Jewish history

Ancient Israelites

For the first two periods the history of the Jews is mainly that of Palestine. It begins among those peoples which occupied the area lying between the Nile river on the one side and the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers on the other. Surrounded by ancient seats of culture in Egypt and Babylonia, by the deserts of Arabia, and by the highlands of Asia Minor, the land of Canaan (later Judea, then Palestine, then Israel) was a meeting place of civilizations. The land was traversed by old-established trade routes and possessed important harbors on the Gulf of Akaba and on the Mediterranean coast, the latter exposing it to the influence of other cultures of the Fertile Crescent.

Traditionally Jews around the world claim descendance mostly from the ancient Israelites (also known as Hebrews), who settled in the land of Israel. The Israelites traced their common lineage to the biblical patriarch Abraham through Isaac and Jacob. Jewish tradition holds that the Israelites were the descendents of Jacob's twelve sons (one of which named Judah), who settled in Egypt. Their direct descendents respectively divided into twelve tribes, who were enslaved under the rule of pharaoh Ramses II. In the Jewish faith, the emigration of the Israelites from Egypt to Canaan (the Exodus), led by the prophet Moses, marks the formation of the Israelites as a people.

Jewish tradition has it that after forty years of wandering in the desert, the Israelites arrived to Canaan and conquered it under the command of Joshua, dividing the land among the twelve tribes. After a period of rule by rulers named Judges, a kingdom was established under Saul and continued under King David and Solomon. King David conquered Jerusalem (first a Canaanite, then a Jebusite town) and made it his capital. After Solomon's reign the nation split into two kingdoms, Israel (in the north) and Judah (in the south). Israel was conquered by the Assyrian ruler Shalmaneser V in the 8th century BC. The kingdom of Judah was conquered by a Babylonian army in the early 6th century BC. The Judahite elite was exiled to Babylon, but later at least a part of them returned to their homeland, led by prophets Ezra and Nehemiah, after the subsequent conquest of Babylonia by the Persians. Already at this point the extreme fragmentation among the Israelites was apparent, with the formation of political-religious factions, the most important of which would later be called Sadduccees and Pharisees.

After the Persians were defeated by Alexander the Great, his demise, and the division of Alexander's empire among his generals, the Seleucid Kingdom was formed. A deterrioration of relations between hellenized Jews and religious Jews led the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes to impose decrees banning certain Jewish religious rites and traditions. Consequently, the orthodox Jews revolted under the leadership of the Hasmonean family, (also known as the Maccabees). This revolt eventually led to the formation of an independent Jewish kingdom, known as the Hasmonaean Dynasty, which lasted from 165 BCE to 63 BCE. The Hasmonean Dynasty eventually disintegrated as a result of civil war between the sons of Salome Alexandra, Hyrcanus II and Aristobulus II. The people, who did not want to be governed by a king but by theocratic clergy, made appeals in this spirit to the Roman authorities. A Roman campaign of conquest and annexation, led by Pompey, soon followed.

Judea under Roman rule was at first an independent Jewish kingdom, but gradually the rule over Judea became less and less Jewish, until it became under the direct rule of Roman administration (and renamed the province of Judaea), which was often callous and brutal in its treatment of its Judean subjects. In 66 CE, Judeans began to revolt against the Roman rulers of Judea. The revolt was defeated by the Roman emperors Vesesapian and Titus Flavius. The Romans destroyed much of the Temple in Jerusalem and, according to some accounts, stole artifacts from the temple, such as the Menorah. Judeans continued to live in their land in significant numbers, and were allowed to practice their religion, until the 2nd century when Julius Severus ravaged Judea while putting down the bar Kokhba revolt. After 135, Jews were not allowed to enter the city of Jerusalem, although this ban must have been at least partially lifted, since at the destruction of the rebuilt city by the Persians in the 7th century, Jews are said to have lived there.

Many of the Judaean Jews were sold into slavery while others became citizens of other parts of the Roman Empire. This is the traditional explanation to the diaspora. However, a majority of the Jews in Antiquity were most likely descendants of convertites in the cities of the Hellenistic-Roman world, especially in Alexandria and Asia Minor, and were only affected by the diaspora in its spiritual sense, as the sense of loss and homelessness which became a cornerstone of the Jewish creed, much supported by persecutions in various parts of the world. The policy of conversion, which spread the Jewish religion throughout the Hellenistic civilization, seems to have ended with the wars against the Romans and the following reconstruction of Jewish values for the post-Temple era.

Mishnah, Talmud

Medieval Jewry

Jewish Communities of Medieval Spain, France, Germany. The Expulsion of Jews from Spain (1492) and other countries.

Rennaisance Jewry

Emergence of Enlightenment and Hassidism movements.

Jews in the 19th Century

Emancipation, Reform and Conservative Movements, Dreyfuss Trial, Herzl and Zionism.

Jews in the 20th Century

Jewish involvement in World War I. Jews in the Weimar Republic and other countries between the World Wars. World War II and the Holocaust. The Establishment of the State of Israel.

See Also

Judaism, List of noted Jews
  • Barnavi, Eli (Ed.) (1992). A Historical Atlas of the Jewish People. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. ISBN 0-679-40332-9
  • [Writings of Josephus Flavius], as translated and collected by Crosswalk.com, a Christian website.



copyright 2004 FactsAbout.com