Back in December of last year, I did an introduction to a series I had planned called The Chosen People of the Supreme Being Test.
The idea behind the series was to test the Biblical claim (which many people still believe today) that the Jews are the chosen people of the Creator of the Universe. I proposed a set of criteria to measure whether or not this claim could be considered true based upon the evidence available to us. The first chapter in this series will examine the geographic evidence.
One of my favorite quotes from Sam Harris is when he quips that God, in his role as an omniscient real estate broker, gave the Jews a patch of desert in the Middle East. When you think about it though, if the God of the Bible really exists and is in fact the creator of the universe and the most powerful and intelligent being in existence, then this God should have been expected to have done a much better job assigning land to Abraham and his descendants.
In Genesis 17:8, God tells Abraham "The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God." But when Abraham (then called Abram) makes his first sojourn into Canaan, the land is afflicted with a famine, and he is forced to live in Egypt.
Further on, in Genesis 42, there is again a famine in the region, and the brothers of Joseph are instructed by their father Jacob to go to Egypt "and buy some [grain] for us, so that we may live and not die." The book of Genesis ends on a somewhat happy note, with Joseph and his family being reunited in Egypt. As the book of Exodus gets underway, we are informed that the Israelites "were fruitful and multiplied greatly and became exceedingly numerous, so that the land was filled with them." They multiply so rapidly, according to Exodus, that Hebrew babies must have been dropping out of wombs left and right as the women were toiling in the fields gathering straw for bricks.
As just about everybody knows, in summary, the Israelites are enslaved by the Egyptians. God chooses Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, and in the course of the conflict, God inflicts numerous plagues and misfortunes upon the Egyptians, culminating in the death of every first born Egyptian son. Then Moses leads the Israelites out of Egypt, only to find themselves in the Desert of Shur, where they travel for three days without finding water (Exodus 15:22) and they end up having to wander for 40 years before being able to reenter Canaan, which is filled with people who are not inclined to favor them as neighbors.
Now, when one considers how often Canaan was afflicted by famine, and how the descendants of Abraham always found themselves taking refuge in Egypt, it does not seem unreasonable to ask WHY THE FUCK DIDN'T GOD GIVE THE JEWS EGYPT?!?
Unlike Canaan, Egypt was a very fertile country, owing to the annual flooding of the Nile River. It can be said with confidence that without the Nile River, there would have been no Egyptian civlization. But the benefits of Egypt's geography did not end there. East and west of the Nile Delta, harsh deserts acted as natural barriers to deter all but the most determined and best equipped invaders. Thus, Egypt was doubly blessed with a fertile river valley that provided a steady and abundant food supply, and deserts on its eastern and western frontiers that served as buffers against foreign invaders.
The result of these favorable conditions was that the Egyptians would possess one of the world's most enduring civilizations. Historians believe that a single unified Egyptian state emerged around approximately 3,000 BCE. While there were periods of foreign domination here and there, notably by the Hyksos, the Egypt of the pharaohs survived until about 525 BCE when the land was conquered by the Persians. To put this in context for you, the time from when Jesus was allegedly born up until the present day is shorter by 500 years than the time from the unification of Egypt up to its conquest by the Persians. And while native Egyptian rule, apart from a brief spell of independence from the Persians, came to an end in 525 BCE, Egyptian culture continued to exert tremendous influence upon her foreign rulers. After the death of Alexander III of Macedon, his empire was partitioned by several of his generals. Egypt fell to Ptolemy, who founded the Ptolemaic dynasty. The Ptolemies ruled Egypt as pharaohs up until the suicide of Cleopatra in 30 BCE. So Egyptian culture continued to have an influence on its foreign rulers for centuries after its independent existence had come to an end.
So, when one considers how beneficial the geography of Egypt was for the Egyptians, it would have proven equally so for the Israelites. As mentioned above, the Israelites were fruitful and multiplied in Egypt after having taken refuge there from the famine in Canaan. Since God had no qualms about murdering the first born son of every Egyptian, it should not have been much of a stretch for God to have exterminated the rest of the lot and left the land in possession of the Israelites. Just as Egypt's deserts protected its people from foreign invaders and allowed them ample peace and prosperity to develop their religion, so an Israelite kingdom in Egypt could have developed and practiced their worship of their God in solitude from their neighbors. And just as Egypt did, the Israelites could have formed a powerful state and served as a cultural and religious beacon for the entire Middle East.
Instead, the all powerful and omniscient God of the Bible gives his chosen people the land of Canaan, which was incapable of supporting the necessary level of agriculture to sustain a large population, and which lacked easily defensible borders to deter invaders. Its location, where Africa and Asia meet, put it smack in the path of the armies of its powerful neighbors as they marched back and forth against one another. As the historical record indeed shows, after several centuries of maintaining a precarious independence, the Israelites found themselves overrun alternately by the Egyptians, the Assyrians, and the Babylonians.
Maybe, one could argue, there were too many Egyptians in Egypt, and God had some qualms about exterminating all of them in order to give the land to his chosen people. Canaan was less populated and was therefore more manageable. But Egypt was not the only alternate option available to the Israelites that had favorable characteristics. God could also have told Abraham that he would give him and his descendants the island of Cyprus. The island was only sparsely populated while relatively aloof from the constant warfare raging in the Middle East during ancient times. Thus, as in Egypt, the Israelites could have led a peaceful existence devoted to the worship of their god in the absence of foreign interference.
Just think of it. If God had given the Israelites the island of Cyprus, there would be no Israeli-Palestinian dispute today. So, in this first chapter of the Chosen People of the Supreme Being Test, the God of the Bible gets a failing grade in geography. In the next chapter of this test, God and his chosen people will tackle military history.