Thursday, March 24, 2011

Borders of the Promised Land

Promised Land is, as far as I know, unique to Judaism and the importance of divinely designated land does not appear independently in other religions.

Tanakh introduces Land very early in the First Book of Moses, Genesis, bereshit. Not only the Land as itself as in the burning bush story and Moses but Land with its owners, inhabitants. The Promised Land, Canaan, is promised to someone, Abram:

Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will shew thee:
And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing:
And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.

So Abram departed, as the LORD had spoken unto him; and Lot went with him: and Abram was seventy and five years old when he departed out of Haran.
And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother's son, and all their substance that they had gathered, and the souls that they had gotten in Haran; and they went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came.
And Abram passed through the land unto the place of Sichem, unto the plain of Moreh. And the Canaanite was then in the land.

And the LORD appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land: and there builded he an altar unto the LORD, who appeared unto him.
And he removed from thence unto a mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, having Bethel on the west, and Hai on the east: and there he builded an altar unto the LORD, and called upon the name of the LORD.
And Abram journeyed, going on still toward the south.
Gen 12:1-9 KJV

The Land of Canaan is inhabited by the Canaanites and Abram journeys there much like Sinuhe the Egyptian did in 20th century BC.

The Lord promises to Abram in a later passage of Genesis a land from the river of Egypt to Euphrates.

In the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates:
The Kenites, and the Kenizzites, and the Kadmonites,
And the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Rephaims,
And the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.
Gen 15:18-21 KJV

The boundaries of the Promised Land are given in various texts reflecting different times in the compilation of Tanakh and the political situation. There are tribal boundaries from the times of the the Judges, borders of the United Kingdom of David and Solomon and boundaries of the Northern and Southern Kingdoms. The Land of Israel was then incorporated to Persian, Hellenistic and Roman empires under local leadership, with the short period of independence under the Maccabeans, until the great destruction finalized at the end of the Bar Kochba Revolt 132-136 AD.

The Abrahamic covenant includes the Land from "river of Egypt" which may rather be the Brook of Egypt, Wadi el-Arish in northern Sinai than Nile which is beyond the Reef Sea (Suez).

There are many highly elaborate Biblical descriptions of the boundaries from he southern border of the "Brook of Egypt", Wadi el-Arish, and to what was the Ottoman pashalik of Filastin, modern Israel, Gaza, West Bank and Jordan. The second promise to Abram would also include much of modern Syria.

These descriptions, listings of the cities and highly detailed ancient maps of routes in the Geography of the Bible indicate the centrality and great importance of the Land in Judaism.

It is an essential element in the Sinai covenant between the God of Israel and His people and directly connected to the Law. This is especially clear in the Deuteronomistic history where not only during the Conquest but also during later periods "living in the Promised Land" is conditional and deeply connected to the obedience of the nation to the divine Law.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Promised Land

Judaism is unique among the three monotheistic religions unique in the way real estate, a carefully defined piece of land in a specific part of the planet, is part of the core belief system. In fact, Judaism is probably unique in this respect among all world religions (probably, because I do not know all of them).

Christianity has inherited from its mother religion Judaism the concepts of Promised land, Mount Sion and Jerusalem and these are often mentioned when reading the Bible. But the New Testament gives a new interpretation both to being a Jew and to these concepts. New Jerusalem, Sion and Promised Land have spiritual rather than earthly geographical contents.

Islam is a global religion that reaches for all humanity and it has no geographical core comparable to the Promised Land of the Jews - all the world belongs to Allah and the believer faces Mecca wherever he or she is at the time of the prayer.

Judaism is an ancient religion - older than for example Buddhism - but this does not explain the peculiarity of its geographical orientation. Ancient Near Eastern religions do not show such features, not in Egypt and not in Mesopotamia or Canaan. Surely, city gods and country gods lived in their sanctuaries and took care of their people.

But the command to Abram to leave his home country to another country and to sojourn there as a stranger waiting that his children will inherit the land is quite unique. We can compare it to the other sojourner at the beginning of Middle Bronze Age, Sinuhe, whose heart is burning to return back home and to be properly buried in Egypt.

Denying the important of the Land is according to rabbi Moses ben-Maimon, Maimonides or Rambam, equal to denying the existence of God.

Tanakh shows how living in the Promised Land is an integral part of being a Jew, the people of Covenant obey the Law of Sinai and God gives them peace and prosperity in the Land. Breaking the Covenant by evil deeds and especially by worshiping other gods means destruction of the people and expulsion from the Land. This central line of faith is particularly clear in the Deuteronomy.

And Biblical history was rough especially in this regard. The Assyrian empire moved much of the local population away from the Northern Kingdom and also created the Samaritan mixed people by bringing inhabitants from elsewhere to live among the survivals. Thus ten of the twelve tribes of Jacob have disappeared from history (the search goes on).

For those exiled by the Babylonians from the Southern Kingdom the prophets promised return to the Promised land but apparently many Jews stayed in Mesopotamia and Persia, modern Irak and Iran, some families living there until modern days.

For the past 2000 years since the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem by the Roman soldiers it has been impossible to return to the Land. Longing back home is expressed in the Passover Seder with hopeful words l'shana haba'a biy'rushalayim that is Next year in Jerusalem.

The essential importance of the Promised Land to being a Jew is difficult for non-Jews to grasp because this element of religion is unknown even in Christianity and Islam that build on the Tanakh. Justifying the conquest on religious terms has therefore not been in the front line of modern Zionism.

For the Jewish religious leaders the challenge of the divinely commanded Conquest of the Promised Land is a new and difficult problem. While the rabbis have a long history of interpreting Torah according to changing times - not all adulterers are stoned today as the divine Law commands - there is no such tradition with the divine command of capturing the Land from its non-Jewish inhabitants, for destroying Amalek.

State of Israel is not a theocracy and the founders of the modern state were not particularly religious Jews. Rather, David Ben Gurion and others represented Russian socialist and communist ideas and the establishment of the state was largely a result of the horrific events in Europe during the Second World War. United Nations wanted to give a home to the remnants of the utterly persecuted Jewish people.

But now times are changing. The Zionist left is in deep decline and rightist nationalism and religious Judaism are gaining strength. There are varying responses to God's call to take the land - some follow the example of polite Abraham who bargained with locals while buying the Cave of Machpelah as a burial for his wife Sara, some follow the genocidal Joshua and King Saul following the commands of God and the rules of Iron Age warfare in Ancient Near East.

Both are true to the Bible and the most basic tenant of Judaism - the Promised Land.

We will look in another blog at the Biblical borders of the Land promised to Abraham and his children.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Itamar murders and various price tags

The names of the five family members murdered in the Itamar terror attack were cleared for publication Saturday evening: Udi Fogel, 36, Ruth Fogel, 35, and their children Yoav, 11, Elad, 4, and three-month-old Hadas.

English Wikipedia already gives details about these gruesome murders:

...were an attack on a Jewish family in the Israeli settlement of Itamar in the West Bank, on Friday night, 11 March 2011, in which five members of the same family were stabbed to death in their beds. The victims are the father, mother and three of their six children, the youngest a three-month-old infant; two other children, who were also in the house, were not harmed. The killings were discovered by the eldest daughter when she arrived home...

According to a first probe, two perpetrators whom Israeli officials believe are Palestinian, entered Itamar shortly after 9 p.m., jumping over the settlement's security fence, and remained in the settlement for three hours without being noticed."

Already on Saturday the ministerial team on settlements announced their approval to construct several hundred units at Gush Etzion, Maale Adumim, Ariel and Kiriat Sefer, settlement blocs that Israel expects to hold on to in any final peace deal.

The Friday night murders caused also the following events described in an article by Akiva Eldar in the English edition of the Haaretz on Tuesday, March 22, 2011 Adar II 16, 5771

"Machsom Watch volunteers have documented in words and pictures the scenes at the homes of the village of Awarta adjacent to Itamar, which was honored on the day after the murder with a visit from Israel Defense Forces soldiers: crushed furniture, smashed door locks, pulverized electrical appliances, broken walls and contents of cupboards strewn everywhere mixed with remains of food and excrement. A number of inhabitants have complained of thefts of jewelry and cash.

For four days the village was under curfew and all the entrances to it were blocked. Hundreds of soldiers invaded all the houses, put the men aged 15 to 55 up against the wall, cuffed their hands, stripped them and conducted body searches on them. More than 50 men were taken away under arrest. During the course of all this, settlers from Itamar entered the village and right before the soldiers' eyes hurled stones at the houses, accompanying this with cries of "Death to the Arabs." Three homes were damaged and in a number of courtyards locks on well covers were broken open and water spilled out everywhere.

Upon the soldiers' exit from the village, the settlers invaded the property of one of the inhabitants, uprooted 120 olive trees and with the help of bulldozers flattened the land and paved an access road from Itamar to the new outpost they established there, and another road in the direction of the road leading to the settlement of Elon Moreh. All this on lands of the village, of which the inhabitants publicly condemned the murder in Itamar. All this under the open eyes of IDF soldiers and Civil Administration inspectors.


"These claims are not known," the IDF spokesman has informed Haaretz in reply. "The IDF detail that acted only in the village of Awarta apprehended a number of suspects in the murder at Itamar and confiscated dozens of weapons. Representatives of the civil administration who accompanied the force maintained continuous communication with the population of the village. The IDF urges inhabitants who feel they have been done an injustice to submit a complaint via the relevant agencies including the investigative military police."

Akiva Eldar: After Libya, Obama will have hard time thwarting Palestinian state

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Torah and Reconquista of the Promised Land

As one of the oldest living religions upon earth, Judaism has a long history of interpreting sacred texts and applying divine commandments to everyday life.

Religions based on Scriptures have a rather monolithic, static basis in the writings and since life has changed so much since those days, there is a real problem how to deal with the dilemma - divine command, modern day life.

This is a difficulty common to the three great monotheistic religions based on the canonical Hebrew Bible or Tanakh

Tanakh is shorthand for the Torah (Teaching, the Five Books of Moses), Nevi'im (Prophets) and Ketuvim (Writings) written in Hebrew and on small part in Aramaic. The canonical Masoretic collection was apparently finally concluded at around 100 A.D. (in Christian calendar that I use in this blog).

Archaeologically speaking, the Tanakh has materials mainly from Bronze Age, Iron Age and Persian periods as the rabbis said that the period of Prophecy ended in Persian period. However, there are some Hellenistic materials that refer to the Persian period, most importantly the Book of Daniel.

The important hierarchy of holy Scriptures in the religious heritage is

Judaism - Tanakh plus Talmud (late Roman, Byzantine period)
Christianity - Tanakh plus New Testament (Roman period)
Islam - Tanakh plus New Testament plus Qur'an (Byzantine period)

Each of these three great monotheistic religions has its own concise declaration of faith

Judaism - Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One (Iron Age)

Christianity - Nicene Creed (early Byzantine)

Islam - I witness that there is no god except Allah and that Muhammad is a messenger of Allah (Byzantine)

As a solution to the dilemma of living with ancient divinely inspired Scriptures there is a tradition of interpretation

Judaism - Oral Law
Christianity - Church tradition, councils, papal or patriarchal declarations etc.
Islam - Hadith

How the leaders guide the believers in relation to Scriptures and halakhic issues in Judaism, in relation to daily life and the Holy Bible and church traditions in Christianity, in relation to Qur'an and hadith in Islam

largely profiles the character and way of life of that particular religious group.


Well, so far so good... and what is new about that?

Not much!

Except that the rabbis are suddenly facing a massively new situation between the ancient Scriptures and modern life in the Reconquest of Promised Land.

In some ways what is happening in modern Israel could be compared to the Reconquista or al-'Istirdad, when Christians retook Spain from the Moors with consequences to many nations, not least among them the Sephardi Jews of Iberian Peninsula.

there is a rich and impressive tradition on halachic issues concerning, for examle, in minute detail kashrut regulations for ritually clean food. There is a good and well-founded tradition how to bless a banana although this fruit was not known in the Biblical or Byzantine periods when Tanakh and Talmud were written.

However, since the utterly disastrous Bar Kochba Revolt 132 - 136 A.D. and the following Diaspora there has been very little need for the rabbis to discuss the practicalities of recapturing the Promised Land. (Possibly it was discussed in theory when promising Messianic candidates rose such as Sabbatai Zevi 1626-1676).

But now there is problem how to deal with divine commandments and rabbinical answers vary from decidedly genocidal to highly human.

Book of Joshua is not a simple issue for the inhabitants in the modern State of Israel.

King of Israel blog

This blog is intended for discussions on the true King of Israel, His kingdom and the salvation of His people.

Specifically, I will introduce here my personal views on issues relating to the King and the Promised Land of God's people.