The foundations of Jewish identity
By Jonathan Aikhenbaum, Jerusalem
Around -1200 - -1100
Why was there a civil war against the tribe of Benjamin?
The episode is reported at the end of the book of Judges. A Levite living in the tribe of Ephraim (region of Samaria) had a concubine from Bethlehem (tribe of Judah). The latter wanted to separate and had returned to live with her parents in Bethlehem. The Levite went to her and convinced her to come back with him. They set out towards evening and stopped on the way in the city of Gibeah (north of Jerusalem), of the tribe of Benjamin. Greeted by an old man, the couple does not take long to attract all the scum of this city. Under the threats of the populace, the Levite delivers his concubine to them, who is raped and found dead the next day. He then returns home, cuts it into pieces and sends them to all the tribes of Israel. They all gang up on the tribe of Benjamin and reduce the number of Benjaminites to six hundred.
The episode clearly set the limit of what is tolerable within the borders of the nation of Israel. Tribes can and should allow the particularistic character of other tribes to express itself, but only within the framework of a certain morality. Beyond that, unity is broken (the body is cut into pieces) and civil war paradoxically restores it by restoring the morality of the whole social body.
וְשַלְמוֹן הוֹלִיד אֶת-בֹעַז, ובֹעַז הוֹלִיד אֶת-עוֹבֵד . And Salmon begat Boaz, and Boaz begat Oved. And Oved begat Yishai and Yishai begat David
Was King David's great-grandmother a Moabite foreigner?
The Bible contains numerous accounts of genealogy and begettings which are rich in indications on the development of human history and that of Israel. Among all the genealogies, there is one on which the biblical text insists and it is that of King David, the messianic line.
The messianic line is in no way a classic royal line. The story of Ruth the Moabite illustrates this perfectly.
The Moabites are the descendants of Moab, the son of Lot and his eldest daughter. Fleeing the destruction of Sodom, Lot and his two daughters had found refuge in a cave. Believing themselves to be the only ones in the world, the daughters of Lot then conceive of pursuing humanity through an incestuous relationship. From this plan will be born Moab and Ammon.
The story of Ruth begins with a famine in the tribe of Judah, which forces a Judean family, Elimelech, his wife Naomi and his two sons, into exile in Moab. The two sons marry Moabites, Orpah and Ruth. The husband and the two sons die and Noémie thinks of returning home. She then dismisses her two daughters-in-law. Orpa leaves her and returns to the family home but Ruth persists in being with her mother-in-law and indicates her firm desire to be part of Hebrew civilization: “Your people will be my people and your God will be my God”. Community of destiny first, prior to communion in faith.
While Lot had distanced himself from Abraham, Ruth binds herself to his descendants and shows the capacity of a stranger to endorse the historical community and the religion of Israel. She is par excellence the model of disinterested conversion, carried to the highest vocations: she will marry the judge of the time, Boaz and will be the great-grandmother of King David.
How did the political regime of Israel become royal?
In the Torah, kingship belongs to God.Also, the decentralized system of Judges was ideal for establishing this principle. The absence of a central political authority makes it possible to avoid the personification of power and keeps alive the idea of a sovereign political God. model has its limits explored in the book of Judges: political and geopolitical instability, decay of the moral and social unity of the tribes. The frustration of the people is at its height during the time of the high priest and judge Eli, whose sons are corrupt. Power is inconsistent and incoherent, the holy ark is even taken prisoner among the Philistines.
In the meantime, Samuel has replaced Eli and partially restored authority. But the people demand a central power around which all the tribes would unite.
The Torah provides for the institution of royalty. However, Samuel strongly opposes its realization, explaining that the motives behind the tribes claiming it are blameworthy. While it should be a simple political function (the executive), the people aspired to a unifying symbol and sought to substitute the royal for the divine as the ferment of political unity.
However, God indicated to Samuel that he must not oppose the will of the people. The search for a candidate for royal office has begun.
How did Saul become king?
It was while setting off to look for the donkeys lost by his father that Saul met the prophet Samuel, who announced to him that he had been chosen to be king. He then passes an accelerated initiation, begins to prophesy and receives the royal anointing from Samuel (he is poured olive oil on his head. The oil, separated and above any other liquid, is the expression of the presence of the transcendent God in material reality).
Two events complete what happened on an individual scale between the two men. On the one hand, lots are drawn between the tribes of Israel to choose the king. The “lot” refers to the smallest (but nonetheless central) tribe, Benjamin; It also designates the most insignificant family of Benjamin, that of Matri, and finally Saul, son of Qish.
It is God who chose the king in the presence of men. The primary criterion for the political selection of the leader seems to be, as in the time of Moses, modesty.
It is then an act of war which, unifying all of Israel, will allow Saul to establish his authority.
Why did Saul lose the kingship?
Israel's political functioning requires a perfect balance of power. Sovereignty remains in the hands of God. The four branches of power are kingship, priesthood, judicature, and prophecy. The latter ensures the integrity of royal power and its conformity with the Torah.
The prophet Samuel entrusted Saul with the mission of waging total war against the irreducible enemy, Amalek. However, Saul, yielding to the demands of his soldiers, will spare the king of Amalek, Agag, as well as part of his herds.
For Samuel, the fault is extremely serious. It indicates the end of the submission of royalty to the demands of the Torah and, even more, the breaking of the balance of power in Israel. Samuel therefore tells Saul that he is losing the kingship and is heading to Bethlehem, where he anoints David as the future king of Israel. The last ten years of Saul's reign are lived in a tragic attempt to oppose the meaning of history and David's accession to the throne. Saul will experience many manic-depressive states and will die on the battlefield.
Around -1010 -970
Why is David's kingdom considered a golden age?
It is in the political stability and the exceptional personality of the leader that we must look for an answer to this question
Israel is experiencing, under David, its first years of political stability since the exodus from Egypt. Neither the conquest under Joshua, nor the confederacy of Judges, nor the kingship of Saul, had brought peace and stability to Israel. Borders were constantly questioned, the incursions of the Philistines and various kinglets were frequent. Political instability was also present within the borders with significant separatist forces and marked regionalism.
David pulled off the feat of unifying the kingdom. For the first time, the tribes are all subject to a central power. The same place, Jerusalem, becomes the center of temporal power and spiritual power. This centralism gave David the possibility of initiating a policy of power vis-à-vis his neighbours, which bore fruit with the vassalization of the neighboring kingdoms (Moab, Ammon, Edom)
But it was also in the personal character of David that we must look for this golden age. Never has a public figure better represented the ideal of Israel as it has been expressed through the generations. David is guided by a deep moral integrity through the vagaries of his job as a man and a king. He experiences error and bewilderment several times (the most obvious case is that of Uri, whom David sends to death on the battlefield with the sole aim of attaching himself to his widow, Batsheva), but David always knows the Return. He is par excellence the one who faces reality in all its complexity, accepts the risk of fault, and when he faults, draws all the consequences.
Towards -1010 -970
Why do we say that the Messiah must descend from King David?
Since the beginning of human history, the biblical narrative has sought a personality who is highly moral and spiritual (such a person often has the job of shepherd) without being at the mercy of other men. This quest will be strewn with failures and partial successes: the shepherd Abel is killed by Cain, the shepherd Jacob must flee Esau, the shepherd Moses becomes the political leader of a people in exile.
The shepherd David, however, accedes to royalty without renouncing his moral stature. He is the personality that crowns the efforts made by the Hebrew civilization to acquire its place in the sun. Therefore, the final culmination of the story must pass through a personality of David's descent.
Around -1010 -970
What did David write in the Psalms?
David delivered to humanity the richness and complexity of his personal experience through a masterful work, the Psalms. He explores in detail the dynamics of fault and return, the multiplicity and complexity of the dangers that man must face and, in the face of this, the absolute trust in God, master of the destiny of men in all circumstances.
David contrasts two inner paths throughout the psalms: the path of the “wicked” and that of the “righteous”. The bad guy is not the one who makes bad choices, he is the one who does not learn from his choices to rectify and perfect himself. On the contrary, it assimilates them and makes them legitimate. The righteous, on the other hand, is characterized by his ability to learn and repair. He thus finds the ways of an inner renewal.
Around -1010 -970
Why couldn't David build the temple?
A man of unity, of human responsibility, David was also a man of war, who lived most of his life sword in hand: in the service of Saul, in hiding when he was continued, when he is king of Judah, then king of unified Israel
Now the temple, the house of God, must be a house of peace. Iron should not be used in its construction. Likewise, the king who wielded the sword cannot initiate its construction. It is nevertheless this eventful course of David which allows Solomon to be the king of the era of peace, not to have to war and thus to build the temple of peace.
The fact that God transmitted to David that he would not build the temple is considered in the biblical text as a sanction or punishment. It simply highlights the incompatibility between David's journey and the house of God. Just as Moses led and prepared Israel to the gates of his land but could not accompany them, David accompanied Israel to the construction of the temple but could not participate in it.
-970 - 931
What was Solomon's diplomacy?
Under Solomon, the kingdom of Israel experienced a true diplomatic golden age. Salomon is a master of realpolitik, who knows how to take advantage of the balance of power. He first reinforces the alliance concluded under David with the Phoenicians and, faced with Egyptian hegemonic aims, negotiates an alliance sealed by a marriage with the daughter of Pharaoh. Solomon also maintained excellent relations with then distant lands, such as the Hittite kingdom and that of the Queen of Sheba.
This privileged situation enabled the Kingdom of Israel to experience a veritable economic golden age, with an explosion exchanges which do not go without creating deep social tensions. And then, once Solomon is gone, the international system that he had been able to take advantage of disappears with him and becomes much less favorable to Israel.
-970 - 931
Why was Solomon's kingdom divided?
A man of wisdom but also a man of the world and holder of great power, Solomon led in the second part of his reign a policy of great works and royal pomp which would gradually weigh down the social and moral climate of the kingdom . To finance ever-increasing constructions and provide for the needs of his court and his harem (which would include up to 300 wives and 1,000 concubines), Solomon appealed to the very unpopular system of periods of compulsory labor and increased taxes. At the same time, among his wives and concubines, foreigners set up places of idolatry in the heart of Jerusalem. social protest. Pursued by the army, he took refuge in Egypt. At the same time, he receives the royal anointing of the prophet Ahiya.
At the death of Solomon, the kingdom normally has a designated successor in the person of Rehoboam, the son of Solomon. But the elders of the people convene veritable Estates General to which Rehoboam submits. The demands of the people are moderate and relate essentially to the restoration of true social justice. Fragile and inexperienced, Rehoboam follows the advice of his young advisers and refuses these complaints outright. The assembled people then voted for secession. Rehoboam sends the troops to subdue the rebels but are chased away. He must then flee to Jerusalem. The assembly brings Jeroboam, returned from Egypt, to royalty and founds the kingdom of Israel, around which the tribes of the north gather.Rehoboam only has the territory of the tribe of Judah and Benjamin left to exercise its sovereignty. Neighboring kingdoms take advantage of this to recover or invade territories acquired during the time of the unified kingship of Israel. The two new kingdoms, enemy brothers, will have to flourish on a reduced territory. The social injustice and immorality of the end of Solomon's reign ended the unity of Israel.
The story continues in our next article..!.