Monday, July 13, 2009

Mark Smith: Challenges To Israel During The Biblical

Challenges To Israel During The Biblical Period

Pre-Monarchic Challenges

We have seen that the early origins of Israel were the result of a basically peaceful development, involving a migration of farming populations from relatively nearby regions to the lightly populated highlands of Canaan. The infusion of tribal elements from the south (Midian) with their strong influence on religion and certain social structures was complementary to the "anti-feudal" attitudes of the indigenous population, and gave rise to a distinct Israelite identity. This distinct Israelite social, as opposed to political, identity was recognized as early as the victory Stela of Pharaoh Merneptah in 1208 B.C. The Egyptian inscription makes a careful distinction between the states or political entities that the Pharaoh defeated and Israel, which is categorized as a "people": a social reality but not one that was organized as a state or political entity.

As time went on and the population increased, two areas of conflict emerged for Israelite society, both of which are described in Judges: on the one hand intertribal tensions and feuds between Israelite and allied groupings, and conflicts with both more advanced coastal societies (primarily Philistines) as well as tribal groupings from the desert fringes (Midianites, Arab tribes, Amalekites, etc.) who combined trading and caravaneering with raiding. The informal tribal levy, the traditional response to such problems, is portrayed as effective in the case of intra-Israelite disputes, but we may well believe that as Israel became a more cohesive social reality the need was felt for a formalized authority to control the more destructive aspects of intertribal disputes. The informal response of the tribal levy proved clearly ineffective against external threats of a more organized character, particularly that of the Philistines. The Philistine threat was probably the most significant factor that led to the limited kingship of Saul--limited in that it was largely confined to the more advanced Josephite tribal groupings of the central highlands and Transjordan. Judah and the Galilean regions do not appear to have been part of Saul's kingdom. However, with Saul's death in battle against the Philistines the weaknesses of Saul's kingship were clear: it was still based in tribal loyalties and lacked the cohesive organization of a true state that was needed to withstand external threats of the type that Israel faced. (MG 46-50)

The Challenges of the United Monarchy

The Israelite response to this challenge came in two stages. First, a charismatic warlord, David, arose in the sparsely populated and rugged hill country of Judah, centered around Hebron. David gained valuable experience both in Saul's army as well as in the service of the Philistine city state of Gath, and he parleyed this experience into an independent military power base.