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Outlines Of Jewish History -Rev. Francis E. Gigot D.D.



              1. Names and Origin.


              2. Position in the Land (probable extent of each tribe).




              3. Civilization:

              Arts of peace and war.—Social and moral life.




              4. Religion:

              The worship of natural phenomena personified.


                            Why so great a danger for the Israelites?


                            Principal cause of order to exterminate.






              1. Invasion of Western Palestine:

              Crossing of the Jordan.




              2. Successive Conquest of the

              A. Centre:

              Jericho and Hai taken and destroyed.


                                          Scene at Sichem (Mounts Ebal and Garizim).




                            B. South:

              The Gabaonites deceive Josue: their punishment.


                                          Victory over five confederate kings: (the sun and moon stand still).


                                          Various cities taken.




                            C. North:

              Gathering of the other Chanaanæan kings.


                                          Their defeat at Merom; rapid conquest of their territories.






              1. The Assignment of Land:

              Territories allotted to the twelve tribes.




              2. Particular grants made to

              Caleb and Josue.


                            The Levites (cities of Refuge).




              3. The last days of Josue.


§ 1. The Inhabitants of Western Palestine

1. Names and Origin. The aboriginal inhabitants of Western Palestine had long disappeared from that country when the Israelites invaded the Promised Land. They had given place to settlers, who, dwelling between the Jordan and the Great Sea, that is in a low country as compared with the high table-land beyond Jordan, were actually designated under the generic name of Chanaanites or Lowlanders (Exod. 13:11; Numb. 21:3). But besides this general name, the inhabitants of Western Palestine receive in various passages of Holy Writ referring to this period distinct names, which apparently correspond to the distinct tribes into which they were divided (cfr. Exod. 13:5; 23:23; Deuter. 7:1, etc.). Thus we read of the Hethites, the Hevites, the Amorrhites, the Jebusites, the Pherezites, the Gergezites, and the Chanaanites; whence it seems that this last name, besides being used in a wider sense to designate all the inhabitants of the country, was also applied, in a more limited sense, to a particular tribe west of the Jordan before the conquest.

Scholars agree generally that these distinct tribes were descendants of Cham, through Chanaan, as is apparently stated in Gen. 10:15–20 (cfr. also Gen. 9:18, sq. and article Chanaan, in VIGOUROUX, Dictionnaire de la Bible). Some, however, have affirmed that they must have belonged to the Semitic stock, on the two following grounds: (1) they spoke a language very closely related to, if not identical with, Hebrew, since in all their intercourse with the Israelites there is no sign of the necessity of an interpreter (cfr. also Isai. 19:18); (2) their chiefs, when overcome by Israel, found so easy a refuge among the Philistines, themselves a branch of the Semitic race, as to imply their common origin. It is easy to realize that these arguments are not necessarily conclusive against the Chamitic origin of the Chanaanites, who could acquire a knowledge of the Semitic language through their intermingling with the Semitic aborigines they had conquered, and who, in their own misfortune when defeated by Israel, could the more easily obtain a refuge among a nation of a different race, such as the Philistines, because Philistines and Chanaanites had lived long in amity and side by side in Western Palestine. Furthermore, the Chamitic origin of the Chanaanites seems well established by ancient traditions which affirm that they had migrated from the Chamitic settlements in the neighborhood of the Persian Gulf (cfr. HERODOTUS, History, book i, chap. i, § 1), and more particularly by the recently discovered “inscriptions which represent the Hethites as the dominant Scythic (and consequently Chamitic) race which gave way slowly before the Aramean Jews and the Phenician immigrants” (FAUSSET, Biblical Cyclopædia, art. Chanaan).

2. Position in the Land. As might naturally be expected, the seven Chanaanæan tribes mentioned above followed, to a large extent, the physical divisions of Western Palestine. A tribe or group of tribes dwelling in the lowlands of the country naturally received the name of Chanaanites, whilst the tribes occupying the highland districts were called Amorrhites, that is highlanders (cfr. Numb. 13:30).

Outside this general correspondence of the tribal divisions with the physical divisions of the land, little can be said with certainty about the exact position of the tribes of Chanaan at the time of the conquest of Western Palestine by Israel. One of the most important among those tribes were the Amorrhites, called Amaru on Egyptian monuments, and who, at this time, possessed probably all the mountain region on the southeast of Chanaan. They were a warlike tribe which some time before had made the conquest of the east of the Jordan, and which, a little later, were “to straiten the children of Dan in the mountain” (Judges, 1:34, 35). In the plains of Western Palestine, that is, in the valley of the Jordan, in a large portion of the plain of Esdrælon and also in the sea-coast, were the Chanaanites, whose name remains yet connected with one place to the southwest of Hebron (cfr. Numb. 13:30, and Josue 11:3). Often named along with, yet as distinct from, the Chanaanites, are the Pherezites, who lived also in the plains, probably in the high plains under the range of Carmel (Josue 17:15, sq.). The Hevites formed apparently a confederacy of towns in the vicinity of Gabaon (Josue 9), and occupied the country under Mount Hermon (Josue 11:3; Judges 3:3). The Jebusites are best known in connection with the mountain fortress of Jebus, whilst of the Gergesites so little is known that some have assigned them a position in the west of Phenicia, and others, to the east of the Sea of Galilee. The last tribe of which we have to speak here is that of the Hethites, upon whom much light has been thrown by recent discoveries. In the most remote antiquity, they formed an immense empire whose chief towns were Cades on the Orontes and Charcamis on the Euphrates (Josue 1:4), and which for long centuries proved a most powerful rival of both Egypt and Assyria. It is not unlikely that the Hethites to whom Holy Writ refers were but a portion of this mighty people, which, after long conflicts with Egypt, had remained in Chanaan (cfr. SAYCE, Races of the Old Testament, chap. vii).

3. Civilization. We have only scanty data respecting the civilization of Chanaan at this time, but they all point in the same direction, that of a high development of material prosperity. The tribes on the sea-coast were devoted to commerce, and became so well known in that line that in later days the name of “Chanaanites” was regarded as synonymous of “merchant.” The report made by the twelve spies sent by Moses during Israel’s first encampment at Cades (Numb. 13:18–34), together with the abundant crops which fell into the hands of the Hebrews at the time of the conquest (Josue 24:13), gives us an insight into the fertility and culture of the soil at that time. On the other hand, the fact that one of their cities was called Cariath-Sepher, that is “the city of books” (Judges 1:11), joined to the numerous hieroglyphic inscriptions of the Hethites which have been recently discovered, proves that reading and writing were in use among them. They appear also as a warlike people dwelling in cities with walls and gates (Josue 10:20; etc.); they had fortresses upon the heights and their numerous iron chariots were irresistible (Josue 11:4; 17:16; Judges 1:19; 4:3). This view of their high civilization and prosperity is confirmed in a striking manner by the varied and lavished booty which the Egyptians took from the Hethites and represented on their own monuments, and by the triple list of the 118 towns of Chanaan lately found in an Egyptian temple at Karnak (cfr. GEIKIE, Hours with the Bible ii, p. 53, sq.).

Over the various Chanaanæan clans or tribes reigned many “kings,” or sheiks, as we would say (Judges 1:7), and whose authority was probably limited by that of eiders (Josue 9:11). But whilst their material prosperity was so great and their social life apparently well organized, their moral condition had reached a frightful degree of corruption because immorality of every description was encouraged, fostered and even imposed by their idolatrous worship.

4. Religion. It was, in fact, the infamous worship of Baal and Astarthe, in which the Israelites had already so lamentably shared when on the confines of Moab, that the chosen people were destined soon to witness in its lowest and worst forms on the west of the Jordan. In the eyes of the Chanaanites, Baal and Astarthe were the two divine personifications of the quickening and producing power of nature. The former represented this power in its active form, and was, therefore, considered as a male god, probably identical with the sun-god; the latter represented this same power in its passive character, and was accordingly considered as the necessary female counterpart of Baal. Both were deemed equally worthy of divine honors, and whilst Baal was worshipped on the mountain tops, Astarthe was adored in the sacred grove not far off. But, of course, as the worship of the mighty power of nature considered simply as the origin of the beneficent, or, on the contrary, of the crushing and painful phenomena of the world, did not recognize or impose morality, it had rapidly degenerated, and at the time of the conquest by Israel, it allowed, or even required, such cruel and licentious rites as sacred prostitution, self-mutilation, human sacrifices, and particularly the offering of children as the most precious and propitiatory sacrifices. (For details about the Chanaanæan religion, see VIGOUROUX, Bible et Découvertes Modernes, tome iii.)

This was indeed a most revolting worship; and yet, strange to say, it proved, almost immediately after the conquest of Chanaan, a very great danger for the Israelites, despite the clear and awful denunciations of their law against all idolatry. They had the greatest difficulty in remaining faithful to the exclusive worship of the invisible Jehovah, surrounded, as they were, on all sides by nations—even by peoples of their own stock, such as the Moabites and Edomites—which were addicted to the magnificent worship of Baal, the more so, because it was the common persuasion of the nations of antiquity that whilst invaders should, of course, retain their own ancestral worship, they should also conciliate the favor of the gods of the country they had conquered. It is certain also that the sensual rites of the worship of Baal and Astarthe must have been for Israel powerful enticements to idolatry after their long sufferings and privations in the desert (cfr. Numb. 25), and that, in many cases, intermarriages with members of idolatrous tribes naturally betrayed them into sharing their religion (Judges 3:6).

To prevent the Jews, as a nation, from sinking into such gross idolatry, and thus forsaking their glorious mission of keeping alive the belief in and worship of the one true God, Jehovah wished ever to be represented as a jealous God, who regarded the simultaneous practice of His religion and of idolatrous worship not indeed as a divorce, but as an adultery. He forbade not only intermarriages with the utterly corrupted races of Chanaan, he also repeatedly gave orders that the chosen people should do away with every temptation to idolatry by exterminating the Chanaanæan tribes (Exod. 23:32, 33; 34:12–16; Numb. 33:51–56, etc.).

§ 2. The Conquest of the West of the Jordan (Josue 1–12)

1. Invasion of Western Palestine. Soon after the death of Moses, Josue, an Ephraimite of tried valor and the successor of Moses in command and his imitator in faithfulness to Divine guidance, received an order from Jehovah which he at once communicated to Israel. They were to be ready, after three days, to cross the Jordan and begin the conquest of Western Palestine. This was indeed no easy task, for the Jordan had no bridge, no ford that could give passage to nearly two and a half millions of people; and then beyond were the warlike tribes of Chanaan with their formidable chariots and well-disciplined armies. Trustful, however, in God’s assistance, Josue did not shrink from undertaking this twofold task, and he at once sent spies across the river to reconnoitre “the land and the city of Jericho.” On their return, they brought back to the Jewish commander the comforting news of the extreme terror with which the glorious victories of Israel east of the Jordan had struck the inhabitants of Western Palestine (Josue 1, 2).

It was apparently on the fourth day (the tenth day of the first month of the fortieth year after the departure from Egypt) that the Israelites crossed the Jordan in a manner which the Sacred Text plainly represents as miraculous (cfr., for instance, Josue 3:13, 16, 17; 4:7, 18, 22–25). After this wonderful event, Josue encamped at Galgal, about two miles east of Jericho, and where, after undergoing the rite of circumcision, the children of Israel celebrated the Pasch, eating bread made of the corn of the land, and not of the manna, whose supply ceased entirely on the next day (Josue 5).

2. The Conquest of Western Palestine. The news of the miraculous crossing of the Jordan by the Hebrews soon spread far and wide, and deprived the inhabitants of Chanaan even of their lingering hope that the swollen waters of the river would detain the invaders some time longer on its eastern banks (Josue 5:1). The city of Jericho, so near the Israelite camp, although very strongly fortified, was particularly and justly affrighted, for it was supremely important for Josue to secure the possession of this stronghold before penetrating into Central Palestine. Nevertheless, its king and valiant soldiers resolved to oppose the fiercest resistance; and there is no doubt that they would have long set at naught the efforts of the besieging Israelites had not Jehovah once more intervened miraculously in behalf of His people. Despite the various attempts made to account for the fall of the walls of Jericho by mere natural causes, such as the undermining of the walls, an earthquake, etc., it remains beyond question that the sacred writer intends to describe an event supernaturally revealed to Josue before its occurrence (Josue 6:2, sq.), and regarded by all at the time as the result of positive Divine intervention.

The capture of Jericho opened to the Jewish leader the important passes into the central hills, and he at once determined to make the most of this advantage. He, therefore, sent a select body of troops against the strong town of Hai, about ten miles northwest of Jericho, but to his great dismay the Israelites were repulsed. This first defeat seemed in fact to imply that Jehovah had already forsaken His people, and was calculated to greatly encourage the Chanaanites in their resistance against Israel, but fortunately it was promptly made up for. By a clever stratagem, Hai was soon taken and destroyed, and the road to a broad plateau in the centre of the country fully secured (cfr. G. A. SMITH, Historical Geography of the Holy Land, p. 263, sq.). From Hai, Josue marched northward to Sichem, some twenty miles distant, and there held the solemn ceremony of the Blessing and the Curse on Mounts Garizim and Ebal, as prescribed in Deuteronomy, chap. 27. On his return from this solemn ratification of the Covenant, he doubtless left a force at Hai to secure the passes, but his main encampment continued in Galgal, in the valley of the Jordan (Josue 7, 8).

After this rapid conquest of the centre of Western Palestine, there was a general uprising against Israel, and only the Gabaonites obtained peace by their well-known stratagem; but in punishment for their deception, they were condemned to perpetual bondage “in the service of all the people and of the altar of Jehovah.” The desertion of Gabaon, which was then the chief city of the Hevite confederation, from what seemed to be the common cause of the tribes of Chanaan, aroused the indignation of five powerful kings of the south, who resolved at once upon its destruction. But whilst they were encamped before Gabaon Josue marched by night from his camp at Galgal, and surprised and routed them. This was the memorable victory of Gabaon, or Beth-Horon (about four miles distant from Gabaon), for the full completion of which the Hebrew commander obtained from God that the sun and moon should stand still in the midst of heaven, a miracle differently explained by Biblical scholars. Many, among whom are reckoned some Catholic scholars, looking upon this passage of Holy Writ (Josue 10:12–15) as an extract from the poetical book of Yashar, or “the Just,” have thought that it should be considered as a poetical figure, which introduces Josue as commanding the sun and moon to stop their course, and even asserts that the sun and moon obeyed the mandate of a man, simply to convey the idea that the Hebrew chief most earnestly wished a prolongation of the day to complete the destruction of his enemies, and that he actually destroyed as many of them as if the day had been really lengthened. Much more common than this bold construction of the passage in question is the view which sees in the Biblical narrative the historical record of an actual astronomical miracle, which, being of course very easy to the Divine Power, was all the more opportune at that time, because it proved convincingly to both Israelites and Chanaanites the superiority of Jehovah over the sun and the moon, the two great deities of Chanaan. Perhaps the best way of meeting the various objections which are urged against this second view of the sacred narrative is to consider the lengthening of the day as the result of a miraculous deviation of the rays of the sun and the moon, because this would not entail either the stopping of the earth, or disturbances in the heavenly bodies. (For further information see VIGOUROUX, Manuel Biblique; DEANE, Joshua, his Life and Times, pp. 82–87; etc.)

Following up his victory, Josue took and destroyed the seven cities and kings of Maceda, Lebna, Gazer, Lachis, Eglon, Hebron, Dabir, and did not return to his camp in Galgal before he had completed in one rapid campaign the conquest of Southern Palestine (Josue 10).

There still remained to subdue the kings of the north, who, hearing of the defeat of the south, had rallied round Jabin (“the Wise”), king of Azor, a strong city probably to the northwest of the lake of Merom. Their troops were very numerous and plentifully supplied with horses and chariots, but they proved unable to resist the sudden attack of Josue, who routed them by the waters of Merom and pursued them as far as Sidon to the northwest. After this victory Josue took and burned Azor and subdued numerous northern towns, so that at the end of his third campaign he found himself practically master of the whole country between Mount Halak, at the ascent of Mount Seir, on the south, and Baalgaad, under Mount Hermon, on the north. A much longer time, however, was required for the reduction of the numerous kings who still held each his own city, and it is well known that even then the old inhabitants maintained themselves in some parts of the land despite all the efforts of Israel (Josue 11).

§ 3. The Settlement (Josue 12–22)

1. The Assignment of Land. The main part of Western Palestine being now subdued, Josue, with the help of the high priest Eleazar and of the heads of the tribes, divided it among the nine and one-half tribes which had yet to receive their settlements (Josue 13:7). Before detailing, however, their particular lots, the book of Josue reminds us of two facts: (1) that the sacerdotal tribe of Levi was not to share in the division of the land, because “Jehovah, the God of Israel, Himself is their possession”; (2) that Moses had already ascribed to Ruben, Gad and the half tribe of Manasses their territories on the east of the Jordan, and on the occasion of this second fact, the inspired writer gives briefly the limits of the possessions of the two and a half Transjordanic tribes. Ruben had the southern most territory extending from the Arnon River, on the south, to a little beyond Wady Heshban, on the north, where it reached the possessions of Gad; and from the Jordan, on the west, to the eastern desert. Gad was included between Ruben, on the south, and about the middle of the land of Galaad, on the north; whilst it stretched eastward from the Jordan to Aroer. The half tribe of Manasses embraced the territory between Gad, on the south, and Mount Hermon and Damascus, on the north; and between the Jordan, on the west, and the Arabian desert on the east.

The country west of the Jordan was now divided between the nine and a half remaining tribes by casting lots before the Tabernacle, and their territories may be better given under the threefold division of (a) the South, (b) the Centre, (c) the North.

(a) The South. The four southern tribes were Simeon, Juda, Benjamin and Dan. The most southerly district was assigned first to the tribe of Juda, but afterwards the south-western portion of this territory was given to Simeon, which thus became the southernmost tribe. Next to Simeon, on the north, was Juda, which extended across the whole Western Palestine from the Dead Sea westward to the Mediterranean, and from the territory of Simeon and the River of Egypt, on the south, to an irregular line starting from a little to the southeast of Jericho, passing south of Jerusalem and reaching the Mediterranean some four miles below Joppe. To the northeast of Juda was the warlike little tribe of Benjamin, with a territory of about 25 miles in length by 12 in breadth, bounded on the north by Ephraim, on the east by the Jordan, on the south by Juda, and on the west by the tribe of Dan. The last tribe of the south was that of Dan, whose fertile territory was so compressed between the northwestern hills of Juda and the Mediterranean, that later on they had to seek another home in the north of Palestine.

(b) The Centre. The central portion of Chanaan was allotted to the two brother tribes of the house of Joseph, Ephraim and Manasses. The tribe of Ephraim, to whom Josue belonged, received the more southerly portion of this large territory; its possessions, about 55 miles in length and about 30 in their greatest width, extended as far south as within a few miles of Jerusalem. The rest of Central Palestine was given to the half tribe of Manasses, which, differently from their fellow-tribesmen, had waited for sharing in the division of the country west of the Jordan, and now obtained a territory stretching westward to the Mediterranean and the slopes of Carmel, but not quite reaching the Jordan River on the east.

(c) The North. The northern part of Chanaan, extending from Mount Carmel to the chains of Lebanon, was assigned to the four tribes of Issachar, Zabulon, Aser and Nephtali. The tribe of Issachar possessed the great and most fertile plain of Esdrælon, and extended from Mount Carmel to the Jordan, and from Mount Thabor to Engannim. The territory of Zabulon lay immediately north of Issachar, to the south of Aser and Nephtali and between the Sea of Galilee and the Mediterranean. The territory allotted to Aser extended probably along the sea-shore from Carmel to Lebanon, about 60 miles long and 10 to 12 wide; it seems, however, that out of this extent the Phenicians kept possession of the plain by the sea, whilst Aser had to be satisfied with the mountains. Finally, to the east of Aser was Nephtali, which reached north to the Leontes River, and east to the Jordan, the lake of Merom and the Sea of Galilee.

2. Particular Grants made at the Time. Independently of this general division of the land, certain distinguished persons, as Caleb and Josue, received grant of the particular territory they asked for. Caleb claimed for his part that special portion of the land of Hebron which Moses had promised him upwards of forty years before, and he assured at the same time that he would make the conquest of it. Josue assented to Caleb’s request, and the courageous warrior secured for himself by force of arms the territory he had wished for (Josue 14). Josue himself received as his personal inheritance the place he had asked, namely: Thamnath-Saraa, in Mount Ephraim, a town probably identical with the modern Tibnneh, some fifteen miles northeast of Lydda (Josue 19:49, 50).

Another special grant was made to the Levitical tribe, which, as we have seen, did not share in this allotment of Chanaan. Besides the tithes of the produce of land and cattle, and other sacerdotal dues already granted by Moses for its maintenance, this tribe especially devoted to the ministry of Jehovah now received from each tribe four cities and suburban pasture lands, or forty-eight in all (Josue 21). Among these were included the Six Cities of Refuge, three on each side of the Jordan, which were so wisely set aside to check the barbarous custom of blood revenge, which still exists among the Arabic tribes, and in virtue of which the kinsmen of a man put to death consider it a duty to avenge him by the death of his intentional, or even unintentional, murderer. Any one who had shed human blood could find safety and protection in these cities of refuge, under conditions carefully laid down in the Mosaic law (cfr. Numb. 35; Josue, 20).

3. The Last Days of Josue. The great military leader of the Jews was well advanced in years when he proceeded to complete the division of the conquered land, and probably he did not survive long the dismissal of the Transjordanic tribes in peace to their homes (Josue 12). During the last days of his career Josue enjoyed in his own estate in the Promised Land the peaceful rest he had so well deserved by his military services to Israel and his constant faithfulness to Jehovah. Yet he could not forget that his conquests, however extensive, had not brought about the utter destruction of the Chanaanites, which had been ordered by the God of Israel. Hence, gathering one day all those invested with some authority in Israel, he reminded them of God’s past favors to His people, of God’s willingness to do away entirely with the remains of the conquered races, and pointed out to them that the means to secure this all desirable object was a grateful and persevering faithfulness to Jehovah.

Apparently soon afterwards Josue convoked in Sichem an assembly from all Israel, reviewed before them the history of God’s dealings with the Jewish race, solemnly bade them choose between Jehovah and the idols of the land, and obtained from them a public renewal of the covenant with their God. Then, as a memorial of their sacred promise, he set up a stone pillar “under the oak that was in the sanctuary of Jehovah,” that is, probably, under the sacred oak of Abraham and Jacob, “and wrote all these things in the volume of the Law of Jehovah.” The dismissal of this assembly was soon followed by the death of Josue, at the age of 110 years, and by his burial in the border of his possession in Thamnathsare (Josue 23, 24). His death deprived Israel of one of its most successful and most pious warriors; his influence upon his countrymen did not, however, vanish altogether with him, for we read that “Israel served Jehovah all the days of Josue, and of the ancients that lived a long time after him, and that had known all the works of Jehovah which He had done in Israel” (Josue 24:31; Judges 2:10).

About the discovery of the tomb of Josue by V. Guérin, see VIGOUROUX, Bible et Découvertes Modernes, tome iii.

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