ISRAEL – THE LAND AND ITS PEOPLE

Part One

Laurie Eddie

(Investigator 170, 2016 September)



THE LAND:


Located at the eastern end of the Mediterranean, between the coast and the Jordan River, and occupying much of what was once ancient Canaan, (an area extending from the Sinai to Syria), lies that region of Western Asia known as Israel. Part of the larger Levant region, (meaning - "where the sun rises" or "where the land rises out of the sea"), this area now includes modern Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Syria, Jordan and northern Arabia.

This region has long been historically important as it was one of the major routes for early hominins migrating out of Africa and, as early as 1.8 million years ago, it was the location of some of the earliest hominine settlements outside of Africa. Much later it would be the location of the most profound social change in all history. At that time, nomadic humans began to abandon their hunting-gathering existence in favour of a sedentary agrarian lifestyle; in doing so they ushered in the Neolithic Age and laid the foundations for civilization.

The area, between the Levant and Mesopotamia, (Greek for, "between rivers"), much of which includes the "Fertile Crescent," covers approximately 980,000 km2 (378,380 square miles), is similar in size to South Australia. For thousands of years it was the scene of almost constant conflict as different cultures sought to control the region. Apart from Egypt, which dominated much of Canaan, from the 22nd century BCE onwards, the various competing groups included the:

•    Eblaites (3000-2300 BCE),
•    Sumerians (2600-1900 BCE),
•    Akkadians (2334-2154 BCE),
•    Amorites (2100-1700 BCE),
•    Hittites (1600-1178 BCE),
•    Hurrians of which the Mittani (1500-1300 BCE) were the most influential,
•    Phoenicians (1500-800 BCE),
•    Assyrians (2500-612 BCE).

Occupying only a small part of this region, the current State of Israel is a mere 470 km. (290 miles) in length, north to south, some 135 km. (85 miles) across at its widest point, and occupies a total land area of only 22,145 km2, (8,630 square miles).

The geographic structure of Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, and Jordan, is very similar, consisting of, "… a limestone substratum beneath a thin terra rossa topsoil," (Coogan, 1998, p. 4). Terra rossa (Italian for “red soil”) is produced when limestone weathers over millions of years leaving clay and other non-soluble materials behind, producing a red clay soil which is, "… best suited for olives and grapes and for sheep and goats." (Coogan, 1998, p. 4) Later, under the Philistines, the coastal region in particular, with its deep rich soil, would become renowned for the production of fine wines, wheat and olives.

Israel itself has three distinct agricultural and climatic zones, a subtropical coastal region, the mountain district and the Jordan Valley.

Along the Mediterranean coast are the fertile coastal plains, Shefelah and Sharon; a narrow strip of land, ranging from 40 km. (24 miles), in width in the south at Gaza, to a mere 5 km. (3 miles), in the north. According to Coogan (1998), "In antiquity it was wetter than now, even swampy in places…" (p.4) which made it an ideal location for agriculture.

Located to the east of the coastal plain are the hills of the Central Highlands. They run south-to-north from the Negev to Samaria, before turning in a north-westerly direction towards the Mediterranean. With an average height of 610 metres (2001 feet), and with poor quality soil and largely infertile, this was the area referred to in the Hebrew Old Testament as, the "hill country" (Genesis 12:8). According to Easton (1897),

"In Deut. 1:7, Josh. 9:1; 10:40; 11:16, it denotes the elevated district of Judah, Benjamin, and Ephraim, which forms the watershed between the Mediterranean and the Dead Sea." (Palestine, Easton, 1897)

It was, from these Central Highlands, according to Hackett (1998), that the Israelites emerged in the twelfth and eleventh centuries. (p.132)

The third region, the Jordan Valley, is part of the great Syrian-East Africa Rift, running from near Antakya, (formerly Antioch) in Syria, through the Red Sea and into East Africa. The valley stretches some 100 km. (62 miles), from the southern outlet of Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee), to the Dead Sea. Several degrees warmer than surrounding areas, with good soil and a reliable water supply from the River Jordan, it has been used for agricultural since circa 10,000 B.P.

Much of the remaining land is wilderness and desert, suited only for the most basic subsistence farming. At the southern end of Israel is the Negev region, (meaning "barren country"), covering some 13,000 km2 (5,020 square miles). It is an area of such poor quality it is suited only for grazing small cattle.

East of the rift valley are large areas of semi-arid desert terrain while to the south-east lies the vast Arabian Desert, an area of some 2,330,000 km2 (899,000 square miles), stretching from present day Jordan to Yemen and Oman on the Arabian Sea. A desolate region, with limited rainfall, it was suited only for nomadic and semi-nomadic groups such as the Arab tribes, who from the 9th century BCE, (Eph'al, 1984), were constantly on the move with their herds of goats and sheep seeking fresh pastures.

All agriculturally based cultures require a harmonious balance of sunshine and rainfall, and for Israel these come from what are, in effect, two distinct seasons, a dry, hot summer, abruptly followed by a cool, wet winter.

Both the Canaanites and Israelites relied on their "gods" to send the annual rains, "…he will give the rain in its season, the early rain and the later rain …" (Deuteronomy 11:14). One of the most important Canaanite gods was Ha Ba'al, or Hadad, who had dominion over fertility and rain, (Canaan, EB, 2015). The "divine" deliverance of rain was just as important for the Israelites; as Jeremiah commented,

"Are there any among the false gods of the nations that can bring rain? Or can the heavens give showers? Are you not he, O Lord our God? We set our hope on you, for you do all these things." (Jeremiah, 14:22)

Like their non-Jewish neighbours, the Israelites believed their prophets could intervene with god to make it rain. (1 Samuel 12:18).

Rainfall usually began in late October or early November, these "first rains" "… loosens the dry earth for plowing," (Jacobs, 1907). Heavier winter rains follow in mid-December and continue through to January, (see Ezra 10:9 and 13), "... for behold the winter is past the rains is over and gone". (Song of Solomon 2:11). Follow-up rains come in April-May which encourage the growth of the grain.

Rainfall throughout the land varies quite considerably, Weinberger, et al., (2012) reported that it varied,

"… from approximately 1000 mm in the northern mountains (upper Kinneret and western Galilee), to 500-600 mm in the Yarkon-Taninim basin, the central mountains and the Coastal basin. In the southern Negev and Arava regions the annual rainfall is usually below 50 mm." (p. 11)

For most of the year the water courses throughout the land are dry riverbeds, (wadis), however, during the rainy seasons they fill and burst their banks. Judges 5:19-21 describes how, during a battle at "Taanach, by the waters of Megiddo," the better-armed, and chariot equipped Canaanites were defeated by the Israelites after they were caught by a flash flood in the Wadi Kishon, and, " ... the torrent Kishon swept them away." (5:21)

Some 70% of all the rainfall is lost to evaporation. With only about 5% retained as surface water. (Weinberger et al., 2012, p. 11), the inhabitants early learned to supplement, their water supplies, e.g. "I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees." (an orchard — Ecclesiastes 2:6).

The remaining 25% of the rainfall finds its way into huge subterranean aquifers, the source of water for the many wells and springs. Some of the wells mentioned in the Bible include Jacob's Well, at Sychar in Samaria, (John 4:5-7), Abraham's well at Beer Sheba, (Genesis 21:25-30), and at Haran (Genesis 24:`16). Some of these wells were located in the desert, others within villages, and sometimes, as at Bahurim (2 Samuel 17:18), within the courtyards of homes.

There are a number of springs throughout the land; at Nephtoah (Joshua 15:9), and Ein Gedi, west of the Dead Sea, near Masada and Qumran, and at Ein Bokek near the Dead Sea, the latter two creating fertile oases. Places with natural springs, e.g. "… the waters of Jericho" (Joshua 16:1) attracted early settlers. Jericho, first settled circa 10,000 BCE, had a number of springs, including one which produced 4,000 litres (1,000 gallons) every minute (Coogan, 1998, p. 12). Similarly, what would later become the city of Jerusalem, began circa 4,500-3,500 BCE, when early Canaanites settled on the eastern slopes near the Gihon Springs, a small tributary of the Brook Kidron. (Arabic — Wady Sitti Miriam). Running through the Kidron Valley between Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives, (1 Kings 2:37; Nehemiah 2:15; Jeremiah 31:40), it was diverted in 712 BCE through a culvert, the Siloam, or Hezekiah's Tunnel, to carry water into the Pool of Siloam in the city (2 Kings 20:20; 2 Chronicles 32:3-4), to provide Jerusalem with a reliable water supply during periods of siege.

Israel's largest, and only permanently flowing river is the Jordan. Known to the Arabs as Shari'at al-Kabirah ("the great watering-place") or simply Al-Shari'ah ("the watering-place", Jacobs, 1907), it was here, according to the New Testament, that John the Baptist laboured, "… and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins." (Matthew 3:6)

The Jordan has three sources, "… the Leddan, the Banias, and the Hasbany." (Leeper, 1990, p. 327) The Leddan, the largest spring in Syria, is located near the base of a hill which was once the location of the city of Dan. The Banias emerges from a limestone cliff near ancient Banias, (Caesarea Philippi), and joins the Leddan some 8 km. (5 miles), south of Dan, while the Hasbany, which rises from a valley at the western base of Mount Hermon, joins the stream some 1.6 km. (1 mile), below the junction of the Leddan and Banias.

Flowing through the Great Rift Valley the Jordan enters Lake Kinneret, then, continuing out the other side, flows through the Jordan Valley, (an area known as the Ghor, Arabic Al Ghawr), for some 100 km. (62 miles), before entering the Dead Sea. Although only 200 km. (124 miles), from its source to the Dead Sea, because of its meandering course, the Jordan is actually some 360 km. (223 miles), in length, (Jordan River, EB, 2015).

Israel has a relatively harsh climate. For most of the year, a fierce unrelenting sun assails the land; even worse, the land is frequently battered by fierce winds and sand storms. The worst of these is the ruaḥ qadīm, (the biblical "east wind"), a destructive wind, (Psalms 48:7), which withers the crops, (Ezekiel 17:10). Called by the Arabs khamsin, (Arabic for "fifty"), because they say the wind blows for fifty days at a time, it is a hot wind, which can increase temperatures as much as 20 degrees over several hours. Often reaching speeds of 140 k.p.h., (86 m.p.h. +) as it tears across the sandy wastes of the great Wilderness, it lifts tonnes of sand and dust into the air, sweeping it across the settled areas where the ferocious, hot stinging clouds of sand bring agony to everyone in its path. Even in large cities like Jerusalem, there is little relief from its fierce attack, the choking dust invading most homes.


THE NAME:

Throughout history the land has been known by a variety of names.

During the period of the Egyptian Old Kingdom (2649-2150 BCE) it was known as Haria-sha, ("the land of the sand-dwellers," Aharoni, 1978, p. 65). According to Breasted (2001), "The Egyptians called the entire west of Syria-Palestine Canaan" (p. 46), and reference to the "Canaanites" first appears in a letter dated to the 18th century BCE, (Aharoni, 1978,p. 67). As Zobel (1995) noted in the Amarna tablets, the country was referred to as "... Ki-na-aɧ-ɧi, ki-na-aɧ-ni or ki-na-aɧ-na," (p. 212). It was also called, Kananu, or Kn'n, (Astour, 1965), and, it appears, it was from this source that the name Canaan, "... the native name for Phoenicia" (Astour, 1965, p. 346), was derived.

There is some uncertainty as to the actual meaning of "Canaan". As Zobel (1995) observed, past researchers thought it meant "lowland," however Astour (1965) discounts this etymology. Zobel (1995) mentioned other possible meanings including, "... Occident, the Land of the Sunset or Westland" (p. 214). Another idea was that since Phoenicia was called "the land of purple" the name might mean "purple." (p. 214). This related to the purple dye obtained from the snail, Bolinus brandaris, which came from this area, and was a major item of trade.

Astour (1965) claimed Canaan was, "... a Hurrian appellative of Phoenicia as the country of purple dye." (p. 346), and it was by this name that it is referred to in the Hebrew Old Testament,

"And the territory of the Canaanites extended from Sidon in the direction of Gerar as far as Gaza, and in the direction of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboiim, as far as Lasha." (Genesis 10:19)

However, as Noll (2001) pointed out, 'Canaan' referred not only to the area of what is now, "… roughly modern Lebanon and Israel." (p. 15), but also to the various groups that inhabited the area. In addition to the Canaanites there were also the, "…Amorites, Hittites, Hivites, Girgashites, Jebusites and Perizzites." (Noll, p. 15; see Joshua 12:8) As McNutt (1999) observed, despite their separate names,

"…there is no clear nonbiblical evidence of ethnic distinctions among these groups or of being culturally different from other occupants of Palestine." (p. 35).

From around the 16th century BCE much of the coastal area of what is now Lebanon, Palestine, Israel and Syria came to be known as Phoenicia. Although Tristram, (1884), claimed this was Greek for, "the land of palm-trees", (p. 207), as previously mentioned, more recent sources, such as Astour (1965), suggested it more likely meant, "the country of purple dye." Later, (circa 5th century BCE), the inland area, including the mountain district and rift valley, rather than the coastal area, would come to be referred to by the Greeks as Palestine, a name derived from Pelishtim, in Hebrew Pelesheth, or pelestim, the ancient name for the land of the Philistines, and rendered as Philistia in Judges 10:6; Psalms 83:7; 87:4.

"The name was revived by the Romans in the 2nd century AD in "Syria Palaestina," designating the southern portion of the province of Syria, and made its way thence into Arabic, where it has been used to describe the region at least since the early Islamic era. (Palestine, EB, 2015)"

The name "Israel" per se, originates from the story told in Genesis 32:28-29; 35:10; there Jacob, (the grandson of Abraham and one of those whom god made a covenant with), had his name changed to Israel, (meaning "wrestle with god"). His twelve sons are said to have been the ancestors of the Israelites, the "Children of Israel." In ancient times, this was the name used to refer to the Kingdom of Israel and to the Jewish nation.

The first known reference to the name "Israel" comes from the Merneptah stele, (circa 1209 BCE). Containing 28 lines of text celebrating the victories of the Pharaoh Merneptah (1213-1203 BCE), the last three lines refer to Canaan and Israel, "Canaan has been plundered … Israel is laid waste and his seed is not."

Upon independence in 1948, the name, the "State of Israel," was officially adopted over Zion and Judah, other suggested names for this nation.

(Continued in Investigator 171)


 






ISRAEL – THE LAND AND ITS PEOPLE


Part Two

Laurie Eddie

(Investigator 171, 2016 November



THE PEOPLE

According to the Hebrew Old Testament the Israelite settlement of Canaan began with the descendants of Abraham and the "Out of Egypt" scenario. This evolved from the biblical claim that seventy members of the household of Jacob, (Genesis 46:27), had settled in Egypt and, over time, their numbers had greatly increased. Three conflicting time-frames are given for the increase in their numbers: -

a)    Ten generations, (430 years), [Exodus 12:40];
b)    Four hundred years, [Genesis 15:13]; or,
c)    Four generations, [Genesis 15:16).

Payne (1963) suggests that, within this "period" their population had grown to a figure of "almost 3,000,000" (p. 388) which suggests this would have been the number of Israelites who participated in the Exodus. Although this entire Exodus saga is most likely entirely fictional, there is some rather dubious information within the Hebrew Old Testament supporting the claim that a very large Israelite population was present in Egypt at that time of the claimed "exodus."

Exodus 12:37 claims there were, "... about 600,000 men on foot besides women and children." (Numbers 1:44 puts the figure at 603,550). Numbers 1:2-3 suggests these were only the young and fit portion of the male population, "From twenty years old and upward, all in Israel who are able to go to war," — a claim repeated in Numbers 26:2.

If one bases calculations on this figure, and, ignoring the very young and elderly males, this suggests at least 600,000 men of marriageable age. In turn, if we allow for a similar number of wives, we obtain a figure of roughly 1,200,000 adult individuals.

In ancient times, families tended to have many children, however, if we conservatively allow for only three children per family, this would provide a figure of some 1,800,000 children. If this figure is added to the adult total, (ignoring any young girls and older males and females), this suggests that at least 3,000,000 Israelites participated in the exodus. However, it was not only the Israelites who are said to have left Egypt, for it is claimed that others, "A mixed multitude also went up with them." (Exodus 12:38). The absurdity of such a large number of individuals leaving Egypt is highlighted by the fact that, as Butzer (1999) indicated, at the time of the so-called exodus. the entire population of Egypt was estimated to only be around 3,000,000 – 3,500,000, (p. 297).

Most researchers now consider the entire Exodus saga to be completely fictional and, as such, historically worthless. Many researchers, including Moore and Kelle (2011), cite the fact that, "…no clear extrabiblical evidence exists for any aspect of the Egyptian sojourn, exodus or wilderness wanderings." (p. 81) As Meyers (2005) noted,

After more than a century of research and the massive efforts of generations of archaeologists and Egyptologists, nothing has been recovered that relates directly to the account in Exodus of an Egyptian sojourn and escape of a large-scale migration through Sinai.  (p. 5)

Apart from the complete lack of any evidence for the Exodus, many of the incidents within the narrative are so utterly fantastic they can only be fable. Thus, it would appear the entire saga of the exodus is simply a collection of ancient myths and folklore, and that this oral material was brought together, and written down, possibly for the very first time, during the Babylonian exile, (6th century BCE), by Jewish scholars who, in their naivety, recorded the miraculous claims without questioning their reliability.

The fact is, we do not know when, or where, the proto-Israelites came from. However, rather than the Exodus account of a "huge" number of them "invading" Canaan, it is more likely that, the Israelites evolved from amongst various nomadic groups who were already living in, and around Canaan, and, at some point in time, by banding together, they became powerful enough to forcibly establish themselves as an independent nation within Canaan.

Apart from Africa, the Levant was one of the earliest inhabited areas in the world. As early as 1.8 million years B.P. hominins, (Homo erectus and Homo heidelbergensis), began migrating northwards out of Africa, probably following the coastal plains, (later referred to as the Way of the Philistines, or, the Via Maris, the "way of the sea"). Remains found at Tel Ubeidiya, (3 km. south of Lake Kinneret), and dated circa 1.5 million years B.P., suggest some of these early hominins settled in this land. Later, others, genetically closer to Homo sapiens also settled in this area; their remains found at Qafzeh in Lower Galilee, (Trinkaus, 1993) and at Mount Carmel, date from around 130,000-120,000 years B.P. However, since no genetic traces of these very early inhabitants has ever been found amongst more modern races in the area, it appears they either died out, or else, abandoned the region.

The current "out of Africa" theory suggests the Homo sapiens ancestors of modern humans left Africa circa 60,000-75,000 years B.P. It is believed some travelled via the Levant while others crossed the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait into Yemen and Arabia, at a time when sea-levels were much lower than at present. Some of these settled in Arabia and the Levant, while others travelled west into Asia Minor and Europe while others moved eastward into Asia, India, Indonesia, and Australia.

While there could have been as few as a thousand individuals, (Stix, 2008), over the next 60,000 or so years, as they spread across the world, their numbers greatly increased and they formed many separate cultural identities. As Brace (2006) noted, by the time of the Neolithic, (circa 14,000 B.P.), there was already a diverse range of populations living within the Fertile Crescent.

According to Mann (2011), by about 13,000 BCE, when the climate was still warm and wet, there were already villages with several hundred inhabitants in parts of the Levant. It appears that up to, and including the early part of the Neolithic Era, many of these villagers combined a sedentary farming lifestyle with hunting. In Ain Mallaha, an early Natufian settlement, 25 km. (15.5 miles), north of the Sea of Galilee, in addition to gathering food, they continued to hunt gazelle, fallow deer, red deer, roe deer, wild boar, hare, tortoise, reptiles, and fish. However, as weather patterns changed and periods of cold weather produced widespread drought, they, and many others, were forced to make dramatic changes to their lifestyle.

Circa 12,500 BCE a period of cold, dry weather lasting between 100-300 years was followed by a twelve-hundred year mini Ice-Age circa 10,800 BCE The temperature dropped some 11oC greatly reducing rainfall and the ensuing drought-like conditions depleted crops and reduced the grasslands so that herd numbers greatly decreased. This produced an enormous degree of social instability. Many abandoned village life, returning to a nomadic foraging lifestyle while those who remained in their villages were forced to become more defensive, to protect their crops, their limited food supplies and their villages, against wandering marauders.

Necessity forced them to look for better ways to exploit their cereal crops. One of their principal cereals, a species of wild einkorn wheat, had a major problem; when its grains ripened they would spontaneously break away from the plant to be scattered by the wind. This meant the grains had to be picked off the ground individually so that its collection was difficult and time consuming. Fortunately, at around this same time a mutant form of wheat appeared. A mutation in a single gene of this wheat produced a strain that retained its grains on the stalk when it ripened. This made collection by hand much easier and even more advantageous, early farmers appear to have realised that, by using cutting tools such as sickles, they could quickly and easily collect large amounts of this grain.

Apparently, the first to harvest this new species were the Natufians who established settlements in what are present day Palestine and the Golan Heights near Lake Kinneret. While we do not know exactly when the mutation occurred, the existence of sickles in the early part of the Natufian culture, (12,500-11,000 BCE) strongly supports the existence of this new species of wheat. Furthermore, since this new type of wheat required human intervention to spread its seeds, its sudden, widespread distribution, suggests the Natufians were responsible.

Other major lifestyle changes came with the domestication of animals. This freed humans from the time-consuming need to hunt, and, in addition to a more regular supply of meat, humans now had access to additional protein and nutrients in the dairy products these animals supplied. Zeder (2008), suggests that circa 9,000-8,500 BCE, (or possibly earlier), humans began to domesticate sheep and goats in south-eastern Anatolia, and the practice appears to have spread quickly throughout the Levant and Arabia, environments which, as previously mentioned, were ideal for grazing these types of animals. (Coogan, 1998, p. 4)

Large herds of sheep and goats generally require more grazing land than is normally available around a fixed village location, and, as much of the land provided only poor grazing, some groups, including the proto-Israelites, adopted a nomadic pastoral lifestyle. The text, "'Your servants have been keepers of livestock from our youth even until now, both we and our fathers." (Genesis, 46:34), may reflect a distant memory of this semi-nomadic lifestyle. Hieroglyphs on the Merneptah stele certainly support this possibility. Redmount (1998) noted that,

"The hieroglyphs with which Israel was written include instead the determinative sign usually reserved for foreign peoples: a throw stick plus a man and a woman over the three vertical plural lines. This sign is typically used by the Egyptians to signify nomadic groups or peoples without a fixed city-state home, thus implying a semi nomadic or rural status for "Israel" at that time." (p. 72)

This observation is supported by Stager (1998) who noted that, "… Israel is correctly distinguished as a rural or tribal entity by the determinative for "people." (Stager, 1998, p. 91)

In ancient times there were a number of these nomadic herding clans located throughout the Levant, Mesopotamia and Arabia. Known by various names, Ahlamu, Aramu, Amurru, Shasu, from the 9th century BCE, the Assyrians began to refer to them as "Arabs" (Ephál, 1984). From time-to-time some of them would resort to banditry, creating civil unrest. During the reign of Seti I, (circa. 1294-1279), Shasu Bedouin, began attacking caravans "…along the Ways of Horus, which connected Egypt and Gaza." and became the subject of a campaign by Seti. (Redmount, 1998, p. 84) As Breasted (2001) noted, in an account of this campaign, it is claimed that Set I pursued them as far as a fortified town called pe-Kanan, ("the Canaan," p. 46).

Some, like the Shasu, (1306 – 1292 BCE), became dominant enough to be able to occupy much of the Levant area. (Miller, 2005, p. 95) The Amurru clans, (Amorites), became so powerful that, by the 14th century BCE, they had successfully invaded southern Mesopotamia, overthrown the Third Dynasty of Ur, occupied parts of Canaan and founded ancient Babylon. It was in the midst of this ongoing turmoil that the proto-Israelites appear to have emerged.

According to Redmount (1998),

"…the Apiru, the Shasu are often invoked in discussions of Israelite origins, and a number of scholars think that elements of the Shasu were among the proto-Israelites who formed the core of the settlers of the hill country of Canaan during the late thirteenth and early twelfth centuries." (p. 84)

One group in particular, the Habiru, (also known as, Hapiru, Abiru or Apiru), are claimed to have actually been the proto-Israelites. Mentioned in the Amarna tablets, (circa 14th century BCE), Barabas, (1963), claims, "The fundamental meaning of Habiru seems to be wanderers." (p. 327), although Thomson, (2011), suggested that, "In Sumerian cuneiform the word Habiru means 'the dusty-footed ones.'"(p. xi).

Found throughout the Fertile Crescent, the Habiru appear to have been, "…a troublesome group of people … outlaws, mercenaries, and slaves." (Redmount, 1998, p. 72) Marginal outcasts, with no common language or ethnic backgrounds they existed on the fringe of Syrian and Palestinian urban society. Wolfe (2009) claims they "…preyed upon such states." although Thomson (2011), described them more as a, "… travelling mercantile class" (p. xi) who bartered goods with the caravansaries, and were a integral part of the ancient trade system.

The identification of the Habiru as the proto-Israelites is dubious. It is based primarily upon the similarity of the name "Habiru" to "Hebrew", some authors even claiming, "Habiru is identical with the word for Hebrew" (North, 1967, p. 22). Rainey (1995) however, suggests this is nothing more than wishful thinking, (p. 483).

This common misconception arose, in part, from difficulties in translating "consonants" in the Accadian cuneiform, (the language in which the Amarna tablets were written). As Wolfe (2009) points out, "Hebrew" is not the Hebrew word for "Hebrew." The word is 'Ivri'." Whether or not the Habiru were actually the Apiru, a term now preferred by many scholars, or, if they were actually the ancestors of the Israelites, remains uncertain.

While we cannot be certain as to whom the proto-Israelites really were, evidence suggests they were definitely one of several cultural groups that evolved in the Middle East, possibly in the northern part of the Fertile Crescent.

It is likely they began as a small group, and, as was common when family numbers increased, they divided into individual clans. Eventually they became so numerous that, as a united force, they were powerful enough to either take over the country where they lived, or else, to successfully invade Canaan, "…probably about 1250 BC … settling at first in the hill country and in the south." (Canaan, EB, 2015). Certainly, as McNutt, (1999) observed, by the end of the Iron Age I, (circa 1,200 BCE), there is definite evidence of a people who, "… began to identify itself as Israelite" (p. 35).

If they had been already living in Canaan it is possible that many of the so-called "invasion tales" are merely highly embellished memories of their struggles as they sought to take control of the land. Indeed, Stager (1998) mentions there was an old belief that, as a race, the Israelites were indigenous to the region and that, like other semi-nomadic groups, some of them had, "…settled down in agricultural villages about 1200 BCE." (p. 92). Finkelstein and Silberman (2001) go further and suggest that, not only had the Israelites always lived in Canaan, but they were actually Canaanites who had evolved into a separate culture. (p. 118)

This possibility is supported by Stager (1998) who noted that, "In the Merneptah reliefs, the Israelites … wear the same clothing and have the same hairstyles as the Canaanites," (p. 92). Furthermore, as previously mentioned, McNutt (1999), had observed that, despite their separate names, there is no independent evidence of ethnic or cultural differences between many of the occupants of Palestine. (p. 35)

There seems to be little doubt the proto-Israelites originated somewhere in, or near, the Fertile Crescent. Various researchers, such as Santachiara-Benerecetti, et al. (1993) Hammer et al. (2000) , Nebel et al. (2001) and Atzmon et al. (2010), all agree that the Jewish race originated from paternal ancestors within, "…a common Middle Eastern ancestral population," (Hammer, et al. 2000, p. 6769).

Nebel et al. (2000) noted there is definite genetic evidence that as various groups spread throughout the Levant, there was a mixing of genes. When the genetic background of a group of 143 paternally unrelated Israeli and Palestinian Arabs, was compared with Ashkenazi, Sephardic, and North Welsh Jews, the results revealed that 70% of the Jews and 82% of the Palestinian Arab males were descended from the same paternal ancestors.

Another study by Nebel et al. (2001) of 526 subjects in which the Y chromosomes (transmitted from father to son) of six Middle Eastern populations (Ashkenazi, Sephardic, and Kurdish Jews from Israel; Muslim Kurds; Muslim Arabs from Israel and the Palestinian Authority Area; and Bedouin from the Negev) were compared, revealed little difference between Kurdish Jews and Muslim Kurds. In general, the Jews were found to be genetically closer to the Kurds, Turks, and Armenians, (groups found predominantly in northern parts of the Fertile Crescent), than to their Arab neighbours.


REFERENCES:

Aharoni, Y. (1979). The Land of the Bible: A Historical Geography. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: The Westminster Press.
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