Father Abraham Had Many Sons

That’s how the song and the story go, anyway. Two of those sons in particular, Isaac and Ishmael, are said to have founded two divergent tribal lineages known today as the Jews and the Arabs. And to the extent that those two ethnic groups today tend to identify with particular religious beliefs, those beliefs still share a deity in common.

Where the line between history and mythology is, I won’t pretend to know. But whenever I notice the latest developments in the “Palestinian statehood controversy,” I think back to a point in the putative chronology at which the deity in question argued forcefully, but to no avail, that Israel would be much better off remaining a stateless society. Here it is, in 1 Samuel, chapter 8:

And Samuel told all the words of the LORD unto the people that asked of him a king.

And he said, This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots.

And he will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties; and will set them to ear his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots.

And he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers.

And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants.

And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants.

And he will take your menservants, and your maidservants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work.

He will take the tenth of your sheep: and ye shall be his servants.

And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the LORD will not hear you in that day.

Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, Nay; but we will have a king over us;

That we also may be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles.

God as anarchist advocate. Whodathunkit?

The Israelites just wouldn’t listen … and consequently the conditions of their existence went to hell in a handbasket. They ended up conquered, enslaved, passed back and forth between the Babylonians and Persians and Greeks and Romans, and finally scattered across the face of the planet for close to 2000 years — a period of forced conversion, ghettoization, persecution and, finally, near extermination, all at the hands of various states — before re-establishing a toehold in their land of ancient origin.

And what did they do with that toehold? Why, they proved that they hadn’t learned a damn thing. They decided that they absolutely, positively must, at any cost, once again create a state of their own.

They wanted a state so badly — despite the failure of their previous state and despite the lessons of two millennia of persecution at the hands of states — that they whipped the armies of five existing states to get it.

And since getting it? The people who whipped five states have found themselves utterly unable, for six decades now, to effectively suppress the aspirations of a dislocated, poverty-stricken, demoralized stateless Palestinian Arab population, just as the combined might of the Arab states and the British Empire and the Third Reich and the Soviet Union had proven powerless to suppress 50 years of non-state manifestations of Zionism.

If there’s a God, and if that God is the one the Bible talks about, I rather suspect that He’s still an anarchist and waiting for His people to puzzle out the lesson He tried to teach them so many years ago.

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The Anatomy of Escape
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