Hellenism & Roman rule
In 332 BC, Alexander the Great of Macedon destroyed the Persian Empire but largely ignored Judah. After Alexander's death, his generals divided – and subsequently fought over – his empire. In 301 BC, Ptolemy I took direct control of the Jewish homeland, but he made no serious effort to interfere in its religious affairs. Ptolemy's successors were in turn supplanted by the Seleucids, and in 175 BC Antiochus IV seized power. He launched a campaign to crush Judaism, and in 167 BC he sacked the Temple.
The violation of the Second Temple, which had been built about 520-515 BC, provoked a successful Jewish rebellion under the generalship of Judas (Judah) Maccabaeus. In 140 BC the Hasmonean Dynasty began under the leadership of Simon Maccabaeus, who served as ruler, high priest, and commander in chief. Simon, who was assassinated a few years later, formalised what Judas had begun, the establishment of a theocracy, something not found in any biblical text.
Despite priestly rule, Jewish society became Hellenised except in its generally staunch adherence to monotheism. Although rural life was relatively unchanged, cities such as Jerusalem rapidly adopted the Greek language, sponsored games and sports, and in more subtle ways adopted and absorbed the culture of the Hellenes. Even the high priests bore such names as Jason and Menelaus. Biblical scholars have identified extensive Greek influence in the drafting of commentaries and interpolations of ancient texts during and after the Greek period. The most obvious influence of the Hellenistic period can be discerned in the early literature of the new faith, Christianity.
Under the Hasmonean Dynasty, Judah became comparable in extent and power to the ancient Davidic dominion. Internal political and religious discord ran high, however, especially between the Pharisees, who interpreted the written law by adding a wealth of oral law, and the Sadducees, an aristocratic priestly class who called for strict adherence to the written law. In 64 BC, dynastic contenders for the throne appealed for support to Pompey, who was then establishing Roman power in Asia. The next year Roman legions seized Jerusalem, and Pompey installed one of the contenders for the throne as high priest, but without the title of king. Eighty years of independent Jewish sovereignty ended, and the period of Roman dominion began.
In the subsequent period of Roman wars, Herod was confirmed by the Roman Senate as king of Judah in 37 BC and reigned until his death in 4 BC. Nominally independent, Judah was actually in bondage to Rome, and the land was formally annexed in 6 BC as part of the province of Syria Palestina. Rome did, however, grant the Jews religious autonomy and some judicial and legislative rights through the Sanhedrin.
Chafing under foreign rule, a Jewish nationalist movement of the fanatical sect known as the Zealots challenged Roman control in 66 AD. After a protracted siege begun by Vespasian, the Roman commander in Judah, but completed under his son Titus in 70 AD, Jerusalem and the Second Temple were seized and destroyed by the Roman legions. The last Zealot survivors perished in 73 AD at the mountain fortress of Massada, about fifty-six kilometres southwest of Jerusalem above the western shore of the Dead Sea. During the siege of Jerusalem, Rabbi Yohanan Ben-Zakki received Vespasian's permission to withdraw to the town of Yibna on the coastal plain, about twenty-four kilometers southwest of present-day Tel Aviv. There an academic centre or academy was set up and became the central religious authority; its jurisdiction was recognised by Jews in Palestine and beyond. Roman rule, nevertheless, continued. Emperor Hadrian (117-38 AD) endeavoured to establish cultural uniformity and issued several repressive edicts, including one against circumcision.
The edicts sparked the Bar-Kochba Rebellion of 132-35 AD, which was crushed by the Romans. Hadrian then closed the Academy at Yibna, and prohibited both the study of the Torah and the observance of the Jewish way of life derived from it. Judah was included in Syria Palestina, Jerusalem was renamed Aelia Capitolina, and Jews were forbidden to come within sight of the city. Once a year on the anniversary of the destruction of the Temple, controlled entry was permitted, allowing Jews to mourn at a remaining fragment on the Temple site, the Western Wall, which became known as the Wailing Wall. The Diaspora, which had begun with the Babylonian captivity in the 6th century BC, and which had resumed early in the Hellenistic period, now involved most Jews in an exodus from what they continued to view as the land promised to them as the descendants of Abraham.
Palestine: From the Roman rule to Modern times
As a geographic unit, Palestine extended from the Mediterranean on the west to the Arabian Desert on the east and from the lower Litani River in the north to the Gaza Valley in the south. It was named after the Philistines, who occupied the southern coastal region in the 12th century BC. The name Philistia was used in the 2nd century AD to designate Syria Palestina, which formed the southern third of the Roman province of Syria.
Emperor Constantine (ca. 280-337 AD) shifted his capital from Rome to Constantinople in 330 AD and made Christianity the official religion. With Constantine's conversion to Christianity, a new era of prosperity came to Palestine, which attracted a flood of pilgrims from all over the empire. Upon partition of the Roman Empire in 395 AD, Palestine passed under eastern control. The scholarly Jewish communities in Galilee continued with varying fortunes under Byzantine rule and dominant Christian influence until the Arab-Muslim conquest of 638 AD. The period included, however, strong Jewish support of the briefly successful Persian invasion of 610-14 AD.
The Arab caliph, Umar, designated Jerusalem as the third holiest place in Islam, second only to Mecca and Medina. Under the Umayyads, based in Damascus, the Dome of the Rock was erected in 691 AD on the site of the Temple of Solomon, which was also the alleged nocturnal resting place of the Prophet Muhammad on his journey to heaven. It is the earliest Muslim monument still extant. Close to the shrine, to the south, the Al Aqsa Mosque was built. The Umayyad caliph, Umar II (717-720 AD), imposed humiliating restrictions on his non-Muslim subjects that led many to convert to Islam. These conversions, in addition to a steady tribal flow from the desert, changed the religious character of the inhabitants of Palestine from Christian to Muslim. Under the Abbasids the process of Islamisation gained added momentum as a result of further restrictions imposed on non-Muslims by Harun ar Rashid (786-809 AD) and more particularly by Al Mutawakkil (847-61 AD).
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