Yahweh, the warmonger
Popularly appointed gods of war served to lead imperialist and belligerent nations, and it is thus no wonder to find that ancient history is plagued with so-called holy warfare and divine conquest. No matter how much it may be disguised today, the biblical episode that witnesses the Almighty powering into Canaan therein inciting widespread genocide and looting for the territorial furtherance of an exclusive few is indefensible and repulsive to the extreme, serving only to underline the spiritual void in those responsible for its fabrication. Evidently, this notion of divine partisanship is one of history’s oldest canards and thus truly worthy of definitive rejection.
“Thou shall not kill” commands the god of Moses. In Genesis we further find: “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by blood shall his life be shed for in the image of God made He man.” We also read that Noah and Abraham are respected by their deity for their probity, both having abstained from robbery and murder among other fractious activities reportedly rife at the time. Contradictorily enough, the Bible features this same deity, drowning the world’s population earlier on and later instigating despicable acts of cruelty throughout the land of Canaan. There is no need to scour external sources to compile this list of gruesome events, as most of the lurid evidence, surprisingly enough, is to be found within the pages of the popular Old Testament itself. Clearly, the taking of the land of Canaan was pure and simply a military operation, and a pretty vicious one at that. Now then, let us peruse the same.
The biblical desert ramblers were not the humble and pious people celebrated in Hollywood classics. Like most other contemporary mobile communities, these were unrefined and unprincipled folk who, in their majority, were also consummate killers, whose inherent lust for carnage appears to have had no limits. The Bible asserts that the Jews had exiled Egypt and that they had then taken forty years to traverse the desert into Canaan. This is surprising, as it would normally take only a few days to both negotiate the region’s mountain range, and to then walk across the awaiting sea of sand. Evidently, the Jews, like other autochthonous Semites of the Arabian Peninsula, were full-time desert dwellers, starvation and despair having created in them an almost natural proclivity to cross boundaries, ambush and kill. When sentenced to seek out pastures new away from paradisiacal Eden, Cain had expressed his horror to God: “…everyone that findeth me shall slay me.” The Hebrew Bible cites a typical foray on Isaac’s own wells of water by thirsty desert bandits. Although this man is said to have been of a gentle and conformist nature, other intractably territorial communities would take preventive measures by raising walls to resist assault and thus protect their hard-earned assets. These migrant groups must have therefore tired of drifting, and must have longed for a permanent, secure and fruitful home of their own. Eventually, when they had amassed an army commensurate with their imperialist ambitions, the invasion of civilized Jericho became their first and fateful military objective. Armed to the teeth, this Army of God and Nation of Priests mobilized troops, kick-starting their holy campaign not by preaching righteousness as we would expect of a godly nation, but by assailing foreign territory, engulfing the same in death and grief. No moral reason can ever justify the carnage of countless indigenous communities at the hands of these conquistadores. The fact is that no excess was too monstrous for them to commit. This Semite expansionism, as described in the Bible, compares partly with that of the Spaniards in South America much later, both having been unrequested visitations by unknown gods in whose names were perpetrated systematic acts of brutality and murder. The Spaniards stole American gold that would subsidise their European conquests, whilst these desert tribes ransacked Canaanite homes to augment “the treasure of the Lord.” During the conquest of the Americas moreover, the Spanish religious Inquisition is commonly believed to have murdered innumerable religious incorrigibles, whilst the biblical tribes are featured remorselessly taking the lives of thousands of Canaanites who would not capitulate to Yahweh. In mitigation, and in all fairness, wholesale annihilation, although perhaps not on such a huge scale as the one we are about to examine, had always been the perfect stratagem to prevent possible retaliation and revenge by the vanquished and their descent. Unsurprisingly, invasion, conquest, and pogrom in this particular order, were the right things to do until only a few centuries ago, and this must be why these events were unashamedly included in the Bible. Indeed, the popularity and success of blood-thirsty foreign war-gods, such as Ashtoreth, Dionysus Sabazios, Zeus, Saturn, Siva, Iida Baoth, Iao Sabaoth, Kiyun, and Seth had actually inspired the Bible authors to create their own historical divine destroyer and to then embroil him in this orgy of killings.
The Pentateuch includes Moses being tasked by the Lord of Hosts, or God of Armies with the implementation of a panoply of measures against Canaan, aiming to eradicate the depravity and decadence there. According to the narrative, however, the obliquity prevailing in Canaanite territory at the time appears to have related almost exclusively to idolatry and also to traditional burnt and blood offerings that did not meet the peculiar requirements of the in-coming Yahweh. We must remember that the Canaanites had already established El, their god, as loving and compassionate. In any case, the violence allegedly endemic in Canaan at the time must have been mild in comparison to what would imminently be unleashed upon it by these homeless rovers.
Although the tumbling of Erihu´s (Jericho) walls by the Jews, as we shall unfurl in a later chapter, appears to be allegorical and therefore possibly non-historical, it is, nonetheless, unanimously accepted as fact. This ancient city is now believed by experts to date back to 5000 B.C. There, had flourished a great civilization, a true community of sybarites, living it out in a splendorous arcadia. The double-wall system in place around Jericho at the time had been erected to protect not only its many valuables and harvested crops, but also its traditions and culture, very much like those that would later enclose Jerusalem to equally secure God´s new kingdom on earth. Both walls encircling Jericho had measured a total of 5.5 metres in thickness, and each had stood majestically over 10 metres high. It is thus inconceivable, unless one resorts to the all magical and explanatory formula -that of nothing being impossible for God- that these solid stone walls should have fallen down flat at the blowing of animal horns and the concerted shouts of the people however loud or numerous. Moreover, the Bible’s story holds that Jericho had stood between the Promised Land and Yahweh’s people, but even the most cursory of glances at Jericho’s recently discovered geographical position -15 miles northeast of Jerusalem- will reveal that it would have been possible to avoid its storming altogether by entering Canaan through many other negotiable avenues. It would be fairer to say that the reason for the taking of Jericho had lain in the fact that this ancient illustrious city was at the time emblematic of the established socio-religious order that the desert ramblers were intent on decapitating. Sometime after the charting of Canaan’s destiny and the death of Moses, Joshua, urged on by the “Captain of the Lord of Hosts” -a truly weird mythical warrior fallen from heaven- girded for battle and proceeded to besiege the city. The ensuing victory was comprehensive as it was swift. Following the storming of Jericho, tens of thousands of men and women, children, oxen, sheep, and asses were slain by about 30,000 swords. Upon the murder of its king, the city was set on fire and soon reduced to ashes. After these first atrocities came Joshua’s only military reverse at the hands of Ai’s armies. The reason offered for this frustrated assault was that there had been looting during their capture of the citadel. The plundering of holy cities, we should note, had always been forbidden by most contemporary nations. After the culprit’s execution, according to the story, the second attack proved a rampant success. Ai’s garrison was promptly brought to its knees as a result, and the city’s inhabitants were then cruelly slain. Even those who had scampered to safety were later mercilessly cut down. The convulsive invaders then added to their godly pursuits, even pillaging this city also killing its king, who like the later King of the Jews of the Christian Gospels, “was hanged on a tree.” Deuteronomy declares: “he that is hanged is accursed of God”, and this may well be why the New Testament features its god turning his back on his own crucified son. Kings, as we have already laboured in a previous chapter, were invariably divine mediators, and regicide was thus believed to entail a cessation in divine mediation. Because there could now be no such future intercession for these hapless Canaanites, it was hoped that they would cave in to the entrant alternative.
After the carnage at Ai, we read that the ambitious Joshua defeated and enslaved the Gibeonites. This was followed by the hanging of a further five kings. Spurred on by success, the invaders then turned their swords on the inhabitants of Makkedah, its king and on all who lived in Libnah and Lachish, including their respective priests. King Horam of Gezer and all his people were also massacred, after which Eglon and its inhabitants were also wiped out. Even Hebron and its many cities were stormed by Joshua, and all their inhabitants and king likewise disposed of. Canaan had by now become a funeral pyre. The triumphant Book of Joshua records Yahweh’s rise to fame as a conquering sabaoth: “…he (Joshua) left none remaining, but utterly destroyed all that breathed, as the Lord God of Israel commanded.” Recoiling in fear at Israel’s unabated and relentless march of terror, other Canaanite nations, now also bent on exacting revenge, blundered into war against them. In retaliation, the victorious aliens had thousands of these people killed with no compunction and their belongings stolen before finally razing their cities of Hazor, Madon, Shimron, and Achshaph to the ground. There simply was no let up and no stone unturned in Joshua´s quest to overrun the Canaanite population. The peoples to the north of the mountains and those of the plains south of Chinneroth, those of the valley and those of Doron on the west, the Canaanites to the east and west, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites in the mountains, and the Hivites under Hermon in the land of Mizpeh, were all stamped out. The death-toll must have been truly astronomical. An entire chapter in the Book of Joshua is dedicated to these heinous events.
Joshua’s ultimatum had left the Canaanite remnants with no option but to worship the new deity or die. Those still faithful to El and Ba’al were mercilessly executed. It was crucial that Yahweh should be seen by the later unsuspecting and emancipated post-exilic Jews to have reigned not just supreme, but also alone and uncontested. The whole of Israel is said to have indeed witnessed “…all the great works of the Lord, that he did for Israel.” As Zechariah evidently corroborates: “Thus says the Lord of hosts, (Lord of Armies) in those days it shall come to pass, that ten men of all languages of the nation shall take hold of the corner of the garment, of him who is a Jew, saying ‘we will go with you, for we have heard that God is with you’.” The stark reality, however, painted an altogether different picture. Indeed, Canaan was now a heap of ruins, exuding death, and enveloped in a cloak of fear.
The Amarna Correspondence unearthed at Tel Amarna in 1887 is a set of over 350 cuneiform tablets covering the time between 1,417 and 1,379 B.C. This find is considered part of the archives from the foreign office of the Egyptian pharaohs, and it reveals much about Canaanite rulers and their agonizing pleas for help during Joshua’s pugnacious campaigns. In the latter half of the 2nd millennium, Palestine and part of Syria were annexed to Egypt’s new kingdom, and diplomatic correspondence between the pharaohs and their subject Canaanite princes have survived. The biblical tribes are here described as “an aggressive tribe of bandits.” In part, one of the letters reads: “To the king my lord, say. Thus says Abdi-Heba, thy servant. At the feet of the King, my lord, seven times and seven times I prostrate myself…The whole land of the King has revolted. There is not one governor that is loyal to the King, all have rebelled. May the King harken unto Abdi-Heba and send troops, for if no troops come this year, the whole territory of my lord the King will be lost. The Khabiri (Habiru) are capturing the fortresses of the King. May the King care for his land. The Habiru are taking the cities of the King…If there are no archers this year, then let the King send a deputy that he may take me to himself together with my brothers and we die with the King, our Lord.” In another letter, the officer in charge at Gezer wrote to his pharaoh, pleading: “Let my lord the king, the sun in heaven, take heed unto his land, for the Habiru are mighty against us; and let the king, my lord, stretch out his hand unto me and let him deliver me from their hands, so that they may not make an end of us.” Another interesting piece on this onslaught as seen through the eyes of the victims, comes from inscriptions on stone pillars erected by Phoenicians in the northern African land of Mauretania, where they had eventually found refuge. These pillars apparently still stand today, their inscriptions reading: “We are those who fled before the brigand Joshua, the son of Nun.” Finally, among some inscribed monuments found in Beth-Shan is one stele attributed to the Egyptian Seti 1. Surprisingly, it records various failed raids by incisive Jews and the successful repulsion from the Jordanian mountains of the habiru who for years had persistently sought expansion on Canaanite soil.
The years went by, and although the venomous Joshua was now dead and buried, the gruesome cycle of ethnic cleansing and banditry would nevertheless continue implacably. Judah, another nasty piece of work, is said to have been expressly commissioned by the insatiable Yahweh to spread a fresh epidemic of mass killings in order to obliterate the last vestiges of Canaanite culture. And so, Judah and the incandescent Simon now also made genocide their consuming passion, proceeding to reactivate the Jewish expansionist programme. These denizens of oppression unleashed their military might on neighbouring settlements, and many houses -each comprising no less than seventy members- were reduced to nothing and their kingship cruelly dismembered. This done, and as Assyria would do to Israelites much later, they exhibited their broken bodies outside the gates of conquered cities so that all could see that unlike Osiris, these would not resurrect to haunt them. Jehu, another inveterate terminator, later continued with the bloodbath, beheading seventy of Ahab’s children and butchering all of the house priests. They then lashed out at the brethren of A-ha-ziah who were all slain in one frenzied session followed by the treacherous murder of Ba’al’s 450 prophets, priests, and servants at the hands of Elijah.
The systematic repression and barbarity would continue to prevail high on Israel’s agenda. Indeed, more than 500 years on the predacious and power-intoxicated King David would evoke bloody memories by marshalling his armies to resume the feral killings and the depredation of gold and silver which, according to the embroidered narrative, he likewise dedicated to Yahweh.
Water was scarce during Elijah’s time, and when Yahweh pulverises Ba’al’s image upon Mount Carmel, the imitative Jewish god is featured coming to the rescue. It was then that a low black cloud appears to signal the end of the miserable drought. The increscent Yahweh would now also be seen by post-exilic Israel as the only true god of fertility and, more significantly, as the ancient Canaanite supremo who had finally out-rivalled his traditional enemy. As for the narrative’s Chosen Nation, she too would thus later be seen as the divine denizen of this entire territory.
Before closing this sad chapter, allow me to make an incision to take a brief look at some of Israel’s martial past. Like other nations, Israel had also tinkered with her historical records in order to satisfy national interests. The inscribed stone belonging to the Egyptian Seti 1 just cited, for instance, records un- successful raids in Canaan by combative desert dwellers, and further includes their expulsion from the mountains of this land. The Bible, however, mentions no such events. Moreover, the Moabite Stone records not Israel’s victory, as the Bible asserts, but her defeasance at the hands of Moabites in 850 B.C. Another conflicting and discordant report comes from the Assyrian hexagonal clay prism which details Sennacherib’s eight military campaigns, including the bloody invasion of Judea and his siege of Jerusalem. This report does not account for the biblical debacle of the Assyrian armies that had forced their King into a hasty retreat. Importantly, no mention is made of the Angel of the Lord who, according to Isaiah, had smitten the Assyrians as they slept. Although they contradict the biblical, these other foreign records -unlike the Israelite inflated claims which, as we shall examine in our last chapter, were raised well in retrospect of such events and at a time when public support for the new emerging Yahweh would have been crucial to the unity of this nation- are much older and, perhaps, even eyewitness accounts. Evidently, the perspicacious Israelite priesthood were now pressing ahead with recalibrating the Jewish vision of the Almighty to that of an infallible god in full control of his chosen people’s past, present and future.
The opportunistic view, at least for now, would therefore be that Yahweh -and not Assyria- had driven Israel out in punishment, and that both Jerusalem’s swift fall for refusing to pay tribute to Nebuchadnezzar and Israel’s subsequent expatriation to Babylon, had been masterminded by Him who had used the Babylonians precisely as instrument to punish her. The truth, however, is that these events had marked a defining moment in the history of this covetous nation of priests which had now finally met her nemesis.
Yahweh, the compassionate
After centuries of chronic barbarity and two hundred years of refinement at Babylon, the time for reconvening Israel to embrace love and compassion had finally come.
By 800 B.C., Hinduism had developed from the fertility worship controlled by the brahmins, ‘priests’, into the stage of speculative philosophy known as the Upanishads, meaning literally, ‘Approaches’. The latter would focus not on magic rites and sacrifices to manipulate the gods, but on salvation through inner knowledge. By the 2nd century B.C., Vedic doctrine had come into vogue in Jerusalem, compounding an already escalating crisis within the local citadel of religion still reeling from the recent captivity, and still coming to terms with the confluence of pagan beliefs and cults that had trickled into Jerusalem during its absence. This eastern experience would inspire resident Essenes and, ultimately, herald the Gnostic vision (from gnosis, meaning ‘knowledge’). About this Knowledge, the Bhagavad-Gita clarifies:
“It is the king of education, the most secret of all secrets. It is the purest knowledge, and because it gives direct perception of the self by realization, it is the perfection of religion. It is everlasting, and it is joyfully performed.
In this world, there is nothing so sublime and pure as transcendental knowledge. Such knowledge is the mature fruit of all mysticism. And one who has achieved this enjoys the self within himself in due course of time.
One is understood to be in full knowledge whose every act is devoid of desire for sense gratification.
A faithful man who is absorbed in transcendental knowledge and who subdues his senses quickly attains the supreme spiritual peace.
To these who are constantly devoted and worship Me with love, I give the understanding by which they can come to Me.
One who is thus transcendentally situated at once realizes the Supreme Brahman. He never laments or desires to have anything; he is equally disposed to every living entity.”
Vedic Knowledge was not about compliance with the old typical rituals, but rather about prayascitta, meaning ‘true atonement´, and which is “…the awakening of our dormant (god) consciousness which involves coming to real knowledge.” Yahweh was now therefore reconstructed to utter clearly uncharacteristic words: “What I want is love, not sacrifice, knowledge of God not holocausts.” Certainly, this was a clear volte-face on the part of Israel. Harmonizing with the gestating undercurrents in the area, the renewed Essenes and the Qumran would now consider the temple at Jerusalem venal and corrupt, adding to the religious wrangle that would in fact climax during the life of Jesus, who is featured in the New Testament venting his frustration and castigating those who were reportedly turning the House of God into a den of thieves. “The Kingdom of God is within”, includes the New Testament, this being a newly borrowed revivalist and totally imbuing notion that proclaimed a superlative alternative -that of the temple being built not of defaceable stone, but of incorruptible spirit. Henceforth, God would reside in a loving brotherhood and not within four walls. “Wherever two or more are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them”, claims the New Testament, whilst also qualifying the human body as the very temple and the congregation of the faithful as the authentic church. These contagious religious imports were eclipsing the now fusty and mostly irrelevant Mosaic tradition, sending the latter’s more orthodox representatives into a quandary, while simultaneously seeding the minds of other more liberal rabbis in Jerusalem. Hillel was one of these. This saintly Jewish religious leader now pumped out this new religious dispensation: “Do not do unto others as you would not have done unto you.” He further argued that sincerity, loyalty, and piety were the very essence and golden rule of the Torah. Other formerly dogma-entrenched and restive Pharisees would jump on the bandwagon after the final exile had begun, arguing that Israel could now atone for her sins by acts of loving-kindness. Holiness would no longer be associated with the fertility-based Mosaic burnt-offerings. Indeed, charity would now become the new premise to religious teaching in Jerusalem and the most important and holy mitzvah. Unbelievably, and underlining the deeper Indian religious vision, offences against a fellow human were now contrary to God’s will, and Israel would be consequently encouraged to cultivate compassion instead. Echoing Buddha, the Jews now trumpeted that love and not hate, could defeat hate itself. Dying for one’s friends had now become the apex of this new and more profound religious ethos. Clearly, this ultimate Jewish god of compassion contrasts sharply from the one who drowns humanity earlier on, and has very little in common with the Sabaoth that had recently stormed Canaanite territory.
Three hundred years before this religious diversion, the Hellenic presence in Jerusalem had helped to erect the scaffolds for a new Jewish modus-vivendi, adding further impetus to the Jewish recovery kick-started in earnest when the latter were repatriated from Babylon, where the Jewish priesthood had been instructed in all the arts and sciences. The influence of Greek philosophers, mathematicians, grammarians, and master cryptographers in particular, would also eventually contribute to the establishment of a fresh Jewish seat of mystic learning that heralded the rectangular-based and numerically-valued Hebrew alphabet, and the subsequent numero-grammatical encryption of the Hebrew canon that we shall examine in our next chapter.Recommended1 recommendationPublished in