tendency to

Eden

in

the province of

broaden out and grow diffuse

with time. Thus "Asia," which originally referred to the western section
of what

is

now

the nation of Turkey, spread out to include an entire vast

continent, while "Africa," originally signifying the northern portion of

the

modem

nation of Tunisia, spread out to include a continent almost

as vast.

Consequently, Eden might well have been used not only as a specific
geographical term, but also as a rather general one for the entire valley of

the Euphrates River. This makes sense, too, for


the original

home

human

of the

race,

if

the Bible makes

Eden

archaeology has revealed that on

the banks of the Euphrates River there arose one of the earliest

(if

not

the earliest) of civilizations.

By 3000

B.C.,

powerful

cities

dotted the banks of the Euphrates, an

elaborate network of irrigation canals was in use, writing had been in-

vented, and, in general,

man

as a civilized being

was

in existence.

The Euphrates River


By the time the Book of Genesis was being reduced
final

form, the editor

who was

to writing in

its

arranging the various source materials

CENESIS

The
must have

realized that

Tigris

and Euphrates Rivers

"Eden" had become

vague term and he

about defining the location of the garden more precisely

He

set

up

his definition

two thousand additional

by placing Eden and

its

set

terms that

in

undoubtedly made sense at the time, but that have become much
clear with the passage of over

25

less

years.

garden at or near the

junction of important rivers:

Genesis 2:10.

from thence

it

Genesis 2:11.

And a river went

out of

Eden

to water the garden;

and

was parted, and became into four heads.

The name

of the

first is

Pison: that

passeth the whole land of Havilah, where there

is

is it

which com-

gold;

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

26
Genesis 2:12.

and the onyx

And

the gold of that land

is

good: there

is

bdellium

stone.

Genesis 2:13.

And

name

the

of the second river

is

Gihon: the same

that compasseth the whole land of Ethiopia.

is it

Genesis 2:14.

And the name of the third

which goeth toward the

east of Assyria.

river is

And

Hiddekel: that

is it

the fourth river

is

Euphrates.

The

rivers are listed in

order of increasing familiarity to the writer so

that the fourth river, the Euphrates,


locate

felt to

it

by

is

describing the regions

merely mentioned.
it

traverses.

This

is

No

need

is

understand-

able since the Euphrates was familiar to the Jews of the Assyrian period

and before and


David,
its

when

parts of

were not very distant. Indeed, in the time of

it

the Jewish kingdom was at

its

most extensive and powerful,

northern boundary lay on the upper Euphrates.

The Euphrates was known


Bible

to the Assyrians as "Pu-rat-tu" from a

term which meant "great

earlier

is

river."

The Hebrew term used

still

in the

"Perath," clearly a form of the Assyrian name, and our word

who converted the strange


made more sense to their own ears.

"Euphrates" originated with the Greeks,


Assyrian syllables into a set that

(The English Bible has reached


via first Greek, then Latin.

us, to a large extent,

Many Hebrew names

from the Hebrew,

reach us in Graeco-

Latin form therefore. In general, the Catholic version of the Bible clings

more

closely to the Graeco-Latin,

where the King James Version and

even more the Revised Standard Version tend to return to the original

Hebrew.)

The Euphrates

is

indeed a "great

river." It is the longest river in

southwestern Asia, flowing for seventeen hundred miles.


rise in

eastern Turkey, the

of the Black Sea.

They

more northerly only

Two

streams

seventy-five miles south

flow west separately for about two hundred

miles, then join to

form the Euphrates. Flowing south now, the river approaches within a hundred miles of the Mediterranean Sea, enters Syria
and turns southeast, leaving Syria and passing through Iraq until it
finally

pours

its

waters into the Persian Gulf.

Though

rising

and passing

so closely to seas that open into the Atlantic Ocean, the river reaches

the Indian Ocean at

last.

It is a sluggish river that

spring the melting of

is

snow

navigable for quite a distance. During the


in the

mountainous source area causes

its

level to rise in a slow, potentially useful flooding. Properly controlled,

GENESIS
this

27

water supply can be used to turn the nearby land into a garden of

and productivity, and throughout the

fertility

Biblical period irrigation

canals were used in this manner.

The

third river of

Eden

the Hiddekel, which

is

of the Assyrian "i-di-ik-lat."

It

is

"toward the east of Assyria"; that

and

Assyria,

this assuredly

However, Assyria

river.

was not

when Genesis was

the centuries

is

is,

version

was an extensive domain

so. Assyria

and

written

lay

the Greek form of the


its

on both

in

sides of the

Hebrew "Ashur," which

original capital city. It

meant here and the Hiddekel does indeed

is

Hebrew

the

forming the eastern boundary of

applied not only to the nation, but to


city that

is

described in Genesis 2:14 as going

is

the

the city on

skirt

the east.

The Hiddekel

is

not as long as the Euphrates, but

its

length

respectable just the

same 1150

Euphrates and

really navigable except for small boats

is

not

is

miles. It

perhaps because of the savage danger of

gave

it

name

the

"Tigris" ("tiger"), the

is

quite

more turbulent than the


and rafts. It

is

turbulence that the Greeks

its

name by which we know

it to-

day.

The

fact that the Biblical description of the rivers of

"a river [that]

one

and Euphrates (along with the other two

to think that the Tigris

rivers

Eden mentions

was parted, and became into four heads" might lead

mentioned) must have

the sources of the Tigris River

a single source.
is

This

a lake in eastern

is

almost

Turkey that

so.

One

lies

of

only a

dozen miles south of one of the streams that go to make up the Euphrates.

There might therefore be a strong temptation to attempt to locate the


garden of Eden specifically

Turkey, except that there

in eastern

need to suppose that the writers of Genesis

felt

obliged to

make

is

no

use of

our modern geographical conventions.

When we say
granted that

suppose two

we

that a river parrs into two or

rivers join as

they

move downstream.

joined river upstream you will find


Let's see
rivers flow

how

more streams, we take it for


moving downstream. But

are imagining ourselves to be

this applies to the

it

will

If

you follow the

part into the two rivers.

Euphrates and the

Tigris.

The two

southeastward in almost parallel fashion. At one point, about

350 miles from the Persian Gulf, they approach within twenty-five miles
of each other, then

move

apart before approaching again.

In the time of the earliest civilizations that rose in the region, the

Euphrates and the Tigris entered the Persian Gulf by separate mouths,

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

28

that of the Tigris being almost a hundred miles east of that of the Euphrates.

that time, however, the Persian Gulf extended about 175 miles

At

further northwestward than

it

now

The

does.

westward from the Turkish mountains, carried


slowly forming a delta that

filled in

flowing south-

rivers,

mud and

silt

with them,

the upper end of the narrow Persian

Gulf, moving the seacoast 175 miles southeastward in six thousand years.
The Tigris and Euphrates had to continue flowing over the new land
as

it

formed. As

it

happened, the Tigris flowed south and the Euphrates

Eventually they met to form a single joined

east.

which

Shatt-al-Arab,

is

river,

now known as

the

120 miles long.

At the time the Book of Genesis was reduced to writing, the Tigris and
the Euphrates had already joined to form the common stream and surely
the reference in Genesis 2:10

is

to the parting (working upstream) of

the Shatt-al-Arab into the Tigris and the Euphrates.

Eden would then

garden of
those two

rivers,

The

reference to the

be, specifically, to the lower stretches of

near where they

come

precisely there (in the days before the

together and as

two

rivers

it

happens,

it

was

had yet come together)

that civilization arose.

That

leaves the

first

and second

rivers of

the garden, the Pison and

the Gihon. Neither river can be identified, though glamorous guesses

have been made for each. Thus, the Pison ("Pishon," in the Revised
Standard Version) "compasseth the whole land of Havilah, where there
is

gold

bdellium and the onyx stone." (The Anchor Bible has

'lapis-lazuli" in place of

Havilah

is

the onyx stone.)

thus pictured as a land of wealth, where one can find gold

and other precious

material. In searching for a fabled land of wealth that

will represent Havilah, later

with

its

Europeans had

tendency to

fix

Pishon) might be the Indus River, the long riveras long

phratesthat drains what

As

upon India

proverbial "wealth of the Indies." In that case, the Pison (or

for the

is

now

as

the Eu-

Pakistan, flowing into the Arabian Sea.

Gihon, that seems to be

clearly described as

compassing

"the whole land of Ethiopia." Ethiopia was, in ancient times, a land to


the south of Egypt, and a nation bearing that
five

River

Gihon
If

name

hundred miles south of Egypt nowadays.


Ethiopia and

rises in
is

it

is still

located about

tributary of the Nile

seems logical to suppose, then, that the

the Nile River.

we go no

farther in our reasoning, then, the four rivers of

would be the Indus, the

Nile, the Tigris,

and the Euphrates,

Eden

in that

GENESIS
order. This
far as

is

region.

an intriguing guess. There are only two

is

known, that compete

One arose on

in

29

civilizations, as

age with that in the Tigris-Euphrates

the banks of the Nile and the other on the banks of

the Indus.

And

yet the picture cannot

be

correct.

Neither the Indus nor the Nile

comes anywhere near the Tigris and Euphrates. The


the Indus to the Tigris-Euphrates

approach of the Nile

is

twelve hundred miles and the closest

(While not everything in the Bible can be taken


tainly be supposed that the Biblical writers could

India, since a
it is

word

for India

it is

descendants of Ishmael

when

must

cer-

four rivers

itself is

mentioned elsewhere, notably

in

described as part of the region in which the

live:

And

Genesis 25:18.

they dwelt from Havilah unto Shur, that


.

is

be-

reasonably certain that the Ishmaelites were tribes of the Arabian

borderland, southeast of
so,

tell

first.

fore Egypt, as thou goest toward Assyria

and

literally, it

together.

known to them.)
Whatever it is, it can't be
does occur in the Book of Esther and, in

"Hoddu." Havilah

Genesis 25.18 where

It is

come

all

in a region of the world

Let's consider the land of Havilah

Hebrew,

approach of

nine hundred, and this certainly does not gibe

is

with the Biblical statement that the four rivers

came together

closest

Canaan and southwest of the Tigris-Euphrates


it down too carefully, we can suppose that

without trying to pin

Havilah was somewhere south of the Euphrates River.

then the Pison (Pishon)

If this is so,

the Euphrates, flowing into

south and west.

It

may

its

may have been

a tributary of

lower stretches from Havilah to the

not have been an important stream and, in the

gradual desiccation of the area that has taken place in recent ages,

may have

disappeared. (It

may

it

even have been a man-made canal, con-

fused by the Biblical writer with a natural stream.)

And what about


word, which

is

Ethiopia? That

is

far off in Africa.

The Hebrew

here translated as Ethiopia in the King James Version,

is

"Cush." Undoubtedly, there are occasions in the Bible where Cush does
indeed refer to the region south of Egypt and where
translated as Ethiopia.

Very

likely, this

is

deed, in the Revised Standard Version, the

around the "land of Cush."


attempt

More

is

made

to equate

The word
it

it

is

justifiably

not one of those places. In-

Gihon

is left

in

its

is

described as flowing

Hebrew form and no

with Ethiopia.

often than not, the Biblical

Cush

refers to

some Arabian

tribe.

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

There

a reasonable possibility that the

is

word "Cush"

in Genesis 2:13

whom the ancient Greek geographers


and whom modem historians refer to as the

the land of the people

refers to

spoke of as the Kossaeans,

They dwelt

Kassites.

east of the Tigris

the centuries before the

and had a period of greatness

of Assyria, for between 1600 and 1200

rise

in

B.C.,

the Kassites controlled the great civilization of the Tigris-Euphrates.


If this

is so,

then the Gihon

may have been

(now gone)
another man-made

a tributary

of the Tigris, flowing in from the eastor, possibly,


canal.

We

are thus left with the following situation.

joins the
gris

near

Euphrates near
its

its

ancient

The

Pison (Pishon)

mouth and the Gihon

joins the Ti-

The two double rivers then join in the new


formed afterward. The four rivers all come together over

ancient mouth.

land gradually

a reasonably small area and the very ancient civilization that rose in that
area

may

represent the historical kernel within the story of the garden of

Eden.
This region was

now

called, in the primeval period,

by a name which we

render as "Sumer" or "Sumeria." In the Sumerian language, the

word eden means "plain." No one knows where, exactly, the Sumerians
came from, but if, as seems likely, they originally entered the area from
the hilly regions to the east, they
as

may

well have thought of themselves

coming "to Eden"; that is, "to the plain."


If so, then the term "Eden" may point specifically

identification with the later

accidental (even though

Eden

farther

at Sumeria,

and

its

up the Euphrates may be

pointed us in the right direction).

it

In Hebrew, eden means "delight" or "enjoyment," which seems appropriate for the garden, but this

etymological accident since

in all likelihood,

Hebrew and Sumerian

guages. (In fact, Sumerian


Nevertheless, the accidental

is,

is

merely a fortunate

are not related lan-

not related to any

Hebrew meaning helped

known

language.)

crystallize

the

feel-

Eden might be a mystical term without actual geographic


meaning and that the place originally inhabited by mankind was merely
ing that

"the garden of delight" with no place

One more

speculation

Abraham was born,


tribes

is

possible.

name

at

By 2500

all.

B.C.,

centuries before

the Sumerians had already passed their peak.

New

from the north, the Akkadians, took over "the plain" and harder

come for the Sumerians, who were now a conquered


They must have looked back nostalgically to the great days of

times must have


people.

"the plain."

GENESIS
Can

31

the Biblical tale of the glorious garden of Eden, lost forever,

have been a
past that

reflection, at least in part, of the

Sumerian longing

for a

had vanished?

The Serpent
After
to full

Adam

is

settled in the garden of

enjoyment of

Eden,

delights, with

its

God

him the

grants

one exception.

He

Genesis 2:17. But of the tree of the knowledge of good and

thou shalt not eat

God

creates a

the man's

woman

as a

companion

for

Adam, forming her out

Presumably the two might have lived

rib.

evil,

right

says:

eternal happiness as long as they respected

in the

of

garden in

God's prohibition. There

was, however, a spoiler in the garden:

Genesis 3:1.
the field

The
naive

serpent

is

portrayed as able to speak and as maneuvering the

into

eating the forbidden

fruit

in

The woman then encouraged Adam

prohibition.

As

the serpent was more subtil than any beast of

woman

Now

told here, the serpent's evil

mere delight

in mischief.

The

is

defiance of God's
to eat

it

as well.

motiveless or, at best, arises out of

Jews of post-Exilic times

made

this

seem

who

is
more reasonable, however, by equating the serpent with Satan,
the spirit of Evil as God is the spirit of Good. (This notion was derived

from Persian

thoughtsee page 409.)

religious

Actually, the tale of the serpent

Only here and


the

Hebrew

in

is

quite un-Biblical in atmosphere.

one other case (that of Balaam's

scriptures

the tale of the serpent

mention talking animals.


is

It

ass, see

page 184) do

seems quite

likely that

extremely primitive and represents a remnant of

nature myth (see page 175).

Eve

man and woman, who ate of the


prohibition, God drives them out of Eden.

Because of the disobedience of the


fruit of the tree despite

They may no

longer live easily by food gathering but are

the heavy labor of agriculture.

condemned

to

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

32

dawn

Several thousand years before the

somewhere

ture had been invented

gave

man

more

plentiful

of recorded history, agricul-

in southwestern Asia. Agriculture

and more dependable food supply and made

possible a large increase in population in those areas

where

Because crops were immobile and had to be cared

ticed.

one

to remain in

for,

farmers had

For mutual protection, they gathered

place.

which gradually became

and

cities

was prac-

it

in villages

(from a

thus arose "civilization"

Latin word for "city-dweller").

Despite the material benefits brought to


likely that those

who were

hunting and food gathering (a

more fun

man by agriculture,

it is

quite

used to the free wandering irresponsibility of


life

that probably

seemed a great deal

in retrospect than in reality) could not help

but view

agricul-

ture as a kind of detestable slavery.

Might

not be, then, that a second strand of historical significance to

it

Eden

the tale of the expulsion from

includes a

dim memory

of the

unfavorable aspects of the changeover to agriculture?

Once

man

the

man and

his wife

took up their

life

outside the garden, the

gave his wife a name:


Genesis 3:20.

And Adam

was the mother of aU

At the time these

called his wife's

name Eve;

because she

living.

traditions

were being reduced to writing,

was

it

customary for Jews to give names with straightforward Hebrew meanings

means 'Tahveh
Hananiah means

(usually with religious significance.) Thus, Jehoshaphat

"God

has judged"; Ezekiel means

'Tahveh

gracious"

is

The names
often not in

The

of the

strengthens";

and so on.

men and women

Hebrew and,

therefore,

Biblical writers, searching for the

in the earliest traditions

were not of clear

meaning they

felt

were

significance.

ought to be in

names, would spot a resemblance to some Hebrew word or phrase


and invent an explanation around it.
Thus the Hebrew name equivalent to our own Eve is Hawah, which
all

has a similarity of sound to hayah, meaning "to live." (Actually, the


initial

the

"h"

is

German

race, it

is

a guttural

sound not found

"ch.") Since

Eve

is

tempting to equate

received the

in

our language but similar to

regarded as the mother of the

Hawah

name because she was

the mother of

all living.

an example of "folk etymology," in which the Bible abounds.

meaning of

Hawah

or

Eve

is,

human

and hayah and say that she

of course,

unknown.

This

The

is

real

CENESIS

33

Cain and Abel

Adam and Eve had


Genesis 4:1.

man from

And

children:

Eve

bare Cain,

and

said, I

have gotten

the Lord.

Genesis 4:2.

And

she again bare his brother Abel.

a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a

The name Cain ("Kayin"

in

tiller

Hebrew)

And

Abel was

of the ground.
is

usually taken

to

mean

"smith." In the early days of civilization, the use of metals was intro-

duced and the new material became exceedingly important both


ornamentation and

Men who

fare.

sary shapes

in

manufacture of weapons for hunting and war-

in the

could prepare the metals and work them into the neces-

were important and highly regarded

artisans.

and be called one was a matter of honor, and to

common surname among

this

To be

a smith

day "Smith"

is

the English and Americans.

This meaning of Cain seems clearer in a later use of the word, in the

same

chapter, as part of the

Genesis 4:22.

And

name

Zillah

every artificer in brass

and

iron

of a descendant of Cain:

bare Tubal-cain, an instructor of

"Tubal-cain" means "smith of Tubal," where Tubal

is

a district in

Asia Minor. In the centuries immediately preceding the period during

which the legends

in

for obtaining iron

from

Genesis were reduced to writing, the techniques


its

ore were worked out in Asia Minor.

The

smiths of Tubal would therefore have become famous for producing


iron

weapons superior to anything that had been seen before, and the

smiths of Tubal, "Tubal-cain," might well have entered legend as the

founders of metallurgy.

some clearly Hebrew meaning


word was sought for and found in the similarity of kayin to
kanah, meaning "to get." Eve was therefore made to say "I have gotten
Nevertheless, during the Exilic period,

for the

man

of the

cent of her

was

Lord" and to name her son something that was reminis-

first

words on learning of

his birth.

Thus, the etymology

set.

Cain and Abel seem to represent the fanner and the herdsman (or

nomad)

respectively.

The early histories

are written from the standpoint

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

34

them the nomads

of the farmers, the settled city-men, and in


as barbaric raiders, ruthless
It

and

bloodthirsty.

was the fanners who multiplied, however, and

that spread.

Nomads

are viewed

could triumph

when

it

was

civilization

internal dissensions

weakened

the city-men, but in the long run, civilization had the men, organiza-

and the advanced weapons that could be produced

tion,

in quantity

only by an elaborate technology. (Cain was not only a farmer, he was


also a smith.)

In the end, civilization

won

completely, and that eventual and inevi-

must have been foreseen long before

table victory

it

came

to pass.

The

and obscurely told) of how Cain grew jealous of Abel and


him may be, in part, a remnant of some nomadic lament over the

tale (briefly
killed

all-encroaching tentacles of settled civilization.

In
air,"

of

fact,

name Abel ("Hebel"

the very

seeming to imply the briefness and

life

Hebrew) means "a puff of


nomadic way

in

instability of the

(We

against the steady push of the farmer.

experienced a similar

period in American history toward the end of the nineteenth century

when

the nomadic "cowboy" of the

West had

to give way, at last, to

the plodding farmer and his barbed-wire fences.)

The name Abel may

be

also

related to the

Babylonian aplu, mean-

ing "son." This would indicate a possible Sumerian origin for the

tale.

Nod
After Cain murders Abel, he

Genesis 4:16.

is

And Cain went

driven away:

out from the presence of the Lord,

and dwelt

in the land of

No

tried to identify the "land of

region

one has

and

it

is

is

related to the

fore to dwell in the land of


life

tale.

Now

Nod

and becomes

Here we seem

east of

Eden.

Nod" with any actual

specific

usually taken to be a metaphorical expression.

Hebrew word "Nod"


wandering

Nod, on the

is

The

term meaning "wanderer"; there-

taken to

mean

that one takes

up a

nomad.

have a second strand incorporated into the ancient


we are dealing not with Cain the farmer and smith, but with
to

Cain the nomad.


If

Eden

is

taken to be Sumeria, then the region "east of Eden" would

be that known

as

Elam. Elam, in what

is

now

southwestern Iran,

GENESIS
developed a civilization quite
Sumerians.

Its early history is

intermittent warfare between

it

borrowing no doubt from the

dim but

there seems to have been

Elam and whatever power

Euphrates for three thousand


Is

early,

very

35

ruled the Tigris-

years.

possible, then, that the story of

Cain and Abel might be

combination of a villainous Elam attacking a blameless Sumeria


told

by the Sumerians) and

mad

(as told

Enoch

[of

Nod

In

(as

a villainous farmer attacking a blameless no-

by the nomads)?

Cain]

(despite

name) Cain seems

its

to have settled

down.

He

married, had a son:

Genesis 4:17.
the

Elam

this

to the

name

dim

is

ways of

and he huilded a

the

city, after

Perhaps

and

city,

called the

name

of

of his son, Enoch.

reference to the ancient transition of a pastoral

civilization.

There

is

no record of any

city

named

Enoch, but it is conceivable that this might be the city that eventually
became known to later history as Susa. This dates back to the Stone Age
and for thousands of years was the chief city of Elam.

The remainder

of the fourth chapter deals quickly with the succeeding

descendants of Cain, including Tubal-cain.


returns to

Adam

The book

of Genesis then

to follow the line of descent that leads to the Israelites.

Seth

Adam

has a third son:

And Adam

Genesis 5:3.
begat a son

This chapter
tion

is

is

and

lived

called his

a portion of

given, the statistical data

individual

is

an hundred and

name

again,
is

thirty years,

and

Seth.

and

as generation after genera-

carefully included.

given at the time of the birth of his

first

The
son,

age of each

and

at the

time of his death.


Genesis

and

5:5.

And

thirty years:

all

the days that

and he

died.

Adam

lived -were nine

hundred

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

36

These ages were legendary,

Babylonian

reflecting parts of earlier

tales

picked up by the Jews during the Exile and modified by the priesthood

unknown

according to some

who

feel

principle of their

own. Nevertheless, those

every word of the Bible to be literally true have tried to

make

use of these figures (and of others given here and there in the Bible)

Adam

which

to calculate the year in

was born, and the universe

created.

The

Jews of the Middle Ages calculated the date of the creation to

have been October

number

7,

B.C.,

3761

and

this

used in calculating the

is still

of the year in the Jewish calendar. Thus, September 1968 a.d.

is

the beginning of the year 5729 by that calendar.

come up with

Christian theologians have


creation.

The most

familiar of these

is

a variety of dates for the

one worked out by James Ussher,

an Anglican archbishop of Armagh, Ireland. In 1654, ne decided that


the creation had taken place in 4004
that year, according to some)

head of the

Man

The

b.c.

(at

b.c. isn't

a bad date for the establishment of historic

began to have a history

in

the proper sense only after writing

had been invented, and writing was invented


However, the
historic

man

first cities

had been organizd

earth itself

whole perhaps

Enoch

a little before 3000 b.c.

as early as

8000

b.c.

(or creatures recognizably similar to man) have

mains that are well over a million years

The

9 a.m. of October 23 of
is often found at the

date 4004 b.c.

pages of the Bible in editions of the King James version.

first

Actually 4004
times.

is

some

and

pre-

left re-

old.

five billion years old

and the universe

as a

fifteen billion years old.

[of Seth]

The descendants of Adam,


generations (ten, counting
hastily than those of

through Seth, are then

Adam

listed

The names

is

less

Cain were mentioned. As a group, these are the

(A patriarch is the head of


meant "before the Flood.")

antediluvian patriarchs.

"antediluvian"

through eight

and Seth themselves) somewhat

a tribe

and by

of the line of Seth are suspiciously like those of the line of

Cain, however. Both include an Enoch and a Lamech, and other names,
if

not identical, are very similar.

It

is

possible that the

two

lines represent

the same legendary material, one given by J and the other by P.


The antediluvian patriarchs are notable for their ages. Several, includ-

CENESIS
ing

Adam

The

himself, lived nearly a thousand years.

Methuselah (whose name has become a byword

37

record holder

for age)

who

is

attained

the age of 969 years.

These patriarchs cannot be associated with any

and nothing

is

known

of

them beyond

this

historical personages

bare Biblical mention. They

seem, however, to be a reflection of Sumerian legend. At

Sumerians had

lists

of nine or ten kings

each of them living for

who

least,

the

reigned before the Flood,

many thousands of years. One was listed as


The writer of this portion of Genesis,

having reigned nearly 65,000 years.


far

from imposing on

credibility

by making use of extended

life

spans,

apparently took legendary material and did his best to cut those ages

down

to reasonable size.

What's more, throughout the Hexateuch, the writers kept steadily


reducing the ages attained by the chief figures in the tales though even
at the end these were

hundred

Of

boasting

still

life

spans somewhat in excess of a

years.

the antediluvian patriarchs, one attains an age markedly different

from the others. This


Genesis 5:23.

and

is

And

Enoch, the father of Methuselah.


the days of

all

Enoch were

three hundred sixty

five years:

Genesis 5:24.

God

took him.

The

fact that

And Enoch

Enoch

is

described as living 365 years, whereas his fa-

Is it

and

Methuselah

his son

lived 969 years,


year; that is, in
in
days
a
a coincidence that there are 365

ther Jared lived 962 years

seems odd.

walked with God: and he was not; for

the complete circuit of the sun across the skies?


verses given over to

Enoch

are

all

that remains of

Is it

possible that the

some Babylonian sun

myth?

What is meant by saying

uncertain, but later traditions

was that he was taken up

Enoch walked with God and was not is


made it clear that the usual interpretation

that

alive into

heaven as a reward for unusual

piety.

was supposed by the Jews of post-Exilic times that in heaven, Enoch


was able to see the past and future of mankind. Between 200 b.c. and
50 B.C., several books were written purporting to have come from the
It

and

pen of Enoch, describing


endary and are a form of

"religious fiction"

in the post-Exilic period.

(Some

into the Bible.)

this past

of

it,

as

future.

They

which was

we

shall see,

are purely legfairly

common

found

its

way

ASIMOV'S CUIDE TO THE BIBLE

58

The books
there

is

Enoch did not gain entry into the


them in the New Testament. In the

attributed to

mention of

Bible, but

Epistle of

Jude, the writer says:

And Enoch

Jude 1:14.
of these

Adam, prophesied

the seventh from

also,

Ararat

one adds up the ages of the antediluvian patriarchs at the time of


the births of their respective sons, one finds that Noah, the great-greatIf

great-great-great-great-great-grandson of

Adam

was

bom

1056 years after

the creation or (accepting Ussher's figures) about 3000

was

six

hundred years

old, that

about 2400 b.c, there came

is,

When

b.c.

This, according to the Bible, was a world-wide deluge, but there


record of any such
for instance,

was

was building

phenomenon, of

The Egyptian

course.

in a particularly flourishing state at this very

its

not based on some actual, but


Sumeria was a
large river

unusual

time and

pyramids. Nor do the Egyptian records speak of any

we know.

not to say, however, that the Biblical story of the Flood was

is

Sumeria,

no

is

civilization,

floods other than the annual overflow of the Nile, as far as

This

he

the Flood.

land between two large

(we have only

rises will
it

flat

local, flood in

to think of our

own

Sumerian
rivers.

As

history.
is

true of

bring about flooding conditions. In a country as

would not take much of

any

Missouri and Mississippi)


flat

as

a flood to cover large portions of the

entire region.

particularly

tions,

and

bad flood would

particularly

bad

live

floods

on

in the

memory

of later genera-

undoubtedly occurred. In 1929, the

English archaeologist Sir Charles Leonard Woolley reported finding


water-deposited layers as

much

as ten feet thick in his excavations near

the Euphrates. Such deposits were not found everywhere in the region

and Sumerian culture showed no


dence

exists that

over-all break. Nevertheless, the evi-

somewhere about 3000

b.c. there

were indeed drastic

floods of at least a local nature.

With

time, as the story

is

told

and retold

it is

dramatically inevitable

that a flood which spreads out over parts of Sumeria and neighboring
regions with great loss of life will be said to have covered "all the world,"

meaning the

entire region. It

is

further inevitable that later genera-

GENESIS

The Flood and


tions,

with a

phrase

"all

much

the

Kingdom

39

of Urartu (Ararat)

broader knowledge of geography, would accept the

the world"

literally

on the impossible.
(A well-known example of

and reduce themselves

to needless specu-

lations

among

this

is

the statement frequently

met with

the ancient historians that Alexander the Great "conquered the

world" and then wept for "other worlds to conquer."

What

was meant

was merely that Alexander had conquered a large part of those sections
of the world which were well

known

to the

Greeks of the time. Actually,

Alexander conquered only 4 or 5 per cent of the earth's land surface


and had plenty of room in which to extend those conquests.)

The

people of Sumeria and of Akkadia (lying to the northwest of

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE


Sumeria) told and retold the

tale of

one particular

which may

flood,

have been produced by unusually heavy rains on the region. Some people suspect the flood to have been too serious to be accounted for by

and think there may have been a sudden

rain alone

the water level

rise in

of the Persian Gulf, leading to a disastrous influx from the sea.


It

me

has occurred to

recently that a possible explanation for such an

invasion of the sea would be the unlucky strike of a large meteorite in

the nearly landlocked Persian Gulf.


take the form of a

sweeping away everything

The

The

splash that

would

result

would

huge wave that might move inland catastrophically,


in its path.

invasion of water from the sea

whatever reason )

for

indeed,

is,

involved in the Biblical description of the Flood:

Genesis 7:1

In the

1.

hundredth year of Noah's

six

life

were

all

the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven

were opened.

tidal

wave plus

rain, in other words.

In 1872, an English archaeologist, George Smith, deciphered ancient


tablets

from the remains of a royal Assyrian library and found a descrip-

tion of a flood in

of animal

life

which one man saves himself,

on board a

ship.

The

story

is

his family,

based on

and samples
older tales

still

dating back to Sumerian times.

The
Erech.

hero of this tale

He

is

Gilgamesh, king of the Akkadian town of

in search of eternal life

the secret. Ut-Napishtim

Sumerian

is

city at

and

finds

Ut-Napishtim,

the time of the Flood and rode

Gilgamesh obtained the secret of eternal

life

The

details of this

it

out in a large ship.

Sumerian flood story are very similar

story of the Flood

is

It

has

from him, nearly obtained

the necessary conditions, and through misadventure lost

points to the story in the Bible.

who

appears that he was king of a

tell his story. It

seems quite

much

a version of this

it.

in a

number of

likely that the Biblical


earlier tale.

In the Biblical story, Noah's ark floats on the floodwaters for months.

The

waters slowly recede

Genesis 8:4.

And

the ark rested

Notice that a specific mountain peak


tion of a

"Mount

upon the mountains of

is

not named. There

is

no men-

Ararat." Instead the Bible clearly states "the

tains of Ararat," implying Ararat to

Ararat.

moun-

be a region or nation within which

GENESIS
there was a

mountain range on which the ark came

The Anchor

to rest.

Bible translates the phrase as "the Ararat range."

evidence

If further Biblical

is

needed that Ararat

can be found in the

is

a region and not a

The

mountain,

it

prophet

reporting God's promise to destroy Babylon, which at that

is

chapter of Jeremiah.

fifty-first

time was on the point of conquering Judah:


Jeremiah 51:27

doms

call together against

of Ararat, Minni,

and Ashchenaz

her [Babylon] the king.

But where and what was Ararat? Remember that in searching


one must consider geography

as

for

it

was known to those who reduced

it

Genesis to writing and not necessarily as

it

was known in the time of the

Sumero-Akkadians.

among the mountains in which


now eastern Turkey. It centered
about Lake Van (a salt lake about the size and shape of our own Great
Salt Lake) and is sometimes called the "kingdom of Van" in consequence. This kingdom extended from the lake to the Caucasus MounIn Assyrian times there was a kingdom

the Tigris and Euphrates rose, in what

and

tains,

in Assyrian

inscriptions

Urartuof which name Ararat

The kingdom
by 612

b.c. it

is

of Urartu was greatly

had ceased

and a new name

a version.

weakened by Assyrian attack and

to exist, at a time

being destroyed. In the area in which


arrived

kingdom of

referred to as the

is

clearly

is

it

(of Persian origin)

when
had

Assyria itself was also

existed,

new

tribesmen

was given to the land, which

became Armenia.
In those sections of the Bible which were reduced to writing after the

end of Urartu, the term Armenia

Book

of Kings, there

used instead. Thus, in the Second

is

the tale of the assassination of the Assyrian king,

is

Sennacherib, by his two sons, in 681 b.c, and of their rapid flight thereafter:

2 Kings 19:37.

What
exist,

is

and

really

and they escaped

meant, of course,

is

into the land of

Armenia

Urartu, since Armenia did not yet

in the Revised Standard Version, the phrase

is

indeed changed

to "the land of Ararat."

The

tradition that the ark

came

to rest in Ararat

some

six

hundred

miles northwest of Sumeria again speaks in favor of the tidal-wave theory


of the Flood. Ordinary river flooding would sweep floating objects

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

4*

downstreamsoutheastward

into the Persian Gulf.

huge

name

name

of a definite mountain peak and indeed the

Mount

eventually applied to one.

Ararat

mountain

is

Ararat was

reaching 16,873 feet (3.2 miles) above sea

and every once

came

to rest

has

It

former being the higher,

Little Ararat, the

firmly fixed that Noah's ark

as the

in the eastern-

most region of Turkey about seventy miles northeast of Lake Van.

two peaks, Great Ararat and

wave

tidal

would sweep them upstream northwestward toward Ararat.


Despite all evidence, most people insist on thinking of Ararat

level.

The

tradition remains

somewhere on Great Ararat

in a while there are expeditions there to find traces of

it.

Ham
Once

the Flood story

giving the

names

is

done, the writers of Genesis turn to the task of

of the descendants of

case, represent tribes or nations. It

themselves after the


tribe

name

was

was assumed that

it

a tribe receives

name

its

it

almost every

is

eponym

an

(An ancestor

broader eponym.

still

of that tribe.)

Related tribes could be described as descending from eponyms

were brothers, and whose father was a

if

was because the

ancestor of that name.

members were descended from an

whom

in

for ancient tribes to call

of an ancestor (real or mythical). In fact,

was known by some name,

from

Noah. These,

common

who
The

Greeks, for instance, called themselves Hellenes and recognized themselves

to exist as groups of related

Aeolians,

called

tribes

Dorians,

Achaeans, and Ionians. They therefore supposed themselves

be descended from a

man named

all

to

Hellen. Hellen was described as having

two sons named Aeolus and Dorus, and a third son, Xuthus, who had
twin sons
In this
ants of

named Ion and Achaeus.


the Book of Genesis

spirit,

Genesis 9:18.

And

and Japheth: and

The three
known

ples

describes the

immediate descend-

Noah:

sons of

the sons of

Ham
Noah

is

Noah

were Shem, and Ham,

the father of Canaan.

represent the three great divisions of the peo-

to the ancient writers of the Bible.

In general, the descendants of

Shem

are pictured as occupying the

Arabian peninsula and the regions adjoining


the Tigris-Euphrates region, which

is

it

to the north, including

the center of interest in the early

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

44

portions of Genesis. Since this includes the Hebrews themselves,

given the post of honor and


is

mentioned

is

made

the eldest son of

Noah. At

Shcm
least,

is

he

first.

It is for this

reason that the languages of the people dwelling in this

region are referred to as "Semitic."

("Sem"

is

the Graeco- Latin form of

Shem.) These languages include Hebrew, Assyrian, Aramaean, and,

as

the most important living example, Arabic.

The

descendants of

Ham

are described as inhabiting chiefly the cor-

ner of Africa adjacent to Asia. For

the original languages of

this reason

the peoples of northeastern Africa are called "Hamitic." This includes

Coptic (derived from the ancient Egyptian), the Berber languages of

North

The

Africa,

and some of the languages of Ethiopia, such

Amharic.

as

descendants of Japheth are described as inhabiting the regions to

the north and east of the Tigris-Euphrates. Sometimes "Japhetic"


to describe certain obscure languages in the northern

gions of the Caucasus. Occasionally,

it is

is

used

mountainous

used more broadly to include

ancient Persian, for example. Since the language of the Persians


related to those

spoken

in

re-

India and in Europe, this

book

is

is

(in the

broader sense) being written in a Japhetic language. However, the

importance

of

Europe

is

(modern

such

students

of

comparative

philology being European in culture) that the broad classification gave

way

more geographically

to the

intelligible

"Indo-European."

mistake, though, to suppose that the writers of Genesis were

It is a

influenced by language.

Modem

notions of philology are strictly

mod-

em. Rather, the Biblical writers were guided by political connections and
by geographic propinquity. Such connections often did bespeak racial
relatedness so that terms such as Semitic and Hamitic did turn out to

make much

sense, linguistically, but this

prime example

is

was not true

the case of Canaan.

The

in every case.

people inhabiting the

land (Canaanites) at the time the Hebrews moved in spoke a Semitic

language and had a culture related to that of the Tigris-Euphrates


region.

By modem terminology, the Canaanites were

distinctly Semites.

However, Genesis 9:18 goes out of its way to specify that "Ham is the
father of Canaan." The reason for that is a simple one. Some three
centuries prior to the

Hebrew occupation

conquered by Egyptian armies and

of Canaan, the land had been

for a long

time formed part of the

Egyptian Empire. Since Egypt was the most important of the Hamitic
nations
describe

it

seemed reasonable, according

Canaan

The end

as a son of

to the standards of the time, to

Ham.

of the ninth chapter of Genesis relates a tradition in which

CENESIS
Noah, offended by
and

his son,

his second son,

Ham,

Canaan, to servitude to

curses

45

him and condemns him

his brothers.

This

reflects

the fact

that at the time Genesis was being reduced to writing, the Canaanites

were indeed reduced to servitude to the


of

Israelites,

who were

descendants

Shem.

Some modems seem


and that
purest

this chapter

piffle.

Neither

to think that

Ham

can be used to

represents the

Negro

justify

Ham, Canaan, nor any of

Negro peoples

slavery.

their

This

is

the

named descendants

were viewed as Negroes by the Biblical writers.

Japheth

The
among

Greeks,

it

the descendants of Japheth.

this respect

termsto be

seems, must be considered in Biblical

The

writers of Genesis

have been influenced by Greek

may

even in

traditions, reaching

them

dimly from the west.

For instance, Japheth himself has been identified by some with the
Titan Iapetus in the Greek myths. (Since the

names

is

pronounced

Greek names, the

like a

similarity

"Y"

in

initial

Hebrew, as

is

"J" in

the

initial

between Japheth and Iapetus

is

Hebrew
"I" in
greater

it appears to be in print.) According to the Greek myths, Iapetus


was the father of Prometheus who, in turn, fathered the human race

than

by molding them out of clay. For this reason, Iapetus was considered
by the Greeks to be the ancestor of mankind; and, to the Hebrews,
Japheth was the ancestor of that portion of mankind to which the
Greeks belonged.

The

sons and grandsons of Japheth are listed in the tenth chapter

of Genesis:

Genesis 10:2. The sons of Japheth; Gomer, and Magog, and Madai,
and Javan, and Tubal, and Meshech, and Tiros.
Genesis 10:3. And the sons of Gomer; Ashkenaz, and Riphath,
and Togarmah.
Genesis 10:4. And the sons of Javan; Elishah, and Tarshish, Kittim,
and Dodanim.

We must

remember that such genealogies

political situation

of the Assyrian period,

reflect

the geographic and

when the

various parts of

Genesis were reduced to writing.

Of

the sons of Japheth,

Gomer seems

to be identical with the

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

46

people who, in Assyrian inscriptions, were the "Gimirrai" and these in

known

turn were the people

Cimmerians. In

in Latin spelling as the

times they lived north of the Black Sea but in the seventh

earlier

century

B.C.,

pushed on by new bands of barbarians

in the rear, they

invaded Asia Minor and met the Assyrians there in earth-shaking battles.

They were eventually defeated, to be sure, but Assyria was badly


wounded in the process. The Cimmerians would certainly be in prominent view at the time the tenth chapter was being written and their

eponym, Gomer, would, very reasonably, be viewed

as the first-born of

Japheth.

As
is

for

Magog, that may represent "the land of Gog" where Gog

known

the ruler

to

us from

was king of the Lydians,

the Greek historians as

Gyges.

people in western Asia Minor, and was

one of the important adversaries of the invading Cimmerians. In


he died

Madai

in battle against
is

them about 652

supposed to refer to the Medes,

east of Assyria,

and who were soon

to

who

The name

tribes of Asia

to the

Greek "Tyrsenoi," which was applied


in

Asia

inhabited the territory

be among the

minor

Minor.

fact,

b.c.

of Assyria. Tubal, Meshech, and Tiras are

thought, dwelt originally

He

all

conquerors

final

thought to represent

Tiras bears

some

to a people

Minor but migrated

similarities

who,

it

was

to Italy. If so,

Tiras could represent the Etruscans.

The most
is

interesting of the sons of Japheth

is

Javan. This

name

almost certainly identical with an archaic form of the Greek "Ion,"

who was

the

eponym

of the Ionian Greeks.

The

Ionians had, about

1000 b.c, migrated eastward to occupy the islands of the Aegean Sea

and the

coasts of Asia Minor.

Of

the various

the nearest to Canaan and would be best


of Assyrian times. Their tribal

name would be

Greek

known

tribes they

to

were

the Israelites

naturally applied to the

Greeks generally.

Of Gomer's sons, Ashkenaz may be identical with the name "Ashamong Assyrian inscriptions. This seems to refer to the
peoples known to the Greeks, and therefore to ourselves, as the Scythians. The Scythians were nomadic tribes who entered Europe from

guza" found

somewhere

in

central Asia

some time before 1000 b.c. It was their


Cimmerians that drove the Cimmerians

pressure southward against the


into Asia Minor.

The

Scythians took their place in the steppelands

north of the Black Sea, and from that standpoint, Ashkenaz (Scythia)

might well be considered the eldest son of Gomer (Cimmeria).

GENESIS
For some reason, the

later

47

Jews viewed Ashkenaz as the ancestor

of the Teutonic people. For this reason German-speaking Jews were

"Ashkenazim" as contrasted with the Spanish-speaking "Sephar-

called

dim."
It

would be expected that the sons of Javan

would

refer to those

listed in

Greek-speaking regions closest to

Genesis 10:4
Elishah

Israel.

seems to be similar to the "Alashiyah" found in Assyrian documents

and

this refers to the island of

by Greeks

Cyprus. This had already been colonized

and

in Assyrian times,

it

was the

closest of all

Greek-

speaking lands to Canaan, being only two hundred miles to the northeast.

Indeed, Cyprus

is

mentioned twice,

for Kittim surely represents Kition

(Citium in Latin), a city on the southern coast of the island, the name
of which was often used for the entire island.

Dodanim
it

is

widely thought to be a misprint for Rodanim; in

fact,

Rodanim in some early copies of the Bible. If the


Rodanim then it is tempting to equate it with the island of

given as

is

name

is

Rhodes, two hundred miles west of Cyprus.


Tarshish, on the basis of references later in the Bible,

taken to represent a city in Spain. However,


in this

one

instance, it

it

is

occurs to

usually

me

that

might represent Tarsus, an important Greek

town, a hundred miles north of Cyprus, on the southern coast of


Asia Minor. It was an important city in Assyrian times
represent the Greeks of Asia

Minor

and might

generally.

Cush

The most

notable confusion in this tenth chapter, describing the

nations of the Near East, occurs in connection with Cush, which

page 29) could be used to represent the Ethiopians,


south of Egypt, and also the Kossaeans, east of the Tigris.
said earlier (see

Genesis 10:6.

And the sons of Ham;

Cush, and Mtznrim, and Phut,

and Canaan.
Genesis 10:7.

And

the sons of Cush; Seba, and Havilah

In Genesis 10:6,

Cush

clearly

means the Ethiopians, south

who, indeed, speak a Hamitic tongue. Phut


in the Revised Standard Version)

is

of Egypt,

(better, "Put," as given

usually thought to represent the

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

48

whom

peoples west of Egypt

the Greeks called Libyans.

These

also

spoke a Hamitic language.

Mizraim

Hebrew word

the

is

of that nation.

Wherever

into "Egypt"

lated

else

it

so he

for "Egypt,"

term of Greek origin).

(a

eponym

the

is

occurs in the Bible, Mizraim

such

If

translations

Ham;

were done here, the verse might read: "And the sons of

trans-

is

Ethiopia,

and Egypt, and Libya, and Canaan," which would accurately reflect
the area dominated by Egypt in the days of her greatness.
In the very next verse, however,

Cush

is

Seba, Havilah, and a series of other sons,

eponyms

of Arabian tribes. This

described as the father of


of

all

whom

are clearly

Cush must be the one representing

the Kossaeans, and not the Hamitic Cush of Ethiopia.

Nimrod
This confusion of dishes leads to a section of obviously Semitic
ethnology being included under
Genesis 10:8.
to be a mighty

And
one

Ham:

[the Semitic]

Cush begat Nimrod: he began

in the earth.

He was a mighty hunter


10:10. And the beginning of his kingdom

Genesis 10:9.
Genesis

was Babel, and

Erech, and Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar.

Our

Genesis 10:11.

Nineveh, and the


Genesis 10:12.

Nimrod

is

city

of that land went forth Asshur,

Rehoboth, and Calah,

And Resen between Nineveh and Calah

the only

name

in

Chapter 10 of Genesis who

an individual and not an eponym.

be identified at

all

lost forever in the

There

is

Who,

and equated with any

then,

is

named

clearly

Or

is

he

primeval mists?

no question but that whoever he was, he

are

is

Nimrod? Can he

historic personage?

as ruling over the Tigris-Euphrates region, for that


cities

and builded

known (where

they are

known

located.

Furthermore the "land of Shinar"

Biblical

term used for what we would

call

is

is

at all)

is

described

where

all

the

to have been

accepted as being the

"Sumeria."

Genesis 10:10 appears, then, to make Nimrod an important king


of the Tigris-Euphrates region, with his power based on the four cities

GENESIS

The Empire
of Babel, Erech, Accad,

and there

is

The

them."

Nimrod

and Calneh. The location of Calneh

is

unknown

now that its inclusion is an error and


name of a city but is Hebrew for "all of

general agreement

word

that the

of

is

not the

verse

is

made

to read in the Revised Standard Version:

"The beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, and Accad,


them in the land of Shinar."

The

all

of

three cities that remain are no mystery. Erech corresponds to

known

the city

The

49

city

was

as

first

"Uruk"

in the ancient inscriptions of the region.

excavated in the 1850's and showed every sign of

having once been an extensive metropolis, with large temples and a


library.

It

dates back to 3600 b.c. at least.

Euphrates River about forty miles from


phrates River has since changed
of Erech are

now

its

its

course

It

was located on the

ancient mouth.

The Eu-

somewhat and the

ruins

several miles east of the present course of the river.

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

mythical Gflgamesh (see page 40) was king of this city and

The

city

this

was

by a

also ruled

who

Zaggisi, king of Erech,

conqueror. This was Lugal-

historical

ruled shortly after 2300 b.c.

other Sumerian city-states and was the

first

He

conquered

we know of to
His realm may even

individual

govern a sizable empire in the Tigris-Euphrates.

have reached the Mediterranean. His triumph was short-lived, however,


thanks to another conqueror, associated with Accad, the second of the

mentioned

cities

in Genesis 10:10.

Accad, or Akkad,
site

is

is,

unknown but

it

in

the ancient inscriptions, Agade.

was probably

140 miles upstream from Erech.

The

also

portion of the Tigris-Euphrates region,

The Akkadians who


tical

name to
which became known
gave

city

exact

Its

on the Euphrates, about


its

the upper
as

Akkad.

inhabited these upstream regions were not iden-

with the Sumerians, although they adopted the Sumerian culture.

The Akkadians spoke

a Semitic language, for instance, while the Su-

merian language was non-Semitic (and, indeed, had no known

linguistic

affiliations).

The Akkadians were


2280 B.C., a man named
to

Sharrukin ("righteous king" in Akkadian)

power and established

has

become Sargon

of

under Sumerian domination but about

at first

his capital in the city of

Agade

to us.

came

Agade. That king

About 2264 b.c, he defeated

Lugal-Zaggisi and founded an Akkadian Empire. Sargon's grandson,

Naram-Sin, extended the empire even farther and about 2180

b.c.

was at its height.


About 2150 b.c, however, soon after Naram-Sin's death, barbarians
from the eastern mountains invaded and conquered the Tigris-Euphrates
region and brought the Akkadian Empire to an end. After a century
it

of barbarian domination, the Sumerians

2000
city

B.C.,

won

their

freedom and, about

experienced a last period of power. After that, the remaining

mentioned

The town

in

Genesis 10:10 comes

in.

of Babel was located on the Euphrates River about 40

miles downstream from Agade.

It existed as

a small

and unremarkable

place for over a thousand years while the Sumerian city-states

still

downstream flourished and the Akkadian Empire rose and

While the Sumerians were

in their final period of glory,

further

fell.

however,

another group of peoples from the middle Euphrates, the Amorites,


seized control of Babel about 1900 b.c,

and made

it

the capital of an

expanding empire.

Under the

sixth king of the

Amorite dynasty, Hammurabi, who

reigned about 1700 b.c, Babel became a world metropolis and remained

GENESIS
so for two thousand yean, despite the fact that

conquered and ravished. Indeed,

throughout Old Testament times and

is

was frequently

it

was the glamor

it

East

city of the

known

best

51

to

us by the

its name Babylon. The entire Tigris-Euphrates region


commonly known as Babylonia after this city.
Under Amorite domination, the Sumerians finally broke and declined

Greek version of
is

though their culture remained to be

rapidly, losing their identity,

herited and elaborated by conqueror

The

after conqueror.

in-

language

died out as a living vehicle for communication but remained as part

modem

of religious liturgy (like Latin in the

some 1500

years, not dying out completely

The Amorites
1670

b.c.

Catholic Church) for

300

till

did not long survive the glories of

b.c.

Hammurabi. About

the Kassites or Kossaeans invaded Babylonia from the East

and established a "dark age" that

With southern Babylonia

hundred

lasted for nearly five

thus in eclipse, the cities of the far northern

reaches of the river valley had their chance to gain prominence.

Genesis 10:10 concerns

years.

itself

Whereas

with southern Babylonia, verse io:u turns

to the north.

The King James Version

begins the verse by saving

land went forth Asshur." This


translation of the

"Out of

begin:

Asshur
in

what

gave

its

is

is

now

"Out of

Hebrew. The Revised Standard Version has the


that

land he

that

generally accepted as a mis-

[Nimrod]

went

verse

Asshur."

into

forth

the region along the upper courses of the Tigris River,

now northern Iraq. The town of Asshur (or Ashur), which


name to the region, was located on the Tigris River about

is

230 miles north of Babylon and was founded (by Sumerian colonists,
perhaps) as early as 2700
version of

its

b.c.

Asshur

is

far better

known by

the Greek

name Assyria.

Assyria was part of the Akkadian

The

the Amorite Empire.

Empire and then

later

part of

Assyrian inhabitants of that region, however,

maintained their identity and had periods of great prosperity.


capital of the region

on the

was moved from Ashur

Tigris, first to Calah, then

the

town of Resen, described

two

cities, is

town

The

to cities further

Nineveh. (The

finally to

in verse

The

upstream
site of

10:12 as lying between these

may

not signify

may have come

during the

not known, but the word, like "Calneh,"

at all.)

turning point in Assyrian history

reign of Shalmaneser

I,

about 1250

b.c.

He

is

reputed to have built

Calah and he may have witnessed the introduction into Assyria of the

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE


from Asia Minor, where

art of smelting iron

it

seems to have been

developed.

The

use of iron weapons gives an army a great advantage over

one that

is

armed only with bronze weapons. Iron can be made harder

than bronze and iron edges are sharper and


maneser's son, Tukulti-Ninurta

himself the

I,

blunted. Shal-

less easily

make

used his iron-armed warriors to

of Assyria's conquering monarchs.

first

Despite occasional setbacks, Assyria grew stronger and stronger,


placed the Kassites, and

established their rule over

dis-

of Babylonia,

all

then spread far beyond. By the time the traditions of Genesis were
being reduced to writing, Assyria was the most powerful nation the
world had yet seen.
It

would appear, then, that the

resume

verses 10:8-12 are a brief

of 2500 years of the history of the Tigris-Euphrates region, from the


period of the Sumerian

Amorite Empire, and,

city-states,
finally,

through the Akkadian Empire, the

the Assyrian Empire.

And where in this long history are we to find Nimrod?


The Biblical passage concerning him seems to telescope
of Lugal-Zaggisi, Sargon of Agade,

perhaps even Gilgamesh) and to make his single person


greatness of the Sumerians, Akkadians, Amorites,

And

(and

reflect

the

and Assyrians.

yet to the writers of Genesis, the Assyrians were the latest and

greatest of the empires of the Tigris-Euphrates

to

the deeds

Hammurabi, and Shalmaneser

dim the memory

of

what had gone

before.

and

To

their glory tended

the

first

conquering

king of Assyria might then go the credit not only for establishing
might, but of performing

Assyrian

kingdoms

as well.

(It

is

as

all

the deeds of the preceding

though a child receiving some garbled

notice of America's early history but understanding full well that George

Washington was the


write:

first

flower, discovered America,

and became

The

first

Ninurta
for the

President of the United States would then

"George Washington crossed the Atlantic Ocean

I.

first

conquered Mexico, built

seems very

likely that

have

final

-s,

said, Tukulti-

he served as the original inspiration

Greek legend of Ninus. ("Ninurta" with a few

and the Greek

May-

President of the United States.")

Assyrian conqueror of note was, as

It

in the

Washington, D.C.,

letters

almost invariably used in their

dropped

own names,

becomes "Ninus.") In the Greek legend, Ninus singlehandedly founds


Nineveh, conquers

nomadic

all

of Babylonia and Armenia (Urartu), and the

regions to the east as well, founding the Assyrian Empire.

GENESIS

53

seems quite possible that, in analogous fashion, "Ninurta" became

It

"Nimrod"

to

Nimrod in
monarch in

the

of Genesis.

editors

Indeed,

the

picture of

short

these few Biblical verses seems to point to an Assyrian


particular. Assyrian art

was powerful and cruel and one

of the favorite objects of portrayal was that of the Assyrian kings in


pursuit of big game.

Hunting was undoubtedly a

publicized sport of those monarchs and this


for describing

Then,

too,

Nimrod

well-

undoubtedly the reason

is

mighty hunter."

as "a

succeeded the Kassites

the Assyrians

dominant power

and

favorite

in Babylonia,

which makes

(Cush)

natural to have

it

as

the

Nimrod

described as the son of Cush.

Aram
With Nimrod out

of the way, the writers of Genesis go on

Ham, by

complete the genealogy of

giving the descendants of

Mizraim [Egypt] and Canaan. Some of these have no

sons,

interest and others will be more conveniently dealt with

to

Ham's

particular

later.

Genesis then goes on to discuss the line of Shem:


Genesis 10:22.

The

Shem; Elam, and Asshur, and

children of

Ar-

phaxad, and Lud, and Aram.

Arphaxad begat Salah; and Salah begat Eber.

Genesis 10:24.

The

first

two sons of Shem are Elam and Asshur, the eponyms

of the Elamites

and the

Assyrians,

which

at the

time that Genesis

was reduced to writing were the most powerful nations of the "Semitic"
world.
in the

put "Semitic" in quotes because actually Elam was not Semitic

modem

sense;

certainly not Semitic.

and Assyria and


nial

war)

its

fulfilled

its

language being of uncertain

However,

long connection with both

period,

adversary of Assyria, so that

being

The

And

affiliation,

and

propinquity to Semitic Babylonia


(if

only through peren-

the Biblical criterion of the word. Almost to the

very end of the Assyrian

son of Shem.

its

since

it

it

Elam was

the great unconquered

deserved being listed as an independent

was

clearly the

more ancient

it

deserved

listed as the eldest.

other three sons of

Shem might

conceivably represent other

areas at the borders of the Assyrian Empire,

eighth century b.c.

still

unconquered

in the

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

54

Aram

is

eponym

clearly the

of the

Aramaean

tribes.

from northern Arabia about the twelfth century


the fertile regions round about.

Assyrian Empire after


I,

and

its first

Tiglath-Pileser

For two centuries

I,

Aramaean

raids

B.C.,

These emerged
and

infiltrated

helped weaken the

round of conquests under Tukulti-Ninurta

the latter of

thereafter, the Assyrian

whom

died about

1100

b.c.

Empire remained almost

in a

suspended animation. Western Asia was given a respite and

state of

smaller states were allowed to establish themselves.

Even when the Assyrian Empire had recovered and, after 900 b.c,
began expanding again, an independent Aramaean kingdom nevertheless
maintained itself north of Canaan until 732 b.c. To the writers of
Genesis, then, it deserved notice as an independent son of Shem.

much more controversial. The similarity of sound gives rise


the thought that Lud is the eponym of Lydia, already mentioned
connection with Magog (see page 46). Lydia, in western Asia

Lud
to
in

is

Minor, maintained

its

independence against Assyria although

it

paid

tribute at times.

That

leaves the

two small kingdoms of

Israel

and Judah, which,

at the time that Genesis was reduced to writing, also maintained a

precarious independence. Surely, since

it

was

in Israel

and Judah that

the two chief strands of Genesis were compiled, these would be noticed
as

independent sons of Shem.


In a

way they

were. Arphaxad (better, "Arpachsad," as the Revised

Standard Version has

it)

is

and does

a complete puzzle linguistically

not even seem to be a Semitic name. However, Genesis 10:24


that Arphaxad was the grandfather of Eber and Eber
of the
Israel

Hebrew

is

the

states

eponym

people, which would include the inhabitants of both

and Judah

(as well as certain other related peoples).

Babel

With

the genealogies taken care

of,

the

Book of Genesis

goes on

to relate one last tale centered about Babylonia.

While the descendants of Noah were still a relatively small group,


all speaking a single language, they came to Shinar (Sumeria) and
decided to build a huge tower there, with which to "reach unto Heaven."

However,

God

defeated their purpose by giving each

language, making

it

impossible for

them

man

a different

to understand each other.

CENESIS
Unable

to continue their

and

off,

this tale

complex building

used to explain the

is

activities,

name

55

they had to leave

of the city in which the

tower was built:


Genesis 11:9. Therefore

is

the

name

of

it

called Babel; because

the Lord did there confound the language of

all

the earth

In other words, the writers of Genesis derived "Babel" from the

Hebrew word
This derivation
the

name

meaning "mixed," "confused," or "confounded."

balal,
is,

however, a

of the city

derived the

is

false one, for in

"Bab-ilu,"

Hebrew "Babel" and

There was,

as

meaning "gate of God." From

this

is

the Greek "Babylon."

happens, a tower in Babel; indeed, there were

it

towers in most Sumerian and Babylonian

gods in these

the Babylonian language,

cities.

The

temples to the

took the form of stepped pyramids which were

cities

ascended by inclined planes about the outside. These were called


ziggurats.

A
was

large ziggurat in
left

Babylon was begun by a Sumerian king and

unfinished perhaps as a result of the disorders involved in

the southward march of Sargon of Agade. For


ziggurat remained incomplete

many

centuries, the

and perhaps gained fame because of

its

shortcoming (as does the Leaning Tower of Pisa or Schubert's Unfinished

Symphony).

It

served as the model, one might assume, for the

Biblical tale of the unfinished tower in Babel.

However,

in the sixth century B.C.,

Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon,

finished the largest ziggurat ever built. It

was formed

ing stages (one for each of the planets).

in seven diminish-

The bottommost

stage was

300 feet by 300 feet and the whole structure reared 325 feet into
the

air.

This would scarcely make a respectable skyscraper now, and

much

was, however, the largest structure in southwestern Asia and,

It

remarkable

still,

Babel"finished

Ur

it

was

smaller than the tremendous pyramids built by the Egyptians.

it

was what

is

now

more

so familiar to us as the "tower of

at last.

of the Chaldees

The

eleventh chapter of Genesis concludes with a quick listing of

the descendants of

Shem and Arphaxad. Again

the age of each post-

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

56
diluvian patriarch

The

he

years

given at the time of the birth of the successor.

is

lived after this birth are also given.

for these patriarchs gradually decreases.

of his death

given as 602 years

is

The

(itself a fall-off

969), but Terah, eight generations later,


immediate descendants have lifetimes of

we add up

If

Terah, was
is

bom

the ages,

fit

is

from any source outside the Bible, but

this

now, to

a telescoping of several. If

tell

whether Abram and

we

story,

its

face value,

the

first

or not.

is

to

later altered

the

whom

of the patriarchs from

over those that

came before him,

was that he was the

first

if

now

better-known

the later Jews traced

their descent not only physically but spiritually.

Abraham

b.c.

immediate

the case of Nimrod,

take the Biblical story at

whether he

historical

Abram (whose name was


is

or, as in

his

it

his birth

an individual and a well-depicted individual, too. Genesis

makes him sound

Abraham)

if

historyperhaps soon after 2000

later in

impossible,

is

only 205 years, and his


than 200 years.

would seem that Abram, the son of


There

it

descendants represent actual individuals

however, he

less

the dates of the later events of the Bible

were placed a bit


It

lives

from Methuselah's

292 years after the Flood, or, roughly, 2100 b.c

no way of checking

would better

The total age given


Shem at the time

age of

we

The importance

of

follow the Biblical

Canaan and, according to


that he publicly abandoned

to travel to

legends which do not appear in the Bible,

the worship of idols and became a staunch monotheist. (The legends


explain that his father, Terah, was a manufacturer of idols and that

Abram broke them in anger.)


The tale of Abram begins in
been the focus of the
Genesis 11:27.

first

the Tigris-Euphrates region which has

eleven chapters of the Bible:

Terafc begat

Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and

Haran begat Lot.


Genesis 11

:28.

And Haran

of his nativity, in

died before his father Terah in the land

Ur of the Chaldees.

Ur, therefore, can be taken as the

home

of Abram's family, and the

Abram himself.
Ur was a Sumerian city, founded no later than 3500 b.c. and possibly
much earlier. It was located on the right bank of the Euphrates River

birthplace of

about 140 miles southeast of Babylon and right at what was then
the coastline of the Persian Gulf. It was an important city in Sumerian
days, a center of worship of the moon-god, Sin, possessor of

an impres-

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

58

and probably enriched by an important seagoing comit was on the seacoast.


About 2500 b.c, Ur experienced a period of considerable power
under its "first dynasty." This, however, came to an end after two
sive ziggurat,

merce, situated as

and

a half centuries,

when Ur

under the triumphant armies of

fell

Lugal-Zaggisi and, later, Sargon of Agade.

The

Ur must have viewed these conquerors in a harshly unfavorable light. If it is true that Nimrod represents a dim memory of Lugal-Zaggisi and Sargon, among others, then
it is interesting that in Jewish legend Nimrod is represented as king
inhabitants and historians of

of Babylonia at the time of Abram's birth and

sought, unsuccessfully, to

After the

Ur

of greatness and commercial prosperity under


final

and

entered another period

its

"third dynasty." This

period of Sumerian power lay between 2050 b.c. and 1950 b.c.
it

was during that period that Abram was born.

Ur continued
mentioned

in

Old Testament times and

to exist throughout

documents

as late as

324

Genesis was being reduced to writing,

and obscure

village.

The

to their readers, felt called

b.c.

Abram

Ur was nothing but

upon

there,

to identify

it

it

is

However, by the time

writers of Genesis, in

which, thanks to the birth of

a decayed

mentioning a town

was of surpassing

interest

somewhat. They therefore

"Ur kasdim," which is translated as "Ur of the Chaldees"


better, "Ur of the Chaldeans," as in the Revised Standard Version.

called
or,

described as having

Abram.

kill

of the Akkadian Empire,

fall

is

it

The Chaldeans were an Arabian

tribe

who

pressed into Babylonia

from the south, on the heels of the Aramaeans (see page 54), about
1150 b.c. It was not until nearly a thousand years after Abraham's
time, then, that

Ur

really

became

part of the Chaldean

territory.

Nevertheless, during the Assyrian period, the Chaldeans were the most

important

component

tribal

of the Babylonian population, and

of the Chaldees" was the most economical


regardless of the

way

"Ur

of identifying the town,

anachronism of the phrase.

Haran

The

period of Ur's prosperity was coming to an end during Abram's

youth, however.
tes

The

silting-up of the

meant that Ur could maintain

its

mouths of the

Tigris

and Euphra-

maritime prosperity only by con-

GENESIS
stant labors.
ever,

sapped

The

continuing struggles

energies

its

among

and helped ruin Ur

the Sumerian

59

cities,

how-

Furthermore,

as a seaport.

the rising might of the Amorite rulers of Babylon was gradually bringing
the Sumerian city-states to a

all

It is

in remaining in

Ur and

end.

trade

from Sumeria to the Mediterranean. The Mediterranean


dred miles due west of Ur, but

would have to

one were to

if

cross the northern reaches of the

would be impractical.

Instead,

travel

fertile,

for

lies five

made up

is

settled territory

men and

by the

for

and can

rely

fact

that

Abram and

is

great

one

crescent

miles.

The

travels

over

termed "the Fertile Crescent."

Haran, at the northern peak of

the crescent, and remained there for several years. Haran

upper Euphrates,

sixty miles

River,

away. Haran

is

located

which flows south into the


is

about 170 miles east of

the northeastern corner of the Mediterranean and

now

to

on obtaining food and supplies

familiarly

his family stopped at

on the eastern bank of the Balikh

It

rivers

animals over the route. Indeed, the regions traversed

by Abram make up what

is

hun-

Arabian desert, and

would carry one over a distance of over a thousand

greater distance

routes

due west one

one would follow the

the northwest and then turn south, marking out a


that

future

In doing this, the family was following the normal

that

little

Sumeria altogether.

left

they went forth


from Ur of the Chaldees
and they came unto Haran, and dwelt there.

Genesis 11:31.
.

common

not surprising, then, that Abram's family could see

is

located in

what

southeastern Turkey, just north of the Syrian border.

was, in Abram's time, an important commercial center and therefore

a good place to settle down, at least for a while, and catch one's
breath. Like Ur,

it

was a center of the worship of the moon-god,

Sin.

The Anchor
"Ur of

phrase

Bible points out certain difficulties in accepting the


the Chaldees" and wonders

if

it

might not possibly

be better given as "land of the Chaldees." In that case,

Haran

itself

might be the place of birth of Abram's family, rather than Ur, and
the two might have been confused through the

common

moon-worship.

Ur would make Abram an Aramaean


(or at least the native of a region that later became Aramaean) rather
than a Sumerian. This would square with the description in the Book
of Deuteronomy of the ancestor of the Israelites, presumably Abraham.
Birth in

Haran

rather than

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

6o

In the Revised Standard Version, this reads:

my

was

father."

might seem

It

"A wandering Aramaean

at

first

glance that

who had died

younger brother,

early,

it

is

that Abram's

significant

was named Haran.

cannot

It

be taken, however, that he could possibly have been named for the
city, for the two names are alike only in English. In Hebrew, the
does not really begin with the sound represented by

name of the city


out "H" but by
But
at

it is

Ur

not likely that

this

view

not only firmly embedded

is

German "Ch."
win out. The birth

that represented by the


will

in tradition,

but has

Abram

of

its

attractive

features as well.

Ur
of

one of those places

is

which excavation reveals thicknesses

from a severe flood. It may be that emigrants from


Abram prominent among them, brought tales of this flood

resulting

silt

Ur, with
to

in

Canaan, where

it

entered the traditional story of early

man and

remained there. Other Sumerian legends, such as that of the garden


of Eden, of Cain and Abel, of the tower of Babel,

may

have

also

arrived with them.

The

city of

Haran enters

of which one might say

dramatic battles.

It

into history as

"Abram

slept here." It

is

a place

the site of three

was an important bastion of the Assyrian Empire

and when that empire

fell, it

made their
To the Romans, Haran was known
a Roman army under Crassus was

was at Haran that

standand were destroyed.

last

more than merely

Carrhae. There, in

its

forces

53 b.c,
defeated by the Parthians, a crucial check to the expanding empire.

as

In 296

the

a.d.,

Roman Emperor

Galerius was defeated there by the

Persians in another dramatic battle.

Canaan
Abram's
to

move

father, Terah, died in

Genesis 12:5.

son

Canaan

and
is

of Asia that
sense

is

Haran, and

it

was time

Abram

for

on.

the
lies

And Abram

took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother's

into the land of

name

Canaan they came.

of that section of the Mediterranean coast

south of Asia Minor.

The

use of the

name

in

found in Egyptian inscriptions dating back to 1800

that

b.c.

GENESIS

6l

Canaan was the center of a late Stone Age civilization with distinct
b.c. By 3200 B.C., metalworking had been introduced

towns by 4000

and

it

entered the Bronze Age.

People speaking a Semitic language entered Canaan as early as

3000

b.c.

and

from contact

for the next thousand years, they benefited

with the expanding culture of the Tigris-Euphrates region and by

renewed immigration. By the time of Abram's


already had a long history of

of peoples,

then,

arrival,

Canaan

civilization and was occupied by a mixture

lumped together

in the Bible

as

the "Canaanites."

Despite the Bible's characterization of Canaan as a son of


(see page 44)

Ham

because of Egyptian domination of the land, most

Canaanites not only spoke a Semitic language, they actually spoke

Hebrew. The

Israelites

who

eventually conquered the land spoke or

adopted the language of the people they overcame


essence of Israel's importance in historymade
to their

own

butand

this

is

the

and, in the end, held

values in religion.

Egypt

While Abraham had gone on a thousand-mile journey, he had, in


home, for the culture that had originated in Sumeria

a sense, never left

the Fertile Crescent in his day. Canaan, however, represented

filled all

the western limit of that culture.

When Abram

out of Canaan, he emerged into a


Genesis 12:10.

And

new world

traveled southwestward
altogether.

there was a famine in the land [Canaan]:

and Abram went down

into

Egypt

to sojourn there

This was natural enough, for Egypt depended upon the annual flooding of the Nile for

its

fertility

and

this

rarely

failed.

Consequently

the famines that plagued semi-arid lands whenever the rainfall dipped

below normal usually

left Egypt untouched.


Egypt shares with Sumeria the honor of being the earliest home
of human civilization. By 3000 B.C., civilization was well advanced,

writing
art

had been developed (borrowed from Sumeria, most

and

Egypt benefited by
desert or

likely),

literature flourished.

by sea and

it

its

location. In all directions

could develop

Whereas western Asia saw a

its

it

was

own way without

isolated, by

interference.

succession of different cities or tribes rise

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

62

The Egyptian Kingdom


to

dominance and

fall

and

disaster alternating,

its earliest

age from that same

to ruin, with prosperity

Egyptian history was comparatively calm.

On

the other hand, Egypt suffered in

geography. Egypt

is

a long, thin nation, a veritable thread of a country.

Only the immediate banks of the Nile receive the life-giving water
of the flood and the Egyptians found themselves cultivating some 550
miles of riverside with an average width of just about twelve miles.

This linearity and lack of regional compactness meant that the country
naturally broke itself into isolated fragments.

Toward the end


into

Mediterranean,

and into

this

it

equilateral

Greek

built

that

triangle

up

a delta (as the Tigris

and Euphrates did)

the Nile poured, breaking up into a

delta

sluggish streams

it is

had coalesced

of the fourth millennium B.C. these

two portions. In the north, where the Nile approached the

fertilized

an area

in

the rough

about one hundred miles on

letter "delta" in its capital

form

is

each

an equilateral

that which gave the Nile delta, and, eventually,

whatever their shape,

its

series

of

shape of an

all

side.

triangle

(The
and

river deltas

name.) This Nile delta made up "Lower

Egypt."

South of the delta

is

the river

along either bank. That

About 3100 B.C., a


known by the Creek

is

itself

with

its

thin strip of fertile land

"Upper Egypt."

ruler of

upper Egypt named Narmer, but better

version of his

name, Menes, made himself king

GENESIS

63

over both Egypts and established his capital at Memphis, just about
fifteen

miles south of the beginning of the delta.

capital

was probably selected deliberately because

The

of the

site

was nearly

it

at the

point of junction of the two earlier kingdoms, so that neither appeared


to

be dominating.

Menes was the

first

a ruling family with

king of the

members

1st

dynasty (where a dynasty

following each other

signifies

unbroken

in, usually,

succession) of united Egypt. Eventually, thirty dynasties were recorded


as ruling Egypt,

though some of the

later

ones represented foreign

conquerors.

Egypt's

dom."
2664

It
B.C.

period of high prosperity

first

is

referred to as the

endured during the 3rd to the 6th dynasties


to

2181 b.c, a period of nearly

hundred

five

The

neatly brackets the traditional date of the Flood.

the 3rd dynasty was Zoser and, according to tradition,


reign that the

first

pyramid was

"Old Kingfrom

inclusive,

years

first
it

that

ruler of

was

in his

built.

The pyramids were large stone structures that were intended as vast
tombs for the ruler. The Egyptian religion was strongly death-centered
and

was

it

felt

that the route to eternal

preservation of the body.

many centuries into our own time) was


The mummy of the ruler was buried with

survived

him

in the next

thieves

from

in

mummies (some

was developed and the production of

care.

lay

life

the physical

vastly complicated system of

embalming

of which have

carried through with

vast riches (to serve

world) and care had to be taken to prevent sacrilegious

rifling

the tombs.

The pyramids were

attempts to prevent

such thievery by sheer bulk and strength, together with hidden

and cunningly contrived

passages.

These

almost entirely, although

failed,

in 1922, the British archaeologists, the Earl of

Carter, discovered the unrifled


in 1343 B.C.,

and created

The pyramid madness

trifle

earlier

than the

Carnarvon and Howard

tomb of Tutankhamen,

a ruler

who

died

a sensation.

reached

its

peak

the second king of that dynasty (better


of his name, Cheops).

exits

He
first

in

the 4th dynasty with Khufu,

known by

the Greek version

ruled from 2590 B.C. to 2568 B.C., just a

dynasty of Ur.

He

constructed what

is

now known as the "Great Pyramid," a monster of an edifice built


from a square base 756 feet on each side and rising to a point 481V2
feet above the level of the base. It is built out of huge granite blocks
averaging 2V2 tons in weight, and 2,300,000 such blocks went into the
structure.

According to Herodotus,

to build the structure.

Maybe

that's

it

took 100,000

men

thirty years

not too exaggerated. Relative to

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

64

the technology of the time, the Great Pyramid

man

certainly the

is

the most ambitious

with the possible exception of the Great Wall of China;

project of

and

it

is

most

without exception.

useless,

After the end of the 6th dynasty, a period of virtual snarchy followed.

Egypt

apart into separate segments as a result of the slow decline

fell

Old Kingdom and

of central authority during the later years of the

the steady

and

power of the feudal

to

rise

During a century and a quarter

regions.

towns

of the various

different dynasties

five

was only Egypt's isolation that allowed

ruled, overlapping perhaps. It


it

lords

the luxury of this anarchy; otherwise

would certainly have

it

fallen

prey to some outside enemy.

was not until 2052

It

make

nasty began to

b.c. that central

itself felt

Abram's birth), Amenemhct

By 1991

again.

(about the time of

b.c.

king of the 12th dynasty, came

first

I,

authority under the 11th dy-

to the throne. This initiated the

"Middle Kingdom," a second period

of high civilization and culture.

It

was then that Abram entered.

Pharaoh

Abram eventually found himself in an uncomfortable


when the beauty of his wife attracted unwelcome attention:

In Egypt,
position

The

Genesis 12:15.

woman

princes

The name "Pharaoh,"


Egyptian
that

is,

"the

...

of Pharaoh saw her

and the

was taken into Pharaoh's house.


uniformly used as a

of respect for the

title

comes from the Egyptian pero, meaning "great house";

ruler,

the ruler's palace.

(One might

similarly speak

White House" when one means the American

obliquely of

President, or of the

"Kremlin" when one means the Soviet ruling body.)

The

difficulty of this

impossible to

tell

one asks which Pharaoh


his

harem,

respectful practice

which Pharaoh

we can

it

is

is

that

it

makes

it

quite

being referred to very often.

was that

tried

only answer that while

If

to add Abram's wife to

we might

we can

guess,

never know.
I

would

like

to suggest that

of the 12th dynasty,

who

it

was

Sesostris

Egypt's power to the south and west and under


a prosperity that

Aramaean."

I,

the second king

ruled from 1971 b.c. to 1928 b.c.

might have seemed very

He

extended

him Egypt experienced

attractive to a

"wandering

GENESIS
In fact,

Abram

did well in Egypt.

If,

eventually,

he got

65

into trouble

with Pharaoh and received back his wife only after considerable un-

and

pleasantness,

Canaan, he at

to

he decided

if

it

was the better part of valor to return

man.

least did so as a rich

Jordan River

On

his return

Canaan, Abram found

to

that there was insufficient forage for both


his

nephew, Lot.

It

seemed reasonable

allowed Lot Erst choice of

it

to separate

up

lifted

Lord, like the land of Egypt

Then Lot

Genesis 13:12.

Canaan
was (and

is

his eyes,

him

chose

and pitched

all

is

the

all

as the garden of the

the plain of Jordan

his tent

toward Sodom.

and the one place where water

unfailingly available was in

fertility

and beheld

largely a semi-arid country

is)

The

River.

and generously, he

was well watered everywhere, before the

Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, even

Genesis 13:11.

of

territory.

And Lot

Genesis 13:10.

plain of Jordan, that

herds so multiplied

his

them and the herds

the valley of the Jordan

described in this verse as being like that of

the land of the two great river civilizations: Sumeria ("the garden of
the Lord," that

For

its

the Jordan River

size,

in the world,

Eden) and Egypt.

is,

thanks entirely to

most famous

river

Biblical associations. It rises

from

certainly the

is

its

the mountains that run along the line where the modern states of

Lebanon,

Syria,

and

miles, flowing into

Israel

meet, and flows directly south about 135

an inland

sea without

the Jordan never reach the ocean.

however, that

its full

length

if

to

its

mouth about

fact, it is

from

waters of

and meanders

is

so,

quite unusual. Its level descends

relatively short length, that level drops

from source

three thousand feet, or well over half a mile. In

sometimes suggested that the name of the

this fact

however,

river wind's

The

straightened out would be 250 miles.

In one respect, the Jordan River


rapidly and, in

The

an outlet.

and from

may be mere

river

is

derived

Hebrew word meaning "to go down."

coincidence and the

name may

arise

This,

from

pre-Semitic sources.

The

result of this descent

is

that the water level in the river, over

GENESIS
the lower two thirds of
as

known,

is

The

this

reason for this

tip of the

course,

actually

is

no other

below sea

level.

As

far

river in the world.

that the Jordan River occupies the northern

is

Great Rift Valley, a gigantic downfaulted block

in the earth's

which continues southward past the mouth of the Jordan River,

crust

Red Sea (which

into the long, narrow

and

its

true of

is

67

fills

Rudolf, Albert, Tanganyika, and Nyasa,


portion of the

rift.

All

that section of the

The deep and narrow

through eastern Africa.

in a large arc

fill

sections of the African

the Great Rift Valley

told,

rift),

lakes:

some four

is

thousand miles long.


Despite Lot's opinion, the Jordan
is

not navigable and

is

not a very attractive

river.

It

steaming hot in the summer, with temperatures

it is

not uncommonly reaching 110


ness of the Jordan valley

is

in the shade.

The

general unattractive-

recognized in Genesis 13:10, which carefully

explains that Lot's estimate was before the destruction of

Sodom and

Gomorrah (the story of which is told later in Chapter 19).


In modern times, the Jordan has gained new kinds of importance.
First, it is a national boundary. After World War I, what had once been
Canaan was freed from Turkish control and was set up as a separate
area, Palestine,

of

its

eastern

under British control.

boundary and to the

east

The

Jordan River served as part

was another region, Trans-Jordan,

("beyond the Jordan") also under British control.


Trans-Jordan became an independent kingdom in 1946.
1948, a portion of Palestine
state,

was

which adopted the name of

set

Israel.

up

as

Then

in

an independent Jewish

There was war

at

once between

and the surrounding Arab states. Trans-Jordan occupied and


annexed a portion of the land to the west of the Jordan River and
Israel

changed

its

own name

to Jordan.

(That portion of Jordan west of

the river was occupied by Israel after the Six-day

War

of 1967.)

Hebron
After Lot

apparently

left,

Abraham contented himself with

less desirable region

the

less fertile

and

southwest of the Jordan.

Then Abram removed his tent, and came and


plain of Mamre, which is in Hebron

Genesis 13:18.

dwelt in the

Actually, "plain of

Standard Version,

Mamre"

it is

is

"oaks of

a mistranslation and, in the Revised

Mamre"

with a footnote to the effect

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

68
that
is,

it

might be "terebinths of Mamre." In cither

case, the reference

apparently, to a sacred grove of trees located (according to tradition)

about two miles north of Hebron.

Hebron

itself

twenty miles south of Jerusalem and

is

oldest towns in Canaan. Although


its

name

it is

at the time Genesis was

Hebron

called

one of the

is

here, that being

placed in final form,

was ap-

it

parently called Kirjath-arba in Canaanite times (as stated later in Genesis

23:2):

Genesis 23:2.

Hebron
sand.

Its

still

name

is

Hebron

is

about twenty-five thou-

a population of

God." Various ancient oaks

friend of

"El-Khalil" ("the friend") in honor of Abra-

pointed out as the "oaks of

them

same

Kirjath-arba; the

and has

exists

Arabic

ham, "the

Mamre" but

it is

in

vicinity are

its

not possible that any of

are really four thousand years old.

Amraphel
After the separation of

Abraham and

with which Lot had cast his

from the

The heads

east.

Genesis 14:1.

lot

Lot, the "cities of the plain"

were subjected to invasion by armies

of the invading force are

named:

Amraphel king of Shinar, Arioch king of

Ellasar,

Chedorlaomer king of Elam, and Tidal king of nations;


This seems to picture the situation as
final

it

existed in the days of the

decay of Sumeria.

Elam, the constant enemy of Sumeria


the upper hand.

(see

page

35)

now

had been conquered by Sargon of Agadc and

It

has
for

more or less under Sumero-Akkadian rule. After


gasp of power had faded away, however, Elam moved in.

centuries had remained

Ur's final

In fact, Elamite onslaughts


(I

would

to

like

may have helped

imagine that the news of

Haran or Canaan.

If so, it

may

Larsa. This

34 and helped

Abram

in

that legend in the

traced their descent from Ur.)

well be the city referred

was

to final ruin.

though Cain were

as
fix

Ur

reached

this

might have seemed

slaying Abel at last see page

mind of those who


Ellasar

bring

a city

to in

Babylonian records as

on the Euphrates about twenty miles upstream

from Ur. Ur's decline meant

its

temporary

rise.

Tidal

is

sometimes

GENESIS
identified with

Tudhaliya

the ruler of some Hittite

I,

have more to say about the Hittites

The

ruler

mentioned

of attention from Biblical scholars

At

this

is,

has received the

The

of Sumeria, so

all

already called,

is

prematurely, the king of Shinar.


greatest ruler of the

Hammurabi, who

Amorite line was, as

ruled about 1700 B.C.

code of laws issued in his reign.

hot for him for a while.

its

He

is

have

best

said earlier,

known

Hammurabi

in

for the

modem

eventually con-

made

powerful king Rim-Sin, had

also conquered Elam. (Nevertheless,

recurrent periods of power later.

its

and

copy was discovered

times on a diorite stele eight feet high.

quered Larsa, which, under

had

had taken

(see page 50)

that Amraphel, possibly a local ruler and no more,


little

lion's share

however, Amraphel king of Shinar.

timeabout 1900 B.C.the Amorites

over Babylon. Eventually, they were to take over

will

(I

later.)

who

in this verse

tribe.

69

things

Elam

The column on which

the

code of Hammurabi was inscribed was found in Susa, the Elamite

where

capital,

it

may have been

taken after a successful Elamite raid

on Babylon during one of the periods of weakness of the


It

but

has long been customary to say that Amraphel was


this

seems quite out of the question. Hammurabi reigned some

centuries after the events of this chapter of Genesis


place.

The

Biblical story has

this

The

would be unthinkable

picture, then,

and Larsa acting


Elam, with

in

is

mentioned

Hammurabi's

first

in 14:1)

reign.

of a Sumeria on the decline, with Babylon

is

as a

must have taken

Chedorlaomer of Elam the leading element

of the coalition (even though Amraphel

and

latter city.)

Hammurabi,

pair of city-states under the domination

whom some

Hittite elements are allied

of

(or are perhaps

serving as mercenaries).

now

reach-

ing westward for the rest of the Fertile Crescent, which for

some

Apparently, Elam, having secured the Tigris-Euphrates,

centuries has been under the domination of whatever

is

power had ruled

in the east.

The Vale

of Siddim

Against the invaders stood the forces of what were then the most

populous and prosperous

cities

of Canaan, the five "cities of the plain":

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Zoar, concerning which there


will

be more to say

later.

now

Apparently, they had paid tribute for twelve years but


refused further

payment and prepared

they

to resist.

Genesis 14:3. All these were joined together in the vale of Siddim,

which

The
and

the salt sea.

is

"salt sea"

is

the Jordan empties

the inland sea into which

most unusual body of water

it

is.

not large

It is

in size,

only

about forty-seven miles long and not more than ten miles wide.

Its

only slightly larger than the

five

area

is

370 square miles, which makes

boroughs of

The

New

York

descending Jordan River

it finally

it

miles long

below sea

at 1286 feet

level

when

which are thus lower than

in the world.

the depression in which

sea level,

is

enters the "salt sea," the shores of

any other land area


If

it

City.

the salt sea rests could be

would form a much

larger inland sea

and twenty miles wide, almost

filled

to

some two hundred

as large as the state of

Con-

necticut.

The reason why the


The amount of water
to
is

it

salt sea
it

fill

the depression

the rainfall upon the mountains in southern Syria and

small. Its temperature

in

does not

its

is

high (readings of up to 140

neighborhood) and the

loss of

The salt sea represents a puddle,


The water brought in by the

it

simple.

water by evaporation

so to speak,

is

high.

which has partly

dried.

Jordan River

passes between.

Lebanon-

F. are recorded

is

fresh

contain small amounts of chemicals dissolved from the


over and the banks

is

receives that of the Jordan River carrying

but
soil

it
it

does
passes

These chemicals accumulate

in

the salt sea. If the salt sea had an opening to the ocean the chemicals

would be washed out


sea

would remain

as fast as they

fresh.

water only by evaporation.


behind; more
result,

the sea

is

But there

The

is

came

in

and the waters of the

no opening and the sea

constantly being added and none

is

loses

chemicals do not evaporate and remain


is

removed. As a

now from 23 to 25 per cent dissolved chemicals,


(common salt) and magnesium chloride, plus
of a variety of other substances. It is rightly named

mostly sodium chloride


smaller quantities

the salt sea.

So heavy

is

the salt concentration (seven times that of the ocean)

GENESIS

71

that nothing can live in the waters of the sea. For that reason, the

Greek geographers took to

name

that

it

known

best

is

calling

the

it

Dead

Sea,

and

The name Dead

to us.

it

is

by that

Sea does not,

however, occur in the Bible.

Dead Sea is a partly dried puddle resting


depression, we must not get the idea that it is

Despite the fact that the


at the

bottom of

almost

all

gone and that another

push

little

altogether in a final burst of evaporation.

Dead Sea

of the

Dead

its

is

1310

The volume

feet.

greater than that in

surface area)

latter,

waters. Chemicals

its

greatest

considerably

is

larger lakes (in terms of

in terms of area,

fertilizers in

Sea

that extends into

up about two

is

own Great

Salt

four times as large.

is

source of chemicals and indeed plants

potassium chloride

for the extraction of

that kill life in too great a concentration

proper dosage. Nowadays, the

between the nations of Jordan and

The Dead

contains

it

water, for instance, as does our

The Dead Sea is a major


now exist in its neighborhood
its

of water

1080 feet and

some apparently much

much

Lake, although the

can act as

is

which are very shallow. The Dead Sea contains about

twelve times as

from

be one of the deepest

level has fallen, to

lakes in the world. Its average depth

depth

to disappear

it

that the water

part of the Great Rift Valley. This allows the

fills

low though

Sea,

cause

will

Remember

Dead Sea

lies

Israel.

divided into two unequal parts by a small peninsula

it

from the eastern shores. The northern

thirds of the

whole

area,

is

southern part, making up the remaining third,

depths of from three to thirty

Siddim" mentioned

feet.

is

Dead Sea

making

The

quite shallow, with

It is possible

in Genesis 14:3 refers to the

southern portion of the

part,

the deep portion.

that the "vale of

neighborhood of

this

particularly.

Rephaims

The army

of Chedorlaomer, on

way down the western

its

half of

the Fertile Crescent, quickly subdued the regions east and south of the

Dead

Sea:

Genesis 14:5.

him,

Emims

Chedorlaomer, and the kings that were with

smote the Rephaims

and the Zuzims

and the

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

J2

The

use of the expression "Rephaims," by the way,

The "im"

of a false plural.

add

a further "-s"

therefore, of the
identified with

is

suffix

Hebrew

the

itself

is

The

superfluous.

an example

is

plural,

and

to

Revised Standard Version speaks,

Rephaim, Zuzim, and Emim. (The Zuzim are often

the

"Zamzummim" mentioned

the

later in

Book

of

Deuteronomy.

These people predated those who


the time of
is

Abraham the

arrived six or seven centuries after

Israelites

and

related tribes.

The

tradition

Canaan, the Rephaim

strong that the pre-Israelite inhabitants of

were giants. Indeed, the tradition of the one-time existence

in particular,

of giants, with sizes that are magnified as the tales are passed on from

generation to generation, are very

The

Bible states

flatly in

common

in the folklore of all nations.

one much-discussed passage:

Genesis 6:4. There were giants in the earth in those days

However, the Hebrew term here translated

and there
meant.

It

as "giants"

is

Nephilim

no way of being certain that giants is what is actually


may simply have meant a race of mighty warriors, without
is

particular reference to gigantic physical

size.

The

Revised Standard

Version evades the issue by leaving the Hebrew word untranslated and

"The Nephilim were on

saying

the earth in those days."

Again in the Book of Numbers,


sent into

Canaan by Moses, the

Numbers

13:33.

And

Here
reads:

also the

"And

come from

term

there

is

the report of the spies

them

we saw the

there

which come of the giants

in retailing

Bible has

say:

giants, the sons of

Anak,

Nephilim and the Revised Standard Version

we saw

the Nephilim)

the Nephilim

(the sons of Anak,

who

."
.

At least one reason for the persistent tales of giants may rest in
the wonder felt by barbarian invaders at the sight of the works of
the civilizations they replaced. Thus,

when

the Dorian Greeks invaded

the Peloponnesus they were struck with astonishment at the thick


walls of towns such as

Mycenae and

Tiryns,

which had been

strong-

holds of the defeated Mycenaean civilization. Viewing the tremendous


stone blocks that

made up

those walls, the Dorians decided that they

could only have been built by giants and the Greek myths do indeed
say that the
walls,

huge one-eyed Cyclopes

made up

built

those walls.

of large stone blocks, held by their

out cement or mortar, are

still

(And such

own weight

called "cyclopean walls.")

with-

CENESIS

73

Similarly, the Israelite invaders of 1200 B.C., viewing the elaborate

Canaanitc

fortifications of the

cities,

The term must have been

giants.

may have

felt

they were fighting

used metaphorically at

first,

as a

dramatic expression of the technological advancement of the enemy.

Thus, the verse

Numbers

in

Numbers

13:33.

and so we were

already cited goes on to say:

and we were

in our

own

sight as grasshoppers,

in their sight.

how an unarmed man might feel facing a man with


how the latter might feel facing a man in a tank.
Nevertheless, all such expressions came to be accepted literally and
in later rabbinical legends, the Rephaim, Emim, Zuzim, Zamzummim,
Ncphilim, and Anakim all became giants of absolutely tremendous

which

about

is

a loaded

or

rifle,

would

be strange

certainly

size.

It

were

easily defeated

they were, however, since they

if

by Chedorlaomer and also by the

later Israelite

invasion.
It

no

almost needless to say that archaeologists have come across

is

traces of giant races

in

historic

times.

To

be

sure,

there are a

very few fossil remains, mostly teeth, indicating the one-time existence
of a manlike being even larger than the

modem

gorilla.

These must,

however, have lived a hundred thousand years ago and more, and
is

it

unlikely in the extreme that any existed as recently as Abraham's

time.

Salem
Chedorlaomer's army then turned the southern flank of the Dead
Sea region,

them.

The

upon the

fell

city of

forces of the cities of the plain,

Sodom was

one of those who weTe carried

Abram
sheik),

off to

enslavement.

(pictured in Chapter 14 of Genesis as a powerful desert

on hearing of

in pursuit.

and defeated

sacked and Lot, Abram's nephew, was

He

immediately gathered his

this,

men and

set off

defeated a contingent of the army of Chedorlaomer

and liberated Lot, together with much of the taken loot

As Abram returned from


Genesis 14:18.

and wine:

this victorious raid:

Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread

Genesis 14:19.

And he

blessed him,

and said Blessed be Abram

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

74
Melchizedek

is

Hebrew

for "righteous king"

name

equivalent of the Akkadian


is

Melchizedek mentioned

"Sargon."

and

is

thus the Canaanite

Nowhere

else in the Bible

except in reference to this single incident.

Naturally, there has been considerable speculation as to where Salem

might be located. The

later

meaning "peace") was

Jews decided that Salem (a Hebrew word

a shortened

form of Jerusalem. In the 76th

Psalm, for instance, this shows up:

Psalm 76:2. In Salem also in his [God's] tabernacle, and

his

dwelling place in Zion.

As

is

the fashion in

so that Salem

Hebrew

poetry, the

same thing

must be synonymous with Zion. Zion

of referring to Jerusalem

and therefore

must be another reference

it

seems very

is

is

said twice,

a poetic

likely that

way

Salem

to that city.

There have been objections to

this

interpretation

that before the Israelite conquest, Jerusalem was the

naanite tribe called the Jebusites and that the city

on the grounds

home
itself

of a Ca-

was called

Jebus.

Yet references

in

Egyptian chronicles dating back to well before

the Israelite conquest refer to a city called "Urusalim" which seems

almost certainly to be Jerusalem.


is

indeed a very ancient

name

It

(of

would seem then that Jerusalem


which the derivation

is

unknown
Hebrew

despite the correspondence of the last two syllables to the

word

for "peace")

and that Jebus

is

actually a late derivation

from

Jebusite.
If

Salem

is

indeed Jerusalem, as seems most

appearance of that

city, later so

in the Bible. In fact,

and recorded

in

likely,

it

is

the

first

famous as the seat of the Temple,

one reason the legend may have been retained

Genesis was to show that

at the future site of the

Abram

himself paid tithes

Temple.

Damascus
Abram's great sorrow at

this

time was the lack of a son and heir;

a terrible situation in a family-centered tribal society.

the fact that only

some

He bemoaned

servant, not part of his bloodline, could inherit

his accumulated property:

CENESIS
Genesis 15:2.

go

childless,

and the steward

of

my

75

house

is

this Eliezer of Damascus.

Damascus had already been mentioned


as a place

name

raid in pursuit of

Chedorlaomer:

Genesis 14:15.
is

on the

earlier in the previous chapter

used to describe the extent of Abraham's northward

... he

pursued them unto Hobah, which

hand of Damascus.

left

In Genesis 14:15, the reference might be merely to a place where


later the city of

Damascus was

one with native

actual city,

istence at the time of

perhaps. It

but Genesis 15:2

refers

to an

And, indeed, Damascus was

in ex-

built,

sons.

Abraham and even

thousand years

earlier

believed to be the oldest continuously occupied city

is

the world.

in

It

is

about 150 miles north of Jerusalem, centered

watered area. Indeed,

its

name ("Dammesek"

in

apparently, from the Aramaic phrase di masqya,


resources." It

is

modern nation

The

an important
of Syria

city

and has

even today.

in a verdant, well-

Hebrew)

is

derived,

meaning "having water


It is

a population of

the capital of the

about 475,000.

Hittites

Nevertheless,

God

promises

Abram

a son

his descendants shall inherit the land of

and

also promises

him

that

Canaan and that the people

then, or soon to be, living in the land shall be displaced. (This promise

repeated on several occasions in the

is

Book

of Genesis.)

The

tribes

Canaan are then enumerated, as they are to be enumerated


number of occasions later in the Bible. They were also enumerated

dwelling in

on

in the

"Table of Nations"

of Canaan.

The

Here

given as:

it

is

in the tenth chapter of Genesis, as children

details of the

Genesis 15:19.

The

enumeration change from place to place.

Kenites,

and the

Kenizzites,

and the Kad-

monites,

Genesis

Rephaims,

15:20.

And

the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the

The

Hittite

Kingdom

GENESIS

And

Genesis 15:21.
Girgashites,

There

is

and the

wide variety

Kadmonites are

the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the

Jebusites.
in these

names.

The

Kenites, Kenizzites, and

and southeast. The

desert tribes of the south

all

77

and

Jebusites are the inhabitants of Jerusalem

its

environs. Virtually

known of the Perizzites and Girgashites, except that they


are mentioned among the inhabitants in several of the lists. The
Rephaim I have discussed earlier (see page 72).
The Canaanites are, obviously, a general term for the inhabitants of
nothing

is

Canaan and the Amorites


term. This

come

may be

are used as an almost

synonymous general

because in Abraham's time, the Amorites had be-

the most important of the west Semitic tribes.

over Babylon and were on the

way

They had taken

to the control of

all

the Tigris-

Euphrates (see page 50).

By

far the

most

interesting of the groups listed, however,

is

the

Hittites.

The

Hittites are

sometimes referred to as the "sons of Heth" and

Heth (the eponym of the

tribe)

is

referred to in the tenth chapter of

Genesis as the second son of Canaan:


Genesis

Heth

10:15.

And Canaan

Sidon

begat

his

firstborn,

and

Because the Hittites are invariably mentioned

in

the Bible as

among

the tribes of Canaanites, the feeling arose that they were a minor
people,

no more important than,

let us say, Girgashites,

been heard of outside those few verses


mentioned.

And

yet the fact that

in the Bible in

Heth

who have

never

which they are

Canaan's second-bom be-

is

speaks a certain importance.

The

old Egyptian and Babylonian records

do speak of the "Kheta"

and the "Khatti" respectively (quite similar to "Heth")

as a powerful

people north of Canaan and the thought grew that these might be the
Biblical Hittites

Canaanites after

seemed
in Syria

and that they might not be an unimportant group of


all.

Archaeological findings in the nineteenth century

to point to a hitherto

unknown empire

that had once flourished

and Asia Minor.

Finally, in 1906, a

German

archaeologist,

Hugo Winckler, uncovered

a store of cuneiform tablets near the village of

Bogazkoy

in

central

Turkey, about ninety miles east of the present Turkish capital, Ankara.

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

78

turned out that the tablets were found on the

It

what had indeed been

site of

the capital of

a Hittite Empire.

Further investigation showed that the Hittites had ruled a powerful


realm, had introduced the use of iron and of horse-drawn chariots

(something which the Assyrians were

improve on), and,

later to

for

a few centuries, had disputed the mastery of western Asia with Egypt

when

the latter

How

mentioned only
Actually, this
his

kingdom was

at her

most powerful.

then could this great empire go unnoticed in the Bible and be


as
is

an unimportant

an accident of

immediate descendants, the

tribe?

time of Abraham and

history. In the

Hittites

had not yet reached the

of their strength. Indeed, Tidal, an early Hittite leader,

is

fullness

mentioned

only as a confederate of Chedorlaomer (see page 68) and as of no

more importance than

city-state.

1750 b.c, well after Abraham's time, that the Hittite


"Old Kingdom" was founded and that a conquering Hittite king
It

was not

Sumerian

spread

until

power outside Asia Minor. And by that time, Abraham's

its

descendants were on their way into Egyptian bondage and the focus
of the Bible moves away for some centuries from Canaan.
After a century of Hittite decline between 1500 and 1400 b.c, there

followed a period of even greater power, and the Hittite

dom" was

established.

Under

Shubbiluliu,

who

power and

to 1350 b.c, the Hittites reached the peak of their

moment seemed on

"New

King-

reigned from 1390 b.c.


for a

the point of establishing their dominion over

all

the civilized world. In the end, however, a long war with Egypt wore

them
1200

out; they declined


b.c.

When

first

slowly and then

Empire came

the Hittite

to a

final

more

rapidly,

and by

end.

the Israelites invaded Canaan and the Biblical focus was

stored to that land, the remnant of the Hittites remaining here

there in

Canaan and

re-

and

to the north could be viewed as an unimportant

tribe.

In short, the Bible talks of

and

after the Hittites fell

were in their

full glory.

Canaan before the

Hittites rose to

power

from power, but never while the Hittites

And

since the Bible was, until the nineteenth

century, the chief source of historical knowledge concerning the ancient


East, the great Hittite
ler's

Empire vanished from

work did archaeological

knowledge of man.

finds in the

sight.

Only with Winck-

Middle East

restore

it

to the

GENESIS

79

Ishmael

At the

suggestion of his wife, Sarai,

Abram

takes her servant, Hagar,

as his concubine.

And Hagar

Genesis 16:15.

name

his son's

bare

Abram

a son: and

Abram

called

Ishmael.

known

eponym of a group
Ishmaelites in the Bible, who dwelt on
south and southeast of Canaan. The

Israelites

of these Arabian tribes to themselves

by tracing the descent of those

Ishmael

tribes

the

is

from Abraham.

It

of tribes, collectively

as

the border of the Arabian desert

recognized the kinship

was a descent through a concubine, however,

indicating the view (from the standpoint of the writers of Genesis)


that the Ishmaelites were of subordinate importance in the

scheme of

things.

The Arabians

came under the

in later centuries

influence of Judaism

and even

after the establishment of Islam in the seventh century a.d.

accepted

many

parts

of the Bible and

embroidered the legendary

own fashion. They


be descended from Abram and Ishmael and

material of Genesis in their

considered themselves

to

the Arabic versions of

those names, Ibrahim and Ismail, remain favorites

among Moslems.

According to Moslem legend, both Hagar and Ishmael are buried

in

Mecca.

Circumcision

Ishmael

is

will arise to

not, however, the son

whom Canaan

is

through

promised.

whom

God now

the descendants

renews the promise,

entering into a covenant with Abraham; something that in

would be a

legal,

In return for the divine right to Canaan,

name and

that

national deity.

of

God

Genesis 17:7.

descendants,

his

terms

agrees

Abraham,
to

accept

in

God

his
as

own
the

says:

And

J will establish

thee and thy seed after thee

seed after thee.

human

binding agreement.

to

my

be a

covenant between

God

me and

unto thee, and to thy

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

8o

As

change

the

of circumcision.

rite

"covenant.")

in

God

name

man

child

(The Hebrew term

is

among you

Circumcision
in

to signify the

is

for

it

is

berith,

meaning

says:

Genesis 17:10. This

at

Abram (now renamed Abranew situation) agrees to accept

his "signature" to this agreement,

hama

my covenant,

which ye

shall

keep

Every

be circumcised.

shall

the removal of the foreskin of the penis; a loss which

no way hampers the

sex act,

and does not

result in

any inconvenience

all.

The custom

is,

actually, far older than

Abraham and

its

origins are

was practiced by the Egyptians and by


the Canaanites, who were under the political and cultural domination

lost in prehistoric antiquity. It

of

Egypt

in

Abraham's time. The

rite

was not practiced in the

Tigris-

tale of Abraham's circumcision may represent


a memory of the adoption of certain phases of Egyptian and Canaanite

Euphrates region, and the

culture by the westward-wandering nomads.

Circumcision does not seem to have been particularly important

among

the pre-Exilic Jews.

It

was

of course, and

practiced,

uncir-

cumcised people (such as the Philistines) were looked down upon,


but the overwhelming religious significance of the

rite

seemed

to arise

during the Exile.

When

the Jews in Babylon were trying to maintain their national

existence and to keep themselves separate from the overwhelming


bers of the Babylonians, circumcision grew important. It

num-

marked

off

the Jews from the uncircumcised Babylonians.


It

was comforting, further, to interpret that mark of separation as

the legal witness that the Promised Land, from which the Jews had

been torn by the Babylonian conquerors, was Jewish by divine agreement, and would therefore be theirs again someday. The Book of
Genesis, which was being put into

its

final

form at the time, was

naturally so edited as to stress this point.

The

land was indeed restored and the importance and prestige of

circumcision was thus fixed.


it

Through

continued to be the fundamental

(or the adult convert)

the Greek and Roman period,


marking the entry of the infant

all

rite

into Judaism. It was partly over the rite of

circumcision that Christianity and Judaism parted

company

in the

time

of the Apostle Paul.

Although many people nowadays attempt

to interpret the operation as

GENESIS
a measure intended for the purpose of hygiene or cleanliness,

that to primitive
act

man

(innocent of our

had magical overtones.

It

modem

it is

8l
likely

notions of hygiene) the

may, for instance, have been intended

to ensure fertility.

Sodom and Gomorrah


But while the promised heir

is

awaited, the focus shifts again to the

outside world.

Abraham leams that the cities of the plainof which Sodom and
Gomorrah were the most importantare to be destroyed in a great
catastrophe. It had been in Sodom that Lot had chosen to live (see
page 65) and it had been Sodom that had led the rebellion against
Chedorlaomer (see page 70).

Sodom and Gomorrah

Abraham
cities

in

intercedes

who might be

on behalf of those of the inhabitants of the


nephew Lot is allowed to escape

righteous and his

time to the smallest of the

wife

is lost,

cities

being turned into a

of the plain, Zoar (although Lot's

pillar of salt,

according to the story).

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

82

Genesis 19:23.

Lot entered into

Then

Genesis 19:24.

Gomorrah brimstone and

And

Genesis 19:25.

and

all

"Loot.

the Lord rained


fire

upon Sodom and upon

cities, and all the plain,


and that which grew upon the

he overthrew those

the inhabitants of the

cities,

ground.

The

description of the catastrophe could

eruption, combined with an earthquake;


orite strike. Certainly

a volcanic

such events have proved catastrophic enough even

in recent times. In 1883, a volcanic eruption


in the strait

match that of

conceivably, a large mete-

or,

between the Indonesian

on the island of Krakatoa


and Sumatra killed

islands of Java

36,000 people in Java.

The

question

is,

plain might have

seems to

Sodom and

though, where

refer to the entire depression

and the Dead

the other

cities

of the

been located before the destruction. The "plain"

Sea,

occupied by the Jordan River

which, according to Genesis

13:10,

was "well

watered everywhere."
Certainly the shores of the

Dead Sea

are bleakly infertile

now

but

conceivably that might have been the result of the very catastrophe
described here.

The most

interesting possibility follows

from certain signs that

dicate that in Abraham's time, the level of the

been some feet lower than


the

Dead Sea was

it is

today. It might therefore have been that

at that time confined only to

northern two thirds (see page 71).

The

its

deep portion, the

shallow, southern third might

have been the dry, or perhaps marshy, plain on which Sodom and
sister cities
fertile as it

in-

Dead Sea may have

its

were located, with a fresh-water table that kept the area


drained northward into the

Dead

Sea. This area might,

indeed, have been the very "vale of Siddim" referred to in Genesis

It

might then have been that the catastrophe which overwhelmed

Sodom and

the other

cities,

whether a volcano or earthquake or mete-

orite strike, led to a slight subsidence of the land, so that the waters of

the

Dead Sea

flooded southward; and this flood might have been

the worse as the result of a


level of the Sea. If all this

rise (for

were

some
what was

so,

made

reason) of the general waterleft of

the cities (and

and make-up of Canaanite cities of 1900 B.C., it


wouldn't be much) would be covered by the waters of the Dead Sea.
considering the size

CENESIS
only

It is

no

to say, however, that

fair

such a catastrophe

known and

is

there are

extra-Biblical

no

83

evidence of

reports of any remains

of civilization buried under the waters of the southern end of the

Dead

Sea.

Although not mentioned here, two of the other

cities

of the plain

were also destroyed, according to Deuteronomy:

Deuteronomy

29:23.

the

like

overthrow

of

Sodom, and

Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboim, which the Lord overthrew


anger

Zoar, the last city of the plain,

In the

Book

ing Zoar

among

spared.

Moab, mention-

its cities:

And

Jeremiah 48:33.

joy

and gladness

is

taken from the

Jeremiah 48:34.
the

and the refuge of Lot, was

of Jeremiah, the prophet inveighs against

land of Moab;

From

in his

from Zoar even unto Horonaim

known location of Moab, this would place Zoar, most likely,


Dead Sea, perhaps nearly at the edge of the present

southeast of the
shore, just far

enough from the other

trophe and inundation.

No

trace of

cities to

have escaped the

catas-

Zoar remains in modern times.

During medieval times, by the way, when few Europeans ever saw

Dead

the

Sea, impressions of

of Genesis, were

vapors above

it

most

horrible. Its waters

in

but

it is

they choose. (Such

it if

salt

life,

arising out of the nineteenth chapter

were thought to be black; the

poisonous; birds could not

true, of course. Its climate

contain no

it,

is

fly

miserable and

over
its

it.

not poisonous externally, and

swimming

is

None

of this

is

waters are bitter and

men can swim

in

a remarkable experience, for the

concentration makes the water unusually dense and one cannot sink

it

even

if

one

tries.)

Moab and Ammon


Lot's

two daughters escaped with him from the destruction of Sodom.

While hiding
as

in a

cave near Zoar, the daughters, at

least, are

depicted

convinced that the destruction had been universal. Feeling themselves

to be the only possible

only

man

mothers of future humanity, they made use of the

available, their father, after

making him drunk.

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

84

And

Genesis 19:37.

Moab: the same

is

the firstborn bare a son, and called his

the father of the Moabites unto this day.

And

Genesis 19:38.

the younger, she also bare a son, and called

name Ben-ammi:

his

Amman

unto

name

the same

is

the father of the children of

this day.

The Moabites and Ammonites were

peoples related to the Israelites

language and culture, and the Biblical writers recognized

in terms of

this relationship

by having them descended from Lot, the nephew of

Abraham.

The Moabites and Ammonites descended upon Canaan from


eastern desert

some

five centuries after

century before the Israelites themselves did.

own

The

The

before the time of birth of the

actual origins of the

but they can be twisted

to

Bible says this in

eponym

names Moab and

imply incestuous

of Israel.

Ammon

origin.

this

is

are not

my

people." If

my

taken to read "from [my own] father" and "son of

conquest of Canaan,

is

known,

"Moab" may mean

"from father" and "Ben-ammi" seems to mean "son of


people" nothing more

its

eponyms of Moab and

fashion by placing the time of birth of the

Ammon

the

Abraham's time and perhaps a

[own]

needed. Since for centuries after the Israelite

Moab and Ammon

remained perennial enemies

of the Israelites, the writers of Genesis were probably only too pleased to
record the folk tale of their scandalous origin.

Gerar
After the destruction of Sodom,
of

moving away from unpleasant


Genesis 20:1.

Abraham apparently

associations

And Abraham

the need

felt

and of making a new

journeyed from thence

start.

and

so-

journed in Gerar.

Gerar
It

is

is

about forty miles west of Hebron and a

little to

the south.

only about ten miles from the Mediterranean coast and not more

than twenty miles northeast of what would

now be

considered the

boundary of Egypt.

The
for

its

writer of Genesis speaks of Gerar as being in Philistine territory


king,

on returning to

Genesis 21:32.

his city,

is

recorded as having:

returned into the land of the Philistines.

GENESIS

Canaan

in the

Time

85

of the Patriarchs

Again, at the end of the description of happenings during Abraham's


stay at Gerar, a

summary,

Genesis 21:34.

many

as follows,

is

presented:

Abraham sojourned

in the Philistines' land

days.

This should not be taken to mean that the Philistines actually occupied the territory of Gerar in Abraham's time. Gerar was in the area

which eventually became

Philistine,

to

be

sure,

some

five

centuries

immediately preceding the time that Genesis was reduced to writing so


it

was best

identified in that fashion.

in nature to that involved in

"Ur

The anachronism was

similar

of the Chaldees" (see page 58).

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

86

Beersheba

While Abraham was in southern Canaan, a son was


him and his wife, Sarah, and he was named Isaac.

who was

In order that there might be no confusion as to

Abraham's

heir,

born to

finally

be

to

Hagar, Abraham's concubine, and her son, Ishmael,

were, at Sarah's insistence, cast out.

Genesis 21:14.

and she [Hagar] departed, and wandered

in

the wilderness of Beersheba.

Wilderness
the city

is

itself

a term referring to uninhabited territory

had not

yet been founded. Its founding

the same chapter to Abraham,


the area.

He

who

is

and presumably
attributed in

is

recorded as having dug a well in

established the ownership of that well

by coming

to a

formal agreement with the king of Gerar, an agreement involving an

oath rendered inviolate by the

ritual sacrifice of

seven lambs.

Genesis 21:31. "Wherefore he called that place Beersheba

The name

of the

town can be

said to

mean

either "well of the oath"

or "well of the seven" or, perhaps, "seven wells." In any case

it is

the

water supply that marks the importance of the place. In the semi-arid
land of Canaan, a reliable well or wells

community and Genesis

is

therefore deals in

permanent

essential for a

some

detail

with traditions

concerning the digging of wells.


Beersheba, about twenty-eight miles southwest of Hebron,
far south as

one can go and expect

is

about as

to find a reliable water supply. It

therefore the southernmost sizable

town

in

Canaan and

is

is

usually

taken by the Biblical writers as representing the southern boundary of


the land. Farther south

Hebrew word

When

is

the desert, or

Negev (which

Palestine was under Turkish rule prior to

sheba was a small village with the Arabic


wells were

is

simply a

for "south").

name

World War

of Bir-cs-saba.

I,

Beer-

Some

of

the "Well of

in existence and the largest was called


Abraham." In 1917, the British invaded Palestine from Egypt and
won a victory over the Turks at Beersheba, one which led to the rapid
its

still

conquest of Palestine.

GENESIS
Beersheba

and
the
is

is still

is

now

87

part of Israel, has a population of about 32,000,

the southernmost sizable town in the land (except for Elath,

Red Sea

port)

Its

upon the

present importance depends

fact that

an industrial and manufacturing center, thanks in part to

ness to the chemicals produced at the

Dead

Sea, a

little

its

it

near-

over thirty miles

to the east.

Paran

Ishmael, after being cast out,

made

home

his

in the desert regions

south of Canaan:
Genesis 21:21.

And he

dwelt in the wilderness of Paran: and his

mother took him a wife out of the land of Egypt.


Paran

is

an

ill-defined area usually

marked on the maps

as including

the northern portion of the triangular peninsula of Sinai, which

between Canaan and Egypt. The nomadic


the portions of Arabia neighboring

in

tribes

it,

wandering

are

there,

lies

and

the Ishmaelites par

excellence.

The

region, thanks to its closeness to Egypt,

influence even

when Canaan

itself

was

would be under Egyptian

free, so that

the fact that Ishmael

had an Egyptian mother and an Egyptian wife seems

to express the

geographical and political situation in the personal terms appropriate


for

an eponym.

Moriah

There follows then the well-known story of Abraham's rocklike

and

his readiness to offer his son,

human
is

sacrifice at

God's order. At the

held back from the deed, and a ram

The

faith

Isaachis long-awaited sonas a


last
is

place of the near sacrifice of Isaac

minute, however,

Abraham

sacrificed in Isaac's place.

is

not closely specified. God's

instructions are:

Genesis 22:2. ... get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer
[Isaac] there for

a burnt offering upon one of the mountains

him
.

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

88

There seems no way of determining where the land of Moriah might


be. It is not mentioned elsewhere in the Bible or anywhere outside the
Bible. It
it

is

on the

over two days' journey from Beersheba for

third day, but the direction in

Abraham

sighted

which he was traveling

is

not

given.

Among

the later Jews, the tradition grew that the place of the near

sacrifice of Isaac

of

Solomon was

was destined to be the very place


to

be

but one.

Biblical reference

This place

The

is

exception

at Jerusalem in

at

which the Temple

referred to as Zion in every

a late-written reference:

is

Then Solomon began


mount Moriah

2 Chronicles 3:1.

Lord

built.

to build the house of the


.

Actually, the chance that the place of Isaac's ordeal

Solomon's Temple are the same may be


alism but

is

not at

in Jerusalem

all likely

to

be

true.

Even

was occupied and was within

would not have had entry into

and that of

flattering to later Jewish nation-

in

Abraham's time, the

a well-fortified city.

hill

Abraham

without careful negotiation that

it

Genesis would surely have detailed.

Aram and Chesed


Meanwhile, Abraham's brother Nahor was back

in

Haran and news

concerning him was brought to Abraham:


Genesis 22:20.

Milcah

hath also born children unto thy

brother, Nahor;

Genesis 22:21.

Huz

his firstborn,

and Buz

his brother,

and Kemuel

the father of Aram,

And Chesed, and Hazo, and Pildash, and


22:23. And Bethuel begat Rebekah

Genesis 22:22.
Genesis

Bethuel.

These are eponyms, of course, and the most important are Aram and
Chesed.
is

Aram

is

the

eponym

of the Aramaeans and, earlier in Genesis,

presented as a son of Shem. This apparent contradiction

result of the effort of the final editors of

may be

the

Genesis to keep each of two

well-known traditions.

The two separate births of Aram also serve two separate functions
if Aram is viewed as an eponym representing a people, rather than as an
individual human being. In the tenth chapter, Aram is presented as a

GENESIS
Shem

son of
syria at

Aramaeans were independent of As-

to indicate that the

the time Genesis was reduced to writing (see page 23). Here,

Aram

in the twenty-second chapter,

is

presented as a son of Nahor,

brother of Abraham, to indicate the kinship of the Aramaeans to the


Israelites.

As

for

Chesed, he

("Kasdim"

in

probably

is

Hebrew). This

eponym

the

Chaldeans

the

of

rather appropriate historically, since the

is

Aramaeans and Chaldeans emerged from the desert into the


Crescent at nearly the

The

Fertile

same time (see page 58).

names mentioned undoubtedly represent various Aramaean


them is fruitless now. Huz
Version)
and Buz are of some
"Uz" as in the Revised Standard

other

or Chaldean tribes and speculation about


(better

interest with respect to the

up

This short genealogy

of Job, a matter which will be taken

also of direct interest to the Israelite readers

is

of Genesis since Rebekah

himself
is

Book

in the appropriate place.

first

daughter of Bethuel,

listed as a

is

cousin to Isaac. Since Rebekah

one of the ancestresses of the

is

later to

many

who

is

Isaac, she

Israelites.

Machpelah
Eventually, Abraham's wife, Sarah, died at a time

when she and

Abraham were living in Hebron once more (referred to here at


Abraham bought a burial
its Canaanite name of Kirjath-arba )
.

"the children of Heth." This

though there

The

is

transaction

usually interpreted as

is

some argument about


is

Genesis 23:19.

that which

And

after this,

meaning "Hittite"
not

easily resolved.

Abraham buried Sarah ...

Mamre

Abraham himself was buried

as well as Isaac

by

plot of

carefully detailed.

cave of the field of Machpelah before


Eventually,

is

first

and

his wife,

and

wives (Genesis 49:30-31; 50:13),

By New Testament

Isaac's
all

in the

in the cave (Genesis 25:9)

younger son and one of his

direct forebears of the Israelites.

had arisen that a particular spot


Hebron represented the Cave of Machpelah. The Moslems (who
were to be in occupation of Hebron for thirteen hundred years) respect
times, a tradition

in

the tradition

and improve on

it.

The

traditional site

is

enclosed in

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

stone walls like a fortress and the enclosure

"forbidden" place).
is

One end

is

is

"Haram"

called the

(the

taken up by a mosque and the whole

treated with the deepest awe.

Mesopotamia

The time had now come

Abraham

be concerned over finding


a wife for Isaac, Proud of his ancient lineage, he did not wish to have
Isaac intermarry with any of the Canaanite peoples among whom he
lived. He decided, therefore, to send his steward to Haran where his
brother, Nahor,

among

and

for

his family

still

lived.

to

A wife was

to

be selected from

that family.

Genesis 24:10.

And

the servant

arose,

and went

to

Meso-

potamia, unto the city of Nahor.

The word "Mesopotamia" is Greek and not Hebrew. It is used as a


Hebrew term "Aram-Naharaim" with reference to the
country surrounding Haran. The Revised Standard Version retains
translation of the

"Mesopotamia" but the Catholic and Jewish versions

in

my

possession

use "Aram-Naharaim" without translation, as does the Anchor Bible.

Of

course,

Aram-Naharaim

term "Philistine" was

is

earlier

rather an anachronism as the use of the


(see

page 85).

The Aramaeans were

not actually in possession of that region for some centuries after the

time of Abraham.

Mesopotamia means "between the

rivers"

and was applied by the

Greeks to the land between the Tigris and Euphrates, at

first

only to the

portions north of Babylonia and then to the whole region. In that sense,

Aram-Naharaim (which means "Aram on the rivers"),


is in Mesopotamia. The term "Mesopotamia" remained popular in the
west down to World War I, and was the most used name for what I have
been calling the Tigris-Euphrates region, and Babylonia.
Prior to World War I, Mesopotamia was a possession of Turkey.
It was taken from Turkey after World War I and became a British
mandate. At that time, the native name of the land, Iraq, came into
Haran, and

favor and

all

is

of

now

used exclusively. In 1932, Iraq was recognized as an

independent nation. Although Iraq includes most of the ancient Mesopotamia,


borders.

it is

not quite extensive enough to include Haran within

its

GENESIS

Syria

bride was indeed found for Isaac. She was Rebekah, earlier men-

tioned as the daughter of Bethuel and granddaughter of

Nahor

(see

page 89). She had also a brother, Laban, with whom the negotiations
for marriage were carried on, and who was to play an important part
later in Genesis.

The matter

is

summarized:

And

Genesis 25:20.

Rebekah

Aram, the

Laban the

sister to

Padan-Aram
is

Isaac was forty years

when he took

old

to wife, the daughter of Bethuel the Syrian of PadanSyrian.

"Paddan-Aram"

(or

Revised Standard Version)

in the

clearly a

term synonymous with Aram-Naharaim.

The term

"Syrian"

is

the Greek version of "Aramaean" and through-

out the King James Version, the terms "Aram" and "Aramaean" are
translated as "Syria"

and "Syrian"

respectively.

The Revised Standard

Version speaks of "Bethuel the Aramaean" and "Laban the Aramaean"


in this versealthough even to call

The term
district

them Aramaeans

anachronistic.

along the upper Euphrates. In later times, the Greeks, pushing

eastward, encountered this portion of the

name

is

"Syria" stems back to a Babylonian word, "Suri," for a

Syria (in Latin spelling)

came

Aramaean lands

The

first.

to apply to the eastern shores of the

Mediterranean generally.
In the Bible, once that was translated into Greek, Syria
applied, in particular, to the region north of

came

independence of Assyria in the ninth and eighth centuries

became the

Syria,

with Damascus as

its

to be

Canaan, which retained

capital,

b.c.

its

This

which plays so important

and Second Books of Kings.


The region north of Canaan has remained Syria ever

a role in the First

Greek,

Roman, and Moslem

freed of Turkish rule


after

World War

II,

occupation. After

its

World War

I,

through

Syria

was

and was put under French mandate. In 1945,


the French also left and Syria became an inde-

pendent republic, again with Damascus as


near

since,

northern border.

its capital. It

includes

Haran

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

92

Midian
Before Genesis turns to a consideration of Isaac's descendants, however,

up the matter

clears

it

of the various

Abrahamic

lines

through

concubines. Thus:

Genesis 25:1.

Then

again

Abraham took a

and her name was

wife,

Keturah.

Genesis 25:2.

And

she bare him

Other descendants, over

whom

Midian

is

by

dozen, are

far the best

who ranged over


maps as occupying

Midianites

on the

Midian
listed,

and Shuah.

but most are names

eponyms, one would assume, of various Arabian

only. All are

of

from Sinai by

known. Midian

is

sea,

is

usually

of the

marked

comer of Arabia, separated

the northwest

a narrow arm of the

eponym

the

the land of Midian. This

tribes,

and thus quite

close to the

"wilderness of Paran" occupied by the Ishmaelites. Indeed, the Midianites

and Ishmaelites are used almost synonymously

Shuah
which

is

will

some

of

interest in connection with the

be taken up

the Bible.
of Job, a matter

later.

The descendants of Ishmael are given later


are now only names. Twelve of them are

in the chapter, all of

whom

given, representing twelve

analogous perhaps to the twelve tribes of

tribes,

in

Book

Israel.

One

of the tribal

eponyms is Massa, a name with some significance when the time comes
to take up the Book of Proverbs.
Abraham is recorded, then, as dying at the age of 175, and as being
buried in the cave at Machpelah by Isaac and Ishmael.
later,

Ishmael died at the age of 137 and

fully knotted,

now with

all

half century

loose ends care-

Genesis turns to Isaac and his descendants.

Edom
Isaac

and Rebekah have twin

of the two are contrasted: Esau

sons,
is

Esau and Jacob. The characters


rough hunter, an unsubtle

of the outdoors, loved and admired by his father. Jacob

shrewd

Esau

man
is

living at

home and

is

man

a quiet,

the favorite of his mother.

the elder by a few minutes and

is

therefore entitled to the

GENESIS
birthright; that

property.

He

is

is,

to the inheritance of the

main portion of

93

his father's

also entitled to a father's blessing as his chief heir

such a blessing had great

legalistic

and

value in the society of that time.

Jacob managed, however, to outmaneuver his older brother. At one

when Esau was returning faint and weary from


some of the soup of red lentils which Jacob was

he asked

point,

a hunt,

for

preparing.

Genesis 25:30.

pottage; for I

am

Jacob allowed

him

faint:

pray thee, with that same red

therefore was

and receiving

writer of Genesis thus gives

name

his

to eat but only after

birthright in exchange,

The

Feed me,

Edom.

called

demanding the

cession of the

it.

Esau the alternate name of

("red"), connecting that with the soup of red lentils that

he

Edom

desired.

This made Esau (Edom) the eponymous ancestor of the Edomites,

who,

in centuries to

On
name

come, were to occupy the

the other hand, Jacob,


of Israel,

is

who

Genesis

is

the eponymous ancestor of the

Throughout Old Testament


tween the

later in

territory south of

Israelites

Moab.

given the alternate

Israelites.

was continuing enmity be-

times, there

and the Edomites. This

is

backward into

reflected

an enmity between the eponymous twin brothers.


Such enmity arose not only over the enforced

sale of the birthright,

but also as a result of a second successful deceit on the part of Jacob.

now

Isaac,

blessing.

blind and awaiting death, decided to give Esau the final

To

forestall this,

Jacob dressed himself in Esau's clothes and

put goatskins on his arms to imitate Esau's


to be Esau, obtained

Both these

tales

hairiness, and, pretending

his father's blessing.

show

a younger brother achieving hereditary

dom-

inance over an older. This forecast the actual historic situationwell

The

established at the time Genesis was reduced to writing.

Canaan only

entered

on the

after the

Israelites

Edomites had become well established

outskirts, so that the Israelites

were the "younger brother."

the other hand, through the centuries that followed the

rise

On

of David,

the Israelites ruled over the Edomites.

Bethel

To

prevent the possible murder of Jacob by a naturally resentful older

brother,

Rebekah decided

to send her younger son

away, at least

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

94

temporarily. She persuaded Isaac to order


for himself

him

from the descendants of Nahor

(as

to

Haran

to get a wife

had been done

in the

case of Isaac himself).

On

northward, Jacob slept at a

his nearly five-hundred-mile journey

certain place

and dreamed of

a ladder extending to heaven, with angels

He

ascending and descending.

determined

this to

be a vision of God's

dwelling place and decided that the ground on which he was standing

was holy. (The Anchor Bible suggests that the vision of


really that of a ziggurat,

which

is

built with steps

a ladder

was

working up along

its

outer walls.)

Genesis 28:19.

And he

called the

The name "Bethel" means "house


a temple, or even a ziggurat,
early in

The

of

of that place Bethel

God," an obvious reference

which may have stood on the

to

site quite

sacred traditions of Bethel were to have important consequences

source of heresy

among

kingdom

a thousand years later,

the Israelites.

The

city itself

miles northeast of Beersheba and about eleven

Jerusalem. It
village

Canaanite times.

in the days of the divided

fifty

name

is

named

now

is

and

to

be a

located about

miles north of

represented, according to general belief, by a

Beitin.

Reuben and His Brothers


Jacob reached Haran safely and obtained not one wife, but two: Leah
and Rachel, the daughters of Laban, who was the brother of his mother

Rebekah. The

girls

were therefore

his first cousins.

Carefully, the writers of Genesis record the birth of his children,

beginning with his


Genesis
called his

30:32.

first:

And Leah

name Reuben

conceived and bare a son, and she


.

Jacob went on to have thirteen children listed by name: seven by

Leah, two by Rachel, two by one concubine, Bilhah, and two by

another concubine, Zilpah.

Of

these,

twelve were born during his

twenty-year stay with Laban and one was born after his return to

Canaan.

GENESIS
These may be

9;

listed as follows:

Leah: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Dinah;


Rachel: Joseph, Benjamin;
Bilhah: Dan, Naphtali;
Zilpah: Cad, Asher.
All of these were sons, except for the

one daughter, Dinah.

who was born

Benjamin, the youngest child,

It

was

after Jacob's return to

Canaan.

Each of the twelve sons was the eponym of


his sons
It

is

tribes, of

which

were the eponyms.

sometimes tempting to interpret

terms of a confederation

this in

of tribes uniting for the purpose of conquering


to

though

a tribe of Israelites,

Joseph was, to be more accurate, the ancestor of two

form a loose union

off that confederation

afterward.

(at times very loose)

of descent from a single

man,

Jacob,

(binding

it

Canaan and continuing

The

tradition

would then be a way of marking

legally, in

posed to other related tribes those of

the family sense) as op-

Edom, Moab, and Ammon,

instancewho did not join the confederation or even opposed

for

it.

Furthermore, the division into four groups according to the maternal


ancestress

might indicate closer interrelationships. The "Leah

may have formed

the

tribes" later joined

initial

and the others

still

later.

However, such interpretations must remain guesswork.


formation
is

we have concerning

what can be found


It is interesting,

names

in the

chief role

only

in-

and

this

is

not enough for the purpose.

though, that most of the sons of Jacob remain only

Book

among

tribes.

The

the early history of the Israelite tribes

in the Bible

The only two who really appear as


and Joseph, the former eventually playing the

of Genesis.

individuals are Judah

Rachel

tribes"

confederation, to which a pair of "Rachel

the Leah tribes and the latter the chief role

Moreover, when the

Israelite

kingdom was

among

the

divided, the

Joseph tribes (there were two of them) dominated the northern king-

dom, while the


Genesis

is

tribe of

built

up

Judah dominated the southern kingdom.

chiefly of a pair of traditions,

the northern kingdom, with

tales

developed in the southern kingdom, with

While members of

all

one developed

in

of Joseph prominent; the other


tales of

twelve tribes are Israelites,

Judah prominent.
it is

the members

of the tribe of Judah only that are, strictly speaking, Judeans, or Jews.

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

96

Seir

Jacob prospered

in

Haran and

with his father-in-law, Laban,

and

cattle,

his

with his wives, his children, his

to prepare the

way

brother unto the land of

such a meeting:

Seir, the

country of

Edom.

pictured as already dwelling in the area which, centuries later,

is

was to be occupied by the Edomites. Seir


land which

More

face his estranged

to

for

Jacob sent messengers before him to Esau his

And

Genesis 32:3.

Esau

left

goods. His next problem was

He had

brother, Esau.

long-drawn-out quarreling

finally, after

more

is

much

of

Edom.
name given

usually called

specifically, Seir

that covers

an alternate name of the

is

the

is

Edom. This

to the range of

mountains

range runs in a north-south direction

from the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Aqaba, the northeastern arm of the

Red

Sea. Directly to the west of this range

which

is

now

called

Wadi

is

a deep,

narrow depression,

el-Arabah, a continuation of the Great Rift

Valley.

The Wadi
and

at

its

cl-Arabah starts below sea level at the

Dead

highest point, just about halfway between the

the Gulf of Aqaba,

though even

it

rises to

at that point

some seven hundred

it is

feet

Sea, but

rises,

Dead Sea and

above sea

level,

flanked by considerably higher ground,

and west.

east

Sometimes the name

Seir

is

applied specifically to the highest

tain peak of the Seir range, which

about

An

thirty miles

alternate

is

known

as

south of the Dead Sea and

name

of

Mount

Seir

is

Mount
is

Seir. It

mounlocated

feet high.

about 4400

Mount Hor. This

fact that prior to the occupation of the land

is

reflects

by the Edomites,

it

the

was

occupied by a group of people called Horites. Thus, in the description


of the peoples defeated by Chedorlaomer, the account includes:

Genesis 14:6.

The

And

the Horites in their

Mount

Seir

Horites were, apparently, a non-Semitic people related to the

Hittites. It

was only a

relatively small

segment of these that had found

way so far south. Their main concentration was farther north and
they are more frequently called "Hurrians." (The Horites to the south

their

GENESIS
may, however, have been a distinct people with a

name

97

that only

coincidentally resembled that of the Hurrians of the north.)

Like the Hittites, the Hurrians (Horites) had not yet reached the

About 1475 B.C., however,


they formed the kingdom of Mitanni along the northern Euphrates,
period of their greatness in patriarchal times.

taking up the area referred to in the Bible as Aram-Naharaim. For a


while, Mitanni

was one of the great powers of western Asia and held out

A century later, however,


New Kingdom and by 1275 B.C. it

was over-

against a conquering Egypt.

it

shadowed by the Hittite

was defeated

and absorbed by the Assyrians.

When

the Israelites were conquering Canaan, the great days of

Mitanni were over. Like the

when

interval

had

Hittites, they

the Bible's attention

is

flourished during the

absent from Canaan, and their

deeds are therefore not recorded.

The Hurrians

had, apparently, more of an influence over the early cus-

toms of the patriarchal period than had been expected. The Anchor
Bible painstakingly analyzes the tales of the marriages of the patriarchs,
of the position of concubines, of questions concerning birthright, and
so on,

and

stories of

rian

finds that

Abraham,

much

that

in the

Hur-

had explained that the Anchor Bible expressed doubt

as to

custom.

Earlier

whether Abraham's origins were

whether the
Aramaeans.
in

would otherwise be puzzling

and Jacob becomes

clear in the light of

Isaac,

Israelites
If

Ur

in

or in

Haran

(see page 59)

and

could trace their ancestry to Sumerians or to

Haran were the

origin,

it

would perhaps be

at a point

time before the coming of the Aramaeans but not before the coming

of the Hurrians (or the people from


their culture).

wandering Hurrian was


Semitic

is

whom

the Hurrians had borrowed

Perhaps one might properly have the

my

father."

The

not a crucial argument against

the Israelites adopted

fact that the

Israelites say:

Hurrians were not

this theory. It

the Canaanite language

"A

seems clear that

when they occupied

Canaan; who can tell what their language might have been
might have had strong Hurrian components.

earlier.

It

Israel

Esau came to meet Jacob and the two approached each other east of
made ready for the meeting in considerable fear. His

the Jordan. Jacob

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

98

company, including

his wives

and

children, were

for instance,

was

most vulnerable. The

company

act of traveling with them, of getting the

mere

across rivers,

difficult.

And he

Genesis 32:22.

rose

up

that night

and passed over the

ford Jabbok.

The Jabbok River is

a tributary of the Jordan, flowing into

east at a point about twenty-five miles north of the

it

Dead

from the

Sea.

After Jacob had supervised the crossing of the Jabbok on the part of
his

company and while he yet remained alone on the other side "there
man with him until the breaking of the day." In the morning,

wrestled a

Jacob's adversary said:

Genesis 32:28.
Israel

Thy name

shall

be called no more Jacob, but

and thus he became the eponym of the

Israelites.

The

descendants of

Jacob are regularly called "the children of Israel" in the Bible.

conquered Canaan,

kingdom

of David

the greater in
Finally,
it

the

it becomes the "land of Israel." When the


and Solomon breaks up, the northern part, which is
area, population, and power, is called Israel.

Israelites

1948,

Once

when

the

took the

modern Jewish

name

state

was established in Palestine in

Israel.

Shechem
Fortunately, Esau seemed to hold no grudge against Jacob, but
treated

him

and generously. Nevertheless, Jacob, not comthe good will of his brother, managed to persuade Esau

graciously

pletely trusting

to return to Seir

and

Jacob then settled


Genesis 33:18.

and pitched
Shalem

is

to leave

down

And

not mentioned, as a

James Version

is

he did

own

devices.

Jacob came to Shalem, a city of Shechem

for "peace"

it:

his family to their

Canaan:
.

his tent before the city.

Hebrew word
has

him and

in

city,

elsewhere in the Bible. It

and the passage

clearly a mistranslation.

The

as

it

is

the

stands in the King

Revised Standard Version

"And Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem." In other words


not come to Shalem, a city of Shechem; he came "in peace" to

the city of Shechem.

GENESIS

The City
Shechem

is

this

Shechem

about thirty miles north of Jerusalem and

farther north than the areas

more than

of

considerably

is

where Abraham and Isaac dwelt.

hundred miles north of

99

Seir,

and no doubt Jacob

It

was

felt

that

was the sort of comfortable distance he wanted between himself

and Esau.

Shechem

is

located in a narrow valley, not

more than

hundred yards

wide, between two mountains; a most strategic position, for

it

controls

the road from the Jordan River to the sea, and from southern Canaan
to northern.

important

Through much

city

of Biblical times, therefore,

it

was the most

north of Jerusalem.

For forty years after the division of the Davidic kingdom, Shechem
served as the capital of the northern kingdom. After that,
capital of the northern

kingdom was moved

to Samaria,

five

when

the

miles north-

west of Shechem, the importance of the older city began to decline.


After the destruction of Judca by

Rome,

the

Emperor Vespasian

initi-

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

lOO

ated the rebuilding of a town near the

Shechem, renaming
into Nablus,

its

what had once been

site of

Neapolis ("new city"). This has been distorted

it

present name.

It

has a popultion of about 42,000.

Shechem was an important religious center, too. The first


by Abraham after he entered Canaan was near Shechem:
Genesis 12:6.

And Abram passed

Sichem [Shechem]
Genesis 12:7.

through the land unto the place of

and there builded he an

All through Biblical times,


it

Shechem

retained

served as a rival at times even to the

Hamor

altar built

altar

unto the Lord

sacred character and

its

Temple

at Jerusalem.

the Hivite

Jacob's stay in

Genesis 34:1.

Shechem

was, however,

And Dinah,

marked by tragedy:

the daughter of Leah

went out

to

see the daughters of the land.

Genesis 34:2.

And when Shechem

The

inhabitants of

mentioned

Shechem

Hamor

the son of

prince of the country, saw her, he took her

the Hivite,

and

defiled her.

are here spoken of as Hivites.

chiefly in connection with

Shechem

These are

in the present instance

and, in the Book of Joshua, as inhabiting Gibeon, a city some twentyfive

miles south of Shechem. It

is

usual,

therefore, to consider the

Hivites another petty Canaanite tribe, concentrated in central Canaan.

The Anchor

Bible suggests, however, that the Hivites are a Hurrian peo-

ple. Indeed, there

may be some

between Horites, Hivites, and


try to

confusion, here and there in the Bible,

and

Hittites,

it is

not really practical to

untangle the matter completely.

Shechem wanted

Dinah after the rape, but the sons of Jacob


if Shechem and all the males of the city
be circumcised. (The lack of circumcision would seem
to marry

agreed to permit this only

would agree

to

to indicate that the Shechemites were not Semitic

favor

of

the

Hurrian

theory.)

After

the

and

this

is

circumcision,

a point in

while

the

Shechemites were sore and uncomfortable, the sons of Jacob struck at

them

to avenge the rape.

Genesis 34:25.

upon the

city boldly,

Simeon and Levi, Dinah's brethren


and slew all the males.

came

GENESIS

101

This chapter of Genesis breaks into the personal story of Jacob and

and seems

his sons

to describe a bit of early tribal history. It

that two individual

war of
rapist,

is

stroyed

by

have happened

is

Rather, this

city.

eponyms. Even

their

is

Shechem, the

that three tribes in alliance attempted an

on central Canaan prior

The

land.

beings would attack a

an eponym.

What may
assault

human

represented

tribes,

not likely

is

tribe of

to the general Israelite conquest of the

Dinah was defeated

and was then avenged by the

at

Shechem and virtually deSimeon and Levi, who

tribes of

themselves however, must have suffered badly and retired greatly weakened, eventually to join the Israelite confederacy
assault

That

when

it

gathered to

Canaan.
this

is

so

is

suggested by the fact that during the tribal period

during and after the conquest of Canaan, Simeon and

among

the weakest of the tribes. Simeon occupied land in the far south

and was absorbed by Judah soon


even assigned any coherent
towns.

Levi were

The

after the conquest. Levi

district

was never

but merely held certain isolated

Levites in later times served a priestly function and were

never again noted as warriors.

That the
and

assault

that Jacob

fact

as

is

on Shechem was

really a failure

is

archal associations with


to

the

raid

finding himself forced to leave the area for fear of reprisal.

Nevertheless, the stay of Jacob in the area brought

still

indicated by the

recorded as protesting bitterly against

Shechem.

be found "Jacob's Well," and a

Joseph. Indeed, the tradition arose in


Jacob's sons were buried near

on

certain patri-

mile and a half east of the city


bit farther east, the

New

tomb

Testament times that

all

is

of

of

Shechem.

Ephrath
Jacob and his family, after the troubles at Shechem, traveled southward about forty miles, passing through Bethel with its awe-inspiring

memories

for

Jacob and then on

to

point somewhere

between

Jerusalem and Hebron.

En

route, the caravan

had

to stop for Rachel

was giving birth to her

second son, Benjamin, Jacob's youngest and the only son to be born in

Canaan. With
not survive.

this birth,

however, came tragedy again, for Rachel did

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

102

Rachel died, and was buried in the way to

And

Genesis 35:19.

Bethlehem.

Ephrath, which

is

This

mention of Bethlehem

the

is

its earlier,

first

in the Bible,

Ephrath being

name

of the tract of

Canaanite name, or perhaps being the

land in which the town

itself

was located.

Bilhah

While Jacob and


and Hebron,

Genesis 35:22.
that

his family dwelt in the region

And

heard

it

Nothing further

is

came

it

Reuben went and

Israel

it

may be

to pass,

when

Israel

dwelt in that land,

lay with Bilhah his fathefs concubine:

and

said

about

found the matter too repulsive

And

between Bethlehem

another variety of unpleasantness took place.

still

this, as

though the writers of Genesis

to pursue.

that this, too, reflects early tribal history.

Reuben must have been

quite powerful at

first.

Since

The

Reuben

is

tribe of
listed as

the oldest son of Israel, it may have been the leader of the confederacy
when it was first formed.
The episode described above, may mirror an attempt by Reuben to
make its leadership absolute. (One of the methods by which a usurper

attempted to dramatize and legitimize his position in Old Testament


times was to take over the harem of his predecessor. Absalom did this

when he
civil

war

rebelled against David, his father.)

heard

("Israel

Reuben's primacy was

it") in

lost

Reuben played a minor

and when the

role.

There may have followed a

which Reuben was defeated. Certainly,

Nor

Israelites

conquered Canaan,

did the tribe survive long afterward.

Amalek
Before going on with the tale of Jacob's sons, the writers of Genesis
again pause to tie

180
of.

is

described,

Notably:

up some

loose ends.

The

death of Isaac at the age of

and then the genealogy of Esau

is

given and disposed

GENESIS

103

Genesis 36:10. These are the names of Esau's sons; Eliphaz

And the sons of Eliphaz were Teman


And Timna was concubine to Eliphaz

Genesis 36:11.

Genesis 36:12.
bare

Amalek

As

will

and

Book

are of interest in connection with the

is

be discussed when that book

Amalek, he

for

Teman

Eliphaz and

Job and this

the

eponym

is

of

taken up.

of the Amalckitcs, a tribe appar-

ently considered by the Israelites to be related to the Edomites, since

Canaan near the Edomite territory.


eponyms of the non-Israelite nations. Genesis
mentioned
point
has
up to this
a number of tribes as having descended
they lived south of

Amalek

is

the last of the

from Terah. All of these may,


Hebrews, since

all

father of Terah.

in a very general sense,

are descended

The

be

classified as

from Eber, the great-great-great-grand-

relationships can be

made

clear

from the accom-

panying simplified genealogical table.

Seir the Horite

The Book of Genesis then goes on to make a quick list


Edom. They list first the Horite rulers who preceded

of the rulers of

the Edomites:

Genesis 37:20. These are the sons of Sen the Horite


Seir

is

eponym.

eponym

the Horite
It is

of the nation as

Edom

is

the

Hebrew

very likely, of course, that the Edomites did not replace

the Horites root and branch, but, as


conquests, settled

among them and

Thus, although Esau

is

is

customary

in the case of

such

intermarried with them.

earlier described as

having married "daughters

Heth" (Genesis 26:34), one of his wives is, in this present chapter,
described as "Adah the daughter of Elon the Hittite," and another
of

as:

Genesis 36:2.

Aholibamah the daughter of Anah the daughter

of Zibeon the Hivite.

(The second "daughter"

in the verse

is

changed to "son"

in the

Re-

vised Standard Version.)

By

Hivite, here,

entirely

is

probably meant Horite. For that matter,

beyond the bounds of

possibility that

it

is

not

by "Elon the Hittite"

is

B
.2.

\3-

'II

& * w

2;

S3

t
2 2

fl

O C

o,

CENESIS
meant Elon, the Horite. As
tion

IO5

said earlier, the Hittite-Hivitc-Horite situa-

hopelessly confused at times. It seems very likely, however, that

is

these passages of the Bible indicate an intermingling of the

Edomite

invaders with the Horites already dwelling in the land.

Bela and Jobab

The

Edom

chapter ends with a

of the successive kings that reigned over

list

before the kingship had been established in Israel.

kingship was not hereditary, since each

one before, so that an

to the

The

first

Genesis 36:32.
Genesis 36:33.

who shows up

Israelites,

is

is

reigned in
.

Edom

reigned in his stead.

sometimes equated with Balaam the son of

in the

while Jobab

evolved.

interest.

And Bela the son of Beor


And Bela died, and Jobab

Bela the son of Beor


Beor,

be unrelated

to

monarchy may have been

elective

two kings are of

new king seems

The Edomite

Book

of

Numbers

as an adversary of the

sometimes equated with Job, the hero of the

book of that name.

The

first

identification

is

very unlikely

probably accidental similarity of names.


also

be unlikely, but

it is

and

arises

The second

among

identification

may

a more attractive one for there are other con-

nections between this chapter of Genesis and the


stance,

only through the

Book

the names given in the Horite genealogy

of Job. For inis

one reminis-

cent of Job's native land, Uz.

Genesis 36:28.

The

children of

these;

Uz, and Aran.

and deals with the

story of Joseph,

Dishan are

Potiphar

Genesis

who

is

spoiled

now

enters

by the

fact.

talebearer against
to

its last

section

described as Jacob's favorite son and

foreshadow a

He

who

is

more than

a little

earns the hatred of his brothers by acting as a

them and by telling of dreams he has had which seem


day when he will be supreme over the family.

One day, Jacob sent


who were grazing the

Joseph to inquire after the welfare of his brothers,


family's flocks in the

neighborhood of Shechem

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

io6

(another reason for patriarchal associations particularly that of Joseph

and

his

brotherswith that

They had

left

Dothan, a town about

The

there.

city).

Shechem by the time he


fifteen miles farther

brothers spied

him from

and had passed on to


north. Joseph followed them

arrived

the distance and conspired to

kill

him. At the intervention of Reuben or Judah (there are two traditions

one stemming from the northern

here,

tribes

and the other from the

southern, and both are included by the final editors of Genesis) he

not

killed

killed

but

is

sold to passing nomads. Jacob

is

then told Joseph was

by wild beasts and the old father goes into deep mourning.

Joseph

carried southward, then westward to Egypt:

is

Genesis 37:36.

And

the Midianites sold

phar, an officer of Pharaoh's

Except
64) this
story.

is

is

the

first

appearance of

into

Egypt unto ?ot>

Abraham's stay in Egypt (see page

for the short episode of

Where Abraham's

him

land as the scene of the Biblical

this

stay involves

no

details except for the

of Pharaoh and his harem, the description of Joseph's stay


circumstantial. It begins immediately with the

an Egyptian which, indeed,

is

mention of

a thoroughly Egyptian

mention

much more
the name of

is

name. Potiphar

is

whom Ra gave." (This


own Western world.)

the shortened form of "Potiphera" meaning "he


is

analogous to the

name "Theodore"

our

in

Pharez and Zarah

In view of the overwhelming importance of Judah


later history, the writers of

Genesis

felt it

among

the tribes in

necessary to incorporate

some

Judean genealogy. This seemed to them to be the logical point Joseph

had disappeared and the lapse of time could be emphasized by

a shift in

focus.

In circumstantial detail,

ing with Tamar, a


sons, each of

it is

woman who had

whom

how Judah was

told

originally

had died young and

birth to twins, presenting

them

as

new

tricked into consort-

been married to two of

childless.

Tamar

his

then gave

heirs to Judah.

During the childbirth, one of the twins began to emerge and the
midwife tied a scarlet thread about the
first-bom.

However:

finger, declaring

him

to

be the

CENESIS
Genesis 38:29.

came

out:

Genesis 38:30.

name was

The two

and ...

he drew back

name was

/its

And

his

hand

[and] his brother

called Pharez.

came out

afterward

107

his brother

and

his

called Zarah.

brothers are called Perez and Zerah in the Revised Standard

Version and these names are preferable.

The

who mark

twin brothers are eponyms

the two chief clans of

the tribe of Judah, the Zerahites (or Zarthites) and the Pcrezites (or
Pharzites).

The

tale told here

undoubtedly

reflects

some

early tribal

history.

Apparently, within the tribe of Judah, the Zerahites achieved early

dominance

after

two

clans, represented

out. Therefore Zarah (Zerah)

is

listed

by Judah's older sons, had died

here as technically the

In time, however, the Perezites achieved the leadership, as

by the

fact that

Zarah drew back and allowed

is

first-born.

indicated

his twin the actual

primacy

of birth.
If

the importance of the Perezite clan needed reinforcement in the

eyes of the later Jews,

Perezites, a fact

Pharaoh

is

it

only necessary to point out that the great

and therefore

hero-king, David,

made

the subsequent Judean kings were

all

clear in the

Book

of Ruth.

[of Joseph]

In Egypt, Joseph, through his diligence and intelligence, prospers

and

is

made steward

of Potiphar's household. However, Potiphar's wife

attempts to seduce the young

man

and, on failing, accuses

husband of having tried to rape her. Joseph

is

him

to her

cast into prison.

There, again by his diligence and intelligence, he gains the favor of


the

jailer.

He

also gains the respect of his fellow prisoners

by showing

himself to be an ingenious interpreter of dreams. In particular, Pharaoh's


is gratified by Joseph's dream interpremention the matter to Pharaoh, but forgets.

butler, temporarily imprisoned,

tation

Nor

and promises
is

it

to

only the prisoners

Genesis 41:1.

And

it

came

behold, he stood by the

to pass

that Pharaoh dreamed,

and

river,

Pharaoh dreamed that seven


that seven lean cows

who dream:

emerged

fat

after

cows emerged from the

them, ate the

fat

river,

but

cows but remained

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

io8
as lean as before.

He

woke, then

asleep

fell

and dreamed

similarly

about seven good ears of grain and seven bad ones.


Pharaoh's wise

monarch's

Hebrew

men were

satisfaction.

Now

who had been

slave

unable to interpret the dream to the


Pharaoh's butler finally remembered the
in prison with

him.

Joseph was called for and interpreted the dreams at once.


fat

years, while the seven lean

The

seven

said,

meant seven prosperous

cows and seven bad

ears of grain represented

cows and seven good ears of

grain,

he

seven years of famine to follow, years of famine that would consume

the land.

The

grain of the good years should therefore be carefully

preserved and stored against the bad years to come.

Pharaoh was struck favorably by the interpretation and suggestion

and placed Joseph in complete charge. Quickly he became the


ful prime minister of Egypt.

all-power-

The question is, then, who was this Pharaoh, who was so
to a Hebrew slave and who, later, was to be benevolent to the

favorable

Jacob generally?
for

He

Egypt had so long been

hostile at worst

family of

could not very well be the usual run of Pharaohs


isolated that they

and patronizing

Pharaoh was considered

as a

were quite xenophobic;

at best to foreigners.

The Egyptian

god by the Egyptians and by Pharaoh

himself and he was not likely to delegate power to Asian foreigners.

Unless
If

he himself were an Asian

we rum

to Egyptian history,

foreigner.

we

find that the

Middle Kingdom

of Abraham's time (see page 64) lasted for two hundred years, from

1991 b.c. to 1786

When

B.C.,

the Middle

enduring through

Kingdom decayed

much

of the patriarchal period.

there followed a

new

period of

anarchy in Egypt, with weak dynasties ruling different portions of the

kingdom.

About 1730 b.c. Egypt's weakness made it possible for Asian invaders
to begin moving into the land. The Semitic invaders who, for a century
and a half, were to rule the Nile delta and, on occasion, parts of
the upper reaches of the Nile also, are called the Hyksos, which seems
to

be derived from Egyptian words meaning "foreign kings."

The

Hyksos, making up the 15th and 16th dynasties in the ancient

(more or

less

mangled)

lists

of Egyptian kings, established their capital

at the northeastern edge of the delta, the point closest to Asia.

There

is little

record of the Hyksos and their rule remaining today,

for later Egyptian historians apparently found the story of Egypt's

defeat and subjection too unpleasant to talk about.

The

only account

GENESIS

IO9

we have is that to be found in a book by Josephus, a Jewish historian


who lived in the first century a.d. and who quoted from Manetho, an
Egyptian historian who lived three centuries before Josephus' time.
From this, we might judge that the Hyksos ruled not only over the
Nile delta, but also over part of the western half of the Fertile Crescent.
If so,

this

important.

is

Until the story of Joseph, the

Book

of Genesis

except for a ten-verse description of Abraham's


natural.
least,

Canaan had been, from the time

had ignored Egypt


there.

visit

of Sargon

This was

Agade

of

at

and perhaps even from the time of Lugal-Zagissi of Erech, un-

der the influence of the Tigris-Euphrates region. For


period, indeed, the Fertile Crescent

had been a

This meant that movement was free between


Crescent.

much

of

the

single realm, politically.


all

parts of the Fertile

Abraham had come from Ur; his servant, and later


Haran temporarily; Sodom and its allies fought

Jacob,

returned to

had

against in-

vading armies from the Tigris-Euphrates.


Egypt, however, was another civilization and another world and was

more

separated from the Fertile Crescent by a


cal

boundary. Beginning in 1730

B.C.,

or less permanent politi-

however, that political boundary

was erased and the same power the Hyksos ruled over Canaan and

move freely and


when the Midianites purchased Joseph in Canaan it was easy to sell
him as a slave in Egypt.
The picture of the friendly and gracious Pharaoh of Joseph's time
over Egypt. Travelers between the two regions could

may

therefore

be that of one

of the

Hyksos

Joseph a fellow Semite and would consider

rulers.

it

He

would

find

perfectly thinkable to

place the Egyptians under a Semitic viceroy.

Even

this

much

is

conjecture, of course, although

conjecture, for the Bible

no

it

is

makes no mention of the Hyksos

historical source outside the Bible (or those derived

reasonable

as such,

and

from the Bible)

makes any mention of Joseph or of the dramatic events described in


Genesis concerning his stay in Egypt. And even if Joseph's Pharaoh
were indeed one of the Hyksos kings,

knowledge at

one of the

least, to

line

seems, on the basis of present

he might be.

According to Josephus, the


sion of the

it

be beyond hope to pin down which particular


tale of

coming of Joseph and,

the Hyksos

later,

the Egyptian ver-

of his family, to Egypt

Hyksos, according to Josephus' views, were the


taken seriously by anyone nowadays.

is

Israelites,

but

this is

The
not

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

no

The

River [Nile]

when

In Genesis 41:1,
it

is

stated "he stood

In Egypt,

the description of Pharaoh's

by the

was never necessary

it

where

a desert land

from the

it

single river that threads

its

communication and trade there was

down

virtually

it

What

comes

length from south to north.

What

rains.

in Biblical

the Nile;

summer by

came through

what population
in

the

existed, lived

the land

that was

The Greek

the life-giving waters of the Nile.

famous phrase, called Egypt "the

historian Herodotus, in a

Nile" and so

water there

times

by virtue of the food that could be grown


flooded each

Egypt. Egypt

is

is

virtually never

boats that passed up and

begins,

what was meant by

to describe

"the river." There was only one river and


is

dream

river."

gift

of the

was.

it

(Modem Egypt

is still

the gift of the Nile today. Fully twenty-seven

million people crowd the narrow banks of the river while the land to
east

and west

It is

is

virtually

empty.)

not surprising that in Pharaoh's dream, he imagined that:

Genesis 41:2.

there

voured kine and fatfleshed

came up out
.

Cattle do not literally emerge from a

seven years of good harvest,


for all harvests

it is

depended upon

emerge from the Nile,

if

of the river seven well-fa-

only
its

river,

fitting

water.

the Nile floods

once in a while they disastrously

but

if

they

And
fell

these cattle represent

come out

of the Nile,

seven lean cows would

below normal height

as

did.

The word "Nile" is neither Egyptian nor Hebrew, but is a Greek


word of unknown derivation. "Nile" does not occur anywhere in the
King James Version of the Bible, although

it

is

used in the Revised

Standard Version, which has Pharaoh "standing by the Nile," for

in-

stance, in Genesis 41:1.

The Egyptian word


represent the

for the Nile

god of the

river.

was "Hapi," a sacred name used to

In ordinary usage, the Nile was simply

"the river," a phrase which in Egyptian

is

"Yor" and

in

its

Hebrew

form "Yeor."

The

Nile

is

about four thousand miles long, a hair longer perhaps

CENESIS

The

111

Nile River

than the Missouri-Mississippi and the Amazon. That would make

it

the

longest river in the world.

remotest headwaters are in Tanganyika, where the Kagera River


and flows 429 miles (forming a bit of the western boundary of
Tanganyika) and then discharges into Lake Victoria, which in terms
of surface area is the second largest fresh-water lake in the world. (Our
Its

rises

own Lake

Superior

is

the largest.)

From

the northeastern corner of

Lake Victoria emerges the White Nile, which flows northward through
Kenya, the Sudan, and Egypt and into the Mediterranean at last.

The main

tributary

northern Ethiopia.

is

the Blue Nile. This

It flows east to

rises

in

Lake Tana in

begin with but makes a huge

circle,

ASIMOV'S CUIDE TO THE BIBLE

112

White

joining the

The

Khartoum, the capital of the Sudan.


downstream from the junction of the White Nile

Nile, at last, in

stretch of river

and the Blue Nile

the Nile

is

itself,

unqualified by adjective.

Two
joins

hundred miles north of Khartoum, another smaller tributary


the Nile from the east and thereafter the river flows a thousand

miles to the sea without a single further tributary, flowing through a


solid stretch of desert in

The Nile

flood

is

doing

so.

derived from the annual rains that

but in east central Africa

far

upstream.

The

fall

not

Egypt

in

flood waters carry rich

muck

from the Ethiopian and Kenyan highlands. The Blue Nile, though

White
much more

shorter than the

contributing

The
tian,

the

is

more important

to the flood

in

this respect,

volume.

great length of the Nile, stretching southward as far as Egyp-

Roman eyes could see, presented the ancient world with


Where was the far-off source of the Nile? Occasional reports

Greek, or

a mystery.

that the Nile had


later,

Nile,

origin in great lakes

its

by Arabic merchants, and

this

were spread by Greek and,

seems to have reflected successful

exploring expeditions.
It

was not, however,

until the 1870's that the African expeditions of

Morton Stanley placed east Africa


the full light of day, and only then

the Anglo-American explorer Henry

and

its

lakes

on the map

in

was the Nile traced completely from source to

sea.

On
With

Joseph

now

a high official, Pharaoh bestowed

on him

a high-

born wife:
Genesis 41 =45.
and he gave
of Potipherah priest of On
.
.

Joseph's

new

him

to wife Asenath, the daughter

father-in-law bore the

same name

as his old master,

but the two need not necessarily be one man. Different

men do

bear

the same name.

On, or Anu, was a


It

city of great religious

importance to the Egyptians.

was located at the southern base of the delta

northeast of

modem

just

about

six

miles

Cairo. It was an important center for the worship

of the Egyptian sun-god, Ra, so that the Egyptians called

("house of Ra"). In the Book of Jeremiah, a direct

it

"Pa-ra"

Hebrew

transla-

GENESIS
tion of Pa-ra

used for the

is

city.

Egypt warns of the destruction that

and

113

Jeremiah in thundering against


will follow a

Babylonian invasion

says:

Jeremiah 43:13.

mesh

He

shaft,

break also the images of Beth-she-

where "Beth-shemesh" means "house of the Sun."

The Greeks
calling
is

best

it

also

used a translation of Pa-ra as the

Heliopolis ("city of the Sun")

known

and

it is

of the

city,
it

to posterity. It remained a center of Egyptian religion

and learning throughout Old Testament times.


obelisks

name

by that name that

It

was well known

for

its

and the Revised Standard Version changes the passage in

Jeremiah 43:13 and makes "images of Beth-shemesh" into "obelisks


of Heliopolis." Cleopatra's Needles, two great obelisks, taken out of

Egypt and erected, one in London and one in

New

York's Central

Park, are from Heliopolis.

After 300

opolis)

when the Macedonian dynasty, the Ptolemies, took


made Alexandria (about 220 miles northwest of Heli-

B.C.,

over Egypt and

their capital, Heliopolis declined.

Only a few

ruins remain.

Goshen
Joseph's rule over

Egypt was

successful.

The produce

of the seven

good years was carefully stored against the coming famine and two
sons,

Manasseh and Ephraim, were born

to him.

Then, when the

famine came, Egypt was prepared.

Canaan was

not, however. Jacob

and

his sons suffered

from lack of

food and the sons were sent to Egypt to buy grain. Joseph used the
occasion to test them.

bring Benjamin
if

they ever

(whom

came

He

treated

them harshly and demanded they

Jacob had solicitously kept at home) with them

for food again.

They did so and Joseph maneuvered matters so that he seemed to


have a legitimate reason for taking Benjamin captive and putting
him

to death.

Once

before the brothers had been willing to sacrifice

one of themselves, regardless of the pain they might cause


father.

Had

their

they changed? Apparently, they had. They refused to

abandon Benjamin, and Judah,

in

one of the most touching speeches

of literature, offers himself as a slave in place of Benjamin since other-

n4

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE


down

wise "thy servants shall bring

the gray hairs of thy servant

our father with sorrow to the grave."

And

then Joseph finally revealed himself and there was a grand

reconciliation.

Since Joseph was

now

Egypt's all-powerful viceroy and since his suc-

famine must have made him popular

cessful handling of the crisis of

throughout the land, he had no hesitation

inviting

in

family into Egypt; nor had Pharaoh any hesitation in

The word

Genesis 45:10.

is

And

thou shalt dwell in the land of Goshen, and

me

settlers

on the eastern border

usually represented as being located

of the Nile delta. This would be the

by

entire

Joseph sent to his father was:

thou shalt be near unto

Goshen

his

welcoming them.

first

from Canaan. Furthermore,

if

portion of Egypt reached

all

were indeed taking

this

place during the period of Hyksos rule, the Egyptian capital of Tanis,

where Joseph would be holding

office,

would be

right at the western

borders of the district. Jacob and his sons would thus indeed be "near

unto" Joseph.
Jacob, transfigured with joy, prepares to obey. Genesis

who accompany him


and counts

sons,

his sons)

They

all

at the

Genesis 47:11.

By "land
for

it

of

and great-grand-

company (including Joseph and

introduced to Pharaoh, and then:


.

...

Rameses"

Joseph

some

in the land of
is

gave them a possession in the

Rameses

meant Goshen.

refers to a city of the region

period but only

the males

round figure of seventy.

arrive, are

land of Egypt

to Egypt, his sons, grandson,

the males of the

lists

It is

an anachronistic name
in the Hyksos

which was not built

centuries later.

Ephraim and Manasseh

when he entered Egypt and lived there


Then came the time when he felt himself to be dying.

Jacob was 130 years of age


seventeen years.

In his last days he asked Joseph

to bring his sons

to him.

Joseph

brought his young sons for their grandfather's blessing, and Jacob

adopted them as his own:

CENESIS
Genesis 48:5.

And now

I15

thy two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh

are mine; as Reuben and Simeon, they shall be mine.

Joseph thus came to be the ancestor of two of the tribes of

Ephraim and Manasseh, and sometimes they

those of

are

Israel,

lumped

to-

gether as the "Joseph tribes."

Since Jacob had twelve sons and since one of them, Joseph, was
the ancestor of two tribes, there turned out to be thirteen tribes altogether.

However, the

Canaan

of land in

but formed a

The

through the land.

scattered

lived

tribe of Levi never received

in later centuries,

twelve

any

distinct tract

priestly caste that

of

tribes

Israel,

as

represented in a later age by definite pieces of Canaanite territory,

were: Reuben, Simeon, Judah, Dan, Gad, Issachar, Zebulun, Asher,


Naphtali, Benjamin, Ephraim, and Manasseh.

The

two

fact that Joseph fathered

tribes while

the rest only fathered

one each indicates that he received the birthright


the inheritance)
received
is

it

made

in

place

of Reuben,

(a

who would

double share of
ordinarily

have

as the eldest son. Joseph's inheritance of the birthright

King James Version, when Jacob

plain, at least in the

tells

him:
Genesis 48:22. Moreover I have given to thee one portion above

thy brethren

This

is

not a clear verse, however.

translated here as "portion," usually

The Hebrew word shekem,

means "shoulder" and

therefore

perhaps a mountain slope. In the Revised Standard Version, Jacob


is

made

brothers

have given to you rather than to your


.

."

On

the other hand,

Shechem, and the Anchor Bible

one above your brothers, Shechem

As a matter of
centuries

later,

second Joseph
its

one mountain slope

to the city of

as the

"Moreover

to say

fact,

translates

it

might

it,

"I give you

."
.

when Canaan was apportioned among

Ephraim

received

tribe, received

refer

the tribes,

one portion and Manasseh, the

another portion including Shechem and

environs.

When
fully

Jacob prepared to bless Ephraim and Manasseh, Joseph care-

arranged matters so as to have Manasseh, the first-born, within

reach of Jacob's right hand, since the old man, like his father before

him, was blind with old age and could not

tell

them

apart, unaided.

u6

ASIMOV'S CUIDE TO THE BIBLE


hand upon the

Nevertheless, Jacob crossed his arms, placing his right

head of Ephraim, the younger.


This again probably

reflects early tribal history

and suggests a

situa-

and Zarah (see page 107). At

tion parallel to that involving Pharez

Manasseh may have been the dominating group within the


Joseph tribes, so that tradition has him Joseph's first-born. At some
later date, however, Ephraim obtained and kept the upper hand.
the

start,

Judah
Jacob then ordered his sons to gather round his deathbed while

There follows the "Testament

forecast the future of each to them.

he

of Jacob," which seems to reflect the situation as

existed

it

in

the

time of David, so that the forty-ninth chapter of Genesis probably


received

The
as

final

its

form

language used
to

referring

in that time.

is

known

oracular and, while possibly easily understood


historical

by the

events

men

of

the

time,

has become obscure to us with the passage of time.

The

three sons are dismissed quickly. Their early domination

first

had faded completely by David's time:

my

Genesis 49:3. Reuben, thou art

firstborn

Genesis 49:4. Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel; because

thou wentest up to thy father's bed


Genesis

49:5.

Simeon and Levi

brethren;

are

instruments of

cruelty are in their habitations.

Genesis 49:7. Cursed be their anger

The

traditional reasons for their failure are

Bilhah, and the attack by

Reuben's seduction of

Simeon and Levi on Shechem

(see pages

100 and 102).

Turning then to

his fourth son, Jacob

is

depicted as becoming en-

thusiastic.

Genesis
praise

49:8.

Genesis 49:10.
lawgiver

Judah,

thou

he

art

whom

thy brethren

shall

The

from between

sceptre shall not depart


his feet

from Judah, nor a

GENESIS
This

reflects

when

the fact that

was established over the land of

stable

Israel, it

117

and powerful kingdom

was David of the

had by then defeated

tribe of

enemies

Judah that established

it.

and had established

its

domination over the entire western half of the

Fertile Crescent. It

seemed

Israel

to have

all

its

brought the story of

Israel

triumphant climax, a kind of "happy ending" that suffuses

to a

this part

of the Testament.

To

be

sure, less

kingdom was

than a century after David's coming to power, the

split in

two and the Judean dynasty of David retained

only the lesser half. Presumably the forty-ninth chapter was placed
in

final

its

Of

form before the

had taken

split

place.

course, the kingship over the southern portion of the land

mained

in the

so that at

Davidic line without

no time

real

interruption until 586

re-

B.C.,

for over four centuries did the sceptre "depart

from Judah."

The remaining
cryptically, and,

Joseph,

who

is

brothers aTe, with one exception, noted briefly and

on the whole,

favorably.

of the importance of the tribes of


tribal
It

and

praised exuberantly

The

exception

lengthily.

This

is,

is

of course,

a reflection

Ephraim and Manasseh during the

period before the establishment of David's kingdom.

might

also

have been a matter of diplomacy.

The

northern tribes

did not take kindly to Judean dominance and indeed broke away
quickly enough. It would not have been politic to withhold praise

from their outstanding representative.


Jacob then died at the age of 147, and was brought back by his
Canaan that he might be buried in the Cave of Machpelah

sons to

where were already buried


his parents, Isaac

About

his

grandparents,

and Rebekah, and one of

Abraham and

Sarah,

his wives, Leah.

half a century later, Joseph died too, at the age of

10,

and

with that the Book of Genesis comes to an end at a date which

might be estimated to be 1650 b.c. The curtain drops over an Egypt


in which the Hyksos are still in firm control and the Israelites are
still

welcome

When
some

guests of the nation.

the curtain

rises again,

four centuries have passed,

tically.

with the opening of the next book,

and conditions have changed

dras-

2.

EXODUS

EPHRAIM PHARAOH [OF THE OPPRESSION] PITHOM AND


EXODUS
RAAMSES THE DAUGHTER OF PHARAOH MOSES MIDIAN PHARAOH [OF
THE EXODUS] HOREB JEHOVAH AARON THE MAGICIANS OF EGYPT
PASSOVER ABIB THE RED SEA PI-HAHIROTH OMER AMALEK JOSHUA
CHERUBIM THE URIM AND THE THUMMIM THE MOLTEN CALF
'

'

Exodus
Between the
ical

two books of the Bible there

first

is

a long chronolog-

gap of some four centuries following the entry of Jacob and

his sons into Egypt.

summary,

a hasty

To

bridge the gap, the second book begins with

listing

the names of the heads of families

who

entered Egypt:

Exodus

The

1:1.

phrase

Now

"Now

these are the

names of the children of

these are the

names"

is

Israel

translation

of

the

shemoth. The Jews use that phrase as the name of


second book, usually reducing the phrase to the single word

Hebrew
this

ve-elleh

"Shemoth" ("names"). The Septuagint named the book "Exodos"


(or,

in

cause

the Latin equivalent, "Exodus"), meaning "going out," bedeals with

it

the departure of the Israelites from Egypt.

Ephraim

Though

the sons of Jacob are listed at the beginning of Exodus,

the Bible makes no further mention of the

eponymous

patriarchs of

the tribes as individuals, with a single exception.


In the First
alogies

Book

of early

of Chronicles, which quickly reviews the gene-

history

as

viewed by the Jews of

the

post-Exilic

EXODUS

119

The Exodus
period, there

is

a passing mention that

some sons of Ephraim

Canaan and were


1

days,
It is

that

it

his brethren

And Ephraim
came

not clearly stated that

which the
history

slain in the process.

Chronicles 7:22.

and

Israelites

it

is

their

mourned many

father

to comfort him.

this

passage refers to the period during

were in Egypt and, indeed,

Egypt was then

does.

and

in a strong

and

it

is

its

some 150

too, the site of the raid

a long distance to go chasing cattle.

may

is

its

borders would

Goshen and that

is

improbable

settled period of

unlikely that cattle raids within

be permitted. Then,

It

(Joseph's

city in southern

younger son) took part in a cattle raid against a

miles from

well be that this verse records an early passage in tribal

history within

Canaan some centuries after the period when Jacob's


Ephraim may here represent the tribe generally

sons had been alive.

lather than the ancestor individually.

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

120

Except

for

one

this

legend.

extra-Biblical

reference,

Joseph

all

else

the brethren to have died and Levi the

"The Testament

entitled

concerning Jacob's sons

supposed to have been

is

About 100

last.

the

is

of

first

b.c, a

book

of the Twelve Patriarchs" was written, con-

what were purportedly the deathbed statements of each of the

raining

twelve sons of Jacob. Each son reviewed his

own

life,

bewailed his

shortcomings, and urged his children to avoid his sins and to practice
virtue.

Whatever moral and

ethical values these lectures

might have,

they are valueless as history.

Pharaoh

Oppression]

[of the

In any case, Exodus records that after the deaths of Joseph and
his brothers, the Israelites prospered, multiplied,

And

then:

Exodus

knew not

The new
for

1:8.

there arose

up a new king over Egypt, which

Joseph.

Pharaoh, unlike Joseph's kindly patron, had no sympathy

the Israelites but,

danger
If

and grew numerous.

rather,

them

feared

in the land and, therefore, took stern

as

possible

source

of

measures against them.

the Pharaoh of Joseph were, indeed, one of the early Hyksos

kings, then

it

The Hyksos

seems
did

fairly clear

not,

power was concentrated

after
in

what happened

all,

completely control

the delta

Egypt. Their

and, far to the south, native

Egyptian forces held local power and gathered strength.

About 500 miles up the Nile was a city later known to the Greeks
Thebes and it was the most prominent city of upper Egypt. Under
the Old Kingdom and the Middle Kingdom, its importance was

as

masked by Memphis and the

cities of

disintegration, however, dynasties at


virtually

the delta. In times of political

Thebes sometimes ruled over

independent south. The nth dynasty, for instance,

years preceding the establishment of the

in

the

Middle Kingdom, ruled from

Thebes.

Once the Hyksos conquered Egypt, Thebes had another chance.


Throughout the Hyksos period, it maintained a precarious independence, and gradually learned those military techniques (the hone and
chariot,

an improved bow, the use of body armor) of which

it

had

EXODUS

121

been ignorant and with which the Hyksos armies had conquered
Egypt.
In 1570

came

Ahmose, the first king of


in Thebes and launched

B.C.,

power

to

new

firm attack against

dynasty, the 18th,


the

now complacent and rather decadent. Ahmose defeated them,


their power, and made himself Pharaoh over all Egypt

Hyksos,

broke

once more under a native dynasty after a century and a half of


foreign rule.

Ahmose might well have been the "new king over Egypt, which
knew not Joseph." As representative of the resurgent Egyptians,
he could have nothing but dislike and suspicion for the Israelites, who
had been brought

by the Hyksos and

in

nothing more than a

whom

from Asia, Ahmose might well consider that the


with the invaders, to

he might consider

remnant of them. In any renewed invasion

whom

they would be

Israelites

bound by

ties

would

join

of culture

and language.
Ahmose's

downturn

reign,

This

completion.

to

though

may have marked the beginning of this


may not have seen it carried through
of thing feeds on itself. The Israelites,

it

Israelite fortunes,

in

sort

treated as second-class citizens


disaffected

and

The

pression.

this disaffection

oppressor,

rightly

and

as objects

itself

is

fearing

of suspicion,

become

the excuse for intensified op-

the

resentment of the op-

pressed, finds discrimination escalating into slavery almost automatically.

Exodus

1:13.

And

the Egyptians

made the

children of Israel to

serve with rigour:

Exodus
age
It

most
its

1:14.

And

made

the particular Pharaoh

is

certainly not

peak

their lives bitter with hard

bond-

who

is

(not necessarily Ahmose; indeed,

Ahmose) under whom

Israelite

al-

enslavement reached

termed the "Pharaoh of the Oppression."

In deciding, then,
let us

they

who

the Pharaoh of the Oppression might be,

turn to Egyptian history.

After the time of Ahmose, the Egyptians, with

the

new

battle

techniques they had learned from the Hyksos, entered the most militarily

successful era of their history. This period

Kingdom"

or,

is

known

because Egypt spectacularly extended

portions of adjoining Asia, the "Empire."

its

as the

"New

power over

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

122

The

military

great

that attended

events

establishment

the

and

maintenance of the Egyptian Empire took place entirely during the


period of Israelite enslavement in Egypt and therefore no whisper of
it

is

whose

retained in the Bible,

writers

concentrated entirely on

the fate of the Israelites.

Under Thutmose

b.c.) and Thutmose III (1490-36


sometimes called "Thutmose the Great"

(1525-08

b.c.)particularly the

latter,

and "the Napoleon of Ancient Egypt"victorious Egyptian armies


scoured the western half of the Fertile Crescent. In 1479 b.c, Thut-

mose

won

III

a great battle at

Megiddo, a

With

Canaan,

city of northern

Canaan and all the


land northward, nearly to the Euphrates, became Egyptian. Under
Amenhotep III (1397-70 b.c.) the empire rested upon a plateau of
about

miles north of Jerusalem.

fifty

that,

prosperity and success.

With

Amenhotep III, Amenhotep IV (1370-53 b.c),


The new king was a religious revolutionary. In a

the son of

a decline set

in.

land of numerous gods, he was a monotheist, recognizing a single god,

Aton, represented in nature by the sun. Since his

hotep means

"Amen

new Pharaoh

rejected

Ikhnaton ("Aton
a city he

content" and

is

the

name

satisfied").

is

as

He

Ikhnaton

and on

tried to establish the

but the

their side

own name Amen-

the god,

and

also established a

delta.

Amen, the

called

new

himself

capital at

of Aton") located about

On

its

now

site

stands the

Amarna.

village of Tell el

force,

idolatrous

named Akhetaton ("the horizon

halfway between Thebes and the

by

glorifies

priests

new monotheism throughout Egypt


him relentlessly

of the older gods fought

was the innate conservatism of the Egyptian people.

After Ikhnaton's early death and a short reign of only about seventeen years, his

new

religion

Tutankhaton
victory.

fell

apart.

the

name to Tutankhamon.
While Ikhnaton was absorbed in

change

Under

his

young son-in-law

won

a complete
(1352-43
Akhetaton was abandoned and Tutankhaton was forced to
b.c.)

old

priesthood

his

his religious revolution, the

dominions of the empire were under constant attack. In

a.d.

Asian
1887,

the ruins of Akhetaton yielded a large cache of letters from Egyptian


viceroys in Asia. It

is

a melancholy tale of continuous incursions from

the north and east and of useless pleas for help to Ikhnaton,

lacked the ability, or perhaps the

bands from the

desert.

will,

to

fight off

who

the marauding

EXODUS
A

more formidable foe was

The

arising in the north.

"3

Hittite

Old

Kingdom (see page 78) had been weakened and rendered harmless
by Thutmose III, but after that conqueror's death, the Hittites hardened once more into their New Kingdom. In Ikhnaton's time, the
greatest of the

Hittite

on the throne. He

Shubbiluliu, was

kings,

conquered Mitanni and beat back the Egyptian boundary to Canaan


itself.

After Tutenkhamon's death

was discovered

in

a.d.

(and

was his untouched tomb that

it

the 18th dynasty quickly

1922; see page 63)

declined and petered out. In

place a

its

new

family succeeded to the

its first member, Rameses I,


Under him, the Egyptian Empire ex-

throne. This was the 19th dynasty, and

became Pharaoh
perienced a

new

in

1304

B.C.

period of vigor.

This dynasty reached

its

peak under Rameses

Great"), whose long reign stretched

during

this

from

("Rameses the

II

1290 to

1223

B.C.,

time Egypt came into direct conflict with the

and

Hittites.

In 1288 b.c, a great battle was fought between the two empires at

The

Kadesh, about eighty miles north of Damascus.

was the entire war, which ended

decisive, as

in a

battle was

in-

compromise peace

by which the Hittites retained their conquests of the previous century.

The

Hittite

effort to

withstand Egypt had, however, fatally weakened the

power and had

Rameses

II

is

all

gave him ample time to indulge in


beautified Thebes,
his

reign.

He

Egypt

seriously strained

the most famous of

which was

at

itself.

the Pharaohs. His long reign

all

his

grandiose notions.

the height of

its

He

splendor during

covered Egypt with gigantic statues of himself, with

self-glorifying inscriptions,

and

is

reported to have had

160 children

by numerous wives and concubines.

Rameses

When,

II

contributed largely to the later legend of "Sesostris."

eight centuries after Egypt's great days of empire, Herodotus,

the Greek historian, visited

the ancient land,

the priests and anti-

quarians of Egypt gladly rehearsed the glorious past, with

improve-

ments. By Herodotus' time, Egypt was far in decline and had been

conquered

by two different Asian

empires,

the Assyrian

Persian. It suited Egyptian pride therefore to recall a time,


lost in

the mists of the far past,

when

it

and

the

now dimly

had been Egypt that was the

world empire.

The name Herodotus reports for the conqueror was


actual name of three Pharaohs of the 12th dynasty, the

Sesostris,
first

of

the

whom

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

124

might conceivably have been Abraham's Pharaoh

The Middle Kingdom had


ders into Ethiopia.

carried Egypt's

first

(see

These deeds were combined with the

ones of Thutmose III and Rameses

page 64).

power beyond
still

bor-

its

greater

and the whole escalated

II

the point where "Sesostris" conquered

all

Ethiopia,

of

Asia far beyond the Euphrates, marched through Asia

to

penetrated

Minor and

into Europe, subduing the plains beyond the Black Sea.

After Rameses

Egypt began to decline and, with only occasional minor

a Sesostris.

each

rallies,

there were no further grounds for dreaming of

II,

less successful

than the one before, continued to decline

throughout Biblical times.

Op-

then, in this long history would the Pharaoh of the

Where,

pression be found?

Ikhnaton

an

offers

attractive

long line of Pharaohs; a

possibility.

He

was unique

rebel, a breaker of tradition,

the

in

a monotheist.

Could he have been the kindly Pharaoh, welcoming the monotheistic


Jacob and his sons into Egypt? This
as Ikhnaton's reign

There

is

is

another

is

quite unlikely, unfortunately,

considerably too late for that.

Could Ikhnaton have been reigning

possibility.

at the close of the period of Israelite enslavement rather than


start?

Could he have learned

his

monotheism from Moses

have suggested, could Moses have learned

Could

it

it

its

some

or, as

from Ikhnaton?

be, in fact, that Ikhnaton's father,

Amenhotep

III,

was

the strong Pharaoh of the Oppression, and that under Ikhnaton's


feeble

and self-absorbed

rule,

favor of this are the Tell el

onslaught of the desert


selves,

This
is

now out
is

tribes.

the Israelites broke out of Egypt? In

Amama

from Canaan of the

reports

Might not

these

be the

Israelites

them-

of Egypt and driving hard to conquer Canaan?

unlikely

on

several counts. In the

first

place, Ikhnaton's reign

too early for the Israelite conquest of Canaan. Such an early con-

quest will not square with the better-known dates of later events in
the Bible.

This

is

not to deny that Canaan was under assault from the desert

under Ikhnaton but


were the

tribes

who

it

is

very likely that the assaulters at that time

settled

ing failed to penetrate

its

down

along the borders of Canaan (hav-

interior against

Egyptian defenses) as the

Edomites, Moabites, and Ammonites. After


quite clear

on the point that when the

all,

Israelites

the Biblical story

is

themselves approached

EXODUS

125

Canaan, the Edomites, Moabites, and Ammonites were already


tablished

on the ground and

in

es-

firm possession of the land to the

and south of the Dead Sea.*

east

To be
and

sure, these earlier invaders

may even be

it

that

were closely

some of the

join in the Israelite confederacy

allied to the Israelites

who were

tribes

later

to

were already attacking Canaan and

later by tribes emerging from Egypt. There are


some who suggest that only the Joseph tribes, Ephraim and Manasseh,
were enslaved in Egypt; and that after they left Egypt they joined a
federation of tribes who were attacking Canaan directly from the

were to be joined

desert.

Then,

had emerged from Egypt and conquered

too, if the Israelites

Canaan during and after the reign of Ikhnaton, they would have
been caught up in the gigantic campaigns of Ramcses II that fol-

The

lowed.

Bible could not very well have failed to capture even an

echo of the mighty battle of Kadesh.

One must

look

later,

then, for the Pharaoh of the Oppression and

on

Rameses

Why

not?

speculation

inevitably

Rameses

was a vainglorious despot quite capable of making the

most

II

arbitrary

alights

use of his

powers.

He

II

himself.

was engaged

in

life-and-

death struggle with an Asian power and he was bound to look upon
the Asians within his

own realm

with the utmost suspicion.

conceivable that the Hittites would try to


insurrection

make

It is

quite

use of an Israelite

some

to divert Egyptian power, that at least

Israelites

would look with favor on such a scheme, and that Rameses would
suspect

them of complicity even

ment and even

if

they did not. Intensified enslave-

program of genocide

Furthermore, the reign of Rameses

is

II

possible.
is

followed

by

decline

during which the Israelites could have broken out of Egypt. What's

more, the decline does not reverse

itself.

Egypt docs not enter Asia

with renewed power so that the Israelites can conquer and occupy

Canaan without
It

interference from Egypt.

would seem then that Rameses

of the Oppression,

This

if

last reservation

there
is

is

made

II

would have

to

be the Pharaoh

any Pharaoh of the Oppression at


necessary by the fact that there

is

all.

no

record outside the Bible of Israelites in Egypt, of their enslavement,


*

The

letters at Tell el

brews." However, the

men

of Israel.

Amama

men

of

refer to the invaders as "Khabiri"; that

Edom, Moab, and

Ammon

is.

were as Hebrew

"He-

as the

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

126

in

Exodus are

to be found anywhere in the Egyptian records uncovered

by modern

and of

none of the events

their escape. In particular,

archaeologists.

Pithom and Raamses

One

of the pieces of evidence that points to Rameses II as the

Pharaoh of the Oppression

by the

contained in the nature of the work done

is

Israelite slaves.

Exodus

1:11.

And

they built for Pharaoh treasure

cities,

Pithom and Raamses.

(The phrase

"treasure cities"

The

clearly a mistranslation.

is

Standard Version has "store-cities" in

its

place; cities, that

is,

Revised

in

which

provisions were stored for the use of armies advancing into Asia.)

The name Raamses (which

the

in

change to become Rameses) seems


does not occur at

all

among

Hebrew

requires a very small

The name Rameses

significant.

the Pharaohs of the

first

eighteen dynas-

but eleven Pharaohs of that name are to be found in the 19th

ties,

and 20th
and

dynasties.

Of them, Rameses

successful; also the

most

by

II is

self-glorifying

far the

most famous

and the most apt

to

name

a city for himself.

The

ruins of

setting sun")

what
had

is

now

built

Pithom (pa-tum

were discovered

the Suez Canal.

It

in Egyptian,

meaning "house of the

1882 about twelve miles west of

in

was on a canal which Rameses

II

had

from an eastern branch of the Nile to the bodies of water

Red Seaa kind of


among other things, a
city may well have been

then making up the northernmost reaches of the


primitive

Suez Canal.

statue of

Rameses

II,

The

ruins

contain,

indicating that the

built in his reign.

Pithom

is

located in

Goshen

(see

page 114)

and Raamses was

probably built some miles west of Pithom. Conceivably, a case

be made

here. Since

Rameses

into Asia against the Hittites,


rear.

his
it

II

was

he needed good supply depots

Pithom and Raamses on the northeastern

purpose exactly, and since the

was convenient

to

make

may

planning his large expedition

Israelites

frontier

to his

would

suit

were settled on the spot,

use of their labor.

EXODUS
Although the Bible
cities,

many

notion

specifically describes the Israelites as

seem

casual readers of the Bible

that the

slaves built

Israelite

The pyramids were

built

127

having built

to have picked up the

the pyramids. This

not

is

so.

thousand years before Joseph entered

Egypt.

This also disposes of the feeling that the pyramids might be the
storehouses built under Joseph's direction to store the grain of the

The pyramids

seven plentiful years.

anyway, even

they were built

if

couldn't serve such

in Joseph's time, for

with tunnels and cavities only large enough to hold

solid structures

the sarcophagus of a Pharaoh. As a matter of

oddly

enoughare nowhere mentioned

The Daughter
Rameses

II,

according to the Biblical story,


a result,

the pyramids

commanded

when

a son

Israelite

all

was born to

him by

of the tribe of Levi, she tried to save

in a small
it

fact,

in the Bible.

of Pharaoh

boy babies to be drowned. As

woman

purpose

they are virtually

placing

him

boat (or "ark") of bulrushes, daubed with pitch to make

waterproof, and setting that afloat on

the Nile.

were papyrus reeds, which the Egyptians used

and the pith of which they used

in

making

in

(The bulrushes

making

light boats

Our
made from

a writing material.

word "paper" comes from papyrus, even though paper

is

other materials now.)

The

small boat containing the baby was discovered:

Exodus

2:5.

And

herself at the river

Who
She

is

the daughter of Pharaoh


.

and

the "daughter of Pharaoh" might be

not

to have

named

in

like fifty daughters,

ever identifying the young lady.

who

is,

retells

To be

to
flags

of course, not

the Bible and, since Rameses

had something

torian Josephus,

came down

saw the ark among the

II

there seems

is

wash
.

known.

supposed

no hope of

sure, the ancient Jewish his-

the story of the Bible,

filling in

the gaps

name as Thcrmouthes, but no Egyptian


name and period is known. One of the early Church
the name as Merris and the name "Meri" does occur in

with later legend, gives her


princess of that
fathers gave

the inscriptions of the time. But that could be mere coincidence.

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

128

Moses

The Hebrew name

Hebrew names

various
lents.

of the child

This

of the Bible are changed into Greek equiva-

some

involves

Mosheh. In the Septuagint, the

is

changes.

inevitable

nearly

The Greek

alphabet doesn't include a letter for the "sh" sound, which does not
occur in Greek, so a simple "s" must be substituted. Then, since

Greek names almost


In this way,

The
was

the Greek

possible at

in

For

form.

all

Testament (almost

all

of which

Greek) usually contain Hebrew names

instance,

Jesus

Hebrew forms

in

the Greek form of the

is

well

known

Hexateuch saw in

Hebrew mashah, meaning

to the

and she

2:10.

said,

Pharaoh's daughter

leam the

name

slaves'

altered.

"to draw out,"

and

called his

name Moses:

Because I drew him out of the water.

an Egyptian princess

language for a

be

the word "Mosheh"

name:

therefore gave that as the derivation of the

Exodus

This was not

possible.

far as

to the population generally to

priestly editors of the

similarity

as

Moses, since that particular Greek form

in the case of

had become too

Now

must be added.

"Joshua." English versions of the Old Testament, however,

usually restore the

The

in "s," a final "s"

New

English versions of the

originally written

Hebrew

end

invariably

Mosheh becomes Moses.

(even

is

if

scarcely going to turn to the

Hebrew

she could be imagined as bothering to

language in the

first

place). Besides,

Moses happens

much more straightforward and natural meaning in Egypmeans "son." (Thus Thutmose means "son of Thoth" and

to have a
tian. It

Rameses means "son of Ra," both Thoth and Ra being Egyptian


gods.)

The

legend surrounding Moses' infancy seems no more plausible

than the Hebrew derivation given his name. Ancient legends are

full

some reason or other who are


become people of great importance.

of tales of children cast away for

miraculously saved and go on to


In the Greek legends, this
for instance; in

the

legends, with Cyrus.

is

Roman

the case with Perseus, Oedipus, and Paris,


legends, with

Romulus;

in

the Persian

EXODUS
Most

significant of all

who

page 50)

The

legend of Sargon has been found on

preparing the Hexateuch in

the legend, and

Babylonian tablets dat-

Sargon of Agade

woman who
She did

The

it.

described as the illegitimate son of a noble-

is

him

mate son and was


There are no

improved the

by

raised

Biblical

legends of later times

reeds,

daubed with

down the river. The baby was


him as his own son.

drift

raised

Biblical writers

however. Moses was a

how

concerning Moses' youth, but the

those years with activity designed to magtells,

invading Ethiopians had Egypt at their mercy

Moses took over leadership of the Egyptian army and


the Ethiopians. There

is

legiti-

a princess.

details

fill

tale,

rescued by

nify the glory of the future leader of the Israelites. Josephus

instance,

Babylon

form must have heard

by putting him in a small boat of

letting

man who

a poor

priests in

bore him in shame and secrecy, and then exposed him.

this

and

pitch,

final

its

The

very likely that they appropriated

it is

(see

thousand years before the time of Moses.

lived over a

ing back to several centuries before the Exile.

who were

Agade

a legend told of Sargon of

is

129

no evidence

in

for

when

utterly defeated

Egyptian annals, however, for

the events described by Josephus.

Midian
As

grown man, Moses found himself sympathizing with the Israpresumably out of humanity and possibly because he had

elite slaves,

own
when

learned of his
overseer and,

origins. In a
this

fit

of anger he killed an Egyptian

was found out,

left

Egypt

hurriedly, to avoid

execution at the orders of an angered Pharaoh.

Exodus
dwelt in

Midian,

it

seems quite

likely,

from the face of Pharaoh and

fled
.

is

located in northwestern Arabia, just

two hundred miles southeast of Goshen.


represents the shortest distance Moses could have traveled and

east of the
It

Moses
the land of Midian
2:15.

Red

Sea, about

placed himself outside the boundaries of Imperial Egypt.

According to

later tradition,

of his flight to Midian. This

is

Moses was
too pat, for

forty years old at the time


it

divides Moses' Biblically

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

130

allotted lifetime of 120 years into neat thirds.

would be an Egyptian

from 40 to 80 an

prince,

from 80 to 120 a leader of the

Pharaoh

he

birth to 40,

exile in

Midian, and

Israelites.

the Exodus]

[of

While Moses was

Midian, getting married and having a son, a

in

change took place

crucial

From

Exodus

2:23.

And

king of Egypt died

came

it

and that took place

in

was indeed Rameses

II.

Succeeding Rameses

in Egypt:

to pass in process of time, that the

1223

II

B.C.,

if

was the

the Pharaoh of the Oppression

far

who

weaker Memeptah,

is

usually thought of as the Pharaoh of the Exodus, the Pharaoh under

whom

the dramatic events described in the rest of the

Exodus took

Since these events represent

Egypt,

it

listed in

And

is

to

it

of

little less

is.

than a complete disaster for

be expected that the reign of Merneptah might be

Egyptian annals as one

so

Book

place.

To

be

filled

with trouble.

sure, the exact events described in

not to be found anywhere

in

Exodus are

the Egyptian records, but there was

plenty of trouble of another sort and Merneptah's reign witnessed a

time of troubles for the whole region rimming the eastern Mediterranean Sea.

Every once in a while,


times

in the course of ancient history, there

when nomad peoples seem

to be

on the move. One

against another which in turn pushes against the next

a series of falling dominoes.

The

come

tribe drives

and

so

on

like

settled cities of the civilized areas of

the world eventually meet the brunt of the force and since their peoples cannot easily

meet with

The

move and

yield to the pressure, civilizations often

disaster at such times.

thirteenth century b.c. witnessed

migrations of peoples.

ning to be

felt in

The

one of these troublesome mass

pressure of barbarian invasions was begin-

Greece and southeastern Europe generally. Under

that pressure, raiding bands from Greece, Crete,

and such

areas spread

out across the Aegean Sea and plunged their way, west, south, and
east.

They invaded Asia Minor, and the Trojan

an item in that invasion.

War may

have been

EXODUS
As a

result of the disorders that racked Asia

Hittite Empire,

Rameses

against

which had been


II.

As a

nant, and appeared to

Canaan,

some

too,

invasions

may have

wounded

when they

Israelites,

no more than another small

as

Then,

fatally

then, a native

final

in

blow to the

its

war

great

the Hittites declined to a bare rem-

result,

the

Minor

and dealt the

people, the Phrygians, rose to power

tribes leaving Asia

finally

conquered

tribe.

Minor under the

pressure of

traveled westward to found the Etruscan civiliza-

tion in Italy.

The

invaders from southeastern Europe landed as well on the coasts

of Egypt.

To

Egyptians managed to fight them

but only at great cost and the

off

damage done the nation undoubtedly contributed


cline of

its

The

the Egyptians, they were the "Peoples of the Sea."

vigor. In the disorders

greatly to the de-

accompanying the invasion,

at all unreasonable that the Israelites

may have

it is

not

seized the opportunity

to depart.

Furthermore, for the

time since the reign of Thutmose

first

centuries before, the Egyptian hold

on Canaan was broken.

tingent of the Peoples of the Sea invaded

themselves as the Philistines on

were either defeated


called

home

return to
to

or,

three

con-

established

southern coast. Egyptian armies

very likely, melted

to defend the

Canaan

its

Canaan and

I,

motherland

itself.

and the

for nine centuries,

away when they were


Egyptian power did not
Israelites, in

their drive

conquer Canaan, had to face only the native Canaanites and not

a powerful Egyptian army. Indeed, for centuries their

enemies were the Philistines

who had

most inveterate

entered Canaan from the west,

while the Israelites had plunged in from the east.


It

seems to make sense, therefore, to accept

Memeptah

Pharaoh of the Exodus, whether one accepts the actual

as

the

details

de-

scribed in the Bible or not.

Horeb
Moses' task of leading the

Exodus
law

Horeb.

3:1.

Now

Israelites

out of Egypt begins in Midian.

Moses kept the

and he led the

flock

...

flock of ]ethro his father in

to the

mountain of God, even

to

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

32
It is

beings;

common

to consider mountains as particularly sacred to divine

one need only consider the Greek gods and

Mount Olympus.
tain

to

which was considered

in the old Israelite traditions to

The mountain
it is

called Sinai.

mountain but

be sacred

it

(Sinai)

called Horeb here, but in other places in Exodus


Both names are accepted as referring to the same
is the latter name which is much better known. It
is

not located in Canaan

everyone

agrees on

sent an ancient tradition of holiness indeed,

entry of the Israelites into Canaan. It


is

home on

God.

Mount Horeb

is

their

Apparently, the Bible has reference here to a moun-

is

thatso

Book

name

repre-

one that preceded the


which
is

never mentioned

of Genesis.

Indeed, the holiness

the

must

a holiness, moreover,

not associated with the patriarchal age, for Sinai

in the

it

may

trace

back to Sumerian mythology for

Sinai could refer back to the moon-god, Sin,

who was an

EXODUS
Ur and

important object of worship both in


59).

why

page

(see

there

was no

Abraham, who

association of Sinai with

Some

Haran

in

though, one might wonder

In that case,

133

lived in both Ur and Haran.


Mount Sinai is to be found somewhere
Red Sea, because that is where Moses was

scholars believe that

on the Arabian side of the


at the time. If Sinai
that, too,

really

would bespeak

Then

Crescent.

were

connected with Sumerian mythology,

a location reasonably close to the Fertile

too, in several poetic passages of the Bible, Sinai

associated with mountains south of

of Deuteronomy,

commonly

Deuteronomy 33:2 ..
from Seir
.
.

Canaan. For example,

called the

"Song of Moses," we have:

The Lord came from

and

Sinai,

rose

up

Indeed, considering the parallelism of


of saying the

is

in a passage

same thing twice with

Hebrew

be tempted to argue that Mount Sinai

Mount

is

and

poetry,

slight variation,

its triclc

one might even


Seir

(also called

Mount Hor).
However, in early Christian times the tradition arose that the mountain

was located on the triangular peninsula that

ary between

known
The

Africa

and Asia and that

lies

now,

is

on the bound-

in

consequence,

as Sinai.

Sinai Peninsula, about 140 miles long,

is

bounded on the north

by the Mediterranean Sea and on the south by the Red Sea. The
northern end of the Red Sea divides into two narrow arms, like
the eyestalks of a
southeast.

Gulf of Suez; the

When

snail,

The western

which bound Sinai on the southwest and

horn, which

eastern, the

Egypt was powerful,

is

the longer and wider,

is

the

Gulf of Aqaba.
Sinai

was part of

its

realm, as during

the Middle Kingdom and during the Empire. After the invasion of
the Peoples of the Sea, the ebbing of Egyptian poweT left Sinai to

own nomadic

inhabitants.

Egypt but was occupied by


In southern Sinai
Sinai

is

is

(Nowadays, Sinai forms part of


Israel after

the Six-day

a range of mountains

War

its

modem

of 1967.)

among which Mount

supposed to be located. By a tradition dating back to the

sixth century a.d. it

is

identified particularly with

the tallest peak,

about 7400 feet, or nearly one and a half miles high. This
peak bears the Arabic name of Jebel Musa ("Mount of Moses").

which

is

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

34

Jehovah

On Mount
steadily but

him out

Horeb, Moses becomes aware of a bush that

He

not consumed.

is

of the bush,

is

burning

approaches and God, speaking to

commands him

Egypt and to lead

to return to

the Israelites out of slavery.

God

In the process,

Exodus

The
I

reveals his personal

And God

3:14.

said unto Moses, I

AM THAT I AM

phrase, capitalized as a gesture of respectful awe,

AM WHO AM

in the

WHAT WILL
I

Apparently the

AM WHAT

name

of the Lord

though the primary nature of

once more,

6:3.

and

WILL BE

here connected with some

is

God

is

external existence.

his elder brother,

.1 appeared unto Abraham, unto

name of God
not known to them.

The name

AM

Aaron, but his

time in a briefer version:

Jacob, by the
I

The Egyptian monarch sharpens the


that the Israelites themselves, who had first hailed Moses,
him. God reassures Moses and pronounces his name

this

Exodus

translated

to impress Pharaoh.

first efforts fail

turn against

in the present or future tense, as

Egypt along with

returns to

oppression so

BE.

form of the word "to be," either

Moses

is

Revised Standard Version, with a footnote

giving alternate readings of

was

name:

here given for

Almighty, but by

God

is

the

Isaac,

and unto

my name JEHOVAH

YHVH

mentioned

earlier

(see page 20).

In later history, the Jews grew increasingly reluctant to articulate the


actual

them

name

of

God and

it

became

a habitual gesture of respect with

to substitute for the four consonants wherever they occur the

respectful

title

of "the Lord," which

in

Hebrew

Adonai.

is

In both the King James Version and the Revised Standard Version
this

procedure

is

followed and

"Lord." Exodus 6:3

is

YHVH

is

consistently

translated

as

the one place where the King James Version

abandons caution and actually makes

use

of

the

name

of

God.

The

Revised Standard Version does not do so but remains consistent

and

translates

the clause in Exodus 6:3 as "but by

my name

the

EXODUS
Lord

did not

135

make myself known to them." (The translation from


Hebrew consonants themselves, untrans-

the Masoretic text gives the


lated,

with a footnote directing that

The name Jehovah

be read "the Lord.")

it

almost universally accepted by English-speak-

is

manner of pronouncing

ing Christians as the

YHVH,

but that arose

by mistake.
It

seems that as the centuries passed and the Jews of

later history

spread throughout the east and began to speak Aramaic, Babylonian,

and Greek,

Hebrew, there grew up the danger that

in preference to

the proper pronunciation of the Biblical language would be forgotten.

The Jewish
Hebrew

der the

scholars therefore placed

marks un-

diacritical

little

consonants, indicating the vowel sounds that went

with them in each particular word.

For

YHVH,

however, they did not produce the proper

diacritical

marks since the name was not supposed to be pronounced anyway.


Instead, they wrote the diacritical

was supposed

to

marks for Adonai, the word that

be pronounced. Sometime during the Middle Ages,

a Christian scholar, supposing that the vowels of Adonai belonged

with the consonants

(The

initial J in

YHVH,

Latin

is

wrote out the

pronounced

This mistake has persisted and


Actually,

modem

nunciation of

scholars

YHVH

like

name
an

in full as Jehovah.

initial

Yahveh.

is

certain that the worship of

forth in the

first

five

persist.

seem to have decided that the correct pro-

During the greater portion of Old Testament times

means

in English.)

probably continue to

will

it

was by no

Yahveh, according to the

ritual set

books of the Bible (which, according to long-

accepted tradition, both Jewish and Christian, were written by Moses),

would win out among the


those

who

Israelites.

believed in the worship of

exclusive worship of

Yahveh

as the

only

will,

in this book, speak of

Yahveh

God)

(particularly

in

the

as Yahvists.

Aaron

Moses and

his brother

Aaron were of the

tribe of Levi

and

in later

generations the priesthood was to be confined to the descendants of

Aaron, so that the expression "Levite" came to be virtually synony-

mous with

"priest." In

view of

this,

account of the genealogy of Aaron.

Exodus pauses here to give an

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

36

Levi

described

is

having had

as

was second, while Kohath had four sons of

whom

of

sons,

three

whom

the

Kohath
two were

first

Amram and

Izhar.

Kohath, and

Amram

there

the echo, here, of the patriarchal age of moderately ex-

is

still

The

age at the time of death

and 137

as 137, 133,

is

given for Levi,

years respectively, so that

tended lifetimes.

Exodus

6:20.

And Amram

him Jochebed ...

took

she bare him Aaron and Moses

Exodus 6:21. And the sons of Izhar; Korah


Korah,
end,

who was

first

He

cousin.

and

to a

bad

also the ancestor

is

Temple

of one of the guilds of

(despite his rebellion)

Moses and come

later to rebel against

here described as Moses'

is

to wife;

musicians,

variously referred to in the Bible as the Korahites, Korhites, or Korathites,

and who

be mentioned

will

in connection with the

Book of

Psalms.

The

line of

Exodus
she bare

Aaron

taken further:

is

6:23. And Aaron took him Elisheba ... to wife; and


him Nadab, and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar.

And

Exodus 6:25.

Eleazar

took

him one

of the daughters of

and she bare him Phinehas.

Putiel to wife;

Nadab and Abihu


and Ithamar survived

died in the course of the Exodus but Eleazar


to

families of later times.

become the

ancestors of the two chief priestly

Aaron was the

first

High

Priest

and he was

succeeded by his son Eleazar and, eventually, by his grandson, Phinehas.

The Magicians

of Egypt

After the Levite genealogy, the writers of Exodus return to the

main current of

its

account.

Moses and Aaron approach Pharaoh once more and try to impress
him by turning a rod into a serpent. Pharaoh, however, scorns what
he considers a parlor

Exodus 7:11.

trick

and

calls

his

own men

the magicians of Egypt

ner with their enchantments.

to duplicate

did in

like

it.

man-

EXODUS
The names

of these magicians are not given. In the

New

37
Testa-

ment, however, in the second of Paul's Epistles to Timothy, there

is

the passage:

2 Timothy 3:8.

Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses

There were a number who withstood Moses

in the course of the

None of these had


names that were anything like Jannes and Jambres, names which do
not occur anywhere else in the Bible, in fact. The usual assumption,
therefore, is that Paul was drawing upon some well-known legend which
gave the names Jannes and Jambres to the Egyptian magicians who
tried to duplicate the works of Moses and to show him up as a mere
conjurer before Pharaoh. Indeed, some rabbinical legends have Jannes and Jambres so impressed by Moses that they eventually joined
passage of the Israelites from Egypt to Canaan.

the Israelites, but died in the course of the Exodus.

The Red Sea

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

138

Passover

With Pharaoh

scorning the

first

demonstration, Moses and Aaron

upon Egypt. These,

bring, in swift succession, a series of disasters

volving visitations of frogs and

various

insects,

pestilences,

in-

unusual

weather such as hail or darkness, are generally referred to as "the


ten plagues of Egypt."

Although these plagues,

must have loomed

Bible,

histories,

if

they had taken place as described in the

no reference to them

the Bible. In

any contemporary records or

large in
is

be found

to

Immanuel Velikovsky,

1950,

any source outside

in

his

in

in later

book "Worlds

in

some other
events described in the Bible) by supposing that the planet Venus
had undergone a near collision with the earth. The book created a
Collision attempted to account for the plagues (and for

moderate sensation among the general public


tion of astronomers varied

for a while,

but the

reac-

from amusement to anger, and the Vcli-

kovskian theory has never, for one moment, been taken seriously either

by

by

scientists or

The

male of
elites

Biblical scholars.

tenth plague was the crucial one. In


even,'

house

in

Egypt was

its

course, the first-bom

by divine action. The

slain

Isra-

were spared. Each family was directed to eat a ceremonial meal

and to place the blood of the lamb eaten


meal on the door of the house:

in

the course of that

Exodus 12:23.
the Lord will pass through to smite the Egypand when he seeth the blood
the Lord will pass over the
.

tians:

door and
In

will

not

commemoration

smite you.

of this

awesome

event,

which marked the be-

ginning of the escape from Egypt and the establishment of the


elites as a nation, a
is

ceremonial meal

named (according

The Hebrew word

it

The
is

Isra-

The ceremony
promise of God to "pass

eaten each year.

to the Bible) after the

over" the Israelite houses.

Exodus 12:11.

is

original instructions refer to

it

thus:

the Lord's passover.

translated here as "passover"

is

pesach and the

Hebrew word meaning "to


over" and therefore wrote the passages in such a way as to stress
similarity. The real meaning of pesach is unknown.
Biblical writers

saw

a similarity to the

pass

that

EXODUS
In

was an agricultural

probability, the Passover

all

dating the time of Moses. Such

festival

common

long ante-

in all agricultural

Thanks-

(Americans have even invented one for themselves

societies.

Usually such

giving.)

festivals are

I39

even

festivals,

among

the early

were

Israelites,

thoroughly pagan in inspiration.

The

priestly writers of the

Hexateuch could not

extreme a fashion. The various

traditions in too

revise

the early

festivals

were too

popular and too deeply ingrained in tradition to be done away with.

The

best that could be done was to associate

them

firmly with

some

legendary event in Biblical history and divorce them from idolatry.


Passover, the

most important of the

agricultural festivals,

the most important event in

with

the

early

common

(Such changed associations are

in

was associated

legendsthe Exodus.

the development of

reli-

Thus, in the early history of Christianity, the pagan celebra-

gions.

tion of the winter solstice the Saturnalia was converted into Christ-

mas and made

into the celebration of the birth of Jesus something

that will be discussed further in the second volume.

After the Exile, the Passover was one of the three festivals during

which

all

pious Jews attempted to travel to Jerusalem and worship at

the Temple.

was

It

was

in the course of

crucified.

The

anniversary of the resurrection of Jesus

same time of the year

as Passover,

method

for the Christian


ish

one of these Passovers that Jesus


celebrated at the

is still

although never on the same day,

of calculating the day differs from the Jew-

method.

That anniversary
example of

is,

in English, called

religious adaptation.

old Teutonic goddess of spring.

kept to

make

The word
This

is

Book of

commemoration of the

into the

pagan spring

the

festival

resurrection but

is

another
of an

was converted

pagan name was

its

sometimes, quite wrongly, applied to Passover.

done on one occasion


it is

described

in

how

the King James Version. In the

the Apostle Peter was imprisoned at

the time of the Passover, with the intention of bringing

once the

is

name

the transition as easy as possible.

"Easter"

Acts,

"Easter" and this

The word comes from

was

festival

Acts 12:4.

over.

The

ruler

is

him

to trial

described as

intending after Easter to bring

him

forth to the

people.

The Revised Standard Version changes


case, of course.

Easter to Passover in this

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

140

Abib

The month

which the Exodus took place, and

in

which the

in

Passover was celebrated, was Abib.

Exodus

Abib

is

This day came ye out in the month Abib.

13:4.

an example of the names of the months used in pre-Exilic

The word means


when such kernels

times.

"kernel of grain" and marks the time of the

year

appeared.

Other such ancient names are mentioned here and there in the
Bible. In connection with

mon,
1

Kings 6:38.

And

Zif:

month Bui

all

the

men
.

of Israel assembled

Exile, however, the Jews

The names
Babylonian now and are

to the present day.

month

earlier

made

of the

months

at the

use of the

later history,

in

the Jewish

used in those Biblical books

that are clearly post-Exilic, especially the books of

Esther. Thus, the

Babylonian calendar and they kept that throughout their

calendar are

dedicated:

During the Babylonian

down

Solo-

month Ethanim

feast in the

month

in the eleventh year, in the

The temple was then


Kings 8:2.

the

laid, in

And

was the house finished

Temple under

Kings 6:37. In the fourth year was the foundation of the

house of the Lord


1

the building of the

for instance, the Bible records:

known

as Abid, in

Nehemiah and
which Passover

was celebrated, became Nisan:

Nehemiah

2:1.

And

it

came

to pass in the

month Nisan

The Red Sea


After the tenth plague, Pharaoh's resistance broke and he agreed
to allow the Israelites to leave the land:

Exodus 12:37.
to Succoth

And

the children of Israel journeyed from Rameses

EXODUS
The

location of Succoth

is

not agreed upon, but

many

141

people be-

be located very close to Pithom (see page 126) or even to

lieve it to

be identical with

If so,

it.

the

upon

Israelites,

leaving Egypt, headed

east.

Had

they

bome

northward, they could have reached and followed

the coast, taking the most direct and shortest route into Canaan.

That, however, would have led them into trouble.

The

now invading various sections of the


(This, in fact, may well have been the historical
dramatic Biblical story of the plagues.) The Peoples

Peoples of the Sea were

Egyptian realm.
equivalent of the

on the very portion of the


would have reached first.

of the Sea were establishing themselves

Canaanite coast that the

The
the

sea,

tines.

who were

Israelites,

no position

Israelites

liberated slaves

unused to war, were

soon to appear importantly in the Biblical story as the

The

had

Israelites

Philis-

to travel eastward, therefore, in order to flank

Red

the Philistine position and this brought them to the

Exodus 13:17.

in

on the well-armed, war-hardened invaders from

to take

God

them not through the way

led

land of the Philistines, although that was near; for


peradventure the people repent

Sea.

when they

see war,

God

of the

said, Lest

and they

return

to Egypt:

Exodus 13:18. But

God

of the wilderness of the

The Red

Sea

is

led the people about, through the

Red Sea

a long, narrow

arm

way

of the Indian Ocean, extend-

ing northwest and southeast in an almost straight line for 1450 miles.
Its

width

is

only between 150 and 200 miles, and from

can guess that

The Red

Sea

it
is

is

its

shape one

part of the Great Rift Valley.

one of the most unpleasant parts of the ocean.

separates the African desert from the Arabian desert

water in the form of

rainfall,

and

It

receives little

while the sun, baking as hotly as any-

where on earth, evaporates much water. For that reason, despite the
fact that water constantly pours into the southern end of the sea,
which

is

manages

open
to

be

to the
saltier

main body

of the Indian

Ocean, the Red Sea

than any other part of the ocean.

It

is

up

to

4.1 per cent salt at the closed northern end, as compared to 3.5 per

cent for the oceans generally.

The name "Red Sea" is of Greek origin and in Roman times, the
name spread out into that portion of the Indian Ocean into which

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

142

openedwhat we now
and the Persian Gulf.

the sea
Sea,

Why

"Red"? There are

the Gulf of Aden, the Arabian

call

The

several theories.

waters

may

turn red

shells

on the shore

(or the rocks)

reflection of the setting

sun as seen

from Arabia

red.

through some infestation of microscopic plants; the

may be red; the


may turn the waters

none of these

is

You can

take your pick. Perhaps

the right reason; or perhaps there

no

is

reason.

Pi-hahiroth

With

the Israelites in the process of leaving Egypt, Pharaoh

gretted having given permission for their departure.

re-

At the head

of

a detachment of cavalry he set out after them.

Exodus

14:9.

the Egyptians pursued after

them

overtook them encamping by the sea, beside Pi-hahiroth

The

Bible then relates the story of the escape of the Israelites

the waters of the

Red Sea

and

when

miraculously parted for them, and then

returned in time to drown the pursuing Egyptians.

Where
hood of

did this parting take place? Presumably in

exactly where Pi-hahiroth

We

one great catch

Pi-hahiroth, but the

is

that

the neighbor-

no one knows

might have been located.

Red Sea
Red Sea proper,

can eliminate the main body of the

imagine that the

Israelites crossed

the

at once.

150 miles or so of emptied sea bottom which, in places,


like a

mile and a half deep,

would have ended


there

is

in the

is

unnecessary.

main portion

Had

To

passing over
is

something

they done

so,

they

of the Arabian peninsula and

nothing in succeeding events, as described in the Bible, to

make one

think that happened.

The succeeding

and that

rather, in the Sinai Peninsula

northwestern extension of the

is

events

take place,

separated from Egypt by a

Red Sea now known

as the

Gulf of

Suez.

The Gulf of Suez is a miniature of the Red Sea; something of the


same shape, but not as long, not as wide, and not as deep. It is
two hundred miles long, nowhere more than thirty miles wide, and,
at

its

northern end,

it

is

Even the Gulf of Suez,


Israelite "crossing of

the

only eighteen feet deep.


as

Red

it

may not be the site of the


The Hebrew name for the body of

exists today,

Sea."

EXODUS
water that was crossed
Sea," but

its literal

In Exodus times

is

yam

meaning
(it

is

suph.
is

The

phrase

translated as

is

"Red

"the sea of reeds."

generally thought)

tended somewhat farther northward than


it

143

it

the Gulf of Suez ex-

does today. In particular,

included two shallow bodies of brackish water called the Bitter

were

map

(These marshes are no longer on the

Lakes.

filled in at

because

they

the time the Suez Canal was built.)

In the Gulf of Suez extended up to and including the Bitter Lakes,

might have represented a shallow basin of

this extension

with reeds along

filled

of Reeds in

literal

on the shores of
It

truth.

this

shores,

its

The

and

site

this

may have been

of Pi-hahiroth

vanished extension of the

would seem, from the

Red

Sea.

Biblical account, that every

pursuing Egyptians was drowned.

If

sea water

might have been a Sea

one of the

Pharaoh accompanied them,

he was drowned, too. There are no records outside the Bible which
indicate Merneptah, or any Pharaoh, to have

Nevertheless,

if

Merneptah died

took place in 1211

in

this

drowned

fashion,

in the

Red

Sea.

then the Exodus

by the best modern reckoning.

b.c.

According to the Biblical reckoning:

Exodus 12:40.

Now

the sojourning of the children of Israel,

who

dwelt in Egypt, was four hundred and thirty years.

If this is

accepted, then the entry of Jacob and his sons into Egypt

took place in 1641 B.C. This date

Hyksos domination of Egypt

as

is

neatly within the period of the

would be expected

(see page 108).

Omer
The

Israelites

were

fed,

miraculously,

by

food called

manna

dropping from the heavens. There have been attempts to advance

Some suggest the manna to have been


some particular tree. Others suggest it to have been
a species of lichen. Whatever the nub of the account, however, it has
been embroidered out of recognition by the Biblical writers.
The tale of the manna is from the P document as can be seen from
the careful instructions given for the gathering of the manna and
a non-miraculous explanation.

the exudate of

the warnings to observe the Sabbath.

(This form of ritualism and

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE


meticulousness
of

some

characteristic of P.) It

is

and there

early legend,

is

is

therefore a late elaboration

no point

in taking it literally.

Part of the instructions are:

Exodus

16:16.

But how
seem

large

to have

course,

The

help.

ways

if

trouble

an omer for every

Now

that, for they

an omer

man

is

that

added

a definition:

the tenth part of an ephah.

is

one doesn't know how

difficult to

among

it

an omer? Even the editors of the Hexateuch

is

been worried by

Exodus 16:36.

Of

Gather of

large an

while strange

ephah

units

put into familiar terms, there

is

is

that doesn't

of measure arc

al-

particular confusion

the early Israelites.

Those of pre-Exilic times used Egyptian systems of measurement


and those of post-Exilic times used Babylonian systems, and it is

them

not always easy to

tell

omer

than half a peck

four

a little less

is

liters

in

apart.

The

best estimate

our

in

common

that

is

the

units or about

the metric system.

Amalek
After the crossing of the
Sinai,

and the

situation

Red

headed

Sea, the Israelites

now changes

radically.

Mount

for

A weakened

Egypt

has been

left behind and will not play a role as an adversary of the

Israelites

for fully three centuries. In its place are

Semitic peoples

who

new enemies, the


down in

had, within the past century, settled

the areas surrounding Canaan, displacing the earlier inhabitants. These,


naturally, resisted the later influx of the Israelites.

The

first

of these

mentioned

as

encountering the Israelites were

Amalekites:

Exodus

17:8.

Then came Amalek and fought with

Israel

in

Rephidim.

The

location of

Rephidim

in its traditional place

is

unknown.

If

Mount

Sinai

is

located

near the southern apex of the Sinai Peninsula,

then Rephidim would have to be located somewhere in the southern


portion of the peninsula and

it

becomes

a matter of

wonder

Amalekites were to be found there. References elsewhere

that the

in the Bible

EXODUS
seem
and

to place the Amalekites chiefly to the

to

make them

145

immediate south of Canaan

neighbors, or even a branch, of the Edomites. Tin's

was recognized by the Biblical writers themselves since the eponym,

Amalek, was described


the

If

way

their

Mount

to

who would
Or perhaps

the story

the

Sinai with

Mount

and the

displaced

is

Rephidim did not take place en route


afterward

when the

left

questions

one

to

more

were

least

seemed

the

to

be a

to

Book

maintained a

may be

the Israelites,

because the

when

peculiarly

unfair

and

they

what

or because they did so in

fight back,

the Israelites
in the

but long

Sinai

undying enmity with the Amale-

make war upon

to

first

equipped to

manner. Later,

133).

with Amalek in

Israelites

so than with their other enemies. This

Amalekites were the

favor of those

(sec page

the mountain and were indeed

side,

strong tradition of continuing an


kites;

Mount

Canaan on

Canaan.

in the region south of

Putting such

had

Israelites

of

in

Seir

battle

to

(see page 103).

south

region

would be a point

Sinai that

Mount

identify

Esau/Edom

as a grandson of

had reached

Israelites

frustrating

of Deuteronomy, Moses, in summarizing

the events following the Exodus,

is

quoted:

Deuteronomy 25: 17. Remember what Amalek did unto thee by


the way, when ye were come forth out of Egypt;
Deuteronomy 25:18. How he met thee by the way, and smote
the hindmost of thee, even all that were feeble behind thee, when
thou wast faint and weary

The Amalekites seemed

strong to the Israelites, and in a prophecy

described as having been uttered later in their progress toward Canaan,

Balaam,

by

prophet,

non-Israelite

they

are

described

grandilo-

quently:

Numbers
and

25:20.

this is usually

Amalek was the

taken to

mean

first

of the nations

that they were the most powerful

of the nations of the region.

Perhaps they were, temporarily.

Nomadic groups sometimes

rise

upon unprepared
or decadent enemies and then vanish almost entirely after a comparatively short time. The outstanding example of this in history is
the career of the Mongols, who, in the thirteenth century aj>., nearly
to

tremendous

local

power

as a result of

then

conquered the world

faded away.

sudden

raids

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

146

The

Amalekites could have anticipated the Mongolian feat only

in the smallest

way and over

a very restricted area for neither the

Egyptian nor the Babylonian records mention any people that can

be

The

the Amalekites.

with

identified

Bible

our only source

is

concerning them.

The
ended

pitched battle between the Amalekites and the Israelites

first

complete victory for the

in

War

latter.

when

tinued, however, until two centuries later,


king, was to

end the

between them conSaul,

Israel's

first

wiping out the Amalekite power and leav-

task,

ing only remnants, about which

further

little

is

heard.

Joshua

In this

first

battle with the Amalekites, a

new

military leader

makes

his appearance.

Exodus 17:9. And Moses said unto Joshua, Choose us out men,
and go out, fight with Amalek
.

The
tion

is

fact that Joshua

one reason

Amalekites

is

introduced without warning or identifica-

is

thinking that

for

this

concerning the

passage

misplaced and actually describes something that took

place near the end of the Exodus rather than near the beginning.

Later Joshua

is

mentioned

Standard Version) and

is

of the tribe of Ephraim.


original

as

Oshea

(Hoshea,

identified as the son of

Oshea

name and Moses changed

("salvation")
it

to

in

Nun and

the

Revised

as a

member

was apparently

one more in

his

line with

Yah-

Oshea the son of

Nun

vism:

Numbers

13:16.

And Moses

called

Jehoshua.
Jehoshua, of which Joshua

is

a shortened form,

means "Yahveh

is

salvation."

Joshua remained Moses' military aide throughout the Exodus and


eventually succeeded
is

the

first

Moses

indication

This

as leader of the Israelites generally.

of the military pre-eminence of the

tribe

Ephraim, a pre-eminence they were to hold throughout the

of

tribal

period.

In

later

Old Testament

times,

it

became more common

to

ab-

EXODUS

147

sound "sh" (not present

breviate Jehoshua as Jeshua. In Greek, the

in

the Greek alphabet) was replaced by "s" and the usual Greek name-

ending of

"-s"

Indeed, the
to Joshua,

was added so that Jeshua became

New

Testament

(originally

in

Greek)

Moses' general, as Jesus on two occasions at

in the Book of
when Stephen summarizes Old Testament

King James Version. Thus,


he

Jesus.

written

refers to the tabernacle built

refers

least in the

the Acts of the Apostles,


history

audience,

for his

under Moses' direction

in the wilder-

ness:

Acts 7:45.
[to

Which

the

name

is,

name

in Acts 7:45

is

given

of course, quite impossible for any version to change

of Jesus Christ back to the

too fixed in

after brought in

In the Revised Standard Version, the


as Joshua. It

came

also our fathers that

Canaan] with Jesus

human

consciousness in

Hebrew

its

Joshua.

That name

is

Greek form.

Cherubim

After the battle with the Amalekites, the Israelites reached


Sinai.

There Moses ascended the mountain

concerning various moral

ments) as well

as

precepts

(including

to

receive

the

Mount

instructions

Ten Command-

the details of the structures to be built for the

worship of God, the clothing of the High

Priest,

various

rites,

and

so on.

Most

sacred of the structures described was the "ark of the cove-

nant," a simple chest which was to contain the tablets on which the

Ten Commandments were


ence of

The

God was

inscribed,

and over which the very

pres-

supposed to hover.

ark was covered by a slab of gold called the mercy seat

and

Exodus 25:18. And thou shalt make two cherubims of gold


two ends of the mercy seat.

in the

Exodus 25:20. And the cherubims shall stretch forth their wings
on high, covering the mercy seat with their wings, and their faces
shall look one to another
.

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

148
(Actually, "cherubims"
is

a false plural. In

is

The

cherub, the plural cherubim.

"cherubim.")

stitutes the simple


It is

Hebrew, the singular

Revised Standard Version sub-

not really certain what the cherubim might be. During the

Assyrian period, the readers of the Biblical writings seem

have

to

been expected to know what was meant by the word without the
necessity of description or explanation. Thus,

God

were driven out of Eden,

is

when Adam and Eve

described as placing guardians about

the garden to prevent any return by man:

Genesis 3:24.

he placed at the east of the garden of Eden

Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way

The

"Cherubims" without description or explana-

verse simply says

tion.

In connection with the

of the covenant, the wings are

arlc

men-

tioned, but not in order to explain the appearance of the cherubim


for nothing else

The

described.

is

the exact position

of

verses merely take pains to describe

the wings, which

the readers are otherwise

taken to be quite familiar with.


Centuries

when Solomon

later,

built his

Temple, he too made use

of cherubim in appropriately enlarged scale:

Kings 6:23.

And

he made two cherubims of

olive tree,

each ten cubits high.


1

and

And

Kings 6:24.

five cubits

the other

five cubits

was the one wing of the cherub

Again, the mere fact of wingedness


It

is

all

that

is

mentioned.

might be simple to think that cherubim were merely

figures

with wings, such as

we

in later Jewish legends, the cherubim figured as

orders

of angels.

Cupids depicted

On

the

other

particularly holy

among

(Moderns often apply the term


in

that the term has

sweetly

come
hand,

to

sentimental

be applied

the

human

usually visualize angels to be. Indeed,

paintings

to

the higher
the winged

with

the

result

to children.)

cherubim

were

guardians

of

objects

and unapproachable, and they might well have been

fearsome in shape.

The

Assyrians, for instance, built at the gateways

of their palaces and temples monstrous creatures meant to guard kings

and gods. These were

large representations of bulls, with

the head

EXODUS
of a

man and

wings of an

Other types of composite

eagle.

I49

creatures

are also familiar in the various mythologies. For instance, there are

the Greek sphinxes, which had the head of a

an

eagle,

There
that

and the body of


nothing

is

that crouched

In

on the mercy

in

the

Book of

Ezekiel 1:6.

as

Ezekiel.

by him

(later referred to

as

men,

composite creatures

is

the

initial

Here, the prophet describes beings

cherubim) which are clearly composite.

every one had four faces,

possibility

rather than winged

lions,

seat.

cherubim

favor of the

vision

the wings of

would eliminate the

in the Bible that

was winged bulls or winged

it

woman,

a lion.

and every one had

jour wings.
Ezekiel 1:7.

a calfs foot

Ezekiel 1:10.

and the

sole of their feet

was

like

the sole of

they four had the face of a man, and the face

of a lion, on the right side; and they four had the face of an ox

on the

The
over

description,

with

torted

they four also had the face of an eagle.

left side;

the

Israelites

as

we now have

vision,

but the cherubim

may be mangled and dismuch dispute


is

it,

and there

the passing of the years,

envisioned

as

must have been more than simply

The Urim and

the

by the ancient

winged human

figure.

Thummim

Even more puzzling than the cherubim

are objects which enter into

the meticulous and detailed description of the garments of the High


Priest.

The ephod,

breastplate bearing

carrying

upon

it

a kind

of linen vest, was partly covered by a

twelve jewels, one for each of the tribes, and

some

sort of pocket:

Exodus 28:30. And thou shalt put in the breastplate of judgment the Urim and the Thummim
.

Nobody knows what


Hebrew, but translating

and "perfections"

Urim and Thummim are. The words are


them is of no help, for they mean "lights"

the

respectively.

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE


The most
a

form of

frequent guess

that the

is

Urim and

Thummim

represent

determining the will of God.

for guidance in

lot used

There might be one type of object indicating "yes" and another


dicating "no" and

in-

yes-no questions are put, the answers are given

if

by the type of object which pops out of the pouch.


that a blank object was also

even possible

It is

included, one which

neither

signified

yes nor no, indicating that divine guidance was refused.

The

Bible certainly indicates that in early Israelite history, divine

guidance was expected to make

When

event.

committed a

manifest in

itself

King Saul was searching


sin,

he

for the

some

sort of

who had

individual

on one side

set the Israelites generally

chance

(letting

them, perhaps, be represented by one of the lot-objects) and himself

and

Jonathan on the other (letting them be represented by

his son

the other lot-objects).

Samuel 14:41. Therefore Saul said unto the Lord God of


Israel, Give a perfect lot. And Saul and Jonathan were taken: but
1

the people escaped.

However,
casting lots

in this
is

and other

cases, in the

And

are not specifically mentioned.

Thummim
There

is

King James Version, where

Urim and Thummim


when the Urim and

used to obtain divine guidance, the


usually

are mentioned, the nature of their use

not described.

is

only one place where the two combine and that

days before King Saul's final battle,

when he sought

for

is

in the

guidance and

found none:

Samuel 28:6.

And when

Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord

answered him not, neither by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets.

The
1

Revised

Standard

Samuel 14:41 which

is

Version,

fuller

however,

accepts

of

version

than that found in the King James and

which, indeed, makes matters explicit: "Therefore Saul said, 'O Lord

God
If

of Israel,

why

guilt

in

this

Israel,

give

is

hast thou not answered thy servant this day?

me

Urim; but

or in
if

Jonathan

this

Thummim.' And Jonathan and

guilt

Saul

is

my

son,

in

thy

Lord,

people

God

Israel,

of

give

were taken, but the people

escaped."

This sort of guidance by lot passed out of use before the end of
the Old Testament period.

EXODUS

The Molten Calf

Mount Sinai continued for so long that the Israelites


back in the camp began to fear that he might never return. This
encouraged those among them who felt uncomfortable with an invisible God. It is very common to desire some visible manifestaMoses' stay on

(nowadays

tion of the deity

as well

ancient times)

as in

and the

pressure increased on Aaron to supply one.

Aaron asked

Exodus

for gold:

And

32:4.

after

he had made

gods,

The
ears.

Israel

it

and animals

man
we

as

fashioned

a molten calf:

certain

superior to

is

not as surprising as

it

These be thy

wild

some

that

might sound to modern

modern technology,

do. Before the rise of

and menace and

animals, at least, might

too,

many

it

was by no

not be equal or

peoples believed that the souls of

reborn in animal form and that one particular species

might have close

of creature

said,

men

man. Then,

men might be

and they

tool,

did not differentiate as carefully between

carnivores were a continuing terror

means

with a graving

it

choice of image

Primitive

he

ties

own

with their

of subtle kindred

some animals were a necessary


these creatures had somehow to

particular tribe. Others felt that since

source of food, a representation of

be honored and propitiated.

Animal worship

man

has,

therefore,

in

throughout history. Nowadays,

where among the Hindus


despite the

endemic

cattle

one way or another, attracted


it

is

most

may not be

common

killed,

much

in

India,

less eaten,

starvation in the land. This practice gives rise to

the well-known phrase "sacred cow" for any belief rigidly held beyond
reason.

In ancient times, animal worship was most widespread in Egypt. As

an example, the
bull,

city of

Memphis

paid special reverence to a sacred

Hapi, (known to the Greeks as Apis).

a manifestation of the

thing about

it

The

bull

was considered

god Osiris and was given divine honors. Every-

was surrounded with

supposed to have great significance.

ritual

and

its

every action was

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE


One might

suppose that

was the Egyptian example that inspired

it

the Israelites at the foot of

Mount

To

cattle for meat, milk,

who depend on

people

bound

be considered an important

to

fertility all

many

time when the


the

is

not necessarily

and

so.

labor, the bull

figure indeed,

is

because on his

which

The

groups of people.

early Cretans, during the

were in Egypt, had long observed

Israelites

bulls played a key

Two

role.

religious

thousand years

later,

of Mithraism, a religion of Persian origin, also involved bulls.

rites

The

but that

depended. Bulls would therefore play an important part in

the ritual of

rituals in

Sinai,

Assyrians

had

winged

their

bulls

and the other peoples of the

Fertile Crescent also held bulls in varying degrees of reverence.

The

Israelites,

therefore,

strange in bull worship,


a

young

bull.

Indeed,

if

were not at

all

resting

to

see

anything

and the "calf Aaron formed was undoubtedly


I myself suspect, winged

the cherubim were, as

from an

(see page 149), then the transition

bulls

likely

invisible presence

between the cherubim on the ark of the covenant,

cherubim themselves, could be an easy one.


resent a full retreat from

Yahvism

It

to

the

might not even

rep-

since the golden figure

might be

made manifest.
This section of the Book of Exodus is thought to be based on
legends that arose primarily among the Joseph tribes in northern
Canaan. It may be that in very early tribal history some special association was made between the Joseph tribes and bulls. Thus, Moses,
taken for Yahveh

shortly before his death,


separately,

and when

Deuteronomy

is

it is

33:17.

This shows up more

described as blessing each of the tribes

the turn of Joseph, part of the blessing

His glory

specifically

is

like

the

firstling

of his buttock

when, three centuries

is:

after the Ex-

kingdom of Solomon splits into two halves. Since Jerusalem,


which had been the center of worship under David and Solomon,
remained with the southern half, it seemed politically dangerous to the
king of the northern kingdom to allow such worship to continue.
This king was Jeroboam of the tribe of Ephraim, one of the Joseph
tribes, and he turned naturally, it would appear, to the bull, the ancient

odus, the

animal symbol of his


1

and

Kings 12:28.

tribe.

Whereupon

said unto them, It

behold thy gods,

is

Israel

the king

too
.

much
.

for

made two

calves of gold,

you to go up to Jerusalem:

EXODUS
The

use of the bull as a manifestation of

northern kingdom to the end of


a foothold in

history.

history of later Judaism

Israelites

God

continued in the

However,

the southern kingdom, and

kingdom that the

While the

its

it

is

it

never obtained

from the southern

and Christianity descends.

were celebrating the image of the young

Moses descended from the mountain.

brief civil

the Levites ranging themselves on Moses' side.


the bull-worshipers were slaughtered, and

The

bull,

war followed, with


ringleaders

among

Moses' authority was

re-

affirmed.

With

Moses continued with his task of instituting the


rituals of Yahvism, and the Book of Exodus ends with a careful accounting of how the ark of the covenant, the clothing of the High
Priest,

that done,

and other items are prepared

tions earlier given.

in exact fulfillment of the instruc-

3.

LEVITICUS

LEVITICUS LEAVEN UNCLEAN THE DAY OF ATONEMENT


DEVILS ' BLOOD FAMILIAR SPIRITS MOLECH * JUBILE

AZAZEL

Leviticus

The

third

book of the Bible

Leviticus 1:1.

The
the

first

word

Hebrew

The book

in

title
is

And

begins:

the Lord called unto Moses

Hebrew

is

Vayikrah ("And he called") and that

is

of the book.

one long section of the P document, given


so that it is easily the dullest book in the Bible

virtually

over to ritualistic detail,


to the casual reader.
Its instructions

drawn from among the descendants of Aaron, who


tribe of Levi.

who

are of primary interest to the priesthood,

Aaron and

his descendants are therefore Levites,

word became synonymous with

"priest."

The translators of the


ment with the priesthood,
and we make use of the

it

are

was himself of the

and the

Septuagint, mindful of the book's involvecalled

"Levitikon" ("the Levitical book")

Latin equivalent, "Leviticus."

Leaven

One

of the instructions concerning the ritual of sacrifice ordains

the avoidance of the use of leaven in objects offered to


Leviticus 2:11.

Lord, shall be

No

meat

made with

which ye

offering

leaven

God:

shall bring

unto the

LEVITICUS
Originally, the flour used in
flat,

155

making bread was simply baked

hard cakes that had the virtue of remaining

into

to eat for long

fit

periods of time.

Dough which

had, however, been

up microorganisms from the

pick

standing,

left

air

and begin

would sometimes
to

ferment.

The

process of fermentation produced carbon dioxide which formed bub-

dough and puffed

bles in the thick

mented dough was

light

and

it

fluffy.

up. Bread
It

made from such

would not keep

made from unfermented dough, but would tend


moldy, but it was still pleasant to eat when fresh.

as well

to get dry

bread

fer-

as

and

key step in bread manufacture must have taken place (in pre-

historic

when

times)

was discovered that there was no need

it

wait for dough to ferment spontaneously.

to

small piece of already

fermented dough would hasten the fermentation of large batches of

dough. This became proverbial, and the Apostle Paul, for

fresh

in-

stance, in speaking of the pervasive influence of evil says:

Corinthians 5:6.

Know

ye not that a

little

leaven leaveneth

the whole lump?

The word

"leaven" (from a Latin word meaning "to raise")

translation of the

thing that

is

Hebrew word hametz, meaning

"to be sour," some-

often characteristic of fermenting material.

equivalent word, "yeast,"


"to boil," which

is

is

traced back to a Sanskrit

reference to

is

the bubbles

Our own

word meaning

of carbon

dioxide

formed.

To

the

Israelites,

fermentation seemed a form of corruption, and

however pleasant leavened bread might be to


stigma of corruption and impurity about
the altar to

God must be

it.

eat, there

was

the

still

Bread to be offered on

pure and uncorrupt and must, therefore, be

unleavened.

On

Passover, because of the holiness of the season, only unleavened

bread might be eaten and no trace of leaven must be found anywhere


in

the house. Indeed, a

synonym

for Passover

is

"the feast of un-

leavened bread."

Exodus 23:15. Thou

shalt keep the feast of unleavened bread

in the time appointed of the

from Egypt

month Abib;

for in

it

thou earnest out

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

56

The

Last Supper of Jesus and his disciples took place at the time

The bread broken by

of Passover.

and the wafer used


event,

is

Jesus

was therefore unleavened,

in the Catholic Mass, in

commemoration

of that

unleavened too.

Undoubtedly the use of unleavened bread


ancient, dating back to long before the Exodus.

ritual

in

The

extremely

is

priestly editors of

the Hexateuch had to find some circumstance in the flight from Egypt
that
as a

in

made the eating of unleavened bread particularly


way of commemorating the Exodus. They found this

which the

Israelites left; a haste so great that

appropriate
in the haste

the relatively slow

process of fermentation could not be waited for:

And

Exodus 12:33.

the Egyptians were urgent

them out

that they might send

upon the

of the land in haste

people,

Unclean

Much

of Leviticus deals with the clean and unclean:

Leviticus 5:2.

To
is

us, clean

unclean

if

it

...

a soul touch any unclean thing

if

and unclean tends


is

dirty, or

dangerous bacteria.

The

has an offensive smell, or

Something

to be a hygienic matter.

Biblical use of the

laden with

is

term involves

religious

ritual.

Something
it

may

is

clean

if it

may be

offered as a sacrifice to

stand in the presence of God. Something that

offered as a sacrifice

is

unclean. People who, because of

God, or

if

may not be

some deformity

or disease, or because they have touched an unclean thing or per-

formed a forbidden

act, are

themselves unclean and cannot approach

the altar until the uncleanness has been removed.


In Leviticus, the items of food that are clean and

those that are unclean and

may

may be

eaten,

and

not be eaten, are listed in detail.

For instance:
Leviticus 11:3. Whatsoever parteth the hoof, and is clovenfooted,
and cheweth the cud, among the beasts, that shall ye eat.

Leviticus 11:7.

And

the swine, though he divide the hoof, and be

clovenfooted, yet he cheweth not the cud; he

is

unclean unto you.

LEVITICUS
The

on which animals

basis

Some

not known.

some bring

mind

thing in the
to

it

is

are divided into clean

common

and

is

totemism, some find in

it

a desire

to surrounding idolatry. Perhaps the chief

of the priesthood that prepared the book of Leviticus

work out a code of behavior that would

distinct

and unclean

a matter of pragmatic rules of hygiene,

in primitive notions of

to forbid practices

was

say

157

their religion intact

serve to keep the Jews

from the attractions of surrounding

cultures.

the priesthood succeeded, for these sections of Leviticus were

If so,

the basis of the dietary laws which became so important to the post-

The

Exilic Jews.

dietary laws were so intricate

and compulsive

as to

prevent pious Jews from eating with non-Jews, since the food prepared

by non-Jews could never meet the standards of ceremonial

cleanness.

And while many different foods were considered unclean, swine


somehow represented the epitome of uncleannessperhaps because
it was so common a part of the diet of the surrounding Gentiles that
absence in the Jewish dietary was particularly conspicuous.

its

The

disputes recorded in the

between Jesus and

cleanness,

New

Testament over the matter of


on the one hand and the

his followers

orthodox Jews on the other, must be understood only in the

ritualistic

sense, of course, never in the hygienic.

The Day

of Atonement

Leviticus
sin,

is

concerned with

how

to cancel out the consequences of

too, as well as of uncleanness.

To sin that

is,

to disobey the

of God, as Adam and Eve did in eating the fruit of


(the "original sin")involves separation from God. To cancel

commandments
the tree

sin according to a prescribed ritual

is

to restore one's self to the presence

more "at one" with God. The sinner


God, to
must "atone" therefore, or make "atonement."
The High Priest can atone for the entire nation by means of
appropriate rituals, and this is done on a particular day:

make

of

one's self once

on the tenth day of this seventh month


and ye shall afflict your
be a day of atonement

Leviticus 23:27.

there shall
souls

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

158

"Day

Yom

of atonement"

Kippur

day-long fast
there

now

is

is

strict

your souls"). Nevertheless,

afflict

no record of the holiday having been observed

is

Kippur.

the holiest day of the Jewish calendar and a

involved ("ye shall

is

Yom

Hebrew

a translation of the

until

post-

Exilic times.

Azazel

Yet

some

if

Day

the

of

Atonement

of the rites associated with

ritual

two goats must be

lot

The

goat upon

pect the

it

for the Lord,

itself

a post-Exilic development,

must be old indeed. As part of the

selected:

And Aaron

Leviticus 16:8.

one

is

shall cast lots

and the other

upon the two

whom the Lord's lot fell (and here one might exThummim would be used) would be sacrificed to

Urim and

The

the Lord as atonement for the sins of the nation.

be led

goats,

for the scapegoat.

lot

off into the wilderness bearing

punishment might

befall

it

with

those sins, so that

all

it

other would

rather than the nation of Israel

and

people. Because the second goat escapes into the wilderness and

not

the King James Version refers to

sacrificed,

("escaped goat").
applied

to

any

It is for this

person

or

reason that the

object

who,

it

as

is

a "scapegoat"

word has come

himself

its

innocent,

to be
suffers

vicariously for the deeds of another.

However, the Hebrew word that

King James Version

is

translated as "scapegoat" in the

is

actually Azazel.

The

Revised Standard Version

does not translate the word but makes the verse read:
shall cast lots

upon the two

goats,

one

lot for the

"And Aaron

Lord and the other

lot for Azazel."

Azazel

is

chapter, but

mentioned nowhere
it

seems quite

thought of as dwelling
evil spirit

that

is

the Bible save for this one


it

is

in the wilderness. It

the source of

the wilderness, the sins

else in

likely that

it

sin.

the

name

of a

demon

might be pictured as an

In sending the second goat into

carries could

be viewed

as returning to their

source.

Later legends elaborated on Azazel.

He

was supposed to be one of

the fallen angels, exiled from Heaven because he would not accept

LEVITICUS
man

newly created

Genesis 6:2.

Book

alternative suggestion involves a

of Genesis:

God saw

the sons of

that they were

An

as superior.

rather obscure passage in the

the daughters of

and they took them wives of

fair;

159

all

men

which they

chose.

Genesis 6:4. ..

mighty

men which

and they bare children


were of

old,

men

to

them, the same became

of renown.

This remnant of primitive mythology, lingering on in the Bible,

was interpreted

literally

by the

Flood.

Some

women and

lust for

the angels,

God, chose to corrupt themselves with

deliberately rebelling against

mankind out of

They thought

later Jews.

that this act helped bring on the

made Azazel

versions of this legend

the chief of these

angels.

Devils

Another

and

of the past

relic

commands

more independent

forbids older,

Leviticus 17:7.
devils

"slanderer."
ears,

And

"devil"

is

they shall no more offer their sacrifice unto

from

is

The name
urging

applies

them on

viewed as slandering
Job,

the
to

Greek

human

diabolos,

spirits

evil

to disobedience

and

that slander
sin.

means

which

They can

beings to God, as Satan, in the

God

in

also

be

Book of

pictured as slandering Job.

In this particular verse, "devils"

word

rites:

The word
men's

contained in the next chapter, which

is

centralized worship under the guidance of the priesthood,

sairrim, which, literally,

is

translation

means "wild

goats."

of the

There

is

Hebrew
a wide-

spread tendency to think of goats as lustful animals personifying the


wild, fructifying force of nature.

be

full

of nature

spirits in

The Greeks visualized the woods to


men with the homs, tail, and

the shape of

hindquarters of goats, always in a state of sexual heat.

them

"satyrs"

and the word has entered the

vocabulary to represent

men

suffering

from

modem

They

called

psychiatric

insatiable sexual desires.

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

i6o

To

the Yahvists, with their strait-laced sexual mores, such

gods were nothing more than

The

fertility

evil spirits.

Revised Standard Version recognizes the specific similarity of

the satyrs to the sairrim and has Leviticus 17:7 read: "So they shall

no more

The

slay their sacrifices for satyrs

."
.

popular conception of Satan today, with his homs,

cloven hoof, shows that he

tail,

and

pictured as a satyr.

still

is

Blood

The

earing of blood

Leviticus

17:10.

that eateth blood,


Leviticus

Blood

is

17:11.

strongly forbidden:

is

...
and

will

him

cut

will

For the

even set

life

my

off

face against that soul

from among

of the flesh

his people.

in the blood

is

considered to contain the principle of

life,

able, seeing that long-continued bleeding will kill a

as

is

man who

reason-

seems

otherwise unharmed. Life, as the creation of God, cannot be appropriated by man, and

man

cannot, therefore, eat blood.

This prohibition was pronounced before the revelation at Sinai, for


even Noah, after the Flood,

God

tions.

tells

is

cited as having received such instruc-

Noah what he may

eat:

Genesis 9:3. Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for

you

Genesis 9:4. But flesh with the

life

thereof,

which

is

the blood

thereof, shall ye not eat.

This was interpreted by the

who

later

Jews as meaning that even those

did not receive the revelation at Sinai were

refrain

still

required

to

from eating blood.

Thus, when a controversy arose

in

the early Christian church as

to whether Gentile converts were required to accept the dietary regulations of the

Mosaic law, the decision was that they were not so

required. Nevertheless, their freedom

was not absolute, for the con-

servative leaders of the church at Jerusalem insisted:

Acts 15:20.

pollutions of idols,

and from blood.

them that they abstain from


and from fornication, and from things strangled,

that

we

write unto

LEVITICUS

Familiar Spirits

There are prohibitions of


are

lists

all sorts in

the Book of Leviticus. There

of foods that one might not eat, and

that one

must not

some

forbidden. In addition,

lists

of sexual practices

Unethical behavior of various sorts are

tolerate.

practices are forbidden

by the Mosaic

law which seem to be harmless enough. Thus:

Exodus 23:19.

Thou

shalt not seethe

a kid in his mother's

milk.

and:

Ye

round the corners of your heads,


neither shalt thou mar the comers of thy beard.
Leviticus 19:27.

shall not

Presumably, this was designed to warn against practices that were


particularly

associated

with

heathens

and

priesthood, for instance, shaved the hair from

made

Later Jews

idolatry.

The Egyptian

head and

face.

elaborate deductions from such verses.

hibition against boiling

meat

in milk, for instance,

The

pro-

was built up into

complicated avoidance of eating meat and dairy dishes at the same


meal, or even preparing
in the

same

Leviticus 19:31.

is:

Regard not them that have familiar

ther seek after wizards

wizard

or serving them, at different times,

utensils.

Another prohibition

them

is

a "wise man," presumably one

bend supernatural

spirits, nei-

forces to his will.

who knows how

He would be one who

to

could

and make servants of them. A "familiar spirit" is a


"servant-spirit," from the Latin word famulus, meaning "servant."
The Bible does not say that such spirits do not exist, or that
wizards do not have the power to which they pretend. The objections rests on the fact that the rites practiced by wizards are

govern

spirits,

idolatrous.

The feminine
Bible judges

version

of the word "wizard"

them harshly

ential of the Biblical verses:

in

is

"witch" and the

one of the shortest and most

influ-

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

162

Exodus 22:18. Thou

shalt not suffer a witch to live.

Many unnecessary persecutions and cruelties have been


women (especially old women) as a result of this verse.

visited

must be remembered, however, that ancient pagan

(It

on

practices

endured, under cover, throughout the centuries of Christian Europe.


Fighting witchcraft was sometimes Christianity's way of fighting an

and competing

older

religion.)

Molech

The Book
form of

one

of Leviticus inveighed particularly against

particular

idolatry.

To be

sure,

of worship

in

the Bible denounces

forms of idolatry;

all

which divine beings were represented

in

forms

all

form

the

of some tangible likeness of a man, an animal, or a composite


ture.

possible to argue that the idol

It is

but only a
even

if

visible representation of

this

were

not the god worshiped

is

invisible,

divine essence, but

the tendency of the ordinary worshiper would

so,

visible object as the god.

be to consider the

The

an

crea-

Yahvists thought this danger to be so great that increasingly,

through Biblical times, they

set their face against

and grew more and more firm on that


idol roused

them

enormous

to

Leviticus 20:2.

subject.

any image at

And

all

one particular

rage.

Whosoever he be

of the children of Israel,

or of the strangers that sojourn in Israel, that giveth any of his

seed unto Molech; he shall surely be put to death

Molech
("king").

is,

It is

to "the lord."
centuries
this

in

this

way

The

passed,

to

case,

almost certainly

to such

version

of

melech

of referring to the god of the people, similar

Biblical writers

grew increasingly unable,

as

the

speak of idols as kings or lords and avoided

by pronouncing the word bosheth

came

a reference to an

idol.

("shame")

When

whenever they

diacritical

marks (see

page 135) were added to the words, melech received the marks for
bosheth. In that way, melech became Molech.

The worship of Molech involved the


tive men felt that the dearer and more
to a god, the

sacrifice of

loved

children. Primi-

the object sacrificed

more impressed the god would be and the more apt

LEVITICUS

163

to answer the prayer. In times of dire distress, then, children would

be

even perhaps the child of the king.

sacrificed,

when

In the later days of the Israelite kingdoms,

affairs

quently desperate, such child sacrifice was performed.


tion

that living children were burnt to death in a

is

the brazen idol, but

it

may be

fire

were

One

fre-

sugges-

built within

that the children were slain

and

first

then sacrificed in some more ordinary fashion.

One

of the later kings of Judah, Ahaz, sacrificed his son in this

fashion:

2 Kings 16:3.

the

Bui he [Ahaz]

made

his

son to pass through

according to the abominations of the heathen

fire,

many men

Undoubtedly,

the word melech

of the period applied

and assumed themselves to be sacrificing to God


approved manner as Abraham was ready to do in sacrificing
to Yahveh,

Of

who

course, those

disapproved of

human

sacrifice

in

an

Isaac.

must have been

quick to point out that the sacrifice of Isaac was prevented. Even
so,

that

the prophets had to go

to

special

Yahveh did not approve. The

firm and strong

and Jeremiah,

Him

against the Jews, has

Jeremiah 7:31.

And

the

which

ters in

into

my

fire;

pains

verses

to

in

state,

specifically,

Leviticus

were made

God

in rehearsing the complaints of

say:

they
I

bum

and

their sons

commanded them

not,

their daugh-

neither

came

it

heart.

JubUe

special festival

been a

priestly

is

ideal

And

Leviticus 25:8.

years

Then

which seems

to

have

thou shalt number

seven times seven

thou cause the trumpet of the jubile


... in the day of atonement

Leviticus 25:10.

The

in Leviticus,

never put thoroughly into practice:

Leviticus 25:9.

to sound

mentioned
that was

shalt

And

ye shall hallow the fiftieth year

land was to remain fallow during the year; land which had

been leased out was to be restored to the original owners; slaves


were to be freed. In a way, it was a method of starting things fresh

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

164

every half century so as to prevent the accumulation


injustice. It

was a beautiful

Nevertheless, the
rived from the

word

idea,

of economic

but impractical.

"jubile" (usually spelled "jubilee"

Hebrew word

for trumpet)

has

come

to

and

de-

represent

a fiftieth anniversary.

About 100

b.c,

a book was written by

some unnamed Jew or


It mod-

Jews purporting to detail the primitive history of humanity.

on Genesis but added a great many legendary details


that had been built up since Genesis had reached its final form some
eled

itself

three centuries before.


for instance,

cause

it

and

It

includes

traces late customs

much

detail

back to the

concerning angels,
earliest times.

Be-

gives the history in a series of chapters, each dealing with a

fifty-year period, it is called the

"Book of

Jubilees."

NUMBERS

4.

THE SUM OF THE CONGREGATION THE ETHIOPIAN WOMAN


* KADESH KORAH, DATHAN, AND ABIRAM
THE PIT MOUNT
HOR THE SERPENT OF BRASS SIHON CHEMOSH HESHBON BAS HAN
BALAAM BAAL * PISCAH UNICORN THE DAUGHTERS OF MOAB CILEAD

NUMBERS
CALEB

ZIN

Numbers

The

fourth book of the Bible begins:

Numbers
ness

1:1.

And

The Hebrew name


meaning

The

is

taken from that

book includes the

of the Israelite tribes.

translated into English,

The Sum

The

verse for

it is

"Bemidbar"

translators of the Septuagint were, however, impressed

two censuses of the

results of

They

("Numbers"). The name of


is

first

"in the wilderness."

fact that the

men

the Lord spake unto Moses in the wilder-

named the book "Arithmoi"

therefore

this

and

book, unlike those of the


called

is

by the
fighting

three,

first

"Numbers."

of the Congregation

first

census

Numbers
Numbers

is

recorded at the very start of the book:

1:2.

Take ye the sum of

1:3.

From twenty

able to go forth to war

The second

all

years old

the congregation

and upward, aU

that are

census was carried out forty years afterward, shortly

before the entry into Canaan:

Numbers

26:2.

Take the sum of

twenty years old and upward

all

all

the congregation

that are able to go to war

from
.

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

i66

The

figures presented

by the Book of Numbers are

Tribe

First

as follows:

Second Census

Census

Reuben
Simeon

46,500
59,300

22,200

Gad

45- 6 5

40,500

Judah

74,600

76,500

Issachar

54,400

64,300

Zebulun

57,400

60,500

Ephraim

40,500

32,500

Manasseh

32,200

52,700

Benjamin

35,400

45,600

64,400

43-73

Dan

62,700

Asher

41,500

53-4

Naphtali

53-4

45,400

603,550

601,730

Total

These are only the adult males, of course. If one counts in the
women and children and the "mixed-multitude" or half-breed hangers-on

of

whom

to

some two

the Bible occasionally

This seems implausibly

large, considering this

ber of Israelites in the Davidic kingdom at

numbers represent a

that the

one

refers,

the picture

gets

people wandering about the Sinai Peninsula.

million

is

its

more than the num-

One

height.

suspects

later tradition of questionable accuracy.

Regardless of the accuracy of the figures, however, two points can

be made which

reflect

the most populous tribes

later history. First,

were pictured as Judah and Joseph.

(If

Ephraim and Manasseh

taken together, the Joseph tribes have 72,700 in the

most the
passing

figure

for

Judah; and

the figure for Judah.)

85,200 in

first

the second

This seems to

reflect

are

census, al-

census,

sur-

the situation

when the Davidic kingdom had split in two,


Joseph tribes dominating the northern kingdom and Judah

four centuries later

with the

the southern.
Secondly, the most startling change in numbers,

which, between the


fifths

of

its

where near such


of

Numbers

first

numbers.

to

losses

and second census,

No

other tribe

and there

account for

it.

is

This,

is

is

loses

that of Simeon,

more than three

pictured as suffering any-

nothing in the actual events


apparently,

that at the time of the conquest of Canaan,

is

an indication

Simeon was already

NUMBERS
considerably weakened,

and

this helps

account for the fact that

played no great role in later Israelite history. This


of a disastrous early attack on

it

may be

and made

it

the result

Shechem by Simeon and

scribed in Genesis (see page 100)

167

Levi,

de-

to appear there as though

were a victory of patriarchal times.

The

was not numbered with the other

tribe of Levi

they were not to be

among

the priestly functions. Therefore,

all

not merely those above twenty years.

came

to 22,273 anc^

'

seem smaller than any of the other


reflection of the attack

the

males were counted and


figure in

tribes

and

the
is

this

first

census

made to
may be a

thus

too

on Shechem.

Woman

The Ethiopian

The

for

The

sec ond to 23,000. Levi

tribes

the warriors. Their task was to perform

Israelites set

out on their march toward Canaan and along

the way, Moses had to contend with various types of disaffection.

Even within his own family there was dissension, for his sister, Miriam, and his brother, Aaron, entered into an intrigue against him:

Numbers

And Miriam and Aaron spake against Moses


woman whom he had married

12:1.

cause of the Ethiopian

From

woman

this verse

as

one might

many

picture, as

Moses' wife, since "Ethiopian"

is

be-

people do, a Negro

used frequently nowadays

synonym for "Negro." However, there is no reason


Negro woman was involved, or even an Ethiopian
the modem sense. The Hebrew word here translated as

as a euphemistic
to think that a

woman

in

"Ethiopian"
wife

As

is

is

"Cushi" and

in the Revised

described as "the Cushite

explained

earlier

(see

be an Ethiopian. According
general

in

his

Standard Version, Moses'

woman."

page

to legend,

19),

Cushite might indeed

Moses served

as

an Egyptian

youth and led his troops in a victorious campaign

and might, conceivably, have picked up a wife or conis no Biblical evidence of this and the
legend of Moses' Ethiopian adventures is probably based on nothing
in Ethiopia

cubine there. However, there

stronger than this single verse.

Against this view

is

peoples (see page 20).

the fact that the Cushites are also Arabian

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

i68

Only one woman

mentioned

specifically

is

in

the Bible as being

married to Moses. Moses' marriage took place during his

Midian, in Arabia, and his stay at the

home

flight into

of a desert priest

(see

page 129):

Exodus

2:21.

And Moses was

content to dwell with the man: and

he gave Moses Zipporah his daughter.

may very well have been the Cushite woman


Numbers 12:1. She could be resented by Miriam out

Zipporah
to in

eralized intrafamilial jealousy, or, specifically, because she


ite

woman";

that

of gen-

was a "Cush-

Midianite and a foreigner, and not an

is,

referred

Is-

raelite.

In any case,

Moses faced down

his

brother and

sister

and won

out over dissent as he did on numerous other occasions in the course


of the Exodus.

Caleb

Having reached the wilderness of Paran (see page 87) south of


Canaan, Moses took the cautious step of sending spies into the land
in order to observe the situation.

Their reports might then serve as

a ground for a rational distribution of forces

and an

efficient

plan

of campaign.

Twelve

spies

were selected, one from each

two were of importance.

One

renamed Jehoshua, or Joshua

tribe,

but of these only

was Oshea of Ephraim,


(see page

146).

The

whom Moses

other was a Ju-

dean:

Numbers

Of

13:6.

the tribe of fudah, Caleb the son of Jephun-

neh.

The career of Caleb is, in many respects, parallel to that of Joshua.


Where Joshua was a hero of legends originating with the northern
tribes,

Caleb was the analogous hero of the southern ones.

In this verse, Caleb

is

treated as though

but in the Book of Joshua he


Joshua 14:6.

is

he were simply a Judean,

referred to

more

fully:

Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenezite

NUMBERS
A
is

Kenezite or ("Kenizzite," as in the Revised Standard Version)

descendant of Kenaz,

who is listed in Genesis


The Kenizzites, therefore,

as

is

who must have been adopted

clan,

son

into the Judean

of

Edom-

are an

Eliphaz, the first-born of Esau.


ite

169

Tin's

tribe.

not the only indication that the tribe of Judah contained non-

Israelite elements.

making an

In Chapter 38 of Genesis, Judah

is

described as

alien marriage:

And Judah saw there a daughter of a


and he took her

Genesis 38:2.
naanite

may be an

This

that the tribe of

indication

certain Ca-

Judah,

located

in

southern Canaan, was at least partly Canaanite and Edomite in nature.

not

It

is

felt

even possible that

be part of

to

book, Judah

period,

the early tribal

in

Israel,

for

key

certain

in

Judah was not only an integral part of

but supplied

Israel

and the northern

mity and ended

tribes.

the

of

conspicuously ignored. Even in Davidic times,

is

a ruling dynasty, there was a continuing lack of


it

Judah was

portions

when
with

it

sympathy between

This was exacerbated into downright en-

finally in civil

war and schism.

Zin

From

Paran, the spies traveled northward:

Numbers

13:21.

So they went up, and searched the land from

the wilderness of Zin unto

Numbers

13:22.

And

Rehob

they

came unto Hebron; where


(Now Hebron was built seven years
.

Anak were.
Zoan in Egypt.)
Numbers 13:23. And they came unto the brook
cut down from thence a branch with one cluster
and they brought of the pomegranates and of the

the children of

before

of Eshcol,

and

of grapes,

figs.

Verse 21 indicates the thoroughness of the search for "the wilderness of Zin"

is

taken to be the northern edge of Paran, and therefore

the desert area just south of Becrsheba, while

unknown)
is

is

that of saying

Maine

site

in

the extreme

that the United

to California."

north

States

Rehob

of

(exact location

Canaan. The

effect

has been searched "from

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE


This

may be hyperbole and

the chief attention was concentrated

on Hebron, the southernmost of the

large, well-fortified cities of

Ca-

was formidable enough to allow the metaphoric description

naan.

It

of

inhabitants as giantsa description later accepted literally (see

its

Page 73).

The
specific

stating

name

Semitic

capital of the
it

phrase

parenthetical

by

to

it

town

for the

makes Hebron's legendary ancientness

be seven yean older than Zoan. Zoan


called Tanis

Hyksos kingdom and

by the Greeks.

is

the

was the

used as a comparison because

is

was the nearest to Canaan of the notable

Egypt and

of

cities

known.

therefore, perhaps, the best

The

It

ancientness of Egyptian civilization was the proud boast of

Egypt and was acknowledged with awe by

no better way of
claiming

it

to

be older than an Egyptian

While Canaan would not seem an


one from California or the

neighbors. There was

its

to the extreme age of a

testifying

Nile,

it

city

than by

city.

absolute garden spot to some-

would

certainly

seem so

to tribes

invading from the desert. Well-watered oases such as that in which

Hebron was

situated

would seem

particularly fertile

and would

the well-known description of Canaan used in several places


early books of the Bible.

Thus, in God's

he promises to bring the

Israelites

Exodus

..

3:8.

flowing with milk

The produce
was

interview with Moses,

unto a good land and a


and honey
.

the

out of Egypt:

unto a land

large,

of Eshcol, a district of orchards near Hebron, was

brought back to the waiting


scription

first

justify

in

Israelite

host

as

proof that the de-

justified.

Kadesh

The

report of

the

spies

was brought back to the place where

the Israelites had established a semipermanent station:

Numbers

13:26.

And

they went and

came

to

of Israel, unto the wilderness of Paran to Kadesh

the children

Kadesh means "holy" and probably received its name because it


had some sacred associations for the pre-Israelite inhabitants of the

NUMBERS

171

Kadesh-barnea

area.

It

about

is

fifty

identified

with a place called Ain Kadis today, located

miles south of

Hebron and

in

the northeastern corner

area,

the spies returned with

of the Sinai Peninsula.

Despite the

fertility

of the

an utterly pessimistic majority

Hebron
report.

They

felt

the Canaanite

cities

were entirely too strong to be taken by assault and predicted disaster


for

any invasion attempt. Only Joshua and Caleb presented a minority

report in favor of an

immediate assault and they were nearly stoned

as a result.

The

disheartened Israelites considered a return to Egypt but Moses

held them in place and for the next thirty-eight years, Kadesh remained
the Israelite capital, while Moses and Joshua organized their forces for

the task that lay ahead.

Korah, Dathan, and Abiratn

The

stay at

Kadesh was bound to be a

after year of inactivity, with

to

make

Canaan

at

difficult

hand but

mockery of the Exodus and

to

cast

one

for

Moses. Year

inaccessible,

seemed

doubt upon Moses'

capacity as a leader. Serious disaffection appeared:

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

iy2

Numbers

Now

16:1.

and Abiram

Korah, the son of Izhar

and Dathan

sons of Reuben took men:

Numbers
Moses and

And

16:3.

against

they gathered themselves together against

Aaron

Apparently, this chapter combines into one account what were actually

two separate

rebellions against Moses,

one by Korah, and one

by the Reubenites.

The

rebellion

by Korah was

and Aaron were the sons

Amram's

of

specifically a

Moses

religious schism.

Amram, while Korah was the son

of

younger brother, Izhar (see page 136). Since Moses assigned

the lion's share of the priestly duties to Aaron and the Amramites,

Korah

felt

unjustly discriminated against.

Korah's rebellion was put down, but perhaps not without a com-

promise being reached. At least Numbers points out

later that, despite

the destruction of Korah and his band:

Numbers

26:11. Notwithstanding the children of

Korah died

In fact, the Korahites survived to become a hereditary guild of

not.

Temple

musicians, a concession they might have received in the case of a

Levite

civil

war, the

memory

of which forms the basis of the sixteenth

chapter of Numbers.

The Reubenite

rebellion of

some

purely political. At

Dathan and Abiram seems

early point in tribal history,

have held the leadership because the tradition

is

to have

been

Reuben must

firm that

Reuben

is

the oldest son of Israel. In the course of the Exodus, the Reubenites

must have witnessed with dismay the


to the tribe of Levi
to the tribe of

shift in the religious leadership

(Moses and Aaron) and the military leadership

Ephraim (Joshua). The

tale of

Dathan and Abiram

must be based on the memory of some attempt of Reuben


its

leadership and this attempt

may

also

to regain

echo in the cryptic verse in

Genesis which describes Reuben as committing incest with his father's

concubine (see page 102).

The Reubenite
raelite history did

rebellion

was

also crushed

and never again

the tribe of Reuben play a significant role.

in

Is-

NUMBERS

The

Pit

The

particular

punishment of the

rebellious Reubenites, according

to the Biblical description, was that of being swallowed alive by the


earth:

Numbers
them up
Numbers
.

16:32.
.

And

the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed

16:33.

They

The Hebrew word,

went down

here translated as "the pit"

the Revised Standard Version, Sheol


visualized

by the

early Israelites as

the souls of the dead departed.

where there was no particular


of joy.

Nor was

alive into

It

is

left

the pit

Sheol, and in

is

untranslated. Sheol was

an underground world to which

was thought of at

torture,

as a

first

dim

place

but where there was an absence

there any distinction between good

and

evil; all

beings went there upon death except those few who, like

human

Enoch and

were taken alive to Heaven.

Elijah,

The picture is like that of other such places imagined by early men.
The Creeks had such a world ruled by a god, Hades, and in the
early

Nordic myths there was such a world ruled by a goddess, Hel.

Sheol
in the

is

therefore replaced by "Hell" in

New

some

places in the Bible, and

Testament, which was originally written

in

Greek,

it

was

translated as "Hades."

The

moralization of Sheol,

for the wicked, while the

its

conversion into a place of torture

good go elsewhere, came

later

in history,

toward the end of Old Testament times.

Mount Hor
The old generation was passing away, and few remained of those
who were adults at the time of the Exodus. Miriam, Moses* sister, died
at

Kadesh, for instance.

The time came when some move had

to be

from the south against Hebron seemed to be

made.

still

direct assault

out of the question

alternative was to flank Hebron by traveling northeastward.


Canaan could then be attacked from the more vulnerable east.

and the

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

174

In order to travel directly northeastward, however, the territory of

Edom

would have had

be traversed.

to

The Edomites were

recognized

Hebrew people related to the Israelites and the use of force against
them was therefore ruled out. Permission was requested by Moses to

as a

pass through their territory peacefully, but this was refused. In later

yean, this refusal was used as a grievance against

Edom and

as a cause

for enmity.
It

was therefore necessary to outflank Edom's

Israelites traveled

Numbers

And

the children of Israel

Kadesh, and came unto

Mount Hor

is

buried on

Mount

journeyed from

Hor.

page 96). Aaron died at this time and was


the peak which is now identified with it is

Harun ("Mount Aaron")

statistics

Numbers
Numbers

And Aaron

later:

died there, in the fortieth year

were come out of the land of Egypt.

And Aaron was an hundred and

33:39.

twenty and

the Exodus took place in 1211

took place in 1171

in Arabic.

concerning Aaron's death are given

33:38.

three years old

of

often identified with the highest peak in the Seir


(see

after the children of Israel

If

Mount Hor and

called Jebel

Some

the

southeastward:

20:22.

mountain range

fortified areas, so

b.c.

That must

Moses and of the entry

also

B.C.,

then the death of Aaron

have been the year of the death

into Canaan, for events

now

follow quickly

although the Bible continues to interrupt those events with long


speeches by Moses and others.
If

we

accept Aaron's age at his death, he must have been born in

1294 b.c, while Moses,


1291

b.c.

(This last

is

who was

three years younger, was born in

an interesting date for

the beginning of the reign of Rameses


sion; see

The

II,

it

virtually coincides with

the Pharaoh of the Oppres-

page 125.)

Serpent of Brass

When

the period of mourning for Aaron was done, the Israelites

continued their outflanking march, by traveling southward to the tip


of the Gulf of Aqaba, around Edomite territory and then north again.

NUMBERS
Here there occurs an event which was

to

175

have continuing traditions

later.

plague of serpents harassed the

Numbers

21:9.

the Bible explains:

Israelites,

And Moses made

a serpent of brass, and put

upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had


man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.
This

miliar
in

which

common among

is

example we have today

images

dog that

"hair of the

serpent

whether

bit

you"

The

evil.

and hidden a fashion and

it

religious

in

fact that a serpent

moves

ritual,

in so quiet

and so unexpectedly

so suddenly

an obvious representation of cunning

such a representation of cunning

evil. It is

rather

sort of reasoning.

strikes

with so poisoned a fang, makes

and

is

homeopathic medicine, which follows the

a particularly important animal

is

good or

for

fa-

the voodoo belief that sticking pins

use of the serpent, as described in this verse,

similar to the principles of

The

is

like

(The most

primitive people.

bring pain and sickness to the person represented by the

will

The

image.)

bitten any

an example of "sympathetic magic," the belief that

is

effects like,

it

evil in

the story of the

garden of Eden, for instance:

Genesis
the field

Now

3:1.
.

Something that
that

is

the serpent was more subtil than any beast of

is

dangerous and

evil is to

feared had better be treated well

be feared, and something

and propitiated, so that

ser-

pents could be worshiped even while dreaded.

Then,

too, the serpent

because of

its

ability to

is

looked upon as symbolizing immortality

shed

its

skin.

Any

primitive

man, observing

the process by which a serpent sheds an old, dull skin and emerges in
a new, brightly colored one, might be excused

if

pent had undergone a process of rejuvenation.


shed our skin but

and

we do

so continuously, and

there, so that the process

is

he assumed the

(We
little

ser-

ourselves also

by

little,

here

quite unnoticeable.)

Gilgamesh legend (see page 40), when the hero finally


gains the plant that brought immortality, he has it stolen from him by
a serpent, which then becomes immortal. (In the garden of Eden, it
Thus,

in the

is

the serpent

it

is

not

itself

who steals immortality from Adam and Eve, although


made immortal as a result, but is punished.)

The immortal

serpent, victor over death, can thus be considered the

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

176

particular associate of the medical profession,


off,

if

which labors

to stave

not to conquer, death. Serpents were sacred to Asklepios, the

Greek god of medicine, and even today the Medical Corps of the
U.

S.

Army

has as

its

insignia the caduceus, a staff

about which two

serpents are encircled.

In later Israelite history, however, as Yahvism grew stronger and


more uncompromising, the serpent of brass, worshiped by the people,
came under sharper and sharper disapproval. The fact of the association with Moses did not save it. The end came in the reign of Hezekiah, king of Judah, some five centuries after the Exodus:
2 Kings

18:4.

serpent that
Israel did

one

[Hezekiah]

burn incense to

Nehushtan
sion

He

Moses had made;

gets

is

brake in pieces the brasen

and he

called

it

Nehushtan.

usually translated as "a piece of brass."

from the

James Version,

it:

for unto those days the children of

is

final clause of this verse, as

that

when Hezekiah

destroyed

The

impres-

given in the King

the

serpent,

he

countered the shock of the populace by contemptuously labeling the


object as of no ritual value at

all

but as nothing more than a piece

of brass.

However, Nehushtan
"brass" but also to the

the

name

is

related not only to the

word

for "serpent."

was

for

of the object without any connotation of contempt. Indeed,

the Revised Standard Version translates the


as "it

Hebrew word

Nehushtan may have been

called

final clause

of 2 Kings 18:4

Nehushtan," a matter-of-fact statement of information

without interpretation.

Sihon

Even the circling of Edom did not remove all difficulties. East of
Canaan lay the two kingdoms of Moab and Ammon. Of these two,
Moab was the more southerly, occupying the eastern shores of the
Dead Sea, while Ammon, to the north, lay east of the Jordan River.
Both were recognized by the Israelites to be Hebrew peoples, descendants of Terah by way of Lot and therefore (according to the
interpretation of the Biblical writers), like Edom, immune to attack.
Both

Moab and Ammon

the borders of

had, presumably, established themselves at

Canaan a century and

Ikhnaton (see page 124).

a half before, in the time of

'77

T7.

V? HITTITE EMPIRE V'

tt'Dmaais

cthe

Qrbat Sea
WATERS OF

Mf ROM- _

BASH A N

ff .Wary.:
( Mediterranean

Sea)
AskttJVtk

wj*^!

t..

CXINNRETM

I^JFT

^^^

ymshkn

AMMON

'~!?Km.NSK>/'\

Moab and Ammon

>nm>

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

178
Just before the Israelites

had

in particular had

had

arrived, however, the

kingdomsMoab

to withstand the shock of another onslaught.

had
Sihon the king of the Amorites
land
out
Moab,
and
taken
all
his
fought against the former king of

Numbers

2:26.

of his hand, even unto

The Amorites

Amon.

had, some seven centuries before, been a powerful

people and had ruled most of the Fertile Crescent (see page 50).

They had

fallen before the onslaughts of the Hittites

Egypt and were now

and of Imperial

either in subjection or, in places, maintained

themselves precariously in patchwork principalities. At the time of the

Exodus, there were, presumably, Amorite principalities in Canaan, and


Sihon

may have been

may have

the ruler of one. His attack against the Moabites

represented the last successful

action

against the remorseless pressure of the various

Before Sihon 's onslaught,

Jabbok River. This

em

boundary of

is

Moab

of the

Hebrew

Canaanites

tribes.

controlled the territory

up

to the

described elsewhere in this chapter as the south-

Ammon

of land from the Jabbok

and Sihon,

down

therefore,

to the

conquered the stretch

Amon.

The Amon, by the way, is a small river, flowing westward into the
Dead Sea, reaching that body of water just about midway along its
eastern shore. In later Biblical history

Moab. Its modem name


echo of "Moab."

ary of

is

it

Wadi

remained the northern boundMojib, "Mojib" being a clear

Chemosh
In connection with the brief account of the victory of Sihon over

Moab,

Moabites

fragment of a victory ode exulting over the defeat of the


is

included. In part,

Numbers 22:29.
of Chemosh
.

Chemosh was

Woe

it

reads:

to thee,

Moab! thou

art

undone,

people

the national god of

Moab and

it

was natural to speak

Moab, in those days of wide acceptance of local gods, as the "people of Chemosh."
Only a few thinkers in those primitive times recognized a universal
God. Generally, the feeling was that each bit of land had its own
of

NUMBERS
god, and that over
It

was even

own

its

bit of land

that the god was

felt

traveled elsewhere

each god had godlike power.

tied

became necessary

it

own

land unless one carried his

179

the land;

to

to worship

that

the god of that

when Rachel

god. Thus,

one

if

the

left

house of her father Laban, she took Laban's idols with her:
Genesis 31:19

and Rachel had

stolen the images that were

her father's.

and Laban was more

and the goods and

distressed at this than at the loss of his daughters

cattle that Jacob

Genesis 31:30.

which the

in

carried off:

though thou wouldest needs be gone

my

wherefore hast thou stolen

The manner

had

have

felt it

God

gods?

the ark of the covenant

Israelites carried

with them during their travels in the wilderness had a


flavor of carrying

of the

little

with them. Otherwise, one suspects, they might

necessary always to travel back to Sinai to

commune

with

Him.
In the religious thought of that day, there was no necessary feeling
of antagonism toward the gods of other tribes, provided no actual

war was going on and the enemy was not calling upon
help in your destruction

The

in his destruction).

own

(as

you were

situation

calling

upon yours

for help

might be much the same as

feeling for the flags of foreign nations. If

a foreign nation, international usage requires

with decent respect even in our

god for

his

own

land. It

matter of elementary courtesy to treat the

we

in

our

are at peace with

that

we

treat

flag

its

would be even more a

flag of

foreign nation

with respect while inside the borders of that nation.


In later times, however, as a consciousness of the universality of

Yahveh grew among the

Israelites, and as the feeling deepened that


God, not only for the Israelites but for all the
world that there was one only God the attitude of the Yahvists

there was only one

toward the gods of other tribes hardened.


only potential enemies;

were demons

they were

who imposed

books of the Bible,


1

Kings 11:7.

was

it

no gods

their worship

ened, or wicked. As a result,


as

The

foreign gods were not


at

all.

At most, they

on the ignorant, unenlight-

when Chemosh was

referred to in later

something shameful:

Chemosh, the abomination of Moab

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

i8o

Heshbon

The

Moab

between Sihon and

conflict

portunity for the Israelites.

presented a wonderful op-

Whereas Moab and

Ammon

were related

according to the Biblical interpretation of events, and there-

tribes,

was a non-Hebrew and might be attacked.

fore untouchable, Sihon

Or, to put

it

Moab and Ammon

in less idealistic fashion,

kingdoms with

well-fortified borders that

Thus the chapter

states:

Numbers

21:24.

might be

it

the border of the children of

were settled

difficult to

attack

Ammon

was

strong.
(It

may

be, however, that this verse

brew word
as the
It

is

mistranslated

and that the He-

town of

Jazer, defining it

translated as "strong" refers to the

boundary of Ammon.)

would seem reasonable, though, that the region conquered by

The

Sihon would be in a state of confusion and weakness.


points, overthrown

strong

and broken down by the Amorites, might not yet

have been restored; and although the Amorites had cowed


submission they might be in no condition

This proved, indeed, to be the

now

case. Israel

the land, something Sihon could not allow.

to face a

Moab

into

new, fresh

foe.

demanded passage through

When

passage was refused,

the Israelites attacked, and defeated the Amorites,

Numbers
Jabbok

and possessed

21:24.

21:25.

And

Numbers
Amorites, in

Heshbon

Heshbon was the

Israel
.

town

unto

dwelt in

all

the

cities

of the

chief city of the region

twenty miles east of the northern


as a

Amon

from

his land

tip of the

in Jordan, with the Arabic

name

and was located about

Dead

Sea. It

is still

there

of Hesban.

Bashan

The Israelites had now established themselves firmly on the eastern


bank of the Jordan and had a base from which to launch the con-

NUMBERS
quest of

Canaan

That

itself.

base, however,

was

inviolate, there

Numbers

Og

fertile

Israelites.

And

21:33.

Bashan: and

the

still

be broadened as

to

Moab and Ammon must remain


pastures north of Ammon. These

widely as possible. Assuming that

were attractive to the

had

l8l

they turned and went up by the

way
them ...

the king of Bashan went out against

of
to

the battle at Edrei.

The

exact borders of Bashan are uncertain but

was, in general,

it

located to the east of the Sea of Galilee. It was for a long time a
prosperous, fertile region, so

came

much

22nd Psalm,

times, too. In the

so that the quality of

its

cattle be-

its

timesand through the Bible

proverbial in Biblical

in our

own

cattle are used metaphorically to

represent the intensity of woes besetting the psalmist:

Many
me

Psalm 22:12.

bulls have

Bashan have beset

And

Amos

the prophet

Hear

4:1.

Bashan was

also

uses

its

famous

utter

them

for

its

oaks.

Bashan

city of

The prophet

merchant

Ezekiel, in ironi-

Tyre before going on

describes the excellence of

fall,

and

to represent the prosperous

this word, ye kine of

cally listing the glories of the

to prophesy

bulls of

the nation:

self-satisfied aristocrats of

Amos

compassed me: strong

round.

its

ships

by

saying,

in part,

oaks of Bashan have they

Of the

Ezekiel 27:5.

Bashan remained prosperous under


until it

was taken over by the Arabs

that, decline

was

rapid.

Og and

its

thine oars

shifting tides of political

change

in the seventh century aj>. After

Nowadays, the

makes up the southwestern corner of


south and Israel to

made

territory that

was once Bashan

Syria, bordering

Jordan to

its

west. Edrei, the sight of the battle between

the Israelites, exists

now

as the

town of Deraa,

right

on the

Jordanian border, with a population of about four thousand.

The
medan

territory

is

now

sect which, since

aged to maintain

its

of the Turks before

The conquest

largely occupied
its

by the Druses, a Moham-

establishment about aj>. 1000, has man-

existence even

World War

I,

against the far superior

or the French after

power

it.

of Bashan was one of the events in early Israelite

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

182
military history that

most impressed the

post-Biblical. Part of the reason

be

to

This

a giant.

later writers,

both Biblical and

that Og, king of Bashan, was reputed

is

based upon a statement in the Book of Deu-

is

teronomy, where Moses

pictured as reviewing the events following

is

the Exodus:

Deuteronomy

Og

For only

3:11.

king of Bashan remained of

was a bedstead of

the remnant of giants; behold, his bedstead


iron

nine cubits was the length thereof and four cubits the

breadth of

it

made on

Judging from measurements

that a cubit
case,

we know),

Og's bed was about thirteen feet long and


it

six feet

To

who

he

which he could not

no

fill

made him

would have had to be

The legendmakers have

fit.

Og and

till

in

it,

Noah's

then, that

the waters

fell.

(concerning which

the Flood

the

page 72).

(see

there

may have been helped along by

the

Greek myths had an ancient King Ogyges who reigned

during a great deluge.


ers)

Og

Biblical evidence whatever)

fact that the

before the Flood

and was fed by Noah

sat astride the ark

This association of
is

lived

survive the Flood, however,

ark, into

large

side.

Later rabbinical writers expanded on Og's size and


of the Nephilim

wide.*

need not be taken that Og's body had to

top to bottom and side to

last

at

would seem

it

equal to about seventeen and a half inches. In that

is

bed, to be sure, though


it

Temple

the ruins of the

Jerusalem (whose measurements in cubits

to suppose that

It

might have seemed reasonable (to legendmak-

Og and

Ogyges were

different forms of the

same

name.

The manner
a

of Og's legendary death

huge mountain

to hurl at the Israelites

is

also dramatic.

and tripped and

attempt. Thereupon, Moses himself leaped at


It

is

very likely that this last picture of

semicomic Greek myth of the


the Olympians.

Those

Og

him and
is

slain

fell

in the

him.

borrowed from the


Zeus and

mountains (one of the moun-

tains crashed into the sea, according to the tale,

but were

raised

killed

revolt of the giants against

giants hurled

He

and became

Sicily)

anyway.

There are large, iron-gray stones of basalt placed over primitive graves in the
area east of Jordan, about the size indicated in the verse. If this is considered,
metaphorically, as the final resting place or "bed" of a ruler or warrior, that might
account for the

rise

of the legend of Og's gianthood.

NUMBERS

183

Balaam

The

Moab

had no assurance

it

it

in turn,

Numbers
.

own

its

was not next on the

He

22:5.

saying

Numbers

22:6.

thou blessest

is

and the

territory,

Moab, decided

means of the

subtle

Pethor

had

territory
list.

Be-

to

weaken the

to

Moab.

Israelites

by the

it

by outright

supernatural, rather than

sent messengers therefore unto

having con-

Israelites,

were certainly not planning to restore

Balak, the king of

more

it

own

its

could scarcely have failed to consider Heshbon, the recent

conquest of Sihon, as
quered

alarm Moab. Even though

sufficient to

not been attacked,


sides,

had conquered Heshbon and Bashan

fact that the Israelites

was quite

attack.

Balaam ...

to

curse

blessed,

me

this people

whom

and he

for

... he whom

thou cursest

cursed.

is

Apparently, Balaam was a well-known sorcerer or magician of his


time, one

help or

who was

knowledge and

skill,

Balaam's fame in
his

town of Pethor

is

know the rites whereby supernatural


down and who had demonstrated his

believed to

harm could be

called

at least to the satisfaction of


this

respect can

be regarded

usually accepted as being

four hundred miles north of

Moab.

common

report.

as widespread

for

on the Euphrates, some

It is identified

with a town called

"Pitru" in the Assyrian records and "Pedru" in the Egyptian records.

(Some

consider this distance too great to be plausible and suggest

that the verse has undergone


really

an Ammonite

some

living only a

few dozen miles north of Moab.)

Balaam's power was accepted even by the


in the Bible

is

and nowhere

Israelites

Balaam's power to bless and curse derided.

treated as a fortunate miracle that

come

and that Balaam was

distortion

God

chose to

It is

rather

make Balaam's

curses

to nothing.

Indeed, belief can be sufficient. If the Moabites were convinced of


the efficacy of Balaam's curse on the Israelites, they would fight with

more confidence and


raelites

spirit in

the battle that followed.

And

if

the

Is-

were likewise convinced, they would have been correspondingly

disheartened and might well have been defeated and

by the Moabites.

driven

away

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

184

According to the later view, Balaam served for hire and bestowed
his blessing

and curses not

but in response to the

employ him. Thus,

in the

do so by God,

necessarily as inspired to

fees

he was offered by those who wished to

book of Jude

in the

New

Testament, Jude

says:

Woe

Jude 1:11.
error of

For

Balaam

unto them! for they

for reward

this reason the expression

one who

ran greedily after the

"Balaamite"

is

used to describe some-

money-making

uses religion primarily as a

device.

Baal

Balak had to send several times for Balaam,

who was

reluctant to

accept the commission. (The scvcral-times-repeated journey

a point

is

who feel that Balaam's home was not very far removed
from Moab. The story of the missions is not entirely self-consistent

in favor of those

and was probably derived from two separate and somewhat

conflict-

ing sources.)

Moab and on
talking ass. An angel

Eventually Balaam did saddle up for the journey to


that journey occurred the famous incident of his

blocked the way; an angel that the ass carrying Balaam could see

but Balaam himself could not.

and the

ass

spoke up

in its

When

own

the ass balked,

defense. This

cidents in the Bible in which an animal

serpent in
is

Eden

is

the other.)

The

Balaam beat him

one of the two

depicted as speaking.

in-

(The

miraculous nature of this incident

such that later legends described the

jects specially created in the initial

is

is

ass's

week

mouth

as

one of the ob-

of creation for use in later

history.

Once Balaam
his

curses

arrived in

might be most

Moab, Balak hastened


effective;

in

him where

to place

the mountain

heights

near

Heaven where the gods might best hear him and where the power
of his words could best fan out over the Israelites whom he was
to curse:

Numbers

22:41.

Balak took Balaam and brought him up

into the high places of Baal, that thence he

the

[Israelite]

people.

might see

part of

NUMBERS
The

phrase "high places of Baal"

Bamoth-Baal, which

town

Moab. The town was

in

rites.

The

mentioned

is

as a

located in the highlands, however, and

was named in honor of Baal because the


portant religious

Hebrew

a translation of the

is

Book of Joshua,

the

later, in

185

effect

site

was associated with im-

therefore the

is

same whether one

speaks of "Bamoth-Baal" or of "the high places of Baal."

The word

baal meant, in the various Semitic languages, "master"

mundane

or "owner," sometimes in a very

In the Book of

sense.

Exodus, one finds:

Exocus 21:28.

and "owner"

is

the owner of the ox shall be quit.

here the translation of the

common

"Baal" was also used as a

Hebrew word

title for

precise connotation of the English "Lord." It

name

specific

of any

idol.

Indeed,

baal.

Semitic deities with the

was never used

the Israelites

as the

used the word as a

up through the time of David. Thus, one of


the sons of King Saul (who was always depicted as a sincere Yahvist)
was named Ishbaal or "man of the Lord," and one of his grandsons,
title for

Yahveh

at least

Merib-baal or "hero of the Lord."

The word

baal was so frequently used for idols, however, that the

later Biblical writers


it,

could not look upon

succeeded baal and in time,


term.

When

the

name

it

it

became even
had

Ishbaal

as simply

"Lord" or apply

The term Adonai

under any circumstance, to Yahveh.

be written,

to

"Lord"

for

disgraceful to use the earlier


for instance, Ish-

bosheth was used instead:


2

Samuel

2:8. ..

Abner

and brought him over

to

took Ish-bosheth the son of Saul,

Mahanaim;

Bosheth meant "shame" and was used to indicate what was considered a shameful word.

sometimes using

we were

The

asterisks to

effect

fill

is

the same as our

out an improper word.

own

habit of

It is as

though

to write "Ishbaal" as "Ish****."

Pisgah

Unfortunately, for the Moabites, Balaam found himself unable to


curse the Israelites.

Under the

direct inspiration of

God, according

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

i86

to the Biblical account, his attempts


blessings.

more

curse were

to

converted into

Balak desperately sought other posts which might prove

efficacious:

Numbers

And he

23:14.

the top of Pisgah

Numbers

him [Balaam] ...

to

And

23:28.

[Balak] brought

Balak brought Balaam unto the top of

Peor ...

Mount

Pisgah

nowadays

is

with a peak only

identified

six

miles

southwest of Heshbon and perhaps twelve miles east of the northern

end of the Dead Sea.


if

the identification

It

were edging into the

is

twenty miles north of the

correct,

is

it

makes

Mount

Pisgah

is

latter

2644 feet high, or

has no certain

Peor, which

Amon

River and

obvious that Moabite forces

conquered by the Israelites per-

territory recently

haps while the main force of the

it

was occupied

just

Bashan.

in

about half a mile.

identification,

Mount

was probably somewhat

north of Pisgah, so that although Peor was not quite as high a peak
as Pisgah,

it

was closer to the enemy. An alternate name of Pisgah

Nebo and under

the latter

name

is

it

most famous

is

as the place of

burial of Moses.

Unicorn

Balaam's inability to curse continued at


Pisgah,

Balaam praised God,

Numbers
as

it

The
in the

23:22.

God

all

stations.

From Mount

saying:

brought them out of Egypt; he

[Israel]

hath

were the strength of an unicorn.


Bible mentions the unicorn on several other occasions, notably

Book

of Job:

Job 39:9. Will the unicorn be willing to serve thee, or abide by


thy crib?

King James Version by


re' em, which undoubtedly refers to the wild ox (urus or

The Hebrew word


"unicorn"

is

represented

in

the

aurochs) ancestral to the domesticated cattle of today.


flourished in early historical

The

re'

times and a few existed into

em still
modem

NUMBERS
times although

it

and was

strength

is

now

was

extinct. It

similar

187

dangerous creature of great

form and temperament to the Asian

in

buffaloes.

The Revised Standard Version translates re'em


The verse in Numbers is translated as "they have
of the wild ox," while the one in Job

The Anchor

willing to serve you?"

always as "wild ox."


as

it

were the horns

translated "Is the wild ox

is

Bible translates the verse in Job

as "Will the buffalo deign to serve you?"

The

wild ox was a favorite prey of the hunt-loving Assyrian

nimu

archs (the animal was called

word

as re'em)

and was displayed

wild ox was invariably

One

shown

in their large bas-reliefs.

in profile

monsame

Here the

and only one horn was

visible.

can well imagine that the animal represented in this fashion

would come

we might

to

be called "one-horn"

refer to

As the animal

"longhoms"
itself

grew

in

less

common

human

come

be forgotten that there was

to

literal

much

population and the depredations of the hunt,


a

it

as

cattle.

under the pressure of

in-

might

second horn hidden behind the

the sculptures and "one-horn" might

first in

nickname,

as a familar

speaking of a certain breed of

creasing

come

to be considered a

description of the animal.

When
250

in Assyrian, essentially the

b.c.

the

first

Greek

was prepared about

translation of the Bible

the animal was already rare in the long-settled areas of the

Near East and the Greeks, who had had no

direct experience with

it,

for it. They


became monokeros. In Latin and in English it became
the Latin word for "one-horn"; that is, "unicorn."
The Biblical writers could scarcely have had the intention of implying that the wild ox literally had one hom. There is one Biblical quotation, in fact, that clearly contradicts that notion. In the Book of
Deuteronomy, when Moses is giving his final blessing to each tribe,
he speaks of the tribe of Joseph (Ephraim and Manasseh) as follows:

had no word
and

used a translation of "one-horn" instead

it

Deuteronomy 33:17. His glory is like the firstling of


and his horns are like the horns of unicorns
.

Here the word unicorn


a

is

his bullock,

placed in the plural since the thought of

"one-hom's" single horn seems to make the phrase "horns of a

unicorn" self-contradictory.
in the singular so that

which makes

it

Still,

the original

we must speak

clear that a unicorn has

Hebrew has

the word

of the "horns of a unicorn,"

more than one horn. In

ad-

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

i88

used in Hebrew poetry makes

dition, the parallelism

it

natural to

equate "unicorn" and "bullock," showing that the unicorn

much

thing very

resembling a young bull.

The

some-

is

Revised Standard

Version has, in this verse, the phrase "the horns of a wild ox."

And

yet the fact that the Bible speaks of a unicorn seemed, through

most of

a one-horned animal existed.

and

in legends

This

upon the

history, to place the seal of divine assurance

is

The

unicorn

is

therefore

fact that

commonplace

stories.

especially so since travelers in

horned beast that existed

in India,

Greek times spoke of a one-

and assigned great powers

to the

horn of that animal. For instance, a cup made out of the horn

single

of such a beast rendered harmless any poisonous liquid that might be

poured into

There

it.

indeed, a one-horned beast in India (as well as in Malaya,

is,

Sumatra, and Africa) and

this

is

the rhinoceros (from Greek words

meaning "nose-horn"). The horn on


is

its

snout

is

not a true horn but

a concretion of hair; nevertheless, the concretion looks like a horn

and

the purpose of one.

fulfills

the Greek unicorn, although


qualities attributed to

is

possessed of

is

farfetched. It

is

The

Some

it

knew

which was

as

unknown

legend without
to the medieval

The shape of the unicorn was,


pleased to make it, and it is most

two unicorns were depicted

When

knew

this

reference

Westerner

to the

European, what-

familiar to us

on

its

now

rhyme "The
it

lion
is

as

forehead. In

as supporting the royal

arms of

Scotland and England were combined under the

old enmity between the two nations

fact that

the

to

as to the

House of Stuart in 1603, the Scottish unicorns joined the English


on the coat of arms of what now became Great Britain.

The

is

of the

of the wild ox.

a rather horselike creature with a single long horn

Scotland.

fit

Latin translations of the Bible

Biblical Israelite.

this shape,

alive,

still

might be thought to

Greek monokeros into "rhinoceros." But

unicorn entered European

ever fancy

animals

largest land

strength,

very unlikely that the Biblical writer

rhinoceros and they certainly

rhinoceros,

horn scarcely possesses the magic

one of the

enormous

the description in the Bible.


therefore convert the

its

is

in legend.

it

Since the rhinoceros

and

very likely that the rhinoceros

It is

and the unicorn were

is

lions

reflected in the nursery

fighting for the crown."

The

an English rhyme and that England usually won the

NUMBERS
wars, though never conclusively,

which

is

distinctive feature of this

long, thin, slowly tapering,

cisely the

line,

"The

its

horn,

around the town."

lion beat the unicorn all

The most

by the second

signified

is

189

shape and dimensions, in

male of a species of whale

modem

and

unicorn

is

a straight helix. It has pre-

of the single tooth of the

fact,

called the narwhal.

This tooth takes the

shape of a tusk, sometimes twenty feet long.

Undoubtedly,

them

sums by claiming each

to landlubbers for great

of a unicorn with

all

The Daughters

Moab

Though

obtained such tusks and then sold

sailors occasionally

of

to

be the horn

the magical virtue of that object

neither force nor enchantments had removed the Israelite

danger from Moab, mere propinquity seemed on the point of becoming sufficient for the purpose.

The

Israelites,

with their years of wander-

ing through wilderness, had not been able to develop elaborate rituals

and they found themselves fascinated by the enticing

of the more

rites

sophisticated religions of settled city-dwellers:

Numbers

25:1.

the daughters of

Numbers
unto the

25:2.

And

Israel

And

began to commit whoredom with

they [the Moabite

sacrifices of their

Numbers 25:3 And


where Baal-Peor

Moab.

("the

gods

women]

Israel joined himself

Lord of

called the people

Mount

unto Baal-Peor

Peor")

presumably,

was,

Chemosh.

The

apostasy of the Israelites

is,

according to the Biblical story,

punished by a plague, and by firm measures on the part of Moses,

who

ordered the slaughter of the idolaters. Equating national gods

with something of the emotions

bome by

national flags today, the

horror of the Biblical writers at this event might be compared to our

own

feelings

if

'we discovered a sizable segment of our

tion gathering in time of

war

enemy anthem.
Nor was this trespass with

to salute the

enemy

own

flag

popula-

and to sing

the

cident. It

respect to

Chemosh

considered an ac-

was supposed to be a deliberate policy on the part of the

Moabites (following the advice of Balaam) to use their

women

for

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

190

the purpose of seducing the Israelites to apostasy. Thus, Moses, in a


later

verse,

described

is

Numbers

saying of

as

Behold,

31:16.

caused

these

women:

foreign

children

the

Israel,

of

through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the

Lord

The memory

of this incident strengthened the position of the

more

intransigeant Yahvists in later history against intermarriage with for-

women.

eign

Gilead

After the episode of Balaam and the incident of the seduction of the
Israelites

by Moab,

it

might be expected that war between

Israel

would be described. Instead,

Israel.

The Midianite

seducing

This

and

it

Midian that

is

Moab and

attacked by

Moab

against Israel, as having participated

Balaam, and the Midianite

women

are also described as

Israelites.

tale of
is

is

tribes of the eastern desert are described as hav-

ing been in alliance with


in the call to

it

war against the Midianites has

commonly thought

however,

its difficulties,

be unhistorical.

to

may

It

perhaps be a

pious invention of later times to mask an actual war fought inconclusively against

Moab. After

all,

Moab

mention any war with

maintain the position that the

Moab

remained

Dead Sea

of the territory east of the

trol

in

being and

for centuries.

By

in con-

failing to

the Biblical writers could continue to


Israelites

did not attack any

Hebrew

tribe.

Yet even with


tion of

Moab

in existence, the Israelites

most of the area

Galilee. Part of this


to the fate of the

was Ammonite

Ammonites

territory

territory

was soon to be

settled

but the Bible

in this period.

described as attacking the Ammonites, a

by

remained in occupa-

River and the Sea of

east of the Jordan

The

Hebrew

Israelite tribes.

is

silent as

not

Israelites are

people, yet their

Indeed, part of the

confederacy was eying the territory even in Moses' lifetime while the
projected conquest of

Numbers
of

Gad had

32:1.

Canaan proper had not

Now

the children of Reuben and the children

a very great multitude of cattle:

the land of Gilead

yet begun:

and when they saw

behold, the place was a place for cattle;

NUMBERS
The boundaries

of Gilead are indefinite but at

broadest,

its

191
covers

it

the whole of the area east of the Jordan River; the "Trans-Jordan"

might

call

it.

When

Gilead had appeared earlier in the Biblical account.

had

left

Laban

up with him

to return to

Jacob

Canaan, Laban pursued him and caught

in Gilead for a final interview:

Genesis 31:23.

And

he [Laban]

seven days journey; and

Mount

we

overtook

pursued after him [Jacob]

him

mount

in the

Gilead.

Gilead could refer to the range of highlands running

down

the eastern side of the Jordan, or to a particularly prominent peak in


that range just south of the Jabbok River

of the Jordan. It

The

is

some 3600

tribes requesting the land

and about twelve miles

east

feet high.

had

first

Moses that they

to convince

were not proposing to quit the confederacy. They would participate


in the

conquest of Canaan and would return to their Trans-Jordanian

Once

holdings only after that conquest was assured.

Gilead was, in consequence, divided


of

that was

made

Moses permitted the allotment.

plain,

among

the cattle-owning tribes

Reuben and Gad. Reuben took the area south


Moab, while Gad had virtually the entire

north of

Jordan. Bashan

fell

of

Heshbon and
bank of the

east

the lot of part of the tribe of Manasseh

to

Canaan

(another portion of which occupied territory in

proper).

In one sense, the Trans-Jordan was a good location, for the area
as rich and desirable. It was, however, also exposed.
Reuben was under the perpetual shadow of Moab and quickly faded

was described
out of
ture.

Israelite history,

probably through absorption into Moabite cul-

Gad and Manasseh were exposed

and the Midianites, and

later

serious assaults of the Syrian

from the Ammonites

to raids

had to bear the

first

and Assyrian armies

brunt of the more

in the latter days of

the Israelite kingdom.

The name Gilead may be


much of it) or vice versa. On

a corruption of

Gad (which

occupied

the other hand, the Biblical genealogies

have Gilead a grandson of Manasseh:

Numbers

26:26.

the sons of Manasseh:

Of

Machir begat Gilead

There may be some connection between


of the body of

Machir

and

men known

this

eponymous ancestor
and the

as "Gileadites," the land itself,

fact that a portion of the tribe of

Manasseh occupied part of Gilead.

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

92
Just as Baslian

famous
ucts

was particularly known

for the resinous products of

some

for

of

its
its

cattle, so

Gilead was

and shrubs; prod-

trees

which could be turned into soothing, fragrant ointments and

used as skin softeners, cosmetics, perfumes, and incense.

When

This balsam, or balm, of Gilead was highly valued.


brothers were planning to
traders to

whom

sell

they sold

Genesis 37:25.

him

was to

for a slave it

him and

Joseph's

a party of

they:

came from Gilead with

their camels bearing

down

spicery

and balm and myrrh, going

When

the prophet Jeremiah pleads with the people to return to the

to carry

Lord, pointing out that the remedy to

all

it

their evils

is

to Egypt.

in

their

midst

only waiting for them, he makes use of the metaphorical (and rhetorical)

question:

Jeremiah 8:22.

The

question

Jeremiah,

is

is

God

Is there

no balm

in

Gilead

intended to have the obvious answer, yes! So, reasons


present for the

relief

of His people.

DEUTERONOMY

5.

DEUTERONOMY "LEBANON CAPHTOR "MOUNT HERMON "RABBATH "MOUNT

GERIZIM " BELIAL

SAINTS

THE BLESSING OF MOSES

Deuteronomy

The

book of the Bible begins:

fifth

Deuteronomy

1:1.

These be the words which Moses spake

In Hebrew, the opening phrase

is

form "Debarim" ("words")

briefer

The book

Elleh haddebarim and that, or the


is

Hebrew name

the

of the book.

does not advance Israelite history but purports to be the

record of a series of addresses given by

and of the

Moses on the eve of

his death

Canaan. These addresses recapitulate

Israelite entry into

the events of the Exodus and restate key portions of the law as

it

was

received from Sinai.

One might suppose

that

it

translaters of the Septuagint

was

for this reason that the

named

Greek-speaking

the book "Deuteronomion" (which

became our own Deuteronomy) or "second law."


Actually, however, the

Greek name arose through

In the course of his discourses,

Moses enjoins

law on the part of the future kings of

a misapprehension.

strict

obedience to the

Israel:

sitteth upon the


him a copy of this law
Deuteronomy 17:19. And it shall be with him, and he shall read
therein
that he may learn ... to keep all the words of this

Deuteronomy

17:18.

throne of his kingdom

he

when he

[the king]

shall write

law

The

phrase in verse 18, "a copy of this law" was incorrectly translated

in the Septuagint as
this that

our

name

deuteronomion ("a second law") and


derives.

it

is

from

Canaan Before the Conquest

DEUTERONOMY
The bulk

Deuteronomy

of

is

neither

195

E, nor P, but represents

J,

a fourth major source of the Hexateuch. It seems quite likely that

Deuteronomy

is

the one book of the Hexateuch that existed in

es-

sentially its present fashion before the Exile.

At

Deuteronomy, or part of

least,

book of the law" discovered


reign of

in

it,

is

usually identified with "the

Temple

the

in

621

during the

b.c.

King Josiah:

2 Kings 22:8.

And

Hilkiah the high priest said unto Shaphan the

have found the book of the law in the house of the Lord

scribe, I

This came at a time when there was periodic

between the

strife

temporal and spiritual power in the kingdom and when there had been

two recent

On

reigns that were disastrous for the Yahvists.

now an

hand, there was

the other

impressionable young king on the throne,

Josiah.

Perhaps

some among the priesthood

occurred to

it

to prepare an

organized exposition of the laws which, in Yahvist eyes, ought to

govern the king and the people, writing into


acy.

it

a clear spiritual suprem-

This writing, as the "book of the law" was then providentially

"discovered" in the
placed in the

Temple and brought

mouth

The

to the king.

doctrine,

of Moses, treated as of great antiquity, and put

forward most eloquently, was bound to impress the king.


It did,

had been

and the

priestly plan

succeeded in

full.

Until then, Yahvism

often persecuted, and sometimes in danger

a minority sect,

of being wiped out altogether.

Now,

for the first time,

it

assumed an

ascendancy, and, thanks to the enthusiastic co-operation of Josiah,

was made the

official

it

religion of the land.

There was backsliding

after Josiah's death,

but Yahvism had been

made powerful enough to meet the challenge of the Exile, which followed soon after. The Yahvistic priests, during the Exile, as they
edited the old traditions

onomy

and

codified the laws, incorporated Deuter-

virtually intact into the

Hexateuch.

After the Exile, Yahvism, the minority sect, had

become Judaism,

Through its daughter religions,


Yahvism came to dominate the religious life

the national religion of the people.


Christianity

and Islam,

of well over a billion people in the time that has passed since then. If

Deuteronomy

is

dealt with briefly in this

book because

marily concerned with history, that does not

most important part of the Bible


important piece of writing

in

mean

some ways;

in the world.

it

it

may

or even

is

not

pri-

not be the
the most

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

196

Lebanon
Moses begins
structions that

Canaan

God's

his recapitulation of events at Sinai with

the Israelites leave for Canaan.

as assigned

to

them by God

The

and these are the

are given,

ideal boundaries which, in the north particularly,

porarily achieved at Israel's brief peak of

in-

boundaries of

were only very tem-

power two centuries

after the

conquest:

Deuteronomy

unto Lebanon, unto

the river Eu-

1:7.

..

1:8.

Behold, I have set the land before you

phrates.

Deuteronomy
Lebanon
running

referred originally to

parallel to the

two mountain ranges north of Canaan

Mediterranean coast; one about twenty miles

inland and the other about forty miles inland, each about a hundred
miles long. These are higher than the highlands of Canaan, and have

some peaks up to two miles high. The Lebanese mountains are therefore more notable for their snowy peaks than are any of the heights
in Canaan and it is from that, apparently, that the mountain ranges
and the land in which they are found get their names. "Lebanon" is
from the Hebrew word for "white."
The Greeks distorted the name somewhat and called the mountain
range nearer the sea the "Libanus" and the one farther inland the
"Anti-Libanus." Between

is

Greeks called "Coele-Syria."

a valley, about ten miles wide,


Literally, this

is

which the

"hollow Syria" and means,

in freer translation, "the valley of Syria."

In post-Biblical times, the area around the Lebanese ranges was the

home

of a Christian sect, the Maronites, which persisted (under severe

persecution at times)

domination.

When

through the long centuries of

Mohammedan

the area was freed of Turkish rule, the French (who

took over Syria as a mandate under the League of Nations) established

Lebanon

as a district separate

ference in religion. In 1944,


date, the region

became

from the

rest of Syria,

thanks to

when independence came

a separate

and independent

its dif-

to the man-

state,

the Leb-

anese Republic.

Modem

Lebanon

is

a small nation, about twice as large as Dela-

ware, and has a population of about 2,200,000. It

lies directly

north

DEUTERONOMY
of

modem

Israel

sea of Arabic

Just as

and the two

are the only

I97

non-Moslem powers

in a

states.

Bashan was known

known

balm, Lebanon was

for

for

bulls

its

and oaks, and Gilead

Cedarwood

forests of cedar.

its

Solomon

grant and makes excellent building material.

built

for

its

fra-

is

much

of

the Temple and of his palace out of cedar:

Kings 7:2.

Lebanon
the

He

house

built also the

upon four rows

[his palace]

of the forest of

of cedar pillars, with cedar

beams upon

pillars.

The

cedar tree was looked upon as a particularly stately and mag-

oak

nificent tree, rivaling the

as

king of the

forest.

During the time of the judges, Jotham, the lone survivor of a

who had helped conduct the masimply that the wont people were now

massacred family, addressed those


sacre in a fable intended to

ruling the land.

These he represented by the bramble, and he went on

to point out that such a lowly object in

and

to attack the highest

Judges 9:1;.

and

He

best.

its

has the bramble say:

not, let fire

if

vainglory would not hesitate

come out

of the bramble,

and

devour the cedars of Lebanon.


Similarly,

Isaiah,

warning the proud and haughty to beware

in

God's judgment (in "the day of the Lord"), uses both the cedars of

Lebanon and the oaks of Bashan


Isaiah 2:12.

one that

is

all

metaphors

For the day of the Lord

proud and

Isaiah 2:13.

as

lofty

And upon

shall

haughty

pride.

be upon every

the cedars of

all

for

Lebanon

and upon

the oaks of Bashan,

The beauty and

fragrance of the cedars and of their wood, and the

use of cedar in temples and palaces, lent a glamorous glow to Lebanon

and

generally,

this

is

made

Song of Solomon
spouse

use of in the

full

4:8.

Come

with

Song of Solomon.

me from

Lebanon,

my

Song of Solomon

4:11.

the smell of thy garments

is

like

the

smell of Lebanon.

And

the loved one

is

described as:

Song of Solomon 4:15. A fountain of gardens, a well of


and streams from Lebanon.

waters,

living

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

198

The

Island of

Caphtor

Caphtor

Moses goes on

to describe the route followed

Sinai to the Jordan, then pauses to

He

Canaan.

tell

by the

Israelites

from

something of the prehistory of

describes the tribes that were evicted from their territory

by the invading Edomites, Moabites, and Ammonites (presumably


the period of Ikhnaton.)

The pre-Hebrew

in

tribes are described, in ac-

cordance with later legends, as giants (see page 72).


In the

Hebrew

list,

however, are the Avim,

people:

who were

displaced by a non-

DEUTERONOMY
Deuteronomy

2:23.

And

the

Avims which dwelt

199

in Hazerim, even

unto Azzah, the Caphtorims, which came forth out of Caphtor,


destroyed them, and dwelt in their stead.

The

spoken of

district

Canaan. The town Azzah


is

the southern portion of the seacoast of

is

taken to be Gaza, for instance, and that

is

near the southern edge of what, in the next stage of Israelite history,

was to be Philistine

territory.

The

Philistines did take the area at the

time of the Exodus or shortly before and they ruled there in the cen-

seems certain then that by Caphtorim are meant

turies afterward. It

the Philistines.

Amos makes

For further Biblical evidence, we find that the prophet


the identification

Amos

when he quotes God

9:7. ..

Caphtor

Have not

as saying:

brought up

the Philistines from

and Jeremiah does the same when he

says:

Jeremiah 47:4.
.the Lord will spoil the Philistines the remnant
of the country of Caphtor.
.

The

question then

Where is Caphtor?
who established kingdoms

is:

Unlike the other groups

Canaan and surrounding


tines)

regions at this time, the

over sections of

Caphtorim

established themselves on the seacoast. They,

it

invaded from the sea, rather than from Arabia. Indeed,

most inevitable

to

who,

This

may be an important

Merneptah's

reign,

hint as

were raiding
to.

Peoples of the Sea were, in part at

This

is

borne out by the

among

seems

al-

the

Egyptian

coast.

the identity of Caphtor, since the


least, of

Greek

origin.

fact that the Israelites always

spoke of the

being "uncircumcised." Circumcision was a

Philistines, particularly, as
rite that

it

conclude that they were part of the Peoples of the

Sea

in

(Philis-

would seem,

was by no means confined to the

the ancient Egyptians and

Israelites. It

among most

western portion of the Fertile Crescent (the

was practiced

of the Semites of the

latter,

perhaps, through

Egyptian cultural influence.)

Abraham

is

described as not having been circumcised until he was

well advanced in years:

Genesis 17:24.

And Abraham was

he was circumcised

ninety years old and nine,

when

ASIMOV'S CUIDE TO THE BIBLE

200

Abraham was an

but, according to the Biblical story,


birth.

east-Semite by

His circumcision can be viewed as the adoption of a west-Semitic

rite.

The

Philistines

remained uncircumcised and

tempting to think

it is

of them, then, as being neither Egyptian nor west-Semitic in culture

and that

What,

leaves the strong possibility of their being Greek.

Greek world

then, was the situation of the

at the

time of the

Exodus, and before?

About 2000

Abraham, the Greeks entered the

b.c, in the time of

peninsula which

is

now

called Greece.

They found

to the south,

on the

island of Crete (about sixty miles off the southeastern tip of Greece),

an already advanced

civilization.

This was the Minoan

civilization,

named for the legendary King Minos of Crete.


The Greeks occupied the Greek peninsula and absorbed the Minoan
culture, building strong cities of their own on that peninsula. These
early Greeks may be referred to as Mycenaeans because one of their
chief cities

was Mycenae.

The Mycenaeans expanded vigorously at the expense of


Minoan culture and by 1400 b.c, shortly before the time

the declining
of Ikhnaton,

the original Minoans no longer formed a separate and distinct people.

Even

in Crete itself, the

Greek language

prevailed.

The Mycenaeans, soon

after 1400 b.c,

were beginning to

push of new waves of barbarians from the

interior,

feel

the

including

less

civilized tribes of

Greek-speaking peoples, and were themselves in

creasing turmoil.

Armed

bands, seeking

in-

new homes after their old


new dominions in
made up strong contingents

ones were ravaged, or merely seeking to carve out


place of a growingly insecure

home

base,

of the Peoples of the Sea.

The Mycenaeans

of the Greek mainland were close to Asia

and they invaded that peninsula. The

tale of the

seems to be a distant memory of that invasion. The Trojan

have

initiated (or

Minor

war against Troy

War may

been part of) the general turmoil on that peninsula

that led to the final destruction of the Hittite Empire.

Could
to

it

be then that armed bands from Crete fanned southward

Egypt and eastward to Canaan, and that Caphtor

island of Crete?

Of

Most

course, not everything about the Philistines

and customs they are

refers

to the

Biblical scholars are content to think so.

largely Semitic.

is

The names

Greek. In language
of their

cities, their

DEUTERONOMY
and

kings,

their gods are Semitic words.

may

This

201

represent a certain

assimilation of west-Semitic culture after the invasion, but

it

may

also

indicate that the original invasion was at least partly Semitic to begin

with.
Is this possible?

make

Yes,

it is,

even

if

Caphtor was Crete. Greek myths

the Cretan king, Minos, the son of Europa, a princess from a

portion of the Canaanite coast called by the Greeks Phoenicia.

The

Canaanite princess had been brought to Crete by Zeus in the guise of


a bull.

This

may be

the mythical reminiscence of the days

cultural exchange
rich

and

full.

between the Minoan and Canaanite

The Minoan

civilization

when

trade and

civilizations

was

might even have stemmed

in

part from the older Canaanite civilization.

Nor was
ites

were

this fusion long-distance only.

Both Minoans and Canaan-

in those days a seagoing people.

At the height of Minoan

power, the Cretan navy dominated the eastern Mediterranean and

Cretan ships brought Minoan products and Minoan culture to the island
of Cyprus, 350 miles to the east, and to the southern regions of the

Asia

Minor

coast,

which

in spots

is

only

fifty

miles north of Cyprus.

Canaanite (Phoenician) colonies were also established on Cyprus and


throughout Biblical times, Cyprus remained part Greek and part Canaanite in culture.

Could

it

Minoan-Canaanite

of fused

ing?

be, then, that the Israelites

Some

and Greeks, both heir

culture, are

first

to a kind

cousins culturally speak-

archaeologists feel themselves attracted to this rather startling

possibility.

Can
of

it

also

be that the Caphtorim who invaded the southern coast

Canaan were not

closer

Cyprus and

and the

raiders

its

raiders

from distant Crete, but from the much

environs? In that case Caphtor would be Cyprus

might have a Minoan-Canaanite culture, fusing Semitic

language with a lack of circumcision.

come from

Tiny, uncertain clues


tions, the

term "Kafto"

is

the fact that in Egyptian inscrip-

used for a region that seems to include

the southern coast of Asia Minor. Arguing on the other side, however,
is

the fact that the

name

Old Testament, seems

for the inhabitants of Cyprus, as given in the

to be "Chittim" or "Kittim."

This name seems to be derived from Kition

a city on the southeastern coast of Cyprus

(Citium, in Latin),

and the

chief center of

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

202

Canaanite (Phoenician) culture on the

name meant

island.

It

entire island, displacing the older

name

possible that a

is

out to include the

for the chief city eventually spread

of Caphtor.

Mount Hermon
Moses then

describes the

manner

which the

in

Og

the district about Heshbon, and defeated

Deuteronomy
of

Anion unto

And we took
Mount Hermon.
3:8.

Mount Hermon makes

the land

good landmark

the Sea of Galilee,

is

it

is

from the

river

edge of

is

like saying "to the

Mount Hermon, about

forty miles north of

a peak in the Anti-Libanus range; indeed, the

highest peak, being 9232 feet high.

Sheikh and

conquered

for the northern

Canaan, so that to say "unto Mount Hermon"


northern limits of Canaan."

Israelites

of Bashan:

modern name

Its

on the border between Lebanon and

Syria,

modem

fifteen miles northeast of the northern border of

Jebel

is

esh

about

Israel.

Rabbath
In telling of the crowning victory over Og, mention

is

made

of Og's

giant bedstead (see page 182):

Deuteronomy

it

3:11.

his bedstead

was a bedstead of

not in Rabbath of the children of

Ammon?

This

Rabbath-ammon,

city

is

from other

sometimes referred
cities

Portland, Maine, to distinguish

nate spelling

is

though the

name

of

elsewhere (as

to differentiate

we would

An

from Portland, Oregon).

city of the trans-Jordan

fifteen miles northeast of

Ammonites and

it

name

is it

say

alter-

Rabbah.

Rabbath was an important


about

to as

of the same

iron;

in that city the

Heshbon.

memory

of the

Ammonites

The

lay

survives al-

town, under the

survives today as the capital of Jordan

population of some 250,000.

and

It was the chief city of the

tribe itself has long since vanished.

Amman,

area,

and has a

DEUTERONOMY

203

Mount Cerizim
After enumerating again the laws delivered from

Mount

Sinai,

Moses

both a blessing and a curse involved;

warns the

Israelites that there

a blessing

if

Once they

enter Canaan, they are to accede to this fact by solemn ritual

is

they are obedient to the law and a curse

if

they are not.

in a specific spot:

Deuteronomy 11:29.
mount Gerizim and the

*'I0U

curse

*'ie

blessing

upon

upon mount Ebal.

Cerizim and Ebal were the two mountains that flanked the narrow

which Shechem was located (see page 99), Gerizim on the


south and Ebal on the north. They are not high mountains, the former
valley in

being a bit

less

than 3000 feet high, the latter a bit more than 3000.

Later in Deuteronomy, in the twenty-seventh chapter, Moses describes in detail

how,

distribute themselves

after the conquest of

Canaan, the

on Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal, one group

to pronounce blessings and the other to pronounce curses.


this reflects
Israelite

tribes shall

the religious importance of the area

No

of Shechem

doubt
in pre-

days and marks the aura of sanctity that lingered over the

area even after the Israelite conquest. This was true particularly of

Mount

Gerizim, which was associated with the blessings.

Among

the later Jews,

holy places were gradually subordinated

all

to and eventually swallowed by the

Temple

at Jerusalem, but

Mount

Gerizim continued as the sacred mountain to the sect of the Samaritans prominent in the region in

New Testament

times.

Belial

Moses goes on

to

warn the

Israelites

who would

prophets and of those

against the dangers of false

worship other gods.

He

warns

against:

Deuteronomy 13:13.
and serve other gods

children of Belial

saying, Let us go

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE


The word
belial

is

belial

means,

"not profitable." Something that

literally,

is

whose

worthless and empty; "children of Belial" are people

views and opinions are worthless and empty, and therefore not to be
listened to.
It

is

a short step

wicked.

it

We

from considering something worthless to considering

have a similar case

English.

in

The word "naughty"

meant worthless or empty, or something that "contained or


was worth naught," but came to mean wicked (although today it has
degenerated to the point where it merely describes troublesome chiloriginally

dren).

The

use of belial untranslated, especially

if it is

left capitalized, as

the King James Version, tempts one into thinking of

in

spirit of evil,

perhaps as the devil himself. This

vised Standard Version,

Belial as a

avoided in the Re-

is

which substitutes "base fellows"

for "children

of Belial."
Nevertheless,

name
do

it is

demon. By

of a

just this

and

who come

not only moderns

Belial

New

to consider Belial the

Testament times, the Jews had come

had become

synonym

for Satan.

Second Epistle to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul


2
lial?

Corinthians 6:15.
.

And what

Thus,

to

in the

asks:

concord hath Christ with Be-

Saints

The

last

words ascribed to Moses

comments
some intimation of the

the kingdoms.
invocation of

Deuteronomy make up

poem

on each of the tribes, praising them, or

containing short
giving

in

The poem

role they

were to play in the time of

("the blessing of Moses") begins with an

God:

33:2. And he [Moses] said, The Lord came from


and rose up from Seir
he shined forth from mount Paran,
and he came with ten thousands of saints

Deuteronomy

Sinai,

The word
which

is

from the Latin sanctus, meaning "holy." That

is reserved for God and is withdrawn from


The word "saints" in the verse just quoted is a translation
Hebrew word kadesh but that can mean either a "holy person"
is

sanctified or holy

worldly uses.
of the

"saint"

DEUTERONOMY
or a "holy place." Thus, the town at which the Israelites

205

camped

for

many years was Kadesh-barnea ("the holy place of Bamea").


It may be, then, that, with the parallelism of Hebrew poetry, the
verse names the place at which God appears (the mountains south of
Canaan)

Paran, and finally Meriis

not in the

such a place, mentioned only four verses

is

with a slightly different spelling:

Deuteronomy

among
The

Seir,

(some region near Kadesh-barnea). This

least farfetched for there


earlier,

ways: Sinai,

in slightly different

bath-Kadesh

32:51.

.ye

[Moses] trespassed against

me

[God]

the children of Israel at the waters of Meribah-Kadesh.

translation of the place

name

into "ten thousands of saints"

thus gives an erroneous picture.


In the Psalms, the expression "saints" usually refers to godly, pious
people, very

much

modem

the

in

manner, and

is

translation of

hasid ("pious"). Thus:

Psalm 31:23.

love the Lord, all ye his saints

In the time of the persecution of the Jews by the Seleucid king

and afterward, the beleaguered Jews began


to picture themselves as a people devoted to God and surrounded by
hordes of evil idolaters. All believing Jews were kadesh and could be
Antiochus IV, in 170

B.C.

referred to in translation as "saints."

Jews

will eventually

by God, he

When

be secure, and glory

in

Daniel predicts that the

an

kingdom

ideal

set

up

says:

Daniel 7:18. But the saints of the most High shall take the king-

dom

In the

New

beleaguered

Testament, Paul commonly takes the same view of the

early

Christians.

oi hagioi ("the holy

Philippians 1:1. Paul

which are at PMippi

The

Blessing of

To him,

writing

Greek,

in

they are

ones" or "the saints"). Thus:

and Timotheus
.

to

all

the saints

Moses

Like the earlier blessing of Jacob (see page 116), the blessing of

Moses seems

to

be a collection of traditional sayings, assigned

in ret-

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

206

Of

respect to an early personage.

seems to be the

and

later,

Moses

the two, the blessing of

appropriately ascribed, therefore, to the

is

later personage.

For one thing the reference to Joseph

makes no reference

The

blessing of

Moses

Deuteronomy

in

the blessing of Jacob

Ephraim and Manasseh.

to the separate tribes of

does, however, speaking of:

33:17.

the ten thousands of Ephraim, and the

thousands of Manasseh.

The

receive the longest

would indicate that the

blessing
final

and Levi

fact that Joseph

form by

priestly

hands

dom

to

kingdom of

tribes and, in

thousands" of the more populous Ephraim.

have had

and put

sayings were collected

in the northern

was dominated by the Joseph

and most glowing

particular,

into

which

Israel,

by the "ten
would

In that case, this

be done before the destruction of the northern king-

in 722 b.c.

This

is

by the

further indicated

fact that the tribe of

Judah

is

given

and rather cool notice:

brief

Deuteronomy

33:7.

let his

hands be

sufficient for

him; and be

thou an help to him from his enemies.

No

mention

is

made

of Judah's kingship. This

is

natural

if

the say-

away

ings were collected in the northern

kingdom

from Judean domination and would

certainly not recognize the valid-

ity
is

after it had. split

much

of the Davidic kingship. In the blessing of Jacob, however,

made

of the Judean kingship, which would indicate that that collec-

tion dated back to the time of the undivided

kingdomabout 950

b.c.

perhaps.

The

blessing of

Moses

Reuben and Simeon,

indicates further the decline of the tribes of

of which signs are present even in the earlier

blessing of Jacob.

Simeon
has

lost

is

its

not mentioned at
tribal

identity,

all

in the blessing of

has been absorbed

completely dismissed by the northern sources.

can be said

into

The

tribe

Judah, and

Of Reuben,

all

is

that

is:

Deuteronomy

men be

Moses.

few.

33:6. Let

Reuben

live,

and not

die;

and

let

not his

DEUTERONOMY
But even

this palliates

207

the actual situation for the word "not" was

King James Version, who would


not let Moses say something that sounded like a curse. However, the
word "not" is not present in the original Hebrew.

added by the pious

translators of the

Catholic versions translate the verse:


out,

but

men be

let his

"May Ruben

live

and not die

few." This represents the actual situation in

and by the time of the kingdoms, Reuben did die

early tribal times

out,

having been absorbed by Moab.

With
Moses

is

the conclusion of the speeches in the book of Deuteronomy,

taken to the top of

naan, which he
eventful

life

is

Mount Nebo/Mount

not to be allowed to enter,

thus comes to

its

close.

dies,

Pisgah, views Ca-

and

is

buried. His

JOSHUA

6.

JOSHUA JERICHO
AJALON MEROM
EPHRAIM

CTLCAL
ZIDON

THE WALL [OF JERICHO] AI CIBEON


THE PHILISTINES * THE TRIBES MOUNT

Joshua

To
the

the Jews, the

first

ond

first five

books of the Bible ("The Law") make up

of the three grand divisions of the

Old Testament. The secmake up "the

division includes twenty-one books that together

Prophets."
early

Of

these, the first six,

which are primarily

named

Prophets" and, the Book of Joshua,

whose actions dominate the events


However, Joshua

is

made up

it

historical, are

describes,

the

is

"the

for the general


first.

of the same sources as the five books of

the Law, was put into final written form at the same time, apparently,

by the same

priestly

groups, and brings the

books to a climax. There


first six

is

theme of the

first

five

thus plenty of justification in treating the

books (the Hexateuch)

as a unit.

(The

rabbinical tradition

that Joshua himself wrote the book can be ignored.)

of

The Book of Joshua


Canaana conquest

ise

of

Canaan

The

describes an idealized version of the conquest

that brings to a triumphant climax God's prom-

to the descendants of

Israelite

Abraham,

as described in Genesis.

army, under unified leadership,

is

pictured as conquer-

ing the entire land in a brilliant set of campaigns. Actually, as would

appear from other evidence in the Bible

itself,

the conquest was far

more disorganized, gradual, and imperfect than


incidents in Joshua, though

made

that.

Still,

the key

neat and glossy by priestly piety at

the time of the Exile (some seven centuries after the events described
in Joshua),

events.

may

well reflect traditions that in turn represent actual

The Conquest

of

Canaan

1
V i u\ i'
\e MITT/TE EMPIRE \
1

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

210

Jericho

The Book

of Joshua begins at the

moment

of the death of Moses,

with Joshua ben Nun, who, until then, had been Moses' military aide,

promoted

to

commander

in chief. It

is

after Joshua that the

book

is

named, of course.

The

City of Jericho

At once, Joshua made preparations

to launch

an offensive into Ca-

naan.

And

Joshua 2:1.

Joshua

Go

secretly, saying,

Jericho was a fortified

town

two men

sent out of Shittim

view the land, even Jericho

to spy

in the Jordan valley, five miles

west of

itself

and some

fifteen miles northeast of Jerusalem. It

situated 850 feet

below sea

level

the Jordan

is

and shares the semitropical tempera-

tures of the Jordan valley generally.

Jericho

is

a very ancient populated site

town having existed there

may have been


in

its

prior to 5000 b.c.

the third located on the

site;

and there

The
the

are signs of a

city faced
first

by Joshua

two each having

turn been destroyed.

City-dwelling

is

one of the key symptoms of what we might

call

JOSHUA
civilization

(the very word "civilization" comes from the Latin word

for "city-dweller"; that

one out of dried

modern

211

mud

is,

To

"citizen").

build a

no more room

that takes up

city block, requires a certain level of

operation. It

awesome

is

to think that

even a simple

city,

told than a

all

technology and social co-

Canaan had

already seen three

thousand years of civilization at least at the time that Abraham entered.


It

may have been much more than

that.

Older

in the Fertile Crescent. In 1966, archaeologists

Toronto reported finding a

cities

have been found

from the University of

the region of the upper Euphrates

site in

containing houses that must have been built as long ago as 8500
B.C.

modern

In comparison with such a date, the pyramids are

tures,

The

struc-

and Abraham almost a contemporary.


Jericho that Joshua faced was well fortified indeed; the ruins

believed to be Canaanite Jericho have walls twelve to fourteen feet


thick.

The

spies,

however, discovered morale within the town to be

They had no

disastrously low.

named Rahab who was

trouble finding refuge with a harlot

Joshua 2:9.

town

willing to betray the

your terror

exchange for

in

She reported:

safety during the inevitable sack.

fallen

is

upon

us,

and

all

the

in-

habitants of the land faint because of you.

When

this

news was brought back

to Joshua,

he must have

felt

confident that with the defenders disheartened and with a "fifth col-

umn"

within the town, he had only to attack.

He made

ready to do

just that.

Gilgal

Joshua ordered the Israelite army out of Shittim, an encampment

some

five miles

east of Jordan.

Marching westward, he crossed the

Jordan (which parted for him, according to the Biblical

story, as the

Sea of Reeds did for Moses). Joshua ordered that twelve stones be
taken up from the temporarily dry bed of the Jordan.

Joshua 4:19.

And

the people

encamped

in Gilgal in the east

border of Jericho.

Joshua 4:20.

And

those twelve stones, which they took out of the

Jordan, did Joshua pitch in Gilgal.

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

212

The word

fflgal

means "a

circle of stones"

and there are

several

name mentioned in the Bible. A circle of large stones


had religious significance to the men of the Stone Age, and such circles
can be found in many places. The most famous and largest such
circle still surviving at least in part is at Stonehenge in England. The
Stonehenge circle is believed now to have served as a primitive calenplaces with that

dar for the dating of such phenomena as lunar eclipses, but such

is

the

close connection between astronomy and religion in primitive cultures

that

easy to believe that

it is

it

same

served a religious purpose at the

time.

The best-known
Joshua 4:19, and

Gilgal

it is

direction of Jordan. It

in

Canaan

is

mentioned

one

this

usually located a few miles from


is

in

Jericho in the

quite likely that the circle of stones that gave

name dated back to Canaanite times and played a role in


Canaanite religion. The aura of sancity that lingered over it even after

the area

its

the conquest would have been highly repugnant to Yahvism

if it

had

not been somehow assimilated to the priestly view of history. (This


ability to assimilate earlier notions

gions. Islam assimilated the

is

characteristic of successful

reli-

Kaaba and the holiness of Mecca from the

pagan past and Christianity assimilated the Christmas celebration from


pagan

centering about the winter solstice.)

rites

In this case, the circle of stones was associated with Joshua's crossing
of the Jordan.
sarily reflect

origin.

Nor does

the fact that there were twelve stones neces-

the twelve tribes of Israel and therefore point to Israelite

Through an astronomic

accident, the cycle of seasons

twelve rimes as long as the cycle of the moon's phases;

made up

of twelve months. For this reason, the

have enormous significance to an agricultural

i.e.,

is

nearly

the year

is

number twelve could

society.

For instance, the

twelve signs of the zodiac are arranged to mark off the twelve months

makes

as the sun

some

its

circuit of the sky in the course of a year. Indeed,

try to relate the twelve tribes of Israel

the twelve signs of the zodiac, but this

(why

exactly twelve?) to

may be going

a bit

far.

Some

leeway must be allowed to coincidence, surely.

The Wall

The

[of Jericho]

siege of Jericho, as described in the Bible,

ritualistic

was accompanied by

parades about the city by armed men, with priests also

cir-

JOSHUA

and blowing on trumpets.

cling the city, bearing the ark of the covenant

This was repeated for

days and on the seventh day the city was

six

by mod-

circled seven times (an indication of the small size of the city

When

ern standards).

Joshua 6:20.
wall
If

who

down

fell

that was done

the people shouted with a great shout, that the

fiat

the Biblical account

taken

is

literally, this is

seek natural explanations often suggest that

it

was an earthquake

is

it

carefully designed tactical purpose. In the

hearten the

a miracle, but those


it

was a most fortunately timed earthquake.


easy to suppose that the circling of the city had a

that did the trick. If so,


Actually,

213

defenders

city's

still

place,

first

served to dis-

it

would

further, for the people of Jericho

be nervous indeed at the somber and majestic spinning of a supernatabout the

ural net

city.

To

the religiously devout of those days, the

God who might be

invaders were calling on a perhaps powerful

The

pected to do almost anything.

much

rulers of the city

ex-

must have had

trouble to keep the populace from surrendering

on the

spot.

Secondly, while the defenders watched in fascination at the slow

parading about the

city,

and

listened to the

awesome sound

of the

trumpets, they might not have had time to see and hear the very

mundane

activity of Joshua's sappers

slowly undermining the

city's

walls.

So Jericho

fell.

The

city

was sacked and,

it

was intended, destroyed

for all time.

Joshua 6:26.
riseth
It

And

Joshua

up and buildeth

has happened

their sites

many

[said]

Cursed be the

this city Jericho

times that

cities

cursed by inveterate enemies.

man

that

have been destroyed and

The best-known

case out-

and strongest Canaanite


town in history (it was a Phoenician colony). Carthage had been engaged in three colossal wars with Rome, spaced out over more than a
side the Bible

century,

Rome.

and

is

at

that of Carthage, the largest

one point had come within a hairbreadth of defeating

When Rome

finally

took Carthage in 146

B.C.,

it

utterly de-

town and made provision that it never be rebuilt.


However, towns aren't built for no reason; they are usually placed at
the site of a sea harbor or river crossing, or in some position where they

stroyed the

control trade routes.

The men

of a properly positioned city

become

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

21 4

prosperous indeed and

empty

to stand

Thus, a

Roman

all.

unlikely that such a position can be allowed

whatever the curse resting upon

over a century after

little

again after

it is

forever,

its

it.

destruction, Carthage

Carthage flourished for

was built
almost as

six centuries,

long as the original Canaanite town had existed.


In the same way, the time came when Jericho was rebuilt, almost
upon the cursed site. In the reign of King Ahab, three centuries after
Joshua, a new Israelite Jericho arose and this survived and flourished
through New Testament times. This new Jericho was destroyed in
the course of invasions of Persians and Arabs in the seventh century
aj>.

and

still

another Jericho was built by the Crusaders four centuries

after that.

This

Jericho

last

still

today,

exists

its

recognizable Eriha. Its present population

is

name

Arabic

being

the

about 2000.

Ai

After the

fall

of Jericho, Joshua continued the advance westward into

the heart of central Canaan.

Joshua 7:2.

on the

And

Joshua sent

men from

Jericho to Ai, which

is

east side of Bethel.

Ai was twelve miles northwest of Jericho and two miles further

still

to the northwest was Bethel, the important city associated with Jacob's

dream of

a ladder

(see page 94).

The two

were either under

cities

common rule or acted in alliance against the Israelites.


The invaders, overconfident at first, attacked with too

few numbers

and were beaten off. Joshua therefore placed a contingent of men in


ambush, then made a more careful attack. This time, he pretended defeat and ordered his men to break and run. The men of Ai and Bethel,
overconfident in their turn, incautiously

left their

hot pursuit. At an appropriate moment, the

and when the Canaanites attempted to return


found those

cities

occupied by the

bush. Ai was sacked,

bumed, and

defenses to engage in

Israelites

Israelites

to

turned to fight

their

cities

who had been

destroyed. Unlike Jericho,

they

in

am-

it

was

never rebuilt.
(After

this,

Gerizim and

the Bible recounts

Mount Ebal

to

how

the Israelites ascended

perform the

rituals

Mount

of blessings and

JOSHUA
curses that
this

Moses had

called for before his death. It

is

not

215

likely that

could have been done at so early a stage of the conquest but only

Canaan was under more

after

or less complete control. However, the

Deuteronomist writers were anxious to show the manner


Israelites

had obeyed the

own

ple to their

times.

Moses

dictates of

They

which the

in

utmost as an exam-

to the

inserted the passage, therefore, at the

very earliest opportunity.)

Gibeon

The two
of

Canaan

and over Ai put

victories of the Israelites over Jericho

was

into a state of urgent alarm. This

all

particularly true of

the city of Gibeon:

Joshua 9:3.

And when

the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what

Joshua had done unto Jericho and to Ai,


Joshua 9:4. They did work wilily

One

could scarcely blame Gibeon.

The

city

is

located about seven-

teen miles west of Jericho and five miles south of Ai, so


likely to

be the next

(Gibeon was
by a small

a large city for its

village,

it

was very

target of the Israelite army.

time but

is

with the recognizable Arabic

now represented only


name of El Jib. The

people of Gibeon were Hivites, one of the tribes routinely mentioned

books of the Bible

in the early

The

Hivites

had

as destined to

also controlled

Shechem

conquest by the

Israelites.

in patriarchal times; see

page

100.)

The

Gibeonites worked "wilily" by putting on worn clothes and

taking

moldy

at his

camp

from a

when

provisions with them.


in

the

treaty of peace

was made with them and

deception was discovered,

the

Gibeon was not destroyed, nor were


Gibeonites are described as having been

may not

actually have

they appeared before Joshua

they represented themselves as ambassadors

Gilgal,

far country.

When

come

its

treaty

later,

was honored and

people slaughtered.

The

reduced to slavery but this

to pass until

Solomon's time three cen-

turies later.
It
this

is

difficult to see

how

the Gibeonites could have fooled Joshua in

manner, or to believe that the

honored a

treaty secured

fierce Israelite invaders

would have

by deception. However, the writers of the

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

2l6

Book

of Joshua, while describing an ideal and complete conquest of

Canaan, had to account

for

the

known

fact

some Canaanite

that

maintained a reasonable degree of independence into the time

cities

of David and Solomon. 'Die tale of the trickery of

Gibeon was one way

of doing so without detracting from Joshua's military glory.

Ajalon

The

defection of Gibeon to the Israelites was another serious blow

to the Canaanites.

acy against the


force

The

petty kingdoms of the south, under the leader-

towns of Jerusalem and Hebron, formed

ship of the large

common

marched against Gibeon

foe and

a confederin order to

back into the Canaanite ranks.

it

moved

Joshua and his forces


great battle scattered

quickly to the relief of

and destroyed the Canaanites.

battle that one of the best

known

Gibeon and

in a

was during

this

It

of the events described in the Bible

took place:

Then spake Joshua

Joshua 10:12.

Sun, stand thou

still

upon

Gibeon; and thou, Moon, in the valley of Ajalon.

And

Joshua 10:13.

So the sun

Joshua 10:14.
it

the sun stood

hasted not to go

And

there was

still,

and the moon stayed

down about

no day

a whole day.

like that before it or after

Ajalon was a town about ten miles west of Gibeon.

The

Bible describes this miraculous lengthening of the day to have

been carried through


complete

their

for

victory.

the purpose of allowing

Interpreting

them

literally,

the Israelites

men

used

to

these

verses twenty-five centuries after the time of Joshua to fight the Coper-

nican theory that the sun stood


After

all,

if

imply that ordinarily the sun

purpose of

this

will

and the earth moved about

moving. (This

is

one understands the principle of


and we

still

Joshua has to order the sun "stand thou

book

still"

it

difficulty disappears

"relative motion,"

but

it

is

it.

must
if

not the

to consider the relationship of the Bible to science

pass on.)

Following that battle, the Bible rapidly describes Joshua's sweep


through southern Canaan, in which he captures a
the territory that was later to

make up

series of cities

in

the territory of the tribe of

JOSHUA

217

Hebron itself was taken but no mention is made of Jerusalem


and no wonder, for Jerusalem remained independent and Canaanite
Judah.

until the

days of David.

Merom
It

was next the turn of the

cities

of northern

Canaan

form a league

to

against Joshua.

Joshua 11:5.

And when

came and pitched together

these kings were

all

at the waters of

met

Merom,

together, they
to fight against

Israel.

The

Jordan River, in

its

course, passes through or flows into three

The southernmost and largest


page 71). Some sixty-five miles north

enclosed bodies of water.


the

Dead Sea

Sea

is

Lake Huleh.
of

(see

the Sea of Galilee, and about a dozen miles

Merom."

It

is

It is

with the Jordan;

Lake Huleh which

still

usually taken to

is

is,

of course,

of the

Dead

farther north

is

be the "waters

the smallest of the three bodies of water associated


it is

only four miles long and three and a half miles

wide.

Zidon

At Merom, Joshua won another great


ing the pursuit far (improbably

far,

victory

in fact)

and

is

described as lead-

to the north.

Joshua 11:8. And the Lord delivered them into the hand
who smote them, and chased them unto great Zidon
.

Zidon, or Sidon,

is

a city

miles north of Jerusalem.

time of
shore,

who were

on the Mediterranean shore about 130


area about Zidon (Sidon), which nowa-

power, the Canaanite

in alliance

At the time of the

modern Lebanon, was inhabited by


Israelites. Even at the

never conquered by the

Israel's greatest

though

of Israel,
.

The

days makes up the coastal region of

Canaanites

with

Israelite

Israel,

cities

of the Lebanese

were not subjected to

it.

conquest of Canaan, the largest and

most powerful of these north-Canaanite

cities

was Zidon (Sidon) and

the people of the entire region were therefore referred to in the Bible
as Zidonians or Sidonians.

The

people of the region were famous for their manufacture of a

purple-red dye

and made use of

extent that the color gave a

in their

it

name

sometimes stated that the word "Canaan"


mitic word

Greek name

The Greek name

ing "purple-red." It
variably

and the

is

is

land. It

is

derived from an old Se-

is

for the region

is

so but

it

is

derived from the color

"Phoenicia" from their word mean-

as Phoenicians that the people are almost in-

known nowadays, though

Nor should

clothing to such an

meaning "purple." That may or may not be

quite clear that the

of the dye.

own

to the people

the word

is

not used in the Bible.

the familiar term "Phoenician" be allowed to obscure the

fact that the people

we

call

Phoenicians were racially and culturally

indistinguishable from the Canaanites to the south.

At the time of Joshua, the Phoenicians may already have made

their

greatest single contribution to culture the invention of the alphabet.

Writing

itself

seems to have been invented

in a

number

of different

places independently in Sumeria, in China, in Central America. In

JOSHUA

219

these cases, however, the symbols used were pictures of objects or

all

abstract markings representing words or concepts.

As

we know

far as

the Phoenicians were the

upon the

period in their ancient history) to hit

first

some dim

(at

idea of taking a few

markings and letting each stand for a single consonant. By putting


such markings (letters) together any word whatever could be produced;

and even an unfamiliar word could then be pronounced by sounding


the

The Phoenician

letters.

brew

tribes,

alphabet was adopted by the various He-

including the Moabites and Israelites.

The Greeks adopted

some

the Phoenician alphabet, too, allowing

of the letters to stand for vowel sounds. (Greek myths clearly state that

the letters were introduced by the Phoenician prince, Cadmus,

who

migrated to Greece and founded the Greek city of Thebes.)


Indeed,

it

usually accepted that the alphabet

is

writing in general) was invented only once,


bets,

however odd some of them seem, are more or

from

(as distinct

and that

all

modern

alpha-

less distorted ver-

sions of the original Phoenician alphabet.

In the centuries immediately after the Israelite conquest, the impor-

The

tance of Sidon declined.

greatest days of

Phoenicia were

ahead; these, indeed, coinciding with the greatest days of


those great days, however, leadership would

fall

Israel.

still

In

to other cities, not

Sidon. Yet Sidon exists today as Saida, a Lebanese port with a population of
is

about 25,000.

Its

almost entirely useless.

however, and

it

once-excellent harbor

The town

is

is

half silted

surrounded by

the Mediterranean terminus of an

is

up and

fruit orchards,
oil

pipeline

from Saudi Arabia.

The

Philistines

Even under the idealized picture of the conquest as presented in


Book of Joshua, there was no denying that sections of Canaan

the

remained unconquered. The chief of these included the section along


the southern coast of Canaan:

Joshua 13:2. This


of the Philistines

Joshua 13:3.

is
.

the land that yet remaineth:

all

the borders

the Gazathites, and the Ashdothites, the Esh-

halonites, the Gittites,

and the Ekronites

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

220

Philistia

The term

"Philistine,"

(see page 199),


selves.

may be

The Egyptian

which replaces the older term "CaphtorinT


name the people of the region gave them-

the

inscriptions speak of

them

as

the "Pulesati."

In Hebrew, this became "Pelishtim" and in Greek "Philistinoi."

In historical records outside the Bible, the Philistines are


of in the records of a
of

Memeptah

in

new Egyptian

1211

B.C.,

first

heard

dynasty, the 20th. After the death

the great 19th dynasty of Rameses II

petered out with a few feeble Pharaohs of short reigns.

dynasty began with the reign of Setnakht, in 1192

The

20th

B.C.

and began a reign


of over thirty years. He was the last powerful native monarch of Egypt.
Under him the Peoples of the Sea were finally driven off and a certain
order and strength came back to Egypt. His influence was strong in
Asia but even he could not reverse the flow of history, and events in
Canaan continued without actual military interference on the Pharaoh's part. The Israelite conquest of Canaan seems to have taken
In 1190

B.C.,

Rameses

III

came

to the throne

place in his reign.

Furthermore, his archives refer to the coming of the "Pulesati."

JOSHUA
They may have been

221

contingent of the Peoples of the Sea,

final

driven out of Egypt proper by Rameses' armies, and forced to turn


to the Canaanite coast. Thus, the Philistines conquered the coast even
as the Israelites

were conquering the

The two

interior.

of the next several centuries had entered

The

power was a

center of Philistine

great adversaries

the land simultaneously.


stretch

sixty-mile

the

of

southern shore of Canaan, a region which can be referred to as

The name

"Philistia."

persisted long after the great days of Philistine

power had passed. Herodotus, the Greek


was eventually applied by the Romans to
"Palestine" has been used in

naming the

all

the

writing in

historian,

fifth century b.c, referred to the region as "Palaistina"

and the name

of Canaan. Even today,

entire region once

known

as

Canaan.
was composed of the

Philistia

five cities

whose inhabitants are

listed

Joshua 13:3 Ekron, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gath, and Gaza. They

in

seem

to

have been

city-states, after

the Greek fashion, with consider-

able independence, but capable of joining

on occasion

to

fight

common enemy.
The northernmost

of the

was Ekron. This was about twenty-

cities

five

miles west of Jerusalem and

still

exists as a village

is

named

some nine

miles from the sea. It

Akir.

Twelve miles southwest of Ekron, and three miles from the sea,
Ashdod, which was known as Azotos to the Greeks and survives

today as the village of Esdud with a population of about 3500. In


Philistia's

prime, however, Ashdod was probably the most powerful

of the five

cities.

Another twelve miles southwest


five to

at

Ashkelon, the only one of the

is

be an actual seaport. The greatest event in

(when

the time of the Crusades

Europeans). In

a.d.

1099,

it

was the

site

Twelve miles

east of

Ashkelon

is

it

is

it

was the home

young David slew

in single

vanished of the Philistine

was destroyed by

it

Gath, the most inland of the


is

most famous

city of the giant Goliath,

combat. However,
cities

and

came

Askalon to

a desolate site now.

Philistine cities. Its inhabitants are "Gittites." It

the fact that

history

as

of a great victory of the

Crusaders over the Egyptians. In 1270, however,


the Egyptian sultan of the time and

its

was known

it

its

it is

whom

exact site

Gaza, the most southerly of the Philistine

the

the most thoroughly


is

uncertain.

Twelve miles south of Ashkelon and three miles from the


is

for

cities.

Of

the

five, it

sea

has

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

222
survived best and has had the

most

colorful history. It fell to

Alexander

the Great (eight centuries after the time of Joshua) after a long and
desperate siege. It was an early Christian center and then a
center. Battles

were fought over

it

Moslem

by the Turks and by Napoleon.

gained contemporary notoriety as a result of the war between

It

and Egypt that followed the granting of independence

Israel

to the

former in 1948. Egyptian forces occupied Gaza and have maintained


that occupation ever since. The Palestinian coast from Gaza to Egypt,

about twenty-five miles long and an average of

be known
Israel,

as the

"Gaza

who were not

in order that

strip." It

resettled

enmity between

Gaza's normal population

is

was

to

political

maneuver

and the Arab world be exacerbated.

about 80,000 but with the addition of the

refugees, well over 200,000 people filled


Israel in the course of the Six-day

The

came

with Arab refugees from

filled

but kept in place as a


Israel

deep,

five miles

The Gaza

it.

War

strip

was taken by

in 1967.

Tribes

Despite the admitted incompleteness of the conquest, the Book of

Joshua goes on to describe the allotment of land in Canaan to each


of the tribes, according to the instructions Joshua

Joshua 13:7.

unto the nine


all

Now

therefore divide this land for

tribes,

and the

the rest of the

half tribe of

Book

of Joshua

taking account of the division of the land.

reading but

it

takes the place of a

map

doubtedly represents the situation as


frictions

and settlements between the

monarchy when they were

Two
tribe of

recorded as having

God.

received from

Almost

is

of the tribes,

it

in

an inheritance

Manasseh.
is

given over to a pains-

It

makes

for very dull

modern books and unnumerous

arose out of the

tribes in

the days before the

in uneasy alliance, or in even uneasier strife.

Reuben and Gad,

together with part of the

Manasseh, had already received grants east of the Jordan (see

page 191).

West

of the Jordan, in

southernmost portion,

its

Canaan

proper, Judah received the

territory stretching as far north as Jerusalem.

South of Judah were some desert hamlets that made up the allotment
of the disappearing tribe of Simeon.

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The Twelve

Tribes

ASIMOV'S CUIDE TO THE BIBLE

22 4

Across central Canaan, centered in Shechem, was the remainder

Between Manasseh and Judah lay Dan on the coast,


and Ephraim and Benjamin inland. Benjamin included Jericho and
of Manasseh.

Gibeon. North of Manasseh was Asher along the coast and, inland,
Issachar, Zebulun,
It is

and Naphtali, going from south

important to realize the small

north.

to

size of the allotments.

Benjamin,

the smallest of the tribes, occupied a territory of about three hundred

square miles. This


of

New

York

City,

is

about as large

the

as the area of

boroughs

five

and considerably smaller than the area of the city

of Los Angeles.
All

in time

archy.

referred

back

the period of the

mon-

these tribal boundaries were idealized versions

from the situation as

They could not have

it

existed in

form given at the time of

existed in the

the conquest. Jerusalem was assigned to Judah, for instance, but that

town was not conquered by

Israelites until the

was divided between Judah and Dan, but


until David's time, too.

The

Phoenician coast which

The

it

tribe of

no

that of serving as a priesthood


its

was not conquered

much

of the

actual land grant. Its central role

and

for that

members be granted

through the various

Philistia

Asher was awarded

never, in actual fact, controlled.

tribe of Levi received

enough that

time of David. Philistia

purpose

number

it

was

was considered

of towns scattered

tribal areas.

Mount Ephraim
The Book

of Joshua ends with the death of the secular and religious

leaders of the Israelites of the period: Joshua

and Eleazar (the

latter

being the son of Aaron and the nephew of Moses).


Joshua

Ephraim

24:30.
.

him

There

is

they buried him

[Joshua]

in

... mount

Joshua 24:33.
buried

And

And

in a hill

Aaron
mount Ephraim.

Eleazar, the son of

...

in

a line of hills running

down

died;

the length of

and they

Canaan

be-

tween the coastal plain and the plain of the Jordan. That portion

which

lies in

the territory of Ephraim

is

called

Mount Ephraim. The

JOSHUA
reference does not

seem

to

be to

a particular

perhaps say today, to "the Ephraim

With

the end of the

essentially

Israelite

Canaan, the

Book

territory,

territory will

or "the

of Joshua,

we can

now be

if

as we would
Ephraim highlands."

peak but,

hills,"

even

22 5

consider

not completely

so.

referred to as Israel.

Canaan

as

Instead of

JUDGES

7.

JUDAH AND SIMEON THE JUDGES * ASHTAROTH OTHNIEL EHUD " HAZOR
DEBORAH MOUNT TABOR THE SONG OF DEBORAH JEZREEL SUCCOTH
GIDEON AND ABIMELECH MIZPEH SHIBBOLETH NAZARITE ' ZORAH '
DELILAH DAGON * DAN * GIBEAH * MIZPEH [BENJAMIN] * JABESH-CILEAD

Judah and Simeon

The Book

of Judges, which

mediately after the conquest,


is

is

the history

describes

im-

of Israel

rather miscellaneous in

nature and

apparently a collection of ancient documents, not necessarily very

closely

related

the tale

Book

is

to

each other. Although signs of editing are

not smoothed into a unified and pretty whole

of Joshua. So

to Israel that one

is

much

is

left that

forced to trust the

is

clear,

as in

the

unedifying and unflattering

Book of Judges to be a more


Book of Joshua can be.

accurate reflection of secular history than the

The

first

chapter of Judges deals with the conquest from a viewpoint

entirely different

under unified
there

is

from that

command

in Joshua.

Here there

is

no

single

army

sweeping to a quick, complete victory. Rather,

the picture of disunited tribes, each struggling alone against

enemy and not doing too well at it, in many cases.


is made of Joshua's strenuous campaign through
the south. Instead, the conquest of the area about Hebron is the task

the

Thus, no mention

of the tribe of Judah in alliance with Simeon:

Judges 1:3.

me

with

and

into

And Judah said unto Simeon his brother, Come up


my lot, that we may fight against the Canaanites;

I likewise will

go with thee into thy

Although the forces of Judah (the weak


did not

make

a significant contribution)

lot

tribe of

Simeon probably

are described as uniformly

The Twelve

Tribes

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

228

Jerusalem and the Philistine

successful, talcing even

cities

of Gaza,

The

Ashkelon, and Ekron, the victories were nevertheless limited.

highland areas, more sparsely

settled,

were abandoned to the

Israelites.

In the sense that these areas were previously under the domination of

such as Jerusalem and Gaza, territory appertaining to those

cities

were annexed and the


having been conquered.

The

cities

might then be glowingly described

cities

actual cities themselves

controlled lowland areas about

them could not be

and the

as

tightly

taken, however, and

the Bible makes the reason for that clear:

Judges 1:19. ..

he [Judah] drave out the inhabitants of the

mountain; but could not drive out the inhabitants of the

valley, be-

cause they had chariots of iron.


Until 3500 B.C. mankind used for

its

tools only those materials

it

could find at hand; materials that did not require sophisticated chemical

treatmentbone, hide, wood, and stone,

survived best through the ages and

used in ancient times.

We

for instance.

we know most about

Stone has

the stone tools

refer to the period therefore as the

"Stone

Age."
Small nuggets of metals which occur free in nature (gold,

silver,

copper, meteoric iron) were occasionally found, and perhaps used as

ornaments.

how

to

3000

b.c.

It

was not

till

about 3500

the Egyptians learned

b.c. that

smelt appropriate ores and obtain copper in

quantity.

By

copper was in widespread use throughout the Fertile Cres-

cent.

Copper
It

itself is

ores, a copper-tin
is

not hard enough to serve well as tools or weapons.

was soon discovered, however, that

if

tin ores

much harder than copper.


By 2500 b.c. bronze weapons were coming

Crescent was entering the "Bronze Age."


sharper and

were added

to copper

alloy called bronze could be produced and

tougher than one

leather shields with

no

trouble.

made

of

into use

and the

this

Fertile

bronze spearpoint was

flint

and could penetrate

Bronze shields could, on the other

hand, easily turn and blunt stone weapons.


could, without difficulty, defeat a larger

army

bronze-armored army

fighting with stone

and

leather.

By 2000
battles of

Age was penetrating Europe, and the


the Trojan War, as carefully described by Homer, were
b.c.

the Bronze

JUDGES

229

fought by warriors with bronze armor, bronze shields, and bronze

weapons.

Bronze was an expensive material, however. Copper ores were


though

Peninsula and from Cyprus. (Indeed, the word "copper"


to

be derived from "Cyprus.") Tin ores were even

trading vessels ventured long distances

Phoenician

need^

the tin ores

for

supposed to be the peninsula of Cornwall

some

islands off

its

coast. It

supposed

is

rarer.

manufacture bronze and reached the "Tin Islands." This

together with

rare,

be obtained from the Sinai

sufficient quantities could at first

is

usually

southwestern England,

in

interesting to think

is

ti...c

Canaanites were in England thousands of years before the Romans.


Iron

is

much more common than either copper or


is much harder than bronze. Iron,

tin

is

at

once cheaper and better than bronze.


is

iron

ores;

was

not used?

it

The

that iron ores are not as easily smelted as are copper

answer to that

and

tin

Why

and, under

in other words,

the proper treatment,

ores

require hotter

and more complicated

fires

metallurgical processes.

The

first

somewhere
Israelites

successful
in

were

method

for smelting iron

or near Hittite territory about

it

survived

The new
come in time to

(while

b.c.

the

technique, which gave

Egyptian slavery).

in

birth to the "Iron Age," did not

ore was developed

1400

save the Hittites but

the destruction of the Hittite Empire.

It

spread slowly

through the Fertile Crescent and into Europe.

At the time

of the Israelite conquest of Canaan, the use of iron in

restricted quantities

desert tribes were

entered

Canaan

had come

still

more

to the

innocent of

use.

its

at the dividing line

sophisticated towns, but

The

did.

this

What

they could do

But anyone fighting

with bronze reaches a quick limit to conquest.

found

therefore,

between the Bronze Age and

the Iron Age, and had to fight iron with bronze.

by sheer numbers and energy, they

Israelites,

The men

iron

of Judah

out the hard way.

So, apparently, did the

men

of the other Israelite tribes.

Through

the rest of the chapter, the failure of each tribe to complete the con-

quest by capturing the larger


tailed.

The

tribe of

cities

in

their regions

is

carefully de-

Benjamin did not take Jerusalem; the

Manasseh did not take Bethshea; the

tribe of

tribe of

Ephraim did not

take

Gezer; the tribe of Zebulun did not take Kitron; the tribe of Asher
did not take Zidon;

and so on.

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

230

The Judges
Under the circumstances, the

Israelite

occupation of Canaan could

scarcely have served as the opening of an

immediate period of

pros-

perity. Clinging precariously to the highlands, disunited, technologically

backward,

it

was inevitable that the

to one foreign

power

Israelites

remain in subjection

after another.

Only occasionally could one

tribe

or another

gain

degree of

freedom through the action of some competent military

leader.

Judges 2:16. Nevertheless the Lord raised up judges, which de-

them out

livered

The word

hand

of the

"judge"

of those that spoiled them.

here used in the sense of a "ruler" since in

is

early cultures, the chief function of a tribal ruler in peacetime

was

was to be hoped, some

just

that of judging disputes and reaching,


decision. This

had the

it

crucial purpose of preventing internal

and disputes that would weaken the


of some always waiting outer enemy.

entire population in

feuds

the face

Twelve judges are considered to have held sway over the tribes
between the conquest of Canaan and the establishment of the monarchy. This

number

is

icance of matching the

clung to
It

arrived at rather shakily, but

number

has the signif-

it

of Israelite tribes so that later tradition

it.

was often customary

sway over

all Israel

another. If

in the past to

suppose that each judge held

and that the periods of

we assume

this

and

carefully

their

power followed one

follow

references

the

to

periods of time (usually expressed in round numbers that are clearly

not intended to be exact), the period of time covered by the Book


of Judges works out to be 410 years.

The

period ends with the accession of Saul to the throne and that

event can be dated with


period for the

Book

Canaan around 1440


This

fair

b.c.

The

410-year

then place the conquest of

and the Exodus about 1480

quite impossible.

is

confidence at 1028 b.c.

of Judges would

The Exodus and conquest

b.c.

could not con-

ceivably have taken place in the fifteenth century b.c.

we must place the most likely date for the Exodus at about
and the death of Joshua at about 1150 b.c. This means that

Instead,

1200

b.c.

JUDGES
the period of time covered

231

by the Book of Judges cannot be more than

125 to 150 years.

To

account

for

short

this

the judges did not rule

one need only assume that


and did not serve consecutively. The

period,

Israel

all

Book of Judges is a collection of sagas produced by each tribe


separately with some editor or editors weaving them together into a
single tale without bothering to detail the chronology. Under such
circumstances,

it

would seem reasonable that the various judges ruled

over single tribes or small groups of tribes and that two or three might
flourish simultaneously.

At
was

this

low point

in

history from 1150 to 1028 B.C.it

Israelite

the Israelites could do to fight off the petty powers of the

all

They were

western half of the Fertile Crescent.

fortunate indeed in

had to face no great empires. Against a man like Thutmose


or Hammurabi, their judges would not have saved them.

that they
III

In Egypt, Rameses
in

1158

B.C.,

III,

the last of the strong native Pharaohs, died

almost simultaneously with Joshua. His successors were

eight Pharaohs,

all

named Rameses, who were weak and

importance. In 1075

B.C.,

of

little

the 21st dynasty began to rule and these

consisted of the high priests in the distant city of Thebes. During the

Egypt might

entire period of the judges,

as well

have been on another

planet.

In the east, the nation of Assyria was slowly gathering strength.

The

region of Assyria, on the upper Tigris,

tion in the earliest times. It

of

Agade

region

(see page 50)

but

was fragmented into

had developed

a civiliza-

had been part of the empire of Sargon


in later times,
city-states

when

the Tigris-Euphrates

and Sumeria was dying,

went through a period of prosperity and strength. In the


period, Assyria was a land of wealthy merchants.
It fell

under the domination of Hammurabi, but recovered

pendence and by 1500

b.c.

formed one of the group of

tending for control of the Fertile Crescent. These

it

patriarchal

its

states

rivals

inde-

con-

were the

Egyptian Empire, the Hittite Empire, the Mitannian Empire, and


the Assyrian Empire.
in

The

Hittites badly

turn badly weakened by Egypt.

weakened Mitanni and were

When

Egyptian power

in

Asia

began to decay under Ikhnaton, Assyria became the strongest nation


in the area.

In 1235 B,c -> Tukulti-Ninurta


still

became king of Assyria and he was


Under cover of the havoc being

reigning at the time of the Exodus.

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

2 32

created by the barbarian migrations of the time, Assyria absorbed

was

of Mitanni

left

and then conquered Babylonia, extending

became

to the Persian Gulf. Tukulti-Ninurta

the

Nimrod

(see page 52)

and the Greek Ninus

However, Assyria was not yet ready

whom

under

for the

legend as

in

Babylonia regained

its

in consequence.

domination of the entire

followed by weak successors

Crescent. Tukulti-Ninurta was

Fertile

what
power

conquering Assyrian king and serves as the model for the

first

Biblical

extolled

its

independence.

The

Assyrian king

who

I,
reigned from 1116 to 1093 B.C., again pushed
the land toward a period of power, but he too was followed by weak

Tiglath-Pileser

who had

successors

to

contend with the onslaughts of a new group of

nomads, the Aramaeans, from the north.


In other words, during the period of the judges, the day of Egypt

was

and the day of Assyria had not yet quite come. In the

over,

gap of rime between the two, the

were able to develop against

Israelites

the opposition of only such enemies as they could (just barely) handle.

Ashtaroth

The

later editor of the

Book

must have found

of Judges

account for sufferings and defeats of the

Israelites

in

it

hard to

view of the

tradition of divine providence that surrounded the tales of the

Exodus

and conquest under Moses and Joshua.


His pious explanation of the

later events

was that defeat and en-

slavement were punishments visited upon the


ing to the lure of Canaanite religious

Judges 2:11.

And

Israelites for

succumb-

rites.

the children of Israel did evU

and served

Baalim.

Judges 2:13.

The "-im"

suffix

is

and Ashtaroth.

Standard Version ) Ashtaroth,

form

in this case

(and

like

is

Ashtoreth and

Baal. Just as Baal ("Lord")

so Ashtoreth ("Lady")

Hebrew

the regular

should be translated "Baals"

is

is

is

so

Baalim,
this

is

the general

the general

plural

so that "Baalim"

translated
is

in

also a plural.

the Revised

The

singular

the feminine equivalent of a


title for

title

male Semitic

deity,

for a female Semitic deity.

JUDGES
Ashtoreth

The

name, Ashtarte.

actually, a distortion of the correct

is,

distortion

who

caused by pious editors

is

233

later substituted

the

vowel sounds of bosheth ("shame") into the name; doing as they

had done

in converting

The most famous

"Melech"

"Molech"

to

(see page 162).

Ashtarte was the one worshiped in Tyre, the

Her worship was

chief Phoenician city in the time of the monarchy.

to have an important influence on the


of her

name used

kingdom of

Greek mythology

in

The

Israel.

Astarte.

is

Babylonian goddesses bore another version of the

The

version

chief of the

nameIshtar.

Othniel

Over and over

The

again, the refrain of the

The

first

of Judges

sounded.

is

other gods and are punished by subjection to a

Israelites serve

They repent and

foreign tyrant.

Book

a judge arises to free them.

case arises almost immediately after the conquest.

Judges 3:7.

And

the children of Israel did evil

and served

Baalim and the groves.


Judges 3:8.

[and] the

Lord

of Chushan-rishathaim king of

Judges 3:9.

And when

them

sold

Mesopotamia

into the

hand

the children of Israel cried unto the Lord,

the Lord raised up a deliverer

Othniel the son of Kenaz,

Caleb's younger brother.

The Hebrew word


the plural

form of the word asherah. The term

the various

modem

term used to

from the

translated in Judges 3:7 as "groves"

versions of the Bible,

refer to

fact that the

female Canaanite

word

is

deities.

difficult progression. It

Asheroth

The

another

is

confusion

which

From a pole to a tree to a


may be that Asherah originated

arises

wooden

also used to indicate a pole or

pillar a relic of ancient tree worship, perhaps


sacred to the goddess.

is

for

asheroth,

is

left untranslated in

was considered
grove
as

is

still

not a

another

form of Ashtarte.

"Mesopotamia"
where Haran

is

is

the translation of "Aram-Naharaim," the district

located, so that the invasion

from the north. There


for

is

Chushan-rishathaim

may be viewed

no chance of locating the region


(or Cushan-rishathaim)

as

coming

specifically

means, in Hebrew,

"the Cushite of double wickedness." This was undoubtedly not the

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE


true

name

of the individual, but rather a scornful title given

Who

the Biblical writers.

he might

really

be

is

him by

therefore impossible to

tell.

If

came from

the invasion

Othniel

who

the north, one

leads the reaction to

it.

Othniel

and the conqueror of Hebron according


fore

dweller

conquered

commander

the

in

of

all

extreme

Canaan down

south.

is

is

tribes.

it

is

a folk hero of Judah

Judges 1:13, and there-

Chushan-rishathaim

Either

to Judah, or else Othniel

in chief of the united

Possibly the confusion

to

must wonder why

acted as

Neither seems very

likely.

the result of a telescoping of two traditions,

a northern and a southern.

Ehud
The

next invasion, after the Israelites had again

strange gods,

is

less

fallen

puzzling.

Eg/on the king of Moab


gathered unto him the children of
Judges 3:13.
Amalek, and went and smote Israel, and possessed the
Judges 3:12.

prey to

Ammon
city of

and
palm

Hebrew

tribes

trees.

The

picture

formed

is

under

that of a federation of Trans-Jordanian


the

leadership

of

Moab.

Joshua's tactic of striking across the Jordan


of Jericho ("the city of

but

the

confederacy

formed the

The

tide

Eglon with

territory of

palm

occupied

the

then

River in

surrounding

repeated

the direction

no longer

trees"). Jericho itself

area,

existed

which

now

the tribe of Benjamin.

was turned when Ehud,


tribute,

These

managed

to stab

a left-handed

him

Benjamite, sent to

to death.

(Presumably the

left-handed use of a dagger hidden on the right side, rather than on

the customary

left,

caught the king by surprise.) In the confusion that

followed, an Israelite attack succeeded in driving the Moabites back


across the Jordan.

Hazor

Ehud are the first and second judges, and following


Ehud is the barest mention of a third judge, Shamgar, who

Othniel and
the tale of

JUDGES
apparently

won

235

a victory over the Philistines. Following that comes a

circumstantial tale of a major danger.

Judges 4:2.

hand

And

of ]abin

the Lord sold

them

[the

Israelites]

into

the

that reigned in Hazor; the captain of whose

host was Sisera, which dwelt in Harosheth

Hazor

Judges 4:3.

he had nine hundred chariots of

twenty years he mightily oppressed the children of

Hazor

is

Huleh. Harosheth

One

and

located in far northern Canaan, in the territory assigned

to the tribe of Naphtali. It

territory of

iron;

Israel.

is

some

is

about four miles southwest of Lake

forty miles southwest, near the sea, in the

Zebulun.

gets the picture of a league of northern Canaanite cities, un-

conquered thanks to their iron-equipped armies, laying tribute on the


northern Israelite

tribes.

This situation clearly indicates the manner in which the account

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE


given in the
quest. It

Book

Book

of Joshua

is

a heavily idealized version of the con-

had been a King Jabin of Hazor who, according

the

to

of Joshua, had led the northern coalition against the Israelites,

and had been

by the waters of

disastrously defeated

Merom

(see page

217). Joshua followed up that victory energetically:

Joshua 11:10.

]oshua

thereof with the sword

And

Joshua 11:11.

them

Could Joshua have

actually

took Hazor and smote the king

the souls that were therein,

all

and he burnt Hazor with

won

phenomenal comeback

was back

they smote

utterly destroying

for the

so great a victory? If so,

fire.

how

account

which within a few decades

of Hazor,

under another King Jabin and strong enough

in existence

to control northern Israel.

Or was

the Canaanite defeat, to be de-

scribed a bit later, anachronistically pushed back into Joshua's time?

Deborah
For a period of rime

after the conquest,

position as the leading tribe.

of

Ephraim was

that he

later

won important

The glamour

Even

if

idealization,

victories

even

Ephraim

its

can nevertheless be taken

it
if

he only led the Ephraimites.

of Joshua's victories would

generations and give

Ephraim maintained

the over-all leadership of Joshua

extend

forward over the

a jealously guarded claim to military

pre-eminence.

In any united action of the tribes


that

Ephraim would supply the

on the part of other

tribes to

it

would be taken

initiative

for granted

and leadership; and

recognize this

would

failure

result in

civil

war, as actually happened on at least one important occasion. (This


is

rather similar to the experience in Greece five or six centuries later,

when any
ically

united action by the Greek city-states was almost automat-

undertaken only under the leadership of Sparta.)

Ephraimite hegemony must have been most marked over the neighboring tribes of Benjamin to the south and Manasseh to the north.

This

may be

reflected in the tradition that all three

from those sons of Jacob who had Rachel

for a

were descended

mother (Joseph and

Benjamin). Ephraim, in other words, headed the close alliance of the

JUDGES
"Rachel

tribes,"

and exerted

influence

its

237

more informally beyond

that central nucleus.

The term "Mount Ephraim" can be


country of Ephraim, but

hill

more

it

applied

specifically

loosely to the extension of the highland area north

of Ephraim's immediate territory. This

Book

since the

is

and south

the more reasonable

all

of Judges was put into final form after the time of the

existence of the northern

kingdom of

Israel,

which was so dominated

by the tribe of Ephraim that Ephraim was used,

name

the

to

can, in view of this, also be applied

"Mount Ephraim" would

of the kingdom.

be used sometimes

the

poetically, as

therefore naturally

for the highlands of the north tribal area generally.

Thus, after Ehud the Benjamite had assassinated Eglon of Moab,

he

retired to the Israelite strongholds in the hills:

.he blew a trumpet in the mountain of Ephraim,


Judges 3:27.
and the children of Israel went down with him from the mount
.

It

is

Ephraim proper

territory of

troops.

Ehud had

not necessary to conclude that

He

in order to

to

move

into the

send out messages to

rally

could have done so from the western section of Benjamin.

Nevertheless,

it is

natural to suppose that the Ephraimites

must have

joined him.

As
is

is

often the case

when one member

the recognized military leader, aggression

long as the territory of that leader


in Greece,

it

was often

as the Peloponnesus

difficult to get

was not invaded.

that was occupied,

of Hazor

and

allowed to continue as

is

not directly threatened. Thus,

is

act against the Moabites as long as

of a loose confederation

Sparta to take action as long

Ephraim was slow

Similarly,

was only Benjamite

it

and they were equally slow

to

territory

to act as long as Jabin

his general Sisera confined their activity to placing the

northern tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun under tribute.

There may at
in

this

time have been some sort of internal

Ephraim that we have no knowledge

to be led by a

Judges 4:4.

womana
And

of, for

most unusual

difficulties

the Rachel tribes seem

situation.

Deborah, a prophetess

judged

Israel at that

time.

Judges 4:5.

And

mount Ephraim

she dwelt
.

between

Ramah and

Bethel in

ASIMOV'S CUIDE TO THE BIBLE

238

The

area

and here

Ramah and

between

Bethel

was Benjamite

territory

an example of the broader use of the term "mount

is

Ephraim."

Mount Tabor
But

hegemony

as Canaanite

in the

north grew more menacing (or

Ephraim became more

as the political situation within

Deb-

settled),

orah prepared to take action:

And

Judges 4:6.
naphtali

and

she sent and called Barak

said unto

and take with thee ten thousand men of


Zebulun

And

Judges 4:7.

of

Kedesh-

him ... Go and draw toward mount Tabor,

I will

draw unto thee to the

the captain of Jabin's army

Naphtali and

river

Kishon

Sisera,

Kedesh, seven miles northwest of Hazor, was the most important


Israelite

town

ferentiate

it

Naphtali

in

(and was called Kedesh-naphtali to

from other towns of the name). Presumably,

it

dif-

was the

center of Israelite resistance and Barak was a guerrilla leader keeping

the hopes of Israel

Now

alive.

the forces available to

him and

Deborah was urging him


risk

it

to

in a pitched battle

combine

on Mount

Tabor.

Mount Tabor
it

is

located at the southern border of Naphtali, where

meets the borders of Zebulun and Issachar.

It

is

about twenty-five

miles southwest of Hazor, forming a convenient rallying point for


troops from several tribes, and an easily defensible area where they

might gather and prepare. (Mount Tabor

is

only about

five

miles

southeast of Nazareth, which over a thousand years later was to be the

home of Jesus.)
The Kishon River, about
through northern Palestine,
Zebulun, into what
has

its

is

now

origin just west of

Barak was reluctant to


battle without

Greek
foreign

through

called the

Mount

in

later

enemy without

long,

flows

the territory of

Bay of Acre.

northwestward
Issachar

and

northern tributary

Tabor.

risk his forces in

assurance of firm

city-states

miles

fifty

the uncertainty of a pitched

Ephraimite support

centuries were

reluctant

assurance of Spartan help).

to

(just

as

the

oppose some

JUDGES
Judges 4:8.

And

then I will go; but

Barak said unto her, If thou wilt go with me,

thou wilt not go with me, then

if

Deborah gave the necessary assurance and

and the strongest

alliance

Barak defeated

Israelite

Sisera. Sisera

he turned for help, and the

The Song

The

was

at the

I will not go.

head of the

largest

since the time of Joshua,

by a woman

whom

to

army continued the war

against

destroyed, this time for good.

Deborah

of

fifth

army

killed in flight

Israelite

Hazor was taken and

Jabin until

239

chapter of the Book of Judges

is

notable for the "Song

of Deborah," considered one of the most ancient portions of the


Bible:

Judges 5:1.
It

Then sang Deborah and Barak ... on

was a paean of triumph at the victory over

Deborah

that day

Sisera

and

in

it

the tribes of the coalition that took part in the victory.

lists

Ephraim and

its

satellites,

Benjamin and Manasseh,

are,

of course,

listed first:

Judges 5:14.

Out

of

Ephraim was

there a root of

them

after thee,

Benjamin, among thy people; out of Machir came down

governors,

and out of Zebulun they that handle the pen

of the

writer.

And

Judges 5:15.

the princes of Issachar were with Deborah

Judges 5:18. Zebulun and Naphtali were a people that jeoparded


their lives

Machir

is,

apparently, an alternate

the tribe of Manasseh

is

name

for

actually the union of

Manasseh. Perhaps

two

tribes,

one of

which was called Machir (a term more often used for that portion of
the tribe that held territory east of the Jordan).

The

Bible solves the

problem by making Machir a son of Manasseh.


Genesis

50:23.

the children also

of

Machir, the son of

Manasseh were brought up upon Joseph's knees.

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

240

Here the implication

is

that Machir was the only son of Manasseh,


serve as

eponymous ancestors

Six of the tribes, then, took part in the battle:

Ephraim, Benjamin,

so that both

Manasseh and Machir could

for the entire tribe.

Manasseh, Zebulun, Issachar, and Naphtali, forming

a solid bloc along

the interior of northern Canaan.

Four of the

out for contempt at not having

are singled

tribes

joined:

Judges 5:15.

For the

divisions of

Reuben, there were great

thoughts of heart.
Judges 5:16.

Why

abodest thou

the bleatings of the flocks?

among

the sheepfolds, to hear

why

Judges 5:17. Gilead [Gad] abode beyond fordan: and

Dan

remain in ships? Asher continued on the sea shore

The

abstentions were reasonable after

the Philistines

may

well have

all.

Dan on

shore facing the Phoenicians, and

did

Asher on the northern

had ample troubles

at

home without
irresolute

and

decided to remain at home, was having similar trouble with

Moab. Indeed,
as a

the southern shore facing

looking for enemies elsewhere. Reuben, which stood


finally

so

tribe,

tribe that

this
it

chapter

is

the last in the Bible to mention

had not long

to endure.

might have joined but

behind the

river

didn't,

and saw no need

is

Gad was the only


it may have felt

and

strong
secure

to risk lives.

Notice that the tribe of Judah, and


tioned. It

Reuben

its satellite

Simeon, are not men-

quite possible that during the period of the judges, Judah

was not part of the

Israelite coalition

and may not even have been

recognized as part of Israel.


it was only for a century, under the kings Saul, David, and
Solomon, that Judah was united with Israel. Under Saul (an Israelite), Judah was in rebellion; and under David and Solomon (Jude-

Indeed,

ans), Israel was restive. After Solomon, the two portions of the land
fell

apart and remained apart for the rest of their history.

Jezreel

In addition to the Canaanite

were subjected to periodic

raids

enemy within the land, the Israelites


by the nomads from beyond the Jor-

JUDGES
dan the

The

Midianites and Amalekites.

tribe of

241

Manasseh, which

bordered on the central Jordan, suffered particularly from these raids


into Israel,

Gideon, a

and the defense against the nomads was undertaken by

member

of that tribe. His opportunity

came with

the next

raid:

Jezreel

Then

Judges 6:33.

all

the Midianites and the Amalekites

gathered together, and went over, and pitched in the valley of Jezreel.

river flows into the

Jordan from the west about fifteen miles south

of Lake Galilee and cuts through the line of hills that runs

center of Israel.

That

is

the valley of Jezreel and

opening into the heart of northern

The

valley of Jezreel

not intend to

let

Judges 6:35.

and
they
It

is

Israel

it

down

the

represents a natural

from the

for raiders

in the territory of Issachar

east.

but Gideon did

Issachar fight alone:

And

he sent messengers throughout

all

Manasseh

unfo Asher, and unto Zebulun, and unto Naphtali; and

came up

to

meet them.

was almost the same confederacy that fought the Hazorites under

Sisera,

but with the

vital

omission of Ephraim.

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

242

We

can only guess

was something

like

why Gideon

this.

If

omitted Ephraim, but perhaps

Ephraim joined the

coalition

only be as the leader and they, in their military pride, would

to carry

it

nomad

on

a better plan

through he needed to retain control in his

own hands

which meant omitting Ephraim. His plan, he


a

insist

Gideon had what he thought was

a direct frontal attack.

and

it

would

it

numbers than

host, stronger in

in

felt,

would work against

discipline

and organiza-

tion.

He
anite

led a small band by night to the heights overlooking the Midiencampment and attacked suddenly, with noise and lights, rather

than with arms. Roused, shaken, not knowing what was going on, convinced that a formidable host had surrounded them, the Midianites
panic back to the Jordan, where the main army was waiting to

fled in

them

destroy

at the fords.

Ephraim, having been notified with deliberate tardiness by Gideon

and directed
it was plain

to the fords, participated in the battle at the Jordan, but

to them that the successful strategy was Gideon's.


They were humiliated and angered. Not only had Gideon deliber-

ately failed to recognize Ephraim's leadership,

on

to

head a coalition and win

threatened between those

but he had then gone

a victory without them. Civil

war was

who

followed Gideon and an annoyed and

men

of

Ephraim:

jealous

Judges 8:1.

Why

And

the

Ephraim

said unto

him [Gideon],
when

hast thou served us thus, that thou calledst us not,

thou wentest out to

fight

with the Midianites?

And

they did chide

with him sharply.

Smoothly, Gideon suggested that the crucial point of the battle came
at the fords of the Jordan,

the Midianite leaders. His

minor.
civil

The

where Ephraim had captured

own

role, a

mere

raid,

number

he dismissed

of

as quite

offended Ephraimites allowed themselves to be soothed and

war was averted.

Succoth

Gideon pursued the remnant of the Midianite army

east of the Jor-

dan, in order to complete the victory. Partly, too, the pursuit of the

enemy was

a matter of private vengeance, for Zebah and Zalmunna,

JUDGES
two Midianite leaders

still

at large,

had been responsible

(as

243

it

turned

out) for the death of Gideon's brothers.


In the course of the pursuit, Gideon passed through the territory of
the tribe of Gad, which was continuing

not joined the coalition against Jabin


the coalition

joined

way

into Israel, there

than neutral; that

it

policy of isolation.

and

and

Sisera

(Since

the Midianites.

against

would have had to pass through Gadite


their

its

Midianites

territory to reach the Jordan

a strong possibility that

is

the

had

It

had not

it

Gad was

did not oppose the Midianites and paid them

ute in order that they might remain in peace while devastation

on

worse
trib-

fell

on

the land west of the Jordan.)

Even

and sought the

after Gideon's victory, they temporized

safety

When

Gideon entered Succoth, on the Jabbok River


perhaps four miles east of the Jordan, and asked for supplies, he was

of neutrality.

refused:

Judges 8:6. ..

the princes of Succoth said, Are the hands of

Zebah and Zalmunna now

in thine

hand, that

we should

give bread

unto thine army?


In other words, Gideon might yet be defeated and Succoth was not

going to

by the Midianites.

risk retaliation

The

nearby town of Penuel

(where Jacob had once wrestled with an angel) took the same attitude.

Gideon could do nothing about

this

at

the time; the Midianites

He caught up with the nomads at Karkor, the exact site of


unknown, but which may be some thirty miles east of the
Jordan (a deep eastward penetration for an Israelite army of the time).
Again Gideon won a complete victory, capturing the Midianite leaders
came

first.

which

is

and eventually executing them.

He

then took reprisal against the Gadites, destroying the

tions of Penuel,

fortifica-

and executing the leading men of Succoth.

Gideon and Abimelech

The

victories of

Gideon had been

sufficiently

the prestige required for kingship; that


Judges 8:22.

Then

over us, both thou,

the

men

and thy

is,

dramatic to give him

for hereditary rule.

of Israel said unto Gideon, Rule thou


son,

and thy

son's son also

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE


And Gideon

Judges 8:23.

you

The Lord

This response was

Book

shall rule over you.

with the views of the time at which the

in accord

after the

time of the

Israel (and, to a lesser extent, of

Judah) were

of Judges reached

monarchy. The kings of


all

said unto them, I will not rule over

its

form; that

final

The

too often strongly anti-Yahvist.

monarchic, and

this

shows up

Yahvists were, in turn, antiplaces in the Bible.

in several

Gideon did accept the kingship,

Nevertheless, the chances are that

He

not "of Israel" then at least of Manasseh.

power was

to power. Again the

Manasseh

The

are

mentioned

made

some other

Manasseh

in this portion of the

automatic, that

it

his

him

for only places in

Book of

Judges.

lies in

the fact that the succession

will pass

from father to son (or to

advantage of hereditary rule

can be

whether

is

was, for his sons succeeded

it

just over

if

certainly ruled as judge

the crucial test

in his lifetime and, after his death,

power was hereditary. Apparently

is,

close relative) according to

therefore not plunged into broils and

some

civil

fixed rule.

The

land

is

war with the death of each

ruler.

For

dom

this to

work

well, those relatives

who do not

inherit the king-

should stand aside with good grace, but this did not always happen

in ancient monarchies.

With

polygamy practiced, there would be

royal

numbers of sons born of different mothers. The wives of the harem would intrigue for the succession of their own sons and the sons
themselves would seek factions within the kingdom. The result would

large

often be broils and

civil

wars anyway.

This was to be most clearly shown


Israel's greatest king,

David, but a

was a polygamist, and a


Judges 8:30.

him

had many

And

Judges 8:31.

his

a son whose

It is interesting

foretaste

is

the case of

given now.

Gideon

one:

And Gideon had

begotten; for he

bare

fruitful

in Biblical history in

little

threescore

and ten sons of

his

body

wives.

concubine that was in Shechem, she also

name he

called Abimelech.

that "Abimelech"

means "my father

is

king."

The

"king" might be a reference to a god rather than to Gideon, so per-

haps

it

The

should not be taken too

literally.

question was which of Gideon's sons was to succeed him. In

this connection,

Abimelech may have

felt like

an outsider. Shechem

JUDGES
was

Canaanite

essentially a

still

city,

berith ("Lord of the covenant")

woman may

naanite

worshiping a Canaanite god, Baal-

and Abimelech

as the son of a

Ca-

have been scorned and rejected by his brothers.

made

In any case, he

24;

a virtue of necessity

and intrigued with

his

mother's clan in Shechem, pointing out that they would fare better

under one of their

own

They saw the point and financed his


army and use it to attack and

as king.

next step, which was to hire a private

slaughter the other sons. Left in power, Abimelech assumed the kingship but retained

for only a short while before trouble started:

it

When

Judges 9:22.

Abimelech had reigned three yean

enter

Israel,

... an evU
Shechem

Judges 9:23.

spirit [arose]

between Abimelech and the

men

of

The

Shechemites, disenchanted with Abimelech for some reason,

belled

and then went on

He marched

nasseh.

against

sented nowadays by a village


east of

Shechem.

re-

Abimelech bloodily suppressed the Shechemite

against him.

rebellion

He

to subdue other disaffected cities of

Thebez (which

is

thought to be repre-

named Tubas), about

took the city but was

Thus ended the house of Gideon and the


tablishing a monarchy in Israel.

Ma-

twelve miles north-

killed in the process.


first

brief

attempt at

es-

Mizpeh
Deborah and Gideon may be counted
judges, respectively.

are briefly
shifts to

Two

mentioned

as the fourth

more, Tola and

in a verse apiece

and soon

fifth

of the

and seventh),

thereafter the scene

the Trans-Jordan.

While the

tribe of

of Israel proper,

it

Gad

(Gilead) remained aloof from the troubles

did not dwell in complete peace, even

mentary irruption of Gideon's Manassite army

When

and

Jair (the sixth

the tribe of

Gad had

settled in

its

is

if

the mo-

discounted.

territory, it

had displaced

the Ammonites, pushing them away from the Jordan valley and toward
the east. This was not accomplished peacefully, of course, and there

was continuing war between the Gadites and the Ammonites. The
climax of that war

is

described:

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

246

Mizpeh

Judges 10:17.
gether,

Then

and encamped

Ammon

the children of
in Gilead.

And

were gathered

to-

the children of Israel assem-

bled themselves together, and encamped in Mizpeh.

The

exact site of

Mizpeh

is

uncertain but

it

may have been some

twenty miles southeast of the town of Succoth,

earlier

connection with Gideon's raid across the Jordan.

It

em

border of Gadite

At the head

mentioned

was near the

in

east-

territory.

of the Gadite

army was Jephthah, who,

to win, vows, in case of victory, to sacrifice to

God

the

in his eagerness
first

living thing

upon his return home. Jephthah wins a


over the Ammonites and, on his return home, it is his

that emerges from his house

complete victory

daughter and only child

who emerges

to greet him.

Jephthah

is

forced,

in agony, to sacrifice her.

This
that

it

tale of
is

human

sacrifice is so at

odds with the

rituals of

Yahvism

matter of surprise that the later editors of the Book of

Judges allowed

it

to

remain without some sign of disapproval.

often suggested that the tale

is left

It is

unvarnished in an attempt to

as-

JUDGES
simflate into

247

The

stoiy con-

And it was a custom in Israel,


That the daughters of Israel went yearly

to lament

Yahvism the

pagan

ritual of a

festival.

cludes:

Judges 11:39.

Judges 11:40.

the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in a year.

There were well-known

over the ancient world celebrating

rites all

the death and subsequent rebirth of a god. This represented the annual
agricultural cycle: the death of crops in the winter

the spring.

It

would be customary
ceremony each

the god with great

women

for

and then

year,

and

their rebirth in

to bewail the death of


to rejoice at the

news

of the rebirth.

To
been

women

deprive the

of their long-established custom would have

from a heathen god to the daughter of an

difficult; to transfer it

Israelite

hero might have been

easier.

Shibboleth

The
victory

victory of Jephthah displeased

had displeased them. The

the Ephraimites, as Gideon's

tribe of

Gad,

was attempting to take over the headship of


succeed, as

Gideon had,

it

seemed

Israel.

to

Ephraim,

Jephthah did not

and

in mollifying the Ephraimites

time

this

there was civil war.

The Ephraimite
itself militarily

forces,

crossing the Jordan to

Jephthah, in

with the self-confidence of a tribe considering

supreme among the

all

do

Israelites,

promptly invaded Gad,

so.

probability, faded

away before them, luring them

deeper into the country and farther from their bases, while he sent
contingents to occupy the fords of the Jordan and cut off their retreat.
In a sharp battle, he then defeated the Ephraimites

beaten army

Judges 12:5.

Let

me

go over;

an Ephraimite?
Judges 12:6.

and when the

they found their way across the Jordan barred:

fled,

when those Ephraimites which were escaped

If

he

Then

the

men

said,

Nay;

said they unto him, Say

now

Shibboleth:

he said Sibboleth: for he could not frame to pronounce


they took him, and slew

said,

of Gilead said unto him, Art thou

him

it

right.

and

Then

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

248

The word
itself;

Ephraimite
is

shibboleth meant "stream" but

it

had no

significance in

merely supplied the "sh" sound that was missing in

it

As a

dialect.

result of this passage, the

the

word "shibboleth"

used in English to represent any catchword that serves to distinguish

one group of men from another.


Forty-two thousand Ephraimites are recorded as having died in this
civil

war. That figure

undoubtedly exaggerated but the defeat was

is

enough to end the Ephraimite hegemony over

serious

the day came that a king finally arose over

Ephraim that he was

tribe of

Israel, it

Israel.

When

was not from the

taken.

Nazarite

Jephthah

may be counted

apiece.

as the eighth judge and, after the conclu-

are briefly mentioned in a verse or two


These are Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon, the ninth, tenth, and elev-

more

sion of his story, three

enth judges respectively.

And now

again there

is

a shift in scene; this time westward, to the

southern coast, where the great enemy was the Philistines.

them was Dan, whose

that suffered most seriously from

the northern section of

The

which was dominated by the

Philistia,

tribe

territory lay in
Philis-

throughout the period of the judges.

tines

Around the

struggles

between Danites and

there arose tales of a folk hero, Samson.

army,

Gideon, or Jephthah.

like Barak,

their Philistine overlords

Samson

He

is,

is

not a leader of an

instead, a kind of

Robin

or Superman, conducting a one-man campaign against the enemy


and winning his way by brute strength, rather than by skill or intelli-

Hood

gence.
It

is

uncertain

how much

of a nubbin of historical truth

the undoubtedly exaggerated stories concerning him, for

Samson

be made to

story can

in ancient times: in

into the type of solar

fit

which the

life

lies

behind

much of the
common

myths

of a hero reflects the course of the

sun through the heavens.

Samson's
to his

Judges

and no
unto

miraculous from the

life is

start, for his

birth

is

announced

mother beforehand by an angel:


13:5.

For,

rasor shall

God from

lo,

come on

the

shdt conceive,

thou

womb

and bear a

his head; for the child shall


.

son;

be a Nazarite

JUDGES
The word
the spiritual

off

life.

monk

of the

who

"Nazarite" means "one

marks himself

is

separate"; that

The

to

Nazarite in ancient Israel has some of the flavor

Christendom.

in

common

Nazarites must have been fairly

made

one who

is,

from ordinary human beings and devotes himself

in the later

the rules for becoming one were written into the


thus

249

Book

of

monarchy and

Numbers and

part of the law of Moses:

Numbers 6:2.
When either man or woman shall
vow a
vow of a Nazarite, to separate themselves unto the Lord:
Numbers 6:3. He shall separate himself from wine and strong
.

drink

Numbers
Samson

is

6:6.

the

first

he shall come at no dead body.

person in the Bible to be recorded as a Nazarite,

but he certainly was not an edifying one. Nothing about his

life indi-

Nor did he fulfill


he did come into con-

cated any spiritual uplift, or even any moral sense.

minimum

the barest

dead bodies and he participated at

tact with

have been

Only
life,

his

and

of the Nazarite vows since

much

feasts

where there must

drinking.

unshaven head and long hair remain of the Nazarite way of

this

is

an

essential part of a solar

sents the rays of the sun. It

may well be

myth

that

it is

since long hair repre-

merely to account for

the long hair in a non-idolatrous fashion that the later editors of the

Book of Judges made him a Nazarite and put him

in a role

he

fit

so

poorly.

Zorah

Samson was born:


Judges 13:24.

And

the

woman

Samson: and the child grew


Judges 13:25.

...

in the

bare a son,

and

called his

name

camp

of

Dan between Zorah and

Esh-

taol.

Zorah, the

em

home

of

Manoah, Samson's

father,

is

located in the east-

section of Danite territory, about fifteen miles west of Jerusalem.

Eshtaol

is

a couple of miles to

its

east

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

25O

Zorah

The

very

name Samson ("Shimshon"

in

Hebrew) bears

a striking

resemblance to the word shemesh, meaning "sun." Only two miles


south of Zorah was the town of Beth-shemesh ("house of the sun")
believed to be a center of sun-worship.

Delilah

From

the beginning,

Samson

displayed a penchant for Philistine

girls:

Judges 14:1.

And Samson

saw a

woman

in

Timnath of the

daughters of the Philistines.

And he
her for me

Judges 14:2.

...

said

get

told his father

and

his mother,

and

to wife.

(Timnath was a town about six miles west of Zorah.)


Samson did not marry her in the end but in the course of the
courtship and engagement, Samson performed typical feats. He killed
a lion with his bare hands; he killed thirty Philistines in anger over

having

them

lost a

tails

of foxes

and turned

he breaks loose from binding ropes and singlehandedly slaughlarge numbers of Philistines; he escapes from a city which has

Later,
ters

wager; he tied torches to the

loose in Philistine grainfields.

JUDCES
locked

its

gates

on him, by

None

away, and so on.

lifting the gates bodily

and carrying them

of these feats do Israel any good or the Philis-

any serious harm, and many of them can be shown to

tines

myths commonly told

251

solar

fit

in ancient times.

But then Samson meets

his

match

in the

form of another

Philistine

girl:

And

Judges 16:4.

woman
The
lem

came

it

to pass afterward, that he loved a

in the valley of Sorek,

whose name was Delilah.

Sorek River flows westward from the neighborhood of Jerusa-

to the sea. It forms the southern

and cuts through

Philistia

boundary of Danite

territory

south of EkTon and north of Ashdod.

It is

a natural route for eastward invasion of Philistine armies into central


Israel.

Delilah

bribed by her Philistine compatriots to find out from

is

Samson the

secret of his strength. After several evasions,

Judges 16:17.
.

if 1

There hath not come a

be shaven, then

become weak, and be


Judges 16:19.

And

my

like

strength will go

rasor

he

upon mine head

from me, and

There

is

I shall

any other man.

she [Delilah]

made him [Samson]


him

her knees; and she called for a man, and she caused

the seven locks of his head;

her:

tells

and

nothing in the Nazarite

his strength

sleep

upon

to shave off

went from him.

ritual that implies that

it

is

the

purpose of the long hair to give unusual strength to a man. This


clearly mythological

Delilah's

name

is

apparently the tale


of

its

rays as

it

and

in

with the sun motif.

closely akin to the

tells

sets

fits

is

Hebrew

lilah

("night")

of night overcoming the sun and depriving

so
it

toward the horizon and becomes ruddy and dim.

Dagon

Now

at last the Philistines could take

(the sun, which

may be viewed

Samson. They blinded him

as the eye of

the heavens,

removed

is

and vanishes from the sky with the coming of night) and put him to
hard labor in prison. Then, in celebration
Judges 16:23.

... the

lords of the Philistines gathered

gether for to offer a great sacrifice unto

Dagon

their

god

them
.

to-

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

252

Very

the nature of Dagon for the rites to this


Gaza and Ashdod died out after Old TestaBecause the word "Dagon" resembles dag, the Hebrew

little is

god of the

known about

Philistines of

ment

times.

word

for "fish," the idol has often

god and even to be

and

below. This

fish

in the
is

man above

the form in which Milton describes

when he

Paradise Lost

been supposed to represent a

form of a merman,
the

calls

Dagon

whom

fish

and

fishing

could have been important, this seemed reasonable. However, the


of the god

and

more reasonable

agricultural god, a very

The one
some hint

name

even closer to dagan, the Hebrew word for "grain,"

is

therefore even

it is

in

angels.

of the fallen

roll

Since the Philistines were a coastal people, to

fish-

the waist

common

to

suppose that Dagon was an

type of deity.

Dagon

other important mention of

the Bible gives

in

of the appearance of the idol. In later years, the Philistines

capture the ark of the covenant and take

it

into the temple of

Dagon

with drastic results for their idol:

Samuel

5:4.

Dagon was
both

left to

And when

fallen

upon

they arose early on the morrow, behold,

his face

hands were cut

off

...

and the head of Dagon and


only the stump of Dagon was

him.

In the Revised Standard Version, the final phrase

the trunk of
If the

Dagon was

bottom half of the

difficult to believe that

the

of

tail

seem

to

Dagon was

lie,

how

(if

idol

is

given as "only

him."

had been that of

a fish,

it

seems very

the Biblical writers would not have said "only

left to

him." The weight of the evidence would

then, despite Milton, in favor of

In any case, the


of

left to

name Dagon

Philistine culture

is

clearly Semitic

Dagon
and

was Semitized after their

is

as a grain-god.

a good example

arrival in

Canaan

not before).

The

feast to celebrate the capture of

the Philistines.
their

They brought out

Samson did not end


Samson in order

the blinded

well for
to

make

enjoyment of the occasion the keener.


Judges 16:22. Howbeit the hair of his head began to grow again

after

he was shaven.

Again the sun myth can be seen here, for although the eye of the
day

is

blinded and the sun disappears,

it

invariably appears again. It

JUDCES
once more

rises

brighter

with

in the east,

and stronger

as

it

its

rays

weak and dim,

yes,

but growing

climbs in the sky.

In a last display of strength,

Samson pushes apart the

porting the roof of the large house in which they feasted.

and many
story

253

pillars sup-

He

himself,

Philistines, died in the collapse that followed. In this way, a

which had many of the aspects of

tragic dignity.

Samson

is

farce

ended with

a touch of

Book

the twelfth judge, the last in the

of

Judges.

Dan

Dan and

The Book
five chapters

this

the Danite Migration

The

of Judges does not end with the twelfth judge.

add two supplementary

book because they belong

in

its

narratives

last

which are placed in

particular historical period.

The

writer specifies this:

Judges 18:1. In those days there was no king in Israel

Unlike the

earlier

accounts in this book, however, these

final incidents

are not associated with the feats of any specific judge.

The

first

account deals with the tribe of Dan, which found

itself

un-

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

2 54

who

bearably oppressed by the overpowering might of the Philistines,

occupied most of the region theoretically assigned to


quest and dominated the

Judges 18:2.

them an
itance

Dan

rest.

in those days the tribe of the Danites sought

inheritance to dwell in; for unto that day all their inher-

had not

fallen

unto them

"In those days" merely specifies the period of the judges;


tell
it is

us certainly whether

it

comes before or

after the feats of

assumed that because the incident follows the

therefore occurs later in time


ties

at the con-

and

is

it

does not

Samson.

If

Samson,

it

tales of

good evidence that Samson's

activi-

did not seriously weaken the Philistines or help the Danites.

The Danites

decided, therefore, to seek for an area far

the powerful Philistines, and sent a group of five

men

away from

to reconnoiter

the far north. Eventually

Judges 18:7.

of the Zidonians

men
how they

the five

people that were therein,


.

came

and saw the

to Laish,

dwelt careless, after the manner

and they were

far

from the Zidonians and had

no business with any man.


In other words, they found a Phoenician (Canaanite)
miles inland, which could not easily be rescued by the

power centers on the

coast.

Furthermore,

it

had

city,

thirty

main Phoenician

lived

in

peaceful

isolation,

without having formed military alliances that might serve to

make an

assault against the city expensive

The

scouts reported this

and subject

on returning home,

hundred men were sent northward

whereupon

to retaliation.

body of

to secure the place.

six

In passing

through the territory of the bordering tribe of Ephraim, they calmly


appropriated an idol built by Micah, an unoffending Ephraimite

who

had been hospitable to the spies on their earlier trip. They also took
with them the Levite who had served as private chaplain to the Ephraimite.

When Micah

objected, the Danites threatened to

kill

him

into

the bargain.
Judges 18:26.

Micah saw

And

the children of

and when
him, he turned and went

Dan went

that they were too strong for

their way:

back unto his house.


This
the

is

tribes.

an example of the anarchy of the times and the disunity of


Danites

felt

no compunction, presumably,

in stealing

from

JUDGES
Ephraimites.

(From the

it

force advanced to

no Ephraimite

fact that

oppose the marauding Danites,

255

might be supposed that

this

happened

Ephraim's catastrophic defeat at the hands of Jephthah.)

after

Nor were

the Danites the only offenders in this respect.

When

offended against as well.

They were

Samson, a Danite, was conducting

his

harassment of the Philistines, a band of men of Judah (neighboring


Danite territory to the south and southeast), fearing general Philistine reprisals, acted to remove the troublemaking Samson:
Judges 15:12.

tines

They

they said unto him,

bind thee, that we

may

are come down to


hand of the Philis-

fulfilled their threat,

by means of

Philistines

Samson

too (though

his superstrength

the

later escaped

men

Apparently, the

Judah did not hesitate to sacrifice a Danite to


the

We

deliver thee into the

of

what we would consider

common enemy.

As

it

put in the

is

final

verse of the

Book

of Judges:

man

Judges 21:25. In those days there was no king in Israel; every

own

did that which was right in his

This lack of law and order,

eyes.

this feeling that

might was the only

goes far to explain the eventual Israelite clamor for a king and

is

right,

some-

thing even the general anti-monarchic attitude of the final editors of


the

Book

But

of Judges cannot hide.

to return to the migrating

They reached Laish and

Danite

attacked

it

band

as consciencelessly as they

had

robbed the Ephraimite and with as great a success. They destroyed


Laish and built a

new

Judges 18:29.

And

The

site

of

Dan

is

city in its place.

they called the

name

of the city

usually identified with the

Dan

Arab town Tell

el

Kady, located on the upper Jordan, nearly thirty miles north of the
Sea of Galilee. ("Dan" and "Kady" both

Dan

mean

"judge.")

represented the farthest northern reach of any purely Israelite

territory (although Israelite

archy extended

much

dominion

in the greatest days of the

farther north over areas occupied

mon-

by non-Isra-

The phrase "from Dan to Beersheba" can therefore be taken


mean "all Israel" since Beersheba was the southernmost Israelite
town of any consequence. The distance from Dan to Beersheba is about

elites).

to

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE


x

50 miles, which

is

equal to the distance from Albany to

respectable distance in

The site of Dan


though Beersheba

still
is

Old Testament

New

York, a

times.

stands at the northernmost edge of

modem Israel,

Modern

Israel controls

far from the southern edge.

a 120-mile stretch of desert (the Negev) south of Beersheba. Israel

now

extends over an extreme length of 270 miles.

Dan's position made


Israelite city as it

Not long

it

as isolated

had been

after the death of

in

its

and exposed

earlier role as a

Solomon,

it

from the north and that was the end of

two

in its

new

role as

Phoenician

an

city.

was taken by a Syrian army


Its

it.

span of existence was

centuries.

Gibeah

The

next account, the one with which the

an even more distressing

story,

Book

of Judges ends,

one which even more

is

clearly indicates

the state of anarchy and lawlessness that prevailed in Israel before the
kingship was established.
It

concerns a

Judah with

his

man

of

Ephraim who was

traveling northward

from

concubine, intending to cross the intervening territory

,s*kk

E P

rSr.,

H nf^)

J.

>*ta.

BENJAMIN

lit*."

Mills-

(DADSAJ

Gibeah

of Benjamin.

The day was drawing

reached Jerusalem, which

lies

to a close

when he and

on the boundary dividing the

his party

territory of

JUDGES

He

Judah from Benjamin.

might have stayed there for the

night,

257
but

Jerusalem was then under the control of the non-Israelite Jebusites and
the

man

Ephraim

of

preferred to find a nearby Israelite city in which

to stay.

Judges 19:12.
stranger

(Gibeah lay

we

five

We will not turn aside hither into the city of a

will pass over to

Gibeah.

miles north of Jerusalem

and was an important Ben-

managed to find a night's lodging with an


man, who happened to be a fellow Ephraimite. That night, how-

jamite center.) There he


old

ever, a

gang of Benjamite toughs besieged the old man's house, and

seizing the concubine, abused

Again,

One

would seem,

it

and eventually

tribal

disunity

her.

killed

exacerbated

the situation.

cannot help thinking that the Benjamites would not have acted

with such disregard of humanity


Ephraimites,

The

irony of

it

that

is

if

they had not been dealing with

if

members of another

and therefore

tribe,

the Ephraimite and

slept over in Jerusalem, the "city of a stranger"


enter,

The

he would probably have been


"outrage at Gibeah"

fame, and

it

was held up

is

strangers.

concubine had

his

which he would not

safe.

the city's only claim to a very dubious

in later centuries as the very

sinfulness, a standard against

which to measure

epitome of

disgrace.

Thus, the

own

generation,

prophet Hosea, writing some four centuries later of his


said:

Hosea
of

They have deeply corrupted themselves

9:9.

Gibeah

as in the days

Mizpeh [Benjamin]

The account

of the events following the outrage of Gibeah

puzzling one, for in several ways


parts of Biblical history.

When

it

is

seems inconsistent with other

news of the outrage was spread among

the tribes:

Judges 20:1.

all

the children of Israel went out, and the

congregation was gathered together as one man, from


to Beersheba, with the land of Gilead,

Dan

even

unto the Lord in Mizpeh.

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

2 58

The Mizpeh

here

is

not

one

the

Gadite

in

Jephthah's troops gathered before the battle with

Rather

it

was a town

in

Benjamin, near

where

territory

the Ammonites.

border with Ephraim. In

its

the period of the judges, this was used as a tribal meeting place on
several occasions.

We

need not

literally

suppose, of course, that "all the children of

assembled there; but rather that representatives of

Israel"

all

the

were there, including even those from beyond the Jordan.

tribes

The

gathering

pictured

is

being

as

horrified

at

event

the

and

unanimously deciding on united action against Cibeah.


Judges 20:11. So

all

the

men

city, knit

together as one man.

And

this

yet

of Israel were gathered against the

seems so unlikely. Throughout the period of the

most pressing

judges, the tribes of Israel did not unite even under the

of dangers.

They did not

all

unite against

Sisera

against

or

the

Midianites or against the Ammonites. Indeed, Manasseh's fight against

the Midianites nearly provoked


fight against the
it

Ammonites

civil

war with Ephraim, and Gad's

did provoke such a

war. Therefore

civil

seems quite unbelievable that a united front could be

up on

set

this

occasion.

Perhaps the later editors idealized the situation. Could

what

actually

happened was that

all

it

Ephraim, rather than

be that

all

Israel,

united against Benjamin in defense of the manhandled Ephraimites?

one were

If

to search for historic justification, however,

one might

suppose that the Book of Joshua was accurate and that at the time of
the conquest and perhaps immediately afterward the Israelite tribes

were taking

happened

common

feats,

Might then the outrage

at

Gibcah have

right at the start of the period of the judges, despite its

position at the

After

action.

all,

end of the book?

when

in the

war that followed,

Israel suffered initial de-

they turned to the ark of the covenant for advice and

Bible pauses in

Judges

its

20:28.

the

account to say:

And

Aaron, stood before

it

Phinehas, the son


in those days

of Eleazar,

the son of

But Eleazar was contemporary with Joshua, so that events occurring in the lifetime of Eleazar's son

must be taking place immediately

JUDGES
the conquest, and while united action was

after

259

presumably,

still,

part of the Israelite tradition.

The war
torious,

turned against Benjamin.

finally

Cibeah was sacked, and the

Judges 20:47. But six hundred

vic-

men

turned and fled

unto

Rimmon.

the rock

The

were

Israelites

Benjamite population was almost wiped out.

astated. Indeed, the

"rock

five miles

The

entire Benjamite territory dev-

Rimmon"

sometimes identified with a wild,

is

hilly region

north of Cibeah.

Only these

hundred men, the

six

Even

of the Benjamites.

Biblical story indicates, remained

we assume an

if

has a foundation of historical truth at

even devastating defeat of Benjamin.

exaggeration, the story,

must

all,

If so,

if

it

indicate a serious and

it

could not have hap-

pened toward the end of the period of the judges,

for

Benjamin was

prosperous then. It was from Benjamin, in fact, that a king of Israel

On

was soon to be drawn.

weakened Benjamin

the other hand, the picture of a greatly

early in the period of the judges

sidered consistent with the

might be con-

Moabite invasion that put Benjamin under

enemy occupation and provoked the counteraction

of

Ehud

(see

page 234).

Jabesh-gSead

The

on to say that

story goes

Benjamin

and

was unwilling

hundred survivors might serve

to

Israel

see

repented the destruction of


a

tribe

disappear.

as a nucleus for repopulation

The

six

but the

had sworn to give them no wives. They looked therefore


some city or group that had not been represented in the war
against Benjamin and that had therefore not participated in the oath.
Israelites

for

Judges 21:8.

from Jabesh-gilead

And
.

behold, there

came none

to the

camp

Jabesh-gilead was a Gadite city, located east of the Jordan River

about

The

fifteen miles
Israelites

north of Succoth.

proceeded to sack Jabesh-gilead and obtain a supply

of wives for the Benjamites. In this way, Benjamin survived. Again,


if this

happened

at all

it

could not have happened late in the period

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

26b

Jabesh-gilead

of judges for in the time of King Saul, which followed hard after,
Jabesh-gilead was a flourishing town.

some Israelite writer in


write what we would today

(I can't resist the personal speculation that

the early period of the monarchy decided to


call

a historical

filled it

romance centering about the

to the dramatic needs of the story.

And

taken seriously by the priestly editors


various tribal traditions into the

Book

then,

at Gibeah.

who

there

it is,

somehow, the

later

He

it

tale

was

drew together the

of Judges. It

cluded, but was placed at the end because

Now,

affair

with violence and action and did not hesitate to adjust history

was therefore

seemed to

fit

in-

nowhere.

a puzzle for Biblical scholars to try to decipher.)

8.

THE BOOK OF RUTH

RUTH

BETHLEHEM-JUDAH

MAHLON AND CHUJOK

RUTH

DAVID

The Book

of

Ruth

Following the Book of Judges, in the various versions of the Bible


used by Christians,
its

heroine. It

Ruth
ruled

1:1.
.

is

is

a short

book

of four chapters, titled

Ruth

after

set in the time of the judges:

Now

it

came

to pass in the days

when

the judges

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

262

One might
Something

to

almost think

add

it

was another of the

to the accounts of the wars of

tales of the

time.

Gideon and Jephthah,

the exploits of Samson, the migration of the Danites, the outrage at

Gibeah.

Why

then

The answer is
The material in
and

at times

is it

that

not

it

Book

a part of the

not just another of the

is

Book

the

made

of Judges

even repulsive, as

tales of the time.

uniformly bloody, primitive,

be expected of

to

is

is

of Judges?

Ruth, on the other hand,

is

based on

stories

the contemporary chronicles of a crude, barbaric era.

charming pastoral

The

story of

written

idyl,

as

though by someone looking back at a period from a long distance,

and seeing

it

"good old days," a time of simplicity

in the light of the

and peace and good will which the rime certainly was not.

Book

In short, the

of

Ruth was composed

seven

centuries

though

the time

after

central thesis

its

details surrounding

The Jews

is

purports

it

century b.c.

in the fifth

in all likelihood, after the return of the Jews

from

exile

describe.

to

and some

And

even

historic tradition, perhaps the

based on

are fictional.

it

recognized this by including the book only in the third

division of the

Bible "The Writings." The books

in this section

were

considered by them to be literature, rather than history.


Nevertheless, the historic point

Christian scheme of things, that

makes

it

it

of the Bible and placed in

historic section

in the story immediately after the

so

is

important to the

has been drawn forward into the

Book

its

appropriate position

of Judges.

Bethlehem-judah

The

with a famine that drives a family of

tale begins

of their

home

Ruth

1:1.

out

Israelites

in Judah:

And

a certain

to sojourn in the country of

man

Moab,

he,

of Bethlehem-judah

and

his wife,

and

his

went
two

sons.

Bethlehem-judah

is

so

called

to

distinguish

it

from Bethlehem-

zebulun, about seventy-five miles northward. Bethlehem-judah

much

the more famous for reasons that will soon be

any reference simply to Bethlehem may be taken to


judah.

is

so

made plain that


mean Bethlehem-

RUTH

263

In fact, the only mention of Bethlehem-zebulun in the Bible

is

thought to be in connection with Ibzan, one of the minor judges

Judges

judged

12:8.

Book

glancingly mentioned in the

(the ninth in order)

And

after

him [Jephthah] Ibzan

of

of Judges:

Bethlehem

Israel.

Bethlehem-judah, located about

six

miles south of Jerusalem, ap-

name of Ephrath (see page 102). Even in the


men of Bethlehem could be called Ephrathites:

parently bore an earlier

time of David, the

Now

Samuel 17:12.

Bethlehem-judah, whose

David was the son of that Ephrathite of

name was

Jesse

and the writer of Ruth follows that custom in connection with the
family entering

Ruth

name

1:2.

Moab:

And

of his wife

the name of the man was Elimelech, and the


Naomi, and the name of his two sons Mahlon

and Chilion, Ephrathites


Bethlehem had

until

of Bethlehem-judah

now been mentioned

unhappy connections. Rachel had died near


jamin.

The

in the Bible only in

giving birth to Ben-

it,

Danites migrating northward to consummate a bloody

them

aggression took with

The concubine who was

a Levite

who was from

Bethlehem-judah.

brutally outraged and killed in Gibeah was of

Bethlehem-judah.

Now, however, Bethlehem


portance through

its

begins to take on a

association with this family

new and unique

and what

is

im-

to follow.

Mahlon and Chilion


Moab, Elimelech

In

Ruth

1:4.

And

dies,

but his sons marry Moabite

they took them wives of the

girls:

women

of

Moab;

name of the one was Orpah, and the name of the other Ruth:
and they dwelled there about ten years.
.
Ruth 1:5. And Mahlon and Chilion died also both of them
the

"Mahlon" means "sickness" and "Chilion" means "wasting,"


they don't seem to be the type of names anyone would give children.
Further, from the early death of the two sons, the names appear
Since

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

264
entirely too appropriate.

The

names

use of such appropriate

is,

how-

ever, often characteristic of fiction.

Ruth
Naomi,

bereft

her husband

of

and

decides

sons,

Bethlehem and assumes that her daughters-in-law

to

return

to

not wish to go

will

with her into a strange land. Orpah does indeed part from her, but
the other daughter-in-law, Ruth, refuses

Ruth

1:16.

And Ruth

flatly:

Intreat

said,

me

not to leave thee

and where thou


be my people, and thy God

for whither thou goest, I will go;

lodgest, I will

lodge; thy people shall

my God;

and the two go

to

Bethlehem.

Ruth meets Boaz,

In Bethlehem,

grateful to her for the love

and

Naomi's,

who

is

a foreigner,

and

is

a rich relative of

attracted to the girl despite the fact that she


care she

is

is

showing Naomi. Naomi

shrewdly arranges matters so that Boaz ends by offering to marry

Ruth

in full, traditional style.

The marriage is made and eventually a son is born, which comforts


Naomi and consoles her for her own losses. Ruth, her loyal daughterin-law, although a Moabitess, is now considered a fully assimilated
member of the community and the Israelite women praise her:

is

Ruth

4:14.

Ruth

4:15.

And
.

the

women

said unto

thy daughter in law, which loveth thee,

better to thee than seven sons

She has remained ever

women

Naomi

since, to all

men, one of the most

David

real

point of the story:

Ruth 4:17. And the women


Obed: he is the father of Jesse,
.

attractive

in the Bible.

But now comes the

gave

it

[Ruth's son] a

the father of David.

name

RUTH
Ruth, in other words, was the great-grandmother of

265
hero-

Israel's

king David.

The purpose of the book seems


when the Jews, like Naomi, were

clear.

was written at the time

It

returning from

The exiles
who had

exile.

were bitterly anxious to purify the land from the strangers

been settled on

and narrow

policy by which

racial

forbidden and

during the Exile. Their leaders established a

it

who had

all

rigid

intermarriage with foreigners was

all

must put

already married foreign wives

them away.
But there must have been many among the Jews who were appalled
the

at

which
of

pettiness

would have

it

Ruth

such

of

and

policy

be enforced.

to

as a clarion call

One

for universality

with

heartlessness

the

at

of

them wrote the Book

and

for the recognition of

the essential brotherhood of man.


In writing the

the author might have been inspired by the

tale,

existence of an actual

Moabite
was

in

in

peril

tradition

the effect that David was part

to

one period

ancestry. Certainly, at

and

seemed

it

to

him

in

that not only

his

life

he but

when he
his entire

family was in danger of slaughter, David brought his parents to

Moab

for safety:

Samuel

my

Let

God

father

will

do

for

At the time,
support David,

way

Israel

Moab

And David
and my mother ...

22:3.

said unto the

be with you,

Moab,
know what

king of
I

till

me.

it may have been good


who was then rebelling

policy

Moab's king

for

since

against Saul,

in

to

that

could be weakened. Nevertheless, David's confidence in

at this juncture

may

also

have arisen from a realization of kin-

ship.
If

there was such a tradition, the writer of the

superb use of
is

of

little

it,

and whether the

moment

as far as

By making the heroine

Numbers

men, thanks
(see

page

Book

he added are

of

Moabitess,

the

women were

writer

Ruth made

fictional or

the book's deeper meaning

point of the story, for Moabite


of Israelite

details

is

sharpened

189).

yet

this

the

the traditional corrupters

to the well-known story told in the

And

not

concerned.

foreign

Book

woman was

of

the

ancestress of David.

The

point could not have been

made

foreigner be assimilated into Judaism

stronger.

Not only could

and prove a worthy addition

a
to

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

266
it,

but the foreigner might be the source of the highest good. Ought

one

to forbid foreign

exile?

Why,

if

marriages as was done after the return from

Boaz's foreign marriage had been forbidden, there would

have been no David.

To

went even further. Through David,


Ruth was an ancestress of Jesus, and therefore the tale tends to
reinforce the Christian view of the Messiah; that he is for all mankind
Christians, the importance

and not

for the Jews alone.

9.

SAMUEL

JABESH-CILEAD
APHEK KIRJATH-JEAKIM MIZPEH SAUL
JONATHAN " MICHMASH * ACAC * THE PROPHETS BETHLEHEM DAVID
GOLIATH ' DAVID AND JONATHAN NOB ADULLAM ' ZKLAC * GO-BOA

SHILOH

BETH-SHAN

Shiloh

We

now move

of

its

progress,

The

into a period of increasingly reliable history.

next group of books


first

kingdoms, until the

of the establishment of the monarchy, and

tells

as a single

kingdom

final destruction of

of Israel, then as two smaller

one

arid the

temporary destruc-

tion of the other.

Originally this history was detailed in two books.

"Samuel" because

called

name, and with the

it

first

anointed by that prophet.

dealt with the prophet

two kings of

Israel,

The second was

The former was

and judge of that

both of

whom

were

called "Kings" for obvious

reasons.

Since both books were rather long, and therefore inconvenient to

handle

when books were

in the days

Bible about 250

now have

who

Egypt,

scholars in

B.C.,

is

done

first

Greek

rolls,

the Jewish

translation

of

divided each book into two parts. Thus,

Samuel, 2 Samuel,

books deal with the monarchy

them

printed on long

prepared the

1
it

Kings and 2 Kings. Since

would

also

we
four

all

be reasonable

the

to

call

Kings, 2 Kings, 3 Kings, and 4 Kings. This, in fact, is what


in the Catholic versions of the Bible. Nevertheless, I will

follow the convention of the King James Version.

The book
1

of

Samuel

Samuel begins with Samuel's parents:

1:1.

Now

there

was a certain man of Ramathaim-

zophim, of mount Ephraim, and his name was Elkanah

The Kingdom

of Saul

SAMUEL

Ramathaim-zophim

Ramah
Ramah

(but
in

to place

it

is

is

then

also referred

to as

be distinguished

to

Benjamin). The

site is

Ramathaim, or even as
from the better-known

not certain but the consensus seems

Ephraim about ten miles

in western

269

east of the

modem

Shiloh

city of

New Testament

Tel Aviv. In

but under the Greek version of the

times,

it is

Elkanah was an Ephraimite. His genealogy

who

great-great-grandfather,
1

Samuel

1:1.

This, however,

the
as

New

is

an

is

to appear once again,

nameArimathea.
is

traced back to his

identified as

Zufih, an Ephrathite.

error.

The

Revised Standard Version, as well as

Catholic Edition and the Masoretic Edition

"an Ephraimite."

It

is

a small point, but

if

all

Samuel

having been descended from an Ephrathite, that

is,

identify
is

from a man of

Bethlehem-judah, his later relationship to David of Bethlehem

be misconstrued.

Zuph

viewed as

may

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

2yO

On

the other hand, although Elkanah and his son Samuel are

Ephraimites in the sense that they

Ephraim, they are described

live in

in later records as being Levites by descent

... 0/

Chronicles 6:33.

the

Kohathites:

sons of the

Shemuel,

The son

Chronicles 6:34.

The

of Elkanah

Kohathites are the descendants of Kohath, second son of Levi.

(Shemuel

name we

but the Hebrew form of the

is

call

Samuel, and

given as Samuel in this verse in the Revised Standard Version.)

it is

The

tale continues,

Samuel

ShUoh

in

Shiloh,

was the

And

1:3.

The

this

man went

yearly to worship

located

the

in

hill

country in

spiritual nucleus of the region.

travel to

the

times of the year,

Temple

the

To

it,

center

Ephraim,

of

Israelites

traveled to

at Jerusalem.

history of Shiloh as the site of a religious shrine sacred to

Joshua 18:1.

And

Israel

This tabernacle had been constructed at


in the final third of the

Book

time of Joshua:

assembled together at Shiloh, and

up the tabernacle of the cngregation

there.

Mount

of Exodus, and

Sinai, as described

included the ark of

it

the covenant, which was considered the resting place of

High

Eli, serving as

imite,

over a century later, they

as,

Israel dates back, according to tradition, to the

set

sacrifice at appropriate

were to

with reference to Elkanah:

who

Priest at Shiloh at this time,

was

God

also

Himself.

an Ephra-

according to later tradition was a Levite, and a descendant

of Ithamar, fourth

and youngest son of Aaron.

Elkanah's wife, Hannah, had no children, and at Shiloh, she vowed


that

if

she were granted a child, he would be raised as a Nazarite and

devoted to the Lord. She later had a child,


eventually sent

The
be

story

is

him

named him Samuel, and

to Eli to serve at the temple.

rather similar to that told of

Samson and

that the story here has been, rather unaptly, cast

Book

it

may

back into the

of Judges in order to explain Samson's long hair in a non-

mythological fashion.

SAMUEL

27 1

Aphek
In the interval since the Israelites had entered Canaan, matters had
settled

down

some ways. The Canaanites

in

The

crushed in the battle against Sisera.


across the

in

the north had been

various competing peoples

Jordan the Moabites, Ammonites, Midianites, and Amaleoff and beaten back through the activity of

kites had been held

men

such as Ehud, Gideon, and Jephthah.

But that

the Philistines, the most technologically advanced,

left

best organized, and hence most dangerous of the early enemies of


Israel.

They were

strong in

the north,

controlled

the

completely, and were dominant over the territory of Judah

southern portion of

men

Israel.

who came

of Judah

This

area

coastal
in

the

indicated by the statement of the

is

to bind

Samson and

deliver

him

to

the

Philistines

Judges

15:11.

[The]

Knowest thou not that the

The

men

of judah

Samson,

said to

Philistines are rulers over us?

core of Israelite resistance to the Philistines was the centrally

located Rachel tribes, headed by Ephraim.


in the

war against the Trans-Jordanian

These had been weakened

tribes

under Jephthah, so

it

was a good time for the Philistines to make their advance, and the
scene was set for a great, perhaps a climactic battle:
1

Samuel

to battle,

The

site of

4:1.
.

Now

and the

Aphek

is

Israel

went out against the

Philistines pitched in

not certain, but there seems reason to think

that the later town of Antipatris (mentioned in the

was

built

on

its

site.

Philistines

Aphek.

Aphek

of Ephraimite territory

New

Testament)

was, in that case, at the western edge

(perhaps

five miles

north of Samuel's

home

town of Ramathaim) and at the northern edge of Philistine territory


(about twenty miles north of Ekron, the most northerly member of
the Philistine federation).

After a preliminary defeat, the Israelites thought to alter matters


by bringing the ark of the covenant into the camp, in the belief that
the physical presence of

God would

ensure victory.

The

Philistines

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

2 72

themselves accepted the validity of

deep consternation over the


Israelites.

They nerved themselves

In a great battle, the

God

the

of the

to a desperate fight.

were totally defeated; the two sons

Israelites

who were with

of Eli,

view and are pictured as in

this

effect of the presence of

the army, were

and the ark of the

slain,

covenant was taken. At hearing the news, the old High

Priest, Eli,

died of shock.

This

battle,

which may have taken place about 1080

the end of Shiloh as a religious center,

Joshua had established


Its actual fate

it

as such

less

by moving

B.C.,

marks

than a century after


his headquarters there.

not described in the Bible because of the eventual

is

overriding concern with Jerusalem as the religious center of the nation,


references to earlier shrines are reduced to a

there are hints, as

Still

when

minimum.

the prophet Jeremiah threatens the

king of Judah with destruction, quoting God's words

Jeremiah 26:6.
It

seems very

tines plundered

Then wUl

make

likely that in the

deep into

this

house

like

as:

Shiloh

aftermath of the battle, the Philis-

Israelite

territory,

destroying Shiloh. For

a period of about half a century thereafter, Philistine domination

extended, more or

less loosely,

1080 to 1030

may be

b.c.

over

all

of Canaan.

The

period from

taken as the peak of Philistine power.

Kirjath-jearim

Although Shiloh was gone, the ark of the covenant remained,


albeit in

enemy hands. The

Biblical writers could not allow themselves

to lose sight of the ark (which


at Jerusalem)

through Philistine

The

was eventually to grace the Temple

and they devote two chapters

Philistines,

to tracing

its

progress

territory.

who

thoroughly accepted the ark as representing

the physical presence of an

enemy God, were

in

awe of

it,

and quite

ready to see in any misfortune that befell themselves the angry work

God. Ashdod, where the ark was first placed, experienced


misfortunes, passed it on to Gath, which suffered equally, and passed
of that

it

on
It

to Ekron.

The

Ekronites indignantly refused

was decided, therefore,

after the ark

it.

had remained among the

SAMUEL

273

Kirjath-jearim

Philistine cities for

some seven months,

to send the dangerous object

might lend

into the interior so that distance

security.

The

ark left

and passed into the land of Judah, which was then

Philisria proper

under tight Philistine control.

The

first

stopping place was Beth-shemesh (see page 250), which

and the ark was sent

also suffered misfortunes,

place where

it

was

to

still

further on to a

remain for several decades:

1 Samuel 7:1. And the men of Kirjath-jearim came, and fetched


up the ark of the Lord
while the ark abode in Kirjath-jearim
1 Samuel 7:2. And
the time was long
and
Israel lamented after the Lord.
.

Kirjath-jearim

is

west of Jerusalem.

usually identified with a site about ten miles northIt

was at the extreme edge of the area

controlled by the Philistines. In other words,

they could

manage from

their

own

it

was

population centers and yet not

so far distant that the Ephraimites could repossess

the Ephraimites never did.

When

object of a centralized worship,


it.

it

directly

as far distant as

the ark once

was the

men

it.

In point of fact,

more became the

of Judah

who

obtained

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

2 74

Mizpeh

What
Aphek

resistance the Rachel tribes could offer after the disaster at

centered about the person of Samuel. His association, as a child,

with the destroyed shrine at Shiloh gave him standing in later years

and he did not

as a priest,

Samuel

This

is

the

And Samuel

7:5.

Mizpeh

what may

drawn from the more


rallying point for

known

and

all

Israel to

use

Its

historic association with

forces

Mizpeh.

the Book

in

Samuel and

could be gathered from

of

site

of

Mizpeh

is

its

use as a

among

the

occupied by a

Arabs as Nebi Samwel ("the prophet Samuel"),

there that the traditional site of his grave

it is

The

page 257).

(see

The modern

to the

Gather

have been a fictional account, was probably

what

shattered Israelites.
village

said,

referred to in connection with the aftermath of

the outrage of Gibeah


Judges, in

emergency:

flinch in the

Bible goes on to

make

it

is

located.

appear that the Philistines were

massively defeated under Samuel, but this

is

doubtful. If

it

were

so,

the desperate battle of Saul against the Philistines in succeeding years

would be

difficult to explain.

some of the
is

More

likely,

the anti-monarchic bias of

priestly records incorporated into 1

Samuel

(as in Judges)

evident here and the feats of Saul and David are pushed backward

and given

in time

more

to

Samuel the

priest.

Samuel's position

is

perhaps

accurately presented in the picture of the geographical extent

of Samuel's power:
1

And he [Samuel] went from year to year


and GUgal, and Mizpeh, and judged Israel in

Samuel 7:16.

circuit to Bethel,

in
all

those places.
Gilgal

is

not the town mentioned

earlier in

connection with the

advance of Joshua across the Jordan (see page 211) but


to

is

thought

be another of the same name located about midway between

Samuel's

home town Ramah (Ramathaim-zophim) and

Shiloh. Bethel

is

ten miles south of Gilgal and

Mizpeh

the destroyed
is

about eight

miles southwest of Bethel.

The

picture

one

gets, then, is that of a

twenty-mile strip of

hill

SAMUEL

Ephraim and Benjamin,

country in

guerrilla

war against the

maintaining the ap-

resolutely

parently lost cause of Israel, and engaged in a

275

more or

less successful

Philistines.

Saul

Whatever

successes

Samuel was able to achieve served only to keep


Samuel kept matters

in being a rather unsatisfactory state of affairs.

from growing worse, but there seemed to be no signs that they would

grow

The

better.

For

off.

be beaten and not merely held

to

Samuel had grown

particularly after

clamor grew among the

Israelites

old,

the

half century

had

was time.

it

pictured as warning the people against a monarchy, de-

is

scribing the burdens that

would be placed upon them by a

once again, the anti-monarchism of the


self.

king.

for a

Aphek and

passed since the disaster at

Samuel

had

Philistines

reason,

this

But whether Samuel objected or

not,

priestly

he

set

shows

it-

about searching for a

he found

suitable candidate for the kingship. This

king. Here,

historian

in

the form of a

young Benjamite:
1

Samuel

was Kish

9:1.
.

Now

there was a

man

of Benjamin, whose

name

1 Samuel 9:2. And he had a son, whose name was Saul, a choice
young man, and a goodly
.

Saul, apparently,

tines for, as

it

had been kept aloof from the problems of the

and was not involved

day,

in the guerrilla fighting against the Philis-

turned out, he did not even

seems puzzling, but perhaps the matter

leader can scarcely find

guerrilla

much.

He

is

most secure and

is

it

know

of Samuel.

not as strange as

it

(This

appears.

safe to publicize himself too

his operations

most successful

if

he

re-

mains out of the limelight.)


Saul's

the

hills

encounter with Samuel came when he was trekking through


in

search of three asses his father had

near Samuel's station of the

moment and

of Samuel, but only as a kind

of magician,

themselves of his services. For a piece of


to

do the equivalent of looking into a

asses.

silver,

They passed
who had heard

lost.

Saul's servant,

urged that they avail

Samuel might consent

crystal ball

and locating the

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

276

Samuel, however, had his mind on something far more important.

On

seeing Saul he had the inspiration of making

described as extremely

and good-looking and

tall

by

his

appearance alone

rally

have thought further that

young man and remain

He

the people about him.

would not be

it

king. Saul

is

might have oc-

look every inch the king and

man would

curred to Samuel that such a

him
it

difficult to

at his side as the all-powerful

Samuel may
dominate the

prime minister.

therefore anointed Saul as king:

1 Samuel 10:1. Then Samuel took a vial of oil, and poured it


the Lord
upon his [Saul's] head, and kissed him, and said .
.

hath anointed thee

The

act of anointing probably originated as

In the days before soap, scented

oils

an act of cleansing.

would serve to remove grime

and leave

a pleasant fragrance behind.

one's self

when about

when about

One would naturally anoint


how much more so

to go before a superior;

to go before

God.

when something was to be dedicated to God or presented before Him, the act of anointing was usually involved and
it became symbolic of a divine grace being conferred upon the object
Therefore,

or person anointed.

Thus, when Jacob dreamed of the ladder in Bethel, he took the


stone he had rested his head upon, set

Genesis 28:18.
Again,

and poured

when Aaron was

Leviticus

8:12.

And

[Moses]

really a

to sanctify him.

it

came

to

be accepted that no one

king until he had gone through the careful

ymous with "the

at

matters so that Saul was chosen by

Urim and

ritual

of

came to be synon-

king."

Samuel next called a council

the

by Moses:

poured of the anointing oU

anointing, so that the phrase "the anointed one"

been

Priest

it.

the device was used by Samuel to imply the special spiritual

character of the kingship. Indeed,

was

as a pillar:

made High

upon Aaron's head, and anointed him,

Now

up

upon the top of

oil

formally

he

it

Thummim

secretly anointed,

(see

Mizpeh and carefully arranged


making use, presumably, of

lot,

page 150). Saul,

already

was now proclaimed king openly by the shouts

of the representatives gathered at the council. This

taken place in 1028

who had

B.C.

is

believed to have

SAMUEL

Jabesh-gilead

was one thing to demand a king and quite another to rally


round a particular individual chosen as king. To take up arms against
It

Jabesh-gilead

the Philistines was a serious thing and

it

and

required an experienced

able general. Saul was not yet tested in this respect.


1

Samuel 10:27. But

man

save us?

The

test

ttie

c hHdren of Belid said,

him

they despised

How

shall this

came soon enough:

Samuel

camped

And

11:1.

Then Nahash

against Jabesh-gilead

the

Ammonite came up and

en-

Jabesh-gilead, six miles east of the central Jordan, was, like all the

Trans-Jordan, subjected to periodic

Ammonite

The greatest crisis had come in the time of


Ammonite defeat then had merely abated
ended

raids

from the

east.

Jephthah, but the great


the danger.

It

had not

it.

Jabesh-gilead, expecting

no help from an

Israel

which was treading

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

278
softly in the

shadow of the

Philistine power,

made ready

to surrender,

but the terms of Nahash were brutal and sadistic he insisted that
the population of the city submit to having each their right eye put
out.

The

people of Jabesh-gilead asked for a seven-day period of grace

before submitting even to this and sent, in desperation, for a help they
still

dared not expect.

Samuel

and

the messengers to Gibeah of Saul,

Then came

11:4.

told the tidings

Saul, however, rose to the occasion, sounding the call to


rallying

Samuel

arms and

an army behind him.


11:7.

And

the people

came out with one

consent.

Samuel

11:8.

And ... he numbered them

in

Bezek

Bezek is in the hills of Manasseh, five miles north of Thebez,


where Abimelech died (see page 245). It was due west of where
Jabesh-gilead lay on the other side of the Jordan.

The numbers

given of the troops that gathered on that occasion

represent a late tradition

and

are impossibly high

(300,000

men

of

and 30,000 men of Judah) and anachronistically assume a


divided kingdom, something that lay a century in the future. In
Israel

actuality, Saul probably

was able

areas of the Rachel tribes,

enough

to

do the

He marched

job.

men from

to gather merely the

the

and obtained a much smaller numberbut


across the Jordan

and defeated

the Ammonites. Jabesh-gilead was saved.

The enthusiasm

of Israel for Saul was

now

great indeed.

general

to lead Israel against the Philistines had been found. Saul was crowned

king a second time at Gilgal, amid wild celebration.

(Of

course, this double crowning of Saul

imperfect fusion of two traditions.

monarchic tradition

in

The

first

may

well represent the

would be a

which the great judge of

Israel,

priestly anti-

Samuel, anoints

and crowns an unknown, bashful youth. The second would be a


Benjamite tradition
great feat of

arms and

Samuel had nothing


a similar fusion of

who

which a
is

to do.

two

rules all Israel

more than

in

hero,

tribal

Saul,

accomplishes a

acclaimed king in a triumph with which

The

story of

traditions;

and one

in

a local reputation.)

one

in

Samuel himself may represent


which he

which he

is

is

the warlike judge

an obscure seer with no

SAMUEL

279

Notice that Saul established his capital at Cibeah in Benjamin: the

town of the "outrage." The Bible has occasion to

The

gratitude of the people of Jabesh-gilead to Saul.

mained

when

loyal, in fact,

tell

later

of the

Jabeshites re-

Saul and his house had sunk low in de-

feat

Now

the

spirit of loyalty

between two regionsin

in prosperityalways strikes a

romantic note in history

such disinterest on a regional scale


there

the friendship of Plataea

is

disaster as well as

is

hard to

find.

if

only because

In Greek history

and Athens, a friendship

in

which

Plataea persevered to the death, for instance.

was perhaps

It

this

well-known and romantic relationship between

Cibeah of Saul and Jabesh-gilead that was

in the

mind

of the writer

of the possibly fictional tale of the consequences of the outrage at

Cibeah. In that

town refusing

Jabesh-gilead

tale,

to fight against

is

pictured as the one Israelite

Gibeah and

as being destroyed in con-

sequence.

Jonathan

With

the Rachel tribes under a war hero, intensified conflict with

the Philistines

is

inevitable;

and

at this point, Saul's son Jonathan

is

suddenly introduced:
1

two

Samuel

13:1. Saul reigned

one year; and when he had reigned

years over Israel,

Samuel

13:2. Saul chose

him

three thousand

whereof two thousand were with Saul


with Jonathan

When
asses,

men

of Israel;

and a thousand were

Saul was introduced in the tale of his search for his father's

he was described

have been a father of

as a
little

years after his anointing

conducting

Samuel

men

13:1,

in

which

war
is

he
is

young man, and yet he might even so


children. To suppose, however, that two

is

the father of a grown

difficult.

The problem

man

capable of

here rests with

not actually a translation of the Hebrew but

make sense out of the original words. Literally


translated, the Hebrew clause that begins the verse reads: "Saul was
one year old when he began to reign."
merely an attempt to

It

seems that something has been

lost

and the Revised Standard

ASIMOV'S CUIDE TO THE BIBLE

280

Version has the verse read "Saul was

and he reigned

reign;

and two

years old

when he began

to

years over Israel." It explains in a

footnote that the gaps represent missing material.

may

It

well be that

might

logical verse that

when he began

old

Israel."

Samuel 13:1

is

actually a

say, for instance, "Saul

to reign;

summarizing chronowas twenty-five years

and he reigned twenty-two

years over

Saul himself probably didn't reign that long but the house of

Saul, that

is,

he himself and one of

together that

his sons, reigned

long.

we

In that case,

needn't suppose that the introduction of Jonathan

comes two years after the start of Saul's reign. It might have come at
any time; well toward the end of it, perhaps. Jonathan might therefore

have been

young man

boy

at the time his father

had

time was

and the

at the time of the events in this chapter

As to what happened
gilead

became king and

filled

next.

the interval after the victory at Jabesh-

in

on the throne, we can

settled Saul

a warlike

easily

suppose that the

with a slow strengthening of Saul's kingdom. Quite

obviously, Saul was starting from scratch:

Now

Samuel 13:19.

the land of

them swords

The

there was no smith found throughout all

the Philistines said, Lest the Hebrews

Israel: for

make

or spears:

ill-armed Israelites

but

for hit-and-run raids

might skulk
if

and emerge

in their fastnesses

Saul was to lead

them

into pitched battle

they would simply have to be well armed. Undoubtedly,

it

took time

to get the arms, capture them, buy them, or, perhaps, develop the

necessary to

skills
is

make them. This

dull interval of slow strengthening

slurred over in the Bible.

Michmash
Jonathan launched an attack:
1

Samuel

that was in

Samuel

13:3.

And Jonathan smote

Geba
13:5.

And

to fight with Israel

the garrison of the Philistines

the Philistines gathered themselves together


.

and pitched

in

Michmash

SAMUEL

28l

Michmash

The

Philistine outpost of

Geba may

and more important town of Gibeon,


Gibeah. (Gibeon

is

really refer to

five

the

much

larger

miles west of Saul's capital,

the town that once deceived Joshua at the time

of the conquestsee page 215.)

The

Philistines, reacting to this provocation,

advanced on Geba

at

once and reached Michmash, two miles northeast of Geba. (The


town still exists and is known to the Arabs as Mukhmas.) The Israelite
population scattered and hid before the advancing Philistines and
Saul held back his small army and refused to give battle. Jonathan,

however, conducted another raiding party against the Philistines, guiding his

men

over the

expected quarter.

mistook the

The

hills

to attack the Philistine

keyed up for an

Philistines,

relatively small attacking party for the

enemy, and in a

moment

camp from

un-

Israelite onslaught,

main

force of the

of panic, fled.

Jonathan had acted without orders and, indeed, probably against

and undoubtedly jealous at the


and ordered Jonathan's execution.
(The Bible advances a ritualistic explanation for the order.) The army
refused to permit the execution, however, and a certain coldness must
have remained thereafter between father and son. (It is not uncommon
in monarchies, down to modem times, for rivalry and even hatred to
orders. Saul

was angered,

therefore,

vast acclaim that greeted his son,

between the king and the heir apparent.)


The Philistine defeat at Michmash was important. The

exist

temporarily

fell

Philistines

back to their coastal and southern strongholds and

Saul was given greater

room

for

maneuver.

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

282

Agag

With

the respite from the Philistine menace, Saul was able to turn

southward to secure the desert border and lay the groundwork

maneuver

possible outflanking

against the Philistine coast.

was the Amalekites, with

target

whom

for a

The chosen

the Israelites arc described as

having a traditional enmity dating back to the time of Moses.

Samuel

Samuel

alive

Agag,

And Saul smote the Amalekites


And he took Agag the king of

15:7.

15:8.

the

ruler

of

petty

Amalekite

cannot have been

tribe,

and would not be considered

so

not for a remark in one of Balaam's blessings (see page 186).

it

Speaking of

Balaam

Israel's future,

Numbers
as

particularly powerful or renowned,

were

the Amalekites

24:7.

his king shall

says:

be higher than Agag

though Agag were a standard symbol of great power.

Most

scholars agree that

copyist's error.

make

the mention of

The name may

sense, for the story of

originally

Balaam

is

Agag

in

this

verse

placed at a time

when Og

Bashan had been the mightiest monarch yet faced by the


(see page 182).

Og

than

To

say that the future king of Israel

Og

to

Agag

is

not a

difficult

of

Israelites

would be greater

would have been appropriate to the occasion, and the

cidental change of

is

have been Og. This would

ac-

one to imagine.

The Prophets

And

yet while Saul was establishing

were internal

frictions.

and securing

his

kingdom, there

Saul the king and Samuel the kingmaker were

at odds.

From

hand on the wheel of state


anointing we hear for the first rime of

the start, Samuel had kept his

for at the very time of Saul's

bands of prophets.

When

Saul was returning

home from

his

company

of prophets

met him

encounter

with Samuel:
1

Samuel 10:10.

behold, a

SAMUEL

283

These prophets were groups of men who devoted themselves

They would

ecstatic devotions.

selves into wild trances,

and

to

play instruments, sing, dance, put them-

fall

down

They

in frenzy.

certain orders of dervishes of later Islamic times,

and

rather resembled

the word were

if

here given as "dervishes" rather than "prophets," the picture would be


clearer.

In

and

trances

their

ecstasies,

prophets or dervishes were

these

believed to be divinely possessed, to have access to

more than human

knowledge, to be able to pronounce oracles, and so on.

word "prophet"
is,

to relate

The

very

from Greek words meaning "to speak forth"; that

is

and interpret the

will of

God

as

made

manifest to the

prophet during his trance or ecstasy.

by no means

In the time of Saul, the companies of prophets were

completely edifying.

They may,

indeed,

have been

hang-overs

of

paganism. Samuel, as the spiritual leader of the time, seems to have

attempted to guide their energies into the path of Yahvism, but


say

difficult to

how much

Yet the prophets were an excellent


to stir

tool.

They had the

and influence the people and they tended

tionalistic,

to

capacity

be strongly na-

ready always to serve as the backbone of resistance against

foreign oppression. Samuel, as their head, could direct

and

it is

he might have had.

success

join Saul. It

them

to

meet

was the support of the bands of prophets that was

Samuel's practical contribution to the establishment of Saul's kingship:


1

Samuel 10:26. And Saul

went home to Gibeah; and there

went with him a band of men, whose hearts

God had

Undoubtedly, Samuel maintained

on Saul through the

his

grip

touched

prophetic bands and yet Saul, after his victory at Jabesh-gilead, must

have been increasingly irked at prophetic interference in his policies

and must have attempted on

several occasions to establish his inde-

pendence.

The

crisis

came over the

battle with the Amalekites. In rousing the

people against the tribesmen, Samuel demanded that the Amalekites

be exterminated

entirely;

kind of "destroy the infidel" outlook.

more humane or more practical, took Agag alive and kept the
herds and other spoil from useless destruction. Samuel was enraged
at this, executed Agag with his own hands, and told Saul:

Saul,

ASIMOV'S CUIDE TO THE BIBLE

284
1

Samuel 15:23.

Because thou hast rejected the word of the

Lord, he hath also rejected thee from being king.

Bethlehem
Samuel, having moved into the opposition, needed someone to

put up against Saul, and turned to the


1

Samuel

And Samuel

16:4.

came

to

Prior to the time of Saul, the tribe of Judah

much

the Bible; so

so that there

not considered part of

Book

In the

Israel

up

is

Judah:

tribe of

Bethlehem

almost ignored in

is

strong suspicion that Judah was

to that time.

of Judges, Caleb and Othniel appear early as con-

querors of southern Canaan, where later the tribe of Judah was to


be.

They

The

members

are not Israelites, however, but

tribe

is

of

Edomite

clans.

not mentioned in the Song of Deborah, or in the course of

the warlike deeds of Gideon or Jephthah.


In connection with the adventures of Samson, Judah's role

completely inglorious one. Judah

no move

throw

to

of Judah hand

is

subject to the Philistines

is

men

off the yoke. Instead, to avoid trouble, the

Samson over

and makes

to the Philistines.

Judah is mentioned in connection with Saul's battle at Jabeshand is said to have supplied 10 per cent of the army. This,

gilead,

may be

however,

a later

and

non-historical addition, intended to

show

Judah as being involved in the national revival.


However, Saul

in fighting the Amalekites,

who

inhabited the desert

south of Judah, would have had to pass through Judah.


then,

that

one of the consequences of the

It

Philistine

may

defeat

Michmash was the

revolt of parts of Judah against the Philistines

their formation of

an alliance with Saul.

And
weak.

yet Judah's allegiance to Saul

To

the

men

too,

be a suitable instrument for Samuel


member of the northern tribes who were becoming in-

Judah throughout

than the remainder of

had been

relatively

likely to

creasingly loyal to their hard-working,

Then,

at

and

of Judah, Saul would be a foreigner, and a Judean

would therefore be more


than would a

would have to be

be,

in central

Israel was.

its

if

not quite

history

brilliant, king.

was more strongly Yahvistic

The populous

cities

and northern Canaan and

it

of the Canaanites

was there that the

SAMUEL

religious influence of the

28;

Canaanites had more successfully diluted

the simpler desert rituals of Yahvism. Judah, closer always to the


desert,

might be more influenced by Samuel's Yahvistic point of view.

compare Judah with Macedon. In ancient


Greece, Macedon was a border area, Greek in culture and language
but rather more primitive, and looked upon as semibarbaric by the
(It

interesting

is

to

Greeks themselves. At the time the Greeks were fighting their national

war against

Macedon remained under Persian domination, but


come when Macedon defeated Persia more thoroughly

Persia,

the time was to

than Greece ever did, and was to

rule,

briefly,

In the same way, Judah was a border area of

over

all

of Greece.

Israel, Israelite in cul-

and language but rather more primitive and looked upon, in all
by the Israelites themselves. At the time

ture

probability, as semi-Canaanite

the Israelites were fighting their national war against the great Philis-

enemy, Judah remained under Philistine domination, but the time

tine

was to come when Judah defeated the


than

Israel

and was

ever did,

Philistines

to rule, briefly,

more thoroughly

over

all

of Israel.)

David
In Bethlehem, Samuel visited Jesse,

Ruth

and

(see page 264)

propriate

member

man

the grandson of Boaz and

of wealth and substance.

command

of his family would

An

ap-

widespread support

throughout Judah. Jesse had eight sons and Samuel was most impressed
with the youngest, David:

Samuel 16:12.

he was ruddy,

and goodly

to look to

him

Samuel 16:13: The Samuel took the horn of oU and anointed


in the midst of his brethren

Once

again,

Samuel had chosen a handsome young

man

to

make

into a king.

knowing that Samuel and the prophets had


turned against him, and suspecting they would rouse rebellion, had
grown, rather understandably, moody and suspicious. The courtiers
suggested music as therapy and one of them (it is very tempting to
suspect he was in Samuel's pay) suggested that a certain David, whom
he praised as a skilled harpist, be brought to court.
Meanwhile,

Saul,

ASIMOv's GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

286

Judah in David's Time

Samuel 16:21. And David came to Saul,

and he became

his

armourbearer.

was upon
when the evil spirit
Samuel 16:23. And
David took an harp, and played ... so Saul was re.

Saul,

freshed

and was well

With David

and serving

at court, gaining the confidence of Saul,

war under him, Samuel's plan was working

his apprenticeship in

well.

Goliath

There follows a second


Saul's court,

one that

is

tale describing the introduction of

inconsistent with the

first.

David

to

Both are included,

without any attempt to enforce consistency, as though the Biblical


writers

were saying,

The second
and the
1

"On

tale begins

the other hand,

some

say this

."
.

with a confrontation between the Philistines

Israelites:

Samuel

to battle

17:1.

...

at

Now

the Philistines gathered together their armies

Shocoh

Shocoh
If it

is

assume that

was made possible by

would

Saul's troops

Saul's battle .against the Amalekites

his alliance

against the Philistines, then


tines

287

a town in Judah, about thirteen miles west of Bethlehem.

correct to

is

SAMUEL

with a Judah that was rebelling

reasonable to suppose that the Philis-

it is

restore Judah to the yoke by force, and that


would be sent south to support the new ally.

strive to

At Shocoh, the armies faced each other

in stalemate,

each waiting

some favorable moment


man of Gath challenged any member of the Israelite army to
single combat, suggesting that victory for the entire army rest with the
or condition to attack and, during the

for

wait, a

He

winner of the duel.


1 Samuel 17:4.
and a span.

is

described as a giant:

Goliath of Oath, whose height was

six cubits

Accepting the cubit as roughly seventeen inches, and the span as

make

nine inches, that would

his height just over

nine

feet.

(The

dramatic nature of this story, by the way, has so impressed later generations that "Goliath" has entered the English language as a term used

monstrous

for anything of

Jesse's three oldest

his

size.)

sons were serving with the army, and Jesse sent

youngest son, David, with supplies for his soldier brothers.

youngster heard the challenge and was indignant that


accepted. David offered to fight Goliath

bearing only a sling.


sling

With

it

The

remained un-

and faced him, unarmored,

smooth stone, whirled speedily from the


killed the giant and the Philistines

and aimed unerringly, he

fled.

This

is

one of the most famous

that any unequally

matched contest

stories in
is

the Bible, so

much

so

considered a "David-and-Goliath

battle."

But the very drama of the


would either army

risk

story

stances surrounding the fight


skilled

writer,

intended

Goliath's height

makes

it

suspect. In any real battle,

the outcome on a single combat?

seem

to

The

circum-

be the deliberate creation of a


profound emotional effect.

produce a

to

and armor are

stressed

and exaggerated,

as

is

David's

youth and unarmed courage.

Then,

know

after the battle,

the lad, and that

it

turns out that neither Saul nor his general

it is

only through his great fame as the slayer

of Goliath that David gains entry into the court. This


tradiction to the

more

is

a direct con-

believable story in the previous chapter.

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

288

Actually, the Bible contains a hint as to

may have come

Goliath

some

the story of David and

of the important warriors fighting in David's armies

we

their feats of arms,

Samuel 21:19.

Elhanan
.

Since "Gittite" means "a

and

a brother

and

lists

tells

of

find:

of Goliath the Gittite

had

how

be written. Later, when the Bible

to

man
was

he, too,

a Bethlehemite, slew the brother

of Gath" the verse seems clear. Goliath


killed

by a native of Bethlehem. But

the phrase "the brother of" was added by the translators of the

King James Version, who followed a similar verse

another book of

in

the Bible.
In the

Books of

Book

of

Chronicles, which retells the history given in the

Samuel and

we

turies later,

Chronicles 20:5.

of Goliath the Gittite

Lahmi

Samuel, but which was written some cen-

have:

and Elhanan

not mentioned elsewhere

is

slew

Lahmi the

brother

in

the Bible and

it

is

at least

an accidental spelling of "Bethlehemite." The writer


may have assumed that to leave out the phrase "the
brother of" would make the verse inconsistent with the well-known
story that David killed Goliath, so he put it in. The translators of the
possible that

it is

of this verse

King James Version followed


Nevertheless, there
verse in 2 Samuel,

21:19 as simply: ".


the Gittite
It

might

is

suit in the original verse in

and the Revised Standard Version


.

Samuel.

no certainty that anything dropped out of the


gives 2

Samuel

Elhanan ... the Bethlehemite, slew Goliath

."
.

be,

then,

that

the otherwise

unknown Elhanan

killed

Goliath in the course of some battle and that a panegyricist in later


years wrote a little historical tale filled with romantic
tail, in

which he ascribed the

story of

came

George Washington and the cherry

to be accepted as history.

The

however, and had to be patched up

James

translation.

and edifying

de-

feat to Israel's great hero-king. Like the


tree,

telltale verse in 2

in

it

caught on and

Samuel remained,

Chroniclesand

in the

King

SAMUEL

289

David and Jonathan


In whatever fashion David
a

came

to court,

war hero, he met Jonathan the

Samuel

of David,

The

18:1.

and Jonathan loved him


and

intensity

disinterest of

phrase "David and Jonathan" has


ship,

like

as a harpist or as

the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul

whether

heir apparent there:

the equivalent

as

friendship

this

become

"Damon and

own

his

soul.
is

byword

such that the


for

deep

friend-

Pythias" drawn from Greek

history.

The

show David innocent of

Bible takes pains to

all

wrongdoing

with respect to Saul, but even accepting the Biblical account, one

wonders

if

the innocence was complete. David had been anointed by

Samuel and therefore knew he was king,


faction at least.

How

in

the eyes of the priestly

innocent toward Saul could he be?

Saul himself could eye David only with deep suspicion as time went

on and as David's charm and

his skill in

war gained popularity

him. Even leaving the anointing episode to one


ber that a popular general

is

side,

for

we must remem-

always dangerous to a king.

own son

Furthermore, Saul was probably suspicious of his


aftermath of the battle of Michmash.

To watch

as

an

the popular heir ap-

parent join forces with the popular general could lead to only one

thought
1

in the

Samuel

mind
18:9.

of any prudent

And

king they were

plotting a coup.

Saul eyed David from that day and forward.

Nob
David could not remain
the suspicious Saul and
his life,

David

left

unaware of the gathering coldness of

when Jonathan warned him

court and joined those he

of the danger to

felt to

be sympathetic

toward him:
1

to

Samuel 19:18. So Ddvfd

Ramah

fled,

and escaped and came

to

Samuel

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE


anything was needed to convict David in Saul's eyes, this was

If

armed contingent

of course. Saul sent an

to take David,

who

it,

eventually

eluded them.

Samuel 21:1. Then came David to

priest

The

Nob

Ahimelech the

to

actual location of

Nob

is

uncertain.

The

comes from the Book of

for that location

describing the advance of the Assyrian

best Biblical evidence

Isaiah.

The

prophet

is

army against Jerusalem and

the climax comes:

As

Isaiah 10:32.

he

yet shall he [Assyria] remain at

hand

shall shake his

seem

as

though

in

Benjamite

The
David must

where

Jerusalem.

advancing from the north that would make

were on a height not far from Jerusalem in

territory

its

site

is

traditionally identified with a

two miles north of that

city.

City of Nob: Dashed line indicates David's


logically

his fellow

logically,

that day:

is

that direction, and in fact


hill

Not

Nob

Since the Assyrian


it

against

have been

tribesmen might

have foreseen

this

striving to reach
rally

flight

the safety of Judah

round him. Saul must, equally

and kept men watching the routes toward

Judah. David's doubling back into Benjamite territory and getting help

under the nose of the king succeeded through

Nob

its

unexpectedness.

seems to have represented the remnant of the old Shiloh-

worship. Ahimelech

is

described as the son of a

man who

is

elsewhere

described as the grandson of Eli, the last High Priest at Shiloh, and

it

SAMUEL

may have been

to

Nob

holy city had

earlier

that the survivors of the Philistine sack of the

fled.

angered at David's having eluded him, breaks out into

Saul,

proaches against his courtiers, accusing

and making

it

One

of the

seen David in
at

... my son hath made

22:8.

... my son hath

of Jesse

them

of

all

re-

conspiracy

of

quite clear he considers David merely a tool of Jonathan:

Samuel

29I

stirred

my

up

a league with the son

servant

men about him, Doeg (identified as an Edomite), had


Nob and so informed Saul. The furious king jumped

once to the conclusion that the

were conspiring with David

priests

(although the Biblical version shows Ahimelech to have helped David

under the impression that David was on state business for the king).
Saul had

felt it

but the

relatively

impolitic to

move

directly against the influential Samuel,

weak contingent of prophets and

Ahimelech seemed

fair

priests

under

game.

Saul marched against Nob, took and destroyed the city, then ordered
the eighty-five priests slaughtered.

No

but Doeg the Edomite did

One

it.

Israelite

son

dared perform the

of

Ahimelech,

escaped, however, and eventually joined David.

the old line of

Shiloh,

Meanwhile, David had

finally

vivor of

He

was the

the great-great-grandson

task,

Abiathar,
last sur-

of

Eli.

Adullam

joined by

Samuel

1
.

members
22:1.

22:2.

his

way

David
house

And

Adullam

is

Judah and was

escaped to the cave Adullam: and

went down thither to him.

every one that was in distress

discontented, gathered themselves unto him;

him about

to

of his tribe:

all his father's

Samuel

made

...

in debt

there were with

in

the Judean

hill

country about fifteen miles from

described as having killed Goliath. In that stronghold he


self

four hundred men.

Bethlehem and only two miles southeast of the place where David
and became the leader of

virtually

a guerrilla

war between David and

Israel.

band.

What

fortified

is

him-

followed was

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

292
In this war, Israel was
skillful

much

the stronger and David survived only by

moving from place

evasion tactics,

to place

and remaining

al-

ways one step ahead of the vengeful and remorseless Saul. David
fully realized that

war

conducted in those days (and sometimes

as

in

our own) extended death to the families of the enemy, so he took his

Moab. (This tends

parents for safekeeping to

to reflect the possibility

that David was part Moabite by ancestry; see page 265.)

Ziklag

A number of tales are

told of the futile

hunt of Saul

and

after David,

the Biblical writer takes obvious delight in the cleverness of David in

eluding the pursuit


Nevertheless,

it

seemed

clear to

Sooner or

his luck holding forever.

surrounded by overwhelming

men

Samuel
.

27:2.

And David

unto Achish

He

decided, under this pressure,

way of securing adequate


.

passed over with

...

men who

was now allying

six

hundred

itself

tried captain

could be viewed as deadly enemies

of Saul. In a sense, Judah, having allied


Philistines,

protection:

king of Goth.

Achish could only be pleased to take into his service a


with a desperate band of

him

misstep would leave

later, a

forces.

to join the Philistines as the only


1

David that he could not count on

itself

with Saul against the

with the Philistines against Saul.

Achish as part of the bargain gave David what would, in medieval


times, have been called a fief of his
1

own:

Samuel 27:6. Then Achish gave him Ziklag that day

Ziklag was a city at the southern border of Judah, in

once been counted

as

Simeonite

under Philistine domination.


guess seems to be that

and

a dozen miles

Its

territory,

exact site

but which was


is

what had

now

still

unknown, but the best

was about twenty miles southwest of Gath

it

from the

sea.

David's role as a mercenary leader in the service of the Philistines

was acutely embarrassing

to the Biblical writers.

They

take pains to as-

sure the reader that while Achish thought David was raiding Israelite

outposts in Judah, David was really raiding the Amalekites and other

nomad
sibly

tribes of

293

the desert. It seems unlikely that Achish could pos-

have been fooled in

rather, that if

SAMUEL

this

manner.

David was serving

It is

reasonable to suppose,

as a mercenary,

he did what he was

hired to do.
It is
is

interesting that in the course of his Philistine service,

nowhere

This

is

referred

to

by the

David

Philistines as the slayer of Goliath.

rather suggestive of the non-historical nature of that famous

duel.

Mount Gilboa

Gilboa

The

Philistines

saw

their

chance now. Judah was alienated from Saul

over the matter of David, and the priestly party had been offended
past repair, thanks to the slaughter at

renewed attack on

Nob. The time was

ideal for a

Israel.

1 Samuel 28:4. And the Philistines gathered themselves


and came and pitched in Shunenr, and Saul gathered all
gether, and they pitched in Gilboa.

Mount

together,
Israel to-

Gilboa, a mountain ridge about ten miles long, with

highest point about 1700 feet above sea level,

is

its

in northern Israel

about seven miles west of the Jordan River, and some forty miles
north of Gibeah.

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

294

Shunem, where the


to the northwest. It

were encamped, lay some ten miles

Philistines

is

only

five

miles south of

Mount

Barak had once gathered the forces of northern

Tabor, where

Israel against Sisera.

Saul feared the worst and turned for advice to the priests.

would not help him and Samuel, who might


emergency have had the greatness

to

They

in this time of national

be reconciled, was recently dead.

Saul, in desperation, sought out a practitioner of the older Canaanite

Upon

cults.

Samuel

spirit at

A
it

he was

inquiring,
28:7.

woman

that hath a familiar

serves the

human

being calling upon

Behold, there

is

En-dor.

familiar spirit

one who

is

(the Latin famulus

means "servant"). Saul sought

from Samuel by having

woman

This

told:

this spirit bring

with the familiar

Endor." The town of Endor

between the

latter

is

spirit is

the well-known "witch of

about two miles from Shunem, midway

town and Mount Tabor.

history or in the Bible

is

its

to obtain advice

him from the dead.

Its

only importance in

connection with the witch in this one

chapter.

To

get to the witch of Endor, Saul

pass through the

enemy

lines. It served

had

to disguise himself

and

him nothing, however. The

witch's magical rites resulted in a prophecy of disaster (as was logical,

and that

considering the obvious desperation and despair of Saul)

prophecy further intensified the despair. Saul and the

was broken

The

in

morale before ever the

Israelite

army

fight began.

Biblical narrator pauses here to explain in considerable detail

that David (Israel's national hero) did not take part in the disastrous
battle that followed.

David

offered to fight with the Philistine armies,

but the Philistine leaders would not have it They feared that in the
heat of the battle, David might attempt to improve his

own

by defecting to Saul. David was forced to return to Ziklag

he was soon

fully

situation

and there

engaged in reversing a temporary victory of the

Amalekites.

The Philistines then attacked the Israelite encampment on Gilboa


and won a complete victory. Jonathan was killed and Saul committed
suicide. The battle of Gilboa and the death of Saul are thought to
have taken place in 1013
years.

b.c.

Saul,

therefore,

had reigned

fifteen

SAMUEL

2 95

Beth-shan

At one blow,
Philistines

the hard-won gains of Saul were destroyed.

all

were again

The Rachel

of the Jordan.

The

in control of virtually all Israelite territory west


tribes,

which had been the core of the

national revival, were prostrate.

The
in

extent of the Philistine victory

which the

contempt

their

Israelite

symbolized by the manner

means

of expressing

beaten king and destroying what remained of

for the

morale:

Samuel

body

is

victors displayed Saul's corpse as a

31:10.

and they

[the

Philistines]

fastened

his

to the wall of Beth-shan.

Beth-shan was an important Canaanite center about six miles northeast of

Mount

the battle of
in

Gilboa.

It

had been a

Aphek and was probably

Philistine outpost ever since

the center of Philistine power

the regions to the north of the Rachel tribes; a power Saul had

never been able to break.

(It

is

very probable that Saul was never

king over more than the Rachel tribes of Benjamin, Ephraim,

really

and Manasseh,

at the most.

To

the north and west lay the Philistines,

to the south Judah.)

But there was the


gilead. Jabesh-gilead,

shan,
it

The Trans-Jordanian

east, too.

tribes

had been

with Saul since the battle against the Ammonites at Jabesh-

allied

remembered

in the only

which lay about a dozen miles southeast of Beth-

them particularly, and now repaid


They mounted an attack against Beth-

Saul's service to

way they

could.

shan, rescued Saul's body, and buried

And
though

thus, with the death of Saul


all else

seemed

lost,

the

it

with

all

due honor.

and with honor,

Book

of

at least, saved,

Samuel comes

to

an end.

The Empire

of

David and Solomon

SAMUEL

10. 2

MAHANAIM MICHAL
ZION ' TYRE VALLEY OF REPHAIM
BAALE MOAB AMMON MEPHIBOSHETH URIAH THE HITTITE ABSALOM
KIDRON SH1MEI HUSHAI
SHEBA * ARAUNAH

HEBRON

"

Hebron

Hebron

With

the death of Saul and the smashing defeat of

Philistines controlled all of

even, for the

moment,

Samuel had kept

There was David,


had been leading a

to

be

the

hill

country

years before the

coming

a nucleus of resistance in

of the Rachel tribes where, for so


of the monarchy,

Israel,

Canaan west of the Jordan. There wasn't

hopes of

Israel.

but he was a man of Judah who


war against Saul and the kingdom of

sure,

guerrilla

many

alive the

the

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

298

a man to whom patriotic Israelites could


moment of Saul's death, David was actually

and was therefore not

Israel,

easily turn. Besides, at the

a Philistine vassal.

Yet
His

it

first

was not as a mere Philistine

step was to establish his clear leadership over Judah at least:

2 Samuel 2:3.

up

David viewed himself.

vassal that

Samuel

And

2:4.

men

his

and they dwelt

And

that were with

in the cities of

the

men

as king of

bring

Hebron.

and

of Judah came,

anointed David king over the house of Judah

David reigned

him did David

they

there

Judah in Hebron from 1013 to 1006

b.c.

David's assumption of the kingship would not have been possible


before the battle of Gilboa, for Saul would quite naturally have viewed

an independent Judah under a strong king


would have taken steps to crush David.

As

it

as a threat to himself

and

was, David was free not only from Israelite interference but

even from Philistine

hostility.

Presumably the Philistines

felt

him

to

be a safe puppet and considered his kingship a device to distract and


further divide the subject peoples over

whom

they

now

ruled.

David, however, in choosing Hebron for his capital had selected a

town in a thoroughly defensible hill area in the center


of Judah. He would not be easily dislodged if it came to war between
himself and the Philistines.
To prepare for that warwhich David knew to be inevitable, if
well-fortified

notDavid

the Philistines did

set

about winning over the followers

of the dead Saul and the remnant of those who still cherished the
hope of an independent Israel. David aspired to leadership of the
Hebrew tribes generally.

Mahanaim
Yet the
had four
1

Israelite

sons.

Samuel

kingdom was not quite wiped out,


three oldest had died at Gilboa:

either. Saul

had

The
31:2.

and the

Philistines slew Jonathan,

and

Afain-

adab, and Malchishua, Saul's sons.

but there remained the fourth son, Ish-bosheth. Abner, Saul's general
in chief,

who had

survived the battle of Gilboa, fled with Ish-bosheth

to safety across the Jordan:

SAMUEL

299

Mahanaim
took Ish-bosheth the son of
2 Samuel 2:8.
Abner
and brought him over to Mahanaim;
2 Samuel 2:9. And made him king
.
.

The

Saul,

Trans-Jordanians might be expected to be fiercely loyal to the

house of Saul

in

memory

of that king's vigorous rescue of Jabesh-

gilead. Since the Philistines apparently

saw no

profit to

be gained by

extending their lines of communication in a perilous advance across


the Jordan (something that had once served to destroy Ephraim; see

page 247), Ish-bosheth and Abner were momentarily safe.


The exact location of Mahanaim in the Trans-Jordan is not known.

Some
is

that

place
it

it

south of the Jabbok River and others north.

One

guess

was located at a point some four miles east of Jabesh-gilead.

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

Michal

new king

David, the

of Judah, began a course of difficult negotiation

with Abner in an attempt to establish a united kingdom. Unfortu-

was a war hawk who

nately, David's general in chief, Joab,

only outright conquest was the course to pursue.

which the

He

felt

that

forced a war in

army was defeated.

Israelite

The weakening kingdom

of Ish-bosheth held

He

David's purposes were blunted.

out,

conquest, with the certainty of rebellion afterward.

power

for a legal accession to

however, and

did not want to rule by right of

in the

He

hoped, rather,

hope of founding a permanently

united kingdom.
Fortunately for David, Abner quarreled with Ish-bosheth and began
to dicker with

David behind

own monarch's

his

back. David, sensing

the coming of victory, set his price. In return for peace and, pre-

sumably, for a high post for Abner in the united kingdom, David
said:

2 Samuel 3:13.

Thou

shalt not see

bring Michal SauTs daughter


2

Samuel

3:14.

him. After David's


to

in

and David had served

someone

flight

from

my

face, except

thou

first

which I espoused

Michal had married David


his throne

the days

when Saul was

firm on

as a successful military leader

court,

Michal had been given

under

in marriage

else.

is clear. As husband to Michal and son-in-law


he would gain a kind of legal right to the succession
to the throne of Israel. If, in particular, he were to have a son by
Michal, that son would represent the fusion of the houses of Saul
and of David and he could eventually be expected to reign over both
kingdoms in peace and legality.

David's intent here

to the dead Saul,

Michal was delivered to David by an Ish-bosheth too weak to dare


refuse

and Abner proceeded

to

make

his alliance with

David.

The

implacable Joab, however, sought out Abner and killed him. This
threatened to upset the apple cart for Abner was highly regarded by

the

Israelites.

Some

David avoided

disaster only

at Ish-bosheth's court could

by

now

a public act of contrition.

see the inevitable

and two

SAMUEL

2
of the

army

leaders assassinated the Icing

and brought

3OI

head

his

to

David. David quickly disassociated himself from this crime, too, executing the assassins.

But no grown son of Saul remained and the despairing Israelites


now in the hands of the shrewd

could see that their only safety lay


king of Judah:

came to the king to


and they
Hebron; and king David made a league with them
2 Samuel 5:3. So all the elders of Israel

anointed David king over

The
is

united kingdom over which David thus

called Israel in the Bible,

The two

Israel.

came

to rule in 1006 b.c.

but the kingdom was never

really single.

halves of the nation were never truly amalgamated. Israel

remained conscious of

its

greater sophistication

and wealth

as

com-

pared to the rustic Judah and resented being governed by a dynasty


of Judah. It might be best to consider David, and his son

after

him, to be kings of a dual monarchy, Israel-Judah.

Zion

Having achieved
to

cement that

David

realized

legal rule over Israel as well as Judah,

rule in the will of the people generally.

he would have

to give

up Hebron

David wanted

To

gain that,

as his capital, for

that city was far too closely identified with Judah. David could not
afford to

have himself considered nothing more than a

Nor could he

government into

transfer his

gained the approval of the

Israelites, it

Israel

man

itself,

of Judah.

for

that

if

might lose him Judah, and

Judah was the core of his strength.

But between the


neither,
satisfy

was the

Judah and

city of Jerusalem. If that

Israel,

Furthermore,
so that

and belonging to

were David's

both parts of the dual monarchy since

kind of neutral

usites,

territory of

it

capital

it

could

would represent a

territory.
it

its

was

still

occupied by a Canaanite

tribe,

the Jeb-

existence represented an inconvenient barrier be-

tween the two halves of the kingdom, while

its

conquest would be

a national victory hailed by both halves alike.


Finally, Jerusalem held

an extremely strong

position, as

was

evi-

denced by the fact that the Jebusites had kept their ground steadily

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

302

Zion and the City of David


against

all

efforts

David could take

on the part of the


it

it,

Israelites

to dislodge them. If

would prove an equally sure stronghold

for

him.

For

all

under

these excellent reasons of state, Jerusalem was therefore placed

siege:

2 Samuel 5:6.

And

the king and his

men went

the Jebusites, the inhabitants of the land

The

course of the siege

but the outcome

is

is

certain.

to Jerusalem unto

not clearly given in the following

verses,

David won, and the magnitude of

his

victory raised his stature as a military leader in Israel as well as Judah,

ensuring his kingship on a wave of national pride.


2
is

Samuel

5:7.

David took the strong hold of Zion: the same

the city of David.

Zion was the fortified height (about 2440 feet high) within the
townthe place where the defenders could hold out longest. It was
the equivalent of the Athenian Acropolis, for instance.

When

Zion

SAMUEL

303

it was upon Zion that David


became the "city of David." Later, David's son,
Solomon, was to build the Temple on Zion, so that the hill became
the military, political, and religious center of Israel.

was taken, Jerusalem was taken. Since


built his palace,

As such,

it

came

it

to symbolize

of Jerusalem, or even

all

of Israel.

homeland

to restore a Jewish

(especially in poetic language)

all

In the last century, the movement

in Palestine has

been called "Zionism"

as a result.

There seems no doubt that Zion in located in the southeastern


tion of

what

now

is

times, the tradition arose that Zion lay

the west, but this

The modem

no longer taken

is

on a

ridge about half a mile to

seriously.

of Jerusalem was divided between

city

Israel in 1948. All of

the "Old City," which

Jerusalem, including Zion,

The "New

por-

called the "Old City" of Jerusalem. In Christian

is

on the

Jordan and

site

of ancient

became part of Jordan then.

City" built to the west of the "Old City" was begun


the money and drive of the British-Jewish phiMoses Haim Montefiore. It is now much larger than

in i860 thanks to

lanthropist Sir

The "New

the "Old City," with a population three times as numerous.

City" serves as the capital of modern

Israel,

but

it is

the "Old City"

that contains the holy relics of the past.

As a

result of the Six-day

and declared

its

War

of 1967, Israel took

all

of Jerusalem

determination never to yield any part of

again.

it

Tyre

The

Israelites

cultural people.

himself on his

under David were

still

largely a pastoral

new

stronghold of Zion, he had to seek help

the relatively sophisticated inhabitants of the Canaanite


2

Samuel

and cedar

5:11.

trees,

and

David wanted to build an elaborate palace

If

And Hiram
and

agri-

for

among

cities.

king of Tyre sent messengers to David,

carpenters,

and masons: and they

built

David

an house.

on the Mediterranean coast about


twenty miles south of Zidon (Sidon). According to Herodotus, the
Tynans maintained that their city had been founded as far back as
Tyre

is

a Phoenician city situated

2750 b.c, but undoubtedly

local pride

was imposing

itself

on the eager

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

34

Greek

and

beginning was a colony of the

still

until

B.C.

1450

older Zidon.

Tyre may have been located on the mainland, but

Originally,

came when

greatness

(or lack of mention) in the old Egyptian

would seem that Tyre was not founded

it

in the

almost

From mention

tourist.

records

it

shifted to a rocky island offshore,

immune from conquest

from enforced

and, while

starvation. Indeed,

"rock." Nowadays, the old rock

its

its fleet

name ("Zor"

upon which Tyre

making

its

itself

remained in being,

Hebrew) means

in

built

its

greatness

has joined the mainland, thanks to the silting up of the sea between.

The
is

site

now

is

a peninsula

on the coast of modern Lebanon, and

occupied by a town, Souro, with a population of about eight thou-

sand.

Tyre's merchants penetrated the western Mediterranean and even

passed outward into the Atlantic Ocean. As a result of gaining a

monopoly on trade with what was then the


and powerful. During the time

far west,

of the judges,

it

had been the most important of the Phoenician

Tyre grew

rich

had been Zidon that


cities

(see page 217),

but sometime during the reign of Saul, Tyre began to move ahead.

From then

on,

the end of Phoenician history, Tyre remained the

till

leading city of the region.

The first king of Tyre of whom there is a reliable record is Abibaal,


who came to the throne about 1020 b.c, when Saul reigned in Israel.

He

remained on the throne through David's

reign.

His son, Hiram,

was, in turn, a contemporary of David's son, Solomon. It was

whose

artisans built

role in connection with

shadow backward

in

Hiram

Solomon's Temple. The importance of Hiram's


this

supremely important structure sent

time so that

built David's palace, too,

his artisans are reported as

its

having

though that was certainly built during the

reign of Hiram's father.

Valley of

By now

Rephaim
it

must have become

had grown too strong


kingship of

Israel,

clear to the Philistines that

David

to serve as a safe puppet. His accession to the

over and above that of Judah, had undoubtedly

taken place without Philistine permission and must automatically have

meant a break with them:

2
2 Samuel 5:17.

when the

anointed David king over


seek David

SAMUEL

305

Philistines heard that they

Israel,

all

had

came up

the Philistines

to

2 Samuel 5:18.

and spread themselves

in the valley of Reph-

airru

would have been wise

It

but perhaps the various

for the Philistines to

have struck at once,

never firmly united, could not bring

cities,

themselves to act until David had captured Jerusalem and by then

was

it

really too late.

The

valley of

Rephaim

between Jerusalem and Bethlehem and

lies

very likely the Philistines placed Jerusalem under siege.


so appears

That

this

is

from the further statement:

2 Samuel 5:16.

The hold

(stronghold)

David
is

went down to the hold.

almost certainly Jerusalem and within that

nearly impregnable fortress, David could allow the Philistines to blunt

armor
he planned

uselessly while armies gathered

their

elsewhere in Israel and

his counterattack.

In two separate battles, he defeated

them

handily.

puppet had become a conqueror and the Philistines


their coastal cities.

They were never

erstwhile

back upon

again to control the interior and

David had become undisputed master of the


tribes of Israel

The
fell

territory of the twelve

and Judah.

Bade
David

realized

that

it

was

political center only of the

insufficient

to

dual monarchy.

have Jerusalem as the

Among

the differences

separating Israel and Judah were variations in religious customs and

would be wise, therefore, to take measures to centralize


and unify the religion of the new nation, focus it on Jerusalem, and
build a bridge between the north and south in the form of a common
traditions. It

ritual.

marvelous opportunity presented

itself

in

connection with the

ark of the covenant, the central object of worship of the Rachel


tribes in the days of the judges. It

had been taken from

Israel

by

the Philistines (see page 272) and ever since had been kept at the
city of

Kirjath-jearim

on the northern boundaries

of Judah, about

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

306
ten miles west of Jerusalem.
establish

Why

as a center of worship?

it

was Judean, and both


2 Samuel 6:2.

not bring

The

would be

parts of the nation

And David

arose,

Jerusalem, and

to

it

object was Israelite, the place

and went with

satisfied.

all

the people

God

from Baale of Judah to bring up from thence the ark of


Baale (or Baale-judah)

used here as an alternate

is

name

for Kirjath-

jearim.

Moab
Master

in his

for imperial

own

was

land, David's next step

common

conquests the

to cast his eyes abroad

attitude of rulers of the time (and

of our time as well).

The conquest began with Moab, which he reduced

to a tributary

nation. Considering David's earlier friendly relations with the Moabites

from a Moabite woman (see page 265),


we would be curious to know what caused the war, but the Bible

and

his traditional descent

no

gives
2

clue:

Samuel

8:2.

And he

became David's

[David] smote

and brought

servants

Moab, and

.the Moabites

gifts.

This event bears a relation to one of the oracles traditionally assigned


to

Balaam

(see page 186).

to curse Israel

he was forced,

Numbers

and

He had

seemed

been hired by the king of

24:17.

rise

Moab

ironically just to the Biblical writers that

Moab

in his trance, to curse

a Sceptre shall

Moab

it

come

there shall

out of

Israel,

and

instead:

a Star out of Jacob, and

shall smite

the comers of

This verse has been taken by


sianic prophecy,

and

many

to forecast the

by him of idolatry and

Christians to represent a Mes-

coming of

evil. It is for this

and "Sceptre" are capitalized

in the

Jesus

and the defeat

reason that the words "Star"

King James Version (but not

in

the Revised Standard Version).

A more

prosaic possibility

is

that the oracle

only in the time of the kingdoms)


reference to David

and

his

is

(reduced to writing

triumphantly nationalistic

Moabite conquest.

SAMUEL

Ammon
One by one

the neighboring principalities

before David, whose

fell

foreign wars were uniformly successful.

When

new king acceded

to the throne of

Ammon, David

messages of congratulations as a routine courtesy.

The new

pecting the messengers of intended espionage, treated


ful disrespect,

sent

king, sus-

them with

scorn-

shaving half their beards and cutting off parts of their

garments. This amounted to a declaration of war.

David treated

such and the Ammonites formed an alliance

as

it

with the Aramaean (Syrian)

alarm the sudden


2

Samuel

10:6.

Syrians of Beth-rehob,

The Aramaeans had


Syria
fall

cities to

of the

rise

the north,

new kingdom

the children of

who

also

viewed with

of Israel-Judah.

Ammon

and the Syrians of Zoba

and

sent
.

hired the

entered the area north of Israel (an area called

by the Greeks and retaining that name to

this

day) after the

of the Hittite Empire, mingling, as they did so, with the remnants

same restless
and the Hebrew tribes into

of the Hittite people. Their coming was part of the

movement

that

had brought the

Philistines

Canaan.

The united forces were defeated by David and his


The Ammonites and Syrians were both conquered, and
in the south as well,

stretched from the

and by 980

Red

B.C.,

general, Joab.

the Edomites

David ruled an empire that

Sea to the upper Euphrates. It took up

all

the

eastern border of the Mediterranean, except for part of the actual

shore which remained in the possession of the Phoenician


retained their independence but were careful to remain

cities.

on

These

friendly

terms with David.


David's realm was not large as empires go, covering, at
area of only thirty thousand square
of Maine. It
tite

milesabout the

its

peak, an

size of the state

was feeble and small compared to the Egyptian and Hit-

Empires that preceded

it,

or the Assyrian, Babylonian,

Empires that were to succeed

it.

Indeed,

it

and Persian

existed at all only be-

cause of the accident of history that placed David in the midst of a


short and rare period
in Asia.

when

there

happened

to

be no great empires

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

308

Nevertheless, David's empire remained a period of glory for Israel,

when compared with

the centuries before and after, and was looked

back upon with pride and nostalgia by

all

the later generations that

followed David.

Mephibosheth

If

David was extending

his

sway

externally,

he had to be at

least

He

equally careful and vigorous in establishing his power internally.

must have been


tive

under a Judean dynasty and that

was customary

modem

in ancient

Israelite

remain

to

res-

might find a

dynasty of Saul.

monarchies (and in some comparatively

to remove

ones, too)

was bound

this restiveness

about someone of the old

rallying point
It

perfectly aware that Israel

remaining members of displaced

all

dynasties for the sake of the security of the reigning king, or,

wanted to express matters more

idealistically, for

if

one

the peace and good

order of the realm.

To murder

Saul's descendants in cold blood

politically, possibly

The

vent.

provoking the

civil

would have been bad

war David was trying to

pre-

opportunity to do so safely eventually came, however:

Samuel 21:1. Then there was a famine

years, year after year

in the days of

David three

That was David's chance. In the

general anxiety to

end the famine,

people would assent to actions that might otherwise be strongly

dis-

approvedif those actions were taken as being designed to propitiate

an angry Deity. The blame for the famine was therefore carefully
placed by the priesthood:
2

Samuel

21:1.

It

is

for Saul,

and

for his bloody house,

because he slew the Gibeonites.

The

occasion upon which Saul slew the Gibeonites

mentioned

in the Bible.

is

not

specifically

Such an action on the part of Saul was a


between the Israelites and the

serious violation of the treaty of peace

Gibeonites, a peace which, according to tradition, had been

the days of Joshua (see page 215).

would seem
It

is

to

To

made

in

the Gibeonites, such a violation

have well deserved the anger of God.

also just barely possible that this

is

a reference to Saul's slaughter

SAMUEL

Nob

of the priests at

(see page 290). Abiathar

and now served

survivor of the massacre

David. His

own

309

had been the

sole

as a high priestly official under

rather understandable animus against the house of

made him more than

Saul would, in that case, have

willing to co-

operate with David in this respect.

For the official purpose of appeasing the Gibeonites, then, David


hanged seven of the male descendants of Saul, including two sons
(by a concubine) and

five

grandsons.

came (they always do) and

The

rains, of course, eventually

the chance of second thoughts on the part of the

Israelites

honor

respects to those

in their ancestral

Jonathan to that tomb

The male members


David was not

who had been

inhibit

once the

will

by paying

executed, burying

them with

famine was over, David labored to keep their good

somber

To

that seemed to justify the act.

tomb, and transferring the bodies of Saul and


also.

of the house of Saul seemed done with, but

entirely certain:

2 Samuel 9:1.

And David

the house of Saul, that I

any that

said, Is there yet

may shew him

kindness

is left

of

This verse appears in the Bible a dozen chapters before the execution of the seven descendants of Saul, so that the irony

must have come

event, however,

after

is

lost.

This

the executions or David would

not have been forced to search so hard for "any that

is

left of

the house

of Saul."

One member

of that house remained. This was Mephibosheth, the

He had

son of Jonathan.

and

fatal battle

were dead and the army


at Gibeah.

been

five years

old at the time of Saul's final

on Mount Gilboa. At the news that Saul and Jonathan


lost,

there was wild confusion in the palace

nurse fled with Jonathan's youngster and dropped him.

His legs were damaged and he was crippled for the rest of his

Mephibosheth was

life.

in hiding during David's reign (a course of action

rendered prudent by the executions) but his whereabouts were betrayed


to David,

who found

that

he could

not, in this case, readily solve

matters by another execution. First, Mephibosheth was a son of Jonathan, with

whom

consider matters
likely to attract

he had once swom a compact of friendship. Then, to


more practically, the young man was a cripple and not
the loyalty of a rebel force, seeing that he was in no

position to lead an army.

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

3 io

And

David did not abandon caution

yet,

Mephibosheth
2

entirely.

He

allowed

but he kept him at court and under his eye:

to live,

Samuel 9:13. So Mephibosheth dwelt in Jerusalem;

eat continually at the kings table

he did

for

Uriah the Hittite

Another domestic

David came

to

affair related in detail

make an

this lay in the fact that it

was the manner

in

which

The importance of
David by this new woman who

addition to his harem.

was

a son of

eventually succeeded to the throne of Israel.

David

first

saw her bathing on the roof of her house.

by her appearance, he sent


2

Samuel

11:3.

to find out her identity

Much

and was

taken

told:

.Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam,

the wife of Uriah the Hittite?


It

had been two

centuries,

now, since the Hittite Empire had

appeared, but their culture lingered.

They had been

dis-

driven out of

now dominant, but


southward in what is now

Asia Minor, a region in which the Phrygians were

had been established

Hittite principalities
Syria. There,

mingled with the Aramaeans, the Hittites maintained

themselves for two more centuries until the entire region Hittites,

Aramaeans,

Israelites

together went under the heel of the Assyrian

Empire.

But we

are

still

in David's reign. David, in his

conquest, had absorbed these Hittite city-states and


that a

number

of their soldiers, including Uriah,

northward drive of
it is

not surprising

had entered

his service.

From the fact that Uriah is a Hebrew name ("the Lord is light") it
may well be that Uriah had sought preferment by adjusting his religious beliefs to those of the king and had changed his name to suit.
In any case, he received a poor reward. David appropriated Uriah's

him out

wife and then sent

to battle (the

war against the Ammonites

was proceeding at the time) with instructions to Joab to arrange

for

Uriah's death. This was done.

Although the Biblical writers praise David


praise this.

David

they can, they cannot

blamed and denounced by Nathan, a

is

leader of the time.

all

The

religious

courage of the reproof and the manner in

which David accepted that reproof


in the Bible.

David and

who

There

since,

are

few enough occasions in

when an

311

one of the more moving passages

is

both before

history,

bowed before someone

absolute monarch

clearly set forth the difference

SAMUEL

between good and

evil.

Absalom
David's cautious eye on the house of Saul kept matters safe in that
direction,

but when trouble came,

the royal family

Unfortunately,

mon

civil

wars based on family

stemmed from the

harem served the

rivalries

were

all

too com-

and the reasons are not hard


institution

quite widespread at the time, even

quarter,

itself.

in the ancient monarchies,

Chiefly, they

came from an unexpected

it

among

king's pleasure

and

to find.

of polygamy, which was

the
it

Israelites.

was

matter of

also a

status, for

the power and glory of the king, and therefore of the people

he

was held

ruled,

way

of

life.

to

be

reflected

But polygamy

by the luxury and richness of

also ensured a large supply of sons

and

his

in

an age of high infant mortality, a large supply was required in order


to

make

it

likely that at least

hood and lead the nation

The

one or two might grow

man-

value of this was largely negated, however, by the fact that

there was usually no rigorous rule of descent.


strongest,

most

by rapid action

To

to healthy

after the death of the old king.

prevent

decisive, or

Of

the royal house, the

most unscrupulous might

seize the throne

at the time of the king's death.

this,

and the

civil

war that often took place

thereafter,

the old king might choose a successor, a choice that would carry great

weight with the officialdom of the realm and with the people.
tain such a royal seal of approval, the different

would intrigue

women

of the

To

at-

harem

endlessly.

Sometimes an overeager son,

either not certain of the father's bless-

ing, or overcertain of his backing,

would

try to settle

matters by striking

before the death of the old king. It was this which happened in David's
reign.

David's oldest son was

Amnon, born while David was

still

merely

king of Judah and reigning in Hebron. Under ordinary circumstances,

he might be expected to have been the

heir. David's

second son was

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

3"
Chileab,

who

is

not mentioned after the verse recording his birth and

therefore, have died young. His third son

may,

Both

Amnon and Absalom

David's reign; both in the prime of


their eye

was Absalom.

men

were full-grown

in the latter part of

and both, undoubtedly, with

life;

on the succession. They were half brothers only, being the

sons of different mothers.

was bound

to

The open

Under harem

conditions, this

meant

there

be no feeling of brotherhood between them.

break came in connection with Tamar, the

of Absalom and the half

sister

Amnon. Amnon

of

sister

full

brutally raped

Tamar, who fled in shame to the house of Absalom. Absalom, feeling


now he would have popular opinion on his side, waited his chance
to catch

Two

Amnon

off guard.

years passed, during which,

had passed, the memory of


festival to

which

felt

the danger

dimmed. Absalom arranged

his crime

Amnon and

Amnon

no doubt,

the other princes were invited.

was deliberately allowed to get drunk and when merriment was at

Absalom had
That broke up the

height,

his

men

strike

Amnon

Amnon was killed.


and Absalom, uncertain of

its

and

party, of course,

his

father's reaction, quickly left the country.

Samuel 13:37. But Absalom

and went

fled,

to

Talmai

king of Geshur.

Talmai was

his mother's father,

states to the north. It

is

and Geshur was one of the

city-

usually placed just east of the Sea of Galilee.

Absalom was, however, the oldest surviving son of David and it


was dangerous to leave him in exile. Enemies of Israel could easily
invade the country on the pretext of placing Absalom on the throne

and many

in Israel

might

The

side with him.

country would then be

divided against an essentially foreign invasion. This

the mind of Joab, the

He

commander

realistic

maneuvered Absalom's return

reconciliation with

David

Absalom was not


heir,

after

satisfied,

after

formal

was now David's

logical

years.

He

but could he count on David's blessing?

ful of the killing of

and

in

army.

his

three years,

two more

however.

may have been

in chief of David's

Amnon, choose another

Would

not David, mind-

of his sons for the king-

ship?

Absalom determined
on his own.

He

to take

no chance, but

to prepare for action

was popular with the people, because he was good-

looking and because of the natural sympathy he must have gained

SAMUEL

Amnon. More than

with

as the aggrieved party in

the

Absalom

and deliberate campaign to

self

initiated a careful

affair

313

ingratiate

that,

him-

with the people by display of affability and graciousness and by a

studied appearance of concern for their problems.


2

Samuel

15:6.

.so Absalom

stole the hearts of the

men

of

Israel.

After four years (the King James Version says "forty" but this

is

widely considered a mistake and the Revised Standard Version says


"four") he

felt

He

the time had come.

received permission to

visit

Hebron on what seemed a harmless pretext and once there, he had


himself declared king and raised the standards of rebellion.
Undoubtedly, he had paved the way in Hebron and many were
prepared, in advance, to back him. It

is

interesting that

Hebron, the Judean center, that Absalom made

his

Apparently, Absalom had strong Judean backing.

Why

so the Bible does not specifically say.

One might

first

it

was

in

open move.

this

should be

guess, however, that

David throughout his reign had been concerned to win over the good
will of the Israelites

his

own

Judeans.

party which

under

whom

and had leaned over backward to avoid favoring


there might well have been a strong Judean

And

resented this and which would have preferred


a straightforward Judean

a king

hegemony over the empire might

have been arranged.

Amasa,

more

Judean and, in

distant relative of

fact,

a cousin of Joab and a somewhat

David himself, served as Absalom's

general.

Ahithophel, a native of the Judean city of Giloh, also defected to

Absalom.

He had

been a member of David's council and had a formi-

dable reputation for wisdom.

when
made of:

Later in the book,


listed,

mention

is

Samuel 23:34.

the more eminent of David's soldiers are

Eliam the son of Ahithophel the Gilonite.

This Eliam might conceivably be the same Eliam


as the father of

Bathsheba.

the grandfather of the


wife,

It

It

mentioned

might therefore be that Ahithophel was

woman who

turned out to be David's favorite

and the great-grandfather of the

David's successor.

earlier

man who

turned out to be

doesn't seem likely that in that case, he would

defect to a son of David

who was no

relative of his

other hand, he might have had no expectation that his

own.

On

the

own descendant

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

3*4

would someday be king and he might have experienced humiliation


at the highhanded

manner

in

which David had brought

daughter into the royal harem. There

is

his grand-

no way of deciding

this.

Kidron

Valley of the Kidron

David reacted

at once.

Jerusalem was unsafe.

Absalom had prepared

The

his net carefully

the open and across the Jordan where he might gather an army.

could be on his side

if

he could snatch time.

The

Time

people might grow

disenchanted with Absalom; they might quail at the thought of


tacking David

if

and

old king's one chance was to get out into

David did not

at once

at-

succumb; they might even

remember that the old king had found Israel and Judah in the grip of
the Philistines and had raised them to empire, and might grow
ashamed of their rebellion.
With his household, then, his staff and his armed bodyguard, he
left

the city:

SAMUEL

2
2

Samuel 15:23.

and

315

the people passed over: the king also

all

himself passed over the brook Kidron

toward the way of the

wilderness.

Jerusalem

now

bounded on the

is

by the Kidron

east

which

valley,

is

dry but which, in Biblical times, was the bed of a small stream,

the brook Kidron, which flowed south into the

Having crossed the Kidron, David and

Dead Sea.
mounted

the line

the ascent of

Mount

his retinue

of hills to the east.

And David went up by

Samuel 15:30.

Olivet

Mount

Olivet, or, as

ridge about

it is

better

half a mile east of Jerusalem

ron valley.

known, the Mount of

Olives,

is

two and a half miles long, running north and south about

The

and separated from that

highest part of

Mount

Olivet,

due

city

by the Kid-

east of Zion,

is

about

half a mile high.

Shimei

Dangers multiplied,

for

it

was not merely a question of David's

replacement by Absalom, but of the disintegration of the barely estab-

On Mount

lished empire.

Olivet,

David was overtaken by the servant

of Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan and only living direct descendant


of Saul. According to the servant, Mephibosheth was remaining in

Jerusalem in the hope of being called to the throne. After

Judean support, Absalom gained the throne,

Judah only, and

Israel,

regaining

it

all, if,

with

might be the throne of

independence, might turn to

its

its

older dynasty.

The

made plainer in Bahurim (a town


unknown but which lay somewhere between Jerusa-

extent of this danger was

whose exact

site is

lem and the Jordan). Shimei


tive of Saul,

lived there, a Benjamite, a collateral rela-

and presumably a

Samuel

16:5.

Shimei

man
.

of influence in the area:


.

came

forth,

and cursed

still

as

he came.
2

Samuel

16:6.

Samuel

16:7.

2 Samuel 16:8.

And
And

he cast stones at David


thus said Shimei

The Lord hath

returned upon thee

all

the blood

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

3 i6

and the
hand of Absalom thy

of the house of Saul, in whose stead thou hast reigned;

Lord hath delivered the kingdom

and behold thou

son:

into the

art taken in thy mischief, because

thou art

a bloody man.
It

sounds very

much

though Shimei

as

of Saul's descendants (not described

with David offered to

soldiers

that. Shimei's curses

now had

kill

referring to the execution

is

The

several chapters later).

till

Shimei, but David did not allow

were doing him

little

harm but what Shimei

the courage to say in David's adversity, others might be

thinking, and an unnecessary outrage against Shimei


serve to swell Absalom's

might simply

army with Benjamites.

Hushai

What

strength David possessed

now

lay in the fact that the core of

his army, his elite troops, remained faithful

were few

in

and were with him. They

number but they could be counted on

to give a good

account of themselves.
Ahithophel, however, advised Absalom to attack David at once, even
while the king was retiring in disorder toward the Jordan and before

he could

cross the river

while David

is

and begin organizing an army. Move now,

off balance,

he urged

in effect; strike while the iron

is

hot.

Now

Samuel

2
let

Absalom made
17:5.

his fatal mistake.

Then

said Absalom, Call

now Hushai

and

us hear likewise what he saith.

Hushai was another of David's counselors, but was not a Judean.

He

was of the

city of Archi,

which was included

in the territory of

Ephraim. Unlike Ahithophel, he had not defected to Absalom but had


been directed by David to remain in Jerusalem as what we would
today

call

a "double agent."

Hushai gave the advice calculated to give David the one thing he

neededtime. Hushai warned Absalom

that a hasty attack

might lead to a preliminary defeat by David's hardened

on David

warriors.

The

defeat might be minor and of no military significance but to the

people

it

would prove that David was

still

the invincible conqueror

SAMUEL

and they would


said Hushai,

lose heart

do not attack

and melt away from Absalom. Therefore,


you have

till

David got

his end.

Trans-Jordan tribes rallied round

David's

a large army.

up

to build

him

as they

Absalom was now

had

earlier.

army

his large

where the

safely over the Jordan,

bosheth, the son of Saul, a generation


that victory for

up

built

Absalom took Hushai's advice and waited


and that was

317

round

rallied

Ish-

Ahithophel, deciding

impossible, killed himself.

newly organized army, under

his

veteran

then

officers,

struck back across the Jordan, meeting Absalom's hastily raised and

poorly led levies, and utterly defeated them. Absalom was taken, and

although David had ordered that he be unharmed, the practical Joab

thought otherwise.

rebel left alive

someday, and so he had Absalom

was one who would

rebel again

killed.

David now returned to Jerusalem and resumed the undisputed kingship. Shimei, the

make

Benjamite who had cursed David, came quickly to

his submission, while

Mephibosheth came

also,

maintaining that

he had been slandered, and that no thought of assuming the kingship had ever occurred to him.

David, aware that the victory did not necessarily wipe out the sources
of disaffection, was careful to take
live;

no

revenge. Shimei was allowed to

Mephibosheth was taken back into

favor.

This was intended to

appease the Israelite nationalists. As a measure of reconciliation with


the Judean nationalists, he accepted Amasa,
salom's general, as

commander

who had

served as Ab-

in chief in place of Joab.

David did not forget Joab's action

in killing

(Presumably,

Absalom against

orders.)

Sheba

David's mildness was of no help. Certain factions


ites,

among

the

Israel-

disappointed at the re-establishment of the Judean dynasty over

the united kingdom, revolted. Their leader was Sheba, a Benjamite

and therefore of the

tribe of Saul.

He

rallied Israel

about him on a

purely nationalistic slogan:


2 Samuel 20:1.

and he blew a trumpet, and

said,

We

no part in David, neither have we inheritance in the son of


every

man

to his tents,

Israel.

have
Jesse:

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

3 i8

Once

army had

again David's

and unscrupulous Joab found,

gain his generalship once more.

the army, leading

and trapped

to

in this

He

take the

assassinated

the Jordan River from Dan.

resourceful

Amasa and took over

The

city in the north, just across

inhabitants of the city killed Sheba

in order to prevent the otherwise inevitable sack,

came

The

northward. Sheba retreated hastily but was caught

it

Abel of Beth-maacah, a

in

field.

renewed war, an opportunity to

and the

rebellion

an end.

to

Araunah

The

tale of David's reign

is

now

essentially over.

Samuel concludes with a summarizing

some

The Book

of 2

of David's heroes and of

of their exploits, with a couple of psalms attributed to David,

and with one


of

list

its

final tale

included in the last chapter of 2 Samuel because

connection with the chief accomplishment of David's successor.

This

last tale

begins with a census:

And

2 Samuel 24:1.
against Israel,
Israel

against

census

is

them

treated, in this chapter, as a sin,

was supposed to have taken place

entry into
as a sin.

and he moved David

to say,

Go, number

and Judah.

Why a
a census

again the anger of the Lord was kindled

Canaan

(see

is

uncertain. Twice,

in the wilderness before the

page 165) and neither time was

Moses himself had, according

this described

to the Biblical story, instituted

it.

Of

course, in ancient times, a census

designed to provide the

statistical

destinies of a nation. It

was rather a course of procedure taken at

one of two

irregular periods for

was not a regular procedure

data necessary to help guide the

specific reasons:

a reorganization of

the military draft, or a reorganization of the system of taxation.

The former purpose

is

indicated by the fact that in

the census

men

of military

described at the end of the

Book

of 2 Samuel only

age were counted:

and there were in Israel eight hundred thoumen that drew the sword; and the men of judah were

2 Samuel 24:9.

sand valiant
five

hundred thousand.

SAMUEL

319

This estimate (a very rough one, for methods of enumeration


ancient times are by no means to be compared with those of today)

be rather exaggerated for

indicates a total population of about four

it

million, or very nearly the

in

may

combined population of

Israel

and Jordan

today.

That

a census

might

be used for taxation

also

is

best indicated in

the famous chapter in the Gospel of St. Luke which begins:

Luke
that

and

And

2:1.

there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus

the world should be taxed.

all

this involved

amounts

first

to a census.

given as "a decree

of

all

The

an enrollment of individuals, or what

verse in the Revised Standard Version

went out from Caesar Augustus that

New

should be enrolled," while the


verse as "a decree

went

all

is

the world

Catholic Edition translates the

forth from Caesar Augustus that a census of

the whole world should be taken."


In either case, whether for a military draft or for taxation, a census

was bound to be unpopular and,

who opposed

it

would be sure

any natural

if

disaster followed, those

to point to that as evidence of divine

displeasure.

In this case the disaster was a pestilence that

seventy thousand

men. The

dramatically by having

Cod

Biblical

writers

is

recorded as killing

describe

stop the angel of death

was on the point of being destroyed.


at the time of the order to halt

The

the occasion

when Jerusalem

exact position of the angel

given:

is

Samuel 24:16.
And the angel of the Lord was by the
threshingplace of Araunah the Jebusite.
2

Samuel 24:17.

people

And David

saw the angel that smote the

David therefore purchased that threshing place and

upon
same

it.

His son Solomon was

site,

and

it is

later to build the

built an altar

Temple upon

this

tempting to think that the story of David and the

census was embroidered with supernatural detail by the later writers

supply additional sanctification of the ground upon which

in order to

the

Temple

stood.

11.

KINGS

ADONIJAH THE PHARAOH [OF SOLOMON] * TIPHSAH THE HOUSE OF THE


LORD OPHIR SHEBA TARSHISH * HADAD THE EDOMITE REZON AHIJAH *
BEN-HADAD SAMARIA * JEZEBEL *
SHISHAK ' REHOBOAM JEROBOAM
ELIJAH * ZAREPHATH MOUNT CARMEL JEZREEL * BEN-HAD AD H * APHEK
NABOTH ' RAMOTH-GILEAD
'

Adonijah

The
and

Book of Kings opens

First

last year of

in the year

The

the reign of David.

973

old king

B.C.,

had

the fortieth

clearly only a

and the matter of the succession came up again.


Now that the three oldest sons of David were dead, the fourth,
Adonijah, seemed (to himself, certainly) the natural successor.
short time to live

Kings 1:5.

be king

To be

sure,

Then Adonijah

exalted himself, saying, I wQl

David had not indicated him

as successor,

but then

neither had he indicated anyone elseat least not openly. Adonijah

made
listing

sure of the support of the

on

his side Joab, the

survivor of the slaughter at

army and of the priesthood by enin chief, and Abiathar, the

commander

Nob and

the last priest of the house of

Eli.

Both Joab and Abiathar were now old men, however, and their
decline. In opposition to Joab was the younger

power was on the

soldier Benaiah, captain of the king's

bodyguard, and in opposition to

Abiathar was the younger priest Zadok.

The younger men had their own candidate, Solomon, the son of
who had retained her influence over David and who was

Bathsheba,

willing to take the chance of facing the old king concerning this matter.

On

their side, also,

was Nathan, head of the prophetic

party.

The Empire

of David and

Solomon

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

3"

David was not proof against such pressures and it might well have
his own intention to appoint Solomon his successor. In any case,

been

he was forced

to act

now, and Solomon was anointed king with

necessary ritual and trapping and, most important of

the

all

with the

of David.

official blessing

Upon news

all,

of this event, the feast being given by Adonijah

celebrate his accession to the throne broke

up

to

at once. In the face

of David's will, there was no further argument, and popular support


shifted at once to

Once David
new king took

Solomon.

actually died

action to

and Solomon

make

sure that

remained. Adonijah

the succession

Solomon's orders. Shimei,

who harked back

who

still

and Joab were both killed at


represented the remnant of those

the dynasty of Saul

to

confined to Jerusalem and,

upon the throne, the


civil war over

sat

no chance of

when he

left

(see page

315)

was

first

on some apparently

in-

nocent occasion, was taken and executed.


Abiathar was exiled to his home city of Anathoth in Benjamin,
and Zadok was made High Priest in his place. The descendants of
Zadok remained the head of the Jerusalem priesthood through the
history of the kingdom thereafter. In this way, Solomon was seated
firmly on the throne.
Kings 2:46.

And

the kingdom was established in the hand

of Solomon.

The Pharaoh

[of

Solomon]

Israel had now reached a peak of power and


Solomon to take his place as a monarch of the

prestige
first

a harem, he need not confine himself to local

which enabled

rank. In gathering

girls

and

minor

to

princesses only, but could aspire to those of the highest prestige.


1

Kings

3:1.

And Solomon made

affinity

with Pharaoh king of

Egypt, and took Pharaoh's daughter and brought her into the city of

David
This

is

drowned

The

the

first

in the

Red

mention of any Pharaoh


Sea and as usual no

name

since
is

social prestige of marriage into the family of

and at the time

it

must have made

the

one who

given.

Pharaoh

is

a triumphant impression.

great

The

slaves

who had

fled

KINGS

323

Egypt centuries before now had grown so power-

king was worthy of a marriage alliance with Pharaoh.

ful that their

The show was much more than


was by no means the Egypt
vegetated along under

it

had been. The 20th dynasty, which had

line of

its

judges dominated Canaan,

the actuality, however, for Egypt

came

Rameses

to

(see page 220)

an end about 107;

while the

B.C. in

the

life-

time of Samuel and a hundred years before the accession of Solomon.


Since then, Egypt had disintegrated.

The Pharaohs

of the 21st

dynasty ruled only the Nile delta, while upper Egypt was under the

domination of the

priests of

Ammon, who

ruled as virtual monarchs

from Thebes, the capital of the conquering monarchs of the great


18th dynasty.

The Egyptian

under the 21st dynasty was Tanis or Zoan,

capital

the city which, seven centuries

earlier,

had served

Hyksos. About the time of David's death,

as the capital of the

Psusennes

II

ascended

the Egyptian throne. His position as Pharaoh of the delta was not
enviable.

He

had to face the constant

hostility of the

Theban

priests

and, in addition, there was a growing pressure from the desert tribes
to the west.

No

doubt he

felt

that an alliance with Solomon, via the usual route

of a dynastic marriage, might secure his eastern flank and give

dependable military help

if

this

He

was needed.

was willing

he sent an expedition to capture a Canaanite

it,

too, for

in

Philistine territory

daughter. It

is

and gave

it

the single recorded

to

Solomon

territorial

as a

him some
to pay for

city,

Gezer,

dowry with

his

annexation of Solomon's

reign.

Solomon's army was not, in actual


high prestige of

Israel

fact, called

might have helped,

upon, but the then

for Psusennes retained his

shaky throne for well over thirty years, almost to the end of Solomon's
reign.

Tiphsah

The two Books

of Kings reached their final form four centuries after

when Jerusalem had been ruling


when its very life
mercy of powerful empires to the east. The reign of

the great days of Solomon, at a time

over sharply restricted territory for a long time and

seemed at the

Solomon, at the time

in

which Jerusalem's sway over surrounding

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE


territory

was

maximum,

at its

The

delight.

looked back upon with rhapsodic

is

extent of Solomon's kingdom

given:

is

Kings 4:24. ... he had dominion over

on

kings

all

the region on this

from Tiphsah even to Azzah [Gaza], over all the


side the river: and he had peace on all sides round

side the river,


this

about him.

The

river

no one doubts

clearly the Euphrates;

is

(meaning "ford")

commonly

is

Greeks as Thapsacus, which


Jerusalem. There

indeed a

is

identified as the city

Tiphsah

that.

known

the

to

some three hundred miles northeast of


ford at that spot and since it controlled

is

the most convenient place for crossing the middle Euphrates,

it

flour-

ished and was, in Greek times, a sizable and prosperous city.

No

doubt, Solomon's hold that far north was quite tenuous, and rep-

resented nothing

more than the

fact that the cities of Syria paid

and were otherwise undisturbed

tribute

him

in their local rule.

Nevertheless, the boundaries of Solomon's kingdom, from Tiphsah


to

Gaza, remained

historians.

those
is

it

the

ideal

boundary

(Each nation seems

happened

to hold at the peak of

the

in

to consider

its

its

of

eyes

the

later

"rightful boundaries"

power. Naturally, there

overlapping in every direction with the "rightful boundaries" of

every neighboring power.)

In a way, the reign of Solomon


history.

The promise

Egypt have made


into an empire
1

and under

One might

the climax of early Biblical

Canaan is fulfilled. The escaping slaves from


way to Canaan, conquered it, held it, built it

and now

Kings 4:2;.

his vine

of

their

is

finally,

under Solomon:

Judah and
his jig tree,

Israel

dwelt safely, every

from Dan

almost be tempted to heave a sigh of

happiness after so

many

tribulations

and to

let

it

The House
If

on and a plateau of power

relief

at such

stand as a "they

lived happily ever after" ending, except that there are


history. Life goes

man under

even to Beersheba

no endings

in

will recede.

of the Lord

Solomon's reign was the climax of early

building of the

Temple was the climax

history,

the

of Solomon's reign in

the

Israelite

KINCS

2
3 5

TEMPLE

Sib Chambers

Holy Place
-Seof Bronze

Holy ofHolies

SOLOMON'S

Harm

- PALACE

Jhrvne Porch
Porch ofPillars

SOLOMON'S

TEMPLE AREA

The House
eyes of the Biblical writers.

had been too stormy

reign

would have taken

What Solomon

HOUSE OF

o o o o o o
o o o o o o

to build

of the

LEBANON

Lord

David had planned a Temple but

him the

to give
it.

his

required years of peace

Solomon had those

it

years of peace.

needed were the necessary raw materials and

skilled

Hiram had
artisans and
just become king of Tyre in 969 B.C., four years after Solomon had
ascended the throne and he, too, was ready for a large project. (Hiram
was so famous to the Biblical writers in connection with the Temple
for both of these he could turn to Phoenicia.

that he was anachronistically placed on the throne of Tyre in David's

time see page

304.)

Kings

5:2.

Kings

5:5.

name
1

And Solomon
.

Kings 6:1.

Solomon's reign

my God

And
.

behold, I purpose to build an house unto the

of the Lord

sent to Hiram, saying

it

came

to pass

...

in the fourth year of

that he began to build the house of the Lord.

Undoubtedly, Hiram, a shrewd businessman, was well aware that


his neighbor's

ambitious plans would redound to the profit of Tyre,

ASIMOV'S CUIDE TO THE BIBLE

326
for

he would supply the necessary timber and workmen at

and

price
1

would be a high one:

it

Kings 5:7.

And

came

it

when Hiram heard

to pass,

of Solomon, that he rejoiced greatly

There

nothing wrong, in

is

the economy of a nation,

a building program. Fitted to

itself, in

employment and

supplies

it

too far and Solomon (like

too

example, Rameses

many

II of

the words

tional pride. Unfortunately, the temptation

as, for

own

his

is

na-

builds

always present to go

other monarchs before and after

Egypt and Louis

XIV

of France) went

far.

For one thing, the building of the Temple meant the lavish use of
forced labor:
1

And

Kings 5:13.

and the
1

The

king Solomon raised a levy out of

levy was thirty thousand

Kings 5:14.

And he

sent

them

Later

it

is

stated that

were thus enslaved

it

Lebanon

Ham

all

Israel."

was the remaining Canaanites only who

fulfillment

in

been pronounced on

of the curse

recorded as having

(see page 45).

Kings 9:22. But of the children of Israel did Solomon

no bondmen
This

to

Revised Standard Version translates the verse, "King Solomon

raised a levy of forced labor out of

all Israel;

men.

last,

however, sounds like a defense against the

presented by the Israelites


It

seems much more

all

available sources,

might be

make

who broke away from

likely that the labor

from

of grievances

gangs were formed from

Israelites as well as

said for taxes, which,

list

the Davidic dynasty.

Solomon saw

Canaanites.
to

it,

The same

were collected

efficiently.

The amount by which Solomon


building program

Hiram

all

The

indicated by the fact that he could

is

not pay

the accumulated debt in either cash or goods but had to

Once

cede land as well.


1

overextended his resources in his

Kings 9:11.
cities

the building program was complete:

king Solomon gave

Hiram twenty

cities

thus ceded were part of the tribal holdings of Naphtali

in Israel. This could not help but

be offensive to

Israelite pride

and

KINGS

327

was another item in the gathering score against the Davidic dynasty.

The

Temple

building of the

writers that they give

its

such a key fact to the Biblical

is

date not only in terms of Solomon's reign

but in terms of the greater sweep of


Kings 6:1.

And

it

came

Israelite history as

the four hundred and

to pass in

eightieth year after the children of Israel were

land of Egypt

well:

come out

of the

that he [Solomon] began to build the house of

the Lord.

This cannot be right Four hundred eighty years before the beginning of the building of the Temple was 1449 b.c. and that was in

Thutmose HI, Egypt's most


monarch. To have the Exodus take place then is unthink-

the midst of the conquering reign of


victorious
able.

The

Biblical writers frequently

show themselves to be very number

conscious and, indeed, in Greek and

number

lore

Roman

corruption of the Greek, geometria) and


to the Jews.
associations
cultures.

times an almost mystical

grew up among them. This was called "gematria"

Numbers have

numbers are

of

(a

was by no means unique

a fascination for all peoples

and combinations

Even the

it

rational Greeks were not

to

and mystical

be found in

immune and

all

the great

philosopher Pythagoras founded a school that simultaneously did great

work

in

mathematics and foolishly wandered astray after number

mysticism.

The

480-year period

may

in part

have been suggested by counting

the various judges as having ruled consecutively (see page 230) instead
concurrently,

of, in part,

by the

and the exact

figure

may have been

suggested

480 is equal to 12 multiplied by 40. After all, forty


be considered the length of a full generation, and twelve

fact that

years can

has the mystical value of being the


matter, the

numbers of

ing then

that the

is

number

signs of the zodiac).

Temple was

built a

of tribes

What

(or,

for that

the writers are say-

dozen generations

after the

Exodus.
Actually, 480 years is just about double the most likely figure.
Counting from 1211 b.c, the death of Merneptah (see page 143),
the beginning of the building of the Temple turns out to be 242 years
after the

Exodus.

Seven years were spent in building the Temple, which was therefore

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

328

and dedicated

finished

and into which the ark of the

in 962 b.c.

covenant was then placed. Solomon also built a palace for himself

and one

for his

Egyptian queen as well as

fortifications for various

towns.

Before leaving the subject, one item in

the description

of

the

Temple

furnishings has attached to

curiosa.

This involves one of the items described as having been

made by

And he made

one brim to the other


it

an odd bit of mathematical

a Tyrian metalworker:

Kings 7:23.

it

a molten sea, ten cubits from the

and a

line of thirty cubits did

The

exact function of the "molten sea"

seems most

that

likely

various rituals.

The

it

is

was a container

interesting point

that

is

not stated, though

its

of thirty cubits. This

upper rim seems to be

and a circumference

impossible, for the ratio of the circumference

is

to the diameter (a ratio called "pi" by mathematicians)

30/10 or

3,

it

water used in the

for

circular in shape with a diameter of ten cubits

as

compass

round about.

whereas the

real value of pi

is

is

given here

an unending decimal

which begins 3.14159 ... If the molten sea were really ten cubits in
diameter it would have to be just under thirty-one and a half cubits
in circumference.

The

explanation

of course, that the Biblical writers were not

is,

mathematicians or even interested


giving approximate figures.

in

to those

Still,

notion that every word in the Bible

mathematics)

little

it is

bound

Bible says that the value of pi

mathematics and were merely

to

is

come

is

who

are obsessed with the

infallible

(and

who know

as a shock to be told that the

3.

Ophir

Solomon used Hiram's help


in supplying
it,

it

with Tyrian

Solomon was able


1

gold

Kings 9:28.
.

also in building a

sailors,

navy

for Israel

then the best in the world.

and

With

to engage in sea trade:

And

they came to Ophir, and fetched from thence

and brought

it

to king Solomon.

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

33

Where Ophir might be


its

is

unknown but the puzzle

completely

of

whereabouts has never ceased to fascinate Biblical scholars, partly

because of the aura of wealth that lay about


places that serve as sources of gold, after

was accounted so

and high

fine

is

Job 28:16.

The one
before this

to find a price for

It

all else

and speaking of how

cannot be valued with the gold of Ophir

mention

Kings 9:26.

geber, which

the balm of

says:

it,

clear hint as to the location of


first

and the gold of Ophir

of Lebanon,

cedars

Thus, Job, in praising wisdom above


it

There are not many

in quality that the proverbial associa-

became inevitable, like the


Gilead, and the bulls of Bashan.
tion

impossible

all,

it.

And

in

Ophir

is

given two verses

connection with Solomon's sea trade.

king Solomon

made a navy

of ships in Ezion-

Red

beside Eloth, on the shore of the

is

sea,

in

Edom.

the land of

Ezion-geber and Eloth (or Elath) stood at the northern tip of the

Gulf of Aqaba (see page 133). Since the independence of modern


Elath has been built up again and

Israel,

Red

is

once more the nation's

Sea port.

We

might argue then that Ophir was located somewhere that could

be reached by way of the Red Sea. This

still

leaves the matter rather

wide open. India can be reached by way of the Red Sea and
times,

Ophir was located

famous

And

still

and wealth the Far

for riches

East, even Peru.

yet the ships of the tenth century b.c. were not

voyages.

The

closer

in after-

which became

farther afield, in places

Ophir can be located

fit

to Israel, the

for long

more

ocean

likely the

location.

The one

other place which the Biblical writers pause to describe as a

source of fine gold


is

also uncertain

Arabia and

it

is

Havilah (see page 28).

but some scholars place

is

location of Havilah

somewhere

seems reasonable to suppose that Ophir

cated there, perhaps on the site of what

This

it

The

is

is

in

southern

also to

be

the more probable because the mention of Ophir

is

followed by

the mention of another kingdom (almost by reflex association, as

were) which

is

more

lo-

now the kingdom of Yemen.

surely located in that area.

it

KINGS

Sheba

The

penetration of Israel southward brought a return

visit

from a

monarch of the south:


1

Kings 10:1.

Solomon

The

And when

location of Sheba

is

Arabia, on the site of

what

to the Arabs as Saba

and

seems

doubt that

little

the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of

she came to prove

Ophir represents a

him with hard

by no means mysterious. In southwestern

is

now Yemen,

to the

there was a

kingdom known

Romans as Sabaea. There


And it might be that

Creeks and

Sheba.

this is the Biblical

district

questions.

of Sheba, for the queen

pictured as

is

wealthy:
1

Kings 10:2.

And

she came to Jerusalem with a very great

much

with camels that bare spices, and very


stones

train,

and precious

gold,

(Sabaea was so prosperous that

Romans

called the area Arabia Felix

"fortunate Arabia" in comparison with other parts of the peninsula,

which contained one of the most unpleasant deserts

However
little to

prosaically definite

be said about the queen. There

queen of Sheba, or of any such

Nor

is

the queen as

evolved the

myth

much

name

name was

the world.)

itself,

no record of any

is

visit to

as given a

that her

in

we may be about Sheba

there

is

particular

Jerusalem, outside the Bible.


in the Bible.

and she

Balkis,

The
is

later

Arabs

mentioned by

name in the Koran.


The modem Ethiopians have a tradition that queen Balkis was
actually the queen of their own nation. This is not as completely odd as
it might sound. Modern Ethiopia is just across the Red Sea from
Sheba (or Yemen) at a point where that sea narrows down to a width

that

of twenty miles or so. There is rather easy communication between the


two nations and there have been times when Ethiopia dominated
sections of southwestern Arabia. To be sure, this was some twelve
centuries after

Solomon but the connection

is

there to be remembered

with the usual distortion.

The

Ethiopians maintain that queen Balkis had a son by Solomon,

and name that son Menelik. From Menelik

is

supposed to be descended

ASIMOV'S CUIDE TO THE BIBLE

33*

the present ruling line of the emperors of Ethiopia.


tional titles of the Ethiopian emperor, even today,

is

One

of the tradi-

"Lion of Judah"

in

reference to this supposed Judean ancestry.

Tarshish

Solomon's commerce stretched out


1

Kings 10:22.

another direction as well:

in

the king had at sea a navy of Tharshish with

the navy of Hiram: once in three years came the navy of Tharshish,
bringing gold, and
Tharshish,

ivory,

silver,

more commonly

and apes and peacocks.

referred to in the Bible as Tarshish,

sometimes considered as synonymous with Ophir.


that Ophir

must be three

someplace distant

like the

years journey

from

It is

Israel

is

then suggested

and must thus be

Far East. However,

it

seems clear that two

There

is

the "navy of

different fleets are here being described.

Hiram"

and the "navy of Tharshish"; Solomon has one "with" (together with,
or in addition to)

men

Ophir, and the

The men

another.

is

no hint

known

Tartessus.

The

chief evidence for this

fact that

it is

sufficiently far

Tartessus was the

west of Gibraltar.
of

the

is

almost as mysterious as that

in the Bible of

quently equated with the district

term for the round

Hiram bring goods from

of Tarshish bring goods from elsewhere.

Actually, the whereabouts of Tarshish

of Ophir. There

of

is

its

to the

location. It

very

is

fre-

Greeks and Romans

as

the similarity in names and the

trip

from Jerusalem to make the three-year


and the period of trading seem reasonable.

name

given by the Greeks to that portion of Spain

Its capital city (of

Guadalquivir

River,

the same

name) was

at the

mouth

northwest

about seventy-five miles

of

by the Phoenicians about 1200 B.C.; that is,


at the time of the Exodus. It was at the height of its commercial prosGibraltar. It was founded

perity in Solomon's reign. (Eventually, though,

all

of the

commerce

of

the western Mediterranean was brought under the control of Carthage,


the most successful of the Phoenician colonies. About 480
thage, then at the height of

its

There might be some question

as to

peacocks" might be found in Spain, but


a true ape)

is

still

B.C.,

Car-

power, destroyed Tartessus.)

whether "ivory, and apes and

why

not?

The Barbary ape

(not

to be found in Gibraltar and in ancient times

must have been more widely

spread.

in north Africa in ancient times.

As

for ivory, there

it

were elephants

Hadad

kings

333

the Edomite

The

(which Solomon poured

strength of the land

freely into his

building projects and his efforts at imperial luxury) declined and this

made

more

it

hold over the increasingly

difficult to retain the

restless

subject peoples.

Solomon did

possess a certain imperial responsibility

He

policy.

religious

not only allowed them freedom of worship but

tried to

demonstrate himself to be king over


Judeans and
to his

subjects

all his

He added women

Israelites alone.

harem (intended, and accepted,

ples to

and attempted

an enlightened

to retain popularity with these peoples through

as

and not over the

of the subject nations

an honor) and allowed tem-

be built to their gods for their convenience.

This was undoubtedly good policy

freedom) but

tions of religious

by the prophetic
centuries

party.

and the

That

(it fits

in with our

was viewed with

it

hostility

dislike

modern noand

hostility

grew in the course of the

later

Biblical writers expressed their opinion of Solomon's

course of action unmistakably:


1

Kings 11:5. For Solomon went after

tion of the

Kings 11:7.

Then

did Solomon

Moab

That Solomon's attempts


not unnecessary
there,

is

marring the

buUd an high place

fact that there

idyllic picture of

Edom

for

Chemosh,

were rebellions here

the reign which was drawn in

gave trouble from the beginning of Solo-

reign:

Kings 11:14.

ine

mon, Hadad the Edomite

Hadad was a member

^ r^ sh JTe^ up an
.

He had

of the old

found sanctuary

adversary unto Solo-

Edomite

royal house,

vived the slaughter following Joab's conquest of


reign.

the abomina-

at placating the peoples of the realm were

'

MUcom

shown by the

the earlier chapters.

mon's

the abomination of

and

Ammonites.

in

Edom

who had. sur-

during David's

Egypt but once David was dead, he

ASIMOV'S CUIDE TO THE BIBLE

334

made

his

way back

to suppose

Edom.

to

Solomon we

versary" against

how he

Exactly

are not told, but

played his part as "adr

it

seems quite reasonable

Edom and

he declared himself king of

on a continu-

carried

ing guerrilla war with the royal army.

Rezon
There were similar troubles
Kings 11:23.

sary,

^nd God

in the north:

him [Solomon] up another

stined

Rezon the son of Eliadah


And he gathered men unto him
.

Kings 11:24.

to Damascus,

The

and dwelt

Syrian city-states

Solomon's

less

warlike

Rezon, gathering a

therein

adver-

and they went

had been placed under tribute by David, but

hand did not

guerrilla

suffice to

keep them in subjection.

band about him,

seized

Damascus, and

established himself there as an independent power.

Ahijah

danger, however, was from within.

Israel's greatest

tween Judah and

Israel

The

one eye open. That open eye consisted of the prophetic

Even

in the days of Saul, Israel's first king, there

between the

royal

hostility be-

had never died but was merely sleepingwith


party.

had been the

power and that of the prophets under the

clash

leader-

ship of Samuel (see page 283).

Under David and Solomon, with the power,

prestige,

and

glory of

the monarchy at an all-time high, the role of the prophets sank accordingly

and they made comparatively

little

impingement upon

history.

Nathan the prophet, however, did not hesitate to beard David and
denounce him to his face in the matter of Uriah the Hittite (see page

310)and was

able to survive the encounter, too,

king to do penance.

It

party that might have

and

force the mighty

was the support of Nathan and the prophetic

swung the balance

to

Solomon and

against

Adonijah when David lay dying.


Solomon's policy of

religious toleration alienated the prophetic party,

who were of Israelite


Israel may not even have

particularly those

The

prophets of

ization of worship at Jerusalem

KINGS

335

(rather than Judean) origin.

approved the central-

entirely

and the consequent lessening of impor-

tance of the various Israelite shrines. For them, religious feelings went

hand

in

hand with nationalism.

Ahijah, an Israelite prophet of Shiloh in

time a century before, had been the

must have been one of these

in Israel),

on Jeroboam,

his eye

der Solomon and

Ephraim (which,

in Eli's

of the most important shrine


prophet-nationalists.

who

an Ephraimite, one

held high

He had
un-

office

to have the qualities of leadership.

when Jeroboam went out of Jerusalem


prophet Ahijah the Shilonite found him
Kings 11:30. And Ahijah caught the new garment that was on

the

him, and rent


1
.

also

who seemed

Kings 11:29.

home

it

And he

Behold I

rend the kingdom out of the hand of Solomon

With

said to

Jeroboam

thus saith the Lord

the backing of the prophetic party and of

Israelites,

Kings 11:31.
will

Jeroboam rose

many

disgruntled

in rebellion.

Shishak

The

rebellion failed for the

he had made himself an


1

Kings 11:40.

whileand Jeroboam had

Israelite

hero and

And Jeroboam

arose

Israel did

and

to

flee,

but

not forget him.

fled into

Egypt, unto

Shishak king of Egypt, and was in Egypt until the death of Solo-

mon.
Egypt had had
ruled the delta

law in 940
at power.

was a

b.c.

its

own

increasing troubles.

The

21st dynasty

which

came to an end with the death of Solomon's father-inAnarchy increased further then, as rival generals seized

One of
member of a

these was Sheshonk (the Biblical Shishak),


tribe

occupying the regions west of the Nile

who

valley.

The whole northern coast of Africa west of Egypt was called Libya
(a name of unknown origin). To the Greek writers on

by the Greeks

Egyptian history, therefore, Shishak was a Libyan, and the 22nd dynasty,

which he founded, was the "Libyan dynasty."

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

336
Shishak's

power extended only over the

under the rule of the

who

of the dynasty

priests of

displayed any vigor at

who lorded it over


among themselves.

all.

separate sections

of rulers
reled

delta;

upper Egypt continued

Thebes. Shishak was the only

member

him came a
of the delta and

After

series

quar-

Even Shishak could not have been very impressive, for the Bible norefers to him as "Pharaoh," but merely as "king." The impres-

where
sion

that he was not considered a legitimate Egyptian monarch,

is

but merely a usurping general.

whom

way, to

He

is

the

first

ruler of Egypt,

by the

the Biblical writers give an actual name.

Shishak was shrewd enough to recognize that Jeroboam might be a

combating or even destroying the power of

useful tool in

bor to the northeast and he offered him

had once offered asylum

Hadad

to

his neigh-

ready asylum, as a predecessor

the Edomite.

Rehoboam
Solomon,

dying in 933 B.C. (These


David and Solomon are suspiciously even. Each king

like his father, reigned forty years,

forty-year reigns of

reigned a full "generation."

ogy

Still,

in this instance gives rise to

the acceptance of Biblical chronol-

no

inconsistencies

and there

is

no good

reason to suggest any alternative.)

Solomon must have had many sons but there


problems of succession. Only one son

is

is

no

talk of

any

mentioned and he becomes

the third king of the Davidic dynasty.


1

Kings 11:43.

an<*

Rehoboam

his [Solomon's]

son reigned

in his stead.

made him king of Judah only. To become king of


he had to undergo a similar rite at the old holy Ephra-

His crowning
Israel as well,

imite city of Shechem:


1

Kings 12:1.

come

And Rehoboam went

Shechem

to

to

make him

to

Shechem: for

all Israel

were

king.

(Perhaps David and Solomon had to do the same but that


tioned in the Bible. It

events that

The
It

now

Israelites

was not

is

mentioned

in

is not menRehoboam's case because of the

transpired.)

did not

come

their intention to

to the crowning in

any compliant mood.

crown Rehoboam and make him legitimate

Israel

and Judah During Rehoboam's Time

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

338

king of Israel unless he would in turn guarantee

They

pression.

make thou

Thy

father

made our yoke

the grievous service

The young Rehoboam,

He

gentle speech.

from

relief

re-

him:

said to

Kings 12:4.

some

and we

lighter,

now

grievous:

therefore

will serve thee.

with deplorable lack of judgment, scorned

threatened to

make

the yoke heavier

still,

and

Israel

revolted in an explosion of nationalist fury.

was Rehoboam's intention to subdue the rebellion by

It

but

strength and violence was surprising. Furthermore, the prophetic

its

party even in Judah was apparently not entirely

force,

unhappy over the

split.

weakening of the royal power meant a strengthening of the prophets.

The Judean prophet Shemaiah


unite the

kingdom by

Kings 12:24.

counseled against attempting to

force:

Ye

shall not

brethren the children of Israel

The rebellion was successful,


Rehoboam was left the king
territory of the tribe of

to Israel)

re-

go up, nor fight against your

therefore,

and the

of Judah only,

split

was permanent.

though, ironically, the

Benjamin (which had given the

first

royal line

remained with Judah, since the prosperity of the Benjamites

now depended on Judah 's one

metropolis, Jerusalem, which lay right

at the Benjamite borders.

The

united

kingdom

ters of a century,

Now

only.

of Israel-Judah

from 1006

b.c. to

had endured

933

B.C.,

for only three quar-

and under two monarchs

there were two sister kingdoms, Israel to the north

and

Judah to the south. (They are sometimes called the northern kingdom

and southern kingdom

Nor
ble

respectively)

did Rehoboam's troubles end once he had

and accepted the secession of

Israel.

bowed

to the inevita-

Aside from the fact that bad

blood and border warfare remained between the two kingdoms, Shishak of Egypt seized the opportunity offered him by the chaos on his
borders to attack the divided and weakened nation in the

Rehoboam's

reign

occupied

and

it,

(928 B.C.).
in

Kings 14:26.

He

laid siege to Jerusalem, or

either case carried

And he

fifth

off

[Shishak] took

much

all

perhaps

loot.

away the

treasures of the

house of the Lord, and the treasures of the king's house; he

away

year of

took

kings

339

Not only had Solomon's kingdom broken in two but Solomon's mawas gone. The Temple in its original golden splendor (if
we accept the description given by the Bible) lasted just forty years.
terial glory

Jeroboam
Jeroboam had returned from

exile as

was he who led the

soon as word of Solomon's

demanded
Rehoboam; it was he who led the rebellion that followed Rehoboam's refusal; and it was he who was made the first king
of the re-established kingdom of Israel:
death reached him.

It

Israelite party that

concessions of

Kings 12:20.

come

again

Israel

thus regained

Israel heard that Jeroboam was


when
made him king over all Israel
.

they

its

independence, which

had

it

lost after the

death of Ish-bosheth. Jeroboam established his capital at Shechem at


then at the more centrally located Tirzah, twelve miles to the north-

first,

east.

Having regained

political

independence for

necessary to regain religious independence as well

Kings 12:27. If this People go up to do

Jeroboam

Israel,

for

felt it

he reasoned:

sacrifice in the

house of

the Lord at Jerusalem, then shall the heart of this people turn again
.

unto Rehoboam.

Jeroboam therefore

set

up

sanctuaries at the northern

new kingdom, at Dan and Bethel, and


sacrifice. The schism was complete.

limits of his

were to

Undoubtedly,
elites,

this action of

who might

and southern

there

all Israelites

Jeroboam's was popular with the

well have looked

upon the Temple

a radical (and therefore irreligious) innovation, built

Isra-

at Jerusalem as

on

foreign soil

by

a foreign dynasty through forced labor.

Nevertheless, the

new

policy did not suit the prophetic party. Proba-

bly they would have preferred a closer adherence to ancient tradition, a


reactivation of the shrines at places like

High Priesthood

like

Shechem and

that of Eli re-established.

And

was what Jeroboam probably didn't want; he wanted a


with the

new monarchy

Shiloh,
this,

and

precisely,

ritual tied in

that would strengthen his dynasty. Then, too,

Jeroboam had compromised with the

desires of those people less capable

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

340

of worshiping an abstract deity by placing the images of bulls in his

sanctuary, symbolizing the fructifying element in nature.

Ahijah, the prophet, quickly disenchanted with the king he had

helped to the throne, inveighed against him and delivered what he


proclaimed to be God's word of doom:

Kings 14:9.

ten images

thou hast

made

thee other gods,

Kings 14:10. Therefore, behold, I will bring

of Jeroboam

and mol-

evil

upon the house

Indeed, Jeroboam's dynasty was not to endure long, but the

kingdom of
for over

two

Israel

was

centuries.

to persevere

The kingdom

ous and powerful than

its

northern

new

under several different dynasties

of Judah, while always less prospersister,

remained under the Davidic

dynasty throughout and endured for three and a half centuries.


It is

very

common

to speak of Israel as consisting of ten tribes, since

there were traditionally twelve tribes in Israel and only Judah and Ben-

jamin remained under Rehoboam. However, the

system had

tribal

faded under David and Solomon, and in any case Reuben and Simeon

had disappeared by the time of the schism. At

best, then, the

kingdom

of Israel consisted of eight tribes.

Rehoboam died
boam died in 912

in

917

b.c. after

having reigned sixteen years. Jero-

b.c, having reigned twenty-one years.

Ben-hadad

The

division of the

kingdom

of David and

Solomon made a continu-

ation of any policy of imperial conquest virtually impossible. Neither


half

by

itself

had the strength

to

be a conquering nation,

since the energies of each were absorbed


hostility

by

particularly

a smolderingly continuous

between them. Each nation, furthermore, sought

allies

among

the neighbors and enemies of the other and each labored to enfeeble

the other by any means.


In Judah, Abijam, the son of
b.c,

and he was succeeded by

fourth and

In

Israel,

fifth

Rehoboam, began

his son

Asa in 915

his reign in

b.c.

They were

912

b.c.

917
the

kings of the Davidic dynasty.

Jeroboam's son

Nadab began

his rule in

rebellion

KINGS

him by one of

against

Nadab was

his generals, Baasha, succeeded.

and Baasha ascended the throne


to prevent a counter-revolt,

911

in

he did

as

As

b.c.

341
slain

a measure of prudence,

was often customary

in these cases

members of Jeroboam's family executed. Jeroboam's dynasty thus survived Jeroboam's death by just one year.
and had

the male

all

Both Asa of Judah and Baasha of


reigning for forty years to 875 B.C.

888

b.c.

War

between

Kings 15:18.

them

sent

to

Then Asa
.

former

in those years,

and

gold

and

sought help abroad:

it,

Ben-hadad

reigns, the

latter twenty-three years to

and Judah continued

Israel

Asa, getting the worst of

had long

Israel

and the

took
.

silver

and

king of Syria, that dwelt at Damascus,

saying,

Kings 15:19. There

is

a league between

me and

thee

Ben-hadad was the third member of the dynasty founded by Rezon


(see page 334). In less than half a century,
principality precariously

mon, had grown


regions so that

maintaining

its

Damascus, from a small

independence against Solo-

to take over the leadership of the other

one could speak

of

Ben-hadad as a "king of

Aramaean

Syria."

And

where David had crushed the Syrian towns and extorted tribute from
them, the great-great-grandson of David paid tribute to them in order
to gain their help.

was now at

Syria

least the equal of Israel in strength. It accepted

the alliance of Judah and attacked

Israel's

northern frontier, sacking

the city of Dan, for instance, and apparently destroying


for

it

is

not further mentioned

make peace and


Judah, was

in

for the next century

Israel's chief

it

permanently,

the Bible. Baasha was forced to

and

a half, Syria, rather than

enemy.

Samaria

The

history of Israel continued to

be troubled with dynastic prob-

lems. Baasha's son Elah succeeded in 888 b.c.

peated

itself.

guard, killed Elah

and

survive to establish a

The

and then

In a palace revolution, Zimri, a leader


all

new

the family of Baasha.

among

He

history re-

Elah's body-

did not, however,

dynasty.

general of Israel's armed forces, Omri, was then engaged in

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

342

Samaria

besieging a Philistine

city.

He

was acclaimed king of

and marched on Tirzah. Zimri died

troops

palace; another contender for the throne, Tibni,


killed;

and by 887

b.c.

Omri held

by

Israel

his

in the fiery ruins of his

was

also defeated

the throne firmly, the

first

and

member

of Israel's third dynasty.

The

capital

wiped out; the

city
first

of Tirzah

twenty-four years. That in


ble place for the
capital,

and

had now seen two dynasties brutally

having endured only twenty-two

new

itself

king.

He

was enough to
cast

one that could be firmly

Kings 16:24.
built

on the

And
hill

years, the
it

the city

hill
.

second

an uncomforta-

about for a suitable

identified with the

he bought the
.

make

site for a

new

new

dynasty.

Samaria of Shemer

Samaria.

The Hebrew name of the city, Shomron, is derived from Shemer,


name of the clan, or the individual, who owned the land before

the

Omri's purchase. Samaria

name.

is,

of course, the

Greek version of the

Samaria lay about

since

kingdom and had considerable

was located on an isolated

it

hill. It

It

was centrally

was

residences

sufficiently

notably

at

Israel

kings had

Jezreel)

and

important to make Samaria a frequently used synonym

Omri reigned for only a dozen yean but in that time,


new capital, he made Israel respected among her neigh-

energetic

secure in his

To

bors.

occasion,

its

kingdom.

for the entire

The

elsewhere on

lo-

potentiality for defense

remained the capital of

through the remaining history of the kingdom (though


favorite

343

northwest of Shechem, about midway be-

six miles

tween the Jordan River and the Mediterranean.


cated in the

KINGS

counter the danger of Syria, he

Phoenician

cities

in peace after

and so

stabilized the

him the

made an

kingdom

alliance with the

that his son could reign

time that had happened in

first

Israel's trou-

bled history since the schism.

Such was the reputation of the king that


Israel is referred to as

in Assyrian inscriptions,

the "land of Omri."

Jezebel

Omri was succeeded by

his son

Ahab

in

875

b.c.

with the royal power

strengthened by the Phoenician alliance. At about the time that

Omri

had come to the throne, the dynasty of Hiram (see page 325) had been
wiped out by Ithobaal (the Biblical "Ethbaal"), a

who then succeeded

priest of Ashtoreth,

By Ahab's time. Ithobaal's


and Ahab felt safe in committing

to the throne.

the throne was clearly secure

seat

on

himself

not only to an alliance but to the reinforcing cement of a dynastic


marriage.
1

Kings 16:31.

he [Ahab] took to wife Jezebel the daughter

of Ethbaal king of the Zidonians


It

was customary for kings

allow foreign queens their


for his

own numerous

Jezebel, however,

in that

own

was

time of religious inclusiveness to

religious rites, as

dominating

own
name which does not appear in
worship throughout

Solomon had done

wives.

to pursue the worship of her

its

woman who wanted

not merely

particular "baal" (Melkart, a specific

the Bible)

Israel generally.

but labored to establish

This may have been more than

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

344
religious fervor; it

may have been

a device

on her part to

more

tie Israel

firmly to the Phoenician cities for the benefit of both.


It

apparently suited Ahab's purposes to encourage her in

prophetic party with

this, for

the

attempts to limit royal power and to dictate

its

foreign policy along supernationalist lines could, in his eyes, well stand

being weakened.
1

And

Kings 16:30.

he [Ahab] reared up an altar for Baal in the

house of Baal which he had built in Samaria.

Elijah

It

was the good fortune of the prophetic party that it now found
the hands of a strong leader, Elijah, the most dominating

itself in

prophetic figure since Samuel. In the face of persecution, Elijah and his
followers hardened their

own

stand and became increasingly intoler-

ant of other worship.

Because of the deadly battle that followed, which was,


run,

won by

in the

long

the Yahvists, Jezebel has become the very byword of a

woman, whereas

wicked, idolatrous

Elijah was

remembered by

later

generations with a veneration second only to Moses'.


Elijah enters the Biblical story as the forecaster of a drought that

was

Kings 17:1.

And

of Gilead, said unto


years
Elijah
is

punishment

to take place as

for the policies

Elijah the Tishbite,

Ahab

who was

there shall not be

of Jezebel.

of the inhabitants

dew nor

rain these

was from Tishbi, a town

uncertain but

it

in Gilead, east of the Jordan. Its site

has been identified with a small village just west of

Mahanaim.

Zarephath

Ahab made

Elijah's bearding of

main

in Phoenicia itself (the very

haps,
1

it

in hiding thereafter, first in the

it

was

home

necessary for the prophet to

of the religious

least likely that the royalist forces

Kings 17:10.

re-

Jordan valley and then far north

enemy where,

would look

he arose and went to Zarephath

for

per-

him).

Zarephath and

Zarephath

is

on the Phoenician

home

Tyre (Jezebel's
ern Arabic

city)

KINGS

34;

Mount Carmel

seacoast, nearly twenty miles north of

and eight miles south of Sidon. The mod-

town of Sarafand stands near the

place.

Among

the ruins of

the ancient town there stands a church on the traditional site of the

house

which Elijah lodged during his stay there.

in

in Israel, the state of the prophetic party worsened.

Back

remained

alive

who

escaped Jezebel's harsh hand by

Kings 18:4.

1
.

some

and

a secret

to live:

when

Lord
and fed

fezebel cut off the prophets of the

Obadiah took an hundred prophets, and hid them

them

by going

flight or

into hiding. Thus, Obadiah, a high official of Ahab's court

Yahvist, helped

Only those

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

Mount Carmel

After three years, however, Elijah took the chance of facing

once more to

Ahab

the imminent ending of the drought and to

foretell

propose a direct contest between Yahveh and Melkart.

Now

Kings 18:19.

unto

Mount Carmel

and gather

therefore send,
.

fire

under a

self

was to

Carmel

sacrifice

to

try

is

fifty

worshipers of Melkart

were to gather and attempt to light the

deities

by means of

their rites, while

do the same by

mountainous

all Israel

There, Elijah proposed, eight hundred and

and other Phoenician

me

to

ridge,

calling

he alone and by him-

on Yahveh.

about fifteen miles long, running

northwest-southeast, just south of the Kishon River (see page 238).

Hebrew name means "garden" or "vineyard" and, in ancient times


particularly, it was well wooded and attractive. The maximum height,
Its

at about the middle of the ridge,


it

is

1732

Where

feet.

forms a promontory called Cape Carmel. At the

ridge

is

The whole

the city of Haifa.

nation of Israel and Haifa

however, the

site

is its

area

is

now

second largest

it

meets the

sea, just

modern

part of the

city.

sea,

north of the

In ancient times,

of Haifa carried no town of any importance.

The most important

event in the history of

Mount Carmel was

the

competition between Elijah and the worshipers of Melkart. Partly

because of
a

haunt

this

for

and

anchorites

was temporarily
a.d.,

partly because

in the

a monastery

was

competition at

made

for a pleasant retreat,

Christian

early

times.

hands of the Crusaders


built

founded, an order which

The

in

it

still

there

it

was

Palestine

in the twelfth century

and an order of Carmelites was

flourishes.

Mount Carmel, which

the Bible relates with lov-

ing detail, ended in a complete victory for Elijah.


fire

When

at Elijah's word, after all the

The wood

hundreds of competing

priests

caught

found

themselves unable to do a thing.

Ahab, witnessing the

feat,

was awed and impressed and allowed

Elijah to order the massacre of the Baalists at the Kishon River.

KINGS

347

Jezreel

For the moment, the towering figure of Elijah dominated King

Ahab,

all

the

more so

king and prophet


1

Kings 18:45.

Kings 18:46.

drought ended at

as the

this time.

Together,

Mount Carmel:

left

And Ahab

And

and went

rode,

Elijah

...

to Jezreel.

ran before

Ahab

to the

entrance of Jezreel.

The

was located

city of Jezreel

in the valley of Jezreel

(see page

241) about twenty-five miles southeast of Carmel and an equal


tance north of Samaria.

Ahab must have

was a

It

favorite residence of

Ahab and

dis-

Jezebel.

told Jezebel of Elijah's deed with great enthusiasm

but Jezebel was not impressed. She undoubtedly knew

how

the priests

of Melkart arranged miracles

when they wished

to impress the popu-

and she must have been

certain that Elijah

had merely managed

lace,

own group

to outsmart her

We

in chicanery,

nothing more.

can well imagine that under her withering scorn, Ahab's new-

found enthusiasm for the prophets faded.

He

over the reins of the religious policy once

more and again

forced

Mount
It

into exile,

Sinai, the traditional

southward

home

this

Elijah was

time through Judah to

of Yahveh.

seemed to him that only the complete overthrow of the house

Omri would

of

traveling

allowed Jezebel to take

save

Aware
own time, he

Yahvism and he began long-range plans


consummation of those plans might

direction.

that the

his

selected a successor to himself,

his estimation, to

cany on the

in this

outlast

one strong enough,

fight:

Kings 19:19. So he departed thence, and found Elisha

who was plowing

and

in

Elijah

passed by him, and cast his

mantle upon him.

Ben hadad

II

Meanwhile Ahab had his hands full with the Syrian problem.
who had defeated Israel badly in Baasha's time several

Ben-hadad,

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

348

decades before had been succeeded by his son Hadad-ezer,


referred to in the Bible as another Ben-hadad,

be called Ben-hadad

II.

(Hadad was

known

He

southwestern Asia and particularly popular at Damascus.

name was

over

served as

therefore com-

means the "son

into the royal name. Ben-hadad

monly incorporated

is

and who can therefore

a storm-god, well

the national god of the Syrians and his

who

of Hadad.")

Ben-hadad
1

II

And Ben-hadad

Kings 20:1.

host together

anti-Israel policy of his father:

continued the firm,

the king of Syria gathered

his

all

and he went up and besieged Samaria

Samaria held out but was hard pressed indeed and, for a while,

was minded

to surrender even

Ben-hadad

under harsh terms. At

weakness,

however,

Ahab was

forced into continued warfare.

raised

the

price

He

this

for

decided to

of

sign

surrender
risk

and

every-

thing on a pitched battle and retorted to a threat of destruction sent

him by Ben-hadad with an aphorism

one form or another,

that, in

is

famous:
1

Kings 20:11.

And

him, Let not him


that putteth

it

the king of Israel answered and said, Tell


girdeth

tliat

on

his harness boast himself as

he

off.

In other words, "Don't boast at the start of a battle as you would


at the
us:

end of a victorious one." Or,

in

most

its

common form

to

"Don't count your chickens before they are hatched."

And Ahab

proved his meaning well, for the

fury of despair and


flee after

many

Israelites

the overconfident Syrian

fought with the

army was forced

to

casualties.

Aphek

second battle was fought the next year.


1

And it came to pass at the return of the year,


numbered the Syrians and went up to Aphek, to

Kings 20:26.

that Ben-hadad

fight against Israel.

This

is

Philistines

not

the

Aphek

two centuries

that

earlier

figured

in

the

wars

(see page 271), but

is

against

rather a

the

town

KINGS

that

is

modem

identified with the

village of File,

349

about three miles

east

and roughly midway between Samaria and

of the Sea of Galilee,

Damascus.
was

It

measure of the

size of the victory of the previous year that

Ahab, who had then been besieged in

his capital, could

now meet

the foe at the frontier.

This time the victory was again


than the

and allow

father's conquests,
Israel

Israel's

to an extent even greater

Ben-hadad was forced to surrender,

first.

was stronger

now

relinquish

his

commercial privileges in Damascus.

Israel

than at any time since the schism with Judah.

In Ahab's wars against Syria, the prophetic party was on his side.

Whatever the

prophets and monarch within

quarrels between

land, they closed ranks against the foreigner. Thus,

who encouraged Ahab


Kings 20:13.

saying,

Thus

before the

And

behold, I wzfl deliver

But Ahab's

saith the Lord,

there

of Samaria:

came a prophet unto Ahab

Hast thou seen

great multitude?

all this

hand

this

mild peace with

the

Syrians

and

intensified their op-

it

relatively

relief

the

was a prophet

it

into thine

pleased the ultranationalist prophetic party

day

bitterly

dis-

position to the throne.

Yet Ahab seems

to have

been statesmanlike

in this respect.

living

Syria, allied with Israel, and unembittered by unnecessary destruction


and harsh oppression, could be a useful friend, particularly since

new enemy
Assyria, of

king,

to

Shalmaneser

Fertile Crescent.
in

both loomed to the north.

which much more

854

B.C.

III,

will

be said

and was spreading

later,
its

was under a strong

domination over the

According to Assyrian documents a battle was fought

at Karkar

hundred

(or Qarqar), a city located about a

miles north of Damascus, between Shalmaneser and an allied


led

by Ben-hadad and Ahab

but that

is

in alliance.

The

routine in the chronicles of the time.

Assyrians annexed

no

territory

army

Assyrians claim a victory

The

fact

is

that the

and were therefore held to a draw at

the least.

This stand against Assyria saved both Syria and


each over a century of additional

life

and

Israel

and gave

that certainly vindicated

Ahab's policy of not fighting Syria to exhaustion so that both might


fall

helplessly into the Assyrian throat.

Oddly enough, there

is

no mention of the

battle of Karkar in the

ASIMOV'S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE

35

may be

Bible. It

so clear

that the Biblical writers were not willing to report

an indication that the prophetic party was wrong and Ahab

right

Naboth
Indeed, the Bible passes directly from the Syrian victory to the
darkest deed of Ahab's reign

as

though to neutralize his military

prowess by reference to his moral shortcomings.

Near Ahab's palace


a

in

Jezreel,

there was a

man named Naboth, which Ahab would have

vineyard

owned by

liked to have for his

own.

thy vineyard
or

and

the worth of

Naboth refused
was

And Ahab

Kings 21:2.

I will give thee for


it

in

me

spake unto Naboth saying, Give


it

a better vineyard

money.

to sell his ancestral holdings, however,

helpless. Jezebel, however,

was not. She bribed two

and Ahab

men

to swear

that Naboth had committed treason and blasphemy and Naboth, thus
framed, was executed. His vineyard, naturally, was confiscated by the
throne, as was routine for the property of traitors.

The deed was

very

much

like that in

which David had arranged

the death of Uriah and the "confiscation" of Uriah's wife. As Nathan

had then denounced David to his face, so now Elijah appeared to denounce Ahab. Once more, the prophetic party placed itself on record
as favoring the liberties of the people against royal oppression.

Ramoth-gilead

Israel

was strong enough now, in the

last

years of Ahab's reign,

to exert a clear domination over Judah, as well as over Syria.

In

875 b.c, the same year in which Ahab had succeeded to the throne of
Israel, Asa of Judah had died and his son Jehoshaphat (the sixth king
of the Davidic dynasty)

had succeeded. The continuing war with

good to Judah, and Jehoshaphat discontinued


it and sought instead alliance and friendship with Ahab. He turned
his eyes southward for expansion, maintaining the old grip on Edom
Israel

had brought

little

KINGS

351

Ramoth-gilead

and hying to

on the Red

reinstate Solomon's old trade

Sea, Judah's

only gateway to the wide world outside. Here he was unsuccessful


as

Judah lacked the necessary experience with seagoing.

help by Ahab was


friends with

refused,

An

offer of

though willing to be

for Jehoshaphat,