The Miraculous Return to Jerusalem
The motivation of the Jerusalem scribes was clearly to create a radical new monotheistic priesthood in Jerusalem to become the only legitimate religious authority of the Jews. It was a freak historical event that Cyrus the Great, the unusually benevolent Persian conqueror of Babylon, allowed the Jewish exiles to return to Jerusalem after a period of only fifty years or so. This provided an unexpected, almost miraculous, reinforcement that Jehovah was active on their behalf after all. The priesthood took charge in Jerusalem, Jewish kingship was abolished, and the remnants of the northern tribes who had remained in the region were marginalised and excluded as Samaritans. Eventually the Roman royal appointee, the non-Jewish ruler Herod the Great, brought their dreams true by building them a huge and wealthy temple which became the only authentic centre of religious worship in the land.
Jewish Monotheism is a particularly unforgiving and totalitarian belief system. Not only is Jehovah or Yahweh a war god and judge but as in Islam today he demands absolute obedience. The Covenant with Abraham promises his chosen people world domination if they obey his commands to the letter. Disobedience can bring terrible punishments since he is the only god with real power and even directs neighbouring civilisations, who are simply doing his will when they conquer Jewish territory and enslave their inhabitants. The Jews are obliged to believe that all their suffering is their own fault since any other explanation implies that Jehovah is not all powerful. Such intolerance of other “non-chosen” people is accompanied by a unique concern with the rule of law, courageously defended by the prophets who were independent of the established priesthood, and for the welfare of other Jews rich or poor. There is also in Judaism a more tolerant and internalised form of mystical love of God, Hassidism, which no doubt influenced tolerant and introspective teachers like Hillel and Jesus.
The Old Testament as History
We can use archaeological evidence of recent years and records of neighbouring contemporary civilisations to check the veracity of the record of the events found in the Old Testament. It seems that originally the Israelites were a collection of polytheistic Canaanite tribes who migrated to the hills to escape invaders from the sea during the collapse of the Bronze Age civilisation between 1200 and 1000 BC. Jerusalem was a minor settlement until King Hezekiah fortified the city and dug out the passage to the well. There was apparently no captivity in Egypt nor any destruction of a Pharaoh and his army and no conquest of Canaan. There is no evidence for the historical existence of Moses, Saul, David or Solomon and no earlier great temple or extended Israelite Empire centred on Jerusalem. This is not generally known yet it still has enormous consequences for biblical fundamentalists who justify their intolerant actions by reference to these mythical writings.