does anybody know where the name schedeldoekshaven comes from? it's an old street in the hague, holland.? (2024)

has never been the name of a nation or state. It is a geographical term, used to designate the region at those times in history when there is no nation or state there.

The word itself derives from "Peleshet", a name that appears frequently in the Bible and has come into English as "Philistine". The Philistines were mediterranean people originating from Asia Minor and Greek localities. They reached the southern coast of Israel in several waves. One group arrived in the pre-patriarchal period and settled south of Beersheba in Gerar where they came into conflict with Abraham, Isaac and Ishmael. Another group, coming from Crete after being repulsed from an attempted invasion of Egypt by Rameses III in 1194 BCE, seized the southern coastal area, where they founded five settlements (Gaza, Ascalon, Ashdod, Ekron and Gat). In the Persian and Greek periods, foreign settlers - chiefly from the Mediterranean islands - overran the Philistine districts. From the time of Herodotus, Greeks called the eastern coast of the Mediterranean "Syria Palaestina".

The Philistines were not Arabs nor even Semites, they were most closely related to the Greeks. They did not speak Arabic. They had no connection, ethnic, linguistic or historical with Arabia or Arabs. The name "Falastin" that Arabs today use for "Palestine" is not an Arabic name. It is the Arab pronunciation of the Greco-Roman "Palastina"; which is derived from the Plesheth, (root palash) was a general term meaning rolling or migratory. This referred to the Philistine's invasion and conquest of the coast from the sea.

The use of the term "Palestinian" for an Arab ethnic group is a modern political creation which has no basis in fact - and had never had any international or academic credibility before 1967.

Although a politically based mythology has grown up around and smothered, the documented past of the land known as "Palestine," there is recognition among preeminent scholars of what one of them has called "the more chauvinist Arab version of the region's history as having begun with the Arabs and Islam."1

The claim that Arab-Muslim "Palestinians" were "emotionally tied" to "their own plot of land in Palestine" -- based upon a "consistent presence" on "Arab" land for "thousands of years"2 -- is an important part of that recent mythology.

It was contrived of late in a thus far successful Orwellian propaganda effort-an appeal to the emotions that would "counter Zionism" and that "serves" tactical purposes as a new tool in the continuing battle against Israel," as the late PLO official Muhsin stated candidly in an interview, quoted at the beginning of this chapter.

In order to understand how that tool, aided by a general near-ignorance of the "unrelenting past," has distorted the perception of the present, a look at the "yesterday" of "Palestine" is necessary.

The inspection will be focused upon completing a circle-tracing the actual conditions and events that have been glossed over or omitted from the dialogue about the Arab-Israeli conflict; they are conditions and events that shaped the real political, economic, and demographic circ*mstances in the area. Those circ*mstances in turn critically affected what "justice" really consists of-for the Jewish and Arab refugees, or the "Palestinian Problem"-for the Arab-Israeli conflict. Illuminating that situation reveals and fills in the chasm between the documented facts and the Arab claims, and gives perspective to those contentions and assumptions that have become key in interpreting what is "just" for the population in question today.

"The only Arab domination since the Conquest in 635 A.D. hardly lasted, as such, 22 years...," the Muslim chairman of the Syrian Delegation attested in his remarks to the Paris Peace Conference in February 1919.3

The British Palestine Royal Commission reported in 1937 that "it is time, surely, that Palestinian 'citizenship' . . . should be recognized as what it is, as nothing but a legal formula devoid of moral meaning."4

That the claim of "age-old Arab Palestinian rights to Arab Palestine" is contradicted by history has been pointed out by eminent historians and Arabists.

According to the Reverend James Parkes, "The Land was named Palestina by he Romans to eradicate all trace of its Jewish history..."

It may seem inappropriate to have devoted so much time to "a situation which passed away two thousand years ago." But it is only politically that the defeat by Rome, and the scattering of the Jewish population, made a decisive change in the history of The Land. That which had been created by more than a thousand years of Jewish history [a thousand years before A.D. 135] remained, as did that which was beginning to be created in the thoughts of the young Christian Church.5

Many authorities have addressed the misconceptions surrounding the word Palestine. The name derived from "other migrants from the northwest, the Philistines. Though the latest arrivals, and though they only exercised control over the whole country for a few uncertain decades, they had been the cause of its name of Palestine. These Philistines were an Aegean people, driven out of Greece and Aegean islands around about 1300 B.C.E. They moved southward along the Asiatic coast and in about 1200 attempted to invade Egypt. Turned back, they settled in the maritime plain of southern 'Palestine', where they founded a series of city-states."6

According to Bernard Lewis, an eminent authority, "The word Palestine does not occur in the Old Testament. . . . Palestine does not occur in the New Testament at all."

The official adoption of the name Palestine in Roman usage to designate the territories of the former Jewish principality of Judea seems to date from after the suppression of the great Jewish revolt of Bar-Kokhba in the year 135 C.E.... it would seem that the name Judea was abolished ... and the country renamed Palestine or Syria Palestina, with the ... intention of obliterating its historic Jewish identity. The earlier name did not entirely disappear, and as late as the 4th century C.E. we still find a Christian author, Epiphanius, referring to "Palestine, that is, Judea."

As many, including Professor Lewis, have pointed out, "From the end of the Jewish state in antiquity to the beginning of British rule, the area now designated by the name Palestine was not a country and had no frontiers, only administrative boundaries; it was a group of provincial subdivisions, by no means always the same, within a larger entity.7 [See the map of "Ancient Palestine" in Appendix I"

In other words, it appears that Palestine never was an independent nation and the Arabs never named the land to which they now claim rights. Most Arabs do not admit so candidly that "Palestinian identity" is a maneuver "only for political reasons" as did Zuheir Muhsin. But the Arab world, until recently, itself frequently negated the validity of any claim of an "age-old Palestinian Arab" identity.

The Arabs in Judah-***-Palestine were regarded either as members of a "pan-Arab nation," as a Muslim community, or, in a tactical ploy, as "Southern Syrians."8 The beginning article of a 1919 Arab Covenant proposed by the Arab Congress in Jerusalem stated that "The Arab lands are a complete and indivisible whole, and the divisions of whatever nature to which they have been subjected are not approved nor recognized by the Arab nation."9 In the same year, the General Syrian Congress had the opposite view; it expressed eagerness to stress an exclusively Syrian identity: "We ask that there should be no separation of the southern part of Syria, known as Palestine . . .'10 The Arab historian George Antonius delineated Palestine in 1939 as part of "the whole of the country of th name [Syria] which is now split up into mandated territories..."11 As late a the 1950s, there was still a schizoid pattern to the Arab views. In 1951, the Constitution of the Arab Ba'ath Party stated:

The Arabs form one nation. This nation has the natural right to live in a single state and to be free to direct its own destiny ... to gather all the Arabs in a single independent Arab state.12

A scant five years later, a Saudi Arabian United Nations delegate in 1956 asserted that "It is common knowledge that Palestine is nothing but Southern Syria."13 In 1974, Syria's President Assad, although a PLO supporter, incorporated both claims in a remarkable definition:

... Palestine is not only a part of our Arab homeland, but a basic part of southern Syria." 14

The one identity never seriously considered until the 1967 Six-Day War -- and then only as a "tool" -- was an "Arab Palestinian" one, and the absence was not merely disregard. Clearly there was no such age-old or even century-old "national identity." According to the British Palestine Royal Commission Report,

In the twelve centuries or more that have passed since the Arab conquest Palestine has virtually dropped out of history.... In economics as in politics Palestine lay outside the main stream of the world's life. In the realm of thought, in science or in letters, it made no contribution to modem civilization. Its last state was worse than its first.15

I've been quiet since Israel erupted in fighting spurred by disputes over the Temple Mount.

Until now, I haven't even bothered to say, "See, I told you so." But I can't resist any longer. I feel compelled to remind you of the column I wrote just a couple weeks before the latest uprising. Yeah, folks, I predicted it. That's OK. Hold your applause.

After all, I wish I had been wrong. More than 80 people have been killed since the current fighting in and around Jerusalem began. And for what?

If you believe what you read in most news sources, Palestinians want a homeland and Muslims want control over sites they consider holy. Simple, right?

Well, as an Arab-American journalist who has spent some time in the Middle East dodging more than my share of rocks and mortar shells, I've got to tell you that these are just phony excuses for the rioting, trouble-making and land-grabbing.

Isn't it interesting that prior to the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, there was no serious movement for a Palestinian homeland?

"Well, Farah," you might say, "that was before the Israelis seized the West Bank and Old Jerusalem."

That's true. In the Six-Day War, Israel captured Judea, Samaria and East Jerusalem. But they didn't capture these territories from Yasser Arafat. They captured them from Jordan's King Hussein. I can't help but wonder why all these Palestinians suddenly discovered their national identity after Israel won the war.

The truth is that Palestine is no more real than Never-Never Land. The first time the name was used was in 70 A.D. when the Romans committed genocide against the Jews, smashed the Temple and declared the land of Israel would be no more. From then on, the Romans promised, it would be known as Palestine. The name was derived from the Philistines, a Goliathian people conquered by the Jews centuries earlier. It was a way for the Romans to add insult to injury. They also tried to change the name of Jerusalem to Aelia Capitolina, but that had even less staying power.

Palestine has never existed -- before or since -- as an autonomous entity. It was ruled alternately by Rome, by Islamic and Christian crusaders, by the Ottoman Empire and, briefly, by the British after World War I. The British agreed to restore at least part of the land to the Jewish people as their homeland.

There is no language known as Palestinian. There is no distinct Palestinian culture. There has never been a land known as Palestine governed by Palestinians. Palestinians are Arabs, indistinguishable from Jordanians (another recent invention), Syrians, Lebanese, Iraqis, etc. Keep in mind that the Arabs control 99.9 percent of the Middle East lands. Israel represents one-tenth of 1 percent of the landmass.

But that's too much for the Arabs. They want it all. And that is ultimately what the fighting in Israel is about today. Greed. Pride. Envy. Covetousness. No matter how many land concessions the Israelis make, it will never be enough.

What about Islam's holy sites? There are none in Jerusalem.

Shocked? You should be. I don't expect you will ever hear this brutal truth from anyone else in the international media. It's just not politically correct.

I know what you're going to say: "Farah, the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem represent Islam's third most holy sites."

Not true. In fact, the Koran says nothing about Jerusalem. It mentions Mecca hundreds of times. It mentions Medina countless times. It never mentions Jerusalem. With good reason. There is no historical evidence to suggest Mohammed ever visited Jerusalem.

So how did Jerusalem become the third holiest site of Islam? Muslims today cite a vague passage in the Koran, the seventeenth Sura, entitled "The Night Journey." It relates that in a dream or a vision Mohammed was carried by night "from the sacred temple to the temple that is most remote, whose precinct we have blessed, that we might show him our signs. ..." In the seventh century, some Muslims identified the two temples mentioned in this verse as being in Mecca and Jerusalem. And that's as close as Islam's connection with Jerusalem gets -- myth, fantasy, wishful thinking. Meanwhile, Jews can trace their roots in Jerusalem back to the days of Abraham.

The latest round of violence in Israel erupted when Likud Party leader Ariel Sharon tried to visit the Temple Mount, the foundation of the Temple built by Solomon. It is the holiest site for Jews. Sharon and his entourage were met with stones and threats. I know what it's like. I've been there. Can you imagine what it is like for Jews to be threatened, stoned and physically kept out of the holiest site in Judaism?

So what's the solution to the Middle East mayhem? Well, frankly, I don't think there is a man-made solution to the violence. But, if there is one, it needs to begin with truth. Pretending will only lead to more chaos. Treating a 5,000-year-old birthright backed by overwhelming historical and archaeological evidence equally with illegitimate claims, wishes and wants gives diplomacy and peacekeeping a bad name.

Since writing "Myths of the Middle East" less than two weeks ago, I have been inundated with e-mail from all over the world -- at least 5,000 letters from Israel alone! The article has been translated into a dozen languages. It has been the subject of network television debates. It has been read on Israeli national radio. And, while most of the reaction has been passionately favorable, there have been threats on my life and the lives of my family members. There have been vicious, obscene, vulgar and profane denunciations.

The reaction illustrates just how far apart the Arabs and Israelis are in the so-called "peace process."

There has clearly been no progress since 1947.

In fact, there is ample evidence that some Arab leaders are right now attempting to revise history in new ways that strongly suggest there is nothing Israel can ever do to appease the violence in their hearts.

In an interview with Italian newspaper La Republica, March 24 of this year, Sheik Ikrama Sabri, the Palestine Authority's top Muslim figure in Jerusalem, decreed that the Western Wall, the last remnant of the Jewish Temple, has no religious significance to the Jews.

"Let it be clear: the Wailing Wall is not a holy place of the Jews, it is an integral part of the mosque (grounds). We call it al-Buraq, the name of the horse with which Muhammad ascended to heaven from Jerusalem," he said.

In fact, the Temple Mount area and the Western Wall are, according to Jewish scholars, the only truly holy sites of Judaism.

Yasser Arafat himself has made similar statements recently, claiming the city of Jerusalem has no real significance to Jews.

On Al-Jezira television, June 28, 1998, he said, "Let me tell you something. The issue of Jerusalem is not just a Palestinian issue. It is a Palestinian, Arab, Islamic and Christian issue."

Asked by the interviewer if one could also say it is a Jewish issue, he replied, "No. Allow me to be precise -- they consider Hebron to be holier than Jerusalem."

Arafat is among those Arab leaders making the incredible suggestion that there was never a Jewish Temple at the site.

"Until now, all the excavations that have been carried out have failed to prove the location of the Temple," he claims. "It is 30 years since they captured the city and they have not succeeded in giving even one proof as the location of the Temple."

Do you really think there can be compromise with people this delusional?

This was no casual remark by Arafat. In an earlier speech broadcast on Voice of Palestine Oct. 10, 1996, he said, "Let us begin from the holy Buraq wall. It is called the holy Buraq wall, not the Wailing Wall. We do not say this. After the holy Buraq revolution in 1929 ... the Shaw International Committee said this is a holy wall for Muslims. This wall ends at the Via Dolorosa. These are our Christian and Muslim holy places."

Now, perhaps you understand why even today the Muslim police known as the Waqf attempt to deny Jews and other non-Muslims access to these sites. Now, perhaps you understand why, during times when Jerusalem has been occupied by Muslims, Christian churches and Jewish synagogues were destroyed or desecrated.

This alone should demonstrate conclusively to any non-biased observer that the troubles in the Middle East today will not be solved by the creation of a "Palestinian state." It's time to point out to those who do not yet know that the leader of this movement -- Arafat -- is not a "Palestinian" at all. Indeed, he was born in Egypt.

But his family does have some history in the area -- though he's not likely to acknowledge it on ABC's "Nightline" or CNN.

You see, it was Arafat's uncle who served as the grand mufti of Jerusalem in the 1920s and 1930s. It was his uncle who concluded, for the first time, that Mohammed had ascended into heaven from the site known as the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount. And it was his uncle who, in an unholy alliance with Adolf Hitler, condemned the Jews and their designs on their eternal capital city.

The truth is that Jerusalem has a unique importance to Jews. It has always been a place described and revered in Jewish law. For centuries since the Diaspora, Jews around the world have prayed toward Jerusalem, mourned the destruction of their Temple and hopefully repeated the phrase, "Next year in Jerusalem."

Again, I say, until all the parties to war and peace in the Middle East acknowledge basic history and archaeology, there is little point in pretending that peripheral land concessions can bring peace.

"The only Arab domination since the Conquest in 635 A.D. hardly lasted, as such, 22 years...," the Muslim chairman of the Syrian Delegation attested in his remarks to the Paris Peace Conference in February 1919.

"Yes, the existence of a separate Palestinian identity serves only tactical purposes. The founding of a Palestinian state is a new tool in the continuing battle against Israel... " Zuheir Muhsin, late Military Department head of the PLO and member of its Executive Council, Dutch daily Trouw, March 1977

A.D. Ruler *

1273 BCE Israel Conquest of Canaan ** under Joshua,

423 BCE Iranian Babylon invades and destroys First Temple [Persian empire was based in modern day Iran]

371 BCE Israel

Iranian King Cyrus issued decree to restore Jewish Nation

312 BCE Israel

Greek Battle of Gaza; Seleucus controls Syria and Babylonia [Seleucid empire was based in Macedonia, northern Greece]

285-246 BCE Israel

Egyptian Rule of Ptolemy II

199 BCE Israel

Greek Seleucid monarchy occupies Judea **

175 BCE Israel

Greek-Syrian Antiochus Epiphanes came to throne in Syria

168 BCE Israel

Greek-Syrian Pagan idol set up in Temple

165 BCE Israel

Greek-Syrian Macabean Revolt, beginning of Hasmonean dynasty

142 BCE Israel Shimon rules and gains Judean indepence

135-104 BCE Israel Rule of Yochanan Hyrkanus

104-103 BCE Israel Rule of Yehudah Aristobulus

103-76 BCE Israel Rule of Alexander Yannai

76-66 BCE Israel Rule of Salome Alexandra

63 BCE Israel

Roman Civil War: Hyrkanus vs. Aristobulus. Pompey intervenes, Conquest of Jerusalem by Pompey, Judea becomes Roman Vassal.

47 BCE Israel

Roman Caesar appoints Antipater ruler of Judea

70 Roman The Romans conquer Jerusalem

132-136 Roman Jewish revolt under Bar Kochba; final defeat of Judah and loss of political sovereignty, rename area to "Palestine" **

351 Roman Jewish revolt to end foreign rule; Roman Empire adopts Christianity.

395 Turkish Palestine part of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire, still called Judea or Judah.

438 Turkish Empress Eudocia allows Jews back to Temple site, misinterpreted by Jews as return to nationhood.

614 Iran Persian conquest under Chosroes (with the support of a Jewish army).

628 Turkish "Palestine" reconquered by the Byzantines

633-637 Syrian Arab conquest; shortly afterward, attempt by Jews to restore their nation.

639 Syrian Muawiyah Arab governor.

660 Syrian Muawiyah is made the first Omayyad Caliph of Damascus.

661 Syrian Murder of Ali; Omayyad Dynasty begins.

750 Iraq Last Omayyad Caliph defeated; reign of the Abbassid Caliphs of Baghdad (Persian, Turk, Circassian, Kurd).

878 Egyptian Ahmad, b. Tulun, a Turkish general and governor of Egypt, conquers Palestine; reign of the Tulunides (Turks).

904 Iraq The Abbassids of Baghdad reconquer Palestine.

906 Carmathians Inroads of the Carmathians.

934 Egyptian The Egyptian lkhshidi princes conquer Palestine; their reign begins.

969 Egyptian The Fatimid Caliphs of Cairo conquer Palestine.

969-971 Carmathians War with the Carmathians.

970-976 Turkish Byzantine invasion.

1070-1080 Turkish Seljuq Turks conquer Palestine.

1099 Crusaders The Crusaders conquer Jerusalem, massacre the Jewish and Muslim populations; reign in parts of Palestine until 1291.

1187 Crusaders Saladin of Damascus, a Kurd, captures Jerusalem and the greater part of Palestine.

1244 Mongolian The Kharezmians, instigated by Genghis Khan, invade Palestine; Jerusalem's population is slaughtered, the city sacked.

1260 Egyptian Mameluk Sultans of Egypt defeat Mongols at Ain Jalut, in Palestine; their reign begins.

1260 Egyptian Mongol invasion; Jerusalem sacked.

1291 Egyptian End of the Latin (Crusaders) Kingdom.

1299-1303 Mongolian Mongol invasion.

1516-1517 Turkish The Ottomans conquer Palestine.

1799 French Napoleon conquers Palestine, but is defeated at Acre.

1831 Egyptian Ibrahim Pasha, adopted son of Egypt's Viceroy, occupies Palestine.

1840 Turkish Ibrahim Pasha compelled by the Powers to leave Palestine; Turkish rule restored.

1840 Turkish English writers and statesmen begin to discuss the possibility of a Jewish restoration.

1871-1882 Turkish First Jewish agricultural settlements.

1909 Turkish Foundation of the all-Jewish city of Tel Aviv.

1917-1918 British Allies occupy the whole of Palestine, east and west of the Jordan River; British military administration, end of Ottoman reign.

1917-1918 British Balfour Declaration granting "Jewish Homeland" internationally approved.

1920 British British (pre-Mandate) civil administration; Turkish sovereignty renounced, treaty includes Balfour Declaration

1922 British Palestine Mandate; Jewish National Home confirmed.

1923 British Palestine Mandate comes into operation.

1923 British Seventy-five percent of Palestine is set aside as an independent Arab "Palestinian" state, Transiordan.

1925 British Hebrew University of Jerusalem opened.

1927 British High Commissioners receive Commission for Transjordan.

1929 British Arab revolt.

1936-1939 British Arab revolt and civil war.

1946 British Establishment of Arab state of Transiordan.

1948 Israel End of Mandate for Palestine; establishment of State of Israel; Arab-Jewish war.

1948 Israel Eastern Palestine-Transjordan-.occupie... the West Bank area of Western Palestine, becomes "Jordan," constituting over eighty percent of Palestine.

When Cyrus the Persian conquered Mesopotamia and the whole of the Middle East, he did so for religious reasons. Unlike any conqueror before him, Cyrus set out to conquer the entire world. Before Cyrus and the Persians, conquest was largely a strategic affair; you guaranteed your territorial safety by conquering potential enemies. But Cyrus wanted the whole world and he wanted it for religious reasons. Barely a century before, the Persians were a rag-tag group of tribes living north of Mesopotamia. They were Indo-European—they spoke a language from the Indo-European family, which includes Greek, German, and English. To the Mesopotamians, they were little better than animals and so went largely ignored. But in the middle of the seventh century BC, a prophet, Zarathustra, appeared among them and preached a new religion. This religion would become Zoroastrianism (in Greek, Zarathustra is called "Zoroaster"). The Zoroastrians believed that the universe was dualistic, that it was made up of two distinct parts. One was good and light and the other evil and dark. Cosmic history was simply the epic battle between these two divine forces; at the end of time, a climactic battle would decide once and for all which of the two would dominate the universe. Human beings, in everything they do, participated in this struggle; all the gods and all the religions were part of this epic, almost eternal battle.

Cyrus believed that the final battle was approaching, and that Persia would bring about the triumph of good. To this end, he sought to conquer all peoples and create the stage for the final triumph of good. He was the greatest conqueror that had ever been seen; at his death, his empire was exponentially larger than any other empire that had ever existed. His son, Cambyses, conquered Egypt; the Persians, it seemed at the time, were on their way to world domination.

Although Zoroastrianism involved two gods—one good and one evil—all other gods were ranged on one side or the other of this equation. Cyrus believed Yahweh was one of the good gods, and he claimed that Yahweh visited him one night. In that vision, Yahweh commanded him to re-establish Yahweh worship in Jerusalem and to rebuild the temple. Cyrus ordered the temple rebuilt. But what good is a temple without worshippers? To this end, he ordered that the Jews in Babylon return to Jerusalem. In fact, Cyrus sent many people back to the native lands in order to worship the local gods there, so the situation with the Jews was not unique. Not all of the Jews went home; a large portion stayed in Babylon and some had converted to Babylonian religions.

The Rebuilding of the Temple

The salient feature to keep in mind, however, is that Cyrus sent the Jews home for religious purposes only. Judah was re-established only so Yahweh could be worshipped, and the Jews were sent to Judah for the express purpose of worshiping Yahweh. Before the Exile, Judah and Israel were merely kingdoms; now Judah was a theological state . The shining symbol of this new state dedicated to Yahweh was the temple of Solomon, which had been burned to the ground by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC. Under the direction of Zerubabbel and later Ezra, the temple is rebuilt and the walls of the city rebuilt by Nehemiah. The rebuilding of the temple was difficult; very few Jews actually returned home, so the effort was monumental.

During the Exile, the Jews set about "purifying" their religion; they attempted to return their laws and cultic practices to their Mosaic originals. This new-found concern with cultic purity and the Mosaic laws, combined with the re-establishment of Judah as a theological state, produced a different society. Hebrew society was almost solely concerned with religious matters in the Persian period; foreign religions were not tolerated as they had been before. Non-Jews were persecuted, and foreign religious expelled. During the Persian period and later, Judah was the state where Yahweh and only Yahweh was worshipped. Both the Persians and the Greeks respected this exclusivity, but the Romans would greatly offend the Jews when they introduced foreign gods.

The Jews had learned many things from the Persians and actively included Persian elements in their religion. It's important to note that this occurred side by side with the effort to purify the religion! Most of these elements were popular elements rather than official beliefs; they would persist only in Christianity which arose among the people rather than the educated and priestly classes. Among these were

a.) adoption of a dualistic universe. In early Hebrew belief, the universe was dominated only by Yahweh. All history was the result of two forces: Yahweh and human will. Perhaps in an effort to make sense of the Exile, the Hebrews gradually adopted the Persian idea that the universe is composed of two diametrically opposed forces, one good, and the other evil. So, after the Babylonian exile, the Hebrews, in their popular religion, talk about an evil force opposed to Yahweh, which becomes the "devil" in Christianity. (Satan in the Hebrew story, Job , is actually a member of Yahweh's circle; he seems to be some kind of itinerant prosecuting attorney.)

b.) belief in a dualistic afterlife. Before the Exile, the Hebrews believed that the soul after death went to a house of dust which they called "Sheol," to abide for a brief time before fading completely from existence. This belief was identical to all other Semitic versions of the afterlife. Therefore, Hebraism was primarily a this-world religion before the Exile. The Persians, though, believed that the souls of the good would reunite with the principle of good in eternal bliss; the souls of the evil would reunite with the principle evil to suffer until the final defeat of evil. In popular religion, the Hebrews adopted this view of the afterlife. This view of the afterlife powerfully explains suffering in this life, such as the Exile; cosmic justice is apparent only at one's death rather than during one's life. Again, it is only in the popular Jewish religions, such as the Essenes and the Christians, where this view becomes orthodox.

For another two hundred years, Persia dominated all of the Middle East and Egypt, and came within a hair's breadth of conquering Greece. During all this time Palestine was a tribute state of Persia. However, in the late fourth century BC, another man got the idea of conquering the world and set about doing it with ruthless efficiency. He was a Greek: Alexander of Macedon. When he conquered Persia in 332 BC, Palestine became a Greek state, and the children of Yavan would mix once again with the children of Shem.

For the most part, the people surrounding the Hebrews took little interest in them for much of Hebrew history. The Hebrews themselves don't actually appear in history until the reign of Marniptah, king of Egypt from about 1224-1211 BC. The son of Raamses I (1290-1224 BC), generally taken to be the king of Egypt at the time of the Hebrew exodus, Marniptah undertakes a military campaign in Asia in 1220 BC. In an account of the campaign inscribed in granite, a list of all the conquered peoples includes the Israelites who are mentioned as "now living in Canaan."

Before this point, the only history of the Hebrews we have are written by the Hebrews themselves, in Genesis 12-50. In the Hebrew account of their own history, they trace their origins back to a single individual, Abraham, who comes originally from Mesopotamia. The histories of the pre-Egyptian Hebrews is generally called the age of the patriarchs (patriarch means "father-ruler"); while it is virtually impossible to date this age since a.) the Hebrew history of the age is written down after more than a thousand years had passed and b.) no-one else was interested in the history, scholars place this age roughly between 1950 and 1500 BC.

Several aspects emerge from this history. First, the history of the patriarchs indicates that the special election of the Hebrews, made manifest in the delivery from Egypt, begins before the Egyptian sojourn and delivery. In Hebrew history, Abraham and his descendants are selected by Yahweh to be his chosen people over all other peoples. Abraham, who is a Semite living in Haran, a city in northern Mesopotamia, and whose father, Terah, comes from the city Ur in southern Mesopotamia, is visited suddenly by Yahweh and told to move his family. If Abraham's migration can be dated to around 1950 BC, this means that his migration from Mesopotamia would make sense, since the region was collapsing into chaos. Migrating to the west, Abraham stops at Shechem and is again visited by Yahweh, who then tells him that all this land will be given to him and his descendants. So the election of the Hebrews involves a certain unexplained quality (why pick Abraham) that is partially answered by Abraham's unswerving obedience when Yahweh asks him to sacrifice his son. But more importantly, the foundation of the Hebrew view of history is contained in these patriarchal stories. God ("Elohim" in Hebrew) has a special purpose in history and has chosen the Hebrews and the Hebrews alone to fulfill this purpose. In order to fulfill this purpose, God has entered into a covenantal relationship with the Hebrews and promises to protect them as a lord protects his servants. As servants, then, the principle duty that Abraham and his descendants owe to god is obedience.

The second aspect that emerges is that the early Hebrews are nomads, wandering tribal groups who are organized along classic tribal logic. Society is principally organized around kinship with a rigid kinship hierarchy. The relationship with god is also a kinship relationship: anybody outside the kinship structure (anybody who isn't a descendant of Abraham) is not included in the special relationship with God. At the top of the kinship hierarchy is a kind of tribal leader; we use the Greek word, "patriarch," which means "father-ruler." Well into the monarchical period and beyond, the Hebrews seem to dynamically remember their tribal character, for Genesis associates civilization with Cain and his descendants (meaning that civilization is not a good thing) and the history of the monarchy is clearly written from an anti-monarchical stance, since it is made clear that desiring a king is disobedience to God.

The third aspect that emerges is that these tribal groups of early Hebrews wandered far and wide, that is, that they did not occupy the lands around Palestine; this occupation would come considerably later. They seem to freely move from Palestine, across the deserts, and as far as Egypt. At several points in the narrative, Hebrew tribes move to Egypt in order to find a better life. It would not be unfair to imagine that the Hebrews were among the infinite variety of foreigners who overwhelmed Egypt at the end of the Middle Kingdom.

Beyond this it is difficult to come to certain conclusions. As far as the religion of the early Hebrews are concerned, it is generally believed that it had nothing to do with the Yahweh cult which is introduced by Moses, for Exodus asserts that Moses is the first to hear the name of god, Yahweh. The Hebrew accounts of the patriarchs generally use the term "Elohim" (God), "El Shaddai" (God Almighty), and other variants. Several religious practices described in Genesis seem to indicate a belief in animistic forces and even, possibly, polytheism, but these passages are highly controversial.

All we know for certain is that by the end of the patriarchal age, several tribes identified with one another as having a common ancestor and a common identity. We don't even know what they called themselves; we haven't successfully figured out where the term "Hebrew" comes from, although the best guess is that it comes from the Egyptian word, "apiru," or "foreigner." Several members of these tribes, whatever they called themselves, at some point migrated to Egypt, and Egypt would be the crucible in which would form the people and nation of Israel.

The verse from Deuteronomy, “Tzedek, tzedek tirdof” (“Justice, Justice, shall you pursue”; 16:20) presents the moral foundation of Judaism. One of the seven Noahide laws is the instituting of fair and unbiased courts of justice within a society (Gen. 9:7). During the Israelites time wandering in the desert following the exodus from Egypt, Moses acted as the judge of the people. However, as the population grew, Moses appointed leaders to govern minor matters among the people. After the Israelite conquest of the Promise Land, judges were stationed in every community.

During the period of the Second Temple, the beit din (Jewish court of law, literally “House of judgment”) was established. In very small communities, a court of three judges was selected to resolve cases on civil law. Each side was permitted to choose one rabbi and then those two rabbis would select the third. In areas with more than 120 people, a Lesser Sanhedrin, which included 23 judges, ruled on almost all civil and criminal matters.

The highest court in Israel was the Great Sanhedrin (Supreme Court) in Jerusalem, which consisted of 71 judges and considered major matters of concern. The Great Sanhedrim was led by the nasi (president) and was the only body that could put on trial “a tribe, a false prophet, and a Kohen Gadol” (Sanhedrin 1:5). The Great Sanhedrin was also responsible for selecting future kings and judges of lower courts, as well as declaring war on other nations. Furthermore, the Great Sanhedrim was required to uphold the death sentence before an execution could take place. The most significant responsibility the Great Sanhedrim performed during the period of the Temples was the expansion and interpretation of the Oral Law, which became the binding authority. The Great Sanhedrin also determined the dates of new moons and festivals within the Jewish calendar and, in 359 C.E., established a fixed calendar.

In Jewish law, there are many requirements an individual must uphold to be a judge or rule a case. Some of these characteristics and regulations include:

• “[J]udges must be wise and understanding, learned in the law, and…free from all physical defects,…a man of mature age” (Misnah Torah Sanhedrin 2:1-7 ).

• A judge must be pious and humble as to not fear God.

• A judge must be calm in speech, but strong on justice to uphold integrity and the judicial system.

• A judge must deliberate independently with caution before making his decision.

• A judge may not be “a gambler with dice, a usurer, a pigeon trainer, and traders in the sabbatical year” (Sanhedrin 3:3 ).

• A judge may not rule a case if he is related to or has a private affiliation with one of the plaintiffs.

• A judge may not favor one plaintiff over the other (Lev. 19:15).

• A judge may not accept bribes from plaintiffs (Exodus 23:8).

• A judge may not make a ruling supporting the poor out of pity or sympathy (Exodus 23:3).

• A judge may not show kindness in punishing a convict convicted of murder or the loss of a bodily limb. (Deut. 19:21).

• A judge may not hear testimony of one plaintiff without the other claimant present.

According to Abraham Chill’s The Mitzvot, in old times there were ten types of witnesses that are disqualified from testifying in court: women, slaves, minors, the mentally retarded, deaf-mutes, the blind, relatives of the parties involved in the case, those personally involved in the case, a “shameless” person, and a wicked person.

After the destruction of the Second Temple, Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai instituted the beit din at Yavneh to fulfill the duties of the Jewish courts. The beit din at Yavneh achieved its supreme authority under the leadership of Judah ha-Nasi. However, around the third century, the leadership passed to the scholars of Babylonia, where no particular beit din ever gained undisputed judicial authority. Throughout the Middle Ages the beit din served as the judicial branch within the self-ruling Jewish communities. With the breakup of independent Jewish communities and the emancipation of the Jews, the beit din lost much of its jurisdiction.

Today, the beit din acts primarily as a court of mediation and adjudication of Jewish divorces and conversions. In Israel, beit dins have absolute authority over of all matters concerning personal status (e.g., marriage, divorce) of the Jewish population

The port city of Akko (also known as Acre) is located on a promontory at the northern end of Haifa Bay. The earliest city was founded during the Bronze Age at Tel Akko (in Arabic Tel el-f*ckhar – mound of the potsherds), just east of the present-day city. Akko is mentioned in ancient written sources as an important city on the northern coast of the Land of Israel. The wealth of finds, including remains of fortifications uncovered in the excavations at Tel Akko, attest to the long and uninterrupted occupation of the site during biblical times.

The ancient site of Akko was abandoned during the Hellenistic period. A new city named Ptolemais, surrounded by a fortified wall, was built on the site of present-day Akko. The Romans improved and enlarged the natural harbor in the southern part of the city, and constructed a breakwater, thus making it one of the main ports on the eastern Mediterranean coast.

The importance of Akko – a well protected, fortified city with a deepwater port – is reflected in its eventful history during the period of Crusader rule in the Holy Land.

The Crusaders, who founded the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1099, did not at first succeed in overcoming Akko’s fortifications. On 26 May 1104, after months of heavy siege and with the help of the Genoese fleet, the city surrendered and was handed over to King Baldwin I. Aware of the significance of the city and its port for the security of their kingdom, the Crusaders immediately began to construct a sophisticated system of fortifications composed of walls and towers, unlike any built previously. These fortifications were built along the sea to the west and south of the city, while in the east and north a mighty wall (probably a double wall) with a broad, deep moat separated the city from the mainland. The port was also rebuilt and, according to literary sources and maps, included an outer and an inner harbor (the latter now silted). A new breakwater was built, protected by a tower at its far end; it is today known as the Tower of Flies.

The fortifications of Akko, in which the Crusaders had placed their trust, fell relatively easily to the Muslims. Shortly after their victory at the Battle of the Horns of Hattin, on 9 July 1187, the city surrendered to Salah al-Din (Saladin) and its Christian inhabitants were evacuated.

The Crusaders returned and laid siege to Akko in 1188, yet did not succeed in penetrating the massive fortifications, which they themselves had built. But the Muslims surrendered to Richard the Lion Heart, King of England and Philip Augustus, King of France (leaders of the Third Crusade) on 12 July 1191. For the following 100 years, the Crusaders ruled Akko. Jerusalem remained (but for a short period) under Muslim rule, thus immeasurably increasing the importance of Akko, which, during the 13th century, served as the political and administrative capital of the Latin Kingdom. Akko was the Crusaders’ foothold in the Holy Land, a mighty fortress facing constant Muslim threat. Its port served as the Crusader Kingdom’s link with Christian Europe, and also for trans-shipment westward of valuable cargoes originating in the east.

The palace (castrum) of the Crusader kings was located in the northern part of the urban area of Akko, enclosed by massive fortifications. Near the harbor, merchant quarters known as communes were established by the Italian maritime cities of Venice, Pisa and Genoa. Each quarter had a marketplace with warehouses and shops, and dwellings for the merchant families. There were also centers for the various military orders – the Hospitalers, the Templars and others, who were responsible for defense of the Latin Kingdom. Throughout the city, a number of public buildings, such as churches and hospices, were constructed.

At the beginning of the 13th century, a new residential quarter called Montmusard founded north of the city. It was surrounded by its own wall (probably also a double wall). In the middle of the century, sponsored by Louis IX of France, Akko expanded and became prosperous. With a population of about 40,000, it was the largest city of the Crusader Kingdom.

The last battle between the Crusaders and the Muslims for control of Akko began in 1290. After a long siege by the Mamluks under al-Ashraf Khalil, a portion of the northern wall was penetrated; the city was conquered on 18 May 1291. The date marks the end of the Crusader presence in the Holy Land.

Buildings from the Crusader period, including the city walls, were partially or completely buried beneath buildings of the 18th and 19th centuries, when the city was part of the Ottoman Empire.

Remains from the Crusader Period

Significant remains from the Crusader period were first uncovered in Akko during the 1950s and 1960s when portions of building complexes, below ground level but almost completely preserved, were cleared of debris. During the 1990s, within the framework of the development of Akko, excavations were undertaken both outside and inside the present-day Old City walls, bringing to light fascinating remains of Akko’s illustrious medieval history, previously known mainly from pilgrims’ accounts.

The Hospitalers Compound

The most important of the subterranean remains of Akko of the Crusaders is located in the northern part of today’s Old City. It is the structure that was the headquarters of the Order of the Hospitalers (the Knights of St. John). It is an extensive building complex (ca. 4,500 sq. m.) with halls and many rooms built around a broad, open central courtyard. The thick walls were built of well-trimmed kurkar (local sandstone), and the complex was fortified with corner towers. When the Ottoman ruler of Akko, Ahmed al-Jazzar decided to build a citadel and a palace on the site, he had the Hospitalers’ building filled in with earth.

In recent years, the 3-4 m. high earth fill blocking the central courtyard of the Hospitalers’ compound was removed, revealing the 1200 sq. m. courtyard.

There are broad openings in the walls of the courtyard leading to the halls and rooms surrounding it. To support the upper storey, pointed arches issuing from broad pilasters that project from the walls were built. A 4.5 m. wide staircase supported by arches provided access from the eastern side of the courtyard to the second storey. An extensive network of drainage channels carried rainwater from the courtyard to a main sewer. In the southwestern corner of the courtyard was a stone-built well that guaranteed the residents’ water supply.

South of the courtyard is a hall, which was misnamed the Crypt of St. John. This is a rectangular hall in Gothic style, 30 x 15 m. with a 10 m. high groin-vaulted ceiling supported by three round central piers, each 3 m. in diameter. Chimneys indicate that it served as a kitchen and refectory (dining hall). Fleurs-de-lis (symbol of the French royal family), are carved in stone in two corners of the hall.

South of the hall lies a building complex known as al-Bosta. It is composed of a large hall with several enormous piers supporting a groin-vaulted ceiling. This subterranean building is in fact the crypt of St. John, over which the church itself was built. Portions of the church and its decorations were uncovered in the excavation.

North of the central courtyard is a row of long, parallel underground vaulted halls, 10 m. high, known as the Knights’ Halls. On one side are gates opening onto the courtyard; on the other, windows and a gate facing one of the main streets of the Crusader city. These were the barracks of the members of the Order of Hospitalers.

To the east of the courtyard, the 45 x 30 m. Hall of the Pillars was exposed, which had served as a hospital. Its 8 m. high ceiling is supported by three rows of five square piers. Above this hall of columns probably stood the four-storey Crusader palace depicted in contemporary drawings.

Most of the buildings on the western side of the courtyard remain unexcavated. Several ornate capitals, illustrative of the elaborate architecture of this wing, were found. In its northern part was a public toilet with 30 toilet cubicles on each of its two floors. A network of channels drained the toilets into the central sewer of the city.

An advanced underground sewage system was found beneath the group of buildings of the Hospitalers. This network drained rainwater and wastewater into the city’s central sewer. It was one meter in diameter and 1.8 m. high and runs from north to south.


Portions of Crusader period streets were uncovered: in the Genoese quarter in the center of the present old city of Akko, a 40 m.-long portion of a roofed street was exposed. It runs from east to west and is 5 m. wide. On both sides were buildings with courtyards and rooms facing the street serving as shops. In the Templar quarter in the southwestern part of the city, another portion of a main street leading to the harbor was uncovered. Some 200 m. of the street were exposed and along it, several Crusader buildings which had been buried beneath Ottoman structures.

The Crusader City Walls

The location of the Crusader city walls is well known from detailed contemporary maps that have survived, but few traces have been found in excavations. Parts of the walls lie beneath the Ottoman fortifications; others were damaged when modern neighborhoods were built.

Near the northeastern corner of the Ottoman fortifications, a 60 m. long segment of the northern Crusader wall was found; it is some 3 m. thick, and was built of local kurkar sandstone.

A short distance eastward, parts of the corner of a tower built of large kurkar stones were preserved to a height of 6 m. The tower was fronted by a deep moat, 13 m. wide, and protected on its other side by a counterscarp wall. This section of wall belongs to the outer, northern fortifications, which were constructed in the 13th century to protect the then new Montmusard quarter. It is probably the Venetian Tower depicted in Crusader period maps. On the seashore some 750 m. north of the Old City are remains of the foundation trenches of a circular tower with a wall extending eastward from it, today covered by seawater. In the view of researchers, this is the round corner tower that stood at the western end of the wall surrounding the Montmusard quarter.

The renewed excavations at Akko were conducted by A. Druks, M. Avissar, E. Stern, M. Hartal and D. Syon on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority. The excavations at the Hospitalers’compound were directed by E. Stern on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority

The Akeldama area is situated in one of the most impressive locations in Jerusalem. The rocky cliffs and steep slopes of Mt. Zion, the Valleys of Hinnom and Kidron, and the village of Silwan spreading towards the Mt. of Olives, all lend to the historic and biblical atmosphere of the scene. The dramatic presence of the late 19th century monastery of St. Onuphrius, rising from the head of a cliff, adds its own attractive touch to this delightful corner of Jerusalem.

Cave 1, Chamber 1, general view of the loculi

In 1989, the Jerusalem Municipality conducted routine development work in the area. Upon widening a narrow street near one of the approaches to the Silwan village, bulldozers uncovered a number of square openings hewn in the rock. The Israel Antiquities Authority immediately stopped the road construction. After crawling through the narrow openings, the archaeologists found themselves standing inside a large burial complex, which appeared to be intact. Moving carefully from one chamber to the other, their flashlights revealed an abundance of artifacts scattered on the floors: pottery and glass vessels, oil lamps and many ornamented and inscribed ossuaries (stone boxes for collecting bones), all indicating that these caves had not been plundered.

Cave 3, Chamber 3, southren wall and entrance from Chamber A.

The significance of the findings called for a systematic excavation of the site. The three large caves proved to be part of an extensive Jewish burial ground in use at the end of the Second Temple period, which terminated in the year 70 CE, when Jerusalem was conquered and the Temple destroyed by the Roman Legions. Alongside the original burial phase from the end of the Second Temple period (1st century CE), solid evidence was found of reuse of the tombs for funerary purposes during the Late Roman (2nd~th centuries CE) and Early Byzantine (5th~6th centuries CE) periods. The miraculously undisturbed caves allowed for optimal reconstruction of the burial sequence at the site.

The Akeldama complex includes three separate burial caves, hewn in the Jerusalemite rock. Each cave contained two to three chambers with loculi (burial niches -kokhim), and an inner chamber hewn with arcosolia (arched shelves) and burial troughs. Special chambers served as ossuary repositories. Some of the chambers were closed by decorated stone doors fitted with pivots and hinges.

Glass Vessels

The Akeldama excavations revealed some of the finest known examples of tomb architecture and ornamentation. All three burial caves had been meticulously carved in the hard limestone formation, and excel in their precise angles and aesthetic finish. The high quality of execution indicates that these caves served some of the more affluent Jewish families of the city. Among the finds were pottery vessels: bowls, storage jars, and oil lamps, glass vessels and jewelry, as well as 39 complete ossuaries, most of them richly decorated, and inscribed with the names of the deceased in Hebrew and Greek. These unique finds reflect Jewish customs and traditions in Jerusalem on the eve of the destruction of the Temple.

The Akeldama excavations revealed some of the finest known examples of tomb architecture and ornamentation. All three burial caves had been meticulously carved in the hard limestone formation, and excel in their precise angles and aesthetic finish. The high quality of execution indicates that these caves served some of the more affluent Jewish families of the city. Among the finds were pottery vessels: bowls, storage jars, and oil lamps, glass vessels and jewelry, as well as 39 complete ossuaries, most of them richly decorated, and inscribed with the names of the deceased in Hebrew and Greek. These unique finds reflect Jewish customs and traditions in Jerusalem on the eve of the destruction of the Temple.

The Jewish Tomb Owners

Some affinities of these Second Temple period Jerusalemite families may be reconstructed by means of the names inscribed on the ossuaries. Two of the caves were probably owned by Jewish families, both originating from North Syria: one belonged to the Eros family, while the other served the Ariston family, which came from the city of Apamea. It is also possible that the two families were linked by marriage. The cornmon origin of both families from the Syrian diaspora may have been the binding link: families from a common cultural milieu, maintaining close contacts in their new homeland.

The name 'Ariston of Apamea', inscribed on one of the ossuaries, may be identified with a person described in the Mishna as bringing gifts from abroad to the Temple in Jerusalem. It is likely that this ossuary indeed that of the same wealthy Apamean Jew. This is one of very few examples of personalities known from ancient sources and attested in archaeological record.

Ancient Arad is located in the Negev, some 30 km. northeast of Be'er Sheva, on a hill that rises 40 m. above the surrounding plain.

During the 18 seasons of excavation conducted from 1962-1984, it became clear that the remains of ancient Arad are located in two separate areas and are from two distinct periods. The Canaanite city (3rd millennium BCE) was located mainly on the southern slope of the hill. On the summit of this hill, several fortresses were built in the period of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah (10th-6th centuries BCE) and also later, during the Persian, Hellenistic and Roman periods (5th century BCE to 4th century CE). In the Early Arab period (7th-10th century), a fortified caravansary was established to protect the trade routes which passed there.

Arad is mentioned in the Bible in the story of the failed attempt to reach the Promised Land (Numbers 21:1) and in the list of the Canaanite kings defeated by the Children of Israel. (Joshua 12:14) There exists, however, a historical-chronological problem with this biblical account, as there is no evidence that Tel (Heb., mound) Arad was inhabited during the Late Bronze Age. Scholars suggest that the King of Arad mentioned in the Bible was in fact the ruler of the Kingdom of Arad, "the Negev of Arad" (Judges 1:16), whose capital was another city.

The Canaanite City

During the Early Bronze Age (2950-2650 BCE), Arad was a large, fortified and prosperous city. It served as the capital of the important Canaanite kingdom, which ruled over a large part of the northern Negev. The growth of Arad was part of the rapid urbanization of the Land of Israel during the 3rd millennium BCE. Technological development, such as the use of metal for plowing, the domestication of animals and the planting of fruit trees, created conditions for the establishment of large cities, even in outlying areas such as Arad.

The climate in this region is hot and dry and the amount of precipitation is minimal, but the prosperity of a large Canaanite city must have depended on an established agriculture. In the view of experts, the Negev enjoyed in the past twice the amount of rain that falls today, thus making intensive agriculture possible. The Canaanite inhabitants of Arad grew wheat, barley and beans in the valley, and constructed earth dams in the wadis (dry river beds) to increase the amount of water for the orchards, mainly olive groves. Bones of goats, sheep and cattle, found in the ruins of the city's houses, attest to another element in the inhabitants' diet. The city was located at the crossroads of two main trade routes - the one southward from the Judean Hills to the Negev and Edom, and the other westward from the shores of the Dead Sea, across the Negev, to the southern coast - which also contributed to the prosperity of ancient Arad.

Canaanite Arad developed close trade relations with Egypt, evidence of which are the numerous vessels made in Egypt, and a fragment of a ceramic storage jar bearing the name of Narmer, King of Egypt, found at Arad. Copper objects from the royal mines in Sinai were acquired by the inhabitants of Arad, and probably paid for with agricultural products, olive oil and livestock. Bitumen originating from the Dead Sea, used for the sealing of sailing vessels as well as storage jars, and possibly also for mummifying, also made its way from the Dead Sea via Arad to Egypt.

Canaanite Arad covered an area of about 25 acres and had an estimated population of 2,500. The city was surrounded by a fortified wall, some 1,200 m. long and 2.4 m. thick, with many semi-circular or rectangular towers projecting from it. Two gates and two posterns have been found thus far in the wall.

The city itself was very carefully planned, with a network of streets. Along the inside of the wall was the main ring road; and from the gates ran cross streets towards the topographical depression at the city's center, which drained rainwater into a large reservoir, thus guaranteeing continued water supply during the long summers. The part of the city which has been excavated, was divided into quarters, each with a specific function: in the western part was the temple complex; in the south the residential areas.


The residential area was densely built-up, with streets and alleys between the blocks of houses. Dwellings were of many sizes, the smallest ca. 50 sq.m. and the largest ca. 150 sq.m., but similarly planned: a walled courtyard, one or two living rooms and a small utility room or kitchen.

The typical living room in an Arad house was rectangular and had an opening to the courtyard in one of its long walls. The room, slightly below the level of the courtyard, was reached by descending two or three steps. The opening was closed with a wooden door, which pivoted in a socket in the stone threshold. Along the walls were low stone benches and in the center of the room was a stone base, on which a wooden pillar stood, supporting the roof which was made of wooden beams, bundles of straw and plaster. Grinding stones and a stone mortar for crushing grain were embedded in the floor. Containers made of dried mud for the storage of grain and clay stoves for heating and cooking were also found in the houses. A small clay model of a living room was found in one of the houses, showing the ceiling-high entrance and the flat roof.

Temples and a Palace

The sacred precinct and the palace complex of the kings of Arad extended over enormous areas - each about 1,000 sq.m. - in the western part of the city. The sacred precinct included two twin temples dedicated to the gods of the city.

The larger of the twin temples had two halls, one divided into three rooms, the smallest of which was the holy-of-holies. In one of the rooms, a well-trimmed stone stele was found standing upright, probably representing the god's presence in the temple. In the courtyard stood a stone altar, and next to it a sunken, ceremonial basin lined with stones, probably for ritual immersion.

The palace of the kings of Canaanite Arad was comprised of several units. At its center were the royal chambers - several large rooms. Around them were courtyards with groups of rooms, which probably served as administration offices and servants' quarters. In the palace grounds stood the royal storehouse, in which storage installations and a large numbers of ceramic storage vessels were found.


In the palace's central room, a flat piece of chalk was found, on which two human figures had been incised: one of the figures lying horizontally, the other standing upright; the hands raised, with fingers outstretched; the heads depicted as ears of grain.

The scene is known from religious art of the ancient world and is interpreted as representing the Mesopotamian god Tammuz in two phases of the endless cycle of nature: the standing figure represents the half year of regeneration and growth - life; the supine figure symbolizes the half of the year during which plants wither - death.

Arad declined and was abandoned in the middle of the 3rd millennium BCE. The reasons for this are not completely clear, but it is assumed that the climate became hotter and drier, adversely influencing the settlements on the fringe of the desert. Also, the nomadic populations of the Negev probably endangered the trade routes, and the security of the city's population.

The Israelite Citadel

During the period of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah (10th-6th centuries BCE), successive citadels were built on the hill of Arad as part of a series of fortifications protecting the trade routes in the Negev and the southern border of the kingdom against marauding nomads.

The first of these citadels was built by King Solomon (10th century BCE). It measured 55 x 50 m. and was surrounded by a casemate wall (two parallel walls with cross-walls between them) 5 m. thick, and with a gate protected by two towers in its eastern side. Large towers protruded from the corners and along the wall. Inside the citadel were quarters for the garrison, storerooms, and a temple. A water reservoir cut into the rock beneath the citadel was filled with water from a well dug into the Canaanite reservoir south of the citadel. This well was 4.60 m. in diameter and 21 m. deep, to groundwater level, the upper part carefully lined with stones. The water drawn from the well was carried up the hill by pack animals to an opening in the wall of the citadel, and from there flowed in a channel to the reservoir.

In the 9th century BCE, a new citadel was built, surrounded by a massive, 4 m.-thick wall. This citadel, with various modifications, remained in use until the Babylonian conquest of the Kingdom of Judah in 587/6 BCE.

The Israelite Temple

Located in the northwestern corner of the citadel, the temple comprised three rooms along an east-west axis: ulam (entrance hall), heichal (main hall), and dvir (holy-of-holies). To reach the dvir three steps had to be mounted to an elevated platform, on which a one-meter high stone stele, painted red, stood. Stone altars, 50 cm. high, flanked both sides of the entrance to the dvir. The tops of the altars were concave and in them burnt organic material was found. At the center of the large courtyard in front of the temple was an altar built of bricks and stone, measuring 2.5 x 2.5 m. (5 x 5 biblical amot). It was probably similar to the altar described in the Bible (Deut. 27:5) and to that in the Temple in Jerusalem. (II Chronicles 6:13)

The Israelite temple discovered at Arad is the only one known outside of Jerusalem. It was part of the first Israelite citadel there and served as a roadside temple for travelers, merchants and the garrison of the citadel. This temple was destroyed, apparently as a result of the religious reforms of Hezekiah, King of Judah, at the end of the 8th century BCE. (II Kings 18: 4, 22)

Ostraca (inscribed potsherds)

Over 100 ostraca inscribed in biblical Hebrew (in paleo-Hebrew script) were found in the citadel of Arad. This is the largest and richest collection of inscriptions from the biblical period ever discovered in Israel. The letters are from all periods of the citadel's existence, but most date to the last decades of the kingdom of Judah. Dates and several names of places in the Negev are mentioned, including Be'er Sheva.

Among the personal names are those of the priestly families Pashur and Meremoth, both mentioned in the Bible. (Jeremiah 20:1; Ezra 8:33) Some of the letters were addressed to the commander of the citadel of Arad, Eliashiv ben Ashiyahu, and deal with the distribution of bread (flour), wine and oil to the soldiers serving in the fortresses of the Negev. Seals bearing the inscription "Eliashiv ben Ashiyahu" were also found.

Some of the commander's letters (probably "file" copies) were addressed to his superior and deal with the deteriorating security situation in the Negev. In one of them, he gives warning of an emergency and requests reinforcements to be sent to another citadel in the region to repulse an Edomite invasion. Also, in one of the letters, the "house of YHWH" is mentioned.

Inscription 1

To Eliashib: And now, give the Kittiyim 3 baths of wine, and write the name of the day. And from the rest of the first flour, send one homer in order to make bread for them. Give them the wine from the aganoth vessels.

Inscription 24

From Arad 50 and from Kin[ah]...

and you shall send them to Ramat-Negev by the hand of Malkiyahu the son of Kerab'ur and he shall hand them over to Elisha the son of Yirmiyahu in Ramat-Negev, lest anything should happen to the city. And the word of the king is incumbent upon you for your very life! Behold, I have sent to warn you today: [Get] the men to Elisha: lest Edom should come there.

Inscription 40

Your son Gemar[yahu] and Nehemyahu gre[et] Malkiyahu; I have blessed [you to the Lor]d and now: your servant has listened to what [you] have said, and I [have written] to my lord [everything that] the man [wa]nted, [and Eshiyahu ca]me from you and [no] one [gave it to] them. And behold you knew [about the letters from] Edom (that) I gave to [my] lord [before sun]set. And [E]shi[yah]u slept [at my house], and he asked for the letter, [but I didn't gi]ve (it). The King of Judah should know [that w]e cannot send the [..., and th]is is the evil that Edo[m has done].

In July 2005, archaeologists digging at Tel Zayit, a hill site outside of Jerusalem, found what appears to be the oldest Hebrew alphabet inscription on the wall of an ancient building. Scholars who have reviewed the inscription have suggested that it dates to the 10th century BCE, around the time of the United Kingdom of ancient Israel. If archaeologists and researchers are correct, this inscription is the oldest reliably dated example of an abecedary - the letters of the alphabet written out in their traditional sequence - and is one of the most compelling discoveries regarding the history of writing.

Writing experts said the find showed that the Hebrew characters were recognizable, but the language was still in the process of development from its Phoenician roots. There is a debate among scholars on whether or not the inscription is in Hebrew. P. Kyle McCarter Jr. from Johns Hopkins University described the alphabet as “a Phoenician type of alphabet that is being adapted...I do believe it is proto-Hebrew, but I can't prove it for certain.”

Ron E. Tappy, director of the Tel Zayit dig, said, “All successive alphabets in the ancient world, including the Greek one, derive from this ancestor at Tel Zayit.”

The two lines of incised letters on the inscription, which are thought to be the 22 symbols of the Hebrew alphabet, were on one side of the ancient building. According to The New York Times, “The inscription was found in the context of a substantial network of buildings at the site, which led Dr. Tappy to propose that Tel Zayit was probably an important border town established by an expanding Israelite kingdom based in Jerusalem.” The fact that it was a border town with an established culture and some literacy could suggest that there was a centralized leadership in the 10th century BCE, which ultimately could give more archaeological proof to the United Kingdom period under David and Solomon.

The find is not without controversy. Some biblical scholars believe David and Solomon were simply tribal chieftains, and that an advanced political system from 3,000 years ago like the United Kingdom, which some call the “golden age” of the Israelite period, cannot be supported. Dr. Tappy knows that he will be challenged when he presents his findings to other archaeologists at the American Schools of Oriental Research and the Society of Biblical Literature in Philadelphia in the coming weeks.

Salvage excavations conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority in Kfar Kana (north of Nazareth), have uncovered remains of a settlement that existed at the time of the United Kingdom of King Solomon and the Kingdom of Israel (following the split between Israel and Judah, from the 10-9th centuries BCE). During the course of the excavations, a section of the city wall and remains of buildings were exposed. The director of the excavation on behalf of the Antiquities Authority, Yardenna Alexandre, reported that evidence was found there indicating the site was vanquished during the 9th century BCE, probably by an enemy. Other artifacts discovered at the site include pottery vessels, large quantities of animal bones, a scarab depicting a man surrounded by two crocodiles and a ceramic seal bearing the image of a lion.

Following the destruction, the site was abandoned until its ruins were re-inhabited by settlers in the Early Roman period (1st century CE). The identity of these residents as Galilean Jews is already known from previous excavations that were carried out at the site and from historic information that identifies the settlement as “Kana of the Galilee” - known from the New Testament. Some of the walls that were destroyed were reused in the new construction and new floors were laid down.

The Jewish settlers built igloo-shaped pits on the ruins of the previous settlement, in which the bedrock served as the floor of the pit. A rock-hewn pit was discovered in one of the tunnels containing 11 complete storage jars characteristic of the second half of the 1st century CE.

Alexandre noted that “the pits are connected to each other by short tunnels and it seems that they were used as hiding refuges - a kind of concealed subterranean home - that were built prior to the Great Revolt against the Romans in the year 66 CE.”

A mosaic seized from Palestinian antiquities thieves appears to have been cut from the floor of a previously unknown synagogue that dates back to the 7th century, an archaeologist said Tuesday.

If the ruins of the synagogue do exist, it would be a significant find because archaeologists know of few such Jewish sanctuaries from the period, when Muslims ruled the area, said Amir Ganor, an archaeologist who also serves as an investigator for an authority that prevents antiquities thefts.

The work of art has Jewish insignia, including the words in Hebrew for “Peace Unto Israel,” part of a Jewish candelabra and palm branches, Ganor said. Tests have proven almost without a doubt that the mosaic is authentic and dates back to the 7th century, he said. Only a few more tests are needed to confirm its authenticity, Ganor said.

“This is a very significant find, because we know of only one synagogue from this period, in (the West Bank town of Jericho),” Ganor said.

The piece of mosaic measures about 60 centimeters by one meter (2 feet by 3 feet), Ganor said.

The work of art, especially the handwriting, strongly resembles one at the Jericho synagogue, which also includes the inscription “Peace Unto Israel,” a Jewish candelabra and a palm branch, Ganor said.

Investigators have learned that the mosaic was stolen from the ruins of the synagogue, somewhere in the area of the West Bank city of Ramallah, Ganor said. The archaeologists do not know exactly where the synagogue is located. Much of the area is controlled by the Palestinian Authority, as is Jericho.

Israeli archaeologists received information several weeks ago that a piece of a mosaic was stolen from a previously unknown synagogue, Ganor said. Acting on the information, Israeli security forces conducted searches and raids and found the mosaic in east Jerusalem in the car of a known Palestinian antiquities thief, Ganor said.

The suspect and one other Palestinian with him were arrested but have refused to tell investigators where they found the mosaic, Ganor said.

In salvage excavations conducted by the Antiquities Authority in Kfar Kana remains of a settlement are being uncovered that existed at the time of the United Kingdom of King Solomon and the Kingdom of Israel (following the split between Israel and Judah, from the 10-9th centuries BCE). During the course of the excavations a section of the city wall and remains of buildings were exposed. The director of the excavation on behalf of the Antiquities Authority, Yardenna Alexandre, reported that evidence was found there indicating the place was vanquished during the 9th century BCE, probably by an enemy. In addition pottery vessels, large quantities of animal bones, a scarab depicting a man surrounded by two crocodiles and a ceramic seal bearing the image of a lion were discovered at the site.

Following the destruction the excavation area was abandoned until its ruins were re-inhabited by settlters in the Early Roman period (1st century CE). The identity of these residents as Galilean Jews is already known from previous excavations that were carried out at the site and from historic information that identifies the settlement as “Kana of the Galilee” – known from the New Testament. Some of the walls that were destroyed were reused in the new construction and new floors were laid down. The Jewish settlers built igloo-shaped pits on the ruins of the previous settlement, whereby the bedrock served as the floor of the pit and the walls were built. A rock-hewn pit was discovered in one of the tunnels and in it were 11 complete storage jars characteristic of the second half of the 1st century CE. Alexandre noted that “the pits are connected to each other by short tunnels and it seems that they were used as hiding refuges – a kind of concealed subterranean home – that were built prior to the Great Revolt against the Romans in the year 66 CE.”

Judaism, as a general rule, rejects physical manifestations of spirituality, preferring instead to focus on actions and beliefs. Indeed, the story of Judaism begins with Abraham, the original iconoclast, who, according to ancient sources, shattered the idols that were the conventional method of religious observance at the time. Worship of graven images is harshly condemned throughout the Torah, and perhaps the greatest sin the Israelites collectively committed was the construction of the Golden Calf (in Ex. 32), intended to serve as a physical intermediary between them and God. Today, Jews do not venerate any holy relics or man-made symbols.

But early in the history of the Jewish people, there was one exception to this rule, one man-made object that was considered intrinsically holy. The Ark of the Covenant, constructed during the Israelites' wanderings in the desert and used until the destruction of the First Temple, was the most important symbol of the Jewish faith, and served as the only physical manifestation of God on earth. The legends associated with this object, and the harsh penalties ascribed for anyone who misuses it, confirm the Ark's centrality to the Jewish faith of that period; the fact that Jews and non-Jews alike continue to study and imitate it confirms its centrality even today.

Building the Ark

The construction of the Ark is commanded by God to Moses while the Jews were still camped at Sinai (Ex. 25:10-22; 37:1-9). The Ark was a box with the dimensions of two-and-a-half cubits in length, by one-and-a-half cubits in heights, by one-and-a-half cubits in width (a cubit is about 18 inches). It was constructed of acacia wood, and was plated with pure gold, inside and out. On the bottom of the box, four gold rings were attached, through which two poles, also made of acacia and coated in gold, were put. The family of Kehath, of the tribe of Levi, would carry the ark on their shoulders using these poles.

One artist's rendition of what the Ark looked like.

Covering the box was the kapporet, a pure gold covering that was two-and-a-half by one-and-a-half cubits. Attached to the kapporet were two sculpted Cherubs, also made of pure gold. The two Cherubs faced one another, and their wings, which wrapped around their bodies, touched between them.

The contents of the Ark has been debated through the centuries. The general consensus is that the first tablets containing the Ten Commandments, which were broken by Moses, and the second tablets, which remained intact, were contained in the Ark (Bava Batra 14b). According to one opinion in the Talmud, both Tablets were together in the Ark; according to another, there were two Arks, and each contained one set of Tablets (Berakhot 8b).

The Ark was built by Bezalel, son of Uri, son of Hur, who constructed the entire Tabernacle – the portable Temple used in the desert and during the conquest of the land of Israel. The Tabernacle was the resting place for the Ark, and also contained other vessels that were used in the physical worship of God. The Biblical commentators argue over why God commanded Moses to build a Tabernacle in the first place: According to Rashi (Ex. 31:18), God realized after the sin of the Golden Calf that the Israelites needed an outlet for physical worship, and commanded that they build the Tabernacle as a way of expressing their own need for physical representation of God. According to Nachmanides (Ex. 25:1), however, the Jews were commanded to build the Tabernacle even before the sin of the Golden Calf; rather than filling a human need, the Tabernacle was God's method of achieving continuous revelation in the Israelites' camp. These two opinions as to whether the Tabernacles, and the Temples that followed them, were an a priori necessity or a necessary evil demonstrate the controversial role of physical worship in Judaism as a whole.

The Role of the Ark

The Ark was used in the desert and in Israel proper for a number of spiritual and pragmatic purposes. Practically, God used the Ark as an indicator of when he wanted the nation to travel, and when to stop. In the traveling formation in the desert, the Ark was carried 2000 cubits ahead of the nation (Num. R. 2:9). According to one midrash, it would clear the path for the nation by burning snakes, scorpions, and thorns with two jets of flame that shot from its underside (T. VaYakhel, 7); another midrash says that rather than being carried by its bearers, the Ark in fact carried its bearers inches above the ground (Sotah 35a). When the Israelites went to war in the desert and during the conquering of Canaan, the Ark accompanied them; whether its presence was symbolic, to provide motivation for the Jews, or whether it actually aided them in fighting, is debated by commentators.

Spiritually, the Ark was the manifestation of God's physical presence on earth (the shekhina). When God spoke with Moses in the Tent of Meeting in the desert, he did so from between the two Cherubs (Num. 7:89). Once the Ark was moved into the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle, and later in the Temple, it was accessible only once a year, and then, only by one person. On Yom Kippur, the High Priest (Kohen Gadol) could enter the Holy of Holies to ask forgiveness for himself and for all the nation of Israel (Lev. 16:2).

The relationship between the Ark and the shekhina is reinforced by the recurring motif of clouds. God's presence is frequently seen in the guise of a cloud in the Bible (Ex. 24:16), and the Ark is constantly accompanied by clouds: When God spoke from between the Cherubs, there was a glowing cloud visible there (Ex. 40:35); when the Jews traveled, they were led by the Ark and a pillar of clouds (Num. 10:34); at night, the pillar of clouds was replaced by a pillar of fire, another common descriptor of God's appearance (Ex. 24:17); and when the High Priest entered presence of the Ark on Yom Kippur, he did so only under the cover of a cloud of incense, perhaps intended to mask the sight of the shekhina in all its glory (Lev. 16:13).

The holiness of the Ark also made it dangerous to those who came in contact with it. When Nadav and Avihu, the sons of Aaron, brought a foreign flame to offer a sacrifice in the Tabernacle, they were devoured by a fire that emanated "from the Lord" (Lev. 10:2). During the saga of the capture of the Ark by the Philistines, numerous people, including some who merely looked at the Ark, were killed by its power. Similarly, the Priests who served in the Tabernacle and Temple were told that viewing the Ark at an improper time would result in immediate death (Num. 4:20).

History of the Ark

The Ark accompanied the Jews throughout their time in the desert, traveling with them and accompanying them to their wars with Emor and Midian. When the Jews crossed into the land of Canaan, the waters of the Jordan River miraculously split and the Ark led them through (Josh. 3). Throughout their conquest of the land, the Jews were accompanied by the Ark. The most dramatic demonstration of its power comes when the Jews breached the walls of Jericho merely by circling them, blowing horns and carrying the Ark (Josh. 6).

After the conquest was completed, the Ark, and the entire Tabernacle, were set up in Shiloh (Josh. 18) . There they remained until the battles of the Jews with the Philistines during the Priesthood of Eli. The Jews, after suffering a defeat at the Philistines' hands, took the Ark from Shiloh to Even-Ezer in hopes of winning the next battle. But the Jews were routed, and the Ark was captured by the Philistines. Back in Shiloh, Eli, the High Priest, immediately died upon hearing the news (I Sam. 4).

The Philistines took the Ark back to Ashdod, their capital city in the south of Canaan, where they placed it in the temple of their god Dagon. The next day, however, they found the idol fallen on its face. After replacing the statue, they found it the next day decapitated, with only its trunk remaining, and soon afterward, the entire city of Ashdod was struck with a plague. The Philistines moved the Ark to the city of Gath, and from there to Ekron, but whatever city the Ark was in, the inhabitants were struck with plague. After seven months, the Philistines decided to send the Ark back to the Israelites, and accompanied it with expensive gifts. The Ark was taken back to Beit Shemesh, and, according to midrash, the oxen pulling the Ark burst into song as soon as it was once again in Israel's possession (A.Z. 22b). The actual text of the story, however, tells a much grimmer tale: The men of Beit Shemesh were punished for staring disrespectfully at the Ark, and many were killed with a plague.

From Beit Shemesh, the Ark was transported to Kiryat Yearim, where it remained for twenty years. From there, King David transported it to Jerusalem. En route, however, the oxen pulling it stumbled, and when Uzzah reached out to steady the Ark, he died immediately. As a result of this tragedy, David decided to leave the Ark at the home of Obed-edom the Gittite. Three months later, he moved it to Jerusalem, the seat of his kingdom, where it remained until the construction of the First Temple by David's son Solomon (I Sam. 5-6). When the Ark was finally placed in the Temple, the midrash reports that the golden tree decorations that adorned the walls blossomed with fruit that grew continuously until the Temple's destruction (Yoma 39b).

The Ark's Whereabouts

The Church of St. Mary. The Treasury that is said to contain the Ark is in the background on the left.

The Ark remained in the Temple until its destruction at the hand of the Babylonian empire, led by Nebuchadnezzar. What happened to it afterward is unknown, and has been debated and pondered for centuries. It is unlikely that the Babylonians took it, as they did the other vessels of the Temple, because the detailed lists of what they took make no mention of the Ark. According to some sources, Josiah, one of the final kings to reign in the First Temple period, learned of the impending invasion of the Babylonians and hid the Ark. Where he hid it is also questionable – according to one midrash, he dug a hole under the wood storehouse on the Temple Mount and buried it there (Yoma 53b). Another account says that Solomon foresaw the eventual destruction of the Temple, and set aside a cave near the Dead Sea, in which Josiah eventually hid the Ark (Maimonides, Laws of the Temple, 4:1).

Aerial view of the courtyard of the St. Mary Church in Axum, Ethiopia.

One of the most fascinating possibilities is advanced by Ethiopian Christians who claim that they have the Ark today. In Axum, Ethiopia, it is widely believed that the Ark is currently being held in the Church of Saint Mary of Zion, guarded by a monk known as the "Keeper of the Ark," who claims to have it in his possesion. According to the Axum Christian community, they acquired the Ark during the reign of Solomon, when his son Menelik, whose mother was the Queen of Sheba, stole the Ark after a visit to Jerusalem. While in the not-so-distant past the "Ark" has been brought out for Christian holidays, its keeper has not done so for several years due to the tumultuous political situation in the country. The claim has thus been impossible to verify, for no one but the monk is allowed into the tent.

A more plausible claim is that of archaeologist Leen Ritmeyer, who has conducted research on the Temple Mount and inside the Dome of the Rock. He claims to have found the spot on the Mount where the Holy of Holies was located during the First Temple period. In the precise center of that spot is a section of bedrock cut out in dimensions that may match those of the Ark as reported in Exodus. This section of the mount, incidentally, is the one from which the creation of the world began, according to midrash (T. Kedoshim, 10). Based on his findings, Ritmeyer has postulated that the Ark may be buried deep inside the Temple Mount. However, it is unlikely that any excavation will ever be allowed on the Mount by the Muslim or Israeli authorities.

The Role of the Ark Today

The Ark remains a topic of study even today, over 2000 years after it was last seen. A great deal of research has attempted to explain the wonders that are attributed to the Ark in the Bible. One recent study suggests the possibility that the Ark represented man's first harnessing of electricity. The accounts given of peoples' sudden deaths from touching the Ark are consistent with death by a high voltage, lethal electrical charge. Such a charge could have resulted from the constant exposure of the box to static electricity, which builds up quickly in a hot, dry climate like the Middle East. The materials that the Ark was made of further support this theory: gold is one of the most powerful electrical conductors, and wood is an excellent insulator.

The only remnant of the Ark in Jewish life today is the Holy Ark in which Torah scrolls are kept in synagogues. These Arks often are decorated with copies of the Tablets, reminiscent of the contents of the actual Ark of ancient times. The Ark itself plays no role in Jewish life today. Nonetheless, it remains a potent symbol of the Jewish peoples' past, and of the messianic era many believe is waiting in the future.

Ironically, the Ark is most famous today as the subject of the 1981 film "Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark." The movie tells of a hero's attempt to prevent the Ark from falling into the hands of the Nazis, who would harness its power for evil. While there is no evidence of Hitler ever having had an interest in the Ark, the movie does an admirable job of capturing the mystique of one of the worlds' most ancient unsolved mysteries

The Jews' link with the land of Israel and their love for it date back almost four thousand years. It began when God told Abraham to leave his homeland, Ur Kasdim, and go "to a land that I will show thee." Abraham had such great faith and trust in God that he left his home and community. He was reassured by the divine promise, "I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who curses you I will curse; and by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves" (Genesis 12:2-3).

Israel is known by a number of names, including Canaan, Eretz Yisrael, Zion, or simply as ha-aretz, meaning "the land," a sign of its belovedness and significance. It is the Holy Land, par excellence. God promised Abraham that he and his descendants would inherit the land of Israel as an eternal possession.

In the words of the Bible, "On the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying: 'To your descendants I have given this land..."' (Genesis 15:18). It is interesting to note that the Hebrew verb used in the Scriptures is natati, meaning "I have given" (past tense). This passage implies that God had already given the land to the Jews at some earlier time, though this is the first record of such a promise. Rabbinic commentators suggest, however, that God had set aside the land of Israel for His people already at the time of Creation.

In other words, the Jewish rights to the land were always part of the very fabric of Creation. They are eternal and unconditional. God promised Abraham, "I will give to you, and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojourning, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession." God also covenanted with Ishmael, regarded as the father of the Arab people. However, that promise was for nationhood, not land. But the land of Israel was not just a Divine promise. It was also the home of our forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and their wives, Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel and Leah.

For the past 3,000 years there was always a Jewish presence in the Holy Land. Israel is at the core of Jewish identity and peoplehood; the land shapes the Jews' self image and character as a community covenanted with God. Indeed, to repudiate the link between the Jews and the land of Israel is to repudiate the Bible itself. To denigrate the centrality of Israel for God's people is to distort God's Word.

How Did The Jews Maintain Their Attachment To Zion (Israel) Throughout The Centuries Of Exile?

To fulfill their vow never to forget the Holy Land during their exile, the Jews introduced the theme of Israel into virtually every aspect of daily life and routine. To this day, Jews everywhere face toward Israel when reciting their daily prayers. A prayer for return to Zion is part of the standard Jewish blessing over meals. The Passover Seder meal, as well as the High Holy Days services, are concluded with the fervent hope and promise of, "next year in Jerusalem!"

Indeed, the restoration of Israel and the ingathering of the exiles are at the heart of all Jewish prayers for redemption and for the coming of the Messiah. It is customary for the groom to break a glass at a Jewish wedding, reminding the celebrants of Jerusalem during the happiest moment of life. Jews commemorate the destruction of the First and Second Temples and the exile from Jerusalem with an annual day of fasting and mourning. Through these customs and rituals, Jews demonstrate their trust in God's faithfulness.

Jews believe that those who cast their lot with Israel, praying for the peace of Jerusalem and the welfare of its inhabitants, will be rewarded by God's abundant blessing and countenance.

Israel is more than just the lifeblood of the Jewish people. It is God's land, the place where Divine providence is especially manifest. "The eyes of the Lord... are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year" (Deuteronomy 11:12). It is a "Very, very good land" (Nu. 14:7); "a blessed land" (Deut. 33:13); "the beauty of all lands" (Ezek 20:6).

The Jewish mystical tradition claims that the very air of Israel makes one wiser. The land will, it is said, stubbornly "refuse" to bear fruit unless the Jews, its natural caretakers and the inhabitants for whom it was created, dwell on and cultivate it. History bears out this notion. Modern Israel was a land of desert and swamp for centuries until waves of emigrating Jewish Zionists in the mid-nineteenth century began tilling its soil. Only then did the land blossom and give forth its produce: "For the Lord will comfort Zion; He will comfort her waste places, and will make her wilderness like Eden..." (Isaiah 51:3).

God's promise to Abraham created an inexorable bond between the Jewish people and the land of Israel. The fulfillment of God's promises resulted in the miracle of a Jewish return to their land after nearly two millennia of dispersion. Never during the long intervening centuries did the Jews waver in their passionate yearning to return home to the land God had given them. Never did their love for Israel wane.

What Does The Existence Of The State Of Israel Mean For Jews Today?

There is something ineffable about our feelings toward Israel—they can never be fully captured or articulated. For more than we grasp Israel, it grips us. Only the person who experiences this love and attachment can understand it. You see, Eretz Yisrael or Israel is not just the land God promised to Abraham and his descendants. It is not only the "holy land" at the very center and core of all Jewish beliefs and practices—it is so much more.

Israel, for the Jew today, is God comforting His people. "Comfort ye, My people." It is that miracle which gives us hope for our future after enduring such a long and dark past. As the prophets say, "For there is hope for thy future, and the children shall return to their borders."

After the Holocaust, we Jews gazed dumbfounded at what had occurred. Was it possible to go on believing in a God of love after losing 6 million individuals, one third of the Jewish people, almost 2 million of whom were children? Was it possible to go on believing in God's covenant with Israel and their election? Was it possible to go on believing? In God? In man? Indeed, was it possible to go on?

Like Ezekiel before us, we Jews stood amidst the ashes of Auschwitz, Buchenwald, and Treblinka and we looked down in the valley of Sheol we asked, "Can these dry dead bones again live?" Can we Jews possibly recover from this devastation? And behold, a miracle—God breathed life into those dry bones and they came together, sinew to sinew, bone to bone. They took on flesh and spirit. They arose and were reborn in Jerusalem. "For the Lord has comforted His people, He has redeemed Zion."

What does Israel mean to the contemporary Jew? It means that God has not abandoned His people. It means that He is true to His Word! Israel's existence gives us our very will and determination to continue living... as Jews. "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem and for the welfare of all its inhabitants. They shall prosper that love thee." (Psalm 122:6)

Do Jews Believe That The Birth Of The State Of Israel Is A Miracle?

People view life and events in two different ways. Some see them as they are on the surface, i.e. the "natural" order of things. Others see them on a much deeper and more penetrating level. This is what the Psalmist meant when he said, "A fool will not comprehend this." What seems obvious and revealed to the person of faith is viewed entirely differently by the one without faith.

Certainly, there are those Jews who view the birth and continued existence of the State of Israel as an "amazing" occurrence, one that came about because of the courage, training and initiative of the Israeli army. And this is, of course, correct. But what this perspective fails to take into account are the words of Moses in Deuteronomy, reminding the victorious Israelis never to forget who gave them that courage, that power, that ability to win the battle.

Yes, the birth of Israel and its continued survival in the face of many attempts to destroy it is a miracle. Indeed, I would go farther—the very continued existence of the Jewish people after having endured centuries of persecution, bears witness to a God Who is involved in human history, Who is concerned about its direction, and Who cares deeply about the welfare of His children.

It is impossible for me to look at the unfolding events in Jewish history, particularly those in recent years, to see Jews coming from all four corners of the earth to Israel—from the former Soviet Union, Yemen, America, black Jews from Ethiopia, and not see God's hand in these events. God is gathering His children back as He promised to do. He is settling them on their land as the prophets foretold. And He is redeeming the world as the Bible said He would.

The exciting part of all this is that the drama is still unfolding—God continues to be true to Israel and His Word. It is happening right in front of our eyes. It is so obvious and clear to see. Yes, yes, yes, Israel is a miracle. "From the Lord this has come about, it is wondrous in our eyes." And yet, the fool who does not look deeper, below life's surface, will never comprehend these truths

Little or nothing can be known for certain about the nature of Hebrew worship before the migration from Egypt. In Hebrew history, Abraham is already worshipping a figure called "Elohim," which is the plural for "lord." This figure is also called "El Shaddai" ("God the Mountaineer (?)," translated as "God Almighty"), and a couple other variants. The name of God, Yahweh, isn't learned by the Hebrews until Moses hears the name spoken by God on Mount Sinai. This god requires animal sacrifices and regular expiation. He intrudes on human life with astonishing suddenness, and often demands absurd acts from humans. The proper human relationship to this god is obedience, and the early history of humanity is a history of humans oscillating between obedience to this god and autonomy. This god is anthropomorphic: he has human qualities. He is frequently angered and seems to have some sort of human body. In addition, the god worshipped by Abraham and his descendants is the creator god, that is, the god solely responsible for the creation of the universe. The god of Genesis is bisexual: he/she is often referred to in female as well as male terms. For instance, this god is represented frequently as "mothering" or "giving birth through labor pains" to the world and humans (these passages are universally mistranslated in English as "fathering"—this god is only referred to as a "father" twice in Genesis ). In Genesis , Elohim or El Shaddai functions as a primitive law-giver; after the Flood, this god gives to Noah those primitive laws which apply to all human beings, the so-called Noahide Laws. Nothing of the sophistication and comprehensive of the Mosaic laws is evident in the early history of the human relationship to Yahweh as outlined in Genesis .

Scholars have wracked their brains trying to figure out what conclusions might be drawn about this human history. In general, they believe that the portrait of Hebrew religion in Genesis is an inaccurate one. They conclude instead that Hebrew monolatry and monotheism began with the Yahweh cult introduced, according to Exodus, in the migration from Egypt between 1300 and 1200 BC. The text of Genesis in their view is an attempt to legitimate the occupation of Palestine by asserting a covenantal relationship between Yahweh and the Hebrews that had been established far in the distant past.

All these conclusions are brilliant but tentative, for we'll never know for sure much of anything substantial about Hebrew history and religion during the age of the patriarchs or the sojourn in Egypt. Nevertheless, scholars draw on the text of Genesis to conclude the following controversial ideas about early Hebrew religion:

— Early Hebrew religion was polytheistic; the curious plural form of the name of God, Elohim rather than El, leads them to believe that the original Hebrew religion involved several gods. This plural form, however, can be explained as a "royal" plural. Several other aspects of the account of Hebrew religion in Genesis also imply a polytheistic faith.

— The earliest Hebrew religion was animistic, that is, the Hebrews seemed worship forces of nature that dwelled in natural objects.

— As a result, much of early Hebrew religion had a number of practices that fall into the category of magic: scapegoat sacrifice and various forms of imitative magic, all of which are preserved in the text of Genesis .

— Early Hebrew religion eventually became anthropomorphic, that is, god or the gods took human forms; in later Hebrew religion, Yahweh becomes a figure that transcends the human and material worlds. Individual tribes probably worshipped different gods; there is no evidence in Genesis that anything like a national God existed in the time of the patriarchs.

The most profound revolution in Hebrew thought, though, occurred in the migration from Egypt, and its great innovator was Moses. In the epic events surrounding the flight from Egypt and the settling of the promised land, Hebrew religion became permanently and irrevocably, the Mosaic religion.

According to Hebrew history narrated in Exodus , the second book of the Torah, the Hebrews became a nation and adopted a national god on the slopes of Mount Sinai in southern Arabia. While we know nothing whatsoever of Hebrew life in Egypt, the flight from Egypt is described in Hebrew history with immense and powerful detail. The migration itself creates a new entity in history: the Israelites; Exodus is the first place in the Torah which refers to the Hebrews as a single national group, the "bene yisrael," or "children of Israel."

The flight from Egypt itself stands as the single greatest sign from Yahweh that the Israelites were the chosen people of Yahweh; it is the event to be always remembered as demonstrating Yahweh's purpose for the Hebrew people. It is the point in history that the scattered tribes descended from Abraham become a single unit, a single nation. It is also the crucial point in history that the Hebrews adopt Yahweh as their national god.

Hebrew history is absolutely silent about Hebrew worship during the sojourn in Egypt. A single religious observance, the observation of Passover, originates in Egypt immediately before the migration. This observance commemorates how Yahweh spared the Hebrews when he destroyed all the first born sons in the land of Egypt. The Yahweh religion itself, however, is learned when the mass of Hebrews collect at Mount Sinai in Midian, which is located in the southern regions of the Arabian peninsula. During this period, called the Sinai pericope, Moses teaches the Hebrews the name of their god and brings to them the laws that the Hebrews, as the chosen people, must observe. The Sinai pericope is a time of legislation and of cultural formation in the Hebrew view of history. In the main, the Hebrews learn all the cultic practices and observances that they are to perform for Yahweh.

Scholars are in bitter disagreement over the origin of the the Yahweh religion and the identity of its founder, Moses. While Moses is an Egyptian name, the religion itself comes from Midian. In the account, Moses lives for a time with a Midianite priest, Jethro, at the foot of Mount Sinai. The Midianites seem to have a Yahweh religion already in place; they worship the god of Mount Sinai as a kind of powerful nature deity. So it's possible that the Hebrews picked up the Yahweh religion from another group of Semites and that this Yahweh religion slowly developed into the central religion of the Hebrews. All scholars are agreed, however, that the process was slow and painful. In the Hebrew history, all during the migration and for two centuries afterwards, the Hebrews follow many various religions unevenly.

The Mosaic religion was initially a monolatrous religion; while the Hebrews are enjoined to worship no deity but Yahweh, there is no evidence that the earliest Mosaic religion denied the existence of other gods. In fact, the account of the migration contains numerous references by the historical characters to other gods, and the first law of the Decalogue is, after all, that no gods be put before Yahweh, not that no other gods exist. While controversial among many people, most scholars have concluded that the initial Mosaic religion for about two hundred years was a monolatrous religion. For there is ample evidence in the Hebrew account of the settlement of Palestine, that the Hebrews frequently changed religions, often several times in a single lifetime.

The name of god introduced in the Mosaic religion is a mysterious term. In Hebrew, the word is YHWH (there are no vowels in biblical Hebrew); we have no clue how this word is pronounced. Linguists believe that the word is related to the Semitic root of the verb, "to be," and may mean something like, "he causes to be." In English, the word is translated "I AM": "I AM THAT I AM. You will say to the children of Israel, I AM has sent you."

For a few centuries, Yahweh was largely an anthropomorphic god, that is, he had human qualities and physical characteristics. The Yahweh of the Torah is frequently angry and often capricious; the entire series of plagues on Egypt, for instance, seem unreasonably cruel. In an account from the monarchical period, Yahweh strikes someone dead for touching the Ark of the Covenant; that individual, Uzza, was only touching the ark to keep it from falling over (I Chronicles 13.10).

But there are some striking innovations in this new god. First, this god, anthropomorphic or not, is conceived as operating above and outside nature and the human world. The Mosaic god is conceived as the ruler of the Hebrews, so the Mosaic laws also have the status of a ruler. The laws themselves in the Torah were probably written much later, in the eighth or seventh centuries. It is not unreasonable, however, to conclude that the early Mosaic religion was a law-based religion that imagined Yahweh as the author and enforcer of these laws. In fact, the early Hebrews seemed to have conceived of Yahweh as a kind of monarch. In addition, Yahweh is more abstract than any previous gods; one injunction to the Hebrews is that no images of Yahweh be made or worshipped. Finally, there was no afterlife in the Mosaic religion. All human and religious concerns were oriented around this world and Yahweh's purposes in this world.

As the Hebrews struggled with this new religion, lapsing frequently into other religions, they were slowly sliding towards their first major religious and ethical crisis: the monarchy. The Yahweh religion would be shaken to its roots by this crisis and would be irrevocably changed.

Wearied from over two centuries of sporadic conflict with indigenous peoples, broken by a ruinous civil war, and constantly threatened on all sides, the disparate Hebrew settlers of Palestine began to long for a unified state under a single monarch. Such a state would provide the organization and the military to fend off the war-like peoples surrounding them. Their desire, however, would provoke the first major crisis in the Hebrew world view: the formation of the Hebrew monarchy.

In the Hebrew account of their own history, the children of Israel who settled Palestine between 1250 and 1050 BC, believed Yahweh to be their king and Yahweh's laws to be their laws (whether or not this is historically true is controversial). In desiring to have a king, the tribes of Israel were committing a grave act of disobedience towards Yahweh, for they were choosing a human being and human laws of Yahweh and Yahweh's laws. In the account of the formation of the monarchy, in the books of Samuel , the prophet of Yahweh, Samuel, tells the Israelites that they are committing an act of disobedience that they will dearly pay for. Heedless of Samuel's warnings, they push ahead with the monarchy. The very first monarch, Saul, sets the pattern for the rest; disobedient towards Yahweh's commands, Saul falls out with both Samuel and Yahweh and gradually slips into arbitrary despotism. This pattern—the conflict between Yahweh and the kings of Israel and Judah—becomes the historical pattern in the Hebrew stories of the prophetic revolution.

Whatever the causes, a group of religious leaders during the eighth and seventh centuries BC responded to the crisis created by the institution of the monarchy by reinventing and reorienting the Yahweh religion. In Hebrew, these religious reformers were called "nivea," or "prophets." The most important of these prophets were Amos, Hosea, Isaiah (who is actually three people: Isaiah and "Second Isaiah" [Deutero-Isaiah], and a third, post-exilic Isaiah), and Micah. These four, and a number of lesser prophets, are as important to the Hebrew religion as Moses.

The innovations of the prophets can be grouped into three large categories:


Whatever the character of Mosaic religion during the occupation and the early monarchy, the prophets unambiguously made Yahweh the one and only one god of the universe. Earlier, Hebrews acknowledged and even worshipped foreign gods; the prophets, however, asserted that Yahweh ruled the entire universe and all the peoples in it, whether or not they recognized and worshipped Yahweh or not. The Yahweh religion as a monotheistic religion can really be dated no earlier than the prophetic revolution.


While Yahweh is subject to anger, capriciousness, and outright injustice in the earlier Mosaic religion, the Yahweh of the prophets can do nothing but good and right and justice. Yahweh becomes in the prophetic revolution a "god of righteousness"; historical events, no matter how arbitrary or unjust they may seem, represent the justice of Yahweh. The good and the just are always rewarded, and the evil are always punished. If there is any evil in the world it is through the actions of men and women, not through the actions of Yahweh, that it is committed.


While the Mosaic religion was overwhelmingly concerned with the cultic rules to be followed by the Israelites, the prophets re-centered the religion around ethics. Ritual practices, in fact, become unimportant next to ethical demands that Yahweh imposes on humans: the necessity of doing right, showing mercy, punishing evil, and doing justice.

There still, however, is no afterlife of rewards and punishments in the prophets, but a kind of House of Dust, called Sheol, to which all souls go after their death to abide for a time before disappearing from existence forever. There is no salvation, only the injunctions to do justice and right in order to produce a just and harmonious society.

The historical origins of these innovations are important to understand. The monarchy brought with it all the evils of a centralized state: arbitrary power, vast inequality of wealth, poverty in the midst of plenty, heavy taxation, slavery, bribery, and fear. The prophets were specifically addressing these corrupt and fearsome aspects of the Jewish state. They believed, however, that they were addressing these problems by returning to the Mosaic religion; in reality, they created a brand new religion, a monotheistic religion not about cultic practices, but about right and wrong.

The most profound spiritual and cognitive crisis in Hebrew history was the Exile. Defeated by the Chaldeans under Nebuchadnezzar in 597 BC, the Judaean population was in part deported to Babylon, mainly the upper classes and craftsmen. In 586, incensed by Judaeans shifting their loyalty, Nebuchadnezzar returned, lay siege to Jerusalem, and burned it down along with the Temple. Nothing in the Hebrew world view had prepared them for a tragedy of this magnitude. The Hebrews had been promised the land of Palestine by their god; in addition, the covenant between Yahweh and Abraham promised Yahweh's protection. The destruction of Jerusalem, the Temple, and the deportation of the Judaeans, shook the Hebrew faith to its roots.

The literature of the Exile and shortly after betrays the despair and confusion of the population uprooted from its homeland. In Lamentations and various Psalms, we get a profound picture of the sufferings of those left in Judaea, who coped with starvation and massive privation, and the community of Hebrews wandering Babylon. In Job, a story written a century or so after the Exile, the central character suffers endless calamities— when he finally despairs of Yahweh's justice, his only answer is that Yahweh is not to be questioned.

But Hebrew religion shifted profoundly in the years of Exile. A small group of religious reformers believed that the calamaties suffered by the Jews were due to the corruption of their religion and ethics. These religious reformers reoriented Jewish religion around the Mosaic books; in other words, they believed that the Jews should return to their foundational religion. While the Mosaic books had been in existence since the seventh or eighth centuries BC, they began to take final shape under the guidance of these reformers shortly after the Exile. Above everything else, the Torah, the five Mosaic books, represented all the law that Hebrews should follow. These laws, mainly centered around cultic practices, should remain pure and unsullied if the Jews wished to return to their homeland and keep it.

So the central character of post-Exilic Jewish religion is reform, an attempt to return religious and social practice back to its original character. This reform was accelerated by the return to Judaea itself; when Cyrus the Persian conquered the Chaldeans in 539, he set about re-establishing religions in their native lands. This included the Hebrew religion. Cyrus ordered Jerusalem and the Temple to be rebuilt, and in 538 BC, he sent the Judaeans home to Jerusalem for the express purpose of worshipping Yahweh . The reformers, then, occupied a central place in Jewish thought and life all during the Persian years (539-332 BC).

Beneath the surface, though, foreign elements creeped in to the Hebrew religion. While the reformers were busy trying to purify the Hebrew religion, the Persian religion, Zoroastrianism, creeped into it among the common run of people. Why this happened is anyone's guess, but Zoroastrianism offered a world view that both explained and mollified tragedies such as the Exile. It seems that the Hebrews adopted some of this world view in the face of the profound disasters they had weathered.

Zoroastrianism, which had been founded in the seventh century BC by a Persian prophet name Zarathustra (Zoroaster is his Greek name), was a dualistic, eschatological, and apocalyptic religion. The universe is divided into two distinct and independent spheres. One, which is light and good, is ruled by a deity who is the principle of light and good; the other, dark and evil, is ruled by a deity who is the principle of dark and evil. The whole of human and cosmic history is an epic struggle between these two independent deities; at the end of time, a final battle between these two deities and all those ranged on one side or the other, would permanently decide the outcome of this struggle. The good deity, Ahura-Mazda, would win this final, apocalyptic battle, and all the gods and humans on the side of good would enjoy eternal bliss.

Absolutely none of these elements were present in Hebrew religion before the Exile. The world is governed solely by Yahweh; evil in the world is solely the product of human actions—there is no "principle of evil" among the Hebrews before the Exile. The afterlife is simply a House of Dust called Sheol in which the soul lasts for only a brief time. There is no talk or conception of an end of time or history, or of a world beyond this one. After the Exile, however, popular religion among the Judaeans and the Jews of the Diaspora include several innovations:


After the Exile, the Hebrews invent a concept of a more or less dualistic universe, in which all good and right comes from Yahweh, while all evil arises from a powerful principle of evil. Such a dualistic view of the universe helps to explain tragedies such as the Exile.

Eschatology and Apocalypticism

Popular Jewish religion begins to form an elaborate theology of the end of time, in which a deliverer would defeat once and for all the forces of evil and unrighteousness.


Concurrent with the new eschatology, there is much talk of a deliverer who is called "messiah," or "anointed one." In Hebrew culture, only the head priest and the king were anointed, so this "messiah" often combined the functions of both religious and military leader.


Popular Judaism adopts an elaborate after-life. Since justice does not seem to occur in this world, it is only logical that it will occur in another world. The afterlife becomes the place where good is rewarded and evil eternally punished.

While the reformers resist these innovations, they take hold among a large part of the Hebrew population. And it is from this root — the religion of the common person — that a radical form of Yahwism will grow: the religion of Jesus of Nazareth.

However dim and uncertain Hebrew history is in the age of the patriarchs, there is no question that the migration out of Egypt around 1250 BC is the single most important event in Hebrew history. More than anything else in history, this event gave the Hebrews an identity, a nation, a founder, and a name, used for the first time in the very first line of Exodus, the biblical account of the migration: "bene yisrael," "the children of Israel."

How did this happen? How did this diverse set of tribal groups all worshipping a god they called "god," suddenly cohere into a more or less unified national group? What happened in Egypt that didn't happen with other foreigners living there?

Well, we really can't answer that question, for we have almost no account whatsoever of the Hebrews in Egypt, even in Hebrew history. For all the momentousness of the events of the migration for the Hebrews and the dramatic nature of the rescue, including plagues and catastrophes raining down on Egypt, the Egyptians do not seem to have noticed the Hebrews or to even know that they were living in their country. While we have several Egyptian records of foreign groups during the New Kingdom, they are records of actively expelling groups they feel are threatening or overly powerful. The Hebrews never appear in these records, nor do any of the events recounted in the Hebrew history of the event. The Hebrews themselves are only interested in the events directly leading up to the migration; all the events in the centuries preceding are passed over in silence.

We can make some guesses about the Hebrews in Egypt, though. It isn't unreasonable to believe that a sizable Hebrew population lived in the north of Egypt from about 1500-1250 BC; enormous numbers of tribal groups, most of them Semitic, had been settling in northern Egypt from about 1800 BC. These foreigners had grown so powerful that for a short time they dominated Egypt, ruling the Egyptians themselves; this period is called the Third Intermediate Period in Egyptian history. When the Egyptians reasserted dominance over Egypt at the start of the New Kingdom, they actively expelled as many foreigners as they could. Life got fairly harsh for these foreigners, who were called "habiru," which was applied to landless aliens (taken from the word, "apiru," or foreigner). Is this where the Hebrews got their name? It's a hotly contested issue. Nevertheless, the New Kingdom kings also began to garrison their borders in the north and east in order to prevent foreigners from entering the country in the first place. In particular, the Egyptian king, Seti I (1305-1290), moved his capital to Avaris at the very north of the Nile delta. This move was a shrewd move, for it established a powerful military presence right at the entrance to Egypt.

Garrisoned cities, however, don't pop into existence at a whim; they are labor intensive affairs. Typically, building projects involved heavy taxation of local populations; these taxes took the form of labor taxes. It isn't unreasonable to guess that the heaviest burden of these taxes fell on the foreigners living in the area, which would include the Hebrews. As best as we can guess, we believe that these building projects form the substance of the oppression of the Hebrews described in Exodus.

Moses and the Yahweh Cult

Nothing, however, should have prevented these oppressed and miserable foreigners from spilling into the anonymity of history—as so many had done before and since. One figure, however, changed the course of this history and united some of these foreigners into a distinct people; he also gave them a religion and a theology that would forever unite them in a singular purpose in history. That person was Moses. In spite of the masterful portrayal of him in Exodus , he is a difficult figure to pin down. Few people dispute that Moses was a reality in history, whether as an individual or a group of individuals, but there are several perplexing aspects of the man. First, he has an Egyptian name (as do many of his relatives). Second, he seems to spend a large amount of time among a non-Hebrew people, the Midianites, where he marries and seems to learn the Yahweh religion, and some of its cultic practices, from the Midianites. Are there two Moses, an Egyptian and a Hebrew? Or an Egyptian and a Midianite? And are the Midianites the first peoples to worship Yahweh and who then transmit this religion to the Hebrews? The question is complicated by the presence of Miriam, Moses' sister, in the migration. For she is the first individual in the Hebrew bible to be called a "prophet," and seems to have been an important player in the migration, possibly even being the principle figure in the climactic battle between the Egyptians and the Hebrews at the Sea of Reeds. At some point, however, there was a falling out between Miriam and Moses, and Miriam gets lost to history.

It is equally difficult to pinpoint exactly who participated in the migration. Although the focus is on the Hebrews, Exodus claims that a "diverse group of peoples" left Egypt with Moses. Who were these? Did they include other Semites? Was the migration to Egypt a staggered affair, or was it a single, heroic migration as indicated in Exodus? What resistance did the Egyptians put up? What was the nature of their battle with the Egyptians at the Sea of Reeds? The account of this battle is vitally important to Hebrew history, for the deliverance of the Hebrews at the Sea of Reeds stands as the single most powerful symbol of Yahweh's protection of the Hebrews. Exodus gives two accounts; in the first, Yahweh blows the water away to create a ford, and the Egyptians get stuck in the mud and go home. In the second, Yahweh separates the waters and drowns the Egyptians when they try to cross. Which is the correct account?

It's difficult to answer any of these questions. In the end, the only account we have of the migration from Egypt is the Hebrew account. Several salient aspects give this narrative its foundational role in the Hebrew view of history. First, Moses is especially chosen by Yahweh to deliver Yahweh's people. In other words, Yahweh directly intervenes in history in order to bring about his purposes for his people. Second, the people of Yahweh become a national entity, identified by the name, "bene yisrael," rather than simply being a diverse group of tribes. They are united around a specific leader, Moses. Third, the events in Egypt, including the plagues and the miraculous deliverance of the Israelites at the Sea of Reeds when pursued by the king's army, are meant to serve as the primary proof of God's election of the Hebrews. There's no question that these stories were told and retold among the Hebrews as the most important events of their history. For in the events leading up to and involving the migration from Egypt, Yahweh proved once and for all that he would use and protect the Hebrews as the people, and the only people, selected by Yahweh. Third, Hebrew religion became the Yahweh religion. The Hebrews did not worship "Yahweh" before the migration, but learned the cult, according to Exodus, from Moses during the migration.

This introduction to Yahweh and the Yahweh cult occurred in the southernmost region of the Arabian peninsula, in an area around Mount Sinai. This area had been occupied by a nomadic, tribal people called Midianites. They seem to have worshipped a kind of nature god which they believed lived on Mount Sinai. It is here, living with a priest of the Midianites, called Jethro, that Moses first encounters Yahweh (on Mount Sinai) and learns his name for the first time. The name of god, which in Hebrew is spelled YHWH, is difficult to explain. Scholars generally believe that it derives from the Semitic word, "to be," and so means something like, "he causes to be." Nevertheless, when Moses returns to Sinai with the people of Israel and stays in the area (this period is called the Sinai pericope), Jethro declares that he has always known Yahweh to be the most powerful of all gods (was the Midianite religion, then, a religion of Yahweh?). During the Sinai pericope, all the laws and cultic practices of the new Yahweh religion are set down. The laws themselves come directly from Yahweh in the Decalogue, or "ten commandments." The Decalogue is a unique part of the Hebrew Torah in that it is the only part of Hebrew scriptures which claims to be the words of god written down on the spot .

Whatever happened in the migration from Egypt to Canaan, it is clear that somewhere in this period the general laws and cultic practices of the Hebrews settled down into a definite form. These laws and this new cult of Yahweh would form the eternal character of the Hebrews down to the present day. What began as a "diverse group of peoples" has become one people, who then systematically begin to settle the land of the Canaanites.

For a Jew or a Muslim, religious or secular, thinking of Jerusalem means to feel reason and sentiment mingled together. So, as a Muslim scholar and a man of religion, it is today worthwhile for me to try to determine whether, from an Islamic point of view, there is some well-grounded theological reason that makes recognizing Jerusalem both as an Islamic holy place and as the capital of the State of Israel impossible.

The idea of Islam as a factor that prevents Arabs from recognizing any sovereign right of Jews over the Land of Israel or Jerusalem is quite recent and can by no means be found in Islamic classical sources. Both Qur'an and Torah indicate quite clearly that the link between the Jews and the Land of Israel does not depend on any kind of colonization project but directly on the will of God Almighty. In particular, both Jewish and Islamic Scriptures state specifically that God through His chosen servant Moses decided to free the offspring of Jacob from slavery in Egypt and to make them the inheritors of the Promised Land.

The Qur'an cites the exact words with which Moses ordered the Israelites to conquer the Land:

"And (remember) when Moses said to his people: ‘O my people, call in remembrance the favour of God unto you, when he produced prophets among you, made you kings, and gave to you what He had not given to any other among the people. O my people, enter the Holy Land which God has assigned unto you, and turn not back ignominiously, for then will ye be overthrown, to your own ruin'". (Qur'an, Sura 5:22-23, "The Table")

The Holy Qur'an also quite openly refers to the reinstatement of the Children of Israel in the Land before the Last Judgment, where it says "And thereafter We said to the Children of Israel: ‘Dwell securely in the Promised Land.' And when the last warning will come to pass, We will gather you together in a mingled crowd." (Qur'an, Sura 17:104, "The Night Journey")

As concerns Jerusalem, the most common argument against Islamic acceptance of Israeli sovereignty over the Holy City is that, since it is a holy place for Muslims, its being ruled by non-Muslims would be a betrayal of Islam.

The designation of Jerusalem as an Islamic holy place depends on al-Mi'raj, the Ascension of the Prophet Muhammad to heaven, which began from the Foundation Stone on the Temple Mount. But while remembering this, we must admit that there is no real link between al-Mi'raj and sovereign rights over Jerusalem, since when al-Mi'raj took place the city was not under Islamic but under alternate Byzantine or Sassanid administration.

Moreover, the Qur'an expressly recognizes that Jerusalem plays the same role for Jews that Mecca has for Muslims. We read: "They would not follow thy direction of prayer (qibla), nor art thou to follow their direction of prayer; nor indeed will they follow each other's direction of prayer...." (Qur'an, Sura 2:145, "The Cow") All Qur'anic commentators explain that "thy qibla" is obviously the Kaba of Mecca, while "their qibla" refers to the Temple Mount Area in Jerusalem. Some Muslim exegetes also quote the Book of Daniel as proof of this (Daniel 6:10).

Thus, as no one wishes to deny Muslims complete sovereignty over Mecca, from an Islamic point of view there is no sound theological reason to deny the Jews the same right over Jerusalem.

As to Jewish-Muslim relationships, if we reflect on the level of inter-religious dialogue in past centuries, we must frankly admit that in this respect we have been moving backwards. From a theological point of view, dialogue between Jews and Muslims is easier than, say, dialogue between Jews and Chrisitians. Indeed, dialogue between Jews and Muslims was much more extensive in the past. Ibn Gabirol (Avicembro), Maimonides, Ibn Sina (Avicenna) and Ibn Rushd (Averroes) were not isolated intellectuals but part of an ongoing intercommunication and shared well of knowledge.

One can blame the current separation on the political situation, but that does not free intellectuals and men of religion of their responsibility. Today, looking toward the future, we must again create the same kind of intellectual atmosphere, until it is common for Islamic theologians to read Buber and Levinas, and for Jewish scholars to study the works of Sha'rawi and Ashmawi. We can understand the common features in the development of Kabbalah and Tasawwuf, or study the mutual influence of Jewish Halakhah and Islamic Sharia.

Jewish intellectuals, for their part, must be ready to understand that a new attitude is emerging among some Islamic thinkers. Many of us are now ready to admit that hostility for Israel has been a great mistake, perhaps the worst mistake Muslims have made in the last 50 years.

For those Muslim leaders who live in democratic countries, this declaration is not so dangerous. Even in the more oppressed countries, there is a certain part of the educated population that does not blindly accept the local view. It is very important for us to verify that we are not alone in this activity; we must know that there is someone else who appreciates and shares our goals.

The times are ready for Jews and Muslims to recognize each other once again as a branch of the tree of monotheism, as brothers descended from the same father - Abraham, the forerunner of faith in the Living God. The more we discover our common roots, the more we can hope for a common future of peace and prosperity.

Shaykh Professor Abdul Hadi Palazzi is Secretary General of the Italian Muslim Association and Muslim Chair of the Islam-Israel Fellowship of the Root & Branch Association ( He was educated in Rome and in Cairo, where he received his "ijaza" (authorization to teach Islam) from Shaykh Ismail al-Khalwati and Sheikh Husayn al-Khalwati, and holds a Ph.D. in Islamic Sciences by decree of former Saudi Grand Mufti Abdul Aziz Ibn B

Archeological excavations in the early 1940's uncovered remains of a settlement from the Middle Bronze Period (third millenium BCE), pottery from the first century BCE, and pagan cult statues from Roman times. Ancient tradition, dating back from Theodosius (530 CE) identifies Ein Kerem as the birth place of John the Baptist, and with the location of the visit paid to Elizabeth, John's mother by her cousin Mary, Jesus' mother (Luke 1:39-80). The village's historical fame rests primamrily on this fact. A church stood there from Byzantine times and was visited by the author of the Kalendarium Hierosolymitanum. The crusaders also occupied the village and built a large church, soon destroyed in the eleventh century. The Russian Abbot Daniel wrote (1106-07) of two churches in Ein Kerem. The Franciscans established their first church in 1621, establishing a more permanent settlement in 1674. Medieval traveleers, whose pilgramage route usually followed the triangle Jerusalem-Ein Kerem-Bethlehem, wrote of the Church of Saint John and the Church of the Visitation.

Chagall Windows

The Franciscans remained the only foreigners in Ein Kerem until the middle of the nineteenth century. In 1860, the sisters of Our Lady of Zion settled in the village, to be followed by the nuns of the Russian Orthodox Church in 1871, the White Father in 1882, the Greek Orthodox Church in 1894, and the Rosary Sisters in 1911. During the Israeli War of Independence in 1948 the inhabitants of the village, mostly Arab, fled and were replaced by immigrants from Asian countries. In 1949, Rahel Yannait Ben Tzvi established the Ein Kerem Agricultural School, moving it from its previous location in Jerusalem. In 1964, many aritsts and academics settled in the village.

Today, Ein Kerem is most well known for its prestigious Hadassah Hospital, established in 1961, which also is home to the famous twelve Marc Chagall stained glass windows.

On June 21, 1998, the Israeli Cabinet adopted a plan to strengthen Jerusalem and ensure its unity while countering the PLO's effort to divide the city. The decision is entirely consistent with the peace process and in no way violates the Oslo Accords, changes the status quo of the West Bank or the status of the Palestinians in the city or territories.

This plan is dedicated entirely to maintaining the demographic balance in Jerusalem between Arabs and Jews to ensure a united Jerusalem as Israel's capital, improve municipal services within the Jerusalem metropolitan area and boost the city's economy. Nothing in this decision will adversely affect the Arab population of Jerusalem, which is rapidly increasing while the Jewish population is declining.

More specifically, the plan aims to:

Strengthen Jerusalem and ensure its unity and counter PLO efforts to divide it.

Improve municipal services within the Jerusalem metropolitan area.

Boost the city's economy.

Promote high-tech business and academic studies in Jerusalem.

Help reduce the gap between housing prices in Jerusalem and other cities.

Improve the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem train system.

Create a comprehensive public transportation system in the city.

Plan additional improvements in the Jerusalem infrastructure.

Maintain a demographic balance between Arabs and Jews.

Improve the quality of life for Jerusalem residents, Arabs and Jews alike.

Expands Jerusalem's municipal jurisdiction only to the west covering Jewish towns within pre-1967 Israel.

The plan does not:

Impact the peace process

Violate Oslo's ban on changing the status of the West Bank

Involve annexation of West Bank land

Change the status of any settlements or political status of the area

Under this plan, Israel will not be violating any agreements with the Palestinians. Oslo does not restrict Israel's activities within Jerusalem and nothing in this decision will adversely affect the lives of the city's Arab population.

The recent [15 July] United Nations General Assembly (GA) non-binding resolution against Israel clearly illustrates one of the World Organization's most serious weaknesses. Any measure of effective UN reform must assess whether UN fora continue to be abused to promote the interests of a small number of Member States. It is truly scandalous that Israel ought to be threatened with economic sanctions — a tool reserved for only the most serious violators of international peace and security. The fair treatment of Israel within the United Nations serves as an excellent litmus test for judging if the UN is functioning as it should.

Politically, Israel is severely mistreated at the UN. The General Assembly's infamous “Zionism is racism” resolution of 1975 still infuriates — despite its repeal in 1991. While there are instances when media coverage distorts the equitable treatment of Israel at the UN, UN Member States routinely single Israel out for unwarranted attention and criticism. The ongoing GA Emergency Session, which is only adjourned and will surely meet again in the fall, convened in May to address the Har Homa situation. Prior to this, the GA last held an Emergency Session in 1982 (on Israel's invasion of Lebanon). The genocide in Rwanda, ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia, and the "disappearance" of a hundred thousand refugees in Congo (formerly Zaire) all were not deemed sufficiently serious. Leaving aside the wisdom of Netanyahu's decision to build apartments on Har Homa, it is fair to ask if Netanyahu has caused the hysteria, or if Arab governments have used the occasion to exacerbate a tense situation. In any event, the UN's response to the situation has been inappropriate and disproportionate.

Although the General Assembly has been willing to reassess its position and show flexibility on other diplomatic fronts, a sense of inertia governs its approach toward Israel. The current GA decided to defer action on a proposed agenda item dealing with East Timor in light of the pending negotiations between Indonesia and Portugal. However, the GA issued its directive to continue investigating Israeli practices while talks on Hebron were still in progress. A similarly troubling double standard toward Israel is also the rule and not the exception at the Security Council and the Commission on Human Rights.

Member States and others must not be allowed to abuse the credibility and prestige of UN fora for merciless attacks on Israel. In light of such persistent bias, it is perhaps understandable that most Israelis and many fair-minded people do not take the UN seriously. Such a reaction is dangerous, however, for a tremendous part of humanity does take the UN seriously. To them, the UN commands respect. Palestinian Observer Nabil Ramlawi's defamation of Israel at the UN Commission on Human Rights in March was a pathetic attempt to use the "big lie" made famous by US Senator Joe McCarthy during the era of American anti-communist paranoia of the 1950s. Yet, it was effective. Ramlawi's modern day "blood libel" that Israel infected Palestinian children with the HIV virus currently stands as fact. Not one Member State aside from Israel took the floor to protest this scandalous charge, which is now part of the official record — and which must be amended.

Less sensational, but even more problematic is the fact that Member States often treat Israel as a second class citizen within the UN. They continue to exclude Israel from the unofficial but powerful regional group system that determines membership in crucial bodies such as the Security Council. Israel ought to be part of the Asian Group, but current political realities make that impossible. The obvious solution is for Israel to be invited to join the Western European and Other States Group (WEOG), but European pusillanimity has kept Israel disenfranchised. World public opinion could play a significant role in reversing certain countries' policies. Importantly, pending legislation before the US Congress would require the US State Department to report on WEOG countries' efforts — or lack thereof — to change the status quo.

One cannot remain indifferent to the UN as it is an important world forum. Those concerned about enacting meaningful reform at the UN must not ignore or casually dismiss the World Organization. It is important that the UN be made to work effectively. President Clinton has pledged that America will honor her commitment so long as the UN makes good on its commitment to reform. Budgetary reform is only part of the equation. Meaningful reform entails changing the way business is conducted. Treating Israel fairly in line with the Charter is a good way to judge if progress is being made.

*This article was written during the time Mr. Berman was Executive Director of UN Watch.

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