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8— The Inheritance of the Land: Privilege versus Obligation
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The Inheritance of the Land:
Privilege versus Obligation

No other people in the history of mankind was as preoccupied as the people of Israel with the land in which they lived. The whole biblical historiography revolves around the Land. The pivot of the patriarchal stories is the promise of the land for the Patriarchs and their descendants. The stories of the Exodus and the wanderings in the desert are a kind of preparation for the entrance into the Land; the stories of the conquest describe the struggle with the Canaanites over the Land; and the whole survey of the periods of the judges and the monarchy is concerned with the gradual loss of the Land. Because of the sins of the period of the judges, the Israelites did not manage to conquer the "remaining land" (Josh. 13:1–2) and the "remaining nations" (Josh. 23:4–16; Judg. 3:1–4) on the coast and in the Lebanon. The great loss of land occurred during the monarchy: first came the loss of the northern kingdom (the ten tribes) because of the sins of Jeroboam and Ahab, and then came the fall of Jerusalem and the exile of Judah because of the sin of Manasseh (2 Kings 21). The writing of the historiography was actually motivated by the effort to explain why Israel and Judah went into exile (2 Kings 17:1–23; 21:11–16).

Israel's preoccupation with the Land can be explained by its unique history. Unlike the Mesopotamians, Egyptians, and Hittites, who did not preserve any history from before their entrance into their land, Israel kept in memory its existence


before the settlement in the Land of Canaan. According to the tradition, Israel's ancestors came from Aram Naharaim, then went down to Egypt, and only after the Exodus from Egypt did they settle in the Land. Their dwelling in the Land of Canaan, therefore, was not self-explanatory; it was considered an act of grace, a gift of God, a privilege accorded them as a result of the loyalty of the patriarchs to God (Gen. 22:17–18; 26:5; Deut. 7:8; 9:5b; 11:15).

The divine promise of land to an ethnic group or tribe who goes to settle in a new territory is not unique to Israel. It is a phenomenon also found among other peoples, particularly in the Greek world, when the colonization of the Mediterranean shores first began (see Chapter 2).

What is unique about Israel's relationship to the land is neither the divine promise nor the permanence of the patrimony, but rather the religious and moral ramifications of the promise: the belief that, in order to dwell safely in the land, it was necessary to fulfill the will of the God who gave the land. The land was thus transformed into a kind of mirror, reflecting the religious and ethical behavior of the people; if the people were in possession of the land, it was a sign that they were fulfilling God's will and observing his commandments; if they lost the land, it was an indication that they had violated God's covenant and neglected his commandments. All of biblical historiography is based upon this criterion: the right to possess the land.

As early as the covenant with Abraham (Gen. 15), the conditionality of the promise of the land is implied. The sin of the Canaanites is the cause of their expulsion from the land: "For the sin of the Amorites is not yet complete" (v. 16),[1] which by allusion suggests that if the Israelites sin, they too might lose the land. A similar outlook is found in Gen. 18:19, in the words of God concerning Abraham: "For I have singled


him out, that he may instruct his children and his posterity to keep the way of the Lord by doing justice and righteousness[2] in order that the Lord may bring about for Abraham what He has promised him." Dwelling in the land was contingent on keeping the commandments; if the Israelites did not keep the commandments, the land would spew them out, as it did to the nations who lived there before them (Lev. 18:28). This view achieves fullest expression in Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic literature.[3]

One has to admit that the conditionality of the inheritance of the Land, which is attested primarily in Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic school, in editorial layers of JE (Gen. 15:16; 18:19), and in the priestly code (Lev. 18:26–28; 20:23–24; chap. 26), is not explicit in the old traditions themselves. Indeed, it seems that the fall of Samaria and the northern exile triggered the development of the idea of conditionality. Although the idea itself might be old, albeit not expressed explicitly, the prevailing notion before the fall of Samaria was that the Land was given to the Israelites forever (Gen. 13:15; 17:8; Exod. 32:13). Only after the loss of the northern territories was the covenant of God with the Patriarchs interpreted as based on condition.

The same pattern developed with the Davidic covenant. The covenant of God with David, which contained an unconditional promise of eternal dynasty for David (2 Sam. 7:13, 16; Ps. 89:29–38), was interpreted after the disruption of the Davidic dynasty as originally given on condition (1 Kings 2:4; 8:25; 9:4–9).[4]

In the eighth century B.C.E. , when the Assyrians began mass deportations of peoples, the problem of exile turned into


a central problem in the national consciousness of Israel. The disaster was explained by the breach of covenant with God. The two separate covenants—the one with the patriarchs, which constituted a promise, and the other, which constituted a pledge, an obligation to observe the law—were joined. The promise of land for the patriarchs was understood as conditioned on the observance of the law, and the promise of the Davidic dynasty was understood after the fall of Judah as conditioned on the realization of the Sinaitic pledge to keep the law.[5]

Indeed, the period of the Assyrian conquest and mass deportation was a period of the awakening of national guilt feelings, as may be learned from the prophecies of Hosea, which are permeated with the idea of repentance.[6] In Hosea, we find that Israel will return to its God after abandoning foreign worship (2:16–18; 3:5; 6:1; 14:2–9), and verses that correspond, significantly, to the passages about repentance in Deuteronomy[7] and Jeremiah. We read in Hosea: "I will return to my place until in their trouble they seek me, in their distress they will search for me (bsr lhm yshrnny[*] ): Come, let us return to YHWH for he has torn us and will heal us" (5:15–6:1). The same phraseology is found in Deut. 4:29–30: "You will seek there YHWH your God . . . when you are in distress (bsr lk[*] ) . . . and you will return to YHWH your God," which may


be compared with Jer. 29:13–14: "you will seek me . . . and I will restore you" and with 1 Kings 8:47–48.

The idea of return to the land after return to God is actually expressed in the priestly source of the Pentateuch, as well as in the book of Deuteronomy. In the priestly source we read:

and you shall perish among the nations . . . and those of you who service shall be headsick over their iniquity . . . and their uncircumcised heart shall humble itself . . . then I will remember my covenant with Jacob . . . Isaac . . . and Abraham . . . and I will remember the land. (Lev. 26:38–42; compare also vv. 44–45)

Similarly we read in Deut. 4:27–31:

YHWH will scatter you among the nations . . . but if you search for YHWH your God you will find him . . . when you are in distress . . . and in the end you shall return to YHWH your God and obey him. . . . he will not forget the covenant which he made with your fathers.

As in Lev. 26:38 ff. we find exile and repentance here, following which God will remember the Covenant with the patriarchs.

The same themes are evident in Deut. 30, which corresponds nicely to Deut. 4:27 ff. Both passages form a kind of inclusio for the core of Deuteronomy.[8]

When all these things befall you . . . amidst the various nations to which YHWH your God has banished you and you return to YHWH your God . . . then the Lord your God shall restore your fortunes (sb sbwtk[*] ) and will bring you together again. (30:1–5)

These words were not spoken in vain; the exiled recognized


their sins and believed that if they truly repented they would return to their land. This is attested in the letter of Jeremiah to the exiled:[9]

You will search for me and you will find me . . . and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations (Jer. 29:13–14).

The formulation is similar to that of Deut. 4:24 ff., perhaps because it is a quotation from Deut. 4 or perhaps because the style is prevalent in the exilic period. Identical formulas are found in the Deuteronomistic liturgy in 1 Kings 8:48–51.

All these passages reflect the consciousness of guilt among the Israelites of the exilic period, along with the will to return to God wholeheartedly, and indeed, this is the time in which idolatry was permanently eliminated in Israel. After the exile we hear no more about pagan worship, either in the Land of Judah or in the diaspora.[10] This deep guilt-consciousness motivated the writing of the Deuteronomistic historiography. The books of Kings were written to demonstrate that the sins of the northern Israelites caused the fall of the northern kingdom and the sins of Judah brought about the destruction of the southern kingdom; the conclusion to be deduced is that if Israel would return to its God, then the grace would be renewed.[11] From the prayer of Nehemiah (Neh. 1:8–11) we learn that the threats of Lev. 26 and Deut. 28 were deeply incised on the heart of the people who returned to Judah and that the promise of the renewal of God's grace as found in the Pentateuch had encouraged them to return and to rebuild the ruins of Jerusalem and Judah.


Sins That Forfeit the Right to the Promised Land

In all the biblical sources, the assertion is repeated that Israel will be expelled from the land for the violation of its religious and spiritual obligations—in other words, for breaking the covenant. We have seen above that the reduction of the territory of the promised land was explained as a punishment for making a covenant with the Canaanites and worshipping their gods. The priestly source, which emphasizes God's presence in the land of Israel and therefore obligates the observance of the laws of holiness and purity, speaks of fornication and incest as those acts which defile the land (Lev. 18:24 ff.). When defiled, the land "spews out" its inhabitants: " . . . thus the land became defiled; and I called it to account for its iniquity, and the land spewed out its inhabitants" (Lev. 18:25).

Blood that is shed in the land in which God abides also pollutes the land and defiles it:

You shall not pollute the land in which you live; for blood pollutes the land, and the land can have no expiation for blood that is shed on it, except by the blood of him who shed it. You shall not defile the land in which you live, in which I Myself abide, for I, the Lord, abide among the Israelite people." (Num. 35:33–34)

This view, which holds that bloodshed defiles the lands and leads to its desolation and the expulsion of its inhabitants, dates back to ancient times. We read, for example, in Gen. 4:11–12 that because of the blood of Abel the land is cursed and will not yield its produce: "Therefore you shall be banished from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand. If you till the soil, it shall no longer yield its strength to you."[12] Similarly, we read in 2 Sam.


21:1–14 that the land suffered a three-year famine because of the bloodguilt of Saul's killing of the Gibeonites.

The Gilboa mountains were also cursed by the blood that had been shed upon them; they received neither dew nor rain (2 Sam. 1:21–22). This example recalls Danel's curse concerning his son's murder in the Ugaritic epic Aqhat: "No dew, no rain, no upsurge of the deep."[13] In a Hittite source, too, the king declares that the gods have avenged the murdered king's blood, in that the murderer's land no longer yielded its produce,[14] and Greek literature provides the example of the land of Thebes, cursed because Oedipus had murdered his father.[15]

In Israel, the concept develops that land may be cursed and turned into a wasteland not only by bloodshed but also by adultery, theft, taking a false oath, and other sins. This concept is most fully expressed in the words of the prophets. Hosea states, "[False] swearing, dishonesty, and murder and theft are rife. . . . For that the earth is withered (t'bl h'rs[*] ), everything that dwells on it languished" (Hos. 4:2–3). The meaning of the Hebrew word 'bl[*] in this context is not "sorrow and mourn-


ing," but rather, "dryness."[16] Desolation of the land ( = dryness) is due to breaking the covenant. This is uniquely expressed in Isa. 24:4 ff.:

The earth dries up and withers, the whole world withers and grows sick . . . because they have broken the laws, and violated the eternal covenant. For this a curse has devoured the earth and its inhabitants stand aghast. . . . The new vine dries up, the vines sicken and all the revelers turn to sorrow. Silent the merry beat of tambourines . . . the merry harp is silent.

In these verses, descriptions of desolation and drought appear in conjunction with the cessation of joy. We find the combination of these two motifs in political contracts regarding the violation of a covenant. For example, in the treaty from Sefire between the king of Katak and the king of Arpad (eighth century B.C.E. ), we read that if the king of Arpad should break the covenant, locusts and worms will consume the produce of the land, no grass or vegetation will be seen, the sound of the lyre will not be heard, and the land will become a wasteland, overrun by wild animals.[17]

We actually find a similar pattern in the list of curses appearing in Lev. 26. There, it is stated that if Israel violates the covenant with God, the land will not yield its produce, will


become overrun by wild animals, and will turn into a wasteland (Lev. 26:20–22). Similar forms of retribution for breaking the covenant can be found in Isa. 33:8 ff.: "Highways are desolate, wayfarers have ceased, a covenant has been renounced. . . . the land is wilted and withered . . ." In Jeremiah, perhaps through the influence of Hosea, we also find that adultery and taking a false oath cause the land to dry up: "For the land is full of adulterers, the earth lies parched because of a curse, the pastures of the wilderness are dried up" (Jer. 23:10).[18] It appears, therefore, that the expression "to dry up" ('blh h'rs[*] ) is a fixed motif in Israelite prophecy, which describes the punishment for the terrible sins that the land cannot bear, such as murder, adultery, taking a false oath, and breaking the covenant. The land does not respond to those who commit such sins; it becomes a wasteland.

The idea that exile and desolation are the punishment for failing to observe God's commandments is based, therefore, in the typology of violating a covenant. One who violates a covenant with his sovereign can anticipate exile and the desolation of his land.[19] This is the case with Israel, the vassal, who breaks the covenant with its sovereign, the God of Israel. The same pattern can also be seen in the Assyrian treaty between Esarhaddon and his vassals:[20]

[If you break the covenant] . . . may Zarpanitu . . . destroy your name and your seed from off the land


(ll. 435–36). May Adad . . . deprive your fields of [grain], may he [submerge] your land with a great flood, may the locust . . . devour your harvest; may the sound of mill and oven be lacking from your houses. (ll. 440–44)[21]

However, besides elaborating the violation of covenant as an all-inclusive sin, the biblical sources differ in their characterization of and emphasis on specific sins.

Transgressing the Laws of the Sabbatical and Jubilee Years

The priestly source, which connects the laws of the Sabbatical and Jubilee years with the covenant at Sinai and the declaration of freedom therein ("for all Israelites are My servants . . ."),[22] views the transgression of these laws as the primary reason for the exile of Israel from its land. There is a direct correlation between the crime and its punishment: the nation that does not allow the land to rest in the Sabbatical and Jubilee years will be cast out, leaving the land to lie fallow so as to compensate for those years in which the laws of the Sabbatical years had not been observed: "Then shall the land make up for its Sabbath years throughout the time that it is desolate . . . it shall observe the rest that it did not observe in your Sabbath years while you were dwelling upon it" (Lev. 26:34–35). Thus, the seventy years of Babylonian exile are explained in the book of Chronicles as punishment for seventy years in which the land should have lain fallow while the Israelites were dwelling in it (2 Chron. 36:21). Observing the laws of resting the land is, according to the priestly sources, a necessary condition for dwelling in the land.


According to the Deuteronomic sources, the


sin of idol worship is the determining factor which will cause Israel to perish from its land. Such is the case in Deut. 11:16–17:

Take care not to be lured away to serve other gods and bow to them. For YHWH's anger will flare up against you, and He will shut up the skies so that there will be no rain and the ground will not yield its produce, and you will soon perish from the good land which YHWH is giving you.

Traces of the land-oriented view found in the priestly source are also preserved here. Exile appears in conjunction with the description of a land which, because of the sin of idolatry, withholds its produce. But in the Deuteronomic source, the image of exile is generally free of references to desolation and barrenness, and there is no evidence of the kind of personification that describes the land as "spewing forth its inhabitants" or "resting."[23]

The expression "perish from the land" ('bd mn h'rs[*] ), which is used to denote exile, is also found in Hittite and Assyrian covenant texts.[24] In Deut. 28:63, we find the verb "nsh[*] ," which is the Assyrian verb par excellence for "exile" (nasahu[*] ). The expressions "to perish" ('bd[*] ) or "to be wiped out" (hsmd[*] ) from the land also appear in Deut. 4:25–27, 6:14–15, 28:63, 30:18. Sections of Former Prophets, which are dependent on Deuter-


onomy, speak of "perishing from" ('bd mn[*] ), "cutting off from" (hkrt mn ), and "uprooting from" (nts mn[ *] ) the good land (Josh. 23:15, 16; 1 Kings 9:7; 14:15; cf. Jer. 12:14).[25]


Because the pursuit of idolatry was linked to contact with pagans who worshipped idols, we find that in Deuteronomistic literature the threat of exile appears not only in the context of idolatry but also in conjunction with marriage to the non-Israelites who had remained in the land:

For should you turn away and attach yourself to the remnant of those nations . . . and intermarry with them . . . know for certain that your God will not continue to drive them out before you; they shall become a snare and a trap for you . . . until you perish from the good land . . . (Josh. 23:12)

The view that intermarriage will lead to annihilation is most clearly expressed in the words of Ezra, who quotes from the prophets:

Which you commanded us through Your servants the prophets when You said, the land which you are about to possess is unclean through the uncleanness of the people of the land,[26] like the uncleanness of a menstruous woman, through their abhorrent practices with which they, in their impurity, have filled it from one end to the other. Now then do not give your daughters in marriage to their sons or let their daughters marry your sons . . . you shall not seek their welfare or their good forever, then you will be strong and enjoy the bounty of the land and bequeath it to your children forever.[27] (Ezra 9:11–12)


Later, Ezra explicitly states that marriage to daughters of the idolatrous nations is a great sin, which will bring about the annihilation of the people:

Shall we once again violate Your commandments by intermarrying with these peoples who follow such abhorrent practices? Will you not rage against us till we are destroyed without remnant or survivor? (Ezra 9:14)

It is obvious that Ezra's decision to establish the prohibition of intermarriage as the first and foremost condition for national existence was in keeping with his lifework: the expulsion of foreign wives from the society and the separation of the community of the Israelites from foreign nations (cf. Neh. 9:2).[28]

Justice and Righteousness

The notion that the promise made to Abraham was contingent upon the pursuit of justice and righteousness appears in the Pentateuch:[29]

For I have singled him out, that he may instruct his children and his posterity to keep the way of the Lord by establishing righteousness and justice, in order that the


Lord may bring about for Abraham what He has promised him. (Gen. 18:19)

Sodom and Gomorrah, cities that did not practice justice and righteousness and "did not support the poor and the needy" (Ezek. 16:49), were destroyed by divine decree, and the descendants of Abraham were commanded to follow the path of justice and righteousness, so that God could fulfill his promises.

However, it is in the words of the classical prophets that this outlook is fully crystalized. The classical prophets, reacting to the exile and liquidation of nations, a practice the Assyrian empire introduced, predict that oppression and violations of justice will lead to destruction and exile. As. Y. Kaufmann has demonstrated, the classical prophets put special emphasis on this idea.[30] According to Amos and Isaiah, the punishment for violation of social justice is exile: "But let justice well up like water and righteousness like an unfailing stream . . ., I will drive you into exile (whglyty ) beyond Damascus" (Amos 5:24–27);[31] "They drink [straight] from the wine-bowls. . . . Assuredly, right soon they shall head the column of exiles (yglw br's gwlym[*] ) . . ." (Amos 6:6–7); "Who at their banquets have lyre and lute . . . and wine . . . therefore my people will suffer exile for not giving heed . . ." (Isa. 5:12–13). Other prophets predict barrenness and destruction for violation of social justice:


Listen to this . . . who detest justice and make crooked all that is straight. . . . Her rulers judge for gifts. . . . Assuredly because of you Zion shall be plowed as a field, and Jerusalem shall become heaps of ruins, and the Temple Mount a shrine in the woods. (Mic. 3:9–12)

Jeremiah states the terms explicitly:

No, if you really mend your ways . . . if you execute justice between one man and another . . . then only will I let you dwell in this place, in the land which I gave to your fathers. . . . And now because you do all these things . . . I will cast you out of my presence as I cast out your brothers and the whole brood of Ephraim. (Jer. 7:5–15)

Render just verdicts morning by morning; rescue him who is robbed from him who defrauded him. Else my wrath will break forth like fire and burn with none to quench it. . . . I shall set fire to its forest; it shall consume all that is around it. (Jer. 21:12–14)

Do what is just and right; rescue the robbed from his oppressors; do not wrong the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow; commit no lawless act. . . . But if you do not heed these commands . . . this house shall become a ruin. (Jer. 22:3–5)

It should be noted that although these prophets emphasize justice and righteousness, they do not ignore other heinous sins. Thus, in a prophecy in which Jeremiah warns that the breach of social justice will lead to destruction, he also mentions the sins of murder, adultery, and idolatry (Jer. 7:9; cf. 22:3). What is unique about classical prophecy is that it elevated social morality to the level of one of the basic conditions for the survival of the nation in its land, contrary to the popular view, which held that what God most required was cultic worship (cf. Jer. 7:21–22).

Sabbath Observance

During the time of the destruction


and exile, there was apparently a slackening in Sabbath observance; consequently, in this period Sabbath observance was held up as a central factor in Israel's existence. We learn from Amos that, during the days of the First Temple, even unscrupulous merchants had refrained from selling grain and wheat on the Sabbath (Amos 8:5);[32] it appears, therefore, that only in the period of the exile did the nation become negligent about observing this commandment.[33]

In Jer. 17:21–27, we read that if the people of Judea observe the Sabbath, Jerusalem will remain forever; if they do not, the city will be destroyed:

If you obey Me—declares YHWH—and do not bring in burdens through the gates of the city on the Sabbath day, but hallow the Sabbath day . . . this city shall be inhabited for all time . . . but if you do not obey my commandment to hallow the Sabbath day and carry in burdens through the gates of Jerusalem on the Sabbath day, then I will set fire to its gates; it shall consume the fortress of Jerusalem and it shall not be extinguished.

We do not know if this prophecy, in its present form, constitutes the ipsisimma verba of Jeremiah or, as many believe, reflects editing undertaken during the exile.[34] In any event, it is a product of the exilic prophets, who view Sabbath observance as a condition for Israel's existence. Ezekiel, too, views


the desecration of the Sabbath as a decisive factor in the people's history (Ezek. 20:12–13, 20–21), while the anonymous prophet of the exilic period encourages the people, especially those non-Jews who "attached themselves to YHWH," to observe the Sabbath (Isa. 56:1–8). In another instance he conditions the new settlement of the nation on observing the Sabbath:

If you refrain from trampling the Sabbath, from pursuing your affairs on My holy day, if you call the Sabbath 'delight,' YHWH's holy day 'honored,' and if you honor it and go not on expeditions [commercial enterprise], nor look to your affairs nor strike bargains (dbr dbr ), then you can seek favor in the sight of the Lord. I will set you astride the heights of the earth, and let you enjoy the heritage of your father Jacob—for the mouth of YHWH has spoken. (Isa. 58:13–14)

As I have indicated elsewhere, the expressions "doing business" ('swt hps[*] , ms' hps[*] ), "bargaining" (dbr dbr ), and "undertaking a business journey" ('swt drk[*] ) are all acts pertaining to trade.[35] These verses, therefore, refer to the same type of Sabbath violation that is found in Jer. 17:21, "Don't carry burdens on the Sabbath day, bringing them through the gates of Jerusalem," and in Neh. 10:32, "The people of the land who bring their wares and all sorts of foodstuffs for sale on the Sabbath day." Nehemiah goes even further, and places the blame for the first destruction of Jerusalem on Sabbath viola-


tion: "What evil thing is this that you are doing, profaning the Sabbath day. This is just what your ancestors did, and for it God brought all this misfortune on the city . . ." (Neh. 13:17–18). These verses recall the words of the Rabbis, based on Isa. 56:1–8: "If Israel would observe two Sabbaths as prescribed, they would im mediately be redeemed" (BT Sabbath 118b).

As we have seen, it is clear that in each generation, the Israelites have attempted careful examination of their ways and deeds in order to discover which sin had caused or would cause exile and destruction. So, too, each generation defined the essence of the sin according to its own beliefs, values and historical circumstances.

The Land in the First Temple Period and Jerusalem in the Second Temple Period:
The Shift from Land to City

After the fall of the kingdoms of Israel and Judea, the returning Israelites concentrated around the Temple and the city of Jerusalem. Due to the concentration, the religious and national emphasis, as reflected in Second Temple period sources, shifted from "the land" to "the city" and "the Temple." National destruction is expressed not in terms of "loss of the land" or "exile,"[36] as in the First Temple period sources, but rather through the concept of the destruction of the Temple (hurban[*] beyt[*]hammiqdash ). The expression, "the destruction of the First Temple" (hurban habbayit harishon[*] ), in the sense of loss of independence, is actually anachronistic; it is an analogy based on the expression "the destruction of the Temple" (hurban habbayit ) that appears in Rabbinic literature, referring primarily to the destruction of the Second Temple. The usage of the word "Temple" (bayit ) to refer to the entire nation


originated in the Second Temple period, during which Jerusalem became a temple city; the surrounding settlements were subordinate to Jerusalem, and the entire life of the nation became dependent on the existence of the city and its Temple.

A similar phenomenon can be found with respect to the temple cities of Mesopotamia and Asia Minor.[37] We know of entire territories, especially in Anatolia, which were inhabited by thousands of people who lived around the area of the temple.[38] The temple and its surrounding areas enjoyed an autonomous status—a gift granted by the king to the inhabitants; it is in this light that we should understand the Edict of Cyrus.

That the population inhabiting such a settlement was totally dependent on the temple can be seen in writings of Libanius, a renowned Antiochian orator of the fourth century C.E. , who describes the effect of the temple's destruction upon the eastern settlements: "A settlement whose temple has been destroyed is as if struck with blindness, and no longer exists; the temples are the soul of the settlement, and the basis for its social life."[39] Indeed, in the days of the return to Zion, the center of life in the renewed settlement, was "the holy city" ('ir haqodesh[*] ), an expression which first appears during this period (Isa. 48:2; 52:1; Neh. 1:18; Dan. 9:24), when Jerusalem received the status of a temple city and all that that entailed.[40]

We can also learn from the words of the prophet Zechariah that during the days of the return to Zion, Jerusalem was regarded as the soul of the nation:


Shout for joy, Fair Zion! for lo, I come; and I will dwell in your midst . . . And YHWH will take Judah to himself as his portion in the holy territory, and he will choose Jerusalem once more." (Zech. 2:14–15)

In these verses, the expression "the holy territory" ('admat haqodesh[*] ) is parallel to that for Jerusalem, "the holy city." The actual meaning of this expression is the territory/earth of the holy —in other words, the ground belonging to the holy area (the Temple and Temple city); it does not mean "holy land," since such a concept does not appear in the Old Testament.[41] Even the Rabbis, when speaking of the holiness of the land, are referring not to some concept of holiness inherent in the land itself, but rather to laws of holiness that are binding upon anything that has to do with the land of Israel (see below). The expression 'admat haqodesh in Zech. 2:15 should therefore be understood as referring to the area surrounding the Temple, namely, Jerusalem.

The shift from land to city is even clearer in Nehemiah. Deut. 30:5 states "And YHWH your God will bring you to the land which your forefathers occupied," which is paraphrased in Nehemiah, "and YHWH will bring them to the place that I have chosen [Jerusalem] to cause My name to dwell there" (Neh. 1:9). Nehemiah asks the Persian king to rebuild the "city of my fathers' tomb" (Neh. 2:5). According to Nehemiah, Israel's "shame" (hrph[*] ) is not based on the fact that the land of Israel lies in the hands of strangers, as in the book of Lamentations, "Behold, and see our shame. Our inheritance is turned unto strangers, our house unto aliens" (Lam. 5:1–2). Rather, the "shame" lies in the fact that the walls of Jerusalem are in ruins (Neh. 2:17).

Just as Nehemiah reinterpreted Deut. 30:5 to refer to Jeru-


salem, the author of 2 Maccabees, in his letter to the Jews of Egypt, re-interprets the promise of redemption in Deut. 30:3–5. These verses speak of God who in his mercy will gather all Israel from the ends of the earth and bring them to the land in which their forefathers lived: "As He has promised in the Torah . . .[42] that soon He will have mercy on us and gather us from all the earth under the heavens to the holy place" (2 Macc. 2:18). In this verse we find the same elements as in Deut. 30—mercy and the gathering of the people from all ends of the earth—but here the people will be gathered not in the land but rather at the holy place .[43] Post-exilic discussions of defense stress the nation, not the territory; in the days of Nehemiah, the Jews fought their enemies not to defend the cities of the land, as in 2 Sam. 10:12, "for the sake of our people and the cities of our God," but rather to defend "your brothers, sons, daughters, wives and homes" (Neh. 4:8).

During the period of the Hasmonean war, as well, we hear of war for the sake of the people, the city, and the Temple, and not for the sake of the land:

So they said to one another, "Let us restore the shattered fortunes of our nation, let us fight for our nation and for the temple." (1 Macc. 3:43)

Better die than look on while calamity overwhelms our people and the temple. (1 Macc. 3:59)

They made up their minds to fight . . . because Jerusalem, their Temple and the holy objects were in danger. (1 Macc. 15:17)


Their fear was first and foremost for the sacred shrine.

In addition to fighting for the sake of the people and the Temple, they also fought on behalf of the Torah , in other words, for values. Mattathias called for a struggle against the Greek enemy in the name of zealous devotion to the Torah:

Every one of you who is zealous for the Torah and strives to maintain the covenant follow me! (1 Macc. 2:27)

But now my sons, be zealous for the Torah and give your lives for the covenant of your fathers. (1 Macc. 2:49)

And Simon said, "I need not remind you of all that my brothers and I and my father's house have done for the laws and the holy place, what battles we have fought, what hardships we have endured." (1 Macc. 13:3)

Simon and his brothers risked their lives in resisting the enemies of their people, in order that the Temple and the law might be preserved. (1 Macc. 14:29)

Even though in the course of the Hasmonean wars, vast areas were recaptured from within the territory of Israel, the Hasmonean leaders do speak of war not for the sake of the land, but rather for the sake of the people, the Temple, and the Torah.[44]

In the Temple Scroll from Qumran we also sense this shift from the land to the city and its holy areas. The Pentateuch contains many verses which speak of the impurity of the land: "You shall not defile the land . . . in which I myself abide, for I, YHWH, abide among the Israelite people" (Num. 35:34); " . . . so that they do not defile the camp in whose midst I dwell" (Num. 5:3); " . . . you shall not defile the land which YHWH is giving you to possess" (Deut. 21:23). The Temple Scroll, however, refers to the impurity of the city , and, when quoting from the Pentateuch, intentionally rewrites the verses and substi-


tutes the concept of the city for that of the land. For example, "You shall not defile the city in which I Myself abide, for I YHWH shall abide among the Israelites forever" (Temple Scroll 45: ll. 13–14). This verse is actually a quotation from Num. 35:34 cited above, except that the term the city replaces that of the land . Only where reference to the land is unavoidable, such as with respect to graves within the borders of the land, does the scroll state, "You shall not defile your land" (Temple Scroll 48: ll. 10–11). But even in this case, we do not find the expected "You shall not defile the land (h' rs[*] )," as in Num. 35:34, but "your land ('rskmh[*] )," which could be interpreted as "those areas in your possession," as opposed to the entire land as a whole. Also compare: "You shall not defile the city in which I cause My name and My Sanctuary to dwell" (Temple Scroll 47: ll. 10–11), and cf. also: "You shall not defile my sanctuary and my city with skins" (Temple Scroll 47, l. 17).

Expressions regarding concepts of purity and impurity in the Temple Scroll limit the holiness of the entire land to the holiness of one city alone, a concept that is actually the basis for the halakhic rules in Rabbinic literature. Prohibitions which, according to the Pentateuch, pertain to the entire camp (mhnh[*] ) of Israel, here pertain to the Temple city alone.[45]

This shift from the land to Temple city must be understood in the light of historical circumstances. During the Second Temple period, a large percentage of Jews lived in Babylonia and Egypt;[46] the Jews of the land of Israel shared with them a sense of national identity, a relationship expressed through consanguinity, observance of the Torah, and loyalty to Jerusalem and the Temple. The "land," in the territorial sense, could


not express the essence of the nation, and because the land was inhabited by Samaritans and other non-Jews, it could not be viewed as the true unifying factor. In addition, all hope of ever reconquering the northern areas of Israel, which comprised the greater part of the promised land, had been abandoned; not even the territorial expansion during Hasmonean times was viewed as fulfillment of the goal of reconquering the land.

During the Hasmonean period, it is not the conquest of land that is referred to but rather holding on to inherited territory .[47] Thus, for example, Simon the Hasmonean states:

We have neither taken other men's land nor have we possession of that which belongs to others, but of the inheritance of our fathers; howbeit, it was held in possession of our enemies wrongfully for a certain time. But we, having taken the opportunity, hold fast to the inheritance of our fathers.[48] (1 Macc. 15:33–34)

During this period, even the settlement of Jerusalem is described as the inheritance of a desolate hill, so as to avoid providing a pretext for accusations that the Jews conquered Jerusalem by force:[49]


And now they have returned to their God, and have come up from the dispersion where they are dispersed, and have taken possession of Jerusalem where their sanctuary is, and have settled in the hill country for it was desolate.[50] (Jth. 5:19)

Although there was a strong awareness of the land and its extension during the Second Temple period, especially in Hasmonean times, it was based on unrealistic utopian concepts. The promised land was seen as comprising almost the whole territory of the Near East (1Q Gen. Apoc. 21, 15–19; cf. Jubilees 8:20–21), a view influenced in part by contemporaneous Greek geographic models.[51] These broad delineations of the borders of the land of Israel legitimized the dispossession of the Canaanites by the old Israelites but did not guide the Hasmoneans in their war campaigns: through all their conquest activities, the Hasmoneans never relied on the ancient laws of the Pentateuch concerning the dispossession of the Canaanites and the inheritance of the promised land. The old Genesis traditions were rewritten in the light of contemporary events, but as a matter of practice the Hasmoneans neither mentioned nor implemented the ancient laws concerning the conquest of the land.[52]


Conception of the Conquest of the Land during the Second Temple Period

Second Temple literature transformed older views of the conquest of the land in the days of Joshua: on the one hand, this literature asserted that the nations were not dispossessed, because the land was legally inherited from the ancestors, and on the other, the concept prevailed that the land was desolate before its occupation.[53] According to the book of Jubilees (chap. 8), Shem, the son of Noah, inherited the entire ideal land of Israel (from the Euphrates to the Red Sea), while the Genesis Apocryphon describes how Abraham established a claim to this area by encircling it (Gen. Apoc. 21:15–19).[54] Later, the Canaanites took the land by force and were therefore cursed (Jubilees 10:29–34). The book of Jubilees thus deviates from what appears in the list of nations in Gen. 10, in which the land of Canaan was allotted to Ham's son, Canaan (Gen. 10:15–19).

The claim that the land of Canaan had actually been a part of Shem's inheritance that was then stolen by the Canaanites also appears in Rabbinic sources. We read, for example, in the Midrash Aggadah on Gen. 12:6:

"The Canaanites were then in the land"—for the land of


Israel was cast in the lot of Shem, as it is written, "and Malchizedek, the king of Shalem," etc. (Gen. 14:18). When God divided the land between Noah's three sons, Noah prohibited his sons from entering the boundaries of each other's territory. The seven nations entered the land of Canaan and transgressed his prohibition. Therefore God commanded, "You must annihilate them" (Deut. 20:17).[55]

In this, the Rabbis provide a justification for the expulsion of the Canaanites.

Also, the Rabbis commonly held that Israel did not conquer the land by force, because the Canaanites and Amorites willingly abandoned the land to make way for Israel:

The Canaanites merited having the land named after them. What had they done to merit this? When they heard that Israel was entering the land, they made way for them. God said to them: "Since you made way for my children, I will name the land after you, and give you a land as lovely as this one." Which land was it? Africa.[56]

Similarly, we read in Tosefta Shabbat 7:25 (Lieberman, p. 29):

Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel said: There is no nation as reasonable as the Amorites, for we find that they believed in God, and settled in Africa, and God gave them a land as beautiful as their own, and the land of Israel was named after them.[57]

This view is also suggested in the writings of Philo: "[The Israelites] were not men of war . . . but rather few in num-


ber . . . who received their land [from the Syrians and Phoenicians] of their own free will" (Hypothetica 6.5).[58] Even the expulsion of the Canaanites from the land is described as a passive act, quite unlike the description in the book of Joshua. In the Wisd. of Sol. 12:8 we read: "You even spared them [the Canaanites] as people, and you sent the hornet as a fleet is sent out against the camp to destroy them slowly." In several Rabbinic sources we find a version of events that clearly contradicts the literal meaning of the biblical account: Joshua gave the Canaanites a choice, according to these sources, of either evacuating the area to make way for the Israelites, or making peace with them:

Joshua sent three proclamations [prostaqmata ] to the Canaanites: He who wishes to leave shall leave, he who wishes to make peace shall make peace, and he who wishes to fight shall do so.[59]

The laws of warfare appearing in Deut. 20:10–28 are in clear contradiction to this midrash. According to these laws, peace may only be offered to the "distant cities" (v. 15), whereas the nations of Canaan must be utterly annihilated: "You shall not let a soul remain alive" (v. 16). To justify the offer of peace to the Canaanites, the midrash in Deuteronomy Rabbah (S. Lieberman, pp. 29–30) invokes the precedent of Moses, who offered peace to the Amorite king, Sihon (Deut. 2:26).[60] This allusion does not draw on the literal meaning of the passage, for in the case of Moses, the context of the peace offer was a request to pass through Sihon's land; it should not be confused with the laws of war in Deut. 20, which pertain to wars of conquest. In any event, this offer of peace ultimately served as a


provocation, since God had originally commanded the Israelites to fight the Amorites and inherit their land (Deut. 2:24).[61]

The midrash concerning the proclamations sent by Joshua to the Canaanites reflects the tendency of Second Temple Judaism to depict Israelite settlement as a process that was perfectly legal according to Second Temple period concepts of legality, avoiding both the laws of annihilation found in the Pentateuch, which reflect the realities of the ancient world, and the wars of annihilation so characteristic of ancient times (cf. Mesha Inscription).[62]

A similar tendency is reflected in a Rabbinic source concerning the acceptance of Canaanites who repent, an idea which self-evidently contradicts the biblical injunction to wipe out the Canaanites. In Sifrei Deuteronomy sec. 202 (Finkelstein, p. 238) we read: "'Lest they lead you into doing all the abhorrent things'—this teaches that if they repent, they shall not be killed." Also, in Tosefta Sotah 8:7 (Lieberman, p. 205), it is stated in regards to the inscriptions on the stone on Mt. Ebal, "And they inscribed at the bottom: 'Lest they lead you'—if you repent we shall accept you . . . "; and in the Geniza fragment of Mechilta Deuteronomy we find, "At the bottom of the stones it was written: 'whoever wants to accept his right hand let him come and accept.'"[63]

The belief that it is possible to accept the Canaanites if they repent, makes its way into Hellenistic sources of the Second Temple period. Thus, we read in the Wisd. of Sol. 12:8–12


that the "hornet" was sent to the Canaanites in order to bring about their repentance (topon metanoias ).[64] Philo is even more specific: "If the enemies [Canaanites] are willing to repent . . . and show an inclination to peace, they will gladly accept the covenant with them,"[65] an expression quite similar to the two Rabbinic sources cited above, particularly in the striking resemblance of "accepting the right," in the Mechilta, to the acceptance of Canaanites who repent, in order to establish a peace treaty, in Philo's writings.

Thus, biblical concepts of conquest and annihilation underwent a transformation in Second Temple period literature.[66] The concept of totally annihilating the Canaanite population was viewed with great reservation, and there was a desire to depict relations with the Canaanites in terms of peaceful negotiations. Even more, the emphasis on the territorial essence of the land of Israel and the Jewish people was replaced by new spiritual, non-territorial definitions.

The Promised Land:
Spiritualization of the Territorial Concept

In the eyes of Jewish writers from the Hellenistic period, such as Eupolemus, the son of Yohanan, Joshua's greatness lay not so much in his conquest of the land as in his establishment of the Tent of Meeting in Shiloh. Similarly, David's fame lay in those deeds that ultimately enabled Solomon to build the Temple. The prophets, the sanctuary in


Shiloh, and the Temple in Jerusalem—and not the conquest of the land in battle—are the central topics in Eupolemus' survey of Jewish history.[67]

Josephus and Philo express similar views. Josephus cites Agatharchides, who had ridiculed the Jews, saying that during the days of Ptolemy the Jews caused their city to fall into the hands of enemies because of "a folly" (the laws of the Sabbath). In response, Josephus writes:

Agatharchides mocks these things, but others, who may examine these things without prejudice, will find that it is worthy and important that there are people whose laws and fear of God are more important to them than their own safety and their land.[68]

The concept of the promised land actually undergoes a transformation in the writings of Josephus.[69] It is no longer just the area of Canaan that lies open to the Jewish people, but the entire world. Instead of the promise of the land of Canaan, we find the vision and destiny of a people who will fill the entire earth.

Thus, the promise to Jacob in Gen. 28:13–14:

The ground on which you are lying I will give to you and your offspring. Your descendants shall be as the dust of


the earth; you sh all spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south.

is paraphrased by Josephus: "To your children . . . I hereby give rule over this earth, and they shall fill all the earth and all the sea under the sun" (Antiquities 1:282).

This vision is reflected in the book of Jubilees, where, in the words of God to Jacob in Bethel, we find:

I am YHWH who created the heaven and the earth, I will increase you and multiply you exceedingly and kings shall come forth from you and they shall judge everywhere wherever the foot of the sons of man has trodden. I will give to your seed all the earth under heaven and they shall judge all the nations according to their desires, and after that they shall get possession of the whole earth and inherit it forever. (32:18–19)

It seems that Josephus has drawn from such sources. Similarly, with respect to Balaam's prophecy about the fate of Israel, "Who can count the dust of Jacob . . . ?" (Num. 23:10), he writes:

For there is not a race on earth which you shall not, through your virtue . . . be accounted to excel. God having regard for none among men but you . . . that land, then to which he himself has sent you, you shall surely occupy: it shall be subject forever to your children and with their fame shall all earth and sea be filled and you shall suffice for the world, to furnish every land with inhabitants sprung from your race. (Ant. 4:114–16)

This view even influences the way in which Josephus relates the prophecy of the return to the land. Instead of describing the return as it appears in the Bible, Josephus writes of the rebuilding of cities and the Temple (Ant. 4:314).

A similar approach can be found in Jewish liturgy of Rabbinic origin, such as "May the temple be speedily rebuilt in our


days" and other prayers.[70] The festive Musaf prayer, for example, which opens "And because of our sins we were exiled from our land," closes with, "And bring us to Your city Zion . . . there we will offer our obligatory sacrifices."[71] We thus see that the purpose of the return to the land was to enable the worship of God in the Temple.

Philo goes even further, when, through the use of allegory, he interprets the concept of "inheriting the land" as "inheriting wisdom."[72] In this conception of Jews as constituting a nation that transcends race and citizenship, Philo formulates a new conception of nationality, one expressed in terms not of race or territory, but of religion and culture. Palestine, symbolized by its capital city Jerusalem, was looked upon as the mother country of all the Jews.[73]

Obviously, such views would correspond to those of the Hellenistic Jews who were living in the diaspora.[74] These ideas were shaped by the political reality of the times, in particular by the absence of an independent political government, for even Agrippas was appointed by Rome. But we must acknowledge that this political reality had the effect of providing for the spiritualization of physical territorial concepts.[75]


It is in Rabbinic literature that the land begins to take on eschatological significance.[76] The verse, "Your nation is all righteous, they will inherit the land forever" (Isa. 60:21) is understood in Mishnah Sanhedrin 11:1 as referring to inheritance of a part of the world to come.[77] Another verse, "But he who takes refuge in Me shall possess the land and inherit My holy mountain" (Isa. 57:13), is explained by commentator D. Kimchi, as follows: "The world to come is called the land of the living and the holy mountain," an interpretation that clearly corresponds to the Rabbis' approach. And the expression "holy mountain," in "And in that day a great ram's horn shall be sounded, and the strayed . . . shall come and worship the Lord on the holy mountain, in Jerusalem" (Isa. 27:13), is interpreted as the world to come in BT Sanhedrin 110b. In Mishnah Sanhedrin 10:3, Rabbi Akiva explains that the people cast in "the other land" (Deut. 29:27) are not in "the real land," namely, the world to come, but rather "the netherworld," from which no one ever returns. "Just as the day passes and never returns, so too they go and never return."[78]

Inheriting the land was understood by the Rabbis as being granted a place in the eternal world, as, for example, in Mish-


nah Kidushin 1:10: "He who observes even one commandment is rewarded, will be granted a long life, and will inherit the land."[79]

Rashi and Maimonides both correctly interpret this "inheriting" as inheriting the world to come.[80] The eschatological interpretation of the phrase "inheriting the land" was exceedingly popular among the early Christians, and was rooted in the common wisdom of Jewish belief of the times as well.[81] Thus, the Rabbis' eschatological interpretation of the phrase "inheriting the land" can be said to have preceded the days of the destruction.

In this period a spiritualistic approach to the land of Israel began to develop. Just as Jerusalem took on a double meaning, as both the celestial and terrestrial Jerusalem,[82] the land of Israel also became understood in both the realistic and metaphysical sense.

Following the Bar Cochba revolt, a period in which there was danger that Jewish settlement in Israel would be diminished, we detect a kind of propaganda in favor of Israel and settlement in the land. Until this time, it had seemed quite natural to dwell in Israel; there had been no need to encourage settlement.[83]


Holy Land

Holiness of the Land involves purity which all the inhabitants of the land were commanded to observe, based on the belief that the entire land belongs to the God of Israel: "Where the Tabernacle of the Lord abides" (Josh. 22:19). He who lived outside the land lived on unclean soil (Amos 7:17). In reference to exile, Hosea said, "They shall not be able to remain in the land of YHWH . . . and shall eat unclean food in the land of Assyria"; "They will offer no libations of wine to the Lord . . . all who partake of which are defiled . . . What will you do about the feast days, about the festivals of the Lord?" (Hos. 9:3–5). Hosea could not envision celebrating the holidays in exile. The Rabbis referred to the land outside of Israel as "the land of the nations" ('rs h'mym[*] ) permeated with impurity ("impurity of the land of the nations").[84] It was difficult to imagine a life of holiness and purity outside the borders of Israel.

Although the entire land of Israel enjoyed an equal status in regard to the laws of purity and impurity, Jerusalem, the city of God's sanctuary, was considered particularly holy. In Mishnah Kelim 1:6–9, different areas of the land and the Temple are ranked according to specific aspects of holiness:

The Land of Israel is holier than any other land. Wherein lies its holiness? In that from it they may bring the 'Omer[*] , the first fruits, and the two loaves, which they may not bring from any other land. The walled cities are even holier, in that they must send forth the lepers from their midst. . . . Within the wall is even holier, for they may eat the lesser holy things and the second tithe. The Temple Mount is even holier, for no man or woman that has a flux, no menstruant, and no woman after childbirth may enter therein. The hyl[*] [rampart] is even holier, for no non-Jew and no one who has been near a corpse may enter therein. The court of the women is even holier, for


no one that had immersed himself that day may enter therein. . . . The court of the Israelites is even holier, for no one whose atonement is yet incomplete may enter therein. . . . The court of the priests is even holier, for the Israelites may not enter therein. . . . Between the porch and the altar is even holier, for no one may enter therein with hands and feet unwashed. The holy of holies is the holiest of all, for no one may enter therein except the High Priest on the Day of Atonement.

We have before us a system of concentric circles: the innermost and most important circle was the holy of holies. The source of holiness was God's presence in the holy of holies, and not the site itself.

In conclusion, we find that the land of Israel was originally conceived as a gift given by God to his people, thus accounting for the significance of the promise of the Land in Israel's religion. The Israelites had always believed that they were privileged to have received the land, but that they had to merit this gift, or it would be taken from them as it had been taken from the Canaanites before them. Biblical historiography essentially revolves around this issue of the promised land and the right to keep it.

While Israel's history from Abraham to Joshua essentially deals with preparations to enter the promised land, the period between Joshua and the exile is nothing but the story of constant struggle to hold onto the land and live within its borders. Faced with the threat of exile in the eighth century B.C.E. , the Israelites were forced to scrutinize all their deeds and acknowledge that in order to live in the land, they must fulfill God's will and observe His commandments. This understanding triggered the development of the historiography and theodicy of the Former Prophets, in which the exiles from the northern and southern kingdoms were explained as the direct result of Israel's sins.

The burden of sin had a powerful effect upon the exiled in


Babylonia, who reacted by returning wholeheartedly to their God. But the Restoration was marked not by the desire to reconquer the land, but rather by the goal of resettling the land and rebuilding the religious-spiritual center in Jerusalem. The Temple and the commandments became the focal point of life in the renewed community, and the land thus became a means towards an end, not an end in itself. Even when the nation was roused to battle in Hasmonean times, they fought not to reconquer parts of the promised land, but for the sake of the Temple, God, and the commandments.

Towards the end of the Second Temple period the concept of the land underwent a process of spiritualization, as did Jerusalem. Jerusalem was interpreted in the ideal sense as "the kingdom of heaven" and "the celestial Jerusalem," and inheriting the land was similarly interpreted as receiving a place in the world to come. Nevertheless, the observance of the commandments remained linked to settlement in the land itself, observance of laws pertaining to the land, and, above all, worship of God in the Temple. Judaism has never described the nation's redemption apart from return to the physical land. Unlike Christianity, which in certain periods attempted to strip Jerusalem and the land of all realistic meaning and view them as symbols alone,[85] in Judaism, the physical land and physical Jerusalem continually served as a base for spiritual symbols.


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