Jacob Wright: The Oldest Reference to Israel

Jacob Wright: The Oldest Reference to Israel

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In 1896 Flinders Petrie discovered what is for many the most important achievement of his long and celebrated career as an archeologist. It is a large granite stela, over ten feet high, dating to 1208 BCE. This stone bears an account of how Egypt’s King Merneptah conquered his enemies in Libya and Canaan.

As the philologist helping Petrie at the excavations came over to decipher it, they stumbled with excitement on the name of a population that was listed among those whom the Egyptian king had vanquished:

“Israel is wasted, its seed is no more.”

Today the inscription of the pharaoh Merneptah stands prominently in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. There millions of visitors have gazed upon it and searched for line 27 that contains, by a long shot, the oldest reference to the people of Israel ever discovered.

In one of the many ironies of history, Merneptah’s own legacy had been buried in the sands for thousands of years, while the people he claimed to vanquish survived and produced a collection of writings that exerted more influence than any other corpus of literature—the Bible.

This video is part of free online course taught by Dr. Jacob L. Wright. Entitled “The Bible’s Prehistory, Purpose, and Political Future,” the course is offered through Coursera and the prestigious Emory University, which is world-renown for its graduate programs in Biblical Studies (the largest in the USA). It’s one of its first course offerings on religion and its very first on the Hebrew Bible as a whole.

The course addresses the paramount question of the Bible’s raison d’être, its why and wherefore. The first two weeks treat the history and archaeology of ancient Israel, and the subsequent weeks examines how the biblical authors tell their history and interpret their past. Along the way, Wright conducts interviews with a number of leading biblical scholars and archaeologists.

The thesis of the course is that the Bible emerged in response to disaster and devastation. If it were not for cataclysmic loss -—if the kingdoms of Israel and Judah had continued to flourish-— there would be no Bible. Many of the Bible’s sources already existed long before the Babylonians razed Jerusalem to the ground. But there is significant gap between the original contours of these sources and the shape they are given by the biblical authors.

Defeat may have destroyed a state, but thanks to the vision of the biblical authors, it recreated a people.

In this sample lecture from Jacob Wright's upcoming Coursera class "The Bible's Prehistory, Purpose, and Political Future," Dr. Wright discusses the Merneptah Stele, which archaeologists believe contains the first documented reference of the name Israel in the historical record. For more, join his MOOC-based course at https://coursera.org/emory. The free class begins on May 26 and will run through the month of June. Late joiners are welcome.

Jacob Wright: The Oldest Reference to Israel - History

Isaac and his wife Rebekah had two children. The older was named Esau and the younger Jacob.

Esau was a man of the woods and very fond of hunting and he was rough and covered with hair.

Jacob was quiet and thoughtful, staying at home, dwelling in a tent, and caring for the flocks of his father.

Isaac loved Esau more than Jacob, because Esau brought to his father that which he had killed in his hunting but Rebekah liked Jacob, because she saw that he was wise and careful in his work.

Among the people in those lands, when a man dies, his older son receives twice as much as the younger of what the father has owned. This was called his "birthright," for it was his right as the oldest born. So Esau, as the older, had a "birthright" to more of Isaac's possessions than Jacob. And besides this, there was the privilege of the promise of God that the family of Isaac should receive great blessings.

Now Esau, when he grew up, did not care for his birthright or the blessing which God had promised. But Jacob, who was a wise man, wished greatly to have the birthright which would come to Esau when his father died. Once, when Esau came home, hungry and tired from hunting in the fields, he saw that Jacob had a bowl of something that he had just cooked for dinner. And Esau said:

"Give me some of that red stuff in the dish. Will you not give me some? I am hungry."

[Illustration: "Sell me your birthright"]

And Jacob answered, "I will give it to you, if you will first of all sell to me your birthright."

And Esau said, "What is the use of the birthright to me now, when I am almost starving to death? You can have my birthright if you will give me something to eat."

Then Esau made Jacob a solemn promise to give to Jacob his birthright, all for a bowl of food. It was not right for Jacob to deal so selfishly with his brother but it was very wrong in Esau to care so little for his birthright and God's blessing.

Some time after this, when Esau was forty years old, he married two wives. Though this would be very wicked in our times, it was not supposed to be wrong then for even good men then had more than one wife. But Esau's two wives were women from the people of Canaan, who worshipped idols, and not the true God. And they taught their children also to pray to idols so that those who came from Esau, the people who were his descendants, lost all knowledge of God, and became very wicked. But this was long after that time.

Isaac and Rebekah were very sorry to have their son Esau marry women who prayed to idols and not to God but still Isaac loved his active son Esau more than his quiet son Jacob. But Rebekah loved Jacob more than Esau.

Isaac became at last very old and feeble, and so blind that he could see scarcely anything. One day he said to Esau:

"My son, I am very old, and do not know how soon I must die. But before I die, I wish to give to you, as my older son, God's blessing upon you, and your children, and your descendants. Go out into the fields, and with your bow and arrows shoot some animal that is good for food, and make for me a dish of cooked meat such as you know I love and after I have eaten it I will give you the blessing."

Now Esau ought to have told his father that the blessing did not belong to him, for he had sold it to his brother Jacob. But he did not tell his father. He went out into the fields hunting, to find the kind of meat which his father liked the most.

Now Rebekah was listening, and heard all that Isaac had said to Esau. She knew that it would be better for Jacob to have the blessing than for Esau and she loved Jacob more than Esau. So she called to Jacob and told him what Isaac had said to Esau, and she said:

"Now, my son, do what I tell you, and you will get the blessing instead of your brother. Go to the flocks and bring to me two little kids from the goats, and I will cook them just like the meat which Esau cooks for your father. And you will bring it to your father, and he will think that you are Esau, and will give you the blessing and it really belongs to you."

[Illustration: "Now, my son, do what I tell you"]

But Jacob said, "You know that Esau and I are not alike. His neck and arms are covered with hairs, while mine are smooth. My father will feel of me, and he will find that I am not Esau and then, instead of giving me a blessing, I am afraid that he will curse me."

But Rebekah answered her son, "Never mind you do as I have told you, and I will take care of you. If any harm comes it will come to me so do not be afraid, but go and bring the meat."

Then Jacob went and brought a pair of little kids from the flocks, and from them his mother made a dish of food, so that it would be to the taste just as Isaac liked it. Then Rebekah found some of Esau's clothes, and dressed Jacob in them and she placed on his neck and hands some of the skins of the kids, so that his neck and his hands would feel rough and hairy to the touch.

Then Jacob came into his father's tent, bringing the dinner, and speaking as much like Esau as he could, he said:

And Isaac said, "Who are you, my son?"

And Jacob answered, "I am Esau, your oldest son I have done as you bade me now sit up and eat the dinner that I have made, and then give me your blessing as you promised me."

And Isaac said, "How is it that you found it so quickly?"

Jacob answered, "Because the Lord your God showed me where to go and gave me good success."

Isaac did not feel certain that it was his son Esau, and he said, "Come near and let me feel you, so that I may know that you are really my son Esau."

And Jacob went up close to Isaac's bed, and Isaac felt of his face, and his neck, and his hands, and he said:

[Illustration: "May nations bow down to you."]

"The voice sounds like Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau. Are you really my son Esau?"

And Jacob told a lie to his father, and said, "I am."

Then the old man ate the food that Jacob had brought to him and he kissed Jacob, believing him to be Esau and he gave him the blessing, saying to him:

"May God give you the dew of heaven, and the richness of the earth, and plenty of grain and wine. May nations bow down to you and peoples become your servants. May you be the master over your brother, and may your family and descendants that shall come from you rule over his family and his descendants. Blessed be those that bless you, and cursed be those that curse you."

Just as soon as Jacob had received the blessing he rose up and hastened away. He had scarcely gone out, when Esau came in from hunting, with the dish of food that he had cooked. And he said:

"Let my father sit up and eat the food that I have brought, and give me the blessing."

And Isaac said, "Why, who are you?"

Esau answered, "I am your son your oldest son, Esau."

And Isaac trembled, and said, "Who then is the one that came in and brought to me food? and I have eaten his food and have blessed him yes, and he shall be blessed."

When Esau heard this, he knew that he had been cheated and he cried aloud, with a bitter cry, "O, my father, my brother has taken away my blessing, just as he took away my birthright! But cannot you give me another blessing, too? Have you given everything to my brother?"

And Isaac told him all that he had said to Jacob, making him the ruler over his brother.

But Esau begged for another blessing and Isaac said:

"My son, your dwelling shall be of the riches of the earth and of the dew of heaven. You shall live by your sword and your descendants shall serve his descendants. But in time to come they shall break loose and shall shake off the yoke of your brother's rule and shall be free."

All this came to pass many years afterward. The people who came from Esau lived in a land called Edom, on the south of the land of Israel, where Jacob's descendants lived. And after a time the Israelites became rulers over the Edomites and later still, the Edomites made themselves free from the Israelites. But all this took place hundreds of years afterward.

It was better that Jacob's descendants, those who came after him, should have the blessing, than that Esau's people should have it for Jacob's people worshipped God, and Esau's people walked in the way of the idols and became wicked.


After Esau found that he had lost his birthright and his blessing, he was very angry against his brother Jacob and he said to himself, and told others:

"My father Isaac is very old and cannot live long. As soon as he is dead, then I shall kill Jacob for having robbed me of my right."

When Rebekah heard this, she said to Jacob, "Before it is too late, do you go away from home and get out of Esau's sight. Perhaps when Esau sees you no longer, he will forget his anger, and then you can come home again. Go and visit my brother Laban, your uncle, in Haran, and stay with him for a little while."

We must remember that Rebekah came from the family of Nahor, Abraham's younger brother, who lived in Haran, a long distance to the northeast of Canaan, and that Laban was Rebekah's brother.

So Jacob went out of Beersheba, on the border of the desert, and walked alone, carrying his staff in his hand. One evening, just about sunset, he came to a place among the mountains, more than sixty miles distant from his home. And as he had no bed to lie down upon, he took a stone and rested his head upon it for a pillow, and lay down to sleep.

[Illustration: Angels were upon the stairs]

And on that night Jacob had a wonderful dream. In his dream he saw stairs leading from the earth where he lay up to heaven and angels were going up and coming down upon the stairs. And above the stairs, he saw the Lord God standing. And God said to Jacob:

"I am the Lord, the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac your father and I will be your God, too. The land where you are lying all alone, shall belong to you and to your children after you and your children shall spread abroad over the lands, east and west, and north and south, like the dust of the earth and in your family all the world shall receive a blessing. And I am with you in your journey, and I will keep you where you are going, and will bring you back to this land. I will never leave you, and I will surely keep my promise to you."

And in the morning Jacob awakened from his sleep, and he said:

"Surely, the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it! I thought that I was all alone, but God has been with me. This place is the house of God it is the gate of heaven!"

And Jacob took the stone on which his head had rested, and he set it up as a pillar, and poured oil on it as an offering to God. And Jacob named that place Bethel, which in the language that Jacob spoke means "The House of God."

And Jacob made a promise to God at that time, and said:

"If God really will go with me and will keep me in the way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and will bring me to my father's house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God: and this stone shall be the house of God, and of all that God gives me I will give back to God one-tenth as an offering."

Then Jacob went onward in his long journey. He walked across the river Jordan in a shallow place, feeling his way with his staff he climbed mountains and journeyed beside the great desert on the east, and at last came to the city of Haran. Beside the city was the well, where Abraham's servant had met Jacob's mother, Rebekah and there, after Jacob had waited for a time, he saw a young woman coming with her sheep to give them water.

Then Jacob took off the flat stone that was over the mouth of the well, and drew water and gave it to the sheep. And when he found that this young woman was his own cousin Rachel, the daughter of Laban, he was so glad that he wept for joy. And at that moment he began to love Rachel, and longed to have her for his wife.

[Illustration: Jacob went onward in his long journey]

Rachel's father, Laban, who was Jacob's uncle, gave a welcome to Jacob, and took him into his home.

And Jacob asked Laban if he would give his daughter, Rachel, to him as his wife and Jacob said, "If you give me Rachel, I will work for you seven years."

And Laban said, "It is better that you should have her, than that a stranger should marry her."

So Jacob lived seven years in Laban's house, caring for his sheep and oxen and camels but his love for Rachel made the time seem short.

At last the day came for the marriage and they brought in the bride, who, after the manner of that land, was covered with a thick veil, so that her face could not be seen. And she was married to Jacob, and when Jacob lifted up her veil he found that he had married, not Rachel, but her older sister, Leah, who was not beautiful, and whom Jacob did not love at all.

Jacob was very angry that he had been deceived, -- though that was just the way in which Jacob himself had deceived his father and cheated his brother Esau. But his uncle Laban said:

"In our land we never allow the younger daughter to be married before the older daughter. Keep Leah for your wife, and work for me seven years longer, and you shall have Rachel also."

For in those times, as we have seen, men often had two wives, or even more than two. So Jacob stayed seven years more, fourteen years in all, before he received Rachel as his wife.

While Jacob was living at Haran, eleven sons were born to him. But only one of these was the child of Rachel, whom Jacob loved. This son was Joseph, who was dearer to Jacob than any other of his children, partly because he was the youngest, and because he was the child of his beloved Rachel.

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'Homely' ancient rock adds to proof of King David's existence

Thus begins the new book called King David and his Reign Revisited by Prof. Jacob Wright of Emory University.

David is the most popular of the Biblical kings but the only archaeological evidence of his existence is a stele dating from the 9th century BCE which recounts the victory of an Aramean king (most likely Hazael) over the King of Israel and over the "king of the House of David."

That first and only evidence of David was discovered in fragments in the seasons of 1993 and 1994 at the northern Israelite site of Tel Dan. Various claims, such as finding David’s palace in Jerusalem (or elsewhere) are controversial, to say the least. It being politically impossible to excavate in certain areas of Israel, all scholars can do is dig through the Old Testament, equipped with linguistics, epigraphy and logic, seeking evidence of the oldest versions of the tales.

There are glaring discrepancies within these narratives, but Prof. Wright has some interesting ideas about how they can be resolved.

Strange disparities

For one, the authors of the Davidic accounts seem to have gone to great lengths to demonstrate David’s innocence, Wright suggests. For example: "David is not in the ranks of the Philistine armies when Saul and his sons die in battle on Mount Gilboa. On the contrary, he is deeply grieved at the news of their death, executing the messenger who conveys it, rending his garments in anguish, fasting, and teaching a dirge to his fellow Judahites.”

In another case, when David's right-hand men wiped out Saul’s house, David was enraged and punished them, Wright points out.
And then there are texts critical of David. “Imagine that the Davidic court had commissioned a group of scribes to compose an account of David’s life that vindicates his conduct vis-à-vis Saul’s household. Would these scribes have ever thought to submit a work to their royal patron that contains a shedload of passages describing David’s raw ambition, failures, and ruthlessness? Had they done so, they would have rightly feared for not only their livelihoods but also their lives,” says Wright.

Most probably these censorious texts were written after David’s death, suggest Wright, and can be better understood in the context of rivalry between Israel and Judah in ancient times, with David representing the kingdom of Judah, and Saul that of Israel.

Goliath who?

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The earliest accounts of David are in the Book of Samuel, which describes David’s establishment of the Judahite kingdom. There is no mention of Saul or of the kingdom of Israel, no note of the infamous affair with Bathsheba, the rape of Tamar, the wars with Absalom - "basically nothing that makes David famous. Which is strange, because the most famous act of David’s life had to do with Saul’s war with the Philistines and his victory over Goliath," Wright says.

If anything instead of offering his services to King Saul of Israel, David works for Achish the Philistine ruler, Israel’s archenemy! Another conundrum. David’s alliance with the Philistines is problematic because he gained the throne of Israel by fighting against the Philistines, propelled by King Saul

Now if Achish, as the ruler of a Philistine city-state, knew of David's aggression against the Philistines, why would he have hired him?

Wright suggests that two very different narratives can be discerned in the Book of Samuel. In one, while serving in Saul’s army, David arouses the king’s jealousy. He has to go into hiding, and finds asylum with Achish, the ruler of Gath. Achish finds out about David’s feats as a soldier for Saul in fear for his life David pretends to go mad and flees (1 Sam 21:11-15).

The other narrative has David as nothing more than a mercenary warlord, and doesn't mention Saul. In this passage he interacts with Achish at Gath but instead of running away from him, David gets along with him splendidly and ends up working for him for quite a long time.

Cleaning up the Davidic account

Then in 1 Sam 31, we learn of an Amalekite raid on David’s town of Ziklag. David catches up with the raiders and recovers the kidnapped women, children and livestock as well as booty. He sends half of the booty to the elders of Judah, as a sign of allegiance. After this episode YHWH orders David to settle in Hebron, where the people anointed him king over the House of Judah (2 Sam 2:1-4a).

It is here that Wright points out another interesting discrepancy.

“In the versions of Samuel that have been transmitted to us, this little section is severed from the longer story of how David recovered the purloined goods from the Amalekite raiders and shared them with Judah’s elders," he says. The text that stands between the two is the chapter-long narrative of Saul’s final battle with the Philistines and his death on Mount Gilboa. That account has nothing to do with David and his men,” he says.

Evidently the editors of the Book of Samuel glued together what appear to have originally been separate accounts of David and Saul.

“By putting the Saul material right before the short paragraph that tells of David moving to Hebron and being made king of Judah, the editors’ motive was to set the record straight and to defend David’s name: According to the new narrative that they created, David had not mounted the throne of this secessionist state while Saul was still ruling as Israel’s king. He did not become king of Judah until after Saul died,” Wright says.

In fact, Wright states, the oldest versions of the Davidic accounts had no connection with those of Saul, nor of David’s rule over Israel. Wright suspects these texts were drafted, and later expanded, as part of an independent history that recounts David’s consolidation of a Judahite kingdom.

David the desperado and the missing piece of history

Wright believes the Samuel authors merged the history of David’s reign with that of Saul’s. Thus the episodes of David as a warlord become his adventures during his flight from Saul. “It is visible in the redactional shift, which left unmistakable traces in the language to biblical scholars. For example, David’s original “roving” (hithallech) as a desperado becomes his “fleeing” (barach) as a fugitive from Saul’s court,” he says.

One day as Wright was sitting at a Tel Aviv café reading through biblical texts, as one does, he stumbled upon a promising possibility, which he realized could point to the beginning of the history of David’s reign - a section that appears to be missing.

"It’s a line that one could easily miss, because it is embedded within the Goliath story and appears long after the reader has already been introduced to David. It begins “Now David was the offspring of … Jesse, who had eight sons. . . . David was the youngest. (1 Sam 17:12a, 14a).

Now, weed out the Saulite material in the immediately following chapters: there comes another line linked to this piece of biographical data. “And everyone who was desperate, in debt, or discontent gathered to him and he became captain over them. Those who were with him numbered about 400." (1 Sam 22:2).

Why are these lines significant? Because if David was the youngest of eight sons, clearly he would inherit nothing, and would have to pursue another path towards wealth and power. Younger sons had two choices, the clergy or the military. David opted for the military, becoming a warlord, and forming an army of renegades and all sorts of other disenfranchised and unpleasant individuals.

David, the prequel

Could the history of David’s reign be just a prequel to his accession to Saul’s throne?

“The complete absence of references to Saul, his family, and the people of Israel—even in later portions —suggests that the authors were not cognizant of connections between David and the kingdom of Israel. But he is connected to territories south of Hebron, northward toward Jerusalem on the border of Benjamin, and westward into the Shephelah. In other words, this older narrative does not present David as ruler over core territories of the northern kingdom of Israel," says Wright.

It also affirms that the Philistine city-state of Gath did not create Judah as a puppet state, and David did not owe his Judahite throne to Achish, Wright concludes.

David may have begun in the employ of Achish, but he exploited the Gath king's patronage to assault the enemies of the Judahites (1 Sam 27:8-12).

“Rather than rising to the throne thanks to the Philistines, as Saul’s accolyte and YHWH's chosen king - David built a kingdom at his own initiative out of various regions, cities, and clans, all of which united under the banner of the House of Judah,”Wright concludes.

Anointed by God? Apparently, only in retrospect.

Samuel anointing David, Dura Europos, from a synagogue in Syria, 3rd century CE. Wikimedia Commons The world has a romantic view of King David, for whom there's precious little hard evidence. Wikimedia Commons King David statue Khirbet Qeiyafa: Are these the ruins of King David's palace? Tali Mayer

Jacob Wright: The Oldest Reference to Israel - History

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With its walls razed to ground by Babylon’s armies, Jerusalem joined a long line of ancient vanquished cities—from Ur and Nineveh and Persepolis to Babylon itself. While some recovered from the destruction, others did not. But none responded to political catastrophe by fashioning the kind of elaborate and enduring monument to their own downfall that we find in the Bible. Most conquered populations viewed their subjugation as a source of shame. They consigned it to oblivion, opting instead to extol the golden ages of the past. The biblical authors in contrast reacted to loss by composing extensive writings that acknowledge collective failure, reflect deeply upon its causes, and discover thereby a ground for collective hope. Working through colorful biblical and ancient Near Eastern texts, and drawing on an array of comparative examples, the course illustrates the thoroughgoing manner with which biblical authors responded to defeat by advancing a demotic agenda that places the community at the center. The aim of the biblical authors was to create a nation, and they sought to realize this goal via a shared text, which includes stories and songs, wisdom and laws. This corpus of writings belongs, without a doubt, to humanity’s greatest achievements. Whereas the great civilizations of the Near East invested their energies and resources into monuments of stone that could be destroyed by invading armies, the biblical authors left a literary legacy that has been intensively studied until the present day. More important, these authors’ visionary response to defeat brought to light a radical new wisdom: the notion that a people is greater than the state which governs it, and that a community can survive collapse when all of its members can claim a piece of the pie and therefore have a reason to take an active part in its collective life.


This course was very good. Learnt a lot and the whole experience have inspired me to pursue further study in Bible. Thanks Dr Jacob Wright. You are amazing gift of God!

Excellent course, providing a broad background of the historical Bible, as deep as you care to go and a good companion to the various Bible studies I've taken.

The Riddle That Has Yet to be Solved

Our larger goal is to understand why the Bible was written. So first we need to take a step back and form a larger view of the world in which the kingdoms of Israel and Judah emerged. This module sets the stage for all that follows. Upon completion of this module, learners will be able to: 1) Describe how Israel's geographical location, situated between two great civilizational centers, had a decisive impact on history, 2) Identify why Egypt was interested in Canaan (the land of the Bible), 3) Describe the context in which the oldest references to Israel and places in the land of Israel appear, and 4) Analyze how the withdrawal of Egyptian influence from Canaan made it possible for territorial states (such as Israel and Judah) to emerge in the first millennium BCE.


Dr. Jacob L. Wright

Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible

Текст видео

So we noted in a preceding segment that the earliest references to Israel, and to many place that would become part of Israel, are found in Egypt. We noted that the execration techs called for the destruction of various places, curses on them. And the Merneptah Stele announces the demise of Israel, at the hand of an Egyptian ruler, Merneptah. And the line is Israel is wasted, its seed is no longer. And defeat as we see both in the execration text and in the Merneptah Stele, defeat or subjugation, conquest, destruction, so on. Stands at the beginning of Israel's history. And as we shall see it marks the pivotal moments later in Israel's history. The events without which the Biblical writings, as we know them at least, would never have seen the light of day. Now, Israel's experience of defeat is closely tied to the rise and the fall of empires throughout the ancient near East. So it's necessary that we devote our attention first, to the story of those empires. Over many millenia, reaching back to prehistoric times. Major urban centers popped up at various places, all over the map. In fact some of the most ancient cities and settlements in human history, are found within the land of Israel. An example. let me mention here is the city of Jericho. This town located not far from Jerusalem, is known to biblical readers for the battle of Jericho, in which Joshua and all Israel brought the city down with blowing the horns and the walls came tumbling down. Everyone knows Joshua and the Battle of Jericho, the song. The place was inhabited, though, since 10,000 BC, with a settlement appearing there near the spring, it's called Ein as-Sultan. And although the population was quite modest, they built a massive wall of about 3.6 meters high and 1.8 meters wide. And impressive settlements from that point on, continued there for millenia. And they might know it in passing, just to hear that according to the biblical account Israel conquered this Canite city, in the late bronze Age. But by that time The city had become basically a village, not the gigantic city with the formidable walls, as imagined in the book of Joshua. But, the point here is that urban centers emerged in various places throughout the levant, and what came to be the land of Israel. Yet the population at these places, these very old places, are as a rule, were very small. Relatively small, compared to other cities. So Canen itself can not be said to be a center, of ancient near eastern civilization. This is not where we witness major technological advancements. The erection of pyramids and ziggurats. The organization of huge armies, or the invention of writing, to name a few of these things. To find these things we must look elsewhere. Namely to places that boasted more abundant, and above all more reliable, water sources. It's all about water. Thus, as archaeologist in the beginning of the modern period, began to excavate along the major rivers of the ancient near east. They discovered there, densely settled cities. For Egypt of course, the river is the Nile. Next to it an extremely impressive civilization developed, beginning in the late fourth millennium. The same goes for the region of ancient Iraq, what we call Mesopotamia, which means literally the land between the rivers. It is marked here on the map in red, and the two rivers that define this region are the Euphrates and the Tigres. So two rivers in Mesopotamia, and one in the Nile. In Mesopotamia among the Sumerian people, whose origins are still a mystery. Systems of writing were embraced already in the second half of the fourth century. So very early in the history. Famous cities like Keesh and Uruk and Ohr, Lagash, Nipur, Gersu and on and on, developed highly stratified and complex societies. And in Egypt we can witness the use of writing systems, and the complex societies that go along with the not long thereafter, so almost the same time two major centers of civilization are emerging. One in the east, around Mesopotamia, and the other one, on the North of Africa, and Egypt. The complexity of these societies is due, and this is the important point, to their population size. Population sizes that were made possible by the presence of rivers. And writing was adopted in these societies for administrative and accounting purposes at the beginning. And of course, in Egypt and elsewhere you see how writing also takes on more magical and commemorative functions. But the earliest texts that we have are, accounting text for the purposes of the temple economies, and so forth. So now, let's take a closer look at Egypt's imperial presence in Canaan. We will focus our attention on the end of the second millennium, a few centuries before the Kingdom of Israel in Judah. Then this next segment I'm gonna go through that. But now what we have done here, is to understand that the big civilization centers, are in Mesopotamia and in Egypt. And Canaan itself, although has very old cities, was not part of those great civilizational centers, from which the Empires would emerge.

Part 1. Refugee Memories: Negotiating Relations and Borders to Neighboring States
1. Passages to Peace
2. Edom as Israel's Other
Part 2. Kinship and Commandment: The Transjordanian Tribes and the Conquest of Canaan
3. Mapping the Promised Land
4. The Nation's Transjordanian Vanguard
5. A Nation Beyond Its Borders
6. Kinship, Law, and Narrative
Part 3. Rahab: An Archetypal Outsider
7. Between Faith and Works
8. The Composition of the Rahab Story
9. Rahab's Courage and the Gibeonites' Cowardice
Part 4. Deborah: Mother of a Voluntary Nation
10. A Prophet and Her General
11. A Poetic War Monument
12. A National Anthem for the North
13. Women and War Commemoration
14. Jael's Identities.

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Jacob Wright: The Oldest Reference to Israel - History

New International Version
The sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel (he was the firstborn, but when he defiled his father's marriage bed, his rights as firstborn were given to the sons of Joseph son of Israel so he could not be listed in the genealogical record in accordance with his birthright,

New Living Translation
The oldest son of Israel was Reuben. But since he dishonored his father by sleeping with one of his father’s concubines, his birthright was given to the sons of his brother Joseph. For this reason, Reuben is not listed in the genealogical records as the firstborn son.

English Standard Version
The sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel (for he was the firstborn, but because he defiled his father’s couch, his birthright was given to the sons of Joseph the son of Israel, so that he could not be enrolled as the oldest son

Berean Study Bible
These were the sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel. Though he was the firstborn, his birthright was given to the sons of Joseph son of Israel, because Reuben defiled his father’s bed. So he is not reckoned according to birthright.

King James Bible
Now the sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel, (for he was the firstborn but, forasmuch as he defiled his father's bed, his birthright was given unto the sons of Joseph the son of Israel: and the genealogy is not to be reckoned after the birthright.

New King James Version
Now the sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel—he was indeed the firstborn, but because he defiled his father’s bed, his birthright was given to the sons of Joseph, the son of Israel, so that the genealogy is not listed according to the birthright

New American Standard Bible
Now the sons of Reuben, the firstborn of Israel (for he was the firstborn, but because he defiled his father’s bed, his birthright was given to the sons of Joseph, the son of Israel so he is not enrolled in the genealogy according to the birthright.

NASB 1995
Now the sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel (for he was the firstborn, but because he defiled his father's bed, his birthright was given to the sons of Joseph the son of Israel so that he is not enrolled in the genealogy according to the birthright.

NASB 1977
Now the sons of Reuben the first-born of Israel (for he was the first-born, but because he defiled his father’s bed, his birthright was given to the sons of Joseph the son of Israel so that he is not enrolled in the genealogy according to the birthright.

Amplified Bible
Now [we come to] the sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel—for Reuben was the eldest, but because he defiled his father’s bed [with Bilhah his father’s concubine], his birthright was given to [Manasseh and Ephraim] the sons of Joseph [the favorite] son of Israel, so that he is not enrolled in the genealogy according to the birthright.

Christian Standard Bible
These were the sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel. He was the firstborn, but his birthright was given to the sons of Joseph son of Israel, because Reuben defiled his father’s bed. He is not listed in the genealogy according to birthright.

Holman Christian Standard Bible
These were the sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel. He was the firstborn, but his birthright was given to the sons of Joseph son of Israel, because Reuben defiled his father's bed. He is not listed in the genealogy according to birthright.

American Standard Version
And the sons of Reuben the first-born of Israel (for he was the first-born but, forasmuch as he defiled his father's couch, his birthright was given unto the sons of Joseph the son of Israel and the genealogy is not to be reckoned after the birthright.

Aramaic Bible in Plain English
And the sons of Rubil, the firstborn of Israel, because he was the firstborn of his father and he despised the bed of his father, his birthright was given to Yoseph his brother, son of Israel, and upon these two came a blessing from all the tribes of Israel.

Brenton Septuagint Translation
And the sons of Ruben the first-born of Israel (for he was the first-born but because of his going up to his father's couch, his father gave his blessing to his son Joseph, even the son of Israel and he was not reckoned as first-born

Contemporary English Version
Reuben was the oldest son of Jacob, but he lost his rights as the first-born son because he slept with one of his father's wives. The honor of the first-born son was then given to Joseph,

Douay-Rheims Bible
Now the sons of Ruben the firstborn of Israel, (for he was his firstborn: but forasmuch as he defiled his father's bed, his first birthright was given to the sons of Joseph the son of Israel, and he was not accounted for the firstborn.

English Revised Version
And the sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel, (for he was the firstborn but, forasmuch as he defiled his father's couch, his birthright was given unto the sons of Joseph the son of Israel and the genealogy is not to be reckoned after the birthright.

Good News Translation
These are the descendants of Reuben, the oldest of Jacob's sons. (Because he had sex with one of his father's concubines, he lost the rights belonging to the first-born son, and those rights were given to Joseph.

GOD'S WORD® Translation
These are the sons of Reuben, Israel's firstborn. (Although he was the firstborn, his rights as firstborn were given to his nephews, Joseph's sons, because he dishonored his father's bed. However, Joseph couldn't be listed in the genealogy as the firstborn son.

International Standard Version
Here is a record of the descendants of Reuben, Israel's firstborn. (He was the firstborn, but because he defiled his father's marriage bed, his birthright was transferred to the descendants of Israel's son Joseph. As a result, Reuben is not enrolled in the genealogy according to the birthright.

JPS Tanakh 1917
And the sons of Reuben the first-born of Israel--for he was the first-born but, forasmuch as he defiled his father's couch, his birthright was given unto the sons of Joseph the son of Israel, yet not so that he was to be reckoned in the genealogy as first-born.

Literal Standard Version
As for sons of Reuben, firstborn of Israel—for he [is] the firstborn, and on account of his profaning the bed of his father his birthright has been given to the sons of Joseph son of Israel, and [he is] not to be reckoned by genealogy for the birthright,

NET Bible
The sons of Reuben, Israel's firstborn--(Now he was the firstborn, but when he defiled his father's bed, his rights as firstborn were given to the sons of Joseph, Israel's son. So Reuben is not listed as firstborn in the genealogical records.

New Heart English Bible
The sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel (for he was the firstborn but, because he defiled his father's bed, his birthright was given to the sons of Joseph the son of Israel and not to be regarded in the genealogy as the firstborn.

World English Bible
The sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel (for he was the firstborn but, because he defiled his father's couch, his birthright was given to the sons of Joseph the son of Israel and the genealogy is not to be reckoned after the birthright.

Young's Literal Translation
As to sons of Reuben, first-born of Israel -- for he is the first-born, and on account of his profaning the couch of his father hath his birthright been given to the sons of Joseph son of Israel, and he is not to be reckoned by genealogy for the birthright,

Genesis 25:31
"First sell me your birthright," Jacob replied.

Genesis 29:32
And Leah conceived and gave birth to a son, and she named him Reuben, for she said, "The LORD has seen my affliction. Surely my husband will love me now."

Genesis 35:22
While Israel was living in that region, Reuben went in and slept with his father's concubine Bilhah, and Israel heard about it. Jacob had twelve sons:

Genesis 48:5
And now your two sons born to you in Egypt before I came to you here shall be reckoned as mine Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine, just as Reuben and Simeon are mine.

Genesis 48:15
Then he blessed Joseph and said: "May the God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day,

Genesis 49:4
Uncontrolled as the waters, you will no longer excel, because you went up to your father's bed, onto my couch, and defiled it.

1 Chronicles 2:1
These were the sons of Israel: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun,

Now the sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel, (for he was the firstborn but for as much as he defiled his father's bed, his birthright was given to the sons of Joseph the son of Israel: and the genealogy is not to be reckoned after the birthright.

1 Chronicles 2:1 These are the sons of Israel Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun,

Genesis 29:32 And Leah conceived, and bare a son, and she called his name Reuben: for she said, Surely the LORD hath looked upon my affliction now therefore my husband will love me.

Genesis 46:8 And these are the names of the children of Israel, which came into Egypt, Jacob and his sons: Reuben, Jacob's firstborn.

Genesis 35:22 And it came to pass, when Israel dwelt in that land, that Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father's concubine: and Israel heard it. Now the sons of Jacob were twelve:

Genesis 49:4 Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel because thou wentest up to thy father's bed then defiledst thou it: he went up to my couch.

Leviticus 18:8 The nakedness of thy father's wife shalt thou not uncover: it is thy father's nakedness.

1 Chronicles 26:10 Also Hosah, of the children of Merari, had sons Simri the chief, (for though he was not the firstborn, yet his father made him the chief)

Genesis 48:15-22 And he blessed Joseph, and said, God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk, the God which fed me all my life long unto this day, …

Deuteronomy 21:17 But he shall acknowledge the son of the hated for the firstborn, by giving him a double portion of all that he hath: for he is the beginning of his strength the right of the firstborn is his.

Genesis 25:23 And the LORD said unto her, Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels and the one people shall be stronger than the other people and the elder shall serve the younger.

1 Samuel 16:6-11 And it came to pass, when they were come, that he looked on Eliab, and said, Surely the LORD'S anointed is before him…

Joshua 14:6 Then the children of Judah came unto Joshua in Gilgal: and Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenezite said unto him, Thou knowest the thing that the LORD said unto Moses the man of God concerning me and thee in Kadeshbarnea.

(1) Reuben the firstborn of Israel. --See Genesis 49:3 : "Reuben, my firstborn thou! my strength, and firstfruits of my manhood" also Genesis 29:32.

For he was the firstborn. --The parenthesis is an assertion of the legitimacy of the Davidic monarchy, as against the fact that both Reuben and Joseph had claims prior to those of Judah.

He defiled his father's bed. --Genesis 49:4, Jacob's curse: "Bubbling like the waters, excel thou not! For thou wentest up thy father's couches. Then thou defiledst my bed" (See Genesis 35:22).

His birthright was given to the sons of Joseph. --The reading of some MSS., and the Syriac and Arabic, "to Joseph," is probably original. This transfer of the rights of primogeniture is not elsewhere mentioned. It is, however, a fair inference from Jacob's curse, and from the special blessing of Joseph (Genesis 49:22-26) and of his two sons (Genesis 48:15-20), considered in the light of historical fulfilment. Ephraim was always a leading tribe (Judges 2:9 Judges 4:5 Judges 5:14 Judges 8:1-2 Judges 12:1 Judges 12:15).

And the genealogy is not to be reckoned after the birthright. --Rather, though he was not to be registered as firstborn (literally, according to the primogeniture ) . The subject is Joseph or the sons of Joseph, who received the forfeited rights of Reuben, but not the first place in lists of the tribes. What those rights were is defined by Deuteronomy 21:15-17, which rules that the son of a hated wife--if he be firstborn (the case of Reuben, son of Leah), shall inherit a double portion, "for he is the firstfruits of his strength, the right of the firstborn is his" words obviously referring to Genesis 49:4-5.

Verses 1-10. - THE SONS OF REUBEN. The tribe of Reuben is now taken third in order by the compiler, though Reuben was the first of all the sons of Israel. The distinct statements of vers. 1 and 2, respecting the degradation of Reuben and his loss of the rights of primogeniture, are not to be understood, however, as mentioned in any way to account for his standing third here. That Judah takes in any genealogy the first place needs no other apology than that contained in this passage, "Judah prevailed above his brethren, and of him came the chief ruler" ( i.e. David, and in him "David's greater Son and Lord"). And that Simeon is taken immediately after Judah was natural enough, both because the second place belonged to him, and because his tribe, in journeying, in settlement, and in acknowledged friendship, was so nearly related to that of Judah. It is as an important historical fact, a lesson and stern memento of crime, that the tale of Reuben is here as elsewhere told. Indeed, in the remarkably exalting language applied to Reuben (Genesis 49:3) by the dying father in those "blessings" of his sons which were so marvellously living with prophecy, that "blessing" seemed weighted with hard reality, and may really carry this meaning: "O Reuben I though thou art my firstborn, though my might and the beginning of my strength, though the excellency of dignity and the excellency of power," yet , because of thy boiling lust (Genesis 35:22) "thou shall not excel." In that endowing charter of the patriarch's death-bed, the birthright of Reuben is not in so many words given to Joseph and his sons, but what is given to Joseph is so abundant above the lot of all the others, that we find no difficulty in accepting the formal statement of the fact here first found in this passage. The large measure of promise meted to Judah (Genesis 49:8-12) rests, no doubt, upon the title already referred to. There would seem to be also a righteous moral reason in Joseph after all becoming heir to the birthright, inasmuch as he was the eldest child of her who was Israel's real love, and who, but for deception and sharp practice, would have been his first wife. How he remembered her, and with what determined practical consequence, the affecting passage, Genesis 48:1-7, 16, 21, 22, sufficiently reveals yet comp. Deuteronomy 21:15-17. The meaning of the last clause of ver. 1 is evidently that, though thus Reuben was the natural firstborn, and Joseph had really the birthright, the registration did not proceed in this instance (probably partly for the very reason of the ambiguity) by the order of birthright, but everything yielded to the special call for precedence on the part of Judah (ver. 2).

Though he
ה֣וּא (hū)
Pronoun - third person masculine singular
Strong's 1931: He, self, the same, this, that, as, are

of Joseph
יוֹסֵ֖ף (yō·w·sêp̄)
Noun - proper - masculine singular
Strong's 3130: Joseph -- 'he increases', a son of Jacob, also the name of several Israelites

because Reuben defiled
וּֽבְחַלְּלוֹ֙ (ū·ḇə·ḥal·lə·lōw)
Conjunctive waw, Preposition-b | Verb - Piel - Infinitive construct | third person masculine singular
Strong's 2490: To bore, to wound, to dissolve, to profane, to break, to begin, to play

Wait—13 tribes of Israel?

Kind of. Remember, Levi didn’t receive tribal territory like the other tribes. Also, Joseph’s sons were considered heads of their own tribes—both of which received an inheritance of land. In some lists, Joseph is counted as one of the 12 (Genesis 49 Deuteronomy 33). In others, Levi isn’t counted, and Ephraim and Manasseh are considered distinct tribes.

12 tribes – 1 (Levi) – 1 (Joseph) + 1 (Ephraim) + 1 (Manasseh) = 12 tribes

You can see the tools I used to put this list together on the original blog post. Heads up: at the time I wrote the original, I was an employee of Logos.

Why was a father’s blessing so highly valued in the Old Testament?

The book of Genesis emphasizes the blessing of a father to his sons. The patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all gave formal blessings to their children&mdashand, in Jacob’s case, to some grandchildren. Receiving a blessing from one’s father was a high honor, and losing a blessing was tantamount to a curse.

An Old Testament blessing of a father to his sons included words of encouragement, details regarding each son’s inheritance, and prophetic words concerning the future. For example, Isaac’s blessing on Jacob (which was meant for Esau) gave him the earth’s bounty and authority over his brother (Genesis 27:28-29). It also promised that those who blessed Jacob would be blessed, and those who cursed him would receive a curse&mdashwords that echo God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:3.

When Esau discovered that Jacob had deceived his father and had received the blessing meant for Esau, he was distraught and asked, “Have you not reserved a blessing for me?” (Genesis 27:36). Isaac’s words to Esau reinforced Jacob’s superiority but also prophesied that Esau would one day rebel against Jacob’s rule (verses 39-40).

When Jacob blessed his twelve sons, he also made predictions regarding their future (Genesis 49). The Bible records the direct fulfillment of many of these predictions, revealing the supernatural ability given to Jacob as the father of the twelve tribes.

In one of his blessings, Jacob said, “Judah, your brothers shall praise you your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies your father’s sons shall bow down before you” (Genesis 49:8). The blessing also included a prediction that kings would come from Judah and that one King would eventually receive “the obedience of the nations” (verse 10). Judah’s descendants later became the tribe from which King David came and in whose land Jerusalem was located. Jesus Christ would also come from the tribe of Judah (Matthew 1:3).

Another example of a supernatural prediction in Jacob’s blessing is found in his words to Issachar: “He saw that a resting place was good, and that the land was pleasant” (Genesis 49:15). Issachar’s family would later inherit lower Galilee, including the Valley of Jezreel, which included rich, productive farmland.

Jacob’s youngest son also received a prophecy that was later fulfilled: “Benjamin is a ravenous wolf, in the morning devouring the prey and at evening dividing the spoil” (Genesis 49:27). The tribe of Benjamin would produce many military leaders in Israel, including Ehud, King Saul, and Saul’s son Jonathan, revealing a strong, warlike personality (Judges 5:14 20:16 1 Chronicles 8:40 2 Chronicles 14:8 17:17).

A patriarch’s final blessing was important in biblical times as a practical matter of inheritance rights. In addition, some final blessings included prophetic statements that reveal God’s supernatural power at work through the men of His choosing.

&ldquoCursed be their anger, for it is fierce, and their wrath, for it is cruel! I will divide them in Jacob and scatter them in Israel&rdquo (Gen. 49:7).

After prophesying over his first-born, Jacob then turns to bless Simeon and Levi, his two oldest sons after Reuben (Gen. 29:31&ndash34). Jacob&rsquos words for these men are not any better than those he spoke to his firstborn, as today&rsquos passage reveals.

As with Reuben, the blessing on Simeon and Levi is tied to a past event. The references to violence and killing in Genesis 49:5&ndash6 recall their perversion of the sign and seal of circumcision to exact revenge upon the Shechemites for violating their sister Dinah (chap. 34). No direct commentary on the immorality of this event has been voiced yet, though many contextual clues have indicated that God was displeased. The blessing on Simeon and Levi removes any ambiguity about their deeds. Their wanton slaughter of an entire city was wrong, and their families will feel the consequences.

All of Jacob&rsquos sons are brothers, but he calls Simeon and Levi &ldquobrothers&rdquo explicitly since the sword binds them together in ways they are not bound to their other brothers (49:5). The Hebrew term for violence here tells us an abhorrent ruthlessness motivated their behavior. Simeon and Levi even hamstrung Shechem&rsquos oxen needlessly (v. 6), injuring innocent animals and ruining them as beasts of burden. On account of their sin, the brothers will be scattered in the Promised Land without permanent inheritance rights (v. 7).

As expected, Jacob&rsquos words would come true in the history of the nation of Israel. Simeon is the only tribe Moses does not bless in Deuteronomy 33, and he is given only a select number of cities in Judah&rsquos territory (Josh. 19:1&ndash9). The tribe of Judah eventually absorbs the Simeonites, and they disappear from history.

Levi is also scattered throughout Israel, but his tribe fares better in the history of redemption. Moses, a son of Levi (Ex. 2:1&ndash10), later mediates the old covenant. Moreover, God would choose the Levites to be His priests (Num. 3:5&ndash13), restoring honor to these displaced sons of Jacob. John Calvin writes that God&rsquos &ldquoincredible goodness unexpectedly shone forth, when that which was the punishment of Levi became changed into the reward of the priesthood.&rdquo

Another Difficulty?

However, another difficulty might seem to arise from Exodus 12:40 where it says, “The time that the people of Israel lived in Egypt was 430 years.” Is this a contradiction, error, or difficulty? Once again, this type of question actually reveals a very important, yet subtle way of thinking. It reveals how one approaches Scripture. If I am to come to Scripture and read a passage and ask, “Is that wrong?” I am revealing that I do not truly believe Scripture is without error. The proper approach, since it is God’s infallible Word, is to ask, “Since this cannot be in error, how is my understanding in error?”

Once we realize this, we can then look at the passage and realize that this statement made by Moses actually adds clarity. When we think of the children or people of Israel we typically think of Jacob, his 12 sons, and their descendants. Remember though, the promise was not made to Jacob, but to Abraham. What Moses is subtly pointing out is that the nation of Israel did not start with Jacob, but with Abraham ( Genesis 12:2 reveals that the nation of Israel began with him). Therefore, this passage is including Isaac and Abraham in the nation of Israel. Also, 430 years prior to the exodus is when Abraham first lived in Egypt. There is no contradiction or difficulty. Simply put, the nation was named after Jacob/Israel, but it started with Abraham.

Dr. Floyd Nolen Jones also concludes in his The Chronology of the Old Testament that not only was Abraham a member of the nation of Israel, but that the 400 years of sojourning and affliction started with Isaac’s weaning at five years old when Ishmael mocked him.3 This point about Isaac’s weaning and Ishmael’s mocking 30 years after the promise is also concluded by James Ussher in his The Annals of the World:

For a more detailed look at when and in what order these events took place, and to learn a few other interesting facts, see the timeline below. One interesting fact, for example, is that Isaac was still alive (he was 168) when Joseph was sold into slavery.

Table 1: Timeline showing dates from God ’s promise to Abraham to the exodus from Egypt.

Watch the video: The Bible Is TRUE!! Merneptah Stele, Israel 1200 BC PROOF


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