Prolegomena to the History of Ancient Israel, by Julius Wellhausen, , at sacred-texts.com
The Philistines were the means of arousing from their slumber Israel and Jehovah. From their settlements by the sea on the low-lying plain which skirts the mountains of Judah on the west, they pressed northwards into the plain of Sharon, and thence into the plain of Jezreel beyond, which is connected with that of Sharon by the upland valley of Dothan. Here, having driven out the Danites, they came into direct contact with the tribe of Joseph, the chief bulwark of Israel, and a great battle took place at Aphek, where the plain of Sharon merges into the valley of Dothan. The Philistines were victorious and carried off as a trophy the Israelite standard, the ark of Jehovah. Their further conquests included, not only the plain of Jezreel and the hill country bordering it on the south, but also the proper citadel of the country, "Mount Ephraim." The old sanctuary at Shiloh was destroyed by them; its temple of Jehovah thenceforward lay in ruins. Their supremacy extended as far as to Benjamin; the Philistines had a neçib in Gibeah. 1 But the assertion that they had confiscated all weapons and removed all smiths must be regarded as an unhistorical exaggeration; under their régime at all events it was possible for the messengers of a beleaguered city on the east of Jordan to summon their countrymen in the west to their relief.
The shame of the Israelites under the reproach of Philistine oppression led, in the first instance, to a widespread exaltation of religious feeling. Troops of ecstatic enthusiasts showed themselves here and there, and went about with musical accompaniments in processions which often took the shape of wild dances; even men of the most sedate temperament were sometimes smitten with the contagion, and drawn into the charmed circle. In such a phenomenon, occurring in the East, there was nothing intrinsically strange; among the Canaanites, such "Nebiim"—for so they were styled—had long been familiar, and they continued to exist in the country after the old fashion, long after their original character, so far as Israel was concerned, had been wholly lost. The new thing at this juncture was that this spirit passed over upon Israel, and that the best members of the community were seized by it. It afforded an outlet for the suppressed excitement of the nation.
The new-kindled zeal had for its object, not the abolition of Baal worship, but resistance to the enemies of Israel. Religion and patriotism were then identical. This spirit of the times was understood by an old man, Samuel ben Elkanah, who lived at Ramah in south-western Ephraim. He was not himself one of the Nebiim; on the contrary, he was a seer of that old type which had for a long time existed amongst the Hebrews much as we find it amongst the Greeks or Arabs. Raised by his foreseeing talent to a position of great prominence, he found opportunity to occupy himself with other questions besides those which he was professionally called on to answer. The national distress weighed upon his heart; the neighbouring peoples had taught him to recognise the advantages which are secured by the consolidation of families and tribes into a kingdom. But Samuel's peculiar merit lay, not in discovering what it was that the nation needed, but in finding out the man who was capable of supplying that need. Having come to know Saul ben Kish, a Benjamite of the town of Gibeah, a man of gigantic form, and swift, enthusiastic nature, he declared to him his destiny to become king over Israel.
Saul very soon had an opportunity for showing whether Samuel had been a true seer or no. The city of Jabesh in Gilead was besieged by the Ammonites, and the inhabitants declared themselves ready to surrender should they fail in obtaining speedy succour from their countrymen. Their messengers had passed through all Israel without
meeting with anything more helpful than pity, until at last tidings of their case reached Saul as he was returning with a yoke of oxen from the field. Hewing his cattle in pieces, he caused the portions to be sent in all directions, with the threat that so should it be done with the oxen of every one who should refuse to help in relieving Jabesh. The people obeyed the summons, fell suddenly one morning upon the Ammonites, and delivered the beleaguered city.
Having thus found Saul the man for their need, they refused to let him go. In Gilgal, Joshua's old camp, they anointed him king. The act was equivalent to imposing upon him the conduct of the struggle against the Philistines, and so he understood it. The first signal for the attack was given by his son Jonathan, when he slew the neçib of the Philistines at Gibeah. These in consequence advanced in force towards the focus of the revolt, and took up a position opposite Gibeah on the north, being divided from it only by the gorge of Michmash. Only a few hundred Benjamites ventured to remain with Saul. The struggle opened with a piece of genuine old heroic daring. While the Philistines were dispersed over the country in foraging expeditions, Jonathan, accompanied by his armour-bearer only, and without the knowledge of Saul, made an attack upon the weak post which they had left behind at the pass of Michmash. After the first had been surprised and overmastered, the others took to flight, no doubt in the belief that the two assailants were supported. They carried their panic with them into the half-deserted camp, whence it spread among the various foraging bands. The commotion was observed from Gibeah opposite, and, without pausing to consult the priestly oracle, King Saul determined to attack the camp. The attempt was completely successful, but involved no more than the camp and its stores; the Philistines themselves effected an unmolested retreat by the difficult road of Bethhoron.
Saul was no mere raw stripling when he ascended the throne; he already had a grown-up son at his side. Nor was he of insignificant descent, the family to which he belonged being a widespread one, and his heritage considerable. His establishment at Gibeah was throughout his entire reign the nucleus of his kingdom. The men on whom he could always reckon were his Benjamite kinsmen. He recognised as belonging to him no other public function besides that of war; the internal affairs of the country he permitted to remain as they had been before his accession. War was at once the business and the resource
of the new kingdom. It was carried on against the Philistines without interruption, though for the most part not in the grand style but rather in a series of border skirmishes. 1
It is not without significance that the warlike revival of the nation proceeded from Benjamin. By the battle of Aphek Ephraim had lost at once the hegemony and its symbols (the camp-sanctuary at Shiloh, the ark of the covenant). The centre of Israel gravitated southward, and Benjamin became the connecting link between Ephraim and Judah. It would appear that there the tyranny of the Philistines was not so much felt. Their attacks never were made through Judah, but always came from the north; on the other hand, people fled from them southwards, as is instanced by the priests of Shiloh, who settled in Nob near Jerusalem. Through Saul Judah entered definitely into the history of Israel; it belonged to his kingdom, and it more than most others supplied him with energetic and faithful supporters. His famous expedition against the Amalekites had been undertaken purely in the interests of Judah, for it only could possibly suffer from their marauding hordes.
Among the men of Judah whom the war brought to Gibeah, David ben Jesse of Bethlehem took a conspicuous place; his skill on the harp brought him into close relations with the king. He became Saul's armour-bearer, afterwards the most intimate friend of his son, finally the husband of his daughter. While he was thus winning the affections of the court, he at the same time became the declared favourite of the people, the more so because unexampled good fortune attended him in all he undertook. This excited the jealousy of Saul, naturally enough in an age in which the king always required to be the best man. Its first outburst admitted of explanation as occasioned by an attack of illness; but soon it became obtrusively clear that the king's love for his son-in-law had changed into bitter hatred. Jonathan warned his friend and facilitated his flight, the priests of Nob at the same time providing him with arms and food. He went into the wilderness of Judah, and became the leader of a miscellaneous band of outlaws who had been
attracted by his name to lead a roving life under his leadership. His kinsmen from Bethlehem were of their number, but also Philistines and Hittites. Out of this band David's bodyguard subsequently grew, the nucleus of his army. They reckoned also a priest among them, Abiathar ben Ahimelech ben Ahitub ben Phinehas ben Eli, the solitary survivor of the massacre of the sons of Eli at Nob which Saul had ordered on account of suspected conspiracy with David. Through him David was able to have recourse to the sacred lot before the ephod. In the end he found it impossible to hold his own in Judah against Saul's persecutions, especially as his countrymen for the most part withheld their assistance. He therefore took the desperate step of placing his services at the disposal of Achish the Philistine king of Gath, by whom he was received with open arms, the town of Ziklag being assigned him as a residence. Here with his band he continued to follow his old manner of life as an independent prince, subject only to an obligation to render military service to Achish.
Meanwhile the Philistines had once more mustered their forces and marched by the usual route against Israel. Saul did not allow them to advance upon Gibeah, but awaited their attack in the plain of Jezreel. A disastrous battle on Mount Gilboa ensued; after seeing his three eldest sons fall one after another at his side, Saul threw himself upon his sword, and was followed by his armour-bearer. The defeat seemed to have undone the work of his life. The immediate consequence at least was that the Philistines regained their lost ascendancy over the country to the west of Jordan. Beyond Jordan, however, Abner, the cousin and generalissimo of Saul, made his son Ishbaal, still a minor, king in Mahanaim, and he was successful in again establishing the dominion of the house over Jezreel, Ephraim, and Benjamin, of course in uninterrupted struggle with the Philistines.
But he did not regain hold of Judah. David seized the opportunity to set up for himself, with the sanction of the Philistines, and, it may safely be presumed, as their vassal, a separate principality which had its centre of gravity in the south, which was inhabited, not by the tribe of Judah properly so called, but by the Calebites and Jerachmeelites. This territory Abner disputed with him in vain. In the protracted feud between the houses of Saul and David, the fortunes of war declared themselves ever increasingly for the latter. Personal causes at last brought matters to a crisis. Abner, by taking to himself a concubine
of Saul's called Rizpah, had roused Ishbaal's suspicions that he was aiming at the inheritance, and was challenged on the point. This proved too much for his patience, and forthwith he abandoned the cause of his ward (the hopelessness of which had already perhaps become apparent), and entered into negotiations with David at Hebron. When about to set out on his return he fell by the hand of Joab in the gate of Hebron, a victim of jealousy and blood-feud. His plans nevertheless were realised. His death left Israel leaderless and in great confusion; Ishbaal was personally insignificant, and the people's homage continued to be rendered to him only out of grateful fidelity to his father's memory. At this juncture he also fell by assassins’ hands. As he was taking his midday rest, and even the portress had gone to sleep over her task of cleaning wheat, two Benjamite captains introduced themselves into his palace at Mahanaim and murdered him in the vain hope of earning David's thanks. The elders of Israel no longer hesitated about offering David the crown, which he accepted.
His residence was immediately transferred from Hebron to Jebus, which until then had remained in possession of the Canaanites, and first derives historical importance from him. It lay on the border between Israel and Judah,—still within the territory of Benjamin, but not far from Bethlehem; near also to Nob, the old priestly city. David made it not only the political but also the religious metropolis by transferring thither from Kirjathjearim the ark of the covenant, which he placed within his citadel on what afterwards became the temple hill.
Still the crown was far from being a merely honorary possession; it involved heavy responsibilities, and doubtless what contributed more than anything else to David's elevation to the throne was the general recognition of the fact that he was the man best fitted on the whole to overtake the labour it brought with it, viz., the prosecution of the war with the Philistines, a war which was as it were the forge in which the kingdom of Israel was welded into one. The struggle began with the transference of the seat of royalty to Jerusalem; unfortunately we possess only scanty details as to its progress, hardly anything more indeed than a few anecdotes about deeds of prowess by individual heroes. The result was in the end that David completed what Saul had begun, and broke for ever the Philistine yoke. This was undoubtedly the greatest achievement of his reign.
From the defensive against the Philistines David proceeded to
aggressive war, in which he subjugated the three kinsfolk of Israel,—Moab, Ammon, and Edom. He appears to have come into conflict first with the Moabites, whom he vanquished and treated with savage atrocity. Not long afterwards the king of Ammon died, and David sent an embassy of condolence to Hanun his successor. Hanun suspected in this a sinister design,—a suspicion we can readily understand if David had already, as is probable, subjugated Moab,—and with the utmost contumely sent back the messengers to their master forthwith, at the same time making preparations for war by entering into alliance with various Syrian kings, and particularly with the powerful king of Soba. 1 David took the initiative, and sent his army under command of Joab against Rabbath-Ammon. The Syrians advanced to the relief of the besieged city; but Joab divided his forces, and, leaving his brother Abishai to hold the Ammonites in the town in check, proceeded himself against the Syrians and repulsed them. On their afterwards threatening to renew the attack in increased force, David went against them in strength and defeated them at Helam "on the river." It seems that as a result of this the kingdom of Soba was broken up and made tributary to Damascus. Rabbath-Ammon could not now hold out any longer, and the Ammonites shared the fate of their Moabite brethren. Finally, Edom was about the same time coerced and depopulated; and thus was fulfilled the vision of Balaam,—the youngest of the four Hebrew nationalities trod the three elder under his feet.
So far as external foes were concerned, David henceforward had peace; but new dangers arose at home within his own family. At once by ill-judged leniency and equally ill-timed severity he had completely alienated his son Absalom, who, after Amnon's death, was heir-apparent to the throne. Absalom organised a revolt against his father, and to foster it availed himself of a misunderstanding which had arisen between David and the men of Judah, probably because they thought they were not treated with sufficient favour. The revolt had its focus in Hebron; Ahithophel, a man of Judah, was its soul; Amasa, also of Judah, its arm; but the rest of Israel was also drawn into the rebellion, and only
the territory to the east of Jordan remained faithful. Thither David betook himself with precipitancy, for the outbreak had taken him completely by surprise. At Mahanaim, which had once before been the centre from which the kingdom was regained, he collected his faithful followers around him with his 600 Cherethites and Pelethites for a nucleus, Absalom against Ahithophel's advice allowing him time for this. In the neighbourhood of Mahanaim, in the wood of Ephraim, the decisive blow was struck. Absalom fell, and with his death the rebellion was at an end. It was Joseph that, in the first instance, penitently sent a deputation to the king to bring him back. Judah, on the other hand, continued to hold aloof. Ultimately a piece of finesse on the king's part had the effect of bringing Judah also to its allegiance, though at the cost of kindling such jealousy between Israel and Judah that Sheba the Benjamite raised a new revolt, this time of Israelites, which was soon, however, repressed by Joab.
David seems to have died soon afterwards. His historical importance is very great. Judah and Jerusalem were wholly his creation, and, though the united kingdom of Israel founded by him and Saul together soon fell to pieces, the recollection of it nevertheless continued in all time to be proudly cherished by the whole body of the people. His personal character has been often treated with undue disparagement. For this we must chiefly blame his canonisation by the later Jewish tradition which made a Levitical saint of him and a pious hymn-writer. It then becomes a strange inconsistency that he caused military prisoners to be treated with barbarity, and the bastard sons of Saul to be hanged up before the Lord in Gibeon. But if we take him as we find him, an antique king in a barbarous age, our judgment of him will be much more favourable. The most daring courage was combined in him with tender susceptibility; even after he had ascended the throne be continued to retain the charm of a pre-eminent and at the same time child-like personality. Even his conduct in the affair of Uriah is not by any means wholly to his discredit; not many kings can be mentioned who would have shown repentance public and deep such as he manifested at Nathan's rebuke. Least to his credit was his weakness in relation to his sons and to Joab. On the other hand, the testament attributed to him in 1 Kings ii. cannot be justly laid to his charge; it is the libel of a later hand seeking to invest him with a fictitious glory. In like manner it is unjust to hold him responsible for the deaths of Abner and
[paragraph continues] Amasa, or to attribute to him any conspiracy with the hierocracy for the destruction of Saul, and thus to deprive him of the authorship of the elegy in 2 Sam. i, which certainly was not the work of a hypocrite.
Solomon had already reached the throne, some time before his father's death, not in virtue of hereditary right, but by palace intrigue which had the support of the bodyguard of the Six Hundred. His glory was not purchased on the battlefield. So far was he from showing military capacity that he allowed a new Syrian kingdom to arise at Damascus, a far more dangerous thing for Israel than that of Soba which had been destroyed, and which it succeeded. During this reign Edom also regained its independence, nothing but the port of Elath remaining in Solomon's hands. As regards Moab and Ammon we have no information; it is not improbable that they also revolted. But if war was not Solomon's forte, he certainly took much greater pains than either of his predecessors in matters of internal administration; according to tradition, the wisdom of the ruler and the judge was his special "gift." Disregarding the tribal system, he divided his kingdom into twelve provinces, over each of which he placed a royal governor, thus making a beginning of vigorous and orderly administration. 1
Judah alone he exempted from this arrangement, as if to show special favour. For his aim was less the advantage of his subjects than the benefit of his exchequer, and the same object appears in his horse traffic (1 Kings ix. 19), his Ophir trade (1 Kings x. 11), and his cession of territory to Hiram (1 Kings ix. 11). His passions were architecture, a gorgeous court, and the harem, in which he sought to rival other Oriental kings, as for example his Egyptian father-in-law. For this he required copious means-forced labour, tribute in kind, and money. He had especially at heart the extension and improvement of Jerusalem as a strong and splendid capital; the temple which he built was only a portion of his vast citadel, which included within its precincts a number of private and public buildings designed for various uses.
It is plain that new currents were introduced into the stream of the nation's development by such a king as this. As formerly, after the occupation, Canaanite culture had come in, so now, after the establishment of the kingdom, the floodgate was open for the admission of
[paragraph continues] Oriental civilisation in a deeper and wider sense. Whatever the personal motives which led to it may have been, the results were very important, and by no means disadvantageous on the whole. On the basis of the firmer administration now introduced, stability and order could rest; Judah had no cause to regret its acceptance of this yoke. Closer intercourse with foreign lands widened the intellectual horizon of the people, and at the same time awakened it to a deeper sense of its own peculiar individuality. If Solomon imported Phœnician and Egyptian elements into the worship of Jehovah at his court temple, the rigid old Israelite indeed might naturally enough take offence (Ex. xx. 24-26), but the temple itself nevertheless ultimately acquired a great and positive importance for religion. It need not be denied that mischievous consequences of various kinds slipped in along with the good. The king, moreover, can hardly be blamed for his conduct in erecting in the neighbourhood of Jerusalem altars to deities of Ammon and Egypt. For those altars remained undisturbed until the time of Josiah, although between Solomon and him there reigned more than one pious king who would certainly have destroyed them had he found them as offensive as did the author of Deuteronomy.
448:1 Neçib is an Aramaic word of uncertain meaning. In the name of the town Neçibin (Nisibis) it certainly seems to mean "pillars;" according to 1 Kings iv. 5 and xxii. 48 (where it is pointed niççab), "governor", seems the best translation, and this is the only rendering consistent with the expression in 1 Sam. xiii. 3 ("Jonathan slew the neçib," &c.).
451:1 As regards the position of Samuel in the theocracy and the relation in which the stood to Saul, the several narratives in the Book of Samuel differ widely. The preceding account, so far as it relates to Samuel, is based upon 1 Sam. ix., x. 1-15, xi., where he appears simply as a Rôeh at Ramah, and has nothing to do either with the administration of the theocracy or with the Nebiim. Compare Prolegomena above, chap. VII.
454:1 Soba appears to have been situated somewhat to the north of Damascus, and to have bordered on the west with Hamath. The Aramæans were beginning even at that period to press westwards; the Hittites, Phœnicians, and Israelites had common interests against them. To the kingdom of Soba succeeded afterwards that of Damascus.
456:1 Very possibly the Canaanites, whose complete absorption falls within this period, were an element that helped to loosen the bonds of tribal unity, and consolidate a state in its place.