What was the History of the Jews?

The Jews are one of the most ancient people groups in the world today. Their history has been extensively recorded in the Bible, by historians outside of the Bible, and with the discovery of archeological artefacts. We have more facts about their history then any other nation and these data provide a continuous account going back about 4000 years. To make the history of the Israelites (an earlier Old Testament term for Jews) easier to follow, I will build a series of timelines showing their history based on the Bible and facts from these other sources.

Abraham: Family Tree of the Jews begins

The timeline starts with Abraham, one of the most recognized characters in ancient history. He was given a promise of nations coming from him and had encounters with God culminating in a symbolic enactment of sacrificing his son Isaac. This sacrifice is still mysterious to many today but it was a sign of future events. The timeline continues in green when the Israelites were slaves in Egypt. This period of time started when Joseph, grandson of Isaac, led the Israelites to Egypt, but they subsequently became slaves there.

bible timeline with abraham and moses in history

Living in Egypt as slaves of Pharoah

 

 

Moses: The Jews become a Nation under God

Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt by inaugurating the equally mysterious Passover Festival, allowing their Exodus from Egypt and their arrival at the land of Israel that had been promised to Abraham hundreds of years before. Moses pronounced Blessings and Curses on the Israelites at the end of his life as he finished the writing of the Torah – when the timeline goes from green to yellow. These Blessings & Curses have followed the Jews ever since – as one can see by learning their history.

bible historical timeline from Abraham to david

Living in the Land – but no King in Jerusalem

For several hundred years the Israelites lived in this land but they did not have a King, nor did they have a capital city of Jerusalem – it belonged to other people in this time period. However, with David about 1000 BC this changed.

historical timeline Living with Davidic Kings ruling from Jerusalem

Living with Davidic Kings ruling from Jerusalem

 

David establishes a Royal Dynasty at Jerusalem

David conquered Jerusalem and made it his capital city. It was he who received the promise of a coming ‘Christ’ and the anticipation of this title started with him.  His son Solomon ruled as his successor and built the First Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. The descendants of King David continued to rule for about 400 years and this period is shown in green-blue (1000 – 600 BC). This was the glory period for the Israelites – they started to see the Blessings promised. They were a world power, had an advanced society, culture, and their Temple. But the Old Testament also recounts their descent into social and religious corruption and idol worship during this time. Many of the Old Testament books written in this period were warnings that the Curses of Moses would come upon the Jews if they did not change. But these warnings were not heeded.  A series of prophecies of a coming ‘Branch’ from David started in this era.

The First Jewish Exile to Babylon

So finally around 600 BC the Curses came true. Nebuchadnezzar, a powerful King from Babylon came – and just like Moses had predicted in his Curse when he wrote:

The Lord will bring a nation against you from far away … a fierce-looking nation without respect for the old or pity for the young. … They will besiege all the cities throughout the land. (Deuteronomy 28: 49-52)

Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem, burned it, and destroyed the Temple that Solomon had built. He then took the Israelites and deported the majority across his vast Babylonian Empire. Only the poor Israelites remained behind. This fulfilled the predictions of Moses that

You will be uprooted from the land you are entering to possess. Then the Lord will scatter you among all nations, from one end of the earth to the other. (Deuteronomy 28:63-64)

jewish historical timeline Conquered and exiled to Babylon

Conquered and exiled to Babylon

So for 70 years, the period shown in red, the Israelites lived as exiles outside the land promised to Abraham and his descendants.

Return from Exile under the Persians

After that, the Persian Emperor Cyrus conquered Babylon and Cyrus became the most powerful person in the world. He issued a decree that permitted the Israelites to return to this land.

jewish historial timeline Living in the Land as a part of Persian Empire

Living in the Land as a part of Persian Empire

However they were no longer an independent country, they were now a province within the vast Persian Empire.  This continued for 200 years and is shown in pink in the timeline. During this time the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem was rebuilt (known as the 2nd Temple).  Also, the ‘Branch’ theme develops further by identifying the name of the coming Branch as ‘Jesus’.

The period of the Greeks

Then Alexander the Great conquered the Persian Empire and made the Israelites a province in the Greek Empires for a further 200 years. This is shown in dark blue.

jewish historical timeline Living in the Land as part of Greek Empires

Living in the Land as part of Greek Empires

 

The Period of the Romans

Then the Romans defeated the Greek Empires and they became the dominant world power. The Israelites again became a province in this Empire and it is shown in light yellow. This is the time when Jesus lived and this explains why there was a Roman Governor and Roman soldiers throughout the gospels – because the Romans ruled the Jews in the Land of Israel during the life of Jesus.

jewish historical timeline Living in the Land as part of Roman Empire

Living in the Land as part of Roman Empire

The Second Jewish exile under the Romans

From the time of the Babylonians (600 BC) the Israelites (or Jews as they were called now) had never been independent as they had been under the Kings of David. They were ruled by other governments of other people. The Jews resented this and after Jesus they revolted against Roman rule. In this war the Romans came and destroyed Jerusalem, burned down the 2nd Temple and deported the Jews as slaves across the Roman Empire. This was their second exile. Since this Empire was so vast the Jews were effectively dispersed across the whole world.

Jerusalem and Temple destroyed by Romans in 70 AD. Jews sent into world-wide exile

Jerusalem and Temple destroyed by Romans in 70 AD. Jews sent into world-wide exile

And this is how they lived for almost 2000 years: dispersed, fragmented, living in foreign lands and never accepted in these lands. As they lived in these different nations they periodically suffered great persecutions. This was the same period where Christianity spread and the persecution of the Jews was particularly true in Christian Europe. From Spain, in Western Europe, to the pogroms in Russia the Jews lived often in a precarious state in these Christian kingdoms. These specific pronouncements of Moses back in 1500 BC became vivid and accurate descriptions of how they lived.

… Among those nations you will find no repose, no resting place for the sole of your foot. There the Lord will give you an anxious mind, eyes weary with longing, and a despairing heart. (Deuteronomy 28:65)

The Curses against the Israelites were given to make peoples ask:

All the nations will ask: “Why has the Lord done this to this land? Why this fierce, burning anger?”

And the answer was:

“ … the Lord uprooted them from their land and thrust them into another land…” (Deuteronomy 29:24-25)

The timeline below shows this 2000 year period which follows after the history of the Jews from the time of the Bible. This period is shown in a long red bar.

Historical Timeline of the Jews - featuring their two periods of exile

Historical Timeline of the Jews – featuring their two periods of exile

You can see that through their history Jews went through two periods of exile but the second period of exile was much longer than the first period of exile (which was only from 600 – 530 BC).

The 20th Century Holocaust

Then the persecutions and pogroms against the Jews reached their peak. Hitler in World War II, through Nazi Germany tried to exterminate all the Jews living in Europe. And he almost succeeded by creating a mechanized system of exterminating them in gas ovens. However he was defeated and a remnant of Jews survived.

Modern Re-birth of Israel

And then in 1948 the Jews, through the United Nations, saw the remarkable re-birth of the modern state of Israel. It is remarkable just in the fact that there were people still around who identified themselves as ‘Jews’ after all these millenia without a homeland. But this reality allowed for the final words of Moses, written down 3500 years ago, to come true.  There was a “Jewish’ people around to see this final prediction fulfilled in our time.

…then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you. Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the Lord your God will gather you and bring you back. (Deuteronomy 30:3-4)

It was also remarkable in that this state was founded in the teeth of opposition. Most of the surrounding nations in that region waged war against Israel in 1948 … in 1956 … in 1967 and again in 1973. Israel, a very small nation, often found itself at war with five nations at the same time. Yet not only did they survive, but their territories increased. In the war of 1967 the Jews regained Jerusalem, their historic capital city David had founded 3000 years ago.  The aftermath of the creation of the state of Israel, and the fallout from these wars has created one of the most intractable conflicts and political problems of our world today.  Strange how Moses’ words so long ago echo still today even though very few are even aware of what he wrote.

The Eeriness of Moses’ Farewell Speech echoing in Global Headlines today

The Blessings & Curses in Deuteronomy through history and into our day

This past week has seen the attention of all major news websites and networks focus on a man who has just died. While many around the globe have been reading his obituary, and as I write this heads of state from around the world are traveling to attend his funeral, few are making the connection between this man’s life, and the final words of another man who made some sweeping pronouncements about 3500 years ago – who was about to die. From the perspective of deep history, the impact of the man’s life that has just passed, though resonating so powerfully around the world right now, can be seen as just one wave in a much stronger and deeper current that was unleashed by this other man who lived so long ago.

The man in question who just passed away is Ariel Sharon, the former Prime Minister of Israel and, according to many of these news outlets, was one of the fiercest and most brilliant military leaders in our generation. Reading through some of his military exploits sounds like the toughness of Rambo, the cunning of James Bond, and the ruthlessness of Genghis Khan – all rolled into one. But his bold political moves – sometimes towards confrontation and sometimes to peace – were equally as influential as his military exploits.

Though I have found these obituaries interesting reading, it is in the context of the last words of the earlier man – Moses – that the reading of the career of Ariel Sharon shifts gears to make me feel wonder, fascination, and even a little somewhat ‘eerie’. So permit me to unpack a part of the Bible seldom read so that you too can consider the impact of Moses’s parting words through lives like that of Ariel Sharon.

Moses’ final Farewll Speech

Moses lived about 1500 BC and he wrote the first five books of the Bible – known as the Pentateuch or the Torah. In the fifth book, Deuteronomy, were his final messages given months before he died. He concludes this final book, just before his passing, by issuing a set of sweeping Blessings and Curses to the people of Israel – the Jews. They can be viewed as his Farewell Speech. These Blessings and Curses were to be in effect down through history and were explicitly to be reflected on, not just by the Jews, but also by the surrounding nations. Any way you slice it that was meant to include you and me. You can read the complete Blessings and Curses here. I highlight the main points below.

The Blessings of Moses

Moses had previously issued the Ten Commandments and the Law which are detailed in the earlier books of the Pentateuch. Moses starts his Farewell Speech by describing blessings that the Israelites would receive if they obeyed The Law. These blessings were explicitly to be from the hand of God and would be in the sight of the other nations so that they would recognize His blessing. The outcome of these blessings would be that:

Then all the peoples on earth will see that you are called by the name of the Lord, and they will fear you. (Deuteronomy 28:10)

… and the Curses

However, if the Israelites failed to obey the Commands then they would receive Curses that would match and mirror the Blessings. Again these Curses would be seen by the surrounding nations so that:

You will become a thing of horror, a byword and an object of ridicule among all the peoples where the LORD will drive you. (Deuteronomy 28:37)

And the Curses would be for the Israelites themselves and extend through history.

They will be a sign and a wonder to you and your descendants forever. (Deuteronomy 28:46)

But God warned that the worst part of the Curses would come from others.

The LORD will bring a nation against you from far away, from the ends of the earth, like an eagle swooping down, a nation whose language you will not understand, a fierce-looking nation without respect for the old or pity for the young. They will devour the young of your livestock and the crops of your land until you are destroyed … until you are ruined. They will lay siege to all the cities throughout your land until the high fortified walls in which you trust fall down. They will besiege all the cities throughout the land. (Deuteronomy 28:49-52)

It would go from bad to worse.

You will be uprooted from the land you are entering to possess. Then the LORD will scatter you among all nations, from one end of the earth to the other. … Among those nations you will find no repose, no resting place for the sole of your foot. There the LORD will give you an anxious mind, eyes weary with longing, and a despairing heart. (Deuteronomy 28:63-65)

These Blessings and Curses were then established by a covenant (an agreement) between God and the Israelites:

…to confirm you this day as his people, that he may be your God as he promised you and as he swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I am making this covenant, with its oath … also with those who are not here today. (Deuteronomy 29:12-15)

In other words this covenant would be binding on the children, or future generations. In fact this covenant was directed at future generations – both Israelites and foreigners.

Your children who follow you in later generations and foreigners who come from distant lands will see the calamities that have fallen on the land and the diseases with which the LORD has afflicted it. … nothing planted, nothing sprouting, no vegetation growing on it. … All the nations will ask: “Why has the LORD done this to this land? Why this fierce, burning anger?”

And the answer will be:

“It is because this people abandoned the covenant of the LORD, the God of their ancestors, the covenant he made with them when he brought them out of Egypt….Therefore the LORD’s anger burned against this land, so that he brought on it all the curses written in this book. … the LORD uprooted them from their land and thrust them into another land, as it is now.” (Deuteronomy 29:21-27)

Did The Blessings and Curses come to pass?

Wow! Nothing middle-of-the-road here. The Blessings were delightful, but the Curses were utterly severe. However, the most important question we can ask is: ‘Did these things happen?’ The answer is not hard to find. Much of the Old Testament is the record of the history of the Israelites and from that we can see what happens in their history. Also we have records outside the Old Testament, from Jewish historians like Josephus, Graeco-Roman historians like Tacitus and we have found many archeological monuments. All of these sources agree and paint a consistent picture of the Israelite or Jewish history. A summary of this history, given through the building of a timeline is given here.  Read it and assess for yourself if the Curses of Moses came to pass.

The Conclusion to Moses’ Blessings and Curses

But this Farewell Speech of Moses did not end with the Curses. It continued. Here is how Moses made his final pronouncement.

When all these blessings and curses I have set before you come on you and you take them to heart wherever the LORD your God disperses you among the nations, and when you and your children return to the LORD your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today, then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you. Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the LORD your God will gather you and bring you back. He will bring you to the land that belonged to your ancestors, and you will take possession of it. He will make you more prosperous and numerous than your ancestors (Deuteronomy 30:1-5)

After Moses, successive writers in the Old Testament built on this theme that he inaugurated – that there would be a restoration after the Curses. I looked at how Ezekiel used the image of dead zombies coming to life to paint one vivid picture of this for us. These later writers made bold, troubling and detailed predictions.  I look, in my next post,  at how Ezekiel, Moses and Jeremiah combine to make an astounding set of predictions that are happening today. Predictions that the late Ariel Sharon played a forceful part in fulfilling. But for me at least, the fact that journalists and Heads of State around the world are right now reflecting on the passing of a man who played an important part in bringing this conclusion to Moses’ Farewell Speech about, coupled with the fact that this Speech was explicitly written as a sign to future generations of Jew and Gentile alike (i.e. you and me), is just a little eerie.