Arch_of_TitusAncient Israel Through the Eyes of the Nations, Rina Abrams, COJS.

Israel Through the Eyes of the Egyptians

Recorded history of the Jewish people begins in 1207 B.C.E. with the stela carved for Pharaoh Merneptah, in Ancient Egypt. This artifact provides the first evidence of a group called Israel a few years after the legendary Exodus of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. In the inscription on this pillar, Merneptah claims military victory over the Canaanite cities Ashkelon, Gezer and Yinoam, as well as the foreign people, Israel.

The Ancient Egyptian Empire lasted for over 3000 years, and its power and influence was widespread. The Egyptians waged countless wars to maintain and aggrandize their empire. As demonstrated by Merneptah’s stela, the Egyptians and the Israelites interacted with one another not only on the battlefield but also in commerce and trade. Additional archaeological artifacts located in this section further demonstrate the interaction of these two groups, and provide documentation of Jewish peoples in this ancient land.

Israel Through the Eyes of the Assyrians

The kingdoms of Israel and Judea maintained their independence in the 9th century B.C.E. via large payments of tribute to the Assyrians, who had become the ruling force in the region. This relationship is reflected in artifacts such as the Black Obelisk of the Assyrian king, Shalmaneser III, from 841 B.C.E. As vassal states, when Israel and Judea eventually refused to submit such payments, the Assyrian kings invaded their lands and laid siege to their cities.

In 722 B.C.E, the Assyrians captured Samaria, taking over the capital of Israel’s northern kingdom and deporting a large portion of the Israelite population to other parts of the Assyrian Empire. These events were recorded in the Annals of Sargon II, King of Assyria, from ca. 722 B.C.E. Judea remained the sole autonomous Jewish kingdom, and yet its autonomy remained threatened as the Assyrians sought to maintain their supremacy over the entirety of the Near East.

Israel Through the Eyes of the Babylonians

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion. And the wicked carried us away in captivity, required of us a song. How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?

-Psalm 137

This popular Psalm’s origins date back to 586 B.C.E., when the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed for the first time and the Babylonian ruler, Nebuchadnezzar, sent in thousands of Jews to exile. This siege of Jerusalem is recorded in detail in the Chronicles of Nebuchadnezzar from ca. 597 B.C.E. as well as in the Bible (2 Kings 24). In recent times, countless musicians have made the Psalm an anthem for oppressed peoples throughout the world. African-American singers used the song to bemoan their time as slaves and the exile from their African homelands, a similar experience to that of the Jews.

By the late 7th century B.C.E., Assyrian power was waning and Babylonian control was on the rise. In less than a century, the Babylonians would determine the fate of the Near East, including the only remaining autonomous Jewish kingdom, Judea.

Israel Through the Eyes of the Persians

Jews returned to Judea and began to rebuild the holy Temple in ca. 538 B.C.E., following the conquest of Babylon by Cyrus, King of Persia. The king’s policy of religious tolerance was manifested in the return of various people, including the Jews, exiled by the Babylonians to their countries of origin. Although not completely autonomous, under Persian rule from 538 – 332 B.C.E., the Jews enjoyed a great deal of freedoms, including the right to practice their religion. Silver coins from ca. 350 B.C.E. actually attest to the prestige of the Judea province within the Persian Empire.

Israel Through the Eyes of the Romans

Arch of Titus – ca. 85 C.E.

In 70 C.E., the presence of Jews in Jerusalem is clearly depicted in the Arch of Titus. Here, the triumphal procession of laurel-crowned Romans is seen carrying off the Sacred Menorah and other Jewish treasures from the great Temple, after the Roman conquest of Jerusalem. After the procession, the treasures were placed in the Temple of Peace in the Forum of Vespasian, and remained there for four centuries until the Visigoths sacked the city. As Appian wrote, “ …This city, Jerusalem, had been destroyed in the days of Pompey (300 circa 300 B.C.E); it was afterward rebuilt, and Vespasian again destroyed it (70 C.E.), and Hadrian (130 C.E.) did the same in out time.”

Vespasian was recalled to Rome in 68 C.E. He delegated authority over the Roman Legions, besieging Jerusalem to his son, Titus. On the 13th of Av, in 70 C.E., Titus captured the city and built the Great Hebrew Temple.

Titus became the Emperor of the Roman Empire upon the death of his father in 79 C.E. Titus died shortly after taking power in 81 C.E. and his brother Domitian rose to take his place. In 85 C.E., Domitian erected this Arch, as both a memorial to Titus his brother, and as a reminder of the defeat of the first Jewish Revolt.