A very different people in spirit and knowledge from those who had gone into captivity

We continue our analysis of the historical association of the Jews with the land of “Palestine”, but more accurately with Judea, which nestles now in what is called “the occupied territories”. Called that by antisemites, sometimes conscious antisemites, sometimes just ignorant ones!

Chapter 21

HG Wells, A Short History of the World, 1922

http://www.bartleby.com/86/21.html

AND now we can tell of the Hebrews, a Semitic people, not so important in their own time as in their influence upon the later history of the world. They were settled in Judea long before 1000 B.C., and their capital city after that time was Jerusalem. Their story is interwoven with that of the great empires on either side of them, Egypt to the south and the changing empires of Syria, Assyria and Babylon to the north. Their country was an inevitable high road between these latter powers and Egypt.    1
  Their importance in the world is due to the fact that they produced a written literature, a world history, a collection of laws, chronicles, psalms, books of wisdom, poetry and fiction and political utterances which became at last what Christians know as the Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible. This literature appears in history in the fourth or fifth century B.C.    2
  Probably this literature was first put together in Babylon. We have already told how the Pharaoh, Necho II, invaded the Assyrian Empire while Assyria was fighting for life against Medes, Persians and Chaldeans. Josiah King of Judah opposed him, and was defeated and slain at Megiddo (608 B.C.). Judah became a tributary to Egypt, and when Nebuchadnezzar the Great, the new Chaldean king in Babylon, rolled back Necho into Egypt, he attempted to manage Judah by setting up puppet kings in Jerusalem. The experiment failed, the people massacred his Babylonian officials, and he then determined to break up this little state altogether, which had long been playing off Egypt against the northern empire. Jerusalem was sacked and burnt, and the remnant of the people was carried off captive to Babylon.    3
  There they remained until Cyrus took Babylon (538 B.C.). He then collected them together and sent them back to resettle their country and rebuild the walls and temple of Jerusalem.    4
  Before that time the Jews do not seem to have been a very civilized or united people. Probably only a very few of them could read or write. In their own history one never hears of the early books of the Bible being read; the first mention of a book is in the time of Josiah. The Babylonian captivity civilized them and consolidated them. They returned aware of their own literature, an acutely self-conscious and political people.    5
  Their Bible at that time seems to have consisted only of the Pentateuch, that is to say the first five books of the Old Testament as we know it. In addition, as separate books they already had many of the other books that have since been incorporated with the Pentateuch into the present Hebrew Bible, Chronicles, the Psalms and Proverbs for example.    6
  The accounts of the Creation of the World, of Adam and Eve and of the Flood, with which the Bible begins, run closely parallel with similar Babylonian legends; they seem to have been part of the common beliefs of all the Semetic peoples. So too the stories of Moses and of Samson have Sumerian and Babylonian parallels. But with the story of Abraham and onward begins something more special to the Jewish race.    7
  Abraham may have lived as early as the days of Hammurabi in Babylon. He was a patriarchal Semitic nomad. To the book of Genesis the reader must go for the story of his wanderings and for the stories of his sons and grandchildren and how they became captive in the Land of Egypt. He travelled through Canaan, and the God of Abraham, says the Bible story, promised this smiling land of prosperous cities to him and to his children.    8
  And after a long sojourn in Egypt and after fifty years of wandering in the wilderness under the leadership of Moses, the children of Abraham, grown now to a host of twelve tribes, invaded the land of Canaan from the Arabian deserts to the East. They may have done this somewhen between 1600 B.C. and 1300 B.C.; there are no Egyptian records of Moses nor of Canaan at this time to help out the story. But at any rate they did not succeed in conquering any more than the hilly backgrounds of the promised land. The coast was now in the hands, not of the Canaanites but of newcomers, those Ægean peoples, the Philistines; and their cities, Gaza, Gath, Ashdod, Ascalon and Joppa successfully withstood the Hebrew attack. For many generations the children of Abraham remained an obscure people of the hilly back country engaged in incessant bickerings with the Philistines and with the kindred tribes about them, the Moabites, the Midianites and so forth. The reader will find in the book of Judges a record of their struggles and disasters during this period. For very largely it is a record of disasters and failures frankly told.

(I believe that Wells is referring to the Judean Hills, which is also contained in the maps which the British Army used in its campaign into Palestine in 1918 (then not a state or country but a roughly defined geographical area, sometimes used, sometimes not. They did not talk at all about taking Palestine but of taking the hills of Judea. Judea…the land of the Jews, and now this is called the “he occupied Territories etc)

   9
  For most of this period the Hebrews were ruled, so far as there was any rule among them, by priestly judges selected by the elders of the people, but at last somewhen towards 1000 B.C. they chose themselves a king, Saul, to lead them in battle. But Saul’s leading was no great improvement upon the leading of the Judges; he perished under the hail of Philistine arrows at the battle of Mount Gilboa, his armour went into the temple of the Philistine Venus, and his body was nailed to the walls of Beth-shan.   10
  His successor David was more successful and more politic. With David dawned the only period of prosperity the Hebrew peoples were ever to know. It was based on a close alliance with the Phoenician city of Tyre, whose King Hiram seems to have been a man of very great intelligence and enterprise. He wished to secure a trade route to the Red Sea through the Hebrew hill country. Normally Phœnician trade went to the Red Sea by Egypt, but Egypt was in a state of profound disorder at this time; there may have been other obstructions to Phœnician trade along this line, and at any rate Hiram established the very closest relations both with David and with his son and successor Solomon. Under Hiram’s auspices the walls, palace and temple of Jerusalem arose, and in return Hiram built and launched his ships on the Red Sea. A very considerable trade passed northward and southward through Jerusalem. And Solomon achieved a prosperity and magnificence unprecedented in the experience of his people. He was even given a daughter of Pharaoh in marriage.   11
  But it is well to keep the proportion of things in mind. At the climax of his glories Solomon was only a little subordinate king in a little city. His power was so transitory that within a few years of his death, Shishak the first Pharaoh of the twenty-second dynasty, had taken Jerusalem and looted most of his splendours. The account of Solomon’s magnificence given in the books of Kings and Chronicles is questioned by many critics. They say that it was added to and exaggerated by the patriotic pride of later writers. But the Bible account read carefully is not so overwhelming as it appears at the first reading. Solomon’s temple, if one works out the measurements, would go inside a small suburban church, and his fourteen hundred chariots cease to impress us when we learn from an Assyrian monument that his successor Ahab sent a contingent of two thousand to the Assyrian army. It is also plainly manifest from the Bible narrative that Solomon spent himself in display and overtaxed and overworked his people. At his death the northern part of his kingdom broke off from Jerusalem and became the independent kingdom of Israel. Jerusalem remained the capital city of Judah.   12
  The prosperity of the Hebrew people was short-lived. Hiram died, and the help of Tyre ceased to strengthen Jerusalem. Egypt grew strong again. The history of the kings of Israel and the kings of Judah becomes a history of two little states ground between, first, Syria, then Assyria and then Babylon to the north and Egypt to the south. It is a tale of disasters and of deliverances that only delayed disaster. It is a tale of barbaric kings ruling a barbaric people. In 721 B.C. the kingdom of Israel was swept away into captivity by the Assyrians and its people utterly lost to history. Judah struggled on until in 604 B.C., as we have told, it shared the fate of Israel. There may be details open to criticism in the Bible story of Hebrew history from the days of the Judges onward, but on the whole it is evidently a true story which squares with all that has been learnt in the excavation of Egypt and Assyria and Babylon during the past century.   13
  It was in Babylon that the Hebrew people got their history together and evolved their tradition. The people who came back to Jerusalem at the command of Cyrus were a very different people in spirit and knowledge from those who had gone into captivity. They had learnt civilization. In the development of their peculiar character a very great part was played by certain men, a new sort of men, the Prophets, to whom we must now direct our attention. These Prophets mark the appearance of new and remarkable forces in the steady development of human society.

 

The return from Babylon is listed as 538

I draw attention to the following comment from Wells and emphasise it:

The people who came back to Jerusalem at the command of Cyrus were a very different people in spirit and knowledge from those who had gone into captivity. They had learnt civilization. In the development of their peculiar character a very great part was played by certain men, a new sort of men, the Prophets, to whom we must now direct our attention. These Prophets mark the appearance of new and remarkable…

Wells as far as I understand was not a religious person in any sense. What he points to above is actually the formation of a nation, rather more than a tribe, a nation of people who were bound together by their oral and now written history

This istouched on by another valid source, in this case religious:

The people of Judah were horribly distressed. They lost their home, their city, their pride, their Temple, the Ark of the Covenant, and they were taken as prisoners to Babylon, the homeland of idolatry. But God raised up great men to remind them of Jeremiah’s prophesies, that they would only be there for 70 years. Babylon would not be their home:

Jer 29:10-14 “For thus says the LORD: After seventy years are completed at Babylon, I will visit you and perform My good word toward you, and cause you to return to this place. For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you, says the LORD, and I will bring you back from your captivity; I will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you, says the LORD, and I will bring you to the place from which I cause you to be carried away captive.”

They would return and the temple would be rebuilt, and the Messiah would still come. Daniel and Ezekiel sought to keep the true faith alive.

The Decree of Cyrus

By 538 BC. Babylon had passed into history and the Medo-Persian Empire took its place. Cyrus the Persian issued a decree to allow the Jews to go back to their land, and with the blessing of The Persian Empire.The Jews were hardly moved. Babylon was their home. Only a portion returned (Neh 7) and only 74 of the Levites, who were supposed to be known for their dedication to the things of God.

Zerubbabel 

The first move back to Palestine was led by Zerubbabel, of the house of David. He was the only one of royal blood to pay any attention to the decree of Cyrus (Ezra 2). When he returned, he found just rubble. No temple, torn down walls, and a mixed breed of corrupt Jews (Samaritans) living there. In 536 BC. he laid the foundations for a new temple, built an altar and worshipped the Lord. The prophets Haggai and Zechariah helped urge the Jews on. They finished the work on the Temple in 516 BC. (exactly 70 years).

Ezra and Nehemiah 

58 years later (458 BC) more Jews returned (Ezra 7) under the leadership of Ezra. 12 years later, Nehemiah, received permission to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and to govern Judea. He arrived in 444 BC. Despite much opposition, Nehemiah completed this seemingly hopeless task in 52 days. Then a revival followed. Ezra and Nehemiah canonized the books of the Old Testament. They read aloud to the people and gave interpretation. About 40 years later, the prophet Malachi condemned the people for slipping back into their sinful ways.

For example, the book of Psalms, which has been frequently recited and memorized by Jews for centuries, says:

  • “By the rivers of Babylon we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion.” (Psalms 137:1)
  • “For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How shall we sing the LORD’s song in a strange land? If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning . If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy. Remember, O LORD, the children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem; who said, Raze it, raze it, even to the foundation thereof; O daughter of Babylon, that art to be destroyed; happy shall he be, that repayeth thee as thou hast served us. Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.” (Psalms 137:3-9) (King James Version, with italics for words not in the original Hebrew)

The people of Judah were horribly distressed. They lost their home, their city, their pride, their Temple, the Ark of the Covenant, and they were taken as prisoners to Babylon, the homeland of idolatry. But God raised up great men to remind them of Jeremiah’s prophesies, that they would only be there for 70 years. Babylon would not be their home:

Jer 29:10-14 “For thus says the LORD: After seventy years are completed at Babylon, I will visit you and perform My good word toward you, and cause you to return to this place. For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you, says the LORD, and I will bring you back from your captivity; I will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you, says the LORD, and I will bring you to the place from which I cause you to be carried away captive.”

They would return and the temple would be rebuilt, and the Messiah would still come. Daniel and Ezekiel sought to keep the true faith alive.

The Decree of Cyrus

By 538 BC. Babylon had passed into history and the Medo-Persian Empire took its place. Cyrus the Persian issued a decree to allow the Jews to go back to their land, and with the blessing of The Persian Empire.The Jews were hardly moved. Babylon was their home. Only a portion returned (Neh 7) and only 74 of the Levites, who were supposed to be known for their dedication to the things of God.

Zerubbabel 

The first move back to Palestine was led by Zerubbabel, of the house of David. He was the only one of royal blood to pay any attention to the decree of Cyrus (Ezra 2). When he returned, he found just rubble. No temple, torn down walls, and a mixed breed of corrupt Jews (Samaritans) living there. In 536 BC. he laid the foundations for a new temple, built an altar and worshipped the Lord. The prophets Haggai and Zechariah helped urge the Jews on. They finished the work on the Temple in 516 BC. (exactly 70 years).

Ezra and Nehemiah 

58 years later (458 BC) more Jews returned (Ezra 7) under the leadership of Ezra. 12 years later, Nehemiah, received permission to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and to govern Judea. He arrived in 444 BC. Despite much opposition, Nehemiah completed this seemingly hopeless task in 52 days. Then a revival followed. Ezra and Nehemiah canonized the books of the Old Testament. They read aloud to the people and gave interpretation. About 40 years later, the prophet Malachi condemned the people for slipping back into their sinful ways.

http://www.bible-history.com/babylonia/BabyloniaThe_Return_from_Babylon.htm

What all of this means is that with the Jews we are talking about a people who are a nation, and as such the oldest nation on the earth.

That this nationality or nationhood is very much interlinked with their religion, which also has a secular side, in that it is written down in a rational form. As Wells says, the Jews came back from babylonian captivity as a conscious political force.

We now turn to the issue of Jerusalem

For example, the book of Psalms, which has been frequently recited and memorized by Jews for centuries, says:

  • “By the rivers of Babylon we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion.” (Psalms 137:1)
  • “For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How shall we sing the LORD’s song in a strange land? If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning . If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy. Remember, O LORD, the children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem; who said, Raze it, raze it, even to the foundation thereof; O daughter of Babylon, that art to be destroyed; happy shall he be, that repayeth thee as thou hast served us. Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.” (Psalms 137:3-9) (King James Version, with italics for words not in the original Hebrew)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerusalem_in_Judaism

So we have established that the Jews are a very ancient nation.

That they are tied together by their history which even if you are an honest secular person must acknowledge the truth of this.

That this religion is inextricably linked to the earthly struggle of a people.

That the issue of exile from Jerusalem is a big factor.

That the longing to return there from exile, bringing to mind my own irish people exiled by economic circumstances of The famine, to return to green ireland.

As expressed in the Psalm above

“How shall we sing the LORD’s song in a strange land?”

We have also noted that none other than karl Marx was very alive to the to him strange devotion that these people the Jews had to Jerusalem.

here I define a jew as simply being anybody who thinks of themselves as a Jew, no more complicated than that, because it is the historical knowledge and material reality which is carried in to the present, thus (possibly) in to the future, if antisemitism with modern methods do not succeed in wiping this oldest nation out.

I approach all of this from the very firm foundation of dialectical materialism. But I recognize that it wouldbe the height of idiocy to dismiss religion as a motive force in men´s history.

We may already have done enough to show that in the consciousness of men today, jews, that the link with jerusalem is secure in history. All talk of Khazars and such like is the talk of antisemites, that is of a type of human who hates jews, and who wish to deny the real material history of the Jews.

But at this point it may be interesting to see where have the “Palestinians” come out of…

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