Friday, September 9, 2011

Collapse: And the rise of Biblical Kingdoms

The Jews in the Old Testament went from a wandering nomadic existence to rulers of an important kingdom. That is fairly well known by most Jews and Christians. However, a couple of points are not as well known. The first is that they rise of the Jewish State corresponds with the collapse of a number of other Near Eastern Empires, and they were not the only group of people who gained from these events.
1HEAR, O Israel. You are to cross the Jordan today to go in to dispossess nations greater and mightier than you are, cities great and fortified up to the heavens,
2A people great and tall, the sons of the Anakim, whom you know and of whom you have heard it said, Who can stand before the sons of Anak?
3Know therefore this day that the Lord your God is He Who goes over before you as a devouring fire. He will destroy them and bring them down before you; so you shall dispossess them and make them perish quickly, as the Lord has promised you.
Carthage Must Be Destroyed: The Rise and Fall of an Ancient Civilization
Richard Miles, Viking, New York 2011, p 31-32,
With Egypt still in a period of sustained decrepitude and Assyria and Babylonia still in decline, a new power had emerged in the form of the recently united Jewish kingdom of Israel-Judah. Hiram was quick to realize the potential to outstrip the other Phoenician cities, and sent an embassy to the victorious Israelite king David, with gifts which, of course included cederwood. An alliance with Israel was all the more desirable because its territory bordered the narrow hinterlands of Tyre and other Phoenician cities, effectively cutting them off from the lucrative interior trade routes that led eastward.
When Solomon succeeded David to the Israelite throne in 961 BC, Hiram followed up his father’s initial diplomatic work by sending another delegation to congratulate the new king. The overtures appear to have paid off, for Tyre and Israel signed a commercial agreement which contracted the former to supply timber and skilled craftsmen to work on two new magnificent buildings in the city of Jerusalem: a temple to the Israelite god, Yahweh, and a royal palace. Hiram sent large numbers of his subjects to fell cedars and cypress on Mount Lebanon, while other skilled Tyrian craftsmen dressed stone for the temple in quarries, before it was transported to Jerusalem. Solomon had also commissioned Chieromos, a caster of mixed Israelite-Tyrian parentage, to create intricate gold, silver and bronze decorations for the temple.
In an exchange, as well as a payment of silver, the Israelites would deliver annual provisions of over 400,000 liters of olive oil – great boon for Tyre, with its limited territory [Josephus Jewish Antiquities 8.57: mentions grain, oil, and wine]. The original treaty ran for twenty years, and at its conclusion (marked by the completion of both structures) a new pact was signed. In exchange for a large cash payment of 120 talents of gold, Solomon sold Tyre twenty cities in Galilee and Akko plain, and area famous for its agricultural production. Tyre now had the hinterland which it needed to consolidate its position in the Levant.
There were other benefits too. Commercially, this deal not only gave Tyre privileged access to the valuable markets of Israel, Judaea and northern Syria, it also provided further opportunities for joint overseas ventures. Indeed, a Tyrian-Israelite expedition travelled to the Sudan and Somalia, and perhaps even as far as the Indian Ocean. Unsurprisingly, when the fleet returned laden with cargoes of gold, silver, ivory and precious stones, this lucrative enterprise was repeated. In the early decades of the ninth century BC, Tyrean-Israelite relations would be further strengthened by the marriage of the daughter of King Ithoball I of Tyre, the infamous Jezebel, to the new king of Israel, Ahab.
Note that Tyre was part of a group of city states ruled by a group of independent kings who in the bible are referred to as the Canaanites.  During times of trouble Tyre had an advantage in that it had moved itself to an offshore island to make it less susceptible to conquest by the mainland powers- most of whom at this time lacked much in the way of a naval force.
As for the Jewish kingdom:
Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman, The Free Press, New York 2001, p I.
Its birthplace was the kingdom of Judah, a sparsely settled region of shepherds and farmers, ruled from an out-of-the-way royal city precariously perched in the heart of the hill country on a narrow ridge between steep, rocky ravines.
 Finkelstein and company would argue that the kingdom was never particularly large, and they would argue over some of the dating.  My point would be that it was large enough for the Israeli’s to be impressed, and that the dates don’t matter much for our purposes.
We discussed the collapse of Hittites, and the Greeks earlier.  As noted, the Assyrians and Babylonians were also in remission at this time period: roughly from 1200 B.C. to 800 B.C.   During the early portions of this period it helped to be inaccessible.  But as time went on, both groups had problems with their position.  The Phoenicians (Canaanites) of Tyre, unlike the other Phoenician City States, had no hinterland to supply it with food.  Furthermore, they were blocked from the landward trade routes.
Thus the alliance, as noted in the quote above, worked very well for both parties.
As both groups expanded, their rulers expanded the reach of the State Religion.  Melgart (whose name means ‘King of the City’) was expanded and introduced to what would become its far flung Colonies in the Western Mediterranean.  In Jerusalem, the great temple of Solomon was built, and outlying holly sites reduced in importance.  With the northern and southern Jewish groups, already united by David, it became the center for religious practice.
Unfortunately, the Empires did not remain quiet forever.  Showing more resilience then some later Empires would show, they did not completely die out, but smoldered until their fire was lit once more.
The first back on the scene was the Assyrians (sometimes referred to as Neo-Assyrians to distinguish them from the earlier Empire).  Somewhere around 740B.C. they conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel and sent them off to captivity.  The southern portion, tucked away in its foothills, and not easily accessible to a large conquering army survived longer.  The Assyrians, having collapsed in a series of civil wars, were replaced by their southern neighbors the Babylonians (also referred to as Neo-Babylonians).  It was to fall to Nebuchadnezzar, the ruler of Babylon in 586 B.C.  The Jews of Babylon were then themselves sent off to captivity.
Tyre had always been more powerful than the Jewish states, and had lot of money to pay lots of mercenaries.  Nebuchadnezzar laid waste to the landward side of Tyre, but could not get onto the island.  He was none the less, able to force tribute from the Phoenician cities, including Tyre.  Over time, the Babylonians came to hold a tighter grip over the Phoenician cities.  They were reluctant to send their leaders off into exile, because their boat building and sea navigation abilities could not be duplicated.  None the less, the Phoenicians began to enlarge their overseas colonies, at least in part to get access to the large amounts of copper and silver they needed to pay tribute to their masters and maintain at least some of their freedom.  However, they were not allowed to trade with Egypt, Babylons arch-enemy, and while still wealthy, there influence had wained.
However, during this time period (traditionally 831 B.C. but at least by 760B.C),  Tyre had set up on the north shore of Africa in what is now Tunisia.  It was not their only colony, but of the colonies it is the one that eventually grew to such size that it was able to threaten the very existence of Rome.
That colony was not biblical, but you have probably heard of it.  That would be Carthage.

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