I recently stumbled across something while working through Jeremiah. There is a mention of certain peoples utilizing different armaments in battle. That made me think about other people-based characteristics found in the Bible. The Bible works in broad strokes, it generalizes and glosses over unnecessary details to get its point across. The message is what matters, all the rest is fodder for commentary, speculation and discussion. I really love that. Anyway, the way the scriptures flatten down peoples into traits of their leaders or the most influential members of their society is a very normal, very human mentality.
Think about it. We live in a politically divided time, where the Red Team and Blue Team are fighting each other on many fronts, but if you actually took the time to sit down and talk with your political opponents, you would likely find that you share more than you don’t. Afterall, Red and Blue Presidents and have been united in bombing peoples on the other side of the world for at least the last 17 years. Their bases who supported them and continue to support them have sat by idly while our tax dollars got to supporting the Saudi-led War in Yemen. The good folks who went to college need to have jobs, even if they are selling death machines to dictatorial strong men, because gosh darn it, all Americans value education, industry and not talking about harsh realities.
Oops. Did I just characterize a whole Nation as sharing a small set of attributes? Moving on.
Come up, O horses, and rage, O chariots!
And let the mighty men come forth:
The Ethiopians and the Libyans who handle the shield,
And the Lydians who handle and bend the bow.
And from their cities at that time the children of Benjamin numbered twenty-six thousand men who drew the sword, besides the inhabitants of Gibeah, who numbered seven hundred select men.
Among all this people were seven hundred select men who were left-handed; every one could sling a stone at a hair’s breadth and not miss.
These quoted passages describe peoples as warriors of a certain type. The Benjamites are described more broadly here, but the story is talking about them as a people within a people, not as foreign enemies like the Ethiopians and Lydians in the passage from Jeremiah. It makes sense from the scriptural perspective that fellow Israelites would be defined in more rounded terms. The story goes on to describe a devastating Civil War that kills so many in and out of the tribe of Benjamin. All the people are brethren though and even after an oath to dry up the line of Benjamin is entered, the rest of Israel carves out a path to redemption and continued existence for them.
Today people have a hard time not seeing people who are slightly different from them as an Other, an Outsider. How much more so in a time and place where you are alienated from outsiders and even information about them. I’m no anthropologist or historian, but I would imagine most peoples living in pre-renaissance Europe didn’t come into contact with many people from foreign lands. When they did, it was likely an exotic experience. Did early Christians read passages like these and run with the ideas represented in them? Is this sort of National homogenization, as expressed in the scriptures, a possible origin of the idea of races in fantasy literature? This idea isn’t strictly biblical of course, but the Bible is a daily point of contact for me and I can’t help but seeing connections to it in my everyday life.