Priest-Style History

After the little kingdom of Israel fell to Assyria, c. 722 BCE, the more rugged central hill country of Judah south of Israel experienced an influx of refugees and the modest village of Jerusalem burst forth in sudden expansion c. 720-718 BCE.  Until this time Jerusalem had covered no more than ten-and-a-half acres, but it quickly expanded outward from its narrow ridge site to engulf the entire western hill and envelop one hundred and fifty acres with closely packed residences, workshops, businesses and public buildings.

In this timeframe Jerusalem was not yet regarded as a “holy city”—except, perhaps, by the priests of Yahweh who had long dreamed of making their temple in Jerusalem the center of political spirituality.  The common understanding has long been nourished that Jerusalem and the region around it was always devoted to belief in one god and one god only.  In truth there was a widespread diversity of worship practices throughout Judah, and there was a widespread mixing of other gods with that of Yahweh in the Jerusalem Temple.  Archaeology finds have shown conclusively that the claimed golden age of tribal and Davidic fidelity to Yahweh was not a historic reality.  Indeed, cults of various gods and goddesses were prevalent throughout Judah.  So diverse were the customs of the people that some of them regarded the Ugaritic mother-goddess Asherah as the consort of YHWH.  This, of course, was deemed blasphemous by the priests of Yahweh.

Scriptural accounts of coexisting kingdoms of Israel and Judah (as noted in the previous post Scriptures’ Contrived History, June 16) is priestly fabrication, for Judah developed extensively only after Israel’s fall to Assyria.  The priest account of defensive forts said to have been erected by Solomon’s son Rehoboam were actually erected 200 years later than the implied c. 931-914 BCE date as II Chronicles 11:5-12 would have us believe.  The same is true of the palaces and gates that Solomon is claimed to have commissioned.

The political minded priests in Jerusalem recognized that they had to blend the popular Creation myths known in Israel with their own myths if they were to lure the refugees into becoming part of the “chosen people” of Yahweh.  Thus chapters one and two of Genesis present noticeable differences in Creation sequences, as well as the different versions that Adam and Eve allegedly played in the Creator’s scheme of  things.  The two accounts are mismatched enough that Bible scholars refer to them as the “J” and “E” versions.  The “J” version was written by priests in Judah whose God was addressed as Yahweh: the version that was known in Israel is referred to as the “E” account because the authors of that tale referred to the Creator as Elohim.

It should be noted that the “J” version of Genesis does not exactly make it clear as to whether or not Yahweh was the sole creator of heaven and earth and Man.  In trying to bond the two accounts the authors of the revision suddenly have God muse aloud, “Let us create man in our image…” (Genesis 1:26).  But in the second chapter it says, “God (again singular) formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life…” (Genesis 2:7).  The political reason for this description of man being fashioned from dust was to block any idea that man might share some divine attributes of the Creator as other cultures believed.  The “J” authors were determined to bind the act of Creation to ordinary time, which allowed themselves the liberty to compose a “history” in which those who believed in Yahweh could be presented with the status of having been “chosen.”  And with the characters of Moses and Abram/Abraham there was set in place the means by which they could claim the special destiny of owning the land of Canaan. 

For the fundamentalists who assert that every word in scriptures is to be taken as God-sent, it might be wise to note that the uncertainty that is revealed in the two patched together Creation myths is reason to pause for reassessment.  That the scriptures were written with political intent, not spiritual enlightenment, is only faintly disguised somewhat later (in II Kings) with the priestly assessment of Manasseh who came to the throne of Judah at age 12, c. 692 BCE, after his father, Hezekiah, revolted against Assyria and was defeated (even though priests assured him that God approved his policy of religious purification).  It was up the Manasseh to pick up the pieces and try to restore Judah to an operational kingdom.  His subjects were primarily country folks and few of them had ever embraced Yahweh as the one-and-only God that the priests demanded.  As a result, religious pluralism returned.  The priest authors in Jerusalem were a spiteful group, and in their writings expressed only denunciatory outrage at Manasseh for letting this happen.  True to the revisionist style of history making, we find Manasseh being presented by the priest authors as the most sinful monarch that the kingdom Judah ever had (II Kings 21: 1-18).

Archaeological evidence reveals that Manasseh was nothing of the sort.  Under Manasseh the kingdom of Judah was revived and prospered.  For the sake of the kingdom and the people Manasseh became a vassal of Assyria—and went on to reign for fifty-five years—the longest, most prosperous and most peaceful reign of any Israelite or Judean king.  The population grew and the nation flourished under his policies.  But the priests continued to fume with jealousy over the blessings enjoyed under his rule—all of which occurred without the benefit of priestly intercession with Yahweh. 

Fundamentalists, take note:  The settlements and cities that were established during Manasseh’s reign survived and thrived after his death.  Indeed, it was only after the priests had again finagled themselves into political influence that Judah fell c. 587 BCE.

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One Response to “Priest-Style History”

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