- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
A compelling and readable account of the four thousand year history of a people that spans the globe and transcends the ages. From the ancient and simple faith of a small tribe to a global religion with adherents in every nation, the path of the Jews is traced through countless expulsions and migrations, the great tragedy of the Holocaust, and the joy of founding a homeland in Israel. Putting the struggle of a persecuted people into perspective, Max Dimont asks whether the tragic sufferings of the Jews have ...
A compelling and readable account of the four thousand year history of a people that spans the globe and transcends the ages. From the ancient and simple faith of a small tribe to a global religion with adherents in every nation, the path of the Jews is traced through countless expulsions and migrations, the great tragedy of the Holocaust, and the joy of founding a homeland in Israel. Putting the struggle of a persecuted people into perspective, Max Dimont asks whether the tragic sufferings of the Jews have actually been the key to their survival, as other nations and races vanished into obscurity. Here is a book for Jews and non-Jews to enjoy, evoking a proud heritage while offering a hopeful vision of the future.
SCENE 1 The Intellectual Conception
As the houselights dim and the curtain goes up on the first scene of our first act, the spotlight is on one man—a pagan, a goy, a non-Jew. It is Abraham, a seventy-five-year-old Babylonian lost deep in the heart of present-day Turkey. The time is 4,000 years ago. The place is Haran, an insignificant but—as we shall see—not a Godforsaken spot on the globe.
Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah and his sons—none are Jews. They are all pagans. Biblical history from the Creation and the Flood through the Tower of Babel—all is but a vast panoramic background for the entry of Abraham, the first Jew in history. The Bible calls him a Hebrew. Although the Bible uses the term "Hebrew" or "Israelite" for the Jews, we shall use the modern term "Jew" throughout this work.
It cannot be said that the world was waiting for Abraham; the world could not have cared less. But after Abraham's arrival the world changed, because of the religious revolution he fathered.
The world before Abraham had taken an inordinately long time in shaping up. Man's descent from the trees to a seat in a spacecraft took over a million years. For 90 percent of this time span, he was a tailless, hairy, two-legged beast, wielding a club for a living and dwelling in a cave with wall-to-wall dirt floors. Around 100,000 years ago, this two-legged caveman entered his "Stone Age." He now held mastery over other animals, not only with his cunning brain and dexterous hands, but with new, sophisticated weapons made of stones tied to sticks. After about 90,000 years of this borderline existence, man stood on the threshold of his first cultural revolution, the Neolithic Age, extending from about 10,000 to 3,000 b.c. Pottery was introduced, animals were domesticated, agriculture was invented. Stable village life developed, and man's first cities cropped up.
The second cultural revolution was the Bronze Age, from about 3000 to 1200 b.c., when man learned how to fuse copper with tin to create his first alloy, bronze. He could now exchange his ancestral stone tools for tools of metal, which paved the way for more deadly warfare and more complex village life.
The third revolution was the development of pictographic and cuneiform writing, which, around 1700 b.c., culminated in the creation of an alphabet. Writing ushered in man's first age of literature, opened the mind to science, and paved the way for the first formation of a state, with men living as a unified people under one law and one ruler.
The fourth revolution was Abraham's religious innovation—monotheism. Abraham would have been in wholehearted agreement with Montaigne's epigram, "Man is certainly stark mad; he cannot make a worm, and yet he will be making gods by the dozens." Abraham's concept was based on the proposition that it is not man who makes God but God who makes man. This proposition was destined to topple empires, conquer men's minds, and create new world civilizations.
Though men began descending from the trees at about the same time all over the world independently of one another, a spontaneous transition from cave to civilization took place only in those two small wedges of the globe we know as Palestine and Mesopotamia. From here the gospel of civilization was carried to the rest of the world. The Bronze Age, pictographic and cuneiform writing, the alphabet, the monotheistic-religious revolution, the subsequent Iron Age were all conceived in this small Palestinian-Mesopotamian womb and nurtured by a small group of people speaking that group of linguistically related languages we now call Semitic. In the four and a half millennia between 5000 and 500 b.c., when the Semitic peoples were the intellectual overlords of the world, the people of Europe still lived in a cultural "Stone Age." The refinements of the Neolithic revolution did not reach them until several thousand years later, when Semites on the move introduced these innovations to them.
Who were these talented, inventive Semites to whom the world owes such a great debt? Until recently, we knew very little about the origins of this fascinating people. Now, thanks to the modern sciences of archaeology and linguistics, we have more factual information about the entry of the Semites on the world scene. For an exciting treasure of information on Semites and semantics, see At the Dawn of Civilization: A Background of Biblical History, E. A. Speiser, editor, Volume I of The World History of the Jewish People. Here, Sumerians, Hurrians, and Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, and Egyptians come to life through a vibrant scholarship that roams the field from flora and fauna to arts and linguistics.
The most current view is that sometime before 10,000 b.c., a group of people speaking a Semitic language and living in the vicinity of the Sinai Peninsula began a three-pronged migration. One prong forked its way northeast into Palestine and Mesopotamia, becoming the progenitors of the Babylonians and Assyrians. The second migrated south into Egypt, giving rise to the Egyptian civilization. The ancient Egyptians were a Hamito-Semitic people. The people living in Egypt today have ethnically and racially little in common with the ancient Egyptians because of the massive intermixtures of races, peoples, and tongues that have taken place in the past 2,000 years as Egypt was raped, ravaged, and defiled in an unending succession of wars and conquests by Greeks, Romans, Mohammedans, Crusaders, Nubians, Turks, and Englishmen. The third, undulating west along the Mediterranean shore of Africa, got off to a bad start. History lost sight of this branch until the ninth century b.c., when Semitic Phoenicians founded Carthage, which was destroyed by the Romans in the Third Punic War (146 b.c.). There was a later migration, around 2000 b.c., when Semites from the Palestinian area settled the island of Crete, where they founded the Minoan civilization.
The busy spade of the archaeologist has unearthed evidence that history began at Jericho in 7500 b.c. and not at Sumer in 3500 b.c. From all evidence, civilization developed by giant strides in the Jordan Valley before it took hold in the Mesopotamian triangle. For 2,000 years before Sumer and Akkad, Jericho was a flourishing city, fortified with a stone wall surrounded by a moat, with brick and stone houses, streets, and running water, whose inhabitants knew of animal domestication, agriculture, crop rotation, and irrigation.
Unaccountably, this Jordanian civilization had disappeared by 4000 b.c., but by that time history had already focused its lens on Mesopotamia. We do not know in which century or in what language in which people greeted the invading Semites from Sinai. We do know that the Akkadians, the first people identified as Semites in Mesopotamia, had settled there as early as 8000 b.c. and had perhaps even founded the city of Akkad, which bears their name.
Around 3500 b.c., an enigma of history took place. Seemingly from "nowhere" came a roundheaded, non-Semitic, non-Aryan people we now call the Sumerians, who conquered the area around the already existing city of Sumer in Lower Mesopotamia and imposed their Mongolian-type agglutinating language on its Semitic-speaking inhabitants. The Sumerians apparently acted as a catalyst in bringing the already developing native civilization to a simmer. A millennium later, the Akkadian King Sargon I drove out the Sumerians, and soon thereafter the Sumerians vanished from history as suddenly as sin on the Day of Atonement.
Sargon I was history's first known bastard in a basket. Another famous case is that of the Roman twin bastards Romulus and Remus who were abandoned by their accidental parents in a chest left floating down the Tiber.rebellion against His commandments but not against His life. Because creation in the Jewish view is not a result of sexuality, as in all pagan religions, the Jewish concept of the creation of heaven and earth, of flora and fauna, is consonant with the scientific idea of natural evolution. Substitute a "million years" where Genesis says "a day" in the Creation story, and we have the same evolutionary sequence in Genesis that we have in Darwin's theory. Because the God of Abraham is above sexuality, the Jews did not have to provide Him with a playmate as did the pagans for their gods. Pagans learned to respect the God of the Jews, who did not sneak into the beds of other men's wives as did Egyptian, Greek, and Roman gods. And because the God of Abraham acts with a moral purpose and a preconceived plan, He is not a capricious God who acts on a day-to-day basis. The Jews know what God expects of them and can therefore make long-range plans. Fathered by a mortal man, born of a virgin mother, abandoned by both in a basket of reeds to float to death down the Euphrates, Sargon was saved by that poor but honest couple of myth who rescue heroes in postnatal distress. Brought up as a gardener by his foster father, Akki, and surviving a love affair with the goddess Ishtar, black-bearded, gimlet-eyed Sargon I fought his way to the top of the Mesopotamian world and fused Akkad and Sumer into the world's first empire. Under his ruthless, capable, and enlightened leadership, the Semitic civilizations received new impetus. The Semitic languages reasserted themselves, and science, especially mathematics and astronomy, reached new heights. This then was the Semitic world that gave birth to Abraham sometime between the twentieth and nineteenth centuries b.c.
Abraham enters history unobtrusively at the age of seventy-five. The Bible wastes no words in introducing him. With no explanation, Abraham's aged parents pull up stakes in Ur in Babylonia and head for Canaan. When the family reaches Haran, the father dies, and Abraham has his first encounter with God.
In this first encounter of God with man—of Jehovah with Abraham—it is God who proposes a Covenant with Abraham. If Abraham will do as God bids him, then God will make Abraham's descendants His Chosen People and will fashion them into a great nation. God does not, at this time, reveal His purpose.
God stipulates but one commandment and gives but one promise. The commandment is—all males of His future Chosen People must be circumcised as a sign of their "chosenness." The promise is—the Land of Canaan.
God does not say how long it will take to fulfill the promise or how it will come about. Nor does God tell His Chosen People that they will be better than others. The inference is that they are to be different and that they are to be set apart for a mission. There is no chauvinism here, no superiority complex. How this uniqueness and this nationhood are to be brought about—whether by the sword, or the book, or both—is not made known at this time. No other commandments are spelled out. God has now, however, chosen His messenger, and the action of our drama can begin.
In spite of the indefiniteness of the Covenant, certain immediate and concrete consequences grew out of this new, bold concept of God. Because the God of Abraham has no ancestry, there is a total absence of mythological stories of His origin. Because He is immortal, there can be rebellion against His commandments but not against His life. Because creation in the Jewish view is not the result of sexuality, as in all pagan religions, the Jewish concept of the creation of Heaven and Earth, of flora and fauna, is consonant with the scientific idea of natural evolution. Substitute "a million years" where Genesis says "a day" into the Creation story, and we have the same evolutionary sequence in Genesis that we have in Darwin's theory. Because the God of Abraham is above sexuality, the Jews did not have to provide him with a playmate as did the pagans for their gods. Pagans learned to respect the God of the Jews, who did not sneak into the beds of other men's wives as did the Egyptian, Greek, and Roman gods. And because the God of Abraham acts with a moral purpose and preconceived plan, He is not a capricious God who acts on a day-to-day basis. The Jews know what God expects of them and can therefor make long-term plans.
That concepts of one's God do create moral outlooks in man can be illustrated by comparing the story in Genesis of the binding of Isaac by his father Abraham to the story in the Iliad of the sacrifice of Iphigenia by her father Agamemnon.
In the Genesis story, Abraham stands to gain nothing by the sacrificing of his son. God promises him no favors. Faith carries Abraham to Mount Moriah; hope sustains him. Faith makes him heroic; hope makes him human. The sacrifice is never consummated; an angel stays his hand, and a sacrificial lamb is substituted for Isaac. Through this story the Jews learned that God does not want human sacrifice, not even as an act of faith, just as fifteen centuries later the Jews were to learn through their Prophets that God does not even want animal sacrifice, but can be approached through prayer, humility, and good deeds.
In the Iliad story, an oracle advises Agamemnon, commander of the Greek forces, that only by sacrificing his daughter as atonement for a trifling crime he has committed will the gods give him the wind he needs to set sail for Troy. Agamemnon cuts the throat of Iphigenia. She is whisked away, however, still alive, by the goddess Artemis, not as a moral lesson for man, but to consecrate Iphigenia as a priestess in the temple of Artemis, where she is taught to prepare strangers as victims for sacrifice.
An interplay of Jewish and pagan themes in the Isaac and Iphigenia stories cast their shadows over Christianity. As Isaac carried the wood for his sacrificial altar on his shoulders to Mount Moriah, so Jesus carried the cross for his crucifixion on his shoulders to Mount Golgotha. Jesus expected a Jewish ending but got a pagan one. Just as Abraham looked 5 The most evocative essay on the meaning of the "Abraham-Isaac" story ever written is "Fear and Trembling" by the Danish Protestant theologian Søren Kierkegaard to heaven for God's grace to stay his hand, so Jesus looked to heaven for God's grace to stay the hand of fate. But as Jews did not write this script, there was no grace for Jesus. He died with a prayer from the Psalms (22:2) on his lips: "Eli, Eli lama sabachtani"—My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me? Jesus, who like his fellow Jews spoke Aramaic, the lingua franca of that century among Jews, prayed in that language, as was custom, using the Aramaic word sabachtani for the Hebrew word asavtani in the Psalms. See Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34.
Once monotheism had been launched, there was no going back for the Jews. The first three generations springing from the seed of Abraham did not look upon themselves as nomads, but saw themselves as proud heirs to the Promised Land, superbly confident of the fulfillment of their destiny.
Before ringing down the curtain on this first scene, however, we need to make one last observation on the nature of Jewish monotheism. Its basic idea is "pure." It has no roots, no antecedents in paganism or in anything that existed previously. By one stroke of the Jewish imagination all idols were done away with, not by conquest but by a simple dismissal. The idea of monotheism affected not only the destiny of the Jews but also the destiny of man. This Jewish concept of monotheism was to give rise to new cultures and create new art forms. It was to create a vast new literature, destined to affect the world outlook of man. As pagan empires crumbled, the Jewish idea of God prevailed. And, as the Jews saw their ideas triumph, their belief that events in their history were not haphazard but evidence of their own manifest destiny was strengthened.
It is this concept of deity that shapes the Jewish character and sets the Jews apart from the pagan world. From this concept Jewish history is born. The first requirement for conditioning the Jews for their future mission was met by their acceptance of monotheism.CHAPTER 2
SCENE 2 The Double Revelation
The Aton Cult
The setting for our second scene shifts from Mesopotamia to Egypt; the time drifts from 1800 to 1300 b.c. When the stage lights go up the Jews are slaves; when they go down the Jews will be free men. Before our scene begins, however, let us familiarize ourselves with the background of the events about to happen.
Around 2800 b.c., something incredible happened in Egypt. She leaped from infancy to maturity, skipping a cultural puberty period. By 2500 b.c. we are confronted with a full-blown civilization, surpassing in art, literature, and political unity anything that had been achieved in Mesopotamia, her tutor state.