Some things and some people never change. I guess. Seems we Jews have always been the same as we are now. Read the following quote from a book published in 1831. I dare you to tell me it doesn’t sound familiar. I dare you to tell me it couldn’t have been written today, just changing Canaanite native to Arab long-term residents. You can’t tell the difference between the Hebrew of Joshua’s time and the modern Jew. After you read the quote I’ll tell you something about the book and its author. Just keep in mind, he is using the name Palestine because that name stuck from the time of the Roman Empire and at the time of his writing, the land was within the Ottoman Empire.
. . . But no sooner did they convert the sword into a ploughshare, and the spear into a pruning-hook, than they unanimously returned to their more ancient form of society. As soon as there appeared a sufficient quantity of land wrested from the Canaanites to afford to the tribes on the western side of the Jordan a competent inheritance, Joshua “sent the people away, and they departed;” and from this moment the military aspect that their community had assumed gave way to the patriarchal model, to which in fact all their institutions bore an immediate reference, and to the restoration of which their strongest hopes and wishes were constantly directed.
Actuated by such views, it cannot be denied that the Hebrews manifested an undue impatience to enjoy the fruits of their successful invasion. They had fought, it should seem, to obtain an inheritance in a rich and pleasant country, rather than to avenge the cause of pure religion, or to punish the idolatrous practices of the children of Moab and Ammon. As soon, therefore, as the fear of their name and the power of their arms had scattered the inhabitants of the open countries, the Israelites began to sow and to plant; being more willing to make a covenant with the residue of the enemy, than to purchase the blessings of a permanent peace by enduring a little longer the fatigue and privations of war. Their eagerness to get possession of the land flowing with milk and honey seems to have compelled Joshua to adopt a measure, which led at no distant period to much guilt and suffering on the part of his people. He consented that they should occupy the vacant fields before the nations which they had been commissioned to displace were finally subdued; that that they should cast lots for provinces which were still in the hands of the native Gentiles; and that they should distribute, by the line and the measuring-rod, many extensive hills and fair valleys which had not yet submitted to the dominion of their swords.
The effects of this injudicious policy soon rendered themselves apparent; and all the evils which were foreseen by the aged servant of God, when he addressed the congregation at Shechem, were realized in a little time to the fullest extent. The Hebrew did indeed find the remnant of the nations among whom they consented to swell proving scourges in their sides and thorns in their eyes, and still able to dispute with them the possession of the good land which they had been taught to regard as a sacred inheritance conferred upon them in virtue of a divine promise made to their fathers. . . . Hence arose the fact, that the Israelites did not for several hundred years complete their conquest of Palestine. The Canaanites, recovering from the terror which had fallen upon them in the commencement of the Hebrew invasion, attempted, not only to regain possession of their ancient territory, but even to obliterate all traces of their defeat and subjection. What movements were made by the petty sovereigns of the country, in order to effect their object, we are nowhere expressly told; but we find, from a consultation held by the southern tribes of Israel, soon after the death of Joshua, that the necessity of renewing military operations against the natives could no longer be postponed.
* * * * *
The title of the book is Palestine or the Holy Land From the Earliest Period to the Present Time. Its author was the Scot, Michael Russell (1781–1848), first Bishop of Glasgow and Galloway. Russell was recognized during his time as a scholar and thorough researcher of the many tomes he published on a variety of topics. A subject of particular importance to him was the synthesis between Biblical writings and secular historical and geographical writings.
The fascinating Russell may have fallen into total obscurity if it were not for the 2010 book by Edwin James Aiken of the School of Geography, Archaeology and Palaeoecology at Queen’s University, Belfast. Aiken writes at length about 3 scholars he deemed important to the development of what may have been a precursor to modern Biblical archaeology. This topic comprises the search for concrete evidence to show the truth of the events related in the Bible, to prove that they are not mere tales told from generation to generation.
Aiken notes that Russell never travelled to Egypt or Israel to do the research upon which to base his writing, but relied upon the first-hand writings of others. He was a discriminate researcher, however, and rejected many volumes that did not seem to him to be valid or legitimate works of historical or geographical import. He did not accept or reject authors on the basis of their reputation at the time, but on the basis of his own examination of their supposed worth.
* * * * *
Image Above: Modern Israeli soldier added to painting of Joshua crossing the Jordan by Benjamin West (1800). Soldier image credit: By Israel Defense Forces from Israel (Brother’s Keeper Operation in Judea & Samaria) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons; West painting in the public domain on Google Art Project
* * * * *
This article originally appeared in Israel Diaries.