I continue to read and blog about Avraham Faust’s book, Israel’s Ethnogenesis.
In my last post. I asked why Faust thinks the Israelites became an ethnic group when they encountered the Philistines, but not earlier when they seem to have run up against Egyptians and Canaanites. Now I have read the next chapter and find the he has an answer. His theory is more complex than it appeared.
Some scholars have put the emergence of the village culture in the highlands north of Jerusalem into a larger context. Over many centuries that hill country oscillated between occupation and an uninhabited state. The occupation of the hill country at the end of the Iron Age was just part of a long series of occupations and withdrawals.
So the settlers had once had contact with the Canaanites. Some of them must have been Canaanites. They settled in the hill country in reaction to events in the Late Bronze Age, possibly Egypt’s attempt to tighten control over the lowlands.
Therefore Faust says that at first they were an ethnic group reacting against and removing themselves from the lowlands culture. But once they were out of contact the Egyptians and the Canaanites city-states, they became totemic rather than ethnic until they confronted the Philistines.
Faust’s view is cyclical. The highlands were empty and then went through a cycle of settlement. The people were ethnic, then totemic, then ethnic again.
He also holds to the view that Merneptah’s Israel must be the same as the hill country settlers, even though there were few settlements at the time. The result of this view is that Merneptah’s Israel is the ethnic group that existed before the highland villages became peaceful, equal and totemic.
This is all convoluted. I know he was in touch with the important data. It just seems that he sometimes rules out alternative solutions on thin grounds. Still I value his views as important input as I try to figure this all out. Certainly the knowledge that highlands of Israel show a pattern of settlement and emptiness over centuries is worth considering.
The skeptic will say that Israel, therefore, is nothing special, just another population movement as the land went back and forth between habitation and emptiness. But this doesn’t bother me as a person of faith. The thing about Israel has always been the scandal that God used ordinary people going about their ordinary history to do something special and holy. And, of course, many of the scholars who study this still believe there was that group that came out of Egypt.