07 August 2013

Origins of Samerina (Samaria) and Yehud (Judah)

Around 1115 BCE, the formerly semi-nomadic Arameans established a kingdom based in the city of Damascus from which they dominated the northern Levant until 734 BCE, eventually reaching the Golan area, which gets its name from the later Roman sub-province of Gaulinitis, and the city of Dan.  Their political domination of the Levant and their control of trade in Southwest Asia was such that foreign empires (Assyrian, Babylonian, Iranian) adopted Aramaic as their lingua franca.

In about the year 883 BCE, Omri the Israelite became king of the Canaanite cities of central Palestine.  He built Samaria as his new capital around 878 BCE, along with rebuilding the cities of Gezer, Hazor, and Megiddo.  Annals and records of foreign powers refer to the country as Bit-Humria (Beth Omri), or Land of Omri, suggesting he was its first king.  The city of Samaria included a temple to both Yahweh and Asherah, designated Beth Yahweh (“House of Yahweh”) in inscriptions found at the site, and at least one more dedicated to Baal.

Damascus had become the local regional power, but it was soon challenged by a new player.

From 854-846 BCE, Shalmaneser III, ruler of Assyria, fought a war of conquest against the powers of the Levant, including Hadadezer of Damascus, Ahab the Israelite (son of Omri), Iruleni the Hamathite (from the modern Homs), Aha Gindibui the Arabian, Ba’asa of Ammon, Ahaabbu of  Sir-il-la-a-a, Matinubaal the Arvidite, and Adudnubaal the Shianian.  Hadadezer was clearly the dominant leader and the following commanded bodies of troops roughly equal in size but both half that of Damascus, the others much fewer.  And no power from the south is mentioned in the accounts.

Apparently satisfied with simply receiving tribute for which they probably returned nothing, the Assyrians then left the inhabitants of the Levant alone to fight among themselves.  In 843 BCE, Hazael, king of Damascus, erected a triumphal stele in the northern Galilee city of Dan (on the Golan border, the name Golan deriving from the Roman era Gaulinitis) commemorating his victory over the kings of Israel and of Beth-David (the latter a junior off-shoot of Beth Omri). 

Thirteen years later, in 830 BCE, Hazael destroyed the Philistine city of Gath, clearing a major impediment to settlement of the south by colonists from the burgeoning population of Beth Omri, or Samerina as it was also known, under the leadership of the rival Beth David.

Shortly after this, these Canaanites established a citadel at Tel Arad (10 km west of the modern city of Arad) adjacent to an Early Bronze Age city.  The new citadel included a temple named as a Beth Yahweh with stone monoliths to Yahuweh and Asherah.  It existed until destroyed in 587 BCE by the Chaldeans.

A southern outpost in northern Sinai at a place called Kuntillet Ajrud contained a shrine with pictures of deities and inscriptions to Yahweh, El, Baal, and Asherah.  Built about 800 BCE, it refers to “Yahweh of Samerina and Asherah” and “Yahweh of Teman and Asherah”.  Teman means ‘south’ in Hebrew, and clearly refers to the junior kingdom founded after the destruction of the Philistine metropolis at Gath.  The name Yehud does not appear in any historical record until after the final conquest by the Chaldeans of Babylonia when it becomes a directly ruled province with a Babylon-appointed governor.

The Assyrians under Tiglath-Pileser III conquered the Levant and asserted direct rule over Damascus, Phoenicia, Philistia, and Samerina in 740 BCE.  Apparently they saw no reason to bother with Samerina’s tiny impoverished neighbor to the south.

Not until about 736 BCE does settlement by the Canaanites presumably following Beth David reach the vicinity of Jerusalem, when a city is built at Tel Motza 5 km outside the later city of Jerusalem.  It includes a temple designated as a Beth Yahweh.

Around 722 BCE, the Arameans, Samaritans, and Philistines rose against their Assyrian oppressors.  Epic fail aptly describes the outcome for the rebels.  The Philistines were erased as a regional power as were the Arameans, while Samerina was  thoroughly subjugated, its capital Samaria destroyed and the population of the city deported to Nineveh.  Refugees from Samerina flooded into Teman, increasing its numbers.

In the mid-7th century, Egypt threw out its Nubian rulers of the 25th dynasty and set about establishing new guards against encroachment from both Nubia and Assyria. 

Around 650 BCE, Hebrew warriors established a military colony on the island of Elephantine complete with a temple designated as a Beth Yahweh right next to the temple to the Egyptian god Khnum.  At the temple, patrons worshipped Yahweh and his consort Anath alongside Khnum, as well as the gods Bethel, Harambethel, and Asambethel.  There are also Jewish military colonies established near the northeast border towns of Migdol and Tahpanhes-Daphnae, in Pathros, in Noph, and in the capital at Memphis.

Nebuchadnazzar II (aka Lucifer) of the Chaldean Empire conquered Teman, now referred to as Yehud, in 597 BCE, making it a tributary client state after successfully besieging the “city of Yehud” (unnamed), which was conquered but undestroyed.  Eleven years later, 586 BCE, the people of Yehud rebelled and he put down the revolt, destroyed the capital, deported its populace, and appended the former kingdom to Samerina as a sub-province.

In 539 BCE, Iran conquered the Chaldean Empire, and along with it Syria, Phoenicia, Samerina, Yehud, and Philistia.  Cyrus the Great kept Samerina and Yehud in the same arrangement (the latter a sub-province of the former) as part of the 6th satrapy of Abar-Nahra.  Coinage in Yehud from the period has Yahweh on one side and Anath on the other.  In 525 BCE, Iran under Cambyses II conquered Egypt and added it to the satrapy of Abar-Nahra, though he later split it off as its own satrapy. 

The religion of Samerina and Yehud in the beginning of the period appears to have been henotheistic, moving into mononlatrism, and gradually becoming monotheistic under the influence of Zoroastrianism, then in its strictly monotheistic phase, which was imported by the conquerors.  The name of Zoroastrianism’s chief deity, Ahura Mazda, becomes Asara Mazas in Aramaic, or simply Mazas, which in Greek becomes Moses.  Hence, the “Law of Moses”.

Certainly by the mid-5th century, when Samerina constructed a grand temple to Yahweh atop Mount Gerizim next to the city of Shechem, the people of both lands (Samerina and Yehud) were monotheistic.  This change in theology undoubtedly filtered down to the colonies in Egypt, where worshippers at the Beth Yahweh at Elephantine then refused to worship Khnum alongside their tribal god.  That temple was destroyed by Egyptian rioters incited by the priests of Khnum in 411 BCE.  In 407 BCE, the Hebrew colonists sent requests for permission to rebuild to Dalaiah and Shelemiah, the sons of Sanballat who were joint governors of Samerina and to Bagayavahu, Iranian governor of Yehud.  It was given and the temple rebuilt, only to fall out of use in the early 4th century during the short period of Egyptian independence, 404-343 BCE.

Alexander the Great of Macedon conquered Syria, Palestine, Phoenicia, and Egypt in 332 BCE, establishing in Egypt a new capital, Alexandria.  The city of Alexandria had a large Hebrew section from its very beginning, two of the five districts of the city. 

Around this time, the senior male line to the priesthood in Yehud migrated to Samerina, where they were made high priests in the temple on Mount Gerizim.  The Judeans responded by going matrilineal on them, as historian Flavius Josephus reported later, in order to invalidate what had previously been patrilineal succession. 

Control of Palestina by the Ptolemaic Empire was firmly secured after the Battle of Ipsus in 301 BCE.  Greek cities and military colonies were established throughout Palestina.  Onias I ben Jaddua founded the Oniad dynasty of the Jerusalem high priesthood the same year.  In 219 BCE, Samerina passed to the Seleucid Empire after its governor, Theodotus of Aetolia, switched his allegiance.  Yehud followed suit in 198 BCE.

Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus conquered Greater Syria for the Republic of Rome in 63 BCE.  Syria proper became an imperial province while the Hasmonean despots ruling from Jerusalem continued as autonomous clients of Rome until they were deposed in 37 BCE by Herod the Great, who was a reasonably good ruler as for as the people were concerned, even if he had a rather murderous attitude toward his in-laws. 

Upon Herod’s death in 4 BCE, his realm was divided into four parts, but only after a bloody uprising in Galilaea and Iudaea (which included Samaraea and Idumaea) that year which saw two thousand of its leaders crucified following the victory of the Roman legions.  Upon the deposition of Herod’s son Archaelus in 6 CE, Iudaea came under direct Roman rule as an imperial province; Galilaea, it should be noted was already a Roman province though under another son of Herod nicknamed Antipas (his actual name was Antipater).

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