Tribal Heritage of Faith Systems

Very little is known concerning the ancient history of the alleged twelve tribes which are referred to in Hebrew Scriptures. Genesis 49 speaks of the “blessings of Jacob,” and Deuteronomy 33 speaks of the “blessings of Moses,” but these priestly notations provide only allusions to earlier tribal measures. Always there is presented the insinuation that the twelve alleged tribes always functioned as a united people (as is inferred in the much-edited book of Joshua). The claim that there were twelve tribes drew their identity from the twelve sons of Jacob seem most likely to have been cleverly modeled by the priest-authors, for manipulative reasons, upon the twelve signs of the zodiac.

The perception of “tribe” is of a unity of primitive social organization, commonly living together under a headsman (chief). Even after establishment in Canaan the Hebrew settlers (AKA Israelites) are depicted as clinging to their tribal customs. And it was because of this that Israel was never among the great political powers in the ancient world despite the grandiose claims of the priest-authors of scripture. Nor can it be claimed that either Israel of Judah excelled in architecture or minor arts. But in literature and especially in historiography the Yahweh priests were without equal. Unlike the Babylonians, Assyrians, Egyptians, etc., the tribal mentality among the Hebrews did not embrace a practice of assimilation: it was always an attitude of us-against-them. The premise of what constituted tribal “law,” for example, was the indulgence in retaliation–the talion–such as an eye for an eye.

In a later timeframe, in the vicinity of ancient Rome (founded c. 753 BCE), there were three tribal divisions which included Latin, Etruscan and Sabine. These cannot be ranked in the same manner with the cruder tribal aspects of the people at the eastern end of the Mediterranean. The Etruscan inhabitants of ancient Etruria (Tuscany region) in Italy was a center of cultured civilization which was absorbed into the Roman way of life during the close of the fifth century BCE. The Sabine people, of Umbro-Sabellian stock NE of Rome in central Italy, was dominated and assimilated by Romans in 290 BCE. Legend has it that a colony of Sabines from Cures occupied the Quirinal Hill in Rome and became incorporated with followers of Romulus on the Palatine. The Sabines were granted Roman citizenship in 268 BCE. It is the granting of citizenship which marks the principled difference between Roman acceptance of outsiders within society as opposed to the tribal mentality of mutual-restriction among the Near East people. This Roman practice of inclusiveness by Latin clan would prove to set a pattern which contributed to a belief system that would be born in Rome and which would, despite internal conflicts, differ markedly from the narrow tribal mentality that shaped Judaism (and Islam later). It would be from these two different approaches of what constituted membership that would determine the flowers of the three manmade faith systems of western cultures.

Considerably later, prior to the mid-seventh century CE there was no central authority to weld the nomadic clans/tribes of the Arab people with any unifying social consciousness. To be more precise, each clan/tribe within the vast arid region existed as a single entity which was in an almost steady state of bitter competition with other clans/tribes for the essentials of life. In such conditions the only “law” was also understood as equal retaliation for wrongs inflicted by others. The natural outcome of this was that a condition of perpetual warlike circumstances continued among the tribes. Tensions among the tribes would be brought to a standstill only during the mutually agreed upon times of spiritual observances at Mecca where three stones (meteorites) had once fallen from heaven (in connection with the planet we know as Venus). This was the atmosphere which shaped Mohammed’s youth.

Mohammed is said to have traveled widely with his tradesman uncle in his youth, as well as when he was himself a prosperous merchant. This gave Mohammed abundant opportunity during caravan travels to hear the religious claims of both the Jews and Christians from which he would develop his own ideas of spiritual regulation. It was from these encounters that the scriptural character of Abraham became claimed by Mohammed as the ancestor of the Arab people through Abraham’s concubine, Hagar. Mohammed became convinced that because the Jewish and Christian holy accounts seemed to him to deviate from the Lord’s directives to Abraham (Ibrahim) that he, Mohammed, had been called to restore the pure religion of Abraham (Ibrahim). Thus was a monotheistic faith introduced into Arab thought which had its spiritual roots transplanted in a piety for an indefinite forebear. Consequently the concept that all Arabs were descended from a mutual forebear became the catalyst for the rapid spread of the Islamic faith. And the old tribal animosity so long cultivated among the old tribes was simply transformed into a jihad attitude against any differing spiritual understanding among more cultured people.

The point being labored for here is that it was tribal mentality and superstition that served as the tap roots from which the flowering of each of these three interrelated faith systems evolved. The political administration of each faith system, whether Jewish, Christian or Islam, suggests that something more secular, more materialistic was at work behind the scenes than a patient, plodding and variable heaven would have pursued. Of the three sister faith systems, it is Judaism and Islam which still hold a closer resemblance to ancient tribal attitude. Both retain that old tribal indifference to the welfare of outsiders—not that Christianity is overly blessed with any love-thy-neighbor consciousness. But that old Roman acceptance of outsiders into the folds of society did happen to flavor the principles of the belief system that developed in the Roman Empire. Add to this that no dutiful divine messenger of the Life Principle (commonly personified as “God”) would ever be inclined to promote the oxymoron “holy war” upon any of life’s intended diversities as being somehow a God-ordained spiritual duty. The idea that God (the Life Principle) would call for a “holy war” is contradictory, for why should that creative power feel any need for worldly conquest? That creative power was/is an all-inclusive power which created and continues to sustain all things.

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