Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Origin of the Hebrew Man

Generally, the subject of national origin for any people is shrouded in myth, fantasy, and a slight modicum of fact. The modern-day Jewish-Israeli-Hebrew nation in all of its varied constitutions, has origins recorded in biblical narratives. However, the chronology and accuracy of this narrative must be checked by scholarly research and reasonable assessment of the chains of events that led to invasion after invasion, constant cultural and genetic evolution, and the creation of several diasporas.

The history and origin of this people is unique among the histories of peoples due to the uncanny persistence of the nation - despite the lack of a homeland for so many years. Moreover, this history is exceptional due to its disproportionate influence on the cultural, economic, and intellectual processes of human civilization. This nation has taken on different forms throughout its nearly 4,000 year history. Yet, the people remain, and the modern expression of this nation is an attempt to recreate the ancient state of affairs. While literal replication in all aspects would not be desirable, a veritable renaissance of this people is undeniable. The confederation of Northwest Semitic nomads who became the Hebrews commenced a history that is still being lived today. Indubitably, there has been assimilation of much foreign culture, genetic material, and intellectual ideas, yet the fundamentals remain continuous to a great degree.

It is indisputable that no ethnic group has absolutely certain origins. Roman, Indian, and Incan civilization have all posited that their societies originated in this or that mythological cradle. While each extrapolates its own narrative based on a limited understanding of chronology and history. Hebrew origins are no different. While Hebrews did not suckle on mother-wolf or descend from the moon, they have indeed created a coherent account of their beginnings that can be at least partially corroborated by many historical accounts. Like the French, Egyptian, and Babylonian peoples, the Jewish-Israeli-Hebrew nation draws on a multiplicity of ethno-linguistic origins. Beginning as an amalgam of Semitic-speaking tribes in northern Mesopotamia (around southeastern Turkey, northern Syria, northern Iraq), there is certainly some Caucasian (Hurrian) influence on the peopling of the early Hebrews. Overall, what are called Habirus or Apirus in Egyptian, Canaanite, Phoenician, Babylonian, and Hittite sources (first notably in the Amarna Letters from around 1330 BCE) are apparently assorted drop-outs from more urbanized, agricultural civilizations who became nomadic, war-like, and barbaric.

These early folks likely started off somewhere around Ur in southeastern Turkey (near the ancestral center of Kurdish civilization) and proceeded to migrate southwest and to pick up more nomads along the way who shared their cultural inclinations but who did not necessarily speak the same language, worship the same god, or even have the same ethnic origins. So, alas, it is from this melange of ethno-linguistic roots that the Habirus became the various Hebrew tribes sometime towards the middle of the 2nd Millennium BCE. It is recorded that these wanderers ravaged many settled societies and exercised mercenary disdain for the other groups they encountered. It seems that by 1600 BCE, many of the Habirus had reached Egypt with their fellow Semites the Hyksos. By 1400, a certain confederation of Hebrews had conquered the northern part of Israel (including Jericho, Shechem, and Sebastya), while other Hebrews (most certainly members of different tribes) were relegated to slave duties in Egypt.

The northern alliance achieved political unity and cemented Hebraic bonds in a process that culminated in the creation of the Kingdom of Israel. Dedicated to worship of the Levantine deity known as El, this confederation included the vast majority of the Hebrew tribes who would later compose the United Monarchy. However, the Hebrews had not yet vanquished the whole of the Promised Land. Neither had this divine Promise been offered unto the Hebrews. While the northerners established a stronghold in all of Samaria, the Canaanites, Jebusites, and Kenites in the south around Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Hebron were not conquered until after the exodus of the Levite, Judean, and perhaps also Benjamite tribes from Pharaonic Egypt around 1250, after which Judean entity was established, and an overwhelmingly monotheistic cult of Yahweh was established after these Judeans had been influenced by Egyptian monotheism, as well as perhaps the nascent monotheisms of certain tribes in the Sinai desert and northern Arabian peninsula. Upon the establishment of this second Hebrew political entity in the south, the majority of the Hebrew tribes had a new homeland. The habitation of this slice of territory begs the question: did the Hebrews create justification for their settlement of this land after it had been conquered, or had something occurred to them prior to their migration that had truly inspired their flight to the Holy Land?

Regardless, the Hebrews had wandered for many years, in search of food, booty, and bounty. The way they laid down roots in what was previously known as Canaan was not too different than the way that most other tribes settled territory that had prior occupants.

More on the Hebrews' religion, priesthood, and gods will be addressed at a later date...

Regardless, what began as an amalgamation of Mesopotamian tribes who spoke different languages and possessed divergent ethnic backgrounds became a confederation whose self-imposed series of covenants encouraged people to remain endogamous, law-abiding, and culturally homogeneous. The ground-breaking set of laws that began to characterize this Hebrew Israelite nation eventually received a following throughout the tribal confederation. Soon enough, the experiences and the mythologies of each tribe became the experiences and the mythologies of the entire Hebrew Israelite nation. The formation of this entity resulted eventually in the United Monarchy that combined northern Israel and southern Judea.

Upon the Assyrian conquest of the northern Kingdom of Israel in the 8th Century BCE, many Israelites fled to the south. Yet, some 30,000 became "Samaritans" and also the ostensibly lost tribes of Israel. Thus, most of what became known to the modern world about the Hebrews was handed down via the scholars, scribes, and priests of Judea. The religion and ethnic identity of the inheritors of this tradition took on the Judean culture as their dominant influence.

Judeans are thus the descendants of Jews, while the Samaritans of the north are the ancestors of the modern day Samaritans on Mount Gerizim, who are perhaps the only living remnants of the northern Kingdom of Israel. Jerusalem was the undisputed center of the Judean polity and therefore became the focal point of worship in the Judean religion. However, the Samaritan Israelites of the north continued to focus their spiritual energies at the site of the major Israelite temple to El on Mount Gerizim.

The scope of the rest of Jewish history is too broad to be included in this essay. Yet, the destruction of 1st Temple and the subsequent Babylonian captivity resulted in the tremendous influence of Aramaic neo-Babylonian civilization on the language, script, and calendar of the exiled Judeans. When the Persians allowed these captives to return to their homeland, they retained much of the Aramaic culture.

After the tribulations of the Judeans during the alternatively glorious and traumatic Roman period, the bulk of the nation was significantly dispersed in 70 CE, forming the basis of the modern Jewish-Israeli-Hebrew nation. The in-gathering of the exiles was not to take place for almost 19 centuries, yet the foundations had been built for a nation without a shared geographical space. In addition to the conversion of several significant groups (among other smaller scale conversions), including the Himyarites in Yemen, the Adiabenes in Kurdistan, and the Khazars in Turkic southern Russia, these diaspora Judeans inherited the Hebrew culture and language and were the last Judeans (during the Bar Kokhba Revolt) to possess a state in the Promised Land until the founding of the modern State of Israel in 1948.

Here is Mark Twain's assessment of Hebrew origins and history: "It suggests a nebulous dim puff of star dust lost in the blaze of the Milky Way. Properly the Jew ought hardly be heard of; but he is heard of, has always been heard of...His contributions to the world's list of great names are way out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers. He has made a marvelous fight in the world, in all the ages; and has done it with his hands tied behind him. He could be vain of himself, and be excused for it. The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose... the Greek and the Roman followed, and made a vast noise, and they are gone...The Jew saw them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no dulling of his alert mind. All things are mortal but the Jew...What is the secret of his immortality?"

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