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(3760 - 2080 BCE)
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The Kahina, queen of the Berbers
(4450 AM - 690 CE)
The Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem
(4451 AM - 691 CE)
The Al-Aqsa Mosque, Jerusalem
(4465 AM - 705 CE)
The Muslim conquest of Spain
(4471 AM - 711 CE)
The Table of Solomon
The Jihad is stopped in France
(4492 AM - 732 CE)
The Abbasid Caliphate
Makhir and the Jews of Narbonne
(4519 AM - 759 CE)
Al-Andalus (Muslim Spain)
(4600 AM - 800 CE)
Avot de-Rabbi Nathan
Pirke de-Rabbi Eliezer
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Hebrew years 4440 to 4560 (680 - 800 CE)
After defeating all their Christian and Berber enemies in the coastal region, the Muslim conquest of North Africa was not quite over yet because they then had to face an unexpected enemy who came this time from the mountains: the Jews and the Judaized Berbers. They were led by a woman from one of the Jewish tribes of the Atlas: she was called the Kahina. Her name refers to priesthood in Hebrew, from the word Kohen. The account is given by one of the greatest Arab historians, ibn-Khaldoun from the 14th century:~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Part of the Berbers professed Judaism they had received from their powerful neighbors, the Israelites of Syria [sic. Palestine]. Among the Judaized Berbers, we found the Djeraoua, a tribe that lived in the Aures moutains and to which belonged the Kahina, a woman who was killed by the Arabs at the time of the first invasions. the other Jewish tribes were the Nefoussa, the Berbers of Ifrikya [Africa], the Fendelaoua, the Mediouna, the Behloula, the Ghiatha and the Fazaz, Berbers from the Maghreb-el-Aksa. --- ibn Khaldoun, Histoire des Berbères, Slane edition, volume I, pp. 208-209, (translation by Albert Benhamou)
The Kahina held back the Jihad for about 12 years, after forcing the Muslim army to retreat all the way to Egypt, losing all the conquest they had previously achieved against the Byzantines. But a new Muslim army came about the year 700 and re-took the coastal region until modern-day Algiers. The Kahina was defeated in 702. According to one legend, she was assassinated by an advisor who secretly converted to Islam, and according to the historian Ibn Khaldoun she was killed in a battle inside the amphitheater of El Jem, near Carthage, which was built by the Romans about 200 CE.
Roman amphitheater of El Jem (engraving of the 19th century)
Her two sons had to convert to Islam in exchange for a favourable treatment by the Muslim general. They joined the conquest of North Africa which quickly ended in 709, taking possession of all the accessible parts of North Africa including modern-day Morocco (but only the plains). Several Jewish tribes and some Judaized Berber tribes too stayed away from this new conqueror and found refuge, once again, in the remote mountains of the Atlas range in order to keep their faith and tradition. These Jewish tribes who kept their faith composed the Jews of Northern Africa who are not of so-called Sefardi descent: they are closer to Oriental Jews as found in the previous Eastern provinces of the Roman empire.
The sons of the Kahina influenced their army of Judeo-Berbers to convert to Islam and led the Jihad into Spain with many other converted Berber tribes. They retained however some notable particularities compared to the Muslims who came from Egypt and the Arabian peninsula. But, in broad terms, the conquest of Spain has been carried out by these Northern African tribes (Berbers and Jews) who adopted Islam in order to participate to the excitements of a conquest against Christian dominions who had previously persecuted them under the Byzantine rule.
In total the Arab conquest of North Africa was not an easy one as it took over 50 years, which is more time it took them to crush the entire Sassanid/Persian empire and the Byzantine dominions in North Africa altogether. And it will take barely another 30 years for the Jihad to conquer most of Spain from the Visigoths and even to invade half of Gaul (which was the Frank kingdom at the time, before becoming modern-day France) until they were eventually stopped in modern-day France near Poitiers in 732. This perspective can give an idea of the heroic resistance opposed by the Kahina in the face of the conquest in her time. Today she is venered as the Queen of the Berbers but she was actually Jewish (her tribe was Jewish, according to Arab historian ibn-Khaldoun).
The caliph Abdel al-Malik ordered the construction of a shrine on top of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, where the Temple of Solomon once stood. In Arabic sources, the city was known as Aelia (from the Roman and Byzantine name Aelia Capitolina), or more simply Al-Quds, which means the Holy in Arabic. There is a large rock there which was called the Foundation Stone by Jewish Tradition. For this reason, the shrine (it is not a mosque) has been named the Dome of the Rock. The construction was carried out by Byzantine architects who were probably ordered to follow the pattern of the octogonal shrine for the Holy Sepulchre. The model fitted the goal of Abdel al-Malik to make a shrine (people turn around a shrine, not for prayers). Thus the intent of the Muslim leader was to compete against Christian faith (by making a shrine more beautiful and higher in location than their shrine) and to attrack Jews by showing that they should now adopt the new faith which has allowed to rebuild its shrine over the Temple of Solomon (like the Messianic Third Temple, in other words).
But why is this place sacred to Muslims? The Koran mentions Muhammad's Night Journey, Lailat al-Miraj, on the back of Burak, in company of the Angel Gabriel and he ascended to Heaven to meet previous prophets. The Koran designates the place of ascent as the Mosque al-Aqsa (Sura 17:1) which means the farthest (northern) mosque. The Caliph decided that this farthest place was the Temple Mount in Jerusalem ! But the motives of the Caliph al-Malek were surely more political on various fronts. First towards non-Muslims, the beautiful construction asserted the superiority of Islam over Christian beliefs because the new Dome competed against the Holy Sepulchre, in beauty and higher location. Second towards the Jews, this location, so holy to them, was a statement that he had built the next Temple that their Messianic literature predicted. Tertio, and more importantly for the Muslims: al-Malik did not have control over Medina and Mecca at this time because the leadership there didnot accept his rule (they only did from 692). Worse, they forbade to the Muslims of the Umayyad dominions to do the annual pilgrimage to Mecca (the Hajj). So the Umayyad Caliph needed to find an alternative "holy" site for Muslims of his dominion to make the Hajj. To convince them that they could do the Hajj in Jerusalem, he declared this city "holy" to Muslims by stating that the so-called Al Aqsa mosque described by in the Koran was in Jerusalem (while most Muslim early scholars described that this "farthest" mosque was located in the Northern part of the Arabic peninsula). Jerusalem was not holy to Muslims until that time of crisis with the Umayyad rule. But this choice was convenient because Jerusalem was already holy to the Jews and to the Christians, and the Muslim world see themselves as the continuation and completion of divine prophecy that Jews and Christians carried before them, before Muhammad, the "final" prophet.
The amalgam of the holy site somehow worked because, when the Crusaders conquered the city in 1099, they believed that the Dome of the Rock was the ancient Temple of Solomon ! The holiness of the Dome of the Rock however came into competition a few years later with the new Al-Aqsa mosque, built nearby, as the location of the Night Journey to the "farthest" mosque.
The Dome of the Rock is today, nonetheless, the oldest Muslim monument still standing (all other present-day monuments and mosques have been built or restored after 691 CE). It also claims to have the world's oldest mihrab (the niche that indicates to the prayers the direction of Mecca), although this may be questionable because the monument was initially built as a shrine and not as a place for prayers (mosque).
The Foundation Stone inside the Dome of the Rock
(source: Library of Congress, from Wikipedia)
For the Jews, this rock was the location upon which the Holy of Holies, inside the Temple, stood upon. According to Tradition, this is the very location where God made Adam, also where Abraham was about to sacrifice his son Isaac (click to read more about the Akedah), and where God appeared to David who then decided to build a Temple in this location (click to read more about the conquest of Jerusalem by King David). It is at the summit of the Temple Mount, otherwise known in Jewish world as Mount Moriah. There are two references of this sacred location in the Bible:
And He [God] said [to Abraham]: 'Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, even Isaac, and get you into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt-offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell you of.' --- Genesis 22:2
Then Solomon began to build the house of the Lord at Jerusalem in mount Moriah, where [the Lord] appeared unto David his father. --- II Chronicles 3
The Midrash considers the Foundation Stone as the navel of the world:
From Sion, the whole world took form. The Tanaim [Mishna writers] state: why is it called the foundation stone? because from it the world was founded. And Solomon knew it when he said he was going to purchase [?], and he planted some peppers and they immediately produced fruits. Thus he said: 'I planted in them a tree of all fruits.' Another thing. I planted in them a tree of all fruits, because there, the same way the navel is set in the centre of the human body, so is the land of Israel the navel of the world. [...] The land of Israel sits in the centre of the world, and Jerusalem in the centre of the land of Israel, and the Temple in the centre of Jerusalem, and the Holy of Holies in the centre of the Temple, and the foundation stone in front of the Holy of Holies, and from it the world was formed. --- Midrash Tanchuma, Kodashim 10 (translation by Albert Benhamou); for the Hebrew text online, click here
The divine service of the Temple was performed on this stone after the Ark of the Covenant was hidden away by King Josiah (to see related page, click here) before the destruction of the city by Nebuchadnezzar:
Mishnah. After the Ark had been taken away, there was a stone from the days of the earlier prophets, called the Shetiyah [the Foundation Stone], three fingers above the ground, on which he [the High Priest during the annual service of the Day of Atonement] would place [the pan of burning coals]. --- Talmud, Yoma, 53b
There are 1700 years between the completion of the Temple of Solomon on top of this rock and the completion of the Dome of the Rock.
Beside the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount stands the Al-Aqsa Mosque. It is the third most sacred site for Muslims because they believe that Muhammad visited the Heavens from that place on the back of a mythological steer called Al-Buraq, although Muhammad had never come to Jerusalem in his material life. The building of this mosque started at the same time as the Dome of the Rock but was completed between 705 and 711 CE. It was built upon the first mosque of Jerusalem, the mosque of Omar, which was described by the monk Arculf when he visited the Holy Land around 670 CE.
Why build a second holy site for the same reason (the Night Journey)? Some say that, during or after the construction of the Dome of the Rock, at the center of the Temple Mount, Muslim leaders were worried that Muslim prayers would actually direct their prayers from that spot towards the remains of the Jewish Temple... So, to avoid this issue, they built a mosque at the most southern edge of the Temple Mount, thus facing Mecca, but offering Muslim backs to the Jewish sacred site. Consequently, the Dome of the Rock became a "shrine" (and therefore it is not a "mosque") while Al-Aqsa (named after the Suru 7:1 of the Koran) became a place of prayers (mosque).
The Al-Aqsa mosque was however destroyed by natural disasters (such as earthquakes) and rebuilt several times. The first earthquake to destroy the new mosque occurred around 748, less than 50 years after its dedication ! Curiously the Dome of the Rock was barely damaged. The reason is that Al-Aqsa is located on a geological faultline, thus causing frequent damage.
The silver dome of the Al-Aqsa Mosque with the Mount of Olives in the background
For Jews, the mosque is located on the Temple Mount where King Herod had built structures and arches to make an even surface of the mount. The mosque is located precisely at one of the entrance gates system to the Temple Mount and evidence of it can be found inside the mosque itself with some of the pillars and walls.
Wall from the Second Temple, inside Al-Aqsa Mosque
(source: article in French in JForum)
An army mostly composed of Berber and Jewish converts to Islam, totalling about 12,000 men, led by Tariq ibn Ziyad a general of the Umayyads, crossed the sea and reached the rock of Gibraltar in 711.
Tariq ibn Ziyad - 16th century painting (Uffizi Gallery, Florence)
This conquest was very swift after Tariq won a decisive battle against the Visigoths during which their king was killed.
According to contenporary accounts, Tariq ibn Ziyad found among the treasures he took from the Visigoths a table incrusted of precious stones. When enquiring about it to the defeated, they told him that it was said to be the Table of Solomon that the Visigoths found in Rome (when they sacked the city) and brought back with them. This was most probably the table of the bread for the divine service at the time of the Second Temple, which was brought to Rome by the army of Titus along many other precious items from the Temple.
The "Table of Solomon"
(source: illustration from La Sainte Bible, David Martin, 1707)
This table can actually be seen depicted on the Arch of Titus in Rome, and carried by Jewish prisoners:
Arch of Titus (detail), showing the Table of the Breads
Tariq sent the precious table to the Ummayad caliph (Al-Walid) in Damascus as a gift, and its track has been lost since.
After their swift success against the Visigoths, the Muslim army crossed the Pyrenees into the kingdom of the Franks, and reached half the way North until they were stopped by Charles Martel at the Battle of Poitiers, near Tours, in 732.
Battle of Poitiers (732 CE) - by Steuben, 1837 (Palais de Versailles)
This battle was a turning point for the Jihad, as it caused the Muslims to retreat back in to Spain and they were never able to renew their invasion attempts: the Muslim Holy War came to a stop. The reasons were multiple. First, the Franks/French were more organised to fight back the Muslim army and swiflty regained their lost territories pushing the Muslims back over the southern mountain range into Spain. Second, the Christian army in Spain was regrouped in the northern part of the peninsula and was starting to threaten to reconquer their lost kingdom too: their victory in 722 at the Battle of Covadonga signalled the start of the Reconquista, but this reconquest took 770 years to complete (in 1492). Last, the Muslim army itself was facing some internal issues caused by ethnic tensions between the different groups: the Berbers although composing majoritarily the invasion army were treated with contempt by the Arabs, so many of them revolted in 740 by changing allegiance and even converting to Christianity. These troubles ended in 742 with the leadership of the Muslim conquest was changed to a Berber leader. So the Muslims ultimately returned beyond the Pyrenees in 759 and preferred to consolidate their presence in Spain.
The Umayyad Caliph and all his family was assassinated in Antipatris (previously called Tel Afek, Israel) by members of the Banu Hashim clan who founded a new Muslim rule and established the third Caliphate, the Abassid. They also moved the capital of the Caliphate from Damascus to Baghdad. The Umayyad Caliphate however continued to rule in its province of Spain with a capital-in-exile, Cordoba, after one member of this family had escaped the slaughter at the hands of the Hashemites.
The Abbasid Caliphate in its greatest extent in 850 CE (source: Wikipedia)
It is from the time of the Abbasid rulers, who embraced Sunni Islam, that the rift with Shia Islam started to emerge. But the Jews enjoyed a much greater tolerance under the Abbasid, unlike the Christians who nearly entirely disappeared from their dominion. The main reason for this is that Jews were not perceived as a threat, compared to Christians who still hoped for a reverse of good fortune with the Byzantine Empire.
In the Frankish kingdom, Charles Martel had also initiated a new ruling dynasty, from the Merovingians to the Carolingians. Then, when his son Pepin the Short ruled from 752 CE, the status of the Jews took a favourable turn under this new dynasty. Under Charlemagne (Carlo Magno), the son of Pepin who succeeded him as king of the Franks in 768 and became Emperor of the Roman Empire from 800 CE, the Jews prospered. The new rulers employed them mostly for commercial transactions and international commerce. For example Charlemagne sent diplomatic envoys to the Abbasid ruler Harun al-Rashid in Baghdad in 797: among them there was a Jew called Isaac.
Narbonne is a city in the Languedoc region in France where the first road linking Italy to Spain was laid by the Romans in the 2nd century BCE. Jews arrived there when Narbonne was part of the Caliphate of Cordoba before 759 CE and remained there when the Franks pushed the Muslims back over the Pyrenean mountains.
The Muslims leaving Narbonne in 759 CE -- by Emile Bayard, 1880
According to a Jewish scholar who was born in Narbonne many years later, Rabbi David Kimchi, the Jewish community started to thrive when Charlemagne asked from the Caliph of Bagdad to send one Jew who could lead the community of Narbonne. This Jew was called Makhir ibn Habibi and he died in Narbonne about 793 CE. He gave root to a lineage who kept in contact with the Carolingian dynasty by representing the Jews of Narbonne since Charlemagne granted the title of nassi in 791 to Makhir and his descendance. In old French official documents, the title of nassi was given as king of the Jews. The last "king of the Jews" was called Kalonimos bar Todros [Theodoros] because the Jewish community was expelled from the city in 1306 following a decree by the French king Philippe Le Bel.
The seal of this last nassi had one face written in Latin and one in Hebrew. On each face, there is a lion representing the royal Tribe of Judah. On the face in Hebrew, a star of David and the following inscription: קלונימוס בר טורדוס (Kalonimos bar Todros) followed by Hebrew letters corresponding to the initials of a verse from Isaiah.
Seal of the nassi of Narbonne
After the death of the Exilarch Shlomo ben Hisdai II in 759, who was childless, the role of Exilarch should have been passed to his eldest nephew, Anan ben Shefat. But, the Rabbinical authority did not approve him in such role, on the reason that he was not pious enough. Instead his younger brother Isaac was chosen. As a response, Anan created a new movement which rejected the authority of the Rabbis and, to do so, borrowed from what the ancient Sadducees who used to believe that they should only obey the written scripture (the Torah) and not the rabbinical oral laws. The movement was called Karaite, based on the Hebrew word to refer to Readers of the scriptures. Anan also composed a book to lay down the rules of his new community. Another theory considers that Anan was not the founder of Karaism (although this is generally assumed); in such case, he would have been one of the biggest promoters in these times because there is little known of Karaism before Anan. He also changed his name and adopted ben David, thus willing to stress that he was of Davidic descent.
To avoid conflicts with the traditional Judaism, the Caliph ordered Anan and his followers to be sent to Jerusalem. There they established a synagogue from which they spread their ideas. The movement gained some followers over the years, mainly in Egypt, Turkey and the rest of the Muslim dominions around the Mediterranean Sea, including in Crimea.
Today there are still some Karaites around the world but they represented a very small minority (the largest community is in Israel with about 40,000 members). They still maintain a synagogue in the Old City of Jerusalem. They also distance themselves from Anan's rules, because Karaism has evolved from its early form: so they now make a distinction between Karaism and Ananism.
As for the Sadducees before them, the Karaites owe their existence to an initial crisis about power, which led to a deviation from core Judaism.
The conquered region of Spain became known to the Arabs as Al-Andalus,which gave the name Andalusia in Spanish. The Iberian peninsula was mostly occupied by the Muslims at the time (Umayyad dynasty), except for the most northern-western region which was still Christian and from which the Reconquista started.
To the Christians, the Muslims occupying Spain were known as the Moors, a name which correctly describes their Berber origin from the Maghreb.
The Jews of Al-Andalus, found in the previous Visigoth/Christian dominion, were those who came there at the time of the Roman empire, initially as slaves or prisoners to work on the various Roman provinces, and who had lived there along the Visigoths after the fall of the empire. Among the Muslim army, there were many Jews too but those had converted to Islam. Yet, owing to the fact that Berbers and Jews had always been in good terms, and even converted allies in the conquest, the Jews of Spain could look at a brighter future under the rulers of Islamic Spain rather than the Christian Visigoths and other Christian dominions were they were generally persecuted.
The famous tract Avot from the Talmud contains the Ethics of the Fathers, their guidelines to a righteous life. Unlike other tracts with contain Mishna and Gemara, Avoth doesn't have any Gemara. However, in the times of the Gaonim in Babylonia (between 700 and 900 CE) was composed a Tosefta (additional commentary) on Avoth, and it was named after one of the leading figure of the Babylonian Sages, Rabbi Nathan. The Avot de-Rabbi Nathan, as it was titled, comments on some of the morale sayings from the Fathers. Here is an example:
Mishna B. Simeon the Just was one of the remnants of the Great Assembly. His motto was: "The order of the world rests upon three things: the Torah, the divine service, and deeds of kindness." How so? It is written [Hosea 6:6]: "For piety I desired, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt-offerings." Infer from this that the burnt-offering is more favoured than ordinary sacrifices, because it is all bunrt up in the fire, as it is written [Leviticus 1:9]: "And the priest shall burn the whole of the altar", and elsewhere [I Samuel 7:9]: "And Samuel took the sucking lamb and offered it for an entire burnt-offering unto the Lord." Yet the study of the Torah is more acceptable in the sight of the Lord than burnt-offering because he was is studying the Torah knows the will of the Lord as it is written [Proverbs 2:5]: "Then will you understand the fear of the Lord, and the knowledge of God will you find." From this it may be inferred that when a sage lectures to the public, it is accounted to him in Scripture as if sacrificing fat and blood upon the altar. --- Tosephta Avot de-Rabbi Nathan, in Rodkinson, Michael, The Babylonian Talmud, Volume I (IX), page 22, published 1900
Concerning the study of the Torah, it is one of the most important positive commandments expressed by God to Moses [Deuteronomy 6:6-7]: "And these words, which I command you this day, shall be upon your heart, and you shall teach them diligently unto your children, and shall talk of them." This divine commandment was repeated to Joshua in Canaan [Joshua 1:8]: "This book of the Torah shall not depart out of your mouth, but you shall meditate therein day and night." Consequently, since the time of Moses, the Torah was read in the public congregation on Shabbats and Festivals. At the time of the Babylonian exile, the reading of the Torah was organised according to the number of weeks in a year: so the Torah was divided into 54 sections (called sidrot) and a new section (sidra) is read each Shabbat.
About 30 years after the Avot, another work was composed in the times of the Gaonim: the Pirke de-Rabbi Eliezer. But the work is certainly composed from various sources added at various times, some earlier than the time of final composition. For example the first two chapters were at some point extracted from the Avot, thus placing the dating of the Pirke after it. The work includes many passages of the Talmud and is written as if it contains the teaching of Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrkanos, one of the prominent figure of the 1st century Tannaim period. The first chapters concern the days of the Creation, with astronomical discussions applied to the Jewish Calendar, and then a discussion about the 10 occurrences when God came down to Earth, including sources alluding to Messicanic times.
Being a composition of sources for some Midrashic themes such as the Resurrection, the End of Days, etc. the Pirke has been very popular among the Jewish communities, as proven by the early efforts to public it soon after the invention of printing. The first known edition dates of 1514 in Constantinople, and a second one dates of 1544 in Venice. Today editions are derived from the most complete one, from Rabbi David Luria who added valuable commentaries, dated 1837 in Vilna.
 The word Gibraltar is named after this general as it means Jabal Tariq in Arabic, i.e. the Mountain of Tariq
 His father was not called David but Shafat; he however chose the name ben David to refer to his Davidic lineage
 Commission archéologique de Narbonne, Procès-verbaux des séances de 1842 à 1889, Narbonne, 1944, page 374; to see this document online at Gallica web site, click here
 The word Moor comes from the name given to the Maghreb region by the Romans, which was Mauretania; this name came itself from the ancient way to call the tribes of this region before the arrival of the Romans, which was the Mauri; the origin of the name is Greek but borrowed from the Hebrew-Phoenician word Maharavi meaning People of the West
 The Jewish Encyclopedia of 1906 states that it was first composed after 833 CE, but one story that appears in the Koran is borrowed from the Pirke: it is the story of the crow that unearthed the corpse of Abel that was buried by Cain; this means that some parts of the Pirke were known before the Koran was composed (no later than 700 CE)
 The Koran does not mention that the Night Journey of Muhammad took place in Jerusalem but it was kept as an oral tradition among Muslims from the time of Al-Malik; it was later, probably about 840 CE, that it was finally inscribed in the Hadith (the commentaries of the Koran) by Muslim scholar Muhammad Al-Bukhari
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