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KRONOS Vol VII, No. 3
BEHOLD THY GODS, O ISRAEL, Jeroboam and the Israelite Revolution
SHANE H. MAGE
Copyright (C) 1982 by Shane H. Mage
"Behold thy gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt." - I Kings 12:28
According to rabbinic legend there were only three events since the Creation that caused the Almighty to weep: the fall of Adam; the death of Moses; and the erection of the "Golden Calves" by Jeroboam. The usual interpretation of the legend runs in terms of divine disappointment at the loss or failure of a human individual in whom the very highest hopes had been placed;(1) and this accords perfectly with the exclusively edifying nature of all orthodox Biblical commentary.
From the Velikovskian standpoint, however, the names of Adam and Moses are identified with two of the greatest catastrophes in human memory. But what of Jeroboam? What is this purely historical figure, the first ruler of the Northern portion of the post-Solomonic divided Israelite kingdom, doing in such cosmically exalted company? And why were the "Golden Calves" so much worse than any other of the countless instances of "idolatry" in the early history of the Israelite people? These questions, scarcely to be answered in terms of edifying myth, focus our attention instead on the complex historical situation prevailing at a crucial moment in the development of the Jewish nation.
At the death of Solomon the state of Israel had attained a size and power never again to be equalled. Solomon's empire stretched from the Wadi el Arish to the Euphrates and comprised, in addition to present-day Israel (except for the cities of Philistia), territories now part of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Arabia, and Egypt. Jerusalem was a thriving cosmopolitan center, renowned for its opulent Temple and palaces. The rich copper mines at Timna provided the wherewithal for a great army and lucrative overseas trade. Yet, immediately on the accession of Solomon's son Rehoboam, this great empire fell apart. In Arabia and Syria subject tribes reasserted their independence; the ten northern Israelite tribes threw off the yoke of the House of David and established a new independent state of Israel with Jeroboam as King; and within five years Rehoboam's rump Judean kingdom was to suffer a crushing military defeat at the hands of Pharaoh Thutmosis III. Solomon's treasures were carted off to Egypt in the fifth regnal year of his heir.(2)
Not surprisingly, Jeroboam was to be ill-used by the authors and expounders of the Bible - to the point that today his name survives only to mark the size of a champagne bottle half as large as that credited to his rival, Rehoboam. Yet an objective consideration should make clear that Jeroboam (whose name, incidentally, meaning "he who quarrels on behalf of the people",(3) may well have been as far from his original name as are the names by which today we remember Ulyanov and Bronstein) was a political leader and statesman of great stature whose accomplishments merit respectful attention. Not only was he the leader and inspirer of the first popular revolution in recorded history, but he also successfully carried out a radical and democratic religious reformation. Moreover, the state he established, though perpetually menaced by militarily and economically stronger neighbors, was able to endure for more than two centuries. It was no small tribute that the King at the time of Israel's greatest prosperity reigned under the name Jeroboam II.
In the perspective of Velikovsky's historical reconstruction the career of Jeroboam - culminating in his notorious establishment of the Golden Calves - can, in addition to its intrinsic interest, contribute greatly to our understanding of a number of historical problems. Notable among these are:
The only surviving sources of information about Jeroboam are the historical books of the Bible (I Kings and Chronicles) and, derivatively, the account in the Jewish Antiquities of Josephus, which includes some crucial variants from the Greek translation known as the Septuagint. In evaluating these accounts we will have to keep clearly in mind their biased nature. The most characteristic of these biases are:
To those unaware of these biases or tolerant of them, the historical facts about Jeroboam disappear in a mist of edifying fictions. Conversely, when we are able to evaluate and correct for the bias of the Biblical accounts, the essential facts about Jeroboam stand out much more clearly than the authors of those accounts intended they should.
Of the lineage of Jeroboam we are told only that he was an "Ephrathite". Who then was Ephrath? We are told in the genealogies of Chronicles I that Ephrath was the wife of Caleb, great-grandson of Judah.(4) This is indeed surprising, in light of the conventional view of the Israelites as an entirely patriarchal people. Nevertheless, the fact stands out that Jeroboam's family traced its descent to a woman, that is, matrilineally. The principal Ephrathite town was Bethlehem; and Jesse, the father of David, was also an Ephrathite. Therefore, Jeroboam had some family links to the House of David. He was born, however, not in Bethlehem but in Zeredah, a town in the most southerly section of the Hill Country of Ephraim. Nothing is recorded of his father except the name Nebat. This Nebat evidently died before Jeroboam's birth, for his mother is described as "Zeruah, a widow."
Jeroboam began his career as an officer ("a mighty man of valor") in Solomon's army. He presumably was engaged in the construction of the Millo, the fortification of Jerusalem, toward the close of Solomon's reign, since the Biblical account links the building of the Millo to Solomon's recognition of the energy and ability of "the young man". As a result, Solomon appointed him as "overseer of all the charge of the House of Joseph": that is, he was required to enforce the corvee labor demanded of the tribes Ephraim and Manasseh.
This forced labor obligation was imposed on all the Israelites, except for the ruling tribe of Judah and the Levite priestly caste, during the latter part of Solomon's reign. Previously, forced labor had been imposed only on the enserfed Canaanite inhabitants, but Solomon's extravagant building projects, luxurious court, and huge army required ever-increasing taxation and corvée from the Israelites as well. In appointing Jeroboam, a member of a family descending from Judah but residing in Ephraim, Solomon may well have been attempting a conciliatory gesture to make this burden more palatable to the Ephraimites, the largest of the Israelite tribes.
If so, however, the attempt was unsuccessful. According to I Kings 11, the prophet Ahijah from Shiloh met Jeroboam one day on the road from Jerusalem, took the cloak off his own back, tore it into twelve pieces, and gave ten to Jeroboam to symbolize the prospective secession of the ten Northern tribes. This story expressed the confluence of the two main sources of opposition to Solomon: the popular resentment at the burden of forced labor; and the opposition of the traditional locally-based clergy ("prophets") to the newly dominant status of the Jerusalem Temple and of the Levite priesthood throughout the country.
At this time, nevertheless, Solomon, though close to worn out, was still strong enough to suppress all political opposition. Jeroboam was forced to flee to Egypt to escape murder at the hands of Solomon's police. To appreciate the importance of this exile we must first review the course of Egyptian-Israeli relations during the reign of Solomon.
Solomon, still "a boy of tender years", was made King by his father David a few years before the start of the reign of Pharaoh Thutmosis I. Shortly afterward, in the fourth regnal year of Thutmosis 1, Solomon married one of that Pharaoh's daughters who, though unnamed in the Bible, is treated as the most important of Solomon's many wives. As dowry for his daughter, Thutmosis, in a combination military expedition-wedding celebration, conquered the city of Gezer from the Philistines. This was no small gift. Gezer, the only inland Philistine-ruled city that David and his predecessors had never been able to capture, dominated the trade-route between Jaffa and Jerusalem, and must have been a formidable thorn in the side of the Israelite state. Incidentally, the Biblical account of this event gives a typical display of bloody-minded hyperbole: according to I Kings 9, Pharaoh burnt Gezer to the ground and massacred all its Canaanite inhabitants before giving the smoldering blood-soaked ruins to his daughter as her wedding-gift! Fortunately, however, Joshua 16, whose author has no interest in slandering the Egyptians, sets the record straight: the Canaanites of Gezer "have lived among the Ephraimites to the present day but have been subject to forced labor in perpetuity".
Fixed synchronic date: Year 23 of Thutmosis III = Year 5 of Rehoboam. Absolute dates for Solomon's reign are those given in A History of the Jewish People, H. H. Ben-Sasson, ed. (Harvard Univ. Press, 1976). Length of Egyptian reigns based on Gardiner, Egypt of the Pharaohs.
In any event, because I Kings 9 says explicitly that Gezer was a wedding-gift to Pharaoh's daughter rather than to Solomon, we know that Gezer became a strong center of Egyptian influence at this time. Very extensive stables have been excavated in Solomonic Gezer - it must have played a vital role in Egypt's large-scale exportation of horses and chariots to Solomon. Moreover, since Zeredah is only a few kilometers north of Gezer, we know that Jeroboam grew up in close proximity to the strongest center of Egyptian cultural influence in Palestine.
Economic ties between Israel and Egypt, based on trade exchanging copper and silver for horses and manufactures, remained close through out Solomon's reign. Egyptian influence reached its peak toward his thirtieth year with the construction of a special palace in Jerusalem for his Egyptian Queen. In Solomon's 31st regnal year he received the famous visit from his sister-in-law Pharaoh Hatshepsut, alias the Queen of Sheba.(5) From that point on relations between the two kingdoms began to deteriorate, as evidenced by Solomon's new interest in building fortifications and by the choice of Rehoboam, son of an Ammonite woman, as successor, in preference to any relative of the Egyptian royal house.
Jeroboam stayed in Egypt until the close of Solomon's reign and married an Egyptian Princess. According to the Biblical account, when he had fled to Egypt he had been given asylum by "Pharaoh Shishak", i.e., Thutmosis III. The compilers of the Book of Kings, however, are here misled by their insistence on the non-existence of Hatshepsut, whose supreme power as Senior Pharaoh lasted until two years after the death of Solomon, and who therefore can claim title as the Pharaoh who gave asylum and the hand of Princess Ano to Jeroboam.(6)
Upon the death of Solomon a popular revolt broke out and Jeroboam returned from Egypt to take its lead. I Kings 12 presents a vivid account of young Rehoboam confronting the people and threatening increased repression with the words "My father made your yoke heavy but I will add to your yoke; my father chastised you with whips but I will chastise you with scorpions" - and of the popular response: the refrain "What portion have we in David? We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse. To your tents, O Israel! Look now to your own house, David";(7) the stoning of the Minister of Forced Labor; the panic flight of Rehoboam to Jerusalem; the secession; and the establishment of a new state with Jeroboam as King.
The new Kingdom was very well off in terms of population and agriculture, but without mineral resources. Militarily it was extremely weak, since Solomon's great army was firmly in Judean hands. Rehoboam, however, held off on his project of immediate reconquest: the Judeans had to reckon with Jeroboam's intimate ties with Egypt and, most likely, with his Phoenician neighbors who were dependent on Israel for their food supply. Accordingly, Rehoboam's military preparations concentrated on intensified fortification of the garrison cities remaining under Judean control, with the evident purpose of blocking Egypt from coming to the aid of Jeroboam. But when the Judeans moved in and fortified Gezer as well, this was a clear provocation and made war with Egypt inevitable.
Nothing is known of the issues in the power struggle that led to the dethronement of Hatshepsut and her replacement by Thutmosis III, nor of the fate of Pharaoh's daughter and her children by Solomon.(8) One might speculate that Rehoboam's actions helped tip the balance between factions of "hawks" and "doves" in Thebes. In any case it is certain that, in his second year as sole Pharaoh, Thutmosis III, with the benevolent neutrality of Jeroboam, inflicted a crushing military defeat on the Judeans.
In their new-found security the Israelites were now free to carry through the decisive stage of their revolution: a thoroughgoing religious reformation. Under David and Solomon the common lands around every city in Israel had been reserved to the Levite priests for their own use and the support of their Jerusalem cult-center. Now all the Levites were forcibly expelled and the whole horde of them sent packing to Jerusalem and its plundered Temple. In their place Jeroboam established a radically democratic religious organization: the priestly function could be performed by anyone willing to make the modest sacrificial offering. "He made houses on high places, and appointed priests from among all the people who were not of the Levites . . . any who would, he consecrated to be priests of the high places" (I Kings 12-13).
The reformed Israelite religion focused on the hill-shrines throughout the country where incense was burnt to the Queen of Heaven and all the Heavenly Host, and where sacred prostitution was an integral part of the worship. The hill-shrines were the centers of the people's religion for all the Israelites, in both Judea and the Northern Kingdom. I Kings 14, speaking of Judea under Rehoboam, laments: "For they also built for themselves high places, and pillars, and Asherim on every high hill and under every green tree; and there were also male cult-prostitutes in the land. They did according to all the abominations of the nations which the Lord drove out before the people of Israel."(9)
The Jerusalem Temple, from first to last, was bitterly hostile to the religion of the masses. But Jeroboam, fully accepting the practices of his people, endeavored to unify the cult and give it a national expression by constructing two major shrines: at Beth-El in the South and Dan (identified quite plausibly as Baalbek(10) by Velikovsky) in the North. The chief ritual object at each was the famous Golden Calf on which the tetragrammaton was inscribed. Josephus, in the fashion of Thucydides, ascribes to Jeroboam a speech explaining and justifying his action:
What, then, were these "Golden Calves"? Suggestions have been made relating them to the Cherubim of Solomon's Temple, to the Middle-Eastern custom of providing animal "seats" for divine images, to the Apis cult of Memphis. The compilers of Exodus clumsily anachronize Jeroboam's "Behold thy Gods, O Israel" to Aaron's casting of one golden bull-calf in the wilderness, without bothering to drop the plural in "Gods". But the real answer, I believe, is provided by Josephus' specification that these supposed "calves" were in fact heifers, young cows.
We have already noted Jeroboam's intimacy with the Egyptian royal house. At this period the divinity recognized as pre-eminent by the 18th Dynasty was Hathor, who was usually represented as a cow. Hatshepsut identified herself with Hathor. Thutmosis III had himself depicted as an infant suckling at Her udders. Among Her chief appellations was the title "Mistress of Punt".(11)
And who was Hathor? The evidence linking Her to the planet Venus is overwhelming. The Greeks of the time of Herodotus considered Her the same as their Aphrodite, i.e., Venus. Velikovsky has noted how frequently the coma of the proto-planet Venus was represented as horns and the celestial survival-ration, alias manna, as Her milk. Most conclusive of all, perhaps, is the Egyptian legend known as the Destruction of Mankind, where it is Hathor who causes vast slaughter, then relents and saves the surviving remnant - exactly the historical role of the Venus Comet.
What Jeroboam did was to restore the divine image known and revered by the survivors of the great catastrophe - and, at the same time, by the inscription of the tetragrammaton, to proclaim the equivalence of the Mother-Goddess with the Mosaic God worshipped also by the Israelites.(12) This reformation was both brilliantly conceived and historically successful in its execution. The "Prophecy of the Altar" in I Kings 13 makes it certain that the religion of Jeroboam remained dominant until the time of Josiah, three centuries later (and a full century after the Assyrian conquest of the Northern Kingdom). Jeremiah makes it clear that the Babylonian conquest was blamed by the Judean people on Josiah's iconoclastic and puritanical sacrilege against the Queen of Heaven and Her religion. And even today the Christian sect, with its religious links to the past, retains whatever vitality it still has only to the extent that people can disregard its implicitly misogynist theology and recognize Mary Queen of Heaven as the decisive manifestation of its Godhead.(13) The name, of course, scarcely matters: Mary or Isis, Aphrodite or Hathor, Asherah or Venus; Jeroboam's proclamation still expresses its meaning most clearly on any hilltop facing the morning or evening star - Behold Thy Goddess, O Israel!
NOTES1. Cf. L. Ginzberg, Legends of the Jews, V.4, p. 180: "Jeroboam was the true disciple of this great prophet [Ahijah]. His doctrine was as pure as the new garment Ahijah wore when he met Jeroboam near Jerusalem and his learning exceeded that of all the scholars of his time except his own teacher Ahijah alone. The prophet was in the habit of discussing secret lore with Jeroboam and subjects in the Torah whose existence was wholly unknown to others."
2. I Kings 14:25-27; Cf. also I. Velikovsky, Ages in Chaos, pp. 155-163 and E. Danelius, "Did Thutmose III Despoil the Temple in Jerusalem?", SIS Review II: 3, pp. 64-79.
3. A History of the Jewish People, H. H. Ben Sasson, ed. (Harvard Univ. Press, 1976), p. 106.
4. I Chronicles 2:20.
5. I. Velikovsky, Ages in Chaos, Chapter III; E. Danelius, "The Identification of the Biblical 'Queen of Sheba' with Hatshepsut, 'Queen of Egypt and Ethiopia' ", KRONOS I: 3, pp. 3-19; idem, KRONOS I:4, pp. 9-24.
6. Egyptian records appear to indicate that Hatshepsut still enjoyed primacy of power even after Solomon's death (see Gardiner, Egypt of the Pharaohs, p. 184; G. Gammon, "A Chronology for the Eighteenth Dynasty", SIS Review II: 3, p. 94). Unfortunately, in Ages in Chaos, pp. 146-148 and 167-168 Velikovsky not only uncritically repeats this Biblical error but adds two of his own, referring to Jeroboam as an "Ephraimite" rather than an "Ephrathite" and ascribing the Israelite Revolution to the machinations of Thutmosis III rather than to its quite sufficient internal causes.
7. The antagonism between Judah and the rest of Israel far antedated the last years of Solomon. According to II Samuel 20: 1-2,this slogan was first raised in a rebellion against David when "The men of Israel all left David to follow Sheba son of Bichri, but the men of Judah stood by their king . . .".
8. Hatshepsut neither received burial in the tomb prepared for her, nor was she ever denounced in inscriptions as a criminal and usurper as was to be the fate of Akhenaten. Was she then not put to death but rather exiled? And did her sister share her exile? If so, we have an explanation for the preservation of her memory in Ethiopian tradition. Her father's greatest exploit was the expedition he led in his second sole regnal year beyond Napata and around the Great Bend of the Nile. (The inscription he left at Tom-bos in Nubia, referring to "the inverted water which in flowing downstream flows upstream" is far more likely to signify the southward-flowing portion of the Nile than the Euphrates or Jordan, neither of which formed any part or boundary of his empire.)
The Ethiopian kingdom whose capital was Napata always considered itself authentically Egyptian. Other clues are the preservation of a possible version of Hatshepsut's throne-name in the Ethiopian tradition about the Queen of Sheba, and the claim of the Ethiopian kings to descent from a son of Solomon. Hatshepsut is known to have borne only daughters. Was the Queen of Sheba not the mother but the aunt of Solomon's royal son Menelik?
9. Cf. Ginzberg, op. cit., V.4, p. 183: "When Abijah [of Judah] obtained possession of Beth-El, he failed to do away with the golden calf."
10. I. Velikovsky, "The Secret of Baalbek", KRONOS VI:2, pp. 25-32; idem, KRONOS VI:3, pp. 3-17.
11. Cf. E. Danelius, op. cit. (Ref. No.5),I:4 pp. 16-19.
12. Cf. L. M. Greenberg & W. B. Sizemore, "Jerusalem - City of Venus", KRONOS III:3, pp. 56-90.
13. Cf. E. O. James, The Cult of the Mother Goddess (N.Y., 1959), pp. 201 ff.; E. Neumann, The Great Mother (N.Y., 1955), pp. 312, 329; also see the writings of Jung, Mary Daly, and Elaine Pagels.