Written by: Marc A. Krell
While the rabbis traced their identities back to the Israelites, they portrayed them in ideal terms as a community that set itself apart, maintained its own names and language, and resisted intermarriage. This ideal portrayal is borne out by the Israelites' own composite biblical narrative comprising the books of Genesis through Joshua, in which there are a later series of ethnocentric "folk traditions" weaving together many originally individual narratives during the Babylonian exile. Yet it is this type of theologically driven, nostalgic historiography by the editors of the biblical narrative and later rabbis that masks the multicultural origins of this people Israel.
Drawing upon archaeological and textual evidence, scholars have presented a rather different picture. They argue that the community of Israel most likely emerged historically out of a loosely defined coalition of Canaanite city dwellers and migrating herders in the early part of the second millennium B.C.E. as part of a larger Amorite migration into Syria-Palestine, Egypt, and Mesopotamia. Instead of resisting foreign names, languages, and intermarriages—as the rabbis claimed—it appears that the Israelite nation was culturally and perhaps ethnically descended from the Canaanite population. This type of syncretism—the blending of different religious and cultural influences—is demonstrated in the name "Israel," which actually stems from a Canaanite word, along with other names like the Egyptian word Moses. Moreover, because of the Israelites' close association with the Canaanite and other ancient near eastern cultures, their Hebrew language is based on the Phoenician alphabet and closely related to the early Canaanite language, Ugaritic.
As a result of its multicultural beginnings, the biblical narrative is full of intermarriages despite legal bans to the contrary: Joseph and the Egyptian Asnat, Boaz's marriage to Ruth the Moabite (an ancestor of King David), and King Solomon's many foreign wives, including the Ammonite woman who gave birth to King Solomon's successor, Rehoboam. In fact, it could be argued that intermarriage was actually a central component in the political ideology of the Israelite monarchy in the sense that by sharing the blood line of its vanquished foes, the Moabites and the Ammonites, later Judean kings could solidify the Davidic dynasty.
|Opening lines of the Enuma Elish|
|When the sky above was not named, |
And the earth beneath did not yet bear a name,
And the primeval Apsû, who begat them,
And chaos, Tiamat, the mother of them both,
Their waters were mingled together,
And no field was formed, no marsh was to be seen;
When of the gods none had been called into being.