Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Gideon's 300 Fighters for Israel and the Spartan's 300 Fighters

Nadene Goldfoot
Moses lived in the period between 1391-1271 BCE.  Way before 722 BCE, which is when the Assyrians attacked Israel and took ten of the 12 tribes into exile,  and certainly  after the Israelites entered Canaan they still had problems with other people living in  the land.  When Israelis farmed and  sowed the land, the Midianites would come and destroy their crops and kill their sheep, oxen and donkeys along with the Amaleks, who had become fierce enemies when the Israelites were on their 40 year trek. These people would come like locusts on their camels and came into the land to destroy it.

 Midian was the son of Abraham and Keturah. Abraham's first wife, Sarah died and then he married Keturah and had 6 more sons who became the Arabian tribes living south and east of Canaan.   Their descendants made up the Midianites who lived in the East or the Sinaitic Peninsusla.  Some lived on the way to Egypt.  They were invading the Israelites who wanted to live in peace.
                                                         Gideon with his 300 men
In those days the 12 tribes were divided into groups of 1,000 men which in today's terms would be called a Regiment which in turn is 2 or more battalions .  The leader today is a Colonel.

The Midianites had an army of 135,000 which today would be led by a Field Marshall or General,   Amaleks and the people of the East gathered together and crossed the Jordan River and then camped in the Valley of Jezreel, ready for a big attack.  Gideon, son of Joash, was a member of the tribe of Manasseh. He called out for help to the other tribes of his own and Asher, Zebulun and Naphtali and they came to his aid.

 Now the Israelites were not all following Moses' Commandment of believing in one G-d as yet.  Some were still holding on to their belief in Baal and still maintained altars to such idols and Gideon had destroyed their altars.  Gideon's father even gave him the new name of Jerubaal, which must have had some meaning, perhaps like "instigator" or "fighter" or "idol crusher."

Getting back to the story, Gideon is encamped with all of these men fairly near the Midianite's camp.  G-d said that Gideon had too many men with him.  To reduce the ranks, Gideon told the men that whoever felt fear could leave him and 22,000 departed.  That left 10,000 with him.  G-d told Gideon that he still had too many soldiers, so was told to bring them all down to the water.

A test was about to begin.  Those men that lapped up the water with his tongue was to stand to one side.  Those who knelt on his knees to drink were to stand on another side.  The number of those who lapped with their hands to their mouths was only 300 men as all the rest had knelt on their knees to drink the water.  It was these special 300 men that were selected to be the fighters with Gideon.  This test showed Gideon that the 300 had no tendency toward believing in idols.  Less than 1% of the original army were worthy.  Some had laid prostrate on the ground to lap like dogs or knelt to reach the water and to Gideon this showed they were in the habit of making obeisance to idols. (Rashi).  I think it was also like an IQ test seeing who had evolved to a higher level of thought.

Gideon took his 300 men and divided them into 3 Companies  which in the USA would each be led by a Captain or Major and Gideon took charge of one of them.  He sent word to Ephriam with their thousands  to come help block the waterway and so all of Ephriam came to do this, but they were put out because they were not asked to fight.  They thought he felt that they were inferior warriors and were insulted.

Gideon and the 300 crossed the Jordan River They captured the two Midianite kings, Zebah and Zalmunna and terrified their whole camp.

Gideon and his 300 men won the battle which was indeed a miracle.  They had peace for 40 years.  After Gideon died, his people started in with idol worship again.  It takes a strong leader to show the way as people forget so quickly their history.  

Ishmael and Midian were brothers.  Sometimes the Midianites were referred to as Ishmaelites.  One interesting fact mentioned was that these Ishmaelites wore gold nose rings, and now each gave one to Gideon.  The total weight of all these rings was 1,700 gold dinars.

Sparta, a city state in Greece which was an enemy of Athens fought a battle of Thermopylae during the 2nd Persian War (Iran today) which was led by King Xerxes, son of Darius I.  Darius supposedly is the son of Queen Esther and Ahashuerus.  They were defeated by the Athenians in either August or September 480 BCE which was a much later period than Gideon in Israel.

Sparta's contingent of 300 of the finest soldiers were led by King Leonidas.  They led a Greek allied force of 2,700-5, 500 Spartan slaves  to a mountain pass to stall the Persian advance. The Persians had an elite force of 10,000 of their best soldiers and called them The Immortals.   The problem turned out that the Spartans didn't receive reinforcements because of the Greek religious belief of not being able to send troops during the festival of Karnea.  Though the Persians had 200,00 to 300,000 men, the Greeks had better tactics. They lasted for 3 days.   Their 300 were all killed.

There have been made several movies of the Spartan 300 in 2007.  One was Last Stand of the 300 starring Gerard Butler by Warner Bros.  and the other was The 300 Spartans starring Richard Egan by Century Fox.  They do not follow history accurately, according to reviews.  Best is to read Herodotus's account first.

Reference: http://www.secondworldwar.co.uk/index.php/army-sizes-a-ranks/86-army-units-a-sizes
Tanach, The Stone Edition: Judges 6: 15 Story about Gideon

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