Friday, May 15, 2009

The Story We Know

If it seems like my posts are not very well organized, or not following a theme, it's because I keep finding interesting things that I want to post right away. The most recent is a PBS Nova that covered the story of ancient Israelites. You can start here, or go to this link and scroll down to "The Bible's Buried Secrets", and click Play All.

Or you can read my summary here. I like history, but sometimes I get tired of hearing the story of the archeologists and how the history was discovered. I guess it's an interesting way to site the references. The Bible was considered history for a long time, but it was it's only source, which is not a source at all. In the last couple hundred years we have improved our ability to read the past. A lot of people say this has degraded the value of the Bible. For me it has made it more interesting.

So, here's the story, you can find the references in the documentary.

Canaan was a Kingdom in the area of what is now Israel, around 2000 B.C. It was far enough from Egypt to have its own law, but close enough to be connected. There were also Kingdoms to the East in Mesopotamia. It was a typical Kingdom of the time, with larger buildings and more elaborate pottery and furnishings up on a hill, and the workers, slaves if you will, below it. For a modern image, look at any Maquiladora down in Mexico, or just look close at the pictures of the GM headquarters in today’s news. There are few big shiny buildings on the lake and then miles of houses.

And just like Detroit now, Canaan declined. The master/slave society has never lasted for long, and this was no different. The slaves began attacking the people on the hill and eventually kicked them out. But in this case, they didn’t just occupy the castle and replace the rulers with another despot. They moved up in to the hills and started their own society, one that was much more egalitarian. Meanwhile slaves were also escaping from Egypt. They wondered down through what is now Saudi Arabia, heard some very interesting stories about a God who encouraged freedom and eventually ended up in Canaan and retold those stories. Except it wasn’t called Canaan anymore because the people who lived there didn’t want to associate themselves with that history.

This went just great for a few hundred years and they eventually built their own Kingdom. It wasn’t all love and happiness as you can see in the book of Kings. And they weren’t prepared for what really no one could have prepared for, the largest Empire in the history of the area. The Assyrians conquered them and Egypt.

Part of the Kingdom of David survived, but under the rule of the Assyrians. The Israelites began to question what they had done wrong. The story goes that a scribe came running up to the King claiming to have found an ancient manuscript. (Bloggers note: I don’t believe that myself, I suspect it was written at that time and presented as if it were ancient). This became Deuteronomy, including the 10 commandments.

Not too long after that, the Babylonians conquered the area. Their temple was burned, and no doubt most of their writings, and they were back to being slaves again. But instead of giving up on their ideas, that is to say, their God, they retold their stories of exile and return. They tried to figure out how to redeem themselves. They started to pray together and created a rich tradition of poetry that is still sung today.

From here on, there were no more idols, no more golden bulls, no more goddess figurines, monotheism had taken hold. Not just a God of one land, but a universal God that affects the whole world. Not just rules for how to make your crops grow each Spring, but a code of ethics and morality.

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