SEDER OLAM - Revisited

סדר עולם - חדש



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Generations  1-14
(3760 - 2080 BCE)

Generations 15-21
(2080 - 1240 BCE)

Generations 22-28
(1240 - 400 BCE)

Generations 29-35
(400 BCE - 440 CE)

Generations 36-42
(440 - 1280 CE)

Generations 43-49
(1280 - 2120 CE)

Generation 50

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The Khazars adopt Judaism

(4560 AM - 800 CE)

Seder Olam Zutta
The Exilarchs

(4564 AM - 804 CE)

Ecclesia and Synagoga
(4590 AM - 830 CE)

Pesikta Rabbati and the duration of the Temples
(4607 AM - 847 CE)

Jerusalem under the Caliphate of Egypt
(4628 AM - 868 CE)

Saadia against the Karaites
(4662 AM - 902 CE)

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Hebrew years 4560 to 4680 (800 - 920 CE)

About Year 4560 – 800 CE – The Khazars adopt Judaism

The kingdom of Khazaria was a small state around the year 600 CE which was located north from the Caucasus. The mountain range offered the region some natural protection that had helped against the Romans reaching out to them, and against both the Byzantines and the Muslims. By the year 800, the kingdom had streched to its greatest extent and its king, Bulan, decided to choose a state religion for his Pagan people. He could have chosen one of the two monotheist religions that was at his borders to the south: Christianity or Islam, and get one of this alliances. But he instead chose Judaism, which seemed a rather bad choice considering the state of the Jews in these times. But according to Jewish tradition, this king was more searching for a religion by choice than being guided by political consideration (his kingdom was already powerful enough). And, to effect such choice, he asked delegates from the three faiths to come and convince him to choose their faith. He chose Judaism based on the exposition made by the Jewish delegate.

Khazaria from 600 CE to 850 CE (source Wikipedia)

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About Year 4564 – 804 CE – Seder Olam Zutta and the Exilarchs

A new book of Jewish chronology, called Seder Olam Zutta (the Smaller Order of the World), came out about this time. It borrowed from its famous predecessor, the Seder Olam (then named Seder Olam Rabbah), but included the diaspora in Babylon at the time when its Jewish community was thriving and was ruled by a Resh Galuta, meaning Head of the Diaspora or Exilarch, (meaning "Head of the Exile"), starting from the days of the captivity with King Jehoiachin who was help many years captive by Nebuchadnezzar from 597 BCE. The Exilarchs were at times in conflict with the heads of the academic institutions (the Gaonim).

The list of the first Exilarchs was actually recorded in the Bible which gives the descendance from King Jehoiakim:

And the sons of Jehoiakim: Jeconiah his son, Zedekiah his son. And the sons of Jeconiah (the same is Assir) Shealtiel his son; and Malchiram, and Pedaiah, and Shenazzar, Jekamiah, Hoshama, and Nedabiah. And the sons of Pedaiah: Zerubbabel,[1]  and Shimei. And the sons of Zerubbabel: Meshullam, and Hananiah; and Shelomith was their sister; and [the sons of Meshullam] Hashubah and Ohel, and Berechiah, and Hasadiah, Jushabhesed, five. And the sons of Hananiah: Pelatiah, and Jeshaiah; the sons of [Jeshaiah]: Rephaiah; the sons of [Rephaiah]: Arnan; the sons of [Arnan]: Obadiah; the sons of [Obadiah]: Shecaniah. And the sons of Shecaniah: Shemaiah; and the sons of Shemaiah: Hattush, and Igal, and Bariah, and Neariah, and Shaphat, six. And the sons of Neariah: Elioenai, and Hizkiah, and Azrikam, three. And the sons of Elioenai: Hodaviah, and Eliashib, and Pelaiah, and Akkub, and Johanan, and Delaiah, and Anani, seven.
--- I Chronicles 3:16-24

King Jehoiachin (or Jehoiakim) had died soon after being released from prison, in the year 561 BCE.

Zerubbabel conducted the first return to Sion in 540 BCE, with about 42,000 Jews, soon after the fall of Babylon and the decree of Cyrus. Although he was the son of Pedaiah, he is often mentioned as son of Shealtiel, who was the older brother of Pedaiah. This means that Zerubbabel was the "heir" (for the lineage), if not the actual biological "son". There is no son recorded for Shealtiel so, presumably, he didn’t have any, thus Zerubbabel was designated as the next exilarch. Another explanation is that Zerubabbel was de facto chosen from the prophecy of the prophet Haggai when he was ordered to start the reconstruction of the Temple:

In the second year of Darius the king [521 BCE], in the sixth month, in the first day of the month, came the word of the Lord by Haggai the prophet unto Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, saying: 'Thus speaks the Lord of hosts, saying: This people say: The time is not come, the time that the Lord's house should be built.' Then came the word of the Lord by Haggai the prophet, saying: 'Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your cieled houses, while this house [the Temple] lies waste?'
--- Haggai 1:1-4

Hashubah,[2] son of Meshullam, had remained in exile but his son Hattush returned to Sion at the same time than Ezra the Scribe as he is the one mentioned to be of Davidic descent:

Now these are the heads of their fathers' houses, and this is the genealogy of them that went up with me from Babylon, in the reign of Artaxerxes the king. Of the sons of Phinehas, Gershom; of the sons of Ithamar, Daniel; of the sons of David, Hattush.
--- Ezra 8:1-2

The Seder Olam Zutta gives the list of Exilarchs from the time of the Parthians' and Sasanians' rule: Nahum (140-170), Huna I (170-210), Mar Uqba I (210-240), Huna II (240-260), Nathan I (260-270), Nehemiah (270-313), Mar Uqba II (313-337), Huna, Mar I, Huna III (337-350), Abba (350-370), Nathan II (370-400), Kahana I (400-415), Huna IV (415-442), Mar Zutra I (442-456), Kahana II (456-465), Huna V (465-470),[3] Huna VI (484-508), Mar Zutra II (508-520), Ahunai (520-560), Hofnai (560-580), Haninai (580-590), and Bustanai who witnessed the fall of the Sassanid empire and died in 670.[4]

But the role of Exilarch continued long after the redaction of the Seder Olam Zutta, even during the Muslim rule until about the year 1400 CE.

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Year 4590 – 830 CE – Ecclesia and Synagoga

A depiction opposing the Church (Ecclesia) and the Synagogue (Synagoga) appeared for the first time about 830 CE with a pair of women, one holding a cross and one holding a broken spear with her eyes blind-folded. This depiction was then used many times in subsequent years of the Middle-Age, but also as statues in the Cathedral of Strasbourg, France.

Ecclesia and Synagoga (Cathedral of Strasbourg)
Ecclesia and Synagoga (Cathedral of Strasbourg, south entrance)

The broken spear represented the spear that Jews had supposedly killed Jesus with, and the blind-folded eyes represented the "blindness" in which the Jews continued to reject Christian faith.

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Year 4607 – 847 CE – Pesikta Rabbati (פסיקתא רבתי) and the duration of the Temples

The Pesikta Rabbati is assumed to have been compiled about 847 CE but it contains a certain number of Haggadic Midrashim (allegories) and discourses about Messianic times that certainly date back from as early as the 1st century CE. Its compilers were most probably rabbis who lived in the land of Israel. One of the themes found in this work relates to the importance of Jerusalem, of the Temple Mount, and of the Temple in Judaism. As mentioned in a previous work, the famous Midrash Tanchuma, the site of the Temple Mount is considered to be the navel of the world:

As the navel is set in the middle of a person so is Israel the navel of the world, as it is said: 'That dwell in the navel of the earth' [Ezekiel 38:12]. The Land of Israel is located in the center of the world, Jerusalem in the center of the Land of Israel, the Temple in the center of Jerusalem, the 'heikhal' [Holy of Holies] in the center of the Temple, the ark in the center of the heikhal, and in front of the heikhal is the 'even shetiyyah' [foundation stone] from which the world was started.
--- Ulmer, Rivka, "the Jerusalem Temple in Pesiqta Rabbati: from Creation to Apocalyse" in Hebrew Studies (2010), Vol. 51, pp. 223-259, extract of Pesikta Rabbati Kah. 26:4, Mandelbaum edition

The Pesikta introduced a gematria calculation that the First Temple for 410 years and the Second Temple for 420 years. It also compared the two periods with the number of high priests in each, 18 of them for the First and 80 for the Second, explaining that many high priests of the Second were corrupt and politically, rather than religiously, elected. The post of High Priest, since the time when Herod got rid of the Hasmonean family, was subject to competition, jealousy, political influence, bribary, and so on, which resulted in a shorter time in office. Here is the extract:

Another comment: "With this [bezot - בְּזֹאת] shall Aaron come into the holy place: with a bull calf [Leviticus 16:3]. R. Berekhia said: The term bezot signifies four hundred and ten, the letter 'bet' means two, the letter 'zayin' means seven, the letter 'aleph' means one, the letter 'tav' means four hundred. He said to him: 'With this [bezot] [means] that [the Solomonic Temple would exist for a period of exactly four hundred and ten years]; he said to him: "shall Aaron come". Are we to understand, then, from God’s saying to Moses: "with this shall Aaron come" that Aaron lived four hundred and ten years? No, this verse means that the eighteen High Priests who were to minister during the four hundred and ten years would come in such a consistent succession, son following upon son, that their ministries would be considered as one, identical, O Aaron, with yours. In this sense the verse states: "With this [bezot] shall Aaron come". But the verse does not apply to the Second Temple, because in its time the priests used to outbid one another for the office of the High Priest, thus there were eighty High Priests who served in the [Second] Temple. Therefore the first part of the verse "the fear of the Lord prolongs days" (Proverbs 10:27) applies to the priests of the First Temple and [the conclusion of the
verse "the years of the wicked shall be shortened"] applies to the priests of the Second Temple.
--- Ulmer, Rivka, "the Jerusalem Temple in Pesiqta Rabbati: from Creation to Apocalyse" in Hebrew Studies (2010), Vol. 51, pp. 223-259, extract of Pesikta Rabbati 47:24

According to many commentators, this text gives the period during which the two Temples stood, respectively 410 and 420 years. But, in my opinion, the text is mostly concerned by the holiness of the Temple, not its actual physical envelop (the building itself). The 410 years period is derived from a verse referring to the role of Aaron in the Tabernacle during the wandering of the Hebrews in the desert. But the holy service in the First Temple was not always possible: for example, and at least, the High Priest was taken to captivity 10 years before the Temple was physically destroyed. And during the Second Temple, the situation got because many High Priests  were chosen or influenced by either Hellenistic or Roman politics. Thus we consider, unlike most commentators, that these periods of 410 and 420 years do not apply to the duration when the temples physically stoof as buildings, but to the respective durations of their holy service, in the tradition of Aaron (at least with High Priests who had Aaron as ancestor, which was not the case for most of High Priests who took office from the later years of Herod's reign). This is reflected in the use of the same very verse: With this shall Aaron come into the holy place, which ought to be understood that only Aaron and his descendance should be counted in the years of the Temple, and not the High Priests who were not from Aaronite descent; and only when the Temple was a holy place, and not in the years where a foreign pagan service was done, or when the Shechina had quitted the Temple.  

The Pesikta Rabbati was also obviously focusing on the reconstruction of the future (and last) Temple, in Messianic times. It covered the failed attempt by Emperor Julian to rebuilt it in the year 362 CE (to see the related page, click here). Julian was called the 'Apostate' by Christians who vehemently opposed this initiative. The project was finally abandoned due to earthquakes and other disruptions that were quickly interpreted as divine signs against this reconstruction.

The return of the glory of the Temple is obviously central to the Pesikta Rabbati. The year of its final composition is probably 847 CE because, when the text asked when will God restore the divine service, it is explained that a period of seven hundred and seventy-seven years (reflecting the Jubilee cycle) had already passed. This is because the count of 777 years was calculated from the time of the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, thus making year 847 CE. Yet nobody knows when the Messiah will come and thus when the last Temple will be standing again. The years that followed 847 CE must have been of great disappointment for the those Sages who believed that time was up for the Redemption. And this was the main reason of the Pesikta Rabbati who dared ask: 

Master of the universe, when will You restore us to the glory of going up [to Jerusalem] during the three pilgrimages and see the countenance of the Shechinah? When will You return us to that glory? See how long has the House of our life [the Temple] been destroyed.
--- Ulmer, Rivka, "the Jerusalem Temple in Pesiqta Rabbati: from Creation to Apocalyse" in Hebrew Studies (2010), Vol. 51, pp. 223-259, extract of Pesikta Rabbati 1:4 editio princeps of Prague, 17th century

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Year 4628 – 868 CE – Jerusalem passes under the rulers of Egypt

The Abbasid Caliphate started to lose central control with the rise of independant rulers in some parts of its empire. The Tulunid dynasty ruled over Egypt and Syria, including Palestine, from 868 CE until 905 CE. It was followed in 935 CE by the Ikhshidid dynasty until 969 CE. During their tenure over the Holy Land, they built a number of forts along the coastline and rebuilt the city of Caesaria whih had been destroyed by an earthquake.

Then the Fatimid Caliphate, of Shia Islam, ruled from Cairo over the entire North Africa (where they originated from), Egypt and Palestine with the loss of some regions over time, such as the Holy Land during the First Crusade in 1099. Al-Andulas, in contrast, remained Umayyad all these times.

The Fatimid dominion was then incorporated back into the Abbasid Caliphate from 1171 under the rule of Salah Al-Din who successfully reconquered the Holy Land from the Crusaders, as it will be covered in the corresponding sections of this study.

The authority of the Exilarch among the Jewish communities of the Muslim dominions roughly followed the fate of the Abbasid authority: when the latter started to decline in profit of new centers of regional authority, the regional Jewish authorities distanced themselves too from the Exilarch and the authority of Bagdad. By the end of the 10th century, the main centers of Jewish authority in the Muslim dominions were Badgad, Cordoba in Spain, Fustat in Egypt, Kairouan in Northern Africa, and Jerusalem in Israel/Palestine. And other centers existed too, such as in Persia and in Yemen. 

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Year 4662 – 902 CE – Saadia against the Karaites

Saadia ben Yosef, born in Fayyum, Egypt, composed at the age of twenty the first Hebrew dictionary and grammar book, the Agron. This greatly helped the many Jews, scholars and non-scholars, with the practice of the Hebrew language.

Not long after, Saadia attracted more attention when he defended core Judaism against the Karaite movement which surprisingly continued to exist after some 150 years and was even becoming stronger in Egypt. But Saadia's writings convinced many of them of the wrongness of the Karaite claims and helped turn many Jews back to tradition. This however put his life in danger, because of the reaction of Karaite sect who was powerful in Egypt. So he had to leave and went to Israel. There he endeavoured another gigantic task, the first translation of the Torah and commentary in Arabic which had become the primary language spoken by people and Jews since the Muslim invasion some 200 years before. This work is known as the Tafsir

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[1] In the Seder Olam Zutta, Zerubbabel is recorded as being the son of Shealtiel, and not his nephew 

[2] He is called Hashabneiah in Ezra 3:10

[3] In 470 or 471, the next Exilarch was executed, during religious persecutions, so there was no Exilarch for over 10 years until the year 484 when the official function resumed after the death of the Sassanid ruler Peroz (459-484)

[4] A study of the Exilarchs has been done in the following site,

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