Bible myths and modern Israel

Jack Conrad looks at archaeological wars and bible myths

Zionism is a Jewish nationalist ideology whose origins lie entirely in the malevolent reinvention and growing pervasiveness of anti-semitism in 19th and 20th century Europe. Jews were pathologically blamed for every perceived evil: democracy and internationalism, military defeat and extortionate bank rates, Marxism and Freud, abstract art and terrorism, jazz and hyperinflation. In short Jews were systematically diabolised by the anti-semites.

However, Zionism did not unite people possessing a common territory, economy, language or even religion. Zionism was a reaction to reaction, a nationalism in search of a nation.

Tsarist Russia and kingdom Poland contained Jewish populations which formed a distinct, Yiddish-speaking nationality. The 1897 census counted around five million of them. Yet Jews lived throughout Europe and spoke many languages (as they still do). After the 1789 French revolution the general trend manifestly pointed towards rapid urbanisation and assimilation. In Paris and Brussels Jews spoke French. In London, Leeds and Manchester English. In Berlin, Cologne and Vienna German. Hebrew was a dead language: used only by rabbis, cantors and other such traditional intellectuals. And besides religious Zionists there were, of course, secular and atheist Zionists. Indeed till the Nazi holocaust - the apoplectic climax of anti-semitism - most orthodox Jews considered Zionism something akin to blasphemy. God alone should restore Israel, not man. An escha-tological doctrine still defended by this or that obscure Jewish sect.

Against the cancer of anti-semitism Zionism held out the promise of nationhood and thereby deliverance from persecution and discrimination. Assimilated Jews like Moses Hess, Leo Pinsker, Theodore Herzl and Ber Borochov only discovered their Jewishness through being labelled, targeted or attacked as Jews by anti-semites: eg, Russia’s state-sponsored pogroms in the 1880s; the 1894 Dreyfus affair in France; the ‘anti-capitalism of fools’ preached by Edouard Drumont, Adolph Stoeker and Mikhail Bakunin; the pseudo-scientific racial theories of Francis Galton, William Ripley and Ludwig Gumplowicz; the concoction and dissemination of The protocols of the elders of Zion at the behest of tsar Alexander III.

Zionism responded not by demanding equality and democratic assimilation. On the contrary, it rejected assimilation and dogmatically insisted that all gentiles were by their very nature irredeemably anti-semitic. Hence the symbiotic, albeit totally unequal, relationship between anti-semitism on the one hand and Zionism on the other.

Zionism gained a hearing amongst ordinary Jews solely due to anti-semitism and therefore had no fundamental interest in uniting with other forces, neither to combat nor extinguish the vile phenomenon. Zionism fed off anti-semitism and often sought an active accommodation with it. Herzl - the founder of political Zionism - famously explained to the tsar’s minister of police, von Plehve, that by encouraging Zionism he would weaken the revolutionary movement in Russia and vice versa. He also considered that the anti-semitic governments were the very ones who would “have the most interest” in facilitating the Zionist project of organising a mass exodus (quoted in I Halevi A history of the Jews London 1987, p152). They would be as delighted to see the Jews leave as the Zionists. Between 1881 and 1914 two million of them emigrated from the tsarist empire.

The Nazi regime agreed on the transfer of German Jews to Palestine in the 1930s and allowed Zionist organisations to continue to function behind the scenes. Only when plans for mass removal gave way to mass extermination did collaboration become impossible. Not that that stopped the ultra-Zionist Lehi, or Stern group, advocating an anti-British alliance with Germany in 1942.

As a nationalist movement of an oppressed or persecuted people, Zionism involves not only a cross-class alliance, but the coexistence and cooperation of a disparate range of factions and schools of thought. Besides the negative experience of anti-semitism, what united them was the dream of founding a homeland and thereby ‘normalising’ the Jews.

To begin with, the idea of settling in the Argentine and then Uganda was toyed with. But Zionism without Zion could never appeal to the hearts of the masses, especially those in eastern Europe. The movement soon decided upon on the mass colonisation of the ‘promised land’ - and therefore the implicit necessity of armed conflict with the native population, the ‘Bedouins’, as they were dismissively described.

“The very name of Palestine would attract our people with a force of marvellous potency,” predicted Herzl (T Herzl The Jewish state London 1972, p30). And from the early years of the 20th century onwards a steady trickle of Jews arrived from Europe. The attempted Nazi genocide - which, of course, included other Untermenschen - gave this migration a qualitative boost and helped consolidate Zionism as the dominant ideology amongst wide sections of the Jewish masses.

Palestine as the object of the Zionist settler-colonial project made wonderful sense. Leave aside the attempt to seal an Anglo-Zionist alliance, which would involve the Jewish population in Palestine acting as a kind of internal police force guarding British strategic interests in the Middle East, not least the Suez canal. Establishing a Jewish state in Palestine can be depicted as part of a grand historical-religious narrative. The grandest. The Zionist state claims to be both the ultimate safe house for Jews throughout the world and the continuation, perhaps culmination, of the Jewish story, as recounted in the 39 books of the Hebrew bible (a collection we commonly call the Old Testament).

Zionists justified - and continue to justify - the colonisation of Palestine, the wars and successive annexations, the mass expulsions, the destruction of Palestinian villages and seeding the West Bank with militarised settlements by citing a supposedly uninterrupted history of a single entity: the Jews.

They were god’s chosen people, the 12 tribes who with divine help escaped from Egyptian bondage, who wandered the deserts of Sinai and Arabia under the leadership of Moses, who were promised a land “beyond the Jordan and towards the sunrise” by god, who against all odds, commanded by Joshua, “smote the kings” of that country, who enjoyed imperial greatness and glory under king David and his son Solomon, and who later crashed to military defeat at the hands of Assyrians and Babylonians and humiliating exile because of their repeated sinfulness and failure to abide by god’s laws.

This biblical narrative is seamlessly joined by Zionists to the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 73, expulsion from Spain in 1492, subsequent life as a people-class in the shtetls of eastern Europe, the Nazi holocaust and finally to the foundation of modern Israel in 1948. Hence, speaking in July 1950, David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, argued that it is “impossible to understand the revival of the Jewish state without knowledge of the Jewish people from its beginning”. After many generations and after “incessant efforts”, the “wandering nation” had “to return to the homeland” (quoted in Uri Davis Israel: an apartheid state London 1987, p126).

Israel had been given to the Jews by god. The Jews had simply retaken what was rightfully theirs. A sentiment echoed in the programme of the World Zionist Organisation - as reformulated in 1968 by its 27th congress. Its aims include: “The ingathering of the Jewish people in its historic homeland, Eretz Israel, through aliyal [Jewish immigration] from all countries” (article 2).

Of course, over the last 2,500 years Jews have been fragmented geographically and subject to different concrete situations. There have been countless schisms, as well as tribal conversions and mass incorporations. Hence the Falashas - the black Jews of Ethiopia. During the time of Jesus it is estimated that a good half of all Jews lived outside Palestine. It is also quite obvious that Jews have freely interbred with those around them. As a result, in Europe they look European, in Morocco and the Yemen they look Arab. Moreover, whereas in western Europe Jews assimilated, in 19th century Russia they formed a Germanic-speaking national minority and in the Sultanate they were a tolerated, Arab-speaking, religious minority. Historically therefore Jews have many homelands and origins. Equally to the point: for the last one and a half thousand years Palestine had been the homeland of a population, the majority of whom were no longer Jewish, but firstly christian and then muslim.


Naturally the fledgling Israeli state was concerned not only with building towns and infrastructure and fighting off the native Palestinians and their allies in neighbouring Arab countries. Those in command - albeit labour-Zionists and often atheists - vigorously promoted archaeological digs and research. A form of ideological warfare.

Their idea was to legitimise the Israeli state through revealing and putting on public display its ancient Jewish or Hebrew antecedents. That is what interested them - and they were prepared to pay generously for it. Stone Age and early Bronze Age Canaanite discoveries were in comparative terms mere sideshows; there was though complete indifference, if not downright hostility, exhibited towards examining Palestine under the Arabs or Turks. Islamic civilisation did not fit with their ideological schema about what constituted a proper subject for Israeli museums.

Not that the Israeli state is unique in such matters. Modern Turkey, for instance, does not seek legitimacy through the Hellenistic culture which dominated the Anatolian coastline from the Bronze Age till the fall of Constantinople in 1453. Quite the opposite. As a result, devoid of state funds, Greek ruins are often left unguarded from looters or simply given over to the elements and allowed to steadily deteriorate.

Of course, ever since the Byzantine era travellers well versed in the bible had visited Palestine and compared texts and places. But from the mid-19th century onwards - especially after the pioneering work of the American congregationalist minister Edward Robinson in 1838 and 1852 - archaeological expeditions flocked to Palestine and soon thereafter permanent schools were established. They were typically sponsored by upright British and American christians determined to re-establish the authenticity of the bible. These men and women believed that archaeology could counter the critical biblical scholars, especially those in Germany, who had concluded from their detailed studies that the bible must owe more to myth than history.

The results were spectacular. Using the combined textual-archaeological approach, numerous bible sites were located. Jerusalem, Hebron, Jaffa and Beth-shean and Gaza had never lost their biblical names. However, other places had become known by Arab names. They were quickly rediscovered and later, using datable pottery shards and other such artefacts, the whole of biblical Palestine was mapped out. It was certainly established that the bible had a real historic basis to it.

Till the 1970s archaeologists tended to take biblical texts at face value. The bible was viewed as a reliable document in all its essentials. Hence the Israeli political establishment found confirmation in archaeology. Archaeologists went into the field with a spade in one hand and the bible in the other and proved what the state wanted: verification of the stunning conquests by Joshua, David’s unified state, Solomon’s glorious Jerusalem temple. Scorched walls, fallen pillars, monumental foundations: everything was interpreted in light of biblical texts.

Biblical criticism and archaeology tended to proceed separately, with each academic discipline considering the other with a suspicion bordering on contempt. Archaeologists in particular thought that they had nothing to learn from dusty bookworms. With their microscopes and painstaking excavations they were the authentic scientists. However, in the 1970s doubts began to surface in the archaeological community about the authenticity of the patriarchs - the heads of the tribal households such as Abraham and Jacob - and the date and scale of the exodus from Egypt. Theories were also developed which suggested that Joshua’s conquest of Canaan might not have been a single, unified, military event. Nevertheless even then, the bible was still considered reliable when dealing with events following the foundation of David’s kingdom (circa 1000 BC).

Things began to radically change in the 1990s. As jointly explained by Israel Finkelstein (director of the Sonia and Marco Nedler Institute of Archaeology at Tel Aviv university) and Neil Asher Siberman (director of historical interpretation for the Ename Centre for Public Archaeology in Belgium), new approaches gained sway. Instead of using findings to “illustrate the bible”, attempts were made to “examine the human realities that lay behind the text” (I Finkelstein and N Siberman The bible unearthed London 2002, p21). Emphasis shifted from associating particular sites with bible accounts. Instead artefacts, architecture, settlement patterns, animal bones, seeds, chemical analysis of soil samples, and long-term anthropological models became “key” to perceiving “wider changes in the economy, political history, religious practices, population density and the very structure of ancient Israeli society” (ibid p22).

Especially at its cutting edge, archaeology has therefore drawn progressively closer to the conclusions long upheld by biblical scholars and in certain respects have gone beyond them. Along with Hebrew inscriptions, pottery fragments and architectural styles, the bible is now seen as another characteristic artefact produced by a people who have to be recreated theoretically in the round. Till Herodotus the ancients did not write anything we would remotely recognise as history. In that sense the bible has rightly come to be regarded, and therefore re-interrogated by archaeologists, in the same manner as other similar texts: eg, the Babylonian Gilgamesh epic, Homer’s Iliad or the Anglo-Saxon Barewolf. Myth is not history, but it can, nevertheless, cast a powerful light on historical reality, if approached discriminatingly and used contextually.

As noted above, biblical scholars and archaeologists alike have taken for granted the united monarchy of David and Solomon in the 10th century BC. However, the so-called minimalist school of archaeology - minimalist because of its cautious attitude towards bible personalities, state boundaries, events, etc - reject this assumption. Finkelstein and Siberman, for example, conclude that there is no archaeological evidence whatsoever of a state formation in Judah - in Jerusalem in particular - till towards the 8th century BC. That is more than 250 years after David in the generally agreed biblical chronology. All that turns up in the digs designed to unearth the splendours of David’s imperial capital and Solomon’s wondrous temple are the remains of a rather primitive and impoverished hamlet.

Others in the field concur. Take Philip Davies, of Sheffield university: “The evidence recently accumulated by Jamieson-Drake at least shows the impossibility of a Davidic empire administered from Jerusalem ... The range of indices considered by Jamieson-Drake make it necessary for us to exclude the Davidic and Solomonic monarchies, let alone their empire, from a non-biblical history of Palestine” (P Davies In search of ancient Israel Sheffield 1992).

Embarrassing and infuriating for fundamentalist christians everywhere, but particularly for the Zionist political and religious right in Israel. Not surprisingly accusations have been flying, including the stupid charge that denying the truth of the Davidic kingdom is akin to denying the truth of the Nazi holocaust. The bible minimalists are either rabid anti-semites or self-hating Jews. Exasperated, the minimalists reply with facts, but also on occasion with venom.

A brief but relevant aside. There are too many on the left who claim that fierce polemic and harsh language are the reserve of ‘sectarian’ papers such as the Weekly Worker. Because of ideological weakness, and therefore vulnerability, they want to silence our criticisms. Instead of arguing about the 20% where we supposedly disagree, they would have us uselessly, and boringly, repeat the 80% where we supposedly agree. A syrupy formula designed to neutralise ... and in reality, because it appears so reasonable, it is far more dangerous than the goons occasionally unleashed on opponents by SWP national organiser Chris Bambery.

The truth needs the freedom to disagree, even the freedom to insult, if is to triumph over untruth. And even a cursory glance over the numerous disputes that have erupted from within physics, biology, etc shows us that this is the case. Progress comes through the medium of argument. Galileo Galilei devastatingly took issue with the church’s Aristotelian certainties concerning the movement of the heavenly spheres, but had to opt for silence - threatened as he was by the inquisition for his thought crime. Isaac Newton brilliantly completed the job of taking god away from the moving universe ... Principia mathematica is one long argument. Thomas Huxley tirelessly disputed in defence of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution against all manner of doubters and religious bigots. Albert Einstein argued against the adequacy of Euclidean geometry in cosmology. Stephen Jay Gould aggressively rounded upon the ‘selfish gene’ reductionism of Richard Dawkins, etc, etc. Archaeology is no different. It too needs freedom and thrives on controversy and disagreement.


Naturally there are those who conduct a rearguard action and again naturally the most effective rejoinders to the minimalists come not from rabbis and religious-Zionist politicians. The mini-malists are best opposed by those who constitute what passes for the maximalist school of archaeology who have united in defence of the bible as history. Quite frankly though, they are not very effective. The tide moves inexorably against them.

Jane Cahill, for example, argues that the Jerusalem of David and Solomon cannot be found not because it was never there. Rather ancient Jerusalem perched on steep hills and consequently with the effect of rain and frosts slipped away, leaving hardly a trace. That and later extensive building work and quarrying explains the absence of convincing evidence (see Biblical Archaeology Review Vol 24, No4). Others clutch at equally tenuous straws. But perhaps the thinnest theory I have come across is the one popularised by David Rohl, author of a number of popular books and TV documentaries.

The bible is treated as broadly factual from Eden to the Egyptian exile (see D Rohl The lost testament: from Eden to exile London 2002). Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah and the ark, Lot and Abraham, Jacob and his amazingly coloured coat are all given dates and supplied with, in my mind, rather crackpot archaeological proofs. Moreover Rohl overcomes the problem of non-evidence for biblical Israel by an extraordinarily simple device. He yanks forward the chronology of the whole Middle Eastern world by between 300 and 350 years. Hey presto - Joshua’s conquest and the trumpets outside the walls of Jericho. Ditto David’s Jerusalem and Solomon’s temple.

The root of his theory lies in Egypt. The generally accepted chronology has the 21st dynasty running from 1069 to 945 BC and the 22nd from 945 to 715 BC. In Rohl’s view, however, this is incorrect: the pharaohs from the 21st dynasty, who reigned over 124 years, were contemporaries of those from the 22nd dynasty. So he moves the beginning of the 22nd dynasty by some 150 years, while he shortens the period of the 22nd dynasty. The overall result is that the whole 19th dynasty, which included pharaoh Ramesses II, is moved forward some 350 years.

He justifies this revision with reference to the absence of tombs for the sacred Apis bulls during the 21st and the beginning of the 22nd dynasties. Rohl claims that this indicates that the pharaohs in question ruled alongside, or in opposition to, each other and should therefore not occupy a distinct space of their own in Egyptian chronology. Also brought in as evidence is the dating of Sheshonk I, the first pharaoh of the 22nd dynasty, who, says Rohl, appears from his tomb to have ruled before Siamun, the last pharaoh but one of the 21st dynasty. Osorkon II, who belonged to the 22nd dynasty, is likewise cited. His tomb is adjacent to the one which contained the mummy of Psoennes I and Amenemope of the 21st dynasty. In the accepted chronology Osorkon II died 141 years after Psoennes I: Psoennes’ funeral is dated to 991 BC, and Osorkon’s to 850 BC. Hence the accepted dates must be wrong.

All this is rationally answered by minimalists with reference to possible lost or undiscovered burial sites, changing customs and the rather cavalier attitude pharaohs displayed to the tombs of predecessors. They freely plundered them for gold and if the need arose would turf out old mummies to make way for their own dead relatives. Then there is the often chaotic archaeology of the late 19th century. Not infrequently it got artefacts hopelessly mixed up.

Though the shift proposed by Rohl apparently solves some problems with the history of Israel, it creates many more. One of many critics, JG van der Land, can be cited to provide a couple of typically debunking examples. Eg, Seti I (1294-1279 BC), the father of Ramesses II, would become a contemporary of king Solomon (972-931 BC) and “would have led the Egyptian army through his kingdom several times, capturing cities on his way.” Yet he is not recorded as doing any such thing in the bible. Rohl overcome that problem by conflating Ramesses II and Shishak (who is mentioned in Kings 14:25-28 and 2 Chronicles 12:2-9). Shishak is almost unanimously identified with Sheshonk I. The Egyptian name ‘Sheshonk’ and Hebrew ‘Shishak’ are “linguistic equivalents”. In the opinion of David Rohl, they were though not the same man, because the Egyptian report of Sheshonk’s campaign does not match the bible account of Shishak’s campaign. But, as van der Land points out, Ramesses II is not recorded in Egyptian sources as conducting a war against Jerusalem or its king.

Then there is the wider picture. Many of the pharaohs of the 21st and 22nd dynasties fought wars against nearby states, sent their kings diplomatic letters, received tribute from them or married their daughters. All this was carefully recorded by palace bureaucrats on clay tablets or papyrus, or triumphantly announced on towering walls, stelas and statues. By picking over what remains and pinning down the many synchronisms and inter-relationships, including commonly observed astronomical phenomenon, such as solar and lunar eclipses, archaeologists have been able to chronologically link the empires of Assyria, Babylon and the Hittites to within a high degree of certainty.

Any dramatic shift in ancient Egyptian dating therefore has a knock-on effect for the history of the whole Middle East before 715 BC (at which time there is more or less universal agreement). Van der Land admits that the accepted account “still leaves room for changes”, but the mountain of evidence that has already been accumulated necessarily restricts any change to no more than a “small refinement”.

The current balance of opinion amongst the leading authorities in bible history and archaeology is that there were never any wandering Hebrew tribes who set out from the land of Nod, sojourned in Egypt and eventually crossed the Jordan and then genocidally exterminated the Canaanite inhabitants.

Finklestein reasons that those who came to call themselves the Jews must in fact have themselves been Canaanites; but those who lived on the geographical and social margins. Interestingly there is a stela inscription referring to a people “named Israel” living in Canaan by 1207 BC (I Finkelstein and N Siberman The bible unearthed London 2002, p101). Like the Bedouin of recent times these  marginal Canaanites shifted between periods of settled agriculture and semi-nomadic pastoralism, depending on opportunities and the vagaries of climate. They were certainly not foreigners with a completely alien culture and language.

So no Abraham, no Moses and no Joshua. Yet there is evidence of the tottering middle Bronze Age Canaanite civilisation being brought to a violent end. But nowadays this is generally thought to be the result of incursions and invasions by the so-called sea people who in the late 12th century BC wrought havoc throughout the eastern Mediterranean. Cities were sacked, eg, the port of Ugarit, or in the case of Megiddo and Hazor abandoned, perhaps as a result of social breakdown. That was though several hundred years before Joshua was supposed to exist. So, instead of a brilliant conquest under the command of a god-inspired hero, an increasing number of archaeologists have come to the conclusion that the ancient Israelites came to dominance gradually and peacefully from among the region’s peripheral population - through a power vacuum, not a military blitzkrieg. In support of this thesis Finkelstein and Silberman refer to the similarity of the pottery and architecture over the whole period. There is no break denoting a changeover from ‘Canaanite’ and ‘Israeli’ style in the late Bronze Age.

Nor do Finkelstein and Silberman give any credence to the biblical account of David and his son Solomon. Unlike other minimalists they are prepared to grant that perhaps David might have been a real person, even the founder of a royal line (a celebrated basalt inscription has come to light in Tel Dan referring to the “House of David”). That said, not only was Jerusalem little more than a village at the time (and for many years after), but as a consequence they cannot but doubt the biblical claim that David and then Solomon ruled over a great empire. Even the united kingdom David purportedly founded must be mythical.

Jerusalem and the Judehan hinterland was economically poor and militarily weak. The real Israel was anyway not located in the south but in the north. Reaching out from the highland city state of Shechem, it really did gain an impressive territory, along with corresponding cities, temples and fortifications - Samara, Magiddo, Jazeel and Hazor. This state was defeated by the Assyrian king, Shalmanesser V, who besieged and took Samaria in 720 BC. As the bible tells, after the city fell the Assyrians deported the local elite.

In all probability the Judean kingdom first began to develop and invent a big tradition for itself as a not so loyal Assyrian vassal. In the late 8th and early 7th centuries BC Jerusalem grows dramatically. Industrial-scale olive oil production starts too. However, the kings of Judea nurtured imperial ambitions of their own, primarily directed towards the north. Israeli ‘reunification’ became the official slogan. King Hezekiah (727-698 BC) is known to have rebelled against Assyrian rule, whose armies then proceeded to devastate the Judean countryside in punishment. Sensibly the Judeans sued for peace. Tribute is soon flowing once again to Nineveh. Undaunted, king Josiah (639-609) determined to have another go.

Under these circumstances, Finkelstein and Silberman suggest, the core texts of what is now the bible were composed. Spurred on by Josiah a whole common saga is invented, whereby the southern - Judean - kingdom becomes the elder brother to the wayward northern - Israeli - kingdom. The 12 tribes of Israel are conjured up to unite them both. Tales of the fabled ancestors are interwoven, along with redactive propaganda describing a whole string of good and bad kings, which explains why the north fell and the south survived. And like the Assyrians the Judeans/Israelites become mighty warriors who were alone responsible for the still impressive Bronze Age ruins that littered the countryside from the Jordan river to the Mediterranean coast.

Not only did Josiah miserably fail against the Assyrians, but in 586 BC the Babylonians - having replaced the Assyrians - invaded and subsequently carted off the “mighty of the land” (II Kings 24, 12-16). However, whereas the northern elite disappeared from history, those in the south were permitted to return some 50 years later. The Babylonians went down to the Persian king, Cyrus, and it was he who decided to permit the Judean elite (the Jews) to return to their homeland. There was a catch: they were to serve as his agents. Jerusalem and its temple was rebuilt - of course, not over the ruins of Solomon’s non-existent marvel. It, the second temple, was to serve as the religious-administrative centre of a subordinate social order.

From Jerusalem the Jewish elite would oversee the extraction of tribute from the local population and manage the Jewish diaspora (Jewish merchants established themselves in colonies in the Persian empire). To facilitate that socio-economic relationship the returned exiles once again completely reinvented their religious tradition. Doubtless as ignorant provincials they had been awestruck by Babylonian wealth and cultural attainments and were ideologically enthralled by its sophisticated religion. Therefore Babylonian myths - the garden of Eden, the tower of Babel, the flood, etc - were mimicked and the existing cannon suitably redacted.

That way the returnees - the people of the book - could legitimise their rule over the masses who had not been deported - the people of the land. Hence for the first time the Jewish god - Jehovah, or more correctly Yahweh - emerges fully formed as the god of Jerusalem. Before that the Judeans, like the northern Israelis, were polytheistic. They worshipped “many gods”, admits the book of Genesis.

The Jehovah cult reflected, in no matter how distorted a manner, the class antagonism between the returned elite and the masses: ie, the domination of history or social forces over humanity (in contrast to nature). As Persian vassals the elite had no army - only a religious police force. They had to rely on remaking and then maintaining the Jews as a people-religion. Fear of god had to impose obedience.