Trivial Pursuit – Some Fun facts about Palestine Part I

Here is a brief history of what is conventionally called “Palestine” and hence the derivation of “Palestinian”. This new post is divided into 2 posts because of it’s length.

The area of the world roughly between Egypt in the South and Turkey in the North is known as the Levant.
The ancient Egyptians referred to the Southern portion of this area, what would become the kingdom of Israel (much larger than todays Israel, encompassing Israel, Jordan, the territories, etc) as, roughly translated Retenu.

Archeologic information on the extent of the Kingdom of Israel is constantly changing. Remains of the Davidian’s (King David and his heirs) are found daily in the region. One of the unfortunate things about the entire region is that only Egypt and Israel respect archeologic finds of other cultures. No one knows what has been destroyed, paved over, etc.

In Israel, there are active excavations of what is known as “Ir David” as well as many other pre biblical sites.

As a consequence the full extent of the “Kingdom of Israel” is not known.

The term Palestine is a derivation through several translations of the word “Philistines”. The Philistines were a NON SEMITIC PEOPLE”‘s (modern Arabs who call themselves Palestinians try to claim biblical origins and relate themselves to the Philistines. The problem for them here is that they are clearly semitic) of Mycenean descent. Usually described as originating from Southern Greece. The Philistines inhabited a smaller area, usually describedas the south western portion of what is now Israel and the gaza strip. The Greeks referred to this as Philistia.

The word Peleshet in the Bible is generally assumed to be referring to this area. i.e the southern coastal region of Israel, in the area of Ashkelon, Ashdod, etc (these are biblical cities as well; referred to in the ancient texts as well as being modern cities).

The Assyrians referred to the area as Palashtu, and by the time of the Assyrian rule, the Philistines had largely been assimilated into the regional population. By approx. 586 BC, they had largely disappeared as a separate people.

Historians such as Thucydides, Pliny, Herodotus, and Josephus all mention a Philistina but refer to various areas, including modern Syria, the coastal regions referred to above, and smaller areas along the coast.

Most historians view that the Hebrews, or Israelites as they are referred to in the Bible, either rose from the indigenous population, or if you accept the Exodus theory came around the 12th or 13th century BCE. By the time of Saul, around 1020 BCE, they were established as the Kingdom of Israel. Saul’s son David began to consolidate the empire and established Jerusalem as his capital in approximately 1000 BCE. Of course, David’s son Solomon built the first temple on what is now known as the Temple mount or Harm el Sheik by the Arabs.

By 930 BCE the kingdom was split into two, the North was known as the Kingdom of Israel and the South as the Kingdom of Judah.

Between 722 and 720 BCE the Assyrians conquered the Kingdom of Israel and dispersed or exiled the ten northern tribes (derived from the 12 sons of Joseph). These became known as the “lost tribes”.

In 586 BCE, the Babylonians conquered the Kingdom of Judah and the rest of the Hebrews were sent into exile. Hence the period is known as “The Babylonian exile”.

In 538 BCE the area came to be part of the Persian empire and the Jews, or Hebrews were allowed to return to their biblical lands, known as “the land of Israel” by both the Jews and the Persians.

Since the Persians granted them limited autonomy, this is when the second Temple was built.

It was during the Persian period that the Nabateans emerged. They are significant because eventually they moved from this area to the area now known as Jordan and created the incredible city of Petra. The city carved into the rocks that is today one of the wonders of the world (and an amazing place to visit!).

Around 333 BCE, the Persians were conquered by Alexander the Great and the area was under the control of the Macedonians. After Alexanders death, the area fell under the control of the Ptolemaics, the Greeks that ruled Egypt. Cleopatra is the most well known, and the last of, the Ptolemaic rulers of the area.

The Jewish population in Judea was allowed limited autonomy in religion and administration. In the second century BCE fascination in Jerusalem for Greek culture resulted in a movement to break down the separation of Jew and Gentile and some people even tried to disguise the marks of their circumcision. Disputes between the leaders of the reform movement, Jason and Menelaus, eventually led to civil war and the intervention of Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Subsequent persecution of the Jews led to the Maccabean Revolt under the leadership of the Hasmoneans (the Maccabees are the people mentioned in the Hanukkah story), and the construction of a native Jewish kingship under the Hasmonean Dynasty . After approximately a century of independence, disputes between the Hasmonean rivals Aristobulus and Hyrcanus led to control of the kingdom by the Roman army of Pompey. The territory then became first a Roman client kingdom under Hyrcanus and then a Roman Province administered by the governor of Syria.

It was at this time the Roman rule was solidified by Herod the Great. He was appointed “King of the Jews” by the Romans in roughly 63 BCE, although he was only half Jewish. He was actually an Edomite.

At the time of the birth of Jesus, the Romans reasserted full control. The Romans Latinized the Greek Palestina to Palatine. This name reemerged as a direct insult to the Jews as it referred to one of their biblical enemies and was a way of further humiliating them.

As a result of the first Roman Jewish war, after the death of Jesus in 66-73 CE, the second temple was destroyed. The only things remaining were the retaining walls and mount that we see today.

After the failure of the Bar Kochba revolt in 135, the emperor Hadrian built a temple to the Roman God Jupiter where the temple once stood.

During Constantine’s reign, beginning in 330 CE, Christianity became the official religion of the empire. Constantine’s mother identified the spot where she believed Jesus had been crucified and thus the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was built. Constantine was also responsible for the construction of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the Church of the Ascension in Jerusalem.

In 352 another Jewish revolt, largely originating in the Galilee and Tiberias was suppressed.

The Romans continued administration, dividing the area into Palestina I,II and III.

The area probably reached it’s ancient peak during this time because of the Roman view, in the words of Justinian (famous for Justinian’s code the forefather of modern civil law) that it was the province where our Lord Jesus Christ appeared on Earth.

Roman, or Byzantine control was lost temporarily first during the Persian reascension in 614-628 and then conrol finally lost to the new Muslims in 634. Jerusalem capitulated to the Muslims in 638 CE.

In 638 CE, Caliph (The dispute between Sunni’s and Shiites reests on which Caliphate was the rightful heir to Muhammed) Omar Ibn al-Khattab and Safforonius, the Byzantine governor of Jerusalem, signed Al-Uhda al-‘Omariyya (The Umariyya Covenant), an agreement that stipulated the rights and obligations of all non-Muslims in Palestine.

Jews were permitted to return to Palestine for the first time since the 500-year ban enacted by the Romans and maintained by Byzantine rulers.

This is significant because of todays claim that there was no Jewish presence. Yet there own ancestors “allowed” the Jews to “return”. This clearly implies that they had been there predating the time of Muhammed or the creation of Islam.

In 691 Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock were constructed where both the Jewish Temples (first and second) and the Roman temple of Jupiter had stood.

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