Israel's Independence

Commentary by Dr. Gerhard Falk


Four Jewish Commonwealths

The Independence of Israel, proclaimed once more on May 14, 1948, i.e. 5 Iyar of the Jewish calendar, marked the fourth epoch in the Independence of the Jewish nation.

The first epoch of Jewish self government lasted from the Exodus from Egypt until the reign of Solomon. According to the First Book of Malachim or Kings, Chapter 2, verse 12: “Then sat Solomon upon the throne of David his father.” This event occurred in approximately 970 before the common era (BCE). We can calculate this probable date because Chapter 6 of the First Book of Malachim tells us: “And it came to pass in the 480th year after the going fourth of the Children of Israel out of the land of Egypt in the fourth year, the month of Ziv, which is the second month, in the fourth year of the reign of Solomon over Israel, that he built the house onto the Lord.”

Considering the scant evidence for the date of the Exodus, it is reasonable to place that event at about 1446 before the common era. There are those who place the Exodus at about 1290 BCE because of the reference to the city of Ramses in Shemoth (Exodus) Chapter I verse 11. However, the name Ramses was used by several Pharaohs, so that this reference cannot be used to determine the date of the Exodus.

Of course, the earliest dates associated with Biblical events are all disputed because archaeological evidence is not available to support any theories now extant. This should not be construed to indicate that the exodus never happened or that many of the events described in the Torah are myth. Remember that before the establishment of modern Israel and its archaeological discoveries many now proved events described in the Torah were also derided as mere myth. Who can say what may yet be found to ascertain other Torah occurrences?

Returning now to our chronology (chronus is the Greek word for time), we find that King David was born in 1040 BCE and that he began his reign in 1010 BCE. Therefore the first king of Israel, Saul, was born about 1080 BCE.

Prior to the rule of kings, Israel was governed by judges, as you will recall from your Torah study. There is now only one historical reference to the existence of the judges outside of the Torah. The so-called Armana letters, discovered in Egypt in 1887, contain a request from the governor of Yerusholayim to the Pharaoh of Egypt to help him militarily against the Habiru or Hebrew people. Evidently this is a reference to the invasion of ancient Israel by the Hebrews. (Hebrew is the anglicized version of the word Ivri, meaning “to ford” a river as was done by Abraham when he forded the Tigris and Euphrates after leaving his native city of Ur in Chaldea, which is now Iraq.)

There is also a reference to Israel in a letter by the Pharaoh Merneptah of 1220 BCE concerning his defeat of an Israeli army in that year. Other than these two pieces of evidence there is not as yet any archaeological material to “back up” the Torah. Patience. We will find it.

There is, however, a good deal of historical evidence that after the reign of Solomon his kingdom split into two states. This occurred in 922 BCE. The northern kingdom was called Israel and the southern kingdom was called Judah. Therefore we are called Jews.

From 922 to 586 the family of King David ruled Judah without interruption. In the north, however, a long list of kings ruled. These kings attained power by military victories over the earlier king, leading to a society of a few rich aristocrats and a large poor population. This inequality invited the prophets to condemn the injustices practiced in Israel and to predict the destruction of the northern kingdom. This happened in 722, when the Assyrians captured the capital of ancient Israel, Samaria. The people of northern Israel scattered all over Asia and were the first contingent of the so-called “lost tribes of Israel”, whom the Mormons found again among the native Americans.

In 612 the capital of Assyria, Nineveh, fell to the Medes and the Babylonians. Under Nebuchadnezzar Judah was also conquered in 586 and the Jews were deported to Babylon or fled to Egypt. The population was reduced from 250,000 to a mere 10,000 and it appeared that Israel and Judah would both disappear from history and the Children of Israel, the Jews, would be no more.

Now take a look at the last sentence of the last book of the Torah called Sefer Divrei Hayomim or Chronicles. Open the book at the end and look at the last page and read sentence 28. This tells us that Cyrus, king of Persia, encouraged the Jews to return to Yerusholayim. Many did. Others remained in Babylon. Cyrus, known as Koresh in Hebrew, was king of the Medes and Persians. He overthrew the Babylonian monarchy, so that in 538 BCE, or 53 years after the destruction of Solomon’s temple, some Jews returned to Yerusholayim and began rebuilding the Temple. The work began in 519 and lasted three years.

This Temple was altered by King Herod in 19 BCE but remained essentially the same until it was destroyed by the Romans in 70 of the common era. The western wall, or Kotel Hamaariv, is the wall you can see when you visit Yerusholayim today.

In 334 BCE, the Macedonian king Alexander defeated the Persians and continued all the way to India. The Macdonian Greeks therefore occupied Israel and remained there after the death of Alexander in 323. Consequently Alexander’s empire was divided and the northern part, including Israel, became the vassal of the Syrian Greek ruler Antiochus.

As you know from the Chanukah (dedication) story, the Maccabees revolted against Antiochus and established an independent Jewish state in 165 BCE after three years of fighting. This state was ruled by the Hasmonean dynasty until the Romans came and not only burned the Temple in Yerusholayim but wrecked the whole country between 133 and 135 after the Jews revolted against them under the leadership of Bar Kochba.

We can therefore say that there was no Jewish state from 70 until 1948 or we can use the year 135 as the last year of Jewish rule of any kind because Bar Kochba briefly captured Yerusholayim. Usually the year 70 is designated as the last year of Jewish semi-independence.

After the destruction of Israel in 135 it appeared once more that Judaism was finished and that the Jews would disappear from history once and for all.

Yet, on May 15, 1948 Israel became independent once more. After 1878 years, at a time when the Roman empire was history and Greece a small country in southern Europe, when Spain was a poor European province and by no means the empire it had once been, Israel was independent again. How all that came about you may read in a good Jewish history book. That it is a fact cannot be disputed. There are of course no miracles. We are of course secularists. We are real scientific minded agnostics. Nevertheless, can anyone explain how, after 1878 years, only 600,000 Jews defeated the British, the entire Arab world of 250 million, and became independent again for the fourth time?

Think about this and by all means read a good history of the Jews.

Shalom u’vracha.

Dr. Gerhard Falk is the author of numerous publications, including Man's Ascent to Reason (2003) & the forthcoming Football & American Identity.

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