Monotheism and Israel Part 2

Was Israel a powerful nation?

Israel

The initial writings of Moses during the Exodus date to the Late Bronze Age, thus dating the ancestral Patriarchs in the Middle Bronze Age. Though there is much debate over the actual date of the Exodus and thus, the Age of the Patriarchs, the most conservative date places the birth of the nation of Israel as a people group around 2000 -1550 B.C. The nation of Israel was founded during this age as one man’s covenant with one God, Yahweh. This covenant was the thread that held the nation of Israel together as a family, wandering people group, united nation, divided nation, and conquered nation. This people group, the Jews, is still a distinct culture in today’s society roughly 4000 years later. Unfortunately, the nation of Israel, in the sense of a world superpower, was very short lived. The people of Israel exited the slavery of Egypt presumably around 1290 B.C. After exiting Egypt and wandering in the desert for a short time, the Israelites settled in a land known as Canaan. Canaan, centered between Egypt and Mesopotamia, was a land of good agriculture and trade capacity. The Israelites would now be included in the trade and commerce of Babylon, Assyria, Egypt, and Sheba. Israel existed as a group of tribes under the leadership of judges, and then Israel had its brightest political moment, it adopted kingship. The nation of Israel flourished under the leadership of two kings, David and Solomon. The kingdom of Israel was largest and most powerful during this period. Its borders stretched from the Euphrates in the North to Egypt in the South[1]. This period was the only period in Israel’s history in which it was described as an empire. The empire of Israel was short-lived, and after only two powerful kings, it became a divided nation. The nation was divided into a northern kingdom, Israel, and a southern kingdom, Judah. Both of these kingdoms fell to the Assyrians and the Babylonians. The nation of Israel has been a people group for around 4000 years. It was a divided nation with kings for around 200 years in the North and around 350 years in the South, so it existed as a powerful nation for only 94 years.[2] One must compare Israel with the nations of its day to determine its level of power.

Egypt

Egypt was a powerful nation in the ancient Near East for many years. It was established around 3000 B.C. and survived as a nation until around 30 B.C. The ancient nation of Egypt was a true superpower; it controlled and influenced the culture of the ancient Near East even after losing its status as an empire. The kingdom of Egypt was located on the banks of the Nile River in North Africa. The yearly flooding of the Nile provided a fertile supply of silt that produced a great agricultural opportunity. Egypt was surrounded by both deserts and a sea, making it an easily fortified nation.[3] This location, and the gift of the Nile River, contributed greatly to Egypt’s political and economical stability for such a long period. The Egyptian Empire was at its largest point under the leadership of Ramses III in 1175 B.C. when the Egyptian influence stretched as far north as the Euphrates.[4] Egypt was a large powerful nation for a long period of time that influenced and continues to influence culture in a political, social, and economical way.

Assyria

The Assyrian empire existed in the region of northern Mesopotamia from 2000 B.C. to 612 B.C.[5] and reached its most powerful point in the 7th Century. The Assyrian empire extended throughout all of Mesopotamia including the Hittites to the north and the Babylonians to the west. It also controlled Palestine and Egypt. The Assyrian empire was not as long lived as the Egyptians, but was larger and much more fierce.

Babylon

The Babylonian civilization existed from 2000 B.C. until 539 B.C. By the 1700s, Babylon controlled much of central and southern Mesopotamia, but would fall to Kassik rule only to rise again in the early 6th Century and defeat the Assyrians to gain rule in Mesopotamia, Palestine, and Egypt. The legends and wonder of Babylon and her greatness still exist today in the stories of the Hanging Gardens and other tales of old. Babylon was an incredibly powerful and large empire that would rule and rule again.

Persia

The Persian Empire was the largest and most powerful empire that the East ever produced. The Persians rose to power under Cyrus the Great and defeated the Babylonians in 539 B.C. to claim Mesopotamia, Palestine, and Egypt. The Persian Empire stretched from the isles of the Aegean Sea and the Nile across the ancient Near East to the Indus Valley. [6] The Persians brought a new policy contrary to the polices of Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon in the area of religion. In his book, Encountering the Old Testament, Bill Arnold explains, “Cyrus desired to placate as many gods as possible. He felt that he could maintain and govern his vast empire with a policy of tolerance and benevolence, rather than cruelty and brutality.”[7] This understanding attests to the fact that the Israelites were released from captivity in Babylon and returned to Canaan.

Greek

The Greek Empire was the next great Empire to rule the ancient Near East. The Greeks, under the leadership of Alexander the Great, defeated the Persians and took control of Greece, Mesopotamia, Palestine, Egypt, and parts of North Africa. The Greeks introduced a new concept for ruling an empire known as Hellenism. Hellenism was the process of spreading and mixing Greek culture with the culture of the conquered lands. [8] Hellenism would greatly influence the culture of the Near East. In his work, The Holman Bible Atlas, Thomas Brisco describes the benefits of Hellenism, “Standardized coins and easier access to larger markets caused trade to flourish. People began to gradually catch a vision of life beyond the limits of a small city-state. The rich possibilities of the inhabited world beckoned all citizens to new adventures.” [9] The Greek Empire was the greatest empire the world had ever seen. Their influence on culture and society in the area of philosophy, art, literature, and life will forever be noted.

Roman

The Roman Empire was the most powerful and influential empire that has ever existed. Legend tells that Rome was established by Romulus in 753 B.C. and later became the Republic in 509 B.C. The Roman Empire covered Europe, Africa, Egypt, Palestine, and Mesopotamia by the 1st Century B.C. The Romans ruled the world until 476 A.D. During the Roman rule, roads were paved, culture was shared, and peace was established under the Pax Romana policy. The Romans were masters of policy and economics giving the world its first republic empire. During the age of Rome, the classical literature, art, and philosophy that arose from the Greeks flourished. Rome was the most culture shaping empire of all time.[10]

Understanding this, one can determine that Israel’s political and economic influence on the ancient Near East was minor at most. Understanding of this should lead one to question how Israel managed to survive such a tumultuous 2000 years and maintain its values, culture, and identity as a people. The identity that Israel maintained is rooted in their religion and within that religion something contrary to the great powers of the world.



[1] Arnold, Bill T, Encountering the Old Testament, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999) 52

[2] Mulder, M.J., “The History of Israel” in The World of the Old Testament Vol II, ed. A.S. Van Der Woude, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 1989) 75

[3] Hoerth, Alfred J., Archaeology and the Old Testament, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998) 127

[4] Brisco, Thomas V, Holman Bible Atlas, (Nashville: Holman, 1998) 52

[5] Walton, John H, Charts of the Old Testament, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994) 68

[6] Arnold, 54

[7] Arnold, 56

[8] Brisco, 175

[9] Brisco, 175

[10] Patton, John S., Ancient City Rome in the Encyclopedia Americana Vol 23, (New York: Americana, 1943) 661-672

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