Thursday, February 5, 2015

Maps of the Ancient History of Israel

Ever since the partition of Palestine after WWII  and the creation of the modern Israeli state (1948), there has been controversy. In this particular post I don't want to debate the problems, but I do want to show that the land of Israel has been the historic home of the Jews and that it was the forcible removal and ethnic suppression of Jews that led to "Palestine" being predominantly Arab Muslim in modern times; that is, until 1948.

First I'd like to briefly discuss language. Hebrew and Arabic both belong to the Semitic language family. The Semitic languages originated around 3750 BC. This shared linguistic heritage proves that the peoples of Israel, Palestine, indeed all of Arabia, all have a common ancestry. While the many groups of people may have had differing political and cultural developments, the human beings themselves are all part of the same family. Not to mention that genetically speaking, the Semitic peoples predominantly belong to Haplogroup J-P209 which originated 13,000-31,000 years ago.

Of course despite these similarities, conflicts arise over religious, cultural, and political differences.

The land of Israel had been mainly Jewish until the 3rd century AD and had a substantial Jewish population until the 7th century. The political divisions of the core Israeli area, even during times of foreign occupation, also remained fairly consistent throughout history.

Map of Canaan. Borders are the red and blue lines.

Known Canaanite culture dates back to at least 3500 BC (though the area has been inhabited by modern humans for basically all of human history). As time went on, the area became dominated by small city-states with nomadic tribes interspersed. By 2240 BC, the Semitic Akkadian Empire had reached the area of Canaan. Interestingly, the first king of Babylon was the Amorite (which included part of Canaan) king, Sumu-abum. He founded an independent city-state and reigned from 1898-1877 BC.

Starting around 1700 BC, the historical lands of Canaan were politically controlled by Egypt, however much of Canaan's population were native tribes and peoples who had already shared a common a history for centuries. Many of the people who lived there could claim decent from Phoenicia. The Phoenicians had extensive trade routes going so far as Morocco in the west to Greece and lower Italy in the north.

Map of Phoenicia

The first battle in history to have a reliable written record was the Battle of Megiddo (located in modern day Israel) around 1457 BC. It pitted Canaanites against Egypt and Pharaoh Thutmose III.

14th century Middle East, shows Canaan under Egyptian rule.

From the 1300s BC through the 11th century BC, the lands came under the control of the Middle Assyrian Empire. It was during this time that Judaism began to develop as a distinct faith and culture. The first written record of the word "Israel" comes from the Merneptah Stele, which was created in 1208 BC.

The physical archaeological evidence of a united Kingdom of Israel (1050-930 BC) is limited, however few doubt the existence of the leaders of Saul, David, and Solomon. Saul was a Hebrew leader who lived ca, 1082-1010 BC. After the breakdown of the kingdom in 930 BC, two successor states were created, the Kingdom of Israel and the Kingdom of Judah.

Despite conflicts with neighboring states, they prospered until the northern kingdom was conquered by Assyria in 740 BC. The Kingdom of Judah survived until it too was conquered by the Neo-Babylonian Empire in 586 BC. This gives a period of at least 464 years of dominate Jewish control of the southern half of modern-day Israel (including Jerusalem), and at least 622 years of distinct Jewish identity (from the Merneptah Stele to the Babylonian Exile).

It is important to note that the Babylonian Exile was only a partial exile. The Jewish elite were driven out of Israel, but many others remained. At the fall of Babylon to Persia in 539 BC, the Jews that had been exiled began to return, though this process did take many years. The exile period is a very important one in Jewish history because it was during the exile that the canonical books of the Torah were laid out in precise writing.   

The Second Temple Period (which replaced the First Temple Period after its destruction during the Babylonian Exile) began in 516 BC and continued until 70 AD. The land of Israel (or Judea) was incorporated in several other empires, however the Jews always retained a level of local control (usually as a vassal kingdom) and territorial changes were minimal. The name "Judea" was also retained throughout Persian, Hellenistic, and Roman periods.

The Judah "Yehud" autonomous province (in pink) under Persia. 539-332 BC.

When Persia was defeated by Alexander the Great, Judea was incorporated into his empire and it remained part of the successor Ptolemaic Egyptian kingdom (ruled by Alexander's general Ptolemy I and his family) until Judea was captured by the Seleucid Empire in 198 BC. Remember, during these periods the Temple still stood and Jewish culture continued to survive. 

Then in 140 BC, the Jewish Hasmonean dynasty ruled the kingdom. 

Hasmonean kingdom, 140-37 BC.

Between 73-63 BC, Judea became a client state of Rome. The Hasmonean dynasty lost control to Herod the Great (with the help of Mark Antony's army) at the Siege of Jerusalem in 37 BC. It remained a client kingdom until 6 AD.

Herodian kingdom. 

This ended a further 146 years of direct Jewish control, and 522 years of nominal Jewish control. 
Afterward, Judea became a Roman province. 

Roman Province of Judea.

Even under direct Roman rule, the territorial region remained fairly consistent with historical kingdoms and it was still inhabited by a majority of Jews. From 1208 BC until 135 AD the area retained its Jewish identity. That's 1,343 years. In 132 AD the area was embroiled in conflict as the Jewish people struggled to regain independence. The Bar Kokhba Revolt  lasted four years and was mercilessly crushed by Rome: 580,000 Jews were killed during the revolt. This began the forced destruction of the Jewish way of life that would last 1,800 years. 

Judea was renamed "Syria Palaestina". Jews still made up the majority of the population, but from 200 AD and beyond they increasingly became the minority. With the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD, and the massive loss of life through a series of revolts (culminating in Bar Kokhba), the Jews were largely dispersed. The province became Christian over time and existed until 390 AD when it was changed to Palaestina Prima under the Byzantine Empire.  

Byzantine Palestine 5th century.

Jewish identity survived in some pockets, especially in Samaria. A series of revolts during the 5th and 6th centuries led to the near total destruction of the Jewish population with over 200,000 killed. Then, in 614 AD the Sasanian Empire took control. After the Sasanians were overtaken by Muslim conquests, the area was renamed Jund Filastin.  

As I hope is now clear, Israel (the children of Jacob) lasted for over 1,300 years until a series of dreadful conflicts saw their numbers reduced to a mere fraction. The population of Judea/Palestine/Israel had never been very large, only a few million at most. After the destruction of their last strongholds, Israel became diaspora.

---Jacob Bogle, 2/5/15

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