Wednesday, May 10, 2017

A People in Search of a History, Pt. 2

History Tells the Story

Nothing is more politically and emotionally charged in the Middle East today than the question of Israel's legitimacy. That passionate debate has found its way into archaeology and more recently the science of DNA. The battle lines can be seen in the wiki article on the subject of "Y-chromosomal Aaron" Wiki 

   What seems to be emerging, however, is a growing body of evidence that traces the traditional Jewish priestly line, the Cohens, back to the tenth century B.C. if not earlier. (Since the Kohanim are one of the tribes of Israel, that would also connect the rest of the Jewish people to an origin earlier than 1000 B.C. ) Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz writing for Breaking Israeli News states the case for tracing the line of the Cohens (kohanim) back to biblical Aaron.  

While it may sound a bit like science fiction, geneticists have verified the link which connects the present-day group of men classified as kohanim to the Biblical figure of Aaron, who lived over 3,000 years ago....

Based on the mutations found in the genes, scientists place the original kohen – the first common ancestor – at approximately 3,300 years ago, a timeline that fits neatly within the Biblical parameters of the lifetimes of the first priestly family.

   Berkowitz is writing unabashedly from an Orthodox Jewish perspective and pro-Israeli position. Yet it is a mistake to dismiss the evidence in the DNA. The fact is the priestly line of the Cohens has a history, and that history takes them back very close to the time at which they emerge in the biblical narrative of the exodus in Leviticus 8 and 9 with the consecration of Aaron.

   If the DNA evidence takes us back to the time of the  exodus, there should be other evidence that would coordinate with the DNA evidence. And there is; it is the written history of the Jewish people, nation, and religion.

   First of all, there are the traditions and festivals in Leviticus 23 passed on from the days of Moses and, many of them, kept continuously and carefully, week by week and year by year to this day by Jews around the world.The Passover is one example. It is the defining tradition for the Jews.

   The Passover, celebrates the salvation of Israel from Egypt. Though there were times of apostasy during the period of the kings in which the Passover was neglected, the Passover festival is traced in the written history back to its origin in the exodus and to the moment when the Jews escaped the slavery of Egypt and began their journey to becoming a nation (Exodus 12). It was commanded as a perpetual festival in Leviticus 23, and Jews around the world celebrate it each year.  Without that command and the event upon which it is founded, it would be difficult to imagine how or why such a highly detailed and symbolically meaningful tradition might have originated.

   The Sabbath is another tradition for which there is evidence of an unbroken chain reaching back to the its inception as part of the Law given by God through Moses. It is mentioned ninety-six times in the Hebrew Scriptures and fifty-eight times in the New Testament. It too is kept today by Jews around the world.

   Perhaps the most significant acknowledgement of the importance of the Sabbath through the history of the Old Testament is the Levites' review of the history of Israel before the assembly of the Jews in Nehemiah 9. The Jews had recently returned from exile in Babylon. They had rebuilt the wall of Jerusalem destroyed by the Babylonians.  After they had read from the book of the Law they praised God for his calling and protection of the nation, and they mentioned in particular the Sabbath among the laws given though Moses.
You came down on Mount Sinai; you spoke to them from heaven. You gave them regulations and laws that are just and right, and decrees and commands that are good.  You made known to them your holy Sabbath and gave them commands, decrees and laws through your servant Moses. (Nehemiah 9:13,14)
   A wise rabbi Ahad Ha’am had this to say on the subject: “More than the Jews have kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept the Jews.” And he is right. The Sabbath has for all its history been a weekly reminder that they the Jewish people ARE because the Lord called them into being as a people. It has kept them distinct and separate among the nations for 3300 years.

   The blessing the kohanim speak on holy days is another tradition passed on through the centuries. The kohanim are the priests and the sons of Aaron the brother of Moses. They have keep an unbroken lineage from the time of the exodus (witnessed to by the DNA evidence above) and continue to bless Israel with the blessing they received from Moses: "Say to Aharon and his sons… Thus shall you bless the people of Israel."
May HaShem bless you and protect you.
May HaShem shine his face upon you and be gracious unto you.
May HaShem lift up His face to you and may He grant you peace.
Numbers 6:22-26

   But the most impressive evidence comes from the Hebrew Scriptures. The Hebrew Scriptures are made up of 37 books (Kings and Chronicles are each single books) written at various times over about 1000 years by a variety of authors, yet they form an  interdependent, connected narrative of the history of the Israelites tied together by the religion the Jews believe was revealed to them through Moses.

   One of the significant features of the Hebrew Scriptures is that they often include multiple witnesses to the history of the Jews. The books of Kings and Chronicles are roughly parallel narratives of the period of the kings (1000 - 600 B.C.) narratives that are augmented by the writing of the prophets who lived during the time covered by Kings and Chronicles. Together they constitute a strong historical record.

   Chronicles tells the story of the Jews from the priestly point of view and emphasizes the religious and spiritual life of the nation and the kings. Kings emphasizes the political life and traces the history of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah to the fall of Jerusalem in 587 B.C. Both of the histories are written in retrospect in dependence on the annals of the kings that were written during the lifetimes of the kings.

   The two books were written by different authors, Kings during the exile in Babylon in the mid-sixth century Chronicles after the exile as the nation is being reconstituted. The two histories overlap and agree. And they both include a number of shared motifs.

   Consider the temple. Without exception from the time of Solomon, as recorded in  the books of Kings and Chronicles through the books of Nehemiah and Ezra, the temple occupies center stage in the religion and life of the Jews.

   The construction of the temple is recorded in 1 Kings 7 and 2 Chronicles 3 under King Solomon in the mid-tenth century. Both descriptions agree.

   Two hundred years later Isaiah's experience in the temple (Isa. 6) was the moment of his calling as a prophet.  Isaiah writes: " In the year that King Uzziah died [about 740 B.C.], I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple."

   Micah writing about the same time as Isaiah foretells the destruction of the temple, and writer who wrote the addendum to Jeremiah (Chapter 52) tells of the destruction of the temple by the  Babylonians in the year 587/586 B.C.

   Corroborating the Babylonian conquest of Judah, the Nebuchadnezzar Chronicle briefly refers to the first siege of Jerusalem about 10 years earlier than the the second siege at which Jerusalem was captured and the temple and city destroyed. No extra-biblical source records the second siege or the destruction of the temple.

  After both sieges many of the Jewish men of rank were deported to Babylonia. (Jer. 52:27-30)   Clay tablets discovered in Iraq in the 1970s describe the life of the Jews who were deported to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar 
One of the tablets from Iraq

   In 538/537 B.C. after the Persian king Cyrus had conquered Babylon he allowed return of many deported people including the Jews to their homelands. Cyrus also allowed the Jews to rebuild the temple which was completed in  516 B.C. exactly 70 years after its destruction - as Jeremiah had foretold.

   The book of Ezra tells of the building of the second temple in the mid-fifth century under the authority of Cyrus King of Persia. The prophets Zachariah and Malachi speak to the Jews during this period encouraging them to remain faithful to the old laws and religious traditions. This is the temple that stood at the time of Jesus and was destroyed by Titus in 70 A.D. And though 450 years separate Ezra and Jesus, the same rituals, sacrifices and priesthood continued. The several inter-testamental books (the Apocrypha) witness to the continued history of the temple (1 Maccabees 4:36). 

   Included in the books of Israel and Judah's history are the stories of kings one after the other in Biblical Archaeology
King Jehu of Israel bowing before Assyrian King Shalmanesser III.
connected narratives. Assyrian records corroborate nine of the  kings of Israel and Judah.

   Chronicles includes list of the priests and Levites associated with the temple and worship (1 Chronicles 6) in a lineage that takes the reader back to Aaron and Moses.  The prophets writing in first person during these times agree with the picture sketched in the books of history.

   A second motif found throughout the Hebrew Scriptures is the exodus, Moses, and the rescue from Egypt. Moses is mentioned almost 100 times in  the Hebrew Scripture in fifteen books outside the Pentateuch. In the book of 2 Kings Hezekiah destroyed the bronze snake made by Moses 600 years earlier:

He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it. (2 Kings 18:4)
   In the 2 Chronicles 30 Hezekiah called for a celebration of the Passover, which had been neglected for some years:

They slaughtered the Passover lamb on the fourteenth day of the second month. The priests and the Levites were ashamed and consecrated themselves and brought burnt offerings to the temple of the Lord. Then they took up their regular positions as prescribed in the Law of Moses the man of God. (verses 15,16)

   Psalm 99:6  refers to Moses and Aaron: "Moses and Aaron were among his priests, Samuel was among those who called on his name; they called on the Lord and he answered them."

   If we add the many references and allusions to Egypt and the exodus, the total number of references to Moses, the exodus, and the rescue from Egypt create an impressive witness to a real history that began for Israel as a nation at about 1400 B.C.

   This is the coherence and multiple witnesses and careful references we expect from real history. But there is more. There is the witness of the stones - archaeology. That will be the subject of "A People in Search if a History, Pt. 3"


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