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(3760 - 2080 BCE)
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Birth of Muhammad
(4330 AM - 570 CE)
First forced conversions of Jews in France
Start of the Gaonim era
Pope Gregory protects the Jews
(4358 AM - 598 CE)
(4370 AM - 610 CE)
The Persians conquer Jerusalem
(4374 AM - 614 CE)
The Sassanid Empire
The Muslim Calendar
(4382 AM - 622 CE)
Muhammad and the Jews
(4388 AM - 628 CE)
The Book of Zerubbabel
Muhammad takes Mecca
(4390 AM - 630 CE)
Death of Muhammad
(4392 AM - 632 CE)
The Muslims conquer Jerusalem
(4398 AM - 638 CE)
Death of Omar
(4404 AM - 644 CE)
The Muslims conquer Carthage
(4407 AM - 647 CE)
The Umayyad dynasty
(4421 AM - 661 CE)
The Kathisma mosque
(4422 AM - 670 CE))
The Muslim conquest of North Africa
(4425 AM - 665 CE)
The pilgrimage of Arculf
(4430 AM - 670 CE)
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Hebrew years 4320 to 4440 (560- 680 CE)
Muhammad, who became the prophet of a new religion, Islam, was born in 570 CE in Mecca. His parents died when he was young so he never had a scholastic education. He is said to be of the Quraysh tribe and to descend from Ishmael, son of Abraham. Modern geneticists have explored the Y-DNA pool of the Quraysh tribe and found out that it features the following haplogroups: about 50% of haplogroup J, 25% of E and 25% of R. Haplogroup J is preponderant in the Arabian peninsula in the same proportion as found in the Quraysh tribe (and it is worth mentioning that 80% of the Jewish people are also J). Haplogroup E is commonly found in the Middle-East because of Canaanite origin and also found in Mediterranean region mainly because the Phoenicians "exported" it. As of haplogroup R, it is majoritarily the European people. Yet, there is no haplogroup Q among the Quraysh people: the Q is of Asian/Mesopotamian origin (Kurds, Iraqi, for exaple) which would have been the Y-DNA haplogroup of a person like Abraham (who was from Ur in Chaldea) and therefore of his son Ishmael. So there is doubt that Muhammad actually came from Ishmael, from his paternal lineage.
There was also a Jewish tribe in Arabia called the Qurayza who had settled in Medina. It may be possible that, in earliest times, the Arab Quraysh and the Jewish Qurayza formed one single entity, with the Quraysh splitting from their Jewish ancestry and adopting paganism at some point of time of their History. Maybe this would explain the similarity between the two names of tribes, one Arab and the other Jewish?
Contemporary witness accounts record Muhammad's striking physical complexion:
[He] was neither tall nor lanky nor short and stocky, but of medium height. His hair was neither crispy curled nor straight but moderately wavy. He was not overweight and his face was not plump. He had a round face. His complexion was white tinged with redness. He had big black eyes with long lashes. His brows were heavy and his shoulders broad. He had soft skin, with fine hair covering the line from mid chest to navel. The palms of his hands and the soles of his feet were firmly padded. He walked with a firm gait, as if striding downhill. --- Bayrak, Tosun, The Name & the Named: The Divine Attributes of God, 2000, citing Ali, the cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad
It is striking to read about the whiteness of his skin and redness, which is barely a typical Arab feature. This may induce people to believe that his ancestry was of mixed arab descent. Or more appropriately we could say that there is some mystery about the origin of Muhammad, if the descriptions such as the above one have been correct.
In 576, the king of the Frankish empire, Chilperic, forced Jews to convert and mobs destroyed synagogues, for example in Clermont in that year. The Frankish empire hosted many of the early Jewish communities of the times as it spread over most of what became France, Belgium and Germany.
The Frankish Empire (481-814)
This conversion was not easily accepted by all Jews and their refusal led to massacres and assassinations as related by one of the French chronicle of this time concerning Priscus, a Jew who was attached to the king:
King Chilperic had baptized many Jews this year [576 CE], and was the godfather of several of them. However there were many for who the baptismal water only cleansed the body but not the heart, and, lying to God, they went back to their first infidelity, so we could see them honour both the Sabbath and honor the Lord's Day. There was no argument that could not engage Priscus to accept the conversion. Then the king became angry at him and ordered that he would be put under guard so that, if he did not consent voluntarily to believe, he would be forced to believe nonetheless in spite of himself. But Priscus, with some gifts, managed to get himself some time until his son had married a Jewess from Marseilles, falsely promising that he would then do what the king had commanded him. In the meantime, there arose a quarrel between him and Phatir, a converted Jew, whom the king "had given the baptismal font" [the king was his godfather]. On the Sabbath, Priscus, having girded his loins, and taking no iron instrument in hand, retired to a secret place in order to fulfill the law of Moses. Phatir came suddenly and killed him with his sword, as well as those who were with him. After killing them, he fled in the basilica of Saint-Julien with his servants who were in a nearby street. While they remained inside, they learned that the king had ordered to leave the life of their master, but to pull the servants out of the basilica and to put them to death as criminals. Then one of them drew his sword, after his master had already fled, and killed his comrades then left the basilica, with the sword in hand. But the mob came upon him, and slew him cruelly. Phatir was allowed to return to the kingdom of Gontran [Guntram, king of Burgundy], from which he had come, but a few days later he was killed by the parents of Priscus. --- Grégoire de Tours, Histoire des Francs, Livre VI, 17 (text online, in French, translation by Albert Benhamou)
Under the reign of his successor, Clothar II, the Jews were expelled from Orleans in 591 and found refuge in Provence which was ruled by the king of Burgundy. Yet they were there challenged by the Archbishop of Arles who wanted them to convert. He was however rebuked by Pope Gregory I who wrote a remonstrance against forced conversion. In these times, the city of Marseilles, which was founded by the Greeks some 1000 years before, was mostly Jewish. One French historian, Gregoire de Tours, called this city l'hébraïque which means the Hebrewess (Grégoire de Tours, Histoire, II, 276).
From 589, the Jews of Babylonia established themselves around the two main centers of religious studies: Pumbedita and Sura. Each academy elected a president and the two of them were called the Gaonim, which means the Pride Ones. Beside these religious authorities, there still was a head of the civilian matters and liaison with the authorities: it was the Exilarch who, according to the Tradition, was a person who descended from King David.
The work of the Geonim was mostly academic as they, with their schools, were in charge of teaching about the Talmud and also responded to the various Jewish communities about specific questions. Their Responsa formed the continuation of the Talmud, and completed it with specific discussions.
The position of Gaonim lasted for 450 years, until the year 1038 CE (Hebrew year 4798).
In a letter responding to the Bishop of Naples, in 598, Pope Gregory (540-604) wrote that the Jews ought to be treated in a just and equitable way. Since the Council of Nicaea, this was the first instance of religious tolerance in the Roman-Christian empire. He wrote:
We therefore, although they [the Jews] prefer to continue in their hardness of heart rather than be guided by the hidden meaning of the prophets to a knowledge of the Christian faith, do nevertheless, since they invoke our protection and aid, following in the footsteps of our predecessors and out of the mildness of Christian piety, extend to them the shield of our protection. --- Pope Gregory, History of Toleration, "Sicut Judaeis", source Catholic Encyclopedia
The document went further as expressing that the Jews should not be forced to conversion to Christianity, nor be attacked physically, nor be deprived of their property, and so on. This shows that, in case of dire need, the Jews could turn to the Pope and ask for protection, which was granted on the basis of this document established by Pope Gregory. He was also a prolific scholar, studying and writing several works, and also composed what became known as the Gregorian Chants. He is often represented with a dove, because of the following story written some 500 years after his death by Pierre le Diacre (Peter the Deacon):
When the pope was dictating his homilies on Ezechiel a veil was drawn between his secretary and himself. As, however, the pope remained silent for long periods at a time, the servant made a hole in the curtain and, looking through, beheld a dove seated upon Gregory's head with its beak between his lips. When the dove withdrew its beak the holy pontiff spoke and the secretary took down his words; but when he became silent the servant again applied his eye to the hole and saw the dove had replaced its beak between his lips. --- text cited in the Catholic Encyclopedia
Pope Gregory, represented with the dove - from the "Lives of the Hermits Paul and Guthlac"
(Corpus Christi College, Cambridge University)
The attitude of the Pope was however not followed in various part of Christianity. In the Frankish kingdom, Dagobert who succeeded Clothar II decided in 629 to expell all the Jews who refused to convert. This caused further exode of the Jews to the south into Provence and Septimania (Narbonne). This region was under the rule of the Wisigoths of Spain.
At the age of 40, Muhammad had an encounter with the angel Gabriel who revealed to him future prophecies. In these times, Arabian was predominently pagan, except for pockets of Jewish populations who lived together in specific places.
From then on, Muhammad claimed to be the messenger of God. He criticised the way of life of his own Quryash tribe, who was powerful and wealthy, and gathered many followers around him.
The Persians, then called Sassanids, had invaded most of what was the antique empire of Cyrus the Great.
The Byzantine and Sassanid empires in 600 CE
Their war against the Byzantines started in 602 CE. By 614, they took Judea and were about to take Jerusalem, with the help of the local Jews who were eager to free their old city from which they had been banned since the revolt of Bar-Kochba. Here is an account of the capture of the city:
The beginning of the struggle of the Persians with the Christians of Jerusalem was on the 15th April, in the second indiction, in the fourth year of the Emperor Heraclius [started to reign in 610]. They spent twenty days in the struggle. And they shot from their balistas with such violence, that on the twenty-first day they broke down the city wall. Thereupon the evil foemen entered the city in great fury, like infuriated wild beasts and irritated serpents. The men however who defended the city wall fled, and hid themselves in caverns, fosses, and cisterns in order to save themselves ; and the people in crowds fled into churches and altars; and there they destroyed them. For the enemy entered in mighty wrath, gnashing their teeth in violent fury; like evil beasts they roared, bellowed like lions, hissed like ferocious serpents, and slew all whom they found. Like mad dogs they tore with their teeth the flesh of the faithful, and respected none at all, neither male nor female, neither young nor old, neither child nor baby, neither priest nor monk, neither virgin nor widow. --- Strategos, Antiochus, The Capture of Jerusalem by the Persians in 614, translated into English by F.C. Conybeare, 1910
After they took Jerusalem, the Persians allowed the Jews back into their city, after an absence of 500 years caused by the Romans and the Byzantines. This had a great echo in the Jewish diaspora who believe that this capture was a sign of the upcoming Messianic times. But the situation did not last long as the Sassanid ruler reversed his decision to allow the Jews in the city, by fears of many rebellions across his empire.
As they saw the Christians as their enemy (due to the rival Byzantine empire), they destroyed most of the churches that had been built in Jerusalem and other cities. They also took away the "True Cross", which had been placed in the Holy Sepulchre, and brought it to their capital as a trophy.
The Sassanid empire reached its greatest extent in 621 during the reign of Khosrau II, nicknamed the "Undefeatable". The Byzantine empire laid in the West, and the Arabian peninsula was still largely independant but was about to be ruled by the followers of Muhammad.
Map of the Sassanid empire, ca. 621 CE (source: Wikipedia)
Muhammad ended up being persecuted by the pagan merchants of Mecca and fled to Medina in 622 along with his early followers. This "migration" in year 622, called Hijrah, was later taken as the start of the Muslim calendar. Years in the Muslim calendar became thus noted as A.H., meaning After Hijrah. This calendar is based on lunar monthly cycles only, which causes Muslim holy festivals to fall at different times of the seasons throughout the years.
The city of Medina had an important Jewish community who had come there from the time of the Roman occupation of Judea which expelled Jews from Jerusalem and its province. In other parts of the Arabian peninsula, Jews had settled over 1000 years before Muhammad's birth, when they fled the Assyrian and Babylonian destructions. In total, there were 15 to 20 Jewish tribes established in Arabia, 3 of them in Medina.
Initially, there was mutual respect between Muhammad and the Jews because both rejected pagan rites. Muhammad borrowed many of his teachings from Jewish tradition and this is reflected in the Koran which contains references to the Jewish history and customs. For example, he adopted the resting day of Shabbat, the ritual of circumcision (but applied it to the age of 13 when Ishmael son of Abraham was circumcised). Like the Jews, he also directed his prayers towards Jerusalem. And he was doing three prayers a day, like the Jewish custom. He also adopted the Day of Atonement as a day of fasting called Ashura:[3a]
When the Prophet came to Medina, he found (the Jews) fasting on the day of 'Ashura' (i.e. 10th of Muharram). They used to say: "This is a great day on which Allah saved Moses and drowned the folk of Pharaoh. Moses observed the fast on this day, as a sign of gratitude to Allah." The Prophet said, "I am closer to Moses than they." So, he observed the fast (on that day) and ordered the Muslims to fast on it. --- Muhammad al-Bukhari, "Sahih al-Bukhari", Book 55, Hadith 609, written about 850 CE
The character of the angel Gabriel, from Muhammad's revelation, was also borrowed from the Book of Daniel which recounts the prophecy and vision of the future to come, and is the only place of the Bible where the name Gabriel is mentioned:
And I [Daniel] heard the voice of a man between the banks of Ulai, who called, and said: 'Gabriel, make this man to understand the vision.' So he came near where I stood; and when he came, I was terrified, and fell upon my face; but he said unto me: 'Understand, O son of man; for the vision belongeth to the time of the end.' --- Daniel, 8:16-17
This knowledge of Jewish scriptures that influenced the early steps of Muhammad is credited to have come from one of his followers who was a learned Jew: Abdullah ibn Salam, of Jewish name Obadya ben Shalom.[3b]
Yet, when Muhammad turned his belief into a religion, and sought recognition of being sent by God as a prophet, the Jews rejected him. In Jewish history, it was not the first time that people claimed to be a prophet or even the Messiah. Both had to fit certain criteria which not met by the claimants. And, for the same reasons that Jews had rejected Jesus in the past because of the lack of messianic signs, they equally rejected Muhammad. This attitude was recorded in the Coran, for example in the following text:
Ask the Children of Israel how many a sign of evidence we have given them. And whoever exchanges the favor of Allah [for disbelief] after it has come to him - then indeed, Allah is severe in penalty.
--- Coran 2:211
From then, Muhammad changed opinion about the Jews and became critical of them. In Medina, as the result of some local disputes, he managed to massacre or expel the Jewish tribes, who had established there for about 600 years. Intially he made a 10-year truce with them (called Hudna) but then broke this truce as soon as he felt strong enough to defeat them. One of the Jewish tribes joined the oasis of Khaibar where another large Jewish community was established since a long time. But the Banu Qaynuqa tribe chose to relocate more north, joining other Jewish cities at the border between modern-day Jordan and Syria. As for the third and last Jewish tribe of Medina, called the Qurayzah tribe, Muhammad reserved them a harsher treatment after he accused them of having made a pact with his enemy, the people of Mecca: all the men were beheaded and all the children and women sold to slavery or given as gifts to Muhammad's followers. This took place in year 628.
Following this mass execution, the pagan tribes of Mecca were terrorised and preferred to arrange a truce with Muhammad in his army, to avoid the same fate. This enabled Muhammad to continue focus on the Jewish tribes: he targeted the Jewish establishment of Khaibar, the largest one in the Arabian peninsula. After one month of siege, his army took controlled of the place. They imposed to the Jews to pay a tribute and this served as a model for future generations to tolerate the Jews, and non-Muslims in general, with a status of dhimmis in exchange for the payment of a tax. This was defacto setting a religious discrimination not allowing equality in the faith.
According to Jewish tradition, one of the wives of Muhammad, Aisha, was of Jewish descent through her father Abu Bakr, who was an early follower of Muhammad and the first Calife after his death. Also, Muhammad's closest daughter Fatimah married Ali ben Abu Tayeb, also said to be of Jewish descent. But these theories are not accepted by Muslims.
The Judea (or Palestine) and the city of Jerusalem was reconquered by the army of Byzantine emperor Heraclius in 628. So the Jews had only been able to remain over their city for about 7 years until 628. Heraclius started to reign in 610. He was from Cappadocia, a region of Asia Minor, in modern-day Turkey, but of Armenian descent.
In 622, he directed a campaign against the Sassanid empire and inflicted them a turning-point defeat at the Battle of Nineveh in 627 because, following it, the Persians overthrew their king and placed his son on the throne instead. They agreed to peace terms with Heraclius who asked for the return of the Holy Land and of Jerusalem to Christian dominion, as well as all religious relics such as the "True Cross", the cross on which Jesus was crucified according to Christian Tradition. Then, in 629, Heraclius took the True Cross to Constantinople for safety but brought it back to the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem a year later. Meanwhile, many pieces were broken from it and dispersed across the Christian world. Since, many churches claim to possess one relic from it.
Heraclius' troops against the Persians - by Piero della Francesca, 1460
(fresco in the Church of San Francesco, Arezzo, Italy)
It seems that, seeing that the Byzantines were getting the upper hand against the Sassanid in the war, the Jewish authorities of Jerusalem decided to hide in a secret burial place the treasures of the Temple which had been sent back to Jerusalem by Justinian. These treasures may still be there today, buried under the Old City of Jerusalem, as nobody has found any trace of them since these times.
And indeed, the return of Byzantine rule over Jerusalem was very bad news for the Jews. Although Heraclius had given them his oath of protection, once in Jerusalem he was influenced by the local Christians to carry out a massacre in Jerusalem and of Galilee because of their support to the Persians in the previous war, as reported by Eutychius, Patriarch of Alexandria:
Heraclius said to them [the Christians of Jerusalem]: “What do you want, then?”“That you give us satisfaction,” they replied. “Kill every Jew who is found around Jerusalem and in Galilee, because if another hostile people come to us, we don’t want them to help them again against us, just as they have helped the Persians.”--- Annals of Eutychius (see text online)
Heraclius agreed to renounce his oath and most Jews were massacred, while the survivors fled to the wilderness or to Egypt. New restrictions were imposed upon them in the region. The persecutions against them were extended to the entire Byzantine empire. This put an end to Jewish hopes that these days were Messianic times.
Christianity somehow considered the Jews as the people of Jesus, even if they "erred" not to acknowledge him as their Messiah, but it was equally importat that some Jews would remain until the End of Days as per the Christian Apocalyptic literature. But the Christians persecuted the Samaritans, as they considered them as a sect, and not being Jews. The number of Samaritans decreased sharply in these times due to the massacres that took place in retaliation of revolts (often in cooperation with Jews) against the persecutions they endured.
This Byzantine-Sassanid war, which led to the return of the Jews to Jerusalem, was considered by some that these times were Messianic times as an occurrence of the war between Gog and Magog. This event inspired some Jewish author to write an apocalyptic book, called Sefer Zerubbabel, Book of Zerubbabel (also called the Apocalypse of Zerubbabel), which resides today at the Bodleian Library, Oxford, as MS. Heb. d. 11 fol. 248r-251 r.
The book refers to the fight between the evil Armilus and the forthcoming Messiah figures who are called Nehemiah ben Hushiel (who was the leader of the Jewish resistance against Heraclius, and killed by the latter, and thus believed to have been the Messiah ben Ephraim ben Joseph) and Menahem ben Ammiel (the future Messiah ben David). Armilus is the Magog of the Jewish eschatogical literature and, at the time of the Sefer Zerubbabel, was believed to be the Christian leader Heraclius who reconquered Jerusalem and expelled the Jews from the city again or forced them to conversion.
Then the book makes an assumption of the final stage of this war, when the ultimate redemption will occur, and when the Temple will finally be erected again:
On the twenty-first day of the first month, nine hundred and ninety years after the destruction of the Temple, the deliverance of the Lord will take place for Israel. Menahem ben Amiel, Nehemiah ben Hushiel, and Elijah the prophet will come and stand by the Mediterranean Sea and read the prophecy of the Lord. All the bodies of those Israelites who had thrown themselves into the sea while fleeing from their enemies will emerge: a sea-wave will rise up, spread them out, and deposit them alive within the valley of Jehoshaphat near the Wadi Shittim, for there judgment will transpire upon the nations. --- Sefer Zerubbabel, translation by John C. Reeves, UNC Charlotte, to read fhe full text, click here
The timing of 990 years is probably based on the following calculation:
- the last fall of Jerusalem in 69 CE (according to the Seder Olam Rabbah)
- adding 990 years makes 69+990 = year 1059 CE
- from the present year of Heraclius, 629 CE, there is a difference of 1059-629 = 430 years
So the Sefer Zerubbabel made the assumtion that the present ordeal and exile of the Jews from Jerusalem will last 430 years, similarly to the period of time mentioned in the Torah for the exile and slavery in Egypt.
The Pagans of Mecca made a mistake thinking that Muhammad would keep the truce with them. The 10 years truce they agreed on was only a subterfuge, to allow Muhammad to submit the Jews alone while they couldn't get any support from outside alliance. Once Muhammad took control of all the Jewish establishments, he turned his attention on the Pagans. He returned to Mecca after 8 years. When he had left Mecca in 622 he had 40 faithful followers, but when he returned there in 630 he had more than 10,000 armed followers. Many of them were surely simply satisfied with his manner to lead them, not just spiritually but also by benefiting from the spoils of the Jewish properties and the taxation imposed upon them.
The large city of Mecca did not offer any resistance and preferred to surrender rather than facing the fate of the Jewish tribes. Muhammad there decreed that the prayers were now to be done towards Mecca and no longer towards Jerusalem. There were two main goals to this choice. First, Mecca was the place of a very ancient sanctuary called the Kaaba,  which already a site of veneration by the Pagans: this is towards it that Muslims have been required to pray, and the Pagans of Mecca could only approve of it. Second, it was a way to express his displeasure towards the Jews who alone had resisted his will and Islam. The word Islam means surrender or submission. And it seems that the adoption of Islam had not succeeded as expected among the Jews:
But Allah has cursed them [the Jews] for their disbelief, so they believe not, except for a few. --- Koran 4:46
Mecca (old engraving of the 19th century)
For the Christians, Muhammed also had a message, of acceptance of Jesus as a messenger of God but of reject of the idea of Trinity (because, like the Jews, Muslims rather believe in a One God):
O People of the Scripture, do not commit excess in your religion or say about Allah except the truth. The Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, was but a messenger of Allah and His word which He directed to Mary and a soul [created at a command] from Him. So believe in Allah and His messengers. And do not say, "Three"; desist - it is better for you. Indeed, Allah is but one God. Exalted is He above having a son. --- Koran 4:171
After he conquered Mecca, Muhammad changed the Muslim religion to distinguish it from the Jewish religion. He instituted five prayers a day instead of three, directed these prayers towards Mecca rather than Jerusalem, set the whole month of Ramadan for fasting (instead of one day of Kippur), and he moved the resting day one day ahead of Shabbat, on Fridays. At the same time, he accused the Jews to have falsficated their scriptures to remove any reference to his venue as a prophet ! There is indeed a belief among some Jews that Muhammad was indeed a prophet, and that his revelation through Gabriel was part of a divine plan:
He [Rabbi Simon bar Yochai] began to sit and expound (the passage Numbers 24:21) ‘and he beheld the Kenite’. When he perceived that the kingdom of Ishmael would come [and exercise dominion over Israel], he exclaimed: "Is it not sufficient what the wicked kingdom of Edom has done to us that we should also the kingdom of Ishmael!?" Immediately Metatron the prince of the Presence answered him and said: "Do not be afraid, mortal, for the Holy One, blessed be He, is bringing about the kingdom of Ishmael only for the purpose of delivering you from that wicked one [Edom]. He shall raise up over them a prophet in accordance with His will, and He will subdue the land for them; and they shall come and restore it with grandeur. Great enmity will exist between them and the children of Esau."--- Nistarot of Rabbi Simon bar Yochai, first published in Salonika in 1743, but manuscripts exist at the Bodleian Library that are dated of the 15th century
When Muhammad died at the age of 62, he had already become powerful and reknown. He had married women from influential and wealthy families and thus had been able to control trade and to get tribesmen to negotiate or follow him. Over time, he built a large base of supporters. His followers continued to spread Islam, forcing the rest of the peninsula to surrender. Within barely 100 years, they conquered a vast realm including the Sassanid empire, Northern Africa, and Spain, and even entered Gaul until they were stopped precisely in 732, and pushed back behind the Pyrennean mountain range, to the border of Spain.
For the Jews who had been the first victims of the campaign for Islam, Muhammed was a prophet sent by God in order to balance the power of the Christian world. Ultimately, with the rise of Christianity and Islam, monotheism has been the winner. The Jews would not have survived in a pure Pagan world, as they had greatly assimilated to the Greek influence and this pattern would have surely be repeated in a Roman pagan empire which would have offered protection and opportunities to the exiled Jews. Christianity came at the right time to rid the empire from pagan traditions and causing the Jews to be sided out. But a world entirely Christian would have been equally bad for the Jews who would have been persecuted over time. With the rise of Islam, Christians had a new enemy to deal with, while Islam also brought monotheism to the pagan regions they invaded while they still considered the Jews as People of the Book, who refused Muhammad's message but could still be tolerated in Muslim dominions.
After Muhammad's death, his followers realized that they represented a strong army, so they endeavoured to extend their reach to other regions to preach the submission to their beliefs. Islam was not fully rooted as a religion yet, as it was still missing a code that would unify the early followers. This was the role of the Coran which was written down several years after Muhammad's death. For the time being, Islam was about military conquest known as the Jihad, as it was prescribed for the Muslims to carry out:
Jihad is ordained for you (Muslims) though you dislike it, and it may be that you dislike a thing which is good for you and that you like a thing which is bad for you. Allah knows but you do not know. --- Koran 2:216
For Muslims, Allah is the One God, Muhammad was His prophet, and Jihad is His cause (Koran 9:24).
Two years after the death of Muhammad, Omar ibn al-Khattab, one of his fathers-in-law, became the second Caliph and directed the army of Muslims into the Levant. They took several cities from the Byzantines, often with the help of the Jews who saw them as liberators against the oppression exerted upon them by the Christian rulers. As previously with the Persians, Jews saw the defeat of the Christians in the Holy Land as a sign for expected Messianic times, as the victory of Ishmael over Edom. Jerusalem alone stood in the midst of the Muslim conquest. The Christian religious authority of the city preferred to surrender it, with suitable peace guarantees, rather than seeing it destroyed. So Omar entered Jerusalem in 638 without a battle.
The Jews petitioned Omar to allow them to re-enter the city and settle there, but the Patriarch Sophronius opposed it. Omar however compromised and allowed 70 Jewish families to live in the city, apparenty in the northern side of Jerusalem. This is when, for the first time since the Romans expelled Jews from Jerusalem, and not taking into account the few years of the Sassanid rule, that Jews could settle permanently in the city. The first ones to come in were students of a Talmudic school from Tiberias. The Jews were also allowed to pray at the only remaining wall from the Second Temple, which became known as the Wailing Wall.
Omar was generally sympathetic toward the Jews who greatly helped him in the conquest of Palestine and in Babylonia. One example is from the city of Homs in Syria, as narrated by the 9th century Arab historian al-Baladhuri:
The Jews rose and said, "We swear by the Torah, no governor of Heraclius shall enter the city of Homs unless we are first vanquished and exhausted!" Saying this, they closed the gates of the city and guarded them. --- al-Baladhuri, The origins of the Islamic state, translation Philip Khuri Hitti, 1916, vol.1, p.211
And about the city of Caesaria, which was very well defended and presented a serious obstacle to the progress of the Muslims:
A Jew named Yusuf came to the Moslems at night and pointed out to them a road through a tunnel the water in which would reach a man's waist; in consideration for which information, safety was guaranteed him and his relatives. Mu'awiyah sanctioned the conditions [made to Yusuf] and the Moslems entered the city by night, calling "Allah is great !" --- al-Baladhuri, The origins of the Islamic state, translation Philip Khuri Hitti, 1916, vol.1, p.217
Caesaria was the last city to be conquered in the Holy Land, in 642 (four years after Jerusalem). At that time, the Holy Land was divided into two parts, following the Roman division: Palestina Prima, with capital Caesaria, and Palestina Secunda, with capital Scythopolis (Beth-shean). The new Muslims rulers initially kep this division but changed the location of these capitals, in order to establish their new rule more freely: Lydda (Lod) replaced Caesaria and Tiberias replaced Scythopolis.
On the Islam side, Omar executed the last will of Muhammad by expelling every non-Muslim from the Arabian peninsula. So the Jews of Khaibar, and other places, were allowed to move to Palestine instead, and also to Yemen where a large Jewish community was already there since many centuries. The reason for expelling the Jews from Arabia was not only religious but because the Muslims there became very rich (from their spoils of Jews and conquered lands) and felt no longer the need for the Jews to help on the cultivation of the land:
But when Omar was made caliph, and as the money became abundant in the lands of the Moslems, and the Moslems became numerous enough to cultivate the land, Omar expelled the Jews to Syria and divided the property among the Moslems. --- al-Baladhuri, The origins of the Islamic state, translation Philip Khuri Hitti, 1916, vol.1, p.46
The Jews were good at certain professions, and knew how to make the land fertile. After the expulsion of the Jews, the land became more desertic land after some years. But the Jews had also helped with education in Arabia, prior to the arrival of Islam:
Al-Wakidi says : Writing in Arabic was rare among the Aus and the Khazraj [tribes]. Some of the Jews taught how to write Arabic, and the young folks in al-Madinah had learned it previous to Islam. Then Islam came; and among the Aus and the Khazraj a number could write. --- al-Baladhuri, The origins of the Islamic state, translation Philip Khuri Hitti, 1916, vol.2, p.273
In general, several Jews considered that the rise of Islam was an act of God to balance out the hegemony of Christianity in the world, and that it was predicted by the Prophet Daniel as featured by the last empires of Nebuchadnezzar's dream (to go to the page concerning Daniel's interpretation of this dream, click here). Either way, this Muslim conquest had already the positive result of allowing the return of Jews in the Holy City, despite the pressure from Christian authorities.
Omar ibn al-Khattab was assassinated after 10 years of rule as the Caliph. His close advisor, Ka'b al-Ahbar, a Jewish scholar from Yemen who had converted to Islam, had predicted his death according to Muslim tradition:
Ka'b : Omar, you ought to write your will because you will die in three days. Umar : How do you know that ? Ka'b : I found it in the Book of God, the Torah ( Old Testament ). Umar : By God do you find Omar ibn al-Khattab in the Old Testament? Ka'b : By God, no. But I found your description in the Old Testament and your time is coming to an end. Umar : But I do not feel any pain or sickness. On the following day Ka'b came to Omar and said : Amir al-Mu'minin, one day has passed and you have only two more days. The following day Ka'b came to him and said : Amir al-Mu'minin, two days have gone and you have only one day and one night remaining. The following morning Abu Lulu appeared carrying a dagger with two heads and a handle in the middle. He hit Omar six times, one of them hit the Caliph in the navel, killing him. --- Al-Tabari, Muhammad, The History (Tarikh al-Tabari), volume 4; source Wikipedia
Islamic empire at the death of Omar in 644 CE
The death of Omar caused a first rift in the Muslim world, for succession reason. There were two pretenders: Ali, nephew and son-in-law of Muhammad (Ali had married Fatima, Muhammad's daughter) and Othman from the Umayya family (which were also some relatives to Muhammad's family). Othman was declared to be more capable for the task, and thus became Caliph in 644 CE. But Ali's supporters resented this choice as they considered that legitimate Caliphs should only come directly from the family of Muhammad.
Othman brought a major contribution to Islam: he made the definite compilation of the Koran. Of course, the official Koran is contested by the Shiites who accused Othman to have hidden the wish of Muhammad to choose Ali as his successor. Yet this Koran is today followed by all the Sunni world, which represent 90% of the Muslims. The Koran is written in a particular form of Arabic and is therefore quite obscure (so there are several explanations/translations in Modern Arabic or foreign languages). It is forbidden for a Muslim to question the "source" of the Koran because, as Othman stated it, the Koran was directly written by Allah. Today, most of the Muslim world (about 80%) does not speak Arabic and cannot therefore read the Koran in its native form.
Today the leading Muslim texts are: (1) the Koran, (2) the Hadith, a collection of sayings attributed to Muhammad which are considered as fully true, (3) the Tafsir, which are various commentaries by acknowledged Muslims scholars.
Omar was replaced by Othman (Uthman) who continued the Holy War, Jihad, towards the Byzantine dominions in North Africa. Omar had already conquered Egypt in 641 and completed the conquest of the Sassanid empire in 642.
In that time, the Byzantine power was concentrated in the large cities of the coastal plains whereas the rest of the mountainous and desertic regions was at the control of the nomadic tribes composed of Jews and Berbers, many of the latter being also Judaized. The pattern had in fact repeated throughout the history of the region thus far, where the invaders, whether Romans, Vandals or Byzantines, would only control the lands accessible for their armies, whereas the rest of the region was largely controlled by nomadic tribes.
The Mediterranean region in 647 CE
The Muslims came from Egypt in 647 with an army of about 40,000 fighters. They took Lybia then Carthage, and the rest of the Byzantine dominion in North Africa after barely 15 months of campaign. The Muslims then returned to Egypt in 648.
The fall of the Byzantine empire in North Africa did not mean that the region was subjugated. Like other invasions before, the invaders only controlled the northern coastal plains at the time, leaving in peace many tribes (who were Jewish and Judaized Berbers) in the mountainous range, in modern-day Morocco and in the south until the Sahara desert.
But the Muslim world went through a series of crisis which led to the assassination of Othman in 656 and also of his successor Ali in 660-661. The latter was murdered by a new sect of Muslims who initially supported him and finally rejected him, the Kharijites. They wanted to wage war against the Muslim establishment (as the Kharijites were more radical in their approach of Islam) and therefore were fought against by all Muslim factions.
The death of Ali caused a big scar with the scission of a new branch of Islam: the Shiites. A civil war (Fitna) started between Shiites and Sunnites (the mainstream Islam). The raising party however came from the most organised part of the Muslim army, the Umayyad, who were based in Damascus, Syria. They started to rule in 661 and the central power of Islam moved from the Arabian peninsula to Damascus with the Umayyad dynasty. The leader of the Umayyads, called Muawiyah, was officially chosen as the Caliph in Jerusalem in 661. He pursued the extension of the Muslim empire (Jihad) by invading Asia Minor in 663 and Afghanistan in 664. But he soon had to fight a civil war against those who supported the claim of Hussein, Ali's grandson and pretender to the Caliphate. Finally, Muawiyah defeated Hussein at the battle of Karbala in 680, and then was able to stabilize the Umayyad dynasty. The head of Hussein was sent to Damascus, and then was buried in Ashkelon (present-day Southern Israel). After the death of Hussein, the Shiite faction entered the status of martyrdom and are supposed to wait the End of Days for their beliefs to be vindicated by Allah. Yet, since the Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Iran to establish a Shiite state there, the Shiites have returned to a more active policy of imposing their views (and maybe cause the End of Days to come faster).
In order to establish their authority, the Umayyads scrutinised every holy site in the Holy Land. When they asked local Christians what was the Kathisma church about, the latter told the story of Mary. By consulting they found out that this same story also appeared in the Koran:
And the pains of childbirth drove her [Mary/Maryam] to the trunk of a palm tree. She said, "Oh, I wish I had died before this and was in oblivion, forgotten." But he called her from below her, "Do not grieve, your Lord has provided beneath you a stream. And shake toward you the trunk of the palm tree: it will drop upon you ripe, fresh dates.. So eat and be contented."--- Koran, Surat Maryam, 19-24-26
As the story appeared in the Koran, the church was saved from potential destruction and rather turned into a mosque by adding a mihrab on a southern wall (direction of Mecca). In addition, the church served as a model for the constuction of a Muslim religious building around the Stone of Foundation: this building became the Dome of the Rock. The octogonal design of the Kathisma was copied to the Dome of the Rock. And, further, the mosaic of a plam tree can also be found in the Dome of the Rock on one of the pillars !
Palmtree decoration in the Dome of the Rock
(Source: Israel Antiquities Authority)
In 665, a new invasion was launched to complete the conquest of North Africa. As before, an army of 40,000 Muslims reached Carthage and were later joined by other troops coming from Damascus. In 670, these combined forces established themselves in a camp near Carthage that became the city of Kairouan (its name means camp) which served as a base for extending their conquest further west. Kairouan was also used as a center to educate new converts to Islam: there in 670 was founded a mosque, the oldest one in North Africa.
The mosque of Kairouan, named after Uqba the Muslim general who founded it in 670
But in 683, this Muslim army was defeated by a joined force of Byzantines and Berbers who recaptured the region. A second Muslim army was sent in 688 and after two years of war, the coalition of Byzantines and Berbers was defeated in 690. In apparence, the Muslims had finally managed to get rid of their opponents in the region. But it was not so...
Arculf was a monk from France who travelled to the Holy Land and spent several months in Jerusalem. On his return to Europe, his ship was caught in a storm and he had to disembark in a Scotish island. There he was sheltered in a monastary where he gave what is probably the first travel narrative of the Holy Land. This was put in writing by his host, the abbot called Adamnan, with the title "De Locis Sanctis" (Of the Holy Places) and copied by many monastaries in Europe. Several manuscripts of the narrative exist today in national librairies. Here are some interesting extracts and notes:
In the great circuit of its walls [Jerusalem], Arculf counted eighty-four towers and twice three gates,[10a] which are placed in the following order in the circuit of the city : the Gate of David, on the west side of Mount Sion, is reckoned first ; second, the Gate of the Place of the Fuller ; third, the Gate of St. Stephen ; fourth, the Gate of Benjamin ; fifth, a portlet, that is a little gate, by which is the descent by steps to the Valley of Josaphat ; sixth, the Gate Thecuitis.[10b] This then is the order round the intervals between those gates and towers : from the above-mentioned gate of David it turns towards the northern part of the circuit, and thence towards the east. But although six gates are counted in the walls, yet of those the entries of three gates are more commonly frequented ; one to the west, another to the north, a third to the east ; while that part of the walls with its interposed towers, which extends from the above-mentioned Gate of David across the northern brow of Mount Sion (which overhangs the city from the south), as far as the face of that mountain which looks eastwards, where the rock is precipitous, is proved to have no gate. --- The pilgrimage of Arulfus in the Holy Land (about the year A.D. 670), translated and annoted by the Rev. James Rose Macpherson B.D., London, 1895
In the time of Arculf, Christian tradition assumed that King David was buried in Bethlehem, despite the text of the Bible that states that he was buried in the City of David, which is the old Jebusite city that David conquered and where he established his capital in Jerusalem. Why did Christians believe David was buried in Bethlehem? Because it was a nice way to link Jesus, born in Bethlehem, to Davidic lineage... But, by the time of the Crusades, some 400 years after Arculf's pilgrimage, Christian tradition moved the assumed tomb of David to Jerusalem, in Mount Sion. There is a large church built there till this day.
Arculf, when I asked him about the Sepulchre of King David, gave us this answer : I myself inquired very carefully about the Sepulchre of King David, in which he was buried in the earth, and visited it. It lies in the middle of the pavement of the church, without any overlying ornament, surrounded only by a low fence of stone, and having a lamp shining brightly placed over it. This church is built outside the wall of the city in an adjoining valley, which joins the Hill of Bethlehem on the north. --- ibidemBut, concerning the Tomb of Rachel, the description of its location is accurate:
The Book of Genesis relates that Rachel was buried in Ephrata [Ephrat], that is, in the district of Bethlehem, and the 'Book of Places' relates that Rachel was buried in that district close to the road. In answer to my questions about this road, Arculf said : There is a royal road which leads from Aelia [Aelia Capitolina was the Roman name for Jerusalem after the end of the Revolt of Bar-Kochba] southwards to Hebron, close to which, six miles from Jerusalem, is Bethlehem on the east, while the Sepulchre of Rachel is at the end of this road on the west, that is, on one's right hand as one goes to Hebron ; it is a building of common workmanship and without ornamentation, surrounded by a stone fence. There is shown even at the present day the inscription with her name, which Jacob, her husband, erected above it.--- ibidem
About the tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, Arculf also mentionned that Adam was among them, as Jewish Tradition believes it too:
In the valley of this field the sainted Arculf visited the site of the Sepulchre of [Kiriat] Arba, that is, of the four patriarchs, Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and Adam, the first man, whose feet are not, as is customary in other parts of the world, turned towards the east in burial, but are turned to the south, and their heads to the north. The site of these sepulchres is surrounded by a low rectangular wall. --- ibidem
 To see the genetics mixture of the Quraysh tribe, click here
 To read about the Jewish tribes of Arabia, see Wikipedia
[3a] The word Ashura comes from the word asor which means the number 10: the Muslim day of fasting was so called Ashura because it was set on the 10th of the month of Muharram, like the Jews have Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) on the 10th of the month of Tishri
[3b] In the 12th century, another Jewish convert, Samawal al-Maghribi (meaning Samuel of the Maghreb), attempted to refute this influence in a controversial book he wrote against the Jews: Ifham al-Yehud ("Silencing the Jews"); Samawal's family had emigrated from Northern Africa into Iran; there he converted to Islam in 1164 and died in 1175 CE
 The word dhimmi comes from the dhimma which means "guarantee"; this "tax" is not much different than the modern-day Mafia asking for a "payment" for "protection" to allow individuals or merchants to carry out with their business; this imposition of dhimma was only ended in the 19th century upon pressure from European powers who asked for equality treatment of non-Muslims in Muslim dominions
 It is the cube-shaped house that shelters the Black Stone, said to date from the time of Adam; Muslims believe that the first Kabaa house was erected by Abraham and his son Ishmael
 This allegation has later been defended by one of the most prominent Muslim writer, Ibn Hazm from Cordoba, Spain (994-1064). He argued that the Jews had been submitted to so many misfortunes and exiles that the original text given by God to Moses must have been altered, at least during the last exile of Babylon, and re-created by the Prophet Ezra when he compiled the known version of the Jewish Scriptures
 The root of this belief is in the interpretation of the dream of Nebuchadnezzar in the Book of Daniel, where four kingdoms were successively dominating the world until the venue of the Messiah; in these times, Jews believed that the fourth and last kingdom was Edom, the Christian world
 According to Christian sources, Muhammad's mother, Aminah, was Jewish thus making Muhammad a Jew in the sense of Jewish tradition; Rev. John Alzog mentioned in his Manual of Universal Church History, 1900, vol. 2, page 192 (without indicating his source): Mohammed, who was the only son of Abdallah, a Pagan, and Amina, a Jewess, and was descended from the noble but impoverished family of Hashim, of the priestly tribe of Koreish, who were the chiefs and keepers of the national sanctuary of the Kaaba, and pretended to trace their origin to Ismael, the son of Abraham and Hagar, was born at Mecca, August 20, A.D. 570.
 In another contemporary book, Otot de Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, that describes the 10 Messianic signs, Armilus is called Armilus ben Satan ! To read it online, click here
[10a] The six gates of Jerusalem was used as a name of Spanish Jews who called themselves Sespuertas, or simply Puertas; after the expulsion of 1492, the name was adapted to local languages; for example in the Maghreb it became Sasportas, Portas and Partouche, in Southern France it was changed to Portal, Portalis or Laporte; in Northern Europe it became Tor and other variations
[10b] The walls of Jerusalem, and its gates, were redesigned some centuries laer and have lasted until this day, with the different layout as the one described by Arculf
 The term means quiet or calm; until today, Muslim leaders are (normally) forbidden to sign any peace with a non-Muslim entity: at best they sign an agreement, generally of 10 years with possibility to renew it each time, to emulate what Muhammad used in his Hudna; for example, when Yasser Arafat was criticized by Muslims extremists for having signed the Oslo Accords (which are not a Peace Agreement), he referred to the term Hudna, thus saying that if the Prophet used that approach, it is allowed
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