Some Factors In Early Hebrew History -- By: Harold M. Wiener

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 078:310 (Apr 1921)
Article: Some Factors In Early Hebrew History
Author: Harold M. Wiener

Some Factors In Early Hebrew History1

Harold M. Wiener


The religious interest attaching to the fortunes of Abraham and his descendants up to the time of the schism inevitably overshadows the political aspects of the history, even in circles that accept the historical nature of the early records. Comparatively little thought is devoted to a consideration of the forces that were at play in the creation and molding of the nation. Yet it is not difficult to show that this neglect is unwarrantable. So far from meriting less attention than the secular history of other nations, the causes that influenced the making of the Jews are deserving of study on two grounds. They possess the fascination and value of historical factors in the same measure as those that have helped to form other secular history. In addition they claim our consideration because of their effect on the religion. Life, however many-sided, is always a unity, and no single facet of it is ever isolated in a water-tight compartment shut off from all others. The study of any great branch of a people’s activity cannot be wholly disjoined from the background afforded by the other phases of the national life, least of all where the most vital manifestations of that activity are evoked by extraordinary crises in its political experiences. How inseparable politics and religion are in the case we have to consider is most easily shown by an illustration. Cut out all that depends on the sojourn in Egypt, the Exodus, the wanderings, and the monarchy and achievements of

David and his successors, and what would remain of the religion of Israel? The connection is so close that any real divorce of the religious history from the national is unthinkable; and in the long run we shall understand the religion the better if we attempt for once to study the development primarily from the secular point of view, regarding the religion as only one of the factors in the growth of the nation.

One of the first things that must strike any attentive observer of the patriarchal history is the tendency to separate. In other words, there is a centrifugal force or centrifugal forces at work. Abraham separates from his brothers; then Lot and Abraham, Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, fall apart, and there are incipient divisions between Jacob’s sons; while in Gen 25:6 we read how Abraham sent away the sons of the concubines. Sometimes one reason is assigned, sometimes another; but, underlying and emphasizing all the actual occasions for separation, one great force is operative. It is the natural tendency to centrifugalism which is inherent in the psychol...

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