On May 14, 1948 Israel was reborn as a nation after 2,000 years. No one can deny that this was truly a unique event in human history. Never have a people who lost their statehood later become a nation after such a long period of time! Furthermore, this was the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy (Matt. 24:32). So how exactly did this miracle happen? By studying the history of the Jewish people and their journey in exile among the nations over the past 2,000 years, we are led along a path with a miraculous destination: the reborn modern state of Israel. This 2,000-year path has seven main sections, or phases. In this series of blogs we will look at these seven phases with the hope that the miracle of Israel’s rebirth will be less of a mystery.
Phase 1: Israel is emptied of its Jewish population and the Jews are scattered through the Roman Empire (66-636)
The Jewish-Roman wars (66 – 136)
Before the first Jewish-Roman war, otherwise known as the Great Revolt (66-70), Jews accounted for approximately 75% of the population in the land of Israel. As a result of this war,
- More than 1.2 million Jews were killed.
- Close to 100,000 Jews were enslaved.
- Many Jews were exiled to other parts of the Roman Empire.
- The temple in Jerusalem was destroyed.
- Jerusalem was renamed as Aelia Capitolina in an attempt to Romanize the city.
When the second Jewish-Roman war took place, commonly referred to as the Bar Kokhva Revolt (132-136), Jews accounted for 65% of the population in the land of Israel. Tragic events similar to those of the Great Revolt also occurred:
- 580,000 Jews were killed.
- Many Jews were sold into slavery.
- Again, many Jews were exiled to other parts of the Roman Empire.
The Jews were mainly exiled to Alexandria (Egypt) and Babylon (Iraq). Others were also exiled to Spain (more of the that later), which was then considered the uttermost part of the earth. Consequently, the Jewish population in the land of Israel was reduced to one-third of the population. Other measures also discouraged Jewish settlement, such as:
- Jews were barred from entering Jerusalem, except on Tisha B’Av to mourn the destruction of the temple.
- Sacrilegious statues were built on the Temple Mount.
- Israel was renamed as Syria Palaestina.
- Torah study was prohibited in the land.
Constantine the Great and Helena’s Pilgrimage to the Holy Land (312-326)
Shortly after Constantine the Great attributed his victory in the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312 to the cross of Christ, persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire came to an end. This began to impact the land of Israel and its inhabitants in 326, when the mother of Constantine, Helena, made a pilgrimage to Palestine to visit the holy sites related to Jesus. Immediate results of her pilgrimage included:
- The construction of cathedrals in Israel
- The name Jerusalem being restored to the city (replacing Aelia Capitolina)
- Jerusalem becoming a Christian city
- Although still banned from living in Jerusalem, Jews were now allowed to visit
Christian population in Palestine increases under the Byzantine Empire (390-636)
In 380 Emperor Theodosius I made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. Ten years later when the Roman Empire split, the land of Israel became a part of the Eastern Roman Empire, otherwise known as the Byzantine Empire. Ever-increasing Christian pilgrimage brought in much prosperity to the local population. In addition to Christian pilgrimage, Christian settlement also greatly increased in the land of Israel. Consequently, Jews began to emigrate and throughout Byzantine Empire, and would only account for approximately 10% of the population of the land of Israel.