The Myth of Judean Exile 70 CE

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

English: Jews in Jerusalem
English: Jews in Jerusalem (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While we have “sacred space” and religious violence in our thoughts, it’s high time I posted one more detail I wish the scholars who know better would themselves make more widely known.

The population of Judea was not exiled at the conclusion of the war with Rome when the second temple was destroyed in 70 CE. Nor was it exiled after the second (Bar Kochba) revolt 132-135 CE. The generations following that revolt witnessed the “golden age” of Jewish culture in the Palestine (as it was then called) of Rabbi HaNasi, the legendary compiler of the Mishnah.

In the seventh century an estimated 46,000 Muslim warriors swept through Judea and established liberal policies towards all monotheists. Arabs did not move in from the desert to take over the farmlands and become landowners. The local Jewish population even assisted the Muslims against their hated Byzantine Christian rulers. While the Jews suffered under the Christian rulers, no doubt with some converting to Christianity for their own well-being, many resisted as is evident from the growth in synagogue construction at this time. Under Muslim rule, however, Jews were not harassed as they were under the Christians, yet there appears to have been a decline in Jewish religious presence.

How can we account for this paradox? Given that Muslims were not taxed, it is reasonable to assume that the decline in Jewish religious constructions can be explained by many Jews over time converting to Islam. Certainly David Ben-Gurion and Yitzhak Ben-Zvi in 1918 published their hopes that their Muslim Jewish counterparts in Palestine might be assimilated with their immigrant cousins.

There never was a mass exile of Jews from Judea/Palestine. At least there is no historical record of any such event. Believe me, for years I looked for it. In past years my religious teaching told me it had happened, but when I studied ancient history I had to admit I could not see it. Sometimes historian made vague generalized references to suggest something like it happened, but there was never any evidence cited and the evidence that was cited did not testify to wholesale exile.

Who started the myth?

It was anti-semitic Christian leaders who introduced the myth of exile: the “Wandering Jew” was being punished for his rejection of Christ. Justin Martyr in the mid second century is the first to express this myth.

So where did all the Jews that Justin knew of come from if they were, in his eyes, “a-wandering”?

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Fighting Words — An Alternative Solution?

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

In my rush to complete the previous post I forgot to catch hold of a thought that zipped past me at the time. I am not so sure that what I understand is Hector Avalos’s rational solution to religious violence is really viable. If religious belief is part and parcel of human nature — and I understand anthropologists tell us it is, or that it is at least a universal in all human cultures — then I don’t see how attempting to persuade believers to reconceptualize their faith is going to get any traction in any significant scale. People often enough seem to value more highly unverifiable scarce resources than material ones — which is why Avalos considers religious violence as more immoral than other types of violence.

Maybe a more promising solution is to take a leaf out of the book we read by those who do work with conflict resolution in the verifiable world. One of the aims of the United Nations was to ensure there were no more scarcities of food, shelter, education and so forth.

Would not a solution to religious violence, however imperfect as the UN is imperfect, be for those who are skilled at conflict resolution and who do come to perceive religious violence as an extension of conflict over scarce resources, for such people as those to work on building something like a counterpart to the United Nations and its ancillary bodies?

The difficulty of course is that believers, by the very nature of their beliefs, will tend to see any such bodies, indeed the arguments of Avalos themselves, as inspired by Satan to destroy their faith. But that’s where the specialized skills of trained conflict resolution professionals are called for.

And/Or maybe we ought to be studying what factors have been behind the decline of public religious expressions in some of the more atheistic countries such as those pagan Scandinavians and see what lessons can be learned from those. If social reinforcements to lead people to value religion as a private matter, something kept behind closed doors, could be found, that might also be more likely to help in the long-run.

It’s easy to throw up one’s hands in despair. But before I become too committed to taking up another cause I really do think our number one issue now is human survival against the threat of environmental changes. We need to work first at preserving the human species before evolution decides its one and only experiment with intelligent life forms was a big mistake.