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(4000 AM - 240 CE)
The Jewish Diaspora
About 1000 BCE
The Assyrian deportations
The Babylonian conquest
The Persian conquest
The Greek world
The fall of Carthage
The Roman empire
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Hebrew years 3960 to 4080 (200-320 CE)
~~~ Part I ~~~ Part II ~~~
This 34th generation witnessed the end of the 4th millennium since the Creation. The first two millennia were about the ancestry of all mankind and how the world had populated, and also saw the emergence of the Jewish people represented by the Patriarchal era. The next two millennia saw the Jewish people rising as a nation among the nations, with golden ages and misfortunes, and concluded with its destruction as a national entity and with its exile as a people. The next two millennia will see the long march through ages of darkness and persecutions, but towards its survival and ultimate redemption, and will conclude with the Messianic era. These two last millennia are a mystery for those non-Jews who do not understand the nature or the character of Jewry: how can a dispersed "people", which no clear belonging to a race, with no physical borders for such a long period of time, nor ability to always sustain itself in its religious spirituality in the face of ordeals and massacres, could have possibly survived for so long, if it wasn't for an act of God or His will? The dispersion of the Jewish people was actually announced by Moses before he died: when he made an address to the Israelites before they entered the land of Canaan:
When you shall beget children, and children's children, and you shall have been long in the land, and shall deal corruptly, and make a graven image, even the form of any thing, and shall do that which is evil in the sight of the Lord your God, to provoke Him; I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that you shall soon utterly perish from off the land whereunto you go over the Jordan to possess it; you shall not prolong your days upon it, but shall utterly be destroyed. And the Lord shall scatter you among the peoples, and you shall be left few in number among the nations, whither the Lord shall lead you away. And there you shall serve gods, the work of men's hands, wood and stone, which neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell. But from thence you will seek the Lord your God; and you shall find Him, if you search after Him with all your heart and with all your soul. In your distress, when all these things are come upon you, in the end of days, you will return to the Lord your God, and hearken unto His voice; for the Lord your God is a merciful God; He will not fail you, neither destroy you, nor forget the covenant of your fathers which He swore unto them.--- Deuteronomy, 4:25-31
This is how our Sages reflected on the two main communities of Israelites throughout the world, in these early times of exile:
Rabbi asked R. Ishmael son of R. Jose, The wealthy in Palestine, whereby do they merit [wealth]? — Because they give tithes, he replied, as it is written, ‘Asser te'asser [which means], give tithes [‘asser] so that you may become wealthy [tith'asser]. Those in Babylon, wherewith do they merit [it]? — Because they honour the Torah, replied he. And those in other countries, whereby do they merit it? — Because they honour the Sabbath, answered he. --- Talmud, Shabbat, 119a
This new ordeal that the Israelites will have to go through will be a long exile out of the land of the divine promise:
Our Rabbis taught: When our Masters entered the vineyard at Yabneh, they said, The Torah is destined to be forgotten in Israel, as it is said, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. And it is said, And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east; they shall run to and from to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it [Amos 8:11-12]. --- Talmud, Shabbat, 138b
The main danger of the diaspora has always been, and still is, assimilation which means the melting Jewish people into the people of the earth and therefore its disappearance:
R. Simeon ben Elazar said: "The Israelites who live outside of Palestine are unconciously worshipping idols. How so? An idolater gives a feast in honor of his son and he invites all the Jews of the place, and although they eat and drink of their own, and their own servants wait on them, yet it is considered as if they had eaten the sacrifices of the dead, as it is written [Exodus 34:15]: 'Any one call you and you eat of his sacrifice.'" --- Tosephta Avot de-Rabbi Nathan, in Rodkinson, Michael, The Babylonian Talmud, Volume I (IX), page 94, published 1900
But, at the same time of the great diaspora, the Jewish people had a written code of laws, with the Mishnah, which enabled them to strenghten their knowledge about the divine commandments and find solace in the particular relationship they had with God. By maintaining His commandments, they could find a goal to their own existence and could survive the ordeals that their exile will cause to them in the generations to come.
And what was going to happen to the land of Israel in absence of its Jews? Here again the Scripture states the word of God on this matter:
And I will bring the land into desolation; and your enemies that dwell therein shall be astonished at it. And you, will I scatter among the nations, and I will draw out the sword after you. And your land shall be a desolation, and your cities shall be a waste. Then shall the land be paid her sabbaths, as long as it lies desolate, and you are in your enemies' land; even then shall the land rest, and repay her sabbaths. As long as it lies desolate it shall have rest; even the rest which it had not in your sabbaths, when you dwelt upon it.--- Leviticus 26:32-35
And indeed, foreign people who conquered the land of Israel could never turn it into a productive land as it had been in the days of the Jews. The land laid waste. Up to the end of the 19th century when it started to blossom again upon the return of Jews.
The fall of the Jerusalem did not mean the end of the Jewish nation. Long before Roman times, many Jews were already living in various parts of the known world and this diaspora started over 1000 years before the start of the Roman exile.
About 1000 BCE
The first diaspora started in the time of the period of the Judges, when Israelites from Tribes living next to the Phoenicians started to travel the Mediterranean Sea on board their ships looking for commerce and import to the Levant. So the first Jews established themselves near the main ports of the Phoenician trade and explored the region from there, while the Phoenicians mainly remained focused on the maritime transport and trade levies they would take from Jewish explorers and merchants.
Jewish diaspora around 1000 BCE, along the Phoenician maritime routes
Of cource, many of these early Israelite settlers ended up totally disconnected from Jewish life over the centuries and were absorbed in the melting pot of subsequent population migrations and mixed with them. Yet, Genetics offers us a glimpse of what actually happened in these days, because we can find small pockets of populations with a genetic pattern that could only be explained by this early Israelite diaspora. For example, while most of European male genes are of the R haplogroup, we can find locations where the haplogroup is Q. And this haplogroup is of Asian origin, meaning for this time, it came from Mesopotamia. Phoenicians cannot recount for this haplogroup because they were Canaanite people thus of haplogroup E. The Q haplogroup, in the context of these early people migrations, can only be explained by the presence of these early Israelite settlers, mostly in places around the Mediterraneaan Sea of course, but also in the Basque population, in the Celt population (especially in the Cornwall region which was rich of tin resource, which was extremely useful to make metal), and even in the Dane and Nordic population (which gave root to the Vikings). Of course, as we are talking about some settlers, the haplogroup group Q does not represent the vast majority of a genetic mix of any given region, but it does represent a certain proportion of the concerned population. And, in Northern Africa, theHaplogroup Q is no longer present because the Q carriers, which were Jews, had emigrated from that region since the creation of the State of Israel and established themselves there (or in France, for most of the Algerian Jews). In the map below, we can notice presence of Q in the north-east of England but this is easily explained by invasions of the Vikings in that region in the Middle Ages.
Distribution of Haplogroup Q in Europe (source Eupedia)
Out of these early Israelite settlers, none of them retained their Jewish culture except for those established in the Mediterranean Sea who were close enough to their home land to keep their customs. In particular, the Israelites established themselves in Northern Africa around 1000 BCE and founded, with their Phoenician maritime transports, the city of Carthage around 800 BCE. Before them, another Canaanite maritime nation came to the region: the Girgashites. We know this from two different sources. The first one is a tradition stated in the Midrash:
R. Samuel ben R. Nahman said: What did Joshua do [before the conquest of Canaan]? He published an edict in every place he came to conquer wherein was written, Whosoever desires to go, let him go; and whosoever desires to make peace, let him make peace; and whosoever desires to make war, let him make war. What did the Girgashite do? He turned and went away from before them [the Israelites]. And God gave him another land, as beautiful as his own, namely, Africa. --- Deuteronomy Rabbah, V,14 The second one is a testimony from Procopius of Caesarea, a Byzantine historian of the 6th century CE. He wrote the following account:
Now when these [Canaanite] nations saw that the invading general [Joshua] was an irresistible prodigy, they emigrated from their ancestral homes and made their way to Egypt, which adjoined their country. And finding there no place sufficient for them to dwell in, since there has been a great population in Egypt from ancient times, they proceeded to Libya. And they established numerous cities and took possession of the whole of Libya as far as the Pillars of Heracles, and there they have lived even up to my time, using the Phoenician tongue. They also built a fortress in Numidia, where now is the city called Tigisis. In that place are two columns made of white stone near by the great spring, having Phoenician letters cut in them which say in the Phoenician tongue: "We are they who fled from before the face of Joshua, the robber, the son of Nun." --- Procopius of Caesarea, De Bello Vandalico (The Vandalic War), IV, x,22; to read the text online, click here
But Procopius was wrong about one detail: the Girgashites didn't go as far as the Pillars of Hercules. They settled around 1250 BCE in what is Lybia today. The Phoenicians[1a] established themselves in what became the city of Carthage[1b]. And when the Israelites who came with them around 1000 BCE saw the Canaanites people already established there on the east from the Phoenician port, they avoided any contact by going west in what is now the Maghreb. The customs were quite different between the Israelites established at the west compared to the Canaanites established at the east. For example, the Israelites emulated the way they were organised in their home land: tribes with a spiritual leader called a judge (shofet in Hebrew). The same was actually adopted in the city of Carthage since its foundation: the city was ruled by shoftim, meaning magistrates in their language. But, in the east, the Canaanites established in Lybia were ruled by a king or champion, which was called agellid in their language. The word agellid is the root for the name Goliath, the famous Philistine warrior that was killed by David. The same word has been borrowed by the Greeks to form the word aegis, which means protection or protector.
So Israelites were established in Carthage and at the west of the city in the region now called the Maghreb. Where does this name come from? The Greek Herodotus who lived around 500 BCE named the people who lived there the Maxues, stating that they called themselves like that. Later on the Greek language adapted the name into Maurosioi, which meant the People of the West, from the Phoenician word Mahourim which had the same meaning. Then the Romans adapted this name into Mauri, which gave Mauro in Spanish and Moorish in English. The term Mahourim was used by the Phoenicians to call the people living at the west of Carthage, the Israelites. The word is identical to the Hebrew Maharavim, which mean the People of the West. So in fact the word Maghreb comes from the Hebrew Maarav When the Arabs invaded this region 1500 years later, they called it , which means the Djazirat-el-Maghreb, which means the Island of the Sunset (West).
The Assyrian deportations
Less than 100 years after the foundation of Carthage, all the Levant region (except the city of Jerusalem), was invaded and destroyed by the Assyrians. Some Israelites escaped with the Phoenicians on their ships, and found refuge in the largest colony of the Phoenician realm, Carthage. But most of the populations were deported to the outskirts of the Assyrian empire, and some Israelites were taken to Nineveh to work for the Assyrian power (the Book of Tobit is an example).
Jewish diaspora around 750 BCE, during the Assyrian invasions
The Babylonian conquest
The Assyrian empire was conquered by Nebuchadnezzar some 150 years later around 600 BCE. The Israelites originated from the Ten Tribes fled the theatre of destructions to farther places. Those established in the East went further east into what became Parthia and Media, and even as far as what became Afghanistan (which was majoritarily populated by people of Jewish origin, for example an ethnics called the Pashtuns). Those established in the north of the Assyrian empire fled farther north and into what became Armenia and Scythia.
Then Nebuchadnezzar conquered the kingdom of Judah and destroyed Jerusalem. He took back to captivity in Babylon the most prominent Jews of this time. Some of the Judeans fled into Egypt to avoid being taken captives to Babylon. In parallel, the Israelites established in Carthage continued to flourish and busied themselves with the building of a maritime empire with their hosts the Phoenicians (now called the Carthaginians). Those kept their Jewish traditions whereas the Ten Tribes were mostly assimilated because they had adopted pagan gods already at the time of the Kingdom of Israel.
Jewish diaspora around 600 BCE, after the Babylonian conquest
The Persian conquest
Babylon fell to the Persian king Cyrus the Great who authorized the captive Jews to return to their homeland. But this return to Sion only became important after the event of Esther and Haman, some 100 years after the exile to Babylon. Most of the Jews however preferred to remain in the Persian empire and developped large communities in the Babylonian realm. The Persians also destroyed Egypt and ended the native dynasties. In the meantime, the Carthagenian maritime empire continued to flourish at the shored of the western side of the Mediterranean, thus avoiding conflict with the Greeks and Persians who fought one against the other in these times.
Jewish diaspora around 450 BCE, after the Return to Sion
The Greek world
Following the conquest by Alexander the Great, the Greek world spread from Egypt and Greece until Persia. All Jewish populations of the previous Persian empire passed under the new rulers. And, as the Greeks started to build new cities to established themselves in these centers of power, many Jews flocked into these new opportunities and lived in Alexandria, Egypt, and Antioch, Syria, and also in the Greek homeland as well as in the Greek harbours of Asia Minor.
As of the Jews who went further east towards Afghanistan, they continued to keep some of their customs but will become converted to Islam some 1000 years later. These were truly "Lost Tribes".
The Jews who remained in Scythia continued, like their brethren of North Africa, to keep their Jewish culture and traditions, and managed to remain away from wars and changes of empire that took place in Mesopotamia, Levant and Egypt.
Jewish diaspora around 250 BCE, inside and outside the Greek world
But, soon after, a new military power, Rome, started to contest these empires, Carthaginian in the west and Greek in the east.
The fall of Carthage
After about 600 years of existence, Carthage became the target of the Roman appetite for expansion. The wars between Rome and Carthage toon several turns. At some point, the Carthaginian general Hannibal (his name means Ani-Baal, or I am the Lord) was close to destroy Rome after a long siege, but ultimately had to return to Carthage. The Roman general Scipio chose that moment of weakness to cross the sea and gave a final blow to Hannibal in 202 BCE at the battle of Zama: this was the end of the Carthaginian empire. Many Jews fled the destruction and Roman enslavement by going west and in the mountains of the Atlas where the Roman legions couldn't make easy progress. In fact Rome managed to control the coastal plains but never the mountain range. At the same period, the Greek empire was weakening under the attacks from the east and from the north, and had to let Judeah, for example, gain independence after the revolt of the Maccabees.
Jewish diaspora after the fall of Carthage in about 200 BCE
The Roman empire
After conquering the western side of the Mediterranean Sea, Rome turned their attention to the opposite direction and came into conflict against the various Greek kingdoms who were established after the death of Alexander the Great. The disputes among the Hasmonean dynasty of Judeah led Rome to take side and contributed to the rise of Herod into power as King of the Jews. Meanwhile Rome gradually conquered Greece, Egypt and the rest of the Greek dominions until they came against the same ennemies than the Greeks had: the Persians/Parthians in the east and the Scythians in the north. In their empire hower, they were rather tolerant towards the Jews and many of them flocked into the vast Roman empire in search for peaceful lands and business to pursue. Jews moved to Italy, Spain, Gaul and Helvetia, in addition to Ptolemaic Egypt and Seleucid Syria. By the time of the destruction of the Second Temple, Diaspora Jews were all over the Roman empire. In Egypt for example, Philo of Alexandria stated the following:
Jews who inhabited Alexandria and the rest of the country from the Catabathmos on the side of Libya to the boundaries of Ethiopia were not less than a million of men. --- Philo, Flaccus, VI,43
This amount of people represented about 12% of the total population of Egypt but most of them were in Alexandria, a city with five boroughs, three of them being populated by Jews.
Even Rome had its Jews, before the destruction of the Second Temple. It has been assessed that about 50,000 Jews lived in Rome at that time, and they had 11 synagogues. Some catacombes of Rome had been used by Jews since the time of their alliance with the Hasmonean dynasty.
The War of the Jews has probably cost the life of one million people in Judea and in Jerusalem in particular. After the fall of Jerusalem, Titus sent about 100,000 Jews as slaves in the eastern provinces of the empire, and took some back to Rome, where a Jewish population was already firmly established.
In the outskirts of the Roman empire, where the conquest had not been successful, some Jewish populations have been able to retain their identity and traditions. This was mainly the case of the decsndants of the early Israelites settlers in North Africa, as these ones remained in the mountain range and didn't mix with the Romans and the Judeo-Romans (those who came as part of the Roman empire) who lived in the coastal plains. It was also the case of the Jews of Scythia because Rome had never managed to completely vanquish that part of the world. In 200 CE, Rome was becoming under the threat of the German "barbarians" as well, who had managed to stop their conquest there as well. In the meantime, Chrsitianity started to spread in the Roman empire, with ups and downs in term of persecution because Christians were considered by the Romans as being a threat to their authority (mostly because they endeavoured to enroll followers, secretly), unlike the Jews who represented no threat (as they were not actively converting the Roman population to their religion).
The Scythians were descendants of Ashkenaz, son of Gomer son of Japheth son of Noah. The first Jews living among them were considered to be ashkenazim. They moved with the Scythians into Central Europe, and will later be joined from other Jews who came from the Roman empire after its collapse. So in fact the Ashkenazim Jews had two origins: the most ancient ones came to Central Europe with the Scythians, whereas the vast number came from the Roman empire. The existence of a strong Jewish community among the Scythians, and dating back from the Assyrian invasion, is proven by tombstones found in Crimea and dating from the new CE era. One of such tomb reads:
This is the tombstone of Buki, the son of Izchak the priest. May his rest be in Eden at the time of the salvation of Israel. In the year 702 of the years of our exile. --- Pain, H. Herbert, Englishmen Israelites, 1897, p.15
And for those Jews who were following religious commandments, the end of the nation as an political entity did not mean the end of the faith. The Sages had predicted that God will punish His people but, at the same time, will not destroy them utterly. For this, they would recall the covenant that God made with Abraham:
Said Abraham before the Holy One, blessed be He: Sovereign of the Universe, perhaps God forbid, Israel will sin before You and You wilt do to them as You did to the generation of the Flood and the generation of the Division [Babel]? He answered, Not so. He then said before Him: Sovereign of the Universe, by what shall I know this? He said: Take me a heifer of three years old [the heifer is the animal for sacrifices] etc. He then said before Him: Sovereign of the Universe, This is very well for the time when the Temple will be standing, but in the time when there will be no Temple what will befall them? He replied to him: I have already fixed for them the order of the sacrifices. Whenever they will read the section dealing with them, I will reckon it as if they were bringing me an offering, and forgive all their iniquities. --- Talmud, Megilah, 31b
In other words, the reading of the section of the Torah related to the sacrifice in the Temple would be as valuable for God than the sacrifices themselves. Redemption will occur by keeping knowedge and reading of the “book” in times when the Temple will no longer stand.
However, as God had said by the mouth of Moses, the Jews of Diaspora "shall fear night and day, and shall have no assurance of life." This was because, wherever the Jews settled outside their promised land, they were subjects to periods of hatred, vexations, restrictions, and so on, despite the periods of peace that occurred on rare occasions.
It is interesting to also note the similarity between the generations 17 and 34, the latter seeming to be a repetition of the former. In Generation 17, God intervened in the affairs of the world and dispersed the human race after the Tower of Babel. It was this generation that signalled the change of direction this His Creation took: a new era started after two millenia. Similarly, in the present Generation 34 (twice 17), God dispersed His chosen people, but at the same time a new era started which, with the Diaspora, reinforced the Jewish people in the faith in God and in the hope of the final redemption which will start precisely after the 50th generation, and the beginning of a new era with the 51st generation (three times 17). This cycle of three will make the Creation complete, as signalled by the number 3 (see Note 2 of this page).
[1a] The name Phoenician comes from the Greek name Phoinikes which came from their word phoinix which means "purple"; this is because the Phoenicians, who rather called themselves Canaanites, were traders of the rare purple dye in the Antiquity; in Hurrian, a semitic language using cuneiform, the name Canaan means "land of the purple"; so the Greeks simply called these maritime people the Phoenicians as a mere translation of the way these people called themselves, Canaan, which meant purple
[1b] The name Carthage comes from the Hebrew and semitic word Kyriat Hadash, which means "new city"
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