Canaanite and Israelite Periods
- 5000 years ago the geo-political situation in the Holy Land was of city-states (like the Greek Polis, later in Aegean world). Every city controlled a certain territory, and cities would sometimes collaborate, and some times would fight each other.
- Archaeologists call this period “The Bronze Age“, because of the use of that metal in that period; The Bible calls its people – “The Canaanites“.
- 3200 years ago, the Canaanites became weak, and so were the neighboring cultures – the Egyptian in the SE and the cultures in Mesopotamia in the NW. And the mighty Hittites? – They completely disappeared!. Why is it happening?, the common explanation is a climatic disaster, causing a famine and turmoil.
- And while big powers weaken, new local powers rise – Moabites, the Ammonites, the Edomites, and in the Samaria and Judean hills – the Israelites. They are unique group speaking the language called Hebrew, and sharing a revolutionary religious concept of a belief in one god (only) and that it has no physical shape!.
- But while the Israelites settle the mountains, the coastal plain is inhabited by a new rivaling force – The Philistines.
- Archaeology proved that the Philistines were members of the “Sea People“, groups of people who migrated from the Aegean area, apparently because of the overall famine. Coming from the sea they settled along the coastal plain, and formed five major cities – Ashdod, Aacalon, Gaza, and in land Ekron and Gath. Having an advanced metal technology, the Bible admits to their superiority, and how once they even capture the ark of the covenant(!)
- The turning point takes place about 3000 years ago, when the two forces will clash in the Ellah valley. Both sides agree to have representative fight in their name, and declare “if you win we’ll be your slaves; if we win you will ours”. The Philistines send an “uncircumcised giant” named Goliath. The Israelites are all scared, but to the rescue comes a young red head from Bethlehem named David. He hits Goliath straight in his forehead, and for the first time the Israelites are victorious.
- The philistines retreat to their cities, and gradually they will disappear from the face of history. David becomes a celebrity, and after the death of Saul he is appointed king. He unites for the first time ALL the 12 tribes under his throne, and it then that he decide to create a new capital for his new united kingdom – Jerusalem.
- Jerusalem is a small Canaanite village inhabited by Jebusites, yet David designates it to be the new capital for the new kingdom he created. He takes it over by force, yet by the mountain top above, intending it to be the place of the Temple. Later tradition will place the near sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham on the same mountain top.
- David’s son, Solomon, builds the Temple on top of the Temple mount above the city, and for about 400 years it will be the focal point of pilgrimage and admiration. Archaeologically however there is nothing left of it today. In 586 BCE the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem, destroyed the city, demolished Solomon’s temple, and sent the Jewish people to exile in Babylon. Frankly this should have been the end of the Jews. Similar ethnic groups disappeared in this process – the Maobites, the Ammonites, and the Philistines.
The Second Temple Period
- Yet the Jewish people kept their identity and culture in Babylonian exile, and 70 years later, when the opportunity was given to return to the Land of Zion, they came back. This movement, called “return to Zion” is recorded in the last books of the Bible (Ezra and Nehemiah), and in modern times the Jewish movement for returning to Zion will take same name – “Zionism“.
- The Jews rebuilt Jerusalem and its temple, and over the next centuries they will thrive. In the second century BCE they successfully rebelled against the Seleucid Greeks and formed an independent Jewish kingdom for about a century. The event of re-gaining control of over the Temple and purifying it is commemorated to this day by a holiday called Hannukah.
- But in 63 BCE the Roman general Pompeius conquers Jerusalem, killing 12,000 Jews, and entering the temple, even the Holy of Holies. He declares the Jewish kingdom is now vassal to the Roman Empire, and is named PROVINCIA IVDAEA. The Romans allow the Jews to continue their odd cult (worshipping only one God, that has no physical image??.. how bizzar….) and resting every seventh day (=Shabbath), BUT – a new tax is introduced.. The Royal Jewish Hasmonean family continues to rule for about 20 years, but in 40 BCE the Romans appoint a new governor to the province – Herod “the Great”.
- Herod is of Edomite origin. His grandparents were converted by force to Judaism, but he was not considered a “real Jew” by the Jews, nor did he consider himself as one. He was Roman more then anything else. At the age of 25 he is governor of the Galillee, and at 33 (40 BCE) he is appointed “tetraרch” of PROVINCIA IVDAEA. He proves to be a tough ruler over his subjects, brutally suppressing any Jewish opposition. On the other hand Herod initiated many extravagant building projects, and in he is considered the biggest builder ever in the Holy land. In Caesarea he takes a nearly sand dune in turns it to one of the biggest man made port in his time (!).
- In Jerusalem Herod builds himself a large palace, a fortress, he adds markets, and above all – he rebuilds the Jewish temple in an unprecedented scale. He flattens the mountain by massive retaining walls, forming a plaza equal in size to 26 football fields (!). The temple itself is replaced with a complete new one. This amazing edifice draws Jewish pilgrims and visitors. Contemporary Roman historians stated that Jerusalem is “by far, the most beautiful of the cities in the East”.
- The tragedy is that this marvellous city will be completely destroyed, again, this time by the Romans. Following the death of King Herod, The Romans eventually appointed Roman governors (“procurators”) to rule the province. Most famous of the was Pontius Pilatus, who sentanced to death a Jew from the Galilee (Jesus from Nazareth) who claimed Kingdom of Heaven is soon to come.
- by 66 CE the Jews were fed up with Roman control and declared a rebellion against them, hoping to achieve indepandacne, as they have achieved previously against the Seleucid Greeks. Big mistake!!. in 65 CE the Romans had 27 legions (each bearing 5000 tough Italians!), plus many auxiliary forces. And they had no other frontiers at that time!.
- After arragnging four legions, Vespasian and his son Titus lead their forces and suppressed brutally the Jewish orebbelion. Famous battles in the north took place in Yodefat and Gamla.
- Summer of year 70 CE Jerusalem itself is conquered, and on the ninth day of the month of Av the temple itself is destroyed. Again the Jews are banned form Jerusalem; again their temple is destroyed; again their city is demolished. This exile will last nearly 2000 years (but we are back!)
- Following the destruction of Jerusalem the Romans have a whole legion stationed in the city to make sure the Jews will not make another attempt to rebel and conquer the city. They will also be the force that will conquer in 74 CE the last Jewish stronghold at Masada.
Roman and Byzantine Periods
- Later Jerusalem’s name is also changed to AELIA CAPITOLINA, and the name of the province is change to PROVINCIA SYRIA PALAESTINA. The Holy Land becomes very pagan.
- But in the 4th century the Roman Empire goes through an amazing process and what began as a Jewish Sect in Judaea, becomes the official religion of the whole Roman empire (!)
- The Holy Land enjoys much development. Its population grows, and sites related to Jesus and the New Testament attract many Christian pilgrims from all over the ancient world.
- During that period, Judaism gradually recovers from the trauma of the destruction of its temple. Its Rabbis re-establish the Sanhedrin; the focus shifts to the Galilee; Synagogues replace the temple; and prayers replace sacrifices. The mishna and the Gmara is formed in that time.
- In the 7th century CE a new force rises. From the sands of Saudi Arabia the armies of Islam spread through the eastern Mediterranean, and in 638 CE Jerusalem is conquered. In General the land goes into economical decline, and many sites will be either destroyed or abandoned.
- Various Muslim forces will control the land until the 20th century, but in the 12th century Christians will reign again over the Holy land – the Crusaders.
- Following a call of the Pope to “free the Tomb of Christ from the Muslim infidels“, many Europeans march to the Holy Land with religious zeal to take control over Jerusalem. On July 15th 1099 they breach the city’s walls and massacre all its Muslim and Jewish inhabitants. For 88 years they form in the Holy land “The kingdom of Jerusalem” until they loose in a crucial battle in the Galilee to the Muslims led by Saladin.
- Following the expulsion of the Crusaders the land is ruled by different Muslim forces until the early 20th Century: Ayubians, Mamluks, and Ottomans.
- Only in the 20th century the Holy land will change religious hands again. During the First World War the British respond to a Turkish attempt to conquer the Suez Canal, and conquer the Holy land. They rule mostly over Muslim population, but also over an old\ new rising ethnic factor – the Jews..
- Remember the Jews?? 90 generations after they were expelled from Jerusalem, in the 19th century they start coming back, motivated to recreate Jewish life here in the Holy land. The Muslims oppose to this and set occasional pogroms against the Jews and riots against the British.
- By 1947 the British are fed up trying control the two rivaling forces and decide to bail out. “let the world decide what will be the fate of this land. We’re moving out”.
- The UN sends a special delegation which scouts the land, and concludes the Jews and Arabs can’t get along, and they recommend what? – to split the Holy Land. Make part of it Jewish and part of it Muslim. This recommendation is approved in the historical vote of the UN in November 29th, 1947.
- what is the Jewish reaction to this decision? They rejoice!. They dance in the streets!. After nearly 2000 years they are entitled to rule independently!. They will no longer be a minority in the mercy of others!. The recent calamity of the Holocaust demonstrated just how important it is.
- what is the reaction of the Arab world to this decision? “no split, no compromise, no approval for a Jewish state”. The very next Jewish buses were shot by Arabs.
- The Jews were forced into a long and bitter war which lasted one year, three months and ten days, and lost 1% of their population ( in today’s terms in the USA that would mean loosing 31 million people!!). And at some stage all the neighboring Arab countries joined the local Palestinians and simultaneously attacked us from all frontiers (!). If you had to bet, who do think won?
- The Jews call this war “the war of Independence“, because against all odds, they managed hold against the attack of the Arab world, and create the independent state, the state of Israel.
- How do the Palestinians call this war? “the Nakba” – “the disaster”, because they bitterly lost, and as it turns out, instead of helping them, some Arab countries grabbed the opportunity, and annexed Palestinian territory to be under their control. The Egyptians took over the Gaza Strip, and the Jordanians took over the West Bank (Judea and Samaria), including eastern Jerusalem and its old city.
- The 1948 war may have ended, but the Isreali-Arab conflict is still much alive. Most of the Arab world still doesn’t recognize the existence of the state of Israel, and every 6-7 years the conflict escalates to a war: 1956 – “operation Kadesh“; 1967 – “The Six Day war“; 1973 – “Yom Kippur war“; 1982 – “First Lebanon war“; 1987 – outbreak of the “first Intifiada“; 1991 – “The Gulf War“; 2000 – outbreak of the “Second Intifada“; 2006 – “Second Lebanon war“. Don’t be surprised if another war takes place between 2011 to 2012. Just do the math..
- Optimism is a key factor for living in Israel, and so is ingenuity. “The promised land” is actually very poor in resources, and as it turns out the most valuable resource of the state is – Jewish brains. Israel has seven universities; it has the biggest development investment in the world compared to its size; it is the biggest water recycling country in the world, and the biggest cutting diamonds industry in the world; it has the second largest high-tech industry in the world; and it is the fourth largest manufacturer of military equipment in the world. Some of the inventions made in Israel – drip irrigation; Disk on Key; Dothan semiconductor by Intel; and many more..