1.1 General Introduction
The History of Israel encompasses the Jewish history in the Land of Israel, as well as the history of the modern State of Israel. Modern Israel is roughly located on the site of the ancient kingdoms of Israel and Judah except that these kingdoms also included what is now the West Bank. It is the birthplace of the Hebrew language and of the Abrahamic religions. It contains sites sacred to Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Samaritanism, Druze and Bahá’í Faith.
Although coming under the sway of various empires and home to a variety of ethnicities, the Land of Israel was predominantly Jewish until the 3rd century. The area became increasingly Christian after the 3rd century and then largely Muslim following the 7th century conquest and until the middle of the 20th century. It was a focal point of conflict between Christianity and Islam between 1096 and 1291, and from the end of the Crusades was part of the Syrian province of first the Mamluk Sultanate and then the Ottoman Empire until the British conquest in 1917.
A Jewish national movement, Zionism, emerged in the late-19th century. Following the British capture of Ottoman territories in the Levant, the Balfour Declaration in World War I and the formation of the Mandate of Palestine, Aliyah (Jewish immigration to the Land of Israel) increased, causing Arab–Jewish tensions and a collision of the Arab and Jewish nationalist movements. Israeli independence in 1948 was marked by massive migration of Jews from both Europe and the Muslim countries to Israel, and of Arabs from Israel, followed by the extensive Arab–Israeli conflict. About 42% of the world’s Jews live in Israel today, the largest Jewish community in the world.
Since about 1970, the United States has become the principal ally of Israel. In 1979 an uneasy Egypt–Israel Peace Treaty was signed, based on the Camp David Accords. In 1993, Israel signed Oslo I Accord with the Palestine Liberation Organization, followed by establishment of the Palestinian National Authority and in 1994 Israel–Jordan Treaty of Peace was signed. Despite efforts to finalize the peace agreement, the conflict continues to play a major role in Israeli and international political, social and economic life.
The economy of Israel was initially primarily socialist and the country dominated by social democratic parties until the 1970s. Since then the Israeli economy has gradually moved to capitalism and a free market economy, partially retaining the social welfare system.
2.2 The Genesis of Isreal
The Land of Israel is one of several names for an area of indefinite geographical extension in the Southern Levant. Related biblical, religious and historical English terms include the Land of Canaan, the Promised Land, the Holy Land, and Palestine. The definitions of the limits of this territory vary between passages in the Hebrew Bible, with specific mentions in Genesis 15, Exodus 23, Numbers 34 and Ezekiel 47. Nine times elsewhere in the Bible, the settled land is referred as “from Dan to Beersheba, and three times it is referred as “from the entrance of Hamath unto the brook of Egypt” (1 Kings 8:65, 1 Chronicles 13:5 and 2 Chronicles 7:8).”.
These biblical limits for the land differ from the borders of established historical Israelite and later Jewish kingdoms; over time these have included the United Kingdom of Israel, the two separated kingdoms of Israel (Samaria) and Judah, the Hasmonean Kingdom, and the Herodian Kingdom, which at their heights ruled lands with similar but not identical boundaries.
The Jewish religious belief that the area is a God-given inheritance of the Jewish people is based on the Torah, particularly in the books of Genesis and Exodus, as well as in the later Prophets. According to the Book of Genesis, the land was first promised by God to the descendants of Abram; the text is explicit that this is a covenant between God and Abram for his descendants. Abram’s name was later changed to Abraham, with the promise refined to pass through his son Isaac and to the Israelites, descendants of Jacob, Abraham’s grandson. This belief is not shared by most adherents of replacement theology (or supersessionism), who hold the view that the Old Testament prophecies were superseded by the coming of Jesus, a view often repudiated by Christian Zionists as a theological error. Evangelical Zionists variously claim that Israel has title to the land by divine right, or by a theological, historical and moral grounding of attachment to the land unique to Judaism (James Parkes), The idea that ancient religious texts can be warrant or divine right for a modern claim has often been challenged, and Israeli courts have rejected land claims based on religious motivations.
During the mandatory period (1920-1948) the term “Eretz Yisrael” or the “Land of Israel” was part of the official Hebrew name of Mandatory Palestine. Official Hebrew documents used the Hebrew transliteration of the word “Palestine” פלשתינה (Palestina) followed always by the two initial letters of “Eretz Yisrael”, א״י Aleph-Yod.
The Land of Israel concept has been evoked by the founders of the State of Israel. It often surfaces in political debates on the status of the West Bank, which is referred to in official Israeli discourse as Judea and Samaria, from the names of the two historical Jewish kingdoms.
2.3 Israel And The Semitic Hypotheses
The term Semitic people or Semitic cultures (from the biblical “Shem”) was a term for people or cultures who speak or spoke the Semitic languages. The terminology was first used in the 1770s by members of the Göttingen School of History, who derived the name from Shem, one of the three sons of Noah in the Book of Genesis. The term, together with the parallel terms Hamitic and Japhetic, is now obsolete. Various scholars have stated that the concept of Semitic ethnicity, culture or Proto-Semites should be avoided or does not exist.
In archaeology, the term is sometimes used informally as “a kind of shorthand” for ancient Semitic-speaking peoples and semitic is also known as hamitic.
Many versions of this perspective on African history have been proposed, and applied to different parts of the continent. The essays below focus on the development of these ideas regarding the peoples of North Africa, the Horn of Africa and the African Great Lakes. However, Hamitic hypotheses operated in West Africa as well, and they changed greatly over time.
In the mid-19th century, the term Hamitic acquired a new meaning as scholars asserted that they could anthropologically discern a “Hamitic race” that was distinct from the “Negroid” populations of Sub-Saharan Africa. The theory arose from early anthropological writers, who linked the stories in the Bible of Noah’s sons to documented ancient migrations of peoples from the Middle East into Africa. The theory that this group had migrated further south was popularized by the British explorer John Hanning Speke, in his publications on his search for the source of the Nile River. Speke believed that his explorations uncovered the link between “civilized” North Africa and “primitive” central Africa. Describing the Ugandan Kingdom of Buganda, he argued that its “barbaric civilization” had arisen from a nomadic pastoralist race who had migrated from the north and was related to the Hamitic Oromo (Galla) of Ethiopia. In his Theory of Conquest of Inferior by Superior Races (1863), Speke would also attempt to outline how the Empire of Kitara in the African Great Lakes region may have been established by a Hamitic founding dynasty
These ideas, under the rubric of science, provided the basis for some Europeans asserting that the Tutsi were superior to the Hutu. In spite of both groups being Bantu-speaking, Speke thought that the Tutsi had experienced some “Hamitic” influence, partly based on their facial features being comparatively more narrow than those of the Hutu. Later writers followed Speke in arguing that the Tutsis had originally migrated into the lacustrine region as pastoralists and had established themselves as the dominant group, having lost their language as they assimilated to Bantu culture In his influential The Mediterranean Race (1901), the anthropologist Giuseppe Sergi argued that the Mediterranean race had likely originated from a common ancestral stock that evolved in the Sahara region in Africa, and which later spread from there to populate North Africa, the Horn of Africa, and the circum-Mediterranean region. According to Sergi, the Hamites themselves constituted a Mediterranean variety, and one situated close to the cradle of the stock. He added that the Mediterranean race “in its external characters is a brown human variety, neither white nor negroid, but pure in its elements, that is to say not a product of the mixture of Whites with Negroes or negroid peoples.” Sergi explained this taxonomy as inspired by an understanding of “the morphology of the skull as revealing those internal physical characters of human stocks which remain constant through long ages and at far remote spots. As a zoologist can recognise the character of an animal species or variety belonging to any region of the globe or any period of time, so also should an anthropologist if he follows the same method of investigating the morphological characters of the skull. This method has guided me in my investigations into the present problem and has given me unexpected results which were often afterwards confirmed by archaeology or history.”
The Hamitic hypothesis reached its apogee in the work of C. G. Seligman, who argued in his book The Races of Africa (1930) that:
Apart from relatively late Semitic influence… the civilizations of Africa are the civilizations of the Hamites, its history is the record of these peoples and of their interaction with the two other African stocks, the Negro and the Bushmen, whether this influence was exerted by highly civilized Egyptians or by such wider pastoralists as are represented at the present day by the Beja and Somali… The incoming Hamites were pastoral ‘Europeans’ – arriving wave after wave – better armed as well as quicker witted than the dark agricultural Negroes.”
Seligman asserted that the Negro race was essentially static and agricultural, and that the wandering Hamitic “pastoral Caucasians” had introduced most of the advanced features found in central African cultures, including metal working, irrigation and complex social structures. Despite criticism, Seligman kept his thesis unchanged in new editions of his book into the 1960s.
2.4 The Exodus
The Exodus is the founding, or etiological, myth of Israel; its message is that the Israelites were delivered from slavery by Yahweh and therefore belong to him through the Mosaic covenant. It tells of the enslavement of the Israelites in Egypt following the death of Joseph, their departure under the leadership of Moses, the revelations at Sinai (including the Ten Commandments), and their wanderings in the wilderness up to the borders of Canaan. The exodus story is told in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, and their overall intent was to demonstrate God’s actions in history, to recall Israel’s bondage and salvation, and to demonstrate the fulfillment of Israel’s covenant.
The historicity of the exodus continues to attract popular attention, but most histories of ancient Israel no longer consider information about it recoverable or even relevant to the story of Israel’s emergence. The archeological evidence does not support the story told in the Book of Exodus and most archaeologists have therefore abandoned the investigation of Moses and the Exodus as “a fruitless pursuit”. The opinion of the overwhelming majority of modern biblical scholars is that the exodus story was shaped into its final present form in the post-Exilic period, although the traditions behind it are older and can be traced in the writings of the 8th century BCE prophets. How far beyond that the tradition might stretch cannot be told: “Presumably an original Exodus story lies hidden somewhere inside all the later revisions and alterations, but centuries of transmission have long obscured its presence, and its substance, accuracy and date are now difficult to determine.”
The Exodus has been central to Judaism: it served to orient Jews towards the celebration of God’s actions in history, in contrast to polytheistic celebrations of the gods’ actions in nature, and even today it is recounted daily in Jewish prayers and celebrated in the festival of Pesach. In secular history the exodus has served as inspiration and model for many groups, from early Protestant settlers fleeing persecution in Europe to 19th and 20th century African-Americans striving for freedom and civil rights.