Prolegomena to the History of Ancient Israel, by Julius Wellhausen, , at sacred-texts.com
The kingdom of Sihon did not permanently suffice the Israelites, and the disintegration of the Canaanites to the west of Jordan in an endless number of kingdoms and cities invited attack. The first essay was made by Judah in conjunction with Simeon and Levi, but was far from prosperous. Simeon and Levi were annihilated; Judah also, though successful in mastering the mountain land to the west of the Dead Sea, was so only at the cost of severe losses which were not again made up until the accession of the Kenite families of the south (Caleb). As a consequence of the secession of these tribes, a new division of the nation into Israel and Judah took the place of that which had previously subsisted between the families of Leah and Rachel; under Israel were included all the tribes except Simeon, Levi, and Judah, which three are no longer mentioned in Judg. v., where all the others are carefully and exhaustively enumerated. This half-abortive first invasion of the west was followed by a second, which was stronger and attended with much better results. It was led by the tribe of Joseph, to which the others attached themselves, Reuben and Gad only remaining behind in the old settlements. The district to the north of Judah, inhabited afterwards by Benjamin, was the first to be attacked. It was not until after several towns of this district had one by one fallen into the hands of the conquerors that the Canaanites set about a united resistance. They were, however, decisively repulsed by Joshua in the neighbourhood of Gibeon; and by this victory the Israelites became masters of the whole central plateau of Palestine. The first camp, at Gilgal, near the ford of Jordan, which had been maintained until then, was now removed, and the ark of Jehovah brought further inland (perhaps by way of Bethel) to Shiloh, where henceforward the headquarters were fixed, in a position which seemed as if it had been expressly made to favour attacks upon the fertile tract lying beneath it on the north. The Bne Rachel now occupied the new territory which up to that time had been acquired,—Benjamin, in immediate contiguity with the frontier of Judah, then Ephraim, stretching to beyond Shiloh, and lastly Manasseh, furthest to the north, as far as to the plain of Jezreel. The centre of gravity, so to speak, already lay in Ephraim, to which belonged Joshua and the ark.
It is mentioned as the last achievement of Joshua that at the waters
of Merom he defeated Jabin, king of Hazor, and the allied princes of Galilee, thereby opening up the north for Israelitish settlers. It is quite what we should expect that a great and united blow had to be struck at the Canaanites of the north before the new comers could occupy it in peace; and King Jabin, who reappears at a later date, certainly does not suit the situation described in Judg. iv. v.
The Book of Joshua represents the conquest of western Palestine as having been the common undertaking of all the tribes together, which, after the original inhabitants have been extirpated, are exhibited as laying the ownerless country at Joshua's feet in order that he may divide it by lot amongst them. But this is a "systematic" generalisation, contradicted by the facts which we otherwise know. For we possess another account of the conquest of Palestine, that of Judg. i., which runs parallel with the Book of Joshua. It is shorter indeed and more superficial, yet in its entire mode of presenting the subject more historical. According to its narrative, it appears that Joshua was the leader of Joseph and Benjamin only, with whom indeed Issachar, Zebulon, Dan, Naphtali, and Asher made common cause. But before his time the tribe of Judah had already crossed the Jordan and effected a lodgment in the territory which lay between the earlier seat of the nation in the wilderness of Kadesh and its then settlement on the plateau of Moab, forming in some degree a link of connection between the two. It might be supposed that the tribe of Judah had not taken the longer route to the eastward of the Dead Sea at all, but had already at Kadesh broken off from the main body and thence turned its steps directly northward. But the representation actually given in Judges i., to the effect that it was from the direction of the Jordan and not from that of the Negeb that they came to take possession of their land, finds its confirmation in the fact that the southern portion of their territory was the last to come into their possession. The tradition is unwavering that Hebron was taken not by Judah but by Caleb, a family which stood in friendly relations with Israel, but had no connexion with it by blood. It was only through the policy of David that Caleb, Othniel, Jerachmeel, and the rest of the Kenites who had their homes in the Negeb became completely incorporated with Judah, so that Hebron became at last the capital of that tribe. Its oldest seats, however, lay further to the north, in the region of Tekoa, Bethlehem, Baal Judah.
It harmonises well with this view to suppose that Simeon and Levi must have made at the same time their attempt to effect a settlement in the hill country of Ephraim. One of their families, Dinah bath Leah, met with a favourable reception in the town of Shechem, and began to mix freely with its population, and thus the way was paved for the establishment of peaceable relations between the old inhabitants of the land and the new importations. But these relations were brought to an end by the two brothers who, in concert it must be supposed with their sister, fell upon the Shechemites and massacred them. The final result proved disastrous. The Canaanites
of the surrounding country united against them and completely destroyed them. There can be no doubt as to the trustworthiness of the somewhat enigmatical records of those events which are given in Gen. xlix. and xxxiv.; in no other way is it possible to explain why Simeon and Levi, which originally came upon the stage of history on an equal footing with Reuben and Judah, should have already disappeared as independent tribes at the very beginning of the period of the judges. Now, that the destruction of Shechem by the Manassite Abimelech is quite distinct from the attack made by Simeon and Levi need hardly be said. On the other hand, the occurrence cannot be regarded as pre-Mosaic, but must be assigned to a time previous to the conquest of the hill country of Ephraim by Joseph; for after Joseph's settlement there the two sons of Leah had manifestly nothing more to hope for in that locality. We are shut up, therefore, to the conclusion that they crossed the Jordan at the same time as Judah separated himself from the main body in search of a suitable territory. That Simeon accompanied Judah in the first westward attempt is expressly stated in Judg. i. The fate of Levi, again, cannot be separated from that of Simeon (Gen. xlix. 5-7); that he is not expressly mentioned in Judg. i. ought not to cause surprise, when it is considered that later generations which regarded Levi as neither more nor less than a priest would have some difficulty in representing him as a thoroughly secular tribe. Such nevertheless he must have been, for the poet in Gen. xlix. 5-7 puts him on a footing of perfect equality with Simeon, and attributes to both brothers a very secular and bloodthirsty character; he has no conception that Levi has a sacred vocation which is the reason of the dispersion of the tribe; the dispersion, on the contrary, is regarded as a curse and no blessing, an annihilation and not the means of giving permanence to its tribal individuality. The shattered remains of Simeon, and doubtless those of Levi also, became incorporated with Judah, which thenceforward was the sole representative of the three sons of Leah, who according to the genealogy had been born immediately after Reuben the first-born. Judah itself seems at the same time to have suffered severely. Of its three older branches, Er, Onan, and Shelah, one only survived, and only by the accession of foreign elements did the tribe regain its vigour,—by the fresh blood which the Kenites of the Negeb brought. For Zarah and Pharez, which took the place of Er and Onan after these had disappeared, belonged originally, not to Israel, but to Hezron or the Kenites; under this designation are included families like those of Othniel, Jerachmeel, and Caleb, and, as has been already remarked, even in David's time these were not reckoned as strictly belonging to Judah. Thus the depletion which the tribe had to suffer in the struggle with the Canaanites at the beginning of the period of the judges was the remote cause of the prominence which, according to 1 Chron. ii., the Bne Hezron afterwards attained in Judah. The survivors of Simeon also appear to have been forced back upon these Hezronites in the Negeb; the cities assigned to them in the Book of Joshua all belong to that region.
Even after the united resistance of the Canaanites had been broken, each individual community had still enough to do before it could take firm hold of the spot which it had searched out for itself or to which it had been assigned. The business of effecting permanent settlement was just a continuation of the former struggle, only on a diminished scale; every tribe and every family now fought for its own land after the preliminary work had been accomplished by a united effort. Naturally, therefore, the conquest was at first but an incomplete one. The plain which fringed the coast was hardly touched; so also the valley of Jezreel with its girdle of fortified cities stretching from Acco to Bethshean. All that was subdued in the strict sense of that word was the mountainous land, particularly the southern hill country of "Mount Ephraim;" yet, even here the Canaanites retained possession of not a few cities, such as Jebus, Shechem, Thebez. It was only after the lapse of centuries that all the lacunæ were filled up, and the Canaanite enclaves made tributary.
The Israelites had the extraordinarily disintegrated state of the enemy to thank for the ease with which they had achieved success. The first storm subsided comparatively soon, and conquerors and conquered alike learned to accommodate themselves to the new circumstances. Then the Canaanites once more collected all their energies to strike a blow for freedom. Under the hegemony of Sisera a great league was formed, and the plain of Jezreel became the centre of the reorganised power which made itself felt by its attacks both northwards and southwards. The Israelites were strangely helpless; it was as if neither shield nor spear could be found among their 40,000 fighting men. But at last there came an impulse from above, and brought life and soul to the unorganised mass; Deborah sent out the summons to the tribes, Barak came forward as their leader against the kings of Canaan who had assembled under Sisera's command by the brook of Kishon. The cavalry of the enemy was unable to withstand the impetuous rush of the army of Jehovah, and Sisera himself perished in the flight. From that day the Canaanites, although many strong towns continued to be held by them, never again raised their heads.
After these occurrences some further changes of a fundamental character took place in the relations of the tribes. The Danites proved unable to hold against the forward pressure of the Philistines their territory on the coast to the west of Benjamin and Ephraim; they accordingly
sought a new settlement, which was found in the north at the foot of Hermon. In this way all the secondary tribes westward of Jordan (Asher, Naphtali, Dan) came to have their seats beside each other in the northern division of the land. Eastward of Jordan, Reuben rapidly fell from his old prominence, sharing the fate of his next eldest brethren Simeon and Levi. When Eglon of Moab took Jericho, and laid Benjamin under tribute, it is obvious that he must previously have made himself master of Reuben's territory. This territory became thenceforward a subject of constant dispute between Moab and Israel; the efforts to recover it, however, did not proceed from Reuben himself, but from Gad, a tribe which knew how to assert itself with vigour against the enemies by which it was surrounded. But if the Hebrews lost ground in the south, they materially enlarged their borders in the north of the land eastward of Jordan. Various Manassite families, finding their holdings at home too small, crossed the Jordan and founded colonies at Bashan and northern Gilead. Although this colonisation, on account of the rivalry of the Aramæans, who were also pressing forward in this direction, was but imperfectly successful, it nevertheless was of very great importance, inasmuch as it seemed to give new strength to the bonds that united the eastern with the western tribes. Not only was Gilead not lost; it even became a very vigorous member of the body politic. 1
The times of agitation and insecurity which followed upon the conquest of Palestine invited attacks by the eastern nomads, and once more the Israelite peasantry showed all its old helplessness, until at last the indignation of a Manassite of good family, Gideon or Jerubbaal, was roused by the Midianites, who had captured some of his brothers and put them to death. With his family, that of Abiezer, he gave pursuit, and, overtaking the enemy on the borders of the wilderness,
inflicted on them such chastisement as put an end to these incursions. His heroism had consequences which reached far beyond the scope of his original purpose. He became the champion of the peasantry against the freebooters, of the cultivated land against the waste; social respect and predominance were his rewards. In his native town of Ophrah he kept up a great establishment, where also he built a temple with an image of Jehovah overlaid with the gold which he had taken from the Midianites. He transmitted to his sons an authority, which was not limited to Abiezer and Manasseh alone, but, however slightly and indirectly, extended over Ephraim as well.
On the foundations laid by Gideon Abimelech his son sought to establish a kingship over Israel, that is, over Ephraim and Manasseh. The predominance, however, which had been naturally accorded to his father in virtue of his personal merits, Abimelech looked upon as a thing seized by force and to be maintained with injustice; and in this way he soon destroyed those fair beginnings out of which even at that time a kingdom might have arisen within the house of Joseph. The one permanent fruit of his activity was that Shechem was destroyed as a Canaanite city and rebuilt for Israel. 1
The most important change of the period of the judges went on gradually and in silence. The old population of the country, which, according to Deuteronomy, was to have been exterminated, slowly became amalgamated with the new. In this way the Israelites received a very important accession to their numbers. In Deborah's time the fighting men of Israel numbered 40,000; the tribe of Dan when it migrated to Laish, counted 600 warriors; Gideon pursued the Midianites with 300. But in the reigns of Saul and David we find a population reckoned by millions. The rapid increase is to be accounted for by the incorporation of the Canaanites.
At the same time the Hebrews learned to participate in the culture of the Canaanites, and quietly entered into the enjoyment of the labours of their predecessors. From the pastoral they advanced to the agricultural stage; corn and wine, the olive and the fig, with them are habitually spoken of as the necessaries of life. It was not strange that this change in the manner of their everyday life should be attended with
certain consequences in the sphere of religion also. It is inconceivable that the Israelites should have brought with them out of the desert the cultus they observed in the time of the kings (Exod. xxii. xxiii. xxiv.), which throughout presupposed the fields and gardens of Palestine; they borrowed it from the Canaanites. 1
This is confirmed by the fact that they took over from these the "Bamoth" or "high places" also, notwithstanding the prohibition in Deuteronomy xii.
It was natural enough that the Hebrews should also appropriate the divinity worshipped by the Canaanite peasants as the giver of their corn, wine, and oil, the Baal whom the Greeks identified with Dionysus. The apostasy to Baal, on the part of the first generation which had quitted the wilderness and adopted a settled agricultural life, is attested alike by historical and prophetical tradition. Doubtless Baal, as the god of the land of Canaan, and Jehovah, as the God of the nation of Israel, were in the first instance co-ordinated. 2
But it was not to be expected that the divinity of the land should permanently be different from the God of the dominant people. In proportion as Israel identified itself with the conquered territory, the divinities also were identified. Hence arose a certain syncretism between Baal and Jehovah, which had not been got over even in the time of the prophet Hosea. At the same time the functions of Baal were more frequently transferred to Jehovah than conversely. Canaan and Baal represented the female, Israel and Jehovah the male, principle in this union.
Had the Israelites remained in the wilderness and in barbarism, the historical development they subsequently reached would hardly have been possible; their career would have been like that of Amalek, or, at best, like those of Edom, Moab, and Ammon. Their acceptance of civilisation was undoubtedly a step in the forward direction; but as certainly did it also involve a peril. It involved an overloading, as it were, of the system with materials which it was incapable of assimilating at once. The material tasks imposed threatened to destroy the religious basis of the old national life. The offensive and defensive alliances among the tribes gradually dissolved under the continuance of peace;
the subsequent occupation of the country dispersed those whom the camp had united. The enthusiastic élan with which the conquest had been achieved gave way to the petty drudgery by which the individual families, each in its own circle, had to accommodate themselves to their new surroundings. Yet under the ashes the embers were still aglow; and the course of history ever fanned them anew into flame, bringing home to Israel the truths that man does not live by bread alone, and that there are other things of worth than those which Baal can bestow; it brought ever again into the foreground the divineness of heroical self sacrifice of the individual for the good of the nation.
445:1 It is probable that Manasseh's migration to the territory eastward of Jordan took place from the west, and later than the time of Moses. The older portions of the Hexateuch speak not of two and a half but only of two trans-Jordanic tribes, and exclude Manasseh; according to them the kingdom of Sihon alone was subdued by Moses, not that of Og also, the latter, indeed, being a wholly legendary personage. In the song of Deborah, Machir is reckoned among the western tribes, and it was not until much later that this became the designation of the Manassites eastward of Jordan. It is also worth noticing that Jair's colonisation of northern Gilead did not take place until the time of the judges (Judg. x. 3 seq.), but is related also in Num. xxxii. 39-42.
446:1 On the narratives contained in the Book of Judges see Bleek, Einl. ins Alte Testament (4th ed.), §§ 88-98, and especially the sections on Barak and Sisera, Gideon, Jephthah, Samson, the Danite migration, and the Benjamites of Gibeah (§§ 93-98).
447:1 In the earliest case where the feast of the ingathering, afterwards the chief feast of the Israelites, is mentioned, it is celebrated by Canaanites of Shechem in honour of Baal (Judg. ix. 27).
447:2 In Judges v. Jehovah retains his original abode in the wilderness of Sinai, and only on occasions of necessity quits it to come to Palestine.