Today I point out a couple of the more thought-provoking ideas I have come across while reading Igor Lipovsky’s Early Israelites.
One of the complications of Lipovsky’s theory is that at whatever point the battle described in the Song of Deborah took place, only one of the Jacob tribes, Reuben, was aligned with the northern tribes. If the whole house of Jacob came out of Egypt under Moses and linked up with an already existing Israel, why don’t Judah, Levi and Simeon appear in the Song of Deborah?
For his answer, Lipovsky goes to the rebellion of Korah in Numbers 16. During the wilderness period Korah got supporters from the tribe of Reuben to back him in a confrontation with Moses and Aaron. Perhaps this mutiny caused an alienation between the tribe of Reuben and the house of Jacob. Reuben then became more associated with the northern tribes than the southern.
Lipovsky does not push this idea very hard. He just says it cannot be ruled out.
A stronger notion might be that Reuben never joined the tribes in Egypt or else had an earlier exodus. Thus, Reuben could have been a part of the Israel of the Merneptah stele. This would provide a better answer to the question of why the Jacob tribes sought to join up with the northern tribes rather than with Edom or Moab. Lipovsky thinks these were more closely related than the Israel tribes. But if part of Jacob was already in league with Israel. . . .
The role for Reuben proposed by Frank Moore Cross plays a part in my thinking on this. I wrote about this here.
Another intriguing idea of Lipovsky is that Moses was not much into circumcision. He shows that the explanation in Joshua 5:2-7 of why the generation born in the wilderness had not been circumcised does not make sense. Moses only circumcised his own son as an act of desperation (Exodus 4:24-26). Circumcision is not part of the Ten Commandments.
Lipovsky puts forth the idea that circumcision was a very ancient rite localized in southern Palastine, particularly around Jerusalem. He points to old Egyptian rock carvings, particularly, the Battlefield Palette from about 3200 BCE and the Narmer Palette from about 3000 BCE. These depict naked POWs from southern Palestine, most of whom were circumcised.
So circumcision would go clear back to the Ghassulian culture found in the Jordan Valley, around the Dead Sea and in the Negev in the Middle Chalcolithic Period. Lipovsky surmises that it was picked up by Abraham from worshippers of “God the Almighty” such as Melchizedek at Jerusalem.
Lipovsky thinks the rite had as much political as religious meaning. It was used to cement political alliances. Joshua circumcised the wilderness tribes in Joshua 5 as part of the covenant that united Israel and Jacob. But circumcision, according the Lipovsky, had nothing to do with belief in one God.
The Aaron line of priests made it more a religious act. Lipovsky speculates that Moses ignored circumcision. After his death, Aaron’s son Eleazar became high priest for the new united alliance. He applied the rite to all Israel. The editors of the Hebrew Bible tried to read the requirement back into Moses. But they could not ignore the reality that Moses had not circumcised his own sons and had not required the wilderness generation to be circumcised.