Monday, December 4, 2023

The Antiquity of the Jews


Video of the discussion:

The Antiquity of the Jews


Our Torah portion of this morning has a bizarre account in it of a rape committed by the the Prince of Shechem and then a revenge war by the brothers of Dina on the entire city. It is a highly problematic text involving punishing an entire city by a ruse, something that is very common till today in the Middle East. This kind of ruse, for revenge on the capture of one women, is the very theme of the Trojan Wars, by Homer, a war that would have occurred a few centuries after the rape of Dina,  with the ruse of the Trojan horse.  The horror of rape is also the basis for a war inside ancient Israel , for which the tribe of Benjamin is almost eradicated.


One thing we can understand after October 7 is how the rape of women is an outrage and we can understand why such a mass horror maybe unforgivable. Women as victims of rape in war continues till today and certainly the actions of ISIS against conquered Yazidis is one example in recent times. And certainly, the actions of Imperial Japan against China during what is called the Rape of Nanking, in which 20,000 women were raped, in addition to some 200,000 civilians, is another example.


However beside the moral problems involved in this story there is an interesting aside here. Namely that the city of ,Shechem, now Nablus ( Napoli, Naples)  becomes Israelite territory before there is an Israel in Israel. There is a hint of this in Jacob’s final blessing to Joseph, when he says:


וַאֲנִ֞י נָתַ֧תִּֽי לְךָ֛ שְׁכֶ֥ם אַחַ֖ד עַל־אַחֶ֑יךָ אֲשֶׁ֤ר לָקַ֙חְתִּי֙ מִיַּ֣ד הָֽאֱמֹרִ֔י בְּחַרְבִּ֖י וּבְקַשְׁתִּֽי׃ {פ}

And now, I assign to you one portion more than to your brothers, which I wrested from the Amorites with my sword and bow.”



What “portion” is this? The word in Hebrew is a play on the word “Shechem” which refers to the city, which Jacob claims, he took by military might, from the Amorites, the people of Canaan!


Shechem becomes the site of the first ceremony held in the land of Israel under Joshua. It becomes the central sanctuary for the northern tribes. And it remains the sight of the sacred mount for the Samaritan, descendants of the northern tribes. 



1900 years ago, a Jewish general who had gone over to the Roman side, needed to prove to the Roman world how ancient and important the Jews were in history. Josephus Flavius called his book The Antiquity of the Jews and it is a fitting title for what we are facing today in attacks not only on the legitimacy of the state of Israel but even on the role and position of Jews in world history. Even back then, Josephus had to defend the idea that the Jewish people had the right to their place in the land of Israel and he was fighting one of the oldest battles against anti-Semitism in his day.


So nothing is new in history, and as I view the social media debates back and forth on Israel versus the Palestinians and who has legitimacy I recall that this goes far far back. As I mentioned previously the great commentator Rashi, on the opening lines of Genesis, emphasized that the whole purpose of the story of creation was to prove that we Jews had legitimate right to the land of Israel and that we were not thieves. As I understand it, he was writing just as Christians and Muslims were fighting over who would own Palestina, Filastin, Eretz Ysrael.


Academic history on the ancient Middle East, far from being fact-based, has become a veritable volley-ball. At one time there was a major archaeological finding in Syria of a Kingdom called Ebla which would match details from the period of the Patriarchs. In the original excitement of the discoveries the archaeologists involved claimed that they found Biblical Hebrew names, such as Ibrium-Ivri-Hebrew, and references that would indicate that indeed ancient Hebrews were found in this part of Syria at that time. You would think it would be easy to confirm. However the Syrian government immediately interfered.

It is now clear that anti-Zionist political pressures in Syria are attempting to affect the scholarly interpretation of the Ebla tablets. The Syrians are furious that in the West the intense interest shown in this fantastic cache of tablets has focused on their importance for understanding the Bible and Biblical history.


We have the same fight going on about the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem, which Mohammed Abbas claims never existed, even though historical Arab and Muslim documents agreed, before the 20th century, Jerusalem was site of  the Jewish Temple. Historical revisionism is in its hey-day.

I came across a debate that took place in writing between a well-respected historian of the Arabs, Philip Hitti, and renowned physicist Albert Einstein and Jewish historian, Eric Kahler. Neither of these were political hacks, like the Syrian government or Mohammed Abbas, but they spoke from their own perspectives.  This took place just as World War 2 and the Holocaust were at its peak, and the United States Congress was looking for a safe haven for Jews and was exploring the idea of a Jewish homeland in what was then Palestine. Hitti rejected the rights of Jews to any part of the land as an independent entity even though it would have perhaps saved millions of Jews.

He derided our delusions:

FROM THE Arab point of view, political Zionism is an exotic movement,  internationally financed,  artificially stimulated,and holds no hope of ultimate or permanent success. Not only to the fifty million Arabs, many of whom are descendants of the Canaanites who were in the land  long before the Hebrews entered Palestine under Joshua, but to the entire Moslem society, of whom the Arabs form the spear­ head, a sovereign Jewish state in Palestine appears as an anachronism… what chance of survival has such  an alien  state amidst a  camp of  a  would-be  hostile  Arabic  and  unsympathetic Islamic world?

This is the response by Kahler and Einstein:

“Both Jews and Arabs are said to stem from a common ancestor, from Abraham, who immigrated into Canaan (i.e., Palestine), and so neither of them seem to have been earlier in the land than the other. Recent views assume that only part of the Israelites migrated to Egypt-as reflected in the Joseph story-and part of them remained in Palestine.  So part of the Canaanite population encountered by the Jews when they entered the Promised Land under Joshua were Israelites, too. Therefore, the Arabs have no  priority  on the land.

To the Arabs Jerusalem is only the third holy city; to the Jews it is the first and only holy city, and Palestine is the place where their original history, their sacred history took place. Besides, to the Arabs Jerusalem is a holy city only insofar as they trace their tradition back to Jewish origins, …

But by their holy war and their  conquest of Palestine the Arabs contributed their share to depriving the Jews of their homeland and so to the making of the Jewish problem, even though one must concede that their share is comparatively smaller than that of other peoples. The stand the Arabs take, however, with regard  to  the Jews, is exactly the one which all peoples of the world are taking. No people, unfortunately, understands why it should contribute anything to. the solution of the Jewish problem. (


          As well known, in 1948, the Jews established, in part of historic Israel, a State, and the Arabs, given the opportunity, refused to establish an indendent state, on the theory that “ no cake” is better than “half a cake”. Israel survived 1948, Nasser’s manipulations in 1956, the Six Day Way, and more. But the questions remained. So, I went back to my notes and I found an essay I have written, when I was still a college undergrad, and was published, in the letters column, by one of the greatest literary journals of the period, the Saturday Review of Literature, April 26, 1969, edited at that time by Norman Cousins. By way of reference, if today, your doctor is treating you, not  only physically, but also on the basis of improving your mood and attitude during severe illness, thank Norman Cousins, who shifted medical attitudes by recording his own battle with severe illness.


So, here is my essay, written just a few years after the 6 Day War, when Israel sat atop Golan, Sinai, and the West Bank, and waited for the Arab nations to sit down and talk peace. There was, at that time, the Khartoum Declaration, 3 Nos: no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it,


I think, for a college junior, I made a great case for the historicity of the Jewish presence in ancient Israel. Keep in mind, that before Google, you had to actually read a book to find information!


Disputed Palestine

DAVID SHOBE [Book Forum, Apr. 12] claims that from 638 to 1250 A.D. Palestine was ruled by Arabs. I will grant that it was ruled by Arabic-speaking peoples, but it was as Moslems that these people viewed themselves, not as Arabs. That is why Saladin, whom Mr. Shobe claims as an Arab, could restore Moslem rule to  Palestine,  even though he was Kurdish,  not  Arabic ,  by birth.


Mr. Shobe plays down the Jewish occupancy, claiming Jewish rule extended from 1020 to 721 B.C. This is ridiculous: 1020 is already halfway into the reign of  King Saul, centuries after the conquest of Palestine by Joshua. I trust more  in  the  record of the Pharaoh Merneptah, who  in  1230 B.C., claimed to have conquered "the people of Israel." Perhaps Mr. Shobe does not consider a people to rule over an area until they are united under a monarchy, in which case one would insist that there never was an ancient Greece , since it was divided into several city-states .

For your reference:


Merneptah Stele Inscription “Israel is laid waste—its seed is no more.”

 This reference is to the existence of Israelites in the land of Canaan even before the conquest by the children of Israel- because we understand from Jacob’s own words, that he had taken Shechem in his day:B’charbi u’bekashti-with my sword and my bow.


The  other  date  Mr.  Shobe  gives  is 721B.C. , but it is only the date  of  the  fall  of the Northern Kingdom ( Israel ) to Assyria. He ignores  the  fact  that  the Southern Kingdom  (Judah)  remained  until  586  B.C., when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians.

How else do we know that there were ancient Israelites and Judeans there, since the Bible is considered a one-sided evidence?

An inscription found in the 1880, in an underground water tunnel, at the Siloam spring( Shiloach), verifying the Bible’s account of the digging of such a tunnel by King Hezekiah.

The Moabite Steel, by King Meesha, paralleling the Israelite version, around 840 BCE. Our version says we won, his version says he won, but otherwise, the accounts agree.

A calendar, in ancient Biblical Hebrew, circa 925 BCE.



However, despite population deportations by the conquerors,  a large  part of the population of both kingdoms  remained behind. With the rise of the Persian Empire, the deported Jews were allowed to return   and   re-establish   a homeland in 538 B.C. ; by 516, they had rebuilt the Temple. Palestine remained occupied by Jews, but under Persian and Greek rule till 167 B.C., when , by revolution , the Jews won their independence; this lasted till 63 B.C.. when the Romans took control.  However, the Jews retained much autonomy till 44 A.D.

Because of increasing Roman oppression there was a revolution  that  lasted from  67 to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. with resistance continuing for three more years till the fall of Masada. This is generally considered the end of Jewish rule; however, from 115-117 A.D. in Egypt, Cyrene, Cyprus, and Mesopotamia And from 132-135 A.D. in Palestine under Bar Kochba, more wars for independence  were fought. Although the deaths from these revolts ran well into the hundreds of thousands , there remained a Jewish community in Palestine, which was ruled by a patriarchate. This government lasted till  425 A.D., when it was abolished by a Christian emperor. The Jewish community itself remained    in   Palestine   until   the  Crusaders wiped  out  a  large  part  of  the population; however,  Jews  soon  returned and re-established enclaves in Palestine that still exist.

Jewish rule, whether as a union of tribes , as a monarchy, or as a patriarchate, lasted from at least 1230 B.C . to 425 A.D., at least 1,655 years, not 200 years as Mr. Shobe claims.

What did we produce in those years the author claimed we had already vanished?

The final consensus body of the Bible.

The Apocrypha, books that were not incorporated into the Bible.

The Dead Sea Scrolls.

Pharisaic Judaism.

Early Christianity ( till it split off).

After the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and the rebranding of Judea as Palestina, we continued to produce in the land of Israel:

The pre-Mishnaic codes

The core structure of Jewish prayer, shared by Jews everywhere as well as religious poetry, the Piyutim still used today.

The Mishnah, the foundation of Jewish Law.

The Palestinian, or better, the Yerushalmi ( Jerusalem) version of Talmud.

The major Midrashic compendia.

The authoritative scroll of the Torah, used world wide.

The authoritative punctuated and vocalized edition of the Bible, used world-wide, and the basis for major Bible translations used by Christians today.

Even after the Crusades, which damaged the extent Jewish community heavily, we continued to produce:

The major system of Kabbalah, of the Ari, Lurianic Kabbalah.

The foundation code of Jewish law, the Shulkhan Arukh.

Major works of Jewish liturgy-Lecha Dodi, Yah Ribbon.

Even our Messianic rebellion, under Shabtai Zvi, had its base in, of all places, Gaza!

All of this was done, when even by common belief, Jews were no longer present.


By the way, you may have seen interviews of ordinary West Bank Palestinians, as to what major leaders or figures the people of Palestine have produced ( besides Yaser Arafat, born in Egypt), they will tell you—zilch! You can watch this on your own: Palestinians: Name an important Palestinian in history?



Michael Spear 's prattle about Aryan races [Book Forum, Apr. 12] could only have been taken  from  the  same  experts  that taught Hitler. Mr. Spear knows nothing of either "races" or language groups.


His first term is Hamitic--this is now used to refer to the ancient Egyptians, and today's Coptics and Ethiopians, as a language group. Although the Canaanites were called the "sons of Ham" in the Bible, they were Semites, as were most of the other peoples  Mr. Spear mentioned.


The terms Semites, Aryans, and Hamites are not racial, but linguistic. Semitic languages are spoken today only by the Israelis and the Arabs , but in  the  past,  they  were the languages of the Mesopotamian  valley, the Fertile Crescent, and the Arabian Penninsula. Aryan refers to the language group that originated in the Iranian plateau and spread to Europe,  where  these  people formed the Germanic, Romance, and Slavic languages of today,  and  to  India,  where they developed Sanskrit and modern Hindi. Any linguist will affirm that the resemblance of  Semitic  to  Aryan  languages is nil.   


There were two movements of Indo­ Europeans ( the term is preferrable to Aryan because of the Nazi connotations) into Palestine. The first came in the seventeenth century B.C. ( not 3800 B.C.) and  were soon absorbed by the population. The so­ called "Jewish nose," which appears in only 14 per cent of the Jewish population, is characteristic of this "Aryan" people. The second group were the refugees of the Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations of Crete and Greece, who came to Palestine as the Philistines at the same time that Joshua led the Israelites in.


lt is true that in 3800 B.C. there were non-Semites in the Mesopotamian Valley­ but they were not Aryans. The Sumerians, not the Akkadians, were there, and they spoke a language of an unidentified group. The Akkadians came to Mesopotamia some time afterwards,  and  adopted  the  culture of the Sumerians , but retained their Semitic tongue. Mr. Spear now confuses these Akkadians with the Amorites, who did not appear till the twenty-first century B.C., when they left the desert and overran the Sumero-Akkadians to the east ( Hammurabi, the law-maker of Babylon , was an Amorite) and entered Palestine to the west, to form, with other Semitic predecessors, the Canaanite peoples that greeted Abraham. The Amorites were closely related to the Hebrews - common Amorite names were Abram, Jacob, Benjamin, Zebulun.

The Hebrew tribes were themselves part of a large group of peoples speaking an Aramaic-Semitic dialect. These people came into Syria and Palestine in the second half of the second millennium. The Hebrews, however, adopted  almost  entirely  the language of the Canaanites, and this became Hebrew. Without a doubt, the Hebrews not only adopted the language and the customs, but also absorbed the population by intermarriage.

The Arabs were merely the last wave of Semitic expansion out of the desert.

Just an aside, there is a Palestinian case that their DNA is that of the original Canaanites. That’s their claim, a genetic claim. I won’t go into the nitty-gritty of DNA genealogical research, but Jewish DNA, even the “Ashkenazic” white European colonialists, is basically similar. Palestinians show more input from the Arabian Peninsula, while Ashkenazim show more influence from Italy, La Dolce Vita. However, basing on DNA can be a racist tool. The true question of indigeneity is what culture does the claimant bear? The only peoples who adhere, and have adhered consistently, to the indigenous culture of the land of Israel, are the Samaritans, who bear what may be the traditions of northern Israel, and the Jews, Judeans. We bear in the Hebrew Bible, the traditions of both ancient Israelite kingdoms, the wars against the Canaanite and Phoenician Baal, and the poetry of ancient Canaan. We bear the use of the ancient language of the Land of Israel, Hebrew, as well as the variation of the old alef-bet which we now use. We took the land of Israel with us wherever we went. We refused to give in to the colonizers and conquerors, wherever we were. The Palestinians no longer bear that indigenous heritage, but , to the most part, if they are descendants of the original Israelites, then they betrayed that heritage when they adopted either the Greek and Latin versions of Christianity, or Islam and  the Arabic language.

Mr. Spear mentions the Khibiri ( habiru, hapiru , abiru) of Tel el Amarna fame. However, this  does  not  refer  to  an  ethnic  or  language group, but means a class of wandering laborers, mercenaries, and semi-nomads; each one of the peoples mentioned had their beginnings as Khibiru.

Norbert   Weinberg,

New York, N.Y


I think I did a decent job, at the age of 20, of stating the case for the antiquity of the Jews.


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