In Part 1, we have seen that due to their errant behavior of making the gold into a cow statue and declaring it to be their god, the Israelites were made to wander in the wilderness for 40 years. This happened while Moses went to the Mount Tur to receive further guidance from Allah.
Being the descendants of Jacob, the Israelites worshipped one true God, but there were elements in their society who were affected by the religion of their masters, the Egyptians. How they could easily fall into idolatry is somewhat surprising, but we need not analyze it here. Probably only a minority among them who really fell into disbelief, while many who joined the party of Samiri did it for excitement or for fun, considering the dreaded life they were experiencing after escaping the slavery in Egypt.
Needless to say, that was not the first of their errant behaviors, and was not the last. From time to time, they fell into disbelief, showed weak faith, or displayed the kind of behavior unfit for the Chosen People, as they fancied themselves to be, even to these days. For instance, when Moses asked them to fight against their enemy, they replied: “You go ahead. If you win, we will join you. If you lose, at least some of us would still be alive.”
For those errant behaviors, the land promised to them was beyond their reach for about three centuries. It was around 1050 BC or about 250 years after they left Egypt that they managed to gain some ground. Under their first king, King Saul, who hailed from the tribe of Benjamin, Joseph’s full brother, they defeated the dominant nation who controlled Canaan at that time, the Philistines.
It was a young soldier in King Saul’s army, a shepherd by the name of David, who changed the course of the event. David rose to replace Saul when the latter died. Under his leadership, he unified all the tribes and established a unified Kingdom of Israel. King David, of course, was none other than the Prophet Dawood. When King David died, he was replaced by his son, Solomon. Under his leadership, the Kingdom flourished ever further. King Solomon, of course, was none other than the Prophet Sulaiman.
Fantastic tales made it look as if King Solomon was the ruler of the world. The reality was somewhat different. King Solomon was powerful, no doubt. He was a man of wisdom. God gave him many special abilities, such as communicating with animals or using the genie race (jinn) as his slaves, but he was no land conqueror like Genghis Khan. He was rich, powerful and very influential, but conquering other nations was not his hobby. His kingdom was only slightly larger than the current Israel and Palestine combined.
Yet, while the size of his kingdom was relatively small, he was powerful and influential because of his diplomatic relation with other empires at that time. Due to his wisdom and justice, he was respected and revered not only by his people, but by other kings as well. It seems likely that other empires paid tribute to him. It was partly because of these diplomatic relations and political alliances that he had many wives. Three hundred wives and seven hundred concubines it was said, making the total about one thousand.
But when he died circa 930 BC, the United Kingdom of Israel broke into two. The northern part of the Kingdom, home to ten of the twelve tribes of Israel, refused to accept the sovereignty of Solomon’s successor. They seceded and established an independent Kingdom known as the Kingdom of Israel, taking the original name of the kingdom. The southern part, ruled by Solomon’s descendants, was known as the Kingdom of Judah, since Solomon, the son of David, was from the tribe of Judah.
Unlike the Kingdom of Judah, which recognized that the monarchy had to be from the line of Judah, the Kingdom of Israel recognized no such thing. Succession of power depended on who was more acceptable to the ten tribes. For that reason, it became less stable due to internal strife for power as well as foreign threats, including the threat from her sister kingdom in the south.
By 722 BC, it was conquered and annihilated by the Assyrians, after slightly more than 200 years in existence. It was said that all those ten tribes were captured and brought in captivity in Assyria, and thereafter lost without a trace, and hence known as the Ten Lost Tribes. It is possible that many of them were enslaved and lost into oblivion, but the more likely scenario is that many of them escaped and lived in the Southern Kingdom, the Kingdom of Judah. In any case, the Kingdom of Israel was no more. There was only the Kingdom of Judah.
The Kingdom of Judah too was annihilated in 586 BC by the Babylonian King, Nebuchadnezzar, and the Temple of Solomon, completed in 960 BC, was razed to the ground. The Israelites were once again became the people without the kingdom, but this time their condition was worse. They were scattered all over, no longer forming a cohesive group, unlike the time when they had the empire, or even when they escaped out of Egypt.
In 332 BC, Alexander the Great conquered that land, but there was no mention that Alexander had either conquered Israel of Judah. This tells us that no such kingdom existed at that time. The Children of Israel did exist, but they were without kingdom of note.
They rose again in 167 BC and established a dynasty known as Hasmonean Dynasty, led by their leader, Judah Maccabee. But this was not a powerful or unified kingdom like the time of David and Solomon. This dynasty was at last conquered by the Romans under Pompey, a Roman general who was at first the ally but later the rival of Julius Caesar.
The Romans called the area Judea and the people there the Jews. It was during the Romans’ occupation that Jesus was born. By then, the term Israelite was no longer in vogue. This group of people was simply known as Jews.
So, was Jesus a Jew? You bet he was.
One may argue: Since you put it that way, then Jesus may be called a Jew. But, if we want to be more specific, is he a Jew (that is, from the line of Judah) or is he a Levite (that is, from the line of Levi)?
Well, I don’t really see the need to be specific in that way.
But, one may further argue, the Quran says that he is a sister of Aaron and from the family of Imran. This means that he is a Levite rather than a Judah.
Considering that both Levi and Judah, along with the other eight brothers, were accomplices in the crime of trying to get rid of Joseph, I fail to see the significance of Jesus being the descendant of any of them. At the same time, considering that from both lines appeared great prophets and kings, being the descendant of either would be a great honor in itself. But Jesus is honored not so much because of his ancestors, but because of himself. We shall talk more about him in later entry.