At about 1,200 BC the Hebrews, for the first time in their now-long history, found a place to settle down. And that place was Canaan, in roughly the area of modern Israel. Egypt had previously controlled this area, but their control collapsed completely at just this time, giving the Hebrews the opportunity they needed.
As they had been for some time, the Hebrews remained herders and farmers. For their first two centuries in Canaan, they had almost no rulership at all. Then, after about 1,000 BC, they began appointing kings, even though their religious leaders strongly objected. Tension continued between rulers and religious leaders from this time forward, and the kingdom divided into northern and southern halves along the way:
It was during these few centuries that the Hebrew religion formed and moved toward what we would recognize as Judaism.
In its earlier stages the Hebrew religion favored keeping its law; in the latter stages it dealt more with purity of heart. This was not a sharp divide (there was concern for pureness of heart early, and for the law later), but the shift was real and it continued.
But by the end of this “dark age of the Greeks” period, large, aggressive and war-based rulerships had reformed, and they ended the Hebrew experiment. (The land the Hebrews occupied was very attractive to these kingdoms, sitting on the east end of the Mediterranean and containing a major crossroads.)
At about 720 BC, the Assyrian rulers (successor kings to Sumer) defeated the northern Hebrew kingdom and dragged away a large number of its people. At about 587 BC, the Neo-Babylonian rulers (again successors to Sumer) conquered the southern kingdom and carried away a large number of its inhabitants.
From this point onward, we can call the Hebrew religion Judaism, and we can think of it as a portable religion. That was a very important adaptation: it allowed their religion to exist without a permanent center, and that’s the model which was carried over into Christianity.
The most influential city for Judaism, over the next thousand years, was the city of Babylon, in what is now Iraq. This (arguably) held true even during the later re-forming of Israel and the re-occupation of Jerusalem.
As always, continue with each concept until the student or students really understand it. You should probably pay extra attention to the idea of losing rulership as something to rely upon, and as a mental partner. We haven’t lived through that kind of situation, and it affected people more deeply than most of us would expect. I used this scenario in my Free-Man’s Perspective newsletter (related to the European “dark age”) to make the point:
Imagine that aliens from another solar system came to Earth with a fleet of thousands of powerful ships and hovered over every capital city on the planet. Then in one burst, they fired their energy beam weapons and vaporized every major government building on the planet: the White House, Congress, the British Parliament, the Kremlin, the Forbidden City, and all the rest, including secondary capitals with all their leaders and party officials.
Then, leaving behind several thousand smoking holes, the aliens simply fly away, never to be seen again.
Now, think about this:
What would happen the next day? At first, people would be shocked, of course, but what after that? What would they do? There would be no one left to order them around, no one to collect their taxes, and no politicians to blame for their difficulties.
Some would jump to take advantage of a situation where all barriers had been removed. Others would fear the prospect of standing alone, or not feel sufficient to it, and would seek someone to join with. A few would try to set themselves up as new masters. Most people, however, would move slowly and look for new ways of living that seemed safe. But they’d all have to accept that authority was gone and that they were on their own.
This is what the Dark Ages were like… this is what they felt like.
Discuss the concept of generations, and exactly how long a generation would be. Use your own family as an example: Grandma was born when her mom was twenty-three, I was born when Grandma was twenty, Jonathan was born when I was twenty-seven… Run the numbers, decide how many generations per century might be a fair approximation, and so on.
Discuss how air would have been forced through the ovens that produced iron. (They mostly used bellows.) Let the students come up with ideas, then guide them toward reasonable answers. If you can arrange it, make a barbecue type of fire; once it is going, divide the coals in half. Then, use a bellows or blower to continually force air onto one half but not the other. Stop every so often to examine how much has burned and how hot the fire is.
Go through your house and point out the things made of iron or steel (most of them), and the things made of brass (like door hinges). Talk about the iron (steel) posts that hold up skyscrapers and so on.
Discuss the arguments made by a Hebrew religious leader (Samuel) against having a king. (1 Samuel, chapter 8 of the Bible.) It’s significant and interesting to see precisely what the people were warned a king would do to them. Also that the people’s argument was primarily, “The other guys have them.”
Depending upon the interests of the children, there are many more things to discuss from this lesson, such as:
- How a Greek democracy worked.
- A demonstration of musical harmony and harmonics. A piano or keyboard will do very nicely to explain that notes in clear ratios sound good together. (A 2:1 ratio making an octave, a 3/2 ratio – 1.5 times the frequency – creating a fifth, and so on.) Guitars are great for demonstrating harmonics.
- Point out how the Phoenicians stayed close to the sea coasts nearly always (we noted that in a previous lesson as well, but repetition is fine), and conduct a demonstration of mute commerce.
- Read the Enuma Elis passage dramatically, followed by a reading from Homer’s Iliad (try to get as modern a translation as possible); or another story from 1 Samuel. Point out the contrasts.
- Discuss the concept of a portable religion; one not strongly tied to a specific temple or city. If you can, discuss the centrality of this concept to both Judaism and Christianity. But if you do, please be careful to avoid words that are unfamiliar to your students. That can be challenging for a teacher, but also instructive.
* * * * *
Please take a look at our subscription letters. You can review the back issues here and order here.