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The Condition of the Hebrews

The chief importance of Palestine in ancient history was due to its lying on the high-road between the great kingdoms of Egypt, Babylon, and Assyria, and as giving the Arabs a hiding - and abiding - place which they — Jews included — could not obtain if they ventured out on the plains south and east. The holes and fastnesses of the hills were their safeguards, and very much used indeed. As a rule, the whole is a dismal, rocky, arid region, with only intersecting valleys, watered by springs and heavy rain from November to February inclusive, and having scorching heats from April to September. Even the inhabitable portions of the country could only support the very sparsest population.

One evidence of the barbarism of the Jews, when David resolved to build a house for himself he had no native artisans, but had to send to Hiram, king of Tyre, for masons and carpenters (2 Sam. 5: 11). Even the wood itself had to be brought from Tyre. It would seem that even in those days, as now, the mountains of Canaan were destitute of trees—a sure sign of a sterile country. The wood of course had to be carried overland. David captured 1000 chariots in about the sixteenth year of his reign, of which he preserved only 100, disabling all the horses (1 Chron. 18:3.) Prior to this event neither chariots nor horses had been used by the Israelites, nor was much use made of them by the subsequent kings. Oxen and asses were their beasts of burden; camels were rare even long after Solomon's reign.

That the Jews were far behind their surrounding neighbors in civilization is shown by the fact that in the first battle they fought under their first king, Saul, they had in the whole army 'neither sword nor spear in the hand of any of the people/ except Saul and Jonathan (1 Sam. 13: 22). Nor was any 'smith found throughout all the land of Israel' (ver. 19), but 'all the Israelites went down to the Philistines to sharpen every man his share, and his coulter, and his axe, and his mattock' (ver. 20.) This was 404 years after the Exodus and only 75 years prior to the building of Solomon's temple. Their weapons of war were those of the rudest savage.

The number of warriors of the Israelites, as recorded at the Exodus, was 600,000 (Ex. 7 : 37); subsequently it was 603,550 (Ex. 38 : 25-28), and at the end of their wanderings it was 601,730 (Num. 26 : 51). But in 2 Chron. 13:3, Abijah, king of Judah, brings 400,000 men against Jeroboam, king of Israel, with 800,000, and "there fell down slain of Israel 500,000 chosen men " (ver. 17). On another occasion, Pekah, king of Israel, slew of Judah in one day, 120,000 valiant men (2 Chron. 28 : 6.)

In 1 Chron. 21 : 5, 6 we read that the number of 'men that drew the sword' of Israel and Judah amounted to 1,570,000, not counting the tribes of Levi and Benjamin. In 2 Sam. 24: 9, the number given at the same census is 1,300,000, and no omission is mentioned. Assuming the larger number to be correct, and adding only one-eighth for the two tribes of Levi and Benjamin, which may have been the smallest, we have 1,766,000 fighting-men. This would give, at the rate of one fighting-man to four inhabitants, a total population of over 7,000,000 souls. But adopting a more reasonable ratio, of one to six, we have a population of over 10,500,000 souls. This for a mountainous, barren country, no larger than Connecticut, without commerce, without manufactures, without the mechanical arts, without civilization.

By one calculation a paltry thirty thousand to forty thousand was the very most which the twelve tribes could, and only for these few years, bring to the front for war. In general, the tribes warred with one another and with their neighbors, so that, for the purposes of foreign war, the Jewish people represented only two or three tribes at a time, or, say, ten thousand able men. Thus one tribe —as, for example, Judah — would have only from three thousand to four thousand men in all, supposing every man left his fields and home to fight, while Assyrian armies not unusually numbered one hundred thousand to two hundred thousand men.

In the view of skeptics, the Jews were, at this period, in a not dissimilar position to the Druses of Lebanon of the present day. They form a community, beld together not so much by national ties as by semi-religious ones, which are based upon Cabalistic and theurgic rites and ceremonies. Like the Jews to have been in the centuries preceding the Christian era, they are an Order rather than a nation, the remains of systems which have continued, and survived from ancient times. In this light, the Jewish Records are intelligible, as writings veiled in allegory, treating of their mystic lore, albeit expressed in verbiage that bears a literal meaning upon its surface.

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Page last modified: 26-03-2012 18:43:09 ZULU