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Will College Students Allow a Hamas-Israel Agreement?

Many college campuses have been convulsed in protests over the Israeli-Hamas war. The exact number fluctuates as new ones emerge and the police and/or college administrators quell the peaceable political discourse by taking students and outside agitators hostage. Presumably if tried and convicted in federal court they will be pardoned.

The mantras of the protestors are “river to sea,” intifada, genocide and various woke terms like “settler colonialism.” Many comparisons are made to the events at Columbia in 1968 given the school’s leading role in 2024 as a spark for the nationwide outburst.

But the parallels with Vietnam are not exact. In fact, there is a wide difference which needs to be explored. While the Vietnam War went on for years, involved many American casualties, and helped Richard Nixon squeak out a victory in the 1968 presidential election. The Democratic incumbent stepped down while his leading rival was the assassinated Robert Kennedy and not the gadfly Robert Kennedy, Jr. There remains a serious question to be answered. What happens if in the near future there is an agreement between Hamas and Israel even if only a temporary one?


If Israel and Hamas agree to a temporary cessation of hostilities and an exchange of prisoners, what will be the impact on protesting college students? For now, the protestors are parroting the phrases of Hamas (and Iran) in calling for the destruction of Israel. If instead, Hamas enters into an agreement with Israel, what is there to protest? If there is a cessation of violence and an exchange of prisoners, then the call for intifada or river to sea takes on a brand new meaning. How do you protest against Israel if Hamas has entered into an agreement with Israel? Such an agreement takes the wind out of the protestors’ sails. If Hamas decides to work with Israel in some way, what is there to protest?

There is an easy test between the disconnect of the desires of the Palestinians and those of the American students. When for a brief instant, it seemed as if peace would break out in Gaza even if only for a short period, what were the reactions? In Gaza, Palestinians were celebrating. They were dancing in the street. They have no love for Hamas and the war which Hamas initiated on its own to the detriment of the Palestinian people. By contrast, there was no such celebration on the campuses of American colleges. For the pro-Hamas students, a treaty will Israel that still leaves Israel in existence, is no treaty at all.


If the time line is extended, then the position of the protesting college students becomes even more precarious. Here are some things that could conceivably happen in the middle term if Israel realizes that when you are in a hole, stop digging.

1. An Arab peacekeeping force could replace the Israeli troops in Gaza (Tom Friedman). If the “occupying force” consists of other Arab forces then the call for river to sea, intifada, and genocide disappears. These Arabs will then train Gazans to be the local police. These Arabs will then help create a local infrastructure devoid of Hamas participation. All this is antithetical to the protesting college students’ mantras.

2. The security deal that was on the verge of being signed is now back in play. It would join Israel, the United States, and Palestine in an anti-Iranian collation. We have already seen how a coalition of western allies plus Israel and Jordan were able to dispatch the Iranian drones recently launched against Israel. A formal security agreement would signify that Iran has little wiggle room to affect a river to sea outcome.

3. As a result, Saudi Arabia would be joined more closely to the United States. This would include weapons purchases and a possible development of civilian nuclear power as Iran claims it is seeking to do now.

How could American college students protesting for the river to the sea accept these peace terms instead?


In the long term, people are now beginning to discuss in the long term for Gaza that is not based on the rule of Hamas. The idea of a long term involvement and shared oversight of Gaza is under discussion. The ongoing presence in Gaza of personnel from friendly Arab counties would permit the development and emergence of homegrown Gaza leaders free of the Hamas taint. It would make up for the years during which Hamas suppressed and oppressed the very people they claim to champion.

In this view, it is possible to imagine Gaza transformed from an isolated area it is today. It could become a Mediterranean commercial hub centered on trade, tourism, and innovation with the creation of a middle class no matter how farfetched it might seem at present (Peter Goodman, 4/30/24 NYT print). Such actions requiring decades would bring about the integration of Gaza into the global economy. The power of Iran would be reduced accordingly. The very presence of such long-term plans would undermine Hamas. It would demonstrate a long-term commitment to Gaza that is antithetical to the constant wars of Hamas. College students in the United States would be furious since such developments are contrary to what they espouse.


The fixation by the college students with Israel is revelatory. Students concerned about the violent abuse and murder of other people have plenty of targets in the world if only they would choose to look. For example, that other war involving the United States between Ukraine and Russia. Sudan is another.

But “woke” was designed to target the actions first of the Anglo countries – United States, Canada, Great Britain, Australia, and South Africa (before) – and only secondarily other European colonial powers no longer in existence. It was not intended for other relationships. In this environment, Israel serves as a living proxy for all these countries and their now collapsed empires. For people who speak the language of colonial settler, Israel is the perfect target even though Arab Palestinians are not native to the land, they are not indigenous.

Remember how MAGAs refused to be vaccinated against COVID so as not to give Biden a win?

A similar scenario is playing out here. The more Biden puts the brakes on Israeli military expansion, the less the woke will be able to generate outrage for their agenda. The more the United States and its friends in the region act in concert to bring the fighting to a halt, the less the woke will be able to generate outrage for their agenda. The more the United States and its friends in the region act in concert to replace the river-to-sea rule of Hamas with plans to make Gaza a Hamas-free part of the West, the less the woke will be able to generate outrage for their agenda. By the time colleges resume in the fall, the situation will be very different than it is today.

The more leadership Biden shows in ending this phase of the conflict and presenting an alternative to Hamas, the more the outrage will dissipate … except for those students who want Hamas to continue to oppress, repress and suppress the Palestinian people.

Cain and Abel or Isaac and Ishmael? Vote! The world has been held hostage long enough

Cain and Abel (left) the first Abraham Accords (right) (painting by Paul Reubens)

Cain and Abel or Isaac and Ishmael? Vote! The world has been held hostage long enough.

Once again there is war in the Middle East. Once again Israel and Hamas threaten to drag the world into their conflict. At this point there seems no end at sight. There is no end in sight for the current round of fighting. And there is no end in sight to the number of rounds to be fought. There is no light at the end of the tunnel for this forever war. Only intervals of peace while the combatants prepare for the next round.

During this time, talking heads fill the airwaves. Besides the updates on the facts of the ground, there are the more historic-related comments about this being a conflict that has lasted forever or at least for centuries.

First, let’s get the facts straight and then let’s propose a solution.


Prior to 1948 and the creation of Israel, Palestine was the name of an administrative unit much as New York State is within the United States. In this case, Palestine was the name of a political unit within the British Mandate and prior to that within the Ottoman Empire. It had no racial, ethnic, or religious significance any more than being a New Yorker did or does.

If you lived in the district of Palestine than you were a Palestinian. You could be a Palestinian Jew, a Palestinian Christian, a Palestinian Moslem as well as a Palestinian Arab. It was the same as being a New York Jew, a New York Christian, a New York Moslem, or a New York Arab. After World War I, biblical scholars from Europe and the United States created the Palestinian Oriental Society. The name had nothing to do with the race, ethnicity, or religion of the members. It had to with the fact that the organization was located in Jerusalem which was part of the administrative district of Palestine under the British Mandate.

During the 20th century, the more Jews advocated for carving a Jewish state out of Palestine – see the Balfour Declaration – the greater the hostility between the Jews and the Arab Moslems. Once the Jews succeeded in establishing a State of Israel, the remaining land from the district of Palestine maintained its name. Now Palestine began to acquire a racial, ethnic, and religious characteristic that it had not had before.

The word “Palestine” itself ultimately derives from the Peleset, better known as the Philistines. The plst in the Egyptian record were a people the Egyptians fought. Ramses III (not Ramses II of the Exodus) was particularly vigorous in his campaigns against the plst not that he was the first Pharaoh to have contact with these Sea Peoples as the Egyptians called them. Scholars still debate the origin of the Sea Peoples including the plst. Wherever it was, the plst were not Semitic yet alone Arab.

Of course, it is as the Philistines (look at the consonants) that the people became best known. Think of Samson and David and their encounters with the biblical Philistines. Eventually these people gave their name to the land where they settled roughly in the Ashkelon area today. That name carried forward in history from Assyrian conquest to the British Mandate to today. The Philistine people themselves vanished into history and the archaeological record. But the name stuck and expanded to encompass an even larger area than the Philistines had ever ruled or settled including over the land and kingdom of Israel.


The Arabs are latecomers to this story. The first known existence of an Arab in the land of what is now called Israel/Palestine occurred in 716 BCE. It is possible to be that precise because Sargon II, the Assyrian king renowned for the destruction of Israel and the relocation of the so-called Ten Lost Tribes, moved Arabs into the former kingdom of Israel. Sargon II absorbed the Israelite military, in particular, its chariots, into the Assyrian army. As for the Arabs he moved into Israel, they apparently disappeared in history probably through assimilation and intermarriage.

The expansion of the Arabs with which people are most familiar is after they became Moslem. At that point they began a series of conquests throughout the Middle East including Jerusalem in 638 CE. That was over 1300 years after the relocation of Arabs by Sargon II which had not included moving Arabs into Jerusalem. The city was the capital of the still independent kingdom of Judah at that time. In Woke terms, this became a time of settler colonialism where the winners imposed their way of life on the losers. They succeeded to such an extent, that people often think the Arabs as having been around on the land of Palestine since time immemorial.

Here and there, pockets of resistance held out. There is still an Assyrian community in Iraq for example. Obviously there is a vigorous Christian community in Lebanon which sees itself as predating the arrival of Moslem Arabs in the land. Further west, there are Berbers. Even in Egypt, the Arabs only provide a veneer to a people who date back thousands of years.

The point of this digression, is that one needs to be careful in the use of terms when referring to the history of the land and who lived on it over the centuries and millennia. For a long time “Frank” was the term used to refer to Palestinian people who were descendants of the Crusaders and might have blue eyes.

Cain and Abel or Isaac and Ishmael? Vote! The world has been held hostage long enough

With this history background in mind, let is turn to the situation today. It is safe to say that no one has a solution now, not even Tom Friedman! To offer a hope of what one would like to see happen, is not the same as offering a roadmap as to how to get there.

The country of Israel exists and Hamas will never accept that. But what about the Palestinians in Gaza who have paid the price for the Hamas obsession for the destruction of Israel? Have they had enough? What do they want? They know that any rebuilding in northern Gaza will take years and will be destroyed again in the next round of fighting.

Cain and Abel or Isaac and Ishmael? Vote! The world has been held hostage long enough.

The issue is not what the political leaders want. The issue is not what the international diplomats want. The issue is not what the talking heads think is best. Instead the issue is what do the people directly involved want.

Do they want to live together in peace and somehow a way has to be found to accomplish that goal?

Do they want river to sea or to expel the other from the land and will not cease fighting until victory is achieved?

Cain and Abel or Isaac and Ishmael? Vote! The world has been held hostage long enough.

The time is long past due when they should be asked directly. I am referring to a plebiscite on the choices of Cain and Abel or Isaac and Ishmael. A secret ballot vote probably to be conducted by the United Nations where the people are asked the most basic of questions. There is no constructive purpose served by having politicians talking about a one-state or two-state solution when there is no mandate to do so. It is the people themselves who have to seize the moment and declare for all the world to see in a secret ballot what their preferences are.

Cain and Abel or Isaac and Ishmael? Vote! The world has been held hostage long enough.

The Trump Doctrine: Foreign Policy with THE DONALD Captaining the Ship of State

(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

“40 Wall Street actually was the second-tallest building in downtown Manhattan, and it was actually, before the World Trade Center, was the tallest — and then, when they built the World Trade Center, it became known as the second tallest. And now it’s the tallest.” [Donald Trump in radio interview with WWOR as reported by Timothy Bella, The Washington Post: it’s always about him]

From time to time, Presidents of the United States become known for their foreign policy doctrines. Washington had “no entangling alliances.” Monroe had the Monroe Doctrine. Teddy Roosevelt spoke softly and carried a big stick. Truman had the Truman Doctrine.

Certainly, it is not incumbent on a President to develop a formal doctrine or set of principles by which he is guided in his foreign policy decisions. Sometimes it is only after the fact when outsiders seek to make sense of what has occurred can some semblance of a coherent doctrine be determined. On the other hand, sometimes people lurch from event to event as they occur simply reacting to the chance circumstances of whatever happens.

And then there is the Trump Doctrine. It wasn’t always clear that there was a Trump Doctrine. So much of his decision-making seems impulsive and happenstance devoid of any coherent principles. Perhaps the best known and most consistent policy has been his submissiveness to Putin and other alpha males plus his love of theatricality centered on him. He does love playing with his Hollywood-casted toy soldiers. At least until they think they are actual people with minds of the own with loyalties to the Constitution and have to be fired/resigned.

Foreign policy has not been a big part of his administration until now. As I have written, for THE DONALD except for Mueller much of his presidency has been playtime. Now he is operating in the adult world and he is out of his league. The continual revealing of his actions taken in the Ukraine and to cover up those actions are important for two reasons. One, they will lead directly to his impeachment. Two, they provide insight into how this President who eviscerated the State Department conducts foreign affairs. His actions in Syria are a beacon to the world: he can be rolled by dictators and abandons allies without any awareness of there being consequences to his actions – there are no adults in the White House.

What does this all mean?


Let’s begin with Mike Mulvaney, a former adult who regressed into being a babbling baby. He actually was a pretty good predictor of his own situation.

Mulvaney added he believed Trump’s emotional appeals and cavalier attitude might prompt him to try going around the Constitution.

“I wonder who is more interested in going around the Constitution in order to get things done. Barack Obama or Donald Trump,” Mulvaney said. [CNN, December 21, 2018]

We all know the answer to that debate! We all know that once Mulvaney became a member of this administration he had no qualms about circumventing the Constitution. Of course there was a quid pro quo! Get over it – perhaps the very words that will define him for all eternity on his tombstone.

In my blog entitled Mick Mulvaney Parachutes onto a Ship in Chaos the Rats Are Abandoning, written at the same time as the CNN article, I wrote the following about Syria then:

The more the real world presses in, the more the immature child president will lash out without any concern for the consequences. He lacks the mental necessities to understand the concept of consequences or even to care. He must give in to the impulse of the hissy fit not just in his tweets but in his decision-making. Consider his decisions to withdraw from Syria and half-withdraw from Afghanistan. Far from being well-thought decisions carefully implemented, they are case studies in the decision-making process of our immature child president who feels more and more trapped by the real world. Look at what has happened in just a tweet.

– He has granted Recep Tayyip Erdoğan the coveted 00 O.J, license to kill previously awarded to Putin and MBS.
– He has shown no loyalty to the Kurds who put their lives on the line to fight with us as allies against ISIS.
– He has shown that the very concept of “allies” has no meaning to the transactional President – unless you can offer something to him he could not care less about you.
– He has no interest in America being a world leader and does not care who fills in the vacuum.

All things considered, I think I nailed that one. While I did not exactly predict the current situation, I think I described a reasonable facsimile of what has and is transpiring.

What I did not formulate was the Trump Doctrine of foreign policy that now can be seen more clearly.

1. Be submissive to alpha males especially if there is the prospect of a business deal with them.
2. Actions 7,000 miles away do not matter.
3. There are no allies, everything is transactional.
4. There are no alliances, everything is individually transactional.
5. We should only help people fighting for their land if they were with us at Normandy.
6. We should only help people fighting for their land if they cover our costs.
7. We will ask you to provide dirt on political opponents even if it is not true.

Hard as I may seem to believe, these guidelines one day will be studied in school along with the other doctrines previously mentioned. Students will even be tested on their ability to recall and recite the Trump Doctrine.

In the present, countries have no problem understanding what the Trump Doctrine is. They may have grave fears about what it means for them but they have no doubts that as long as the current President remains in office, these guidelines remain in place.

Saudi Arabia can afford us even though it was not at Normandy. And it buys Trump properties. Yet we did nothing when Iran attacked it. One has to wonder what our President will do even if our troops are paid for when Iran attacks again.

The Baltic States cannot afford us and they were not at Normandy. If Russia ever decides it has the resources to invade the Baltics, we will do nothing. In this regard, the Ukraine imbroglio works to the advantage of the Baltic States. The longer Russia is bogged down there and the sanctions remain, the less likely it is to attack any Baltic State.

Taiwan can afford us but was not at Normandy. Even if it does not pay us now, China is probably too preoccupied at present to invade so there is no urgency to Taiwan paying us. However, if that moment of truth comes in the present administration, Taiwan better cough up the money fast if it wants our assistance.

Israel can afford us but was not at Normandy. Even if it does not pay us now, Iran is probably aware of what Israel would do in retaliation to an attack. In addition, Hezbollah is too busy trying to maintain control in Lebanon to attack Israel now even if it acquires sufficient precision missiles to eliminate Israel’s retaliatory ability.

The Trump Doctrine marks the end of the post-World War II era of international diplomacy. We have been in transition since the fall of the Iron Curtain and the “end of history.” Now a new doctrine has been implemented. Coalitions and alliances have been replaced by the rule of alpha males, transactional relationships, and foreign interference in American Presidential elections on behalf of the President. The old saying of “commander in chief and leader of the free world” is obsolete.

Allies are abandoned, enemies are emboldened. They don’t watch Fox, They don’t attend his professional political rallies. They don’t worship THE DONALD. They know the truth of the immature child masquerading as the adult THE DONALD. Trumpicans are still living the lie. Perhaps by the time of the impeachment and the trial to remove him, the Trumpicans finally will see the truth behind the act. Perhaps watching THE DONALD be rolled will achieve what the Mueller report did not. Perhaps the sacrifice of the Kurds will achieve what the Democrats have been unable to do. Perhaps the real world will expose the lie that is THE DONALD and bring this show to a close.

Rule of Law: George Washington, Nimrod, the Tower of Babel and Today

Common Sense by Thomas Paine (

On April 10, 2019, Politico posted an article entitled “Trump’s ‘truly bizarre’ visit to Mt. Vernon.” The article recounted a visit on April 23, 2018, by the French and American Presidents to Mount Vernon, home of George Washington, the first President of the United States.

According to Mount Vernon president and CEO Doug Bradburn, the tour guide for the Presidents, the Macrons were far more knowledgeable about the history of the property than the American President. France, of course, contributed to America’s victory in the American Revolution with the assistance of Marquis de Lafayette and Count Rochambeau, the first but not the last time foreign intervention helped elect an American President.

By contrast, the American President is renowned for not reading a book and being historically ignorant (Canada burned the White House, the Baltic States were responsible for the dissolution of Yugoslavia, and 306 electoral votes is a landslide). It was easy for the trained guide to rapidly discern that the American President was completely bored. Drawing on his experience with school visitors who similarly had no interest in the Father of the Country, Bradburn attempted to engage the person before him. As reported by Politico, the former history professor with a Ph.D, “was desperately trying to get [Trump] interested in” Washington’s house. So he drew on his bag of tricks and informed the uninformed President that Washington had been a real-estate developer.

That approach did the trick. Now the guide had the President’s attention. Not only was Washington a real-estate developer, but for his times, he was one of the richest people in the United States. In today’s terms, he could be compared to Gates, Buffet, and Bezos and not to a comparative pauper like the President. (No, Bradburn did not say that!)  Again according to Politico, “That is what Trump was really the most excited about” said a source.

At that point, our narcissistic President responded to the news in the way that defines him as a person

[H]e couldn’t understand why America’s first president didn’t name his historic Virginia compound or any of the other property he acquired after himself. “If he was smart, he would’ve put his name on it,” Trump said, according to three sources briefed on the exchange. “You’ve got to put your name on stuff or no one remembers you.”

In other words, unless you make your name great, you are not great and will be forgotten.

The concept of making your name great is familiar to biblical students referring to another book he has not read.

Genesis 12:1 Now Yahweh said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.

In the biblical tradition, a person does not make his name great, the Lord does.

It should be noted that in ancient times the people who made their name great were kings. Lost in translation is the recognition that the way one made one’s name great in ancient times was by the king building something. To the deep regret of biblical archaeologists, ancient Israel did not partake of this royal tradition of kings building things with their name on it.

By contrast, Ramses II, the traditional Pharaoh of the Exodus of Passover fame, did make his name great. He built extensively. And when he had not built it, he still carved his name into it. It would be a little like our having the Trumpire State Building or Mount Vertrump. And Ramses did achieve lasting fame. By having approximately 100 children, a condom was named after him so his name is remembered all the time.

Mesopotamian kings followed a generally similarly path. Kings built stairways to heaven (ziggurats) at the cosmic center (the capital) where they ruled the universe from sea to shining sea (the Upper Sea or Mediterranean to the Lower Sea or Persian/Arab Gulf; there maps are oriented at a 90 degree rotation from ours). The baked bricks used in these constructions bore the name of the king.

Nimrod is the first king mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. He is the first king mentioned before Abraham encounters various kings. To understand what he is doing there one must put aside what the name means colloquially today and in rabbinic tradition and focus on the biblical text itself. In the original version of the story:

Genesis 10:8 Cush became the father of Nimrod; he was the first on earth to be a mighty man. 9 He was a mighty hunter before Yahweh; therefore it is said, “Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before Yahweh.” 10 The beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, and Accad, and Calneh [Calah] in the land of Shinar.

These verses are descriptive, not accusatory. Nimrod is to be praised for his achievements not condemned. Indeed, he is a figure to be emulated given his success as mighty man or warrior before the Lord. He was the ruler of the Mesopotamian universe.

As biblical archaeologists and Assyriologists eventually learned, Nimrod was not an individual but an exemplar. He was not Sumerian Gilgamesh of Uruk (Erech) as had been originally thought. He was not Akkadian Sargon the Great of Accad, he was not Amorite Hammurabi of Babylon, and he was not Assyrian Tukulti-Ninurta of Calah to name other candidates. Instead he was all of them; he represented that Mesopotamian way of life.

To understand the Nimrod story, it is necessary, I think, to connect this story of the four cities with the inserts of the four rivers in the garden (Gen, 2) and the four kings of the east (Gen.14). A single author supplemented an existing narrative with these episodes. This author thought globally as he also did in transforming local flood songs (Songs of Miriam and Deborah) into a global one. That action undermined the Egyptian-based perspective of the Exodus story and the Canaanites who became Israelites. Having Nimrod be a Yahweh-worshipper long before Moses at the burning bush also undermined the position of Moses and therefore of his priesthood.

I suggest that the author the Nimrod story and these supplements was a Benjaminite/Yaminite Aaronid priest. He wrote not as a scribe or priest but as a player in the political arena. He ended the first cycle of stories (aka the primeval cycle) with Nimrod and a table of nations leading to Abram leaving Ur to start the second cycle. The torch had been passed to a new location. The temple in Jerusalem was now the cosmic center. The Israelite king in Jerusalem was advised to rule like a Mesopotamian king at the new cosmic center. He was to make his name great as Solomon did in building the temple.

So at least claimed one political party in ancient Israel. However, there was another political party, the Levites or Mushites who claimed the law came first. They objected to the claim that Yahweh had sanctioned the royal way of life in Mesopotamia as the Nimrod author had written. Yahweh had first appeared at Sinai to Moses and the law was revealed there. They mocked the Mesopotamian way of life by writing the Tower of Babel story. Look at those mighty stairways to heaven! They all were built for naught. All those mighty and grandiose empires crumbled into dust, lost to history until recovered by archaeologists. It was the law which endured and ruled even when kings and temples were no more.

Exodus 1817 Moses’ father-in-law said to him…19”Listen now to my voice; I will give you counsel, and God be with you! You shall represent the people before God, and bring their cases to God; 20 and you shall teach them the statutes and the decisions, and make them know the way in which they must walk and what they must do. 21 Moreover choose able men from all the people, such as fear God, men who are trustworthy and who hate a bribe; and place such men over the people as rulers of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. 22 And let them judge the people at all times; every great matter they shall bring to you, but any small matter they shall decide themselves; so it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. 23 If you do this, and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all this people also will go to their place in peace.”

The Babel author highlighted the folly of the Nimrod story ambitions. This author was anti-Aaronid (golden calf story) and anti-monarchy (the Jethro constitution).

Jethro and Nimrod offer two different models of political organization: the rule of law and the king who makes his name great. Two political parties offered two different versions of how society should be organized: one based on the rule by a king and one based on the rule of law. The result was an original narrative now separated into two narratives with different endings to the first cycle of stories. Nimrod and Babel are inconsistent because they originally part of two different narratives based on a common core. Only when they were combined centuries later were the inconsistencies juxtaposed. Imagine having to combine Confederate and Union descriptions of Lincoln and Lee in a single narrative! Again, that was a political process and not a scribal one.

For the first centuries of Israel’s existence, it had had no king. Therefore no one was in a position to abuse power. Only when Israel had a king could someone be a law unto himself. We will never know if ancient Egypt or Mesopotamia debated the powers of a king when he first ascended to the throne in Egypt and descended to the throne in Mesopotamia. But we do know the debates ancient Israel had on the powers of the king. It decided there should be checks and balances on the power of the king. No one was above the law. Even David could be called to task: “Thou art the man.” And when he was confronted he repented.

The best time for the initial battle over whether Jerusalem had replaced Mesopotamia as the cosmic center occurred when Israel could if it were so inclined think of itself it such grandiose terms. This happened when Egypt and Mesopotamia were weak (and Pharaoh’s daughter was an Israelite queen). It happened before the time of Sheshonq and Assurnasirpal II.

This approach is based on the stories originating in a political context as Levites, Aaronids, and Jebusites battled for power. Even stories set elsewhere were always about internal politics. Obviously this scenario is speculative and cannot be proven but it does illustrate how a political approach can produce a different historical reconstruction.

This ancient Israelite dialog on the rule of law and the rule by the king continues on in the United States. In 1776, Thomas Paine wrote in Common Sense:

…that in America the law is king. For as in absolute governments the King is law, so in free countries the law ought to be king; and there ought to be no other.

Once again as in ancient Israel and during the American Revolution, the issue of the rule of law versus the rule by king is being played out. Will the United States be governed by the Constitution or a Nimrod?


For more on the stories of Nimrod and the Tower of Babel see my book Jerusalem Throne Games: The Battle of Bible Stories after the Death of David.

Canaanites Vow to Build a Wall: Moses-Mob of Middle-Easterners Will Be Stopped

Refugee Caravan (Image: Pueblo Sin Fronteras)


The numerous Canaanite kings banded together today to announce their intention to build a wall to prevent the Moses-led mob of Middle-Easterners from entering the land. The Canaanites have seen the havoc these refugees wreaked in the land of Egypt and are determined not to permit a repeat in Canaan. Spokesperson Rahab Huckabee Sanders

said to the men, “The fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you.  For we have heard what you did before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites that were beyond the Jordan. And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no courage left in any man, because of you” (mostly Joshua 2:9-11).

Canaanite spies dispatched to monitor the movements of the mob have reported that all is not what it seems to be. These people ae not simply walking step by step on a long journey through the wilderness. Like Frodo, they traversed the wilderness on the wings of eagles (Ex. 19:4).

Furthermore, the Canaanite spies have observed drones supplying the refugees with manna from heaven. Clearly this movement has received organized help from an outside agency.

In response, the Canaanites have decided not to build a single wall across the land. Egypt tried that centuries earlier and it did not work. Instead the Canaanites will build a wall around each Canaanite city to prevent the Israelites from encroaching on their land. The first city selected for the wall was Jericho.


Putting aside the hyperbolic rhetoric portraying the refugee caravan as an apocalyptic scourge from the end of days, the event does provide an opportunity to think about how the Canaanite people actually did respond to the appearance in history of the Israelite people in the land of Canaan.

Typically, Merneptah (1212-1202 BCE) hogs the attention at this transition from the Late Bronze Age to Iron Age I due to the Merneptah Stela.1 His reference to Israel as a people and not settled city-dwellers has led to continual discussion about exactly who or what Israel was and where they lived. There is no indication of any alliance or relationship among the four entities named in the Merneptah Stela. Nor is there any reason to believe he listed all the Canaanites who opposed Egyptian rule. In this regard we may never know the true extent of the Canaanite Spring and how widespread the anti-Egyptian feelings and actions were in the land of Canaan even without the potential Israelite catalyst.2

What was the geopolitical landscape in the land of Canaan at this time and how did Israel fit in?

Israel’s appearance in history occurred during a roughly 350-year period of Egyptian hegemony in the land of Canaan.3 At times, various Canaanites, some known, some not known, rebelled against Egyptian rule. As Egyptologist Ellen Morris points out, Gezer and Yenoam on the Merneptah Stela had appeared before in the Egyptian records as periodic irritants dating back to the 15th century BCE. The newcomer to the Canaanite city-list was Ashkelon, a day’s march from the Egyptian stronghold at Gaza, the border between Egypt and Canaan. She suggests that a city in such close proximity to a major Egyptian military base only would have rebelled if “something had gone fundamentally wrong in Egypt’s maintenance of its northern empire….Ashkelon would never have attempted insurrection had Egypt been in full fighting form.” She posits that the joint attack by the [non-Arab] Libyans and the Sea Peoples on Egypt created a window of opportunity for Ashkelon given the magnitude of Egyptian forces committed to resisting those intrusions. Morris wonders if Ashkelon expected aid from Gezer and notes that these two cities had warred against Jerusalem in the Amarna Age.4 One may add that Israel would have been an eyewitness to these machinations among the Canaanite cities, Egypt, and the Sea Peoples. These actions involving the sons of Ham, the sons of Japheth, and the sons of Shem were part of Israel’s collective memory. To isolate Israel from the surrounding political developments creates a skewed understanding of Israel’s early history. Israel was not alone in its opposition to Egypt and there is no inherent reason that these different entities were not as aware of each other just as their counterparts had been aware during the Amarna Age a century earlier.

According to the archaeological surveys, around this time hundreds of small settlements appeared as new sites in the Rachel lands/West Bank/hill country. These settlements routinely are identified as Israelite.5 Based on that obvious conclusion, one would further conclude that these Israelites were no direct threat to Canaanites along the coast, in the Jezreel, or in the Galilee. Those areas would not be part of an Israelite polity until the kingdom of David centuries later.

Within the area of Israelite settlement, what were the primary Canaanite cities with which Israel would interact? Again the answer is straightforward. In the Middle Bronze Age, Late Bronze Age, and Iron Age I, two Canaanite cities above all others stood out within the area of Israelite settlements – Shechem and Jerusalem.6 As it turns out, both cities figure in the archaeological and biblical record. Combined they help create an historical reconstruction around the time of Merneptah and afterwards.

Shechem, the proverbial navel of the universe, was a pain in the royal ass according to the Amarna Letters. According to this diplomatic correspondence from the 14th century BCE, Shechem, led by its king Labayu, was always fomenting trouble with its neighbors.7 Labayu’s actions lead to neighboring kings contacting Pharaoh for help. This correspondence is used to portray Egypt as supporting a divide and conquer approach to its vassals. As long as they paid their tribute, garrisoned Egypt’s troops, and did not have any foreign alliances, who cared about their internal petty squabbles?

Pharaoh’s physical presence was not necessary to resolve such internal conflicts.  His depiction on a relief was not a photograph of a battle scene. He did not have to be present. The garrison forces and/or vassals who fought on his behalf signified his symbolic presence even if not a physical one. Indeed, collective action on the part of Canaanite kings without Pharaonic guidance or blessing is unlikely.8 The Canaanites themselves should take care of these matters involving Shechem and the habiru which they did. These actions and correspondence were a precedent for how they would react to the appearance of Israel.

For Israel, the single most welcoming area for them in all the land of Canaan was likely to be Shechem and its environs. As it turns out by no coincidence whatsoever, it is exactly to this traditional anti-Egyptian city where the biblical narrative recounts Moses telling the people to go:

Deuteronomy 11:29 And when the LORD your God brings you into the land which you are entering to take possession of it, you shall set the blessing on Mount Gerizim and the curse on Mount Ebal.

Deuteronomy 27:12 “When you have passed over the Jordan, these shall stand upon Mount Gerizim to bless the people.”

The campaign promise was fulfilled by Joshua:

Joshua 8:30 Then Joshua built an altar in Mount Ebal to the LORD, the God of Israel.

This altar has been discovered complete with pharaonic scarabs that could be used in ritual celebrations of the liberation from Egyptian hegemony.9 Furthermore, Merneptah’s depiction of the Israelites at the Cour de la Cachette likely draws on the perceived Israelite-Shechemite link as Canaanites.10 In other words, there is a convergence of material archaeology, inscriptions, and biblical narrative on the peaceful settlement of Israel in the area of Shechem.

With Jerusalem, the story is different. According to the Amarna Letters, Jerusalem was a good vassal of Pharaoh. Its ruling dynasty even had been installed by the strong arm of Pharaoh. Jerusalem was used to contacting Egypt for assistance against potential threats and to allying with other Canaanite cities against upstarts like Labayu. Again there is a precedent for how it would respond to Israel.11

Within the hill country where Israel settled, the most prominent area where it would be least welcome is Jerusalem. As it turns out by no coincidence whatsoever, it is exactly this pro-Egyptian city with which Israel has the most difficulty.

According to Joshua 10, Jerusalem initiates an alliance against a Canaanite city that had dared to ally with Israel.

Joshua 10:3 So Adonizedek king of Jerusalem sent to Hoham king of Hebron, to Piram king of Jarmuth, to Japhia king of Lachish, and to Debir king of Eglon, saying, 4 “Come up to me, and help me, and let us smite Gibeon; for it has made peace with Joshua and with the people of Israel.” 5 Then the five kings of the Amorites, the king of Jerusalem, the king of Hebron, the king of Jarmuth, the king of Lachish, and the king of Eglon, gathered their forces, and went up with all their armies and encamped against Gibeon, and made war against it.

In the subsequent battle in the land of Benjamin, Israel prevails over Jerusalem.

According to Judges 1, Benjamin fails in its efforts to conquer Jerusalem.

Judges 1:21 But the people of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites who dwelt in Jerusalem; so the Jebusites have dwelt with the people of Benjamin in Jerusalem to this day.

One may see in this version, that although Benjamin defeated the Jebusites in open-field battle, it did not succeed in capturing the city. It did however continue building settlements that increasing encroached on the city without conquering it.12

The situation grew even more precarious for Jerusalem when it lost its protector. The strong Egyptian presence which had been maintained through the reign of Ramses III in the 12th century BCE abruptly ended during the reign of Ramses VI by 1139 BCE. Morris characterizes the end of Egyptian rule as “a short and bloody affair.” Her survey of Egyptian military bases in Canaan indicates that virtually every one was torched.

[T]he local populations must have seized the opportunity of Egypt’s internal weakness to rid themselves of their overlords. Without Egyptian taxation, corvée labor demands, co-option of local industries and resources, and interference in local politics, the inhabitants of Canaan must surely have believed that their lots would improve significantly.13

So what did Jerusalem do now? Given the failure of Merneptah to destroy the seed of Israel, given the failure of the Jerusalem initiated alliance with its defeat in the land of Benjamin, given the withdrawal of Egypt from the land, given presence of ever-closer Benjaminite settlements including with a fort, then what was Jerusalem to do? How could Jerusalem protect itself from Israel in general and Benjamin in particular? Answer – IT COULD BUILD A WALL!

As it turns out, that is exactly what Jerusalem did. The appearance of Jerusalem changed after the withdrawal of Egyptian forces from the land of Canaan. Two monumental structures in the city from this time period have been discovered by archaeologists. The first is the Stepped Stone Structure. This terraced construction on the eastern slope of the city was built possibly as an integral part of the city’s fortification system. It is dated to the Iron I period meaning the 12th or 11th centuries BCE prior to the creation of the Israelite kingdom. The structure consists of two parts: a stone mantle and rampart built on a terracing system. Theoretically the two components could have been built separately. Such a construction project demonstrates the capabilities of the city government to initiate an organized effort on a massive scale just as it had done centuries earlier when it build the walls and gates which protected the perennial water source at Gihon.14

The second building is the more recently discovered Large Stone Structure. The two structures generally are perceived to be one entity with the more extensively-preserved Stepped Stone Structure serving as a support for the mostly-vanished Large Stone Structure on the summit.15 This view is consistent with the biblical text referring the fortress of Zion:

II Samuel 5:9 And David dwelt in the stronghold, and called it the city of David. And David built the city round about from the Millo inward.

A natural question to ask is “Why did the Jebusites build it?” Amihai Mazar decisively declares its magnitude and uniqueness had no parallel from the 12th to early 9th centuries BCE in the Levant.16 Its construction was an impressive and monumental achievement. The Jebusites faced with the realization that they were on their own decided to act to protect themselves by constructing the Stepped Stone Structure and the Large Stone Structure.

The geopolitical situation following Merneptah is crucial to understanding the formation of the monarchy centuries later. Based on these events at the beginning of Iron Age I (1200 BCE), one needs to resolve the following issues at the conclusion of the period (c. 1000 BCE).

1. Why did David select Jerusalem to be his capital city? – One needs to keep in mind not just the traditional north-south conundrum routine in biblical scholarship but the inclusion into the Israelite polity of non-Israelite Canaanites. How many were Rahab Canaanites who did not fear but welcomed Israel and how many had been supporters of Pharaoh against Israel and suffered the same fate as the killed kings of Canaan?

Joshua 12:9 the king of Jericho, one; the king of Ai, which is beside Bethel, one; 10 the king of Jerusalem, one; the king of Hebron, one; 11 the king of Jarmuth, one; the king of Lachish, one; 12 the king of Eglon, one; the king of Gezer, one; 13 the king of Debir, one; the king of Geder, one; 14 the king of Hormah, one; the king of Arad, one; 15 the king of Libnah, one; the king of Adullam, one; 16 the king of Makkedah, one; the king of Bethel, one; 17 the king of Tappuah, one; the king of Hepher, one; 18 the king of Aphek, one; the king of Lasharon, one; 19 the king of Madon, one; the king of Hazor, one; 20 the king of Shimronmeron, one; the king of Achshaph, one; 21 the king of Taanach, one; the king of Megiddo, one; 22 the king of Kedesh, one; the king of Jokneam in Carmel, one; 23 the king of Dor in Naphathdor, one; the king of Goiim in Galilee, one; 24 the king of Tirzah, one: in all, thirty-one kings.

2. Why did Benjamin choose to ally with its longtime enemy Jerusalem during the reign of Solomon prior to the division of the kingdom? – I suspect that with the deaths of probable Jebusites Zadok and Bathsheba and the exile of Abiathar, Benjamin thought it would dominate the Jerusalem-based kingdom by operating behind the king through Pharaoh’s Daughter. Solomon legitimated his temple through “I had dream” in Benjamin

1 Kings 3:5 At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask what I shall give you.”

but the king did not relocate the temple to Bethel as Benjamin undoubtedly would have preferred. Still for the moment the Aaronids had triumphed over the Zadokite priests.

The memories of the geopolitical context when Israel first appeared in history in the land of Canaan carried forward to when Israel became a political entity with a king. Ironically, the very wall the Jebusites had built to defend the city against Israel and Benjamin became the foundation of David’s military power when he chose to make Jerusalem his capital.



1. The discovery of the Merneptah Stele in 1896 with its mention of Israel was big news. For reports from that time, see James Henry Breasted, “The Latest from Petrie,” Biblical World 7/2 1896: 139–140; James Henry Breasted, “The Israel Tablet,” Biblical World 9 1897: 62–68; Expository Times 7 1896: 387–388, 445–447, 548–549; 8 1896: 76; W. M. Flinders Petrie, “Egypt and Israel,” Contemporary Review 69 1896/Jan.–June: 617–627; W. M. Flinders Petrie, Six Temples at Thebes (London: Bernard Quaritch, 1897), 26–30.

2. For the political situation at the time Merneptah claimed to have destroyed the seed of Israel, see Dan’el Kahn, “A Geo-political and Historical perspective of Merneptah’s Policy in Canaan’, in Gershon Galil, Ayelet Gilboa, Aren M. Maeir and Dan’el Kahn, ed., The Ancient Near East in the 12th–10th centuries BCE: Culture and History: Proceedings of the International Conference, held at the University of Haifa, 2–5 May, 2010 (AOAT 392; Münster: Ugarit-Verlag, 2012), 255–268; Colleen Manassa, The Great Karnak Inscriptions of Merneptah: Grand Strategy in the 13th Century BC (YES 5; New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003); Nadav Na’aman, “The Egyptian-Canaanite Correspondence’, in Raymond Cohen and Raymond Westbrook, ed., Amarna Diplomacy: The Beginnings of International Relations (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000), 125–138, here 137; Nadav Na’aman, “‘Praises to the Pharaoh in Response to His Plans for a Campaign to Canaan,” in Tzvi Abusch, John Huehnergard and Piotor Steinkeller, ed., Lingering over Words: Studies in Ancient Near Eastern Literature in Honor of William L. Moran (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1990), 397–405.

3. For this 350-year period and its relation to the Exodus, see Nadav Na’aman, “The Exodus Story: Between Historical Memory and Historiographical Composition,” JANER 11 2011: 39–69, here 44–55.

4. Ellen Morris, The Architecture of Imperialism: Military Bases and the Evolution of Foreign Policy in Egypt’s New Kingdom (Leiden: Brill, 2005), 379–381, quotations from 379.

5. William Dever asks “If this is not Merneptha’sIsrael, where is it at? And if the settlers were not his Israelite people, who were they? Skeptics have no answer to these questions” (William G. Dever, Beyond the Texts: An Archaeological Portrait of Ancient Israel and Judah (Atlanta: SBL Press, 2017), 218).

6. Israel Finkelstein, “The Territorial-political System of Canaan in the Late Bronze Age.” UF 28 1996: 221–255; Israel Finklestein, and Nadav Naaman, “Shechem of the Amarna Period and the Rise of the Northern Kingdom of Israel,” IEJ 55 2005: 172–193; Nadav Na’aman, “Canaanite Jerusalem and its Central Hill Country Neighbours in the Second Millennium BCE,” UF 24 1992: 175–291.

7. Labayu’s actions have been seen as a forerunner of the actions of by Saul and/or by David; see Erhard Blum, “Solomon and the United Monarchy: Some Textual Evidence’, in Reinhard G. Kratz and Hermann Spieckermann, ed., One God – One Cult – One Nation: Archaeological and Biblical Perspectives (BZAW 405; Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2010), 59–78, here 73; Daniel Bodi, “Outraging the Resident-Alien: King David, Uriah the Hittite, and an El-Amarna parallel,” UF 35 2003: 29–56; Israel Finkelstein, ‘The Last Labayu: King Saul and the Expansion of the First North Israelite Territorial Entity’, in Yairah Amit and Nadav Na’aman, ed., Essays on Ancient Israel in its Near Eastern Context: A Tribute to Nadav Na’aman (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2006), 171–187; Amihai Mazar, ‘The Spade and the Text: the Interaction between Archaeology and Israelite History Relating to the Tenth–Ninth Centuries BCE’, in H. G. M. Williamson, ed., Understanding the History of Ancient Israel (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 143–171, here 165; Nadav Na’aman, “The Contribution of the Amarna Letters to the Debate on Jerusalem’s Political Position in the Tenth Century BCE’, BASOR 304 1996: 17–27.

8. See Morris, The Architecture of Imperialism, 351, 696.

9, The structure at Mount Ebal is a scary discovery in biblical archaeology. The existence of an altar from the time of Ramses II to Ramses III consistent with the story of Joshua is too frightening to be taken seriously. Not taking the biblical account seriously historically is one of the bedrock axioms of modern biblical scholarship. On the other hand, there is no reasonable explanation why an obscure short-lived site from early Israel, like Ebal, would even be remembered yet alone included in the biblical narrative unless something of importance had happened there. Typically isolated farmsteads and watchtowers are not the focus of biblical stories and Israelite memories. If it really was an altar, who knows what else in the Bible might be true as well? For the altar at Mount Ebal, see Ralph K. Hawkins, The Iron Age I Structure on Mt. Ebal: Excavation and Interpretation (BBR Supplements 6; Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2012); Aharon Kepmpinski, “Joshua’s Altar – an Iron Age I Watchtower,” BAR 12/1 1986: 42–53; Pekka Matti Aukusti Pitkānen, Central Sanctuary and Centralization of Worship in Ancient Israel from Settlement to the Building of Solomon’s Temple: A Historical and Theological Study of the Biblical Evidence in Its Archaeological and Ancient Near Eastern Context (Ph.D. dissertation, Cheltenham and Gloucester College, 2000), 148–164 (published Piscataway: Gorgias, 2003); Pekka Matti Aukusti Pitkānen, Joshua (AOTC 6; Nottingham: Apollos, 2010), 192–204; Adam Zertal, “Has Joshua’s Altar Been Found on Mt. Ebal?” BAR 11/1 1985: 26–43; Adam Zertal, “An Early Iron Age Cultic Site on Mount Ebal: Excavation Seasons 1982–1987,” TA 13–14 1986–1987: 105–165: Adam Zertal, “A Cultic Center with a Burnt-Offering Altar from Early Iron Age I Period at Mt. Ebal’, in Matthias Augustin and Klaus-Dietrich Schunck, ed, Wünschet Jerusalem Frieden: Collected Communications to the XIIth Congress of the International Organization for the Study of the Old Testament, Jerusalem 1986 (Frankfurt am Main: P. Lang, 1988), 137–147; Adam Zertal, “Ebal, Mount,” in ABD II: 255–258; Adam Zertal, “’To the land of the Perizzites and the Giants’: on the Israelite Settlement in the Hill Country of Manasseh,’ in Israel Finkelstein and Nadav Na’aman, ed., From Nomads to Monarchy: Archaeological and Historical Aspects of Early Israel (Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 1994), 47–69; Ziony Zevit, The Religion of Ancient Israel: A Synthesis of Parallactic Approaches (London: Continuum, 2001), 196–201.

10. In 1978, Egyptologist Frank J. Yurco began advocating that reliefs on a wall at Karnak that had been attributed to Ramses II really belonged to his son Merneptah. He then suggested that the pictures illustrated the very campaign in the Merneptah Stele mentioning Israel. If true, then Merneptah left not only the first mention of Israel in the archaeological record but the first images. There has been general agreement that Yurco is correct in his recognition of the true Pharaoh responsible for the images but debate over which images are of Israel and what the significance is. For the Cour de la Cachette, see Peter J. Brand, “Usurped Cartouches of Merenpah at Karnak and Luxor,” in Peter J. Brand and Louise Cooper, ed., Causing His Name To Live: Studies in Egyptian Epigraphy and History in Memory of William J. Murnane (CHANE 37; Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers, 2009), 30-48); Peter J. Brand, “The Date of the War Scenes on the South Wall of the Great Hypostyle Hall and the West Wall of the Cour de la Cachette at Karnak and the History of the Late Nineteenth Dynasty,” in Mark Collier and Steven Snape, ed., Ramesside Studies in Honour of K. A. Kitchen (Bolton: Rutherford Press, 2011), 51-84; Anson F. Rainey, “Rainey’s Challenge,” BAR 17/6 1991;56-60, 93; Frank J. Yurco, “Merneptah’s Palestinian Campaign,” JSSEA 8 1978:70; Frank J. Yurco, “Merneptah’s Canaanite Campaign,” JARCE 23 1986:189-215; Frank J. Yurco, “3,200-Year-Old Picture of Israelites Found in Egypt,” BAR 16 1990:20-38. Frank J. Yurco, “Yurco’s Response,” BAR 17/6 1991:61.

11. For Jerusalem in the Amarna Age, see Nadav Na’aman, ”Jerusalem in the Amara Period,” in Caroline Amould-Béhar and André Lemaire, ed., Jerusalem Antique et Medievale: Mélanges en l’honneur d’Ernest-Marie Laperrousaz (Paris: Peeters, 2011), 31–48.

12. With Khirbet ed-Dawwara, the 11th-10th century date is not in dispute as much as who built this unique walled-town fort site. Israel, Jerusalem, and the Philistines all have been suggested. See Dever, Beyond the Texts, 163,170,285,370n.40; Avraham Faust, Israel’s Ethnogenesis: Settlement, Interaction, Expansion and Resistance (London: Equinox Publishing, 2006), 129-130; Israel Finkelstein, “Excavations at Khirbet Ed-Dawwara: an Iron Age Site Northeast of Jerusalem,” TA 17 1990: 163–208; Nadav Na’aman, “Ḫirbet ed-Dawwāra – a Philistine Stronghold on the Benjamin Desert Fringe,” ZDPV 128 2012: 1–9; Omer Sergi. “The Emergence of Judah as a Political Entity between Jerusalem and Benjamin,” ZDPV 133 2017:1-23. I lean towards a Benjaminite construction that was seen as threatening to Jerusalem. It also may have been a forerunner to the Khirbet Qeiyafa fort.

13. Morris, The Architecture of Imperialism, 546–586, 709, quotations from 709.

14. The dating of the Stepped Stone Structure is debated. See Jane Cahill, “Jerusalem at the Time of the United Monarchy: The Archaeological Evidence’, in Andrew G. Vaughn and Ann E. Killebrew, ed., Jerusalem in the Bible and Archaeology: The First Temple Period (SBLSymS 18; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2003), 34–53; Dever, Beyond the Texts, 277-279; Israel Finkelstein, The Rise of Jerusalem and Judah: The Missing Link,” in Andrew G. Vaughn and Ann E. Killebrew, ed., Jerusalem in the Bible and Archaeology: The First Temple Period (SBLSymS 18; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2003), 81–101, here 84–87; Gunnar Lehmann, “The United Monarchy in the Countryside: Jerusalem, Judah, and the Shephelah during the Tenth Century BCE,” in Andrew G. Vaughn and Ann E. Killebrew, ed., Jerusalem in the Bible and Archaeology: The First Temple Period (SBLSymS 18; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2003), 117–162, here 134–136; Amihai Mazar, “Jerusalem in the 10th Century BCE: The Glass Half Full,” in Yairah Amit and Nadav Na’aman, ed., Essays on Ancient Israel in its Near Eastern Context: A Tribute to Nadav Na’aman (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2006), 255–272, here 269–270; Mazar, “The Spade and the Text,” 152–153; Amihai Mazar, “Archaeology and the Biblical Narrative: The Case of the United Monarchy,” in Reinhard G. Kratz and Hermann Spieckermann, ed., One God – One Cult – One Nation: Archaeological and Biblical Perspectives (BZAW 405; Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2010), 29–58, here 34–40; Margaret Steiner, “The Evidence from Kenyon’s Excavations in Jerusalem: A Response Essay,” in Andrew G. Vaughn and Ann E. Killebrew, ed., Jerusalem in the Bible and Archaeology: The First Temple Period (SBLSymS 18; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2003), 347–363; Sergi, “The Emergence of Judah,” 2-5.

15. For the Large Stone Structure, see Dever, Beyond the Texts, 280; Avraham Faust, “The Large Stone Structure in the City of David: A Reexamination,” ZDPV 126 2010: 116–130; Avraham Faust, “Did Eilat Mazar Find David’s Palace?’ BAR 38/5 2012: 47–52; Israel Finkelstein, “Has King David’s Palace Been Found?” TA 34: 142–164; Israel Finkelstein, “The ‘Large Stone Structure’ in Jerusalem: Reality versus Yearning,” ZDPV 127 2011: 1–10; Mazar, “The Spade and the Text,” 152–153; Mazar, “Jerusalem in the 10th Century BCE,” 257–265; Mazar, Amihai, “Archaeology and the Biblical Narrative,” 40–46; Eilat Mazar, “Did I Find King David’s Palace?” BAR 2006 32/1: 16–27, 70; Nadav Na’aman, “Biblical and Historical Jerusalem in the Tenth and Fifth–Fourth Centuries BCE,” Bib 93 2012:21–42, here 26–28.

16. A. Mazar, “Archaeology and the Biblical Narrative,” 45. Mazar employs identical words in publications in 2006 and 2007: A. Mazar, “Jerusalem in the 10th Century B.C.E.,” 264, and “The Spade and the Text,” 152-153.

Montenegro and Early Israelite History: Lessons from NATO

Flags of the Members of NATO (courtesy

Over the summer, the tiny country of Montenegro for a brief moment became a topic of discussion in American politics. The reason was due to Montenegro’s membership in NATO. Under the terms of the alliance, members are obligated to come to the aid of any other member who is attacked…meaning by the Soviet Union now Russia. The debate was over why the United States should risk anything on behalf of this teeny-tiny country just because it was part of a mutual alliance.

Putting aside any current political issues regarding this position, the situation involving Montenegro sheds light on the early history of Israel. As it turns out, NATO provides a better template for understanding Israelite political history in the LBA/Iron I transition then does other models. Let’s look at the international context at the time when Israel first emerged in history through the lens of NATO.


As is well-known, the first mention of Israel occurs in the Merneptah Stele, roughly 1206 BCE. It refers to a campaign possibly dated five years earlier. The Stele mentions Israel along with three cities in Canaan. The implication is that each one of the four is acting independently and that they are not part of a Canaanite coalition or alliance. There is no archaeological evidence to confirm or to refute that common assumption.

Merneptah was not the first Pharaoh to face rebellion in Canaan. In fact his father and grandfather both erected monuments in the same Canaanite city signifying their triumph over those who challenged Egyptian authority. What are the odds that Ramses II and Seti I identified all the Canaanite cities that had rebelled? What are the odds that in the 13th century BCE before Merneptah only Beth Shan and a few others had confronted Pharaoh? Without the equivalent of the Amarna Letters, we will never know the extent of the opposition to Egyptian hegemony.

In this regard, Israel was the new kid of the block. It had not appeared in any of the extant conquest lists by the great warriors of the 18th Dynasty who had established what scholars refer to as the New Kingdom. It had not appeared in the Amarna Letters when Pharaohs sought to maintain that empire. And it had not appeared in texts of the 19th Dynasty before Merneptah when Pharaohs repressed those who rose up against Egypt. Then Israel did appear in the Merneptah Stele.

Mernepath’s campaign against Israel seems to locate Israel in the highlands where archaeology reveals the presence of hundreds of new settlements. Contrary to the stele, Merneptah did not succeed in destroying the seed of Israel. Did that mean that Egypt simply gave up and acquiesced to the existence of anti-Egypt Israel? Did that mean that Israel would continue to stand alone against Egypt?

Who in the land of Canaan were the potential allies of Israel against Egypt and who were its enemies? Based on the archaeological evidence, Hazor was the most promising candidate for an anti-Egyptian ally. However its participation in a Canaanite Spring possibly in the wake of Ramses’s “victory” at Qadesh, undermined its ability to provide military support. Closer to Israel in the highlands and according to the biblical text, the stronghold of Gibeon appears to have been a suitable candidate to join an anti-Egyptian coalition led by Israel, the people whom Merneptah had targeted and not destroyed.

Gibeon’s potential alliance with Israel, also identifies some Canaanite cities who were loyal vassals to Pharaoh. According to the biblical text, Jerusalem initiated an alliance against Gibeon with four other cities (Josh 10:3) and therefore against Gibeon’s ally Israel. Again the absence of an equivalent of the Amarna Letters hinders any reconstruction. Those letters do show Jerusalem to be a loyal vassal and do indicate that Canaanite cities could join together against a common foe. Egyptologists have shown that Canaanite cities were capable of acting on behalf of Pharaoh even without the actual presence of Pharaoh in a campaign. It is quite reasonable to conclude that after Merneptah’s failed campaign, vassal cities in Canaan would continue the fight against the anti-Egyptian peoples and cities. I suggest that the story in Joshua 10 draws on memories of such an early confrontation between pro-Egypt Canaanite cities and anti-Egypt Israel.


By the time of Deborah, the political context had changed. When Ramses -> Sese -> Sisera III invaded Canaan in Year 8, he faced an Israelite-led NATO. Since the time of Merneptah, various non-Canaanite city peoples had formed an alliance against Egypt. These peoples are listed in the Song of Deborah (Judges 5:14-18). When called to battle, they did not all respond. Apparently one expected ally, Meroz, did not show up and was cursed (Judges 5:23).

Let’s examine this Israelite-led anti-Egypt NATO alliance further. The issues here are twofold.

1. The peoples participating in the Canaanite NATO against Egypt did not consider themselves to be Israelite. At the time of confrontation, roughly 1177 BCE, these tribes still self-identified by their tribal name and not as part of a larger political entity. There was no “Robert E. Lee” scenario where one could chose loyalty to one’s state over one’s country. The members of this alliance had not merged into being a single country with a single leader. Deborah of Israel could call the alliance into battle under the terms of the covenant they had cut, but that did not mean these tribes had become part of Merneptah’s Israel. They simply shared a common enemy.

2. One should recall that at the onset of Egyptian hegemony in the time of Thutmose III, numerous peoples had formed a coalition and fought at a battle at Megiddo. That defeat was part of the cultural memory of the Canaanites. Now, three hundred years later, perhaps this time the results would be different. As it turned out, they weren’t. The withdrawal of Egypt from the land of Canaan was still decades away until the time of Ramses VI who graciously left a statue of himself at Megiddo.

Centuries later, another coalition would arise against Assyria. From 853-845 BCE, a coalition including Israel held four times against Shalmaneser III. Then that coalition collapsed. Each member of the coalition remained independent. There was never any consideration of its members coalescing into a single political entity. One should note that a coalition had confronted Ramses II at Qadesh as well. The idea of coalition appears to have been quite acceptable before and after the Song of Deborah coalition.

The Song of Deborah frequently is regarded as one of the oldest if not the oldest text in the Hebrew Bible. It also has been the source of debate over whether it had been composed at one time or has multiple layers. (The same could be said for the Song of Miriam/of the Sea.)

Mark Smith regards the 10th century BCE as the time of transformation of a pre-monarchic oral poetry society to a monarchic prose narrative society (Poetic Heroes: Literary Commemorations of Warriors and Warrior Culture in the Early Biblical World [Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2014], 284-307, 326-328). Specifically, he designates David as the watershed figure emblematic of the shift from the heroic poetry of early Israel to prose narratives during the monarchy.

In making this claim, Smith posits that the Song of Deborah was composed in two primary units. He dates the initial composition to the Iron I period of early Israel, to a time of various tribal militias who join or decline to participate in a coalition against a Canaanite foe [vassals of Egypt who opposed Israel]. The names Yahweh and Israel are conspicuously absent or minimized in this version. By contrast, the added component abounds in references to the two “signatories” to the covenant. Smith interprets this addition to reflect the development of the monarchical society. The emphasis had become national and not local (Smith, Poetic Heroes, 211-266, 287-289).


Let’s consider the significance of the additions of Yahweh and Israel to the original version of the Song of Deborah. The participants in the Israelite-led Canaanite NATO against Egypt not only were independent entities, they did not worship the same deity. To the non-Israelite members of Canaanite NATO, Yahweh was not the victorious deity. Now he was.

Why was this change made? The answer is that someone is attempting to transform the identity of the coalition. The prominence of the deity Yahweh in the revised Song of Deborah represents an effort to redefine Canaanite NATO into a single political identity with a shared deity. By implication, that redefinition significantly includes Judah. Although the tribe and kingdom of Judah had not participated in the original battle in 1177 BCE, the deity of this Shosu/Caleb-based people and kingdom was Yahweh from the south. The revised Song not only emphasizes Yahweh, it locates him as coming from Seir. We are witnessing the effort to have non-Merneptah Israelites accept Yahweh as their deity if they did not already worship him.

The second part of the transformation is to have the members of Canaanite NATO become part of Israel. The addition to the song posits that one shared deity, Yahweh, of one people, Israel, led his people to victory over Egypt. He did so at Megiddo thereby bringing to closure the era of Egyptian hegemony initiated by Thutmose III. He did so with a water miracle and in the land of Canaan, just as he had with original Israel when he led them out of Egypt. Wilderness woman Kenite Jael had smited Pharaoh just as wilderness woman Kenite Zipporah’s people had done. The members of Canaanite NATO should become part of Israel.

One notes the existence of series of stories about membership in Israel. Dan (Judges 17-18), Gad, and Reuben (Num. 32) all have stories related to the responsibilities of membership including links to Levites and Aaronids. Caleb becomes a junior counterpart of Joshua (Num. 13:30; 14:24, 30, 38) focusing on the south (Joshua 15:13-19; Judges 1:12-20). Northern hero Gideon reaches out to Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali (Judges 6:35), all mentioned in the Song of Deborah (Judges 5:14, 17, 18). All these stories are reflective of the process whereby Mernepath’s Israel reached out to nearby non-Canaanite city peoples to create a larger Israelite identity. The story of the Exodus was revised to include these peoples. The birth story of Israel became the birth story of anti-Egyptian peoples in the land of Canaan who had not actually departed from Egypt. In the revision of the Song of Deborah, these people were being asked not simply to be allies of Israel but to become part of Israel.

Significantly the Song of Deborah does not refer to a human king. There is no suggestion that anyone other than Yahweh should be king. He is responsible for the victory over Egypt. In political terms, the revision does not suggest that there will a human king who will do the many terrible things ascribed to a king elsewhere:

1 Samuel 8:11 …he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; 12 and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. 15 He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. 16 He will take your menservants and maidservants, and the best of your cattle and your asses, and put them to his work. 17 He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves.

As presented in the Song of Deborah, the price of membership in Israel does not these abuses of power. Actually that may not be quite true. King Solomon is remembered for doing all these terrible things, especially the forced labor. Interestingly, the claim is made that forced labor only applied to non-Israelites:

1 Kings 9:15 And this is the account of the forced labor which King Solomon levied to build the house of the LORD and his own house and the Millo and the wall of Jerusalem and Hazor and Megiddo and Gezer…17 …and Lower Bethhoron 18 and Baalath and Tamar in the wilderness, in the land of Judah, 19 and all the store-cities that Solomon had, and the cities for his chariots, and the cities for his horsemen, and whatever Solomon desired to build in Jerusalem, in Lebanon, and in all the land of his dominion. 20 All the people who were left of the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, who were not of the people of Israel — 21 their descendants who were left after them in the land, whom the people of Israel were unable to destroy utterly — these Solomon made a forced levy of slaves, and so they are to this day. 22 But of the people of Israel Solomon made no slaves; they were the soldiers, they were his officials, his commanders, his captains, his chariot commanders and his horsemen.

Regardless of the validity of this suspect protestation, it raises the idea of different treatment of the Israelites by choice and the residents of the kingdom by force. I suggest something similar is behind the thinking expressed in the revision of the Song of Deborah. To the allies of Israel in the Canaanite NATO against Egypt, no harm will come. The people of Dan, Gad, Reuben, Judah and the others will continue to live their lives as before except as Israelites who worship Yahweh and fight for him when called. For the Canaanite vassals of Egypt who opposed Israel from the start, this offer did not apply. Since one of the non-Israelite peoples mentioned here was the Jebusites, this proposal occurred before Jerusalem became the capital under David.

Perhaps, the revision may also have served as a warning to the peoples and cities who had been enemies of Israel for lo, these two hundred years, since Israel first appeared in the land of Canaan. Their fate would not be so pleasant.

Joshua 12:7 And these are the kings of the land whom Joshua and the people of Israel defeated on the west side of the Jordan, from Baalgad in the valley of Lebanon to Mount Halak, that rises toward Seir (and Joshua gave their land to the tribes of Israel as a possession according to their allotments, 8 in the hill country, in the lowland, in the Arabah, in the slopes, in the wilderness, and in the Negeb, the land of the Hittites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites): 9 the king of Jericho, one; the king of Ai, which is beside Bethel, one; 10 the king of Jerusalem, one; the king of Hebron, one; 11 the king of Jarmuth, one; the king of Lachish, one; 12 the king of Eglon, one; the king of Gezer, one; 13 the king of Debir, one; the king of Geder, one; 14 the king of Hormah, one; the king of Arad, one; 15 the king of Libnah, one; the king of Adullam, one; 16 the king of Makkedah, one; the king of Bethel, one; 17 the king of Tappuah, one; the king of Hepher, one; 18 the king of Aphek, one; the king of Lasharon, one; 19 the king of Madon, one; the king of Hazor, one; 20 the king of Shimronmeron, one; the king of Achshaph, one; 21 the king of Taanach, one; the king of Megiddo, one; 22 the king of Kedesh, one; the king of Jokneam in Carmel, one; 23 the king of Dor in Naphathdor, one; the king of Goiim in Galilee, one; 24 the king of Tirzah, one: in all, thirty-one kings.

In other words, there came a time, when people in the land of Canaan had a choice to make about their political allegiance. Those who had been part of Israelite-led Canaanite NATO against Egypt could worship Yahweh and become part of Israel without suffering any consequences. Those had been pro-Egypt and anti-Israel would pay the price. Evidently, someone was quite confident in his military prowess and of the opportunity to dominate the land of Canaan.

Apparently also this kingdom was to be like no other kingdom. Ishbaal’s kingdom was just another kingdom:

2 Samuel 2:9 and he [Abner] made him king over Gilead and the Ashurites and Jezreel and Ephraim and Benjamin and all Israel.

There was no vision to this kingdom, no transformation of identity to something larger than one’s blood or soil.

Last October at the National Constitution Center, John McCain said:

We live in a land made of ideals, not blood and soil. We are the custodians of those ideals at home, and their champion abroad. We have done great good in the world. That leadership has had its costs, but we have become incomparably powerful and wealthy as we did. We have a moral obligation to continue in our just cause, and we would bring more than shame on ourselves if we don’t. We will not thrive in a world where our leadership and ideals are absent. We wouldn’t deserve to.

Some of his words and idols were voiced anew at his recent funeral. Over 3000 years ago, a leader in Israel had a similar vision about how peoples of different blood and different soils could constitute themselves as a single people in a kingdom based on a covenant. That vision an effort of part of Israel’s story. The challenge in reconstructing Israelite history is in addressing the area where biblical studies are the weakest – the human element.