Prolegomena to the History of Ancient Israel, by Julius Wellhausen, , at sacred-texts.com
After the death of Solomon the discontent which had been aroused by his innovations, and especially by the rigour of his government, openly showed itself against his successor; and when Rehoboam curtly refused the demands which had been laid before him by an assembly of the elders at Shechem, they withdrew from their allegiance and summoned to be their king the Ephraimite Jeroboam ben Nebat, who already had made an abortive attempt at revolt from Solomon, and afterwards had taken refuge in Egypt. Only Judah and Jerusalem remained faithful to the house of David. Among the causes of the revolt of the ten tribes, jealousy of Judah must certainly be reckoned as one. The power of Joseph had been weakened by the Philistines, and by the establishment of the monarchy the centre of gravity had been shifted from the north where it naturally lay. But now it was restored to its old seat; for once more it was situated, not in Judah, but in Joseph. Monarchy itself, however, was not abolished by the revolting tribes, conclusively showing how unavoidable and how advantageous that
institution was now felt to be; but at the same time they did not refrain from attempts to combine its advantages with those of anarchy, a folly which was ultimately the cause of their ruin. As for their departure from the Mosaic cultus observed at Jerusalem on the other hand, it was first alleged against them as a sin only by the later Jews. At the time religion put no obstacle in the way of their separation; on the contrary, it actually suggested and promoted it (Ahijah of Shiloh). The Jerusalem cultus had not yet come to be regarded as the alone legitimate; that instituted by Jeroboam at Bethel and at Dan was recognised as equally right; images of the Deity were exhibited in all three places, and indeed in every place where a house of God was found. So far as the religious and intellectual life of the nation was concerned, there was no substantial difference between the two kingdoms, except indeed in so far as new displays of vigorous initiative generally proceeded from Israel. 1
Rehoboam did not readily accept the situation; he sought to reduce the revolt by force of arms, with what degree of success is shown by the fact that his rival found himself constrained to take up his residence at Peniel (near Mahanaim) on the other side of Jordan. The invasion of Shishak, however, who took Jerusalem and burnt it, gave Jeroboam at last a breathing space. The feud continued indeed, but Rehoboam could no longer dream of bringing back the ten tribes. The scale by and by turned in Israel's favour. King Baasha, who had seated himself on the throne in place of Nadab, Jeroboam's son, took the offensive, and Asa ben Rehoboam had no help for it but to call in Benhadad of Damascus against his adversary. In this way he gained his immediate purpose, it is true, but by the most dangerous of expedients.
Baasha's son Elah was supplanted by his vizier Zimri, who, however, was in his turn unable to hold his own against Omri, who had supreme command of the army. Against Omri there arose in another part of the country a rival, Tibni ben Ginath, who succeeded in maintaining some footing until his death, when Omri became supreme. Omri must be regarded as the founder of the first dynasty, in the proper sense of
that word, in Israel, and as the second founder of the kingdom itself, to which he gave a permanent capital in Samaria. The Bible has hardly anything to tell us about him, but his importance is evident from the fact that among the Assyrians "the kingdom of Omri" 1 was the ordinary name of Israel. According to the inscription of Mesha, it was he who again subjugated Moab, which had become independent at the death of David or of Solomon. He was not so successful against the Damascenes, to whom he had to concede certain privileges in his own capital (1 Kings xx. 34) 2
Ahab, who succeeded Omri his father, seems during the greater part of his reign to have in some sort acknowledged Syrian suzerainty. In no other way can we account for the fact that in the battle of Karkar against the Assyrians (854 B.C.) a contingent was contributed by him. But this very battle made the political situation so clear that he was led to break off his relations with Damascus. With this began a series of ferocious attacks on Israel by Benhadad and Hazael. They were met by Ahab with courage and success, but in the third year of that fifty years' war he fell in the battle at Ramoth Gilead (c. 851).
After the events recorded in 1 Kings xx., a forced alliance with Damascus on the part of Samaria is incredible; but the idea of spontaneous friendly relations is also inadmissible. Schrader indeed finds support for the latter theory in 1 Kings xx. 34; but in that passage there is no word of any offensive or defensive alliance between the rival kings; all that is stated is that Ahab releases the captive Benhadad on condition (בברית) that the latter undertakes certain obligations, particularly those of keeping the peace and restoring the cities which had been taken. By this arrangement no change was made in the previously strained relations of the two kingdoms; and, moreover, the ברית was not kept (xxii. 1 seq.). Not much nearer the truth than the preceding is the view that the danger threatened by Assyria drove the kings of Syria and Palestine into one another's arms, and so occasioned an alliance between Ahab and Benhadad also. For if feelings of hostility existed at all between the two last named, then Ahab could not do otherwise than congratulate himself that in the person of Shalmaneser II. there had arisen against Benhadad an enemy who would be able to keep him effectually in check. That Shalmaneser might prove dangerous to himself probably
did not at that time occur to him; but if it had he would still have chosen the remote in preference to the immediately threatening evil. For it was the political existence of Israel that was at stake in the struggle with Damascus; in such circumstances every ally would of course be welcome, every enemy of the enemy would be hailed as a friend, and the political wisdom which Max Duncker attributes to Ahab would have been nothing less than unpardonable folly. The state of matters was at the outset in this respect just what it continued to be throughout the subsequent course of events; the Assyrian danger grew in subsequent years, and with it grew the hostility between Damascus and Samaria. This fact admits only of one explanation,—that the Israelites utilised to the utmost of their power for their own protection against the Syrians the difficulties into which the latter were thrown by Shalmaneser II., and that these in their turn, when the Assyrians gave them respite, were all the fiercer in their revenge. On the evidence of the monuments and the Bible we may even venture to assert that it was the Assyrian attacks upon Damascus which at that time preserved Israel from becoming Aramaic,—of course only because Israel made the most of them for her political advantage.
Assuming that Ahab the Israelite (Ahabu Sirlaai) fought in the battle of Karkar (854) on the side of the king of Damascus, it was only because he could not help himself; but if it is actually the case that he did so, the battle of Karkar must have taken place before the events recorded in 1 Kings xx.
The Moabites took advantage of an accession under such critical circumstances to shake off the yoke imposed by Omri forty years before; an accurate account of their success, obviously written while the impression of it was still fresh, 1 has come down to us in the famous inscription of King Mesha. Ahaziah, Ahab's immediate successor, was obliged to accept the situation; after his early death a futile attempt again to subjugate them was made by his brother Joram. Such a campaign was possible to him only in the event of the Syrians keeping quiet, and in point of fact it would appear that they were not in a position to follow up the advantage they had gained at Ramoth; doubtless they were hampered by the inroads of the Assyrians in 850 and 849. As soon as they got a little respite, however, they lost no time in attacking Joram, driving him into his capital, where they besieged him. Samaria had already been brought to the utmost extremities of famine, when suddenly the enemy raised the siege on account of a report of an invasion of their own land by the "Egyptians and Hittites." Possibly we ought to understand by these the Assyrians
rather, who in 846 renewed their attacks upon Syria; to ordinary people in Israel the Assyrians were an unknown quantity, for which it would be natural in popular story to substitute something more familiar. This turn of affairs relieved Joram from his straits; it would even seem that, favoured by a change of dynasty at Damascus, he had succeeded in taking from the Syrians the fortress of Ramoth in Gilead, which had been the object of Ahab's unsuccessful endeavours, when suddenly there burst upon the house of Omri the overwhelming catastrophe for which the prophets had long been preparing.
When the prophets first made their appearance, some time before the beginning of the Philistine war, they were a novel phenomenon in Israel; but in the interval they had become so naturalised that they now had a recognised and essential place in connection with the religion of Jehovah. They had in the process divested themselves of much that had originally characterised them, but they still retained their habit of appearing in companies and living together in societies, and also that of wearing a peculiar distinctive dress. These societies of theirs had no ulterior aims; the rabbinical notion that they were schools and academies in which the study of the Torah and of sacred history was pursued imports later ideas into an earlier time. First-rate importance on the whole cannot be claimed for the Nebiim, but occasionally there arose amongst them a man in whom the spirit which was cultivated within their circles may be said to have risen to the explosive pitch. Historical influence was exercised at no time save by these individuals, who rose above their order and even placed themselves in opposition to it, but always at the same time had their base of operations within it. The prototype of this class of exceptional prophets, whom we not unjustly have been accustomed to regard as the true, is Elijah of Thisbe, the contemporary of Ahab.
ln compliment to Jezebel his wife, Ahab had set up in Samaria a temple with richly endowed religious services in honour of the Syrian Baal. In doing so he had no intention of renouncing Jehovah; Jehovah continued to be the national God after whom he named his sons Ahaziah and Jehoram. The destruction of Jehovah's altars or the persecution of His prophets was not at all proposed, or even the introduction of a foreign cultus elsewhere than in Samaria. Jehovah's sovereignty over Israel being thus only remotely if at all imperilled, the popular faith found nothing specially offensive in a course of action
which had been followed a hundred years before by Solomon also. Elijah alone was strenuous in his opposition; the masses did not understand him, and were far from taking his side. To him only, but not to the nation, did it seem like a halting between two opinions, an irreconcilable inconsistency, that Jehovah should be worshipped as Israel's God and a chapel to Baal should at the same time be erected in Israel.
In solitary grandeur did this prophet tower conspicuously over his time; legend, and not history, could alone preserve the memory of his figure. There remains a vague impression that with him the development of Israel's conception of Jehovah entered upon a new stadium, rather than any data from which it can be ascertained wherein the contrast of the new with the old lay. After Jehovah, acting more immediately within the political sphere, had established the nation and kingdom, he now began in the spiritual sphere to operate against the foreign elements, the infusion of which previously had been permitted to go on almost unchecked. 1 The Rechabites, who arose at that time, protested in their zeal for Jehovah altogether against all civilisation which presupposes agriculture, and in their fundamental principles aimed at a recurrence to the primitive nomadic life of Israel in the wilderness; the Nazarites abstained at least from wine, the chief symbol of Dionysiac civilisation. In this indeed Elijah was not with them; had he been so, he would doubtless have been intelligible to the masses. But, comprehending as he did the spirit from which these demonstrations proceeded, he thought of Jehovah as a great principle which cannot coexist in the same heart with Baal. To him first was it revealed that we have not in the various departments of nature a variety of forces worthy of our worship, but that there exists over all but one Holy One and one Mighty One, who reveals Himself not in nature but in law and righteousness in the world of man. The indignation he displayed against the judicial murder at Jezreel was as genuine and strong as that which he manifested against the worship of Baal in Samaria; the one was as much a crime against Jehovah as the other.
Elijah ascended to heaven before he had actually achieved much in
the world. The idea which his successors took from him was that it was necessary to make a thorough clearance from Samaria of the Baal worship and of the house of Ahab as well. For this practical end Elisha made use of practical means. When Elijah, after the murder of Naboth, had suddenly appeared before Ahab and threatened him with a violent end, an officer of high command had been present, Jehu ben Nimshi, and he had never forgotten the incident. He now found himself at the head of the troops at Ramoth Gilead after the withdrawal to Jezreel of Joram ben Ahab from the field to be healed of his wound. To Elisha the moment seemed a suitable one for giving to Jehu in Jehovah's name the command now to carry out Elijah's threat against the house of Ahab. Jehu gained over the captains of the army, and carried out so well the task with which the prophet had commissioned him that not a single survivor of Ahab's dynasty or of his court was left. He next extirpated Baal and his worshippers in Samaria. From that date no worship of foreign gods seems ever to have recurred in Israel. Idolatry indeed continued to subsist, but the images, stones, and trees, even the seraphim apparently, belonged to the cultus of Jehovah, or were at least brought into relation with it.
Jehu founded the second and last dynasty of the kingdom of Samaria His inheritance from the house of Omri included the task of defending himself against the Syrians. The forces at his disposal being insufficient for this, he resorted to the expedient of seeking to urge the Assyrians to renew their hostilities against the Aramæans. For this end his ambassadors carried presents to Shalmaneser II.; these were not of a regular but only of an occasional character, but the vanity of the great king represents them as the tribute of a vassal. In the years 842 and 839 Assyrian campaigns against Hazael of Damascus actually took place; then they were intermitted for a long time, and the kings of Samaria, Jehu and his two successors, were left to their own resources. These were evil times for Israel. With a barbarity never intermitted the frontier war went on in Gilead, where Ammon and Moab showed themselves friendly to the Syrian cause (Amos i.); occasionally great expeditions took place, one of which brought King Hazael to the very walls of Jerusalem. It was only with the greatest difficulty that Israel's independence was maintained. Once more religion went hand in hand with the national cause; the prophet Elisha was the main stay of the kings in the struggle with the Syrians, "the
chariot and horsemen of Israel." Joash ben Joahaz ben Jehu at last succeeded in inflicting upon Syria several blows which proved decisive. Thenceforward Israel had nothing to fear from that quarter. Under Joash's son, Jeroboam II., the kingdom even reached a height of external power which recalled the times of David. Moab was again subdued; southwards the frontier extended to the brook of the wilderness (Amos vi. 14), and northward to Hamath.
458:1 Even in the Deuteronomic redaction of the Book of Kings indeed, and still more by the Chronicler, the political rebellion of Israel is regarded as having been ecclesiastical and religious in its character. The Book of Chronicles regards Samaria as a heathen kingdom, and recognises Judah alone as Israel. But in point of fact Judah takes up the history of Israel only after the fall of Samaria; see §§ 6, 7.
459:1 Bit Humri, like οἶκος Λυσανίου, and similar territorial names in Syriac.
459:2 Omri's accession is to be placed somewhere about 900 B.C. It is a date, and the first, that can be determined with some precision, if we place the battle of Karkar (854) near the end of Ahab's reign, and take the servitude of Moab, which lasted forty years and ended with Ahab's death, to begin in Omri's first decade
460:1 It is obvious that Mesha's narrative is to be taken with 2 Kings i. 1, and not with 2 Kings iii.
462:1 It is worth noticing how much more frequent from this period onwards proper names compounded with the word Jehovah become. Among the names of the judges and of the kings before Ahab in Israel and Asa in Judah, not a single instance occurs; thenceforward they become the rule.