Monday, February 26, 2007

Ekron and the Jebusites

Among the other odd things that really interests me, is the history of ancient Israel. That's not the same thing as the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, although the Old Testament is of course our principle literary source. Nor is it the same thing as salvation history, although it is the socio- ethno - economico - politico - justabouteverything-o- context in which salvation was worked out. It involves reading the Old Testament for the contrasting voices, going out of our way to see how the great controversies it records would have looked to the people of the time. (I did something of the sort here.) I think this kind of reading will make the Old Testament seem more relevant to people who devour Christian church history or Greco-Roman history but see the history of ancient Israel except for a few exceptional passages as some kind of boring and embarrassing monologue. But just as important, once you understand the background, even brief enigmatic passages suddenly are opened up as full of theological and salvation-historical meaning.

Let me give you an example.

In Zechariah 9 there is a curious and enigmatic line.

Ashkelon shall see [the fall of Tyre], and fear; Gaza also shall see it, and be very sorrowful, and Ekron; for her expectation shall be ashamed; and the king shall perish from Gaza, and Ashkelon shall not be inhabited. And a bastard shall dwell in Ashdod, and I will cut off the pride of the Philistines. And I will take away his blood out of his mouth , and his abominations from between his teeth [blood and abominations here are unclean foods]: but he that remaineth, even he, shall be for our God, and he shall be as a governor in Judah, and Ekron as a Jebusite. And I will encamp about mine house because of the army, because of him that passeth by, and because of him that returneth: and no oppressor shall pass through them any more: for now have I seen with mine eyes.

The immediately following lines are justly famous:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.

And the preceding lines are also something even a casual Bible reader can understand:

Thus saith the LORD of hosts; In those days it shall come to pass, that ten men shall take hold out of all languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you: for we have heard that God is with you.

The Christian Bible reader puts the king riding on a colt (Palm Sunday) together with the promise of the universal desire to worship the God of the Jews and sees the promise of the gospel to the Gentiles.

But what is that stuff in the middle? What is that vengeance on the Philistines, etc., business? What is this all about?

Well, actually I think it is quite relevant to the prophecies preceding and following, but first of all let's set out some of the basic facts. Ashdod, Gaza, Ashkelon, and Ekron are four of the five Philistine cities (the so-called Pentapolis "Five Cities"; the other one was Gath). The Jebusites was the name of those Canaanite people who lived in Jerusalem (exactly how they differed from other Canaanites seems to be unclear -- some suggestions here and here). They were one of the Canaanites who had remained unconquered from the period of Joshua, through the time of the Judges and King Saul into the time of David. (See Judges 1:21: And the children of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites that inhabited Jerusalem; but the Jebusites dwell with the children of Benjamin in Jerusalem unto this day.)

David first conquered Jerusalem and hence brought the Jebusites into his kingdom.

And the king and his men went to Jerusalem against the Jebusites, the inhabitants of the land, who said to David, "You will not come in here, but the blind and the lame will ward you off"--thinking, "David cannot come in here." Nevertheless, David took the stronghold of Zion, that is, the city of David. . . . And David lived in the stronghold and called it the city of David. And David built the city all around from the Millo inward. . . . (Samuel 5:6-10).

Tyre, the Phoenician city, the Philistines and the Jebusites are all connected in that all three were among the peoples of the Holy Land (as defined in the books of Moses and Joshua) whom the children of Israel were ordered to massacre in entirety. In fact as we see in Judges 1 this did not happen to anything like the degree casual Bible readers might assume.

Manasseh did not drive out the inhabitants of Beth-shean and its villages, or Taanach and its villages, or the inhabitants of Dor and its villages, or the inhabitants of Ibleam and its villages, or the inhabitants of Megiddo and its villages, for the Canaanites persisted in dwelling in that land. When Israel grew strong, they put the Canaanites to forced labor, but did not drive them out completely. And Ephraim did not drive out the Canaanites who lived in Gezer, so the Canaanites lived in Gezer among them. Zebulun did not drive out the inhabitants of Kitron, or the inhabitants of Nahalol, so the Canaanites lived among them, but became subject to forced labor. Asher did not drive out the inhabitants of Acco, or the inhabitants of Sidon or of Ahlab or of Achzib or of Helbah or of Aphik or of Rehob, so the Asherites lived among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land, for they did not drive them out. Naphtali did not drive out the inhabitants of Beth-shemesh, or the inhabitants of Beth-anath, so they lived among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land. Nevertheless, the inhabitants of Beth-shemesh and of Beth-anath became subject to forced labor for them. The Amorites pressed the people of Dan back into the hill country, for they did not allow them to come down to the plain. The Amorites persisted in dwelling in Mount Heres, in Aijalon, and in Shaalbim, but the hand of the house of Joseph rested heavily on them, and they became subject to forced labor.

The Philistines, however, represented pockets where the indigenous pre-conquest society remained unsubdued by the Israelites, even after the conquests of the kings Saul, David, and Solomon. Tyre and the Phoenician cities were similar.

Again, a casual Bible reader might assume that the existence of such more or less assimilated bits of pre-Israelite Canaan in the new society was viewed always and everywhere as entirely negative. That is the dominant voice in the Biblical conversation on the ethnography of post-conquest Israel. Assimilation to the Canaanites is the origin of the temptation to idolatry. But it is not the only voice.

Most of the population of post-conquest Israel was probably descended at least in part from the Canaanites, particularly in the cities and the lowlands. The Israelites had higher status, particularly after the kingdom was established, which is what those "forced labor" passages refer to. (But note: the Jebusites were never set to forced labor.) To adopt a very crude analogy, the Israelite conquest of the Canaanite was much more like the Spanish conquest of Mexico or Peru, than the Anglo-American conquest of North America; the result was not extinction or expulsion and replacement, but the formation of a mestizo, stratified conquest society.

The big difference was, that the backward mountains were the stronghold of pure-blood Israelites, where the stories of glorious conquest were handed down, while it was the cities and lowland farms which preserved both the memory of the Canaanite and a certain sympathy for the Philistines as more culturally sophisticated people. In these more sophisticated places, segregating Israelites and Canaanites would not work as policy. We can see this in the contradictory references to forced labor.

One passage in 1 Kings describes Solomon's forced labor as affecting only the Canaanites:

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-- their descendants who were left after them in the land, whom the people of Israel were unable to devote to destruction --these Solomon drafted to be slaves, and so they are to this day. 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.

This passage makes it sound as if no Israelites would resent the imposition of a forced labor from which they were exempt. But the reality was otherwise. Jacob's prophecy of his sons already has Issachar (the tribe of Israel dwelling in the rich Jezreel valley, around Megiddo and Ibleam) being subject to forced labor:

Issachar is a strong donkey,
crouching between the sheepfolds.
He saw that a resting place was good,
and that the land was pleasant,
so he bowed his shoulder to bear,
and became a servant at forced labor.

This would explain then why "all Israel" -- not just the remnant Canaanites -- hated Solomon's overseers of forced labor:

Then [Solomon's son and successor] King Rehoboam sent Adoram, who was taskmaster over the forced labor, and all Israel stoned him to death with stones. And King Rehoboam hurried to mount his chariot to flee to Jerusalem.

So the rise of the kings was associated with a program that in some areas, particularly the north it seems, imposed a sharper differentiation between those claiming indigenous Israelite ancestry and those claiming Canaanite ancestry. In the south (the kingdom of Judah), this differentiation was embraced, but in the north (the kingdom of Israel) it was much more controversial.

The other side of the rise of the kings, particularly David, was the creation of a central court, where paradoxically, the previous racial pride and exclusivity of the Israelites was loosened. Note when David conquered Jebus/Jerusalem what did not happen: there was no wholesale massacre, nor subjection to forced labor. The Jebusites seem to have been absorbed into the new kingdom, where they occupied geographically the central position. Nor was this a unique case. Many of David's favorite warriors and commanders were Canaanites or Philistines; not just Uriah the Hittite, but Ahimelech the Hittite as well (the Hittites of Beersheba are often associated with the Jebusties of Jerusalem). And there is Obed-Edom, Ittai and the 600 other Gittites (i.e. Philistines of Gath), and his Cherethite and Pelethite mercenaries from Philistia. (The account of David's links to Gath in 1-2 Samuel are probably only the tip of the iceberg). While David's rebellious sons, first Absalom and then Adonijah, sought the throne by winning over the more staunchly independent and rebellious Israelite population, David's non-Israelite soldiers remained loyal to him and his designated successor Solomon.

Nor was God displeased by this. This is the oddest thing of all, considering the degree to which much of Yawhistic religion in ancient Israel exalted the conquering Israelites over the native Canaanites. Yet here too there is another theme, which we might call the Canaanites as the beloved temple slaves of Jehovah. This begins with the Gibeonites who were enslaved in the conquest: But Joshua made them that day cutters of wood and drawers of water for the congregation and for the altar of the LORD, to this day, in the place that he should choose [i.e. wherever the ark of the covenant was].* In the account in Joshua 9, we see that this was seen as a bad thing. Perhaps for that reason, Saul killed the Gibeonites:

Now the Gibeonites were not of the people of Israel but of the remnant of the Amorites. Although the people of Israel had sworn to spare them, Saul had sought to strike them down in his zeal for the people of Israel and Judah.

Saul is pursuing the racially exclusive, pure Israelite, anti-syncretist, "mountain man" agenda, attacking the decadent cities and their mongrelized population. This agenda often seems part of the prophets' religion, although Jehu, another blood-thirsty "mountain man" king, is likewise portrayed ambiguously. Yet after Saul's death, the oracle of the Lord says:

Now there was a famine in the days of David for three years, year after year. And David sought the face of the LORD. And the LORD said, "There is bloodguilt on Saul and on his house, because he put the Gibeonites to death."

David allows seven sons of Saul to be hanged by the Gibeonites to avert the plague. He gave them into the hands of the Gibeonites, and they hanged them on the mountain before the LORD, and the seven of them perished together. They were put to death in the first days of harvest, at the beginning of barley harvest.

Strikingly when the Israelites were terrified of plagues from God that seemed to follow the ark of the covenant, it was Obed-Edom, the Gittite (i.e. Philistine from Gath) and Araunah the Jebusite (i.e. Canaanite of Jerusalem) who were both blessed by the presence of the ark of the covenant:

And David was afraid of the LORD that day, and he said, "How can the ark of the LORD come to me?" So David was not willing to take the ark of the LORD into the city of David. But David took it aside to the house of Obed-edom the Gittite. And the ark of the LORD remained in the house of Obed-edom the Gittite three months, and the LORD blessed Obed-edom and all his household.

And the angel of the LORD [dealing out death by plague] was by the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. Then David spoke to the LORD when he saw the angel who was striking the people, and said, "Behold, I have sinned, and I have done wickedly. But these sheep, what have they done? Please let your hand be against me and against my father's house."

And Gad came that day to David and said to him, "Go up, raise an altar to the LORD on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite." So David went up at Gad's word, as the LORD commanded.

And when Araunah looked down, he saw the king and his servants coming on toward him. And Araunah went out and paid homage to the king with his face to the ground. And Araunah said, "Why has my lord the king come to his servant?"

David said, "To buy the threshing floor from you, in order to build an altar to the LORD, that the plague may be averted from the people."

Then Araunah said to David, "Let my lord the king take and offer up what seems good to him. Here are the oxen for the burnt offering and the threshing sledges and the yokes of the oxen for the wood. All this, O king, Araunah gives to the king." And Araunah said to the king, "The LORD your God accept you."

But the king said to Araunah, "No, but I will buy it from you for a price. I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God that cost me nothing." So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver.

And David built there an altar to the LORD and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. So the LORD responded to the plea for the land, and the plague was averted from Israel.

In these three stories, it is the Canaanites, the ones who are supposed to be cursed and destroyed, who avert the plague of God's wrath from the blood-proud Israelites. David participates in and benefits from this wrath-bearing, by protecting the Canaanites as part of his policy for moving Israel from a Yahwistic tribal republic to a proper temple-centered monarchy. (Yes, the allusions to Rene Girard here are worth following up).

This conversation between blood purity and the long assimilated temple slaves continued. Centuries later, in the revelations given to Ezekiel, for example, the presence of temple slaves of Canaanite origin is still a deep offense:

And say to the rebellious house, to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord GOD: O house of Israel, enough of all your abominations, in admitting foreigners, uncircumcised in heart and flesh, to be in my sanctuary, profaning my temple, when you offer to me my food, the fat and the blood. You have broken my covenant, in addition to all your abominations. And you have not kept charge of my holy things, but you have set others to keep my charge for you in my sanctuary. "Thus says the Lord GOD: No foreigner, uncircumcised in heart and flesh, of all the foreigners who are among the people of Israel, shall enter my sanctuary. . . "

Zechariah, the post-Exilic prophet who started this essay closes with the same line:

In that day there shall be no more the Canaanite in the house of the LORD of hosts.

Yet the temple servants and the sons of Solomon's servants in Ezra 2:43ff. who returned from Exile are probably this same race. Ultimately they were the descendants of the Gibeonites and probably other, unrecorded, peoples subjugated in the conquest of Israel and made hereditary servants of the Ark of the Covenant.

Indeed the role of the Canaanites may be much closer to the heart of David and Solomon's temple cult than a casual reader would suppose. In 1 Samuel 2-3, we find the story of Eli, his wicked sons, and the prophecy of his replacement, that his sons will be replaced by a faithful priestly line. (The replacement of one line with another is introduced as a theme by Hannah's song, which is the model for Mary's Magnificat.) Now in 1 Samuel 4, Eli and his wicked sons Hophni and Phinehas die. But Phinehas has an untimely son Ichabod and through Ichabod's brother Ahitub, the priests serving Saul and David down to Abiathar traced their line. Now the prophecy was fulfilled in 1 Kings 2:26, when as punishment for supporting Adonijah as successor of David, Abiathar and his line was replaced:

And to Abiathar the priest the king said, "Go to Anathoth, to your estate, for you deserve death.** But I will not at this time put you to death, because you carried the ark of the Lord GOD before David my father, and because you shared in all my father's affliction." So Solomon expelled Abiathar from being priest to the LORD, thus fulfilling the word of the LORD that he had spoken concerning the house of Eli in Shiloh.

So if Abiathar and the descendants of Eli (also called the "priests of Nob" in 1 Samuel) were the rejected line of priesthood who was the new line? Well the new priest is Zadok (1 Kings 2:35).

So who was this Zadok? In the account of Samuel-Kings, he appears out of nowhere, in 2 Samuel 15:24ff as one of the two priests along with Abiathar. His father is Ahitub (not to be confused with the Ahitub who was Ichabod's brother) and his seed Ahimaaz and Azariah (2 Sam. 15:36-18:29; 1 Kings 4:2; cf. 1 Chron 4:8-10). But no ancestry of him is ever given in those books. In the context of the prophecy given to Eli, this "coming out of nowhere" aspect could be seen as only accentuating the judgment on Eli's family. Yet somehow it seems very unsatisfying that this long-delayed lightning seems in the end to strike in so shabby and hole-in-corner manner. Early on in 1 Samuel, it seems that Samuel as prophet will replace the decayed priestly position of Eli's line -- and there Samuel is made to be a man living in Ephraim but of the Ephrathite family (1 Sam. 1:1), either way, an entirely non-priestly tribe. Indeed, placed in the context of the New Testament, that prophecy receives a much more striking fulfillment later. In other words, Samuel-Kings raises the question of who will replace established priests and then leaves it hanging with an answer that seems quite unsatisfying.

In the book of Chronicles, Zadok is reckoned as the descendant of Phinehas (see the genealogy in 1 Chron. 6:4-15, 49-53), while Samuel and his father Elkanah are also reckoned as Levites (1 Chron. 6:22-29 and 33-38). Now both of these families are listed in 1 Chronicles 6 and later as part of the temple establishment. Given this different reckoning (from none, to clearly Aaronite, and from Ephraimite/Ephrathite to Levite), one may see an historical process by which those brought to Jerusalem and employed in the new temple were all in time given a Levite/Aaronite ancestry, one which is recorded in the great genealogies of 1 Chronicles, in line with the intense focus among the exiles on proper ancestry.*** Yet Zadok only appears in the record after Jerusalem is conquered by David. Could he, like Melchizedek of Salem who blessed Abraham, be a priest of the Jebusites who was brought into the Israelite family and religion by king David? This is speculative but it brings us back to the passage of Zechariah:

[the Philistine] that remaineth, even he, shall be for our God, and he shall be as a governor in Judah, and Ekron as a Jebusite.

Whether or not the high priests of Solomon's time on were really descendants of a Jebusite priestly family naturalized into Israel, David's conquest of the Jebusites in Jerusalem was certainly the beginning of a court establishment which played a disproportionate role in the civil and religious life of the kingdom of Judah. Here Zechariah draws on that history to promise that those Philistines who survive the day of the Lord's vengeance will be brought into Israel in the same way -- into the very center of the nation.

Modern-day Bible readers thrill to the denunciation of monarchy in 1 Samuel 8. But it is worth noting that this early "republican," anti-monarchic line of thought is also closely linked with the exclusive, blood-proud thought-trend in Israelite society as well. (One might, tongue a bit in cheek, call it the Bible's "Confederate tradition.") The incorporation of the Gentiles into God's people both as a fact and a promise is always linked to the monarchy, especially that of David's successors. That is perhaps why the rule David's son established is called the "kingdom" of God and not the "republic" of God.

*I can't help but note that the shrine of Chinggis (i.e. Genghis) Khan, now in Inner Mongolia, was also staffed by prisoners of war captured by the Mongols.
** Centuries later, Anathoth was the homeland of Jeremiah. As has been pointed out by commentators, his truth-telling to the royal and priestly elites in Jerusalem was probably eased by a family tradition of resenting this disposession.
***Isn't this accusing the Bible of error? No, if the ancestry was reckoned as real, just as Jesus is really reckoned the son of Joseph in Luke's genealogy (3:23, cf. 4:22 and John 1:45).

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