Israel Since the Biblical Period
A.D. 70 to Present Times
The Crusader Period (1099 – 1291)
The Crusades (Spanish meaning “marked with a cross”) involved a series of religious wars that were undertaken by the Christians of Western Europe for the purpose of recovering the Holy Sepulchre and similar holy places in Jerusalem. they were papal-sanctioned campaigns that were directed against anyone that was declared to be an enemy of Christ.
Economic factors may also have motivated the “holy wars” since there was much potential for trade and commerce in the Moslem countries and little protection that was available through the Byzantine leaders.
Also important were the plans of Pope Urban II, who led a reform movement that sought to channel all mankind’s activities into the service of the Christian God and establish the Roman Catholic pope as an ecclesiastic ruler of the church.
Urban’s appeal for holy warriors drew volunteers from many parts of Western Europe. Armies arose in northern and southern France and in southern Italy. These military units were joined by bands of common people and their popular leaders who were called “Franks.”
During this very turbulent time in history, there were three major Crusades that were carried out, with Jerusalem being overtaken and thousands of people killed along the way. Many of the soldiers died from starvation and disease, and when they got to the cities, they mercilessly slaughtered the people there.
After the Third Crusade, Richard I was able to gain permission for pilgrims to visit the Holy City of Jerusalem, but the city itself remained under Moslem control. There were five more minor crusades, but the Islamic powers failed to be unseated.
The ideal of the Crusades persisted for a few centuries after, but the religious implications of the Protestant Reformation were to turn the attention of Christians in other directions.
The ultimate results of the Crusades were far-reaching. One positive effect was the exchange between east and west of the many ideas, philosophical principles, material goods, and scientific discoveries that had taken place during the Crusader period. A second result was the decline of the Byzantine Empire, which had never recovered from the endless Crusades.
The most important outcome of the crusades was the military triumph of Islam in the Middle East, with Christianity only attaining dominance in Spain and the eastern Baltic coast. Now the firmly entrenched Moslems reacted to the violence of the Crusaders by persecution of any members of both groups who remained in their newly acquired lands. Previously, they had been tolerant of other religions and their gods.
Intolerance also appeared in Europe with the harassment of Jews and members of the Greek Orthodox church. The whole Crusader period actually lasted about 400 years or more with all the major and minor Crusades that were carried out. The next period listed, though, is right after the last major Third Crusade.
The Mamluk Period (1291 – 1516)
Mamluks (meaning literally “owned men”) served as a major component of Muslim armies as early as the ninth century A.D. Often these slave armies exploited the power vested in them and seized control over the legitimate political authorities. By the 13th Century, the Mamluks had succeeded in establishing dynasties of their own.
Their dynasty that ruled Egypt and Syria was originally a slave army under the control of Ayyub. It was led by Baybars, and was commissioned to run the Turks out of Jerusalem. They accomplished the feat in 1244.
After the death of Ayyub, the Mamluk generals murdered his heir and established their own ruler, Aybek. Following a decisive battle with the Mongol invaders near Beth-shean, the able general Baybars I was elected sultan in Egypt and given the title “The Ascendant King.” He ruled Palestine from Cairo, and is regarded as the real founder of the Mamluk State.
This period was characterized by almost continual conflict. They expanded their lands until from 1382 to 1516, almost the entire Middle East was governed by the Mamluks.
Culturally, they are known for achievements in historical writing and architecture. The Mamluk historians were prolific chroniclers and biographers. Their builders endowed the Middle East with some of its finest mosques, bridges, fountains, and tombs.
Many of these structures can be recognized today by their massive stone domes offset by geometrical carvings. Baybar’s symbol was the lion, which can still be seen on many monuments erected during his rule.
Four lions can be seen on Jerusalem’s St. Stephen’s gate, also known as the “Lion’s Gate.”
The Ottoman Period (1517 – 1917)
By 1453, the Ottoman Turks had captured Constantinople and brought the whole Byzantine Empire to its knees. In its place arose Moslem Turkey and the beginnings of the Ottoman Empire.
In 1517, as the Protestant Reformation was being sparked by Martin Luther in Germany, the city of Jerusalem was captured by the Ottoman Empire. Jerusalem remained under Ottoman control for the next 400 years.
The Jews enjoyed favorable treatment by the Ottomans, which was in marked contrast to the treatment they were receiving in other regions, such as Spain and Portugal. Jews were invited to settle in Turkey and Palestine, and Jewish communities flourished in Tiberias, Acre, Gaza, Hebron, and Jerusalem. Safed, a city on a hill in Galilee, became a significant center for Jewish spiritual life and scholarly studies.
Suleiman the Magnificent, its greatest ruler, spent great sums of money to restore and beautify Jerusalem. The walls and gates of the city were rebuilt, which are the same ones that are seen by visitors there today. Suleiman also provided the city with many lovely fountains and gave the Dome of the Rock a new glazed-tile exterior.
During the 19th Century, the Ottoman Empire began to crumble. The government was plagued with corruption and threatened by external pressure from the stronger nations of Europe, and finally during World War I the Ottomans were defeated by the British. This ended 400 years of Ottoman control of Jerusalem.
The British military administration undertook measures to remedy the hardships created in Palestine during the war years. There was much fighting between the Arab nationals and the growing number of Zionist settlers who sought recognition there. Both to secure their hold on the Palestinian lands and to recognize the rights of the Jewish people, the British government issued the Balfour Declaration on November 2, 1917. It formally recognized the Zionist principles, but was an extremely vague document.
The one thing that it did, though, was to prepare the way for the ultimate establishment of the Jewish State of Israel.