Sunday, August 01, 2004

Islam and Judeo History -

Jealousy and Sibling Rivalry

I promised I would spend sometime back on discussions of the Middle East. Recently, a commenter on another blog e-mailed me and asked me how I had found out about the Middle East and would I recommend some reading. He was in the midst of reading a 1000 page book on the subject and I think he was feeling a little overwhelmed by the content. I believe the book was trying to cover all of the historical rivalries, the tribal in-fighting, etc and he was probably getting a little lost.

I can feel his pain because I was attempting to find some information as well and many of the books were so damn dry and so damn long, that the issues I was looking to address seemed to be buried somewhere deep within and I wasn't getting to it fast enough. That's when my social studies lessons and my general knack for research kicked in. I imagine there are some other folks out there that are trying to piece it together. So, I am going to try and supply some general information.

This will include my own analysis, which you may take or leave.

The first subject I think we need to address is the Jewish/Zionist issue. For the record, the Jews and the Muslims have been at each others throats since biblical times. Don't let the whole "Palestinian" issue fool you. That's just the latest version of their millenias old sibling rivalry. What am I talking about?

The Children Of Abraham...

No, this is not preaching, this is teaching. If reading any religious bibliography is offensive to you, you may want to stop now because the next references are from religious texts. Further, I treat these texts to some secular cynisism. If you believe that the Bible is a literal work of God and must be believed to be so in order for your faith to be upheld, you may also want to stop reading.

Do you know who Abraham is? He is considered the true "father" of the monotheistic (One God). It is his children that spawned the twelve tribes of Israel after his long barren wife Sarah gave birth to Isaac. He was told by God this would occur.

In the King James Bible, Genesis (creation) chapter 15-22.

Chapter 15, Abraham receives God in a vision:

1: After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, "Fear not,
Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great."
2: But Abram said, "O Lord GOD, what wilt thou give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Elie'zer of Damascus?"
3: And Abram said, "Behold, thou hast given me no offspring; and a slave born in my house will be my heir."
4: And behold, the word of the LORD came to him, "This man shall not be your
heir; your own son shall be your heir."
5: And he brought him outside and said, "Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them." Then he said to him, "So shall your descendants be." 6: And he believed the LORD; and he reckoned it to him as righteousness.
7: And he said to him, "I am the LORD who brought you from Ur of the Chalde'ans, to give you this land to possess."
8: But he said, "O Lord GOD, how am I to know that I shall possess it?"
9: He said to him, "Bring me a heifer three years old, a she-goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon."

Something that Abraham did during the sacrifice must have annoyed God, because, later, while Abraham is sleeping, God returns with an ill prediction for Abraham's children:

12: As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram; and lo, a dread and great darkness fell upon him.
13: Then the LORD said to Abram, "Know of a surety that your descendants will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs, and will be slaves there, and they will be oppressed for four hundred years;
14: but I will bring judgment on the nation which they servee, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions.

This is the Old Testaments prophesy of the "Exodus" from Egypt and the subsequent wondering of the Jews in the desert. This they must do before they will be allowed to take possession of the land that is promised. And what land would that be?

18: On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, "To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates,
19: the land of the Ken'ites, the Ken'izzites, the Kad'monites,
20: the Hittites, the Per'izzites, the Reph'aim,
21: the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Gir'gashites and the Jeb'usites."

Ok...Quick, let's go look at a map to see where this promise land is:

The land of Cana'an and Isreal

If you looked at the map closely, you will see that the land between "the river of Egypt to the great river "Euphrates" pretty much encompasses modern day Israel, Palestinian Territories, the Gaza Strip, the Sinai, parts of present day Syria (see Damascus), Jordan (see Amman) and Lebanon (Zubulon).

Unfortunately, Sarah does not conceive right away and Abraham starts to despair that he will have this promised heir. So what happens next? Just some good ol' Old Testament soap opera:

1: Now Sarah, Abram's wife, bore him no children. She had an Egyptian maid whose name was Hagar;
2: and Sarah said to Abram, "Behold now, the LORD has prevented me from bearing children; go in to my maid; it may be that I shall obtain children by her." And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarah.

(What guy could refuse such an invitation?)

3: So, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarah, Abram's wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her maid, and gave her to Abram her husband as a wife.

This is an important word, wife. This would seem to imply that Hagar was now more than a slave or a maid and becomes a point of contention later.

4: And he went in to Hagar, and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress.
5: And Sarah said to Abram, "May the wrong done to me be on you! I gave my maid to your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt. May the LORD judge between you and me!"

Uh..oh. Now Abraham has some serious problems. Even in biblical times, when the wife was to "submit" to her husband, it was never a good idea to piss her off. Especially if she was due some part of your wealth (tents, camels, sheep, etc) if you parted ways. Not to mention the cold shoulder, the dark tent and the burnt leg of lamb you might be eating every night. So, Abraham did some quick thinking, calculated the cost and decided that a pacified first wife was better than keeping the maid as a favorite.

1: When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram, and said to him, "I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless.
2: And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly." (...)
4: "Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations.
5: No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations.

But God asks for something in return:

7: And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you.

This is where God asks Abraham to give up any pagan gods that he or his people worship and insists on monotheism (the worship of one God). Thus, Abraham becomes the father of monotheism. Remember, he is living in ancient times when most of the surrounding tribes or people worshiped a god for everything: sun, moon, water, fire, you name it, they had one. This was truly a radical idea.

But God wants something even more from Abraham. He wants proof that Abraham will hold up his end of the deal and demands a personal sacrifice on behalf of Abraham and all of his male kinsmen and bondsman.

10: This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your descendants after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised.
11: You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you.

Ow...Harsh! Abraham starts thinking about his descendants. He realizes God is promising him all sorts of good things for Isaac, but, as a decent father, he rightly asks God what will become of Ishmael. Will he share in the same benefits as his new son?

18: And Abraham said to God, "O that Ish'mael might live in thy sight!"
19: God said, "No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him.
20: As for Ish'mael, I have heard you; behold, I will bless him and make him fruitful and multiply him exceedingly; he shall be the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation.
21: But I will establish my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this season next year."

As they say, the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. He gives Abraham a son by Sarah, but immediately lays on Abraham the beginning of a sibling rivalry, which starts with his two "wives" going at it. If you are an atheist, or want to look at this strictly from the "civil" point of view, you may consider that it was awful convenient for God to tell Abraham not to give any of his patrimony to Ishmael.

First, as I mentioned before, he needs to keep Sarah happy if he wants to keep his wealth together. Second, even in tribes of the middle east today, the law of "primogenitor" (or "first born son") is not observed. The heir is "chosen" by the holder of the wealth and that can be anyone from a second or third son to his fifth cousin Earl's oldest boy. This is usually a favored person or one that is the strongest or best able to continue leading the tribe. Since both boys are very young, strength is not an issue. Favor and holding the wealth have to be the concern of the day. And, Abraham is naturally going to favor the son that would be the most costly if all hell breaks loose.

You also have to consider that, even if Hagar is truly a "wife" of Abraham, she appears to have been a slave or bondswoman at some point and has no kinsman to stand for her and demand her share of the wealth if she gets kicked to the curb. Again, very convenient to claim God favored Isaac and not to worry about Ishmael because he will get something in the future. Vague as that something is.

Abraham sets to carrying out his covenant with God and circumcising all the males above the age of eight. A little after that is the episode of Sodom and Gomorrah. Lot's wife turns to a pillar of salt. Lot's daughters, thinking they were the last people on earth, get Lot drunk and have incestuous sex. They give birth to his sons. (wow...Did you know the bible was this interesting? Better than a mini-series on HBO)

Then, Abraham and Sarah are traveling in the land of Gerar where he meets a King. And when asked by Abimelech who Sarah was, Abraham tells him she is his sister and Sarah replies that he, Abraham, is her brother. This gives Abimelech the wrong idea and he promptly "takes" her (Sarah must have been a really well kept woman at 90).

Now, since Sarah is meant to be the mother of the tribes of Israel, she must, of course, remain inviolate. So the bible treats the episode thusly: God comes to Abimelech in the middle of the night and tells him he's a dead man for taking the WIFE of Abraham. Abilemech, scared shitless, never lays a hand on her, wakes up the next morning and promptly returns her to Abraham with protestations of an honest mistake. Since Abraham is a guest in Gerar, he can't just up and strike the man dead, so he accepts his apology. However, now he is concerned about Sarah's virtue. No problem, because God appears and tells Abraham that Abimelech never laid a hand on her to which Sarah naturally agrees.

All protestations aside, it seems awful coincidental that they both disclaim each other as married and Abimelech is able to "take" her without a fight. On the other hand, Abraham and Sarah contend that they were not pulling a trick on Abimelech:

10: And Abim'elech said to Abraham, "What were you thinking of, that you did this thing?"
11: Abraham said, "I did it because I thought, There is no fear of God at all in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.
12: Besides she is indeed my sister, the daughter of my father but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my wife.
13: And when God caused me to wander from my father's house, I said to her, `This is the kindness you must do me: at every place to which we come, say of me, He is my brother.'"

Now you got it? Abraham and Sarah are half brother and sister. Which apparently is a non-issue in the tribes. To make amends and to insure everyone knows that Sarah is righteous, Abimelech pays Abraham, "her brother", a thousand pieces of silver for having sinned against him.

A few prayers and some handshakes later, Abraham and Abimelech part company.

Guess what happens next? You got it. Sarah turns up pregnant. (Is it me, or does this sound suspiciously close to the story of Jesus?). Since Abimelech, Sarah and God insist that "nothing happened", Abraham accepts that Sarah is with child by him as God had promised him for so long (or does he?).

Now, if you're a cynic like me, you might consider a few other secular items of note. First, remember that Sarah is the first wife with kinsman who would insist on her share of the wealth, even if she were barren, should Abraham boot her. If Abraham died and Sarah had no children, then that becomes a moot point. Ishmael inherits most of the goods and Sarah is left with about an eighth of what she could rightly claim if she was the mother of the heir. Second, remember that Abraham went around and told all his men that God had made him a deal to give Sarah a child and own the land of Cana'an if they would only worship one God and cut off their foreskin. Thus, bonding them to Abraham as in no other tribe and insuring that he does not have to give them their part of the herds and other goods should they attempt to leave him and that they will assist him in getting his promised land.

Then, Sarah gives birth and the real trouble begins. When Abraham is 100 and Ishmael is 14 (give or take), Sarah finally gives birth to Isaac. Hagar, thinking Abraham would favor her son as the first born, appears to be jealous of the attention that Sarah receives. Particularly as the whole tribe must be breathing a sigh of relief that "God" lived up to the bargain and they would one day live in Cana'an (which is and was, some really good realestate). Maybe Sarah is still worried about Hagar trying to put her sons claim forward. Hagar, unfortunately for her, goes just a little too far:

8: And the child grew, and was weaned; and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned.
9: But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac.

In some translations, this verse sometimes claims that he was "mocking" Isaac. Which might be true if Hagar had an inkling that this miraculous conception was anything but miraculous. She probably would have given Ishmael the idea that his birthright was about to be stolen by a bastard, true or not. In which case, Sarah gets a little pissed off:

10: So she said to Abraham, "Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac."
11: And the thing was very displeasing to Abraham on account of his son.

Now, you have to consider that Abraham is doing some quick thinking here. Ishmael is his son, but Hagar and her son are starting a rumor he could do without. If the others start questioning Isaacs birth, true or not, the tribe could get a little fractious. Might even be willing to kill him for misleading them. So, he has to make a decision based on expediency and God conveniently appears to him and reminds him of his promise:

12: But God said to Abraham, "Be not displeased because of the lad and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for through Isaac shall your descendants be named.
13: And I will make a nation of the son of the slave woman also, because he is your offspring."
Thus, having his dilemma resolved, Abraham takes care of the matter forthwith:

14: So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered in the wilderness of Beer-sheba.
One thing you have to wonder about. If Ishmael is "14", why is Hagar carrying him? I believe that the old Hebrew calendar was appx 7 months (you could look this up) which would make Ishmael more like 7, Abraham 50 and Sarah about 45, which would explain why she was able to still bare children and why Hagar might be constrained to carry Ishmael.

While Hagar is wondering in the wilderness, she runs out of food and water. She sets Ishmael under a tree and sits down a little ways off, waiting for him to die as she has no food and no water. She laments:

16: Then she went, and sat down over against him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot; for she said, "Let me not look upon the death of the child." And as she sat over against him, the child lifted up his voice and wept.
Fortunately, God hears them and decides to make good on his promise:

18: Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him fast with your hand; for I will make him a great nation."
19: Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water; and she went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the lad a drink.
20: And God was with the lad, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow.
21: He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt.
So, what does this have to do with Jews and Muslims and sibling rivalry? Note that Ishmael goes to live in "Paran". According to ancient maps, this would be northern Saudi Arabia, Southern Iraq and Iran (Persia/Paran). This would be the area that was later populated by the Arab/Bedu tribes and from this, Mohammed, the prophet of Allah, claims descendents from Abraham through Ishmael.

The Jews claim descendents from Abraham through Isaac.

In the last 14 years, several DNA tests have been done and prove that native Israelis(Jews) and Arabs (Muslim) share a common ancestry. Although the report does go on to claim that European Jews that later colonized Palestine, do not share this same descendents. But that's another story.

Abraham's tomb is alledged to be in Jerusalem, residing under what is currently referred to as the "Dome of the Rock". The Al-Aqsa mosque. This site was originally referred to as the "Temple Mount" or the great Jewish synagogue built by Solomon and later raised to the ground by the Romans.

The Jews now claim the area of Israel as their birthright as promised under the covenant of God. Orthodox Jews, who make up the largest element of the Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories, insist that these areas (all the way to the River Jordan) are inclusive of that birthright and this is why they will not give it up.

Muslim Arabs insist that it is their birthright as the first born of Abraham and that the Old Testament, based on the Torah, gives claim to this by some judicious inconsistency, which we will explore later. I have as yet to hear any Muslim claim that the Jews are not directly descendant of Abraham as I have put forth as a conjecture here. Probably a wise idea as it might then negate their own claim of ancestral rights. Even DNA tests would not be conclusive as Sarah was Abraham's sister and DNA would be fairly similar, give or take a Y chromosome.

There are a number of other ancient and not so ancient issues that we will explore later, including: Moses' exodus and subsequent journey to Cana'an; the split between Shi'a and Sunni; Arabization of Iraq; the Islamization of the middle east and parts of Europe under the Ottoman Empire; the Zionist colonization of the Israeli/Palestinian territories at the invite of Sharif Feisel; the Arab Homeland; betrayals, treaties and European mandates; the recent wars and other deals that lead up to the current problems.

Much to cover.


In regards to this post, it should be noted that I am a secular Christian or agnostic. In other words, I believe that God exists, but I do not take the bible as the literal work of God and consider it an historical text written by man based on man's own interpretations or writings based on verbal history. I don't believe that this negates the existence of God nor the appearance of Christ as an agent of God, whether as his biological or spiritual son. I do not believe that the Bible, nor any other religious text must be taken literally in order for me to have these beliefs and frankly feel that this is largely the problem with religion, all religions, today.

Having said that, I hereby apologize if any person was offended as this treatise is not meant to convert or change anyone's opinion, but was instead an attempt to place the story in a wholly secular context to compare to the issue of Islamic and Judeo relations.

Humorous prayer:
Dear Lord, if I offended you, please don't strike me with a bolt of lightening. I still have much work to do. Amen.


Robert said...

"but I do not take the bible as the literal work of God and consider it an historical text written by man based on man's own interpretations or writings based on verbal history"
The Catholic view (the only one which I really know) is that the bible is inspired by God. As such, whether or not it is literally accurate is irrelevant. Did Abraham literally wear brown sandals? Hehe.

What matters is the fundamental religious truths expressed by the passages.

The Old Testament in particular is as much a cultural history as a religious text. Religious truth has always seemed the good way to go to me.

ALa said...

When I was in college, I once had to write an article detailing the entire history of the tumoil in the Middle East and catapult it into the current situation for a journalism 500 words!!! Can you feel my pain! LOL

Kat said...

Yes..I do feel your pain. I pretty much decided to go at it from mutliple stories because, you know, I can't write less than 500 words. LOL

Anonymous said...

In general, tension between Arabs and Jews is rather recent. Iraq was the center of Jewish intellectual life during the 8th-10th centuries. Moslem Spain was a major Jewish cultural center until the end of the Reconquista. When the Jews were expelled from Spain, many were welcomed into Turkey.
Most of the modern tension is of relatively modern origin, though anti-Jewish feelings among Arameans, Syrian Christians, and Levantine Greeks goes back to the Roman period.
In the 19th century, the growth of the Zionist community was welcomed with a warmth paralleled by the American feelings towards Haiti during the early 19th century.
Jewish attitudes in Eretz Israel/Palestine were characterized by the European racism seen in so much of European colonialism. (Most early Zionists were from Germany or Austria, and so were grew up with that unquestioned Euro-centric view of things--this also affected their treatment of non-European Jews)
Nazi propaganda, from the 1930s and 40s, was aimed at fomenting anti-semitism among Moslems. It's possible that German propaganda preceding WW I had a similar effect.

In Israel/Palestine the descendants of the ancient Philistines had never been warmly supportive of the Jews, and when members of this community converted to Christianity or Islam the ancient prejudice found theological justification.

Likewise, the Greek and Aramaic-speaking Gentile Levantines had a history of prejudice against the Jews (Josephus mentions some massacres), which became justified from Christian and Moslem theology.

Essentially I'm saying that the current anti-Jewish attitude among Arabs doesn't seem to date back to Abraham, but rather to be rooted in the Hebrew/Philistine conflict in the Gaza strip area, to the Helenistic period in regards to the Syrians and the Arabic Christian communities, and finally to late 19th and early 20th century events.
Be Well,
Bob Griffin

Kat said...

Bob...thanks for stopping by and adding some more in depth history here.

My original plan for the subject was to treat each era separately and discuss the potential causes of Jewish/Moslem (Muslim) relations. It's pretty much my belief that the current situation is a direct result of the 1917 agreements between Britain, France and the Arabs which seemed to have opposing agendas and caused the split of the countries in the middle east today. This appears to include an invite by Feisel for the Zionists to colonize the area, although his expectations seemed to be (and were apparently agreed to by the original colonist) that the Zionist colonials would remain under Arab protection. According to what I've read so far, Feisel seemed to be willing to accept the colonists in order to gain favor for his unite Arab homeland with the Americans in the League of nations.

In which case, he only got half of what he wanted after the mandates were split up. In which case, the Palestinian territories or protectorate remained under British control until 1948. But it seems, based on letters and books by TE Lawrence, that the Arabs were perfectly willing to have the Zionist colonize and Feisel's comments to Lawrence support you comment that the Muslims and Jews had lived together for years.

The question, I suppose, could be put forward as to whether that was ever a comfortable relationship or if the Jews were widely tolerated as craftsman, bankers and entrepeneurs that filled the gap that Muslims, by religious forbidance, could not provide, such as lending institutions. In which case, it is not totally understood if their "accpetance" was anymore than tolerable in these areas as compared to a "welcome brother of the book."

But, I will be addressing that a little later. This entry was simply to start the ball rolling on where Judeo/Christian/Muslim relations get their first start down the rocky road to the future.

Thanks for your info and I will be looking into some of the information that you provide as well as looking forward to any contributions that you make on the subject. Thanks