Brief History of the Jews

History of the Hebrews/Israelites/Jews from the time of Abraham (2000 BCE) to 1650 CE.

According to the Torah, Abraham is called the first Hebrew, and the father of the Hebrews.  As it says in Genesis 14:13, "And there came one that had escaped, and told Abram the Hebrew; for he dwelt in the plain of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol, and brother of Aner: and these [were] confederate with Abram."  Also according to the Torah, Abraham's birth-name was Abram and Allah switched it to Abraham.  Genesis 17:5, "Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee."  Abraham became the father of 9 great nations (through his 8 sons) who begat other nations.  The first being the Arab nation of Ishmael. Genesis 25:12-16, "Now these [are] the generations of Ishmael, Abraham's son, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah's handmaid, bare unto Abraham:  And these [are] the names of the sons of Ishmael, by their names, according to their generations: the firstborn of Ishmael, Nebajoth; and Kedar, and Adbeel, and Mibsam,  And Mishma, and Dumah, and Massa,  Hadar, and Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedemah:  These [are] the sons of Ishmael, and these [are] their names, by their towns, and by their castles; twelve princes according to their nations." The second nation is the  Roman nation of Esau (Edom) who was the other son of Isaac.  The third being the Hebrew nation of Jacob (The 12 Tribes of Israel).  The other 6 nations are the sons of Keturah, the wife he took after Sarah died, that he sent to the east (India, etc.).  Genesis 25:1-2, "Then again Abraham took a wife, and her name [was] Keturah.  And she bare him Zimran, and Jokshan, and Medan, and Midian, and Ishbak, and Shuah."  Genesis 25:5-6, "And Abraham gave all that he had unto Isaac.  But unto the sons of the concubines, which Abraham had, Abraham gave gifts, and sent them away from Isaac his son, while he yet lived, eastward, unto the east country."

There is an evolution of names for the Hebrews (the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob).  THE TWELVE SONS OF JACOB (Genesis 29:31-30:24; 35:16-26):
· Sons of Leah: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun
· Sons of Rachel: Joseph and Benjamin
· Sons of Bilhah (Rachel's handmaid): Dan and Naphtali
· Sons of Zilpah (Leah's handmaid): Gad and Asher

The twelve sons of Jacob became known as the Children of Israel, as Jacob was later called.  Genesis 32:28, " And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed."  Prophet Joseph, (Jacob's son), had 2 sons of his own, Manasseh and Ephraim, each of them became a tribe of Israel.  All of the 12 tribes received a portion in the land of Israel, except Levi who was scattered amongst all of the 12 tribes.  As it says in Joshua 14:4, "For the children of Joseph were two tribes, Manasseh and Ephraim: therefore they gave no part unto the Levites in the land, save cities to dwell [in], with their suburbs for their cattle and for their substance." See the map of the inheritance of Israel's Sons in the Promised Land.

The origin of the name Jews is given below.  Because all Jews are Hebrews, Jews casually refer to all past Hebrews as Jews.  So as the Qur'an says in 3.65: "Ye People of the Book! Why dispute ye about Abraham, when the Torah (Law) and the Gospel Were not revealed Till after him? Have ye no understanding?" and in 3.67: "Abraham was not a Jew nor yet a Christian; but he was true in Faith, and bowed his will to Allah's (Which is Islam), and he joined not gods with Allah."  And Sahih Bukhari Volume 8, Book 77, Number 597: Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah's Apostle said, "No child is born but has the Islamic Faith (submitting to God), but its parents turn it into a Jew or a Christian."  On the technical level, Jews know that Abraham was not called a Jew, but was called a Hebrew.  It is only because Hebrews are now called Jews that Abraham is referred to by the Jews as the first Jew.  If all Jews were referred to as Hebrews right now, Jews (or Hebrews) would refer to Abraham as the first Hebrew, which he was.

Qur'an 5.20-26, "Remember Moses said to his people: "O my people! Call in remembrance the favour of Allah unto you, when He produced prophets among you, made you kings, and gave you what He had not given to any other among the peoples. "O my people! Enter the holy land which Allah hath assigned unto you, and turn not back ignominiously, for then will ye be overthrown, to your own ruin." They said: "O Moses! In this land are a people of exceeding strength: Never shall we enter it until they leave it: if (once) they leave, then shall we enter." (But) among (their) Allah-fearing men were two on whom Allah had bestowed His grace: They said: "Assault them at the (proper) Gate: when once ye are in, victory will be yours; But on Allah put your trust if ye have faith." They said: "O Moses! while they remain there, never shall we be able to enter, to the end of time. Go thou, and thy Lord, and fight ye two, while we sit here (and watch)." He said: "O my Lord! I have power only over myself and my brother: so separate us from this rebellious people!" Allah said: "Therefore will the land be out of their reach for forty years: In distraction will they wander through the land: But sorrow thou not over these rebellious people."

Qur'an 7.137: "And We made a people (the Bani Israel), considered weak (and of no account), inheritors of lands in both east and west, - lands whereon We sent down Our blessings. The fair promise of thy Lord was fulfilled for the Children of Israel, because they had patience and constancy, and We levelled to the ground the great works and fine buildings which Pharaoh and his people erected (with such pride)."

When Moses died in what is now called Jordan, his successor Prophet Joshua (Yusha bin Nun) led the Israelites into the land of Canaan in roughly 1300 BCE and defeated the 7 nations living there with the help of Allah.  They brought the ark of the covenant (the stone tablets given to Moses) to Hebron and put them in a tabernacle (tent).  King David in roughly 1000 BCE ruled the Kingdom of Israel made up of the 12 tribes and wanted to establish his capitol in Jerusalem, and so he did and reestablished the tabernacle on Mt. Moriah.  And that is why Jerusalem is called the city of David.  He also wanted to make a Temple for the ark of the covenant but Allah told him that he had too much blood on his hands because he was a warrior, seeing as though he was always fighting neighboring nations who were attacking the Kingdom of Israel (such as Jalut and the Philistines).  Allah told him that his son Solomon would be the one to build the Temple.

And so then Prophet Solomon built the Holy Temple (Bait ul Maqdis) in Jerusalem on Mt.Moriah in roughly 965 BCE and established the worship of the One God for all the 12 tribes.  When he died after ruling for 40 years, the Kingdom of Israel split into 2, the northern Kingdom of 10 tribes (It consisted of nine landed tribes: Zebulun, Issachar, Asher, Naphtali, Dan, Manaseh, Ephraim, Reuben and Gad, and some of Levi [which had no land allocation]), retaining the name Israel with Samaria as its capital. And the southern Kingdom of the tribes of Judah, Simeon, Benjamin, and part of the tribe of Levi going by the name of Judea has Jerusalem as its capital.  In 721 BCE, the Assyrians came and destroyed the Northern Kingdom of Israel and they became known as the 10 lost tribes, because no one knows what happend to them.

Qur'an 17.4-8: "And We gave (Clear) Warning to the Children of Israel in the Book, that twice would they do mischief on the earth and be elated with mighty arrogance (and twice would they be punished)!  When the first of the warnings came to pass, We sent against you Our servants given to terrible warfare (the Babylonians): They entered the very inmost parts of your homes; and it was a warning (completely) fulfilled.  Then did We grant you the Return as against them: We gave you increase in resources and sons, and made you the more numerous in man-power.  If ye did well, ye did well for yourselves; if ye did evil, (ye did it) against yourselves. So when the second of the warnings came to pass, (We permitted your enemies (the Romans)), to disfigure your faces, and to enter your Temple as they had entered it before, and to visit with destruction all that fell into their power.  It may be that your Lord may (yet) show Mercy unto you; but if ye revert (to your sins), We shall revert (to Our punishments): And we have made Hell a prison for those who reject (all Faith)."

Qur'an 17.104: "And We said unto the Children of Israel after him: Dwell in the land; but when the promise of the Hereafter cometh to pass We shall bring you as a crowd gathered out of various nations."

In 586 BCE, the Babylonians ("the first of the warnings") came and destroyed the Temple of Solomon and exiled the Judeans to Babylon.  As the Psalmist writes, "By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, we also wept, when we remembered Zion.We hung our lyres on the willows in its midst. For there those who carried us away captive required of us a song; and those who tormented us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How shall we sing the Lord's song in a foreign land? If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.If I do not remember you, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy." (Psalms 137:1-6)  It was during this time that the Babylonians starting calling the Judeans, Jews for short, and their religion became known as Judaism. In 516 BCE, after Cyrus the Persian defeated the Babylonians, he commissioned the Jews to go back to Jerusalem and rebuid the temple.  As the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh) says, "In the first year of Cyrus, king of Persia, upon the conclusion of the Lord's prophecy, by the mouth of Jeremiah, the Lord aroused the spirit of Cyrus, king of Persia, and he issued a proclamation throughout his kingdom - and in writing as well, saying, "Thus said Cyrus the King of Persia, 'All the kingdoms of the earth has the Lord, God of heaven, given to me and He has commanded me to build him a Temple in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of His entire people - may his God be with him - and let him go to Jerusalem which is in Judah and build the Temple of the Lord..." (Ezra 1:3)  And so under the leadership of Ezra (Uzair), they returned and rebuilt the Temple.  This was in fulfillment of the Prophet Jeremiah who prophecized, ""And this whole land [of Israel] shall be a ruin, and a waste, and these nations [the tribes of Israel] shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. And it shall come to pass, when the seventy years are fulfilled, that I will punish the king of Babylon ..." (Jeremiah 25:11-12)  and "For thus said the Lord, "After seventy years for Babylonia have been completed, I will attend to you, and I will fulfill for you My favorable promise -- to return you to this place (the land of Israel)." (Jeremiah 29:10). 

During the next 500 years, the Jews would go through many trials and tribulations by invading pagan armies, such as the Persians, the Syrians, the Greeks, and the Romans.  Finally in 70 CE, forty years after Jesus, and after the Jews had revolted against Roman occupation of Judea, the Romans ("the second of the warnings") destroyed the second Temple.  Then in 135 CE, the Jews revolted again and when they were defeated, the Romans exiled them out of Jerusalem and Judea into the vast Roman Empire.  It was at this time that the Pagan Roman Emporer Hadrian renamed Judea to Palestina after the Israelites long time enemies (the Philistines) in an attempt to disassociate the land from the Jews.

On Mt. Sinai, Prophet Moses had been given a written Torah and an oral Torah (the Mishnah).  The written Torah is the equivalent to the Qur'an and the oral Torah is the equivalent to the Hadith which are explanations of the written Torah and how to implement it in your life.  For example, the Qur'an tells you to pray but not how to pray.  The Hadith goes into the details of teaching you how to pray.  Another example, the Qur'an says that a woman should cover her body and be modest but does not give the details, the hadith tells her exactly what she needs to cover.  The same is with the Torah and the Mishnah.

It was at about 200 CE that Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi decided to committ to writing the Oral Torah (Mishnah) that had been given to Moses and passed down through the generations orally by memorization, so as to prevent it from being forgotten in the diaspora.  By the beginning of the 5th century, there were 2 main centers of Jewish scholarship, that being in Palestine and of Babylon (Iraq).  It was at this time that Rabbi's in Jersalem wrote a commentary on the Mishnah, called the Gemara, together becoming the Jerusalem Talmud.  And then in the beginning of the 6th century the Rabbi's of Babylon wrote their own commentary on the Mishnah, and that became known as the Babylonian Talmud.  The Babylonian Talmud having more precedence over the Jerusalem Talmud as far as scholarship, that is the one that is studied in the modern day more intensely. 

The Mishnah is divided into 6 books.  There is the book of Seeds dealing with agricultural issues and daily prayer.  The book of set feasts handles the ritual requirements of the Sabbath, festivals, and fasts.  The book on women deal with matrimonial law, women's rights and responsibilites, and the laws of divorce and vows.  The book of damages treats many types of civil and criminal law along with a popular ethical guide.  The book on sacred things deals with formal ritual of the Jerusalem Temple.  And finally the book on ritual cleanliness (Tohorot=Taharah) treats various aspects of human, ritual, and food purity.

It was in the early fourth century, that the Roman Empire became Christian under the rule of the Emporer Constantine.  Until this time there had always been a debate within Christendom as to whether Jesus was Divine (trinitarianism) or whether he was just a human Messiah (unitarianism).  The struggle became so intense that it was brought before the Emporer and at the Council of Nicea in 325 CE, Constantine declared the "Holy Trinity" as part of official Christian dogma.  Along with this official declaration of the rejection of  Jewish Christianity, the Gentile Christian world became very hostile to the Jews.  So much so that they forbid Jews from living or visiting Jerusalem and they used the holy Temple Mount as a dung hill.

It was not until the Caliph Omar took over the city of Jerusalem in 638 CE from the Christians, that he cleaned off the Temple Mount with his own bare hands, rededicated the site for a place of worship and had the Masjid ul Aqsa built there,  as well as allowing the Jews to live in Jerusalem again.  It was from that time on that the Jews always preferred living under Muslim rule than Christian rule because they were actually given human rights and treated as fellow worshippers of Allah. 

Until the early 12th century, roughly 90% of the world's Jewish population lived in Muslim lands (Spain, Palestine, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Egypt).  It was only when the Almohads disrupted the Golden Age of Spain, that Jews starting moving en masse to Germany, Poland, Russia, and the rest of Christian Europe.  For example, Jews did not start going to Poland until 1264 CE!  Following the expulsion of Jews and Muslims from Spain in 1492, Jews were welcomed into Ottoman lands by Sultan Bayezid II, who declared: "They tell me that Ferdinand of Spain is a wise man but he is a fool. For he takes his treasure and sends it all to me."  As the Ottoman Empire spread, the Turks came to Israel, and it was the greatest of the Ottoman sultans, known as "Suleiman the Magnificent," who re-built the walls of Jerusalem. It is fascinating that Suleiman is Turkish for Solomon - and that it is his walls that define the Old City of Jerusalem to this day.  At this time many Jews started to return to the Land of Israel.  By 1650, geographically, about half the Jewish population was located in the Middle East, with a high concentration in Turkey and the lands of the Ottoman Empire (like Palestine). And about half in Europe, with a high concentration in Eastern Europe (Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania.)

Please refer to Crash Course in Jewish History for more information.