Israel Since the Biblical Period
A.D. 70 to Present Times
The Palestinian lands have a special place in the history and development of three great world religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Interest in these three extends way beyond just that of what is written about them in the Bible.
As a conclusion to this book, we will cover a brief survey of the history of “the land of the Bible” from A.D. 70 to present times.
The Roman Period (A.D. 70 to 330)
Jerusalem fell to the Roman legions under Titus in the year 70. This brought an end to the second Temple period, but it did not completely snuff out Jewish resistance to Roman rule. The Jews got reports that Emperor Hadrian was planning to found a Roman colony in Jerusalem. This resulted in an uprising that was known as the Second Jewish Revolt.
This rebellion broke out in 131, being led by Bar Kokhba, who was regarded by many Jews to be the Messiah. The rebels managed to force the Roman soldiers and citizens from Jerusalem. Temple sacrifices were again resumed and new coins were issued by the Jewish administration. In the end, though, the mightiness of the Romans prevailed over the Jews.
In the fourth year of the revolt, the Jews were once again forced to abandon Jerusalem and were driven into the fortress of Bethther. They resisted courageously, but by the end of the summer of 135, the fortress walls were breached and its defenders slaughtered.
With the Jewish opposition being subdued, Hadrian proceeded with his plans for Jerusalem. The city was razed and rebuilt in Roman style. This is still reflected in the divisions of the Old City today. Hadrian built a temple dedicated to Venus (Aphrodite) over the site of Calvary.
Where the Jewish Temple once stood, he erected a temple to Jupiter and a statue of himself. Jerusalem was renamed Aelia Capitolina after Hadrian’s middle name (Aelius) and the god Jupiter Capitolinus. By decree of Hadrian, Jews were prohibited from living in what was once their Holy City.
During the 500 years that followed the Second Jewish Revolt, the land enjoyed a good measure of security from invasion or conquest. Judea became a consular province of Rome, and was garrisoned permanently by the Tenth and Sixth Legions. Though it was ruined and impoverished, “Syria Palestine,” as the Romans called it, still had a population of 800,000 Jews.
Later emperors were more benevolent in their dealings with both Jews and Christians. When Constantine I came to power in 306, he showed tolerance for all religions in the empire. Even Judaism was regarded as a religion that was permitted by him. The Jews were still banned from living in Jerusalem, though.
Constantine, however, made two decisions that had a significant effect on the land of Israel. First, he chose Christianity for himself and his empire. Second, he moved his capital from pagan Rome to Byzantium, which he renamed Constantinople. This began what is regarded as the Byzantine period of Roman rule over Palestine.
The Byzantine Period (A.D. 330 – 634)
This era was marked by considerable building activity in Palestine, especially after the Council of Nicaea (established in 325) decided to preserve the holy places in Jerusalem. Helena, Constantine’s mother, traveled in the Holy Land soon afterward and initiated the construction of a number of basilicas, including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
A century later, Eudoxia, wife of Theodosius II, commissioned the St. Stephen basilica, the restoration of the city walls and Golden Gate, and also a shrine at the Pool of Siloam.
Justinian (527 – 565) was also an enthusiastic builder of churches at holy sites. It has been said that Jerusalem never had so many churches as under Justinian. During these days, Palestine was becoming more and more a place of pilgrimage, and the land was becoming thoroughly Christianized.
Growth and prosperity in Palestine came to a quick halt, though, in 614. The land was conquered by the Persians under King Chosroes II. Many churches, shrines, and monastaries, including the Holy Sepulchre, were desecrated or ruined completely.
In addition to prisoners, the Persians carried off the tradition “true cross,” which had been discovered by Helena in the fourth century. Persian rule did not last long, though, because the Byzantine emperor Heraclius invaded Persia and quickly regained control over Palestine.
On March 30, 630, he passed through the Golden Gate and returned the “true cross” to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Byzantine rule had been reestablished over the land, but out of the desert was soon to appear the crescent of Islam.
The Early Arab Period (A.D. 634 – 1099)
Although the Byzantine rulers continued to dominate remnants of the Roman Empire until the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453, the appearance of Islam and the Moslem conquest soon deprived the empire of the lands of Israel and Egypt.
This political transition began with the rise of the prophet Mohammed (570 – 632), who escaped assassination in Mecca and fled to Medina. There he was able to establish a theocratic state that soon engulfed all of Arabia and large parts of North Africa and Western Asia.
Shortly after the death of Mohammed, Caliph Omar Ibn el-Khat-tab led an army into Palestine and conquered the entire area. In 638, he captured Jerusalem, cleared the debris from the temple site, and erected a simple structure for Moslem worship. Later, the Moslem ruler Abdul Malik Ibn-Marwan built the famous Dome of the Rock in 691, that is now called Haram esh-Sharif, “the Noble Enclosure.”
The Jews generally fared well under Islamic rule. Jerusalem was spared destruction when captured, and Jews were allowed to return to the land and live in Jerusalem, their sacred city. From about 700 to 1000, the Jewish people flourished in the region. Jewish communities and learning centers developed in such places as Tiberias, Haifa, Ashkelon, and Gaza.
Toward the end of this early period of Arab rule, the political situation became turbulent, as governing authorities were being challenged. After Egypt became an independent power and extended its influence over both Palestine and Syria, the rulers were less tolerant of Christian pilgrimages to the holy city. It was then that travel by Europeans across Moslem territory became increasingly disrupted.
These difficulties culminated toward the end of the 11th Century, when the Turkish Seljuks advanced into much of the Byzantine territory and eventually captured the lands of Palestine. These Turkish infidels mistreated Christian pilgrims in Jerusalem and charged heavy fees for visits to the city’s holy sites. Soon appeals were sent to the papacy in Rome, asking that the sacred places of Christianity be liberated. The eventual answer to these pleas was the bloody era of the Crusades, which will be covered in the next text.