25 December 2006

Military necessities and culture

For the second time I watched an analysis of Bible Battles on the History Channel and have come away with an interesting concept which I will share with the world, even though it may not be overmuch liked by a few. The one seminal event is that of Moses after his return from the wilderness and leading the Jewish people out of Goshen to Sinai against the wishes of the Pharaoh. It is, of course, a very impressive bit of story telling and has strong basis in the geomorphology, cultural views and military activities of that era. With those as a basis of understanding, a broader analysis of the lead up to Sinai should help to bring that episode into focus.

Of primal interest was that the Jewish people, though militarily capable, were not capable of capturing and holding the Promised Land and, thusly, moved into the very North Eastern section of Egypt. There, by the wording of accounts, they were able to ply a military trade of mercenaries and have some basis for separate society. For some centuries this went on, with a general trade and understanding between Egypt and the Jews who had served as mercenaries in Egyptian wars. When one Pharaoh realizes that mercenaries can switch to the highest bidder, and that the Jews are in the strategic gateway to Egypt, the idea of letting non-Egyptians dictate who can and cannot invade via mercenary pay-offs was seen as a threat. To change that threat the Pharaoh moved to conscript labor of the Jews for public works projects. This condition was not slavery as one does NOT put military physicians in charge of the treatment of slaves. Instead it is a paid, conscripted workforce to build Egypt and to slowly erode the military aspects of Jewish culture. That was the scene upon the return of Moses.

Having left a robust, self-abiding military culture and now returning to one where the people were being paid to build Egypt must have been a stunning surprise. His espionage work in Sinai and Canaan may have brought early word of this, but he could never imagine things going to pot like this. To end that he lobbied to a position of leadership and to set his people free of the ties to Egypt so that they could move out into the wilderness again. Pharaoh assents to this, as it gets rid of a non-Egyptian culture and allows Egypt to protect her own borders. The setting upon of a village or two by the Jews to get the necessary survival gear for their journey starts Pharaoh to realize that force may be necessary to put down the Jews if they have turned to brigandry inside Egypt. In any event, one does not steal from Egypt and reprisals are necessary, and so the Egyptian army chases the Jews through the desert until they are near the Sea of Reeds.

There a swampy land amenable to tidal flow and wind borne drying reveal dry land during the night. Moses, of course, knows the Sinai peninsula and environs deeply having spent long decades traveling in the region. With superb local knowledge, he leaves the pillar of fire used to guide Egyptian armies, which he has used to guide his own People, as a ruse and moves his people of the mucky land that has shown up as the tide moved away and the wind pushed the water and dried things somewhat That is a local knowledge of generalized environment and wind flow patterns due to the tidal environment and served the Jewish people well. They escaped and when morning came Pharaoh was left with an empty camp and 'hot pursuit' via chariots... which got stuck in the mud and were then beset by brackish seawater flowing into the swampland.

Moving south to Sinai, and the known, few sources of water in and around the area is a further use of local knowledge to get the Jewish people to safety. Indeed, Moses had most likely scouted all of Sinai for a likely place to make a longer term encampment that could take care of the thousands of Jews migrating into the peninsula. Sinai allows for relatively high observation and for communicating with scouts placed along the major trails and hillotops looking out to sea and into the desert via fires and smoke. For a few handfuls of people, a network looking for northerly incursions from Egypt in reprisal, or for sea borne pirates and brigands could easily be maintained.

Here the History Channel glosses over the stay at Sinai with the all too glib part about 'Moses creating an Army.' As if it were that simple! It would take a decade or more and Moses would die doing this thing and it was a huge undertaking that required a basic re-orientation of Jewish culture. By taking a look at what the problems were, we can understand the solutions that were found.

First off, during its long stay in Goshen, the Jewish people had lost much of their 'roots' in tribal and nomadic existence They had settled down to agriculture, farmsteading and relying on martial training for their culture. Moses was faced with a People that were no longer accustomed to living in the wilderness and that had socially changed via their long centuries of intimate contact with Egypt. A huge change was necessary to change from a wetland agricultural basis to a high, dry mountainous region where hunting, gathering, herding and dry land agriculture would predominate. Of necessity much had to be traded for with adjacent tribes, such as they were, while keeping the exact location of the Jewish People a relative 'open secret'.

Secondly, the military backbone of the Jewish culture had disintegrated under long years of the Pharaoh's public works projects. Stonemasonry, artwork and heavy hauling were necessary for that work, and little time was left for the traditional training for mercenary combat. Moses was facing the fact that his few officers were his age and up to a decade younger, while nearly two decades had gone by with *no* military training at all. This was not a good thing even if the People agreed that they had to leave Egypt, they were absolutely unprepared for the work ahead of them. In the Revolutionary War of the United States, Washington would be faced with a similar problem *and* a limited conscript time of one year. Moses had the wit to be able to isolate his People while Washington could do no such thing.

Third, the centuries of contact with Egypt had caused some acculturation to take place along with the changes in lifestyle that were required to survive in the eastern Nile Delta region. No longer were the tribal and early village concepts of history or worship being abided by and a more deeply agrarian culture had started to take hold. The entire concept of the Golden Calf is representative of that cultural change which was a high deviation from the worship amongst the trees that had been early Judaism. Idol worship was just one part of it and blood rituals and sacrifice may *also* have been a part of that, as is seen in many similar societies even into the modern era. While the People were ethnically Jewish, their culture had started to morph into something different and that had been sped up by the erosion of the martial bonds that Jewish society had used for cohesion during much of their early stay in Egypt.

From this military perspective the first thing that ANY Commander in Charge does is establish military discipline. To some extent Moses must have had a bit of disgust for what he would see as the degeneration of Jewish culture and the hard mismatch between that culture and what was necessary to just *survive* in Sinai. His travels around the Middle East, beyond Sinai and Canaan are speculation, but his knowledge and personal witnessing of other military organizations would be a first-hand knowledge via direct talks with those involved. Not necessarily leadership, but more on the level of soldiers and the central group of officers we would know, today, as NCOs. To counter this sliding of Jewish culture into decay and decadence a seminal, centralizing event was needed: something so riveting that it would gain attention and re-focus the Jews upon who they were.

I will put the Deific portion of that aside and look at the practical aspects of it, as they are paramount to understanding just what is being worked in this situation. The #1 thing that is needed are simple, hard and fast rules to retain military and cultural discipline. Things that can be easily remembered, will *not* get distorted when recounted and have a built-in memory device so that they can be easily remembered, even by the dullard sophisticates. The Ten Commandments fulfill that in no way that has been achieved since that era:

1) A centralized set of rules for cultural integrity are put forth, the primary one of which is to commit no murder against those within the culture. 'Thou shalt not kill' is an idiotic survival dictum for anyone attempting to survive in a very harsh climate, with multiple tribes that may or may not actually care about you and who may start to see you as decadent city folk stuck in the desert. Try and live that way in such conditions and your life-span as a free individual or a People is limited. The later generalization and miscasting of that by later scholarship is a non-survival rule, while the earlier and more pointed rule for cultural integrity makes good, hard sense.

2) Property and family are to be respected. On the military side this is to prevent the abuse of Officers upon the lower ranks and from the dissolution into warlordism. Everyone must respect everyone else's family and property in order to survive, and Officers are the prime first targets for those to slip into abuse of power. The ruling circle around Moses gets this as a cold, hard slap on the face to wake up and take their duties seriously. Theft, adultery, and general trying to 'get ahead' at the expense of your neighbors is not tolerated. The Exodus is not about YOU. It is about the entirety of being a Jewish People.

3) The worship of any other Deity is forbidden. The Jewish People have only ONE Deity and straying from that slowly dissolves the coherence of the culture and puts it onto a road where there will be *no* Jewish People. And all religious respect for that religion is to be given by ALL segments of society, which includes those directly surrounding Moses. They do not escape this. The ONE that is worshiped is above ALL, even Moses, and that is what keeps the Jewish People together as a People. And this will most definitely *include* the previous dietary restrictions that the Jewish People had as they are adapted to this climate and way of life.

4) Cultural work rules are necessary so that the People are not exhausted in the harsh climate. You WILL rest one day in Seven not only for the purposes of worship but just to get some rest in. An exhausted people always at work will soon wither and die in that climate. Anyone coming over for a visit will also respect that as they are 'guests' and are to be reminded of that. Beyond that one is to give due deference to the Elders in the community, for they remember what things were like when the Jews were a robust People and not worked to a disintegrating frazzle by Pharaoh

The Ten Commandments make the perfect camp rules for how to drive the centuries of decadence out and re-instill the actual problems facing the Jewish People as a People in this circumstance. And, facing resistance to this, Moses put together one of the best bits of timing and staging of the 10 mnemonic rules for the Jewish People ever devised. Timing this assertion of basic necessities coincided with a worship time of the Golden Calf and Moses showed his extreme disgust with the People by flinging down the basics of their culture and walking away from them. As he was the chosen leader, he was symbolically washing his hands of the entire lot of them in disgust. All of the People suddenly realized that without Moses and the few Elders who remember how to build a military structure, they had NO ability to survive in the Sinai. They had just been told that they could die or become slaves as Moses and those that led them out of conscript service were through with them if they could NOT cohere as a People.

That would have been a shock as no other for the Jewish People and it is without wonder that they then pleaded to ask how they could make amends for what had happened. Sure enough, Moses has a way for them to do so: get rid of the idol, help hammer out another set of the work rules and put your craftsmanship to work on building a container for the actual written in stone texts. Probably the remains of the first tablets were also placed in there with a reverential separation between the first set and the second so that nothing would be lost and culture would be kept whole. That task would utilize the craftsman's skills gained in Egypt, reinforce the need for commonality of culture and set the craftsmen to exploring their highest way of enshrining that culture. Also, the idol would be replaced with a more non-graven image and central worship point: the Ark itself.

While the Commandments, themselves, may be Deific in origin, the timing, staging and shock value that Moses put forth was wholly his own and intended to have the exact effects it did have upon the Jewish People. Nothing else could have solved so many problems at a single stroke: no resort to harsh military law, no resort to harsh religious law and no resort to some sort of warlord worship would have allowd the Jews to survive Sinai with their culture and traditions intact. The rules themselves, applied to everyone in society, would establish basis for known justice across the People and be seen as exempting no one, from highest to lowest, from its standards. There would be secondary laws and social customs that would be used at a lower standard than those of the Commandments, but those were only seen as enforcing this centrality of structure and cohesion to the religion that was central to everyone.

You wanted to be out here in the land of your forefathers, then it had best be taken seriously as their views have meaning in this harsh, forbidding wilderness. Or you, as the Jewish People, can figure it out on your own... and good luck with that wet land agriculture business out here in Sinai.

From those beginnings actually creating the army necessary to start getting back into Canaan would be a decade or so to create, and while that was going on the local tribes would also see the regeneration of the Jewish People as they rediscovered their roots and bearings. Their stories of the martial prowess of the mercenary Jews would gain firsthand knowledge, and woe betide any that crossed this People. It would not be smooth sailing for the Jews, but without this basic re-orientation on survival outlook, they would not have survived as a People.

By adapting and Keeping Faith.

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