What Studying the Modern-Day Bedouin Reveals about the Ancient Israelites

Since the 19th century, many Westerners have claimed that today’s Arab nomads preserve aspects of the lifestyle of the ancient Hebrews who, led by Moses, traipsed through the Sinai desert on their way to the promised land. In Bedouin Culture in the Bible, Clinton Bailey, who has spent decades living with and studying Bedouin in Israel and elsewhere, presents an updated version of this thesis. Edward Greenstein writes in his review:

Bailey . . . suggests that the Israelites depicted in the Bible may have been Bedouin or of nomadic background. To be sure, one is impressed by the many ways in which the biblical milieu seems to be of a piece with that of the Bedouin. [He] describes and explains Bedouin practices, values, and sensibilities with unusual empathy. Although some of his explanations of ancient Hebrew manners and customs from the present-day Bedouin experience sound outlandish but plausible, others are either erroneous or improbable.

The concept of vengeance is an example of the former. In one of the most intriguing suggestions in the book, Bailey interprets the biblical law of talion (“an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”) not as a license to get even but rather as a constraint on excess: you may take an eye for an eye, but no more than that.

When Deuteronomy 6:9 and 11:20 enjoin the Israelites to “write [the divine teachings] on the doorposts of [their] houses and on [their] gates,” following a well-attested ancient Near Eastern method of proclamation, the educational purpose is plain: “recite [the divine teachings] to your children” (6:7) and “teach them to your children” (11:19). Bailey, however, goes far afield in comparing the Bedouin practice of daubing sacrificial blood on the entrance to their tents for the sake of divine blessing. The correspondence is superficial: writing on a doorpost here, daubing blood on a tent-flap there. A more obvious parallel to the Bedouin custom is the ritual of the Hebrews smearing the blood of the paschal lamb on the doorposts of their houses during the tenth plague in Egypt (Exodus 12:21–23), where the explicit purpose is to ward off the spiritual being enacting the plague.

Read more at Biblical Archaeology Review

More about: Ancient Israel, Bedouin, Hebrew Bible


An Israeli Buffer Zone in the Gaza Strip Doesn’t Violate International Law

 The IDF announced on Thursday that it is safe for residents to return to some of the towns and villages near the Gaza Strip that have been abandoned since October 7. Yet on the same day, rocket sirens sounded in one of those communities, Kibbutz Mefalsim. To help ensure security in the area, Israel is considering the creation of a buffer zone within the Strip that would be closed to Palestinian civilians and buildings. The U.S. has indicated, however, that it would not look favorably on such a step.

Avraham Shalev explains why it’s necessary:

The creation of a security buffer along the Gaza-Israel border serves the purpose of destroying Hamas’s infrastructure and eliminating the threat to Israel. . . . Some Palestinian structures are practically on the border, and only several hundred yards away from Israeli communities such as Kfar Aza, Kerem Shalom, and Sderot. The Palestinian terrorists that carried out the murderous October 7 attacks crossed into Israel from many of these border-adjacent areas. Hamas officials have already vowed that “we will do this again and again. The al-Aqsa Flood [the October 7th massacre] is just the first time, and there will be a second, a third, a fourth.”

In 2018 and 2019, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad organized mass marches towards the Israeli border with the goal of breaking into Israel. Billed by Palestinians as “the Great March of Return,” its name reveals its purpose—invasion. Although the marches were supposedly non-violent, they featured largescale attacks on Israeli forces as well as arson and damage to Israeli agriculture and civilian communities. Moreover, the October 7 massacre was made possible by Hamas’s prepositioning military hardware along the border under false cover of civilian activity. The security perimeter is intended to prevent a reprise of these events.

Shalev goes on to dismantle the arguments put forth about why international law prohibits Israel from creating the buffer zone. He notes:

By way of comparison, following the defeat of Nazi Germany, France occupied the Saar [River Valley] directly until 1947 and then indirectly until reintegration with Germany in 1957, and the Allied occupation of Berlin continued until the reunification of Germany in 1990. The Allies maintained their occupation long after the fall of the Nazi regime, due to the threat of Soviet invasion and conquest of West Berlin, and by extension Western Europe.

Read more at Kohelet

More about: Gaza Strip, Gaza War 2023, International Law, Israeli Security