On 11 February 1962, 50 years ago today, E.P. (Ted) Wixted set up his own stand and began to speak in the Brisbane Public Forum which operated every Sunday from 1962 to 1980. Ted spoke from his own stand mainly about religion and politics on over 900 Sundays. It was at the Brisbane Public Forum that I first met Ted and he subsequently became my mentor and friend. He opened my mind to see new possibilities and today, so many years later, everything I write derives from his original writings and his original teachings.
Vale: Ted Wixted (1927-2001)
Continuing the series first posted by me on the Catholica Forum.
A step backwards in time...
This commentary in our series will be necessarily brief and, some would say quite boring as any excursion into ancient history most often is, but the complex relationship between the different groups of ancient Israelites needs to be absorbed and understood before we can begin to come up with reasonable answers to the following question I asked in Part V of this series:
"We have outlined above some objections to Peter's presence in Rome between 50 and 62 AD. So, if it were not westwards to Rome, where amongst the many communities of Diaspora Israelites would Peter have been most likely to go in furtherance of his personal commission by Jesus to preach the gospel to the "lost sheep of the House of Israel?"
We must now step backwards in time to the cultural, historical and religious framework which shaped the thinking of the peoples living in the lands of Judea, Galillee and Perea in the 1st century AD.
Regardless of what modern cultural anthropologists, historians, biblical critics and sundry other academics have to say about the pre-Christian era, it is important to realise that the persons populating the New Testament believed absolutely in the history described in the Hebrew scriptures, as only a cursory glance at the New Testament will demonstrate.
These persons believed that their God had intervened in human history on their behalf to deliver them from bondage in Egypt, had revealed the Word of God to Moses at Sinai, and that from among all the peoples of the earth, God had appointed them to be the bearers of this revealed Word.
Without a firm grasp of the following background, the New Testament becomes virtually unintelligible in its meaning. However, as I don't want to impose an onerous task upon readers, and as it makes no essential difference to the story, what follows is a simplified account of Israelite tribal composition, and of the rise and fall of the Israelite monarchy.
The House of Jacob/Israel...
The House of Jacob/Israel consisted of twelve tribes, descendants of the twelve sons of Jacob, who was renamed Israel.
"And God said to him, 'Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.' So he called his name Israel." [Gen. 35:10]
The twelve tribes of Jacob/Israel were allotted various homelands in Canaan after the Exodus from Egypt and the conquest of the Canaanite tribes.
The rise and fall of Kings...
After the allocation of tribal lands, the Israelites lived in a type of confederate system and, at times of crisis, were governed by military/judicial leaders known as "Judges", some of the most notable of whom were Deborah, Samson and Samuel. Following a period of extreme threats from non-Israelite neighbours, Samuel the last Judge of Israel was forced to "anoint" Saul of the tribe of Benjamin as the first King of Israel.
It is unnecessary for our purposes to recount the long and complicated story of how and why Saul was overthrown by David of the tribe of Judah, or the events of David's reign, so we will content ourselves by noting that the twelve tribes were truly united under his kingship and that they lived in peace and prosperity under the kingship of his son Solomon who built the First Temple in the capital Jerusalem.
After the death of Solomon, the kingdom split into two sections. The ten northern tribes became known as the northern House [Kingdom] of Israel while the two southern tribes, Judah and Benjamin, became known as the southern House [Kingdom] of Judah.
The southern territory of Judah included the city of Jerusalem which had been previously captured by David from the Jebusites, a Canaanite tribe. The term "Jew" denotes a member of the southern House of Judah who worshipped at the Temple in Jerusalem.
Just to add to the confusion, the ten northern tribes were known specifically as the "House of Israel", but when general reference is made to the collective of the whole twelve tribes, they are also known as the "House of Israel". For instance, when Jesus referred to the "House of Israel", he meant to indicate the whole twelve tribes because he appointed twelve disciples who would "sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel".
Centuries before Jesus was born, however, the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah had both been defeated in war and some of their populations deported to the East:
Israel by the Assyrians circa 720 BC:
For an enlarged version of this map and for other biblical maps go to www.ebibleteacher.com.
"In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria and deported the Israelites [the ten northern tribes] to Assyria. He settled them in Halah, in Gozan on the Habor River and in the cities of the Medes." [2 Kings 17:6]
and Judah by the Babylonians circa 586 BC:
"But because our fathers angered the God of heaven, he handed them over to Nebuchadnezzar the Chaldean, king of Babylon, who destroyed this temple [of Solomon] and deported the people to Babylon." [Ezra 5:12]
The Kingdoms of Israel and Judah came to an end with these conquests and deportations but that did not serve to quell the people's yearning for a restored twelve-tribed monarchy ruled by a king of Davidic descent.
In the next commentary, we will discover why it is important to know what happened to the people known collectively as Israelites after the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah were destroyed.
While it can be difficult to grasp Israelite tribal particularities, the effort will be well rewarded in the long run as we will encounter references to these different groups in the New Testament.
If we keep in mind the following benchmark provided by Paul, it may help to dispel the confusion.
Even though he was born in a Diaspora community outside the land of Judea, Paul described his ancestry in three different ways. Let us proceed, then, from the general to the particular:
- As a member of the "people of Israel". That is, in a general sense, he belonged to the twelve-tribed House of Jacob/Israel.
- As a "Jew". That is, in a more specific sense, he belonged to the two-tribed southern House of Judah who worshipped in the Temple at Jerusalem. [Note that in the time of Jesus and Paul, the Temple at Jerusalem was known as the Second Temple.]
- As a "Benjamite". That is, in the particular sense, he belonged to one of the two tribes which originally comprised the House of Judah.
Clear as crystal...yes? Until the next commentary dear readers, keep this in mind:
All Jews are Israelites, but not all Israelites are Jews!
To be continued...