Ancient Israel: Its Life and Institutions

By Roland De Vaux ; John McHugh | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ONE
THE ARMIES OF ISRAEL

WE have a fair knowledge of the military organization of the Egyptians, the Assyro-Babylonians and the Hittites. Reliefs, paintings and drawings portray their soldiers, their battles, their camps and their strongholds; inscriptions describe their campaigns; and copies of peace treaties record the titles, functions and careers of particular individuals in the army.

Our information about the military organization of Israel is by no means so complete. Not a single relief or drawing of a military kind has survived; perhaps there never were any. Even the fortifications and weapons brought to light by excavations belong, for the most part, to the Canaanites, whom the Israelites conquered and displaced. There are, of course, numerous texts, and the historical books of the Bible are full of wars. But these narratives are not contemporary records of the events. There are, it is true, some very old traditions in the books of Josue and Judges; but it was nearly six hundred years later, just before the Exile, when the military history of this period received its final literary form in the books as we possess them to-day. The books of Samuel and Kings, on the other hand, do contain passages committed to writing very soon after the events took place, but the vivid and life- like character of these passages does not compensate for their lack of precision about military details. Quite the most detailed information on the military organization under the monarchy is to be found in Chronicles; but these two books were written in an age when there was neither independence nor an army to defend it. Lastly, the Exodus itself and the wanderings in the deserts were described, centuries later, as the movements of a well-disciplined army. Such are the sources of our information, and yet they can be used to good purpose, provided they are carefully tested and dated by literary and historical criticism. The military institutions of a people change more rapidly than any other form of its social organization, for they are subject to many kinds of influence. The army is affected by every change in the type of government, by the varying requirements of policy, by the enemy it may have to face, and, of course, by progress in the development of armaments, The period between the Conquest under Josue and Nabuchodonosor's siege of Jerusalem is longer than that which separates the Hundred Years' War from the second World War, and though the organization of the army and

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